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Sunday, December 31, 2023

Revolution: A LitRPG Apocalypse Adventure (Electrified Book 3)Revolution: A LitRPG Apocalypse Adventure by J.D. Olson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ever onward and more powerful.

Of course, that's the charm of all LitRPG. I'm not minding this at all. Electricity-based powers getting more and more powerful is the name of the game. A few battles here and there, less character development, and tons and tons of skill development.

Good thing that's what I wanted, right? There's a purity to this kind of writing.

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Saturday, December 30, 2023

On the Origin of The First Human: Darwinian Evolution History of SapiensOn the Origin of The First Human: Darwinian Evolution History of Sapiens by Claire Nitam (Doctor of Philosophy)
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a little treat for the end of the year. This author reached out to me out of the blue and asked if I wouldn't mind reading and reviewing this non-fiction on the origin of humanity and because it just tickled my fancy (even though I've read many, many books on the same,) I said yes.

Here's the thing, though: It's written very well, it's really short and to the point, and while it doesn't go the sensationalist popular route of trying to be funny or charming with anecdotes or any wild theories, it DOES have the pure charm of being extremely good with the facts.

Indeed, it only starts with Evolution and Darwin and branches out wonderfully to the Simian world, what characteristics were really selected for during our own genetic progression, and so much more.

I can't say that I've read anything new in this book, but I have read over four hundred science books, so I tend to judge these things on how well they're written and the ideas and/or facts within them.

For Ms. Nitam's work, it is clear she used her Doctorate of Philosophy to a wonderful purpose. This is an excellent synthesis of our current understanding of the field.

Indeed, as I was reading it, I came to the conclusion that I would have LOVED to read exactly this book as I was just getting started.

It is no-nonsense, full of great facts, and would have been a perfect introduction for a serious student. There's absolutely no wasted time and it's perfectly accessible.

In other words, this book OUGHT to be well-received everywhere. All it really needs is great marketing. I wish it, and the author, all the luck.

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Friday, December 29, 2023

Reunion (Electrified #2)Reunion by J.D. Olson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Solid LitRPG that doesn't really go for the nitty gritty of skills progression hacking like most of the other titles. Instead, it just sets out to do one or two things well, like lightning skills, and just reveling in the OP status as all the other characters in the background become ash in her wake.

This isn't exactly a bad thing. It's a power fantasy, after all, with lots of fighting, a cute electric cat, and the eventual reunion with her water-element sis.

The point is, I had fun. I consider this an average title that's weak on the RPG and strong on the power fantasy. It could be much worse.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Rebirth (Electrified #1)Rebirth by J.D. Olson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A pretty fun LitRPG as long as you A: don't expect a real progression system other than "Ding, Ding, Ding" when fighting as an underleveled and underprepared electricity user, and B: don't expect anything more than a fairly decent post-apocalypse wish-fulfillment power-user type novel that puts the reigns in the hands of the "altered" over especially the military types that just don't get the skill-ups they so desperately desire.

All told, despite the logic errors and the sloppy RPG elements, I didn't mind it so much. It was a popcorn read and it was pretty great just zapping everything with lightning and slashing with spears and knives.

If you leave your brain at home, you might just have a great time. And honestly, I guess I did, too.

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Monday, December 25, 2023

Prophet SongProphet Song by Paul Lynch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I discovered that the new Booker prize for '23 was a Dystopian SF, I, of course, had to read it.

Why I decided to read it on Christmas day is beyond me. This is a huge warning novel. It can never happen here novel. Ireland has always had its share of problems, but this one hits too close to home, even if you're not in Ireland.

The hits keep coming, the rise of auth-right extremism and brutality overwhelming these poor people, page after page.

It's not an easy novel to get through, but then, that's also true for most Dystopia. I'll just say this: my ability to stomach fictional dystopia decreases every time our world comes ever closer to it. Indeed, it is like the enemies of kindness itself are reading these novels as a how-to manual.

So. Assuming you like a nice little descent into chaos, I will recommend this pretty good novel.

If you don't, or just can't stomach it anymore, then please avoid.

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Sunday, December 24, 2023

War BodiesWar Bodies by Neal Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We go back in time to the height of the Prador War in this standalone hard-SF and I have to admit I enjoyed going back to the genesis of some great side-plot-character points in a number of other novels. The reptilian AI symbiote? Hell yeah.

But more-so, I thought it was pretty fantastic to see the creation of one of the greatest generals (with the help of AIs and some pretty nasty scientists) of the Prador War. When it comes to hard-SF, Neal Asher is rather a master. Tons of great elements woven together into constantly great stories, but more importantly, great characters wrangling with the implications of all such.

In this particular novel, I loved the total philosophy about power. Truly impressive battles, overwhelming force, and the implications of mental control all made this a rather important piece of the entire series. It really focused on it. Very enjoyable.

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Friday, December 22, 2023

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent FaithUnder the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What should be, ostensibly, a True Crime book, actually turns into a pretty thorough explanation for what Mormonism is -- and in particular, a special fundamentalist branch of the same.

Of course, the two are obviously linked. A group of murders that were under the auspice of religious thinking were, indeed, quite the PRODUCT of the fundamentalist thought. And what is it?

