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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

An Echo of Things to Come (The Licanius Trilogy, #2)An Echo of Things to Come by James Islington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This author just made it to my total fanboy heart. I'm rarely this excited about new anything. I mean, I'm usually excited to some degree or another, but I usually reserve this kind of energy for authors I know and have trusted for years.

Welcome to my heart, Mr. Islington. :)

These characters are absolutely wonderful, from the great reveal at the end of the last book to the full-out disclosure and development of a certain beast character in this one. I love them all. It's true. Every single step of this story has been a real delight.

There's lots of magic, time-stopping fights, energy-draining epicness, an enormous amount of history and strife and memory-crunching reveals and even gods.

But more than that, the story is twisted. The magic is used almost like a hard SF tale, with complicated moving parts and some of the old uses are truly horrific. No spoilers, but once I started learning all about the barrier and the other land and so much of the high-magic-technology, I've been bouncing in my seat.

I wouldn't be surprised if these books didn't become as immortal as some of its main characters. :)

Joyfully, I have no issues with the directions taken in the middle plots. It was all fun and a delight to run in, even if it didn't propel the main story sequence in big parts. I was invested.

But most importantly, this is definitely going up there as some of my absolute favorite epic-fantasy series. You know, the ones with huge page counts, enough magic to choke nations, and a strife that spans millennia.

I'm a SUCKER for any book that goes BIG! Not just word count, but BIG IDEAS. :)

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Monday, January 29, 2018

The Shadow of What Was Lost (The Licanius Trilogy, #1)The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is definitely a must-have for all you epic fantasy fans. The build-up at the beginning is good and interesting and puts a lot of the focus on the intrigue and the social injustice, but once the action really begins, it's all beautiful sailing.

So much happens and I can honestly say I love every step of it. We go from the humble beginnings to a truly epic arena in time, power, and action, and we dip our toes in all the great twists of time magic, memory magic, outright masterful draining of the soul-stuff, and to make it all near-perfection, I love all the characters to death.

I got into this pretty hardcore. For me, it's just like reading the new epic Sanderson or Weeks. But then, I love the big action, big reveals, the blow-my-mind magics. :) This has it all. Great writing, great characters, and omg what the hell just happened! :)

It's a lot of fun. I absolutely love all the questions it brings up and how I am so totally hooked as to where this is going to go. It's totally addictive. :)

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Saturday, January 27, 2018

AmatkaAmatka by Karin Tidbeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one is a hard one to review without giving away certain discoverable plot twists except to say... what a surreal, surreal world.

I think it's a mild New Strange. Or perhaps it's a hardcore Magical Realism. Perhaps it's just a study in what it means to use imagination when surrounded by literalism. Maybe it's a whole society built on the necessity of crushing that imagination in all ways. Maybe it's a necessity. And maybe we're in bizarro commune land brushing its fingertips against 1984.

And maybe it's a love story. With mushrooms.

Like I said, it's hard to describe without giving it all away, and yet it's still a gentle dip into the whole stranger in a strange land, firmly rooted in banality until it's suddenly far, far from banal. :)

I enjoyed it. It made me scratch my head and just go with the strange. Mild strange, slowly getting very, very weird. What can I say? I likey. :)

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The Game-Players of TitanThe Game-Players of Titan by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first time I read this was years ago and I remember thinking how wild it was to have so many of PKD's normal theme soup all in one place. You know... simulacra, psi, suicide, drugs, intrigue, murder, aliens, altered realities, dark fate for humanity, etc... but I didn't remember this novel being so funny.

I mean, aside from the fact it's not quite as good as the Player of Games by Iain M. Banks, the two are quite similar. I can see Banks sitting down to write and think, how could I improve upon this novel. I have robots, interstellar war, a better game, and intrigue. But then PKD had all the rest and murder, memory alteration, prolonged life, and genocide.

It all boils down to execution. ;)

The style is very '63, but that's not really a horrible thing. A lot of great SF came out of that year and this was PKD's hugely prolific period. I have to put things in their proper place. Aliens begging for rare records and entire cities being the stakes in a bet is quite delicious.

Don't expect a really deep read, however. This one is all about the fun and the twists throughout the plot. :) Still fun to this day.

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Kings of the Wyld (The Band, #1)Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A battle of the bands! A total rock out with their cocks out. Well, swords, anyway.

I wasn't at all sure what I was going to make of this. I mean, epic fantasy is all great, but I was worried that it was just going to be another cookie-cutter, however well-written.

Not so!

In fact, it reads like a novel of aging rockers getting their lives out of the gutter to go on one last tour, not only recapturing the time that they were once the best of the best, but going out in a real blaze... just as long as they hash out all their failings and pick up the pieces one last time as well. :)

The novel is super fun on both sides of this mashup. It's a glory filled echo of all our most favorite old school rocker bands, their ignominy, their weaknesses, their absolute perfection. It's not only a road trip, but it's also one of the tightest character-driven novels I've seen in a long time.

The other side is pure mercenary fantasy gold. I think just about every fantasy trope is treated as an old hat here, our world-weary tattooed rockers having already seen it all, done it all. Being fat and old and having lost a few magical weapons along the way is just the start of the tale, however, and getting their heart back is just as fun as the side quests.

But damn. What A Ride. The whole novel is funny and tight and a pure delight from start to finish. Don't let the light tone fool you, either. All these characters feel real. And the blowout at the end? Holy crap! I haven't had quite this much fun with a new fantasy since... well, it feels like forever! (Not true, but I do go through a barbarian hoard of books.) :)

I totally recommend this for... everyone who loves old school rock and anyone who loves bloody fantasy. :)

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Masked City (The Invisible Library, #2)The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm on the shelf about this one. It's more 3.5 stars but I tend to round up when there's nothing overtly wrong with it. And there isn't. It is what it intends to be. A spy novel with interdimensional librarians up against the forces of Order and Chaos in the shapes of the Fae and Dragons.

