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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Absolute KnowledgeAbsolute Knowledge by Drew Cordell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This science fiction borrows from many dystopian mega-city traditions, but it begins and it finishes with a rather awesome focus on Thoughts.

No, no, not like the thought police, although there *is* a bit of that going on, but on the interesting concretization of thoughts becoming actionable and even becoming possessions that people can trade for basic living expenses in the slums. Let's hook you up and scan you, son. Any original thoughts? No? Oh well, you can get your basic living allowance as long as you tow the line.

Eeek. Not only timely and eerily like what we've already got now, the author takes it to new levels and lets the elite and the big computer that runs the society do some really interesting things... such as the pursuit of Absolute Knowledge... which, you should know, is pretty much a euphemism. :)

This is a dystopia with lots of clandestine and thrilling counter-culture elements, after all, and I can name at least 3 major and pretty awesome plot twists that I'm not going to spoil for your reading pleasure, but rest assured that the story is quite solid and interesting throughout, not just a pretty idea, but a character-driven thriller as well.

The book delivers. Are you looking for some clever SF with cyberpunk elements and a Hard-SF dystopia with a good MC that struggles, strives, against the machine? Look no further. :)

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Z for ZachariahZ for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was written in the early seventies for the dystopian youth market.

Wait... was there a dystopian SF youth market back then? Um... I guess so! I have this weird feeling like I just entered the twilight zone... but it must be true!

I'm used to 70's SF and Fantasy being very adult oriented and over the top. I think of Lucifer's Hammer or the other later classics of post-apocalyptic nightmares that came out later like The Stand and Swan Song and so many others, but here's the gorgeous bit:

This one scales down everything into a tight little pocket of a farm that escaped the devastation of the nukes leaving one teenage girl alone after the rest of the family goes off and succumbs to one of any number of perils. It's all about survival and she does a pretty capable job of it, but then someone arrives. A man.

The rest of the novel is all about them. The last letters in the alphabet. The last man and the last woman. It's scary when you see things for what they really are. The man takes, the woman either succumbs, herself, or she fights for her freedom.

Remember, this is a young kid, at one point just turning sixteen. There's plenty of thriller moments and plenty of getting along, too, but what it really boils down to is a microcosm of gender studies that's both magnified to extremes and extremely scary.

I felt it.

Sure, this is YA and it's rather mild by today's seedier YA standards, but what it doesn't have in glam it has in solid story and a depth of foundation that most can't even touch.

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Paragon.EXE (Absolute Knowledge Book 0)Paragon.EXE by Drew Cordell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good prequel and especially a good taste of some very nice world-building. My appetite for the novel Absolute Knowledge is whetted almost perfectly.

The fact that the action is split between programmers and a burgeoning AI in the 1960's and a 180 years in the future from that point doesn't leave me flat. It's a great way to get us interested in a way that's grounded and pique our interest in how the continuity is set up.

There's no real surprise that consciousness is uploaded here if we've read the blurbs for the proper novel, but that's just it: this is the setup, the taste-tester, the appetizer. :) It just makes me all the hungrier and now I've just got to wonder whether we've just been introduced to a hero or a villain. :)

Sweet! :)

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Old Man and the PrincessThe Old Man and the Princess by Sean-Paul Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to the author for a copy of this book!

I have to admit that I avoided the blurb on this one, and now that I've read the book I'm kinda glad that I did. I actually preferred going into this one blind and the results were quite satisfying.

The writing is quick and like all the best thrillers it moves along with some really great pace.

So what kind of book is this?

That's the real question, isn't it? I mean, it feels like a thriller, it smells like a thriller, and with all the great Irish and Scottish bits flying around the page, I have to admit I like this Old Man and the street-smart orphan he names the Princess after he "kidnaps" her.

Just what is going on here?

If you like books that mess with our heads as to whether this is a rather traditional SF tale about a Princess from Mars being spirited away before bounty hunters take her first, all the while feeling like we're on a really creepy kidnapping ride with a lot of seriously unanswered questions, (at least at first,) then I'm pretty certain you guys will love this.

I can easily call this a classic of psychological thrillers or a very-well-grounded SF adventure/mystery. Pick and choose. You'll still have your surprise at the end and I'm not gonna spoil it.

Besides, the writing it quite delicious and full of wry humor! :) Pure meat and potatoes for any good tale. :)

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Borderline (The Arcadia Project, #1)Borderline by Mishell Baker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an unexpectedly good Urban Fantasy novel with Fae and a differently-damaged protagonist that sets it apart from most by dealing with mental illness.

What? Mental illness? What kind? BORDERLINE Personality Disorder. :) Just think unstable and you've pretty much got it. It makes for hell on all her personal relationships, her professional relationships, and to make things worse, her suicide attempt took her legs from her.

Woah. She's got problems. It should make for some rather interesting reading in any normal circumstances, I'm sure, but it looks like she's just been selected for an untraditional work-therapy program... with Fae. :) It helps that this UF ties creative abilities with the Fae and we're in LA. I mean, everyone's fairly close to the borderline anyway and I'm sure no one would blink an eyelash when they were told that Hollywood is run by the Unselee Court. (OR some variation.) :)

The rest of the novel picks her up as an investigator which is pretty boilerplate but I didn't care in the slightest because of all the interesting twists and turns. Is it primarily a character-driven novel? Absolutely. Is it fresh? Absolutely. Did it renew my faith in UF? Absolutely. :)

The fact that the author took on a topic that is difficult and disturbing and wasn't afraid to let me actively dislike the main character while simultaneously making me search and find things to love about her is definitely a big bonus. :)


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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Gravity's RainbowGravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I dallied with the idea of writing a very short review, saying pithy things like:

"I'm glad that's over."



OR should I go more eloquent: "I'm going to set this day as an anniversary to commemorate why I'll never read this book again."

But I think I'll just state that I think I just got post-moderned in the ass.