All right, don't laugh. I know some of you could say that all religion is a product of wanting something pure, something true, and a willingness to just make shit up and roll with it. But in this fundamentalism, that's literally more true than anywhere else. You hear the holy spirit, you roll with the holy spirit. You read a book, you tell others you were inspired. When you need to accomplish something, you make up reasons and go with your feelings until you accomplish your task.

You know, like kidnapping, rape, and murder. And obviously it's just fine as long as you're doing God's work. Nothing else matters. And if you're a little slow on the uptake, I'll speed you along by informing you that I'm being DROLL about it. Of course, we shouldn't have to spell these things out. And worse, we shouldn't have to deal with religions that throw out even their own rule of law in the name of personal or cultural expediency. Someone else might go so far as to say NOBODY ought to have to deal with ANY religion that paves such a road for any of its members. But then, that begs the question, doesn't it? They all grabbed power in one way or another by the power of magical thinking and their vanity and their pride. It's a powerfully enticing mix for the greedy and the delusional.

As we see in this particular True Crime non-fiction.

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Thursday, December 21, 2023

The Magnificent AmbersonsThe Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fine example of turn-of-the-last century soap opera. Clear language, often painfully direct and uncomplicated, it reads like a grand, traditional family soap opera, complete with rich beginnings and ending with a slow, complete decline.

I had a distinct impression that I was reading a take on the American gentry, meant to aggrandize and admire wealth at all costs. There are a few interesting takes, but the one thing that was driven home was how insufferable and unlikable George was in most of the grand sweep of his life.

It's just a mark of how good a writer Tarkington is that we eventually get SOME redemption from him, but honestly? The final failure of the family seems quite justified. It doesn't matter if it's moral or common sense failings, intelligence or the heart. He was commonplace, spoiled, and idiotic.

The rest was all a pretty enjoyable soap opera, honestly. I'd place it up there with Downton Abbey for lively characters and feel.

As for why such a novel that OUGHT to have stood the test of time... I think there's plenty of reasons why it slipped of the pedestal. The casual racism is bad enough, but it's the commonplace plots and thin characters, however well-written, that made it fall. It IS good, even sharp, but frankly, everyone and their little fat dogs have repeated this success endlessly since then.

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Rite of PassageRite of Passage by Alexei Panshin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here's a bright surprise of an older YA SF book. This 1968 novel reads perfectly as if it were of the modern type. Bright and clear in all ways, it gives us an exploration of life aboard a huge generational spaceship and its interactions with colony worlds.

Most importantly, it's fantastic for the very reason of its title. It's about growing up, learning more and more about your own society and how it clashes with others, of where you or they can be wrong, and where you could or should fit within it.

That's an exceedingly simple description, of course, but I'll point out that this well-written novel is quite down-to-earth in every way possible. It's fascinatingly straightforward and really digs into prejudices and misconceptions. The best part is that its pretty damn universal.

I could had this book to just about anyone, regardless of preferred genre, and I can pretty much promise that it will not offend and it will likely stay with you a long time afterward.

One thing I will point out: it gives me an impression of being a much better YA than most I have read. The best parts are the questions.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2023

No Enemy But TimeNo Enemy But Time by Michael Lawson Bishop
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This old '82 Nebula nominee seemed to be a good starting point to read Bishop, who, alas, I had neglected up till now. He had just died a month ago but I had heard his name plenty of times in the past.

So there's this book. There's plenty good and some that's slightly icky, but not so bad if you consider the time in which it was written. It obviously wants to be strong and freeing, with a main character that is black, smart, and courageous. He going all out to get what he wants, honoring traditions, using his dreamtime/hallucination power to travel far back in time, make changes there, and most importantly, LIVE and love.

He goes far back enough to encounter and live among near, pre-human hominids, finds love there, and more, the novel is about belonging, growth.

Where I like it: It's smart, well thought-out, and rather deep. We avoid most prejudices by working through them the hard way, by engagement. It may as well be a roundabout way to tackling our own modern issues. Indeed, the science-fantasy bit of a cutting-edge almost Wakanda-like civilization was both heartening and quite amusing in a good way.

Where I don't like it: That same avoiding prejudices bit may as well be a double edged sword for the reader. A snide look at the premise of the book, as it is also written by a white guy, in conjunction with the realization that this black man may as well be marrying a theoretically sub-human hominid, have a baby with her, might come across as -- complicated. And by complicated, I mean under many various interpretations that might very well be -- quite racist.

I don't believe the book is intentionally racist at all, honestly. It is careful and quite exploratory, which makes it a good novel, but let's face it: optics are a thing, and while it's often used crazily, it is always worth considering. Of course, that's rich that I should be mentioning this 41 years after it was written AND after the author's death, but I'm still doing it.

It IS a quite interesting time-travel novel.

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Sunday, December 17, 2023

We Shall Sing a Song Into the DeepWe Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep by Andrew Kelly Stewart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quite a claustrophobic post-apoc alternate reality novella. No complaints with the feel.

Taken out of context with many other great post-apoc SF, it even seems to shine a bit: a monastic crew aboard a nuclear sub, barely surviving after a nuclear war that sparked after the Bay of Pigs.

But it's the rest where I have a few minor quibbles. I'm a big fan of the Fallout game series and this novella just feels like a minor scene in the milieu. When it comes to the monastic feel, it's super easy to recall A Canticle for Liebowitz or especially the superlative Anathem -- but those two did it a lot better in every way.

