Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review: Bones of the Earth

Bones of the Earth Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a mystery man walks into his office and makes the offer a lifetime, to study dinosaurs in the wild, paleontologist Richard Leyster has no choice but to take him up on it. However, time travel isn't as simple as it first seemed...

Michael Swanwick has been on my radar for years after some praise by China Mieville but I never took the plunge until several of his books popped up for cheap in one of my daily ebook emails.

People either seem to love or hate this book, which I can't fathom. It's was a pretty middle of the road book for me.

The books starts out great. If a shady government type showed up at your office with a ***spoiler*** in an Igloo cooler, you'd be powerless to resist as well. Leave it to the government to muck up a simple thing like time travel with bureaucracy...

The idea of studying dinosaurs in the wild gets complicated by fundamentalist extremists who want to discredit the notion of time travel in order to uphold the young Earth theory. Griffin and company ferret out the mole and try to get our scientists back to the future.

Oh, yeah. Things get timey-wimey right off the bat. Griffin, the military man in charge, works for The Old Man, a much older version of himself. Multiple versions of other characters are wandering around and people in the know are wary of violating the laws of causality and creating time paradoxes.

The meat of the book is the fate of the sabotaged expedition. Swanwick blessedly dipped in and out of their lives and didn't inflict the misery-porn that was their day to day existence upon us. The revelation of who the time travel came from was very satisfying to me, as was the consequences of the rest of the book.

Swanwick posits a lot of questions about dinosaurs, extinction events, and things of that nature. Some of the theories were really fun to think about, like dinos communicating through infrasound.

Oddly enough, I found the science behind the story to me more logical and thought out than the motivations of some of the characters. It's definitely not a character book unless you're into insta-love or insta-hate that later transforms into love. Also, there could have been more dinosaur action.

All things considered, I enjoyed this time travel yarn. Bones of the Earth was a solid $1.99 purchase and I'll be happy to read the other Swanwick books I have on my kindle. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Review: A Stir of Echoes

A Stir of Echoes A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Tom Wallace's brother-in-law hypnotizes him at a party, he inadvertently wakens something in Tom. Now, Tom sees the ghost of a woman in a black dress and can sense peoples' thoughts. But who is the woman in the black dress...?

Sometime in that half-forgotten time before Goodreads, I went on a Richard Matheson binge and this is one of the books I read. I thought I'd unloaded it at the local used bookstore years ago but I stumbled upon it in my basement while looking for something else. Since I'd forgotten most of it in the eons since I originally read it, it was like a whole new book.

A Stir of Echoes is a ghost story but it's also about the secrets people keep hidden from one another. Tom Wallace lives in a neighborhood in the suburbs with a wife, a baby, and another baby on the way. When he suddenly becomes a medium, things slowly go pear-shaped.

It's a fairly creepy tale, told in Richard Matheson's all meat, no filler style. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to find a ghost in your house. Still, the biggest horrors are his neighbors and what they're capable of. I had a vague idea of how things went down but the twists still caught me off guard. As always, Matheson's prose is as smooth as bar of soap and just as slippery.

A Stir of Echoes was really hard to put down, even on the second read. One of these days, I'll have to watch the Kevin Bacon movie. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Review: The Tea Master and the Detective

The Tea Master and the Detective The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Shadow's Child, the brain of a mindship, is shellshocked and brewing teas for safer space travel when a consulting detective shows up at her door...

This was a Netgalley find and one of the few Netgalley finds that didn't immediately feel like a homnework assignment from a hated teacher.

Set in an asteroid belt with a Vietnamese-influenced culture, The Tea Master and the Detective has its roots loosely planted in A Study In Scarlet. Long Chau hires The Shadow's Child to brew her tea and take her into the deep spaces to find a corpse in order to study its composition. (Sidebar - From what I gather, the deep spaces are like hyperspace, a medium to speed up space travel. Special teas are needed to keep travelers sane during their journeys.) The body isn't quiet what they expect and the mystery unfolds.

While the story shows its Sherlockian roots in places, that in no way diminishes the enjoyment. I really liked the asteroid belt settings, the deep spaces, hell, the worldbuilding in general. The worldbuilding is seamlessly done. I had a pretty good idea of the history of the world, the technology, and the culture, all without being beaten over the head with info dumps.

Recasting Watson as a ship's organic mind with a traumatic past was a novel approach and in keeping with the rest of the setting. I can honestly say The Shadow's Child is the most well-rounded ship's computer I've ever read about. You don't see the Enterprise's computer having dinner with the computers of other ships! Honestly, Long Chau's deductions and attitude are Sherlockian but she has a lot more depth than I originally thought. I loved the interplay between Long Chau and The Shadow's Child right away. Before I was even finished, I was dreaming of future stories featuring the pair.

Over the years, I've read a lot of detective stories based in other genres and most leave me yearning for gumshoes beating down doors or mannerly locked room mysteries. This one was the opposite of that. Five out of five stars.

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Review: Mrs. Caliban

Mrs. Caliban Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dorthy's marriage is stagnant and falling apart when a frogman escapes from captivity. While Dorothy teaches him about the world, she winds up learning a lot of things herself...

