Book Review

Finding Hidden Gems

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We had stopped by our local used book store a couple weeks ago while we were out and about and I happened to see a book by Diane Duane that I hadn’t previously known existed. I was very familiar with her Young Wizards Series, and loved them dearly, and here I was, presented with a science fiction novel, Starrise at CorrivaleI got quite excited and bought it immediately, and sat down to read it post-haste.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but what I ended up getting was…very different from what I was used to reading from Diane Duane. The Young Wizards books are very straightforward, with pared down language and a no-nonsense, everyday sort of manner which works well in contrast with the high fantasy she is injecting into the modern world. The opening pages of Starrise, however, were flowery and overly descriptive, setting a lovely scene, but not in the slightest what I’d come to expect from Duane’s writing style. I even went to my bookshelf and grabbed the first of the Young Wizards books to make sure I wasn’t imagining the difference.

Once I got over the initial shock of such a different tone, I started to enjoy Starrise. It is very much a space opera, with blazing guns, marines, aliens, and evil corporate plots. it manages to avoid being cliche for the most part, which was refreshing, and the characters are all engaging and surprising. One interesting note: these sci-fi novels are actually set in the world of a game, Star*Drive, which I had no notion of before picking up this book. They manage to avoid the trap that most licensed books fall into, as they do not require any familiarity with the game to follow and enjoy, and Starrise is a full and complex story of its own. I find many licensed books to fall short on those aspects, so this was a nice change.

If you are in the mood for a somewhat pulpy space opera (which, admit it, we all want now and again) I’d go track down a copy of Starrise at Corrivale. Its well worth the hunt.

By the Skin of his Teeth…

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I was given the opportunity to interview Jim Butcher for The Speculative Craft last week, and he was kind enough to share a pre-press copy of Skin Game with me to read before the launch date today. Which means that now I can tell you what I think, before most of you probably even pick it up.

For all the rabid fans out there, like me, I can assure you, Skin Game does not disappoint. I don’t want to let any spoilers slip, cause I’m just not that kind of girl, but there are a good handful of twists that you don’t see coming, some for the book plot, some for the arc plot, and I really can’t wait until the next book, since Butcher has set up some phenomenally fun plot points to play with down the line. But the writing is solid as ever and the story keeps you turning the page.

I hadn’t realized until I started doing my pre-interview research that Butcher had actually planned out the full character arc for each character for the full 20-odd book series before he sat down to write the first one, which makes me even more excited to see where these characters are going. They’ve already changed so much and we’re already on book fifteen. I find myself day dreaming about where they might end up. I mean, by this time, Dresden has already played with Hellfire, Soulfire, and is now the Winter Knight, how much more powerful can he get? Will he end up running the council? Cause that would be hilarious. Who knows? And now I have a year to wait until I can read the next book. But to help with the withdrawal pains, look for the interview with Butcher next week on The Speculative Craft!

Chaos Theory Translated

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It’s alway fun when you stumble across a local author who also happens to be extremely talented. That’s what happened when my friend said, “Oh yeah, my dad’s a sci-fi writer.” So I looked up Jeffrey A. Carver and was not disappointed.

I started with his Chaos Chronicles, since Neptune Crossing was up for free download on Amazon at the time, and was immediately entranced. It has a unique setup in that the main character ends up with an alien consciousness residing in his head that he nicknames Charlie, who is on a mission to save the Earth, but needs his help (ie, his body and cooperation) to do so. Their interplay is hilarious at times, touching at others. For a little twist, Charlie frequently dies and returns with a new personality, kind of like Doctor Who, but a lot more frequently. You’d think that would get annoying after a while, but, no, instead it just made me look forward to seeing how Charlie had changed.

The three books are easy reads, I made it through them in two weeks, and it only took that long because I had to wait for delivery of the last two books. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but I do want to say that they are fascinating stories that explore concepts ranging from what it means to be human to how to deal with the ‘other’ phenomenon. There is a LOT of alien interaction throughout. One interesting craft note: while the first book begins solidly from the human’s perspective, the point of view morphs, with more and more of the chapters from the point of view of various other aliens that join their merry band of world-savers.

I can’t wait to read more of his books, and I definitely recommend them for anybody who is a fan of space dramas with a solid dose of basic chaos theory sprinkled throughout.

What would you do with a sack of gold?

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This was the question that Mark Twain posed in his novella, The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg. In this delightful little novella, there is a town called Hadleyburg in that prides itself on beings scrupulously honest. A man who was dealt a slight by the town decides to get his revenge by proving that they are, after all, nothing but greedy men who are willing to lie to get what they want.

I’m not going to tell you how he accomplishes this feat. Suffice it to say that he does indeed manage to corrupt the incorruptible leaders of Hadleyburg, much to everyone’s dismay and chagrin. It is a true Twain work, full of inventive language and full caricatures, and it is a delightful little discussion on just how to push humanity’s buttons and bring out the greed that is natural to our species.