Or I could say some wonderful things about the novel, too, of which there are many, many wonderful things, such a great and funny commentary on WAR, Operant Conditioning, Drug Fiends, Erections, Scatophagy, Porn, Dirty Limericks, Porn, the Physics of rocketry and drug making, Porn, Orgasmo, Porn, and a great scene near the beginning that brought to mind Pink Floyd's The Wall movie with the buttcheeks over London mixed with a sampling of the BLOB and Bananas.

Do you think this was an easy book to read? You might think so with all the Porn. But no. It's a drug-trip with funny scenes that's very smart and it goes way beyond my tolerance level for being smug. Maybe all this 60's and 70's thing about making sure every penis and vagina is getting it on to shock the straights just isn't for me. I'd like a little story with my porn. Fortunately, there's a lot of story hidden right beneath the surface, here. It might be hiding right beneath all the SS or a few more Nazis or just behind that other Nazi, or is it behind this one?

Golly, it's kinda hard to find it. I know it's there. But at least there's yet another erection and girls everywhere are flocking to this inexplicable sex symbol... but wait! Yeah... I have to admit the nasal erection bit was funny as hell.


I've read better bricks. I've even had better bricks slam across my head.

Alas, this one was not a solid gold brick with a slice of lemon wrapped around it, but it *might* be just as crazy. (Thank you, Pan-Galactic Gargle-Blaster. I need you so bad right now.)

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

EverfairEverfair by Nisi Shawl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unfortunately, this is a book full of flaws, but underlying all of those flaws is also a book I really, really want to appreciate.

Why? Because it's a story of the Belgian Congo under an alternate history banner that strives and reaches for its independence despite atrocity and thanks to technology. No more millions dead in unsung tragedy. Rather, we've got nation building in a rather fresh and ambitious undertaking.

Pretty, no? And the themes and the problems explored is also quite impressive, tackling head-on the issues of both racism and nationalism sometimes together and other times in stark contrast. Again, quite beautiful and quite exhaustively characterized, developed, and world-built. We've got a historian on board as well as someone firmly rooted in speculation in the author.

So what's wrong? Maybe it's just my poor brain, or perhaps it's just that the ambition is greater than the execution. I don't mind that we've got decades'-worth of world-building going on. I don't *theoretically* mind that we've got a literal ARMY of PoV characters.

I do mind when that army of PoV characters don't grab me emotionally, or I should say, some do, some don't.

I do mind when a lot of time passes and motivations change and we as readers are left in the lurch. Such things can happen off-page and can be quite interesting if we're either scholars pouring through the text OR we've been following a very limited cast over a long time, giving us the emotional investment to CARE why they change their minds. Unfortunately, I wasn't given either the investment or the pre-existing knowledge of the Congo's history or possible mitigating factors. It was left out of the book.

Are these deal-breakers? Not at all. The overriding sense of the nation is clear and I love the available kinds of interactions with America and the kinds of cross-cultural exchanges, learning, and even religious meshes that have developed over time.

All-in-all, it's a book worth appreciating... from afar. After the fact. As a purely intellectual exercise. My heart never quite got into it... and that's a shame because I wanted it to.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Monstress, Vol. 1: AwakeningMonstress, Vol. 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here's something awesome for you. I'm a TOTAL pushover for great art, great nasty story, and MONSTERS INSIDE US.

I mean, I've read the whole Naruto series twice and that whole story arc of the kid with the nine-tailed demon fox living within him was all kinds of awesome. So why do I love Monstress?

The demon living inside her, of course. SOOOO COOL!

Really, though, the artwork is all kinds of amazing and the story kicks me in my bollocks. It's bloody, it's disturbing, it's setting us up for all kinds of epic, and I'm completely hooked. It's kinda like Claymore and Berserk rolled into one, only the artwork is fully realized and colored on every page and it's just soooo gorgeous. And disturbing. :)

I can't wait to see what kind of friendship they strike up. :)

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Odd and the Frost GiantsOdd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a delightful counterpoint to Norse Mythology!

I mean, yes, it's written for middle-grade and Thor and Loki are cute and Odin is inscrutable as always and the frost giant is funny rather than scary because, after all, EVERYONE is afraid of Freya's tongue... but it's still a real delight!

I don't care what anyone says about Gaiman. The man can write a classy tale no matter where or what he's writing about. This is, after all, only a retelling of an old story, but it's a very particular and beautiful Odd viewpoint.

I'll definitely be reading this to my girl when she gets a little older. :) Heck. It might even be time now. :)

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MicromegasMicromegas by Voltaire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

18th century SF. :) Gotta love it just for that.

Otherwise, my estimation of Voltaire continues to rise! I always loved his stuff before and while this doesn't have quite the social impact that something like Candide had, it certainly puts the rod to the church with its "blow your mind" idea of turning all us ants into something even more insignificant. :)

I see your enormous cathedral and raise you a thousand-league footprint. :)

Short and sweet and so scientific... these giants are giants of erudition and learning! Of course, they laugh at the idea that us little ants mean crap because we only live for mere dozens of years while they live for thousands. I mean, seriously.

Very impressive for its time and message. I know it's not entirely all about SF but it IS still an SF tale and one of the very first.

I'm so glad that Ada Palmer turned me on to it. :)

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The Wine-Dark SeaThe Wine-Dark Sea by Robert Aickman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having been a one-time lover of traditional stories by some of the greats of the last century or century and a half, I was much more at home with these tales than I might have been otherwise, assuming that I was in for tales of horror and the macabre.

What we have here are subtle tales that evoke more with atmosphere and themes of travel and disturbing discoveries than outright hack and slash.

My personal favorite was a retelling of Death in Venice with a particularly fantastical bent and no sign of Mann's character's other proclivities in "Never Visit Venice".