I'm forced to think a bit deeper in this novella, unfortunately, about the incomprehensibility of keeping a nuclear sub going for so long... using stolen children. It's not like you can truly jury-rig the whole setup.

But that being said, the FEEL is pretty good.

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A Song for a New DayA Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is our definitive musical conflict novel.

No, it's not about genres. It's about live venues vs. remote, where it suddenly becomes illegal to have large gatherings thanks to something a bit worse than Covid. It's about corporate stoogery versus real connection. It's about the very real dystopia of our lives that could easily swap out with anything we do, when we're progressively losing our social identity, the reality of real people.

The music underlines it as, truly, most stories of music always does. Let's face it, there's hardly anything better suited to this theme of rebellion and belonging than music.

I really enjoyed this novel. It may not have completely blown me away in every aspect, but what it does right, it does very well.

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Friday, December 15, 2023

Winter's Gifts (Rivers of London, #9.5; Kimberley Reynolds)Winter's Gifts by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Away from London entirely and our usual cast of characters, this was, nevertheless, a fun excursion in the realm of magic and Vestigium in the United States with an interesting adventure with Agent Kimberley Reynolds.

It really had some pretty cool investigation drama bits, but I suppose I enjoyed the low-key, slow burn romance the best. It really was a pretty good gift. :)

Solid novella. Perhaps it wasn't as musically charming or humorous as the others, but I have no complaints.

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Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Annual Migration of CloudsThe Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novella took me on a few interesting turns. I really, really enjoyed the worldbuilding in it. I was totally invested from the get-go. Post apocalyptic, great potential set-up for a whole series, even.

And then it went in a direction that seemed like dithering until I realized the entire novella wasn't about a new start in a very interesting post-apoc world at all. Once I got THAT through my head, I was fully back on board.

The real moral of the story? Well? Should I spoil? No. I won't. But I did appreciate it for what it actually became. The THEME was the real twist.

But really? I think I would have loved to see a full SF series. Who knows, maybe later, but that might mess with the impact of this one's message.

Pretty fun, all told.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The Narrow Road Between Desires (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2.6)The Narrow Road Between Desires by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All right, let's push aside all the drama that the fanbase has over the author for just a moment. Let's ignore the clamor of "Oh my god why is it taking so long to get a new book, and then, when we do get something new, it's only a revamped novella?"

Let's just look at the actual tale we did get. Let's enjoy or lambast the repast of words on its own merits:

Good god, ya'll. It was super easy to fall into and so totally charming. I totally got into Bast's wandering and rambling day.

All that happened was as true as true could be, assuming you were a mischievous little fae who had grown to love this little place and mostly did right by all the children even though it might have been more natural to smite them down. It was just so charming. I hate that I loved it so much. I have to ignore everything else but the tale, right? And the tale could easily be a product of a crossroads deal with a demon. It's just that magical.

So with that, I'll grumble off somewhere and grumble my way to bed.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Doctor Who - The Wheel of IceDoctor Who - The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I decided to read this mainly because of a renewed interest in Doctor Who AND a whim that I should always have read Stephen Baxter's entry into the series.

So, I did. And while I didn't hate it, it suffers from a bit of don't-care-ism. It's the Second Doctor. And while we do see a lot of Jaime (kinda a weird companion at any point) and we spend a lot of time near Saturn, I never quite vibed with either this tale or this particular doctor.

I did want to like it more than I did, of course, and I did enjoy the actual Science bits, but the rest was rather deflating. Alas.

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Monday, December 11, 2023

On Fire: The Case for the Green New DealOn Fire: The Case for the Green New Deal by Naomi Klein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book suffers from a very common problem with many books of this type.

It attempts to convince an audience that is already convinced. Those who ought to read a book like this generally avoids it at all costs. This is a nasty paradox.

The good: It touches upon much of the opposition, the climate deniers and free-trade-at-all-cost, the ones who are focusing on profit to the detriment of any long-term good, and some of the well-funded organizations.

It also illustrates just how bad off we are along many milestones.

Best of all, it shows us how many of us are on board, that there is vast climate support. What we need is a truly massive popular movement to put the right kind of pressure on those who would lie, cheat, and loot -- and this includes pressure on all political and oligarchical bad-actors.

The bad: As I've said, this is all old news. One individual person asking, "But what can *I* do?" is never going to get the answer they wish. There is no easy solution. What we need is a full mass-movement that must push through opposition from the rich, from astroturfing and propaganda, and resisting the worse danger of physical force that would put down the greater number of us as we just try to secure our futures.

Because let's face it: our futures are far from certain and most of us are getting very close to the breaking point. The point where either we're completely broken, or where we must all stand up and do the right thing.

This book came out about 5 years ago and it was already pretty dire. After what we've gone through so far, it should be extremely clear just how much danger we're in. Make no mistake: emissions from the rich make up the vast majority of the pollution and waste, and yet their movement to just use up the rest of the earth is reaching a fever pitch.

Do we want to live the rest of our increasingly unpleasant lives in fatalism, or what?

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Sunday, December 10, 2023

System Collapse (The Murderbot Diaries, #7)System Collapse by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Welcome to the land of PTSD, my dear murderbot.

Solid continuation of the series. Quite wholesome. The humans are being annoyingly kind and gravity wells are simply annoying.

It's an easygoing series, all told, and it's worth reading just for the calmness even when there's things being blown up.

