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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Broken Homes (Rivers of London, #4)Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read 8/31/21:

Still as good the second time through. Lesley is someone special to me. Maybe that why...

Well, this one is also a hard one to get through. Well worth the re-read, however.

Original Review:

This series seems to be only getting better. The characters are getting more fascinating and the developments are definitely keeping me on the edge of my seat.

London police and a sideline of magic have never felt more realistic. Peter gets to show off a bit of his architectural background this time, too, and I think this aspect was probably my very favorite part of the book.

Architecture has always been a bit magical, don't you think? There's been plenty of literature on the idea and enough evidence to make most people suspect it even if they don't quite admit to believing it. Cathedrals, monuments, and even those atrocities that make everyone wish that they were dead rather than live in them all have a certain charm and flair, no? Good and bad magic. :)

Well, this one brings together a great number of previous elements from the other books and we even get to face the faceless man again, much to my enjoyment. I definitely get the creepy factor off of him and practically everyone here seems to be planning for the very worst.

For good reason, I think.

There are some great explosions and magic scenes, too, but I'll be honest... I come back to it for the in-between parts. It's a real pleasure to be in these people's lives and experience what they experience.

No spoilers, but this one is a real treat. :)

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Sunday, August 29, 2021

Whispers Under Ground (Peter Grant, #3)Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read 8/29/21:

Amusing to see the team up with the Americans once again. Totally fascinating art world, too.

Original Review:

I've mentioned how these books go down as smooth as jazz, and there's a lot of honesty in it, although the jazz bits are downplayed almost entirely in this book in favor of a little traditional artistic murder.

Not that art is being murdered, though that certainly might be the case, or that the artists might be doing the murdering, which also might be the case, or that the murder was done in such a way as to be considered artistic, which is certainly not the case.

But above all, this is a fantastic police procedural with wonderful characters dealing with everyday life on the force, of working around disabilities every day on the job (poor Lesley with her missing face), of being "proper" police with very droll humor, of catching the bad guys.

The magic is just integrated matter-of-fact. Peter's a wizard on the force. Lesley has begun to learn magic, too, but she has a bit more of a drive, I think, with her whole missing face bit. As for the magic bits, they're really rather understated and made smooth and delightful. Magical races are just a part of London and it's really all about building relationships and contacts and informants. This IS, after all, a police procedural. :)

The story is a lot of what you might expect out of one, too, with lots of talking and footwork, but I think what I enjoyed most about the book is the nerdy humor. Our copper Peter Grant loves his Cthulhu RPG, his LoTR, and his sophisticated puking Hermione jokes. :)

These aren't a flashy UF. They're solid and deeply grounded in normal London life. It's very smooth and enjoyable. :) As they say, the devil is in the details, and that's where this shines. :)

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Pump Six and Other StoriesPump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I read Paolo Bacigalupi, I'm struck by the wonderfully precise language, evocative wording, and worldbuilding that is both profound and dead-center. As a craftsman, I find few faults. And when it comes to his science fiction, they're always filled with warnings, starvation, lack, deficit, and how it wrenches something inside of us all. It's completely immersive.

It also made me squirm in my seat.

Almost every story was a dystopia that didn't QUITE feel like a dystopia on the surface because almost everyone was working hard and trying to get on, but either the environment or the calorie crunch or the lost grip on what made humanity (or anything) real just had us breaking our fingernails as we slid into that deep well.

I've come to the conclusion that these are all horrors. Not SF, not dystopia, but outright horrors. They may revolve around ecology or biopunk subjects -- some of these stories are directly tied to his other novels -- and by all rights OUGHT to be called SF in the grandest sense, but their BLEAK outlooks are something else altogether.

I'm very impressed even as I'm deeply disturbed.

Well worth the read, however.

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Thursday, August 26, 2021

BeautyBeauty by Sheri S. Tepper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an interesting book! I honestly just thought this was a medieval fairy-tale-ish take on the original legend of Sleeping Beauty, handed to us with real history, interesting magic, and enough grim to satisfy both the Grim Bros and GRRM.

That's what I THOUGHT, anyway, as I was getting into the tale.

It's a bit deeper than that, however, and it subverts both this cross-genre by tackling MOST sub-genres, giving us a big taste of time-travel, Fae, big-time environmentalism, and even science fiction.

