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Friday, July 30, 2021

The SelloutThe Sellout by Paul Beatty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I couldn't stop laughing as I read this book.

The combination of mind-blowing absurdity, wit, and Chappelle-level self-aware racism and systematic breakdown of the wrongs while turning the entire structure on its head is next-level funny.

I mean, come on, I know I'm f**king white but funny is funny and this is so crazily courageous that I feel like I'm sneaking into all those black comedies in the theater hoping I won't get my ass whooped because crackers don't belong. And if you think I'm being funny, you're right, because I'm white, and that's kinda the point. Now take this book and turn that shit up and turn this poor black town subsumed in LA into the posterchild of segregation -- DONE ON PURPOSE -- for the blacks by the blacks and their betterment. Clearly delineate all those freaking lines. Give everyone a seat to comfortably sit their fat asses on and let folks start breathing easy again. Own the racism that's so systematically ugly everywhere else and call a spade a spade, stop hiding the shit.

The author presents all this in such a fresh, funny, and ass-whooping way that I was frankly bowled over by the sheer absurd satire of it.

Worthless note: The book won the Booker prize in '15.
Another worthless note: It seemed to be overblown back in '15 during the Obama years.
Another freaking worthless note: It's one step away from being our current reality.

There is one great takeaway, however:

Humor can mend all bridges. Or at least, I honestly think so. All this shit that's been going on is a nightmare, yes, but freaking hell, ya'll, humor CAN break anything: even the citadels of the self-righteous.

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Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Armies of Those I LoveThe Armies of Those I Love by Ken Liu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I liked the idea behind this more than the actual tale.

I did LOVE the whole mix between Mortal Instruments and Horizon: Zero Dawn, however. The worldbuilding was pretty big, a post-apoc steampunk melange with people being people. There's plenty of the good and nasty at different points.

But honestly? This short tale ended in a way that I didn't quite like. Alas. Nothing wrong with the writing, however, and Liu is still pretty great.

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Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient EgyptEgyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt by Geraldine Pinch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of all, I really need to mention that this is a good INTRO to Egyptian Mythology. It gives us a good basis for the Egyptian empire, time periods, landscapes, and influences before diving right into the gods and goddesses.

What this is NOT is a collection of stories a-la Edith Hamilton's Greek Mythology. It does have a number of stories from different time periods and gives us plausible morphologies of main gods as they become less important, giving rein to others. Again, this is natural for any society that changes and wishes to distance itself from the past, but I found myself a bit mystified in places.

Instead of delving deep enough to get us invested in Osirus, Isis, Seth, or Horus, it spends, in my humble opinion, too little time on any. And all the other gods and goddesses? We sometimes get little more than names.

This may be just something that I have an issue with or perhaps it's the legends themselves being a bit sparse on details. I'll just assume for now that it's the latter. But I want more.

In fact, I'm thinking I should go right to the source of the big things that we DO have -- such as Herodotus.

Still, it's very readable for what it is and it would be a very good reference material for a new student. So, there's that.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Children of Dune (Dune Chronicles, #3)Children of Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've always held that it's impossible to compare the Dune sequels to the first book but it would be insane to say that they're anything less than excellent in their own right.

It doesn't even matter to me that this particular book was nommed for the Hugo in '77. The fact that we get much more of a look into the hearts and minds of the Fremen, watch the tragedy of Alia unfold with the help of her maternal grandfather, and uncover the secret of the wandering Preacher shouldn't make much of a difference, but it does.

Jessica's transformation is something else. I particularly liked when she became a teacher and when she toyed with her own Gom Jabbar.

But the true stars of this book have got to be the twins. Leto and Ghanima are something special. Almost abominations like their aunt, they both walk a knife's edge and Leto leads the way. She's his rock, but Leto's ultimate choice to follow the Golden Path is ultimately only his to walk.

Mirroring Leto with Paul was amazing in the story. The focus on timelines either forking or narrowing down as more and more choices are made really illustrated how prescience is the ultimate trap. Paul absolutely fell into it, but one could make the argument that Leto's choice is the true tragedy.

A TOTALLY awesome tragedy, mind you, with tons of benefits and an even more explosive benefit for the human race to come -- (this is COMPLETELY debatable) -- but it's still a mind experiment and worldbuilding masterpiece that has continued to haunt me since the first time I read it in the late '80s to this very day.

An excellent SF? Well, to me, it's something of a BENCHMARK.

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Resistance: A Songwriter's Story of Hope, Change, and CourageResistance: A Songwriter's Story of Hope, Change, and Courage by Tori Amos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Back in the dark ages, I became an obsessed fan of Tori and went to two of her concerts. One was a tight little audience where we could see her close up and playing like MAD on two boards, her body a livewire as she poured all her energy, her life, into her music. If I hadn't seen her go through that, I still would have been a massive emotionally invested fan, but after the Pele tour, I became an uberfan. The second was a full stadium for Choirgirl. It was great but nothing could beat my first experience.

I had spent hundreds of listening hours trying to figure out the lyrics of all her albums. I thought I got pretty close.

