Book Review: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik (three stars)

Book Review: The Last Graduate (Scholomancy #2) by Naomi Novik (three stars)

To offer sanctuary and protection to all the wise-gifted children of the world. 

Novik develops her not-Hogwarts as she examines the senior year of Galadriel and friends. Lots of overlap from previous story, presumably for first time readers. (If you haven’t, read The Scholomancy first.) Sufficient foreshadowing and deception to keep the reader engaged.

Or was I just being a stupid wanker who thought she was too good to look people in the face while I killed them? 

Not appropriate for target audience, which I assume to be teen Harry Potter fans. Not bad, not insulting, but insensitive.

“I wasn’t planning to go anywhere.” “That just means you didn’t have a plan, not that you weren’t going. 

Obviously going to be another tale. Doubt if I’ll read it.

I could never afford to look past survival, especially not for anything as insanely expensive and useless as happiness, and I don’t believe in it anyway. 

Book Review: Time and Again by Jack Finney (four stars)

(cover of ebook I read, not paperback)

Book Review: Time and Again (Time #1) by Jack Finney (four stars)

“Has it occurred to you that we may all be nuts, and that you’ve wandered into an immense booby-hatch?” “That’s why I joined up.” “Good; obviously you’re the type we need.” 

Excellent story. May be fantasy, historical fiction, humor, social commentary, or romance, but not science fiction, though that’s what most people call it. Folks learn to time travel by positive thinking. Kind of like Dorothy without ruby slippers. Well developed, well written. Lots of neat trivia about 1880s New York City. “This kind of research becomes time-wasting foolishness, but fun,” Finney. Fun reading, too.

‘We don’t care very much about what happens to our poor, but the nineteenth century cared even less, it seems to me.’ 

Published in 1970. A time capsule of life that is as remote to many current readers as the Middle Ages. Even the differences between 1970 and now are striking. Nice illustrations. Logic and continuity gaps, but they hardly spoil the fun. Many unsupported opinions but that’s why people write science fiction, or whatever this is. New Yorkers will enjoy it most.

‘He developed and printed his own films; there were a couple dozen of them strung out on a line like a washing.’

Quibbles. Photography in 1882 was expensive, awkward, and stinky. Unlikely someone would do it in their boarding house room. Travelers seem locked in place and time, except when they’re not. Almost like wishing on a star. Several dateline anachronisms. The protagonist doesn’t understand what low profile means; he calls attention to himself at every turn.

‘It is becoming more and more certain, as science uses an almost brand-new ability to pull apart the deepest puzzles of the universe, that we need not and should not necessarily do something only because we’ve learned how.’ 

“In the [Somewhere in Time movie], [Christopher] Reeve’s character consults with a Dr. Finney …, a time travel theorist. This is a deliberate nod to author Jack Finney, whose novel Time and Again, published five years before Richard Matheson’s 1975 novel Bid Time Return, on which this film is based, features an almost identical theory on the mechanics of time travel.” Wikipedia

‘If in my own time I couldn’t stand by and allow the life of a girl I knew and liked to be destroyed if I could prevent it, I finally knew that I couldn’t do it here either.’ 

Book Review: Devices and Desires by K. J. Parker (four stars)

Book Review: Devices and Desires (Engineer Trilogy #1) by K. J. Parker (four stars)

“It’s remarkable the truly stupid things people can do just because it’s expected of them, or they think it’s expected of them.”

Engaging quasi-steampunk tale of technology and love. Renaissance northern Italy vibe. Well-developed, believable characters. Most everyone knows they don’t know what they’re doing. The few who think they do are wrong. Except maybe one.

“Be specially polite to people who annoy you. True feelings are for true friends.”

Believable, deeply introspective large cast of people whose competing desires drive them to manipulate themselves and others. Meaning well is not enough.

‘He’d learned something important today, and he had no idea what it was.’

A bunch of sub-system maximizers, whose assumptions, goals, and efforts misalign with everyone else’s. And often with their own. I’ve known engineers like these.

“I’ve been a politician now for fifteen years, I wouldn’t know my depth if I fell in it. But I’m sure there’s something I’ve missed, and I don’t know where.”

Satisfying end with hooks to draw readers to next story. It can be done. Just because Tolkien didn’t do it, everyone thinks they have a bye. Judicious use of profanity, no sex, lots of deceit, even more well-meant bungling.

‘Love’s always the most dangerous thing; so much of the unhappiness and quite a lot of the evil in the world comes directly out of it.’

