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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Magic Strikes (Kate Daniels, #3)Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So I had a hard time figuring out what kind of book this was.

I mean, romantic comedies always have a feisty kick-ass woman complaining to all her friends just how seriously she'll insist that she'll Never, Never, Never sleep with *that* guy, only she's drawn, irresistibly, to the bad boy, or in this case, cat, and the whole book becomes not a "What-If" science fiction or well developed fantasy, but a "When-Will" of all glorious romances.

But then, we've got Jaguar gladiators, decapitations, Hindu gods and goddesses, power words and power plays galore. And honestly, this book has some of the more interesting vampire interactions I've had the pleasure to read. Reavers are also damn interesting.

I'm one of those fans of the series, now, that have come late to the party. I'm fully on board with all the wonderful danger and opportunities of the magic flares, the push and push back of science and magic, and the very nicely researched and executed (sometimes literally) mythologies. I was really getting into the Old Celtic stuff in the previous book, but who knew I could get so wrapped up in myths like this?

Oh, who am I kidding? I'm nuts for anything that plays heavy in the rich, rich world of myth.

So giddy. So... romantically attached? All right. So I'm finally on board with the whole romance between Curran and Kate. I was iffy about it for the first two and just considered it build up for something that might be good, later, but now it's finally gotten good.

Who cares about Derek, tho. :) I'm probably going to get a little hate on that one. He's just a little damsel in distress. Our intrepid Julie is the real hero of the tale, and she rocks. She rocked before but I love her even more now. :) Oh, okay, fine, Derek gets a "little" sympathy from me for having gone through all that, BUT I'm all for characters that stand up and clean up. You know, like Kate and Curran. :)

Looking forward to the rest of the series! :)

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected NonfictionThe View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These are basically a collection of previously published essays and ideas ranging to his love of art, people, and the more basic of life's requirements like books and love, but more than that, it's basically an affirmation and a solid grounding in what should be quite evident from anyone who has read his work:

Life is and should be about the joy we take in it.

Oh, and we get a lot of great book reviews from Gaiman, himself, a lot of which I've got skewered on my To-Read list. I mean, who does that, read reviews about books, anyway? Seriously.

His enthusiasm, above all, is infectious, and that's kinda rather the point. Oh, and he's still, after all these years, a dedicated and thorough blind man to the effect he has on us, which is rather a useful tool since so many of us tend to look up to him. I'm sure a lot of us might have knocked him down a few rungs, but no, he's modest. Did I mention charming? Yeah. That too. :)

This is pretty much a must read for anyone who likes to read about why their favorite authors like to write, too. So lap it up, you dogs. :) Enjoy.

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IsisIsis by Douglas Clegg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At once I was sucked into this tale for it's light atmospheric effects and it's heavy, though lightly painted, themes of myth and classic horror tales rolled into a singly well-drawn story.

Classic horror themes abound, of always paying the dead their price, tying the Osiris/Isis story to old Irish legends, only to be tied to the christian by the end.

It's perfectly reasonable to tie christian characters back to a christian moral, of course, and the images and the feelings of awe and its reverse were quite delightful. I was reminded of what could have been a truly classic ghost story with risen zombies and resurrections all placed nearly a century ago more than a modern tale of horror. The time and place lends itself fine for that interpretation, with daddy going off to fight in a world war to leave the children and mother behind. Alas, not a problem. It's classically written, classically told, with a deft touch with all the myths bursting out from every page.

It's also scary, and delightfully so, with particularly good characters filled with complex psychologies and loss.

It was a great setup and even though I am fine with the christian interpretation, I find myself wistful and rather having wished for an actual Isis/Osiris theme to come home to roost. But still, I find no faults with how it actually turned out, because it was very effective.

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Monday, June 27, 2016

The VorrhThe Vorrh by Brian Catling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think I was really prepping myself up for this one just a little too much. I wanted to expect lyrical language, and I did get a lot of lyrical language, and I wanted to expect some rather interesting ideas and concepts put together in a poetic way, all the while getting immersed in fantasy and science fiction and a truly heaping helping of the dark stuff, enough to consider the novel as a true horror.

What I did get was quite a few truly beautiful and evocative scenes of robots in a time and memory bending endless forest, an adventure with a bow made of a violently killed woman, lots of exploration in the real world during the early days of photography, socialites, mind-doctors, and a truly enormous amount of graphic and violent sex, sex, sex, and strangely enough, it's mostly the women being violent.

So why not give it a higher rating just for all the interesting ideas and the near-juxtaposition and crossovers between the magical cyborg forest and a modern european town?

Because the story was only able to grab me fitfully. Sometimes, I was fully engaged, and other times, I was just catching myself wondering why I was sitting through these odd photography sex-bondage scenes or watching a truly horrific torture, and while I then reminded myself that this is considered a horror, I then wondered what all the other story bits were doing to improve or engage me in the horror sense.

And then I realized that it's all my fault with cultural expectations that equate love without amazing torture. That true love doesn't necessarily require slow vivisections. Silly me, the yokel.

Like I said, it was hard to connect. It really was beautiful on many levels, to be sure, but it was more like a passing ship in the night followed by the screams of tortured men and the twang of a magical bow. Alas.

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The Three Heretics (The Bones of the Earth, #2)The Three Heretics by Scott Hale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to the author for the chance to beta-read! I'm blessed... or is it cursed? Either way, it's one hell of a good ride.

We don't get much of the previous novel's MC, but that's okay, because I have no problem with getting back into this wonderfully imagined post-Trauma earth, filled with dark magics, dark hearts, dark forests, dark societies, dark gods, and dark character progression.

Did I mention that it's dark? I mean it's horrorshow dark, and that's exactly what I want and need. Let's take all the good bits from the campy horrors, the scream-out-louds, the dark psychologies and the deeply, deeply, disturbing, and throw them into a solid novel led by three MC's this time. Three Heretics? Indeed. Good? Bad? Who the hell knows? The fact is, everything in this world is amazingly complex on the good/evil scale, but let's face it, everything that appears good always gets great and evil reveals. :)

Sound like your cup of tea, my horror fans?

My goodness, though, when it comes to Atticus, the gravedigger? The Second Heretic? Prepare yourself for one hell of a nice treat. I can honestly say that I've never seen such a traumatic character progression in my life, with quite as much reasonable, (or freaking unimaginable,) change.

Keep digging, Atticus. *whew* *wow*

And lastly, I should let you fanboys and fangirls of multiple tie-ins and complexly woven uber-stories, there's a ton of shorts by this author that will come out soon in an anthology that do a wonderful job at building a Hale-ian horror mythos, full of good stand-alones that just happen to enrich an awesome whole.

Do I sound like a fanboy? Well, for good reason. This is a work of great imagination and relentless horror. There's quite a bit of good psychological stuff built right in to the gore, the crazy, and the dark side of the Awe.

No one ought to skip this when it comes out. It's great fun! :)

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Dragons of BabelThe Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This sequel to The Iron Dragon's Daughter shares practically every wonderfully skewed fantasy AND SF tradition from the first book, but don't expect anything quite like the same story. We've still got demon cyborgs who are airships wanting to see the world burn while ostensibly under control of the war effort, mythical half-mortals who are absolutely in the minority in this Elf-rich land and highly coveted for their ability to withstand the iron, and so many richly thought-out stage pieces that make these novels truly delightful and subversive at the same time.

They're not your standard fantasy, even while so many of the tropes exist in outline, or perhaps in inverted colors.

The same thing is true even for the main plot of this book, where we have the poor orphan in his quest to become king. Sound familiar? Well, not the way this is told, because Will is a Dragon's dupe, an ignorant exile, a burgeoning and later quite skilled con-man, hero to the people, star-crossed lover of a princess, and the executor of the biggest heist in history.

