Review: Darkness on the Edge of Town

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Posted on : 8/12/2019 09:07:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Darkness on the Edge of Town Darkness on the Edge of Town by Brian Keene
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a 3-Star review. That's a good description of my experience.

Residents of a town discover that a dark curtain has descended on their town. The curtain blocks out the sun, moon, and stars. No one that enters the curtain ever returns. Those that enter it can be heard screaming in agony...for a time.

Faced with living for some unknown time confined with their neighbors, the town quickly...and in my opinion a little bit inexplicably....becomes self-destructive. It is suggested that the force behind the curtain is telepathically encouraging the self-destruction. The book doesn't provide enough context for each individual to know if that force is planting an new seed of destruction or encouraging something that was already there. As a group of humans, it seems like it was something already there. But we never get to meet most of the characters before the curtain came down, so it is impossible to know how they have fundamentally changed after it came down.

This is sort of a cross between Lord of the Flies and Stephen King's Beneath the Dome. In fact, this book was published a few months after Beneath the Dome.

I was halfway through the book before I had enough interest to want to finish it. I'm a huge fan of the author's podcast and wanted to give his books a try.

There were very few reasons to have any emotion for or against any of the characters. They have little history upon which to base an emotional connection.

There isn't any real building of suspense. The dark curtain falls. Things become steadily, progressively worse. There really aren't any huge surprises once we get to the worst condition. The violence borders on being mundane because it is expected.

While I'm sure that I'll be reading more of the author's work, I have no desire to revisit this book.


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Some Final Thoughts on the 2019 Hugo Awards

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Posted on : 8/04/2019 10:30:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

My ballot for this year's Hugo Awards went in before the end of July.  I ended up only voting in the Novel category.  My ballot was:

  1. Spinning Silver
  2. Trail of Lightning
  3. Record of a Spaceborn Few
  4. No award
  5. The Calculating Stars
  6. Revenant Gun
  7. Space Opera

It was really close on The Calculating Stars, but I thought she took a shortcut that undermined her larger message.

I didn't vote in any other categories for a couple of reasons.  In order:

  1. My dad spent this year dying from cancer.  I was his primary support.
  2. See #1
  3. See #1
  4. See #1
  5. See #1
  6. See #1
  7. See #1
  8. See #1
  9. The narrow range of repeat nominees
  10. The seemingly outsized influence of review sites/publishers
So the biggest issue was that I didn't have as much time this year to spend on reading/listening to the nominated works and then reviewing them.  That aside, there are a couple of issues that compromise my enthusiasm for the process.

I typically focus the Novel, Fancast, and Graphic Novel categories.  Depending on time, I might wander into the art and short story categories.  But those first three are the ones that I care about more than the rest.  I think I have a reasonable base of experience with works in that category and thus can offer a reasonably informed opinion regarding what might or might not be worthy of recognition.

The last couple of years have witnessed a significant narrowing in the range of works considered for nomination.

For example, four of the works in the Graphic Novel category come from properties that have nominated in past years.  Black Panther, Monstress, Paper Girls, and Saga are all repeat nominees; in some cases, multiple repeat nominees.

To be blunt, I have never been impressed with the storytelling or art associated with Saga.  I was disinterested in reading this year's nominated volume based on my underwhelming experiences in year's past.  Ironically, the guy that writes Saga also writes Paper Girls.  I think Paper Girls is generally a property that is worthy of attention.  For what it is worth, I thought Frank Cho's "Skybourne" and "Redlands" by Jordie Bellaire & Vanesa Del Rey were worth consideration.  I would put either of them above Saga.

In the Novel category, "Record of a Spaceborn Few" and "Revenant Gun" also come from series that have been nominated several times.  I am concerned that nominations of each installment in a series represent a trend that will ultimately narrow the range of works considered within the category.  All of the novels in N.K. Jemisin's "Broken Earth" series were nominated and won in the novel category. I put all three novels above "no award" on those ballots (and put at least one in first place) as those were incredibly good books.  So I'm not arguing against series-based work ever being on the novel ballot or that multiple entries in a series shouldn't be eligible in the novel category in multiple years.  I am suggesting that a portion of the nominating readers may be focused on such a narrow band of works that they might be excluding other works that are more worthy of consideration and ultimately nomination to the shortlist.

Had I read it in time for nominations this year, Mark Lawrence's "Grey Sister" would surely have been on my ballot.  I hope that the capstone of that trilogy, "Holy Sister" will be read by enough nominators that it will make next year's ballot.  Grey Sister was head and shoulders above the works that I put below "no award" this year.

In the Fancast category, the Coode Street Podcast, Fangirl Happy Hour, and Galactic Suburbia are repeat nominees.  Coode Street and Galactic Suburbia have their positive moments.  I've heard enough of Fangirl Happy Hour to know that they aren't all that impressive.  I gave a quick listen to the first episode of Be The Serpent.  It was the first episode and not bad by that standard.  I hope they've gotten better.  By comparison, all of my nominees in this category have a lengthy history of exemplary work in the genre.

