Friday, September 30, 2016

Shadow of the Scorpion (Polity Universe #2)Shadow of the Scorpion by Neal Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one is easily a better novel than the previous one, but I can't quite tell if that's just because the heavy lifting of the tech and aliens has already been long-established from within Prador Moon.

This one moves well beyond a straight high-tech military porn and delves into the creation of Ian Cormac, of whom later novels are focused, and the reveals he slowly learns about his erased childhood, splitting the novel between his adulthood and his formation pretty equally, while also being embroiled in a techno-political thriller years after the main wars have already been waged.

Human separatists are still an issue, of course, as are the Prador.

More interestingly, for me, is the introduction of the new places and the titles of later books and a hint of their importance for later. It's these things that hook me and make me a fan. A good novel is still a good novel, with a full beginning, middle, and end, but without these juicy tidbits of a far-off adventure, I might have stopped here.

I'm not stopping, suffice to say. :)

I'm really getting into this now. It's no longer a fun and fast-paced pew pew popcorn, but a serious character tale, too. :) Yay!

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Prador Moon  (Polity Universe, #1)Prador Moon by Neal Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very readable and extremely quick-paced action adventure with buggy aliens vs AI-enhanced humanity in some distant future.

Sound familiar? Well, yeah, it is. But still! Lots of modern concepts thrown in, from virtual realities, fake-matter pocket universes, and bio-enhanced pheromone-enslaved monstrous race of aliens.

Add elements, mix well, and let the fur fly!

Seriously, I've read much worse and the quality *is* pretty top notch. There's even a few easter eggs for you peeps who want a little poetry or introversion with your pew pew action.

All in all, it's pure popcorn, from the peace delegation to the rending of limbs at same, to the dire fates of whole worlds and their humans and AIs.

Oh yeah, and humans never really get their shit together, do they? Sometimes, but it's sooooo easy to subvert them, isn't it? I wonder if those aliens are the same.... :)

Funnily enough, even with all these overt differences between the races, one thing is abundantly clear.... we're all damn weird aliens. :)

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Invader (Foreigner, #2)Invader by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This SF series is continuing to prove itself one of the most enduring and fascinatingly social of all the hard SF's I've ever read. Book two seems to pick up very well with similar or perhaps improved pacing from the previous one, but instead of focusing so much on the linguistics issues, Bren finds himself with ever increasing responsibility and power within the Atevi world, much to the everlasting chagrin of his "people" on the island of humans.

Did he go native, selling out the other humans? Has he betrayed humanity to give all the aliens all our tech, to crowd out the advances and the possible advantage of allying with the returning spacecraft that had abandoned the humans on this world for 200 years? How dare he!

Of course, he knows he's just trying to keep the peace, making sure that all sides, both human and Atevi, work together and make sure no one gets left out. It helps that he's the only one to translate and make deals with both sides, for many good reasons not just cultural, but hard-wired in the alien psyche.

Except, the humans have factions and factions and they've sent a new translator to take over for Bren, and the two of them have never gotten along.

Politics and politics ensue, with Bren in the right and rising high in Atevi estimation, while all the while things keep getting gummed up anyway. :)

These are early days, with the Spaceship wanting the downwellers to regain spaceflight, fast, so they can man and refurbish the abandoned space station around the planet. Three sides could blow up into a real huge mess. And in the center is Bren. :)

I love this stuff. Translator-porn. :) Politic-Biology conflict. Technological parity.

Here's the interesting bit: The Atevi are born mathematicians. :) Everything boils down to associations and "good" number parity, down to all their surroundings, the number of rooms or the architecture, or the way they form their words, so you have to be fantastic at math just to speak with them, or it's "unfavorable" and they might just assassinate you for it. Details. :)

Of course, this means that the Atevi also have it in them to blow all humanity out of the water if they ever get their hands on some really juicy tech or even the knowledge that FTL is real.

Oops. Too late. :)

It's becoming extremely, extremely difficult to hold off on reading this entire series without stopping. :)

Delicious doesn't even begin to describe it. :)

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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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