Reading Journal - 2019


Philip Pullman - The Golden Compass

January 2, 2019

I currently own a graphic novel version of this story, and while I enjoyed that one some time ago, it seemed to be a bit abridged, and the art was a bit lacking. So I found this one in the new Libby app via my library, and it happened to be available. I’ve since gone back and placed a hold on the second book in the series, because I liked it very much.

That said, I wish I could read through the series without knowing anything of the controversy behind it. Like the Harry Potter books, this one is very much hated by a certain conservative subsect of society for being written by someone who is different than they are. It’s probably pretty obvious whose side I’m on here, but I feel like having read through some of the arguments surrounding it has kind of ruined some of its points for me. Fortunately, I think there’s still enough there for me to be mystified by some of its worldbuilding. I enjoy the system of magic behind this story, and the way it is revealed through the eyes of a child is believable and compelling. I’m also quite surprised at how well-written the multiuniverse thing is played out--it’s done so much that it gets really, really worn out and trite after a while, but I get the feeling that it will still be a fun read in this one.

Aileen Erin - Becoming Alpha

January 8, 2019

This book was a surprise for me--I did not initially expect to like it. I actually found this among my recommended books in the Hoopla app and decided to take a chance on it. Despite the fact that I’ve read PKD, Ursula K. LeGuin, and a number of comic books through the app, it still insists on showing me only paranormal and romance books in my recommended feed, and it’s truly annoying. I decided to try this one anyway, because it was the only one in said feed that wasn’t written by Illona Andrews.

The plot is standard Urban Fantasy/Romance stuff. The main character, Tessa McCaide is a witch who gets visions from everyone she touches. After moving to Texas with her family and starting life in a new high school, she is bitten unknowingly by a werewolf, and enters a world of were high schools students where she may just be able to fit in for the first time in her life.

I liked the main character--A LOT. She deals with all the normal bullshit that you’d normally find in this sort of story--life mates, high school drama, sexism--but actually has the wherewithal to object to it and call it out for the bullshit it is. This is something that really doesn’t happen that often in most of the books I read, and it was very refreshing. When Mr. Douche-canoe Alpha was prancing around being a dumbass and acting rude to people, I actually had a sneaking suspicion that he would get called out and reprimanded for it, and I was right--he did. Nice!

Also, I enjoyed reading about how Tessa adjusted to her new life and her thought processes behind how it was going to change things for her. This probably had a lot to do with why I enjoyed the book overall, because the “big baddie” plot that was shovelled in didn’t really show up much at all and was kind of forgettable. I was rather bothered, however, that she never read through the “Werewolf’s Bible” book that he was assigned as homework (she got strong visions from it because it was a student’s used copy, but c’mon--couldn’t she have asked for a new one, or worn the gloves?). Going through that would have been really interesting for the reader, and would have solved a lot of problems, so this one thing sounded like lazy writing to me.

There are a number of other books in the series and I think I will check them out now. They’re all on Hoopla as far as I can tell, and I think I’ll have fun going through them.

Terri L. Austin - Dispelled (A Null for Hire, Book #1)

January 8, 2019

Ok, so I actually put this one down a while back and wasn’t going to write about it (I did not finish it), but I feel like I have Things To Say, so I’m going to include it here just so that I don’t forget that I did pick it up once.

I bought this book on Kindle because I really liked the premise. It’s about a woman who happens to be a “Null,” meaning that she nullifies people’s magic when she is around them. Because of this she is fairly ostracized by the magical community, but manages to make a good living by hiring herself out as a mediator for difficult situations. For instance, at the beginning of the book, she is heading out to a wedding between two families who are shifters and also not very fond of each other. Her presence there doesn’t make anything less awkward, but does ensure that at least no one will die on the precious wedding day.

So I really did want to like this one, but unfortunately I HATED both the main characters (yes, including the Null girl, despite her neat powers). Holly tries so very hard to be strong, but is a COMPLETE PUSHOVER, and lets others push her into all sorts of things she shouldn’t do. Some of that is understandable, given that she’s grown up a pariah, but I don’t think the author meant to do that on purpose. The main plot concerns a murder mystery, which looked like it had some pretty cool magic stuff going on in it, but the way in which she gets pulled into it, with almost no promise of reward whatsoever, I kept thinking, “It’s SO obvious that you’re being used here!!!”

And the love interest….uuuuuuugh. A total dick. He’s supposed to be the “strong, silent” type, and immediately starts doing that whole “I’ll constantly call you by a pet name because I clearly don’t respect you enough as a person to use your actual damn name,” and that really, really gets my blood boiling. Eventually, they get so at odds with each other (he doesn’t want here there to begin with anyway), that he actually threatens physical violence against her, and that was pretty much where I noped out.

I wish this one had been better, because it did have potential, but unfortunately I have decided I cannot take much of it anymore.

Ruthanna Emrys - Deep Roots

January 14, 2019

I picked this up at the library a few weeks ago, and found it while perusing the New Releases section. This isn’t my usual fare, but I noticed that it was based on Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and since I’ve never read much of the spin-offs based on his work, I figured I’d pick it up.

I enjoyed the first half or so of the book, and then it started to become less interesting as it went on. Unfortunately, I didn’t initially realize that it was the second in a series, so I went online and read a short synopsis of the previous book. It sounds like there was a lot more that happened in that one, but I think I got the general gist of it enough to understand what went on. The first thing I’d say about Deep Roots is that there’s not a whole lot that happens in it, and for the most part that’s ok. There’s a lot of introspection, and since the main character is a descendant of the Deep Ones who have been nearly wiped out by the federal government (the author draws parallels to the Japanese internment camps that were being run at about the same era the book is set in), most of it was pretty engaging. Aphra is a very sympathetic character, and I enjoyed seeing a more compassionate view of the creatures that were originally painted as evil and one-dimensional before.

Where everything started to go south for me was when the Mi-Go were introduced. I think they’re a fascinating species to write about, and here we got to see the intricate details of the machines they use to separate their bodies from their minds and fly about the universe. There was one interesting character in particular--I didn’t quite understand all of her backstory because it took place in the last book. But when visiting the Mi-Go caves, our characters run into a character named Sheela, whose species are apparently known for being insane, or something. It’s implied that the reason for this is because of their brain chemistry, so she now resides in a Mi-Go brain cylinder permanently, where she can think clearly without being bothered by her body’s shortcomings. I liked the way the cylinders in this case were treated as a solution for a disability.

The way the Mi-Gos use their machinery is described as being addictive, and there is a heartbreaking story about how one of the Deep Ones lost her daughter to space travel, but other than that I found it difficult to see these “Outer Ones” as evil as Aphra and her friends did. Aphra objects to their methods because they disconnect her from her mind and disrupt the magic that she uses. This concern of hers is valid, but difficult to relate to, because to humans it poses less of a danger. I think the characters were all meant to be a bit grey, but it took a little from the tension.

What happened next was...mostly talk. Apparently the Mi-Go are considering destroying the human race if they turn out to not be worth the trouble, but this threat never felt real or inevitable. I actually skipped ahead to the end once I realized the book’s due date was coming back up, and it seems there wasn’t much action, just more talking. Aphra negotiates a truce with the Mi-Go, and they return to Innsmouth to try and rebuild. I’m kind of reticent about the ending, though, because I don’t really feel it was super important to the rest of the story, which was mostly character driven.

Larry Niven - Ringworld

January 21, 2019

This was probably one of the stupidest books I've ever read, and that's saying something, given several of the books I read last year, and the fact that I recently gave up on Butcher’s Dresden Files (god, that book was terrible). So anyway, the idea of the Ringworld is cool, and it was pretty neat to see the discovery of it unfold and to wonder about the mysteries it held. Unfortunately, everything else in the book was terrible.

The main character, Louis Wu, is a 200-year old idiot who is obsessed with sex and doesn't act like he is two centuries old at all. One reviewer said of him, “the only way his age is relevant is that he frequently refers to being 200 years old,” and that's a pretty great way of putting it. He seems to have a way with ladies in ways that would not at all translate into reality, and at many times feels like an author insert written by someone who is very inexperienced. At this point it probably goes without saying that Niven has terrible attitudes towards women, and of the two that are in this book, both are described as stupid by most characters, both can't keep their hands off of Wu, and one of them has one of the stupidest character arcs I've ever read.

Teela Brown, as it turns out at the end of the novel, has been bred by the Pupeteer Master race (it takes Wu the length of the entire novel to realize they have this name because of their fondness for meddling) for genetic good luck, which is the most asinine plot point...I kept wanting it to go away but it was clear that Niven was really fond of it and kept fucking bringing it up. God, I'm glad this book is over.

