Review: Rave Master, Vol. 06

Rave Master, Vol. 06Rave Master, Vol. 06 by Hiro Mashima
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although this volume is full of a lot of gobble-de-gook about the end of time, we do get a relatively fun fight that consumes most of the chapters. Kind of reminds me of Dragon Ball Z in that way. Also, if Seig Hart can be believed, not only do we learn about Elie’s past, but we also learn about the origins of Rave. Things might change, but for now I do give the author credit in that (unless I missed it) it wasn’t one of those things where Dark Bring was also created at the same time. Also, we got this supposedly touching moment:

(remember, read from right-to-left because it’s left in the Japanese orientation)

View all my reviews

Review: Wild Cards III: Jokers Wild

Wild Cards III: Jokers Wild (Wild Cards, #3)Wild Cards III: Jokers Wild by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t know if they did this consciously or if it was simply the consequence of a series that started in the 1940s and ended in the (at the time) present day of 1980s, but I think it’s fascinating that this first trilogy (in a 19ish book series) has each successive book compressed in time. The first book is a regular shared world anthology in which it’s clear who wrote each story and each is self-contained – if providing a history for the next one. It takes place from the 40s to the 80s. The second book is one story in which POVs change with each chapter. It spans a year or so (if memory serves). This book is one story in which each chapter is a POV change, it’s impossible to know who wrote which characters, and it only takes place over the course of about 24 hours. It definitely gives a certain feel of whiplash like slamming on the breaks to have the timelines compress like that.

There was definitely a feel, in this book, that perhaps The Wild Card Trust was just going to get a trilogy. The plot points, which I’d rather not spoil, seem to suggest a certain finality that gives a lot of weight to the events. It truly seems like anything can happen because this isn’t a series that needs to be sustained. We’ll see if things seem to change in the next quartet.

As for the story, the feeling I had last night (in which I stayed up HOURS beyond when I should have because the plot was moving so fast) reminds me a lot of Snatch (the awesome Guy Ritchie movie). Actually, the second book reminded me of Snatch with its “bowling ball”. This book is like 5 different Snatch-plots happening at once and intertwining like those friendship bracelets that girls made in the 80s and 90s. It lends a real dark humor to the plot as people keep having near misses and stealing/kidnapping the items from others without even knowing their true value. Layered on top of everything is the Wild Card Day parade which seems (I think?) to be a commentary on the real life Gay Parade? There’s even what I interpret to be a connection made for a metaphor between Joker Status and AIDS – given when this was written (mid/late 80s) and the location (NYC) this makes a ton of sense. Overall it’s hectic and exciting and I’d hope that folks would have gone through the first two books (different as they are in tone and arrangement of plot) to get to this one. The next book is about the effects of the Wild Card Virus outside of the USA (up to this point in the series it’s barely been outside of NYC and LA!), but if they continue to return to NYC, it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with the changing character of The City.

Also, if the narrative continues to move forward in time, I wonder how they deal with the comics issue (being so clearly based on comic characters and plots). That is to say, Marvel and DC are loathe to let the X-Men and Superman, etc die so they keep rebooting so that we never see an aged Superman (save Mark Waid’s great Kingdom Come). Other than Dr. Tachyon who’s said to be long-lived and perhaps Croyd due to his regeneration, do the authors allow for new characters and voices to enter the pantheon? Do they just stay forever in the 80s? I guess we’ll find out because so far I intend to continue reading the series.

View all my reviews

Review: The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History

The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and HistoryThe Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History by Ana Sofia Peláez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mostly cookbook and part history of the Cuban diaspora and those still in Cuba. I really enjoyed the stories that surrounded each recipe and chapter. It really put many of the dishes into a personal space for the author.

I’ve already cooked a few dishes from the book and they were great. It’s a good time for me to get to a book like this because it is not as precise as America’s Test Kitchen, but I have the cooking skills necessary to do well with the recipes. A few years ago I wouldn’t have done very well at all.

If you are of Cuban descent, miss living in Miami, or just would like to learn how to cook Cuban dishes, this is a great book for you. It really does function well as a survey of the cuisine.

