Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Year in Review - SF/Fantasy Reading, Part 1: Basic Summary

To celebrate the new year, I'm going to be spending a few posts looking back at what I've read over the past year throughout this whole week.  Post 1, which you're reading at this very moment, features a summary of what I've read and some basic facts.  Post 2, which will come out either tomorrow or the next day will go over some of my favorite novels from this year.  Post 3, coming out after that, will go over briefly my least favorite works - the novels I completed and didn't like and the ones that I began but failed to complete.

So what did I read this year?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Tiger's Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera

The Tiger's Daughter is a fantastic example of the Fantasy Romance genre.  It's a complete fusion of both genres - this is clearly a fantasy novel - featuring demons, divinely gifted rulers, and incredible warriors - but the main focus of the story is of the journeys of the two main characters and their attempts to try to make their love work despite their differences and the troubles that come their way.  And god did I love the two main characters.  As I've said before, a good romance plot will have moments where the reader will both want to stop reading because the reader doesn't want to see the characters get hurt but also not want to stop because the reader wants to know what happens to those characters anyway - and the Tiger's Daughter has those moments in spades.

Please note that the plot summary/description on Amazon is totally misleading - as noted above, this is more of a fantasy love story than a fantasy adventure story, which the summary would have you believe.  If you're looking for an adventure story, you're looking in the wrong place.  But if you don't mind a love story in the fantasy genre, you will love the Tiger's Daughter.

Final Note:  The Tiger's Daughter is clearly a Chinese/Mongolian fantasy world, though the author is Puerto Rican/American.  I think the setting/characters are done tastefully, but as my heritage is neither of those cultures, it's possible I'm missing something.  That's all I'll say about in this review as that's all I'm able to contribute on this topic.  

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Emperor's Blades (Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne #1) by Brian Staveley

The Emperor's Blades is the first in Brian Staveley's epic fantasy trilogy, Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne.  I didn't come into this series without any foreknowledge, as I read and reviewed (see HERE) Staveley's prequel novel, Skullsworn earlier this year.  I liked Skullsworn a lot - it was a nicely done gray world with some really interesting characters - and have been looking forward to reading the trilogy for a while to see more of this world.  Alas, The Emperor's Blade fails to live up quite so much to the standards of its later prequel, as it suffers from some fairly solid pacing issues.  There's definite potential here in the worldbuilding, but the book takes too long to get to obvious places to really fulfill that potential:

More after the jump:

Monday, December 25, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Tongues of Serpents (Temeraire #6) by Naomi Novik

Tongues of Serpents is the sixth Temeraire novel, taking place after the events of Victory of Eagles.  Victory was the high point of the series, featuring fantastic character work (as I've stated repeatedly, the series is best with more dragon interactions and it had plenty) as well as a well paced plot that worked really well. Tongues of Serpents is a weird follow up in that it....doesn't really have much of a plot.  What it does have is more new dragons to interact with the main character and an expansion of worldbuilding.

Note:  Unlike some other long-running series (like Seanan McGuire's series that I've reviewed on this blog), Tongues of Serpents makes zero attempt to try to be a starting point for new readers in the series.   If you haven't read the first five books of this series, you will be well and truly lost - the main antagonist, to the extent there even IS one, in this book is a character who has basically been absent since Book 1.  This is an entertaining book if you have knowledge of the prior books in the series, even if it's not the best of the series by a long shot, but it is not a starting point despite being the start of what could be seen as a new arc.

Also, I read this book as an audiobook - the first one of the series that I've read in that format, and the audio-reader is pretty good.  So if you like that format, the series isn't a bad choice for the format.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Magic for Nothing (inCryptid) by Seanan McGuire

Magic for Nothing is Seanan McGuire's sixth inCryptid novel, but the first in a new arc following the last of the Price kids, Antimony Price.  It's also the first novel in the series following a major change in the status quo, and as such it's not quite as beginner friendly as the start of the last new arc (Book 3, Half-Off Ragnarok).  You COULD start the series here - I think it would work, as again, this is the start of a new arc and McGuire does a decent job at the beginning of each book recapping what you need to know to start here.  But I wouldn't advise it, as the conflicts in the book work better if you have some background coming into this story.*

*You probably should read all of Verity's Books, which are Books 1, 2, and 5 (Discount Armageddon, Midnight Blue-Light Special, and Chaos Choreography) before this book, with the Alex Price books (Half-Off Ragnarok and Pocket Apocalypse) being optional.  But as I like the Alex Price books, you might as well read them.

But here's the thing:  This is easily my favorite book in the series, and Antimony is easily my favorite character in the Novels (I think Francis Brown from the short stories is my favorite inCryptid character still, but Antimony comes close).  Whereas Verity and Alex, the protagonists of the prior five novels, are clearly adults with adult concerns, Antimony is more of a Young Adult heroine (even though at 22 I guess she's old for traditional YA) - she's still looking for what to do with her life and has never taken or even attempted to take steps toward traditional adulthood (such as finding a job or moving out of her parent's place).  Naturally her trying to find herself is a major part of this book, and it works tremendously well.

Warning: Spoilers for Chaos Choreography's ending are below - there's no way to avoid them here:

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Chaos Choreography (inCryptid) by Seanan McGuire

Chaos Choreography is the fifth inCryptid novel, but resides in an odd place in terms of it's potential to be read as the first in the series.  Both Books 1 (Discount Armageddon) and 3 (Half-Off Ragnarok) are the starts of arcs centered around different characters and thus can be used as a new reader's introduction to the series  By contrast, Chaos Choreography returns after a two book absence to Verity Price (the protagonist of Book 1), even if it takes place in a different city, and thus kind of serves as a third book in an already completed plot arc (and a continuation of that plot arc in some ways can be found in a bunch of fun short stories on McGuire's website).

