Friday, May 31, 2019

Imago (Xenogenesis, #3)Imago by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maybe I'll be in the minority by preferring the middle book out of the entire series, but the last one definitely puts everything in perspective. We start out from the purely human perspective in the first, the hybrid perspective in the second, and end with an entirely new perspective of a new Ooloi who now threatens the gene-line of the Ooloi, being the most alien out of all the bunch but with a singular interesting gift...

Of humanity. :)

Enough time has passed since the first book that history upon history has filled nearly all the human settlements with a fairly good case of fear and resentment... after all, these aliens have killed our original genome, preventing our having children except with their third sex. Is this, in the end, an alien invasion? Well, we did basically destroy ourselves off in a nuclear winter and they came along to preserve us, so a good case can be made on both sides.

All of this might be moot when the most human of the aliens comes along and fights for the rights of the last of the flawed species. Never mind that the Ooloi made Mars habitable for the remaining people and gave us back our normal reproduction... what is needed is a real push forward along lines that isn't so perversely paradoxical... Thank you, Mr. Heirarchy.

A very interesting tale... and I mean all three books, considered. I like the ambiguity and the deliciously Biopunk SF-ness. :) I heartily recommend reading all three books together.


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Adulthood Rites (Xenogenesis, #2)Adulthood Rites by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Impressive. I definitely liked this second story in the trilogy better than the first. The other was very much a foundation, but while we really don't follow Lillith from the first, we do follow her hybrid son as he makes his way through an early difficult childhood and into his Adulthood Rite.

Akim is a victim as much as he is a bridge between the ignorant and dispirited humans brought down to Earth and the aliens who misunderstand our humanity. We're a paradox of hierarchical madness and intelligence and are doomed to always destroy ourselves, after all, and even tho the aliens give us free access to a good life, fixing any malady, and the opportunity to have children (with two humans and one alien in the mix), most humans resort to stealing half-breed children since we are unable to have normal children now, rape and raid other villages, and murder for the sport of it. Or out of the sheer desperation of resisting something that cannot be resisted.

Humanity is dead.

Akim finds empathy in a way that the aliens cannot.

Back in the late 80's, this might have sold as a grimdark dystopia but comparing it to today's fare, it really never gets THAT dark. Hope is pretty big.

I really appreciate the direction this book took. I kinda expected it to be a little whiny but it never really went there. Just adult situations, strong emotions, and in-depth exploration of the themes. Quite good.

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Dawn (Xenogenesis, #1)Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm half-tempted to hold off on a review until I read the full trilogy. I've come to understand that the full story isn't explored until we've read the whole thing... BUT since this was published as the first book, here I go, anyway. :)

This is quite a bit different from Kindred, focusing instead on the social, emotional, and physical changes associated with being awoken in captivity among some very strange and awesome alien-aliens. This isn't Star Trek. It's more of a Cthuhlu encounter without the overarching dread, modifying the humans through drugs and genetic changes and being told that the rest of the human race has wiped itself out with nukes.

From every indication, these super-alien creatures are super empathic and only want to prepare and release us back on the planet, but more than half of the tale is about earning trust or perhaps falling into Stockholm Syndrome. Awakening other humans for the grand purpose goes about as well as any of us humans might expect.

Badly.

Especially when the aliens let us know that our children are going to be hybrids.

I see a lot of modern SF's roots in this book. Anything more interested in relationships and human nature and working through some serious s**t.

It's not fast-paced. It relies on subtlety and empathy with and about the aliens and her slow change into a person that successfully straddles both worlds without being a part of either. Quite interesting, but it obviously leaves the tale unfinished. On to book two!

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Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Land: Predators (Chaos Seeds, #7)The Land: Predators by Aleron Kong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh lordy!

I totally fell hard for this book.

Like, I started saying things to myself like, "This was Totally written for me!" and "I don't care one bit about its length, I could keep reading this for several months straight without a single breather." and "NO F***ING WAY! THIS IS EPIC!"

I was already a big fan from the previous 6 books but when I finally got around to reading this 7th, I was a little intimidated by the length. What could have happened here to make it so long?

Muahahahahahahahahaha

Okay, folks, this is the literary equivalent of crack. If you like Skyrim, early Warcraft, any of the turn-based fantasy games OR the MMPRGs, just start shaking it up a bit and throwing all of the best features, including the delightful DING sounds of leveling-up along SO MANY skillsets (Yes, in this book,) getting into leveling jobs, classes, scalable items, dungeon leveling, CRAFTING EVERYTHING, including enchantments on your settlement and the buildings in it.

SO MUCH is focused on this and I didn't care in the slightest because I LOVE THIS STUFF it hardly mattered when the actual epic battles rolled in. :) TONS of epic battles, each using the skills and created enchantments and new spells learned and bonuses from the last battles. :) And we get to see TONS of breathtaking reversals, craziness, OP monsters and LEGENDARY boss battles.

And you know the best part? Very little time is actually lost on character building, except in the, you know... CHARACTER BUILDING. :) lol, I think we must have spent at least ten percent of the whole book time with the skills menu up. :)

But don't think this doesn't come with story. It does. It's an RPG in all the grand styles... and there are even a great deal of fantastic nerdy easter eggs. Just pay close attention to the Chaos skill menu. Or a certain OP magician from Feistland (no relation, indeed) popping up. :)


Seriously, folks, this has addiction level 92 written all over it. And I LOVE it. :)

Can I recommend it for anyone who hasn't played and loved any RPG game in existence?
Maybe. Maybe not. But if you have even a SLIGHT love for them, this series is pure cocaine.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Limited Wish (Impossible Times, #2)Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A perfectly awesome time-travel tale served up on a platter of fun D&D mirroring, future-knowledge angst, time-ghosts, paradox, and mathematical hijinx that does more than skirt the edges of a heist novel.

Again.

But don't worry! While this may have a lot of the same elements of the first book in broad strokes, the story ramps up with some rather awesome snags that aren't just romantic. And even the other kinds of encounter-mirroring is fully explained in the recesses of the paradox. :) Very cool stuff, well thought-out, delightfully fast read.

And it is fully taking advantage of our recent loves of Stranger Things (80's geekdom!) and quick-paced thrillers. Only, this is a math-genius cancer-sufferer going to college a bit early and falling face-first into a ton of critical-failure rolls. :)

Well worth it. I'm absolutely loving the hell out of these.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Fifth Elephant (Discworld, #24; City Watch, #5)The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read.

But you know what? Other than the whole dwarf rock bits, the murders, werewolves, theft, and Detritus's exploding crossbow, I SWEAR this is a book about Brexit.

Of course, it could really be about making the European Union, but really it's about Brexit. Überwald is, of course, England. It's kinda obvious. Backward, reactionary, full of wolves, vampires, and werewolves. And Igors. Of course, Igors.

Isn't that amazing? How did Pratchett predict all these events back in 1999? Hello, dwarves!

Of course... the rest of the EU is actually Ankh-Morpork.

Eerie. So where is EU's Vimes? Come solve the crime! :)



(BTW, I liked this book the second time I read it better than the first. Tastes change and sometimes books improve.) :)

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Monday, May 27, 2019

The PeripheralThe Peripheral by William Gibson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a genre overloaded with lighter fare and simply garnished SF tropes, a novel like this from the wonderful William Gibson (of Neuromancer fame) comes along and not only displays gorgeous tech and implications overloading the text, but does it with fantastic prose, delicious turns of phrase, and a boatload of subtlety surrounding some very stark SF events.

