Tuesday, July 25, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novella Reviews: All Systems Red and Down Among the Sticks and Bones

This post will be reviewing a pair of SFF Novellas that were published this year and I suspect will be under consideration next year for the Hugo Award.  The two Novellas being reviewed in this post are:

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Both of these Novellas are part of a series of Novellas - McGuire's Novella is the 2nd in the Wayward Children series (although it's a prequel) and All Systems Red is the first in Wells' "The Murderbot Diaries."  One of these Novellas I loved, the other was disappointing.

Actual reviews after the Jump:

Sunday, July 23, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Vor Game (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Vor Game is the fourth (well 5th kind of, counting the book that doesn't include any of the titular family and takes place well before the others) book in the Vorkosigan Saga chronologically and the second book chronologically to feature Miles Vorkosigan.  Like Barrayar is to Shards of Honor, this is essentially a sequel to The Warrior's Apprentice and should not be read as a stand alone novel.  That said, it's a superior book to The Warrior's Apprentice, losing much of that book's silliness while maintaining the fun atmosphere, dialogue, and characters that are Bujold's specialties.

Long Review continues after the Jump

Friday, July 21, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Traders' War (Merchant Princes Omnibus #2) by Charles Stross

The Merchant Princes series is a series in which our main character, Miriam Beckstein, a tech journalist from Boston, discovers that she is part of a family of multiversaas a mafia family to get rich and power in a medieval parallel Earth.  The series follows the resulting chaos that occurs when Miriam is reintroduced into her family, and her highly intelligent and curious nature can't help but try to change the things she finds.

The series was originally a set of six books, but was later condensed into three omnibus editions, with each Omnibus containing definitive revised versions of two books.  I reviewed the first Omnibus, The Bloodline Feud, HERE. The first book was pretty much heavily carried by Miriam, which worked because Miriam is terrific in that book - a "force of nature" (to quote one character in this book) guile hero who drives the plot and is a blast to watch work and to root for. Unfortunately, this second Omnibus often sidelines Miriam and really badly misuses her, at one point in a really problematic way.

Long Review continues after the Jump (Minor Spoilers for The Bloodline Feud I suppose, but nothing major, and nothing that should ruin your experience of reading that book).

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: A Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter is a very well done (and fun) example of a happily becoming more common genre - taking stories that have possible gender (or other) issues and subverting them.  In this case, the author has noted that she has found that women in various classic monster stories tend to make out quite poorly.  This book is one hell of a response to that notion - as it features all of the women in those classic monster stories teaming up for good.  The end result is a pretty fun origin story for this cast of characters, which I suspect is the beginning of a new series.

More after the Jump:

Monday, July 17, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Warrior's Apprentice (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Warrior's Apprentice is I think the 2nd book published in the Vorkosigan Saga series (3rd chronologically).  That said, it's esentially the start of a new series based upon our new Hero, Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, the son of the two prior protagonists.  So this is a book you can start with perfectly fine - no prior knowledge is needed to begin the series with this book.

Long Review after the Jump:

Friday, July 14, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Raven Stratagem (Machineries of Empire #2) by Yoon Ha Lee

Raven Stratagem is the sequel to Ninefox Gambit, which I loved when I read it last year (My pick for this year's Hugo). Both books take place in a fascinating Science Fiction Universe whereby much of the universe's technology is powered by the adherence of an area's people to a specific "calendar" - feast days, memorials, rememberences.....and of course, Ritual tortures.  Failure to comply with the calendar can cause the technology to stop working, and "heretic" groups that form their own calendars pose their own threat to the dominant force in the galaxy.

Meanwhile, much of the drive beyond "calendrical" technology is driven by extremely complex mathematics - knowledge of how the calendar is altered in certain areas or by heretical actions can be imputed by mathematical calculations and such calculations can allow warring parties to alter their tactics in such a way to have beneficial effects on battles - for instance, one faction can manifest weaponry/effects based upon being in certain formations if they are in the proper calendar, based near entirely on mathematical computations.

Long Review continues after the Jump (I've avoided spoilers for Ninefox Gambit as much as I can). Note, you COULD in theory start the series with this book, but I don't recommend it:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Edge of Worlds by Martha Wells

Long Review after the Jump (Minor Spoilers for the First Three Raksuran Books):

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Reviewing the Hugo Nominees: Best Novel

Reviewing the Hugo Award Nominees: Best Novel:

This is the big category (not that the other categories are insignificant to the people up for them of course) and will of course be the one with the most votes.  As usual, Puppy influence is minor at best (Best Novel gets enough votes that even two years ago when the puppies had the strongest influence, they only managed to get three works on the ballot), and we have an assortment of varied SciFi and Fantasy works of critical repute.

