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Monday, July 31, 2023

Dragondrums (The Dragonriders of Pern Series)Dragondrums by Anne McCaffrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bit of a departure from the first two books in the Harper YA, this one changes PoV entirely. Fortunately, I like the clever, spy-like feel. It's all still about dragons and drakes, of course, but we get to see a lot more of the land and have an interesting adventure, so it's all good.

Simple, enjoyable YA with all that we love of the series: music and dragons.

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Dragonsinger (Harper Hall, #2)Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was simply a delightful 'going to Harper school' YA, including little precocious fire drakes, all kinds of devoted musicians, and friendship-making.

I have nothing bad to say about it at all. It was just interesting, heartwarming, and a pleasure to read.

If all YA were like this, I might get super tired of the subgenre, but this one was well-written and I show no signs of fatigue.

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Sunday, July 30, 2023

Fables, Vol. 14: WitchesFables, Vol. 14: Witches by Bill Willingham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Boy, after that crossover event, this feels like a thousand breaths of fresh air.

Witches! I want to say that's the best part of this volume, and it is quite excellent, but a certain monkey and a genius head (sans body) really cooked up a great adventure against Baba Yaga.

Not bad. Especially after Vol 13, it feels like brilliance.

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Fables, Vol. 13: The Great Fables CrossoverFables, Vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover by Bill Willingham
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Good lord.

Okay, so this volume is what happens when someone who is supposed to be smart and knowledgeable about his genres and literary conventions goes out of his way to make a mockery of absolutely everything and doubles down on the meta, masquerading as an anti-writer's-block while eventually having absolutely nothing to say.

In its particulars, it sometimes comes off smart, but as the story lays itself out, I just want to cry.

I'm a fan of meta stuff when it's done right. This one... proceeded to tear apart everything that made Fables decent and shat upon it.

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Saturday, July 29, 2023

Dragonsong (Harper Hall, #1)Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I took a little break from the Dragonriders of Pern for a bit, believing, rightly, that it was a bit predictably icky when it came to certain 70's period mores. But I did come back and I'm glad I did.

This one is quite YA, a bit of a neglected-child chosen-one trope, but it wasn't too bad. After all, we get drakes... and dragons. An easy read and it has walk-on parts for some of the more classic characters.

Basically, I came to hate the locals, feel sorry for the kid, and feel happy she got a little happiness. All good.

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Friday, July 28, 2023

The SeepThe Seep by Chana Porter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm of two minds on this one.

It's like it attempted to go Weird Fiction by way of a symbiotic alien infestation that just tries to make the world better for all the people it invests itself in -- which is pretty great, all told -- but instead of rolling with the societal changes like I'd expect from something that flirts with being Weird, it insists on making the case for unhappiness in grief at all costs.

This could be the moral of the story, of course, but it's willfully obstinate and depressive.

We literally see the end of capitalism and ownership and a lot of people actually find happiness in this communal lifestyle, a realization that we're all connected and hurting another just hurts oneself in a very real sense.

And then we have someone who can't accept her partner's transition to a child-state and goes on a drunken odyssey of revenge, self-harm, and obsession over a boy who has his own issues with paradise.

So what is the point? Bliss is idiocy? Self-harm and unhappiness is valid? Of course, it could just be the JOURNEY.

I don't know how I feel about this. It rubs me wrong. But otherwise, it seemed to be fairly interesting even if it didn't fall head-first into the Weird subgenre as I would have wished. The human condition message, in this case, was somewhat unsatisfying, even if it got all floaty and dream-like by the end.

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The Scavenger Door (Finder Chronicles, #3)The Scavenger Door by Suzanne Palmer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love to read about Fergus Ferguson. He's always a pleasure to follow, and this book, scavenger hunt that it is, is pretty much perfect for a Finder.

Mind you, this is absolutely a popcorn SF read. Fergus always seems to make good friends wherever he goes, give or take those he has to zap, and sometimes even those.

This particular book was simply a fun adventure, hopping all over the place, outsmarting other groups on the hunt for these extra-dimensional pieces of a door to some nasties, and often running into a lot of snags. Oh, but it's better because Fergus has family to look after, who just don't seem to know how to say no. (I'm thinking that's a genetic trait.)

All said, I will repeat what I've said before: these books are so much fun, so easy, I could read them forever. It's so charming.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2023

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The ClimateThis Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quite simply: A very important book.

Yes, it does cover a lot of the same ground we're being smothered with -- the ongoing ecological disaster, the entrenchment of heartless capitalism, the seemingly insurmountable problem of mobilization when we're fighting with our own zeitgeist and fatalism -- but this nonfiction work has a one fantastic thing going for it.

