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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Necrotech (SINless, #1)Necrotech by K.C. Alexander
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a great surprise! I've read a lot of machine-aug SF and dirty dangerous streets fiction to get a little jaded and ho-hum, but this one has a great flavor from start to finish.

It's all about the voice... and this woman (both the author and the MC) is wickedly delicious. Do you like awesome insults? Snark? The whole UF feel all wrapped up in a shiny dangerous nano package that can eat you from the inside or completely destroy you with a complete corruption of the software? How about being on the other side of the law, running jobs wherever you can... or how about landing yourself in so much damn trouble that your street cred and therefore your life is about to be landed in the bottom of a sewer somewhere?

It's CyberPUNK, yo!

This is more than a traditional but dressed-up-to-be-modern cyberpunk novel. This is cyberpunk for a brand new generation, with the feel of the neon spiky hair without an actual hair-job meant to poke someone's eye out. :)

Did I mention this had delicious dialogue and text rolls under some of the best throat-punches in the business?

Well, it does. :)

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Boneyard (Deadlands, #3)Boneyard by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

I've been a big fan of Seanan McGuire for a while so I was super excited to get this ARC, only to realize, belatedly, that it was a part of a series based on a western-style tabletop RPG filled with darkness, magic, monsters, undead, mad science, and a very particular brand of steampunk devoted to the American Wild West.

That's not a dealbreaker. Far from it. I like Weird West stuff. In fact, just to prepare myself for this title, I went out and got the first of the Deadlands books and devoured it, enjoying the fast-paced fun immensely.

So of course, my expectations were very high with this one by an author I've followed religiously.

Unfortunately for me, it felt a bit uneven. There's a ton of great things that can and probably will happen in this RPG setup, but most of that was left out of the book until after the traveling circus made it to Oregon. After that point, however, it picked up wonderfully and I had a great time.

Where it felt slow to me was due to the immersion of being in a circus. And it's odd that I'd feel that way because I enjoyed McGuire's particular circus branding in her InCryptid series.

For that reason, though, it took me a long time to get into the characters and things didn't really start clicking until after the main action began fairly deep into the text. Alas! It ended well and I loved all the supernatural stuff and the history and the wraparound of the main character arc, but I just wish I hadn't had to work so hard to get there.

Maybe it's just me! A lot of people apparently love circus tales and maybe I just don't! :) Even so, I did like this one a lot even if I happened to like the first book in the series better.

I should say, however, that this one felt a lot more genuine, full of deep and complicated characters... unlike the twisted stock characters from the other book. That's definitely a huge kudo for McGuire. :)

Weird West for the win! Anyone hungry?

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Ghostwalkers (Deadlands, #1)Ghostwalkers by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For all you folks out there waking up and suddenly getting a craving for an Undead Raptor Jesus, this is your lucky day!

What? What?

Or I should say, the Weird West is out in full colors with this novel, an adaptation of the Deadlands paper-based RPG game that's full of great storytelling elements from a WoDish dark Wild West with screaming rocks, undead soldiers, mad scientists, and Hell beginning to encroach upon the Earth. This is the Weird West, full of high-tech gadgets, magic, and a hell of a lot of wild action as only an over-the-top western can make it.

I could argue that any such setting and possibility deserves five stars, of course, but I won't.

This book hops along wonderfully with some great characters and story. A certain Thomas Looks Away kinda stole the show, but I had no problems at all with the development of the tortured gunslinger Grey or the firecracker gunslinger girl Jenne. There's a lot of stock stuff here, sure, but it's how it's dealt with in the Weird West that makes it awesome.

And then there are the undead raptors. Hell, all the dinosaurs and flying machines and aetheric missiles and the Cthulhu-like mythos running wild, too. It's enough to make me have a nerdgasm. So yeah, while it does have a flavor of steampunk, it's really very American, so don't let that turn you off. I got kinda tired of the whole steampunk thing, too, but this is just plain fun. :)

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Gerald's GameGerald's Game by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm revising my previous estimation of this book up one star.

Why? The re-read was actually rather satisfying. Yes, it's a novel about survival and all the kinds of crap that men make women do to satisfy themselves, but it's also a rather moving novel about keeping (or losing) one's sanity in the face of all those expectations.

Never mind the sheer horror of being handcuffed to a bed without hope of being saved because your lover just keeled over, or watching a dog eat your husband as you go thirsty. It's a lot more than just that. It's memories and other humiliations and the struggle to find oneself through one hell of an ordeal.

Plus, I kinda like the fact that we're dealing with a very Poe-ish or Aristotelian art-ethic here. It's very focused in time and place, forcing us to go down deep into the subconscious. I can't help but appreciate that more now than when I was younger. *shrug*

Either way, I also enjoyed the almost tacked-on feel of the extended denouement. It really gave a sense of reflection and of shoring up her defenses after having them all stripped away, both literally and figuratively. I felt the power of the positive reversal.

Now, I should say that I'm revising this from my three stars to four based mainly on the fact that the novel is good on its own, but when I chose to give it three (from memory), I did so based on my enjoyment in comparison with the rest of Stephen King's works. It isn't his strongest novel by far, but it was still quite enjoyable.

I think I'm going to really enjoy the movie in a few days. :)

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Refrigerator MonologuesThe Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know I keep saying this about Cat Valente, but damn... this is great stuff.

