Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Raven TowerThe Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cue up Simon and Garfunkle for this ride. Just a single song on endless repeat.

"Don't talk of love,
Well, I've heard the word before.
It's sleeping in my memory;
And I won't disturb the slumber
Of feelings that I've died.
if I never loved, I never would have cried.
I am a rock. I am an island."

Now make a novel of a god of a single rock, surround him with endless time, sleep, and other gods getting by or rising into a WWI assemblage of alliances and obligations, always keeping out of the fray.

Enjoy second-person storytelling, sitting over the shoulder of humans or ruminating inside yourself, combining the most interesting aspects of N. K. Jemison's Broken Earth with Lois McMaster Bujold's Five Gods, sprinkle in the feel of lazy ruminations, solid logic, and patience. And then... turn the novel into one of vast revenge. :) :) :)

What is this Raven Tower, after all? In this world, there are vast numbers of gods and many of them help out based on the amount of devotion and offerings given to them. And depending on the god's power reserves, the spoken Word becomes reality. If the god speaks more than the power can manage, or if the god makes a promise that can be loopholed, the god can die.

So much of this novel teaches us the power of language and limits and vast schemes, but our MC god, the Rock, seems to have all the time in the world... until vast logic and realization leads him/her to learn to value someone. At long last. And this is where everything goes to hell. :)

This fantasy novel is actually a murder mystery. It's FAR from being a standard murder mystery, but in its core, it revolves around reveals, discoveries, and piecing everything together... like a mosaic of stone only revealing the full picture after so much wonderful deliberation.

So, WHO DIES? Men, or gods?

I'm kinda dancing around here. The full scope of the novel hit me over the head at the very last and I'm more than pleased by the outcome. I always rather enjoyed it, but only by the end did I discover I loved it. :)


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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's NestOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm glad I finally got around to reading this. It's a counterculture classic that has touched many more people besides the ones that first got it in 1962. It's popularity nearly single-handedly drove Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters across so many parts of the world, bankrolling the freedom-loving iconic hipsters that quickly became the more obvious foundation for the flower children, the druggies, and the peaceniks.

But first, it had to get popular. And it really hit a nerve.

The most obvious clue is the battle between Freedom and Institution. Coyote VS the Man. Chaos VS Order.

Hell, Mice Versus Men.

Nurse Ratched embodies order and needless institutional brutality while McMurphy does all he can to liven the lives of the people of this mental institution. Some will be there for their whole lives while others might get better, but for all of them, Nurse Ratched rules with an iron hand. What's the point about preventing the inmates from having a little fun? Watching the World-Series? Nothing! And yet this and so many other great conflicts arise and we know there will be a showdown.

Most of the novel is quite funny and it's easy to root for the humorous trickster as he does everything in his power to suck the marrow out of life and sometimes even show the others that they HAVE THE POWER to live a good life despite their horrible situations.

See the sixties rolling in?

Well, this novel is also a tragedy. No matter how satirical and funnily moving, its end message goes quite a bit beyond the grand escape.

I honestly find it rather disturbing how Ratched treats Billy and what his fate is, but I find that McMurphy's revenge is just as bad. Is this the result of an immovable force versus an unstoppable object? Or is it a message of overcompensation in powerlessness? Or is it simply WRONG? As in two wrongs make nothing like a right.

Chief Broom is easily my favorite character, however, and his final mercy is true mercy.

What can we bring home from this, however? That everyone is wrong? That the only good we can expect is a clean death?
Very sad.

But that begs the question... what novel pulled this off so clearly that we can See and Feel so much after a single read?

To think at one point this was one of the most banned books in the world. Silly people. The divide is real, but the seeds of our reality lie in these pages. We STILL need to work it out. Now more than ever.

We are the nuthouse.



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Jingo (Discworld, #21; City Watch, #4)Jingo by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

War. War never changes.

Unless you're talking about Discworld.

And then history tends to change based on what you had to eat and whether or not a football is involved. And then, you need to remember the importance of knowing your neighbor's names.

You know... this second time reading this was much more interesting than the first. I simply had a much better time going to war. There's nothing like a bit of stabby stabby or running away from a certain man of the watch dressed up like a woman to get the blood moving.

Still, I have to say... poor Vimes. A dukedom? The poor man!!!



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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Pale FirePale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To explain this gem of a novel in anything less than five or six pages, single-spaced, is to wildly underestimate what is going on here.

This author, best known for Lolita, goes well beyond the scope of that novel while displaying his ever precise and gloriously beautiful mastery of the language. Is he one of the best novelists ever? The brightest? The most cunning and crafty and poetical of the lot?

Perhaps. Indeed, likely. Proof, exhibit A: Pale Fire is based on a mostly autobiographical epic poem that he wrote as a character named Shade who died under mysterious circumstances. The man annotating the poem knew him and did, at first, an admirable job of breaking down and scholarly interpreting the work.

Let me say this. The poem is quite funny and evocative and smart as hell. It's also good. Very.

When this editor, this annotator starts on it, he sometimes makes an inappropriate comment or two and I tended to let it slide, thinking it funny and annoying and went back to enjoying the poem. Unfortunately, as the work progresses, this man keeps interrupting the poem in more serious ways, getting nitpicky, more personal, and even vindictive. This aspect of the novel pretty much takes over completely and we learn some VERY interesting aspects of both their lives.

The time is 1959 but the novel was published in '62. For fans of LGBTQ literature, both good and historical, I totally recommend this novel. The way it is handled is both tragic, unique, heartbreaking, and horrible to experience. The times were rather rough on artists and people with non-culturally standard desires. The things the poet did... well... just thrown in there between the lines... *shiver*

As I said, heartbreaking.

The end is like a hat-trick. We are forced to get used to the annotator going whole-hog on the nitpick and the scholarly schtik, so just when I'm almost fed-up, even the annotator breaks down...

And this is the most brilliant aspect of the novel. :)

I'm still reeling. What a glorious thing.

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A Skinful of ShadowsA Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had a REALLY strong horror vibe in the first part of this book. Great atmosphere, vivid emotional impact, and I felt like I had no control. Beautiful. Hardinge is really great at this. :)

After that, however? The book went from being possessed by the ghost of a bear to a story of fantasy intrigue in the days of England's Civil War in the 17th century.

Say what?
Oh, yeah. Very period historical fantasy. Fun historical fantasy. Great characters.

Our MC's life stalls in the household of her biological family after she loses her mom who escaped from the horrors there, but she eventually escapes using her wits and ghosts and has an adventure across England. This wasn't so much horror at this point but it sure was fun. The rest is about survival, intrigue, and being hunted by a cadre of ancient ghosts. And what she learns is just as important as the adventure.

Color me impressed. Hardinge has always been a writer to look out for and I'm very happy to keep reading her work. :) This is my third. I expect to read everything. :)

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The Unbearable Lightness of BeingThe Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Or rather, a 3.5 star read.

I will be honest. There were times when the tale took on a very meta quality that I appreciated it to a full 5-star rating and times where the sex and philandering, mistress and the smell of another woman's juices on his face just got to be too much. The repetition of sex in the tale did not seem to be so much pornography but a literary technique to make us feel like Milan Kundera was trying to f*** the reader.

