Review: The Emperor’s Soul

The Emperor's SoulThe Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book without knowing anything about it other than the fact that it takes place on the same planet as Elantris, Part 1 of 3. I didn’t have the book description as I got it from the Sanderson Humble Bundle and often their ebooks are missing metadata. I’m glad I didn’t know anything about it, because that made the plot, as it unfurled, even more amazing. I was expecting the book to revolve around the magic of the Dor or something related to Elantris, but it was completely separate outside of mentioning a couple cities/regions from Elantris (the book, not the place). In fact, the most recent reading order from the Cosmere subreddit has this book taking place before Elantris. If you want to have as much fun as I did, stop reading this review now and go read the novella.

The postscript has Sanderson explaining where he came up with the idea for SoulStamps – a trip to a Taiwanese museum. But the entire book seemed to me to read as a metaphor for his work as an author. The crafting of the Emperor’s soul and the mechanics behind the magic of the soulstamps seemed to be a commentary on the creation of characters and worlds. The novels I enjoy best have characters that seem real and worlds that seem lived in. This can only happen if the author creates entire histories and backstories that we never know or see, but that influence all the actions and decisions of the characters we’re reading and the world they live in. The conversation between Shai and Gaotana about whether the artist who hired her had a right to have his art destroyed (assuming Shai was being truthful), serves as a great metaphor about the relationship between an author, his artwork, and the audience. Once art is released, who does it belong to? This is the source of the tension between both sides of the Star Wars special release edits and Spielberg’s ET edits – do they have a right to do that? Or do we have a right to the originals? The ones that changed our culture through their consumption by the audience.

I haven’t 100% figured out what this was meant to communicate, but I did love how Shai slowly, slowly made her room into one of the best rooms in the palace.

Additionally, it was a very fun book and I really enjoy cerebral books where characters have to reason their way through the plot. In this case, Shai trying to figure her way out of captivity before her death.

View all my reviews

Review: The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories

The Kissing Booth Girl and Other StoriesThe Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories by A.C. Wise
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this book in Storybundle’s LGBT+ Bundle and the title and description of this book are what got me to pick up the entire bundle. I didn’t even realize I already knew A.C. Wise’s work from its appearance in Clarkesworld Magazine. As I mentioned during a couple of the status updates, Wise seems to be a thematic protege of Philip K Dick. A lot of her short stories involve unreliable narrators who often aren’t sure if they’re dreaming or remembering things correctly or even being honest with themselves. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve come across unreliable narrators, but with how intimately Ms. Wise writes her characters it’s even more jarring not to know how much of the story is “real” and how much is not even real to the narrator. It really does put the reader into the position of TRULY being in someone’s head, with all its messiness; a strong contrast to other books that are written from a 1st Person POV but are very clear-headed.

As usual with anthologies, here’s the status update I wrote for each story:

“The Poet’s Child” – While it’s not the kind of story I like (it’s like 100% metaphor), it is still pretty powerful and could stand in for the power of naming things, alzheimer’s, or simply refusing to speak about the tension between two people.

“Juliet & Juliet (te)” – A fantastical journey through a relationship kindled in an unlikely place.

“And if the body…” – A neat SF story that did more for my understanding of body dismorphism than any non-fiction account I’ve ever read

“The Pornographer’s Assistant” – A steampunk story about how important fiction can be if you don’t fit in.

“For the removal…” – My absolute favorite story so far. Sorry Quirky and great although I’m not sure what it has to do with the theme of the anthology

“Evidence of things…” – A steampunk WWII story. Very emotional.

“Evidence of things unseen” – reads like erotic fiction written by Philip K Dick

“Sisters of the…” – a clever story, one I might share with my oldest when she’s maybe 8 or 9.

“The kissing booth girl” – the titular story, the one that convinced me to buy the bundle. It was worth it. A bit of steampunk and a world that begs more exploration. I’d like to see the further adventures of Beni.