Six women in six linked short stories. They're all superhero fodder. Oh, Raynor, she's been refrigerated! :)

All the names have been changed but we can see who they are rather easy, and delightfully so. They're genuine female viewpoints and the ranting from a bar in Deadtown while listening to gargoyles play punk music is also delightful as hell, but what we've really got is Jean Grey, Harlequin, Gwen Stacey, and even poor Raynor's dead girl in the refrigerator.

Even so, much more than the names are changed. Whole complex storylines, mythologies, and characters, equal to or even better than the source material in all comic books, are in full evidence in Valente's work. A ton of love and care and, I should say it, CARE, was put into this writing and her vision.

It's equally biting satire, deep love for the comic mythos, ranting, raging, and a delightful romp with some very interesting women that know how to be as funny as they are outraged.

Pick up on the Vagina Monologues vibe? It's true and real but given to our favorite women who have become meat for the main men's sad-arcs. I think it's well worth the read whether or not you're a fan of the comic industry mythos.

These are quite genuine and powerful stories in their own right, and it transcends almost all competitors. :)

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Monday, September 25, 2017

The Melancholy of MechagirlThe Melancholy of Mechagirl by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This collection of Cat Valente's short fiction and a novella was probably one of the biggest pleasant surprises I've had all month. I've been catching up with her works and I'm generally not a huge, huge fan of short fiction, but this one kinda rather blew me away.

They've all got a theme of Japanese, either explicit or implicit, and it's not that surprising since Valente lived on a base in Japan and can draw from a lot of experiences and interests. This, if nothing else, could have been enough to catch me, but her prose is, as always, gorgeous and dense and so good as to be shocking.

There's a lot of really excellent poetry in here, but it's her SF poetry that really revs my engines. Melancholy of Mechagirl was good and very disturbing, but I think I liked the Girl with Two Skins better.

Ink, Water, Milk was a short that was disturbing and dreamlike and oppressive. Maybe not my favorite but the prose was a delicious swirl. The same thing can be said about Fifteen Panels Depicting the Sadness of the Baku and the Jotai, only more so.

The Ghosts of Gunkanjima was very much a windy story of ghosts. Short and clever.

My second favorite story, easily one I'll remember for years, is Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time. It's heavy on the science, almost all physics, but every short-short was couched in a creation myth subverted heavily by the real science. I chortled and had wicked delight with all. This is why Cat is called a master of MythoPunk. Way-clever and cool shit. :)

One breath, One Stroke was okay but it relies on our understanding of Shinto (of which I'm woefully unprepared), but Story No. 6 was a great ghost story of a Kami who haunts old celluloid. It was delicious as hell and reminded me wonderfully of Radiance.

"Fade to White" was also very amusing for what was ostensibly a post-apocalyptic story all about the cultural changes of an early 60's America forced to go into heavy-procreation mode because of all the radiation sickness.

I was heavily amused by the short story "Killswitch" about a game and its peculiarities and the obsessions of all its fans and just how tragic it could be.

The last novella was probably the most fascinating, most SF, and most interesting in the core of what it means to be human, have a family, and grow... all the while taking on the forms of old myths, legends, and stories. No matter how I look at "Silently and Very Fast", I'm shocked with the accomplishment, the prose, the characters, and the structure. Blown away. From Inanna and Ereshkigal, I was caught and swept away with the discussions of a girl and her house computer, their growth, all the way to exploring the stars. :)

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Autumn Republic (Powder Mage, #3)The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have very few bad things to say about the conclusion to this epic Flintlock Fantasy. There's tons of action, tons of characters to develop and enjoy, and plenty of interesting reveals.

Specifically, however, is how much I've been enjoying Bo and Nila. Don't get me wrong, I'm head over heels for Taniel's storyline and enjoyed it from start to finish, but Bo's understatements and Nila's growing power from a washerwoman into a firestorm was easily my favorite bit.

The Adamant storyline felt like a bit of a letdown, honestly, after all the mystery in the first two books, but that's okay when I consider that all the main players finally converge and either work together or are at least working toward the same somethings in this book. The reveals about the gods were a plain delight for me, as good as in the first book as in the third.

The fact that all these poor mortals have to deal with them or kick their butts or, now, need to deal without their cooking, is probably the best thing to happen to these folks. I'm sure some would disagree with me, but having these immortals around is definitely a bad thing, not that they're inherently evil... they're simply too much like us. :)

As for the ending, I may have enjoyed it a bit too much, wanting to see the wrap up very dearly. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the books, but there were some parts that did go on too long and it's a very specific complaint of my own. A lot of people like the drawn-out war stuff. I generally don't. Fortunately, McClellan's a good writer and makes everything pretty exciting and obviously very clear. Flintlock Fantasy is a very fun genre. :)

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The Crimson Campaign (Powder Mage, #2)The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For all you fans of the grimdark fantasy epics, this one shines bright. Blindingly so.

I particularly like the fact that we stick with the same three PoV's as the first book, namely Inspector Adamat with his quest back at home, Taniel with his self-destructive god-killing front-line support, and Tamas far into enemy territory fighting the war against Kez while the rest of the army assumes that he's long-dead.

There's a lot of war and interesting developments, here, but primarily it's all about the war. For myself, I think I still prefer Adamat's revenge-fueled mystery at home, but Taniel's storyline probably has the most fascinating developments. It helps that a god-chef manages to steal the show practically every single time he shows up on the page. :)

I'm not generally a huge fan of extended campaigns of war but these are quite decent. I think I like the premise of the magic system even more, though. I keep imagining all these musketeers snorting vast quantities of cocaine rather than horns of gunpowder. Snort, snort, snort. And thankfully, even though some of the highs and lows could definitely be extended to such drug use, this isn't the main focus of the tale. Indeed, life and death are on the line and we've got an entire army to manage, here!

