Reading Journal 2018

Karen Armstrong - A Short History of Myth

June 29, 2018

I've always enjoyed Karen Armstrong, and I also enjoyed this short book about her opinions on the development of Myth through the history of human civilization. It is really more of an overview, so don't expect any depth because it doesn't even cite any sources. I would have liked to have seen a few quotes from, perhaps, the literature of the times (once she got to a point in history past which writing had been developed) demonstrating the thoughts she puts forth here. I suppose it's also pretty fortunate that I happen to agree with her views on myth and religion because towards the end the book developed a axe to grind about the way the enlightenment changed western thought. I don't disagree that western thought is now fairly obsessed with logos to the exclusion of all else, but it came off as a bit preachy.

Greg Costikyan - Uncertainty in Games

July 16, 2018

This is an ebook that I picked up from Humble Bundle a while back and was part of a collection concerning academic theories behind games. I enjoyed this short work, which is an overview about how games use the element of uncertainty to increase interest and make games more fun. I’m not sure I would use this if I were in the process of designing games myself, although I’m sure it would help to have the topic fleshed out in my mind while working. I especially enjoyed reading through all the examples (I enjoy examples in books generally, and I’ve found they’re usually the best way for me to learn), and managed to pick up a few good board game recommendations from them!

Diane Duane - Doctor’s Orders

July 21, 2018

I’m pretty sure I picked this up because it’s on the list of “Best Star Trek Novels” floating around somewhere on the internet. But I was surprised that it was really, really good! I usually enjoy most of the Star Trek novels I read, but they’re pretty bad on the whole--not this one! The worldbuilding is great! It features three really distinct races that were far too creative to have ever been shown on the show. I loved the way they touched on linguistic difficulties and they way each of them thought so differently than humans. And best of all--there were no Mary Sues! There are several original characters, and none of them really steals the spotlight. Bones himself is written believably and I enjoyed that he got to take the center stage for once. Some of the dialog was campy at times, but I don’t really think it detracted from my enjoyment overall. This one was a winner!

Mary Flanagan - Values At Play in Digital Games

August 2, 2018

This was another book from the Humble Bundle collection I picked up a while ago. It was an overview about how designers can take ethics and values into account while designing games, and although the title specifies digital games, there were quite a few traditional board game examples as well. I didn't care much for their “heuristic,” which was basically just the scientific method but rehashed to pertain to values, and I'm always particularly annoyed when people do that sort of thing. But the discussion around was actually pretty good. I consider myself to be fairly aware of values in games, but this book actually helped me to think about it in new ways. There were also several really good examples of games that had been created specifically to convey certain ideas and beliefs, and I hadn't ever even heard of many of them.

David Lee Jones - Zeus and Company

August 5, 2018

So I haven't finished this book yet, but I'm thinking about abandoning it. I picked it up because the cover is completely corny, and based on the summary I was hoping it would be terribly corny and cringy. Instead, though, it's just...boring. You wouldn't think a book about a Greek goddess turning herself human and allying with a hacker would be completely mundane, but it is. The entire book reads like it was written backwards. Oh, we have to avoid Zeus when he shows up because...I dunno, reasons. Wow, this story you told me to convince me to break the law and commit corporate espionage doesn't make any sense, but...I'll just reiterate that we have to because. It almost seems like the plot needs to advance regardless of the reasons, but there's not any plot to speak of. The characters moan a bunch and then make tons of phone calls. Every time I think they're going to do something exciting, they either go surfing or suddenly realize it's bedtime. Uuuuuuugh.

Frank Herbert - Hellstrom’s Hive

September 1, 2018

Oooh boy, this book made me uncomfortable. For starters, it hasn’t aged very well. The back blurb of the copy I have says it’s set in the 1970s, when it was written, but it reads more like it’s set in the 1950s for a number of reasons, and one of them is because he really, really overdid it with the whole "woo hoo, them crazy dames" bullshit, which is contrasted with similar attitudes from the Hive workers who have them for entirely different reasons, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Hellstrom’s Hive is about a society of humans that has burrowed underground and organized themselves into an insect-like society, using both psychological conditioning and controlled breeding. It’s a fascinating concept, and the science behind it sometimes takes a back seat to the main plot--a spy-thriller type story about a secret government agency that is trying to infiltrate the Hive and figure out exactly what the hell is going on down there. You don’t really get to see the details of how it all fits together until the end of the novel when one of the main characters goes running through the compound, and we see several of its centers explained through his eyes.

There are no main protagonists in the book, which at times makes it difficult to read. The unnamed agency is horrible and is meant to be horrible, and contains at least one man who hates women so much that early on he derails the narrative with an extensive diatribe about how women are weak and don’t function properly. Their motives are obvious, but then we meet Hellstrom, who repeatedly expresses bewilderment at the way Outsider women are allowed to roam and breed as freely as they wish. Having grown up in an environment where almost all females are chemically castrated worker drones, his perspective makes slightly more sense, but still makes me uncomfortable. Another interesting aspect of the novel is that it contains many themes that are found in the Dune books, like selective, directed breeding, and chemical manipulation to create various desired workers. But when this premise is lifted from the space opera that was the Dune universe and placed into a farm in modern-day Oregon, it comes dangerously close to eugenics. The fact that the Hive aim to take over the Earth doesn’t help--they never exactly use the phrase "Master race,: but they do come dangerously close on multiple occasions.

Despite the way I cringed during so many parts of this novel, I kept at it because it fascinated me. It is rare that I am able to read a story about something I find abhorrent and yet still be able to take it in and contemplate it. This is mostly because abhorrent stories are usually written by abhorrent people, who are usually not intelligent enough to offer much depth to their ideas (*cough* Heinlein *cough*). I think Herbert is one of the few who could pull this off and still write an engaging story.

B. V. Larson - Steel World

September 13, 2018

This is a book I had picked up during a kindle sale a loooooong time ago because it was the only thing in the Sci fi section, and it was cheap. Then I proceeded to ignore it for ages because I assumed it would be terrible. Well good news, I was wrong! I found this space mercenaries novel to be fun and enjoyable, but still well written enough to be considered a “light read.” It's about a group of soldiers for hire who have technology that can regrow them after they have died, so that they can almost immediately be put back into battle. There is action everywhere, but it still manages to flesh out the universe its in a great deal, and I found this background to the whole story to be unique and interesting. In fact, I've already gone ahead and bought the sequel and look forward to reading it soon.

