YouKneeK

My favorite genres are science fiction and fantasy.  Occasionally, I also read horror, thriller, and mystery stories.  For more info about me than you could possibly want, check the "My Profile" link on the right-hand column.

Review: N0S4A2

NOS4A2 - Joe Hill

N0S4A2 is a standalone horror story written by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King.  This was my first time reading anything he’d written.  Maybe it’s because I read a lot more fantasy than I do horror, but this book felt as much like a fantasy book to me as it did a horror book.  I guess that line is a little blurry, at least in my mind.  There were definitely elements of horror to it, but I never felt scared, not even a little bit.  I expect it might bother others, though, especially mothers.  Maybe all those horror books I read in junior high left me a little numb…

There are several characters in this book, but the one I thought of as the “main” character was a girl named Vic.  She starts off as an 8-year-old, but grows into an adult over the course of the story.  Vic has a special skill.  She can find lost things by riding her bike over a non-existent bridge.  Clearly there’s a lot more to the explanation than that, but I don’t want to spoil the fun.  Meanwhile, kids are being kidnapped and taken to a place called Christmasland, where they can have all sorts of fun forever and ever... as long as they don't mind becoming deranged.  I didn’t know when I started this book that I was picking such an appropriate time of the year for it!  If horror books tend to bother you, though, you might not want to read this book until you can safely go through your days without hearing any Christmas music anywhere.

I liked this book, for the most part, but I also have complaints.  I liked the general story, and I liked the characters.  Sometimes I was annoyed by their decisions, but I didn’t feel like they were doing stupid things just because the author needed them to do stupid things so he could move the plot forward.  At times I couldn’t put the book down, but there were also times when it felt like a slog.  There were a few cases of what I call Omniscient Gut Syndrome, which is one of my pet peeves.  This is that dastardly disease that causes a character’s gut to be all-knowing.  The gut tells the character, and thus the reader, that something is true even though there hasn’t been any tangible evidence.  The character “just knows” it’s true, or “feels that it’s true”, or “her thought feels right to her”.

I also thought there were a lot of small details that didn’t quite fit correctly, and some plot threads that were really far-fetched even within the confines of the fictional story.  These things dragged me out of the story and niggled at me throughout the day when I wasn’t reading.  I could come up with my own explanations for many (but not all) of them, but I felt like I was doing some of the author’s work for him.  

I have a couple examples in the spoiler tags.

 

The whole idea of Maggie’s tiles fell in the far-fetched category for me.  They weren’t clearly defined and therefore seemed mostly like a plot device to help steer the story.  Where does the info come from?  How could the titles “chatter” about Vic for months in advance and yet not know the least useful clue about other things?  I guess one could really ask the same question about Vic and her Bike – how does it know where to go?  In the case of things that got lost when she was around, you could say her subconscious remembered what happened to them and thus helped her direct the bridge.  That explanation doesn’t work to explain how she used her bike to find Maggie the first time, though.

Another big one for me was the way the map of Manx’s inscape roads showed up on the cops’ iPads when they tried to locate Wayne’s cell phone while he was in Manx’s car.  Technology doesn’t work that way.  You can’t just magically have a map show on an iPad with labeled street names unless somebody has first created that map.  Not only that, but technology certainly can’t pinpoint somebody’s location on imaginary roads.  One explanation could be that Manx somehow caused them to see that image, just like the denizens of Christmasland made Vic think she was hearing phones ringing.  But what would that accomplish?  It would only lend credibility to an otherwise insane-sounding story if Vic wanted to try explaining it to anybody, and it would in fact help Vic herself feel confident that she wasn’t crazy so that she could make better decisions about how to handle the situation.

(show spoiler)


I did like the ending.  I had thought it was going in one direction, one that’s entirely too typical for horror stories in my experience, so I was happy when it ended up differently than I’d expected.  I’m giving this 3.5 stars on BookLikes and rounding up to 4 on Goodreads.

Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

This was my first experience reading anything by Atwood and, as I often do, I went into the story without knowing anything about it.  It was really interesting and engrossing.  It had some quirks, but mostly those quirks gave the story character and made it more interesting rather than being annoying or distracting.  

The story takes place in the U.S., but women have lost all their freedoms.  Childbirth rates have been drastically reduced, and a woman’s only true value is in their ability to have babies.  A woman’s role in society is dependent on a combination of her childbearing abilities and whether or not she’s married to a powerful man.  If a powerful man has a wife who can’t bear children, he’s given a handmaid to take up the slack.  Our main character lived through the transition period.  She grew up with freedoms along the lines of what would have existed when the author wrote the book in the 1980’s, but the society began to change when she was an adult.  How this change affected our main character, and how the change came about in the first place, is what this book is about.

