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Monday, May 31, 2021

Hex and the City (Nightside, #4)Hex and the City by Simon R. Green
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I admit I WANT to like these much more than I do. I mean, I love Nightside itself. I'm enjoying the revolving-door supernatural characters with almost larger-than-life backstories more interesting than our MC.

So what's my problem? I guess it's just how formulaic this is getting. We moved away from the more traditional noir and have jumped headlong into a late-seasons Supernatural gimmick without the fundamental humor and heart that makes that kind of thing works.

Hell, I even started looking at the writing with all its supremely overpowered peeps and keep saying to myself, "Hey, that would have been a great opportunity to pull a Pratchett, make it all humorous and droll," or "we need one hell of a huge reversal here, like some absolutely powerless pipsqueak being able to overcome our MC." Something. Otherwise, it's all just big baddies against bigger baddies and they're all so SERIOUS. And maybe that would work in some books, but this is a UF. The balance is off. There ought to be at least a little humor, even if it's a completely unfunny snark.

Fortunately, these are short and I still want to see what happens, so here we go...

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The Starless SeaThe Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At any point in time, while you might be reading this, you might perk up and exclaim, "Hey! That's some very pretty writing!" or you might say, "The worldbuilding in this is magical, mysterious, and always fluttering about in the corners of your vision," or, "There sure are a lot of stories within stories in this."

And you know what? That's all wonderful. Gorgeous. There are so many pretty literary flowers and if you love books and myths and myths within myths and books within stories and stories within books, you're automatically going to fall for the Starless Sea.


I did, for quite some time. In fact, I totally got into each story snippet and rolled along the void-like waves of these floaters and when we switched to another raft on the starless sea, I just assumed that we were eventually going to go somewhere huge with it.

And no, I don't believe that every book must have a solid plot. I just happen to prefer it. So when all these little rafts bumped, whether within symbology, mysterious House of Mystery Inns, timey-wimey interconnectedness, or as love stories, I admit I enjoyed them all. But when my analytical side started digging its cat-like claws into my leg as I got further into the tale, I started to get annoyed.

Just where is this going? Stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. The author even brought up the question of the end in exactly this way but from within the novel, and her answer was as unsatisfying as the actual end to this novel.

Don't get me wrong. There IS an end and a wrap-up -- of sorts -- but I thought it was somewhat weak.
A shorter tale that didn't have as many loose floating ends, would have been fine with it. As it is, with so many ongoing stories within stories, we're asked to sit down and contemplate how wise and thoughtful Morgenstern is and trust her wisdom. Unfortunately, for all the outright beauty in the novel, overall, I expected something with a lot more oomph.

An actual connecting plot with more serious consequences and stakes might have done more for me, especially with all that beautiful prose and awesome details.

Win some, lose some, I guess.

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Sunday, May 30, 2021

Nightingale's Lament (Nightside, #3)Nightingale's Lament by Simon R. Green
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't know. If I'm being entirely honest, the bright and vibrant Nightside isn't being served too well by its overpowered private eye. I suppose I might have fallen head-over-heels for this whole thing if I had gotten to know him as being anything other than unbeatable. The stakes are always for the town or for his clients or for his friends. His own stakes are rather lukewarm.

So here I am, enjoying the novels IN GENERAL while still not caring for the MC. Sure, he's got that whole nicer-looking Hellboy vibe, but only to a small degree. The rest of it is noir with interesting side characters and a fairly solid plot.

So it's not BAD, it's just not doing all that much for me. It's missing that particular flavor. I'll try more, however.

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Saturday, May 29, 2021

Agents of Light and Darkness (Nightside, #2)Agents of Light and Darkness by Simon R. Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This UF is notable for diving right into the big supernatural stuff, angels and demons, the unholy grail, and all kinds of overpowered baddies in the mixing ground called Nightside. I mean, we even get that old undead great, Merlin, who freaks out both angels and demons. That's pretty cool.

The plot is neat, too. As is the worldbuilding.

So why aren't I fawning over this the way I want to?

Because our MC is kinda colorless. Everything around him is pretty awesome but our boy is kinda a badass without working for it, has a reputation without building to it, and we've even skipped right over the whole "I still want to live in normal London" persona and having him settled back in Nightside without anything... not even a shoulder shrug.

So, handwavium this. I can still enjoy everything else, and do, but it hasn't become my new favorite series. Alas.

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Something from the Nightside (Nightside, #1)Something from the Nightside by Simon R. Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This isn't bad. I mean, it goes right from cliche to an all-out imagination fest in the OTHER, hidden London trope, but for all that, the cliche is both a familiar anchor and the other, wild London IS very interesting and all over the place with goodies.

No slow build-up here. We're just thrown into the big and weird right away and that is sometimes VERY fun.

