Unabashedly unprofessional reviews in fantasy, scifi, and mystery.
Coming to terms with an addiction to bad puns.

4 Stars
"As long as there are different classes of people, there will be different classes of dogs."
Pit Bull - Bronwen Dickey

Pit Bull: Battle over an American Icon

by Bronwen Dickey


Pit bulls have to be the most demonized dog breed of all time.

Oh, wait:
"Pit bull" is not actually a breed of dog. It's a type of dog which includes a bevy of different breeds-- American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT), Staffordshire Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier, American Bully... well, you get the point.

I've been volunteering in animal shelters since high school. In most shelters in the US, pit bull mixes make up a majority of shelter dogs, so I've met (and loved) quite a few. The first pitt I met was named Punkin the Three Legged Pittie. While fighting dogs are rare--more on that later-- by his scars and injuries, he showed every sign of having been used in a fighting ring. His leg had been also chopped off with some sort of blade, apparently without anaesthetics. He hatedhumans with an undying and quite understandable passion. Every time anyone walked anywhere near his enclosure, he would throw himself again and again at the fence, growling, teeth bared, often biting at the fence. Then he'd back off and glare as he chewed meaningfully on a bone. In the years since, I occasionally looked him up on the shelter site; no one ever adopted him. Punkin gave me a healthy fear of pitt bulls that it took me a while to get over. (I'll admit to a few Punkin-fueled nightmares.) This wasn't helped by the inaccurate statistics about pits that I heard at every turn.

Over time, and as I spent more time at different shelters, I grew to love pit bulls and pit mixes. I love their open expressions and eager smiles and the way their lips actually turn up at the corners just like a human's. I love their boundless energy and their general derpy joie-de-vivre. I was trying to decide on my favourite pit and I realized I can't. I still love Ginger, a beautiful, happy girl who loved long walks and sprawling on my lap, and who had been so badly abused by a man that she went catatonic if any male came near her. Or Maui, who so loved the sun that she lay down like a sack whenever her walk was over and volunteers had to pick her up and carry all 70 pounds of passively protesting dead-weight dog back into her room. And then there was Jitterbug, who, like many shelter pits, ended up with a bad case of Happy Tail, where she so furiously wagged her tail at passerby that she gave herself huge bloody scrapes. (Once her tail was bandaged, I was the one with whip marks and bruises from being battered by her tail.) And so many more. I'm going to visit one of my current favourites, a year-old happy-go-lucky puppy, this weekend.

One ubiquitous "fact" about pits is that while they make up only 2% of the US dog population, they are responsible for about 70% of the deaths. As Dickey explains, this is a problematic factoid on two counts: first, the 2% comes from people who have registered their pits with the American Kennel Club and similar, so it doesn't account for mixes, breeds not acknowledged by the AKC, or dogs owned by people who don't care about purebred registries. Second, we also have to deal with cognitive biases: people believe that pits are monstrous Un-Dogs, so when dog-on-human violence happens, other breeds are routinely misidentified as pits. It's a vicious cycle: pit stories make good press; people believe pits are killer dogs; people misidentify a killer dog as a pit bull.

So where did all the maligning start? After all, at one point, the pit was the All-American Dog. Dickey makes a good case that the hatred of pits actually stems from racism, and that's one aspect that continues to fuel the stigma to this day. Pits are seen as vicious and thus their owners must be equally vicious; pits are also seen as "thug" or "gangster" dogs. As Dickey puts it, people are able to express racist views about the owners of pits by "using the dogs as proxies." Now add in the cities yanking dogs away from families, sticking them in shelters, and either euthanizing them or adopting them out to white suburban families and it puts even shelter work in a whole new light.

Dickey explores a wide range of viewpoints and current uses of pits. If you're looking for an utterly unbiased examination of bully breeds and their history, this is not the book for you. Dickey absolutely is on the side of pits and against breed-specific legislation (BSL), and she pushes her viewpoint via her characterization of her interview subjects and her impassioned rhetoric. Personally, I'm in full agreement that pits are maligned and BSL is awful. BSL is incredibly arbitrary, we have plenty of statistics that show it doesn't work. The people who are really affected by it are the socioeconomically disadvantaged, who aren't allowed to keep their dog because someone somewhere thinks it might be a pit mix.

However, I also believe that Dickey is doing her book and the pit a disservice. To me, she seemed to insist throughout that dogs are dogs are dogs, and that pits are effectively the same as golden retrievers or poodles. I just don't think that's true-- bully breeds, like guardian breeds, are wonderful dogs, but they have their own special needs. Pits have a strong prey drive, they often have lots of energy, and they need to learn socialization, as they have a tendency to be a bit clueless and in-your-face with other dogs. Pits are very powerful dogs, and they learn to take special care in "handicapping" themselves when playing with tiny dogs and weakling humans. (Personally, I avoid tug-of-war-style games because I don't want an overexcited dog to forget that I'm comparatively fragile.) With guardian breeds, sometimes you need to work on the dog's territorial or protection instinct as well. Personally, I'm more wary of mastiffs, rottweilers, and dobermans than I am of german shepherds, huskies, or pits because I can read the latter better, but I do believe all of those breeds have characteristics that should be considered when matching to a home.

