Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Point BPoint B by Drew Magary
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Drew Magary does it again. There hasn't been a novel of his that I've read that I haven't fallen over dead after having finished reading.

No, no, this isn't the Post-Mortal, and I didn't over-exert myself on a Hike. Indeed, the idea of traveling at all has become absurdly easy... just like reading this novel.

Cell-phones in ten years now allow us to teleport. Like Jaunting, ya? But these are tied to nasty cell phone plans with nastier reams of unread legal-sleaze. But who cares, right, so long as we can take a trip to Spain, Brazil, Newfoundland (just kidding), and back to school in New Jersey during your lunch break.

This SOUNDS like a pretty good YA, no? And it is. But it has some really dark points that are quite as dark as Post-Mortal (and with as huge a range of ramifications, evil, and annihilation) and *almost* as weird as the Hike. But let's just swap the weird with an epic tale of revenge and you'll have a better idea about what this novel is about.

It just goes to show, dehumanization and power and racism is STILL going to be a massively huge problem when anyone can go wherever they want. After all, if there are no restrictions, and just about anyone can hop into your room as you sleep, it may not be a *NICE* future. Take along your war, your hate, and your insanity, and suddenly no place is safe.

So how do we get to Point B? Dial it up! It's very worth the Jaunt, and lordy.... that last 1/3 of the novel was absolutely un-putdownable. Brilliant. I lost sleep over it.

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Monday, September 21, 2020

The Shadow Saint (The Black Iron Legacy, #2)The Shadow Saint by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This second book in the Black Iron Legacy was, IMHO, a better book. More interesting.

I'm sure some mileage will vary, but I was a lot more fascinated by the reconstruction following the war, the politics, the spy-stuff, and the total aftermath of all the god-stuff suffusing the world than I was for the previous book's build-up and explosion.

Overall, I think the entire novel was very entertaining.

What would I compare it to? The Powder Mage trilogy. There are a ton of similarities. I'm sure most fans of Epic Fantasy who LOVE the big magic throughout the worldbuilding will be tickled as hell by this.

Just be forewarned, this Epic Fantasy stems from a grimdark root, has everything from guns to god bombs, and let's not forget the city itself. It has personality. And anger issues. Fun stuff!

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Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Gutter Prayer (The Black Iron Legacy, #1)The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Gutter Prayer has a wonderfully balanced mix of worldbuilding, grimdark sensibilities, striking characters, and a huge blowout of an ending. Between an interesting race of Ghouls who get power from eating the dead, to men who are slowly, horribly turning into stone, or from an extremely fascinating history filled with old gods (and an extremely interesting setup and rule-orientation for them), overall, I thought this novel was a pretty decent epic-fantasy setup. There are many other details, of course, but I really latched on to these.

But the novel isn't merely a cool collection of interesting ideas. The characters are solid and interesting. The worldbuilding in particular tickled all my fancies. But above all, it is the balance between all these aspects, including pacing, reversals, and steady ramp-up to a huge ending, that made me take notice. I really appreciate how the author came from the gaming industry. It serves him in good stead.

So far, I'm quite pleased with the turnout here. I'm really curious to see how it takes the reveals in new directions, or if it does, in the next.

Those damn old gods... :)

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Friday, September 18, 2020

HorrorstörHorrorstör by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My initial impression of this novel and my post-reading impression are perfectly aligned. :)

A cool idea of setting a soul-less Ikea with a massive haunting and a crazy satire about the modern-day service industry is EXACTLY what I got.

In other words, I enjoyed my B-Movie experience. I chortled, groaned, and felt like I was One with the Corporate Narrative which is One with the batshit crazy Experimental Prison Culture.

I really enjoyed it for what it is. :)

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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Malorie (Bird Box, #2)Malorie by Josh Malerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a world so eerily similar to our own, fast-forwarded 17 years after our facemasks became a permanent fixture to our eyes rather than our breathing orifices, Malorie from the original Bird Box has teenagers of her own, raised in fear and a constant litany of "no, no, no" begins a new tale of discovery.