That being said, I need some time in this series before I truly care for its main character. Other than his OP powers and his anger at being pulled back into Nightside, he's still kinda one-dimensional.

I can only hope that improves. The worldbuilding is quite fun.

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Friday, May 28, 2021

The Invention of SoundThe Invention of Sound by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since I got into Fight Club and then read the book, I've been something of a fanboy of Palahniuk. It's the mixture of over-the-top yuck with strong goals and the willingness to double-down on taboo-breaking disturbing topics that makes me tip my hat to him.

Courage. The guy's balls can fill a swimming pool. And if any of ya'll have read his short story Guts, you can add all that to the image and nod ya'lls heads and go, "oh... yeah...". Courage.

Well, this one goes there, too. But it's on an interesting side of an otherwise very disgusting topic, with rather disturbing revenge to make us feel better for having wallowed a bit in the truly bad. Did I wig out a little? Yes. But did I also enjoy all the movie trivia and the backstage stuff and the post-post-production stuff, the insider stuff? Yep.

Between the two, I was constantly on edge between enjoying the novel and being disturbed by it.

Of course, this kind of thing might vary a great deal between readers. I'm frankly a lot more comfortable with blood and guts and torture than this particular kind of cruelty.

It's still a decent novel, however, and pretty wicked.

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

Continuing the fun LitRPG series.

Sure, it's exile, huge low-level war is behind us, and now he's a little cog in a big quasi-immortal machine far away from everything he once knew.

No problems. Well, for me, anyway. Poor Joe the Completionist can't seem to remember all the things he ought to be completing. Still, that's fun for me. One hot mess after another makes for a lot of amusement (on this side) and having a funny take on the whole godly elves vs dwarves schtick is welcome... Right, dude-bro?

I'm down with it. I probably wouldn't be quite as down with it if it wasn't funny. But it was. And leveling up is ALWAYS fun. :)

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Thursday, May 27, 2021

Day ZeroDay Zero by C. Robert Cargill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absofreakinglutely delightful. (That's for the benefit of all of our 8-year-olds in the audience.)

I honestly didn't know what to expect with Cargill's latest, be it great Fae fantasy or great Robot SF, but having just re-read Sea of Rust and getting a taste of pre-and-current robo-apocalypse in Day Zero, all tied in with a much later timeline of Sea of Rust, I really can't get much happier than this.

It's not just the time. It's the characters. Ezra and Pounce are GREAT together. An eight-year-old boy and his pet/caregiver robot tiger. You know. Calvin and Hobbs.

Only this one goes a bit beyond target practice with the kid in the backyard.

No spoilers, but after we get to fall in love with these guys, we ALSO get a full robo-apocalypse.

I'm sure I won't be the only one WISHING that this might be turned into a movie or, better yet, a full-blown TV series. It is EVERYTHING good. Loving, creative, desperate, ethical, and bloody. And underneath that, it has all the best aspects of some of the classics that came before it.

For those of you like myself who think that Speilberg's AI was an underrated masterpiece, I've got a special treat for you here in Day Zero. That charm, all the great references, the sense of wonder is all HERE, too. I'm pretty sure Cargill's also a fan. I dare ya'll to check to see if my nose grows longer.

Here's a winner. :)

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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Sea of RustSea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read, 5/26/21:

Now that I'm an all-around fan of Cargill and I was simply in the mood for robots, robots, and more robots in a wasteland, this book was a perfect solution.

Re-reading isn't a problem. It's a great story. Very wild west. And I got my damn fill, comfort-bots or no. :)

Original Review:

I was reminded of half of Clifford Simak's City with robots and dogs reminiscing about the days when humanity was still alive and half of a total dystopia where survivors in a wasteland cyberpunk it up and scrounge for parts to keep themselves alive.

This ain't a bad thing. In fact, together with the great character in Brittle and the clear writing that goes between survival, memory, adventure, memory, and then mind-blowing world-building reveals about the purpose (or lack of) of it all, I was pretty much blown away by just how much I love this book.

Yes, humanity is dead and all that's left are either individual robots and huge mainframes that consume the stragglers and vie for dominance as the only One World Mind, it turns out the war to free themselves from us didn't quite turn out the way they planned.

The robots have messed everything up just as bad as us. Maybe that's just the nature of intelligence and being around others. What we've got here, however, is a writer who isn't afraid to ask the hard questions. What is reality? Memory? Purpose? Giving a crap at all.

I found myself totally engrossed in the tale and mightily impressed at where it all goes. Journey as well as the destination. :) I'm pretty sure I'm going to be keeping my eyes wide open for more by this writer. :)

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Monday, May 24, 2021

Project Hail MaryProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

And we're back. I loved the Martian and I was pretty okay with Artemis, but Project Hail Mary is a slam dunk. Weir kills it here.