Dickey is passionate about her subject and has plenty of interesting and novel material. Not only did I learn a lot about pit history; I also found a new charity to support: The Coalition to Unchain Dogs, Inc, a fascinating organization that improves the welfare of dogs while empowering owners instead of taking their dogs from them. All in all, if you're interested in US history over the last few centuries viewed through the lens of a notorious dog, Pit Bull is well worth a look.

4 Stars
"A fate four point two degrees worse than death."
The Nightmare Stacks (A Laundry Files Novel) - Charles Stross

The Nightmare Stacks (Laundry Files #7)


by Charles Stross


When Alex Schwartz took a lucrative job developing high frequency trading algorithms, he had no idea how literal his transformation into a bloodsucking vampire was going to be. In the world that Stross creates, higher mathematics open a gateway to Other Dimensions haunted by Lovecraftian beasties, including the V-symbiotes that invaded Alex's brain and gave him PHANG Syndrome (Person of Hemophagic Autocombusting Nocturnal Glamour), which, sadly, isn't yet covered by the Equality Act.

Acclimatizing to his new job in the Laundry, the super-secret magical equivalent to MI5, is never easy, but Alex entered the trade at a particularly difficult time: as the number of humans and computers increases, intrusions into the Dungeon Dimensions become increasingly common. As Alex learns,

"Training for the end of the world is an ongoing part of the job."

Right now, most of the Laundry is focused on CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, the apocalyptic eventuality where magical saturation causes Cthulhu and Azathoth and all their friends to converge upon Planet Earth. However, The Nightmare Stacks takes a break from the looming threat of GREEN to focus on a NIGHTMARE of quite a different colour. While the previous book took on superheroes, this one combines James-Bond-style shenanigans with yet another geeky fandom. I can't tell you which--spoilers--but I can say that the results are vastly entertaining.

The Nightmare Stacks is a bit of a departure from the other books in the series because it has barely a mention of Bob Howard, arcane sysadmin and protagonist of most of the rest of the books. Personally, I was thrilled to get a new protagonist. Alex is a bit of a passive nebbish nonentity, but I found him rather more likeable than the Bob of recent books. The protagonist-- and NIGHTMARE-- switch makes this an ideal starting book for anyone interested in the series. (Apparently it depends heavily on The Rhesus Chart, but as I've not read it--it's the only Laundry book I skipped--and I got along fine, I think this would be entirely readable without the context of the rest of the series.) I did find the narrative style a bit odd, however; we're told this is Alex's journal, yet most of the story, including the Alex-POV sections, are told in third person. I admit to being a bit mystified by that.

Alex, our hapless protagonist, has more on his mind than PHANG Syndrome. His new employers are sending him to the last place on earth he wants to be: Leeds, his childhood home, where he's

Doomed to be dragged back into the infantilizing maw of his family's expectations."

Alex's interactions with his family are so utterly cringingly awkward that they induced sympathetic winces from me, as did his amusing attempts to flirt with his love interest, who takes the MPDG thing to a whole new level.

"Alex's experience of dating is similar to his experience of string theory: abstract, intense, and entirely theoretical due to the absence of time and opportunities for probing such high-energy phenomena."

I thoroughly enjoyed the parts of the book that focused on the amusing mundanities of Alex's life, but like many of Stross's book, at some point, the content switched over to extremely graphic and disturbing scenes of battle and slaughter. I've never quite figured out if all the gore was intended to be funny. I certainly don't find them so, but the scenes are liberally swathed in dramatic irony and Stross is peculiarly detached from the slaughter. I suspect the familial scenes and war scenes will appeal to vastly different audiences, and that plenty of other reviews will be complaining about the aspects of the book that I adored.

I find Stross reliably hilarious and The Nightmare Stacks was no exception. I adore urban fantasy and the way it mashes together the banalities of life with a genre-savvy take on traditional fantasy. Along with explaining how a salt circle traps mages and describing the intricacies of governmental PLAN PURPLE PEOPLE EATER, this book involves perhaps the most unique usage of a selfie stick I've come across. If you find Stross's unique combination of magic, maths geekery, Rube-Goldbergian bureaucracy, and bumbling spycraft as entertaining as I do, The Nightmare Stacks is definitely worth checking out.

~~I received this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Berkley Publishing Group, in exchange for my honest review. (Thanks!) Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~


Cross-posted on Goodreads.

4.5 Stars
"I am the monster in your tale."
The Devourers - Indra Das

The Devourers

by Indra Das


The Devourers is an utterly unique story, a lyrical, dreamlike, all-consuming experience. It's a story within a story, interwoven with metaphor and symbolism. On the most mundane level, it's a story of monsters, of shapeshifters, a story of rape, of what happens after, of how a woman victimized by a monster seeks to regain empowerment. The Devourers spans many eras, but the backbone of the story takes place in modern-day Kolkata, where a jaded historian meets a fascinating stranger with an enthralling tale. The historian undertakes the task of transcribing some ancient manuscripts the mysterious stranger gives him, and these in turn give us the stories of a band of monstrous shapeshifter and the human woman Cyrah. Through the historian's transcriptions, the story of the devourers is told in the voices of maidens and monsters, all set against the lush backdrop of Kolkata:

"A king of wolves in a land of tigers."

