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Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Ordeal of the Haunted Room (Chronicles of St. Mary's, #11.5)The Ordeal of the Haunted Room by Jodi Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lite on the time travel, except for the blindingly obvious, light on the humor, which still manages to be perfectly normal, this Xmas St. Mary's short story DOES happen to be heavy on the Cozy Mystery. Victorian Cozy, even!

The light-hearted touch has all the tones of Marple with a great psych-out, but I think it was the gothic atmosphere that stole the day.

It was definitely a change from the normal Xmas story, but not unpleasant.

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2001: A Space Odyssey (Space Odyssey, #1)2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read, probably for the third time, now that I think about it.

This time, I watched the movie BEFORE reading the book, and despite my wonderful precognition, disabled by 25 years of having last read this particular story, I came out of my home theater wondering WTF I just watched.

Classic? You bet. Incomprehensible? ... maybe. :) Or at least, at that last bit.

And so we come to the book, which does an admirable job of EXPLAINING all those endless silences replaced by good classical music or the moaning of the theater-goers of 1968 (or the damned, I can never tell between those two) or the totally psychedelic end, man, which might have single-handedly turned-on a whole generation of LSD freaks without drugs.

We do know that the movie and the book were made at approximately the same time and the story was pretty much commissioned by Kubrick, AND it holds the prime historical land of being the most well-funded, highest-production value SF movie to date. Like the times and ethos, it wanted to be the Andy Warhol of SF cinematography. And it succeeded. Wildly. Along with the book.

(I won't quibble here. I could possibly make a case for 1927's Metropolis being the highest-production SF ever made, but it was also pretty much WAY before everyone's time.)

Yeah, yeah, but what about the BOOK?

Oh, it's a fine, big concept piece that explores alien influence on our anthropology as a species, introducing all the pretty commonplace SF that had been bandied around for years before the tropes became watered-down versions of themselves in our current SF market. Overpopulation, food production, but also great commentaries on tool use, AI problems (mostly GI/GO), and need to HAVE stressors if we ever want to evolve.

I won't say it wasn't a little clunky and the pacing was sometimes awfully weird, but considering how GOOD it is in conjunction with the movie, each becoming the soul-mate to the other, I can't divorce them. At all.

Together, and yes, they DO belong together, they are a thing of beauty. And it even makes sense. :)

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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Dungeon Eternium (The Divine Dungeon, #5)Dungeon Eternium by Dakota Krout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Seen as a novel of self-transcendence as only a fantasy RPG game could do it, there are few that go the full path in quite the way this one does.

I mean, we're dealing with an intelligent dungeon that is going full-bore toward being the most powerful ENTITY anywhere, and he just happens to be snarking it up and dragging along all his favorite dungeon-crawlers (and demigods) along with him.

Not that he doesn't have a good reason to get super powerful super quickly, of course. A big moon coming to smash the world kinda sucks. And Cal, being the nice guy (floating mountain) that he is, actually WANTS to save all those people (that he may have had a small part in endangering).

:) Fun stuff! And a great conclusion to the series! It has SOUL!

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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Dungeon Desolation (The Divine Dungeon, #4)Dungeon Desolation by Dakota Krout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Super niche reading at its finest.

While I KNOW there are lots of people out there who feel like I do, that they can't get enough of this kind of read, it almost seems impossible that it exists and that I get so much ENJOYMENT out of it.

That being said, if one of YOU know and like LitRPG at all, or are fans of SF's Bobiverse (Dennis Taylor), then you'll probably get a HUGE kick out of this.

You know -- an intelligent, ever-growing dungeon makes friends and enemies and does everything it can to level up like any other player character. WHAT COULD GO WRONG?

Well, plenty, as this book shows. This isn't a slow-moving series. We're already in total apocalypse times with a Sephiroth-level calamity on the way and all the S-ranked mages and crapping their diapers. Even Cal, who isn't even an A-ranked dungeon at the beginning of this book is practically helpless despite having thrown an ENTIRE MOUNTAIN at the problem.

Oh, and this is still funny as hell. Those freaky barbarian marriage ceremonies are SPREADING. All I can say is... OUCH.

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Sunday, December 27, 2020

Dungeon Calamity (The Divine Dungeon, #3)Dungeon Calamity by Dakota Krout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is absolutely niche fantasy but DAMN it is FINE. I've got a mind that LOVES setting up rules and knocking them over, exploiting them, finding loopholes, and generally playing mayhem.

This book, and the two before it, are FINE examples of this kind of thinking. I've not seen a finer example of a leveling-up progression in or out of a LitRPG (or game) setting. Breaking into Mage ranks is FUN.

Lots of action, lots of destruction, and even more worldbuilding. Literally. This is, after all, an intelligent dungeon that is creating its own world and providing a service as well as a challenge for all the people come to loot it. Win/win. All that death and destruction is symbiosis. (What an odd idea, no?)

I'm loving it. I'm especially loving how BIG it's getting. This, to me, is great popcorn fiction. :)

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Saturday, December 26, 2020

Dungeon Madness (The Divine Dungeon, #2)Dungeon Madness by Dakota Krout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is pretty much a straight-line exponential growth algorithm of the first book in the series. :)

The enjoyment lay in the dual-leveling-up between Dale (the player character) and Cal (the dungeon). Both being fun-ass characters in their own right building a city and a labyrinth is pretty much a Game Master's wet dream. And it's light and funny, too, especially with the statues and mob creation. :)

Let me be clear: this isn't for everyone, but it IS completely binge-worthy and I'm chortling up a storm as I fly through these with immense enjoyment.

