Reviews: The Future is Japanese: Science Fiction Futures and Brand New Fantasies from and about Japan; Cibola Burn; Edgedancer; Sixth of the Dusk; The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone; The Churn; Altered America: Steampunk Stories; Dungeon Hacks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video Games; Nemesis Games; Legion

The Future is Japanese: Science Fiction Futures and Brand New Fantasies from and about JapanThe Future is Japanese: Science Fiction Futures and Brand New Fantasies from and about Japan by Masumi Washington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another anthology. As usual, I’ve included my status updates with some spelling fixes. Overall it was a very uneven collection in terms of what I enjoyed. The stories all seemed to run hot or cold for me with nothing lukewarm.

Mono no Aware – a story about a generation ship, identity, and the world just before the end. I think I heard this on Clarkesworld Magazine’s podcast. It was still moving to read because I had forgotten the details.

The sound of breaking up – this story takes a sharp right angle. WOW. Where will it end up….great ending to that time travel story

Chitai… – I have no idea what that ending meant

The indiference engine – a haunting tale of NGOs doing what they think is best regardless of the info on the ground. The SF aspects really bring the message home

Sea of trees -a scary ghost story that takes place in a suicide forest in Japan

Endoastronomy – boy do I hate that story. I have no idea what the eff was going on and it didn’t even have an explanatory punchline.

In Plain Site – having tons of fun with this detective story – way more than the previous one. Didn’t like the ending, but leading up to it was fun

Golden Bread – A pilot accidentally crash-lands onto an asteroid. Interesting that the author has switched the cultures of the people involved in the story relative to how it is now. Finally, all the incongruity makes sense with the final reveal

One breath, one stroke – a lovely, whimsical tale of a house on the boundary between the human and non-human world. Great prose.

Whale Meat – it’s a touching story of an estranged father and daughter, but I’m not sure how it fits with the overall SF/fatasy theme of the book.

Mountain people, ocean people” – interesting twist to the story. Very ambiguous ending

Goddess of Mercy – this story seems horrifically more likely now than it did when written. the journalist had a strange was of speaking. But the story wound up pretty neat, even if it had the non-ending they many of the duties in this anthology do.

Autogenic Dreaming – a strange story that reminds me somewhat of that Jasper Fforde series. So it’s about Google under a different name. Still not sure I 100% understand what’s going on.

View all my reviews Cibola Burn (The Expanse, #4)Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this one more than the last one, but I think it’s simply because this one had POV characters that I liked more. It had a lot more Holden, who has actually learned a thing or two over the course of the last three books. It had Havelock who we hadn’t seen since Miller sent him off of Ceres before things went SNAFU there. And we had Elvi, who was a fun, nerdy character. And, while the plot of book 3 made a lot of sense – why wouldn’t Mao family members take revenge on Holden? In the real world, people who caused the financial crisis didn’t understand why people hated them. So why wouldn’t the Mao family see themselves as victims? – it just felt like maybe it should have been a novella because a lot of the climax for that book was stalled. This one had a much better flow with lots of peaks and valleys in the story. The heroes would succeed only to find another setback, ad nauseum, but realistically considering what they were doing – colonizing a new planet. I was also happy we advanced the alien storyline a bit more. I also thought a return to a sociopathic antagonist just seems to work so well against Holden.

But the capper – the thing that almost had me give this four stars (too bad there aren’t half-stars), was the epilogue. James S.A. Corey are very good about following the consequences – economic and political – of the events in their books. So the bookending of the book with Bobbie and having Christjen tell her just how screwed humanity has become was chilling. I’m antsy to get to the next book, but I’m taking a break to read some of the books that I’ve bought over the years via bundles and sales. Also, I’m already spending a lot to get caught up to Sanderson’s Cosmere, so I’m trying to spread out my book expenditures a bit.

View all my reviews Edgedancer (The Stormlight Archive, #2.5)Edgedancer by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Throughout the course of the interludes in the main series, I’ve grown to really enjoy Lift. This whole novella reads like some crazy anime. Her interaction with Wyndle also reminds me of my favorite Cosmere pairing of Lightsong and Llarimar. There’s something about the long-suffering buddy that is just so much fun to read. Sanderson imbues his cities with rich cultures so it was fun to see this city, made up of open-air tunnels and people who love trading for information.

Worth reading? Well, in addition to Life or if (as one of my employees who’s reading the Cosmere says) you don’t like Lift, it does forward the stories of Nalan, Szeth, and Nightblade.

Also, this is why Lift is so much fun:
“… [Lift] summoned Wyndle in the shape of a large, shimmering, silvery fork. A Shardfork, if you would.”

View all my reviews Sixth of the DuskSixth of the Dusk by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ll start by saying that I can’t decide if The Ones Above are people from Scadrial in Mistborn Era 4 (space-faring), people like Hoid (however they get around), or (view spoiler).

It’s interesting that I ended up reading this story and The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone at the same time. They both take place during the Victorian Era of exploration where people with technology exploit those without. While The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone is from the usual European perspective (although Ms Trafalger is a nice exception), this book is from the perspective of the less technological culture. Sixth (we learn part-way through the book the title is the name of the main character) is of that less technological culture. However, this is not a first contact story. The main conflict comes from the fact that his way of life is slowly becoming irrelevant as many in his Island chain adopt the new tech and culture. Indeed, contributing to the complexity is the fact that even Sixth has adopted some of the tech where it helps him do his job.

What elevates this story is Sanderson’s ability to create these complex narratives that transcend the usual tropes. Indeed there is a fractal story going on with The Ones Above and the planet that parallels the hegemonic culture and Sixth’s. That and the way that Sanderson thinks up super power for his characters and then finds ways for them to be limited and allow for tension to arise in the story. Let’s just say, there’s a reason for the horrific image that opens up this short story.