The book is lavish with symbolism and imagery. Devouring and shapeshifting take many forms throughout the novel, with meaning layered upon meaning and intertwined with symbolism. It's an examination of rape and victimization and agency, and also a fascinating exploration of gender fluidity. It's hard to read the story without drawing parallels between the werewolves and imperialism in India. As Cyrah says of the (white, European) shapeshifter,

"He took what he wanted, with no regard for my opinion on the matter."

As becomes clear when we learn that Fenrir was originally female, it's no coincidence that the werewolves appeared as (white) men. Yet in this story of a woman trying to regain her agency, I found myself frustrated by the predetermined outcome, that Cyrah would keep the child. It still feels bitter to me, as though she lost her agency through that forced choice. I took a certain amount of solace in the son devouring the father.

(show spoiler)

If you're looking for a gorgeous, multilayered story, a folkloric quest interwoven with existential journeys, then The Devourers is well worth a look.


~~I received this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~


Cross-posted on Goodreads.

3 Stars
Where women can't ask for directions
An Accident of Stars - Foz Meadows

An Accident of Stars

by Foz Meadows


Until the death of Google Reader, I was a regular subscriber to Foz Meadows' blog, so I was absolutely delighted to have the chance to read her book. I think I would have been absolutely captivated by Accident of Stars when I was younger. Thematically, it's a coming-of-age story in a creative high fantasy world, and not only are the majority of protagonists teenagers, but the story is also blissfully devoid of love triangles, self-image issues, and school-related angst. Sadly, I've since become rather more jaded. The story is an homage to traditional high fantasy, but with a strongly feminist slant. As an almost exact contrast to standard epic fantasy, almost all of the characters of importance--protagonists, villains, and everything in between-- are female. Pure gender swapping was observable in everything from the matriarchal societies to the female role as warrior to the fact that in this world, it's women who can't ask for directions because

"Women were gifted by Sahu with the knowledge of orientation: admitting failure in that respect would open her up to mockery."

The message of the story, too, are equally blatant. Possibly because I was so cognizant of Meadows' role as social commentator, the feminism and seemed rather self-conscious to me. It's all fun, but felt so very self-aware that it prevented me from really getting into the flow of the story.

Accident of Stars follows something of a good-evil dichotomy of traditional epic fantasy. Our usurping villains are apparently Evil Incorporated™, even though we see very little of their dastardly plans, possibly because they're so much an afterthought to the meat of the tale. At least one of the villains appears to be evil for the sake of evil; the other has a motivation right out of an 1890s morality tale.

Seriously, what is with all these women and their obsession with childbirth? It's almost like they feel that a woman's life isn't complete without it, yeah? 

(show spoiler)

The characters themselves never quite came alive to me, perhaps because so much of their personalities and interactions are driven by the plot. I saw Gwen as the clearest example of this: although born on earth, Gwen creates a life for herself on the other world, including two partners and a child. Yet while she thinks about them often, it's in a plot-driven way: her lovers remain utter nonentities, their entire characters limited to their names and genders. I felt that the characters were shaped by the plot and message, not the other way around. The character I found most intriguing--and, not coincidentally, the only one I felt escaped the good-evil dichotomy-- was Yasha, a dictatorial outcast matriarch whose motives are murky for much of the story.


Even though I loved how Meadows eschewed a white default, I was somewhat troubled by the treatment of race and ethnicity. One of my major irritations is when authors reflect an oversimplification of the ethnicities of our world into theirs. In this case, apparently being black means you're Uyun. That's right; apparently your skin tone dictates your nationality, ethnicity, and culture, all in one go. Even though Uyuns live in other cities, their skin color defines them. No matter how self-consciously Meadows tries to explore racial issues, everything in the world she creates seems to depend on skincolor--nationality, culture, religion. Is there no intermixing, no sharing of cultures here? Why does everyone assume the black person from Earth is Uyun and thus apparently from that country rather than the area she lives in? I admit I'm disappointed. I would have expected her to have picked up on how problematic and limiting a skin-color-equals-nationality-equals-culture setup can be.


I'm not sure what genre is targeted, but personally I feel that this fits comfortably into the YA framework. Sure, parents may be a little uncomfortable at the idea of polyamory, but nothing is graphic, and the general themes-- empowerment, coming of age, etc-- seem to fit the genre rather well. I think this is the type of book I would have utterly adored as a high-schooler. It creates a world of acceptance and feminism, a sharp contrast to the rigid gender roles so often seen in high fantasy. If you're looking for a modern take on Narnia-style worlds-through-portals, Accident of Stars is worth a look.

~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Angry Robot Books, in exchange for my (depressingly) honest review.~~

4 Stars
"I hope I have three celebrations coming--when we whip Hitler and Hirohito and when we kill that damn coyote."
Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History - Dan Flores

Coyote America

by Dan Flores


If you weren't aware that the American War On Coyotes has been going on for longer than Vietnam, had more casualties than the Civil War, and was even more futile than the War On Drugs, you're in for a surprise.