His earlier period was the one I was most interested in, ushering in the very term we use today, "Cyberpunk", with equal amounts Noir underdog hacker (replacing gumshoes) against multinational corporations and governments, equally handy with a gun and a fist alongside a computer terminal, heavy experimental tech, and even the odd pantheon of AI gods. :)

The middle period is known for technothrillers and fantastically subtle explorations of culture, specific techs and how they change us in every walk of life. I really appreciate his writing skill and scope, here.

But now he has returned to the SF I loved most... but I should mention this is NOT Cyberpunk. Gibson has long left those roots behind, instead forging his own ideas of the future in the same way he brought about the genre's revolution in the mid-80's.

The Peripheral is more of a huge-scope indictment of our modern world and the directions it is taking. What direction? Oh, just the slow decline and multi-front failures on every front, giving us a dark look at what we will become in 30 years, kept focused on a small cast but with tons of subtle cues everywhere for everything else.

But things don't stay there. We also have a kind of invasion from a hundred years in the future where most of humanity has died to leave only the decadent rich behind, using quantum tunneling technologies to reach back into the past, 70 years in the past, to be precise, to play their own games without remorse or much empathy.

Here we cross paths between these two complex timelines when our blue-collar buddies from the nearer future get caught up in the games of the future, including murder... and one particularly decent guy from that farther time tries to do the right thing. The characters are pretty damn cool. The worldbuilding is very detailed, and the tech never lets you take a breath. We as readers are all supposed to take an active role. :)

A disabled military guy with tattoos that used to let him control complex drones? Hell yeah. Gaming systems that are more like souped-up cosplay run through android-like Peripherals? Hell yeah! Now how about using some of those more powerful techs to game the living hell out of the past?

Muahahahahaha... the scope of this novel is MUCH larger than the blurb would let you guess.

I'm reminded, first and foremost, of William Gibson when I think about this novel. Secondarily, I'd place him in the same complex turns as Daniel Suarez and Iain McDonald and Neal Stephenson. This kind of novel is not meant to be popcorn trash. It seriously considers so many huge points and does it with style and panache while never stinting on the blow-you-away tech and implications. :)

Do I recommend? Hell yeah!

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One Word Kill (Impossible Times, #1)One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Fault in Our Stars meets D&D fandom meets TIME TRAVEL.

I don't know why I thought this was an example of LitRPG but it isn't. It just happens to have a group of friends playing D&D in the 80's with our protagonist going through his own kind of hell with Cancer.

There happens to be a real-world adventure, a bit of romance, and a psychopath, but let's not forget a few closed-time-like-loops, memory alterations, and the sweetness of kissing a girl. :)

So what about One Word Kill? The D&D scroll that ignores saving throws once and for all?

Ahhh, this is where the book gets really good. Not only do we have a few D&D in-the-know tropes working their way into theme and plot, but we've got a few great reversals that make this all kinds of awesome.

I love it. It's light, definitely YA, but it was also good in the way that really surprised me. In a deep way. Emotional. The time travel bit was not a gimmick. It worked very well. :)

No spoilers! Enjoy it for yourself! :)

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Sunday, May 26, 2019

Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World, #2)Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Roanhorse doesn't fail to entertain... again. :)

This Urban Fantasy has quickly become one of my go-to sources for popcorn fiction. It has everything I really love. A much more unique setting than I usually get, reminding me of all my old stomping grounds where I used to grow up.

Well, before the coastlines altered and the earthquakes took down the cities and the plagues wiped out everyone else, anyway... :)

This is exciting, entertaining, full of gods of native persuasion, and some really funky cool happenings. What more could I want in a popcorn fiction? Come on, Coyote, let's throw a wrench at something. :)



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Saturday, May 25, 2019

The GiftThe Gift by Vladimir Nabokov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My goodness-gracious, this book is one hell of a monster.

It is the ultimate Russian nesting doll of and about art, memory, satire, and "Art". If I wasn't already a huge fan of Nabokov, I probably would have thrown this book across the room.

Nabokov wrote this novel as a tribute to his native language and is the last, and undeniably brilliant, of that period. It is a prime example of a supremely self-satisfied intellectual engorgement. Beautiful turns of phrase, rich and belligerent in its knowledge of the Russian Greats, it waves itself under the noses of anyone who might dare to understand it.

Look. I know my fair share of the greats of Russian Literature, but aside from my Dostoyevski, I'm like a babe in the woods against my Pushkin and Gogol. Coming up against The Gift makes me flail like a flensed man hung from a gibbet. Or like the remaining skin of a man. In Siberia. If I wasn't a dedicated fan of the writer and his gorgeous prose, the brilliant structure, the way he nested his prose within prose within prose and went ALL META on me in a way that made my head spin, I probably would have cut off his self-satisfied intellectual engorgement and thrown it out the window of a moving car.

I both loved and hated this book. I wanted to DNF it because I couldn't follow so much of it. I didn't know enough of any of the poets of the period, let alone a sufficient number of the greats, to know whether Nabokov was MAKING THEM UP OUT OF WHOLE CLOTH a-la Possession. I guess I could look it up, but frankly, I'm happy I'm done and I want to move on. :)

It's definitely going to be right up your alley if you A: love Russian literature, B: love to hear about writers crafting their magnum opuses, C: are tolerant of monstrous egotists. :)


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The Starter WifeThe Starter Wife by Nina Laurin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cuckoo! Cuckoo! :)

This is definitely for all you mystery/thriller fans out there who can't get enough of your CRAZY WOMEN. You know, the Single White Female types, the Fatal Attraction types... or even Gone Girl. :)

All the nastiest tropes of our favorite crazy girls are upped here for our reading pleasure, evoking gales of disturbed laughter from tortured chests. :)

Fun. Good, evil fun. :)


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Friday, May 24, 2019

What My Sister KnewWhat My Sister Knew by Nina Laurin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Remember those good old days when twins always knew each other's minds and they didn't go all psycho on you?

Yeah, me either. That's why I really liked this particular mystery. It reminds me that siblings are never (or are always) exactly what they seem. :)

Confusing? Nah. This thriller will keep you turning those pages from the first car crash all the way to the last lit match. :) You know, to shine a little light on the problem.

I admit I figured out the big twist pretty early on, but it's not always about the end of the journey. The destination is usually not the biggest thrill in most mysteries. :)

Definitely worth the read if you like well-crafted characters and the slow descent into the secret past.

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RecursionRecursion by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have no problems in announcing that this book ought to be a multi-multi-billion-dollar bestseller.

Maybe I'm biased, too, but damn, this guy can write a great novel that tickles all my SF bones and reminds me how much I love well-crafted thrillers. Does this remind you of his Dark Matter? It should.

And if you loved the ideas behind The Butterfly Effect, Flatliners, and Groundhog Day, I'm certain you're going to fall head-over-heels for this novel.

Am I giving too much away? No. Probably not. The novel goes well beyond the initial premises of memory replacement and mystery and a bit of the oddball secret conspiracy bits and dives straight into the heart of some really messed-up emotional family stuff, the implications of which flatlined me.

And if anyone is worried that novels like these usually stop long before the full ramifications are revealed, rest assured. Crouch goes DEEP into the aftermath, aftermath, aftermath, aftermath. What we get afterward is not just a great mystery/thriller or an extremely solid SF novel, but one that is full of deeply emotional resonance and quality that will last long after the tale has finished.

I call this a home run. And I like it even more than Dark Matter. :) I'm reminded of the quality I read in another's book, The Gone World. High praise, I think. :)

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

High-RiseHigh-Rise by J.G. Ballard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this as primarily, even entirely, satire.