Still, it's something to consider, horribly so, for the next novel!

All in all, this is a pretty fascinating continuation and its hook is genuinely cool. :)

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Friday, September 22, 2017

The Core (The Demon Cycle, #5)The Core by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I have been honored with a review copy from the publisher, let me be very clear about something: I practically demanded it. :)

I read the rest of the series at the beginning of the month and grew so hooked on it that I couldn't pause to read anything else. And then, thanks to a friend, I pushed my luck and asked the publishers directly for a copy. I admit that I was practically foaming at the mouth, too, and nothing much changed when I received my copy.

So what is this? A raving from a fanboy?


But let me be also very clear about something else: this book is amazing all on its own, or I should say, it caps the rest of the series like the Spear of Ala, as magical and grand a the city below the Earth, the bastion of magic that has withstood thousands of years of swarming demons, unaided.

Any issues I may have had with the previous novels are wiped clean away. Indeed, all of the characters, small and great, have their place in the upcoming battle that tears apart all the cities and hamlets, all of which withstand or fall under an endless onslaught of demons great and small.

The title also gives it away. Arlan and Jadir and Renna go deep into the bowels of the Earth to take on the Core and all the spawn and let me just say... it is amazing. So magical, so dangerous, so mind-blowingly huge.

This fantasy series is easily one of my favorites. Part grimdark, part extremely magical fantasy filled to the brim with demons, and part character study. Any kind of patience you give the previous books will be repaid with pure gold in this one, but be forewarned: there's some really graphic stuff here. There's another author who does a Eunich Army, of course, but George doesn't come anywhere as grim and descriptive as this.

Hell, I'm tempted to start it all up again and enjoy it afresh now that I've grown to love all the different peoples and cultures.

All I can and should say is Bravo! :)

I'm so very happy to have read this series. :)

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White SilenceWhite Silence by Jodi Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can honestly say that Jodi Taylor is awesome. :)

I've been rocking hard to her St. Mary's series and truly had no trepidation when it came to seeing her try her hand with something different, and that faith has been repaid a hundredfold.

Do you like paranormal thrillers? Do you like aura reading and a whole bunch of goodies that might come when you least expect it? How about very normal MC's with a secret, a holding back, an edge of the precipice kind of thing?

I love this stuff. It's atmospheric and gentle and dedicated to getting character and tension right, but more than that, it's humorous, genuine, and rather interestingly diverse when you consider where it begins.

And then there are the surprises. The laugh out loud or evil extended laugh kind. There's the genuine desire for revenge, the budding love, the betrayals, the hope.

And above all, there's the ever-abiding desire for more.

This can't be all there is. I won't allow it. :) I'm Caged. I need more. :)

For everyone else who may or may not be on the fence, just think about the best feels from Odd Thomas for all you Koontz fans. If that isn't enough, then I don't know what is. :)

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

AmpedAmped by Daniel H. Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oddly enough, I had this really weird impression that it was a YA novel from start to finish even though I know, objectively, that the MC is a school teacher. It's just the feel of it.

That being said, it wasn't bad. In fact, it kinda had the whole Little Brother vibe to it, at least when it came to the fear-mongering and the whole oppressive society bits mixed with high-tech to fight it.

The augmented humans, the Amped, the transhumans, are smarter, faster, more naturally capable, and they're also on the hate-train by everyone else, thanks to natural human fear. Non-citizens.

It's okay. I mean, we've seen this kind of thing a million times, especially in YA, so I should be forgiven for making that connection. :)

The whole plot is pretty standard with your normal situation-meets-new-abilities progression, but what I thought was most amusing was that the whole super-villain/super-hero thing was firmly planted in the red-neck okie vibe. :) I was like... woah. :)

Not surprised, really. Daniel Wilson was great with the Native Americans in his Robopocalypse novels and I was digging it there, too.

What really shines in this novel is the whole Amped technology and the progression and exploration of it. The politics around it was okay, but the fighting and developments were very cool. Maybe it's not enough to hang a whole novel on, and I really could have enjoyed this better with a more original plot, but I still had a good time and I'm glad I read it. :)

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Folded World (A Dirge for Prester John, #2)The Folded World by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Again, as with the previous book, it's almost impossible to describe the events taking place here or giving real justice to its in-depth exploration of God, innocence, war, and love.

However, I can point to the mythical land of medieval beasts that Prester John converts to Christianity, the events of the first book that make John their king, how he becomes immortal, loves, has a family, and how all these beasts just humor him good-naturedly. They're Edenic and this magical land is pretty much Eden already.

But then we get a call to arms to save the Seat of the Holy Roman Empire against the Saracens and who raises the flag, along with all the innocent immortals who may or may not be angels? John Prester.

It's simple in the way I say it, but believe me, there's nothing simple going on inside the pages. We've got multiple PoVs... from John, his immortal and monstrous wife, and a famous explorer on the outside. They all have their own concerns and takes on reality and it's truly fascinating to behold.

Valente does no less than build a cosmos, a philosophy of living, of learning, and of loss of innocence on a grand scale. We are caught in traps of our own devising and we love with pure grace and we discover that we've changed too much to ever come back. It's really beautiful.

