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Saturday, August 31, 2019

The ConquerorThe Conqueror by Jan Kjærstad
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some books defy ready reviews. This is -- and so are the other two in the trilogy -- one prime example. Just imagine you have a singular event in this person's life. It could easily be told in a few pages with complete detail, and then you stop.

This COULD have been the case with these three novels, but NOOOOOO instead we have a story and all the life's events of Jonas woven out of order like some grand linkages of a DNA chain.

The first book will always be about the golden boy and his magical penis, all the things he succeeded at. The book centered on tragedy, but more on MEANING. The second gave us a super dark spin thanks to a different narrator and we are reminded of Dante's Inferno. Jonas as a void, an emptiness that others fill because it is their nature. Of mediocracy with just a tinge of talent. Of striving to defeat the mediocracy at all expense, to conquer it.

And there's an even darker turn... of being conquered. Over and over. Not just getting beaten up, but being thrown and locked into a grave, of being ... ah, but let's not spoil it overmuch. Let's just say Jonas has had evil done to him and has let evil be done to others. He's not so much a golden boy now despite the picture we were painted with his same life in the first book.

Interesting. :)

And then there's the dragons, the pearls, and the breakdown. :) I pretty much loved all of these motifs. Really rounds the guy out for me since the first book. And the third? No idea what to expect, but I can probably expect another DNA chain. :)

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Thursday, August 29, 2019

FallenFallen by Benedict Jacka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every time I hear about a new Benedict Jacka book, I fall all over myself with joy and anticipation. When I finally read them, I'm in awe.

Let me be clear, this is some of the most fun Urban Fantasy I've ever come across. It's smart, things fall apart so spectacularly, and the basic nature of Verus's magic always makes me crave more. Diviner magic? What's so good about that? :) Oh, searching multiple futures where you get what you want, on the fly, and then do stuff like walking through a room full of bullets. Details. But Jacka takes that much, much further in this book.

It's a turning point! A big one! Before, Verus was all about keeping neutrality because neither the black nor the white council was made up of particularly nice people. But after this?

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA no spoilers. Though, if you look at that title carefully enough, you might get an idea about where this new novel is headed. I admit I was having a pretty soft spot between Verus and Ann. I can't believe it rolled this way. Red herring? Muahahaha I'm not telling.

Suffice to say, this is one of my absolute favorites of the series. Ten books so far. May there be twenty!

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Prehistoric, Vol. 1Prehistoric, Vol. 1 by S.J. Larsson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Overall, this short collection of dinosaur monster tales was OKAY. To be perfectly honest, they were mostly carbon-copy military action types with a subtitle that says "competence porn" ... at least until the competence runs out.

It's what you might expect if you're expecting monstrous baddies eating our protagonists regularly. :)

There ARE a few stories that are worth mentioning that are much better than the rest. In fact, I really got into them.

Geoff Jones. The First Man on Earth.

I don't know what it was about this one, but the whole time-travel thing and the background tension and the foreground tension did EVERYTHING for me. A real delight.

Alan Baxter. Jeremiah's Puzzle.

I laughed and had a wonderful time with this one, too. It's a great mashup of Hellraiser and T-Rex on an unsuspecting English town. :)

And then there was Rick Chesler, with Mantle. It was a totally a Journey to the Center of the Earth homage but I don't care. At least it updated some of the tech and it was amusing. :)

I won't say that the rest were bad. It's just mil-porn and there's a market for it. It's just not precisely me. :)

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Last Hero (Discworld #27; Rincewind #7)The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Last Hero has rapidly become one of my favorites out of the whole Discworld series.

This is funny because I originally gave it a 4 star.

So, why the change of heart?

It's the stars, baby. It's the stars.

Heroism is underrated. And wildly misunderstood. Good thing we have a huge cast of great characters here to destroy the world for us. I mean save it.

Or do I?

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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Empire of Grass (The Last King of Osten Ard #2)Empire of Grass by Tad Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some books are simply hard to judge because it is written to its own drummer. It all becomes clear and epic in the end, but getting there can sometimes be something of a chore.

In comparison to other epic fantasy books of this nature, it Tad Williams has always (and I mean, long before the modern trend,) been a slow and methodical storyteller. He takes a long, long time to build up characters' histories, developing them in such a grandly detailed way that there cannot be any doubt in our minds that he is a SERIOUS writer.

But by the same token, the BIG stuff doesn't come around quickly. Indeed, the meandering wilderness (some literal, some not,) takes up 90% of these pages. And there's a LOT of pages. As is most of his epic fantasies. And that's just it: they're all RICH with detail. Plot is almost secondary. It is definitely secondary to character building.

What we do have here is a long complicated and real-feeling build-up of tensions within the immortal Nords, the cold-weather fae that are willing to sacrifice amazing numbers of their own to summon amazing monsters in order to fully wipe out the mortals. That is, us. Why? Oh, it's all here. In detail wrapped in secrecy wrapped in politics and subversion and crazy hope and the willingness to care between species... and this is just on the Nord side. :) The humans, and in particular, Simon, the old king who used to be the young commoner hero from the original Dragonbone trilogy, is completely out of his depth and his kingdom seems to on the verge of collapse.

