Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Man Who Was Thursday: A NightmareThe Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G.K. Chesterton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's really not that hard to describe this novel, but it's hard to really capture the real flavor of something, from 1908, really belongs in a melting pot that includes the Keystone Cops, Kafka, Peter Sellars, and a hefty dose of LSD comedy. If that isn't enough absurdity for you, then please take a BIG helping of Christian Allegory.

*Wait. Did he just say what I think he said?*

Yes, I just lumped Christian Allegory in with all that. Bite me.

Seriously, though, reading this was often a wild and funny ride. We got to play with militant poets and zany upper-crust anarchists and a dire thriller for all those cops trying to put a final stop to the perceived plague of lawlessness and vile bombers.

Of course, I perceived early on that this "thriller" was much more like a satire than a gripping police drama, and this was exactly what it was.

Honestly, at one point, I even expected the last villain to tear off his mask and say, "And I would have gotten away with it, if it weren't for you darn kids!" (But twisted to Chesterton's unique message, of course.) (And no, I'm not spoiling that bit. It's worth enjoying for yourself.)

Oddly enough, I swear SO much of this is used as a template for the best zany cop dramas of today's films, by way of the zany cop films of 50 years ago. One really ought to tip one's hat to this particular novel for paving this particularly goofy way.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us AllThe Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All by Laird Barron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just when I was wondering if I would ever come across some true, genuine, scary-ass cosmic (or otherwise) fiction in my gullet before Halloween, I finally come across something beautiful. It was awaiting me all this time... within my gullet.

It crawled out, said a few pithy lines, and then proceeded to claw my eyes out.

What did I do?

I thanked it, of course. What else could I do? *It had my eyes*

My favorite stories were:
Hand of Glory - totally immersive Noir that got dark and stayed there the entire time.
Vastation - I'm a sucker for grand gestures.
More Dark - It felt almost autobiographical, full of great in-jokes, and it was just far-out enough to be REAL.

The rest were all pretty much perfect, too. Not a bad one in the bunch.
Ones that almost made my top list:
The Redfield Girls - truly delightful ghost story within a story
Jaws of Saturn - more noir!

The rest were top-notch writing. If you like horror, I'm certain you'll get a kick out of everything Barron does. He seems to have been around the block a few times. :)

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Hide Me Among the GravesHide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For those of you in the know, all I really need to say is TIM POWERS. You'll get it.

For everyone else, we've got here a VERY period tale that has done an immense measure of research into the lives and times of Christina Rossetti and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, featuring these siblings as main characters in an all-out VAMPIRE novel. And it never feels contrived.

Excuse me, lol. We have a modern audience here. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a famous poet and painter in the 19th century. Christina Rossetti is the author of Goblin Market.

It almost behooves me to read Christina's work and apply it whole-heartedly to Tim Power's tale, because the events within London, her family, and the strange collection of characters seem to explain an AWFUL lot.

Because it's not just about vampires. It's about mortal sin, carnality, dead babies haunting you for the rest of your life (literally), and ghosts. Not to mention that this novel spans from high society to the dregs of the underworld, in full adventure mode.

Certain things are not talked about. This is the London of THAT time. And these vampires are not the kind of hokey vampires we see today. They're nuanced and the system of magic that Powers enables them to come to life is as nuanced as the characters. And strange, too! Powers has an uncanny ability to bring in disparate features of ... ANYTHING ... and pulls them off in style. No spoilers, but this one was a treat.

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Monday, October 26, 2020

Ballistic Kiss (Sandman Slim, #11)Ballistic Kiss by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stark's new life -- which happens to be quite similar to his old-new life shortly after coming back from his stint in hell, is finally slowing down. He can spend a little time freaking out about doing normal things. Maybe inviting that cute doughnut girl out for a movie night with all his friends.

It's sweet.

Of course, knowing this universe, it is SO not going to last.

Even so, we do get an oddly normal noir mystery with a splash of ghosts, human sacrifices, and murderous thrill-seeking that eventually brings things back to our bloody center-line.

It's weird tho. Stark isn't CAUSING most of the hell, this time. Fortunately, he will end it.

Highly amusing. I truly love how it can still incorporate the WILD number of changes from the rest of the series and still pull off a hint of home. :)

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Sunday, October 25, 2020

Hollywood Dead (Sandman Slim, #10)Hollywood Dead by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, the big question is this: how many times can a man come back from Hell and still remain as fresh as a daisy?

Okay, that's a disingenuous question. And unfair.

Stark has NEVER been as fresh as a daisy and after having gone and come back from Hell THIS MANY TIMES, you might assume he smells like a swine's bunghole after a piggie has the motherload of a tummy-ache.

It doesn't help that he's dead. Mostly. I mean, walking around dead, but still dead and NOT SO FRESH.

But since this is still a classic supernatural Noir-type tale, we've got a carrot and a stick scenario, and IF ONLY HE DOES THIS ONE THING... the necromancers might give him an eau de toilette.

If only they were trustworthy.

I swear. These books devour me.

I mean, I'm literally devouring THEM, but by the same token, they're devouring me. I can't call them popcorn fiction because even I get tired of popcorn sometimes. I'm NOT getting tired of these.

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The Kill Society (Sandman Slim, #9)The Kill Society by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We've got some big changes... again. I'm afraid to actually come right out and say it for fear of spoilers, but let's just say a hellish caravan full of refugees and crusaders are in the cards.

This shouldn't be much of a surprise if we look at the book's cover.

What is rather surprising is how much over-plot progression goes on here. The BIG story is BIG. And Stark has had better days. In fact, he's pretty damn powerless at this point. You know, other than some hellion hoodoo and some usual fighting skills. But he's as surprised as I am.

Think post-apocalyptic hellscape in an actual, you know, HELL, friendless, and getting dragged along for the ride.

The fun part is in figuring what the hell is actually going on. The war in heaven is escalating, after all.

Very fun stuff here. Bloody fun. I'm on a roll and enjoying it all.

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Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Perdition Score (Sandman Slim, #8)The Perdition Score by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stark is having a bad time. He's abusing himself because he can't kill things, demons, angels, or ANYONE.

You know how it is. PTSD takes so many different forms. Some ppl withdraw, and others attack. He's one of the latter. He's going nuts without it. Of course, what is he supposed to expect after having helped Death kill a new Death, instigate a war in heaven, open up the gates of hell, and getting fired from every paid gig he's ever had because he's just *a tad* too violent?

Ah, well, OTT problems like this, including a number of seasonal trips back downtown (and I mean HELL) seems to be the name of the game.

So when angels seem to be having a drug problem and it's making the second civil war in heaven much, much worse, Stark is quite meh about it until it hits home. And then, well...

The ending is a pure muahahahahaha moment.

We have certain standards to uphold here. And eating s**t really isn't on the menu, boys.

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Friday, October 23, 2020

The King in Yellow and Other Horror StoriesThe King in Yellow and Other Horror Stories by Robert W. Chambers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 10/23/20:

I'm not going to write a normal review for these stories, even as a re-read. Instead, I'll just mention how they've already put themselves in our lives.

Ideas have a life of their own. Little hints and vague mutterings can grow into huge monstrosities. From Ambrose Bierce, the author of The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary, Carcosa is breathed to life, with idyllic scenes twisted into horrific nightmares, but Robert W. Chambers, enamored with Bierce, runs with Carcosa and the King in Yellow, writing story after story with the thread of cosmic terror, artworks that, upon reading, turns people into madmen.

