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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Memories of Ice (The Malazan Book of the Fallen, #3)Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think it's actually this book where I'm finally getting into the swing of things better, but perhaps that's just familiarity with the endless procession of characters. It helped when I finally broke down and got the help of a wiki. :)

On the other hand, I sure as hell never needed help loving Kruppe even from the first book and that sure as hell hasn't changed by the third. What a personality!

And of course there's a lot to love about Brood and Rake, both in story, history, and personal quirks, but Silverfox really does rather steal the show for me.

What I'm really most fascinated about are the gods. It's hard not to see them all as stealing the show from the normal folk, because, truly, we're surrounded by them in the story, whether they're the elder gods or the new gods, the tragic T'lan Imass, or the new NEW gods, they're all flashy and full of flavor in comparison to the poor mortals, alas. Or at least, they would be if they didn't keep getting taken down a notch or three and proving that certain mortals have a talent of surviving.

Or not. *sigh* No spoilers.

Honestly, I'm still enthralled by the Crippled God and all the discussions related to him. The poisoning of the warrens is damn interesting, too. :) I'm surrounded by big, big ideas and the scope is breathtaking. When we say immortals, we really mean immortals, people. What's a 100k years, anyway? This is nothing different from the first two, of course, but I'm still feeling the effects.

I love the little subversions and Silverfox's development and twisty bits, too.

I could keep going, after all, this is a really huge novel and so much happens, but suffice to say, nations fall, the fate of so many tortured souls and gods and everyone else is at stake. There's surprisingly less fighting in the text than I expected, filled with a ton of intrigue and people just trying to figure out what's going on, and I was just fine with that. It made for an interesting discovery novel. :)

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Not So Much, Said The CatNot So Much, Said The Cat by Michael Swanwick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This man is a superlative author.

I'm deathly worried about spoiling anything about this short story collection because all I want to do is gush and gush about the transposition of ideas here, the character building there, the truly awesome amount of storytelling SKILLS that he seems to effortlessly embody. He lays out words with such clarity and beauty and beastly knowledge about the SF (and fantasy!) fields, that I'm frankly floored. He's consistently original, widely exploratory, and best of all, he is consummately entertaining.

I could gush on and on, but what I really, really want to do is discuss his stories. There's really a ton that I want to say, but spoiling anything at this point would do everyone a disservice, and that's precisely the opposite of what I want. I want to tell EVERYONE that Michael Swanwick has got to be one of the very best SF authors alive.

Granted, I only read a single one of his novels and I gushed over it, but I do remember reading a few years worth of Issac Asimov Magazines back in the eighties and early nineties and I remember his name as always writing the stories I most wanted to read in every issue.

It's the ideas. It's always the ideas first. Then it's the brilliance of the writing. Mind you, it's not flowery language or anything crass like that. It's all about telling wonderful stories that make you think and feel and go, "Ah!" and make you go, "Oh, that's awesome!"

So why did I ever lose track of this guy? Probably because I got into a novel kick shortly after and left all those gorgeous short stories behind. Hell if I know why. He's a better short story writer than practically any other author I've ever read, and they stick with you like neon signs or the smell of pancakes with syrup or the furry lining of your favorite winter coat as you step out into the harsh night.

Well I can tell you right now, I'm never turning my back on short stories again if this guy is still writing them. I didn't meet a single story I didn't absolutely love.

They were all a perfect marriage of classic stories and bleeding edge tech, from godlike continental AIs to the abolishment of time, clever discourse on libertarianism and zero-sum economics in a mirroring tale of humanity and alien bugs, fairy tales and one of the best futuristic con-games I've ever had the pleasure of consuming. :) There was even a literary love-story of an American Pushkin that surprised and delighted the hell out of me even as it baffled me, too. :)

Some of my absolute favorites, even though I loved them all, were:

The Dala Horse - Great world building, great fairy tale.
Passage of Earth - NICE and twisty invasion story.
The Woman Who Shook the World-Tree - I'm NOT spoiling this one, but trust me. It's COOL. :)
Tawny Pettycoats - I'm a sucker for con games.

I'm LOVING these, but don't get the idea that I didn't love the rest. Some were like having OZ step from behind the curtain, while others were a deeply emotional look at their last moments of life, as in "3 A.M. in the Mesozoic Bar", which was also funny at the same time as it was horrifying, or "Libertarian Russia" which captured the contradictory flavors of a true Russia despite a future depopulation, or the last story, "The House of Dreams", which was some of the most clever modern UF/Alternate Histories I've ever read that included magic and a literary gotcha. :)

I'm almost dancing in my seat as I write this. I want to get my hands on everything else he's ever written, now, and devour it all. :)

I can tell that he's a huge fan of the genre. He's doing all of this out of pure love. It's not like any author can survive on short stories in this day and age. He's writing awesome fiction because he's obviously driven to get this great stuff out. :) A calling, perhaps? An obsession? Great Love? Who cares! We are all the grand winners, here! :) :)

Great thanks goes to Netgalley for the opportunity of reading this great stuff! :)

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Friday, April 29, 2016

Space Raptor Butt InvasionSpace Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Hugo Awards 2016 Short Story Nominee.

Yes. Hugo. This is proof that the Rabid Puppies are still active.

Now, I promised myself, despite all the ribbing over the years that I'd never, ever, ever touch Chuck Tingle (or read his stuff), I find myself reading this One Work.

Are you surprised? I'm surprised!

Did I like it? Even though I, and so many SF/F fans know that we are being punked? How this shows that we have or haven't any sense of humor?

Uh. Even as satire, this is still just gay raptor sex. There's not enough satire to hang a tiny paper lantern on. Not even on the raptor's scaly dick.

*sigh* This is worse than being punked. There's not even enough of *anything* to even grin about except getting a rise out of your friends, be they gay (or not) for raptors.

Monster erotica is funny because it's a great conversation piece. It belongs there. I heartily approve.

I do *not* approve of the Hugo's being dragged through the mud when there *are* so many truly awesome short stories out there, by truly awesome writers who pour their hearts and souls into making great fiction. A lot of which I've even READ last year, despite my focusing nearly exclusively on novels.

Is this some of the nastiest examples of stupid reactionary right-wing politics in the SF/F fan community that I've ever seen? No. Not by a really long shot. I'll reserve that for the rape and murder threats toward women writers.

No More. God Damn It. NO MORE SHIT.

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The DevourersThe Devourers by Indra Das
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't honestly say that it is a completely unique experience to say that I've been consumed by a story, but I can honestly say that I've never consumed and been consumed by one in equal proportions.

This one hit me in the feels, and I can't quite say that I've ever really been taken in by the whole werewolf phenomenon, and although I have enjoyed the whole idea of burning life and and desperate death struggles, no particular novelization or film has quite done for me what this novel accomplished to do.

What has this novel done, you ask?

Imagine, for just a moment, that you're sitting down at your favorite coffee bar, exhausted and still half-asleep, perhaps after a very long night of listening to some raucous music and feeling lonely, when your coffee is placed in front of you, and you taste it, only to find that it is piping hot blood, and not coffee at all. Shocked and also unsurprised at the same time, you don't spit it out, instead, you savour the rich and heavy taste, amazed at the memories the scent conjures, and equally thrilled to learn that far from being some old blood, it's fresh, and oddly enough, you can even taste the beat of the racing heart within your cup. You drink deeply, and the cup continually refills itself, as heady as cream, as sweet as death, but absolutely overflowing with all the little details of life flashing before your eyes, or perhaps it is just the last moments of your victim as you drain his or her stories from the cup of his being, consuming not only his life, but his language, his custom, his soul, his very anima, and you make it your own. Far from being upset from this seemingly slow transformation from your first self to your second self, you see nothing wrong at all. It is the most natural thing in the world to devour the story, and even as you startle from your drifting memories of anguish, you pick a piece of flesh, perhaps the sinew of gut, from between your teeth, and you look up to see the glowing green lanterns of the eyes of your new companion who offers you your own death in kind, and you find, to your surprise, that you are still more curious than afraid, discovering that you would rather know than go without even this, perhaps the last of all the stories you will ever consume.

