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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Wintersmith (Discworld, #35; Tiffany Aching, #3)Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How very, very interesting.

When I read these novels the first time, I never paid much attention to anything over and above the worldbuilding or character development going on across all the novels or within individual ones. And honestly, that IS enough, with all the humor, classy fantasy, and heart going on.

In this novel, we have the classic tale of Orpheus and Euridice and/or Persephone and Hades. It's winter and summer, yo! But with Tiffany Aching doing a bit of a dance and having to deal with a pretty nice boy who happens to be an elemental.

But on this read, and having more of Terry Pratchett's life in my sights, and especially how the very last novels brought his decline and saying goodbye to the fore, something snuck up on me and bit me in the ass.

This was published in 2006. Terry Pratchett announced to the world how he had a rare form of Alzheimer’s in 2007. I wasn't expecting ANYTHING hinky as I re-read this book, but damn if it didn't catch me anyway.

This book has many hints in it that he was fully aware of his condition. He even spends a lot of his time working out his position, his feelings, and how he intended to fight. Almost the entire novel lends itself to a very clear personal interpretation, from the obvious elements of going into the underworld to losing one's memory and the even more obvious connection to perception and preoccupation with perception. The diagnosis WAS about his atrophying visual cortex. And of course, he was contemplating his eventual death, coming to grips with it.

So what do we think now about the witch who became a myth of herself?

Ah, yes, indeed, Mr. Terry.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Third Grave Dead Ahead (Charley Davidson, #3)Third Grave Dead Ahead by Darynda Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

UF goodness continues.

No, Charlie isn't Gaiman's Death, nor is she a Reaper from Bleach. She IS, however, an Unknown Quantity who still believes she's Normal Folk.

That, with the snark and the UF goodness of solving murders with supernatural powers, the wicked (often truly so) reveals from people she trusts the most, and the whole general STAY AWAKE AT ALL COSTS vibe... it manages to come down to earth quite nicely.

That, and I don't blame her son-of-Satan boyfriend for being super pissed at her. Or for her being super pissed at him. Different reasons, different times, but damn... AT LEAST THEY STILL HAVE CHEMISTRY. :)

I'm having a really good time with this.

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Blood Cross (Jane Yellowrock, #2)Blood Cross by Faith Hunter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The series is getting better and no longer quite follows the paths already trailblazed by many other UFs. That's not to say that it doesn't borrow heavily from one source or another, because it does, but HOW it is all put together means everything.

And I likey.

The writing is quite fun and the pacing is particularly delicious, but it's the worldbuilding, the history of the magic users, and especially the vampires that make this stand out. For all you other kinds of fans of the genre who are in it for the sexytimes, there's plenty here to enjoy, but for me, I appreciated how judicious it was applied. We weren't thrown into deadly battles only to get naked in the next moment without good reason or consideration of circumstance. WEIRD, no?

I'm really enjoying the series. I love the implications. I also can't help but wonder if it borrowed from Jim Butcher's earlier take on demons and applied it to vampires, but that's okay. The ideas are still COOL.

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Monday, April 27, 2020

DeeplightDeeplight by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've got to hand it to Hardinge. When she decides to do some worldbuilding, she dives deep. And in this case, I mean that literally.

The world is recovering after sea gods destroyed it several decades past and the remnants eke out a hard survival among the waters and the islands. I was fascinated to discover this world and get embroiled in some rather dangerous situations that turn out badly (as stories always do), but I was even more interested in the cool twists that came about soon after a certain heart showed up.

I love echoes of Cthulhu and deep-sea gods and deals with a devil. But more than that, I LOVE stories. Especially stories within stories--or in this case, a storyteller who survives by telling tales--and how he does it by NOT going about the traditional bard route. :)

I admit I didn't absolutely LOVE this book until we were getting to the big action near the end, but between that and the final resolution, I was VERY satisfied. It pushed all my buttons.

I'd call this one a solid 4.5 stars. :)

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Second Grave on the Left (Charley Davidson, #2)Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Grim Reaper as a snarky PI chick who is in love with the (misunderstood) son of Satan?

Yep. This UF is proof that I've jumped off the deep end. I'm swimming with the tide.

Good thing I'm enjoying it a great deal! It has romance, mystery, and extra, super-duper helpings of New Mexico.

All those bumper stickers referred to in the text? The funny ones like "All you have to fear is fear itself (and spiders)"? I used to browse those ALL the time in our local, grand old bookstores. Specialty bookstores. GAMING bookstores. :) Ah, to have an active imagination. :)

I felt New Mexico pouring out of the page. :) So fun! :)

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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Skinwalker (Jane Yellowrock, #1)Skinwalker by Faith Hunter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm on a UF kick again. I'm trying out a bunch of titles to see what grabs me. Or hunts me. Or toys with me, or makes me play buddy-buddy with the cops, vamps, and trolls.

One could say that most of these UFs are somewhat formulaic. And it's true. But it's also equally true for the entire genre of mystery which this so closely resembles. AND THAT'S OKAY. What matters is that we have fun.

