Three short stories focusing on Nahadoth, Itempas, and Glee, each one exploring a story left untold in each of the three books of the Inheritance TrilThree short stories focusing on Nahadoth, Itempas, and Glee, each one exploring a story left untold in each of the three books of the Inheritance Trilogy. It's great to return to that world and revisit these characters. I liked the Nahadoth story the best, and the Itempas story was pretty good as well, but I didn't connect to the Glee story as much as I wanted to (perhaps because she's not as major a character as the other two, so I'm not as invested in her). Though it's marketed as a novella, it comes out to a long novelette. Worth reading for Inheritance fans, but contains spoilers for people who haven't read the trilogy....more
Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus takes us into the mind—and laboratory—of Dr. Shannon Abbey, who rightly believes that one should not taunt the octopusPlease Do Not Taunt the Octopus takes us into the mind—and laboratory—of Dr. Shannon Abbey, who rightly believes that one should not taunt the octopus. But despite the silly title, this latest installment in the Newsflesh universe is just as serious and devastating as expected. It starts off rather slow, mostly introducing us to Dr. Abbey and her lab, but her voice carries the narrative. It's fascinating to see this character from the other side, to see the depth behind her crafted "mad scientist" persona. In a way, the whole novella is about the need to go a little mad to stay sane in a mad world. The plot kicks off once Dr. Abbey discovers a mysterious woman in the woods, and her investigation into her identity is a good source of tension. Once she finds out who she is, though, hoo boy, things get kicked up a notch, and the tension just keeps rising up to and through the climax. A small subplot involving a CDC spy doesn't really have a payoff, which was mildly disappointing. I did enjoy Dr. Abbey's hacker friend, though, and hope to see her again in future installments. But what Grant does in this one...I can't even say without spoilers. This one's a real treat for Newsflesh fans, a must-read....more
I really liked the first John Cleaver trilogy, and I knew this novella served as a bridge to the next one, but I did not know that it's not actually aI really liked the first John Cleaver trilogy, and I knew this novella served as a bridge to the next one, but I did not know that it's not actually about John Cleaver, oops. Instead, we get the POV of one of the demons! A very sad demon who eats memories, who becomes attached to the wife of a man whose memories he ate (he doesn't kill people, simply drinks their memories after they're dead). It's a fairly short novella (more of a novelette, really), but it makes you feel for poor Elijah fairly quickly. There are some lovely musings on death, memory, and human connection, and also there are demons....more
In Nova, Samuel R. Delany's classic science fiction novel, a captain recruits a ragtag group of misfits to go on an impossible mission: fly directly tIn Nova, Samuel R. Delany's classic science fiction novel, a captain recruits a ragtag group of misfits to go on an impossible mission: fly directly through a nova in order to harvest a massive amount of energy that will destabilize the economy or something and stick it to his nemesis. It's a rollicking space adventure! Well, it's in space, at least. There's a little adventure? Sometimes there is rollick.
Although the book opens on a character called the Mouse, he's basically the Ishmael of the story, and the coolest thing about him is his sensory-syrynx, an instrument that plays all five senses (kind of like that thing in the original series finale of Futurama). There's also Katin, who spends the whole novel talking about how he's trying to write a novel but he doesn't know what to write about, which gives the book some cute meta-commentary, especially since in this world the novel is a lost, dead art form. Dan has already been through a nova once before and came out blind and deaf in a horrifying way. And then there are these two other guys who have birds on their shoulders or something and speak in alternating dialogue.
But the real story is about Lorq, who gets a huge flashback chapter early on explaining how he came to know some rich siblings named Prince and Ruby, the former with a cyborg arm he's very sensitive about and the latter with...being hot, I guess. It's a race to see who can fuck each other's shit up first!
Delany's worldbuilding is massive, as he imagines centuries of human development and space expansion. The intricate details are fun, but I especially enjoyed various long monologues opining about the state of things, as they helped form a larger picture of what the world is like and how it relates to our own. Katin in particular is alternately nostalgic for and disdainful of the twentieth century, which offers a point of comparison.
Overall, though, I just didn't...care about anything, really? There are some great moments, and Prince makes for a good nemesis (he has a pretty amazing villain monologue at one point), but most of the time I didn't really know what the fuck was going on and why. Despite a clear goal of Get to the Nova set up in the first chapter, the plot meanders a lot, and I couldn't get into it. It's got a vibrant, lush narrative voice, but one that's mildly impenetrable. By the end, I thought the book was okay (and goddamn, what a cheeky fucking ending), but the style wasn't my thing....more
Nimona is a cute, fun-loving, murder-loving shapeshifter. Ballister is a grumpy, robot-armed, science-loving supervillain. They do crime!