There's a bit of romance, a lot of steampunk train-heist-y stuff, and talking. It's fun.

My only complaint is that there's not enough meat. I mean, the potential is there for some really wild and imaginative diversions, but it sits in the box of mild spy fiction with costumes and mild victorian intrigue.

Unfortunately, my wild expectations for something grand, grander, grandest, got in the way of what I was actually given, but that's my problem, not the book's problem. It was entertaining as it was. It just wasn't as wildly entertaining as I had hoped.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Guards! Guards! (Discworld, #8; City Watch #1)Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dragons and kings and cross-dressing night watch. What can go wrong?

Meet Terry Pratchett, who can turn anything, and I mean, anything, on its head. :)

On this re-read, what I remember to be a less funny book than the Watch novels that came after it suddenly becomes a rich and nostalgic ride including dwarf bread, or in this case, CAKE. Decent, law-abiding folk versus the deeply corrupt populace. And don't just ask Mr. Cut Me Own Throat. He's suspicious.

I love all the tropes and the way Pratchett deals with them. The whole novel is tongue-in-cheek and it's a slight bit more delightful (IMHO) than all the rest of the novels that came before it. Indeed, it's this one that sets the tone for all the rest.

And so the transformation of Ankh-Morpork commences. :)

Upping this by a star.

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Reviews are totally welcome at Amazon and Goodreads :)
Sufficiently Advanced Magic (Arcane Ascension, #1)Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been going on a spree of LitRPG books lately and I have to admit I'm having a grand fun time with them all. Maybe it comes from my gamer background or perhaps I just love the whole gamut of rules associated with complicated and arcane magic systems, but I'm also pretty sure this transcends all that kind of musing.

What I've found is a wonderful tale set mostly within a magic school closely associated with climbing these massively complicated dungeon towers spread throughout the land. Preparation, leveling up, building friendships and parties, and above all, mystery and intrigue and disturbing goings-ons is what this is all about.

It could have gone the route of a huge virtual world and online players but it didn't. Instead, the world is actually RUN by the game system (minus the dice). It's both familiar and quite a bit different than most of the RPGs I've played. We've got deeper explorations of enchanting and attunements than I've seen almost anywhere.

It also feels like the next best thing after The Name of the Wind.

At least, it has the same kind of fun energy and magical explorations, if not as complex a story.

That being said, don't imagine this is a simple RPG tale. The characters make it shine, the plot development is quite complex and beautifully developed, and the action is delicious. :)

I totally recommend it as a must-have of the subgenre. :)

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Monday, January 22, 2018

The Years of Rice and SaltThe Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one's going right in the category of OMG this is epic SF of a very serious nature and scope.

It goes well beyond the "normal" subgenre of alternate histories to throw us into a vast and very impressive exploration of China and India as they completely dominate the culture and space of the entire world under the slight alteration: that most of the Caucasian world died off in the Black Plague.

It's really gorgeous and it flows really well. Expect many short novellas giving us snippets of time from the plague and progress it forward until we have a fully technological world. Christianity is a footnote. Muslims are dominant, as are Buddhists, but what really fascinated me was the poetry, the history of science and different terminologies, the odd similarities to our own history, including population pressures, various warcraft and a world war, the suffrage of women, medicine development, and so much more.

But what works best for me was a really brilliant thread of reincarnation. As in, tying all the novels together in a later scholarly work that reconciles a few great souls from incarnation to incarnation through history. We get the lives of those characters in the whole novel, and it really is gorgeous. A Buddhist SF that not only focuses on being self-referential and consistent, but it does it in a very detailed and academic way that feels almost too gorgeous for words.

Brilliant doesn't really do the work justice.

I'm not going to say it doesn't get slightly overburdened by the science bits as if it was just a vehicle for some particularly juicy fundamental discoveries, but I also like that kind of stuff. I didn't mind. It did make the text a bit large, however. :)

I was reminded very favorably of some other epic SF tomes like Poul Anderson's Boat of a Million Years. We have all of Time to work in and the idea exploration is breathtaking.

This one might become one of my favorite KSR novels. Easily.

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles, #3)One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the culmination of so much slow burn, the romantic explosion we've all been waiting for in the duo's hybrid SF/Fantasy galactic intrigue Bed and Breakfast series. :)

It's taken so long! Well, two books... to get here! Sigh.

First of all, I have no issues with regurgitated UF themes in this one. In fact, I had a great time following a rather complicated weave of plots that do a lot to dive into the characters, a lot of their histories and, of course, the blowout ending that I very much enjoyed. And get your mind out of the gutter. It wasn't only that kind of blowout. The magic was something pretty awesome and kept me on the edge of my seat.

I really appreciate the UF treatment to a huge SF setting even if it's mostly centered on a little intergalactic Bed and Breakfast run by a true Master of Her Domain. :) The fact that she has so many super powerful suiters doesn't much bother me anymore. Especially since she finally found the right one. :)

The most welcome addition to the room and board is her sister. She's something else. :) And the kid? As scary as all children are. Half-vampire doesn't really make a difference. :)

It's really a fun and light series. Just different enough from the comfortable path to delight, never drain. :) Definitely high quality and shouldn't be missed by any fan of this team.

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Year ZeroYear Zero by Rob Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had a great time with this very funny book, but a few things should be accounted for.