I must admit to a certain fondness for coyotes. When I lived in Texas, I loved hearing their howls at dusk, their shapes framed against stark treeless hills and tall houses. I think they're gorgeous creatures, as far removed from the Looney Toons Coyote as a bean sprout from a redwood. While wolves are perhaps dearer to my heart, a coyote loping along a grassy trail is a rare and wonderful sight. So I have to admit that I was utterly shocked to discover that the US has been waging constant war on coyotes for well over a century.

Flores takes us from the dawn of coyote history and their tumultuous relationship with wolves to their first interactions with people. Coyotes were a semi-divine figure, both trickster and the butt of every joke, to an impressive number of Native American groups. For the Yanas and Navajos, Coyote was even bringer of death. Coyotes, or "coyotl," to give them the original Aztec name, have always been a cosmopolitan species, and they've apparently been living in urban environments for millennia: even the center of Tenochtitlan has an alley named "Coyoacan" ("place of the coyote"). Flores starts with the original myths ("The only thing smarter than coyote is God"), then takes us from Lewis and Clarke's "prairie wolves" to Twain's diatribe of them as "spiritless and cowardly" to the 1920 Scientific American article that proclaimed them as the "ORIGINAL BOLSHEVIK."

Flores estimates that we're still killing about half a million coyotes per year--that's about one per minute. Early Americans believed that their new country suffered from a "predator problem," and that wolves-- and to a lesser degree, coyotes-- needed to be extinguished to "save" both farmers and wildlife. (Apparently they never stopped to wonder how the deer managed before their arrival.) Settlers tried everything from lacing carcasses with strychnine powder to introducing sarcoptic mange into the wild canid populations. In the early 1900s, bounties for coyote "scalps" took about ⅔ of Montana's annual budget. Wolf populations collapsed, but coyotes, now viewed as "the archpredator of our time," remained constant. The Division of Biological Survey, created in the late 1800s, used only about 3% of its budget for scientific study. It saw its mission as solving the "predator problem," and it did so with gusto: by the mid-1920s, they had set out over 3.5M poison bait stations across the US. Hoover's "Animal Damage Control Act" earmarked $1M/year of federal funds for the eradication of coyote and other pests. The Biological Survey and Forest Service would eventually carpetbomb massive tracts of land with a series of poisons, including sodium cyanide, thallium sulfate, and Compound 1080--one which is still used today. As one member of the bureau put it during WW2:

"I hope I have three celebrations coming--when we whip Hitler and Hirohito and when we kill that damn coyote."


So how did coyotes survive? Flores postulates that their resilience is unique: they have fission-fusion societal structures, long childhoods where they can learn caution from their parents, and an impressive ability to increase litter size under environmental pressure from 5.7 pups to as many as 19. As secondary predators to wolves and later dogs, they learned vigilance and flexibility, even in diet: they're omnivorous, primarily eating small creatures such as mice, gophers, grasshoppers, and crickets, but they'll also happily scavenge for berries and plants as well as carrion. Their survivability in cities--sheltered from the aerial gunning of the country--is as high as that of national parks.

Flores takes us through all this and much else besides, from the effects of "The Great Dog War" of the mid-1800s to Disney's pivotal role in changing America's perspective on the coyote to the eventual political embrace of biocentrism to the repercussions of the first recorded death by coyote in 1980s LA. The book is utterly fascinating. My only caveat is that it's difficult to take the book without a grain of salt or two, and I ended up spending a lot of time fact-checking various statements. For example, he credulously repeats the old chestnut about canids only seeing in black and white, and his own political beliefs--in particular, a surprisingly virulent hatred of Reagan-- strongly color his narrative. His portrayal of red wolves, too, seemed to me to be incomplete, containing only the facts that support the narrative he wants. (I do, however, agree with Flores about the insanity of killing and sterilizing coyotes and wolf-coyote hybrids in the effort to preserve the "purity" of the red wolves.)

But what I simply couldn't wrap my head around was the American government's dogged determination to exterminate the coyote. The predator-killing bureau is still around-- since 1997, it's been euphemistically known as the Division of Wildlife Services, and it killed about 4M animals in 2013, a good proportion of them coyotes. These days, they mostly shoot them out of planes, but they've also experimented with sterilization. If you're interested in coyotes and America's fraught relationship with environmentalism and predators, Coyote America is definitely worth a look.

~~I received an advanced reader copy of this book through Netgalley from the publisher, Basic Books, in exchange for my honest review.~~

5 Stars
"War is all about taking the future away from people."
Ninefox Gambit - Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit

by Yoon Ha Lee


This book is awesome. And I mean that in the formal sense of the word: my mind is officially blown.

There is so much to Ninefox Gambit that it's hard to figure out where to start. The story takes place in a world governed by calendrical systems: in effect, the beliefs, calendar, and observances of society create topologies that in turn affect the laws of physics and allow the use of "exotic effects," which are almost always utilized as weapons. Cheris lives within the hexarchate, which is run by six groups, each with their own distinct characteristics and symbol, from the burning suicide hawk of the Kel to the crafty Shuos ninefox. Cheris, a member of the straightforwardly warlike Kel, finds herself paired with the most infamous Shuos of all, on a mission to save the supposedly impregnable Fortress of Scattered Needles from calendrical heresy. All too quickly, she finds herself in a constant battle of wits with a formidable ally, constantly struggling to determine her true enemies.