“Final girl theory” – I didn’t like this one, but it is neat seeing the narrator change through the story

“The astronaut…” – another dream logic like story where the rest isn’t sure if there’s magic at play, an unreliable narrator or both. This anthology is definitely get PKD with less drugs

“The last survivor of the great sexbot revolution” – I first came across this story in a 2013 episode of the Clarkesworld podcast. Enjoyed it then and now. Fits in well with the other themes of this anthology about unreliable memories.

“After Midnight…” – I thought I’d seen every retelling, but Cinderella as noir, incorporating the crazy stuff from the original version is a great read.

“It’s the end of the world…” – this captures the way the end of high school better than anything else I’ve ever read or seen on film. Really transported me. Also great fun. I’d love an anthology season of all these short stories on a TV show.

View all my reviews

Review: The Final Empire

The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, that felt like reading a JRPG – in fact there are some (very, very loose) alignments with the plot of Final Fantasy VI. But what I really mean by that is the fact that Sanderson’s Allomancy ends up reading like the mana draws one has to undertake in those games. Although the different metals vice just one mana source can also draw parallels to the magic system in The Witcher (game, not books – I haven’t read the books). There are three things that made me love this book and push it into 5-star territory: tight plotting, a comprehensive magic system, and a great heist plot with memorable characters.

First the plotting, of all the books I’ve read recently, only GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire books seem to have this level of tight plotting where everything is on the page for a reason, even if you don’t kow it yet. And my younger brother, who’s finished the first trilogy, says that the series as a whole is an even greater accomplishment of plotting. (SO EXCITED to continue!) Pretty much everything in this book is foreshadowing, even if you don’t know it. The chapter-opening quotes, the magic system, and the little tidbits you learn about the different characters all add up in a way that shows to you that Sanderson didn’t cheat anywhere. There isn’t anything that crops up out of nowhere. That’s a delight and also one of the things I enjoyed in Sanderson’s Warbreaker.

Second, sometimes I can get lost in a popcorn-fantasy book. The magic system is loosey-goosey and sometimes acts as a deux ex machina. We all have fun and we don’t think about it too much. But more often than not, a magic system that isn’t well thought out can really pull me out of a story. Similar to how a lot of plots don’t work in a world with cell phones (leading movie writers to come up with contrived reasons for them not to work), it can be frustrating to have magic without limits and yet not a perfect world. But Sanderson gives you magic with limits. In the Mistborn world it involves ingesting of metals and an entire economy revolving around this (including a key bunch of plot points). Not only do the metals run out as they’re used, but using too much at once has consequences to the user. This means that we can enjoy our characters’ superhuman feats, but also recognize there’s a timer – like running out of Mario’s star ability right as you run straight into a goomba. Yes, there are some elements of a chosen one, but that’s also a trope that Sanderson is playing with quite a bit in this story so it’s not as bothersome as it has been in other narratives. Additionally, the magic in this book is mostly based around physics and that leads to the need for characters to THINK about how they use their powers, again, making it a more fun romp than a traditional magic story.

Finally, there are the characters. There can be good stories without great characters as was often the case in Golden Age science fiction. But great characters can take a story over the edge – especially when you’re doing a heist plot. The main chunk of this book is like Ocean’s Eleven in a fantasy, early industrial setting. What makes those kinds of plots fun is the characterizations of all the experts that have to come together to pull off the heist. Vin is the story’s main character, but there are others who are also fleshed out as the story goes on, even getting POV chapters or paragraphs. Sanderson both makes use of archetypes and also deconstructs and reconstructs some tropes around these archetypes to good use for the story, suspense, and plot twists. Vin and (view spoiler) see the most character growth and while I’m sure a cynical reader could poke holes in their characterizations, they grow pretty realistically based on what happens in the story and their growth is rewarding.

Very highly recommend, even if you are not the typical fantasy person. This is much more of an urban fantasy that might take place in a Victorian England-type setting and the people with powers move around the world the same way you do when playing Assassin’s Creed. It really is a lot of fun.