Sure, it has a lot of the great dystopia themes going on and for 1975 it's rather delicious and evil, reminding me of a souped-up version of something Silverberg once wrote but it's mostly all Ballard.

The writer is all about upper-middle-class anyone falling down the trash disposal of history, the total degradation of social mores, civilization, and tapping into that lizard self.

What we have here is a forty-level self-contained condominium that has it all. Everything the tenants need to survive. It's not locked from the outside world but no one wants to leave even when things start getting really Lord of the Flies. What starts from social snobbery falls into murder and raiding parties, whole floors against whole floors, falling further into smaller raiding parties and hunters as the trash piles up down below and the richer raiding grounds beckon to them above. All social order breaks down and rapes, murders, and cannibalism becomes the name of the game.

They believe they all have the very best of any world.

Do you see any similarities to us?

Read this way, I had a very delicious time with this book. I see something of Howey's Wool in it and I think I'd have an even better time seeing a totally modern take on this same idea. I'm sure we could all come up with some rather nasty new ways to flush society down the toilet assuming we can suspend our disbelief long enough. :)

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The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her MindThe Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind by Jackson Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nothing beats this title. I requested this pretty much only because of it.

That being said, I read it with an open mind and expected a bunch of snark to go with my telekinesis. The trick to this kind of genre book is not to expect anything outright original but think of it as a great way of telling a fun story.

And for the most part, it is. It's not about science. It's about running a snarky mystery novel with all the heisty action, running, fighting, and reveals that keep our MC alive. You know, with the law and the bad guys both after her and all of it under a time limit. Fun... and slightly forgettable.

Which is a shame because I really LOVE the title! And perhaps I've been spoiled with some truly bonkers snark by Chuck Wendig, so this stuff is not all that breathtaking. It's average. Amusing. And let's face it, it'll probably sell. :)

After all, it has ONE HELL OF A TITLE. :)

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Animal FarmAnimal Farm by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sure, I shelve this as satire, but really, it's just a manual of humanity.

We won't learn. We never have learned. We will never learn again.

I heard that the most eminent pig just got bailed out from his bankruptcy and is thinking about running for president. Hurray!

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Children of Ruin (Children of Time #2)Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I admit that I was afraid that this might not have turned out as good ... as brilliant ... as the Children of Time, but now that I've read it, I'm happy to say that I'm very happy indeed.

We left our spider/human crew off to explore new worlds and peoples and guess what they found?

A new world and multiple alien species. :) We have all the goodness of Dr. Kern, her ants, the Portias, and the human crew stumbling face first into a free-for-all (or close enough), reacting very badly to the news that HUMANS had come.

*facepalm* Of course. Fortunately, it only gets better from here. We have two timelines and several generations to catch up with, beginning with human terraformers making mistakes, playing with making new life, AGAIN, or I should say, AS USUAL, and never quite making the required leap between keeping control on their projects and throwing caution to the wind. This sequence was fascinating as hell to me. If you love squiddies, you're going to love this novel. I did. :)

When we get to the linguistics and math and just trying to salvage a real clusterpluck of several first-contact scenarios with what SHOULD have been a great starting point with what we already accomplished with intelligent spiders and humans, I really got the feeling like this was shaping up to be a full-on horror novel. I kept thinking about Greg Bear's Blood Music. With all the cool bits intact. And my goodness, I fell head-over-heels. The squiddies are like what a civilization would be like if all you had was the squabbling vibrancy of the best and worst features of our internet turned into a full-on species. Crank it up, make them intelligent but too passionate and flighty for their own good, and you might get a pretty neat idea about what we're dealing with. :)

I love it. :)

This is one of the more original SF novels to come out in a long time along with the Children of Time. In a long line of novels that all seem to be riffing on mostly the self-same themes, these two books break so many molds and fly so very high above the rest. :)

Tchaikovsky put heart and soul into these and for that, I salute him. :) FANTASTIC IDEAS RUN RAMPANT! :) :) :)

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Atlas Alone (Planetfall #4)Atlas Alone by Emma Newman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Over and over, I'm confronted with the fact that I'm in love with Emma Newman's writing. She keeps changing tracks with every novel, giving us completely different KINDS of novels while still intersecting them all in not very strange but emotionally impactful ways.

I mean, JEEZE. I could just mention what big thing happens in the other books and let all my gushy bits come out, but that's spoiler territory. What I will mention is my total respect for the way she treats trauma, surreal virtual-reality/dreamlike states, and the descent into Borderline territory.

And here's the kicker... I loved every single minute of it. Did I start rocking hard to the excuses, the feel of JUSTICE pouring through my veins, the visceral satisfaction of it?

Yes. Hell, maybe I'm a bit sick in the head. But I can do nothing but praise the author. She writes excellent science-fiction. Period. From science to the imaginative bits to the implications in the SFnal tropes. And all of it is handled beautifully -- even sticking to the current philosophical zeal to AI questions! :) I particularly loved the mirroring between the modern slavery questions and the overall fears we have about Artifical Intelligence.

And then there was the story taking place. :) Muahahahahaha what a kicker. No spoilers, but damn, what a great twist. :)



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Monday, May 20, 2019

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved:

The nerd culture. Of course. All the LotR references pulling right back into the Dominican Republic horrorshow. The space opera, the Role-Playing fun, the excellent Homage to Akira. With one exception: DUDE, DON'T DISS DUNE.

I loved just how amazing the characters are. Not just Oscar, but all the PoVs, the clever national history lesson, the epic family history, and not just New Jersey, but DR with Trujillo as Sauron. :) Totally brilliant.

I didn't love the tragedy.

Come on. I knew it was a tragedy before I started this. It's in the title. But like all tragedies, we have to hold onto just ONE THING. One thing to keep us going.

In this case, it's fat and obsessive Oscar finally living up the Dominican Republican tradition of: "Dude must get laid." You know, one time before he dies.

Just... damn.

Still, the rest of the novel is pretty awesome from start to finish as long as I'm just there to enjoy the hell out of the nerdy ride. And I did. :)

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Sunday, May 19, 2019

Space CadetSpace Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is '48 Heinlein at his most usual for the time-period. I can't say I love it, but I can appreciate what it IS.

It's YA, folks. Moral, ethical, scientifically accurate adventure for BOYS. First, into what seems to be the military for space, our intrepid idiots, (I mean, promising young men,) get in over their heads after a prolonged training period and head to Venus. Where they get inveigled in cultural misunderstandings and get out by the skin of their teeth.

This is 40's youth claptrap, folks. It has a sell-by-date on the cover. It's not even courageous enough to let loose with Heinlein's real opinions, complex reductions, or moral ambiguities. Let's face it. He wrote this for a very particular kind of paycheck. One with real money, playing off all his connections with the Boy's Life serials.

I can, however, still praise the biggest contribution he made to SF at the time.

Science. Real science, even ACCURATE science. And very decent writing.

I can't really blame him for being dull in this particular novel. It was written to spec. lol

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The Secret GardenThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I admit I was charmed by this children's classic. It started out promising as the beginning of a great tragedy with a monstrous girl-child but thanks to a garden, an evil-looking gardener, and a magical robin, we learn that children OUGHT to run about unsupervised outside and get fattened up for the slaughter.

ALTERNATE VERSION OF THE CLASSIC:

The two kids, now happy and well-adjusted and delightful instead of being wailing banshees now have ruddy cheeks and (as we have been told by the author MANY TIMES) they're fattened-up.