I did say meta, did I not? Well, sometimes it worked and sometimes I just wanted to put the novel aside forever.

Good thing is: I enjoyed it a lot more after the midpoint where these seemingly delightfully *real* characters were reduced to the author's fancy... the matter-of-fact way they got crushed under a truck just struck me as unbearably funny.

But this was not a humorous book. Not at all. It was heavy, man, and as light as ashes in America where everything is so foreign. And let's be clear about this. This is political, Soviet-era occupation literary sex-pomp. With a very touching scene with the death of a dog while the rest of the country expressed their hatred of all dogs as a substitute for hating their fellow men.

Yes, this had a lot of hidden depths and flighty fancy. The prose is pretty wonderful and the moments where it is good, it's very engaging and philosophical. But it's also about the unbearable lightness of being f***ed by Milan Kundera. I suppose that takes some getting used to.

Me, I'm a little sore.

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Monday, February 25, 2019

The Zap GunThe Zap Gun by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oldschool Dick but still a few years after The Man in the High Castle, this particular little novel is the most comic-book zany of all of his works. Pulp to the max.

I mean, that shouldn't be too surprising in the middle of the sixties when his output was insanely high, when he was dragging out a novel as fast as he could to attempt to make a living... and a poor living at that.

And yet, he still manages to write something quite akin to Dr. Strangelove. Half satire, half comic book wacky. Quirky enough to encompass idiot savants, time travel, shifting mazes, and a futuristic arms race that is a setup from the get-go. Everyone's in on the plot except for the normal joes.

Sound familiar?

Well, it's pretty okay for what it is. Slapdash and quick, there's plenty of odd females to go along with the odd guys, and together they discover that the whole world is not what it seems. In that case, it's pretty classic PKD... it just didn't strike my fancy all that much.

The other novels are a lot more polished, deep, and deeply strange rather than just surface strange. So, unfortunately, I must dub this novel the worst of PKD. It's a shame, really. It's still okay. lol

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Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere CollectionArcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sheesh!

Sometimes I make bad decisions... like putting off a so-called short story collection by Sanderson for YEARS after it was published because I'm more of a fan of his big novels rather than in-between stuff.

What I should have remembered is Sanderson's penchant for writing... and writing... and writing. His short stuff is usually nothing like short stuff. There are two short NOVELS in this "collection". Good ones, too. Like the secret history of Mistborn that ties up all the events of the first trilogy from the Cognitive Realm. :) SO Good.

Or, even better, a short novel based in the Stormlight Archive world. With a certain always-hungry 10-year-old Knight Radiant proving to be just as impulsive and LUCKY as elsewhere. I'm LOVING the big plot additions and twists showing up here in the grand scheme of Sanderson's Epic. :) It's actually kinda necessary to read this. It ain't no fluff piece. Serious changes happen here.

So am I glad to read it?

Amazingly so. :)

Oh, yeah, and there's a few others that are fantastic in here, but they're re-reads for me. Like Sixth of the Dusk and Emperor's Soul. But for Emperor's Soul, I really didn't mind re-reading. That one is really good. It was when it came out and it's the same now. REALLY GOOD. :)

As for the rest, they're all quite interesting and span 6 worlds of Sanderson's Cosmere. I particularly liked the one with Sand. :) It has all of Sanderson's goodness with rule-based magic. :)

Worth it? It's not really something you can miss.

HOWERVER, if you're just wanting to read Secret History, know that the entire thing is duplicated in this. Arcanum Unbounded is a completionist's dream.

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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Aftershocks (The Palladium Wars #1)Aftershocks by Marko Kloos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Solid opening on two counts. The beginning of the novel was pretty strong with the whole "what are we going to do after being in a PoW" vibe going on, full of space opera MilSF goodness between two human populations.

The other solid opening was for the expectation of a full series.

Unfortunately, the actual novel does not feel all that much like a set piece. It might be fine and rather perfect as long as you're reading it along with a full set of novels to come, but since the wait time will be somewhat long, I have the distinct feeling like I'll have to re-read this one just to pick up on the other various character's viewpoints and the details leading up to the hanging plot threads. One or two is no big deal, but this opener promises a bit more complexity.

Not bad, mind you, and great for MilSF space opera fans, but it does come with that caveat. :)

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Saturday, February 23, 2019

Time's Demon (The Islevale Cycle #2)Time's Demon  by D.B. Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not only is this a solid continuation of the Islevale Cycle started with Time's Demon, but it progresses much further into the magical wildlife that inhabits this world.

Do you remember those awesomely wicked demon children who eat their victim's years from the previous book? The ones with a penchant for giving up their prey as long as they can chew on some good riddles?

Yeah, the type and the things they become are a BIG part of this book. :) I love it! Very odd vampires. Like SF but more like Fantasy as SF, and have a much wider cast of interesting characters introduced here.

This is kinda like a sequel but better. A lot more happens and it branches out in very cool directions. My sense of the world is so much broader even if my TIME sense is completely wonked out. :) I can't quite say if this is better or worse than the first one, but I have grown much more invested in finding out what will happen next.

What cool reveals!

No spoilers. Don't want to ruin it for anyone, but I think I like the character developments even more here than the first. :)

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Friday, February 22, 2019

Gibbon's Decline and FallGibbon's Decline and Fall by Sheri S. Tepper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one should be put on one of the absolute classics list. I'm really surprised that it isn't talked about even now, but here we are, almost to the 20 year anniversary from when this first came out and it DESERVES TO BE KNOWN.

Why?

It belongs in the same category of The Handmaid's Tale, The Power, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, and many others that tackle the big issue of what it means to be a woman.

But how does this stack up to the others?

Fantastically.

A group of young women become life-long friends, complaining about the tendency of women everywhere to make a stand and then eventually decline... and fall... the world dragging them down. They vow to hold strong and fast and support each other, meeting every year and being REAL with each other.

Sound good? Well, the writing is better than the premise and more fascinating. The characters are an absolutely gorgeous treat to read.

And if that doesn't convince you, then just wait till things get really messed up all across the world. :)

Do we have a problem with sexism in this world? Set your teeth in this Decline and Fall. One particular note, however. This is NOT a hopeless man-hating novel. It's also not so dire that it becomes a grimdark dystopia. It IS, however, a novel with many very bright facets and a deep exploration of so many different kinds of ideas and viewpoints.

Oh, and it's very bright on some key issues, too, but let's not spoil it, shall we? I happen to wholeheartedly approve of Tepper's stand on women. No one should ever have to live through a Hail Mary, become a breeding machine for misogynists, or be forced to give up the fruits of their labors.

The more horrible stuff is absolutely atrocious and needs no reinforcing.

That being said, I'd LOVE to see a bit more repairing on that medicine bag. :) :)

I'm going to count this novel as one of my absolute favorites of all time. I've always been a fan of Tepper, and while I was kind of put off at the beginning of this particular novel because it wasn't the high-fantasy stuff I'd grown to love, it DEFINITELY made up for it in sheer quality of characters and development and ideas. :)

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

StarquakeStarquake by Robert L. Forward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sequel to Dragon's Egg picks up right after the first... which is already rather extraordinary for regular time-constraint purposes.

