Monday, February 26, 2018

The Shadow of What Was Lost (James Islington)

The Shadow of What Was Lost
The Licanius Trilogy, Book 1
James Islington
Orbit
Fiction, Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)


DESCRIPTION: Twenty years ago, the great Augurs - gifted with foresight and other marvelous abilities - fell from power when their prophecies failed. They were slain by the new king and his Loyalist forces, and their Gifted assistants bound by the Four Tenets of the Treaty. Today, all who wield Essence are marked and taken to the Tols... and those who do not or cannot abide by the strict rules are transformed into Shadows, stripped of power, the lowest of the low. Though it was within the lifetime of many, already the public chooses to forget the days when Augurs and Gifted were honored - and forget, too, the dangers they were meant to guard against, the Boundary to the north they were meant to reinforce.
Davian, Wirr, and Asha were all students at the same Tol, and thought they'd share a similar future... except maybe for Davian. His Essence woke after a brutal attack that left permanent scars - but he hasn't been able to reach it since, despite the lingering mark of the Gifted on his arm. With their trials coming soon, he's sure he'll fail and become another lowly Shadow, but he's too stubborn and honorable to try fleeing. The night before the trials, however, something attacks the school, leaving only the three alive, each set upon a different path to greater destinies than they'd ever dreamed... and greater dangers than they'd ever imagined.

REVIEW: The reviews looked good, and I've been feeling an epic fantasy itch lately, so this seemed like a decent choice. Unfortunately, when the cover reviewers rave how it's perfect for fans of Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, I think they were being too accurate on the former and nowhere near the mark on the latter. This reads very much like the now-dated first book in Jordan's series and other older epic fantasy, with rather generic characters, a male- and white-heavy cast, and the concept of "sprawling epic" kicked over the line into "sprawling mess," not to mention Random Capitalizations of Various People or Things and the return of the wearisome "aesthetic apostrophe," or apostrophes stuck into names and terms to make them look exotic without actually serving a purpose. Add that to an overall sense that I'd read most of it before elsewhere, and I soon realized I was in for one heck of a slog.
Now, I'm not new to the epic fantasy genre. I've read Tolkien, Williams, Martin, and Sanderson, among others. I know such books often take some time to establish a feel, and for names to sort themselves out; that's part of the attraction, the immersion into a full and wonder-filled world. Here, even by the end, I had only mentally sorted about half of the many names, places, eras, entities, and terms Islington threw at me and evidently expected me to keep straight. Too many were brought up with minimal relevance to the plot or the characters, and too many had a similar feel, meaning I had to constantly hold myself up trying to remember if a particular name was someone new or someone I should remember, or even whether they were a person or a place or a city - and even then it wasn't always clear. The capital city has about three different terms to describe various parts of it, all of which tended to be adrift in mental white space for lack of orientation. It was all very distancing, especially as Islington works hard to clutter the plot with glimpses of new tidbits and yet another race or character or ability or twists that were meant to be intriguing. Oh, and there's an unsubtle religion insertion that kicks in roughly halfway through. And the titular "Licanius"? It barely even appears in the storyline, and though it's evidently important enough to name the trilogy after, I still couldn't tell you its significance beyond an overhyped, underused Macguffin. This is what ultimately cost it a half-star; I should not have been that lost that far into the story. (Well, that and too many said-bookisms and other style irritants that just got under my skin after a while... and if that kind of thing's bugging me, something's clearly gone wrong with my suspension of disbelief.)
That said, there are a few nice ideas and scenes glimmering here and there, and some potentially intriguing characters. There are, unfortunately, many more ideas, scenes, and characters that feel stripped from other fantasy works with the serial runes barely filed down. While many people evidently liked it, and I suspect things pick up in future volumes, this simply failed to provide the immersive epic fantasy experience I'd been looking for, and my reading pile's too deep (not to mention my interest level too low, and confusion level too high) to pursue this trilogy.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Sword of Shannara (Terry Brooks) - My Review
The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan) - My Review
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson) - My Review