I think the fact that there are so many repeat properties suggests that an unhealthy number of nominators are not looking very seriously at a broader range of titles.  Lela Buis has suggested that identity politics may be one factor that motivates a narrowing of the properties considered for nomination.  A few years ago, K. Tempest Bradford suggested the idea of not bothering to read works by straight white men for a while.

And of course, there is a habitual suggestion that self-published works are not generally worthy of larger consideration.  This year's SPFBO winner, Orconomics, is a tour-de-force that was originally published in 2014.   I would compare it favorably to The Goblin Emperor; a book that has grown on me since I read it.  Either book was better than that year's winner in my opinion.

The point is that if nominators were sampling a broader range of works, then we should see fewer repeat nominees from the series.

A related factor is that review sites may not be as broad in their coverage of the genre.  As a result, readers that look to review sites for references to quality work may not encounter quality works that are not reviewed because those authors or their publishing houses may not enjoy an appropriate "reputation" among reviewers.

One example that should be receiving more attention is Adrian Collins.  He is the editor of Grimdark Magazine and the GdM anthologies.  His work is outstanding.  Many of the included works are also worthy of wider recognition.

A second, admittedly lesser example would be Cirsova magazine.  I read issue #1 a while back.  It presented middling to decent fiction.  The works in the most recent issue were better.  It is definitely a publication that I would suggest that readers try to see if it presents works that they appreciate.  It has a bit of a retro feel to it while also leaving open the possibility of encountering works that translate that retro aesthetic into something that expands upon modern sensibilities.

Neither GdM or Cirsova appears to be on the radar of active readers that nominate for the Hugos.

While I certainly lacked time to engage with the Hugo nominees in a more substantive way this year, I also found that I had less motivation to make that effort.  The narrow range of nominations was less interesting.  With the recent unpleasantness neatly tucked out of the way, I hope that the Hugos do not suffer in the long run from a nomination field that based on an artificially limited scope of interest.



Review: Fighting to Survive

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Posted on : 8/04/2019 07:29:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Fighting to Survive Fighting to Survive by Rhiannon Frater
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a weak 4-star review.

Fighting to Survive tells the story of a group of survivors from the prototypical zombie apocalypse. They start out living elbow to elbow in a reinforced/walled construction yard with zombies on all sides. Eventually, they expand out into the surrounding area.

The zombies are a problem. But in some ways, human politics is a larger challenge.

And in some ways, the purposeful cruelties of other humans living in the area pose the largest challenges of all.

The cast of characters includes a broad spectrum of individuals each bringing their own unique talents and perspectives to performing the myriad tasks needed to help humanity survive and hopefully to let human civilization begin to thrive.

Difficult challenges will face our merry band of survivors. Some of their solutions are not what most people would endorse. They happen anyway.

A mysterious Vigilante is in the compound occasionally tossing someone over the walls to the waiting zombies. The victim being someone that had demonstrated a purposeful lack of concern for their fellow survivors. Exactly who the Vigilante is an ongoing question.

This was a solid 4-star read right until the last 5-10 chapters. At that point, the author took a wonderfully inclusive narrative and infused it with latent racism and misandry.

A very enjoyable read. Easy to see why it was picked up from being self-published by a major publishing house. Just a couple of rough edges that could have been smoothed out with a little editorial discretion.

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Review: Heroing

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Posted on : 8/02/2019 07:28:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Heroing Heroing by Dafydd ab Hugh
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This is a 1-star, Dorothy Parker review. That is an accurate assessment of my experience.

Five chapters. That's all it took. And as it was a physical book, the opportunity to evaluate its aerodynamic capabilities was not to be denied. The gouge in the drywall will need to be fixed.

It appears that this is the first book written by the author. It showed.

In five chapters, there was no character development. Why was she there? Why did she want to go adventuring/fighting? What personality quirks endeared her to the reader.....or made her interestingly repellant.

Nothing.

Within the story of the book, the heroine was broke and out of work. Within the text, it is demonstrated that she isn't very good at "heroing". At least, she doesn't demonstrate any special capacity for it.

There is a bit of misogyny expressed by other characters that seems to suggest that what she lacks is an opportunity rather than lacking in the ability.

It was about that time that I found the author's statement at the back of the book. Apparently, this book was an attempt to illustrate the "patriarchy". The book accomplishes that task poorly by using a character that is ill-prepared for any opportunity that might come her way.

The primary sins of this book are that it fails to present interesting characters and places an unsubtle polemic objective before the task of telling a good story. I read several other books both immediately before and immediately after that subtly and effectively did a better job of discussing issues surrounding equality than this awful load of offal.

Heroing might have reached the rare achievement of being a book that will go in the dustbin instead of to a used book store or a Little Free Library.

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The Biological Differences Between Men and Women

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Posted on : 7/10/2019 04:02:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

I ran across this item that is posted on Reddit.  The graph is from a large scale study of the American public.  The data illustrates the relative strength between men and women in the US.