Just imagine first-contact with little super-dense and fast-living aliens living on a neutron star passing through our Solar System. Now imagine how fast they live: one-million times faster than we do. Civilizations rise and fall in a single day. Technological breakthroughs, cultural revolutions, vast discoveries, and vaster falls can happen in the space of moments.

This happened in the first book. A week for us saw the Chela try to interpret the super slow movements of gods in the sky, go through revolutions, scientific breakthroughs, and finally society capable of waiting for whole generations to speak a few words to us. :)

Add to that some pretty awesome science on both sides done realistic enough to surprise the crap out of me, end the book on a really high note of a new alien civilization having taken all our combined knowledge to take it further than we ever dreamed... and then give us book two. :)

This is where we begin... and within a day, the massively amazing technologically broken-through society, even now fulfilling a dream of time-travel... falls.

Easy come? Easy go. The fall and the redemption of both their species and the fate of our astronauts. So fun. :)

My only complaint? The Chela may look weird and have VERY strange biology, but psychologically they're pretty much exactly like us.

Fortunately, the science and the ideas more than make up for this slight flaw. :)

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Beren and LĂșthienBeren and LĂșthien by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, so, this book requires a HUGE caveat.

It's uneven as hell, it's not a full tale, and it is comprised of many unfinished snippets in various states of revision. You can see thirty odd years worth of fascination with the same tale of Beren and Luthien from very early and oddly simplistic Nordic-type style befitting Tolkien's regular scholarship all the way to several nearly full-developed Lays, poems in epic style, of the two characters, of Sauron who was named Thu, and Melkor, the original God of Evil that corrupted all that his siblings, the Illuvatar, made.

So we start with humble beginnings, telling the basic same tale over and over, of Beren's capture and Luthien's great courage, infiltrating Melkor's stronghold, tricking and magicking him until she could steal back the Simaril from his crown and saving her love.


When this is good, it's freaking awesome. When it isn't, it's just barely okay. :)

There's also a number of extra bits and pieces regarding Beren and Luthien's offspring, the half-elves who have a choice to remain Elf or fall into the fate of Mortal Man. I liked them, but they were all mere snippets.

One thing is certain, however. I feel very scholarly after reading this. It's not really designed for anyone's pure pleasure. As a writer, I loved to see the evolution of Tolkien's writing and style and dramatic choices as he revised and revised this prose and poetry into the forms we later see in the Silmarillion and in LoTR.

But without a much more vast underpinning or various re-reads of all the pertinent novels and histories, I'm afraid that most people may not really enjoy this for what it is.

For me, however, I LOVED the story of Beren and Luthien in the Silmarillion and immediately shined on how they were the prototypes and even MORE EPIC prototype for Aragorn and Arwen. I really looked forward to reading this. I just wish it had been finished and polished. ; ;

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Alice Payne Rides (Alice Payne, #2)Alice Payne Rides by Kate Heartfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Time-travel goodness!

The strengths of the first novella carry over well to the second, with the unforgettable Alice, the protected Jane, and the very interesting Prudence leading the fray.

Out of respect for this not quite being published yet, I'll keep spoilers at bay. Plenty happens *ahemArthurahem* that requires a lot of interesting reveals, but more importantly, the subject of vaccinations and plague takes a front-row seat in this one. Me likey. Add some interesting developments in the Time War, a bit of subterfuge, threat, and new tech, throw it into a steaming pot of timeline erasures, additions, subtractions, and swirl it around with existing/nonexisting family members, and we've got ourselves a plainly fun tale.

Remember the stodgy old-tyme time-travel tales of old? Yeah, you can drop those off in your local time-recyclers because this one is entirely up-to-date with our modern voracious action-starved appetites. :)

Enjoy!

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MilltownMilltown by Shane Joseph
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Small-town Canada proves to be just as messed up as anywhere in North America.

This mainstream novel really focuses on the trials and tribulations of being an outsider... in this case, a Sri Lankan family of refugees making a home and a restaurant in Milltown.

Add shootings, corruption, young love, pregnancy, and a wide cast of characters. It's pretty good. It's very mainstream and we get to know everyone very well. Some we learn to love, some we learn to hate, and isn't that always the way it is in stories of small towns?

I enjoyed myself. It's not really the usual kind of fare I read, but I've read quite a few like this... usually within masters of the craft and classic novels, but this one stands very well on its own. :)

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Factoring HumanityFactoring Humanity by Robert J. Sawyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Factoring Humanity hits some rather huge emotional triggers. From the start, I'm totally prepared to hate one of the main characters and the starting gun already has everyone on pins and needles. Estranged couple, suicided daughter, and the other daughter is accusing her father of molestation.

This is one hell of a hardcore start for a novel ostensibly revolving around alien contact, with a very Contact feel and development, artificial intelligence research and development, and quantum computing.

And yet, it's only an accusation under suspicious circumstances and the AI hasn't seemed to progress that far into self-awareness and we, as humanity, have refused to respond to the Alpha Centaurians.

This makes for a strangely placid novel with deep undertones of conflict and/or disturbing reveals to come. I'm pretty amazed how much I got into it. It's not flashy or fast paced. It's focused on ideas and tragedy and moving on through all the permutations of each.

Are there good reveals? Yep. Are there cool reveals? Yes, indeed. I REALLY like the way the Contact-like scenario plays out. The scientific concepts, the math, the implications, and especially the psychology underpinning it all makes this an impressive SF.

It's workmanlike in it's writing, but the ideas are completely top notch. :)


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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and AdventuresHeroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures by Stephen Fry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I shall judge this book purely upon whether I was entertained. And I'm happy to announce that I was. :)

Fry's wit and erudition come together nicely to make one of the most accessible accounting of a large handful of Greek Heroes I've had the pleasure to read. Perhaps better than Hamilton, definitely better than Bullfinch, but perhaps not quite as bright as Ovid, these are, however, punctuated with Fry's charmingly dry wit and panache.

And isn't that why we love Fry? Oh, and the tellings of these Heroes are quite vivid, uncomplicated, and evocative.

Is everyone accounted for? Hmmm... not quite. But the biggest and brightest names are. Want all of the trials of Hercules, or shall I say Heracles? Check. Perseus? Bellerophon? Theseus? Orpheus? Even Dedalus? Check!

It was like having a movie in my mind. :) No overcomplication. Just fun. :)

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Gateway (Heechee Saga, #1)Gateway by Frederik Pohl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the great classics of SF. On the surface, it seems to be mostly about prospecting for Alien tech and new discoveries about the missing Heechee, but in reality, it's all about psychology, and more than that, about Freudian therapy.

Say... what?

Yep! We've got ourselves something of an anti-hero written in mild shades of The Stars My Destination who we get to know very well on and off the AI therapist's couch as we learn about all the crap that turns him into a real mess. Sure, there's mommy issues, but then there are the things that go on with his girlfriend and the Black Hole that is particularly harrowing.

