Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Richard IIRichard II by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm on a history kick, so what better way to supplement the immersion into The War Of The Roses than to dive into Shakespeare?

Richard II begins the weakness of kings, where if one could be deposed, yet more can follow. Divine right be damned... should we just rely on might?

It's kind of funny, reading this for the second time after so many years and other historical accounts, just how propagandist this play really is. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise, since it had only been a little over a century prior from the time it was written, and Elizabeth is the product of so much Lancaster and York strife that stems right from these humble and piteous beginnings.

Frankly, I'm really surprised at the balance of this play, where Richard, boy king, makes monstrously poor decisions and banishes Henry Bolingbroke and later steals all his lands to fund a war in Ireland which goes disastrously. Henry Bolingbroke returns from his banishment on such tidings, his lands and monies gone, his father dead, and he sues to get redress from the wrongs done to him. He has good reason.

But. In deposing the king, it opens the weakness of all kings and puts the question to every mind in England... can we ever stop? If it is this easy to depose one, just how easily can we do it again, and again, and again? And indeed, this play is perfectly historical in that respect, even if the man Richard was actually pretty good with finances and stopped fighting for war in France because England couldn't support it. *sigh*

The thing about Shakespeare is this: DRAMA QUEEN. :)

The outcome of Richard's abdication is a long-drawn out drama-fest. Oh woe is me, oh woe is me. It makes for great spectacle, that's for sure, and we even get one of the longest soliloquies in Shakespeare right from Richard's mouth. Henry is only better in his sorrow that all such things came to pass in that he had less page-time. :) I hated the man in life, but love in him death, indeed.

As a side note, I loved the scenes with Henry's uncle and his wife trying to pardon their son's near-treachery. My god, the pathos... it's taken so far it could easily be comedic relief, and I'm certain that some productions of this play could turn it into just that.

Same goes for old Gaunt's ramblings, which are tragic because he knew that Richard would disenfranchise Henry, but that's the beauty of these plays. They're always entertaining and perhaps a bit over the top, but they're definitely not simple or simply interpreted.

Indeed, you can find plenty in this whole play to support the True King or Justice, or change your mind all over again and switch sides.

Oddly enough, since I had just read King Henry IV part one this month, which directly follows the events in Richard II, I was horrified and bemused by Henry's several references to having bloody hands and washing them after Richard's death, because some twenty years later, as the king, he suffers from boils and agues on his hands and face, almost as if it is divine retribution for deposing the rightful king, and he always keeps gloves on and rubs his hands incessantly. Perfect setup and execution. :) But in this case, I'm doing it backwards. :)

Fun stuff, and so amusing, even if it is propaganda! Shakespeare *was* always walking a tightrope. :)

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories, #1)Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Romance and Regency go hand in hand, but then, so does Art.

All the most talented ladies are skilled in the art of subterfuge and seeming, are they not?

Well, not Jane. She's conflicted about using Glamour and refuses to make herself seem more pretty than she is, while also being rather more talented than the rest of her family. Sure, its a common thing to know and use Glamour in the Regency era. Didn't you know? Magic is real, and no only can you create wonderful murals and play wonderful music without the gross aids of base paints or the piano forte, but it also gives us a tapestry to work out our own personal dramas.

How delightful!

I've always liked stories that bring up the conflict between lies and bringing forth truth from them. Passion and the heart were always best served through fiction and not stark reality. :)

As an opener into the series, it serves delightfully as a simple romance with silly girls getting into trouble and eligible men causing so much pain and ruckus. *sigh* But this is the nature of reality. *sigh* The novel isn't the most brilliant that I've read, and it's simplicity serves the magic more than the other way around, and that's fine.

Still, don't trust the blurb that this is much like the books listed there. Think Urban Fantasy meets Regency Romance and you'll be fine. :)

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Crashing Heaven (Station #1)Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love my Cyberpunk. I love Post-Cyberpunk even more. This here is a very well-crafted Hard-
SF novel that is a surprisingly easy read.

