Book Review: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

Four Stars

“Some people change the world, and some people change the people who change the world.”

A well-told, if predictable adventure fantasy. Good development and voice. I really like this story. Finalist for 2017 Hugo for novellas.

“When were women anything but footnotes to men’s tales?”

Unique in that the protagonist is not only female, but a mature woman. And she acts it.

“This is what life is, then. Doing things you hate. I’ll do it. Of course. It’s the right thing.”

I love maps in fantasy stories, however the map in the ebook edition was unreadable. Nice cover art.

“Vellitt waited.”

Book Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1) by Yoon Ha Lee

Three Stars

“Her instructor was full of shit. There was no comfort to be extracted from the dead, from flesh evaporated from bones.”

Slow start. Dumps you right into this universe with little preparation and less explanation. Apparently not a translation, but awkward reading at times as you figure out calendarials, sentient servitors, and exotics amid not-quite-American syntax. A space opera with all the tech, jargon, language and blood that implies.

“Immortality was like sex: it made idiots of otherwise rational people.”

What is the meaning of suicide and mass murder–or even immortality–in a culture which does not value life? From context you discover that the actors are not Continue reading

Book Review: Phases of Gravity by Dan Simmons (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Phases of Gravity by Dan Simmons

Four Stars

“You think a new born know what it all means? It just happens … awareness comes later, if it comes at all.”

A genre-mixing mélange of science and speculative fiction with a helping of mysticism, but well told. This thirty-year-old tale has aged well. Worth the effort to sort out who’s doing/saying what to whom. Strong male and female leads. Good friction. Many emotional hooks.

“There’re places of power. You have to help make them … be in the right place at the right time and know it. By dreaming about it but not thinking about it.”

Tangled time lines often confuse, but the origami plot structure keeps the reader close to Richard’s consciousness (and wondering about Maggie). Just when you think Continue reading

Book Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears

Three Stars

“Outrageous coincidence was more normal that carefully formed, reasoned action.”

Excellent world building. Complex time-travel plot with 60s England focus. Having one character a later member of the famous Inklings is a nice touch, including his depreciation of his more talented friends.

“You go and sit down and contemplate your own genius for a bit, and come through when you think you can stand straight.”

The narrative suffers from too many point-of-view characters. The many threads finally come together, but the first hundred pages is heavy going. Extra credit for finishing it all in one go.

“You may have got that from The Wizard of Oz. You steal ideas from everyone.” “I do?” “Yes.” (Pears also borrowed from Fahrenheit 451.)

While the women characters are well differentiated, the men all sound alike. Not sure why one character’s narrative was in first person while Continue reading

Book Review: There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson (Four Stars)

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Book Review: There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson

Four Stars

“A man can do but little. Enough if that little be right.”

I’ve read this book before–long, long ago. Knowing the story, but having it told anew was a treat. Perhaps the height of Anderson’s skill as a storyteller. A slightly different take on time travel, but aren’t they all?

“Scientific information is only a glimmer on the surface of a mystery.”

Written in 1971, it grappled with the increasingly dangerous Cold War, which is remote to modern readers as World War One was to Anderson. “Try to understand your world in 1951.” Most of us have trouble imagining our world today; we don’t even try to learn the past, with Santayana’s forecast result.

“We need all the diversity, all the assorted ways of living and thinking, we can get. Inside of limits, true.”

His protagonist creates an instrument “built to his specification in 1980, to take advantage of the superb solid-state electronics then available.” Before you chuckle, consider Continue reading

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Four Stars

“You wanted a woman’s culture. Well, now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists.”

A 1985 dystopia set in a severe and hypocritical (aren’t they all?) theocracy, Atwood’s tale is a cautionary tale about how American culture could degenerate under the combines pressures of extended Cold War and the environmental assault of then-current industrial practice.

“No empire imposed by force or otherwise has been without this feature: control of the indigenous by members of their own group.”

The story’s confused chronology is due to the semi-stream-of-consciousness remanences of one of the titular handmaids, partly explained in the accompanying Historical Note. Atwood tells just enough to propel Continue reading

Book Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1) by John Scalzi

Three Stars

“This isn’t going to end well.” “Does it ever?”

Scalzi delivers the goods. So many other authors of science fiction fail simple narration, if not science. Scalzi is a master storyteller and covers himself on the science front as well. Unlike many first-of-a-series novels, this story has a satisfying conclusion even as it sets the hook for follow-on tales. A good, fast, enjoyable read.

“I’m busy with the end of everything.”

Perhaps compensating for the male cast imbalance of previous works, almost all the major characters are female.

“… the human tendency to ignore or deny facts until the last possible instant, and then for several days after that, too.”

The f-word occurs in some form 202 times. Half of those are to establish the credentials of one of the female leads, but most weren’t necessary. Cost him a star. It’s not as if Scalzi hasn’t Continue reading

Book Review: The Fisherman and the Pig by Kameron Hurley (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Fisherman and the Pig by Kameron Hurley

Four Stars.

“Distrust of and disappointment in people had kept him alive this long.”

A fun short story. Great set up and world building is just a few pages.

“It was assumed, in every age, that when one spoke of ‘the war’ everyone else knew exactly which war they were talking about.”

The reader is drawn in and swept along. Perfect ending.

“As much as he wanted closure some days, the deep fear of death … won over every time.”

 

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (Four Stars)

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Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #1) by Marie Brennan

Four Stars

“Alas for my well-being, I was young and therefore far too stupidly stubborn.”

Jane Austen does Dragons. Great fun. Great world building. Great storytelling.

“Why should I give up the company of a man who would love me to run a household and otherwise bore myself into porridge?”

Perhaps the best grasp of the Victorian Age I’ve found in modern fantasy. Yet intensely close and personal. Captures both young Isebella’s sharp, questing mind and her childlike impulsiveness.

“… the harmless sort of fluff-brained, not the sort I actually was.”

Three times uses “stoop” describes a dragon attacking from the air. It seemed “swoop” would have been closer to right, but, no, stoop describes the attack mode of birds-of prey, which dragons would mimic. (I’ve seen a peregrine falcon stoop from a high perch. Impressively fast and deadly.)

“Relatively approachable” dragons?  … “(Where I would become an easy meal. The deranged side of my mind invented these ideas, but the practical side knew where they would end.)”

Book Review: Bloodline Feud by Charles Stross (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Bloodline Feud (Merchant Princes #1-#2) by Charles Stross

Four Stars

“You earn loyalty by giving it.’

Engaging characters in an intriguing world and storyline. Connecticut Yankee-like situation with modern (2002) American dropped into a quasi-Medieval society. (It’s the “quasi” that makes the story work.) The stakes keep ratcheting higher.

“They don’t have an equal rights amendment.” “These guys don’t have a constitution.”

Published in 2013 but set in 2002. Appropriate tech and culture references. Unlike many modern novels, Stross’ protagonist felt romantic–even sexual–attraction without it short-circuiting her brain.

“There’s a better life awaiting me as a humble illegal immigrant in this world than there as a lady-in-waiting to nobility in my own.”

Ruminations about economics will put some readers to sleep. Stross has a better grasp for how economics works than some Nobel laureates. In a nutshell: Smith and Marx were wrong, or at least incomplete. Growth doesn’t depend on exploiting resources, women, poor, labor, minorities (those happened but they actually impaired system performance). It’s innovation. (Some day I may blog more, but this enough for now.)

“Taking ideas where they’re needed.”

Good climax, plenty of hook to follow-on volumes.

“Carefully not thinking too hard about the likely consequences of her actions …”