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Friday, June 30, 2017

Around the World in Eighty Days (Extraordinary Voyages, #11)Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The original steampunk adventure! Written while it was still called modern!

Fascinating! :)

Seriously, though... Jules Verne knows how to write a fast-paced adventure with French tomfoolery and English sprats. They're buckling down to show other multi-millionaires (price adjusted) what a *real* wager is, using nothing more than a very keen mind and a talent for reading multiple departures in the paper. (You had to be there. And you also have to enjoy a period piece, too!)

But that's not all, folks! The Indian Princess gets saved by the Bully Englishman! Awwww... I've almost got a picture in my head of Tarzan swinging Jane through the jungle. :)

It really is a fun novel, all told. Light fun, adventure, theft, mistaken identity, and even a moral to tuck in the end of the story to send us off to dreamland. Awww.

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

WalkawayWalkaway by Cory Doctorow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I admit I went in blind to this only know the title, the cover, and the fact that I've been a big fan of Cory Doctorow ever since Little Brother. I thought it was going to be something of a thriller with perhaps a political and especially an awesome technological bent to it.

I didn't expect it to be this huge! The ideas in this novel can easily be ranked up with the very biggest novels of the last century.

Let me explain: Walkaway as a term is nothing more than dropping out of the ranks of the norm, of going off to live simply, if not precisely without tech, then at least giving up on the whole rat race that is defined here as the "default". It's not hippies, although there are those, too. It's a collection of all the people that this world has no use for, the people that despair under debts they can't pay, lives that bring them no joy, of people who realize that they have always been slaves in everything but name.

These are the people who walked away from it all. It's in the future so we have an honest free beer with open source technologies, 3d printers much more advanced than what we have here that works with everything from clothing to medicines, and the open idealism that collides with regular assholes that you'll find in any human population.

Only, these communities are benefited with social modeling techniques, even newer tech that can scan and model human minds, and much more... in everyone's hands. These are people who gave up on wealth and status to live in all kinds of communes and social experiments, many of which fail but each improves upon the last until better and better open source societies are created, improved upon, and tested... and while this shouldn't have been a big deal to the rest of the world that was busy doing its old thing, the Walkaways stumbled upon success and success, outperforming and making the "Default" society jealous... and you know what jealous people do when they have guns and they want what the defenseless have.

I'm just barely scratching the surface here. There's a lot of great characters, a lot of really beautiful stories and situations and social experiments and theory on human consciousness. There's a lot of tragedy and hope, too, spread out over a great long span of time. A lifetime, you might say. But by the end, who's to say how long that is?

This is really creative and hard-hitting exploratory SF. This is the stuff that will stay in my consciousness long, long after hundreds of lighter SF have rolled through me. This is that kind of novel that can change or break a whole society if it takes off.

Now, I can't say that I absolutely agree with all the points that Doctorow makes, but his vision of the future and the erudition and thoughtful expression of all these fantastic ideas more than makes up for any complaints I may have. He's a believer in humanity. He believes in people.

There's something truly wonderful about that.


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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

White Hot (Hidden Legacy, #2)White Hot by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Insert generic rant about covers.)

Putting my intense hate aside for just a moment, I do need to clarify that I loved the actual text of this book. I've gotten through all of the Kate Daniels series and the Innkeeper stuff, but I really ought to spell this out... I think I am in love with this series and it's even better than the others.

Sheesh. It's really a case of misleading expectations thanks to that damn cover. I mean, technically, it has a strong romance plot through it, but for the most part, it's magical PI stuff with an intensely powerful city-killer who's in love with Nevada, our main character... not, I should mention, the state.

And even pushing that aside, we have wonderful character development, solid and near perfect progression and change of circumstances, and very cute moments with the family. What else could we need? Well, there's always murder, revenge, political stuff revolving the Primes, and multiple near-death experiences culminating in a really hot scene after so much cold... but that's just icing on the cake.

It's a pure pleasure to read and you know what? As a UF, it's rather unique because it focuses almost entirely on a great magic system... without vamps or weres at all. WHAT???? A UF WITHOUT vamps or weres? GET OUT OF HERE! :) Seriously. It only rises higher in my estimation from here. :)

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For anyone who might question why I might give this a four-star rating rather than the six-star rating that its research deserves, it's because it's mostly a ton of facts, interesting or otherwise, and not quite the kind of coherent narrative a person might expect as a regular novel.

That being said, it's really a fun and easy read that explores so much of what made the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 a real eye opener and imagination-sparker for pretty much all of America.

As a side-note, or perhaps a parallel-note, it focuses rather heavily on H. H. Holmes, serial murderer extreme who was the American equivalent of Jack the Ripper and contemporary of the same.

