Wednesday, June 25, 2014

On Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) by Ann Leckie - REVIEW

Synopsis (per Goodreads) (I know I said I wasn't posting these anymore, but I need to here):

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was.  Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren -- a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body.  And only one purpose -- to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, nearly immortal Lord of the Radch.  

Who really enjoyed getting their hair cut?  I don't mean back when you're small enough to ride the haircut Batmobile.  When you outgrow that, but your you're still young enough that parents decide you need a haircut.  Ain't nobody got time for that!  There's games that need playing and tv that needs watching and food that needs eating.  No, no one wants to get their hair cut.  However, my barber (and likely many barbers) did have something kids like.  CANDY.  Namely, DumDum Pops.  Everyone must have had these at some point in their lives.  Small, sweet, delicious lollipops.  And the bag comes with a variety of flavors.

One of these flavors...  The Mystery Flavor.

You must have seen this before, no?  They come with the purple question mark wrapper (pictured to the left).  The candy itself is white so as to not give away what the mystery flavor could possibly be (by the way, the "mystery flavor" is really just a combination of two flavors that is created when the manufacture cycle of one flavor being made ends and a new flavor cycle begins - per Mental Floss).  The Mystery Flavor was tasty, but did you take it?  Did it matter to you that you couldn't put your finger on what it could be? Did you just stick with what you knew?

The protagonist of Ancillary Justice (both the Justice of Toren and Breq) is/was a massive starship.  As Breq, the ship's AI is confined in one final body, however, "years ago" (and it means YEARS ago) when it was a starship it had thousands of bodies.  What does this have to do with DumDums?  Breq (let's just stick with Breq for now) has some SERIOUS gender identification issues.  To the point where more-or-less every character is referred to in the feminine.  Sometimes it is countered when another character corrects Breq, and sometimes Breq does and sometimes Breq doesn't continue referring to the character as "she." So, as you try to picture the characters, every character is a mystery flavor.  Is it a female?  Is it a male?  Does it matter?  If you enjoyed the Mystery Flavor, maybe it works for you.  I, personally, like having a solid mental image of the characters in the story, and the constant back and forth of gender is a little confusing/aggravating for me.  I tend to pick Butterscotch.

However, Ancillary Justice has won the following awards (per Wikipedia...  yes, that's a real source):
Kitschies Golden Tentacle (best debut novel of 2013)
Arthur C. Clarke Award (best science fiction novel of the year)
British Science Fiction Association Award (best novel of the year)
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Award (best novel of the year)
It was also nominated for the following:
Write-In for Best Book of 2013 for the Goodreads Choice Awards
Shortlisted for the Phillip K. Dick Award (distinguished original science fiction)
Tiptree Award Honor List (science fiction / fantasy that expands / explores understanding of gender)
Finalist of Compton Crook Award (best science fiction/fantasy/horror)
Nominee for Hugo Award (best novel)
(Love this from Jim C. Hines' review of the book: "I'm pretty sure it was also a Nebula finalist, tied for an Oscar, and won this year's Super Bowl.")

How do you ignore that?  I put aside my gripe, pictured (mostly) everyone as female (probably not the right response), and decided to embrace the mystery.

And what did I discover?  I have the wrong lollipop.  This isn't a DumDum at all.  It's a Tootsie Pop.  A book that takes... the world may never know how many licks...  to get to the juicy, delicious tootsie roll center.  It's a slow burn from the beginning between the development of both Bresq and Justice of Toren, setting the stage for the inevitable betrayal, introduction of Seivarden, and getting the characters the equipment and to the location they need for the final showdown.  I was ready to rate this a Goodreads 3 stars - an I liked it, but it wasn't anything great - and then the last 50+ pages showed me the tootsie roll center (I gave it a Goodreads 4 stars).  I had licked my way to the payoff, and it was good.  The reveal/climax was clever and well-paced.  The perfect little treat hidden within the depths of the slower sugary coating.

Enough with the lollipop metaphors...

From what I've read, this is the first in a trilogy of books.  As such, it will likely have the most world-building of the series that needs to be done.  And this is a big, dense, well-developed world(s) (we are in space after all).  There is a conclusion here, but it leaves just enough outstanding that you have to wonder what will happen next.  And I'm ready to see what sweet candy Ann Leckie gives us next.

