The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: May 15 to 20, 2017

This is an interesting police procedural with an interesting hook that you don’t find out until somewhat later in the story. Or at least I didn’t find out until it happened. That caught me of guard and, at the same time, pulled me further into the plot. Best way to get into this story, or any short form fiction, is to not know anything about it.

Since it’s so short there’s not much to say without giving the hook away, but I’ll try anyway.

Set in present time Chicago and it actually feels like Chicago and not, say, New York or some other generic urban sprawl. The writing is short, to the point, and what we come to expect from John Scalzi. He doesn’t mince words or beat a morally gray topic to death. He has a minimalist style that I like.

We’re introduced to Tony Valdez just as he’s about to enter the OR, not as a patient or doctor, but a dispatcher. He’s there as insurance, so to speak, to make sure everything goes “smoothly.” What he is and what his job entails is the hook.

Shortly after the operation, Tony finds out that a friend and colleague has gone missing, and he’s pressured by a detective to help her solve the case. She thinks the job has something to do with the his disappearance. The investigation reveals all the gray areas of what dispatchers do off the books and all the ways in which life and death could be just a game.

And I admit I’m hooked. I hope this is just the beginning and that Scalzi has long term plans because there’s still so much left to explore. Crime statistics, law enforcement, religion, politics, the tenuous definition of homicide in this new age of mortality–an endless trove of gray topics to take on. 

I’m not a fan of short form fiction, so this novella feels somewhat incomplete even though loose ends are tied up and most questions are answered. But if this becomes a procedural series and each book an episode, I could totally get behind that.

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Foreigner (Foreigner #1) by C.J. Cherryh

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: April 10 to May 5, 2017

This book ends when the story is just about to get interesting. And that’s the most effective way to lose an audience.

Up until the ending, it’s a real repetitive uphill slog, and I say that as someone who liked it more than most people. Reading it was a labor-intensive task that I never thought would end and I would never have been able to get to the end without the help of the audio–again, speaking as someone who liked the story. The prose and plotting could use a lot of editing, and the inner monologues could use some deleting. But the alien world and cultures were interesting, and they seemed to have the potential to become even more interesting. For that alone, I would pick up the second book.

Back to the ending and what I think most people don’t know about this book: it’s not an ending, but it’s not quite a cliffhanger either, and thus the reason behind so many frustrated reviews. While it’s not an ending, it does leaving you in the middle of a scene that could potentially be interesting if you were already invested in the story and characters. But if you weren’t, it wouldn’t be a huge loss to not know how it all ends or whether or not Bren Cameron survives and is able to navigate the delicate relations between humans and atevi.

I wouldn’t say I’m invested, but I do want to know what happens next–alien worlds and political intrigue are an interesting combination. Maybe not right away though because a break is in order after that slog, but as soon as the audio for the second book is available, I’m on it.

Full review when I get through the first the books or a complete story in the case of this series.

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* * * spoilers below * * *

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House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: February 22 to April 5, 2017

I meant to take it easy, but ended up blowing through the second half of this book in just 3 days. The pages just kept on turning by themselves, and I didn’t get much sleep.

Woke up this morning and was like

But seriously. What year is it?

This is not a review because I don’t have enough science in me to understand it or to begin diving in and deconstructing it, but I did enjoy it very much and it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, maybe even this millennium. Will have to return for a few more rereads because I’m pretty sure I missed a ton of details in my rush to get to the end.

The concept of solar year is tenuous at best in this book because the story takes place six million years from now. I was in a bleak, gloomy, end-of-the-world state of mind when I started reading, so the idea that somehow humanity has a future six million years from now and that it’s a thriving future was extremely uplifting. And I approached the rest of the story with that in mind.

So. Six million years from the start of the main plot, the genius Abigail Gentian made an army of clones she called the Gentian Line and sent them out into the universe to learn and collect as much information on any planet with any signs of life as they can for the purpose of trade with alien planets and other clones of different lines. These clones, called shatterlings, reunite every couple hundred thousand years to share their findings, and they’ve been doing this for six million years.

At the start of the main plot, we follow two of Abigail’s shatterlings, Campion and Purslane, on a collection trip to a couple of planets. It’s kind of like a sea voyage, but in space, at high speed, and I was totally sucked into the story from the start. The prologue with Abigail as a child was all the hook I needed to jump in. I liked both Campion and Purslane almost immediately and the way they played off one another was very funny–love the subtle humor–and spending more time with them only increased my fondness.