It turns out, after reading her latest book, part autobiography, part creative resistance, part history and politics, I may not have been THAT close. But she herself explained why she pulled back to let most of her listeners make up their own minds. Good or bad or just another layer, I think that's great, but now that I understand what was really behind Cornflake Girl or Jackie's Strength, my understanding reached a new intensity.

Reading about how and what she went through for her tours, for each of her gigs, and how she tailored EVERY SINGLE GIG, on the fly, to match the needs of her audience, I shouldn't be all that surprised. All the best do that, don't they? But when I remember the two concerts I saw her at, to think that she never once slid, no matter what else was going on in her life, be it grieving or rage at injustice or anything, and gave less than her very best (and believe me, it's VERY good,) I have nothing but the utmost respect.

And those lyrics? Her real explanations for them are truly emotional and harrowing and sometimes uplifting. Getting the lowdown on those are actually mind-boggling. FGM, for one. Or the Kennedy assassination.

As for recommending this book to anyone, let me spell this out:

It might be confusing unless you are a fan of Tori, because she's not only brilliant, she's got that spark that sends her thoughts in strange directions. This is not only a musical book, but a very much political one. It came out in 2020 when the world was watching the lies and liars take over the media and she gave us her own horrific recollections of history as it unfolded. Spoilers: she's not a fan of MAGA or W or Koch. That's fair. Neither am I.

This is a hybrid autobiographical book. Its all these things I've mentioned -- and it's also a call of arms to all artists to KEEP ON USING YOUR ART to create rather than to destroy.

As a freeform artistic expression, I think this book is all kinds of awesome, but like her music, you need to fall into it to really enjoy it. :)

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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Necroscope II: Vamphyri! (Necroscope, #2)Necroscope II: Vamphyri! by Brian Lumley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book, an easy companion to the first, can easily be called an epic horror fest. They're both filled with complex, detailed characters enmeshed in a secretive cold war of esp, TK, necromancy, and truly powerful vampires.

This one, however, doubles down on the vampires, even the ones that have already been killed in the first book. It's not a retcon so much as a loophole filled nicely by some rather mind-blowing necromancy, and the stories the dead tell... well, I won't spoil it, but these little traversals between the living world and the dead are fascinating and provide a very meaty plot.

I also won't get into the nearly godlike powers of either father or son, either, but both are a riot. Add that to the over-the-top gore, nasty Lovecraftian mythos, and the shocking possibilities laid out in either of these books, and I've got a feeling that I'm going to be having a grand ole time from here on out.

Vampire revenge, anyone?

I miss the good old days of epic horror. :)

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Monday, July 26, 2021

Dune Messiah (Dune Chronicles, #2)Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Returning to the original world of Dune has a special place in my heart. I seem to recall that Messiah was written before Dune but obviously Dune was published before it.

Of course, a beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. This every fan of Frank Herbert knows. To begin your study of the life of Dune, then, take care that you first place this in its proper time.

Know then that it is the year 2021 and all the covidiots and Q factions have taken over the universe. What was once an act of glorious revenge against a teetering empire has now become an entrenched tragedy.

Reading Dune Messiah is the tragedy that we deserve. Taken over by religious zealots, icons over careful deliberation, countless dead instead of a stable empire.

But that's where the comparison fails. Paul, unlike any of us, has a much clearer idea of the future, being able to see it, however imperfectly, and he is caught in a web of intrigue and guile and that beautiful sliver of hope hidden in the future that only his eyes see, where only perfidy, assassination, and betrayal seems to be his new bed.

Twelve years after the end of Dune, Alia is a teenager and a bright star. Irulan wants an heir to the Empire, Chani is a devoted but flattened character, as is Paul, as all futures grind down to singular points. The time of crisis comes and tragedy, depression, and horror awaits.

But at least there is a copy of Duncan Idaho. Now a mentat, a tool of assassination -- and a human computer -- his role captures Paul as hardly anything else could have.

Honestly, for years, I thought this one was the worst of the Dune books. But mostly that's because I cared too strongly for Paul, never wanted to see him fall. In actuality, the book is delightfully intellectual and complex, showing us so much more about the Fremen and the pitfalls of a religion-based monarchy and the hellish pitfalls of prescience.

Being a god is not all it's cracked up to be.

And in a moment or two, Paul's son is going to ask his papa to hold his beer.

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Sunday, July 25, 2021

CenturiesCenturies by A.A. Attanasio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is easily way up there on my list of best SFs.

It tickles all my most precious fancies: a massive exploration of what it means to be human and how we might alter ourselves -- or simply be taken over by our better children.

Better than that, the novel tackles a long-scale plot, taking us from a near-modern-dystopia all the way to the farthest reaches of time, universe exploration (and tweaking), and back again to the main theme of what it means to be human.

Now, I'll be perfectly honest, I've read a number of books quite a bit like this already but I don't think there's anything like a glut of it on the market. We're talking about great science, falling down the rabbit holes of drill-down storytelling, the possible (and quite horrible) results of taking certain science all the way to its natural conclusion, and then having to live with the consequences of it.