Or rather, rediscovery. Her parents might just be alive. Is this a blind-call to adventure?

This is undeniably a good tale of suspense. I don't think it is QUITE as suspenseful as the first, but living in terror for almost two decades can put a damper on your fight-or-flight response. Or does it? I think I most liked the creepy idea that the enemy might possibly have left. Who would know? :)

This is definitely our modern world right now. We can't see the evil, but we fully expect it to be right on the edge of our consciousness...

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The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying VampiresThe Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm already a fan of Grady Hendrix after We Sold Our Souls so picking up this one and a few more to come is not a brain-teaser. In fact, it's about as wholesome to me as a suburban book club taking on True Crime tales.

Well, wholesome isn't really the proper term, maybe, but just the fact of such late '80s, early '90s housewife rebellion is enough to carry the tale even WITHOUT vampires.

But with vampires? Well. It's been said before, but it bears saying again: NEVER MESS WITH MOM.

A personal aside: I grew up in suburbia during this time, so it was like a blast from the past. Including all the weird obsessions, the stifling conformity, the drugging up of our youth, wives, and the men who banded together to stamp any kind of dissension out of the family. And their eventual loss of control, of course. And who picks up the pieces.

Hmm. And yes, another thing: I'm a housewife now. I GET IT. The lack of control, the lack of respect, how we must juggle everything, and yet never get a single moment of peace.

And then there are those FREAKING BLOODSUCKERS. Gaaah!

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Burning God (The Poppy War, #3)The Burning God by R.F. Kuang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It feels like a long time coming for the third book in the Poppy War trilogy, but that's only because I've been eagerly awaiting it.

Now that it has finally come my way, I'm all BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD excited for it, and it absolutely delivers. The war between the technological and sociologically advanced enemy and the more numerous but poverty-stricken allies is a clear reference to our modern world.

Who do we root for?

Ah, well, that's the real question, is it not? The first book is like a backwater student advancing her own career in a modern institution, while the second one is the full eruption of one's morals versus one's training, and the third is an all-out war that demands the utter sacrifice of... everything... and the real question is... are we good for it?

I'm not answering that question.

The fact is, there's a lot of great nuance in this novel. Great plot, great war strategy, and great moral conflict.

The emotions? It's solid here. The conflict? Epic. Gods versus technology, you know. And when they get to the point where all seems lost, well, it's that time when the novel gets really great. :)

Am I a fan of the full trilogy? Absolutely. Is it full to the brim with burning volcano flames of rage and vengeance? You bet. Does it come with tons of reversals and ginormous fantastic reversal-reversals?

Read it. :) It's awesome. :)

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Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Dark StarDark Star by Oliver Langmead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The one thing that drew me here to this book happened, in the final estimation, to be the least important aspect:

The fact that it is SF written as Poetry.

I read it in audio format but after the fact, I kinda wish that I had read it as print. I'm probably going to get a copy soon.


Because even though the core story seems to rely almost entirely on a Noir mystery with an investigator who is addicted to a drug that makes a person emit light, but it comes with addictions and a rather strange murder, with some rather big consequences -- it is also deceptive.

As a fan of poetry, I'm also overly aware of the fact that there are many layers to any text. Do you think that metaphor is dead? Ha! Iambic Pentameter is also used in Shakespeare to illustrate high importance and major turning points. Anyone reading this 5 hours long Noir SF mystery should certainly enjoy it on the surface-level, but it's the heart of it that makes me RAVE about it.

In this dark world, light is a drug. Heat radiates everywhere, but it's light (and here's where the metaphor is very, very strong) that causes tremors, creates an underground market, throws people into paroxysms of drug-addled numina, and is ultimately the grand reversal of the tale.

Have a partner named Dante and you can figure out the rest. Is light love? Maybe God's love in the bowels of hell? If it's such an addictive substance and the whole idea of getting off the drug or fighting the crime syndicates is such a huge deal, then the whole FLAVOR of this far-future SF becomes... something else entirely.

