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Monday, June 29, 2020

The Tower of the Swallow (The Witcher, #4)The Tower of the Swallow by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is some hardcore cool Fantasy. Far from having any kind of tired storyline, it always feels fresh and surprising even though, by all rights, it OUGHT to fall into so rather obvious directions because... we WANT it.

But that's where the joy comes in. :) The pacing is fast and just when you think you've got a handle on certain things, there's always that little wrench in the works. :)

I admit I teared up during certain events. And it isn't entirely isolated with events featuring only Ciri. She's really come into her own, but I'm still a huge fan of Geralt. And to wait THAT long for Yennifer? For shame!

Doesn't matter. This is an unusual enough fantasy novel to keep old fans of the genre hopping and new fans constantly interested. I can't imagine where any hater would be coming from. :)

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Sunday, June 28, 2020

The OneThe One by John Marrs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This really fits my mood nicely. Give me the whole tech-that-screws-up-our-lives and run with it, throwing us into the lives of so many "perfect" matches, and seeing how it all goes down...

Tiny spoiler:

Things go wrong. :)

Primary handwavium: honest-to-goodness love at first sight and/or biological matching (under the guise of DNA matching) for the loves of our lives. Have peeps figure out that they're not with their perfect matches. Chaos ensues.

Of course, this COULD be a thriller/romance without many happy ends. Or it could just be a thriller. :)

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Jennifer GovernmentJennifer Government by Max Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Back a few years after the turn of the century, the world was brand crazy. More than that, it was murderously brand crazy. Remember the debacle around Nike? Murders in gangland over shoes? Or how about the whole stink surrounding the marketing departments who not only capitalized but doubled down on the policies that made this?


Well, this novel truly capitalizes on THAT. :)

And Max Barry takes it all to its natural conclusion. Governments are gutted, corporations rule everything. Do you want your loyalty rewards? How about unfettered capitalism without any restrictions whatsoever?

Please have your credit card handy if you want ambulance service. :)

Barry is one of my go-to guys now. Screamingly fast writing, razor-sharp commentary, and wonderful character-driven adventures that often pull some great bait-n-switches. Just who are we supposed to feel compassion for? Oh my... that IS horrible. :)

But just WHO is Jennifer Government? She's merely one in a fairly large cast of characters who must be defined by their job. I'd say the conceit is unrealistic but I recently had to change my name to Brad Writer. Branding is everything, you know.

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Saturday, June 27, 2020

Occultation and Other StoriesOccultation and Other Stories by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I do think that all of these stories are quite good and tickly my cosmic horror funnybone (do you hear the insane laughter right behind you?) I think I might have reached my saturation point for:

A: Satanists
B: dark insectoid horrors
C: otherworldly visitations

To be entirely fair, all of these stories are quite excellent for these themes. Much better, on the hole, than most. In fact, I totally recommend this for those of you who want a little extra Lovecraftian horror in their lives and want it dark, neat, and self-aware. :)

However -- each story, even for the really excellent treat of deep worldbuilding and thorough characterization, still tends to run the same formula for each story within this collection. Maybe that's a good thing? Maybe it's too much of a good thing? Good for theme, but not so much for reading them through back-to-back?

Not sure.

But still, this is very worth reading for fans of the subgenre. :) Barron has a real knack.

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Friday, June 26, 2020

A Blight of Blackwings (Seven Kennings, #2)A Blight of Blackwings by Kevin Hearne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm very happy with Hearne's epic fantasy. It has all that vibe of the hinterlands and schools of primal magic while breaking a bit away from the first book's slightly YA vibe to hit pretty hard on the political stuff.

I mean, damn, I didn't expect it to veer away from political intrigue and just dive into CREATING A NEW POLITICAL SYSTEM instead. :) But why not? Fantasy (as well as SF) has always been known for vast worldbuilding, and this is just another aspect of the same. :) But please don't mistake me. This is brimming over with all the other worldbuilding aspects. So many peoples, languages, cultures... all of them making a melting pot. It kinda brings a tear to my eye. :)

Of course, the detractors, the revolution, the bees, and wasps... well all those things are just gravy. :)

But you know what really stood out more than all the memorable characters?