The stories are interconnected and unique, uncanny, and merely brush the deeper sense of the madness that lies beneath the upper-crust and/or the bohemian/artistic lifestyles. They're all a piece of their time, too, and I get the impression that the horror is quite universal and would express itself in an infinite number of guises.

And indeed, just as Chambers ran with Bierce's idea, Lovecraft himself ran with Chambers.

The idea burrows inside our heads, too. Carcosa and the tattered King in Yellow are still alive and reaching for us from between the cracks in reality.

And after Lovecraft, us.

We are living the logical progression of these widening gyres of madness. Just pick up the paper. Check Twitter. It's all there. The song. From humble, or perhaps ancient beginnings, they're playing to us...

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.

Original review:

I never realized until recently that Lovecraft admired and tried to emulate a few of this author's horror feel, that his stories are the godfather of the Cthulhu mythos. Strangely enough, the prose is fluid and compelling in a way that Lovecraft couldn't match. Of course, it isn't Lovecraftian prose, but the weight of the mythos that draws so many fans, but it was a pure delight to see a spark that lit the fire for generations of horror fans around the world.

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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Killing Pretty (Sandman Slim, #7)Killing Pretty by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, get your black hoodoo knives out, folks, and step right up for another night of Stab Death Dead, you Nazi freaks, where you, too, can stay alive forever on a technicality because Death isn't around any longer to pick up your soul from your broken body.

Kinda sounds like a rehash of an old Piers Anthony book, doesn't it? But never you mind. Death is still kinda Death. Stark doesn't get roped into the job. Indeed, I really liked the actual poor Death stuck in a rotting corpse without his heart, watching old Disney movies, getting a slice of life (or at least doughnuts and opioids), and I thought he would be a FINE addition to the family.

Death always gets a bad rap unless you're Gaiman, and then it's total crush territory. Don't get me started on Pratchett. Kadrey's Death is mellow cool.

Let's put this novel in perspective, shall we? It's FUN. It's fun like all of the other Sandman Slim novels. Total popcorn fiction. It's also head and shoulders above MOST similar UF. I won't say it's the best of the bunch, but it was sufficiently Supernatural-like to make me chortle and guffaw and this is a GOOD thing.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Getaway God (Sandman Slim, #6)The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think we've settled into a nice, humorous, extremely bloody routine. Not all routines are bad, of course. Some just grab you by the throat, spill all your secrets upon the ground, and then dance in a river of entrails while they laugh about gods, devils, and outsiders.

This happens to be one of those routines.

I do note one little detail, however. Our favorite Nephilim seems to be losing all his most powerful toys. Pretty soon he's going to be one DE-powered freak.

Well, to be fair, it seems like every supernatural baddie in LA and the cosmos is headed in the same direction. Call it an economic downturn.

Am I still having a ton of fun?

Yep. Popcorn UF all the way, baby.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Neverness (A Requiem for Homo Sapiens, #0)Neverness by David Zindell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one kinda came out of nowhere and hit me up the side of my head.

I mean, you'd have thought I would have known all about the grand classics and any book THIS good has GOT to have about a million readers, RIGHT? At least, this is the grand assumption we (and I mean, me, sadly,) tend to make.

And yet, I've BARELY heard of this book and there's no sign of it ever becoming an audiobook and aside from a few brave glowing reviews that compare it favorably to Dune and La Morte Darthur, my skepticism remained high... UNTIL I read it.

And now, even though I've read something like 2.5k SF novels, I have to come right out and say it: I'm putting this book in my top 20 novels of all time. I'm both squeeing and deeply, deeply impressed.

This is a good thousand years in our future and the galaxy is populated with post-humans who have changed themselves into creatures both alien and familiar and often very, very strange. We begin with Pilots, a version of King Arthur's knights only with high esoteric maths, the need for immense courage because, as it is written in stone, "Pilots Die", and a somewhat simple story of a young journeyman pilot who, showing great bravery, explores a machine intelligence spanning a moon -- and more.

This interesting quest only raises a ton of new questions, and while it seems pretty straightforward, it really isn't. This is a story of the meaning of life. The search for immortality. Of friendship, of love, of parentage, of memory, and of everything from the deepest parts of our past as humans (living as cave-men takes up a great deal of the tale) all the way to immensely futuristic worldbuilding that includes folding space, speeding cognition, vast artificial intelligence, seas of godlike aquatic creatures, nanotech worlds, and... immortality.)

It sticks a pin in everything, and the characters are truly wonderful. They are so damn human. Belligerent, idiotic, sometimes wise, violent, lovers of poetry, funny, and lustful. And let's not forget that they are mathematical geniuses, prone to rage, and they're extraordinary skaters. :)

The worldbuilding is all kinds of amazing and it not only holds together as well as Dune, it feels nearly as vast, as creative, and as interesting as Dune. That's not to say it actually FEELS like Dune except in the ways that certain vast build-ups coalesce, but the comparison is still quite good.

I'm all aglow. I'm probably going to re-read this again in a few years, but first I'm going to be flying into the next book. :) Soon.

To sum up: READ THIS BOOK. It needs to be known. It needs to be talked about among all the SF fandom. If you LIKE SF at all, this ought to be a must-read. It's all kinds of amazing.

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Sunday, October 18, 2020

Kill City Blues (Sandman Slim, #5)Kill City Blues by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I will be the first to admit this is the weakest book of the series (so far), it is STILL a very fun novel.

Why? We've got a de-powered Stark having to solve his own f**k-ups after having been an idiot. This is NOT a dealbreaker. After all, such amazingly messed up choices should come with massive consequences, and here we go...

So why aren't I giving this a full five stars? Because, compared to the full ramp-up OTT OMG how the hell did we get HERE from THERE books, it's ONLY, MERELY a MacGuffin quest.

For those not in the know, a MacGuffin quest is just finding some dumb object. In this case, the object is Stark's Mystical Eight-Ball, but it does come with some Existence-Shattering consequences. But for the rest of the novel? Well... it IS funny. And weird. And a very creative ride. I only dock a star for the fact that it isn't as good as the prior novels. If I were truly fair, I'd give it a five star because it's still a lot better than so many other similar-themed novels. :) So call it a 4.5 star.

I can't wait to see what happens next!

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Devil Said Bang (Sandman Slim, #4)Devil Said Bang by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I have to boil things down to their primary components, I generally have to say whether I had a really good time.

While reading this, I had a really great time.

Everything else is just extra-spicy gravy with bacon, a huge dollop of hellish bureaucracy (because, you know, that IS what hell is all about,) an unhealthy serving of killing, mayhem, and enough sweet snark to fill a mansion of Tony Snarks, and EVEN a suit of Iron Meany to go along with the bubbly humor.

And you've got yourself a tale of dual residency. Of course, all jokes aside, it's kinda hard to tell whether one is in Hell or LA.

Seriously. It IS a real problem.

So between Lucifer doing his damnedest to shirk his duties and returning to LA to wonder why the hell the ghosts are setting up a second-rate soap-opera hell on Earth, I just have to say one thing:


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Saturday, October 17, 2020

Aloha from Hell (Sandman Slim, #3)Aloha from Hell by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since I'm basically reading these Sandman Slim books in grand marathon-style, I can't help but tear through them like they're pure crack cocaine. I can't help but compare it to a methed-up version of a true-neutral Harry Dresden mixed with a Cass from Supernatural who had had a love-child with Dean... and turn him into a murderous psychopath that thinks he's one of the good ones.

In other words, I'm chortling up a storm.

Just to think... we left off on the LA apocalypse in the previous novel only to mope around with a little second-storey work, only to land headfirst into a war (or several, considering the battlefronts) between Heaven and Hell.