View all my reviews The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady BooneThe Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone by Geonn Cannon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What if Indiana Jones was a woman? And British? And gay? Then you’d have Lady Boone. This book sets up an interesting world in the inter-war period (like Indie) although with more fantastical elements like the Uncharted series. I got this book on Story Bundle’s Historical Fantasy Bundle, so I had no idea what to expect. That said, I do enjoy the Victorian Era as a setting and Mr. Cannon creates some pretty compelling characters.

If I have to criticize the book, it’s that it seems like an intentional introduction to a series. It’s heavy on setup and character introductions, but the actual climax and resolution are somewhat disappointing for the setup involved. I have the second book in the series and I’m hoping that with all the setup out of the way, the next book has a more realized plot.

Also, before I get into the spoilers as I discuss what I enjoyed about the characters (saving the rating of this book), I’ll warn for the prudish and/or those considering whether the young ones should be allowed access to the book – there is a sex scene early in the book. It’s get explicit, naming body parts and all that. The rest of the book is actually almost strangely sexless considering that scene early on. Perhaps that’s the reason Lady Boone ends up with her period. Because I found myself wondering early on whether it was Chekov’s Menstruation. On the one hand, good for recognizing something half the population deals with for 1/4 of their life (give or take). On the other hand, 100% of the population pees and poops and we almost never hear of it in books unless it’s important to the plot – eg in Game of Thrones Arya has to pee in the woods while pretending to be a boy. Shoot, even in the last book currently published from A Song of Ice and Fire it’s very important that Dany is having her period for the first time since she was cursed during the ritual to keep Khal Drogo alive results in her abortion. But Lady Boone’s period never matters. Unless it’s meant to be a reason to refrain from future sex in the book? Dunno…

Anyway, spoiler-time! The characters I really enjoyed:
(view spoiler)

View all my reviews The Churn (The Expanse, #0.2)The Churn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Don’t read this until after Cibola Burn or at least Abaddon’s Gate if you want the full effect.

Because this is a novella and because what makes it work is spoilery, almost this entire review will be a spoiler. But before I get to that part:

The Churn offers us a view of Earth on Basic. It is bleak. This was not really directly mentioned during Bobby’s time on Earth during Caliban’s WarCaliban’s War, but it was mentioned by James S.A. Corey during an interview they did for Imaginary Worlds in which they discussed the unrealistic post-scarcity economy of Star Trek. It takes place near me – I’m about 15 minutes out of Baltimore so it was neat to recognize some of the landmarks. It is also a mafia story. That’s one place where The Expanse excels and must be so much fun for James S.A. Corey to write. Each novel is a different genre, but in space and with more advanced tech.

Book 1: Crime Novel/Corporate Thriller
Book 2: Space War
Book 3: First Contact/Revenge Story
Book 4: Colonization

OK, Spoiler time!

(view spoiler)

View all my reviews Altered America: Steampunk StoriesAltered America: Steampunk Stories by Cat Rambo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A reminder that I use the Goodreads definitions of star values and, at the time of writing this, 3 stars is “liked it”.

While I can enjoy a smorgasbord approach to a short story collection, I really appreciate that nearly all the stories in this collection take place in a shared universe. I think Ms. Rambo is a very talented crafter of environments and she creates great premises for her stories. I also like that the stories in this collection explore some characters that are somewhat rare in SFF (although getting more exposure with every passing day) like non-whites, trans folks, and others on the LGBT spectrum. Also, I know steampunk in America is definitely a thing, but I’ve been exposed to so much more British and European steampunk so it was fun to see some American stories.

My only criticism is that many of the stories end somewhat abruptly as though Ms. Rambo suddenly realized she had a character or page limit. After a lot of great build-up, it can just feel like the climax comes and is gone a little too fast. I’d like to read one of her long-form books to see if she fares better there or is afflicted by the same ailment that plagued many of Neal Stephenson‘s early work.

As I do with anthologies, here’s a slightly edited version of my status updates:

“Clockwork Fairies” – While it’s period-accurate, it’s crazy that our main POV character (so far) is attracted to a tinkerer, but at the same time is scared of her holding sufragist and scientific thoughts! Also, bravo on Cat making the heroine mixed race. Ultimately, not just an introduction to Ms Rambo’s steampunk fairy world, but also a great look at gender and race in the Victorian era. It’s crazy how much autonomy single women gave up on marriage back then.

“Rare Pears and Greengages” – This one is much more fairy than Steampunk. I feel like, as usual, it’s assumed that everyone understands how faerie stuff works. Over the past couple years I’ve picked up enough to know it’s probably bad that people are eating fairy fruit and to understand about changelings. But I don’t get the tears thing. I feel like I’m missing so much in this. In the end it’s a story of mothers and how hard it can be to deal with tragedy when you’re a mother.

“Memphis BBQ” – This is a REALLY fun story to read; my favorite story so far. Great tone and the suitor is awesome instead of a jerk. Love to read more from this universe.

“Laurel Laurel where do you roam?” – a tale of a train trip with the background of how Lincoln won the Civil War with necromancers”

“Snakes on a Train” – Another Baltimore to Seattle train trip with a necromancer. This time bodyguards are a Jewish mind-reader and an automaton. I surprised by the ending. Good job, Rambo

“Doctor Rapacini’s Crow” – scary story about how the war injured are turned into cyborgs and sent back to war until their bodies or minds are too broken to go on. The trans reveal makes sense with the time period. One of my undergrad electives studied this phenomenon and it was actually quite common back before SSNs.