The bard's songs.

Some of that stuff was crazy funny. :)

And yes, for all you fans of Hearne's UF series, he never forgets his humorous roots. He's just expanded his repertoire. And continues to expand it in this book. :)

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Summoned to Thirteenth Grave (Charley Davidson, #13)Summoned to Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I won't say that this is the penultimate book of the series, but it is a solid ending. Not a fantastic ending, but solid.

I've enjoyed the run with Charley and Reyes and the whole OP feel of the later books but more than that, I've enjoyed the humor. All these books are great for lovers of Albuquerque, but let's face it, most people stay for the OP romance. :)

So why didn't I give this a full five stars?

Because it just doesn't live up to the full promise of an 'OMG I can't believe what I just read' review. It was comfortable. Expected. Kinda sappy. But then, what can we really expect? It is a paranormal romance.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

GlorianaGloriana by Michael Moorcock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm honestly tempted to call this a classic, but with one caveat: it will mostly be a treat for any die-hard fans of Elizabethian court intrigue, also being devoted to subverting the spin on the same.

Wait... is that really a thing?

Yep. I mean, yes, you can read this as a political fantasy intrigue with lots of spycraft and court and great passionate characters and a woman who is unable to get any satisfaction at all, but I prefer to see it as only a single layer to a rather complicated quasi-satire. Oh, and it's absolutely a condemnation of the grand white-washings of the past. :)

Indeed, Mo0rcock even admits he's satirizing the The Fairy Queen and lionizing Mervyn Peake.

I, personally, only enjoyed it sporadically and more for the overall plot than some of the indulgences, but I was rather fascinated by the extra worldbuilding. It was a real treat. :)

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Monday, June 22, 2020

The Quiet AmericanThe Quiet American by Graham Greene
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A classic short novel about several shaky personal decisions in the midst of rather more shaky governmental and military decisions.

The story mirrors an affair between a Vietnamese woman and an older English reporter and a younger American attaché against the whole backdrop of the First Indochina War, mimicking the same indifference and passion and mistakes of a love-triangle writ large.

It's pretty damn awesome. :)

In a lot of ways, I was impressed to see so many carryovers between this and The End of the Affair. The theme was different, but the interplay was rather on-target and rather spooky.

Even so, on its own, it reads almost as if it should have been either a romance or a spy thriller. :) Maybe there really isn't a difference.

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Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Promise of the Child (The Amaranthine Spectrum #1)The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is an extremely hard book to review not because I can give too much away (I can't) or because I'm conflicted about how much I like this (I'm not).

Indeed, I actually want to rave about it and tell the world that something really special has finally been published that dives seriously deep into future history, has an amazingly complex world-building, and it even manages to remain connected to the things we understand DESPITE adding a zero to the time-frame. Can you say Culture novels? Or some of the far-future Reynolds books?

Enter Toner with a novel that will NOT be on the top of most people's reading lists, unfortunately, but it is not because it's a bad tale or written in a way that will turn people off. Indeed, while reading it, I'm rather impressed that it's easy to follow, but at the same time, it's the little disturbing details that always trip us up.

Far future humanity has splintered into many different races. There are no aliens. We are the aliens. But for these people living in the future, it's all kinds of normal as if they were only traveling to different lands with strange cultures. And indeed, there are many strange cultures. There are immortals who have lived so long that they have forgotten their own names. There are hollowed-out planets. There's boating, void-ships, bird-people, and an empire intrigue.

But mostly, all the devils are in the details. It requires careful reading to pick up on all the best tidbits.

In other words, this is a book to be savored, re-read, and held onto for the sake of a fandom that will eventually, if slowly, rise to cradle this work. What it needs is a cult-following.

I'm willing to join the throng. :) Help contribute to a wiki-page devoted to it. Help find the easter eggs. :)

I only wish that this was READ more so we could all find each other and show off our knowledge of the worldbuilding :) Of course, that means I need to read the two other novels and re-read this one as well. Maybe several times.

Did I mention that I'm conflicted? It's not flashy and it's definitely not a throwaway book. It is, however, one that demands effort.

