Some short #reviews

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SHORT REVIEW THE FIRST:  Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee. Funny story about this book: it’s the second in a series that is going to run at least three books– I think the third one was just formally announced– but it was the first one I bought because occasionally I’m an idiot.  One of the disadvantages of ordering damn near everything I read from Amazon is that once in a very long while I order a sequel to a book I haven’t read without realizing it.

So, anyway: the first book?  I three-starred it, once I ordered and read it, mostly because I couldn’t wrap my head around the technology in the book to save my damn life (all of the tech in the book depends on a common understanding of the calendar, except fifty times more complicated and weird and unique than that sounds) and as a result I didn’t get the book all that well.  It was one of those things where I didn’t blame the book– it’s not the book’s fault that it’s smarter than me– but I wasn’t looking forward to the sequel.

Well, despite still not really being able to wrap my head around the technology, I’m either used to it or it’s backgrounded a bit more in this book, because I’ve blazed through it and I’m enjoying the hell out of it.  I’m not quite done, so I suppose things could still go to hell– but I’m liking Book Two enough that I’ll probably revisit the whole series once Book Three comes out, and I think you should start with Ninefox Gambit and go from there.


SHORT REVIEW THE SECOND: The-WitnessI’ve talked about The Witness a bit here already, but now I’ve beaten it, or at least played it to the point where it does something that is so bullshit that I decided I wasn’t playing it any longer.  It ends poorly, but the hundreds of puzzles that lead up to that poor ending are of generally entertaining and challenging caliber, with most of them proving a level of difficulty and feeling of achievement that keep me moving and playing.  There were definitely a few that I cheated on (I don’t have ego about this shit any longer) but for the most part it’s one of the most solid puzzle games I’ve played in quite a while.  The ending is bullshit, but the game saves itself right before it pulls the bullshit on you, so if you’re of the type to be able to wait once you know the game is beaten, do that and go solve all the other puzzles that aren’t in the main, objective-based walkthrough.  Not a 10/10, but you should still try it out.


Horizon Zero Dawn.jpgSHORT REVIEW THE THIRD:  Now this one is a 10/10.  Despite the stupid name, Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of the best games of this generation.  I got it at a stupid-deep discount for only $20, but I’d gladly have paid full price.  The premise is laid out pretty clearly on the cover there: you’re fighting robot dinosaurs with a bow and arrow.  If you don’t reply “I’m in!” after reading that, you and I really can’t be friends.  The combat took a little getting used to but gets really interesting and deep after a while (any game that can have me regularly using five or six different weapons at different points of a big fight is a game with a good combat system) and literally my only complaint about it is that some of the animations are a little janky.  I never did get used to watching Aloy walk anywhere; they probably should have cleaned up that basic animation a bit.  The plot itself is dense and multilayered and fun, post-apocalyptic pre-apocalyptic done right, and they managed to remember that people of color will survive along with the white folk.  Extra points for Aloy herself, who is as compelling a character as I’ve played in a video game in quite some time– probably since Joel in The Last of Us.  This game is worth getting a PS4 for if you don’t have one, guys.  That good.

Well that escalated quickly

colored-pencilsSo now I’m researching sketching pencils and I’m in a Facebook group designed specifically to encourage people to create every day.  I actually did buy some new pencils today but, as ridiculous as this sounds, I feel like I need to know more about what the letters and numbers mean beyond the obvious “hey, this one has a lighter line!” and “hey, this one broke instantly when I tried to draw with it!”

So, yeah, the draw every day project is still going and is gradually absorbing more of my mindspace.  In case you were wondering.


Nobody is really crying out for my opinion on this, but there is a deeply stupid little kerfluffle going on on Twitter right now (TwitterTM: The Place for Kerfluffles) about politics and science fiction.  A batch of yahoos calling themselves the Science Fiction & Fantasy Creators Guild was dumb enough to insert themselves into the mentions of N.K. Jemisin, of all the goddamn people they could have chosen, to ask her to join them in their search for… wait for it…

…politics-free science fiction.   Which… come the fuck on.  Witness this dumbshittery:

The backlash and dumpster fire that has followed has been positively breathtaking to behold.

Let’s be real clear here: this notion of “politics-free” science fiction is code for science fiction what doesn’t have those brown people and those gays in it.  The phrase “social justice” is the tell here, if that’s not perfectly obvious.  To these idiots, science fiction is free of “politics” if it only has manly white dudes doing manly white dude things in it.

