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Friday, July 31, 2020

Divergence (Foreigner #21)Divergence by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Twenty-one books! Of course, I think that's a real feat, considering that we're following the SAME sets of characters over many years and situations on an alien world and this has NONE of the feel of a Urban Fantasy OR a long crime series.

Indeed, it's ALL about alien politics. And it REMAINS GOOD after twenty-one books! Are you amazed? I'm amazed. :) Just ask anyone. Do you think a book about translation errors and alien assassinations as a basis for good government could carry your interest for twenty-one books?

Well, it does! :) And if you're reading this review, you're probably already a fan or you're wondering if you should pick up the series again and I'm here to say: It's STILL GOOD. :)

I just can't say anything because of spoilers. And damn, there's a big spoiler coming up. The great-grandson of our wonderful Dowager is growing up. Bren is almost like an elder statesman now. It's fascinating to see the dynamics and politics. :)

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Automatic ReloadAutomatic Reload by Ferrett Steinmetz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I came into this read with certain expectations. I've read five of his other novels and while many of them had serious moments, they were (on the whole) rather funny or even deeply amusing while also kicking major SF (or UF) butt.

This one, at least by the blurb, gave me a feeling like this would be a fast, furious, and funny romance with massive cyborg hardware wrapped in a romance.

What I found was a serious work met with quiet humor, an empathic romance born of anxiety, compassion, and shared threats.

How was it serious? It does wonders for the neurodiverse. Whether someone is anxious, depressed, or suffering from PTSD, I've rarely read a more comprehensive (and interesting) treatment. And it makes SENSE. Anyone that afraid of anything WOULD be a prime candidate for the full transhumanist package. And more, of course. Who needs a white matrix room when you can store all your guns IN your body. :)

Of course, I'm focusing on what makes this an excellent novel that will stay with me a while.

The other trappings are all kinds of awesome, too. It really IS a furious, high-octane shoot-em-up adventure, after all. And the romance is freaking sweet and hits all the right kinds of tones.

It's just not designed to be a laugh-a-minute tale. And I think it's BETTER for it. :)

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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

A Killing Frost (October Daye, #14)A Killing Frost by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's always like coming home when I read this series.

Of course, it's a home with nasty Fae relatives, some brutal nice ones, friends who support me but who fully expect me to kill them ANY MOMENT NOW, and NO ONE WILL LEAVE ME BE ABOUT WHEN I'LL GET MARRIED.

Of course, I'm channeling October, but I figure if you're reading this review, YOU ALREADY GOT THAT. :)

Lessee... what can I say that isn't a complete spoiler?

Families SUCK. If it isn't divorce, it's marriage, and doesn't it beat all when the two get their grimy little paws on each other, ruining it for everyone?

This is a good book. It didn't leave me with as much of a gut punch as the last, but this one was solid and surprising (especially 1st born surprises) and the extra novella was actually rather sweet and helped round out the events in the novel. I likey!

Good stuff, ya'll!

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Green Man, Earth Angel: The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the WorldGreen Man, Earth Angel: The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World by Tom Cheetham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For a book with such a promising title, I was somewhat underwhelmed.

Let's put this in the proper frame: This is a book of proper metaphysics that came out about fifteen years ago but it fully responds to and continues the work of Jung, Henry Corbin, and synthesizes a lot of the BIG IDEAS into seemingly new forms.

You know, the ideas like the "soul of the world", "imaginal worlds", archetypes, duality synthesis, and all the things that are the horribly over-complicated realm of ALCHEMY, as long as we consider alchemy the domain of the psyche.

Please bear with me. Most of the underlying ideas are pretty commonplace. While reading THIS particular book, I was sufficiently impressed by the ability of the author to obfuscate, needlessly prevaricate, and weave a tangled, tangled web.

If I was to rate this on being fully erudite in the sense of knowing his source materials, combining a very wide range of comparative metaphysics, from Sufis to Plato to Corbin, I'd give this a full 5 stars.

If I was to rate this by Umberto Eco's four types of publishable material, I'd call this Moronic. Indeed, it delights in slamming us down with minor variations on an otherwise simple idea, making us bow down to his ability to SOUND impressive as hell without letting us get to the freaking point.