The crown.

And the twist was so worth it. Every step of the way, this novel was an inverted mirror to so much classic SF and classic fantasy, full of rich ideas from every corner of both fields, and written with such style and competence and rich, rich myth, that I can do nothing but bow to a master storyteller.

I've read a good number of Swanwick's novels, now, and a collection of short stories, and I can honestly say that there isn't a bad or an even mediocre one in the bunch. They're all fantastic and my trust is now boundless. :)

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Futuristic Violence and Fancy SuitsFuturistic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The near-future equivalent of UF Science Fiction.

What? Well, yeah! It has tons and tons of snark, absolutely fantastic pacing, action, action, action, humor, blood and guts, and tons and tons of shiny tech toys that are not only not in the hands of Government Officials or Spies, but there are NO Government Officials OR Spies in the novel!

This is all trailer trash and thug territory, my friend.

Of course, we're taking the trailer trash out of trailer trash territory and giving her a bazillion dollars in a completely lawless town filled to the brim with mad scientists, whimsical research projects, and idiots with massive power complexes... so what could go wrong?

Well, for one, we could run out of cat food.

We do NOT want to run out of cat food. Seriously. Stench Machine would be VERY displeased.

Shit! They're shooting at us!

I had a great time reading this. I doubt I've had an easier time reading anything for several months. It's pure popcorn SF that brings fun to every page. :)

If any of you are worried about or hoping for a splash of the same kind of juvenile humor from David Wong's other books, then be forewarned: It's been toned down. A lot. Instead, we've just got a serious page turner with funny cliffhangers and a love interest for our trailer trash heroine who has been described as "a robot who was programmed by an asshole".

And despite that, I actually thought that Will was kinda sweet. :) Zoe was fantastic for snark, too. :) Poor guy.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Stiletto (The Checquy Files, #2)Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this novel. Unlike the previous one, which seemed slightly easy in comparison, this one had a lot of features that I've grown to hate over the years.

Such as? Action buildups that suddenly cut to long and unasked for history lessons and expositions that sometimes, eventually, bring out an aspect of the story that will, also eventually, fit right into the tale. Unfortunately for me, it kicks me right out of the telling and I've got to reign in all my enormous reserves of patience until the action starts back up again, which, unfortunately, takes a long ass time. And these were rather dull.

I won't say they were pointless, because we eventually get the wraparound and the bow on top, BUT at the time, I'm left wondering where the main characters are and what any of this has to do with the main story we've begun with. Which, by that point, I'd pretty much forgotten, anyway.

Sounds pretty damning, doesn't it?

Well wait a moment. I'd have perfectly loved the hell out of this book if all that extraneous stuff had been omitted or condensed into footnotes or incorporated in MUCH smaller or at least story-integrated ways, and not as hijackers on the plane of my enjoyment.

So honestly, whenever we got back to Myfanwy, Felicity, or Odette, I was fully enjoying the tale again. Hell, it was a very good tale, and not to give away story twists, it's very satisfying on the emotional, strategical, and diplomatic angles.

I really enjoyed learning all about the big bads of the previous book and enjoyed even more to sympathize and empathize with the Grafters. What first appeared to be a simple and weird exploration of biological scariness became a much more complicated and positive, if fantastic, set of expertise. I fully bought it by the end of the novel, which is great.

If it wasn't for the aspects of the writing that kept knocking me right out of my imagination, for all the times I discovered that I wished that I was doing just about anything else but reading, (which is freaking odd, for me,) or for the plain fact that the pacing was constantly in mortal jeopardy, I really would have given this book a five star rating. There's a ton to love, but the exposition WAS NOT IT.

(Even if what I'm calling exposition actually had a self-contained story or stories within it, that actually wrapped up like out-of-time tales, I'll be honest... they just didn't belong here. Maybe somewhere else as side short-stories for die-hard fans, or extras at the end of the novel. I know this is just my opinion, but cutting them right out of the main story would have made the book superior, if not quite as deep. We're not dealing with victorian classics, here. This has all the trappings of a modern UF save the crown secret organization of superheroes joining forces with masters of extreme and esoteric biology sciences, NOT an in-depth exploration of the histories of rather minor character parts that happen to have important but not large page-time.)


But again, I think the story was damn awesome if we got away from all that. :)

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The Fabulous Riverboat (Riverworld, #2)The Fabulous Riverboat by Philip José Farmer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's a pretty okay novel, but it suffers from being a product of its times. That being said, it's pretty fun to ride with Samuel L. Clemens on his constantly-being-built steamboat, made of "Space Age" plastics! Wooooo that stuff is a pretty neat idea! Ahem. Sorry. I got carried away there.

A lot of the action is mostly finding new ways to build tech on the extremely huge world of reincarnated humans from all time periods showing up at the same time here, but we've moved along far enough that nations are being built and fortresses and boundaries are in full effect. Resource gathering is also a must, especially for a certain Mark Twain if he'll ever live out his dream of captaining his own steamboat. Of course, this is riverworld.

In 1971, the time when the novel came out, we're forced to face our worst nightmares (*laugh*) of an entirely black nation wanting to go completely isolationist from the honky. The arabs are too white, too, so even though they make up 1/6th of this separate riverworld nation, they're still getting evicted. "We're not perfect, whitey, but at least it'll be Our Problem. We blame you for everything." Storyline. Ahem. Let me be clear here. Practically EVERY treatment of the issue that I've ever read is better than this one. It's nearly a stereotype of a stereotype of black power, taken so far that it has come out the other side into near satire.

So, yeah, action happens, and tragedies, too, and all the while the mysterious counter-plan alien is trying to help ease our sufferings on this admittedly great-idea world. :)

Not the best novel I've ever read, by a long shot, but not incapable of telling a story, either. :) The first one was a lot more enjoyable. Sam was a bit too whiny for my tastes. *shrug*

I'm going to continue the series. This was hardly a deal-breaker. It's just a cultural-awareness crapfest issue. :)

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Three Hearts and Three LionsThree Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was charmed from the get-go for I knew that this was a classic, more SF/F Andersonian mix, a retelling of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and that is exactly what I got.

There's plenty of old adventure that's a little less nuts than White's Arthurian adventures, with a bit more in the straight adventure arena, including a sphinx/troll Scene, clever science fixes for epic battles, swooning women, time travel, witches, Faery courts, dragons, hidden memories and unbreakable promises. It's an all-around good story.

Does it really live up to, say, Anderson's The Broken Sword? No. But this one is a bit more light-hearted and it's straight-up Arthurian legend Plus stuff. I'm glad I read it but it's not nearly as good as his others.

It doesn't have quite that special kick since its ideas are all common-stuff. Still, it's Poul Anderson, so it's still head and shoulders above most of the rest, and I can see this being a nice precursor to so many of the modern fictions we have today, considering how straightforward the plots are.

It came out in 1961 and I'm honestly most charmed by all the modern-science considerations and speculations. :) This, more than anything, made it stand out for me. I'm now interested to see if anyone else has decided to do this with today's knowledge of science. You know. An upgrade, like this one was an attempt to upgrade Twain. :)

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Dying of the LightDying of the Light by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had absolutely no issues in giving this a full 5 star rating, because even though the novel was nominated in '78 for the Hugo, that it comes out of the mind of one of the more well-beloved SF/F authors of our times, the novel is absolutely gorgeous all on its own.

Why? Because we're getting such depth of world-building, from the science of the solar/planetary, to the culture it spawned, to an absolutely amazing depth of social explorations, to a very cool discourse on the sexes as seen from multiple cultures and their conflicts.

