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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*wild grin*

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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

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

Re-read, 3/30/21:

Still enjoying the outdoors more than the indoors. :)

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

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

Original Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, March 29, 2021

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

Hollows Re-read time!

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

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


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

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

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Sunday, March 28, 2021

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



Is there really anything else to say about this book?

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

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

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


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

The great Hollows Re-read!

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, March 27, 2021

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

Series re-read!

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, March 26, 2021

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

Re-read 3/26/21:

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

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

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

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

Original Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, March 25, 2021

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On that note, some Fight Club:

"You're not dying."


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

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

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

Indeed. Context and perspective are everything.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, March 23, 2021

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

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

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


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

Definitely one of the weirder but perfectly fun novels.

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

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

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

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

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Monday, March 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the enemy?

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

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

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

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Saturday, March 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

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Friday, March 19, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, March 18, 2021

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

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

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

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

But I won't.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

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

Election fraud! Oppressive regime! Tourism!

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

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

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

Alien invasion!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, March 15, 2021

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

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

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

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

In that respect, it's very familiar.

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

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

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

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

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

Check it out Here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, March 13, 2021

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

Eeeeh, okay.

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

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

It's gourmet vomit.

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

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

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

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16331633 by Eric Flint
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, March 12, 2021

16321632 by Eric Flint
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know. A nostalgia trip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, March 8, 2021

The Eternal HusbandThe Eternal Husband by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A truly fascinating, cringe-worthy tale by Dostoyevski, the master of cringe. His prose is brilliant, his characterizations crazy awesome, but when he gets right down to dissecting an idea, he doesn't do it by half measures.

Are you a predatory type or a peaceful type of man? Scoundrel or cooperative? How about a family man or an eternal loner? Ah, but in this case, there is no such real thing as an eternal husband.

Seriously, there's so much going on in this short novel, I think I'll just bring up a certain idea.

Pavel and Alexei's relationship is a very complicated one, to say the least. Alexei is the type to run from entanglements and did just that, having left Pavel to raise his daughter and not quite owning up to the fact of what he did. All those feelings of guilt come around, 9 years later, and in trying to make things right, gets entangled in a horrible web of Pavel's making, who, it seems, wants revenge for cuckolding him for all those years, but becomes a twisted, twisted tangle of emotions and psychology.

Strangely enough, I was struck by a very thick certainty (although unproven within the text except by context and some rather deep driving forces) that Pavel might have had some really rough romantic feelings, not just brotherly love mixed with hate, for Alexei.

Even more oddly, for all the revulsion and counter-moves for whom he tends to see as an enemy, Alexei's feelings deepen for Pavel, too.

The whole thing is mightily unhealthy and the women are all treated like crap, but this is very much a class and social critique and no one comes off as particularly good people. Then again, this IS Dostoyevsky, the man who can show you every seedy underbelly, including your very own. :)

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The Dream of a Ridiculous ManThe Dream of a Ridiculous Man by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To think that the depressive but oh-so-sensitive Dostoyevsky could have turned a short tale of a truly, truly ridiculous man who thinks incessantly of putting a bullet into his heart could ACTUALLY be one of the most uplifting or even OPTIMISTIC of his works!

I wish I was joking. Of course, this deep pathos is so similar to so many of his current themes, but by this point, it's more of a genre. Suicide as genre.

Only Dostoyevsky!

Moving beyond that, this short tale is actually an abbreviated description of what he'd like heaven to be, complete with spiritualism, mystical thoughts, and even an alien abduction, all explained away as a dream... ending with a kind of utopia. But hey! Dostoyevsky could never give is a straight utopia! He's a man of his genre, after all, and we must have a dire dose of despair, self-recrimination, and a forlorn cry that harangues all of humanity.

'If only we just loved our neighbors!' he cries. Everything would fall into place.

Truly, this short story is all heart, darkness and blemishes, and the wringing of one's hands toward the heavens.

Of course, it's Dostoyevsky, too, so it's actually entertaining. :)

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The GamblerThe Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For all you readers who love to see characters fall into holes in which they try so desperately to climb out of, repeatedly, disastrously, I recommend Dostoyevsky's The Gambler.

It's an old story and one that seems to always resurface. After all, there are so many gamblers out there.

Gamblers of love, pride, cold hard cash -- it's all the same in the end. It's a fever that always seems to drive one into the basement of one's soul.

Dostoyevsky is a master storyteller. Even if the story is one we all know, his style drives us all directly into the fever-wracked brain, in full introverted style, of the most pathetic of creatures and makes us squirm.

What a writer!