One of the most brilliant aspect of the book is the way in which it places the reader within a world and a culture and a mindset so alien from our own. The hexarchate is not a pleasant place, constantly at war with all of its neighbors, ruthlessly destroying the cultures of all those it conquers, and scrupulously performing bloody "remembrance rights" to keep the calendrical systems strong. The Kel may be innately loyal, but to better fulfill their role as the hexarchate's disposable army, they are brainwashed and programmed with "formation instinct" so that they are effectively incapable of disobeying orders. Given the structure of the world, it's not surprising that the book is both dark and intense. From the perspective of the hexarchate's stultifying culture, the story tackles issues of gender and rape. Death is a constant throughout the story, and it is portrayed as grim rather than valiant and heroic. As one character thinks:

"War is all about taking the future away from people."

Despite the dark themes, I couldn't help but find the calendrical system just plain awesome. As one character puts it:

"In a sense, all calendrical war is a game between competing sets of rules, fueled by the coherence of our beliefs. To win a calendrical war, you have to understand how game systems work."

The concept of a sufficiently large population's faith, belief, and rituals actually warping the physical laws of the universe is just the coolest thing ever. Full disclosure: I have to admit that I suffer from Math Envy: while I don't think I'm really capable of understanding higher mathematics, I'm utterly fascinated by the core ideas, at least in the abstract. I dropped out of topology in the first few weeks because my brain felt like silly putty. I survived first-semester real analysis by the skin of my teeth and even so, I wandered around in a daze for weeks because now I knew what real numbers actually were. This book is so fascinating that it has given me a newfound desire to try to learn topology again.

But even apart from the mathematical aspects, the worldbuilding is fascinatingly deep and infinitely creative: disregarded self-aware artificial intelligences who act as servitors for the hexarchate, immortality devices and the black cradle, battle formation geometries, deadly threshold winnowers, human composite technologies, much else besides. And throughout the story is a constant theme of games, and games within games. As one opponent tells Cheris,

"You lost the moment you agreed to play the game on my terms, without negotiating."

Ninefox Gambit is an impressively creative story brimming over with metaphor and symbolism and and analysis. If you're a fan of mathematics and mindgames, you really need to check out this book. I can't wait for the sequel.

~~I received this ebook from the publisher, Solaris/Rebellion, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes are taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~

5 Stars
"We believe that Black People will not be free until we are able to determine our own destiny."
Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party - Joshua Bloom, Waldo E. Martin Jr.

Black Against Empire


by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E Martin, Jr.


I don't say this type of thing much, but here goes: I believe that if you live in the US, this is one of those books you should read.

"The issues are not complex. The objective is seizure of power. Until we seize power, not visible power where a black man looks like he's running things--but real, actual power; everything else is bullshit [...] Peace and order are bullshit; they are meaningless without justice."
--Leroy Goodwin

I believe we have entered another Civil Rights era, and I have a perhaps naive hope that this one will finally complete the mission that was left incomplete during the time of MLK and Malcom X and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense: full, meaningful equality. Equality that is reflected in housing, in the police force, in education, in integration of society, in self-determination for all.

The Black Panthers believed that such a world could only come through true revolution.

I believe that we must share a common context for what hashappened before we can shape what should happen. We must understand the past in order to shape the future.

And here's the problem: mainstream America still has a woefully inaccurate view of the BPP, even though at this point, it's widely acknowledged that the Black Panther Party was the target of an insidious, targeted, widespread, often illegal onslaught by the U.S. government, including a concerted policy of propaganda and isolation and infiltration and misinformation. And yet despite continuing revelations about the extent of COINTELPRO-BLACK-HATE, Operation CHAOS, and all the rest, the Black Panther Party remains an uncomfortable and often misunderstood political movement. Independent of whether you agree with the stances taken by the BPP in its many iterations, it's crucial to understand their contexts.

It's easy to laud a nonviolent movement, at least once the movement is over. It's safe. Putting nonviolent figures on a pedestal is comfortable. It's probably why my childhood education repeatedly ignored all other aspects of the Civil Rights movement to focus on MLK. Maybe that's why we remember, say, Harriet Tubman as a kindly figure of the Underground Railroad rather than an active supporter of John Brown's raid and a vocal supporter of war against the South. It's even harder to go back and look at revolutions where violence was a relevant factor, particularly when those revolutions were lost. But this battle will be fought again and again until it is won, and I believe that a crucial aspect is for all Americans to try to understand the history and context of the unrest of today.

Black Against Empire is a fact-driven, unemotional examination of the social history and context of the Black Panther Party. Although a little dry at times, the sense of impartiality is one of the most impressive aspects of the book. It's a massive tome because the BPP has a long and fascinating history.

Often, as the rhetoric on each side mounts, it's difficult to read. But it illuminates on aspect that I, at least, was missing before reading this book: the BPP saw itself as a revolutionary force representing a disenfranchised nation occupied by a hostile invading force. The BPP's Ten Point Program even paraphrased the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, and that all men are created equal that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [...] But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, and their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards of their future security.

