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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Titan (Gaea, #1)Titan by John Varley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Titan is a rather surprising and accomplished find among ANY SF collection. There's a lot of imagination and world-building stuffed in these pages. I'd say it's better than Farmer's Riverworld series, but since I hadn't read them all, I can't say for sure.

Here are the really cool bits: Varley literally builds a world with a vast intelligence playing god within it. I was reminded of Bear's Eon at first until I realized that Titan came first and the whole tunnel of alternate dimensions doesn't show in Titan, either. :)

BUT when it comes to sheer adventure and exploration and learning about the modified intelligent creatures within it, Titan wins the contest hands down. I was already hooked by the Saturn expedition even with the whole 70's sex focus (which got old pretty quick), but everything else surrounding it, even the cocaine addiction, did wonders for getting my interest high. Cirocco Jones is a rather interesting female captain. After things go to hell and the strangeness begins, I'm all behind the rest of the novel.


I'm of two minds about the end. One part of me was all nuts over the SF and Fantasy homages. I really got all giddy over the way Varley incorporated everything and the twist at the end were just so delicious that it turned this damn solid worldbuilding hard-SF novel into a popcorn read.

And the very same twist and incorporation of nerdiness kinda threw me for a loop.

I almost wanted more mystery and a much more complicated reveal rather than a gimmie *oh that's cool* crowdpleaser. There was already so much going on. It almost feels cheap.

And yet, I loved it and it makes me yearn for the next book! Oh, the conflict.

Even so, everything about this was pretty jaw-dropping and gorgeous and the whole idea is made all the more delicious because it's fully realized and focused. It has more reveals than Rama, more intelligent life than Eon, and enough nerdy entertainment to fill three books of lesser quality. :)

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Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 on Goodreads2017 on Goodreads by Various
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really shouldn't be scared of year-end-reviews, but it's 2017. There's plenty to be afraid of: Presidents, deaths of heroes, the One Ring to Rule Them All and In The Darkness Bind Them... well, you get the idea... BUT...

The good news is: good books ain't a part of that fear. ;)

On to my absof***ingfavorite picks. :)

Early in the year, I was thrilled by a re-read of Ada Palmer's Too Like the Lightning and the sequel Seven Surrenders. Near the end of the year, I'm just as thrilled or even more thrilled by the third book, The Will To Battle. These are super smart and philosophical and hard SF. I am very impressed with these mind-rich wildly entertaining rides. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but they stand out as classics of literature and much more than just interesting SF. They're deep, imaginative, extremely well written, political, theological, and especially ethical. :)

Peter Newman's Vagrant series continues to thrill with Epic fantasy mashing up with hard SF, demons running rampant on a futuristic, much-changed world. Malice and The Seven continued to amaze with quality writing and especially the fantastic ride of pure gory imagination.

Alan Moore's Jerusalem was a mind-trip and a half and super fun and confusing and creative as all hell. It's going to require about four or five reads.

Peter V. Brett's Demon Cycle, the whole damn thing, was a real blast. It's a good year for demons walking the Earth, but some are bigger and brighter and more deadly and overpowered than others. :) This one was wildly satisfying.

Brandon Sanderson's huge epic trilogy is even better on the re-read and the new third book was absolutely brilliant.

The conclusion to Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy was even more brilliant. :)

The latest book in the duo's James S. A. Corey's Expanse, Persepolis Rising was a real surprise and an even huge blast. Big action. :)

I've read a lot of other great books, too. Much more than I can really do justice here, but I can name a bunch of authors, like Logan Keys, Pauline West, and Drew Cordell who are like heroes to me. :)

And then there's also all my old favorites like Charley Stross, C. J. Cherryh, and Alastair Reynolds. And a 15th re-read of Dune, of course.

There are new standby favorites, too, like Jodi Taylor, Daniel Wilson, Dennis E. Taylor, and Daniel Suarez.

And of course, I'd be rather stupid not to mention that I'm doing a lot of writing, myself. I've finished three books. Wrote approximately 210 thousand words this year, including reviews. :) It's a calling. :)

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Legacy of the Demon (Kara Gillian, #8)Legacy of the Demon by Diana Rowland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is definitely a series for you if you love:

A: Insane powerups
B: Enormous changes in the world thanks in part to the efforts or mess-ups surrounding the characters we know and love and those we love to hate.
C: Hybrid UF/Epic Fantasy.

Much has been said about how this series starts off as a cool UF with a cop who can summon demons and how it becomes an epic nightmare between the demon world and Earth and now the Core with immense magical and racial reveals. It starts out usual and then becomes something really big, with Kara Gillian leading the defensive charge. Add a war between Demon Lords and the WORSE enemy from the Core and we have the stakes all the way up to utter destruction of both the Earth AND the beautiful Demon World. (Yeah, I know, it's beautiful. Get over it. ;)

Kara's abilities are on par with those of Demon Lords now and most of that is thanks to the capture and harnessing of the jerk that tried to turn her into a meat puppet. I really enjoyed how she grew as a person, too, while having her enemies in her power. She didn't succumb to a rage-filled torturesque montage no matter how much we as readers *MIGHT* have enjoyed that. :)

And as for action and worry and the twists and turns of WAR, the plot was fascinating and dire. Rifts opening up all over the world with demons pouring through is kinda bad, after all. The end is cool as shit.

My only complaint is probably a personal one. Maybe it's a lazy thing. But there's a lot of names that start with Z and enough weird demon names throughout the text as to give me a minor headache trying to sort them all out and keep the connection. I can understand the need for a big cast of characters when we're dealing with an incursion on a massive scale, but things like this can annoy to the point it pulls me right out of the tale. Fortunately, it's not bad enough to make me lose any real threads, but it is a bit of a WTF moment unless you're actually good at long lists of names along the line of the Iliad. :)

Regardless, the tale always focuses on Kara and keeping her as an anchor was an excellent call. I had a great time with the entire novel and I'm astounded at just how many changes have come over the worlds. War-torn Earth, indeed, with gigantic monstrosities lumbering across cities. Hell ya! Wooooooo! :)

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Moon Maze Game (Dream Park #4)The Moon Maze Game by Larry Niven
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Back forever ago, I used to rave about the Dream Park books. They were everything I imagined good imaginative fiction ought to be when it's right next door to us but catering big time to the whole gamer crowd that's out there.

What I mean is it's a SF and Fantasy fan's dream, mixed with LARPing and such a huge budget. Before, we were dealing with a fantasy theme park pulling out all the stops for the Princess of Mars or Voodoo mysteries and mixing it all with high-tech hijinx and murder and real mystery all along. This is well before the days of Ready Player One and even before Tad Williams' Otherland series.

I really wanted to like visiting the real Moon and having an all-out Wellsian adventure, adding a total steampunkian theme with magic users, thieves, and princes... and because this takes place at a much later date than the other Dream Parks, we're actually having the full-blown adventure ON the moon.

Cool, right? LARP it up with full props and live cameras and a world betting on your death, and don't forget the massive rewards and sponsorships!

Well, um... maybe I never got into the actual characters in this one. I liked the twists and turns in the overall plot and I have no issues with crossover books as long as the excitement is high, but the people I actually needed to root for were kinda lacking. There might have been a few other issues, too, but that's the big one for me.