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Saturday, June 20, 2020

Last Call (Fault Lines, #1)Last Call by Tim Powers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I happen to think this Locus and World Fantasy Award winner of '93 deserves all the accolades it got. Indeed, I think it's as readable now as it was back then.

Especially now that we've all renewed our tastes for myths in our reading habits, this one dives deep into the Fisher King while leading us across the US, always eventually winding up in the dark heart of the country... Las Vegas. :)

This is a great mashup of an ex-professional poker player and a chaos-magic Tarot tribute, switching between a lifetime of mystery-reveals, archetype treatments, and a series of choices that lead up to one hell of a tub of regret.

I'm almost tempted to call it a western, but the wonderful worldbuilding and magic system and the effortless writing makes me stand firm in calling this a fantasy. I might even call it an urban fantasy, but the writing is almost Stephen King in scale and feel. The characters are all a real treat.

I'm frankly rather amazed at the quality of this book. And I really shouldn't be. Anubis Gates was amazing as well. I guess I better get book cracking and read a lot more of Tim Powers! :)

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Friday, June 19, 2020

Godmother NightGodmother Night by Rachel Pollack
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a novel that's kinda hard to review. It did win the World Fantasy Award in 1997 and it's absolutely perfect for anyone interested in witchy 90's lesbian fiction (which pretty much sums it up) but it is also a bit more than that.

I would have loved this more coming down from a 90's Sandman high, hunting for anything Death related, getting my candles out, and reading passages of the Celestine Prophesy to my tolerant friends. :)

If you get what I mean, you'll probably enjoy this novel as a trip down a certain nostalgia path. For everyone else, and I mean anyone who wants a thoroughly, thoroughly lesbian-centric trip, I think you might something of value here.

For me? Well, I've gotten slightly more nuanced in my taste for LGBTQ literature over the years. This one smacks of goddess worship, going down the hardcore lesbian politics route, and a personal journey shining through the filter of fiction. Unfortunately, I've read my fair share of similar books, and while this one isn't particularly bad and it really SHINES when we get to Kate's story (much farther than half-way into the novel) it really reads more like a series of events with small smatterings of magic.

Aim for getting a THEME out of this and you'll be better off.

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Rules of CivilityRules of Civility by Amor Towles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a rare novel that sucks you right in and never lets you go. Set in 1938 Manhattan, it eases us through a handful of lighthearted or otherwise fairly steady characters as they develop -- or destroy -- their relationships.

Sounds about usual, no?

But here's where the novel takes off: the writing.

There's an enormous amount of worldbuilding and depth of character and while there is never much emphasis on huge things going to hell, the other emphasis on simply living their lives takes the center stage.

Chance encounters usually aren't. New York City is volatile and gives way to meteoric success and many failures. But relationships? These are golden and complicated and strange. :)

And just look at the title. It really spells it all out. What is Chivalry? What is Civility? What are these strange rules of living?

Honestly, I think it adds such a sweet and wonderful layer to the whole novel. It's easy to read it on multiple levels, but there is absolutely no compunction to do so. :)

Even though this isn't particularly my kind of usual reading, I found I could keep reading this forever.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

By Force AloneBy Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of Tidhar for some time now, picking up book after book not even giving a peso for the contents, sure that I would be amazed and thrown into a thoughtful tailspin with whatever I encountered.

So what did I see?

An unapologetic retelling of the Arthurian Legend. :)

"Wait!" -- you say -- "Hasn't the Arthurian Legend been done like a million times?"

And I would say, "Yep! And I've read a ton of them, and THIS one not only builds on the twisty-strides of the others, but it subverts them all. Nastily."

Whoah. But how?

Keep in mind, this is a satire wrapped up in the plausible example of post-Roman occupied London full of thugs and jerks and all kinds of nasties wrapped up in their own legends and they're NOT the nice kinds of legends. Indeed, it reads like a whos-who of modern politics.

By Force Alone glorifies the truncheon.

