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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Company TownCompany Town by Madeline Ashby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this is like going through my own personal evolution, one story stage at a time. :)

I had to throw out practically all of my expectations at different stages of the novel. Hell, I even thought this was going to be a YA-ish SF, but no, it's a lot more than meets the eye.

It starts out as a biology-twist to a cyberpunk premise, where the biology-only character, Hwa, is an anomaly to all the tech around her. :) Turn her into a bodyguard, have her look into strange murders, and then, above all, keep adding new SF concepts... and the tale fleshes out into something almost unique. It's definitely quite beautiful and strange.

It touches upon beauty and the theme of always putting in extra effort, which I really enjoyed, and the twists are truly fun. :)

Family dynasties, indeed. :)

I'm pretty sure I'm going to keep my eye open for now on for more of this author's work. :)

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Dark SideThe Dark Side by Anthony O'Neill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've never met a more polite or sex-crazed (at least verbally) android upon the moon, and I've read about a lot of androids on the moon.

Seriously, this is kinda the perfect mixture of traditional mystery meeting an SF adventure. We've got all the world building elements of seedy communities accessible only with a great deal of difficulty or by monorail if you're lucky, crime bosses who are literally a world away from the authorities, and of course, since we're dealing with a mystery, that ONE INCORRUPTIBLE COP.

Lol. How delightfully traditional. :)

So yeah, if you enjoy mob bosses and robots and indiscriminate murder and unimaginable ambition mixed with an investigation and tons of corruption, this book might just be perfect for you. :)

Mr. Black is easily one of my favorite robots in literature now. :) He just has that certain something, you know, Sir? lol

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Last First Snow (Craft Sequence, #4)Last First Snow by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm sure I'm not the only one to feel that this book doesn't really take off until negotiations turn to crap, but I'll say it anyway. :) The book REALLY takes off after the assassination attempt and that's also the spark that turns all the powers in the city upon each other. The Soul-Rich versus the Soul-Poor.

And it's not easy to negotiate with ourselves, as readers, just who is bad and who is good. It's very complicated, but more than that: it's vivid. We start out ten years before the events of Two Serpents Rise and we get the back story for Tamoc and what he did to Caleb. We get the re-introduction of all the gods into the city, too, and the slight diminishing of the King in Red's power. (Or it's enhancement, if you consider the return of the gods.) But either way, this is the book that changes the world. (Maybe not as much as 40 years prior with the war against the Gods, perhaps, but this is the book we've got.) :)

I'm continually amazed that the wide tapestry of the story. Not just the individual novels that are fantastic in themselves, but the over-story that encompasses the whole world and all of the events.

I've seen this before and have told myself that a full re-reading of this series is absolutely in order, but it's even worse now. The chronological order of books is all over the place. The numbers in the titles tell us that much. This is the earliest but its also the fourth book in the series.

That's fine. I actually prefer it that way. I love having already gotten to know and love so many of the personas that have center stage in this enormous mindfuck of a civil war fought in the skies, of gods and mortals and necromancers bloodying the streets of this oddly modern and recognizable town very much like our own.

Seriously, this writer is amazing. I'm still blown a way. :)

And yes, I probably will jump on a chance to re-read it all. I'll even do it again in publication order, too. The threads that keep intertwining are pretty awesome. :)

This fantasy series is rapidly becoming one of my absolute favorites. :)

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Full Fathom Five (Craft Sequence, #3)Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm still mightily impressed by this author. I'm placing him on a slightly higher pedestal than most Urban Fantasy lists.

Hell, it's not even *quite* an Urban Fantasy anyway. It's just plain fantasy, and this title proves it.

Street urchins, god-Advocates, grand injustice, and an oh-so-deep mystery. It's fathoms deep. I'm amazed. And rather disturbed. I'm going to be having nightmares about body-cavity living dolls now.

I love it.

These novels keep going in the strangest directions. It's as if the author not only wants to stretch his wings, but he also wants to prove that the wings are the largest, too! All three of these novels couldn't be more different from each other in style or theme, and yet the undercurrent of a much larger story keeps shaping itself in the background. The fore-stories are great and so is the background story that covers all the books. It's really clever. I have no doubt that all of these are connected in players and action, and yet he keeps pulling rabbits and great new characters out of his hat and never loses sight of anything. :)

I can't wait to see where it takes me next!

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Golem and the Jinni (The Golem and the Jinni, #1)The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm really quite amazed at the things this novel does right. It's a detailed and grand scaled historical romance as well as being a delightful hop in magical realism, but I couldn't help make direct connections to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

But not because many of the ideas are the same. They aren't. What is the same is the length and the attention to historicism and the depth of the real history and especially the depth of the magic. The length of the novel and beautiful prose also has a lot to do with it, as well.

It's basically an immigrant story that becomes an empowerment story with a strong thread of very understated romance. The large set of characters never overwhelms the main two. The woman of Earth and the man of Fire are both magical creatures that find their way at the turn of the last century's New York City. It's really quite delightful.

She was created out of clay and designed with intelligence and curiosity, but she was also designed to be subservient and modest... with an evil strain built in to all golems that make them wish to utterly destroy their creators once they get a taste for blood. He was a wild spirit of fire before he was enslaved and was forced to live in stasis for a thousand years until luck would have him freed... and at loose ends in cold winters that he is unable to escape from.

How beautiful is that? It sounds like the setup for a grand romance. But it isn't. Not really. Theirs is a relationship based on trust and deep friendship, and even when that trust is broken, they forgive and return to each other.

There's even an evil wizard that returns through each life with not just a complicated background but also a complicated inner life. I can't quite call him irredeemable. He does good and and makes beauty. He made the golem, after all. But his nature leads him down very dark pathways, too.

So was this a character novel or a plot-driven one? Both. And wonderfully so. I got engrossed in everything. The journey was a pure delight. :)

I totally recommend for anyone who wants a classy and gorgeous historical romance full of deep magic and iconic archetypal characters that are beautifully drawn. :)

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Friday, November 25, 2016

The Blood of Before  (The Bones of the Earth, #0.1)The Blood of Before by Scott Hale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first short story collection, all leading up to the events in The Bones of the Earth and The Three Heretics.

I was surprised to find that the ones that I had already read were smoother, but here's the best part: The ones I hadn't read were great. :) It's really nice having geeky kids and hardened investigators and hapless family members slowly discover that the world they live in is not their own. Objects and objects of horror often have a lot more life than anyone guesses.

But before you think that these are regular horror stories, check your premises at the door and read these. What always appears to be steadfast and true usually turns into truly nightmarish surrealism brought on by the actual warping of reality or mind or both.

The scale? Getoutofhere... you wouldn't believe the scale.

My favorite of this bunch was the new one I hadn't read yet, but I did get a very nice glimpse of in Three Heretics. The Black Hour has the fabled Dread Clock. :) Again, check your premises. What Scott Hale does with a simple grandfather clock boggles all expectations. :) This is the truly gruesome and extreme horror I've come to know and love and expect.