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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson, #9)Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Increasing tensions between Fae and Were is the name of this game. In the previous, it had been a tug of war game for a stick, and now it's between a were with some fae powers.

While I thought it was pretty okay and certainly unoffensive, this particular novel never sparked a moment of "oh, that's brilliant" from me. While it's not as bad as some recent paint-by-numbers fantasy, I'm definitely getting a formula vibe without the kinds of twists that elevate a good UF from the rest.

It feels like coasting.

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Friday, December 8, 2023

The Last Bear (The Last Bear, #1)The Last Bear by Hannah Gold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A cute little YA fantasy about befriending a polar bear and having a little adventure. It is exactly as it seems. The power of communication, misunderstandings, and reconciliations.

Is it a decently xmas-y story? Perhaps, if you just look at the snow. :)

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AshendenAshenden by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well now! This was a delightful set of secret service short stories by the inestimable Somerset Maugham.

Being who I am, I find it hard to judge ANY kind of spycraft story except through the lens of Bond, but I'm happy to say it's not only on par, it's much older and doubly fascinating for that reason.

There's murder, intrigue, lots of trains, and even a story taking place on the eve of the Russian Revolution.

But there's something about this that I got a much bigger kick out of: it's almost like all these stories weren't really about spycraft at all. Almost all of them were fascinating character studies that were oddly reminiscent of Hemingway in their clear brevity and sharp anti-moralistic scenes. It's all up to us to make up our minds. It was really quite delightful.

A point I should make, however: Maugham WAS an agent for England in RL. Ashenden, the agent in the stories, was also a writer. I know we should never associate a writer's product, their characters, with the author, but COME ON....

This was all well before Flemming, too. The similarities are almost so hardcore that Flemming stole the whole shtick from Maugham. Delightful, no?

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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Camp DamascusCamp Damascus by Chuck Tingle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Super solid horror that proves that Chuck Tingle has the good ole writer's chops. He's much more than the schock-shlock-shlong monster gay porn writer I laughed about for years. Indeed, he writes a real horror with real style.

Camp Damascus gives us not only the traditional horror of conversion therapy, but monsters who really hate lgbtq as much as the morally righteous.

I'm just glad that real people with real flamethrowers exist to stand up against this dual terror.

Great stuff! I can really get behind this rage. :)

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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Saint Death's Daughter (Saint Death #1)Saint Death's Daughter by C.S.E. Cooney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, right to the nitty gritty. I wanted to like this a lot more than I actually did. The title needed a bit of explaining, too, but I was pretty on board with a YA dark fantasy with necromancy. My only real concern was whether it'd go down the torrid romance path, but I'm happy to say that the majority of the book took the other path.

I admit it took me a bit to get into, all told, but I was fairly enjoying the life and many, many days of living, learning, and survival with the help of her helper ghosts, undead minions, and spies. My only concern by this point was trying to figure out where the plot might lead us. All-in-all, it just felt like a never-ending stream of slice-of-necromantic life. It was somewhat wholesome, not at all scary or gross, and was just this side of amusing.

And that might have been for the best, if it had been a bit tighter. The fact is, there was a lot of this mild stuff going on... and on... and on... and I had a problem with keeping my interest level high. I had to put down the book fairly often.

And then there was the time skip. A few interesting things happened after, but by then I honestly didn't care all that much.

Did I hate the novel? No. Not at all. I can absolutely see how others might adore it. It has so much of living in its deathly pages and I'm sure a certain kind of person out there would latch onto all this and call it the greatest thing ever. But for me, I would have preferred it go through a hardcore editor, maybe splitting the book into two, but with an emphasis on story-shape. It just kinda felt like it grew and kept growing and overrun the whole garden.

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Sunday, December 3, 2023

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Murder, writers, continuing several deep character setups -- all this should have been in my wheelhouse. I should have loved the novel with or without the extra knowledge that it is Rowling's work.

But I'm simply not feeling the charm. I got through the first book, thinking it was competent enough, and decided to go for the second, assuming it might sink in better. Unfortunately, it didn't. It's one of those "It's me, not you" situations, I guess.

I simply didn't buy-in to the characters, got bored, couldn't even concentrate on the mystery, and wound up eyeing the page count way too often for my mental health. I wish I could have said something better about it.

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Friday, December 1, 2023

A Stroke of the Pen: The Lost StoriesA Stroke of the Pen: The Lost Stories by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Happiness is the friendships you make along the way. I believe that.

So, here's the thing. I was interested in this book because people had done some major sleuthing to find some REALLY early Terry Pratchett stories written often under pen names long before he did the whole Discworld thing. That means these might have a glimmer of the wit and charm that would come later, but for the most part, the good, old friends don't even exist yet.

For the most part, they are light-hearted, very much popular-class magazines from a long-gone time period that would come across as slightly pithy or corny without a trace of controversy about them. Indeed, the wit is sometimes there, but it's mild and often... average.

So, who should read this?
Pratchett completionists.

It's worth it to say you did it, but I'd never tell anyone that it's essential for anyone's enjoyment of the legend. These are merely paid pieces and it kinda shows.

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Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Hobgoblin Riot (Dominion of Blades, #2)The Hobgoblin Riot by Matt Dinniman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We get other PoV's following the first book, and while I appreciated the bold change as an idea, I may not have quite clicked with it. I preferred the first book's style. That being said, this book had more changes than just that.

