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Sunday, June 30, 2024

Great Masters: Beethoven - His Life and MusicGreat Masters: Beethoven - His Life and Music by Robert Greenberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a wild ride! I was always told how unstable Beethoven was, how brutish and lower case "c" crazy he was, but I guess he was all that and more.

BUT, if we ignore his bad behavior, his compulsive lying about his ancestry, the horrible mixed-up family situation, and some rather boarish behavior in general, we can ALL, almost universally, agree that he was ONE HELL OF A MUSICIAN.

Rock star is the proper term, not just in behavior, but in the rhythm and over-the-top grandiosity and originality of his work.

And, I shall not ignore the gloriosity of Greenberg's lecture. Top notch, as always.

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Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? by Mark Fisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Truly remarkable precisely because it couches the problem of late stage capitalism in our concrete reality, it briefly, eloquently poses the exactly correct questions we should all be asking every day -- and realizing that we have all been fooled. That we are continually being fooled.

Here's the rub: We weren't always in this deep. There are still living people who remember the protections against runaway capitalism and the reality of a better way of doing things.

There was a massive push by capitalism, itself, to re-frame and re-contextualize the very concept of the profit motive, how people work, even the idea that good works could be offloaded as donations to non-profit mega-corps rather than the thing itself. (Look at carbon credit programs which have all almost entirely turned out to be fraud-schemes.)

And more importantly, look at what kinds of problems that capitalism can NEVER solve: the medical field, mental health, bureaucracy itself, or the circular self-serving nature of a monolithic money machine that cycles through the endless stages of control, from putting leashes on politicians, creating laws to benefit their profit margins, steamrolling popular opposition, controlling all narratives, and successfully silencing or exhausting the grand majority of the entire population -- making us all accept the fact of our Learned Defeatism.

The fact that practically all of us genuinely hate this entire system, sees how it is destroying us, and how we all wish it could just go away is really rather funny.

But it IS the core narrative. Capitalism is designed to have everyone hate it IF ONLY TO OFFER UP A PLEASING PRODUCT MADE BY CAPITALISM TO FIX THE PROBLEM THAT IT, ITSELF, CREATED.

See the trap?

None of us will get out of this without understanding that there are no quick-fixes, no products we can buy, and we can't even trust our near-universal cry of: "Oh, there's nothing that I (singular, just me,) can do." That line has also been programmed into us by the same people who make 500+ times our take home salaries. Honestly... should we trust their narrative?

This book is pretty amazing. It is smart, short, and drives each point home in a way that old masterworks on economic theory rather fail to do. This, at least, holds up an unclouded mirror.

It's VERY relevant for today.

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Saturday, June 29, 2024

Goblin Queen (Crystal Shards Online, #5)Goblin Queen by Rick Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Back to their original settlement, they discover an army of undead goblins laying waste to everything.

In other words, all normal.

I admit I enjoyed the setting of the prior novel better, but this was also fun. I mean, OP, bad odds, betrayal, AI gods on the field, and to top it all off, titans. No problem.

It's time to squash and be squashed. Defend that settlement!

Funnily enough, this is high-level battle time.

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Rocket Ship GalileoRocket Ship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read 6/29/24:

Another buddy read, but this time with a new victim -- I mean, a receiver of wholesome rocket-ship building from before the ACTUAL space race.

I think it's just so -- can do. We don't get much of this at all these days. And while it does feel like a new adult kind of novel, it's all about the spirit of adventure.

The funny thing is, I just read this last year, and yet I don't mind revisiting it at all. :)

Original Review:

I had to show my girl some of the old SF greats. Being a juvenile, herself, I thought it would be best to give her a taste of Heinlein's Juveniles, AND WE'RE BOTH GLAD WE DID.

This particular book was published in 1947, and considering the TIME it was published, it's pretty amazing. Consider the fact that Heinlein was writing about nuclear power rockets using as much of the science he was able to learn, as accurately as he could, in a YA. And not only was it hopeful and adventuresome with a hefty dose of can-do attitude, we even got a little popular ANTIFA action against the Nazis. RAH (Robert A. Heinlein) RAH RAH RAH!