View all my reviews

Review: Superman: The Unauthorized Biography

Superman: The Unauthorized BiographySuperman: The Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I already knew almost all of this; well, the outline, anyway. I’ve been reading comics on and off for three decades and ever since discovering sites like Comic Vine and reading Grant Morrison’s Supergods, it’s been easy to learn about plots and trends that took place when I wasn’t reading. (Or even before I was born) In fact, it’s almost requesite when reading Grant Morrison’s comic work if you want to understand all the references. And for the way that I and my infrequent collaborators on write, it’s important to understand the history of the characters or writers. But what Waldon provides is a great sense of context for all the trends in Superman’s history. He provides a through-line that shows how the trends that have buffeted Superman have swung pendulously. He also emphasizes the true essence of Superman and that any deviations from that essence are when changes go too far and end up rejected for they leave us with a hero that is Superman in name only.

My personal history with comics was definitely more in the Marvel pool. When I first started while in Elementary school, Marvel was just more appealing to me. I had seen reruns of the old Fleisher Superman cartoons and I was an avid fan of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animate Series. But I didn’t get into DC comics until just before the New 52 via Gotham City Sirens and Scott Snyder’s Detectic Comics run. (During this time I also discovered and became a HUGE fan of Image Comics via Saga, Chew, and others) Then it was New52 which eventually grew stale with me. (I will credit Dr Chrisy Blanch’s MOOC with introducing me to the original Seigel and Schuster conception of Superman and contrasting it with Mark Waid’s Birthright origin story) So Waldon’s book definitely provided me with lots of details I wasn’t familiar with and really made me appreciate the persistence of the hero often derided as the Blue Boyscout.

Whether, like me, you’re a comic fan or you just know Superman via his presence in American (and, probably, world) culture – Waldon’s decade-by-decade history of Superman will provide you with insights into why he has survived so long.

PS Thanks to my younger brother, Daniel, for gifting me this book for my birthday a couple year ago.

View all my reviews

Review: Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus

Frankenstein: Or the Modern PrometheusFrankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I finally read Frankenstein. Coupled with Dracula a few years ago, I’ve now read both famous monster books. Even moreso than with Dracula, the book was a far cry from the popular conception of Frankenstein.

Things that are completely different:
-the monster is not created in a castle in a town of villagers -> it’s done in a college dorm
-therefore no pitchforks and no Frankenstein defending his monster -> he regrets bringing him to life immediately after doing so
-there is no Igor -> Frankenstein keeps the secret of the monster to himself for the entire book
-the monster doesn’t roar or speak in caveman-speak -> he speaks more eloquently than anyone you know today

And probably some other things I forgot.

You know how you hear that books are a product of their times? That’s why Holden Caufield just seems like a spoiled brat or why Huck Finn’s always using the n-word. Well, boy-howdy is Frankenstein a product of its time.

Ways in which it’s super Victorian:
-the language among fellows rings to my modern ears as if Shelley is writing Yaoi fiction.
-Frankenstein gets super sick every time he’s stress -to the point where he spends 3 or 4 chunks of the book unconscious
-Frankenstein creates the monster and then perceives him to be such a hideous monstrosity that he just wishes for him to go away
-Seriously, though – even as the monster murders people and people die being accused of murders the monster committed, Frankenstein just keeps wishing the monster will go away and leave him alone
-Everyone’s cool and encouraging about Frankenstein marrying his cousin who he grew up with as if she were his sister
-Everyone’s always writing letters to each other – in fact, the entire book is technically a letter from someone (not-Frankenstein) to his sister

Should you read it? I don’t know. There are many, including GR friends who’s literary opinions I respect who couldn’t get through the book. It’s paced VERY differently from what you’re expecting both because of how big Frankenstein is in pop culture and because of how Victorian the book is. It IS the first modern science fiction book, which is neat. And it was written by a woman — an untested author at that — which is also neat. I enjoyed it, but I’m not insisting that everyone should read it. So, there you go, a bit lukewarm, but that’s the book in a nutshell. (And I’m glad I read it as part of the Sword and Laser’s January pick)

View all my reviews

Review: Mad Tinker’s Daughter

Mad Tinker's Daughter (Mad Tinker Chronicles, #1)Mad Tinker’s Daughter by J.S. Morin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another book I got via a bundle (either Humble Bundle or, more likely Story Bundle), not because I’m a pre-existing fan of Mr. Morin. This book continues in a universe Mr. Morin created, but starts a new series that that does not seem to require any knowledge of the prior one. He takes great advantage of the world of technology and has links at the beginning of the book to a web page that explains the key tenets of his universe.