I can blame most of the ease and the goodness squarely on the interactions between Jack and Fist. Jack's been screwed over by the Pantheon's contracts and Fist, his erstwhile puppet, his slaved AI, is scheduled to legally take over poor Jack. The war between the Totality (The post-mortality humans who had given themselves godlike virtual powers) and the Pantheon (The machine legal entity and alien that has quashed the chaos and the squabbling of the egos) ended with the Totality forced into civilized behavior and low men on the totem pole always seem to get stuck with the shaft.

That's where Jack, the stand-in for what might be loosely called a Hard-Boiled Detective, but isn't, or isn't really such, has been saddled with a huge debt to the now defunct corporation that had given him the extremely good use of a virtual puppet, an excellent hacking machine, but after the contract defaulted, he was left in debt to the last surviving entity, and since he had no funds or collateral, the puppet will soon own Jack's body and mind. Leaving Jack... nowhere.

If someone told me this was going to be a strange and f-k'd up twist on the story of Pinocchio set in a time and place where the shades of the uploaded dead haunt the overlay-mesh, the virtual view of reality, where gods play long games in the ubiquitous and utterly pervasive servers that humanity lives within, then I'd have said... "Wow. That sounds freaking amazing." (No one did.)

Of course, if I had been given the spoilers that follow this little setup, or at least the idea that Jack and Fist find common ground in the short time they have left, that they hunt down the people behind the conspiracies, to get out from under the machinations of gods and aliens, and that they don't always remain in hard place, but manage to hold their own against amazing odds, then I'd have absolutely no reason to worry about whether I'd enjoy the tale.

As a matter of fact, I was AMAZED. It's full of awesomely tight storytelling, great conversations, fast plotting, and of course so much happens that propels this story into the stratosphere that I was left with my jaw dropping through most of the tale.

But let me add a small caveat: Out of all SF, I appreciate and love near-singularity or post-post cyberpunk tales the most out of the entire genre. Anything that sparks my imagination and revs my engines this much is going to be an automatic "Hey You Guys!" But don't let that fool you overmuch.

This one is tight and sharp as hell and a pure delight to glide through. It really ought to be on the short list for anyone's "must awe" list. I've still got Jack and Fist in my head, playing around and learning to live and trust one another. It's a classic. These are truly wonderful characters that won't even be outdone by the huge action scenes and surprises. So what do I say to that? I say Rock ON. :)

I can't believe that this is Al Robertson's debut. Something tells me that he's going to be on my "must read immediately" list from now on. :)

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Time Siege (Time Salvager #2)Time Siege by Wesley Chu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel is one of nearly never-ending battles upon the benighted Earth of the future. Corporate greed and the fall of civilization has led time travelers to scavenge the past for the resources they no longer have in the future. It's the ultimate Zero-Sum Game.

That being said, this novel picks up after our MC disgraced Time Traveler James has drawn a line in the sand on the side of the poor remnants of future Earth who are just a few steps above savagery and are surrounded by peoples just as afraid and willing to go to war over the remaining resources. Plus we've got the added and much more difficult conflicts with the Corporations as well as the other Chronmen who serve them.

I think I'll always like Grace the best out of all the characters. She's the super-egotistical inventor of the time-travel and the laws that everyone follows when it comes to time-travel. She really plays fast and loose with them, too. :) Elise is fine as a leader and the fixture of hope when it comes to curing the disease that has nearly wiped out humanity, dragged out of her original time period, like Grace, as part of the Big Guns to solve everyone's problems, but it's Grace's personality I like most. :)

Anyone who likes a lot of war and conflict and action should really pick up these books, and they should really get into this one even more. Bad situations follow even worse ones regularly, and we even get to see James drink himself into a stupor over all the things he's gone through and need to earn his sobriety chip over it. Probably the best part of all the action surrounds all the tech surrounding the Chronmen. Pretty flashy stuff. Pew Pew. :)

Not to spoil anything, there is an interesting turn of plot, even if it's not unpredictable, either when it comes to Elise or to all the poor people under siege, but that's what book three is going to be for. :)

My only complaint is how I wish I liked James more and how I wish these time-travel books had more history in them. As they are, it's just a few jumps in future history with varied successes and failures. They're relatively ineffective. Most of the action remains, even with this great tech, in the dystopian future full of war. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know. I can at least respect the author for sticking to his guns. Literally. :)

Action, please!