We have two sides of the extreme going on here. Love and ambition and art and beauty running through the muck of the extremely dirty and bloated Chicago of the day, focusing on the nasty murderer for the shock value and the dark side of the mirror. I can't complain. It's both full of facts and a truly faithful description of the times, the players that made the Fair fantastic, as well as the failings, the madness, and the horror of its underside.

Awe and Horror, folks.

It's the same coin with two sides.

For that and the fact that this novel is overflowing with awesome history, I loved it. What is fiction is relatively minor compared to the fact that it's mostly real history! And frankly, I was kinda amazed at how many cool bits I did learn!

Spectacle and Terror, folks! :) Gotta love it.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Broken Homes (Peter Grant, #4)Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This series seems to be only getting better. The characters are getting more fascinating and the developments are definitely keeping me on the edge of my seat.

London police and a sideline of magic has never felt more realistic. Peter gets to show off a bit of his architectural background this time, too, and I think this aspect was probably my very favorite part of the book.

Architecture has always been a bit magical, don't you think? There's been plenty of literature on the idea and enough evidence to make most people suspect it even if they don't quite admit to believing it. Cathedrals, monuments, and even those atrocities that make everyone wish that they were dead rather than live in them all have a certain charm and flair, no? Good and bad magic. :)

Well, this one brings together a great number of previous elements from the other books and we even get to face the faceless man again, much to my enjoyment. I definitely get the creepy factor off of him and practically everyone here seems to be planning for the very worst.

For good reason, I think.

There are some great explosions and magic scenes, too, but I'll be honest... I come back to it for the in-between parts. It's a real pleasure to be in these people's lives and experience what they experience.

No spoilers, but this one is a real treat. :)

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children, #2)Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even though I knew this was somewhat a prequel to the first Wayward Children, I still kinda hoped for more.

HOWEVER, as a straight story and judging it on its own merits, I can find absolutely no fault.
This is a story of twins being mirrored darkly, rather messed up by their short-sighted and self-consumed parents, twisted by circumstance and then later by their own choices, this entire novella is a frame and a mirror to highlight the differences between gender expectations and how it can pull a big number on these poor kids.

Later on, we're given some rather nasty service when we add a vampire Master and a necromancer Doctor into the mix. Separating the twin sisters by their own desires adds a separate mirroring effect... in effect of how to create a monster or how to heal one, applying it to great story effect.

It's a story of identity and love, of influence and choice, and all told, it's quite beautiful to behold.

But to be honest? I still love the first one more for its sheer imaginative effects. :)

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy, #1)Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just look at that cover! Doesn't that scream sexytime and burning fluffy wooly-headed desire? There's even a hint of magic in there, right?

Granted, anyone who knows this writer-team can fully expect there to be a huge amount of magic and very decent world building and a solid UF action- and sometimes mystery- novel, but for me, that's the ONLY REASON I picked up this book at all... because I respect the writers... not because I was corralled into reading this with a bunch of friends who were sad because the Kate Daniels books are so slow in the coming. :)

But look at that cover! It screams trashy romance!


But then I read it and was very pleasantly surprised that it was mostly magic, mystery, family, and a bunch of wild investigation times with things blowing up. The world is full of magic unlocked by a handwavium juice and boosted by particular genetics and families, but more than that, it's an adventure.

It also has a light romance touch with the obligatory ultra-alpha male and the MC damsel that must have told us on the page that, "NO. Indeed. She Will Not Succumb To His Sexy Wiles."

Ahem. Romance. Yes, there's romance. It hardly takes up ten percent of the whole novel, but it is an ever-present thread. :)

And, if I'm going to be entirely honest... it grew on me. :) I had fun.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Geek Feminist RevolutionThe Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the 5th book I've read of Hurley and out of all of them, I'm going to have to rate this the best.

Why? Is it because it's full of rage at the real injustice in the world? Or because it's a call to action for every one of us to do and think better than we have been?

Both of these, I think.

But because I'm a White Male of traditionally acceptable sexuality...

Who has read Adrienne Rich and has generally read voraciously about feminism and the problems of the culture we live in, thinking and believing that women's studies are not only for women but is everyone's responsibility to consider seriously as we are responsible adults living lives that we can be proud of...

I'm honored to take up Hurley's call to action or at the very least continue the dialogue in all seriousness. Feminism isn't only for women. It's just as important that men understand what's at stake here. We're either all victims lashing out or we can grow the hell up and treat everyone we know with respect.

That being said, I also loved these essays for Hurley's honesty, her story, and even the redefinitions of her life. I respect her for passing through the gauntlet of those bad times and refusing to back down when she sees things that are wrong. We should all be this brave and stand up to fight for that which we honestly believe rather than fall back on the trap of politeness when it's not getting the job done. :)

I think this book out of all of this year's Hugo Nominees for Best Non-Fiction work is best suited to win, and it's not only because it deals with the writing process, issues with storytelling in culture, or even because it drills down into Gamergate and Sad/Rabid Puppies, but because it's plainly excellent and cohesive writing that packs a punch.

