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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Red Thunder (Thunder and Lightning, #1)Red Thunder by John Varley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I honestly don't know what happened to this great book. Was it the timing? It came out in 2003, years before The Martian and absolutely after the stream of great Mars books of the '90s, but it hits that near-perfect sweet spot of adventure, underdog, and technical know-how using found parts and the gumption to --


-- at all costs.

I mean, come on, it's a perfect updated mix of Heinlein's Red Planet with the later Martian, getting ghetto and even hiring on a great street artist to adorn the spacecraft. I swear, I enjoyed every step of this novel.

Most of it is misfit characters either because of poverty, racial inequality in Florida (yeah, yeah, don't laugh, it happens there, lol), being a washed-up maverick drunk, a misdiagnosed idiot savant, or being too smart and female.

Rusty tankers, pick-up trucks, and using the shoulders of all the scientists that came before is a wonderful gimmie that capitalizes on my own obsession with privatized space travel, but it's the ONE obviously SF notion that gives this book its real oomph. Without Jubal's Christmas ornament breaking the laws of physics and all, waiving most of those energy requirements, this would never have gotten off the ground. But hey! It's SF and there has to be one little tweak to give us anything like this.

I mean, no trust fund could pull this off unless your daddy is Elon. And even then... I mean, come on.

And this doesn't bother me at all.

I swear, it's like I'm reading a totally modern early Heinlein that doesn't fear to stare at all the obvious problems in the face AND it does it with an awesomely clear voice.

With HOPE.


This book should never have been lost in the mix. It should have new life again right now. Especially for all of us seeing space travel come back alive. I literally sat on the edge of my seat as I read this. :)

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Monday, June 28, 2021

The Book of AccidentsThe Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am speechless after reading this.

I mean, I was already a huge fan of Wendig but I never realized that he could pick something like this... an almost Stephen King kind of setup that has echoes of the Shining, shake it up so hard and brutal, and give us a very SK story that is every bit as original as SK but without the many divergences.

What we have here is a classic horror that is very much a Wendig. And if you know Wendig, you know he knows how to deal with the small stuff, the many great details, and the language. But he also knows how to do the mind-f**king-blowing big stuff, too. The wild fantasy, the deep horror, and pull off a massive fractal WRONGNESS that is all parts delicious.

And that's where we are with The Book of Accidents. I love all these characters but love Oliver the most. It is, after all, all about the pain. And what delicious pain it is.

(And if you think it's pain in any normal sense of the word, you have another thing coming. It's not just abuse and everyone else's pain, but it's about ALL the pain. And Wendig pulls several fantastic rabbits out of this particular hat.)

No spoilers. But this is a truly delightful horror that will stick with me for quite some time. It's rich, very twisty and twisted, and quite heartbreaking. And then there are the awesome Lovecraftian elements that never overwhelm but truly drive the story home.

I'm extremely happy with this one!

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Sunday, June 27, 2021

A Peculiar Peril (The Misadventures of Jonathan Lambshead, #1)A Peculiar Peril by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are, frankly, a plethora of great descriptive terms for this Vandermeer, and while it absolutely falls in the wonderful WEIRD category, I should mention that it is also charming as hell, adventuresome, original, quirky, quirky, and sometimes silly when it isn't a tentacular mess for every person in it, whether they're good, bad, or a celestial beast.

It's been a while since I was so utterly charmed by a YA adventure that was better for its clear-eyed oddities and slyly funny language bits over an otherwise smarmy family platitude or puppydog romance.

In this case, it's more like an Alice in Wonderland craziness with a heavy dose of Cthuhlu (or rather, Borne-like) Woah, that didn't just happen... did it? but firmly couched in an almost victorian adventure sensibility, complete with magic-heavy alternate time-worlds with absolutely delightful celestial beasts, Napoleon's Head, Crowley, and my favorite: Ruthless. And these are just the baddies.

Is it like normal YA adventures?

No. Or rather, it has a lot of their elements. But this one is purely VanderMeer, reveling in originality and quirky goodness and pretty much never letting up on it.

For me, I truly appreciate this. Too many YA are just regurgitations of familiar tiredness.

This is not that.

Actually, as I was reading it, I was saying to myself that this would be one of the very best YA Fantasy TV series ever. Bright and rich and quirky and endlessly diverting, never staying anywhere that long because there is always a new fire lick their heels.

I should mention that I couldn't stop laughing and grinning like a loon during some very special moments. One of them (or indeed several of them) happened to coincide with all references to a book club.