D. J. Butler - Crechling

September 18, 2018

Crechling is a fun adventure book that ultimately lost sight of where it was going about halfway through, but I still ended up enjoying it nonetheless. This is a young adult novel set in a dystopian future that takes place long after what seems to have been a nuclear war that wrecked most of the Earth. What’s left are small settlements run by what’s called the System. You won’t get much of an idea of what day to day life is like there, though, because the book centers on what’s called the Cull--as a coming of age ritual, young adults are required to kill the best and the brightest from the surrounding areas. Naturally, the protagonist struggles with her mission and ultimately reneges, but this leaves the plot with a difficult conundrum, because she doesn’t want to become a killer, but the “bad guys” have made it clear they’ll stop at nothing to murder anyone connected to this ritual. So she hesitates at about every turn, and as a result just about everyone besides the two main characters, and two enemies, end up brutally killed. The novel ends rather abruptly in the middle of a chase, and because the fate of the two young people isn’t ever really decided, it felt like the author didn’t know what to do with them. There doesn’t seem to be enough material for a sequel, so I can’t say it that it seems headed towards a series, I think he just ran out of ideas.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and I think there could have been a bit more world building here and there. The ending should have gone somewhere else, since it wasn’t satisfying and didn’t tie up any loose ends.

Ken Alder - The Measure of All Things

September 23, 2018

This one took me a while to get through, mostly because the beginning of the book drags on with descriptions of surveying the land across France (although I did enjoy reading about the resistance that Machain and Delambre encountered from the locals during the tumult caused by the French Revolution). What the two of them accomplished (or rather, what one of them accomplished) was amazing, but it doesn’t make for riveting reading. Either way, it picks up once the hard work is done and I learned a lot about French (and European) history in the process. I had no idea that the formation of the metric system had such interesting origins, and this book only reaffirms my opinion that the United States should have fully converted over to it a long time ago. Ultimately, the book is about the way this expedition, and the time it took place in, changed not only the world, but the way Science was practiced as well. It changed our opinion about the way to treat error in observations, which is vital to the way all science is practiced today. I did have to struggle through this at times because of the intense attention to detail that Alder shows, but it was very rewarding in the end and I’m glad I stuck with it.

Dean Westley Smith - Dry Creek Crossing - A Thunder Mountain Novel

September 26, 2018

Oh my. This book was hilariously bad. Incredibly bad--like Dan Brown levels of bad, if there were a high schooler who admired Dan Brown, and decided to write up a novel over the course of the weekend in a style that emulates him, but somehow inexplicably falls short even of that. I started out with only mild interest, since the premise didn’t sound like something I’d be in to--an old stagecoach is discovered in Idaho, and gains the interest of a historical institute that is populated by time traveling scholars. As we eventually find out, the stagecoach is "important," (I use that word loosely) because it is discovered in the future by someone who is later inspired to invent "Anti gravity." At no point in the novel is this connection explained. In fact (spoilers), it’s glossed over at the end of the novel as being entirely unimportant.

The prose is atrocious. There are so many repeated words that make everything sound completely awkward, and you will quickly realize that the author’s favorite word is "just" (as an adverb, not noun). The book also features what is quickly becoming my favorite most hated pet peeve: "Plot happens in background," in which the book waxes on about something entirely unimportant but which the author clearly cares a lot about (in this case, a boring romance), and then tosses in a few throw away sentences about the main plot (e.g., "And they were doing all this research at the same time"), because we just remembered that needed to be happening too.

The genre tag "Science fiction" is only a formality in this book’s case. There is no science of any kind to be found here. The mechanics behind the novel’s time travel is explained by "math," which is treated like magic, because it can miraculously explain away any issue whatsoever without even touching on the details.

I should mention that the plot itself seems completely irrelevant the entire way through. Early on it’s explained that this stagecoach isn’t even directly important, and yet they spend the entire time obsessing over it as if the object itself actually means something (at the end of the book, a throw away sentence reveals that something else inspires this guy to invent anti gravity. It does not tell us what this is. I don’t know why). Also I’m not really sure why they had to ensure that anti-gravity was invented anyway. We never get any details about how this improves humanity in general, and it seems the human race does just fine without it!

I will say this about the novel: unlike Dan Brown, or Ernest Cline, or any of the other myriad of old white men writing novels that are meant to make them sound smarter than they are, this one is not insulting or sexist or frustrating. My reactions while reading went from "Meh," to surprised disgust to shear joy at the laughability of everything I was reading. I enjoyed this book the way I enjoy The Room. Not sure I’ll ever read it again, but I had many, many laughs.

Here are some of my favorite sentences from this book.

Philip K. Dick - The Unteleported Man

September 29, 2018

If VALIS is Dick’s good acid trip that raised him and the reader to a higher level of consciousness, then The Unteleported Man is his bad one. It begins with the same premise as A Crack in Space--namely, that teleportation has been invented to allow humans to transport off-planet and colonize new ones because the population of the Earth is too much of a strain. The rest of it diverges a ton, though, even if it does come back to the alternate worlds theories that were behind the former novel. The main catch here is that one you’ve transported to this new world, you can’t come back. Protagonist Rachmael ben Applebaum is rightly skeptical of this claim and decides to travel the distance to this utopian paradise via ship--and trip which would take him 18 years one way. The powers that be quickly take notice and become very motivated to stop him.

That sets the pace for the first half of this novel, which has plenty of action and kept me guessing about what Applebaum would find once he reached his destination, if he reached it at all. Apparently, this part of the book was originally a novella, which Dick was later encouraged to develop into a full length novel. In fact the entire book had a very interesting publishing history and was mainly incomplete until very recently, because the original publisher censored a great deal of it, and then Dick managed to lose several of the pages that were taken out the next time it was published. My copy is the version that contains his original ending, but is missing the parts he lost (these were later found after his death, and are included in a new version that is named Lies, Inc.). I still managed to make some sense of it, though, which is saying something given what the second half of the novel turns into.

Applebaum and company arrive at a miserable dystopian planet, which surprises no one, including me. The novel could have proceeded predictably, but instead our main character gets hit with an LSD-tipped dart, and everything goes insane. He is told that the dystopia is only one reality that he experienced as part of a "telepor sickness" that might have been deliberate, might not--it’s not really clear. Also several other events transpire elsewhere that suggest this may be nothing more than gaslighting by the main antagonists. Out of nowhere all of the characters begins to encounter a prescient book that reads each character’s future out to him or her and they all promptly go insane (except for the Big Baddie, who throws it away, uninterested). I wish I could say it all leads somewhere, but the ending is a bit of a cop-out--Applebaum travels back in time and determines to do things the "right way", which feels a bit like waking from a bad dream and gives me the feeling that it would all happen the same way regardless.