This book is definitely all about the journey, the build-up for the next blowout book. It isn't as big, as in awe-inspiring, as some epics, but the richness more than makes up for it.

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Saturday, August 24, 2019

A Time of Blood (Of Blood and Bone, #2)A Time of Blood by John Gwynne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pretty much perfect if you like battles between giants and bears, feral hordes, and winged warriors. :)

The plot is pretty standard, with some family reconciliation, more bloodshed, and even more bloodshed. As if the title wasn't spot-on, right? :)

Still, I really enjoyed the whole creation of the ferals in both books. :)

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Friday, August 23, 2019

Autobiography of a Traitor and a Half-SavageAutobiography of a Traitor and a Half-Savage by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historical, mildly fantasy, this short story is nonetheless heartbreaking and evocative of the whole Company Town mentality. More than anything, it is the drive to live and survive despite being under the power of so many other forces beyond your control that makes this such an emotional tale.

Let's just tack on a decade of forced labor because you're not doing your job. Shame on you for not putting the needs of US over YOU.

Of course, this is absolutely about being marginalized, so beware or forwarned. It could happen to us all.

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The Fall of Gondolin (Middle-Earth Universe)The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fans of Tolkien and his Silmarillion will not be too disappointed in this book. It's not as recursive as Beren and Luthien and the strong descriptions of Gondolin's destruction are really quite fun.

I mean, who DOESN'T love balrogs and hosts of orcs descending upon and destroying the hidden city of elves in a grand bloody rout? Sure, there's mighty good sendoff and defense, but what we really wanted to see is all those stupid kinslaying elves get theirs.

Hmmm. I might be a bit bloodthirsty today. :) Rah, rah, Melkor?

My only complaint is not directed at Christopher but at J.R.R.

I really wanted not Tuon's story, although it was rather epic, but his son's story: Earendil, with the Silmaril on his brow. Am I asking too much? The way the later victors lose or use the recovered Silmarils? All of that stuff is more interesting to me than how the god of the waters set the first King of Men on a quest. :)

Still. Despite the repeats that show up in other books, I did have a good time with a lot more detail in certain areas. Only by reading ALL of them do we get the idea that big detailed tellings are portioned out for different areas despite getting a good feel in the primary publications. And I mean the Silmarillion. If you like the primary and always wanted to see the tales stretched out and also analyzed, then this is definitely for you.

I'm happy to have read it, although I am filled with a sense of loss. I wish Tolkien was back among us, getting not just credit, but support for more stories.

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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Unfinished talesUnfinished tales by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Out of all the posthumously published works of Tolkien, and this being the primary right after the Silmarillion, I have to admit it is the most interesting. We do get more expanded treatments of some of these tales in subsequent books, but all in all, the narrative structure of this tome is quite pleasing.

Why? It's written as actual stories. Not just excerpts, or not only just as excerpts, but as full-fledged stories in themselves, complete with all the storytelling conventions we are used to.

That is to say, it doesn't read super quick like Silmarillion, but full of detail and meat like LotR. I appreciated that little detail. :)

Of personal interest and joy, I absolutely loved the way this filled in so many of the blanks within the LotR stories, giving a much more detailed history of the Ring Wraiths, their creation, the Palantirs, the Maiar, (including such personages as Gandalf, Saruman, AND Sauron), the full histories of the Rohirrim, Gondor, Numenor, and EVEN the Wild Men!

There's a lot that was left out of the Silmarillion, and THIS HAS IT.

I'm not saying some parts could be classified in the OTHER category, such as the extended appendix at the end of LotR, only more so. Or the full damn concordance including an index of all terms, proper names and places with references to their original first-mentions. I.E., Silmarillion or LotR.

This work is an awfully necessary addition for any would-be scholar of Arda. I can't say if it beats the FULL The Return of the Shadow: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part One, The Treason of Isengard: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part Two, The War of the Ring, or Sauron Defeated: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part Four scholarly works, but for my poor, lazy-reading self, Unfinished Tales does a FINE job. :)

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Wall of Storms (The Dandelion Dynasty, #2)The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This second novel is superior to the first. It's an easy comparison. The characters and the plot development just WORK.

So, what? The previous novel had irritating characters? hmmm... well, they weren't all bad but some did irritate me. Portrayals of women, for one. But this new novel had none of that. Indeed, we have lots of great female characters. Leads that are smart, fascinating, and also RUTHLESS. :)

This Silkpunk fantasy straddles the line between fantasy (in beasts) and science fiction (airships, electromagnetism) firmly couched in the epic fantasy world (such worldbuilding!) brought to us in the first Dandelion Dynasty.

