Monday, April 12, 2021

Fugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries, #6)Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Socially distancing Muderbot? Check
Despairing about other's security systems? Check

Oh, wait, our murder bot is SOLVING A MURDER that she didn't actually commit. Ah. Check.

This novella is quite in line with the previous ones. Light loner humor, mystery, and comp-talk. This is definitely for fans of the rest of the series, but I should mention that there's nothing really new about it. I admit I liked the full-length novel more, (and the timeline suggests that this novella comes before that).

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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Dungeon Robotics (Book 8): DelveDungeon Robotics (Book 8): Delve by Matthew Peed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This being one of those 'what you see is what you get' kind of book series, I should mention that it's a specialty item. It's on the lower end of the LitRPG spectrum, devoting itself to godlike actions and fights that are more in line with Dragonball Z by way of cybernetics in an otherwise magic-dominated world.

Cool idea, often fun in the action and okay in the characterizations (if not particularly brilliant), the series has a lot of faults but being fun makes up for a lot of it.

This later book is rather scaling back on the uber over-the-top stuff and the limits of our god-like dungeon core MC are finally coming to the fore. Of course, it's not really all that fair, having been limited by another *literal* deus ex machina, but all told, it was kinda expected.

All in all, though, I rather wish it was more polished. That more care had been taken with the characters. Otherwise, it's really a Deus-Stu kind of tale.

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Dungeon Robotics (Book 7): CollapseDungeon Robotics (Book 7): Collapse by Matthew Peed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still enjoyable, overall, with a sudden decision to go space odyssey while the minions take care of the home-front. Not bad, mind you, and it gets fairly amusing as it goes hard-SF and even a bit doctor strange, but what else would you expect when your MC is a GOD. Or, you know, a fairly high-tiered godlike entity of LitRPG dungeon core fame.

Overpowered? Yes, of course, but now we're finally getting some slight course corrections. A few knockdowns. After all, we can't let these upstart kids run ramshod across the universe. :)

My one complaint?

We don't really spend enough time on all the diverse cast of minions/minor deities/or high leveled mortals trying to get crap done. We flit between them a bit too much to really get into them.

Otherwise, if you're just looking for some beastly high-level throwdowns and godlike s**t, then you're probably looking in the right place with these novels. It's good for what it is.

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Dungeon Robotics (Book 6): ConflictDungeon Robotics (Book 6): Conflict by Matthew Peed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Truly, reading these is scratching that itch that desires totally overpowered battles on epic grand scales, as told from the PoV of a god.

Of course, this is still LitRPG but it has dropped most of those roots except for the brief times when the massively overpowered dungeon core makes new "children" who will wreak more havoc on undead, celestials, demons or when he expands his territory and takes more and more of the populations under his fatherly wing.

You know, like a god. And he tests himself against ever stronger beings.

I admit I like the huge scope and the quick pace. It is, more and more obviously, like playing a video game. And yes, I'm waiting for a chorus to sing out, "no duh!!".

It's almost mindless fun.

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Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Outlaw Demon Wails (The Hollows, #6)The Outlaw Demon Wails by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One book at a time, always getting more and more invested.

Of course, by this point, I feel like I'm falling down a mountain of smut *see the definition in these novels* and the lives of Rachel, Jenks, and Ivy are submerging themselves in my aura. Am I cursed with a good story?

Yes. Yes, I think I am.

Of course, being hounded by an outlaw demon is wildly entertaining. So is Rachel's mom. Why not have a fling, girl? lol

And then there are a bunch of whammy reveals, deals with devils, and a little trip in the Ever After to make this particular novel a truly great ride.

In all, this is one of the best UFs out there. Certainly one of the most fun, and on this re-read, I simply can't change my mind about it. :)

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Friday, April 9, 2021

For a Few Demons More (The Hollows, #5)For a Few Demons More by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ahhh, Harrison.

I'm returning to the Hollows on my great re-reading adventure feeling absolutely trepidatious while reading this, book 5, knowing full well what was to come.

But, once again, I'm lulled into a sense of grand not-so-insecure security despite all the little hints here and there that things are NOT going as planned, that powerful eyes are upon her.

And then there is the wonderful murder investigation and how Rachel's all wrapped up in it.

This time, I got to analyze all the hints and the foreshadowing, the hail-mary's and the emotional bombardment from another viewpoint, and let me just say: it's still hard-hitting. So many big things come to pass, it left me breathless.

If I recall correctly, this was approximately the point in my first reading of the series where I huffed and puffed and called myself a real fan. It's the writing. Fast, fun, and then the stakes are sooo bloody good.

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Thursday, April 8, 2021

Hummingbird SalamanderHummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interestingly enough, Vandermeer also writes a smart mystery. He's not just a Weird writer. Borne, Annihilation, even his early shroomy novels were heady and imaginative and always able to make us question, question, question.

This more traditional mystery, haunted by ecoterrorism, low-grade security personnel work, and family life that slowly crumbles away in the pollution of a life caught by claustrophobia, paranoia, shares some of the best features of his earlier work while remaining grounded in the real world.

This one is a traditional mystery. But the perception within the novel is quite lush, imaginative, and rather stomach-turning. I got the sense of huge conspiracies, being totally out of one's depth, and the start weird terror of being so... OBSESSED with a stuffed hummingbird and a stuffed salamander.


I liked everything up until a certain point where running was the only option. After that, I was a bit disappointed even when things turned and turned again later on. The disconnect was real. I didn't WANT to feel disconnected. But then, by that point, everything had crumbled. On purpose, mind you, but I felt just as lost. Confused. Despairing.

Good that the writer could convey that without wallowing in it, but it killed the pace of the story.

So, in the end, I'm only giving it 3.5 out of 5, but it WAS quite interesting and shocking.

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Cataclysm (Dungeon Robotics #5)Cataclysm by Matthew Peed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm still having some fun with this LitRPG, but I should mention a few things.