Indeed, most of these must be fantastical retellings of classic short stories and novellas, or at least it seems so, with the twists of bygone days, of tourists of different flavors, and even of stories such as the "Wine-Dark Sea" itself which appears to be a modernized retelling of the Isle of the Lotus Flowers or sometime quite similar.

Trains, vacations, buisiness trips, unexpected strangers... all of these things make a collection of stories filling us with awe and wonder even when we're steeped in the commonplace. Indeed, it's the commonplace that leads us to our dooms when we're pushed right off the ledge or when we experience something completely inexplicable, patted on our heads, and then sent on our way.

The author doesn't hold our hands. In fact, he insists that we ponder and try to figure out just what we had experienced. I have to say I like it.

Again, if you're looking for a pat collection of stories, look elsewhere, but if you love detailed and niggling-darkness creeping up on you with stories that harken back to all the more traditional mainstream stories from the turn of the last century through the fifties, then look no further. We've got advanced horror techniques going on here mixed fully with old-style classics. :)

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Evening's LandEvening's Land by Pauline West
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and the author herself for providing me an updated version of this manuscript for review. Some of the formatting issues were resolved nicely.

That being said, I need to rave a little bit about this book. It's like being handed a good W. H. Auden poem and learning that it has been turned into an erotic dream full of ghosts, a suicide, occultism, and sex, sex, sexy sex.

I normally don't seek out things like this, but let me be honest here: I thought it was all damn tasteful even if the directions it took was always there to push your limits.

Do you like seduction taken on a grand scale? Do you like concepts like evil and sacrifice mixed with your sexytime? Do you like playing with death as you play with your lover, at least in the pages of a tale? Then this is for you. Definitely, this is for you. It's beautifully written and lyrical and it assumes you've got a great vocabulary. No dumbing things down for any of us! The arousal permeates the pages, but beyond that, I was equally fascinated with the Evening's Land itself, the dreamscape where the dead come back and haunt (or seduce) the living.

This is a real trip, and poetical to boot.

I've seen some people say that this book is full of trigger warnings and that is absolutely true. If you have ever been in abusive relationships or absolutely controlling ones, you'll feel the shock of it here, especially since Mary welcomes it with open arms; infidelity and naughtiness being absolutely key.
And Faye's suicide is equally dark, but for different reasons, and we get that PoV very strongly, too. Ada's relative innocence becomes a rather wild abandon as she tries to work through her main story.

Even so, this is an adventure of life and living and excitement and art. It may be interspersed with all the darkness, too, but it's so hard to separate one from the other. In that respect, it's very close to life. :)

The author doesn't coddle us. She speaks her mind and her characters push a lot of boundaries, perfectly willing to make us, as readers, uncomfortable. But... I say this is wonderful. :) This is what good literature ought to do when it forces us down these fantastic paths of the human heart and experience.

This is very cool fantasy.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

TonguesTongues by Sam Joyce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Santara on drugs. :)

Gotta love this voodoo stuff. Especially when we add a homebrew Nazi agenda in a hometown Texan town and a plucky independent journalist that may or may not survive all the voodoo shit spreading around. :)

Honestly, I got right into the tale and it never let me go. From wanting to hate all the neo-nazi stuff to rooting for the reporter, Catherine, I was fully hooked... and then we got Carmen's story, which was easily more interesting to me than all the rest.

We got traditional story, then we get an in-depth tale of a Brujah, and then we get the rest of the wild horror with full investigations, returning to poor Catherine, and an end that is quite satisfying.

I can say this isn't a normal horror. It falls deep in the curse and the Nazi shit and the chaos of this poor town Elena. :) Either way, the magic is cool and the characters are rock-solid. I can easily recommend this to all you horror fans out there. It's solid and well worth your time. :)

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Explorer (Foreigner, #6)Explorer by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really love re-reading this series. As this second mini-trilogy comes to a close, it shines in all the ways that the slow burn of book 5 does not. We're hurtling through space to new destinations for some and an intense rescue mission for others.

The space station that was left behind, Reunion, could be hurting bad or it could be besieged or it could be the source of a whole slew of headaches for all those people who mistrust the Guild. This is Space Opera, through and through.

How did we get from a translator in an alien society that barely had TV to this point, only ten years and 6 books in?

Easy! Read the books! :) And just to make sure you're on your toes, Cherryh makes absolutely certain that there's always THREE sides to the situations. Felicitous Three. :)

ALIENS. (New aliens! Oh goodness! What a scary turn! :) The Atevi, the Humans, and ... mysterious aliens! :) And of course the Atevi for all their assassinations seems to be much better suited for survival, politically, intellectually, and martially. Only the single human, our favorite Bren-nandi, seems to have the wits and wherewithal to handle both first-contact situations and hairy numbers theories at the same time. :)

God, I love this series. :) Translators KICK ASS.

Suffice to say, this is a thrilling novel that has just about everything, from strike forces to serious negotiations to seriously dark decisions and a HUGE can of worms.

And now we're getting set up for the next mini-trilogy, and translation is getting pushed to the forefront once more! :)

Ilsidi STILL ROCKS. :)

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Friday, February 17, 2017

The Killing Moon (Dreamblood, #1)The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this one fairly slow going in comparison to how much I loved her other novels, oddly enough. Things went big-time with the Inheritance Cycle and MUCH bigger with The Broken Earth, so I felt like a floundering fish in a relatively deep exploration of two cultures where dream magic is shrouded with dark secrets and a very careful and gentle facade.

The best part is the magic and the world-building, in my honest opinion, but I really shouldn't overlook the importance of just how much ground is covered with the characters. We learn an awful lot about them and their place in the world, starting with a mistake and guilt and going right through the nature of love the possibilities of sex and then, eventually, power and corruption. It's really quite beautiful.

But I'll be honest here. I didn't really get into it mainly because of the learning curve. The names are strange, and while that is never a bad thing, in theory, it makes for a heavy and complicated read for an otherwise rather simple or at least simple-seeming story with gradual and later fascinating reveals. At least it picked up in the later half and I was hooked.

