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Monday, February 29, 2016

Trial by Fire (Tales of the Terran Republic, #2)Trial by Fire by Charles E. Gannon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even more so than the first novel in the series, you have to be in the right mood for it.

Unfortunately, this one made a huge departure from the first novel, where you have a square-jawed hero with a fairly strong supporting cast doing heroic things and generally keep a strong presence on the page throughout, only to be pushed pretty much to the sidelines in the second novel because the adventure novel turned into an all-out novel of WAR.

I'm deadly serious. This is a grand example of all-out war, rife with tactics AND strategy, full of space battles and ground battles, from the war's break-out to the Earth's occupation to the counter-attack to the hymnal of bloodshed, reversals, and eventual cease-fire and surprise-ending.

I can't stress it enough. This is a tight single novel encompassing an entirely epic war.

I appreciated how well it was written, how well thought-out the overall strategy, the clarity of the tactics, the heroism and the glorious deaths that so many characters had to suffer. As an example of this sub-genre, this novel managed to keep my attention better than most and I tip my hat to it.

Unfortunately for me, I've never really cared to war novels of any stripe. I've learned to enjoy strategy and tactics over the years, but it's a strain. There was still my favorite characters doing heroic things, although their parts were much reduced or sidelined to very specific categories, and that's fine because a whole damn war can't be fought by a single Caine, but unless you're a fan of military fiction, you might get either lost or simply not care about this novel.

This novel DOES follow a strong Military SF tradition and tributes the hell out of it.

It IS filled with interesting reveals and reversals for both the good and the evil peeps. There's also a more galactic importance associated with the events. It's GOOD.

It's also not for me.

I'm giving it a fairly high rating on all the things it does well, and it does practically everything well. I just wish it was a bit more like the previous novel.

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Fire with Fire (Tales of the Terran Republic, #1)Fire with Fire by Charles E. Gannon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those novels that you absolutely need to be in the mood for.

I've been through cycles in my reading where I might have violently rejected this kind of glorious space opera and other times where I might think it was a fairly cool, light, and transparent adventure.

This time, however, it hits me in precisely the right spot. I wanted a true and one-dimensional hero that plows excellently through all the hardships thrown at his polymath mind, overcoming moral quandaries with steadfast heart, and meeting the rest with foes with fist, knife, and projectiles, when he isn't falling back on his poor, nearly defunct career as a journalist.

Sure, he's a real hero doing heroic things as only an old-style SF adventure can do it, but there IS a twist: The novel is constrained and lifted by way of modern writing sensibilities, slightly better pacing, better science, contemporary issues writ large, and comprehensible alien politics. A lot of action and story takes place in these pages, and each builds upon the last in a very logical sequence until the grand unified story slams back at us and lets us know that we're all pawns in the hands of the author (and the convocation of aliens, alas).

After having read so many depressing and dystopian novels in the last decade, I can't help but look favourably upon this novel as a message of optimism and hope, where the good guys win and the bad guys get humiliated or crushed, where the threat of overwhelming force can be stopped by making the right friends at exactly the right time, where nefarious plots are uncovered when they can do the most good.

Truly, there's nothing wrong with having a feel-good adventure novel, especially when it avoids all those old embarrassing norms of casual ethnocentric prejudice, extremely embarrassing passive female characterizations (although one might make the argument that the woman master of martial arts has also become a trite stereotype, lately,) and embarrassing lack of even slightly reasonable physics.

I'm not saying that decohesion and travelling along a superstring and recohesion on the other side is particularly accurate, it's just a more interesting idea than a simple flolding of space or a hyperspace jump. Fans of the old adventures will get a kick out of this novel, because it is, in fact, written very well for what it is.

Because, let's face it, it's pulp fiction. It's very good pulp fiction, but it's still pulp fiction. A lot happens quickly. Hell, I kept thinking of Lensman minus the telepathy, if some of you fans of the old stuff want that kind of hint. Perhaps throw in a bit of Heinlein's early "by the bootstraps" fiction, a grand dose of 30's sensibilities, and a huge, shit-eating grin, and you'll have pegged this novel perfectly.

If that's what you're looking for or what you've been missing in your life for the last decade, then jump right in! The water's fine!

I personally loved the swim. It was a different kind of nostalgia and a welcome change. No pessimism allowed.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

One Hundred Years of SolitudeOne Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'd like to think this book defies description, but I lie. It's pretty much an epic 5 generation story of a mythical Columbian town rife with magical realism. There's a lot of walking dead, dead stored in bags, dead bleeding on the streets, and the not quite dead of a peep that lives for over 500 years. Never mind the magic carpets or the thousands of people with the same damn name. It's a family that will damn well reuse a loved name over and over because they loved the originals so damn much.

Huh. Well, as long as I've now given up on tracking them except by their place in time and the events, I rolled with it and listened to the ever-growing complexity of the cyclical tales written simply and passionately, feeling like the town is the MC, from it's founding (birth), it's part in the civil war (troubled teens), and it's modernity (this came out in 1967, so just assume there's lots of passionate free-love sex (in marriage)).

Here's the thing about preconceptions. I never looked up what the novel was about, so I based it entirely on the book cover and the freaking title. So what did I think as I read this?

Where's the freaking solitude!!!!!????

Sigh. This novel is FULL OF PEOPLE, people. I mean, lordy, they're everywhere and in everyone's faces. I kept looking forward to the science-minded and scholarly peeps because they, at least, wanted a little time alone! It was tiring for me to keep up with so many damn people! (except, of course, in a flowing tapestry of sensation and recurring themes, of course. That part was actually damn pleasing.)

Did I study and draw diagrams to keep track of everything in this novel? Hell no. I considered it, but in the end, I didn't care enough to do much other than take it all in with huge gulps, burping every once in a while, but determined to drink every last drop.

It was good, dammit. The writing was smooth as silk and managed to accomplish so much so economically, that I see why it's considered a classic. Will I ever try this one again?

No. Likely not. I don't like admitting that a novel tired me out. :)

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The Mechanical (The Alchemy Wars, #1)The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For the greater portion of this novel, I was sitting pretty at three stars because no matter how much action-packed escapades and beautiful worldbuilding it may have been stuffed with, I was only pretty much interested in Jax. The other two were only interesting in spurts.