Now, I feel a bit petty for bringing this part up, but I feel like I need to point out that Niven is terrible at naming things and places, both alien and Human, all sound incredibly stupid. It just pulled me out of the story in ways that I couldn't get past. Who the hell names a planet We Made It?!?! And Zignamuclickclick? If the clicks at the end are supposed to denote actual clicks, they ought to be transcribed differently, and otherwise alien names shouldn't sound too similar to human words. Human language phonetics are different enough, surely an alien race would be more different still. Also, “Tanj,” as an interjection, short for “There ain't no justice,” will never happen. It's a stupid word and sounds terrible. It doesn't sound at all obscene and cannot be spat out properly in fits of disgust and anger. Wu remarks at the beginning of the book that it is a good catch-all word, and uses it liberally. It is not.

At this point I feel I should address the plot, which many have called boring, but I feel that it was simply dumb. The characters mime their way through the act of preparing for what will be the most important voyage any race has undertaken, and then continually refuse to think ahead and act on impulse. I suppose these “accidents” could have been explained away by Teela’s “genetic luck” bs, but even then it just doesn't feel genuine. Luck cannot explain away someone's complete inability to think more than three steps ahead at a time. Many of the technological and scientific plot points are overblown and ridiculous--such as piloting an entire floating house around by gluing a fly-cycle to its bottom wall. Or using an invisible super-strong non-stretchable filament to drag said floating building down a hole in the Ringworld and somehow that catapults their damaged ship with no warp drive into space and all the way home? I still don't understand that ending at ALL. It was James Bond levels of technological stupid.

Meh. I'm glad this trash is over.

Phillip Pullman - The Subtle Knife

January 27, 2019

This is the second book in the His Dark Materials series, which I've been checking out via the Libby app. I expected that, being the second in the series, it would be a bit slow, but I was wrong. This was a quick read that didn't really have any slow bits. I think this was especially apparent to me because unlike the first one, which I was familiar with, I didn't know where this one was going, so it was nice to read a story in this universe that was new to me.

This second book follows Lyra and Pantalamion into our universe and a third one which seems to have been the one that started this whole mess. Lyra learns a lot more about how the multiverse works in this one, and so we get to learn a bit about the cosmology behind this whole story. I was a bit disappointed by the reveal about Lyra’s destiny, because it seemed a little predictable, but it was only one line in this book, and maybe it will turn out better in the next.

There are a lot of greys in this story, and I've struggled to decide whether the angels and Lord Asriel are evil, good, or something in between. Lord Asriel seems to be cast as a villain, because of his connection to Mrs. Coulter and the terrible things he does to children, but his cause seems to be a good one, or at least the one most aligned with what the children want. The angels also have helped Lyra without fail until now, but I can't decide if they're going to be fighting with Asriel or against him.

Anyway, the whole thing got me thinking and I'm looking forward to the next. I can see now why it was rejected so ardently by the conservative community, now that the book has made it clear that the end goal is to murder God. I am surprised that I have not read anything else that tackled this idea yet, and am interested in seeing how the final battle plays out. Already I have been thinking about what the consequences would be for either outcome.

Brian W. Aldiss - Galaxies Like Grains of Sand

January 27, 2019

This is a compilation of short stories that all have a common theme...the journey of the human race through the next few millennia. A “history of the future,” of sorts. This isn't the first book of its kind; I started and failed to finish an audiobook a while back by Mike Resnik that does the same sort of thing. It was interesting, but I've never been able to stick with the audiobook format for very long, so I lost interest.

This one was more engaging, I think, and I couldn't help but compare it to the last old sci-fi book I picked up, Ringworld. I suppose it jumped out at me because the first short story in it featured humanity's encounter with a matriarchal race and its main character was a man who was basically a trophy husband. So right off the bat I knew it was bound to be smarter than Niven’s work.

The other reviews I read claim that the first story is the best, but I think I disagree. I enjoyed every one of them except the next to last, which was about a movie made in the future. I believe I didn't like it because I get more and more ambivalent about films as I get older, so that one didn't appeal to me. The rest were great, and contained less hard sci-fi and more psychology and philosophy, which I love. I’m really fond of stories that take place extremely far into the future or extremely far into the past, so far away from our existence that it becomes difficult to imagine, but perhaps not relate to. The human race in this book fell, rose, and fell again for a variety of reasons, and then ultimately was superseded by something more. This was a quick read, but I'm glad I finally sat down with it.

Issac Asimov - The Caves of Steel

February 2, 2019

I believe that this may have been the first one of Asimov’s books I’ve ever read. It was pretty good-basically a who-dun-it murder mystery story set in the future populated with robots. I suppose because I’m already pretty familiar with the types of robots has written about in pretty much all of his books, I was far more interested in the City featured in the story, a vast megastructure that is almost completely enclosed and houses millions and millions of people. In fact, the main character towards the beginning of the novel expresses quite a bit of disgust at the idea of ever going outside, which was a little unrelatable for me. The mystery itself was not so interesting, and I was mainly driven towards reaching the end because I wanted to see what happened to the protagonist and his robot friend. I think I would not be averse to trying more of Asimov’s books in the future, but if they get to be repetitive, I will probably skip them.

Philip Pullman - The Amber Spyglass

February 2, 2019

This is the last in the trilogy that I had started late last year, and my goodness did it affect me. This one seemed a bit longer than the previous two, and I suspect that’s because it manages to go around and tie up almost all the lost ends from the two previous stories. I love big, universe-ending showdowns that get into metaphysics and really explore the foundations of worldbuilding, and this had tons of it. The book spends ample time in about four or five different worlds and explores they way each of them work, and how they work together. I was surprised to find that the main antagonists of the entire series, Lyra’s parents, and then ultimately the Authority and his protege, Metatron, don’t get a huge send off or show down. They are all dealt with and do their part, but the book doesn’t linger on punishing them or making them “see the light” in any way. I think this was the right way to go about dealing with them, as it doesn’t dwell on the suffering they’ve caused others or encourage hatred in any way.

The rest of the book is so surprisingly sweet that I was found myself quite emotionally involved in it. I was worried that it would get creepy at some point because of the adult themes it deals with, but everything is wholesome and written in such an uplifting way. I really, really liked the conclusions to each of the character’s story arcs and was very satisfied upon finishing everything.

There are a few other books that seem to explore the world that was created here--there is much more to explore, I’m sure, but I don’t know if I’ll go back and read them. While I found the ideas really fascinating, I kind of don’t want to go back and feel like the character’s stories aren’t ended, and getting emotionally involved in a book is pretty exhausting anyway. Maybe at some point in the future, but not any time soon.

N.K. Jemisin - The Fifth Season

February 12, 2019

Well fuck. I didn’t really start out liking this novel much, but it picked up speed throughout as I slowly figured out what was going on, and by the time I reached the end, I had made up my mind about whether or not I was going to continue with the series, and purchased the next one almost immediately.

I came into it knowing something of what to expect--it’s not a light or uplifting read, and many of the reviews I looked through said that it was intentionally obscure and confusing. I didn’t really know if the latter would bother me at the time, but I’ve found that I kind of like the feeling of trying to piece together how things work and why. In this particular novel I think it was vastly preferable to info dumps--normal people don’t talk to each other in ways that immediately explain new concepts to people who would happen to be walking by.

It took me about 50% or the way through the book to decide whether or not it was taking place on Earth, at which point I think the word “Antarctica” is dropped for the first time and confirmed my suspicions. I pretty much had it figured out by the end why the planet is coming to pieces, and the big last-line reveal wasn’t a surprise to me. In fact it was kind of gratifying to know I had been right :) I also find it interesting that the descriptions I have looked up about this novel classify it as “Science Fantasy,” which is a genre I had not heard of before. It pretty accurately describes the story, though, and probably a few others I have read as well.

Theodore Sturgeon - A Touch of Strange

February 22, 2019

I’m beginning to really like Theodore Sturgeon. I enjoyed More Than Human a while back and it had a number of themes in it that were rather progressive, and what I’ve read of his just seems to be very sensitive in general. This collection of short science fiction stories was much more uplifting than I thought it would be. So much of the sci-fi I read on a regular basis is very cynical in nature, and although these stories had some cynicism in them at times, that was not the overall theme of the work. Many of these will stick with me for a while, I think. In fact one of the pieces towards the end, “The Pod in the Barrier,” actually brought me to tears, which isn’t something that happens at all, really. Sturgeon seemed to have this talent for showing a very kind eye towards people while describing their plight through the eyes of someone who is incapable of understanding what they’re going through. You can sit there and hate the narrator for being an absolute idiot, and see what’s really going on in spite of the way they filter it through his or her lens.

The first piece in this book straight up surprised me--it’s a classic tale of corruption and subtle economic takeover, told by a complete idiot who has no idea of what’s going on. I expected a terrible ending, as that seems to be the norm for these types of stories, so I was shocked when it ended with the antagonist being thrown (kindly, mind you) into an asylum. It ends with a poignant scene of him talking to insects, completely unaware of how crazy he is.

There’s another piece about an “alien among us,” which one of the characters takes to be a trans man because of its strangeness. This character’s wife ends up falling in love with him, and her reaction to her husband’s assumption made me think for quite a while. She ends up thinking of him as an idiot, and tells him he’s given them a way in, so to speak. That sort of thing would be seen as a threat by some people, but in this story the husband’s behavior is clearly painted as completely toxic.