This wouldn't matter too much if this was a stronger book - but for reasons I'll lay out after the jump, Chaos Choreography is the weakest inCryptid novel.  It's still a well-paced read with several fun moments (despite you know, people being horribly murdered).  But it feels oddly duplicative of the first book in the series, Discount Armageddon, even though it ends in a way to set up a drastically new status quo for the series.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Pocket Apocalypse (inCryptid) by Seanan McGuire

Pocket Apocalypse is the fourth inCryptid book and the second book to follow Alexander "Alex" Price.  I reviewed the first book to follow Alex, Half-Off Ragnarok, yesterday HERE.  As I mentioned in the last review, you could have started the inCryptid series with Half-Off Ragnarok without any problems - but I would not recommend starting the series with this book, as it is basically building upon HOR (McGuire plants enough context in this book to allow a new reader to try to start here, but it seems inadvisable).

However, if you enjoyed Half-Off Ragnarok, you should enjoy Pocket Apocalypse.  Whereas the second inCryptid book (Midnight Blue-Light Special) with Verity delved deeper into the world built by the first book, this book moves the main characters wholly to a new part of the world: Australia.  Oh and it deals with werewolves.  Because things couldn't be dangerous enough for Alex Price.  But the end result is yet again a fun book.

Monday, December 18, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Half-Off Ragnarok (inCryptid) by Seanan McGuire

Half-Off Ragnarok is the third in Seanan McGuire's inCryptid series, her second urban fantasy series, which focuses on a family, the Price-Healy family, devoted to the protection and preservation of species - sentient or not - that science doesn't acknowledge exist, Cryptids.  Or as human like to call them: Monsters.  This is actually the first book in a new arc, being the first book to be narrated by and focus on Alexander Price, the oldest son of the current generation of the Price Family.  So you can start the series with this book if you want and be totally fine; no prior knowledge of the series or even just the first two books is needed to enjoy this book.

That said, like the first two inCryptid books, Half-Off Ragnarok is a pretty fast paced and fun story that's really easy to read.  Is it groundbreaking work or something truly special?  Not really, but it's still a really fun book to read - with a fun bunch of characters - and sometimes that's all that matters.

More after the Jump:

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Spoiler Filled Review/Thoughts

NOTE:  This Review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi contains SPOILERS.  If you are looking for a Spoiler-Free review, see HERE.  So if you're looking to avoid spoilers, please go no further.  This is your only warning.  

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Spoiler Free Review/Quick-Thoughts

NOTE:  This is a Spoiler-Free Review/Collection of Thoughts on Star Wars The Last Jedi.  A More Spoilery Review will be coming this weekend.  

The Last Jedi is very much unlike any Star Wars movie that has come before.  This is not to say it is a better or worse movie than any of the prior Star Wars films, but it is different in that the movie tries arguably to have more of a symbolic than straightforward message, unlike the past 7 movies in the main series (Star Wars movies are many things, but subtle isn't one of them).  It's still recognizably a Star Wars movie - and even in being more symbolic, it can't help but be sometimes laughably unsubtle about it - but it's definitely different in this way (and I'm not going to go more in depth on that since I want to avoid spoilers).  Overall, I think this shift in the character of the movie DOES work, though it leaves the series in an interesting place to conclude with Episode IX. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Beautiful Ones by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia

  When I sometimes describe SF/F books as being "Romance" novels, that description can mean many different things.  Some of these books are ones where Romance is a significant part of a Fantasy/SciFi plot; others are books where the Romance is simply part of a subplot of such a SF/F book instead.  But other books are essentially Romance Novels where the science fiction/fantasy elements are simply part of the background.  You could easily put such books in the Romance section of the bookstore/library without having any reader feel that you have "deceived" them into reading a genre book.

 The Beautiful Ones by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia is such a book - it is entirely a Romance Novel, where the only fantasy elements (the presence of "talents" like telekinesis being the only such elements) are minor character traits.  This is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination - I enjoyed this book a lot, as the characters are really believable and the romance is extremely well done (okay, I shed a tear at one point near the ending).  Of course, if you aren't heavily into romance, you won't be into this book at all - so fair warning to you.

More after the jump:

Friday, December 8, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Necrotech by K.C. Alexander

Necrotech is a SF book that tries to pull off one of the probably most difficult feats in fiction writing - writing a book with an asshole, even unlikable, protagonist hero.  It's a really difficult task, because it relies upon making both the plot and the other characters in the story interesting, when those elements are by definition going to get lesser screentime than the protagonist.  Necrotech doesn't quite pull it off - the plot is kind of interesting but not stellar, and the other characters are very underdeveloped.  There's clear promise in Necrotech, but it doesn't quite realize that potential.

One further note before the jump, as I'll make clear below, Necrotech is a book with a LOT of profanity - our main character, who narrates the story, swears profusely, often in some non-standard ways.  If that's a problem for you, you should skip this book.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Want by Cindy Pon

Want is a Dystopian YA novel by Cindy Pon, taking place in a near-future Taiwan where pollution has gotten so bad around the world that the true of the sky is now a myth and air pollution reduces the life expectancy of those who breathe the air significantly.  This situation is made worse by the fact that income inequality has only increased in this future, to the point where the Rich literally live in different spaces with "regulated air" and don't interact with those who have less except when they can be covered in protective suits.  It's in this environment that Pon tells a tale of a group of friends attempting a plot, partially out of revenge, partially out of the idea of trying to do something to help the world, only to possibly get sidetracked by a forbidden love.