Survivor's guilt? Yeah, and so much more. It's like a gambler's addiction with missing body parts being the price. Save your mother and forgo the rest of your life in poverty or gamble for your future and probably not make it back. These Heechee left tons of inexplicable tech and no one around has found a way to understand it or get ahead except by dumb luck.

Kinda sounds like a metaphor for life, doesn't it? :)

The reveals are the best parts of this book. We're given all the pieces and as the mystery unfolds, I loved the details of the personal tragedy most. The fact that this reveal is a universal truth is only a bonus.

Great adventure, wonderful light but deep worldbuilding, and an even better psychological exploration. :)

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Monday, February 18, 2019

The Good Earth (House of Earth, #1)The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one hell of a classic. I kept thinking of The Grapes of Wrath during the first half of this read this and kept wondering at it. Poverty, want, great toil, and then even more want filled these pages. The Good Earth came out 8 years before Steinbeck's masterpiece and yet my biggest wonder is why the Good Earth isn't better known, more well known, than Steinbeck.

Is it because it happens to Chinese characters rather than Okies from Oklahoma?

Let's let that question pass on by for a moment because this book deserves to stand on its own worth. The Earth is indeed the source of all wealth... but definitely not all sorrow. Some, sure, but most of the sorrow in these pages are created by those who do not understand or work the land. This is an important point. As important as that in Candide, but more poignant, emotional, and effective in this novel.

High praise? I think so. And well deserved.

I will like classics of all types for many different reasons, but some are much more impactful to me than others.

This one has that punch. Glorious, wonderful, sad, and so cruel. Life, with tragedy and small bits of joy here and there... but what an epic! This ought to be on the required reading lists except for one small point... it should be enjoyed and cherished without coercion. :)

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Europe at Dawn (The Fractured Europe Sequence, #4)Europe at Dawn by Dave Hutchinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This fourth book in the Fractured Europe Sequence defintely needs the prior three to follow it with any kind of authority, but I can honestly say that if you're a fan of modern spycraft, SFnal post-bioweapon-devastation, high-tech, and old-world stories, then these books are right up your alley.

Yes, Rudi is back and it's a treat, his world-weariness, food smarts, and ex-courier status showing up one last time, but this book is not all about him.

It's about the milieu, modern Europe, and the deeply wearying sensation that no one is in control of anything. Despite all the spycraft and the plots or the elites or the runners, there is no real sense of order. Indeed, there never could be.

That doesn't stop all kinds of people from trying, however.

This book feels like a series of many short stories with all kinds of different characters. Some of them return from previous books. There's wry and dry humor, a shocking amount of odd grifts, and a few riots to contend with.

But more than anything, the biggest joy we'll glean from these is within the world. Observations are everything.

Quite enjoyable.

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The City in the Middle of the NightThe City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm caught in gravity's tug. I'm stuck between two massive bodies forever tidally locked. ; ;

You know those books that have that certain something that could make them truly great but then they stumble because of the characters within them?

Yeah. This is one of those novels. I can see and appreciate where the author is trying to go here with the characters so full of themselves, their ideals, or their misunderstandings of one another. It fits so nicely with the greater misunderstandings between the Gelids and humanity... but I have to say that the fundamental concept here is much, much easier to take than the execution.

The bad part of this novel:

Every time I wanted to find some truly great aspect of personality or plot push to latch my hopes on, I was faced with regular people doing stupid things for regular stupid reasons, muddying the waters and generally being jerks to one another. I didn't particularly like any of the main characters except, perhaps, Mouth.

And then the good:

Everything else!

This is the definition of uneven for me. I can appreciate, intellectually, what is going on, but when you can't hang your consciousness on great characters to move you along a MUCH better worldbuilding experience, it becomes something of a drag. In fact, I became so invested in the plethora of great ideas that I kept re-writing the book in my own mind to fly with them in new ways, extending dichotomy between the hurting human city and the alien, maligned Gelids living everywhere in the dark, being tentacular monsters, but also BETTER PEOPLE than those inside the human habitations. :)

It's not just that, though. I loved the tidally locked planet, all the darkness and the need for other perceptions, the communication through tentacles, the transformations, the culture, and everything else about the SFnal experience.

I FELT like this novel could have been one of the greats. It certainly has all the deep explorations of culture, aliens, and setting, giving us a very dark look at a far-future humanity with a lot more to think about than is generally the case. Classic SF always did a pretty good job of this but sometimes a novel or two drills down DEEPER. And this is one.

So I'm caught between a solid 3-star read for characters modified by a cool mirroring with the theme and a very solid 5 star SFnal novel. ; ;

This isn't much like All the Birds in the Sky, alas, but I'm very curious to see what she'll come up with next.

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Before Mars (Planetfall, #3)Before Mars by Emma Newman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes it's quite hard reviewing books for which you KNOW are rather groundbreaking but do so in a quiet manner and stretch the quality across a span of books.

It's never just one thing. It's a whole slew of wonderful worldbuilding quirks, a dedication to deep mystery, and extremely complicated characters often riddled with mental health issues and/or very real plot complications.

In this third book, related only by its housing in the greater worldbuilding and future history shared with the others, we're given a very different kind of character. Not an engineer or a put-upon corporate slave, but an artist slipped into the corporate works on Mars. Is she lucky? Is she turned into a pawn for others?

She doesn't seem all that sure of herself despite being recognized as an excellent painter, but none of that really matters. She's there and a number of little things don't add up. And that's okay. We're in for a great story where the reveals are numerous, emotional, disturbing, and often made me turn against our protagonist. And that is also okay because she's complicated and sympathetic and real and often depressed.

As it turns out, she has good reasons. No spoilers, but the plot is rather cool and much bigger than the blurb implies. :)

Very solid SF. Better than most. I'm probably turning into one of those readers who will always jump on the next book no matter what she writes. She's just that good. :)



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Friday, February 15, 2019

Schild's LadderSchild's Ladder by Greg Egan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes, an SF novel will hit you in the gut and speak a little math at you and then scamper away, tittering at its cleverness.

Other times, an SF novel will not only hit you in the gut but hit you in the pride and nads and stand over you, asking you if you want some more. Maybe it'll call you Susan regardless of your sex.

After reading Schild's Ladder, I have to say this is one of those Other times.

I feel like I just read a hardcore Stephen Baxter novel that just had a massive overhaul on the math and the editor not only said, "there may be just a tad too much scalable extra-dimensional geometry, pre-assumptive quantum physics, and thoroughly alien human cultures" just before he (or she) threw up his (or her) hands and said... "Screw it. I'll check for grammar. The rest is all for a team of postdocs devoted to theoretical physics."

Does this mean I hated it?

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA hell no. I loved it. Every single mind-blowing second of it. Just because some of it went over my head didn't mean I didn't LOVE the imagery, the bleeding-edge creativity of having our characters LIVE in this nearly incomprehensible post-and-re-physical humanity.