How much did we go into the idea of letting one's whole being suffuse a single idea until our very soul becomes one with it? Tons. It's an old idea. Books are the death of that way of thinking, or it was beginning to die by the time we started getting illuminated texts. The soul needs to immerse itself in its meditations and having a text to go by is the death of original creative thought, etc., etc. Of course, the point is to crank up the volume to ten and exploit the idea until we get to levels of the world, etc.

Fine, fine. We live in the basest, most shadowy level. The point is to break through.

So am I just complaining about clarity concerns?

Nope. I take umbrage with a lot of the FUNDAMENTAL assumptions. So many are left completely undefined. Beyond that, there are brief encounters with statements that assume all thought is based on a neural net. He bases ALL of our experiential quanta on foundations that are shaky at best. If we are supposed to tackle any duality in order to transcend it, then first we need to understand how WE work in the first place.

Everything else is just a review of old thoughts repackaged in an overly complex attempt at the author attempting to overwhelm us. After a certain point, is there a point to exhaustively, densely, going over so many instances of dualism? Most are, at their core, the same; to understand good, you must understand evil. Consciousness, unconsciousness. Reality, imagination. He argues, in a lot of ways, that they are all the same class.

I won't argue the point. I happen to agree with most of it. I do not, however, agree with the full conclusions because we are still spinning in the wind without fundamental definitions. One does not base a whole argument on the weight of other faulty works and assume you're going to come up with something other than "Garbage In, Garbage Out".

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Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Souls of Black FolkThe Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twenty-odd years ago, I read a few of these essays in other collected works and I remembered them very fondly.

Reading them again now, in full, is something of a treat. I had not forgotten the quality of the writing. Indeed, the writing is gorgeous, erudite, and emotional.

The sequence on education, the narrative of self-exploration, even of self-transcendence is a thing to behold.

Of course, it is also heartbreaking. This was published in 1903, almost forty years after the Civil War, after the Emancipation Proclamation, and after the full roll-back of most of the rights that blacks SHOULD have had following their "freedom". Forty years after, poverty and the Jim Crow laws still hold sway. The systematic pushdown of an entire race is in full swing. Blacks got one-quarter of the funding for education as whites. If blacks wanted teachers, they had to teach themselves. The same thing went for making their own communities.

High-interest rates and debt and company towns were the norm for any kind of share-cropping. It was slavery without the whippings. Economic chains instead of real ones. Massive movements arose to kick all blacks out of politics.

Ignorance was the means to keep blacks down.

What I LOVE most about W. E. B. Du Bois is his sequence on education. And it is the same for today as it was back then. It's not enough to endure. You must know. It's not enough to survive, to thrive you must understand the whole web of your life.

Interestingly enough, when I read this in the nineties, it just felt RIGHT. It was about the same amount of time AFTER the 60's Civil Rights Movements.

The feeling of ennui. The desire for change. The ability to make a stand slipping out of our hands.

-- The understanding that all that hard work, all the HOPE was disappearing beneath a tide of false promises, empty platitudes, and (let's face it) ignorance. --

But it's not impossible. Nothing is impossible.

It's hard. All of it is hard. But the fight is worth it. We can't let hate win.

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Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous ManToo Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mary L. Trump's book is a narrative of a family we all seem to know very well, but don't be fooled into thinking it's all about Donald. It's all about the full family, of Fred Trump and how he ruthlessly encouraged Donald to take self-aggrandizement, deflection, and narcissism to new heights, shamelessly using his vast fortune to prop up and bail out his son Donald throughout his career.

It's about Fred's high-functioning sociopathy. It's about how he disregarded all his children and turned them all into slaves of his non-existent affection and his money. It's about Mary's own father and how he was ruthlessly disenfranchised and belittled.

It's about Mary, herself, who had to make her own way without assistance from either her grandfather or her uncle (who had, by now, become a product of a vast PR machine), or when she was asked to help Donald write a book for him, she was given neither any assistance BY Donald for the book ABOUT him nor did she even get paid. And this doesn't even touch the vast pettiness of stopping health insurance for Fred's grandchildren who are in serious need or the mind-boggling entitlement of these rich a**holes.

Let's put the record straight here. Donald IS what we're all most interested in. Mary is a clinical psychologist in her own right. And a few things are very clear about Donald.