Fair warning: if you're looking for dystopian fiction here that tells a tale of grey; you're not going to find that in Want.  The bad guys are clearly evil and the good guys are clearly good in this book, and the book lacks very much that could fall in that in-between area.  That said, despite the lack of moral ambiguity, the book actually works thanks to some really sharp writing and dialogue.  So if you're looking for a book that combines a dystopian setting, an infiltration/heist plot, and a romance element (and that' s YA), Want's a pretty a good book to read. 

Pre-Jump Disclaimer: I read this book as an audiobook, so if I misspell some names, that's the cause.  The audiobook reader is high quality, giving each character a unique recognizable voice without sounding exaggerated and helping the dialogue pop, so I recommend it if you are looking for a book in that format.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy/Horror Book Review: Into The Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Into the Drowning Deep is a member of a genre which is generally not my thing:  it's not just a SciFi Novel, it's a Horror Novel.  Indeed, "Mira Grant" is the well known pseudonym for insanely productive SFF author Seanan McGuire, which she uses for her Horror books instead of her real name.  I'm a pretty big fan of some of McGuire's works (inCryptid, October Daye), and hadn't read a Mira Grant novel before this one, so I wasn't sure how I'd enjoy one of these works - especially again as I'm not much of a horror fan.  But after completing this book, I can say for sure that I'm really not into this genre, as while this book was certainly solid, certain clear genre tropes bugged me enough to keep me away from the genre for the future (barring certain exceptions).

Into the Drowning Deep has a pretty fun horror premise: our main characters are on a ship that is searching for killer mermaids that previously killed off all of the members of a prior exhibition.   As you might expect, they find those killer mermaids......and the killing commences.  The resultant story is pretty solid, and most of the main characters are nicely three dimensional (or at least two dimensional), but eh, again, the horror genre may just not be for me.

One quick note before the jump:  The book takes place after a novellette/novella ("Rolling in the Deep") previously published by the author, which describes the first exhibition to find mermaids.  I haven't read the prior story, and no prior knowledge is needed - the book describes what happens adequately enough.

Friday, December 1, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Jade City is the first in a new trilogy of Epic Urban Fantasy novels by Fonda Lee.  Note, unlike many other books I describe as Urban Fantasy, Jade City isn't a book about magical/mythological creatures in a modern world - instead, it's "Urban Fantasy" in that it takes place in an alternate world with mid-20th century technology (we're pre-computers, but cars and airplanes and electricity are commonplace), but also where certain individuals can gain magically abilities from pieces of Jade.  Really calling this "urban fantasy" might be the wrong way to put this book - to use an analogy from the author herself, this book can better be described as "The Godfather" but with Magical Ninja Clans in place of the Italian Mafia.  Which is a pretty good hook!

And for the most part, Jade City delivers.  This is a really enjoyable read (though at 512 pages, it's not short) that drew me in very quickly, with several excellent characters and a really interesting world.  While The Godfather parallels are very clear, the story clearly transcends its inspirations to become its own work, and unlike some other books I've read lately, this is a book that lives up to its extremely strong hook.  That said, the book basically doesn't have an ending and one of the main characters didn't really work for me, so it's far from perfect.  But if "The Godfather, but with magical ninja clans" seems appealing to you, you'll almost certainly enjoy Jade City.

More after the Jump:

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

  The City of Brass is the first in a new Epic Fantasy trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty (The Daevabad Trilogy) based upon an Islamic mythology-based world.  Nearly all of our main characters are Djinn, and the story also features Ifrit, Peri, and Marid in various roles - not to mention the book's name comes from one of the stories in Arabian Nights.  While this is the author's debut novel, it doesn't feel like it - this is a pretty expansive piece of worldbuilding and character work, with the latter being particularly excellent.

  That said, The City of Brass is the type of trilogy-opener that does not really attempt to resolve many, if any, of the plot threads it raises throughout the book, preferring to end in a cliffhanger that presumably will set off some of the rest of the trilogy.  So if you're looking for a book that will be satisfying on its own, this book is not for you.  This is also a fantasy world filled with grey - while one of our protagonists may be the closest thing possible to an actual good guy, his attitude isn't treated well by the narrative and the sides in conflict in this story are not all good or all evil.  This is a story where prejudice, racism, religious-extremism and violent resistance are major forces and there are no easy answers.

More after the jump, but a quick warning before I go further, I read this book as an audiobook, which means that my spellings of character and place names is very likely going to be off.  It should be noted that while the audiobook is long (19 hours is long even for a 500 page book), it's very well narrated, and so I do recommend the audiobook format if you're looking for one.

Monday, November 27, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Midnight Blue-Light Special (inCryptid) by Seanan McGuire

Midnight Blue-Light Special is the second Novel (though not story) in Seanan McGuire's inCryptid series, following the first novel, Discount Armageddon, which I previously reviewed for this blog.

For those new to the series, inCryptid is an urban fantasy series focusing upon the Healy/Price family, a family of cryptozoologists who attempt to preserve and help Cryptids in North America - Cryptids being the name for beings that are unknown/unexplainable by modern science (think Monsters/Mythological creatures like Gorgons, Bogeymen, Dragons, and Talking Mice).  The family also tries to help save the Cryptids from their former organization, the Covenant of Saint George, which has a strictly "kill-on-sight" policy toward Cryptids, no matter how harmless, or how helpful, they might be to ordinary humans.   Despite the seriousness of the conflict, members of the Healy/Price family tend to be sarcastic/deadpan-snarkers, and so the series has a lot of humor in its tone.

Midnight Blue-Light Special is the second book following Verity Price, one of the youngest generation of the Family who tries to juggle her Cryptozoologist work with her love of Ballroom Dancing, all the while living in one of the biggest Cryptid communities you can find:  New York City.  It is very much a direct sequel to Discount Armageddon, and while McGuire spends part of the early narrative rehashing what a new reader might need to know that was explained in the first novel, you probably shouldn't start the series here with this book.