This wasn't a normal LitRPG as the other. This was a tower defense, with wave after wave of attackers. It absolutely required a very different style. No casual adventuring. Just siege, a few story reveals and progressions, and more siege.

Maybe my mood was for more of the previous, alas, but this was still pretty decent. Hobgoblins are obviously a HUGE part of this. :)

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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Dominion of Blades (Dominion of Blades, #1)Dominion of Blades by Matt Dinniman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a nice, more classic mix of LitRPG with a slightly more unique core reason than most of this type. (Yay for generational starships and new planets.) The actual LitRPG is pretty much a standard world-exploration fantasy world with limited quests.

What makes this one a bit special is the hints that the players have been doing NPC-type things for an AWFULLY long time, so a spattering of random skills appear to be way overpowered despite the character starting out, nearly memory-less, at level one.

I think it's always pretty fun to goof around with that kind of thing, and this randomly thrown-together small party grows together and learns to trust one another as they reveal what the hell has been going on in this place.

Not bad. Entertaining. Somewhat normal for the type, but nonetheless fun.

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Monday, November 27, 2023

The Way of Shadows (Night Angel, #1)The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember reading this back when it first came out and I said to myself that THIS was what I was waiting for in epic fantasy. It was so bloody, wickedly magical, dystopian society, and so much quicker than SoIaF to get to the good bits.

I always had a fond spot for this and the full trilogy and tended to rank them up as some of the very finest modern epic fantasy had to offer. Quite a bit better than a lot that I've read since then, including a majority of the biggest names, even. I put this at the same height as the Mistborn trilogy, even.

Sure, later, I got into Weeks' Lightbringer quintology and said the same thing about it, but I slowly started to forget what I loved so much about the Night Angel trilogy.

And then the new book came out. I HAD to revisit the originals. And here we are.

Did it match my memories?

No. It surpassed them. All my original qualms during my first read disappeared with the hindsight of what I knew will be coming. The action was sublime, the magic super interesting, and the tripod of Justice, Vengeance, and Mercy even better than I remembered.

The love was the surprisingly best part. Love is a noose. But sometimes you can't choose not to put it around your neck.

Great stuff. I haven't been this excited on a re-read since WoT.

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Friday, November 24, 2023

Joseph Anton: A MemoirJoseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finally got around to reading Salman Rushdie's memoir of his time hiding from his Fatwa. I got a lot out of it not because I've ever had death threats aimed at me, but because I'm a student of history. And I have to admit it all: Salman Rushdie was something of a hero for me as a writer back when Satanic Verses became a household name, even if it isn't famous for its literary value -- alas, that, since it is a great book.

THIS book, however, is both a free and hard look at his own life from his own words, giving himself a sometimes rough assessment while exploring all the context. I wouldn't have wanted to be him, being used as a football between politicians, having to wrangle for special protection, and facing the reality that there is no such thing as true protection.

More importantly, at least for me, was getting the genesis and details of all his OTHER novels and their publication circumstances, the other writers he had met or befriended, even the celebrities who helped him.

It was a life. Hardly ever easy, but Rushdie stuck by his guns to say what he believed, and I'll just say right now that he got a raw deal -- but it was religion and politics caused all these issues, not truly his own words. Of course, if it was a Christian world and not a Muslim one, back before the Pope allowed anyone to say he wasn't infallible, there probably would have been the same kind of response.

It just goes to show, we all need to be on guard. We should never be tolerant of intolerance. It's up to all of us to put our heel down on those who would take our freedom away. All of us TOGETHER.

So, again, thank you, Mr. Rushdie, for bringing this out into the open in your own way.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2023

BuyMort: Rise of the Windowpuncher: How I Became the Accidental Warlord of Arizona (Shopocalypse Saga #3)BuyMort: Rise of the Windowpuncher: How I Became the Accidental Warlord of Arizona by Damien Hanson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had a good time with this SF LitRPG adventure. The whole "Amazon-clone takes over the multiverse" SFnal post-apoc dystopia vibe was, even with all the slimes, the hobgoblins, the mega-corp exploiters, and huge scorpion herds, extremely close to our own dystopian world. I FELT it.

We're only one step away from selling all the corpses we make. Yay.

I suppose I really enjoyed the hell out of maybe 5/6th of the novel until we got the actual resolution for the main quest plot. I mean, I knew we had to get here eventually, but it felt kinda rushed. I don't know if there will be more, but I'll definitely be here for it if there is. I want to see ALL of BuyMort go down. But either way, I kinda wish we had a more natural build-up toward this particular end, even if it would require 3-4 more novels. Like I said, it was fun.

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Monday, November 20, 2023

The Sky Road (The Fall Revolution, #4)The Sky Road by Ken MacLeod
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The 4th book in the Fall Revolution is seated firmly in the future Earth this time. This alt-future follows the totally crazy multi-political SFnal tack to its natural conclusion. And what conclusion could an aging-slowed, politically ultra-conscious populace come to after tech or looming AI and functional immortality has settled in?

Chaos. Always chaos. People who believe generally find a way to keep on believing and getting others to join their power fantasies. Or if it isn't a power fantasy, it's often close enough to being a power fantasy as to make no real difference.