Campion is on a quest, with Purslane’s help, to find something of value to bring back for the next Line reunion, but as usual he procrastinated so much that he’s behind schedule and would probably have nothing to show. The last time they all met he didn’t do very well, and thus the reason for their planet-hopping visits to many different galaxies in a short amount of time. They come in contact with a ton of interesting creatures and entities, many of which exist outside of time and space, and communication with them is fascinating to read about.

On one of these trips, Campion and Purslane come across and see something they shouldn’t have. And Campion, being Campion, careless and carefree, does something he definitely shouldn’t have, which then sets an unknown pursuer on their tail. The unknown thing goes after not only Campion and Purslane, but the whole Gentian line with the purpose of annihilating all of the shatterlings of Abigail’s creation.

It’s a race against time to figure out what is after them and how to destroy it, and it had me on the edge of my seat all the way through to the stunning end.

I love everything about this book–the action and adventures, the high-speed chases, the planet hopping, the ingenuity, the breathtaking breadth of deep space, and of course the characters–and yet I don’t fully understand any of the high concept science stuff. Love it anyhow though. Will have to seek out a real life science person who has read this book to explain deep space, time travel, astrophysics, the infinite universe, etc etc. to me.

Alastair Reynolds has created something truly special here–a enjoyable balance of interesting storytelling and theoretical science–and my mind is sufficiently blown.

Review: Silent Blade (Kinsmen, #1) by Ilona Andrews

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: August 14 to 15, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

Liked it. Interesting world/universe, interesting factions, interesting back stories, interesting power dynamics. Looking forward to reading more of this world/universe and hoping there’s more in the work.

This is a light futuristic sci-fi novella that feels otherworldly, yet familiar somehow.

Some time in the distant future, corporations run by wealthy families will dominate a whole planet–think of it as each family is its own country–and there will be no governing bodies to keep them in check, though what does keep them in check are the other families, their holdings and vast array of weapons and assassins. It’s like an arms race, but between the families.

Meli Galdes is from a middling family with some important corporate ties, but not enough and they’re on the brink of bankruptcy. She has known her whole life that she would have to marry Celino Carvanna to secure their families’ alliance and help move her family up the social ladder. But when he breaks off their engagement abruptly, he not only severs those ties, but he also ruins her whole life. Because the Carvannas are rich and powerful, no suitors, even ones actually interested in Meli, would want to cross the Carvannas, even though Celino Carvanna had already set her aside.

So what does she do? She leaves her family and train to be an assassin. Not just any assassin though. She becomes one of the best. And then she plots her revenge, slowly and meticulously. And then she sets the plot in motion all the while playing innocent.

I liked this story, especially this planet and its strange corporate-run culture. There’s something brutal and brutally honest about how the families off each other, all in the name of business and turning a profit, and no one bats an eye. Literally no one.

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* * * spoilers below * * *

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Review: Origins (Alphas, #0.5) by Ilona Andrews

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: August 09 to 14, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

I quite enjoyed this intro to a relatively new series by Ilona Andrews, and I should mention this is not the kind of thing I thought I’d like.

It starts with a kidnapping… :/

And it’s billed as a paranormal romance… :/

But after picking up and putting down countless books in an attempt to find something good that could hold my attention for more than a page or two, I finally had to return to Ilona Andrews, knowing that they never fail to deliver. I decided to go with this one for the simple reason that its cover looked interesting.

Overall, I think it’s a bit too rushed, and so much of the world(s) is either hastily explained (without giving you a good grasp of the existence of these worlds) or not explained sufficiently. Maybe if this book was a full-length novel, these strange alien worlds would develop gradually along with the plot and characters. I think if this series continues, it would definitely improve because the writing has all the familiar signs of a pair of authors who know their audience and know what to deliver and how to do it. They just need more room to expand on their ideas.