Examples: whole societies based on checksumming yourself because you're all software. Interchangeability between getting a body and going back in the software. 20 thousand years of murderless living and whole societies giving into their darker natures by telling fibs to cryogenic travelers about just how the world has changed, unwilling to let them know that we've all moved on because we think it's funny. Or how so many of us have tailored truly exotic sex organs (either software or physical) to be compatible with our partners... literally ONLY compatible to our partners. :)

Fascinating? Yeah, but not half as fascinating as the actual plot-driver. Expanding space and life living at a hugely accelerated rate and at a VERY small quantum level. Is it out to destroy us? Should we destroy it? Preserve it? Study it? It's out to eat our populated centers, but WE MADE IT. Accidental life... and perhaps intelligent. :)

Very good stuff here. Definitely designed to draw out only your A-Game. No punches are thrown and no one is talked down to. You will either sink or swim. :)

What a pleasure!

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MomoMomo by Michael Ende
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What was I thinking? I already count Ende's The Neverending Story to be one of the very best books ever written, so why would I waste SO MUCH TIME getting to anything else he wrote?

It blows my mind!

It's almost like SOMEONE HAS BEEN STEALING MY TIME! All those damn time-savers out there fooled me and tied me up and made my life a dull gray, smoke-filled, DEADLY TEDIOUS world! They kept me from this book... and now I know why!

It's a conspiracy of the Time-Banks.

Momo is pretty damn wonderful. The concept is classic, an epic battle between children who really understand the necessity of wasting time and the horrible monsters, the gray men, who offer up devilish riches to everyone else in order to suck the life and time from everyone else.

*shiver*

Honestly, if someone published this as the new up-and-coming YA book in today's day and age without knowing that Momo ever existed, it would be heralded as unique and gorgeous and groundbreaking. Gaiman would be blurbing it and there would be a twitter storm of praise.

But no, it's just some silly book written back in 1973. No one cares. ; ;





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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Shadow of a Dark Queen (The Serpentwar Saga, #1)Shadow of a Dark Queen by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Weirdly, this might be my least favorite fantasy by Feist. I'm usually quite happy with them. Interesting characters, great locations, solid adventures, great plots. And generally, the worldbuilding is something quite good.

So what happened here? A confluence of factors that may not bother other people but firmly set me down into a camp of 'I don't care'. Maybe I was kinda disappointed with Erik. It started out fairly interesting and I kinda hoped it would go the standard direction of a hidden prince, but after the rape, murder, run and capture, I think I just started wondering where the rest of the tale could go.

Mercenaries. Secret missions. ... Well, it could have been pretty cool.

Unfortunately, I just wasn't all that interested. The amassing army, the somewhat inconsequential cameos of characters I did love, and the primary action did little to spark my interest. Much. I wanted to like it more than I did. I mean, after the previous two novels, I was pretty much riding high. To jump forward in time this much to the point where the king dies, however? I guess I got pretty bummed.

This won't be stopping me from continuing the series, but I will be hoping for more, later.



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The Ones Who Got Away (The Ones Who Got Away, #1)The Ones Who Got Away by Roni Loren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yeah, yeah, I just read a romance for Valentine's day. Sue me. I'm supposed to go out on a limb. Break the cast. Stretch my wings. Learn to fly...
Oh, whatever... I read a romance, all right?

The good: It does exactly what it sets out to do. Pull on the heartstrings without once touching the head. You know which head.

Add past tragedy and bad decisions, throw two scarred peeps together, have them hem and haw about keeping things light and avoiding hurt through all the attraction, have a new emotional tragedy loom on the horizon, and then, when we think it's all over, give us the sappy romantic end.

Wait... this can't be a romance, CAN IT? buahahahahaha.

The bad: There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING surprising about this novel. It's a set piece, written well, but it follows the formula perfectly.

That isn't always a bad thing, of course. People want to have their heartstrings tugged, get a huge dose of sexytime on the page, and FEEL.

This novel does that. I felt, too.

But afterward? I'm like... okay! What's next? *shrug*

This MAY have been a one-night-stand. Even so, happy V-Day!

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Forever War (The Forever War, #1)The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Still a classic. Want a war-driven novel constrained by the limits of relativity but still as inexplicable, funny, and as sad as the regular kind?

How about a novel right out of 1977 that explores what it means when all of society transforms over millennia into something awfully strange... a world where the hetero norm has become a homo norm in response to overpopulation...

To where the old outdated concept of future-shock is dusted off and given new life...

To where it's only reasonable for old soldiers to re-up forever in hope that their world will resemble something sane once they get back... AGAIN.

In a lot of ways, this is less a parable about future war than it is a Science-Fantasy extrapolating what it means to be a veteran returning to a changed world and what it means to be completely and utterly lost to the life you left behind. Taken perhaps a bit more extreme than that of the soldiers coming back from Vietnam, maybe, but the concept is still quite valid.

Fortunately for all of us, there's not just tragedy and isolation here, but humor, absurdity, and a good solid story among the cool SFnal alien murders and explosions and the problem of troops, soldier confraternity, and cats on ships. :)

It still holds up nicely for an old Hugo winner. :)

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The King's Buccaneer (Krondor's Sons, #2)The King's Buccaneer by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one is a surprisingly complicated plot with one of my new favorite characters in Feist-land. :)

Nicholas is forced to do a lot of growing, of course, but what's surprising is just how comprehensive the tragedy is compared to his reactions.

Simple puppy love evolves into survival, ideology, and duty. But the scope and the scale quickly flies beyond the initial and we travel across the world, new lands to explore or be horrified by, and above all, far-ranging effects.

This is definitely not the simple fantasy tale that I was expecting. :) And moreover, it is entertaining. It's also somewhat hard to stomach in some circumstances... after all, being captured by slavers and forced to endure some really bad things isn't meant to be easy.

All said, I really loved this book. Feist seems to have his finger on my pulse. :)

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Prince of the Blood (Krondor's Sons, #1)Prince of the Blood by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first thought of reading these books back in the 90's, I had some sort of presentiment that I wouldn't like it half as much as the Magician books... and so I let it go by the wayside. Now, so many years later, I decided to go back and pick up all the rest of the Feist novels and finally enjoy them anyway. The author has proven a lot of staying power... and it's for good reason.

THIS WAS GREAT! :)

Prince Arutha's twin sons, Erland and Borric, begin a couple of troublemakers who get into just enough trouble to be sent away as diplomats to straighten them out. After Borric seems to have been killed only to be sent into slavery, the two brothers have a very wild and impressive fantasy adventure ranging from escaping a sea blockade, taking up with mercenaries, and falling in with the scantily-clad Kesh royalty as schemes and plots come to a boil. Treason and a coup is part of the table settings. :)

Sound pretty standard? It would be except Feist writes one hell of a fast, fun, and awesome tale. It's more than just a coming-of-age tale. It's popcorn adventure with cameos of so many of our favorites from the previous novels. Jimmy the Hand has a big role and Pug comes and goes, but it's Pug's daughter who rather stole the stage a few times. :)

I was never once bored as I read this. I had a great time throughout. :) The worldbuilding is just as fun as the characters and the plot is more than fine. It's complicated enough to keep any adventure freak on their toes. :)

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Starship TroopersStarship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the original Mil-SF classics!

I've read this before. Several times, even, back when I was a newb when it came to Heinlein or SF in general. You know, pick up the Hugo Award winners and see if I like the author enough to continue on. Twenty books later, (THAT YEAR,) I discovered something. I like Heinlein. A lot.