In comes Hitchcockian Robins to feast on whatever has been left in the Secret Garden. No one will ever find their remains. :)


Ahh, alas, modern sensibilities. :) But no, nothing like that happens. It's actually rather delightful and maybe in a year or two I'll be reading this wonderful book to my girl.

I may or may not embellish a bit, tho. :)

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Saturday, May 18, 2019

The OverstoryThe Overstory by Richard Powers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let's ignore the fact that this won the Pulitzer for '19 for a moment and focus on what's really important:

THIS BOOK IS FREAKING FANTASTIC. We need to push this book on friends, family, and perfect strangers. Everyone should read it. It tells a narrative we need to REMEMBER.


What we need, more than statistics, scientific studies, or someone to strongarm us into doing the right thing, is a story. The only thing that will penetrate our short-sighted skulls is a story. One that takes all of these scientific studies, from naturalism to biology to systems theory to psychology and even to computer science, and gives us a roaringly good narrative that makes it all VITAL.

It's something that kicks us in the gut even while it repeats, with brilliant characters, what most of us have already heard but most of us have been forced to put aside.

We've all heard that there are colonies and colonies of life living in trees. Not just the live ones but the dead ones. They are as abundant and interconnected in a healthy forest as a coral reef. But like coral reefs, we've logged most of the healthy forests out of existence. Cornrows of trees are NOT healthy forests. In a few years, we'll have lost huge percentages of ALL species. In a few more years, we'll be down to half what we had 50 years ago. In a few more years, the entire ecosystem will collapse.

And why?

Because we do not have a narrative of ourselves inside the life of the world. We shrug and say we're just trying to survive and continue doing the same thing we've always done. Half measures and less than half measures. And meanwhile, the economies that say we must consume EVERYTHING just to maintain an already slipping lifestyle just a few seconds longer is consuming, wastefully, every other living lifeform on the planet.

*slow clap*

We've forgotten that we are a lifeform of and with this planet, it seems. But this book does WONDERS with all the real science couched within a brilliantly entertaining novel to remind us.

Sometimes all it takes is letting your lawn overgrow. Maybe a blight-resistant tree will sprout up and invite all the wildlife back in. :)

Oh, and by the way... WE CAN ALWAYS SURVIVE IN THE FORESTS. Food IS abundant. So what am I saying?

Is this just a novel that makes me proud that I love trees? That it is the only truly rational thing to be?

Because, otherwise, we are collectively committing suicide? You've heard of extinction-level events, right? lol

No. I think it's a great Over-Story. A great narrative that brings a great story back to real science. I laughed at the Stanford Prison Experiment, the real studies on intelligent root systems and fungal networks. How trees really do communicate over vast distances. They have memory. The even call in insects through pheromones to SAVE THEM from predators! The whole ecosystems COMMUNICATE in vast, sometimes very slow ways, and every species responds. Haven't we be doing the same? Do you like your apples and pears? Do you really think that we're that smart to cultivate fruit-bearing trees from out of nowhere? Or are we just taking advantage of trees who are TAKING ADVANTAGE of us? They give us the sweet things, the medicines, the high-value foodstuffs... and tempt us. We spread their genes because we're in a PARTNERSHIP.

We really shouldn't forget that. We should be buying this book for all our friends and families and pushing it on strangers. :) Truly. It's just one of those books that SHOULD be read far and wide.

Enough raving! Go read it!

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Friday, May 17, 2019

The IliadThe Iliad by Gareth Hinds
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I don't know how many of you out there went to Sunday School as children, but I remember having to read these god-awful children's books with truly ugly art depicting bible tales. Watercolor, with bland-as-hell poses and expressions for everyone... all so worthless that I wished they had just done without the pictures altogether. Maybe the bland tales, too.

"But wait," you say, "This is supposed to be the Iliad! It's exciting and tragic and it has gods and heroes and that damn horse!"

Yeah, well, this is the book where even great tales go to die.

If you want to read the original, READ THE ORIGINAL. Or as in my case, the translation to the original. Go for the poetry one or the prose one. I don't care. It's better than this. Even the text manages to draw out the dull. And if you wanted a great comic portrayal, go watch that horse-dung of a movie that came out in the oughts. It really was comic. And at least it didn't have ALL THESE FOOTNOTES.

You know the old adage, a picture paints a thousand words? Well, the author ignores the great thousands of words and leaves them in the comic and ignores the possible brilliance of the art that could have replaced certain scenes. And then, instead of focusing on the really iconic scenes to great benefit, he gives a lot of space to the random dead that we can list for hours in the original text. I can kinda appreciate that in a "oh, cool, I can't believe he did that," kind of way, but in actuality, I was thinking, "oh, damn, that really, really could have been left out."

My boredom got bored.

Do not read. This is a public service announcement.

*apologies to the artist*



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Midnight's ChildrenMidnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chutnification: the immortalization of a cucumber, or rather, a nose, into something indelibly Indian.

Just... wow.
This story of an inner-ear and nose follows through India's independence through the Emergency during Indra Ghandi, taking on mythological proportions. It is, first and foremost, a delightful, sensual, funny, detailed portrayal of a family saga that pretty much mirrors the trials and tribulations of India itself. Between the partition, Pakistan, the wars, the religions, the profundity of an India that cannot know itself.

To know one person in India, you must eat the world. You must eat it every time for every person.

But as if this wasn't enough to make a brilliant novel, and it certainly is deserving all the awards it ever got, it ALSO happens to be science fiction. Or is it? The thing is, all these Midnight Children born on the hour of India's rebirth (even if political), are all gifted with extraordinary powers.

Our main character, Saleem, when really young, had an ever-snotty nose, and while it was blocked, he could read minds. He was able to contact all the Midnight Children and connect them all. When he could breathe right, he had a preternaturally supreme sense of smell. Others could enter mirrors, change their sex at will, become werewolves. 512 children. All of them modern Hindu Gods. :)

But this book is full of tragedies as well as humor, full of profundity and silliness, anger and optimism, memory and forgetfulness. Just like India, the family is all things at all times and can never be pigeonholed.

I could easily write a few books on this book. It's just that rich. And delightful. I know enough of this part of the world that I didn't flounder that much, but more than that, I was struck by the smells this book evoked. :) I rather fell into the book and couldn't breathe until I finished.

Ah, it deserves all the praise. :)

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm going to chalk this one up to loving it more as a full-grown man versus enjoying it as a kid fresh out of college, but this book became a BETTER book for me on the second read.

It happens. Sometimes it happens all the time. And perhaps I just upgraded my memory from the Nexus 6 to the new and improved Nexus 7 of this particular text. And maybe I just fell in love with some of the underappreciated aspects buried deep inside the novel.


*A slight spoiler alert*

I mean, it's super old and most of us have poured over all the details already, so how MUCH of a spoiler this could be is beyond me, but let's just move on. :)

From before, I was more interested in the empathy box and the hidden gems of worldbuilding such as the purpose of the androids and the mystery of JUST WHO IS LEFT ON EARTH? I'm sure most of you have seen Blade Runner and a lot of you have wondered if Deckard was an android and perhaps wondered if the war, far more than killing off most animal life, also killed off most of humanity. All that's left might have been Androids. It's really hard to tell, after all. Flesh and blood. Empathy differences. The inability to renew themselves. Mostly, it's a paranoid fantasy, but not quite as paranoid as some of PKD's works.

But now? What interested me the most? Mercer. The religion of respecting life and the hypocrisy of all the remaining people. Keeping fake pets and revering the few real ones as being the highest form of holiness on this benighted planet. Or when Deckard met Mercer on the stairs and fused with him, going a bit crazy in the process. Was this an expression of his own total disillusionment with his job and the insanity of killing andy when they are almost EXACTLY like us? Or that, as many people have wondered since Blade Runner came out, Deckard was actually a Nexus 6? That his lack of empathy or the growing empathy in the line intersected so much that there was literally no difference anymore?

