Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Glamour in Glass (Glamourist Histories, #2)Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was in the mood for something light and frilly with just a hint of danger. Oh! Napoleon is Loose!!! And of course, since this is a literally magical romance set in the Regency, it certainly fit all the bills and requirements of my mood. :)

Romance! Magic! Lace! Glamour! Children?

This is an extremely easy read. It has all the feel and the magic of, say, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, at least in the setting and some of the apparent uses of magic to beat back Napoleon, but all in all, it's narrowed down to mostly the focus of a few fairly normal families, including a bit of spy-work, hidden nobility, and the plight of the sexes in Regency-era norms.

All in all, modern.

This is not to say that certain parts aren't emotional or difficult, because it is, but the strength of Jane, despite the losses she endures, makes the novel rewarding, too.

Popcorn fiction at its best. :)

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Death’s End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3)Death’s End by Cixin Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those rare mind-blowing novels of such fantastic scope and direction that words just can't do it justice. It's the third book that started with the Hugo-Winning The Three-Body Problem, continued with The Dark Forest. They're all fantastic, but I have to honestly say that I loved this one more than the rest.

We've got the scope of some of Stephen Baxter's Xeelee Sequence going on here. I'm talking universe-spanning scope, going straight through time like a hot knife through butter and right on out into the expanding reaches of the imagination. The first book dives into the tiniest particles and higher dimensional spaces, the second deals with the apparent macro universe and the ongoing conflict between the Tri-Solarans and Humanity, and the third concludes with some truly and amazingly harrowing experiences, from the end of the stalemate, the near-genocide of humanity, and the grand realization that it's all gone even more wrong.

And things only get worse from there.

I'm properly flabbergasted by this book. There are enough fantastic ideas crammed in here for ten books, maybe even twenty. And even if it wasn't so idea-rich, from the extrapolated sciences, extremely well-thought-out consequences, and even further extrapolations from there, we even get some of the more interesting characters ever written in SF.

My appreciation of The Dark Forest only increases when set beside this one, and although I didn't consider that novel quite worthy of the Hugo as the first novel was, it was an amazing set-up for this last novel's execution.

The Dark Forest is an expression of the idea that the universe is an extremely hostile place. Any two alien species that meets is likely going to preemptively wipe out the other or face the reality of being wiped out. Such conflicts at such huge scales and high-technology and physics can be utterly amazing and one-sided, from start explosions to local space conversions between dimensions, such as turning a local three-dimensional plane of existence into a two-dimensional one.

Utterly shocking. Utterly amazing.

We even get to visit, early on, the tombstones of entire alien civilizations that escaped the Dark Forest by hopping into the fourth dimensional frame from the third dimension, only to discover that the great time-stream is shrinking, a bunch of big fish already having consumed all the small fish, and now the pond of existence is shrinking to almost nothing.

Each new discovery or option or hope is explored and dashed. The conflict, the Sword of Damocles, never leaves the tale. The Dark Forest is always evident, and it's depressing and awe-inspiring and a great story and I was honestly in awe of all the new directions it took.

I've read a LOT of SF. I've never seen anyone pull this off quite as well as this.

He builds on every new idea and makes a universe as frightening as it is amazing, and nothing ever stays the same.

And best of all, he leaves humanity as it is. Hopelessly outmatched. Always hopelessly outmatched. No matter what we do, how we advance and improve or build upon inherited technologies from our one-time friends, dark gods, and demons, the Tri-Solarans, there's always a new snag.


Honestly, there's no way to review this except to tell everyone out there that there's just too many great things to say about it, that it is a monumental undertaking, that it is an endlessly fascinating and impressive corpus of work, and that everyone should avail themselves of this trilogy.

It's just that good. I'm in awe.

Some things are just heads and shoulders above the rest. Well, perhaps, this one is a whole storey above all the rest, too. :)

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Monday, September 26, 2016

The Rise of Athens: The Story of the World's Greatest CivilizationThe Rise of Athens: The Story of the World's Greatest Civilization by Anthony Everitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC!

This is probably one of the most readable accounts of the Athens that I've ever read, punctuated with a little bit of the things we all know, like how the Iliad informs their lives, the huge importance of Sparta, and of course some of the interesting accounts of our favorite Know-Nothing, Socrates.