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Descender: The Deluxe Edition Volume 1 (Jeff Lemire)

Descender: The Deluxe Edition Volume 1
The Descender series, Issues 1 - 16
Jeff Lemire, illustrations by Dustin Nguyen
Image Comics
Fiction, Graphic Novel/Sci-Fi
***** (Great)


DESCRIPTION: The United Galactic Council used to bring order - or a reasonable cross-species facsimile thereof - to the Megacosm of inhabited worlds... until the day the Harvesters arrived. The massive robots appeared above the nine core UGC worlds mysteriously, and brought untold destruction. Afterwards, most sentients turned on the robots in their midst, giving rise to scrapper bounty hunters and anti-robot cults. Even the most benign of machines found themselves hunted, sent into death arenas or hurled, still active, into melting pits. Meanwhile, the UGC still reels and crumbles, while the violently luddite Gnishian empire grows bolder.
Tim-21 was built as a companion for the boy Andy on a remote mining world. When the Harvesters struck, he was "asleep" - powered down - and left behind. He "wakes" a decade later, alone among corpses... save for Bandit, a robot "dog", and Driller, a relic mining machine with no love for the living. His attempts to find out what happened to Andy alert scrappers to his existence - and alert the UGC to his survival. They've become very interested in the Tim line of robots, ever since their mechanical "fingerprints" were matched to the Harvesters. Did they bring the death machines to the Megacosm... and will a Tim unit bring them back to finish the devastation they started?
This deluxe edition includes issues 1 - 16 of the Descender series, plus bonus cover art.

REVIEW: The exploration of artificial life has been fertile soil for storytellers since before Mary Shelly unleashed Frankenstein's creature on the literary world. These explorations vary in depth and success. Descender counts as a strong success.
Tim-21 straddles a line between machine and human; he is aware of his own artificial nature and programming, aware that much of what he does and says is the result of his inventor, yet his adaptations and exposure to people (good and bad) make him something more, if not quite human then no longer quite machine. Other machines attempt to cope with their nature in their own ways, all disrupted by the Harvesters and subsequent hunting and reacting in different ways. None of them truly aspire to humanity, yet they view their own lives as worthy of preservation, even if they disagree on the worth and best use of that life.
On the living side of the cast are Doctor Guon, once hailed a genius for his work on robotics (particularly the breakthrough Tim line) before being reviled by association, and Telsa, the half-human daughter of the human head of the UGC who has her own reasons for wanting to track down Tim-21, among a host of others. Living or mechanical (or somewhere between), all have deeper characterizations and motivations driving their actions, all scarred to certain degrees... often long before the Harvesters turned the whole galaxy upside down.
With excellent artwork and a fast-paced plot, Descender starts what looks to be an excellent, gritty space opera in a galaxy closer to Mos Eisley than the United Federation of Planets (if I may mix my sci-fi universes.) I look forward to seeing where the tale goes from here... especially if other volumes are also available via Hoopla.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Eve and Adam (Katherine Applegate) - My Review
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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Ryan Higa's How To Write Good (Ryan Higa)

Ryan Higa's How To Write Good
Ryan Higa
Little, Brown Books
Nonfiction, YA? Humor/Media Tie-In/Memoir/Writing
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Popular YouTuber Ryan Higa may be the winner of the world's first Nobel Prize for internet videos (not true), but once upon a time he was a bullied preteen misfit struggling to find a reason to live (true.) Here, he presents the story of of his formative years, how he learned to cope with an inherently unfair world and push himself to excellence in unexpected ways, such as sports, comedy, and learning to write good. Or well. Whichever the proofreaders and his ghostwriter companion approve...