All through the read, I got the sense the Andrews wanted to test some limitations of the genre and take this story down a darker path that’s just as psychologically challenging as it’s physically challenging. And one of the things they put to the test was the romance starting off with a kidnapping, followed by imprisonment. I know… :/. So then how could this be a “romance,” right? I was unimpressed myself and had to make an effort to keep reading, but then the thing at end happened which made me think well, different. It was pleasantly different, as well as unexpected, and I thought it tied the story together really well. I trust the Andrews enough to not royally screw this up, whatever the tenuous “this” is.

The tone for much of the story is tense with some humorous moments in between to break up the hostility, and sometimes there’s sexual tension that borders on being unbearable due to the kidnapping and imprisonment–’twas a tad uncomfortable during those moments–but both main characters seem to have enough sense and chemistry to make their interactions interesting, and they seem grounded in reality enough to keep their budding whatever from becoming too cringe-worthy. The strength lies in these two holding the story together, and for me it worked.

Other than that, I think this story is a fun read and I’m cautiously optimistic of this series’ prospects, but maybe that’s because I’m so used to these two authors by now that entering a new world of theirs and encountering hostile natives is just another adventure.

* * * mild spoiler * * *

Oh, and I really could do without the kid–famous last words?–not that there’s much that could be done about it since she’s already embedded too deeply in the story.

Review: The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next, #1) by Jasper Fforde

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date Read: June 01 to 03, 2016
Recommended by: book club’s pick
Recommended to: fans of British lit, history, and humor

The barriers between reality and fiction are softer than we think; a bit like a frozen lake. Hundreds of people can walk across it, but then one evening a thin spot develops and someone falls through; the hole is frozen over by the following morning.

In theory, this book is the prefect fit for me and is almost exactly what I look for in urban fantasy–a good mix of sci-fi and fantasy, alternate universe, time travel, a world that heavily features books, plenty of pop and lit references, plenty of book puns, wry humor.

Thursday Next–will always make me wince–is a British operative whose task is to preserve books, mainly the British classics. Nothing is said about literary works outside of Great Britain, so… Anyhow, Thursday Next–*wincing internally*–gets temporarily assigned to a black ops team to assist in a sensitive, pressing matter concerning a literary terrorist who’s out to destroy British classics unless his demands are met. 

Thursday Next–*still wincing*–and a few other operatives chase down this menace and somehow they end up rewriting the ending to Jane Eyre with the help of Mr Rochester. How they get there and how they rewrite Jane Eyre is very clever. I applaud Jasper Fforde for his creativity for working it into the plot because it explains so much about that ending. Unfortunately, by the time I got to this point, I’d lost too much interest in the story to care.

This book definitely missed the mark for me. Although the plot and setting were fine, I found the characters, main and supporting alike, wooden and needlessly tiresome and unnecessarily wordy–there were so many words, so many unnecessary explain-y words. It definitely didn’t help that all the characters tried so hard to be clever and quippy and full of witty comebacks. That got tiring after a scene or two, and so I couldn’t work up enough energy to care about any of them and thus spent much of the read counting how many pages were left.

I think my biggest obstacle in this book was the main character herself. Thursday Next–*wincing forever*–felt like a female character written by a male author, which is exactly what she is. I’m only stating the obvious because I couldn’t not forget that she’s a female character written by a male author all the way through the book. I vaguely recall several instances in which she tried, in my opinion, too hard to appear as though she’s particularly female and it came across as unnatural. I can’t really point to an exact scene or moment now though. It was more a general sense I got, from her thoughts and narration, that she’s trying too hard to appear a certain way.

The writing in general is fine, but again, I got the sense it was trying too hard to appear a certainly way. I think its aim must’ve been for witty and punny, but instead, it came off as forced and heavy-handed. And it felt especially heavy at several key points in the story which should have been fast-paced and action-packed. Instead, these moments dragged on–and on and on and on and on. So for me, reaching the end felt like a real triumph because I didn’t think this book would ever end.

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Even though I finished it only a couple of weeks ago, I’m having trouble recalling much of the plot and characters. They’re all fine, I suppose, but easy to forget.

While I can see why this book is a hit with fans of Brit lit (all those puns), the only thing that still stands out to me is the way in which the ending of Jane Eyre is explained and worked into the plot. That was clever and unexpected. Everything else though? Meh.