This universe has people called “twinborn” who essentially share one consciousness in two bodies. Each of those bodies is in another dimension of the same planet. At least in this book, both versions of the planet have the exact same geography, but have different histories. In this book, one world seems like a steampunk version of an Earth-like planet. The other world is steampunk plus something akin to magic and the humans are slaves to a race of alien-human hybrids. (If those who relate the history are not unreliable narrators) We mostly follow Rynn/Madlin, the titular Mad Tinker’s Daughter. The interesting thing, given the title, is that we spend more time with the Rynn body and then Madlin one and Madline is the Mad Tinker’s Daughter.

Morin does a good job telling the story with the twinborn concept. The twinborn can remember things from one body to the other and can use that as a method of passing messages – as one example of how he uses this. He creates compelling characters and anyone looking for a strong female character will not be disappointed; Rynn/Madlin is a real hoot who doesn’t take crap from anyone. He also wonderfully fills in the details of the human slave world and it feels like a lived-in universe.

If you’re looking for steampunk that isn’t just in Europe or a European-like world, this one definitely pushes the boundaries of the genre in good ways.

View all my reviews

eBook Metadata

Clarkesworld Magazine has wonderful metadata for their issues and anthologies that requires little work from me:

Clarkesworld Magazine - great metadata
Clarkesworld Magazine – great metadata

Tor books had an awesome DRM-free policy that I love and that allows me to go to the ebook vendor of my choice. And they give away a free book every month as long as you agree to get some marketing emails from them. But their metadata is not so great:

Bad Metadata from Tor
Bad Metadata from Tor

Come on, Tor! You publish Science Fiction! Let’s get some better metadata on those ebook files!

2017 in Books

There there 3 big trends in my reading in 2017: 1) I decided that my new policy for making sure I got to all the books I was buying in Humble Bundles and Storybundles (and, therefore, not just wasting my money on a “good deal”), was that every time my To-Read list would get to its end, I would start with the earliest book I’d added to Calibre and then work my way up, adding at least one book from each bundle or Project Gutenberg raid. This is why I ended up reading books like Hunt at the Well of Eternity and Black Mercury. 2) I read a LOT of cookbooks. A couple years ago I got into serious BBQing and grilling rather than simply throwing some burgers on the grill on Memorial Day and Independence Day. This year I got into indoor cooking. It started with making bread in a dutch oven and just cascaded into me making 1-2 of our family’s meals per week (on average). 3) I started series I’d been hearing about or discovered via Humble Bundles. This includes getting sucked into Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere universe of books via Humble Bundle, starting GRRM et al’s Wild Cardsseries, and finally starting The Expanse. I’ve also continued my trend of reading multiple books at once. This has the side effect of keeping me interested in reading as I don’t get trapped  by a boring book.

I usually list the books I read and link to their reviews on this blog, but that’s rather tedious and I’m rather short on time (as you might have seen on my post on video games in 2017) so I’m just going to list the books  and if you’re really interested in my review you can use the search function on this site with the title of the book.

