The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy By Douglas Adams

I liked this!

This is gonna be an itty bitty one because I’m not really sure what to say about this other than that. Everybody and their mom looooooves these books. There’s so much universal love and acclaim for them that when I finished this one and just liked it, I felt a little…weird about it. I felt like I’d missed something. Was it because I’ve read all the other books that have been inspired by this, the ones that have turned original thought and humour into tropes? Was it because absurdist, madcap humour and scifi don’t really mix that well with me? Or maybe it’s just one of those things, where something that works for almost everybody in the known universe just didn’t quite hit it for me.
Who knows?

Either way, I did still enjoy myself. There’s humour here, and originality, and fun. I definitely didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time or anything, it’s just not something that’s going to leave a big impression on me or my reading life.

Recommended for those who are looking for something light and easy, something to make them laugh, and anybody that’s in the mood for a spot of fun.

VBR

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Comicbook Corner 3: Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory

Well hellllllllllllloooooo there. How’s November been treating you so far? Getting all those good fall reads in?

Today’s Comicbook Corner is centered around the wild, weird, and completely disgusting, Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory. By now you should know that I have a huge soft spot in my nerdy little heart for comics and novels that realize their mediums are limitless and just run with it. This is that and then some.

It mostly focuses on an FDA agent with the power to get psychic impressions from eating things, and his superiors discovering that he can use that power to solve crimes. At first it seems pretty straight forward, if not super, duper gross (he’s constantly forced to eat the physical remains left at crime scenes, be it spilled blood or a toe or whatever). He eats a gross thing, gets an impression, and tracks down the criminals involved. At first I thought it was going to end up just being a police procedural with this one wacky hook, but it doesn’t take long for the comic to take a sharp left turn from the expected. There’s all sorts of weird food powers and other bananas shit going on, including a lady that can make you taste the food she reviews, a man who can carve anything, ANYTHING, from chocolate, a weird immortal vampire who can absorb other people’s food powers by eating them, a former cock fighting champion chicken that’s turned into a government owned cyborg killing machine, and a weird, maybe alien or intradimensional plant thing that people use as a chicken substitute. It’s so fucked up you gals.

But! Luckily for us, it’s just as fun and entertaining as it is weird and gross. The writer and artist really seem like they’re having a blast making this one, continually outdoing themselves with the wild and zany shit that they come up with, while still making sure that there’s a story at the center of it. In between the eating of dead body parts and robot chicken killing sprees, there’s moments of real emotion and character development.

Recommended for anybody with a strong stomach, a high threshold for suspension of disbelief, and a propensity for fiction in which, almost always, you have absolutely no fucking idea what’s going on, but you’re having fun anyways.

VBR

Frantic Scramble to Catch Up

Hello my lovelies!

It’s been so long! How are all ya’ll doing? Anything new and exciting happening?

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything. I have been reading, just not a ton, and for a little while it was a lot of stuff that I either didn’t like or felt kinda meh about. I didn’t really have anything to say about any of them and I didn’t want to waste your time with a bunch of “this was pretty good I guess! You might have fun reading it maybe”. So instead of writing a bunch of middling posts I just decided to give it a rest for a week or so, and then a week or so become two weeks or so, and then that became a month. And here we are!

So there’s a bunch of stuff that I’ve read over the last week or two that I did actually like, and instead of writing one article for each of them I’m going to give you a quick run down of some of them. There’s one I LOVED, which I’m saving for an article for later (I’ll give you a hint, it’s a Historical Supernatural Mystery/Gay Romance novel and it’s also the best thing), but we’ll get to that when we get to it.

Okay! Here goes!

The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales

I haven’t read anything this fast and fun and fucked up since The Library at Mount Char.  But whereas the Library starts out weird and then amps up into actual insanity, this one kind of goes the other way around. It starts out at 11, a Torchwood/Buffy the Vampire Slayer hybrid on a bad meth high, with tons of big action and the big bad boss fight over and done with in the first chunk of the book. And then it shifts. The book doesn’t get less weird, there’s still semi-robot ladies/assassins/super-powered young girla/people who get magic powers from maybe a meteor or a radioactive accident, but it does slow down a bit, get a little more human. The end of this book is insightful and touching in a way I wasn’t expecting, and it changed the way I felt about all the bits that came before it. It’s like eating a bunch of rich, delicious chocolate cake, and then finding out that the whole thing was made from vegetables. It doesn’t change how much you enjoyed the cake part, but it does make you look back on it and go “huh”.