Practically no one is particularly likable. Some may have redeeming qualities, but damn, the way things pan out, following all the standard events of the Arthurian Legend including all the magic and the inception and his death, this particular retelling is pretty damning. :)

Very enjoyable! A must-read for fans of the genre! (Or anyone that thinks that M. Z. Bradley's work was too tame.) :)

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

AfterlandAfterland by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

By now, a lot of us have read a lot of dystopias featuring sexual politics, often accompanied with some major disaster that leaves women a huge minority (The Book of Etta) or (The White Plague) or any number of bigger named modern authors.

This one flips the script. Men are seriously endangered.

The few men left must deal with the patriarchy of women. :) Yes, patriarchy. Because let's face it, patriarchies are learned.

All told, I loved the worldbuilding. There are a lot of great easter eggs and the research for the plague itself was brilliant. The characterizations of Cole and Billy and Miles was pretty fantastic. It reads like a convoluted cat-and-mouse, being on the run from the government and even from themselves.

My only real concern is not a dealbreaker, but a personal preference. The religious bits were fascinating and weird and well-thought-out BUT it wasn't exactly to my taste. Or maybe it was, but where it eventually led was... weird. Maybe that's a product of having read soooo many dystopias where religion gets funky automatically, but I'll give Afterland this: it doesn't go the same direction as the rest. :)

All told, I DO love the whole After-Man take on the world. :) It's more down-to-earth and pretty damn realistic compared to, say, The Power. Afterland is more character-led. I'm glad I got to read it.

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Monday, June 15, 2020

The Magic of Recluce (The Saga of Recluce, #1)The Magic of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I was reading, I kept having to stop and convince myself that I wasn't reading a book that came out in the last few years. It's style and worldbuilding and quick developments belied the fact that it was pubbed in 1991. And yet?

I was entranced. I felt like I was reading Robin Hobb (this came out before her popular epic fantasy) mixed with some Robert Jordan and some of the high-fantasy elements of Moorcock.

And it wasn't even the magic dichotomy between Order vs Chaos and how it felt like a gigantic Yin/Yang motif that got me revved up. It wasn't even the interesting feel of reading LeGuin's fantasy tucked away in these pages.

It was the Main Character.

I've never seen the ultimate growth of a wet-nosed teen to a magician of the high order come packaged in such a MODEST package.

I'll be frank. The main character charmed me the most.

I love the magic system and learning how it worked and following his long discoveries was fantastic, but it was his personality that made me love this book. :)

I'm definitely going to continue this series. I had a misstep with one of his other, later books, but if I had started here, I never would have worried. :)

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Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of SecurityThe Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security by Kevin D. Mitnick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pubbed almost two decades ago, the technology angle in this book is largely, although not completely, out of date.

Fortunately, that isn't the primary reason I picked up this book. It's right there in the title. We may as well call is Social Engineering. Others might call it a con. But either way, human psychology being what it is, the underlying vulnerability to network or corporate structures never really goes out of style.

PEBCAK. Problem Exists Between Chair and Computer.

This book does a very serviceable job outlining most of the ways that people can be conned out of information. My favorite is just in looking or acting the part that people expect. I've been hearing that advice from the early Robert A. Heinlein days. People trust others who seem just like them. Confident behavior sends up no red flags.

A lot of this is common sense, but you and I know that Social Engineering is still a growth industry.

Every day, every sector, someone, somewhere is conning us.

A lot of this book is still very timely, but I'm also sure that there are a lot of updated techniques out there.

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Friday, June 12, 2020

Attack SurfaceAttack Surface by Cory Doctorow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of Cory Doctorow for many years now. He has a blog and is involved with the frontier of real hacking, technological exploitation, and how we are encroached upon. Not only that, but he's also focused on how we can protect ourselves.

In fact, I've been a huge fan ever since Little Brother. It was timely then and it's more timely now to see how tech is used to spy on us. I have yet to read as good a novel that spells out the dangers, the ACTUAL tech, and the consequences... from conception, application, to possible solutions.