He was rewarded for striking first, bullying, and never accepting defeat in anything. He grew up learning to deflect responsibility and browbeat everyone else into doing the work and then taking full credit. He was taught to lie, lie, lie at all costs. His father's truncated ambitions fell on his son to make it really big and neither father nor son makes any compunctions about behaving like slumlord billionaires. That's how Fred did it. And he pushed and propped up his son the entire way.

This is a PR machine. Just think about all those banks that fell for the PR and promise of Trump, only to see him fail, spectacularly, and out of fear of being called out for gross incompetency, made sure to give Trump even MORE money to make it look like he wasn't losing... oh, no... he is always winning.

It's about narrative. It's always about narrative. And we ignore FIVE, I repeat FIVE bankruptcies. We ignore the total scam of the Trump University, which was a scaled-down version of short-selling on other's misfortunes as a way of life. We ignore the basic underlying principle... which is to bluster your way through every situation regardless of facts, capitalize on other's misfortunes, and above all, put on a fake face.

How did he do it?

He's a confidence man in a very real sense. He sells confidence in him. He asks for HUGE amounts and then -- when he inevitably fails -- his investors have to double down or lose everything.

Sound familiar?

Half the nation is seeing the same cycle all over again and has decided, like the banks, to double down on him.

How interesting.

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Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True (Heloise the Bard #1)The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True by Sean Gibson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know those times when you come back from a hard night of singing for your beer, having flashed a smile to melt not just your cohort's hearts, but whole drunken villages?

Yeah, me either, but Heloise does.

At least, that's what she keeps telling us.

This book is exactly what I needed.

Funny, smart, and enough made-up words like turdkey (complete with a full etymology) to keep me roaring with barely concealed snickers and a belly-full of bad puns... not to mention a desire to go back and watch some more Monty Python. :)

LOVE these zingers. It's like MP had a baby with JRRT but without all the endless fascination with food and alcohol.

OH. Wait. It IS endlessly fascinated with food and alcohol. And pronouns. Giants are sensitive, you know.

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Friday, July 24, 2020

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American CapitalismThe Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For those of you who have heard, and hated, the truism: "History is written by the victors," this is the perfect book for you.

Make no mistake, the narrative distills the very worst (and confirmed) aspects of the institution of slavery.

I've read a number of non-fiction and many more fictionalized accounts of American history -- mostly of the south -- and I've seen it all. Most of them whitewash (quite) or footnote the very real and huge aspect all these black bodies and the full extent to which ALL of America was built upon them. "A deplorable institution that would have gone away on its own, given time." (Sorry. Bullshit.)

What Edward E. Baptist accomplishes is much more impressive than the grand majority of the histories I've read. A lot of them will go into the economic details, the conditions of the folk living there, the social, the outside driving forces. And he does, too. But Baptist does something rather spectacular in this book.

Word choice.

Let's not call plantations by such a romantic term. They are, and always have been, SLAVE LABOR CAMPS. Millions of families were broken apart, sold as commodities (IN BOTH THE NORTH AND THE SOUTH STOCK MARKET). Most were forced into constantly demeaning migrant laborer positions turning them into literal machines meant only to pick cotton and get the quota, every day, or get whipped. And women? You have no idea how many were sold merely for sex. And again, not just the South, but also the North.

All those romantic traditions of the South are whitewash. Literally. What about the Louisiana Purchase? We get Andrew Jackson's fight with the banks, the failure to regain control, and the debt-cycle spree of speculation FOR slaveowners to expand their territory, exploit or wipe out the American Indians to take their land and plant cotton. We have the entire push to build the first intercontinental railroad FUNDED by the slave trade and the immense earnings of cotton. One-fifth of the entire Gross National Product was the slave trade, and make no mistake, the North profited from it all.

It was like the Oil boom a hundred years later. Exploit, exploit, exploit. Have a bad year? That's what hedge funds are for. Mortgage your wealth on the number of heads you own. Want political power? You get to vote based on how many heads you own and how much wealth you bring to the Congress and the Senate.

Let's put it this way: After Lincoln was assassinated, his Vice President did everything he could to reverse all the decisions that had been made in favor of the blacks. Why? The entire economic system revolved around the exploitation of blacks. Jim Crow and the debt system is just a thinly veiled disguise for the MUCH more efficient system of slavery. Keep the fear high, keep them working hard, at a loss, and make SURE that the backbone of your wealth never reaches a position of redress.