Anyway, I enjoyed this book, as I expected I would. It’s definitely not PKD’s best, and I probably wouldn’t recommend it to people who are not fans. Anything that feels like a mindfuck is welcome fun.

Stefon Mears - Sleight of Mind: Rise of Magic Book Two

October 8, 2018

This book got off to a very slow start, and I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it much, but ultimately it grew on me and I ended up seeing it through to the end. Part of the reason for my initial dislike is due to the fact that this is the second in a series, and I never read the first one. For the first half of the book I felt like I was missing quite a lot, so I would assume that this is one of those books that is not meant to be picked up on its own.

From what I can tell, the story reads like a sci-fi space adventure, but instead of using technology, everything has been replaced with magic. It mostly serves the same function, but the underlying mechanics are different. For roughly half of the book I figured this would make no difference on the surface of it, because it seemed to lack depth, but as the action in the story got going, the book began to describe the rituals involved in everything in detail, and I felt it began to make more sense. I do agree with one reviewer who said that the main character, Donal Cuthbert, is not very compelling. There is nothing wrong with him, per se, but he is a bit boring and doesn’t seem to have too much personality.

I was not surprised to see that the author studied religious rituals and history in college--many of the rituals found here are based on Pagan practices. In fact, there seems to be quite a lot of world building in here that the author has only decided to reveal when it becomes relevant to the plot. I think this is actually the best way to reveal most worldbuilding, and is generally the sign of a good author.

I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the other books. I don’t think this one pulled me in completely, and I have a number of others to get through right now. This was pretty light reading.

Helen Harper - Bloodfire

October 12, 2018

I thought I’d take a break from my normal fare and get into some Urban Fantasy-type stuff, which I’ve been craving, probably because everyone’s gearing up for Halloween at this time of year (my favorite!). To that end, I came across a free bundle of “Urban Fantasy and Paranomal Romance Starters” that I jumped at (and now that I know Amazon sells bundles I’m over the moon!). This was the first book in the bundle, so I’ve decided to review them all here separately.

I have to admit, I kept looking out for all the familiar tropes as I made it through this one, convinced that I would hate the book by the time it ended, but I’m happy to admit I was wrong on that one. The story sticks with the well-written paranormal adventure and everything else is rightly treated as secondary-yay! And even though I could see the character’s history reveal coming from a mile away, there were legitimate reasons for why the main character remained so ignorant about it until the end, and I felt that the revelation was given the proper treatment. I enjoyed the fact that there’s not really much romance here--one of the characters sexually harasses the main character repeatedly, and because he was remarked by several as being very attractive, I was worried that this indicated that he would be a toxic love interest. Nope! It seems Mackenzie hates him every bit as much as I did, and never even comes close to ending up with him.

I will say that I found the main character annoying at times. Not necessarily because of her temper, but because of the way she treats people. Because she is "hot headed," or some such, she ends up treating the few characters who embrace her very badly (Alex the Mage in particular. He was very sweet to her and I felt she was rude to him far too often). She also ends up lying fairly frequently, and while she does it because her life is on the line, it got annoying and worried me. I don’t really like to read about perfect characters, though, so whenever I get annoyed at a character it’s really all about how the author treats the flaws, and Harper doesn’t seem to brush them aside or condone them, or even treat them as virtues as some do. I think this character has room to grow, and I will definitely be picking up the next book in this series.

Theodore Sturgeon - More Than Human

October 14, 2018

I’m afraid I really don’t know how to review this book. When I began reading it, it seemed to be a better version of Stranger in A Strange Land, because it started out with a male protagonist who was described as an "idiot," and clearly seemed marked for better, fantastical things. As I read on, however, I realized it was less about one man than about several human beings who find that they can merge their consciousness into one, miracle working being--the Homo Gestalt, as the book puts it. The idea that humans will one day evolve psychically into some type of communal being is one that many authors have explored, so it’s easy to see where the book is going ultimately, but a great deal of the plot centers around the drama between the individual people that make up this super being. This is not a bad thing--I think it was a well-written tale and kept me yearning for more in several places. It was a rather heavy read, though, as many of the characters have been abused and deal with some very heavy emotions. The ending surprised me, and I found it to be a bit of a let down, perhaps because it read like generic science fiction instead of the novel I’d been reading up until then. But how do you even end a story like that? I had half expected it to end in tragedy. Anyway, I’ve had a number of Theodore Sturgeon’s books on my “to read” list for a while, and after this I’m looking forward to them even more.

Christine Pope - DarkAngel

October 14, 2018

I’m making this entry a bit prematurely because I haven’t really finished this book yet, and I’m not sure that ever will. This is the second book in that seven book bundle I mentioned up above, and I really, really wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t. I really like the main character, and I love the setting of the novel. She’s a witch who has just inherited the highest position of respect in her clan, and is searching for her consort--her true love--in order to come into her fullest, and there is something dark and sinister on her tail. Everything is set in a small town in Arizona full of artisans and people who know each other, but despite all of this, nothing of note ever seems to happen throughout the entire book. See, in between all this quaint worldbuilding that I found adorable and promising, our main character meets a terrible, sinister spectre who tells her it "wants" her, in what way it does not elaborate. There are two ways to react to this information: you can wait around and see if the thing shows up again, or you can strike out and try to figure out what the hell is going on. These characters choose the first option, and you should never choose the first option if you want to have an adventure. Unsurprisingly, what follows is very little adventure. If any of the characters had gotten up and decided to something noteworthy, I think I would have forgiven every flaw I had seen up until then, but at some point I realized I had six chapters to go (more than half the way through the book), and I couldn’t see things picking up any time soon. I think this one will have to stay unfinished (and it goes without saying that I won’t be picking up the rest in the series--a quick perusal of Amazon reviews shows that I was not the only person bored by this one).

Helen Harper - Bloodmagic

October 19, 2018

This was the second book in the Blood Destiny series I started not too long ago, and I really enjoyed most of it. It picks up right where the last one left off, and there’s a ton of action throughout, which I always like. We also get to learn more about the main character, Mack’s, powers--although not too much, since that’s apparently being saved for the rest of the series. I will say that at times she seems too stupid to live, and makes some very, very foolish decisions. It makes sense, in a way, but is slightly frustrating. Even more frustrating, however, was that by the end of the book I could tell that the infuriating pack leader she had met up with in the first book actually is going to be her love interest, which I hate because I cannot stand him. I dislike the “vexation is attractive” trope, wherein men must piss off the object of their affections and somehow taunting them is considered to be attractive. By the end of this book I was convinced that if Corrigan called Mack “kitten” one more time I was going to reach through the book and fucking murder him. I’m on the fence as to whether I’ll get the next book in the series or not. I’ll be needing to read some reviews before deciding whether or not I can stomach how that guy turns out.