And it's not exactly small-stage crap, either. I'm actually damn impressed. We've got a lot less talk and a LOT more action than I'm used to even for UF novels. :)

I'm still laughing (because that's the only proper response when you make it to the deepest depths of hell).

Happy Spooktober!

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Friday, October 16, 2020

The Collected Schizophrenias: EssaysThe Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esmé Weijun Wang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this excellent collection of essays was something rather stunning.

Shocking, personal, informative, and -- let's face it -- scarier than anything else I've read in this, the month of October.

Of course, the fact that it is factual and revelatory and so very, very personal should be the highest selling point, but more than that, it shines a light on the spectrum of what we call Schizophrenia, entirely.

Let's break it down. I knew from getting my degree in Psychology that people are not schizophrenics but that they have one or more types of effects that color -- or disrupt -- their outlook on life. This takes so many forms, so, unfortunately, it's a very problematic problem to define.

It's obviously horrible for those suffering from it, but a lot of these essays actually lay out a much larger issue: the stigma. When a person is going through delusions, complete disorganization, or are unable to differentiate their assumptions from reality, it doesn't automatically mean that they are dangerous. It means the confusion has underwritten their lives.

But speaking about it in our society has always been a very dangerous move. In the past more than now, hospitalization generally came with involuntary stays, a pharmacopeia, and assuming they've avoided that, episodes generally get them fired from jobs, they lose their schooling, and -- in general -- people are either unable to understand or provide the proper support.

This is true even in the most supportive of families, the most well-meaning institutions, and even for the people suffering from it.

This brilliant essayist went to Yale and has been institutionalized 3 times. She has had many full-blown episodes without being institutionalized. And yet, she's a very wonderful writer, expresses all these situations in such a way that my heart breaks, and it terrifies me.

In our world, we do NOT have the most supportive of families, entirely well-meaning institutions, and there's still a lot of misinformation about the collected Schizophrenias.

But there is hope. You know why? Essays like these are fantastic for opening our eyes.

And let's get into something real, here: the delusions that are spoken of in here are not unique to schizophrenics. They may take on a more intense character and may last longer for those suffering from a schizo-affective disorder, but it is not different *in quality* than the kinds of things we see every day all around us. In so-called *normal* people.

Being fixated on some things or falling in deep into an imaginary world, whether it is a book or a movie, is considered a GOOD thing in most circles. The ability to get so wrapped-up in a story that you cry and can't stop going on about it? We call that being enraptured.

Having this "disorder", at least in certain cases, is merely an intensification of the same thing the rest of us actually praise ourselves for.

How about fixation? We could even go so far as to make this political:

How about ignoring all the bad deeds of a political candidate, from a near-endless stream of lies to inflaming racial tensions, even welcoming a civil war, all because he says he will support a single issue, say, illegalizing all abortion? The fixation says that ALL BAD THINGS are on the table so long as you get THIS ONE THING.

Disorganized thoughts tend to alight on single-ticket items as a way to ignore the complexities of reality. It happens a lot to many, many, many people. So long as you cut away all the facts that do not support your intended outcome, the end will always justify the means.

I suggest that there are a lot of schizophrenics out here in the world. Right this instant.

If it's a fixation that more and more people seem to share, it's no longer a DSM item. It's just the willingness to be ruthless and get into bed with demons so long as the demons support your primary fixation. Make America Great Again at all costs! Hell, damn ALL the costs. Burn it all to the ground as long as they stop killing babies!

And still, most of the homeless on the streets today fall under the category of the collected Schizophrenias. The misunderstanding is real and it shouldn't have to be this way. If we understood ourselves better, we'd know we are going through the same damn thing as them.

Who knows?

Maybe we're all headed to homelessness, misunderstanding, total confusion, and fixation.

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Thursday, October 15, 2020

Kill the Dead (Sandman Slim, #2)Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm so glad the second book kept up the pace of the first. All the surprises from the first continued on in fine form to give us... a zombie apocalypse meeting a noir half-angel smartass who got his chops whetted in hell.

Oh, and he hates everyone pretty much equally. It doesn't stop him from WORKING with all the various baddies, baddies, or baddies of any stripe, (including those of angelic description) but it does certainly make things interesting.

I'm very happy with this UF. It reminds me of the best features of snarky Dresden with the darkness of Marlowe while always giving us a fun time in a cut-rate video store.

Yes. It's that kind of novel. And seeing yourself get eaten away with a zombie virus is NOT pleasant even for a magician/demon assassin. Trust me.

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When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain (The Singing Hills Cycle, #2)When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

New silkpunk! While I really enjoyed the first of the Singing Hills Cycle books, I liked this one better.

Why? I just did, okay! lol

Seriously, it's all about the Tiger and the Scholar. The novella was written as a story within a story, but it focuses on the true kick of the core story. Beautifully written, evocative, and emotional, it first appears to be the "dangerous man tamed by the meek woman" trope, but it retains that real subtlety that tells a very different story for those willing to listen. :)

Very enjoyable.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Girl and the Stars (Book of the Ice, #1)The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having already read some of Lawrence's early grimdark fantasy with SF elements and his Impossible Times books, I figured it was about time to enjoy his more usual YA fare.

Did I say usual? Well, yeah, that's what I THOUGHT, anyway. Instead, I got what appeared to be a far future or far past Ice Age world that immediately recalls a legend of having traveled the stars to get there, and then I'm utterly hooked.

I think it was the gorgeous descriptions of the ice. The characters are pretty good, but I truly fell in love with the worldbuilding and the increasing plot. Things are not as they seem. Tossing kids down holes in the ice does appear to be a cruel way to get rid of the weak on the surface, but this is merely the quick beginning to a rather vast adventure.

And then, I'm an utter sucker for fantasy realms that then hide a hard-SF core. Truly. I kinda cackled at a few points.

But what of the stars? Oh, just you wait. As I will have to wait for the next book, damn it, now that my curiosity has just grown deeper and more dissatisfied.

*hint - the stars are probably not what you think*

Does anyone want some whale meat?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Dead Voices (Small Spaces, #2)Dead Voices by Katherine Arden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I liked this one a little less than Small Spaces, it did have the benefit of already-established characters and a slight progression in the greater mystery of the Smiling Man.

Overall, however, it's mostly just a slightly creepy ghost story with slightly powerful mirrors and party games.

Not that this is a BAD thing, but it's NOT scary. It's rather Disney-Level. Of course, that's often the expectation with any MG book, no?

(Yes, I know of many examples where MG does not equate with mild.) This one, however, is.

For those of you looking for a safe choice for your children, these two fit the bill.

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Small Spaces (Small Spaces, #1)Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It wasn't hard to get into this book. I was easily charmed by the first half. I honestly enjoyed getting to know Ollie and her new friends Brian and Coco. Dealing with tragedy and being a kinda bookworm and smartie-pants is up my alley, after all.

But later on, when it gets fairly supernatural and kicks it up to some old-fashioned fairy-tale stuff, it was more along the lines of Bradbury than the kind of book I thought I had been reading.

This is not to say it wasn't good. I'm just saying that I had been enjoying the first half a lot more than the second. After all, dealing with tragedy IS rather hardcore. It just felt kinda diluted with the horror-lite middle-grade adventure that came after.

Of course, this IS a formula of sorts. I shouldn't complain that a story follows its own path. I'll continue with the next.

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The Tower of Fools (Hussite Trilogy, #1)The Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay now. This is something huge. But I need to properly put this book (and the prospective trilogy) in context.