And I definitely had fun. More fun than I've had in quite some time.

I've had a so-so relationship with werewolves in UF. I tolerate them or hope they just... go away... in a gore-strewn mess.

Happily, the Skinwalker in this one isn't really a were! She's a Shapechanger! Wooo! And I was very pleased with how she was handled. All the page-time devoted to smells?


And as for the rest of the mystery, vamp, and snark elements? They're all familiar, fun, and several of these elements definitely KICK ASS.

Let's not forget the most important element: it must flow. It has to have spirit and spunk and it should never get boring. Ever.

I think it's safe to say this succeeds very, very nicely. :)

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Saturday, April 25, 2020

First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson, #1)First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm currently on the hunt for some good UF. I've already devoured so many, that by now, I waver between finding something original and something that has that fantastic popcorn flavor.

I am settling for great taste, fun humor, and snark, snark, snark.

It doesn't hurt *At All* that it takes place in my old stomping grounds in Albuquerque, NM. It also doesn't hurt that it's NOT werewolves or vampires, but the Grim Reaper herself.

She has style. A sex drive. And while she complains about helping those lost ghosts, she always does the right thing. I have to like that.

But first and foremost, this is a good mystery novel. It has all the delicious elements, the dark histories, and the steamy present. The dead -- well, the dead don't take care of themselves, but that's the whole point of this novel. :)

I'm home.

I'm going all goth for this. :)

I'll keep my eyes out for the uber original, but for the moment, I'm just having a lot of fun.

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Within the Sanctuary of Wings (The Memoirs of Lady Trent, #5)Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A solid end to a solid series.

Who knew that a lady of *ahem* advancing years should be so handy in the heights of those daunting, deserted mountains!

No spoilers, but there is a somewhat sensationalist and predictable twist in the core of this book. It reminds me fondly of ... just about any big-name adventure book to come out of the late Victorian time period.

But that's a GOOD thing. The spirit that's evoked in these novels is meant to conjure the ghosts of many tweed adventurers. It succeeds in exactly what it sets out to do. :)

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Friday, April 24, 2020

In the Labyrinth of Drakes (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #4)In the Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is it really bad that the romance in a tale about heading to the desert to find dragons and special archeology related to dragons is rather a secondary concern? And that's including violence, culture shock, and a bunch of interesting action?

Maybe. Maybe not! But for such a light fare of adventure in the old style with old-style propriety concerns and a very distinctive Victorian feel, I certainly can't complain.

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The Voyage of the Basilisk (The Memoirs of Lady Trent, #3)The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These Lady Trent novels are consistently interesting.

I admit I was becoming slightly afraid that the political intrigues might overwhelm the otherwise cool archeological or evolutionary science bits, but this book turned it around for me.

A voyage on the high seas! Spending a lot of time with Pacific Islanders! Getting married? lol, well, that was a blast. And let's not forget the dragon spirit!

Lite fun, it's very much in the spirit of tweed adventurers around the world! Academic fury! Dragons!

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Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Tropic of Serpents (The Memoirs of Lady Trent, #2)The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The continuation of the Lady Naturalist by way of her memoir progresses as one might expect: a brief, lightning-fast 3-year recovery back at home and then the announcement of another trip to study DRAGONS.

This time, in the jungle. The tropics.

For the most part, I enjoyed the tale on the same level I usually enjoy popcorn fiction of any ilk. It's never very difficult, it's full of sensationalist elements, and it focuses on adventure.

Indeed, it's the adventure, including all the illnesses, broken bones, and getting tied up and needing to escape one or another band of locals that takes up most of the tale. Add in a little political intrigue, a smattering of dragons, and what we've really got here is a tale of character building and culture clash.

It's lite fare, but there's nothing wrong with that. I did appreciate the focus on HELPING the natives rather than EXPLOITING them. ;)

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to StrategyA Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy by Miyamoto Musashi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't believe I never read this before now, but damn, HAVING read it now, I also appreciate it more.

Huh? Am I learning the way of the blade, wanting to defeat my foes from first principles and needing someone from many hundreds of years ago to tell me to EXPLORE THE PRACTICE DEEPLY? Yes? Practice it a LOT?

No. I'm not picking up a blade, and I'm not reading this from the PoV of some modern businessman wanting to get one-up on my competition, but I sure as hell got a LOT out of this.

You can say that it can be distilled down into a version of Buddhism, or you can say the essence is Fire, Wind, Water, and Stone, plus The Emptiness. But saying so doesn't explain a damn thing, nor does it teach anyone what is really beneath the words in this very clear text.

It does, however, lend itself WONDERFULLY to metaphor. Analogy.

I mean, of COURSE you're supposed to aim for the face. It always makes them flinch.

Of course you're supposed to dominate the battlefield with your own timing, never losing momentum, and always face your opponents with courage.

Pay attention to everything. Use everything.

