Sunday, January 31, 2021

Myth Alliances (Myth Adventures, #14)Myth Alliances by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A silly, humorous comedy of mistaken intentions, a race of wusses, or rather, Wuhses, and a serious SPENDING problem.

A VERY light comedy but better than the previous one, becoming a comedy of commerce, weak politics, and great ideas that go very wrong.


I consider it a palate cleanser. Nothing meaty about it. Just light fantasy that pokes holes in a more innocent modern life.

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Saturday, January 30, 2021

Something M.Y.T.H. Inc. (Myth Adventures, #12)Something M.Y.T.H. Inc. by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I don't really hold this series at much of a standard - or any - it still remains light, easy fun that doesn't require any kind of effort. The mob jokes and the hapless wizard who had risen to great heights storyline is *very* lightly amusing.

It's why I keep going. It's cute.

This one is pretty much the same thing, only it shores up some of the behind-the-scenes action that had happened in the previous novel, making me think that both should have been shuffled together as a full novel, but publishing considerations (or whatever) made him split it up.

Not bad, but the two should have stayed together. Alas.

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Friday, January 29, 2021

Over the Woodward Wall (The Up-and-Under, #1)Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stories within stories within stories.

Of course, this book happens to be written by a certain imaginary character, A. Deborah Baker, who wrote an imaginary book within Middlegame about two F/SF children who are bound in inexplicably and impossibly opposite ways only to meet in the center. And this book is about two improbably opposite Fantasy children who couldn't be more different who must meet, eventually, in the center.

Sound complicated? It's just mirroring within mirroring and it gives us, finally, a delightful reflection that displays both Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children and Middlegame, equally.

Mind you, I like both Wayward children and Middlegame better than this particular YA tale, but when I admire the symmetry, I like this much, much more than the ACTUAL tale.

Stories within stories within stories.

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A Master of Djinn (Fatma el-Sha’arawi, #3)A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Returning to the world of pre-WWI Cairo, Egypt, where Djinn coexist with humans, where there are old Egyptian gods (or at least their followers with a touch of the divine within them), and a host of wonderful crossovers right out of the pages of 1001 Arabian Knights, Steampunk novels, and good, old-fashioned modern UF, I have to say I'm loving every moment.

It took me a moment to get into the series, but it didn't take that long. The fact is, I like Fatma. She's got that Bowler hat and her investigation skills sharpened and the worldbuilding makes every second here worthwhile.

Better, it builds upon itself, staying nicely grounded while evoking a sense of things going completely out of control. Classic conflicts, but with a spin on it that I personally loved. (No spoilers.)

Suffice to say, I'm now officially hooked. I was into it before, but this full-sized novel made it perfect for me.

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Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Initial Insult (The Initial Insult, #1)The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What do you get when you mix an angst-ridden Appalachian teen horror with Poe's The Cask of Amontillado?

The Initial Insult.

All told, I really enjoyed this, but then, I was in the mood for extreme cattiness, thousands of miscommunications, and the devolution from love to hate. Fortunately, this YA horror/thriller definitely fits that bill.

I won't say it is the most unique thing in the world since I've personally read something like 7 books very similar to this in the last two years, but if you have an itch you have to scratch and its name is REVENGE, then you probably ought to pick this up. I can see a few of you out there tearing up (for one reason or another) by the end of the tale.



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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

A Dead Djinn in Cairo (Fatma el-Sha’arawi, #1)A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djèlí Clark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A rich taste of UF set in 1912 Egypt, with all the magical goodies you might expect from that part of the world.

It's a classic mystery with a host of the divine and not-so-divine. I suppose I would be MORE interested in a longer tale or a full series rather than this short taste, but from what I've read, I did enjoy it.

Looking forward to more.

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Random Sh*t Flying Through the Air (The Frost, #2)Random Sh*t Flying Through the Air by Jackson Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just like the first one in the series, this is a fun and fast SF filled with horrendous amounts of selfishness, cooking, and world-destroying earthquakes.

What? Did you expect the TK to just be something minor like random sh*t flying through the air?

Give the author some credit. When we need to have some slightly unbelievable OP action, it's best not to go comic-book bland. Go big or go home.

I didn't even care that this four-year-old baddie was quite THAT smart or THAT powerful. It was just goofy enough to feel like all kinds of popcorn to me. :)

Expect over-the-top. Expect some nice humor. Expect a very unusual baddie. I think this might have made a rather cool graphic novel.



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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Magic Engineer (The Saga of Recluce, #3)The Magic Engineer by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Returning to Recluse is again a sheer delight. Classic, easy storytelling, development of the core ideas of his magic system, and a great exploration of the balance between Chaos and Order.

Specifically, this man, totally devoted to Order magic, devoted his life in exile to creating machines, from steam engines to much more difficult (emotionally) devices, proving to the world that Order magic is more than a match for that of Chaos magic, which happens to be rife off the island of Recluse.