Overall, though, I felt slightly underwhelmed. Maybe I like spicier fare. It was good but it was mild, overall, even with the coming war, the harvesting of dreams, and the much-anticipated inclusion of the monster on the streets: The Reaper.

Definitely one to enjoy for any of you who like complicated, in-depth explorations of the human heart and slightly alien societies... in this case, an apparently ancient Egypt that is unlike the one we think we know. As a work of imagination, it's quite excellent. As an exercise in world-building, it's pretty amazing. :)

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The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a solidly entertaining read that really shone by the end for me. Mainly it was a historical fiction revolving around real magic that tied to a circus that only played at night, but these words do nothing to illustrate that it's really a character novel despite these very well done trappings of fantasy and historical literature.

We follow Celia and Marco from their childhood and these poor kids are pitted against each other in a great magical game where only one can survive. While this could have turned into a huge fracas, it actually proceeds sedately and professionally as each child makes a career as illusionists performing real magic, until one day they discover each other.

I'll be honest. I didn't really care for the book all that much until it became a romance. Odd, no? Well, that's where it took off for me, and I held on with great fear. :) The rest was great fun.

Second to that, however, was the tone and the atmosphere. I understood a great love for the circus, with all the great care and tending it required, how the magic was bound to it and how things could be utterly messed up without that underlying spark. It was rather sweet and dreamy.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Norse MythologyNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Definitely short, but imminently readable. This is one of the best straight mythology books I've read when it comes to pure enjoyment.

I say this, fully aware that I'm a Gaiman fanboy, and yet, I still mean it. :)

Don't look for fiction here. Rather, look for the source material and a clear understanding of the Norse mythos as far as we have it. So much has been lost and then, there's a ton of fragments. Alas. But what we do have is quite cool.

My personal favorite was the story of Baldur's murder and the attempt to raise him up from Hel's domain. Hel even agrees, graciously, to let him come back from the dead as long as not a single person on any level of the World Tree refuses to weep for the man. Baldur is a sweet man that makes the flowers grow, for goodness sake... and it was a very close race... but you know how these things go.

We all know that LOKI is the reason we can't have nice things. Forget children. I blame Loki. :)

I love the fact that wits and brawn are held in equal esteem, but I sure wish there was a lot more stories about the women. There's plenty of hints. Just lost fragments, however. It's a shame.

Still, what we've got is enough to whet anyone's appetite and I even think this is a perfectly appropriate text for young ones, too. I definitely plan on reading it to my kid once she holds still long enough for it. :) It'll be a nice companion to the The Kalevala and some Greek stuff, too. :)

Go Fenrir! (I'd really love to see Cthulhu go up against him.)

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Swan SongSwan Song by Robert McCammon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe if I'd have read this one before I had read The Stand or Lucifer's Hammer, I might have given this a full five stars, but epic length and nuclear holocaust doesn't automatically make a perfect book.

However. If you like your dystopias full of a long buildup and full cast and a slow decline into being in the evil camp versus learning you're in the good camp, then I totally recommend this book to you. It's the journey more than anything else that makes this a good read.

And then there's also the cool tarot themes and actual inclusion of the tarot reads (and other twists) as well as a whole Christian metaphor springing up all over the place, including the horsemen of the apocalypse and even a huge dose of the resurrection of life, so we've got a pretty cool collection of fantastical elements. Especially Swan, herself, who's definitely magical. :) She's the Greater Mystery, after all, the renewal, the restoration of life. It's kinda sweet.

My main problem with this post-nuclear wasteland, however, is one that's been explored so very well in practically every other writer or game designer, (Thank you, Fallout) about the availability of food. Aside from a few big nods to farming, later on, I'd have thought that the acquisition of food might have taken on a bit more of a deadly turn. As it was, all these strangers sharing meals kicked me out of the book.

This is no The Road. It's Road lite. With a TON of people and PoVs. And a much heavier dose of magic over the realism. :)

And yet, it was quite enjoyable and it's long enough to satisfy anyone's craving for an immersive post-apocalyptic wasteland. :) Horror writers always make the most interesting SFs, imho. :)

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sixth of the DuskSixth of the Dusk by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think this might have been one of my rare Sanderson misses. Maybe I just wasn't quite in the mood for something of his that I knew would be short. I like his normally long-spanning epic series. That's no problem. But his short fiction? Even if it has some really cool world-building elements?

Well, the magic birds that give abilities and especially the one that allows Dusk to see his dead bodies everywhere was pretty damn cool. But I couldn't really get into all the 'trapper' this and 'trapper' that, nor could I really get into the characters. Alas.

It may have just been me. Sorry, Mr. Sanderson! I usually so look forward to your stuff, too! :)

I probably would have appreciated a much larger and growing plot in this world, just assuming this was the opening gambit. It was, after all, only 59 pages, which must have only been a 2 day write for him. :)

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Six WakesSix Wakes by Mur Lafferty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a SF closed-room murder mystery! Six characters, six viewpoints, and a truly cool SF twist of constant cloning and memory re-investment. Resurrection!

But instead of losing us on the immediate lack of consequences because our murdered peeps keep coming back, we're dealt a hand where whole personalities can be hacked as easily as memories, and these poor saps all have richly criminal lives before they were "chosen" to be taking a long space-boat ride to another star. :) Hence, closed-room. Claustrophobic, even, when we consider the kinds of crazy that these folks can come up with.

I personally thought this was almost on the level of a comedy and might have been pulled off very successfully as one. I mean, the stakes when it came to the real clone wars, the jealousy, the hate, the religious nuttery, etc., was pretty horrible, especially when one side or the other can torture you to death over and over and bring you back with all your memories intact. The same is also true when you can fundamentally alter the emotional reactions of a person after they wake from a new cloning, and the societal ramifications are really dire, including the fact that your life is forfeit if someone clones you later because they will have precedence over YOUR rights, it feels vital and scary.