I give it...  Howard Beale.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

On Prince of Fools (The Red Queen's War #1) by Mark Lawrence - REVIEW

For the synopsis (per Goodreads) go here (decided I'm not typing those out anymore). 

Everything made perfect sense when we were children.  Your sister wanted to take your toy (or maybe she was just standing where you didn't want her to), so you gave her a little shove, and when she went crying to mom you did what any four year old knows is the only option.  You run.  You hide.  (I know my tenses are messed up, but that sounds better than "you ran, you hid" and I'm not making money off this stuff so grammar be damned). Mom would NEVER notice the bulging curtains with feet sticking out, or the fact that the throw blanket on the couch was now on the floor in a giant, giggling pile.  It just made sense.  As trouble was coming, you forgot about the honor that is admitting your faults and accepting your punishment, and you got out of its way.

Some of us never outgrow this.  Case in point, Jalan Kendeth, our next Point of View through the Broken Empire.  Those of you that have read Lawrence's other works - The Broken Empire trilogy following the murderous rampage of Jorg Ancrath (reviews here, here and here), will find something new here in a familiar setting (along with some cameos by some familiar characters).  Those of you who haven't read The Broken Empire trilogy...  what have you been doing with yourselves besides missing out on good reads?  Incase you are wondering, yes, you can read Prince of Fools without having read The Broken Empire, but having read those books adds to the experience.  And though this is written EVERYWHERE anyone talks of this book - Jalan is not Jorg.  Though this book has some dark undercurrents, it is much more lighthearted (not entirely sure that's the right word, but you get the idea) than the gut-wrenching journey Jorg led us through.

Prince of Fools follows Prince Jalan of the Red March as he and an unlikely companion, the viking Snorri ver Snagason (fantasy needed a good dose of viking...  thanks, Mark), deal with magics they don't fully understand in a quest for escape/revenge (depending on your point of view).  It is a tale of a budding friendship, a tale of a revenge, and a tale of growing up (or not).  It is both dark and humorous, both sentimental and hard-hearted, both new and familiar.

I'm not feeling incredibly verbose today, so I'll end with "read it" (4/5 on Goodreads) and give it: Kiss-My-Anthia

Sunday, June 1, 2014

On The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive 1 & 2) by Brandon Sanderson - REVIEWS

Synopsis (per Goodreads) (synopsis is for Book 1):
Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soiless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

I love cheeseburgers. Going out back and barbecuing some meat to a nice medium well, throw on some cheese, maybe grilled onions, some ketchup. Pop it all on a warmed bun. Delicious.  I'm rather fond of making these myself, but will also run over to the local White Rose System (local burgerish dinerish sorta place) and grab a lunch special over there (with cheese) (and they put the onions in the burger).  I just love a good cheeseburger.  

Now, there are cheeseburgers, and there are CHEESEBURGERS.  Good example of the latter...  Bobby's Burger Palace.  You can get a cheeseburger there, and some typical variations of the cheeseburger (cheddar? Sure. Barbecue sauce? Why not?), but to borrow some culinary terminology from a competitor celebrity chef, the burgers are kicked up a notch with some fancy shmancy combinations (Brunch Burger with a fried egg, smoked bacon and American cheese? And crunchify it with potato chips? Yes, please!).  They also run a Burger of the Month (this month is a Napa Valley Burger with goat cheese, Meyer lemon honey mustard and watercress).  These are burgers taken to a whole new level, and my are they delicious.

The Stormlight Archive books are the "kicked up" burgers of the fantasy world.  In the beginning, with The Way of Kings, it does take some time to read through several points of view through several time periods.  But not far in it all just clicks.  Brandon Sanderson has built a remarkable world where everything is new and different - the environment, the wildlife, the interaction between humans and nature, between humans and non-humans.  The books touch on societal hierarchy, slavery, war.  They are emotional, humorous, and mystical.  I honestly, don't even want to type much on it, because I want you to stop reading this post and go out and buy these books.  Goodreads 5/5.