If you know the Witcher series you know he writes wonderful and complex characters, enjoys a vast and subtle world-building system, and sneaks you up to immense complications.

This NEW series is entirely historical, revolving around Europe and especially Poland during the 15th Century and it is RICH with history. (When I say it's rich, what I mean is that you can get a Masters in history with a focus on this time period and you'll be pointing your finger on every page, going, OH! THAT!)

And it doesn't just show off its knowledge. The story is as great as the main character, and UNLIKE history (depending on who you ask), there is magic everywhere. Wanna have a run-in with diabolists and the Guttenberg press? Real witches among the witch trials? Cathar-like crusaders with actual Templars versus woodland nymphs and the very spirit of Catholic Heresy and all the F**ed up wars of this period all wrapped into one huge RICH mess?

You've got it. Right here.

Make no mistake. It's absolutely a historical novel in all the big senses. But it is ALSO the start of a new epic fantasy that's boiling over with magic. Even if the main character is only characterized as an apprentice. :)

Be prepared for the madhouse/inquisition, you grimdark fans.

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Monday, October 12, 2020

Alternate Routes (Vickery and Castine #1)Alternate Routes by Tim Powers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having read a number of Tim Power books, I knew enough to expect some RATHER interesting juxtapositions of ideas turned into a huge worldbuilding conceit and a wide exploration of possibilities.

A big mix of mythologies, history, and even poetry? Yep. Ovid, Daedalus, and Dryden mix with a ghost uprising directly tied to the American highway system, and underneath it all, we have an incursion of unreality, the Minotaur's Labyrinth, and a pretty traditional UF hidden beneath these layers.

UF? Well, I don't normally associate Tim Powers with UF, but this is definitely one. I usually thought of him as a proto-UF writer, influencing the later writers with similar ideas.

Honestly, I think I would have preferred a traditional Tim Powers novel. He IS very strong with quirky characters, but quirkiness doesn't always equate to emotionally satisfying characters. But he IS also very strong with ideas, so it's not like I'm complaining about the quality of the book. It's a rich book.

I spent a lot more time figuring out the magic system and its rules than getting into the MC's dynamic. It is what it is! :)

I DID make some heavy connections between this book and Chuck Wendig's Miriam Black series and Seanan McGuire's Ghost Roads series.

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Sunday, October 11, 2020

Becoming Superman: A Writer's Journey from Poverty to Hollywood with Stops Along the Way at Murder, Madness, Mayhem, Movie Stars, Cults, Slums, Sociopaths, and War CrimesBecoming Superman: A Writer's Journey from Poverty to Hollywood with Stops Along the Way at Murder, Madness, Mayhem, Movie Stars, Cults, Slums, Sociopaths, and War Crimes by J. Michael Straczynski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

J. Michael Straczynski has been on my radar ever since Babylon 5 aired. Being a writer, myself, I liked to pay attention to stories and attach them to their creators no matter what the medium was, and Joe Straczynski had quickly become a superstar for me.

Honestly, I would have just read this book for all the cool projects he had been involved with, from a large handful of He-Man and She-Ra, to the first (good) season of The Real Ghostbusters, to Babylon 5, to his writing and short acting debut within Thor (being the first man to find the hammer), to his long comic runs of Spider-Man and Superman, to even Sense8. And all of this is included, and a lot more besides. I wanted to rage, cry, and whoop for joy with Joe. I STILL can't get over the fact that he's never seen a cent out of Babylon 5.

But this book, strangely enough, is NOT really about that or any of the other projects. There's a lot of detail, sure, and it was fascinating as hell, but the real story is Joe's life.


I can't even really BEGIN to tell it. But suffice to say, he has gone through some major shit. His father was a real piece of work, and just let me mention this: I've read a LOT of books and this asshole ranks up there with fictional douchebags that are written AS sensationalized assholes.

I'm frankly amazed. By any normal standards, Joe should be a broken man taking the usual route of continuing the old tragedies, but he consciously used his parents as a model of what not to do and broke a completely new trail.

My words cannot do any of this justice. Joe writes one hell of a good story about his own life and backs it up with a lot of supporting research, but the spoilers are VERY hardcore. I can't just come out and SAY them because this was not just an autobiography -- it's a THRILLER.

Suffice to say, I think this book belongs on everyone's bookshelf. It not only demands respect in and of itself, but so does the man. He is a model of perseverance at all costs. He has NOT had very good luck, no matter how self-effacing he is in his prose. He's gracious, a good man, and not only is he an utter nightmare behind a typewriter, but he's also one of the most prolific writers out there. He wrote almost every episode of Babylon 5. But most importantly, he knew how to take a beating and NEVER BACK DOWN even when the big boys in the networks or the censorship brigades demanded that he change the basic story.

He never settles for less than the story he was made to write.

Of course, this strength had to come from somewhere. He went from having Superman in the comics save him as a kid to having saved Superman as an adult. I'm telling you, this man knows how to tell a FINE story. :)

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Saturday, October 10, 2020

To Hold Up the SkyTo Hold Up the Sky by Liu Cixin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having been a long-time fan of Liu Cixin, it isn't much of a surprise that I fell into his short story collection. That being said, I *have* read a number of these from within other collections. This may have affected my overall impression of the entire thing.

THAT being said, his stories ARE generally consistent. The strongest ones are the ones that mix high-SF with down-to-earth characterization. The most notable of these is the first story. The Villiage Teacher.

I admit I have a soft spot for the close ties to Chinese culture with the vast Space-Opera themes. If any of you have read his massive trilogy, you'll know what I mean.

Equally notable are the stories that pick up some mind-blowing technology themes. I feel lots of love with the crazy-cool universal dimensional stuff and string-computing (as opposed to regular quantum computing) but there's plenty of all of it to wet your chops.

Hard-SF is Cixin's forte. When he combines it with rather close-tied Chinese themes, including traditional poetry set against universe-shattering themes, I think he's pretty mind-blowing.

But I'll be honest here: Fewer than half of the stories in this collection thrilled me to death. They're decent and some are really good, but I prefer his longer fiction. By far.

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Sandman Slim (Sandman Slim, #1)Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So I just read this and now I have a big problem. I just want to go, "squeeeee squeeeee squeeeee" about the book, raving like a lunatic about how much I loved it, about how I had just found my next favorite UF series, but that doesn't actually SAY anything, you know?

But you know UFs. It's ALL about voice. The snark-meter is dinging all the time in this one.

I'm totally enjoying the fish-out-of-water vibe, too, but more than all the rest, it's like we got a grown-up, jaded Hogwarts alumni who had been sold out by his friends to Hell, was given special *refining* attentions in Hell's gladiator pits, and then eventually found his way back to Earth, 11 years later, to get a little payback.

Noir magic, folks. No side is on the side of the angels, even the angels. And everyone has an angle. The name is survival on the streets, ya'll, and Sandman Slim FITS with Los Angeles. All these elements are fantastic, but it's how Kadrey puts them together and tops it with a great voice that makes this sing.

Am I going to binge-read these?


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Friday, October 9, 2020

The Devil All the TimeThe Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can see where this one will draw a lot of fans. It has a very modern, clean prose feel to an old True Crime kind of tale, but just amp up the ultraviolence, make it FIT a very modern, jaded sensibility, and let it ride the '50s pain train.

Honestly, it was pretty fun. It may not have tickled all my jaded sensibilities and the total feel of "everyone is shit" pervades the tale, but for certain readers, THIS IS EVERYTHING. :)

I'll probably check out the Netflix adaptation now. :)

This did fit the Spooktober recipe, at least. :)

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Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Blood of the VampireThe Blood of the Vampire by Florence Marryat
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It just goes to show -- sometimes we all ought to go into our books with zero expectations.