This is not, as people might assume, a novel of good versus evil. None of them are. They are, however, a poignant and complex study in nature, idealism, loss of innocence, and the Law of Unintended Consequences.

In other words, there's nothing about this that I dislike.

This is the kind of Fantasy I could read all day long and never grow tired of. It's a nice counterpoint to, say, WoT or Sanderson, which delve deep in different thematics but are just as fun in characters and storytelling.

Yes, I rank this series up there. And why not? It's not a clone, it's clever, and it's well-written. And best of all, I never once got bored. That's a fine, fine point.

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Monday, January 25, 2021

The Ministry for the FutureThe Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know, the first time I saw the title and the cover, I thought this would be a far-future SF, not a near-future prediction. I'm happy to be wrong.

I'm even happier to have loved this novel from the first page to the last. Indeed, over the last 8 years of new novels, I've loved everything that KSR has written, being duly impressed about his improvement with characters and his truly fantastic grasp of science, politics, history, economics, and future speculation. Indeed, my only complaints have ever been about his characters who usually feel a bit more like vehicles for stories and especially IDEAS more than people, but for this book, it wasn't the case.

I was brought to tears several times.

However, I need to be very clear on this: KSR's strength is absolutely and utterly in ideas. I feel like I just read an accessible novel that outlines all of the biggest real-thought on climate change and possible solutions while having it all put through the meat-grinder of real-politics, real-people, and enormous ongoing tragedies.

The book starts out with millions dying of heat in India.

It picks up with angry people worldwide demanding change and butting heads, devolving into assassinations, new politics, massive setbacks, economic upheavals, MORE climate disasters hitting the affluent people, more chaos, new legislation, MORE political upheaval, more dead, and economic systems that are both familiar and much more complicated than most of us have ever really researched TODAY.

I mean, some of us have. Bitchains, UBIs, carbon monetary systems (not as in burning it, but drawing it out of the atmosphere), and the eventual re-greening of the Earth. And it's a lot more complicated and gloriously explored than anything I can get into with a simple review, but the BOOK does a fantastic job of outlining a gloriously chaotic near-future that would, in other times, be considered a bonafide classic.

The book, frankly, is rich, deserves immense respect, lots of thought, and public discourse.

Maybe most of us are burned out by the seeming impossibility of getting a New Green Deal, one where the new jobs come directly from creating a sustainable future.

But maybe what we really need are the ideas firmly planted in our heads, complete with plans, backup plans, backup-backup plans, and awareness of all the ways it could all go wrong (and will) so we're not blindsided when we lose four billion people (minimum) in the next 30 years.

This novel should be THAT talking point. For how tragic it is, it's FULL of great thought and, dare I say it, HOPE.

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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Bear Head (Dogs of War, #2)Bear Head by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Decades past Dogs of War, we've got ourselves a very different situation. Indeed, we've got mars, animal-form bio-mod workers, and a funny little fascist problem that has been brewing.

Indeed, I just thought this was going to be a fairly light (for Tchaikovsky) adventure with some of the previous awesome aspects (and perhaps characters) taken in new, perhaps freakishly cool directions.

I didn't expect head man Thompson. I mean, he seemed to be a regular class-A A-hole that I would gleefully love to see mangled at the end of a great narrative. I didn't think I'd be laughing my head off with the great twists in store. But I did.

And between bees and bad news bears and those damnable dog collars, this Hard-SF treat is a real treat.

Oh, and I never would have thought that Tchaikovsky would have written a sharp satire meshing an iconic narcissist with the prisoner's dilemma, but he did.

He truly did.

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Saturday, January 23, 2021

House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City, #1)House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm of two minds on this.

The fact that it absolutely is an Urban Fantasy in all ways possible is something of a dual-edged sword. We're already far into the life-cycle of UFs in general so we tend to get kinda jaded and praying for originality when we pick up new ones. The fact that this one is a whopping 800 pages instead of being broken up into the first three books of a longer normal UF series is STRANGE.

Or not so strange, considering how many fans will eat anything that Maas puts in front of them.

That being said, I pretty much hated the first huge story sequence, almost prayed that everyone would just die in a horrible way, including the main character. Party this party that, sex, sex, sex, and WHO CARES.

But then big changes (wishes come true) happen and my interest finally perked up. And that was my start of actually enjoying the novel. And then it kinda slid around before getting interesting again. Suffice to say, we go through lots of story changes, plot changes, even basic description of MC changes. I don't mind that so much if the changes make sense and provide a depth of character. And they do. Mostly. And then the betrayals and the decision comes around and I got fully into the novel again and rode the rest of this huge honker all the way to the end.

Putting this side-by-side with Court gives it a sense of narrative style that is very familiar, even if the actual tale and setting are all the way different. And the story itself wasn't bad. By the end.



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Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Weight of the World (The Amaranthine Spectrum #2)The Weight of the World by Tom Toner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm going to rate this a 5 for worldbuilding and attempted lit-SF treatment in the way of Gene Wolfe but a 2 for sheer enjoyment.