I really loved how much of this was devoted to learning, research, and the politics surrounding it. The battles and the invasion later were also fantastic, but for a long time, the primary feel of the book was a good YA, or rather, a brilliant student and a brilliant teacher. What happens later is tragic and glorious, but for any fan of Eastern-style fantasies, this is an old and well-respected tradition. :)

And I cried a little. :)

These are huge books. It's impossible to comment on any but a few aspects, but if you love super-rich worldbuilding, epic sweeps of time and history in an Asian-like empire filled with fire-breathing beasts, lightning-wielding airships, and an almost-impossible-to-navigate wall of storms separating vast reaches of the world, then you can't go wrong with this. Seriously. It's tons better than the first book. :)

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The GlamourThe Glamour by Christopher Priest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What do you get when you mix a solid psychological thriller with expertly placed leads, reveals, red-herrings and plot reversals, treat it gently, considerately, and then pair it with a righteous fantasy/SF treatment of the invisible man?

Do you get The Invisible Man? Hell no! Not when Christopher Priest writes it! Instead, you go down a rabbit hole of perception, negative hallucinations, a frustrated romance, a sinister triangle relationship, and PLOT TWISTS that kicked my butt.

And I thought Prestige was good? Well, welcome to an oh-so-gentle tie-in to all his other later-period novels, a very tight plot of discovery that takes the literary version of the old superhero problem of being invisible and makes it not only real but psychologically damaging. And my description doesn't do it justice. It's not like anything I've read unless I count those few handfuls of novels that manage to truly surprise me, of course. :)

I think the best part was how this novel demolished itself. I chortled with glee. :)

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

In the Cities of Coin and Spice (The Orphan's Tales, #2)In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This continuation of the Orphan's tales very much continues in the same vein as the first. Stories within stories, sheer, unbridled imagination... a modern 1001 Nights with a very sophisticated and original sequencing of mythologies, from nagas, selkies, winged skeletons, and ever-present hunger, of leopards, broken unicorns, women pared away to replacement parts, and most of all...

Of sorrow.

This novel takes a more liberal superstructure approach over the first, continuing the tales of the Orphan in such a way that even the stories have stories and those have deeper stories still, and the recursion slowly rises back up until we can breathe in the ink under the eyelids once more, gasping, shuddering in relief.

There is nothing more that I can say that the book itself can't say better. It is lush, gorgeous, lyrical, and it rewards careful readers. Careful re-reading. Valente is something of a master storyteller and these two works are dense and epic. Amazing.

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Muse of Nightmares (Strange the Dreamer, #2)Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I may be in the minority here, but while I found this book to be quite good in certain particulars, I didn't fall in love with the love as I did in the first book. This one fell slightly short.

Don't mistake me, though. When it comes to the magic, the big action (when it does come), and the strife of choice and being driven, I have no complaints at all. Indeed, when we get to certain locations and scenes, I was on the edge of my seat.

A lot of this, however, spend a little too much time in the interpersonal angst for my patience level. And this is kinda unsual for me, if speaking about Laini Taylor. I've generally had a grand time with everything she's written. But the sequences where there is nothing more than talking kinda left me... cold. This time. I probably would have had a better time if most of that had been cut. Just leave me the goodies, please. :)

Mind you, most ppl who ARE fans of all that kind of writing in the YA genres will not have a problem with it. It may just be me.

But how about the core? How did I enjoy this compared to the first in the duology? Well, I was more blown away by the lyricism and the ideas and the surprises in the first. Let's be honest. This one had a few and they were very good, but it didn't feel as fresh. Or go in completely unsurprising directions.

Still, not a bad book. :)

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Friday, August 16, 2019

The Book of FlyingThe Book of Flying by Keith Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What might seem like a fairly straightforward quest involving Pico the librarian loving and losing his winged Sisi and going out on a quest to find his own wings or die trying quickly turns into one of the best Story-within-Story books I've read in a long time.

Why? Because he's a hopeless poet and a hapless adventurer. He's full of quirky stories told semi-inappropriately, falling in with bandits, having tea with minotaurs, and being lonely in young, vibrant crowds. Falling in love with literary and tightrope-walking whores. And a whole beautiful and disturbing section about eating. :) But more than all this, all the language is lyrical, poetical in instance, structure, and overarching plot.

It's about finally earning his wings.

And what the hell does that even mean? He doesn't know, either. The book is so damn sad and sweet and it pulls your soul apart. Every character is full of tragedy. Every character is full of love.

There's no way I can describe this without just telling you folks to READ IT. You'll know. Deep down. It's one of those works that speak to writers and deep readers of any caliber. The process of the discovery, the reveling in the imagination, the dark recesses, the loving ones, the sheer irrepressible dive into stories, stories, and more stories. How they define us, the stories we own, the stories we steal, the stories we give away, and the stories that are inherited, blown up, or die.

I can recommend this book forever and a day if that appeals to you at all.

And maybe, after much questing, you too can fly... if you can stomach the cost. :)

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral MindThe Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is very stimulating.

That is not to say it is correct or incorrect as a theory of consciousness, but there are enough examples and provocative ideas to make me *think* it might be right. And that's the whole problem. I can't immediately discount it. It keeps creeping back into my consciousness.