It was delightful. A handful of young men and their mentor go to the moon. Sure, there's a little gloss-over with pre-fabbed rockets (an industry well under way) and a lot of everything else, but the basic science was there and it was written in a fun way.

Best of all, I have to point out that our own real space race had not gotten into gear yet. People's imaginations were not quite ready to pour so much of our resources into the grand competition. But Heinlein was there. Early. And serious about the science. :)

As for my girl, she was always attentive and loved the math (because she likes math) and thought the story was pretty damn fun. (Her words.) We flew through it together and she says she wants to read a LOT more Heinlein.

Ah, I love it. I remember when I went crazy, too, just a little older than her. :)

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Autumn's End: A SciFi Dystopian ThrillerAutumn's End: A SciFi Dystopian Thriller by B J Levey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now that we've entered an age where cyberpunk is our actual reality, it really tickles me to read techno-thrillers that have all that old panache.

This near-future SF dystopia gives me all the feel of Detroit, of Daniel Suarez's wonderful novels, and any number of SF novels that insist that the warning should never be ignored.

In other words, my friends, if you love rich near-future worldbuilding, tech-failings, massive gambles, and a trove of spoilerish SF goodies that make their way onto the page, not to mention a fine plot, then please don't overlook this.

I had a great time!

PS: It's an independent title, but don't let that dissuade anyone. It is a passion project that took 5 years to get out here. It's not backed by anything but our eyes and support. It would be tragic if this gets lost in the shuffle.

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Friday, June 28, 2024

Gun Blade (Crystal Shards Online, #4)Gun Blade by Rick Scott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oooooooohhhhh I think I love this one. At least to me, I dove head-first into this one, screaming, "Cyberpunk!!!!!" And yes, exactly that game, with a lot of the great, flashy feel and a great deal of Atom Smasher to boot. :)

I went from "This is okay" to "Oh, I'm DOWN" real quick. Maybe it's not for everyone, but I loved the new class changes and combos and raid rotations as much as the overall developments of the story. But really? It was all the aesthetic. I even stayed up late to read.

At least to me, this LitRPG is finally coming into its own.

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Thursday, June 27, 2024

Witches Abroad (Discworld, #12; Witches, #3)Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Third read! 6/27/24:

There's something very dangerous about stories. And then there's the danger of stories within stories. And below that, are TROPES within stories within stories.


SCARY. And don't forget the pumpkins.

Original Review:

Re-read 5/24/18:

Second read! And MORE WITCHES. Well, voodoo, too!

What happens when stories just INSIST that witches come over and to the other side? What, with all the wolves misunderstanding that they're not men and dwarves trying to steal Nanny Og's shoes and ALL THOSE MAGIC MIRRORS!

And in the end, it's just family rivalry. :)

Weatherwax really stole the show.

Yeah. Even more than that damn cat Greebo! :)

The novel is a great mish-mash of fairy tails with proper Discworld attitude. :) Better than most of the Witches novels, IMHO, but I'm just biding time till Aching comes along. :)

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Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Reaper Man (Discworld, #11; Death, #2)Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read 6/26/24:

Each time I read these Discworlds (and this is #3) I find something new, or rather, there is something new in me that wants to read it a different way.

So this time I'm enjoying it much more than my second time and closer to my first, and the best of all three. That is to say, I SO GET that Death needs a holiday.

And you know what? Fuck work. Life can handle itself. Or rather, it might get a little backlog, but who cares. A little wobbly universe ain't nothing, no?

I'll always miss Bill. Or rather, I'll miss him all but one time.

Original Review:

Re-read with buddies!

I suppose it helps that I'm already a lifelong fan of Pratchett, but even objectively, this is a delightful novel about Death's retirement. Sure, he was tricked, but he really needed some time off. Or some time, period.

The magicians were delightful, as usual, and the undead, even more so. This is the zombie apocalypse, Discworld-style, when no one's allowed to die.

It was rather pastoral. :)

I wouldn't say this is my favorite of the Discworld series, but it *does* mark the inclusion of one of my absolute favorite Discworld characters of all time.

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Shard Wraith (Crystal Shards Online, #3)Shard Wraith by Rick Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm getting into the worldbuilding a bit more now, its SF and now even matrixy base, and I generally enjoy the twist of level fluctuations and restrictions, if handled well.

