Review: Make: LEGO and Arduino Projects: Projects for extending MINDSTORMS NXT with open-source electronics

Make: LEGO and Arduino Projects: Projects for extending MINDSTORMS NXT with open-source electronicsMake: LEGO and Arduino Projects: Projects for extending MINDSTORMS NXT with open-source electronics by John Baichtal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had been waiting to mark this book as read until I finished all the projects, but the reality is that might take years; not because the projects are hard, but because I can’t quite get the wife to justify all the extra expenses for toys.

This book is GREAT. It reignited my love for embedded programming (I’ve now got some Arduino MKR boards that I’m using for a BBQ Thermostat project and a few other ideas in my head for various projects and home automations). It also gave my daughter and I a very fun project to do together.

The only problem (and the authors are up front about it) is that this book is written for someone who’s got a giant box of spare Mindstorm and Technic parts, which I don’t. This means that for each project I have to search the Lego-equivalent of Ebay or Amazon (which they link to in the first chapter/project) to find the pieces. Or 3D Print them. Which means each project involves spending more money for something that is just a toy. This is not why I didn’t give this book 5 stars. It’s not the authors’ faults that I’ve got umpteen million hobbies and the only one that doesn’t cost me more money is software programming. (Unlike embedded hardware, photography, BBQing, cooking, and general love of building gadgets)

The reason it’s not 5/5 is that I go by what the stars say as the tooltips in Goodreads and 5/5 is “it was amazing.” While I love that this book has great projects and helped me bond with my oldest, it was a book a really liked, not amazing. Also, somewhere around project 2 or 3 they stop providing links for the extra pieces you need to get, which makes it a real pain to go to Lego Ebay and try and get the right part. (In fact, for the first (and only – so far) project, I got a piece that was ALMOST, but not exactly the right part and it meant it didn’t quite grip things correctly, making assembly annoying)

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Review: Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 131

Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 131 (Clarkesworld Magazine, #131)Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 131 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With this issue, there were a ton of stories that had killer endings and worlds that I wanted to spend more time in. Strongly recommend!!! See below for a per-story review that may expand on my status updates:

Twisted Knots: A story involving a character who sees the world in geometric terms. It turns out to be a beautiful story about loss and dealing with loss.

Reversion: A story that seems to serve as metaphor for being trans (and maybe larger ideas in the same plane) involving someone who married an Alien as part of a diplomatic mission and ended up with a psychic link with that person, only to have the mission called off. The author does a great job of communicating the inner feelings of our protagonist. An awesome story and I want more in this world!

The Stone Weta: A neat story about a group of scientists working against falsification of data told through clever use of code names relating to various animal and plant species. Love this story even if the reality it conveys is depressing.

In the Blind: A psychological story about a couple of astronauts stranded in space.

A Man out of Fashion (translated): Over time I’ve read MANY SF Rip Van Winkle stories (and seen many movies), but the setup of this one, with our hapless protagonist was so unique and great to read. The author has put a lot of thought into this new world and seeing our protagonist evolve as he gets used to it is great reading. And what an ending it has!

Fleet: A story set after a huge EMP goes off in South East Asia. Very interesting culture has grown in what seems like just one generation since the EMP. Protagonist is trans, seemingly in a culture that’s OK with it. Towards the end we find out the new timeline. And also, a GREAT ENDING. This issue is killing it with great endings.

Venice Drowned: In the aftermath of Global Warming – a piece about how those in Venice have adapted and made a new life. A nice piece. It has modest character growth, but what it’s truly about is survival in a world that has been ravaged by nature.

Non-Fiction:

How to invent an Alien Language? A linguist perspective: A great primer on how to avoid various pitfalls when creating new languages for the aliens (or other creatures) in your SFF stories.

Pirate Pharma…Annalee Newitz: About her novel Autonomous and robot rights and economics.

The Subtle art of Promotion: Cat Rambo (SFWA president at least twice) talks about the challenges of promotion nowadays, especially with social media being such a fraught place for many folks. She also suggests some remedies.

