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Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Robots of Dawn (Robot, #3)The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Compared to the first two Robot novels that were written a full 30 years before this third even saw print, I thought it should have been superior. I wanted it to be superior.

Unfortunately, while the exhaustive and thorough uncovering of the robot-murder mystery was pretty interesting, my enjoyment of it was dampened by an equally thorough focus on human sexuality.

Let me be very clear on this: it's not the fact that sexuality is that big a deal in general. It's the fact that it's like reading a '50s viewpoint of stifled sexuality getting such a mild revamping as to say "It's okay, mmmkay," at ALL. As in, yes, people, it's ok to like sex. Really. And have to spend something like half the book focused on it. The sex scene was extremely mild. What's kinda funny about all this is that Asimov does take a modest and relatively scientific view of it all. It's super mild. Even the robots having relationships with humans, as a whole, is super mild.

Now, if there are some undercurrents going on here that we're supposed to read into, I'm sure this is pretty nice and all, but it is extremely dated by now.

All in all, I kinda wish all that was left out and we just have the single touch in the second novel and a reference to it in this, with nothing more than an emotional current without all the thorough philosophizing about why an orgasm is perfectly okay, mmmkay.

I'm laughing here. If I compare this stuff to, say, Heinlein at the same period, in the '80s, or even back in the '60s, the other author is WAY beyond Asimov and superior.

And yet, Asimov still has what he's very good at, and so I shall not complain overmuch. :) He's solid and clear and thorough.

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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Rexus: Side Quest (The Completionist Chronicles, #2.5)Rexus: Side Quest by Dakota Krout
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pure goofy LitRPG fun. I mean, after all, how else should we describe a professional chiropractor (monk) with some of the absolute worst charisma in any game?

It's just misadventures after misadventures, especially since the game itself modifies the player and changes what they understand, feel, and say to fit the role.

But that's not all. It's really all about the bad choices. The many, many bad choices. The extremely funny and outrageous bad choices that enlivens any GameMaster's day and make all the other players groan in disbelief.

Sure, why not get t-rex hands as a skill reward? WHAT COULD GO WRONG?

I couldn't stop chortling with this guy's misadventures. He certainly earned some HIGH intimidation scores. :)

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Regicide (The Completionist Chronicles, #2)Regicide by Dakota Krout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Funny title, but slightly misleading.

I mean, sure, a few kings are killed in this fun LitRPG, but to be fair, the true plot doesn't really have anything to do with it.

The one real reason anyone should be coming to this book, or this series, is the sheer, unadulterated joy you have when leveling up. It's all about skills mastery, finding some of the most obscure arcane quests, and getting on a war footing with a ton of low-level player characters that includes a full war.

Oh, I love LitRPG. It's what Ready Player One could have been if we had gotten rid of all the whining and focused on RPG game nostalgia rather than '80s nostalgia. Fortunately, these extremely fun books make up for all that by being pure candy.

All those years of playing RPG games are finally returning dividends.

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Friday, February 26, 2021

Ritualist (The Completionist Chronicles, #1)Ritualist by Dakota Krout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have gone down the rabbit hole with these LitRPG tomes and have come out the other side as a zombit.

Of course, I've already had the great pleasure of reading more of Dakota Krout's other LitRPG about a sentient dungeon, so moving on to a more standard fare of hopping into an AI-run virtual reality game and dying to live there permanently while also having the joys of quests, leveling-up, and MMPORG goodness while also having an in with a neutrally wicked occult god on your side IS a pretty nice benefit.

And fun, too.

No matter how many of these types of novels I pick up, they roll so smoothly into my brain. I'm caught remembering all the countless hours I've played actual RPGs and now having the awesome benefit of downing them in a fraction of the time without all the horrible grinds.

*wipes a tear from his eye*

And then there is the RITUALIST class. Hated by all but obscenely powerful.

What's not to love about this? Muahahahahaha

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Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Naked Sun (Robot, #2)The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Asimov robot re-read 2/25/21

This time, like the last time, over thirty years ago, I was struck by how Asimov could twist simple agoraphobia into two distinct branches that could cover two whole branches of humanity. One, a real-presence phobia that mimicks, if not having the motive, our current society where social-distancing is required, not actively sought-after.

Of course, then, like now, introverts tend to thrive in such situations. And Bailey, coming from an extreme extrovert society on Earth, tended to have the upper-hand when dealing with these utterly compartmentalized Solarians on their introverted home-turf.

Asimov always did have a deft hand with turning a handful of simple ideas into far-reaching sociological world-building twists.

And while the murder mystery tale wasn't particularly deep or complicated, it was quite solid.

One thing Asimov always has going for him is a very clear, always accessible style. He really shouldn't be forgotten in the annals of SF classics.

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Memoirs Found in a BathtubMemoirs Found in a Bathtub by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Anything enormous, immense beyond belief or reckoning, has to be serious. -- Size, how we worship size. -- Believe me, if there were a turd the size of a mountain, its summit hidden in the clouds, we would bend the knee in reverence."

Indeed. The bigger the edifice, whether building, organization, or the universe itself, the more impossible our belief that it might ever fail.