But above all, heed the path of the Emptiness. Stop assuming shit! Learn your lessons well, always be honest with yourself, and never stop facing -- absolutely everything.

I think I'm going to buy this in a very nice edition and place it within my reach everywhere I go. It's that good. After all, minds ARE blades.

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The Hidden Girl and Other StoriesThe Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ken Liu is becoming one of my favorite short story writers. It's one thing to drop names like Harlan Ellison or Ted Chiang, but it's another thing to see such stories rise up out of so many other writers and still stick with you after years.

I guess I've been blessed to read a number of these stories from other collections, and it's great to find out that reading them again is still a pleasure. For the most part, the tone of the tales moves away from Chinese mythology or the social bits or the horrors of history or the direction things are taking in terms of China (as was the case in Paper Menagerie), and we see a lot more pure science-fiction goodies that deal with my personal favorite subjects:

The Singularity! There's a trio of stories in here that belong together and they thrilled me. There's a lot more going on with future life, uploads, ecological conservation, and even the future of art.

All of these stories are fascinating and there wasn't a dull one in the bunch.

But that's not all. Whenever Ken Liu writes fantasy, it's always as delicious as hell. I really got into the action and the adventure and if I was going to complain about anything, it's the fact I don't get to read whole novels set in these worlds. :)

My favorites:

Thoughts and Prayers - the dark underbelly of news and information filters.

Byzantine Empathy - A truly fun story detailing some rather cool possible virtual reality economics.

The Gods Will Not Be Chained, The Gods Will Not Be Slain, The Gods Have Not Died In Vain - the trio of Singularity stories, but not the only ones in this collection! So delicious.

Hidden Girl - A truly GREAT fantasy I would give anything to read more within.

Seven Birthdays - Gimmie a truly massive future history, please! Reminds me of a much-updated Asimov story. :)

The Message - This one really tugged on my heartstrings. Truly tragic, wonderful.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Human (Rise of the Jain #3)The Human by Neal Asher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, wow, wow.

This third book in this trilogy more than satisfied, it blew my mind.

The first two books in the trilogy brought in so many awesome story elements and high-tech goodies (and extremely low-tech Spatterjay ones) that the whole story served as a melting pot of all the most outrageously dangerous elements... only to throw them all at the even MORE outrageous Jain tech.

The Soldier referred to a nearly impossibly strong Jain soldier, The Warship ramped up the threat level to unimaginably powerful levels, and this book, The Human, is deceptive in its title...

Because it's actually a full throw-down NASTY battle that brought in every AI battleship including Earth Central itself, the whole Prador Kingdom, and it even forced our clever little subversive Jain-tech provocateur into pulling out all the stops, transforming a whole damn planet to fight the threat.


And guess who gets trounced?


This has got to be some of the most freakishly awesome high-tech nightmare scenarios set in the far-future that I've ever read.

It requires a LOT of build-up from all the earlier novels, but damn is it WORTH it! All the previous incursions of Jain, or Dragon, or anything related to the AI ships, of Spatterjay, or even the truly great inclusions of Pennyroyal all lend itself to the making of this amazing blow-out.

I can never recommend reading this on its own, but for the fans that have come this far?

Pure Nirvana.

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Monday, April 20, 2020

Miss AustenMiss Austen by Gill Hornby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a companion piece to Jane Austen's life, as told through her sister Cass, this novelization performs a kind of alchemy, a pretty recollection of biography told in a proper regency-romance style.

For everything it achieves, bringing Jane and her sisters to life, it does well, but I have a single quibble:

As fans, we're ALL set to sink our teeth into the juiciest mystery of all: the reason why the personal letters were burned!

No spoilers. But I will mention that I was slightly... let down. For how well the characters of these real-life personages were portrayed, I think I rather expected something a bit more extraordinary. On the other hand, it DOES fit.

No real complaints here, but I will mention that I prefer Jane Austen's actual novels more. :)

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Sunday, April 19, 2020

UranusUranus by Ben Bova
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been reading SF for a long time and I've seen Ben Bova's name on the bookshelves all the time... or at least I used to... and yet I never once picked up a copy. So strange.

So when I saw that Bova had a new book on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance.

I've had this impression of his novels as a series of colonization pieces set across the solar system, and Uranus certainly fits that description.

But honestly? I expected more along the lines of keeping the habitat functional and the personal heroism of a few or a group... just not this.

It was notably light on science. And the story had this prostitute with a heart of gold thing going on, not to mention... get this... an honestly good preacher-man gathering up a number of the despondent, taking them away from their bad old lives... to Uranus. Hmm. It's almost like I read a novel version of a Saturday afternoon made-for-TV B-Movie. It wasn't bad, but it was definitely average. Not meh, but we have a colony funded on nefarious deeds and then it fights its own corruption and... it's... revolution-lite.

All the elements are there, including some I really do like, but the storytelling is definitely formula.

That's not to say it's all average, however. Two parts were actually rather cool, but the coolness comes from the ideas behind them rather than the way they're brought into the full story.