Rebecca Moesta, Ed. - Fiction River: Superpowers

October 20, 2018

This is a short story collection that was part of the StoryBundle I picked up a while back. I initially didn’t realize it was themed around Superpowers, and was a bit disappointed, since I’m not really into that sort of thing, but I ended up enjoying it nonetheless. The first few stories were the best, I think, because they were the most unique--exploring powers in different settings and types. I think my favorite was “The Clunkety” by Brenda Carr, which is about a traveling witch who gets chased down by a sorcerer with a grudge against her. As they went on, though, it became obvious that most authors who write about superpowers turn to the same setting by default--coming of age stories about kids in high school. I’ve never really been a fan of these types of tales because my own personal one was so different, and I have a lot of trouble relating to them. Even so, I think five stories in a row about kids in high school would grate on anyone after a while, especially because of the prevalence of the “school bully” trope which I have less and less patience for as I get older. I have another book I was reading a while back that I don’t think I wrote about at the time--The Bone Thief by Alyson Noel--that really drove this home for me. And to be fair, none of the short stories in this collection pissed me off nearly as much as that book (we’re talking truly atrocious levels of bullying in which former characters have committed suicide, and then there were people laughing at it. And then it’s never dealt with. Fuck that author), but I came to the conclusion that bad authors will use bullying as an easy way to introduce conflict when they can’t come up with any other way to add tension to the situation. It’s problematic in the same way that authors who add rape into their stories for the sole reason that they can’t find any other way to add motivation to their hero is problematic--it normalizes both types of violence and objectifies the victims the same way the villains do. And it never asks us to question why this violence exists and why we should deplore it (other than that it causes the important people to have feeeeeeeeeelings).

Anyway, why do we always have to write about bullying when we’re talking about teenagers, as if it’s a given? That’s not the way schools treat the issue anymore. There are so many other, better alternatives! What about a mean teacher, or fear-inducing test, or even standardized tests, which are a big deal for every teenager in the U.S. but almost completely unmentioned in ever teen drama ever made? What about mean family members or siblings? Gang violence? Discrimination? College entrance boards? There are so many possibilities! What about writing a story about a coming-of-age superhero, in which the main antagonist is a grandmother who is judgemental of the hero’s choice of college study, and he or she is struggling mainly with uncertainty about what he/she wants to do in the future, and then the emergence of superpowers just throws that into even more uncertainty? What about a teenager who discovers they have superpowers and then discovers classicism for the first time?

Well, despite the complaints I don’t regret getting this one. With the price I paid for the entire bundle, it was well worth it for even the first few stories. I don’t even regret reading the lesser ones, in fact, because it gives me ideas about what I wouldn’t write about if I were ever to take up writing again. There’s really nothing I can regret about reading through short stories; they’re one of my favorite story forms.

Claire Morgan - The Price of Salt

October 20, 2018

I started this book a looooooooong time ago, back when I was just starting to get used to the whole "reading ebooks on my phone, it’s amaaaaaazing!!!" thing (I still think it’s pretty amazing). It’s from a collection of queer pulp romances that was shared by a while ago, and I picked it up before I really had any idea of what sort of thing I liked to read in my spare time. I had made it through almost all of the book, but left off at what I thought was the next to last chapter, when it turns out I was actually on the last few pages :P

Normally I don’t really enjoy romances, but I do really enjoy lesbian fiction, and this one was no exception. I think if it had been written today, I would have found it mundane, but I liked the 50s-isms and the very different ways they spent their time, and found it quaint. Naturally, the way in which homosexuality was shunned was not so quaint, but the rest of the book was quite pleasant. I have a number of other queer fiction books that were part of this download, and I hope they are as nice to read as this one was.

Annie Bellet - Justice Calling

October 27, 2018

I feel a bit like a cheat putting this one on here, because it’s technically a novella, and not a whole book. If I had bought the book by itself without knowing this as I did, I would have been pretty disappointed, as I was taken by surprise when it ended where it did. As it was, though, this was part of the Urban Fantasy collection I’ve been reading through so I just happily flipped through to the next one. Unlike the last book in the bundle (which I skipped over), I liked this one very much. The main character didn’t just talk about being a badass (which some authors seem to only be able to characterize by “being fiery” and arguing a lot), but actually was a badass, and I feel like there are a lot of interesting things about her background that the author could eventually get into. Also, I actually liked the loved interest for once--Bellet builds tension between the two of them by characterizing him as “very intense,” not by being an asshole, which is the norm for this genre. As a result, it worked out really well and I can see them being together easily. I believe I’ve added the next one to my wishlist for when I’m in the mood for something quick.

Kate Danley - Maggie for Hire

October 28, 2018

This one (the next in the bundle) was not a novella, but I did get through it pretty quick nonetheless. It is, as one of the Amazon reviewers put it, a “popcorn book.” I am totally okay with popcorn reading and have no shame, so I enjoyed this one a lot. I like the world and the magical rules the author has put together here--the difference between Earth and the “Other word,” which act like separate dimensions, and I thought it was pretty great that the first book alone introduced us to all kinds of nasty baddies at once--vampires, ghouls (zombies), elves, trolls, and a few others that seem to be unique to this story. Also, I’m happy to say that the love interest here is also not an asshole, and was pretty likeable except for the fact that he’s a bit too forward for my tastes. One of the things that did put me off was the main character’s repeated attempts to be witty--too many one-liners that didn’t really make me chuckle at all. They didn’t seem clever, and I got tired of them being used in lieu of actual dialogue. I may add the next one to my list and see if I feel like reading it eventually. I’m kind of torn on it for now.

Jaleigh Johnson - The Door to the Lost

November 1, 2018

This book was given to us by a friend who works with me at work. She often sends us books that she can’t put into circulation because she knows I have a son who loves reading. As I understand it, they’re all pretty new releases, because they’re sent by the book companies as promotional copies. My workplace is restricted to books that can be used in curriculums though, so she often gives the unusable ones away to people who are interested in them.

I usually read through them once she gives us a few because I want to make sure that they’re appropriate for his reading level and sensibilities--I’ve turned away a few because they featured too much cruelty in them, I felt, so I passed them along to Goodwill. Plus, I’m not going to lie, I do enjoy reading them sometimes, and since his interests are so fickle I figure at least one of us should get some enjoyment out of them.