I swear, this book may appear to be a far-future edifice of rampant spy-vs-spy rampant paranoia where every little thing is a code within a code, from farts to sighs to the shape of a wart on an old man's neck, but it's really a testament of human psychology.

We grew into ourselves always looking into the dark forest looking for tiny details to conflate into huge conspiracies, whether it is a tiger, a snake, or a defector in our own ranks. Stanislaw Lem's far-future edifice of absolutely meaningless betrayals and sextuplet counter-betrayals made me think I was reading a massive nod to Catch-22 and a million spy thrillers as written by one of the most fantastic SF authors of our time.

And I enjoyed it immensely. I even laughed my ass off several times. The wordplay is so smart and crazy and the sheer size of this little masterpiece of conspiracy fiction made me chortle to no end.

"I am a man of the cross and the double-cross. No nails, no thorns, no spear in the side... only the boss gets a little cross."

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Notes from the UndergroundNotes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm gobsmacked after reading this.

Never in my life have I ever read a novel (short or otherwise) that steeped me more in someone's spite, self-hate, revenge-fantasy, pettiness, obsessiveness, or mud-wallowing.

Of course, it's not quite as simple as that. The unnamed character has some erudition and a load of self-awareness and he doesn't shy away from telling us, even from page one, just how overflowing his SPITE is. It doesn't matter whether it harms him immediately or later on. The driving force is everything, and so we get to be shown just how far he can fall down the hole.

A modern retelling of this would have wound up in a suicide-by-cop situation or becoming the GOP Senate Majority (or Minority) Leader, but in point of fact, it is limited to crashing his frenemy's party, debasing a distressed woman, and being a total all-around jerk to everyone.

Of course, it didn't end on a huge bang. Indeed, it just holds up a freakish mirror to the reader and makes us feel like shit. I, too, have suffered amazing stretches of depression filled with anger. I, too, have spent a great deal of my life solacing myself with books and hiding away from others. I've even engaged in revenge-fantasy if any of my taste in books tells us anything.

But the fact is, this horrible, horrible person might as well be us. Any of us. That's the brilliance of this quite brilliant Dostoyevsky novel. We are all worms and he shows us proof of it.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Conan the Invincible (Conan, #1)Conan the Invincible by Robert Jordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having recently read all the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories and novelettes, I was only slightly curious about the HUGE numbers of other writers that had tried their hands at the immensely popular Conan, including comic books, tons of stories, and a number of craptastic movies. Tv series. Cartoons. lol

I avoided them because they were very, very formulaic. Dumb barbarian get sexy woman and kill evil magician and get sexy woman.

The original stories weren't that.

Robert Jordan, of Wheel Of Time fame (and a wonderful series it is), also wrote in the Conan vein. That's this novel. And no matter how much I actually like Jordan's writing, he wrote for the "expected" Conan crowd. The myth references were super pedestrian. Conan's smarts were missing. It was basically an extension of the Arnold movies. And fun-ish for what it was.

But me? I'm not really a fan of pedestrian fantasy. Believe it or not. lol

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The Caves of Steel (Robot #1)The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read of classic Asimov.

Back in the day, perhaps 40 years after this had originally been written, I already assumed this was a classic tale by a classic SF author. I devoured it, being surprised by the fact it felt like a hard-boiled detective novel while also having some core SF ideas -- you know, like getting our eggs out of one basket, fighting discrimination for alternate intelligences, and the basic problems of feeding and housing billions of people.

It was still enjoyable, and 70 years after it was originally written, it's not horribly dated. Indeed, it's a bit simple for modern tastes, but the core is still solid. It gets better as Daneel and Bailey work out their differences and run into all that normal human idiocy. Out of all of Asimov's earlier works, I still consider this to be one of the most accessible.

And now I want to re-watch Almost Human again. :)

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Angel of the Overpass (Ghost Roads, #3)Angel of the Overpass by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I may be in the minority on this one, but aside from the strong end, this particular novel was a bit too meandering for my taste.

Don't get me wrong. I love the taste of malt and Seanan almost never steers me wrong, but the events in this one just seemed to be checking off the boxes of old plot threads and making all the chickens come home to roost.

That's a GOOD thing, mind you, but my empathy for the character is getting as attenuated as her ghost-memory attachment to the world she hitchhikes. The original thread of Bobby the soul-fuel converting homicidal maniac was a pretty good foil if not perfect, and several of the ghost-ideas (including a certain oil-splattered dino) was cool, but any novel must fly on the strength of its characters.

This one, unfortunately, was always a little middling, which is a shame, because I like the ideas of psychopomps. Especially psychopomps undergoing their OWN transformations.

Still, it's worth the read and the minor intersection with a recent Price novel of Seanan. The Crossroads had a reckoning, after all, and this explores some of those consequences.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Land: Monsters (Chaos Seeds, #8)The Land: Monsters by Aleron Kong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This deserves a full five stars and my unending enjoyment WHILE I'm reading it. I mean, I may have said this before but it bears repeating: I can read this stuff FOREVER without ever getting fatigued.