I managed to read every nominee this year before the nominations were announced except for A Closed and Common Orbit (Yes I know I'm hipster bragging here lol).  This wasn't exactly difficult, as all six nominees were books of some critical repute and/or were pretty hyped by the people I pay attention to, and several were sequels to similarly hyped books.  The nominations contain four works that would be worthy winners in my opinion, and two that, while I am ranking them below No Award, are incredibly ambitious in scope and I can see why they made the list.

Without ado, my rankings after the Jump:

Monday, July 10, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Mortal Tally (Bring Down Heaven #2)

I reviewed The City Stained Red last month and was very much looking forward to the sequel.  The First book featured a fun group of great characters - basically your standard adventuring party but developed far better in a cynical world (Dragonman Tank, Squishy Child Wizard, Priestess Healer, Human Rogue/Thief, Elf Rogue/Archer, Human Fighter), but had a plot that wasn't very satisfying.  Again, the characters were great pretty much so I was looking forward to seeing the second book, which would at worst (I though) continue telling tales with characters I enjoyed and at best would move forward with the plot in an interesting way.

Unfortunately, this book kind of manages to underperform my lowest possible expectations, which made it kind of a chore to read.

Long Review continues after the Jump (Minor Spoilers for The City Stained Red)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Reviewing the Hugo Award Nominees: Best Novella

Hugo Award voting closes next Saturday, so I'm going to complete my general reviews of the nominees here this week.

The Novella category isn't as strong as the other 3 big categories in my opinion.  The most likely winner based upon prior awards is a novella I didn't particularly think worked so I have it below No Award, and the four Novellas I think would be worthy winners all have flaws and none are blow-you-away type stories.

Reviews and Order of my Ranking after the Jump:

Friday, July 7, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Barrayar (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold

Barrayar is the direct sequel to Shards of Honor, the first (by publication and second by chronological order) book in Lois McMaster Bujold's long running Vorkosigan Saga. Oddly, the book wasn't written till years later (6 books later), but despite that this book basically starts off right where Shards left off.  Note that in theory, you could read this book as a stand alone, but I REALLY wouldn't advise it - not only is Shards of Honor a particularly good book on its own, but this book relies largely on the setup for three of its most important characters (in Cordelia, Aral, and Bothari) as well as this world in itself.

Long Review (Minor Spoilers for Shards of Honor) after the Jump:

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Dungeon Crawl (20-Sided Sorceress Book 8) by Annie Bellet

The Twenty Sided Sorceress series is a pretty damn fun urban fantasy series that I've enjoyed over the past year or so.  The first book is free for kindle on Amazon, and this is the eighth book.  The general premise of the series is the following: The series follows Jade Crow, who lives in a town filled with magical creatures and magic users (due to the presence of leylines of course) in the US.  Jade however, is secretly a sorceress, a magic user whose magical power is innate and a type of magic user that is generally hated by others....due to sorcerer's having the ability to eat people's hearts to gain their powers.  Oh and sorcerers also tend to be incredibly dangerous and can't be killed without someone eating their own hearts.  Together with her friends, a bunch of animal-shapeshifters, Jade spends the series learning how to better control her powers and to confront the dangers that emerge  in the town.

Long Review of THIS book after the Jump (Mild Spoilers for books 1-7):

Monday, July 3, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Witch Who Came In From the Cold Season 1 by Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, & Michael Swanwick

Long Review After the Jump:

Saturday, July 1, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Siren Depths (Books of the Raksura #3) by Martha Wells

Long Review after the Jump (Again, Minor Spoilers for Books 1-2)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Serpent Sea (Books of the Rakshura #2) by Martha Wells

Long Review after the Jump (Very Minor Spoilers for The Cloud Moons):

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Long Review after the Jump:

Sunday, June 25, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Radiate by C.A. Higgins

I've previously reviewed Lightless and Supernova on my twitter account, and have been pretty excited for Radiate, which is the concluding novel in the trilogy.  A spoilery review will be after the jump, but for those who haven't read the first two novels, I gave them an 8 and an 8.5 respectively. The Novels are very ambitious, dealing with scientific concepts such as entropy, scientific forces, and AIs.

