#WeekendCoffeeShare: Guess Who’s Back edition

weekend-coffee-share

If we were having coffee … well, I’d be really confused, because it’s 7:15, and what the hell are we having coffee for at 7:15 on a Sunday night when I have to be back at work tomorrow?  But I was gonna write this post this morning, and it was going to be my probably-not-actually-long-awaited return to Weekend Coffee Share, which I haven’t participated in in forever.  So it’s still a WCS post and to hell with making sense.

So.  If we were having coffee, first I’d tell you about this book I started yesterday, and the reason I didn’t get a post up this morning is that I couldn’t put the damn book down until I was finished with it.  Do you like Sherlock Holmes?  Of course you do.  So you need to check out A Study in Honor, by Claire O’Dell, which is a Sherlock Holmes story, only it’s set in the future after the Second Civil War (Watson is still a veteran, and in fact has pretty bad PTSD) and Holmes and Watson are both queer black women.

I read it in about three hours– maybe an hour before bed last night and another two this morning, and I’m already reloading Amazon over and over again waiting for a sequel.  Go check it out, it’s great.

After that we might get into talking about religion a bit, believe it or not.  One of my oldest friends was in town this weekend with her three kids– her oldest daughter is twelve, her middle child (the only boy) is eight, putting him more or less at my son’s age, and her youngest, another daughter, is five.  We went to the zoo the first day they were in town and took them over to look around on Notre Dame’s campus the next day which, believe it or not, was the first time I’d ever seen the Grotto or the inside of the Basilica despite having lived in South Bend for 2/3 of my life or so.  The Basilica is absolutely amazing even if you have my, uh, somewhat unorthodox views on Christianity and religion in general– I may be a mean old atheist with a couple of degrees in religious studies, which, believe me, is the worst kind of mean old atheist, but I sure as hell can appreciate me some architecture.

It turns out that they keep docents around to give impromptu tours to the people who randomly wander into the place, and once ours determined that the oldest of the four kids was interested in being an architect she got real interesting real fast.  And then we got to the reliquary, which contains something like sixteen hundred relics of saints, and … man, it has been a minute since I have been around seriously religious people in a context where their serious-religiousness had a chance of playing a major role in the conversation.  And I’m not enough of an asshole to start a fight about this stuff, but I’ll admit it threw me for a hell of a loop when she pointed at one particular ornate cross and stated that it contained all of the following:

  • A piece of Jesus’ manger
  • A piece of the table the Last Supper was eaten at
  • A piece of Jesus’ burial shroud and
  • A fragment of the True Cross

And I had this moment of oh, holy shit, you genuinely believe every word you just said is true, and knew myself to be wholly in the presence of someone who does not view any part of the world the way I do.  Which, don’t get me wrong, is fine.  I don’t care.  She’s explaining her faith to me and my family and my friends and she’s being very very nice about it and frankly I’m in her house and I’m not about to start being a dick about her believing stuff I don’t believe.  You do you, nice lady.  There’s no problem here.

And then my son started talking, and as it turns out Daddy’s Little Empiricist has had absolutely no religious training of any kind at all, and, well, there’s some stuff that we kinda just assumed the wider culture would take care of for us?  I mean, we didn’t tell him about Santa Claus, and he knows all about that, and …

… well, as it turns out my son doesn’t know a god damn thing about Jesus.  And I think this lady has probably been doing her job for a good long time and she’s probably been asked a bunch of stuff and she’s probably had a handful of argumentative old atheists in that basilica on a couple of occasions and she was nonetheless not prepared for my son and his we-stole-him-from-a-South-American-jungle level of Don’t Know Nothin’ Bout Jesus.

He can tell you anything about the Avengers, though.

So yeah.  That happened.  How’s the coffee?

#Review: THE CHAOS FUNCTION, by Jack Skillingstead

41oDYcJqwBL.jpgSeveral weeks ago I RTed a promotional tweet about this book.  I didn’t really think anything of it; I RT book promos all the time if the author or the cover or really anything about it at all catches my attention, but in this particular case the publisher picked five people who had RTed the tweet and sent them an ARC of the book.  There was no particular expectation attached that I would review the book or really do anything at all with it– I mean, I’m sure they were hoping, but there was no “give us an honest review and we’ll send you a book!”

But!  I read it nonetheless, because reading books is kind of a thing I do, and I’m pleased to report that Jack Skillingstead’s The Chaos Function is a pretty solid read.  I wasn’t familiar with him or his work prior to being sent the book– he is mostly a short story guy, apparently– but he’s definitely on my radar now for future work.

The Chaos Function is a bunch of things: it’s a war novel, it’s a pre-, post- and ongoing apocalypse novel, a dash of alternate history, some conspiracy theorizing and secret society stuff, and a bit of a physics lesson.  The main character is Olivia Nikitas, a journalist specializing in war zones.  The book is set slightly in the future but you won’t be terribly surprised to learn that Skillingstead posits that Syria will continue to be a war-torn nightmare, and Nikitas is covering the war in Syria when some shit goes down and two of her friends are killed.  And then all the sudden … they aren’t anymore.  Not “not dead,” not killed.  As in she remembers them dying and they don’t.  And it turns out that somebody else died in the same event, someone who gave Olivia the ability to alter specific events in the past, but not to control what happens next.

Heard of the butterfly effect, have you?  This book asks you to imagine some really big butterflies, to overextend the metaphor just a wee bit.  And every time Olivia tries to use her new abilities, things change in ways she wasn’t expecting, and most of the time they don’t change in a way she particularly likes.  And this leads to some interesting moral dilemmas wrapped in and around the whole “people chasing me, need to stay alive, oh by the way World War III just started and I’m pretty sure it’s my fault” thing the novel has going for it.