* * * spoilers below * * *

The main reason this book didn’t work for me? I found myself siding with the villain all the way to the slow slogging end because I sympathized with his comical “plight” and immense disdain for the classics. I myself used to fantasize about setting those piles ablaze when I was forced to had to read them for school. Was not and still am not a fan of the British classics, you see. I hope that’s not too obvious.

Review: The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read: March 21 to April 12, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

This book is weird, weirder than most books I’ve read and I’ve read a lot of weird things over the years, but it’s not too weird that it’s composed of abstract ideas and incomprehensible babble. It’s weird enough for me to say Well, that’s new.

It’s weird, yet somehow makes complete sense when you’re reading it, but try explaining it to someone who hasn’t read it and it’s like the words aren’t there anymore. I’ve had close to a year to digest it, and I still don’t know where to begin. At the beginning? The thing is the beginning is right in the middle of the story. If we go further back–to the beginning of time immemorial?–that would take too much explaining, and I’d rather you read the book for yourself, if you so choose.

A word of caution though. This book isn’t for everyone. It’s dark and violent and bloody, and yet it’s also funny and lighthearted at times which can be a startling contrast to the darkness and might be unsettling for some people, but if the tone and atmosphere work for you, it’s an amazing satisfying read. If it doesn’t work for you, you would probably want to set it on fire. I’ve had people tell me that, and I completely understand. It’s brings out gut feelings, and I’d like people to know that before entering the library.

So. The beginning is like this: there is no beginning. We join Carolyn and the other guardians of the library as they gather, from various locations and dimensions, to share what they’ve found and to figure out what happened to Father, a mysterious god-like figure that oversees the mysterious library that isn’t really a library but it’s their home. The plot branches off into a few different arcs as we follow some of the guardians as they try and figure out, at first, where Father had gone, and then, what happened to him. What they know so far is he isn’t on this plane of existence or any of the others. All they know is he’s disappeared without a trace, and they need him back because, once the others figure out he’s gone, they will move on the library. The guardians aren’t strong enough to hold them off.

Further explaining would make it sound more convoluted, and everything that happens from this point on is all spoilers.

The ending was a complete surprise to me, but very satisfying overall. It brings the story arc full circle.

I’m glad to have read this book in the time that I did. It was a nice, pleasant break from real life, and I will always remember it fondly as that weird book that was a lot of fun, but I still can’t recommend it to anyone.

Steve sighed, wishing for a cigarette.
“The Buddha teaches respect for all life.”
“Oh.” She considered this. “Are you a Buddhist?”
“No. I’m an asshole. But I keep trying.”

[…]

Peace of mind is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.

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No real thing can be so perfect as memory, and she will need a perfect thing if she is to survive. She will warm herself on the memory of you when there is nothing else, and be sustained.

[…]

As the days and weeks and seasons wore on he found himself repeating this nothing, not wanting to. Gradually he came to understand that this particular nothing was all that he could really say now. He chanted it to himself in cell blocks and dingy apartments, recited it like a litany, ripped himself to rags against the sharp and ugly poetry of it. It echoed down the grimy hallways and squandered moments of his life, the answer to every question, the lyric of all songs.

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“For all intents and purposes, the power of the Library is infinite. Tonight we’re going to settle who inherits control of reality.”

[…]

Carolyn rose and stood alone in the dark, both in that moment and ever after.

This line still gives me chills all up and down my spine.

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Still beautiful. Still can’t recommend it to anyone I know. Not sure I understand why I’m drawn to this book. It’s almost as mystifying as the library itself.

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I might’ve been a tad too enthusiastic with the rating as this book is closer to a 4 than a 5, but the 5 stays for now.

Truly a fantastic engrossing read. Best of the year so far. I regret not getting to it sooner. Must own in hardcover.

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Weird, violent, mystifying, yet elegant.

I’m sad it’s over.

Will have to revisit soon.

Review: The Angelus Guns by Max Gladstone

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: October 15 to 19, 2015
Read Count: 1
Available on Tor.com

An angelus gun is a weapon of annihilation used by avenging angels to shut down rebel uprising on various planets the angels have conquered. Thea is a retired angel warrior who goes on a quest to find her brother. She finds him in the middle of a rebel faction on the eve of war.

The story begins by dropping you into the action with barely any set up or background. By the end, you feel a little winded but not really satisfied because there’s still so much of this world left unexplored and unexplained. Although there is closure, so much potential is still left hanging. Too many loose ends for my liking.