1. You have to be a music nerd.

2. You ought to have a healthy respect or disrespect for music copyright laws and the dimensions they involve.

3. You must have a sense of humor.

One really ought to be a must or most of the great references and jokes will be lost and it is entirely possible to learn and be impressed by the great solutions to the copyright kerfuffle here, so you could squeak by with number two, but I'm gonna have to insist on number three. :)

That being said, this is a light and completely snarky SF about music. Specifically, how the rest of the galaxy so completely loves our music that it has been secretly stealing every single song we've produced to their great joy... and as we soon learn, their great dismay... because they respect the law. Or at least, they apply that respect to the home world's system of laws where the art is produced, and this is where the biggest problem arises.

Stolen songs here comes at a cost of 150k per song in damages. Current estimation of damages across the galaxy is about 1/3 the total gross wealth of the galaxy. Earth would be RICH AS HELL if it wasn't for that little spark of expediency called ... destroying the debt owed.

Good music? Sure. But we can't pay that much!!!! Kill em.


So yeah, this does have a bit of a DNA vibe going on and it is very funny throughout because those galactics love everything we've made, but that's where the similarities end.

No spoilers, but a single Earth lawyer's journey through the galaxy is fantastic, and the eventual solution is geeky and fun as hell. Thank you, Lessig! :)

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Friday, January 19, 2018

An Unkindness of MagiciansAn Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As I was reading this, I was caught by just how bleak and depressing the world of magic is. It carried over to me almost immediately and I wondered if I was falling into a black spell.

But no, I think it was mostly just the world of this imagination.

When we're talking about the unkindness of magicians, it's a real dog-eat-dog life with some of the evilest requirements to keep the magic flowing I've seen, brought home even more because it's our modern world. The ending wasn't as bleak as most of the journey, thank goodness, but I was really struck by the effect.

I probably should have been in a different kind of mood when reading this. Maybe I should have been prepared for just how cutthroat it was, but that, in itself, isn't bad if that's what you're looking for. If the author intended it, then Howard succeeded very nicely.

That being said, I'm bogged down in a little bit of an existential horror by reading this. :) Bravo!

I have to wonder if it was just this book or whether the rest of Kat Howard's writing feels like this. The effect is marvelously disturbing. I just didn't want to be disturbed in quite this way, and so my enjoyment suffered. Alas.

Even so, it was interesting to find out exactly why the magic was failing. :)

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The Warrior's Apprentice (Vorkosigan Saga, #2)The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Update 1/18/18, Read #3:

On some rather belated reflection and tears after this latest read, I have to say that I'm in love with this series. As if three reads wasn't proof enough, right?

The beginning and the end is completely scaled back from the wild as hell middle, but that's as it should be. Miles is a brilliant and very flawed character, showing signs of megalomania and depression, or perhaps just being a brilliant bipolar case. :) In that respect, he's a lot like Sherlock.

It sure as hell makes for an interesting read when you bring up all the great world-building juxtapositions. His parents and their homeworlds. Miles's desires versus his honor. His momentum versus the pressures. I include both history and gravity for the sake of his poor bones.

I did cry for Bothari. Such a complicated character deserves a bit of silence and a lock of hair. I also cried for Miles. A lot of that was for joy, but not all of it. When he succeeds, it always feels like a house of cards. It's always like he's dancing on the tripwire of a Bouncing Betty. :)

And what a tongue he has!

Miles is just one of those characters that will remain in the annals of memory. :) This is the foundation. The rest of what comes relies even more on that tongue and less from fighting, but that's even more impressive when you think about it. :)

Here comes trouble. If he wasn't so charming, he really should be shot.

And this one is still one of my favorites in the series. Or at least in the top five. :)

Original Review:

It reads as a great YA with the best elements of the best space opera. How do you get back into the military of your homeworld if they don't want you? Start your own army, show them you've got what it takes! It's mostly clever and light, and then it wasn't. It was much more poignant for having read the books in the order of the timeline, although Falling Free doesn't align yet.

This novel was very fast paced and fun, for the most part, and memorable. He's got to begin his fame somewhere!

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Dark State (Empire Games #2)Dark State by Charles Stross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This second (or eighth) novel in Stross's Merchant Princes universe is continuing the new and interesting tack that began in Empire Games.

First of all, some background. There's three alternate timelines and world-walkers, jaunters, and on our timeline, there's now tech that allows us to hop timelines and possibly exploit entire green Earths, not just the three inhabited ones.

All of this gets very sticky because we have a super-paranoid State, the United States of a slightly different our world that suffered a nuclear attack on the White House in a previous book, complete with near absolute surveillance. We have another timeline where the Merchant Princes were overthrown and a different United States (called the Commonwealth) is stealing tons of tech and trying to avoid the cultural upheavals related to it, trying to catch up and protect itself from an invading and/or espionage-heavy US. And then there's a Germanic empire that never ended but is a good hundred years behind the other two.


Actually, this is pretty much a straight Spy-Fiction novel with a fantastic base and multiple settings and very detailed historical references, inferences, and alternate timelines, all of which are explored and taken to their natural conclusions in a very smart, very impressive way.

Two timelines have nuclear power and deep distrust with each other, and they share the same soil. That's pretty wicked.

This book ramps up those concerns even as we get to know all the players better. The tension only gets worse with shifting political tides in the Commonwealth and a real tangle with lies and statecraft with the old empire. It's an impressively thought-out tangle, and anyone with a thought to intrigue and alternate worlds really ought to pick up this series. :)

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Atrocity Archives (Laundry Files, #1)The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Update 1/17/18
This is the third read and since I keep getting more excited every time I read it, I'm breaking down and just plopping a big extra star on for sheer enjoyment.

I've decided this book is not only Spy Fiction with a Cthulhu twist with lots of super geeky math moments, but it's also Physics Porn. I've decided that I am exactly the right audience for this book. Or maybe I've become exactly the right audience. I want more. More. More. More. More. More. More.