Which, speaking as a manly white dude: fuck that.  And fuck these guys for trying to set themselves up as some sort of baseline of “non-political” SFF by which everything else must be judged.

I hate these assholes, in all their forms– the Sad Puppies, Gamergate, most of the idiots downrating THE LAST JEDI right now– and I’m going to keep writing, reading, and most importantly promoting science fiction and fantasy that makes them sad, every chance I get.

The Top 10 New(*) Books I Read in 2017

It’s that time of year again!  I am not a huge fan of the book I’m reading right now, and with three days left in the year it’s not likely that I’ll finish anything that merits addition to the list, so here are the 10 best new books I read this year, where “new” means “I never read it before,” and not “it came out this year.”  I read 89 books this year, a bit off my usual pace, which I blame on my job and the general “wouldn’t dying be easier?” tone that 2017 left all over absolutely every single thing in existence.  As always, once we get past the top 3 or so, don’t pay huge amounts of attention to the specific ranking.

(Also, are you my friend on Goodreads?  You should be my friend on Goodreads.)

Before we get started, though, the list from previous years:

9359808#10: THE DESERT OF SOULS, by Howard Andrew Jones.  I have a weakness for Conan books, and the sword and sorcery genre in general, and Howard Andrew Jones’ DESERT OF SOULS seriously scratched an itch for me.  I found it through Twitter, recommended by Saladin Ahmed, who tends to know his Arabian Nights-inspired prose pretty damn well.  There’s at least one more book in the series, which didn’t hit me quite as hard as the original, and some other pieces after that that I’m having some trouble tracking down for some reason.  The story is set in the real world– 8th century Baghdad, to be specific– but there’s magic and evil monsters and all sorts of fantasy fun to be had, and the voice of the main character is a pleasure to read.

07d#9: WHAT HAPPENED, by Hillary Clinton.  One thing that is sorely missing from this year’s list is nonfiction; I tend to swing back and forth on how much I’m reading (my book collection is probably at least 40% nonfiction) and this year definitely represented a marked swing away from nonfiction and toward escapist fiction.  WHAT HAPPENED was one of a very few examples to the contrary. I almost didn’t read it, as politics makes me ill enough on a daily basis without reading an entire book about the worst, stupidest election America ever had, but it turns out that Clinton is good at a lot of things, and one of those is writing books.  I would not have been strong enough to write this after going through what she did, and if I was strong enough, my book would have featured many times more uses of the word “motherfucker” than hers did.  It also would have been called “You Morons,” not “What Happened.”  There’s a good case to be made that everyone who voted for Clinton ought to read the book in the pure interest of history, but it’s still a good read on its own merits, especially if you’re able to temporarily disconnect yourself from the terrible consequences of the events it describes.

the-stars-are-legion-final-cover#8:  THE STARS ARE LEGION, by Kameron Hurley.  I keep seeing pictures of this book with LESBIANS IN SPACE as the title instead of the actual title, and I honest to God don’t know if they’re real or not.  I definitely want one if they are.  The hook of the book is pretty simple; there are no men, none at all, anywhere, and everything and everyone in the book identifies as female, but while that’s initially intriguing it’s not quite enough to hold an entire book together.  Luckily, it doesn’t need to be, as the story is typical Hurley Weird: dueling worldships hurtling through the void, decaying societies, rebirths and reincarnations, time loops, and genocide.  Y’know, YA stuff.  This book’s meaty as hell and is probably going to get a reread sometime this year.

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 1.45.39 PM#7: KILLING GRAVITY, by Corey J. White.  This year’s winner of the Warren Ellis I Want To Eat Your Brain And Steal Your Writing Powers award, KILLING GRAVITY is the book whose pure wordsmithery blew me away the most this year.  I am admittedly mostly a story guy; I can overlook workmanlike writing if the story is awesome, but it isn’t terribly often that beauty of language can overcome a bad story.  Luckily, this book has both; the tone and voice of the book are phenomenal, and the story itself, involving psychic assassins, cloned squirrel-thingies, and a shitton of just general badassery is absolutely enough to keep me enthralled.  This is somehow the only exemplar of Tor’s novella line on the list, which surprises me, as I liked their output a whole lot, and at 160 pages it’s probably the best pound-for-pound read on the list, if that phrase means anything.