That is, until they actually met one another in the denouement, and then things really picked up for me and made me feel less like I had just *wanted* to love this novel without quite liking it. After that point, though, I loved it.

It's a shame that it took so long to get there.

The only exceptions to this was Visser's discourse on Free Will and Berenice's maiming. I liked both of them much better after all the shit got poured all over them, but alas, only so far. Oh, a little correction. I did *begin* liking Visser enough, but all that talk of martyrdom started getting under my skin in a bad way.

Of course, what made this novel shine was the beautifully thought-out world of 1926 after several hundred years of mechanical slaves had revolutionized and marginalized all but the most technologically savvy of the 18th century, leaving the Dutch and the French as the clear winners on the map of the world.

I've read Tregillis's Milkweed Triptych, so I know that the author's voice had changed fairly significantly between then and now, and I can applaud the attempt even if I was a little annoyed at the execution. There was a lot of detail and repetition of the steampunk feel that made me feel somewhat as if I was being shortchanged with the extra effort I needed to use to follow the story without glazed eyes.

I feel like it might only be me, but who knows? I kept wanting to be doing something else, even when I appreciated, intellectually, what Tregillis was doing.

I'm continuing the series because of the spectacularly strong finish, even if I wish that the finish had come by about the mid-point and then continued from *there* to some more interesting conclusion. Alas, the interesting conclusion has got to be in book two, I think. :)

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Grace of Kings (The Dandelion Dynasty, #1)The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very interesting tale, reminding me as I read it just how little I still know of Chinese history. I want to romance kingdoms and wallow in all the warring states, and yet, from everything I do know, this novel is and remains unique.

It borrows from the old histories to make a thoroughly modern fantasy epic.

And when I say epic, I mean epic rises to power and grand falls, with a few memorable characters (mostly women) and an absolutely huge supporting cast. Armies march from the start and armies march at the end, and nowhere in the middle are we lacking any battle.

It's the story of two brothers-in-arms, one nobel, one not, their rise together and their falling out, tearing the land into chaos.

I was immensely impressed with the care and effort taken into bringing a Chinese-immersive narrative into a modern english epic while including a decisively steampunk flavor. Let's fly a kite, shall we? Tactics and war, tactics and war.

Beyond that, it was the Marshal that I loved the most. All the women were fairly complex and multi-roled, but it was the Marshal of the armies that made me whoop. :)

I really liked the novel and I'm very impressed by it, but alas, I can't really see it as the winner of the Nebula this year. I did get slightly bogged down in some of the battles, but not all. Some were quite interesting. The two main male characters that the whole thing revolved around could have been more... flavourful.

It's just my preference. I've read a lot of great fantasy. This isn't the top and it certainly isn't the worst of the lot. It was absolutely interesting, though.

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Monday, February 22, 2016

UprootedUprooted by Naomi Novik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Solid, solid, solid. As solid as wood.

Honestly, I was feeling a bit of trepidation before reading this, and I'm very happy to say that I didn't have any issues with the novel.

What? No issues at all?

No, not really. I honestly enjoyed opening characterizations, all focused more upon the hopes and the realistic expectations when it came to the Dragon who may or may not be an evil nobel/wizard, and I enjoyed the bait and switch enough that I just got suckered into the rest of the story despite all the old resonances of plot and myth.

Instead of being tired, though, I actually looked forward to learning the magic and discovering how all of it worked, or didn't work in her case, and I plainly enjoyed the dichotomy as it revealed itself. Words and reason versus song and intuition.

Of course, it wasn't the dichotomy alone that made it special. It was the interwoven dualism of both and the harmony that both deep learning and a trust in instinct can form together.

As a love story, it's mild and cute. As a retelling of the evil forest mythos featuring Baba Yaga (or Jaga in the text,) it's strong as hell and always on target. As a story, it had strong plots and steady progression, right down through the training, to the introduction to the kingdom, to the Main Reversal, to the Next Reversal, to the dire oh-shit-this-has-gotten-crazy reveal.

I'll tell you right now: I was rather a bit upset that the big bad is an evil forest, but the idea is much older than all our modern tree-hugging sympathies, so in effect it still came across as something fresh. How odd!

I was entertained to the very last page and so damn happy that I got to read this.

Of course, strangely enough, I hadn't even considered reading it until I learned that it was nominated for the Nebula, and now I feel rather more than vaguely embarrassed. Shame on me!

Barring any upsets on my upcoming short-list for the Nebula, I think this one is going to be second favorite of the bunch.

The Fifth Season still leads, followed closely with Uprooted. I've still got a few other titles to read, but I can tell you that Ancillary Mercy will be somewhere in the middle and Updraft will trail at the bottom.

Let's see how Raising Caine, The Grace of Kings, and Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard fare, shall we? :)

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Excession (Culture, #5)Excession by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This happens to be exactly what I wanted when I wanted it. I wanted intelligent galaxy-spanning space opera with a handful of baseline humans getting caught up in an existential conundrum that the far-superior AI Ships (and Main Characters) had to face.

And we even get a BDO to spark an enormous intergalactic war. Woo Woo! Of course, the BDO (big dumb object) is nothing of the sort. In fact, it might be smarter than all of them combined. Who knows? I loved the speculation.

Life, love, sex, conspiracy, extremely high stakes, this novel really pretty much had it all, but I think I had the most fun chuckling over all those damn ship names. "I Blame Your Mother", "I Blame My Mother", "Use Psychology", "Jaundiced Outlook", "It's Character Forming", "Unacceptable Behaviour", "Serious Callers Only", and "Meat Fucker" just to name a quick few that tickled my fancy.

This novel kept my attention much better than the previous novels, but honestly, I think I liked those previous ones better on the re-read than the first shot. Maybe I'm just getting used to Banks's writing, at long last, or all my fancies were tickled in just the right measure in just the right times.

These are of a higher quality Space Opera than practically anything else out there, but it's of a very particular sort. Tongue-In-Cheek? Absolutely. Out to prove that a beneficent galactic society can still have some real humdingers for stories despite the apparent lack of conflict? You bet.