I wanted to enjoy it. Let me be clear on this. There are some wonderful scenes, better action scenes, and wordplay in naming that deserves a lot of props. It's sprawling, like a far-far future Jason and the Argonauts with many human-alien species and strangely-changed long-lifers who have been around for thirteen thousand years. It has a lot to admire. I even got into it pretty hard by the time we got to space and I especially loved Perception every time he was around.

However.

It may be just me, but I tired very quickly of the never-ending weirdly-spelled names and places, the almost-recognizable but not quite aspects, and the less-than-satisfactory characterizations that could have saved a lot of this by just being VIBRANT enough to push through the naming conventions and make it STICK.

As a consequence, I OFTEN had to go to the glossary at the end and it wasn't fun. I CAN enjoy that kind of thing and have, in some particularly brilliant cases, but for this, I discovered that I barely cared about any of the characters. It got better by the end, as these things generally go, but it was something of a slog for me.

Let me repeat, however, that this IS a rather vast and interesting far-future with lots of subtle easter-eggs and a very imaginative wide setting that I probably would have enjoyed more as a vast, well-funded tv series that relies on the visual more than anything else.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Winds of Dune (Heroes of Dune #2)The Winds of Dune by Brian Herbert
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

No matter how competently a novel can be written, and this is absolutely a COMPETENT novel, it must still fit in the full chronology of the original series.

Yes, this is a very special case. Yes, this slips in between the 2nd and 3rd novels of Frank Herbert's Dune series. Yes, it attempts to slide around in that delicate area of Paul's EMPIRE and Paul's full decline.

In THEORY, this might have been a fine novel. In THEORY, I might have even LOVED the ideas presented here, building the reasons for the full political nastiness in Children of Dune, the reversals, the tragedies.

But what we've got here is not only Dune-lite, but a larger embellishment of Bronso, the Ixian, which had no mention in the originals. Sure, we've got the continuation of the separation of Paul the man and Paul the legend, but that had already been happening naturally and even more impressively during God Emperor of Dune, with more tongue-in-cheek, better analysis, and better heartbreaking commentary. I loved Leto II. He may have been a monster, but he was a monster fulfilling his father's Terrible Purpose.

Bronso, on the other hand, is rather ... ahem... mild. Sure, we give Paul more credit for the effort he put into his own downfall, but that was pretty damn clear in the originals already. And Leto II knew it clearly, too, even as a kid.

The reveal, too, in Children of Dune, was a lot more powerful. Did we really want all the reveals before the novel unfurls?

Personally, I wouldn't recommend reading this novel in chronological order. Read it after the original series or as a curiosity AFTER God Emperor of Dune, perhaps, as a 20/20 hindsight thing while being fully aware that it is filler with just a few stop-gap plot fill-ins and an otherwise fine SF adventure that would have been perfect in an unrelated series.

Harsh?

Maybe. But as a fan of the originals, I must protect my own.



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Monday, January 18, 2021

Paul of Dune (Heroes of Dune #1)Paul of Dune by Brian Herbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Out of all the Brian Herbert/Kevin Anderson books surrounding the Dune series, I was most afraid of and most interested in reading more about Paul, himself. I mean, he's THE Messiah. But by the same token, I truly avoided this particular book because he was so very EXCELLENT in the original Dune.

Why fix perfection?

Well... here's a good reason to read this book: it supplies us with a wealth of information for the ACTUAL jihad. And while that isn't the main plot for the novel, it was very interesting.

The actual plot is broken up into two. The first is an extensive flashback to when Paul was 12 and it gives us the whole build-up to the Baron, Paul's confirmation as heir, and the tragedy of Leto's marriage and the near-war that followed it. The other is all about Count Fenring and an extensive plot involving the Tleilaxu, which is also very interesting on its own because it's COUNT FENRING. The *almost* Kwizatz Haderach. The one that *could* have killed Paul.

Of course, I have a slight issue with this book because of a certain plot hole revolving JUST THAT, but I forgive it because I'm getting some COUNT FENRING.

Final estimation?

It's light reading. As in Dune-lite. It's not nearly as good as the originals but it does explore some rather cool surrounding aspects and that's the real draw, isn't it? It is what it is.

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Sunday, January 17, 2021

EyeEye by Frank Herbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm reading Frank Herbert's only short story collection for the second time simply because I feel like I may have given it too little credit back in the day.

How, you ask? Because despite having a picture of a Fremen on the cover, there is VERY LITTLE in here that represents Dune. I was obsessed, as I remain obsessed, about Dune, so the first few stories that were so/so and the excerpt from Dragon in the Sea DID make me a little annoyed. You know, fanboys want fanatical stuff to chew on.

Fortunately, the intro has a very cool insight into the making of Lynch's movie and Herbert's reaction to it. (Believe it or not, he was pretty cool with the changes, having bought-in to the industry's reasons for so much, but he really held out hopes for turning it into a mini-series. And I do, too.)