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HyperionHyperion by Dan Simmons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of my favorite SF novels.

Easily in the top ten. It has just about everything I could want in an SF while also elevating the entire SF conversation at the same time.

And a virtuoso performance is another term I'd use, as if the character of Martin Selinius had popped out of the pages and wrote this very book, wowing the AIs connaisseurs and elevating the very first Literary SF form to do universal justice to the term.

Back when I first read this book, the same year it came out, I was stunned by just how THOROUGH Simmons was. Of course, I was coming off my high of David Brin's Earth and I thought I had seen it all, a worldbuilding extravaganza that tore apart the planet in a really big, really flashy way.

But then Simmons had to come around and pull a The Canterbury Tales written as a fantastic pitch-perfect genre mini-stories within the equally mysterious and fantastic over-story.

Imagine, for a moment, that we have the mystery of the Catholic priest on the strange and horrific world of Hyperion, reading like A Case of Conscience but having one of the most horrific and soul-scarring scenes in any HORROR novel, let alone an SF novel.

Then imagine that the tone completely changes, as well as genre and the type of storytelling, to one of the best Hard-SF military fiction sequences in the next storytelling sequence.

Only to go completely Lit-SF, with a humorous, bawdy, ancient poet who is as brilliant as he NEEDS to court his deadly muse.

And then to the next genre that is quietly horrific even as it is quietly scholarly... with one of the hardest-hitting SF ideas I've ever read, making me burst into tears.

To a wonderfully cyberpunk detective noir fiction on par with Gibson, with an AI love story, intrigue...

To a tale of love, revenge, interplanetary colonialism, and time-dilation.

Where each tale provides us with a piece of a much larger puzzle that is Hyperion, even if most of the action takes place off the world, itself.

Of course, my simply describing the stories-within-stories can't do it justice. Nor would describing the Shrike (a huge golem made of blades), the time-vaults, the sheer emotional impact that EVERY one of these stories brings to the table of this otherwise not-simple pilgrimage tell you a damn thing about WHAT MAKES THIS NOVEL GREAT.

For those thematically oriented, you could say that the whole thing is a huge question: searching for a godhead or meaning and reason for the pain. Each one of these characters has been driven to sacrifice everything for an answer. A real answer.

Unfortunately, all they can reasonably expect is to get impaled on the Shrike's spikes.

You could say this is a metaphor, but the way the worldbuilding has set it up, it all makes absolutely excellent sense in the narrative. Shockingly so. It's the main power of mystery, after all.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one little important detail: this is not a complete novel without The Fall of Hyperion. -- Unless you like all your mysteries to sit on the knife's edge without ever getting cut, that is. ;)

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Sunday, March 7, 2021

Fall of Angels (The Saga of Recluce, #6)Fall of Angels by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I may be an unpopular reviewer here, but considering when this came out and the kind of style it has, I'm reminded of the huge slew of resource-gathering civilization-building games, including Civilization, itself. Or if we're talking about modern literature, I'd point to the LitRPG novels that are taking the writing world by storm.

The fact is, this timeline-early novel of the world surrounding Recluse is, in fact, a Tower Defense game.

Start with some high-tech that breaks down, protect yourselves on a hill, get enough resources and infrastructure building to survive, and hold out until all your enemies give up. This magical world of Recluse was also built on a foundation of high-technology, and these Angels were survivors of a war and of a universe-hopping jump. Unfortunately, previous settlers from the opposite faction had already settled here.

It might seem a bit simple, but at least to me, it's endlessly diverting. I fell in love with the characters and the subtext was complicated and heartbreaking. What else could it be? It's a clear depiction of three camps in the battle of the sexes. The ship survivors are mostly female. A surviving male engineer is a good man and an egalitarian man who is used and used until there is hardly anything left of him. The women are forced to become warriors. Their enemies in all the surrounding lands want to destroy them because all their abused women are finally seeing hope and escaping to this besieged community. The patriarchy, obviously. But we also see the rise of matriarchy and it is NOT as idealistic as any might hope. The understory, the pull and push of this angle is actually quite cogent and hard because there are no obvious winners... just a ton of losers.

And yet, legends are born, heroes are made, and this particular book is something of a fantastic old, old history lesson in the series.

And it is just about here in my reading that I'm wondering if I chose correctly in reading these in publication order or whether I ought to have read them in chronological order.

I suppose I could always do another read after I've caught up with all 20 (currently) books. :)

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Friday, March 5, 2021

A History of What Comes Next (Take Them to the Stars, #1)A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While the over-story in this is merely pretty okay and the end, well, the less I say about it, the better, I actually enjoyed the grand majority of this novel.