If you've ever storytold RPG games or just PLAYED RPG games, I'm certain you'll get a HUGE amount of enjoyment out of these. Having made my own dungeons, this is pure cookies and cream. :)

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Friday, December 25, 2020

Dungeon Born (The Divine Dungeon, #1)Dungeon Born by Dakota Krout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To be very, very clear, this is a precision niche reading experience. Within that realm, it is EXTREMELY fun.

So what is it? RPG in literature format. LitRPG, in short. And for all of us out there who DIE for pencil-and-paper adventures, immersive Skyrim-like game-playing, or just tongue-in-cheek min-max Dungeon Master setups, then this is ALL kinds of perfect. :)

Character development is lighthearted and secondary to the GOOD STUFF. What good stuff?

LEVELING UP, BABY! What goodies will we get, what skills will we develop!?

But wait... this particular book is special. One of the two main PCs is a DUNGEON.

So I'm having flashbacks on Dennis Taylor's Bobbiverse but in a perfectly fantasy setting and I feel like it's Christmas.


I guess I got exactly what I wanted for Xmas!!! :) *settling down for a new level-grind*

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Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Night Before ChristmasThe Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I wasn't already a big fan of Russian literature, I'd have found this short story to be a real odd duck. Or a devil, as the case may be.

Seeing it through modern standards, it's easy to see the carollers and the devil shoving himself down chimneys as both usual and unique at the same time, but it's the poor drunks, the adultery, the vanity, and the eventual romance that is had at the knife of a suicide attempt that makes this a TRUE Christmas story.

Do you think I'm joking? We've gotta have a roll call of ALL the sins before they can all be signed off. This is a GLORIOUS tribute to a truly Russian Xmas. It's not hard to find the devil if he rides on your shoulder!

(BTW I hated all the characters. And yet, it was fun.) :)

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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Forged (Alex Verus, #11)Forged by Benedict Jacka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ah, to me, these books are pure candy. Having journeyed with Alex Verus for so long, to see him change, even fundamentally, is quite heartbreaking.

Fortunately, I can't fault him at all. He may have been a bit too understanding and accepting and conciliatory with the White Council. Hell, the more I keep reading, the less sure I am about all sides, including the Black Council. Obviously, this is intentional, even from the first book, but to see Verus take his independence this far... with a correspondingly high death-toll... is pretty amazing.

I feel his anger. I understand it. I also reveled in the full import of the decisions he made in this novel. They were visceral and bloody and heartbreaking, though perhaps not as heartbreaking as some of the previous novels.

This is the time to wrap up so much. I can feel it coming. Indeed, after reading through the massive amounts of awesome divination/action magic, fate weaving, and close call after close call, I have to admit this is one of the most cinematic UF's I've read, right up there with Jim Butcher on the close-contact scenes. In some small ways, it might even be better. Suffice to say, it's close.

I frankly can't believe what Jacka pulled off. It's definitely angry and viscerally satisfying, but underneath it was a deep and abiding call for peace.

I wonder if all of us might eventually get it.

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Myth-Nomers and Im-Pervections (Myth Adventures, #8)Myth-Nomers and Im-Pervections by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

By any standard, this is VERY light fantasy/humor entertainment. It rides the wave of everything that had built up before it, including becoming a very large person of importance with a casino and huge ties to the mob in several dimensions, but focuses more on a voyage of self-discovery for Skeeve as he searches for his old partner on the world of Pervs. (Not to be mistaken with perverts. They prefer to be called Pervects.)

So, what's included? Light misadventures in a foreign world of lizards, getting into trouble with the law, and making new friends.

Very light entertainment, but not unpleasant. :)

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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Communion (The Wolfgang Trilogy #3)Communion by F.D. Gross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I remember the first book fondly for being like a novelization of the old Castlevania game, fresh with gore, action, and pathos. The second went deeper into the worldbuilding of vampires, blood, and family, with almost a feeling of the eternal about it. (As well as hunting the hunters.)

The third and final book in the trilogy, however, was all about pathos. Wolfgang's quest to find and cure his turned son was everything an old school video game adventure that is part Victorian and Hellsing could ever hope to aspire.

This is very much a novel for those of us with a vampire quest on the mind. Quite enjoyable and satisfying.

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Monday, December 21, 2020

IcehengeIcehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very pleasant surprise. Not only had I not known that Kim Stanley Robinson had written three rather good novellas that pretty much outline the immense worldbuilding of Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars, it also spans four hundred years, most of the major issues including the revolution on Mars, the memory issues, and the greater terraforming of the Solar System, but it did it 6 years before Red Mars even came out.

Totally fascinating.

Granted it's not an action novel. Indeed, it reads more like science mystery and archeology, a true Future History that deals with some really fascinating structures found on Pluto, other "lost history" issues on Mars, itself. And then there is the humanist angle that pretty much dominates the entire text from all three time periods.

I DO recommend this for anyone who is a fan of the big trilogy and who would love to get a side-take on the vast worldbuilding. I wouldn't particularly recommend starting here, but as a freakishly good, idea-packed philosophical, scientific, and archeological take on our future that neatly dovetails into most, if not all of his other future histories, it should definitely not be ignored.

You hear that, fanboys and fangirls?

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Sunday, December 20, 2020

Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of ControlHuman Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control by Stuart Russell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

AI research over the years has been a mish-mash of pet theories, conflicting assumptions, a focus on instrumentality, expert systems, evolutionary programming, and Deep Learning. All different ways that often must be used in conjunction to push us over that edge into true Artificial Intelligence.

I mean, we're not there yet, or to be precise, we aren't at the point of AI super-intelligence.