I'm right now trying to design my own. Do I hammer the books at the end of the club or not? But alas, I don't want to give away ALL the goodies. Indeed, it just keeps getting better and better and better. I would give ANYTHING to see a full production made of it. Think of a mix between Preacher and Good Omens with a much larger side of that cat from Captain Marvel and you might get an idea.


Manage your expectations. Enjoy this for what it does really well. And for all you weirdos out there, grab this and hold on tight. :)

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Friday, June 25, 2021

A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan, #2)A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It may be just me... but I think that this second book is superior to the first. Let's just ignore the awards the first one earned and focus on the story, the action, and the stakes. We see more of Mahat, but there are a number of new, potentially more interesting characters that pretty much take over my enjoyment here.

Between the emperor's 12-year-old clone or the warrior or the Imago expert (consuming imprints of memories that both help and hinder) and a whole WAR that was made more interesting by attempts at communication that are complicated by both the Teixcalaan empire's weaponized poetry and the RATHER alien aliens.

I should mention that I am seeing a LOT of mushrooms in literature lately, and this one is no exception.

Honestly? I really did have a better time in this book. Maybe it is because there was a better balance between thinking and talking about the action and actually EXPERIENCING it.

That being said, read these for the poetry of the writing, the careful placement of words, and the often surprising imagery. Read it for the worldbuilding. Also, read it for the complexified characters that must live, survive, and love within some rather odd constraints.

This is not a cookie-cutter SF.

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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Press EnterPress Enter by John Varley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Revisiting an old story that I loved before and loved again.

Winner of numerous awards and if read in context for its time, it's wonderfully delicious, sweet, scary, and ultimately horrifying.

Do you like paranoia? How about hacking? Now, how about we dive into all the possible areas where we utterly transform our lives? In this case, it's still a thriller novella, but it's not DIRECTLY trying to harm the main character or threatening him. He's just a neighbor who got caught in the web of his neighbor's murder and hacking activities.

But that's where this story becomes something rather beautiful and exciting. The wealth of details and the blossoming love story is so quirky and sweet and fraught will real-world craziness and fallibility. I loved it. I was shocked with how dark it went, too, and frankly, I agreed with the main character.

This is story is one of those that will stay with me for a very long time. Just trust me if I'm being vague about it. It's very much worth it.

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In the Ocean of Night (Galactic Center, #1)In the Ocean of Night by Gregory Benford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When it comes to hard-SF, I'm generally of the opinion that it is almost always rooted in real science, has a big scope, and sometimes veers off into Clarkian speculative stuff that might be POSSIBLE, but generally looks like magic to the rest of us.

Back in '77, hard-SF was coming off a late-sixties, early-seventies vibe that sometimes goes philosophical, sometimes metaphysical, and often gives us that man-power vibe that was such a common silly motif back then that quickly backfired to give way to militant feminism. But this was before that time.

All of these are minor little noises that flavor -- or annoy -- readers these days. But pushing all this aside, what we have here is a solid hard-SF novel written in episodes that span 20 years. And best of all, we focus on all the neat variables of machine intelligences versus organic intelligences.

Now, for those of us who haven't grown up with the much later Neal Asher novels or Iain M. Banks novels that tend to do this all in a much more interesting and coherent fashion, I have to point to Benford as a really good example of this kind of storytelling. It's direct, deals with the problem of extinction-level intelligence events, and in the meantime remains a consistently interesting adventure.

I will not put this novel at the top of the pedestal -- for this kind of thing -- but I do think it's a good novel of its time and it laid some pretty great foundations for later writers/novels. I'm curious to see how much the series improves and how big the scope might get.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Adjustment DayAdjustment Day by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a hilarious novel.

I can totally get why a lot of people might diss it, but I'm pretty sure it's not for the quality of the prose or the story.

It is, however, a delicious satire that deserves lots of real reads. And let's be real here: it should be read and enjoyed ESPECIALLY for how uncomfortable it makes us. I mean, seriously, it IS Chuck Palahniuk, people. Invisible Monsters? Fight Club? Hell, I chortled my head off in Survivor, too.

This isn't that far off. But where Fight Club (which is not only referenced but is straight-up ANALYZED by the characters in this book) ends, this novel really takes off. It is NOT a sequel, mind you, but it sits us down to show us how f**king insane all the post-revolution ideas are.

Does everyone get dished? Hell yes. Whites, blacks, straights or LGBTQ, educated or uneducated, rich or poor, young or old.

Everyone is pretty much given the opportunity to make their own little separate nation-states and it plays out pretty much as you might expect.