Sound impressive? It only gets better, because the story is oh so solid and very complex. This is the novel highlights all the things we truly love about his SoIaF series, establishing characters as one thing only to break the mold completely, crossing all the boundaries of evil to good and back again. No one is a secondary character, either. This is the precursor to the series we know, only it's Science Fiction.

It's easy to get carried away with the misogynic society of men and the desire of a single woman to free herself after having got caught, and it is a major theme, at first, but then we begin to see how truly disturbing the society is not because it does such male-centered things, but because of it's tragic history and how it had almost died out because it had lost most of its females, and as such, had changed them into true treasures and communal properties over a few generations despite the original star-faring society being perfectly egalitarian. It sounds bad, but then you start to see a particularly complex bond/love relationships between men, almost like honor, almost like romance, and it's made even more complex by the deep rules of duels, warfare, and conquest, all while having such strange mixes of old and rediscovered tech.

And of course we get to see and explore it all through both their eyes and an outsider's eyes in the greater galactic civilization, full of misunderstandings, surprises, hate, love, little heroisms and subversions.

Sound like a deeply complex storyline full of surprises and adventure? Well it is, and we get to see a deeply imagined physical world, too, not just of the people and the social structures. The planet is within a strange and chaotic start system and they cannot even see more than twelve stars. With so many multiple suns, we also discover that the planet had a near brush with a sun and is now on it's way out of the system entirely. The planet will go from great heat into an eventual iceball. See a theme? Only this time, it's explained in science, even if the inhabitants truly have little recourse or satisfaction in the knowledge.

When I first read SoIaF, I loved to speculate about the planetary system that would cause centuries of winter and a few small generations of summer. It's a very SF thing to do for an epic fantasy. Imagine how delighted I am to learn that he'd been long thinking of these specific plans within his fantasy? It's obvious from this book. :)

This should be a must read for all his fans, and even of fans of LeGuin. The deeper social aspects are quite fascinating, indeed. :)

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Magic Burns (Kate Daniels, #2)Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Surprisingly entertaining and it feels like a serious step-up from the first book.

I mean, witchy adventures and seven-year solar-magical catastrophes aside, who doesn't love a battle between gods? Oh, Morrigan! I've seen you in other series, how beautiful to see and you again!

I liked the mystery and the movements through the UF, and now that we're in the middle of character development, rather than just the opening sequences, I'm enjoying the play between Curran and Kate. Nothing is quite smooth sailing, but what did we really expect?

Drama, action, super bloody blades, wild magic words causing damage to the wielder, and chaos? Well, yes. That is what we expect, and I'm really happy with it. :)

I'm getting a hint of what the series is to become, I think, and I do like it. :) On to the next!

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Magic Bites (Kate Daniels, #1)Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Honestly, as long as I'm just focusing on the Urban Fantasy Romance angle of the tale, it's fine, but when it comes right down to all the weres and the types of vamps, it's all pretty much old hat.

So What's really good about the series? The character development. So far it's a pretty solid introduction and the meet-cute is pretty funny. Our MC is kind of a mess with her magic and her sword, but that's okay when the big bad kitty decides he likes her and wants to "help" her.

The vamps do have an interesting twist in species and the whole magic system also has some interesting twists, especially in how all the races tend to mix and match in subtle, almost SF, ways. In fact, I do rather like how the SF features of the world don't play nicely with the magical, and vice-versa. It kinda requires everyone to keep a nice balance going on, but of course that's not really happening with our main couple. It's mostly magic and genes and a lot of power eating. :)

No problem. Like I said, a decent introduction. I probably wouldn't have cared enough to continue with the series based on this, alone, but because there's a TON of rave reviews surround this whole series and because I know that UF in general has this problem of slow-starting, I really don't have any problems being patient.

It's not like the setup is bad, and I have the benefit of having read a few of the Inkeeper books, so I'm already a fan of the authors. :) Looking forward to reading more!

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Narwhal: Unicorn of the SeaNarwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Things I learned from Narwhal:

Jellyfish collect in Smacks.
Narwhals collect in Pods.


And this might well be Baby's First Venture into Solipsism! Yay!

The book is cute and friendly but not overly overwhelming with message or buildup of story. I kinda expected something more cohesive, but at least we get to see a pod-dance and a watch the cuties eat WAFFLES!

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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CrosstalkCrosstalk by Connie Willis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know, I was worried that my being a total fanboy of Connie Willis would have unduly influenced any kind of review I might make for any new novel, but I never should have worried. At all. This is a Great SF Romantic Comedy, with all the best features of To Say Nothing of the Dog, at least with the comedy of errors, the speed and flurry, and the comedy, even if we're not in the realm of time-travel any more.

This one is all about communication, and if you really think that you've got it all figured out by page 100, then think again. And again. And again. Because Connie Willis will grab you by the scruff of your neck and throw you into a truly brilliant breakneck pace. It might even nearly overwhelm you with its peril and humor and pathos... and that's only the first few pages. Do I feel pity for Briddy? Do I want to throw away all cell phones forever and tell people to just QUIT the gossip, already? Oh yes.

But is this what the novel is about? Oh lordy... no. It only keeps getting better and better and better, and by the time we're through with Trent and Briddy and C.B.... well, I don't know about you, but I was bawling like a little baby. Connie Willis knows how to weave a really tight tale with so, so many perfect emotional tweaks. The finale had so much build that it literally blew my mind.

In a great way. :)

I savored this novel like crazy. This is real storytelling. What a gem.

And to think that this is *merely* a Romantic Comedy? Good Grief. So why am I still teary? I'm a guy! I'm supposed to be made of sterner stuff! Okay. Enough Squee. :) You get the idea. Connie Willis has done it again. Don't ever believe that I'm just taking this for granted, though. Has anyone started to worship her, yet? I mean, with shrines and all? Um. Why not? :)

I love going all gooey with a good book, but I generally don't go THIS far unless it really, really deserves it. Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for letting this humble reviewer get a sneak peek at one of his favorite authors of all time. :) So much Joy! :)

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been a large fan of Gaiman since Sandman, so unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to separate my expectations from a serious review of this novel; still, I'll try.

I'm always struck by the solid blending of down-to-earth real-people and situations that are truly magical, never cookie-cutter. The mundane and the magical has never been soft and gentle when they collide. It may be due to the fact that our author always has always used a kid-glove approach to handling the reader, preferring gentle touches and caresses, even when discussing having your heart torn out or discovering a mangled mess of what used to be a man. Toast, even burnt toast, can act as a salve to soothe the ruffled nerves of death, whether in the flashback of the main novel or the funeral at the present time.

It's curious how well it works, and we are left, as readers, in awe that such a writer can pull off this event so carefully that no one thinks twice of it. It is natural, just as all magic is natural. You don't have to be a kid to understand this, either, but for the uninitiated, age 7 can do wonders for any reader's mindset.

The novel isn't huge, the stakes are only large by implication, and the consequences are all intensely personal. The main character, we might be tempted to say, is not our narrator. The main character is the cat; again, ever so gently done. :) Faith, wisdom, magic and the fabric of reality are all given center stage, as are the natures of sacrifice, family, memory, and a bit of the aes sidhe.

Impressively done, wrapped in a package so well written. :)

6/19/16 re-read addendum:

After having watched Coraline about a bazillion times with my baby girl, I'm rather thrilled by the continuance of themes and/or carry-on of mythical creatures that use sewing motifs. :) In this case, very much on the side of the good-guys, but I still have to wonder if it isn't a part of a greater universal weaving. After all, the Hunger Birds have been known to pick at the curtains of reality in the same way. :)

Oh, and I really loved the Ocean more this time. Meow.

