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Eleven books (one rant with notes) - Qualified Perceptions
Eleven books (one rant with notes)
Right Ho, Jeeves (by P. G. Wodehouse)
There are a lot of free Kindle books from Project Gutenberg, including this one. I was reading a critical review of a new Jeeves book when I realized that all my Wodehouse is from cultural osmosis, that I hadn't actually read any of it. So now I have. It was just as I remembered it. :)

Nine Goblins (by T. Kingfisher)
This is a pen name for Ursula Vernon, who I guess did not want people searching for her children's books to accidentally buy something that has a bit more horror and carnage to it. It's an ebook-only novella, short but adorable (and creepy). Five stars.

The Daedalus Incident (by Michael Martinez)
This is fun. Half of it is straight-up science fiction, miners on Mars with things starting to go mysterious and wonky. Half of it is unabashedly pulp 18th-century sailing-ships-in-space (the rebels are on Ganymede instead of the Colonies). The alternation works, and when they start to squoosh together, the squooshing also works. The ending isn't quite as aesthetic, as the SF half has to deal with a pulp plot - but it's hard to get Squooshing without the pulp half. There's a clear setup (in an epilogue, no less) for a sequel, but it mostly ends acceptably without worrying about that. Four stars with a grain of salt.

The Scroll of Years: A Gaunt and Bone Novel (by Chris Willrich)
I did not finish this one. I did not even get to the part where the thieves get to Mythic Fantasy China (which was why I bought the book). It had too much of a sense of being written by a Denning-Kruger effect victim. "Twain" is not an appropriate word to use for a mated pair of creatures, and an axe does not chop through very tough wood "with great diffidence". Those were the most egregious examples, but everything felt a little off, like dialogue that all sounded like awkwardly-written word instead of spoken. An elder monk chastising the main character for luring enemies in: "You and your lover have ravaged this place as surely as if you had set fire to it. How fitting that you are here a day early, but still only just after your enemies have left." I cannot imagine anyone saying that second sentence. Time was that I might have read the whole thing and taken better notes for a rant, but mjperson bought me a copy of Inferno to do that for.

Low Town (by Daniel Polansky)
Grimy noir detective fantasy. I don't know what the heck is up with the cover (a greyish crystal with tufts of hair sticking out of it). The main character is an ex-cop, now drug dealer, with more baggage and backstory than you can shake a stick at, dealing with some particularly unpleasant murders that land on his doorstep. It's more grimy than I tend to prefer, but the Amazon preview was thick with atmosphere and world, plus well-written, so I got the book. The main character is a better person than he thinks he is, which is nice in the grimy noir genre; he deals drugs but not the worst of them, when he gets embroiled in the murders he feels obliged to worry about them, and his fall from grace seems to have had Reasons and not just general corruption. I'll say three and three-quarters stars; worthwhile, but not quite over the top to "READ THIS!"

Grimspace (by Ann Aguirre)
I forgot to write up the review of this when I first read it; that it's gone kind of blurry is indicative that it didn't grab me by the head. But... it was pretty good. :) It's very episodic, but that lets the author play with several difference nice set pieces (spooky xeno-infested planet, asylum with the Worst Psych-Doctors Ever, creepy creepy space station) Huh, they're all kind of horror tropes, which I hadn't noticed before. But it's more of an action story than a horror story, and the characters have nice chemistry. Gosh, there's six of these in the series, I guess I should try the next one. Three and a half stars.

The Furnace (by Timothy S. Johnston)
Advertised as a science-fiction locked-room mystery, it does manage the locked-room part pretty well. The mystery is not puzzly, and the science fiction is very Michael Crichtonesque. I started marking passages to complain about rather than to praise, and then I gave up, so this isn't a very good rant. The main character is a homicide investigator - apparently they travel around the solar system from planet to planet investigating, rather than be stationed anywhere specific. I guess there aren't very many murders. (Okay, possibly there are a lot of murders in very small places, like this 14-person station in close solar orbit; I can see that there wouldn't be a police force on staff.) The book spends a lot of time explaining that the job of a homicide investigator requires a lot of talking to people to figure out who killed the victim; other words of wisdom include "Possible tensions and squabbles between coworkers were of critical importance in any murder case" and "People often hesitated to speak freely unless they thought it was in confidence". It's as if the author thinks he is inventing the first mystery novel and has to explain it or the reader won't understand.