At 304 pages it’s a fast read– Skillingstead has no time to waste on frippery or flowery language, which makes him a writer close to my own heart– and once it gets started he never lets off the gas.  The bad thing?  They got this to me early– way early– and the book doesn’t come out until March 19 of next year.  So I gotta remember to repost this, I guess.  Until then?  I hear Amazon takes pre-orders.


Random odd thing– this is an uncorrected ARC, and I know how these things go– they’re not fully proofread and not 100% ready for full distribution so there’s occasionally wonkiness in the text and typos that are gonna get caught before the book actually gets released.  But one thing I noticed that I found kind of weird:  again, this will not be the case in the final release, but there are tons of places in the text where there aren’t following spaces after a quotation mark, and frequently spaces after periods are elided as well.  This is weird because this type of error is something that modern word processors take care of automatically, so I’d love to know what was going on that so many of those specific errors made it into the text.  Again, I’m not griping, just kind of curious.

#Review: MJ-12: ENDGAME, by Michael J. Martinez

510yHfinWeL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_The usual set of disclaimers before I review any Michael J. Martinez book:  I’ve reviewed nearly everything he’s written on this blog somewhere, and not only did he thank me by name in the afterword of one of his earlier books, my review of MJ-12: Shadows is actually excerpted inside MJ-12: Endgame.  On top of that, he was nice enough to provide a book blurb for Tales: The Benevolence Archives, Vol. 3which I have featured right on the front cover.  I’ve never met the guy but if I ever do he’s gonna get a hug and there’s nothing he can do about it.

(Well, okay, there probably is.  But I’m hoping the police don’t get involved.)

Now, that said: I bought this book all by myself with my own money on purpose and there is no universe where I’m gonna write a fake positive review just to curry favor.  If I hadn’t liked it, I’d just never mention reading it on the site.

We good?  Okay.

One way or another it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I really liked this book.  MJ-12: ENDGAME is the third and final book in the MJ-12 trilogy, an alternative history book about CIA spies with superhuman powers (called Variants in this series) during the Cold War.  As usual, the premise all by itself earns the book a read for me, and this particular novel begins with the death of Stalin in 1952 and basically covers the CIA’s machinations to make sure that the head of Stalin’s secret police, Lavrentiy Beria (go ahead, click the link, I’d only barely heard of him too,) doesn’t end up in charge of the USSR.

Only, minor twist: Beria is a Variant, and can sorta shoot flames out of his hands, and he’s also in control of the Soviet Union’s still-very-much-a-secret Variant program.  MJ-12: Shadows sent me to Wikipedia to check up on stuff after I read it.  Endgame had me doing research damn near immediately, because I wanted to make sure the minimal stuff I remember from the couple of books about Stalin I’ve read was mostly accurate.

So you can read Endgame on a bunch of levels.  If you’re a history buff, you’ll enjoy it because the Cold War is interesting enough on its own and the Soviet Union immediately post-Stalin was, uh, a bit more volatile than most of the time.  If you like spy novels, you’ll get a great old-school spycraft novel, only with people with superhuman abilities instead of James Bond-style fancy gadgets.  And if you like superheroes, well, you won’t exactly get superheroes per se– these folks are spies, with all the moral gray areas that implies, and some of them make some, uh, rather cold decisions over the course of the book– but the range of powers Martinez’ characters have and the various drawbacks and limitations of those powers are fascinating.  There’s a great balancing act going on in this book– there are a lot of characters, and while the book does a decent act of standing on its own I’d strongly recommend reading the first two first, because there are so many moving pieces, such as an entire subplot going on involving the Korean War.  The end result is an elegantly-written, complex novel that still manages to clock in at just barely over 300 pages.  There’s not a wasted page anywhere in this book, guys; it’s that well-done.

My only complaint?  I want more, and while Martinez doesn’t exactly tie the universe up with a bow on it the ending makes it clear that while there is definitely space for future books in this universe they will take place in an entirely different status quo.  That said, this series is radically different in tone and genre from the Daedalus series, Mike’s previous trilogy, and I genuinely can’t wait to see what he’s got coming next.

All available stars; would read again; you should go read now.

In which I shitpost

I don’t actually have anything of substance to say tonight, to the point where I’m not going to bother cross-posting this to Facebook like I usually do.  I’m mostly just posting because I’ve had a nice little run going for the last several weeks and I’m coming out of my September Death Cold (TM) just in time to go back to work.  So… thank unions for three-day weekends, I suppose, because otherwise I’d have had to take off from work and now I don’t have to.  Yay?

temperIt was actually a pretty pleasant weekend despite all the near-death nonsense.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the weekends lately, and this weekend I finished Foundryside, which was amazing, and then read Nicky Drayden’s new book Temper from cover to cover too.  I reviewed her previous book, The Prey of Gods, and it was one of those books where I didn’t necessarily like it all that much but the goddamn thing was oozing potential to the degree where not buying her second book really wasn’t something I even considered.    Here’s the thing about Nicky Drayden: each of her books, so far, have actually been six books.  Temper is just as stuffed full of ideas as TPoG, but it’s a bit more cohesive and less insane and while it still wasn’t quite a five-star read for me I am absolutely still onboard for her next book and think you should check one or both of them out.

This has been a spectacular year for reading, guys.

Hmm.  I guess that counts as a topic for the post?  Sure, why not?

Go read FOUNDRYSIDE right now

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Guys I am very tired and very sick and I should have been in bed an hour ago but instead I started this 500-page book like last night or maybe the night before that again I’ve been sick and this weekend is a bit of a blur but holy shit it’s good and I just finished it after reading basically all day and you need to read it now now now now dammit now why are you still here

God I need sleep