As a side note before I hop on to the next thing, this was the book that pulled me out of my slump. If you’re in that spot right now, it might pull you out of yours too.

 

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

I’d heard a lot about this one before I picked it up. Tons of people were talking about how crazy and all over the place and fun it was, and since that had worked so well for me with the last book (and, if we’re being honest, always works so well for me. The weirder the better!) I thought I’d continue the streak. And they weren’t wrong about the banana-pants part of it. I don’t normally do lots of plot stuff, but let me set this up for you: (*takes deep breath*) This book is about a South African Demi-Goddess who works in a nail salon that decides to go back to her fear and pain eating ways, a girl from a small rural village who’s also a Demi-Goddess, a young gay couple with some father issues who discover they have psychic powers, a pre-transition politician/singer with the power to persuade people (and who’s mother also might be a tree?), and a famous singer who discovers she has a rather strong appetite for pain (but not in the same way as the evil demi-goddess from before. Hers is a good thing, and also it helps her sing?). While I  didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as The Regional Office (and I know, it’s not really fair to compare the two. They’re their own thing. But I read them back to back, so what can you do?) I still really liked it. I had fun with it, I loved the imagination of it, the setting, the world. I just thought it was a little more…haphazard in it’s frenzy. Like maybe it was trying to do one too many things. There were a few weird bits of side character storyline that easily could’ve been cut and wouldn’t have effected the story at all (the part where the politician murders one of their campaign managers and then he just comes back to life and they forget it ever happened. Or when the singer is kidnapped by her crazy father and then escapes with no consequences or impact on the story). Also, everybody who was singing the praises of this book was talking about how much they loved the main villain, Sydney, and I just thought…I dunno, she was okay. Maybe the people talking about how much they loved her raised my expectations to unfair levels, but really I didn’t find anything particularly memorable or fresh about her. She wasn’t a bad villain, I liked her well enough, she’s just not going to stick with me.

 

Head Lopper by Andrew Maclean

Yet another fast and fun fantasy book. This one is a graphic novel send-up (and also a bit of a love letter) to Beowulf, Conan the Barbarian, Dungeons and Dragons, and all the other campy major fantasy epics. This is going to be the shortest of these write-ups, because I don’t have a ton to say about this other than that I really liked it. It’s not deep, or introspective, or surprising. It doesn’t have much to say about the human condition or what it is that separates man from monster. It’s about a dude called the Head Lopper who chops off a bunch of heads. The art is great, the monsters are cool, the writing is fun, and the story goes just about exactly how you’d expect. If that sounds like your thing, you’re gonna have a blast.

 

Anywho, that’s not all the books that I’ve read over the last little while, but that’s a few of them. You’ll get a post with a couple more in a day or two. Hope ya’ll have been well.

VBR

Borderline by Mishell Baker

And how is everybody doing on this delightfully chilly, wonderfully cloudy, hopefully soon to be rainy day? And yes, yes, I know, ya’ll love it when it’s sunny and warm and sticky and disgusting outside, but I’m a west coaster at heart. I live here because I love the rain, and there has been nooooone of it for months. Let me have these few days before the heat ramps back up and it gets unbearable again.

Wait…are we talking about the weather? Is this where we’re at now? Is the magic gone? How do we get it back?

Talk about books, you say? Don’t mind if I do!

This is a novel that’s completely built on the back of its protagonist. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all here for weird urban fantasy settings and fairies and all that jazz, but I’ve read a lot of that kind of thing. The world building in this one is pretty solid. The rules are well laid out, but not so well laid out that there isn’t some mystery left, the fantastical elements come across as well worn and lived in, and there’s enough difference in the characterization of the fey for them to seem fresh enough (there have been sooooo many books about fairies that it would be next to impossible to come up with a completely and entirely original take. I don’t expect that. I just want you to put enough of a twist on them, on any common fantasy character you write about, so that I can recognize them as your faeries or werewolves or whatever). But the world building alone, with a more vanilla character at its centre, wouldn’t have been enough for it to stand out amongst its contemporaries.