But not ALL of Heinlein equally. Starship Troopers seemed kinda preachy to me, a little slow, and RAH, RAH, RAH Civic Duty. :) Suffice to say, I liked it pretty well. Caveats: it did come out in 1059, riding the social wave following the Korean War and very reminiscent of WWII war stories, updated for SF and focusing less on the horrors of war and more on Heinlein's usual Self-Reliance, Responsibility, and Duty.

I can't say I mind that at all. In fact, it just made me feel rather warm and cuddly and proud to be an American. Just a few years later, Kennedy would ask us what we would do for our country. We would feel responsible enough to take on those other things we called a social wrong. Like Red Scares. Cuba. Vietnam. But that wasn't this. Not yet.

Patriotism was at an all-time high. And this novel reflects that. Wide-eyed wonder and hope and gritty realism when it came to doing What Was Right.

Coming from another generation, this novel didn't quite hit the same buttons for me. But that's all right because some really smart people made a different movie by the same name but using MOSTLY the same story in the 90's that rocked hard with it's updated sensibilities and satire. :) And yet, the core RESPONSIBILITY remained very much intact. Amazing, no?


This novel is far from being Heinlein's best, but damn if it isn't excellent in its own right. I don't always have to agree with the sentiments as they apply now to appreciate the idealism on parade then. :)

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Stormbringer (The Elric Saga, #6)Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an impressive "end"! :) Of course, I already know there are a number of books that continue on, but I have to assume they take place before this Final Battle.

The black blade always gets the final laugh. Indeed.

I need to back up. These Elric tales are epic in the purest sense of the word. Forces of Chaos and Law rage across all lands and the multiverse... all time, as well. Elric's sword, Stormbringer, was designed to destroy the gods of Chaos together its twin, a blade of Law. Both are intelligent, drinkers of souls, and bloodthirsty as hell.

Elric straddles the line between both forces, focused on revenge as everything he's ever known or loved dies before him. He's a god-killer.

You know all those epic fantasies we love so much by all the biggest names in fantasy? Robert Jordan, Neil Gaiman, or hell, all of D&D pull from this author's epic ideas. Incarnations of Chaos, elementals, incarnations of Law (order), and Men. So many huge armies live and die, the continents change, the death toll utterly immense. Think about the fourth season of Babylon 5. It's this scope. This immensity.

But realize Elric came out long before all those. This is what Tolkien COULD have been had he gotten out of the minor details of all these lives and not fought for the static continuation of everyone's lives as the greatest good. Moorcock ramped up the stakes to the same level of Melkor versus all the Illuvatar and beyond since the stakes were for all time and all worlds across the multiverse. :)

Just saying... this is some impressive stuff. :)


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Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Voyage of the Sable Keech (Spatterjay, #2)The Voyage of the Sable Keech by Neal Asher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Does anyone remember the time when SF was all about the weird and wonderful? When it was all about the strangest aliens and incomprehensible worlds? When awe met terror, spiced it up with truly amazing worldbuilding, and then threw us into a really F***ed up world?

I do. I've been chasing that feeling ever since I was a kid... and then I read these Spatterjay books and I'm an 8-year-old again, getting terrified out of my mind by all the things I imagine might be out there if not exactly terrified by what I'm actually finding.

What would my 8-year-old self do upon finding Spatterjay?

Hmmm... I might have to rave about it right until the point I was put away in the children's psychiatric ward. :) What could be more horror driven than a world where nothing dies because the spatterjay virus keeps rebuilding EVERYTHING there? Just think about the most horrible creatures that you could find there, especially in Asher's mind... *ahem hooder ahem* or think about the old 1000 year old boat captains who never die... who just get stronger... or how about the truly unfortunate victims who get chopped up and spread to the four corners to become fish bait only to later become mindless living husks as part of even stranger creatures... or become stranger swimming creatures themselves. *shiver*

Or in this case, Sable Keech. The re-living. Walking corpses with AI crystals and programming keeping them alive... only to be yanked back into the living world thanks to this special virus. :)

Truly. This kind of imagination is extraordinary. Not only does Asher explore so many avenues and throw in some of the most amazing characters, he does it by writing novels about high-tech pirates and undead captains and many-limbed monsters not limited to the Prador. :)

As an adventure, it's awesome. As a visual extravaganza with enough scathing creativity making me wish this was a full-budget Hollywood special-effects monstrosity to drool over for years, it's even more than awesome. I'd give my left nut to see this on the screen.

Just saying. My mind would be blown.

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Saturday, February 9, 2019

VigilanceVigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OMG what a glorious, gloriously messed-up SF. :)

Bennett pulls off a great hat trick that follows some of the greatest SF stories ever written. He drills down on a single issue: Guns.

So... done, and perhaps overdone for years, right? Yes, of course! Because the problem is WORSE now than ever! Look at the Purge and dozens of others to show us where we're headed. It's the drill-down. Let's see our possible futures and see what kind of consequences are in store for us.

This one goes delightfully bloodthirsty and satirical as hell, adding a few extra dimensions like massive reliance on demographics and marketing ramped up to a perfect science and designing a whole society that relies on its deep fears to remain always vigilant against foreign invasion. (China has far outstripped the US by this point in technology and social engineering.)

The whole media industry has turned random shootings into a manufactured circus, turning certain zones into legal shootout zones where everyone goes armed and stays ready... and the "mad" shooter is carefully chosen, given a possible prize of 20 million dollars if he's the last one standing, 5 million to the cops if they get him first, and 1 million for any citizen stupid enough to enter the zone willingly. And it's all broadcasted in perfect technological wizardry, offering realtime stats, characterizations of the real people, and tons of AI tweaked additions to pump up the perfect ratings.

This is just the start, though. I love what it says about a society that had thrown off the shackles of random "desirable" traits to select for a more fearful populace, more gun-happy, and ever more distrustful.

Worse, we did it to ourselves. On purpose. By incentivizing it.

This novella is bloody and serious and soooo beautifully satirical. The MC inside this media circus is so dedicated to his job, so serious about doing it right, so vigilant, himself. :) He never sees what he's doing. What we all do to ourselves...

and the ending has one hell of a cool twist. :) Poetic justice? Yes. But since this is Bennett, we also have some SWEET over-the-top twists. I LOVE how it panned out.

Of course, it would have been scathingly deadly right after the end trip to the bathroom if it had ended right there. :) Not so over-the-top, but definitely damning to us all. :)

For next year, I'm definitely nominating this for Best Novella for Hugo. :)

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Armistice (The Amberlough Dossier, #2)Armistice by Lara Elena Donnelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted my high expectations to pan out for this one, but I was a little disappointed.

It's not a bad book by any definition, but it kinda picks up with the same characters under wildly different circumstances. From stage performance and spywork and blowing up the art district to becoming a revolutionary grunt or rubbing nobs with diplomats years down the line.

It might have been rather cool. In concept, it might even work. But in this particular instance, the enjoyment I had with the previous novel went down the drain for a pretty long stretch until the new/old characters came back to life... figuratively and literally.