Sound complicated? It isn't, really. It's a tale of a Beauty that lives a full, interesting life of love, discovery, wanderlust, tragedy, opportunism, trickery, and survival. We could call this a feminist tale, and I'm sure quite a few would, but I see it as a very rounded one with tons of surprises. I mean, yes, it's a modern retelling of the classic, but it seems to incorporate a ton more myths than I ever would have guessed at first glance. And the scope and tack of the tragedies are very different than I might have guessed.

This is a very good thing. We, as readers, LIKE to be surprised. I think this one is a wonderful surprise.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Mortal EnginesMortal Engines by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a long-time fan of Lem's Cyberiad, I knew I had to work my way through all of his short fiction. Mortal Engines works as a theme machine focusing almost entirely on fairy tales for machine-life sentience, and I found most of them DELICIOUSLY funny.

It's hard to do humor right, but Stanislaw Lem has the knack. Just mix real wit and wonderfully skewed perspectives and then shine a bright light on our own idiocy. Give it two shakes and perhaps a short song and voila!

People should really not blow off this old Polish master of SF. They are tight, interesting stories that often bridge the inanity of humanity with philosophy, myth, hardcore satire, and the fundamental awesomeness of speculative fiction.

I may not have fallen in love with all of these stories, but way more than half of them will remain with me for a long time, bringing a smile to my platinum-lined face.

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Monday, August 23, 2021

The Ancient OnesThe Ancient Ones by David Brin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yes, David Brin recently wrote a humor SF.

I mean, it being humor is already a hard task to pull off, but what I'm more fixated on is the fact that Brin has put anything ELSE out since Existence or the other short collection in over ten years, and that almost sums up everything in the last 20.

I miss Brin's writing. Of course, this isn't exactly the hard-hitting stuff that I was used to. This is extremely lite-fare that feels like Star Trek had a baby with showtunes, sprinkled with the oldest, goofiest vampire memorabilia, and topped off with a deep look at old folks and young folks and the great abyss that separates them.

It's not bad, but it did feel like an easygoing stroll through slightly skewed fandom with a big emphasis on how old folks feel young, too, and hate the straightjacket of other people's (or alien's) perceptions.

Even I have a hard time taking outright humor all that seriously, and the way this one went, I never quite laughed. I snickered and chuckled a few times, however, but this isn't a classic in any sense of the word.

I wouldn't start here if you're getting your first introduction to Brin.

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Sunday, August 22, 2021

Tomorrow HappensTomorrow Happens by David Brin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Long time Brin fan here. I figured I'd go through everything he's ever written (at least in book format) and enjoy them all as I had enjoyed them in the past. Sometimes, that's what it's all about. Returning to those things that made you happy.

That being said, this short collection (with essays), while being pretty solid in the SF and giving us a wonderful little teaser to how the Uplift Saga began, isn't the best work he's ever done.

It's still fascinating and it gives me all the hard science, wild imagination, and deep drill-downs into consequences of the choices that might be made, including post-singularity stuff, robots, uplifting other species to be on our level, a funny huge-space cautionary tale for those who just wanted to go faster.

On the essay front, there's his normal tack on privacy vs openness, and an essay about Issac Asimov, and how he, as one of the three B's, finished the newer Foundation trilogy. And there happens to be a delightful essay about JRRT and a light-hearted plug for Bored of the Rings which made me want to go get it.

All told, it's worth reading but it still isn't anywhere near his best work. That being said, MOST of his work is fantastic, so we have to put this on the same scale for it to mean anything. I still think the shorts are better than most modern storytellers. So there's that.

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Even Greater MistakesEven Greater Mistakes by Charlie Jane Anders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was actually rather impressed with a number of these short stories. The sheer creativity is highlighted and when the shorts work, they have some pretty brilliant world-view skewing and worldbuilding that is definitely off-center and enjoyable.

I enjoyed most of these. There were, however, a few that were still good for the worldbuilding, but there were a LOT of stories that just seemed to glorify truly hot messes of relationships. Now, mind you, I don't care one way or another what KIND of relationships are described (use a large alphabet soup that goes on for a long time after the standard LGBTQ) but my enjoyment is kind of limited when the number of BAD relationships, slippery relationships, screwed-sideways relationships, and anchorless, random relationships take over the tale.