“Her Windowed Eyes, Her Windowed Heart” – back to Artemus the automaton and his partner, Elspeth the psychic. This time the story is from his point of view. Neat ending. I want a longform Pinkerton story.

“web of blood and iron” – very fun caper involving betting with vampires, but I’m not sure I enjoyed the ending

“Ticktock Girl” – a neat combo of steampunk and superhero genre during the suffragette era.”

“Seven Angels…Pin” – the best retelling of Sleeping Beauty I’ve ever read.”

View all my reviews Dungeon Hacks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video GamesDungeon Hacks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video Games by David L. Craddock
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got this book as part of a Humble Bundle. I chose to listen to it because Dan (one of my younger brothers) had roped me into Rogue-likes via FTL and Spelunky! The book was a fun, quick read of the history of these games. Two things were fascinating to me about the events of the book. One is remembering how primitive early computers were and how long it took them to get anywhere close to modern. This, of course, led to creativity in how to create games when disk space, RAM, or processing power were extremely limited. What was more fascinating to me was to see that the legacy of Rogue, Rogue-likes, and Rogue-like-likes was not just in modern games like Vertical Drop Hero, Diablo, FTL, and Spelunky! Lots of these games are still actively developed! While my fondness for many of the modern Rogue-likes demonstrates that I’m not a slave to graphics or music, it was interesting to read that as late as 2012 there were people actively developing (and playing) the original games developed in the 70s and 80s – or at least the most recent releases of those old games.

View all my reviews Nemesis Games (The Expanse, #5)Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book in The Expanse that doesn’t end neatly. At the end, there’s still A LOT that’s unresolved. In some ways, this book is about the non-Holden Rocinante crew getting their own POV chapters. Along with that, we get a little more insight into their pasts and how they think. But, really, this book is about Naomi. She’s always been (to me) the most enigmatic member of the Rocinante and I feel as though the information we learn about her past goes a long way towards explaining a lot of that and some of her actions with and towards Jim Holden.

The book also left me divided in my opinions about it. On the one hand, this is the best suspenseful writing thus far for James S.A. Corey. Starting somewhere around 30 or 40ish percent I didn’t want to stop reading. Starting somewhere around 50% the book just kept spinning to an ever higher climax. And that was a lot of fun. But as the middle book of the series, Corey was done finally having the Roci’s missions tie up into a neat bow. This book felt more the way the second book in a trilogy often feels. The battle was concluded, but the war remains. (Both literally and figuratively)

As usual I appreciated Corey’s ability to deconstruct and reconstruct tropes. Naomi’s is a very well-worn trope about returning to something you thought you left behind forever. But Corey strikes a nice balance in which (view spoiler)

As intrigued as I am to continue and spoiled in that nearly the entire series is out and I don’t have to wait that much – I’m going to take a short break from the world of The Expanse to decompress.

View all my reviews Legion (Legion, #1)Legion by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was too short to talk about while avoiding spoilers. So consider yourself warned – and I’ve triggered Goodreads’ “Hide Entire review because of spoilers”.

This is the first non-Cosmere Brandon Sanderson book I’ve read and it’s interesting. He builds up an interesting character in Stephen Leeds – a character that seems to be insane. And yet, his different personalities each provide him with different skills. I’m not too familiar with Marvel’s Legion (Prof X’s son who shares a similar name and a somewhat similar set of powers), but it’s too bad it already has a show because this character (Leeds) seems like he would lend himself to a weekly crime procedural.

Like a traditional noir pulp story, the clues are all there, but the twist at the end – it’s the flash, not the camera – was still done well enough that while I didn’t predict it, it didn’t seem to come out of nowhere.

It’s interesting that Sanderson has set this character in a short story trilogy (how common is that idea?) and I’ll be curious to see what we learn about Legion and his powers as we go through the trilogy.

I’ve got the next one already and the last one comes out later this year. Not too much more to say here, but maybe as the trilogy progresses I’ll have more to say.

View all my reviews

Reviews: The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon – The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World; Food Processor Perfection: 75 Amazing Ways to Use the Most Powerful Tool in Your Kitchen; Planet Barbecue!: 309 Recipes, 60 Countries; Prepare to Meet Thy Doom: And More True Gaming Stories; Abaddon’s Gate; Damnation Alley ; The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl; The Perfect Cookie: Your Ultimate Guide to Foolproof Cookies, Brownies, and Bars; Words of Radiance

The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon - The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the WorldThe Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon – The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World by Steven L. Kent
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very comprehensive look at the history of video games going way, way back. I’m familiar with a lot of the main points from having read lots of industry histories. Where this one excels is in going to the smallest of details and talks about a lot of the personalities and more obscure companies involved. So even if you already know a lot about video games history, if you’re interested, you’ll end up learning things you most likely didn’t know. Most importantly it is stuffed with first-hand quotes from interviews and other published material.

If I had to give this book one fault, it’s that the details get slimmer as it gets closer to modern times. On the one hand, this makes sense – there are still people under NDA and who don’t want to burn bridges. On the other hand it makes less sense – in our current information-rich world a lot of the details are out there. Best way to drive this home is to mention what happened as I neared the edge of this book. I listen to a podcast on the Wondery network called Business Wars. They’re currently doing a series called Nintendo vs Sony which started off with the fated CD-ROM system they were supposed to make together. I’ve known the most general outlines of that story for years now. But Business Wars has revealed lots of new information about the conflict. A few episodes in, the focus shifted to the Sega Saturn vs the Sony Playstation. They mentioned the Sony team breaking open the Saturn to see that they could compete against Sega on price because Sega was achieving their specs via throwing lots and lots of chips at the problem. None of this was mentioned in the book. It could be because the details weren’t available when the book came out? The book ends with the Xbox about to come out. But after all the details that the book had up to the 8-bit era, it feels a bit thin at the end.