Want to know why Uranus is so messed up, compared to the rest of the Solar System? (Good stuff.)
How about seeing a Satyagraha treatment on the page? (Also good stuff.)

However... while the last bit suffers a bit in execution, it's still MOSTLY pretty good. At least in spirit.

I won't say this is a great novel or anything more than an average one, but it has sparked my interest in finding some of the author's very best works and trying them out as a comparison.

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Saturday, April 18, 2020

Into EverywhereInto Everywhere by Paul McAuley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an extremely fascinating SF novel that does more for fans of SF in general than 200 of its ilk.

What do I mean?

It not only has a very cool Tomb Raider type story with a ton of alien ghosts (or ghosts in the machine) weird AI or virus type aliens, and 15 gifted worlds for humans to do as they please, but it also is a novel that is one huge, ongoing easter egg for FANS of SF.

By no means is this a hard-to-follow novel if you don't get all the references. It just means you'll be awash in wonderful and strange ideas, often in the background, but sometimes up in your face. Wormhole networks, ancient aliens, and inscrutable truly-alien aliens that have learned US so freakishly well that they fit right in without ever (or mostly never) show their true colors.

What kind of species would ever just GIVE AWAY fifteen star systems to us? The Jackaroo is as much a mystery as the alien ghosts or the Elder tech.

What we have here is a very interesting archeological (or rather less official) series of adventures that are far from being formulaic. Indeed, the characters are fascinatingly complex and in to0 deep. :)

You can read this as a standalone, but I would recommend reading Something Coming Through first. I'm very impressed with this SF, either way. The devil is in the details and I absolutely adored the worldbuilding.

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Friday, April 17, 2020

Something Coming ThroughSomething Coming Through by Paul McAuley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a surprisingly deep and interesting SF novel that is very rich in worldbuilding. The core plot is very much a traditional Noir mystery, but the inclusion of so many great alien elements including 15 gifted planets, a whole wide slew of problems related to invasive, unintentional cultural and biota contaminants, and the usual, normal human cussedness of trying to profit on the whole chaotic mess turns this into one hell of an interesting tale.

As I was reading it, I was thinking fondly of the movie, District 9, and as fondly of Rosewater for much the same reasons.

It's rich, wildly creative, original, and not afraid to go all-out on the strange bits.

I miss this kind of novel. The kind that doesn't constantly re-use the same old plots, doing them all in the same kinds of ways. I like that this goes well beyond the first contact scenario and aims for an uneasy but vast collusion, infection, and contamination. :) And the kinds of aliens? Some made me giggle and others had me put my mind in high-gear trying to figure them out. The Jackaroo and the Eidolons in particular.

I think of John M. Harrison when I think of this novel. I also think of Daniel Suarez.

These are great writers to be compared to. :)

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Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Last Emperox (The Interdependency, #3)The Last Emperox by John Scalzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well now!

This was a delight to read. So much tongue-in-cheek science snark, world-wise politics, and a tale that welcomes, or at least braces-for, the end of the empire. Yes, all these colonies and habitats rely on each other to survive. Yes, the space network is dying, and soon they'll all be cut off from each other. Yes, it's now the time to scrabble and cash out and wait for the inevitable, horrible collapse.

Wait... are we talking about Space-Opera, or just ourselves?

Damn, I love this snark. The tale still manages to be light, somewhat hopeful, full of main-character-is-science, and a cute love story that I could get behind. And the end? Sheesh!

Scalzi is slamming it down for us, showing us his cards. I had so much fun!

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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Phoenix ExtravagantPhoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

See that dragon on the cover? Yep. It definitely stole the show.

As for the story, I think I want to classify this as a silkpunk tale feeling quite like the Korean-Japanese occupation, with automatons, a simple magic system, and an overarching theme of rebellion.

The main character wasn't one I really grew into, however, and the romance was only slightly interesting to me. I enjoyed the intrigue more. I especially liked the whole thing more when we got to a certain automata.

I should mention one thing, however. I stumbled and/or grew annoyed with the over-use of the pronouns. I probably would have had the same issue if it was too many he or she, but in this case, it was they/them. I've seen it done well in other works, including Leckie's Imperial Radch series, where the genderless pronoun became a source of mystery and plot-building. But here, with the constant use, probably over-use of the pronoun, I found myself annoyed by one thing more than the rest: clarity. Clarity suffered.

Just trying to keep tabs, I was pulled out of the tale more times than I can count. This isn't a good thing. It's almost like asking a life-long reader of third-person perspectives to read nothing but first-person perspectives from now on. I'm not comfortable with the loss of clarity. It's not even about losing genders to keep all the ducks in a row. It's about losing plural and singular, too. I keep trying to count how many are in the group when our MC is alone.

All this got a lot easier once characters stuck to their names instead of the barrage of unspecific pronouns.

Honestly, I probably would have enjoyed the actual tale more if it had been a smoother read. I'm rating it a 3.5 out of 5.