BUT, here's the really cool bit. A handful of these stories are better than just okay. A few are freaking amazing.

My personal favorite is Try to Remember.

For anyone who has seen Arrival or read Ted Chiang's story, they might point to Frank Herbert's much earlier story and go, HEY! THAT'S!!! but then settle down and see how they both diverge in different, but no less awesome, directions. It's now one of my favorite SF short stories. :)

Seed Stock happens to be Frank's own favorite story -- and for great reason. It is a wild future with some impressively creative quantum physics effects coupled with great action and better special effects. On a personal note, I can't help but try to fit it into Herbert's extensive worldbuilding and future history, thinking of the first time someone might have jumped across spacetime. The Heisenburg Effect. But either way, this story would fit just fine in any new SF movie with a big effects budget. :)

I think about 5 of the stories in the collection justifies all of them. Just don't expect a ton about Dune. :)

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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Powersat (The Grand Tour, #1)Powersat by Ben Bova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this is a very solid, average, old-school SF novel.

It's focused on current events (circa 2005) surrounding energy dependence issues, political realities, and a nice, if almost cartoonish, technothriller cherry on top.

When I say it's average, I need to clarify it some. It's not an average *our* modern SF novel. It actually relies very heavily on real science, real political necessities, and the grand possibilities of building a solar satellite that beams diffuse energy down to the earth for collection in great capacitors. I very much appreciate the problems associated with the privatization of space travel, a-la Musk, and think it is very worth reading.

The subject matter is appealing, timely, and certainly not wildly fantastical. Bova is pretty great for real science.

A potential problem lies in its fairly accurate portrayal of a less egregious '70s male-centric scientist-entrepreneur saves the world plot. I say less egregious because the male lead, while being prototypically male, isn't exactly doing anything WRONG, but it certainly portrays women in the old light. Not that any of them were complaining, mind you. Please follow my line of thought: the novel harms no-one from a social point of view, but it is NOT the current, common, point of view that everyone seems to be judging else by, today.

Just because he's a male lead, he's suspect by today's standards. If he treats women sometimes as many women used to like to be treated, and often still do, IE., admiring them, being oblivious to signs, being victims of self-centeredness, or being, well... MALE... a lot of people seem to have a PROBLEM with that these days.

Me? Reading this, having grown up with MANY books that more or less have this same feel in the SF shelves, I would have just shrugged and focused on the ideas and the plot. But modern SF and Fantasy have swung to the far OTHER end of this spectrum these days. All the modern books I read now have female-centric leads or LGBTQ focuses. So much so that I now find myself wondering where all these old male-centric novels went. Are they all dead? Have they been nixed, as a whole? Are there no longer any male-led stories? I mean, honestly, I'd prefer a healthy mix of BOTH primary sexes and a truly representative mix of everything else. You know. To represent reality.

But in this case, reading Bova now? I feel like I just read a delightful, if slightly average, panacea. Nothing revolutionary. Just a breath of fresh scientific air without a modern Mary Sue.


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Those Across the RiverThose Across the River by Christopher Buehlman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere.

The very best horror books evoke dread by setting, in my opinion, and Buehlman excels at it. Like all the best horrors, as well, we're put in a cold pot of water set to boil, and it's up to us to figure out just HOW the world is about to end.

In this case, it happens to be one of the delightfully descriptive werewolf stories I've ever read, firmly placed in Georgia during the Great Depression. The evocation of time and space is particularly good. I loved the poverty and the moonshine and the mute and sometimes not so mute acceptance of the vagrants, the wild, and the desperate. Best of all was the history that preceded this, slowly revealed and explosively executed.

Any fan of horror should love this if you love excellent craft. :)

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Friday, January 15, 2021

Myth-ion Improbable (Myth Adventures, #11)Myth-ion Improbable by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sometimes these books are hit or myth.

This was OKAY. I mean, sure, it's following the success of the Mission Impossible reboots but it's really a super-lite cow-quest. Golden cow. With an okay twist.

Strangely enough, I originally wanted more of his mentor joining in the quest when he was no longer in it, but now I've reversed my position. The apprentice is fine without him. Or maybe this one was just weak. Not horrible. Just weak.

*shrug*

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QuestlandQuestland by Carrie Vaughn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Carrie Vaughns trek into LitRPG territory is a solid run even if it feels like a half-attempt to legitimize the sub-genre by giving it fairly extensive SF roots, a real-world base, and economic "reasons".

Of course, most of the LitRPGs I've read don't bother with any of that. They just go straight into the adventure and let us have all the *ding* level-ups we want, letting us revel in the adventure and learn the basic gaming rules as we go with easy-to-follow diagrams. :)

Vaughn's is more along the lines of Ready Player One, but with a more devoted eye to direct LoTR mythology and normal myths that aren't limited to '80s schwag. I LIKED that. I even liked the idea that a PHD in Literature got the leading role.