This one I think would be perfect for his level of understanding and was completely appropriate--no overly offensive cruelty, and it’s got a strong emphasis on friendship and kindness. I’ve passed it along to him, but I’m not sure if he’ll like it quite as much, because it’s straight fantasy, and he prefers sci fi, and doesn’t have any pictures. That will be a shame, because I thought this book was very good indeed. Like most books aimed at this age group (which I’m now learning is called "middle-grade," a term that was not in use when I was the target audience), it’s an easy, quick read, but it is nonetheless very well written. The fantasy world is well built and vibrant, and the characters are believable and interesting. The plot was simple in its own way, but not at all childish or dumbed-down--I didn’t ever really feel reminded that I was reading a book for children. And most of all, it had a lot of heart. Parts of it were so sweet--exploring the familial relationship that had grown between the three main characters--that it made me tear up a bit, without feeling sappy or forced at all (but then, I’ve always been a sucker for anything involving family). I did have to double-check to see that it was a stand alone novel (it is), because it seems that there’s so much here that could be explored in other stories, so I wonder if the author will ever pick it up again. Not everything needs to be turned into a series, though, so even if it remains a story on its own, I will still think it’s an excellent novel. This one will stay with me for a while.

Synopsis: There has been no magic allowed in Talhaven since the cataclysmic explosion that erupted from the portal to Vora. Out of that portal spilled hundreds of children with no memory of where or why they had come, each with their own unique magical abilities. Shunned and hated by the kingdom, these children live as exiles, with no way of going home. Rook, with the ability to create magical doors to anywhere, and Drift, who has the power to control the wind, are two such exiles who have been trying to survive together, until they meet a magical fox while trying to run from the authorities. After taking him in, they get swept up in an adventure that leads them back to the Wastelands where the cataclysm began, all the while searching for answers about where they truly belong.

Colleen Gleason - The Rest Falls Away

November 2, 2018

I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. This is a vampire hunter novel set in Regency England, which is a neat enough idea, but oddly a big part of what held the novel back. I liked a lot of the characters, and the heroine is pretty badass, even if completely naive. She spends most of her time trying to balance her incredibly important social life and her true calling, staking vampires, and while I loved the amount of action in the vampire hunting scenes, the parts of the book spent on dances and balls draaaaaaaged on for me. Victoria (our main character) has a family that does no work whatsoever, one of those upper class established legacies that has found itself needing to search for things to do that fill the day (Victoria’s love interest, Philip, spends his days at gentleman’s clubs, because he doesn’t work. Ever), which I understand may be somewhat historically based but is still boring and stupid. Also, there is not enough time spent worldbuilding so I got a bit annoyed every time the archenemy, Lilith, was mentioned, or when they spoke with great importance of the macguffin, the Book of Antwartha, both of which I’m sure were supposed to be much more menacing than they felt. For some reason I found it stupid that Lilith was supposed to be the daughter of Judas, though I can’t put my finger on why.

Still, despite all this I made it through and felt myself getting fairly invested in the plot as it took its twists and turns. The ending in which Victoria loses her husband was sad, but to be honest I was kind of glad it happened, because she’s much more of a badass without him. I probably will read through the next one in this series, but probably not immediately.

Synopsis: Victoria Gardella is a young debutante whose family (mother) is eagerly awaiting her “coming out” and hoping for her first marriage to the Marquess of Rockley. Unbeknownst to them, however, Victoria’s Aunt has been training her to become a vampire hunter. Victoria, refusing to choose between one life or the other, soon puts both herself and her loved one in danger as she fights with her fellow vampire-hunters to secure the Book of Antwartha, an ancient tome that will make their archenemy Lilith, master vampire, strong enough to destroy their entire civilization

John Derbyshire - Unknown Quantity - The Real and Imagined History of Algebra

November 5, 2018

The title sums this one up pretty well, so I don’t think I’ll need to give a synopsis for it. That said, I enjoyed this book very much. It’s a more difficult read than the other things I’ve been going through lately, but nonetheless very satisfying. A great deal of it was a review of things I had forgotten I learned about long ago, but I was also surprised to find that a great deal of it was new. This book not only goes over the who-what-where of different Mathematicians and their breakthroughs, but also includes brief synopses of the various subjects within the study of Algebra that it covers, and follows them down to all the different paths that they connect to. It reminded me of why I have always loved Algebra more than any of the other Mathematics I’ve studied.

It also made me realize a number of things that I hadn’t known about my subject of study--there is so much about Mathematics that is now obsolete, which happens in many disciplines but is strange to see in this one. With the advent of computers, the practice of computation is even less en vogue than it was at the beginning of the last century (and it was on its way out even then), and it’s a bit of a shame. Not that I prefer to hold on to the old for its own sake, but it is a healthy practice to get into and I think I wouldn’t understand as much as I do about numbers if I hadn’t done so much of it. Math is now more of a scholarly discipline than it used to be. Applied math will, of course, always be immensely useful and very marketable, but anyone who wishes to apply their knowledge of the subject will rarely be called a Mathematician these days. There are many other titles (economist, actuary, analyst, cryptographer, etc.), but the only ones who retain the title of Mathematician that I can tell are those who teach. This was a weird realization for me to come to given that I chose my degree out of a sense of practicality. I’d also like to mention that this book made me feel a lot better about my shortcomings in different areas--I am now happy to know that I am not the only person who finds Greek mathematics nearly unreadable (all those fucking word problems!!!), and that of course it is normal for Mathematicians to be highly proficient in one area and almost wholly ignorant of another. It seems silly putting those down in writing, but I think sometimes I am too hard myself for those last few classes I barely pulled myself through.

Annie Bellet - Murder of Crows

November 5, 2018/

This is another novella, the second in the series I picked up earlier about the sorceress Jade. This one ended up being quite a bit more serious than the first, which was pretty serious to begin with, and I ate it up pretty quickly--I think I finished it in about two days. In this one, Jade is contacted by her estranged family, who live in a sort of Native American cult, which isn’t recognized by the other Nations because of how exclusive and contrary they are. They have asked for her help in preventing the murders of their People, Crow shape-shifters, and she agrees to help begrudgingly. I have to say, the hateful attitude of Jade’s family, the abuse she went through as a child (very relatable), and the fact that (spoilers) the events involve the murder of children, meant that this book made me really, really mad. That is to say, not mad in a way that would suggest the author is bad at what she’s doing, but in a way that suggests she’s very, very good at it. I had to take a break in a few places because I wanted to reach through and strangle the antagonists before Jade got to them.