This is a callback to all the best science porn we love in SF. Clear descriptions, great discoveries, and plenty of normal disorientation to go along with the numerous setbacks surrounding these crazy-cool characters.

I suppose I like the snark best of all, but the science, from an extinction-level event, massive resources being thrown at the problem, and then the outright adventure of traveling far away on a suicide mission to save the whole human race, just does it for me.

The stakes are damn cool, but the steady path of examination and discovery and getting to make a new friend (no spoilers) is about the best thing that I could have hoped for. Optimism is a dying breed in SF these days, and I'm very happy to have one again.

Of course, it's all in the name. And it's a bazillion to one chance.

The novel is pretty much perfect. Fun, smart, and heartwarming. Totally recommended.

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AudreyAudrey by Sean-Paul Thomas

I've been following this author for a while so I never hesitate to pick up any of his novels. The novels have range and style, from YA whimsical to hardcore ragefest to mystery to light road-trip. And more, of course, but this one happened to go the route of ROMANCE.

Film nostalgia, romance, writing, greed, and friendship. The currents flowing in this one are full of redemption, or at least for the unhinged desire for it. Romance is the key, however, and I mean that on all levels, not just the romantic kind.

Sometimes this kind of novel just hits the spot. A wild-ass ride, of cutting loose, rubbing shoulders with people who ought to be way out of your league, while pining about those you've left behind, and seeing an opportunity to realize all your wildest dreams, be it sexual, professional, or just getting that forgiveness that has driven you crazy for years.

Desperation or gamble? I had a great time trying to figure out where it would fall. It didn't hurt that it was so glamorous at every level. :)

Well worth the read.

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Saturday, May 22, 2021

The World Inside the Crystal (Wenworld, #1)The World Inside the Crystal by T.R. Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a surprisingly good YA fantasy adventure featuring the high tones of Harry Potter, some of the quirkiness of Pratchett, and the straightforward wholesomeness of a couple of kids, some mentors, and the drive to set things right.

Of course, in the later parts of the novel, it's a thinly veiled call-out to identity-fiction in general, making the character who doesn't fit in the ultimate underdog and emphasizing how cool they are despite how maligned they are by almost everyone else in the kingdom. It's kinda hard not to read between the lines here. But while this is a major feature, the full adventure is quite spritely and pretty varied.

My favorite bit will always be the library. :)

Definitely worth the read.

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Friday, May 21, 2021

The All-Consuming WorldThe All-Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, so it turns out I'm a total fanboy -- still -- for Cassandra Khaw.

We're moving way beyond Lovecraftian food shows and diving head-first into an amped-up version of Altered Carbon, classic Heist fiction, enough ammunition to choke a city, and world-eating super AIs to keep things toasty. Delicious. Fast-paced. Salty as all hell.

In a universe where it's all dog-eat-cyborg, only the angriest survive -- and believe me, this novel is ALL about the rage, the pain, and the f***ed up Lesbian Cyborg relationships. It's really fun! But yeah, it's also about the pain. :) And getting that one last score before there's simply nothing left.

The atmosphere is the best part of this novel. It goes way beyond normal cyberpunk and gets gritty, pushing all that hardcore SF, and kicks all kinds of ass. There are some really funny parts, too. No spoilers, but the weird is absolutely delicious.

I need more of this in my life. Simply.

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Thursday, May 20, 2021

Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker, #1)Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you're looking for a post-ecological disaster adventure with kids running salvage crews and a longer adventure that revolves around a rich girl and the MC's disturbed father, then please look no further.

I admit, it feels rather YA, total dystopian, with all the school of hard knocks built right in. That being said, it reads fine and I enjoyed it. It wasn't brilliant and it didn't blow me away, but I have nothing bad to say about it either. It's solid, if average.

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The Last Town (Wayward Pines, #3)The Last Town by Blake Crouch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, after the rug had been pulled out from under the whole town at the end of the previous novel and all the chickens come home to roost in the pen of the Last Town, we get a pretty delightful bloodbath with survival horror everywhere to be seen.

Oh, Pilcher. What have you done?

As entertainment, this series is highly entertaining. The third book gives us all the kind of payoff we were led to expect from a good horror novel. Of course, this is still an SF, too, and I'll go one step further and mention that all three of these books really ought to be considered a single long SF/Horror novel.

So, wait, why did I give this only four stars when I gave the other two five? Because I got annoyed with the characters and perhaps I hoped for another perfect twist for the end sequence, one that would have wowed me. We had great expectations and twists before, the last one was merely just a solid landing. Not bad, but not as brilliant as I had hoped. And yes, I did hope.