Editor’s Desk: Clarke answers a bunch of questions from twitter. It’s fun and insightful.

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Review: Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)





Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Harry Dresden continues to grow, making less of the same mistakes and earning new friends. I particularly loved his partnership with Michael and how their personalities compared and contrasted. This entry in the series finds Harry trying to figure out why there are more ghosts than usual terrorizing Chicago. This one was a little harder to try and predict the solution to the mystery, but it did make sense as things went on.

As usual, I struggle to say too much about a detective mystery without risking spoilers, so I’ll just say that it’s on to the next book, Summer Knight.

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Review: Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 130

Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 130 (Clarkesworld Magazine, #130)Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 130 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another awesome series of stories compiled by Mr. Neil Clarke. I loved all but the last fiction story and enjoyed the non-fiction. Here’s what I thought of each story/article:

An Age of Ice (a translated story): A story involving a multi-generational family and a world in which cryonics are realistic. About how the world changes because this exists. It’s a very short story, but quite poignant.

Travelers: Another cryro story. This one seems to be starting with the trope of being awakened too early on a spaceship. I was wondering if it was going to end up being horror or not. Don’t want to spoil, but Mr. Larson does some really good plotting.

The Significance of Significance: The way that discovering that the universe is a simulation affects various people in the world. Written in a quirky and fun prose that is a delight to read. Pretty much a perfect ending.

The Bridgegroom: On a visit back to his village, Alois finds himself saddled with a job he doesn’t quite understand, but is of utmost importance. Because so much of what makes this story great is in its unfolding, I don’t want to say more. But I *DO* want to read more in this universe.

Last Chance: OH MAN, SO AMAZING! A Post-apocalyse story told from the point of view of someone a little too young to understand a lot of what’s going on, but old enough that its not too annoying to read from that POV. I WANT MORE IN THIS UNIVERSE!

Forever Bound: Haldeman doing what Haldeman does best – military SF and awesome world-building that makes you wonder at how the world got to that point. Also, always slightly reminding the reader of the untrustworthiness of the military aparatus. I really, really enjoyed this story.

The Oracle: A story that jumps back and forth in time and is a bit confusing at first. The origins of an AI society and the fringes of how their existence has affeected the world.

Non-Fiction

Impossible Colors of an Infinite Universe: A discussion of the colors we can and can’t perceive in reality and how authors of SFF use that metephorically.

Dystopian Muder Mysteries…: A look at how Carrie Vaughn decided to create the world in Bannerless.

Another Word: Invisible and Visible: Engineering in Science Fiction: Where are the engineers in SF? For most writers they are in the background, not even supporting characters. The author does mention a few stories that feature engineers. But modern SF does not have too many. (The article doesn’t mention it, but I think they were more common in Golden Age SF)

Editor’s Desk: Listening to the Universe: Five years from his heart attack, looking back at what Neil Clarke has accomplished.

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Review: Noir (The Illumination Paradox, #2)

Noir (The Illumination Paradox, #2)Noir by Jacqueline Garlick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ms. Garlick picks up exactly where the last novel left off, so I would recommend reading this immediately after the first book, since I was a little confused for the first little bit until I remember what was going on. She uses this book to push the readers further into this world in two ways. First of all, she expands the POV characters so that we can get a first-hand look into more than just Eyelet and Urlick’s thoughts. Second, she dramatically expands on the world and the magic of the world that our characters live in. Primarily, and incredibly scary, is the exploration of the kingdom’s madhouse which not only leans hard on all the tropes of the evil madhouse, but also adds on top of that a layer of malicious magic. There is a bright spot with the comedic relief character in the madhouse that had me alternately laughing and gasping, given the circumstances.

Overall, this is a strong second book in a trilogy, so nothing is resolved by the end of the book, although many of our characters are closer towards various goals they wish to accomplish. There is some tragedy along with some relief and, for a series where I was a little unsure of whether I truly wanted to continue (yeah, I said I would…but I didn’t have to be bound by last year Eric;s commitments), I’m now very curious to see where Ms. Garlick is going and how she’s going to conclude the series.