I chuckle throughout the whole damn novel, and when I start realizing that I actually understand the physics porn, I get this huge giddy feeling. But that's not all this is. Not by a long shot. It's a fight with the damn administration. It's feeling stuck and deciding to follow your instinct to make the best out of things by doing the right thing. Even if it's becoming an active operative in a nightmare scenario. :)

This book, this series, is one of the biggest reasons why Charley Stross is one of my absolute favorite authors of all time. He's wicked smart, funny, and geeky to hell. :)

I can't recommend this enough. :)

Original Review:

This is the second time I'll be reading the Laundry Files to get to the new stuff I haven't. It has so many great aspects that bring those big smiles on my face, namely: Cthulhu hacking spy comedy. The first time I read it, I didn't realize these novels were all based individually on the style of different spy fiction authors, which will end soon and be based solely upon Charles Stross's style. It is an easy and fun read and tickles all my genre bones, so it, therefore, qualifies in some of very top lists for must-reads. That isn't to say the novel doesn't have it's dry spots, either in the admittedly authentic sounding military jargon or the specialized mathematical humor that may or may not be lost upon many readers; even so, the voice never falters and the humorous parts are definitely humorous. I will admit that I am a fanboy of his works and will always be skewed in his favor. Guilty pleasures, and all that.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Salt LineThe Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There really is a lot going on in here that can't really be done justice in a short review and some of it is quite good.

Dystopian Nightmare Ticks, yes, please.

And then there's the rest. Most of it is a good four-star read. A lot of focus is on regular human relationships and the larger developments like the drug that allows the bunkered enclaves of the "safe" humanity to live without fear of the ticks. The action often feels like a boardroom drama mixed with mafia dons against a dystopian survival novel, but it starts out first as a bunch of rich thrill seekers wrapping themselves in high-tech fibers to enjoy nature without worrying too much about the tick menace.

For a great deal of the novel, I was just fine with this. It had a rather more epic feel with a lot of characters and situations and developments that tended to lean a lot more toward a lit-fic bent than a straight SF or Horror. In fact, most of the possible horror moments and SF elements took a long back seat to everyday folk.

That wasn't actually a plus for me. In fact, I often didn't really care about the folks portrayed and maybe it says more about me that I just wanted to see some epic tick action taking out more people than the guns eventually did.

And then, there was the veiled theme burrowing into the setting. If we read this a certain way, the novel is just a souped-up novel of the Mexican-American border, featuring fear of foreigners and a very, very heavy reliance on drug cartels and related issues. With a new skin, of course. And this isn't much of a problem in itself, but some of the directions it took left a weird taste in my mouth.

And then there are the related associations. The deeper allusions. And while it never comes right out and makes any direct connections, I feel like there's something rather... well, I'll leave it up to other readers to come right out and say it. I'm definitely not sure that there's any kind of intent. It just feels... icky, in a way. Even the border town feels like Tijuana.

So, my hackles rose. No real issues about the whole pregnancy business or the drugs even though the uses and abuses took up a huge portion of the novel. In general, I liked the novel pretty well, but I'm beginning to get tired of the trend to put LIT stuff in SF. It dilutes the really fantastic stuff SF is known for. Just my opinion. :)

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children, #3)Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Modern fairy tales. Gotta love them, especially when they take twelve core hearts and totally run with them, allowing an almost meta world-building full of magical doors taking the young at heart (or obsessional) directly to their best dreamland. :)

This third book in the Wayward Children novellas doesn't disappoint. It's Candy Crush land and Mermaids, with a little mix of the skeletal dead and some time travel. Everything a fantasy lover needs, right? Right!

And I think I liked this one a bit more than book 2. :) It had more of the characters I loved and better emphasis on what I loved the most in the first book: the doors and the obsession and the quirk. :)

As I said, it's a fully modern fairy tale with the essence of fairies spiriting away little children, adults losing the magic, and the whole idea that wanting something hard enough or just BELIEVING hard enough will bring you right where you need to be. :) It's quite pretty, but don't start assuming this is totally light. It's not. It's quite dark at times. :)

In other words, fantastic! Seanan always satisfies. :)

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Spaceman of BohemiaSpaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I went through some interesting stages as I read this one. I didn't really have any expectations other than a possible or rather probable literature/SF hybrid, delving deeper into the introspective and lyrical areas of space. Perhaps it could have been an oddball exploration, perhaps humorous.

As I read, I noticed the lyrical bits and there's plenty of deep characterization and family and memory going on, which seems to be the common thread for long missions in space these days, but then something happened. An alien!

I had a great time with that. Everything tied together and I flowed into it pretty nicely.

And then the book took a rather depressing turn that I won't go into without spoilers and then it all just devolved into romantic theme between Jakub and Lenka that got progressively morose let alone objectively sad.

That in itself isn't precisely a dealbreaker, but sitting around feeling bad for oneself through the eyes of a character that could be ourselves is slightly narcissistic and indulgent and the rest of the novel, while I can appreciate it intellectually, became something less than enjoyable.

I'm saying it. I don't think I like this new breed of LitSF titles. I grew up reading Literature before I went nuts with SF, even got a degree in it. I used to think it would be fantastic to see the two meet and grow together, but if this is the flavor of things to come, I think I want to go back to the whole action bits.

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Darkside EartherDarkside Earther by Bradley Horner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

1/15/18 - It's Live and Available now! Get Here

I'm putting it on sale, too, for $0.99!

It's a Bloody Science-Fiction love story!

Um. Literally. Space-Opera, YA romance, Virtual Worlds, and a space battle.
And it's available on Amazon, Jan 15, 2018!

I hope you LOVE IT!

I'm putting in the edits for the second book in the series even now, and then you'll have Degrading Orbits. It might be even better than this one. :)

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Strange WeatherStrange Weather by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These four novellas were very solid. Even the one about Rain. Or maybe I should say, the Rain novella was more than solid: it was hard as diamond. :)

In all cases, the characters shine. There are tons of fat comments, 80's memorabilia, and POLAROIDS in "Snapshot". The concept behind it was pure horror and quite interesting, but I was on the fence about the wrap-up. I appreciate the whole thing, the human element, and the character growth, but the oomph was kinda drowned out by it.