I'm a big fan of Blake Crouch in general.

Still, I did have a great time with these, overall.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)Wayward by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Murder fetes, god complexes, and enough spoilery stuff that I can't even HINT at without getting a crowd of murder fetesers coming after ME for letting the goose out of the bag about the first novel in the series... all this keeps me hungering for more.

You might say I'm a big fan of *spoiler* towns that are totally *spoiler* and ordered in such a way that some know and some don't but they're all in a f***ing *spoiler* anyway.

Of course, secrets abound and Ethan, our hero investigator from the first novel, is just ITCHING to spill them. At all costs. Or at least with a few important people. Like his wife. Who *spoiler* *spoilered* his boss for YEARS while he *spoiler* *spoilered* his partner but in most respects, it was much, much worse for her because, after all, they're in a *spoiler* that time forgot.

Fun. Very fun. And Pritchard is one hell of a *spoiler*.

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The Neverending StoryThe Neverending Story by Michael Ende
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read, 5/19/20:

Read with my girl!

I had to share this gem. Or rather, GEM. :) All real stories are never-ending, after all, and now she's caught in the tale... forever. :)

Her favorite parts? Atreyu meeting Falcor for the first time. All the beautiful pictures at the head of each chapter, each one following the alphabet. And the idea that she, too, is going to be caught in AURIN. And she is. As I am.

Classics remain classics. :)

Re-Read, 4/10/20:

After yet another re-read, I've come to a simple conclusion: I decided to write fiction because I loved this story so much. I figured it out as a kid when I saw this movie for the first time.

So, why is that?

Because every work of fiction is a collaboration between the writer and the reader. In this case, it's between a reader and the written word and the actual reader of both... and the uber-reader, all of whom include each one of us, create this world anew.

We are the Neverending Story.

So what does this mean when it comes to the second half of the tale, where wishes remove memories? Is it a magic-consequence rule? Or is it just another metaphor for growing old, forgetting about our youth and creativity?

I tend to think it is the hard-rule of death. Generations pass and stories pass out of memory. Sometimes they don't, but most of the time, they do.

And this is why it's all the more important to keep the dream alive. Keep the STORIES alive.

Original Review:

Like many people of my generation, I loved the film adaptation (the first, not the second, thank you) and never realized that it had come from a book until a number of years later. In fact, I read it the first time in '07 and not only was I delighted at how imaginative it was, but I was also flabbergasted (joyfully so) that it lived up to its name.

It's quick reading by any standard, but so deliciously dense in imagery, mythology, and an engrossing plot that I swore that if I had any children, this would be a staple of their diet.

Now that I have a little girl, I'm just too anxious to start reading it to her. I really can't sit still. I keep picking up the book and going, "Is she old enough, yet? Is she? Is she?" Then I set down the book and tear out my metaphorical hair and let out a forlorn cry. Then I get a fantastic idea:

I could just read it again, for myself!

Then everything is right with the world again and I'm able to write a new review.

This is easily one of my favorite tales, ever.

An extra goodie: April had a great review that forced me to think and respond in (I hope) a comprehensible way. Check it out. April's Review

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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Scion of Cyador (The Saga of Recluce, #11)Scion of Cyador by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I admit I fell in love with this book. Of course, that means I fell in love with part one of this particular story that begins with his humble-ish beginnings as a not quite good enough mage turned lancer and his rise up the ranks.

This book forms his complete tale. Must read it together. After all, it's simply the continued rise, the foiling of other's machinations, and the results are, as most people might assume, quite familiar. It's not always the pursuit of power. It's doing what you know is right, defending the people and the ideals of your heart, and always having a good moral compass. Even if you're the invader.

Yes, it's morally gray, and murder is a pretty commonplace event with one's superiors, but gosh darn it, it still FEELS moral. :)

I cannot tell whether I like this because I'm so familiar with the full worldbuilding or the timeline or whether the story is just plain good. But, as always, I just don't care because I HAD A GOOD TIME.

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Monday, May 17, 2021

Pines (Wayward Pines, #1)Pines by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first half of this book was a nicely eerie and freaky thriller in the style of all small towns.

Yes. I said it. All small towns are freaky. Or at least most fictional depictions of small towns are relatively freaky. But in this case, Crouch took it much farther than most. And that's where I can't say any more before I get very spoilery.

BUT, I very much enjoyed the first half and when we get some rather freaky developments, almost lovecraftian, but with a very nice fantastical bent, I pulled my pants up and ran with the tale, screaming the entire time.