If you’re looking for a quick, lighthearted, yet provocative read. I’d suggest you pick this up. You’ll work your way through it in no time, but be the richer for it.

The Age of the Illustrated Primer

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I read Snow Crash ages ago, and had always intended to come back to Neal Stephenson and read more. I just didn’t get around to it until now. My boyfriend purchased me a copy of The Diamond Age, sure I would love it, and he was right.

The Diamond Age is a story not only about the coming of age of several young women of different societal statures, but also of invention, individuality, and the importance of education, all presented in a cyberpunk futuristic world with digital paper and cybernetic horses.

Now, one of the most interesting things about this book was the fact that it was originally printed in 1995 but the tech that he talks about in this book became a reality in 1997 when E Ink spun off of the MIT Media lab, and with the debut of interactive books for the iPad just a couple years ago, we are pretty darn close to the primary Maguffin of this book: A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. All that is missing is a slightly more advanced AI that can adapt the story to the reader’s environment. Our Print to Voice technology is almost good enough to handle the read aloud component as is.

This makes this trippy, tribalistic future that much more realistic, which is both frightening and exciting. Imagine being able to adapt every child’s education to their individual experiences. The kind of creativity and advancement this could foster would be incredible.

But, enough about what this book talks about. Suffice it to say that the alternate future it plays with is just about as odd as the one in Snow Crash and just as fun to read about. The writing itself is flawless. Engaging and unique, as all of Neal’s books are, it also takes a chapter or two before you get used to the language he uses. He has a whole new vocabulary he introduces to deal with his fractured society, and it takes a little bit to understand what everything is, but that adjustment period is entirely worth it. Once you get past the first 12 pages, you’re golden.

So, if you’d like a not-quite dystopian conversation about the importance of education and individuality, The Diamond Age is definitely the book for you. Just have patience with the opening, Stephenson rewards you in time.

Do You Wanna Build a Cyborg?

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I am an avid fan of K.B. Spangler, what with A Girl and Her Fed and the first tie-in novel, Digital Divide. That’s why I got super excited for Maker Space, the sequel to Digital Divide. It came out not too long ago and immediately downloaded it for my Kindle. I jumped in and was not disappointed. Its another fast paced cyber crime thriller, only this time it touches on a cultural phenomenon close to my heart (and my day-job): Makers.

After a massive bomb rocks downtown D.C., Agent Rachel Peng is given a task force and autonomy to work outside the official investigation to ensure that nothing is missed. Her investigation brings her into contact with a community of Makers working out of a decrepit office space nee warehouse that they have turned into a Maker think tank of sorts. Makers are a newly identified kind of human, the kind who revels in constructing marvels of technology and art from otherwise basic components.

Makers tend to be open-sourced and concerned with the betterment of humanity…and having a lot of fun. I’m looking at you, Maker-Faire participants! They are an incredibly strong and welcoming community of people that I have the privilege of working with as an illustrator at O’Reilly Media. We used to publish a magazine called Make that has now spun off as its own company that produces the magazine, how-to books, and even kits to help beginning makers get started. We still help Make publish their books, so I still get to see all the designs for the fabulous projects they have created and are helping others learn how to become master builders in their own right.

But enough on the Makers themselves and my glee at seeing them featured in such a prominent role in a fiction novel. Maker Space turned out to be well worth the wait. It is eloquent, gripping, and exceedingly well-paced. I do have to admit, I was thrown a little bit by the fact that the Boston Marathon Bombing was mentioned in passing when a few characters were discussing preparation for events such as this. It is still so fresh in everyone’s mind out here in Beantown that it was just weird seeing it mentioned in a fictional novel.

Regardless, if you are looking for an excellent procedural cybernetic drama, I highly advise you to pick up both Digital Divide and Maker Space. They don’t rely on any knowledge from the web comic (though I highly suggest going and giving that a try, too, cause there are some excellent inside jokes) and Spangler presents a wonderfully fresh take on crime dramas and cyberpunk. I just wish I’d had the cash to spring for an O.A.C.E.T. badge during the kickstarter….

How nice would a 24-hour bookstore be?

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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by  Robin Sloan has been on my “to read” list for a long time. Mainly because I loved the title and because the cover of the book was rumored to glow in the dark (the hardcover totally does!). Once I picked up the book though, I couldn’t put it down! Mr. Penumbra’s is a story about a young man who has lost his way in life and has landed the night-shift at an odd 14-hour bookstore full of odd characters and books that aren’t actually for sale. That’s as much as I can really divulge about the plot without giving away some major spoilers, so that’s all I’m giving you.

 

This book is a riot and a wild ride. Seriously. Its a treasure hunt and book lovers porn, all mixed up with the modern age and literary conspiracy. The characters are lively and fully developed and they bring you into their world and share their passions and their pains in such a way that you can’t go to sleep until you find out whether they will succeed in their quest or not. I may or may not have lost a lot of sleep to this book…

Once I had finished, I immediately went to see what else Sloan had written. I found two other works of his Amazon: Ajax Penumbra 1969 and Annabel SchemeAjax is great as it is a short story that follows one of the primary characters as he is first introduced to the nutty world of the 24-hour bookstore, before he comes to own the store for himself. I loved getting to read his book.