I can't tell for sure whether I'd recommend these stories before or after the novels, but they would be an interesting "regular life" exploration of the kinds of powers that completely overwhelm and fracture the world later. :)

Honestly, I think anything can be read in any order without any issue, with the novels before or after these stories. Characters and objects are persistent and show up in the strangest of ways. It's like piecing together a tapestry of events and people among an enormous horrorshow of epic proportions. :)

And golly, is it fun! :)

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The Last OneThe Last One by Alexandra Oliva
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a little bit to get into this novel despite the rather streamlined and quick pacing and uncomplicated plot, but that was mainly due to the whole Reality Tv setup.

I got over that pretty quick because I got into the characters and especially Zoo's shifting viewpoint forward and backward through the timeline and the easy telegraph of the utter tragedy that was to befall everyone taking part in this media extravaganza. And further, of course. :)

Well as soon as I got established? Well, hell, this was a blast and a half. I really enjoyed seeing an end-of-the-world novel do a sophisticated treatment on the issue of perception of reality.

Isn't that a big thing in Reality Tv, too? People turn life into a game and it distorts everything they know. Mix it with something truly horrific and watch the mind work as it tries to sort or refuses to sort through the horrors, even denying reality for the sake of pure survival.

I can't blame Zoo. Not at all. I rooted for her even as I had to interpret all she saw and get horrified even more FOR her.

This has got to be one of the most complicated uncomplicated dystopian novels I've read in a very long time, having a razor-sharp focus on perception and coping mechanisms.

It may also be about the idiocy of modern media, a condemnation, but that part took a back seat for me. :)

This was a really fun tale. :)

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Winter Tide (The Innsmouth Legacy, #1)Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's impossible to think that most of you will have to wait until April to read this, and I say that for one reason: It's amazing! Take the Cthulhu mythos, take it seriously, have your sympathetic main character be a Deep One, and make us care for her family's plight.

What's more, add a more than liberal dose of book-loving research that include Enochian and all the best beloved titles from HPL, perhaps turn it into a quest to build or re-build your family's lost collection, and of course, butting your head against the Miskatonic University.

And of course, that's just a start. I loved learning about the Human races of of Air, Water, and Earth, about the great danger that the Outsiders represented.

This novel paints all of the happenings in HPL's works in an all new light, defines and redefines all the happenings on a much more solid framework of the universe. There's much less racism and fanaticism and sexism, for one. There's a LOT of interesting magic, however. And linking the plight of the Japanese Internment Camps with the two surviving children of the race of the Deep Ones was a brilliant stroke. Getting us involved with the government never felt more squishy, especially when the main action is set in the dawn of the McCarthy era.

I can't rave about this book enough. It may be intended for readers who love magical realism, historical novels, HPL, awe-inspiring fantasy, or anyone with a taste for vengeance against those who would steal your books, but honestly? I think it works on a universal scale of awesome.

And because most of you can't get your hands on it yet? Well... I pity you. Sincerely. Just keep your eyes open for it in April and weep with joy and wonder as you read. :)

Thanks goes to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Four Legendary Kingdoms (Jack West Jr, #4)The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, I wanted to like this as much as the other ones, but it kinda devolved into a Buck Rogers scenario full of Lensman tropes and Galaxy-colliding proportions. Not that this kind of thing can't be fun if done right, and I was perfectly prepared to roll with it, but Jack West Jr. gets kidnapped ten years after the previous books to perform for insane royals who style themselves Hades? For the SAKE of being the grand hero that saves the universe?


Trials of Hercules? With a 30's SF bent? With... you guessed it... pit fighting AND traps? TRAPS? Do these ever feature strongly in these books? NO WAY!

I don't mind it if I go into a book series that stretches credulity. I didn't mind sun spots boiling the earth and being saved by the missing capstone of the Giza pyramid. No problem. I didn't mind the G.I. Joe plot of racing toward getting the mystical stones to rule the world in the second and third novels.

But self-styled gods sacrificing legendary heroes throughout history for... oh gosh... pick your conspiracy reason? Credulity officially broken. :) I like being pulled along for delicious rides and the previous ones were delicious, but this one felt old and spread too thin like too little butter over a piece of toast.

Not to say that the pacing wasn't good, because it was. And there was enough action for any Die Hard fan. Plenty of pathos, too. But it requires a major suspension of belief, and I *THOUGHT* I had that in spades! Don't I enjoy all the UF? All the Fantasy? All the SF? Well of course there's exceptions to everything, but for the most part, I'm fully on board... but this one wasn't even *really* SF and yet it was flying way out beyond the far reaches of cuckoo land. :)

Yeah, you see that galaxy shaped like the original swastika, not the one the nazis used? The galaxy traveling ten times faster than light on a gravity wave? Yeah. You see Jack West Jr, ten years older and a bit flabbier? Okay, Huntsman, Save Us.

*ducks and runs from his friends who swear by the series*

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The 5 Greatest Warriors (Jack West Jr, #3)The 5 Greatest Warriors by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit, there's something really fascinating and cool about stories that don't need to reinvent themselves but still manage to be super easy to read and enjoy and yet still feel fresh.

This happens to be one of them.

I mean, seriously. There's still Indiana Jones Traps, people! There's still mystical stones that all the most powerful people through history have held to stay in power! We even get to see Jesus! Woo Woo!

One thing is for certain, the fifth greatest warrior of all time has got real stones.

That's important, ya'll. Sorry, all you women. It's all about the stones! *crosses eyes*

Important note: This continues the previous novel rather seamlessly since not all six of the sacred stones were collected by the end of that novel. Plus, all the bad guys hadn't met grisly, albeit rather heroic, ends.

And of course you can also start counting on some of the good guys to bite it, too, because PATHOS, man! Pacing, pathos, action, grand adventure, and enough horribly implausible reversals to make even Sherlock Holmes groan, step out of the serial, and say, "Hey, my good man, are you making this shit up?"

The answer? Yes. Whole Cloth. Holy Shit. Turn off your brain and enjoy this action movie, ya'll. You won't believe it. But to be fair, you're not supposed to. Take that salt shaker and add an extra serving to your popcorn, yo. LOTS of salt. I mean, TONS. Make sure you encase that popcorn in a pillar of it. Preserve it for centuries. And then let some future archeologist stumble upon it and wonder at its brilliance and have some shiny light tumble out of the heavens to light up his brain or something. It's totally worth it. I'm serious, yo.

Whew. ADVENTURE. *head spins*

And yeah, I recommend it for the sheer fun factor. :)

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The Six Sacred Stones (Jack West Jr, #2)The Six Sacred Stones by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Action! Adventure!

Honestly, I don't usually go in for this kind of novel unless pressured by friends or I am just watching some SF adventure, but I can see the appeal. More than that, even. The pacing is always great and while it's not *exactly* a serial adventure right out of the 30's, it has all the pulp feel you could wish for.

Ah! But what flavor of pulp is this?

It should be familiar to all you connoisseurs of conspiracy theories. The wilder, the better. You know, like the dark sun, (or planet, if you wish), the Nemesis that comes around to wreck havoc in the solar system on a regular basis.

Oh, and the world-healing power of crystals, too.