71BbpPa_l8L#6: AUTONOMOUS, by Annalee Newitz.  I’ve read one of Annalee Newitz’ books previously, SCATTER, ADAPT AND REMEMBER: HOW HUMANS WILL SURVIVE A MASS EXTINCTION.  I bought this having forgotten I’d read that book, as once an author gets slotted in my head as a Nonfiction Person I don’t always remember they exist when and if they switch to fiction.  With respect to Ms. Newitz, I don’t want any more nonfiction from her, because AUTONOMOUS is so Goddamn good and I want lots more stuff like it instead.  I wouldn’t think that patent law and pharmaceuticals would really make for one of the best books of the year, but I guess that’s why I didn’t write it.  The main character is a pirate who lives in a submarine in the bottom of the ocean and produces illegal generic versions of patented drugs.  One of her drugs goes wrong and produces instant addiction, followed by unpleasant consequences, and we’re off to the races.  Throw in a romance between a human and a war robot and one of the more subtle takes on global warming I’ve seen in a book lately and I’m a happy reader.

51s465hRHsL#5: WAKE OF VULTURES, by Lila Bowen.  Lila Bowen, also known as Delilah Dawson, is an author who I’ve read several books by and had always bounced off of me.  She runs around with a crew of other writers whose work I like a lot but after four or five of her books falling flat I was ready to declare her work Not for Me and move on.  Well, okay, maybe Delilah Dawson is Not for Me, but Lila Bowen?  I’mma read the hell out of Lila Bowen’s next book.  WAKE OF VULTURES is basically urban fantasy, but transplanted into the Old West and with a former slave as the main character.  (So, uh, okay, maybe not so urban, but I hope you know what I mean.) I’m a hard sell for urban fantasy, but the setting change makes it work, and Nettie Lonesome’s voice as a character makes for a compulsively readable book.  I took way too long to get to this book– it sat on the shelf for forever, and there are now two more books out in the series.  I’ll be getting to them soon.

9780345548603#4: A PLAGUE OF GIANTS, by Kevin Hearne.  Speaking of the cool people that Lila Bowen hangs out with, Kevin Hearne’s been on my list of faves for a while, and when I heard that he’d started work on a proper Epic Fantasy Series as a follow-up to his excellent IRON DRUID series, I was insanely excited.  A PLAGUE OF GIANTS is different enough from his previous work that I’d have been hard-pressed to identify him as the author after reading the IRON DRUID books, but that versatility is a strength, and the framing device of the story– a bard basically giving a multi-day oral history lesson to a large crowd, by taking on the appearance and speech patterns of the people talking while performing, is unlike anything I’ve ever read before.  I’m chomping at the bit for the next installment on this one; it’s getting pre-ordered the second I find it available on Amazon.

33128934#3: STILLHOUSE LAKE, by Rachel Caine.  I read STILLHOUSE LAKE in two or three huge gulps, staying up much later than I wanted to to finish it because I couldn’t stand the idea of going to bed without knowing how it ended.  I’m a big fan of Caine’s, and this is her only series without even a whiff of the supernatural about it– it’s a very 2017 type of horror novel, where the main character is both the ex-wife of a serial killer and the target of an army of relentless internet assholes who have decided she was an accomplice in her husband’s crimes and deserves to be punished for her actions.  It’s a chillingly realistic type of horror and one of a very few books that genuinely scared me while I was reading it.  I just finished its sequel KILLMAN CREEK, and while it doesn’t quite stand out as strongly as STILLHOUSE did (and also lacks that amazingly evocative cover, which would have sold me the book all by itself) it’s a great follow-up.  There’s a third book coming soon but I think the series works well as a duology.  We’ll see where they go next.

f043712f-4655-4c8a-b60f-fca1e4c6ca9f#2: THE HATE U GIVE, by Angie Thomas.  While not my favorite book of the year, I think THE HATE U GIVE is probably the most important book I read in 2017, and in particular I think this book needs to make its way into a whole lot of school libraries.  All of them, in fact.  The title is a Tupac reference; he once claimed that THUG LIFE stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody,” and… well, we’ll just say the book is well-named.  The story is about a young woman whose best friend is killed by a police officer, so it’s a bit triggery and, well, on point given the current fucked-up society we live in.  It’s a hell of a book and everyone should read it, or at least see the movie when it comes out sometime next year.

(SIDENOTE: I also read DEAR MARTIN, by Nic Stone, which is a very similar book in a lot of ways– in fact, the biggest difference is that DEAR MARTIN is about a male character and not a young woman.  I think DM suffered from having read THUG first, and while it’s absolutely worth your time it didn’t blow me away the way THUG did.  Read them both, but read THE HATE U GIVE first.)