It's extremely well-written and engaging. Deeply researched, polarizing, and fact-based. And when I say polarizing, I mean polarizing in the way we can choose either life... or death. This book is years old by now and new facts have only made our current situation even more damning, but the core is still as valid as ever.

There are still a lot of people hell-bent on trying to raid the treasure of the earth at the expense of destroying everything in their path. The profit motive is absolutely to blame. Regular people are stuck with no good choices, no valid alternatives, and everyone else is getting poisoned by fracking. And when I mean everyone, I mean all life.

We can't simplify this problem without ignoring the system that every part relies upon, and the system itself is failing at a faster rate than ever. It's not enough to see a tweet here or there or discover yet another massive abuse of power, trust, or might-makes-right, be it oil companies, globalization, dwindling resources, or capital itself.

This book does a fine job walking us down a great, wide path of our very much worsened problem. There is hope, too, but most of it boils down to ALL of us getting our act together, mobilizing the rest of humanity to just say NO to the looters, before we can make real change.

Mass movements DO make a big difference. Organization makes BETTER difference. We all need to work together. Post haste. Or do we want to discover a dead ocean next? How about the rest of our power failing with temperatures up to 56 C everywhere? Or how about the plain simple fact of poisoned water... everywhere.

We're looking at mass death. Either we get off the pot or we're gonna get flushed with the rest of the shit.

So. Yeah. It's a polarizing book. Do we want to live or die?

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Monday, July 24, 2023

The Tower's Price (Tower of Power, #5)The Tower's Price by Ivan Kal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Solid LitRPG through and through in this volume. Heading to the 4th level turned into a bloodbath and the 5th really progressed both the plot and the pathos to all new highs. The price, indeed. I was engrossed.

It helps that the character progression got VERY snappy and I loved the direction it took. Not a dull moment this time.

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Mercury Rises (Mercury #2)Mercury Rises by Robert Kroese
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Humor is often a hit or a miss, but fortunately, this is is pretty solid. Mercury, a lowly Cherub, has had a lot of interesting adventures, from helping Tiamat (somewhat inefficiently) build ziggurats, dealing with Noah's family, or finding this book's Rowling's lost 7th novel, or dealing with Satan and the apocalypse.

The fun is in the zingers. The plots are nicely weird but always consistent and on target. Just ask Caine.

So, really, if you enjoy a good religion skewer, I humbly point you over here. It reads rather like a UF but with great flashbacks with some awesomely huge blow-ups. Just look up if you will know what I mean. :)

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Sunday, July 23, 2023

The Stone CanalThe Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The title is a little misleading. I like it. But suffice to say, this is a post-singularity civilization, political thriller that has all the feel of a multi-flavored political ice-cream with a truly anarchic base, with uploaded/downloaded minds, functional immortality, and an utterly nutso capitalist foundation -- that ends in yet another massive revolution, just as the first book had.

We get legal drama, world war, mystery, and of course tons of classy convoluted political theories (of ALL flavors) making a mess of reality.

But that isn't the best part. I thought all of it was pretty cool but it was only in the later portion of the novel that it took off and really shone with the post-singularity spin. That kind of hard-SF is a glory to behold. The rest really grounds us in our own mire. :)

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Saturday, July 22, 2023

The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #2)The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Can you say, "Best hits of the Odyssey?"

I think I liked this one better than the first Percy Jackson. It's more straightforward, all adventure, and even more mythology. It was just plain fun. Sure, a bit of Golden Fleece and a huge portion of Odysseus (without the man, himself,) and always... Family Drama. You know how those Greek Gods are like.

This, more than the first, convinces me to keep going.

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Friday, July 21, 2023

Cold Days (The Dresden Files, #14)Cold Days by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After Changes and Ghost Story, what's a bit more change? Winter Knight, right?

Honestly, I loved sticking around in the Never and poor Harry's training regimen was brutal, but how weird has the world gotten when MAB is the voice of reason and sanity?

Of course, everything picks up once we get back to Chicago and Harry's mind-whammies aren't making him that popular with his friends, but he has earned a LOT of good-will over the years. So when Chicago might turn into a mystical super-volcano and he's partly at fault, it gets rather exciting and chaotic.

Oh, and Happy Halloween.

As for what happens near the end, I will not spoil a damn thing, but I will say MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA and leave it at that. What a FANTASTIC ride. And after that? A real sucker-punch.