I've loved NoNimona is a cute, fun-loving, murder-loving shapeshifter. Ballister is a grumpy, robot-armed, science-loving supervillain. They do crime!
I've loved Noelle Stevenson's art style and her sense of humor for years, and Nimona collects her long-running webcomic in glorious book form. You want a sharp, distinctive art style for a variety of body shapes and skin colors? You got it! You want character-based humor that's silly without being absurd? You got it!
The fantasy world of Nimona makes no sense—it's a medieval-inspired setting yet there's plenty of modern technology—but that's part of its charm. I love how well it actually works. Stevenson overlays a lot of modern sensibilities onto the historical (you know, "historical") narrative and it feels right; that's just the kind of world these people live in. There are dragons and knights and there are also television reporters. It's fun!
On the second page of the book, Nimona turns into a shark and yells, "I'M A SHARK!" and that tells you everything you need to know about Nimona. She's the best, endearing as all hell, even when she's complaining that Ballister won't kill people. Especially when she's complaining that Ballister won't kill people. I loved Nimona, but I found Ballister to be the most compelling character in the book, a very conflicted supervillain who has a complicated relationship and history with the town's resident hero, Sir Goldenloin. Goldenloin seems like a simple enough character at first, but he's also got layers, and all three main players become more interesting and complex over the course of the story.
Page after page—this is a page-turner—I found myself smiling at practically everything, be it Nimona's wacky shapeshifting, her playful antagonism of Ballister, fun action sequences, betrayals and darkness and tragedy and pain wait I did not sign up for this. Stevenson foreshadows early on that things may not be as sunny as they seem, and the shift to a more serious narrative happens with ease. While I think I wanted a bit more from the ending, the epilogue does put a lovely coda on the series. (And I know I have been complaining about how much I want books to be stand-alone but ugh I want more don't go away from me I just met you even though most people have been hanging out with you for years.)
Nimona is an excellent combination of funny and feels, and definitely worth your time....more
Imagine Entertainment (definitely not the SyFy Channel, nope) sends the Atargatis out into the Pacific to film a "documentary" about discovering mermaImagine Entertainment (definitely not the SyFy Channel, nope) sends the Atargatis out into the Pacific to film a "documentary" about discovering mermaids. Even if you've never read Mira Grant before, you will not be surprised to learn that they do discover mermaids and everyone dies, because that is how she rolls. As in several previous works, she sets up an ominous framing device about a doomed group of people and lets the bodies fall where they may (in the water). There are lots of people on the ship, and only a few really stood out to me; it was hard to keep up with all of them. But what I loved most was how Grant plays with the premise of the fake documentary and, of course, all the science. The story is a slow build but a swift read, and it's worth it for the bloody mayhem and payoff at the end....more
Solina Mundy thought she was just an ordinary North Carolina baker. But when she goes to Alaska to investigate her brother's murder, she finds out theSolina Mundy thought she was just an ordinary North Carolina baker. But when she goes to Alaska to investigate her brother's murder, she finds out there's much more to her, her brother, and her brother's friends than meets the eye.
Midnight Burning has a good hook: I am always a fan of starting with a dead body. Solina is easy to like and sympathize with, and her attempts to find out more about her brother's death—and how it relates to the terrifying nightmares she's been having about it—provide a natural narrative momentum. Especially because I was reading the book on the way to Alaska, I loved the details of the Alaskan setting, which is an uncommon place to set an urban fantasy. Karissa Laurel not only gets the physical feel of the place but also the social feel, the type of people who would make their home up there. But a couple things kept getting in the way for me. First, Solina finds herself in the presence of Val and Thorin, two alpha males she's irresistibly attracted to. Now, I actually like how Laurel makes Solina's mourning a complex process with complicated emotions, and I really like that Solina explicitly does not put up with their pushy, protective, patriarchal bullshit. But the love triangle eventually wore on me, as it seemed like they were having the same conversations over and over, though the differences between the two men become more and more clear. Yet it was also clear the person Solina should obviously choose was Skyla, the awesome ex-Marine survivalist who is not an asshole. On that note, second: both Val and Thorin are cryptic assholes who refuse to tell Solina anything for like half the fucking book. This is frustrating for both Solina and the reader; I understand that we're being put in her position but that doesn't make it any less annoying. I wanted answers, and I wanted Solina to get me those answers quicker.
