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Friday, October 30, 2020

The LoopThe Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those YA horrors that are specifically designed to appeal to a certain young reader if that certain young reader is certain that they want ALL the excuses to take all the drugs they want because they're being uber-controlled by a synthetic lovecraftian nightmare burrowing through their bodies -- I.E., their hormones.

No, no, this isn't a SATIRE or a COMMENTARY on young people's... ahem... drives or feedback loops... it really IS all about the lovecraftian cybernetic horror burrowing through their bodies.

And let me tell you... *WHEW* If I were young, I'd really prefer to have an outside uber-evil force to blame all my crap on, too. :)

All I had when I was young was Christianity. Do you KNOW how much baggage and mental loops you have to go through to make THAT work? NO THANK YOU.

So. Total honesty here. I got annoyed with the teenager angst. BUT, I really, really loved the narrative asides and media stuff. The investigative conspiracy stuff was fun as hell. And so was the eventual worldbuilding. I didn't even mind MOST of the teenage angst. It was pretty honest and not that annoying. Mostly.

End score? It amused me even if it didn't blow me away. All that transhumanism gone squiddy wrong always tickles my funnybone. And brainstem.

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The End of OctoberThe End of October by Lawrence Wright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a particularly wide-ranging mixed bag for me. I'd give it 5 stars alone for the devotion to real politics, real name-dropping, real virology and science, and a happy (and scary) look at just how badly the world can (AND DID) handle a pandemic.

Indeed, so much about this novel is so right on target that I would have sworn it was written DURING OUR pandemic while following all the ins and outs of the insanity of 2020. And who knows? Maybe a good deal of it was worked into the near-final manuscript. It doesn't really matter. What we've got here is a very Cook novel full of real science and politics even if some of the politics is more "in the spirit of" rather than the actual state of things. The point is that it gets REALLY close. So much so it feels almost like the real damn deal.

That's the good bits.

The bad is, well, pretty bad. The very things that I liked most about this novel, the focus on the endless science, sometimes drowned out any sense of the underlying tale. And while the devolution into an apocalyptic setting was quite cool, the fundamental resolution and goofy super-thriller-type heroism made me roll my eyes A LOT.

Let me put it this way: if it was all that super-thriller-type Borne or Ethan Hunt or Jack Ryan story from the beginning, I probably wouldn't have forced a higher bar on this fiction. I just would have treated it as a goofy popcorn flic. But it wasn't. It held itself to a pretty high and accurate standard for a great deal of the book. The result was kinda jarring and disappointing.

But don't let that get you down! This book has a lot of good bits in it if you're not already sick and tired of the REAL pandemic. But then, maybe reading this to see just HOW bad it might still become is quite worthwhile. :)

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Thursday, October 29, 2020

A Town Called DiscoveryA Town Called Discovery by R.R. Haywood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the very violent and deadly start, this SF novel had me fascinated and even chuckling as if I had just picked up a novel that was actually a survival action-horror video game that had unlimited lives.

If you know the type, you know you have to perform certain actions or die a horrible death... and try again and again. In this story, it's a bit more lively in that our main character is a blank slate and seems to be incessantly tortured... for a cause we learn later.

Sound intriguing? It is! Especially when we get into the matrix. :) And the time travel. And the romance.

What wonderfully F**d-up romance.

I should warn you, however, that it's a particularly VIOLENT romance. Triggers and stuff. But oddly enough, it works in this case. When consequences are low, some really weird fetishes have always been known to creep in.

THAT being said, the full story takes us to some rather interesting places (and times!) and I can easily say that this novel is a very fun one of this particular sub-genre. (SF time-travel, matrix, intrigue.)

I'll definitely be checking out more by this author.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

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

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

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

What did I do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, October 26, 2020

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

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

It's sweet.

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, October 25, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

If only they were trustworthy.

I swear. These books devour me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, October 24, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

The ending is a pure muahahahahaha moment.

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

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Friday, October 23, 2020

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

Re-read 10/23/20:

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

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

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

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

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

And after Lovecraft, us.

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

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

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

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

Original review:

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

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Thursday, October 22, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

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

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

This happens to be one of those routines.

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

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

Am I still having a ton of fun?

Yep. Popcorn UF all the way, baby.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, October 18, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

I can't wait to see what happens next!

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

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

While reading this, I had a really great time.

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

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

Seriously. It IS a real problem.

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


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Saturday, October 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Spooktober!

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Friday, October 16, 2020

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

Reading this excellent collection of essays was something rather stunning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who knows?

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

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Thursday, October 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why? I just did, okay! lol

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

Very enjoyable.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does anyone want some whale meat?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You've got it. Right here.

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

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

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Monday, October 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, October 11, 2020

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, October 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I going to binge-read these?


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Friday, October 9, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, October 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

Say, huh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aren't there?

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Wednesday, October 7, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

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

Re-read 10/6/20:

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

Original Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yummy, yummy. :)

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Monday, October 5, 2020

RageRage by Richard Bachman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, October 4, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re-read 10/4/20:

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

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

It's a thing.

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

Original Review:

Harry Potter Re-Read with Buddies!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, October 3, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, Varney makes Dracula look immensely respectable.

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

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

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

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

Muahahahahaha... OH, THE ADVERBS...

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Thursday, October 1, 2020

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

Re-read 10/1/10:

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

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

Original Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or at least, I USED to.

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

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

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

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

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