Millie Roper, on the other hand, would draw the eye in any crowd she was in. I don’t know what it is about underdogs that people love so much, that I love so much. Maybe it’s seeing them think their way around problems. If you’re the big guy, the powerhouse, you don’t really have to do that. You just bash your way to the finish line and bobs your uncle. The game’s yours. But putting characters at a disadvantage forces them to be clever (if the writing is good. There’s nothing in this world that bothers me more than a hack writer who puts their character in a problem they can’t solve and then just cheats their way out of it). It turns every encounter they have, every obstacle they run up against, into a puzzle. How do you fight somebody twice your size? Who’s stronger, faster, better trained? How do you beat somebody who can give you a heart attack just by touching you? There’s nothing that we like more than a good puzzle (right? I know I kinda just spoke for everybody, but I can’t be alone on this one) with a clever solution.

Millie is the underdoggiest underdog who ever underdug. She’s got a boat load of mental health issues (borderline personality disorder, mild brain damage, and PTSD, both from her recent failed suicide attempt and the implied sexual assault that played a part in it) and a bunch of physical handicaps to boot. She tried to kill herself a year before the book opens and lost both of her legs in the attempt. She’s got prosthetics, good ones, but it’s still difficult for her to get up stairs or get out of vehicles. Running is generally out of the question. So is standing for too long. Plus she can’t even wear them too soon after getting out of a shower or if her skin gets irritated. The lady’s got about as many hurdles as a person can have. The weird thing was though, despite the fact that the book (and Millie) never forgets about the difficulties that she faces just getting around, I started to. She’s such a tough, smart, capable jackass that, over the course of the book, I forgot to think of her as the underdog. When she came up against challenges that seemed insurmountable, the question changed from “if” she was going to be able to do it, to “how” she was going to get it done.

Recommended for folks that like urban fantasy, darker faerie stories, and protagonists that may be assholes and complete trainwrecks, but are still the smartest person in any room they decide to stand in.

VBR

 

Ps. Just as a side note, I didn’t mention the representational aspect of this novel in the body of my review because it had nothing to do with why I bought it or enjoyed reading it, and it seemed a little…false to bring it up while I was talking about it. I’m here for more representation of all different types of people on the page, and think this book does a good job of getting across some of the daily difficulties (although don’t quote me on that. It felt authentic in the moment, but she could have made all of it up whole cloth and I wouldn’t know the difference) of what it would be like to live with certain physical and mental issues. Baker treats them realistically (sometimes Millie is a straight up jerk), but with compassion. Her story is sad, reaaaally sad, but it’s not a sob story. She’s not made to be pitied. It’s very well done. So if you’re looking for more of that stuff in your books, this is a good place to get it.

 

 

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

This book holds such a weird and conflicted place in my heart.

I read it when I was really, really young. Probably too young, but I watched Silence of the Lambs when I was like nine and read A Game of Thrones when I was around eleven, so that ship had pretty much sailed (and just as a by the by, nothing to do with my parents. I was a particularly determined and underhanded kid, and though they were pretty liberal with the art they allowed me to consume, there were a few things I never gave them the opportunity to object to).

This novel (and the series that followed) had a bunch of firsts for me. It was the first hard scifi book I’d ever read. The first to treat intelligent children not just like they matter, but like they’re useful, dangerous even (which seems a little strange to frame as a positive, I know, but treating somebody like a threat is, in a weird way, an acknowledgement of their capability. I was a clever kid who was tired of being treated like a child, and something about this really got to me). It was also the first genre book series I’d encountered with themes of pacifism and anti-warmongering at its core, along with some pretty strong messages about the dangers of othering people you don’t understand, how much fear that can generate, and how easily that fear can turn to hate. This series helped to shape not only my taste in fiction and art, but also my idea of the adult that I wanted to grow up to be.

One of the perks of getting at this so young was that I was able to read it and love it, the whole series, without having much of a chance to encounter or care about the author’s personal politics. At that point I didn’t even know what my own were, and if you’d asked me I wouldn’t have really understood what you meant. Besides, I’d never been the type who worships the maker of the art. It’s the art itself that I’d always been interested in. That’s where all the swords and laser beams and forbidden, sweaty love is. Author’s names weren’t much more than a helpful reference tool for me to find more books that I wanted to read.