After all, it's basically an ongoing video game with all the enjoyment of skills progression, leveling up, dungeon crawling, and with a new wrinkle: hardcore debuffs that started with water and food weakness, but progressed all the way through massive (and extremely funny) bowel poisoning.

All the normal reasons for reading this, compared to the ones before, still apply. Only now he's a tier two ascended and he has to start out without any gear, alone, deep in a high-power dungeon. It's a huge departure from the previous novels that had made him grow as a leader, but I was fine with it. It has all the benefits of leveling without character progression or silly romance or pathos. Just give me those skills, baby.

So why did I knock off a star?

Because the damn thing STOPS where no normal book would. It ends on a squarely middle part! I mean, if I were reading all these in a row it wouldn't matter a single bean but I'm not. I expected a MUCH longer novel that actually succeeds in A quest if not the STATED quest earlier on. It's like playing FF7 remake only to get out of the city and see that the whole game just ended. Oh. Wait.

Well, it was still fun WHILE I was reading it! :)

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Monday, February 22, 2021

HenchHench by Natalie Zina Walschots
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For a great deal of this novel, I was practicing -- or rather, reveling -- in my nefarious "muahahahahahaha" laugh.

Sometimes, I had to hold back and try to unleash my vast coil of villainy in tiny little bursts, but by the final action scene, it all came bubbling out in waves of gut-propelled dark joy.

Seriously though, the first part of the novel felt like I was back in my old job as a customer support rep for a big cell-phone agency. The sheer evil that I had to endure, with me as a lowly peon, felt like I was BACK.

And then the middle of the book, the rise of Hench stardom, becoming an evil mastermind from deep within the bowels of the leviathan... or rather, under the auspices of Leviathan, was pure joy. I felt like I was reading Flex again for the first time.

On the other side of it, I felt like I was watching (or reading the comic of) The Boys, but having the story told from the funny and unique perspective of a smart middle-manager go-getter.

But it was the end that made my innards boil. What an end! Deliciously evil.

But the very, very end?

I didn't expect that. It's not a celluloid ending. It's dark and cruel and if I'm to be utterly honest: I really appreciate it. Most of the novel definitely IS a darkly realistic trip into a moral trap, but it also satisfies all those revenge fantasy cravings, too. It's the very end that elevates this to a question of philosophy. And I loved it.

Well worth the read. Truly.

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Sunday, February 21, 2021

Bottle Demon (Eric Carter #6)Bottle Demon by Stephen Blackmoore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Right from one hell of a cliffhanger ending to THIS.

Okay, so it kinda shocked me. You know, time passes when you're dead and all and having ... or rather, BEING real-estate in the afterlife is kinda something large to leave a story on, and that's where we open up in this novel.

Only, it's resurrection time and I'm getting a serious Buffy vibe, and the mystery rocks most of the book. I likey. And I like it more when we're into the clay puppets, demons, Klein bottles, pocket universes -- and deals with devils.

I used to feel sorry for Eric Carter. Now I see a bit of new life in him and the series. Pun intended. Fun stuff.

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Ghost Money (Eric Carter #5)Ghost Money by Stephen Blackmoore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If, by any chance, you like your Noir necromancers all beat up to hell in fascinatingly grotesque ways while they STILL feel the need to set some wrongs right and pull in a little revenge on the side, then this guy is absolutely your guy.

The Noir LA feel is coming through STRONG. And with all the burning and homelessness and sheer "let's demolish it all and get started with something new" attitude, I think it's fitting quite well for our own zeitgeist.

So let's get beat up along with him and play with some ghosts, shall we? Hooohaaaa!

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Saturday, February 20, 2021

Tribune of Rome (Vespasian, #1)Tribune of Rome by Robert Fabbri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've never really considered myself a historical fiction fan but I have read a great number of historical FANTASY novels. I may be prejudiced in favor of magic, it's true, but can you blame me?

One positive benefit of reading a regular historical fiction novel, however, is the focus. Events and character establishment are of a much higher priority and it shows.

The Roman world.

Vespasian, set several decades into anno Domini, establishes himself in proper YA style. It includes a bit of political intrigue, travel, and a great deal of Roman Legionary action. All told, the tale is crisp and I have to admit I got into the action sequences a lot more than the more emotional, personal sequences. Indeed, it took about a third of the book before I truly got invested in the tale, and not fully invested until near the end.

I'm not saying it was a bad book by any stretch, however. It is, in my limited historical fiction experience, a properly good example of how it should be carried off. (I'm not completely ignorant of the field.)

However, if I were to compare it to the fields I'm much more conversant with, such as Epic Fantasy, et al., it shares a lot of similarities. An I mean, a LOT of similarities. It's almost as if there's really not much difference at all aside from holding oneself to historical accuracy versus adding a little magic-spice.

In other words, it's a matter of VERY specific taste. An objective reader of styles would be very hard-pressed to see the difference if they either A: had no knowledge of the history or B: believed that reality wasn't all as we're meant to believe it is.

Just some food for thought. :)

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Friday, February 19, 2021

Myth-Fortunes (Myth Adventures, #19)Myth-Fortunes by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ah, well. I enjoyed the run with the original author, even if it was co-written in the last few books.