This story, as lovely and lively as it is, reads more like a teaser for a longer work than a short story. Many aspects of it feel incomplete. Max Gladstone has more than enough here for a full length novel, or maybe a trilogy, and I hope he returns to expand on these ideas some day. The angels’ universe seem full realized, but not much about it is explained apart from Thea’s quest and the characters she meets along the way. We only get to see a sliver of this interesting universe, but that is enough to want more.

The characters, their universe, technology, mythology, politics, and even their current plane of existence are fully formed–or they give that sense anyway–but not expanded on enough to let you see or give you a feel for the scope and breadth of the story. Nevertheless they make you want to find out more. Unfortunately you can’t because this is a short story and that’s all there is to it for the time being.

Gladstone has a nice way with words, and this story/teaser reads a lot like poetry. There’s an operatic quality to it that resembles the angels’ songs. Here are a few of my favorite quotes, very spoilery though.

The rebels made music. The rebels made love. The rebels roasted meat and sang songs and danced and practiced war. At the park’s outer edge, someone was killing oxen, imported probably from deep inside the timestream. They’d brought works of art here too, from the museums, bits of genius saved from obliterated worlds. One of the dragonflies’ dream arches glinted million-colored beside a Gnathi obelisk. Again and again, she saw a slogan, on walls, on the sides of buildings, on paths and statuary: Gardens Do Not Grow.

[···]

Stars thronged the sky, all moving, all singing, between a ring of eclipsed suns. The guns must have drifted through the shield wall in the night. Stars: an infinite horde of builders kitted out for war, wings flared white with absorbed radiance, power gathered in rainbow cascade. Eclipsed suns: the Angelus Guns pointed down at Michael’s Park, lips aflame, the darkness inside them deep. After so much silence the fleet’s music deafened, washes of consensus and rage, righteous hunger and restrained wrath and sorrow passed through tachyons and entangled particles, along meson and microwave, the song conducting itself.

[···]

She flew past him, out over the gap and down, away from the city, into the marbled sky. Before she slipped from timeless space, she heard, in the far distance, a familiar voice. Gabe. The soldiers of the host sang telemetry songs, and he added his voice to theirs in secret, directed out to her.

So, as she flew and wept, she looked up through his eyes from Michael’s Park, and saw the fire of the guns’ lips build to burning, and their black mouths open. She raised her hands, and once and forever she died.

[···]

That night, Thea snuck to their fire with the book that was not hers, and opened it, and read, as she had many times before, the thick letters her brother’s pen had carved into the paper. No memory, no vision, nothing for Zeke to find when he sang through her. Just letters. Just a story with the end missing.

But she knew the end. She drank tea from her cup, and drew her pen, and finished her brother’s work.

Someday, she would read it out loud where the lizards could hear.

Review: Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date Read: March 11 to 26, 2015
Read Count: twice in a year, which is unheard of for me*
Recommended by: Tor
Recommended to: people who like smart sci-fi thrillers

This is one of those rare books I wouldn’t mind if there’s a sequel. Actually, I would love it if there’s a sequel, but currently there’s nothing planned. But how do you know that? you might ask. It’s because I’ve asked and the answer is no. Well, it’s actually “I don’t know yet” which looks promising but it usually means no. “Good news” though, the book has been optioned by HBO. Normally I’m indifferent to book adaptations, but this time I’m sort of interested in what HBO will do with the source material.

I’ve been trying to write about this book for months now, but couldn’t figure out how without giving too much away. So I went back with the intention of skimming it, but ended up plowing through half the book in one sitting. It’s just as good as I remember, maybe even better this time around because I know how the story ends. It’s more than just a good book. It’s unlike any I’ve read in the genre because it’s the kind of book you come to expect from Daryl Gregory if you’ve read him before. He’s one of the few writers today who can spin a fascinating genre-blending tale that plays with tropes while challenging them, and there are so many things he gets right that any story in his hands is sure to be great.