However, my personal enjoyment beyond the outright appreciation was kinda lacking. I can absolutely love what she tries to accomplish here and really get thrilled by the complex scaffolding of the chapters and structure and execution, her love of the language and the wordcraft, but overall, I wasn't personally awed by the story or the message. I can admit that I was (and am) awed by Valente's writing.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

The Habitation of the Blessed (A Dirge for Prester John, #1)The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most, if not all, attempts to render this book into something more than just a coherent seedling of the tale and not the tale itself is doomed before it even begins.

As of the tale of Prester John, read from a book that sprouted up from a book tree only to rot even as it is read, I'm lost in a welter of sensations and presentiments and, if the later parts are to be judged higher than the former, I'm forced to call this a supreme work of the imagination.

Only, it's also very firmly rooted in Medieval classics that require no modern quirks of plot or theme, rather, a dedication to getting the thoughts out in whatever shape or form the author deems fit.

It's pretty awesome and quite like any of the early classics I've enjoyed that like to meander and get to their point in their own way in their own time, and this is what happens in spades.

We see this tale from multiple views and worldviews, from modern Enlightenment to the Medieval mindset trying to force reality into a Christian box to the view of angels (though they would deny it) and demons (of which there is no proof).

Fascinating and quite frustrating is one way of putting this book. One must experience it and suffer through its turns in turn, on the hope of being planted or eating a black leaf or of living forever and changing lives in a pleasant fiction of lottery.

Clever and unique and firmly rooted in a classical style, it is, nonetheless, a superb work of the imagination and it fleshes out some of the weirdest vagaries of history. I did imagine, several times as I read this, that I was going to be bombarded with Christian sentiments very much in the tune of Prester John, but amusingly enough, poor John was stymied repeatedly and was, in the end, defeated by the Eden he was set to convert. :)

This is a tiny spoiler for those who might be turned off by their own presentiments. :) For me? I thought it had heart and soul.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Robogenesis (Robopocalypse, #2)Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

War. War never changes.

Wait a sec. This is almost like that, but grittier and uglier and the tiny, tiny pieces of hope or light that keep these shattered remnants of minds, whether human, hybrid, or robot alive are well below the threshold of survivability.

That is... unless you're a MACHINE. Um. Yeah. Well, this is all about the blurring of the lines between what is human and what is robot. A total transhumanist war riding on the entrails of the decimation of humanity, where the only people who are left are either self-modified, force-modified, or just plain lucky beyond any conceivability.

Archos 14 is all about life, after all. He sees our value as a species and has only the best ideals in mind for us, which is why he's been busy building a hybrid army to support his cause against the black steed of pain and death, his earlier super-AI incarnation. Aryat Shah, R8. Revision 8... who's just bugshit crazy and anyone's definition of the antichrist.

I can't believe what had become of the Gray Horse Army. All my favorite characters.

Well, war changes everything, doesn't it? Just wow.

The most fascinating parts of this novel are not the straight plot... it's the shifting boundaries and the cleanup of the New War from the previous novel. It's the redefining of what it means to be alive and intelligent and the fact that everyone, even the supermassive brains of the AIs are, in the end, not much different than the rest of us. All my attention was focused on the subtleties, but don't let me mislead you any, here.

This is just as bloody and dire and disturbing as the previous novel that decimated humanity and changed us all into slaves, monsters, or victims. It's just the shifting lines that's any different. :)

In the end, though, I'm truly fascinated by the plethora of ideas and disturbing imageries. It feels like a nightmare that no one can ever wake up from again.

This is not your granddaddy's cautionary tale of AI's run amok.

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Robopocalypse (Robopocalypse, #1)Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm pretty enthusiastic about this one. A lot has to happen to bring about the downfall of mankind and have all the people become transhuman experiments or to just become so much meat. Morever, it takes a lot of skill to make it mean something, and the author has an uphill battle.

Think War of the Worlds or any number of branching sequels by various authors and you'll know what I mean. It's hard to write a short novel and have this much scope, but Wilson manages to write some really memorable characters. A little girl with robot eyes being a superhero of the resistance? Matilda, you're awesome. 9O2? A freeborn robot and free of the life-obsessed monstrosity of version 14? Brilliant.

Best of all, I love to see the downfall of humanity, the concentration camps, the modifications on both sides of the human camp, whether forced or forced-by-necessity, just to keep up with the hell of a long and nasty conflict.

Gray Horse? OMG. I love these guys. It's a long, hard, war, and they keep modding themselves to keep up with the horror of it. I loved seeing them lose more and more of what we'd deem humanity, but to them are just the necessities of winning the battle for the whole future of mankind. There's practically no one left at that point. It's more than dire. It's hell on earth.

A lot of people liken then is to World War Z and there are some similarities, of course, but in a few significant ways, I liked this better. Robopocalypse isn't an epistolary novel, for one. It's a straight story with some epistolary moments, excerpts, and recountings. The characters we stay with are with us for very good story progression reasons, and the ones who get the most face-time are brilliant heroes in their own right.

Even so, this is, however, still a relatively short novel with many players, including our big bad AI, and we have a pretty nearly unlimited view of the entire stage of the war. I'm not going to say that I don't see where it might have had some improvements, but on the whole, I was freakishly impressed and thrilled by the scope, the epic horror of it, and the fact that it fired my imagination and it kept me enthralled by its sheer panoramic action.

