Book Review: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Skullsworn (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 0.5) by Brian Staveley

Four Stars

“I couldn’t see inside their heads. I could barely make out what was going on inside my own.”

Don’t let the numerical designation fool you, this is a complete novel, not a short story. Despite expectations triggered by the title, a worthwhile novel about life.

“We are all dying, all the time. Being born is stepping from the cliff’s edge. The only question is what to do while falling.”

An action-adventure fantasy with all the blood and gore expected of the genre, but also an investigation into Continue reading

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Book Review: The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter by Michael J. Sullivan (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter (Riyria Chronicles #4) by Michael J, Sullivan

Four Stars

“Are you two always like this?” “He is,” they both said in unison.

Perhaps the best Riyria book yet. Both Royce and Hadrian have more depth. Their relationship is more complex. The storytelling, especially the inner dialogue, is superb. Several distinct and distinctive female characters. Sullivan clearly signals changes in point-of-view character. Why not five stars? See my quibble.

“You just hate being happy.” “I have no idea. What’s it like?”

For those unfamiliar with Riyria (Royce and Hadrian) the fourth book of the second series seems the wrong place to try them out. Not so. Winter’s Daughter is a self-contained, rich Continue reading

Book Review: Split Infinity by Piers Anthony (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Split Infinity (Apprentice Adept #1) by Piers Anthony

Three Stars

“If you think you’re conscious, you must be conscious. That’s what consciousness is all about. The feedback is self-awareness.”

Great story telling and contrasting fantasy and science fiction environments, but Anthony doesn’t get a bye for his antediluvian portrayal of gender relations. Even though it was written in the 80s, it’s borderline offensive. His protagonist’s supposed moral uprightness is severely undercut by his treatment of females. Costuming sex as freely given doesn’t excuse his attitude.

“You often don’t have to fight, if you just look as if you’d like to.”

The extended sections of game play slows to the story. The whole game matrix concept rings false: an artificial construct, like quidditch, to pump up the protagonist.

“You are a rational creature, beneath your superficial programming; under my programming I am an irrational animal.”

Quibbles: Published in 1980, totally misses the coming revolution in microelectronics and communications, which renders the story a quaint artifact of a former age. “Two days off his feet” after running a marathon? He’d be a cripple for months. Daily challenge games? After marathons? How’s that fair?

“Murder is not the proper solution to problems.”

Like many series openers, this is larger world, team and goal building. No incentive to read more of the series.

“Know thyself.”

Book Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Five Stars

“I want to comprehend. I have to. But he knew he never would. Just be glad and keep moving.”

An early alternative history, it is among the best. Dick not only alters history and politics, but also culture and scientific achievement, consistent with what precedes his story. The result in an incredibly rich, engaging tale of what might have been. Manages to include major philosophic and religious issues. Very close telling of internal conflicts and aspirations.

“Nobody was hurt … until the day of reckoning and then everyone, equally, would be ruined.”

I can’t believe this was written in 1962. Dick displays a depth of understanding which many lacked. I can’t believe I missed it then.

“He should have that cold but enthusiastic look, as if Continue reading

Book Review: “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar (Three Stars)

issue13coverv2_large-340x510Book Review: “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar

Three Stars

“What’s strong is the shoes women are made to wear: shoes of glass, shoes of paper, shoes of iron. Heated red hot; shoes to dance to death in.”

Good story. Well-developed. A finalist for 2017 Hugo Award for short stories.

“Magic is magic is magic and there is always a stronger magic.”

Contrary to the tag, not a “gay” story. It’s a story “about two women reaching out of their respective tales,” the author says in her notes. “The enormity of what friendship means.” I try to read stories cold–that is, without reading liner notes, blurbs or other reviews–because I don’t want the opinions of others getting between me and the author.

“You climbed a glass hill by accident.”

Goodreads.com displays the cover art associated with another story is shown for this. I assume because both stories appear in the same issue of Uncanny magazine. It fit the other story better.

“She loved him for loving her as he loved no one else.”

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


25372807Book Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

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: 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: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (Two Stars)

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Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Two Stars

“The only one who gets to tell you how your story ends is you.”

What happened to Alice and Wendy after they returned from Wonderland and Neverland? What if all the Narnias and Fillories were real? What if there were so many worlds that their differing natures could be plotted along a graph with virtue–evil and logic–nonsense axes? What if the hundreds of children who had visited them lived among us? How would they live in the mundane world, knowing a magic kingdom still called? Such is the premise of Every Heart a Doorway.

“Now I know that if you open the right door at the right time, you might finally finds a place where you belong.”

Skip the “There Was a Little Girl” prologue and be drawn into a home for such disaffected children through the eyes of Continue reading