For the most prudish of readers, there is a sex scene. That said, if I recall correctly, it’s more implied than anything else once the skirts are up, so to speak. In other words, I’ve read more explicit scenes in YA books.

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Review: NBA Jam (Boss Fight Books #21)

NBA Jam (Boss Fight Books #21)NBA Jam by Reyan Ali
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the various titles in the Boss Fight Books series; all the moreso when they involve games that meant a lot to me. NBA Jam (which I had filed in my head as NBA Jams), is one of those games that my brothers and I sunk countless hours into. We were always more into arcade or silly sports games like Ken Griffy Jr. for the SNES or Midway’s NHL game for the N64 than sports sims. NBA was right in that perfect spot where it wasn’t too focused on b-ball and having lots of players on the screen. Instead it was fast-paced and easy and fun and silly – great for pre-teen to teen Eric and brothers.

This book gives a short history of Bally and Midway (which eventually merged) before jumping into the history of NBA Jam. There’s a lot I never knew because I never played it in the arcades, only in the home ports. Even though I was the right age for it, I didn’t really spend a lot of time at arcades. Most of my arcade time was either at Chuck E Cheese, this one pizza place that had Pac Man and Space Invaders, and bowling alleys when we got bored of bowling but the adults were still at it.

Reyan Ali was able to get lots of interviews and notes to really transport me back to 1992 and all the ups and downs involved in the production of the cabinet. Ali also does a good job explaining things so that anyone who was either too young or not around to experience NBA Jam can understand the video game and arcade landscape in the 90s.

This is one of the better Boss Fight Books (they’ve almost all been great, but this is in the top tier) and I recommend it to anyone who’s into game, but especially anyone with fond memories of NBA Jam.

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Review: Cook It in Your Dutch Oven: 150 Foolproof Recipes Tailor-Made for Your Kitchen’s Most Versatile Pot

Cook It in Your Dutch Oven: 150 Foolproof Recipes Tailor-Made for Your Kitchen's Most Versatile PotCook It in Your Dutch Oven: 150 Foolproof Recipes Tailor-Made for Your Kitchen’s Most Versatile Pot by America’s Test Kitchen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some pretty awesome recipes that I can’t wait to try and one I’ve already tried. While not as full of photos as their Illustrated line of cookcooks, it’s still got a lot of great photos to showcase what your finished dishes should look like. It’s also got the signature America’s Test Kitchen recipes that tell you why the recipe works as well as where they’ve taken shortcuts that make it easier to cook without sacrificing on taste.

They’ve got dishes for every season and occasion, but I can’t wait to try their braises this winter as that’s one category of dishes I haven’t yet gained much experience with.

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Review: Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 129

Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 129 (Clarkesworld Magazine, #129)Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 129 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think the only story I wasn’t into was “Neptune’s Trident”. Otherwise, a top-notch issue. Especially liked the non-fiction essays this time around.

My thoughts on each story (a slightly wordier version of my status updates where character limits kept me from expressing it all)

Fool’s Cap: I was *so* sure I’d guessed the reveal, but the author got me. There were a couple subtle clues of what the ending would end up being, but I was already too committed to the one I thought was coming.

My Dear, Like the Sky and Stars and Sun: Awesome world. Probably the first feminist post-cyberpunk story I’ve come across. I like how the author hints at what Elspeth’s role is and how it gradually becomes more and more apparent. I would love to see more in this world. The story was both dark and beautiful and definitely sets up a potential for more. “They didn’t want us dabbling in mod’r science, getting the idea we can do things on our own.” – Is our author a Corey Doctorow protoge? Or is the movement spreading?

Neptune’s Trident: Some kind of global tradegy has happened, but in living memory. We follow a character who remembers how it used to be and is making do in the current world. Then the story shifts to the backstory how things ended up this way, ping ponging back and forth to the present. Very sad, but very powerful.