I started this one looking at that interesting cover and looking at that interesting title and heard things like sexual mores and seduction and when it became clear that this was the OTHER vampire novel that came out the same year as Dracula (and fifty years after Varney the Vampire popularized the hell out of the meme) I kinda expected something sensational and daring and shocking for all those ladies with their swooning couches.

INSTEAD, we get something like a cross between Jane Eyre (quality as well, mind you,) and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, but set as something like a psychological and even broad-scientific rebuttal to Gilman's story's theme.

Say, huh?

The main character, a fish out of water, exploring her budding sexuality and feeling out of sorts with the stifling Victorian society, blames herself for all the strange tragedies going on around her. She takes it on herself, believing herself to be some kind of monster. A vampire.

We get an interesting mix of reasoning around genetics, social mores, psychological damage, expectations, and even a rather destructive and reactionary take on women's rights -- if we read rather deeper into the tale.

All those Freudian neuroses. This is a novel about turning the blame upon oneself. And it does a rather good job of convincing the reader, too.

For that, it's pretty scary. But while it DOES take on so many of the similar kinds of issues of the day, of the OTHER, of sexuality, like Dracula, it keeps the tale much closer to home and perhaps, for that reason, it might have been a bit more disturbing. Still, it is its own tale. :)

This is NOT something I'd recommend for, say, Spooktober.

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Last DaysLast Days by Brian Evenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I started reading this, I was struck by how much of a traditional mystery tale it was. You know, mean streets, investigation, quirky/disturbing personalities. Of course, by Evenson's own reckoning, he wanted to take traditional elements and put the knife to them.

In that regard, and thinking of this novel as an experiment really helps.

I mean, diving hand first into a mutilation cult is WEIRD.

Sorry, you fans of mutilation-cults. It's me, not you. But as for me, it was both absurd and disturbing and very, very, very allegorical. That part was fine.

Chop, chop, chop. The more you lose, the more you gain! But then, there's more in less, no? LOL.

Well, I guess there are worse ways to lose weight than losing a limb or two or four.

Aren't there?

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Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Kings of Heaven (Ash and Sand, #3)Kings of Heaven by Richard Nell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With the Ash and Sand trilogy's conclusion, I find I'm sad. All three books gave us an increasingly wider expanse of land, people, and scope.

After the interesting and rather vast setup in the first book and the surprising twist of characterization in the second, I expected something equally surprising to come out of the third. Getting a whole land, another empire, and a huge war is something of a bonus. Maybe I expected a rather huge twist to the characters, one more time. What I did get was quite satisfying, of course. I never expected Kale to be such a vengeful ghost. I really enjoyed Ruka's journey, his power, and his discoveries.

The other nation and its characters were fine. Quite horse-lordy, a mix between Rohan and Westeros, and I'm sure they will really appeal to a lot of readers. But I was more interested in Ruka and Kale. I think the best part of this was the ultimate spiritual journey.

Not that we read these particularly for that kind of journey, mind you, but I liked it. :)

Oh, and fighting like a boss god doesn't hurt.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Bone MotherThe Bone Mother by David Demchuk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 10/6/20:

As good the second time as the first! Definitely creepy and still rather unusual (for me!). Gotta love horrors coming right out of the Old World. :)

Original Review:

Oh, wow! I think I may have found my new favorite horror author!

Well, new for me, anyway. He's been around for many years but mostly as a short story artist. But after meeting him and listening to him speak at a convention, I knew I had to read his work. Sharp mind, deep horror sensibility. :) But even without meeting him, this book is an awesome treat.

Ukranian in flavor, we have all the Slavic influences at the fore. Each story in here makes up a much larger picture of the surrounding area filled with VERY creepy influences. You know, like the Night Police, parents eating their children, mass starvation, government-sponsored assassinations, children never growing up, Strigoi, old witches feeding children worms, and a dark mystery that weaves through every story in the best possible way.

Sound cool? It gets better. Demchuk has a WAY WITH WORDS. At first, I thought he was writing in a minimalist way, but it's better than that. He writes like poetry.

The rhythm to his writing is more than compelling. It takes over your heart and pumps your blood for you. I generally never get scared with horror books. Generally. But this one managed to burrow under my skin and wrap around my spine, making me twinge with every new creepy reveal.

I'm totally thrilled. It's like Angela Slater decided to focus on horror. :) My eyes are wide open, now. I'm going to keep a very sharp eye on this writer. :)

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Kings of Ash (Ash and Sand, #2)Kings of Ash by Richard Nell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finishing the second book in Ash and Sand is like falling down a rabbit hole.

I read the first book and enjoyed it quite a bit. It was ALL about character development, characters beefing up (magically, I should add), and a ton of reversals that really spotlight a pretty vibrant world of much character.

The second book flips a lot of my expectations and gives us a VERY deep exploration of a character I expected to be a villain. Only... well. No spoilers. Suffice to say, I'm VERY happy to be going here and enjoying this.

Kings of Ash seems to be a better book than the first. I say seems, but that could only be because I've already gotten to know the characters and the world and this only seems to be pure icing on that growing cake. In other words, I may not be able to judge, objectively, because I'm already a fan and I'm rocking to the grand magical tale of empire-building. This is less warrior-kings and more fledgling god-kings. :)

Yummy, yummy. :)

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Monday, October 5, 2020

RageRage by Richard Bachman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this way back in the day and then again now to mainly see if it still packed a punch or whether it was a bit more disturbing now after so many school shootings have come and gone in America.

Do we get more sensitized to things like this, or less?

Unfortunately, I couldn't find an answer. I spent most of my time feeling like the mid-'70s were an alternate dimension full of casual violence acceptance of it -- so long as you know the people doing the violence.

And isn't that always the way? What happens when you like guy, approve of the casual violence, and you buy into the whole scene because you're also jaded, cynical, and still a normal confused teenager?

How about the ultimate Florence Nightingale story, a hostage situation in a classroom, but hardly any of the teachers really feel like hostages? Indeed, they like the freedom.

Maybe THAT is the true horror of the situation. That any of us might fall into step with a truly outrageous nightmare that, at any other time, would have been unthinkable?

You know, like actively going out of your way to beat up protesters or participate in voter intimidation or just plain giving yourself permission to be your very worst self... because all your peers are getting into the swing of it, too.

Yes, I'm talking about peer pressure. And my goodness! Have we figured out that we don't have to be stupid teens in order to participate in it!?

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Sunday, October 4, 2020

World Engines: DestroyerWorld Engines: Destroyer by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a lot of ways, this is classic Clarkian SF complete with the classic big issue future history bent that is more concerned with the big issues along a planetary scale (from ecological fiction to future conservatory technology (including the disposition of AIs and future humans who learned to merely tolerate eath other to the disposition of the Solar System's survival)).

There's absolutely nothing wrong with this, but I will be the first to admit that I've seen a lot of it throughout the years. A lot of the same kinds of story tropes, too, including Baxter's somewhat infamous re-usable characters. (Yes, yes, they're all ALTERNATE UNIVERSE reincarnations, but still.)

Man out of time, sans the laughable OLD reasons for future heroism. That's fine, but also tricky.

I suppose what I really enjoyed about this Baxter was not the individual tropes individually, but the whole nostalgia factor. When we combine the subtle differences in the old whole Planet X theories, the multiple time-line crossovers, the examination of seeded life, the planetary engineering, and what it means to just CONTINUE, it becomes a much better book.