The story is told in the first-person present tense, by a woman who appears to be recounting her story verbally.  She goes off on rabbit trails, she skips back and forth in time, and sometimes she starts to tell us something and then decides she doesn’t want to talk about it and leaves us hanging.  Sometimes she tells us something and then says “no, that isn’t actually what happened”, as if she’s caught herself in the act of trying to make things sound better or more dramatic than they were, and then forces herself to be honest.  It was really very well done, this written simulation of somebody telling a story out loud.

We’re never explicitly told our main character’s real name, although I thought it might be possible to figure it out by comparing a list of names mentioned at the end of the first chapter against some of the names she refers to in the third person throughout the story.  There’s only one name from that list that she never mentions, which therefore may have been her own name, but there are also reasons to believe that may not have been the case.

Because of the nature of the story, with the narrator skipping around between older events and more recent events, I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on in the beginning.  The gaps are slowly filled in as the story progresses.  As long as it’s written well, that kind of a story-telling device works really well for me.  I like it when not everything is revealed in a linear fashion.  I enjoy pondering the questions, trying to guess the answers, and then the satisfaction of finally getting those answers.

This is a pretty dark read.  A lot of bad things happen, and there isn’t a lot of hope or very many bright spots throughout the story.  I want to say it’s not terribly graphic, but there were a couple of scenes that were particularly awful.  I don’t think the wording was that explicit, but the author still made it so clear what was happening that my imagination had no problem turning it into something more graphically disturbing.  There is also a lot of ambiguity, particularly in how things end.  We’re left not really sure how things turned out for our main character, but we have two main possibilities and evidence that could support either conclusion.  This would normally annoy me, but really I just thought this whole story was very well done and I enjoyed thinking about what might have happened.

If anybody else reads this for the first time, make sure you don’t miss the “historical notes” at the end.  They’re fictional notes, and they’re a critical part of the story.  I was reading this as an e-book.  Normally, when you reach the end of a Kindle book, you get a pop-up recommending other books you might be interested in.  There may be some further back matter past that, but the story itself is expected to be over.  I got that first pop-up just before the “historical notes”, making me think the story had ended there.  Fortunately, I’m in the habit of paging past that first pop-up and at least glancing at the back matter, so I didn’t miss it.

 

I have to run to work now, but I look forward to reading the reviews from people I follow who have read this once I get back home!

Review: Hogfather (Discworld Book 23 of 53ish)

Hogfather - Terry Pratchett

It finally happened.  I finally made it up to Hogfather in my Discworld reading list.  I was a bit early for Christmas, but at least I reached it within the general winter holiday time frame.

 

Hogfather is the fourth book in the Death subseries.  The Hogfather, for those uninitiated in the madness of the Discworld, is the Disc’s version of Santa Claus.  He delivers gifts to children on Hogswatch Night.  There are problems this year, though.  The mysterious beings known as the Auditors have hired the Assassin’s Guild to kill “the fat man” and now the Hogfather is missing.  Death decides to fill in for him, and he really warms up to the role.

 

This book was quite funny; there were a lot of parts that made me laugh.  One of the things that was starting to get tiresome to me in the Death subseries was the way Death always seems to be in the middle of some internal crisis, shirking his responsibilities while others take up the slack.  This book was a nice change of pace from that.  Although Death did occasionally lose sight of his “real” responsibilities, he was taking up the slack for somebody else this time and he took the whole thing very seriously.  I thought he was more fun to read about in this book than he had been in the previous Death books.

 

This story, on the other hand, seemed like one of Pratchett’s more disjointed stories.  There were a few different pieces to the story, and they did all tie together, but the ties were pretty tenuous.  This was one of those stories where you may be told something happened and why, but it still doesn’t seem terribly sensible or logical.  I know, I know, this is the Discworld.  Things aren’t supposed to be sensible and logical.  But I like sense and logic. :)  For the most part, I was able to just enjoy the humor in the current part of the story I was reading without thinking too hard about the over-all plot.

Review: Cold Steel (Spiritwalker Book 3 of 3)

Cold Steel - Kate Elliott

This is the final book in Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy.  It was more entertaining than the middle book, which I thought had a lot more boring and tedious parts.  There was one aspect of the story that I feared would be stretched out for the entire book, but it was wrapped up earlier than I expected so I was happy about that.  The story held my interest better than the second book and equally as well as the first book.  There was a minor thread or two that never really got tied up, but the ending wrapped most things up pretty well and I was satisfied with it.  

As far as the series itself goes, it was pretty good, but it had several annoyances as I’ve mentioned in my reviews for the previous books.  The story was entertaining, for the most part, and I liked the characters.  I also enjoyed the character-driven humor which seemed to increase as the series progressed.  I did think things often happened too conveniently, and with a few niggling inconsistencies here and there.  I think, if I hadn’t had such fond memories of this author’s Crossroads trilogy, I might have enjoyed this series a little more for what it is because my expectations wouldn’t have been as high.  I did enjoy it, but I was a little disappointed by it too.