It reads like a total authoritarian nightmare dressed up as a god just trying to set things right. When the baddies are bad with the same mind-control stuff, total suppression of free will, and are locked into a never-ending cycle of worship that they believe comes freely from themselves... and THEN we compare the same with our heroic MC who -- lest we forget -- basically killed humanity in a robot uprising before he was given control over a dungeon core, here -- we might want to investigate what might be going on.

And yet, we're meant to see him as a savior, a good guy, always looking out for his people and his 'children' and doesn't mind how many continent-busting machines of war he has to use to free everyone else from another tyranny?

Maybe it's just me. Maybe sometimes I like to see ultimate power at least TRY to do something right, but every step of the way, these slave colors are completely re-writing his allies. All in the name of good.

Other than that, lots of great action and cool robot vs mega-undead action on all possible fields of battle.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Cascade (Dungeon Robotics #4)Cascade by Matthew Peed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Magic robotics, airships, orbital facilities, dungeon cores, and global thermonecromantic war.

This is what happens when a LitRPG title diverges from its leveling roots and just goes nuts with Big War.

Granted, I wish there were more character development and even some (at least minor) conflict on the personal stages with the main characters (or dungeon, who can't seem to do any wrong), but for the most part, it's still a light title that manages to be fun.

Is it just me, or are all the repeating sections, slightly modified by PoV, a bit annoying?

Never mind. Overall, the book kinda reads like a carbon copy of one or two others in the same genre, with slight fundamental differences in focus. Since I liked those, originally, I am okay with it here, but I'm marking it down in my head for being rather unoriginal.

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The DoubleThe Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Long before there was Fight Club or a long line of doubles, doppelgangers, strange tales of evil twins or Evil Spock, even Dostoyevsky, the brilliant classic Russian novelist, directed his hand to this very psychologically weird tale.

Strangely enough, Dostoyevsky doesn't make this particular novel as dark and cringy as most of his works. Indeed, even though it IS very paranoid and anxious and disturbing in a very Philip K Dick way, it also comes off as something of a straightforward comedy.

The main character is a person that no one wants or needs. No one respects him. He's weak and submissive and never stands out in any positive way. This is written so well that it's horribly entertaining all by itself, with us watching him squirm and do things that sadly remind us of ourselves in our weakest moments, apologizing profusely, hinting broadly, breaking down at inopportune times in a very Social Anxiety kind of way.

But then his double starts invading his life. Better than him, more productive, socially acceptable, and rather devious. I swear, I thought we were dealing with Tyler Durden.

The best part of this is the fact that we don't actually know whether we were dealing with an actual evil twin scenario or whether it was all in his head. It's not QUITE a comedy unless the reader is into really dark ones. :)

This novel was a really nice surprise. Dostoyevsky is still a master in my book.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Escalation (Dungeon Robotics #3)Escalation by Matthew Peed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is really all about war above ground rather than anything that might happen in a dungeon. Sure, there are some nice level-up points within the side characters and the dungeon, himself, but while this is entertaining on its own, collecting the full hoards and mass-death, we are missing actual character development.

Fortunately, the book is also short and what it does offer is still fairly interesting... if totally expected.

One thing I should mention: some more editing would have done this novel justice, if not for the line-item stuff, but whole story areas that are repeated, often verbatim, if also done from alternating PoVs. I'd say, "Choose one." More isn't necessary.

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Expansion (Dungeon Robotics #2)Expansion by Matthew Peed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While the Dungeon MC does seem to be RATHER uber-powerful at almost every moment and he really has a "aren't I a nice guy" mentality, I'm still quite enjoying the tale and the progression.

In other words, it's almost entirely about the incidental characters and how they deal with him. Plus the ravening hoards. Can't forget the ravening hoards.

While I've read much better LitRPG books, the fact is, this one is still certainly entertaining. The kingdom grows larger! Of course, we all know who the real power is.

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Establish (Dungeon Robotics #1)Establish by Matthew Peed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now, this is kinda embarrassing, but almost immediately, I was already saying to myself, "Hey! This is just like Dakota Trout's Dungeon Born series!"

Only, instead, make it more automaton heavy, nix some of the humorous over-the-top rivalry stuff, and otherwise streamline the town-building around the dungeon.

And lo-and-behold, this is what I got, all the way through to the end.

Now, I should mention one little thing: I still liked it. It's all pretty formula at this point and it rests on how well the characters are set up. The RPG mechanics in this LitRPG are okay if not particularly overboard, and that may be a good or a bad thing, depending on your personal tolerance of such things.

Me, if I'm going to get into a LitRPG series, I love to be info-dumped on the mechanics. It reminds me of how bad of a player I was back in my D&D days, spending 9/10ths of my game sessions preparing ahead of time, min/maxing, gaming the living hell out of the system, and then becoming a demon on the map. IT'S FUN.

But then, these kinds of books are really just stories told from the Dungeon Master's PoV so it's all good. :)

I do hope this gets much better, however.

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Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Rise of Endymion (Hyperion Cantos, #4)The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Great Hyperion re-read.

You know, I actually PREFER it when I am flummoxed when I have to write a review. It usually means that there is often SO MUCH going on in the pages, or it must be read in context to the full four-book cycle to make TRUE sense, or it means that it just blew my mind.

In this case, all three happened. And then I was told to Choose Again. Great line. Simple. Mysterious. And easily applicable to every single moment of our lives. Ask yourself, "Do you want to be doing this? Well, now's your chance to Choose Again."

Of course, most of us never have the full scope of options available to us as these people eventually get, but in full context to the Big Creatures in the Dark Forest, just assume the scope of it reaches truly awesome epic SF scope. IF you've read Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion, you know what I mean. If you've read Endymion, it DOES just turn into a fantastic Heroic Quest, but it also fleshes out so many worlds, ideas, and the whole fate of humanity, putting into question the events of the Crux that was Hyperion.

But this doesn't quite roll out the full blowout that is The Rise of Endymion, the book that should just be considered the part 2 of the second duology in the Hyperion Cantos. Don't read Endymion without reading Rise of Endymion, in other words.