However, there was just something about the novel, itself, that almost felt slapstick. The world-building was serious and seriously cool, mind you. But the actual character interactions would have fit fine in the movie, CLUE, if only they had been just a bit more over-the-top. Isn't this a weird reaction for me to have? Maybe. :) lol I still liked it very much. I just kept having these weird thoughts. :)

Regardless, the mystery was nuts and the characters were nuts and as a SF it's pretty fantastic. :) I totally recommend it for anyone wanting light and fast fun.

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Final GirlsFinal Girls by Mira Grant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another win for Mira Grant (Seanan Mcguire). :)

This is a short psychological technothriller involving virtual reality, psychological therapy, and a bit of industrial espionage.... but if you're REALLY worried that you'll be missing out on a few nom-nom moments, don't be. This has everything we've ever wanted in a book from the horror/SF queen.

The real joy comes from both the characters and the cool explanation of how to use dreams and virtual reality together to build helpful, if fake, memories and establish a better foundation for one's psyche.

Were you scarred by something in your childhood? Missing fundamental connections with your loved ones? Perhaps just need to take care of a few phobias? No problem. Introducing scripted dreams/memories. :)

Of course things go to hell.

And that's what we love so much about these books, right?

Most interestingly, however, is the focus on FRIENDSHIP in this novella. It's pretty damn awesome.

I'd say go run out and buy a copy, but it's at a whopping $40 at the moment! Still, it's worth it. :) Assuming you're not using Netgalley! Hi, Netgalley!

Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this cool ARC! :)

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This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity, #1)This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe I'm a fanboy of Ms. Schwab, and so, therefore, I'm a lot more forgiving of a simple Romeo and Juliet tale. Granted, it doesn't go so far as to kill off either main character but that's not really the point.

Kate and August are from different clans of monsters. She's kind of a monster inside and he's an actual monster on the outside. :) Even so, he begins as a pacifist and she's all about trying to get stronger. It's pretty standard story stuff.

The proof, however, is in the pudding. This author knows how to write and get us interested and involved and that's the biggest issue I run into with YA. I'm tired of the same old tropes.

Well, this one has the same old trope, but here's the great part: the worldbuilding. It's rich and evocative and full of great and deep ideas revolving all the types of monsters. Monsters come in all flavors and THANK GOD all these are not the same kinds as we see everywhere. They may share characteristics of vampires or werewolves, but these feel more like eldritch monsters walking the streets and working for the local strong man, not the same old crap we always get. :) Indeed, I love that there's a song in here that delineates them. :) And August? He's the kind of monster I most love to see. He plays music and steals souls. :) He feeds off of anyone and he and his two siblings are unbeatable. :)

Supposedly. I mean, we've got to have a lot of cool conflict in this book, right? And love and trust and always wanting to be a better monster is pretty fantastic, too. :)

I got suckered in. :)

It's quite dark, too. I'm looking forward to the next in the series. :)

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Friday, February 10, 2017

The Rapture of the Nerds: A tale of the singularity, posthumanity, and awkward social situationsThe Rapture of the Nerds: A tale of the singularity, posthumanity, and awkward social situations by Cory Doctorow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's a slight paradox with this execution of this book which might thrill or annoy the lot of it's readers: It reads like a Heinlein juvenile upgraded to all the geeky post-singularity hacking terms we can take a swing at.


Specifically, I think of Have Space Suit—Will Travel if we'd substituted a kid with an engineering project with a real-meat man in a completely digital society, get him embroiled in Objectivist Religionists (BIG LOL there), several courtroom dramas filled with some really zany characters such as a judge who is a dalek, and ends up with a galactic singularity overmind checking us over and using this poor sod to determine if we, as a species, deserves a chance to keep on living.

Fairly simple story and it reads very quick, but the best part (or the worst, depending on your tolerance for geeking out with tech and post-singularity societies,) has got to be the world-building and the ideas, with the satire being a distant third. :)

I personally love singularty stories. And if you need a description, just assume that all matter has been turned into computers and we've all been uploaded as pure minds to live in any kinds of realities we desire, then you'll have a pretty good feel for it.

But where's the conflict? Oh, it's all mental and ideological and sometimes even territorial as long as you can wrap your mind around major causality loops when you tamper with the fundamental forces of matter. :)

In other words, this is a simple story with a dense layer of computronium and satire wrapped around it like bacon around a nice juicy steak.

Not that it doesn't have it's flaws, of course, but if you like this kind of thing, you really shouldn't miss it. :)

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JerusalemJerusalem by Alan Moore

It took me ten days to read.
60 hours for an audiobook. Nearly 1300 pages.
Still, it took me ten days to read this. I'm shocked.

I'm also quite amazed at the brilliance of this book.

I'm thinking of also getting a bound copy of this book to open up at random whenever I want my mind blown and just stick my finger in it and osmose the hell out of it. It's that kind of dense, crazy book.

The only book that comes close to it is Infinite Jest, and I like Jerusalem a hell of a lot more. It has an enormous sharp cast of misfits, crazies, poets, junkies, whores, and dead kids... but wait! It also has the builders of reality, demons, nagas, and a little corner of Northampton called the Burroughs that is the nexus of all freaking reality and all the dead can travel up the street to the future or back down the street to the past and have a blast.

Seriously, the first load of the novel had me wondering if I was just reading a literary fiction like Infinite Jest with a ton of outcasts and thankfully interesting normals as they screwed, did drugs, or whatnot. All the while, I learned more and more and more about this little 'burb, it's history... sooooo much history... and then we started getting characters out of our modern setting in full glorious detail and imagining. The history is starting to get applied, practically. But still, I'm not totally impressed. After all, I came at this knowing that Moore can blow my mind as with the later volumes of Swamp Thing and V for Vendetta and Watchmen. I wanted SF or Fantasy or both.