And let's not forget the theories that mankind has gone through many stages of high-tech societies and declines! I actually approve of that theory, and not that aliens uplifted us. So much can be buried so absolutely in so little time. I can believe that there could be many very advanced societies in the past. But wait! Reilly takes it further and connects the two and has our ancient ancestors doing their worst to save us future generations from the dark star.

As long as we go on a little adventure, of course. :)

So let's get the band back together! You've already got one stone!

Oh, and not tired of traps, yet? Good news for you! We've got lots of traps. Near-death escapes, captures, torture, and even MORE traps!

I think it's good fun. We're not really dealing with reality here. Especially with the caricatures of races or real evidence of connection between Stonehenge and the Pyramids... but screw it. Let's go along for the ride. I'm used to Science Fantasy as much as Science Fiction. This fits the former bill nicely.

The point is just to have fun, and this novel, IMHO is better than the first. It builds on everything we went through already and steps it up a few more notches. From Sun Flares to Dark Stars! What's next?

What a cliffhanger, too! Literally. lol

But that's expected in an *actual* adventure, right?

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Seven Deadly Wonders (Jack West Jr, #1)Seven Deadly Wonders by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I say it's SF, but that's only because I haven't bothered to add an Action/Adventure category.

For this is what it is! Yeah, robot arms and flying suits and all, but best of all, and adventure to pick up your 5000 year old Legos or Amon Ra is gonna smite you!

Say what? Is that even in this book? Well, sortof.

What we do have is a rollicking adventure that aims for the sort of pure WOW and AWE factor that is generally missing from today's literature, taking us on a tour through all the Seven Wonders of the World, or whatever is left of them, and doing it without much care in the world for little things like logic. Who needs it?

The book is BIG and Wild and Emotional and best of all, it's full of ancient traps. I'm not kidding. It almost overwhelms the page. As I read this I might as well have been watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on steroids. There's even a little kid. All these burly men in the midst of gun-porn have no problems laying their lives down for her. It's odd but it resolves itself because she's mystically special.

Hell, the whole book is mystically special. :) Add heavy Dan Brown-ish conspiracy theories, wild ancient stories, the Giza Pyramid's capstone, and you'll have a wild feel like the original GI Joe cartoon when they were all on that mystical quest stuff.

Don't get me wrong. I like a good and kooky comic book feel culminating with evil Masonic Americans and evil Catholic Amon Ra worshipers in Europe. I especially love being transported into great pacing, almost non-stop action, and never-ending tests of skill, capture, and pathos. It's kinda perfect for any action movie fan. :) Just turn off the brain and flow with it.

This is the definition of popcorn fiction. And I thought that UF's had it going, lol. I swear I saw Chuck Norris in here.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence, #2)Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes I wind up blown away. It seems to happen more and more often with UF than I thought it would, but so be it. It happened again.

Max Gladstone is awesome.

We move to new characters in the Craft Sequence, but not a new world. The God Wars haven't really gone away and certain quasi-avatars are still a going concern. But wait... is this really a novel about Risk Management and preventing the world's power or waterworks from drying up because the great systems that plug themselves into sleeping gods is malfunctioning?

Yes, in part, and the big action goes much deeper and much stranger than even that. But the real action and the part that really blows me away is the ROMANCE.

Yeah. You heard me. We've got two people who seem to be as different as night and day, a risk taker and a risk manager, and yet both seem to be coming toward the center in their own ways. They're drawn to each other despite career choices, logic, or common sense.

And yet they're both rather devoted to the idea of loving each other. There's not even sex happening. They're just smitten and trying to squeeze the very most out of each moment with each other that they possibly can before many millions in the city start going really thirsty.

It's sweet. It's tragic. You can smell it coming.

And then all kinds of hell breaks loose. And I cried.

I mentioned that I don't expect to get affected like this out of UF. I've read so many and they're generally fun as hell, but I don't expect *this* kind of reaction. And on a second book, either. WTF? I'm amazed.

Someone has just been tipped into deep fanboy status.

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Brightness Reef (Uplift Storm Trilogy, #1)Brightness Reef by David Brin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This happens to be one of those books that is both brilliant and lacking at the same time. I will explain myself.

The novel is actually quite as daunting and impressive as Startide Rising and The Uplift War in it's way, but it's mainly because Brin doesn't ever stint on world building. Ever. He goes all out and develops tons of alien races, tons of characters, and a great many implications for the amazingly complex alien culture among the 16 galaxies.

Truly, I have nothing bad to say at all about the quality and depth of its development. It's actually rather staggering. Brin never rests on his laurels. He finds new avenues to drill down into and I should say that there are VERY few authors who do it as deep or consistently as he does.

So what's lacking?

Well that's a very complex creature, too. My primary go-to complaint is in the basic story, but it isn't because it's too simple or too complex. Rather, it's because I was constantly wondering why I should care about some far distant fallow world where a bunch of alien refugees including humans had tossed all their technology into the drink in order to hopefully devolve genetically, culturally, and intellectually. Why would they do it? Because while they're political and cultural dissidents to the rest of the galactic society, they're also adherents to a weird quasi-religious tenant that is diametrically opposed to Uplift in general.

They want to return to innocence.

(Of course, not everyone believes. Humans are a bit more complex and have their own reasons to buck this trend with their books and their skepticism of the galactic culture that either doesn't want to be bothered to help the upstarts, but that's a sub-plot.)

I have no problem with the concept. In fact, if this was any other novel by any other author, I'd be touting it and the way it approaches the subject as honestly unique and fascinating. So what's my problem with it? I don't like book-burning. I'm in love with books. Of course, these guys take it all the way and sink their spaceships and all their tech, too, with a few human exceptions, but the core is the same.

What we've got is a novel about aliens and humans interacting in very complex ways with the ever-present fear that the galactics will find them and punish them and their entire RACE for the crimes of despoiling a fallow planet that should have remained fallow and untouched by anyone for several billion more years. That's a steep punishment for a broken law. Notice, too, that the galactic culture with its many, many, many species is an establishment that has been around for a very, very long time. Nothing stays around that long without being a very robust system. Mostly it relies on just out-waiting problems. :)

...Including dissidents who are thinking in terms of devolving themselves to pre-sentience. :)

Too bad that plan goes to seed. :)

So what's my problem? Too slow, maybe? My expectations wanted more resolution on a huge scale instead of what amounts to a tiny backwater and backward hamlet in the middle of nowhere?

Well that's my own damn problem, right? The novel is still a damn sight better than the majority of alien society novels out there by any yardstick. My problem is that I am judging it by his other brilliant Uplift novels instead of just focusing on what it does right. And it does a lot of things very right.

Of course, it's also book one of a trilogy that really needs to be read together if you want any sense of closure, too, so there's that. :)

And since I've read these before and I know that the end is practically a full 180 degrees from where we start now... I should have just kept faith from the start. :) So I will. I *was* of two minds about doing this re-read, but now that I've done this second read two decades after it was published, I'm now somewhat amazed and chastened that I should have worried. This is still a classic Brin.