It was only years later (like a decade and a half actually), after several rereads of the series and numerous recommendations to people, that I heard anything about it. It was just an offhand comment on a podcast of some kind, and I didn’t really think anything of it. Then I heard something else. Then again. And eventually I was compelled to do something that, up until that point, I hadn’t really ever done. I turned to Lord Google (All Hail its Knowledge and Supreme Benevolence) for some info on a guy I had kind of assumed was a collection of monkeys and typewriters. And it broke my heart.

How could somebody that wrote about peace and compassion, about overcoming prejudice by trying to understand the things you fear, support such hateful, awful garbage? He was one of the first people to teach me that love and life is complicated, but that compassion and community, relationships, are the things that make life worth living, and we should take them where we can. Unless you’re gay and you want to get married, I guess. A man can love a female voiced A.I. (which…it’s a computer program. You can name it Jane and give it a lady’s voice and that still doesn’t mean it’s a woman), but he can’t love another man, another human being? I don’t get it.

At first learning this didn’t really change the way I interacted with the series itself. Death of the author, right?* No matter what he espoused in his personal life, it didn’t change the message that I got from his book, the lessons it taught me, the positive impact it had. And most of the people I know who read it got a lot of the same things from it that I did, so the book itself is a net good, right? Even if the man isn’t.

But…it’s not that simple. It would be great if we could interact with the art we love without having to worry about the person who made it, but we can’t. By purchasing the book (I’ve repurchased it at least three or four times), and reading it, raving about it, telling people in my life to do the same, I’m contributing to something. Yes, the book itself has a positive message, but the money that I, and all the people I convinced to buy it, spent isn’t getting thrown down a well. That money, or a portion of it anyways, is going to Orson Scott Card, and he’s using it to fight against people like me being able to get married. That’s super fucked up.

When you buy art you’re not just supporting the creation of more art like it (although you are doing that), you’re providing power and a platform to the person who’s creating it. I know you can’t be checking every single thing that you consume (is every actor in every television show I watch a good person? Is the CEO of the company that makes the plastic that houses the grape tomatoes I like a SJW?), but I think it’s well past the time where we acknowledge that who we give our money to matters. So let’s try our best not to give it to dick bags like this, okay?

Recommended for sexually confused, politcally oblivious pre-teens with low self-esteem, and…um…people who didn’t read the review I just wrote, I guess?

VBR

Ps. Honestly, if you decide to just keep ignoring authors (or musicians or directors or whatever) and reading books, I really don’t blame you. I still don’t look into every author that I read (I would never get ANYTHING done. I mean…I don’t really get that much done now. But even less. I would get EVEN LESS STUFF DONE), and anybody that says that they do is either lying or doesn’t read as much as we do. Just know that if you’re not careful, you might one day realize you’ve been contributing to something that really doesn’t sit well with you and that’s (trust me) a really ooky feeling.

 

*For those of you who haven’t  heard this saying before, this isn’t me threatening to kill Orson Scott Card. It’s just a saying among readers which means that what the author thinks about his work, what he was trying to convey, isn’t as important as the message that you pulled out of it while reading it. Once they put their art out into the world, their opinion about what it means becomes irrelevant.

 

 

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Hello friends!

Now I know that I’ve been saying that I love things a lot lately (and it’s true. I’ve been on a wild hot streak for great books. That and I’ve been dipping into my back catalogue of beloved reads whenever I think I have something to say about them, rather than writing about books that I’m either not that into, or just liked and don’t have that much to say about), but I don’t want that to undermine the praise I’m about to heap on this particular novel. Which, when you think about it, why should it? I say I love people and different things a lot, yeah, but I mean it every time. I love to love things! And why not? Who wants to walk through life searching for reasons to dislike stuff? So I’m just going to say it, and I don’t want to hear anything about it, okay?

I loooooved this book.