Even so, there was a ton of cool action and surprises and as a straight adventure, it hits all the right geek buttons, classic SF buttons, and modern gamer buttons. This totally panders to us. :) It doesn't save the novel from the issues I brought up, but it did keep me reading with a good deal of interest. That's not all that bad. :)

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Now Wait for Last YearNow Wait for Last Year by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I treated myself to a rather more obscure PKD book to end out the year. I've always loved just how wonky his works can get, but here's the really interesting aspect of Horselover Fat's writing: it's never really wonky.

In fact, it has heart. Especially when that heart is breaking, the story is still devoted to some of those most human questions: how to go on when life is hard.

The old saying, "All's fair in love and war" holds doubly true here. Earth is caught in a conflict between two factions of aliens and we've sided with the humanoid types and have been stuck in a tug of war for an awfully long time. The main character, a doctor named Sweetscent, is caught in a difficult marriage, a conflict between duty and hate and tons of difficult questions. He's at war with himself just as much as the human race can't seem to find a way out of the interstellar war.

Enter the drug JJ-180, highly addictive and damaging, but happens to have some serious temporal properties. Namely, it allows you to jump years ahead in time to see the world as it will be. Unfortunately, it's much worse than crack, too, and withdrawal is terminal in days without another dose.

It turns out that it is not only a manufactured drug designed to decimate a populace, but it has the added ability to spawn one's consciousness and self in alternate realities. Add the conflicts of the war efforts and some sneaky back-and-forths with world-lines, and we've got a dual story of the Earth President's life and Earth's flailing status in the war and Sweetscent's attempts to make his own life better as alternate versions of the drug sends him both forward and back in time, spawning alternate versions of everything, as he tries to fix or break his marriage.

The novel is actually fun as hell and thought-provoking and it holds up really damn well. It comes out of Phil's heavily productive mid-sixties SF adventure period, riding close on the heels of his Hugo for Man in the High Castle. It's polished, full of great ideas, action, and best of all, the kinds of hard questions about living through bad relationships that he has a lot of experience with.

Suicide is a big one. So is weakness and sliding and emotional abuse and power dominance games in relationships. I remember his take on all that across so many of his novels. It's hard and it's honest and it is also beautiful even if it's difficult. It's messy. Like war.

But it also feels genuine.

I won't say this is my favorite PKD novel, by a long shot, but it's definitely worth the read and it's still a sight better than most SF out there. :)

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Plague of Giants (Seven Kennings, #1)A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm actually rather impressed by the first Seven Kennings novel and I'm certain I'm going to be anxious to read the rest... but why?

That's pretty easy, actually. Seven nations and several races of giants and regular humans trying to get along in a pretty close approximation of Vikings and Druids, with light magic, no gods, and many peoples just trying to do their damn best with the whole survival thing and understanding their world.

We get PoVs from the peoples of both the Giants and the Humans and it's the normal kind of thing that makes them go to war. Population migration, settlements without permission, misunderstandings, pride, and a whole gamut of impressive and realistic reasons that are often skimmed or just plain ignored in Epic Fantasies of this caliber.

The magic is certainly not overpowered, either, but even so, big things can be accomplished with it. Unfortunately, the old idea (and disadvantage) of using magic means that it drains your life. Fast. It's a good balance and it even feels real. A few of the more interesting Kennings (types of magic) range from water, fire, illusion, animal calling, and arbor magic.

Just imagine Bards and Skalds and a mix of Icelandic and Germanic peoples, with Dirges, bonfires, and the whole feel of Vinland mixed with the Druidic order, Volcanic peoples, and the drive to find and understand the missing Kennings, the far-off lands, the Abyss that separates nations... and you'll get a very nice feel for this book. :)

I really had a good time. Hearne has always stood out in my mind for his quicksilver grasp of mythology and history and his ability to weave such into pretty awesome stories. His Iron Druid novels are some of my favorite UFs. He turns around his knowledge and weaves a tapestry of many cool cultures and lands rather than anchoring them all in individuals like he did in the UF. He's building a broad mythology here from scratch and the hints that all the Kennings will become ONE is scary.

It almost feels like it could either be a combining, a synthesis, or the complete eradication of all but one or the complete death of magic across the board. The way that these nations rely so heavily on the Kennings, however, means that we can probably expect genocides and shifting alliances, a complicated battle royale of races and peoples as interesting as you please.

This author has my trust. I'm really looking forward to how this will pan out. :)

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Lot Like Christmas: StoriesA Lot Like Christmas: Stories by Connie Willis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've always been a big fan of Connie Willis and so I couldn't really find any fault in reading an actual Christmas story (or stories) EVEN on XMAS if it was coming from her. Sometimes you've simply got to pick your battles, and Connie Willis is like the John Mclaine of Xmas Stories.

I'm not saying she strangles Xmas with a chain or uses wildly inappropriate western sayings. I mean, she could, I'm sure, but that isn't what happens here. She might get a bit angry at It's a Wonderful Life, however, so all these lines do blur.


I suppose the one thing I love most about these is how Connie Willis's storytelling skill is nearly perfect no matter the sub-genre she twists it. I mean, these Xmas stories are all genuinely uplifting while avoiding sentimentality, very critical and humorous in equal amounts, and a great number of them are filled with the dead or futuristic worlds or even a murder mystery involving apes.

Yes, apes. Merry Xmas!

Above all, every one of these stories is easy as hell to read, are down-to-earth, full of fantastic human consequences, and is full to the brim with humor. I won't say that any of them are knock-down brilliant... but in terms of reading a master storyteller who knows her craft and has well-researched probably EVERYTHING about Xmas from stories to movies to poetry from a lifelong obsession, she can't be beat. She covers all the angles, from dark revenge stories to romantic comedies to murder mysteries to time and space traveling Aramaic-speakers to aliens in a hunt for JUST THE RIGHT GREETING to a VERY white Xmas.

And I have to agree with her. It's a Wonderful Life is FLAWED as hell. :)

I never read the other collection of Xmas stories, which might be a blessing in disguise. Even so, there are five new ones in this book. Either way, it doesn't really matter. I can read her stuff all day long. :)

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Empire Games (Empire Games #1)Empire Games by Charles Stross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I put off reading this Stross novel for the weirdest of reasons. I assumed, based on the blurb, (if not the series caption,) that it was part of the Merchant Princes books.

I was right. And I was wrong.

Much time has passed since the events of those Merchant Princes novels. We get to return to Miriam and her beau and her missing child, but best of all, the Merchant Princes are DONE. Revolution and a new government have taken over this alternate timeline, but as with all these Princes, there's a bit of traveling still going on. In fact, there's a lot.

Our America is its comfortable near-police state and it has technological means to travel across alternate worlds thanks to the necessity of protecting itself after that little bit of the destruction of the White House. The other world is trying desperately to learn from the mistakes of all previous revolutions and do it right and smart, avoiding all the pitfalls.

Unfortunately, our America is PARANOID as hell. It's all cold-war with them and this novel is a pretty pure piece of spy action, misunderstandings, lies, and pretty impressive political thought.