I just needed to manage my expectations. :)

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Three Parts Dead (Craft Sequence, #1)Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OMG this really hit the spot. I expected an UF with an interesting premise about the Craft which seemed part witchcraft and part necromancy with something to do with gods, but I didn't expect a sharp exploration of a kind of magic-users who DEFINED and held gods to LAWS. lol

So yeah.

As far as I can tell, it's one part courtroom drama, one part epic necromantic universal magic-struggle, and one part pure awesomeness.

I didn't expect to have the coolness of Gaiman's god-system turned into a crafty legal drama full of nastily powerful peeps pulling loophole tricks to kill immortal gods, but lordy, I had a great time. :)

Easy and fun and very, very compelling. This was pretty much written for me. Just for me. And now I'm giddy. Thanks, Max! :)

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Those Below (The Empty Throne #2)Those Below by Daniel Polansky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was right! It is a complete story! Well, it shouldn't be that surprising with names like Those Above and Those Below. :) And the blow-out? Lots of machinations, political intrigue from Eudokia (I absolutely love her), and WAR.

We knew it was coming. And it was very satisfying when it came. And the end? LOL. Not saying. But I was satisfied as hell.

Still, I was slightly off. It takes up 2 years after the first novel and things have been progressing and simmering. I suppose that's fine for the sake of action. :)

I still love the writing and the amount of depth in the world building. I love the way he gets behind the scenes and develops both sides of the conflict. I can't say that the four-fingered are gods. Not really. But I can tell you that I love getting to know and love them as much as the poor oppressed five-fingered. :)

How to compare it with most fantasy? Well, I'm reluctant. Polansky has a very gritty style, but he doesn't shirk the posh. And best of all, he makes all the characters ambiguous. Whether story-wise or morally. A lot of authors can say that, of course, but Polansky's style is rather unique and careful. He always takes his time to take us exactly where he wants us, and then he blows us away with fantastic fights and plot twists.

*two thumbs up* It's solid as hell. It's the reason I never refuse an opportunity to read his stuff. He's been consistently great.

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Those Above (The Empty Throne, #1)Those Above by Daniel Polansky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've surprised myself by expecting less and receiving more from this book.

Honestly, I've read so many epic fantasies by this point that I either have to read something that is written extremely well or it comes with an extraordinary number of innovations, or both, before I get truly wowed.

I'm not quite there with this one, but after having read a good handful of Polansky's novels, I've gotten quite used to his style and know enough to be patient. It always pays off. Usually there's a lot of in-depth and long-building characters with a large amount of either politics or of rolling around in the dirt of a dirty city or of just plain warfare. Each is great in it's own way, but that's just the thing: It takes time and patience to pull off the big picture that he's painting.

But here's the good part: He paints beautiful pictures.

In this case, I knew before I started that this is a Duology. Knowing that, I didn't expect a truly satisfying end. I expected a picture-perfect build-up that will be concluded in the second novel.

This goes against a lot of modern expectations. Either we have immense build-ups over many novels that finish with a blow out, or we have individual novels that are fully satisfying on their own that happen to have larger threads that tie everything together for a big blow out. In this one, we may as well just clump these two together and call it one large tale.

Decisions, decisions, publishers.

I'm gonna shrug and read the second one right away and buck tradition. I'm just going to assume this is one big tale. You know, like Dan Simmons' Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion.

I'm fully immersed in this fantasy. It's the beginnings of rebellion between the downcast humans and somewhat bird-like peoples with long lives, great strength, and high intelligence. Simple, but written very well.

Above that, in my opinion, is the mythos that is developed and the depth of the world building. It sneaks right in there in all the nooks and crannies and it's really rather beautiful.

I've read a few reviews that complain about the characters, but I disagree. I like them. I like the political machinations above. I like the bad boys down below. I like the way that they all jockey for position and prepare or fail to prepare for the bloodbath to come. It's evocative.

And now I'm perfectly poised to dive in and see how this ends. :)

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Startide Rising (The Uplift Saga, #2)Startide Rising by David Brin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been reading this book over the decades and I can still honestly say that it's both timely and timeless in its ideas, its story, and its characters. That's even taking into account that most SF eventually dates itself or becomes a humorous example of just how much we all eventually learn.

This one doesn't suffer at all. Since the eighties this still remains a mind-blowing and fantastic space opera of the kind I still have yet compare anything else as favorably. Even among Brin's other Uplift novels.

It's simple, really. It's a chase novel. The particulars, however, are wildly divergent from anything else I've ever read. Uplifted dolphin crew with a chimp geologist and a handful of humans made an accidental discovery of galactic proportions and after sending a brief description of fifty world-sized ancient spaceships belonging to the first galactic race to have begun the uplift process for the many, many alien races filling the galaxy to the brim, Earth replies, "Oh Shit. Run. Run!" All the races have their own legends about the progenitors and their eventual return, and most of the vilest are religious fanatics that warp reality or cruelly alter genetics of their subordinate races to atrocious effect. And since they picked up on this little tidbit, they're ALL after the humans. Besieging Earth, all our colonies, and sending the weight of entire armies after the poor hapless dolphin crew.

What an epic setup, and this is where the novel begins. :)

They've already escaped a few close calls but crash land on a fallow world and pray that the battling aliens in the system above wipe each other out. And in the meantime, we've got great dolphin and human characters and one asshole geologist who may or may not be redeemable, assuming we take away his mini atom bombs and tell him he may NOT study the new planet's structure while they're trying to hide from the galactic crazies. :)

There's so much to say about this novel and so many great things happen, but I do want to mention a few things. The whale songs and the poetry of the hybrid human/dolphin speech: It's all poetry. How often do we get poetry in our space operas? :) We've got serious ideas about uplfting our earthly relatives, too. Even dogs are on the docket. The dolphins have waldos for delicate work with arms and fingers. Mr. Dart may climb trees, but he's from a widely respected school. And the captain of the Streaker is a really brilliant dolphin. I feel the most sorry for what happens to him.

The action in this tale may be as small as simple survival on a rough world, the reveals about the strange state of this planet or the creatures living there, or even a great deal of action breaking down the basic decency of some of the dolphin crew until they revert to a slightly less civilized state. Or we could focus on the big action with spaceships blowing up and crashing into the planet. Either way, the novel is great on all levels.

It's stood the test of time, being a great tale with great characters, fantastic language and conflicts, and especially an absolutely amazing amount of beautiful world (or galaxy) building. :)

I always thought of this one as the gold standard for all big-idea and action SF. And it still is.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Epivision, Vol. 2 (Domino Galaxy, #3)Epivision, Vol. 2 by Matthew Thompson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The afterworld never seemed this adventuresome. :) This second volume of the series has a lot of great things going for it. We've still got the patchwork recreation of the Earth and a great deal of the people who died on the original Earth, but ever since the cliffhanger in volume one, we've got truly major changes in this sector.

Let me back up. The world-building is rather unique. This is very much a heavy Science-Fiction universe, with nearly god-like aliens scooping up the dead from our world and recreating whole worlds for the dead to live on. The recreations are not usually perfect recreations. Cities from across the world could be mashed together in very interesting ways, and so the people who arrive there with new flesh and blood must adjust or perish to who knows where.