Funnily enough, when I originally thought that these books were cribbing a little from, say FFXI, this one cribbed a bit more from both ninja gaiden and rts battle sims. Not bad, even if it's not super original.

On the other hand, LitRPGs generally don't need to be original. They're giving us gamers what we clamor for: nostalgia and pure adventure.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The Ministry of TimeThe Ministry of Time by Kaliane Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one reads like a cold-war spy/romance where you bring defectors in, maybe romance them up a bit, then watch it all unravel as your agency makes things hairy -- but it is actually a time-travel novel that takes its sweet time enjoying a true man of English culture trying to come to terms with our modern age.

What did I like best?

Not the spy stuff. It was okay but it was rather sad and depressing. I DID like the fish out of water aspects, however, and even rather like the romance.

All in all, a solid time-travel novel that didn't focus too much on timey-wimey stuff, just the human angle.

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Sunday, June 23, 2024

You Like It DarkerYou Like It Darker by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Overall, a great collection of SK stories. Not a single complaint.

Two Talented Bastids -- What I thought MIGHT be a nice tie-in to Tommyknockers actually turned out to be a rather wholesome, if eerie, tale. 5/5

The Fifth Step - 4/5

Willie the Weirdo - What a creepy damn kid. 4/5

Danny Coughlin's Bad Dream - I loved every second of this. Poor Danny! This is King in top form. 5/5

Finn - I really felt sorry for this kid. Of course, the twist... 4/5

On Slide Inn Road - Old grandpa is a real hoot. Great language, ya old popcorn fart. :) 5/5

Red Screen - A nice twist on "picking". A bit of the normal and a good horrible wallop of the other. 4/5

The Turbulence Expert - 4/5

Laurie - Nothing like a little dog to lighten up your life. :) 5/5

Rattlesnakes - Wicked pram tale. Easily one of the best stories in this collection. I thought it was all kinds of cool that it carries Cujo on, so many years past that puppy's expiration date. More than anything else, though, this was one hell of a good ghost story. 5/5

The Dreamers - Oooohhh I love SK's cosmic horror stories. 5/5

The Answer Man - A good twist on a monkey paw story. And as always, the answer is in the proper question. :) 5/5

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Shard Warrior (Crystal Shards Online, #2)Shard Warrior by Rick Scott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This second book still has all the normal LitRPG goodies. The SF reveals are steadily revealing themselves and the dodge-tanking angle is still going strong.

I think I mainly enjoy these for the comfort factor. I'm getting some flashbacks of a FFXI grind and it's pretty neat. Other than that, it's fairly average -- not that this will stop me from reading more.

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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Dodge Tank (Crystal Shards Online, #1)Dodge Tank by Rick Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Enjoyable LitRPG that hits hard with a quick no-agility build that ends with a dodge-build ninja tank. It feels like a straight ninja-thief FFXI build turned into a novelization, and I found it quite amusing.

Memories of being a dodge tank was quite fun. The rest of the story was engaging enough and I'll be continuing with enthusiasm. A quick-level story isn't bad.

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Friday, June 21, 2024

Mother of Learning: ARC 4Mother of Learning: ARC 4 by Domagoj Kurmaić
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Just wow. It's done, and it ended spectacularly, with heart, style, and a true wrap-up that gave love to every single character.

I don't say this that often, but, "DUDE."

All four books together need to be considered one story, or like web-chapters or a Dickensian story arc. From the very start to the post-loop battle, to the wrap-up, it was awesome.

I sat glued to the story without an even slight desire to do anything else at any point in time. I even went to bed late and got up early to spoil myself with more of this story.

When I say it outdoes Groundhog Day, I say it outdoes Groundhog Day. And it's NICE and long and I could keep reading it forever. Fortunately --- I can. Just pretend I'm on a time loop.

Time to wake up!


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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Ballad of Perilous GravesThe Ballad of Perilous Graves by Alex Jennings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It wasn't until we moved on into the other world when I really started jamming with this novel, but once we went there, I fell into the wonderful language and sensual descriptions (even if they were gym shoes) and was entirely here for the journey.