View all my reviews

Review: Throne of Jade

Throne of Jade (Temeraire, #2)Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book explores the consequences of the first book’s revelation: Temeriaire is not just a Chinese dragon that was meant to be a gift to the French, he is a Celestial – the breed of the imperial family. Thus, after a bit of British bureaucratic struggle, Laurence and Temeraire are off to China. The plotting of this book is relatively slow outside of the four battle scenes. This is not a negative – I think Ms. Novik uses it to properly convey to a modern audience just how long a boat trip from England to China would take.

Additionally, this story really allows for some character growth for both Laurence and Temeraire. This happens mostly for Laurence on the trip as he struggles with whether he’ll be separated from Temeraire. For the dragon, this happens upon arrival in China and learning how dragons are treated there.

Also, if the previous book was a war book, this is more of a palace intrigue/intelligence (as in embassies/spies) novel.

This book takes place in a certain part of history that I’m relatively ignorant of. In the schools I attended from kindergarten to high school, by the time we got to the 1800s we didn’t give a darn about Europe. It was all American History (Civil War and Reconstruction) until World War 1 where eventually (and at this point I don’t remember if it was AP History or books I later read) we learned about the Peace of Westphalia and how it set the stage for WWI by limiting German growth plus all the interlocking peace treaties. I do know that slave trading was abolished in the British Empire before it was in America. I also have some slight knowledge of The Opium Wars and how the European powers exerted control over China who, like Japan, had isolated itself so much, it didn’t realize it had slipped from being ahead of the European powers (as it was in the middle ages) to behind. This book mentions some opium war type things as a throwaway line, but a central conflict of this book involves England bending over backwards to China. So I wonder if this takes place before Europe made a vassal state out of China or if things are different in this timeline because of dragons? There’s mention of Aztecs, which leads me to believe that perhaps things went differently for Spain due to North American dragons.

Anyway, if you enjoyed the world of His Majesty’s Dragon and don’t mind a story where the journey is literally the point (as well as a switch from war-focused to intel-focused), it’s an easy recommendation to check out this book.

View all my reviews

Review: Rave Master Vol. 5

Rave Master Vol. 5Rave Master Vol. 5 by Hiro Mashima
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story has kicked into manga overdrive. Lots of mysteries all over the place. Hints that Haru Glory’s dad is maybe in Demon Card. Finally some clues about who Elie might be. The former is more likely to be a red herring, the latter seems to pretty strongly be true. This volume is dominated by a fight scene that’s been coming since the first volume. But Mashima also gave the side characters (both protagonist and antagonist) their own battle while the main one was raging on. All of the Demon Card enemies have special powers and one of the goons can shoot glue out of an eyeball-looking thing on his head. Which led to this…


Now, lots of manga-ka start off by doing Hentai Fan Fiction and often end up doing fan service-y poses from those days in their more respectable work, so maybe that explains that.

Of course, like any good manga/anime, there’s the beach chapter/episode. Rave Master is no exception.

The Japanese have way more onomatopoeia than we do. While American comics have the stereo-typical “wham”, “bam” and “kapow!” – manga is littered with onomatopoeia all over the place. Sometimes it’s translated (like when Tokyo Pop was translating Sailor Moon and translated the sound of typing as “katcha katcha”), but most of the time it’s left in Japanese. Here’s an example:

The main panel on the right has the onomatopoeia for his sword being slammed down (or maybe it’s the whooshing sound of a fast-moving sword?) and the top panel has what I’m guessing is a “gasp”, but it might be some other surprise onomatopoeia.

I don’t often get many comments on my reviews, but if anyone out there knows Japanese, maybe they can solve this absurd riddle. What the eff is the onomatopoeia for breasts?

View all my reviews

Changing the Acer Aspire One OS again

As you know, I had CentOS 7 on the Acer Aspire and it was working fine. After CentOS 8 came out, I went ahead and installed it there. It worked fine, but there aren’t as many packages in EPEL for CentOS and RHEL 8. I went on a journey to try and get the i3 window manager working, but I would have had to recreate way too many packages in order to get it to work. So I tried to go to Ubuntu. I couldn’t find a minimal installer that wasn’t for servers, so I went with the Kubuntu install, intending to use that to install qtile or another tiling manager (the resolution on this thing is just too atrocious for a real Window Manager or Desktop Environment). But Kubuntu was just insanely buggy – probably due to the low specs of the netbook. Also, apparently qtile had been knocked out of the Ubuntu repos. The qtile documentation implied it was still available in Debian, so I put Debian on the netbook using a minimal install where I went ahead and install LXQT just to be on the safe side and have some kind of GUI if things didn’t work out. At first wifi wasn’t working, but eventually I landed on this page which explains all the quirks of installing on the Acer Aspire One. I had to enable the non-free repos and install the broadcom-sta-dkms driver. After a reboot, I finally had wifi. Unfortunately, qtile isn’t in the Debian repos anymore either. So I’m going to give installing from pypi a shot and if not, maybe try Arch?