That's a lot of people.

Of course, all of that changes when the whole sector gets invaded by other aliens and everyone goes on the run.

All previous alliances based on law or affiliation take a back seat to plain survival in the face of imminent and overwhelming invasion.

This is neat. We got to know all these characters and appreciated their conflicts with each other, and being forced to band together is yet another way to mesh the world. This time, it's purely social and quite amusing.

No spoilers, but I can promise some really big events and a very satisfying end. I love this kind of creative vision. Authors who take big chances like this really need to be rewarded.

So go out there and read him, folks! :) It's worth it.

Thanks goes to the author for a copy of the novel for review! It was entirely my pleasure to read. :)

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Feersum EndjinnFeersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a serious work of the imagination. It doesn't really fit in the Culture novels, but it's definitely some Hard-SF with a beautiful vision of a far old Earth filled with so many Big Ideas. We've got everything from allotted resurrections, ghosts solving their own murders, enormous and layered virtual realities, virus-ridden fantasy realms, and a Chaos filled with AIs. If that isn't enough, the Earth is going through some major changes. You know... like destruction. Even more physical Big Ideas keep flowing in and I reveled in it all. :)

But don't just think this is just a novel of ideas. The characters and the individual stories were all fascinating and funny and full of great reveals and twists. More than enough for three normal novels, even. :)

I happily skipped one major complaint of this novel by listening to the audiobook version with Peter Kenny. He's awesome. That's great all by itself. But the best part is breezing right past the creative spellings of words. You know. Like the title of this book. Weird, right? But it's just Fearsome Engine. :) I'm sure this would be fine for people who read Shakespeare or any number of novels including Mark Twain's, but it is dense and some people might get turned off.

Which would be a real shame because this novel is a real shining star of creativity. It reads like a fantasy adventure and mystery while having all the great trappings of a heavy SF dive. :)

I totally recommend this SF for anyone who wants to stretch their wings and wonder at the beauty of creation. :) No Culture Experience Required. :)

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

North American Lake Monsters: StoriesNorth American Lake Monsters: Stories by Nathan Ballingrud
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This short story collection is very good if you go in with properly set expectations. At least for me, that is. But I didn't know what to expect, either, so I kinda winged it until I got the main feels down.

Such as?

Atmosphere. This book does atmosphere all kinds of wonderful. :) I've got the redneck feel. I've got the desolation of New Orleans. I've got the howling wind, the drenched autumn air, the nameless feel of dread in the American South. It's fantastic. I feel the pressure.

Nuance. All of the characters have a rather similar vibe to them upon the surface, but that's where it ends. The depth of the differences between all of the men and all of the women and even the monsters had a wealth of things going on below the surface. Kinda like all these personalities are little lakes and what we're finding inside them are the monsters... whether real and supernatural or just the normal kinda of human monster.

Don't expect actual lake monsters. Or not many, anyway.

And don't expect more than general or fairly deep disquietude. There's a few parts that are gross-out cool, but the terror is all within the human heart or the atmosphere. Everything else takes a back seat to our getting into the hearts and minds of people and things that have gone bad or have convinced our MC's to take a dive off the deep end.

It's very human. The stories are extremely human. And dark.

That being said, I really enjoyed them. Nuance is everything. Go in without any expectations or some limited ones like this, and I'm certain that everyone will find something to love in it. :)

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Dark OrbitDark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this more than I thought I would, rounding up to a 3.5 stars, but even though the big ideas were pretty interesting in themselves, it didn't quite reach the level I thought I wanted.

These big ideas came pretty fast and furious after a certain point, which I have no problems with. The novel begins with solid characterization, fairly interesting first-contact scenarios including the normal fish-out-of-water plots on both sides of the glass.

There's dark matter and interesting gravitational effects, but lest we get complacent with our word play, the most interesting part of this novel was the whole society of the sightless.

Orbits. As in Orbital Sockets. Pretty funny.

Is the world-building interesting and complete? Sort-of. Perhaps I'd have preferred a bit more in-depth exploration of the possibilities rather than just rolling around the surface of the blindness. The traversing of Branes was definitely interesting, but I don't know. Something about the novel felt too glitz and glam, relying on the surface of the ideas rather than the depth of the consequences.

There is a lot that happens on the idea side, though. Don't get me wrong. The novel isn't a slouch in that area. It's just that something didn't quite click with me on the sheer *story* side. It didn't wow me the way I was beginning to feel it might. Some of the conclusions were rather interesting, but it felt more like a rehashing of the old idea that certain senses or strengthened when a big one is lacking. Maybe I just wanted a little bit more.

Overall, I kept feeling like the novel kept coming closer to something really great, but it just missed that one little ingredient to push it there.

On that idea, I'm more than happy to check out the author's other books. She has certain strengths that I feel are kind of lacking in our modern SF. She's trying to make great characters and situations mesh with the great Idea realm that SF has always been known for. I can't deny that it's a great goal to strive for.

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All Our Wrong TodaysAll Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm always on the prowl for a good time-travel and alternate-reality kick, so when this one slid by me, blaring on its speakers that it was a very self-aware member of its species, I just had to turn my head an look.

I'm so glad I did. :) Hell, I even considered just reading the first couple of pages and then putting it off until closer to its actual publication date. It's months away! And yet, I went ahead and read it because I got sucked in.

It's a memoir. Yes. An alternate reality memoir with several time-machine encounters. So we're told not to expect any of the old tropes of "novelization".

We're dealing with a man's demons. The things he's done. The things he hasn't done. How he's treated people in his life, etc.

And it was fascinating even as I was getting anxious to get to the time travel bits. I was annoyed because Tom's voice was annoying and he kept repeating himself and he didn't seem like all that nice a guy. And yet, we're told that he's confronting his demons, so we sit back and try to be patient for the grand cataclysm that he's teased that he'd caused.

And then it happens. All the little build-ups, all the memories, all the little crappy things he's done comes back to show us that he'd been living in a freaking utopia. :) Everything else gets darker and more real at this point. And then all that talk about ex-girlfriends and his one encounter with Penelope that tipped him over the edge to do his utterly reckless *thing* then becomes a reason for living and continuing... and here it comes...

A love story?

Yes. A love story. A time-traveling alternate-dimensional love story with apocalyptic undertones.

And then Tom's voice becomes charming at long last. :)

Too bad the demons are still out to play.

This novel, ahem, memoir, just kept getting better and better. I really loved it by the end. I'm not saying it doesn't have its flaws, but those flaws are *worked* into the text and the author's skill at turning them into something beautiful cannot be underemphasized.

I'm so glad I didn't put this off. It's well-worth reading. Even from a straight SF standpoint, the author goes much deeper into paradoxes and consequences than I usually see in these kinds of novels.

But the real joy is in the characters. There's some real depth here.

Thanks goes to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Four Thousand, the Eight HundredThe Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred by Greg Egan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a surprisingly fun read! It looks like I've neglected this author for far too long.

This novella was full of sharp prose and even sharper ideas, turning the old ethical quandary of the many and the few into a pretty harrowing conflict.