 

As a side note, for those of you who have been waiting for me to get to Hogfather… that one’s next up on my list. :)  I have to leave in a few minutes to spend Thanksgiving with family and I’m not sure how late I’ll get back.  I doubt I'll be able to get very far into it until tomorrow.

 

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the U.S., and Happy Thursday to those of you who aren’t! ;)

Review: Cold Fire (Spiritwalker Book 2 of 3)

Cold Fire (Spiritwalker Trilogy) - Kate Elliott

Cold Fire is the second book in Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy.  Some of the things that annoyed me about the first book were less evident in this book.  On the other hand, the story didn’t hold my interest quite as well.  There were times when I was glued to the Kindle, but there were also many times when I was restless and kept putting it down to do other things.

 

One of the things that annoyed me in the first book was the way the author delivered exposition in the form of unrealistic dialogue.  Now that the characters and the setting have been established, there was far less of that in this book, although there was a little bit of it in the beginning when the author was reminding us of things from the first book.

 

Kate Elliott’s recapping approach in this book was interesting.  The story actually started slightly before the ending of the first book, and the reader gets to see some things that had happened “off page”.  I enjoyed that aspect of it; it was nice to see some of the stuff we’d missed before.  Eventually, we get up to the point of the final scene in the first book and we go through those events again, but it’s told a little bit differently.  The events matched up, but different things were given emphasis and I found myself forming an entirely different (and more accurate) opinion about a character who would be central to this book.  There was at least one thing, though, that did seem like a blatant change.  It didn’t really impact the story, but it was related to something repeated often throughout both books. 

 

In the first book, I complained that the romantic relationship was predictable and occasionally unrealistic, but at least it didn’t overwhelm the plot.  In this book, the romantic relationship gets a lot more page time and it continues to be predictable.  I don’t have as many complaints about lack of realism, but it sure was a lot more melodramatic.  For some reason I usually swallow melodrama better in epic fantasy stories than I do anywhere else in real or fictional life, but this was a bit much.

 

I’m writing mostly about the things I didn’t like, but that’s mainly because I just don’t have as much to say about the things I did like.  I do still think the over-all story is interesting and, with the exception of what I’ve already mentioned, I like the writing.  The action sequences are particularly well-written, I think.  Many of the characters are likeable and fun to read about, with small bits of character-driven humor here and there that made me laugh.

 

Given the way things ended, I expect there is more melodrama in store for the final book, but I’m invested enough now that I want to see how things end.  I’m giving this 3.5 stars on BookLikes, but rounding down to 3 on Goodreads.

Audiobook Review: Transformation (Rai-Kirah Book 1 of 3)

Transformation - Carol Berg

A minor miracle has just occurred.  I’ve actually listened to an entire, full-length, 16.5-hour audiobook.  Some of my followers may have seen me rant and rave about this at one point or another: I’m not a good audiobook listener.  My attention drifts and, even when I’m paying complete attention, I feel like I don’t absorb things as well as I do through the written word.  On a more bizarre note, I get really annoyed when somebody talks non-stop for a lengthy period of time.  I’ve actually become irrationally annoyed at narrators of audiobooks because they just won’t shut up, never mind the fact that they’re only doing what they’re supposed to be doing and I'm the one who turned them on in the first place!  Then I remember that I have the power to make them stop talking and I turn them off.

 

To add perspective, I only made it a few hours into Neverwhere, narrated by Neil Gaiman.  I’d read it several years ago, I liked the story, and Gaiman is a great narrator, but I reached a point where I just couldn’t listen to him anymore.  I tried listening to The Android's Dream by John Scalzi during a road trip.  After an hour, I was in genuine danger of falling asleep and I had to turn it off.  (I’ll have to try it again in print sometime.)  I tried listening to the Wool Omnibus, a book I really enjoyed a couple years ago.  I can’t remember if I even made it through the first 50-page part.  I tried listening to The Way of Shadows, and I did make it several hours into that one, but eventually the melodramatic narration got on my last nerve.  Ok, I guess you believe me now, I’m not good at audiobooks. :)

 

This book, Transformation, is the first book in Carol Berg’s Rai-Kirah series.  I’d read the series in print five and a half years ago and really loved it.  I had also read a couple duologies by the author earlier this year and I would now rank them among my all-time favorite books.  Reading those made me want to re-read this series, but I hated to take precious reading time away from the many new-to-me books I want to read, so I thought I’d make yet another attempt at an audiobook.  It completely absorbed me; I was hooked on the story all over again.  I started listening to it on a road trip, and then I continued listening during my normal commutes.  For the first time since I moved to Atlanta, I found myself actually wanting to get stuck in traffic. :)

