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Saturday, December 31, 2022

Glory to the Brave (Ascend Online #3)Glory to the Brave by Luke Chmilenko
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This followup LitRPG was very satisfying. Not only did we ramp up and find other adventuring guilds and have wide-map scouting and war bands with hundreds, even thousands of players, we got a full World of Warcarft siege war.

All within a solid, middle-of-the-road, fantasy adventure.

Everything about it is familiar if you're a gamer, but that's no surprise. This whole genre is here to give us all exactly what we want. Level-ups, raid formations, loot grabs, crafting, and war, war, war.

Happiness. :)

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Jack Frost: The End Becomes the Beginning (The Guardians, #5)Jack Frost: The End Becomes the Beginning by William Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to say that I think I like this final book of the Guardians better than all the rest.

I'll be honest. I didn't think I'd like all of these as much as I did. The introductions of each Guardian were charming and friendly and Pitch was an increasingly more tragic figure. It got really bad in the last book.

This one, however, anchored all of us in the myths and stories we now know each of the guardians by, including Jack Frost, himself. And this one is more than just an introduction. It's more of a vindication and a love story and an epic end for all of it.

My girl and I read them all together but she said of this one: "It's so emotional and sweet!"

I have to agree. I'm very pleased with the myth, mythos, and Mythosphere. I believe, I believe, I believe.

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Thursday, December 29, 2022

Legacy of the Fallen (Ascend Online, #2)Legacy of the Fallen by Luke Chmilenko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Frontier settlement LitRPG goodness. It's not just dealing with other player characters, but resource management, raids, exploration, and couple cataclysmic events waiting in the wings. :)

Solid, enjoyable, and it feels totally like I'm playing Skyrim for pain-loving adults with a little Forgotten Realms in the mix.

No, it's not the best LitRPG I've ever read, but it was still quite fun.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2022

December ParkDecember Park by Ronald Malfi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Solid sprawling horror YA in the vein of Boys Life and IT, only updated for 1993. It's a mystery with a ton of kids going missing, yes, but mostly it's a slice of life and a full nostalgia pie.

Definitely worth reading if you need this kind of thing in your life, and I did.

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Monday, December 26, 2022

Hell to Pay  (Ascend Online, #1.5)Hell to Pay by Luke Chmilenko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A nice side adventure in the LitRPG, exploring the thieves guild and moral quandaries while mainly just going full-bore revenge and mystery and rage.

If you're thinking Elder Scrolls thieves with a bit of true underworld action (hell), then you've come to the right place. Popcorn fun.

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Hell to Pay  (Ascend Online, #1.5)Hell to Pay by Luke Chmilenko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A nice side adventure in the LitRPG, exploring the thieves guild and moral quandaries while mainly just going full-bore revenge and mystery and rage.

If you're thinking Elder Scrolls thieves with a bit of true underworld action (hell), then you've come to the right place. Popcorn fun.

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Saturday, December 24, 2022

Ascend Online (Ascend Online, #1)Ascend Online by Luke Chmilenko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Middle of the road LitRPG, or totally solid for what it is. It's a standard game filled with massively multiplayer role-players and all the normal stupid greed comes out as well as the altruistic heroism.

Leveling up is pretty standard, as is the enjoyment.

As for me, I think this is absolute comfort food. All the game, all the adventure, for less of the time investment. :)

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Friday, December 23, 2022

The Jasmine Throne (The Burning Kingdoms, #1)The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even though this book had a lot of very cool elements in it, having Indian (not Native American) culture in it, a very evocative type of plant-based magic that I really quite love, and some pretty great emotional scenes, I have to admit that most of the book reads rather middle-of-the-road when it comes to epic fantasies.

Sure, there are the star-crossed lovers with complicated political realities, an almost pre-requisite LGBTQ+ romance, rebellion, and empire-building, but all of this is only as good as the execution. The pacing isn't always there, but it is still rather good.

When it comes to certain characters, however, I feel like we're getting into the territory of certain modern carbon-copy male anti-hero machinations. I won't get into it here, but I see this kind of thing a lot in modern fantasy and it's awfully tiring. What can I say? I like the idea that all people are gloriously complicated, beautiful, and ugly. I don't like to see these kinds of new stereotypes being spread as gospel in every new fantasy I read. Maybe I'm just too sensitive, or maybe I read too much and therefore see a much larger trend. But the trend is real and it is disturbing and alienating. It's almost like men are being told they ought to be excluded from modern SF/F.

Other than my obviously personal problems when it comes to this class of novels, this particular novel WAS enjoyable as a whole. The other, smaller issues merely reduced my enjoyment. You know, like reading fantasy from the '70s with cardboard female cutouts -- I have a lot of issues with that, too. Take what I say with a grain of salt. Neither side is all that good.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2022

AmmoniteAmmonite by Nicola Griffith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On my way to work through all the nominations for SF awards throughout the years, I finally ran into this little feminist speculative gem from the early '90s.

Upon finishing it, I'm struck by a few notions that feel rather obvious to me but maybe aren't for angry feminists in the SF field before the '90s.

Put simply, women are regular people full of all the same flaws as anyone and the whole point of this novel is to underscore that point. After all, there aren't any more men on this extra-solar planet thanks to a nice virus, and all the crap that befalls all of them is entirely on the women's own shoulders.