And I'm not even talking about tech-based solutions, but real social reform

That takes me to this novel. Attack Surface takes place a decade after Little Brother and while it has Marcus (from LB) as a side character, the main character in (AS) is a fully-fleshed continuation of one of the best side-characters of the original. And she was on the wrong side. :)

Add ten years of updated tech, modern social reform issues INCLUDING racial injustice, riots, police states, how tech turns our current society into a playground for those who would spy and give action points for those already in power, and give us a hard-hitting story of ethical ambiguity, survival, and the BIG QUESTIONS... and THEN give us a novel that out-performs and out-scares me even when propped up against Little Brother.

I'm not joking. This is not a lightweight dystopia. This is our modern world with real tech and yet it reads like an exposé AND a hard-SF novel.

I don't know. I'd have to do a serious comparison between LB and AS to be sure, and this one is definitely an adult read because it deals with all the real complications of living as an adult, but I think this one might be better.

It's certainly timely as hell. The riots in here ARE BLM. The extra complications are the same kind that WE should all be considering.

And so is the solution.

I totally recommend this book.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

I'm Not Dying with You TonightI'm Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was mostly interested in this after seeing Kimberly Jones' rant (in so many places) so when a buddy said, let's read it, I was totally on board.

Yes, it is a depiction of a riot after tensions get too hot and it exploded across the city. Timely, no?

Even better, it's written from two points of view: black and white. It covers so many angles and keeps it real.

From misunderstandings and all kinds of self-reliance and the breaking of both innocence and ignorance keeps this tale hopping. I really enjoyed both PoVs... with one caveat: that boyfriend of hers was a serious tool. I REALLY wanted her to dump his lousy ass.

Of course, it wouldn't be a YA with serious tones without examples of kids making dumb decisions... but to me, these two are pretty solid.

If anything, this COULD be used as a pretty popular primer for racial tensions... with the focus on plain understanding. I can get behind that. :)

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The Trouble with Twelfth Grave (Charley Davidson, #12)The Trouble with Twelfth Grave by Darynda Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So. After the last book's bombshell, this one is pretty much crack cocaine for readers of this UF.

I went down the same rabbit hole as all these other folks. I got hooked, tried to get off, then started demanding some free time to get back to the drug. I even punched an imaginary detractor in the imaginary face and screamed, "HEY! GIVE ME MY CHARLEY! What the hell happened to Reyes?!?"

Alas, no such real obstacle was in my face. BUT IT FELT LIKE IT.

That being said, this was a wonderful story and I can't believe that Charley was still so CALM about the whole Reyes issue. I would have like dropped EVERYTHING to figure it out... but then there wouldn't have been any subplots. Alas.

Still. Fun stuff. Delicious ride. One of the best in the series because I was set up and taken DOWN. :)

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Tuesday, June 9, 2020

When You DisappearedWhen You Disappeared by John Marrs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Leaving the final reveal aside, I was consistently impressed by how easily I was drawn into the characters, made to identify with them, and how smoothly I was led to give both sides the benefit of the doubt...

Even when the slow, out-of-order reveals gave me a very disturbing sense. It's one thing to know it's a thriller, that there are some really horrible secrets buried in the tale somewhere, but it's another to find just how deep the hole goes.

The order of the tale matters so much more than the actual events. The biggest reveals are often just around the corner.

I admit I was rather horrified. I got sucked right in.

Putting it this way, I think this is a very, very fine tale that does exactly what it intends to do. :)

Saying more gives away way too much of the tale. So simple. And yet so circuitous.

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Monday, June 8, 2020

BossypantsBossypants by Tina Fey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I guess like almost everyone else to pick up this book, I'm a fan of Tina Fey and remember her so fondly for 30 Rock and for her writing on SNL. Her snark, her courageous self-deprivation, her geeky outlook, and snappy honesty is refreshing.

I needed something funny. Right now? Funny is good.

So what happened? Did I have fun? Well, I didn't roll on the floor with laughter but I did smile a lot and I did chuckle. Tina is Tina. I had a good time.

I think I really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes stuff with 30 Rock the most. *shrug* What I can I say? I was a fan! lol

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Watchtower (Chronicles of Tornor, #1)Watchtower by Elizabeth A. Lynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Winner of the '80 World Fantasy Award.

