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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick 2: We Can Remember it for You WholesaleThe Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick 2: We Can Remember it for You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I cherry-picked stories out of this collection for a very simple reason. I had read most of the best ones from it already. :)

Interestingly enough, I got to revisit some snippets that later made it into some of his full novels in these previous incarnations. And far from being a chore or a let-down, a few of them enhanced my interest.

Like in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, one story got pretty hardcore into Mercer and Mercerism. I laughed aloud when I discovered that. Another encapsulated PKD's mystical experience in 1974, including the transposition of an ancient time with ours. Yet another made it into Divine Invasion, and another made it into Radio Free Albemuth.

Oddly enough, I got a lot out of these. They aren't one-to-one copy-overs and the differences are interesting to any scholar of PKD. Maybe not to anyone else, but *I* got a lot out of it. :) Added depth, maybe from PKD's deep fascination and some from the cross-overs between his real life and his revisits in his fiction.

The nature of pain and suffering, of being a jerk, of learning from past mistakes, and of transcendence, mainly.

Other than that, the other stories were quite good. I never need to fear PKD. If I need a good read, I can always come back. :)

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We Can Build YouWe Can Build You by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another classic PKD. :) A lot of great humor in this one, too. Lincoln and Edward Stanton, brought back to life and running a corporation that sells simulacra, android re-creations of real people? Well, that's hardly everything in this novel.

Most of it knocks the ball out of the park about relationships, madness, and a misdiagnosis. I really think it's not Schizophrenia he's talking about, but Autism. Or in the spectrum. And that's all kinds of cool, too, when it comes to modern novels. But of course, PKD has always jumped feet-first in that particular pool.

Interestingly enough, this novel deals with the pre-Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep time, with Simulacra JUST getting on the market, getting that push to take on and prepare colonies off Earth, and EVEN Mood Organs. :) So much of that is hilarious and/or disturbing when you think about how things go later on.

This is definitely one of the livelier and light PKD novels out there, focusing more on doomed relationships and fantasies than most. Kinda fitting, considering the theme. Are we just machines? Are we slaves to our passions, or are we making new slaves for our passions? Even funnier when you consider that LINCOLN himself has become a slave of sorts. :)

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In the Night Garden (The Orphan's Tales, #1)In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this book has left me practically speechless. Almost anything I could say about it will fall flat in the sheer enormity of the experience.

So what DID I experience?


Dark fables incorporating wide mythologies reminiscent of all the best obscure fairy tales twisted in wonderfully unique ways, couched as stories within stories, adding tiny slivers of fate within each until it brings us back, wholly, to our Scheherazade, our poor orphan telling her story from the words tattooed on her eyelids. :)

My particular favorites were the witches drowning in light, the ones who would not die, the irascible pirate mermaid, and all the selkie stories. The dog monks were a great treat as well.

More importantly, this is VALENTE. Everything she writes is lyrical and fascinating and careful and poetical. From the words to the ideas to the characters and their ultimate fates, we run the whole line from vengeance to magical sex-change love to living stars in the sky.

I personally can't understand why it took me this long to get to her earlier work. It's fantastic. :)

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

CoralineCoraline by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read. But this time... with my daughter. And, as it turns out, SHE LIKED IT. :)


Nobody be dissing my Gaiman, yo.

Truly, it does get better on re-reads. So dark. Like, disturbingly dark. Honestly scary. Maybe worse for adults than for children. Maybe. My girl hid under her covers during certain points. I call that a win.

Teeth and tails and buttons for eyes. Can't go wrong with a little fluff, either. :)

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Selected Stories of Philip K. DickSelected Stories of Philip K. Dick by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before reading this, I was awfully worried I wouldn't like these PKD stories as much (or even a fraction of the amount) of the movies that they were made into. And so I put it off, and with the help of another procrastinator, we put it off some more.

But then it finally happened. I read them. And all my worries melted away.

The core stories are all fantastic. The details in the movies flesh it out a lot, but the core stories are fantastic. :)

I won't mention all, but I will mention a few of my favorites.

Beyond Lies the Wub - a great sarcastic, meaty philosophical treat.
Paycheck - Almost play-by-play the same as the movie. Fun.
Second Variety - Screamers movie, perhaps BETTER than the movie. :)
Imposter- One of my favorite unknown PKD movies, same fundamental twist.
The King of the Elves - Funny and sad at the same time, and I would love to see this turned into a full movie.
Adjustment Team - On the fence. Probably as good as the movie.
Autofac - A great dystopia, post war, crazy.
The Minority Report - I really got into the subtleties of the *three* minority reports, this time.
The Days of Perky Pat - Creepy because we're already here.
A Game of Unchance - Carnie fun on outposts.
We Can Remember It for You Wholesale - Total Recall, anyone?
Faith of Our Fathers - Communist China has taken over the world, but who took over the Chinese?
The Electric Ant - A fantastic perception/reality fable featuring an android PoV. :)
The Exit Door Leads In - Perfect for all of us who just want to rebel. The MC is a weenie tho. :)

I definitely enjoyed these. The ones I didn't mention were not bad, mind you, after all, this is PKD. :)

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Monday, July 29, 2019

Thief of Time (Discworld, #26; Death, #5)Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read: 7/29/19

Cheese and Chaos, time and death, the grand auditors of the universe, and every kung-fu movie ever made.

Does this sum up this novel?

Yep, pretty much. :)

Some parts in the middle dragged a bit, but getting all the horsemen together and Ronnie sped it up a great deal. And is it just me, or do Ronnie and Gaspode need their own novels? An epic team-up, perhaps? Maybe it's just me. And, oh, the end this novel actually brought a tear to my eye. :)

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

A Man Lies DreamingA Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Certain novels are so rich that they beggar the imagination. This one dives deep into the hidden recesses of alternate histories and pure Noir pulp in a very satisfying romp. Or is it a transformative detective piece? SF, or a commentary on what it really means to be ... led by crazy ideas?

Let's say it. The big surprise. Wolf, the PI living in London, was actually the failed Socialist Party Leader from Germany who lost the election in '33. That's right. He is Hitler. And Germany is overrun by communists. And England seems to be full of his old cronies who have left him behind to become thugs on their own.

Rich, rich, rich stuff here. And it's a great noir, dealing with pride, being broken, Jewish employers, and lots of references to Hitler's book and the publishing industry. Failed book, I might add. :)

I had a great time. None of it was in your face or obvious except for the careful reader, except, perhaps, by the end of the novel, but that's not really the main point.

Oddly enough, I loved one aspect more than all the rest. Hitler's weird transformation into a Jew. It didn't happen right away and had lots of good reasons behind it, like being undercover, but SO MUCH happens that turns our history on its head and pours it all on this poor man... even making him sympathetic in a way... as he lives, learns, and through his embitterment, makes us feel.

I've read nothing like this. It is a class of its own. :) Not a satire. Indeed, rather careful, very mystery-oriented, and often disturbing, but not for the usual reasons. And then, the framing device of the dreaming man, living in a concentration camp... well, that's another added bonus that just makes me think and think. :)

Really enjoyable novel. And btw, it's tied to Unholy Land. I would recommend reading A Man Lies Dreaming first.

