Review: Jade City

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Posted on : 11/25/2018 09:06:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Jade City Jade City by Fonda Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fonda Lee hits one out of the park! Almost....

Jade City is the story of rival criminal gangs. The gang members are genetically capable of using pieces of jade to give them near superpowers. They go through 8 years of intense training to be able to hold and use jade for that purpose.

The gangs maintain a tight control on who gets the jade and who gets trained to use it. Effectively, the gangs run the city in a way.

The author did a ton of research on real criminal gangs as well as depictions in movies and books over the years. The Asian influence is apparent as the gangs are on some sort of Asian island, draw inspiration from wuxia and use a version of kung fu (my interpretation).

The characters have multiple motivations and are well developed. The plot holes are few and minor.

The one thing that holds me back from giving this 5 stars is that Ms. Lee didn't trust her readers to get all of the subtext of the book.

It is apparent from the story that these gangs are largely male dominated. Yet as the society evolves with improvements in technology and exposure to other cultures, women find that they are able to create their own roles in that gang culture. It is harder for them at times. It is also just different.

Rather than let those features be self-evident, Ms. Lee put in a few direct statements confirming that the gangs were dominated by men. Well....yes....all the other words around those statements made it pretty clear.

Authors, trust your readers to "get it". You don't have to rub their faces in identity politics to get your point across.

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Review: Skin

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Posted on : 11/25/2018 08:49:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Skin Skin by Peter Fugazzotto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good novella from horror/grim-dark fantasy author Peter Fugazzotto.

A group of men guarding a border outpost find that they have invited some creature into their keep. The creature can mimic any person. And it is killing them off one by one.

Well constructed story. Compelling characters and decent world building.

As the author readily admits, this story seems to be a close parallel with John Carpenter's movie "The Thing". That was apparent to me early on in reading the story. But the writing was compelling enough to keep me interested in seeing how Peter would reveal his version of the story.

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Review: Fool's Assassin

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Posted on : 11/25/2018 08:43:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Fool's Assassin Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great opening book for this trilogy. Interesting world building and character development.

The biggest drawback was the lack of inventiveness for the magic system. Called it "wit" and "skill" was a bit lazy.

Otherwise, this is a great book and I look forward to the rest of the trilogy.

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Review: 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers

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Posted on : 11/02/2018 01:25:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastic and awe-inspiring recounting of the early days of America's involvement in Afghanistan. The book illustrates how putting a few highly capable individuals in just the right position with the authority to get the job done results in the job...getting done.

The book also illustrates how the difference in cultures creates many opportunities for missteps.

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Review: Beren and LĂșthien

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Posted on : 10/31/2018 09:14:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Beren and LĂșthien Beren and LĂșthien by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was hoping for a more refined tale that was more in keeping with The Hobbit and LotR. This was not that.

I read the first version of Beren and Luthien that is included in the book. It was interesting but not as tight as the later works. The origin story for the conflict between dogs and cats was pretty good.

If you are a hard-core Tolkien fan, then this book is for you. If you had a hard time getting through the Silmarillion, then this book probably is not for you.

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Review: Paper Girls, Vol. 3

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Posted on : 10/22/2018 02:39:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Paper Girls, Vol. 3 Paper Girls, Vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another great entry in this series. Top-notch writing and great artwork combine to tell an unusual tale of gritting and determined young girls surviving in a world gone sideways.

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Review: Saga, Vol. 7

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Posted on : 10/22/2018 02:37:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Saga, Vol. 7 Saga, Vol. 7 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The artwork is good, but not really all that great.

The story continues to be a pedantic tale of human sexuality with some sci-fi/fantasy tropes slathered on.

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Review: Low, Vol. 1: The Delirium of Hope

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Posted on : 10/22/2018 02:30:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Low, Vol. 1: The Delirium of Hope Low, Vol. 1: The Delirium of Hope by Rick Remender
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Our sun will eventually expand until it consumes our entire solar system. What will humanity do in those final few years as the sun slowly expands towards our orbit? Will we seek a new home? What if the search isn't over, but we have to hide? Where can we hide?

We can go....Low. Deep into the depths of the ocean.