Even so, this particular novel reminds me so much more of the first in this universe. That one was pretty much us undergoing massive advancements and the means to enact our political fantasies. The Sky Road picks up after a great deal of time has passed and it kinda goes backwards. There are the post-physical populations and those who decided to stay behind in smaller communities, using old tech and living lives much like what we've got. And of course, there are the historians.

It's interesting. It's complicated. It's definitely worth reading this series. I rarely see anything like it anymore. This kind of SF should not be forgotten. It reminds me of 70's political SF updated to modern SFnal ideas while almost reaching the level of Singularity.

It may not get a lot right, of course, but we don't read SF for the future predictions. We read it for the possibilities. :)

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Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Good SoldierThe Good Soldier by Nir Yaniv
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit I HAD to read this book based on practically nothing more than the cover. I'm not usually so shallow, but it SCREAMED to me. And then, when I read that Tidhar and he collaborated, it bacame a done deal.

Upon reading, I feel vindicated. It's a very Catch-22 kind of novel, funny, SF space-fleet, and it glorifies all Second Class Idiots everywhere.

First Class Idiots aren't quite official. It's an honorary title.

Clever, subversive, and refreshingly old-school military humor. Everything, at all times, is perfectly functional. Sometimes it's even more functional than the other times when it is perfectly functional, but that's kinda always the point.

Great fun.

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Saturday, November 18, 2023

The Satanic VersesThe Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I think this is an important novel to read, a lot of real-life stuff circles it and perhaps conflates its importance in people's minds rather more than the quality of the text, itself.

That is to say: the fatwa placed on Salman Rushdie since 1988, marking him for death for writing this novel, is more of a head-scratcher to someone like me than some kind of obvious reality.

What? This title isn't obviously about Satan writing poetry and a total insult to Muslim peoples?

That's just it... Aside from some rather satirical passages about an Imam, or rather, we can assume one particular Imam that put a hit out on Rushdie's life, this novel is pretty TAME. Fine, there are a few assumptions about Muhammad and points of interpretation that are hinted at that bring up the fact that -- perhaps -- certain people aren't completely infallible. But this, I think, is MILD.

Especially when there is so much racism out there, this is frankly a lyrical, dense piece of literature that is often a pure pleasure, funny, strange, irreverent, satirical, and almost always enjoyable. It's a clever novel with many concurrent levels, dream sequences, magical realism, transformations, and a great look both Hindu and Muslim Indian life.

Is it an easy text? No, not particularly. Indeed, it's so dense that I had to read it (both times) in short bursts just so I could digest the rich text. Whereas some novels are pure popcorn, this one was a full, balanced meal.

Suffice to say, I got a lot out of it and Rushdie's writing is GOOD. Gabriel and Satan as an Indian Movie star and an Indian ex-patriot was never what I would have expected, but it IS fascinating.

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Friday, November 17, 2023

The Star BeastThe Star Beast by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Early Heinlein. One of his best Juveniles. I don't know if it really counts to say there's spoilers here when it's so damn old, but I'm very amused by how it turned out.

Sure, we have a very old but very childlike alien beast that has been passed down for ten generations of this starfaring family. What began as a small, cute beast is now a full fledged dinosaur that like to eat shrubberies and trees in town.

And this is where the trouble begins. We've got busybody jerks who want to put down such an unintelligent beast because it doesn't quite match sapience laws despite being able to talk. After all, it doesn't have HANDS! *gasp* So yeah, this dog scared the locals and we go straight to a courtroom drama, counter-cultural hijinks, saving the beasty by all means, and a nice little surprise that turns the tables on everyone's understanding.

You know, Heinlein. Crusty libertarians, skirting the law when it doesn't make sense, making allies that throw a wrench in everyone's works. Fun stuff. And best of all, it's very much a YA. A great end, too.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Murder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide to HomicideMurder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide to Homicide by Rupert Holmes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an utterly delightful, murderous book. Truly charming. After all, it's couched on true morality, or rather, considered morality, aided by higher education and intelligent design.

I love the writing. It really is charming and reserved and deliciously murderous. I may not have been laughing out loud, but I found myself grinning quite a bit. Bosses, true jerks, rapists, life-destroyers, and deplorables all get their just deserts thanks to these intrepid scholars.

Plot wise, I loved all the complicated setups and preparation for each murder. I thoroughly enjoyed all the characters and their motivations. Very self-aware, wonderfully period-set, and genuinely kind. You know, if you're part of the school. No one else might not get a taste of kindness... but some do. :)

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Monday, November 13, 2023

Under Fortunate StarsUnder Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I honestly didn't know if I was really going to like this book for a good chunk of time. The opening was light SF with rag-tag characters getting lost in a starless-rift, only to find another craft. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't all that interesting. Fortunately, we get some pretty awesome timey-wimey stuff going on and a LOT of great backstory that fills in everything else, making for a very different kind of novel besides a bit of space-opera.

The long war with the aliens is more of a backdrop and agency-pusher. The real star of the show is the long-history and celebration of the diplomacy that put an end to the war -- and how it directly relates to both crews on both of these stranded ships.

It's pretty smart, a lot of time jumping, story-wise, but I rather enjoyed that aspect of it. Who are your heroes, after all? I especially loved seeing their flaws, the inconsistencies, the surprise reveals (not really that surprising as a reader, but enjoyable to see the others be surprised in the tale) and the resolution.

Mystery, communication, trust, adventure -- and especially destiny -- are the things that make this pretty good.