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CosmicomicsCosmicomics by Italo Calvino
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one pretty much floored me. The scope and the way this was written kinda blew my mind.

What do I mean? Well, it's one hell of an accomplished SF... encompassing all time and space from a single viewpoint in what may as well be god... but isn't.

It's a love story with a very complicated relationship of an alien with another alien, it's a love story with time, physics, genetics, and all sorts of real math. I will admit that a very great deal of my enjoyment of this novel stems from the fact that I'm conversant with real science in a big way and this book incorporates it all very heavily in the narrative.

The book is kinda like this: think of five or six hella great popular science writers, turn them into short-story writers, let it have the feel of Marvel or DC cosmic-stage stories, and then have it feel right at home with Neil Gaiman's Sandman.

I'm not joking. It's really that good and that odd. And while the science bits and how it's written is very heavy in a way, I don't think it overwhelms the actual stories at all. It's unusual and it's very smart, but I wouldn't let that deter you from reading it. Indeed, I think everyone should read this and have it be a solid staple of the mind.

My only complaint might be a bit idiotic. I really think these stories would translate perfectly into a real comic. I know it's kinda implied in the title, but still... I think it would be improved, making it even more readable and brilliant... that is, assuming that the artist is up to snuff. :)

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Crossing Limbo: Deep Moments, Shallow LivesCrossing Limbo: Deep Moments, Shallow Lives by Shane Joseph
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This collection of compelling short stories matches its title... shallow lives met with deep moments.

I mostly read SF/F but I've taken a liking to Shane Joseph's writing. The characters in this collection all share a number of unsavory features, sometimes just flat with no expectations for their future, and sometimes they're a tight mixture of baddies with tiny redeeming virtues. I like them all for what they are. I'm not supposed to LIKE them, but that's not the point.

We as readers are meant to draw our own judgments, our own ideas about what to take from the stories. I don't mind that at all. It just means a bit of extra work and a bit of extra involvement and investment, but who wants it utterly easy all the time?

I will say one thing about "Shock and Awe". I loved this story the best. It's not every day you get a dog as the main character and this one felt cool all around, from an indictment of humanity and a murder mystery, too. :)

The rest of the stories are all just flawed people encountering twists both big and small.

I can't say that I got all that much actual edification out of them and it was sometimes hard to truly identify, but I can honestly say that I enjoyed the collection as a whole. The writing is compelling.

Thanks to the author for an ARC of this collection!

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Dead Men NakedDead Men Naked by Dario Cannizzaro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dylan Thomas! *points at the title*

That being said, I really enjoyed the heart of this novel. It really is about Heart and also about having a road trip with Death, with all that implies, but more than that, I really enjoyed the humor and the depth of feeling that was expressed.

What? At the same time? Yeah. I could actually see the author bleeding out on the page even as I grinned at the Tequila-inspired Seances, the buddy-Death escapades, or the total wish-fulfillment fantasies surrounding the sisters (of whom take up even more of this tale than even the MC).

It's a quest novel, to be sure, but more of an inner-world-become-fantasy as told through modern anthropomorphism. Hello, Death! :)

Quite a smooth read and very entertaining, all told, but the best part was the heart.

Thanks to the author for a copy! I was genuinely pleased with the read!

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Promise of Blood (Powder Mage, #1)Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been hearing a lot of good things about this book and while I was somewhat skeptical at first, I am quite pleased to announce that it was delightful. :)

Delightful as in lots of blood and guts, gun-mages, sorcerers, revolution, plain war, resurrected gods, a very sneaky Chef and a fantastic investigation that's all gumshoe mystery in a fully-realized fantasy realm.

What makes this stand out, though?

I think it's mostly the characters, the bright pacing, and the magic system.

A lot of these epic fantasies get bogged down with too many characters, IMHO, but this one keeps a great balance with three PoV's, truly interesting storylines for each, and a few that are sufficiently non-standard that it was just a breath of fresh air. I mean, where else are we going to get octogenarian generals in the forefront of a big action tale and pull it off well enough that it's exciting and crusty and never boring? I tell you, it's a treat! Or an investigator who used to run a printing press being pressed into service as an investigator again for the revolution? :) Good stuff.

But what really stuck in my mind was the writing. I may be wrong about this little intuition, but there were enough stylistic callbacks in this novel to make me think I was reading some of Brent Weeks. Not only that... but some of the naming choices seemed to be a loving shout-out to Weeks as well. I was tickled pink. Again, I may be wrong about this, but I don't think I am.