Ah, well. My interest is a little deeper.

Mercer itself seems suspiciously like VALIS. There's a LOT of carryover between all of PKD's books, easily shown through his Exegesis, and this particular novel actually does an awesome job giving us the Empire that Never Ended, the Black Iron Prison, and the sense of the ineffable and the hope for so much more.

I kinda missed that the first time. I guess everything truly does get a bit better as you read more and more of the author. :) This novel is a counterpoint or a repeated theme, yes, but it's a darkly vibrant one with a very different flavor from the rest. :)

A hearty five stars.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Scanner DarklyA Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 5/15/19:
I'm continually surprised, now with my third read, how much fun I have with this novel. How much fun I have with the bugs. Or how much fun I have with the missing gears on the bike. Or how much fun I have with Bob, Fred, or whoever the hell the main character is. :) By the end, he is entirely nameless.

Freaky cool.

I think, more than anything, I love the philosophy that is snuck in at random moments or explored in long stretches without a direct reference. PKD's afterward is very nice and also very sad, but the core idea is not lost.

We were all just kids not wanting to grow up, but the punishment was entirely out of scope with that crime.

This is, ostensibly, a novel about drugs, but it is also something much deeper.

It is a novel about ennui, confusion, paranoia, and the senseless horror of living a world that cannot know what it wants, or if it does, refuses to give an inch when it comes to forgiving itself. You might say it is a hell of our own creation. Deep? Not really. Kinda obvious. But so obvious that we continually forget the fact and get caught up in our continual confusion until we utterly forget it. And then, when we have someone pipe up with the pithy observation that we're living in a hell of our own creation, we laugh and get a hammer and kill the poor fool or get him hooked on drugs or send him to a mental institution or we follow him around like some guru and shave our heads and no one pays him any mind anyway.

Hello, Phil! Oh wait, you died right after you FINALLY got out of poverty when they made Blade Runner. You lived in abject poverty all your life... and now we have movie after movie after movie made from your legacy.

Yep. Sounds about right. Welcome to the Empire. It never ended.


Original Review:

This is my second time reading this wonderful novel, and I see no reason to revise any of my initial impressions. It's still very enjoyable... Again. Maybe I have a soft spot in my heart for all those wonderful novels that either deal with the nature of reality, of conscious identity, of drug use, or just plain consequences of one's actions.

Fortunately for me, I've got so many of my favorite themes in one novel. To me, it builds on the success of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and only mildly resonates with any overt SF gadgethood. Instead, it speculates wildly about the people who use and the people who suffer, showing us all how much worse the punishment is for what is, in effect, a victimless crime.

A discussion about Pot? If so, it is rather early in the turning of the wheel. We're shown people having fun despite the darkness of their lives and despite the heavy consequences, whether by huge mental instability, outright madness, incarceration, brainwashing, and last but not least, inequity of justice.

Maybe the last isn't as obvious until you read the author's afterward, or maybe it'll bash you over the head as you roam the fields. Either way, Death is only an inversion of self, and the faster a person runs toward fulfilling themselves through drugs or hedonism, the faster they lose everything that matters in their lives.

PKD's dark universe and exploration of the mind falling apart, of draconian measures tearing harmless people apart, of the absolute irony of the end of the novel... all of it is a testimony of heartbreak in the midst of humor.

I happen to know a bit about PKD's life. He wasn't the drug fiend that people made him out to be. He smoked some pot and dropped a few tabs of acid in his life, but he was also a man of his times. He WROTE as a man of his time. He was more interested in philosophy and the nature of reality, religion, and the mind that most writers, but that's not to say he was anything other than paranoid. He was. And that was the main feature of most of his great novels. Counterculture was his passion. So was questioning the fabric of reality.

Some of his last novels exemplify this. A later brain tumor cannot explain away the devotion to these threads of themes, although I think we can all agree that it did make him a bit obsessive about it.

Regardless, this was first and foremost a deliberate novel set out to deliberately show the blurred definitions between the norms and the abnorms, the crazies and the sane, the users and the clean. Everything was merely a reversal in the glass. Narcs and pushers were practically the same, and the funniest bits of the book had to be either the antics of the friends or the deliciousness of having our MC ironically persecute himself every step of the way.

What a beautiful novel. Not my absolute favorite of his works, but it is crazy good.

Now, off to re-watch the great Linklater film!

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Everything That Rises Must Converge: StoriesEverything That Rises Must Converge: Stories by Flannery O'Connor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Holy crap!

Or really, I ought to say that these stories are all about crappy holier-than-thou jerkwads all coming to gloriously nasty ends. And/or despair. As desert.

I expected something of this before I read it, of course. I've heard that Flannery O'Connor is one of the masters of the short fiction and nothing I've read is telling me any else. But what can we really expect?

TONS of racism. A mountain of some of the very worst humanity has to offer handed to us in our very own PoVs. This is fifties and sixties stuff, so prepare yourself. The most grace I see in them usually comes from the really delightful ends. A death here or there. Despair is good. And often these nasty people don't even know why.

We do. Or I'd like to think we, as readers, do.

Hell, this is why I'm such a big fan of Stephen King. We get to know these jerks and then we start cheering when the bad happens to them. Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Well worth the read.


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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Magician's End (The Chaoswar Saga, #3)Magician's End by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me a little time to get into this book and root for it, much like a lot of the Feist books, but even though much of it is either average or slightly above average when it comes to epic fantasy, it does have moments of truly great scope and awesomeness.

This one brings in that REALLY HUGE SCOPE in a big way but it doesn't dominate the story. Most of the story is actually about the civil war in Midkemia and the crowning of the new king, featuring lots of war, tactics, and strategy. Pretty good, but this is still the realm of the average bits. Fun but not totally brilliant. Or I suppose it might be if I hadn't read... 10 or more other books in this series that was much of the same. :)

Let me be fair here. We are having to do homage to the rest of the Rift series in this novel. It's mostly an amalgamation of all the others while recalling a new huge civil war that is STILL small beans in comparison to the BIG action going on with the mages.

Where this really shines is the multiple realms and multiple realities. There are the demon and angelic realms ON TOP of the countless worlds at stake, and the devouring void killing off even the demons are set to make the final battleground on Midkemia.

Enter in all the gods, the most powerful magicians, the Dragon Lords, the lost elves, dark elves, and all the rest of the peoples are involved in this conflict. Even the demons. I mentioned that the scope is big? EVERY RACE in the series is given top billing here.

Best of all is the twists and turns in the worldbuilding. At times it becomes SF in a very cool way. Think the end of Stephen King's first Dark Tower book. Gunslinger. But draw it out and increase its scope and give it to a lot of characters in here. :) I liked it a lot.

My only complaint, in the final estimate, is the lack of total cohesiveness across the full series. Yes, there are lots of themes and certain characters always show up - like Pug and Thomas and a few others - and the Chaos Wars history was nicely developed in the beginning, but the development felt a bit - or more than a bit - disjointed and brought forth in spits and starts and surprising huge leaps that then got pulled back for the sake of the newer generations within the kingdom.

In some ways, it just turned out like a generational serial with some great - but drawn out - epic magic bits. Decent, but I felt like it could have been so much BETTER.

I still enjoyed it. I don't regret reading them. :) But it won't be on my top-favorite lists.