But that doesn't speak to the issue that has gotten a lot of traction in popular media, from movies to science fiction, to some really great modern philosophy. The main focus of research has been on CREATING AI. For everyone else, we've all be concerned about WHAT TO DO WITH IT ONCE IT'S HERE.

This OUGHT to be a high-priority topic given a massive amount of thought among the actual designers, funders, and end-users. (Big corporations, governments, OR everyday folk.)

And this is what this book really focuses on. How to retain control, or, to put it simply, how do we ensure that AIs are PARTNERS, with everyone's self-interest enmeshed with the computers.

Me, personally, I think it's simply a matter of socialization. If their well being is tied to our well being and our well being is tied to their well being, then we've got a standard cooperative model in Game Theory. There's also the whole thing of treating them like and expecting AI to behave like responsible adults. With so many variables and conflicting psychologies in the HUMAN population, it then becomes a problem of deep AI partnership. My description is simplistic, of course, and this book goes into dozens of lucid scenarios and outlines not only the problems, the history, and possible solutions, but it also serves as a call-to-arms to have EVERYONE look at the issue realistically.

We are ALREADY being manipulated on a huge scale by algorithms, be it in social media, targeted advertising, and misinformation on a grand scale. That is linked, hand-in-hand, with AI, even if it isn't the SF kind we have so many apocalyptic nightmares about.

We need to change our own social structure to enhance facts over misinformation and figure out a way to live TOWARD happiness without living in a zero-sum game (it is possible and can be VERY possible, with theoretical AI help). The problem is, we keep falling back on certain assumptions about what WE think success really is. If AIs take over all the tasks we do not want to do, then this is not a BAD thing. But it DOES mean we need to redefine our ideas of prosperity. UBI comes into play here. (Universal Basic Income). It's a standard of living.

Even now, we cannot sustain stupid make-work jobs. The poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer, and the middle class is disappearing. Why? Because most things are becoming automated and it's increasingly easier to have our lives provide for us without effort. But when our model of living is so out of whack, insisting that we must somehow work like slaves to make the rich ever richer while working-class humanity becomes less and less relevant, then humanity itself becomes irrelevant.

And this is the main point. We don't have to live in poverty at all, but more than that, we can become very relevant as PARTNERS. Of course, that means we need to redefine what we mean by living a good life. It's not going to be about "providing for the family". It's going to be closer to "finding your bliss", in the Campbellian sense.

Does this sound outrageous? Even now, a LOT of people insist upon UBIs. It doesn't prevent people from working and there will always be social pressure to be better than our neighbors, but the definition of "better" can change wildly and has with every generation. The point is to find that lead and follow it. We do not live in a sustainable model and any attempt to turn back the clock is doomed.

In this, I agree with the author. Everyone is pretty confident that the world is pretty f**ked. Fortunately, there is hope. It'll take work on ALL our parts, but there is hope.

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Saturday, December 19, 2020

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch MassacreDevolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I suppose there are a good handful of ways of looking at this book, all told, but the one idea that really sticks to me is the idea of a B-level survival horror flick. It has all the most delicious elements of the genre -- such as hapless idiots getting in way over their heads followed by various successess and setbacks before things get really nasty.

Standard stuff, no? For that type of book. And we get the requisite battle, to boot. Or should I say, to foot. Big foot.

But then, there's the total tongue-in-cheek in-depth commentary on Smart-home, Smart-community enclaves that are so crunchy as to make granola blush.

It's light, snarky, full to the brim with ACTUALLY interesting self-sustainabilty stuff, while lampooning it in vivid style when certain unexpected events come to pass. And oddly enough, this isn't a tale about Sasquatch rising up to give us a bad day. This is more about oppotunity and opportunism and a pretty cool theory. :)

So, all told? This ain't a zombie survival guide, but it IS fascinating in terms of survival. :) Well worth the read.

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The Helm of Midnight (The Five Penalties, #1)The Helm of Midnight by Marina J. Lostetter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was something of a surprise to me because I'm kind of a connoisseur of covers and with a title like that, I HAD to assume the novel was an epic fantasy with standard worldbuilding for such.

What it IS, however, is something more like a hybrid Jack-the-Ripper London in a unique fantasy with a Bujold-like 5 Gods setting mixed with a VERY cool external emotions-based magic system (at least early on). In other words, we have a heavy-population fantasy with lots of disparity between the rich and the poor, monsters in the streets, and heist-like action that goes a bit deeper. I'm also reminded of Foundryside as I read it.

It is, after all, a novel about rather unique ghosts that remind me of cyberpunk fare, magic masks, medical expertise, and a convoluted con game that only touches on a steampunk theme while doubling down on its own thing.

In other words, it's quite good. The characters are also pretty memorable, too, although there might have been a little too much meandering. The core fears and hopes were pretty standard and convincing and definitely swum around the main plot in a cool way.

I'm looking forward to continuing this pretty vast tapestry of a world. :)

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Thursday, December 17, 2020

One by OneOne by One by Ruth Ware

Just when you think it's safe to hit the slopes...

Well, this has everything you Spotify lovers love. The popularity game, the spunk and the glam, and the movers and shakers behind the newest, biggest app in the game.

Of course, if we mix the two, turn that corporate trip to the mountain, one is liable to trip and fall down that same mountain.

The question is, with all these kinds of whodunnit novels, Who, Who's next, and Why. This one fits that bill nicely, with all the requisite mayhem.

Popcorn fun. Not quite sure I buy the premise, but it's splashy.

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter, #2)Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 12/17/20:

Well, it's a good sign, I think, that my girl just started reading English this year and she has just now finished Chamber of Secrets with me.

And now, after getting good replica wands, our house robes, and a sizeable repertoire of magical incantations, we're ready to re-watch the first two films.