Fantastic artwork and writing present a tale of humanity where optimism and hope fuel our final efforts to escape the coming conflagration in a world where optimism and hope are in short supply.

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Review: Blackbird #1

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Posted on : 10/22/2018 02:25:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Blackbird #1 Blackbird #1 by Sam Humphries
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great start to a new series. Looking forward to where the author and artist want to go next.

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Review: Redlands, Vol. 1

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Posted on : 10/22/2018 02:23:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Redlands, Vol. 1 Redlands, Vol. 1 by Jordie Bellaire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Going on my Hugo nomination ballot for 2019. It was that good. Great art. Great story arc.

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Review: Six Wakes

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Posted on : 9/09/2018 07:49:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,


Six WakesSix Wakes by Mur Lafferty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a 4-star review. That is an accurate description of my experience with this book.

I read this book as it was a finalist for this year's Hugo Awards. While it was very enjoyable, it only made it to third place on my ballot.

The premise of the book is a crew of 6 people that run an interstellar spaceship. It will take generations to get to the destination. The passengers are all packed away in a sort of hypersleep so they won't age during the trip.

The crew are all clones. In this fictional world, only one instance of a person can exist at one time. And if a person gets cloned, then they are not supposed to procreate. Essentially the bargain is that a clone can effectively live forever...once. The technology saves their memories from time to time so that if they die, their memories can be re-uploaded into a new clone and off they go.

The book deals heavily in the idea of what it means to be a person. It also leans into ethical issues such as genetic modifications and hacking of a person's brain (memories, personalities, etc.)

Each of the 6 crew members has a feature that makes them unique as a clone. The book does an excellent job of pacing as these features/histories are revealed.

The bones of the story is that the entire crew wakes up after being re-uploaded into new clones. Their most recent memories are from decades earlier. Yet they can clearly see that their prior clone bodies died in an orgy of violence. The question is...why? This turns into a bit of a murder/mystery as the characters go through a process of eliminating motivations and methods.

No spoilers,  but the ending really undermined all of the work that the author had done throughout the book. After all of the increasing tension and finger pointing, the crew decides to sit down and be nice....for reasons.  It was a good ending...but not a great one.


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Review: Planetfall

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Posted on : 9/09/2018 07:33:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Planetfall Planetfall by Emma Newman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a charitable 3 star review. It isn't really at 2 star level, but it isn't really at 3 star level either.

The premise of the book is that Earth is crowded, polluted, and noisy. One of the characters picks up a plant and has a "religious" experience. She claims that she knows where "God" is. A group of followers assemble a spaceship and the technology needed to make the trip to this other planet.

The story after they get there devolves into a murder mystery. This book might be more aptly described as science fantasy than science fiction. The mainline story is engaging enough. Our protagonist is also a hoarder. Her hoarding is related to some of the larger story, so no spoilers.

The plot also involves a lot of discussion about 3D printing. As this technology is pretty old at this point, it just didn't seem to add a futuristic element to the story.

Other elements that seemed a bit off were:

The colony has a lot of advanced tech that ensures a minimal biological footprint. They also enjoy advanced medical technology that allows them to live much longer than humans currently do. Part of the plot is that Earth was rapidly degrading due to a lack of resources/lack of recycling/etc. Yet the colonists leave Earth in possession of all that tech that could have made Earth a better place. The lack of logic here is disappointing.

The colony just exists. They build a little village around the base of a structure where "God" is supposed to be. They don't explore. They just sit there waiting for their leader to come back from "God".

Then there is the ending. If you have ever watched the movie "Mission to Mars", then you've pretty much got the ending.

I've loved other books written by Ms. Newman. This is just a bit too much of a mish-mash to be truely worthwhile.

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Review: The Wandering Inn: Volume 1

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Posted on : 9/09/2018 07:32:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

The Wandering Inn: Volume 1 The Wandering Inn: Volume 1 by Pirateaba
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

This is a brief, unstarred review. I don't want to influence the average.

This appears to be LitRPG. LitRPG apparently isn't my thing. Reading about characters that are aware of when they level-up isn't very interesting to me. I only made it through a few chapters.

This book first appeared as a series of blog entries. I highly recommend that you read the first few chapters there before buying the book. The premise was interesting enough that I bought the book. The execution just wasn't there.