So what didn't I like? The plot. Maybe the first half was okay because it's standard journey stuff, but once we got into the evil corporation arrogance and the rats trying to steal all the company cheese, I either wanted it to go out with a big bang or defy my expectations. It did neither.

It wasn't bad, but it didn't wow me, either.

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Thursday, January 14, 2021

StormlandStormland by John Shirley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Without spoiling it for anyone, I'll just go ahead and confirm that the blurb on this book is right on target for what you should expect.

Storms, storms, storms.

What you should also expect is chaos. Lots of floating bodies. A technothriller with cyberpunk aspects perfectly in line with John Shirley's earlier novels, but rather than taking a revolutionary tack, this feels more like a survival/mystery/thriller. The chaos is much more than the storms, although they also feature very prominently.

I will say, right off the bat, that if you like the complicated and deeply detailed styles of Sean Stewart's Galveston or the feel of some of Tim Power's darker, modern-placed novels, then I can promise you that you'll probably enjoy this very much.

As for the story's conclusion, leaving aside spoilers, I'm not entirely sure I believe the kind of partnership, but there are plenty of internal reasons why it ought to work, so I'm not complaining that much. I prefer good cyberpunk chaos anyway. Nothing says that unlikely friendships CAN'T happen.

It certainly happens here.


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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Red Country (First Law World, #6)Red Country by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As long as no one is expecting the huge, triumphant return of Ninefingers, this is a very cool novel of grimdark fantasy very much in line with the entire series. Lots of revenge, desperate striving, stolen pleasures, gold, politics, and blood, blood, blood.

In other words, it's pretty damn fun.

But what about Ninefingers!?

Oh, he's here, but he's not the main character. Shy is. Shy is wonderful, complicated, and bruised by life. Her FRIENDSHIP with him is on full display.

But you know what I liked most about this novel?

Temple. Temple the con-man, the notary, the weak, begging, SMART idiot who gets himself into trouble as often as he talks his way out of it. I LOVED him. Or, I loved to hate him. Or loved being disappointed in him. But mostly I loved seeing him worm his way out of the worst of circumstances.

He and Shy are a pretty fine team. Too bad it's all grimdark.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Across the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children, #6)Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While this isn't my favorite book in the Wayward Children series, built upon misfits who escape into the worlds that are *just right* for them, I definitely have no issues with either the characters or the realm.

I mean, who doesn't want to slap a unicorn that tries to eat my mattress? Plus, they're great EATIN'.

The great opening to the book sits us firmly in the middle path where we deal with everyday bullying that really comes from those who should have been our best friends. Being socially awkward and just a little different is a subject that appeals to most people, too. There's a nod to intersex, but it is NOT the main core of the story. Growing up is, and learning to love is, more. Of course, loving doesn't have to be a who. It can also be your life.

Nice, but not that hard-hitting. Like I said, I was much more impressed with the prior ones.

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The Heroes (First Law World, #5)The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Abercrombie proves that he's got grimdark DOWN.

This epic fantasy is more an epic battle masquerading as a war, but giving all its heart to these players in the mud. From leaders to grunts to camp followers, we get the dark, dirty reality of any kind of war, not just fantasy.

Horrible, ruthless, banal, and ugly. All the wonders of war.

Of course, there IS a lot of black humor in this, too. I will never get over my new definition of "the smell of heroes".

It makes utter sense tho. Wherever heroes go, they leave behind rotting carnage, filth, and broken dreams. Long live the heroes!

Queue up Springsteen's War.

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Monday, January 11, 2021

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in WaterThe Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Delightful, fast-paced silkpunk.

Part woman-civilizes-men, part banditry, part heart-warming friendships, this quasi-kung-fu tale was just what the Holy Woman called for.

Honestly, I got serious Avatar vibes from this novella. Tea shop scenes. :)

I'll definitely keep my eyes open for more like this.

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Saturday, January 9, 2021

Best Served ColdBest Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm coming back to Joe's grimdark Epic Fantasy because I came to realize that I never should have gone away.

You know how it is. You try out a good tale, get amazed at how bloody and grim and well-rounded its characters are and you fall in step, knowing in your BONES that there are no heroes or villains, just bloody-minded power struggles and.... REVENGE.

Some epic fantasies do this better than others. This one is truly rich in characters, mercenary politicking, desperate gambles, and surprising poisonings.

In other words, it was delicious, dark, and quite in line with the rest of this series. I feel kinda guilty that I read books 1-3, then 6, then 7, BEFORE reading book 4. This one. But FORTUNATELY, it's like history. Lots of things are going on at different time-periods. It's absolutely possible to pick up these in blocks of trilogies even if the greater history is all tied together.

That's fine for me. A new character, a new situation, but lots of great easter eggs. :) It's killing me. :) I guess I'm in good company.



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Friday, January 8, 2021

The Midnight LibraryThe Midnight Library by Matt Haig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this knowing literally nothing about it other than I've read two other books by him and he recently won the 2020 GR Fiction award. Plus, the title. The title was nice and I trust the writer, so I was like, WHY NOT?