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Echo (Alex Benedict, #5)Echo by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historians In Space!!!!

Well, if anyone has followed this far in the series, you know this is nothing new. It's nearly 30,000 years after humanity has spread from Earth and we're all over the galaxy and there are very very few alien species out there. But humans being humans, we fall apart and lose touch and certain facts, places, and even people tend to drop off the map and the history books and any other kind of archive. This is known. Plus, space and time is very big. It's easy to lose track of anything. And that's where Chase and Alex come in, Space Opera Slueths, historians, adventurers, crack-shots, detectives, and assassin foilers. :) And let's not forget their trusty AI to help them out on the technical stuff, no?

None of that is particularly new, of course, but the plots continue to surprise and get better with each installment.

We dive deep into a mystery tablet left to Alex by an eccentric explorer. We're fighting off assassins set on keeping the discoveries under wraps. We hunt for tragic missing persons and the secrets they hold. And we even get a heavy dose of plain-ole world exploration with the demise of lost human settlements, possible traces of alien civilizations, and the final reveal as to what caused the tragic end of a certain individual and a whole lot more.

The novel kinda started out slow for me, but past a certain point, it was truly hard to put down again. I'm so glad I kept with the series. It's truly a Space-Opera potboiler par-excellence. :)

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The Cygnus VirusThe Cygnus Virus by T.J. Zakreski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the opportunity to read this ARC!

I was rather interested in the tale from the beginning of lost love and Tarot card chapters, but what really caught my interest was the almost Philip K. Dick VALIS-type twist going on soon after, with godlike overtones from distant stars, computer viruses, oddly detailed virtual realities (or Alternate Realities), and crazy religions bringing the clone craze to the Jesus Genome.

And it doesn't end there, either, because theres a great number of interesting plot twists and cool character colloquialisms and even more fun dialects, too, dude.

I'm not just throwing out the whole late PKD vibe on a whim, here. There's a lot of cool stuff going on here that should appeal to all fans, including the paranoia, the religious freaks, the heavy mix of technology and mysticism, time travel, universe building, and Good and Evil.

And did I mention that each chapter links to a corresponding Tarot card?

This is one of those cool experimental SF novels that also has a clear and fun and wild plot that doesn't disappoint by remaining upon the straight-line obvious conclusion.

Not that it really means all that much these days, but there is a lot of graphic sexual scenes, too, so if you want a little wild side with your mindfuq, then dive right in, dude.

I had a really great time with this one, and I will be certain to read more by the author in the future. Seriously, dude!

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Martians, Go HomeMartians, Go Home by Fredric Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow I didn't know what to expect except that this was heralded as one of the best humorous alien invasion novels of all time. Upon reading, it worked quite nicely as pure satire. It didn't even have a tongue in cheek vibe to it. Instead, overnight, we've got 60 million little green aliens from Mars standing around in our living rooms heckling everything we do.

Yikes! This is the complete reversal of MST3K!

And nothing is off limits. Humanity is their version of animals in a zoo, and we can't even blast them away since they just teleport by thought. Yikes!

Better yet, things get wonky in a completely different way, too. Writers and fans of writers who write about writing will get a big kick out of this twist. No spoilers. But it was delightfully hackneyed.

Now, in case you're wondering, it really doesn't have much in common with Mars Attacks, but you know, I like both of these, so for me it's a win/win.

This is a great quick read, and it's thoroughly enjoyable. Absolutely fun, fast paced, and utterly solipsistic. Not that it's a bad thing, mind you. In fact, in this novel, it's pretty fantastic.

Yay for SF humor!

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