I really don't need to spoil it. This is a book that lends itself to many different interpretations.

Just rest assured that every word is important and carefully placed, as is most good poetry. :)

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This Virtual NightThis Virtual Night by C.S. Friedman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I might have mentioned in my review for the first book in this series, This Alien Shore, that I missed this kind of SF.

The bookgods have smiled upon me. (Or at least C.S. Friedman has.)

What we have here is a setting focused on gritty space stations, hacking, aliens everywhere among us, GAMES, mystery, and a good healthy dose of wanderlust gone wrong. If you liked This Alien Shore, I'm pretty certain that you'll love this one.

It's a return to quite complicated SF settings, characters, and investigations that are never reduced to stereotypes. There's heart here and a clear love of the possibilities inherent in these tropes. Virtuals, hacking, melting pot space stations, and pure noir. I'd say it might be a cyberpunk novel, but it's very well rounded.

I very much recommend it.

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Monday, September 14, 2020

Utopia AvenueUtopia Avenue by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I place this Mitchell novel in the firm hands of the ladies Muse not because it is gifted by the muses (although some people will say so) but because the tale is all about music and the entire gifted milieu of the mid-to-late '60s rock scene.

For this, alone, I got sucked into the torrent of the band. Utopia Avenue, from its struggling beginnings through its rocky career and a brief taste of stardom is more than enough for me. I love this kind of novel. I love music, I love the rebellion, I love the sheer chutzpah of MAKING A NEW REALITY for yourself.

There is one particular scene that reads like a fateful monologue and admonition for every age. The only real power we have is in stories, after all. We show the path to a new world. That story might be in a song, a novel, or in an impassioned plea to a loved one, but it's never not powerful.

I had a genuinely good time with this.

I may not have been alive during the time this takes place, but music and the heart are fairly eternal.

PS, yes, this book has a ton of weird Mitchellisms with fantasy and SF poking holes in the pretty standard traditional tale of the '60s. It doesn't say much NEW about these things, but it's still fun to see. :)

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Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte CristoThe Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Honestly fascinating and hitherto fully neglected, the hook of this biography is appropriately fantastic. The author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeer's father was a bonafide hero having commanded 50,000 troops... as a black man.

The author of this biography, Reiss, performed a heroic feat, himself, with his research. It's not only full of Alexandre Dumas's reflections on his father General Alex Dumas, but it's corroborated with extensive confirmations AND a truly excellent focus on the historical context, places, events, and significance.

I'll be honest here: I knew a bit about the French Enlightenment and the idealism and its ties to America. I also knew a bit more about the French Revolution. The rise of Napoleon? Yes. His reactionary and full-on return to racism and exploitation of slaves? Yes.

But this book opened my eyes to a much broader look at this surrounding history that showed a quite sympathetic eye racism issue. This isn't simply a modern take on it This is regarding France's own positive Enlightenment developments that preceded and were active during the American Revolution. (So much of this goes hand-in-hand with each other.)

France briefly insisted that all slaves ought to be free. It wasn't universal and it was quite uneven, but it DID exist before Napoleon. Alex Dumas had been an Enlightenment star, highly educated with fantastic martial prowess, and distinguished himself with all the best ideals, and was universally admired even before his successes in the field.

But we know of what happened during the French Revolution. We know how idealism was co-opted by craven power-hungry opportunists and demagogues. How people more interested in power can take advantage of terror to consolidate power and propel their own agendas.

Keeping our OWN world out of this is rather difficult. I'll admit that. I see too many similarities between what happened before the French Revolution to what's happening in the USA today. Bright ideals can quickly be twisted by demagogues to promote massive chaos... and bloodshed.

But as for this book, by itself, I'm MORE than happy with everything I learned. History is beyond important. I'm amazed at the truth of the saying, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it."

I fear that we have dark times ahead of us.