A family that fanboys together, squees together.

Please, no Obliviate!

Original review:

Harry Potter Re-Read with buddies!

It turns out that I didn't miss much the first time I read this more than a decade ago, but that's not an issue. I still loved the story. It helps that I've watched the movie a gazillion times.

Sometimes it's all about introducing a new generation to basilisks and evil diaries and old socks. :)

Sometimes it's all about hating muggles.

I hate muggles! Ahem. I mean, sometimes muggles really get on my nerves. :) And sometimes they deserve everything they get. Hmmm. I get the impression, sometimes, that I might have done very well in Slytherin. :)

But alas, the test has me firmly in Hufflepuff. I'm okay with that. Really. :)

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Bone Silence (Revenger, #3)Bone Silence by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This third, more traditional space opera by Alastair Reynolds has now come to a close.

Sisters, pirates, the unraveling of the mystery of humanity, the clackers, and the aliens. It's all here. Space battles, old alien skulls with powers, pride, vengeance, greed, and acceptance.

Honestly? For most of the book, aside from a few areas where the pacing was a bit off, it was a very popcorn read. I've never read a space opera that so closely conformed to the mythos of pirating without feeling at all contrived. All the elements were there but it all felt natural and obvious in the SFnal rules of the galaxy. And the mystery only helped. Hell, the mystery, once we know what it really is, was enough to land this book another star. :)

While these books don't really feel like the oldschool Reynolds I've fanboyed over, I am far from disliking them. BUT, I still only think they are above average, not fantastic.
Great to quench boredom, tho. :)

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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Pursuit of William AbbeyThe Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For a historical fantasy, it starts very slow and stays very close to its historical roots, from the Boer War and onward toward the first World War, being very English but then, again, not at all. It's an indictment and a commentary in all the best ways.

But then it becomes fantastical in a way that I'm very familiar with when it comes to Claire North's writing. Slow and steady and exquisitely detailed always eventually becomes a huge rebellion/revolt/epic-tragedy. It's almost crazy to think that ANY otherwise slow-moving and lush historical tale could go... so BIG. But it does. And it is wonderful.

Fans of Claire North know that she takes a Big Idea, a fantasy or SF rule, and runs with it while drilling down deep into the full implications of it.

In this one, it's Love. The pursuit is one of a curse, a shadow, that steadily moves toward the cursed, eventually always killing the ones he or she loves most in the world.

So why not join the spy corps, keep on the move, and never love?

It sounds good on paper. But of course, life and long life, at that, makes this a very dicey proposition. Scary and sad and very, very tragic.

I will mention that this one is a really hard one to get through. If you're looking for something light, stay away from it. But if you want something that will tear your heart apart, look no farther.

Really gorgeous. But so very difficult, too.

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Monday, December 14, 2020

M.Y.T.H. Inc. Link (Myth Adventures, #7)M.Y.T.H. Inc. Link by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While this wasn't a bad book, it does mark a pretty big change in format. Our intrepid con-man wizard and his trusty Prevect demon have taken the back seat for the sake of the side characters.

It's kinda obvious why this is necessary. They had gotten too big, too powerful. The side characters, however, have their own little projects in the organization.

While it doesn't quite make the level of satire, these episodes are still light and funny. Theft, graft, and casinos are the name of the game, after all. And in a demon dimension, it's always pretty fun to see the weaklings pull the wool over their eyes. :)

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The GodmakersThe Godmakers by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I could totally pick a non-Dune book of Frank Herbert's to point at and say, "Hey, this one is all kinds of cool and fantastic!" It'd be this one.

If I needed to point to any of his non-Dune books and say, "OMG this one short novel connects all the main themes of the Dune Chronicles in a rather non-Dune way, focusing on the mechanics and propaganda and elements of religion in a possibly deeper way than the Chronicles!" I'd also nod at this book.

But here's the really interesting aspect:

Being a big fan of the Dune series, including Brian and Kevin's part in it, I read Godmakers with an eye to the deep-past, nearing the Butlerian Jihad with huge Psi talents, a nearly random confluence of events, and mysticism. I kept reading about the events here with the rediscovery of lost planets, the hints of travel through mind-powers, the alien intelligences, and the opening of awareness in a very different light.

Almost as if this was proto-guild navigation. Or the pre-prelude to the eventual AI takeover.

Please forgive me, true-fans. I like to think about these kinds of confluences in terms of Herbert's massive future history. Because -- let's make no bones about it -- his Future History is massive, complex, and wonderful. I see things in this book that tie directly to the last couple of novels that are supposed to capstone Herbert's original cycle.

I'd love to see someone truly tie that together. Or perhaps they already did. (Brian and Kevin)

I totally recommend this book, however. We don't see SF like this much at ALL anymore. Either subject or how it is handled.

Go big or go home.

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Little Myth Marker (Myth Adventures, #6)Little Myth Marker by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah, Skeeve now feels like he ought to really change his name to Stu. Gary Stu.

When things get become THIS easy to him no matter how many obstacles or bad hands get in his way, I WANT to see him fail spectacularly rather than just have the whole implausibility highlighted in grand style.

But that being said, the absurdity worked and the stakes (including the resolution) still gave us a fine playbook for cardsharping. Or I really ought to say, anti-cardsharping. Or should it be null-cardsharping?

The point is, it's magical. A card game for the Myth. :)

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Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Heaven MakersThe Heaven Makers by Frank Herbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While this doesn't reach the heights of Dune, nor does it really overlap at all, this novel closely follows the classic's publication, so it bears mention.

Here's the skinny: it's a novel about immortality, boredom, and the draw that us short-lived mortals hold for the long-lived.