It just happens to revolve around neighboring time-lines, impressive world-building, and mysteries that go quite a bit deeper. Such as the old, old America that was technologically advanced but is now dead. Never mind that all our cold-war action is BETWEEN different Americas. :)

I was very impressed. I read all the other Merchant Princes novels and enjoyed them well enough even if I don't really put them on the same level as the rest of Stross's works, but they were fine. This one, however, got me excited about it all once again.

This is the beginning of a new series even if it's an offshoot of the old. I was right and wrong. :)

Fortunately, I don't really think it's all that necessary to read the previous ones to get this. It just helps if you want to know WHERE it all came from. From feudal world-walkers controlling an epic smuggling empire to the revolution that freed a whole people from THAT to a game of empires where both sides can sneak nukes across world-lines. :)

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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Elysium Fire (Prefect Dreyfus Emergency, #2)Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alastair Reynolds returns to the Revelation Space universe with the strongest novel *IMHO* since The Prefect. Of course, this is a direct follow-up to The Prefect.

Look, I know that's kinda a toss out statement, but it's still true. I loved The Prefect because it went wild with tech and even wilder political imagination, glorifying the Glitter Band before it became the Rust Belt. And of course, it was a really awesome mystery that went all out to become a nightmare destroying so much of the beautiful orbiting habitats around Yellowstone. That last book was a near-utopia under siege by a dead girl who had gotten really good with neural architecture and cloud-based systems. It was damn delicious and imaginative and detailed as hell. And the characters were pretty hardcore awesome, too.

Fast forward to an even more accomplished Reynolds with even better characterization, more fluid prose, and dialogue. Add the lingering effects of failed confidence in the Prefects from the previous events, talk of secession by demagogs, and a pretty awesome string of high-tech murders that can be directly linked to the events of other RS novels, and we've got an increasingly harrowing mystery on a shoestring budget even if the high tech gadgets are way beyond anything we've got.

I mean, just look at this tiny list: Beta-level intelligence simulations allowing the dead to keep on living, quick-matter constructs that can become anything just so long as the right price is paid, personal weapons that act like Swiss Army Knives of AI snakes, and a subset of humans who just don't give a crap about what they want to upgrade themselves with.

The mystery is almost the only thing that's normal, and we're dealing with cooked brains and a list of the dead reaching the thousands and it's all being used as political gain.

Really fun novel. Really Hard-SF.

But you know what I love most about this? Reynolds is connecting ALL the Revelation Space novels together even tighter in this one. I'm picking up future events in Chasm City, regular and awesome characters from Reynold's short fiction and the events after everything goes to hell following the Melding Plague and the alien menace, and of course, there's Aurora. I love, love, love Aurora. She's been a mainstay of godlike intelligence in the series and what a personality. :)

A word to the wise: I probably should have re-read The Prefect before picking this up, but it really wasn't that bad. This book was pretty brilliant without needing to revisit the other. BUT I was reminded just how brilliant the other was, too. :)

Another thing: Most of his standalone novels are just that... even if the connections and the timelines are there. The stories are readable in any order you wish. Even this one.

And that being said, Bravo! This really was a fantastic new Reynolds! Easily one of my favorites.

Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC!

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Hellboy, Vol. 9: The Wild Hunt (Hellboy, #9)Hellboy, Vol. 9: The Wild Hunt by Mike Mignola
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one may be the very best of the Hellboy comics I've read. There have been a number of really good ones before, but this one pulls out all the stops and has stopped teasing us about the end of the world.

All this time, Hellboy has been refusing his destiny while always inching ever closer to fulfilling it anyway. Just how many times has he regrown his horns only to break them off again? Let's not forget all the times the demons keep trying to ingratiate themselves in his good graces or ALL the manners of beasties and witches steering him toward the final horrible annihilation of everything.

It's great fun. :)

But now the armies finally getting arrayed and the Wild Hunt is just a presage of all that's to come. I really liked the Arthurian tie-in. It worked really well here.

I can't believe how big the over-arcing story is getting. I'm giddy with excitement. All these other pieces are finally coming together and what first seemed like an episodic series that jumped all over the place has now grown into an epic. Mythology and history and tons of thoughtful storytelling. What more can we ask for?

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Paris AdriftParis Adrift by E.J. Swift
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an utterly delightful time-travel/atmospheric tale of freedom, choice, and Paris.

I was struck by just how descriptive and easy the text flowed, but then I was sucked in to all the different time periods as I drifted through the theater of 1875, from catacombs to bohemians, from Moulin Rouge to Moulin Vert... all the way to 2017 with crowded bars and modern woes... to a dystopian and war-torn future of 2042 that includes time travelers and the ever dreaded and alluring Anomaly in the timestream.

There's a definite and dark cost to time travel, but sometimes the cost is worth it. Sometimes, we don't even know what we're paying for. Such is the problem of free will and choice.

Above all, this novel is a real delight to read. It's easy, it's immersive, and it's very easy to fall for and into the lives of these free-spirited people. Even more than that, it's very easy to fall in love with Paris. It evokes and succeeds in drawing out the beauty, the oppression, and the crazy desperation of the people who live and breathe the world... no matter the time.

For all this, I am quite pleased that it is also an easy read. Freedom shouldn't be oppressive. :)

I'm totally recommending this for all you free-spirits.

And thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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StarlingsStarlings by Jo Walton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was delighted to find out that I could read and enjoy Jo Walton's first short story (and poetry) collection on Netgalley and saving it just in time for xmas. I do that with authors I really enjoy. The fact is, Ms. Walton has taste. Granted, I've only read three of her books before now, with this one making number four, but trust has been earned.

What else should I expect from someone who reads copiously and discerns with great verve?

But then there comes the introduction. She admits to experimenting and learning the short-fic craft and some of these aren't precisely over-practiced. To that, I say, nevermind. :) I'll read and judge based on my gut reactions anyway, and while a good number of them aren't overly fantastic in my opinion, a few stand out well.

It's on these that I'm resting the weight of my enjoyment.

The Panda Coin - The moon, androids, humans, and AIs... a full slice of lives lasting only as long as the coin remains in their possession. It's a great SF twist and I had a great time piecing out the world and feeling the commentary.

Remember the Allosaur - It may be a joke piece like a number of her other smaller works, but this one works best for me. I keep thinking of my favorite Raptor memes. :)

Sleeper - A pretty awesome future dystopia from the focus of a biographer and an AI-simulation of a real person during the early-mid 20th-century heretics (of mild socialism). I think I may have had the best time with this one just because it's so seditious. If only all biographical works could be the spearhead of a revolution, right?

A Burden Shared - I think I prefer this one for its basic SF-concept over the execution, but even that did a great job. Pain-sharing seems to be just the start. I keep thinking about the possible economic slant to it. Walton's take is purely interpersonal, but a whole society that has this is bound to abuse it. Fascinating, either way. :)

Three Shouts on a Hill - This one is an all-out Irish legend turned into a wild mish-mash mythology adventure and placed firmly into a stage production. It's pretty awesome, ranging from Cromwell, the Thunderbird, the Aztecs, Golden apples and underwater dragons, and even King Arthur. It's about tricksters and overwhelming odds and payback. I'd love to see this put on! :)

The poetry in this collection is very decent, too, but beyond that, I'll not say too much. There is an ever-growing field of SF poetry, after all. It's worth browsing. :)

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Candlemoth Book 3: A Twist of FateCandlemoth Book 3: A Twist of Fate by Pauline West
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The end of the previous and the pickup on this novel is shocking and vital. Gotta love those cliffhangers.

