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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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