Here's the thing: even when Chuck Palahniuk is playing up all the worst aspects of human nature, all the nasty little horrible crap is full of GOOD POINTS and UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTHS. What could have been a great little scorcher actually turns out to be a pretty fine mirror.

Our world looks almost like this book already. There's no mass migration, sure, and people aren't putting C4 on arrowheads, and the Second Great American Civil War hasn't officially begun, but Adjustment (lol) Day is a fine, fine example of a modern 1984 that is a lot more than a tired re-imagining. This one takes potshots at everyone.

I'm reflective by nature so I don't mind taking a good long look at myself. I think that's all that's required to have a good time here. That, or a sense of humor. :)

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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Girl and the Mountain (Book of the Ice, #2)The Girl and the Mountain by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not only a solid continuation of the first book, but a full-on expansion to the dark fantasy/SF mix that we had begun with. The ice planet was, after all, a colony world.

What we didn't have much on was how or why. We also didn't have anything on how long or why it became so dystopian. Fortunately, we get a lot of goodies in this novel, not shirking the big cool powers or adventure.

Multiple characters, tons of neat stuff in the mountain, and plenty of reveals to keep us all going. I'm reminded very pleasurably of some of Mr. Lawrences's early work and the combined pleasure of his worldbuilding, overlapping and blending, is turning this into something rather awesome.

I can't wait for more!

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Light ChaserLight Chaser by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here's a surprisingly awesome Space Opera novella.

While it comes across as a loner pilot trading stories across many light-years, alone with her AI, the deeper story is one that caught me quite by surprise.

No spoilers, but if you love broad-scope massive empire-shaking timey-wimey hijinx love stories squeezed into bite-sized reads, then you really OUGHT to read this one.

I wanted to read it primarily for Peter F. Hamilton, but together with Gareth Powell, it became something special.

I was truly surprised by the scope. It snuck up on me because I was so invested in the everyday life. :)

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Monday, June 21, 2021

The EscapementThe Escapement by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For such a short read, this highly intellectual bizarro western packs one hell of a wallop.

On one hand, it's merely the depths that a man will go through as he watches his child suffer in the hospital, but on the other, greater portion, it's literally a Dark Tower-like adventure with truly gorgeous detailed oddities everywhere.

The Stranger is one of the high arcana, and there are lots of tarot references with a full spread of Grimm, Russian mythology, Hebrew mythology, Greek, Mesopotamian, and Sergio Leone... not to mention Stephen King.

If it's a wild wasteland of the heart and mind, the text itself is fantastically cerebral and gore-filled. The nightmares are clowns. Old warriors from strange battles have musical instruments for legs and glass, ant-filled tubing for arms. Roses are more than roses and the desolation is as much as any Stranger can bear, in or out of a hospital.

The writing is one of the most creative and it is definitely wildly original. Don't let the various mythological pieces define it for you. I got lost in the tale and it eventually became quite difficult to pull myself away to surface to my reality.

I almost drank Sticks, myself.

Gorgeous piece.

Now, I should be honest here: I've been a long-time fan of Lavie Tidhar but even if I hadn't already fallen in love with his other writings, I'd be pointing at this and saying, "OMG, people, this is intellectually fantastic and overflowing with originality, worldbuilding, and heart hidden behind a stoic facade. Don't miss this!"

Fortunately, I can be both. Do yourself a favor and check him out.

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You Sexy ThingYou Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This space opera sits on the edge of humorous foodie hijinx and immense regret and honestly, I don't know which it ought to be.

On the one hand, all the ex-military peeps running a culinary enterprise is fun and I had a great deal of fun with, say, Matt Wallace's mercenary cooks and Steinmetz's Sol Majestic, but while this had flavors of those, I'm not sure it knew what it really wanted to be.

There's a helping of planning and desperation, a core of identity exploration, and even a dash of all-out torture. But most of all, there's a bio-ship, foodie sensibilities, and pirates.

I wanted to like this more than I did. It had the feel of a Becky Chambers a lot of the time and then it keeps shifting gears or even stripping them when it went full adventure instead of foodie-identity. Maybe others will get a lot more mileage out of it.

It wasn't bad but it was sometimes a bit all over the place.

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Sunday, June 20, 2021

She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor, #1)She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

And enter in the next highly anticipated and probably highly hyped novel of the year: a book whose blurb insists that it is a mix between Mulan and Song of Achilles.

The description is pretty dead-on.

That's some great news for people who want more and more Chinese history (or reimaginings of such) in their fiction diet. I've been blessed with reading Kim Stanley Robinson and Ken Liu, so I've actually rolled around in some lush tales lately.