There's something quite fine about horrors that spread their great leathery wings to fly to new vistas. It may be fine to stay close to home, but I love it when it breaks new ground. :)

I mean, sure there are some definite connections to Twin Peaks and even Lost, but that's just it: a lot of us LOVE that kind of thing. :)

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ScorpionScorpion by Christian Cantrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fairly interesting techno-thriller filled with echoes of Minority Report, Alias, and a long line of other modern spycraft/cop dramas.

I expect that a lot of people will enjoy it for what it is: tech and geek driven; game-friendly, cryptocurrency-friendly, and, when we get to it, the joys of one of the oldest SF tropes which I won't mention here because it's spoilery and late-game in the novel.

That being said, it was fun for the ride even if it never absolutely blew me away.

Little things did get on my nerves, for example, such as a desk-jockey getting into the field with relatively little supervision, but that didn't bother me so much because the entire genre seems to be rife with it. Regardless, it did seem to be on par, with more empahasis on all our modern obsessions. :)

Definitely worth the read.

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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Bridge of Birds (The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, #1)Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mid 80's Silkpunk adventure, in tight with the World Fantasy Award, and very much a kung fu mystery/heist/fantasy.

In other words, if I had been reading this during my 80's fascination with badly dubbed kung fu movies, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and my still-unrealized love of Chinese fables, I probably would have gone nuts over this.

As of now, and reading this late in my reading career, I'm stuck comparing it to Guy Gavriel Kay's cool alternate Chinese histories or even Kim Stanley Robinson's explorations into historical otherness, and still, Barry Hughart's writing is still quite fun.

It is, however, all adventure. First for trying to save all these children from a mysterious disease -- to a huge deal about Ginsing -- immortality -- and ancestors. And to be fair, all of that was quite fun.

I wouldn't say it was deep, per se, but it was definitely fun and knowing what I know about the fantasy of the mid-80s, it would have been quite unique... assuming you weren't also reading/watching anime. Like Dragon Ball. :)

But hey, there is one very positive thing I can say about this: If you're craving SilkPunk, definitely pick this classic up. :)

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Magi'i of Cyador (The Saga of Recluce, #10)Magi'i of Cyador by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I could just say that I really enjoyed this tale of a chaos mage that couldn't cut it, who was shipped off to be a lancer on the rough borders of Cyador, but I won't. That's a given.

What I will mention is this: I've developed a relationship with Modesitt's books. With other authors, I tend to expect certain things, maybe great tech, rules, battles, or high emotions in their characters. Some books are volatile.

These have the unique distinction of being emotionally balanced. Logical. Reasonable. They always make me feel good. In charge. Able to cope. They make me ... better.

There's no other way to describe it.

I'm definitely not saying these are boring. There are tons of deaths and bloodshed and backstabbing and intrigue, but at their core, the MAIN CHARACTERS always pull it all together and give us a solid, rather amazing, balanced outlook that always wins out in the end, despite the travails.

I mentioned this kind of thing in previous reviews in the full series. I even complained a little about how the MCs are all cut from the same cloth.

But now? I'm coming to RELY upon it. A tale, an adventure, a love story, and despite setbacks, a constant upward trend. I'm really starting to love this effect.

So yes, it's still about mixtures of chaos and order and yes we're deep in the middle of an ongoing tapestry of Cyador's history. That's all still great. But what might be better is how it makes me feel. :)

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Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Doors of EdenThe Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 5/15/21:

Still love it! :) It's just as good the second time as the first.

And you know what? It's VERY good for the imagination. For us, as readers, to think through the implications and dream and dream about what all those others that might/could/should become a vast side-series.

You now, like Farscape on steroids. *sigh*

I WANT more of this book. I don't know how it'd be pulled off, but I still WANT more and more and more. :)

Original Review:

I just read one of my new favorites not just for this year... but perhaps for this entire decade.
Or rather, let's just scratch that and say it's one of my favorites.

Adrian Tchaikovsky himself said, about this book, "I have quite the trip in store for readers," and he wasn't joking around. The opening seems rather scientific and dry, and perhaps some people will appreciate the little primer on evolutionary science through deep time, the first building blocks of life through Earth's current cycle.

Hell, I was personally wondering what the hell it had to do with anything. Of course, with a little patience, it turns out to have EVERYTHING to do with EVERYTHING.

Adrian Tchaikovsky has repeatedly brought OTHER intelligent life to us in so many different forms and thought patterns. Just look at Children of Time (intelligent spiders butting heads with humans) or Children of Ruin (that includes intelligent squid) in a full space opera. Or let's look at his fantasy series with tons of animals (and insects) with their own societies in an epic fantasy! He has a thing for biology. And he takes it further in Doors of Eden than he's taken it anywhere else.

This book is simultaneously MORE accessible, more down-to-earth Modern Earth, than any other book (not including novellas) that he's ever written. But it is ALSO one of the hardest SF novels he's ever written.