I kinda expected some fantasy treatment with a nice librarian. What I got was a fantasy treatment with a nice librarian.

The adventure?

It's all about regrets, baby. So strap yourself in, get your failed life perspective glasses on, and start feeling sorry for yourself, because it's time to try all those other lives on for size. Do it again. Make all those other choices. Get your Schrodinger's Cat on.

That's it, really. Best of all possible worlds.

Of course, a novel like this is all about the journey. And as for the journey, I enjoyed every second of it. It's always fun seeing what could have been. What if, what if, what if? And we get a LOT of those.

So why is this actually called regular Fiction, rather than Fantasy? No clue. It looks like an utter fantasy to me. But these lines are divided very strangely. Almost as if someone arbitrarily made some strange choice in the past and catapulted this novel into a strange new alternate universe where it was DIFFERENT.

I had fun. Got a few tears. Felt depressed, then good again. It's that kind of novel. :)


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Thursday, January 7, 2021

Sweet Myth-Tery of Life (Myth Adventures, #10)Sweet Myth-Tery of Life by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mawwwaaggeeee... sweet mawwwaaggeee.

This was a very sweet and charming little turnaround for the Great Skeeve, the magician with it all: good friends, immense wealth, stunning powers, and absolutely no clue about women.

The light humor here hit a number of good spots for me. Nothing too serious, a bit of light advice on making life work without so much hassle, and an immense bag of confusion.

And of course, the greatest conflict of all looming on the horizon.... mawwwaaggeeee.

Quite chuckle-worthy.

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The Conquering Sword of Conan (Conan the Cimmerian, #3)The Conquering Sword of Conan by Robert E. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I knew I had to finish my way through Howard's original Conan stories, (not to be mistaken with any of the future knock-offs in his name, nor mistaken for the comic book OR the ****ing movies, cartoons, or remakes.)

The fact is, Howard, who committed suicide when he was only 30 years old, way back in the mid-30s, has become a legend. His writing is superb despite the number of encroaching racist elements that were so obvious and universal of the time. The descriptions are something quite awesome, on par and with the same kind of energy as any of our modern fantasies, the ones we label epic fantasy, the ones that come in huge tomes with grimdark tones.

Indeed, it is the imaginative feast that comes out of Robert E. Howard's tales, overflowing with real history stirred together into an immense, barbaric soup, that STILL continues to spark our imaginations even today.

Of course, it's not the uber-manly Arnold that is displayed in these pages. I see something more of an Ayn Rand hero or a Heinlein can-do man that spurns all conventions to follow the deepest spirit of Freedom. Freedom from expectation, freedom from custom, freedom from accountability.

This CAN be a noble ideal. It can also be turned utterly dark and nasty. And when Conan comes up against wizards and witches who are the epitome of the other side of this coin, we're never really given a choice in whom we ought to root for. Serial murderers for self-aggrandizement ARE fundamentally different from raids, conquests, and plunders.

Right?

But at least Conan was never a rapist. So it's all okay, right? Nevermind.

I do have one other thing to say, however. I re-watched the original Conan with Arnold and it really set my stomach on edge. It was NOT the real Conan. The real Conan might not have been educated, but he was smart and cunning and lived by values of strength and freedom, and wherever whim and entertainment took him. He never tried to hold on to anything. He was never the idiot oaf of the movie.

Sigh.

If America was supposed to be following a grand idealized freedom, enraptured by the glorious idea of Conan, the American hero, then what we got, almost a hundred years later, was an idiotic ignorant oaf with a beer gut, spouting racial slurs and demanding his entitlements while encouraging the rest of the uneducated hoard to loot their own homes, burn it down, and then congratulate themselves on being the freest society in the world.

*slow clap*

Maybe they ought to read the original Conan and see how he'd treat THEM.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval ScienceThe Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science by Seb Falk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Light Ages. As opposed to the Dark Ages. Indeed.

If I had to compare this to other History of Science nonfiction books, I'd have to rate this rather high. Of course, it debunks the basic idea that there was barely any science in the middle ages, that most people were ignorant savages, etc, but the truth is very different. (I've read a great number of books that say pretty much the same thing.) But the accepted wisdom is different, of course, and should be looked at with a good deal of skepticism.

No, 50% literacy rate, at least for common word usage, isn't that high for NOW, but it's not insignificant. Learning a ton of memory techniques, working extra hard to copy books by hand, pushing the bubble of science wider against all odds, and spreading the love of learning across the western world isn't exactly nothing. And add to that the fact that the Renaissance came from these times, and so did Oxford and so many other huge educational centers, and we have to ask ourselves WHY we assume that these were the Dark Ages. Is it just because there wasn't a printing press?

Knowledge and learning have always been around. This book brings up some of the most delightful aspects that were progressed during this time. My favorites always revolve around the stars, but between proto-calculus tables, charting, medical analysis, alchemy, and of course the big names like Ptolomy, we need to honor those who came before us.