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RevivalRevival by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know what I thought I would expect when I read this, but I did not expect to be chortling with glee by the end of it.

And I chortled.

Under any normal circumstances, I might yell out, "Hey, folks! This is an expertly-written homage to Lovecraft, Tesla, Rock & Roll, wrapped in several hardcore coming-of-age stories within stories." But that doesn't do it justice. It's about faith and the loss of faith, about cures and their costs, and about a rather awesome con job.

But who is conning who? This question transforms all the elements in this novel from a clever twist into something quite deeper than I first thought.

Sure, there's a Victor Frankenstein element, too. But what really snagged me were the dreams. The hallucinations. The place where even death may die. :)

No spoilers, but if anyone hasn't already read King and wanted to start with something, they really can't go wrong with this. It has all his old style but... there's something BETTER in it. :) It just has something. Maybe genuinely likable characters, maybe a tighter control on his craft. Something. Something great.

And it freaked me out by the end. Freaked me out good. I call that a win. :)

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Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Clockwork Rocket (Orthogonal, #1)The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Greg Egan writes some freaky cool SF. But a word to the wise: expect relatively rigorous math when you step into his worlds.

I'm not saying that you can't follow any of the plots or enjoy the characters without it, but your basic enjoyment of this will stem directly from your enjoyment of FREAKING COOL MATH.

Not that I followed everything, myself, but learning and enjoying the process gave me pretty much all the enjoyment I needed while reading. :) I mean, yes, getting to know a race of people (read aliens) who are very much plant-like and bud and regrow limbs and eat the light that the forest produces IS FREAKING COOL. And learning that their light perception gives them the ability to grok a much deeper sense of red and blue shifts, even minor time-travel perception, is also FREAKING COOL.

And then we learn that this whole universe happens to be envisioned on a simple little alteration from our own? That there is no light-speed? That the speed is based on the frequency and there is no upper limit, that energy can be created out of very odd sources? Like plants? This isn't energy conservation, this is energy creation. As in, fundamental.

So yeah, we go from basic life to basic science to uncovering the secrets of this particular universe all the way up to making a generational starship run by intelligent plants and see them STOP TIME and ... go backward. :)

And Egan does all of this step by step, giving us a sometimes loose interpretation but still a helluvalot more strenuous proof than almost any SF out there. Besides his own, of course. Because he kinda does this all the time. And blows us away. :)

Otherwise, what we have here is a steampunk novel with plant-aliens breaking the fundamental laws of the universe on a generational starship. HOW COOL IS THAT? :)

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Strange WineStrange Wine by Harlan Ellison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always think it's funny when I read a collection of "all new" stories only to learn I've read over half of them already, but them's the breaks. :)

Maybe I shouldn't have been so dedicated in reading as many Harlan Ellison stories, huh!? Ah well, that's okay. He writes great shorts.

My Favorites were "From A to Z, In the Chocolate Alphabet" - Super short stories for each letter of the alphabet.

"The New York Review of Bird" - a wonderful tribute (or otherwise) to Cordwainer Smith.

and especially "Seeing" - a pretty hard SF tribute to perception in all it's glories. :)

I might have enjoyed this collection better if I hadn't already read most. But again that's okay! It comes with the territory of shorts!

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A Bridge of YearsA Bridge of Years by Robert Charles Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This late eighties time travel SF is very sedate and careful, focused more on characters and mystery than anything directly related to the two main timelines. Early sixties and late eighties. The SF aspect and plot is actually rather sophisticated, building some nice rules and much better method, and the hints and descriptions of our future and even a much more distant future kept me going nicely.

But what was the best part of the novel?

It read like a thriller/horror. :) Lots of careful character build-up, curiosity, awe, and exploring new situations, if not times. Just with this aspect, I had a great time.

Yes, there is a lot of great time travel SF novels out there, but so many lack good characters and heart. This one succeeds on that level. :) It's not flashy, but it kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire time.

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Thursday, July 25, 2019

The October Man (Rivers of London, #7.5)The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is probably my favorite novella in the Rivers of London series. Of course, we're NOT in London. This takes place in Germany! The place where all weird things have a place and a procedure attached to it. It's Germany! :)

And we have a lot of fresh faces. And fungi. And fun times with fungi. And a pretty awesome refresher on the magic system as well as some really cool police procedural legwork.

All in all, it's a slam dunk Magic Police procedural across the border, chatting up the local rivers and the regular people. Not to say that local rivers AREN'T regular people, because they most certainly are. I don't want anyone to get the wrong opinion from me. In fact, if there are any rivers out there reading this review, you're welcome to chat with me and look me up. I'll offer you some wine any day.

I'm REALLY looking forward to the next novel in the series. :) :)

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Barren (Demon Cycle, #5.5)Barren by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm very happy to get this novella following the events in The Core. Or rather, I should say it gives this small town the kind of ending it deserved in the tumult that wrecked the land in The Core. Huge things happened there. All towns getting attacked at once, demons pouring up from every corner, close calls, and a trip to the core of the demon realm. Big stuff. So of course, little towns of a thousand souls kinda get forgotten for the sake of pacing. And that's okay.

That's why writers invented novellas. :)

What sets this aside from all the other novels and side-stories is the repudiation of all the gratuitous uber dark brutalizations. In fact, it focuses on same-sex relations and the still-nasty small-town ugliness that follows those people of a different persuasion.

I personally thought these demon novels were partly a commentary on the ugliness of man, anyway. Adding demons to punish them just happens to fit the bill nicely. So the corollary is simple. Successfully fighting off the demons must come, in part, with setting ourselves to right. And this is what we get.

Not easily, and not without tragedy, but the fight to make things right is its own reward.

Plus gigantic worms crashing through the town square, mind-controlling demon princes, and slavering hoards of monsters adds a little spice. But then, doesn't it always?

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The Harvest (The Heartland Trilogy, #3)The Harvest by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A surprisingly good conclusion to the trilogy. After the second book's cliffhanger (literal, in this case,) I was kinda surprised to come back a year in and full of massive character changes. Maybe not personality changes, but when you come back full of blight and light and you're kinda like the Green Man or Swamp Thing and the rest of the world has gone to s**t in war, what can you really expect?

Changes. Indeed. And all told, I enjoyed this conclusion quite a bit. It still has that YA feel but we went from farm life to a life on the run in the dirt and a different kind of run in the clouds to full entrenchment and embittered enemies in the skies in this one.

I *mostly* thought it was great. I did have some slight issues with the near deus ex machina world-killer ending, but not with the actual resolution. I'm glad I finally read this. The imagery will absolutely stick with me. Plant monsters and mechanical men and all. :)

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Blightborn (The Heartland Trilogy #2)Blightborn by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

YA SF has its ups and downs, that's for sure, but the better ones of the bunch always seem to rise to the top. This happens to be one. And I'm surprised, honestly, because whenever I think of Wendig, I think of the brutal pottymouth I've grown to love in his Black novels. :) YA? Wendig?