Even though I have a huge soft spot in my heart for philosophy in general and loved the brief accounts in here, make no mistake: This book is all about the big players of the political history, first and foremost. Wars are an obvious part of it, as is the evolution or even the spontaneous rise of democracy out of almost nothing, but it's the characters of history that makes this book stand out.

It's definitely good enough for a newbie fan of Grecian history and it's readable enough for everyone else, too.

My only complaint may be a personal one. Perhaps we didn't really need the fall of Ilium in as much detail. Yes, it's a cultural thing, but a quicker overview at the beginning before diving head first into the good stuff might have been even better.

Same thing goes for all the extras of Socrates, and that's even though I love reading about him.

Honestly? I'd have been perfectly content on hearing about more of the others that made up the rise of the penultimate Greek City-State. We love to focus on the iconic people, I know, I know, but he was never a real mover or shaker in the political scene, just in the evolution of thought and philosophy.

But I did get a real kick out of all the Satires, though. They gave me a much better story and a more rounded feel of the life.

All in all, I'm perfectly happy with this history. It lets me dive in with a great overview and a telling of a pretty epic and perilous story from the first beginnings, the realization that they were a power against Xerxes, all the way through Alexander. Fun stuff!

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern HorrorNightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror by Ellen Datlow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

Since this hasn't been released yet, I'm going to skip all the spoilerish stuff and the Story by Story gush or other reaction, and instead pick out some of my absolute favorites and otherwise tease some of the best ideas and themes for the rest, because I'm gonna be honest... the whole book of horror tales was rather fantastic.

I mean, it should be. This was a cherry-picking of the last ten year's best horror stories from some of the biggest non-stratospheric names in the business. Meaning it's mostly underrated authors or authors that are up-and coming or are well on their way to becoming household names.

That being said, I was thoroughly creeped out, disturbed, amused, and even awed. Most of these did a very good job at keeping me on the edge of my seat, and some even managed to make me really squirm and and want to say, "Enough, enough" and a few made me want to go out and pick up everything that author has ever written and be thankful that this book let me in on the big secret of their existence. :)

As for that last group, here they are:

Kaaron Warren's Dead Sea Fruit

Truly creeped me out and it had some of the best triggers in the business. Ash Mouth Man? Wow. Totally knocked me over. :)

Gemma Files's Spectral Evidence

This one was stylistically a fantastic treat with lots of easter eggs, written as notes in an investigation with pictures and tons of footnotes that tell an even more interesting tale than I might have guessed from the standard section. It isn't a traditional tale, but it's a freaking excellent one. :)

Ray Cluley's At Night, When the Demons Come By

A rather bright spotlight of a look at gender issues and an epic look at a world after demons infest the skies and shred humanity, zombie-style, but a bit more dire. The voice in this one is haunting and fantastic.

Livia Llewellyn's Omphalos

Totally haunting. I doubt I'll look at maps the same way again. And I'll also be totally creeped out about this one all night, now. Thanks a lot.

Now, just so you know, I loved almost all of these stories, and leaving some of these out actually kind of pains me. :) I'm still anxious after reading this entire book. And that's all because of the fantastic skills and the creepy dolls and the western zombies and the UF overdrive of hell infestations and good old fashioned roadtrip murder sprees. :)

Really, this one one hell of a fun ride. Anyone just looking for a good sampler or just a crazy good time could do FAR worse than this. :)

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Hydrogen SonataThe Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

End Days.

Oh yes, the end is coming for the whole Gzilt civilization. They're tired of making music and screwing. They're tired of being so damn *good* at everything. So, let's follow the holy text and hop aboard the higher-dimensional expressway and SUBLIMEo ourselves!

They're not the first culture to do it, and I'm sure they won't be the last, but the Culture has something to say about it. Yes they do.

I need to warn you, folks. There's sensitive information ahead. Even slightly spoiler-like and disturbing. Proceed with due caution.

"Uh, bub? Yeah, we got something you probably ought to see before you off yourself."

"Busybody know-it-all machines, what do you know? You're too afraid to see what comes next!"

"Ah, yeah, about that, we keep sending explorers who never want to come back."