Review: Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 135

Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 135Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 135 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some COVID-circumstances led to me finishing the second-half of this two months after starting. So I don’t quite remember the themes that piece together this issue, but here are my per-story thoughts:

The Rains on Mars: A delicate story of loss and how running away from loss can have consequences. Very nicely done.

Crossing LaSalle: Complex issues surrounding mortality and self-worth in a world in which people can have their brains loaded into new bodies.

Falling in Love with Martians and Machines: A little hard to interpret for sure, but to me it was a story about how much we are willing to debase ourselves in order to reach our goals.

Darkness, Our Mother: A very, very strange story full of metaphor and a little hard to follow at first. I also feel like it’s probably a retelling of an ancient Greek myth, but I’m not sure.

Landmark: Another story high on metaphor and weird syntax that makes it seem like it’s obscure just to be mean to the reader.

Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359: A guy gets sent in indentured servitude to explore what happened to a system that has fallen out of communications. It as a light, fun tone and a surprisingly fun ending.

Botanica Veneris: A story told in the mold of John Carter, with the same language flourishes.


Your are (most likely) not living in a Simulation: The most intelligent thing I’ve ever read to refute the idea that we could possibly be in a simulation.

Bradbury, Lake, and The Named Lands: A Conversation with Ken Scholes: A discussion about inspiration, starting out by writing short stories, and his series, The Named Lands.

Another Word: What Authors Owe Us: An interesting look at the “contract” between readers and authors. This has been in the ether for a while – sometime last year or so I watched Lindsay Ellis’ video essay about the kurfuffle with the author of Between their Stars (or some such book) and it seems things continue to evolve. The author of this piece brings in some good information from the author’s side, including a mismatch between what readers want and what makes sense. As this section of the magazine usually is, a good think-piece.

Editor’s Desk: Neil writes about his trip to China and what he learned about the Chinese SF community. I already know they’ve got a pretty vibrant SF scene from the translated works that Neil features in this magazine, but it looks like they might become a powerhouse (if the Communists don’t turn against it – see what happened with SF in Russia during certain periods).

View all my reviews

Review: The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde

The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde (The Princess in Black, #3)The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde by Shannon Hale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you read the first two books with your kids and then were about to give up, do not do so! When I read the second book, about Princess Magnolia’s birthday, to my four-year-old twins I was disappointed. Just like the first one, the princess has someone snooping around as she runs off to fight monsters. Also, there was no payoff on the Goat Herd Boy wanting to become a super hero. Sure, this book series is for Kindergarten to Second-Graders, but it was just too repetitive.

But then I read this one and it really redeemed things by changing things up. This time we have bunnies rather than monsters and no one is at risk of discovering Princess Magnolia’s alter-ego. It also features more character development for the unicorn/horse – Frimplepants/Blacky. Finally, there are hints that the authors will eventually pay off the Goat Herd plotline.

Does it seems like I’m being overly critical or over-analyzing a book for little kids? It’s only because, as someone who’s been parenting for 8+ years now, I can easily say that most kids’ books SUCK SO HARD. There are a few gems here and there(Leave Me Alone!), especially the classics (like many Dr. Seuss books), but so many of them are so annoying – like watching kids’ cartoons. Yeah, I’m not the target audience in either case, but in both cases I end up being exposed to it by virtue of the kids being so young. So when I read the first Princess in Black book and got to experience some jokes that I enjoyed and great artwork, it was like a good Disney or Pixar movie – it appeals to both kids and adults. That left me with high expectations that I felt were dashed with the second book. However, as I said, this third entry really redeemed the series and I can’t wait to read the fourth one to the kids – especially since it clearly changes things up with The Princess going on vacation.