I'm all... huh, that sounds like some kind of hell and he/she/them is just fine with the insanity. I can't even tell what's going on. But good for them... this insanity isn't for me. I had the same issue with Ander's second novel. I loved the first one. And this happens many times in these stories.

So my takeaway is: It's one thing to represent. but it's another thing to dump pots of hot spaghetti on my head. HOWEVER, for any of you folks who want the wild, take anything you can get from any kind of person who'll give it up, THIS WILL probably be your speed and you'll love it.

Me, I just want good SF.

As Good As New - Easily my favorite of the bunch with a great dystopian Genie twist.

Rat-Catcher’s Yellows - Pretty interesting game setup.

If You Take My Meaning - Carry on with Ander's second novel.

The Time Travel Club - A good drill-down into space travel by way of a funny club.

Six Months, Three Days - Re-read, a classic Cassandra-type story about different kinds of future knowledge and how it messes with relationships.

Love Might Be Too Strong a Word - One of my favorites. Post-human, equivalent alien love story. :)

Vampire Zombie vs Fairy Werewolf - Good mostly for the schlock value. But it IS valuable to fandom. :)

Ghost Champagne - Very eerie and lovely and emotional.

My Breath Is a Rudder - Queer life in SF.

Power Couple - Didn't really do anything for me.

Rock Manning Goes For Broke - Pretty interesting stab at UF.

Because Change Was the Ocean and We Lived By Her Mercy - Great drowned SF story but the good worldbuilding parts were also drowned in way too much drama.

Captain Roger in Heaven - Not my favorite, but props to sexual violence and mental health issues.

Clover - Carry over to All the Birds in the Sky.

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nasty Things - Not SF so much as a regular LGBTQ extravaganza.

A Temporary Embarrassment in Spacetime - Fairly amusing space opera with a humorous vein.

Don’t Press Charges, and I Won’t Sue - Ander's response to 45's rise.

The Bookstore at the End of America - Also a political piece but it's still fun to have books involved. :)

The Visitmothers - A transitioning SF.

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Saturday, August 21, 2021

Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life StoryTotal Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Put simply, if you've ever admired Arnold in any capacity before, you'll have plenty to admire within these pages.

He exemplifies the American dream, worn like a cloak before the camera, and he practiced, practiced, practiced all his lines. It's as convincing as his bodybuilding career and his charming bi-partisan political run as Governor of California. That is to say, quite convincing. After all, he always described himself as an iconoclast who would shoot for the top of any and every field. And he obviously worked very, very hard to get there.

It's the American Dream all wrapped up in a nutshell. And it's made all the more convincing because he seems to really, truly believe it. Of course, the times were right and he immediately diversified himself when it came to being the world bodybuilding champion, getting into real estate and making bank before setting his sights on film, and getting in on the ground floor with James Cameron right after making himself a name as Conan. From there on, it was a huge success story of who you know and this is underscored by how he became a part of the Kennedy family. Arnold is a very outgoing guy and undeniably smart and driven. Having a huge run of wildly successful films made him a household name and he became tight with so many people high up in politics. In retrospect, for someone who just says they WANT something bad enough and works extra hard to get there, it's kinda obvious that he would... assuming that he is also a genius at marketing.

From marketing his body, real estate, public perception, having an in with the most prominent American political family, marketing an acting career, and marketing his politics, it's downright obvious.

And you know what? His autobiography is also a great marketing tool. He's made mistakes and done some questionable things, but he always admits to them and sets his sights forward. It's charming. But more than that, he's had one hell of a run and no one can deny it.

I, however, can't quite settle on the fact that it was all about the American Dream. Maybe it's just me. But there are a LOT of frankly amazing coincidences that fell into place even long before his acting career. Either it was fantastic luck AND hard work or it was a truly ruthless marketing campaign with a lot of help from a LOT of people on the outside.

Of course, Arnold did use the word Schmooze to describe all his networking. It very well could have been all of the above.

All told, the book seems to leave NOTHING out. I think it's slightly over-long on the bodybuilding bits but a lot of readers will have different opinions on all that. I would have liked more movie-talking but there was quite a bit here, too. I had a good time getting to know Arnold, regardless.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Hunting the Ghost DancerHunting the Ghost Dancer by A.A. Attanasio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More of a 3.5 rating, rounded up, but most of that is because I wasn't all that into the prehistorical bits.