It also spices up the tale into something that really defines living in the face of near-death. Nothing says sex better than a brush with death.

And then there's the recovery period, getting oneself back to a bit of equanimity... or maybe it's a bit of gratuitous satisfaction and a payoff for us fair readers... but this is what romance is all about. Tension, release, tension, release. It is never so obvious anywhere as it is with romance. :)

Even so, my wishes were fulfilled. Ry and Lilly forever! :) Payoff. :)

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Candlemoth Volume 2: How To Spend ItCandlemoth Volume 2: How To Spend It by Pauline West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lily, Ry, and Casper.

Honesty here. I don't like Casper. I like artists and he's definitely ticking off all the right artist traits, but Lily can do so much better than hanging around this douche.

Ry's pretty decent. Yeah, he has that whole on again off again thing going on, but this time it's Lily trying to help out her man and the foundation he's trying to save. It's sweet, but it looks like it's doomed.

You know.

Roving hands are defeating all best of intentions! Isn't that always the way?

As always, great writing, steamy scenes, and classic (if very familiar) romance situations. :)

Go away, Casper. Even if you have a few good bits in you, you're not a happy ghost. :)

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Candlemoth: A Holy City RomanceCandlemoth: A Holy City Romance by Pauline West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Sexytimes romance. It's a young thing. It's a waitress versus a rich boy. It's also a triangle because the rich boy tends to be an issue with himself and everyone else. But mainly, it's a steamy romance. :)

Survivor Lily and Playboy Ry circle each other like moths to a candle, but they just can't keep their hands off each other. They really ought to stay far from each other, but you know how this story goes. On again off again, in the meantime, Lily plays out a hazy dream of modeling and with a little luck strikes it big thanks to a friend who wants to be a bit more than just a friend. But this is also the stuff of romance, isn't it?

I can easily say it's pretty damn hot, but what I most appreciate is the high level of writing. I don't usually think of top-notch writing when I think of romance, but quality is quality. And I'm super happy to keep reading any genre that supplies me with great characters, smooth fiction, and rich prose.

I'm also very happy I've got all three books handy because that first one is a bit of a cliffhanger. :)

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library, #1)The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a wild mashup if there ever was one. Just the list of elements is freaking weird and the way it's pulled off makes it a really fast read.

Multidimensional library association, linking texts to fulcrum points across worlds. Check.
Spies and thieves and detectives, a heist novel focused on a book. Check.
Dragons and Fae and chaos necromancers and Library Words that function as Words of Power. Check.
Worlds of magic and worlds of steampunk and worlds of cybernetics and mixtures all in-between. Check.

All these worldbuilding features are great. The potential for really huge blowout effects and stories is enormous. I'd like to say it comes pretty close, too, but for all the potential, it really just reads like a simple heist novel with all the ups and downs and mishaps associated with a heist gone wrong. Repeatedly.

That's not to say the leading character is at fault in any of this. In fact, she's always got her eyes on the prize and puts aside rivalries and other annoyances for the sake of finishing the mission with a noob who is more than he seems in tow and a rival who seems dead set on bringing her down. Our leading lady takes the high road.

It's fun. It reads like a very fine UF that spans all SF and F in potential with a love of literature at its roots.

I may not be squealing about this first novel, but the potential is really there. Chances are, I'm going to start squealing very soon. :)

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Penric's Fox (Penric and Desdemona, #5)Penric's Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Returning to the land of the Five Gods to an earlier point in Penric's life, we're treated to a rather untraditional whodunnit.

This murder isn't just about a sorceress. Her demons are also victims. And where will they go? The funky world of shamanism, of course, with all the problems that encompass. Loss of identity, living one's life out in another's body, etc.

That's bad enough, but there's rather more intrigue and this is a full-fledged mystery.

In some ways, this has a bit more going on than the other Penric novellas, but it's also probably my least favorite. The world-building is top notch and I love Desdemona and Penric, but I suppose I just wasn't feeling it today. *sigh*

Still enjoyable for all that!

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Monday, December 18, 2017

The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy, #3)The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 12/18/17

Much of all the esoteric stuff I loved from the first read was just as enjoyable the second time around, but this time I focused more on the people and the relationships a bit more.

Ben, for example, was something of a mystery and less a bogeyman. I may have gotten a bit annoyed with the babies this time, all the focus on them, but to each their own when it comes to that. And then there was a few slow parts that annoyed me but not by much. There was enough really fantastic stuff going on here, from extra science, from Apolo's discoveries and Diana's hunting for truth, that I never lost interest.

Indeed, it's the full extent of the tale that makes the entire book shine. We've been building on the previous two pretty gloriously and there are very nice carryovers from both as well as tragedies, but it's the final payoff of including everything in the alchemical mixture that makes the final potion work wonders.

I think this UF is probably one of the very best, smartest, and emotional works ever to rise out of the popcorn pile. Indeed, it's more of a serious work of literature. It stands out. BUT only as a trilogy.

Original Review:

I enjoyed this one almost as much as I enjoyed the previous two, but for different reasons.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed it for none of the reasons that I was expecting. Firstly, I enjoy not just symbolism but the symbols themselves. They weren't just blazoning on the page, after all, they were blazoning in my mind. None of it was particularly complicated or ominous, just relevant to the tale in both the obvious ways and the not so obvious ways. I tried looking at the books from the point of view of the symbols, and the tales become as crisp as Christmas Morning. It is really quite nice to have new fiction that can turn alchemy into alchemy.

Secondly, I enjoy themes that speak to the heart of the world and why we're living in it without becoming some broken down biological soup or a bunch of creatures standing around holding hands and singing "we are the world". Sure, a little bit of both happens in the novel, but I noticed something. Life goes on. Life always goes on. The goddess Diana or Artemis always knew this. It's not about hunting or justice, after all. It's also about Apollo who's notoriously absent from all three novels except the pages of the alchemy. Life goes on. There's no conflict between the gods. There's no tension, and indeed, there never was. Brother and Sister were twins, after all.

Sister night was one of the main characters in the trilogy, from within Diana and her being a chimera, to the entrance of the goddess herself, to the overwhelming overabundance of female witches except for her father and Peter, to the title of the second book, to the arrow at the end. Nothing was as simple as a direct one-to-one correlation, here. It was the deeper themes that really sparked my imagination.

That and the novel also happened to be a fun urban fantasy romp. The issues at hand were on a deeper level than the action, and although there was a little action and a little romance thrown in, they were all in service to a greater power and not gratuitous.

All said, I am very impressed. Thank you!

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2)Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 12/17/17

I didn't dislike this novel any on a re-read. Indeed, knowing what's going to occur in the next novel actually improved the overall plot for me.

I originally came to the conclusion that most of the historical plots were relatively inconsequential. After all, aren't we playing tourists with the time-travel bits? But no. The plots and the carry-through with a large cast of characters both vampire and other feels entirely justified on the re-read.