REVIEW: I confess I'm not a YouTube connoisseur, more of a light viewer than a binge-watcher or hardcore channel fan. But I saw this book go through the library at work, and it looked fun in the few moments I had to skim it - and, if I'm not much of a YouTube watcher, I am (something of) a writer. So I suppose I'm coming at this one a little backwards. Nevertheless, I've always been of the belief that a media tie-in book ought to stand alone, or it's not a well written book. Thus, despite my lack of familiarity with Higa's work*, I gave it a try.
With humor and frankness, not to mention several illustrated interludes, Higa relates a harrowing tale of childhood alienation and bullying. As someone who went through both and still bears certain mental tics from those days, I could readily relate despite the generational gap. It's not much of a spoiler to say that things did get better - if they hadn't, he probably wouldn't be around to have written this book - though Higa's quite honest about just how useful that "it gets better" advice is to someone going through their own personal hell (read: statistically indistinguishable from zilch.) His illustrated conversations with his ghostwriter and publisher add needed levity, with some surreal details. As for the writing angle, while it's primarily a memoir, there is indeed some talk about how to write a story. On the whole, it's a decent and fast read with some nice humor and a message about hard-won hope. My main complaint is the eBook formatting, which insisted on a locked-in scale and landscape view, not to mention a color screen. Half the benefit of an eBook is the ability to customize font text and choose viewing preferences... but, I digress.
(* - In retrospect, I believe I've seen him in a few older Smosh videos, though I don't watch them much, if at all, anymore. Changing tastes, changing world, and all that...)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Write That Book Already! (Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark) - My Review
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NigaHiga - Ryan Higa's YouTube channel

The Girl Who Drank the Moon (Kelly Barnhill)

The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Kelly Barnhill
Algonquin Young Readers
Fiction, MG Fantasy
****+ (Good/Great)


DESCRIPTION: For countless generations, the people of the Protectorate have lived under a fog of sorrow, between a deadly forest and the endless Bog. Only the elders and the Sisters of the Star defend them from the evil Witch - and only the life of a child, the youngest in the village on the annual Day of the Sacrifice, can keep the wicked woman at bay. Or so the stories say... but stories are that most peculiar of things that can tell both a lie and a truth.
Xan doesn't know why the people keep abandoning babies in the woods every year, but she makes sure to reach them before any of the forest animals can, feeding them starlight to make them strong and bringing them to the Free Cities beyond the woods - which are not cursed, but troubled by an ill-sleeping volcano whose last eruption destroyed the wizards' enclave and all but one of the world's dragons. The last Witch, she lives in a small hut by the bog with her chickens and goats, not to mention the pocket-sized dragon Fyrian (who is convinced he is Simply Enormous) and the giant swamp being Glerk (who may be slightly older than the world itself.) She never thought to keep a child for herself, until she found the baby girl with the crescent moon birthmark on her forehead... and until she accidentally fed the girl moonlight instead of starlight. The moon is pure magic, as everyone knows, and a girl with that much magic in her can't be raised by just anyone. But there are consequences to every action, even acts taken out of love... just as there are wounds that can linger for centuries before threatening the whole of the known world.

REVIEW: The Girl Who Drank the Moon is part fantasy, part fairy tale, and part cautionary tale about the dangers of both love and sorrow. Though a middle-grade title, the story turns out to be not so much about Luna as it is about Xan, the origins of the Protectorate, and the true source of the sorrow that fogs the skies and hearts of the town, not to mention the dangers and hopes of growing up and growing old and the slippery nature of memory. Stories told in interim chapters contain bits of truths and bits of fabrication; the more one reads, the more one can see the roots of the tales, often twisted around by time and forgetting. Barnhill creates some great characters and imagery, from Fyrian the self-delusional dragon to the nameless madwoman and her paper birds to the well-meaning young man Antain... many colorful threads coming together for a climax that is both expected and unexpected. I came close to trimming a half-star for the ending, bits of which felt a trifle scattered and inconclusive, plus a late veering toward the borders of religious territory. On the whole, though, it's an imaginative fairy tale with some nice tooth under the initial simplicity.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Killing Gravity (Corey J. White)