Do you understand? It's this feeling.

It also doesn't hurt at all that I was enraptured by the setting, living in Kolkata, India, in both modern and a time several hundred years ago, both, as a consumer of stories and a consumer of the past and the almost consumed of the present. I never once felt out of danger as a reader, and it was entirely the fault of the language that the author used. More than anything, this stream of words and evocative detail made the novel one of the richest, densest, and most revelatory of horror/fantasy novels I've ever read. It doesn't rely on plot, although the echoes of other plots haunt me even now, oh Durga fighting the Demon, oh Fenrir and his "love", oh Cyrah.

And don't misunderstand me on one fact: this is *not* a werewolf story. This is a story of all the nameless demons that refuse to be pinned down in the world. This is also about rakashas, devi, djinn, gods and goddessess, Banbibi, Bandurga, Bandevi. It's about Imakhr and Valkyrie, too.

And also, don't let me discourage you, because this is also a very simple tale. The difference is that it is told very deeply. :) I'm frankly in awe.

And I'm riding the high within a wave of blood.

Thanks goes to Netgalley for the delight of reading this beautiful book.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Rest of Us Just Live HereThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not only surprised and delighted after reading this, but I was surprised and delighted *while* reading it from almost the very start.

I went, "Oh cool, it's almost like the UF YA version of a Redshirts satire, where the Indie kids all die or don't while immortals create rifts in the high school universe and there's multiple Indie Flynns and gods and ghosts and vampires roam the halls, fall in love, and then die like little preeeecious flowers,... and everyone else just lives there. Satire! A light, YA satire or even a full-on lampoon of the entire industry."

I was hooked. I had only been reading a few pages.

Little did I know that I could *then* begin reading it on multiple levels, even having our endearingly flawed non-Indie narrator spelling it out for us, that all the magic doesn't necessarily have to be real for us to believe it, but he does, and so does his friends, and that's cool and he doesn't have to believe our reality, either. :)

*Jaw Drops*

Okay! That's pretty damn well awesome and clearly stated and I can't love either interpretation more than I already do.

And strangely enough, all these quirky-queer deer-god encounters only compliments and deepens the other half of the story, which is actually about finding your way to adulthood and exploring possibilities.

But you ask, "Isn't that what all these UF YA novels do?"

Sure, but I haven't read any that has been as self-consciously entertaining, creative, or straightforward about it. Ness knows the industry like a master. All those quirky flavors of the mass market teeny-books are expressed so deftly and interestingly in their own right, and I fairly stood up and started clapping at the chapter summaries... (Right before I began parsing how those chapter summaries *actually* fit into the real text. (Which is often not clear at first glance, but also completely unnecessary for our enjoyment of the text.:))

I think Patrick Ness might be becoming one of those *always read* authors for me. I can't *not* trust that he'll be creative, clear, and a veritable master of his craft. Not only that, but I seem to be having a huge amount of fun every time I read his work.

Okay, it's only up to two books, now, but you get the idea. Anyone who can hit a home run like this, twice out of two, has got my attention.

Great stuff!

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Burned (Alex Verus, #7)Burned by Benedict Jacka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes, every once in a great while, there comes a truly excellent UF book. A good deal are entertaining, a bit less are fantastic, and a handful rank up there with some of the best in any genre.

Of course, to actually make that claim, we've still got to take into account everything that has come before and see what kind of build in character, circumstance, pressure, and execution could possibly MAKE such a treasure.

Okay, let's ignore that for a second. It's a weight and a burden each of us carry willingly if we get through 6 books in a beloved series.

Of course, this does say a lot of good things about an author that not only improves their craft and weave, but keeps us loving the books long enough to slam us good with a book like this.

I love all types of books, but you expect these to have rising pressure, often in three acts, and a delightful release after each. You can also expect character arcs to do something very similar over the span of many books, until our MC has so many enemies and no where else to turn to, he's forced into horrible decisions after horrible decisions. A Mr. Dresden knows this well, and now we've got a certain Mr. Verus in the same boat.

It's been coming for a long time. He's been barely treading water over many books. It actually doesn't really matter that he's been able to make and keep friends, when the whole weight of magical society, whether light or dark, wants a piece of you in the end.


It's character tapestries like this that make me reaffirm my decision to keep up with my UF reading even though there are so many fantastic standalone novels out there. It's the difference between a tiny brilliant painting and a mural spanning the inside of a great dome. Both have their place and their joys, they're both glorious to take in, but you have to have a certain mindset and patience that's quite a bit different between each set.

All I can say is Bravo! This is a home run! Extremely good payoff, almost too good, because now I'm tempted to tear the rest of my hair out to get my hands on the next novel.

Oh, wait. This just came out. DAMNIT!

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Down and Out in PurgatoryDown and Out in Purgatory by Tim Powers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novella is a relatively quick read. It really just focuses on the imaginative bits that Tim Powers is known for, and it finishes on a single relatively easy-to-predict premise.

It has a noir feel, which shouldn't surprise anyone by the title, but of course it's really about death and moving on. Literally, in this case. It might be billed as a literary piece turned into an UF turned into a dark and dirty streets gumshoe pulp. And why not? Purgatory isn't supposed to be a particularly *nice* place, and should it surprise anyone that the best it has to offer is the ride? Of course not.

I can say, however, that the imagery is beautiful, the world-building is interesting, and while the incremental ticks of our MC's metamorphosis as he goes through his to-do list is really quite minimal, I'd expect more for a full-sized novel.

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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The Devil's Only Friend (John Cleaver, #4)The Devil's Only Friend by Dan Wells
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For all you peeps missing a Serial Killer gone Good, or at least good-ish, or even just mildly tiptoeing the very broad definition of monsterhood, I'd recommend this series.

John's 17 years old, has lost almost everything, but he's done the right thing and joined the "good guys" to hunt down demons. John still doesn't give a flying rat's ass about whether anyone lives or dies and he still likes to take home a rack of meat to stab viciously in his off hours, but at least he has the intellectual stimulation of hunting down monsters that have been alive for ten thousand years and pins all his hopes on giving himself that one gift he lives for.

The thrill of the kill.

It's all gravy that the peeps he's running with are a morass of grey areas and are hardly any better than the monsters he hunts. Maybe he'll have a chance at an open smorgasbord? lol

The writing is smooth, the characters compelling, and John is constantly straddling that line that makes us readers squirm and squirm and squirm.

I think this might be the best of the books so far. I know I had a great time. :)

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Monday, April 25, 2016

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home (Fairyland, #5)The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So gorgeous.

I think I've said that about the rest of the series, before, but it doesn't make it any less true each and every time I read a Fairyland Book. The fact that it's the last one is sad, true, but the ending makes up for all my trepidations. :)

This one felt slightly more dense in the puns, the hidden treasures, and the storytelling than the previous novels, or perhaps I was simply a bit more anxious to squeeze every last dollop of goodness out of the book because it would be the last. Either way, never imagine that the Cantankerous Derby is a race that follows straight lines or even logic. This is, after all, FAIRYLAND, and things are absolutely bonkers, bonkers, bonkers.

I was really taken for a ride this time, even if the Model A only had a walk on part, but at least we had the boy who lived in all directions at once, our fire-breathing library, a blunderbuss made of yarn, and more than enough shadows to rivet in all our desperate times.