No men to complain about. All the superstitions, revenge-baiting, sex-drives, sweet carings, knowledge-lovings, murder, and barbarity is all their own.

As for me, I'm like... okay? So what? The message always seemed pretty obvious. People are all f**ked up. And yes, I include anyone of any gender or orientation. We're all the full spectrum of f**ked up.

So, I guess kudos for being fairly early about it, except I'm used to Alice Sheldon and Mary Shelly and a ton more, besides.

The adventure in this novel is still pretty good. It's about culture and discovery and it's pretty emotional. As an SF, I was pretty invested in the weird bits of the virus and the deep look into the adapted cultures and the way they reproduce without men. This part was rather interesting.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Ordinary Monsters (The Talents Trilogy, #1)Ordinary Monsters by J.M. Miro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Far from staying in England, or rather, indeed, this Victorian-era fantasy travels around the world spending a lot of time doubling as a delightful period travelogue. If you like slow, immersive, and very character-oriented novels, this will be perfect for you. If you like people with mild or mysterious supernatural powers in this same setting, then it will be even better.

Our heroes are plagued by a slow-burn supernatural chase while we're treated to a slow unveiling of personal histories and eerie magic. There are a few nice plot twists but the pacing is deliberately slow and attempts to be very atmospheric.

Honestly, the atmosphere was mostly pretty good and the characters were better, but I do need to warn potential readers that they shouldn't expect enormous changes. This book is laying down the groundwork for a long haul and either you fall in love or you don't.

I've read a number of books similar in flavor to this and almost all of them blew me out of the water in their own particular ways. This one feels more like a creepy, slow, dark middle-grade YA with adult elements, almost with a Something Wicked This Way Comes feel.

It's definitely worth checking out if this is your thing.

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The Christmas PigThe Christmas Pig by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My daughter and I read this together this year, just in time for Christmas.

Her review:

This was a very heartfelt story that got me hard. I was reminded of my own Big Bear, with its matted hair and old scents, and I freaked out when I thought about losing him. I freaked out a lot.

I was also thinking how necessary it is not to fight with your sister or your friends.

I loved the story and happy it ended the way it did.

My review:

I was extremely anxious as we read it because I knew this would be a massive trigger warning for my girl who absolutely adores her Big Bear. Imagination is a bitch.

I was brought to tears several times and I think it worked really well on multiple levels. I thought of Cat Valente's YA a bit as I was reading this, and it's all positive. :)

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Sunday, December 18, 2022

Implode (The Completionist Chronicles, #8)Implode by Dakota Krout
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I can't say this was the best of the series, I can say that I'm always amused by the level-ups and the wordplay.

The whole series has definitely gotten more silly. I don't mind that. The humor is quite welcome. The adventure, however, is also pretty silly. I won't say it is bad, just a chance to show off some massive skill gains and blow off a bit of steam.

Then again, that's kinda the whole thing about ALL LitRPGs, no? But some are more balanced than others, of course.

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Saturday, December 17, 2022

Tartila Mine (The Alchemist #5)Tartila Mine by Vasily Mahanenko
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We get a fun end. I mean, seriously, we get a nearly-world-shattering end to this LitRPG, assuming we just stick with one world. We'll see. But for right now, this thirteen-year-old kid and his betrothed managed to kill or otherwise defeat meta-world intelligences and immortals, ancient high-tech defenses, and re-awaken magic.

On the other hand, now that I have read these five books, I'm rather amused to see how they could really be re-named: how to hack a worldbuilding and magic system, get the DM super pissed off at you, and how to find yet MORE exploits to later get nerfed.

EVERY SINGLE BOOK. We get a short period of time where our kid can be utterly OP, lose it, find a new method, lose it, find yet another way to screw over the system, and then finally just say to the system, all right, buddy, I'm tired of this. I'm doing it MY WAY.

I seriously had a great time with that.

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Friday, December 16, 2022

Isr Kale's Journal (The Alchemist, #4)Isr Kale's Journal by Vasily Mahanenko
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wild worldbuilding twists going on here. The last thing we knew, the god/system had to nerf our YA hero because he was exposing way too many flaws in the world/game.

Fortunately, the god rewards the faithful and the white-hat hackers with new, potentially extra-OP quests and the founding of a whole new city. No problem, right? Well, there's still that other little exploit, and too many other people have been comfortable in their little (or massive) fiefdoms.


This is still one of the most balanced, unbalanced LitRPGs I've read. The quality of the characters and story match the worldbuilding and the fights. :)

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Tears of Alron (The Alchemist, #3)Tears of Alron by Vasily Mahanenko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one really showcased how a LitRPG character could be well-rounded in his skills AND be OP. The hacking feature came in really, really handy, but rebalances were obviously necessary. I don't think I mind that too much.

The story itself is very quick-paced and almost always interesting. The elements, as always in LitRPGs, are familiar, but Mahanenko has a real talent when it comes to putting everything together. I personally love the SF/F mix, the ancient setup and discovery of an ancient mystery, and the characters.

I'm really quite amazed at the balance achieved here. It's very pleasant. :)

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Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Veiled Throne (The Dandelion Dynasty, #3)The Veiled Throne by Ken Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this fantasy, but I need to be very clear on something: it's unique. What I love about it is not the things it does to emulate other epic fantasies, but how it goes well into its own thing.