So, some questions that must be asked before they are answered:

Do we find out who/what the Shrike is? What happened to the Earth? How did so much of humanity fall under a religious dictatorship revolving around immortality, and did the quest to topple it come through? Just who are the big animals? Do we get to spend a lot of delicious time with the Ousters and an honest World Tree having the equivalent living space of millions of Earths? And is this love story amazingly heartbreaking?

Let's just cut to the chase and say yes to all the above.

Funnily enough, I really enjoyed the opening with all the architecture and learning/teaching bits. It was nicely gentle until we got to the Dali Lama. After that, however, I was biting my nails for most of the book. Between action sequences that were some of the best I've read in ANY military SF, epic scopes and truly delicious, equally interesting resolutions that are NOT obvious in the context of any military SF, and the admonition to Choose Again, I thought this was one of the better, if not best Hard SFs I've ever read.

That title would still remain with the first two books of this cycle. :)

DEFINITELY worth reading it all.

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Friday, April 2, 2021

Endymion (Hyperion Cantos, #3)Endymion by Dan Simmons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After having re-read the superlative original Hyperion Cantos recently, I was saddled with the thought that nothing afterward could possibly match the quality and lyricism or the sheer gorgeousness of story, worldbuilding, or character.

Alas, this still remains true after reading book three, taking place over 250 years after the events that irrevocably transformed the known universe at the end of Fall of Hyperion.

HOWEVER, this is not a lament for Endymion. Indeed, comparing it to just about any modern SF adventure, most will come up very short against the standards shown here. No, there is not a Canterbury Tales stylization. There is, however, a fabulous quest given to a new hero by the mentor Martin Selenus (the poet of old who wrote the original Cantos) that tasks Raul Endymion with nothing less than truly impossible tasks, such as helping a girl that is truly out of time, finding and returning the old destroyed Earth to its rightful place, and toppling the religious empire that has taken over the old hegemony with its promise of cruciform immortality.

Small tasks, those. And there's no reason to think he could ever accomplish one of them. The stakes are too high and the enemies amazingly implacable. Federico de Soya is one of the most amazing antagonists I've ever read, right up there with Captain Ahab, only that captain never had to undergo quite this much jellification.

Truly, no review can do this novel justice. It is an adventure, plain and simple, and is so rich with location, location, location, that it is a pure treat for the imagination. It revisits and deepens the events from the previous books, but more than builds upon them, too, painting pictures I will never unsee. Of course, the interesting chase through all the old worlds is done in very cool ways, both varied and clever, and I'll never forget how a twelve-year-old girl stands up to an entire fleet and outsmarts them not just one time, but several. The escapes are brilliant.

No, this book is not on the same ladder of brilliance as the two that came before it, but I'm proud to say that I LOVE it, anyway. It's a true work of the imagination and so exciting that I wish that I had a full SF tv-series with a huge special effects budget to do it justice.

Truly. It would be mind-blowingly awesome.

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Thursday, April 1, 2021

Jonathan's VowsJonathan's Vows by Mark Lages
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mark Lages always circles around the traditional everyman tale. It's not something we see much of these days, but it ought to be something we're aware of.

Characters don't have to be bigger than life. They can be very, very normal and still have a lot to say.

In this case, it's the way an entire novel can be written as a marriage vow as seen by a 21-year-old contemplating all the ups and downs of a pretty full life with his intended.

Some happiness, but mostly, it's maintenance. A good dose of mutual disappointment, a liberal helping of stupid mistakes, and a splash of understanding.

The point is, in the end, that one should always go into situations with your eyes wide open, I suppose, but the power of this book lies in letting us make up our own minds.

As always, the writing and the subject material are mild, overall, and almost always conversational. It's easy-going despite the few tragedies we encounter, and never offensive. Overall, it's almost always about honesty, and that takes courage, too.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Boundless (Deathless, #3)The Boundless by Peter Newman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The third book in the Deathless trilogy was easily the best, blending truly dark fantasy with pretty fantastic worldbuilding and magic rules that are only outdone by the depth of character-building.

The first book establishes the world and the beginning of the fall of House Sapphire, with its nobles who use their kin to effectively live forever, jumping their souls from body to body, while the Wild down below their flying castles threatens to take over the world with demons of all kinds, all of which have a penchant for magically enforceable promises.

In the second book, fifteen years later, a pretty great changeling base for a story throws the story into a truly disquieting tailspin. The politics reach a nicely feverish pitch.

But the third book tops them both, reaching that perfect balance and a screamingly good climax that puts the blade to everyone. The tragedy is still there, but the magic and the final battle is extremely satisfying in that special way that only a slow, careful build-up can accomplish.

I'm very happy with this story -- and make no mistake, the full trilogy belongs together as one story.

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The Ruthless (Deathless, #2)The Ruthless by Peter Newman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent dark fantasy, character-driven and subtle, with tones of Mervyn Peake and modern epic fantasy mixed with a truly nasty worldbuilding setup that requires the old deathless rulers to sacrifice their children to be reborn in those youthful bodies.

But it's not just the ideas that make these two books good. It's the way they're told. Total immersion and acceptance of the social necessity, the terror of the Wild below these flying castles, the weird and interesting reveals about the Wild itself. It's the writing.

And 16 years after the first book, with new rebirths of old characters and massive changes for the rest, we're lost in multilayered plots of revenge and survival and I can't tell who I ought to be rooting for. It's rather delicious.

And by now it's nearly impossible for me to stop. Thankfully, I have the third book in my greedy little hands and I'm about to crack it open to see who among the undying will make it through to the end, or whether their fates will be as truly horrible as I expect.

*wild grin*

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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Deathless (Deathless, #1)The Deathless by Peter Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read, 3/30/21:

Still enjoying the outdoors more than the indoors. :)

Honestly, it's a subtle and understated fantasy world that speaks loudest when it whispers. It's hard to remember that all these ancient families with their politics and internal squabbles are actually crystal-armor-donning rebirth-type immortal warriors who fly and the Wild below is full of demons.