"Loaded" was probably my least favorite, but it had its gun-loving charms. It was more a police thriller than anything else, going round and round the danger until his world falls apart for good. Heroes and Villains, indeed.

"Aloft" was pretty brilliant from the imagination viewpoint and I rather rocked to the whole fear and astonishment and discovery angle. :) This is my second favorite story in the collection.

But it was "Rain" that just stole the whole damn show. Terrorism and global warning and easily the best complicated and delightful characterization I've seen out of Joe Hill, yet. That's including the Locke and Key series. I loved just about everything in this one, from the horror to the crazy to the wicked. :) That rain is nuts! I love it most. :)

It probably doesn't matter if you're a fan of Joe Hill or not if you're looking to this for a good read. Chances are, you might just fall in love with the author just from this. :) It's well worth it and super enjoyable.

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

EmergenceEmergence by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We're back in the politics, or rather, we never left. That's not a bad thing in this series because the Atevi and the humans are just ripe with the social craziness. To think we (as in Atevi and Humans) are held up as a standard of getting along and making rational decisions and compromises is just too funny.

What I think is best about this book, in particular, is how Cajeiri and his mother finally bond in a trial-by-fire way. It really picks up big time from the previous novel's events, but more than that, I'm getting a great sense of major alliances finally pulling together in a really big way.

It helps that we get a lot of great action and suspense, but it's Cajeiri who shines here. He's really growing up. Big time. :) Adult responsibility and everything. Great-Uncle is turning him into a man. Um. Alien. Whatever. :)

Mospheira is another thing. The island of humanity is kinda crazy right now thanks to a certain documentary depicting the living conditions on the space station and when that and the refugee issue really comes to a head, it really boils over. Reunioners and ancient hate is a big deal. As always, Cherryh knows how to make great world-building like a perfect mirror for us.

And also, as always, Cherryh knows how to turn communication and politics into a really fun and fast popcorn fiction. That's even when the actual tale is intellectual, thoughtful, and measured. I don't know how she does it. Or perhaps I do.

It's the characters. Beautiful and exciting characters can turn ANYTHING into something grand.

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Convergence (Foreigner, #18)Convergence by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oddly enough, I was fully expecting more space, more diplomacy, and more aliens, but that's done for now. Non-aggression treaty and Rosetta Stone signed, in hand, and now shipped downwell, Bren and crew have a brand new problem.

What the hell are they going to do with all those station refugees? Atevi won't take them and there's definitely not enough resources to keep them for long on the station around the Atevi world.

Oddly enough, the simple solution takes this series in a seriously awesome direction I'm surprised hasn't been explored as fully as now: Mospheira. The island where all the humans are kept penned in like livestock. :) Or not livestock, but clannish and fearful refugees from 200 years ago thinking they still have a good handle on things when in reality they're just being tolerated by a very understanding Atevi. :)

I was drawn all the way in. I'm surprised how much I enjoyed seeing the human populace for once instead of just dealing with them (or not dealing at all) from the mainland where the Atevi rule. Cajeiri's side-story was quite interesting and develops his character and relationships nicely in a new-adult way, but honestly, I was very much more invested in Bren dealing with all his old colleagues and detractors without getting to rely on all the honors or stations of the Atevi political side.

A good diplomat always tries to work from a position of power, and it was too funny how he worked it. :)

Still a great series! And there's one more that came out! Woo! Can't wait! :)

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Visitor (Foreigner, #17)Visitor by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

And we're back with the three-way theme, but this time we're fully into the linguistics issues again.

I don't know about any of you, but linguistics and communications problems are where this series SHINES. :) The new alien species introduced so many books ago is back and it's a full feature this time. *giddy dance*

It helps that we're relying on Bren almost full-time to get this diplomacy party started. Or continued, as the case may be.

Are the Atevi and Humans going to be dragged into some interstellar conflict? How about getting wiped out with a few shots now? Oh, diplomacy has never been needed more than it is now. :)

God, I love this stuff. Cherryh is masterful at worldbuilding and politics, but she is best with focusing on communications. :) Right now, it's all about space stations, starships, and major pitfalls.

It's seriously a grand treat to dive into these novels.

It's been a long road but still manages to remain as fresh as ever.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Land: Raiders (Chaos Seeds, #6)The Land: Raiders by Aleron Kong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one takes a pretty good spin on the crazy battlefield. :) No more little raiding parties. This one is full-out goblin WAR.

There's still plenty of leveling goodness and specialization and happy bonuses for all the allies, but it's Richter that gets all the good stuff.

For the most part, this is the book that's almost entirely action. It's pretty awesome. :) And because we have all the funny bits and all the fourth-wall action and idioms from our world, it's still the same quirky popcorn read as before.

With meteorites. :)

Wooo! So much better magic, too. :)

I'm gonna be so sad that I'm gonna have to wait so long for the next one! At least I'm a total fanboy. :)

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Land: Swarm (Chaos Seeds, #5)The Land: Swarm by Aleron Kong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm still having a great time with these books and feel no compulsion to go anywhere else.

But why?

Because I'm grinding, man. I'm grinding. I don't even care what I'm grinding for. I'm performing skills and tasks and taking on all my automatic quests and I'm loving it. Sure, it's sometimes a bit difficult, but the glory is all in the discovery.