So why call it an epic, sweeping, grandiose fantasy, then?

Because it has immense depth of story to it, a real focus on stories within stories, a need to draw a constantly shifting line between stories that are alive and stories that are dead and the overwhelming desire to make a reality at the cost of losing the deeper truth of the past.

The spirit is not always the same thing as the immortal word.

All of this is part of the wonderful, wonderful theme, but I'd be doing the book a great disservice by ignoring the immense care put into exploring these two vastly different cultures, the Dara and the Pékyu, and the multi-generational schemes and the true attempts at assimilation -- or a brewing war.

It's the focus on the cultures and the hard-won victories and failures that make this book brilliant. What makes it weird and unique is how it will spend its first parts in wonderful adventure and sea battles and its latter portions in funny and awesome culinary battles.

I'm still reeling with how DIFFERENT this is. Believe me, that's pretty amazing.

Totally worth it.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Forest of Desire (The Alchemist, #2)Forest of Desire by Vasily Mahanenko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I didn't love this book nearly as much as I fell for the first, I did still enjoy the absurdly interesting leveling system and the quirky cheat that allowed it to happen.

Straight adventure, great delving into an ancient mystery-quest, very entertaining storylines, and best of all, it's a Tween boy who became this amazing LitRPG powerhouse.

Everyone underestimates him. Fortunately, he's got the support of a god. Okay, game-god, or DM, but still.

And now, after he's immensely powerful, he can FINALLY finish his initiation. It's school time. I can't wait to see what happens.

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Monday, December 12, 2022

The Cretaceous PastThe Cretaceous Past by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This early Liu Cixin story ('04, translated '12) is pretty amazing. As I was reading it, I kept saying to myself, "OMG this is just like Adrian Tchaikovsky's Children of Time or Doors of Eden, I LOVE IT", only to have that brain fart that makes me reverse the order and slap my forehead.

Truly, though, this is a deep past tale of high-tech civilization during the time of Dinosaurs and Ants. The novella ROCKS. Lots of fantastic imagination.

Is it obvious it's the same author that wrote Three-Body Problem and the two brilliant sequels? Oh, you better believe it.

This is the kind of hard SF I live for. The rise and fall of the dinosaurs and ants. :) :) :)

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City of the Dead (The Alchemist, #1)City of the Dead by Vasily Mahanenko
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This LitRPG has some great balance in it.

There's some awesome world backstory that is as much mystery and exploration as any good SF, including archeology, and a massive amount of time for things to get really muddled. The fantasy is on par with adventure SF, as well. The main difference is, we've got a mysterious "god" that basically works as a DM and we've got menus and leveling up and attributes as well as loot handled the normal LitRPG way.

The fun part of all this is in how smooth and balanced it is. It's very much a YA and the young, young boy is pretty much always way out of his depth but the "god" is still making things fair -- as much fairness as you might expect when the kid isn't allowed to level up and hasn't been initiated as a mage, yet.

Honestly, I thought it was funny and glorious. A little hunting for materials as a beginning alchemist NEVER would have prepared him for this wild underground, ancient civilization exploration and survival adventure. It was so cute and impossible and yet, so, so sweet, too.

I'm extremely happy with this.

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Sunday, December 11, 2022

Nona the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #3)Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you're already familiar with the previous two novels, you know it's space necromancy with tons of genderfluid/LGBTQ+ relationships, nice body horror, and politics.

This book has plenty of that in the second half. The first half is a very interesting side trip down innocence lane. Honestly, I rather enjoyed that part more than the rest precisely because it provides us a nice reflection of the really dark stuff.

I'm sure that fans of the previous books will like this as much. As always, I'm a huge fan of necromancy as the best way to tackle interstellar space.

Having this eat into a modern Earth is especially delicious. :)

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Saturday, December 10, 2022

Happy (Awake Online)Happy by Travis Bagwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another side-tale to the world. But this one is about luck. Or rather, a cool little definition of happiness.

Basically, throw a truly massive mountain of shit at someone on the off-chance that they get through it -- and if they do, THAT'S HAPPINESS.

*silent thought*

Yep. That sounds about right.

So, in this LitRPG, expect nothing but a mountain of crap being poured upon this poor MC, with his friends, as they learn to die gracefully. Of course, with all this respawning time, it's really pretty much nothing but death. :)

I had a good time with this. It's all about endurance training. A LOT of endurance training, with bonuses if you take on WAY too much crap. :)

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Thursday, December 8, 2022

A Fall of MoondustA Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I know it will sound kinda funny, but this 1961 book by Arthur C. Clarke had all the feel of a '60s stiff-upper-lip travelogue/misadventure TV SHOW. You know, the kind with the bright BBC announcer trying to downplay some really horrible events, possibly mass death?

That's this. It's definitely an adventure, though. Think avalanche, but on the moon, with all the different gravity and situation that it implies.

Not bad. It's definitely a book of its time, however, and a modern audience would expect something more of an emotionally overladen family/lover quarrel added to a desperate measure but with really big blaring horns or something to drive the point that we should be bawling our eyes out or something.

That isn't this, though. Cheerio! We've got this.