Oh, and one more thing I remembered as I wrote the next paragraph – it merely glosses over computer gaming. That makes sense in that the computer industry had a LOT more companies and so it’s a harder story to tell narratively. Just reading the book about DOOM and Id software or reading the Prince of Persia diaries shows how complex that world was. Perhaps a companion book by Mr. Kent?

Other than that criticism it was a neat examination of how we got to where we did via the four phases: research at universities, pinball and arcade, pre-80s crash consoles, and post-80s crash consoles.

View all my reviews Food Processor Perfection: 75 Amazing Ways to Use the Most Powerful Tool in Your KitchenFood Processor Perfection: 75 Amazing Ways to Use the Most Powerful Tool in Your Kitchen by America’s Test Kitchen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve got a few of America’s Test Kitchen’s specialty books: cast iron, bread, cookies, mexican, and maybe another. This one is the one that could most just be a web page with tips. It’s beautifully written and has great color photographs of various aspects of the cooking. But the techniques involved are pretty easy and the resulting recipes are pretty easy so I got something out of it, but not as much as some of their other books.

I still think they should have cook/prep times standard in their books instead of only in some of them. It’s not impossibly hard math to try and estimate based on cooking times, but, since this is a prep-heavy book, those times are bound to be way off. (As happened to me the time I made a mole sauce from one of their recipes and the time to prep the ingredients took half of the total cooking time and left me eating very late)

View all my reviews Planet Barbecue!: 309 Recipes, 60 CountriesPlanet Barbecue!: 309 Recipes, 60 Countries by Steven Raichlen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A survey of grilling, BBQing, and smoking around the world. Not as much for beginners as Meathead’s book because Raichlen goes by the old style of BBQ where you get vague temperature ranges like “medium” vs a temperature reading or range. That said, it’s pretty exciting to add foods to my grilling and BBQ repertoire that are outside the usual American BBQ and grill.

Also, includes my favorite part about Raichlen’s writing style – each recipe comes with a story about the food or the chef who taught it to him. This can add a bit more to the recipe than just some ingredients and instructions. It’s also what I really like about the America’s Test Kitchen style. This book expands on that by having little sections that focus on various countries and chefs in depth (1-2 pages).

I recommend it to anyone who’s already mastered pork shoulder, baby back ribs, and burgers and longs for more.

View all my reviews Prepare to Meet Thy Doom: And More True Gaming StoriesPrepare to Meet Thy Doom: And More True Gaming Stories by David Kushner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a collection of essays by the guy who wrote Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture. It starts off with what could be an epilogue to a new edition of that book. It then proceeds through various video game stories.

The biggest takeaway of this book is how big fads can just as quickly disappear. For example his stories about Neopets and Second Life. The last chunk of the book is mostly about Rockstar – it’s so funny how worked up people got about their games. And now, either I’m just not in the same circles as the pearl clutchers, or it’s just not that big a deal anymore. I think it’s finally become clear that a huge chunk of us playing games are in our 30s and 40s and should have access to any media we darn well please. And when it comes to kids – until there’s conclusive research that it doesn’t jack up kids who weren’t already on that path, it’s no different than parents deciding their ids can watch rated R movies. As someone makes clear in the article (and which no one seems to get on TV to mention during these scandals) the games sell millions and like 2-5 kids murder people. Clearly, it’s on those kids, not the games or this would be a Purge Planet every time one of those games came out.

Anyway, the essays are well-written and it’s a near time capsule of gaming trends in the early 2000s.

View all my reviews Abaddon's Gate (The Expanse, #3)Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again, the duo who make up James SA Corey have knocked one out of the park. The protomolecule has gone to the next evolution and, of course, humans have to be there to screw things up. The teeniest of spoilers: Not having Chrisjen Avasarala and Bobbie the Martian Marine are what rob this story from being a 5-star story to me. I love their POVs so much. That said, the crew of the Roci are back at it again. JSAC do a good job of making it plausible why Holden and crew would be anywhere near the protomolecule. It could have stretched too far, but they make it work. They also do a good job of setting up a potential reason for them to be there next time, too.

The main antagonist this time around is somewhat familiar, but once again, I think JSAC do a good job of making the character very realistic. In fact, outside of some characters having plot armor (but not necessarily all the ones you think would), people act and situations evolve in a relatively realistic manner. We also finally get the story of the creators of the protomolecule and it’s a pretty great one. Yeah, the story has echoes of the story in Mass Effect, but that’s simply a matter of tropes doing what tropes do.

I don’t know (because I’ve stayed away from any materials that would potentially spoil) if JSAC intends for the story of The Expanse to be 3 trilogies, but things wrap up pretty well here. If you decided to choose this as a stopping point, you’d have a pretty satisfying story witha beginning, middle, and an end. The setup at the end of this story seems to suggest a new era in the story of our solar system.

I continue to be happy that I began this series.

View all my reviews Damnation AlleyDamnation Alley by Roger Zelazny
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is 100% perfect as an illustration of a story being about the journey and not the destination. Zelazny creates a world in which a nuclear war has created a nightmarish, hellish landscape with enormous creatures. Hell Tanner has to cross this wasteland to make a delivery. (view spoiler)

View all my reviews The Improbable Rise of Singularity GirlThe Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl by Bryce C. Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a great example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover…or title. I got it as part of a Storybundle deal and passed it over a few times. It just didn’t quite feel like something I would enjoy. BOY WAS I WRONG! For me, this book was everything that Ready Player One was not. In fact, I’d say that TIRoSG was more like Mel Brooks early parodies while RPO was more like the Scary Movie and its ilk type of parodies. RPO seemed content to say, “Look, a reference for late Gen X/Early Millenials!” While TIRoSG tells a great, mostly unique story while paying homage to that which came before it. Some of those are overt – the author calls out Pratchett early on. Others are more implicit like the writing style (similar to early Neal Stephenson) or later cyberpunk elements that recall Gibson while not (to my knowledge) aping it. (The last chapter also recalls stories by Asimov and Clarke) The language of the characters and the parodies of I haz cheezeburgers type things are minimal enough that I don’t think it’ll end up dating the book in the future.