How can I make my character not just powerful, but uber-powerful and insanely powerful and should I go the demi-lich route or become an epic enchanter or just WHAT sort of profession should I take? *rubs hands together*

This is ADDICTION, yo. Need to allocate my skill points, my war party points, my alchemy points, my enchanter points, my deep magic animal bonding skills. I need to make my own magic books. I need to outfit my whole village until it can take on whole kingdoms, yo. This is about making fountains of power erupt across my land and drawing untold allies and enemies to my doorstep.

This is about empire.

Or not. Maybe it's just about graduating from those weak fire spells and moving on to something a bit more average. Maybe someday I can tackle an ancient dungeon. :)

Do I identify with Richter? Maybe a bit. :) This is all an epic RPG. Who doesn't want to level up? Anyone? Bueler? It's ALL about leveling up. :)

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Monday, January 8, 2018

The Land: Catacombs (Chaos Seeds, #4)The Land: Catacombs by Aleron Kong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As always, when I find something supremely enjoyable and so delicious in the devouring, I tend to go overboard with gonzo reviews. I rave like a ravager. So what makes this one different than all the rest?

This is JUST like Skyrim. Only, this is totally humorous and full of all the self-referential Earthly goodness of an actual player scamming an immersive reality-game. :)

In this novel, we're moving a bit beyond legendary enchanting and going right into legendary alchemy skills. We've got that smithing going, too, but the real focus is on becoming uber-boss and dragging his whole village kicking and screaming into uber-ville with him. Fun? Hell, yeah. Plenty of side quests that turn epic on a dime, new characters climbing the ranks, and at the center of it all, Richter. We're all the Richter for him. :)

All across the board, I feel the leveling-up magic. Scamming the system has never been so fun. Power builds aside, we're in the territory of grabbing every single skill only to learn it can become utterly epic. :) And more than Skyrim, there's even more customization and secrets to uncover. It's almost dreamlike in how it caters to us gamers. :)

So, I like it, then? Hell, yah. :)

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Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Land: Alliances (Chaos Seeds, #3)The Land: Alliances by Aleron Kong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So you wanted that next great RPG that has Skyrim and old-school D&D written all over it, did you?

Yeah, me too. And so I'm ALL over this book for that reason. It's light, the leveling up is FAST, with all the neat tricks of absolute power leveling through loopholes and full immersion quests.

Don't get me wrong, though, this is all hardcore gaming fun that's part light-hearted joy and expectation and part surprising revenge including assassins, dark dungeons, giants, kobolds, and golems. We're on the full ride of a video game with full level-up splash screens, but it's still a super-fast and fun adventure that's totally popcorn.

It's just pure murder for fun, loyalty quests, empire building, reversals and MASSIVE POWER UPGRADES. :) Did I mention power leveling? Did I? It tickles me funny. :)

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Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Land: Forging (Chaos Seeds, #2)The Land: Forging by Aleron Kong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Level 15, baby. Level 15.

Seriously though, this book, like the previous, is all for the gamers. We might like to think it's a D&D adventure put to novel with all the fourth-wall breaking thanks to real-time stats and level-ups right after boss battles, and perhaps it is, BUT... it's equally an in-depth adventure worthy of all the generic MMORPGs out there. Or even just a grand Bethesda time. I laughed my buttocks off when Ritcher spent an afternoon casting spells, one after another, just for the skill gains, and just how anxious he made his little kingdom's subjects. :)

Indeed, I keep seeing an Oblivion/Skyrim trends going on here as well as some great 3.5 min-maxing and power-leveling tricks. Yeah. Power-leveling AND grand multi-multi classing. Why stick with one when you can be everything... right, Dragonborn? ;)

It's all about the leveling, baby. Trading skills, relationship skills, a bit of a necromancer smackdown, and a defend the castle, all rolled into one. Why aren't I playing this game in RL? Oh, wait, I do. I will. But reading happens to be slightly faster for the gameplay. :) Plus, I get the thrill of super-fast fanfares and the feeling of doom because this gamer is JUST NOT DOING IT RIGHT. Allocation, allocation, allocation.... *cry*

The sense of tragedy is cloying.

And yet I can't stop reading. It's such popcorn fiction. :) Litrpg at it's most basic. :)

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The Land: Founding (Chaos Seeds, #1)The Land: Founding by Aleron Kong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the age-old spirit of reading some of the easiest and most enjoyable popcorn fiction ever designed for old RPG gamers like myself, I've fallen off the wagon of anything normally regarded as "proper" fiction and now I'm wallowing like a pig in the mud.

I'm in heaven.

Okay, I've been reading LitRPG novels for some time now and I've loved them ever since I first turned on the TV back in the 80's. Do you remember that old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon? Yeah. That one. Let's get transported away into a wide world of adventure, dragging us out of our everyday slog. But most of all...


I think that's the main draw for people like me. The stories in the games and in this book, in particular, are all boilerplate standard quest stuff, but who cares. The joy is in the challenge, the discovery, and the enhancement of our skills. If we get to destroy a tribe of goblins or get embroiled in deeper and darker intrigues, it's all bonus. :)

From Matthew Stover and Cline's Ready Player One I'm thrilled to see that this is now a thing. The fact that I've already read a few more along the pure popcorn lines of a whole new established genre just means that it's not a one-off.

I'm beginning to think that I can expect to enjoy this kind of thing forever! WOOO! And to think I once thought it would be trash. :) The quality of everything I've read, all the way up to this novel, has been quite good. I now can ignore dystopias, sparkly vampires, and all those other flavors of the day. I've got myself a new flavor. :)

*giddy dance*

And there's so much to choose from, too! They're all pretty much the same, of course, but that's okay. I'm not sick of it. 30 years of these games in RL has pretty much made me become an insta-fan. :)

And yes, I brought up a few authors and such in this review for a particular reason: I've come to the easy realization that Aleron Kong, the "Father" LitRPG is entirely sardonic and the unmitigated level of ego has got to be level 20. I can appreciate that. A woman as a father is pretty telling, after all. :) Go Aleron! :)

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Friday, January 5, 2018

The Spinning Magnet: The Force That Created the Modern World--and Could Destroy ItThe Spinning Magnet: The Force That Created the Modern World--and Could Destroy It by Alanna Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maybe this one was just up my alley in all the right ways or maybe the author is pretty spot-on with her mix of science history, humanization of the players, and just the right dose of scientific explanation for laymen.