But yes, I really enjoyed the first in the trilogy. Especially the worldbuilding. The second steps it up a notch by taking us right into the clouds as well as the seedier elements down below, on the run or setting the stage for a revolution.

The point is, we've got sky gods and earth gods. And this kind of thing can be done very, very well, or very, very badly. Good news, folks! Wendig pulled is pulling it off by focusing entirely on the peeps. :)

I honestly appreciated getting the girl's perspectives in this one. Everything got rounded out a lot more from the first.

But I will also say this: I REALLY feel like these three novels might have been brilliant as one single tale. Huge, yes. Especially for a YA. But damn that would have been epic. :)

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Under the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy, #1)Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a pretty cool mix between rural farmer YA life and a wickedly evil genetic nightmare of a world with a richer world floating above them. I mean, sure, it's about friendship and rivalries and getting on rickety hoverboats and avoiding the specter of genetic mutations deep in the plants that start turning people into walking cornfields.

Details. It's all in the details. :)

The YA stuff was certainly competent even if I'm not all about the rural farmland stuff. I really, really loved the horror elements, however. The worldbuilding made the craziest stuff fairly commonplace and it really set me on edge. :) A lot of WTF moments that I loved.

Other than that, we hardly got any page-time with the OTHER folks in the sky, but I get the feeling we're gonna. Especially now that everything in Cael's life has gone to hell. :)

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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Confessor (Sword of Truth, #11)Confessor by Terry Goodkind
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally finished the Sword of Truth series!

So was it good? Was it more of the same? Was it kinda heavy-handed with the philosophy? Yes! To all of the above!

No, honestly, it was rather interesting, even with all the super-bloody-football games and the neverending chatterbox about life-affirming actions, trips to the underworld, tons of research and magical theory, and a war, another war, a siege, and a ginormous army getting ready to consume the last remnants of the logical and the reasonable.

In other words, it's an epic fantasy with an agenda. And you know what? I still don't mind the agenda. Ayn Rand lives on. :) And despite all the long-winded stuff, there was so much action, tension, reveals, and massive successes and failures to fill a book twice as large. And this was a large book. :)

I'm happy I finished. I don't care what anyone else says. :)

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Monday, July 22, 2019

Exhalation: StoriesExhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All said, Chiang's new collection rocks. :) I've read a good number of these in other places, but it doesn't diminish my enjoyment. I'm referencing the stories I liked the most.

The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate - 1001 Nights meets fixed-timeline time-travel. Easily one of my favorites.

Exhalation - A rather interesting logical-breakdown of universal principles from the PoV of a robot race.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects - Novella, and easily the most wrenching, exploratory of the lot. Touches not only on artificial life and AI, but the same kind of feelings we might have for autistic children and trying to save Zoos. For pretty much the same reasons. And I got rather invested in this. I can see it becoming a problem in our future.

Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny - So cool! A mix of our recentish Science History and a very plausible alternate past, part psychology, part 'oh, crap, we definitely could have done this to ourselves'.

The Great Silence - A Fermi gut-punch.

Omphalos - A great reversal of an alternate reality, where proof of god's intervention, creation, is everywhere, but scientists come to a startlingly different conclusion. :)

Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom - Another novella, and fascinating as hell. Part self-help group, part scam, and all focusing on the nature of alternate reality informational crosstalk. :) I'm really surprised at how well this one worked for me.

I keep noticing how much Chiang loves to mess with our understanding of our basic reality. It's a Thing. A great Thing.

How does it compare to the previous collection? Neither better nor worse, because it is all him. Quality, a lot of exploration in different ways, but always reaching for the same high standard. :)

I loved it. :) No complaints at all.

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Sunday, July 21, 2019

Of Human BondageOf Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Look, I admit to being a W. Somerset Maugham fanboy ever since I watched Bill Murray in Razor's Edge. One of my favorite movies and afterward, one of my favorite books. Oddly enough, however, I didn't get around to reading Of Human Bondage until very long after. Why? Because I made the mistake of watching the classic adaptation of it first. I'm talking Bette Davis, baby. She pulled off such a trip of a Mildred that I have forever hated (or loved to hate) the very IDEA of Bette Davis and/or any portrayal of Mildred in the novel enough that I became downright TREPIDATIOUS, man.

I got the FEARS, man. The fears!

But I got better, see? I got over those fears and read the damn book, see?

And it has everything. Including my undying hate for Phil's stupidity over Mildred. But so much more!
It has the full gamut of the human condition, from childhood raised in strict Anglican Christianity to total disillusionment, from studying to get into Oxford, changing his mind to hang out with the freaks in Germany, then France, picking up all kinds of styles and thinking habits, all well before WWI. We see Phillip go through being ostracized, being lonely, trying his hand not only at the Clergy, but being a bohemian artist, a physician, and being a love-struck fool.

When I say everything, however, I mean everything. All different ways of being, exploring who he can become before the Gen-X kicked in, of throwing off one shackle of thought after another after another... and yet, still getting caught in the toughest shackle of all: human relationships.

Did I mention I hate Mildred? Well, for all the times I really loved Phil, I hated him the most when he was in deep with this woman. So stupid! STUPID! And yet...sigh.

I may have gotten deep into this novel. It's up there with all the classics, in my humble opinion. So clear of style and dedicated to exploring what it means to be living, learning, and surviving. If you wanted to, you could trace all the philosophical greats, step-by-step, seeing how morality and ethics don't die even when you shake off the mold, or when you try your hand at completely different modes of living, one after another, to see what sticks, and all the while learning intense lessons that never feel forced. Indeed, I feel for this guy as he keeps stumbling about, just pushing himself further and further into a position where he's either following his dream or he's fooling himself. And that's just the thing, isn't it?

Neither he nor we know which it is.

And as an artist, I feel for him. Deeply. Sometimes all you can do is put one foot ahead of another and hope you're wise enough to know when you finally have a good thing.

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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Love Minus EightyLove Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For a book that is pretty much all a romance, it's full of great science, tech, and outright horror. The titular theme refers to corpse dating. It's kinda like a half-way point for necrophiliacs, old-rich-geezers, and tortured musicians to pine over pretty dead women. And when I mean pretty, I mean pretty. Only the beautiful get selected for possible reanimation and if they don't have special insurance and they don't get picked to be a bride-like-a-slave, they get defrosted and dumped in a landfill.

The rub? These women are brought back in a speed-dating nightmare, fresh from death, only let to live for five minutes as some rich creep tries to find out if you're "the one". Just think about it. Your afterlife will be spent trying to do everything you can to debase yourself and be the perfect mate JUST SO YOU CAN COME BACK TO LIFE. It's a special kind of hell to be caught in desperate speed-dating for the sake of your very existence.