Ghosts, jazz, New Orleans, and a whole lot of magic. Very imaginative and, frankly, a perfect sojourn on a wonderful Juneteenth day. :)

I particularly grew to love the slice of life, depth of characters, and overall epic horror feel -- and yet, I think the kids had the best adventure. :)

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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Service ModelService Model by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great little Everyman novel from the position of an eternally-innocent robot valet, walking us through philosophical positions from some of the great philosophers as we enjoy the end of the world.

Huh? Say what?

What I MEAN to say is that we've got a bot on an eternal search to be of service in the almost complete wreckage of the human race, encountering so many robots following their instruction sets to the absolute ends of the earth and their existence.

Just do as you've been programmed, ya know? Kinda like us. Do as "they" say. Keep on doing all the little things "they" say. Even if it leads you to doom, never go against your instruction sets!

Ah, but this novel is a bit more than just that kind of commentary, but this little blast at our underlying assumptions is quite delicious.

So yes, why HAVEN'T we been creating a kind and orderly world for ourselves? It IS a simple question. It ought to be part of ALL of our underlying questions.

But, alas, it's not just robots who have to follow instruction sets, no? I think we've been programmed with shit.

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Monday, June 17, 2024

Welcome to the Hyunam-Dong BookshopWelcome to the Hyunam-Dong Bookshop by Hwang Bo-Reum
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I want to say this is a heart-warming book about starting over and opening a bookshop and trying to follow your dream -- and it IS all of these things -- but it is also about burnout-recovery, life/work balance, healing, anxiety, and introversion.

That may also be heartwarming, but the worries are real and hit me just as hard since I've lived them. There is no official romance in this, either. There is the work, the work, and the work.

The trick is to do the work that makes you happy, of course, and to keep re-adjusting to make sure you are happy.

It's not entirely doable for all of us, of course. Not all of us will have worked and saved since being a kid to then drop it all into opening a bookstore. This is fantasy, of course, but it is a pretty, pretty thought.

Keep aiming for your happiness. Or rather, to quote Campbell, "Follow your bliss."

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Mother of Learning: ARC 3Mother of Learning: ARC 3 by Domagoj Kurmaić
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm truly thrilled with these novels. I'm having so much fun reading them.

This particular one still has the same foundation as the other two, while the MCs are continually growing stronger the more they learn with every iteration, but now we've seen other continents and have been interacting with some rather powerful people -- some to learn from, others to fool -- and I'm here for it all.

So delicious. I just can't get enough of this.

I totally recommend these for anyone who enjoys a Groundhog Day type of fantasy. :)

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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Mother of Learning: ARC 2Mother of Learning: ARC 2 by Domagoj Kurmaić
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm frankly blown away by this series.

Not only does it continue on in strong form from the first arc, it widens all horizons.

This series can only be described as a single endless novel. When the journey and character is this strong, a format like this is absolutely WONDERFUL if the writing is great and the dear reader is fully invested.

Fortunately, I am. Indeed, I LOVE a well-made Groundhog Day story and make no bones about the loop being about a month long. It turns this young character's magical learning sessions into something quite instructive. Being the academic sort, myself, I love the idea of becoming an archmage at 15 a wonderful prospect.

The big tragedy that keeps on re-happening is just a nice spur for everything else. As it is here, Zorian's scope is now well beyond the city where everything else had happened. He's developed a few new specialties, but it's his generalism that truly fascinates me.

So much so, I'm giving up on sleep and feel absolutely no desire to do anything else while reading this stuff.
Yes, that is high praise.

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Silver on the Tree (The Dark is Rising, #5)Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The finale has come!

It's a pretty great example of a "signs and mystical Arthurian legendary artifacts" kind of series, boldly mixing ancient and wild magic in with everyday English characters within a small territory for huge stakes.

That being said, I always preferred reading about Will's adventures and I warmed up to Brom pretty quickly, while the normal children were kinda so-so to me.

While I do APPRECIATE the idea of having so much Arthurian and older English imagery studded through these books, (and the last one in particular), my older self found it slightly ham-fisted and even slightly nonsensical by the end. It always boils down to arbitrary decisions by vastly powerful beings who then choose to give a choice over to the least consequential mortals.