I first learned of Mrs. Caliban on Book Riot, I think. I saw it was on sale for $1.70 earlier today and snapped it up.

It's a slim book, probably more novella than novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky, weird, sweet book. A woman falling in love with a frogman could easily be played for laughs or venture into monster porn territory but their relationship is very well done.

Dorthy is trapped in a loveless marriage, alone and childless, while her husband Fred philanders around. When a 6'7 aquatic monster named Larry shows up, she has no choice but to take him in and make him her lover. Seriously, how had I never heard of this book until recently?

Mrs. Caliban is an exploration of love and marriage, shown through Dorothy's eyes as she explains the ways of the world to Larry, telling him about life, the universe, and everything. Larry's ignorance about most things leads her to questioning a lot of those things herself. Things go pretty well until Larry starts venturing out on his own.

I don't have anything bad to say about this quirky masterpiece. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Review: The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a bomb goes off in the Metropolitan Museum of art, it kills thirteen year old Theo Decker's mother and sends his life forever spiralling out of control, for young Theo walked out of the ruins of the museum with The Goldfinch, a priceless painting, and a lifetime of trauma to deal with...

This book was on my watch list for a long time. I planned on reading it after The Secret History but didn't pull the trigger until it went on sale for $1.99.

This is one of those books I have conflicting feelings over. It's a literary novel and is a fine example of everything that entails, both the things I like and the things I don't. Donna Tartt's writing is as wonderful as ever. She's got a knack for stringing words together, painting vivid images. The various locals all seemed very real: New York, Las Vegas, Amsterdam.

Little bits of philosophy were scattered throughout the text, musings on life, the universe, and everything. Theo goes from one fuck-up to the next, not really imagining any consequences down the line, and things go pretty well for him. Until they don't.

While I think The Goldfinch was beautifully written and very readable, I didn't give a rat's ass about any of the characters other than Boris. Boris was the only one I felt had any real substance. The rest were caricatures, for the most part. Theo didn't show a lot in the way of personality and seemed like a collection of traits more than a character.

Like a lot of modern lit, the book felt like it was trying too hard to be profound at times and wasn't terribly concerned with telling a story. This thing is a whopper at 771 pages and the story could have easily been told, flourishes and all, in half of that. I did like the twists when they happened but it was kind of like seeing a billboard along a stretch of I-70 in the middle of Kansas, something to break up the endless journey.

Near the end, Amanda asked me if I was enjoying it. Enjoy wasn't the word I would use. I'm glad I experienced the book and there were parts I liked quite a bit, most featuring Boris, but there was never a time I wished the book would never end.

In conclusion, I will probably never be on the board that awards the Pulitzer Prize. The Goldfinch is some fantastic writing but not a hell of a lot in the way of a story. Glad I read it, gladder still that it's over. Three out of five stars.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Review: The Imago Sequence and Other Stories

The Imago Sequence and Other Stories The Imago Sequence and Other Stories by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Imago Sequence and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by Laird Barron.

This is Laird Barron's first short story collection and the fifth book of his I've read this year. I'm running out of ways to praise the man who has infected my brain like some kind of alien parasite.

Nine stories of sanity-blasting cosmic horror haunt its pages. Even though it's his first published collection, all of the Barronial bits are there: Chandler by way of Lovecraft prose, lonliness, helplessness, and things beyond mortal ken. I can't say enough about Barron's prose, a delicious but deadly poetry.

The stories themselves are a diverse mix, many touching upon his concepts of the nature of time and the Children of Old Leech. "Old Virginia" hooked me and held my attention like a vise. I was going to list the standouts but honestly the only one I wasn't ass over tea kettle for was "The Royal Zoo Is Closed". The two most noir-flavored, "Bulldozer" and "The Imago Sequence", were my favorites. There are some secrets man isn't meant to know.

Most of the stories take place in Washington State, which is now a place I don't want to visit for fear of sinister dohlmens, pylons, and alien horrors. His heroes are more Continental Op than mossback scholars, making the horrors they encounter that much worse.

I'm a latecomer to the Laird Barron party but now I'm the guest that won't leave. Got any yearbooks? Four out of five stars.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Review: Steel: And Other Stories

Steel: And Other Stories Steel: And Other Stories by Richard Matheson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Steel: And Other Stories is a collection of Richard Matheson tales.

Not long ago, I read The Best of Richard Matheson and experienced the great man's stories for the first time in a decade or more. My whistle had been wetted so I picked this one up at the used bookstore a few days later.

First off, there was very little overlap between the two collections, only two or three stories. Secondly, this could easily have been called The Second Best of Richard Matheson. When most of Matheson's iconic tales were in the other collection, I should have expected as much.

The stories in Steel are a mixed bag in tone, subject matter, and quality. Steel was good but not great. The Splendid Source felt like a Monty Python sketch and was one of my favorite stories in the book. There are some thought-provoking stories, like The Traveler or Lemmings. Present in many of them, however, are Richard Matheson's twist endings. The man really loved his bite-you-in-the-ass endings, didn't he?

Steel: And Other Stories was a nice way to spend a few hours but it is in no way an essential Richard Matheson read. Three out of five stars.

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