 

The story is told from the first-person perspective of a slave named Seyonne.  His people have been decimated by a war, most of them killed or captured by a race known as the Derzhi.  Unknown to most of the world, Seyonne’s people have devoted their lives to fighting demons so that the rest of the world can live free.  Needless to say, the decimation of Seyonne’s people does not bode well for the fate of the world.  At the beginning of the story, Seyonne, who has already been in slavery for sixteen years, is sold to the Prince of the Derzhi people.  Prince Aleksander is arrogant and selfish, and Seyonne is treated very poorly.  However, when Aleksander falls prey to a demon enchantment, Seyonne is the only one who sees what’s happening and has any idea what to do.  It soon becomes clear that there is a deeper demon plot that goes far beyond this one incident.  The story is absorbing, and the author really made me care about the main characters.  The friendship that develops between Seyonne and Aleksander is one of the best parts of the book, and there are some other good relationships as well. 

 

The narrator, Kevin Stillwell, had a narration style that worked well for me.  He distinguished between character voices well, but I think what helped the most was that he read the story in a more understated manner.  I’m starting to suspect that the more dramatic narrators are the ones most likely to get on my nerves, even the good ones like Neil Gaiman.  That doesn’t mean my listening was frustration-free.  Listening to the story felt sort of like walking around without my contact lenses in: I can still see pretty well, but everything is just a bit hazy and I miss the greater sharpness I’m accustomed to.  Sometimes I just really wanted to see the words with my eyes, either to understand them better or to stare at my favorite passages and bask in the words a bit.  Other times, I was too distracted to listen well and I would end up rewinding an entire commute’s worth of listening so I could listen to that part again when I had better focus. 

 

In any case, I’m really happy at how well this audiobook worked for me, and I’m hopeful that the next two books in the series will work equally well.  The commute is so much more pleasant when I can spend it wrapped up in a story, and it’s also a nice way to re-read old favorites.  Maybe I’ll eventually build up a better tolerance for the narrators I find more grating and get better at focusing on the stories that don’t hold my attention as completely as this one did.

Review: Cold Magic (Spiritwalker Book 1 of 3)

Cold Magic - Kate Elliott

Several years ago, I read this author’s Crossroads trilogy, beginning with Spirit Gate.  My memory of it is really fuzzy, but I remember it as being a fairly complex story, with multiple points-of-view and storylines.  I also remember that I really enjoyed it, and I’ve wanted to try some of her other books.

 

This book was a little different from what I expected based on my fuzzy memory of Crossroads.  I enjoyed the story and the characters, but there were some aspects of the writing that seemed amateur to me, and I also felt like the story was written for a younger audience.  The “younger audience” aspect probably would have been less of an issue for me if I hadn’t expected something more adult, and it was also partly explained by the author’s Acknowledgments at the end of the book.  As it turns out, she had collaborated on the story with her three children who were in high school at the time.  This doesn’t explain some of my complaints with the writing, though, since she did all of the writing herself.  I briefly wondered if this book was one of her earlier works, but it was in fact published a little bit later than the final Crossroads book.

 

The setting is kind of interesting, set in an odd alternate version of our world in which there are both mages and an industrial revolution.  I’m going to be vague about the story line, because it’s a bit of a slow build-up and I don’t want to spoil any surprises.  Cold Magic is told from the first-person perspective of Cat, a nineteen-year-old girl whose parents were killed in an accident when she was six.  She’s been raised, and well-treated, in the home of her aunt and uncle where she has a great relationship with her similarly-aged cousin, Bee.  Cat has some special abilities, and one of her only memories of her mother is her warning Cat not to ever tell anybody what she can do.  So there’s a bit of a mystery about Cat’s past, but mostly she just lives her life as a normal girl.  Until everything changes, of course. :)  One night a visitor shows up at Cat’s home to demand that a certain bargain be upheld.

 

One of the main reasons I thought this was an earlier work was because the author used dialogue clumsily, particularly in the beginning, to convey background information.  The dialogue was usually well-written and interesting, but there were several passages that completely dragged me out of the story because it was just too obvious.  For example, at one point Cat is pretty much lectured by Bee on her own life history.  People just don’t talk like that.  When they have shared stories and histories, they use shorthand.  They would say, “Remember that time in the elevator?” as opposed to, “Remember that time in the elevator when [long monologue about a story both parties already know]?”. 