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When No One Is WatchingWhen No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This thriller really had me going. Nicely grounded, I felt the true horror of gentrification. We do get the systemic aspect, of course, but the personal effects sting the most. Not to mention the con game going on in the outskirts, the feeling like it's all completely out of control, all the while meeting a few good people in the mess of the bad.

What I liked most about this was learning a few extra details about old racism. I mean, gentrification itself isn't new, and I knew the North was into a lot of lousy crap before and after the Civil War, but it's still nice to get some really interesting details.

Best of all were the characters. I really felt anxious and when it got really bad (no spoilers) I couldn't stop reading.

Very fun book.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The Golden Enclaves (The Scholomance, #3)The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a wild ride. After the previous book’s cliffhanger, this could have gone either way. We could have ended up with a bunch of recrimination and soul searching and an attempt to get on with their lives after… SCHOOL… and what a nightmare THAT was, or all these ex-students could try to fix the system that had created the nightmare in the first place.

I’m personally pleased as hell that we got both. Not only that, but we got so many little goodies along the way, including spoilerish saving such and such and a full damn war Earthside, that I was honestly thrumming with pleasure.

It got big, kept the stakes high, and it had some really quite delicious worldbuilding twists that made me chortle all the way to the end.

In short, this is a great series if you have an appetite for destruction.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

About Time (The Time Police #4)About Time by Jodi Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At this point, any book by Jodi Taylor has become a "OMG did this just come out? I needed to have read it by yesterday" kind of book.

The fact that I didn't, this time, has now become a source of deep and abiding shame and I will now become a round clown.

That being said, I'm always happy to read any of the St. Mary's books and I think I like the Time Police even more. Still.

The only thing that drove me a bit batty on this one was the fact that the weird team kinda split up. Irreconcilable differences bit. I don't like that one little bit. Team Weird is my GO-TO force!

Well, you know how these things go. Croatan aside, hijinks abound, a father and son resolve a few differences, and a high-class whore gets paid.

This is nothing that I did not already expect.

And it's all fun as hell.

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Monday, December 5, 2022

Inferno (Awaken Online: Tarot #3)Inferno by Travis Bagwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Despite this side-trilogy starting out pretty good, I just can't get into it as much as the main series. I mean, we know WHERE this trilogy ends up, we know how it blows up. All that's left is to fill in the blank spaces and those are basically a bunch of level-ups and a class change that already feels pretty familiar.

This wrap-up gives us the full might and power of fire at least and while it wasn't particularly bad, it didn't particularly grab. I'm still happy that I caught up with it, if only to now finally jump into the main series, but I'm mostly happy that I'm done.

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Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Ones Who Walk Away from OmelasThe Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Whether you think I'm reading this just in time for the holidays or because you might think that this story might be one custom-designed for our modern world, I'll leave it up to you.

Let us just say that this is the ultimate test of our ethics, distilled down to the bare necessities and presented in such a way that there is no value judgment.

If you could have a near-perfect society where everyone is cared for and is happy, for the cost of the abuse of one child, would you maintain it or walk away?

Let's look at our world. There is lots of abuse and systematic abuse at that, within all walks of life and across any kind of line we care to draw. Very little is being done to stop any of it.

I think we've collectively agreed to maintain Omelas, and cheaply, too, because we get very little out of it.

If you ask me why I would point to the holidays, then I'll ask a certain subset of you this: if the abuse of one man redeems the rest, then what, exactly, does that mean to a Christian? Oh, sweet baby Jesus..

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Don't Fear the Reaper (The Lake Witch Trilogy, #2)Don't Fear the Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I should just expect anything I read by Stephen Graham Jones to be awesome, that way I don’t have to go through all these roller-coaster expectations.

I liked My Heart is a Chainsaw, but honestly, I didn’t know HOW it could have been continued realistically. Fortunately, however, it did just that. It continued realistically. Consequences and massive changes and well-founded fear and the need to re-invent oneself featured foremost and I was all for it.

People DO change. As do slasher sequels. :)

Reading this was a real wowzer. I’m a slasher film fan, too, and the core meta-analysis is something that is dear to me. Of course, it’s even better when it’s centered on such great characters. No spoilers, but I think this book deserves its placement with Empire Strikes Back and Two Towers.

For anyone else who was on the fence about this, don’t be. It was wild and very, very entertaining, like Scream but with even more down-to-earth reason and intelligence. :)

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Saturday, December 3, 2022

Risen (Alex Verus, #12)Risen by Benedict Jacka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The End.

Sometimes, or rather, a great deal of the time, when we get to the end of a well-beloved series, it turns out to be shit. We may try to excuse it or feel slightly let down that some aspects aren't addressed or it takes a really icky turn and we just have to sigh, heavily, and try to remember it for what it did right.

Fortunately, the end for Alex Verus is solid. More than solid. It's emotional. A grand sacrifice with enormous stakes and none of it was easy on him or on us. We knew exactly what was coming, a war, a desperate gamble to save Anne. We know none of it is going to go well but we have some hints as to how it MIGHT go well and from that point on, we simply put all our faith in Benedict Jacka to stick to the landing.

And we know the landing will be rough. It's going to hurt, but we've been prepared for it. And Jacka landed it. Landed it so well, with even a slight twinge of bittersweet humor, that we couldn't help but smile, sadly, just in time for the epilogue.