"Then it must be great!"

"You do know you're committing a full racial suicide on yourself, right?"

"We have Holy Texts that say otherwise!"

"Ah, yeah, bub? Um, yeah, go right ahead."

It's pretty intense, right? A whole galactic civilization just going poof like that? Well, little did I know how much of a love story this was going to be! The romance, of course, is between a four-armed chick destined to go down the evolutionary pneumatic tube of the Sublime and a rather eccentric dildo of a ship that named himself Mistake Not My Current State Of Joshing Gentle Peevishness For The Awesome And Terrible Majesty Of The Towering Seas Of Ire That Are Themselves The Mere Milquetoast Shallows Fringing My Vast Oceans Of Wrath.

Kinda a mouthful, true, so the warship usually just calls himself Mistake Not. Kinda catchy, no? Better than the ships named, You Call This Clean? or A Fine Disregard For Awkward Facts.

God I love these Culture Ships.

Well anyway, the countdown is down and there's an absolute ton of interesting things going on that I'm not going to spoil because they're awesome, including philosophizing and rather mean Memory Cubes and a discussion with a REALLY OLD and CROTCHETY ship. Is this a novel about making life's living fun? Finding reasons to go on? Is this about talking a whole civilization off the cliff? Yeah, I suppose it really is, but it's also a celebration of all the peculiarities of living.

That's pretty awesome when you think about it.

Iain M. Banks died the very next year. Diagnosed with inoperable cancer in April of '13 and dead in June of the same year.

It gives me a lot to think about beyond just the fun and oddly prescient nature of this novel.

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Surface DetailSurface Detail by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A war in hell, for the fate of hell?

What? Is this a Culture novel, one of huge Space Operatic dimensions, Ship Mega-Minds, nearly ascendant alien cultures and encroaching afterlifes?

Wait. Afterlife? Sure! Virtual hells made for elephantine aliens with enormous virtual wars to take up their attention so it doesn't have to spill over into the real.

It's civilized, don't you know?

Of course, you can't say that for the people being TORTURED FOR ETERNITY within them. *sigh*

This one happens to be my absolute favorite of all the Culture Novels. I haven't read the 10th yet, but it's going to have to work double-time to beat this one.

I love all the characters, from the Eccentric Drones to the debt-enslaved victim of hell and her lover of oh so tragic fate. (Learning how to become a demon to escape the victim's-fate is pretty tragic, after all.)

And through this, the Culture sits and watches and makes noises that they'll never get involved in other species's conflicts unless ordered by Culture, proper, and yet they always seem to find ways to stick their noses in and make epic struggles and full-blown wars out of molehills.

Got to love it. :)

War For Hell! And as always, the ironic humor of the ships, their names, and the situations is all sheer delight. :) I mean, after all, the setting is, in fact, in an Elephant's Graveyard. :)

Lol. Great stuff!

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Friday, September 23, 2016

The Cult CandidateThe Cult Candidate by Richard Monaco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

New Age Thriller.

What an odd concept, no? Or perhaps it's a thing that used to be rather common but now has kinda gone the way of the 90's. Of course, that's kinda the point. This one was first published in '79 and is now being re-released.

So how was it? Well, I came into it thinking I'd be falling under the spell of a cult, New Age or otherwise, with possibly a bit of trouble extricating myself and/or family getting all up in arms with my predicament, but how would I have guessed that this would be a murder mystery and eventually a blowout epic tale of politics and mysticism and bright glowing things? I couldn't!

In point of fact, this is a New Age Thriller, with all the old concepts of astral projection, aura reading, manipulation of time and space and cheating death and above all, energy, energy, energy. :) It winds up being a hell of a wild ride that reminded me of some Depak chopra novels later on down the timestream. Really wild.

And I was also reminded, amusedly, of Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum for what it has to say about any book that brings up the Templar Knights. Or the Spear of Longinus.

I'm just not sure if this novel is quite to the point where its outdated, because most of it could work quite well as a modern rendition with a bit of squinting, but for the primary tale, it still works pretty well.

It also feels like a blast from the past. Or if you folks have never really encountered a New Age Guru before, but always wanted to, then come on in! The water's fine! :)

Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC!

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