 

Another one of my complaints is about the romance.  Fortunately it’s a bit sparse and doesn’t overwhelm the story, but I did think it was very obvious from the beginning how the relationship would develop.  It was also pretty unrealistic, such as the random “oh wow, look at those lips, I really want to kiss him” (I’m paraphrasing!) thoughts at absolutely ridiculous moments.  The friendship between Cat and Bee, on the other hand, was very well done.  I also really enjoyed the character of Rory and his interaction with Cat.

 

The story has a little bit of repetitiveness and a few excessively coincidental occurrences, but mostly I did enjoy the story.  We’re given several questions at the beginning and then the answers are slowly revealed while giving us more questions along the way, and I enjoyed speculating about the answers.  This is the first book in a trilogy, so it doesn’t wrap up all of the story lines, but we do get answers to some of the major questions by the end.  There’s an interesting, if not terribly surprising, twist near the end that sets the stage for the next book and I look forward to seeing what will happen next.  I’m giving this 3.5 stars on BookLikes, but rounding up to 4 on Goodreads.

Review: Feet of Clay (Discworld Book 22 of 53ish)

Feet of Clay - Terry Pratchett

Feet of Clay is the third book in the Watch subseries of Discworld.  It’s also the Guards book that I’ve enjoyed the most so far.  In fact, it may even have given my previous favorite Discworld book, Wyrd Sisters, some competition.

 

I was worried at first that this book would rehash old ground with the “let’s get ourselves a puppet king” thing.  There’s a bit of that, and it’s an important aspect of the story, but it doesn’t overpower the story and it has a more amusing twist than in previous books.  In general, I thought this plot was one of the better ones.  Parts of it actually kept me guessing, and I was truly interested in finding out what would happen next as opposed to just sitting back, going along for the ride, and enjoying the humor like I normally do when I read these books. 

 

Character-wise, I enjoyed the mish-mash of characters and their different backgrounds and amusing perspectives.  I enjoyed the introduction of that in the second Watch book, and things got even livelier in this book.  Even Vimes seemed less annoying to me than he had in the previous books.  Also, his pocket organizer was hilarious.  This seemed like one of Pratchett's better ones in terms of humor.  The books are all funny, but this one had more parts that made me laugh out loud. 

 

I’m not sure many people would appreciate the corniness of this insult, but I loved this:  “… a ding-a-ling so big he’d been upgraded to a clang-a-lang”.

Review: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom - Cory Doctorow

Like I often do, I went into this book blind, not knowing anything about the plot, and I assumed the title was some sort of a metaphor for a superficial society.  In fact, most of the book is actually set within Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.  

My progress through the book went something like this:
1. At the end of the prologue, I was positive I would hate this book.  

2. At the end of chapter 1, I decided there might be some hope after all.  

3. Somewhere around the middle of the book, I realized my Kindle had permanently affixed itself into my hands.  

4. When I finished the book, on the same day I had started it, I just sat there thinking, “How on Earth am I going to rate this?”

This is a science fiction story that takes place in the future, and life on Earth has changed a lot.  Everybody’s brain is hooked up directly to an Internet-like interface that people can use to pull up information at any time.  The way people react to you, to the things you do and the way you act, are instantly translated into a “Whuffie” score.  This works as a sort of currency; there’s no longer any actual money.  There’s also no more death.  You can make a “backup” of yourself whenever you want and, if you die, a clone is grown and your memories are restored from the backup.  This has become so common-place that nearly everybody will have themselves killed just to avoid sitting through a long trip in “real time”.

The world-building was pretty interesting.  The characters were also interesting but, in retrospect, not very likeable.  The plot itself is a little thin, basically centering on an argument about whether to change the attractions in the Liberty Square section of the Magic Kingdom.  It doesn’t sound like a particularly exciting plot, especially to somebody like me who has no attachment to the Magic Kingdom whatsoever, but the book held my interest anyway.

I’m not sure how I felt about the ending.  In the prologue, we were pretty much told how the story would end, but the reader doesn’t know enough at that point to understand what they’ve been told.  Still, if you have any sort of reading retention skills, you’re probably going to know how the story ends long before it happens.  It was the stuff that happened a little bit before the very end that surprised me more.  I don’t think I was very satisfied by the ending, even if it seemed appropriate in a way.  I like to at least see some sense of change, preferably improvement, at the end of a story, but I didn’t feel like anything significant had changed by the end.

I’m torn between giving this three or four stars.  BookLikes makes this easy; I can just give it 3.5 stars.  But on Goodreads, do I round up or round down?  I decided to round down because I don’t think I enjoyed this quite on the same level as what I would usually expect from a four-star book.

If you made it this far and you’re interested in trying the book, I found it for free at the author’s web site: http://craphound.com/

Review: Werehunter

Werehunter - Mercedes Lackey

Werehunter is an anthology of fourteen science fiction and fantasy short stories by Mercedes Lackey.  I’ve read some of her fantasy work before, and I thought this anthology was a pretty good reflection of both the good and the bad aspects of her writing style.