What can I say? This book, and the whole series, give me a warm glow.

The End. *Sigh*

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Friday, December 2, 2022

Little GirlsLittle Girls by Ronald Malfi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my first introduction to this author and I won't stop here, BUT

I'm caught in a quandary. The technicalities for this book are FINE. It is readable and perfectly standard for a modern horror, but it suffers from a slight problem.

What is it? *you ask, biting your nails*

It's boring. 4/5ths of the novel suffers from a regrettable cont-C/cont-P with WAY too many thrillers today. Just leave a few precise details to the mad-libs genre to chance, throw a family into a new, probably temporary house, have the middle-aged female's mental health decline as she prefers to be blind to everything going on around her, and let her fail to solve her many problems.

That's the core. Of course, I've been reading way too many novels that CC this, but wait! It gets better! Her husband will always have a fidelity problem. Check. There's something wrong with the kid. Check. Family history is totally F***ED. Check. No one believes her. Check. Bonus round! Sexual abuse. Check!

So we must ask ourselves, does this sound like something you've read before?

I'll give you ten points if you've read 5 in the last 5 years. I'll give you 100 points if you've read 15 in the last 5 years. I'll give you a 1000 (!!!) points if you've read 50 JUST LIKE THIS in the last 5 years.

Do you know why I can give you so many points?

I'VE ALREADY EARNED THEM. I'm more than happy to give them away!

Please, give me something new. I don't need another clueless mentally ill housewife thriller.

Yes, dear reader, this is what sour grapes taste like. If you're not a rabid reader, you may never have to experience this. Books like this might remain perfectly kosher.

And that's why I'll only give you 5 points.

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Thursday, December 1, 2022

A Choice of GodsA Choice of Gods by Clifford D. Simak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book from 1972 is an interesting outing from Simak. He's always been one to write about the impact on humanity, or specifically its individuals' reactions to huge ideas. Often it's about loneliness or existential dread or the longing to make sense of the vast weirdness of the universe, but it's almost always about competing understandings.

That's a pretty awesome stance for anything that calls itself SF.

It gets even better when we find a book that exemplifies speculative fiction while reading an anti-technology book with religious robots, trying to figure out where the missing humans went, and the nature of god, itself.

That's just the premise. Later on, we get a lot of interesting plot twists and new explorations of ideas.

As for the experience itself, it's a lot of great dialogue and twists, each of which deepens the greater SFnal discussion.

It may not be my choice for a Hugo nominee back then, but it was certainly worth the read.

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Non-StopNon-Stop by Brian W. Aldiss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one admittedly surprised me. I hadn't checked out any of the blurbs or reviews. I merely picked it up because I had already read the author's rather erudite stroll around the history of SF in Trillion Year Spree and I thought it good enough to check out his ACTUAL fiction.

So what I got was lost tribe story, men and women living in rather primitive conditions, and the setup is all for... ADVENTURE.

The real trick here is the fact that THEY ARE ON A GENERATIONAL SHIP.

Of course, there have been many generational ship SF stories over the years, but this one is early, from 1958, and feels like it would have been at home as a '50s or perhaps a '70s late-night B-movie SF horror.

I enjoyed it a great deal for what it was, and nothing more. It's very English. Almost a mix between a ghost ship and the Heart of Darkness. :)

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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Flame (Awaken Online: Tarot #2)Flame by Travis Bagwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Honestly, there's nothing outrageously original about this, but it *is* perfectly adventure, adventure, adventure. No complaints at all. It has all the spells, fighting, competition, and sacrifice that anyone who wants fantasy usually dies for.

This one does fit in as the middle book of the Flame trilogy. As an offshoot and blend of the Darkness, it's all basically a build-up to a massive collaborative effort in the virtual game. It's all story, baby.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

UnravellerUnraveller by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hardinge has probably written her best novel in this one. The worldbuilding is dark and Kellen and Nettle are some rather complicated characters with a problem.

Unravelling -- and curses -- fill these pages. If a book could be a dark bog and if the magic comes about through hate, then this is the fully realized, fully fleshed-out result.

To be entirely honest, I was flowing along with this for a while, sometimes wondering how it could get better, but no worries... it does. It has a great ending, which is kinda surprising because it got really, really dark.

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Monday, November 28, 2022

Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on CivilizationStarry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization by Neil deGrasse Tyson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I was reading this, I didn't expect to learn anything new, but that wasn't really the point. Even the title hints at its true purpose: to inspire awe.

To be very sure, it's awe in the pure-reality sense, the scientific sense, and a measured analysis of who we are, what we might be capable of, and how we fit in the rest of the universe.

This is NOT, however, dull, pedantic, or dry.

I quickly came to the conclusion that this nonfiction is, in fact, a prose poem.

It's quite short, it's tiny data points all trying to express the magic, and it lightly flits over so many areas in a charming way.

Who is this written for? People who haven't lost their sense of wonder, or people who might be a bit too disgusted with humanity but haven't quite given up on the whole rotting carcass just yet.

In short, if you need a reason to remember that science is real, that all is not lost, that those who would drag everything down to the lowest level have not won, yet, then this might be the book you need.

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Sunday, November 27, 2022

Eon (The Way, #1)Eon by Greg Bear
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rest In Peace, Mr. Bear.