Sound familiar?

This is a book for everyone. Or it ought to be. We must face our history dead-on or we will not appreciate just how much has carried over today. We all need to open our eyes.

Narratives truly do make a difference. If you spend all your time defending or deflecting the fallout of a deeply troublesome system, then maybe you ought to step back and see it for what it really is.

Word choices matter. Stop romanticizing the South. There are always good people anywhere, but let's face it... any system that does this to its own people, who systematically tortures its own citizens whether in the open or under horribly unfair practices, is NOT a good system.

If we are unable to build wealth together... ALL of us together... then I have a good term for us: We're Assholes.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Lovecraft CountryLovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read, 7/22/20:

I'm going to go ahead and give it another star. It's really holding its own for me and enjoyed it, even more, the second time. Ah, the Great White hope, indeed.

F*** this S***.


Suffice to say, the '50s racism, if it was even half as bad as it is portrayed here, still seems rather freaking familiar as the kind we have today. Without the riots OR the solidarity, of course.

Original review:

There are two ways that I enjoyed this novel.

The first was the racism angle and the happy ending despite all the horrible things that happen in this tale and against blacks in the good-ole-boy country in 50's 'murica. Racism, enslavement on multiple levels, the desire to try on another skin, all of it was both a repudiation of fantasy and pulp fiction's other skewed-ness way from black heroes. This novel dealt with the issues head-on and I liked it. :)

The second was how the novel was also a huge sample-dish of horror tropes, a love story to cultists, sorcerers, well-researched secret societies, evil doll tropes, tentacles, paranoia, haunted houses, and so much more. The author knows his shit. Lovecraft? Sure, but think of a slightly milder take, not quite attempting to draw us deeper and deeper into the depths of awe-turned-horror, but skipping us across strangeness to strangeness across the entire tale, sampling a bit of each dish while focusing more on character-journeys that don't quite make them go insane or get pulled into other dimensions or get eaten by non-euclidian geometries.

This is an anti-racist funhouse of horrors. :)

Of course, if you are subject to racism, yourself, you might just fall into this tale and call it a novel of pure horror, but at least you can rest assured that there will be a happy ending. :)

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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Doors of EdenThe Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just read one of my new favorites not just for this year... but perhaps for this entire decade.
Or rather, let's just scratch that and say it's one of my favorites.

Adrian Tchaikovsky himself said, about this book, "I have quite the trip in store for readers," and he wasn't joking around. The opening seems rather scientific and dry, and perhaps some people will appreciate the little primer on evolutionary science through deep time, the first building blocks of life through Earth's current cycle.

Hell, I was personally wondering what the hell it had to do with anything. Of course, with a little patience, it turns out to have EVERYTHING to do with EVERYTHING.

Adrian Tchaikovsky has repeatedly brought OTHER intelligent life to us in so many different forms and thought patterns. Just look at Children of Time (intelligent spiders butting heads with humans) or Children of Ruin (that includes intelligent squid) in a full space opera. Or let's look at his fantasy series with tons of animals (and insects) with their own societies in an epic fantasy! He has a thing for biology. And he takes it further in Doors of Eden than he's taken it anywhere else.

This book is simultaneously MORE accessible, more down-to-earth Modern Earth, than any other book (not including novellas) that he's ever written. But it is ALSO one of the hardest SF novels he's ever written.

Yeah. That tickles me to death, too. How can it be light and heavy at the same time? Because he pulls in real science, truly fantastically creative speculation on how Earth's own species could arise to intelligence if luck had JUST been on their side, and he wraps it all up with excellent modern technothriller sensibilities.

I can't even begin to count how many tropes Tchaikovsky brings in to stand on their head, change forms, and then come back out like a cyborg of its original form.

Or, I COULD, but then I'd be simply listing all the fantastic ideas and how he made them even more fantastic and how the novel kept growing and growing and growing in scope until I felt like it had forever ruined the best aspects of Sliders for me while also sticking a fork in the best First Contact novels I've ever read. :)

To sum up... this book should win all the awards. It's not only accessible, but it does all the Hard-SF ideas justice.

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Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Unfinished LandThe Unfinished Land by Greg Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anyone who is familiar with Greg Bear will perk up when I say he harkens back to Eon's strange new SF worlds, mixes it with the feel of Dinosaur Summer, and then tops it off a taste of the big magic of City at the End of Time.