In many of the stories the final reveal is a little unfair--Sturgeon hides information from us in order to keep us on the hook. I usually find this annoying and cheap, but these stories are so good that I didn’t mind at all. One of the stories that is really guilty of this concerns a man who lives among telepaths and has had his telepathic abilities taken from him, unbeknownst to us until the end, and grows into someone quite hateful. It almost seems cruel the way he ends up, but the overall message of the story is that cruelty is not normal, and this is so refreshing to find in any genre. Many of the underlying messages here are similar--abuse is not normal, cruelty is an aberration--and these are not utopian societies by any means. Too many authors seem to think that the only way to depict an end to this wrongness is to make everyone perfect, but that is not realistic.

I’m glad I read this one. I will need to seek out more by this author in the future, but I will have a lot to think about in the meantime.

Bonus: I need to include here a quote from the husband in the “Affair with a green monkey” story I mentioned above about how to act like a man, because it’s completely hilarious.

N.K. Jemisin - The Obelisk Gate

February 24, 2019

This one seemed a quicker read than the one before it. There’s not nearly as much skipping around, and we’re only following two plot lines--that of Essun/Seyenite/Damara and her daughter, Nassun, who I’m beginning to like a lot. Because of that everything was much easier to follow, although there is a lot more infodumping and we learn much, much more about how the world works. I find myself both wanting and not wanting to read these books. I’ve grown attached to the characters quite a bit, and I want to read on and find out what happens, yet sometimes I feel like I can’t take everything that’s going on. It stops just short of being depressing--if there were less fight in the characters I think I would give up.

Anyway, those are my immediate thoughts of it. The plot synopsis is as follows: The second installment in the Broken Earth series centers around Essun, who is living in and trying to help build the community of Castrima, and her daughter Nassun, who has been taken to the village of Fallen Moon and is trying to develop her orogeny and avoid being killed by her father. Thanks to her mother’s training, she quickly develops much faster than the other children in her comm, both also due to her innate ability, and the encouragement of Schaffa, who has become a changed man. It took me a while to trust him, in fact, but whatever it was that brought him back to life in the last book has somehow made him less of a monster, and he no longer wants to enslave orogenes the way he was taught to in the past. Meanwhile, in the underground comm of Castrima, Essun is trying to learn as much about magic and orogeny as she can from Alabaster before he dies, while also trying to deal with the increasingly unstable politics in the community she’s living in. Alabaster, who is responsible for starting the current Season in the first place, has told Essun that she must develop her orogeny in order to bring back the Moon, which will end the Seasons and stabilize the Earth. After a few months of this, things become more complicated when a comm to the North, spurred into action by a malicious Stone Eater, shows up and demands that everyone surrender. The comm quickly turns against itself and threatens to devolve completely while Essun and those in charge struggle to keep everything from turning into a bloodbath.

I bought the last installment about a day after I finished it, and have already started it. I’m looking forward to seeing how this ends. The fact that the author doesn’t mind hurting her characters and sometimes killing them off makes me a leeeeeetle bit tense about the whole thing.

Marion Zimmer Bradley - The World Wreckers

March 6, 2019

I did not like this book. It wasn't terrible, though; it just repeatedly failed to catch my interest throughout, despite the fact that I kept thinking it would. I do weird things sometimes.

The World Wreckers is the sixth or so in a series known as the Darkover series, but all the reviews I read through said it was fairly standalone. I'm inclined to agree with them, because although I'm sure there were things I did not pick up on, I didn't really feel left behind on any of it--there were very few things that I scratched my head over and felt the need to consult Google on. More than anything I just couldn't be bothered to care about most of the political crap that was going on it the background.

Anyway for the synopsis, this book takes place on a planet quite on the edges of known space, known as Darkover presumably because it is so far away from its sun that it receives very little warmth and sunlight and most of its year is covered in snow. Obsessed as I am with survival stories and settings, this really appealed to me, and I was prepared to read about the unique struggles that would accompany living on such a planet. Unfortunately, there's not really much of that here, and in fact there are so many cultures there that live outside and/or are nomads/forest people/lo-tech societies etc. that I probably would have forgotten about the temperature if I hadn't been reminded. The beginning of the book starts off with the hiring of a company called World Wreckers, Inc., which specializes in ruining the economies of planets outside the Galactic Empire (or whatever it’s called in this book. I forget which name they use--the concept is the same), so that interested investors can swoop in and take over. This is an interesting idea, and could have been utilized much more than it was. There’s a lot of political intrigue that could have taken place as the inhabitants of the planet try to figure out what is going on. In fact, though, it only serves as a background. It seems that the author got bored with this plot and universe about a fourth of the way through and decided to make the rest of the story center around ideas about gender.

The bulk of the story centers around a hermaphroditic race which is very long-lived and changes its gender periodically throughout their lifetimes to facilitate breeding. Again, this could have been interesting, but for some reason it just wasn’t--it read like two boring romances in a pulp novel, and none of it was particularly interesting or insightful. In fact, due to its age I suppose, there is a bit of sexism here and there, which I don’t think the author was aware of.

At any rate, I don’t think I’ll remember this one much and I won’t be picking up any others in the series.

B.V. Larson - Tech World

March 10, 2019

I keep telling myself I won’t continue this series, but they’re such stupid fun that I have a hard time putting them down. The author always includes a preview of the next book at the end of each novel, and despite myself I ended up purchasing the next one immediately because the preview was so over the top and hilarious.

Specialist James McGill has successfully negotiated a new role for his legion--that of enforcer, and they are off to take over from Legion Germanica in protecting a place known colloquially as Tech World, due to its obsession with advanced tech. But although they are originally supposed to act mainly as highly-paid bodyguards, things go wrong when the natives, known as the Tau, suddenly become riotous seemingly without cause. As things slowly devolve into chaos, and the satellite Legion Varus is protecting begins to fall from the sky, James takes it upon himself to figure out why things went wrong, and how to stop it. With the help of his friend in the tech division, Natasha, and a whole lot of skirting the lines and outright mutiny, he eventually ends up fixing the issue and simultaneously finangling himself out of getting permed once again. But you probably could have guessed that last part--we all know the hero will pull through in the end, no matter how much he runs his mouth off or refuses to play by the rules. The ridiculousness of all these situations just makes me end up loving it even more. These books are definitely my guilty pleasure read.

N.K. Jemisen - The Stone Sky

March 24, 2019

This was a very good end to an excellent series. After first worrying that the books would be too painful for me to get through, I found that it was a different kind of pain than the kind I’m so used to reading about--this was a compassionate pain, very real, and very clearly written by someone who understands it personally. I was not surprised, but still very moved, to read that the author wrote the last book while going through a very difficult time in her life, and the way she was dealing with the loss of her own mother works its way through the narrative and made me ache.

After destroying Castrima, Essun is traveling through the ash wastelands with what is left of her comm on its way to the northern comm that was destroyed in the last book. Now empty, it is possibly the only place in which they will be able to thrive, but getting there proves to be soul-crushingly difficult, as food runs out, as they are beset by enemies, and as they each slowly lose the will to go on. Essun and Ykka both struggle to keep the comm together and to keep up hope as things get worse and worse.

Meanwhile, Nassun, having left the comm of Falling Moon with Schaffa, travels to Corepoint, the Stone Eater-inhabited ruin of the city that created this whole mess. She has grown into a teenager by this point, but seen more pain than any child of her age should. It is impressive that she is written in such a way that one can see how tired she is from everything she has gone through, yet still doesn’t quite have the maturity to see things the way an adult would. I think most authors tend to prematurely “age-up” young protagonists who have had hard lives--that is, they stop making an effort to write them appropriately for their age--but Jemisin evidently has the writing chops to avoid this pitfall.

Interspersed here and there are flashbacks that fill in the gaps about what we haven’t learned and tell the story of how the Earth became so broken in the first place. It is, unsurprisingly, a tale of oppression and abuse, heavy on the philosophy, yet never preachy. This book shows and does not tell. And it is all told from the perspective of the victims, compassionately, and angrily. The message and the way the characters responded to it resonated with me so very much that it became cathartic in a way--the way sharing anguish between friends is supposed to feel.

Needless to say I thought these books were wonderful. I would love to recommend them to as many people as I could, but unfortunately I feel as if most people I know would not understand them. I’m not sure whether or not that means I should recommend them even more...

Stanislaw Lem - Solaris

March 24, 2019

Good lord this book. Apparently it’s hugely popular and has had several movies made about it, but I was aware of none of this and thought it might be decent because I’d heard of the author and the premise seemed pretty neat. Unfortunately it lived up to none of that.