Killing Gravity
The Voidwitch Saga, Book 1
Corey J. White
Tor
Fiction, Sci-Fi
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: When she was a child, the evil Briggs and the technicians of MEPHISTO transformed Marian Xi from an ordinary girl into a weapon capable of destroying whole fleets with a flick of her hand - until she escaped across the galaxy. For years, bounty hunters and agents have pursued her, but none have survived to bring her "home." Chance or poor luck land her with the crew of the battered crusher ship Nova: the cyborg-armed woman Trix, the AWOL soldier Mookie, and the gender-neutral captain Squid. Aside from her pet Seven, another experimental life-form rescued from MEPHISTO's labs, Marian isn't used to having companions, but their fates become entwined as the shadow agency's troops catch up with her - just as Marian discovers that someone she'd thought long-dead may still be alive, and may in fact have been the one who sold her out to Briggs.

REVIEW: This fast-reading space adventure may not be deep or unique, but it certainly moves well and provides plenty of adventure. White creates a setting with most of the usual space opera trappings: a form of faster-than-light travel to enable casual star system travel (wormhole-based, in this universe), space stations and planets ranging from upper-class to scummy back-corridor dive bars, cybernetic implants and digital brain enhancements and commonplace DNA altering, and so forth. The characters are more or less who one would expect to meet in such a milieu, though they all pull their own weight and are decently drawn. Cocky heroine Marian borders on overpowered, her "voidwitch" abilities capable of crumpling starships like tinfoil, though the very ease with which she destroys exacts its own price: she hates being a weapon, even as she finds herself doing just what MEPHISTO remade her to do, if for her own sake and not theirs. Briggs is the typical villain with a Nefarious Plan, willing to throw countless troops and starships at the one weaponized woman who got away. Still, for being composed of such familiar parts, Killing Gravity makes for an enjoyable tale, with some nice, intense battles and the odd touch of whimsy. If it feels more like the pilot episode to a miniseries than a complete story arc, well, I knew it was the first book of a "saga" when I read it. If I can find the next book cheap (or free, as I got this one through a free eBook offer from Tor.com), I'd be willing to read ahead.

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Ender's Shadow (Orson Scott Card) - My Review
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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

This Is Our Song (Samantha Chase)

This Is Our Song
The Shaughnessy Brothers series, Book 4
Samantha Chase
Sourcebooks Casablanca
Fiction, Romance
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Rock star Riley took a hiatus from his popular band to pursue a solo career... but the music just won't come through. It doesn't help that he's still smarting from a media snub, or that his bandmates are doing great on their solo projects, not to mention how his other brothers all seem to be finding their own happily-ever-afters. Even his long-widowed father has found a girlfriend. Now his agent's saddling him with a journalist for a publicity interview and a three-month deadline on his solo album. The last thing he wants is someone nosing around in his private life and blabbing to the world how he's a sad-sack lonely loser who has lost his touch, how maybe he never even deserved his fame in the first place. But this interview is nothing like he expected.
Savannah's one of the best journalists working the entertainment beat, known for finding angles and insights nobody else can and for presenting her subjects fairly... not that she doesn't have opinions on the people or bands she encounters. That band Shaughnessy, for instance, had to be one of the more overrated pop group in recent years. So when her boss tells her she's to spend a month tailing lead singer Riley as he finishes his debut album, she almost walks off the job. It doesn't help that their first encounter, over a plate of fries at a beachside restaurant, is awkward at least and aggravating at best. But Savannah's not about to go back to hairdressing; she's a journalist, dang it, and one obnoxious rock star's not going to intimidate her, even with his unfairly-good looks and smoldering gaze.
What started as a simple article soon becomes something much deeper, something potentially life-changing... and potentially devastating to two hearts who aren't ready to handle an unexpected love.