Hats off. This is some serious SF beauty here, doing a much better job than the terminator movies at drawing us in with the scope or the importance, minus all the time travel crap. This is the end of the world, folks. :)

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Friday, September 15, 2017

BorneBorne by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is probably going to be one of those times where I rail against the universe and popularity norms because this novel is an exemplary piece of imaginative fiction that goes well above and beyond the call of any duty to amaze, wonder, and offer up a meal of monstrously epic proportions.

First, I should say that no matter how much I loved the weirdness and the atmosphere of VanderMeer's previous trilogy, nothing quite prepared me for just how good this was going to be. In fact, if I didn't already have an ultimate favorite for the year's best SF already, I'd be pushing this one to the fore. But that's not going to stop me from nominating it for the Hugo, mind you. :)


It's deceptively simple and very engaging at first, but as life and growth become a bit more complicated, as it always seems to get, or when your lover starts getting jealous of your rescued intelligent abandoned biotech creature, then you have to make a few decisions.

Add that to the fact that this whole world is a brilliant biopunk nightmare dystopia where most people have died and minnows are alcoholic and a gigantic bear eclipses the night, dropping monsters and salvageable biotech down onto the broken city, and we've got ourselves a recipe for a piece of imagination that will rival most books anywhere. Add to this a very wonderful and generous dose of wit and charm, delightful characterizations and dialogues between Rachael, Wick, and our loveable ubermonster, Borne, and I'm shot over the moon.

The devil is in the details, of course, and there are enough details for any fan of Geoff Ryman, early Greg Bear, and the more recent Robert Jackson Bennett.

So what's my complaint, again? The fact that I love this so much? No, of course not... it's the fact that it's WEIRD.

I love weird! I love it to freaking death! I live for weird! And it's a weird that rides on the coattails of originality, too!

I mean, sure, we've seen a lot of oddball and screwy (read cute) biotech monstrosities in the world of fiction, from Heinlein to cartoon shows, but few will do as smooth a job of turning an ubermonster into a delightful child to be raised, who never needs to poop or pee, and which focuses all its energies on what it means to be a person when there's no such "thing" left in this world.

At least, of course, until it all goes wrong... or what that means to the rest of the city, Rachel and Wick's relationship or the fact a series of godzilla-like battles will rage across the world.

Pretty, no?

Yeah, this is the good shit, man. This is the stuff I live for. Now if only I could get everyone else in the world to see this my way. :)

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

ArcadiaArcadia by Iain Pears
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are so many ways I'm tempted to tackle this review, nearly as many ways as there is to read this novel, and that's not a bad thing. Indeed, it means that there's so much going on in here that I simply want to keep talking about.

I could simply say that I was delighted and I can continue to be enthusiastic about this novel for ages, but instead I'll try a few of my ideas out, perhaps calling it the Cloud Atlas that's better than Cloud Atlas, pulling together a narrative that is not only interesting but actually makes a lot of sense in the final pull-through, unlike Mitchell's rather overhyped (mainstream) SF.

Indeed, Pears points us right at potential problems and says, hey, look at this, I'm going meta, but rather than just dancing around the issue, I'm going to give you background, reason, plot development, and even more foundation as to WHY this meta is not only necessary... but why it is delightful to the crafting of the entire tale. And it is. Very much so.

Because what we've got is a fine literary blending of the key and core beauties of what made up pastoral literature back in its heyday, its beauty, its undercurrents of politics, its transpositions of topics both obvious and subtle, with what turns out to be a detailed historical spy novel couched within the omnipresent and omniscient black machine of a dystopian future society getting caught up in the potential nightmare of having just discovered time-travel.

So let's look at this: pastoral, historical spy fiction, hard-SF.

Come on. Who can't appreciate this? It's not only literary... it's beautifully drawn and interesting, with great characters, and an inherent time-travel potential paradox tragedy that threatens to destroy all universes. I'm not joking. This is the kind of thing I live for. And you know what's great? It takes its time, showing the wonder and the beauty of all the things we should care about or hate, even as we slowly realize just how much is at stake. It just gets worse because we're in the slowly boiling pot, getting to know everyone and everything as if we just don't need to worry about speed.

And we don't. This isn't a plot-driven novel. Or rather, it is a plot-driven novel just so long as you are a spider placing a rather large web, creating outer circles along different characters and settings and slowly moving inward until a razor-like focus pinpoints the little monster of a fly threatening to unravel the entire web. And by then you're invested in that web. :)

As for characters, I really enjoyed them all, but the ones I really focused on was Angela and Lytten. We could say that Lytten is the main Main Character, even if he's the unconscious spider, but I have to make an addendum to my estimation and point the Main Character finger fully at Rosalind, the inestimable and glorious pastoral fairy queen, the most perfect of Shakespeare's women... otherwise known as that mischievous kid next door who sometimes takes care of Lytten's fat cat.

What a surprise.

As for the SF parts, all of which usually get my engines moving, I rather enjoyed this take on time travel. It really kicks the legs out on a lot of the paradoxical struts and mainstays of the physics and makes for a really cool tale.

Am I reminded of Heinlein's Number of the Beast? Maybe. And as for all you people who love to see your favorite works of the imagination come to life, you're in for a sweet ride, too. This one caught me, too.

I will be rather sad if this book doesn't eventually get the kind of cult-recognition it deserves. Remember, even Dune went pretty much unrecognized for five years before the cult following blew it out of the water. This isn't the same kind of book, mind you, but it really needs that cult following. It's clever, complicated, literary, very imaginative, and its blurb doesn't come close to doing it any justice at all.