It's like a master's course in Proving It Can Be Done despite all the doomsayers. It's nothing like any kind of Space Opera I've ever read, again. Still. Continuing on. It's pretty damn awesome.

I want to continue these Culture novels like something fierce, but I have so much on my plate already. I'll schedule them for one a month from now on, and savour them in delight. :)

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Gentleman Jole and the Red QueenGentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes there's that one brilliant author who can break all the damn rules and get away with it.

Yeah. I'm talking about Lois Bujold.

I tried putting this novel into a mould to judge it by any other type of story and I just can't do it. Sure, I could just reduce it by saying it's a love story, but that's like saying the events of Aral and Cordelia's courtship is just an SF love story, and it's so much richer and deep and full of nostalgia than that. It's saying that Miles and Ekaterina was just some fly-by-night romance, and to say that is to talk complete shit.

No, this happens to have the trappings of all the immense story and love and history of this universe, but it is also something so much grander than just that.

It's about love. It's about finding happiness. It's about starting again.

It's also about laughing at the fact that burning marshmallows being flung at stupid men by their women is actually a valid socializing tool. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

I was deeply charmed and brought to near tears five or six times while reading this. It's probably just my vast investment in the universe, or perhaps it's the little sparks of memory and reminiscence and the signs of life from all those wonderful, wonderful, wonderful characters I've grown up with. Yeah, Miles is here, too, but he plays another supporting role again, to great and sneaky effect.

What this novel does not have is intrigue beyond a very personal (for Naismith and Jole) nature. There is no grand plot beyond what Cordelia had in mind. And yet, I was charmed more than I could believe.

Was this a feel-good book? Did it break all conventions and refuse to force any kind of strained conflict? Yes, yes it did. It was natural and featured choices ranging between good and equally good and forced us to follow along and find out what we truly wanted, too.

If you are a parent, you'll get an absolute ton of significance from this novel. If you aren't, but you've followed this series this far, then I'm sure you have enough empathy to fake it. :)

I loved this novel. I was back with my family. I was back with all my loved ones. I feel loved. :)

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RailseaRailsea by China Miéville
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's truly a lot to enjoy here, especially if you're a fan of philosophy and moles.

Sometimes together. No, no, scratch that. You can't separate the philosophy from the moles.

Every captain must have a philosophy to chase after, and truly, it DOESN'T REALLY MATTER if you're missing an arm or a leg, Okay? Just trust me on this. Don't go chopping off perfectly good appendages just because some bloody mole popped out of one of the seven layered seas and ruined my perfectly happy steampunk reverie.

This is vintage Mieville, in my opinion, or at least, this is the kind of Mieville I'll always associate with Mieville. It's the unabashedly weird, the hints of some truly spectacularly interesting worldbuilding, the use of small furry creatures, and the totally meta reimagining of classics, distilled into what could almost be a children's tale of adventure, including trains on the high seas, pirates, and One Huge Goal.

(Yes, Philosophy. Most philosophy comes with a (tail) to tell, and only good philosophy has a (tale) you can hold on to.)

Hell, that's my favorite part.

Unfortunately, there's a lot less philosophy than I really wanted, and some of the (tail) drags around a bit too much, so it's not quite as cohesive as I'd like.

Otherwise, it was clever and cute and I really wanted to like it more than I actually did. Much like most of Mieville's work, actually. I take my hat off. I bow respectfully to the sheer weight of imagination and word wrangling skill.

And then I wish the shape of the whole novel had been better.

It's worth reading. I just wish I could outright love it, too. There's so much promise.

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Rapture (Bel Dame Apocrypha, #3)Rapture by Kameron Hurley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do you like meat grinders?

I won't lie. This is a difficult book to read. It's not so much filled with blood, guts, and bugs, (although it has plenty,) but it's the omnipresent oppressive machine of this world that grinds everyone down into so much pulpy protein.

As a SF, Hurley's work is very, very imaginative and rich, never resting on old ideas to pump out new stories.

She steadfastly brings in some of the most promising and far-reaching and immediate settings, and they're so damn real that I swear I have to reset my filter... a bunch of locusts keep messing with my hair.

Most impressively, though, is the devotion Hurley has to tackling all the deepest and darkest niches of our everyday lives, including family vs duty, team vs self, religion vs reality, hard choices vs sanity, and most importantly, it's a never-ending discussion about what comes after love and loss. Of course, the same thing could be said about the whole world, here, but its the individual characters who suffer, and by god, everyone suffers.

The fleeting moments of happiness are few and in general the tone is always one of stoic acceptance, so we don't absolutely have to roll in all the excised organs, tongues replaced with a symbiotic bugs, or the fact that every gift comes with three or four fatal strings attached.

But they do.

God, these are very oppressive books.

Impressive, and gorgeous in their way, with amazingly deep character studies and worldbuilding, but these novels are definitely not easy. (The writing is fine. I'm only referring to the subject matter.)

I can respect this one along with the other two in the series, but I must confess, it's almost too much for me. Idea speculation is the trade of SF, but there's two sides to it. There's the question and there's the answer. Putting all these idea elements together into a novel and then offering up this world makes a wonderfully complex stew, but the only thing I take away is that life is hard and things are complex.

In other words, this is a reflection of real life.

Okay, so I don't live being beset by aliens in a war-ground with shapeshifters and magicians with everyone around me mired in the fallout of a holy war, but the similarities are everywhere, regardless.

It takes a grand imagination to pull that off.

But here's where I find issue with it: Perhaps I didn't want to be shown a world hopelessly tied up in its crazy with no real solution. Character studies don't need solutions, but more often than not, a world-building SF generally gives us some sort of drastic change in the setting. (Something more than a shapeshifter revolution or a resumption of civil war. All of that has been practically the norm. I keep thinking of a real resolution that's unusual for these people. Like prosperity. Like real peace. As it is, I just feel sad for them.) *sigh*

Still, it was a very impressive ride.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Calamity (Reckoners, #3)Calamity by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Okay. Too easy. I mean, some low hanging fruit can be knocked off the tree by Tom Thumb, but Come On, can't you see that was too EASY?