  1. The Emperor’s Agent
  2. Hanzai Japan
  3. Tampa
  4. Starship Troopers
  5. Absolute Power: Tales of Queer Villainy
  6. The Forever War
  7. The Girl with All the Gifts
  8. Singular Irregularity
  9. Pretties
  10. Dynamite Art of Alex Ross
  11. Angel’s Ink
  12. Augie and the Green Knight
  13. Hunt at the Well of Eternity
  14. Massively Multiplayer
  15. Black Mercury
  16. The Machine God
  17. Big Pulp Fall 2011
  18. The Making of Prince of Persia
  19. Clipping Through
  20. The LEGO adventure book
  21. To Sue the World
  22. Whiskey and Water
  23. Lightspeed Magazine March 2013
  24. You are Not so Smart
  25. The Handmaid’s Tale
  26. The Trinity Paradox
  27. Warbreaker Audiobook Part 1
  28. Pay Me, Bug!
  29. Solid State
  30. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
  31. Warbreaker Audiobook Part 2
  32. Put this in your Brain
  33. Warbreaker Audiobook Part 3
  34. Uncanny Magazine Nov/Dec 2014
  35. Elantris Audiobook Part 1
  36. Battle Royale Slam Book
  37. Elantris Audiobook Part 2
  38. The Camelot Shadow
  39. Infomacracy
  40. The Hope of Elantris
  41. Elantris Audiobook Part3
  42. Clarkesworld Magazine #124
  43. Wild Cards
  44. Station Breaker
  45. Orbital
  46. The Holy Bible abridged beyond the point of usefulness
  47. Science abridged beyond the point of usefulness
  48. The Lives of Tao
  49. Race for the Iron Throne
  50. Meathead
  51. Buying Time
  52. The Bloodline Feud
  53. Golden Son
  54. Weber Charcoal Grilling
  55. The Mongoliad
  56. Masters of Doom
  57. Raichlen’s BURGERS!
  58. Raichlen’s BBQ Sauces
  59. Weber Big Book of Burgers
  60. Sandman Slim
  61. Cook it in Cast Iron
  62. Project Smoke
  63. To Pixar and Beyond
  64. Milk Street: The New Home Cooking
  65. Leviathan Wakes
  66. Specials
  67. Truckers
  68. ODY-C
  69. Eden M51
  70. Paul Ryan Magazine
  71. Lumiere
  72. Big Pulp Winter 2011
  73. Chew Vol 1
  74. Chew Vol 2
  75. Chew Vol 3
  76. Dead Witch Walking
  77. Cook’s Illustrated 2016 Annual

Review: Dead Witch Walking

Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows, #1)Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got the book as a part of a bundle, and I’ll say that the cover (same as the one currently associated with the book on Goodreads – a red-head in a backless top and black pants) kept me away from the book for a while. It seemed it might not be up my alley. Interestingly, the cover is a counter-example to the Trope “Covers always Lie” (mostly attributable to comic book covers). It is essentially a depiction of the opening scene of the novel.

Just what is this novel? It takes place in an alternate Earth in which the existence of fantasy humanoids – witches, vampires, werewolves, pixies, and fairies – is common knowledge after an incident that took place in the 1960s. Geographically, it takes place in Cincinnati, Ohio. There is essentially a human side of town and an Inderlander (the fantasy creatures) side of town. Our main character works for the Inderlander version of the FBI when the novel starts. The meat of the story is both setting up this universe for the sequels and our protagonist’s quest to find the evidence necessary to bring in a mob boss who is careful to maintain a legitimate front. It’s a fun cop plot with all the usual tropes coated in urban fantasy paint.

As usual with fantasy or urban fantasy, a lot of the fun comes from learning the rules that govern the fantasy world of THIS book. Ms. Harrison has taken the trope of vampirism as metaphor for sexuality to 11 with this world. A lot of vampire rituals involve sexual acts and vamps essentially glamor their victims into lusting after then. Additionally, a lot of that can feedback on itself where the more a vamp gets in the mood, the more they make the human in the mood and on and on. Some of the scenes involving a vamp are among the most sensual I’ve read in 2017.

I’m not hooked on the characters and the settings. With all the sequel-laden books I have on my list, I don’t think I’m going to continue in this world. It’s a fun one and Ms. Harrison does a good job taking us on a fun, sexy journey. But I’m drowning in books to read, so a series has to have just that right hook to keep me going.

View all my reviews

Review: Chew, Vol. 3: Just Desserts

Chew, Vol. 3: Just DessertsChew, Vol. 3: Just Desserts by John Layman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finally got the last hardcover book and I can read Chew in its entirety. I’ve only read the first five trades. After that the anticipation was driving me nuts, so I resolved to wait until the series was done to read it all in one shot. That’s what I’ve just started this week. In the end, I’ll have a massive review of the series. Today entry #3.

In 2011:
It seems that, to round off the first 1/4 of the planned 60 issues of Chew, the author has chosen to bring together all the plots from the previous issues. We see the return of many characters including the awesome Poyo. And the cliff-hanger at the end of issue 15 is even a callback to something from the first book. I think this series continues to impress with its twists and turns. And the humor continues to be great. All these books should be in your library.