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Saturday, November 11, 2023

Mercury Shrugs: (Mercury #5)Mercury Shrugs: by Robert Kroese
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The continuing adventures/misadventures of Mercury, the angel, leans hard into multiversal time-hijinx and Satan-defeating humor sprinkled with superman-movie references.

Sound odd? It's light humor, goofy, and slightly satirical fun. I didn't mind it for passing entertainment, but it wasn't my favorite of the series.

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Friday, November 10, 2023

BuyMort: Smart Shopper: How I Became the Accidental Warlord of Arizona (Shopocalypse Saga #2)BuyMort: Smart Shopper: How I Became the Accidental Warlord of Arizona by Damien Hanson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Back to this very enjoyable SF apocalypse LitRPG adventure. Gotta built that post-apoc settlement on earth, thanks to Galactic Amazon. Um. I mean, BuyMort.

Ever wonder what a true capitalist nightmare is? Try this out. There's even a pretty great market on dead bodies, and instant transportation for any product is fantastic.

Bloody, funny, and I feel like I'm in a sim battle manager. :)

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Thursday, November 9, 2023

VentusVentus by Karl Schroeder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a very cool surprise.

I read Schroeder's Virga series (enclosed hard-SF atmosphere with artificial suns, a steampunk-type storytelling) and was very impressed with the concepts, so I decided to go back to his earlier works. I didn't expect it to be quite AS ambitious as it turned out to be.

Indeed, from its humble fantasy-like start, with strange nano mecha taking part of a whole planet, with strange godlike AI visitors limiting themselves to explore Ventus, the planet, I was fairly hooked from the start. I didn't quite know how immense and epic it would become.

This is fantastic hard SF, ya'll. Rich, detailed worldbuilding, never skimping on history or the SFnal rules or the implications, I'm reminded very fondly of C. S. Friedman's Black Sun Rising, Neverness. Indeed, I had the impression of some Peter Hamilton as if written by Valente in The Habitation of the Blessed, King John's kingdom as told by AIs.

*loving this*

So, let me just point out this little fact: most SF doesn't go all out, getting progressively more creative and conceptually larger as it goes, but when it does, it should be noted. Clearly. And here's your notice. Prepare for some jaw-dropping. :)

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Sunday, November 5, 2023

Night Broken (Mercy Thompson, #8)Night Broken by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was actually rather great. I was getting filler vibes from earlier books here and there. But now? Coyote has a more central role. So does the walking stick. And when Adam's ex comes around to make life complicated, I loved to hate her.

I can't say much more without spoiling a ton, but I truly ENJOYED this one. It's full of meat, and not only the kind that you find after some ravenous god-like beast does a number on women and children.

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Saturday, November 4, 2023

Dead ElevenDead Eleven by Jimmy Juliano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not only is this a solid, good horror, it has such a delightfully wicked premise.

It's been so long since I've seen towns stuck in time stories, be it SF or Horror. And better yet, I've seen nothing like this stuck in the mid 90's. Nostalgia hits hard... again.

So. No spoilers, but we've got a pretty great atmospheric mystery that includes PoV and epistolary elements and a particularly great "oh, shit, this small town stuff is SCARY" vibe. Again, no spoilers, but the journey is all kinds of great.

Modern meets 90's ancient. Yeah, feeling old yet?

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Thursday, November 2, 2023

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, I finally got around to reading RG aka JKR and I'm kinda surprised it took me quite this long to do it.

I simply thought I wouldn't quite appreciate a mystery from a great fantasy writer, especially since there is no supernatural or such oddities in the text.

That isn't to say I don't know the mystery field, however, and I figured it was well past time to see if there's any fuss here.

So, first impressions: It's pretty formula, but it's well-done formula. We've got all the Noir going on that you could wish for, with a heavy reliance on slow-burn character building. I like that. It's solid and never made me lose interest.

And while that IS a good thing, it honestly never goes beyond that. I like Strike and I like Robin even more. But a dark-past PI with some problems isn't anything new. And neither is a seriously competent bombshell working for said PI. It has the strength of comfort going for it.

So, while I couldn't find anything seriously outstanding about the plot -- hell, even the plot seems to be rather cliche -- it was also satisfying the way an infrequent fast food burger is satisfying. You get that craving for that specific feel, the payoff that says all your initial assumptions about the entire genre is always right, every time, because they ARE standardized and will be the same no matter what city you travel to...

Yeah. Not bad, even solid all the way down, but also not original.

Even so, it's early days and it's not like I dislike it, so onward I go!

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Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Black River OrchardBlack River Orchard by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a truly classy, smooth horror, full of the bucolic, a bit of the suburbia, and a lot more of the fresh apple. Ah, yes, the apples. But what could make anything like a huge, sweeping horror novel about apples so SCARY?

Muahahahahahaha well, let's just say that Wendig is a treasure, okay?

I can't believe how much I got into all these characters, how my opinions of them kept changing, growing, or shrinking. Hell, I was actually on the side of those who turned out to be the worst even as they slid.

What a totally wonderful, rich, smooth horror. So sweet, full of fiber, with a lush texture. It's so good, we don't even need to make cider or bake a pie.

And on a personal note, we got some great fresh Cortlands and McIntoshes the other day and I ate about 5 of them as I read this novel. I totally recommend reading this book with some of the GOOD apples. And don't let anyone tell you that apples are all the same. They aren't.