This aspect alone goes far in explaining the rationale behind armed defense. As George Mason Murray put it in 1968:

The Black Panther Party recognizes the critical position of black people in the United States. We recognize that we are a colony within the imperialist domains of North America and that it is the historic duty of black people in the United States to bring about the complete, absolute and unconditional end of racism and neocolonialism by smashing, shattering, and destroying the imperialist domains of North America.

Wondering if this book is relevant? As the news is awash with warnings of another "Bloody Summer" in Chicago and elsewhere, consider Bobby Seale's words in 1967:

“If one would look closely, and check this three year history, he will find that in damn near every rebellion a racist cop was involved in the starting of that rebellion [...] by inflicting brutality or murdering some black person within the confines of one of our black communities. Black people will defend themselves at all costs. They will learn the correct tactics to use in dealing with the racist cops […] The racist military police force occupies our community just like the foreign American troops in Vietnam. But to inform you dog racists controlling this rotten government and for you to let your pig cops know you ain’t just causing a ‘long hot summer,’ you’re causing a Black Revolution."

TL;DR: if you live in the US, and maybe even if you don't, this is a book worth reading.

4 Stars
“What are the odds that people will make smart decisions [...] if they can get rich making dumb decisions?"
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine - Michael Lewis

The Big Short

by Michael Lewis


Achievement unlocked: I finally understand what the term "shorting" actually means.

Lewis provides a thorough and interesting take on the financial crisis, and now I think I finally begin to understand what caused the world economy to tank. As Lewis notes, there was plenty of greed to go around, but it was the criminal irresponsibility of the bankers, the investors, the bond traders, that really created the opportunity for such large-scale corruption.

I found this book particularly difficult because of my own fears of debt. My personality tends towards "control freak" and I find the idea of being in debt utterly terrifying. I have lived in suburbia for over five years without owning a car, commuting everywhere by bicycle, partly because the amount of money involved in buying a car simply scares me. Just thinking about the national debt makes my heart race. As a kid, I remember hearing my parents talk about variable-rate mortgages and the way that banks were using them to trick credulous and innocent buyers, but it was hard to see what banks could get out of selling homes to people who couldn't afford them. Now I understand: the homes were secondary to the CDOs that could be constructed from the loans. I find the story of the shadow banking system playing with peoples' lives and hopes this way, tempting them into a lifestyle beyond their means, utterly disgusting. Sure, you could say people should know better, but that's not sufficient and it's not fair. As Lewis notes, the incentives for everyone involved, from the homeowners to the bonds salesmen to the regulators, were simply all wrong. And they're still all wrong.

The one issue I'm left with is Lewis's take on his protagonists, a group of men who all "shorted" the sub-prime market industry. He treats them as heroes, as isolated voices of sanity in an increasingly insane world. But if they hadn't acted as buyers for sub-prime market insurance, there couldn't have been sellers, either. They ended up earning billions of dollars, and this type of finance is a zero-sum game. Their gains meant the losses of the sellers, and, ultimately, the American taxpayers. Sure, they didn't do anything strictly unethical, and sure, several of them apparently attempted to shut down the industry. But in the end, when they couldn't get anyone to listen, they settled for exploitation. And because they didn't turn around and, say, donate all that money to the ultimate victims of the sharks of Wall Street, I find it hard to see that choice as heroic.

If you, like me, are a financial dunce but still want to understand what on earth caused our economy to fail, I heartily recommend The Big Short. It may leave you disgusted with every person even tangentially involved with Wall Street and the shadow banking system, but at least you'll have a clue about how they took down our economy, and how they're probably going to do it all over again.


By the way: the smartest guy in the book, Dr. Michael Burry, believes we're in for another bust. And I believe him.

4 Stars
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Vol 10
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Ten (Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year) - Jonathan Strahan

I've been a fan of Strahan's "Year's Best" collections for years. He has a great eye for memorable stories, and the tenth volume is no exception. So what was last year in SFF like? As one might expect, Strahan's introduction included a few mentions of the "Sad Puppies" Hugo controversy, but despite the push for "traditional" SFF of adventurous derring-do, Strahan's collection contains a satisfying variety of thoughtful examinations of social issues as well as a few pure chilling tales and rip-roaring adventures.

My favourite variety of short story is the one where the twist is like a punch in the gut, and where the story haunts you long after you close the book. "Little Sisters" by Vonda N. Mcintyre is easily one of the most chilling, eerie stories in the entire collection. It is [trigger warning] about rape, and defilement, and child custody, but all in an utterly alien context, and all told from the perspective of a gender and sexuality utterly foreign to our own. Yet the sheer alienness also makes it distressingly, effectively visceral.


Equally unique was "Kaiju Maximus: 'So Various, So Beautiful, So New'" by Kai Ashante Williams. It takes place in a future where superhuman Heroes fight endlessly against alien forces, told from the perspective of a camp follower. It's an interesting vision of the superhero dynamic and the ways in which someone with superhuman abilities can all too quickly become inhuman, and it's all the more fascinating because of the underlying gender dynamics: the great Hero is female and the camp follower is male. Alyssa Wong's "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" is one of the most thoroughly creepy short stories I've encountered for a while. It involves vampirelike creatures--possibly Jiangshi, but I'm not sure-- who thrive on the consumption of evil thoughts. They also keep the spares in jars. Totally creepy, but it's also a coming-of-age story about sexuality and mother-daughter relationships.