I could read these all day, every day for a year, and never get bored.

Because when you're talking about creating meta-humans, transhumanism, AIs, next-stage humans, quantum-state humans, post-light humans, collapsing galaxies, con-men, love stories, and saving the universe stories, IT'S ALL RIGHT HERE.

The scale is here. Great characters are here. The effort and love and devotion to this wonderful branch of Hard SF are all right here.

I'll just say this: there ARE some recent SF authors that still carry on this tradition, but most have dropped off the map. This is a big shame. I look back at the 80's SF epics and the devoted following of 90's epic SF that spiced it up while keeping the scope awesome and miss those times. This was right in the middle of that glorious age in 1997 and I honestly believe a lot of really fantastic books just slipped through the cracks during that time. Whether from lack of marketing or upkeep of an author's brand or whatever, a lot of these books are STILL excellent and would do much better now, in today's market, than most of the new stuff coming out.

Maybe this is a weird opinion. Maybe not. But this book is a real gem that shouldn't be forgotten.

Let's lump it in with Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton, Alistair Reynolds, Dan Simmons, and David Zindell, shall we? And add Poul Anderson, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, and Olaf Stapledon.

Old fans will know what I'm talking about. Future History stuff. Big Scope.

Books like these are some of the best that we, as humanity, can aspire to. :)

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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Off the FurrowOff the Furrow by Mark Lages
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So far, I've always been able to expect certain things from Mark Lages with every book I've read: every single time, he always doubles down on the perfectly average white, middle-aged, male. It is generally introspective, usually set within an average family with mild conflicts and everyday issues.

So what sets this apart from anything? Or even the other, similar type novels that were written by Lages?

Off the Furrow. Or rather, if we are going to get slightly less euphemistic about "madness" and call it what it is: existentialist dread and depression, the feeling that life has no meaning. The others often danced around this or were couched in other things like a stay in a hospital, but this one stares directly into the abyss without ever letting any reader go down with it.

This book, like the others, are almost always a light touch. It's meant to be extremely gentle with every truth but it never shies away from any. And in the end, it sets you down carefully and pats you on the shoulder.

I usually never come across books like this. I'm usually slammed up against the wall or maybe that was never the purpose of the book, but this one definitely tries to tug on all those emotions.

Whether it works on you depends on you, honestly. This will not break any boundaries or glass ceilings or even challenge you. But if you want something that makes you feel better about being whomever you are, it DOES succeed in that.

And maybe that's what readers sometimes want.

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Friday, July 23, 2021

The Theory of Moral SentimentsThe Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, there's a lot of good and very little bad with this book. Adam Smith, the same Adam Smith that practically every Capitalist apologist uses as his go-to man to prop up Capitalism also wrote a bonafide philosophy book that runs the entire gamut of morality, ethics, and how people mistake their perceptions of the good for what actually IS good.

This is ironic, considering how many ways the fundamental idea of Capitalism (and not the bastardized and totally gamed version we have now) is considered the Prime Ideal, ignoring the slippery slope of all the bad actors that have turned it into something that only vaguely resembles the observations Adam Smith once talked about. But this is also outside of the scope of this book.

THIS book is a heartfelt attempt to break down popular morality (now hundreds of years out of date) and analyze it against what is actually good.

The takeaway?

His prose is fantastically clear and coherent and his assumptions are remarkably common sense. I found myself simply nodding along to every point and thinking about all the coming-of-age movies I saw as a kid and folding every connection together as if they had always belonged together.

This is a longish book and he makes a lot of points, mind you, but they can all be broken down pretty simply as be good to others, don't get caught up in SEEMING virtuous, but BE virtuous, and your collective society will be better off for it.

Again, NICELY ironic, modern capitalism. And don't forget to not put your thumb on the scales, weaponize debt, or obfuscate the living *uc* out of your business practices, especially when the ones who always pay the price are the ones least able to absorb the cost.

You know, the OPPOSITE of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

LaterLater by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When it comes to King, it's hard to go wrong. If you're reading this deep into his biblio, you're probably just itching to see what else he has up his sleeve and this is NEW after all. So you already know Stevie has something up his sleevey and all us fanboy (girls) are scratching ourselves to see what new character(s) are going to have a really horrible time. We're also in it for the supernatural nasties that will show up super late after so many great characterizations have come our way.

So, with a touch of an Odd Thomas flair, a bit more of the Shining, a nice modern thriller feel, and an *oh my god I love to hate this person* emotionality, we've got Later. Death is not the end. And don't forget, you've gotta let them in. :) :)

I had a great time from the first page to the last. It doesn't get any easier than that.

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If It BleedsIf It Bleeds by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Being an old-time SK fan, there's nothing much more I can say about his stories except that they're STILL awesome, the writer is in a league of his own, and the mixture of real-world detail with supernatural (maybe) dread is what always keeps me coming back for more.

It's simply classic.