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Saturday, September 12, 2020

Sucker Punch (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #27)Sucker Punch by Laurell K. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Anyone who has kept this series knows they can expect a certain amount of craziness of one kind or another. If you've kept up with these books, you know that the first ten-ish books were classic awesome UF that's bloody, interesting, and quirky. From then on, the books continue in this vein but take on a decidedly different personal turn. I'm talking about the polygamy.

I'm one of those that appreciates the message without not particularly caring about the cause. Sure, you can love whomever you want, with as many as you want. Check. But I kept with the series mainly because when all the earlier strict UF police procedural, thinly-veiled commentary about sexual activism as vamps and weres was said and done, the stories were just FUN, FAST, and FURIOUS and often OTT when it comes to the action and magic bits. To me, they were the gold standard, and when LKH focused on that, I was always as happy as could be. I wasn't in it for the neverending sex or the full-stage production of multiple deep relationships that made my head spin and my care-o-meter break.

So many of these middle books broke my care-meter. But the great stuff was great, so I kept going.

Fast forward to today. I think LKH is changing direction, or DID change direction in the main plot and concern, for this book. I was used to her focusing on sexual issues for so long that I almost missed how she had become TIMELY in a different way.

Legal Rights for the people who are disenfranchised. I'm talking about systemic racism. Injustice at its very core. What if there is reasonable doubt, but custom (in the guise of law) dictates that you must treat a whole people like animals?

In this case, it's literal. It's a wereleopard who must be "put down" but there's serious doubt that he did it. Anita has gone through this kind of thing too many times and it just happens to be this case that nearly breaks her. She pulls out all the stops to save him, calling in the calvary, and I actually appreciate this.

This isn't a book that's all about the blood and guts, raising zombies, or playing dominance games (much). It's about taking that first and hardest step toward JUSTICE when you see that there IS NONE.

And like reality, there are no easy answers. There is only the fight.

As for the sub-plot with Olaf... well... we can't win everything, but I appreciate the fact that there was NOT a total overabundance of millions of romantic partners this time. In fact, there was practically no sex at all. It was pretty much... a RETURN TO THE EARLY DAYS.

Me, personally, I LOVED the early days. With the timely new focus? I love this one even more.

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Friday, September 11, 2020

To Sleep in a Sea of StarsTo Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It having been much more than a decade since I've read anything else by Paolini -- his dragons were pretty okay -- I came to the idea of reading his adult space opera with mild anticipation.

I mean, sure, it's often true that many writers of fantasy who decide to jump the fence into SF do so brilliantly, so a part of my mind kept thinking of, say, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and I wondered. I wondered hard.

After getting my hands on this book and having started it, I began comparing it to Becky Chambers with a few hints of Iain M. Banks, but as I continued on this quite interesting journey with an already wonderful main character, Kira Navárez, I discovered something really gorgeous. This novel continues on with a single PoV in Kira. Loving her is easy. Falling into the complications of her life as they get rather more complicated -- and epic -- is something of a no-brainer for me.

I mean, the moment that the ex0-biology and exploration segments get to a certain spoilery point that I will keep mum about, it's all COMPLETELY downhill for me. I couldn't stop reading for the life of me. Really. I took the book with me EVERYWHERE and actually growled at everyone I met if they tried to draw my attention way from the book. And it's not like I have a PROBLEM with focusing my attention. I was hooked and it never let up and this is a DOORSTOPPER.

Let's just say that the novel became a huge confetti snowstorm of a classic alien invasion Anime, and combines a literal ton of great classic and modern SF easter eggs in the telling.

Oh, and as for you folks who were worried that a fantasy author might not have the chops for an enormous and very fulfilling SF romp of an adventure, let me just say this: Paolini knows his SF. Take it from someone who has read over 2.2k SF novels and knows his tv and movies. He weaves a great deal of SF tropes reminiscent of Neal Asher and Alaistair Reynolds with his quirky and delightful Becky Chambers crew.

We even get a full-on galactic war, people, with a full resolution in a single standalone novel.