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Review: Provenance

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Posted on : 9/09/2018 07:32:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , , ,

Provenance Provenance by Ann Leckie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a 2-star review for a DNF book.

I read this book due to its being a finalist for the Hugo Awards this year. It ended up below "no award" on my ballot. It was that bad.

The protagonist is an entitled girl who is fixated on showing her adoptive mother that she can be as useful as her other adopted siblings. She has access to wealth and opportunity to pursue anything else. Instead, she wanders from one half-baked "plan" to the next. Why anyone goes along with her plans is mystifying.

There are several secondary characters that seem like they might be interesting. Yet they slide easily out of the story and beyond the reader's attention.

One major plot hole was the number of incidents where characters were confessing their closely guarded secrets to her for no discernable reason. These secrets always involved crimes that for which the characters had not been captured or punished. Our protagonist didn't need the information and didn't use it in any way. The characters weren't put in a position where they had to reveal their secrets. They just did.....reasons I guess.

Dorothy Parker's ghost demanded justice.



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Review: Freehold

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Posted on : 7/03/2018 04:37:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Freehold Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a 2-star review. That is a reasonable estimate of my experience with this book. I made it through 24.5% of the book before the ghost of Dorothy Parker arose and seized it from my hands.

The book purports to tell the story of our main character, Sergeant Kendra Pacelli. She finds herself accused of inappropriately transferring military property to non-authorized persons. It appears that she was working for the people performing the actual transfers, but guilt by association brought her the attention of law enforcement.

Rather than face the music in a system that apparently has little interest in justice, she runs.

She runs to the embassy of Freehold; a non-aligned planet that generally refuses extradition requests from the Earth. They help her make it to Freehold for unexplained reasons.

It is heavily implied that the Earth government knows no bounds with respect to regulation and few bounds with respect to taxation.

In contrast, Freehold operates with a minimal government where everyone chooses to get along and all problems are resolved by contractual arrangements and the courts.

The book suffers from too many "it/they wouldn't work that way" moments. As a point of comparison, Heinlein's works generally did a decent (and better) job of communicating how less government might work. The key here is that Heinlein included a few warts. He also included some sort of justification for how things operate.

In the case of Freehold, the society works because of handwavium. Mr. Williamson purchases it in bulk. Kendra is essentially walked through the world while other characters point out the differences between Freehold and Earth while never finding an issue where Freehold has had to make adjustments that were more difficult because of their live and let live attitude.

I started checking out of the story when Kendra shifts from being a driven protagonist to being an object being moved around the table at the author's convenience. Earth cultural norms in the book are generally opposed to public nudity, casual sex, prostitution. Kendra comes out of that environment, exhibits some reticence with Freehold's more relaxed perspective, and quickly transitions into a three-way experience that is followed closely by her first lesbian session. This change happens not because she affirmatively seeks the new experiences, but because the Freeholders start in and Kendra doesn't resist. That sort of unmotivated character shift represents a lower quality of writing.

The other major event was when her neighbor Rob takes her up in a military aircraft. I was expecting a check ride experience. Instead, they take someone with no flight training out on a high-intensity training mission and flip/flop them all over the sky while firing training munitions all over the place.

This was the capstone of the wish-fulfillment adventure....as far as I read. Rob is a handsome and available guy. He willingly gives advice to Kendra on how to fit in on Freehold; advice that he points out others would routinely charge a fee to provide. At one point, he leads the rescue effort after a three-car pile-up. he has a day job that doesn't involve police/fire/rescue, he does odd jobs around his apartment complex (that he eventually buys), and he's the fearless and faultless flight lead on this training mission. Might he have any flaws? None that we are presented to the reader in the first quarter of the book.

I'm a big fan of individual liberty. This book should fit right in my wheelhouse. The opening few chapters suggested a lot of promise that subsided into titillation (pun intended) interspersed with episodes of wish fulfillment. Aside from the conflict at the beginning, the story becomes more like a travelog that views the locals through definitively rose-colored glasses.


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2018 Hugo Fancast

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Posted on : 6/12/2018 04:43:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

My review of this year's fan-casting nominees.  I began listening before the packets were issued.  I selected roughly two hours worth of material based on the episode descriptions.  If the descriptions sounded like a topic (or topics) that might interest me, then they got added to my list.