More after the jump, with spoilers for Discount Armageddon ahead:

Friday, November 24, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns

Few Books might have a basic plot concept as appealing as Barbary Station:  "A pair of Lesbian Engineers hijack a ship in order to join a band of famous pirates at a space station, only to find themselves forced to contend with a murderous A.I."  You got Engineers!  Space Pirates!  AIs!  Hacking! This just sounds like it should be a fun and exciting adventure.  And the story even starts off with a bang - the aforementioned hijacking occurs and is completed within the first two chapters.

Unfortunately, Barbary Station, which is author R.E. Stearns' first novel, fails to synthesize all of these ideas together and the result feels very much like an unsatisfying mess.  There's clearly a lot of interesting potential ideas here, but many of them are raised and never followed up on, and the direction the plot takes just isn't particularly satisfying either due to a pair of main characters who don't quite gel. 

More detail on this after the jump:

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Anthology Review: Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View

I've not been particularly pleased with the three new canon Star Wars novels that I've read so far (two Aftermath books and Thrawn), but still, this old Star Wars fan was extremely excited when From a Certain Point of View was announced earlier this year.  This Anthology features forty different authors telling 40 different "stories" (in various form) from points of view of side characters during the time period of A New Hope - the number "40" being used as this year is the 40th anniversary of the original Star Wars' opening in 77.  This sort of anthology is not exactly new to Star Wars - in a sense it's reminiscent of the Tales' series of anthologies from the old canon, such as Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina (although as I'll note before, the focus of this anthology is slightly different).

What is different, and what was exciting about this book when first announced, is the talent that is involved in it.  The forty authors involved include some of the best and/or most well known talent in the SciFi/Fantasy writing scene - whether it be in the form of books, animation, or comics.  So we have SF authors like Ken Liu and Nnedi Okorafor; Comic Book writers like Matt Fraction and Greg Rucka; TV cartoon writers like Paul Dini; and even an actor like Wil Wheaton.  Most of the stories aren't very long, but they cover seemingly every side character imaginable - and sometimes more.

As with any anthology - especially one involving multiple authors - the quality of the stories can vary pretty wildly throughout this collection.  But there are some real games that make this a pretty easy pickup for the typical Star Wars fan.

More after the Jump

Monday, November 20, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

  Like a few other books I've reviewed, Sparrow Hill Road is a book that did not start its life as a Novel.  Rather, it was originally a set of short stories released over a year in a publication by Seanan McGuire, supposedly based upon several ghost/urban legend stories of the road.  The novel essentially takes an edited versions of 11 of the 12 short stories and puts them together into one complete story.  That said, the book's origin is quite evident as each of the 11 chapters is quite clearly a single story, even if the stories eventually build upon one another to a final ending.

  Sparrow Hill Road is set in the same universe as McGuire's inCryptid stories, although there are only minor references toward the inCryptid universe in the book, so one doesn't need to have any knowledge before reading it.  That said, if you've read any of McGuire's inCryptid short stories or some of her October Daye books, you'll be very familiar with what you're getting here - a fun breezy book with an entertaining heroine in an urban fantasy world.  Unfortunately, while parts of the book are as entertaining as any of McGuire's other works, some parts (really, some of the short stories) don't really land as well and the book kind of lacks an ending.

More after the Jump:

Saturday, November 18, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

  The SF/Fantasy Genre is very often (if not mostly) used by writers to tell stories about real world issues in different frames in order for the writer to address those issues.  For example, the amount of Fantasy or SF Books that feature elements of racism (or similarly, class-ism) as key elements of the plot has got to be extremely high - 5 of the 10 last books I've read have had such plots.  That said, few SF/F books really deal with the brutality of racism in its most primal form -racism/prejudice/oppression may be central elements of those books, but the true horrors of these issues is often kept at a remove from the reader.  Perhaps the authors of these books wish not to make their books too brutal to read or in many cases simply finds that to do so would detract from the story they wish to tell. 

   Then there are books like An Unkindness of Ghosts, which not only feature the horrors of racism/sexism/oppression at the forefront, but makes absolutely no effort to lighten the topic for the reader.  This is a brutal book, which opens with the main character having to amputate a little girl's leg due to the living conditions imposed upon the Black underclass by the ruling White powers, and only gets more brutal from there.  An Unkindness of Ghosts is in no way a read that can be characterized as "fun."

  However, it is absolutely a WORTHWHILE read, maybe even an ESSENTIAL one.  It's a book that essentially translates the horrors of slavery/plantation life/racism to a scifi world - well, Generation Ship - to form a truly terrifying but impactful story.  If you're looking for a fun story, this isn't your book, but if you're looking for a book that is simply powerful....this might be the most worthwhile read of the year.

(If you couldn't guess from this type of description, trigger warnings certainly apply to this book - rape, abuse, and beatings are all parts of this story, but they're essential to the tale.)  

More after the Jump, where I'll try to not babble - sorry, a review of this type of book is difficult.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Terminal Alliance by Jim C Hines

As I've said before, sometimes one wants to read a book that is not interested in really deep questions as the core element of the plot, but one that is just plain fun.  Even one involving Toilet Humor.  Well, Terminal Alliance, if you couldn't tell by its series title: "Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse," is such a book.  That said, while the book is definitely on the "very silly" side of the scale, it manages to do so in a way that actually works really naturally, and never feels off as a result.  This is a humorous scifi book done extremely well, and it's easy to appreciate that once in a while.

One note before the jump: I listened to this as an e-audiobook from the library.  Despite my enjoyment of the book itself, the audiobook reader is NOT good - while her voices are solid for each of the characters, when she is reading general narration it tends to sound like the computer generated voices an old apple would speak on request and it was extremely jarring.  This book is worth a read, but the audiobook format is not really one I'd recommend as a result.