 

Four of the stories in the book were “SKitty” stories.  This was a really fun premise.  It’s a science fiction setting, where it’s common for starships to have a genetically engineered cat on board.  The cats have front paws like raccoons, and they’re more intelligent.  SKitty is unusual in that she's able to communicate telepathically with her human handler, whom she’s quite attached to.  The stories were very fluffy, in more ways than one, but it was fun to read about intelligent cats.

 

Although I really enjoyed the SKitty stories, I became increasingly exasperated by them.  My limited experience with Lackey’s books is that she tends to go overboard with the recapping.  She gives more info than is needed to understand the newest story, and she tends to dump it out all at once in an unnatural way.  This is annoying enough in a full-length book, but I think nearly half of the fourth SKitty story consisted of a recap of the previous three stories.

 

There were a couple short stories based on Lackey’s Diana Tregarde series, which I wasn’t familiar with.  Maybe the books are better but, in the short stories, I thought the characters were too melodramatic.  One story didn’t interest me at all, and the other story interested me but I was annoyed by the characters.

 

The last two stories were about two young girls, one of whom begged for food on the streets of London and the other of whom was the daughter of missionaries to Africa and was living in a school in London.  The daughter of the missionaries had an intelligent pet parrot given to her by a shaman in Africa, and that parrot served as her protector.  All three of them, the two girls and the parrot, had some special abilities.  The stories were interesting and fun to read, but the second story had particularly bad editing.  The poor parrot kept changing genders left and right, often within the same sentence.  There were also some sentences that made such abundant use of female pronouns in relation to all three characters that you had to use your best judgment to figure out who had done what.

 

Most of the other short stories were fairly entertaining.  There was one called “Roadkill” that was slightly creepy and amusing at the same time.  There was a story set in Laumer’s Bolo universe that started off boring but got interesting by the end.  Over-all, this anthology was a quick, fluffy, and mostly-entertaining read, but with several annoyances.

Review: The Forever War

The Forever War - Joe Haldeman

This book is a little hard to rate.  My three-star rating is based more on my level of enjoyment while reading the book than on its merit as a work of classic military science fiction.  My interest fluctuated and, despite that it’s only 278 pages, I started to get particularly impatient with it in the last third.

The story follows William, who starts off as new recruit drafted into the military.  Earth has begun exploring space, and they’ve managed to get into a war with an alien species.  The war is being fought in an area of space distant from Earth, and their method of space travel means time passes slower for them in relative time than it does in actuality.  Hundreds of years pass while the main character is traveling to various mission objectives but, for the main character, the story takes place over only a few years of his life.  This means that humanity is changing a great deal as the story progresses, and we see that when William is in-between missions.

Although there isn’t anything I would consider explicit, sexual themes are dealt with quite a bit throughout the story and I think most people would find a lot of it disturbing.  Very early in the book we learn that William and his fellow recruits, who are evenly split between men and women, are given bunk assignments pairing males and females together in the same bed.  Those assignments are rotated so that all the guys are sleeping with all the girls sooner or later.  As the story progresses, it becomes pretty clear that women in the military are expected to be “compliant and promiscuous”.  Those are the exact word used at one point.  Looking past all the disturbing implications of that, the most obvious next question would be, “What about homosexuals?”  Well, I mentioned that humanity changes quite a bit over the course of the book, right?  Homosexuality gets addressed eventually too, and it’s addressed in a way that I’m pretty sure people of most orientations and belief systems would find disturbing.

Regarding the aforementioned sleeping arrangements, my initial thought was that the author was indulging in his own fantasies about what he might like to have seen in military life.  I changed my mind once I got further into the book.  This is not a fluffy, cheerful book.  Pretty much everything that happens is disturbing, and that includes the various things revealed about the evolution of human society as the centuries pass.  I don’t think the sleeping arrangements were intended to be seen as a positive thing, because it wouldn't fit the tone of the rest of the book.  I think it was intended to represent yet another disturbing aspect of human society in the future.  

It’s a pretty bleak book, and there are quite a few other disturbing things that happen beyond what I mentioned.  It definitely isn’t all about sex, although it did get mentioned frequently.  I was only moderately invested in the main character, and I wasn’t at all invested in anybody else.  The story had moments where it got very interesting, but it also had moments where it got pretty boring.  The book made me think a little bit, but those thoughts were more about the issues brought up than they were about the plot itself.  The plot itself was straight forward and simple, and I thought the ending was pretty predictable.

Review: Maskerade (Discworld Book 21 of 53ish)

Maskerade - Terry Pratchett

Maskerade is the fifth book in the Witches subseries of Discworld.  I usually enjoy the Witches books a little more than the others.  I didn’t think this one was as uproariously funny as Wyrd Sisters or Witches Abroad, but I did enjoy it.