There have been lots of books that I’ve liked recently (tons! See previous rambles), but this definitely going in my all-time fantasy favourites. I’d had it recommended to me a bunch of times before, seen it around in book shops and the internet, but for some reason I just never picked it up. I think it may have been my quick, lazy scanning of the description on the back, coupled with the name of the book itself, that made me think it was kind of YA-y and not really up my alley (there’s nothing wrong with YA. In fact, most of the YA stuff that I’ve read I’ve at least liked. I just don’t read a ton of it and I have to be in the mood for it when I do). But I finally received the recommendation that tipped me over the edge the other day and I haven’t seen the sun or any of my friends since.

Right off the top, YA this book is not. It is the complete and polar opposite of YA.  This book is OABBA (old-ass, bitter, broken adult). This is easily one of the most brutal, intense, completely banana-pants books I’ve ever read. And trust me, I’ve read some really weird shit (Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Dark Tower Series, anything written by Jeff Vandermeer). I always really dig it when a fantasy book leans into the limitlessness of the medium. You want a man that runs a library which holds the entirety of the knowledge he’s collected over his sixty thousands years as maybe-God? No problem. How about a family where some of the siblings can talk to animals, others can bring people back from the dead or use their ghost babies to see the future, and one of them has gone a little kooky from spending too much time in the afterlife (having been murdered in every conceivable way by their Father)? Why not? Think you should throw in a little crazy demi-god of murder fighting the US army to spice it up a bit? Go nuts! This novel is so jam packed with good, out there, original ideas that it easily could have rested on the laurels of its imagination and phoned the rest of it in. I still would have given it an A.

But it didn’t. I’m shocked (and jealous and…a little aroused?) that this is Scott Hawkins first book. I think it might be one of the most well plotted, tightly structured fantasy novels I’ve ever read. Even though the framing of the story is massive and sprawling (the search for a potentially dead God, the vying for his now empty throne, the end of the world), the actual core of the story is really personal, almost small. The threats are all legitimate and well established (we know how bad the bads are, what it is they can and will do), but even more importantly than that they’re properly motivated. You may not always know why people are doing the terrible things they’re doing while they do them, but by the end of the novel it all makes sense. It’s incredibly complicated, filled with a complex, diverse cast of characters who are all intelligent (they all do the things that intelligent people would do in their circumstances…for the most part. Sometimes the situations are so wacky that it’s hard to tell what it is a smart person would do), capable, driven by their own agendas, and often at odds with one another. That’s a lot of balls to juggle, but Hawkins nails it. It all just fits, you know? And the ending is so satisfying that, even though I love all the characters and definitely want to spend more time in this world, I don’t really want to go back to this story. It’s done. It’s been told. I don’t need anymore.

Anyways, I could really go on and on about this book (there’s so much good stuff here guys), but I feel like you’ve put up with enough of my barely coherent rambling for one day, so I’ll try my best to wrap it up. It’s big, brutal, surprisingly moving, darkly funny, extremely well thought out and, for all that, still a blast to read. I’d recommend this one for anybody who loves mythology, urban fantasy, dark humour, or just likes a super-duper, fucked up, wackadoodle story every now and again.

Get out there and revel in the weirdness, ya’ll. It’s lots of fun 🙂

VBR

PS. As a brief disclaimer, this book is not for the faint of heart. It’s got just about every type of violence you could think of in it (sexual, psychological, emotional, boybeingslowlyburnedaliveoverthecourseofafewdaysinagiantbronzebullwhilehissiblings-aremadetowatchinordertoteachthemallaveryimportantlessonaboutlisteningtoyourfather-ical) and more than a few that would never cross your mind. If we’re doing a 1 to 10 scale of violence and depredation, 1 being See Spot Run, and 10 being A Song of Ice and Fire, this is a solid 12 or 13. I think you should brave it, but if you’re not the type of person that can handle this type of thing, you’ve been suitably warned.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps By Kai Ashante Wilson

Hey there lovelies!

So this was a really strange read for me, and by the end of it I wasn’t really sure whether I liked it or not. Let me start off by saying, I have read a lot of fantasy novels. Like, a lot a lot. And for the first few decades of my fantasy reading experience many of the novels were more alike than they were different. European setting, magic sword of some variety, white dude hero. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them, I still do, but even something you love can get a little stale if it’s the only option. By my early twenties I was a little fed up with the genre, a little tired of reading the same rehashed concepts over and over again, the same stories told from the same perspective with the same voice. And I know I’m not the only one. There’s been a big push lately in the fantasy communities for diversity, and not just for social justice reasons (although those reasons in and of themselves should be enough). I think people are finally coming to the realization that the larger and more diverse the talent pool we pull from, the better the books that we end up with.