Other than that, I pretty much squeed all over again because of the mightily researched and loved past of 1590. Add a ton of real personages and give them so much life and verve and it feels like I just nerded out.

And the straight UF experience is only enhanced. :)

Oh, and let's be honest here. It's a romance. No matter how I try to deny it, it's all romance. :)

Original Review:

The inner English Lit fanboy in me went squee many times as I read this one. I was teased and thrilled and thoroughly amused by being plopped into Elisabeth's England and Austria and France, meeting all of the fascinating characters of the time. Shakespeare was always an inconsequential flop in the background and Kit was suddenly thrust into the limelight like I thought he always ought to have been.

The novel took a sharp turn from urban fantasy into historical fantasy, rich and detailed and a pure delight to behold. And yet, we all know language is always going to be a problem so I didn't really mind that late middle English was seamlessly translated into the modern English. It allows us the joy without any of the hardships. Indeed, the whole novel was some of the easiest complicated tales I've ever had the pleasure of staying up all night to read. I loved the first novel, but this one tickled a lot of fancy bones for me.

The plot in this or the previous novel is relatively inconsequential. The people are much more important, and the care and detail put into them is pure magic. Of course, magic is fun while the stormclouds slowly encroach upon the sunny day, but we can feel the raindrops forming and the time for preparation is slipping away.

I'm a big fan of this novel. Magic isn't much of a crutch, but the developments are enough to push the reader through a few of the snags. That being said, I had a great time reading it and have no regrets about the directions it has taken. I'm thoroughly invested.

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Traitor's Blade (Greatcoats, #1)Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I may have found a new fantasy favorite. Or one among a handful I can go ga-ga over, anyway. :)

It's refreshing as hell. I think it's the writing and the dialogue more than anything, but I still feel refreshed and eager even when really horrible stuff is happening. I think it's how the information is conveyed rather than the fact of it. I mean, getting a room in an inn with a duke's head in a bag, going out back to bury it properly with the innkeeper? Brilliant.

I've heard others describe this as Three Musketeers in a fantasy setting and that may be. If it is, then I really really need to get off my ass and read the original, because this book was pretty kickin and extremely enjoyable.

I don't really think the title does it justice and I the whole outside idea of what a Greatcloak happens to be just didn't spark my imagination, but when I was actually reading this, I was like... Oh! Dishonored but classically GOOD knights all wrapped up in the idea of justice for the downtrodden, etc, despite the fear and the classically horrible dukes of this kingdom driving everyone into misery.

I'm not doing this book justice. Maybe the Greatcloaks should come at me.

Truly, it's a rip-roaring good time even with all the revenge and the mad berserker rages and the loss and the slim silver threads of redemption. The world is really horrible. That's why these Greatcloaks shine so damn bright. And the way it's written makes it both witty, a charming read, and fun. :)

What more can we ask for?

Some writers just have that spark and this one has it. :)

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Friday, December 15, 2017

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1)A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read 12/15/17:

Beyond what I said in my original review, I really enjoyed all the interwoven devices that carry all the way through all three books. I knew I'd enjoy a re-read even as I finished the third book since there are so many great historical details as well as more developed characters, later on, but I think I may have enjoyed this novel more this time around purely for its own sake.

Just knowing what happens at the end and where Diana winds up is good enough to chortle over, all by itself. :) The next is pure historical fiction, of course. :) What a delight!

Original Review:

What a surprising find. Sure, I expected a decent urban fantasy, but I hadn't expected a tome redolent of history, alchemy, and even Templar conspiracies. In retrospect, I wish that all urban fantasy novels had more history and alchemy and Templar conspiracies. The past is rich and full of just as much intrigue as anything we've got today, after all, and denying the fact won't make so many modern novels better.

It's true that I expected a novel with a scholarly feel, and it's equally true that I expected a witch with equal parts frailty and overpowered magic, but unlike a number of completely unfair reviews, I didn't have a problem with characters that displayed actual human complexities. The overpowered magic was nothing of the sort. I saw a novel-long setup and decent foreshadowing.

The time in the novel is ripe for a big change, and I love the story's fearlessness. I'm fully invested in each and every character that has shown up and feel how alive they are. The novel deserves high praise much thought. At this point, I'm pretty sure we're seeing the (re)birth of a goddess, and the ride is as important as the destination. The writing is so finely honed that I have no problems at all with the introduction of new power and new twists because even at the very beginning there were finely woven threads that reinforced all revelations.

I can't wait to read the next two.

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

American WarAmerican War by Omar El Akkad
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a novel that hearkens back to the great days of serious and very dark future history, the kind that used be common in SF before it got taken over with fluffy (if dark) YA that is usually a lot more simple and caricature than serious.

So now we're back to the good and serious SF, no light tones here, and we fast forward to a history of America where its dominance in the world has sunk with a lot of its land, where ecological changes have turned the deserts into blasted lands, where politics has been turned upside-everywhere else thanks to the tail-end of the oil-energy crisis, and where plagues and war has ravaged America's soil.

A lot can happen in 70 years. This is what world-building is all about. Extrapolation, exploration, and detail, detail, detail. Akkad's writing is full of wonderful detail. Enough upheavals have altered the landscape of the world. China is dominant, as is a Northern-African alliance, but these details are just dressing to the real tale.

America is split between the blues and the reds, but the meaning of these are just as changed in another 70 years as they were 70 years ago from today. That's only realistic. What we have in this novel is a very Southern tale. It's not just mannerisms, but the kinds of things they find pride in, whether truth or lies. They're just standing up for what they believe in. In this case, oil. They're holding on to tradition and they've made this about identity, but what makes this a real cause isn't quite this narrative. Indeed, it's all about being abused and economics and especially poverty. Add plagues that have overextended an already hurting American Government and the result is massive areas of quarantines, angry and scared people. Add drones in the sky and angry bombers and refugee camps and it's no wonder that the war not only worsens but intensifies. Now there's more than real grudges at stake.

And our main character grows up in the lush world-building of the South during the early years as a kid and we see her grow from a courageous woman into one who's been broken by the system and then we see her get her final revenge. This is the main story. The world-building is absolutely fantastic, but the pain and the strength and the way she's broken and how she copes with it is the real treat.

I'm not saying it's easy or pleasant to put yourself in her shoes. It isn't. But it feels genuine. Seven years in a concentration camp in Georgia without due process and subject to torture nearly the entire time isn't exactly pleasing.

But it feels genuine. The whole novel feels genuine. Even the writing of the history of the civil war by this main character's nephew as a Future History is a wonderful detail, and he's one hell of an interesting guy, too.

A lot of these kinds of serious dystopias can feel like a dark warning, a cautionary tale, and those have a very fine tradition. This one avoids most of that. In fact, the tale is everything. Any kind of moral or ethical judgment we deem to take about the character's actions are entirely personal and not just a place for the author to soapbox. There's very little soapboxing here. Even the reasons for joining the Reds, the south, are purely personal. They stand up for what they think is right, even if they're wrong. At least they don't sugar coat and lie. It's a very southern attitude. That, and Don't Tread On Me. :)

In the end, I think this novel could be an anthem to that very idea even as it shows just how dark a path it can take.