As I was reading this, I was struck by something rather odd. Intense, even. I almost swore I was reading George R. R. Martin's SoIaF. It has all the feel of Snow in the Watch, the Summer lands versus the Winter, the intense focus on swordcraft and making it through tough times, tougher battles, and reveling in all the details.

Indeed, anyone missing a taste of THAT would do well to revisit Lynn.

Of course, if you'd prefer to read this novel for its place as a classic Feminist fantasy tale, please do so, but read it for its place in time. There have been TONS of similar feminist treatments since 1980. Fantasy is now rife with the strong-minded and capable warrior princesses.

Not bad at all, but read with today's eye for grim fantasy, it's not the best.

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Sunday, June 7, 2020

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About RacismWhite Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an important book to read if you're white and you care. I can't put it more plainly than that.

But this is also, by no means, an easy book to get through. Indeed, it challenges every reader to look at themselves from a different perspective. NOT as a person of color would see a white person.

It's important to stress that this is NOT a book about taking on personal blame, about being a self-hating white person, but about seeing the racial question from a systemic and broader viewpoint. It's about power. It's about being the dominant power in any cultural equation.

By this definition, because I am white, and have benefited knowingly or unknowingly by many, many institutional benefits, I must NOT be a jerk about it. That means I must not deflect or get defensive or shrug off the problem as if it doesn't touch me at all. Because it does.

The white person who writes this makes very excellent points throughout the book. She's heard every excuse. The point is: we all have to actually LISTEN to what others are SAYING. If someone tells you they're hurt by something you said, knowingly or unknowingly, then it's not up to THEM to coax you out of your fragile shell and tell you everything is going to be all right. It's up to you to be a f***ing grown-up and own it if you've made someone uncomfortable.

I'm not talking about going overboard on political correctness or pandering to anyone. I'm talking about real relationships with real people. If you actually care, get over your own hangups and LISTEN. It's not hard. Just realize that the institutional racism is everywhere and we've all be steeped in it for so damn long.

It means acknowledging that we might be wrong.

That's what white fragility is NOT. When we lash out or start crying or complain that we're not that way or that we're good people and that we've never done anything to hurt anyone, IT MIGHT VERY WELL BE TRUE. But that's NOT the POINT. Saying any of that changes NOTHING.

If we want to move forward, we must listen in a give-and-take way AS IF THE PEOPLE WE'RE TALKING TO ARE REAL PEOPLE. *gasp* *shock*

If you're white, you need to grow a backbone. Be resilient. Stop being a dick. Take criticism and use your critical thinking skills as if you actually got a good education in a well-funded system and you haven't been surrounded by nasty, subtle, and pernicious racist ideas all your life.

The definition IS important. I am a product of racism. That means I'm a racist. It doesn't mean I'm not also a good person, because I am. (But that doesn't matter.)

It doesn't mean I must start becoming a self-hating white person. It means I must be AWARE of my world and own up to the s**t that I might do that makes the world a worse place to live.

I officially welcome criticism. I'm not a special snowflake. I promise to use my head. This is not a request to start abusing me -- but beyond that, it is a proclamation that I absolutely refuse to abuse anyone else.

This is not to say I will not make mistakes, but damn... I will OWN them. I will make it good. I will listen.

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The Pastel CityThe Pastel City by M. John Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before we had the Fallout games or Mad Max, we had certain authors who set foot on the bleak, desolate, post-apocalyptic wastelands who said, "What if we jumped ahead by thousands of years after our super-high-tech society has collapsed like the Roman Empire had, devolve it back to the stage of Knights and warring factions, maintain some of the laser weapons, and turn powertools into maces and swords, and mechanical birds to pluck the eyes out of our enemies."

Right-o! I'm on board.

Now make the writing evocative and depressing and full of verve and striving against impossible odds. Golems and brain-stealing robots against heroes of the oldest caliber. Make sure it draws you in and never goes tongue-in-cheek.

Then you'll have this one. :) 1972.

Yes, we've had many like this over the years, but sometimes, the best writing is the most elegant. :)

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Saturday, June 6, 2020

Paradise LostParadise Lost by John Milton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Next to Shakespeare, Milton's Paradise Lost is probably one of the best and most enduring of the English Classics.