By selecting episodes that attract my interest, I'm hoping to give each nominee the best chance to engage me.

As that is the process that I began using, I think it would be unfair to change my approach and use whatever is in the packets to guide my listening.

As with my indispensable podcast listing, my ratings are based on three factors; production values, entertainment, and information.*

  • Doctor Who: Verity! (Episodes 143 and Aug 2, 2017) - The hosts seemed to be having a great time discussing their perspectives.  They shared the microphone well and were entertaining.  If I were inclined towards Doctor Who, I would be very inclined to make this a regular part of my podcasting habit.  One modest word of warning.  The rampant objectification and sexism displayed in the August 2nd episode served as a pointed reminder of the importance of including a diverse range of opinions.  
  • The Sword and Laser (Episodes 277, 282, 284, and 310) - This show was quite delightful.  The hosts are engaging with one another and with the audience.  They covered a lot of ground with respect to new books being published and discussions on Goodreads.  If I weren't already fully engaged in the genre, I would consider these folks to be a good starting point.  My only criticism is that most of the "information" in the information part of my assessment ended up being an invitation to join them on Goodreads.  It sounds like a lively group.  If I had the time, I would definitely consider engaging with them.
  • Galactic Suburbia - (Episodes 163 and 168) - This is a podcast that I put below No Award last year because of their fixation on identity politics.  That factor was dialed back quite a bit in these two episodes.  The hosts were lively, shared the microphone quite well, and covered a broad range of properties and topics within the genre.
  • The Coode Street Podcast - (Episodes 315 with Liz Bourke and Niall Harrison, and 317 with Irene Gallow) - Episode 315 suffered from a dry erudition that one might imagine occurring in a stately library furnished with overstuffed chairs with the vague aroma of pipe tobacco floating in the air.  The thoughts of the hosts and the guests were mildly entertaining and reasonably informative.  Beyond that, there isn't much to recall.  Episode 317 was much better as the hosts asked interesting questions and then got out of Irene Gallo's way.  Her responses to their questions about her career and her role in the industry were quite interesting.  [Before someone asks, yes, I know about Irene Gallo's past pronouncements.  There are some areas where she and I clearly do not agree.  Those issues were not addressed this episode and I am unwilling to discount the Coode Street Podcast due to her disagreeable past.]
  • No Award
  • Ditch Diggers - (Episodes 42 and 50) - This was a tough one.  One of the hosts grinds on my ears a bit.  He is a bit on the pompous side.  However, Episode 42 provided some fantastic role-playing to illustrate how writers (and other creatives) and reject offers of working for "exposure".  The flip side was Episode 50 which used precisely the same situation to provide a "fuck you" to authors that choose to work for exposure.  Intolerance and uncompassionate perspectives are unworthy of awards.
  • Fangirl Happy Hour - (Episodes 81, 85, 101, and 102) - The primary problem with this podcast is that the range of discussion was somewhat limited.  Quite a bit of discussion ended up being "I liked that thing" followed by "I liked that thing, too.  I also liked this other thing" followed by "I liked that thing, too!"  That is a bit of an oversimplification, but not by much.  There wasn't much of a discussion about why the "thing" was liked.  A secondary issue was that the hosts seem to be only able to perceive the world from an identity politics/intersectional perspective.  The most prominent example was a discussion of the movie Stargate.  There was a brief discussion lamenting that the plot involved "white people saving brown people".  The hosts overlooked the fact that the team sent through the Stargate was diverse.  They also overlooked the fact that the people being saved in this particular case were being held as slaves and therefore could not save themselves.  There was also an offhand comment along the lines of "White people are creepy".  That sort of enabling of racism really needs to be rejected.
  •  
*Entertainment - Are the hosts engaging with one another and their audience.  Do they leave you wanting to listen more.

Information - Are the hosts presenting new information.  Are they at least providing a fresh perspective on an old property.

Production values - Do they share the microphone well.  Is there distracting background noise.  Are the levels on the microphones equalized so all of the personalities are speaking at the same relative volume.

There are some factors that might influence two different categories such as a host that is less than engaging as a speaker.