I was enjoying the book enough because of the character interaction and hints of mystery, but things really picked up once Solina does start getting some answers about what's going on, and it turns out Laurel has very cleverly picked out the names of her characters. I liked the new spin on the lore she was pulling from, though it was a bit unclear at times how much the various players knew about what was going on. Also various players just started showing up, which was simultaneously cool and jarring. I'm always a fan of juxtaposing the supernatural with the mundane, and Laurel hit that sweet spot for me several times. It was fun to get caught up in this epic battle of good vs. evil, but Solina's main concern was still finding her brother's killer. Or was it understanding who she really is? The main thrust of the narrative gets a bit lost because so many things are going on, and the climax feels abrupt, the denouement leaving many loose ends. I wasn't sure what story I was reading; by the end I think it's Solina's origin story. Which opens up a lot of story potential for future books. But I was hoping for some more resolution and satisfaction in this one.
I liked several elements of Midnight Burning: the characters, the setting, the worldbuilding. I found several elements frustrating. But overall it was a good read about an ordinary young woman who discovers she's extraordinary and reacts in a fairly realistic manner. Solina Mundy is a heroine to root for....more
Ted Chiang is frequently named as one of the greatest living science fiction authors, a man who hasn't even written that many stories, such that eachTed Chiang is frequently named as one of the greatest living science fiction authors, a man who hasn't even written that many stories, such that each new one is an event because each one is so good. I had only read "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling," which was great. So I was very interested to read more. And now I have. And so I can join the rest of the world.
Ted Chiang is one of the most brilliant writers I have ever read.
Ted Chiang is a jerk who wants you to question your fundamental understanding of everything. Like a modern-day Asimov with more narrative sensibility, his short stories are thought experiments, what-ifs taken to extremes, examining the nature of humanity and reality in ways most writers don't dare. I find his work to be more intellectual than emotional, without a great deal of characterization—not that the characters are flat, but that they are defined by how they move through the thought experiment as opposed to being a memorable person outside of the story—but he's so successful as a storyteller that the experience is ultimately satisfying. Interestingly, my two least favorite stories are the shortest ones; Chiang seems most at home telling longer stories that allow his themes to develop. I found that I usually reached a point where I wanted the story to end (because it was long) and I didn't want the story to end (because I was so immersed in the world). It's a marvel that he's so consistent.
"Tower of Babylon" chronicles a man's ascent up the Tower of Babylon, said to reach all the way to Heaven. As he climbs higher and higher, he passes societies that have made a home in the sky. The most fantastical story in the collection, it's distinguished by the imaginative architecture and a nice payoff. That's the thing with Chiang's stories: they actually have a nice payoff.
"Understand" takes a well-worn premise—man suddenly becomes more intelligent—and rather than go the "Flowers with Algernon" route (or even the Limitless route), it pushes, pushes, pushes it further, asking how a person like that would view the world. It becomes almost thriller-like by the end. One of the highlights of the collection.
"Division by Zero" is the story I didn't really get. Though I loved the basic concept of it and the way it explored mathematics and numbers (it's mindblowing to think about how they actually had to prove that arithmetic as a system was provably correct, that 1 + 1 =2), I couldn't follow the human story, I couldn't grasp the connections between the math facts and the narrative. It's in no way a dud, but it's the one that didn't work for me.
"Story of Your Life" takes a linguistic approach to first contact, as a woman attempts to decipher a visiting alien race's language, and how their language reflects the way they view reality. It's a fucking fascinating look at that very concept; meanwhile, the woman tells the titular story about the daughter she hasn't even conceived yet. How? That's the story, and it's as mindbending as anything else in the collection.
"Seventy-Two Letters" transports the reader to an alternate history that mashes golem mythology with hard reproductive science. Chiang weaves the idea of a name that brings life into a Victorian secret science society, and it's interesting and delightful, though it takes a dark turn. Science, religion, politics, ugh, this story is so cool and thought-provoking. That's Chiang, he's cool and thought-provoking.
"The Evolution of Human Science" is flash fiction without a narrative, more of a musing on a world of metahumans and regular humans' feelings of inferiority thereof.
"Hell Is the Absence of God" has the "This is a story" narrative voice that I enjoy, and it frames angel visitations as natural disasters, exploring issues of faith and devotion. This was an interesting world to imagine, even if it was very strictly Christian theology-based.
"Liking What You See: A Documentary," as the title suggests, is a series of interview statements and speech excerpts. I love that no two stories in this collection have the same voice. The focus of this one is our concept of beauty and "lookism," the fact that we are positively biased toward people we consider attractive. So what if you could neurologically inhibit that prejudice? Would that be a good thing? Would you support mandating that at a particular college? Let the debate begin!
One thing that struck me is that with a few exceptions, the stories are about cis straight white men (publication dates range from 1990 to 2002). A few stories with female protagonists, but still very white and heterosexual. While the lack of diversity is unfortunate (especially given how few stories Chiang writes), the stories are still amazing.