Seriously. I can't remember when I've had so much plain simple evil superhero FUN.

Are all my expectations met? You betcha.

Did sit excitedly through the entire tale, piecing together all the things that came before to make this come to a great end? Yes. Was I truly satisfied? Yes. Yes I was.

It's an easy tale that rides all our superhero expectations and toys with us in interesting ways, but most importantly, it always thinks through the ramifications of powers and weaknesses in such a nicely thorough way that it still pops this series ahead, at least in my head, from any other similar piece.

Yes. I'm including Vicious, ppl.

Antiheroes are overrated. We've got tons of baddies here. What I really wanted was a severely underpowered HERO. :) Woot Woot!

I love all the slow character changes most. They're all as clear and impressive as day, and the whole story is logical and writ large. This is the definition of popcorn fiction. :)

What a beautiful scene at the end. :)

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Siege and Storm (The Grisha, #2)Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can sum up everything I don't like about this book in two names.

Alina and Mal.

Of course, there was that long, long, middle sequence with the nobels and the marriage proposals and the election to sainthood literally nothing happening, but other than that, yeah, my problem is with Alina and Mal.

I never got into either of them in the first book and I never got into them in the second. Together. Apart. It doesn't matter. I feel greater sympathy for practically all of the minor characters and about five or six times more sympathy for the Darkling than Alina.

I was never convinced of their love, and all the high-school antics just reminds me why I have issues with YA. I wanted adventure and magic and great derring-do. Instead I have to sit through more love triangles between princes and Mal? Mal? Broody boring lame Mal? MOVE ON.

And Alina? I've been looking for any sign that she's more complex and multidimensional, the way a good MC should be, but instead, I've resorted to wishing she'd just side with the Darkling all the way and reign over all the lands with that fascinating man as "the Sun and the Moon" or some such nonsense. Hell, maybe then the truly enormous death toll would have been good for something besides trying to pluck on my heartstrings that have been left too far out of tune for too long on characters I should have been loving, but are simply leaving me flat.

Don't get me wrong. I just came glowing out of Six of Crows and know this author has it in her to make a nicely complicated tale with lots of interesting characters AND the ability to make a tough love work. Even the worldbuilding is a lot better in Six of Crows.

I did like almost all of the action sequences. Nickolai was fun, and the Darkling was divine. I didn't precisely *hate* anything at all. I just didn't care about the MC. I'll continue, but I hope to hell Mal does a stage left. :)

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I say, but that I'm rather surprised!

This book turned around all my expectations. Granted, I had only read the first Grisha book so I didn't have a lot to go on, but I started this with a bit of a bump because I'm fond of Heist novels.

And I got exactly what I expected! Solid plot, interesting characters, flavorful prose with mixed angst, greed, and let's never forgive that never-ending hope!

If this is a continuing trend, and I assume it is, since I've read 9 novels in the last 2 years, or ten including this one, that mixes magic and thievery, then at least I haven't gotten tired of the trope yet. Maybe someone else might have, but this is a very decent and steady mix in the field.

It already has a lot going for it for those following this author's Grisha series, of course. People already know and love the worldbuilding. The setting is set and cast. All that's left is a deep diving into the characters and the adventure, and that just happens to be what I was in the mood for. Although, honestly, there's no need to read the Grisha novels in order to enjoy this one. Everything is pretty self-explanatory. They may add to your understanding or provide the backstory you feel you might be missing, but I didn't feel any lack.

In fact, I think I'll go ahead and return to books 2 and 3 joyfully, precisely because I have a better understanding about where the series will head from the spoilers I may have gleamed from this one, but it's more like it whetted my appetite than became anything like a real spoiler.

I feel like I must do a little comparison between this and a few of the other Fantasy/Heist novels I've read recently, especially since they're all coming out so close upon each other. A huge nod must be made to The Lies of Locke Lamora and its two sequels, as well as to The Palace Job and its two sequels. To put things in perspective, some, Six of Crows uses costumes and time jumps (flashbacks or however you want to call them) to good effect, but doesn't take over the dialogue as much as in The Lies of Locke Lamora. It also has more magic. The Six of Crows is definitely not as tongue-in-cheek or as plainly funny and trope-poking as The Palace Job, nor does it have quite the facile turn of phrase or pacing during the battles. But Six of Crows definitely has the overall advantage of solid flowing pacing that never lets the reader go through the entire read.

In other words, it was a serious, magic-filled escapade full of dark heroes and horrible odds. Isn't that what we all like? I hope so. I'd love to read more of these.

One other thing. I'm a complete and utter sucker for that whole thing going on between Nina and Matthias. There sure is a lot of fire in there. :) It was almost funny to watch how much they "hated" one another.

Good fun! I'm happy to see something insanely popular actually deserving it, again. :)

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Days of TaoThe Days of Tao by Wesley Chu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a delicious appetite-whetter. It may be just a novella, but it sets the stage wonderfully for the after-coming-out party war between the two alien species.

I particularly liked the character building for Cameron Tao, far from being a reluctant hero, but he's one that tends to bite off just a bit more than he can chew, and for all the right reasons.

It's a close to the heart novella about friendship and betrayal and the consequences of your actions. I really got into the Escape-From-Greece scenes, too. Am I going to be on the lookout for more of the Tao novels because of this?

Oh hell, how could I hold back? Like I said, this was TASTY.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

American Pastoral (The American Trilogy #1)American Pastoral by Philip Roth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

T. S. Eliot said it clearer.

But, I will grudgingly admit, there were a lot of things to love about this novel, even if I never fell IN love with it.

What I liked most was the transformation of all these identical events from "all-surface" from the beginning to the nearly mad-ramblings of internal monologue by the end. There was no sharp delineation. It was like I was being boiled alive like a lobster, learning that all the good and true things of the world are, in fact, illusion and subterfuge, especially when the actors never stop believing in the lie.

Of course, I'm talking about the great American Lie, and specifically the WASP ethos, and we're never truly allowed to step outside, except in brief spurts of near sexual completion, into the "other" mindset epitomized by Merry. How can any lie hold up when reality ponderously knocks down your gate, after all?