I know I keep saying this a lot, but every time I read these books, I keep saying, "And this is my favorite book in the series, because..." and I want to say it again. It's absurd, I know, but just trust me on this. When it's great, it's constantly great. :)

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Tuesday, July 18, 2023

The Last CuentistaThe Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So. I had a lot of thoughts about this one.

The good/great: I loved having the Mexican folklore and having it set out in New Mexico, soon to be hopping aboard one of the three spacecraft made to whisk the remaining humanity off the planet before a grand disaster. The personal focus of storytelling over what everyone else is doing is great, too. I was totally on board. Even when she wakes up after the deep sleep only to learn that she's the only one who remembers Earth, I'm vibing with it.

So what happened? Maybe being MG happened. Too much 100% black and white. Collective is utterly evil. This, despite the hope in the very beginning, the laughter I had when the ship with the politicos blew up, I didn't quite believe that we could have gone so borg-ish and one-note. And our MC? Well, once she threw a monkey wrench into the huge-bad, I'm struck by a sense of utter desolation.

Where is the storyteller happy ending? Stories need to be told, they need to affect a lot of people. In this dystopia, she's the last and she barely gets through to anyone. Indeed, by the end, I'm hit with the realization that her happy ending is just survival, almost alone. Isolation.

You know, like so many writers are, today. It's bleak. And that's the happy ending.

Mind you, the book does what it sets out to do and I love the various aspects I mentioned, but it's really hard to walk away from that message with anything like hope. "Hope? Why are you looking for hope in a Dystopia?" Yeah, yeah, I know. But even F-451 railed against the dying of the light in a way that was a bit more on point.

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Driving the Deep (Finder Chronicles, #2)Driving the Deep by Suzanne Palmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Freaking delightful.

I'm kinda shocked how much fun I had with this and I just recently read Finder, saying exactly the same thing.

But here's the fun bit: I think I liked this more than the first book. It has less history-reveals and more of a focus on the here-and-now and I loved how far Fergus takes freaking everything.

He's one hell of a fantastic character. I have a feeling that I've found my favorite new series. I've gone from, "This is a breath of fresh air" to "Good god I can read this forever" to "Where's the next freaking book!"

That doesn't say anything about the tale, itself, though. Driving the Deep goes exactly where you think it'd never go until you're actually there. Helping friends is one thing, but getting a job as a sub driver in real crap-hole on an ice-ocean moon to solve a mystery is NOT on my bingo card for a space opera SF. And it just keeps getting better.

Oh, I'm now here for the long haul.

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Monday, July 17, 2023

Come with MeCome with Me by Ronald Malfi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A solid and smooth thriller from start to finish. I loved how we were led down the path. The initial tragedy and expectations were great enough all on its own, but the gradual reveals, the utter obsession of both him and his wife, grabbed me and wouldn't let me go for the whole novel.

So, yeah, I am impressed. Not all thrillers are quite this effective for me.

We haunt ourselves.
I know I haunted myself as I read this. :)

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Saturday, July 15, 2023

The Great Raid (Tower of Power, #4)The Great Raid by Ivan Kal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Solid. We've got large-group tactics and prep to enter the Tower of Power, but I think it really shone after they entered and cleared the first level. It's rather a huge tower. :)

I'm a bit surprised that everyone has to be such high levels to have either a breakthrough or to survive the Tower, in comparison to other LitRPG series, but that's okay. This will never be my favorite but it is, after all, solid.

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Friday, July 14, 2023

The Daughter of Doctor MoreauThe Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was, at least to my estimation, a superior re-telling of the original The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Purists may want to lynch me, but I stand by my words. Gothic feel, traditional Mexican history, isolationism, and of course the whole rich plantation/quasi-slavery aspects all make this story pop with more details.

And I think it was a smart choice, not just a feminist choice, to make the prime character the "daughter" of Dr. Moreau. Carlota was very much a gothic belle destined for discovery, romance, disillusionment, and eventually -- strength.

Everything about this was finely crafted and succeeded in its tasks, but all this presupposes that the reader wants nothing more than this.

As a nominee for best SF in the Hugos, I can't rightly say it's an SF except by broad strokes. If you can assume animals can be grafted together like plants, then I guess this qualifies, just as the original qualifies, but I also had issues with the original. It's a really light SF, or perhaps light fantasy, with just enough beasties to make a UF fan perk up a bit, but I can't say it stretches any kind of boundaries.

It's just a well crafted tale, an enjoyable journey of self-discovery. Beyond that, nothing more.