I decided I had to re-read at least one of his better works right after I learned of his passing. The moment I learned of it, I was in shock. I've been singing Bear's praises for many, many years.

Eon is one of those bigger-than-life Hard SF books that never slow down with those big ideas. It eases us into the WOW factor, the awe, and then changes tacks several times in the telling, giving us more... so much more. And then it gives us even more.

It's easy to point a finger at Clarke's Rama or high-level topography math/physics or any number of alternate universe novels or time-travel tomes, but it's something else entirely to pull all of these rabbits out of a single hat. And not only that, it includes a version of the Singularity, a vast space battle across a vast number of realities, a closer-to-home apocalypse, and massive geo-political rivalries right here on Earth.

When I look for SF, it's BECAUSE of this book that I found a love of SF as the literature of IDEAS. The characters, not even poorly drawn, inevitably take a back seat to the IDEAS. It's overwhelming the way I love to be overwhelmed by authors like Stephen Baxter, Kim Stanley Robinson, Cixin Liu, and even Adrian Tchaikovsky. There are more, of course, but for me, personally, Greg Bear blew my mind first.

Rest In Peace, king.

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Saturday, November 26, 2022

Bring the JubileeBring the Jubilee by Ward Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here's a book that shouldn't be forgotten. Especially for fans of Connie Willis or Jodi Taylor, fans of historians going back in time because -- COME ON, WHAT HISTORIAN WOULDN'T WANT TO GO BACK IN TIME?

More importantly, the time this came out in the early 1950's should be an interesting fact. The kinds of time travel that had come out before were more adventure and less introspective. This one is very introspective. It's also very imaginative, rather dystopian, carefully philosophical and skeptical, and massively bookish. The main character is a serious observer and reader, and this is great because most of the book takes place in a world where the South won the Civil War.

The world is very different. Darker, rather horrible. And yet, intellectuals and skeptics do tend to find their way, even if it is in poverty and uneasy circumstances.

I'll say this for certain: this is one of the best great-grandaddy of all alternate timeline books. It's not an adventure. It's a philosophical discussion and an ultimate show/don't tell careful exploration of what might have been.

I'm very impressed.

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Friday, November 25, 2022

Children of Memory (Children of Time, #3)Children of Memory by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one offered up some pretty great SFnal surprises.

From the start, I had some suspicions that this would be something like a culture-shock kind of novel in a poor human colony world meeting the long list of truly fascinating alien (ish) races that were serendipitously uplifted in the previous Children of Time novels. (All fantastic, clever, philosophical, and well-explored.)

This one, however, takes a right turn to the others. My expectations had to swerve and were nicely pummeled by Tchaikovsky.

Now, as for the new alien race we get to explore, it's a classic Sentience problem with some great Corvids, as conducted by an actual AI, with lots of opinions carried by a slime mold, octopus, spiders, and some human memories. :) I mean... to say I'm intrigued is to say very little at all.

That being said, the author continues a dialogue with older SF but writes it in a great modern way with lots of attention to detail and description. I still say this series is a must-read for any fan of SF.

That twist... whew.

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Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Uplift War (The Uplift Saga, #3)The Uplift War by David Brin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book nearly as much as I loved Startide Rising.

Back in the day, I read both of these, or indeed, any David Brin, with nothing short of awe. Not only were the books full of wonderful stories and characters, digging into my chest and pulling my still-beating heart out of my chest, but they were also some of the most amazing world-building achievements, rocking such wonderful imagination, that I frankly held them up as some of the most glorious examples of SF that SF could offer.

In short, I was a total fanboy, but for many great reasons that I could enumerate, ad nauseam, without ever falling back on a silly, "but I enjoyed it" argument.

The irony was glorious. The language play was superb. The pure SFnal discussion about intellect/heart/will and how it applies to a highly complex form of Darwinism and its questioners was glorious. And on top of all of this, I was rocking a "I really enjoyed it" adventure featuring guerilla warfare, species adaptability, and a long-form joke in the form of a full novel that worked on so many levels that I can't stop chuckling, even now.

In short, this book not only deserves all the awards it got back in the day, but it STILL deserves massive praise for being one of the best-crafted SF of all time, along with Startide Rising.

It's not just my fanboy-ism about David Brin. These books should not be swept under the rug of SFnal history. The '80s were a fantastic decade for SF. The writers all raised the tone, pushed so many envelopes, and added so much to the genre. Not only were they becoming literature, but they were also pushing the envelope of pure imagination and speculation and doing it in brilliant ways.

I'm still shocked at how complex and beautiful these two novels are. It rather puts most modern SF to utter shame.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Ember (Awaken Online: Tarot #1)Ember by Travis Bagwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After the previous book that introduced Finn as a fiery antagonist, I admit I was fascinated. Knowing that there are three books following it that followed Finn as a lowly player to the monster he became in the previous book was all gravy to me.

Did I love seeing a side-tale of the fiery avatar of a fire god? Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.

Was it kinda predictable? Sure, but school and tournament stuff is pretty standard stuff. Plus, we get to see a lot of burns. :)

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Monday, November 21, 2022

To Fire Called (A Seeker’s Tale, #2)To Fire Called by Nathan Lowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still enjoyable, but frankly not as enjoyable as the previous volumes. We're out in the boonies making creds and hunting down some vital information. That being said, our intrepid Ishmael is kinda out of his depths and I frankly don't like to see him that way.