That's surprising, really, because, let's face it: not to many people in the modern crowd reads poetry these days. Or they don't try because they assume it's going to be too difficult.

Of course, they're probably not trying Milton. It's not only easy to read and gorgeously crafted, but it's also FULL of action, full of thrills, and it just plain kicks ass.

Don't let the topic fool you. It may have to do with the fall of Satan and then the fall of Adam and Eve, but Milton is a rockstar of the literature world. We jump right into the thick of the fall of all the rebellious angels right after an epic war in heaven.

Not only is Milton courageous enough to make Satan sympathetic and he's never once referred to as "evil", but he makes Satan even persuade ME. Make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven, indeed.

We get the epic battle in heaven. We get all the dark and disturbing reasons for the rebellion. We get the jealousy, the sense of injustice, and we get it again when the same kind of predestined plot hits humanity.

So many of the darkest questions are explored. And this isn't a simple epic poem. It's not all flowery language, but it IS that at its best moments. It's intense and it's fantastically rich with mythology and history and scholarship -- as you might expect -- but more than that, it's just plain GOOD.

It's classic in the sense that it will never go out of style. It's good in a way that when we read it now, it is like the best of our modern fiction. Great stylistic and plot devices, fantastic characterization, and depth.

Of course, when I first read this, I was in college and we were required to read the bible to get all the great references and compare the differences, and I DO recommend that if only for comparative analysis in literature, but it's not necessary.

This is an action movie. :)

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Realmshift (The Balance, #1)Realmshift by Alan Baxter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I won't say this book is perfect, but it hits the sweet spot on several specific levels.

First, the so-so:

Our antagonists, between Carlos the one-dimensional killing machine, and Satan, the one-dimensional greater foe, are pretty much there for our rubbernecking and tension building.

The bad: seriously? Where did I hear about this plot? Oh, wait... the last Indiana Jones movie must have stolen it from Alan Baxter.

The good:

Our heroes are overpowered and godlike, but they're a bit more well-rounded. And let me be clear, while overpowered action, magic, and nearly deus ex machina stories can be done bad, they can also be done pretty well, and this one was FUN.

I consider this an example of popcorn fiction for those who loved the core idea of Gaiman's American Gods but who wanted it to be BIGGER, BRIGHTER, and FASTER. You know, have a little mentorship without the subtlety, get out there with stakes as high as gods fighting gods, but keep all the action more like a sprawling action film that hops all over the Earth.

I'm reminded of Christopher Golden in his UF as I read this, but more streamlined and simplified.

This was fun and I am very happy I read it, but there ARE faults I can't ignore: such as the end. After all that build-up, I wanted a better end.

Not a deal-breaker, but it's always the little things, no?

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Friday, June 5, 2020

So You Want to Talk About RaceSo You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I stayed up late into the night reading this.

I was engaged. I loved the writing, the well-formulated arguments, and especially the focus on everyday micro-aggression. Intersectionality is pretty obvious.

So is the institutional racism.

It's not a trigger word. It's a fact.

Add this to soooo0 many small things in our everyday lives whether in conversation or news or even in our own assumptions DESPITE our best intentions, and we will be forced to realize that the institution is within us all.

Stereotyping. Of all kinds.

Then add that to the fact that people of color are quite literally abused with all kinds of microaggressions every day and then compound it with actual abuse, loss of opportunities, and being stuck in a system that insists that you must fail, and it's not hard to realize that, as a whole, the people are SKITTISH.

I mean, I was trained in psychology. All the things that Ijeoma Oluo warns about and asks of her readers are the same things that any professional psychologist would do when they want to heal someone who has been in a long-term abusive relationship complete with many fractured bones and a severe distrust for anyone in authority. Because the authority failed them.

So here I am, a white male who always espoused an open mind and who is pretty dedicated to using critical thinking. I don't WANT to be a ***ing racist. I hate everything it stands for. I believe in the concept that what we do to the least of us defines us as a people. The whole damn thing is wrong.