This, however, is a re-imagining of the founding of the Ming Dynasty, and it's very much Silk-Punk without the fantasy (despite my classifying it as such). Even so, I'm ignoring most of that. The tale is the emperor, and for Zhu, a woman who is destined to have no fate, the real story is about spitting in the eye of fate.

I'm all on board for that!

The starvation, the difficulties of being a woman in China, the gender-bending just to survive, and later, becoming a monk-warrior is all very familiar to me. From The Good Earth to numerous kung-fu movies, it's tapping all of that pathos and grand adventure and giving us an epic *fantasy* that is detailed, sprawling, and, oddly enough -- inclusive. But that *is* to be expected these days even if I'm pessimistic about the past.

For pure enjoyment's sake, however, I can easily recommend this for the big adventure and our rooting for the underdog, even if Zhu gets a little dark by the end. It *is* the founding of a dynasty, after all, and these things get rather bloody.

Definitely a good summer read!

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Saturday, June 19, 2021

The Unfamiliar GardenThe Unfamiliar Garden by Benjamin Percy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely love feeling this gleeful after reading a novel. Wickedly gleeful, that is.

First, let me get something out of the way. While the first novel in the series (The Ninth Metal) shares a common event with it -- the world-changing post-meteorite chaos -- it only does so obliquely and both are self-contained. It can be read on its own without any issue.

That being said... Just wow.

It's equal parts murder thriller with an EXTREMELY cautious heroine, a heart-wrenching family tragedy with very sympathetic characters, and an all-out horror by the end.

No spoilers, folks, but this will be a must-have horror/SF for fans of Vandermeer. While it is nicely grounded and beautifully tragic for most of the novel, it goes out on a great gardening limb later on that had me whooping with joy when it got weird. I love weird. I love THIS kind of thing, especially.

In reality tho, I just want to spoil the hell out of this novel and keep chatting about it and icking out about it and ask the other huge questions such as WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE??? because I'm totally on board. I want EVERYTHING.

Yes. You might say I'm very, very excited by this one. Give me more of the corrhizae!!! :)

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Friday, June 18, 2021

The Ninth Metal (The Comet Cycle, #1)The Ninth Metal by Benjamin Percy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an unexpectedly pleasant mix of backwoods good-ole-boys with all their country poverty and an SF-tainted goldrush.

In most respect, the novel is entirely about the characters, their hopes and fears, their sense of belonging, or their need to find justice or even exploit the hell out of people's weaknesses. It's about being a fish out of water. Of coming home to a place that doesn't want you any longer. It's also about the complete and ugly transformation of your home once the sharks smell blood.

And it's also something of a gritty origin story for people with superpowers. But that takes a serious back seat to everything else. Because let's face it, economics rules everything. The rest of us are just trying to survive.

There's a lot of familiar things in this novel. It could very well be a contemporary fiction piece if it wasn't for the SFnal elements that drive the force of everyone's motivations. And the idea of a super-natural meteorite bringing tons of change isn't exactly new, either, but when we put them together, it's a pretty fascinating social commentary and thriller in its own right.

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Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Bride Wore Black Leather (Nightside, #12)The Bride Wore Black Leather by Simon R. Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit that the last adventure was both campy and fairly cool at the same time. Impossible to imagine that this is his equivalent to a stag party, tho, and with so much that happens during this SHORT period of time, it feels like a campaign of war. But that's to be expected when way-too-powerful magic is thrown about left and right.

The things I liked: Proto-hippy-god. I'm sorry, but that just made me laugh. I also enjoyed hanging out with the old Victorian adventurer.

The things I didn't: the little details usually make or break these books. These particular books are all about the big crap coming down without much in the way of foreplay. So I felt more or less cheated the entire time I read these.

But since this is the last book in the series and I can now give it both a thumb up and a thumb down, just know that it has a bunch of great things going for it and a few that make me groan. It's certainly not the best UF I've ever read but the infrequent sparks were enough to keep me reading.

I'm satisfied.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

A Hard Day's Knight (Nightside, #11)A Hard Day's Knight by Simon R. Green
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one really should be read as part of book 10, and that being the case, should be rated together, and slightly better, than either alone.

That being said...

Really? Arthur? Excalibur? The Knights?

Okay, okay, it wasn't totally derivative and it was actually rather fun, all told, with the elves and evil Avalon and all the rest. In fact, that was all some of the best parts of this novel, with a close second coming to Taylor FINALLY returning to London after having abandoned it since the first novel.

Is it just me or did we just lose a ton of great possible storylines here?