I won't say this was the absolute best way to send off the author or the series, but it IS appropriate with the whole Pyramid Pyramid scheme. I can grin at the ideas even if they're really light on the humor. It's an easygoing series. Familiar characters, familiar situations, and very buddy-buddy.

Nostalgia isn't a bad thing, after all.

And here is where I stop the series. It was an okay run.

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Myth-Chief (Myth Adventures, #18)Myth-Chief by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In proper Myth fashion, all the biggest problems boil down to myth-communication and bull-headed stubbornness.

Old friends become enemies in grand competition style. Whoever makes the most money, wins. The stakes: a kingdom based on tourism. The sides: an ousted Cake baking princess versus the man put in charge of kingdom finances.

Ready, set, sell!

Honestly, I enjoyed the competition. Maybe I was a bit upset at the divergence of our heroes' personalities, however. They were generally never THAT stupid. But when pride is on the line...

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Thursday, February 18, 2021

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter, #3)Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 2/18/21:

I began teaching my dual-language daughter to read English last year during the quarantines. We quickly ran through the basic exercises and went straight into the good stuff, reading the first two Harry Potters with great fanfare, movie watching, and props.

She's doing well. Reading very well, with emphasis and understanding even though no school here has gone beyond anything more than days of the week. *groan*

I'm here to announce that Harry Potter is one of the greatest teaching tools. Good s**t is always better than practically anything else we could have tried.

Oh, and after all these re-reads, and despite knowing the story so well, I still burst into tears while reading my parts. My girl stared at me each time as if I'd grown another head. Do you know that scene when Harry hid behind the bush at the lake? Yeah. That scene. I swear I made the lake.

Teaching this way is definitely the best way.

The Other Reviews:

I read this as a buddy read, but really I wanted to compare the text to the movies more than anything. I've watched them so much and I've only read the series once through. (Now twice through this third book.)

So what do I think about this monstrosity of a series that gets so many hearts a-pumpin? About this book in particular?

I love it.

But how about this book in comparison to the film, you ask?

ALAS! I like the movie better.

What??? Blasphemy! Heretic!

No no no, give me a chance. I liked the fact that Hermione develops real stressed-out reasons for giving up the time-turner even if the reasons are still rather weak, all told, when taken in conjunction with all the other crap that happens in the series later. It'll always be one of those hedge-moments for me. BUT, putting that aside, the actual narrative events that happen in the book that I think are the best parts, namely the space of a certain 3-hour stretch, BOTH times, were much more fascinating and fleshed out in the movie.

Sorry! It's true! All the expressions and the little tidbits and quirks were more brilliant on the screen. And so was the penultimate event that always... ALWAYS brings tears to my eyes... the moment when Harry realizes that he was the one to bring out that awesome power to save himself. Even now I tear up when I think about it.

Yes, the book has it, but the build-up was just too quick in the text. The movie, however, did what movies are brilliant at... SHOWING us the enormity of the event. Sometimes it just takes the right media.

The movie is my favorite of the series. I'm reserving judgment as to whether the book is as well. (At least until I finish my re-read. :)

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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The InvincibleThe Invincible by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very surprising classic SF tale that reads as if it had been informed by years of modern SF including not only a standard planetary expedition, but swarm-intelligence, nanobots -- with an almost Stargate feel -- while being utterly serious and thoughtful about all the kinds of alien life they might encounter.

The big question is pretty simple, however.

When was this written? According to the postscript: 1961-2.

No matter how you look at this, this book is WELL ahead of its time, which isn't all that surprising. Solaris is a classic by any standard and I was knocked off my chair by Cyberiad, not only for the ideas but the cleverness of the writing and the sheer wit in the pages.

This one comes closer to Solaris, with their thoughtful examination of what they were encountering, but it is more like a high-class SF adventure with all the action, the tech, and the huge special effects.

I'll be honest: I don't read many golden or silver age SFs that impress me with not only accurate science (within the bounds set) or with believable characters (not a John Carter lookalike). This one manages to be quite modern, even fifty years after it was written, and I AM impressed.

Well worth the read and fun. :)

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Market ForcesMarket Forces by Richard K. Morgan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A rather surprising read.

I mean, if you know Richard K. Morgan of Altered Carbon fame, you should know that this book is NOT of that vein. The SF aspects are limited to some tech and a worldbuilding premise that isn't far off from what we have now.

However, when I read this from within its own premise and get into the characterizations fully, I'm really quite surprised at how good a thriller this is.

Market Forces refers to the Capitalism of Force. Think Blackwater and all these third-party militarizations, amp it up so only the best talent gets hired within these corporations, and you've got protection, assassination, government propping and toppling, and everything in between -- for the highest bidder. And of course, it's all above-board. Indeed, it's fully supported by the media, with bookies and fans and talk shows interviewing the very best of the bloodied.

Truly, we're only a step away from this kind of thing. Step out of the shadows for just a moment and this would be our world. Market Forces can make anything profitable.