Seeing the riots, seeing all the horrible disinformation flying about, feeling the frustration, the anger, the senseless hate, the fear, the aggression... it's really polarizing.

So I turn to books to give me objectivity in a storm of media chaos and opportunism. Those who know, know to look at tactics and who benefits from such tactics. Fact-checking is also absolutely essential.

So what did I get out of this book?

Tears, mostly.

It's true. For such a bright, strong voice, Ijeoma Oluo held me throughout the book and even told me this was for my own good... to tell me that I am a racist.

Of course, I'm supposed to suppress my natural reaction to being called a racist and accept it because it's institutional racism that NONE of us can escape. I even agree with it.

But you know what? I walk away from this book feeling a bit hopeless. I'm not going to give up the fight. I'm going to remain aware of my own s**t. But f**k.

I'm just going to put this out there:

If there's anyone who wants to talk to me about race, just do it. I promise I'll keep my ears and eyes open. And my mind.

I'm willing to do the best I can. It's not much, or perhaps it's everything, but more importantly, I'm PUTTING MYSELF OUT THERE. I'm not remaining silent. I care. That's it.

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Thursday, June 4, 2020

Of Mice and MenOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ah, to revisit the classics.

And to think there are THAT MANY LENNIES out here! It boggles my mind how many of them stroke me and pet me and when I go to nip at them, they all lay a huge wallop on me.


Lennie... oh, Lennie. I didn't mean it. You're my best friend, Lennie. I promise we'll get a little land together and you can tend the rabbits. I promise.

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Eleventh Grave in Moonlight (Charley Davidson, #11)Eleventh Grave in Moonlight by Darynda Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's completely official. I'm a fan. I'm consistently having a burritoful of fun every time I pick these up. Any kind of old annoyance I MIGHT have had with the series is flattening out in a slide of hot coffee and green chiles.

And now? I'm just enjoying the UF goodness.

Let's enjoy those godlike powers, shall we? It's BIG power. :) HUGE.

So why isn't the story overwhelmed with such huge powers and huge stakes?

It's Albuquerque. Nobody expects much of that place, I think. BUT GIMME MY HOT FOOD! :)

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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Relentless Moon (Lady Astronaut #3)The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a lot of ways, this is superior to the second book -- which didn't like as much as the first. Being stuck on the craft to Mars had its charms, to be sure, but there's a lot of good to be had staying closer to home.

Astronaut Nicole Wargin takes the narration up and she spends a lot of time on Earth and the Moon. Not only are the technical aspects interesting as such a small portion of humanity will be able to survive the coming cataclysm, but we're treated to lots of feels, espionage, murder, sabotage, and sleuthing -- ALONG with the whole basic plot of SURVIVAL. :)

Plot-wise, I had the best time of all. :)

No spoilers, but there are some rather hard surprises and interesting twists.

All in all, I'm really enjoying the direction it's going. It's a winner!

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Monday, June 1, 2020

The Trials of KoliThe Trials of Koli by M.R. Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think it needs to be said: trilogies need to come back.

Certain stories require more page space. This second book continues The Book of Koli in a wonderful way. A sympathetic character in Koli is given a lot more dimension by other PoVs, but what really makes this shine is all the time and other character development out in the wide world of Ingland. :)

I'm not entirely certain how far in the future this Earth is, but all the remnants of high-tech weaponry and quasi-AI and massively altered plant and animal life make this a RICH setting to tell a big post-apocalyptic world. And that's just the first book.

This one quite naturally widens our scope and we see how several other sides live in this twilight of humanity.

I should mention that the text is mostly written by Koli who is "creatively literate" and maybe not surprisingly, there is plenty of evidence of language drift.

How cool is that? Most authors don't bother, but the evidence for some deep worldbuilding is everywhere in these. Just what happened in the Unfinished War? So many things combined to spell out our slow demise.

By just getting out on their own, fighting to live another day, I'm really invested in the story. I had a very good time.

That being said, this IS the second book. It doesn't stand on its own. But then, it does follow a very old tradition and I really don't mind it at all. We could have had one HUGE book with all three combined or we could them as they are split up here. To me, it's all one big story and I'm rocking to it. :)

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