Book Review: “A Spindle Splintered” (Fractured Fables #1) by Alix E. Harrow (three stars)

Book Review: “A Spindle Splintered” (Fractured Fables #1) by Alix E. Harrow (three stars)

“Before there were curses—before there were fairies or roses or even spindles—there was just a sleeping girl.”

Fairy tale/science fiction crossover. Since parallel universes admit an infinite number of realities, why not ones where every fairy tale—and all its variations—are true? Well done.

I’ve always resented people for trying to save me, but maybe this is how it works, maybe we save one another.

Turns the traditional Sleeping Beauty inside out. Cliches abound, but some are for the purpose of exposing them. Language cost Harrow a star.

“I hope you find your happily ever after, or whatever.” “Already did,” I say, and it’s possible that my voice is a little gluey, too. “I’m just looking for a better once upon a time.”

(2022 Hugo Awards Novella finalist)

Book Review: Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (four stars)

Book Review: Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (four stars)


“A violin from China.” “Yes, I know.” “No, I mean, it’s all in pieces.” “Yes. So are we all.” 

Star Trek does Faust cross-dressed as The Music Man with a dusting of Screwtape. Plus humor. Well done.

“I think girl.” “Too ugly to be girl.” “But she’s wearing makeup!” “Too ugly to be girl.” “Definitely boy. To be a girl would be sad.” “Yes, so sad.” 

That dialogue hooked me. That and Starrgate Donuts. Not just another message book.  It is a message book, but it’s more. It’s a supernatural science-fiction, fantasy, liberation, mystery, suspense culinary musical. Almost every major character has issues, some externally induced, some self-induced.

“Katrina. In my business, one does not care about bodies. One is only concerned with souls.” 

Yes, it’s about gender and roles, but it’s so much more. (Thankful, not about sex, despite enough obnoxious vocabulary to cost Aoki a star. Do the math.) It’s about broken people seeking healing. We are all hurt; damaged. Many by those we expect to love and protect us. Or by ourselves. Some are healed; most learn to cope. The coping is better in community—we call it what we may: family, crew, sisterhood, or band of brothers.

“Shall we?” “Yes, please.” “Engage!” There was a brilliant rainbow flash. And the ship was gone. “That was just the bluster of a little demon stuck on a tiny rock.” 

Good foreshadowing throughout. Too good. The denouement is obvious long beforehand. <spoiler> A bit contrived because demons should transcend time and space, right? Not necessarily. The Book of Daniel implies that certain supernatural “princes” relate to, maybe bind to, specific geographies.

This was something that would occur far in Earth’s future, but it did not seem much different than anyone realizing they were mortal. 

Good choice to cast most characters as neither white nor black. Avoids some stereotyping. Forces readers to open their eyes and minds. The multi-cultured society supports the blending of music, food, and lifestyles. May even be an antidote to Endplague. 

The songs will change, but the music is never truly gone. 

Book Review: Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky (five stars)

Book Review: Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky (five stars)

‘This is nothing but a tower, and I am nothing but a scientist of sufficiently advanced technology, which is to say a magician.’ 

Arthur C. Clarke-ian take on St. George and the Dragon. Tchaikovsky tells the same story twice: once from the point of view of a very old, tired scientist (second class), and once from the POV of a young, impressionable princess. One filters everything through the lens of science; the other through the lenses of fantasy. Well done.

“You promised my family, long ago. Are the vows of a sorcerer nothing?” ‘I let myself behave in a remarkably unprofessional manner some time ago and here it is, back to bite me.’ 

Tchaikovsky grounds his parallel tales by flashing back and forth between the protagonists, adding their bewilderment at the words and thoughts of the other. Nice cover art.

‘No point studying the culture if it gets hold of our stuff and suddenly leaps out of barbarism and into the space age, after all. Where’s the fun in that?’ 

It’s also a sendup of certain Prime Directive series. I’m tempted to down grade almost every other contemporary science fiction/fantasy tale recently read because others do so poorly what Tchaikovsky does excellently. Do read this story.

‘Myths miss out all the sordid realities and preserve only What we wish we’d done, rather than How we actually did it.’ 

Book Review: Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor (Five Stars)

Book Review: Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor (Five Stars)

Her parents never ever would have left her. She’d had the best parents in the world. Now, in her fourteenth year on earth, if there was one rule she lived by it was the fact that Stories were soothsayers, truth-tellers and liars.

Pleasing mix of near-future science fiction and fantasy. Okorafor blends the here and now, with the there and then, adding a touch of future shock. She has the touch.