I really enjoyed this novel. It's a great action movie in my mind, with LOTS of great road rage moments -- all sponsored and televised, of course. And the story itself -- the slow and utter corruption and decline of our main character -- comes with some mightily fun side-benefits.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

One Day All This Will Be YoursOne Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, when you just HAVE to have a really messed up, misanthropic, let's-kill-all-the-universe-right-now kind of story, this one is always available.

Because, let's face it, we all sometimes need a fantastically misanthropic tale to get us through the day.

Of course, if you wanted a novella that reminds you quite a bit of This Is How You Lose the Time War with the love, the constant Princess Bride feel, the murderous intent, PLUS a bunch of time-hopping that isn't quite as poetical but is still definitely delicious, then this is ALSO a go-to story.

And, let's also face it, it's a Tchaikovsky SF and I'm absolutely sure from here on out that I'll never read one of his SFs that I'll ever dislike. It just can't happen, now.

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Myth-Gotten Gains (Myth Adventures, #17)Myth-Gotten Gains by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A myth-take on glorious intelligent magical artifacts, complete with complaints, misadventures, whining -- and that's mostly the metal.

When you need to rely on a magic-less wise-cracking demon to save the day or a dancer to dance an evil sorcerer to death, you know you've walked into some weird pages.

Fortunately, this is a solid addition to the series. :)

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Monday, February 15, 2021

Class Dis-Mythed (Myth Adventures, #16)Class Dis-Mythed by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes these books are hit-or-myth. Fortunately, this one was definitely a hit. I think it's been about ten or more books in the series when I had quite this much fun.

Skeeve, mostly retired from success, gets wrangled by his friends into teaching a bunch of misfits the art of magic.

Of course, he's a big con artist that just happens to have a heart of gold and an awesome ethic when it comes to his friends, so the kids, far from learning crap from a crappy wizard, learn to DOMINATE.

The first half of the book was fantastically funny and reminded me fondly of the first, and best, in the series. The second half was funny in its own right and I admit to fanboying over all kinds of tournament stuff.

This was one of the heartwarming ones. :)

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Myth-Taken Identity (Myth Adventures, #15)Myth-Taken Identity by Robert Lynn Asprin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While this isn't the cream of the crop for the humorous fantasy series, it DOES have some cute moments. Mall Rats take on a whole new significance. So do identity thieves.

It's definitely lite fun that rides the past of the series and does it fair justice, but honestly, it's more fan-service than anything serious. Good for what it is.

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Sunday, February 14, 2021

Immunity IndexImmunity Index by Sue Burke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has the unique distinction of being the first novel since Covid to depict Covid within its pages since we began experiencing the dubious pleasure of this new, crappy world. Not that this should be held against either the author or the book, of course, only that it happens to have that little mark of realism that we've all come to love and enjoy so much. :)

There are a couple of really interesting plot points going on in this novel. One feels like a huge nod to the movie Gattica. Another, about the mutiny, is not quite BLM, but it definitely has the right political feel. Then again, I've always been a fan of people doing the right thing, so this book is pretty much in line with my own feelings. The sense of moral outrage, too, especially when we're tackling the intersection between political a**holes politicizing disease -- or even weaponizing it.

In that respect, this novel hit home.

I really got into the heroism of all the workers that did all they could to save lives no matter what the personal cost. Overall, this was the best part, but the other plot, of the cloning and the social problems surrounding it, was also pretty decent. It is SF, after all. :)

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The WallThe Wall by John Lanchester
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I chose this book to read mainly because it was a Booker nominee but also because I've had some pretty good luck with Cli-FI (climate fiction) in the recent past and wanted to roll the dice.

Unfortunately, this wasn't Kim Stanley Robinson. It was really just a claustrophobic dystopian that was part GRRM on the Wall without all the extra goodies mixed with some of the extra desolations that followed shortly after.

Good bits: steady and carefully managed characterization. Nothing odd. Quite everyman. It even managed to draw me in despite the lack of anything else original in the book.

Mediocre bits: it's a thinly veiled post-Brexit commentary full of xenophobia and isolationism masquerading as a post-waters-rising world.

Hmm ok. I mean, it's not horrible, but it's still kinda weaksauce.

Perhaps it's because the book FEELS like it was written for people who refuse to read SF but think it's time to live dangerously at least once.

So here you have a very mild story that feels like a war-grunt novel while doubling as a 'where did we go wrong' novel that has neither the meat of a real Cli-FI, SF, or a good dystopian. In other words, this is a burrito that uses tofu and a packet of mild hot sauce with no cheese.

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Saturday, February 13, 2021

The ArdenThe Arden by L.S. Popovich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's always a delight to come across an adventure with wit in its heart and a truly subversive eye to genre. And it's even better when the tale comes in a character-heavy cloak that demands sly attention to detail.

Of course, I could just say this is a very fine example of weird fiction in the best tradition of Vandermeer, but it doesn't do Popovich justice. That's just a simple comparison. The reality is more complicated and rich.

I was caught in a web of Kaneda's history and circumstance first, feeling a lot like I was siphoning off Akira's energy, but then I was one step away from being down and out, spitting in the eye of fate while losing the very last trappings of my modern life.
And then I felt like I was living a modern, sly, and self-aware Peter Pan (Barre, not the Disney) while channeling Area X.