More after the Jump:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Anthology Review: The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu

The Legends of Luke Skywalker is the 4th book in the new Star Wars Canon that I've read since the old EU was blown up.  As a big fan of the old EU, I haven't been exactly impressed by the prior 3 works (Aftermath, Aftermath Life Debt, & Thrawn), but Ken Liu is one of my favorite authors and he's particularly notable for his short fiction work.  And what do you know, The Legends of Luke Skywalker is an anthology of short stories set in the Star Wars universe written by Liu, so I was extremely excited to hear of this book's existence - even if the stories were marketed toward children and a lower age group (Amazon lists the recommended age group for reading as 8-12).

My excitement appears to have been justified - several of the stories in The Legends of Luke Skywalker are simply great, even though I'm well over the recommended age group.  The basis of the book is that a crew of teens on a space ship traveling to the city of Canto Bight (which will be part of Episode 8) and are telling the stories they've heard about Luke Skywalker.  Remember how Han in TFA told Rey and Finn that all of the stories they might've heard about Luke are true?  Well.....if Han heard these stories, he might have to amend that statement somewhat.  But even though these stories are presented as tall tales (and thus might not be trusted), they're still incredibly fun and well worth your time.

More after the Jump:

Monday, November 13, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Orbital Cloud by Taiyo Fujii (Translated by Timothy Silver)

Orbital Cloud is the second novel by Taiyo Fujii, a Japanese Science Fiction writer, after his first novel "Gene Mapper," which I reviewed earlier this year on this blog HERE.  Reading foreign/translated Science Fiction is always an interesting experience (which I heartily recommend), as you often find different ideas and biases in work that doesn't come from a familiar viewpoint.  Orbital Cloud is no exception to this, although the book's biases are maybe a bit too blatant to my taste.

Fujii's first book, Gene Mapper, contained some really interesting hard scifi ideas but some rather weak character development.  It was also a significantly shorter book than Orbital Cloud, so I speculated the book could've been improved with another 50 pages for character development.  Orbital Cloud is such a bigger book.....but suffers still from weak character development.  And unlike Gene Mapper, which had a number of really interesting ideas, Orbital Cloud's ideas aren't quite as interesting or as diverse, which makes this not nearly as successful a book.

More after the Jump:

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

Winter Tide is a novel of a genre that seems to be expanding these days: the Lovecraft subversion genre.  I've never actually read any of Lovecraft's actual work and really don't have an interest in doing so - the racist ideas behind the guy and behind his writing are fairly well known, and nothing about the ideas of his I've heard about has drawn me in enough to really try to read his work despite that.  That said, Winter Tide marks the 5th story in the past year that I've read or started reading that attempts to put a spin on the Lovecraft mythos, in a way that Lovecraft would hate as it subverts the very hatred that inspired his work.

That said, Winter Tide is a pretty good work even for someone like me, who has basically no knowledge of the Lovecraft work it is subverting.  The story inverts the Lovecraft work in that our main protagonist is one of the monsters themselves, a premature Deep One who still has a human-like form, and well...the only evil actions in this book are taken by humans, not the monsters.  That may sound simple, but the overall product is a nicely complicated tale that features protagonists dealing with issues of racism and nationalism.  If you enjoy Lovecraftian works, I suspect you'll REALLY enjoy Winter Tide, but even if you aren't a clear fan, this book works pretty well.

More after the Jump:

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Audio Show/Podcast - Steal the Stars

Steal the Stars is a 14 part audio drama/podcast that's been being released every week for the past 4 months.   A novelization is also being released this month, but as I listened to the audio drama in its original form, this review is going to concern that format and not the novelization.  For the time being, the audio drama/podcast is still available as a free podcast download - I'm not sure when that will end.  As it tells a full SF story, I do think it's worth a review, so here we go.

Steal the Stars tells the story that is essentially a love story......except in a future US where a Corporation basically controls the Country and involving an Alien and his crashed spaceship.  The story is really well acted - while we're solely in the head of main protagonist Dakota "Dak Prentiss," - each of the various voice actors are extremely good in their roles. And until the very very end, the story's twists and turns kept me on the edge of my seat - it's only the last twist that kind of doesn't work.  In short, Steal the Stars is a pretty fun audio drama/podcast and well worth listening to.

More after the Jump

Monday, November 6, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Quantum Night by Robert J Sawyer

Quantum Night interesting book.  The book is definitely written in the form of a SciFi Thriller - like a novel by Michael Crichton for example - but while the book adheres in large part to that format - infodumps as to science developments and theories, a mystery involving the science that drives a good portion of the plot, etc. - the book turns out to want to be something else entirely: A book that has a couple of ideas and wants to explore the intersections of these ideas.   This is not a character driven novel in any way shape or form and well the book isn't trying to be.

It's also - and I'm not sure I can stress this enough - INCREDIBLY silly.  The book's ideas in the abstract aren't silly - mainly the book is concerned with what makes someone a psychopath and what makes someone have a conscience, as well as the ethics of utilitarianism as a guiding philosophy in the face of these ideas - but the execution of these ideas is often extremely laughable.  I did not buy at all the scientific ideas that form a foundation for this book but maybe others might buy those more credibly, but well - the book sets up a global political crisis that is INCREDIBLY laughable and with little justification other than "we need something to drive the characters to make choices in the end!"

In short, I'm not sure this book can be considered good...but it certainly can't be considered boring in any way.

More after the jump:

Friday, November 3, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan

One of the authors I try to keep track of on twitter recommended The Bloodprint a couple of months ago, and as such, I quickly reserved the book when I saw it show up as available from one of my online libraries.  The Bloodprint is the start of a four-book Epic Fantasy series that's influenced by Middle-Eastern/Arabic culture (as opposed to the Western-Europe focus of a lot of "classic" Epic Fantasy) and the modern day world in those areas (one of the several major evil forces in the book is clearly influenced by the Taliban).  And it certainly is a lot different from much of the standard fare in the genre that I've read.