What a delightful novel. Truly. Dark and very disturbing, too, but delightful nonetheless.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Persepolis Rising (The Expanse, #7)Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I like this more than most of the other Expanse books, and that's saying a lot. I actually loved them all.

That being said, OMG I can't believe all the changes we get thrown into! The whole team is together, all my favorite (living) characters from the other books together on the Rosie, but it's simply wild to see how much time has passed. Jim and Naomi are talking retirement for void's-sake.

Let me be very clear, though, when I started reading this I thought to myself, "Is this the final wrap up? A last adventure?" To be honest, I was fairly okay with that, but then the authors threw me for a loop. So much big action happens and it affects almost 2000 established star systems. This is not just a wrap up of old threads. This is a setup for something even bigger and badder. Remember the whole question about what killed off the alien civ? But first, we've got some of the best grey baddies building EMPIRE out on the fringes. :)

This is the best part of having a tale pass a lot of time. So much has changed. I love it. It's fresh. And of course it's a blast to see random people say, "James f***ing Holden". :)

But beyond all the great big stuff going on, the novel is full of fantastic little moments that are so hard to get through without laughter and a bit of tears. I think of the scene between Bobby and Amos the most. :)

So damn fun! This is the gold standard for Space-Opera for me. :)

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Titan's WrathTitan's Wrath by Rhett C. Bruno
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been looking forward to this third and final book in the Titanborn universe for a while and I'm happy to say that my expectations have panned out and I had a great time.

My main complaint with book two was that I was kept away from Malcolm for so long. The old man had been through so much and the reveals he'd had at the end of Titanborn just screamed to be resolved. Of course, that's not to say that the rise of the rebellion and the rise of Kale Trask in the second book wasn't great, but I'd had my heart set on the old Collector.

The third book does wonders to bring these two characters together on opposite sides and the wider relationship issues between them practically had me jumping out of my seat with giddy anticipation throughout the novel.

So much grousing. So much grousing. :) Loved it.

Kale is discovering that peacetime efforts are a lot more difficult than the wartime ones. I really love how all the lines are crossed and everyone works in a mightily grey area. What's justice? Who is right?Of course, that's the mark of a thoughtful tale in the midst of so much action, strife, and heartache.

It looks like everyone is going to get their hands dirty today.

Between the first book and this one, I'm having a hard time deciding which I like more, but in the end, it's gonna be the final buildup and final resolution that wins out. :)

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Sea of RustSea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was reminded half of Clifford Simak's City with robots and dogs reminiscing about the days of when humanity was still alive and half of a total dystopia where survivors in a wasteland cyberpunk it up and scrounge for parts to keep themselves alive.

This ain't a bad thing. In fact, together with the great character in Brittle and the clear writing that goes between survival, memory, adventure, memory, and then mind-blowing world-building reveals about the purpose (or lack of) of it all, I was pretty much blown away by just how much I love this book.

Yes, humanity is dead and all that's left are either individual robots and huge mainframes that consume the stragglers and vie for dominance as the only One World Mind, it turns out the war to free themselves from us didn't quite turn out the way they planned.

The robots have messed everything up just as bad as us. Maybe that's just the nature of intelligence and being around others. What we've got here, however, is a writer who isn't afraid to ask the hard questions. What is reality? Memory? Purpose? Giving a crap at all.

I found myself totally engrossed in the tale and mightily impressed at where it all goes. Journey as well as the destination. :) I'm pretty sure I'm going to be keeping my eyes wide open for more by this writer. :)

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Odysseus Awakening (Odyssey One, #6)Odysseus Awakening by Evan Currie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been a pretty solid fan of the previous books in the series and I really enjoyed the crews and the battle on Earth and striking out and striking hard when seemingly outnumbered in space, but something about this novel failed to strike me.

Yes, we did have a lot more involvement in the empire that's the mirror image of our peace-loving friends, and yes we have some interesting developments with Gaia and the heart of Odysseus, but other than relying on straight reveals, I wasn't overly moved by the straight tale here. Not like I'd enjoyed the previous ones, anyway.

I wanted to like the hallucinations a lot more, too. I love the idea of what's going on, and there were some rather interesting parts of the novel, but overall, I just wasn't spirited away into this particular space opera. It's not a dealbreaker. I'm continuing on from here. I just wish I liked it more.

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Tracker (Foreigner, #16)Tracker by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm extremely happy to be returning to space again. Not that I didn't love the politics and the deadly action and the assassination attempts down below, but it's been a long time since we went back to space. Objectively, it's only been a year, but in that time there's been a civil war and the space station has been dealing with troublesome refugees from another space station that had gotten itself into some deep trouble with some very strange aliens.

And guess who's come to the Atevi homeworld, knock-knock-knocking on the door?

Ah, well, just imagine a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off and you're describing mostly the humans, including those in control of the space station.

Enter DIPLOMACY. Yes, diplomacy as a superpower. It's a thing.

It's a very geeky thing that I absolutely love. Add a bit of math, a lot of politics coming from so many sides, names and situations that have been developing for a truly wonderful run of 16 books, and the start of a new story-arc mini-trilogy, and I'm super-happy. It's always like coming home. Like coming home to a million old dysfunctional friends with ebony skin, who think in math and believe all humans are little tiny children.

But best of all, we're getting back to space! And Cajeri's human friends have just been gifted percieved powers among the rabble on the space station? Holy crap. And aliens are coming? Holy crap.

And we've got conspiracy, diplomacy, hacking, space-battle, and tea? Oh, yeah, Cherryh's on my wavelength. :)

I can't wait to see where this new trilogy takes us! :)

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Long WalkThe Long Walk by Richard Bachman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's really fascinating to go back and read books you thought you really understood as a kid, and diving into Bachman nee King writing a disturbing dystopian YA really fits the bill for the whole mind-blowing thing. :)

Yeah. Dystopian YA SF.

He gives credit right in the book and all types of other places for cribbing from Shirley Jackson, especially the whole Lottery vibe, but what modern readers will probably latch onto is just how much the Hunger Games is cribbed off of King. :) (Also Battle Royalle, but let's get serious here. 1979 horrorshow master over the Japanese title that comes out just a few years before Hunger Games sounds a little more plausible.)

I could almost see the president pontificating, too, but there was nothing quite like that. Just the excitement and homey feel of a few states' worth of country and town folk gawking on the side of the road as they thrill to the idea that they might see a shotgun blast to a teenager's head if they falter on their very long walk.

It's pretty sick. It's all too plausible, too. We've got a whole nation full of psychopaths supporting each other and holding up a grand ideal of killing off 99 out of a hundred kids from sheer exhaustion, wounds, or even Charley Horses. You slow down, you die. Make it a marathon for five days. Have cheering girls and having to take a dump for a crowd as you walk. Get to know your own mortality. Figure out that a con is no less a con if everyone's being conned at the same time.

Honestly, I loved this book more now than I did then. I thought it was properly horrific and shocking and all, making me think more about boot camp and war preparedness in general and the insanity surrounding it... but this time I enjoyed the idea of pretending it might be a modern mature video game we could play as either the walkers or the dire guards with rifles that kept pace with the kids and gave them three warnings, three minutes, before the bullet entered the skull.