R.A. MacAvoy & Nancy L. Palmer - Abatross

November 6, 2018

What the fuck is this book even. Full disclosure, I’m giving up on it at about 60% of the way through. I picked this title up as part of the Adventure Storybundle that I’ve been reading through, and I’ll admit that most of my issues with it probably stem from the fact that it is not at all an adventure book, nor is it anything else that it happens to be advertised as. It follows a professor of Math and Quantum Mechanics, one Robert MacAuley, who happens to be accused of terrorism, the story behind which is included nowhere in this book. It opens as a simple “man on the lam” type story, but I kept wondering whether or not I had accidentally picked up a sequel, because I kept expecting that whatever he had been accused of would be explained at some point. In fact, it’s not even relevant to the rest of the story in any way, which frustrated me incredibly. Why include it then? Because it’s the only way to get him from point A to point B, I suppose.

Point B is the other character, Thomas Heddiman, an American working for the police who is supposedly some kind of super spy. He’s allegedly brilliant, and internally talks non-stop about some vague “plan” that doesn’t seem to ever materialize. I found this interesting at first, but when it dragged on and on, I lost interest and found it annoying. At any rate, close to halfway through the novel, a United Kingdom that seems to be in a huge amount of political turmoil re-institutes slavery. I put it that way bluntly because that’s pretty much the way it’s presented in the book--an interesting idea, that would normally be found in a dystopian novel meant to explore themes of freedom and justice, yadda yadda, there is none of that here. It’s remarked upon a few times, and Heddiman makes a few comments about how he doesn’t like it, but soon changes his mind after taking MacAuley on as a slave in order to “save his life,” or some such. MacAuley for his part doesn’t seem to mind it at all and takes everything in stride without question, which is probably the thing I hate most about this book.

All of the political stuff seems to die out and lose its importance in the second half of the book, because it’s at this point that it becomes more obvious what the whole thing is actually about: this is actually a romance novel. And not only that, but a romance novel that uses the flimsiest and most deplorable of excuses to throw its characters together and get them to know each other: one is the master and one is a slave. This kind of grasping at plot straws is how we ended up with Fifty Shades of Grey, but at least that terrible book had the sense to keep the master-slave relationship in the bedroom (mostly).

So yeah, I don’t mind reading romance, but there has to be something else going on at the same time, and also preferably no slavery, please. Although the prose in this thing is decent and it’s clear the author can write well, the plot development is on par with high school fanfiction. I’ll pass on the rest.

Jacob Sager Weinstein - Hyacinth and the Stone Thief

November 8, 2018

This is another of the ones we received from a friend, and although it’s not nearly as good as the Door to the Lost, I think it’s probably more on my son’s level. I don’t normally like to compare other children’s books to Harry Potter, but since this one is based in London and has a ton of zany magical silliness that nonetheless happens to be internally consistent, I’d say the description fits. However, this one is MUCH fast paced. In fact, the plot doesn’t really slow down at all after the (very short) first few chapters. It was almost exhausting! It kept me engaged, though, and I found myself flipping through it pretty quickly. One thing that I noticed about this book is that it contains a huge amount of history about London. Many of the monuments and places in the book are in fact real, and I was pleased to find that the author included a few pages in the back with real pictures from the places he wrote about, and a short blurb about how to go visit them. According to the back jacket, the author lives with his family in London, so I believe this must be something of a love story to his home city. I did feel a tiny bit lost without reading the book that this is a sequel to, and I’m not sure if will pick up the first one, though if it’s anything like this one I’m sure it would be a fun read. I think I will see if my kid is interested in it and then go from there.

Synopsis: Hyacinth Hayward lives in London with her Mother and is still recovering from the adventure that nearly took her mother’s life. After discovering that someone has been stealing magical stones around London, she teams up with the friends she made last time around, and several new ones, to stop a young criminal who aims to harness the ancient magic in her city and destroy everything else in the process.

Mike Resnick- The Soul Eater

November 18, 2018

I felt like I was witnessing a train wreck while reading this book, yet I kept at it for some reason. The protagonist, Nicobar Lane, is a hunter for hire, which I find deplorable. Most of his clients hire him to seek out insane creatures across the galaxy and kill them so that they may either be displayed in museums or their own private collections. Right off the bat, one of the things I liked about this tale was that all of the creatures are so crazily different. They all have really silly names, but in this universe, I could really see that things were genuinely different, not just copycat Earths placed everywhere. That’s oddly kind of rare in a lot of sci-fi, so I appreciated it. In his spare time, Nicobar hangs out at a bar/brothel place run by hedonist who is also fairly deplorable. This place isn’t central to the storyline, but he does return to it several times later. At any rate, Nicobar eventually runs into a creature composed of pure energy and capable of telepathy called the Dreamwish Beast. At this point, he slowly becomes obsessed with hunting and killing it, a pursuit that eventually takes over his entire life. It’s a sort of Moby Dick in space, I suppose, only told from the view of Captain Ahab, and we sit by, horrified, as his obsession causes him to do more and more atrocious things. It really was like watching someone fall into a drug addiction.

I’ll leave the ending a mystery, but it surprised me a little bit. I wouldn’t say it was satisfying, exactly, because the whole thing made me squeamish, but I had a hard time putting it down and breezed through it. I suppose it’s to the author’s credit that I found the book engaging despite how uncomfortable it made me feel.

This version, the ebook that I got as part of the Adventure Story Bundle, contained an extra short story at the end, that the author said he had written at the behest of a friend who had loved the story and requested a sequel. Resnick had insisted that the story was done, and didn’t need to be continued, but eventually agreed to write a version of it from the Dreamwish Beast’s perspective. I read a few pages into it and then put it down--I think the author was right when he said it didn’t need a sequel, and I found the story more compelling when the thoughts of the beast were an alien mystery. Also, it felt too human, and since I know the author is capable of writing truly alien experiences, I believe this is probably because the story was rushed and most likely an afterthought.