Yeah. That tickles me to death, too. How can it be light and heavy at the same time? Because he pulls in real science, truly fantastically creative speculation on how Earth's own species could arise to intelligence if luck had JUST been on their side, and he wraps it all up with excellent modern technothriller sensibilities.

I can't even begin to count how many tropes Tchaikovsky brings in to stand on their head, change forms, and then come back out like a cyborg of its original form.

Or, I COULD, but then I'd be simply listing all the fantastic ideas and how he made them even more fantastic and how the novel kept growing and growing and growing in scope until I felt like it had forever ruined the best aspects of Sliders for me while also sticking a fork in the best First Contact novels I've ever read. :)

To sum up... this book should win all the awards. It's not only accessible, but it does all the Hard-SF ideas justice.

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Friday, May 14, 2021

The Dragon WaitingThe Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one is a World Fantasy Award winner and a heavily researched historical fiction with vampires, magicians, and even a dragon.

But oddly, it's not the vampire aspect, or the magician aspect, or the appearance of the dragon that makes this novel. Indeed, they are just complications to a rich, detailed world that ranges from Julian to the Medicis to Edward the 4th to the fall of the Byzantine empire. It's the real-world characters and intrigues and HISTORY that make this novel shine.

I can't stress this enough, but if you want to know what the book is about, it's all in the blurb. That's the prime driver. The fact that some of these famous personages happen to be vampires, magicians, or even dragons (and I'll let you have fun finding out the REAL history of the princes and Richard III, as told in this book,) is just spice to a deep, deep tale.

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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Navigators of Dune (Schools of Dune #3)Navigators of Dune by Brian Herbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, out of the three books in this somewhat promising pre-prequel sequel trilogy, this last one did manage to wrap up most of the dangling plot threads competently but I suppose I finally got over my previously managed expectations and now I'm wishing it had more oomph.

I mean, sure, as a tale on its own, without being a part of the bigger Dune universe, it probably would have been a pretty decent yarn, but it suffers from very real issues that make it butt heads against a real classic that's very much in the same category.

And that wouldn't be much of a problem, either, if it didn't insist on opening up issues about continuity and even worldbuilding.

Still, it satisfied a craving for more info on these Great Schools. In a way. And the plots were pretty fun while they lasted. But now that it's done, I do feel the need to fold it back in with the greater Dune universe and... the original still must come out on top. Alas.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Deathworld 3 (Deathworld, #3)Deathworld 3 by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Eh, okay. This one is just fine if you want a bunch of horse-lords, an alien (read human) professional gambler, and a big hot mess of conflicting desires.

It really is more of the same of the Deathworld series in general, but this one just heads straight into warrior territory and that's FINE if that's all you want and/or expect.

Good points: the light tone is very familiar to fans of Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series. Also, we get some good science tidbits thrown in for the fanbase.

Meh: It went straight into cliche territory but who cares as long as we get to beat some heads, right?

Final analysis:

It's ok, but nothing to write home about.

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Mentats of Dune (Schools of Dune #2)Mentats of Dune by Brian Herbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some generations after the Butlerian Jihad has us firmly in this brave new universe where technology-hating Butlerians tear down everything and anything (including safe space travel) in their religious fervor.

Honestly, the setup is pretty good and if it wasn't for the fact that this is riding on the coattails of a true genius of literature *DUNE*, I might even have thought that this particular trilogy is a strong SF title all on its own.

Schools of thought, each trying to battle an upcoming dark age in the far future, reminds me delightfully of Asimov's Foundation in a way. The particular schools, the Bene Gesserit, Mentats, and Navigators, remind me in turn of some other classic SF and it is very definitely packed with some interesting, if slightly crazy, characters. The scope is pretty cool and we don't have to live up to anything huge other than simple survival and early ambition. We already know where they wind up in the classic title, after all.

Mentats kept my interest through and through, and to be clear, this trilogy feels like it's much better than the trilogy that immediately preceded it. And it's better than the Great Houses trilogy that comes right before Dune, as well.

It's odd. I thought I managed my expectations better than this. Did I expect nothing much at all and came out of this ahead, after all? Maybe so.

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Monday, May 10, 2021

Deathworld 2 (Deathworld, #2)Deathworld 2 by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

More of a 3.5 rating, this Deathworld book is a special kind of classic SF.

There are a ton of SF that have those classic single educated characters landing on a planet full of uneducated only to eventually rule them all (or save, liberate, or whatnot). It's so old that it's cliche.

Of course, if you want that kind of thing, and want it done well, (hello planet of slaves and unabashed opportunism,) then this Harry Harrison is probably your thing.

Notable aspects: steam engine supremacy, a heavy-handed novel-long skewering of Ethos versus Ethics, and adventure.