REVIEW: Romances make nice palate-cleansers, in my experience, plus they can develop nice characters and dialog, even if the stories can seem a little formulatic. (Another bonus to the romance genre is that it often isn't necessary to track down Book 1 of a series; they tend to be stand-alones with some character crossover, not long arcs building on each other.) This Is Our Song ticks many of the usual boxes, but creates well-balanced characters and some great chemistry, not to mention sizzling (yet non-explicit) romance. Knowing the formula, one can see certain issues coming well ahead of time, but the story plays out decently nonetheless, even if the climax plays out a bit forced; I wasn't sure I quite bought the great Moment of Doubt that threatened to destroy the pairing. I also felt like there were a few plot elements that should've come into play by the end, but were left dangling. On the whole, though, it was a fun, fast read, and if the itinerary of this road trip was a little familiar, at least the scenery was pleasant and the company decent.

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Invisible LIbrary (Genevieve Cogman)

The Invisible Library
The Invisible Library series, Book 1
Genevieve Cogman
Roc
Fiction, Fantasy
*** (Okay)


DESCRIPTION: The Library spans countless alternate worlds, a repository of unique volumes kept apart from time and staffed with essentially-immortal Librarians. While many people love books, to serve the Library one must be willing to die for them... though some few are more than willing to kill.
Daughter of Librarians herself, Irene has always known what her future would be, helping secure volumes for the Library and earning tenure toward her own promotion and research dreams... always with a good detective novel waiting for her at the end of the day. But her latest mission sees her saddled with a trainee, the roguish Kai, whose smoldering eyes and enigmatic past hint at strange secrets. If she's expected to train up new blood, she figures it can't be that challenging of an assignment, and on the surface it looks simple: secure a book of fairy tales from a steampunk variant of London. She soon learns that this world is infested with werewolves and vampires and dangerous Fae... and an even deadlier foe awaits, the long-rumored traitor Librarian who turned his back on his calling and now serves the forces of chaos that seek to destroy all worlds, and the Library along with them.

REVIEW: A vast, all-encompassing library, a love of books, a side character with ties to dragonkind... I should've been immersed in this book from page one and eagerly scrambling to grab the sequel. Instead, I felt like I was being left out in the cold, looking in on a book that didn't care to bring me along as a reader. The characters came across as plot-shaped cardboard constructs, always keeping me at arms' length; I honestly couldn't tell if this was a deliberate conceit by an author determined to pay homages to literary traditions where character depth was often a forgotten afterthought, or if they really were just half-developed entities created to enable a plot cobbled together from tired tropes. The story was convoluted and often unbelievable, full of weird in-world quirks and characters with conflicting goals and tangential tangles and out-of-the-blue conflicts and resolutions that never really made sense, and after a while I just plain stopped caring to try. Some of the imagery was intriguing, a rare few scenes were briefly almost amusing, and now and again the story tried to take off, but too many sandbags kept my suspension of disbelief earthbound. The whole thing just came across as bland and tired, posturing at adventure and drama and sense of wonder without actually achieving those things. Maybe I'm just too illiterate or poorly cultured to appreciate what other reviewers apparently laud as a witty genre homage. Or maybe these tea leaves have been rebrewed one too many times for a flavorful cup.

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Rights of Man (Thomas Paine)

The Rights of Man
Thomas Paine
Open Road Media
Nonfiction, Politics
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: Noted patriot and diplomat Thomas Paine, witness to both the American and French revolutions, pens a rebuttal to criticism of constitutional governments, along with thoughts on the origins of basic human rights and the perpetuation of inequality.

