Book Review: This Census-Taker by China Miéville (Two Stars)

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Book Review: This Census-Taker by China Miéville

Two Stars

“I knew that day that my father was feeding only the darkness.”

Short, pointless, poorly done. Expected better more from Miéville. At least it wasn’t offensive, an accomplishment among 2017 Hugo Award novella finalists. (Nice cover art.)

“Once I asked my father, ‘Why do you want me?’ I still think it was the bravest thing I’ve ever done.”

Talk about your unreliable narrator. Holden Caulfield syndrome. Mixed tenses–first, second and third–confuses the story. Big vocabulary and syntax change late in the story, presumably to indicate a shift in narrator maturity, but then wasn’t the whole story written by him?

“The more you know about people the better.”

Book Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (Five Stars)


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Five Stars

“We don’t need better emotional communication from machines. We need people to have more empathy.”

The Two Cultures meets American Gods.

“Sometimes I wish I was crazy, it would make everything easier.”

The final war between magic and science happens in San Francisco. Seriously good fiction about magic, science, love and machines. Oh, and the end of the world.

“Children are adults who haven’t learned to make fear their hand puppet.”

Excellent character development and plotting. Drew readers in without boring us with four years of magic academy. Philosophic reflection over Continue reading

Book Review: Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Knight’s Shadow (Greatcoats #2) by Sebastien de Castell

Four Stars

“Yes, I’m trusting our lives to that fat slug, and yes, of course, he’s going to betray us.”

A little grittier than the first in this series. Classic epic fantasy with a side order of humor. Not heavy reading nor great literature, but enjoyable. Interestingly, all the transformational characters are female. The men are who they are, though Falcio’s struggle is being who he really is.

“The truth that makes our courage fail and our hearts surrender. That we fear most is simply ourselves.”

The stakes are higher and the odds lower, and the protagonist has a one-liner for every occasion. Good story telling. Fun interaction between characters.

“Love isn’t a cage.”

Countless epigrams: some witty, some pithy, some memorable. Like the cover art.

“Happiness is … grains of sand spread out in a desert of violence and anguish.”

Book Review: “Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Three Stars)

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Book Review: “Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Three Stars

“They wanted to be left alone. Nobody believed it.”

Intriguing take on an old science fiction saw. Good character and story development. A fun read. 2017 Finalist for 2017 Hugo Award novelette.

“It’s your conscious mind that’s the slave master, always worrying about control. Your unconscious only wants to preserve you.”

Quibble: There is no way an RV could surreptitiously approach, load, and depart an alien structure in the District of Columbia. Dozens–no, hundreds of private, corporate, and governmental cameras would record it and track the RVs every move.

“They don’t live in an imaginary future like most people.”

Big behavior shift by protagonist at climax not well presented. Nice cover art, though it has nothing to do with the story.

“There’s no death if there’s no self to be aware of.” “No life either.”

Book Review: The Tomato Thief (Jackalope Wives #2) by Ursula Vernon (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “The Tomato Thief” (Jackalope Wives #2) by Ursula Vernon

Four Stars

“When someone in the desert asks for water, you give it to them. There weren’t many rules in the desert, but that was one of them.”

Good use of Arizona native and desert history and lore to add depth to this short story, a 2017 Hugo Awards finalist for novelettes. Another story with a mature–very mature–female protagonist. There must be a special on them this year. (They’re special every year.)

“There’d been a time, when she was young and immortal, when [redacted] she could have danced in the track that they left in the sand. She felt old and mortal now.”

Excellent slow slide from the mundane into the supernatural.

“‘I ain’t dying yet,’ and that may or may not have been a lie. She wasn’t quite sure.”

Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (One Star)

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Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

One Star

“Mankind didn’t make messes; mankind was the mess.”

Fantasy historical fiction. I wouldn’t have finished this once I realized what kind of story it was, but felt constrained to read it all if I was to vote on it for the 2017 Hugo Awards. Can’t conceive why it was nominated, much less became a finalist.

“He thought of himself as an entertainer. Others … called him a scammer, a swindler, a con, but he never thought of himself this way. No charlatan ever did.”

Good storytelling, good character development and good voice. Good sense of time and place, which gradually–then with increasing speed–veers into the horrible. Shifting away from the main character propels the story, but dilutes the impact. If this is set in the Lovecraft universe, LaValle has done me a favor by warning me away forever.

“Walking through Harlem first thing in the morning was like being a single drop of blood inside an enormous body that was waking up.”

I don’t normally post negative reviews, but I am reviewing all the 2017 Hugo novella finalists. Not fair to the others to pass over this one just because I don’t recommend anyone read it, let alone vote for it.

“There was more to this world than what we touch to taste or see. His time as a detective made him sure of this.”