So what am I complaining about, then? Well, perhaps I didn't and have not really cared for THIS particular re-incarnation of the main character. Everything surrounding him and the subject matter was pretty okay, tho. This will never be my favorite Baxter, but the ideas are pretty sound and classically interesting without ever getting into the old problematic issues of much older SF. In this regard, it's pretty cool.

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 10/4/20:

FINALLY! I got to read the book with my daughter. In fact, she read a good large portion of it, herself. I'm proud of her. But honestly, I'm just happy and relieved that my girl likes magic.

Of course, she got to watch her daddy cry every time Neville did things and wonder WTF he had to stop to wipe away the tears.

It's a thing.

Oh, and she liked the book. It's good to know I don't have to trade her in for a functional daughter. :)

Original Review:

Harry Potter Re-Read with Buddies!

I think everyone knows the story. And pretty much everyone enjoys the kids, the adults, and the darkness of the tale.

I came late to enjoying it, turned off by the childish bookcover and my love of all things adult and nuanced, but I did come around to it. What really surprised me was the quality of the writing and the effortless nuance displayed AS IF it wasn't even a children's book. It didn't talk down or give platitudes. It just threw the kids in danger. (Or Dumbledore did. Again.) And let the world sort itself or not. Could we be seeing a version of survival of the fittest?

Okay, Harry. Here's your invisibility cloak. Go get into as much trouble as you can and I'll be sure to lead enough hints to get you into the worst of messes and lead you right to the person that killed your parents and who was barely unable to do the same to you. Have Fun!

Wait a second. This is a kid's book, right? It does happen to have a lot of the trappings. But what kind of sentiment is this? Let's throw the kids in the worst of dangers, shall we? Just turn a slightly blind eye. Put incompetents in charge of extremely powerful magical items and secrets. Hell, why not give eleven-year-olds the cruciatas curse? Sheesh. This school should get put under scrutiny by M.O.M.

And yet none of that mars my enjoyment. :) I like dark stuff. The fact that it has a somewhat happy ending despite knowing you know who is still out there is just icing on the cake.

Yeah. I'm a fanboy. I may not be a crazy potterhead, but I'll be honest. I've watched the movies like a gazillion times. :) There's just a spark of greatness, you know?

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Saturday, October 3, 2020

Varney the Vampyre: or, The Feast of Blood, Part 1Varney the Vampyre: or, The Feast of Blood, Part 1 by James Malcolm Rymer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am conflicted about this work. I mean, I *KNEW* it was a Penny Dreadful series during the same time of Dickens, the equivalent of today's Twilight or 50 Shades, and no one would ever mistake it for high literature.

It was sensational, full of bodice-ripping, bloodlust, revenge, mobs, high adventure on the seas, and a snarky villain.

So... wait... it sounds rather MODERN.

Well, yes, in a way. Just not in the way it was written. It was hugely popular THEN and rode the early, early wave of vampire mania 50 years before Dracula made the genre halfway respectable.

Yes, Varney makes Dracula look immensely respectable.

But for all the things Varney is, I keep thinking of the classic dawn-of-movies vampire tales like Nosferatu, the images of all the very worst b-movie trash vampire movies since then, and even the spitting image of Anne Rice's Lestat, (albeit with a LOT less nuance or charm).

I swear, it's almost like EVERYONE that came after looked at Varney and said to themselves, Wow, this is FUN but I really kinda hate how much the WRITING is like trash... I need to remake it! :)

I don't hate this book. I think some parts are rather awesome. Some... made me groan, yawn, and want to strangle the idiots... ALL the idiots. And yet, some parts are rather awesome.

So! Total props for being the hugely popular START of the vampire craze, but the writing?

Muahahahahaha... OH, THE ADVERBS...

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Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld, #41; Tiffany Aching, #5)The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 10/1/10:

Just now having finished a full Discworld re-read, I have to admit I'm still misty-eyed and depressed.
Yes, by now it is 3/4 nostalgia and 1/4 hats-off respect, but the slider continually slides, and the sadness remains.

That being said -- Well done, Tiffany. It's a fine cottage and you have fine boots and I truly respect your third and fourth thoughts. Well done, indeed.

Original Review:

If anyone has been reading this far in the series, they must be very, very sad that Sir Terry passed away, and this, his very last novel, is all we have left. I am sad. I am very sad. And after the first few chapters, I got even sadder, because he was writing his own requiem in these scenes.

It was scary and sad and so appropriate. And then it passed, to flow into Tiffany Aching's fifth, delightful, tale.

If you're familiar, you know she's no longer a witch's apprentice, she's a full witch and she's stepping up. And of course, adventure happens. Delightful adventure and something that is a very familiar theme also happen, as it always happens in these Discworld books... People who don't belong in professions start showing up and demanding to do something that they shouldn't be fit to do.

A BOY WITCH? I mean, sure, a girl did it with the Wizards and that seemed to work out all right, but a BOY? No Way.

And then there's that whole thing with the elves facing off with an epic battle against the denizens of the land, with wee men and witches squaring off against the mean glamourists... but no one's interested in that, are they?

The BOY has a GOAT! And can you believe he's pretty decent on a broom? Lordy... what is Discworld coming to? A satisfying end? With a delightful sense of wonder and humor and nostalgia?

Why yes, it did come to that. *wipes a tear away from his face*

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The Trouble with Peace (The Age of Madness, #2)The Trouble with Peace by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After the first book in The Age of Madness, I expected great things to come from this broken and confused little kingdom, but I expected more out of my new favorite characters -- those flawed, nuanced, crazily confused little nightmares of young people never quite knowing what they should be doing.

Mind you, I don't blame the author for the characters not being engaging and fascinating, because they most certainly are. I root for all of them even when I want to slap them up the side of their heads.

Or at least, I USED to.

Other than Orso, I'm ready to snarl at the rest of them and yell, "What the hell were you thinking!!!"

I guess that's a sign that the book is pretty good.

Oh, yes, there's lots of intrigues, battle prep, treason, BATTLE, and more BATTLE. This book really polarized me as a reader. And not in a bad way, either. I got very anxious, disgusted, and upset.

For an author known for being a Grimdark Epic Fantasy writer, it just goes to show: he knows his audience.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Battle Ground (The Dresden Files, #17)Battle Ground by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Words nearly fail me.

Even as I read this book, I was stunned into silence. (You know, one of those deep, inner-monologue silences that radiate deeply inward so much that I could hear a mental pin drop from forty mental yards.)

I knew, from the prior book, that we were preparing for WAR. The outsiders were coming. All supernaturals, gods, Fae, and even normal folk were being called to battle. It is ALL of Chicago on the line.

What I didn't expect was for Jim Butcher to pull an all-out Epic Fantasy battle against a freaking Titan, including massive damage to the city, the allies, or to Harry, himself. You know what came to mind? Butcher's Caldera novels. Huge scope, fantastic action, magic, and glory. Now blend that in with ALL our most beloved characters from the Dresden Files. Put EVERYONE on the field of battle.

I mean, it's only the fabric of reality that's at stake. The stakes aren't THAT high.

And then expect a novel that doesn't let up. At all.

And even when the main battle is done, that inner silence remains.

Let me be honest here: I cried like a little baby during this book. Many times. I was too shocked. Too... well... maybe words do fail me, after all.

Even now, I'm crying as I write this review.

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Monday, September 28, 2020

Raising Steam (Discworld, #40, Moist von Lipwig #3)Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read 9/28/20:

It turns out I liked this novel better the second time I read it, so I just had to give it an extra star. *sigh* I love Moist. And I really didn't mind the whole Dwarvish issue as much this time. It was genuinely funny this time.