He's always been one to take careful preparation, cover all his bases, dot all his I's. So this little jump off into ignorance kinda grated on me.

It all worked out pretty well, all told, but my confidence porn got pummeled a bit. Alas.

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Sunday, November 20, 2022

In Ashes Born (A Seeker’s Tale, #1)In Ashes Born by Nathan Lowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading the previous book with Ishmael, I thought it was rather a downer, even if it was fairly realistic, and it hit a different kind of tone with me from all the previous Share books. I discovered that I wanted to take a break, and did, and was entirely unsure whether I would want to continue on with what appeared to be a side tale.

I’m VERY glad I went ahead and picked this up. It came back to the good ole competence porn I had first loved about these books. The formula? A fixer-upper, some sticky people problems, and the need to cut some red tape with a blowtorch.

What we get is a very satisfying tale that gets us putting one foot in front of the other and lemons into lemonade. That old tone is rather gone and something fresh has taken its place. No complaints.

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Startide Rising (The Uplift Saga, #2)Startide Rising by David Brin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read 11/20/22:

The kids are alright. Or rather, the Wolflings. Sure, a bit of atavistic regression, but damn, what a pressure cooker they’re under. :)

Honestly, I’m still amazed at how well this book holds up. I mean, across the board, it’s so intelligent, overflowing with alien species, great worldbuilding, amazing subtext on galactic-level slavery and racism, and above all… it’s deeply, deeply fascinating. I must have read this 6 or 7 times now and I’m always shocked at how rich it is, from the dolphin goddess to the blind idiot chimp scientist, to the great friendship from the young mel and fin to Gillian and Orley to our tragic dolphin captain.

It feels so personal to me, so rich, and endlessly enriching. As I keep reading this, I keep building upon it in my own imagination. It never really ends.

This is a sign of a true classic.

Now if only James Cameron or someone with his talent and bankroll could turn THIS book into a movie. THAT would be something for the ages. :)

Original Review:

I've been reading this book over the decades and I can still honestly say that it's both timely and timeless in its ideas, its story, and its characters. That's even taking into account that most SF eventually dates itself or becomes a humorous example of just how much we all eventually learn.

This one doesn't suffer at all. Since the eighties this still remains a mind-blowing and fantastic space opera of the kind I still have yet compare anything else as favorably. Even among Brin's other Uplift novels.

It's simple, really. It's a chase novel. The particulars, however, are wildly divergent from anything else I've ever read. Uplifted dolphin crew with a chimp geologist and a handful of humans made an accidental discovery of galactic proportions and after sending a brief description of fifty world-sized ancient spaceships belonging to the first galactic race to have begun the uplift process for the many, many alien races filling the galaxy to the brim, Earth replies, "Oh Shit. Run. Run!" All the races have their own legends about the progenitors and their eventual return, and most of the vilest are religious fanatics that warp reality or cruelly alter genetics of their subordinate races to atrocious effect. And since they picked up on this little tidbit, they're ALL after the humans. Besieging Earth, all our colonies, and sending the weight of entire armies after the poor hapless dolphin crew.

What an epic setup, and this is where the novel begins. :)

They've already escaped a few close calls but crash land on a fallow world and pray that the battling aliens in the system above wipe each other out. And in the meantime, we've got great dolphin and human characters and one asshole geologist who may or may not be redeemable, assuming we take away his mini atom bombs and tell him he may NOT study the new planet's structure while they're trying to hide from the galactic crazies. :)

There's so much to say about this novel and so many great things happen, but I do want to mention a few things. The whale songs and the poetry of the hybrid human/dolphin speech: It's all poetry. How often do we get poetry in our space operas? :) We've got serious ideas about uplfting our earthly relatives, too. Even dogs are on the docket. The dolphins have waldos for delicate work with arms and fingers. Mr. Dart may climb trees, but he's from a widely respected school. And the captain of the Streaker is a really brilliant dolphin. I feel the most sorry for what happens to him.

The action in this tale may be as small as simple survival on a rough world, the reveals about the strange state of this planet or the creatures living there, or even a great deal of action breaking down the basic decency of some of the dolphin crew until they revert to a slightly less civilized state. Or we could focus on the big action with spaceships blowing up and crashing into the planet. Either way, the novel is great on all levels.

It's stood the test of time, being a great tale with great characters, fantastic language and conflicts, and especially an absolutely amazing amount of beautiful world (or galaxy) building. :)

I always thought of this one as the gold standard for all big-idea and action SF. And it still is.

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Friday, November 18, 2022

Here and Now and ThenHere and Now and Then by Mike Chen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So far, Mike Chen has been a solid, imminently readable SF author. The topic (time travel) is full of humanity and necessary quandaries full of heart.

There's nothing really unique about this, but that's okay if all you want is a good story time travel that basically makes the best of a bad situation, eventually loving everything about your life, losing it, trying to make things right, then back again.

The emotional bits are appropriately heart-wrenching.

I thought this was pretty great. In every way, it's a tale that's great because it's told great, not because it breaks any conventions at all. It's a comfort read.