Quite a deep read, when you consider things. :)

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, #2)Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Truly a direct sequel that doesn't even let us take a breath between the last action of the first book before we're hunted by baddies, we're going crazy to fix poor Miss Peregrine, and before we solve the new mysteries of new photos.

It's a good setup and a good adventure. They obviously need a lot of help, but it's great to see how they solve their problems and avoid or defeat the baddies as they try to find others of Miss Peregrine's kind.

Suffice to say, read this for the adventure and the twists and the turns and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

Me? Why didn't I give this more stars? Well, honestly, some of it didn't really hold my attention very much. When things got weird, I was right there, and they got weird regularly enough that I couldn't quite dislike the novel. On the other hand, a good deal of the novel felt like it was stalling and idling. It was just the times when it got weird that I found myself *wanting* to pay attention.

Adventure is only as good as the characters and their motivations and their stakes, after all, and like the first novel, I kind of wish that the MC wasn't such a lightweight. Everyman isn't really working for me, here. And the other kids seriously needed to have stronger personalities rather than just interesting powers. It's only some of the time, too. The times when it stalled was when the stronger personalities weren't in play or we weren't in the middle of the next reveal. Unfortunately, that happened a lot.

I'd call this a slightly flawed novel, but certainly not enough to ruin it. I had enough occasional fun to call this a win.

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The Book of SkullsThe Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This heavily character-driven novel begins and continues like an interesting jaunt through america in a classic road-trip novel, but it eventually becomes something much more on two fronts that might possibly be just one.

Is it really about joining a secret society cult based on a the Book of Skulls that promises immortality at a price? Or is it really about exploring one's sexuality, with the majority of emphasis being on homosexuality?

I'm not saying that being a homosexual is the route to immortality in this tale. Far from it. It's incidental, but intricately linked to what the narrator is focused on within his own mind, always swirling closer and closer and closer and never quite being able to free himself through all the meditations and weird secret-society explorations because of it.

It can get a bit trippy, well beyond the sexuality aspects. Very '70's writing, with main focus on enlightenment and free love and using drugs to open their minds, but more than that, this is a very deep exploration of the mind and motives and reactions to so many conflicting desires. The narrator doesn't see himself as homosexual, he sees himself as bisexual, and all of it is just as muddied as his own hunt for personal enlightenment.

Death? Sex? Drugs? Quest? It's all part of the same novel, and it's very interesting on all those levels and also one more: Spirituality and mystery religions. Silverberg obviously has a great deal of knowledge about them and it held my attention nearly as much as the main tale. Fun stuff.

Other than that, it's nominally SF. It's more a tale of self-discovery during the 70's more than anything. :)

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Friday, June 17, 2016

The Devil's Eye (Alex Benedict, #4)The Devil's Eye by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one took a slightly different turn from the rest of the series, and I think it worked out very well. There was a very, very nice horror subplot going on about an actual horror author, and then it becomes the well-known mystery/space-opera I've gotten to know and love with the rest of the series.

The suspense was killing me. :) Oh, and the horror ideas were quite nice, too. :)

It turned into quite a good mystery with some pretty impressive stakes, and it was actually surprising. I like mysteries that surprise. It didn't continue as a horror, but it was still very satisfying.

I'm very glad to be reading this series. :) Simple, or some not so simple, fun. :)

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Double Dead (Double Dead, #1)Double Dead by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Serious fun stuff. I can't believe this is his first novel, and the first one I've read. It certainly isn't going to by my last. :) I love the concept. Vampire MC in a zombie wasteland. SO TOTALLY COOL.

And yes, there's a full-blown tribute to either the comic for The Walking Dead or the TV series. Soo many great scenes, all made with just enough difference to be all Wendig, but with a very classy evil humor that's all Wendig, too. :)

So I fell into this novel having a grand ole time and it never let up for me, being both light and evil and delightfully full of action and great characters and cool hints for massive solutions that May or May Not pan out as you hope, just like in TWD, only we've got some serious Resident Evil stuff going on, too, to up the stakes. *happy dance*

Why isn't everyone just jumping on this fun book and devouring it? IDK. Because they just don't know that something this fun could exist in literature? I mean, it's not like it's deep or anything, but it's so delightfully subversive and just plain FUN. *happy dance*

Go read! :)

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Seeker (Alex Benedict, #3)Seeker by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good Grief. I just lost my review.

Here's a summary, alas.

'06 Nebula winner, equal parts Space Opera and Noir Mystery, but that really translates mostly into Future History Archeology, with a treasure-hunting bent, twists and turns, lots of interesting characters, and lost spacecraft and lost colonies.

Was I really happy about the last twist and the epilogue? Hell yes.

All this takes place about 10k in the future, but there's a legend of a lost colony gone 9k ago before the advent of FTL travel or communications, and it's the subject of much attention and drama. Atlantis, anyone? Well what happens when weird things start showing up, crazy mysteries get unearthed, and our favorite team get involved in the hunt?

It's a mystery! Most of the fun is all in the reveals and the character interactions, and I'll be honest, I like Chase better as the narrator because she just might be smarter than the titular MC who's getting kinda pushed out of his own series. :) It's not a bad alteration. :) She's a tough Noir investigator.

I'm having a lot of fun with these novels! It's pretty much the most fun I've had with archeology novels I've had, but perhaps that's because I just haven't read the right ones. Still, I love the mix with Space Opera. :)

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld, #41; Tiffany Aching, #5)The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If anyone has been reading this far in the series, they must be very, very sad that Sir Terry passed away, and this, his very last novel, is all we have left. I am sad. I am very sad. And after the first few chapters, I got even more sad, because he was writing his own requiem in these scenes.

It was scary and sad and so appropriate. And then it passed, to flow into Tiffany Aching's fifth, delightful, tale.

If you're familiar, you know she's no longer a witch's apprentice, she's a full witch and she's stepping up. And of course, adventure happens. Delightful adventure, and something that is a very familiar theme also happens, as it always happens in these Discworld books... People who don't belong in professions start showing up and demanding to do something that they shouldn't be fit to do.

A BOY WITCH? I mean, sure, a girl did it with the Wizards and that seemed to work out all right, but a BOY? No Way.

And then there's that whole thing with the elves facing off with an epic battle against the denizens of the land, with wee men and witches squaring off against the mean glamourists... but no one's interested in that, are they?

The BOY has a GOAT! And can you believe he's pretty decent on a broom? Lordy... what is Discworld coming to? A satisfying end? With a delightful sense of wonder and humor and nostalgia?

Why yes, it did come to that. *wipes a tear away from his face*

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ChthonChthon by Piers Anthony
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As an SF prison break adventure it's fine, but honestly, it's everything that's under the surface that makes this book pretty fantastic. It was nominated in '68 for the Hugo even though it was a first-time author who spent 7 years writing it. Interesting? Especially since he's a hugely recognized name now?

The fact is, beyond the prison break, it's a psychological horrorshow that spotlights its very own Oedipus tragedy, wold-spanning telepaths, commentary on the nature of love and hate, complete with a truly horrible inversion, and just a little more tragedy.

This is the novelized SF form of Freudian unconsciousness, travelling the labyrinth, and the eventual rise from the darkest spaces of our own souls to reach the light, as it seen in the title. Chthonic?

But don't worry about any of these themes being too deep to spot. Anthony keeps everything pretty much on the surface, putting his knowledge of myth and classic literature a direct service to *his* story, and not as a nod.

I'm honestly very impressed, but I can also see why people might not give this higher stars, too, because the deeper themes and even the general one of a SF prison break has been done many times. Still, this one is done extremely well, so I'm giving it full props. It's complex but very readable, disturbing in the sexual themes, the love themes, in all the ways that people hurt each other or are even programmed to hurt each other. It might be too rough for the casual reader. I'm honestly a bit shaken, myself, and I pride myself on knowing my dark side.