And then a funny thing happened deep into the text.

A little kid choked on a cough drop for 11 freaking chapters.

WTF? Right? Realize something here: this is an author who grew up on all the greats of literature, and I see a ton of James Joyce right here. In fact, James Joyce shows up here. So does Samuel Beckett, Thomas Beckett, Cromwell, and even William Blake! :) Tons of poets and writers who are dead, along with this little kid, show up and travel all space and time. Mostly it's just the Dead Dead Gang, a group of 7 year olds who pit themselves against eternal demons and save the newly-dead kid from a deal with a really big-deal devil, take him under their wing, and travel up and down the streets of afterlife Burroughs where we REALLY get a taste of all that history that Moore has been giving us.

Pretty awesomely, in fact. :)

And then the "normal" characters keep poking their heads in on us in strange and unusual ways as we see below the fabric of reality and see in the fourth dimension and get the idea that "crazy" on our side is really just "saint" on the other. Things get really strange in a big way.

And even crack whores can be "Innocent" and "pivotal" in the salvation of the universe. :) Which hangs on a billard game being waged by the Builders, the angels and demons in this very *differently* imagined afterlife/4th dimensional landscape that's in so many ways so much better than Christopher Priest's The Inverted World and a hell of a lot more interesting and vivid, too. After all, we get to go 3 billion years in the future with a beautiful dead baby on a man's back to see the death of stars, too. :)

But the really big question that gets raised in this tome is the nature of predestination. Is everything set in stone? It's one hell of a clunker of a theme, and we get everything from crack whores to tons of poets to dead children to angels and demons asking this same question. And if the crux of the universe is this run-down barrow of a shithole and the second coming of christ is a 3-year-old who reaches brain-death before miraculously coming back to lead a normal life, we have to ask ourselves a lot of deep questions that's not strictly religious in nature.

And the language? Oh my god. Alan Moore writes a huge tract of poetry here. Think pre-dictionary middle-English poetry firmly ensconced in modern day sex scenes, science, and art, written floridly and gorgeously even when we're talking about flying sperm. It's not for the faint of heart, but it is certainly cray-cray and ambitious and we as readers can't take ANYTHING for granted. Are these characters simply well-drawn vehicles for an enormous showdown between the builders of the universe? Or is this also a subtle and not-so-subtle satire on literature, too? Both, I think.

I know one thing for sure. It's an amazing feat of literature. It's not easy and it's not meant to be, either, but it flows and everything is drawn to amazing limits and it's DEFINITELY NOT NORMAL. You want a challenge? You want ENORMOUS traditional literature, poetry, religious thinking, epic space/time travels, ghosts, historical persons, gritty neo-realism, and a major discourse on WHAT IS ART? Look no further. :)

Let's say we could write a book on this book. Or perhaps, someday, there will be whole courses on this massive tome like there is for James Joyce's Ulysses. You can plumb these depths for years and still find hidden gems. I'm certain of it. One read is definitely not enough. And if you publish your dissertation on his novel and get your PHD on his coattails, then congratulations! :)

I can totally understand if it daunts most people. I'm also intimidated. And I actually KNOW most of the artists and *some* of the history. And yet, I remain DAUNTED, too. :)

But it's so worth it. :)

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Songs of Innocence and of ExperienceSongs of Innocence and of Experience by William Blake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, one lousy review can't do Blake's poems any justice, not unless you're flush with time and the soul of a poet, yourself. :)

I can say, however, that the title kinda gives the whole gig away. :) The first section is rife with allusions to Jesus and the second is full of wry and rather sarcastic religious revolutionary insights that I *clearly* appreciate much more than the innocent ones. :)

Yes, love should be shown! No, life should not be this dreary and repressed thing. :)

I particularly love how Blake uses limited PoV narrations, from a little child or an old bard. The mirroring of both characters and themes really does a big number on both types of poetry. I only wish I was reading it with the engravings. :)

Such classics! Well worth the Experience. Everyone should Experience it. :)

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The Book of Etta (The Road to Nowhere 2)The Book of Etta by Meg Elison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

The first book in the Road to Nowhere series hit me out of nowhere with it's stark and uncompromising view of humanity and the inhumanity of men toward women when a plague decimated (literally) the population of women. There's only one woman out of ten men across the world. It reads much more delightfully than Frank Herbert's The White Plague and it has a much more grimdark feel than even The Children of Men.

The second picks up and drives home the same point with a brand new twist: gender issues figure very strongly, but it's much more than just women being subjugated by men. This book takes gender identity and explores many very cool twists and shows it off starkly in this dystopian world.

No spoilers, but we get a lot of different gender identities and they're all showcased in ways that even surprised me.

Is this a survival novel? Absolutely. Is it as difficult as only cruel-literature can be? Absolutely. These stories aren't for the weak of heart and some people might get overwhelmed by just how evil men can be, but we're meant to see this all in a stark spotlight.

This might not be a big surprise, but the main character Eddy/Etta pretends to be a man on the road while being a heroic raider who kills slavers to free women, while being what her culture requires her to be when she returns to her home, Nowhere. It's very much like a Shakespearian play where the only way to get ahead is to pretend. But this is only where the novel starts. It ends up having traveled all across the map by the end and I was very impressed. :)

AGAIN, this is not for the faint of heart. It's dystopian in almost every way, but there is a fine balance of hope. :)

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Good FightThe Good Fight by Justin Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hate to be one of those people who judge a book by its cover, so I generally completely ignore covers except to let me know what genre or sub-genre I might be dealing with. Even so, there's sometimes covers that are so atrociously bad that it starts seeping in and polluting my idea about what the book might be about, poisoning my desire to pick it up, or otherwise make me want to run, screaming, from the room.