When we're in the thick of it, the book is quite fun. And why am I re-reading this? Because I'm about to dive into books two and three. :)

Original Review:

I've become a pretty big fan of Peter Newman since the Vagrant books. They were quirky, hardcore horror, fantasy, and even SF bundled as one huge treat.

The Deathless breaks that mold by wrapping us deep inside a world of a dark magical forest with strange creatures and castles rather than ravening armies.

What makes this special? Immortality isn't that special, but these are lords and ladies of immortals breeding their line to take over their children's bodies by way of a special bloodletting ceremony... and the realm's leaders are... slipping. Going a little mad. Their one task is to protect the castle and the people from the monsters in the wild.

But what is the real difference between the monsters in the wild and the immortal men and women? That's the big question I keep asking. In the meantime, we have an adventure with flying crystal plate armor, very interesting beasties that aren't behaving quite as monstrously as they ought, and a quirky, smart old woman getting herself involved in bigger events. A large part of the tale centers on a newborn on the run with his mother and faithful servant, protecting him as the literal vassal for an immortal.

I think I had more fun with the big questions and the wild world than with any of the indoors bits with the immortals, but overall I had no complaints about this fantasy. It still has its cool quirks like Newman's other writings, but it is also slightly more mainstream than them.

Still enjoyable, even if I didn't squee this time. :)

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Monday, March 29, 2021

A Fistful of Charms (The Hollows, #4)A Fistful of Charms by Kim Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hollows Re-read time!

Getting through number 4 had its good moments and bad moments.

Good first: Really funny and strained character progressions with Ivy and Jenks. David the loner insurance adjusting werewolf is a welcome, if cringey, influence on the series. I had to grin at all the werewolf nonsense and how Rachel dealt with it.


Of course, that's not the fault of the writing or the writer. That's just a thing that I want to scream at Rachel about.

This book is perhaps the worst of the series if I'm to be perfectly honest. It's not that it's not entertaining, however. I really grinned my face off at certain points and I got emotional over the trust issues bits. But as a novel to progress the over-plot for the rest of the series, its only truly memorable and necessary bits are all in the curse-crafting sequences and the nice little side-effects. I can't wait to see THAT bear fruit later.

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Sunday, March 28, 2021

Anxious PeopleAnxious People by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Is there really anything else to say about this book?

Of course there is. But a humorous and rather deep and hard-hitting book like this needs a really good hook, and everything else is journey.

In this book, I admit I figured out the grand mystery in the first tenth of the book, but I didn't care. Characters, their drama, and the conflict that is the world, itself, made this story something special.

Saying anything else will spoil your enjoyment. Just look at the author's name and trust him as I trusted him. You'll be fine.


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Every Which Way But Dead (The Hollows, #3)Every Which Way But Dead by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The great Hollows Re-read!

It's funny how re-reads sometimes make you love the books even more. I mean, let's be real. Sometimes a re-read means you LOSE some of the charm that you felt the first time around.

But not here. I'm frankly flabbergasted at how much I'm loving this. My memory is apparently all wonky, too, because enough happens in books 2 and 3 to fill at least 4 average UF books and the development of the recurring side characters is absolutely delicious. Kisten in particular, but Al is really getting on my nerves in a good way and NEWT! Sheesh.

The only character I want to kick in his butt is Jenks, however. Come on, buddy! Eating that fish isn't the end of the world! The lies surrounding that fish, either! lol

And then there's Trent. Trent, Trent, Trent, Trent...

Still loving this. And it's so damn impressive to see this versus what happens later, together.

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Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Good, the Bad, and the Undead (The Hollows, #2)The Good, the Bad, and the Undead by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Series re-read!

While the first book is good, the second is fantastic. We've got the trio settling in, pulling runs, making mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes are on the job, and sometimes it's just with each other.

It's almost painful to see how awkward certain things can be: Ivy's living undead pheromones, unsaid promises, Rachel's little weakness thanks to having encountered vampire mind-**ckery in the previous book.

But then, there's also the thorough theme of power dynamics running all through this book. It's not all delicious tomato-based humor or practical jokes in the garden or a little sexy-time with Rachel's boy-toy Nick (literally, thanks to another little mistake). Indeed, the book gets downright DARK. I can't rightly fault Rachel's decision to do what she does after taking care of Ivy.

I'm also feeling the echoes of things to come as I read this, and I nearly broke into tears.

I honestly forgot just how much I loved these. It's truly like coming home.

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Friday, March 26, 2021

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 3/26/21:

I honestly don't remember how many times I've read this, but each time, I'm blown away by the words.

I'm always stunned by the QUALITIES of men and women in this book. Of spirit, substance, and seeming, we're introduced to so many varieties, given to believe certain things in no unclear language, and yet... it's the dream, and not the reality, that makes a man truly great.

Reality is sordid and dirty. Spirit is eternal. :)

Of course, there are many ways to read this classic, and I've read it in many ways, but in the end, all other methods are a rotten crowd... this one is worth the whole damn bunch put together.

Original Review:

I honestly believe that everyone should read this book when a teenager, and also as an adult, to mark the changes in your own mind and convictions. I loved this book then, as I do now, but for very different reasons. Now, I read it for the beauty of the language. Then, I read it for the joy of falling into a roaring New York, falling into the harsh idealism that almost reaches the intensity of a Russian novelist. Now, I read it for the tragedy; the casual cruelty and stolid absolutism of those who believe in moral dissolution.

Fantastic read, regardless. Now to see the movie. :)

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Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows, #1)Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a long-time fan of the full series and this just happens to be my third read.

Let me get the housekeeping out of the way. The later books are much better than the first book. This is probably because we've just got our introductions going.

HOWEVER, re-reads are much more rewarding for the same reason. All the characters who are introduced here are fully explored later, and that isn't just true for Rachael, Ivy, or Jenks, but the perfidy of Nick, the gradual acceptance of Eddings, and of course, the horribly tumultuous relationship with Trent. Not to mention Al.

I've read all the books save the brand new one that is coming out in a few weeks, so I've laughed and cried and have been very impressed with the full scope of what is to come. Seeing all of this first book through that lens is a mindtrip.