Regardless. I was amused, so it's not a complete loss.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny (Nightside, #10)The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny by Simon R. Green
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one seems kinda tired. I mean, yes, Walker is trying to groom Taylor for his job and all but we already got that idea at the end of the previous volume and this book seems to be all about milking it.

It's sometimes funny and I always get a kick out of the wide cast of colorful characters in Nightside, but between some bar tales and a wild goose chase, I'm not sure this one was one of the better ones. It could have been handled a little better.

Not that it was precisely bad... but it was quite predictable. I think we're hanging on by the side characters again.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Ordermaster (The Saga of Recluce, #13)Ordermaster by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The follow-up of Wellspring of Chaos featuring the fall and rise of Kharl the Cooper was quite the ride. I've enjoyed all these novels from the start and have gotten to know lots of different times, peoples, and aspects of magic, social positions, and so on, but this is the first time we got into the rather interesting and complicated distinctions between law and justice.

And it's not even the simple spirit of the law versus the application of the law kind of distinction. Indeed, there's a lot of feeling and fumbling about for the true balance and that is a very nice thing to see in a series that basically rides the question of balance all the way through, leaving no stone unturned.

Other than all this theme stuff, however, I just had a great time with the adventure. It was nice seeing Kharl get his just deserts. And since he's a genuinely decent guy, I really enjoyed how unironic that statement was.

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Monday, June 14, 2021

Fungipedia: A Brief Compendium of Mushroom LoreFungipedia: A Brief Compendium of Mushroom Lore by Lawrence Millman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Know what kind of mushroom you're picking up here.

It's a brief, breezy overview of ALL mushrooms! Best of all, even if all the mushrooms in the book aren't edible, the book itself is quite tasty. It might give you a few hallucinations, however, of their sex lives (some have 26 ways to procreate!) or having that little reminder that you have some on your eyelashes or in your beer or bread or that we have dozens in our gut or that public parks often have a much greater variety of mushrooms than regular forests.

They get around, man. And woman. We're all big, ripe, fruiting spore colonies, yo!

Now, while this book is more of a quick, fun sampler, it DOES manage to whet my appetite to learn more about our worldwide mycelium network.

And, fun fact, Paul Stammetz is a REAL EXPERT on mushrooms in real life, for all you folks who are ongoing fans of Star Trek Discovery. :)

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Just Another Judgement Day (Nightside, #9)Just Another Judgement Day by Simon R. Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Basically, if you like the trope of an unstoppable gunman of god mixing it up in Nightside, you'll enjoy this one. It's an all-out western with Cthulhu cyborgs and lots of god-slaying on the dirty noir streets.

Honestly, I liked most of it but thought the end was something of a let-down. It fits the old trope, but still.

Otherwise, not bad.

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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Wellspring of Chaos (The Saga of Recluce, #12)Wellspring of Chaos by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Strange, this. L. E. Modesitt Jr.'s fantasy does NOT go the route of so many other major modern fantasies. I know this. I've experienced it many times.

And I'm really quite unable to compare it to its contemporaries despite having so many of the same marketing techniques. They are NOT standard. They give us wonderful stories within a full-out history of this world, weaving and interweaving between each other with a different kind of goal in mind. No uber-story. But there is an uber-theme.

Balance. And that's not even that surprising, but as we continue on with this series, we keep seeing new aspects of the same idea, diving deeper into other aspects and shifting, refreshing, viewpoints.

This one goes back to the Order side of things and really blows us away with a true underdog character that goes through a TON of tragedy, underscored by having lived a good life and losing it all.

Honestly, I got rather emotional with this one. You could call me a big fan of this series now.

At all times there is a very huge feeling of calm even in the face of tragedy. Few novels can actively BALANCE us even as it balances the story, but this author has that knack. I always seem to take something very positive out of them.

I totally recommend it.

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Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Unnatural Inquirer (Nightside, #8)The Unnatural Inquirer by Simon R. Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really think these books are hitting their comfortable stride. You can't go far wrong with a supernatural PI badass in a sideways kind of city intersecting with London who does all those hard jobs that no one else seems able to do.

Simple. And Noir. And fantasy. Shake it well and serve with a dash of the Necronomicon, demonic female reporters, and a very special DVD of hell that everyone wants to get their hands on.

It's a fine formula and very comforting and quite amusing. Of course, I'm not really expecting anything huge, but it satisfies on all the levels that count for light entertainment, and that is what I got.

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Tool of War (Ship Breaker, #3)Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Decent end to the series. Frankly, I'm actually rather pleased that it was always going to be Tool being the MC of the series. Maybe I just have a weak spot for beasts trying to overcome their conditioning, of choosing your own pack, but this IS considered a YA for a reason.