I'm putting this series on a "must grab" status in my mind. It reads quickly and deliciously and it was never a chore. It's a long book, to be sure, but it was still never a chore. I can't wait to see what the gods are going to do to us poor mortals. :)

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert SilverbergTraveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a rather satisfying look into a SF Grandmaster's life. Robert Silverberg had been on the scene since 1955 but had decided to stop writing, go into full retirement, about a decade ago. That doesn't mean he ignores the SF community, however, nor has he gone recluse. He just retired.

These transcribed conversations with Alvaro feel like a very comfortable and wide-ranging exploration on many topics, all of which were very well organized and compiled and I never once got the impression that this was anything other than a near-biography of this fascinating man.

For one, I never realized that he was quite this accomplished or aware of his prose and how it fit in with so many of the previous fiction greats, and I mean the classics such as Faulkner and Hemingway, not only the SF masters that had come before him. He's hyper-aware of everything he did and he is, or was, extremely aware of all matters of craft even when he was doing hack work. When he was popular enough to write his preferred medium-- his Silverberg medium--, he flourished like never before.

It's an old story perhaps, but it's truly fascinating to me to see just how moderate and professional the man is, never taking anything to extremes despite what might be considered relatively outrageous subjects in some of his novels.

His personal code was always writing as work and he took all his craft very seriously, at all stages. It really sheds a lot of light upon his body of work for me. I've only read something like five of his novels, but knowing all that I now know about him, I respect him a lot more.

This is a very enjoyable and informative read. And it might possibly be my top pick for the non-fiction nominations for this year's Hugo... and that's including Carrie Fisher's charming prose and Neil Gaiman's collection of essays and speeches.

We shall see. Only one more to go and then I'll be properly informed. :)

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Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016 with a Journal of a Writer's WeekWords Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016 with a Journal of a Writer's Week by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nonfiction nom for the 2017 Hugos, this collection of essays and book reviews are good for what they are, being honest and rooted very firmly in Le Guin's mindset and fierce defense of Science Fiction in general.

Hell, I was rooting for the same points the entire time! Mainstream Lit-fiction stealing old and traditional SF ideas and then having the nerve to say it's not SF and has nothing to do with it, all the while thumbing its nose at a long tradition is NOT COOL, yo. Give credit where credit is due. Don't write SF and call it something else just because you think the genre is trash.

No genre is trash. Individual writing can be trash, and that's true for EVERYTHING. But the converse is true, too. There are really fantastic examples of good writing everywhere, in any genre, lit-fic, mainstream, or any number of subcategories. Even erotica.

I added the erotica point and the rest is based on Sturgeon's Law, but we share the same point. Don't be a dick.

Le Guin's book reviews were fun for what they are. They're book reviews! I think there's some sort of website out there that is really popular for just this kind of thing... but I can't quite put my finger on it. Still, it's true that we like to see what others think about books both neglected and hugely popular. :) I find myself liking Le Guin more and more and more as I read this book.

Still, as a work of non-fiction, it's mostly just a collection of defenses and book reviews. Pleasurable for what it is but hardly more than that. I'm not being won over to a cause because I'm already a staunch defender, and I love to read book reviews, so this was, in the end, a light read.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Frankly... no. But it was fun and I'm glad to have read it. Did it serve to make me want to read more and more of her works? Yes. It did. I've just bumped up her Earthsea books. :)

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Taste of HoneyA Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's a lot to love in this novella that has been nominated for this year's Hugo award, not least being the exquisite worldbuilding, the delightful mastery of SF tropes in a firm fantasy (and godly) base, and wonderfully drawn characters over the span of their whole lives.

But what I believe people are going to be most focused on is the fact that this is a male on male romance for the ages as seen through a unique culture that has roots deep and familiar but not so familiar as to be ordinary at all. Star-crossed lovers? You bet.

And gods walk the earth, interbreed, have tech that let them do fantastic science things, but first and foremost, this is a tale of love found, thwarted, and renewed. It's a very pretty tale and it's certainly a crowd-pleaser.

On the style side, I really should note that anyone who loves Jemisin's Thousand Kingdoms is going to love this. It's quite dense with goodies but none of it overwhelms the tale. In fact, the tale is king. It was, indeed, like a Taste of Honey.

There's a lot of great choices this year. If it wasn't for some other very, very strong choices, I'd have picked this one for this year's Hugo Winner just on the strength of its world building and romance, but alas...

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Whispers Under Ground (Peter Grant, #3)Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've mentioned how these books go down as smooth as jazz, and there's a lot of honesty in it, although the jazz bits are downplayed almost entirely in this book in favor of a little traditional artistic murder.

Not that art is being murdered, though that certainly might be the case, or that the artists might be doing the murdering, which also might be the case, or that the murder was done in such a way as to be considered artistic, which is certainly not the case.