Please, allow me a little squee here. *squees like a little girl* Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Out of several years worth of recent space operas, some of which I really enjoyed and some I even swear by, I think I had the most outright FUN with this one. Some of the others might be more intriguing in the plot, others might have blown me away with the sheer science-magic, but this one touched me deeply while giving me all my darkest wish-fulfillment SF desires in a single delicious Navárez package.

Please don't assume this is an old, tired space opera. Rather, think about the promise, if not the execution, of, say, Babylon 5 or the idea of a Guyver suit (Japanese only) on methamphetamines, and you might get a slight idea about what might be going on here. :)


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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Throne of IsisThrone of Isis by Judith Tarr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Judith Tarr does what she does best, here. Fantastically researched history and really beautiful characters.

While this one is ostensibly about the grand romance between Antony and Cleopatra, I think it's really about Dione, one of the priestesses of Isis. The tumultuous romance of the other two is kinda obvious, after all. Antony and Cleopatra is one of Shakespeare's best Histories. It's probably one of the best-known romances in history.

Is this really enough to carry a whole novel, however well-researched?

Possibly, but Judith Tarr is a better writer than most people ever give her credit for. It's her equal focus on Dione, this priestess of Isis -- of love -- that balances everything out.

There are two relationships in this novel. The mirroring between Dione and her steady scholar from Rome is a wonderfully subtle indictment of Antony and Cleopatra.

The two couples mirror each other. Wonderfully. I was as invested with the quiet, understated romance as I was in the flashy and tragic one, and it served as a really nice antidote.

Between the bigger than life and the totally grounded, I felt like we were getting a wonderfully beautiful and rounded (perhaps eternal) exploration of love.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Selections from the Prison NotebooksSelections from the Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Without writing a book on this book (and believe me, I'm tempted) I'm going to try to keep this simple.

However, this classic working-Marxist text is anything but simple.

The first more-than-half of it has enough variations on political principles to make an Ism out of Isms, going into vast detail about enough 1910-1930 Italian politics INCLUDING the rise of Mussolini, post-revolution Russia political movements, and even some French.

As for me, I know enough history to be slightly dangerous, but trying to follow THIS Trotskian/Italian Fascism/polemical nightmare without having BEEN there and STEEPED in the times makes me realize that I am out of my depth. Slightly. BUT these Selections from the Prison Notebooks come with a pretty awesome bonus.

It has commentary. Whew!!!

Getting something out of the almost Naturalist descriptions, all the play-by-play political dealings of all these countries as they undergo a Marxist transformation, is more of a matter of letting the IDEAS sink in rather than hearing a formal statement. Indeed, the text is full of short maxims that felt more like reading Nietzsche than anything resembling a Social Science.

However, for me at least, none of THAT was as impressive or thought-provoking as what came in the second half of his writings.

The rest is philosophy. Fine philosophy that tries to drag the study of massive social movements out of the realm of art and into the realm of science. I swear, he was probably trying to pull a Wittgenstein on his logic, but really, I know he was just pulling a Hegelian argument.

Here's the weird thing about Gramsci: most of the later Marxist thinkers love the hell out of him, but first they had to pour over his overly complicated text to root out those rare nuggets of wisdom like pigs hunting for truffles. There is nothing overly clear about anything he has written.

Almost ALL of my understanding of Gramsci comes from the (much) later commentaries.

Some exceptions exist, however.

I got the clear impression that Common Sense, in the parlance that he uses it, is the core of any nascent or growing political theory. But Common Sense, as he uses it, is often very uncommon and is almost ALWAYS used to drive the unthinking masses into positions that may not (or likely probably not) be in their best interests. It's the idea that if you want to drive the people to do what you want, then first you must convince them that YOUR ideas are simple Common Sense whether or not it has anything to do with whether it BENEFITS them or not.

A common modern example is using any or all of the moral foundations See Here to whip a people into a frenzy (Pro-Life, for example,) and use this as a COMPLETE platform to push through a wide set of policies that will probably drain the constituents of all their self-respect, drive them to perform horrendous acts of racism, or even steal their money -- but it's perfectly valid because at least the prime tenet of (Pro-Life) is kept sacrosanct.