Why aren't you reading it???

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sourcery (Discworld, #5; Rincewind #3)Sourcery by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is going to sound rather critical despite my rating, but I feel like I ought to be rather honest. The basic over-story is pretty good, as is the action and most of the humor, but there was still swaths of text that felt like it was trying too hard.

More funny, more witty, more like Color of Magic than Color of Magic. It wasn't just Rincewind, who I always loved. Rincewind reminds me of Schmendrick from LeGuin's Last Unicorn, only he really doesn't have any magic at all. Ever. And yet, his whose sense of identity and action is still totally in line with being a wizard, and he even puts everything on the line for it. I like that.

I even liked Nijel the Barbarian and Conina the Hairdresser and the Sapient Pearwood Chest is always a delight, but other than a good smattering of good scenes with all of them, I kept stopping the book and wondering if it would ever get on with it.

The adventure seemed good, but it was really focused on the zingers just a tad too much and I got tired of them. Isn't that odd?

Even so, it was mostly pretty awesome as Pratchett usually is. :)

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Intruder (Foreigner, #13)Intruder by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hooked from start to finish. This series is consistently awesome and even more so when guns aren't blazing.

What do I mean?

It's all about the politics.

One of my simmering complaints of the first 12 books in the series, with perhaps an exception of the first, was that Tabini, the leader of the Association and Bren's supposedly staunchest ally and supporter, is generally off the stage. We get plenty of all of the other factions and relatives, not to mention his fantastic grandmother or his own son who gets a PoV in the last trilogy, but very little is ever truly revealed about Tabini himself. He always shows up late in the story or near the opening and then things go to hell and he's off doing leader stuff.

That didn't really bother me all that much until now, just when his reveals and his unburdening to Bren and his family's woes took the forefront and I was left breathless for more.

Nope. Not a gunshot fired. Maybe some ruined curtains and stains on the floor, but no guns fired.

And yet this was one one of my favorites in the series. The politics is rife and ripe throughout, always simmering hotly below the surface. So many situations and histories are meant to be questioned and the whole shadow war and the civil war is cast into a new light. I was thrilled!

Of course, a certain infelicitous eight is getting better, on the whole, but as anyone knows, if you give that kid an inch, he'll use it to tie a knot around his neck. Very amusing. What a monkey. :)

All the other reveals make this book fantastic and now we see the heart of all the conflicts. Pretty amazing. :)

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Cold CounselCold Counsel by Chris Sharp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a lot of fun. It harkens back to the days of Sword and Sorcery with Conan raising his axe and revenging himself, only this one takes a full slant of the tale.

He's a troll. A troll hero, growing up with a needle-teethed hag who's been training him to be a whirlwind of destruction from his birth following the obliteration of his tribe.

The best part is, we never have to deal with those pesky humans. We've got goblins galore, all of whom are fun and interesting and colorful, PoV's that simultaneously create a legend out of Slug the Troll or taking up the adventure for multiple fun reasons, with some memorable dialogue.

What's best is the action. This is all about the action. That's not to say we don't get a lot of PoV's and reasons why peeps are doing their thing because we do, but most importantly, it's all about the adventure.

Sword and Sorcery isn't dead. It's just become strange. :)

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BrimstoneBrimstone by Cherie Priest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my fourth novel by Cherie Priest and I'm pretty much blown away by it.

The ones I read before were all steampunk and while I really did like them, I grew out of interest in them. Luckily, Priest wrote another period piece taking place after the First World War.

The two main characters, Tomas and Alice, revolve around each other but for a very non-romantic reason. Tomas lost his wife to the Spanish Flu and he suffers shell-shock from his experiences with a flamethrower in the war, the horrific images of it. Alice is a clairvoyant moving to a town filled with clairvoyants gathering together for safety, but she, too, is haunted by flame.

What surprised me the most was that this was, at its core, a horror novel. All the build up and focus on trying to keep things together in the normal world was punctuated by flame, flame, flame. I loved it. I was thrilled by it.

The core, however, was always about love, loss, and hate. The story was pretty fantastic and universal and interesting. It's more window dressing, the fact that it's set in post-WWI. :)

I have nothing but good things to say about this novel. :) It left a very fine taste in my mouth. Delightful. :)

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)All Systems Red by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I heard the premise I expected a light robot killer story from the PoV from the robot. Probably a PI mystery kind of thing because that seems to be pretty hot right now. I can rattle off a handful of titles like this right now.

So. What did I get? A fun and light robot murderer who hacks herself to have free will and she stops murdering to watch SF sitcoms instead. :)

Honestly, that's pretty cool. Yeah, her official bruiser job is still there but her mechanical heart isn't really into it. Who can blame her? It's pretty boring until she finds that she really wants to protect people after all.

The plot's fairly simple, the prose is light, and the premise rolls right along. It's mystery fluff with a hard SF chassis. Just what the engineer ordered.

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The Weird of the White Wolf (The Elric Saga, #3)The Weird of the White Wolf by Michael Moorcock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These shorts and novellas almost all revolve around Elric, the tormented anti-hero that sits in the palm of Chaos thanks to his intelligent and willful sword Stormbringer.

As sword and sorcery stories go, this one really stands out. It's not so much Conan as it is straddling the line between shifting realities and the world, wanting to be free of the fate of the Champion of Chaos while being the penultimate brooder with unimaginable powers, seeking peace at any cost.