But above all, this is a fantastic police procedural with wonderful characters dealing with everyday life on the force, of working around disabilities every day on the job (poor Lesley with her missing face), of being "proper" police with very droll humor, of catching the bad guys.

The magic is just integrated matter-of-fact. Peter's a wizard on the force. Lesley has begun to learn magic, too, but she has a bit more of a drive, I think, with her whole missing face bit. As for the magic bits, they're really rather understated and made smooth and delightful. Magical races are just a part of London and it's really all about building relationships and contacts and informants. This IS, after all, a police procedural. :)

The story is a lot of what you might expect out of one, too, with lots of talking and footwork, but I think what I enjoyed most about the book is the nerdy humor. Our copper Peter Grant loves his Cthulhu RPG, his LoTR, and his sophisticated puking Hermione jokes. :)

These aren't a flashy UF. They're solid and deeply grounded in normal London life. It's very smooth and enjoyable. :) As they say, the devil is in the details, and that's where this shines. :)

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Passion PlayPassion Play by Sean Stewart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's a lot to love about this book if you are a reader who loves literal morality plays wrought from a dystopia made up of a religious dictatorship, a-la Blade-Runner meets V for Vendetta meets religious nutters.

However, it's not quite so clean as it may appear. It's not a perfect Passion Play that recreates Christ and his death and resurrection... rather, we have empaths and telepaths, hunters and a murder mystery revolving around Mask, a very interesting and important actor who has been murdered and our MC must go deep immersion into his life, unlike a standard Sherlock tale, in order to gestalt the whole mystery, untangling all threads by getting to know everyone.

Of course, this means we get to know the dead actor, his part and his hypocrisy as a spokesman for the church, and all the people who knew and might have wanted him dead. It's quite fascinating, if simple on the surface.

The best part of the novel is it's clear prose and often poetic turn, the way this plays on a very old literary form, and how it also manages to remain fresh and timely for us modern peeps.

I can appreciate this novel more than I outright enjoyed it, but that's kinda the point, too. It is, after all, *important* the way a tragedy is *important*. It's not often pleasant, but it rolls around ideas in a very heavy way.

It's a very decent novel, but it's really only for those who like or have the patience for Christian allegories. The conclusion isn't precisely what most people would think, either. I personally thought it was quite dark and rather counter to normal Passion Plays. :) In that respect, Sean Stewart writes for himself. :)

Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this ARC!

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The IslandersThe Islanders by Christopher Priest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Christopher Priest is one hell of a writer.

What first appears to be a rather dry travelogue of islands, fauna, and different societies, traditions, and mirroring interconnectedness in physical location is, in fact, a novel of tricky space-time confusions, and many-layered lies told both among the inhabitants of the islands and also of lies between the two big continents that are waging an endless (and staged) war, supposedly leaving the Islands like a fascinating Switzerland between them.

But wait! That's just the big stuff. The mirroring goes deeper when we discover and revisit the murder of a mime across so many stories within this novel, going from mismanaged justice to deeper mysteries of interconnectedness, always coming back to the stories of death and taking care of the estate of the relative who has died, with great reveals hidden like stunning jewels throughout.

We get connections to the other Priest novels, including the letters of the main character of The Affirmation. It's quite complicated but not at all a chore to read. In fact, Priest has a glorious way with characterizations, always returning to fascinating sexual encounters, death, loss, and searching. He's also devoted to writers, musicians, mimes, sculptors, and painters.

The picture we get for all of the islands is probably the most complex and odd I've ever read... as in almost entirely recognizable, but deeply suspicious and ever-increasingly and fundamentally strange.

The biggest bit like that is the one where flying around a single island gives you a different island depending on which direction you go around it. Or that from the surface you can see staggered and nearly immobile airplanes locked in time.

This is definitely science fiction. We get everything from native viewpoints to high-tech drones and warfare with enormous research facilities. Moreover, though, it's a novel of unreliable narration and narrators, an unravelling puzzle of life and especially this location that seems to be an island locked within a vortex of time. I say "seems". There is no spelling this out. And yet I don't care. It's thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Conspirator (Foreigner, #10)Conspirator by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series is still proving to be my go-to feel-good alien-human political machinations with a good mixture of comedy and in-depth world-building.

Bren is a solid guy now and we're seeing a lot more of Cajeiri, the eight-year-old son of the head of the Association, from his PoV. And none of these novels are right without Ilisidi, his great-grandmother, and close friend of Bren.

Cajeiri always seems to get into HUGE amounts of trouble, but that's to be expected by an Atevi alien that grew up on a human-run spaceship. He's an alien of both worlds and so is of neither. He's also a breath of fresh air and errors. :) I'm honestly rather happy with this turn. Bren is still a big part of it all, of course, but Cajeiri keeps it fresh.