As Gramsci would put it, you must never get so intellectual that you lose the heart of the argument, and never be so emotionally riled up that you lose the core intellectual awesomeness. In other words, you always need to find that sweet spot and change tactics for your audience. (Gramsci was never so straightforward, however. We get our modern concepts of this from him, distilled over time and use.)

Another great (or disturbing) feature of Gramsci is the full, detailed descriptions of how Fascism came to its rise in Italy. How it could convince so many people to dehumanize and create enemies out of the other side.

It is a slow, painstaking process, but please refer to the Moral Foundations Theory I linked to above and couple it with massive, massive repetitions. This is the core of changing the basic Common Sense of a people. If you change the dialogue, if you change the fundamental NARRATIVE, then you can drive people to believe and do ANYTHING.

As people in Italy used to say, "Eh, I hate fascism, but at least they got the trains to run on time."


After all, a little intelligence can get any train to run on time. It doesn't take fascism to do anything except have a whole people eat itself.

All in all, this is some pretty interesting food for thought. And trust me, I barely scratched the surface. I hope I piqued your interest, however.

If we don't know our history, we will always be doomed to repeat it.

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Architects of Memory (The Memory War, #1)Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So! The good:

The pacing, a lot of the action, the core concept of the aliens, and the OTT blowout of the end.

The so/so:

The relatively generic space-opera feel with very little to make it stand out from most space-opera setups. Such as corporate indenture. Has no one read Cherryh? Scavenging is also so commonplace as to be a core fixture of these types of SF-lite novels. The originality is centered, but not very developed, on the (no spoiler) abilities of the aliens and how it relates to our MC. That being said, the whole tale feels mostly surfacy and I never got that invested in either the over-plot or the characters.

I don't think this was a bad novel by any stretch. My main complaint is that I've read way too many novels that behave almost exactly like this. It didn't kick my pants in the originality department. At all.

That being said, it does fill a number of checkboxes for those of you looking for it: Disabled. LGBTQ. However, these aspects never really felt core to the story even if we were meant to believe they were. (At least to me.)

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Sunday, September 6, 2020

UnDivided (Unwind, #4)UnDivided by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, now that the series is done, I have to re-order my expectations.

Did I expect a bigger, more creative, and crazy end? Possibly. Did I expect a revolution? Yes.

Was I satisfied with the whole perception of reality resolution and the legal niceties and sacrifices? Yes.

So what's my problem? The YA conforms to all the general YA standards. The kids are given horrible situations but not TOO horrible situations. It's mostly dealing with their own expectations and plodding their way toward changing everyone ELSE's expectations. It didn't become a horror masterpiece with tons of shambling Cthulhu monstrosities of added limbs with full personalities active in every limb. We didn't have a full society of rejects or all the old unwound kids rebelling WITHIN all the bodies they were transplanted to. Alas. That would have been brilliant.

Instead, we have legal bills, special interests, public perception, and protests.

Not that I have anything against protests. Far from it.

I mean, the whole idea that any society could be set up to drive another segment of its population crazy is not very crazy at all. I mean, with all the destruction of human rights and dignity going on, we really SHOULDN'T be surprised that the disenfranchised are so upset.

Of course, to blame that same population for being angry after having been beaten down for so long and initiate draconian measures against them is pretty much a Fascist Playbook kind of thing.

Unfortunately, when I look at society now and compare it with the mildness of these books, I think this is a case of reality being stranger than fiction. Or at least wilder.

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Saturday, September 5, 2020

A Wind in CairoA Wind in Cairo by Judith Tarr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this way back in High School and I absolutely loved it. As a romance, it was magical and heartbreaking and I admit that I broke into tears then as easily as I did now.

As a fantasy set in the extremely well-researched time of the Early Crusades as written from the PoV of Muslims, it frankly blew me away. Not only did the humanity and the civilization shine through, but so did the culture.