I’ll give a brief synopsis of the plot, but I’m going to do it out of order since the way the novel itself is ordered obscures things, in ways I don’t wholly agree with. Solaris is a planet covered by nothing but ocean, and it has been the subject of study by space-faring humans because of its weird behavior. Most of it is composed of some kind of primordial, possibly sentient, slime that produces a foam that builds itself into crazy shapes and structures, some of which seem to be simulacra based on objects humans are familiar with. This in itself is pretty remarkable, but although it is well known to the main character, he doesn’t see fit to mention it until about halfway through the book, and does so by info-dumping a bunch of boring textbook shit he learned in college. It would have explained a lot, because they have this ongoing hypothesis that the ocean itself is alive and sentient, partially based on the “simulacra” it occasionally forms out of biological material, but apparently these sorts of displays just aren’t enough to convince anyone (I think for all practical purposes we could say that yes, it is. Lem’s argument seems to be that we will never be able to understand another’s consciousness completely, but my counter-argument would be, why should we? Do we really have to understand it to respect it, and shouldn’t we err on the side of assuming it is anyway? Not, apparently, according to Lem. But I digress).

Anyway, the main reason for why the main character is sent to the planet (also not disclosed until the final part of the book, I have no idea why) is because they are conducting an experiment of sorts. The goal of the experiment is to establish communication with the ocean, and to that end the ocean itself ends up constructing very convincing simulacra of humans who are known to each of the three men on the ship. Because it is apparently only able to access their subconscious, however, they take the form of people the men are deeply ashamed about, for whatever reason, so of course all of the humans look like women these men have slept with. How uncreative (except for Sartorious, whom we never see, so my sneaking suspicion was that he’s a paedophile. Could be wrong, but that’s what I’m going with). At any rate, instead of seeing this as an opportunity and delighting in the sheer talent and power it must take to create such a thing of wonder, all of the men choose to remain frustratingly cryptic about what’s going on, to shut themselves up in their cabins, and refuse to interact out of shame. Our “hero,” Kelvin, whose visitor takes the form of his wife, long dead from suicide, whom he treated, and still treats, like utter crap. After the shock of seeing her wears off, and he tries unsuccessfully to kill her once (these “natural clones” cannot die and possess superhuman strength), he decides that he loves her once again, even if she is not really the same woman that he married.

For some reason this infuriates the only other man on board with whom he has any kind of relationship, Snow, who says he’s being foolish and seems very upset about it. Eventually he and Sartorius end up devising a way to destroy the creatures, and presumably after destroying their own visitors, convince not-Rheya to destroy herself too. Why do they do this? I have no fucking clue. Kelvin is understandably incredibly broken up about it, and no one seems to care that they have hurt him. The characters occasionally talk about “contact” with the ocean, and yet none of them stop to think about what kind of message destroying the envoys would send to such a creature, especially one who is clearly much more powerful than us.

The novel ends without much of a conclusion. Kelvin gets religious about things in an effort to cope with his loss, and then it ends. I didn’t much care what happened at that point, because everyone was an idiot, and they all made very stupid choices. My version of the book (now in the trash, because it was slowly disintegrating), contained an essay at the end about the book and Lem’s life that was written by a complete asshole who seemed very proud of his bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. A fitting end for a pretentious book.

The thing that really gets me is that Lem was considered something of a philosopher (who sneered at Sci-fi for being shitty, and then went and wrote a shitty sci-fi book), but this novel is too obsessed with using the trappings of a thriller to get anywhere with its philosophy. The characters choose to remain cryptic only to maintain tension and things are kept from the reader not for any real reason, but to make the plot fit its mold. I have a sneaking suspicion that Lem is highly overrated.

Update: 4/4/2019 - Ok, I have to amend this because I think I understand part of it now. We watched the Twilight Zone’s “The Lonely” last night, which happened to share some similarities with this book--in particular, it features a man who develops affection for a robot in the form of a woman while alone on an asteroid. Later, the robot is destroyed despite the fact that he loves her, much like the main character here and Rheya.

I think this is a case of changed values over the years. Back when this book was written, and when the episode above aired, it seems that developing affection for “things” (AI, robots, objects, etc.) was very much viewed as a bad thing to do. Thus, the characters who loved them were insane, and said object had to be destroyed. These days I think that sort of idea would not hold. We are surrounded by AI and life-like objects that people can and do develop affection for, and it is no longer thought of as crazy. In fact it’s seen as quite normal. I think this is the reason for why I found the ending to this novel so abhorrent.

Erik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAcfee - The Second Machine Age

April 19, 2019

I picked this book up, along with Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots, because they both deal with the same subject, but come to slightly different conclusions about it. The focus of both of them is the way in which technology, and particularly the advancement of AI, are changing our world. Many parts of the book detail the jobs that we have lost, or are in the process of losing, because of automation. And while it’s been generally accepted for a while that such lost jobs will eventually be replaced by new types of jobs that don’t even exist yet, after reading this I’m not sure if that’s still likely. The authors argue that we are seeing the beginning of a new type of cultural revolution (akin to the Industrial Revolution--hence the title, Second Machine Age) that will vastly change the way lives are lived all over the world. In fact, the graphs they have included to illustrate the exponential growth in data processing, automation, and processing speed, are incredibly and scarily convincing. The way in which these authors differ from Ford (apparently; I have not yet finished his book), is that they come to the conclusion that this is not necessarily a bad thing, and they firmly believe that more good will come from these changes than bad. Part of me wants to agree with them--my life is certainly better than it was pre-Internet revolution, and I see more changes (better changes!) being made every day. We now have free access to any kind of education that you would like--there’s a discussion about MOOCs (massive open online courses) that points out quite well that, although employers still do not take them very seriously in terms of credentials, in terms of knowledge gained it is now possible to obtain a complete college education online for either free or a trivial amount of money compared to what would be spent on a traditional one. The cynic in me points out that since one can now receive a free college education in many European countries, and we can access those materials online from the U.S., employers will soon be forced to take MOOCs and their ilk seriously whether they want to or not. Once the standard has been set to “free,” it becomes very difficult to compete with.

I said only part of me was optimistic, and the cynical part of me is what made me pick up this book. I’m more and more wary about jobs going away these days, because to tell the truth, I have been in the process of automating my own job away for almost four years now. It’s something I’ve been happy to participate in for a variety of reasons, but I have always remained aware of what I have been doing. It will happen with or without my help eventually anyway, and why delay the inevitable? Might as well welcome change and move on to the next thing while I am young. But it is an odd thing to watch, and it is not difficult for me to extrapolate to the ways in which other jobs will be automated away. I will probably assist with getting rid of more of them before my career is over. And what will I do afterwards? I think things will be better overall, but not a paradise, and I worry about those who will not be able to reinvent themselves the way I can.

Frank Herbert - The Santaroga Barrier

April 19, 2019

This was a weird book. It began in the exact same way as did Hellstrom’s Hive, with a protagonist who works for some nebulous “organization” that wants to infiltrate a small, insular community. We are told that Gilbert Dasein has been sent to perform “market research,” however, so that’s a bit more info than we were given in the other novel.

In addition to that, Dasein also already has a tie to the Santaroga community--one of its members is his college sweetheart, whom he has not seen in several years. Other than that he is seen as an outsider--the Santarogans do not trade with or purchase many goods from anyone outside their community. All food is grown and produced within the valley, and all of it is infused with what is at first cryptially called “Jaspers.” The locals are eager to share this food with Gilbert, and he slowly finds that he is becoming dependent on it, and that it changes his metabolism and thinking after ingestion. Basically, Jaspers is a stand-in for a more mysticism-imbued LSD, embraced not by the stereotypical hippie commune, but by an incredibly conservative community of traditionalists. Regularly ingesting Jaspers connects them subconsciously and allows them to tap into a sort of very quite hive mind, though it falls short of outright telepathy. It also seems to imbue them with a very strong fear of the outside world, and this ends up nearly costing Dasein his life as the community members subconsciously make a concerted effort to kill him with a series of “accidents.”

I was disappointed to read in the end that Dasein “goes native” and swears off his pre-Santaroga life after marrying Jenny. I suppose I was offended by the way they had treated him and would not have given in so easily, but I may also be biased against the use of psychedelic drugs altogether. I would not say that this novel was better than Hellstrom’s Hive, and although it contains some interesting ideas, I did not think they were groundbreaking. It does, however, contain 100% fewer weird diatribes against women, so there’s that!

Brooke Bolander - The Only Harmless Great Thing

May 2, 2019

This had come on to my radar through, I think, Kindle First Reads, and I had been thinking about it for a while after, so I was excited when it ended up being Tor’s Book of the Month and I was able to get it for free. After reading it, I feel almost like a cheat putting it here, because it’s very, very short, and more like a novella than a full book.