These are just people whose ancestors may or may not have profited by intellectual capitalism, and yet the modern society has decided to culturally and lawfully punish the current innocents. What happens later is nothing less than a fight for doing the right thing against heavy ethical scales. All choices become bad ones, and how this gets resolved is quite poignant.

Hard SF? Yes, but it doesn't even feel like it. It feels like a great story that should be studied from any field of literature. Great characters? Absolutely. I feel almost as if it was happening now, and perhaps it is.

Think of the amazingly oppressive social and economic stigma put on Germany and the innocents who had never been a part of the war. This story is on this high level, and I applaud. Greg Egan is a smart man with one hell of an ethical heart. :)

Thanks goes to Netgalley for this ARC!

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Rise of Empire (The Riyria Revelations, #2)Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an omnibus of books 3 and 4 in the series. The third follows well on the heels of the big battles and what amounts to a civil war with the installment of a puppet on the throne, with our favorite thieves getting caught up in the travail, with the search for the rightful heir on the way in the fourth book, with plenty of hijinks on the high seas to keep things interesting.

What did I think about them?

They're pretty okay. Granted, I've read a lot of fantasy and a lot of great characters who are thieves, a lot of great wizards, a lot of great treatments of elves in wildly different circumstances, and even a lot of fantasy pirates. What makes this stand out from the rest of them?

Well, the writing is decent and consistent and the story arcs follow solidly from book to book, feeling more like a long and comfortable adventure with characters I can settle in with for the long haul. That's basically what I get out of it. It's decent. I'd give this a solid 3.5 stars if I had the option. I'll continue, too, because its good enough to keep my interest.

But in general? I do kind of wonder where or if it takes real flight or if it will blow me away.

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Stories of Your Life and OthersStories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't believe that I took so long to check out this story collection.

In fact, I don't believe it. For one good reason: I read one of his short stories when it came out and hadn't remembered that I had until a few pages in. AND I remembered loving it! Golems! Names of God! MURDER. :) That was one hell of a pleasant surprise.

As for the rest, I admit to wanting to know the story that The Arrival is based on before I watched the movie this weekend. And here's the strange part: While I loved it, I loved all the other stories even more!


Seriously, this man is a walking powerhouse of sharp-as-hell storytelling and erudition, all wrapped up in an utterly fascinating intensity and focus on singularly awesome issues. I'll skip discussion on the stories that didn't blow me away, but that still leaves almost all the stories in the book!

What do I mean? Okay, take Tower of Babylon. If having a world where the building of the tower wasn't hampered, where reaching the city of God at the top takes more than a full year of pilgrimage, where we're immersed in ancient Babylon is twisted with one singular difference, can you guess what that difference is? I laughed-out-loud after I discovered it. Just imagine the old joke of half glass full/empty when applied to engineers. The glass didn't meet design specifications. Oh my god.

Anyway. :) Then there was Understand, which made me think of Flowers for Algernon with a seriously different bent. Let's go ultimate intelligence with the focus on understanding the real nature of thought. Hell yeah. I mean, we didn't even need the techno-thriller aspects of this modern retelling or the fight between ultimate intelligences. Not really. But it was also fun as hell.

What about Stories of Your Life? The one that is tied to the new movie? It's about linguistics and the nature of similar concepts linking the ways we think about higher physics and the fact that we need to make that bridge before we could even speak to this alien intelligence. Or how our conception of time, of cause and effect, is completely useless inside their language. If we actually begin to understand it that heavy concept, how can that change our lives? It really is gorgeous.

Seventy-Two Letters: Golems as a great twist on artificial intelligence, featuring the problems of reproduction and natural selection as a linguistic issue, focusing on the Kabbalah as the key to unlock the power and creative force of God. And it's a great adventure, too! :)

Liking What You See: A Documentary: Oh goodness, this was a blast. It's all focused on the nature and the use and misuse of beauty with a major twist. What if we could block the paths in our brains that let us see and feel the effects of beauty? Purpose: To see people as they really are below the skin. No more pre-judging assholes as really great people because they're pretty. No more ignoring the uglies who might be great people. Level the playing field and judge people by their actions.

Great, huh? Well this documentary focuses on pilot schools and whole social movements for the treatment and the backlash of whole industries that want the slavery to continue. Really great thought-experiment, and beautifully written.

Cult of personality, indeed! How much of it is skin-deep?

Sorry. I got really excited about all this. :) I love it when I read really great books. :)

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Blood Mirror (Lightbringer, #4)The Blood Mirror by Brent Weeks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So Much Love.

Honestly, ever since I started reading Brent Weeks, I've been trying to capture the feel of his glorious writing in all the wrong places. I keep picking up Epic Fantasies here and there and everywhere just trying to satisfy my fix. And yet?

Well let me be perfectly honest here. Less than a handful have matched half of the sheer awesomeness in the Lightbringer series. Many many more are lucky to fill this one's cup even to a third, or maybe a fourth of the way up.

Lightbringer is just that good.

This fourth book keeps up the pressure in no uncertain ways. It still continues to develop the magic system of forming light into solid shapes or burning gels or even just increasing intelligence, but it dives deeper into soul-casting and will-casting as well. I'm thrilled beyond belief. Rule-based magic systems are amazing, but rule-based systems that come with very well thought-out internal pressures and corrections, with quite this much depth of surprising reveals? It just blows me away. Seriously. This is one colorful tale. The battles are bright as hell. :) It's a creative masterpiece.

Characters? Oh god, I can't even begin. I love everyone. All the good, the bad, and all the myriad in-between. Yeah. I'm looking at you, Gavin Guile. Andros.

But who is the one that just deserves love? Kip! I don't care what anyone says. He's always been the man in my eyes. Any author who can take a mouthy fat kid and turn him into quite this much an underdog hero and eventually the hero of the realm with full marks has got to be brilliant.

Oh, I guess I just said that Brent Weeks it brilliant, didn't I?

Well I'm not taking it back! :)

These twists and turns have got me in a real whirl. I'm pretty much speechless in awe.

All this time, we've always been asking: Who is the real Lightbringer? The prophesy is so damn specific and open to interpretation all this time, and yet circumstances keep colliding in utterly different ways to fulfill it. :) I love how the books have been keeping me guessing.

But now we know. I'm so giddy. :)

Jeeze. My only complaint is that someone needs to change the blurb on this book from "Conclusion" and do it pretty damn quick. These stories are NOT done. Oh, maybe another complaint: Don't make us wait so long for the next one! :)

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Gemina (The Illuminae Files, #2)Gemina by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Who says that art is only one thing? I think it can often be two! :)

There's one hell of a fantastic SF story in here, full of action and fantastic SF concepts building upon what we got in Illuminae and taking off even farther and faster (or deeper in the gravity well of a singularity) than the first novel.

And then there's also a thing that I hesitate to call a gimmick simply because the artists STILL pull off one hell of a hat trick with the layout.

Layout? What's so big about the layout? Um. Everything! It's a work of art! As impressive in its way as the actual story, which is no slouch!