So what is this book about? Kinda hard to sum up, but simply put: it’s a parable set in the not-so-distant future about a road trip, faith, belief, and drugs. A wild combination which makes for a wild ride with lots of action and a great cast of memorable characters, but it’s not all fun and games though. Dark subject matter, such as addiction and PTSD, are explored with some depth throughout the story, but despite the seriousness of these things, the story is a fast and easy read because the writing is in no way preachy or weighed down–it’s actually a lot of fun with quite a few funny moments in between the action. What I like most about the direction Gregory took with this book is it’s never too serious or takes itself too seriously, but the execution is always clear and poignant with just enough ambiguity to leave you thinking about a host of things long after the journey is over.

The story opens with a nameless teenager joining a cult and taking a drug called Numinous which lets her communicate with a higher power–God, or what she imagines as God. It’s an enlightening experience unlike any she’s ever had. God not only listens to her, but he also responds. It’s a relationship, one that quickly becomes addicting. Then she is institutionalized. With her connection to God cut off, she commits suicide. Lyda Rose, one of the original creators of Numinous, is also institutionalized in the same facility. When she hears about Numinous, she suspects someone from her old research group has been illegally distributing the drug again. So she and her girlfriend Ollie break out of the ward to stop the production. The trip takes them from Toronto to New York and all over the US, tracking down the person or people behind Numinous’ untimely resurrection.

A little background: in this not-so-distant future, 3D printers, called chemjets, can print any kind of drug and any combination of drugs you can imagine. In theory, anyone with some knowledge of pharmacology can use these chemjets to whip up a party drug, but in the hands of a group of young mad scientists, chemjets can work miracles. They can create Numinous, a neural pathway-opening dose that lets you commune with deities. It’s addictive and destructive but in the most fulfilling way which is one of the many unexpected side-effects and consequences of Numinous that Lyda Rose and her team didn’t anticipate.

So who is cooking up Numinous again and what are they planning to use it for? The mystery will keep you guessing until the very end as Lyda and Ollie track down members from her old research group for answers.

Another thing I love about this book is the cast of characters, not only Lyda and Ollie but the characters they meet along the way are a lot of fun too. Ollie herself is a former federal agent with strange lethal abilities and questionable knowledge. There’s Bobby the emergency roommate whose soul lives in a plastic toy chest he wears around his neck. There’s Lyda’s former drug dealer, a savvy business man operating on college campuses under a frat-boy disguise. There’s Dr. G, a snarky semi-omnipotent sword-wielding avenging angel that only Lyda can see. Then there are the territorial hijab-wearing pot-dealing grandmothers and their thugs in Toronto. And of course Lyda’s old friends and their deities, all of which are too spoilery to mention in detail.

Everything about this book is a lot of fun, more fun than you’d expect from a story about mind-altering chemicals, religion, and sanity. The writing is especially a lot of fun, as evident here.

There was a scientist who did not believe in gods or fairies or supernatural creatures of any sort. But she had once known an angel, and had talked to her every day.

[…]

A BS in any neuroscience without a master’s or PhD was a three-legged dog of a degree: pitiable, adorable, and capable of inspiring applause when it did anything for you at all.

[…]

Fayza leaned in, squinting, as if she didn’t hear me correctly: one of the library of power moves that adults used to signal that other adults were fucking idiots.

[…]

Love at first sight is a myth, but thundering sexual attraction at first sight is hard science.

[…]

I’ve always been a sucker for the beautiful and the batshit crazy.

 

* I’m going through a reading slump which is nothing new. This happens at the end of every summer. I’ve come to expect it around this time of year, but it feels a little different this year, a little more prolonged. Don’t know why. Maybe it has something with N. K. Jemisin and her Inheritance trilogy, or maybe it’s The Birthgrave. These books were quite good, quite out of this world (literally), and I’m still not quite over them yet since they left me with a sort of brain-scrambling effect that makes it hard to move onto to new worlds with new characters and new adventures. So I went back to an old world and familiar characters. Don’t think they’ll cure my slump, but they got me reading again and that’s a start.

Catching up on reviews, part 1

I’m behind on a lot of reviews and short on time, so I will try to say a few words about the books I couldn’t get to. They’re all really good, and I’ve been having a great time just reading and enjoying the ride. If you want to know more about any one of them, let me know and I will write a more comprehensive review.

 

The Home Crowd Advantage (Peter Grant, #5.5)
The Home Crowd Advantage (Peter Grant #5.5) by Ben Aaronovitch
Read from May 30 to June 06, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Read it here.