So it had the write writing style and tone. It was also a great story of personal growth of the characters, including many of the side characters. Many of the tech changes that the world goes through seem even more likely today than they did when the book was first written. Like more and more fiction is starting to realize – we’re slowly being automated out of jobs without the world of plenty envisioned by Star Trek. On my way back home from a trip (during which I was reading this book on the plane) I wanted to pre-order some Olive Garden takeout since we’d cleaned out the fridge before our trip. The phone call reminded me twice at least (maybe 3 times) that I could cut a human out of the loop by using the web to order. And stores are trying to get more aggressive about both self-checkout and RFID-based walkouts. Also, the eventual political story is SO much more plausible today that it’s scary! Like I wanted to stop reading because I could see it happening for real.

There are only two things that kept it from 5 stars for me. The book is divided into parts 1 and 2, but I think it might have made more sense to divide it into more parts. Because I kept getting to what seemed like narrative dead ends, but knew I had a lot more book to go. But the following chapter would spring in a completely new direction. So just for a bit more cohesion. The other thing was the latter 1/4 (I didn’t actually measure, but it seems to be about this much) of the book that involved a lot of cyber battles. Anderson was probably just paying homage to cyberpunk books and movies which, themselves, were paying homage to the metaphorical fights that Professor X would have on the thought planes with villains. (Or like Inception symbolizing the safe to contain secret information) But given the two entities that were battling, it seemed…like the metaphor wouldn’t truly make sense given what they were doing to each other. Maybe I was just too tired, but I kept falling out of the story in the last few chapters because of it.

That said, I thought it was well-told with engaging characters. Also, the story works very well and the ending makes sense, even if it is slightly early Stephenson-esque. If you like the narrative style of Douglas Adams or early Stephenson and enjoy SF, you’ll have a good time with this one.

View all my reviews The Perfect Cookie: Your Ultimate Guide to Foolproof Cookies, Brownies, and BarsThe Perfect Cookie: Your Ultimate Guide to Foolproof Cookies, Brownies, and Bars by America’s Test Kitchen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve already made 4 of these cookies and, as you would expect from America’s test kitchen, these are the best versions of those cookies I’ve ever made. (Or eaten)

View all my reviews Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, #2)Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I had to reduce this chapter of The Stormlight Archive to one sentence that describes the thesis: Everyone in Words of Radiance believes he or she is working for a righteous cause and, therefore, the ends justify the means. This ethos guides Kaladdin, Amaram, Dalinar, Sadeas, The Ghostbloods, the Parshendi, Jasnah, Szeth, and even Shallan. I think the difference between heroes and villains in this part of the story is between those who are willing to grow and look for a way better way to achieve their goals and those who remain fanatical.

We continue to learn more about the history of Roshar and why things aren’t as “magical” as they once were. I’m used to reading trilogies, but this first arc is a quintology and so it makes sense that the story does not move as quickly as a second volume might in a trilogy. And I hear from others that Oathbringer may be a bit of a slog – again because there’s yet another book after that before we get to our first climax and resolution. So while a lot of this book has the feeling of setting up the chess pieces, Sanderson still packs in plenty of character growth and inter-book climaxes. While book 1 gave us Kal’s backstory, this one slowly reveals Shallan’s. And while the FINAL reveal was telegraphed a mile away, that was a brutal story to read. Oh man! When she’s finally able to hit Kal over the head with it after he keeps acting like she’s a spoiled brat, Sanderson makes her win feel very earned. Also, finally Sanderson takes Checkov’s Drawing Abilities off the Mantle. I was wondering during the whole of book 1 why Sanderson gave her this amazing drawing power for no reason. Yeah, she uses it to see the Eldritch Abominations that it’s revealed/implied also haunt Elhokar, but I thought it was lacking use for how much he focused on it. Speaking of which, I really love Shallan’s witty retorts. Her scenes courting a certain someone are great and her back and forth with Kal is also great. (Although as I tweeted – and was agreed upon by the owner of Sanderson Army – I anti-ship Shallan and Kal. All the tropes seemed to be pointing to her falling for him instead of her betrothed and that would have been so hackneyed!) And it was fun how Sanderson made Pattern’s rise to sentience completely different from Syl’s. I also think Sanderson does an excellent job of conveying a sense of sympathy from the other side of the war.

The book has a lot to say on the idea of gods and what humanity does with powers granted to it. I think we may get more insight into that in the next book or two. I do like the system Sanderson has set up where oaths really mean something. So often they’re treated flippantly in the real world. Although, on the flip side we have Szeth taking his oaths perhaps a bit TOO seriously. And so, while it’s not unique in fantasy, Sanderson finds a way to make it his own.

As with the last review, here are things that I noticed are Sanderson Cosmere tropes that appeared in the Stormlight Archives:

Magic revolving around what an object considers itself to be (eg Shallan and the Boat in this book, The forging of art and other objects in The Emperor’s Soul)\\

Witty girl at Court (Shallan, princessses in Warbreaker and Elantris)

Animal Life changed somehow (other than Shinovar, most animals like we would expect are considered mythological; Nalthis in Mistborn Trilogy 1)

***

Well, after this I have a couple handfuls of Cosmere books/stories remaining:

Edgedancer
Sixth of Dusk
Oathbringer
Mistborn: Wax/Wayne Trilogy
Allomancer Jack
Shadows for Silence
Mistborn: Secret History
White Sands Vol 2
Arcanum Unbounded – whatever extra material wasn’t in the short stories and novellas I’ve already read by this point.