REVIEW: The Rights of Man was written in a time of political turmoil, when old monarchies were falling and the Western world attempted to create a new, more just and fair method of government essentially from scratch. It was, and remains, a truly revolutionary concept, though like most human endeavors it carried pitfalls that were unforeseen at the time, pitfalls that threaten the great progress made.
Many of Paine's observations and thoughts are still valid, and he approaches the topics with clarity and reason, though in some aspects it can't help showing its age. For one thing, it was written primarily as a rebuttal to one Mr. Burke, a royalist and defender of the old-school English aristocracy; this far removed from both the era and Mr. Burke, a rebuttal is bound to lose some context. For another, Paine's perception that constitutional governments were inherently immune to the faults of the corrupt old regimes has, sadly, proven to be naive, built on an obsolete and unrealistic model of human behavior - behavior that isn't as responsive to truth or logic as Paine might have hoped, which often goes to great lengths to defend pre-existing beliefs and deny its own ignorance. His descriptions of the deadly faults of the old system, of party over country and wars being used as an excuse to tax the lives out of the populace and power concentrating in a few greedy hands without benefiting the many, could unfortunately describe the current (2018) political climate in the very country whose revolution kicked off the whole constitutional government wave; it was downright chilling at many points, moreso when Paine assures the reader that this could never happen in a nation where the general populace held the power to choose or discard their representatives. (It seems he never anticipated the adaptability of old corruptions and prejudices, not to mention the idea that education and information - the means by which a nation could make informed choices - could be co-opted by those forces constitutional governments were created to guard against.) Through the lens of times, some of Paine's own blind spots become apparent; he remains mystified how aristocracy gained the roots it ever did and remained in power for so long when it was so clearly unjust and broken, while seeming to deliberately dance around the influence of religion as a driving factor in creating some classes of people more equal than others and entrenching traditional inequalities through fear of divine retribution. (This was, however, written before the concept of evolution and the possibility of a world that came into existence without a benevolent humanoid creator gained mass traction; Paine takes it for granted that the world was created by something, though denies any one religion a monopoly on understanding or interpreting that something, just as he denies that any person or country would be closer to or more beloved of that something than any other. It's as close to a logical approach as one can likely get in a creationist mentality, especially given the culture and climate Paine lived in.)
I admit I skimmed some parts, particularly toward the end when he outlines a specific plan on tax reform in England (a plan that may have been stolen, uncredited, between writing and publication), and other parts lost some relevance through my ignorance of the specific political details of his era, not to mention the individuals whom he was citing and rebutting. Overall, though, it remains a relevant and thought-provoking examination of governments, and an example of a sadly lost art: the use of logic and reason to weigh the merits of politics.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Cibola Burn (James S. A. Corey)

Cibola Burn
The Expanse series, Book 4
James S. A. Corey
Orbit
Fiction, Sci-Fi
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: When the alien protomolecule completed its programming and constructed the ring, it opened a gateway to a thousand worlds - and, still, there doesn't seem to be enough space for humans to stop fighting over territory. A crew of desperate refugees jumped ahead of slow-moving governments, squatting on a planet that's now been claimed by the Royal Charter Energy megacorporation. Even as the first RCE shuttle attempts to land, bringing scientists and security forces and a new colonial governor, an explosion rips through the launchpad and first blood is spilled.
Thanks to his previous work with the UN, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are sent as mediators... but it's impossible to negotiate a peace nobody wants. As Holden attempts to prevent further escalation, the planet itself might be their greatest enemy, with the first truly alien biome humans have encountered. There's also the fact that this world, like all worlds beyond the rings, was once inhabited by a civilization advanced enough to engineer the protomolecule... a civilization that was wiped out by an as-yet-unknown threat. Even after a billion years, that threat may still be waiting.

REVIEW: After the third volume, which started getting a little too "spiritual" for my tastes, I was wary about continuing the Expanse series. But Amazon Prime will be getting the second season of the TV show later this year, and I wanted to get back in that frame of mind, so I dug in... and was pleasantly surprised. This book is a welcome return to pace and form, an action-filled space opera that keeps ratcheting up tension and stakes to the very end. The characters may not be the deepest, and there's the faintest whiff of an underlying formula, but it kept me entertained and I cared about the people I was supposed to care about, plus it had some nice sense-of-wonder "eye candy" moments. The authors are also touching bases with characters from previous books, with hints that they might have bigger roles to play in the ongoing arc. I'm looking forward to reading the next volume, and finding out where things go from here.