The Ways Out: Best analogy is a world in which there are mutants, but they never form The X-Men. They’re surveiled to see if they need to be contained (and maybe killed?). Told through reports of the government person tasked to surveil them. There’s a great meta-story there, but don’t want to give it away.

An Account of the Sky Whales (translated): A man goes to another planet to retrieve something. Things go horribly awry. A good SF story that helps us see truths about ourselves, by placing the story in the future where the distance helps the truths not hurt as much. A great adventure story.

Human Error: A miner working on an asteroid in the wake of some personal tragedy for her workmates. This story would make a great episode of a thriller anthology series. Perfect setting for it and a great story for it as well.

The Waiting Stars: Story weaves back and forth between two space-faring civilizations. One of those stories where the ships are not controlled by machine AI, but some kind of human-consciousness transfer. Seems to be a colonialism metaphor. So well set up that I only guessed at the twist a couple paragraphs before the reveal. Definitely want more in this universe.

Non-Fiction:

How to Injure Characters without Killing Them: This essay reminds me of how I feel about technology stuff since that’s both my hobby and my career field. Talks about injuries that characters suffer that should lead to their death or hospitalization, but which most authors have them dust off. In particular: unconsciousness, blood loss, and wound management. ‘The brain is a complex organ, but most importantly, it is what is known as a “beat-to-beat” organ. It has no way of storing energy, no way of storing oxygen, and its survival and function are dependent on each beat of the heart.’

Astounding Scientists and Alternate History: A Conversation with Gregory Benford: A conversation with a SF writer who is also a scientist about his novel in which the A-bomb is developed a year earlier and dropped on Germany.

Another Word: The Depths of Sci-Fi Funk in the 70s: Wow, I had NO IDEA how much Sci-Fi Funk there was! Also, all the bands and their links to Afrofuturism.

Editor’s Desk: Recharding my batteries: Neil Clarke talks about how he takes a break from his touring schedule.

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Review: Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 128

Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 128 (Clarkesworld Magazine, #128)Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 128 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After last month’s reveal of James Tiptree, Jr as a pseudonym, pretty funny to have a story of “his” in this issue! Overall another great issue. I think my favorite universes were from “We Who Live in the Heart” and “Running the Snake”.

Here’s what I thought of each story (a slightly more wordy version of my status updates):

Streams and Mountains: I knew immediately what the reveal would be from the clue they find to the location the story takes place in. But then the author takes that and goes off in a directions I NEVER would have guessed. Great story!

We Who Live in the Heart: A story about a group of humans who live within some floating creatures on another planet. A neat world the author has created and a fun meditation on why humans congregate in the groups they do. I’d love to see more of this world.

Baroness: A crew explores a distressed sub. A trope we’ve seen a million times in SF, but done very differently. I like both the changes to the trope the author makes as well as the way the story is used to explore ideas of emigration, acceptance, and adapting to your new home.

The Person who saw Cetus: In contrast to last month’s Chinese short story, this one (apart from a couple odd turns of phrase) does not seem to have anything inherently Chinese about it. And this is one of the great aspects of reading SFF from other cultures – at times it’s heavily influenced and other times it’s about something so fundamentally human, that culture doesn’t enter into it. This one involves a woman trying to come to terms with her neuro-atypical father and their interactions as she grew up.

Running the Snake: There are a couple of potential anachronisms that make it so I’m unsure if this is a story that takes place during the days of the Roman Empire or in an alternate Earth where the Roman and Celtic empires lasted into modern times. Either way, it takes place in the realm of Boudicca of the Celts when they’re in a Britain that abuts the Roman Empire. Starts off as a fun story about a confidence scheme, but becomes a fun detective story. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to spend more time in this world.

The Man Who Walked Home: The end of this section reveals it was published in the 1970s. It certainly has that feel – similar to George RR Martin’s old SF back before he started on the path of ASOIAF. It’s almost more a mystery and sociology story than SF, again like some of GRRM’s old SF short stories. I tend to enjoy these types SF stories where it’s almost less a story and more a wikipedia entry about how the world changes in the face of the disaster that opens the story. (Well, minus the opening italicized text which makes no sense until late in the story). It was, indeed, an enjoyable story and I liked seeing where the author took it.