Granted, I've read an armful of books about this subject and have watched many movies that do the same, but this IS Frank Herbert. His take on it is not only solid -- but complicated. One of the main characters is a psychologist, after all, and this isn't a stylistic fluke. Herbert prods and pokes at everything, not just psychosis and murder investigation, but the hindbrain stuff that spreads across species and race. This is still the '60s-level science, mind you, but it reads like a psychological thriler.

It's fun and fast and obviously of heavy interest to us mortals. It's no simple cash grab despite the short length. Murder mystery? Immortality? Boredom? Sex? Yes.

Definitely worth the read, and if it hadn't been by this master writer that people have been fixated on for Dune, this one might have been heralded as a classic in its own right.

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Myth-ing Persons (Myth Adventures, #5)Myth-ing Persons by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I'm beginning to slightly feel less enthusiastic about the series by this point, mostly because our duo have got a really good deal going on and I can't call them the underdogs, anymore, it does go in a new direction that bypasses a bit of that.

I mean, new dimensions and all.

Less interesting is the whole vampires and werewolves, but that is more of a problem for ME than them. They're kinda corny, but what else can we expect with a comedy?

Other than that, I'm getting kinda annoyed that my favorite Prevect keeps getting lost, set up, enjoys vacation, or whatever. He's the guy I liked most from the start of the series.

Still, the wrap up in this book was very funny, so complaints can be put on hold. :)

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Saturday, December 12, 2020

Machine (White Space, #2)Machine by Elizabeth Bear
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Billed as a straight space opera (but not with a straight MC), this follows a lot of usual tropes. Between salvage, finding an alien artifact, and juggling a few mysteries while handling personal and interpersonal ones, this has all the hallmarks of a comfortable opera read.

Good points: the MC is a doctor and happens to be one devoted to her job no matter how complicated that makes her life. Personal pain management has a bit of a House feel, too. And then there is the Machine. I like the whole thing about the Machine, but let me be honest: it's been done before. A lot. Like, a lot, a lot. I think of just having read Paolini's new work a few months ago and I'm trying not to compare the two, but this one suffers.

Bad points: the pacing is sometimes uneven and my interest sometimes lagged. It was far from being a bad tale, but it generally fits firmly in the "comfort" SF category. Again, that's not really a bad thing. It just happens to be an issue about pushing those boundaries.

It really doesn't.

BUT, there are worse things than to be a comfort read that checks off a number of boxes. Me, I'd have preferred something a lot more courageous. The mystery was quite fun. Hacking AI consciousnesses is VERY fun. I suppose I would have gone gaga if there had been more. More mystery. More surprise.

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Friday, December 11, 2020

Hit or Myth (Myth Adventures, #4)Hit or Myth by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This whole book runs like a mob racket scheme being foiled by a master con-man. :)

That's not a bad thing. Indeed, it's funny as hell. Only, let's make sure our con-man has magical chops, a reputation to soar, and a LOT of chumps in two dimensions. :)

Yay! :)

*smacks lips* Very tasty and funny fantasy. :)

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Myth Directions (Myth Adventures, #3)Myth Directions by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How do these simple quests turn into SUCH NIGHTMARES???

I mean, let's put this in perspective. She just wanted our young, hormone-led magical hero to go on a SHOPPING trip. To carry bags.

How does one go from that to fighting THE war in an alternate dimension that looks an awful lot like football if you allow dragons on the field.

Quite funny, good hijinx, and it captures all the spirit of a good game... assuming it's fought the way it is in Europe.

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Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Dosadi Experiment (ConSentiency Universe, #2)The Dosadi Experiment by Frank Herbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I think I may have preferred the previous ConSentiency Universe novel more than The Dosadi Experiment, but that may be more because I prefer linguistics and math-crazy plus-dimensional aliens over most other ideas.

However. This novel is pretty damn fascinating on its own, but for completely different reasons. I don't normally see hard-SF novels revolving around Alien Law. Or economics. Or psychology. Or a whole world that is a social and biological experiment writ very, very large.

This is Frank Herbert, after all. When he runs with ideas, he really runs with them, doubling down and throwing in ever more complicated twists and complications and worldbuilding that is always on target and propels the main plot.

I DO believe that there are a few flow issues with this novel, but not serious ones. I DO think the themes of overpopulation pressures, male/female and identity fiction, writ in alien biologies, alien psychology, or the results of the pressures of the experiment, itself, is done VERY well.

I see tones of the male/female question from Dune and major overpopulation issues explored by Silverberg and Brunner and PKD. Herbert is very aware of the SF conversation going on and, in my humble opinion, attacks it in some of the very smartest ways.

When I judge novels by Frank Herbert, I judge them by his own novels, not by the full SF field. He really belongs in a level of his own.

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Whipping Star (ConSentiency Universe, #1)Whipping Star by Frank Herbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In today's SF market, I doubt we'd EVER see a novel like this get published.

After all, it's highly abstract, deals with n-space topologies and a macro-inversion of String Theory as tied to consciousness, and it happens to be a really neat IDEA. The blurb may be accurate, but it doesn't do the intelligence of the novel ANY justice.

Here's the thing: we're meant to be floundering in the water like the main human characters trying to make SENSE of the things this truly alien alien is saying. The fact that it may or may not be a 4th-dimensional creature (in the way that Arrival was) is hard to suss out because of the highly abstract but very logical word salads.

Add to that a completely misunderstood agreement that allows for instant portals, time-travel, and a really nasty side-effect of killing the alien, slowly, nastily, and we've got a novel that OUGHT to be more respected and read. It has a lot of fantastic ideas and the mystery fully engaged me to the hilt.