Chosen-one stuff in different clothing, even arbitrarily chosen chosen-one stuff by the very end. And yes, I can see the point that this makes it rise above the expected outcomes, gives it subtlety and a chance for readers to read it all again for more signs and portents, but to me, it reminds me of countless heavy-handed christian fiction. Post-Narnia as this is, perhaps I'm a bit -- sensitive.

THAT being said, I still liked this book and the whole series. Good YA, great atmosphere, and if you're into it, vast numbers of symbolism to consider.

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Friday, June 14, 2024

Mother of Learning: ARC 1Mother of Learning: ARC 1 by Domagoj Kurmaić
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I didn't know this was what I had been wanting. Hell, it was so exactly what I had been wanting that I was compelled to stay up all night long, and then getting on my case about getting at least SOME sleep, and not wanting to get any.

Let's just lay it out: Magical time-loop of approximately a month, each time ending with a huge invasion of the school. Our hero, starting out his third year of magic school, is then forced to repeat it... for years. :) He decides to take advantage of the time to learn everything.


Muahahahahaha I loved it. Every single second. From normally avoiding people to getting to know everyone, every subject, manipulate things to his advantage, even try to do something about the invasion.

It's very much a Groundhog Day novel, but for YA magical schoolwork.

*giddy with enjoyment*

On to the next, quite shortly!

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Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Grey King (The Dark is Rising, #4)The Grey King by Susan Cooper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maybe I'm getting into the worldbuilding more, or I am getting into the characters more, but the fourth book is really picking up for me and I'm loving it.

Perhaps a re-read of them all might be in order, now that I know the shape of things to come. :)

Either way, dark corners of English countryside, bastions of darkness, fought by the last incarnations of the light? As seen through foxes, ugly landowners, and dogs...

Yes, I think this small scope as a backdrop of the large is working quite well.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The FiveThe Five by Robert McCammon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't say enough good things about this one.

I mean, I've read a lot of his earlier works, back when I kinda thought he was on the same stage as King and Simmons when it came to those HUGE slice of life 80's horrors, and so it comes to something of a huge shock to realize he never left that stage.

The Five also happened to wrap a huge fist around my heart and keep me alive by some huge artificial means -- because it's one of those fantastic music novels. You know the type. Rock musicians on the road, trying everything to keep body and soul alive for the sake of the music.

The Five ram themselves against a truly nasty foe... an old warrior who rather got broke while on tour, who didn't take very kindly to hearing about any kind of protest talk from some stupid musicians... who then took his sniper skills on the road, hunting these musicians down one at a time.

So soon, the real countdown begins.

I loved it. I loved the characters, the depth, the perseverance, the friendships. And yes, I felt like I was hearing the music on stage, too.

It's the writing that I loved most. McCammon is a real master. I wanna be a barker for him. It doesn't cost a lot for a hellofalot of entertainment, folks. It's worth EVERY penny. :)

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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Greenwitch (The Dark is Rising, #3)Greenwitch by Susan Cooper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still a good YA fantasy from the early seventies, this time bringing the characters from the first two books together on an adventure to find the Grail. There's a good solid T. H. White thread here, as well as a Tethys, and a lonely Greenwitch.

It's worth it just for the mythology, but I have to say, it is likely a good, ageless book for the youngin's. ;)

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The NarrowsThe Narrows by Ronald Malfi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm becoming a huge fan of Ronald Malfi. He has that PRECISE classic 80's heyday horror tone, together with small towns, creature features, and in-depth characterizations that could easily go any which way when it comes to gruesome deaths.

This one in particular had a small scope, but it was quite deliciously pulled off. The creature was pretty fantastic, but not too out there. Just creative enough.

But what really set this apart was the quality writing. It seriously hit the spot. I need so much more of this in my life.

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Monday, June 10, 2024

The Narrow CornerThe Narrow Corner by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maugham is quite the writer. I think he ought to be as well known as Christie, as celebrated as Faulkner, but here's the real reason why:

It's his light tone, his unexpected flashes of depth, his popular vein, but most importantly, the hidden blades go to right for our backs.