This book does a very nice job of highlighting a few great minds of the day and draws direct lines to our modern day. A must-read for those who love the history of science, especially the popular version.


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Monday, January 4, 2021

The IckabogThe Ickabog by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit that I wanted to read this mostly because I heard it had a nicely satirical (political) bent to it as well as being a quite fine YA fairytale about selfishness and greed and death.

I'm pleased to say that it delivers on all of it. HOWEVER, as a satire, it's buried rather deep -- instead delivering on the fairy-tale first and foremost.

This is good news for fans of Rowling who want something timeless, traditional moralistic, (be nicer, people,) and wise. And it is fine writing, a worthy fairy-tale I feel proud to give to my daughter.


So why do I wish it was more satirical? I mean, sure, Boris and Trump might very well be targets, but it's general enough that they don't have to be. Suffice to say, this isn't A Modest Proposal.

Instead, it succeeds in every other way.





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Sunday, January 3, 2021

Lust for LifeLust for Life by Sean-Paul Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a pretty interesting novel, especially if you want to get your fill of Iggy Pop. Or rather, when you know that life is shite and your number has been called and you just want to squeeze every last ounce of living you can out of the old pisser before you conk out, fill.

Frankly, I sympathize. What's more, it's a raw deal that strips away almost all options when you know your ticket is about to be punched -- so what do you do? Sex it up. Find love in all the wrong places. Live like it'll be your last because it probably is.

When we do get to love, I'm all for it, and sure, the scene is a little bit trite but I like the characters and I'm rooting for them. But when the next stage of the conflict comes, requiring a little bit of ultraviolence to come along for the ride, I'm reminded a bit of A Clockwork Orange... or any quasi-ethical revenge sequence that lets the poor sod get all violent as a counterpoint to the romance.

Suffice to say, it really is the JOURNEY that matters. The end is, well, always a real cesspit. It's kinda hard to lust for death. Pretty solid stuff, here.

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The Bloody Crown of Conan (Conan the Cimmerian, #2)The Bloody Crown of Conan by Robert E. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Conan is continuing to make its rounds around my grey matter and settling in as one of the core, foundational fantasies of the last hundred years. The fact that the barbarian remains the most recognizable alpha male in fantastic fiction should say everything I need to say.

But it also deserves mention that these stories are not lightweight fluff pieces of fantasy. Conan himself is the ultimate rugged self-made man, preferring to take what he wants by his own efforts despite multiple offers being dropped in his lap.

This is a man who knows that the journey is always more important than the destination. And he has major scruples, too. Anyone who pricks his pride will be hoisted by their own. Magicians and crafty women never get what they expect out of him, and he, himself, is always driven by what he believes is right. Even if, at any particular moment, the massive subtle changes on the wind make him turn his back on what once might have been best, then.

He is complex and subtly shaded despite being an outward brute. The fact that he can win over many men (and women) purely by his uncompromising understanding of himself and his strength is NOT the same thing as wielding a sword to cut down all his enemies and thereby securing a kingdom. Or two.

The fact is, he loves being the underdog. He may be one brute of a man that may give any woman a look and they lose their clothes as if by magic, and he wins over converts by an overpowering charisma, but none of that would mean anything if he wasn't a man of action.

Add to this the extremely deep worldbuilding that throws so many lines of real history into a huge pot, giving us all an amazingly rich setting both familiar and not, but always big, and it's enough to spark my imagination in the same way as those from nearly a century ago must have enjoyed.


We are kinda sick of being peaceful among enemies, after all. The Conan stories are so damn close to what we already live in and the pain and the disgust are just as vital here and now as they would have been in these so-called primitive societies. To me, the stories are very much a raging against the dying of the light.



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Saturday, January 2, 2021

M.Y.T.H. Inc. in Action (Myth Adventures, #9)M.Y.T.H. Inc. in Action by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lite humor is sometimes exactly what the doctor ordered. In this case, there are very few of the MCs to be seen but that's perfectly okay.

A little mob action is just fine. Indeed, it's more like Catch-22 mob-in-the-military action and it's just as absurd as you might think. And it's just as fun.

I did say this was lite, no? It's feather-lite. Even forgettable, but while I'm reading it, I'm chortling, so it does its job well.



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Friday, January 1, 2021

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Conan the Cimmerian, #1)The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It just goes to show, things are not always as they seem. My conception of Conan the Barbarian came from Arnold and a long line of imitators using the name in the franchise for the cheapening of literature for the sake of nude, panting women in print.

Robert E. Howard, the original prolific writer who had died VERY young, had kept food on the table by writing these stories, and while he sometimes did the market thing, he was very conscious of and headstrong in his craft. He was about the farthest thing from being a hack. His prose, alone, is all kinds of gorgeous and erudite. The titular character may not be educated, but he is quite smart and cunning, trying his hands at being a thief, a mercenary, a king, and above all, a barbarian. He has a lust for life that cannot be denied and it shows.