Even when reading it with deep suspicions, the very meme of this core idea breaks down the wall between my right and left hemispheres and I no longer have an external agent telling me what I must do. No voices, no riding in my body like I'm not an agent of my own destiny, and not even the god of the right side of my brain giving me instructions!

I jest, kinda. For this is the key to the book. It postulates that humanity was more like a zombie agent in the philosophical parlance than any true consciousness before the advent of writing. That language, itself, was a meme that forced us to develop, and re-develop our cognitions until we became our own agents, doing things by our own decisions.

Before, we were all highly perceptive creatures that always acted without reflection. We went through our lives, followed orders, did what needed to be done, but never thought of ourselves as actors. No "I". Language, as a meme, destroyed that boundary. Brought creativity into motive, the idea of self into all equations.

It explains why a mass of humanity could accomplish the pyramids on either side of the ocean, probably without complaint. There was no self. Death masks and spirits of the dead, gods, oracles, etc., could be heard by anyone and it all came from the "outside". Separate from us, but undeniable, like an edict from high. The theory is that these commands came from the right hemisphere. The creative center of the brain.

It fits. And so much of this book is devoted to the Homeric epics, to poetry, to possession, art, and music. When it became commonplace, the reliance on "gods" diminished. Rapidly. We internalized it, and it was thanks to language.

So seductive.

And it sparks my imagination, too. I think about how many people today want to submerge their consciousnesses again, be it by faith in God, alcohol, drugs, or any number of addictions (including internet!). It feels like a biological callback to the times when we did not have guilt or worry. We just followed outside orders from kings and gods, not caring if we lived or died because there was no "self" at all to care. It's a freedom in the most literal sense of the word. Freedom from self. I think of Buddhism. Or being welcomed in the arms of God in heaven. Of raptures and release.

This is what language freed us from. This is also the story of the Tree of Knowledge. Which happens to come from right after the time we developed this facility, according to Jaynes.

Interesting, no? Why have we come so far, so fast? Our humanity is much older than this timeframe, and yet it is not this chaotic, developed, or fractured. We selected ourselves, either genetically or socially, to increase the likelihood of a greater mix of both the left and right hemispheres of our brains. And here we are.

Very interesting.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Dark Age (Red Rising Saga, #5)Dark Age by Pierce Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, folks. This is a big book in a number of ways. It's not only huge, physically, but it's dense with action from the alpha to the omega.

And it is BRUTAL. Just look at that title.

Now assume that the death count will be on par with the Black Plague. Only it's just super-soldiers in mech armor with genius IQs sporting the most massive war-erections ever conceived and both sides are willing to cut no corners to annihilate each other.

I'll be honest, I haven't been in much of a mood for total grimdark lately, but when it is done well, it is done well. And this SF Space-Opera is GRIM. WAY beyond it's YA roots, firmly in the territory of massive gore, mutilations, babies nailed to trees, sliced-and-diced monster horses, and so many wonderful characters slaughtered to the Blood God.

I got to know and love new characters among the old, grew with them, and I died with them. What a nightmare. And sometimes it was too much for me. Almost everyone in these books is harder than nails, unable and unwilling to give an inch, and willing to kill everyone for any number of reasons. Revenge doesn't even begin to cover it. This is pure nightmare chaos. Nevermind the high idealism of the previous books or the eventual dark fall that came with the previous.

This one will simply wash you in blood.

Happy reading!

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Tales from the Perilous RealmTales from the Perilous Realm by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn't overawed by this, unfortunately. Or awed, as the case may be.

There was nothing wrong with any of the five stories here, but they all felt a bit average if I'm going to be perfectly honest.

Farmer Giles of Ham was a light romp with nothing but standard fantasy tropes, and I mean, super standard. The hero with the magical sword doesn't quite defeat the dragon, however. He just tames it. *shrug* Not related to LotR.

Smith of Wootton Major was a lightly magical, almost magical realism tale of the Fae with the passing on of gifts from one generation to another. Also not related to LotR.

The Tom Bombadil tale was almost exactly out of LotR. Rather disappointing.

The only one I actually rather liked was Niggle and the Leaf. No LotR, either, but at least I loved the story. :) It's almost too dark for words if you're an artist. :)

I don't know if I would really recommend this for anyone. Not unless you're a completionist for Tolkien in general.

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Monday, August 12, 2019

A Brightness Long AgoA Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To be perfectly candid, I wasn't a huge fan of Kay's earlier work and I left off reading anything else by him, thinking I already got his measure. Two books in an early trilogy. They were pretty good but it left a not-so-pleasant taste in my mouth.

So why did I come back? Give him another try?

I can't really say. I don't know. I just remembered how lyrical his prose was in places and thought, perhaps, he had grown into an even better writer since then. That maybe I judged him a bit too harshly. Maybe I just didn't like the rape scenes in his early work. Something like that.

So what happened? How did my second chance go?

Amazingly, so it seems. :) I loved this book. From start to finish, the characters came to life, always interested me, and the place so reminiscent of Renaissance Italy simply shone and shone and shone through these pages.