In other words, this is a double novel, both a clever visual treat and an epistolary action-filled conflict on a space station torn apart by warring galactic corporations.

I had no problems with any of our new cast of characters, which is kind-of odd, at least to me, because I'm used to cookie-cutter YA protagonists more concerned with the states of their gonads than survival or using their heads. Not so with this one. It looks like I'm getting prepared to trust an author to pull me through no matter what she decides to write. I may just go ahead and check out everything else she's written.

Yeah. It's that good. The SF is solid. The characters are too. The story has fantastic pacing.

And our favorite misbehaving AI is still with us.

Did I mention that this is a book with a dual nature? Gemina, eh? Well it goes beyond just the layout and the text. :) I'll leave it at that because any more is just spoiler territory even if I want to just squee with how this SF got pulled off. And the tragedy. Just wow. :)

So happy! I love really great SF and I REALLY love great SF that wants to be fearless in it's expression as ART. :) Yay!

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Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in TranslationInvisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation by Ken Liu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

There were quite a few interesting stories in this volume. It isn't considered a "Best-Of" collection by a long shot, but it does happen to give us westerners a taste of modern Chinese SF in the form it has now become. I won't say that a few were breaking any molds or anything, but there are a few things to consider.

Such as? Well, SF as a whole is generally less respected in China than it is over here with one exception.

Liu Cixin is followed by the Chinese internet like a wildfire, sparking conversations and discussions across the board much to the amazement of the author. Even the engineers that had been the butt of his comments have taken up the book to rave about it. I personally loved his trilogy, the first of which won the Hugo over here. Another first, by the way.

So it's not that big a surprise that curiosity set in among us westerners, right? That's the whole purpose of this book. To give us all a chance to see what kind of glories are happening in the field over there. We even get an excerpt from Liu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem and an awesome story called "Taking Care of God" (Which is both tongue-in-cheek and a serious read.)

His are my favorites.

BUT, I really shouldn't neglect mentioning the lyrical and metaphor-heavy Hard-SF tale of survival among the death of stars in Cheng Jingbo's "Grave of Fireflies" or Hao Jingfang's "Folding Beijing", a tale of social stratification meeting a crazy actual science-fictional folding of the city.

I also really enjoyed MA Boyong's "The City of Silence". It's a modern retelling of 1984, but more than that, it takes the entire concept of language modification to its limits. I was told not to read it as a satire and so I didn't, and because I read it as a serious tale set in a serious way... it freaked me the hell out. Truly, what a nightmare. This one might stay with me a while. I was tempted to relegate it to the pile of similar oppressive dystopians, but no. It took several aspects and ran with it so solidly that I think it deserves plenty of accolades. :)

I totally recommend this for curious people. I even recommend it for fans of clever SF. :)

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Gormenghast (Gormenghast, #2)Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This classic fantasy still feels almost like allegory and real history wrapped around some of the most beautiful prose in literature.

Seriously. The prose is really fantastic. The names of things are both evocative and as predictive as shadows upon the wall: outlines and no substance.

The same is not true for the characters or the story itself. Titus has many mini-adventures from his childhood through his young adulthood, culminating in his ever-present desire to free himself of his home's odd traditions, the duties that will befall him, or even just the shadow of the antagonist that caused so much ruin in the first book. Titus grows up, and this novel is not just a simplified coming of age story. It's as complicated and real life, as full and ripe as all the greatest stories ever told, and it ends with great and satisfying heroism that is turned sour mainly because it only entrenches Titus in the very things he'd spent all his life trying to escape.

I feel for him. I really do.

There's so much tragedy in Gormenghast, and yet the whole land and the castle feels like a character unto itself, gloriously drawn and full of personality.

Anyone could read this without knowing anything about fantasy at all. It kinda transcends genres, turning into something closer to magical realism in traditional fiction despite the fact that it came out long before the term was even coined.

Truly, it isn't a book that should be missed if you're a fan of good literature. :)

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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Second Foundation (Foundation, #3)Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm still amazed at how well this and the other two books in the trilogy holds up. It's easy to let little things go like all the focus on Atomic Reactors when they've still got FTL. We could replace one technology with another and still have the same core story shine.

And it really shines.

Yes, SF has had tons of telepathic SOBs, but I still count the Mule as one of the most savvy and intelligent dictators to ever topple a galactic empire. The first half of this book deals entirely with him and his long quest to hunt down the Second Foundation. It is an obsession with him.

And all the while? Yeah, the Second Foundation remains elusive and scarily effective, eventually trapping and defeating the Mule with wit and brilliant conversations and logical traps that are brilliant. I can't recommend this series more. The core stories are still as sharp as ever, even if we as readers are jaded by 60 years of authors riding on Asimov's coattails. :)

The second portion of this novel was slightly more special to me, oddly enough, and no matter how much I loved the Mule, I really enjoyed the First Foundation hunting for the Second Foundation even more. The characters involved in it were wonderful.

The First Foundation always seems to get things wrong, but this the same as usual. :) Still, the surprise at the end stayed with me after 30 years between readings and still made me smile after my second reading, so that *is* a very good sign, is it not? :)

Yes, this trilogy still remains in my top 10 list of (single books or trilogies) out of all the books I've ever read. :) Great stuff.

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Foundation and Empire (Foundation, #2)Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Split into two stories instead of many like the first book, this one feels a lot more streamlined and the Foundation has met two of its greatest foes.

One of which was expected, and one that wasn't.

The path back to stable galactic civilization is a tortuous one. The foundation always knew that it would one day have to face against the Empire, and it did, and that story was very interesting.

But the Mule?

Well, he's just fascinating. And iconic. And perhaps a bit overdone ever since then, because, let's face it, we love mutants with mighty mental powers, don't we? Grasp the date. 1951. This isn't a comic book, either. Yes, sure, there's the Lensman and others, but what we've got here is the grand social tide set against the powers of a single individual. The very thing that Hari Seldon's math couldn't account for. And now, ashes.

What an awesome reversal! One that's both chilling and affirming at the same time, playing to our prejudices that we as individuals matter, while also showing the grand destruction that comes with it.

I'm revising the novel upwards. It was great fun and still a part of the grand trilogy. I don't know why I thought it was anything less than fantastic. :)

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Friday, November 4, 2016

Foundation (Foundation, #1)Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From my first reading of this Foundation Trilogy when I was fourteen to my latest reading today, I still put these in my top ten books of all time. No question.


So many reasons. And even though the characters and the short-story-like presentation of the different times are quite fine and memorable, it isn't these that I point to.

It's the ideas.
It's also how our history is writ large as SF.

It's the social exploration. It's the re-establishment of civilization, one building block at a time. It's the scary devolvement of all civilization, too. All dystopia and the glimmer of optimism. It's a grand slide and a hard scrabble in a far future galactic civilization that might as well be us in a mirror.

I've since read Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and I've read about the ancient history of India's economic empire around 5 thousand years ago, mainly accomplished peacefully and with great demand, eventually leading to a grand civilization.

Both of these histories played a huge part in Asimov's imagining of his empire, but it's mostly the Roman Empire's history that this book emulates, from the ousting of its malcontents, the fracturing of the provinces, the devolvement of knowledge and learning into dogma and religious pomp.