But, yes, this IS a romance, and every part of it is wonderful. Hard, depressing, hopeful, loving, and wonderful. I even grew to love all of Rob's friends. :)

I can't say whether this is my favorite Will McIntosh book, but it damn-near perfect for all that. Romance, interesting tech-based horror, a future dystopia for the dead and recently un-dead, and a massive condemnation on us. You'll see. It's totally worth reading. :)

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The CyberiadThe Cyberiad by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I was initially tempted to treat this collection of 1965 short SF stories with kid gloves because I was already a huge fan of Solaris, I didn't quite understand that this collection was already a heavyweight of humor, satire, and delight.

Where the hell have I been? I should have read this back when I was a kid! Alongside Hitchhiker's Guide! As I read this, I gave a constant chuckle-rumble, especially with the Seven Sallies of Trurl and Klapaucius. These two master-builder robots get along with their wits and near-infinite capability to make things. Anything. And they are tricksters. Very funny tricksters.

The one time that Trurl made a poetry machine, I was f***ing spoiled by some of the best math poetry I've ever read, and here's the kicker: This was translated from Polish. Hell, it was translated into several dozen languages. But the English translation retained ALL its flavor. :) It was honestly funny.

All of this was light, clever, and always to the point. These are traditional fables, almost like the old Chivalric tradition, but add the element of gods granting everyone's wishes to the downfall of the wisher, and you've got a very good idea about what's going on here. Oh, and almost every character is a robot. The wisecracking kind.

I admit I've read a number of things *like* this, but never to this one's high quality. This is a perfect cure for grimdark malaise. :)

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Friday, July 19, 2019

Finnegans WakeFinnegans Wake by James Joyce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This has got to be the best, most fantastic, wonderful book ever written to have absolutely freaking defeated me. Not only is the wordplay and freakishly brilliant alliteration such that I want to roll around in it like a dog in autumn leaves, but the language is also so dense and impenetrable I can BARELY get a sense of what the F*** is going on.

Is it brilliant? Yeah, I can see that much. I can also so see that it was specifically written to break modern literature scholars from their dependence on LSD and Heroin. Both used at the same time. And this is the "lite" version of the drug which is much more insidious because it is even MORE addictive and it happens to kill you in about thirty days after reading. It's a socially-transmitted Irish cancer. It's also a mudkiss written by a psychotic who throws readers into the abyss without a parachute. It was written by the Joker. You know, the one that just wanted to watch the world burn.

It's murdercock English. It's being peed on by pearlypets. It's joking around like a hearse on fire. It's a nappywink.

Honestly, I would NOT have DNF'd this at the midpoint if it wasn't so freaking dense. Or if I were completely drunk in a room full of other Irish foks shouting out random lines from this monstrosity. Or if I joined a cult, bringing this book with me to counteract the crazy by a more potent kind of crazy.

But I did none of these things. I was DEFEATED.

But I do it gracefully. I admit I was beaten by this madman.

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AntarcticaAntarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Almost every time I read a KSR book, I'm either awestruck, amazed at the scope, or I have to say something silly like, "Every time I read a KSR book, it's the favorite book I've read by him!"

Well, guess what?

Seriously, though, this one has the added distinction of KSR actually having been to Antarctica, and plot aside, the descriptions of the 60 below landscape, the problems associated with long hikes or just plain living there at all, makes this one of the most vivid novels he's ever written. This is quite aside from the Mars Trilogy, as good as it was. This one obviously hits closer to home, with all our crazy and screwed-up personages making yet another mess of things.

Because, let's face it, no nation or corporation has a good track record when it comes to reckless greed, fear of the upcoming energy crisis, or just not giving a shit because "things are bad everywhere". What does this mean for Antarctica? For those oil deposits? Or every nation capable of staging an end-run around the international treaty? A treaty unenforced and possibly unenforceable?

It brings up other familiar topics from KSR's other books as well. Ecology is a big one. Antarctica is the last clean place on Earth. It's rough on us and that's the main reason why, but you and I both know that where there's a will, there's a way. But there are also people willing to fight for the love they have for the place, and this is their novel. The fighting isn't really done with guns, but there *IS* ecoterrorism going on. There are also some rather awesome ways of living with zero-impact on the continent. Political and economic ideas that deal with the full problem. And characters that immerse us readers fully in this gorgeous, stark landscape.

I totally recommend this novel for anyone in love with cold adventures. It's full of history and the present and has a strong eye to the future, in every aspect. Now it's time to close my mouth. Snow is getting in.

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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Empress of ForeverEmpress of Forever by Max Gladstone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First things first: I had a great time.

As in, this is a goofy, fast-paced, unabashedly hard-SF, galaxy-spanning space-opera mania that mixes cloud-computing universe-spanning quantum-computing with the afterlife, instant travel, world-eating gods, cyborgs, huge space battles, and a HUGE baddie in the Empress of Forever who is literally impossible to defeat because she IS the substrate of the entire universe I just described.

When it comes to the whole grab bag of SF concepts and the way it is all put together, this is no lightweight SF. It made me dance around, happy as a pig in muck, and I pretty much forgave anything else because Gladstone KNOWS his genre inside and out. I thought he couldn't be topped in the UF field, but I should have had a bit more faith. :)

So why aren't I giving this a full 5 stars? Because the plot is kinda standard and predictable. The twist, especially, and although I DID like the backward hints residing in the naming conventions that spelled it all out, the SECOND twist that I expected didn't come.

The characters were pretty fine. The focus did have some self-realization going on and this is definitely a Lesbian space adventure that has a lot of Iron Man overtones. Otherwise, the description in the blurb is accurate. Guardians of the Galaxy misfits, indeed. No complaints here.

Fun stuff, ESPECIALLY after you get through the opening bits in the book. It really takes off once a certain lady gets woken up. Definitely popcorn fiction for the nanotech infected galaxy. :)

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Test of the Twins (Dragonlance: Legends, #3)Test of the Twins by Margaret Weis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very satisfying end to the Twins Trilogy. And great character development for both twins.

Raistlin will always, always be my favorite character in any D&D novel. Period. I keep thinking about who I'd cast as him in a blockbuster adaptation. He has to be super scrawny, sickly, sneering (but super charming) master manipulator. So confident that he can do anything, including walk into the Abyss, kill the Dark Goddess, and take her place? Loki, go away. You aren't good enough for this role. :) You need to be as smart as Moriarty, as ruthless as that jerk from 24, and as confident as Thanos. Who do we have that could fit that bill, anyway? I can't even imagine!

Back to the novel and the capstone of this trilogy...

Test of the Twins is super fascinating, but it's not without its flaws. Or the flaws that I think they are, anyway. I never cared much for Tanis. He gets a lot of facetime here. On the other hand, I absolutely adore the hulking brute of Raistlin's brother now and the smart alec kinder has grown on me. Especially since they did so much time traveling.

The best part is the multiple futures and all the branching paths that had to be corrected. A lot of tragedy, but also a lot of excellent adventure. Dragons galore! Undead! Wizards! Destroyed worlds! Immense magical battles, and tons of mindf***ery. :)

This deserves to be in the fantasy hall of fame. For real. It still remains a good sight better than most of the fantasy that keeps churning out today. That's saying a lot because I think a lot of modern fantasy beats the old stuff. By a lot. :) And weirdly enough, I can count this as a classic despite my prejudice against franchise fiction. It's worth reading, period, if you like fantasy.