Spies, bombers, and angling for a full civil war did manage to keep this from being unentertaining. The writing has a lot of quite cool moments and the end makes up for much of the meh. It's occupation Europe in a lite-fantasy setting, after all. We've all seen a lot of this in literature and movies, and this one doesn't even have any fantastical elements. Just the names have changed.

I can't say it's at all bad, but it isn't wonderful. The one thing it has going for it is the LGBT elements.

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Amberlough (The Amberlough Dossier, #1)Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I'm being honest, this is more of a 3.5 for me, not having all that much to do as a Fantasy except with changed names and places hiding the fact this may as well be Casablanca. What? Nazis, spy work, sharp, sometimes witty, dialogue? Yep.

I also enjoyed (and sometimes didn't) the deep immersion in the acting scene. For me, it was best when it was scathing quips and a bit boring when it seemed to drag the slow burn of this plot to rather nowhere places.

The fact is, this novel sinks or swims on your enjoyment of the characters. The gradual dissolution of people's lives here in Amberlough, whether straight or gay, rich or poor, will only mean something if you're deeply attached. The actual plot direction doesn't pick up until nearly the end when the losses stack up too high.

As I was reading this, I was somewhat reminded of Swordspoint. Any fans of that novel will definitely enjoy this. :)

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Friday, February 8, 2019

The People That Time Forgot (Caspak, #2)The People That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was also pubbed in '18, but rather than focusing so much on the WWI bent as the other novel, it turns this cowboy into a wannabe rescuer for his buddy. I'll let the other guy's manuscript just happening to "fall" into his hands go. After all, at least we now have a good solid emotional reason to go flying in to save the man who just BARELY escaped getting eaten by tons of dinos or being blown up by the Baron. :)

MOVING ON...

I think the start of this one was pretty damn solid. I had fun and let the hand-wavy stuff go and we were thrown into some delicious dino moments right away.

But that is where it kinda goes sideways for me. The remaining novel is mostly about the indigenous cavemen and cavewomen. Not bad, mind you. I've read much, much worse. I'll also ignore the ease this American has with a new language in mere days, because, after all, the story needs to move. :)

And it moves. Lots of adventure, exploration, and tribal shit. I enjoyed most of that just fine, but what did I really want to see going on?

Yeah, you named it... DINOSAURS! So many of them are missing from the latter half. Alas!!!

All told, I really have no big complaints... but no great love, either.

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The Land That Time Forgot (Caspak, #1)The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can honestly say that I had a lot more fun with this than, say, The Island of Doctor Moreau. That is to say, I thought it was a pretty nifty adventure. :)

It came out in 1918 for those of you somewhat familiar with the historical terrain. War was on everyone's minds and pretty much anything that let us escape from our world to some deserted island... or not so deserted... is pretty much the epitome of awesome.

The first half of this short novel was already a top-notch adventure with capturing a U-boat and uncovering traitors, but once they made it to the land that time forgot, you and I both know that we're in love with the dinos. :)

I really want some steak, now. Nom nom.

The surprising difference between this cool little adventure and more modern tales is quite striking. The same thing written in the 60's or 70's would have been embarrassing for any female character. Weak, abused, treated like crap. But not so in this one. Maybe it was the whole women's voting rights or something, but this female was pretty awesome. Strong, quick thinking, and determined. I likey.


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The Abyss Beyond DreamsThe Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, Nigel!

I love how we're continuing on with SO MANY of the previously great Commonwealth characters again, picking up the same awesomeness we visited in the Void trilogy.

The void is a galaxy eating event that houses an alternate universe that allows the people within it to live VERY fast, generations and generations to our single generation on the outside, but with Psi abilities, depressed technological workings, and... fantastically diverse worlds. :)

The hard-SF universe on the outside, represented by Nigel, infiltrates the Void and what we have is a massive story of subverting the governments, dealing with another alien species set on escaping and/or destroying the Void (like Nigel).

What we wind up getting is a humble beginning with an altruistic wedding, delightful interactions here, ramped up to a full revolution to destabilize the entire freaking population in the Void. :)

Too cool. Massive action, great characters, new reveals... but not that many in comparison to the original Void trilogy. I consider this a great continuation. It's like coming home. :)

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

The n-Body ProblemThe n-Body Problem by Tony Burgess
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the dead Disney princess of literature.

What would happen if you mixed heavy metal with a cancer ward, turning the world into sad walking zombies that aren't particularly dangerous... just disgusting, roving, mounds of sex... and then decide that the only way to take care of the hoards is to shoot them into near-Earth orbit.

It absolutely has great writing, but NOTHING about this is easy, comfortable, or particularly sane. Depressing? Yes, as can be foretold by the pages-worth of antidepressants, cancer meds, and survival in a world made up of unbreakable corpses dumped in troves of quivering, licking mounds.

What was most disgusting? Just about all the sex references. There's nothing sexy about it. The imagery is some of the most horrible I've ever read. Evocative, powerful, horrible, but not GOOD.

I am the devil's stomach.

Hell, every time I think it can't get more horrible, it proves me wrong. And wrong again. It's a mosh pit of corrosion and carved maggots.

But honestly? It's so bad it's freaking wonderful. Hardcore spatterpunk and body-horror doesn't begin to describe it. It goes deeper than anything on this surface. :)

NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART.

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The Picture of Dorian GrayThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the greats of literature, IMHO.

Lyrical, Witty, and shameless in how it utterly lambasts the Late Victorian period of England, it is primarily a tale of base moral degradation housed in a pretty shell, rising above its own wit to show us a lot more about what is within us all and scour us just as much as it did the English period.

Wow, right?

Let me go one step further. I can't exactly tell if this is the first time that the idea that moral turpitude was supposed to be reflected upon ugly visages, but I'm willing to point at it as the most popular expression of it. More so than Rob Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But things are not so simple, of course. Since we're dealing with the mirror of the painting and Basil's (the painter) preoccupation with ART being a reflection of reality, the whole question becomes one of seeming versus reality, art versus life.

When you take on Erasmus's mantle and Praise Folly in order to remain youthful and wise, taking it to the full hedonistic conclusion, everyone loves you but you lose yourself. Oscar gives us deep thoughts and a massively cautionary tale that serves as a straight horror.

(See what I did there? A "straight" horror?) Oh, nevermind. lol, Oscar was put on trial in for indecency charges shortly after this novel. He really shocked the shit out of folks.

Beyond even all this, the tale manages to mightily entertain us as we see such a pure soul get so muddy... for nothing entertains us more than seeing the mighty fall.

Should we blame Basil, the Painter, who was the author and the architect of this horror? Or Lord Henry who hand-held Dorian down into his greatest shames and gave him every justification (the world). Or Dorian himself, who is the very mirror of ourselves, wishing for eternal youth and the ability to have every single one of our wishes come true, with no restriction or force behind his moral compass?

Dorian is the epitome of 'do as thou wilt'. Who is at fault here?

This is what makes this great literature. It's bright, wicked, and corrupt, but we are the ones who give it this power.


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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Kraken WakesThe Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will probably always nod to Wyndham's Day of the Triffids as a crowning piece of SF, but The Kraken Wakes takes on a very similar tone, albeit very different problems.