Asimov curtails the worse parts of the Roman empire by having the Foundation eventually focus upon economics as a last-ditch stopping point before outright violence overwhelms the rest of the galaxy.

It's not a perfect solution, but this is merely the first of three novels that absolutely need to be read together. :)

I'm still absolutely amazed that history is retold so convincingly and grandly as an epic SF with such clear and sharp prose.

Asimov has always been known as a wonderful teacher. Even his most entertaining and important works, such as this, always remain a testament to his own learning and his absolute insistence on making everything perfectly understood to his audience.

The novel is ambitious, wide-sweeping, and terrifying. It's honestly mind-blowing, taken together with the other two, just how much information and development and implications are poured out onto the page. :)

If this is any indication, I think we're all doomed to repeat our History. :)

Of course, with all the things we know now, I'd have loved to see how Asimov would have written this today. :)

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Lady SusanLady Susan by Jane Austen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I haven't read an Austen novel that I disliked.

I mean, she's good enough to turn what should be an epistolary slog through social mores into a delightful and spiteful and nearly-tragic romp. Who else can do that?

The voices of each character in each letter evokes such verve and personality and a great sense of persistent presence that I'm frankly quite shocked. The plot was rather simple. It's about making good matches and getting involved in other's love-lives. *shock* *no* *say it isn't so*

But even so, it's done with such reserve and sometimes with such plain nasty cattiness that I can't help but swing this way and that throughout the novel, just trying to get a handle on what the *truth* is.

What is Lady Susan really hiding? What did her daughter do? What the hell with Mrs. Vernon? Jeeze.

For such a short novel, made entirely of letters, it really managed to get under my skin and keep me on my toes. Amazing!

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Valour and Vanity (Glamourist Histories, #4)Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This kind of light fantasy fare is rather hitting the spot. Low effort, high Regency, light magic, and a little bit of woven magic changing perceptions and causing minor effects. It's really quite a bit of easy fun.

Especially when we get involved with con-men in Venice and get thrown into instant poverty and the threat of debtor's prison. Woo, woo! Nice conflict.

What are the Prince's illusionists going to do?

Well, suffice to say, survival is of first importance, but a little bit of happy chance leads them all to get a bit of light revenge and comeuppance! Let's get creative with that magic, folks!

It's still romance. It's still light-fare. Just a bit more derring-do than usual. :)

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The TouristThe Tourist by Robert Dickinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Masterpiece? No. But is it as bad as all the reviews seem to say? No.

So what is it? Is this time-travel mystery worth reading? Well, I'll let you in on a secret. The audiobook narrator, Peter Kenny, is absolutely fantastic. This is going to color my outlook very positively.

That being said, maybe no one can put all these pieces of humpty-dumpty back together again. I'm not saying it isn't worth the try, or that the complexity level and the implied ramifications aren't relatively huge, but certain things drag the reader's attention.

I've seen the use of second-person narration done fairly well, but generally it is limited only to short stints so as not to wear out its welcome. In this case, that's also true, at least to keep us grounded in the present, older, character, in a way done quite similar to The Fifth Season. How did this one fare? Hmmm, there's another problem I need to address.

Because this is time travel, with characters popping in and out of our MC's timeline with different ages, what I really wanted was really solid descriptive anchor points, whether of character, situation, or any kind of affectation. While some of it was there, it wasn't nearly enough to let me follow exactly where each iteration matched. A stronger plot than a closed-box mystery with dire tones might have saved the day. Heavier speculation on the part of the MC might have teased some mysteries out of the situations in a way that kept the reader on point.

Unfortunately, the MC was steadfastly un-curious and by the book, even though we open with a protracted far-future jail scene before we jump in to the hot seat of the tourist director of time-travelers. From that point forward, we jump from different time points, meeting up with other characters from mismatched timelines, from the same characters young and old, and discover many hints of another faction of time travelers that are so interested in history and wanting to put down roots there that I've got the impression that they're the biggest source of conflict in the novel, but instead of a real blowout or a shake-me-to-my-knees reveal, I'm still wondering what's going on.

And I just finished it.

I like needing to use my brain to enjoy books. Seriously, I do. But I also prefer hard mysteries like this to also be able to keep my focus some other way. Creeping around cities of tragedy without much wallowing in the tragedy, or knowing that there's secrets around every corner is all fine and dandy... as long as we get enough regular reveals to tide us over until we get the big one that is the main plot. I'm not saying that it always has to be this way, just that if the author is going to do something this ambitious, he needs to dangle a lot more candy to make it WORTH getting to the end.

I'm not sure that I feel quite satisfied, despite a rather interesting and complex tapestry of a personal time-mosaic.

Is it bad? Not at all.

Could it be a lot better? More vivid? Something to chew on, whether descriptively or even *gasp* emotionally? At least to pull us along to the next reveal? Or have more reveals? Yes, yes, yes.

It is a challenge, though. Make no mistake. I'm thinking perhaps that a large whiteboard with many colored erasable markers might be a good idea. :)

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Feedback (Newsflesh, #4)Feedback by Mira Grant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I admit to being a fanboy of the series. Gladly, irrationally, wholeheartedly.

I mean, who doesn't like a team of intrepid bloggers in a zombie-blighted wasteland encountering horrible secrets in the government and having lots to say about election madness while geeking out and stabbing moaners in the head? Better yet, who doesn't like mad conspiracies, killing your loved ones, looking great on camera as your run for your life, or just discovering how nuts the world is?

This definitely isn't for first time readers of the NewsFlesh series, but it does happen to overlap during the presidential campaign trail during Feed, but from the opposite camp.

Ash is great. I really love Ash. Her Irish accent will always get her killed in all the zombie detectors, her bulletproof sundresses are the epitome of fashion, and while she's tiny and skinny, I'd always choose her to be my bruiser any day. She also happens to be really hard to kill when zombie traps keep exploding all around the presidential hopeful.

There's also a ton of interesting things to say about ourselves, too, if you look close enough into the text. I mean, we're courting a zombie wasteland with one or the other of our candidates, and Ash is living through the aftermath of the same. It works. :)

There's a lot of gender and race diversity in this novel, but honestly? Even though I got into all the characters fine, I kinda felt like it ran down a checklist. I tried not to let it annoy me because I got totally pumped by the story and the reversals and the generally nutso disposition of Ash and the world, and that worked fine for me. Maybe not for everyone. And then again, maybe this is perfect. It just felt a bit calculated. That's all.

Still, what a kicker near the end. I didn't really expect that coming, and that's kinda why I worship this series. I got the same kick in the gut with the surprises in the original trilogy, too, so I suppose I should be used to it by now, but it just isn't so.

Death is the constant of life. This zombie plague still remains as one of the most well-thought-out and scientific examples of zombification that I've ever read, and the mix of high-tech and mad bootstrapping ingenuity always gets me running for my duct tape.

I'm so happy to return to this world! It was my first introduction to Mira Grant (Seanan Mcguire), but ever since, I've been a truly devoted fan. For good reason. This stuff rocks. :)

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