The fantasy elements were totally understated. The world and the characters were not. I was enraptured by one of the most gorgeous, lush tales of youth, discovery, and independence. Of how he grew to admire and respect two men who were old, bitter enemies, of how he sidestepped and played his own role between their conflict. Of a non-traditional love with a woman who would always, by any means possible, remain independent.

If I sidestep some of the most beautiful scenes, it's not because they were not memorable. Indeed, a certain assassination and a certain race will be scenes I will never forget.

Far from having to push myself through this book, I found that I never wanted it to end.

This is one of the highest praises I can ever bestow. :)

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The Comedian: A dark and humourous, noveletteThe Comedian: A dark and humourous, novelette by Sean-Paul Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Short and poignant, we follow an old comedian so very much like Jay as he discovers that he really CAN go home again.

I say this very tongue-in-cheek.

Lots of Scottish nostalgia and character revelations. Bittersweet. Good tension.

But best of all, it's quite effective. Beware Edinborough, you old men. :)

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Letter: An edgy and new-age, black, romantic comedy.The Letter: An edgy and new-age, black, romantic comedy. by Sean-Paul Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ahhh, romance, the painfully shy-style. :)

I can definitely say this was very cute and awfully familiar. I feel every pang as if I was Alice, sneaking in and out of my apartment complex, avoiding even the bare minimum of human social interaction.


And yet, sometimes... that need to reach out is totally overwhelming.

This novella worked for me. My only complaint? I want more. :) A nice ending, sure, but that's where the real story ought to take off. :)

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The Quantum GardenThe Quantum Garden by Derek Künsken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No spoilers, but there's a lot to love in this follow-up to the Quantum Magician.

For those of us who love it, there's a lot of hi-tech spec-speak with near-autistic mental states and high-computation, but there's also time-travel, a brand new con, and a twisty-turvy plot.

Sounds pretty standard, tho, right? There's a non-usual interesting tidbit that arrives, however. And I can't talk about it. You know. Fight club. But I really, really enjoyed the alien intelligences and everything surrounding them. You might say the hint is in the title of the book.


This one may or may not be as strong as the first book, but there's nothing wrong with it. Slightly slow in the start, a bit heavy (or just right) on the quantum cognition stuff, but I figure that's something half of us either love or hate as a whole. :)

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Spider-Man: Maximum CarnageSpider-Man: Maximum Carnage by Tom DeFalco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm treating myself to a little Carnage. I kept seeing it around in bookstores back in the day and more recently here on GR and I even though I was insanely curious, I can't believe I never got around to it.

The good: Most of it! I really enjoyed how bats**t insane Carnage is and how he polarized past villains into helping out as heroes to stop the pure chaos he represented... or gathering them together to get the blood flowing. And it was pretty over-the-top. Shriek pulled in the insane from Carnage and gave it to the streets of New York, boiling blood everywhere, while Carnage did whatever Carnage wanted. Which was pretty damn random.

And all the while, Spidey teamed up with Venom and the big theme here was maybe overdone but not out-of-place. When is too much, too much? Is it sometimes valid to aim for an outright killing? We know Venom believes this, but then, there's Spidey. He's our conscience. When HE agrees with Venom, you know it's really bad.

I pretty much dug every little thing about this comic until ONE LITTLE TWIST. And then I was like... OHHH COME OOOONNNNNNNN.

Ignoring that. That one little hail-mary.

And I'm NOT talking about Captain America coming to the rescue fairly early on. Or Dagger.

That last one little thing was so outrageously meh that I wanted to tear up the funnies. But I didn't. I figure it would have taken an issue or two more to prepare THAT right, instead of as a, "oh, by the way" fix. *grrrr*

OKAY, ignoring that BAD, the rest was pretty awesome and I am very glad I read it. :) Classic Spidey.

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Saturday, August 10, 2019

The TroupeThe Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Despite the sometimes slow feel of the start of this book, full of a mysterious Vaudevillian performance, a found (formerly missing) dad, and some dark, Cthuhlu-like creatures coming after the Troupe, (none of which SOUNDS particularly slow), this novel eventually picks up the pace and develops into some truly awesome, even epic, proportions.

I don't know what I was meant to expect when I read this, but what I got was NOT it. Traveling around, performing a bit here and there, keeping one step ahead of the Wolves, is just the start.

Eventually, I kinda fell into a delighted stupor as I picked up more than a few echoes of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Adjustment Team, Momo, and any number of beleaguered Vaudevillian tales.

Yes, expect the forces of light and darkness, of the Nothing and Song, of fae, of immortal caretakers, of tragic families, of longing, love, and massive betrayals that hit home again and again.

Neat, huh?


I'm SO glad I finally got around to picking up some earlier Robert Jackson Bennett! I feel much better. And I'm delighted.

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The Jungle BookThe Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This holds up surprisingly well for something that could have been full of English racism back in the good old days of 1894. Indeed, some of the stories read very much like a modern YA book of parables with animals who seem much more human than the humans.