Non-Fiction

Cut, Fold, and Conquer the Universe: Apparently there’s a whole world out there of people who create paper models of SFF things like Star Trek space ships. I had no idea!

Fallen Angels and Water Dragons: A Conversation with Aliette de Bodard: An interview about a book series that takes place in 19th century Paris.

Another word: The Elizabeth Effect: How being an SF fan affects the way you see the world. How regular folks engage in multiple timeline thinking all the time.

Editor’s Desk: Talks about teaching and helping those who are behind you on the career path.

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Review: Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural HistoryBreasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was depressing as hell. I added it to my To Read list 5 or so years ago when I heard about it on Fresh Air. Don’t get me wrong, the author has an entertaining style. There were lots of chuckles as I read various witty things she said. It’s just that the core thesis of the book – or at least the thread that seemed to tie everything together – was that the modern world was screwing over everyone with breasts, men included.

And that’s where things got depressing. More or less everything has endocrine disruptor chemicals that come off of it – from car seats to plastics to various medicines. The chemical companies have so much money that regulators in the USA aren’t doing anything. And when they *do* as that a chemical be changed – like the bromine (or some other element) based flame-proofing – the chemical they pick to replace it is just as bad.

Also, there’s the fact that I’ve grown a lot as a reader of non-fiction and I’m a lot more wary of these scientifically proscriptive books. The problem is not that I’m conspiracy-minded or that I don’t want my mind changed. It’s that I’ve seen too much quackery peddled as science that I’m not sure how much this book should freak me out about about my daughters’ and wive’s potential health issues. A lot of animal studies don’t end up to mean much when transferred to humans. On the other hand, we have a long history (lead in paint/gas, medicines given to pregnant women, cigarettes, etc) where we’re told that things are OK and they aren’t.

So I think my frustration comes from a mix of being powerless against rich corporations and not knowing how much of what’s in this book is valid science.

My favorite chapters were about the evolution of breasts (both in terms of animal evolution and culturally/socially) and how a lot of what science believed (believes?) about them have been greatly colored by societal and moral beliefs.

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Review: Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 127

Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 127 (Clarkesworld Magazine, #127)Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 127 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is, as per usual, a great issue of Clarkesworld Magazine. Once again Clarke’s affinity for bringing Chinese SF to the fore gives us a great, fun story in The Robot who liked to tell tall tales. The non-fiction section also has some really great essays that made me think while also being entertaining.

As I do with short story collections, here’s a set of per-story mini-reviews:

Conglomerate: I’ve read LOTS of interstellar colonization stories and I think is is the most unique one I’ve ever read; doesn’t rely on any of the usual tropes. Not only is the colonization done in a unique way, but the ultimate arc of the story is also unexpected and somewhat beautiful.

Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus: I heard this somewhere – perhaps it was also featured on Escapepod. It is another interesting look at how we define intelligence and whether that is true or arrogant. It ends somewhat abruptly and I would love to have a novella examine this world.

Left of Bang: Preemptive Self-Actualization for Autonomous Systems: The title sounds like some of the talks I’ve been to at various technical conventions. Most chilling quote: “It plays well to the board. They like it when it looks like the movies.” A very disturbing story about creating the perfect military/police robot.

Sunwake, in the Lands of Teeth: A world in which wolves became the sentient species. It takes a bit for the phrases and titles to make sense. But once it does, it’s pretty great. As the story continues, it all works together as a plausible society. My guess, based on the continued animalistic behaviors and phrases, is that this would be equivalent not to homo sapiens, but maybe an earlier iteration of humans where many of the primate behaviors remained important signifiers.

The Robot who liked to tell tall tales: Heh, I wonder what Chinese word translates to rapscallion! An incredibly fantastical tale that takes many twists and turns. I could never tell where it was going – all my tropes were useless. There’s definitely a Chinese/Indian (perhaps stemming from Buddhism) aspect to portions of the story which make for an interesting contrast to American Tall Tales while at the same time containing some similarities which come from the Tall Tale story-type. Also the mix of the Tall Tale ideas with a society with robots was very neat.