Whenever I think of Elric, I think of the ultimate archetype, and there's a lot to point at to prove it. The writer walks the careful line of making him and his quest larger than life, full of magic and conquest, sea battles, monster battles, and even going so far as to open the book of life, as stolen by the greatest necromancer... only to have all answers crumble before him.

Chaos and Law are the maelstroms that Elric traverses, and even though the theme is very much done and done again even in this cycle, the quest is always the thing. We're always meant to come away with the same conclusions as Elric, the great and evil Elric, deciding to give the world the misery it so seems to desire.

Pretty powerful stuff, really, and these really should be placed in their proper time, the sixties and seventies, introducing us to the template to one of the greatest tragic heroes and sometimes horrendous villains.

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The Human Division (Old Man's War, #5)The Human Division by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit I stopped reading the series for years after I realized that this installment was a serialized novel. I just stopped. I wanted full novels and I got pissy.

Well, fortunately, I got over it. Mostly because I have friends in buddy reads who made me feel guilty as hell. But even more, I have a lot of fond memories for the series as a whole and I think I may have been plain WRONG.

Yeah. So. Eating crow now.

These are a bunch of great short stories here that don't feel all the connected at first but wind up being very connected, indeed. All the events take place after the Colonies and Earth part company, and while not all characters follow along within these thirteen stories, a few do. Wilson, for one, was someone I was always very happy to see. Even if he does like to electrocute dogs. :) That one was very funny.

And while a lot of these had the light Scalzi humor I've grown to love, not all were light. Some were very sad. All of them were very interesting.

Not all novelists can write short stories, but Scalzi is pretty fantastic at it... He's able to make tight tales that are perfectly standalone that also tie in perfectly to make a complete work that, read together, feels like a complete novel with thirteen chapters. Color me impressed.

I'm fully back on track to read the rest of this series and I'm hitting myself for taking so long.

This universe is fascinating.

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Castle of Crossed DestiniesThe Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ah, to be drunk with a pack of tarot cards.

Or was it speed? Not sure. It could be PCP. But whatever the drug, this collection of short stories surrounding the obvious use of tarot cards to write stories or re-write common tales or to lay down the structure of alchemy or to just have a plain ole good time is a concept I can love in pure concept terms, and do, but just how much did I love this exact work?

Um. Well. Some parts were fun and funny and the deep story concepts were really rather cool, but getting deep into any of it except for the stories we already know by heart was a real pain. I kinda felt like we were playing with little green interchangeable army men one moment and then we were having an intellectual discussion about high alchemical concepts and symbolism and the structure of the soul versus the medium in which we use it and its inversion, as seen with Doctor Faustus. (As in creating philosopher's gold within one's soul as the medium versus using the soul as a coin to create philosopher's gold directly, with the obvious fail associated with it.)

Of course, if that's too complicated to enjoy, then I'd recommend avoiding this book because that was just a tiny, tiny part. The rest seems to be a random shuffle and subsequent interpretation.

Fun, in a way, but oddly dissatisfying.

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The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Who likes naked Vikings? Raise your hand!

I'm of two minds on this book. On the one hand, there are quite a few great ideas with the complications of surrounding witches with a humungous incompetent bureaucratic machine, especially when it turns out that they can do a lot of time travel. Not only that, but I was a huge fan of the acronyms and the lingo-speak, especially when a costume party gets told as if it's a major military-op or when a certain Lay of Wal-Mart is written. I was even mightily surprised at how much I enjoyed the day-to-day operations of D.O.D.O. as the entire bureaucratic nightmare went on op after op in the past, but what really stole the show was the labyrinthine plot that underlay the fabric of time and finance. Or chronofinance. Or let's just call them Fuggers and be done with it. :)

What didn't I like so much?

Well, it's not that I actually hated anything about this book, but the quality of the wit within the conversations was lacking for what should have been a straight satire/sf/fantasy full of half-successful bumbling alphabet-soup American agencies as they get into trouble with witches. The running gags could have been a lot more subtle. I felt like the intention behind this novel was to be more accessible to just about everyone, to have realistic everyday MC's with normal human failings and urges, to feel warm amidst all these cool ideas and the basic incompetence-porn of the bureaucracy, but my investment in Mel or Tristan wasn't that steep. I found myself treating the whole organization as the main character and in that regards, I had a great time. The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O kinda gave it away. Who's the main character? D.O.D.O, of course. :)

Things really got interesting for me when we were in the minutia of the time-travel and the revealing of the strands of plots within plots that span over centuries, and I had a great time with all of that.

I think this novel is a hit and miss. As a satire, it tries a bit too hard, as a character novel, it lacks. As an idea novel, it starts with a decent premise and then it gets quite complicated and that eventually tickled me to death. Certain scenes were brilliant and laugh out loud funny.

But I've read a lot of time-travel books. I've even read a lot of time-travel-with-witches books. This one is only average.

That's not to say I didn't have a good time, though! Because I did! I just wouldn't dare rank this all that high among them.

Unfortunately, by the end, I didn't think this was quite as good as Stephenson's Reamde and that happened to be my least favorite of his works. (I'm a huge fanboy, too.) I can't say anything about Nicole Galland because this was the first of hers that I've read.