Unfortunately, while The Bloodprint shows some great potential and some fantastic worldbuilding, it fails to fulfill on that promise, even to the limited extent required of a book that is only telling 25% of the whole series.  The characters frequently show limited agency and get repeatedly into very similar situations, and questions posed by the storyline are never satisfyingly answered or even confronted a large portion of the time.  This novel is seemingly another example of a first in a series that spends too much time in setup and not enough time actually getting things done, and it leaves the reader disappointed that he spent such time on this novel.

More detail after the Jump:

Thursday, November 2, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Arabella of Mars by David D Levine

Arabella of Mars is a young adult steampunk (well, clockpunk) fantasy novel that won last year's Norton Award (the Nebula's YA award) for best SFF young adult novel.  Set in an alternate early 1800s in which it has been discovered that the space between the planets is filled with air and in which the major colonial powers have thus discovered it is possible to Sail to Mars (and Venus), the story follows a tomboyish young woman, the titular Arabella, who was born on Mars and has an aptitude and understanding automata and has to take a dangerous journey disguised as a male airmen on a ship traveling from Earth to Mars in order to save her family.

In large part, the book feels very much like a book written in an earlier time, before some sensibilities had changed.  If you're expecting a subversion of some classic book tropes, you're looking in the wrong place - this is a pretty straight forward version of this tale.  Unfortunately, even as a new version of a tale filled with classical genre tropes, it's....just sort of fine.  Whereas some YA books are ones I'd recommend to readers of any ages (see my last review of In Other Lands), this one really won't interest readers above middle school age - and I'm not sure it'd be a must read of any type for even the target audience.

Final note before the jump: I listened to this as an audiobook, and the reader is pretty solid. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novella Review: The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

The Murders of Molly Southbourne has a pretty intriguing premise:  Since she was young, Molly Southbourne has been told she must desperately avoid bleeding.  If she bleeds, her parents inform her she must cleanse the blood with bleach and then burn it.  For if she doesn't, a clone of Molly, a "molly" (all lowercase) will be born from her blood and these mollys all tend to eventually try to kill Molly, or so it would seem.  If a molly is born, Molly has to kill her duplicate before it does something dangerous.

The story follows Molly from early childhood to young adulthood as she attempts to figure out who and what she is and what she can really be as a person with her "condition."  What kind of person can one be when one can't even bleed, and when one has killed hundreds of....herself before she's even 18? 

In essence, the story is kind of an example of psychological horror/weird SciFi that also typified to a lesser extent in Thompson's Rosewater (one of my favorite books from last year) or Jeff Vandermeer's work.  The story is certainly interesting and different, but I don't know, I never really found myself that interested in Molly as a character, and as this is HER story, it didn't overall work for me as there's really nothing else here.  The framing device used to start and end the story is pretty predictable and doesn't really add anything.  Again, it's not a bad story, and the premise is interesting....but it relies entirely on being interested in Molly as a character, and there just wasn't enough substance in her for me. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

What does the fate of Griffin Reinhart teach us? An understanding that projection requires us to think in terms of Probability

Griffin Reinhart was waived today by the Vegas Golden Knights.  This signals probably the end of Griffin's NHL chances - maybe not for good (as Vegas should cool down real fast as their underlying numbers are bad and they're bound to regress at some point, leading them to possibly recall Griff in desperation), but it is at the very least near the end of the line for Griffin Reinhart.  Reinhart was of course drafted by the Isles with the number four pick.  He then was traded to the Oilers for the picks that eventually became Matt Barzal and Mitchell Stephens.  Reinhart then bounced between the Oilers and their farm club for a while before becoming a member of Vegas in the expansion draft this year.

I want to use Reinhart's seeming end as an opportunity to look back quickly at a debate regarding him and how we should talk about prospects in general:

Saturday, October 28, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

  In Other Lands is one of the best books I've read this year.  It's a Young Adult/Portal Fantasy/Coming of Age/Romance novel and it is totally and utterly amazing.  If you read my reviews, you know I place a strong emphasis on books having good, strong or interesting characters.  This goes double for books where romance or even just relationships are major plot elements - if a book can't make you care about what happens to the characters, you're certainly not going to care about a romance plot.  But when you do have strong characters who a reader can actually grow to care about, romance and relationship plots can be incredibly powerful.

  In Other Lands has three amazing main characters, who I found it impossible not to fall in love with.  It's a book with humans/elves/mermaids/trolls etc., but the central part of this book is the relationships and romances of these characters.  And with romance being a central part of this book, it became the type of book that made me incredibly conflicted in a good way - on one hand, I found it hard to keep reading because I didn't want to see anything bad happen to our characters' hearts, but on the other hand I couldn't stop reading because I wanted to find out what would happen next to them and I hoped so much for the best of them.

More after the jump and I promise I'll try to be more coherent about exactly why this book grabbed me so well.

Friday, October 27, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Pride's Spell (Sin Du Jour #3) by Matt Wallace

Pride's Spell is the third short novel/novella (I'm treating these like Novels, but they're on the borderline) in Matt Wallace's Sin Du Jour series.  Sin Du Jour is a series following a catering company - the titular Sin Du Jour - that caters on behalf of a secret governmental agency for supernatural beings that live amongst us.  In Book 1 (Envy of Angels), they were tasked with serving an Angel for a banquet of demons; In Book 2 (Lustlocked), they were tasked with serving a wedding between a Goblin Prince and his human bride.  In Pride's Spell, their job is to serve something more horrifying:  a Hollywood Movie Release Party.