The Novels also deal with concepts of revolution against a dystopian government, how far one should go in pursuit of freedom, and how far should loved ones of revolutionaries be willing to go in support of those revolutionary ideals to support those loved ones.  It's a tricky balance for the story to strike, and the first two novels had issues at times balancing the SciFi themes with the other themes.  Radiate is no different in that respect

Long Review continues with Spoilers After the Jump:

Saturday, June 24, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Long Review after the Jump:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows (Manifest Worlds #2)

Long Review (with SPOILERS for An Accident of Stars) after the Jump:  Do not read the rest of this review if you have not read an Accident of Stars.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

Long Review after the Jump:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Fields of Fire (Frontlines #5) by Marko Kloos

Long Review After the Jump:

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Reviewing the Hugo Award Nominees: Best Short Story Category

Reviewing the Hugo Award Nominees: Best Short Story

The Short Story Nominees are pretty incredible this year.  I thought only three of the Novelettes were pretty good (although I ranked the other two legitimate nominees above "no award") but only two were strong Hugo contenders, and really neither of them were "Must Reads".  Best Short Story has Three Must Reads, and the other two legitimate contenders are well worth their nominations.  Since these are by definition very short stories, reviews will be brief.

Picks are after the Jump:

Friday, June 16, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

Long Review after the Jump

Thursday, June 15, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes

Long Review After the Jump:

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

Long Review after the Jump:

Sunday, June 11, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Boss Fight (20-Sided Sorceress Books 5 Through 7) by Annie Bellet

Long Review After the Jump

Friday, June 9, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The October Daye Series (All Ten Books!) by Seanan McGuire

Long Review After the Jump

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Long Review after the Jump:

Monday, June 5, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

Long Review after the Jump:

Sunday, June 4, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

Long Review after the Jump:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Bloodline Feud by Charles Stross

Long Review after the Jump:

Monday, May 29, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Star's End by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Long Review after the Jump:

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reviewing the Hugo Award Nominees: Best Novelette Category

So I've now essentially read every book/story nominated for the big four Hugo Categories this year.  For those who aren't aware (and if you're reading my reviews on this blog, I don't know how you aren't), the Hugo Awards are one of the biggest Science Fiction and Fantasy awards (arguably one of the big two, along with the Nebulas), and are awarded through an open voting process.  Anyone who at least buys a supporting membership at the Worldcon convention they're awarded at (for $40) is eligible to vote.

Note that if you buy a supporting membership, you gain access to a free giveaway of Hugo Nominated Material that contains nearly all (it's missing one best novel work, and that's it of the big four categories) of the works nominated for the Hugo this year.  The value of this is WELL OVER $40, so I highly recommend paying for this (we're talking like 20+ Novels, 5 comic trades, and much much more).

Anyhow, I'm going to be writing posts for each of the four big categories (and maybe a fifth for best graphic novel) and give my thoughts and reviews on the categories.  The Categories are Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, and Best Short Story, and for the most part, I've finished all of the nominees.  So without further ado, let's get to Best Novelette first.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Bookburners Season 2 by Max Gladstone, Muir Lafferty, Margaret Dunlap, Brian Slattery, Amar El-Mohtar, Andrea Phillips

Long Review after the Jump:

Monday, May 15, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Borne by Jeff Vandermeer

Long Review after the Jump:

Saturday, May 13, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

Long Review after the Jump:

Thursday, May 11, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Skill In Our Hands (The Incrementalists, Book #2) by Steven Brust and Skyler White

Long Review after the Jump:

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand

Long Review after the Jump:

Saturday, May 6, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Review: Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Long Review after the Jump:

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker

Long Review after the Jump:

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Scifi/Fantasy Book Review: Gemini Cell by Myke Cole

Long Review after the Jump:

Saturday, April 29, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Gene Mapper by Taiyo Fujii (Translated by Jim Hubbert)

Long Review after the Jump:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Review: Chalk by Paul Cornell

Long Review after the Jump:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Review: Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland

Long Review after the Jump:

Monday, April 24, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Review: Ninth City Burning by J Patrick Black

Long Review after the Jump:

Sunday, April 23, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Long Review after the Jump:

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Long Review: 
Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty is in its simplest form a very classic plot setup - the locked room murder mystery.  It's just that in this book, the murdered individuals are the entire clone crew of a generation ship, and the people desperately trying to find the killer are well...the successor clones to those same individuals.  Oh and there's an AI, and DNA Hacking, and.....well you get the point.

Basically, in this setting, there are strict rules about cloning and serious questions about their own rights.  The cast are six clones who have been sent as the sole crew of a generation ship with criminal backgrounds and who have been promised the erasure of those same criminal backgrounds if they complete their mission.  None of the six knows the background or crimes of the others, just that each is in the same position.  Whenever a clone dies, a new clone is to be born with the most recent mindmap (a memory backup) of the last clone implanted in the new clone's head.

Except one day: all six crew members wake up as new clones, with the corpses and blood of their most recent selves spread throughout their ship.  The Ship's AI is dead, and the memory backup they've been born with isn't the most recent one - it's the last one before they boarded the ship.  And the ship is off course.  Now with no memories of what happened before and how they all died, can they figure out what's happened, save their mission, and well...not die to the same causes as their predecessors?  Because the cloning technology is ALSO now broken, and if they die one more time, that's it for good.