This is America. We're still going through our adolescence. That means we've probably moved on from the more frolicsome and destructive rebellions and moved on to explore more complicated ideologies than marxism or Jainism, but he fact remains that this book is placing all our attention and energies on the many masks we wear and showing us how untenable our polite fictions really are while spending the entire book trying to convince us that the Swede, the All-American Boy, the industry leader, the devoted father, the all-around decent and intelligent guy, is in fact a tragic character, the straw man representing America, itself.

I liked this novel. I really did.

BUT... I've never identified with these people. I've never identified with sports, extroversion, beauty pageants, upholding the grand American Way and Dream. Most of us moderns see through the lies as soon as they slap us in the face, and even more get pissed at the whole crapfest.

But it won the Pulitzer!

So? Maybe it would have more of an effect on someone old enough to remember that there actually WERE people who never had a doubt in the American Dream. Maybe my parents would find this book a lot more disturbing.

But honestly, Merry herself was one hell of a big strawman, too, and I never could believe the lengths she went to. Jainism? Really? Even Jainists in India have a whole culture that supports them and respects them. Without that little nudge, a Jainist here would have crumbled into dust in a shorter time than this. Five years? And the end of the novel? Come on. I never believed Merry to be as heartless and cruel as her father makes her out to be. He never tried to understand her, and brought this tragedy upon them all.

All right. I know that's a bald-face assertion that might or might not be upheld in the text, but I got the distinct impression that Mr. Roth is presenting us with a hugely persuasive novel. I mean persuasive in the way that I mean he's trying to slam home an idea into our noggins, not that I've been persuaded. He's a meme pusher, and he's trying to evoke a pervasive pathos for the loss of Americana at all costs.

Do I think he's writing from the heart? OR do I think he's a calculating and crafty writer piling in nostalgia and lost dreams for the sake of a cold and callus effect?

Honestly, there were times that I was charmed, but most of the time, I thought was going through an indoctrination/breakdown/indoctrination, watching as the sand I had been told was super valuable trickled from my shaking hands.

So no, I think the writing is fantastic, but I don't, after reflection, think that I like this novel.

I will give it one thing: It balanced a fine edge of hope and despair.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Morning Star (Red Rising, #3)Morning Star by Pierce Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, now that I've just finished reading this great novel, I've lined up a whole bunch of spoilers for you. Are you ready?

Just kidding.

This is easily one of the most satisfying pure SF space-opera-ish revolutionary high-tech adventures I've ever read. I've mentioned before that I love the pacing, the story is strong as hell, and the characters are all pretty much awesome.

Well this time, I can also say that any of my previous concerns about the culture, such as the Reds and how they actually fit into the revolution or the question about why they'd have to keep mining if there's so many robots around to do the work for them, are both answered almost as if the author had taken me aside and given me exactly what I had asked for. (So obviously I'm tickled pink.)

I only had one tiny quibble that showed up at the very end that kinda pissed me off, but every single thing else about this novel was delightful fun, full of exciting action, perfect character development, and a shameless pandering to my deep-down desire to have things work out wonderfully. What more could I ask for? The story was excellent and believable, from making me love those damn siblings at the open, through making me freak out about Mustang, making me cry for the bromance with Sevro, all the way to the moment when the Kwisatz Haderach walked into the throne room... oh... wait... wrong book. :)

This book was simply so much unabashed fun, full of clever, full of excellent storytelling, full of life and love and strive, strive, strive. I can't imagine there being a better capstone to this trilogy. It fully succeeds with everything we were promised at book one, and that's impressive mainly because we were promised a damn lot.

*giddy dance*

I am a FAN. :) :)

This is what good SF is!

That is, if you're looking for the pure revolutionary high-tech splendor, of course. :)

So all you other authors... Why don't we have more of this stuff? Eh? I want more wonder and less dystopia, please. I think it's time for the wheel to turn. :)

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Six-Gun Snow WhiteSix-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this is an excellent novel with or without its being a retelling of Snow White.

Unfortunately, I'm not and never have been a huge fan of Westerns. That being said, I was only able to get into it as far as Cat Valente could carry it, which was quite far, indeed.

The best things I can say about it is that this was never tongue-in-cheek or a lackadaisical mapping of the fairytale into recognizable parody. It felt like a serious and heartfelt rendition of magical realism, where we are never quite given to believe that the magic is real or a wonderfully metaphorical turn of phrase.

That being said, I loved the horse named Apple. Oh, and Cigarettes Kill. :)

This isn't the most ambitious of Ms. Valente's writings, but it might be one of the most adult-accessible, adult-intended stories that I've read. It really makes me want to look up the un-sanitized version of the tale and see the real differences.

It's a story with a lot of heart. Um. Literally. Nom nom nom. :)

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To the LighthouseTo the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel made me laugh, but not for the regular reasons. I laughed because I had to re-read whole swaths of the beginning because I swore I was going mad. Into just how many heads was I going to have to flit between without so much as a by-your-leave? Many, and many, I was soon to learn, as we left the comfortable world of limited omniscient viewpoint and right into deep internal absolute omniscient viewpoint from paragraph to paragraph.

What? How? Where's the editor? Is Ms. Woolf insane?

Not at all. It just took me a bit of a learning curve, and I settled into one of the deepest and widest internal dialogues of a single comfortable family living on an island in Scotland near a lighthouse.

The writing is truly gorgeous, but if you know anything about classics and know anything about the Lost Generation of writers in the 20's, the ex-patriots and the disillusioned souls following the nightmare of WWI, then you know that nothing is ever as it seems.

After all, taken on it's surface, the novel is an epic of a family going through the generations, just trying to leave the front door of the house to eventually go visit the lighthouse. When it happens, of course, one must eventually give up on the reality or the likelihood of god.

Fortunately for us, things are not always as they seem, because that would be a piss-poor excuse for a novel, wouldn't it? Oh, yes, it would. But no worries, that idea was sublimated quite nicely and through a decade's worth of living a life.