Bren is a full Lord of the Atevi now. It still shocks me how far he's come, and I can't say the change is undeserved. He's done more for both the Atevi and the Humans than anyone in this world's history, and he's freakishly loyal. :)

This is feel-good adventure and politics. Don't think it's all that light, though. It isn't. It's played close to the cuff and we're always forced to live through the big reveals as they come. As a thriller, it's fantastic.

There's always some lord somewhere wanting to kill someone. That's the problem with a society run by assassins. :)

Great stuff!

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Delirium Brief (Laundry Files, #8)The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'll be honest, I've been a long-time raving fan of the Laundry Files, so when I got the next pre-release from Netgalley I practically fell over.

For those of you who've never had this on your radar, let me synopsize: It's part Spy-Novel, part Gibbering Cthulhu horrorshow, and part bureaucratic nightmare. Oh, and it's wickedly funny and charming and I love all the characters in this SF-UF. Sound good?

Oh yeah, and we get a huge dose of Bob in this latest one. Lately, we've been getting great Mo and great Alex and Cassie, too, but Bob has been my main go-to guy here, from his days as computational magic-tech-support all the way through his rise in active-duty Spy to middle management and THEN to... *gasp* upper-management. His wife Mo with her ex-eldritch-murder-violin has had her own bump into Senior Auditor status, never to be left behind.

But what about now? What is the Eater of Souls doing?

Oh, nothing much. Just fielding the Elvish invasion/sanctuary application fallout on English Soil, fencing with mind-numbing horrors and other paperwork, and a full-scale liquidation of the Laundry Files. Oops. Political nightmares! But what about all the demons in the basement? What is to happen with them or our Special K or our beleaguered fanged civil servants?

Here's the best part, however... we get a huge dose of Bob AND Mo AND Alex and Cassie in this novel, yo! All the mainstays get their time in the light, and good thing, too, because things have never been this dire.

What about the (magical) Oaths of Service, man??? Oh man...

Is it the end of the world? Very likely.

I won't spoil this because it hasn't even been released yet, but the twist is absolutely horrifying. I read the entire thing with a huge smile on my face. It's just one of those kinds of novels.

Utterly enjoyable, that is.

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

An Unimaginable LightAn Unimaginable Light by John C. Wright
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to be fair and give this a real shot, and don't get me wrong, I did finish it and was mildly surprised by the ending twist, but all in all, I just didn't enjoy it.

I mean, I should have because it is set in Asimov's Robot stories universe.

And I could have really enjoyed it because it's trying to be very diagrammatically logical mixing philosophy with SF.

BUT it was heavily overladen with Christian themes that would have felt flat in the 1950's. Just imagine how modern readers should be feeling with that kind of thing now?

I'll skip the big-time psychosexual sadism that was meant to prove a point because the point was made. Heavily. Overmuch, even.

And then there was the language. Yeah. Not bad language... just that it was basically a bloodthirsty lunatic in conversation with a Jesuit. Odd. Kinda unpleasant. But anyway.

I did read this because it was a nom for this year's Hugo. It's also rather weak, unfortunately. I'm probably going to not give this story a place on the ballot.

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Phantom Pains (The Arcadia Project, #2)Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fae and a Borderline Personality Disorder main character... what could go wrong?

Well after the first book, we know that the answer is plenty, and Millie is outta there... but the second book proves that anyone can be dragged back in. All you need is a murder charge, someone you love someone you can destroy, and a mystical contract to keep your mentally-sick-butt in one place long enough to keep your mouth shut and not destroy all your chances at happiness.

Seriously. From a psychological thriller viewpoint, this UF is spot-on and awesome. Being a borderline in the world of the fae just means that you have permission to be as crazy as they... except that they have power and you don't, and while your life is swirling down the toilet, you just don't care what you have to do while you're in the grip of your Thing.

It's a delightfully wicked turn and all of that continues quite nicely in this sequel. Phantom Pains may not be quite as shocking as the first, but the build-up for the world is solid. We get more of the LA movie studios, a lot more fae, and the inclusion of some cool new seelie and unseelie court people and beasties, a lot more politics, and some magical slavery that makes for a rather big ending.

I'm going to be following this UF very closely. The characters are quite awesome. I especially like Millie's echo even if he feels a little flat. Of course, ANYONE is going to feel a little flat before our flamboyantly destructive Millie, so I think it's a very nice balance. :)

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Jewel and Her LapidaryThe Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know I've only read two of Fran Wilde's tales, but I'm getting the impression that I'm just not her audience at all.

I was reading this for her Hugo nomination this year and I had high hopes because some authors can really kick butt with the shorter stuff even if their longer works fall short for some readers. (Read: me).