View all my reviews

Review: Rave Master, Vol. 04

Rave Master, Vol. 04Rave Master, Vol. 04 by Hiro Mashima
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Part of me wonders – is this just meant to be a comedic manga hero’s journey or is it a straight up parody? I can’t tell from this volume. Story-wise it concludes the story from the previous volume about the town where it always rains. I thought the plot twist for that section was interesting, even if the overall story is kind of lacking in stakes – which is why I wonder if this is meant to be parody. Afterwards we continue the medium-term arc of trying to get a piece of Rave that landed in a mountain. Once again, a few interesting story points, but no real consequences yet.

I’m truly curious to see where this is all headed. About two dozen more volumes until I get there.

View all my reviews

Review: Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 138

Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 138 (Clarkesworld Magazine, #138)Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 138 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An issue in which I enjoyed pretty much every story. I didn’t detect the theme as easily in this issue as I usually do. The novella that anchors this issue, The Persistence of Blood, is really well-written.

Here are my per-story thoughts:

Tool-Using Mimics: The author takes a photo – perhaps a real take or perhaps from a copypasta forum and comes up with a bunch of possible micro-stories that could go along with the photo.

The persistence of blood: A combination of Dune and Handmaid’s Tale, this novella is the story of a woman trying to make the world a better place for women. Powerfully written.

Unplaces: an atlas of non-existence: A frame device that creatively both tells us about the world of the story as well as proposing a world where there’s some mechanism for the places of myth to be made real and unreal.

Farewell, Adam: A PR team constructs the perfect idol (in the Japanese sense of the super star celebrity) by having his consciousness controlled by 100 different people who each specialize in certain emotional states. There’s also an interesting plot twist that I’m not sure I 100% understood, but what I did understand was pretty brilliant.

The no-one girl: A rather sad tale with a bit of a Buddhist ending

Are you afflicted with dragons: one of my favorite types of stories: where a trickster reveals his trick. Nice, humorous tone. If definitely recommend checking it out.

God decay: ostensibly about someone who gets biomods to no longer be wheelchair-bound, but actually about his relationships and how he saw the world after the surgeries

Aliens among us: cephalopods in science fiction and fantasy: The author presents us with some information about cephalopods and then a survey of them in fiction and mythology from the 1200s to now.

Poetry, philosophy, and Welsh: a conversation with Jo Walton: A conversation about Walton’s poetry, a bit about The Just City, and some more about death.

Another word: saving throw vs boredom: how RPG taught me storytelling: Former SWFA President Cat Rambo writes about how RPGs (like D&D) helped fuel her creativity and find a community that she’s still a part of decades later.

Editor’s Desk: Neil reviews the winners of the Clarkesworld awards in 2017.

View all my reviews

Review: The Princess in Black

The Princess in Black (The Princess in Black, #1)The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you have little girls or little boys who love princesses and a little mischief, this book is a great first chapter book. I read this to my four year old twins and they really loved it and immediately asked for the next book. I’m going to admit that some of the jokes and sarcasm DEFINITELY went over their heads. But if they re-read it when they’re in first grade, I think they’ll be the perfect age to get all the jokes. Additionally, it introduces them to the idea of chapters without the chapters being too long. Overall, I think it’s a great kids book with great illustrations.

View all my reviews

Review: Rave Master Vol. 3

Rave Master Vol. 3Rave Master Vol. 3 by Hiro Mashima
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

All the manga tropes continue piling up. This book has the “pervert who wants to watch the girl in the hot springs” trope. Compared to the last two books this one is just wrapping up the last storyline and then ramping up for the next one. Kind of a weird set of chapters to package together because while the story they tell is necessary, it makes this book on its own kind of dull. The story was originally serealized, so maybe that has a factor in the pacing. I think at this point you’re either into the story of the RAVE MASTER vs DEMON CARD or you’re not, so you’re moving on to Vol 4 or have already quit.

View all my reviews

Review: The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers

The Bob's Burgers Burger Book: Real Recipes for Joke BurgersThe Bob’s Burgers Burger Book: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers by Loren Bouchard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are a lot of crazy burgers in here. What did you expect from a book inspired by a blog inspired by burger puns in a cartoon voiced by H. John Benjamin? And yet… the authors worked with some chefs to massage the blog’s burgers and, while I’m not going to try all of these, I wrote about 2 dozen burgers recipes in my To-Make list. If you like puns and Bob’s Burgers, you’ve basically got reason enough to get this book. But if you don’t mind getting a little adventurous with your burgers (which I do, although I find my smash burgers to be the holy grail of burgers), there is some real value in owning this book. If you’re looking for a more serious one, I’ve done a lot of recipes from Weber’s Big Book of Burgers: The Ultimate Guide to Grilling Backyard Classics and highly recommend it. (Their grilled fries recipe tasted a LOT better than I thought it would)