But well, it wouldn't be this series if things go according to plan, and as usual this is a book of crazy hijinks and utter absurdities, resulting in some pretty fun moments.  That said, the ending of this book really fell flat - the middle part of this book is an absolute delight, but the ending and resolution of the main plot didn't really work either plotwise or fun-wise.

One note before the jump: You cannot start the series with this book.  A commenter on my review of Lustlocked (Book 2) suggested that jumping in with book 2 didn't work for him, but that is definitely true of this book, which references heavily the events of the prior events int he series, and will fall even further flat if you don't have that backstory.  Start the series with Envy of Angels, don't jump in here.

More detailed review after the jump:

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Victory of Eagles (Temeraire #5) by Naomi Novik

As I've stated before, I have a hard time explaining my likes and dislikes of the Temeraire series.  No other series I've been this committed to has had me spend large segments of multiple books glossing over parts to get through it, yet had me invested in the plots and characters overall enough that I always felt I wanted to read the next book.  It's a strange combination - I loved the first book and have been ambivalent enough about books 2-4 to wonder if I should stop reading forward, but still I've felt myself saying "Just one more book" to see if I should give the series another chance.

Victory of Eagles seems to justify my faith in the series - it's EASILY the best book in the series since the first book (and maybe the best book in the series).  A large part of that is that it spends a lot of time dealing with dragon-dragon communications, with us dealing with a larger variety of dragon characters since the very first book - Novik's writing of the personalities and behaviors of dragons in this series is IMO the best part of the series, and this book easily has the most such interactions since His Majesty's Dragon.  Still, the actual plot of this book is more tight than in the last three books, dealing with a single major threat (the invasion of England) and the shifts in character/plotlines work extremely well.

More after the jump:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter

Noumenon is a story built around a classic SciFi trope - that of a Generation Ship.  For those unfamiliar with the trope, a Generation Ship is a spaceship that solves the problem of the incredibly far distances between objects in space by being entirely self sustaining, such that a colony of individuals crewing said ship could survive indefinitely, with the original crew's distant descendants being the ones to finally reach their destination.  Noumenon follows a fleet of such ships - although in this case, the book is staffed by clones, not by naturally-born descendants - over a large number of generations as they journey to a mysterious star and back.

Fair warning for those reading this review- I have not had a great experiences reading Generation Ship and similar concepts in books, and Noumenon also didn't quite work for me, for reasons I'll point out after the Jump.  Unlike some of those other books (Aurora, Seveneves (sort-of)), I didn't think Noumenon was bad - it definitely had some moments, and the first half was certainly interesting.  But the whole concept of following generations on a ship results in the ideas in the plot becoming even more important than usual, as plot weaknesses can't be covered up by great characters - and there are points where the plot just didn't work for me on this one.

Noumenon is trying in large part to examine how a society would handle the conditions on this voyage, and the psychologies of the people and their descendants under such stress.  But as I've said, and I'll explain further below, it becomes a bit hit or miss, especially near the end.

More after the Jump:

Saturday, October 21, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novella Reviews: The Tensorate Novellas: The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang

The Tensorate Series is a new series of Novellas by JY Yang featuring a silkpunk (think Asian inspired steampunk) fantasy world.  The first two novellas, "The Black Tides of Heaven" and "The Red Threads of Fortune," feature a pair of twins, who were given away by their Tyrant mother to the monastic order, only to take them back when one of the twins shows the gift of prophecy.  The two novellas are each meant to serve as stand-alones, with each Novella following a different twin:  The Black Tides follows Akeha as she struggles to find his place as the seemingly spare twin and The Red Threads follows Mokoya, the prophet, as she struggles to find a reason for living. 

Again, these are meant to be stand alone novellas, but the two kind of complement each other and The Red Threads takes place after The Black Tides; as such, while Red Threads isn't dependent upon you reading Black Tides, it will spoil some plot points of the other novella if you read it first and I do think Red Threads works better after having read Black Tides first.  In Sum however, both novellas are well worth reading - individual thoughts on each after the jump - though I do think Red Threads is the significantly better of the two.

Individual Novella reviews after the Jump:

Friday, October 20, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Discount Armageddon (InCryptid) by Seanan McGuire

Discount Armageddon is the first novel in Seanan McGuire's second Urban Fantasy series, InCryptid.  I have a mixed track record with McGuire's work - I greatly enjoy (if not love) her October Daye Urban Fantasy series, but have not been a fan of her two Wayward Children novellas.  That said, I've actually read some of the InCryptid series before - earlier this month I read through most of the prequel short stories that are on McGuire's website, and I enjoyed them a lot.  So I had good expectations going in.

For the most part, those expectations were met.  The InCryptid universe is similar to the October Daye universe in that it very much has an "all myths are true" attitude, except in this case it's with mythological creatures, not faeries and magic.  It also features some fun unique characters and a decent first person narrator.  That said, the book isn't quite as solid as the typical October Daye novel, but well, it's the first in the series, so that's kind of unsurprising.

More after the jump:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Autonomous is the debut novel from io9 co-founder Annalee Newitz, coming just a year after fellow co-founder Charlie Jane Anders published her SFF debut novel, which won the Nebula Award last year.  So there were big expectations for this book from the start, which is truly unfair because this is a very different book than Anders' All the Birds in the Sky.  Unlike that book, which was a light and charming story of two friends, Autonomous is a serious thriller dealing with issues of patent abuse/piracy and well, the autonomy of both human beings and robots.

It should be noted, as I'll go into further detail below, that despite using a corrupt future involving the evils of Big Pharma and Patents as a basis for the plot, the book really isn't that interested in dealing seriously with questions about big pharma and patents and where things should go - the book has an obvious answer to this question from the start, and it shows no interest in grappling further.  What this book IS really interested in however, is questions about Autonomy, and what it means for individuals (whether biological or not) to have it.  Hence the title, really.