That’s the order I intend to tackle them in and then I’ll be done. But, given my pace, I believe Wax/Wayne four (or at least Mistborn Era 2 book 4) should be out by then.

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Last.fm 2018 listening trends

Partway through the year Spotify broke at work and, shortly after, Youtube Music appeared along with (likely) rumors that Google Music will be nixed in favor of Youtube Music. So I finally followed through on the work necessary to get Ampache up and running. I also experimented with Funk Whale – an open source attempt to resurrect Groove Shark. Funk Whale had some issues with the version of Firefox we have at work, so I went all-in on Ampache. It’s been really awesome to have access to my entire music collection at work. Hearing my favorite music just gives me such a pick-me-up when the day is wearing at me. Also, it’s great not to have ads interrupting my music listening.

Concert-wise, I went to see I Fight Dragons late in the year and discovered Rare Candy, a group that does rock covers of video game music. I thought about going to see Childish Gambino, but it just didn’t work out with the timing of some personal stuff.  

Artists

A lot of the usual subjects are back, but listening to all my music on random at work via Ampache led to a general concentration of those artists who have produced more tracks.

1. The Beatles (260 listens)

2. I Fight Dragons (190 listens)

3. The PDX Broadsides (177 listens)

4. Lionize (156 listens) – in one exception to the random music listening, I often find that listening to Lionize (particularly Nuclear Soul) can really energize me at work, so sometimes I’ll just put the album on.

5. Childish Gambino (150 listens)

6. Jonathan Coulton (139 listens)

7. Chance the Rapper (126 listens)

8. Cast – Elena of Avalor (123 listens) – Most of these listens come from very early in the year when Scarlett or Stella would ask me to play this album while in the car.

9. Celia Cruz (111 listens)

10. Five Iron Frenzy (111 listens)

11. Janelle Monáe (97 listens) – I really, really think that Dirty Computer is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard.

12. Lana Del Rey (93 listens)

13. Willy Chirino (87 listens)

14. Jim Guthrie (80 listens)

15. Relient K (78 listens)

16. “Weird Al” Yankovic (74 listens)

17. Marian Call (63 listens)

18. Taylor Swift (57 listens)

19. Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers (56 listens) – Both this artist and Juan Luis Guerra are surprise entries. I just got these CDs for Christmas a couple weeks ago. But I listen to my music so often on random that just listening to a new CD 4-5 times is enough to make the list.

20. Juan Luis Guerra 4.40 (53  listens)

Albums

1. Lionize — Nuclear Soul (131 listens)

2. Childish Gambino — “Awaken, My Love!” (130 listens) – probably my second favorite album in 2018 after Dirty Computer. (Even if I ended up listening to other albums more during this year)

3. Cast – Elena of Avalor — Elena of Avalor (Original Soundtrack) (128 listens)

4. Chance the Rapper — Coloring Book (101 listens)

5. Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer (97 listens)

6. Jonathan Coulton — Solid State (92 listens)

7. The PDX Broadsides — Trust Issues (73 listens)

8. Lana Del Rey — Lust for Life (62 listens)

9. Celia Cruz — The Absolute Collection Disc 1 (60 listens)

10. Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers — “The Long‐Awaited Album” (56 listens)

11. Juan Luis Guerra 4.40 — AsondeGuerra (53 listens)

12. Marian Call — Standing Stones (49 listens)

13. Taylor Swift — reputation (49 listens)

14. Louis Jordan — The Best Of Louis Jordan (47 listens)

15. Brooklynn — Brooklynn (44 listens)

16. Noriko Ogawa — Debussy – 100 Supreme Classical Masterpieces: Rise of the Masters (43 listens)

17. The Beatles — Abbey Road (40 listens)

18. I Fight Dragons — The Near Future (39 listens)

19. Rare Candy — Finally (39 listens)

20. The Beatles — The Beatles (39  listens)

Songs

1. Brooklynn — Mile High (44 listens)

2. The Roots — Water (34 listens)

3. Renee Rosnes — Elephant Dust (31 listens)

4. Paul & Storm — Mother’s Day Song (On-Air Version) (29 listens)

5. Childish Gambino — Me and Your Mama (20 listens)

6. Piers Faccini — Bring Down The Wall (19 listens)

7. Chance the Rapper — Blessings (17 listens)

8. Childish Gambino — Have Some Love (15 listens)

9. Lionize — Election Year (15 listens)

10. Childish Gambino — Baby Boy (14 listens)

11. Childish Gambino — Boogieman (14 listens)

12. Childish Gambino — Redbone (13 listens)

13. Lionize — Ain’t It A Shame (13 listens)

14. Lionize — Face Of Mars (13 listens)

15. Lionize — March Of The Clones (13  listens)

16. Celia Cruz — Gracia Divina (12 listens)

17. Lionize — Darkest Timeline (12 listens)

18. Lionize — Let You Down (12 listens)

19. Lionize — Nuclear Soul (12 listens)

20. The PDX Broadsides — Rocket Science (12  listens)

All-Time Artists

There was some movement around the middle, but so far the top 7 remain at the top. I Fight Dragons might unseat Fall Out Boy, but it’s hard to know for sure since their new album probably won’t drop until late in the year. Additionally, I’m surprised that DC Talk moved up. I never intentionally pick them to listen to, but I guess they just happened to come up a bit more in random music than Gwen Stefani) I’m not sure what’s going to happen to JoCo unless he comes out with a new album. I like the music, but am mostly limited to playing it at work. FIF might knock Anderlin a peg, but it seems that Fantastic Plastic Machine remains firmly entrenched.