In 2017:

A good interstitial trade. It continues to pay off dividends on plots started in the first book while setting up plots that will be important in the upcoming trades. At the same time it is a return to the police-work and keeps the series from going off the rails too early.

View all my reviews

Review: Chew, Vol. 2: International Flavor

Chew, Vol. 2: International FlavorChew, Vol. 2: International Flavor by John Layman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finally got the last hardcover book and I can read Chew in its entirety. I’ve only read the first five trades. After that the anticipation was driving me nuts, so I resolved to wait until the series was done to read it all in one shot. That’s what I’ve just started this week. In the end, I’ll have a massive review of the series. Today entry #2.
2011 review:
Chew: International Flavor # 1 – Chew: International Flavor
This book is just as great as the first one. We take a bit of a pause from what I believe to be the main storyline – the reason Mason left. Still, there are plot threads from the first book that get some more play in this book. So it’s not ignoring continuity at all, but it is definitely taking its time to get to resolution.

A large portion of this book takes place on a Micronesian Island that has a plant that tastes just like chicken. Tony goes on a trip to see what that plant is and how it’s connected to an early case. We also get to see his new partner.

Overall, the same humor continues from before and the art style continues to work perfectly with the writing. The art does tend to impossibly busty women, but I feel that it helps to convey the crazy exaggerated feel of the book and isn’t exploitative. I definitely can’t wait to get to the next book.

Interestingly, I wrote almost the exact same stuff in my notes. The only thing I’d add is that it’s funny I had no idea how big of a role Poyo would eventually play.

View all my reviews

Review: Chew, Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice

Chew, Vol. 1: Taster's ChoiceChew, Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice by John Layman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finally got the last hardcover book and I can read Chew in its entirety. I’ve only read the first five trades. After that the anticipation was driving me nuts, so I resolved to wait until the series was done to read it all in one shot. That’s what I’ve just started this week. In the end, I’ll have a massive review of the series.

I first read this book in 2011, but I guess I wasn’t writing reviews on goodreads back then. However I did find my review on my blog. Here’s the original 2011 review (2017 review below):

When my younger brother explained the premise of ‘Chew’ to me, I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. This guy can see memories of whatever he eats. So eating is a real pain for him because he feels the slaughter. He tastes the fertilizer used on the plant. How could anyone ever make a comic out of that? And it’d won awards? WTF?

Then he told me about how Tony Chu worked for the FDA and that they were essentially like the FBI in this comic world. And, after the bird flu, chicken was banned in the US and it had become like alcohol in the 1920s. My interest was piqued. Then he brought the comic over to my house. I really dug the art style. It looks similar to a style that the Penny Arcade guys have used from time to time.

He left me the first three graphic novels to read. After finishing the first one, I have to say that you NEED to read this. This book is a dose of creativity that’s missing from the mainstream comics. Don’t get me wrong – I’m reading and loving a bunch of typical super hero stories by the big two publishers – but we need a lot more amazingly creative ideas like Chew if we want to keep the comic book industry alive.

I don’t think it’s printed anywhere on the outside of the book, so just a fair warning that this is essentially an organized crime story. There are guns, blood, and crazy violence. There is profanity. This book is not for the dainty or for young children.


2017 review:
The first time I read this I was in WTF mode. Going back and reading this, Layman’s comedic timing is pretty incredible. The pacing and punchlines are great, even when it’s less of a surprise than it was the first time around. I also like the way Layman doles out the cibo-powers. One of my faves for this book is the hospital reveal. With knowledge of only the first five trades, it’s also interesting how much foreshadowing Layman packs into the first book. I don’t think I even gave the frogs all over the one scene much thought.

View all my reviews

Review: Big Pulp: Interrogate My Heart Instead

Big Pulp: Interrogate My Heart InsteadBig Pulp: Interrogate My Heart Instead by Bill Olver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As per usual for anthologies, a collection of my status updates:

“Interrogate my Heart Instead” – an interrogation in a fascist regime that goes to some interesting places because of its brevity and the look inside the interrogator’s head.