This one is a classic "you can't run from yourself or the things you've done" kind of novel. Getting trapped with sleazy individuals on a remote island can always be rather fun, but Maugham really does avoid the clichés well.

I TOTALLY recommend this for some summertime beach reading. It's very entertaining. Just be sure to re-familiarize yourself on Bridge.

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Sunday, June 9, 2024

The Dark Is Rising (The Dark is Rising, #2)The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I honestly enjoyed this 1973 YA fantasy. I was also rather surprised that we didn't get to follow the kids from the first book, instead falling into Will's headspace as he discovers he's one of the Old Ones.

Lots of magic and dark atmosphere here, but let's not forget just how much English folklore is jammed within these pages. Forces of light and darkness is just a single part of it.

I came into this assuming it was a fantasy classic, and so far, I haven't been disappointed.

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Saturday, June 8, 2024

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi (Amina al-Sirafi, #1)The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn't know I needed this in my life, but here it is and I'm all the better for it. Three parts Arabian Knights, two parts pirate queen, four parts grand adventure, and one part humorous romance.

It's the start of one fine fantasy, rich in Arabic lore, a fine crew, and magic.

Saying more than that might give away a bit too much, but it is safe to say that I'm now excited to follow this new series in the same way I follow all my favorites.

It is not for nothing that it is nommed for many of this year's best awards. It's rich and fun and draws me all the way in. It's pretty damn legendary. So dive right in.

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Friday, June 7, 2024

The Lost CauseThe Lost Cause by Cory Doctorow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every time I read a Cory Doctorow, I'm almost always freakishly amazed (with most of his books) at how utterly extroverted, socially-conscious, justice-oriented, almost fatally idealistic his novels can be.

Some more than others, of course, but when we get right down to it, these are some of the absolute far-leftist books I can think of that continues to keep a critical eye on the best possible outcomes as well as fighting the basic injustice that threatens all our lives.

In this case, it's a near-future (30 years) look at living through an ecological horror-show, of having to face right-wing terrorists that just don't get the fact that we all have to find a way to survive, not just being on the winning side of a zero-sum game. MAGAs are old and reactionary, willing to become terrorists, while the young and everyone else is merely DOING the things that NEED to be done. Making room, taking in refugees, feeding and housing each other because the government won't get out of its own way long enough to do the right thing.

It's truly plausible.

This book has to do a fast dance to remain hopeful in the face of so much tragedy -- but the fact is, it does.

Hope-fiction is rare and it's very valuable -- even more so when it's facing world-wide catastrophe.

Keep your heads up, folks. Remember we can do wonderful things if we do it together. Don't believe that we're all naturally f***ed. There is hope. Enough of us will want to do the right thing when it's obvious. I have to believe.

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Thursday, June 6, 2024

Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark is Rising, #1)Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1965. Fantasy YA.

I honestly didn't know what to expect, only knowing that this was theoretically an old-time classic.

After reading, I feel like I had just had a light grail-type adventure keeping much closer to home than Narnia and not nearly so enormous. Indeed, these mystery-fiction type kids were pretty cozy.

Light, fun adventure. The adults are either super nice or lightly creepy -- until they're worse. :)

The writing is the best part. Solid.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Some Desperate GlorySome Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I feel like I lucked out on this one. The first part made me feel like I was reading another clone of a long, drawn-out, almost YA military space-opera where the embittered survivors deny themselves or later discover some pleasure in life, but I AM HAPPY TO ANNOUNCE that this novel goes well beyond that setup.

Indeed, the many twists and turns it takes is rather rich and satisfying. I wouldn't spoil it, but the plot, new personality twists, and the overlapping structure seriously enriched both the characterizations and the overall plot in a serious way.

My recommendation? Stick with it. It turns into one hell of an interesting SF adventure.

Recent comps? Try Shards of Earth and To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. That should give you a pretty good idea of what we're looking at here.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2024

The Healer's WarThe Healer's War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now THIS is what I would call real Lit-SF.

Most of the modern type likes to moan and complain about how inadequate the MC is when it comes to dealing with RL, usually surrounding unsatisfying relationships -- interspersed among SF tropes -- but this one has a nicely different feel.