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Monday, May 13, 2019

A Crown Imperiled (The Chaoswar Saga, #2)A Crown Imperiled by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This second book in the last trilogy is pretty standard fare for Feist. War, politics, mages, and the mysterious duo (not so mysterious now that we got to know them in the previous novel) as they get to know all our favorite characters. The trust issue is very real. And rather disturbing. But fortunately for us, in Feistland, if characters are meant to be together, then all paths are paved. :)

Is this a bad thing? No. It is entertaining.
Streamlined, but entertaining. After all, we want to see the grand blow-out. Not just these Keshian horrors or Jimmy super junior losing his inherited spy network... but DEMONS BREAKING LOOSE. Come on!

Fortunately, it doesn't drag. Plenty of fun stuff happens even if I wouldn't call this the best Feist I've ever read. The stage is set, the beacons lit, and now we're finally to the END of the series.

Am I a bit frantic about this? Anxious? Frenetic? Maybe. :)

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A Kingdom Besieged (The Chaoswar Saga, #1)A Kingdom Besieged by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first of the last trilogy. Wow. And SO many years after the first Magician book came out.

It feels like we're coming to a full close but doing it in GRAND style. We spend a lot of time in the fifth circle of the demon realm, following some wickedness around and just waiting to see her transformation into the Big Bad we'll have to face in a totally unprepared Midkemia.

Well, not TOTALLY unprepared, but Pug is only one man and his Isle of Wizards is only SO powerful. These demons are going to TEAR through the world. We're already seeing signs of it. Hints. And then, Kesh is going ahead after so many years of relative peace and hammering the kingdom. Hard.

Good new characters even if they're old echoes of their grandsires or great-grandsires. Echoes of Jimmy and Martin. Sigh.

The great parts of this book are the same great parts that we've loved in the prior books. Sieges, the warfare of all kinds, the scraping-by with bare survival, retreats. The sense of doom is pervasive and this is just the usual kind of warfare doom.

But what's driving the Kesh north? :)

And also... the twist at the end? The new, perhaps last BIG reveal?

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA okay. I love it.

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Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Night Masquerade (Binti, #3)The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I liked this third Binti book better than the prior two novellas... but why?

For one, I think I liked the theme about going home, having conflicts WITH home, and in this third novella, Binti coming to grips with herself and her place in the universe.

It helps that she had to go through a ton of tragedy to get there. But that's the nature of storytelling. Conflict is everything.

Culturally, these books make up some of the strangest pieces of worldbuilding I've read. We've got an isolated African community intermixed with high-tech and alien-tech additions. There's also the greater galactic community full of inclusive aliens and the whole theme of excluding and including is rife throughout these stories.

How can the community be so closed-minded in one way while LIVING with an invasive alien for who knows how long? But that's the core of it, reaching right into Binti herself and everyone she knows.

And then there's the thing happens to her.

I really like the worldbuilding and the direction this one took. I mean, I REALLY like how it comes together. The SF in this SF satisfied the SF geek in me. :)

So why didn't I give it a 5 star? It's possible that while I appreciated the cultural weirdness on one level, I had a really hard time ENJOYING it. The alien and the Alien just kept coming back at me in a way that kinda clashed. Hard. I like how it explained itself, later, but I getting there took an uncomfortably long time.

That's on me.

Maybe I just have a hard time with the low-tech and downright strange customs -- read, superstitions -- STILL remaining as an OVERWHELMINGLY large part of this well-educated and smart girl's life. Look, maybe it's realistic to paint all your skin while doing tensor math in your head, getting on the WWW with your implants while putting up with your misogynic tribe members. Maybe it isn't. Maybe having gone to a galactic college and meeting tons of aliens and cultures should have LESSENED some of those old acceptances and traditions.

But then, maybe it's just Binti. She has a really open mind in so many ways but she doesn't apply the logic to herself well at all. A Master Harmonizer? Is this what it means? To be finding full harmony between her old life and her new? Helping others do the same? Sure. I LIKE this idea. But it gets very complicated very quickly. Because by being a person of two worlds, you often become part of none.
--The point of the novellas, I'm sure. --

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At the Gates of Darkness (The Demonwar Saga, #2)At the Gates of Darkness by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, I have to admit this book tickled so many of my fancies. I mean, big magic, bigger magic, OP characters, and enough demons to fill several realms AND we get to learn even more about them. :)

This is a FAR cry from some of the earlier novels that started small and stayed small. The storytelling might have a lot more nuance, but if you're missing the big blow-outs, just look here. An interesting if slightly providential new character introduced in the previous novel continues to shed some light on one of the most interesting villains in the series. And the villain himself has gotten himself in DEEP this time. :)

Worth it? Yep! The big stuff is here and while I may have a few quibbles they're nothing special. The plot must progress and all the loose ends need to be wrapped up, and if a loose end just happens to be the fate of all levels of this particular set of odd heavens and hells, then so be it. :)

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Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1)The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The great Narnia read for my daughter. :) So scary! You know what I mean... when *spoiler spoiler* happens. *gasp* So wicked!

My daughter got bored. Then interested. Then bored a lot more. Then she freaked out. Then she got tired.

Is this the ultimate book report... or what???

For me, I got bored just like the first time I read it. Then I got a bit interested. Then I got bored a lot more, thinking how much better Persephone and Hades had it, and then... well... I got tired of all the Christian Allegory. Again.

But I DID try to not spoil it for my daughter. She may have gotten a bit more out of it than me. :)

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The Tea Master and the Detective (The Universe of Xuya)The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm actually pretty impressed with this one but I have one major complaint...

I feel like I'm missing a LOT of worldbuilding nuance here. I've never read any of her Xuya novellas and I feel the lack.

Sure, the whole mystery in space surrounded my Mindships that are pretty awesome is all pretty awesome, but the rather odd bits of Tea and special brews feel like they need a lot of backstory. Otherwise, I'm stuck just thinking about Ann Leckie's Raddich series. And maybe that's kind of a side-jab.

I found it rather fascinating in an Ian M. Banks kind of way, too.

And oddly, I'm more impressed with Bodard's SF than her Fantasy. I obviously need to keep an eye out for more of these.

Nommed for '19 Hugo for novella.

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The Black God's DrumsThe Black God's Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Novella Hugo nom for 2019.

Just a question for ya'll: Do you like grinning skulls covering New Orleans? Steampunk treatments of Oya, including airships and an old Haitian god of the wind? Angry urchins just wanting to get away from the streets by any means necessary, but really preferring to ride the wind?

Yep, this is for you, then. :)

I like the writing and I love the gods treatment and there's even a rescue plot in here that rounds it all out. The focus is definitely on good characterization, though. Loved the nuns and enjoyed the realistic portrayals and freaked out with the songs about Andrew Jackson. Definitely a treat for those of us who've enjoyed and sometimes hated the real city. :)

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Rides a Dread Legion (The Demonwar Saga, #1)Rides a Dread Legion by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If it feels like the end of a series ramping up for one gigantic blow-out bypassing some of the lesser dimensions of hell and driving a knife out of the fifth circle into our favorite realm... THEN IT IS.

Demons. A whole world of demons and dimensions rent of life. With nothing left but demons who suck the life force from everything... and then themselves... when they have nothing else to feed on.

Hello, new and powerful characters and parallel dimension elves who have been fighting a losing battle against demons for as long as they have history. :) Hello, references to the Chaos Wars. Hello, warlocks.

Need help? Come one, come all to the middle realm where the final battle of all realities is about to explode. :)

Poor Pug. I know he was prepared for this, but no one is really PREPARED for this, you know?