And since I knew that before I picked up this book, I mainly read it because I like A. A. Attanasio.

So what's good about this book?

Think Clan of the Cave Bear meets new age mysticism, commentary on Homo Sapiens versus Neadrathal, more mysticism, adventure, and a pretty cool escalation that didn't quite make up for the slow middle-meat of the novel but definitely surpassed it.

The prehistorical bits translate pretty well as straight fantasy, honestly, and the hints of how both species fared, 50k years ago, could very well have turned out that way (interbreeding).

Do I really recommend this book for anyone other than the prehistorical fans? Eh, maybe not, but to each their own.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The PostmanThe Postman by David Brin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a re-read but here's a funny thing: I feel exactly the same about it now as I did when I read it over 30 years ago.

Optimism and idealism spitting in the face of opportunism and cynicism.

I mean, even when you're reading this and the MC IS opportunistic and cynical, the fact that he takes on a ROLE, a MYTH, is enough to spark a light in everyone's imaginations.

Fake it till you make it.

And eventually, all the things he might have been lying about become true.

And after all this, even in today's evil times, isn't this what we need? We're not civil. We're almost barbarians. Civilization is one of the biggest lies and yet, if we all believe in it, it CAN come true.

I'm not even going to mention the movie more than this: the book is superior, has better aspects, and doesn't have the horrible choices of the cast.

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Monday, August 16, 2021

Invisible SunInvisible Sun by Charles Stross
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The good and the bad.

First of all, ya'll should know I'm a big Stross fanboy -- and have been ever since Accelerando and hardly anything he's ever written since then has come off as anything less than extremely interesting. I didn't even have a problem with the Eschaton's get out of jail free card.

However... this book, with some admittedly awesome ideas interspersed throughout, didn't land the way it should have. Even Charlie called it in the apology at the end of the novel. It was plagued by 2020 and the tragic death of his editor and probably a bit of burnout on a massive multiple-timeline alternate history geopolitical nightmare of a tale that was originally planned to be TWO more books rather than this rushed, smaller, single capstone.

Don't get me wrong here. I loved these spin-offs of the Merchant Princes with its Cold War sensibilities and escalations between whole earth timelines where history came out VERY different. The idea behind it and the execution has been pretty awesome. Better than the Merchant Princes originals, even. Machiavellian politics and hardliner misunderstandings about what a NUKE happens to be is a very precious thing to me. Think Renaissance Italy coming up against American Politics with a whole bunch of cold war spies hopping between timelines and you've got a good picture.

So what happened?

This one felt rushed. When we're heading up to not just 2, but alt worlds 3, 4, and 5, with a world blasted to hell in one, and we're dealing with joint ventures to MARS, when there are succession issues in some and all-out military coups in another and things get very, very hairy indeed, I found myself feeling a bit short-changed on the character front. The basic plots were great, the tech and the drill-down of the complications are FANTASTIC and even mind-blowing, in perfect Stross style -- but I gradually found out, much to my chagrin, that I wanted to savor it. I would have been much happier with spending a lot more time with the characters, being reintroduced in a more fluid way, let them find new loves, obsessions, etc, before throwing them into the soup.

In other words, I think I would have preferred two books instead of one short capstone. I think Stross's normally excellent quality got strangled by a time deadline and/or the desire to just FINISH it and move on. I can't blame him, but I can feel pity for the series.

This is NOT a bad book, mind you. I'm being harsh because I've loved the others and just wanted to see it put to bed with all the accolades it should have deserved. I mean, seriously, this is some funky-cool s**t going on. I just wanted more for it.

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Saturday, August 14, 2021

Arms-Commander (The Saga of Recluce, #16)Arms-Commander by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At this point, I have no problem admitting that the formula for these books is not only comforting -- but highly entertaining. And having a female main character getting in over her head and becoming a master tactician and battle-mage doesn't hurt, either.