Unfortunately, the whole concept of jewels of power is a very, very old one, and while she tries to make it fresh by doing the whole linking them to their wearers and then having the added dimension of social caste rebalancing going on... well... it was kinda dull for me. I'd rather have the jewel action be a MacGuffin or something far-off rather than this. It's hard not to compare it to some really big classics, either, and in that comparison, this will always fall short. Alas.

Maybe this is fine for a younger YA reader who's never read anything else. I don't know. I just know that it didn't really do the job for me.

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Invisible CitiesInvisible Cities by Italo Calvino
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think this short fiction is quite beautifully drawn, a dialogue between Marco Polo and Kublai Kahn that consists mostly of one enormous travelogue consisting of cities, their differences, and eventually, only their consistencies and made-made up features.

There's nothing much more to it except cities and brief descriptions of each, from ancient all the way to modern cities and even cities magical and purely imaginary. On a few occasions, there's a philosophical discussion about what is perceived in reality and what is expected, of ennui and excitement, of grief and happiness, but in the end, it's all just cities.

It's enjoyable for what it is. It's almost purely description in conversation. Very little plot or character development, but we do get a little.

Even so, not bad, not bad.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Divine InvasionThe Divine Invasion by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This happens to be my third read and like the one that immediately precedes it, it's well worth the extra effort.

Absolutely amazing is only a part of what it is. It's also a complicated exploration of comparative religions, a roaring tale of a battle between God and the Devil, and it's also about totally re-writing reality because it's all a hologram... or is it?

It has the Living Torah, it has the Kabbalah, it has Zoroastrianism and Maat and the Fairy Queen and Palas Athena. It has a brain damaged kid that holds the universe in his mind, Elijah traveling through time as the spirit of the Holy Ghost (who was once Mozart), and Herb Asher, the god-smuggler, the lover of music, the *mostly* dead and frozen Job of the novel, constantly being pulled between good and evil. :)

In short, it seems to have everything, no?

But in fact, it's a very readable SF adventure with Yah an exile on another planet trying to take back the dominion of Earth from Belial, full of cool reveals and twists, and also quite a few down-to-earth mini-quests as if the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of one man's choices.

Oh yeah, and he's just the *legal* father of God. Not the real one. Can't let people think he's crazy or anything. :)

This *is* a companion to VALIS, Radio Free Albemuth, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. All of these books explore the same themes and tie wonderfully together as if the ideas are seen through a different part of the same prism. Even the dead cat from VALIS has is place as a dead dog in Divine Invasion, on this time it isn't just an angry man talking to a mad one, but two Gods making a point with each other. Oh, and Mother Goose even gets a cameo! :) Ohhh, Bowie...

I used to rank this lower in my mind with Valis, but in fact I think it belongs on an equal footing, now. It's quicker and a more traditional SF than VALIS but that shouldn't count against it. Indeed, it makes its points quite clearer in some ways. :)

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The Dream-Quest of Vellitt BoeThe Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novella is a real delight! I love all things Lovecraftian, with or without the inherent racism of the original, but fortunately, almost EVERY hand put to the task of building upon the mythos has recreated it into something egalitarian and deep while still retaining the rich, rich imaginings.

This continues the quest within the Dreamland but from the point of view of a middle-aged teacher of mathematics from *within* this other world, helping out a student from our world who had fallen in love with a man in the Dreamland who, if allowed to continue, would set all the gods of creation on a tear to destroy everything because the two SHALL NOT mix.

My favorite bits are the fact that this woman doesn't have any special skills. She settled down from her wandering days to become a prof but still dropped it all to go on a long and wonderful quest filled with monsters and demons and whatnot with nothing more than her perseverance. :)

Imaginative. So imaginative. This continues Lovecraft's original, sure, but Kij Johnson flows deep within these rivers that are at once familiar and very unfamiliar, evoking a blase attitude to things that are richly disturbing and strange, evoking awe with simple concepts like the number Pi that *doesn't* change its value, and so many other cool bits with Ghasts and Gouls and Gaunts.

After reading this I'm thrilled and pretty well amazed and totally on-board with reading anything else this woman has ever written. Anything that can evoke awe in this old reader has got to be cherished.

This one might make my top pick for the Hugo Novella category for this year. It's either that or Every Heart a Doorway

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Monday, June 5, 2017

River of TeethRiver of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading this because it is a Campbell nom for this year, I'm walking into this as a properly fascinated reader. I mean, it's a western alternative history where hippos are the next big meat and it was ACTUALLY A THING. It might have been a bad idea in the real world, but the concept for a SF novella is pretty spectacular.

So how did it pan out?

Well. I like revenge stories as well as anyone and having these big monsters that crunch people with a single bite always makes for great river fiction, but I found my attention wandering. I think it might have just been me. The concept is great and the writing is okay, but it just wasn't enough for me to hang my hat on.