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Friday, May 10, 2019

The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings, #3)The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ah, at long last, I finished my fifth or sixth reread of The Return of the King, marveling at just how unstated Peter Jackson's tongue-in-cheek faux endings were in comparison with the real thing.

Ah yes! The action is definitely glorious in both! The emotions brilliant! Wave after wave of battle, failure, regrouping, and last minute saves are fantastic in both the novel and the movie, but what staggers my imagination is not the end of Sauron, the unmaking of the One Ring, or how it came to pass...

... it is the fact that the main action stops so EARLY in the novel.

It makes me appreciate the actual focus of the trilogy. It has to. It really isn't the return of Aragorn to Gondor that is the main focus. Not really. It's not the fading away of magic and the skedaddle of the elves now that they don't have enough juice to keep their houses trimmed. It's the Hobbits, yo! We started with them. We spent AGES with them in Fellowship. And as the perfect bookend, we spend EVEN MORE TIME with them in the Return of the King.

Nostalgic Sigh. I don't mind that. It's the heroism of the little folk, the normal folk, the average, ho hum folk. It's the returning heroes of Merry and Pippin brandishing swords in the Shire, or Samwise the Elven Hero who melts his sword into a plow. It's about the Scouring of the Shire and the little heroisms that recall to us Candide's Voltaire. TEND YOUR OWN GARDEN. Don't let the evil run amuck in your back-yard. (Rather than keep your nose out of other's business.) :)

Oh, and let's not forget that half of this book is all appendixes. Long, wonderful appendixes featuring the Witch King of Angmar, Beren and Luthien, the fall of Numenor, Sauron's repeated rise and fall, the ends of the First and Second Ages, and even some great backstories for Aragorn and Elrond and what REALLY happened in Moria before these poor kids decided to take their fateful detour.

It's the Reader's Digest of the Silmarillion, yo! And really? Worth it. Even if it's a dry history, it's a great dry history. Goes down real smooth.

And so goes the passing of the Ring. Better known as that footnote of thirty pages in the Silmarillion.

Still some of the very best books I've ever read. The surface is one thing, but the depth goes WAY, WAY down.



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Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2)The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's sometimes hard to complain about one of your favorite books, but here I go, comparing it to the damn movie and making my complaints. :)

... the movie has much better pacing. I mean, damn, I love how it improved on the book by switching between PoV's like that! No sticking with Aragorn and company and THEN sticking with Merry and Pippin, etc. And then the battles were all pretty much superior in the movies, but we're spoiled. Super spoiled.

BUT I really really HATE how the movie adds freaking Elves to the battle of Helm's Deep. Seriously.
In the book, it really is pretty awful and hopeless, but it was awful and hopeless for the Rohirrim. Adding elves might be flashy and blah blah oh good for you, focus groups, but DAMN. There was no lasting agreement between elves and the horse lords. Why should there be? I mean, MAYBE I would have bought the big lie if it was brokered between Gondor and the Elves, but history tore a huge rift between the Elvenkind and Men that ended with the elves destroying Numenor, the island of Men, after Men's treachery. Only the line of Isildur and the Rangers, having never broken faith, remain on friendly terms.

So WHERE THE HELL IS THE REASON for the elves giving up their immortality (and not coming back because they don't have souls like men), dying in a stupidly senseless fashion? I mean, JUST because Galadriel took a fancy to a couple of blokes passing through on an admittedly dire quest? Then why not send a ton with Frodo to storm Mordor? Yeah, yeah, I know, secrecy... but elves can be stealthy.

Just not that weirdo who likes to surf shields and oliphant trunks.

Again, the movie was great for all those battles and I loved being in the thick of the Ents like that. The Shelob scene was brilliant.

The book does the history so much better. Especially the Ents. And in most ways, the book's version is so much more meaningful. The Ents went across Arda in search for their Ent Wives at the end of the First Age and freaked EVERYONE the hell out. They never found them. Tho, I do wonder. Did any of those hasty Ents ever catch up with Tom? Ask him about his bubbling brook of a wife? I wonder how she fits into all of this. Did Goldberry REMARRY? *gasp*

Otherwise, I love the book's quiet times, the introspective times, the thinking-things-out times. And of course, Sam's brilliant meta-speech.

I love them both. :) They're near-perfect companions.

Except, of course, for the uninvited dinner guests at that damn battle. *grumble* *grumble* *baaharrooooooom* Who was that hasty never-d0-well that decided to invite them, anyway???



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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Wrath of a Mad God (The Darkwar Saga, #3)Wrath of a Mad God by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rare and wonderful is the book that can tie together nine or more other books into one huge and satisfying tapestry and give us something truly satisfying.

This one does it. Even those side novels from before got woven into this. Hell, even Jimmy the Hand, an old man by this time, while not doing anything here, has his many adventures come back to haunt everyone in this dire time. :)

A whole world of terrible fighters, a mad god, and the full destruction of a world. This is what we have here. Millions displaced. Whole realities eaten.

Oh, yeah, and while I'm not going to spoil it for anyone here, there is one super-delightful twist that colors SO MUCH that has happened over 20 books in a brand new and wicked light. :) I think I might be enjoying this aspect more than all the rest.

Epic fantasy? Epic, EPIC fantasy.

I won't ever call it as good as WoT or a handful of other series, but by no means is this a slouch. :) I've read whole huge series faithfully that doesn't strike my fancy half as much as this. So, yeah, I like it very much. :)

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Into a Dark Realm (The Darkwar Saga, #2)Into a Dark Realm by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is definitely some of the best Feist out there. Between the previous book and what I expect to happen in the next, we're finally ramping up a conflict between another realm. And not just another realm like what we've had before, but a lower circle of hell and everyone else. :)

But not everyone there is precisely evil, just influenced so heavily by madness and evil it may as well be Darwinian. :)

What? Does Feist seem to have an ulterior motive here? lol

I'm rolling with it. And why not? The epic fantasy is truly epic, the magic is awesome, and the training of the kids is as fun as I could hope. More, the worldbuilding is especially good here. We're getting in deep to the second realm. And while Pug and Magnus and friends are exploring it, we're learning a lot more.

Is this a game of chess between gods? Yep. With the stake of all that is good versus evil in the balance? Yep. And I'm having a lot of fun.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Flight of the Nighthawks (The Darkwar Saga, #1)Flight of the Nighthawks by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Remember the fun of the original Riftwar saga? Add some polish and shine. Mix it up with new and fun characters from the last few books, and even send some rubes to Kesh. Sound like fun? Make sure the intrigue is high, the stakes are much, much higher, and throw in a mad god invading the world and make it spicy with a mad body-hopping mage.

This is Feist doing what he's best at and it shows. I'm having a great time.

And yes, Pug is in here. That means that the fate of many many worlds is at stake. And the gods are freaking out. :)

Is this series getting really good again? I'd say so. It was never all that bad, but all the things I used to get annoyed with have been excised nicely. Now it's all adventure, intrigue, battles, spies, and enough assassins and mad gods to keep anyone amused. :)

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Exile's Return (Conclave of Shadows, #3)Exile's Return by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book took a slightly awesome direction, breaking the usual storytelling mold we've gotten used to in Feist-land.

The previous novel's villain just became this novel's hero. :) He was so crafty, so unpredictable and cool, he needed an encore. :) And he got an encore, exiled in a distant land, in chains, and left to his own devices.