I think what I enjoyed most about this early chronology book in the land that Modesitt created is the admission, the understanding, that the magic isn't quite magic. That it's high-tech at its core. But more than that, the tales are always about finding a balance in one's understanding, pushing forward out of necessity, and coming to some serious conclusions that usually wind up being quite deadly to all the others who just can't think of ANOTHER WAY TO DO THINGS.

In this case, the misogyny of the land, the brutality against women, and their inability to let women have power. Sure, this is quite timely for us, too, but I keep seeing one hell of a big takeaway here: equality and mutual respect is the only way to do things. Even when you're on the underdog side, even when you think that all things are hopeless, it is RESPECT that is the longest-lasting, the most powerful solution.

It's not enough to keep killing more and more men because they just can't imagine that you're just THAT GOOD. They won't believe you when you say you don't want to take over everything.

Unfortunately, might always does tend to make right. Only respect and understanding have an iota of a chance of changing things for the better.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2021

I, LibertineI, Libertine by Theodore Sturgeon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this mainly because Theodore Sturgeon ghostwrote it, but after reading the full story on how it came to be, I stayed for the practical joke.

Back in the '50s, much like today, there was a huge disconnect between what is "good" versus what is "popular". When a radio show pumped up a fictitious author who had written a fictitious book and asked all its listeners to drum up some serious demand, it got way out of hand.

The book was on the New York Times bestseller list and NO ONE HAD ANY COPIES. Mostly because it hasn't been written. Go figure.

Ah, hype.

Well, this is a classic history lesson for ya'll. The book eventually got written and it was all exactly what you might think it is: free love in stuffy old England. The sensational trial happened. We must assume all the free love and hijinx did, too. Dangerous Liaisons, indeed.

The story isn't bad but it's not one I'll write home about. The hype surrounding it, is.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The  Quantum WarThe Quantum War by Derek Künsken
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Homo Quantus return in the Quantum War, providing us fantastically evolving humans five hundred years in the future. This is a mix of space opera, wartime footing action, and deeper characterizations than straight action.

Whereas The Quantum Magician was more of a heist novel and The Quantum Garden was more of a rescue operation, The Quantum War was more of an exploitation/war-readiness moral quandary issue than either of the ones that came before.

The best parts, at least to me, all revolve around the question and use of the Homo Quantus. At certain times they are highly revered, sweet people with Down Syndrome, and at other times, they're cyborged-out savants that think a thousand times faster than normal humans. And they are forced into war. Refugees, the powerful fearful, and the exploited are all forced on a very circuitous path.

As always, I love Künsken's exploration of what it means to be human. Even getting into SEVERAL new branches of humanity: the kind we create or the kind we become and whatever is left behind. Shake all of this up into some wild, often highly high-brow SF possibilities (damn, I love the possibilities of that Iron) and even some timey-wimey stuff that's only possible thanks to this new evolution.

If you are waiting for some great new Hard-SF that doesn't fear to push those boundaries, then definitely read these.

I do recommend reading them in order even if we explore new characters. It's totally possible to read these out of publication order, mind you, but I got a lot more out of this because I was already familiar with so much of the tech, the cool combinations of AI and Human, and the big stuff on the fringes.

Definitely a fun ride.

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Monday, August 9, 2021

Breaking the Lore (Inspector Paris Mystery, #1)Breaking the Lore by Andy Redsmith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I jumped right into describing this kind of book, within a razor's edge of genre, I would almost always say that I'm 100% on board with the attempt, no matter what. I like this kind of thing.

We've got us a UF setup with tons of magical beasties that hop right past the story foreplay stage because we've all seen these origin stories a million times before, mix it with a huge dose of dry humor that reminds me a bit of a cross between Discworld and Ben Aaronovitch, and then give us a modern cop drama.

On paper, this sounds fantastic. Like Bright without the racism angle. Add an alcoholic local cop who must work with dwarves, talking crows, and centaurs, and lead up to opened magical rifts invading our world on a nice huge scale. Demons versus everyone else. Sweet!

So why aren't I squeeing about it?

The setup is pretty great, mind you. And some of the humor was good. But this book is NOT a master of the small details like Aaronovitch's novels, nor is it as charming. It's also missing a lot of the heart of Discworld. My care meter petered out several times as I was reading this.

Basically, it's not the premise or the story. The problem is just the execution. Of course, when we're dealing with UFs in general, the first novels are generally the weakest. I think this has a lot of potential. It just needs to live up to it.