If I had read this not knowing it was Frank Herbert or that it had been written a while ago, I would have assumed I was reading a contemporary of Greg Egan or a companion to Peter Watts' Blindsight. These have a lot in common. If I had said he was a newcomer, I would have said, "Hey! This is like Robert Silverburg at his best!"

The fact is, this novel may be forgotten because so much attention is put on Dune. Whipping Star doesn't pretend to be anything but what it is: a very intelligent novel about language, understanding, and N-Space physics with a side dish of quantum.

I recommend it for anyone who despairs that SF is getting too stupid. :)

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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Myth Conceptions (Myth Adventures, #2)Myth Conceptions by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, so I'm laughing my ass off. These books are all kinds of perfect, assuming you want light, fluffy, funny D&D like fantasy with absolutely delightful characters. Con-man demon, wet-behind-the-ears mage, and amazing misadventure.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG? Let's just apply for the Court Wizard position, kid. It's all posture. The hard part is just getting the job.

Yeeeeeeesssssss. :)

The side characters were also fantastically funny. When I compare this 30-year-old book with the kinds of modern fantasy we get these days, it's holding its own with flying colors. The newer ones owe a great debt to this.

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From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. FrankweilerFrom the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When we get right down to it, this short YA novel from the late '60s has everything a bookworm needs while growing up. A little rebellion, a little running away, and a lot of time spent in a museum. You know, the kind of thing that absolutely leads to heroin and smack.

These troubled kids.

Seriously though, I liked the mystery and adventure and liked it even more because it was referenced directly in Dash & Lily's Book of Dares. A spiritual successor? Maybe!

Definitely worth the read.

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The OriginalThe Original by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let's quickly get past the old cyberpunk themes and the Noir atmosphere for one second and just appreciate how thoroughly enjoyable this novella by Sanderson and Kowal really is.

I mean, for one, it's Sanderson and Kowal. Quality will be in the cards, regardless, with smooth reading and seemingly effortless storytelling. On the other hand, it's a world a lot like Altered Carbon with edited reality-perceptions, a total Murder Mystery sensibility, and great tech invasions.

Using a clone of the murderer to catch the murderer is all kinds of delicious, too.

Highly recommended.

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Another Fine Myth (Myth Adventures, #1)Another Fine Myth by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, so, it turns out I'm a huge fan of Robert Asprin already. It only took one book but he's already better (to me) than Piers Anthony's Xanth series.

From 1978, this first one hits all the right tones of the brand new D&D sessions just out on the market mixed with delightfully light humor. You get a master con-man demon, a newb wizard being trained by the con-man demon, and a series of misadventures that feel like Han Solo is running the show.

It's truly delightful. And funny. And I LOVE the (mis)quotes between chapters. It made me look at each chapter in an utterly new light even as I enjoyed the (mis)adventure.

Nice twists, too. I totally expected one thing and got two others.


Anyone into funny fantasy. I expected this to be something like Pratchett but while it DOES have some of the elements, it's on a much smaller scale. This still makes it quite light and fluffy. Like cotton candy. :)

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Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Trader to the StarsTrader to the Stars by Poul Anderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As much as I generally enjoy Poul Anderson, this particular set of stories is something of a miss for me. It IS interesting on an idea level and probably would have gone over nicer during the '60s when it had come out, but for such a libertarian series of stories, it is certainly NOT Heinlein.

Maybe I wanted a more vibrant character in Flandry. Maybe I didn't want to see a few of the species-slavery arguments hit uncomfortably too close to home. The apologies here feel just a tad too disingenuous. Or, rather, pure bullshit.

The whole rah, rah capitalism angle probably would have been better back in the day, too. I'm of a mind that capitalism is fine as long as no one is pushing their thumbs down on the scale. And since MOST of the capitalism we have now is exactly that, it has kind of left a bad taste in everyone's mouths (except the winners). There's even a hint of that in these stories, but it's subtle. Perhaps a lot more subtle for our modern tastes.


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The WitchesThe Witches by Roald Dahl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cute YA novel by Dahl.

I won't say this is my favorite Dahl, however, but there's something to be said about a hotel convention of witches, a small mousy boy, and the ensuing adventure not to get eaten.

I kinda wish I had read this as a kid, however. I might have been more thrilled by the *then* depiction of witches as compared to the full nuance of witches we get these days... Right, Harry P.?

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The Year of the RansomThe Year of the Ransom by Poul Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Poul Anderson is devoted to good history with his time-travel stories. I cannot stress how much I appreciate this.

He's also thoughtful in his analysis of myth-building and loves to play around with characters that violate and/or confirm those myths while still holding tight to a worldview that can be best described as cautious, allowing for much uncertainty, while also painting a very cool picture of the past. Oh, and there's a pretty nifty plot adding stolen time-travel equipment by the time-natives. :)

One thing I will mention is this: Poul has a major soft spot for the Germanic peoples. The focus is as obvious as it is detailed and there's nothing wrong with that. The good part is in how he unearths so many great, even obscure treasures.

There's so much time travel literature out there. I honestly wish that more of them actually did as good a job with ACTUAL history. Poul Anderson DID. :)

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Monday, December 7, 2020

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Honestly? I loved this book. Why? Because it does a pretty awesome job of describing the specific mental illness of Depression.

It starts light and somewhat rather stuffy while being light, but there are signs of issues. Regular drunkenness, for one, while maintaining that high-functioning demeanor. But then there was also the deep and abiding loneliness.

I didn't read up on this book. I didn't realize it wasn't a romantic comedy. It felt like a romantic comedy. Of course, it was much more than that. It boiled me alive.