FORTUNATELY, however, once I got beyond this really, really bad cover, I discovered a very decent story beneath. :) It's YA, but it's a very detailed and grounded YA that then turns into the fictional equivalent of an Ayn Rand love letter mashup with conformity ghouls and high-tech networking. :)

Cool, right? Well, I enjoy all of Rand's stuff, so that's not really a big deal for me, one way or another... and philosophy, especially when we add cameos of Stalin and the inanities of really stupid government policies based on fear and jealousy, can only be improved with a big adventure tale to destroy all the government and corporation ghouls who suck every spark of individuality out of the world. :)

Yay! Message! And it's fun. The best part has got to be the very deeply developed main characters and the solid grounding of the early settings. It was then extremely easy to jump right into the SF.

I totally recommend this for people who want ghoulish action with Objectivism. This is the kind of thing that fans of Goodkind would love as well. :)

Thanks to the author for a copy of this ARC!

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Monday, February 6, 2017

La La Land  (The Last City, #2)La La Land by Logan Keys
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one picks up a bit after the nasty surprise revealed at the end of the first novel and puts us squarely in Anthem's war-hungry society, with our main characters finding themselves becoming increasingly the odd men-and-women out. Tommy still has hulk issues and Liza continues to serious mean-author issues, but I am loving both all the more for it.

I wish that all YA was written more like this. The ideas and the society, while having plenty of similar tones to other YA, is practically overflowing with ideas in comparison. Plus, the mashup of genres is working very well for me. I mean, we're missing werewolves, thank god, but we've got super-soldiers, crazy parties, near-immortal hulk men and plenty of drowning, stabbing, and hanging to keep all you YA lovers in fine form. :)

Because it's not YA without torture... You know it isn't. Admit it. :)

Do I have any complaints? Not really... unless I was in the mood for more plot... but since I didn't expect anything other than a character-based novel full of mashups and cool action and moral angst, I was perfectly okay with it. Not everything needs to be about complicated plots. :) Sometimes it's all about freedom and memory and survival and the growing horror that you're the monster that you're trying to stop.

And as the previous novel ended with a truly nasty surprise, this one does too, but this one's on steroids. :)

Nasty, bad author, to toy with us poor unsuspecting readers like that. ;o
I'm totally hooked and it's all her fault!

And as before, I need to thank the author for the chance to review BOTH books. I love being surprised with good stuff. :) EVEN IF it's YA. :)

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Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Last City (The Last City, #1)The Last City by Logan Keys
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a call out to all those lovers of genre-bending! We've got a zombocalypse, an enormous fight for freedom from an authoritarian regime, cancer victims, hulk-outs, and even a bit of poetry and music.

What more could we ask for in a YA?

Um, we could always ask for and receive some actually nice romance. Yeah! Romance! Liza and Jeremy are so cute together! Maybe I'm just a sucker for writers who love musicians. Or maybe it's the purple eyes or the nigh-immortality or the sweetness in the face of all these hungry shambling hoards (and even the zombies!)

Of course, this book isn't all about the list of cool features or even the fact that we even get time to wage war with Tommy and hulk out as if we're all playing an awesome game of Resident Evil with a very, very generous dose of Alice In Wonderland. Cool, right?

And all the while Jeremy is out to free them all from the terrible yoke of the elite rich and their dangerous survival techniques. Come on! I *love* body mods. Of course, these kinds of body mods are a bit extreme, but what can we do! It's an extreme kind of world! :)

This book has great pacing and a lot of fun characters and action and character development, but none of that is quite as amazing as the end. Fair warning, however... these kinds of reveals might absolutely prevent you from avoiding the next book in the series. :) :)

Thanks to the author for a copy of this book!

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Seventh GlitchThe Seventh Glitch by Ronel van Tonder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this ARC!

I was pretty much hooked from page one with the immersive D&D online virtual gaming setup, but this was just the intro for us poor readers. The rest of the novel is a tour-de-force romp through a MUCH larger virtual realm full of trapped individuals very nicely reminiscent of .hack video game or especially the Anime (or manga) of Sword Art Online.

Was I absolutely thrilled by this? You bet! And let us not forget Ready Player One or movies like the Gamer. This is a new genre, and it shouldn't be limited only to gamers like us. It should be open to anyone who just loves their imagination. :)

As for story, I was loving the dynamic between Lucy (lucifer) and Kitty. It wasn't an easy one and plenty goes on between the hacker and the newb to make this feel like a Training Day. I even see all the same things going on that made me fall for Geekomancy, too!

LoL. If all I do here is drop names for titles that no one may even recognize, then how is anyone going to know whether they like this? Okay! Fine! It's a huge virtual reality game in the future that becomes the target for hackers wanting to bring down the top elite corporate types, but in the meantime, the kids are getting trapped inside. All the while, we are inside with them as the game slowly crashes down around our heads and all the safety protocols are going with it. The best part is that we get to fly between all these different kinds of games, from sword and sorcery to kid's animal games to call of duty while all the while having to deal with interpersonal issues, lies, and conspiracy. :) Want a health potion? How about a bazooka? No? How about a root-kit? :) Now we're talking. :)

This novel is pretty damn polished and it's great fun. It's also the second novel I've read by this author from South Africa and I'm pretty much stoked and set to read everything she's got. This is high-caliber SF. :) Rock on!

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Friday, February 3, 2017

Barkley Five Oh: A Science Fiction Short StoryBarkley Five Oh: A Science Fiction Short Story by Logan Keys
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


First off, I thought this was a much better and less high-handed approach to Asimov's Centennial Man and I appreciated the dark humor much more in this story, too! :)

I must admit, I'm already a fan of the author because she's fun to talk to, so this here *might* appear to be a horribly prejudiced review in sick favor for a writer who just happens to be cool. BUT LET ME DISABUSE YOU OF THAT NOTION. ;)

Honestly, the robot story hooked me right off the bat and I felt more for Barkley than any of the humans he outlasted, but how fun it was to watch them go about their lives and think themselves so clever! :) It's refreshing to have a regular robot become an actual likable Everyman that everyone unconsciously revolves around.