The DUELS were awesome.

The more I think about these books the more I realize they're even better for adults than the ostensible child they're written for. Or is it really for the child that all of us will become Saturday to be? Or is the first kiss really the Kiss That Stands For All Time?

Well anyway, the kiss is the kiss that transcends time because it is the kiss of Story and Story is absolute and utter king. Or Queen.

I'm not blowing any wind here, folks. This book is AWESOME.

Hell, the whole Series is AWESOME. I'm sitting here looking at my little girl and willing her to grow a little bit older so she'll be ready for me to read all of these glorious glorious glorious works of imagination to her. :) I keep showing her the books and she lights up, saying, "Is that Fairyland?" And I say, "Yes, girl, this is Fairyland, and soon you'll be ready to ride the Leopard." "Yay!"

Yeah, yay!

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles, #2)Sweep in Peace by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There were a lot less slipped-in world-building gems in this instalment, but there was a much more streamlined and focused plot with deeper character building across the board, so all in all, everything evened out.

Ah, yes, and there was much less of a sense of love-triangles and UFism as all the races began feeling like individuals with histories, loss, and actionable twisted motivations. This one felt like a traditional diplomatic-action SF, complete with a quirky chef, seating arrangements, and an asshole arbitrator. (Come on. You know that's a standard trope. No *real* spoiler.)

And yet, our MC's love interests aren't completely gone from the picture, so if you are pining, you *are* allowed to pine and swoon and whatever it is you paranormal romance types do in your off-time. That part doesn't interest *me* that much, but I can recognize good writing, interesting stories, and a delightful low-fever of humor running through these novels.

You Texans! You sure allow some interesting people to run some interesting intergalactic way stations in your state! Whew. :)

Btw, I can read this stuff all day long. It's very pleasant and easy and not at all boring. Bravo!

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Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles, #1)Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been hearing about this series on or off for months and decided to give it a good college try.

I haven't read any of this duo's work, but since the raves kept coming regularly, I thought, "Why not?"

So HOW COME no one told me this was a heavy SF title? I mean, sure, it has story elements that are all Urban Fantasy complete with werewolves and vampires and the requisite love triangle, and I already knew enough by the clever title that the MC is couched in a clever Innkeeper's role throughout, but NO ONE told me that all of this was firmly set in a universe full of interesting variant aliens and Inns were way-stations and ports of call across the galaxy, featuring it's own wormhole system, a fully realized high-tech system that even refers to itself as following Clarke's Third Law.

Coolness. Utter Coolness. I was first amazed by all the quick and dirty world-building that dropped hints of epic-spanning cultures like little doggie presents on the lawn, and then I enjoyed even more quick and dirty descriptions of races that turned all our familiar tropes into fresh and wonderful alien races with their own histories. :)

Don't get me wrong. This is still a light and fun UF that is as familiar as it is an easy read. :)

But if you're tired of the same ole and want good Science Fiction AND a well-written and fast UF, you can't really go wrong here. :)

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Casimir Bridge (Anghazi Series Book 1)Casimir Bridge by Darren Beyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For a novel that billed itself as one that adhered to real science, I was slightly worried that it would lose sight of the one thing that no Fiction, let alone Science Fiction, should ever ignore. That is: A Good Story.

Fortunately, I had a good time. There was plenty of good science, but above the Campbellian ideal, this author never lost sight of the fact that interesting characters and an exciting story will always carry the day.

This is a thriller. Mind you, it's a technical thriller, but it is still a thriller to its core. There's lots of action and intrigue and it spans across several star systems thanks to at least one or two slight stretches of Handwavium in the "discovered" elements that allowed us to manufacture our own naked wormholes. There's also the matter of nanotech advancement, but I didn't say that this was a novel based on our current level of science or that I was going to rule out possible unforeseen discoveries. Hyperium and the last reveal of the novel aren't outside of the realm of possibility, mind you, but it is much easier to swallow when we imagine both as having been manufactured by an intelligence rather than being mysteriously "found". In this respect, the author is moving no further outside of the lines than Arthur C. Clarke ever did, and I think that's rather the point.

The author focused on story, political and economical pressures, and most of all, on love.

We readers do love to feel a connection to the characters, don't we? :) Well, I did. I wasn't quite sure I would, and a few pages made me wonder, but I'm very happy that I stuck with it. There wasn't a wasted passage.

I'll absolutely continue on with the series and wish the author all the very best luck! Here's to a grand adventure!

And lastly, thank you for the ARC. I was certainly not disappointed with the story nor the science. :)

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Friday, April 22, 2016

The Circuit: Progeny of Vale (The Circuit, #2)The Circuit: Progeny of Vale by Rhett C. Bruno
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great continuance of the Circuit series picking up right after Vale dropped his bombshell from book one, out to gather allies in his revolution and finding out that things never go quite to plan. Adim, on the other hand, is someone I continually want to ascribe as a character separate and growing from Vale, and he is, but since the two are never twain and their wills are almost never apart, it's easy to combine the two characters as one super-character. :) And that's not really that far off the mark, honestly.

Talon has had it hard, but he's regaining his balance and discovering that he's the real hero of the tale, and far from being listless and depressed due to his circumstance, he's ready and able to throw off his shackles and join the fight.

Most surprising, I think, is Sage's tale of breaking free and finding a goal to live by. Hers may be the best of the three interweaving character arcs, but that might simply be my mood. And maybe it's the pathos. I love to see these three shoot across the sky and intersecting in strange orbital arcs.

Are you ready for War? There's plenty of feels for ya and the life in the solar system is going to be quite chaotic from here on out. I know I'm hooked.

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The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1)The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was surprisingly good and easy novel to get into with a decent SF premise of settlers on an alien world and a genetic plague that reads like any number of YA dystopias, but what makes this one stand apart from all the rest is the twist on psi mind-reading and the Purpose behind the main action.

No spoilers, but there was enough delayed satisfaction going on throughout the novel to keep any jaded reader turning the page. :)

Did I like the characters? Yeah, for the most part, but Todd reads pretty everyman and his emotions are only somewhat convincing. At one point near the end, I just wanted him to do what the other man was telling him to do. What's the fuss? What's the fuss? *sigh*

Still, it was an amusing romp and even if the main plot relied a little too much on the mystery of the plot, the action sequences more than made up for it. I don't think I'll have any issues picking up the next books in the trilogy and enjoying them. I actually want to see what happens next! :)

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Domesday Now: New Approaches to the Inquest and the BookDomesday Now: New Approaches to the Inquest and the Book by David Roffe

I want to thank Netgalley for the opportunity, but after a fairly thorough lookthrough, I've discovered that the only way I'm going to get anything out of this book is by becoming a heavy scholar of Domesday and read at least a dozen other scholarly works to even recognize the other scholars who are dropping vague hints about the per capita income of such and such serf under such and such minor noble before or after the Norman invasion.

Just because I could do such a thorough invasion, assuming I also had access to such specialized libraries, doesn't mean I have the patience to wind my way through what is apparently, to my very casual eye, an incestuous survey and/or repudiation of other's painstaking research.

I was looking for good non-fiction, not something completely unreadable.

I'd recommend staying away unless you're already very familiar with the Domesday field.

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They'd Rather Be Right They'd Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh goodness. This 1955 Hugo winner nearly broke the Hugos. It was actually downright bad in parts, a catastrophic mess in others, and the handwavium was practically everywhere you looked, even in basic logic and common knowledge. I almost gave the novel a one star for all the clichés and the grab-bag of old SF tropes mixed together to create... a single clever idea that was subsequently beat into a fleshy pulp.

Oh my.

So why am I giving this three stars? Because I realized something fairly late into the novel that may or may not be actually there, but because I did see it, it managed to raise my enjoyment level by a crapload.