And I can't make any excuses here, the novel is dense and idea-rich. It deserves all of your attention and then some. By my third read in two days, I've teared up and got way too emotional over the "house-only" scene, where time has passed and no one but the crotchety old woman is around to clean occasionally while the Ramsays are away. I'm sorry. That scene blew me away with it's utter desolation compared to the life, life, life, of the family, all it's ups and downs, the small miracles and the annoyances and reversals.

Lily was interesting as a very beautiful counterpoint to Mrs. Ramsay, full of equal portions reflection and action in stark comparison to the stern matron of the house, and she, more than anything else, taught me to love the mother. Truly. What a gorgeous and dense novel.

I'm certain that I'll re-read this again some time, and I'll probably re-read it several times during that sitting, too. It is deep and complex and full of treasures and beauty. I'm not generally one for re-reads, either, but some few books out there simply beg to be wallowed in, and this one is definitely one of that ilk.

Mrs. Ramsay holds a very special place in my heart, easily deeper and more complicated than the menfolk who dismiss her for being a woman in her middle years waffling between love and contentment and quiet despair and universal contemplation.

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a very workmanlike fantasy, all child of light facing off against the darkness after first starting off an orphan in the army pining after her boy-love, only to discover she's a princess of magic tons of other standard tropes.

It's written well, for what it is, but it's true what they say. Nothing's new under the sun.

It's a very comfortable read and it does the tropes better, in my opinion, than the same fantasy stories that have been told for centuries or longer, but especially in the last 40 years. In fact, since there's not much else that I can say except that it just does the same old thing except slightly better, I can judge it on that merit alone without bringing up that I was slightly bored, just hoping and waiting for that one good twist that would turn the convention on its head and turn the read from good to excellent. It didn't happen.

War happens, as do great winged beasties, a great darkness, and a strong thread of YA romance. We go from reluctant hero to losing hope and giving in to access her super-powerful magic, a detailed quest to find the mythical focus, and the grand revelation... it's all here and all very, very comfortable. I suppose I understand why it's been a very popular novel.

My main problem is in deciding whether I want to read further. I'm sure this might be a fantastic starter fantasy novel. And I'm sure that many people swear by it with their dying breath.

I just don't know why I should read more if it isn't going to hold any surprises for me. I mean, literally everything was telegraphed far in advance, from the romance elements to the grand betrayal, it was all as comfortable as can be.

I think I'm going to have to read a lot of reviews to decide whether the series decides to surprise us. If it does, then I'll have no issues. If it continues to roll out all the same tropes without doing even a single new thing, then no.

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The Library at Mount Char: some random thoughts

Some of my random thoughts on The Library at Mount Char:

An imagination is kinda like a diaper. A mind without an imagination will never ask what the diaper was meant to catch, and so we're left with a world that is either rich with fertilizer or heads full of crap.

Of course, if we never wondered what our imaginations were supposed to catch in the first place, then this question would never have been an issue, and the world would probably be dancing in their tutus without ever having a bloody thought in their head, and of course, no one would have ever been the wiser.

It's kinda like this book. If you've never read it, you'll never have guessed how freaky it is, how joyously insane it is.

I would never wish a life like that for anyone. :)

(Even if my head is stuffed full of shit.) :) 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Through the WoodsThrough the Woods by Emily Carroll
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Horror stories done stark and right, minimalist and tear-your-face-off creepy.

Seriously. I think I only like one of the five stories, but I loved the other four. Crazy solid scares, and now I've got a good book to read to my daughter once she finally stops needing to sleep with the light on.

After all, we can't have our children growing up unafraid, now can we?

(Puts on a wide brimmed hat and grins in such a way that all of his teeth gleam like piano keys.)


But my favorite story of all was the one that was told to the monster. How hella cool was that? Totally awesome. :)

This is by far the most solid all-around tale(s) of horror I've ever read in a comic. Others might have a lot more creativity, strange plots, more odd characters, but this one excels in doing one thing extremely right:

Scaring you.

Bravo. :)

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The Absconded Ambassador (Genrenauts, #2)The Absconded Ambassador by Michael R. Underwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks goes to Tor and the author for the ARC!

A few weeks in to her new life, Leah gets thrown into two, yes, two, major infodumps! Poor girl. I never guessed that managerial duties in a big corporation could sound like so much technobabble and serve all the same functions... but wait!

This Is SF. Of course we have technobabble! Especially when we're getting ready for SPACE OPERA! Woo Woo!

My Genre-loving friends, get ready... we're out of the saddle and back in the Saddle, but this time we've got alien politics, burgeoning alliances, mystery, and enough fast-paced Pew-Pew action to make me think I was in a golden age rocket ship, and indeed, that's the point.

Gotta save the universe by saving the universe. Always the multiple layers. :)

I won't give it away, but there's a special crossover and some special character development. It makes me wonder if the ongoing genre-bending events on both sides of the tracks are going to get us into a lot of epic troubles.

It's not quite a cliffhanger, but it serves as a great continuing story hook that is still self-referential in all the story ways it needs to be if it's going to be a self-respecting meta-Genrenaut.

Be forewarned! Setting is just as important in Space Opera SF as story, so don't blink! :)

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The Shootout Solution (Genrenauts, #1)The Shootout Solution by Michael R. Underwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is SF. Well, actually, it's Western, but since I don't want to bother making a shelf for that and it really is SF without being Westworld, I'll leave it as SF.

Except. It's also a writing manual, giving us all the insides of How To Write A Story as the means to live while being inside one. Or three. Or eighteen stories. Or however many Tau-Heinleinesque The Number of the Beast alternate universes there are when genres spin into umbrella universes that split even further into sub-genres that split into yet more subgenres...

And the whole point is that the GENRES ARE MIXING AND BREAKING DOWN... oh my god... the universe is breeching!

Damn cool concept, and I think I'm gonna like this even more than Geekomancy, because it's not only tapping into nostalgia, but it's also going to tap into archetypes in a BIG way in order to Get Things Done. Hell, it's written in such a way that even the ultra-conscious way that the story is written gets sublimated into the characters who consider the fine points of storytelling just so they can manipulate a whole worldview inside the genre. And then, underneath that, or above it, I can't really decide where that layer belongs, we've got Leah transforming from Reluctant Hero, to Kid, to Sidekick, back to Reluctant Hero in her own tale that is, in itself, a metafiction of all these alternate realities.