But let me address the one problematic issue that pretty much prevented me from re-reading this well-beloved magical historical fantasy of a love story between a fiery headstrong Muslim woman and her equally headstrong horse: the rape.

This is no glorification, first of all. This was a crime in the novel that was met with a very severe punishment that could very well have led to much, much worse consequences for Hasan. But in the punishment, there was MERCY.

I know, I know, this is a trigger issue, but I personally believe the crimes should be treated with justice and not cruelty. The tale, over the full length of its telling, walks a very fine line and ends where I believe most tales SHOULD end.

They should teach us that mercy and justice are not dead. They should teach us that no one should ever be perpetually judged by the worst thing they have ever done. There is a balance here. And, indeed, the balance is all the harder because it teaches us that any of us can change.

Hasan, a selfish prick, can learn to be obedient, loving, and self-sacrificing.

If you want a novel that simply desires blood for the blood god, this is not for you. If you want a novel that is gorgeous, hopeful, redemptive, and a great tear-jerker that rests its head on Humility... then OMG, yo: PICK THIS UP.

The balance is real. Both men and women are real men and women. The quality of justice is NOT strained. It is hard, it is painful, it requires tons of effort, good-will, and the open-mindedness of all parties, but the quality of justice is NOT strained. It may, indeed, be one of the most beautiful things in the universe.

This novel touches something truly great. It may prod your boundaries, but it is still something truly great.

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Friday, September 4, 2020

UnSouled (Unwind, #3)UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is what might have happened if the plight of teens was turned into an industry of Frankenstein's monsters.

You know, the older folks shamelessly profiting on the consumption of young flesh.

No, no, this is NOT an accurate reflection of our modern society! No, no, not at all.


Well! I honestly hoped that the first book would continue on into a MUCH darker and nastier dystopia. Instead, we just get the normal kind of social dystopia that villainizes an underclass in order to perpetuate the massive profitization.

No, no, this is obviously NOT an accurate reflection of our modern society! No, no, not at all.

Even if it doesn't go in the direction I had hoped, it's still a pretty good skewer. You could almost cut and paste the whole non-SF setup and apply it to so many modern protest groups and see a pretty obvious correlation.

Key points: don't get violent, focus on peaceful protest, but don't forget... they will lie. It's an unenviable position. Let's hope you don't lose all your body parts, too.

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Thursday, September 3, 2020

MetrophageMetrophage by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit that I'm something of a fan of cyberpunk. I guess it has something to do with my geeking out over Max Headroom and Neuromancer and all the cheeeeeesy movies of that time period, but for the most part, I was a much BIGGER fan of the post-cyberpunk movement.

Why? Because it moves beyond the punk while keeping all the tech goodies, diving into stories well beyond gangs, drug wars, noir, etc.

Kadrey's 1988 novel happens to be of that type. It's not bad. I love the idea of this kind of thing more in its ideas than its execution, granted, but, like Arnold's version of Total Recall, it's still good fun.

It's mostly about plot. Drug running, a wide variety of inner-city locations, post-government crime cabals, and even intrigue with a moon colony. More than anything, I was reminded of a lite version of Altered Carbon. Between an interesting plague, various factions, freedom fighters, and a poor MC bouncing like a pinball between everything, I was always kept on my toes.

Was this something that rose above a crazy slip-and-slide gangland adventure?

No, not really, but it did give me a flashback feel of the '80s.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2020

UnWholly (Unwind, #2)UnWholly by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing the Unwind books remains pretty interesting. No huge over-plot has really developed, but it IS very interesting to see all the cracks in this society's facade.

I especially like how all the cracks are widening in such blatantly WEIRD ways. :) Re-wound? Yes, please.

I'm really curious to see if these novels get super dark and wild. Right now, I'm just seeing implications take on a life of their own.

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The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black ManhoodThe Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood by Tommy J. Curry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this will be a hard book for people in academia to accept.