I discovered that I could read this novel as SATIRE. Is it true? Hell if I know. But between the doctorates of psychosomatic medicine, everyday Joe Psychic Supermen, UBERSUPER AIs that never have a speaking role despite being so brilliant even though they've discovered how to give 'dem normal folk immortality as well as MULTI-VARIABLE PHYSICS? OH MY GOD. That's AMAZING.

Ahem. Okay. Maybe I'm getting a tad carried away with my excitement. A little.

The characters were right out of 1930's stock scientist hero manuals, the old fat and stupid men and women who got to become supermen were a flipped sheet of paper, almost a perfect one-dimensional representation, and the way the novel flies through complicated ideas without stopping to smell the roses on any except one just made me wonder what the hell this novel was FOR.

Was it really about the admittedly cool premise behind the title? Well, we're meant to think so.

If you could have immortality, but the only way to have it is to be free of conviction, could you do it? If the knowledge of knowing you're right is the only reason you're growing old, fat, and stupid is the only reason you can't live young, happy, smart, and yes, full of fantastic psi powers, then could YOU give up your crappy worldview?

The answer, my dear satire readers, is NO. You probably couldn't. Very few people could, even if you put the UBER AMAZING AI in everyone's hands. See? The joke is on you!

This really could have been written much better. We probably didn't need more than 20% of the actual text to get this joke across nicely. I did have enough fun with it to give it pretty much a general passing grade, but seriously, so much of it was a slog. (That is, until I read it as a satire, and then it became my new The Complete Roderick).

Be forewarned! This is very much a 50's book with all that entails. I actually started groaning with the physical need for Asimov's early stilted dialogue and Heinlein's pedantic juveniles, and that's saying A LOT.


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The Fountains of ParadiseThe Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where I've recently read one or two Hugo-winning novels recently that I may or may not have exactly wished were winners, I have no qualms in announcing that this 1980 winner is a real winner.

It's a true pleasure to read on several levels. While the official "story" sometimes feels a bit tacked on and ethereal, the themes and the characters and the science is all top-shelf goodness.

The themes and feels are well known for fans of A. C. Clarke. He has a serious devotion to space elevators, the reduction in superstition and religion, a truly hopeful outlook on life, and a serious devotion to space elevators.

The characters here are especially awesome. Ram is the eternal can-do man, the scientist-engineer hero that battles technical issues, economists, politicians, pop scientists, and sheer bad luck. Sometimes this hero arc is an old cliche in SF, but here, I felt none of it. He was a real joy to follow. Even better was place and history AS character, with ancient mountain palaces, kings, and the weight of time and even the help of religion, leading to the final foundation of this admittedly awesome space elevator. We were able to revel gloriously in setting and history as the novel built up to the crescendo within "The Stairway To Heaven". This is theme and novel structure firmly in control of a master storyteller, and I am giddy even now just thinking about it. :)

But never fear, if you're worried that nothing much happens, because the novel is full of ideas and conflict of an intellectual and engineering perspective. A robot probe sent from an alien race comes and tells us that we're idiots, which should come as no surprise to anyone reading this review, but more importantly, it serves as a very smart impetus for us to get off our asses and solve our problems before we get the "real" introduction to the galactic races. Yay! If only I could wish for such a fortunate event for us!

The novel ends on some pretty cool action, in case you adrenaline junkies were wondering, but this novel is not really one of those novels. It's a smart and gorgeous growth and maturation of a grand Space Elevator and everything that it means for us. As a goal, there are few realistic short-term goals as beautiful or useful.

I loved it, and saw in retrospect that this novel is one of the primary conversations in hard science SF through the years. Kim Stanley Robinson continues and responds to this novel directly in his Mars trilogy. Stephen Baxter gives great nods to it. It's still a dream for us all. Me too.

We really shouldn't forget one of Asimov's old axims... don't put all your eggs in one basket.

Let's get out there, people!

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The WandererThe Wanderer by Fritz Leiber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1965 Winner of the Hugo Award.

Years before furry was popular, there was The Wanderer. Years before Lucifer's Hammer, there was The Wanderer. Years before it was popular go epic numbers of scientists and normals oohing and awing over BDO's entering the Earth's orbit... oh wait, no that's pretty much a standard of SF.

Seriously, aside from the times, which may or may not let you guys forgive the casual references to casual racism, sexism, and the oddly frank depiction of a lesbian woman deciding right before she drowns that she wants to have sex with the misogynic man as they both drown and wanting to strangle him to death before the water does the job, the novel really is a quick and fun dance around the tidal effects of the earth getting a new moon by way of HYPERSPACE.

It really was pretty neat, but let's put it in context. Stranger in a Strange land came out three years before, so free love is getting into the swing of things, and this novel is sandwiched between Way Station and Dune/This Immortal. It really isn't much of a surprise, being right dab in the middle of the sixties, that we've got almost beach scenes, Science Science Science, awkward characters named KKK, and kitty-aliens. MEOW.

And don't forget Counter Culture! Those darn Wanderers. Are they Beatniks? Are they the Youth Scene? Are they running from Mommy or Daddy? Why YES! Their tie-die bus has enough living area to hold 14 thousand earth surfaces, too, and it's full of wild types. Quick! Here come the coppers! And here's the oddest thing I've read in any novel for quite some time: "Have you ever masturbated a lower life form?"

I joke! I joke! (Or do I?)

There's actually a lot of death and pathos. It's also pretty fun for all its faults. It's easier to read in a few ways than Lucifer's Hammer and has easier to consume characters, but both works have very different messages. The level of destruction is much less than in Niven and Pournelle's work that came out 13 years later, but I have to wonder if each is merely a product of its age. Still, it's hard not to see the direct line of influence.

MEOW! Dirty monkey.

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A Case of Conscience (After Such Knowledge, #4)A Case of Conscience by James Blish
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

1959 Hugo winner.

Honestly, I expected to read something quite a bit different than the novel I did get. I almost expected something like a conversation novel between heavily logical Spock-like lizards and a man of the cloth from Earth.

What do I get, instead? A novel with startlingly awesome biology standards, very deep world-building, and a wonderfully surprising argument of Manichaeism. For those not in the know, it's the idea that there are two creators in the world, one is good and one is evil. Father Ruiz Sanchez is convinced that these perfectly rational and nearly Christ-like lizards who are living a perfect life without religion are, in fact, the most perfect trap to throw humanity into perfect chaos and perdition. After all, this is a case of perfection without God, and if the rest of humanity ever "got" it, then it would be the time of Satan's rule over the earth for real. The whole planet was, after all, a Creation of Evil.

How gorgeous is this? Sure, modern readers may or may not care for the religious argument bent, but it is concise and beautiful as hell and it's ONLY THE SETUP.

Move ahead, take the freely offered gift of one of the lizard young back to a future earth gone schizophrenic, living underground in perpetual fear of nuclear holocaust and ready to tear itself apart. Have one of these christ-like lizards grow up knowing nothing but the monstrosity that humanity has become, and because of the peculiar brilliance of his race and his deeply frustrated sense of being as much an outsider as practically everyone else living on Earth, he speaks and breaks all the rules and becomes a pundit much, much worse than anything Drumpf has to offer, sparking chaos on a truly amazing scale.

Is he the hand of the antichrist, indeed? Or is he only the corrupted reflection of ourselves? Brilliant. And of course, the end... but I won't refer to the end. It's also brilliant, but of a different kind of light.