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Saturday, August 7, 2021

Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True EventsFan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events by Brent Spiner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This MIGHT have had a bit more kick. But as it is, expecting nothing more than what it is, it's not bad.

What do I mean? Brent Spiner, Data of TNG, uses his life as an inspiration to write a fan-gone-wrong noir.

On the one hand, I REALLY wanted to enjoy a humorous romp or a scary ride, and it seemed to be going in both directions, and it SEEMED right on track, but there were a few things that didn't feel right to me.

For one, Brent seems slightly tone-deaf to his fan base. I'm not saying that he should have been anything more or less than what he is, of course, but -- yeah -- maybe I am. Okay. My take: if he, as the narrator, had been completely honest, more self-aware, less wishy-washy about his status as a cult favorite, I probably would have just enjoyed this standard plot for all that it is.

Crazy psychotic fans taking things too far IS a thing, after all, and as far as I know here, Brent did experience it.

But I'm of two minds on THAT as well: A fiction is a fiction and can get away with a lot, but a dramatic autobiography is a dramatic autobiography that might allow us some stretched credibility in the unreliable narrator category.

So which IS this? Some basic facts that are then blown up into Basic Instinct levels? Albeit with a cool one that ties in an awesome ep of TNG with Data's daughter?

I should just let that bit be, let this be what it is. But honestly, while it is far from being bad, I DID want a lot more.

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Billy SummersBilly Summers by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Frankly, I’m always happy to read a Stephen King.

It’s as easy as that.

He never disappoints.

Case in point: Billy Summers could easily have turned out to be a Dexter-like romp or a thriller in the vein of all hit men. It could have turned out a Stockholm-type romance spiced up with a little revenge and moral outrage to get all those types of juices flowing, too.

And make no mistake, Billy Summers DOES have those elements.

But King is a king of subversion when it comes to plots. He welcomes us down those long dark paths, leading us to believe that that monster WILL be down one, but the real monster isn’t there. It’s actually in your back pocket all along.

And I loved it from start to finish. Intelligence, the burden and release of art in a most unexpectedly delightful way, and real connection. I was invested from start to finish not only for the initial hook but MORE for all the wonderful extras.

King rocks.

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Friday, August 6, 2021

Necroscope III: The Source (Necroscope, #3)Necroscope III: The Source by Brian Lumley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just when you think the whole cold-war worldbuilding was just about enough to fill an entire series full of necromancy and vampires that AREN'T UF but epic horror/thriller the way it used to be back in the '80s, Brian Lumley goes ahead and doubles down on the imagination.

Let's not just zip about in the Mobius, talking with the ancient and recently dead, teleporting, body-hopping, or utterly annihilating some of the most bad-ass Lovecraftian vampires in novel form. Let's go ahead and worldbuild ANOTHER dimension, an alternate Earth that had been massively geo-engineered to favor these vampires. Then give our OP MC and son a REAL challenge.


So, yeah. Epic Horror born from thriller roots and fully explored and expanded upon across dimensions. Yeeesssssssssssssss.

The scale never really gets out of hand here. We're always in the mud when we're not traveling the ether. I totally recommend this for anyone who is sick and tired of the UF trope but hasn't lost their love of vampires or Lovecraft.


Sigh. This stuff rocks!

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Thursday, August 5, 2021

Chapterhouse: Dune (Dune #6)Chapterhouse: Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 8/5/21:

Just to be very clear here: Frank Herbert's originals are absolute classics of SF. It's not just Dune -- although that one is superior to the rest -- but all six of these books that should be put on a pedestal.

That being said, the density of ideas, the wonderful interlocked wisdom wafting from the pages, the stunning panorama of future history make an absolutely thrilling ride. This one has a lot less action than, say, Heretics, but the reveals and the implications are enough to utterly transform our understanding of the entire Dune universe that came before.

Unfortunately, I'm caught between a rock and a hard place. Frank was taken from us too soon. All the various ideas and directions did not finalize in this book. We have a very open-ended conclusion that annoys me as much now as when I was 14-years-old. We need the amazing combination of the BG and the HM, the exodus, and the eventual blow-out that would have come with the inclusion of the thinking machines that drove the HM to near-extinction.