Not because there isn't a mountain of evidence displaying not only the misandry of black men, because there is a big movement to maintain and further their entire erasure from the discussion.

What? Men are included, aren't they? We have reportings of their deaths almost every single day. I mean, just look at the news. This one was shot, this one was brutalized, this one... oh. Wait. These are just bodies. Did you want to talk about the actual MEN? Well, no. We only assume they are about to become a statistic.

Black MEN are not worthy of study despite a mountain of evidence proving that they are raped as often as women. Their suicide rates, depending on age, is 4-6 times higher than women. Job opportunities are much less available compared to black women, and it gets much, much worse after having the stigma of having been incarcerated. And they are arrested, searched, and brutalized at a much, much higher rate than any other sex or race, and often for only trumped-up reasons.

And yet, they are only studied as their dead bodies.

There is a major disconnect here. When men's balls are literally being crushed so as to need hospitalization, when plunger handles are used to penetrate men, is this not the definition of rape? When the numbers prove they aren't isolated examples, but pervasive and sickening, is this not WORTHY of study?

Let's face it. Academia has its own misandry and racism to acknowledge. When papers and books, even when they are monumentally well-researched, are not published because they don't set the right "narrative" about the plight of women, or about LGBTQ, they are, in effect, ERASING a whole CLASS of men (MEN, mind you, as defined by feminists).

When we talk of toxic masculinity, of patriarchy, of anything like this, it is NOT based on actual evidence.

Do not look at a class struggle in the same light as a sexual struggle, because the theories will come crashing down. Men, not just black men, are victims of class struggles too. Poverty doesn't give men a patriarchal advantage. It's completely absurd, with all the additional factors aligned against black men, that they are automatically the beneficiaries of male privilege.

Look at the actual evidence instead of pushing an ideological theory.

Neither men nor women are saints. One should not use intersectionality to dehumanize ANYONE.

As for this book, please read it as the academic eye-opener that it is. This work is about the erasure of men. So much talk goes on about "how they bring it on themselves," or "how to strip them from their actual gender identity," or to dismiss them on the basis of a perceived but unfactual arguments that have become fashionable in the rise of feminism. And by the way, dehumanizing men just because they are men is called misandry. Both men and women are guilty of it.

The NEWS is guilty of it. Academia is guilty of it. Politics is guilty of it. None of us are perfect, but disenfranchising a whole class of people is, in actual fact, the definition of prejudice.

Be aware.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

We Are Where the Nightmares Go and Other StoriesWe Are Where the Nightmares Go and Other Stories by C. Robert Cargill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a big fan of Cargill's fiction. First, I loved his SF, but it wasn't until I dived into his two fae-based fantasy novels that I was rather blown away.

This particular book is a collection of short stories that really showcase his love of fantasy in general. When I judge them, I judge them solely on how much fun I had. *hint -- I had a lot of fun* Dark Fantasy? Yes, please!

There are more stories in the collection than the ones I mention here, but these are the ones I personally loved.

We Are Where the Nightmares Go - I kinda squeed on this one. It's all about a fairy tale gone very, very wrong. I actually chortled. CHORTLED.

As They Continue to Fall - At first I thought it was gonna be a little like Supernatural where the angels are all dicks, but no. This is much worse. And the implication underneath? Even darker. :)

Hell Creek - Why not have a MC be a triceratops surrounded by an undead invasion of other dinos? There's only one thing to say about this: HELL YES!

I Am the Night You Never Speak Of - Sin-Eating as a rather UF-y profession. I think I'd love (and be sickened by) a full UF series based on this.

A Clean White Room - (co-authored) but totally awesome continuation of the Sin-Eating profession. This is one HELL of a sick job. Perfect for those of us who want to be thankful for the jobs we already have, thank you very much. :)

The Soul-Thief’s Son - A side tale of Cargill's dark fantasy novels featuring Colby Stevens in dreamwalking Australia. I personally LOOOVED this one. It was like coming home. Even if home is a soulless husk. :)

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