Mr. Harrigan's phone - Probably my favorite of the collection, this is a mentor story with a modern ghost-story twist that is intricately tied to growing up. Of course, it's King, so be prepared to sit on the edge of your seat.

The Life of Chuck - Least favorite, but at least it has the end of the world. :)

If it Bleeds - Holly is back and facing down her own demons as well as ... well, no spoilers. A great continuation of the Bill Hodges and Outsider books.

Rat - My second favorite, but I've always had a soft spot in my heart for ALL of SK's writer-in-peril stories and novels since I am a writer, myself. You might say that I learned how to be as messed up in the same way. *scratch, scratch*

Totally worth it.

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Monday, July 19, 2021

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of NationsAn Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After more than half a lifetime of being told that Adam Smith was one hell of a brilliant man and he should be a must-read for anyone wanting to understand what capitalism really means, I FINALLY went ahead and READ Wealth of Nations.

Okay. So I'm a bit late for the party. I've read the Kensians and I've read tons of books on how the Chicago school really f**ked up so many developing nations and I've been a student of the stock market, global economy, and how it directly ties to history. It's a hobby. I learn a lot.

So, was Adam Smith this horribly dry Englishman from the time of the American Revolution that liked to drone on about business?

Hell, no. Or rather, he was a contemporary and he was a student of business and trends and markets, but he was also a very good writer, continually interesting, conversational, and frankly brilliant in the way that a great mentor or teacher ought to be.

And it is brilliant. No doubts about it. But let's keep it real. This is about the Invisible Hand of the marketplace. He illustrates how neither workers nor employers can dictate economic conditions. Putting one's finger on the conditions can lead to serious imbalances and overcorrections.

Of course, he was illustrating these ideas hundreds of years ago and since that time there have been thousands of people attempting to argue or disprove the premise or at least to game the system in such a way that they can pretend to be economic magicians.

But the fact is this: without outside shenanigans, coercion, or fraud, Adam Smith's observations are still as valid now as they were back then.

My favorite takeaway: the Scottish banks and how they began lending out more money than what they had on hand because people were gaming the exchange rates of gold in other countries, and how gold prices, even though they OUGHT to have been stable as a guide of value, suddenly proved to be quite unreliable. And that's not even bringing up the mines and new gold.

This has been an ongoing issue in modern economics, the question of fiat versus gold standard. And it also discusses the fundamentals of fractional reserve and debt-based liquidity. Not in great detail, mind you, but the successes of stocks, freer investments, and trust really underlined the spirit of the markets and even more for the system we have today.

Not surprising, I know. For all the people who keep quoting him and all the people who have probably never read him, he's bandied about as the father of economics. Interestingly enough, now that I've read it, I note that there are a lot MORE people who read into him a lot of heavier conclusions than he would have made, himself.

He was the first to admit that trying to strangulate the market by trusts and coalitions of market makers always tend to create massive upheavals, poverty, and violence. Let me restate that: people who try to game the system in big ways are the very ones who cause the whole system to go belly up.

Profit is natural. So is loss. When systems are created to limit one and enhance the other, it capitalizes and consolidates the inequality. When the Invisible Hand comes, it comes down hard.

That's a natural correction, folks.

This isn't a question of Marxism or Capitalism. Indeed, this is older than either. It's just a natural observation of economics and people.

This review is not a comprehensive review, mind you. I was pretty much enthralled by the read. I learned a lot even if it just overlapped with all my previous studies. But best of all, I think it's a fantastically good and easy read. It's good enough that I don't want a break. I'm moving right on to another of Adam Smith's books right away.

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Sunday, July 18, 2021

Notes from the Burning AgeNotes from the Burning Age by Claire North
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Claire North's new SF is climate-punk without as QUITE an uber-bleak outlook as usually comes with such cli-punk SF. Lots of intrigue, repressed societies, quasi-religious cultural restrictions that summon up the monsters that burned the old world, but still enough technology going around to make this world quite interesting and believable.

I mean, inquisitors, people.

What imagery!

But what we've got here is spycraft, a tightly plotted novel, characters that are quite memorable, and enough twists and turns and harrowing situations that amount to all-out war to fill any kind of cold-war thriller. Only this one revolves around old technologies plummed from the old internet, making a wild combination of translation issues, research espionage, and knowledge-is-power inquisition versus humanist revolutionary thugs... all during a post-climate disaster where most people have died.

It is not only believable but it's wonderfully described and rich enough to make me live there.

I've always been impressed by Claire North and this one doesn't disappoint.

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Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Past Is RedThe Past Is Red by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I came to this latest book by Catherynne Valente (wonderful storytelling goddess that she is) thinking that I'd be reading another short story collection.

This is not that.
BUT. It does have a new incarnation of biggest novelette in The Future is Blue from the collection by the same name, updated and filtered through a new lens. You see the previous story was written through the lens of the 2016 election woes, giving us a very bleak post-apocalyptic eco-punk nightmare for our generations to come. The old story was quite apt, living in Garbage Town and having leaders be named after old, partially expired medications from the world of the fuckwits, (I.E., *US*).