The book centers around two historical events that the author decided to mash together--the killing of the elephant Topsy by Edison in a demonstration of the then brand new phenomenon of electricity, and the Radium Girls, who were around about fifteen years later. In the book, both of these things happen at around the same time, and the author is pretty hazy on the dates, so I’m not sure she was aware of the time difference? I dunno, it kind of bothered me. At any rate, the elephants in this universe are fairly sentient, and it’s never really made clear whether the world as a whole is aware of this. For some reason, the company that employs the radium girls decides to replace them with elephants, which would suggest that they are aware, but then why would the public be willing to go watch one die? I know the 1920s were not exactly known for being overly humanitarian, but I think the whole thing would have at least gone down differently, you know? And why they decide to start employing elephants is never really explained and seemed really, really dumb. Elephants are large and not in great supply, nor do they live easily in North America, which they are not native to. Speaking from a purely practical point of view...the girls are cheaper and more efficient. Why would anyone do this?

There’s also a parallel plot that takes place in the future, and I at least seem to not be the only one that thought it was completely dumb. It centers around a scientist who has been given the problem of trying to mark a nuclear waste site in a way that will be understood by humans living thousands of years in the future, who possibly do not speak the same languages or have the same technologies that we do. This is a problem that has been discussed at length within the scientific community before, but I do not believe anyone has ever proposed the solution that the aforementioned scientist offers here: she decides to ask the elephants (who communicate with sign language) to remember for us, and then decides to alter them genetically to glow. None of this made any sense to me. What if elephants forget? What if we forget how to speak with them? Surely interspecies communication is a fragile thing that would take centuries to become proficient at. In that way, it’s the same as relying on advanced technology to signal danger to future humans who may not have any. Also, elephants are endangered (or at least some are); what if they go extinct? And what’s the point of making them glow, anyway? At some point it would just become normal and expected and no one would think of it as dangerous anymore. Dumb.

I wish the rest of the plot had not been so terrible, because the feelings written about here are real. The core of the story is about exploitation and hope, and about the way dehumanization affects its victims, human or not. At some points it is quite beautiful. But we shouldn’t have to sacrifice logic in order to get that into a narrative.

When I was younger, I used to write down stories based on dreams that had affected me emotionally. There’s nothing wrong with this, but at some point I’ve found that you generally have to go back over major plot points because you’ll soon realize they don’t make any sense when you’re awake. Things that seemed normal or acceptable in dreamland don’t always translate well to the waking world. Because of that, sometimes when I’m reading really strange stories I get the feeling that the author did something similar, only they forgot that important step of fixing the logic of their dreamworld, because very important parts of it don’t really make any sense at all. That’s the feeling I got reading this novella. The feeling was real, but the rest of it should have been fixed.

Andre Norton - Star Gate

May 8, 2019

This was a very fun book. I do not usually read older Sci-Fi, and was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy this one because of that, but this ended up being a very enjoyable sci-fi/fantasy mash up that I would describe as “silly action-oriented fun.” There is almost no character development whatsoever, and the plot is entirely circumstance driven, but it works in the way classic adventure stories should.

The story centers around Kincar S’rud, a native of the primitive planet Gorth who is driven from his kingdom inheritance by virtue of the fact that he is a half Gorth and half alien--I think the aliens in the book are supposed to be from Earth, but this novel doesn’t go into it much as it wasn’t relevant to the plot. I believe Norton wrote extensively in the same universe, and I’ve picked up a few others of hers, so I may be able to find more about this evenatually (they’re available through Project Gutenberg!). On Gorth, these aliens have nurtured the planet to the best of their ability, but eventually come to the realization that their interference is only going to hold the Gorthians back, and so they have gradually withdrawn from the world. Kincar becomes a traveller with the last group of “Star Lords” as they leave his native realm for another--this novel is based on the “many worlds” hypthothesis, and so they soon find themselves on a different Gorth--one in which the Star Lords are hated and evil. The rest of the book details their fight to defeat the evil “Dark Ones,” as the natives of this new dimension have named them.

The prose is quaint and a bit dated, and there are few female characters who do anything of note, but I enjoyed this story in spite of all of those things. I was also especially fond of the animal characters who accompany Kincar, and the way he treats them. One functions as his mount, and the other, a sort of vicious pterodactly/hawk thing that he uses as a hunter. They share a very symbiotic relationship and towards the end of the novel are hinted at as having their own sort of intelligence--not inferior to that of humans and humanoids, but different and somehow fundamentally incomprehensible.

I’m glad I finally read this one; it was different than I expected it to be, and not the sort of book I usually pick up, but I have a new author to check out now and that’s never a bad thing.

Lucy Worsley - If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home

May 13, 2019

I came across this book when I was doing some research about the history of closets (my curiosity in which was sparked by a Sims build video I was making at the time), and was excited to pick it up immediately. It does in fact have a chapter just about closets, which was fascinating, but also looks at every other room in the modern home, and then devotes a chapter each to the different things we do in them. It follows these developments starting in the middle ages and basically stops in about the 1970s, with some exceptions, because the changes in them after that point are negligible compared to the changes that came before.

While I really enjoyed the depth of research that went into this book, and was impressed by Worsley’s hands-on experience with a lot of it (she is one of the curators at the Historic Royal Palaces and apparently maintains a good chunk of British history), I was a little disappointed that it’s limited to English history only. That’s not the fault of the author, of course, but I probably should have realized this before I picked it up. I would LOVE to read a similar book about the history of homes in the United States, but I have not found one yet. Based on what she discussed here, I feel like parts of the U.S. were modernized sooner than in the U.K., partially because of the climate, and partially because of new development and construction vs. renovating older buildings. At any rate I still thoroughly enjoyed this--to answer my original question, I had suspected that closets were mostly a U.S. thing, and according to Worsley I was correct. Closets originated as a place of prayer and often included a shrine and other personal objects, to enable the user to escape from the world. Over the ages they slowly morphed into a room for storing clothes. It would seem that Americans prefer to keep more clothing than everyone else, because they remain popular here while the rest of the developed world transitioned to using bureaus and drawers.

Mabel Maney - The Case of the Not-So-Nice Nurse

May 23, 2019

This was the kind of book I think very nearly perfectly fits the descriptor of "popcorn read," though it also kind of falls under "really bad fan fiction" as well. The premise is fun enough: Maney took Nancy Drew and another young crime solving woman named Cherry Ames (I didn't grow up reading these and wasn't familiar with them), made them both lesbians, and threw them together to solve a "light hearted" mystery involving a group of missing, and most likely gay, nuns. Since it's technically a parody, Cherry's naivete about the whole thing is hilariously extreme, and the prose is overly simple and silly. There are lots of sudden emergencies that end up being conveniently solved by the key the character just found in her purse! sort of thing. In fact, I started thinking of it as a silly B-Movie after getting into the first few chapters. The only thing I really disliked about it was the author's tendency to insert very mature themes into the book without warning, which gave me a bit of whiplash and confused me. For instance, when Nancy Clue finally reveals the answer the mystery that started off this whole adventure, she unexpectedly admits that her father had molested her repeatedly as a child. What the fuck? That is not what I was expecting for what I otherwise found to be a fun read. Reading a few reviews of the book suggests that the author had a habit of doing this in many of her books...Probably one of those quirks that says more about her than me.

B.V. Larson - Machine World

June 9, 2019

I feel like I’m in Maintenance Reading Mode at this time. I’ve had a lot of life changes recently (got promoted at work, brought a new kitten home), so I’m just kind of picking things up when I have the spare time and don’t really have the energy to get into anything super serious right now. Books like this (and the next book I’m about to put on this list) are easy to get through and fill the time when I’m not super into the idea of reading and would probably otherwise do nothing but play video games all day.

As for the story, this particular chapter in the saga sees hero James McGill as a Veteran, which I guess makes sense as he’s rising slowly through the ranks and will probably make it to the top at some point in the series. At first I thought it was weird seeing him in a position of authority--McGill is so hard-headed and obstinate it wouldn’t make sense for him to be promoted in an organization less corrupt than this one--but he grows into it over the course of the book, with a few slip ups here and there.

The setting this time, Machine World, is an icy cold planet inhabited by sentient (though fairly unintelligent) machines. Larson isn’t super heavy on the sci-fi background here, but instead of going for the super-smart terminator-type AI trope instead features machines that are more like animals. While there wasn’t a whole lot about them to sink my teeth into, I was amused by the direction it took. Legion Varus, along with a sister legion Solstice, are dumped on Machine World (as yet unnamed, I think) to secure it for the humans before the squid race gets to it. Unsurprisingly, the planet turns out to be already inhabited and also quite hostile. After suffering heavy losses, the troops get sidetracked by their own political struggles and by Claver, that bastard from the last book who stabbed everyone in the back and got away with it. McGill very nearly gets permed (again), but of course manages to find a way out of it at the very last minute, using the situation to his advantage and come out with the upper hand as usual. Pure cheese, and I’m not tired of it yet.

Aileen Erin - Avoiding Alpha

June 9, 2019

And if the last book was cheesy, I don’t even have words for this one. There’s something nice and comforting about shifter novels that I really enjoy turning to when my brain is tired. This series is one I found on Hoopla (oh my how I love that app), and I’ll probably read through the whole thing eventually. I like it because it features a young magical woman who is not in a horribly abusive relationship, and whose partner, while still conforming to the “alpha” stereotype that’s in every one of these novels (if you’ve read any, you know what it is), is nonetheless always supportive of her and doesn’t put her down in any way. It’s not that hard people! You can find other ways to write about conflict without making your love interests fucking terrible!!!!