Maybe it was both.

Regardless, I seriously enjoyed this non-fiction all about magnetism. It shouldn't come as all that much surprise that it has serious biological roots and it's all about physics and chemistry, but the author balances everything in such a way that it's always interesting. I didn't realize that magnetism was under controversy back in the days of Galileo. The way that it all ties seamlessly into geology should also be obvious, but I never felt uncomfortable in the writing. Indeed, I was pretty much uniformly fascinated.

The big zinger about the poles reversing and the effects on modern society aren't sensationalized, either. There's a big "I Don't Know" in there, but so much of the evidence points to a protracted (say a few thousand years) time of less magnetic shielding as the poles do their thing. The fact they will flip is not in doubt. The fact that we might be undergoing a radical influx of harmful radiation because the Earth isn't going to be blocking solar storms is probably the scariest thing I can imagine.

That's even worse than losing all our electronics. I mean, that's bad enough and I'll have to go buy a bedpan and a shotgun to defend myself in my new dystopian nightmare, but we're talking about a mass-extinction event. Well, assuming we or the animals don't start breeding for rad-tolerant biologies or take rad-x.

Can you imagine a bunch of teens running around with early onset dementia?

Oh, wait, yeah. I've read quite a few YA novels.

Really fascinating non-fiction, here! It's right up there with some of the very best non-technical popular science books I've read! (That's saying a bit. I like good science books. :)

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Kif Strike Back (Chanur, #3)The Kif Strike Back by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have to admit I'm bouncing hard off these. I don't want to bounce, either, especially since Cherryh writes some of the smartest ongoing SF series out there. I think it's mostly the Chanur and the weird aliens in this sociopolitical mess, the discordant dialogue, the whiny hume, and the fact that the payoff doesn't quite match the amount of work it obviously requires to follow the plot... not even mentioning the names.

Wow. I must sound like I hated this.

The reality is a bit stranger. I did like some of the payoffs and twists. I did like some of the intrigues and I appreciated even if I didn't go ga-ga over the fairly deep world-and-culture building when it came to the Chanur or any of the four main races.

In fact, if it had a slightly slower pace with a different hook, I would have probably luxuriated in getting to know all the players better. I've loved exactly that kind of tack from this author.

As it is here, it feels simultaneously thin and rushed even when a lot of thought was put into so many of the smaller elements. Since this is the second time I've attempted the read and I'm having exactly the same issues as the first time, I seriously think it's a personal issue. :)

Fortunately, I still love the majority of her works, so I'm just writing off this series as an "it's me, not you" kind of thing. :)

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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Art of Invisibility: The World's Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big DataThe Art of Invisibility: The World's Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data by Kevin D. Mitnick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I mean, what non-fiction book about the sheer amount of security loopholes wouldn't be scary? I mean, we're talking about our identities online, in our homes and through all our smart devices, our cars, our workplaces, and everywhere.

It's not even about government abuses. It's about the fact that everyone, everywhere, is at risk. Snowdon may have opened our eyes, but the reality remains that your breasts are still online. Everywhere. Never to be deleted. Always accessible. Forever.

If you're thinking about some other body parts, then keep on thinking, because those will still be there and are being housed on not just government sifter sites, but local and foreign ISPs. And countless private computers.

So what are we doing about it?

We're reading. We're arming ourselves. We're realizing that far from being beset with malicious users and crackers, we're actually beset with a ton of idiots running big businesses saying we're being protected when we really aren't. Security holes are everywhere and they're real and pervasive.

Always on cameras and microphones? Keyloggers as a matter of course on company servers? Regular cracking of your gmail and facebook information? Full breakdowns of any photos you take and post, from location, specific identifiers, etc., right in the metadata? Aren't we worried? Shouldn't we be more worried that what we think are precautionary measures to protect ourselves as we order online or use online banking is only as secure as our weakest link?


And that's why reading books like this should scare you. Not because it tells you how much you should be scared, but because the lax security is as much in our minds as it is in the software. Putting our heads in the sand and saying we're not doing anything wrong is beside the point if we get targeted with ransomware or we're identity hacked or we're just one more in an extremely long list of targeted political somebodies. It's not just about having your private parts online, but that's where most of us will usually get outraged.

So do yourself a favor and arm yourself with some practical knowledge and how-to sets on how to anonymize yourself. :) Mitnick does a pretty damn good job with some of that direct-knowledge stuff. :) Sure, you may know a lot already, and maybe you already use vpn and tor and things like ghostery and HTTPS Everywhere, maybe you practice healthy password management and separate your devices for truly secure transactions. Maybe you don't. But it sure as hell doesn't hurt to know what you're missing. :)

I'm so glad I read this! (It helps to keep up-to-date.) :)

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Zero Day (The Hatching, #3)Zero Day by Ezekiel Boone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gotta love that Creature Feature. Or maybe I ought to modify that statement to Creatures Features. It's a spider apocalypse! New generations and smarter beasties are overrunning the world, but what is worse: the problem or the cure?

NUKES. Oh, yeah, baby. Nukes everywhere. The president is continuing to have a pretty bad day. A few others might be, too.