Very impressive. :)

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

WeaveworldWeaveworld by Clive Barker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book probably deserves a full analysis, going into a full and deep review mode that gives a grand majority of the characters, both good and evil, lots of time to explore ambitions and twists and character growths and failures. I should also go into a twenty-page monologue on how beautiful and strange and wonderful the fantasy elements are, from the sideways-twisted tormenting of christian beliefs, the reimagining of so many mythical elements, the fact that good and evil are never what they seem and they often fly into each other's territories regardless of how the quasi-demons, quasi-fae, quasi-witches, or quasi-humans look or feel on the page.

It's scary. It is a horror. And while so many horrific creatures with truly awesome descriptions grace these pages, we're not allowed to go with all our natural assumptions. We're supposed to go off the deep end and humanize everyone, not that they particularly deserve it or that the exercise is especially rewarding. Non-magical humans are Cuckoos. The magical races are Seers. The magical realm is called the Fugue. Do these descriptions raise a LOT more questions than they answer? Yes? That's because things are really MESSED UP and that's what Clive Barker is really good at. :)

We switch between the real world and the magical one many times during this epic tale. It starts as a firm grounding in the real world with the baddies on the way to unweave the Fugue which happens to be a magic carpet that contains a magical universe, and so we've got adventure... but that's such a small part of the whole book. It goes much farther, into epic battles, ambitious salesmen, ages-old revenge, demons from a glass-darkly garden of eden, angels who are scourges, and cthulhu-like entities everywhere, with heads like wounds and stomachs digesting on the outside. This is Clive Barker, after all.

The world-building is truly amazing, and so is the deep reimagining of all magic. Can you get an idea how disturbing it is when the magic is called the Raptures and the Menstruum? Or that an old necromancer could be brought back as boneless assassins even though it is implied that he was the one who created the Cenobites from Hellraiser? I LOVE these kinds of hints and terrors. Not only does it tie so much else together, it just keeps going on and on being inventive and creative and huge!

And on a side note, I kept thinking about playing one of the Desgaea games again, because I'm SOOO sure that they stole the idea of going into items to level them up from the novel. It would make so much sense! But in this case, it's just a carpet with a WHOLE UNIVERSE inside it. :) :)

Everything in here *is* basically based on christian good and evil, but is so nicely subverted and wrenched out of place that it nicely serves the purpose of real horror. You know, looking at the reflection of a thing and recognize it for what it is, and yet it is so sinisterly *off* that it dredges up a whole slew of emotional reverberations that keep us off balance? Yeah, that's Clive Barker for you.

My only real complaint is that I sometimes got lost in a little boredom between all the awesome bits. I can't honestly say that the book could do without them, tho, because when everything is so intense, I'd also lose the thread of letting it settle and get the implications in. It's a long book, and placing this up against ANY modern dark fantasy epic will probably impress just about anyone if they turn a critical eye upon it. Brilliant is an accurate description. Detailed and far-reaching and extremely-deeply thought-out is another.

I love most of the characters, but I didn't love the null spots. Maybe we needed them for just that extra bit of twisting and fleshing for the characters, but lets face it... there were a LOT of characters to get full-dimensionalized. Hats off. I was immensely fascinated for most of the book and creeped out a great deal of the time, too.

It's my own fault, I think, if I didn't care so much during some of the character's crusades. Fortunately, on the whole, this is a truly magical classic. :)

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Monday, June 13, 2016

The Citadel of the Autarch (The Book of the New Sun #4)The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So now that all the big reveals have come through, plus a very nice one to redefine the rest of the series, I can officially say that I *like* this series instead of just sitting around being mystified and weirded out by it while wondering how to justify the traditional action events with the truly odd.

And now I know.

It's pretty awesome, but not quite up to the level of mindfuqery that I was prepared to expect based on all the multiple time-travel and memory-cannibalisms that we've been subjected to. I mean, it's been four whole novels of what appeared to be straightforward adventure before it got super weird, and I'm not even including the humaniform robots, the dying of the sun, the idea-form aliens, living gods or locations jettisoned out of the time-stream. As if those weren't quite enough, right?

Still, one has to be impressed by the almost Dune-like scope near the end, the complete and utter laying out of reveals, the expected solution for the sun, and of course, Severian's Fate. And those inside him, of course. :)

A word to the wise, for anyone contemplating taking on this admittedly daunting work: Read all four books straight through. It won't be as frustrating. Ignore Serverain's epilogue and stick with the tale.

And by all means, have faith that it comes together in the end, because it does.

I'm actually kind of tempted to do them all again to start really connecting the dots instead of just *thinking* that I'm connecting all the dots. :) It's an impressive work, but let me be perfectly honest... it's not the end-all of all SF. It's good, it's very literary in both the regular mainstream and classics as well as the SF field, but it's not quite the grand masterpiece I was led to believe it was.

Being able to incorporate so many other works inside a single adventure, however impressive, technically, is not the same thing as being a wild and fun read.

Although, I *DID* love the occasion for the marriage stories. Those were all pretty well brilliant and fun as hell. :)

I'm glad I made it through. :)

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Brain WaveBrain Wave by Poul Anderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Great concept, troubling conclusions. I mean, isn't this what a lot of great SF is all about? A great idea to explore and get really excited about, coupled with a great story for the personal impact?

We've got half of this. I almost squeed like a little girl with the idea that EVERYTHING on the planet got intelligent practically overnight. All the animals jumped in intelligence as well as all the people. We've got the ultimate What If, laying the foundation for the later brilliant book by Keyes, Flowers for Algernon or even the Smart Barkley in ST:TNG to a fairly epic level right off the bat, even laying the epic foundation for Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought, the places in the galaxy where intelligence slows or speeds up to godlike levels depending on where you are, praying that you remain safe.

So what's my problem? Nothing too extreme, but each piles up and annoys until I just had to drop a few stars. Probably the worst is just a feature of 1950 when this came out, namely the assumption and portrayal of women being idiots or lazy or hopelessly enamoured and stymied because of inaccessible men. It drives me crazy. It also happened in Poul Anderson's Tau Zero, which was also a great novel in all respects except this.

Smaller issues? Oh, like the assumption that with great intelligence the desire to prolong your own survival goes away. You know, like maintaining simple commerce or getting things done. I mean, come on, don't you think that if we got smarter we'd see right through that bullshit and roll up our sleeves? I mean, if everyone has broken the scale in intelligence, it's not like there would be anyone TO EXPLOIT. It should be a no brainer that if you want to survive, then get to work.

Oh yeah, and desiring to return to the way things were before? Good grief. Intelligence does not equal unhappiness. I could make a good case that unhappiness in the very intelligent comes from being alone and unfulfilled. So what if the new standard is higher across the board? It means that we're all in the same boat as before, still needing to find meaning and connection in our lives. It doesn't change just because of our IQ.

Other than that, I do think the basic premise is pretty damn awesome and I'd love to see a whole team of authors from all over the world try to tackle this issue seriously and creatively, not just an admittedly awesome author writing from 1950 from a narrow cultural viewpoint.

I'd love to see what everyone else might come up with, because the idea is still fantastic and there can be a ton of really great play, here. :)

I might even say that this novel deserves a full 5 stars just for the concept and its robust beauty and how it continues to spark the imagination. :)

...But the story kinda drags it down, alas. Ooh, the opportunity!

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Warrior King (Odyssey One, #5)Warrior King by Evan C. Currie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Make no mistake, this is a start of a new chapter in the Space Opera, featuring aliens that are slightly closer to humanity than the ones we've run into, yet.