I have a few issues with the writing, but far, far less than I might have guessed before picking up the text. It's very thoughtful, very smart, and it shifts us with awesome speed between dialectical discourse to the absolute insanity of modern media. Is this modern SF? No, it came out in '58. And yet, I was laughing along with the crazy inventions later on as if I were watching that classic movie The Network, back in the 70's. No, no one was yelling from the rooftops, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!" But the sentiment was there and the chaos of the novel was perfect.

How come wonderful idea novels like this aren't hailed as beautiful representations of classic literature? Is it just because it is SF? So beautiful. :)

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Halo of MushroomsA Halo of Mushrooms by Andrew Hiller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a weird book! I mean, from the title, it should be rather obvious, but instead of getting a magic mushroom ride of a book, I get a REAL MAGIC MUSHROOM RIDE OF A BOOK, with the sparkly bits, too. :)

At its core, the novel is both literally and subjectively focused on Wonder. It's a genre all by itself. We're supposed to ooh and ahh and get all tingly and say, "That's pretty cool," and guess what? It succeeds.

I was entirely sold in the cooking magic. I was completely enchanted. Think about a cooking urban fantasy and then turn it up a few notches, and you'll get this...

An epic fantasy spanning many alternate worlds, armies of monsters wanting to snuff out the Wonder? Whoa. I thought this was a novel about magic in the kitchen!

It is pretty cool. It kinda jarred me at first, because who expect that? I was still completely sold on the kitchen stuff. :) Why go the epic route, too? With kitties? Nah, it's okay. It remains interesting and a real trip. Literally.

Take a ride on the wild side. Taste of the vigor. Meditate on the ring.

But most of all, feed your mushroom!

There's a taste of the absurd, a taste of the magic, but more than anything, it lets you swim in the wonder all the way through the text. :)

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Range of Ghosts (Eternal Sky, #1)Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can easily say this is my favorite book by Elizabeth Bear. I liked the two main characters very much, the writing was smooth as silk, and probably most importantly, I loved the depth of the mythology.

I have a soft spot in my heart for stories within stories, and I have nothing but good things to say about Eternal Night and the Carrion King. The mythology works both as a gorgeous backdrop to the action as well as an excellent world-building tool.

Several images, like fields of butterflies along the steeps, the swimming horses, the plane of skulls, or even the armies of ghosts, all of it deeply serves the story and it was all a delight.

It had so much, from the tiger peoples, part of the Chinese culture, all the way to germanic legends, but most importantly, this is a tale of the Kahns. Magic is everywhere. So much happens.

More than anything, this tale acts and feels legendary.

The characters never get so far away from us that we ever lose the sense of who and what they are, and I think the tale gets only better when everything finally interweaves. I'm glad I finally got around to reading this. I think I like Bear's fantasy a lot more than her SF. :)

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

DreamsnakeDreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was worried that I might have thought this early SF dystopia might have not held up so well after nearly 40 years of a never ending stream of them, but considering that I recently watched some early Mad Max films, I'm all good. We have to place these things in their time.

After all, where else are you going to get a surprisingly deep character and women's study dystopian future that includes aliens, nearly Bene Gesserit healers, the depths of adoption and justice, and a woman who embodies the symbol of wisdom as Snake?

To be sure, the novel is mild in comparison with so many gritty Dystopians or even a grand portion of YAs, but it does have heart.

In analysis, I can give it higher props for being some of the very first SFs of the time to bring in some of the new growing trends of fantasy, being darker and unwilling to look away from cultural injustice or be willing to devolve into character caricature. Like I said, the characters are developed carefully and realistically.

The novel would never earn a Hugo these days, but we should never forget that those who start a trend that everyone later beats to death still began it. ;)

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The Gods ThemselvesThe Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

*sigh* Some books should remain fond memories.

I'm dropping a star on the re-read. Enjoying the insistence of intuitionalism doesn't make up for the abysmally uninteresting aliens or the 1970's culturally-locked ideas surrounding smart human women and smart alien women. It was actually pretty groan-worthy.

As for the actual story idea, I enjoyed the extrapolation of a modified natural law and the SF conversation Asimov was having with Silverberg, but it turns out that a tiny handful of ideas isn't enough to carry the novel. I'm a firm believer in truly excellent characters and story. As this novel is, it's more of a thinly-veiled science instructional tidied up with a few SF tropes and a single good Science Idea mixed with a single good cultural/mental/personal Idea.

I like intuition. I love it, even. Asimov does, too. Bravo. Moving on.

Destruction of two universes feeding off each other. Sound cool? It is. But even Lensman did it better than this. :)

Alas, this is NOT Asimov's best work. Foundation is much better and I had a grand lot of fun with the Robot books. This one is Far down that list, and I'm sad. I can't believe this made a Hugo. 1972 must have been a very lean year.

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Gene: An Intimate HistoryThe Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks goes to Netgalley and a wonderful author for a wonderfully told series of stories within the world of genetics.

I was worried, briefly, by the insistence of bringing Aristotle's take on the genome, or the recapitulation of many of the grandfathers of the science, such as Mendel and Darwin, but the way that these otherwise well-known personages were brought alive to the page was more of a story than a dry recounting. Even so, I wasn't prepared for what was soon to come.

I became engrossed in the history of American Eugenics, and even more so in Germany's frightful improvements, all of which painted the history of the science in quite a dark, and ignorant, light.

Fortunately for all of us, Crick, Watson, and Ferdinand come out swinging and we can see this all as a heroic step forward... even considering the fact that Ferdinand never got to see her work truly recognized.

From here on out, we've got truly wonderful tales of Beck and the birth of recombinant DNA, scientists self-policing, the rise of multinational bio-engineering firms, AIDS, gene therapies, genome mapping, and of course cloning and stem-cell blocking, and each and every one of these stories are bright and very readable.

And what's more, it's always informative and it's always interesting. It even draws us in to the author's own deep and emotional familial history and his own drive to understand.

I'll make no bones about it: I was moved.

I've read more than a handful of books on genetics in the past, and while some were quite good and some were sometimes mesmerizingly boring, I think this one has got to be the most readable, grab you on the human level, and most in depth survey of the entire field that I've ever read.

So many disparate characteristics managed to encode the proteins of the narrative, and no one could be happier than me to see such a healthy and shining phenotypical expression be borne from a popular book. It's classy and smart. Very smart. In fact, it's pretty much a must-have if you're a science-history buff bringing us up to the cutting-edge present and want a few questions for the future. :)

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Friday, April 15, 2016

The Trials (The Red Trilogy Book 2)The Trials by Linda Nagata
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Decently crafted techo-thriller continuing the greater story introduced from The Red: First Light, opening with a trial and then proceeding to quite a few trials, some literal, some not literal at all.

It stays light even with the more serious themes, dangerous situations, and mass death, but that's only because the really big destructions happen elsewhere. If you love a bit of gratuitous violence, a lot of cool tech and toys, an awesome ghost in the machine, and a bit more gratuitous political comeuppance all wrapped up into a delightfully straightforward try/fail story structure, then I'm sure you'll love this. :)

It's all action and an easy read with solid characters. :) What more are you looking for? A deep message?

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Pet SemataryPet Sematary by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the book that ruined me for lesser horrors.

Sure, there are a ton of really great horror tales out there, some with bigger themes, some with more blood and guts, and some with tighter pacing, but none of them can quite layer and layer a single theme so deftly, craftily, or inexorably.

If you buy a sale of goods, it'll always come home to you.

This is a book of good intentions and a ton of character agency, of gambler's mentality throwing good money after bad, of the investment of life, love, and eventually grief and the grief process permanently stuck at "Bargaining". It's effective as a novel because every one of us have lost someone precious to us and we've all been through this very thought process.

Maybe we've not all been given opportunities such as this, but what would YOU do if it presented itself? Do you really think you're any less flawed than Louis or Rachel or Jud? They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but in the end, compassion was never their weakness.