She considered leaving in the dead of night, but instead lay in that comfortable soft blue bed and pushed her face to the sheet and let her tears run. For hours. Because of the scent of coffee she remembered that she wanted her father. And he was dead. Because she’d killed him.

Love the cover art.

2021 Hugo Awards Overview

Spring turns the speculative fiction readers’ heart toward the Hugo Award nominees. Culling this year’s collection, I’ll share my opinions.

What’s with all the horror stories? A reaction to current politics? The pandemic? The apparent hopelessness of current ideologies?  Most are so heavily agenda driven that they should post a “paid political” announcement. This is not indicative of the best of current science fiction and fantasy.

Nevertheless as I have for several years. I’m trying to wade through current crop of Hugo Award nominees. This year, as in past years, I have already been pleasantly surprised as well as disappointed.

Warning: I don’t normally review stories which I rate lower than three stars. These I will.

Book Review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (Five Stars)


Book Review: Old Man’s War (Old Man’s War #1) by John Scalzi

(Five Stars)

“The universe is a big place. Maybe we’re not in the best neighborhood.”

(The following is the review I wrote for this book in 2008 upon my first reading. My opinion hasn’t changed. I’ve added a few quotes from the text, as I always do now, to give the reader a taste of the writing.)

Oh, yeah! This is what it’s all about. This is great fiction, and great science fiction. Read this book.

Perhaps I should explain why I call this fantasy as well as science fiction. Unlike many other readers, to me the presence of aliens in a story is as much a sign of fantasy as magic. I understand that the probability there might be life, intelligence and superior science and technology in this galaxy–let alone the rest of the universe–approaches unity, but . . . for us to populate our science fiction with them is as much a work of imagination as to create stories with dwarfs, elves, hobbits, etc. I’m certain many of you will object. Sorry, that’s how I see it.

“You said it wouldn’t hurt!” “I said ‘not so much,’” Dr. Russell said. “Not so much as what? Having your head stomped on by an elephant?” “Not so much as when the sensors connect to each other.”

Scalzi’s political correctness intrudes on his otherwise excellent story. Beyond the mandatory fawning demanded by our age, he fails to even give passing mention to physiological differences between the sexes–critical considerations for infantry. In fact, when the “Old Farts” get their new bodies, his (and their) attention is fixated on their physical beauty and condition without mentioning that the females’ enhancements might have been turned up a notch to compensate for their natural smaller size. It doesn’t hurt the story especially, but it is noticeable. And will surely mark this story in time just as the misogynistic attitudes of nineteenth century novels date them.

“Entropy is a bitch,” Alan said. “We’ve got theories to back that one up.”

His portrayal of military life is spot on except for two omissions. First, all battles are “at a distance.” Everything is surgical and arm’s length. The most intense kind of combat is hand-to-hand: confused, frightening and messy. He reports on melees, but none ever happen on stage. Even John’s crash landing seems too analytical and not emotional. Second, his “only need two hours of sleep” rule does not do away with the second feature of long engagements: being tired. Even if their green skin and super blood keeps them ready to go, sleep deprivation has psychological implications, which are not mentioned.

“He’s got cat’s eyes,” I said. “You’ve got cat’s eyes.”

Don’t let these quibbles dissuade you from reading <i>Old Man’s War</i>

(End of original review)

“Harry, were you always this paranoid,” I asked, “or was this something that crept up on you as you got older?” “How do you think I made it to seventy-five?”

New quibbles: “waiting as air was pumped back into the bay.” “The air will be pumped out of this bay in precisely seven minutes.” Why? Why not use an umbilical? Or sealed door? Especially to avoid repetitive pressurization, which probably take more than seven minutes for a shuttle bay that large.

And the Cubs won a World Series; who would have guessed? Not Scalzi.

“Not only don’t we know what we’re up against out here, sometimes we simply can’t imagine what we’re up against.”

Book Review: Walkaway by Cory Doctorow (Two Stars)


Book Review: Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

(Two Stars)

“So long as you keep on pretending that money is anything but a consensus hallucination induced by the ruling elite to convince you to let them hoard the best stuff, you’ll never make a difference. Money only works if there isn’t enough to go around. (Weimar Germany tried to print “enough to go around” in the 1930s. Didn’t work.)

Wanted to like this more. Doctorow obviously worked hard on creating a gripping, convincing story. Convincing? Oh yes, because this is a 400-page infomercial on socialism.

“Sci-fi and fantasy are two sides of the same coin.”

Science fantasy. Not because of magic or elves, but the fairy tale that you can wish away limited resources and human nature. A post-apocalyptic utopia about Continue reading