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Thursday, November 17, 2022

Blood of Empire (Gods of Blood and Powder, #3)Blood of Empire by Brian McClellan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to say this was quite satisfying. It has everything I've come to expect from McClellan's epic fantasies. Truly excellent and engaging characters -- I'm looking at you, Ben -- lots of great war action, amazing stakes, and the same kinds of feels we got at the end of the first trilogy. Godlike action to top the craziness.

So why only give it four stars? It delivers on what it promises, but no more than that. I had fun, but I won't be screaming from the mountaintops. It was solid.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Einstein: His Life and UniverseEinstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This turned out to be a wonderfully accessible and well-written account of Einstein's life.

He has warts, to be sure, but he's quite human. He was also a superstar for his time. A real rockstar. E=MC squared, you know?

I've seen documentaries, too, even read his General Relativity when I was young, and I've had a grand ole time listening or reading about all his colleagues and all the things they had to say about Einstein -- and it's all a hoot.

At least in the realm of quantum physics, Einstein is viewed as an embarrassment and all my classes kind of rolled their eyes at him, but for the time he championed field dynamics, it deserved all his accolades... not that the real world was all that easy on him.

For while WE have seen him in the media as a rockstar, in reality, he was victimized out of quite a few well-deserved accolades for his being Jewish. The whole thing about GENERAL RELATIVITY, for example, has still never been properly stamped.

On the other hand, Einstein, being a rockstar, was one of the few people who could have said anything they wanted and often did. I admire him for that quality. I think he was a genuinely good dude. The questionable things he DID do were all in his family life and they were limited to cheating, sometimes ignoring his family unless they gave him the total freedom to come to it on his own, or just staying out of their lives entirely, aside for setting them up with funds, but that's about the full extent of it.

What he had to deal with, on the other hand, was a lot of antisemitism, McCarthy Era BS, and a lot of stodgy tools keeping him back in the science community.

The fact is, aside from that short period when he was working as a Patent Clerk and being super productive with his thought experiments, his talents were kinda wasted, but one thing is abundantly clear: he was a rockstar whose dedication to personal freedom, following his personal compass, allowed him to perform some truly amazing feats.

Fortunately for the rest of us who want to sift through all the BS the media wrote about him versus what ACTUALLY happened, this book is a fantastic resource.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Hellion (Awaken Online #5)Hellion by Travis Bagwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I admit I'm rating this series of books entirely on how much fun I'm having. It's not the only way to rate, of course, but it is quite genuine.

I never guessed how down the LitRPG hole I'd fall or how much sheer pleasure I'd have, standing around with a goofy grin on my face. This particular book had me standing around with that look a lot.

I mean, between trying to live up to a chaotic evil role while being a real softy is fun all by itself, but when you try to raze a desert city with undead gigantic ants and sandworms, play a long con-game featuring quite a bit of awesome military chicanery and lay full siege to a fully fortified city ... TWICE... matching epic action on the same level as any epic fantasy tome, I have to tip my hat.

The imagination, tactics, and strategy is awesome. Using the quirks of one's undead army on the playing field

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Sunday, November 13, 2022

Saga, Volume 10Saga, Volume 10 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I would like to say that a break of a few years would make me more inured to trauma, but it just isn't so. I'm so invested in Saga, with its revolving-door characters, its truly tragic foreshadowing and its drop-kick reveals, that I will keep coming back for more and more abuse.

Why do I keep coming back? Because I love them and I love it. I feel like I'm a part of the family and there are just no two ways about it. You don't abandon family.

And then, I just went up in flames again. God damn it!

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Saturday, November 12, 2022

City of Last ChancesCity of Last Chances by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really good book as long as you take a few things in mind before you read it. For one, it is an epic fantasy -- full of a long list of characters and a setting that is vast even if it mainly takes place in a single city. For another, its magic, while quite present, takes a back seat to the totalitarian regime, rebellion, and a bit of worldbuilding mystery.

That being said, I followed the tale with some decent interest and appreciated the layered approach to the city's ongoing history.

Did always fall in love with the characters? No. But a few were consistently great.

I suppose my main concern or complaint is a purely personal one. I have always fallen absolutely in love with Adrian Tchaikovsky's SF and tend to find something a bit off about his Fantasy. I can't quite put my finger on it but it's still true. The places where I want exploration were shunted off track and while I DID like the social commentary on poverty and fascism and even the importance of language to frame the issues properly, I found myself wanting a different kind of book that has nothing to do with the quality of his writing.

I'm entirely certain that other people will get a lot more out of this novel than I did.

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Friday, November 11, 2022

Gun, With Occasional MusicGun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All right. So.

This IS a tribute to Chandler -- if you didn't already know that -- but its focus on the wonderful things that Chandler did with language is rather lacking. What we have, instead, is a plot that keeps hopping about and the misdirections are as good for any novel of the usual gumshoe variety.

What makes it a bit oddball is the SF elements. We have forced evolution animals and quickly-grown babies taking the part of the downcast and hard-biting underclass city types, a class of drugs that go straight for the jugular when it comes to psychology-related aspects, and a rather convenient use of stasis-pods in an otherwise 1930's LA type setting that keeps the life-blood pumping in an otherwise rather forgetful Noir.

I think I would have fallen hard for this novel had it had Chandler's use of language.

As it is, however, it is a serviceable Noir with all the usual suspects and creeps. The SF saves it, though, and it was enjoyable.

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