And yet, he gets transformed in his journey. :) Not bad. Not bad at all. :)

Oh, and the Geas had nothing to do with it. :) Or the revelations that the whole world was about to become a feeding ground for evil pouring in through thousands of portals. Or the discovery that evil really is madness. :)

I think I had more fun with this one than I have in the last five or six novels. Maybe more. But then, I'm a sucker for redemption novels. :)

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Monday, May 6, 2019

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I cannot rightly recall how many times I've read the trilogy. I think it's between 5 or 6 but that doesn't include a dramatized version. I don't think. And then there are the gazillion times I've watched the movies, the cartoons, or the beautiful old green poster I used to gaze upon in my room.

Not to mention the balrogs I used to paint alongside my dragons. Or the feverish studying of elvish and writing messages to my friends in runic. Taking a class on LotR and even publishing an academic paper on the true nature of Tom Bombadil?

Yeah. I might be a geek. I even freaked out back in 1997 when I discovered that PETER JACKSON of DEAD/ALIVE aka BRAINDEAD was doing LotR???!!!!

Do I think this is a good book?

Maybe. A bit.

But I remember not always being a huge fan. I remember the first time I read it, I thought all the poetry was pretentious. I didn't realize that he had gone to all that work out of love of languages, that he was a scholar of Old English and a mythographer of wide knowledge. Or that he did all of this out of love and fully expected never to get acclaim for any publishing house. He wrote it because he was called to write it. He wanted something awesome. And so he made something awesome. And he shared it with his son just as he shared The Hobbit with his son. That's kinda cool, you know?

But as for me, now, after all these years and multiple reads and a lot of critical thinking, the books have only deepened in significance for me. All the people and places in the poetry means a LOT to me now. I recognize everything. And the fact that so many of the old legends directly tie right back into the most horrific scenes in the later action only speaks to me of OMG THAT WAS AWESOME.

Gil-Galad, anyone? How about the lay of Beren and Luthien and how freaking close that legend is to Aragorn and Arwen?

Or how about the barrow-wight dream Frodo had, that passing image of someone with a sun on his brow? Melkor after he stole the Silmarils? :)

Don't even get me started about how cool Tom Bombadil is. Goofy? Sure, but he's MASTER of his little domain. The Ring can't touch him. At all. Period.

Let's back this up a bit. Sauron and Radagast and Gandalf and Saruman and the Balrogs are all Maiar, spirits descended to Arda to help form the world after the Illuvatar created the planet. The Balrogs are, of course, corrupted Maiar made by Melkor, the Illuvatar god of corruption. That places all these guys on the SAME PLAYING FIELD. Yes, Radagast of the poop hat is ... WHAT? AS POWERFUL AS SAURON? Ahem. No.

I assume if Gandalf had been willing to steal the souls of a few lands of Easterlings and corrupted elves that are generally called ORCS get really, really good at necromancy and domination magic, he might have been a contender. But no. Neither Gandalf or Radagast were that ethically unbound. :) Just unwashed. Or addicted to pipe weed. Even the Maiar need their magical weapons and tools to get super powerful, and the Good is generally less likely to go all out and become an undead king like Voldemort and his phylacteries. :)

Let's move forward again. If Gandalf and the Elves and even Saruman from far away can't escape the deathly pull of Sauron's phylactery, then HOW THE HELL CAN TOM BOMBADIL go, "Eh? It's nothin."

Answer? He has to be one of the Illuvatar. One step above the Maiar. One of the creators of Arda (also known as Middle Earth, or in the next age, Earth. The place we are. :) So for all you haters of Bom-bom-bombadillo as he sings, remember, the gods who made Arda did it by SINGING. :)

Old Man Willow was probably a twisted Ent. If you know the Ent's history at the end of the First Age, they went on a rampage across all of Arda looking for their lost wives (who probably left them because they were a bunch of idiots) causing untold havoc that couldn't be stopped by all the might of the Elves, Men, or Dwarves in their heyday when the magic was so much stronger, the weapons so much more powerful, and the men could still act politely to the elves. And yet, Tom puts Old Man Willow to sleep like some naughty child.

And let's not forget the barrow-wights that are sadly missing from the movie. The poor hobbits had just been captured and turned into wights, dreaming the death songs from Men corrupted by Melkor back when Sauron was just a Lieutenant in Melkor's badass army of city-sized spiders, dragons, and balrogs. No yellow-shoed Green Man would have the power to COMPLETELY HEAL THE RIFT between life and death of such a remnant of the first age. Effortlessly. With a song.

I'm just saying.

I'm a geek.

It's true.

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Sunday, May 5, 2019

King of Foxes (Conclave of Shadows, #2)King of Foxes by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one turned out quite a bit darker than the first, happily, and the hero of our tale got himself very nicely snagged as a minor noble in a big chaotic game of the Duke.

The duke is, of course, the king of foxes, and he really won’t be outfoxed.

All told, I had a good time, enjoying a lot of intrigue fluff, long-game revenge planning, and natural reversals. It’s game of thrones, Feist-style.

There is nothing groundbreaking here, but it was entertaining, and that’s all I’m looking for at the moment. :)

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Talon of the Silver Hawk (Conclave of Shadows, #1)Talon of the Silver Hawk by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Heroes Journey. Traditional.

That being said, I honestly had a good time following this future era, post-Krondor war building of a hero. Young/old Pug is here, briefly, but for the most part, this is not of magic, but the crafting of one quick boy into a hell of a weapon.

Simple premise, really, and one we've all seen, but I really enjoyed the journey. The last of his tribe, he's taken in by the Conclave of Shadows, full of magicians and spies, trained and inducted in their order, and is sent out into the world to infiltrate and get everyone ready for the evil that spreads through the land.

This is Feist at his most crafty. The story might be old but it is still very entertaining. Lots of sword-play, some intrigue, and even more REVENGE. :) In other words, all the things we usually turn to when it comes to old-style fantasy. I've read much worse and only a few that do this better. But all-in-all? I can definitely recommend this for sheer entertainment value if not world-building, epic-building, or mind-blowing reveals.


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Saturday, May 4, 2019

Jimmy the Hand (Legends of the Riftwar, #3)Jimmy the Hand by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Solid enough.

I mean, this is the young Jimmy right after he helps out Arutha back in the first books. By all rights, it ought to be a simple cashing in on one of the best characters in Feistland, and for the most part, it is.

The novel reads episodic and pits Jimmy against his worst enemy -- himself -- as he uses his bump of trouble to uncover all kinds of bad situations where he must insert his catlike body. Sound good? It is, assuming you like teenaged thieves getting into trouble with women... or rather, because of women.

But all told? It's just solid enough. Jimmy's other exploits are generally much, much more epic.

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The Red-Stained Wings (Lotus Kingdoms, #2)The Red-Stained Wings by Elizabeth Bear
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The slow burn from the previous novel flared up into a raging fire in this one, proving, at least to me, that these books probably shouldn't have been split up in the first place. And now that I've read this middle book, I'm certain I'll want to read all three in a row.

Good news, everyone! It's all worth re-reading! :) And for all you action freaks wanting to see what is below that precipice you were standing on with the first book? This one is as bloody and chaotic and heartbreaking as the first was a steady careful-character-and-world-building panorama.

I personally loved the Gage's quest among the dragonglass and for all you dragon lovers out there, I really got into the dragon and the implications more than I have for any dragon in a long, long time. :) Read into that however you will. I'm very, very impressed with this fantasy.

Elizabeth Bear promised so much in the first book of the Lotus Kingdom and gave us nothing but awesome in this. The two belong as one. Now if only I had the third in my greedy little hands, I'd be a happy man. :)

No spoilers! Just vague personal reactions! *But damn, how I want to gush about certain scenes* :)

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