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Thursday, July 13, 2023

The Spare ManThe Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Overall, this is a fairly amusing whodunit that's reminiscent of all locked-room cozy mysteries but set in a spaceship. Or rather, a luxury cruise liner in space.

I wanted to like this more. It's decent for what it is, but something nagged me throughout the read. In particular, our MC is super rich AND popular, taking her honeymoon trip on this cruise incognito. Oh, and did I mention she's a great inventor, her new husband is an investigator, and our MC survived a massive injury earlier on that is managed through an implant and a service dog?

There are so many things going for her. I'm also reminded, some, of MRK's regency fantasy, and how relationships are totally perfect, it's only outside situations that make things janky. In this case, her new husband is set up as a murderer and all things get wonky.

So what's my problem? It's a total mary sue setup. While she does get out there and employ a lot of agency to solve this mystery and save her man, it really irked me how much she used her influence and wealth to bully, cajole, and intimidate her way through the plot.

And while the whole mixology gimmick WAS pretty cool in concept, and apparently some of those drinks-per-chapter were zero-proof, it just felt WRONG that she was engaged in so much merrymaking or drunkenness while her BRAND NEW HUSBAND was beaten, imprisoned, accused of murder, and she was free to move about and have fun.

So. Yeah. There's that.

As long as I ignore a lot of these nagging points, it IS a light, fun mystery. I wouldn't have nominated this for a Hugo, but I'm not that upset having read it. I'd call this a popcorn read, at best, and I'd still be bitching about the MC.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Silver Borne (Mercy Thompson, #5)Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Between werewolf politics and fae stuff, this novel should have felt more like a rehash of the stuff that came before, but no. I actually thought that this novel was a bit more fluid and natural and interesting.

Ah. I think I know what it is -- no vamps.

That being said, I enjoyed saving Samuel and the relationship with Adam wasn't horrible. The resolution of some of that brewing pack politics is welcome, too. Enjoyable reveals about Fae politics and history, too.

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Monday, July 10, 2023

The Grand Tournament (Tower of Power, #3)The Grand Tournament by Ivan Kal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pretty standard LitRPG fare. It's a good thing I like tournament stuff and the fights were all fun and tactically interesting. Of course, there was a bit of development on the big bad orc nemesis plotfront, but honestly? It's a bit silly. The core of what makes this series interesting is the creative character-builds and how they stay loose and jiggly.

Not bad. Not my favorite series, but it isn't bad.

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Sunday, July 9, 2023

This Charming Man (Stranger Times #2)This Charming Man by C.K. McDonnell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For those in the rear seats, let me make this very clear: Vampires don't exist. They have never existed. If you see something like a vampire, it's really some kind of super powerful supernatural taking a piss on you. So let me repeat: Vampires don't exist.

This continuation of the Stranger Times series is, I think, even better than the first. Why? Because it's a chaotic mess. Indeed, it feels like a total pantser novel written by a magpie with a penchant for warped sensibilities and a need to fire blunderbusses and curse up a storm.

That, and this b-rate rag by the name of Stranger Times, far from just suckering the easily gullible, keeps getting embroiled in some weird-ass supernatural adventures. It makes it kinda hard to make stuff up when the real thing keeps intruding on their lives.

Quite funny. The characters are a real hoot, too.

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Saturday, July 8, 2023

Ghost Story (The Dresden Files, #13)Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After Changes, Ghost Story is one hell of a change of pace. The previous one was a war filled with tragedy. This one was... well... someone(ahem) was nearly powerless.

That being said, I had an immensely good time reading this. The scale was as small as the previous one was big, and the very structure of it made me chortle with glee.

That's not to say it was all humor. I hated seeing the aftermath of Changes. Molly was heartbreaking. Mort was a rather nice character to get to know. Butters puts the deathless in polka.

Frankly, this is ALSO one of my favorites in the series. I love a great power-down, making due with so much less. Superman lost his sun.

So, yeah, Dresden is still fantastic, first read or re-read, as it is for me now.

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Friday, July 7, 2023

Finder (Finder Chronicles, #1)Finder by Suzanne Palmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a complete surprise for me. Not only did it satisfy my space opera needs, it did it in a way that was delightful, out of the ordinary for the genre, and rather more interesting and involving that most of its species.

The concept is easy, of course: a repo-man in space -- but that's just where it begins and also where it ends. The JOURNEY, however...

I was honestly drawn in and fascinated with Fergus Ferguson from the start. He embodies the adage: It's better to be lucky than wise. Or even right. And the fact that he keeps doing everything for his own reasons, his own values, and they all happen to be NICE, is a really excellent feature.