And is it easy to follow, unlike my review's narrative? Hell yes. It's all story, tongue-in-cheek pure adventure.

It's good all by itself.

The only thing that could make it better is an ongoing series of novellas doing the same thing and enlarging the concept...

But Oh, Wait! It is!

I'm tickled pink. :) And thanks to Tor, I recently got Episode 2 as an ARC. Guess what I'm going to do in 2 minutes?

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Saturday, February 6, 2016

PlanetfallPlanetfall by Emma Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What struck me most about this traditional SF novel was the level of personal experience worked onto the page. Personal tragedy was used so well as to ring a strong measure of emotional immediacy, even anguish, into what would have been a normally decent and workmanlike novel of societal deceit and colonialism, even extreme isolationalism.

When she goes deep into the loss of her loved one, it was strong, but it became almost alien, at least to me, when the ethos of hoarding meets the needs of the society. This was definitely a character novel, but the worldbuilding was very sound and the reveals and surprises were quietly desperate and interesting.

I liked this novel quite a bit, but it was slightly slow for my tastes. That isn't to say I was ever bored.

I think the foreword to the novel went a very, very long way to charm me before I even began reading the novel. For good or ill, that knowledge probably went a very long way toward being generous, but I don't care. This level of honesty deserves a lot of praise and respect.

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I just nominated my favorite SF for the 2015 HUGO, and here's the list:

The Library at Mount Char
Children of Time
Luna: New Moon
The Fifth Season

I didn't nominate any shorts or novellas since I haven't read much of anything there, BUT, if anyone has any suggestions for the short categories, including Short Stories, Novelettes, or Novellas, throw them at me and I'll see if I can read them all before March 31 this year. Thanks!

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All the Birds in the SkyAll the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Or to put it in milder terms, "I just got ran over by a mac truck."

This novel is just too important to miss, whether or not you're into SF or Fantasy, because it is both. It's a long and delightful and REAL conversation between the two, a heartfelt exploration and a synthesis, a heartbreaking tale and a true wonderment of fiction.

I guess I kinda liked it.

It's a lot more than a magical realism novel, and it's no experiment. There's nothing unreadable about it and it doesn't have tons of clever word adornments. From the start we're thrown into a futuristic society and a world full of fairytale (or birdlike) magic, and we follow Laurence and Patricia in a long-entwined tale of equal proportions and dialogue, their uneasy alliance, their estrangement, and finally, their enduring love.

This is all about us, the readers, too. Science Fiction and Fantasy have gone through rough patches, denigrating each other, running from each other, saying spiteful things to each other, but in the end, we're so much more alike than anything else can be in the universe. So whether you're a cyborg or a wizard, know one thing: We Are All The Same, and We Are Loved.

Did I say this was a true book? It goes way beyond just this dialogue. I feel the heart of it pumping and changing the universe. It's my New Favorite Book, and it's not so much strange and powerful as it is deeply and profoundly hopeful, and by everything that's holy, I appreciate that.

I bawled tears of joy and horror, people. No joke. I sat in my chair and couldn't read from all the sobs.

From the very start, the first hook, I knew I was going to want to savour this novel, and I did. I'm likely going to re-read it many times and be filled with amazement and hope and joy, even as I cringe at the young years or feel the Fear coming for the adult years.

It's brilliant and if there's any justice in the universe, this novel needs to be one that Endures.

And by the way, this is already on my Hugo Picks for 2016.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

The ThreeThe Three by Sarah Lotz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one's fairly hard to categorize, but based on the style of writing, alone, I can firmly place it in Horror.

I have to say that I'm really enjoying all these recent epistolary novels. I always thought the old styles even from classics like Dracula were kinda overblown, but these fit me just fine. Sure, they're transcripts from skype conversations and emails and message boards, but who cares? It lets us see all the kooky craziness of a wide, wide swath of weird humanity, and that's rather the point.

The Three (or four) that the novel is ostensibly supposed to be about are rather beside the point. They're merely a fraction of the creepy that this novel has to offer.

No. The real monsters, the real aliens, the real possessions, and the real androids are right here among us normals. Hell, there were several references to Left Behind, enough to really point out that this was either a tribute to the whole Rapture scenario or it was one of the most deadpan satires of it. I tend to believe the latter.

*shiver* The United Theocratical States of America. Yikes.

This is real horror.

In the end, it doesn't even matter what the titular characters were, although I'll think about it for a while and probably pick up the sequel because the question is still interesting. The best part of the novel was in looking at the mirror of our societies and all of our deep dark ignorance and our crazy.

It was great fun! It was kinda relaxing and let me get my hate on for all the idiots of the world. Isn't that the point?

All of the characters were pretty damn detailed and immersed us in the world. The devil is always in the details for the horror novel, after all, and this succeeds quite well. I'm very glad to have read this, even if it's not mind-shattering, truly horror inducing, or terribly original. It is, however, solid and fascinating and modern and tongue-in-cheek, so I'm going to sing it's praises. :) It IS well written. :)

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Betrayal in Winter (Long Price Quartet, #2)A Betrayal in Winter by Daniel Abraham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a sequel it did improve upon the first, including a fairly complicated plot for a kingdom's succession. Otah and his sister Idaan are easily the two main players here, and love plays the largest role as thememaster, which is rather surprising since neither character shows themselves to be particularly loving in general even if they are in particular.

This is far from a departure from the first novel in the series, carrying through as seamlessly as silk.

The magic again proves rather elusive, even if we have a rather interesting IDEA turned FORM playing relatively minor roles throughout. Honestly, I'd have loved to see more of him, but it wasn't to be.

On the other hand, if you want a novel full of intrigue, reluctant ascension, and heartbreaking betrayals, then you're in for a treat.

The novel is rich in worldbuilding and very close and personal with it's characters.

While I liked it better than the first in the series, I found myself not caring quite as much as I felt I ought to. Maybe I'm a sociopath. No one is extremely good or bad. There's a lot of grey area, and that's perfect if you want a complex tapestry without larger than life events.