Now this is all just a roundabout way of saying that I’ve got nothing but time for books with a fresh perspective or concept (and also an excuse for me to get a bit preachy about the homogeny of fantasy publishing). This novella, or novelette as I’ve heard it described in a couple of places, has both. The culture that it takes place in, and the voice of the characters, is refreshingly different (for me. I know there are probably plenty of great fantasies out there that take place in Africa, or an African based fantasy world, I just haven’t gotten around to a lot of them yet). And it was built on such a weird, cool blend of sci-fi and fantasy. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it.

But having said that, I’m not sure if I actually liked it. Even though it’s relatively short, it took me a while to get through it. There was something about the style of the prose that kept me from ever really sinking into the book, from feeling completely immersed in the story, and I can’t really put my finger on what it was. Maybe the language was a little opaque for me, or a little abstract. Whatever it was, I found this book a little difficult to get through.

So, I think I recommend this book? Did I love it? No. But I liked it, I think. If you’re like me and you’re looking for a fantasy of a slightly different variety, I’d definitely check it out. The language didn’t always work for me, and I didn’t get that awesome lose yourself completely in a book thing from it, but I’m still happy I read it. I still think it’s good. And I’ll definitely be checking out what this guy does in the future.

Well! That’s all for today folks.

Forever yours,

Very Biased Reviewer

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Hey there team!

So this one took a little longer to read, and a lot longer to review, than I was expecting. There’s two reasons for that:

The first and foremost is that when I was about halfway through this book my grandmother passed away. She’d been suffering from bone cancer, so it was as much of a relief as these things ever are, but it was still hard. As a result, over the holidays I spent a lot more time with my family and a lot less time alone reading.

The second reason has more to do with what I want this blog to be about. As a writer myself, I know how hard it is to create something, how much of yourself you put into everything you create, and how vulnerable you become when you put it out into the world. Because of that, I don’t want to be the kind of person who shits on somebody for making their art, for being committed enough to create a complete piece and brave enough to put it out there. I’d really prefer to just talk about the things that I love and that make me happy, rather than complain about the pieces that didn’t quite work for me.

At the same time, how interesting can it be if all you ever have to say about something is, “It was great!” So, I think I’m going to work against my natural instinct and review things no matter how well they worked for me. Having said that, I still think that if I don’t have anything positive at all to say about something, I’ll probably skip it. But then again, it’s been a really, really long time since I’ve read a book with nothing of value in it at all, and who knows what I’ll do when that happens. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

So you’ve probably guessed by this point that Boneshaker wasn’t my favourite. It’s not as if the book doesn’t have value. It’s chock full of imagination, and Cherie Priest can definitely turn a phrase. Not only that, but Briar, one half of the books two main POV characters, is great. She’s tough, resourceful, smart, complicated, driven. She’s everything I want and need in a protagonist. In fact, the first quarter of the book, where we spend most of our time in Briar’s POV, is pretty good. It’s after that things kind of start to wobble a bit, and eventually fall apart.

Most of my problems with the second half of this book are things that I can usually just whistle past. One of my bigger complaints is that Boneshaker sets up a couple of interesting conflicts that simply fizzle out. The main one (spoilers!) is the reveal of Dr. Minnericht as just some random guy, who we know next to nothing about and don’t care about at all. Another is the fate of a character who starts out pretty interesting. He’s ambiguous and somewhat menacing and clearly just using the book’s other main protagonist, Zeke, as a means to his own end, but halfway through the novel he disappears, and at the end they find his body after he’s died of an overdose. What does that add to the story? What was the point in having the character introduced in the first place?