Book Review: A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson (One Star)

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Book Review: A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

One Star

[Spoilers follow]

“No one is guilty … the guilty exist, but they are also human beings, just like their victims.” Joseph Brodsky

What a waste. This isn’t science fiction or fantasy. It’s a sappy, regency romance with boys. Tries to fill all the diversity squares hoping perhaps its political correctness gives it protected status.

“It feels as if there were a … whole episode missing from my memory of that day. As if asleep I can remember it, but once awake the event slides away.”

Had to force myself through it. Nothing to grab or hold my attention. Wilson repeats and clarifies his plot device lest we miss it in his tangled chronology. Nice, relevant cover art.

“Men and women, side by side, yet further apart than this earth’s from the stars.”

Aside from not being of sufficient quality to recommend to others, this story hardly qualifies as a Hugo Award finalist.

“It’s you who are the dream, that other man who is flesh and real, the dreamer.”

Book Review: “The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan

Four Stars

“It was time to shut up. For the first time in my life I was feeling another person’s pain like it was my own.”

Ah. A refreshing short story, which takes the reader deep inside a character in a recognizably near future. No fantasy; very little science, but pretty of good storytelling.

“What did fathers ever do for the world in any case, except saddle unsuspecting women with unwanted children?”

Another markedly feminist tale. This year’s Hugo Awards finalists include a host of socially-relevant (and some irrelevant) topics. This tale was among the best of them.

“When she goes, all her stories will go with her, the ones she makes up as well as the ones that happen to be true. Once she’s gone, I’ll never know which were which.”

Quibbles: Apparently Allan doesn’t understand what the deleted in depleted uranium means. There are issues, but not so dramatic as portrayed. “… ends with the doomed one taking off his or her helmet, making a quick and noble end of it.” It’s really, really hard to take off your helmet in a vacuum; if you bleed the air out you’ll be dead before you get it off.

“In leaving this world, she makes me feel more properly a part of it.”

Book Review: Hiding in the Light by Rifqa Bary (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Hiding in the Light: Why I risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus by Rifqa Bary

Five Stars

“The place for women was at home, close to their families, close to Allah. Close to suffocating.”

Wow. The amazing story of a Moslem child who encounters a divine presence in Sri Lanka. She grows, is disfigured, rejected by her family, moves to America with them, only to encounter less love and support. She discovers that her encounter was with the Spirit of Jesus. When she covertly converts to Christianity, things get worse.

“Kill me? I knew he couldn’t consider my life so meaningless. Could he? Yet a simple Muslim man who aims to follow his religion must sometimes do the unthinkable to maintain his honor.”

Villains? Not her parents. They acted as they thought they must, given their religion and culture. Instead I nominate the politicians, bureaucrats and courts of Florida and Ohio, who callously treated an innocent child like a criminal, shuffled her around like a commodity, and exploited her for partisan politics. (Charlie Crist, then governor of Florida, comes off as a special hypocrite.)

“But jail. Why? I had run away from home because my life was in danger for believing in Jesus Christ. My rights as a human being seemed to vanish.”

“The most stunning part of this interrogation [by officers of Florida Department of Law Enforcement] was that it was done without the presence, knowledge, or even notification of my lawyer or even my guardian ad litem.”

In the midst of endless hearings and fosterings, she develops two forms of cancer (rhabdomyosarcoma and adenocarcinoma) and finds her life threatened from within as well as without.

“You know, Lord, the Bible says a woman’s hair is her glory. Well, I am laying down my glory tonight, all my strength and my beauty, for Yours.”

How she acts, how her faith grows, and how she perseveres is an inspiring story, which of course isn’t finished as she must spend the rest of her life hiding–hiding in the light.

“I knew it sounded crazy [to discontinue cancer treatment]. Was crazy. It didn’t make sense to me either. But I knew in my spirit that God was calling me to do this, and I decided I would rather die in obedience to Him and live in disobedience and possibly survive the treatment. My life was not my own anymore, and my spirit found a way to be at rest with that.”

Well written. Her prose is clear and compelling. Hard to believe English is her second language. There is no indication of writing assistance. Read this if only to marvel at her ability to convey her inner emotions while all around her is threatening.

“‘Honor Killings in America’ Nothing compared to my own renouncing of Islam and embracing Christianity, dishonoring both faith and family. Yet the blood of all these girls testified to the reality of my experience.”

I lived in Saudi Arabia for most of three years. I’ve seen their people, their culture and their religion closer than most westerners. We don’t–we can’t understand the inner thoughts and motivations of Moslem men. We can’t imagine how women live and cope with that life, even those who whole-heartedly embrace it.

“There may actually be times when making the right choice for yourself as an individual seems to put you at odds with the world…. Her home, her security, her serenity, and even her safety were thrown into madness…. However, this young woman did not succumb to the madness. She chose an attitude of love, despite the pain, an attitude of compassion despite the hate shown here, an attitude of perseverance…. At only seventeen years old, she found the strength to overcome and succeed.” School district director’s remarks at her high school graduation as class valedictorian.