Thing and Sick: A great SF thriller set at an Antarctic research station right as they’re about to go into 6 months of darkness. It was pretty darned scary although the story structure does give away what happens to the protagonists at the end, chronologically.

Ancient Engines: Perfect to have first been printed in Asimov’s because it has a very old-school feel to it. There isn’t really a plot, just a lot of dialogue. Then a great twist. I love that old SF story type.

Non-Fiction:

Narrative Perception: A Study in Interspecies Stimuli: I really hope some authors and screenwriters read this and come up with some awesome ideas of alien species interacting with us or each other.

Enlightenment Voices and Norse A Capella: A Conversation with Ada Palmer: “…which is why our sanitation victory of cholera resulted in a disastrous increate in polio” – wait, what?!? I want more details! An awesome discussion about the Terra Ignota series that I now want to read!

Another Word: Being James Tiptree, Jr: A fascinating essay on a female SF writer who wrote very successfully as James Tiptree Jr. It takes a few unexpected turns, making it a very worthwile essay.

Editor’s Desk: It’s Real?: Neil Clarke talks about transitioning to editing full time.

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Review: Make: Bluetooth: Mobile Phone, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi Projects with Ble

Make: Bluetooth: Mobile Phone, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi Projects with BleMake: Bluetooth: Mobile Phone, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi Projects with Ble by Alasdair Allan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book was fine. The projects in here didn’t draw me in as much as some of the other Make electronic books I’ve recently read. I think it’s because most of them were a bit less useful in my house given the need to satisfy the wife aesthetically.

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Review: Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)

Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I typically read 1-3 fiction books at once (depends on whether I’m caught up on my podcasts and listening to an audiobook), going back and forth between books I already own (say from Humble Bundle or Story Bundle) and books I have to buy. I don’t usually have to worry about getting confused about the plots or anything because the books are pretty different. Somehow, this time I ended up reading two supernatural detective books at the same time – this one and Dan Shambles #5. Not only that, but both books had cases involving multiple types of werewolves. The only deleterious effect is that I kept forgetting that Dresden is in Chicago instead of New Orleans.

Generally, it’s a bit hard to talk about a detective novel without spoiling anything so this’ll be pretty short. It’s been a bit since I read the first Dresden book so I kept forgetting some of what he we referring to as having happened six months ago, but I overall remembered enough about how the magic worked and how the main characters worked with each other. Butcher does a good job of reminding readers of the important details they need. We evolve each of our characters a bit and you can see that Butcher is charting out the growth arc that Dresden is going to have as well as setting up a big bad that might encompass the whole series. (As in Buffy where each episode more or less stood on its own, but each season told a coherent story as a whole with one Big Bad having been orchestrating all the shenanigans) While I wasn’t able to puzzle out the mystery before Dresden spelled it out, I felt like all the clues were there and Butcher didn’t cheat. I also thought Butcher did a great job of not making Dresden a Marty Stu or anything.

Highly recommended for anyone who likes Urban Fantasy and detective novels – it’s not really necessary to have read the first one to jump in here.

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Review: Working Stiff (Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. #5)

Working Stiff (Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. #5)Working Stiff by Kevin J. Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The world of Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. is a fun world full of dad jokes and groan-worthy puns. The author doesn’t take himself too seriously and so it’s easy to have fun and roll with it rather than end up rolling your eyes at it. This collection of Dan Shamble short stories does a good job of introducing, and then having fun with, the regular cast of characters. If you like your noir/hard-boiled detective novels with a bit of camp, this is for you. Here’s what I thought of each of the stories within:

Stakeout at the Vampire Circus – I was able to figure out the case, but that doesn’t make it a bad detective story. It shows that Anderson wasn’t cheating. Also, it was a pretty fun cast of characters.

Road Kill – this one was quite a bit of fun. Looks like Mr. Anderson has a good time filling out the details of his world

Naughty and Nice – Santa hires Dan Chambeaux to discover who stole his naught/nice list. Sometimes the best way to be subversive with a detective story is to be direct. Not bad.