But no worries, folks. This updated version of that tale is much longer, and quite updated to show us a little hope through the much darker lens of our PRESENT day. You know, the day that just keeps laughing at 2016 because we JUST HAD TO TELL IT TO HOLD OUR BEER.

The story is quite an upgrade. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised or even displeased if it became a full novel eventually. Valente has wonderful SF. Clever, detailed, gloriously vicious. And, just so we don't grow so complacent, she makes sure that we taste the full spectrum of emotions including happiness, and even hope when by all rights we really shouldn't have any of that.

One little note: I LOVE that little lava lamp. You'll know what I mean when you read it.

All in all, this is the superior tale and yet I still don't have a problem re-reading the parts that I had just read in the previous collection. It's just that good.

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Alien CargoAlien Cargo by Theodore Sturgeon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For those of you who have never read Theodore Sturgeon, you're missing out big time. Early SF had its share of stinkers and a few bright authors like Asimov and Heinlein but when it comes right down to it, few writers were admired by other writers quite as much as Sturgeon.

Crisp, totally readable prose dealing with many psychological conditions, alien minds, madness, and above all, hope in difference.

Long before the diversity question became mainstream, Sturgeon was writing about what made people different and special and extraordinary even when the rest of the population misunderstood or threw them away.

I'm absolutely certain that he would be a very popular writer in today's market, not only for his fundamental optimism and in-depth exploration of what makes us tick and what makes us awesome (when no one else seems to see it) but also because it's a near-perfect antidote for the world of crap we live in now.

Most of these came out 80 years ago. You wouldn't think they would be so timely today. But they are.

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Friday, July 16, 2021

The Future Is BlueThe Future Is Blue by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When you boil it right down, Valente is an extremely creative artisan of words. I've known this from the first book I read to the umpteenth. She is not only consistently gorgeous, but heartbreaking, clever, blisteringly droll, and shockingly original, but she also impregnates every tale with so much heart that it bleeds, cries, and even commits suicide.

Mind you, that's a GOOD thing in stories. All those old beginnings, middles, and ends in NORMAL stories are like little moths to the great searing flame that Valente sparks in her stories.

Do you think I'm going a bit overboard? Well, maybe. But no one can deny that that most of these stories push all the envelopes. They range from deep fantasy in quite unusual and wordplay-rich worlds to hard SF (these are often my absolute favorites) that intermix very rich mythology with bleeding-edge tech that makes me bleed forever.

Am I pleased? Thrilled by the poetical, lyrical treatment of my favorite genres? You better believe it.

This limited edition does carry a number of stories that have been printed in other editions, but let me be frank: each story is a joy to re-read.

My favorites?

Down and Out in R'lyeh
Snow Day
Planet Lion
The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild
The Beast Who Fought for Fairyland Until the Very End

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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Shadows of EternityShadows of Eternity by Gregory Benford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interestingly enough, if I had read the post-script before the novel, I probably would have gotten into the tale a bit quicker.


Because it's an ongoing conversation with the writer Poul Anderson and his future history, concepts of future history, aliens, and where we might go as a species. And being a fan of Poul Anderson, I probably would have been much more enthusiastic. At least, I would have had a better idea where this might have gone.

As it is, this is not a short-term SF adventure featuring a simple librarian in space. Librarian for an alien archive, that is. What we actually get is snippets and adventures across decades and decades and then much further on down the line as humanity grows and learns and gets more involved in its own long-term survival.

But honestly? I didn't care so much for the MC. She was okay. The problems and the discoveries and the long-term SFnal ideas were much more interesting but that usually isn't entirely enough to hold a tale. Even if I wish it were so.

All told, I still found it enjoyable enough and don't regret it at all. Long-term adventure is pretty awesome, after all.

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Monday, July 12, 2021

All the Murmuring BonesAll the Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Angela Slatter happens to be one of my favorite dark fantasy authors. So careful, so lyrical, and absolutely brutal when the occasion requires it. And it DOES require it here.

I'm used to peculiar girls and peculiar women doing small things to help others, little magics, great injustices performed on them. This is Angela Slatter, after all. A full long life in the Bitterwood series usually means a bitter existence. But there's also the revenge to think of, and I loved the revenge.

This new book of hers takes it easy and slow, building on an old family and a decaying lineage with a dark secret. Very gothic, and later, quite mythical. Merfolk, mystery, kelpies, curses, and blood.

I'll be honest. I loved her short stories and novellas a bit more than this longer tale, but it has all the feel of the other stories with a rather more extended feel. But what it gives up on carefully crafted emotions and situations, it does gain on plot.

This is definitely one of the classier novels of the type.

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Sunday, July 11, 2021

Based on a True StoryBased on a True Story by Norm Macdonald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book practically sold itself because -- NORM MACDONALD.

Fact: if you like Norm, you probably don't like anything else because you have a malfunctioning sense of humor or you're Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy. Or you're just twisted, appreciate people who just don't give a shit, or you also have a deadpan affect and this kind of shit makes you supremely giddy because you've finally found someone else who others hate as much as they hate you.