And here we come to my main problem with the book: Zeke. He’s…a mess. He starts out Boneshaker with agency and pluck, heading into the walled off part of Seattle in order to find out the truth about his father, but he quickly devolves into a plot device. He’s bounced from situation to situation through no fault or choice of his own. The only real purpose that he serves is to provide motivation for Briar, and to serve as the eyes through which we can view the (admittedly pretty awesome) world that Cherie created. And it’s not just his passivity that makes him seem more plot device than character, it’s his inconsistency. Cherie can never quite seem to nail down how old he is. His characterization swings from small child to capable adult and back again. And his voice! Most of the time he talks completely normally, but randomly he’ll just slip into this weird, uneducated sounding patois that’s really heavy handed and overdone.

I guess I’m just a little disappointed. This book has so many good things in it! A steampunk zombie novel with a smart female protagonist? That is crazily within my wheelhouse. It practically is my wheelhouse. But the dead weight of Zeke, and a few mismanaged conflicts and other minor characters, prevents this book from really following through on its promise.

All in all this is a pretty mixed bag for me. I haven’t given up on Cherie Priest just yet, but I won’t be running out to grab another of her novels any time soon either. If you’ve read any of her other stuff and you think it’s worth giving it a try, let me know in the comments.

Love,

VeryBiasedCritic

Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life and Others

Alright, time for our first ever review! I’m excited! I’m nervous! I’m unprepared! Am I doing it right? It doesn’t feel like I’m doing it right.

Whew. Ok. Deep breaths. Let’s do it.

I just…don’t even know what to say. I’ve spent a very long time trying to figure out how to properly convey how much I enjoyed this collection, while also making you understand that I’m a smart and educated gentleman. But that hasn’t really been working, so instead I’m just going to say what I feel.

I fucking loved this book.

Oh my God did I ever love this book. Peoples, this collection holds within it what might very well be my favourite short story of all time. Considering the fact that you could probably circle the earth by laying every short story I’ve read down page to page, that’s saying something.

Even the ones that aren’t my favourite are so, so good. They’re smart, unique, emotionally affecting, and beautifully written stories. My favourite of the bunch, Story of Your Life, made me ugly cry in public. On the seabus. And I didn’t give a shit who saw me. That’s how great it was. I don’t want to tell you too much about it, because I wouldn’t want to ruin or colour your first experience of it, but even if you don’t buy the book seek this story out. It’s well worth it.

Another gem, Understand, is the only time I’ve ever read a story about an experiment or drug raising somebody up to crazy super-intelligence that I actually bought. Most of the time when you read or see something along those lines (I’m staring you right in those beautiful baby blues, Mr. Cooper) it’s the material itself that tells you that the person is a genius, not their actions. Sure, they’re depicted doing some things we know would require a full sack of smarts (counting cards, writing long, complicated novels, gaining the upper hand over foes, etc.) but they don’t really change their behaviour in any meaningful way. It’s the old problem of having writers try and write characters who punch above their own intellectual weight. It almost always ends up coming off as false at best, ridiculous at worst. Not so in Understand. Ted Chiang writes about super intelligence as if he’s lived it. The *very mild spoilers* two super intelligent characters, their actions, their conflict, the reasoning behind their conflict, and finally its resolution, all play as both believable and the inevitable consequence of their super intelligence. So great. Crazy fucking great.

Are all of them master pieces? No. But even the worst of them is pretty damn good. Tower of Babylon is inventive and well done, but a little emotionally flat, and not particularly gripping. Division by Zero, my least favourite story, might appeal more to people who have a greater love of math than I do, but I found the characters mostly uninteresting and unappealing, and the revelation at the heart of the story lacked impact. Having said that, there’s still some emotional insight there, and the relationship between the two main characters was subtle and well drawn.

Ok, so this went a lot longer than I was actually planning, and I promise in the future most reviews won’t be quite so lengthy. It’s just not very often that you get a collection of science fiction stories that are this consistently interesting and intelligent, and I felt the need to do it some sort of justice by giving it a little more space. I didn’t even get to talk about all the stories! Like the one where people can get a part of their brain altered so they no longer notice physical beauty, an act of rebellion against a media that constantly uses sexual impulse to manipulate them (it’s a bit more complicated than that, but I’m trying my best to paraphrase). Or a weird, steampunkian story about golems and homunculi and classicism.

Basically what I’m trying to say is buy this book. Or borrow it. Or steal it (not from me though, I’ll hunt your ass down). Doesn’t matter. Just get your hands on a copy.

You’ll be glad you did.

VeryBiasedCritic

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