Okay, now for the science, remember how in Jurassic Park, there's the silly digression into Chaotic Systems to lend some sort of scientific handwavium? Here, there is a digression into exponential growth. In order to explain how things like bacteria multiply, one character explains to another that if you fold a piece of paper in half a hundred times, it would be as wide as the entire universe. She explains this in excruciating detail. With charts. At some point she skips ahead (because they don't want to put all 100 lines of the chart in the book), and he thinks she's pulling a fast one on him. At some point, the formula "Number of paper thicknesses = 1 x 2g" is brandished ominously, for a "what is this I don't even" moment. Now, the thing is, she's explaining (essentially) bacterial growth, and the fact that (gasp!) pretty soon everyone on the station could be infected. We actually have a pretty good intuition about diseases, that doesn't require making someone understand "a folded piece of paper as wide as the universe" as a middle logical step.

"What do you know of exponential growth?" Her question threw me off. I sat next to her. "I...I guess the same as most people. Two, four, eight, sixteen, and so on." "Basically that's true, yes. But there's so much more. It's frightening, really."
There's another bit where the detective finds a small sequence of DNA in a Clue. He runs a match against the system-wide DNA database, and finds no matches. Thus, he concludes, it must be the DNA of one of the Ruling Council (whose DNA is not in the database). I, um, actually think there are quite a lot of things that DNA could be other than that, though possibly fewer of them would be the target of an Evil Conspiracy, so perhaps the deduction is valid with sufficient genre savviness. Anyway. I read some of this, so you don't have to. Two stars.

All Our Yesterdays (by Cristin Terrill)
A YA angstromance/time-travel novel. Between the two timelines, the flashbacks, and the implied previous causal loops, there's a lot of timey-wiminess, but it's not actually all that complicated (and I did watch Primer). The angst is pretty thick, but well done. But everyone seemed so young, which means maybe I should stop randomly picking up YA books, because that really isn't their fault. Three and a half angsty stars.

Something More than Night (by Ian Tregillis)
This is an odd book. At first, it's half of a War In Heaven story (well, more like a Murder Mystery in Heaven) and half an inexplicably over-the-toply noir gumshoe detective story. Then a bit more than halfway through the book, the inexplicable becomes explicable, sort of, and the story gets deeper. And, the angels are interesting - part of what makes them cool is that they have all the sense modes ever, which is interestingly novel and well done. I like Tregillis both as a plotter and a wordsmith - he isn't quite up there with my Most Favorite Authors Ever, but he does a darned good job.
The way they conveyed that concept made Molly shiver. Had it been expressed in written words, it would have been illuminated by monks, gilt, bound in fine leather, embossed with silver inlay, crusted with rubies, and placed in a museum. And then the museum would have been nuked with bunker busters, and the surrounding continent slagged into magma by orbital mass drivers just for good measure.
Four stars.

a darkling sea (by James Cambias)
Maybe this isn't actually officially all lower case; it could just be the font on the cover. I liked this quite a lot. Humans are on an ocean-under-many-feet-of-ice world, with indigenous sentient lobster-whales who they are avoiding, due to the dictates of a second sentient species, the more advanced otter-guys. The initial plot comes from an incident that reminds me a bit of Speaker for the Dead - one of the humans ends up dead at the Ilmatarans (the lobster-whales), due to a serious but unsurprising failure of xenounderstanding. Then the Sholen (the otters) get involved, and further failures of xenounderstanding snowball. Both species of aliens are Different - there are a lot of linguistic patterns, as well as general culture, but a lot is also left underspecified for the reader to fill in or speculate about. (Hmm, this looks to be the author's first novel - he's credited on a bunch of GURPS books). Four and a half stars.

New Amsterdam (by Elizabeth Bear)
I keep reading Elizabeth Bear, because the descriptions seem like books I should really like ("forensic sorcerer"!), but I think I should stop, because she just doesn't grab me. I find previous reviews that say things like "Interesting, but not as gripping as I would have liked. I think I may just not be on the right wavelength for her; I have no real complaints." Three stars, but I don't think that it's the author's fault.

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2 comments or Leave a comment
mjperson From: mjperson Date: March 6th, 2014 08:39 pm (UTC) (Link)


So, um, why isn't Inferno in the list then? We demand our rants!
marcusmarcusrc From: marcusmarcusrc Date: March 11th, 2014 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yay for more book reviews!

In return, some recent books that I've liked: "Golem and the Jinni" (this one is book-club popular). "I am not a serial killer" (a young-adult book about a kid who is really interested in serial killers, when one shows up in his town. There is weird-shit, eventually). Seraphina (young-adult, dragons. I meant to write a livejournal post about the 3 dragon novels I read in one month: ranked Seraphina above Tooth and Claw which had a slow start above whatever the latest Naomi Novik sequel was). Sunshine, Robin McKinley (having just read Shadows by her, I'm re-realizing she somewhat rewrites the same story with different paint, but I like the story. And Sunshine is one of her better iterations, in my opinion).

Also, I agree with mjperson that we want an Inferno rant. =)
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