Yes, this kind of thing should have a proper term for it. Where the weight of foreknowledge floors you and increases your appreciation for what is in front of you?

Suffice to say, while this first book is light and fun and barely scratches the surface of my enjoyment, it IS still very enjoyable. It's one of my first UF loves, after Anita Blake and before Harry Dresden. I still rank it up there with both.

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Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Bell JarThe Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Back in college, I had been a big fan of poetry and Plath's poetry in particular. It mirrored my own distorted perceptions of reality and my own clinical depression, but beyond that, it was honest, vibrant, and hinted at a kind of transcendence that only people who suffer under a huge weight can truly appreciate.

This novel, published under another name in 1963, was close to autobiographical, and beyond that, comes extremely close to matching The Catcher in the Rye and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in feel and in a few other ways, subject as well. Fun fact, this novel was published only a year after Kesey's. In my personal opinion, The Bell Jar is superior to Kesey's novel.


Because when I compare Sylvia Plath and the character she portrayed to just about anyone alive, she's NOT crazy. Depressed, certainly, and her circumstances, cultural expectations, and hypocrisies of our society did nothing to help her. Indeed, when she tried to help herself, she always found ways to conflate freedom or excitement with self-destruction, and there's little about this that we aren't all acutely aware of. Our own lives are full of them. It doesn't have to be suicide to mean something similar.

Plath's writing is gorgeous. I may not have particularly approved of many of her choices, but I can absolutely put myself in her (or her character's) shoes throughout the entire novel. The Bell Jar, like its namesake, is the feeling of being stifled like a hothouse flower, constrained, even crushed.

I'm sure a feminist argument can be made in support of this novel, but I don't really care. This speaks to everyone, male or female or any flavor of human at all. It manages to satirize even as it is brutally honest and revealing and heartbreaking.

It DOES do a very good job with all kinds of double-standards without making grand statements unless you consider deep honesty and truth a grand statement. And perhaps I do.

At all times as I was reading this, I felt very deeply about the book. I was shivering and horrified and I recognized the nearly blasé outlook on life, the weariness that mixed fully with the hope and the yearning even as all roads were slowly rejected, one realization at a time.

This is depression, after all. The gradual shutting down of options. The borders and boundaries creeping in. The claustrophobia of our lives.

It may not be everyone's definition, of course, but it is definitely a good one, and this novel is one of the very best that tackles it.

Warning. Both the character and the author work out their feelings of suicide. If this triggers you, I won't say you should avoid this work. Indeed, I think it's necessary to face all kinds of truth.

Including the fact that Sylvia Plath committed suicide when she was only 31.

On that note, some Fight Club:

"You're not dying."


"In the Tibetan philosophy, Sylvia Plath sense of the word,"

"I know we're all-- we're all dying, all right?"

"But you're not dying the way Chloe back there is dying."

Indeed. Context and perspective are everything.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers, #4)The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chambers does it again with her character-driven warm-fuzzies-in-space-opera fiction.

I've enjoyed all of these books for exactly what they are. Not a traditional space-opera in any normal sense of the word except in the dodads, alien species, and space-travel, but while we DO have all of these bits, the story is always down-to-earth, small, and focused on getting by, developing relationships, and sometimes even a taste or three of a few universals.

You know, like being upset with governmental stupidities in crisis, learning to live and love in very restrained and difficult situations, and coming to grips with old injustices and even the injustice of certain ideas.

In other words, it's our modern world with SF trappings. 'Wayfarers', in the title, is not misleading. We're literally stuck in a space truck stop for the entire novel.

It's not getting out of this backwater place that is the core of this plot. It's getting out of ourselves.

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The Stainless Steel Rat Returns (Stainless Steel Rat, #11)The Stainless Steel Rat Returns by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The last Stainless Steel Rat adventure, appropriately written from story retirement and given new life in mismanaged money and a spacecraft full of porcuswine.

Suffice to say, while this wasn't an actually bad novel and it didn't really seem to be cashing out on its previous success, it didn't really feel like a Stainless Steel Rat novel. The only thing left about Jim was the swagger... without the talent.

He didn't really return as make a journey out of necessity, and the biggest plot push was a bit uninspired with the conflicts between the green and the pink skins. Nasty, brutish, and short doesn't really begin to describe it, or perhaps I should just point to Westeros and then say Jimmy was also here.

Again, it wasn't a bad novel, but it was a bad Stainless Steel Rat novel. And it wasn't that funny.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus (Stainless Steel Rat, #10)The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus by Harry Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Swindlers and the swindled. It certainly SOUNDS like the circus, but no, Jimmy the Stainless Steel Rat has a much wider range of talents.

Like cheap magic, financial magic, and chicken soup for the face.


Trust me, you'll see for yourself. It's a wild ride. The best way to trap a rat is with a better quality of cheese.

Definitely one of the weirder but perfectly fun novels.

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The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell (Stainless Steel Rat, #9)The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell by Harry Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This has got to be one of the better, if not one of the best, Stainless Steel Rat novels. It was simply interesting and not at all what I thought it would be. I mean, sure, I kinda expected an ACTUAL trip to hell because that's the kind of thing you expect in huge-hubris over-the-top comedies like this.

But here's the fun bit: it's totally over-the-top SF and full of great SF concepts and it runs with all the neat doodads.

And it's funny. :) Heaven, hell, lots of entropy-defying dimensions, and one persistent thief. :)

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Monday, March 22, 2021

The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues (Stainless Steel Rat, #3)The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alas, this Stainless Steel Rat, following up the early adventures of Jimmy, didn't hold up quite as well on the re-read. I docked it a star for being slightly incomprehensible in a later part.

Mostly it was fun, but it got a bit too wacky in its commentary.

Not horribly, but it wasn't all that enjoyable, either.

Even so, being a blues singer was funnily weird for a master thief. That was fine and fun. Quite Suicide Squad-ish meets Blues Brothers.

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The Salvage CrewThe Salvage Crew by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my third novel by this author and I still think he's going strong as hell.