If I had to make a guess, though, the plot, the acronyms, and the nicely weird stuff as all Neal. I could be wrong. Probably am. But those felt like him. :)

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Skull Throne (Demon Cycle, #4)The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm very pleased with this one, maybe even a bit more than the previous two novels. There's quite a bit of court intrigue and Leesha and Rojer are everywhere. I admit to liking those bits a lot more than the whole Krasia bits, but upon a reread I might change my mind.

I'm honestly amazed at just how much magic, fighting, magic fighting, and just how much plain good story there is in-between. It never gets boring at all, and here's the interesting trick: Arlen his new best friend and his promised are BARELY in the book.

Far from being an issue, these beastly characters spice up the text when they show up and fling the rest of the world into a demon-cored world, proving to everyone else that it's time to stand up and fight.

Of course, with all these new warded weapons and a truly delightful coinage, no one said they should stop fighting each other.

WAIT!!! Fight the demons, core-you!

War. There's a lot of great war stuff here. I'm usually annoyed with that kind of thing, but I was totally hooked this time. I'm invested in all these characters big time. Even the new ones are interesting as hell. (Thanks, in part, to having read the novella that precedes this.)

But how do I like this? How much do I love this series?

I'd tell you, but the moment I touched sunlight, I'd burst into flames. I've got a demonic interest in this. :)

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Daylight War (Demon Cycle, #3)The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some seriously good epic-fantasy going on here.

Like the previous novel, we spend a lot of time in the Krasian camp, only this time it's all from the PoV of Inevera, and I can't complain. Getting the PoV's of the women in this benighted world is a real treat especially since it's so damn dire and ugly. Feeling the strain and drive against the ugliness is damn welcome, even if it's small potatoes with only a few big hints of change or possible change.

That being said, we don't remain there. We get The Deliverer's wife, a big piece of the Deliverer, and the anti-Deliverer, Arlen, sure enough. Mixing the Dukedom and the Krasians is what the Daylight War is all about, but the war is still mainly against the Demons. I'm not saying that war between humans doesn't happen... indeed, by the end, we end up in an epic battle between two Deliverers and I'm nicely wound up and angry how it left off, but I have faith. Cliffhangers are there for a reason and I've been quite happy with the series so far. I have trust.

All told, I'm extremely happy and enthusiastic as hell about this action-packed epic fantasy. So much demon-fighting, so much deep characterization with just a handful of great characters. It's designed perfectly to draw everyone in and I guess I qualify as everyone. It has that certain something that hooks me completely. I can't always or even often say that about most epic fantasies, but I'm totally lost in this series. :)

On to the novella between! Loving it!

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The Desert Spear (Demon Cycle, #2)The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For a full first third of the novel, I had to calm myself down and wonder why so much time and effort was being put into humanizing Jadir, the man who had betrayed Arlen so brutally in the first book, but I eventually got over it. The world is a big place and there have to be burly warriors to defend it. I didn't mind so much how crazily stereotypical Muslims are portrayed here because EVERYONE is heavily stereotyped in these books.

Hell, that's okay simply because it's a really harsh world overrun with demons that come out every single night and people have to be hard and crazy to survive it. If that means going weird cultural directions to taking things to an extreme in order to unify or cow the people, then so be it. This is a fantasy, after all.

That being said, the world-building is pretty fantastic all across the board. The devil is in the details or in this case, the Core, but more importantly, this is a novel all about the people in it. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Arlen and Leesha and the one-time weak Renna play big roles in this book, too, never fear. Arlen revisits his past and there are all kinds of awesomeness here, but what is most surprising is how cool Leesha has become, from a young wise-woman healer to a whirlwind of change to love interest of a certain warrior. Color me surprised! It just goes to show. Trust certain writers to get you there. Have faith. I do, now. :)

But who was the most surprising?

Renna. Meek, oft-abused Renna, subject to so much injustice... and then she's given a real chance. I think this is the point where I go from liking Arlen's martial prowess and his scholarship less and where I start viscerally appreciating him. :)

And, as always, demon fights, demon fights, demon fights. :) Gotta love them. Really over the top cool. :)

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Friday, September 1, 2017

The Warded Man (Demon Cycle, #1)The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm easily super excited about this book and have no reservations about flying through the sequels.


Because we have an immersive epic fantasy world that focuses simply and easily on survival. The world is overrun with demons that pop out of the ground at night and are only held back by drawn or carved wards. Life is hard and harrowing, and if you make a single misstep, you die. The three main characters: Arlen, Leesha, and Rojen, are given delightful treatment in this world, from their childhoods to the heroic adults that they become.

Make no mistake, though, this is an origin story, building step by step to create the fabled Warded Man, the man who can step into armies of demons and decimate them all by himself.

For most of this book, no one comes close to having this ability, but that's the main joy in reading origin stories. We love to see them level up and discover that they're beast. :)

So yeah, I'm happy as hell and very satisfied with everything I've read here. I can almost see Arlen in that old video game Torment, picking up new tattoos that make him super-strong with each new design. Of course, we have to round out our characters, too, to make the final payoff all the more believable, and honestly, I thought it was a blast.

If I was going to complain about anything, however, it would have to be the heavy focus on sex... rather clich├ęd and black and white with no real growth between extremes. It makes for vivid characters, yes, but definitely not subtle ones, and it's rather interesting to see that in a novel that otherwise has a lot of great and subtle features in the world-building, the magic system, and the main characters themselves.

It's not a dealbreaker by any means, but it did annoy me.

As for the build and the payoff, I absolutely had a fantastic time, though. :)

Total action movie with a mix of kung-fu and demon slaying. :)

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