Aspects, mind you. The Unfinished Land is a wonderful new land that mixes historical fantasy with the kick of adventure, complete with sea battles, shipwrecks, and strange settlements WAY off the beaten path.

And when I say strange settlement, I mean one with eldritch magics, gods from outer space, drakes, and a carefully constructed social system of unique undead, eaters, and builders.

Just trying to figure out the rich worldbuilding gave me tons of enjoyment.

Maybe I'm weird, but the historical settings, while delicious, were not my favorite parts. When we get halfway into the novel, things get really interesting. No spoilers, but this is the kind of out-there imagination that I've always appreciated in Greg Bear. The bigger, the weirder, the better. :)

The play on the title is particularly awesome. Just mind, it probably isn't what you think. Maybe. :)

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Saturday, July 18, 2020

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

Overall, this is a solid book in the series, focusing mostly on the primary plot than interpersonal drama... but you know how a lot of these UF's go. They always stand or fall because of the characters. You can throw them into a whole bunch of action scenes and get them fully involved with mysterious murders, supernatural factions, and have their cred grow as each successful mission comes to a close, but in the end, it all boils down to what the main character believes and upholds.

Jane Yellowrock seems to have a little issue with her beliefs, and it's not quite as organic as you might expect. It kinda pops up, like guilt without a mom hanging around to instigate it, at the weirdest times. Religion? Which is it, the Christianity side, or the Cherokee spiritualism? Is she just exploring both? I don't know. It doesn't seem to have much reason. And besides, aren't there a bunch of werewolf murders to solve?


THAT BEING SAID, I like the new supernaturals even if the character logic surrounding it seems more on par with a kind of spiritual nod to Anita Blake (in more than one way). I'll ignore this for now. The core tale is still good and it has all the normal features that draw us to UFs in general.

Magic walking the world, getting political, and developing a complex society side-by-side with us. :)

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Friday, July 17, 2020

Another CountryAnother Country by James Baldwin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those novels, like Giovanni's Room that dives deep into interpersonal relationships in a very deep and broad way. Not only is it about the complicated relationships between blacks and whites, but about m/m, m/f, and all the messy complicated issues that can happen between them all.

Yes, it's about racism, but mostly it's about fairly decent people trying to make it work and still getting it all wrong. And that's interesting, no? For a book that came out in 1962, he runs through the whole gamut of human interaction and it's often sweet, scary, idealistic, depressing, and sometimes downright ugly.

But it's also not overblown or politicized. And that's INTERESTING, to me. It's very modern without being ugly-modern. Where everyone has an agenda, Baldwin seems free of it.

I mean... assuming you already think that humans are a chaotic heap that can mess itself up quite nicely without outside influence. :)

Very interesting novel. It belongs right up there with all the human-nature greats. :)

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Icerigger (Icerigger, #1)Icerigger by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, good news for all you fans of ice planets without strapping barbarian princes. This is a Regular Adventure with pretty interesting aliens in a traditional first contact scenario.

Prospective adventurers Must Be Okay With Wings. If not, please don't apply. Or better yet, just don't go on this adventure at all. No matter how good the trade might be, you ARE going to get cold.

Still, a solid novel, from accident to discovery to getting to know the locals and get into fisticuffs with them to fighting barbarian hoards...

Hey, wait... is this a fantasy? *checks cover* No, this seems to be a standard SF. Did they put the wrong cover on this? No. Wait. The humans are the aliens. These aren't ice-dragons. Sorry! My mistake!

Still, if you like ice adventures, there are many worse adventures to choose from. :)

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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

QualitylandQualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All right!

This is hands-down the most interesting and funny and QUALITY SF I've read this year. It should be a shoo-in for a Hugo at the very least.

Not only is it an easy, funny read, but it's also an absolutely scathing a satire with fantastic pacing, dozens of tongue-in-cheek zingers, and a pitch-perfect condemnation of our modern ratings-based society.

I mean, honestly, we ARE all exactly what our profiles say... aren't we? There's NO ONE out there that isn't exactly what the credit agencies say, right? I mean, all those huge conglomerate information-gathering monstrosities have ALL got us dead-to-rights, right?