Wow, right? Well, having suffered depression most of my life, I totally got this book. The death by degrees, the stunning loneliness, the razor-sharp focus on tasks, and the inability to ask for help.

When she slowly lets her new friend in, it's like a tidal wave of emotion for me.

I should note that this is probably not the usual reaction that people might get from this book. Maybe it is, however. I guess it's all about the DEGREE.

So, I cried my little heart out.

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Time PatrolmanTime Patrolman by Poul Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It just goes to show. Poul Anderson gets REALLY good in his later years. I really, really loved "The Sorrow of Odin".

In the previous tales I read, I had said I thought the characters and the tale were somewhat bloodless. The same cannot be said in this. Indeed, I'm kinda bleeding.

We have a Patrolman going back to the mid 4th century to hunt down Goth and Visigoth legends that had disappeared from history, but he falls in love, loses her, and thanks to practical immortality treatments, follows his children through history, unable to let go.

Mind you, he's still being a proper cop/historian, but the PEOPLE who he keeps visiting have kept note of the Wanderer.

Suffice to say, this is one hell of a tragic tale that's overflowing with real history and a very classic theme that includes the interweaving of myth and religion into SF.

I TOTALLY fell in love with it.

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Sunday, December 6, 2020

Guardians of TimeGuardians of Time by Poul Anderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm rating this down for only one reason: it's somewhat bloodless.

I have no complaints about the whole time cop thing going on in general. The history bits are pretty great even if they're very classical.

However, the main characters are pretty white-hat in the best traditions of good cops. Putting it in the context of the 1950s, well before Doctor Who and coming out of the long tradition of the Golden Age of SF square-jawed heroism, this shouldn't surprise anyone.

But for that reason, and that reason alone, having read an actual slew of great time-travel tales, INCLUDING LATER ONES BY POUL ANDERSON, HIMSELF, I just can't rate them all that high. Maybe in the past, these were highly sought after. And aside from some stylistic differences, they might have been right at home in the average SF magazines today. They're not BAD.

But I DO like more vibrant characters, more.

*** Big note: Poul Anderson wrote one of my favorite big-spread history SF novels in The Boat of a Million Years. I thought it was about as good as it gets. I can see a taste of the effort that went into that book in these short stories, but only a tiny taste.

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The Master Mind of Mars (Barsoom #6)The Master Mind of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Do you know those old Frankenstein movies, not the original but all the then-popular knock-offs with even more brains in jars and mad scientists putting their brains in monkeys and then wondering why they got elected to public office and started a revolution?

Yeah. That's what this one was like.

Maybe it's good for the craving for a different time that is so very different that it's hard to imagine that ANYONE thought this was a good idea... and then I see the ongoing debate about face masks during a pandemic.

So, um, is anyone doing a Kickstarter for the brain transplant business?

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PermafrostPermafrost by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I must have read at least a hundred time-travel novels (or novellas) in my life but I've never come across one with THIS particular analogy.

No time stream or branching. It's a glacier. *shiver*

I love it.

Oh, and the tale itself is top-notch, full of wonderful characterizations, complicated and believable plot, and stakes that get amazingly high.

In other words, it's pure Alastair Reynolds. :) It should to be a must-read for all you fans. :)

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Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Chessmen of Mars (Barsoom #5)The Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really have to say... Burroughs is consistently surprising me.

I particularly like how he's moving away from the whole Earthling god on Mars bit and focusing on Carter's kids. His daughter is a real firecracker, but only in the older sense of a noble's kid who is taught everything from her doting father in contravention to societal norms. Oh well, right? But this DID come out in 1922. And it's a standard convention by this point. So whatever.

This is an ADVENTURE ROMANCE. That means there ought to be a bunch of fiery looks and bodice-ripping, no? Well, thanks to the age, there's not so much bodice-ripping, but there is plenty of that love/hate passion and men who don't have a freaking clue as to how to deal with women but go totally chivalrous and noble without the slightest idea that they'll either get out of it alive OR have a kind word said from said women.

In other words, it's just another day in love-land.

With lots of severed heads. You can't have a romance without severed heads. A lot of them. Oh, and deadly chess with live pieces.

Fun, right? Yes. I have to admit I have had a lot of fun with these.

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Thuvia, Maid of Mars (Barsoom, #4)Thuvia, Maid of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As is true for most series that continues on for several books, the weight of worldbuilding often takes on much more significance than the outright plot of the tale before us. To be clear, I don't think that's a bad thing. It showcases the author's imagination and the depth to which he can take it.

By this point, Mars feels like a very fleshed-out character in its own right. Its kingdoms vivid, its battles, the weight of its history is bright and shiny in my mind. Little of it is old history. All the epic battles and drastic measures of the first three books showcase the highest ideal, indeed. Bravery! Conquest! War! And of course, Women!

This next book moves away from John Carter and illustrates how his son can take over the page. Again, this isn't a bad thing. The old lions ought to step away for the young blood. Interestingly enough, the oft-spurned Thuvia finally gets her own pride of lions fighting for her.

We'll ignore, just for a moment, how much blood is spilled for her sake.

All told, the adventure is quite excellent. Every time the fighting starts, I'm always in the thick of it. The worldbuilding lends a lot of weight to everything, so much so that I am hard-pressed not to compare this old, old SF series with so many that have come later by well-respected writers... only to find the later types lacking.

Consider me surprised. Burroughs, even though it totally lacks modern feminist sentiments, has staying power. And, believe it or not, it actually feels REFRESHING. Men can be real men again, folks! And yes, I laugh, but none of this is a bad thing. :)

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Friday, December 4, 2020

The Warlord of Mars (Barsoom, #3)The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's really funny, now that I think about it, that John Carter of Mars has so much more in common with Conan the Barbarian than anything out of an SF magazine.