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War of the Twins (Dragonlance: Legends, #2)War of the Twins by Margaret Weis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know, for a novel with an evil time-traveling master magician so full of himself that he wants to kill a god to become a god, a twin brother who alternately wants to kill him and protect him, and being dumped in a strange time to just "happen" to lead a huge army to defeat a bunch of dwarves...

This book's best feature is its LOVE STORY.


Look. It's true. I'm totally on board with the whole evil machinations of Raistlin, how he manipulates everyone and takes on the title of another evil magician in the past and is forced to relive a seemingly unbreakable time-loop. The war stuff is certainly a lot more fun than the previous book's gladiator schtick. Even the brotherly love and the nasty betrayal is pretty awesome.

But what really makes the book is the epic romance. A magician of absolute evil and a cleric of absolute good, an undeniable romance for the ages. Hell, even his most bald-face lies have a germ of truth to them and while he's trying to turn her away from him, she just wants to trust him more. And more. It's a weird thing, this honesty. She KNOWS what he is, and yet she still wants to help him. It doesn't hurt that he wants to kill the Goddess of Darkness and that's kind of her calling. But still. He's DOING it to REPLACE the grand evil. :)

LoL, I'm all getting into a fanboy mode here. These two are a trip. I totally get why these books are classics.

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Monday, July 15, 2019

Time of the Twins (Dragonlance: Legends, #1)Time of the Twins by Margaret Weis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I feel kinda bad that it has taken me thirty years to finally get around to reading this second main Dragonlance trilogy. I mean, sure, it took me fifteen years to read the first Dragonlance trilogy and that was AFTER I had been playing D&D for years. Oops? Ah, but never mind that.

I discovered something awesome. This reads BETTER than the first trilogy. A lot more fun, more interesting, better characters (and not just Tolkien ripoffs), and a much more twisted story.

No, this isn't a classic fantasy in most cases... but then... maybe it IS. Raistlin has that VIBE. Originally a dark hero master magician, like Elric from Moorcock's series, Raistlin is, in some ways, a lot more interesting, evil, and sympathetic than Elric. Awesomely powerful by the end of the original Trilogy, he's insufferably cocky and sure he could take over the world in a single day in this one. So he gets more ambitious. As in taking out the Dark Goddess to become a God, himself.

In the meantime, his twin brother, a brawny, broken oaf of a warrior and pretty much Raistlin's opposite, has his own redemption arc going on because he let himself go to seed. Big time. And then we get a full corruption of a good cleric, time travel, Kinder mischief, and a big return to the awesomely big cataclysm from the Dragonlance's ancient past. And we get to see it from the ringside seats.

Awesome? I think so.

Let me be clear, however. I have only a little patience for money-grubbing franchises and the D&D series as a whole definitely qualifies. I had some issues with the original trilogy, but somehow this book kinda pushes all my reservations aside.

I had FUN. A lot of fun. And the writing is not bad at all. :) I can't wait to see the big, big events I've already been spoiled on by old friends back years ago. :)

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Sunday, July 14, 2019

The John Varley ReaderThe John Varley Reader by John Varley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When it comes to the social side of world-building in Science Fiction, slathered with good science, beautifully messed-up situations, and a really vast setting of our Solar-System nestled neatly in Varley's collective imagination, Varley is a master.

I've read and raved about some authors for their sheer imagination, intense focus on the fringes of technology, and sometimes about the nitty-gritty of what it means to be human, or more specifically, gendered, but Varley takes gender to new heights. Specifically, he follows the same direction as his Eight Worlds novels and makes gender extremely fluid. Anyone can change it whenever they want. Death is also a taboo word because brain recordings are great backups for a force-clone of yourself. Old ideas, right? Well, Varley runs with them in wildly progressive and interesting ways, building vast societies that mess around the niches and the twists. Most of these short stories deal with one version of that or another. And I love it. :)

If I was to recommend any Varley, if only to get a taste as to what he's about and get a great feel for his easygoing and personable writing, it would be this collection.

I've loved most of his novels, too, and I came to this late, but I kinda wish I had started here. It works great as a primer to all the interesting and doubly-interesting stuff to come. :)

Worth it.

Oh! I should mention, Varley's very much a child of the sixties. Expect ruminations on hippies, Woodstock, sexual liberation, and a lot of the great ideals. And he never LOST them. I really appreciate the idealism. :) Love power!

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The Color PurpleThe Color Purple by Alice Walker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Few books express just how damaging and painful a life of ignorance and poverty can be, but this one comes close to taking the cake.

This is the purple of bruises.

So many people have read this and have their own opinions. I'm sure no one needs a rundown on the topic. It's about women, plain and simple. Black women, certainly, but women primarily. It's a topic close to my heart.

Reading this book induces a great depression in me. It made me physically ill and gave me a squirming headache and it made me sadder than almost any book has been able to do.

Do you know what's really bad? The way I reacted about the ending.

It had a happy ending. It had all these people's transformations come off without TOO much damage. People changed for the better. People were forgiven. People learned to live and love and respect one another.

My reaction, while happy with all this, was also one of complete disbelief.

A Hollywood Ending after ALL THAT CRAP? Where's the Hamlet ending? Where's the capstone to the utter injustice? Are you REALLY SAYING that the fellowship between women is all that really matters? That just because you stood up for yourself -- at last -- a magical happiness can be achieved?

Five stars for how this book gives me such a violent reaction. One star for making me so depressed. But I won't change my rating based on that. Readers need a bone of hope after going through a whole life of near misery.

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Saturday, July 13, 2019

FaustFaust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yep, it's actually epic fantasy. Don't let the stage actors or the music and the poetry fool you. There's demons, vast battlefields, an epic battle for one's soul with TWO WHOLE HOSTS fighting, and, of course, there's that thing about the toothpick and getting Helen of Troy pregnant.

The original is in German. There MIGHT be something in that. An interesting story. Or perhaps Goethe was one hell of a weird artist.

Actually, scratch that, he was. Like an opium dream.

Breakdown: I loved the poetry and most of the translation. It was pretty neat. What there was of the original story was slightly convoluted and drawn out. The battle was pretty cool, too.

It's Faust. A classic tale. But you know what?


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DefendersDefenders by Will McIntosh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really fascinating and really ambitious. I'm giving this a 4.5 stars for a few weird moments but the rest was like War of the Worlds. Times three.

I mean, it starts out pretty awesome as a beleaguered humanity is dying from a starfish invasion. They have excellent telepathy and they use it against us perfectly. The action and multiple viewpoints work very well. It's not an easy situation. They are herding us into the cities and several billion have died by the time we MAKE our defenders. Giant, genetically modified humans without serotonin, three robot legs, and they're all sociopaths, much smarter than us, and they were made to destroy.


At least the cheering and the parades were nice. The Defenders couldn't be read by the starfish, but now that humanity won? Oh, they didn't want to be integrated into our society. lol But since several billion people died, why not give them Australia?