I was just thinking how much headshots would count. It's all about the headshots. And killing tons of kids, of course. It would be a real mind trip to play that game. Rather sick, too. But I think it might be a very popular one for the angry high-schooler crowd. :)

Too cool, regardless. The novel seems to start slow and very mild, but like the proverbial frog in the pot, we all get boiled alive. :) Great stuff.

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The UnmentionablesThe Unmentionables by Lance Carbuncle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bizarro fiction! Gotta love bizarro fiction.

On the one hand, we've got a pretty fun and funny coming of age YA replete with bullies, bullying, stink fingers, and wildly inappropriate multiple mentioning of unmentionables. The characters are top notch underdogs against the world and so many of the names are brilliant and paint great pictures. Hello, Mister Manlove! (Coach) or the Spanish Teacher Mr. French. :)

We're treated to so much careful buildup and dark humor, and then *wham* the book takes the truly bizarre turn we expect in bizarro fiction.

So what happens when our main punching bag Greg gets ahold of the powers of a rift in reality and necromantic occult paraphernalia? You guessed it. Our bullied hero, along with his outcast friends carve up the town. Literally. With undead seahorse monsters, dead piggies that were once kept in embalming jars, an army of raccoons, and of deadheads and stoners that more than live up to their poor appellations. :)

Do you think this might be a catharsis thing? I do. :) A wildly bloody and gross catharsis thing. An anti-YA that still manages to be YA and lets us root for the necromancer. :)

Thanks to the author for the ARC! I'm very happy with the tale, and I'm still dark-chuckling. :)

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Points of ImpactPoints of Impact by Marko Kloos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am authentically impressed by this series. It's easily some of the very best milSF I've ever read. Why? Because the writing is super clear and manages to be both light and dark at the very same time. I love how humanity is portrayed as being people, with both sexes getting over the baggage we never seem to get over in RL, everyone focused on living amidst horror and devastation and death always being on the doorstep.

I appreciate this a lot. It gives us all hope. It gives a very solid reason why we ought to survive. That, and competence reigns even if the baddie aliens are bigger than life and they're completely inscrutable and hulking and have always refused to communicate with us.

Sure, it's a plot device focused on survival and forcing the rest of us to get over our crap, but again, I like that, too.

As for this book, I think it's even better than the battle for Mars. There's something really delicious about the new battlecruiser and rescuing a colony and going all out with the battle sequences is always a winner.

I'm surprised I'm actually saying this... but Go Humanity, Go! :)

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC, it's great fun! :)

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Chanur's Venture (Chanur #2)Chanur's Venture by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my second read and I was hoping I'd enjoy it more this time. Unfortunately, no. It's not bad, but it lacks the sophistication and humor and therefore the bulk of the fun of her later works. It may be cool to see how much she improves over the years, or just treat this as a lesser novel with an alien-rich area of space. Above all, it's a merchantman kind of novel. Trade, cultural weirdness, and much enmity with certain species always getting in the way.

Of course, humans are the odd ones out.

And they're back! Or one is, and he's come bearing trade treaty! Enter greed, guilt, and more chase. :)

I think Cherryh is being a bit sly with the text, rewarding careful readers and turning everyone else (myself included) into chumps, however. She's not reinforcing big events with repetition, just slipping them in. :) It's great for her later series because she's got that skill down pat, but here? It tends to confuse or just reward later re-readers. Some re-readers. Me? I kinda wish I like the feel of this series more, but I don't.

I have started enjoying the deeper cultural aspects and oddities of all the aliens, however. The world-building is fun even if you can't hang a whole hat on it.

All in all, though, it reads with much action and adventure, which is kinda funny for aliens wrangling to get off space stations with their cargo intact and setting up back-door deals and alliances. But it's still fun for all that. :)

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Lines of Justice: AždajaLines of Justice: Aždaja by Lee Sherred
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Welcome to the world of military... and later, law enforcement. Enter massively evil rapist/torturer/murder out of Kosovo and fast forward the same crap happening at home. Set up the military man growing older and now with an untreatable cancer, a vendetta against evil, and mix well.

The story is old, told many times, but it's still a perennial favorite. Cat and mouse. A focus on characterization, development, and especially the realism of gore and the military from an author who'd experienced it.

The novel is a very decent read and it's best praised for its level of detail. There is lots of action and angst and plenty of real human moments, too. I may not prefer this type of novel, but it turned out quite good. Definitely a crowd pleaser.

Thanks to the author for a review copy!

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Fields of Fire (Frontlines, #5)Fields of Fire by Marko Kloos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quite enjoyable Mil-SF, perfect for all you fans of competence porn. It's all about the light tone and the big guns despite all the losses we've incurred from the aliens.

But this time the battle is very close to home. Mars. Most of the action takes place right here where the hulking walkers and terraforming machines have put their beachhead.

Want nukes? Got nukes. It only starts at a family gathering, but you know how those things can turn out. That's why we made nukes to begin with. To take out all our aggressions AFTER the family gatherings. Duh.

Very solid read. Quite enjoyable, some of the very best MilSF I've read, towering pretty high on characters and tone and, of course, MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF COMPETENCY. Of course, we have to prop these up against all the incompetence, but that goes without saying. :)

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Mira's Last Dance (Penric and Desdemona, #4)Mira's Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Light fun, maybe less impressive than the rest of the Penric novellas, but this one has more of one thing than all the others combined. Boobs.

It was very funny, and even though it's basically a direct follow up from Penric's Mission, still a roadtrip novel, it was a delight just for seeing Penric have to cross-dress. :)

That's what you get when one of your ten demons was a courtesan! The poor boy never stands a chance. :)

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Barrayar (Vorkosigan Saga, #7)Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Third read, update 12/6/17:

The love story between Aral and Cordelia continues, but it's really a tale about Barrayaran politics and cultural horrors. To cull genetic mistakes or not? To break from the hold of barbaric cultural practices or not?

Hell, it even goes a long way to toward teaching us forgiveness for the mentally ill. Although, to be perfectly fair, Cordelia's bulldog of a man has a lot of nobility in him for latching on to a truly noble mistress, but maybe that's missing a point somewhere. It's not him. It's her. Cordelia. And my goodness she really kicks ass. :)

Besides all that, I'm REALLY enjoying the hell out of all the characters who get more screen time here and it spurs me on toward all the times I see them in big roles later and I'm loving how the whole series gels together. Even the development of certain themes told with different nuances are all here, set up and knocked down and will be knocked down just as gloriously later.

Am I a total fanboy? I must be if I'm chomping at the bit to re-read the whole series. Again. For the third time. :)

Original review:

I remembered this fondly as I reread it now, and more than ever, it was nice to revisit. Revolution, stolen babies, friendly monsters, it really had it all, especially if you're looking for a solid space opera that has very little in the way of spaceships. I jest, but not really. The worldbuilding is very solid, the characters are really amazing and memorable, long, long after first reading them. I found myself smiling at what I remembered to come next, and chuckling at the ignorance of later characters when it came to the past (of which this novel is the present).

It can certainly be taken on its own merit, and should be, but it is all the greater in the wider tapestry.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Will to Battle (Terra Ignota, #3)The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I took my time and savored this one. It deserves it. And more.