And that's just the beginning. The world of the Arden is both a mystery of devious antagonism and a sanctuary. It's also a crazy adventure that consistently surprises and confounds.

And then, of course, we get the really strange bits that delight my jaded reading soul. And it's these kinds of things that I happen to appreciate the most.

It looks like I am going to have to become a big fanboy. I can't wait to read MORE. I live for this kind of thing.

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Friday, February 12, 2021

Blood of the Mantis (Shadows of the Apt, #3)Blood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been a big fan of Tchaikovsky ever since I read Children of Time, and have since raved over all his SF since then.

On the other hand, when it comes to his original older fantasy, and specifically the Shadows of the Apt epic fantasy, I've had a hard time getting into them.

Almost everything about his writing is superior in his SF. I believe this. Characters, descriptions, plots, everything. He still has his focus on insects and animals, (almost a trademark,) but the early fiction is pretty much a standard almost Hickman/Weiss clone with races that say that they're spider-kin or ant-kin, etc, with hardly any evidence of it. I probably would have fallen right into it a lot more had the descriptions been lush and full of real consequence.

As it is, it just didn't grab my attention. This is my third try in the series.

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Thursday, February 11, 2021

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

This is, by any definition, a wonderful series that is set up in a way to define and redefine the conflicts of magic between Order and Chaos. It probably would not be remotely as interesting a read had it been written in a strictly chronological order, however. If these had been released in chronological order, then I'm certain that the grand reveals would have come across as rather cheap rather than shocking and rather amazingly thoughtful.

I like it very much this way. We get vast happenings out of order, seeing the results of huge cataclysms after the fact only to later get their inceptions. It's like getting to time-travel back to many mythical pasts to see what they were really like. Or to discover that a humble beginning can always hide a rather nasty surprise.

These plots have all be individually wonderful and sometimes shocking. Even so, they're always in service to the greater theme even if they're not explicitly vocalized. We already got that in the first novel. The trick here is to find the true balance, and that's never something that can be set in amber.

The more chaos in the world, the more powerful the order, and vice-versa, and the solution is never easy. In this book's case, it's settled explosively. I chortled in glee during several tank scenes.

Well worth the read. Quite satisfying.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Vanished BirdsThe Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a deeply moving character-driven book that could have been a love child, a cross between Becky Chambers and Orson Scott Card at his very best.

It has the wonderful relationships and harrowing loss of interstellar travel including time dilation effects, colony worlds, and the people who must suffer such a life, but more than that, it goes beyond an almost litSF beautiful prose approach and heads straight into classic SF territory.

Let me be frank. I love this.

And I laughed out loud when I heard them refer to "Jaunt" because that is exactly what Alfred Bester called the event, the instant teleportation, in The Stars My Destination, but with an extra e "Jaunte". Of course, this doesn't have the same overriding revenge theme, but the sense of loss and pain and neverending desire makes them intensely similar.

And, of course, any novel that deals with the nastiest possibilities when it comes to faster than light travel will get two thumbs up from me.

So, yeah. A litSF with deep characters AND a hard SF tale is something I don't often see, but when I do, I treasure them, as I will treasure this.

Authors who know their audience are very, very appreciated. Thank you. :)

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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

TroyTroy by Stephen Fry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this take on the Illiad, but let me say exactly HOW and WHY I loved it.

Of course, there are much more detailed and complex analyses of the work. There are probably dozens if not a hundred different translations and fanboys *scholars* who can tell you things like how much wood was used to make the horse.

This is not that.

It is, however, a work that strikes a very wonderful balance between erudition and an unproblematic focus on the most important characters, but it explains everything in an easy voice often punctuated with wry humor. This is Fry, after all, and he's nothing if not charming and often wry.

And this is the greatest gift of this book. The readability.

I'll be honest. I've often loved to read the Illiad itself and have enjoyed a great number of side stories by other greats (like Shakespeare) or retellings by modern novelists, but however good these are, few come truly close to the grandeur of the original. And the original, (or at least the English translation I'm always reading,) has a very annoying (to me) feature of lists, lists, lists, lists and more lists. Do I get tired of names after names after names? Sadly, yes, I do. Genesis (book, not group) also gives me a headache. :)

Fry has a wonderful way of SKIPPING that and directing our attention to the most important bits. I LOVE that.

I totally recommend this. It's probably a bit more readable than any other book of its type. :)

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The Devil and the Dark WaterThe Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


For approximately 9/10ths of the book, I was really happy with everything this book had to offer. Great colorful characters, the feel of the high seas during the early-mid 17th century, and all the conniving, nasty, HUMANS all wiggling around like worms in this awesome closed-room mystery on a ship.

Murder. Old Tom's curse. Mobs, mutiny, and best of all, a truly delightful Samuel Pipps and his trusty Watson... um, I mean Arent... fast on the trail of the mystery.

I honestly, honestly rocked hard to this novel until the end. It had so much charm and promise and even if I felt like I KNEW who the bad guy was, I wanted it to be a genuine red herring. Indeed, one or two MORE twists would have been welcome.