1. Fantastic Plastic Machine (3,650 listens) (no change)

2. Anberlin (2,874 listens) (no change)

3. Five Iron Frenzy (2,857 listens) (no change)

4. The Beatles (2,515 listens) (no change)

5. Relient K (2,016 listens) (No change)

6. “Weird Al” Yankovic (1,634 listens) (no change)

7. Fall Out Boy (1,353 listens) (no change)

8. I Fight Dragons (1,256 listens) (up from #9)

9. Gnarls Barkley (1,122 listens) (dropped from #8)

10. Jonathan Coulton (1,021 listens) (up from #11)

11. DC Talk (926 listens) (up from #12)

12. Gwen Stefani (925 listens) (dropped from #10)

13. Tom Lehrer (917 listens) (no change)

14. Andrea Echeverri (899 listens) (no change)

15. Lostprophets (871 listens) (no change)

All-Time Songs

No real changes.

1. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah — Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood (116 listens)

2. Jonathan Coulton — The Princess Who Saved Herself (112 listens)

3. Fantastic Plastic Machine — Take Me To The Disco [Malibu Mix] (104 listens)

4. Fantastic Plastic Machine — Steppin’ Out (103 listens)

5. Gnarls Barkley — Who Cares (99 listens)

6. Gnarls Barkley — Just a Thought (93 listens)

7. 4minute — Cut it Out (92 listens)

8. Anberlin — Audrey, Start The Revolution! (87 listens)

9. Gnarls Barkley — The Last Time (86 listens)

10. Andrea Echeverri — Quedate (85 listens)

11. Gnarls Barkley — St. Elsewhere (85 listens)

12. Fantastic Plastic Machine — Love Is Psychedelic (84 listens)

13. Gnarls Barkley — Crazy (83 listens)

14. Gnarls Barkley — Smiley Faces (82 listens)

15. Andrea Echeverri — Amortiguador (81 listens)

Scrobbles at end of 2018: 116,104

Scrobbles in 2018: 9555 (A healthy margin over last year’s 7003)

Have you ever found something like this on your grill?

Back in October I went to BBQ and was shocked to see something moving. When I opened the grill all the way, I saw:


Mouse living on my Weber Spirit
Mouse living on my Weber Spirit

Somehow, even with the lid closed and the cover on, the mouse had ripped off bits of my charcoal bag to climb into here and make a nest.


Mouse and fuzzies in my BBQ
Mouse and fuzzies in my BBQ

And it also had babies. I dropped them off in the woods so I could get to grilling some steaks. But I’m still in shock it was able to do so much through a closed, covered grill.

Review: You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing

You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on WritingYou’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you are an aspiring writer, Scalzi tells it like it is and gives you a good feeling for what it might be like to be a modern writer. No writing tips here – that’s for other types of books. This one is about being a writer and making a living.

If you’re not aspiring writer (like me), but you like to nerd out on the industry, then you’ll likely find it fun.

If you like Whatever, Scalzi’s blog, these are simply entries from his blog that have had some editing to form into a cohesive book. I like his style, so I enjoyed the book. He seems to have a vocal group of haters, if you’re in that group you’ll probably hate this book.

Finally, this book contains entries that are >10 years old at this point – 2004-2006. So it’s really funny being in the future and knowing about his current multi-million dollar contract with Tor books while reading entries in which he hopes he can sell more than just Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades.

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Review: White Sand, Volume 1

White Sand, Volume 1 (White Sand, #1)White Sand, Volume 1 by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s very odd reading a Sanderson comic rather than a prose book. So much of what’s great in his books involves the background information and the inner monologues of the characters. That said, it is neat to see a visual representation of his world. There are some setups here that seem easy, but that’s usually not Sanderson’s way. Then again, this was one of his first stories. His intro mentions being inspired by Dune and it’s not hard to see where that fits in with the story thus far. It’ll be interesting to see how this fits in with the rest of the Cosmere. Onto volume 2.

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Review: Neon Noir: A Delilah Street Paranormal Investigator Anthology

Neon Noir: A Delilah Street Paranormal Investigator AnthologyNeon Noir: A Delilah Street Paranormal Investigator Anthology by Carole Nelson Douglas
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book might be for you. It was most assuredly not for me. The world was OK, but three things kept me from enjoying it:

– The reveals or answers to the cases seemed to come out of left field (compare with Sanderson where a reveal or twist makes you realize all the hints that were dropped all along)

– The prose was mostly fine, but then strange turns of phrase would leave me wondering “what’s happening here?”

– The collection of stories in this anthology was weird because often reference was made to events that didn’t happen in any of stories you’d read. So they’d be talking about something key that was affecting the way the characters were relating to each other and you felt as if you’d fallen asleep during the movie.

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Review: The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I want to start off by thanking Tor.com for being DRM-free. It’s great to see a major publisher doing this.

With that out of the way, this was a massive story. It’s quite a different pace from everything I’ve read so far (Elantris and related stories, Warbreaker, Mistborn Era 1 and its Ars Arcanum stories). Mistborn, the previous longest story I’d read, was structured more like a traditional trilogy. The first book was satisfying on its own. The second one was mostly setup and the third one was the climax. With The Stormlight Archive being a 10 book series made up of two five-story arcs, this book was almost entirely setup. That’s not to say there wasn’t character growth, because otherwise it would have been a poor and boring story. Dalinar and Kaladin have quite a bit of growth. Syl surprised me although she’s still a bit to much mystery. Shallan and Szeth have fascinating storylines with insane reveals near the end. All the interludes are full of great characters. But in terms of the story, not too much happens – this is what kept it from being a 5 star book to me.