Big surprise, right? We humans are a monstrous lot.

That being said, this isn't just the source of Disney's Jungle Book, although a part of it is. It's also full of other great stories. Most memorable is Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the mongoose who kills a cobra. But also horrifying is the tale of the sea cows, or rather, the White Seal. The tale of the elephant, Toomai, was delightful.

I should say it would be a great book for any child, but not many modern children know crap about India except, in my daughter's case, some snappy tunes and dance moves. The connect is kinda missing, you know? Like... Tarzan? Who the F*** is he?

Even so, as an ADULT, it's rather charming and delightful. :)

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Friday, August 9, 2019

Moby-Dick, or, the WhaleMoby-Dick, or, the Whale by Herman Melville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not only is this a polarizing book for readers in general, but it is also a polarizing book for me.

I read it first when I was a teen and was amazed at its complexity and subtlety and the amount of scholarship that went into it. Not to mention the author's passion. But I also ABHORRED the subject not only because it is a nasty piece of real history, but because it made me roll around in the gore. And such gore... I would have preferred getting thrown into Dead/Alive as a character rather than have to live through the chop-chop of a whale surgeon.

Let me be perfectly clear. I loved to hate this book. But one thing I cannot do is hate the quality of it. It's about as untraditional as you can get. Brief moments of fantastic, mind-blowing action in between weird meta moments and then sheer-rock-wall cliffs of academic exposition.

We get a 360-degree look at the whole damn whaling industry, and that means we also get the heroism and the demonization of the sailors, of Captain Ahab, the camaraderie, the mean terror, and the iron-heart determination to see a thing through no matter the cost.

Oddly enough, this aspect isn't the strongest aspect, IMHO. I honestly got the feeling that Moby Dick was a condemnation of the whole enterprise even while it was glorying in it. This time, anyway.

I'll shorten this review, but honestly, I could go on about how freaking wonderful the language was, how many allusions, poetry, and how bloody-minded it was about giving us all a supremely clear picture of that hellish industry, but I'm sure this quick take will imply it. :)

Better on a re-read. Probably better on a third or a fourth.

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Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Arrows of Time (Orthogonal #3)The Arrows of Time by Greg Egan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm still in awe of this trilogy, and only for one reason: the math.

Oh, god, no, please, no, no more math, right? Well, Egan took math and built a universe for us and then populated it with interesting aliens discovering their universe from step to step. You could call this a mystery, or you could call it the basic drive to KNOW, but either way, we're taking this ride and Egan is taking us FAR off the charts of normal SF.

Say what you will about the characters or the basic plots. The fact that he has twirled them and us around a VERY different kind of universe is amazing.

And our generational mountain-ship aliens are caught in a very determination/non-determination story loop. Which is very a familiar territory for SF fans. So even if you don't quite GET the math which kinda inverts the whole space-effect and inverts the whole light effect. Where life forms and rocks emit light, where gravity is curved on the other side, where there is no light-speed, but rotation can take you to infinite energies and space-like loops in time.

Oh, hell-yes.

Our generational mountain-ship is caught in something akin to a civil-war between those who want to see into the fixed future and deal with the effects of knowing--on the resulting changes in the future because they knew, versus those who choose to just DO WHAT THEY WERE GOING TO DO ANYWAY. :)

And while there's a bit less math in this one than the first two books, thank goodness, it does resolve a few of the more interesting feminist issues regarding DYING just because you gave birth. I'm quite happy with the result. :)

Bottom-line: Do I recommend this for all SF readers? No. But for anyone who wants to be challenged, to have something really super-number-juicy to sink your brain into? Definitely. Read this trilogy. :)

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

EdenEden by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a gem of an old SF! Indeed, Stanislaw Lem might be one of the very best SF authors, period. He has a wide range of works, from humorous to deeply disturbing to fantastically mysterious alien discoveries.

"What?" you say, "That whole tail-end period of the golden age of SF was FULL of great and detailed authors. Just look at Dune from 1965!"

"Yeah, yeah, but before Star Trek in the wee year of 1959, Eden was born, giving us one of the richest, most detailed alien worlds as seen through a small crew named only by their job titles, instead forcing us to see things through their worldviews, as screwed up (normal!) as they are, misunderstanding everything they see on Eden."

But this is not Dune.

This is a full mystery that gets only digs us deeper into our own misunderstandings. Because this is an intelligent alien race that does not think like us. Not only superficially, but fundamentally, with strange technological focuses and social structures. Not to mention biological tools that feel like the most excellent precursor to Farscape or Asher's Hilldiggers, or the look at a truly alien mind, as seen in Watts' Blindsight.

And I'm only mentioning a single aspect, here. The rest is a serious look at how much we bring in our own prejudices, making our own hell, wherever we go.

When I look back at first contact novels in general, few will have quite this amazing creative factor to it. Sure, some books will have so and so good characters, etc, but none will be quite as serious about giving us the truly alien or near-perfect mirrors to our own stupidity.

I count this a truly classic "Important" SF.