That's why we needed those two extra books by FH's son and KJA.
And what we got was nothing near what we needed.

It doesn't change the brilliance of this book or the ones before. It just makes me wish that someone like Brandon Sanderson had swooped in to finish this series in the same way that he brilliantly finished the WoT series.


Original Review:

As with much of Frank Herbert's other writing, Dune excluded, this one is a novel notable and worthy on the realm of ideas. He never stints on ideas. He might get slightly sluggish and lose the thread of the plot while we plod around in the ideas, but there are always great scenes and always great blow-out reveals. The original classic of Dune has none of these faults. It is a classic and imminently readable from page one and is still my favorite book of all time.

So what about this one? Is it worth reading for everyone else? It's book 6 in the very impressive and automatically Epic series that encapsulates over five thousand years from the events of Dune, ending with the centric viewpoint of the Bene Gesserit after the tyranny of Paul's son and the great diaspora that scattered all the peoples of the galaxy after his death.

The planet Dune is effectively destroyed at the end of Heretics of Dune and only a single sandworm and some sandtrout were lifted from the planet to be the seed of a new place where the Spice can be produced. This is especially important after the Bene Tleilaxu were also destroyed or partially submerged under the auspices of the Gesserit after the Honored Matres rampaged through the known universe.

This book takes up the new clones of Teg and Duncan, but mostly revolves around the conflicts between the Bene Gesserit and the Honored Matres. Each side has taken prisoners and tries to subvert the captives. The Bene Gesserit are more than slightly more successful at the task than the "knock-off Bene Gesserit" Honored Matres, despite the others being wildly more dominant and deadly in combat.

What we have is a novel that reminds me a great deal of the later Wheel of Time books with Egwaine in the White Tower, only, I have to point out that Chapterhouse Dune came out first. :) We know that Jordan was a big fan of Dune and stole a tone of great ideas from Herbert, so this shouldn't be too surprising, but rather than a 5-6 enormous spread of books, Herbert accomplishes a success-from-below story in a single novel. :)

The teaching and the subversion is the real main story in Chapterhouse. Don't let the cool space battles and space-opera fool you. This is a story of fantastic women doing fantastic things, the undisputed masters of the galaxy, and a massive conflict between the returning diaspora offshoot of the Bene Gesserit and the mainline that stayed behind.

On that level, it's still a great tale despite my other issues with it.

Anything this complex and full of great observations about human nature, politics, and even love should not be discounted lightly. It's super dense with fantastic ideas on every page and even though it will never be considered a standalone classic, it's a very, very worthy novel to read. Especially in conjunction with Heretics of Dune.

And, I assume, Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune carry on the tradition well since I'm going to plow through them and continue the storyline set up here. :) The cliffhanger at the end of Chapterhouse was a doozy. :)

Let's see if Herbert's son and Anderson make the ideas into something more traditional, eh? I can hope. They've had a lot of practice in the universe before attempting the big one. Herbert's death put a stop to the story and most of us fans were extremely upset. Hell, I remember reading this book the first time in '89 and wishing I could have written the sequel to it. I can't be alone in this. :) I can only hope that expectations live up, etc., etc.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Heretics of Dune (Dune Chronicles #5)Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read 8/3/21:

Returning to the world of Dune, or rather, what's become of what was once a vibrant, vital center of the universe, is always a treat. Even after Leto had seeded himself across the world.

But truly, the standouts are never whom you thought they should have been.

In this re-read, the fourth, if I'm not mistaken, I had almost all of my attention on a certain young BG who was meant to imprint our young Duncan Idaho in his latest of five thousand years of incarnations.

It's strange how our focus changes over time. I kept thinking over and over about her role in the BG beyond the whole intrigue and massive conflict going on with the HM.

Just what IS the Golden Path by this point? True genetic freedom, not just the unlocking of unimaginable powers, but the freedom to spread those to ALL of humanity's offspring? Or is this another genetic trap, a new kind of pressure to make us eventually jump once again?

Just what DID you see, Leto?

Fascinating. Always fascinating. Some of the best SF. Detailed, rich, and dense.

Original Review:

I have to admit that I put this one on the backburner for years and years and years, even though I attempted to re-read the series several times over the decades, I always got stuck right at the end of God Emperor of Dune and something in me just didn't want to pick up the two novels afterward.