B. V. Larson - Dust World

November 18, 2018

Another winner, of course. This is the second in the series that I read earlier this year and I was not surprised to enjoy it as much as I did the first. There are no dinosaurs this time around, but there are cephalopods bent on enslaving humanity (and I was convinced they had higher goals that may or may not have been brought up in this book. I’ve been surprised to find myself interested in the politics going on in the background of this one). Also lots of action and dying. A lot of dying. James McGill has been promoted to a weaponeer specialist this time around, and with his heavy armor and magnificent plasma gun, he and his unit are rounded up and sent to investigate a lost human colony that set sail before the Galactic Empire ever arrived and demanded that Earth join or be destroyed. This presents a serious danger to Humanity in general, because by law no civilizations are allowed to colonize other planets without express permission (which you can be sure is never given). Thus, the colonists, if still alive, will most likely have to be destroyed, by Legion Varus. The mission is sidelined, however, when a race of cephalopods attacks the arriving ship in orbit, and the entire Legion is forced to land on the nearest habitable planet--an arid, rocky place in space called Dust World. While waiting for their SOS to make it back home, they set out to explore the planet, discover that it is inhabited by colonists who are far, far different from the colonists who set out so long ago, and find themselves fighting a two-front battle between hostile humans and an octopod race bent on enslaving them both.

Jason Bardi - The Calculus Wars

November 27, 2018

Despite being very interested in the subject matter because of my strange love for calculus, I was rather disappointed in this book. It started in the beginning when it became very apparent that the author struggles with prose. The way in which he repeats several sentences and points very early on struck me as reminiscent of one too many high school essays that repeat the central premise four times in their initial paragraph because the subject matter is lacking and must be stretched to meet an unforgiving word count. Some of the reviews I glossed over took issue with this prose as being too “chatty,” but I don’t think that was the real issue at all. The chatty bits seemed to flow better and had less, shall we say, ugly sentence structures than the ones that really seemed to be hammered out with much difficulty.

But probably the biggest disappointment was that the book doesn’t really have much math in it. I thought this observation made me a bit odd, but apparently I’m not the only one who took issue with this point. It does stand to reason that the people who would be most interested in a history of calculus would be mathematicians, physicists, engineers, or students of any of these or related subjects, so I’m not really sure why the text needed to be completely geared towards the layperson. A large part of the reason for why I read these histories is because I’m interested in the evolution of the ideas in them. Science and Math both evolve as subjects, and I find it fascinating to learn about the way the world was viewed by the greatest intellectuals of centuries past. We often assume that they thought much like we do, but that is not really the case.

Still, I feel that the history here is something I am glad to have learned. It did seem that in a few cases the author could have done a bit more research--I recall one paragraph specifically referred to a document written by Leibniz as having apparently well-written, and my first thought was, “you didn’t read it yourself?!?!?” It shouldn’t be that hard to find old texts these days, and if it is I expect it would be noted in the text somewhere as to why.

I may keep this one around in case anyone else wants to read it, but I don’t think I’ll be holding on to it long-term.

Ursula K. LeGuin - The Telling

Decenber 12, 2018

I have only read one other book by by LeGuin, but I’ve always had a lot of respect for her as an author, partially because of the respect she won in the field, and partially because other book I’ve read of hers was The Left Hand of Darkness, and it made my brain hurt. I disliked the experience of reading that book in the same way I disliked Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, because it wasn’t enjoyable, but I could see what he was doing and respected the experimental format of the novel. The Left Hand of Darkness was a bit of a slog, but it was written that way because I believe that’s how the people in it experienced life, so it seemed necessary.

At any rate, The Telling was much more fun to read, and ended up being a slightly emotional experience for me. Set in the same universe as TLHoD (part of the Hainish cycle of novels), it concerns a woman named Sutty (Sati, a Hindu name) who travels to the planet of Aka to create a record of its culture for the Eckumen, an organization that records knowledge from the cultures it has encountered throughout the galaxy. During her multi-decade flight to the planet, however, the government is overthrown by a dictatorship that declares history and books heretical, and begins a campaign to destroy all of them. Sutty is sent to the countryside to covertly document the culture there before it is erased forever. There she discovers that life revolves around a ritual called “The Telling,” a practice that centers around the sharing and retelling of stories, and eventually teachers her about what defines the culture of the people who live on Aka.

Later, after finishing the book, I read that many consider this novel to be based on China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1950’s, and though I didn’t pick up on this at the time, I did pick up on the more Eastern religious themes in the book. For a story that is called “The Telling,” much of what the characters in it is only hinted at or left unsaid, but I think the reasoning behind this is that these values, never having been shared with outsiders before, are mostly taken for granted. The “outsider looking in” perspective is one that was also used in TLHoD to great effect, and it works here as well. The little that I know of LeGuin made me expect a SciFi book that was more about philosophy and people than hard science, and here I was not disappointed.

Destiny Soria - Beneath the Citadel

Decenber 12, 2018

I am leaving this one without finishing it, as getting through it has just turned into a complete drag. I picked it up on Hoopla because the synopsis seemed really interesting, and for the first fourth of the book or so, it really was! I thought the beginning of the book was great, and hooked me in immediately, but then it began to wane and I came across some really, really questionable writing decisions that made me stop liking it so much.

The story centers around four teenagers who live in a city called The Citadel, ruled by a magical elite class who seized power via a collection of prophecies that were made centuries ago, and is now in the business of collecting diviners to maintain their rule. This is actually a pretty neat idea, and the worldbuilding that got doled out slowly seemed to really be going somewhere. There are some really neat magical systems at work here, including people who can manipulate, give, and steal memories, and a procedure called “bloodbonding” that allows people to control a pure metal that they are bonded with (not born with, cool!). The four teenagers in question are all descended from Rebels who were working to destroy the Council, as it is called, but most of them died in a slaughter some years ago. This was the first part where the book started to fall apart for me, because they all seem to have taken it upon themselves to single-handedly destroy the entire system that’s been going for more than 100 years at this point. I could understand some of this if the narrative acknowledged in some way that they were just being over-confident teenagers, but there doesn’t seem to be any such self-reflection in this book. I found this goal to be entirely unrealistic--even in Harry Potter, the kids were aiming to get more people involved because they recognized that they could not fight an entire movement on their own.

Apparently there was a lot of buzz about this book because the main characters are very diverse, and this ended up being a major selling point for a lot of people. I thought it was nice, although somehow I missed that one of the characters is black and another is overweight--I may not have gotten this far into the book? I didn’t really notice anything unusual about them except for the fact that one of them is bisexual, another is asexual, and a third is gay. For some reason when I came across the passages that discuss this, it irked me in some way, and I wasn’t really able to figure out why until I read another review of the book on Goodreads. The reason for why it seems odd is because each of the characters uses modern phrasing, like “she knew she was aesexual,” and it seems really out of place in an old-world style fantasy novel. It would have made a lot more sense if they had had their own unique words for each of these sexual orientations, instead of phrasing we’ve only become accustomed to using in the past few decades.