Takes place during the Summer Olympics of 2012 in London, and all security forces around the city are on high alert. Peter gets a call about a magical situation near an Olympic stadium that has turned into a standoff, so he rushes over to see if he can contain it by himself since Nightingale is out of town.

This is an interesting piece but it’s literally too short to review and reads more like an outtake than a short story. It sort of expands on Nightingale’s past, but not enough to tell you much of anything. And that’s why I think it’s an outtake–a scene too interesting to scrap but doesn’t necessarily fit into the next book.

If you’re looking for something to tie you over until Book #6 comes out, this story will sort of do it. It’s always fun to return to Aaronovitch’s London and see what Peter is up to these days, but these shorts make me want more.

 

The Mad Scientist's Daughter
The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke
Read from April 30 to June 01, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

A post-apocalyptic fairy tale for the robotics age about a girl who falls in love with a mechanical boy. I picked this book up on a whim not knowing much about it other than the author’s name, which sounded vaguely familiar, and I’m glad I gave it a chance because it’s a great story told by a talented writer.

This is YA but not too YA that it lost me completely. There’s enough YA in it for those who like YA, and there’s enough robot things in it for those who like robots and robot theories. The writing is engaging and uncomplicated, but the ideas presented are complex and compelling. Many of Isaac Asimov’s concepts of AI and robotics are examined through the love story, and I found that the author did a good job bringing these ideas to the present age and applying them to modern sensibilities. This is a long about way of saying this book can double as political satire since it explores issues concerning the humanity of robots, particularly their sentience and autonomy. Recommended for people who like a blend of fairy tale and sci-fi.

 

The Quantum Thief (Jean le Flambeur, #1)
The Quantum Thief (Jean le Flambeur #1) by Hannu Rajaniemi
Read from May 01 to 31, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

A fascinating read about a fascinating world filled to the brim with fascinating advanced technology and mind-boggling concepts. This book completely blew my mind the moment I finished reading and kept me dazed in a book hangover for weeks afterward. I was blown away by the complex worlds (and worlds within worlds) the author created and I wanted to experience them over and over again. But now that those effects are wearing off, so are my feelings regarding the book’s ingenuity and the author’s prowess. That’s not to say I don’t like it anymore; I still like it a lot and look forward to continuing Jean le Flambeur’s flighty adventures. But I can’t help but see the fascinating world building as a distraction from a fairly clever (but thin) heist story set in outer space.

There are two story arcs that converge near the end. The thief’s story is all about cyberspace and neuroscience and outsmarting systems much clever than himself, and he’s quite a clever fellow. The detective’s story is woven with decadence and a steampunk atmosphere, as though someone brought Victorian England to outer space. Each story has a mystery and both the thief and the detective have to solve their respective mystery before their time runs out, but the things they’re chasing after aren’t what they seem. They’re mysteries within mysteries.

I enjoyed the chase and trying to stay one step ahead of both characters was exhausting and a lot of fun. I don’t read that much hard sci-fi, but I suspect this book might be a popcorn read in its genre. It’s fun, fast, and impressive–great, if you’re in the mood for mind games.

 

Fair Play (All's Fair, #2)
Fair Play (All’s Fair, #2) by Josh Lanyon
Read from May 23 to 25, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

I read Josh Lanyon not so much for story or mystery or character, but for setting and realistic portrayals of disjointed relationships. He likes to explore dysfunctional relationships and has a knack for making them seem realistic. His characters aren’t always likable, but their stories are hard to put down. However, I find the mystery elements in these stories not lacking exactly but not as interesting as the characters’ day-to-day life. This book is no exception. It’s a good story and all, and the writing is classic Lanyon, but it didn’t pull me in. Plus, the mystery was kind of dull and repetitive since something similar happened in the last book.

Elliott and Tucker have moved in together following the events of Fair Game, and their life on Goose Island is pleasantly domestic with Elliott still teaching history at the university and Tucker still an FBI agent. Then one night, they get a call informing them that Elliott’s father’s house (Elliott’s childhood home) has burned to the ground. The investigation turns up signs of arson and it turns out someone is after his father. So he takes it upon himself to find the person responsible. Meanwhile, the arson and attempts on his father’s life put more strains on his relationship with Tucker. Although things work out in the end, they take awhile getting there. I found myself bored for much of Elliott’s investigation.