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Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With great pride, I admit I'm a big fan of Pride and Prejudice. I've consistently ignored the fact that it is a Romance novel, that it is full of flighty girls doing silly things and jumping to massive conclusions without even a speck of proof, and I've totally discounted the fact that just about everyone on the planet has read it.

Am I prejudiced to believe it is a wonderful novel that keeps my interest from start to finish? Possibly. I might also be prejudiced enough to defend it against anyone who says this work is a piece of fluffy, self-important, wish-fulfillment doggerel.

Come on! I DARE you. This is my pride you're pricking.

Yeah, fine, it MAY be a Romance, damn it... but it's also a classic. And it's written really well and it hits me somewhere deep. I'm not THAT prejudiced against Romance novels, am I?

Oh, my. I might be just as confused and conflicted as Elizabeth.

Ah, well, the novel is still good. No one can take that away from me.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

PersuasionPersuasion by Jane Austen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A classic re-read.

A classic *Guess Who Got Away* story.

Ah, girl meets boy, they fall in love, she behaves abominably, boy huffs off, but only later regrets her decision when the boy comes back into town all lordly and powerful and SO much more eligible than when SHE was dating him.

But since this is Jane Austen, it's ALSO all about sticking it to the stuck-up society and showing us all the noble upper-class people behaving abominably. (But, I should mention, our main character is NOT as abominable as the rest). People who rise by military or other services are often rather decent.

*gasp* *shock*

All told, however, this entire novel has all the charm of Austen's other works and while I can't place it above Pride and Prejudice or even above Mansfield Park, I think it is often a delight. A frustrating delight, to be sure, and calling a woman past her prime at 27 is ... AMAZING ... but still. You get my point.

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Monday, April 13, 2020

Glory in Death (In Death, #2)Glory in Death by J.D. Robb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What can I say? This is pretty much a picture-perfect formula. A big dash of romance with a perfectly rich man, a murder mystery with a normal police procedural plot, and a tiny, tiny sprinkle of mild futuristic SF.

There's so little SF, as a matter of fact, that I hesitate to even mention it. It's really just a regular formula. Mindless? Yes. Easy? Yes.

Still fun, for all of that?

Sure. I didn't want anything mind-blowing. It was okay.

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Sunday, April 12, 2020

Ombria in ShadowOmbria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would recommend this book to people who really enjoyed Peake's Titus Groan or the whole line of the Gormenghast novels. Both are slow, gothic, and obsessed with language and timing.

There were some quite beautiful passages and overall, I did enjoy the story. It wasn't my favorite KIND of story, however, and I wasn't always as engaged in the tale of the magical usurper/regent and her charges as I probably should have been. It was a case of the details carrying the weight of the plot more than the characters.

I can definitely see why quite a few people fell in love with this, however. It brings Fantasy back to the old days where kingdoms were besieged from within. Where history is more of a villain (or something else) than anything.

I think it's pretty well designed to be a quiet, thoughtful read.

Me, however... I didn't really get into it as much as it probably deserves, having won the World Fantasy Award.

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The City We Became (Great Cities #1)The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Coming back to Jemisin, my expectations are extraordinarily high. After reading the short fiction that this novel was based on, it made me wonder and scheme and imagine where it would go.

I mean, hey! This is all about human avatars being created out of a City, FOR the City's own protection and soul! It's like crossing American Gods with a NY monster movie with the SOUL of xenophobia (or any other kind of prejudice).

Coming into this, however, I should recommend that you manage your expectations.

This isn't a full-on monster bash although it has certain elements that recommend it to be a video game with a party of D&D adventurers complete with twisty-turny characterizations and betrayals and a big bad with a truly awesome universe-spanning motivation a-la Lovecraft.

Nor is it a full-on love-letter (or hate-letter) to NYC, although the whole novel truly concerns itself with the multiple burroughs and soul of the different parts of the city and its people.

It is both. And both are awesome.

So why did I give it only 4 stars? I mean, for ideas alone and the rich characters, this SHOULD deserve all the marks, right?

Well... it's also preachy. Heavily so.

It tackles prejudice and battles it with tooth and nail. I can't find fault in that. Not really. BUT it DOES come across rather heavy and constant and while the normal, everyday prejudice fits nicely with the extradimensional themes, the over-the-top presentation is somewhat too-oppressive. It was also hard to LIKE the whole "yeah, these guys are jerks, but they're OUR jerks" mentality. This, by itself, isn't that bad, but when we got into the whole art scene (and more) that catered to the war/counter-war that seemed to be all about portraying all whites as outright combatants against everyone else with very little distinction and a lot of sneering condemnation (I'm thinking of a certain announcement with a march full of white men), I get the impression that this is actually a resumption of hostilities in RL. As in the hostilities in the SF/F fandom or gamergate or the whole use of the term SJW.

I sided with everyone who believed in inclusiveness. I should appreciate what this book is trying to accomplish. Shouldn't I?