And you know what's even better about this?

No romance! Just tearing people's heads off and ripping out their hearts. It's what I always like to see in a YA. :)

Satisfying end. :)

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Friday, June 11, 2021

The Drowned Cities (Ship Breaker, #2)The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This post-eco-disaster world is really starting to grow on me. More worldbuilding, more warrior-bois getting played for chumps even as they crap on everyone, and the cool focus on half-men make it a pretty interesting novel, all told.

And I really enjoyed the main characters a lot more than in the previous book. There is that.

I won't say this is a particularly ground-breaking story, but it was rather enjoyable and the payoffs are everything that you might expect. Survival, loss, getting stuck in a hell-hole, trying to find each other in horrible odds. You know. Adventure. :)

Still worth the read.

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The IdiotThe Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On rereading Dostoyevsky:

There is really no other author that can compare with him. At times wonderfully wicked and funny, other times inexpressibly tragic, sometimes breaking the fourth wall and sometimes giving us so much deep psychological relevance and inner turmoil that we ourselves need to find a sanitorium to recover, his writing is all things and none.

The Idiot happens to be my third favorite novel by him. It is wildly different from Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, having a much lighter, funnier tone than either, but it also exemplifies the truism that bad choices are the soul of great stories.

Our idiot is, by and large, the only true innocent in the tale, beholden to always loving the truth way beyond tact, insanely lucky as only a Fool can be, and as loving of others as only a child can be.

Russia is not equal to him. Indeed, practically everyone is won over by him in equal measure to how much they want to destroy him. Consequently, we have wild soap-opera levels of undying loyalty, protestations, tragedies, and love stories that will rip your heart out and stamp it all over your hamster.

Hamster? Oh yes, hamster. And let us not forget how many monks were eaten in this novel.

I should mention that this is also one of the greats of truly quirky literature, too. :) I still think of it as a fantastic comedy EVEN IF it is one of the greats of utter tragedy. I still can't make up my mind about it. Indeed, I may never be able to.

What a fantastic treat this is! A definite classic of literature. Of course, it is Dostoyevsky. He's in a class of his own.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Hell to Pay (Nightside, #7)Hell to Pay by Simon R. Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is pretty much comfort food. Not particularly nutritious but when it comes to old-school private eye stuff mixed with the unusual supernatural (and sometimes cyborg) madness of Nightside, it's always pretty colorful.

Now that the big action and plotline from the previous books are wrapped up, we dive right into some traditional stuff. Missing girl, deals with devils, gun-toting nuns. You know, the usual. And it's fine. Amusing.

Just don't expect anything THAT original. But it IS amusing and pretty solid.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Fallen (The Outside, #2)The Fallen by Ada Hoffmann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit I was excited to pick up the sequel to The Outside. It was neurodivergent Space Opera with a major touch of quantum physics speculation, godling AIs and Others, massive amounts of head games, and rebellion.

The sequel ramps up the rebellion, or at least the survival aspects of it, increases the head-space of neurodivergent characters, and gives us a world that has been very much changed by people's minds. And I don't mean that in a pithy kind of way. I mean literally.

Good SF breaks a lot of boundaries and better SF runs with the consequences. This sequel is all about the consequences. And while I did sometimes get annoyed that the mental consequences often got in the way of good plot or actual developments, it made up for it with a wealth of side characters that were quite fascinating in their own right.

Of course, by the end of this novel, I'm all... WTH I have to have the next! So there's that, too.

Fun stuff, absolutely need more.

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Monday, June 7, 2021

The Outside (The Outside, #1)The Outside by Ada Hoffmann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 6/7/21:

I just had to revisit the story before diving into the sequel, and it was as good as I remembered. I'm a very big fan of reality modification, dreams, and quantum physics LIES. :)

Original Review:

You know those times when you're super anxious about new (to you) authors you request on Netgalley just by the looks of the cover?

Yeah, well, I think I've just found my second squeeworthy book for the year and I'm going to say just this one thing:

If there's any justice in the world, this book is going to get nominated and rise to the very top of the hopefuls for 2020's Hugo Awards for best novel.

Wow, right? Like, WHY?

It tickled ALL my hot buttons. I'm a superfan of good science, Hard-SF beautiful explorations, quantum computer AIs ascended to gods, and Outsider coolness that quacks like a Cthuhlu duck, walks like a Cthuhlu duck, and chatters with insanity in your ears with hundreds of tentacles and eyes as you just fall down the hole of imaginary numbers made real.