Of course! In commerce we trust!

(In actual fact, this book is like Idiocracy had a really smart baby, read Rationality: From AI to Zombies before picking up a bunch of misfit grifters made of nuts and bolts. Of course, that was the moment it decided to either run for president or get revenge on revenge-porn viewers. (I can't quite tell, but that last bit might be the same thing.)

This book is the most pleasant surprise of the year! (So far.)

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Monday, July 13, 2020

Season of Storms (The Witcher #6)Season of Storms by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a lot of ways, this book is more like The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny than the core five books of the series.

It's not to say that this is broken up into many short stories that flesh out the universe, but it reads more like books 4 or 5 in that there are mini-adventures that are more or less self-contained and don't push an overarching plot. In other words, this isn't about the great war or Ciri.

It is, however, fascinating as hell and sometimes humorous and often I just want to scream at Geralt's bad luck. One more bad thing after another.

It definitely makes for a fun read, however. I had as much fun during this as I had during the first two short story collections. And Dandelion? Always a treat. :)

As a matter of fact, this one really feels like some of the old classics of Fantasy. Fafhrd and Gray Mouser comes to mind. Great dialogue, fun, rather dark adventures, and a much-updated fantasy ethic.

I could honestly read things like this forever. :) Pure adventure.

Of course, don't come into this one expecting a huge fantasy arc, because this is not that.

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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Virion: The Black Cell (Virion Series, #1)Virion: The Black Cell by R.L.M. Sanchez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One part post-SF-apocalypse, one part investigatory mystery, and one part Mars commando a-la Leviathan Wakes. This book aims for a particular SF niche. I personally see it as a post-military tribute to plague-transformed societies, with just a small taste of an alien-invested social structure.

And oh, yeah, let's not forget the mindless hoards. It's definitely a noir/mil-SF and quite decent.

It'll definitely scratch a lot of SF itches out there for those who want more of this type!

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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Gone with the WindGone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a wild ride.

Let me be candid: I'm not a huge fan of casual Southern racism no matter how charmingly couched in close-knit family ties, genteel manners, or explosively self-destructive values that leave them all ripe for exploitation. Nor am I all that fond of the damn Yankees, either, if I must be honest.

But there's something about reading about the plantations and the elitism and the romanticism of a corrupt way of life written so... longingly... that made me want to gnaw my own wrists off during the first few sections of this novel. I mean, let's face it. I'm a modern reader. I've read tons about the plights of slaves and the tasks of modern intersectionality, so reading this novel was like reading the template for the modern Conservative party.

And I mean the good parts as well as the bad. YES, family is everything, YES, the society was set up to support its members *AS LONG AS THEY ARE THE SAME CLASS*, and YES, they sure were proud, weren't they? But they were also downright cruel if you fell outside of the right virtue signaling. And you were totally F***ed if you slipped out of the same class, let alone didn't share the same skin. And being Irish? No, it's not quite the same as being black, but to hear them talk about it... YES, there was a ton of ugly. The KKK section was particularly fugly.

But this is a modern classic, no? A sprawling epic romance that covers the time before the Civil War, during the Civil War, and a few years after the Civil War. And for all its problematic (at least to me) aspects, I still fell into the wild tale of Scarlet and Rhett and both sympathized and wanted to scream at their utter selfishness. To be fair, it was a great context to and contrast with the Southern Culture even from within it. I enjoyed the drama and particularly enjoyed the positive messages for women even while some took the messages two steps back.

In other words, it's a mess of good and bad messages. Worse, it's VERY readable and thoroughly engrossing and entertaining.


I can't compare this to the movie because I've never seen it. Odd, no? One of the most beloved movies of all time and I'd rather read a novel that's over a thousand pages. Huh. Oh well. :)

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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Annihilation Aria (The Space Operas, #1)Annihilation Aria by Michael R. Underwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When it comes to space operas, one generally doesn't think of things like actual SINGING, but I have to admit this is a welcome addition to the corpus of this subgenre.

Add to it some fairly oddball settings/characters, a massive space-nod to Indiana Jones, and transform the first half of the novel into an outright quest to save the universe from the empire, including space battles, more singing, and the optimism inherent in fighting fascism, and you've got yourself a fun book.