I guess it just goes to show... sometimes we change as people. Sometimes a warm reaction can turn into something rather hotter. But then, maybe I'm just anticipating the end of all these novels. ; ;

Original review:

Welcome the age of reason, one and all, and see how math can be personified in the shape of steam inside a kettle.

The enthusiasm that overflowed the novel was joyful and catching, sweeping up so many long-standard pillars of Discworld and carrying them all into the future. It was a good end, if, indeed, it is the end. The cameos of so many characters lent it that inevitable feel. I don't know, since I haven't been keeping up with any official statements or the desires of Mr. Pratchett, but my intuition tells me he's wrapping things up.

The novel, while skimming over events so quickly as to be nothing more than steam, still showed us how fast the world could change, and how irrevocably it did so.

Not my favorite Discworld novel, I was still thoroughly amused by Mr. Moist, who is one of my favorite characters.

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PiranesiPiranesi by Susanna Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


From the start of this book to the finish, we are transported into a truly enormous house full of sunken rooms, many statues, fish, and birds -- a realm of nature, and an impossibly huge house.

Our narrator, far from being a prime candidate for truly reliable storytelling, is nonetheless a very objective and careful natural philosopher. The descriptions of this world are beyond beautiful.

Only one other, if you don't count 13 corpses, is his company during most of the novel. The Other is also a scientist of a sort, but he is more interested in the deeper pathways of magic.

I'll tell you though -- this book may not have any outright magic, but we are still steeped in it. It's not merely the descriptions, but these are the core of it. I was frankly blown away from the birds hopping between the statues. The idea that we can see nature as a world that is constantly communicating with us, that we can negotiate with, made me believe that we were either in the deep past or in the realm of the Fae. And more than anything, I just wanted to know what this world was, what was going on, and what was the true mystery.

Beyond this, I will not say, because it is the journey that truly counts.

I still feel the magic here. Hell, I feel the magic and the magick, for make no mistake, there is plenty of both in these pages. :)

This is a real treat for both natural philosophers and metaphysicians.

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Sunday, September 27, 2020

A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness, #1)A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read three other novels by Abercrombie and I was thrilled to see just how much grimdark fantasy has exploited the field of normal epic fantasy back in the day. I was IMPRESSED by the number of vibrant characters, the grit, darkness, the blood, and the feeling of utter hopelessness in the face of ridiculous odds.

I mean, we're all used to this kind of thing, aren't we? Now? Well, some novels capture the need to root for these characters at all costs, and Abercrombie is one of the best in the field.

Hopping into this new trilogy of his was something of a no-brainer. I mean, yes, I have to psych myself up for the grimdark aspects, but once I cracked the spine, it was the easiest decision I could have made. I got sucked right into the story. New characters, a few great walk-ons for old characters, but most importantly, a thrilling new story that catapults the kingdom into a truly delightful (if horrible) conflict.

It's the coming of the industrial age. Economics woes meet displaced workers as they knock heads with machine workers that do the jobs better. The worldbuilding is complex and timely (or universal if you take in the last 200+ years) and I found myself rooting for every side in the conflict.

This is a pretty awesome feat. I love it when authors refuse to give us clear-cut enemies. Instead, we have many wonderfully drawn characters standing on different lines, bloody and atrocious battles being waged, and the classic idealism vs opportunism motif.

I fell for this novel pretty hard. I really got into it.

Great characters, complex society and so many grey areas, and even love stories that I seriously love amidst all the hell. I'm all over this. It reminds me of the heyday of SoIaF but with characters I feel a bit MORE for. *ducks*

I'm quite pleased, indeed.

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Saturday, September 26, 2020

FerociousFerocious by Jeff Strand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes books like this are a breath of fresh air.

You know, a dash of humor and a whole forest full of undead animals, scary squirrels, and riding bronco bears. *yes, I know that ain't a thing*

It's all about the dismemberments, man. It's all about the dismemberments.

And THIS is why I can never have a normal conversation again.

This is a great start to spooky October. But since this is 2020, we all know that everything is out of whack. That's why October starts in September... so fake horror can replace real horror to make us all feel comfortable and secure in a totally fake world.

Be sure to wave bye-bye to all the undead animals, ya'll! ;)

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An American StoryAn American Story by Mark Lages
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book about normal people for normal people.

The fact that it is written in a fairly experimental way that eschews plot and even theme shouldn't dissuade anyone from reading this. It's vignettes upon vignettes, illustrating America and American life not as Dos Pasos would do it, but as if a normal, average man would portray it from within the heart of America.

This includes modernish issues, from the nature of war or religion or sobriety or cheating or the nature of work, itself, but aside from the sobriety bits, the center of the text never quite butts up against the vital reality of them EXCEPT when it comes to addiction.

All in all, it's a book about a life, told in mini-theme snippets, that does a lot of light moralizing. It's not bad, but perhaps it wasn't quite for me. Mileage for others might vary.

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Friday, September 25, 2020

Past MasterPast Master by R.A. Lafferty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's 1967. Most SF is generally steeped in a light-adventure mythos. Some are more tech-heavy, but around this time, most are leaning toward sociological SF constructs. Let's face it -- those were the times.

But when we have a fish-out-of-the-water novel that includes the famous Thomas Moore, the writer of Utopia, being turned into a front-man for far-future utopians to fix their broken world, the novel only *appears* to fit in the standard SF mold.

I mean, it's not like SF novels haven't tackled utopias before. Nor have they ignored Thomas Moore's own SF *SATIRE* from back in King Henry VIII's time. It's almost like Thomas Moore's own character was being used as a reasonable foil for his own satirical vision, flip-flopping back and forth between Hope and Disgust.

And it is. But there is something else that goes on this book that kinda blew my mind. I can totally get that most people might not see or care about it, but this particular book turned the popular medium of satire SF into a treatise on MYSTERY RELIGIONS.

I honestly laughed out loud as I read point after point. Right below the surface of the adventure, Lafferty was laying out something rather fundamental and somewhat universal. Okay. So. What the F am I talking about?

Hey! All you fans of The Golden Bough, Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz: Digest, or The Secret Teachings of All Ages! Lafferty OUTLINES in his plots the basic foundations of these mystery religions!

Being familiar with them, myself, I really enjoyed the deeper mysteries within THIS ONE.

And that's kinda the whole idea isn't it?

Past Masters refers to actual PAST MASTERS. Giants of thought. And it's funny, too, when we consider the Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz, one of the original subversive literary ALCHEMICAL masterworks of the day, that it should feature under the surface of a completely transformed social society, only to be fixed (or turned into a Rosecrutian allegory) BY one of the great minds that dabbled IN alchemy back in the day!

But what, you ask, would an Average Joe get out of this book?

Probably a great deal, assuming you know it's a clear and easy blueprint for the Greater Mysteries and not simply a light, easy SF tale from the '60s.

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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A LifeRuth Bader Ginsburg: A Life by Jane Sherron De Hart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I generally avoid speaking directly about political issues in my public life, but recent events have made me reconsider my stance.

I always considered myself a rather balanced person and I am STILL always willing to consider dissenting opinions on any subject so long as they are well-formed, respectful, and not explicitly designed to incite violent reactions.

I am American by birth, ideology, and natural gravity even if I no longer live within its borders. That doesn't mean I remain unmoved or less deeply invested in the amazing devolution of my home country.

I am an avid reader of news articles, social media, and I pay close attention to political trends, big decisions, and all the implications. I've been doing it since the late '80s. I never wanted to side with any particular party because none were all that admirable. So I kept my eyes open, tried to remain objective, and made up my mind on individual issues throughout current events and events from history that NEVER SEEM TO HAVE AN END.