But the most jarring thing for me came after they had trekked through an underground maze/catacomb, which was great, and met a mysterious figure at the end of it. An older man starts expositioning to them and telling the teens he needs their help “with a quest,” yadda yadda, and at this point it’s relevant to mention that the book is narrated from a limited third-person perspective. There’s a lot of jumping around between characters, but this didn’t bother me much at all. In about the middle of this conversation, the text reads, “The man, whose name was Solan Tavish...” and my immediate reaction was, “wait...whaaaaaat?!” At no point in his speech does he introduce himself or say his name, and since we’re seeing everything from one of the character’s perspectives they don’t ever hear it. And yet later on, after they’ve left, they begin using his name as if they all know it!!! It’s such an odd choice, too, because it wouldn’t have taken any time at all to simply have him say, “Who am I, you ask?...” blah blah blah. Why the hell was that mistake even in there?!?!

Blegh. I can’t do it anymore. I understood it a bit more when, as I was looking through other reviews, I found a lot of the positive ones had been comparing it to another book, Six of Crows, that I’ve read about and had decided wasn’t for me. It’s apparently really popular among the Twilight/50 Shades crowd, and that’s about all I need to end this review with.

Ilona Andrews - Iron and Magic

December 12, 2018

This one was also a Hoopla rental, and I picked it out because the author is well-liked within the Urban Fantasy community. I really enjoyed that free sampler I got from Kindle a while ago, and I’ve been looking around for similar books since then. This one, though, is not a winner, and I will not be finishing it.

For starters, it’s rather grim. And I can take that in certain doses without issues, but this is a sort of grim that I just haven’t enjoyed. It’s about a man named Hugh d’Ambray who used to lead an army for an immortal warlord, but has recently been cast aside because of...internal politics I suppose, and because the warlord (whose name is, hilariously, Roland) is, well, pretty evil. His army remains loyal to him, though, because he’s a badass, and they strike out to find a place to settle, and also to stop Roland, because now Hugh is good or something. I’m not real sure about why he changed sides. At any rate, they settle down in Kentucky in a small community run by a woman named Elara, the White Lady--she’s got some powers going on that I didn’t read far enough into to decipher just yet. I get the feeling that they are explained eventually, though. For the good of both, they decide that a marriage will be the best way to unite their respective forces and put the best face forward, despite the fact that they both absolutely despise each other.

The world building seems neat, but there’s almost none of it in the first part of the book. Magic comes and goes in this world, and they alternate between using magic and tech, because only one of them functions at a time. Most of the references to this phenomenon are unimportant throw-away lines, and I’m pretty sure that it switched several times in the background while I was reading. I kept looking for clues that things were different, but all that took a backseat to the rest of the plot, which I didn’t find as engaging.

For starters, I don’t like either of the main characters. Hugh is an asshole and is constantly bitching about women, and it got to be a bit much. Elara is more interesting, but her more fascinating character traits are overshadowed by her utter hatred for Hugh, and I got really tired of hearing over and over and OVER that she was going to kill him at the slightest provocation. I get it, they’re both assholes, but can’t two grown adults just acknowledge that it’s in their mutual benefit to work together in this post-apocalyptic world and not get into daily screaming matches? As if that weren’t bad enough, many of said screaming matches are based on misunderstandings caused by lack of communication.

So yeah this one’s a no. I may try some of the author’s (or authors’ rather, I understand it’s a husband and wife team) other books just to see if this one’s a dud, but probably not for a little while.

Ursula K. LeGuin - The Lathe of Heaven

December 28, 2018

This book was not what I expected, given what else I’ve read of LeGuin’s. The other books of hers I’ve gone through were all set in the Hamish Cycle universe, so I was surprised to see that this was set on Earth, and although it’s definitely Sci-Fi, it’s much more domestic. The premise is interesting enough: George Orr is an otherwise ordinary man who at a young age realized he had the power to change reality with his dreams. Timid and unambitious, he seems never to have honed his ability to dream lucidly or control the subjects of his dreaming in any way (and in fact, lucid dreaming is not mentioned in the novel at all. I’m not sure if that was the phrase in use at the time that the book was written), and so becomes terrified of what he might unknowingly change while sleeping. After getting caught sneaking drugs to keep himself from sleeping fully, he is forced to visit a psychiatrist who specializes in subjects with dream problems, and, not believing his claims fully, promises George that he will cure him of his dream phobia. The relationship George has with this psychiatrist seems simple enough at first, but slowly morphs into something terrible as Dr. Haber becomes more and more obsessed with harnessing the power of George’s dreams to create the world he wants.

I feel like this novel could have been very boring, especially given what it’s trying to say, but it really was not, and I enjoyed it very much, finishing it from the halfway point in one go during one particular night of sleeplessness. It left me feeling very uplifted, perhaps because I identify in a way with LeGuin’s partialism to Taoism and appreciation of stillness, which is heavily featured in this book. Like many of her characters, George Orr sticks strongly to his convictions, but does so quietly. I cannot help but think when I read these that LeGuin’s particular type of femininity is badly needed in pop culture today.

Philip K. Dick - Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said

December 28, 2018

This book was oddly similar to The Lathe of Heaven, which was entirely unintended--I happened to pick them both out from Hoopla at about the same time and was amused at their similarities (apparently The Lathe of Heaven was heavily influenced by Dick, of whom LeGuin was a fan). I thought it started out very ordinarily, but of course it’s a given that it was going to get weird. Jason Taverner is a variety-show host celebrity, and a complete asshole. His entire life revolves around his fame, which is helped in no small part by the fact that he has been genetically modified to be physically and mentally superior than the rest of us. Other than as a personal characteristic that Taverner refers to having frequently, his genetic engineering doesn’t feature much in the story, which was something I expected, and something I happen to like about PKD novels. Many of the characters have these bizarre traits that could be turned into novels themselves, yet aren’t really explored in depth much, but that’s how reality tends to be. None of us is a one-trick pony, and we don’t, for the most part, orient our entire selves around one or two characteristics the way many made-up characters do. It makes them a bit more interesting than most.

At any rate, Taverner wakes up one day to find that he doesn’t exist as a person, and no one remembers who he is. This is a plot, similar to the amnesiac type plots, that I have seen done before and in the hands of a lesser author can be trite and boring. In the hands of Dick, of course, it gets strange. Reality-altering drugs are involved, and, well, I defintely didn't see that ending coming.

The book does deal with some weird taboos (incest), but it's one of his better ones, I think.