 

Dust (Jacob's Ladder, #1)
Dust (Jacob’s Ladder #1) by Elizabeth Bear
Read from February 01 to May 18, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

This is an interesting mix of sci-fi and fantasy. The story takes place on a living space ship, but a lot of magic is used throughout and there is a war going on that has roots in mythology. A lost princess with no memory of her past is found living among servants at an enemy house. The rest of the story is about rescuing her and trying to get off the ship.

I really wish I could have liked this book more. Elizabeth Bear’s writing style and ideas are interesting, but this book just wasn’t for me. Maybe I picked it up at the wrong time and the story didn’t grab me because I found myself distracted easily by other books, then having a hard time returning to this one. But I’m still interested Bear’s writing and will probably try something else by her. Probably the Eternal Sky trilogy, which is a historical fantasy set in a Central Asian influenced realm. All three books have received rave reviews, and I look forward to starting the first one.

 

Precious Dragon (Detective Inspector Chen #3)
Precious Dragon (Detective Inspector Chen #3) by Liz Williams
Read from April 27 to May 18, 2015
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

There’s nothing quite like returning to a beloved series. I don’t really know what it is about these books that just feel right to me. Singapore Three and Detective Chen’s houseboat feel like a second home to me by now because so much of the writing is dedicated to the vibrant locales. I feel like I can navigate the streets and back allays just by following the books’ descriptions of each neighborhood.

This book starts out slow and builds up momentum as it goes. Chen and Zhu Irzh return to Hell, but this time for a sanctioned trip to escort Ms Qi, an ambassador of Heaven, to the Minister of War. Of course the trip turns out to be disastrous, more disastrous than expected, and the group find themselves in the middle of an impending war with Heaven and Zhu Irzh, in particular, finds his family in the middle of a coup. Things only get more awkward and hilarious from there.

The combination of Liz William’s humor and her takes on Chinese mythology, satire, and fantasy never fail to entertain me. I like that she’s placed Heaven in the role of the aggressor this time. Hell has always been accused of war mongering, and that’s because it’s Hell–war mongering is part of its charms. But seeing Heaven in that role puts certain things in a different perspective. Perhaps Heaven and Hell aren’t as different as Heaven likes to think…

Side note: I always thought Singapore Three was a franchise city, like there are at least 3 cities modeled after Singapore all over Asia (or the world?). But what if Singapore has been destroyed completely twice before and this is the third time it’s been rebuilt?

 

Currently reading:

The Birthgrave
Birthgrave (Birthgrave Trilogy #1) by Tanith Lee

I’m really enjoying this book so far, but if I had to describe it or explain why I like it to someone who hasn’t read Tanith Lee, I wouldn’t know what to say. The bare bones of the story is mythological. An unnamed woman wakes up inside a volcano with no memory. A malevolent spirit only she can see torments her with death. She has strange powers that only affect people who believe in her. Villagers think she’s a god, but outsiders who don’t believe in her sought to use her as leverage or for their own gain. She goes from one village or settlement to the next, but isn’t able to feel comfortable enough to stay anywhere for long. And every place she visits, death and destruction always follow when she leaves.

Without giving too much away, I can only say how it makes me feel. The writing is mostly introspective and has an eerie undertone, and the atmosphere is dreamy and fantastical. There’s also an cold sense of foreboding running through the story. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before, but maybe that’s because I haven’t read much classic SF/F. Will have to dig out older SF/F for future reads.

Side not: I’m at 45% now and there’s still no explanation for the various depictions of naked women on the covers. The nameless goddess has never been without clothes. Sometimes she even wears a long veil that covers most of her clothed body, so I’m confused as to why she’s always naked in cover art.

 

Otherworldly news:

I’ve been following the Women’s World Cup, and it’s great to see how much attention these games are getting. Coverage this year is exceptional compared to previous years; almost every game is televised and almost every major news network is covering some portion of it every day, which is a huge improvement.

Things continue to heat up as we move to the the semi-finals. With the exception of Brazil going home early, there hasn’t that many surprising moments, but every game I’ve been able watch all the way through has been exciting. Almost makes me want to forget about the FIFA fiasco. Almost. How many days until the end of the Age of Blatter?