30279514#1: DREADNOUGHT and SOVEREIGN, by April Daniels.  Here is the most impressive thing about DREADNOUGHT:  I read it in February, and it is still so much on my mind in December that there was no real competition for it being the best book of the year.  As much as I loved the other books on this list– and you don’t get on this list unless I loved your book– there was never anything this year that came close to how much I loved DREADNOUGHT… unless it was SOVEREIGN, the sequel, which also came out this year and was just as good.  That’s practically impossible.  Superhero prose is pretty rare in general; comic books have such a stranglehold on the genre that most people don’t even really consider superheroics as proper fodder for a prose novel.  Teen Danny Tozer accidentally inherits the powers of Dreadnought, the world’s premier superhero, and one of the first things Dreadnought’s powers do is reshape Danny’s body into his own personal ideal, which means Danny becomes Danielle.  It’s a great superhero book, a great teenage coming-of-age book, a great exploration of how society treats trans people (the main villain of the second book is a TERF) and all around a fantastic pair of novels and the best two books I read in 2017.  I finally got my wife to start reading DREADNOUGHT a couple of days ago, and she hasn’t been able to put it down much either.  Go buy this, guys.  You’ve got Christmas money lying around, I know it.

Honorable Mention, in no particular order:  DEFY THE STARS, by Claudia Gray; YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN INNOCENT, by James Duane, HAND TO MOUTH: LIVING IN BOOTSTRAP AMERICA, by Linda Tirado; FLYGIRL, by Sherri L. Smith; THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE, by John Scalzi, THE TRESPASSER, by Tana French; A SONG FOR QUIET, by Cassandra Khaw, and DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES, by Seanan McGuire.

Worst book of the year: ORIGINS, by Dan Brown.  I literally don’t think he can write a worse book than this one.  Let’s all hope he never tries.

goddammit

So I literally just realized this a few minutes ago, while on the toilet, no less: I’ve been hemming and hawing about writing the TLJ review– have been actively avoiding doing it, in fact– because Star Wars fandom has been showing their collective asses in a big, big way this week, and oh Jesus Christ am I so very tired of Star Wars fans.

I used to love y’all.  You used to be my people.  I spent three fucking days in line for Episode One, and it still ranks as a treasured memory.  We all had a blast.

It was the last time being a Star Wars fan was fun.

Look at this nonsense for a second:

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The person who put this together does not remember spending three years wondering if Vader was really Luke’s father, guys.  If you want to talk about divisive Star Wars movies, we can start with that shit.  And I am tired, so very fucking tired, of people taking an entertainment franchise that goes in a different direction than they expected and interpreting it as a very personal Attack on Their Childhood.

Fuck your childhood.

(Another reason I haven’t written the piece yet: there’s a piece going around called The Last Jedi Doesn’t Care What You Think About Star Wars– And That’s Why It’s Great. Chances are you’ve seen it, since I imagine anyone reading this is pretty much guaranteed to be some flavor of geek anyway. I coulda written that article, guys, and it’s kinda thrown a monkeywrench into me writing my own piece.)

But anyway.

I loved the goddamn movie.  Loved the goddamn movie, and having waited a week to talk about it has not cooled my ardor, nor has it caused me to abandon the fact that I’ve apparently managed to deem two Star Wars movies in a row my new favorite Star Wars movie.  I have!  It’s true.  And my favorite behind those two?  Fuck you, it’s Return of the Jedi, considered the least of the Original Trilogy films by the type of person who claims to be a Star Wars fan but when pressed will tell you they hate every single one of the films except for ANH and Empire.

So, yeah.  Fuck those guys.  I’m tired of Star Wars fans.

But I loved the movie.  Maybe now that I’ve got this bullshit off my chest, I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

I need recommendations

I’ve been making another stab at getting into podcasts lately.  I just took a four-hour road trip last weekend and I tried to grab some recs from Twitter, leading to several hours of listening to Lore and a quick try at Case File that was immediately derailed by the host’s accent, which was just a bit too thick for me to handle in the car.

Lore I liked a bit more, but it’s falling into the same trap that Welcome to Night Vale did–after listening to a half-dozen or so episodes, I am both tiring of the host’s voice and becoming really good at predicting certain tics in the way the show is written.  If I’ve got a mental drinking game mapped out for your show after listening for a couple of hours then it’s probably not going to hold my interest for too terribly long.

So: any of you out there listen to a lot of podcasts?  Y’all should have a decent idea of what I’m into by now.  Any recommendations from those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter and are seeing this for the first time?