So why aren't I giving this an enthusiastic 5-star rating? Because for all its internal enthusiasm and SF-blockbuster movie ethos, it has, unfortunately, all been done before. All that's left is a tale that must do the old thing BETTER than all the ones before it and this one -- while definitely fun -- isn't the beat-all of the genre. There is a LOT of space operas out there.

Still, if you're looking for something new in the subgenre, I definitely think you ought to check this out. :) Expect adventure. :)

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Monday, July 6, 2020

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and ReligionThe Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There were many points as I was reading this that I had to check my assumptions and back down. Automatic groupings based on similarities tend to almost ALWAYS lead every single one of us to post hoc reasoning.

What do I mean?

Everyone jumps to conclusions based on their intuition. That feeling of rightness then leads us to find reasons and arguments why it is so.

Unfortunately, this is proven to be the means of how almost every single one of us uses reason. Over and over, we're constantly reminded of bias, of selective reasoning, of checking our assumptions, of realizing that not only our memories but our very foundation of knowing a thing is based on a lie.

And it's not like we do it on purpose. We try very hard to do the right thing all the time.

Unfortunately, Haidt makes a very convincing and well-researched argument showing us how we are all led by our noses. I don't particularly like his descriptive analogies, but their meanings are solid.

The breakdown? We are all led by our taste. Our moral foundations.

Right from wikipedia, the first five are:
Care: cherishing and protecting others; opposite of harm
Fairness or proportionality: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating
Loyalty or ingroup: standing with your group, family, nation; opposite of betrayal
Authority or respect: submitting to tradition and legitimate authority; opposite of subversion
Sanctity or purity: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions; opposite of degradation

Haidt adds:

Liberty, as in the opposite of oppression.

This means an awful lot for our current climate. Each side claims supremacy in each of these moral bullet points but often one side will do one better than the other in certain areas.

Liberals lionize Care.

Liberals and Conservatives focus on different elements of Fairness. Social justice over Economics.

Conservatives lionize Loyalty, while often Liberals point to the nasty effects of it. (But it is still absolutely necessary, with precautions.)

Authority and Respect also come up in very different ways between the groups, too. Conservatives assume that a breakdown of Authority leads to anarchy, while Liberals (broadly) see the abuses of

Authority and focus on Respect. This last is usually about equality.

Sanctity is a strange one. It's the one that ties closest to religiosity on both sides. Disgust at the horrible things people do, the degradation of public institutions, the incalculable loss of life and liberty. I see a lot of outrage here and it's almost always a pure gut-punch that rarely gets post hoc reasoning. It's almost always virtue signaling for either side.

And then there is Haidt's own contribution: Liberty. Usually associated with Freedom.

Conservatives tie it to maintaining a moral way of life, maintaining institutions, and their economics.
Liberals ask, "Liberty for whom? Whose Freedom is maintained? Who gets left out?"

The fundamental CONCERN for liberty is the same. Each side wants liberty and freedom. But here's where it gets funky:

Which side believes they are beset with impurities that must be expunged? Which side is BEING expunged?

If you can point to BOTH SIDES, then you might actually be rising above bias confirmation.

Of course, nowadays, party members are actively told never to converse with the opposing party. In fact, the very idea of finding common ground is usually used as a way to ostracize a party member. So what happens? An individual is forced to find their moral grounds ONLY from the party that they must maintain fealty to.

And all the while, real communication breaks down. The greater similarities fall away in gross mistrust and purity signaling. This is true for both sides.

The Us VS Them is now in full swing and it is almost NEVER based on facts or reason. It is tribalism. It is intuition based on previously formed moralisms that are the foundations for every decision we make.

It doesn't make it right, but it does make a lot of sense.

It's a good argument for bringing back a kind of religion. One that is actually based on the welfare of all its members, that break down divides between social groups, that actually provides a safe space for all kinds of people to talk.

Odd, right? We can even leave deities out of it. But we must respect it. This is how we have always gotten along. Uber individualism just doesn't work. We all need people to survive.

And come on -- it's TIME TO DE-ESCALATE.

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Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Angel of the CrowsThe Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm torn on this one.

As a fan of Sherlock Holmes in general and having been a rabid purveyor of delightful Victorian mashups with supernatural elements in general, I should have been all over Angel of the Crows. I should have been whooping it up. I enjoyed the author's Goblin Emperor, too, so I know she has the writing chops to pull it off.