It certainly makes for a more even challenge, even if we're up against an Empire, the sworn enemies of the hugely advanced "Oathers" of whom we've already been introduced, helped enormously, and have, in return, been helped as much.

It's good to have friends. Unfortunately for us, that means all future conflicts are shared, too, right?

Ah, but the enemy makes no fine distinctions. It's all pew pew without parley, alas. It annoys me a bit, but truly, any enemy that employs such horrible tactics as we've already seen, on such enormous scales, likely has no interest in talk anyway.

So even if I am a bit annoyed with the enemy reveal, it washes away pretty cleanly because all the action, the tactics, the creative use of the known science, (and especially the great characters,) pretty much makes up for everything.

...For Currie writes great drama. :) No matter what happens, I'm having a great time and I'm fully invested in the tradition of Space War. I can read these all day long. :)

Pew Pew! Love the cameo for Thieves, too! Let's bring on the bigger and badder conflicts!

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Tomorrow the Killing (Low Town, #2)Tomorrow the Killing by Daniel Polansky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to admit I love this one a lot more than the first novel. It might be because I'm getting into Polansky's style or it could be because the Warden finally grew on me after the events finally played out in the first novel.

Either way, it doesn't really matter because this novel was perfectly awesome all on its own. It was riffing the horrors of World War I with a magical slant beautifully, even written as a slow reveal of the Warden's past as he goes about his dark days in Low Town in the present. I honestly loved getting to know him much, much better, learning that he was even more despicable and heroic than I had first gave him credit for. What a cool blend of regained conscience, doing the right thing, and bloody-minded and overwhelming revenge that takes on the whole damn world.

I mean, here we go from being nearly perfectly apathetic after being drummed out of the spy business, to feeling extremely guilty for a past wrong, to doing a half-assed job to make up for the guilt, to failing, and in failing, decide to make it right by burning the whole motherfucking world to the ground.

It actually turns out pretty much as epic as it sounds, too.

I'm SOOO tempted to start reading the third novel right away, not that there's a cliffhanger, because there isn't. I'm just that invested in the world, now. :)

Here's to the dirt and slime of the world! And let's hear it for our favorite drug-pushing, orphan-saving, black-hearted murderer, and pretty decent human being, the Warden. :) *clink*

Even if he's an asshole, he still has his good points. :)

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Humanoids and With Folded HandsThe Humanoids and With Folded Hands by Jack Williamson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

1947's "With Folded Hands" was a direct libertarian response to the devastation wrought by the two atomic bombs, replacing the obvious threats with very cleverly humanist and helpful sleek black androids that invade to give humanity all it could ever want.

We get most of the story from a refugee's point of view, how he has been running and trying to stop the pervasive and nearly perfectly benevolent humanoids. It reads nearly like a horror novel, a paranoid rambling, at desperate ploy, and it seems perfectly reasonable (after having read The Humanoids).

I should have read this first! :) I think it was pretty much fantastic. Of course we get all the old Asimov Robot stories and even a prototype Prime Directive, and we even get the hints of the Butlerian Jihad reminiscent later in the Dune novels. We can't underestimate the influence of Jack Williamson.

1949 The Humanoids. Of course there have been robots in the golden age of SF, but one little fact should be brought out. Asimov's Robots didn't show up until a few years AFTER Williamson's Humanoids. :) We all know the Laws. Williamson is the prototype, but rather a slightly darker tale. :)

I was first happy to read a novel that is SCIENCE! and later the almost pure escapism, watching how humanity either fell in step with the near-perfect rule of the "Servants" or they'd be subjected to the drug of Euphoricide. :) I love that name. Pure happiness until you stop caring. :)

It turned directly into a pretty cool adventure and an almost impossible quest to change the Humanoid's Prime Directive and give people true freedom again, a pure libertarian ideal of Choice, also a timely theme of Free Will against the Godhead. The adventure was cool and impossible, but then the plot twist was pretty damn cool and a homage to all the old SF pulp classics. The Prime Directive, after all, is the need to make All Men Happy. The twist was pretty damn sweet. :)

I can't believe I've never read Jack Williamson before. I feel very ashamed. This stuff is pretty damn cool. :)

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FellsideFellside by M.R. Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No matter how many times people told me this had nothing to do with The Girl with All the Gifts, I found myself still scouring the book for signs that it could be connected. Silly me. I failed.

But that doesn't mean that this wasn't a good tale! On the contrary, it might be a must read if you like to learn to like characters that you normally wouldn't give a fig about. Specifically, a woman who is self-destructive enough that she wouldn't even work on her own defence at her trial, who has, off and on, had a drug problem, and who is occasionally suicidal while barely scraping by within the women's prison, Fellside.

So what's this about, then?

It's a ghost story. :)

Not really intended to be scary, though, but it does have a lot of great conflict and tension, with a very robust plot and good character-rounding. I had a good time. :) Especially when it came to the ghost. The ghost had a lot more definition and character building and twists and turns than I usually get to enjoy in such tales. It's not like the ghost is hard to find or traditionally "Mysterious", either. The real trick is in the mind, and what can I say? I love that kind of thing. :)

This is definitely a character-driven novel, and you can expect some pretty deep immersion into the nature and intricacies of guilt. It's quite fascinating and it was a fun read. :)

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Friday, June 10, 2016

House of Small ShadowsHouse of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Honestly, there are a number of really nice things about this novel, mostly in the descriptions and a few fairly early-on reveals, such as the rotting beehive, that got to me. Other good things were the all out gorefest perfectly reminiscent of all the 80's B-Movie extravaganzas, including all the cheese, all the neatly wrapped-up characters in overblown situations brought together with even more convenient reveals until we get a nice gore-strewn bow made of intestines, or in this case, pre 1950's dresses and glassy eyes.

On the negative side of the review, it's all exactly as I just said. B-Movie extravaganza. And a bad B-Movie, too. It's all too pat and all the emotions I'm supposed to feel are hardly telegraphed to me, they're told to me. I also had a problem with Catherine. All the conceits and the creepy past and her mental problems might be a staple of such horrors, a nice counterpoint to the outside horror she finds herself, but how it was pulled off just didn't seem right to me. I never really connected with her at any point. It was like she was overacting for the screen and I should have been laughing at her performance before she got sucked into the Ghoulies set, but no, there was way too much seriousness and intent to be serious all around me. It was both a downer and it was out of sync.

Maybe others who haven't watched nearly as much truly horrible horror movies as me might get something more out of this novel, or perhaps I'm just being too critical, because I thought the truly bizarre aspects were pretty fun. I just wish I could have fallen into the true *horror* of it, along with Catherine, more.

Who knows, this might actually be a decent extremely low-budget movie... some day.

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United States of JapanUnited States of Japan by Peter Tieryas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I actually had a pretty good time with this novel, expecting more of a carry-over from The Man in the High Castle, in the same vein as The Time Ships carrying forward The Time Machine, but instead we've got a fast forward to modern day with modern day trappings in an America dominated by Japan, with a virtual game taking the place of the The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, an awesome (but short) stint in a huge mecha-robot, and a completely torn-apart California.

It doesn't quite have the same weight as the original, but I certainly loved all the modern storytelling, the pacing, the characters, and, of course, all the trappings. Who doesn't love a good hacker or enraged "hackers"?

The culture and the conspiracy and the deeply submerged idealism worked really well for me, too, and the characters worked fine for me, too. The plots and the twists were quite decent.

Just because it's not breaking horribly new ground doesn't mean that it can't appeal more to modern readers than the original, because it can. The game may not have had the same deeply convincing effect as the underground novel, alas, but practically everything else was a better *story* than the original.