Yes, the key idea is clear and it should come to no surprise that the Defenders, knowing nothing but war and broken on the inside, unable to procreate, but definitely able to build up a huge arsenal and adapt the alien starfish technology, brutal enough to take all the treaty-survivor aliens to turn them all into slaves, it was only a matter of time before they asked for something the rest of the weakened humanity couldn't give. Large tracts of land, integration on the Defenders' terms, and the labs that made them.

Uh, oh.

No spoilers, but THREE more wars later, or four total over 20 years, and we've got one hell of a MilSF epic on our hands.

And strangely enough, it actually has a really well-done theme. :) Is it EVEN POSSIBLE to communicate with the Other? I mean, the telepathic aliens KNEW we wouldn't take them in as refugees. The Defenders are slightly more alien than the aliens, and we MADE them.

Very cool book. Will McIntosh continues to amaze me with the style and variety and hardcore stories. :)

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Friday, July 12, 2019

Code Revelation (The Emporion Chronicles, #1)Code Revelation by Boris Sanders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Decent, fast-paced high-tech dystopian, featuring a corporate America Clone, super hi-rises, and cool alien interference.

Starting out with a retiring IT guy and breaking him out of his shell is the name of the game, getting the help of a rather smart other-intelligence. Some of the funniest scenes are how the two of them interact, or rather, how our poor hero is thrown into situation after situation, learning to sink or swim.

It's fun, quick-paced, and bright. I'm sure a lot of people will enjoy this shiny technological dystopia. I personally really loved the later reveals and the situation of the Earth. :)

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An Acceptable Time (Time Quintet, #5)An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was just okay. Maybe I'm a bit meh about Christian fantasy/sf in general, or specifically, but I did enjoy the moments of particle physics and the apologia for all things Jesus. (Sure, time travel is fine because even though you're going back a thousand years before the time of Christ, his spirit is eternal, etc., etc.)

MAYBE I would have liked this a lot more if it hadn't been super-primitive societies performing ritual sacrifice and we're supposed to go back and civilize the bastards. Or something like that.

Hmmm. Well, I do like certain ASPECTS of this. Like any time period that is ours. That's pretty cool. But when what should have been the cool bit, like TIME TRAVEL, something between my shoulder-blades started itching and I just wanted to be through this. I'm afraid that it didn't age all that well.

Which is a shame, because I used to love the rough-and-tumble mix of science and religion in the previous books.

I think it is a case of, "I've changed, you haven't. Sorry, L'Engle."

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Blackwater: The Complete Caskey Family Saga (Blackwater, #1-6)Blackwater: The Complete Caskey Family Saga by Michael McDowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Epic Southern Family Sagas generally automatically qualify as a Horror genre. IMHO. Deeply creepy, sometimes charming, often batshit crazy, and interspersed with WTF. That's just my normal reaction, however.

Blackwater, on the other hand, raises the water to a new level.

I'm not saying this is all that scary, despite King and Straub lauding this serial novel (combined here as one long novel). But all the elements are here. We're meant to love or really, really hate the characters for their actions and grievances. When the violence comes, it is swift and merciless and sometimes quite creepy. The real charm is in how well written it is.

I was reminded -- quite fondly -- of The House of the Spirits, only rely on a somewhat horrific supernatural element instead. I'm thinking maybe a marid. :) Definitely a powerful water-based beasty. But here's the kicker... the supernatural is never the focus, merely a spice. The family is the meat. Sometimes literally.

I had a really great time with this, and I can't always say that about epic family dramas. Sometimes I get annoyed with them and just want the whole thing to just wrap up, but that was never the case with this one. McDowell never kept us in suspense about the big stuff. We knew how this would end and he delivered in style. It started with a flood and ended in one. :)

So what makes this really stand out from all the other epic family dramas? Southern included?

The children. The children are always the key. I think I may have been more horrified by how they treat the children than any other reason. Not that they were abused... particularly... but how they were all bargaining chips, even a barter system. And here's the weird bit: no matter how horrible the first event was, it actually made a lot of sense in the later incarnations. People are people. Some people don't want the 'extras' but there were lots in the family who wanted a baby. Sometimes this works out well, sometimes it's just horrific. But when I started sympathizing with and appreciating the concept, that's where I really started getting creeped out. It actually started to make a lot of wicked sense. *shiver*

I totally recommend this for all you family saga fans. :)

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Pushing IcePushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm discovering something rather odd about myself. I thought I would never like Reynold's stand-alone novels more than I liked the large-scale history and time books surrounding Revelation Space, but one after another, these books are rather blowing me away.

Pushing Ice, as a title, leaves a lot to be desired. It seems... rather pedestrian for what it actually IS.

Janus, one of Jupiter's moons, happens to be a spaceship. And more than that, forgive my spoilering, it's full of far-future tech (which may not be THAT much of a spoiler since we start out the book FROM that future.) And from there, we're forced into discovering a mystery, or a mystery within a mystery within a mystery couched within a heavily, and delightfully-so, character-driven machine. :)

In fact, we go from near-future asteroid miners to a science mission that then turns into a story of colonization, feuding, massive SFnal discoveries, leading to a ton of awesome alien interactions that remind me of how Europeans bamboozled the Native Americans. I'm not telling you the direction of the bamboozle. :)

The scope is really rather huge, across a lot of space and time and a ton of great tech, belying the rather understated title. :) As an SF of any caliber, it deserves to be WAY up there as some of the very best SF anywhere. I'm saying this even though I've read 2,000 SF titles. Yeah. It's that good. :) I'm reminded fondly and perhaps a bit desiring to push this one ahead of Rama or Eon. :)

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The Deaths and Afterlife of Aleister CrowleyThe Deaths and Afterlife of Aleister Crowley by Ian Thornton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one is a fairly hard book to review because I've been fascinated by Crowley in the past. I mean, did you know that his visage graces the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band? That the man was the original sensationalist, welcoming all kinds of defamation and horror story for the sake of building up a legend, right or wrong? That he was the original flower child, a bold climber of Everest, a thumber-of-noses at all kinds of hypocrisy, and he believed in rebellion with a capital R?

I liked him. Who cares if he called himself The Beast and signed with 666? Or that he was called a satanist for most of his life? I played D&D as a child. Back in those days, Parent Teacher Associations used to burn books and say that my gamebooks were written by the devil. *rolls eyes so hard that they pop out of his grinning skull*

If my mild storytelling sessions were that evil, I had to see what else the "world" is lying about.

This book on Crowley DOES have a ton of historical fact about Crowley, but it is conflated with a ton as well. He may or may not have been a British Secret agent, but this book definitely goes all into that. And I DO like all the Rebellion stuff. A lot. The sixties were Crowley's time, after all, having blazoned the way for several generations of people who are sick of the lies and just want to revel in truth, pleasure, and kindness.