Compassion is always our downfall. Don't you know?

We're going to Disneyland. Don't you worry, baby, we're going to Disneyland.

This is easily Stephen King's most horrific novel. I've read most of them, and I love others more for very different reasons, but as for the novel that scares me the very most, it was always a tie between this and It. But here's the thing about memory. There are a few rather huge flaws in It that Pet Sematary doesn't share. For one, we don't have the whole forgetting angle.

Pet Sematary leads us step by step, page by page, into an ever descending cycle of love, to foreshadowing, to horror and all the way back again, rinsing and repeating in ever greater cycles until Stephen King leaves you a gibbering mess. I had to finish it at 4 am, too. There's something quite magical about this novel. :)

If you write about it, then maybe it won't come true, right Mr. King? Rub some of that magic on us, too.

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Too Like the LightningToo Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful.

First impressions are very deceiving, with this one, and assumptions can get you into a huge mess of problems, but fortunately for us, this writer has some serious chops, can lead us into a world that never quite changes, from the first page to the last, but instead invites and sometimes pushes us over the edge and CHANGES US.

What is this world, where are we headed? Is this truly a futuristic high-tech utopia that stylizes itself off the Enlightenment period including Voltaire, Sade, and Rousseau? Ha! You'd like to think so as you begin your read.

Is the tale revolving around a handful of seemingly mild mysteries, that while interesting in themselves, seem more like a vehicle for unfolding one of the most gorgeous societal world-building tableaus I've ever had the privilege to read? Ha! ... Again, I was fooled, lulled into complacency even as I was overwhelmed with sheer walls of world-data, only to be saved, regularly, by the sure hand of a truly wonderful and insightful narrator who would steer us through the dense currents and land us safely upon solid ground. Could I have wished for a more perfect or more gentlemanly Victorian Guide in a strange land? Nope!

And then there were the conversations. This novel has a lot to say about gender roles, and it is tackled delightfully, maybe even better than Ancillary Justice for sheer oddity. Social and societal quirks surrounding religion, was a big part of the novel, too, but it was the Conversation that made this novel become something Really Special.

And I really mean the Conversation; the ongoing discussion within whole fields of study and art and literature, or in this case, philosophy and science fiction. Ada Palmer deserves to be right up there with some of the best I've read, having so much to say about the Enlightenment period, made into a deep part of the story, aspects of the world-building, discussions both light and powerful between characters and even within our narrator's mind.

Some of the most awesome aspects of this novel are direct-line continuations of philosophy made into Art.

But do not let that dissuade you from this Oh So Excellent and Fascinating read, for even as I was fooled in the beginning, and as new and otherwise unforgivable glossed facts are slowly revealed to us, we are caught in a web much more complicated, dangerous, harrowing, bloody, and frankly more awe-inducing than I would have guessed in the first 150 pages.

It's a book worth reading several times over if only to pick up on all the clues that I had registered in passing, but not understood until much later.

And I will, because here's the real beauty... it's only part one of a two book cycle that belongs to one another. You know the symptoms. This is a fantastic larger tale that, by requirements out of the author's control, needed to be split unnaturally into two. It's only something truly miraculous and fantastic that the author still managed to make this single book feel complete and satisfying, even as it points to the second half of it's soul.

I feel truly blessed to be reading this. Ada Palmer has just earned herself a lifelong fanboy after a single wonderful read. This is what true Idea SF is all about, and it deserves to be up there with the very best. Remember Anathem? Sit yourself down for some real brilliance and some truly great set-sets.

I'm sure I won't be the only one who thinks the premise of the political setup is one I'd love to have now, even with its mature problems. I think this novel is going to be prompting an absolute TON of discussion among its soon-to-be legion fans. :) If there's any justice in the world, mind you. :)

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Claw of the Conciliator (The Book of the New Sun #2)The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Welcome to Conan the Librarian set in the far, far distant future as he lops off heads, resurrects the dead, watches creation-epic plays, and misunderstands the meaning of the universe.

Sound interesting? I've got a claw here I'd like to sell you. It comes with about three tomes of myth references couched deeply in imagery, an insistence on making us think that we must, actually, be living in a disjointed dream, and admittedly damn awesome world-building taking Clarke's maxim to the max but letting us flounder about just as much as Severian our hapless executioner/tomekeeper.

This book is what I consider a *Difficult Reading Experience*, in the same way that any book that prefers to be overflowing with myth references can be, thoroughly confusing the reader if you're not reading the text on that level and probably confusing the hell out of the reader even if you are.

In that respect, this is probably a worse book than the first, which at least had a fairly comprehensible plot, character development, and fairly easy progression.

On the other hand, this one had some shockingly great action scenes that led to Severian's capture, reconfirmation within the ranks, a descent into the underworld, a jaunt with the morlocks, and a quiet season at the playhouse. With witches.

There is a lot to love, but I can't help but think that I'm missing a great portion of it. That which I do get, from Adam and Eve to Ulysses to the bucketful of archetypes, seems incomprehensible in terms of plot progression.

Except... And because I haven't done any additional research or read any scholarly works on this far future SF, this is only a slight and weird intuition on my part... I get the feeling that the far future, not only having colonized the universe and having conquered space AND time, they have also conquered the role of observation upon the continuum, and beyond that, are able to slip and slide along the slope of Metaphor Made Reality.

What does this mean? It means, in a very serious way, that our distant descendants are able to make their Jungian collective unconsciousness mix with the physical reality of the universe, limited only to what knowledge gets preserved over the ages and it is NOT quite functional. I think, in this case, it's tied to the Claw of the Conciliator, and because it's only Severian who's using it, I think we can blame all of this horrible mess on him.

Reasonable, right?

He's the one with the hodge-podge education, and everyone else in the world is swirling around and being modified right down to their experiences and memories as he goes along on his Grand Quest.

It's the only way that my poor abused mind can make sense of this wonderful, difficult, beautiful, crazy work.

Or maybe the worm eating the sun has finally finished the core, allowing it to collapse like rotten fruit, JUST LIKE MY BRAIN.

I'll leave it up to you, dear reader, to make the judgement call. :)

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Broken SwordThe Broken Sword by Poul Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

1954. The same year that The Fellowship of the Ring came out. And yet, this is arguably a better book.

What? No way! But what about JRRT's depth of world-building, the gradual easing of modest characters into epic ones? What about the language? How could a single fantasy novel by a popular SF author outdo one of the standards of literature?

Easy. Make characters as sharp and bright as arrows, fit them into the bow of a world, and let them fly straight and true. Give them immediate adventure, no superfluous quests or long-winded reliance on the little annoying things like lembas this and lembas that, and throw them deep into revenge, epic love stories, swords that will chop down the world-tree, incest, the undead, and the machinations of the Norse gods. And of course, you can't have a tale without witches, trolls, elves, and dwarves, especially when they are NOT the derivative of JRRT, that they are derived precisely from the epic tales of Norse legends, that they are as old and deep and rich as the real peoples who have been telling these tales for over a thousand years, and we're not forgetting Wagner's Ring Cycle, are we? Oh wait... who is taking what story elements from whom? Oh... right...

So why is this short and truly tight Norse epic pretty much ignored? Oh, I suppose it has something to do with the times it came out. Everything needed a Christian motif back then, and this sure as hell didn't have it, even if the Christian god had a walk-on role, as did the olympians, so of course Narnia and JRRT were given a lot more talk-time. But imagine, if you will, if this nearly perfect adventure-epic were given a fresh splash of paint and a huge advertising budget. Not as a movie, but as a fantastically rich book who's time has finally come?

I think we're ready as a culture to open ourselves up to a truly fascinating mythos that has really been left on the sideboard for way too long. Gaiman's Mr. Wednesday aside, or The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, of course.