The book jumps from the POV of one clone to the next (although one character, Maria, gets the most screentime), and occassionally flashes back to each clone's individual past that led to their being on the ship, as the characters attempt to solve the mystery.  The characters are strong, as is the writing - which never seems to drag and is nicely paced, and the solution in the end doesn't quite take the predictable turn one might expect.  The solution is maybe SLIGHTLY too tidy I guess, but it works pretty well honestly.

As you can tell from the grade, I really liked Six Wakes, and suspect that if you're both a SF and a mystery fan (or even just one or the other), you'll enjoy this too. Highly recommended, and a contender for my hugo ballot for next year.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Year in Review: Books and Video Games and my future Hockey Work in 2017

2016 was not a great year for my productivity in posts on Hockey, but I managed to read an awful lot of books and play two video games (kind of one video game, I guess, but more on that below).  Since others have done a year in review post, I figured I might as well do one.

Books I Read:

The End of 2015 was really where I began to get back into reading Science Fiction and Fantasy again.  2016 continued that trend, and I managed to finish 90 books (as well as at least one short story collection) over the course of the year, some old and some new.  The list of books and some short ratings of them can be found at this link:


I read more books that I liked or even loved than I hated (28 of the books I rated at 9 stars or better while only 9 of the books I read were under 6 stars, and only 4 were truly hated by me at 2 stars).  This is undoubtedly due to selection bias - I purchased books or borrowed them based upon recommendations and authors who I liked, and I didn't finish 5 books which I didn't rate where I just wasn't feeling into the book after ~100 pages.  I know at least one of the books I hated I wouldn't have finished except it was on the Hugo Nominee list so I wanted to give it a full shake.

11 series/book highlights I'd highly recommend in no particular order:
The Inheritance Trilogy by NK Jemisin (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods)
The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone (Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise, Full Fathom Five, Last First Snow, Four Roads Cross)
The Novels of the Jaran by Kate Elliott (Jaran, An Earthly Crown, His Conquering Sword, The Law of Becoming)
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson (Warning: Gets pretty dark)
Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler (Dark but important in today's political context)
The Dandelion Dynasty Series by Ken Liu (The Grace of Kings, The Wall of Storms)
The Thessaly Trilogy by Jo Walton (The Just City, The Philosopher Kings, Necessity)
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman

These are not the only books I loved so please check my list if you're interested, but just 11 series/novels I felt could use extra love and highlighting (I also limited myself to one series per author above, but some authors had a LOT of good work).

I figure I should also highlight the books I did NOT like:
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson - 2 stars
Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig - 2 stars
Flesh and Fire by Laura Anne Gilman - 2 stars
The Worldbreaker Trilogy by Kameron Hurley (The Mirror Empire - 6.5 stars, Empire Ascendant - 2 stars)
Informocracy by Malka Older. (4.5 stars)

I liked some of these authors - Gilman is even on my list of books I loved actually.  But these books all didn't work at all for me.

One final note on books:   I read a lot of these books by taking them out of the library.  If you have a local library, PLEASE support it - they provide a lot of great material (and plenty of other non-book related benefits) that can entertain you for hours for basically free (you're paying taxes for living in that location anyhow, so anything you get out of the library is extra benefits added!).  Libraries may also have online books you can borrow, or online audiobooks.

I've also listened to about 7 audiobooks now.  It's a pretty enjoyable way to read books on a commute where your eyes are paying attention to the road.  I strongly recommend them.

Video Games:

My Book reading slowed in November as I downloaded two games:  The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky & The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter.  As the names suggest, these are kind of two parts of the same story, and you'd only buy the second game if you finished the first.  They're both JRPGs, very much in a classic vein (The first game came out in Japan in 2004, actually), so if you don't like the genre, they won't be for you.

But if you like the genre, I can't recommend them enough.  They're fantastic additions to the genre, and the second game gives you greater choices of options to play with to add extra replay value (as you very much may want to see how things play with using different characters).  And for Steam they cost only 19.99 and 29.99 respectively, but I've since seen that they're very often discounted.  Well worth a purchase.

For 2017:

For 2017, I want to get back on the hockey writing train a little bit.  Starting today I will be tracking dump and change plays to really try to see how effective they are league wide - I'm hoping in addition to the Isles to track several other teams for several games each to see really what the expected results of these plays are.  I also want to take the neutral zone tracking project forward in other ways as well - there's a lot of data that has again been untapped, and with Corey again tracking every team, we should have more data to play with.

Alas, I suspect I'll cut down to around 50 new books this year, but who knows?  I may find myself on another reading binge soon.....