But this book is a new salvo aimed at all those angry white men who love to use the term SJW and it doesn't fear taking out its swords, knives, or bazookas. It's a resumption of hostilities that may or may not target non-combatants and people like me who believe that everyone should have a right to get along with everyone else. I don't want to fight an ideological war. I want to ENJOY the company of so many kinds of people. Not get riled up and be forced to pick a side where there will NOT be any winners.

I can feel the anger here and I cannot countenance the amazing levels of s**t that goes on with either side. Not the death threats, not the doxing, not the HATE. Nor can I feel comfortable when I'm targeted, even obliquely, because I fight my own way. I'm white. I'm male. But I don't believe in hate or exclusion. I don't believe in the resumptions of hostilities. I may agree with the core... but not with the amount of force or aggression it takes.

Others might argue that it's too little, too late, that the only thing that some people understand is force... but this is what it really is: Escalation.

If the City needs to be whole to fight the great universal exclusionary monster, then it needs to be truly inclusive. That means putting down the guns.

Otherwise, I very much would have rated this book a full and hearty five stars.

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Saturday, April 11, 2020

Out of BodyOut of Body by Jeffrey Ford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this more than I did. After all, Jeffrey Ford has generally been a fantastic writer for me and I jumped on this ARC expecting some solid creepiness or twists or thoughtful fantasy.

But this one? Eh... it was fine for what it is, but it reads more like a snippet taken out of a White Wolf Mage CoreBook regarding astral projection and some of the dangers therein. Add a dash of normal, a bit of peeping tom, and a big bad with a penchant for paint, and the entire tale ends where it probably ought to have begun... with a bigger adventure. Or at least a convention-balking one.

*shrug* It was okay, but it wasn't anything special.

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Friday, April 10, 2020

The Neverending StoryThe Neverending Story by Michael Ende
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read, 4/10/20:

After yet another re-read, I've come to a simple conclusion: I decided to write fiction because I loved this story so much. I figured it out as a kid when I saw this movie for the first time.

So, why is that?

Because every work of fiction is a collaboration between the writer and the reader. In this case, it's between a reader and the written word and the actual reader of both... and the uber-reader, all of whom include each one of us, create this world anew.

We are the Neverending Story.

So what does this mean when it comes to the second half of the tale, where wishes remove memories? Is it a magic-consequence rule? Or is it just another metaphor for growing old, forgetting about our youth and creativity?

I tend to think it is the hard-rule of death. Generations pass and stories pass out of memory. Sometimes they don't, but most of the time, they do.

And this is why it's all the more important to keep the dream alive. Keep the STORIES alive.

Original Review:

Like many people of my generation, I loved the film adaptation (the first, not the second, thank you) and never realized that it had come from a book until a number of years later. In fact, I read it the first time in '07 and not only was I delighted at how imaginative it was, but I was also flabbergasted (joyfully so) that it lived up to its name.

It's quick reading by any standard, but so deliciously dense in imagery, mythology, and an engrossing plot that I swore that if I had any children, this would be a staple of their diet.

Now that I have a little girl, I'm just too anxious to start reading it to her. I really can't sit still. I keep picking up the book and going, "Is she old enough, yet? Is she? Is she?" Then I set down the book and tear out my metaphorical hair and let out a forlorn cry. Then I get a fantastic idea:

I could just read it again, for myself!

Then everything is right with the world again and I'm able to write a new review.

This is easily one of my favorite tales, ever.

An extra goodie: April had a great review that forced me to think and respond in (I hope) a comprehensible way. Check it out. April's Review

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Marque of Caine (Tales of the Terran Republic, #5)Marque of Caine by Charles E. Gannon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After leaving his previous command with many plot-threads left hanging in the prior book, this one sets itself up as a bit of a wanderer.

That's not bad. We have his quest to find the mother of his child, the ongoing mystery of a very powerful alien race that has something in mind for him, and a ton of political intrigue in the wider universe that will either spell survival or doom for the human race.

Not bad. Add a ton of interesting reveals about that alien species, gather together a rag-tag crew of ex-soldiers on a de-mothballed ship, and we've got ourselves the Odyssey. With virtual realms, real-space, and risky ventures all around.

There is no real wrap up, but as they always say, the adventure is in the journey, not the destination.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Caine's Mutiny (Tales of the Terran Republic, #4)Caine's Mutiny by Charles E. Gannon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whenever I read a Gannon book, I'm always struck by his command of what he intends to do in a story. It may not always be to my taste and sometimes he seems to write himself in corners that then take a lot of effort -- and talking -- to extricate himself, but in the end, I'm almost always impressed that he pulls off what he does.

It's Space-Opera. But this one is old-school Mil-SF.

Indeed, this is so old-school Mil-SF we've even got WWII and Vietnam non-coms who have been decanted 200 years after they were spirited away, finding themselves fighting a desperate battle of survival on a planet already inhabited by a proudly-idiotic alien species that always tends to find a way into fights under any excuse.