This was one hell of a rip-roaring adventure, with cloven heads and high adventure, stormed walls, deceit, sex, revenge, and horror. It's easily all the best aspects of the huge epic fantasy door-stoppers in an easy to digest format, with beautiful poetry literally flowing through it, and best of all, it never has a dull moment or dull characters. It is, in short, a work of true brilliance.

And let's not let things like this disappear, shall we? Let's not assume that the most well-known works are always the best. (I feel like a traitor, saying so, because I've read JRRT's stuff over 7 times.)

A side note, my postscript:

Poul Anderson's opening to the novel was a real eye-opener. He just had to tell us that his intent was to call attention to the magic and the races as high-tech analogues, as per Clarke's law. There was no direct explanation or reveal in the text, though, so he wanted us to feel like we were in a perfect fantasy novel, but the fact that he did put the question to us first means that he intended us to read on several levels at once, and because I obliged him, this novel managed to blow my mind in several ways at once. This was no idle fancy. This was a master storyteller asking us to enjoy it as deeply as he wrote it.

What a guy. :)

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The Ghost HuntersThe Ghost Hunters by Neil Spring
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I thought this was an okay novel. The thing that made it quite good was the fact that it was based on some reality, although the characters did enjoy some embellishment for the sake of the story. Obviously, a lot of research had been put into the novel, and for that, I can give it good props.

Unfortunately, the tale was a bit on the dull side. From a pure story view, there's absolutely nothing here that hasn't been seen a hundred times when it comes to the intrepid scientific debunker of mystical charlatans or the expected twists that come with tales of this nature. "Is it real or is it hoax?" So often, readers of this kind of trope rely on the strength of the characters and the excitement of the plot to carry us along.

So where the characters exciting and complicated and delightful? Well... they were serviceable. I wish that I actually liked Henry more or perhaps hated him more. I wanted to Feel something more. Did I want to see his downfall something fierce? Nah. Did I fear for his bitter end? Nah.

So what about Sarah? I liked her quite a bit, but not enough until after she had left Henry the second time did I really get attached to her. And that was well past the half-way point of the novel. So could the debunking really carry the novel? No. Not really. They were mildly curious oddities, and I've watched tons of b-movies, read lots of silly tales, and I've even read a lot of the greats within both sides of the issue, from Manly P. Hall to Madame Blavatsky, and this novel just kinda... moved along.

It wasn't a bad novel. It just wasn't very special. I found myself kind of hoping that some great lovecraftian reveal might happen just to stir my blood, but unfortunately, there was no such luck. It was based somewhat on reality, and so we must suffer a lot of the disappointments therein.

What? People are disappointing? They're flawed and given to delusions no matter where you look? Noooo... it can't be! *sigh*

The "ghost" was slightly interesting, at least, but she wasn't nearly strong enough to carry the rest of the tale, or possibly, the tale would have been served a great deal more by glossing the early debunking stuff and focusing on the manor entirely.

I'm too spoiled in having read really great ghost stories to get really excited with this one. Alas.

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes we either meet a book (or a novella, in this case,) that is precisely the right fit for your soul, (at the moment,) or just happens to be original enough right when you need it, that it fills your life and your mind with brightness and joy.

For me, this is one of those pieces. To muddy the waters even more, I'm an unabashed fan of the author and I'm likely to pick up all of her writings without even checking the subject matter because I simply trust the woman to steer me to any shore.

Of course, none of that *really* matters. After all, in this novella, she's taken me to many worlds of imagination, both logical and full of wild nonsense. Am I in love with the murder mystery plaguing this poor children?

Nah, though it was quite interesting.

No, what spoke to me were all the doorways, the wild and the still lands that were perfect fits for each kid, and can I wish, wish, wish that I had my own? Can I spend a lifetime within my wild cthuhlu SF fairyland populated with layers and layers of myth and gods? Please?

Alas, the concept behind this novella, the loss and expulsion of their little paradise is tailor made to evoke ultimate sympathy from me. Oh, the pathos.

I'm not even slightly being facetious. :)

So I'm going to pray and pray that my hero writes more and more of these books and make me dance for joy with each and every instalment. Yay!

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Barsk: The Elephants' GraveyardBarsk: The Elephants' Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This Nebula-nominated novel has, strangely enough, a very strong aura about it, namely uplifted races of animals and main characters who are elephants in the far future.

Perhaps I should have done a bit more research before reading this novel, or perhaps the nature of the novel should have been telegraphed just a little bit better from the start, because I suffered a bit of aimlessness as I plodded through the initial sections of the novel. Where was this going? What's the purpose? Where should I expect this story to take me? I honestly didn't know.

Hell, it seemed almost as diffuse as the nefshons in the hands of a novice Speaker.

Huh. Well maybe that was the point, and maybe it wasn't, but unfortunately, I kept losing interest. I'd come back to it, repeatedly, because I'm a stubborn cuss, and that's good, because the novel *eventually* takes off.

The end is quite satisfying, and as long as you, dear reader, don't get overly bogged down in the generally and almost completely inexplicable revulsion and prejudice that every other race holds toward the Fants, then you will, much later, be treated to an actual reason for the psychosis. I'm not entirely sure I *buy* the reason, but there is a reason for it, and it even ties in to the main plot!

The good parts are very good, mind you, and I like how the implications are turned directly into actualities, but I get the weird impression that this entire novel could have been shortened to the second half, alone, and left as a stronger novella rather than a full novel. I had too many "why"s floating around that took away from my enjoyment as a whole, including the knee-jerk prejudice, the wandering and seemingly pointless early plots that seems to do little more than establish our two main characters, and the shockingly pure-evil-out-of-the-blue recommendations for genocide. I mean... is it just due to greed? Did I have to wait until the 90% mark to have an alternate reason for it? Of course, when we do have the reasons, it's all tied back into the other super-powerful reveals that is very superman and mythological.

Of course, I'm sure that isn't an accident, from actual references to kal-el and a scientist who really digs northwestern mythologies, to a borrowed nostalgia of Dune, Startide Rising, and even The Foundation Trilogy, at least in scope and history manipulation. I liked all of that. :) It's a good homage.

If you like novels that end strong even if they aren't awfully impressive in the beginning, BUT they start with an awesome premise that seems to hold a lot of promise, then definitely check this one out.

There's a rather interesting galactic empire waiting for you.

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Friday, April 8, 2016

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, #1)Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even though I've seen this book bandied about and raved over, I never really got the urge to pick it up until a friend let lose a bomb on my head. Eva Green will play Miss Peregrine in the upcoming Tim Burton production of this film.

So, of course, I'm now on the bandwagon and clapping together my cymbals like a wind-up monkey.

Hey! The book isn't that bad!

In fact, it's fine to entice new readers to the odd action paranormal full of "old" teenagers and one "firmly" established normal kid. As for anyone jaded by the whole market of old storytelling tropes, well yes there is a longish mild mystery filling up the first act which is mildly entertaining, but it's acts two and three that get really fun.

I think it's fair to assume that titles to books can thought of as "on the table" for spoiler comments, so here's a spoiler: There's Peculiar Children In This Book. Think X-Men. Everything else I might say that is fun, I'm going to relegate to tags in comments, because, let's face it, most of what is fun in this book is all paranormal and a bit of a simple plot that later ramps-up the action. It's all character building the rest of the time, which is perfectly fine.

It's fun. It's light. It's easy. And I see perfectly now why Tim Burton will be picking it up, because part of what I call fun and light is actually pretty creepy. Mildly creepy, anyway. But then, readers get a lot of that creepy in their regular diet, so maybe you might consider this creepy-light. Half the normal calories of a good adult horror. More buzz words. Even sheep-herders rapping. Time-traveling birds. You know: Quirk.