Kindness? Crowley? Well, let's put it the way he puts it. "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will." Love? Love? Hello! That sure sounds evil. lol

So WHAT ABOUT THIS BOOK? Why do I only give it 3 stars? Because... it focuses on spycraft and faking his death and his childhood. It's okay. It's FINE. But it's also meandering and directionless until we get to the whole revolution stuff later. And what I really wanted was either a full-out magical extravaganza a-la the best Fantasy novels of our time... or a tight thematic homage to the core principles of what Crowley taught. Or both! We can add some spycraft later, I suppose, but Crowley doing his best to out-do Marilyn Manson before Marilyn Manson is PLENTY interesting all on its own without turning him into a super-hero.

Maybe that's just me.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Anna KareninaAnna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are a lot of great reviews for this book out there and if I wanted to be writing one of them, I would have to put a lot of time and effort into breaking down the major themes, the moral ambiguity, the consummate REALITY expressed in these pages, the tragedy, the hope, the searching of one's heart... and the amazing blindness of it.

Then again, I guess I can express that quickly. But this novel really should not be dismissed so blithely, either.

Anna might have the title, and this woman might be full of life and passion and desire and we might sympathize with her to a degree and sigh with her plight against the patriarchy of the time, but on an entirely different level, she is pretty horrible. There is no caricature here. She has a love of life, wanting to break free from the stultifying dullness of reality, to discover love with another after she's already been married. Pretty tame by today's standards, maybe, but this isn't even the main point.

The constraints are the point. The society that gleefully ruins us with its culture, mores, laws, religiosity, and the parts of that that seep in under our skin. She slowly ruins herself, hating her husband for his virtues, blinding herself to her own state, and spiraling down to her own ruin by tiny degrees as her desire for passion wars against the reality of her life.

And the other main character of this book, a much more sympathetic character, IMHO, Levin, expresses so many of Tolstoy's own views and devotes a ton of page-time to the very societal norms that destroy Anna. It's VERY Russian literature. High ideals writ large, explored in grand fashion, developed and grown like a garden featuring ripe and rotten fruits that we, as readers, are forced to eat.

We see all the big concerns of the day. Marxism is something that the contemporary people live and breathe, after all. Let's just ignore what happens a few decades later when the actual revolution comes around and read all about the idealistic hunger that suffuses the society. How to destroy inequality, how make things Just for all men and women, how to live a good, quiet life to the best of our abilities? It's all here. From Atheism to turning back to the old ways. From righteousness to total acceptance of the moral greyness.

And no character is truly evil or good. It might be nice to fall into the PoV of anyone for a while and try to see their suffering as a direct consequence of another's evil, but what we learn here is pretty simple.

The evil lies in the half-lidded eyes.

It lies in not seeing things clearly. Yourself, others, your state, your life. Lying to yourself. Carrying on like nothing is wrong. Believing what you want to believe.

Every single tragedy in this book comes from the blindness.

For that, I really love this book. A gorgeous, sprawling, immensely detailed and fleshed-out book. Well worth the praise. :)

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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Lost and FoundLost and Found by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very lite fare for non-discriminating YA readers. Sure, it reads fast with some interesting and likable characters, but there's nothing stand-out about this. Snark, check. Minor superpowers so minor that they're MircoPowers, like being able to find lost objects? Check. Murder, kidnapping, and fairly dark situations for a couple of new teens? Check.

What are we expecting, really? A YA version of that recent defunct tv show called The Finder. Or back it up to the rather huge quasi-genre of psychic detectives in general, and you'll get a pretty good idea about the kind of book you'll be picking up.

Is this anything like early Card? No.

Is it okay for the general throwaway YA market, being pleasing and usual and cute and uplifting as a result of getting through all the dark stuff? Yes. I actually enjoyed it for what it is. Lite fare. ... And there's nothing wrong with this. Unfortunately, nothing really stands out about it other than the solid characters.

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Saturday, July 6, 2019

Don QuixoteDon Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two books, really, one written ten years after the super-popular sensation of the first three Sallies of our intrepid Knight Errant, the collected stories here are something really special.

It doesn't even matter that I read a translation from the Spanish of 1605. Or that the numerous references to Chivalry are half-super obscure or relegated to fantasy (or possible fantasy, for you historical purists and hopefuls).

Once we start this comic masterpiece, it becomes something a lot more than a chivalric romance tempered by sheer sarcasm, optimism, delusion, realism, or idealism writ large. It cleverly becomes anything you want as a reader. :)

For idealists and the imaginative at heart, Don Quixote is the hero that never gives up on his dreams no matter what anyone says. Assumed mad by everyone around him, he still manages to be perfectly rational about EVERYTHING except the idea of Chivalry. It consumes everything he does and while it does get him into a LOT of trouble... like getting beat up by a windmill... it also charms the living hell out of almost everyone he meets. The pursuit of his dream fascinates everyone even as they laugh at him.

For the sarcastic and the sardonic among us, we laugh at Don Quixote for the way he shines a spotlight on our own stupid crap and we are shocked and amazed when we discover that he might be RIGHT in his decisions when compared to what "normal", "regular" society thinks and does. His lunacy is almost a divine lunacy. Satire? Absolutely.

For the realist in us, we despair because NO ONE lives by sane rules. Not our neighbors, society, nor the holy idealists that shoot their arrows into the void of absurdity. Sancho Panza fights and fights, trying to keep his old friend alive despite everything, getting beat over the head repeatedly by the lunacy... until he gives in. Broken. And just goes along with reality, taking whatever scraps he can in hopes that the emperor's new clothes will start to fit him.

Gorgeous stuff. Any of us could take any kind of read we want out of this, and there's a lot more than just these three ways to read it. But above all, it's all funny as hell, timely even now, and smart in a way that only the most brilliant books are smart. And timeless.

Anyone upon reading this can see how it influences a vast stream of books that came after. Or TV shows. I think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Confederacy of Dunces, and even American Psycho.

Of course, I'm sure most people will think of more standard titles, but from TS Eliot to the Dark Tower to Spaghetti Westerns to the Seven Samurai, the influence is still insanely clear. :)

A true classic.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

The Island of the Day BeforeThe Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A rather large part of me is astounded, yet again, at the erudition and the hopelessly convoluted tale that Umberto Eco is able to write, all when staying close to a single, simple premise. Indeed, the amount of real history, real contemporary and historical thought pre-1640's, is enough to send any regular scholar into paroxysms of joy... or the need to act on vengeance.

At any point the book, I can sit back and enjoy the text, the dry accounting of an anonymous scholar as he (or she) goes over the left behind documents of a shipwrecked scholar finding himself marooned on ANOTHER ship off the coast of a deserted island, unable to leave the ship because can't swim.

Ok, a little labyrinthian. But wait! He lives and dies recounting his youth, and out of learned frustration and boredom, devises a narration of himself both fantastic and strange. A twin brother which accounts for all his crimes and failures. A life of mystery and intrigue. A lost love is given over to his fictional brother, giving him all the good things as well as the bad.

The progression and subtle shifts throughout the novel are rather excellent.