View all my reviews

Review: Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 137

Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 137 (Clarkesworld Magazine, #137)Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 137 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This issue was full of longer piece, but also pieces I loved so much. I was cracking up so much with Solderin’. I felt pretty emotional with Umbernight, especially as I am getting older like the protagonist and slowly being replaced by the next generation. I also really enjoyed The Power is Out – I couldn’t stop reading that story. And The Girl-Thing was a good story, despite the few nits I had to pick with the narrative style.

Here are my story-by-story thoughts (mostly non-spoilery):

Deep down in the cloud: A story about trying hard to effect change even if what you can do seems so miniscule. A future I could see ourselves headed towards.

Obliteration: Reminds me a bit of the premise of Cory Doctorow’s Down and out in the magic kingdom. Very interesting exploration of what life would be like if we could remember everything.

Umbernight: I’ve read a lot of stories of the descendents of generation ships. But this one was really unique in the world it created and the challenges for the colonists.

The power is out: A story about the collapse of society after a solar flare knocks out the electric grid. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about the first person narrative really works for me. I think it’s at least in part the overall banality of the situation.

Soldierin’: hilarious story about some Buffalo soldiers with a really fun first-person narrative. Can’t see where it’s science fiction or fantasy unless I missed something, but it was such a great story that I don’t mind.

The girl-thing who went out for sushi: A pretty neat story about transhumanism that I think is a metaphor for the current trans situation. It works on its own and the only thing that was a little weird for me was that the main character spoke as if he didn’t understand the human mind-set, but they mention near the end of the story that the transhumans are sterile. So it didn’t make sense to me that someone who used to be human would speak in that way. But maybe that’s also some kind of metaphor that makes sense to trans folks who’ve transitioned.

The undiscovered country: planets of dead stars: an essay about the habitability of planets as their stars die. Followed up by a short discussion of science fiction that has played with the concepts.

Classics, companionship, and a creature: a conversation with John Kessel: a discussion with the author of Pride and Prometheus, a mashup of Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein.

Another Word: A Brief Parable about Exchanges Between Time, Independence, Technology, and Privacy: for someone with mobility issues, the trade-offs between online privacy and convenience is not so simple

Editor’s desk: About voting for that year’s best stories and artwork.

View all my reviews

Review: Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 136

Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 136 (Clarkesworld Magazine, #136)Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 136 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one was a tough choice between three stars and four stars. The stories I didn’t like: “Say it Low, Say it Loud” and “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever” I REALLY didn’t like. But from the stories I liked, some of them like: “A World to Die For” and “Lighthouse Girl” I REALLY liked. And the Non-fiction section helped push it over the edge.

The theme for this issue seemed to be memory, an issue that’s always quite fascinating because of how much we still don’t understand about how it works.

Here are my per-story thoughts:

A world to die for: Starting off in a Mad Max-like world, the author makes it a parable about the choices we make about how to treat this one world we have.

Say it low, then loud: Extremely confused about the plot; a little too metaphorical.

Sour milk girls: A group of girls in a foster home that swaps out the shock therapy true for a science fiction memory therapy. Kind of scary, but an unexpected ending.

Cigarette burn in your memory: Another piece about memory loss. This one is an incredible scary sorry about a world where everyone seems to have dementia.

The lighthouse girl (translated): Another story about memory. This one is a thriller with a few plot twists. The opening mood is quite delightful to read even though the hints of what is too come stay right away.

Her smoke rose up forever: Another incredibly confusing story. At the end the reason for the confusion is revealed and it’s quite depressing.

For I have lain me down: A neat sorry that takes place in Ireland that is at least partly about the endurance of the Irish spirit. The first person narrative worked well and was done in a fun way.

Why science fiction detective stories aren’t impossible: A history of science fiction mystery stories. I loved learning all the history.

Clever plants: discussion with author of Semiosis about how agresive plants can be.

Another word & Luke vs Han: a set of questions you can ask yourself if your story gets stuck. As someone who’s not actively writing, it helped me understand the elements of stories and why they work. (And also how the rules can be broken)

Editor’s desk: About Neil’s partnership with Storycom and various anthologies he was working on.

View all my reviews