There are a couple of really cool scenes I can't wait to see in the movie, but there's One Thing I hope happens.

Or two. But since I can't truly hope the second will ever come to pass, I just hope that Miss Peregrine's roll gets amped up for the edification of us adult moviegoers. I mean, it's Eva Green, for Peculiar's sake!


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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Iron Council (Bas-Lag, #3)Iron Council by China Miéville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an extremely hard book to pigeonhole, so I won't bother doing it except to say it has the kitchen sink, too.

So much happens for what ought to be a tale of exploration before building a railroad, the building, the freeing of the enslaved biomonstrosities called the Remade from their long toils, to building of a diverse and growing society. Never mind that there's also the opening, middle, and end of the civil war to end all civil wars in New Crobuzon and along the rails.

I didn't expect it to turn so political, but it did, and Miéville's leanings are not only clear, but amazingly complex and muddy at the same time. Grey area? You bet. Delightfully so, and I'm rooting for all the characters and also the characters that are the City and the Iron Council, as well. So much character, so much love.

It may be impossible to tackle just how amazingly imaginative the world-building is, but I'll give you a taste of so many golems, flesh trees, Inchmen (omg how amazingly disgusting), the spirals that bring about the grand murder, the cactus men, the insect women, the Victorians, and so many other truly odd and strange people that fill this land and insane spacetime mash of a universe that is, by its own reckoning, still a work in progress.

I think we could all spend a couple of decades pouring over these books building no more than a slight working knowledge of the place and its people, and I rather wish I could visit, no matter how freaking dangerous it would be for me. Maybe I'll hire a Tesh priest and thaumaturge myself into some sort of immortal to make my tourism a bit safer. (But only a small bit safer.)

What a world!

I think I liked the characters and the overall tale of this novel better than both of the others preceding it, or perhaps I was less waylaid by the complexity and the eye-popping wonderful that meets me on every page because I've *been* through the learning curve of the previous two novels. Either way, it was absolutely amazing.

Few works of fiction can boast this much sheer density of unpackable information, and the fact that we've got a working story with memorable characters is freaking amazing. :)

Everyone ought to have a working knowledge of this landscape, even if they can never be called an expert. (No, not even the author. I think he must have channeled all this from another dimension.)


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A Stranger in OlondriaA Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very particular kind of fantasy novel, as much a literary (filled with albeit imaginary books) novel as it is a deep travelogue between two richly imagined fantasy lands.

At first, I was put off by the oh so lengthy passages of works and legends and overlong paragraphs, but like a lot of great fiction, it takes a learning curve and it often takes a bit of patience. Once I fell into the actual story rather than the many allusions made of whole cloth from a new mythology both familiar to us and strange, it became much easier to read.

The fact is: there's an awful lot to love in this novel as long as you're a lover of myths, stories within stories within stories, and don't mind being thrown into the mind of a heavy reader and eventually the mind of a heavy writer that is literally spurned on to write by the demonic exhortations of a ghost he eventually learns to love.

And don't think this is an entirely dry novel, either, because it eventually has some startling surprises and import for the land he's visiting. It's hard being a holy man, especially if you're a tourist, but it shouldn't be any kind of surprise that tourists will eventually return home and bring along tales and change.

It's a very satisfying novel if you can get through it, but be forewarned, it's dense with words and myth. It's a true work of the imagination, drilling deep and deeper and deeper into the two worlds that had been written.

Take your time, too. You'll be glad you did. :)

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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Midnight RobberMidnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great book, even if it took me a bit to flow into the creole, but right off the bat it starts and finishes with hard-SF fully mixing with Anansi-tale.

What comes first? The Anansi-tale or the life of the Midnight Robber Tam-Tam? Who knows, we? Either way, both help define and refine and divine the tale.

Who is the Midnight Robber? She be the one to save two for every life she take. She's the myth of she who punishes the wicked and help those in need. She's the wronged who repays in both the good and the bad, the one who lives in slavery and delivers from it.

I'll be honest, it took a bit of effort to start my mind flowing in the right direction for the novel, and later, even when I knew what spoilers there be to make my heart bleed, it almost threw me to the ground to kick he side until he vomit. A few times, I even wanted to quit the novel. I couldn't take what Tam-Tam took. But I suffered through what she suffered through, saw her grow strong, and in her strength, I gained strength.

Things can get very dark, indeed, but there is light.

Eventually, there is hope and redemption, and the novel is good. The love is good.

Maybe as I read more novels of this type, I'll enjoy Creole more. As it is right now, I'm stuck in limbo. Seen? The language is beautiful and strange, but the poetry is clear and bright.

I'm so glad I was turned on to this form.

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Dolores ClaiborneDolores Claiborne by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fascinating story and such a strong voice. Since this story is pretty much an obvious one, centered on what appears to be a solid who-done-it, it's just the devil in the details where we have to place all our attention.

Will this be a rubbernecking event? Or is an obviously guilty woman obviously and truly guilty with the crime she is being accused of?

Truly, the story is a lot more complex and interesting than any first glance, and more than anything, we're meant to get in deep within Dolores's skin.

Classic SK, not supernatural, but absolutely an awesome character slide.

Is that the sound of a vacuum cleaner? lol I'm such a bitch. :)

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Doorways in the SandDoorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What the heck! I'm not an acrophiliac perpetual-student with a penchant for pilfering sentient stones, but after re-reading this book, I kinda want to be. :)

If managing to avoid getting a degree in 13 years while still maintaining a full course load can be considered a special kind of genius, then our MC has it, but wait! This is just the beginning.

Zelazny writes beautifully, with curious and curiouser language, puns, poetry, and slight perfidy, if the last line in the novel is anything to judge the rest by. Just what am I supposed to make of that, eh? (view spoiler)

This is a re-read, and probably one of the most enjoyable re-reads I've had in a very long time, with a few very notable exceptions. For one, I never actually intended to re-read this one, and it's only thanks to a few bookish friends here that I ever felt the need.

And I am very thankful. :)

The one thing that strikes me the most about this novel is the perfect knife-balance of absurdity. The knife might be a fool's knife masquerading as a knight's, but the knife cuts a fine story. Don't let the telepathic donkeys and overgrown houseplants fool you. We live in a wild, wild universe, and humanity is about crawl out of our own muck to take part in a tale as old as Time.

That's right. The hunt for lost jewelry. And yet, here's the funny part: no women characters are taking part in said hunt. Absurd! Right?

During the first half of the novel, I kept saying to myself that this novel would be a fantastic humor-laden modern SF, including major building-climbing stunts, kangaroos with wire-rimmed glasses, wombats, and raisins, the most nutritious whiskey drinks ever devised, and looking through a mirrored universe. (I decline to subscribe to the MC's point of view that it is merely *he* that has been flipped. After all, I started seeing things reversed, too, so perhaps the machine is leaking a bit, eh?)

The plot wrap-up wasn't entirely to my liking, for the most part, but it grew into a more subtle and thoughtful end that had lots of consequences for the rest of us, so I was eventually quite satisfied.

I can't believe that goofball actually got a job. Perhaps, with a little luck, he'll eventually climb that tallest building, but I'm not going to hold my breath. The jury's still out on us. :)

This is classic SF at its best. There's nothing out-of-date about it. I think it has held up extremely well and despite its clever cliffhangers with every chapter and Mirror's Edge kind of action escapades, this is a novel that is intelligent right down to it's sentence-core. Entertaining as hell AND it makes you think and scratch your head and go Aha! with it's mini-puzzles.

I totally recommend it for anyone. I always loved the author and it is just dawning on me that perhaps I really out to rediscover the man. Fantastic read!

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