Being a very creative problem solver is also a fantastic.

So yeah, I had a really good time with this novel. Sucked me right in and kept being awesome throughout. I hadn't ready anything else by Suzanne Palmer except for her Hugo-winning shorts. I'm very happy her longer-form is worth every second.

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Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Neuromancer (Sprawl, #1)Neuromancer by William Gibson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Revisiting a classic. This is a massively formative SF novel for me. When I was just getting started, reading the very best that I had heard about or whatnot, I was reading this side by side with Dune or Stranger in a Strange Land, and at different times, I was more WILD for the cyberpunk than any other kind of SF for years.

In my head, it had ALL the promise of bridging our reality with an all-too-plausible future -- which, in fact, we now have. Thugs, massively outfitted private security forces, coffins for living spaces, drugs everywhere, and a metaverse, the matrix itself, to ride tandem with reality.

Case, our antihero, gets roped into a wild heist in a Television Sky, played like a fiddle by WinterMute and Neuromancer, itself. He's the quintessential deck-jocky, hacker, ICE-breaker, pawn.

I'll admit something: In all my years hunting for that one great cyberpunk high, few, if any, ever reached Gibson's imaginative heights. He not only coined the term Cyberspace, but he wrote THIS novel on an old fashioned typewriter. And THAT tells a massive story all by itself.

I can name a few novels as good as this, but Gibson really sells the stage of so many classic animes, cyberpunk authors, tons of crappy b-movies, and the un-ironic backdrop of our modern world. Of course, this novel should have played the role of a cautionary tale, but it IS the end-product of capitalism gone wild. Take THAT as you will.

One thing I want to bring up: for any gamers out there who played and loved Cyberpunk 2077 (probably anyone who used a PC), it should be mentioned that SO MANY themes and plot points and specific worldbuilding was drawn right from Neuromancer, so much so that he should have been listed in the title. We can say the same for its influence on Matrix, too, but I think that's a lesser comparison. Yes, both use the term Matrix interchangeably and there's a lot of hacking, the simulations in Neuromancer are more neon and 80's CG in expression.

Moving on, I also wanted to mention Max Headroom. It came out only a handful of years after this and is very much indebted to it, too. I'm a fanboy of this genre. Call-outs are necessary. As are genuinely awesome near post-cyberpunk or post-cyberpunk titles like Snow Crash.

This book here is REAL history, tho. We see so much of its influence in everything around us and rarely give it the props it needs.

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Tuesday, July 4, 2023

The Sun Also RisesThe Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To me, I read this book as a book about history.

It's not that the existential crisis of our lives ever really went away or anything, or that we can't understand what it's like to get our junk blown off in WWI, or that nothing, anywhere, seems to make a damn difference, so why not get drunk and flit about Europe, being super sociable while hating everyone know know, and just PRETEND like you're living your best life?

I don't love this book for the EXAMPLE that Jake Barnes or Brett or any of the Lost Generation kiddos set. I love this book for the hard look it CAN let us have about ourselves, society itself, or that dead feeling we have inside when we're forced to play out these nasty little puppet shows.

Is it the most genuine thing in the world to be a Bull Fighter? To give yourself over, utterly, to that one glowing idea or ideal, to wish you had it for yourself while knowing it will NEVER be for you?

Yeah, I still love this novel. It's just not a modern novel.

It IS a novel that doesn't hold its punches... as long as you are reflecting upon it.

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Sunday, July 2, 2023

Peace on EarthPeace on Earth by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I consider this classic "spear-the-pig" SF even if it was pubbed in '86. It's by the inestimable Stanislaw Lem, though, so it's sharp enough to spear all of us. Great and funny commentary on the arms race, weapons escalation, nanotechnology, AI's, and even that tenuous (but oddly consistent) connection between mental health and the rich.

Fear is, indeed, a creature with huge eyes and a small brain. :)

This was a delightful, light, and astute novel. Lem is seriously smart.

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Saturday, July 1, 2023

The Sunless Countries (Virga, #4)The Sunless Countries by Karl Schroeder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I still like this series best when it doles out some awesome worldbuilding. The steampunk elements in this hard SF -- construct -- of Virga are okay and fairly entertaining. The adventure to learn more and turn aside from their previous desires was pretty much the best part.

That isn't to say that I wasn't slightly put off with the later wall-of-text, because I was, but I decided to be tolerant. Good SF can sometimes be a little difficult.

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