More after the Jump:

Saturday, October 14, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novel Review: Brothers in Arms (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold

Brothers in Arms is the 7th (chronologically, not counting the distant prequel Falling Free) book in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, and the fourth book to feature Miles Vorkosigan as its central character.  It should be noted this is one of the early published Vorkosigan Novels (#5) and is thus from a period before my two favorite in the series so far (Barrayar & The Vor Game).  That said, while it doesn't live up to those two novels, the book is yet again another fun story with Bujold's great internal and external dialogue, so it's definitely a worthwhile read.

A note: while this is not a direct sequel to one of the prior books in the series (although it is kind of a sequel to the novella "Borders of Infinity"), this is not a book you will probably enjoy as a starting point in the series - you will want to have read The Warrior's Apprentice and The Vor Game prior to this book to get full enjoyment (I'd also recommend reading Ethan of Athos beforehand, as that really reintroduces Elli Quinn.)

And as with the rest of this series (with the exception of Gentleman Jole), I read this book as an audiobook from the library.  The audiobook reader for the whole series remains excellent

More after the Jump:

Friday, October 13, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novella Review: The Strange Bird by Jeff Vandermeer

The Strange Bird by Jeff Vandermeer

The Strange Bird is a novella from Jeff Vandermeer, set in the same universe as his most recent Weird (as in the genre) Science Fiction Novel, Borne.  The story takes place largely at the same time as Borne, beginning probably prior to Borne and ending a little afterwards, so in theory you could read this without having read Borne, but I would not advise it - you'll probably be a bit lost (and Borne is pretty good, so go read that). 

The Strange Bird follows the eponymous Bird, really a created being (made of bird, other animal, and human parts) of a laboratory similar to that of the Company's seen in Borne.   The Bird doesn't know its purpose but is haunted both by strange dreams of a woman from the lab and an internal compass pressing her to go to a certain place for some strange unknown reason.  Unfortunately, the Bird will run into complications on her journey - namely, humans, who do not have her best intentions at heart. 

The story naturally winds up with the Bird spending a good amount of time in the territory we saw in Borne, with four of that book's main characters showing up (everyone except for Borne himself).  As usual, Vandermeer writes excellent descriptions and excels at describing the weird being that the Bird truly is.  However, the Bird is a very inactive protagonist - most of the events in the middle of the book are of things happening to HER, not of her doing things in and of herself, and there's a decent segment where she's literally just being there during the plot of Borne.  Vandermeer's writing is excellent enough to avoid this dragging, but it does mean that if you have no investment in this world (not having read Borne, mainly), you might not really enjoy this one. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is a Young Adult Urban Fantasy book, where the "Fantasy" elements come from classic Chinese folk stories (Journey to the West being the source for most, if not all of it, but I'm not knowledgeable enough about the background material to know if bits and parts are pulled from elsewhere).  It also features an Asian-American high school girl as its protagonist, trying to live high school life in a competitive largely Asian High School.

Oh and it's also very very fun.  I don't dip into books that are blatantly young adult very often (you'll notice a lot of the time I describe books as "young adult" on this blog or on twitter, I often am not sure about whether the tag should apply), but this one is excellent.  Sometimes you just want books that are just about a heroine trying to balance high school life with duties of having discovered special powers, and not anything totally serious or dark.  If so, this is definitely a good place to look..

More after the Jump:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance is the newest book by Ann Leckie, author of the Imperial Radch (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy) trilogy, which won the Hugo for best novel and was nominated two other times.  The book is stand alone, featuring none of the characters from that trilogy, but takes place in the same universe.

In this universe, the story takes place in a world where humanity has spread to varying worlds with various cultures.  Humanity has encountered various alien cultures, the most scary of which are the Presger, whose technology is leaps and bounds beyond humanity's.  However, the Presger have created a treaty between humanity and the various alien races, whereby each race agrees not to harm the other.  Violations of the treaty are scary to contemplate, because no one can stand up to Presger technology.

Despite sharing the space opera setup with the Radch trilogy, Provenance is a more intimate book, almost fitting more in the heist genre than space opera (except there' heist).  That said, Provenance also differs from the trilogy in that it lacks anywhere near as strong a central character, and as a result I found it rather hard to care about large parts of the plot.

More after the jump:

Sunday, October 8, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H Wilson

Daniel H Wilson's The Clockwork Dynasty is a very entertaining novel.  It is not a SF/F work with a major focus on a message or issue (although, like EVERY book in existence, you can find a message in the book if you want), but is instead a pretty entertaining book focused upon a single idea:  What if our ancestors way way back built robots before forgetting how, and those robots have existed alongside humanity for millennia and are only now dying out from losing power?

Note: I read this as an audiobook, and the two audiobook readers are excellent.  So if you like to listen to the audiobook format, this is a solid choice.

More after the Jump

Thursday, October 5, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

An Unkindness of Magicians is Kat Howard's second novel, after last year's Roses and Rot.  I loved Roses and Rot (an Urban Fantasy Fae tale involving two sisters striving to reconnect with each other at a school for art) and was really excited for this novel as a result when it was announced.  That said, aside from both books falling within the large category of Urban Fantasy, the two books are very different.  That said, this book is still excellent, with a great world of magic and excellent characters who inhabit that world.

This is a book of magicians (think Wizards, despite them not using the name) engaging in magical (and political, yes) contests for the fate of the magical world.  It's also the story that involves lawyers working to keep the magical world in order, voluntary and involuntary sacrifices of human life and pain, a woman seeking to solve a magical murder, and a man of color trying to make a name for himself in the magical world while keeping his own good conscience.  And yet all of these very different things and people come together nicely to form a pretty excellent and recommended book.