Oh, it has a great autistic scientist female in the lead, engaging in a cat-and-mouse chase with her old advisor who is guilty of unconscionable crimes against humanity and is a heretic of the AI gods.

Who is good and who is bad? Can she trust anyone? Is reality even what it seems?

Oh, yeah. This is the cat's meow. It has all the best features of Yoon Ha Lee's Machineries of Empire with a very different kind of story and flavor. Tentacles, madness, living alien spacecraft, altered reality, timey-wimey stuff... you name it, this has it. :)

AND I JUST EAT THIS STUFF UP. This is easily one of the two most squeeworthy SF's of the year and now I'm a life-long fan of this author.

*Squeedance* *Squeedance*

Let's get this one READ and talked about, folks!!!

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Sunday, June 6, 2021

The Golden Yarn (MirrorWorld, #3)The Golden Yarn by Cornelia Funke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cornelia Funke is rather one-of-a-kind in the fantasy field. I can name only a handful of writers who go this all-out with mythologies, owning them, transforming them, and building a fully integrated worldbuilding for these great characters to play in. It is neither tongue-in-cheek nor a heavy hand in the writing, either.

While these can be classified as YA, enough complexity in plot and depth of emotion is within this to be rather more adult in execution. The pain, the sacrifice, the acceptance, and the rather grown-up choices all seem to scream 'adult' to me. But that's not what draws me to this. It is the deep exploration of so many myths. From the sisters of fate to Baba Yaga to 1001 Arabian Nights to fae to shapeshifters and so much more, this is not a simple sampler of a tale. These all interact in very interesting and complicated ways, and if that isn't enough, we have a greater complication and interaction between our world and the other one. History, artifacts, and complications.

These are some truly interesting books.

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Fearless (Mirrorworld, #2)Fearless by Cornelia Funke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Still going really strong. In some ways, I liked the first better for his trying to save his brother from the curse, but after that bit was concluded and all that was left was a desperate quest to save himself from his own curse, I find myself thinking that book 2 might be even stronger.

Treasure hunting, ya know. Tons of treasure hunting. And between the rivalry, the interesting magics, the Osirus-kind of mythology flooding the pages, I found myself simply loving everything here.

Let me be clear: This isn't an average fantasy. It is VERY rich in myth, characters, plot, and desperate action. I can't even tell that it might be YA although it lists as such. And more than that, it's good across the board. It makes me wonder how much better the original is in German.

This is definitely up there among the best Fantasies.

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Saturday, June 5, 2021

Reckless (Mirrorworld, #1)Reckless by Cornelia Funke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t know what I expected with this novel — perhaps a YA adventure with some cool ties to mythology and an alternate universe, but what I got was a lot more than this.

There’s no time wasted in introducing the characters. We get them thrown into some massive worldbuilding that is tied to all kinds of myths but none of them are heavy-handed. Indeed, but I expected a one-of-the-kind fantasy that has more in common with epic-grimdark than a middle-grade lightweight. Indeed, it was all rather serious and steadily dark.

And when it came to the two brothers, I really enjoyed their story. I’ve always been a fan of cursed conditions and brotherly love, of living through war, of longing, and of sacrifice. This had all of that and more. Of course, it’s the more where this novel really shines. The kind of world that coexists next to ours is not a lightweight. It’s fully fleshed, has a complicated relationship to hours, and best of all, I love the awareness between the two.

I have to say this is one of the better fantasies out there, rich in story, drilled-down exploitation of classic myths, and epic sensibility… all while being, officially, a YA title. It’s not a lightweight.

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Friday, June 4, 2021

Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth (Nightside, #6)Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth by Simon R. Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hello Mommy Taylor. How are you doing? Are you set to drive your legions of spawned monsters upon Nightside, completely ruining EVERYONE's future? Oh. Okay. Well, say hello to your son for me.

Not bad. The full showdown is here, a great huge war with colorful characters of gods, demons, walking mythologies against one of THE primary movers and shakers of the universe. Not bad at all.

It may not come close to being my favorite UF of all time but it definitely has its moments and the big worldbuilding is pretty special.

But frankly, I hope it dials it back for the upcoming novels. Being overpowered rather reduces the stakes.

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Last Stand in Lychford (Lychford, #5)Last Stand in Lychford by Paul Cornell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Well, we all know that big-ass war can come to even the most out-of-the-way small towns, but I'm sure that all these folks didn't count on war with Fae and Angels. I mean, the locals aren't really equipped for this kind of shit. A handful of witches and enthusiastic amateurs kinda makes this a rather over-powered confrontation and a drastic departure from the previous volumes.