This is strange to me! I thought the fifth and sixth books were rather awesome, frankly!

And that's why I'm skipping books 2, 3, and 4 altogether and jumping right back into the books that I have only read once. And then I'll be picking up the series carried on by Anderson and Frank's son following the events of Chapterhouse.

So how did I think this book held up after all these years?

Pretty good! There were a few slow parts, but the one thing that Heretics does very well is the worldbuilding. The Great God Leto II has been dead for 1.5k years after taking a dip in the aqueduct, turning into sandtrout that have now become full sandworms. That means that poor Paul's son has a trapped consciousness inside these gigantic monstrosities after having lived for 5k years. (Since birth+as a sandworm+trapped consciousness.) Freaky cool. And of course, religion has a bit part to play in these books as they always have.

What's most interesting is Miles Teg and the new Duncan Idaho. The similarities between Teg and the original Leto are pretty suggestive and the spice trance doubly so. His little transformation blew me away both times I read it. But Duncan Idaho? The obsessively resurrected clone of the original that has come back nearly countless times over 5k years? It staggers the imagination. Leto II really put him through the wringer, but even after the old god had died, the Bene Gesserit and the Bene Tlailax have turned him into the stage of their own conflict.

And it's these two that really own the stage in this side of the universe.... until the great spreading of humanity came back. :) Enter conflict. :) So good.

This is one of those series that take a lot of dedication and understanding to really enjoy. You really have to get deep into them. But these are very, very enjoyable. This one is very complex and deep in a very similar way to the original classic.

Tons of politics and machinations, and if you love that, you'll love this. :)

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Monday, August 2, 2021

A Little LifeA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I feel like I must be very clear here. I never minded the writing. The writing was clear, evocative, and seemed to always have a lot of emotional turmoil and ongoing conflict -- enough to scream soap opera drama from the skies.

I read it because of all the award nominations and my feed blowing up about how brilliant it is, too. I always try to spread my wings a little bit and go for pieces that are not my usual fare.

So why DID I get halfway through this enormously long book and then decide I'd had enough?

I just didn't care.

Yes, it's nice and all to see such a loving gay couple going through the sexual ringer, having apparently awesome gay friends, learning about their lives and troubles and careers, and watching them be supportive (or not) to each other, jumping up and down the timeline of a whole life so that we KNOW what is to come but have all the in-between bits get more and more reveals, etc., but after a certain point I am OVER the DRAMA. A shorter, MUCH shorter book would have been fine.

But let's put it this way: after 45 references to cutting oneself, 32 references to being long-term sexual abuse in a conversion facility, what seems to be DECADES of self-loathing, regret, and mourning, and then what seems to be the END then just makes me realize that there is YET MORE TO COME.

I'm sitting here, never a big fan of Drama to begin with, being tortured with characters that only slightly tug on my heartstrings, and realizing that this slow-moving, endless slice-of-life drama is never going to end. Or at least it feels like it's never going to end. And this is where I have to ask myself, "Why am I putting myself through this?"

So, I'm sorry, Hanya Yanagihara, it's me. Not you. I already suffer from enough social anxiety and depression in my own life. I'm done.

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Sunday, August 1, 2021

God Emperor of Dune (Dune Chronicles, #4)God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For any of the times that I may have complained about the characters or how I may not have loved them as much as the previous volumes, I have three or four OMG moments for everything else about this book.

The sheer scope of future history is one bit. But I'm all about the reveals about the Golden Path and what it meant for the social, political, scientific, even genderizing the future for humanity.

Or perhaps the fact that Leto II Atreides, the son of Paul, with his prolonged life, transforming into a sandworm, with the opening up of both the male and female genetic bloodline memories all the way back to us on Earth, or his ongoing future prescience, was the de facto SAVIOR of the human race.

... of course, he did it by SQUEEZING it, taking over the Bene Gesserit's breeding program, giving everyone a solid, stable life, SQUEEZING humanity until they just couldn't take it anymore.

Nobody hates peace and prosperity more than the people living in it.

This book is a wonderful testament to both imagination and INTELLIGENCE. Herbert never looked down on anyone and never spoon-fed a single idea.

The same can't be said for the side series.

Look to the best for the best, folks.

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