So what happened?

First, I enjoyed the worldbuilding. There are several types of angels and they are locked into certain rules. There are werewolves in London and Doyle (A. C. indeed,) plays Watson as a Hellhound. Holmes plays an oddly constrained (or unconstrained) angel who seems rather... like a marginalized character.

The full extent of the supernatural races and the racism in London is also rather awesome.

And to top it all off, Addison runs a VERY CLOSE retelling of a TON of Sherlock Holmes stories! With the twist, of course. And you know what? I LIKE it. In concept.

Or I thought I would have liked it. In concept.

In actuality? I like all of this in concept. I don't know if I really enjoyed it all that much in actuality. After all, I know what happened in the original mysteries. I kept wanting to see some major breakaways or truly interesting twists that kept me guessing. In the end, I was appreciating the book more for the artistic commentary and the novelty value more than the actual writing.

And the novelty value was, unfortunately, not ALL that novel. How much angel fiction is there out there, by a rough count? Or UF in historical fictional settings? Quite a few.

So what we have to lean on is a very careful and elaborate retelling of the Sherlock Holmes stories INCLUDING Jack the Ripper in a UF base. The elaborate parts are better than most. They're careful and detailed. I really want to applaud the effort.

Unfortunately, what came to mind was Novik's Uprooted. Novik retold old myths, slightly altering the core AND the window dressing, while Addison seems to keep only an unaltered core while altering the window dressing. One surprises us, the other ... amuses us? At least some? Yes.

But I also feel like it could have been so much more, too.

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Saturday, July 4, 2020

Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century ParenthoodSomeone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood by Drew Magary
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I basically read this because Drew wrote it. It doesn't get simpler than that.

That being said, it's a painfully obvious memoir of parenthood that is as recognizable as it is deadly funny. Oh, and did I mention the painful bits? It's all there.

Yes, it's a no-holds-barred look at himself and his relationship with his small children. With an honest look at his mistakes, his frustrations, and his semi-willingness to let his daughter destroy a perfect pizza.

Trust me. That story was breathtaking and terrible.

I jest. It was the last part.

I do appreciate honesty and humor. Sometimes the only way to cry is through a laugh.

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The Status CivilizationThe Status Civilization by Robert Sheckley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maybe if I was 20 years younger and not all that versed in SF except in practically ONLY the classics, I probably would have picked up this little subversive title and chuckled darkly through my reading of it.

I probably would have nodded and enjoyed the relatively light Bad-Is-Good vision of society and admit that I've read much better satire in my life. But it IS satire and it's not BAD satire. It's just LITE satire.

In other words, it fits nicely with a grand sweeping tradition of early SF.

I should say... this is the second Sheckly I've read. He sure has a thing about people sport-hunting people. lol

This was an okay book. Fast-paced, a product of its time, and relatively predictable. :)

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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Lady of the Lake (The Witcher, #5)Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I honestly tried to find the truly negative aspects about this book. I honestly did. But when it came to the dreamlike aspects, the tie-ins and total subversion of the tiny bits of the Arthurian Legend, or when it came to finding this to be a weak Witcher novel...?

Eh. No. It was very strong. Strong enough to keep my attention fully rapt from start to finish.

I mean, who DOESN'T like Ciri as a badass? She sure went through a ton of changes and misfortunes. All that extremely well done prophesy buildup from the first books, the way Yennefer and Geralt would do anything for her, or how the entire mess played out, lead to one of the best, most disturbing passages of full-out war I've read in a fantasy series. (And that's including Tolkein, mind you.)

But perhaps I'm not focusing on the right thing. What I should be pointing at is the future-timeline jumps, the little speeches from old survivors, the way the past is remembered or misremembered. These are the writings that pulled me under the lake and drowned me. It put everything... and I mean everything into perspective. We get the crap, the idealism, the hopeful, the romantic... and THEN we get the real, heartbreaking story.

And no. I'm not going to spoil what becomes of Yennefer and Geralt. I'll just say I cried. If you want to know more, then damn you, READ THE BOOK. :)

*smacks lips* So tasty.

One other thing: the writing style is NOT very traditional, but it IS evocative. I really appreciate how this series is UNLIKE most epic fantasy. It's much smarter than I think most people give it credit. :)

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