 

The story centers on some goings-on at an opera house.  The opera house has always had a mysterious ghost with certain demands, but lately this ghost seems to have gone off the deep end.  It's murdering people and leaving crazy notes with lots of exclamation points.  As anybody who has read a few Pratchett books probably knows, multiple exclamation points are a sure sign of insanity!!!!!

 

I’ve had very little exposure to the opera, so I’m sure there were some jokes that went over my head, but I felt like most of it was pretty accessible to me.  As expected, there are a lot of Phantom of the Opera references as well as some fun-poking at opera in general.  The story itself was entertaining, with a bit of a mystery feel to it, but the solutions to the mystery were predictable to the point where I suspect they weren’t really intended to be a surprise.

 

Character-wise, Magrat is only spoken about and doesn’t show up personally.  I was actually happy about that since I think she can be annoying.  Granny and Nanny are there though, and they’re as much fun as always.  Another character who we had met briefly in a previous Witches book took a major role in this story, and I liked her quite a bit.  I definitely liked her more than Magrat.

 

I was surprised to look ahead on the reading list and realize there’s only one more Witches book to go.  I hope that won’t be the last of Granny and Nanny because they’re so much fun.  The Tiffany Aching series seems to be a young adult offshoot of the Witches series, so hopefully they’ll show up at least a little bit here and there.

Review: Necessity (Thessaly Book 3 of 3)

Necessity: A Novel (Thessaly) - Jo Walton

This is the third and apparently final book in the Thessaly series by Jo Walton.  I enjoyed the entire series, although I did think this book was a little weaker than the previous two. 

 

When the book first began, I had the impression that the story would focus on something that seemed very interesting to me.  Instead, that “something” made up only a small portion of the story because the main characters were caught up in other things that were going on.  The actual story was interesting, and there were some great moments, but I was more interested in the story that wasn’t told.

 

Aside from that, I really don’t have much to say about this book that I haven’t already said about the previous two.  This series told a story that was different from anything I’d ever read before, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  I’ll have to try more of the author’s other books someday.

Review: The Philosopher Kings (Thessaly Book 2 of 3)

The Philosopher Kings - Jo Walton

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton is the second book in the Thessaly series which began with The Just City. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first book.  This time, my expectations were much higher so I wasn’t as surprised by it, but I still enjoyed it a lot. 

 

The book started off with an event that I completely did not expect and was not happy about. The book ended with an event that I completely did not expect but thought was a lot of fun.  The middle parts were interesting and kept me reading whenever I could find time this week.  My review of the first book gives more details about the premise, and I’m not going to repeat it, but I’ll just summarize by saying it involves Greek gods, ancient Greek philosophers, and time travel.  There are other elements, but I can’t list them without spoiling one or both books.

 

The event I didn’t like in the beginning was necessary, I think, to tell the story the author chose to tell. One comment I made about the first book was that it was very character-driven and didn’t have a lot of action.  This book was also very character-driven, but it did have more action.  I wouldn’t call it action-packed, but it had a more clearly-defined plot and a greater sense of jeopardy.  As before, the story rotates between three characters, with each character's story told in the first-person format.  The rotation is less even in this book; one character gets a much larger portion of the chapters than the other two.

 

This isn't a perfect book. There were some things I thought seemed inconsistent, and a few plot threads that were somewhat less interesting to me, but over-all I really enjoyed it.  As I said, the ending surprised me.  Some of the things that happened were things I hadn’t expected until closer to the end of the series, and the direction it took at the very end was completely unexpected to me, although in retrospect I can see that there were small hints.  The ending left me eager to see what happens in the third book.

Review: The Just City (Thessaly Book 1 of 3)

The Just City - Jo Walton

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to explain why I liked this book so much.  I recently picked it up for free as part of Tor.com’s eBook of the Month Club.  I believe they offered it in September.  I only read the first couple sentences of the synopsis, and it didn’t sound particularly appealing to me, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway.  I vaguely remember liking Jo Walton’s book Farthing reasonably well when I read it several years ago.

 

The general story in The Just City is that various people across time each prayed to the goddess Athene for a place like the city described in Plato’s The Republic.  Athene decided to answer their prayers and whisked them all together at a specific time on a remote island where she helps them build a city based on Plato’s principles.  The people involved range from ancient philosophers to intelligent women from more recent times who were frustrated by their lack of choices in life.  After being built, the city is populated with over 10,000 children around the age of ten.  Athene’s brother Apollo also plays a major role in the story.  The story opens up with Apollo experiencing a human concept that baffles him.  After seeking advice, he decides to live a mortal life in order to improve his understanding, and chooses to be born as a child who will eventually be brought to this Just City to live.  There’s another plot line introduced a bit later into the book, but I think it’s better left as a surprise for other first-time readers.