So why am I giving this a three star? Well, for as much as I appreciate the beautiful writing and the excellent idea behind it, it fell flat. I didn't care for either Roberto or his evil self-narrative twin. And the amount of space spent on Galenic and cutting-edge 17th-century science might be AWESOME in retrospect and conception, but a FREAKING DRAG in execution. :)

Lordy, I can't recommend this to anyone except those who LIKE this kind of scrupulous historical drama with a HUGE dose of accurate historical erudition. This is a scholar who's trapped and a scholar who goes over this long-dead scholar's work. Ergo, it follows that the reader should ALSO be a scholar. :)

Read this with caution. It doesn't have the charm of Baudolino or the crazy humor of Foucault's Pendulum or the awesome historical mystery of Name of the Rose. Alas. But it is nicely labyrinthian if you're into that kind of thing. :)

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Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Horse and His Boy (Chronicles of Narnia, #5)The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Aaaaaannnd it's time to downgrade an old classic.

Reading it with my girl was kinda a chore because BOTH of us thought the story dragged. And if a six-year-old can pick out the ickiness of caricature Arab cultures and find it distasteful (without any kind of reaction from her daddy), then it MIGHT be a bit bad.

Sure, sure, talking horses and missing princesses and princes and an adventure/quest OUGHT to be great fun, but the pacing is weird with lots of talking about events that just happened off-stage and with some anticlimactic lion cameos here and there, I had a distinct impression that I was being railroaded down a recently blown MORAL TUNNEL.

And then, what about the great battle at the end of this?

Yeah, let's have a daft old hermit call the highlights like a senile sportscaster who gets bored half-way through the telling to go inside to take a dump or something.


And in the meantime, after the twentieth time, my daughter said, "I'm bored..." I woke her up at the end. She hugged me and said, "Daddy? Please. No more."

"No more, daughter. No more."

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Phantom (Sword of Truth, #10)Phantom by Terry Goodkind
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To my everloving shame, I seem to have waylayed my reading of these books for a bit more than a decade. Oops. But apart from a few minor quibbles I had with the series from before, I really did enjoy them.

Their direct and not-so-direct homages to WoT, the traditional feel of quest-laden fantasy and rather brutal over-the-top wallowing in torture and grimdark horror, and of course our rather overpowered and mythically pure Richard... following the last book's rather dark turn.

Chainfire, or the wiping out of his wife, the Mother Confessor, from everyone's memories. Only he remembers her, but worse, other creatures, like dragons and unspecified other ideas and memories are getting lost, progressively. Even the understanding of magic. The corruption is preparing to wipe out everyone.

And if that isn't bad enough, there's also that army of philosophical darkness relying on a future world and abnegation of life on this one that is about to roll over every existing land, treating every living man and woman and child like nothing more than an inconvenience. Where every soldier considers themselves expendable. Where all women are treated like playthings and death REALLY IS preferable.

I really did enjoy this book, no matter how dark this sounds. But why? Ahhh, the reason is a double-edged sword. I've never reviewed his other books but there's this one little aspect that I both LOVE and HATE, heavy-handedly doling out the philosophy in a big way.

Oh? What philosophy?

Objectivism. As in, Ayn Rand. I personally love the crap out of Objectivism and really appreciate how Goodkind turns each of these novels into a vehicle for loving life and pooping all over rotters and self-abnegators and anyone who thinks that coercion is a good thing.

However. Goodkind spends about half the novel in great action, battles, cool magic system stuff, worldbuilding, heart-wrenching emotion and horrors and the OTHER half in carefully deconstructing everything that's happening in the world and situation in terms of Objectivism. :) With a very heavy hand. Holding a big iron-objectivism bar. Or a sword. Called Truth. :) lol

Even for someone who loves this shit, it IS a bit much. A subtler presentation would have left me in pure delight.

No big deal! I still enjoyed the hell out of it. I'm almost tempted to pick up the next novel right away. :) But I will get to it, regardless.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Children of HúrinThe Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm finally getting around to reading the Silmarillion side tales Tolkien worked on but never published in his lifetime, and I can say this for certain:

This one is a lot smoother than Beren and Luthien.

In fact, it just comes across as a collection of quite readable short stories following the line of Húrin from the First Age fighting Melkor in the north with its dragons, balrogs, and orcs action to the later days when all the grey elves were cut off from their folk and had to deal with the rise of man.

Primarily, however, we get a very character-oriented tale of misunderstood heroism and bullish pride and survival in hostile lands. A tale of falling from a great height, winding up lower than anyone else. :)

Quite good. Fascinating. But I wouldn't really recommend this for anyone other than fans of LotR and the Silmarillion. It's quite readable, but the story might come off as ... something usual. :)

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Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Blackout (Newsflesh Trilogy, #3)Blackout by Mira Grant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Pretty awesome conclusion to the tale. Moral? The truth will set you free.

Maybe not from zombies crashing down your doors or zombie bears making a mess of your day or massive conspiracies regarding the zombie virus being transmitted by tons of mosquitos...

But at least the conspiracy will EVENTUALLY have its day. Maybe. Because, you know, the truth and all.


This is easily one of the most interesting zombie books out there, and while it doesn't have the same impact as the first two, it does conclude the tale in grand style. This book is better as part of the whole trilogy.

I love the light writing style. But then, this is Mira Grant. (Seanan McGuire) :) There's a reason she's become an auto-read for me. :)

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Monday, July 1, 2019

DreamcatcherDreamcatcher by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For all those people who call this a shitweasle of a novel, I would like like point out that it does exactly what it sets out to do. Maybe the usual King fan comes to the chopping block expecting nothing but detailed flawed characters and some rather heartwrenching stuff before a paranormal beastie chomps down.

But I would like to posit that SK IS a fan of Science Fiction. :) Sure, a few of his SF tales like Lawnmower Man and Tommyknockers might not get the love that they deserve, but remember, he also wrote that little epic called the Dark Tower. :)

So let's break this down a bit. We literally get to the heart of the novel through our guts at the beginning, Shitweasels and all, playing on all the paranoid fantasies of... um... SO MANY PEOPLE... by bringing in anal probing aliens. With a particularly gross twist, thank you very much, Mr. King. And then we get into the whole telepathy thing, the Aliens-type setup, and even a Theodore Sturgeon *More Than Human* homage with a very special special person holding this group of old friends together.

For the longest time I got the idea that it was kinda a Tommyknockers part 2, but then I laughed aloud when we got a massive direct reference to the boys and girl from IT, including Pennywise, and then I started seeing a lot more combined references to all his other novels. As per usual, but nicely solid and world-buildy. :)

In the end, I'm frankly rather amazed at what King pulls off here. Massive military action, chases, alien invasions and spore people and shitweasles and more, we even get a Battle For Your Mind. :) Dreamcatcher, indeed.

What is this book? A traditional horror as per usual? Nope. This is a great mashup that builds on the full Crimson King mythology, thank you very much. :) Pretty hardcore, too.

So why does it get a lot of hate?

Parts are juvenile and crass and other parts are free-range weird. But I like both on ocassion, so this is something I can snuggle up to. *ahem* or stay on the pot with. :)

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