However. The ACTUAL end was a twist that should have been left of the platter. It's fine to hint at it and even tease the reader, but to have something like this be the ACTUAL end... well... I actually rolled my eyes so hard that I poked a hole in one of those ships and it sank.

This is so frustrating. I really wanted to give this a full 5 stars and rave about it. It was SO close.

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Monday, February 8, 2021

Calculated Risks (InCryptid, #10)Calculated Risks by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a bit funny when it comes to publication quirks. I will willy-nilly make adjustments in my head to combine certain titles and split up others and call it a day no matter what the official publishers might say.

So in this case, I'm ignoring the whole book #9, #10 publication orders and calling this ONE SINGLE BOOK. No cliffhanger, just a complete story.

So what does this mean for the enjoyment of both, either? Nada. I love the whole thing. Period.

In fact, I've been chortling with glee with a bunch of spoilerish scenes that are totally related to enormous muppets that would have made John Carter of Barsoom scream.

Plus, I had to calm myself down with all the multiverse huge consciousness-eating sentient math stuff or I would have blown my SF-loving mind.

And this is supposedly a UF. It has all the earmarks, the so cute relationship stuff that is neither overblown nor overdone. I mean, how awesome is it that we have so much puppy-love between two species that are naturally immune to each other's 'love me forever' charms, whether it is powerful incubus pheromones or Cuckoo telepathy? And let me be honest here. I bawled.

Seanan is rather goddess-like. Anyone else trying to pull this off probably would have fallen face-first in bugmud, but not her. All these elements are not only perfect together, but we also have to deal with the aftermath of being erased from people's memories, zombified telepaths, and enormous flying mantises with Barsoomian warriors riding them. You know, details. And a local NY college.

I'm LOVING this series now. I can't believe it, but it has gotten even better than October Daye for me. :)

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Sunday, February 7, 2021

Imaginary Numbers (InCryptid, #9)Imaginary Numbers by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this is like getting a memory wipe with a full, fresh download of someone else's operating system.

Considering that this is ostensibly an Urban Fantasy series and not a Science Fiction, it gets even more cuckoo because it's officially about CUCKOOS. Sarah, a beloved cuckoo in the Price family, is the main character in this particular novel and she's rather fascinating.

We've got the whole growing up in love with another of the adopted family members in the household, neither of them ever quite getting their s**t together, needing to heal up after a telepathic barrage in a previous novel, and suddenly having to deal with a whole HIVE of cuckoos?

Things are tough. Strange. And made stranger because cuckoos are other-dimensional creatures, highly telepathic, and are all math geniuses.

Now, taking a wild comment by Antimony in the previous novel, the wild thought about how bad things might become if magic finally got together with a deep understanding of physics, fans of Seanan might catch on to the fact that *yes, indeed, she might just go there*.

Well, guess what?

Seanan WENT THERE. This just got The Hollow Man.

So good. :)

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Saturday, February 6, 2021

That Ain't Witchcraft (InCryptid #8)That Ain't Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Antimony had never been my favorite character out of the Price family, but she really grew on me during the circus. What was a bit surprising is how much I'd grow to love her by the end of THIS particular novel.

Magic, crossroads, sorcery, sure. Seanan even has two side novels that tie into this particular series and I happened to enjoy them quite well.

But to see the kind of tapestry that has now been woven after so many apparently one-off novels? This family just keeps landing in it over and over and I truly didn't expect THIS kind of huge ending. Helping people out is kinda their thing, of course, and deals with devils are never easy, but by the end of THIS particular novel, I'm kinda shocked at how *complete* an image we've got. Not just of this Cryptid world, but of its magic system. :)

I'll be honest, I always preferred all of Seanan's other UFs over this series, but now this is getting GOOD.

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Friday, February 5, 2021

Sixty Days and Counting (Science in the Capital, #3)Sixty Days and Counting by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Honestly, getting through all three books in KSR's Science in the Capital trilogy feels like a bit of a long haul, but it's odd. After finishing it, I feel nostalgic.

This is a good end to the series even if our real-life seems to be going through all the same issues without the positive effects of a science-enthusiastic president who is also willing to go all the way out on a limb to make the differences that need to be made in their (and our) climate catastrophe.

Of course, it's all the variables that are the real devils. Carbon reuptake, salinization of the ocean, restarting the normal processes as well as priming the economic pumps of our modern world is all explored in these novels.

By this one, I'm rather overwhelmed with a sense of OPTIMISM.

Other than that, character-wise, I'm ALSO filled with a sense of optimism. Plots are resolved. Both Mr. Mom and Frank have found new balances. The Buddhism angle is very strong and frankly fantastic on a humanistic level.

At the end of this, I was fully supportive of the messages about climate and policy change and felt like I wanted to get out there and try to make my own difference.

That's not a bad thing to feel after reading anything. :)

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Oliver TwistOliver Twist by Charles Dickens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A classic re-read.