No props for the unique way the original was written for this one, though, and that's fine. I still had a good time. :)

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Inverted WorldThe Inverted World by Christopher Priest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel is actually all kinds of amazing when it comes to the exploration of a few core ideas and more than very decent when it comes to exploring humanity, perception, and irreconcilable differences.

The story is ostensibly a coming of age story, an acceptance of one's world, and then, eventually a deep dissent without a true solution, but it comes across so easily, so effortlessly, that I'm truly unsurprised that this was nominated for the Hugo in '75 and won the British SF award in the same. So the characters are good, the story is very solid... then what, exactly, makes this novel stand out?

The concept. An intersection of our Earth with these people's Earth. Not original enough? No problem. How about an infinite space of earth along a fluid time? The city is on rails, a direct concept that is carried over to Railsea, travelling slowly into the future and away from the past, which doesn't sound so surprising except when you realize that if the inhabitants actually walk in one direction or another, they actually explore the real past or the future. Infinite space along a traversable time, the inverse of the Earth we actually live in.

But this is where the story gets interesting. There's guilds and explorers and the crossing over along very predefined instants where the two Earths meet, and then we start asking questions about perception.

It's truly much more than this, but it gives you a nice taste and it's truly a grand exploration of ideas across many points. :)

Truly a great recommendation for any SF lover. :)

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A Borrowed ManA Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was certainly less strange than the rest of Wolfe's work that I've had the pleasure to read, but I kinda expected something a bit more progressive. I mean, the idea behind a genetic library that reconstructs men and their lives to be checked out of a library *does* sound pretty interesting, and I can think of several storylines right off the bat that would really lend themselves to a very interesting story, even when it's an author who had been dead for a hundred years coming back to play a part in someone's game.

But here's where managed expectations come in very nicely. If I had gone into this just knowing that we're dealing with a mildly clever *character* concept to be dumped into a full blown Mystery novel that also happens to be SF, I wouldn't have much of an issue with it at all. I tweaked my expectations and soon just got into the novel for what it was and it was fine.

There was a shadow of Castle (tv), a shadow of Kiln People, and even a pretty cool jaunt into a different world, but mainly it was all mystery-times following all normal conventions. It was entertaining and standard, with even reveals and a solid end.

On the other hand, if you're reading the novel from a slightly deeper perspective, you'll be pleased to note the over and undertones of the book publishing industry, including shelf-life for novels, reprints, and expectations for new works. Read this way, it's a very entertaining novel and extremely tongue-in-cheek.

If you don't care about that kind of thing, however, you might not really connect with the character concept too much. Maybe. It just feels a bit odd with a few major logical gaps. In other words, this is genuine Gene Wolfe. :)

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Zoo CityZoo City by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a particularly smooth genre-meshing urban fantasy noir SF horror, and if you don't like my description, then go read it and figure out your best fit. :) If you do, however, find that perfect descriptor, be sure to add all the little animas, the familiars that bad people get after murdering someone, and if you let your anima die, you get dragged to hell. Or is the novel firmly set in modern day Johannesburg filled with scams, missing persons, and mystery? Oh, wait, how about all the mutilations and the sense of upwelling horror? No? Then why the hell do I get this sense that things have just gone near-future high-tech?

Well that's because the book refuses to sit still and be neatly defined. Isn't that wonderful?

Our main character is a real spitfire, that's for certain, and I love reading about good scams as much as anyone, but that's just her favorite hobby and way to make money. For everything else and when times get rough, she falls back on a bit of the missing persons racket, and she really knows how to talk a good game. She's an excellent social hacker.

As for the Urban Fantasy angle, I'll tell you this: it's interesting and odd and magical and it works perhaps a bit too strangely for me. I like a bit of well-defined rules, if only to see those rules get broken or find a way to slip the leash of hell, you know? But, alas, it isn't that kind of story.

It is, fundamentally, full of elemental horror, which is great because I love horror and I think Ms. Beukes does it extremely well. This is the third novel that I've read of hers and all of them are quite a bit different in style, subjects, characters, and plots, save for the interesting parallels of con-games and horror. But rest assured, all the horror sequences are very, very different from one another, so you will all have a nice treat in store for you for each novel. :)

I'm very impressed, in general, but I have to admit that I like this one the least between it and Broken Monsters or Moxyland. Suffice to say, I've grown to be a very steadfast fanboy of the author and I'm going to be snatching up each of her novels as I can find them, with much pleasure.

Thanks goes to Netgalley and the publisher!

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The Water KnifeThe Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've spent a grand portion of my life living in the desert so I've always been aware of water issues, but honestly, this novel freaked me out with just how bad things have gotten in this near-future SF. I mean, this is really all about the fate of whole cities and the struggle for every single person to survive the collapse when there just isn't enough to drink. I kept reaching for my water every few seconds just to make sure that I was okay.

Truly. This is really good for what it is. Thriller, dystopia, commentary on human nature with things get really bad? Sure. It's all of that. But do you know what it is, really?

It's a western.

Not only that, it's a good western.

Future SF, absolutely, but it has all the makings of some of the best westerns I've ever watched on TV. Who's the white hat, who's the black hat, watching the sharp as roles and situations reverse, the realization that you might have been rooting for the wrong guys and, possibly, the wrong reveals.

I had a really good time reading this. It's not for the faint of heart or the dehydrated, although if you do want to add a little realism to your read, then by all means STOP DRINKING. Do you feel that headache coming on, the slightly euphoric sense of desperation? Amplify it.

The novel might also be a commentary on water rights and the crazy lengths that anyone will go to secure them when water becomes more precious than gold, but more than that, it's a classic western worthy of Sergio Leone. :)

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

MoxylandMoxyland by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this novel.

The setup was pure near-future SF with nice thriller/horror undertones, kinda a mix between Stross's Rule 34 with some vintage William Gibson, and finishing with a really nice twist. What was most scary about it was how realistic and how very *possible* it is.

But setup and plot is only part of what makes this book great. In the end, I can't help but think only wonderful thoughts about all the characters I got to live vicariously through. I've read Broken Monsters and loved it for it's characters, too. Both of these are very different beasts, of course, with this one being firmly SF, but I also loved her rich and vivid treatment of her characters. They are so completely memorable, even now, and can't help but be very impressed that she pulled it off again for such a new and varied cast, here.

Any tale is going to be extremely rich and memorable in direct proportion to how well the characters are drawn, and I can honestly say that I'm blown away. I loved these guys and gals. I'm also horrified. It's not like they were shining examples of anything except being people, with all the good and the bad, but I'm still left almost speechless by the results.

And the twist.

I can't wait to keep reading everything she's put out. I'm now officially hooked. Not only are the characters brilliant, but the plots are truly fine and the implications truly scary. I wasn't able to put the novel down and I was very engrossed. Total Entertainment. :)

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC!

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The Bone ClocksThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some of these books of David Mitchell are odd and some of them feel almost epic, while still others are just shocking by how much strong voice coming through the page, and some have it all. This is one of those books, the closest novel to Cloud Atlas out of all the books of his that I've read.

It shares the same basic concept of loosely-tied novellas with strange immortal creatures either living their lives among the humans or actively engaging in a far-ranging and explosive war with others a bit like them, but one thing is certain, they're firmly ensconced in broad stretches of time, even if they're able to hop through history. I love the SF features of these books perhaps more than most who read Mitchell's books, because it's my primary fascination.

However, taken in context with everything else that's going on for the majority of the novel, it can appear rather strange. For one, we're constantly and deeply immersed in the lives of the main characters, and whether or not we're a young girl who hears things or a famous author having a wild time amongst his peers, breaking conventions and fourth-walls, we're often so deep in the setting and these minds that when the SF stuff comes around, it's rather a shock.