Caine, our supremely capable Commander, gets embroiled in strange alien politics, elaborate subterfuges, space battles fought for unclear purposes, and eventually, he's asked to pick up these out-of-time refugees (who have been fighting for their survival) to return them to Earth Space.

Of course, many things go wrong, but here's the main strength of this book: the military action reads like real military action, all including antique equipment and weapons terminology mixed freely with high-tech warfare and terminology. It's a real mess. And we get to spend a lot of time in the heads of several alien species with all their psychological differences, their war practices, and enough tactics and strategies to awe any fan of this particular genre.

Me? I... kinda like Mil-SF. In small doses. Some are pretty awesome. Some are a lot more realistic than others. This one is one of the realistic ones. It also fills most of the pages.

My complaint? I think it's fine if you want a novel that is filled MOSTLY with characters talking in lieu of action. We get a clear picture, regardless, but it sometimes got on my nerves.

That being said, the BIGGER scope of this novel takes us across many systems, in and out of political negotiations with aliens, be it cease-fires or species wrangling or leverage against our own government. All of this was pretty awesome, in my opinion.

I'm sure others will get more mileage out of this than I did, but by no means was it a bad book. In some ways, it's superior to most. It just didn't appeal to me in a huge way.

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Monday, April 6, 2020

LexiconLexicon by Max Barry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm coming to this party VERY late. So many people have either loved this or hated it because of the hype, but honestly?

I enjoyed the effortless storytelling, the core ideas, the wonderful characters, and the deep emotion it evoked in me.

I mean, you either believe in the power of words or you don't. That's basically what separates those who love this book from those who don't... And I'm a dog person. My favorite color is green. My Facebook profile is useless for data collection because I filled it with nonsense... but that doesn't mean I'm not susceptible to neurolinguistic programming.

And that's what this SF thriller featuring neurolinguistic wizards is all about: persuasion. Sometimes a persuasion that has godlike levels of power. :) Of course, it's all about language. Words have all the power.

I personally would have loved to see an aspect of the tale move to the realm of how language creates consciousness, but Max Barry merely skirts the edge of that idea here. He DOES, however, remain firmly within the confines of a gloriously and deliciously evil story that not only succeeds in delivering a gut-punch of an ending but a huge body count as well.

What? Isn't this a book on words? Oh, hell yeah.

I can't see a reason why this book should not become a classic SF. It deserves to be read and re-read. Maybe if I read it enough times I can condition myself out of certain mindsets... or condition myself into another. :) I daresay the tower of Babel was never destroyed.

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Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Paper Menagerie and Other StoriesThe Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm filled with shame for not having read these fantastic short stories earlier. Instead, I just focused on reading Ken Liu's translations of Cixin Liu, and Ken Liu's own enormous epic fantasy, ignoring, (wrongly-so) his award-winning short fiction.

*rubs hands together and gets to work*

I was delighted by almost all the short, sometimes strange, fiction that filled the first pages.

The Bookmaking Species of Select Species tickled all my librophile instincts.

State Change made me change tracks HARD and I felt the claustrophobia and intense BELIEF behind the somewhat magical conceit that each of us has our souls trapped in a small, unique object that we must protect at all costs. The twist is in the title.

Perfect Match made me think I had just watched a Black Mirror episode or a pretty common technothriller idea, but it wasn't bad for all that.

Good Hunting was a freaking delight because I recognized it right away as one of my favorite on-screen adaptations in the Netflix show Love, Death, and Robots. Kitsune legend meets steampunk transformation!

The Literomancer was both darkly interesting and pretty disturbing. Cultural Revolution meets interpretive magic.

Simulacrum was okay. I didn't dislike it but it wasn't as poignant as some I've read on the same thing.

The Regular was a much longer tale that was a police procedural, a mystery with a ton of great cyborg elements interwoven in the solving and the causes of the crimes. It was both clever and fast-paced and pure popcorn goodness.

The Paper Menagerie was rather sweet and all about learning about your family and dealing with cross-cultural divides. I can appreciate it and do, but it is not my favorite story in the bunch despite all the awards it was given.

An Advanced Readers’ Picture Book of Comparative Cognition made me oooh and ahhh because I LOVE a good story that doesn't hold back on the science and speculation and rolls all over the carpet with a cool tale.

The Waves was pretty ok. Not the best, but definitely above average.

Mono No Aware felt like a more traditional SF story with space travel. Also okay.

All the Flavors rather surprised me. I didn't realize I would be getting a rather long Western set during the time of the railroad building where many Chinese lost their lives in America in the Company Towns while building the Transcontinental. It was rather great.

A Brief History of The Trans-Pacific Tunnel was written as snippets of news articles about (somewhat) digging a hole to China. I dug this short one.

The Litigation Master and The Monkey King might be my favorite story here. More than anything, it's a legal drama set in classic China that turns a trickster into a hero... on the side of safeguarding history. Great stuff.