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The Return of the Incredible Exploding ManThe Return of the Incredible Exploding Man by Dave Hutchinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Welcome to Pulp-Land! In more ways than one!

1. 3/4 of the novel is about a slow-simmering failed science-writer landing a cush job to write a book for a tech millionaire who bought a town. Add a bit of espionage and some funny interpersonal experiences with his new home and neighbors, and I still had a fun time wondering HOW THE HELL THE TITLE FIT IN. This is old-school SF technique, btw. Total pulp. :)

2. The last part is TOTAL freaky quantum superhero stuff with time travel, teleportation, and pretty awesome callbacks to the events in the first 3/4. I had a total blast with this particular pulp.

3. Pulpy! Like, literally. An explosion of biomass! PULP-LAND!

I had a good time. I didn't expect it to be like the Fractured Europe Sequence and I came into it expecting a light-hearted SF, and this is what I got. :)

Kinda like orange juice. Freshly squeezed.

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The Ten Thousand Doors of JanuaryThe Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like the cover to this book, the innards are lush, romantic, and adventuresome. Beautiful prose, much better story, and ten thousand open doors to other realms awaiting us.

Eventually. The first part reads mostly like a Secret Garden type story, complete with the right time period. This may be a bonus to a lot of you, but to me, it was quite simply okay.

When we get word of her father's demise, however, everything picks up pace. I particularly loved how vast swaths of plot were wrapped up in neat lyrical bows, how other subplots were either supplanted, charmingly, or given a rich kiss before returning to the main thread.

But what is it about, you ask?

Not, precisely, about imagination and books... but THROUGH the books, or rather word-magic, through half-seen doors will we fly. Alternate realities, perhaps timelines, brutal places, rich places, and in them all, January quests.

It is about family.

And I admit I did more than tear up a little at the end. It was particularly gorgeous.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Eternal Flame (Orthogonal, #2)The Eternal Flame by Greg Egan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay. Full disclosure. I'm more thrilled about the actual math and the scientific discoveries inside this novel based in a universe where light doesn't have a speed-limit than any of the actual writing.

Storytelling? Huh? What's that? Oh, yeah, there were a lot of good parts about feminism in alien biologies that seems rather on point. You know, fissioning your female into four kids but losing your mind and identity, having your male take care of the kids. Always fatal. I did like those sequences where the scientists try to solve it and buck the male-run system by postponing the fission and/or trying to, you know, STAY ALIVE. That took up a lot of the story and it was super easy to follow.

The OTHER part of the novel is what I'm raving about even though I have no idea what the hell went on. Like, almost at all. I mean, page after page after page of wavelength, free radicals in troughs, photons bouncing, near-limitless energy propagation, even about how time expands, reverses the effect we know, turning a little trip on its head from what we know. Generations pass in a ship but only a few years pass on the home planet? ODD! :)

But this will be interesting when these science-types all get back home.

So weird. So much jibber-jabber about high-science, diagrams, fully-fleshed out cosmology and physics and light-propagation. Based on REAL MATH, people. It's completely freaking incomprehensible to read, and yet it's thrown into a novel, fait-accompli, for us to ooh and ahhh over.

And I do. Ooh and ahhh. :) This is the highest rating I'll ever give to an incomprehensible novel. :) Full props for the ideas, but damn about the writing. :)

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Salvation Lost (Salvation Sequence #2)Salvation Lost by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mr. Hamilton does it again. But this time, rather than kicking off an epic war of dead people versus the living in a high-tech far-future space-opera, he twists us around a truly desperate struggle against very powerful aliens coming to "save" us, preserving us and sending us to the end of the universe where we will all share the experience together.

Sound like some religious nutters? They FEEL like religious nutters. And it's awesome. This is the start of the full-on conflict right here. All the human worlds, some alien help, and the full efforts of our own far-future humanity are set against this odd invasion.

And it's an extinction-level event.

Never mind that we have near-immortality, quantum entanglement transporters, von Neumann transhumanists, or some extreme printing technology, minds as big as moons, or anything we thought would make us amazingly resilient.

This is total war. And the twists to come are pretty damn amazing. No spoilers, but this is one of the more impressive novels by Hamilton. And when it comes to worldbuilding and storytelling and the epic, that's saying a lot.

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Sunday, August 4, 2019

The SeducerThe Seducer by Jan Kjærstad
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book defies description.

Or rather, I will fail at describing it. That being said, I will willfully fail at describing this piece of new-classic Norwegian literature by calling it an extremely funny sexcapade of a magical penis. Yes, a magical penis. You've probably heard about it. They're usually attached to a Gary Stu.

AND YET, Jonas, our magical stud, is also a WIZARD at everything because he naturally gets the full sweeping talents automatically from every woman he manages to seduce.

It would be absolutely absurd and atrocious if it wasn't so eye-rollingly funny. And the novel doesn't even have the FEEL of a humorous piece. It reads somewhat dire and emotional because we keep bouncing around an epic framework of his wife's murder and ALL THE MEMORIES of his entire life as vignettes couched within ALL the most minor details that eventually make up an epically cool building of a single character that I admit I grew to love.