Believe the Ted Chiang hype, everyone. This man deserves to be a household name in science fiction....more
After the Golden Age was a great superhero book, a satisfying read that didn't require a sequel, but, thankfully, Dreams of the Golden Age is a welcAfter the Golden Age was a great superhero book, a satisfying read that didn't require a sequel, but, thankfully, Dreams of the Golden Age is a welcome return to Commerce City, another well told story of superheroics, this time with even more superpowered action!
It's twenty years later, and a new generation of superheroes is itching to take up the mantle, inspired by the now-retired Olympiad. One of them is Anna, Celia's daughter, and Vaughn alternates between mother and daughter so that we see both sides of the story...especially the secrets they're keeping from each other. It's not a superhero story without secrets!
As Steven Gould does with Impulse, Carrie Vaughn introduces a new teenage POV into the series, which gives the book a bit of a YA feel, although she balances it well with the maturity of the adult POV: Celia is now running West Corp, and she has many responsibilities to her company and the city itself on top of keeping track of her daughters and wondering whether they have superpowers. Both Celia and Anna are dealing with their problems on their own, and it's both frustrating and amusing to know what they're missing.
Following Anna and her superpowered friends is fun, especially since they're dumb, ambitious teenagers trying to figure out how to be crimefighters. It's sort of adorable, but they also disagree on how best to be crimefighters, which leads to conflict! Meanwhile Celia faces off with, um, a slimy out-of-town investor? Like I said, she has adult problems.
Dreams of the Golden Age is a more straightforward book than After the Golden Age, which felt much more epic in scope, thanks to the large focus on the backstory of Celia and the other heroes. Vaughn does again show her skill in juggling multiple plot elements, but the book is not quite as stuffed, though it has just as much emotional depth. Dreams of the Golden Age makes superhero fiction look easy....more
Paul Tsabo is the bureaucrat's bureaucrat, like Hermes from Futurama. He loves the order of forms, the power of a signature.
He loves bureaucracy so muPaul Tsabo is the bureaucrat's bureaucrat, like Hermes from Futurama. He loves the order of forms, the power of a signature.
He loves bureaucracy so much, it turns out, that he's a fucking bureaucromancer.
That's right, folks: Flex is about a man who does MAGIC BUREAUCRACY. And it's way more awesome than it sounds, thanks to Ferrett Steinmetz's incredibly clever take on magic.
In the world of Flex, magic takes on all forms, and it's very personal and individual. But it always comes with a price: the Flux, a dangerous blowback that balances out any use of magic with a comparable negative consequence. And again, Steinmetz's clever and creative take on this concept make this book stand out.
What drew my attention to the book was the description of it as "Breaking Bad but with magic," and that description is surprisingly apt, though it is, of course, mostly on the superficial level, as marketing hooks tend to be. Paul hooks up with a lowlife to make drugs—Flex, distilled magic for the mundanes—for the sake of his family (in this case, his daughter, badly burned in an accident [note the cover]), but he's also excited by just doing magic. 'Mancy is illegal, and he faces brainwashing and reconditioning if he's caught, and his favorite co-worker goes after 'mancers like it's his job. Whether intentional or not, I did enjoy mapping various characters to their Breaking Bad counterparts (Hank! Tuco! Gus!), but I didn't feel like the story was derivative, especially because it really breaks out of that mold in the second half.
There is so much to like about this book. The chapter titles, which frequently have cute and appropriate pop culture references. The pop culture references in general, thanks to the aforementioned lowlife's powers of videogamemancy, which allows her to manipulate reality into videogames, leading to things I never thought I would see in a book. (For a gamer, this book is as fun as Ready Player One in the whizzbang cool sense; I do wonder how all those scenes play to someone who hasn't played any of those games.) Paul's relationship with his daughter, Aliyah: Aliyah feels like a real six-year-old girl, and Steinmetz complicates their relationship beautifully by making Aliyah extremely hateful toward 'mancers without knowing her dad is one. The villain. The plotting. The use of the word "motherfuckress."
I found myself handwaving most of the magic, though, as the rules kept evolving throughout the book. I couldn't quite visualize a lot of what was going on, but I got the general gist, and Steinmetz justified what any character was doing enough for me to go along with it. Lots of little neat bits of worldbuilding, like the fact that 'mancy offends physics so much that it can open rifts in reality, don't get explored fully in this book, but I hope they will be in the future.
Flex is a fun read, but as I got more and more into the book, I was impressed with how well crafted it was. The sequel is called The Flux, as if it's the price we have to pay for a book this good. I'll take it!...more