“What Blooms in Winter” – HOLY MOLY! Now, that’s a poem.

“Double Prints” – BAM. Raw, raw poetry!

“Tears in the River” – Some kind of deal with devil for guitar playing skills in the 40s in Germany. Very interesting tone, scenery, and characters.

“The Cinnamon Forest” – a very cute fairytale. Brought me back to my childhood days of hearing European fairytales.

“Gregory finds his way” – That was pretty trippy.

“Voice of the Witch” – Ha, a poem about Hansel and Gretel.

“The Daimyo’s Harigata” – I had no idea what a harigata was before reading this. I did a google define search and…well. Let’s just say that the author puts this to good use in a plot I didn’t see coming at all. It’s also full of great dark humor.

“A Thug Like Me” – a great story; worth of neo-pulp status. I really, really enjoyed it. Every bit, including the slight 4th wall breakage near the end.

“Watching You” – fun poem

“Woman in White” – Another great example of neo-pulp. Very dark & tailored to the base senses. Also, good, surprise ending.

“Beauty and the Punchline” – mystery that’s also somewhat urban fantasy? At least that’s what I think from the ending. Despite the weird ending that I’m not 100% sure about, I think the reveal is pretty good and only just barely saw it coming at the last minute.

“The Battle of Hutchinson’s Crossroads” – that was such a great ending. And so good at showing the emotion of war.

“In the nick of Mime” – a pretty funny take on the spy thriller short story.

“Daddy’s Little Girl” – a neat story about a paparazzi and his mark. It didn’t go where I thought it would, but I’m glad. It was a good story.

A series of gruesome poems

“Last of the Irish Rover” – a sailor’s tale

“Murder Knife” – a creepy story told in a reverse chronology.

“Knock-Knock” – Pretty hilarious deconstruction and reconstruction of the Christian afterlife

“Meat Bag” – That was a surprise given the title. Somewhat scary considering it’s something that could truly happen. But scary in the sense that humanity can be all about the money sometimes instead of compassion.

“Influx Capacitor” – Hilarious take on time travel paradox

Some funny poems

“Live today, forget tomorrow” – super short story, but GREAT twist!

“Saturday Station” – neat dystopian story

View all my reviews

Review: Lumière

Lumière (The Illumination Paradox, #1)Lumière by Jacqueline Garlick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #71 for 2017 was this gem I’d overlooked on previous trawls through Calibre to select which book I’d read next. I’d have to check Calibre later to check my tags, but I’m pretty sure I got this book from one of the Storybundles – maybe Steampunk or maybe Alternate History. Either one works given what we learn of the world throughout the book. This is a long-winded way of saying that I didn’t choose this book on its own merits, I own it because it was part of a bundle I found interesting.

I’m no Steampunk know-it-all, I’m just a fan of the genre. But what I like about Lumière is that the steampunk elements are window dressing rather than the main focus. Compare it to the difference between a movie with 3D as a gimmick vs using 3D as an element of the storytelling or simply to add depth. Lumière is an example of the latter. Yes, there is an inexplicable device at the center of this plot, but it’s neither a MacGuffin nor does it dominate the story. Outside of that, there are a few devices used here and there, but it’s mostly a Victorian society with some tech that straddles steampunk and magic. It’s almost Urban Steampunk Fantasy if things aren’t being called magic by unreliable narrators.

So, if it’s not a story for tech’s sake or a caper (as many steampunk novels seem to be), what is it? Well, it’s mostly a character study with hints of romanticism and also using the Victorian setting to comment on both feminism and superstition. Let’s take these one at a time, even if this review is going to end up getting a bit rambly.

While I love the things Ms. Garlick does differently than most Steampunk novels, I also enjoy one thing she does that seems to be a staple of steampunk – have a female protagonist. (Well, to be accurate, somewhere around the midpoint it becomes a multiple point of view novel in which one of the POVs is a male) I don’t know why this segment of SF ends up so female-centric vs traditional SF, but I think it’s a good thing. We need more females – especially written by women. There is a different tone to things – thought processes, gaze (as in male gaze or female gaze), pacing, and of course the way love/sex/attraction is treated. Of course, men can succeed at this and women can succeed at the exact opposite, but there’s just something about writing what you know that tends to work out better. And, as a male-bodied person, it’s always refreshing for me to see things from a different point of view. And I could be completely speaking out of turn, but I think it’s this female-writer influence that strongly affected the way the one bit of female/female conflict plays out.