Just not because he's so stultifyingly brilliant at anything he puts his hand to.

Indeed, the whole structure of the novel is all kinds of brilliant for real. An endless tirade of moments from his life that doesn't apparently have anything to do with the dire scene in question but EVENTUALLY becomes super-important. Multiply these by a bazillion and you've got yourself a prism of a character as seen by so many instants and the effect is FREAKING AMBITIOUS.

All the props. I'm really amazed.

Of course, I was VERY often annoyed as hell about Gary and the magical penis. But oh well, right? The annoyance almost always transformed into me muttering, "Ohhhh, pllleeeeaaaaseeeee..." and enough eye-rolls to make my eyes pop out like I just came out of a Warner Brother's cartoon.

BUT it worked. Strangely enough, it worked.

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Saturday, August 3, 2019

Shark BeachShark Beach by Chris Jameson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shark week!

Yeah, I got roped, or rather, netted, into this little toothy holiday. What better way to enjoy the sun, with or without the water, than with our little predator buddies! No, no, I'm not talking about your droogs from the hood. I'm talking about REAL SHARKS! The kind that jumps out of a page and nom-nom your brain.

I admit I lost a few IQ points reading this, but THAT'S OKAY. We're not really meant to take away anything special back with us from this little family getaway except that ADVERSITY BRINGS FAMILIES BACK TOGETHER.


All told, however, and despite the fact that this novel was fast-paced and solid for all the things it does, it still isn't all that special. Fun, yes. Groundbreaking? No. Not at all. Seriously. But it was still entertaining. You could say it is exactly what the bloodthirsty doctor with a few extra rows of teeth ordered. He got his license from the University of Instinctville, but I'm not complaining.

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Time's ConvertTime's Convert by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Picking this book up is like coming home. Truly, we get lots of character goodies in this. Diana and Matthew and their precocious kids, for one, but it's the whole Clermont clan that shines.

In particular, this novel is REALLY about Phoebe and Marcus. And the American Revolution. And the French Revolution.

And the best part is, I don't have to use much imagination. We get ALL of Marcus's history! And we get to see baby Phoebe as a new vamp. :)

My favorite parts are all in the past, however. Marcus had a troubled past and we get to see his start as a medic in the R. War, but probably most interesting was the French Revolution. What a nightmare.

But don't get me wrong, this book has a modern plot just as good as the past. You know, the fate of everything and all. :) Those kids are sooo cute! And bitey. :)

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Friday, August 2, 2019

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise DaysDiamond Dogs, Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two really fascinating novellas here.

Diamond Dogs is the ULTIMATE in grizzly puzzle-solving dungeon hacking. Just add alien tech, deadly puzzle rooms, and a rag-tag team of transhumanist and alien-modded humans who are monsters in their own right, and set them to work at the problem. :)

I mean, it FEELS like a heist. But a super hard-SF heist.

Turquoise Days really sets us in an alien landscape that pushes the boundaries. Swimming in an ocean of alien minds? Getting transformed so that you become an uber-genius when it comes to math? And it has heart. Totally recommend.

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Thursday, August 1, 2019

QuichotteQuichotte by Salman Rushdie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness.

Okay, so you fans of Midnight's Children, behold... Rushdie has gone off the deep end with the sublime, the meta, the satire, and especially the meta. Did I mention meta? I mean, META, BABY.

Yes, yes, this is a modern take and full homage to the Cervantes classic, but it's a hell of a lot more than just that. For one, our Quichotte is a self-made man in all the best ways like Quixote, but instead of going overboard with Chivalry, we see the full age of tv sitcoms, reality tv, and even SF shows. And yet, this is only a small fraction of the book, itself.

Say what? Yeah. He's practically a minor character in comparison with the author who creates him or the Med Salesman who takes on the role, the far-off maiden who becomes the quest (and I love her own story, huge,) or the sister of the author who must be reconciled. And let's not even start getting into Sancho, the imaginary son of Quichotte who has his own quest to become fully-FULLY real, a-la Pinnochio, Jimmy Cricket, and the Blue Fairy. :)

It's CRAZY, yo! And it is FAR from being a simple satire. After all, we have alternate realities, the end of the world, a moral and ethical decay that is purely American, while flavoring all the waters with Hindu culture in grand Rushdie style.

Is it a mess, too? Yes. But gloriously so. As in, let's just put ALL the crazy on the table here and tie it together with all-too-real interpersonal quests and redemptions and seeking love, whether fixing estrangement between siblings, sons, or yourself. It's also heart-rending, not crazy at all, and subtle. And sweet. Right before it gets crazy cool.

A lot of these kinds of novels often bounce off me. Modern, Avante-Garde, meta for meta sake, too clever by half. But this one has a spark in it that spoke to me. Sometimes I was on the verge of saying 3 stars, then sometimes 4, then back to 3, and then things come together brilliantly and I'm right there with an enthusiastic 5. So what am I saying?

Be patient. It's wild but worth it. :)

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