If you do read this and eat some apples, tho, please take note of the color of the skin. It doesn't always mean that an apple the color of a ruby slipper is BAD, per se, but you might want to use your intuition anyway.

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Monday, October 30, 2023

BuyMort: Grand Opening: How I Became the Accidental Warlord of Arizona (Shopocalypse Saga #1)BuyMort: Grand Opening: How I Became the Accidental Warlord of Arizona by Damien Hanson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Truly fun semi-LitRPG. No leveling up, per-se, but it's definitely a tongue-in-cheeck Amazon-lambast near-future dystopia.

Normal people in BFE Arazona just trying to survive an alien uber-capitalist hell-topia. Sell what you like, survive the nastiness, buy at premium.

Sound familiar, folks?

Yep, it's very, very familiar. Just add orcs, slimes, wingless gigantic wasps, and a religion based on affiliate consumership.

Yes. It IS as scary as it sounds.

Happy SF halloween!

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Saturday, October 28, 2023

Bookshops & Bonedust (Legends & Lattes, #0)Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know, I specifically read this because of Legends and Lattes, for the hope that I'd fall for the comfort, the warmth, the utterly delightful idea that something can be built that can last.

Sure, it's a fantasy, but that's just an element to amuse. A little necromancy, a splash of blood, but that's nothing.

The good stuff is BOOKS. Books and bonedust and teasing companionship and MAKING FRIENDS.

God. This book was just as good as the other.

Should we want ALL that Travis Baldree has to offer? Yes. I think we should ALL want an unlimited amount of feel-good fantasy X 2 thrillers as we can possibly support.


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Friday, October 27, 2023

The Destroyer of Worlds (Lovecraft Country, #2)The Destroyer of Worlds by Matt Ruff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is really more of a nostalgia piece that revisits all the cool bits from the first book. You know, picking up where the good characters left off, reminding us of some nasty history, and mixing it up with a ton of cool necromancy, magic, and black Doctor Who bits.

I enjoyed every bit of it -- but it absolutely rides on the coattails of the first. That's not a bad thing. I'm also saying that it didn't have the fantastic plot of the first book. Indeed, it was a bit meandering.

Either way, I'm glad I got to read it.

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Thursday, October 26, 2023

CarmillaCarmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, now I know why vampirism was so popular back in the day. Whew! So Steamy! Where we can get our romance novel HOT, even distracted to destruction.

Honestly, its simplicity is pretty wonderful, their innocence -- warming. But that's very attractive, of course, to the cold-blooded.

Believe me, I've read a TON of worse vampire novels. What this one lacks in plot, it makes up for in charm, seduction, longing, and horror.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Sixth ColumnSixth Column by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I won't say this is a particularly good Heinlein, by any stretch of the imagination, but if you get right down to it, it was written in 1949 when he was moving away from his Juveniles and putting his hand to more adult works.

In this case, he was writing for a small white male audience that had recently come out of WWII and he kinda clumped all Asians as WWII imperialist Japanese with the numbers of China to come up with the baddies having overtaken America. It's a kind of ignorant future, okay? The book needed a baddie that wasn't American and culturally alien enough to pull off what WAS a pretty fun stunt that reminds me a lot of Heinlein's much better chicanery and revolution stuff.

What WAS pretty damn good was these good ole boys whipping up a technological masterpiece that appears like magic and coming to the conclusion that the only way to strike a blow on the Pan-Asians occupying America was to use a hokey religious guise that all the locals could see through to gather enough men to strike a magic-as-technology blow against the invaders.

Which they do. In a very silly, but ultimately fun way.

Would I recommend this as good Heinlein? Hell no. But do I think it deserves a ton of hate? No. Not at all. I really appreciated how he used Hobos for an information network and thumbed his nose at religion in general, how he USED it for good ends without taking any of it seriously. And if you think about it, that's pretty awesome in 1949. There has always been a rather keen abuse of religion, and some periods were worse than others. So I give credit where credit is due. Ahead of his time in one way, and woefully behind in another. Flawed but still worthwhile.

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Monday, October 23, 2023

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson, #7)Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't say I didn't have a good time with this particular installment. It had a somewhat hapless, 'shit always keeps happening to me' vibe, but it got more interesting when the pack got captured and Mercy's magic kept cropping up in cool ways.

It was nicely grounded all the way up to when the vamp politics reared its ugly head, and then the entire book felt like a snippet from an entirely different book. Like, it should have had all its own plot buildup, action, reversals, etc, quite aside from anything the pack was involved with.

But here? It felt like a bait and switch for all the end vamp stuff WAS cool.

All said? I enjoyed it, but my head is spinning in a not-so-good way. I've got a little cognitive dissonance going on. Oh, well.

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Sunday, October 22, 2023

Waybound (Cradle, #12)Waybound by Will Wight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this for the sheer fun of it. All 12 books of this LitRPG have been anywhere between wildly fun and solidly action/progression based, as could always be predictable for any in this genre, but some are better than others.

This particular — last — volume in this story arc wound up being close to my favorite in the bunch.

I recommend reading the entire series in one long blast, however, because I had to scratch my had a little in the beginning to figure out where we left off, but once I caught up it was great. Mad Gods, Monarchs, Dreadgods, titans… it’s super high level stuff and there was no way I didn’t get a huge kick out of all of it.

I’m quite satisfied.

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