One thing I can say, however, is that I've always respected Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Everything she stood for, fought for, and cleverly defended, I can easily say, "She speaks for me."

This book tells me, in particular, nothing new about the big judgments, from women's rights to modern-version desegregation. Nor does it lessen the horror that I feel, as RBG felt, to the devaluation of human life, the loss of reproductive rights, or the loss of the separation of church and state.

It does, however, re-instill an urgency, an immediacy, and the necessity to FIGHT FOR WHAT WE BELIEVE IN.

Me, I believe in cooperation, honesty, real justice, equality, and inclusiveness. I never thought I'd have to even SAY it. I thought, as an American, that all of that was a GIVEN.

It isn't.

Not by a long shot.

And if you know and respect RBG, you know how close to the edge we all stand before we lose it all.

Work together. Think together. Do everything we can to protect our liberties. We're all in this together. Don't let the few dictate the reality of our good majority.

Losing RBG was hard enough. We must all step up and be rational. Think strategically. Look toward the long-term goal. Don't let the Machiavellians drag the rest of us through the mud.


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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Rational Male - Positive MasculinityThe Rational Male - Positive Masculinity by Rollo Tomassi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


**The act or practice of seeking a spouse of higher socioeconomic status, or caste status than oneself.**

Let me be very clear here. There are a LOT of interesting ideas rolling around within this book and almost all of them have *TM* words associated with them, but Hypergamy is one of the biggest takeaways I've seen.

So what's the context? I mean, other than the fact that about a million women want to murder Rollo Tomassi for speaking his mind. What could be so damning?

The term of the Red Pill. In general, it's taken from the Matrix and it always blows your mind and it can be applied to just about anything, but in this context, it's about waking up to the fact that women have different sexual agendas than men. Specifically, it's the double standard of women's agendas with respect to men.

Let's keep it simple here without going into actual history, tons of studies, evolutionary psychology, legal precedence, massive observational correlations, or the gut feeling that most men nowadays have that SOMETHING IS VERY WRONG.

I'll just lay out the idea of Hypergamy. It can apply to men as well as women, but in general, the tables have been flipped. The last sixty years have given us a nearly unending stream of media that celebrates female sexuality in any of its forms, telling them to get their rocks off when they're young and then settle down with the *dependable* man when their sexiness declines. A perceptive person would note that this was the male ideal BEFORE that time period, and aside from a brief macho period in the '70s that quickly became derision for men in the '80s, the tables have turned.

Hypergamy, in the vernacular, is "always trade up when the opportunity presents itself".

Men who know what they want and plan for success are generally regarded as alpha males. They are the ones who ignore verbal narratives and act and behave in ways that are aligned with observable reality. They tend to eschew talk of soul-mates, softness in relationships, cuddly-feely emotionality.

Since biology predisposes women to feel heavy sexual attraction to males who know what they want and who plan for success, alphas are the ones who always tend to get the most women for practically no cost in terms of investment, intellectualism, emotionalism, or even care. These are the truly sexy ones and they always tend to ignore the feminist narrative that SAYS men should put in tons of investment, intellectualism, and emotionalism, and care in order to appease a woman.

Note, this statement is backed up by science, massive observations of real people, and (almost universally) in popular media.

The other kind of male is the beta male. These are the men who have grown up in an obviously feminist-dominated society, who were caught in the feminist narrative as children and bought it, hook, line, and sinker. The author notes that 80% of men are betas. These are the men who bought the idealized version of what they thought women wanted out of men. The ones who believe in soul-mates, true friendships, true equality, and believe (mostly because they are told to, repeatedly,) that women are smarter, stronger, and more capable than men.

Does this sound familiar? I think most men will agree -- if pressed -- and definitely not in the presence of anyone who might let it slip -- that something is very wrong. Men are collectively demonized as a whole sex.

And this is reasoning is used as justification for demonizing a whole sex.

Why would women do this? It's simple: it protects them from having to look at the things they believe about themselves.

Have fun in your youth and then settle down used to be the narrative of what men were taught to believe.

In this case, specifically, have fun with the bad boys (the ones who refuse to get down with the feminist narrative), and then dump them because they don't provide long-term stability. Marry the beta-choice, the one that doesn't truly stimulate you, and make sure he knows that he's a second-class citizen and that you always have someone else lined up on the sides if he doesn't stay cowed. Fortunately, most men are thoroughly indoctrinated to accept this. A man's self-worth is determined by how well he can provide for the family. The expectation is that he gets all the sex he wants within this stable arrangement. But here's the thing: women's behavior, in general, doesn't align with the narrative.

They drop the alphas that don't magically become subservient to the narrative once women are beyond their sexual prime. They actively start looking for the men who will be able to tow the narrative line, provide for them (despite being told constantly that they are just as good as men in everything, or better). This happens between ages 29-32. The second-best choice is beta men.

How many times have women complained that there aren't any good men out there?

Here's the breakdown, adjusted for an idealized equal playing field where both the men and women are otherwise equally desirable. Women are turned on by the anti-feminist narrative men but these same men are not good marriage material. The ones who ARE good marriage material don't turn them on. Just look at the dominance fantasies in romance literature if you don't believe me.

Of course, once you get beyond this point, it's in a woman's best interest to double down on the feminist narrative and make sure that this beta man is completely cowed and accepting of any and every decision you make, or he might wake up one day to realize that he was always the second-best choice.

Maintain the power differential. He must provide, he must defer all parenting decisions, and he can't even dissent in an argument. How many "Yes, dear" men are out there? It is not a small number.

Laws are designed to always side with the women. One example: 1 million men in the USA are forced to provide for children who aren't theirs. Let's get real here. That's called cuckoldry. There are very few support groups for men who have either been raped, need mental health assistance, who need pro-bono legal support in bad divorces, and the law even supports keeping genetic-data sealed from men on the assumption that it would be "bad for the children".

This is only one facet of a much larger problem. Of course, men know there is a problem. It's obvious when you see that men are 4-6 times more likely to commit suicide than women. The problem is REAL, it is PRESSING, and it is tragic.

The real issue, described here and with multiple resources within this book, (and others I myself could name), is whether or not we are able to SEE that there is a problem. Tomassi uses the term Red Pill constantly for this very reason.

And all of this is mostly just an aside within this particular book. It is an important aside, but it's still an aside.

What did I think of this book, aside from the important ideas inside it?

I love the insistence that the whole subject should remain apolitical. I agree with this. It affects all men and should not be conflated with any other designation EVEN IF it disproportionally condemns, say, black men, more intensely than it does white men. The problem is becoming more universal every single day.

THAT BEING SAID. The way this particular book is written reminds me of Tom Cruise's character in the movie Magnolia. It does bring up a ton of interesting and/or valid points, but it does not and frankly cannot capture the spirit or the scope of the problem. And while I DO believe it brings up some excellent points against egalitarianism in favor of complementarianism, the WAY it is written makes it sound like it's trying to sell something... which, of course, it is.

Even Trinity and Morpheus needed to seduce Neo into taking the Red Pill, and he backslid quite a bit.

Suffice to say, while this book is not perfect, it is still a very important kind of book to be reading.

And I mean that for both MEN AND WOMEN.

Not all women buy into the feminist narrative. And by this, let's be very clear: I don't think anyone alive has a problem with first and second wave Feminism. It's the third wave we should all be very skeptical about.

Let's open discussions! No name-calling, no shaming, no dehumanization, please.

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