Well, I'm here to say I also don't give a shit and I laughed out loud many times during this absolute farting farce of an autobiography.

Not all of it, mind you. I did love everything that wasn't all about gambling. Unfortunately, the book is almost all gambling, so I guess I hated the book.

That is, I hated the book until I realized it was all made up-bullshit except for the bits about Lorne Michaels using Norm as his hook up for liquid morphine. I'm sure that's true.

Honestly, this book made my day. After all, dry humor is my favorite dry hump.
It ought to be much better than it is -- but I'm used to disappointment. Yes, yes, I know. Don't encourage me.

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Mage-Guard of Hamor (The Saga of Recluce #15)Mage-Guard of Hamor by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is proof that predictable, repeatable stories are NOT a bad thing. Yes, sure, this is something of a duplicate of many of the prior tales that came before, but the fact that I'm ENJOYING it is quite undeniable.

The entire read was engrossing and familiar and exciting. Epic fantasy with heart, violence with balance, a deep respect for order even when the entire nation is thrown into civil war. It's really hard to describe so as to do the writing justice.

Unlike the first one in the duo of books, this one is mostly military campaigns. L.E. Modesitt Jr. does them very well. It's all fantasy, big magics, tactics and battle heat, and above all, balance. There's even a minor romance subplot that is rather sweet.

His full series, if you've gotten this far, is unique for its worldbuilding and span of interlocked history, thousands of years and even some altered landscapes (thanks to huge battles) and budding fantasy historians will have a great time placing all of these books in their proper place.

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Friday, July 9, 2021

Natural Ordermage (The Saga of Recluce, #14)Natural Ordermage by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rahl, a young scribe eventually ousted from Recluse by being an untrainable natural Order Mage, a danger to everyone around him simply because the magic comes too easily, too uncontrollably, is the main focus of this tale.

So much of the kinds of storytelling that Modesitt tells follows a very specific pattern: there are lots of gentle, mundane details in these everyday lives. And excellence where we least expect it. And a calm, curious, and balanced mind even when the rest of the world might be downright evil or cruel.

In almost every instance, there is a requisite humble character who rises steadily to the top of his profession/trade/legend.

It's a common, well-worn path. But there's something more about this that I must bring up: Is it a time-saver for the storyteller? Or is it a fundamental aspect that is unique and required for every great mage or mage-engineer on this planet? Does the personality create great mages, or is it just a winning strategy for the author?

I just can't tell. For one, I ENJOY each and every one of these stories. It's comforting, balancing, and fills my heart with hope and calm. That isn't to say that there aren't really exciting and interesting stories. It that the main characters behave logically and with balanced hearts even when they're abused, mind-wiped, or generally trodden upon. It's quite nice to experience.

So what about Rahl and his story?

We're in a society/later time from most of the novels, in a large society that has learned to incorporate both chaos AND order mages in something resembling harmony. It's quite interesting to see the pitfalls and the intrigue and the injustices from this angle. And it's also fun to see how he gets around them. Or how he's completely unable to.

This is both very familiar territory and utterly delightful. I can't recommend this series enough, especially if the reader needs this kind of internal balancing act in their lives. It's just so ... healthy. :)

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Thursday, July 8, 2021

Another Time, Another Place (The Chronicles of St. Mary's, #12)Another Time, Another Place by Jodi Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just when you think it's safe to step into a gaggle of historians getting ready to blunder their way through history, we're introduced to a lot that's even WORSE than our intrepid pissers in the timestream.

And don't even get me STARTED on that huge, overweight ass of an ending. I've got myself tearing my hair out wanting the next book with that kind of cliffhanger.

I'm telling you, IT'S NOT FAIR!

Pushing all that aside for just a hysterical second, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed romping through the timeline here, even if some rather atrocious things happen to the crew. And the injustice of it? I really enjoyed where it eventually took Max. Sprinkle in a bit more haberdashery and skullduggery and a hefty splash of the dark side, and I have to say that this one happens to be one of my favorites.

Let's not examine too closely whether or not I feel this way because I've already been invested in it... after all, I just don't care. Fun is fun and this definitely fits the bill. And btw, it's even better having read the time cop novels by her. :)


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Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Necroscope (Necroscope #1)Necroscope by Brian Lumley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My expectations were blown away with this. Can you actually believe I thought this might have been some B-level light horror?

Indeed, it actually pulled off something rather spectacular. Look beyond the vampire mythos for just a moment and see the setup: decades of years in a cold-war spy setup with people using ESP, clairvoyance, and necromancy. Get deep into the Russian camp and feel yourself get sucked down the dark side, step by step seduction to the darkest paths. And get fascinated by his opposite, a person whom the dead love and whom they'd do anything for.

The eighties were a very special time for horror books. They all came in wonderfully large packages, exploring amazing levels of characterization, slow build-ups, and action that turned them into epics in their own right. It's not just King who did it. McCammon and Simmons are a couple more that come to mind.

I don't know why the practice died off. I'd LOVE to see huge horror tomes again.