Minor spoilers: I really enjoyed Shallan and Jasnah as Sanderson uses them to explore both philosophy and religion in ways that are resonant.

Many have called this section of The Cosmere Sanderson’s Magnum Opus in the making and it’s certainly ambitious with the prologue to chapter one jump being 4500 years! At any rate, I made a list of some Sanderson parallels I’ve noticed so far that are mirrored in this book:

(view spoiler)

I’m extremely curious where this series goes and where The Cosmere as a whole goes. It appears that, with the stuff Hoid says, this is the key to The Cosmere. (Unless Sanderson’s saving that for Dragonsteel?) Sanderson continues to impress with great characterization and character growth and has matured in his writing of both men and women. Just don’t read this first because he’s so polished, lots of people have complained on reddit that reading this first makes his other Cosmere work seem dull in comparison.

One last spoiler: (view spoiler)

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Review: The Complete Cook’s Country Magazine 2017

The Complete Cook's Country Magazine 2017The Complete Cook’s Country Magazine 2017 by America’s Test Kitchen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Halfway through 2017 the magazine underwent a visual revamp to modernize the look. I think it works fairly well. What I continue to enjoy about Cook’s Country is the back half which is both educational and contains tailored sections – a recipe for 2, a one pan recipe, slow cooker, etc.

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Food I cooked for the First time in September

In September I tried out four new recipes. The grilled breakfast quesadillas were surprisingly great. An egg is cracked into a ring of cheese and topped with grilled bacon and cilantro. The cauliflower gratin was WAY too rich for just Danielle and I to finish it. But I could see it working well for a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. The carnitas were a great indoor version. Finally, for the first time I grilled a full, in tact fish. My father-in-law had given me some sea bass he caught and I filled it with aromatics and then covered it in more herbs and aromatics after grilling. It was very, very good.


Review: Mega Man 3

Mega Man 3 (Boss Fight Books, #14)Mega Man 3 by Salvatore Pane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As usual for this series, it’s a combination of a history of the game covered and an autobiography of author. Although I never played Megaman 3 (or played very little of it) I did own Megaman 2 and so it was great that the author touched on the entire series and the spinoffs.

A nice hit of nostalgia from another gamer who grew up in the NES era.

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Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One (Ready Player One, #1)Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When it comes to my experience of this book, there are a few things that marred my enjoyment. When I first heard of it and didn’t know all the info about it I did by the time I actually read it, it sounded interesting and I added it to my To-read pile. Problem is, if I bought every book that caught my attention, I’d be broke. So things languish on there there for years. Meanwhile, I buy book bundles from Humble Bundle or Story Bundle (and not all of those or I’d be broke, too) because if they have authors or a theme I’m really interested in, it’s usually about a dollar a book. Both of these combined to make me enjoy this book less. On the former, everyone I know (mostly family) who’d read the book made a big deal about how it was definitely a book for me since it has video games and lots of 80s references. So a bit of over-selling there. Then, from the latter, I ended up with Massively Multiplayer in one of the book bundles. It was actually published a year before Ready Player One and, on a basic level, has the exact same plot. It even has the exact same Moral or Lesson at the end of the story. So when I decided to move Ready Player One to the top of my queue before the movies meant that everyone (not just book readers) would know the plot and it’d be too hard to keep from spoilers, I ended up reading an over-hyped book with a plot that was already stale.

Nowadays, it’s fashionable to poop on Mr. Cline’s writing or the story in general. That always happens to things that get a little too popular. But that’s not what this is. Yes, Cline disappointed me with the Art3mis reveal vs what I said in the status updates. But it’s a competently written YA book. (And that’s commendable. Writing isn’t easy – I’ve tried it and failed quite a bit) It’s just that the 80s stuff that everyone is losing their minds over is just window dressing to a plot that’s not original and that doesn’t have any interesting plot twists. (Again, if I’d read this when it came out instead of after reading Brandon Sanderson‘s awesome fiction with its great twists) It’s a meh story and frankly the mining of the 80s and 90s is getting tiresome. It must work for some people or Hollywod/publishers wouldn’t do it, but I don’t like nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake.

So if you haven’t read it yet and the movie hasn’t spoiled it for you and you haven’t read too much Game-Lit you might find it refreshing and fun. Otherwise, maybe don’t get on the hype train.

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Review: The Complete Cook’s Country Magazine 2016

The Complete Cook's Country Magazine 2016The Complete Cook’s Country Magazine 2016 by America’s Test Kitchen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve already made some recipes from this collection of all the 2016 issues. As usual, the test kitchen rocks. The few I didn’t like were recipes where I was challenging my tastes. The learning, 5 ways, dinner for two, and slow cooker sections are great ways to expand your skills. While I like both this and Cooks Illustrated, I do like that Cooks Country is in color.

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Review: Mistborn Adventure Game

Mistborn Adventure GameMistborn Adventure Game by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not a dice RPG gamer, but I did want to read the short story in here – “The 11th Metal”. It’s a prequel for the first book of the first Mistborn trilogy. That said, it’s definitely best not to read before having read the first book of the trilogy unless you want some spoilers. Actually, I think the best place for a reader would be to read it after the second book as the reader would be able to get even more out of it. Story-wise it’s in the category of the fan service prequel. There’s no reason to read it other than to see a main character from the first book before that character was good at their job. Nothing is revealed that wasn’t already sufficiently revealed in the first book. So it’s all fan-service fun. That said, if put together with revelations from the last book in the trilogy, it does raise some interesting questions.

For the RPG section, don’t read that part until you’ve read the whole first trilogy unless you don’t mind spoilers before reading a story.

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