The two both have a heavy focus on science and rationality in the face of unfathomable problems. Triffids had mass blindness turning most of humanity into meat for ambulatory plants while Kraken shows us just how lame we are against deep-ocean dwelling aliens despite nukes... especially when the icebergs melt. I especially loved the full logical exploration of options, possibilities, and solutions... but humanity and governments being what they are, the most rational options are usually thrown out the window for the sake of sovereignty and dominance.

What? We don't like the idea of giving up our naval superiority? Oh, well. Let the escalations begin. And they go far beyond mere escalations. Some of the novel has the tone of War of the Worlds, while other parts feel like any number of global-warming disaster novels (or movies!).

Don't be fooled into thinking this is a Captain Nemo novel. The whole world is affected and the death count is truly awesome. In that respect, it's very much in tune with Triffids! :)

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AfterpartyAfterparty by Daryl Gregory
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My expectations for this one did not match the depth of the thriller it became. :) What was I expecting? Biopunk social ramifications for new designer drugs a bit more designed than what we're used to. Maybe a little tragedy, more interesting developments in a thriller-ish drug-company evil mastermind kind of way.

But what I got was a good tale of redemption, working through the crazy, drug addiction, and responsibility. It's filled to the brim with great flawed characters across the board and a rather special LGBT relationship that pulled on my heartstrings.

But what really got me was the implications of this particular drug. It stimulates the emotion of the numinous. More than any other kind of drug, it threatens to replace churches for the feeling it produces.

The novel could have gone the way of PKD's Ubik for this but it didn't. It stayed a thriller and let the ramifications seep in while our MC tried to put a STOP to the manufacturer. Going off the drug is like losing your God. Existential loss. Meaninglessness. You might think you're prepared, but once you KNOW and then you get it taken away... that's when the suicides... or worse... start happening.

Honestly, I didn't realize this would be so good. :) Maybe I should just start trusting that Daryl Gregory knows what he's doing and just go ahead and read everything he's ever written in blind trust. This is my fourth and I should have learned that by now. :)

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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Embers of War (Embers of War, #1)Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first, I felt like this was going to be a single-track MilSF with big spaceships and disgruntled warriors, but soon I was very happy to discover multidimensional characters representing a much wider kind of cast than I usually see in these types of novels. Poetry, spies, sentient ships, (reminding me a lot of Leckie), and of course, disgruntled grunts fill these pages.

But do you know what I like the most about this? The ability to escape the world of war into a hard life of altruism, a-la the code of the sea that always helps those who are lost.

How this diverse and interestingly ethical cast of characters come together is a wonderfully plotted and subtly deep universe with great worldbuilding. It's light compared to some Space-Opera but much better than most. I'm reminded of the pacing of Becky Chambers with the very solid military aspects of Marko Kloos.

I can honestly say I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this. Some bits fell into the old Opera groves, but I more than appreciated all the actual divergences. The only complaint I might entertain is the role of the BDO (Big Dumb Objects).

The characters and the idealism within this torturous path of the tale more than made up for that. I should stress that this is rather better than the average Space-Opera, even if it doesn't go all out with the coolness.



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The Naked God (Night's Dawn, #3)The Naked God by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This particular novel was almost 1,200 pages and between it and the other two in the ongoing single story that takes up this trilogy, it's almost 3000 pages. Let me stress this: It's a single story. This isn't a huge ongoing big-book deal like the one Robert Jordan made... but it's close.

And it's epic Space-Opera with anti-mater explosions, the dead coming back to take over the living, vast interstellar exploration, hunting for a god, and lots and lots of regular people just happening to make up pop superstars, Al Capone, runaway rich kids, and the fate of us all... considering the idea that souls persist. The dead come back. And we have a choice to make... as a species.

The aliens refuse to get involved. They had to make their own choices when it came to this.

In the meantime, humanity is devolving in a war between possessed bodies and the high-tech remaining populace. Earth is under siege. Both sides are running out of options even with the ability to transmute matter, move whole planets, put themselves in zero-tau, or live in shared-consciousness ecologies. :)

Just... wow. The ideas and the buildup is freaking amazing.

BUT. I should mention, the execution is often bloated, full of long sequences about nothing much in particular, and while it helps develop characters, there's just SO MUCH OF IT and I found myself wanting the really BIG stuff to happen. And it eventually does. The reward for putting up with over 50 hours of this third novel is well worth the wait. :) BUT.

My observation? Be patient. Enjoy the ride. It's not a race. Enjoy this honker of a novel for what it is and watch the original Poltergeist again for the sheer enjoyment of it. :)

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Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Hod King (The Books of Babel, #3)The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

These books have become a delightful diversion for me. Most importantly, they're FUN.

Most of my interest stemmed first from the whole Victorian Tower of Babel vibe with steampunk cyborgs, ancient genetic tampering, airships, and Senlin's total fish-out-of-water story. In the second, we enjoy the fruits of this schoolmaster after he has become a notorious pirate captain and we learn a lot about the history of the Tower. The Sphinx is something else.

But it's the third book that really pushed the core tale forward. The Hods, the slaves that keep the world running, have always been a tragic underbelly, but until now we never got deep into the reality of it. Who is the Hod King? (No spoilers. But I likey.) :)

What I think I like best about this is not Senlin's continuing story, although his particular tragedy is redefining him in a much more interesting way. His finding his lost love is a perfect segue to the horror to come. Nope, I like our acrobat and Ethel best. :) New PoVs! Equal time, even! I really enjoyed the new airship, the battles, and the twisting of all our expectations. Any previous issues I might have had with women's roles and story tropes are overturned here. :) Senlin is paying, perhaps overpaying, for his assumptions. :)

Such fun! I'm so glad this is out there. Most of the old fantasy tropes get introduced and twisted nicely in this series. I heartily approve. :)

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Friday, February 1, 2019

On the Shoulders of Titans (Arcane Ascension, #2)On the Shoulders of Titans by Andrew Rowe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OMG I just want to keep raving about this. Nothing else. Just rave. And go OMG.

Why? Because this was made for me. Never mind that it's YA. I just have SO MUCH FUN with it. :) Why? Because it is one of the very best LitRPGs out there.

Let me explain. LitRPG is taking the very best gaming elements of both pencil-and-paper RPG min-maxing and loophole hunting and also RPG video games and throws it on the page surrounded by a great story, great characters, and it unabashedly makes it reminiscent of the great RPGs of yore.

Oh, and it also GETS me. I LOVE enchanting items and leveling up and discovering the deepest properties of the fantasy world and finding ways to CLEVER yourself out of situations you're NEVER supposed to get out of. :) This particular duo of novels revels in it.

ENCHANTERS RULE! :)

It's also fantastic for action, battles, trials, quests, traps, traps, and more traps. Either by the school where he's learning his skills or by the magical towers with seemingly endless floors of deadly ... whatever. :) Of course, none of this would be half so good if we didn't have the best characters and the best reasons to do them. Fortunately, I feel his need to get MORE POWERFUL at all costs. :)

Nom nom nom nom. LEVEL UP TIME! :)

My only complaint? ... WHY DO I HAVE TO WAIT SO LONG FOR THE NEXT???

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