At least I can still taste those that were already written. Lumley is a great surprise and definitely pleasing. I don't even care that it's cliche stuff. We're given a lot of time to settle into those roles and I cared about the characters.

Ah, the 80's horrors... *sigh*

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Monday, July 5, 2021

FiascoFiasco by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stanislaw Lem is a treasure in the SF field. This Polish SF writer had a long career and an extremely sharp mind that consistently outperformed just about anyone in sheer wit, complexity, and depth of ideas, and truly thought-provoking intellectual tales.

You know, intellectual tales that happen to have resurrected racing pilots on Titan, shipboard computers that aren't constrained by Asimov laws but are truly on the path of interdependence with humanity, and situations that shatter the concept of Star Trek's preponderance of the Prime Directive.

Please don't mistake me here. This particular novel goes well beyond the call of any SFnal duty by giving us a first contact scenario with us reaching an alien world that NEVER becomes cliche. Indeed, Lem is fully exhaustive in great hart-SF science, complex and rich Game Theory analysis, and even very thoughtful philosophical backtracking and out-of-the-box thinking.

I RARELY see any science fiction go this out of its way to explore the REAL complications of communications and warfare while consistently sitting us in the center of our own humanity, immersing us so deeply in ourselves that we are trapped by not only our logic and our instrumentality, but we're trapped by our own biology.

Sound like a good philosophical premise? Especially when it is housed in a great story that seems so perfectly rational -- and truly horrific -- that the philosophy is subsumed deeply within the tale until it jumps out at us and tears us to shreds?

Let's just say that this is up there with some of my absolute favorites. Hard-SF by a true master of SF.

It happens to be his last novel, but for anyone who has had the pleasure to read his Solaris, know that it might very well be better, too.

That's saying a lot. Solaris is one of the best grandmaster SF's out there.

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Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Final Incoherent Adventure (Bill, The Galactic Hero, #7)The Final Incoherent Adventure by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

All told, this might be the worst of the series, but I'd still ignore the title to give you any hints as to its contents.

It's not really incoherent, but there is a difference between the first Bill, Galactic Hero that was written during Vietnam and a successfully pulling off a Catch-22 satire and revisiting Bill, Galactic Hero during the First Gulf War. Sure, the two were written during both conflicts and directly reference both with wordplay and satire, but this one somehow came across more as sadness.

That's not to say that there isn't a lot of strong attempts at humor, however. There are plenty of manly man things going on that are pitch-perfect with the absurdity. And there is a stark bare minimum of intelligence (and sometimes below the minimum!) in all things. Farmers, armies, heroism, and all the stupidest reasons for doing anything are showcased.

And yes, I remember, my emperor loves me. ;)

The book isn't horrible but did rather fall a bit flat and squirmy to me.

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On the Planet of Ten Thousand Bars (Bill, The Galactic Hero, #6)On the Planet of Ten Thousand Bars by Harry Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Classy setup for this humorous lambast of SF. I mean, if you're going to be a big dumb military man that has never had leave and you're stuck with a big grey brick for a foot (not really an upgrade from his other big lizard foot,) then I'd personally get really psyched to volunteer for a mission on THE Planet of Ten Thousand Bars.

With a drunk as your expert companion.

Yeeesssss... but of course it goes feet up. Between time-travel hijinx, the Planet of Death, time-nazis, and Aztec gods, we know this working vacation has gone to hell.

I'm seriously liking this later Bill the Galactic Hero novels better in these later stories.

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On the Planet of Zombie Vampires (Bill, The Galactic Hero, #5)On the Planet of Zombie Vampires by Harry Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm usually slightly leery of authors who team up but I don't know why that is. In a LOT of cases, it produces some quality work. Like this one.

I'm back to liking this series at the same level that I once liked it. Not much juvenile humor this time but DEFINITELY great for fans of any kind of funny starship mutiny. Can never trust the brass.

But more to the point, the series sets its eyes on classic SF tropes such as vampire armies, old-school zombie treatments, and an Alien invasion (as in the franchise). All this hits much more spot-on than in the previous volumes and I grinned more, too.

Big dumb draftees, unite!

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Saturday, July 3, 2021

On the Planet of Tasteless Pleasure (Bill, The Galactic Hero, #4)On the Planet of Tasteless Pleasure by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one was a bit better than the previous book because -- I admit -- I really got into the Zelazny tech-gods bit and some of the western aspects spread throughout. It tickled my funny bone.

But there was something that, while tickling my 12-year-old inner self's other funny bone, didn't age quite so well. It was a super-testosterone freakfest-turned-alien. It WAS funny for my 12-year-old self tho. Sperm jokes abound.

It's totally lowest-common-denominator stuff -- but sometimes it really IS funny. And I'm certain that it would probably not go too well with the modern book sensibilities. Times change.

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On the Planet of Bottled Brains (Bill, The Galactic Hero, #3)On the Planet of Bottled Brains by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So. This is definitely a sign of its time. It's all light SF adventure harkening for the golden age but using it's comedy in the service of fan service. Trekkies are this book's fodder, this time.