The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary felt like a very different take on the same theme, but this time it had a very cool time-travel trick that caused a LOT of trouble for the creator. What kind of trouble? The usual kind: Political, social, Denialists, national embarrassment. What is it about? Getting proof, some small apology for Japan's role in the atrocities they committed during their occupations of China and other countries during WWII. Many horrible experiments were performed on prisoners. This story is rooted in facts, but the SF portion of the tale just pulls out a new, very believable wrinkle in the ongoing nastiness. Should tragedies that are old be swept under the rug, never acknowledged, or acknowledged and in the same breath denied?

This last one was pretty hard to get through, emotionally. Accordingly, I give it very high marks.

Overall, I loved the entire collection. :)

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Friday, April 3, 2020

Letters from the LightLetters from the Light by Shel Calopa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For a book full of underdogs, marginalized characters, and pretty clear-cut bad guys that cross the line back and forth between being allies and antagonists, I still developed a distinct impression that I was reading a pretty standard SF adventure. You know, rebellion against the social machine, disgust with the old order, and the hard-scrabble for survival against stacked odds. That's fine for what it is, but it's not overly unique.

On the other hand, this novel is also jammed-packed with massive amounts of totally awesome worldbuilding and a seriously hardcore SF ethos. From a lush future Australia to spacecraft with failing pods, planetary colonies set up and sadly abandoned to their own worst failure modes, machine life, nanotech, and a very, very cool tech focused on light.

It's the SF ethos that I really appreciated. Oh, and the end sequence was ALL kinds of awesome. :)

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Emperor of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #3)Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While this book might appear to be one of those love/hate things, I have to admit that Jorg, the character I love to hate, is awfully compelling.

Sure, he's a right bastard and he'll never mince words when the sword of the blade will do the job quicker, but beyond that, he's all about RESULTS. He never takes half-measures. Whether it's about living life, saving people, or murdering ANYONE who gets in his way, be they loyal or antagonistic, he never, ever, takes half-measures.

I admit I love that about him. Sure, it means he'll kill everyone and anyone to get what he wants, but he NEVER goes back on his word. Of course, that is only a promise he makes to himself, and he has enough pride and bloodlust to put satan to shame, but it makes for a very compelling story.

And then there's all the pure awesome going on with the worldbuilding: a broken future world after the bombs drop and something interestingly quantum opens up the door to belief and expectation altering reality, an amassed army of the undead ravaging this future medieval world, and even high-tech simulacra of men's minds trapped in machines.

It's a heady mix and it's totally grimdark, but more than that, it's deliciously fun.

Let's hear it for Jorg! He's a horrible man but damn, at least he never does anything by half-measures.

Apparently, neither does Mark Lawrence.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

King of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #2)King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still a nasty piece of grimdark, but I have to be honest: there are a FEW more redeeming features to our young little psychopath in this book than there were in one that came before.

I probably sound like that's a bad thing... right? Well... yeah. I was USED to loving to hate the little murderous sociopathic little punk. I don't want him humanized. I want him to plow over all his enemies and random bystanders who might have been within spitting distance of him. I want him to burn the world.

Or rather, since he ate the heart of a necromancer on a freaking whim and now he has a lich inside of him as well as a warring freaking incarnation of fire, I fully expected him to raise armies of the dead and have all the bones run around on fire, destroying all the warring kingdoms and his subjects and laugh uproariously about it.

Seriously. I'm not even joking.

But NOOOOOO he's sinned against almost as much as he sins and that little memory trick is really kicking my conception of him around like nobody's business.

Suffice to say, I still love the book. Maybe I'm not quite as thrilled with the sheer, utter darkness of it, but it is definitely full of some really great moments.

Grimdark for the win!

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Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #1)Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Minimalist Grimdark.

I came at this from the wrong end of the reading spectrum. I tried out one of his later series then fell in love with his Impossible Times fun SF, and then said to myself... "Hey, why don't you pick up the book that started this wild ride of his career?"

So I did. And after having already gone through an old bout of Grimdark Fantasy reading that basically gives us all a hearty, warm feeling in our guts... just as the guts start sliding out... I jumped into this with a light-hearted laugh and said, "Ah, well, this is one of those uber-anti-hero books where we're supposed to root for the heavy-metal Lucifer character, right?"

Yes. And then some.

We go from a dark past to a dark present and headlong, bloodily, into a dark future. The writing itself is some of the starkest, MINIMALIST pieces of writing I've come across in some time. Simple. Right to the point. Move on quickly. Murder, pillage, more murder, revenge, and above all... a young kid doing it all, NEVER GIVING UP, NEVER BACKING DOWN. He's one scary-ass punk.

His pride is actually pretty appealing, even if... um... MOST of his actions aren't.

That being said, I still had a pretty good time that turned into a GREAT time when the worldbuilding started poking its head out from under the sheets. It felt like a historical right out from the Hundred Year War right until some modern terms poked into the page... and then when we got outright SF elements and the Day of A Thousand Suns came along, I was cackling with glee. What a dark future we've got. :)

Suffice to say, this tickled all the dark places in my psyche. :) If you happen to love the really dark stuff, I highly recommend this.

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