Anyways. Tessa McCaid and her soul mate Dastien are waiting for some kind of ceremony that will determine whether or not Dastien ends up being punished for turning her without permission (I think--they were a bit vague on that in this book, and it’s been a while since I read the last in which it was described. At any rate it’s not the main focus of this book), when her best friend Meredith falls deathly ill. As the result of a curse cast by Tessa’s extended family, a coven of witches, Meredith has been unable to turn since she was a young girl, and when her wolf starts to force its way out, it begins to kill Meredith slowly. Tessa confronts her family for the first time in years and must learn to accept both her witch and wolf sides in order to fully embrace her magic and save her friend.

The plot, such as it was, was not as engaging as the last book, which didn’t have much of a plot either to be honest, mostly because of a lack of action. I can deal with that, though it was a struggle to get through some parts of it. Still, I can’t complain. It was exactly what I was looking for after getting promoted up at work and having to learn a whole bunch of new things, plus tie up the ends of the things I was doing before. Cheesy fun. I have no regrets.

Annie Bellet - Pack of Lies (The Twenty Sided Sorceress Series, Book 3)

July 7, 2019

I actually finished this and the next book I’m going to write about a while back, but I kept forgetting to write about it, like I will ultimately probably forget about this book. I can’t complain--I didn’t expect much, and this is kind of a popcorn series, but a few other reviews described this one as one of the worst in the series because it reads like a standard Shifter novel, and I agree. The plot itself wasn’t all that interesting, nor did the explanations about Werewolf/shifter culture really add much to the world here. I did enjoy the character development, though which was probably the best thing about this installment. Jade gets back together with her Russian werewolf boyfriend, which I enjoy reading about because they have a very supportive and functional relationship (a rarity in this genre), and learns more about how to control her talents. I’ll probably continue with this series eventually--I tend to pick it up whenever I want a book to pass the time, but don’t want to think too much about it.

Paul W. Fairman - I, The Machine

July 7, 2019

This book started out with a lot of promise, but became trite towards the end. Lee Penway lives in a perfect world, controlled by robots to such an extent that the main aim of most humans is to simply enjoy themselves. They do not work or toil, and everything they need is provided for them by the machines. Predictably, for anyone who has read this type of genre, Lee finds himself listless and unsatisfied for reasons he cannot understand or articulate. Soon after, he begins receiving visions from the machine, telling him that the machine loves him, and cackling madly like a crazy person. This leads him far underground to the bowels of the vast machine, where he meets a group of humans (who call themselves “aliens”) who reject Lee’s society and live in fear of being hunted. I found it interesting to see the way in which humanity had become complacent and lived differently, and the author’s disregard for his character’s lives kept me on the edge of my seat--there’s a lot of violence in this one. But the ending seemed too predictable. Of course the machine must be destroyed, and there must be two humans left to continue the race, yadda yadda. I guess at this point I’ve just read “that story” too many times not to wish that maybe they had found a third option, or at least not ended with “the machine falls, fade to black.” I suppose I did enjoy most of the book, though, but sadly I will not be able to re-read it anytime soon, because my copy was in very poor shape and disintegrated as I read my way through it. Ah, well.

Annalee Newitz - Autonomous

July 7, 2019

Oh my, this was a VERY good book. There was a whole lot going on here, in the best kind of way, and to make it even better I ended up getting it for free from’s monthly newsletter. In fact I’ve kind of neglected the books I’ve gotten there, so I decided to start diving in. This is the second book I’ve read from there, and it was much, much better than the first.

The story begins by following Jack, a (female) pharmaceutical pirate who travels the world in her chemlab submarine and reverse engineers drugs so that the poor may have access to them. In this world, everything--absolutely everything--is based on patent law. Thanks to genetic engineering, most humans are too. They live alongside numerous sentient bots who are used for a variety of things, and almost none, bot or human, are born free. Instead they have reinstated the indentured servitude system, which works out for some who are lucky enough to work their way out. The rest remain slaves.

Jack’s reverse engineering takes a turn for the worst when she frees a drug called Zacuity, meant to make people enjoy their jobs more. Unfortunately, it soon becomes evident that the corporation who created the drug, Zaxy, engineered it to be incredibly addictive, and people begin dying when the drug’s victims go off the rails--a painter refuses to stop painting everything in sight until he collapses from exhaustion; a waterworks engineer develops a newfound passion for her job, and decides to test the system’s efficiency by flooding half of New York. Jack is devastated, and decides that she must find a way to create an antidote, which leads her to call on her former colleagues in the pharmaceutical industry from all over.

Meanwhile, she is being hunted by an organization called the IPC (there are no governments anymore; only corporations), followed by two agents--a human male and a bot--who have been authorized to use deadly force in order to find her. While they are chasing her down, the bot, Paladin, is struggling with its identity as an indentured robot, and we watch as it slowly learns more and more about human interaction. I really enjoyed the passages that were written from Paladin’s perspective, and was especially tickled by the way bots talk to each other, since it’s based on HTTP packets (“I’m SomeBot, you’re Paladin. I’m going to send you some data. Ready? Hey what’s up! That is the end of my data”).

I both simultaneously loved and hated all of the main characters--there are no “good” or “bad” guys here, and by the end of the novel I began to be worried about the conclusion, because I knew someone had to win, and another had to lose, and I didn’t want to see either of them go. Fortunately, the book is wrapped up in a very satisfactory way, and everyone involved gets his or her ending--I would call them happy endings, but this world is too dystopian to use such a positive word. I see there are some spats on Goodreads about the way one of the characters, Eliasz, is homophobic. I wasn’t too bothered by that, because although he doesn’t really seem to get over it, it’s experienced in such an innocent way by Paladin, who has never heard the hateful word he uses, and has no emotional attachment to it either way. I don’t think this was supposed to be a story about overcoming biases, but rather about how a robot would experience and relate to them.

Overall, I really loved what was going on here. If I see anything else by this author crop up, I’m definitely going to be interested.

David W. Wolfe - Tales from the underground: a natural history of subterranean life

August 27, 2019

I’ve been bored and disenchanted with the books I’ve had at home, so I went wandering through the library one day and picked up this natural science book. It was exactly what I needed to get excited about reading again. Pages and pages about dirt, bacteria, extreme lifeforms, and the like were fascinating, and I ended up learning a lot about a subject that I’ve never really delved into before. Even though the section I found it in is for academics, and typically has books geared more towards scholarship than light reading, I felt that this was one of those “science for a general audience” books, while still being far too in depth to be called “pop science.” It did wane towards the end, though, touching topics that had more to do with conservationism and ecology in general. I absolutely don’t have any problem with those topics, but I just wanted to read more about crazy bacteria, dammit!!! Prairie Dogs are pretty cute and it was neat reading about how they aid soil development and how being endangered has already started to affect our environment (that part wasn’t neat, really, just sad), but I got hooked on the germy stuff and wanted moooore.

Luanne G. Smith - The Vine Witch

September 22, 2019

I got this as part of Amazon Prime’s First Reads program for free, which is not a usual thing for me, as it generally features nothing but literary fiction and crime thrillers. This month actually included a fantasy book, and it had pretty good reviews, so I picked it up.

The reviews I read said it was like a brief fairytale, so I went in expecting a light, dreamy sort of tale, but that’s not how this was at all. In fact, this read more like a Harry Potter novel for adults, so as a result I enjoyed it very much. The main character, Elena, is a Vine witch, which means she lives and works at a vineyard, using her magic to make the vines grow. At the start of the novel, she is recovering from having been cursed into toad form by her former lover. She returns to her beloved vineyard, determined to exact revenge, only to find that it’s been sold, and has been in terrible shape in the seven years that she’s been gone. When her ex-fiancee ends up brutally murdered, she ends up getting blamed, and must prove her innocence before she is sentenced to death.

As a mystery novel, the book falls pretty short, but as an adventure romp, it’s actually pretty great. The magic system is well developed and described in detail, and there’s enough action to keep the book from slowing down really at any point. There is a romance, but it doesn’t really take center stage, and there’s no excessive swooning or melodrama.

This was the author’s debut novel, according to amazon, and I’ll be interested in seeing what she comes up with next.

Megan Whalen Turner - The Queen’s Thief

September 22, 2019

I have no idea how this ended up in my kindle library. It’s part of Prime Reading, so I probably got it for free, but I have no memory of adding it. It was...okay. Not the sort of thing that I usually read, it’s an adventure story set in a fantasy land that closely mirrors Ancient Greece. The author is quite a fan of the country and its history, and it shows, because I actually learned several terms about Greek culture from this book that I had not known before.