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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Illuminated Manuscripts (Janice Anderson)

Illuminated Manuscripts
Janice Anderson
Todtri
Nonfiction, Art/History
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: Since the earliest days of civilization, writing has been prized as a treasure. Even as far back as Egypt, illustrations and embellishments often accompanied the written word, evolving into the great illuminated manuscripts of Europe... a tradition that survives to this day. Explore the history of the illuminated manuscript from its ancient roots to its heyday in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

REVIEW: Yes, this was yet another bargain bin grab. For what I paid, it's not bad. Anderson reproduces many images from various books and manuscripts, often quite large enough to appreciate the incredible details... and also, unfortunately, large enough to break through whatever train of thought the text had established. She doesn't do a great job matching the images to the text, a problem that seems to grow more persistent as the book goes on. But part of that may be my problem; the book assumes a deep knowledge of Christian writings and iconography that this secular agnostic lacks, so connections that may have seemed obvious to a student and believer were lost on me. (On a similar note, Anderson persistently - and somewhat dismissively - classifies all non-Christians as "barbarians", while generally ignoring the fact that many other cultures had their own illumination and artistic traditions... but, I digress.) I also had hoped for a little more on the fascinating, in-depth process of creating such fine works of art on such a small scale. After tracking the history of European illumination and its rise and fall, she concludes by mentioning that illuminated manuscripts are still being produced today, if in far more limited contexts... without offering a single modern example of illumination to compare with the old masters. In any event, while the illustrations would've merited four stars easily, I trimmed it for the dry and sometimes uninformative text.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

For We Are Many (Dennis E. Taylor)

For We Are Many
The Bobiverse series, Book 2
Dennis E. Taylor
Ethan Ellenburg Literary Agency
Fiction, Humor/Sci-Fi
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Bob's life was uneventful, but his afterlives are more than making up for lost time. Once a twenty-first century computer geek and sci-fi nerd, he found himself reanimated a hundred years after death as an AI replica, tasked with manning a deep space probe. His job was to secure colony worlds and produce more probes while dodging hostile probes from other nations, saboteurs, and a potentially overwhelming alien entity.
Nothing like a little challenge to make life interesting...
After a rocky start, Bob and his various "descendants" - replicant copies, each developing distinct personalities - seem to slowly be getting a handle on things. Some still expand the "Bobiverse" through distant star systems, while others contend with cantankerous colonists from rival human nations, explore potential new homes for humanity... and assess the threat posed by the Others, an alien race that behaves like locusts, leaving untold devastation in their wake. So far, their paths have not crossed directly, but as big as the galaxy is, odds are the Others will be heading toward Sol sooner rather than later. Only the Bobs stand in their path - and nothing they have would make a dent in the hive.

REVIEW: Picking up roughly where the first book left of, this volume again follows multiple Bobs in multiple systems. They thought they had come to terms with their new status as essentially immortal beings, but find themselves struggling to cope when faced with direct evidence of the frailty of mortal bodies and mortal friends - or mortal love interests. The original Bob's impromptu job of "sky god" to the Deltans takes unexpected turns, and the discovery of sapients in the likely path of the Others' voracious conquests puts other Bobs in the unenviable role of deciding whether a species, an entire planetary ecosystem, lives or dies. Meanwhile, humans remain as incorrigible as ever, infighting even as Earth's habitability plummets, then continuing to fight on colony worlds... even as some of those worlds scheme to fight back.
The story sometimes gets a bit confusing, with the growing number of Bob-replicants under various names, but it remains interesting, with the throwback, sense-of-wonder feel evocative of older Star Trek episodes, back when space travel was more about science, invention, discovery, and hope, even amid despair, than Big Bads and broody fatalism. Some nice twists hint at a fairly intense Book 3... which I suppose I'll have to order now. Dang it.

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