The shape and flavor of Salvage Crew is a pretty familiar one to readers of SF, of course. A crew comes to a hostile alien world, encounters many strange things that kill them, and makes discoveries that change everything.

But as always, HOW a thing is done is often much more important than WHAT is being done.

In this case, we're taking on another example of AI-ship narration, claustrophobic horror (even for the AI), and a slippery slope down a stop-gap defensive position that NONE of them are prepared for.

And the enemy?

Let's just say that there's no way any of us could have prepared against it.

Fortunately, it gives us a very satisfying conclusion that makes me want to read on and on. I'm reminded of We Are Legion (We Are Bob) and To Sleep in a Sea of Stars in a very fond way.

Oh, and as a side benefit, Nathan Fillon narrates the audio version!

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Saturday, March 20, 2021

The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted (Stainless Steel Rat, #2)The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted by Harry Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This picks right up after Stainless Steel Rat is Born in all ways, and it really justifies his way of life. Always one more new pan-to-fire adventure, but this time it's going right up the food chain and right out of the military to the other side, master-thief style.

It's funny, fast, and delightful, but not quite as delightful as the ones that came before it. It's still an Adventure that performs a wonderful skewering.

You know the type. The enemies are all idiots and the hero exposes all of them in grand glory. Fun. :)

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Friday, March 19, 2021

A Stainless Steel Rat is Born (Stainless Steel Rat, #1)A Stainless Steel Rat is Born by Harry Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since I'm reading these in publication order rather than chronological order, I'm quite aware that this is an origin story for our favorite thieving rat and not one that gets overly outrageous and epic.

In that respect, it's fun as hell. Hijinx and heists are fun in any quantity.

I really enjoyed his mentor, Bishop, but alas, all good things...

Basically, I can read these books all day long. Light, fun, and always funny. SF, yes, but it's really all about the glad-eyed thievery, always falling in the muck, and getting up immediately to steal again.

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Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Fall of Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos #2)The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's nearly impossible to give this novel the praise it deserves.

It's also a mystery wrapped within an enigma, the conclusion to the grand tale set up in the first book, and it's an amazingly smart ride.

I mean, sure, I could just point at all the great SF goodies packed in here, from black holes eating planets to AI gods creating Ultimate AI gods to an enormous war hitting the known universe for reasons that are delightfully complex and even more delightfully mysterious until the reasons blow us over with those wonderful "aaaah, COOL" moments.

But I won't.

Instead, I'll just point at how smart this book is on a theme and character level. Poetry and the poet is still as important as the first book, but rather than rest on the laurels of such amazing worldbuilding and structure and genre-hopping of the first book, we get into the real meat of the characters and the REASON for it all.

The Shrike. Why all these kinds of peoples from all kinds of planets and walks of life have all come to Hyperion, and why it is the fulcrum on which the fate of humanity and AI life hinges. And let's not forget the amazingly complex discussion about What Is God. Or our place in it. Or the AI's place in it.

There is nothing trite about this novel. The writing is absolutely fantastic. So are all the characters. The plot is twisty enough to give thrillers a scare. And the themes, the structure, and the layout put even modern classics in the traditional literature categories to shame.

In short, these two books are modern classics and remain so for very, very good reasons, and not least because they're wildly entertaining.

Honestly? I put these up there in my top ten books of all time. It's near Dune and Requiem for Homo Sapiens in my mind. As rich, as beautiful, as complex.

I'm recommending these for everyone who likes SF. Period. And those who don't, as well. See what can REALLY be accomplished first before making any judgments.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Stainless Steel Rat for President (Stainless Steel Rat, #8)The Stainless Steel Rat for President by Harry Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Election fraud! Oppressive regime! Tourism!

Wait, this isn't Cuba OR America! And the person on the cover of this book isn't Wil Wheaton!

But this poor planet, rife with absolute corruption and tourism, IS the next target for our redoubtable Stainless Steel Rat.

Back when I first read this one, I laughed my butt off. I mean, it originally came out in '82 and it was totally a Cuba and/or South America dictatorship slam, including the focus on free elections, but in our heart of hearts, we all knew it was about all the dirty, dirty tricks being played in politics on our own front doors.

So yes, throwing a little Rat into the works is VERY satisfying. Terrier for the Revolution!

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You! (Stainless Steel Rat, #7)The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You! by Harry Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On my furious re-read of the Stainless Steel Rat, this particular entry happens to be my personal favorite -- so far.

Alien invasion!

It works much better when you're working with a master thief in a rubber suit. Believe me. And then there are the Morality people. And J. Hova. :)

I'm totally rolling my eyes throughout this light read and loving every second.


Because it's CHARMING. James's wife and two precocious children are so naughty. But James himself? Nothing can keep a good Stainless Steel Rat down.

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Privateers (The Grand Tour, #2; Privateers, #1)Privateers by Ben Bova
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A rather hard book to get through. It's dated in all the worst ways, but perhaps not in the most atrocious. The hardest part is the plot. The worldbuilding is merely a cold-war what-if with Soviets as the winners and holding economic dominance over everyone, with our MC from the first Grand Tour book hiding out -- away from the USA, mind you -- trying to do the underdog space-flight thing.

The rest is all love interest, evil soviet dude going after his girlfriend, and some '50s era derring-do.

This might have been okay if it had been snappy and sharp and humorous, but it really wasn't. It was workmanlike and kinda dull.

I'm reconsidering my desire to go through the rest of the Grand Tour at this point if the plots are going to be this boilerplate.

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Soul CatcherSoul Catcher by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fans of Frank Herbert in general need to check their expectations at the door when picking up this novel. It is his only traditional fiction novel. That is to say, it is not a genre novel at all.

Normally, this shouldn't mean diddly squat to readers, but the world being what it is, a lot of stupidity arises. The author of Dune wrote a novel that is not only on par with the very best novels of ANY branch of literature but he is still not given the honest credit he is due.