Sticking with Eyelet, our main character, I also enjoyed a rising trend I’ve noticed in indie SF and fantasy – including a protagonist who isn’t neurotypical. I’ve noticed a lot more autistic or spectrum heroes recently. Eyelet isn’t autistic, but she does suffer from seizures. Of course, in a Victorian society women are more vulnerable than now (although with all the news recently you wonder, don’t you?) because they are legally second-class citizens. Eyelet, as brilliant women have done in the real world, struggles against this and the view of women as too weak for strenuous work and thought and then has to deal with something that seems to prove she’s too weak that she has no control over. Additionally, it obviously puts her at greater bodily harm risk both sexually (which I don’t remember being in this book – again probably because it’s not written by a guy) but also from passing out at the wrong time – which is something she deals with as the plot needs. Of course, it’s also worse for her as Ms. Garlick explores the issues with science giving way to superstition and a somewhat accurate explanation of what we used to do to people who had disabilities even if they were disabilities that allowed them to function well in society most of the time. Victorians through to the modern period finding people deathly afraid of shame.

As a character study based on POV chapters, most of Eyelet and Ulrick’s (the guy) growth comes from the fact that they had imperfect knowledge surrounding their circumstances. So they force each other to grow as they literally take each other out of their figurative cocoons. (Eyelet from her city and Ulrick from his fortress-home) Ulrick had two paths available to him as a disfigured outcast – to become the most macho-est of machos or withdrawn. Ms. Garlick goes with withdrawn. This leads to fun moments as Ms. Garlick plays with the trope of “OH MY GOD YOU SHOWED AN ANKLE!” that makes fun of our nudity taboos by pointing out how strict they were back then. That they are both outcasts makes the subplot between them a fun bit of tension that you can see somewhat reflected in my status updates rather than a boring cliche. Speaking of breaking cliches, I love that (view spoiler)

The growth of the main characters was great as well as necessary. Because the one and only complaint I have is that the book doesn’t end the plot. Yes, something major happens, but it’s not like The Matrix (first movie) or The Hunger Games that tells a complete story. Yes, there’s more to be done – hence the trilogies – but you could read the first book, stop, and be happy. This book 100% ends with a wink at the audience (ALMOST literally) that the characters will be back. I know, I know – we haven’t gone 100% digital yet so books have to be a certain length to fit in people’s hands. But I think a trilogy should expand on an already completed story, not exist simply because it would be absurd to have a 1000 page book. (Tell that to GRRM) Anyway, my gripe is over. It was a great story of character growth and that was good enough.

Anyway, there’s a lot left unexplored at the end. If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that’s not enough by itself to guarantee I’ll come back. I won’t DNF a book because I have to see how the book ends, but I feel no such compulsion against series. When it comes to The Illumination Paradox ……. I CAN’T WAIT TO READ THE NEXT TWO. I’ll have to wait because I have a long TBR list, but I have added the books to my to read list and will probably be getting to them in a few months. (Unless the Winds of Winter comes out)

I’m probably forgetting some stuff I wanted to comment on, but that’s what the comments section of Goodreads (and my blog when this ends up there) are for.

View all my reviews

Review: Paul Ryan

Paul RyanPaul Ryan by James Folta
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

disclaimer: I was in the Kickstarter for this

I was excited about this project because we need a laugh from politics now. Also, it was going to be style parodies of various magazines. But, I forgot something – humor is very subjective. And so I often found myself wondering when I was going to finally finish this blasted thing. Just as with my biggest criticism of SNL for the past decade or so – the smaller articles tended to work best. The longer ones just stretched what was usually a pretty thin joke even thinner.

This is the first creative thing I’ve kickstarted where I wish I’d just saved my money. Oh well.

View all my reviews