DNF: Balam, Spring by Travis M. Riddle

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I had such high hopes for this book. The cover is beautiful and I love slice of life. It seemed like it couldn’t have been more up my alley if it tried. Peaceful life in a small village? Small-scale plot? Yes please! Initially, it reminded me a bit of Stardew Valley in book form. Small setting, each villager has a complex and detailed backstory, but…well. The same thing that worked in a game doesn’t necessarily translate to a book. And it’s a massive shame.

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Review: One of Us by Craig DiLouie

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Wow. I don’t even know how to approach reviewing this. It’s an exploration of “us vs. them” mentality through a SFF lens and, while well-written, in no way a pleasant read. I could only read it a few pages at a time before I had to put it down again. The petty, everyday evil, the worst aspects of humanity laid bare. It was almost too much. But. It felt powerful and important and viscerally realistic in its own brutally unflinching way. Necessary.

He learned what he was, what they were, and that monsters and men were not meant to exist in the same world. If your own mother hates you and drives you away, why should total strangers love you? From the beginning, the masters understood this fundamental truth. They created separate worlds, one for themselves, another for monsters. The system would not end when the mutagenic reached adulthood. The children would grow up to become free folk living in an invisible cage, with no rights or opportunities. Which meant no real freedom at all.

The basic premise is that a sexually-transmitted disease caused a generation of children to be born with pretty significant mutations. Abortion, safe sex education, discussions on rape, medical testing have become a necessity. The plague children have mostly been taken away at birth and shut into Homes, institutions where the employees are mostly ex-cons and other sorts of desperate people that shouldn’t be let near children. They are used for slave labour on farms. As the children become teenagers, they start developing superpowers and tensions are rising.

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Review: City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer (Ambergris #1)

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I delight in books that piss on convention and pull it off. The plotless, the strange, the experimental. City of Saints and Madmen makes all that I read so far sound perfectly ordinary and reasonable. Of all the books I’ve ever read it is, by far, the oddest and the most experimental of them all. It very slightly resembles The Gray House in the sense of slowly discovering a world while reading (and that was the recommendation that made me pick it up), its use of unreliable narrator, and surrealism, but only a bit, in the most general of senses. The structure and the setting itself are entirely different.

Either way, I fucking loved it.

The window looked down on the city proper, which lay inside the cupped hands of a valley veined with tributaries of the Moth. It was there that ordinary people slept and dreamt not of jungles and humidity and the lust that fed and starved men’s hearts, but of quiet walks under the stars and milk-fat kittens and the gentle hum of wind on wooden porches.

The best words to describe it would be “delightfully insane.” Because it is. Utterly batshit and utterly fascinating.

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Review: The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson (The Masquerade #2)

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Thanks to Tor and Netgalley for providing the ARC in exchange for an honest review. Quotes provided may change in the final vesion.

For me, this has been one of the most anticipated releases of 2018. I couldn’t wait to return to the world and see where the story takes Baru next, I pre-ordered in case I wouldn’t get the ARC, and when I did, I was almost wary of reading it, anticipating the emotional punch. The enthusiasm from bloggers who got it earlier was contagious. Sadly, while it was good, it didn’t quite live up to its hype.

Who says you have a duty to a nation? Who says you cannot reject an unjust duty? Who says you can decide which evil is small enough to tolerate, and which is too great to allow? Who says you should allow anyone to hold such power over you, the power to use your work for purposes you do not understand?

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DNF: Hyperion by Dan Simmons (Hyperion Cantos #1)

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As a DNF, this review is incomplete.

Another case of an old classic not living up. It is, in ways, a very good book. A team of seven pilgrims – a priest, a soldier, a poet, a scholar, a detective, a consul and a templar – is assembled to travel to the planet Hyperion and the Shrike. On the way, each of them tells the tale of how and why they got to be there. It’s an interesting structure. The prose is good as well, if tending towards descriptive at parts. The worldbuilding, fascinating enough. There’s a lot of allusions and literary references to everything from Chaucer to Keats and many other classics.

Unfortunately, though…

The Priest’s Tale I enjoyed very much. The tension and the mystery of what happened to the older priest, of what’s up with the Bikura society kept me at the edge of my seat, reading it long into the night with many a “what the fuck.” It’s almost horror in the end, but so incredibly compelling.

The Soldier’s Tale was when things started to go sour. It’s a story about a man who is visited by a mysterious woman during battles. She helps him defeat the enemies, then they have sex. Many, many times. I rolled my eyes.

The Poet’s Tale solidified the DNF. it’s just…ew. No. I didn’t mind the sweary casual style, but…I’ll let the quotes speak for themselves.

Centuries later, when I was in my satyr period, I felt that I finally understood poor don Balthazar’s priapic compulsions, but in those days it was mostly a hindrance to keeping young girls on the estate’s staff. Human or android, don Balthazar did not discriminate – he poinked them all.

Luckily for my education, there was nothing homosexual in don Balthazar’s addiction to young flesh, so his escapades evidenced themselves either as absences from our tutorial sessions or an inordinate amount of attention lavished on memorizing verses from Ovid, Senesh, or Wu.

And:

Sissipriss Harris had been one of my first conquests as a satyr – and one of my most enthusiastic – a beautiful girl, long blond hair too soft to be real, a fresh-picked-peach complexion too virginal to dream of touching, a beauty too perfect to believe: precisely the sort that even the most timid male dreams of violating

Again, ew.

Scholar’s Tale was the next, and my last. It was the one I heard the most about, so I decided to give at least this a try. It was indeed amazing. And chilling, and quite sad, though I can’t say more without spoiling. But it’s perfectly worth reading just this and the priest’s. They stand well enough on their own.

I decided to end it there, on a positive note.

I may return to it one day, but at the moment, with the disappointment that was Hard to Be a God still too fresh, I was simply too frustrated with old sci-fi and shades of homophobia and outdated tropes. There’s so many other great books out there that this shit really isn’t hard to avoid. If you can look past it, by all means, be welcome to it, there will be a great story underneath for you. I, alas, cannot.

Review: Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #8)

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This review is way overdue.

Guards! Guards! is not the first Discworld book I tried to read. I have read a few books in translation before and bounced off. I have something of a history with comedy – The Princess Bride I hated, Hitchhiker’s Guide I DNF’d. I was reluctant to try again, but I promised that I will give the series one last try, in English, and this seemed like a good entry point.

And hey, it worked.

“I wonder what’s the difference between ordinary councillors and privy councillors?” wondered the merchant aloud.

The assassin scowled at him. “I think,” he said, “it is because you’re expected to eat shit.”

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Review: Hard to Be a God by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky

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This book started well enough. The prose was quite good, with nice descriptions of scenery, the issues raised were interesting. We follow Rumata, an observer from future utopian Earth, sent to a medieval world with a couple others under a strict rule of non-interference (no killing, etc), but secretly trying to help speed up their development.

It’s fairly kitchen sink, some sci-fi tech, some medieval swashbuckling, bit of everything. The conflict arises when regime in Arkanar start killing intellectuals. Rumata knows this is wrong, yet is plagued by doubts – he is not allowed to kill and not convinced it would solve the problem.

Persecute bookworms all you like, prohibit science, and destroy art, but sooner or later you’ll be forced to think better of it, and with much gnashing of teeth open the way for everything that is so hated by power-hungry dullards and blockheads.

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