A good seven years after Dune, he wrote a complex, multi-layered tale of coming-of-age and revenge with no elements of SF or Fantasy, writing it very well and taking quite a few chances with it. In other words, it ought to have received a lot of critical appreciation not just for its careful representations of a Native American scholar-turned-shaman who takes the path of representational revenge to a very emotional conclusion, but for the careful duality of innocence and experience.

Of course, no novel like this would be written in today's market. That doesn't mean it's a bad novel -- only that many people would object to it on grounds that have nothing to do with the actual writing.

Such as? Well, in today's world, we'd hear cries of cultural appropriation. It's Frank Herbert writing from the PoV of a conflicted American Indian who went through our educational system and rejected it, instead going down a hard path of kidnapping a son of a high-ranking US politician for the sake of killing him in a highly representational, ritualistic way as a way to set things right for what had happened to his people.

The fact that the ending does not conform with the teachings does not say anything bad about the rest of the novel's careful depictions of Native American ideas. It DOES say a lot about the anti-hero of the tale, however. I'm very impressed by it. Dark endings, tragedies, even when they are couched as an inevitable good, are hard to pull off. Frank Herbert did both, equally condemning the white man AND the Native American without doing it obviously. Indeed, the message of eventual respect and spirit and soul, in context, gave me hope that there COULD be true understanding between peoples.

When that understanding is twisted, however, bad things always come.

No. This is not an SF or F novel by a man known far and wide as a brilliant SF novelist. But it IS a great novel full of subtlety, action, and heart.

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Monday, March 15, 2021

The Alchemist and The ExecutionessThe Alchemist and The Executioness by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I don't find anything objectionable about either of these novellas, the parallels between these and most of the Epic Fantasies out there at the moment are pretty plain to see. The fairly three-dimensional characters must work within and/or against a world where magical brambles slowly kill empires, but are caused by magic use.

The solution is often rougher than the original problem: kill all magic users.

Both are absolutely allegory, set in the same world, and both take on very familiar tropes. What happens when problems and solutions aren't easily fixed -- mixed with a bit of environmentalism, cultural blindness, and the rage of the righteous.

In that respect, it's very familiar.

I won't say that these are groundbreaking, but they are decent.

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Color, Heat and the Wreck of the ArgoColor, Heat and the Wreck of the Argo by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A pitch-perfect short tale of loneliness, obsession, beta-max glory -- while also being a mystifying exploration into other people's lives, perhaps even alternate histories, capturing moments that are most rightly called catastrophes -- Or turning points.

This is Valente at her best. A lyrical volcano of barely suppressed emotion that is not always of the kinds of emotion you might expect.

In fact, I cannot rightly define this short story. Nor describe it. I mean, sure, it's about watching someone else's home movies on an old beta-max recorder, but what she DOES with it is something out of this world.

Check it out Here.

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The Chaos Balance (The Saga of Recluce, #7)The Chaos Balance by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Following Fall of Angels both chronologically and in publication history, I'm both pleased and relieved to read this book. That's mostly because the publication history and the chronological order of this entire series is a bit all over the place.

Not a bad thing, mind you, but it takes some effort to keep it all aligned in the reader's heads. Fortunately, I broke down and pulled up some online guides to help me out.

Not that it really matters at this point. The story takes place two years after the previous novel and we follow the same main character, but this time he's kicked himself out of the home he had spent so much of his efforts to make.

Major themes so far have been the male/female equation, not showing either in perfect light, but as a constant flux -- almost a mirror to the whole Order/Chaos magic (also high-tech) balance that is described throughout the series. That is NOT to say that men are chaos and women are order or any such nonsense. There are many orders of order and chaos and anything like that would be too painfully obvious to make a good read.

This IS a good read, thankfully, and I really enjoyed how the author skewered Honor-based cultures.

If I am to be slightly annoyed by anything, it would have to be the now pretty-standard reliance on making main male characters who are pretty much universally hard-working, honor-driven, quiet, and internally-driven do-gooders who rarely think twice about sacrificing themselves for a greater good.

I mean, sure, the way I write this, you might assume that MOST heroes, in general, might fit at least parts of this description, but the ones I'm reading about are all pretty much perfectly stoic, closed-lipped, and are always working twice-as-hard as anyone else. Again, nice, and pretty damn admirable, but it's like ALL the VERY BEST Order mages who can accomplish miracles have almost exactly the same personalities. So. It begs the question. Does one have to have this personality type to be the best of the best Order mages?

It's neither here nor there. I'm still enjoying it a great deal and the full history of this place is fascinating as hell. Early history now, whereas one of the previous books happened to cap the end of the whole series. And yet, it's all still delicious.

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Saturday, March 13, 2021

Tell-AllTell-All by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Eeeeh, okay.

I'm generally a huge fan of Palahniuk but he has this thing about doubling down on a THING and then going for the shock value, then the schlock value after that. No biggie, and it's sometimes quite funny.

Indeed, there are a number of really wonderful quips right out of the snarkiest Culture columns that could have come out of the forties or fifties, but in the end, this novel is a gorgeously made-up skull.

It's gourmet vomit.

That being said, it's PRETTY in some ways even though the basic plot is on par with the most lethargic and enervated aging starlet mystery-rags. The big shocker is only mildly amusing and it took too long to get there, and by the time we've got it, we're counting on our fingers the times we've seen this same variation on a theme.

But then, maybe I just don't care too much about aging stars and their dramas? That could be it, too.

And to think that I had to pick through the remains of this meal...

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16331633 by Eric Flint
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a big fan of history, and rather than seeing this become a period novel of Germany intersecting with West Virginia, I was delighted to see some rather serious ramifications rocking all of Europe.

What? Speedboats and two-seater aircraft flying into the navies and armies of 1633 isn't enough for me?

No. It isn't. But imagine the power that a local library from the future would have over the real history of the past and what it would mean to the people actually having MADE the history? Imagine if Oliver Cromwell was imprisoned before he ever became a revolutionary?

This is anti-determinism at its best, and it gets nicely chaotic.