As always, these books are full of middling semi-sympathetic characters all trying to deal with the fallout from all the different kinds of horrors. I was only mildly invested in any of them. Fortunately, I was quite invested in the spiders and read most of the Hazmat scenes rooting for the little critters. :)

Did I have fun? Yeah, I did. Maybe not the best time ever or even within the creature-feature genre, but it was far from the worst way to spend an afternoon. It wraps up the trilogy fairly well, but I still feel a bit cheated. I almost wanted a good twist. Maybe scratch the "almost".

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Demon (Gaea, #3)Demon by John Varley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For the most part, I absolutely love this trilogy. On the idea front, it's wild with some of the coolest and strangest story combinations, from a life-as-a-movie-set to an intentionally perverse Greek Mythos setup to the enormous annihilation of humanity in the Fifth Nuclear War (some twenty years after book 2), to the fact that we're on an all-out trip to overthrow a god here on the artificial moon.

Cirocco Jones is something around a hundred and twenty years old at this point and she's completely turned on Gaia who seems to be going batshit crazy. If you don't believe me, check out her children, her affair with King Kong as a 50 ft Marylin Monroe, or her myriad lies or new fascinations. She's been around a long time. She's also a fan of the human culture. Hell, I like Gaia because she's a big fan of movie monsters and science fiction epics and doesn't mind playing around with all the creations in the world to fill her whims. Cirocco Jones should have been her wizard and go-between, but a lot of that sours because of that little demon that was put in her (and others') heads. It's easy to do anything and go completely crazy as a god. Especially if you're not.

Hints and oddities aside, not to mention outright spoilers, the outright strangeness and world-building of these novels are absolutely amazing. I can't do them justice in twenty pages of lists of creatures or alien oddities, and they're all great, even the ones built off of our own science fiction past. The god is a fan, as is the author, and this, more than anything, makes me want to scream and jump and shout at everyone to say, "Hey, this shit is BRILLIANT, Yo!"

I didn't even have a problem with the fundamental story this time. It has gotten better and the shape of everything from the first to the third novel has become something rather awesome.

So why didn't I give it a full 5 star? Or the rest of them, for that matter?

I was annoyed. I really don't care whether authors like to go all out with atheism or not in their text. It doesn't bother me. I actually found the undead Martin Luthers (not Jr.) spouting their undead religion rather funny. I didn't even find the intellectual (and wild) creation of the Titanides' sexual congress too much. It was fascinating to learn about, with time.

I suppose what bothered me was the heavy (and I mean heavy) focus on sex and sexuality. I'm not particularly prudish or anything and I've read romance novels that can make any maiden aunt blush, but the way it is explored in these novels was SF, idea-exploring, theoretically uplifting and often squirm-inducing. It ran the whole course, from humans becoming Titanides with three sex organs to the oddities of the Amazonians to normal couples to monster sex. And he's trying to make deep points and make logical and heart-felt leaps... and none of it quite hits the mark.

If the sex had been just a sideline part of the novel, this might not have been much of an issue for me. As it was, sex, sex, sex was a huge part of the narrative, conflict, and deep discussion of all three novels. And let me be clear: little of it was meant to titillate or amuse or get us hot as readers. It's weird how I might even have forgiven *that* more than what actually happened.

I'm not saying it's not worthwhile, however, and some readers might be a lot more forgiving in their final estimation than me. And then others might just perform a handwavium exercise and forgive it all because the rest is truly a fantastic work of the imagination. :)

I was tempted. I really was. I almost did the handwavium thing. :) But the balance was off. It was *almost* perfect, but that flaw *was* just a bit too much.

I still recommend this book even with such caveats. It's a fun and easy read for all that, but above all, it's wild with ideas and imagery and a lot of the actual writing is pretty brilliant in its descriptions.

I'm quite willing to put this up there with some of the biggest SF classics of all time even as I grumble about the parts that annoy me. The weight of the good far far outweighs the bad. :)

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Monday, January 1, 2018

Wizard (Gaea, #2)Wizard by John Varley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There a lot to love in the second Gaia book.

I was honestly expecting a straight carryover from the first novel with its surprising end and lead, making the next title, Wizard, something much more than I might have expected, but I was surprised. Decades have passed in an eyeblink and Titan has turned herself into the goose that lays the golden eggs, opening up exploration and exploitation to her artificial moon.

Of course, with this fantastic alien landscape, there's the Titanides, the 29 times over ambisexual centaurs who like to do it every which way they can, even with humans, and killer blimps and vast and amazing adventurous locations full of glory and beauty. None of it is really quite easy to exploit. Nor do many people have the desire. After all, Titan herself is a god or near enough, technologically, so as to be the utter master of her domain... except for the twelve distributed ancient AI intelligences that make up her bulk. :)

Our captain is old but still looking young by this point, and since she's the Wizard and it's traditional to sing the Yellow Brick Road when they go on expeditions and status updates with all these distributed intelligences that are gods in their own rights, we're thrown into intrigue and a possible rebellion. :)

If you think all of this is pretty simple, think again. The novel is rife with questions of sexuality and cultural weirdness and lesbianism and even eye-rolling wackiness of a misinterpretation of rape that could only come out of a secluded orbital community of Wiccan lesbians who shun all men but import sperm to keep their numbers, drag one of their members out of the community, and put her into Gaia. Let sparks fly.

Is this novel nothing but sex? It feels like it. It's not horrible tho. It's weird. Vastly weird. The centaur aliens are nuts about it, and I'm just thankful there's a cheat sheet in the book that breaks down all the coupling combinations. And I thought that hind-sex and frontal sex was confusing enough when there was a profusion of multiple sexual organs.

From the standpoint of imagination and weirdness and worldbuilding and oddities, this book is brilliant and beautiful. Even the questions regarding sex and perception were sometimes clever and insightful even when it sometimes became enraging.

The fact is, for all its faults, this novel is fascinating and dense with goodies and is full of great ideas. My personal meh about the underlying story may be just me. Everything surrounding it is gorgeous.

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