That being said, I DID like the trekkie humor. Derivative, sure, but corny goodness usually is.

And then there are the bottled brains, matrix-like simulators, AIs, and body-hopping babes. (That is NOT what it sounds like. Really.)

Still, we get an interesting spread of action, space-opera, time-travel, and sometimes smirk-worthy scene-comedy. I wouldn't really recommend this to anyone except those who like period comedy. Fortunately, I grew up around this time, so it's a blast from the past.

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Friday, July 2, 2021

The Planet of the Robot Slaves (Bill, The Galactic Hero, #2)The Planet of the Robot Slaves by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Okay, maybe this isn't quite the scathing satire that the first one was, and it doesn't really hold up on a re-read (after many, many years,) but if you're looking for less social-issue satire and a direct lampoon of the then-modern SF tropes, like skewering McCaffrey's dragons, or making fun of ooold classics like John Carter of Mars, or even throwing in a little arena action leading right to King Arthur to round out your chuckle-meter (or the groan one), then this is still a light-hearted adventure with plenty of old-style easter eggs to point and snicker at.

Obviously, it's better if you know the SF field of the day.

But does it hold up now?

Yes, with that pretty big caveat: It makes fun of the sexism of the day, has a grand time calling every military type stupid, and none of it is very sophisticated. It is, however, self-aware and subversive with its own points. (The sexism underscored its opposite, as did the times where the military was quite smart, and the apparent sophistication, when scratched, became fairly subtle. But first, we had to enjoy it enough to get there.)

Frankly? I don't think it would hold up well today. You'd almost have to be a scholar of the field to eke out an appreciation for it. But for its time, it wasn't bad.

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Bill, The Galactic Hero (Bill, The Galactic Hero, #1)Bill, The Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I simply had to revisit this series after recently come down from my Stainless Steel Rat binge.

For one, the humor is a bit more biting in this one. Satire? Absolutely. A bit catch-22 while dunking on Starship Troopers and having a jab at Trantor's city planning. (Foundation, ya'll!)

But best of all, this mid-sixties book lampoons all the rah, rah military, revolutionary leaders, bureaucracy, and plain-ole-stupidity. It's fast, has a light touch, and speeds through all those baddies like a bullet through paper.

Just be careful of winding up with two right hands. :)

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Rolling Thunder (Thunder and Lightning, #3)Rolling Thunder by John Varley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First off, the book is a great and delicious tribute to Heinlein -- but updated. That's true for all the books in this series. He outright admits it and names his character Podkayne (as in Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars. But don't get this mistaken for some fan fiction. Varley is a fantastic writer.

He tributes mostly to Heinlein's Juveniles (YA) but there are some great digressions that give the heave-ho to some of Heinlein's later social commentaries, be it nudity taboos or dealing with unexpected windfalls or even music appreciation. Light stuff. Fun stuff.

But since this is also a cool light-hearted and light-touched adventure, we get to head all over the solar system and get into trouble and play music and eventually find ourselves in a VERY different kind of book from her grandfather's little adventure or her father's role in the martian revolution. Podkayne is her own woman. 6'4" and intimidating, enjoying life and love, and generally not giving a damn.

The whole thing gets kinda wild in scope and I loved it.

But here's a problem I ran into. Just like the first book had come out in '03 and this one came out in '08, I kept reading them, going, HEY! I know this stuff. Even the same names. Some of the same situations. Even the same tech described in the same way.

I was thinking, a lot, about the James S.A. Corey writing duo. The ship efficiency side-story. The politics on Earth, the conflict between Earth and Mars (not precisely unique, of course, but these very close details keep cropping up) all the way to how Podkayne's personal spacecraft was called the Rocinante. And there's a lot more, too. But here's the problem: when there are SO many things that overlap like this, even down to the name of the ship, I have to point out that this book came out three years before Leviathan Wakes.

The tone between both is very different, of course, but it's like looking at the difference between Moorcock's Elric series and The Witcher. Once you see just HOW MUCH is the same between them, it's hard to un-see.

Varley's a great writer that ought to be a LOT better known. He's entirely honest, too, and a great read. I just find it really hard to understand why he's not uber-popular. He's up there with some of the best SF and he really knows his stuff. Lovingly, even.


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Thursday, July 1, 2021

Red Lightning (Thunder and Lightning, #2)Red Lightning by John Varley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As sequels go, when we jump a generation down the line and see how worlds have changed with the new technology, this isn't bad. It's a different kind of beast from Red Thunder.

That being said, it still focuses on character, relying more heavily on the mad scientist mcguffin than before, but that's merely to resolve the plot. I'll call that handwavium.

On the other hand, the full content of the novel is very much a coming of age with some rather heavy scenes that include some horrible disaster relief, so bad that it felt like a dystopian novel, all the way to greedy a-holes trying for power grabs between two planets.

Yes, this is an adventure that pulls off the now-traditional Mars revolution motif. Fortunately, it's also written well and light and still pays beautiful homage to Heinlein. Updated, of course. I very much recommend this for all you SF junkies who want a taste of that.

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