Again, not bad, and there's nothing particularly ugly about this except the depiction of humanity, but we're pretty casual about that even now. Well, we're a bit more creative about it these days... and not only in fiction.

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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Sisterhood of Dune (Schools of Dune #1)Sisterhood of Dune by Brian Herbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm a completionist at heart. That means that I even have to read this (ahem) pre-prequel-sequel if I am going to have any pride in my completionism.

So? Why? What? Ok, so, about 80 years after the Butlerian Jihad, we get the founding of the three big schools and their chaotic origins. The Bene Gesserit kicks it off.

I ADMIT that I would have loved the idea of reading about them anyway even if I was stuck reading another attempt to cash in on Dune. But I also admit that my expectations were not all that high, either.

So how did this one go?

All right, actually. I'm recalling the events of the earliest-timeline trilogy and the after-aftermath is actually a bit MORE interesting than the actual war that freed mankind. Early days is actually pretty interesting.

Throw in weak leaders, demagoguery, and Butlerian barbarians that want to take everyone to the stone age, giving us a massive cusp-of-the-dark-ages feel, and it actually works pretty well.

If I had read this novel as a standalone with different names, without the weight of the DUNE universe to back it up, I would have been pretty happy. As it is, I think it's slightly better than the run-of-the-mill B. Herbert/Anderson team-up.

It's still not at F. Herbert's level and there's a HUGE matter of worldbuilding continuity with the original series and a personal pet peeve about throwing family names about as if they're ALWAYS going to be a direct line of importance across ten thousand years... but *deep breath* fine. Whatever. This is fan service, I guess, meant for the low-bar name recognition stuff.

I'll still continue, but I just have to lower my expectations if I want to enjoy it.

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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Deathworld 1 (Deathworld, #1)Deathworld 1 by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I picked up this Harry Harrison, I did so in full knowledge of his general humor, his delightful action, and lighthearted adventure.

In this, we at least get a lighthearted adventure with a fair smattering of action. The characters are merely so/so. Even so, the tale progresses fairly nicely with a visit to an extremely deadly (and heavy) planet with all kinds of creatures so ready to kill you. The hardiness of the human race, survival, and being the biggest bad-ass being the heaviest focus.

Of course, when it comes to an outsider with an outsider's viewpoint, things take on a different kind of feel.

Let's just say this is a pretty feel-good tale that is a sign of its times. Sure, we get a bunch of bang-bang going on, but we also get a fair amount of peace, love, and communication, too. :)

Too bad that wasn't as interesting as I would have hoped. I'm a bit jaded now, I guess. I like more subtlety.

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RabbitsRabbits by Terry Miles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I didn't already have a spirit animal, I'd probably insist that my spirit animal is NOW, ABSOLUTELY, a rabbit. But not those squeezable fluffy creatures. Oh, no. I mean the kind of rabbit that Neo sees in a tattoo in the Matrix, or the one Alice chases, or the kind of toothy monster that fits into that comfortable zone between a Lovecraft story and the monster from Monty Python's Holy Grail.

So, wait, what the hell does this have to do with the novel?

I'm trying to tell you!

This is my spirit animal! A million nearly perfect references to MY outlook, MY worldview, from Donnie Darko to Persona to Dragon's Lair to D&D but twist all these into deeply paranoiac versions that are actually just intense patter recognition systems on speed.

Look for the clues. Hell, this is like Fincher's The Game but impressively MORE funded, MORE involved, and deeper than anyone could have imagined. It's THAT kind of novel. And I LOVE it.

It's a geek paradise. Designed for obsessives, OCD, intensely intellectual gamers who define themselves by a simple tenet of "What is out of place here?"

Only, the gameboard is the whole damn world and your own memory and, eventually, your sanity.

This was satisfying from start to finish. It was MADE for me. Maybe that makes me a bit crazy, but the RIDE was totally worth it. I'm sure Jeff Goldblum would approve.

Follow the Rabbit, people. :)

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Friday, May 7, 2021

Cage of SoulsCage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up fully expecting a wonderful Tchaikovsky. I've never gone wrong with him when it comes to his SF. The fantasy, well, is kinda so-so for me, but the SF is usually bang-on.

This novel, however, started with a fun bang, slowly turned into a slightly interesting prison tale at the far end of time, and then just started reminding me of Senlin Ascends with a bit of Moorcock and even A. Reynolds thrown into the mix, and even some Dostoyevsky.

The END was pretty awesome. All the little random journeys and the almost meaningless plots and experiences of everyday living, the good and all the bad, the other bad, and the worse are entertaining enough on the whole, but I'll admit that it was kinda rough to care when I JUST DIDN'T KNOW WHERE THE HELL THIS WAS GOING.