The story is told from the first person view by Eugenies, a notorious thief named after the god of thieves himself. After being rescued from the King’s prison by the King’s mage, he is told that he is being voluntold to steal a precious stone so that the King may present it to the Queen of a neighboring country as a wedding gift. I will not lie, the story is tedious and very slow in parts. There is a lot of traveling, and not much happens for the first half of the book. Fortunately, the characters are interesting and engaging, especially the main character, who is highly skilled at what he does and has many secrets. I was unable to tell whether he was male or female for a good portion of the book, and once I figured it out, it wasn’t too important to the story, which I thought made it better. Despite the fact that it picks up a little in the second half, I will admit I wasn’t considering checking out the next in the series until I got to the ending, which was quite a surprise. I think it kind of saved the rest of the novel for me. I’ve heard the second book is much better, and I may pick that one up in the future.

P.S. For some reason, throughout the whole book I kept imagining the Magus as Farengar from Skyrim, complete with that haughty voice of his. Possibly this was because they’re both incredibly stuck up. :P

David Kushner - Masters of Doom: How two guys created an empire and transformed pop culture

September 28, 2019

This was a fun read. I enjoyed getting to see how many of my favorite games were created and the history of the companies behind them. Growing up, I had been aware of the failure of Daikatana and heard whispers of John Romero’s god-like status in the community, but since I played the games long after they had been released I didn’t understand much about the cult that had grown up around him and id software. This filled in the blanks for me. What I found interesting was the way in which these companies really did exemplify the crazy no-rules atmosphere that are now considered stereotypes in the gaming industry. This isn’t too surprising given the time period during which this occurred, but it is, of course, also the reason for why these companies ultimately failed. It was a bit like reading about the proverbial self-destructive rock star. I would never run a project the way these people did, but they nonetheless managed to create and enduring legacy, and it is always fascinating to read about someone else’s demise.

Kate Moore - The Radium Girls

September 29, 2019

My god, this book was a difficult read. In fact, although I found it gripping and finished it quickly, I did have to take a break about halfway through it because I found I was getting extremely frustrated and it was beginning to affect my mood. I’ve had my own run-ins with injustice and spent a good amount of time in court, and I have been there with people who wanted to erase me, and gaslight me, simply because I was the woman who was in the way. I am grateful that I was not there for the same reasons that these women were, because reading about their slow, painful deaths, was horrifying. They literally watched themselves fall apart, after being repeatedly lied to and mislead by the company they were working for.

And the extend to which they were mislead, which I was unaware of before diving into this book, went far beyond ignorance or minor transgressions. The Radium Dial company and others with them went out of their way to cover up years of scientific evidence proving that radium was poisonous, withhold the women’s medical records (I know the book refers to them as “girls” because it was appropriate for the times, but they were women, and that is how I prefer to label them), and even, in the case of one of the ladies, perform an illegal autopsy in which they destroyed the part of her body that would have been used as evidence (!!!). After the women and their families went directly to these cheats to ask for compensation for the upteenth time, I was internally yelling at them to start an educational campaign against them, or to start picketing, or something that would increase public pressure against them, but the times were different then. They did not have the same access to the public that we do now, and it was not normal to question one’s employer, especially if you were a young, unmarried woman.

I had not realized the impact this had on worker’s compensation rights in the U.S. until I reached the end of this book, and in fact I’m surprised that it’s not something that we’re more aware of generally these days. Most of us in the U.S. work, and thus have a very real interest in our own safety, even if we’re never told to put radioactive paint in our mouths on a daily basis. It is because of the women who fought that we mostly don’t have to worry about this (although there is mention that they tried this sort of B.S. again much later, in the 70s and were shut down for it. Greed never learns, I suppose).

I do agree with some of the other reviewers that Moore’s tendency to end everything on cliffhangers got very annoying after a while, but I pushed past it because the rest of the book was so good.

Dean Westley Smith - Thunder Mountain

October 4, 2019

I did not expect this book to be good, and that is exactly why I picked it up. I was not wrong.

DWS writes stories that have almost no plot because they are primarily focused on bland romances. There is some sci-fi type set up that I was familiar with because it featured in his other novel, but don’t ever expect to get much explanation about it. The series features time travelers who, despite apparently having the ability to travel to any period in history, all visit the Old West exclusively. Each novel is generally centered around some long lost piece of Old West history that the characters wish to know more about, so they travel back to see it, and apparently write lots of research in the background. We don’t get to see much of it, and it’s mostly mentioned in passing. This particular book is about an old mining town called Roosevelt that got washed away during a landslide. I did look the town up, by the way--it’s very real, and apparently can be seen now living under a lake. That sounds like a pretty cool premise for a book, actually, but this one doesn’t relive the disaster, a la the “I survived” series or books about the Titanic. Instead the characters spend a majority of their time living in a very nice log cabin and wondering whether or not they’ll be able to travel before snow sets in.

I do enjoy these stories, though, bad as they are. They’re like a campy B-movie, without the violence against women. I read them for terrible sentence structure and nonsensical logic, and in fact I’ve taken to saving some of my favorite tidbits during my read throughs, much like my own “Dumb Sentence of the Week.” Here are some of my notes:

10 out of 10. Would read again. Well, maybe not, but it was fun.

Leslie T. Chang - Factory Girls

October 8, 2019

This book was not what I expected. Ostensibly it’s about the female factory workers in China who have migrated from the countryside to pursue a new life, and in that respect it’s really fascinating. Chang does a great job of sticking with a few personal stories and really bringing them to life, detailing their struggles and motivations, and sharing the friendships she formed with them. In fact one of them, Wu Chunming, I became so fond of that when we left her story for a bit because her mobile phone got stolen (which happens to be their one and only link to their social circle most of the time), I was legitimately distressed and considered doing some Googling to see if she ended up ok. I really liked her! (She does end up ok, by the way. She’s an interesting lady).

But Chang also put a lot of herself in this book, explaining that she originally went to live in China to find herself in a way. It seems that in her lifetime she emigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan, which is where her family fled to during the Cultural Revolution. After years of resisting the call, she says, she finally faced up to the fact that she needed to return and find out who her family had been. She then tells the story of her ancestors starting about two hundred years back or so. Because she follows them up until the present, the book actually contains a lot of information about China’s recent history, which I found to be really, really, educational. Other than a few throw-away lines about Mao Zedong and communism, I don’t recall ever going over any of this history in school, and because Chang has a rather extensive family, she covered it from the viewpoints of both those who sympathized with the Communist Party, and also those who were the victims of it.

At times, reading about this history and the way she struggled with it, and about how she linked it to the life choices of the migrant workers and what it means to be Chinese in general (to her, at least), the book almost felt too personal, like I was reading someone’s diary and rifling through her innermost thoughts and fears. I think this ends up working really well--in fact, I can’t remember having read a nonfiction book like this in which the author’s voice shined through as well as hers did.

So all in all, I really didn’t expect to learn as much as I did from this book, and I’m really glad that I took the time to pick it up when it was on sale (I almost passed because I had never heard of it before). It was wonderful!

Helen Harper - Wishful thinking

October 12, 2019

Welp, I finished this book in about a day. I previously read Harper’s Blood Destiny series and while I recognized that her writing was good, pacing was great, and I really liked what she had going on, I absolutely hated the love interest’s lack of respect for the main character. Guys, I am not a fan of the Enemies to Lovers trope at all. I understand a lot of people like it, but it is not for me. Sadly, I gave up on the series and moved on.

When this one popped up and I saw no indication of the “guy who hates her” subplot, I clicked that buy button quick. And I loved it! Saffron Sawyer is a naive (but not too naive) overachiever who gets the job offer of a lifetime, which naturally turns out to be less than stellar. On her first day of being a Faery Godmother, she makes more enemies than friends, screws up her first assignment, and finds out that there is more going on than the department has let on. In fact, faeries have been going missing for months, and nobody has any idea of what may have happened to them. The entire office has been trying not to speak about them (hiding uncomfortable truths seems to be the way things go here), when body parts start arriving in the mail. Saffron takes it upon herself to solve the mystery before even more people get hurt, while being the best at her job in the entire world.

I did basically figure out the mystery by the time I got to the end of the book, but it wasn’t frustratingly obvious. The action was great, I liked the characters, and the world building was pretty good--not totally fleshed out, but I assume that later books will get into that eventually.

Terry Pratchett - Reaper Man

October 18, 2019

It’s been a while since I read a good Discworld novel, so I saw this one on sale (Amazon has been putting Discworld Kindle novels on sale for a while now and I’ve been picking up a few of them) and thought it would be nice to go through one again. This one was rather sweet. Featuring everyone’s favorite character, Death, the novel starts out with said protagonist being stripped of his powers, because the universal fates have become offended by the fact that he had the gall to develop a personality. Without Death to cart off everyone who has reached the end of his, her, or its life, things stop dying, and Discworld’s life force starts building up and threatens to over run everything. Meanwhile, Death (now Bill Door) has retired to a quiet corn farm and is learning to find himself, and there’s also a very silly sideplot involving a living shopping mall. It’s really difficult to summarize these novels, because there’s usually a lot going on, and none of it makes sense when you try to boil it down--I think it loses something in the translation. Nonetheless, I had a lot of fun reading it, and since, when I was younger, a lot of the whit usually went over my head, I felt like I got a lot more out of it this time around. It took me about ⅔ of the book to realize that the Lecturer in Recent Runes is never named explicitly (that’s the joke!) and I had quite a laugh about it.