Locked Room – Dan and his partner are hired to test a room that’s meant to be inescapable by the undead. The solution is a little bit of a cheat, but still plausible.

The Writing on the Wall – Not too hard to figure out the main case. The fun part was trying to figure out how the two fit together.

Role Model – McGoo and Chambeaux attend a Cosplay Convetion where things go awry. I was able to partially solve it ahead of time, but there were a good number of fakeouts. Also learned that within the world of Working Stiff there are Dan Shamble stories similar to the ones I am reading.

Beware of Dog – The culprits were incredibly easy to guess, but still a BIG twist reveal at the end. Very entertaining.

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Review: Morning Star (Red Rising Saga, #3)

Morning Star (Red Rising Saga, #3)Morning Star by Pierce Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This initial Red Rising Trilogy is a little like the original Matrix Trilogy (if you haven’t heard, there’s apparently a fourth in the works). The first one was a triumphant, mostly fun story. At the end, our protagonists haven’t 100% won, but you could imagine it happening. Then the second one just crushed all that hope and made you feel dumb for believing in the narrative of the good guys always winning. Finally, the third entry in the story keeps that crapsack worldview and manages another, less satisfying ending.

There’s a weird tension for me with books. Obviously, there needs to be conflict for most books to work. The stakes need to be real. How often do we complain about characters having plot armor or being Mary/Marty Stus? Thus it’s revolutionary when GRRM (and even crazier with HBO and their promotional material) off Ned Stark. But, at the same time, I read my fiction books for escape. Shoot, even with non-fiction I’ve moved away from certain topics when they just reinforce the fact that you can’t do anything if you’re not wealthy and well-connected. (contemporary EG – wife told me yesterday that a woman who lied about her address to get her kid into a good elementary school is getting 5 years in prison while one of the college pay-of-play criminals is getting a few months) So if a book is giving me a nice give/take between the stakes and hopelessness, I tend to try and read whenever I get the chance. This book STARTS bleak and just rolls downhill from there for a LONG, LONG time.

I think Mr. Brown makes good use of it. Darrow is REALLY brought low to make his rise that much more impressive. But Mr. Brown does some things that just kept me putting off the book because of the crapsack nature of the world. And they all have one thing in common – realism. And, you know what? We probably need more realism in our revolutionary narratives. The version of the American Revolution we learn makes it seem to inevitable. Combine that with tons of pop culture narratives of revolutions where the inevitability of the Good Guys winning is prime and you get people calling for revolution any time the political winds aren’t going their way. The Hunger Games trilogy was one of the leading stories on this new trend of “hey guys, revolutions are messy!” and the Red Rising Hexology (I read the synopsis for the next couple books and it looks like it’s at least going to be 2 trilogies long) seems to carry on this tradition. But yeah, Mr. Brown makes all the characters in this book take off their plot armor. And while it makes for a more realistic and more dramatic book, it’s just too much for me right now. The world is garbage enough in real life right now.

So, I guess there’s two points to a review, right? How did I like this book and should the reader of the review read the book? Well, I liked the book well enough. 3/5 stars on GR according to the hover-tip on the stars is “I liked it”. I thought it was a good resolution to a trilogy’s worth of story – even with the Matrix-like similarities. Am I going to keep going? Oh, hell no! Darrow’s been through enough. In my head-canon, the story ends with this book and he’s got enough pain to last him a lifetime while he enjoys what little happiness the Epilogue gives us.

Should you read it? Well, I think it’d be weird for you to have read 2/3 of a trilogy and then stopped. Then again, I don’t Lem (https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/…) books. I slog through and hope the writer will redeem him or herself. Most of the time they do well enough to at least earn 3/5 stars. But if you thought Mr. Brown was too tough on Darrow of Lykos and friends in book 2, then he is no nicer to them in book 3 – stay away!

Well, this has gone on long enough. Time to move on to some SFF Detective novels.

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