Of course, there are plenty of assassinations and at least a taste of mass-death, but I've been spoiled by fantasies rife with war or huge social upheavals.

A taste of what Galt has in store is not really enough, in my opinion, but perhaps it'll all become a huge reveal and a dire event in the future. We shall see.

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The Drowning GirlThe Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one is dark and haunting, half a tribute to falling into art so deeply that it makes love to you and murders you, and half a deep treatise on madness and skirting the far edges of normality, all while feeling very much in one's own skin.

Most of the fun is simply trying to figure out whether it's a ghost story, a Ghost Story, or the ghost of a story, disjointed and cast adrift in time and faulty memory.

It's quite the interesting maze. Parts of the later novel is dreamlike and calls on us to reimagine all that had gone on before. It requires a bit of reflection, honestly, but even though this appears, at first glance, to be a quick and easy haunting of a novel, the truth is a bit more murky. Like looking into a disturbed pool of water and seeing yourself in the muddy swirls.

Then again, perhaps the wolves are real, Miss Riding Hood.

There's lots of symbolism and analysis in the novel, but no worries, almost all the work is done for us. It's the threads snaking in-between that require effort. :)

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files, #1)Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A big thank you goes to Netgalley, and I can only ask for an apology for holding off so long before reading this novel. I suppose I figured that anything that would give away such a long lead-time is either playing the really hopeful card or the really cautious one.

I'm here on the other side of reading it to say that I had a great time!

I do hate blurbs that say misleading things to link an author to other big items like The Martian or World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, and honestly, this novel is really nothing like them.

It deserves to stand on its own. And thanks to a little reconstructive surgery, I'm sure it will! ;) Sorry. That's a little inside joke. Read it and I'm sure that'll become crystal clear. :)

No, if I really HAD to make a connection with this and some other media, then it's closer to Pacific Rim or Neon Genesis Evangelion than some space adventure or a zombie apocalypse. Indeed, in some ways it's better written than either of those novels.

I've had the pleasure to review a few novels with epistolary writing recently, and this one happens to clock in at one of the easiest and interesting, based entirely on transcripts, so it's completely a novel of dialogue. I loved it.

Out of all the characters, I think I loved the interviewer best. He or she, whatever the person's name is, has got to have one hell of a head on his or her shoulders. All I can say is, "Bravo on the Long Game!" I wanted to cheer!

This is an absolutely delightful and pure SF novel that doesn't dumb down to us, expresses true joy at revealing the nature of the universe, and for the rest of us who are in it for a grand adventure with high stakes and much, much higher stakes to come thanks to the Titans, you're in for a treat.

I was never bored. Not even once. I loved the scientific progression that led to the political horrors all the way to the ruthless exploitations. But what really sparked my fire was the quick return to something wonderfully idealistic, even if, or despite its being paraded about as an absolute necessity.

There's something delightfully evil about it.

If this isn't a brilliant start to a wonderful new SF series, then I'll be a monkey's uncle. I'd read the living hell out of the entire series and chortle all the way, knowing that SF is not dead or dying... it's just preparing for a new and JUST life as a Giant.

Is this a Heroic novel? Hell yes. I think that's what we've been missing all these long years. :)

Wonder and heroism and a nice handful of mythology to boot.

Read this. Read it, everyone. We need more stories like this on the market. :)

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Perdido Street Station (Bas-Lag, #1)Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lesson learned after reading this?

Don't Experiment With Cheese.

Can you imagine how many problems could have been avoided had this novel had access to time-travel? It's practically the only trope not explored, and that's saying a damn lot.

Off and on through the entire reading, I wanted to declare that this is one of the most brilliant novels ever written. The sheer level of creativity and attention to detail, the fantastic explorations of ideas, the explosion of plot items and complications, and the REALITY of it all just begged to be placed up there as one of the very, very best speculative fiction ever written.

It's dense, but not unaccessible. The characters are vivid and fascinating and it's so easy to pick them all out of a lineup, despite there being a huge number of incidentals. And the plot is about as windy as they come while still holding to the straight and true. After things go to hell, it's practically a straight line, in fact, but that line is rich and a seemingly impossible goal.

I never stopped being impressed by the novel, whether it was my first time reading it or this second time.

But here's the "But".

I can't believe I'm saying this, but there was too much action after the moths. The city is as rich as they come, and so many damn things happened, including a great invasion scene, mind-sucking beasties, aerial monster sex, Steampunk AI emergence, mind-shit, and so many, many aliens. (Or whatever you want to call them.)

All the little things, all the attempts to put the genie back in the bottle, all the tiring attempts to right past wrongs, it was all just too draining for me. After a certain point, it was all brilliant descriptions and fascinating reveals, and by themselves I have no complaint. It was all tension and almost no release. As a thought experiment, I give it top marks in idea and execution. As a strictly enjoyable novel that lets the reader breathe every once in a while... well, not so much.

I'd almost recommend taking a break every once in a while, except that there's so many details to juggle and appreciate that I'd be afraid that I'd lose the thread. Not that the main thread was ever difficult to pick up again, of course, because like I said, it was pretty much a straight line for almost 3/5 of the novel. I found myself wishing for more dialogue and character stuff the way we had during the opening before the Crisis Engine was first turned on.

It was brilliant afterward, but it needed cycles and rhythm. It was frankly exhausting, even when I marvelled at how beautiful it was.

I can make a good argument that the main character of the novel was Perdido Street Station, itself, and Isaac and Yagharek and Lin merely being secondary characters.

It's not entirely true, of course, and I sincerely liked the flesh and blood characters right along the interesting constructs. I even like Isaac despite being the author of all this mess and his many fuck-ups. I even like Yagharek despite the shit he pulled, even if I agree with his judgement.

It's a depressing end to the novel, too, so perhaps my ongoing excitement for the tale took a downturn along with the tone.

Nothing it going to stop me, this time, from reading the Bas-Lag sequels. I didn't have any excuse last time, and I'm frankly chomping at the bit to read more of this world. It's so damn rich, and not even an unsatisfying end can ruin that. :)

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