The Reddit entry, with the study data and description, are here.

Click to embiggen

This was a part of Megan McArdle's longer discussion about the pay of the US Women's National Soccer Team relative to the USMNT.  The thread extends for quite a while, and she makes some great points.




Mostly I'm just saving this for future reference.  The folks in Reddit's Data is Beautiful do an outstanding job of presenting complex information in a manner that is easy for almost everyone to understand.


Review: Revenant Gun

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Posted on : 6/28/2019 03:40:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Revenant Gun Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a solid 3-star, DNF review.

I was reading this book for the 2019 Hugo Awards.

This book is a fantasy novel dressed up as MilSF. While there are military related elements involved (as in some sort of space navy), there isn't really much about actual military service. And the "sci-fi" elements involve physics/reality being shaped by local beliefs/customs. That is more fantasy than anything else.

While it is reasonably well written, I just didn't care about any of the characters in the story. I didn't care who won. I didn't care who lost. Whatever the outcome, it was bound to be trouble for everyone else.

The combination of the faux-MilSF story coupled with characters that were not engaging caused me to put this book aside. I have a lengthy TBR pile and need not waste time with something as disinteresting as this was for me.

For the record, this is going in 5th position on my ballot. Definitely below "no award" as it is not up to the standards of past winners.


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Review: Grunt Life

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Posted on : 6/28/2019 01:29:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Grunt Life Grunt Life by Weston Ochse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a solid 3-star review.

I heard about the book via an author panel that was rebroadcast on The Horror Show with Brian Keene Podcast. Weston's perspective as a fellow vet sounded interesting.

The premise of the book is that a shadowy organization is assembling vets to fight a pending alien invasion of earth. All of the vets are troubled to the point of attempting suicide. PTSD is very common. Guilt over the deaths of others (combat, non-combat accidents, etc.) is almost universal.

The shadowy organization "saves" the vets from suicide, provides a cover story (faked suicides being common), and then takes the vets to a facility where they work through their issues. Or they don't.

Those that survive the process are built back up into combat teams. The invasion comes and this private military is deployed.

What the author gets right is the relationships between vets; also the relationship between the vets and those they serve. Those conversations really get to the meat of how vets relate to one another and the rest of the world. The other feature that the author handles very well is PTSD and survivor guilt.

What holds this book back are the lengthy internal monologues, using a single POV when there are so many interesting characters present, devolving into gun porn - military formation porn - and overuse of military jargon, and lastly moralizing about corporate/military vendor profits.

At some point, the detailed description of which type/model weapon is strapped to what piece of armor in which specific configuration is just boring detail that gets in the way of the story being told. People with lots of trigger experience might enjoy seeing the MP5 called an MP5 on successive pages.

The same thing applies to unit configuration/designations.

In terms of interpersonal relationships, internal motivations, and a good sci-fi premise, this book has a lot to offer. It also carries some baggage that can get in the way of the story.

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Review: Spinning Silver

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Posted on : 6/07/2019 06:31:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Spinning Silver Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ms. Novik is a fabulous and inventive author.

This could have been just another re-telling of an old faery tale with some sort of modern twist. And to be fair, there are lots of points in the story where you feel like you are revisiting an old faery tale; Rumplestiltskin being the first obvious one.

But those old tales are the bones of the story. Ms. Novik arranges those bones in a way so that when wrapped with the rhetorical meat of the tale, her story is something completely unique.

She utilizes several different POV characters. Most of the story is told through the eyes of about half a dozen characters with another half dozen (or so) that fill in along the way.

There are several characters that act as antagonists along the way. Yet they have their own perspectives in which their actions are revealed as defensible even if they aren't pleasant. Most antagonists get a shot at redemption; most are successful in unique ways.

I read this book as part of preparing for voting for the Hugo Awards (2019). This book will be in first place on my ballot.

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ETA - This is a 5 star review...not 0 stars!!

Review: Trail of Lightning

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Posted on : 4/23/2019 04:08:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Trail of Lightning Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a 5-star review. I read this book as part of the 2019 Hugo Awards for the best novel category.

Trail of Lightning offers a unique take on post-apocalyptic tales. The big "what if" is what if the world ends and the gods of the indigenous peoples of the US (and presumably elsewhere) return. How do those people use their folklore to reconnect their gods and their tribal powers? What if that folklore represented what those people could actually do in the years before the Americas were colonized?

The author appears to have done her homework on representing tribal perspectives in a way that seems respectful and authentic.

One facet of her story that rings true is how power is used with an eye towards benefitting the tribal leadership structure rather than serving the broader tribal membership.

The larger narrative was about a tribal monster hunter....ahem....hunting monsters. They had been created by someone with access to a lot of power. She has to chase down the identity of the one creating the monsters. She occasionally runs into gods (demi-gods?) who have their own agenda. And eventually, she has to discover how she had been used (and abused) as a pawn in a larger game.

This book sucked me in and would not let me go. When I start ignoring the world around me in favor of a book, I know I've found a book with a very well told story. This is precisely such a book.


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