I'm sure others might get more out of this! I DO recommend this highly for anyone who loves the whole Western thing. I think I might not have been in the right mood, unfortunately.

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Light Fantastic (Discworld, #2; Rincewind #2)The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read with buddies!

I'm still very much enjoying these early Pratchett books, especially in mind that I'll be seeing a *lot* more of these folks in the near future. And even if I'll mainly be focused on folks I haven't seen yet, anyway, I'm still enjoying what may as well be an overview primer of the whole Discworld universe.

That being said, I think Rincewind is given a bad rap in the series. I love the hell out of him. He's the ultimate bumbling idiot under the geas of a penultimate Eighth Spell, the casting of which will make or destroy the universe or something, and the making and breaking is ultimately left up only to him.

And he's a wizard with a hat that says "wizzard" on it. You know... to make sure people understand that he's actually one of their kind. :) I particularly loved the bits with the floating rocks and the computers of the universe and the dungeon universes and, of course, Cohen the Barbarian.

It's funny, it's BIG, and we even get to see the tourism industry take off in a really big way, even going so far as to have the very first tourist play a big part in a very special birth. Awwwww... So sweet! :)

Plotwise, I think it's well up to the standards of the rest of the series and while Rincewind falls away in people's favor, *cry* He'll always have a very special place in my heart.

And by the way, that sword is definitely smarter than him. Oh well!

Great fun! Even better the second time!

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Girl Last SeenGirl Last Seen by Nina Laurin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thrillers are an addiction. Ask anyone. Sometimes they just thrill and sometimes they get under your skin and tie you up for years at a stretch, doing unspeakable things to you... and then they let you loose, making you feel like a monster for years and years.

Well, it hasn't been years, rather... minutes since I finished this book, and I can tell right away that I'm going to stay in a bit of shock.

This is a dark one.

I love the premise, the connection over many years, but I probably love other kinds of entanglements even more. I'm talking about you, Ella and Shaw. :)

There's a good deal of perfect twists and turns in the plot, but it's the downward spiral of poor Ella that takes center stage, the victim blaming the victim all the way, and yet, always holding onto tiny little sparks and obsessions to keep her going. I love it!

If this doesn't become the next big thing, I don't know what will! It goes down smooth. Real smooth. And scary.

(The fact that I know the author has nothing to do with my judgment of the book. I literally couldn't put it down from the time I picked it up.) :)

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Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Princess DiaristThe Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not usually one to read memoirs or even a slice of a tiny and specific autobiography like this, but I was tempted both because of my sadness for her death and the fact that it was nominated for the Hugos this year.

That being said, I wasn't prepared for how much I enjoyed her quirky and excellent and witty writing, her unabashedly honest reveal about her on-set fling with Harrison Ford, or the nearly unbearably sweet and conflicted original diary, itself.

Don't go into this expecting a behind the scenes expose or anything, but you can truthfully come out of it feeling a sense of awe and joy for having been a part of something so big... even coming from the actress in the metal bikini. :)

Reading this is both sweet and heartbreaking at the same time.

I, like so many others, love Star Wars, but as with so many people like me, I tend to forget that the people involved with it are just as fascinating in their own right. I learned that Carrie Fisher was rather freaking cool. :)

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Friday, June 2, 2017

The Cults of the WormThe Cults of the Worm by Scott Hale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is it really fair to say this book is a Hell of a Horrific ride even before it's been edited, long before it's meant for public consumption?

Hell Yes.


Comparing this book to most of the horror genre is like wondering what it would be like to see Clive Barker step up his game in a very big way, but instead of piddling about with normal modern tropes before stepping off the deep mythological and epic horror themes, we get right down to the nitty-gritty good stuff.

Yes. The blood and the gristle are everywhere. So are the gods of nightmares, worldwide corruption, characters we've grown to love from the previous novels, and the sheer terror that makes us wonder if this entire future earth after the Trauma is, indeed, Hell. It's really hard to tell.

People are alive. A lot of them aren't and they just don't recognize the need to lay down. Some straddle the fence so much and explode with red veiny stuff occasionally, too. And then we get into the really colorful stuff.

Suffice to say, I really loved everything about this novel and indeed the whole series. It makes my mind explode with delicious gore and beautifully insane reality and very strong stories interweaving it all.

Vrana is back, ya'll. *sings Changes by Bowie*

I also had a bit of a heartbreak. This stuff is fantastic and fantastically evil. It's a must-read for all you people who think you're horror fans. Nothing is sacred. Everything is fair game. :)

A special thanks goes to the author for providing me an early-early copy! *two thumbs up* Still loving it! I can only say, "Please! More!"

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