But like a lot of wars, it comes on rather quickly and borders WERE a major issue in the earlier ones.

Of course, borders can be consciousness, too, and sideways universes can really give you a bad day.

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The Lights Go Out in Lychford (Lychford, #4)The Lights Go Out in Lychford by Paul Cornell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe I'm weird but this next book in the Lychford series worked better for me than all the prior ones. It was twisty and turny the way that fairy tales are while being utterly aware of what it was doing.

Plus, it really had that evil busybody vibe which I love to hate. So on a purely visceral level, I really liked the results of this novel.

The losses, well. Not so nice. But it was both expected, even if not in that particular way, and it was pretty glorious, so it's definitely a bonus.

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Thursday, June 3, 2021

A Long Day in Lychford (Lychford, #3)A Long Day in Lychford by Paul Cornell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Probably the biggest theme in this one is borders. Be it borders between employee/teacher, Brexit horribleness, or even the borders between the Fae world and the human world, it's always the biggest source of conflict.

Of course, when we get right down to it, be it Brexit or attempting to set up new boundaries in all the other parts of these witches' lives, some responses are just NOT HELPFUL.

A pretty good setup for the next one. As always, these are character-driven and sometimes quite humorous.

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The Lost Child of Lychford (Lychford, #2)The Lost Child of Lychford by Paul Cornell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nothing really says Christmas holiday more than a creepy ghost story, REALLY awkward dating moments, and sort of successful magic with a dose of a cyber fae.

After all, 'tis the season to be royally confused.

As for me, I'm enjoying these short novels. This one is rather more romantic in tone than the other that was all focused on friendship, melancholy, and mystery. The mystery is still there, put to new use, but the lighter tone and the shift of focus is a nice change.

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Witches of Lychford (Lychford, #1)Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here's a bit for managing one's expectations: if you're coming in expecting to have major curses, action, and delightfully subversive prose, then look elsewhere.

If you want a small town with some fae secrets, easygoing and regular characterizations, and action on par with a major vote in the town council, with this kind of speed, then this is a book you'll love. The magic is cool but nothing flashy. The characters take the front seat.

It's light, even if it is melancholic, but it also manages to be bucolic. Well worth the read if this is what you're looking for.

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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Paths Not Taken (Nightside, #5)Paths Not Taken by Simon R. Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this one is a step up from the prior books. From the angry side-quest in the beginning to the main feast of time-travel, hunting the creation (and creator) of Nightside at its very beginning, to the sometimes amusing and sometimes quite horrible moral causality loops with sometime friends and enemies, I found that I was enjoying the whole concept of John Taylor, MC, much more than I had been.

Having some real reveals and serious confrontations helped.

Looking forward to more.

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Dark Sea's End (Beyond Ash and Sand, #1)Dark Sea's End by Richard Nell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Good news, Richard Nell fans!

We've got a new book out and it takes a slightly different turn from the main trilogy while still in the same universe. I'm sure that's going to excite all of you. BUT if you haven't read the trilogy, no worries, because this is also a perfect place to start -- especially when you like the open seas, survival, pirates, toppling kingdoms, and a huge dose of interesting characters.

Did I mention havoc on the open seas?

Sometimes, we just need a little piracy in our lives. And this one delivers.

I especially like the odd inclusions on the deck, but fear not, this crew gets ALL over the place. I'm really looking forward to where it goes from here. Yo, ho, yo, ho!

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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Soulstar (The Kingston Cycle, #3)Soulstar by C.L. Polk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Strangely enough, I was kinda worried that I wouldn't get into this again after the big politics and the explosive magics that capped the otherwise heartfelt and very British down-to-earth feel series.

But Polk surprised me very pleasantly. Again.

I LOVE Robin. The small sequences of magic might be important to the overall plot, but what makes this series really shine is the character's commitment, their drive, their inherent optimism.

And perhaps I happen to be in the mood for optimism.

Either way, this WORKED for me. When we deal with such hardcore topics as state reparations for massive wrongdoings against populations, I was automatically on board for the push, the political necessities, and the sheer value of JUSTICE, ACCOUNTABILITY, and REALISM. Sure, the witches are stand-ins for systemic racism and exploitation, but the fact that so many people are ON BOARD to do something about it is rather reminiscent (and gloriously so) of the 2020 protests.

So yes, I'm automatically disposed to love this book. And it satisfies, too. The trilogy ends on a very strong note and I even had myself whooping for joy.

Sometimes, it just requires a bit of patience, luck, and hard work.


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