 

So, as you can probably guess, there’s a lot of ancient Greek mythology and philosophy in this book.  I’m not a mythology buff, but this wasn’t one of those books where the author tries to find a way to mention every god ever heard of.  Only Apollo and Athene played major roles in the story, and a few others were mentioned sparingly.  Likewise, the philosophy was presented in an accessible way.  I took an introductory philosophy course in university, and it was actually one of my favorite non-degree-related courses, but we barely scratched the surface of the subject and it certainly wasn’t something I wanted to make a career out of.  Some of the things mentioned in this book were vaguely familiar, but most of it was new to me.  However, I was never confused and there were never any info dumps.  The author conveyed the necessary information in such an entertaining way that I was barely aware she was doing it.

 

This is a very character-driven story, focusing on three main characters.  One of the characters is Apollo.  Another is Maia, one of the people who prays to Athene and is brought to help build the city.  The third character is Simmea, one of the children brought to the city.  I really enjoyed all the characters, especially Apollo.  Each chapter is told from the first-person perspective of one of the characters.  Even though the chapters were clearly labeled with the character’s name, I did have difficulty sometimes because two of the main characters were often together in both of their sets of chapters.  Sometimes I forgot whose perspective I was reading from, especially if I took a break from reading in the middle of the chapter.  It never took long before something rang false with the perspective I thought I was in and I’d get straightened back out, but it was a little jarring sometimes.

 

Plot-wise, there really isn’t a lot of action in this story.  It’s quite heavy on dialogue, and has some serious discussions about things like consent, self-determination, self-awareness, trust, and truth.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some people found the book quite boring, but for some reason this wasn’t the case for me.  I was interested from the beginning, and I only occasionally began to feel a little restless as I neared the end.  There were a few things I found questionable in terms of characters having more knowledge than I thought seemed likely and there were some things that felt a bit too convenient.  Still, it isn’t too often that I inhale a book within a day and a half, so clearly I enjoyed it.

 

This is not a stand-alone story.  It’s the first book in a trilogy, and nothing is really wrapped up at the end.  The ending was fairly dramatic, actually, and I suspect there may be quite a bit more action in the second book.  I plan to find out very soon. :)

Review: Wild Seed (Patternmaster Book 1 of 4)

Wild Seed - Octavia E. Butler

I spent the majority of this book trying to decide whether or not I liked it, and debating whether or not I would want to read the rest of the series.  The omnibus containing this series had been on sale for $1.99 earlier this month, and I bought it, so I already had the next book available.

Early this year I’d read the author’s Xenogenesis trilogy, also sometimes referred to as Lilith’s Brood, and I really enjoyed it.  This book shared a lot of similar themes, although the story and setting are quite different.  Slavery is a particularly big theme in this book.  With this book, unlike with the Xenogenesis series, I didn’t feel like there was much of a story beyond the themes being explored.  It’s very possible I would have appreciated Wild Seed more if I’d read it first.

The story in Wild Seed is set in our world, ranging from the years 1690 through 1840.  There are two main characters: a woman named Anyanwu and a man named Doro.  Anyanwu is a caring, warm woman for whom her family and community mean everything.  She’s able to see inside her body and makes changes to it.  For this reason, she’s been able to heal herself and remain alive for hundreds of years.  Doro has been alive even longer, but he has different “talents”.  He wears a body until it dies or until he gets tired of it.  He then takes over another body, killing the original owner in the process.  Doro’s entire existence is devoted to seeking out people with special abilities and breeding them with each other.  He’s completely amoral, concerned only with meeting his own objectives.  To whatever extent he treats people kindly, it’s only because doing so will help him meet his goals more effectively.  Shortly after this book begins, Doro discovers Anyanwu.  Her abilities far surpass that of the other people he’s collected, so naturally he wants to start breeding her ASAP.

Most of the story consisted of different people being mated with each other as dictated by Doro.  I wouldn’t call this a romance novel exactly, especially since some of the relationships in the story were quite disturbing and not at all romantic, but it sometimes felt like one because the story focused mainly on relationships.  I definitely wouldn’t say this book didn’t have substance, though.  It absolutely had substance, and it brought up important issues in a non-preachy way.  These issues aren’t new to a modern audience, though, and I wanted a more interesting story to go along with the exploration of those issues.

The book did have interesting aspects to it, and I wasn’t really bored by it.  Since I already have the rest of the series, it’s tempting to keep reading and see where the story goes next.  To try to make up my mind, I read a little bit about the other books and ultimately decided to stop here.  There are too many other books I’m more interested in reading.