The common theme that stood out most to me was that of emergent consciousness. While the idea certainly has appeared before, this year, it felt almost omnipresent, taking the place of the previous year's focus on surveillance societies. I couldn't help but wonder if AlphaGo and similar breakthroughs influenced the writers or Strahan himself. Apart from the previously-mentioned "Little Sisters," quite a few stories played with the theme of a post-AI-ascended future, including Kelly Link's "The Game of Smash and Recovery", Geoff Ryman's "Capitalism in the 22nd Century or AIR", and Gwyneth Jones' "Emergence". Several explored themes of slavery, agency, and free will in such a future. Most memorably, Nalo Hopkinson and Nisi Shawl's "Jamaica Ginger" is a poignant steampunk story of an alternate nineteenth-century New Orleans. It uses the replacement of Pullman porters with AI robots to draw parallels to racism and slavery, and as I'd recently read a book that dealt with this history, I found the story particularly memorable.

Strahan's SFF collections tend to define the genre quite broadly, and quite a few of the stories here could fit quite neatly into the horror genre. Tamsyn Muir's "The Deepwater Bride" is an entertaining take on the coming of a thonic Lovecraftian monster told from a teenage perspective. It boasts one of the best opening lines I've ever encountered:

"In the time of our crawling Night Lord's ascendancy, foretold by exodus of starlight into his sucking astral wounds, I turned sixteen and received Barbie's Dream Car."

"The Lily and the Horn" by Catherynn M. Valente is perhaps the first Valente story that I thoroughly enjoyed and wins the award as one of the creepiest love stories I've ever read. Lush, lyrical writing introduces us to a world where wars are fought with poison and treachery over the dinner tables. "A Murmuration" by Alastair Reynolds is a brilliant work of psychological horror and a perfect portrait of academic insanity. My favourite quotable quote:

"I squeeze our data until it bleeds science."

Neil Gaiman's "Black Dog," which opens the collection, combines American Gods-style worldbuilding with an atmospheric and foreboding take on the traditional village ghost story. Not all these horror-type stories worked for me, however: honestly, I wasn't sure what to make of Jeffrey Ford's "The Winter Wraith". A pseudo-horror story about a Christmas tree feels too ridiculous to be intended as anything but silly, but I didn't find it particularly funny, either.

Several stories took current political concerns to a possible conclusion. "Oral Argument" by Kim Stanley Robinson is easily my favourite KSR story I've read. Told as excerpts from a court case by an extremely snarky witness, it's short, sweet, and with a vastly entertaining punchline. Paolo Bacigalupi's "City of Ash" is a vignette that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world of extreme water scarcity, possibly the same world as The Water Knife. Sam J. Miller's "Calved"is a poignant story of a father and his estranged son trying to come to terms in an ever-changing, post-US-collapsed world, but it's also about race and acceptance and prejudice and, most of all, entitlement. As the protagonist puts it:

"Shielded by willful blindness and complex interlocking institutions of privilege, we mistook our uniqueness for universality."

Sam J. Miller's other story in the collection, "The Ghosts of Home," is an imaginative take on the bank foreclosing catastrophe. While I didn't care much for the story's romance, several quotes were satisfyingly memorable:

"Agnes had made mistakes before. [...] One thing was always true, though: She knew they were mistakes before she made them. She decided to make a mistake and that's what she did. The hard part was figuring out the right mistake to make."

"Another Word for World" by Ann Leckie is a brilliant and amusing examination of language and the way it shapes our preconceptions. Thematically, it reminded me tremendously of C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner. Ian Mcdonald's "Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan" is a very direct transference of the late nineteenth century imperialistic mentality to Venus, complete with teeth-grinding jingoism and grating "Great White Hunter"-type adventures. It's fun, but has the sort of jarring disconnect one gets when reading Kipling.

A few of the stories didn't fall under any unifying theme."The Heart's Filthy Lesson" by Elizabeth Bear is a thoroughly enjoyable gem that takes us to a distant planet where a scientist named Dharthi, preoccupied by a one-sided rivalry with her all-too-perfect lover, sets off on a dangerous scientific quest. Not only did the story show off Bear's lushly creative worldbuilding, but it also featured swamp tigers--definitely a win. Genevieve Valentine's "Blood, Ash, Brains" paints a vivid picture of the "Nachthexen" (Night Witches), with a little real witchcraft thrown in for good measure. Greg Bear's "The Machine Starts" is a trippy, brain-bending multiverse jaunt. "The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn" by Usman T Malik is one of the longer stories in the collection and fuses ancient myth with a man's relationship with his cultural history.