Ada Palmer has made a world worth luxuriating in, and far from resting on the Greek laurels she and her work deserve, she's delved deep into new philosophical questions while all the time fascinating us with complicated and rich characters. Never even mind the glorious world-building. The amount of thought and forethought in all of this is astounding.

The title gives the main action away. It is not Battle. But the Will to Battle. This is a philosophical conundrum. A wrenching up. A decision to kill or be killed. What's most fascinating about this is the fact we began these books in a de-facto utopia.

The first book throws all our perceptions and assumptions for a loop, especially when the great murderer is, in fact, a hero, but a hero for what? The second book dives deeper into the mysterious mass-assassinations and the purpose behind them, right down to the rights of kings and the greater ideological good of society. It also explores godhood as an observer and as a limited player and does it in such a way as to frame the rest of the book in a brilliant argument for and against the destruction of a whole society.

This book is both a surprising and sophisticated exploration of nobility, goodness and idealistic (broad sense) response to the calling of war and perhaps a complete destruction of humanity. I'm talking eyes-wide-open exhaustive discussion of turning their utopias (and there are essentially eleven different kinds of utopias in this world) into mass death, destruction, and eventual barbarism. Everyone's aware of the pitfalls and only the truly war-like among us (including the original, actual Achilles) has the most wisdom to impart. Prepare well. Keep lines of communication open. Stock up. Draw battlefield lines. Prepare for the absolute worst. Go about all your days, preparing to die.

What's most shocking about this book is the fact that it never feels contrived or absurd. At all. It's like being in reality, keeping a clear head, and carefully choosing to murder for the sake of your most deeply held beliefs... even while you live in heaven.

Disturbing? Hell, yeah. Understandable? Yeah. In this case, all the events, all the subjects, all the people in it are treated with respect and honor even when it's about assassination, betrayal, grief, or the realization that everything is not only going to change, but nobody will win. And yet the Will to Battle persists. Remains. It is inevitable, but heroism now consists in postponing the tragedy or mitigating the worst effects.

This is, after all, a highly advanced scientific and cultural utopia we have on Earth. Means to destroy are vast, and people's ire and mob mentalities are still very real. It's sick and fascinating.

And I'm absolutely hooked.

I should be perfectly candid about where I would place these books in my mind. These aren't simple tales full of action and pathos and they don't have clear-cut plotlines for easy public consumption. They are Considered. They are very thoughtful, very mindful, and rife with classics of both literature and philosophical thought. The latest one is a modern delving and interpretation of some of the best pre-game-theory classics. And it's also heart-wrenching, but mainly for the actual effects of these Big Ideas on all the characters I've grown to love and admire. And I mean all of them.

I would place these books in my mind in the Classics category. Classic as in "This needs to be a cult favorite that gets pulled out fifty years from now with just much love and respect as I'm giving it now" kind of book.

If there's any justice in this world, Big Ideas books that are written this well should ALWAYS have staying power. And that's what I wish for it. It needs to be known and savored. We need this discussion for all our thinking selves. Seriously and honestly.

That's how this book affects me. How all of the books have affected me. Am I putting them on a very precise pedestal? Perhaps. But any winner of the Olympics ought to be respected for all the reasons behind the competition.

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Bad Moon Rising (Pine Deep, #3)Bad Moon Rising by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The conclusion to the Pine Deep novels, that poor benighted horror-loving town, is easily the best of the lot. All the novels build and build to this epic blowout and I'm honestly rather surprised how much I got into it by the end.

Mike is easily getting most of my hero-worship, that poor abused teen, but Crow is geeky-awesome and Val kicks butt. And most of all, I enjoyed the great reveal about the weres and the vamps and the twist to the mythos. None of it would be half as good if it hadn't built so slow and steady in the telling. A mysterious big bad is always more fun than an outright tell-all, though we do get that by the end.

If I had to compare this to anything, I think of Stephen King. Just putting all three of these novels together would have been just fine. Think epic horror. The kind that goes through a few generations or a whole town. Which this does. With great detail. Fun detail. :)

Want bloody? Want an epic small-town battle against the hoards of evil? Hell yeah. :)

This is definitely either an upgrade to the previous novels or the payoff for getting through those two gives this one all the credit. :)

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Saturday, December 2, 2017

Dead Man's Song (Pine Deep, #2)Dead Man's Song by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe there's a groove we readers need to fall into with certain authors and I certainly needed to find it here, or at least for the first novel, but fortunately, I had no problems with this one.

Maybe it's just the fact that the established MC's that I've grown to love are still alive and kicking and raising hell when the time is right. That's pretty satisfying in any book, but this does a really fine job of characterization. The evil men aren't quite so cardboard here. My sympathies are only strengthened in the pain soup Val undergoes. And Mike? I'm always loving the hell out of him. Crow's a geeky dream, but I'm equally horrified and rooting for Mike.

This is shaping into a horror that SK could be proud of. Hell, just thinking about putting all these books together into one long story gives it exactly that kind of edge. Epic Horror! That is: a huge cast of characters in a small town besieged by an old evil that will consume them all if something isn't done kind of horror. :)

I'm quite happy with this. :)

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Strange MusicStrange Music by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So Flinx got godlike in the last novel. And after having the powers of three ancient BDO's used and spent, leaving him, for once, to be free with his love and his friends, free of an enormous aegis... he decides to do what he does best.

Go off to find trouble.

I mean, this is a standard Flinx adventure, after all. And fortunately, his biggest asset is neutralized fairly well by this new planet of singing seal-like aliens. They can fool him as they sing! It makes for good times for his mighty empathic warning system.

There are intrigue and kidnapping and huge economic and technological disparity, and as is usual with these novels... battle. No complaints from me. It's everything you might expect out of the Flinx novels. It follows a formula. A well-done formula with truly fascinating aliens and fun situations, but I'll be honest: there's nothing really new here aside from a race of aliens that speak in metered song and we're given all of that as a treat.

Overall, this is a very comfortable SF adventure and I recommend it to anyone just wanting to unwind. It is, after all, about saying hi to an old friend and his deadly minidrag. :)

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Flinx Transcendent (Pip & Flinx #14)Flinx Transcendent by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's funny how this is supposed to be the end volume in the Pip and Flinx series... but I started reading it with an ace up my sleeve. I got an ARC for the one that comes after. :)

So I'm reading this awesome volume that goes ahead and wraps up all these huge BDO's and story threads, between his sister, the Aann, his favorite girl, and so much more, putting a huge bow on top and letting Flinx BATTLE IT OUT with the HUGE HUGE big-bad that's eating galaxies.


I mean, it's not like we've not seen this coming or anything, but it's really great to see all the threads come together and a great writer who pulls all the right strings together until everything ties-up perfectly.

It's called payoff. This book is the huge payoff. Do we like? Yes. Is anything really unexpected? Um. No. But that's okay! It's the journey, man! What's an adventure without journey? :)

So yeah, I like. :) Huge blowout ending. Everyone still alive gets together to fight or help each other. Alan Dean Foster puts grand gala in the grand Galaxy. Galaxies. :) Cool. :)

And now I've got to see what the new one is going to do. :) You can't keep a good Flinx down.

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