This 1988 SF winner of the Nebula award spends a good half of its foundation in the Vietnam war, with Kitty being a hard-working nurse trying to do the best she can in less than awesome circumstances. We get know her, some patients of both Vietnamese and American persuasion, and some local flyboys. The relationships are everything, and I hardly missed the SF/F twist.

When things go to hell, that's when the twist leads us into many raw experiences that draw us deeper and deeper into the real state of war -- and the best part, at least for me, was how the special auras mainly highlighted psychological and social states, bringing her closer and closer to an epiphany that never seems to come.

And then there's also the aftermath, the true-to-life ennui of returning from war, and what comes next.

THIS is what I call a true Lit-SF. The SF portion is genuine and necessary for the underlying emotional center.

I just wish modern types would master this. Alas.

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Monday, June 3, 2024

Three Kinds of Lucky (The Shadow Age, #1)Three Kinds of Lucky by Kim Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's a lot of strong things going on with this.

First, it's a Kim Harrison, so I can generally expect quality and a certain amount of plot and character hooks that are rather crowd-pleasing. Or, at least, me-pleasing. "Underdog, under-powerful, treated like poop, but there's something there..."

Let's face it, that stuff hits the spot sometimes -- and it certainly does here.

Petra's a glorified street cleaner, magical garbage collector. She's low on everyone's magical totem pole, and most of this novel is devoted to showing us just how it is and how it might be otherwise. And that's just plain fun. A good, new UF opener.

And as for all you Kim Harrison fans, while this isn't tied to any Hollows stuff, it has a delicious new feel and a ton of potential, so don't sleep on it. :)

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In AscensionIn Ascension by Martin MacInnes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn't know what I was headed into when I picked up this highly-acclaimed mainstream book that just so happens to be an SF.

I mean, there's a number of books that were always middle-of-the-road SF stories told in middle-of-the-road SF ways but were always touted as above and beyond mainstream, but rarely do I see one that is Kim Stanley Robinson level Hard SF getting slipped in as regular popular fiction.

And yet, here we go! This goes hard with marine biology -- and interstellar travel. I like these stories a lot. Good, interesting characters, the troubles of long journeys, and we've even got so many of the trappings of Aurora built right in, while MacInnes makes it all his own.

What can I say? I've always enjoyed this sub-category of SF and thought this one was well above average. Give me the hard science, the feeling of wonder, the troubles of survival, and lots of new places. I want to soar -- and this book gives me that. :)

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Sunday, June 2, 2024

The StrangeThe Strange by Nathan Ballingrud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is definitely one that will sit on my mind for a while. There's a lot of great worldbuilding aspects to this Mars-based (but apparently not futuristic!) western. I've been fascinated by this from the very start. Get this: even fifty years prior, in the 1880's the first lander on mars started this whole colonization kick, the wild west on what would otherwise be a Barsoomian planet, able to hold atmosphere and crops, and we have outposts, towns, and cities.

And then all communication and travel with Earth went silent a few years past -- and now we've got the psychological horror of being cut off, alone, and the things that people do in that situation.

And this is just the beginning. I'll tell you -- I got PISSED. And frankly, I fell into this tale, raged with it, and was all down for the OTHER mystery, the one that the book is named for. The mystery of Mars, itself. Add the robots, AI creativeness, the idea of consciousness, and a WHOLE LOT of INJUSTICE -- and we get a really cool western that's also all SF while being very creative.

I don't want to give away the goodies, but suffice to say, there ARE some delicious goodies here and great characters.

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Saturday, June 1, 2024

Slow RiverSlow River by Nicola Griffith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Check this out: a nineties cyberpunk-ish novel that focuses on not only identity-skipping, some complicated sexual abuse issues, and LGBTQ+ themes, but -- get this --

Sewage Treatment.

The first is grounded and fascinating and keeps my interest, but it's the latter that is the real hook for me.

I mean -- Cyberpunk SF revolving around SEWAGE TREATMENT. I guess, in a way, that's the true grounding factor in this tale. Slowly moving grounding.

Honestly though, it was just unusual enough to be pretty damn cool even if it didn't utterly spark my cyberpunk-loving imagination. It WAS interesting, if not utterly brilliant. I can also probably say that this WILL be memorable, and that is nothing to sneeze at.

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