I say the book was sweet because, of course, Death grows a bit fond of the people he gets to know and pulls some strings to get everything tied up with a big happily ever after bow.

Randall Munroe - What If?

October 19, 2019

This was a fun and, despite all the math and science included within, what I would consider to be a light read. I suppose that’s because, being a book about questions, it touches lightly on a number of different subjects briefly and then abandons them for the next before going too in depth. Based on his footnotes and bibliography, I have no doubt that Munroe did his homework and did the calculations he says he did in order to get where he was going, but you’ll only find a little bit of it here and there in order to make it more accessible to everyone. I only gave the book three stars on Goodreads, mainly because the book is composed of questions that used to be on his website (and may still be), so it’s mostly recycled content. Although the presentation was fun and I did enjoy sitting down with the result, I can’t in good conscience give full marks for something that you can basically get online for free.

Nancy Warren - The Vampire Knitting Club

November 3, 2019

This book is a set up for a series, and although I thoroughly enjoyed it, I won’t be continuing it. It’s a cute little set up, featuring a young woman in her twenties, who comes to Oxford to visit her grandmother, when she finds that her grandmother has died, and she has inherited her cozy knitting shop. Not only that, but she soon has to contend with the (mostly harmless) knitting club in the back room, which meets at night because it’s...of course...composed of vampires. Let’s face it, you read the title; you pretty much know what’s going to happen. When she finds that her grandmother may have in fact been murdered, she must play the sleuth to find out why, while grappling with whether or not she will stay with the shop or sell it and move on. The mystery is not incredibly good. It’s only difficult to guess because there are so few characters in the book, and our main protagonist doesn’t do a whole lot herself to unravel it. And although the writing is quaint and easy to sink into, it’s a weird setting, and I can’t really see where it would go in the future (there is of course a preview at the end of the book, as is standard for this genre. I didn’t find it hugely compelling). That said, it was stupid fun, so I would rate it as average. If the author can come with a more interesting plot idea or setting in the future, I’d be happy to pick up another book from her and try it out--she’s obviously got writing chops, and let’s face it, authors in this genre publish or die. It is quiet a money making genre.

Quick synopsis: fun, average, wouldn’t read again.

David Pedriera - Gunpowder Moon

November 13, 2019

Hmm, this book. I think I picked this up on sale at some point through one of my Kindle sale alert emails. I had heard it was good on r/PrintSF on reddit, so I thought I would give it a chance. I wavered between boredom and lots of enjoyment in this one. The setting is great, and I loved the obvious amount of research that the author put into the Moon and its topography. When most of us picture the Moon’s surface, we generally think of the large, white plain that the astronauts landed in and took pictures of, while forgetting that they landed in the uniform basin of the Sea of Tranquility. The Moon’s surface as a whole apparently has much more interesting things going on all over it, many of which were, according to the novel, formed by lava, which blew my mind. I almost wanted more descriptions about how the mining operations worked, but then I’m weird like that.

The mystery, however, was unsatisfying. There’s an interesting back story about how it came about, but there’s not a whole lot of sleuthing going on, and the stuff that does happen is all off-screen. For instance: Decher (protagonist) decides he needs to check into the background (job history) of a suspicious character who may end up being a suspect. Seeing how he does this from the remote station he’s in on the Moon could have been interesting, but we read nothing about it, and then he decides to bring up his findings in conversation and doesn’t really even delve into them. He says, “I looked into this, and found that he has no other jobs besides this one!,” and then there’s a throw-away line about how he had to call in some favors in order to get that info. I’m here mostly for the sci-fi, so I can put up with a less than detailed murder mystery, but...this is the main plot of the book. There wasn’t much else going on, which ruined the experience for me.

It does have a happy ending, though I wasn’t completely satisfied with the way the characters dealt with their findings. I feel like the first half of the book was fairly slow, and then it picked up quickly in the second half. Honestly the whole thing could have benefited from some more pacing. I can’t really say that I really liked this novel, but there was some good stuff here. World-building was good; writing was good; plot sucked.

Martha Wells - All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries #1)

November 20, 2019

People have been raving about this series on Reddit, and I’d had it on my wishlist as a result, so when it went on sale I picked it up without having to think about it. It was worth the hype--Murderbot, the AI mechanical/biological hybrid is a fun and compelling character, and its ambivalence about its job really spoke to me, as I was going through a period of feeling the same way about my own job. It does the bare minimum to complete its given objectives, which basically consist of acting as a security detail for a group of scientists conducting an off-world biological survey, and spend the rest of its time watching the mountain of TV serials that it’s downloaded and saved locally. Naturally things take a turn for the worst, and Murderbot is forced to start caring and defending the group. When another group of SecBots nearby end up turning on them, we learn a lot about how they work and are built, and there is a surprising amount of character development throughout.

That said, I do agree with the many other Amazon reviews that I read before going through this one--each of the stories is too damn expensive. They’re $10 per and can be finished in a few hours, and at that rate I’d be paying $60-$70 for what basically amounts to a regular sized novel. I’m not a fan of the idea of a “standard length novel,” but even this stretches the bounds of what I’m willing to pay for. I’d rather buy them on sale or wait for a full story collection somewhere down the road.

Clifford D. Simak - Way Station

October 18, 2019

I was slightly disappointed by this one. It’s a quaint tale about a man who leads a solitary life and has lived at least a century without anyone knowing why. He is the caretaker of a station that help ferry aliens through Earth on their way to more grandiose systems, as their method of transportation requires several relay points along the way (it’s not a major point in the book, in fact, but later on it’s revealed that this works similarly to the way teleportation works in the movie The Prestige, which I always found creepy. That is, the creature’s body is scanned and transmitted somewhere to be reconstructed, and the original is then killed, and Way Station Guy keeps it in a tank to later be disposed of. In the movie this is revealed as being terrifying, whereas in the book it’s basically glossed over). Since he is essentially a man out of time who has watched his loved ones pass away, he doesn’t socialize with other humans much, and his friends end up being the many passengers he has spent hours and hours conversing with. Many of them have given him gifts. There is a small, slow, plot in the novel, but it is mostly about Way Station Guy (I’ve forgotten his name), and the things he has seen. It’s not bad, really, but I guess it was a bit...gentler than I wanted at the time, so I found it a little bit boring. It seems to have generally good reviews, but it is an older book, and those are kind of hit or miss with me, especially the ones written by men.

I have another book written by Simak that I got at the same time. I’ll probably read through it at some point, but I’m not as excited about it as I was when I picked it up.

Dan Simmons - Hyperion

December 11, 2019

Goddamn this fucking book. I’m pissed at it. Hyperion is best described as a collection of short stories that all happen to center around the same subject--a mysterious, backwater planet called Hyperion, which is notable for a number of things, but most of all for a phenomenon called the Time Tombs, a strange non-natural formation in which time does not move normally, and a vicious creature called the Shrike, which inhabits them. The novel features six characters that are traveling to the Time Tombs to make a pilgramage, each for their own reasons, and along the way, they amuse each other by narrating what it was that brought them to make the trip.

Simmons certainly has some writting chops--each of the stories is told with a very distinct voice and narrated differently, and they each stand out in their own way. I liked about every other one of them--the Priest’s story, the father whose daughter began growing in reverse, and the private detective I all found facinating, while the Poet’s story made me want to punch him in the mouth, and the military genius annoyed me so much with his “we fuck where we fight” bullshit that I started skimming through it. The Consul’s story was okay, but the ending was so rushed and hand-wavey that it felt like the author wrote an unrelated short story in the universe and could only barely figure out how to make it relevant. The worldbuilding was amazing--in fact, I still find myself thinking about the universe and the players in it. I spent a good deal of time thinking about the Shrike when I wasn’t reading the book, and managed to come up with a theory about what it actually was that turned out to be quite correct (it’s not revealed until the end of the novel. Until then the only thing that any one knows is that it kills). I’m pissed because parts of the book were utter bullshit, like the rushing through some of the stories, and the fact that parts of it was a slog, and the ways in which some of the characters were incredibly punchable, but it’s really stayed with me more than I thought it would.

And after all that, I didn’t get much of a resolution. The book ends before any of them get to the Time Tombs (and with one having disappeared mysteriously, with no explanation), though from what I’ve read this was not the fault of the author. Evidently the publishing company decided that the book was too long, and chopped it off at that point despite Simmons’ protests. I wasn’t originally planning on continuing this saga (it goes on for 7 additional books, I think), but since I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind, I think I will at least pick up the next in the series.