In the background of these tales, I was endlessly fascinated with the conscious and complex mixtures of history, myth, religion, and cultures. When we think of an ancient, post-Atlantean world with already ancient ruins, strange but familiar gods, and enough tidbits and hints to keep any comparative myth scholar busy for a month, we know we've got something truly special going on.

Indeed, I read this and then I look at another later writer, a certain J.R.R. Tolkein, and gasp in alarm and surprise and joy and suspicion. Howard made something DEEP and RICH. He paved the way in a very specific manner. A huge manner. I'm not saying J.R.R.T is worse, but Howard sparked more than just a generation of imaginations, but the whole Sword and Sorcery genre and that guy, as well.

Credit where credit is due.

Halfway through the roaring twenties until his untimely death at 30 in 1936, he became the godfather of the fantasy tradition in much the same way as his friend, Lovecraft, became the godfather of the horror tradition.

These collected short stories (and even poetry) are something quite special. Conan is complex, dark and light, sometimes cruel and sometimes merciful, but he's always a man's man. I wanted to find some fault in a particular story that seemed to confirm a huge bushel of racism, but the more I thought about it, the muddier it got. Skin color and barbarianism did seem to go together, but it wasn't a fast rule. A noble black justly called Conan out for being a dog and scum and the kinds of complexities in the mercenary corps transcended normal caricatures. In other words, it was complex and felt real and it was a brawling muddy mess from hell. But it also felt true. All sides want justice.

To be sure, my conception of Conan had to get realigned as I read this, and all for the better. Arnold might have been very fascinating in this role, but even this was a caricature compared to the complex original. I'm very happy to get to read the subtleties at long last.

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2020 on Goodreads2020 on Goodreads by Various
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

May you live in interesting times.

I think someone has been saying that a bit too much, a bit too loudly, and with a scattershot aim and a reach that can circle the globe.

Maybe we should all just get together, tie up 2020, and throw it, alive, in an unmarked grave filled with live spiders and a dedicated and heavily firewalled Facebook account devoted to people complaining about how bad 2020 is.

Who might be game?


FORTUNATELY, introverts like me got off relatively lightly. I'm in my natural element, but that isn't to say I wasn't touched. Worrying for others is pretty stressful. But then, there ARE books to make things a little brighter. Or in the case of 2020, more aware, angry for the sake of others, and wishing that people would calm the f**k down and start listening to each other instead of trying to pull another power play. Of course, it also means that truth needs to come back in a huge way. People have to be utterly honest about what they want again. Or maybe for the first time in a lot of cases. I'm not seeing a lot of that except at the rawest of moments, and a lot of the hope I should be feeling drains away in the reactionary moments.

I miss consideration. And respect for human rights. I want people to stop trying to tear everything down and try to actively start building bridges. Is hate easier? Really? Or is it just a way to suicide in a way that pricks your pride?

I miss cooperation. I miss working together with people on something big and wonderful.

And yet, with a year of twitter, politics, mass riots, Covid, and a slew of other tragedies that could have been prevented without eventually resorting to stupid blame games or conspiracy theories, I still feel hope.

Balance is here. It's in those of us who search for it. I want to believe that humanity is a bunch of freaking morons, but something deeper inside of me knows that we really aren't. It just SEEMS that way. Like some big illusion or a class clown making a show of it to get the attention of the teacher because no one else is paying attention to him. Or her. Or them.

Seriously, I think we're all better than this and MOST of us know it. We really shouldn't let the outliers and the loudest speak for us all. That's a different kind of idiocy.

So let me just say that I love you all. Be strong. Be wise.



If you really want to talk about books, I will, but I'll just mention the ones that sparked something wonderful within me. The ones that stay strongest in my memory out of 527 read this year.

David Zindell reaches the top of the list with his Requiem for Homo Sapiens. From Neverness to War in Heaven, this was the biggest, broadest, most gorgeous set of books I've read in years, not just THIS year. I have to kick out a number of my top 20 books of all time to make room for these.

Loved the huge tome of Sanderson that just came out. Rhythm of War.

Fell head over heels for Jim Butcher's return to Dresden with Peace Talks and Battle Ground.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars was something rather amazing. Paolini broke out good into SF and I had a genuinely awesome time.

Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream - and Why It Matters made me cry and rage and start re-evaluating my life.

The Doors of Eden is one of the best SFs of the year.

Mind you, I've read a lot of books this year and if I don't mention most of the very, very good, it's not because I didn't think they deserved it. I'm merely mentioning the ones that hit me in the feels across the board.

There ARE a number of really great race-issue books, economics books, psychology books, history books, and even AI science books that I loved this year, too, but getting into those might take a book to write about those books. :) Suffice to say, they were a necessary and always edifying addition to the year.


And with that -
I wish you a good night.
Not a good year -
because the year was shite.



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