Well, to me, it's rather fun, but these are the things that tie all these wildly different novellas together even more than common themes such as counting time. We all live in bone clocks, after all, experiencing birth and growing old, and it's kind of a fun feeling to experience it outside the loop both as a reader and as another character, too.

I am undeniably impressed by the writing chops and the overall sense of structure, the crystal clear voices, and the huge array of techniques, but to be honest, it often feels either too-understated with the ideas it's trying to push across the page or they're lost in the wide world of admittedly interesting scenes and events.

For example, before the slow but interesting fall of civilization in our near future, we had a what might have been a pretty cool and exciting end to the whole novel, but while the structure is undoubtably done for some purpose that eludes me at the moment, I'm left with the feeling that I'd have liked the novel better with just a slight rearrangement. You know, a bang at the end instead of a long decline after the bang.

I'm often reading this novel while scratching my head, marvelling at the mastery and wondering if I'm missing something. Sure, I can bring my brain to the table and construct something appropriately deconstructionist to match the craziness in the earlier novella, but is that even appropriate outside of that novella? There's a lot of different writing styles in play, and I assume the author is attempting to lead us through dimensional doors with different cultures and outlooks, so why would he force us to a DFW dance while we're blowing up our enemies with psi-bombs? No Comprende.

On the other hand, if I'm just meant to go along for the ride and piece together whatever I want out of it, then I guess the novel is doing it's job admirably, but Mitchell writing somewhat schizophrenically and I kinda wonder if he ought to choose between the amorphous readings or the strict ones. There's such a tight voice in each, I kept looking carefully for the strict, from connection to connection, but it was really frustrating unless I just let my eyes un-focus. You know what I mean? Everything is there and clear if I just let go, but in the meantime, all that effort was kinda wasted.

So I got a little frustrated. No big deal. I enjoyed the novel as entertainment, and enjoyed it even more as it gave me more and more huge glimpses and even a grand outline of the entire connected worlds between the rest of his novels. That part was very satisfying, indeed. It's just the satisfaction of this novel by itself that suffered a bit, as if it needed either a grand and merciless editor or the freedom to be two or three times as long as it actually is. (And it's a pretty hefty book already.) :)

Very decent and well worth it to Mitchell fans. Not my favorite, but it is kind of necessary for global enjoyment. :)

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Monday, June 6, 2016

Fevre DreamFevre Dream by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The year is 1982 and while there have been a ton of traditional vampire novels floating about, the big twist in the vampire industry hasn't quite come about yet with Interview... or has it? Enter Fevre Dream, taking this our darkest mirror to our humanity and turning him into something tragic and noble and throwing him into a Mark Twain novel.

What? Mark Twain? Oh yeah, steamboats, 1857, we've got 15 mile an hour races and chases and deeply disturbing looks at what makes men monsters and what makes monsters into men. Hate being a cow or a slave? Hate being a slave to your baser instincts, and have you decided never to simply give into them, unlike so many others? How heroic. :) Of course, this came out a good deal before our current glut and, at least to me, it marks a sudden and fantastic development in the whole field.

Sure, we might have had some sympathy for the original Dracula, just as we have sympathy for the Devil, but the heroes were much more often outside of the curse. And up till now, Vampires were still just the expression of truly base humanity, not worth much redeeming.

So this human aspect is truly excellent in the tale, but don't let me downplay the real gem here: steamboats. Total immersion in the world. Totally cool. I never guessed that chugging along at 8 miles per hour could be so exciting! But of course, that's all due to a master storyteller. :) GRRM has been around for a long, long time, practicing a very fine craft. We really shouldn't forget that. :)

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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Infomocracy: A NovelInfomocracy: A Novel by Malka Ann Older
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's easy to get stuck in a rut and ignore the good SF out there that is idea-rich and go for the more common spy-tech thriller. Fortunately, this one has both. Mishima is a great post-cyberpunk spy, or perhaps it might be better to call her a spymaster. The world is run by information, and the Information department makes certain everyone's informed. That's especially good when the world has gone democratic in a much more advanced information age than what we've got now.

The sweetest part of this novel, aside from an eventually awesome story of election hijinks and the slow burn of Mishima's and Ken's relationship, has got to be how the politics is set up. Now let me be clear about something. I don't want you to let the politic-themed world-building get you down. It is kinda overwhelming near the beginning because of all the different factions, but the fact that anyone can belong to their version of the Ideal from anywhere in the world makes it pretty awesome. I had the great enjoyment of a much more futuristic version of this idea in Too Like the Lightning and I raved about that book, too, so I know this is a going concern that is speaking to us.

I mean, wouldn't you like to choose what polity you belong to, separate from nation or location? Oh yes, I'm all for Liberty or Philip Morris or EarthFirst or any of the number of splinter polities that fits your personality or your mindset. Of course, it still falls under the same crazy disadvantages of democracies in general. There are Supermajorities and if you don't happen to be voting for the biggest and most powerful ones, then you're lost and will have to adjust to whatever they have in store for you... World Wide. So of course everyone is pretty much disaffected, but we don't really see that side of it in this novel, because we're firmly in the heads of the pollsters and the Information department that is pretty much the lawmen and the ones that are determined to make sure the BS doesn't get out of hand.

Of course, it does. This novel has tons of great conflict, great action, interesting characters, and a very solid story that ends with a lot of great questions while answering enough to satisfy this reader nicely. :)

I'm definitely going to to be reading anything that this author comes up with in the future.

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Broom of the SystemThe Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I could very theoretically start listing the shelves where this touches upon, but I'd rather just say that this is a first novel most cocaine heads listening to the middle days of heavy metal would want to write if they were hopelessly in love with with the craziest *roughage* post-modern deconstructionists willing to push all narratives into wonderfully feathered *roughage* prose that's more absurd mixed wth frame within frame within frame *roughage* stories that are linked so very vividly with one another while requiring such heavy *roughage* to digest simply because we're fed the literary equivalent of eight steaks.

Yes. That's right. Eight Steaks. And don't you fucking forget the desert.

This novel is not the grotesquely fat monstrosity that wants not only to consume and replace the universe, as in Infinite Jest, but we do see the much smaller man that Wallace's later book becomes, as it engorges himself, (and us, by proxy,) in record time.

I'm sure I'll incur the wrath of many IJ heads by saying that I absolutely love this book in comparison to that other whale. The frankly told mini-tales were some of the coolest and craziest and fucked up stories, ever. Imagine good mini-novels told as a quick narrative in bed after or before sex, then imagine getting your mind fucked. This is the kind of thing you can expect in this little novel, and it happens on many different levels. Can I say how tickled I was by all the almost meta interpretations of turning your idea of self into a fully three dimensional character? This coming from a psychologist to one of the main characters? Well, shit, you have no idea, how many times I was tickled by similar awesome bits.

It's very smart, the tale is actually rather linear, although there is NO CLIMAX. Not really. There's a headlong rush of words speeding up and speeding up in a Wittgenstein coitus that ends in the ultimate of interruptus, almost as if we were hit over the head by a big broom.

I DO kinda wish I could be a little surprised by that, but it's par for course. :) Wonderful and smart characters, truly oddball situations and conversations, delightfully feathered prose that links all these disparate parts together in a paint splattered mosaic of trash.

Seriously brilliant. Every page is enjoyable. We get the sense of a grand plan shaping. But of course, this is DFW. He is the king of the fuck you. :) I did mention that he's rather heavy metal in his outlook on life, didn't I? lol We all know what he said when someone paid him the compliment by calling him brilliant, right? He said just that. Fuck You. Classic. :)

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