Sure, we have a few great battles here, with a few courageous people with modern high-tech against period armies, but I was more into the historical craziness. I had a great time. And there is also a more nuanced political commentary going on here, as well as economic. I find myself thinking much more about what I would have done in that time period, knowing what I know.

And isn't that the best part of this kind of novel? It sparks our imagination. :)

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Friday, March 12, 2021

16321632 by Eric Flint
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the grand tradition of all the best "What If"s of the SF field, this one neatly portrays what would happen if we transported a modern American small town, in its entirety, into central Germany during the Thirty Years War.

In a lot of ways, it's hilarious, but that's tempered by some really great history and ramifications that would have to be explored in true Alternate History SF style. Watching an a**hole cavalry leader play tag with a bunch of hillbillies in pickup trucks had me guffawing.

Surprisingly enough, I knew this would be a jingoism-turned-reality rah-rah America novel, but instead of it annoying me, I had a pretty good time. It seems we finally found a great fantasy reason to be NRA members, so heavily laden with guns and ammunition that they outnumbered family values at a rate of fourteen to one. Personal politics aside, I'm really glad that these coal miners stockpiled enough artillery in their small town to take on an army.

*aside* (I think this novel was written specifically to give private militia-ism a real nice feeling in their pants.)

That being said, the novel is genuinely optimistic. It's all normal folks who honestly believe in all the things they were taught to believe about America and they're willing to murder hundreds of thousands of unprepared grunts in a Germany of almost 400 years ago to prove it.

If this last line made you take a double-take, congratulations. Your irony sensors are working.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World (Stainless Steel Rat, #6)The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World by Harry Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah, a little time travel absurdity, a dash of master thievery, and a sprinkling of megalomaniac revenge turn this otherwise light and humorous SF snarkfest into a history-diving train wreck that visits the mid '70s, late Napoleonic, and the twilight years of Earth.

It's almost like a Doctor who without the competence. Or a planet of the apes without the commentary. But at least it has tons of guns, futuristic grenades, and sleeping gas to go with a much brighter woman to keep her special idiot alive.

I won't say this is the best SF ever, but it tickles my snark fancy and I love the chaos.

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The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge (Stainless Steel Rat, #5)The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge by Harry Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Light, shameless fun that's one part newlywed with babies, three parts spy/military invasion, and six parts Stainless Steel Rat, pulling hijinx and heist out of his hat.

Of course, being a thief doesn't mean one is always thinking about stealing stuff. Revenge and saving the galaxy from an intergalactic invasion can have its perks, too.

I admire this particular novel for the time it was written, almost ten years after the first, in the height of the Vietnam War.

I'm just saying. The military-industrial engine needed a little taking down by a snarky little anarchist-turned-government man. ;)

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The Stainless Steel Rat (Stainless Steel Rat, #4)The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I made it a goal to return to some of my all-time favorites of SF this year. Revisit fond memories, try to determine whether my teenage self had as good taste as my adult self.

You know. A nostalgia trip.

In this case, I'm not going for the full best of the best of the best, but the ones that had me snickering and enjoying the wild rush of being bad for the sake of FREEDOM. In this case, it's the Stainless Steel Rat.

Master thief of many, many worlds, finally caught, turned into a thief-catcher, and delightful light SF ensues.

And it's not even that surprising a plot. Femme Fatale stuff. But I still enjoyed the lot of it, from special psychological drug cocktails to full-body makeovers to hilarious commentaries of nationalism, banks, and paperwork.

What can I say? I LOVE a great heist novel. Harry Harrison just happened to make a whole fun series out of it, and it has rung a bell on my subsequent delights ever since.

It holds up. It's light and fun SF with a healthy dose of snark. Lupin for the SF age. :)

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The Insulted and the InjuredThe Insulted and the Injured by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Out of all the Dostoyevsky I've read so far, this is my least favorite. That's not to say it's a bad novel, far from that, but I can only judge Dostoyevsky on Dostoyevsky.

Of course, if I WERE to judge him by someone else, I'd have to link this to Charles Dickens, but only in this particular novel. It's practically a clone of Dickens with all the pathos and hand-wringing. I half-expected, thanks to my knowledge of Dostoyevsky in general, to watch the moral and physical slide into turpitude to come from our main characters, to wallow in the mud. But this didn't quite happen. Indeed, the villain in the tale was precisely who we thought it was and the women were all perfectly angelic in a way that made me think that they were cardboard cutouts.

Please don't mistake me. Dostoyevsky has written some truly fantastic angelic waifs in his time, but it's more an expression of his loving the divine more than an actual representation of human females. He writes those just fine, with all their flaws and miseries, and some of their flaws and miseries aren't even the men in their lives!

I jest. Kinda. But one thing is certain: it's an entertaining yarn and it is one of the most amicable three-way love stories I've ever read. It's almost unbelievable! lol

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Poor PeoplePoor People by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Written at the age of 24 back in 1846, this Dostoyevsky novel catapulted his career, such as it was, into fame, if not riches. Without it, I doubt we would ever have had the glory that is Crime and Punishment.

Equally so, without this one, we wouldn't have had such pretty and flowery prose filled with hope -- at least at the beginning, with love, -- that is practically foreign in his later works. But it serves to really make his style stand out in this case.

The pure optimism and idealism shown here is scraped away with first a butterknife and then later with a cheese-grater, and yet the words keep coming back in stark contrast with the sheer, desperate poverty that both our main characters must live through.

It's an epistle novel, and very pretty, but it also serves to let slip so many of their working conditions and psychological horrors. When a few kopecks can drive them to tears, when he must sell his best work uniform to pay for rent in a filthy, falling apart hovel, or when she burns her fingers and yet must still stitch through the pain as she becomes skin and bones.

Hardcore. Their love letters are real, as is their love, and yet I'm reminded of things like Upton's Jungle as I read this. The conditions seem very natural to readers of, say, Dickens, but this is harder, more desperate.

And to think that the novel is actually a satire of the current genre? I can believe it if only I was a bit more aware of that particular genre. I think I might need to read some Pushkin soon.

There's some real genius here. Of course, I'm not the first to say so.

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