I mean, he's not a barbarian, but you wouldn't know it by his extremely violent American ways, how good he is with a barbarian sword, how he always acts before he thinks, and how he pines for his lost love. It's like the sappiest of love ballads.

Now, just be sure to cleave through a couple of thousand men with your barbarian strength, young man. If you get captured, be sure to react in the most predictable of ways, and warriors by the thousands will flock to your (nonexistent) banner.

Honestly, I'm STILL having a fun time with this. The fight scenes are totally movie quality, right down to the spinning form of our enemy when he gets a left hook to the jaw.

And the PATHOS. Wow. It's pure popular entertainment. The ENMITY. It's a soap opera of Grecian levels.

I make fun. Maybe a little. But I actually LIKE this kind of fantasy when it's done well. Yay, Conan! I mean, John Carter! It's even more fun to know how this PRE-DATES Conan. :)

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Thursday, December 3, 2020

Heaven's River (Bobiverse #4)Heaven's River by Dennis E. Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For all you folks who have not been introduced to Bobiverse, start with book one. For all you folks who might be worried that they're losing steam by book four, please rest assured. I liked book four even more than books two or three.

The originally fantastic nerd nostalgia from the original is still available in these later books, but it doesn't rely upon it. Indeed, the moral quandaries, the mystery and adventure, the sheer awesomeness of a post-humanity uploaded consciousness of a single programmer who basically becomes an AI god spreading about the galaxy, making jokes about Star Trek and Douglas Adams, is just too precious for words.

Ah, but we've also got a really interesting plot with no less than THREE major rebellions to deal with among three alien species. (I count us as one of those species because... come on... have you SEEN US?)

I was sucked right into the tale and it never let up. I even had to re-watch Multiplicity today to get a little theme-harmony going on. :) Just how many Bobs are there? We've got copy-descendants in the 20th iteration by now. And beware those Big Dumb Objects! :)

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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Gods of Mars (Barsoom #2)The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Believe me, no one is more surprised than I am that I actually LIKE the Barsoom books so far and I'm warming even more to them.

Have no doubts. It's a PURE adventure. If the first book was more cowboy meets indians, the second is lambasting the elites in usual old-school American take-no-shit from anyone.

Of course, the action progresses nicely from exploration to getting entangled with "godlike" "noble" aliens (with plenty of commentaries) to grand escapes, an even grander WAR that was frankly kind of awesome.

The one thing I kept noticing as I read this quite old SF tale was how well it pulled off ALL the grand Steampunk ideals. Of course, the opposite is more true. The entire movement of Steampunk owes almost ALL of its thanks to Burroughs.

If any of you folks out there need to top off the steam in your tanks, you REALLY ought to go to the real source. :)

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Fire SeasonFire Season by Stephen Blackmoore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I liked this one better than all the previous Eric Carter novels. I think it's the "time spent with the character" effect. Maybe not. But I did enjoy it more.

The fact that it's a little on the nose with California burning all the time helps a lot.

These are very UF. All action, all quip, all magic. The plot is still pretty Noir, but these days it's all about having everyone come out of the woodwork to get a piece of him. Such a thing has its place in literature, no? Simple, fun.

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Hungry Ghosts (Eric Carter, #3)Hungry Ghosts by Stephen Blackmoore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't realize I had an Aztec-god sized hole in my reading wish list, but I guess I did.

Fortunately for me, reading this filled me up and made me smack my lips and I didn't even have to sacrifice anyone to get the meal! Yay!

This short novel, like the other Eric Carter novels, is extremely fast-paced and generally furious. The whole Jade bit was pretty awesome and the whole playing gods off of each other was even better. This is one of those good examples of handling a story resolution without all the totally overpowered hero bits. :)

Quite satisfied.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Murder by Other Means (The Dispatcher, #2)Murder by Other Means by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This second Dispatcher novella by Scalzi is picking up quite nicely. It's a quirky mystery revolving around the consequences of a modern society that has to move on since...

Death has a 1/1000 chance of actually happening. Murders usually send us all back to our safe (or rather Save) points. Most of the time, murdering someone just saves them. That other small chance just happens to make them kaput. Ooops.

Fun premise, of course, and working through all the subtleties of this is most of the fun. Very SF. Clever. But in point of fact, it's all Noir. Pretty perfect for fans of that genre, and definitely going strong.

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A Princess of Mars (Barsoom, #1)A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Way back in 1912, Burroughs of Tarzan fame make a big manly adventure on the desert-like Martian landscape with warriors like alien American Indians while saving buxom alien maidens.

Does this sound silly?

It should. It has been mimicked thousands of times over the years and found great fame and infamy during the later Golden Age of SF, cheesy TV dramas of all flavors, including SF, F, and especially Westerns.

HOWEVER... a special place should be set aside for this work. It DID transform the landscape of popular pulp fiction. It had an unholy popularity and we STILL follow the same formula in modern literature, although it now often takes a number of twists.

The writing itself isn't bad. And if we ignore the actual ecology of Mars, it's cool to watch the strength of an Earthling pull off Superman heroics on the Barsoomians (Martians). Being honorable and being daring counts for a lot with the culture, and earning long-term friends makes this a feel-good tale.

Honestly, it just feels like a post-Civil War Western, and indeed, Eric Carter had come from exactly this tradition before being transported to the alien desert to start his interesting career. :)

I'm surprised how much I DID like it. I wanted to tear it to shreds, honestly, because I've never really enjoyed this kind of campy brawn BS. But here I am, enjoying it anyway. :)

Life is strange.

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