I really enjoyed the mother/daughter stories. Of course, it's not REALLY a mother/daughter kind of thing, but the biological twist, the cloning aspect that carries on for a hundred generations, IS fascinating and the vignettes through time were all a real treat.

But most interesting was the real history of the space race and rocket research by way of WWII, extricating Von Braun out of Germany, and the push and pull spycraft. This was by far the best part of the novel, but mixing this with aliens working their lives to the bone to take us to the stars (and taking themselves with us) is a very, very beautiful idea.

I'm going to enjoy reading all of these. :)

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

Wow. Lerris returns from the first book in this saga. If you've read the series this far, it's an extremely important change in direction.

After all, books 2-4 all happen WAY before Lerris, the extremely modest magician of Order who learns the secret of both Order and Chaos, performs a massive miracle of casting down all those Chaos magicians and their armies.

But now, with the weight of so much very important history and the big bright lightbulb going on as we interweave those old, seemingly ancient characters -- so much history -- into the current tale, the whole thing has taken on a brand new level of importance.

And with a title like that, just assume right here and now that something ENORMOUS happens. Cataclysms seem to happen all the time in these books, but just expect something bigger this time.

I LOVED seeing Justin again. All these characters are something special to me. And I can't rightly disagree with all those teaching methods of those Order wizards. I'm sure it'd piss me off, too, but the wisdom is undeniable.

Great series. Getting even better.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Ruthless (The Completionist Chronicles, #4)Ruthless by Dakota Krout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, the trials and tribulations of natural introverts. Sure, you can study and level up your main class skills, or show all your extrovert friends your ill-advised gumption and MURDER THE WORLD -- oh, wait, maybe that wasn't what you intended to do...

But at least you got some serious street cred for a bookworm.

Muahahahaha this latest LitRPG is so easy to enjoy. I'm flying through these with no hesitation and absolutely no qualms. Ding! Level up. Would you like your third-tier specialization? Class capabilities: Fanboy.

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Robots and Empire (Robot, #4)Robots and Empire by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More of a 3.5 stars, really.

I had to balance this one in my head as a re-read from long ago, my impression of humanity's exodus into the stars, my enjoyment of Asimov in general, against a tale compared against all of SF in general.

As a friend points out regularly, one cannot judge a book on ideas alone, even if I do appreciate Asimov for his clarity and ideas. The story, the full novel, is, frankly, kinda boring. At least, I was bored.

On the other hand, I did enjoy getting a full tour of the spacer worlds, getting to know so many kinds of people, and I really enjoyed the discussions between the two awesome robots even if I didn't care all that much about the humans. It still wasn't enough to carry the full tale.

BUT. This is a necessary book for the grand future history that Asimov wrote, from Robots, to Empire, to Foundation, to beyond. I'm willing to ignore the usual complaints as long as it forwards the foundation. :)

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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Bibliomancer (The Completionist Chronicles: Wolfman Warlock, #1)Bibliomancer by James A. Hunter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I consider this a side-novel in the series, co-authored with Dakota Trout and in Trout's universe.

Who knows, there might be quite a few more in the future and I am sure I'll enjoy them all. Why? Because while it's formula, it's a very fun formula. LitRPG is sometimes freaking fantastic but even the meh ones are like coming home.

That is, if you're an RPGer, you generally LIVE here anyway, so, you know, YOU KNOW.

And I know. And this is all about hitting those skills and falling into trouble and discovering a super-special mage-class and seeing what kind of trouble you can get into.

In this case, it's becoming an enemy of mankind and doing it with a smile. Gotta love those talking books, too. It's like I'm playing Neir. :)

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Monday, March 1, 2021

Raze (The Completionist Chronicles, #3)Raze by Dakota Krout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's so fun to break things. Stats, buildings, legends. Razing it all can be soooo fun! And punny!

Of course, this is a LitRPG and it's totally snarky, but the details are this: we're up to level 15+ and yet we've got some massive problems, like a massive influx of gamers and a somewhat mad-ish AI controlling the system. The reason for the influx? Oh, Earth is kinda going to a massive lovecraftian hell and there's this easy way to escape it all, free of charge, by hopping in the game.

Bonus for the ones already playing and strong enough to do something good, of course, but all those poor level one people...

Muahahahahaha peons get owned. Fortunately, there is this pretty decent bald chap who is pretty good with ritual magic and he's kinda badass in architecture and creative occultist magic use... and a master-level jump score.

And he was Razed right.

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