But of course the story is much more than that, and I think it's superior to Asimov, thank you very much, and not least because it's a modern-type story with our oh-so updated sensibilities. :) So, bravo! :) Clear and clever writing and an engaging story with an awesome character for the win!

And I'm NOT EVEN SAYING SO because I think the author is cool. There. :)

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Compile: Quest (The Corrupted SUN Script Book 1)Compile: Quest by Ronel van Tonder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC of this book!

I was initially mainly interested in the cover, believe it or not. I judged a book by its cover. I love computer fiction. What can I say? Was I disappointed when it didn't quite turn out the way I thought it would?

Hell, no. First impressions aren't everything or even most of a thing when it comes to books. We look at how it makes us feel and whether it impresses the hell out of us... and I was very impressed.

First of all, this is a dual-character novel and neither have much or anything to do with one another, but don't let that dissuade you. Both give us a hell of a story about South Africa three hundred years in the future under a dome and on the other side of it. Both leave our main characters, Peppermint and Jinx, severely limited in options and personal freedom. It's dark and claustrophobic even if the walls aren't exactly falling in upon them.

The world-building is as much a main character as these two women. Peppermint should really be part of the inside utopia, but she's soon kidnapped, plugged into a massive AI, is put through massive tests and is generally turned into a performing animal for the gifts she seems to possess.

Getting there is just as interesting as the conflict, and there's a wide and oddly familiar world for us to explore.

On the outside, we're left with dictatorships and hardship and military life. Jinx must deal with many losses and burning hatred and the desire for revenge so strong that she voluntarily goes through a particularly female type of hell to get it.

The two women couldn't be more different, but the drive for freedom and agency is always burning strong.

One thing that really stands out for me is the fact that this is one of quite a few new authors coming out of South Africa that all deal with social media, SF, and interesting fantasy overtones. I'd definitely recommend this for any fans of Lauren Beukes or a darker SF with undertones of YA that still remains quite adult and disturbing.

I'm happy to be surprised! Neither the title nor the cover really does it justice. :)

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Malice (The Vagrant, #2)The Malice by Peter Newman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know what it was about this book, but it really hit all the right spots for me. What really blew me away the most was the absolutely gorgeous and disturbing descriptions of hoards of demons both friendly, neutral, and evil that roam the world. Truly mind-blowing.

This is an epic fantasy without hoards of heroes. This is a quest novel featuring a girl, her baby goat, and a couple of broken knights that guard her and the one sword that is anathema to all demons. Whereas the first novel with the Vagrant had an interesting "who is this guy" vibe, we know exactly who the baby grows up to be, and this is her journey. And what a journey.

I think I liked this about two times more than the first. Maybe the author is hitting his stride and maybe I've just fallen completely under his spell, but everything about this novel speaks to me of quality, from nearly lyrical and fabulous phrases that crystallize the horrors all around them to the depths of the characters' troubles to the reveals about the real history of the sword.

I loved the history something fierce. It's totally hard SF and it's truly fascinating to try to piece together how that world became this demon-infested wasteland of the present.

You know what this reminds me of? The best end scenes in all of the epic fantasies going up against horrid hoards and devilish demons, but rather than setting it up for a final climax, we get all that delicious goodness throughout the book, like a lot of icing in a LOT of layers in a cake. :) Yummy. And the fact that the real climax is one of PEACE is just as deliciously jarring and delightful, like spears of light and life through the darkest pits of hell. :)

This is really good stuff and I was reminded heavily of Jemisin's The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate for the feel and the hints and the need to piece together a truly awesome world. :)

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Ames: Book OneAmes: Book One by Jeremy Whitehead
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

I'm afraid I'm going to have to be rather harsh on this one.

I don't like to think that grammar issues bother me because I'm fairly well-read in poetry and much is left to the reader's discretion, but after counting perhaps hundreds of misplaced commas, wrong words, clunky wording and odd repeats, I have to wonder if this manuscript is a first-draft. I can easily ignore 5 or 6 of them, and if the rest of the text is solid, I can totally ignore the fact that the commas are outside of the quotations, but there was just too much to ignore. It was difficult reading. The flow was constantly interrupted.

Now, assuming that I can get beyond that and focus right on the story, or, failing that, the interesting features of the world-building, I still have some major issues.

I love the basic premise of a big city of robots, but the two warring factions basically annoyed me to death right off the bat, Orwellian or not. I loved some of the action scenes and I thought the basic virtual reality premise and execution was interesting, but there was way too much filler. I didn't care so much about the robot's fascination with toilets. There's a lot more going on in the background for me to really care about a toilet, and that's just a single tidbit out of hundreds of prosaic bits that could be utterly excised in favor for interesting action and espionage and explosions and big mystery reveals, of which this book HAS PLENTY. I mean, right off the bat, there's enough big happenings going on that we can keep the pace up without issue and have a fast-paced, idea-rich, world-building adventure in half the pages. No problem. Instead, we have *actual* virtual world-building and a clunky romance that seems ridiculous while we've got the granddaddy of all AIs thrashing about the house and a cabal of other AIs gathering to destroy whole civilizations.

I mean, it could work, but it doesn't. And that's where my other main concern lay: the characters. They were cookie-cutters. They all sounded alike, and in one case that might be intentional, but I didn't believe for a second that one or the other was a super brilliant scientist or a mastermind genius AI able to overcome any obstacle. I'm told that they are. Repeatedly. But, again, this is where a second or a third pass on revision could have REALLY helped out. It's almost as if all these characters were placeholders for actions but they weren't really intended to be a vital part of the grand story except as an afterthought to all the world-building.

I'm not saying this couldn't be a great novel. I think it has potential to be a real blast! BUT, I think it needs the careful dedication of a serious editor. This release is too soon! Sorry.

I do, however, wish the author much luck!

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