Annabel Scheme though is…well…I was not prepared for Annabel Scheme. I had gone from this slightly magical real world of Penumbra and dove without warning into a hard sci-fi noir, reminiscent of a mashup between the Dresden Files and Snow Crash. Once I got my feet back under myself, it was a hoot and I desperately hope that Sloan brings this world back to enjoy again, as there is a lot of material there.

Overall, I this is an author I really think you should check out. You should also check out his website for some more fantastic stories and articles. I especially love that Escape button…

 

Watercress vs. Crescent – Neither are Rapunzel

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Now that Undeliverable is well launched, and the rush of promotional blog things are somewhat out of the way, I can get back to doing what I do best: writing and talking about books. So, what have I been reading while I’ve been trying desperately NOT to think of sales numbers?

Well, I have been indulging in a bit of YA Fantasy, thanks for asking. My copy of Cress finally arrived and I devoured it, just like any good salad…I mean story. This is the third installment of Marissa Meyer‘s Lunar Chronicles, and, as my roommate and boyfriend will attest, I was put-out when I hit the end of the book, to put it mildly. The first three books are 1500 pages to set up for a revolution, and by the time you hit the end of the Cress, the revolution is hardly a sneeze away from starting. And now I have to wait another year until I’ll get to read Winter. Write faster, Marissa, write faster! 

If you couldn’t already tell, I rather liked this one. I feel like her writing has matured a little bit over the last three books, and she isn’t trying as hard to force the fairy tale to fit. The fairy tale storyline more effortlessly overlays the science-fiction world, with characters that really draw you in. That being said, the story jumps from person to person to person, trying to give us the entire scope of the revolution, which was at times frustrating when I just wanted to follow one of the groups for a little while. At no point was I actually confused by the jumps, I just wished we weren’t following so many different ones. That should be well resolved when we start the third book as we’re now down to just two different groups of heroes to follow.

Overall, I highly recommend this author to anyone who enjoys YA fantasy and sci-fi, as it straddle that genre line, just like Star Wars, with almost as much political intrigue. They are well written, unlike certain OTHER YA which I will not mention in this post, and actually do a good job of character and plot development. Now excuse me while I go hold my breath for the final installment…

Anyone like a Plum?

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Janet Evanovich has done it again. Takedown Twenty is a thoroughly entertaining and brilliantly funny slap-dash adventure featuring Stephanie Plum. In this installment of this comedy of errors, Stephanie is tasked with bringing down a popular figure in Trenton, even though everyone knows he’s a wet work guy. They all still view him as the lovable old man.

 

Evanovich had a bit of a slump a few books ago where they felt rushed and tired, but she’s back to full form with this book and if you’re looking for a slapstick comedy with an engaging plot, this is definitely your kind of read. My only complaint with her novels, as I stated in my last post, is that her characters never grow or change. Stephanie is in her same poorly decorated apartment, she still can’t decide between two gorgeous men, and she is still making a hash out of both her work and social life. This book is only for those who would like a bit of fun without anything heavy getting in the way.

If You’re in the Mood for Some Urban Fantasy

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So I thought I was being all clever before the break in setting up my posts to auto-update. Then I come back to find this had failed to load. And then in the process of trying to get it to post, it got lost, then got posted somehow, but lost all of its content. Don’t ask me how, I have no idea. Needless to say, I’ve been trying to fix things, then there were bike accidents and a nasty knock-you-down cold, but I’m back now, promise! And here’s what this review SHOULD have looked like a month ago:

First I found the TV show, then I was introduced to the LARPs, and finally, I found the novels. Totally the bass-ackwards way to go about discovering the Dresden Files, but I am finally all caught up! I have read the entirety of the published works related to Harry Dresden and I am very happy to recommend them to anybody who has a hankering for some decent Urban Fantasy. Jim Butcher has created a phenomenal world and excellent characters.

The basics: our world has a hidden sublayer of magic users, with only one official Wizard listed in the yellow pages. Harry Dresden. No love potions, serious inquiries only, please.  He deals with monsters and demons and vampires and werewolves, and, more than anything else, idiot, evil humans. Oh, and don’t forget the Fae, they’re a doozy and a half.

The best thing about this series is it isn’t stagnant. Some series, like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels, you know exactly what you’re going to get when you go in and the characters don’t really develop much over the entire series. Its still fun, and quirky, but there isn’t a whole lot of human growth happening. But Butcher is a master at making sure all of his characters are constantly challenged and growing, in very realistic fashions. They’re very much like Kim Harrison’s novels in that respect.

So, if you’re looking for a new urban fantasy, give Dresden a shot.