Before reading this, I was filled with some trepidation but more wonder, on the whole. I grew up watching the classic movie and have been known to imitate little Oliver's classic line in the food line when folks feed me. Of course, I never had that course of handkerchief education, so the parallels aren't quite one-to-one and I never had a *spoiler* leave me *spoiler spoilered* before trying to set me up to *spoiler*.

Suffice to say, Dickens is one hell of a plot-master and on a pure entertainment level, this one is one of his very best. Of course, if I would drag out my English Lit social-progressive persona, I'd spend 5-6 pages on how this particular novel outraged the sensibilities of England and put into motion a ton of reforms to help the poor and the abused.

This IS a pure Progressive novel. That doesn't mean that justice is weak. It really isn't. It just means that we MUST focus on fixing these social ills or the whole structure will collapse.

The math person in me would call on Game Theory and show how this novel was ALL about the nastiness of the Defector way of life, how the Cooperators suffered in it, and how everything else was a horrible mish-mash of game strategies that *sometimes* inches closer to a positive outcome. Dickens gets away with this not being a dystopia only because he DOES have a moral bone in his body and he puts it right in his plot.

Great novel, all told. :) Stark, descriptive, and full of twists. :)

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Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Fifty Degrees Below (Science in the Capital, #2)Fifty Degrees Below by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Climate-punk continues.

The good stuff:

Frank's treehouse, the flooding of DC, the alternative lifestyles of the rich and homeless, and -- in small doses -- the science behind fixing the climate and the scare-messaging TO all the politicos. The whole Buddhism thing.

The glad-I-didn't-see-so-much-of-in-this-book:

Mr. Mom.

The meh:

Even while the pacing was propped up by tons of great ideas, the pacing got rather wonky when we were subjected to Frank's *ahem* special kind of crazy. Don't get me wrong, I thought he was sometimes very interesting, but other times, I was like... WHY, WHY, WHY, Frank? Too much, in fact. And then, even when I kinda rather liked his foray into Buddhism, I was still struck by the whole fact that he was in the center of all this BIG political/science shindig and he was targeted by surveillance and he had all these clandestine... *sigh* IT SHOULD HAVE WORKED but I found myself going *wtf* more often than not.

BUT this was just my reaction because I WAS getting into the novel more than usual so that IS a good sign. One should always prefer to hate a character over just being utterly bored by him. :)

The climate situation still should have carried the lion's share of the tale. Alas.

I'm looking at KSR's The Ministry for the Future with ever-growing respect. A superior tale.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Forty Signs of Rain (Science in the Capital #1)Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can firmly say that any of Kim Stanley Robinson's novels will be more Science than Fiction, and this one is pretty much banking on it, drawing from experiences in DC to bring science and politics and science politics to the forefront, skirting around the BIG issue until it finally hits near the end.

You can probably guess this is a Climate-Punk novel. Great science, handling all the problems surrounding it (including those who deny it) as well as detailing the actual climate issues as it would have been seen in the early 2000s.

So far, so good, and I do understand this is a full trilogy, but this is NOT on the same level as, say, his Mars Trilogy.

It may be colloquial and charming and sometimes a bit... um... odd in certain character viewpoints (um, breastmilk) and a bit too heavily reliant on a Mr. Mom view, but that might just be me. I mean, I am a Mr. Mom, myself, so I GET it. Maybe it reads a bit too close to home but just strange enough to make me wonder if I was just normal. I think it's the uncanny valley effect, honestly.

The rest, or rather, any storytelling that isn't about science and politics was fine. I think, maybe, I would have preferred a bit less of that and more on the big issues. Pining after a girl and having a personal transformation is fine, mind you. I actually loved the Buddhist visitors, too, and their viewpoint.

Suffice to say, this whole novel was just FINE. After reading Ministry of the Future, however, it suffers a GREAT DEAL in comparison. Like-to-like, I probably would give it a 2 star to Ministry's 5, but on its own, I don't have much positive or negative to say about it. It was a trending novel and a necessary one for the time and it's even more trending and necessary now, but it's necessarily dated after everything we've already seen in RL.


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Monday, February 1, 2021

The Book of MThe Book of M by Peng Shepherd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first half of this novel successfully gripped me hard and never let go.

It's part Walking Dead dystopian survival, part mysterious fantasy surrounding the loss of so many people's shadows (with their memories), and part massively grounded lit-SF.

And it worked, too, making my mind revolve around and around the malady, the consequences of so many people suddenly losing their shadows, and what it would mean to come across rumors of two far off communities... one in DC and the other in New Orleans, ending in some kind of showdown. You know, kinda like the Stand, only less religious. Indeed, M is what it's all about. And M doesn't stand for mamma or Mechagodzilla.

So why, if I really loved where the book started and continued, didn't I give it a full five stars?

Because, for all the later war stuff and genuinely interesting Mad Max feel, I never got that invested in the violence. I was invested early on, and then I was only playing catch-up.

That isn't to say that the end wasn't cool. It was quite different from what you might expect, considering the late middle part, and it made up for quite a bit. But honestly, I think this would have been a superior novel without the big showdown. It took away from the emotional core that was already there.

That being said, I REALLY liked what was brilliant about this novel. I also have a soft spot in my heart for shadows and memory magic. :)

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