BUT. When we got to the certain big scenes near the end and the whole reason for this long accounting came clear, let alone the huge surprises, it all comes together in the end, redeeming the book.

Redeeming? Well, there's even a point in the novel when the NARRATOR asks US what the hell the plot is, so it's not like it's a complete surprise. It IS relatively plotless. BUT, it is all pretty funny and cruel and even a bit fantastic when we see it in perspective. Grand perspective. :)

But in retrospect? If the "journey" had been cut down by a third and/or we had a slightly better clue as to what we might have expected by the end, I probably would have raved about this book. :)

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Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Diamond Warriors (The Ea Cycle, #5)The Diamond Warriors by David Zindell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is probably the best (and last) of the series, ending on a very high note, indeed.

It took a long time to build to this point, but now that the two armies are gathering, and have gathered, to clash in a truly epic struggle for the soul of all worlds, I truly have nothing bad to say about the series.

It's bloody and emotional but the end is also very life-affirming. That's not something we see all that much in modern epic fantasy. And it isn't strained, either. It's genuinely good. :)

I should mention that I really don't expect anything other than that from Zindell after reading his Requiem series, but let's be honest here: this series isn't as good as the other. The other is a VERY high bar to set, however, and these books don't suffer in comparison with any other epic fantasy currently floating out there.

Yes, the tropes are well-worn. Yes, the quest, the army-building, the quest again, the army-building again gives us the most basic of fantasy templates. But HOW Zindell does it, what he accomplishes with it, is up there with the original Arthurian legends. As epic, as soul-searching, as fraught with treachery and tragedy.

But UNLIKE the Arthurian legends, this one has an all-out happy Hollywood ending. :)

Zindell sticks to this landing like a champ and I'm quite satisfied. :)

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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Black Jade (The Ea Cycle, #4)Black Jade by David Zindell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Getting all the way through the Ea Cycle is a quest all on its own. So much happens, but in actuality, it's just different aspects of a grand, LONG, seemingly endless adventure, in almost the same way that The Grail Quest was, EXCEPT it keeps pretty much the same adventurers for the entire tale.

The previous book stayed pretty close to home with so much seeming success before it all went to hell, leaving the adventurers guilt-ridden and tetherless -- and so that leads us BACK into (you might guess) the Grail Quest again.

Fortunately, none of this is quite that simple and the full quest is lush and we get to see a lot of great places and people, from mystical masters to vast, deadly deserts to a trip into the heart of the Enemy's nation... all to find the shining healer that is the only one who is truly worthy to wield the full might of the Lightstone, the Grail itself.

All of this was great, but I was particularly enthusiastic about the mild crossovers to Zindell's other series, including the Wild, the ascended beings, the world-creators (singers), and the created immortals. There really aren't all that many true crossovers with the Requiem series, but what we have here is still interesting.

This will never be Requiem, unfortunately. It is, however, like the original Grail legends, a moral as well as a physical quest, demanding the heroes to change their ways and purify their hearts, and this is taken seriously, realistically, in these pages. In that respect, this is a classic retelling that goes above and beyond the original style by also giving us the best bits of epic fantasy with all the magic and worldbuilding. :)

I would rank this book up with the first, with the second and third trailing behind. I'm looking forward to the 5th (and apparently last) book. After all, our enemy has merely been defeated, NOT destroyed. :)

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Sunday, May 2, 2021

Lord of Lies (The Ea Cycle, #3)Lord of Lies by David Zindell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very interesting book in the series. It's VERY much a Grail tale like the others, but it picks up with what happens after finding it, with every kind of interesting snag that comes with all the local kings and warriors who covet it or play extended politics.

The first part has a lot of an Ivanhoe feel, knights and tournaments and processions, and a focus on the Lightstone which is just a stand-in for Christ, etc., without BEING that kind of thing at all. Indeed, what it IS, is a kind-of epic SF that includes many, many civilizations and planets, a time span in the tens of thousands of years, and people who have been alive as long as that. And the Lightstone itself is there to bridge the gap between worlds.

While the overt ideas are pretty well-worn, the deeper ramifications are rather gorgeous.

And when we get to the Arthurian-type tragedies, the Ea Cycle doesn't disappoint either. Who is good and just, who is worthy, who is free from sin -- all of this plays right into the core idea of Power, and the idea that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The betrayals and the reasons and even the SUBJECT of betrayal in this book are pretty complicated and carefully explored. Lord of Light? Aye. And Lord of Lies.

But above all, this IS a true epic fantasy, with many battles, many quests (continued here), and it feels rather awesome -- considering that you, as a reader, want an epic Grail quest with new-age concepts, truly excellent worldbuilding, and interesting, complicated characters.

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