As always, there were a few stories that didn't quite hit me.Caitlyn R. Kiernan's "Dancy vs. the Pterosaur" centers primarily around the main character's interaction with a rigid evangelical in a post-apocalyptic world. It feels rather like a glimpse into a larger saga, and while I found the worldbuilding interesting, the religious discussion isn't what I'd call thought-provoking or illuminating. While I think I"Drones" by Simon Ings was a bit too weird for me. In Ings' future, a random disease manages to kill off most of the women and all of the bees, leaving a future world where a very few men have harems and the rest are the titular drones. I found it all too illogical and too much like a fifties throwback to be able to get into the story. While I generally love Robert Reed, his "The Empress in her Glory", which tells the story of a blogger who gains power because her predictions are made true by conquering aliens, just didn't quite grab me. Kelly Robson's "The Waters of Versailles," a magic-and-manners alternate history of Roi-Solei France, is one of the longest stories in the book, but I found the protagonist so utterly unsympathetic that it was hard to be interested in his story. "The Karen Joy Fowler Book Club" by Nike Sulway earns the prize as my least favourite story in the book. It mixes real people (e.g. Karen Joy Fowler) with utterly un-thought-out anthropomorphic rhinoceri who make tea (with what arms?), shop on ebay (with what fingers?), garden, build houses, read and write books, drive up driveways, and make bread (how?); their actual rhinocerosness is apparently restricted only to the word and to their grey skin. Personally I can't even picture a rhinoceros gardening or typing on a computer, and I don't think the author even thought far enough into her utterly superficial worldbuilding to consider it. Such slipshod thinking infuriated me far too much to allow me to enjoy whatever the story was supposed to be about.

Despite a few stories that didn't grab me, Strahan continues to demonstrate his gift for creating eclectic, interesting collections that capture the spirit of the year. His collections tend to include many familiar names, but usually include a few new authors as well. If you're looking to widen your SFF perspective, I highly recommend picking up one of Strahan's Year's Best.

~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook from the publisher, Rebellion/Solaris, in exchange for my honest review. Thanks!~~

3.5 Stars
You had one job!
You Had One Job! - Beverly L. Jenkins

You know, I think the best way to summarize this book is with an example:

Sure, it's not highbrow or anything, but a couple of the images struck me as funny enough that I couldn't help audibly sniggering. In public. Which I find extremely embarrassing.

It's a short book--about 150 pages-- and you can flip through the whole thing in less than half an hour. Each image is accompanied with a short comment. Some of the pictures were funnier than others, but in general, I found the images amusing rather than the comments, which struck me as a bit over the top. In retrospect, the fact that the author writes for isn't a surprise. Most of the images are just misspellings or mis-shelvings or mass production gone wrong, but they're amusing nonetheless, and I can think of worse ways to spend a few minutes.


~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publishers, Andrews McMeel Publishing, in exchange for my honest review~~


Since everyone else is doing it...

I've been neglecting my book sites lately* and have returned to find BL practically ablaze with rumours that BL has been acquired and may be going down. In that light, I have two things to note:


(1) I can also be found on GR right here: I'd love to stay in touch with all of you through GR if BL falls through. 


(2) If you're using a linux (and possibly mac) machine, you can back up your BL reviews by saving the entire contents of your blog to your local drive. I posted instructions for doing so a long time ago right here. I'm about to start my backup.


I'm also kinda-sorta on Tumblr, in that I occasionally post fanart there, but mostly just look through my feed, which is composed almost entirely of dog pictures and vines.


*Combination of RL issues, work, picking up trail running as a hobby, and a newfound addiction to watching POI at the gym instead of reading through my BL and GR feeds. Then I got to That Episode (SE3) and now I don't even know what to think. Argh.

4 Stars
"Do you want to destroy Perfection?"
The Sudden Appearance of Hope - Gillian Burke, Hachette Audio UK, Claire North

The Sudden Appearance of Hope

by Claire North


Given the circumstances, perhaps it's not surprising that Hope Arden's disability never made it into the DSM: while she can interact with the world, from everyone else's perspective, it is always for the first time. As soon as people are distracted from her presence, they forget her, their minds conveniently substituting new Hope-less memories and explanations. And then Hope gets to meet them all over again. As she puts it:

First impressions-- my life is about making a good first impression. When one attempt fails, I will go away, and reinvent myself, and return to try again. Though first impressions may be the only thing I have, at least I get to practise until they're right.

Naturally, Hope's career and relationship options are somewhat limited. As she notes:

Things that are difficult, when the world forgets you:
  • Dating
  • Getting a job
  • Receiving consistent medical attention
  • Getting a loan
  • Certificated education
  • Getting a reference
  • Getting service at restaurants
Things that are easy, when the world forgets you:
  • Assassination
  • Theft
  • Espionage
  • Casual cruelty
  • Angst-free one-night stands (w/condoms)
  • Not tipping

Perhaps unsurprisingly, she ends up embracing a career as a thief, drifting through life, choosing score after score, often to settle some petty spite of her own. No matter how incompetent her heists, she never gets caught because all she needs to do is distract her captors for a few minutes to erase her presence. But then Hope encounters Perfection, and her unmemorable life is irrevocably changed.


Perfection: a brand new lifestyle app. Give it your schedule, your access, your health stats, your bank accounts, your total attention, and in return it will optimize your life, shaping a new perfect you. Touched by the tragedy of a woman who fails to satisfy Perfection, Hope finds herself set on a course to destroy it.


The Sudden Appearance of Hope is a book out of left field. As the names may have indicated, subtle the book is not, but it makes up for its directness in pure passion. I suspect that reader enjoyment will be heavily predicated on tolerance for pretty anvilicious "message" books. Plus, I had to love the gleeful mileage North got out of double entendres with Hope, Perfection, and more. I'm already a fan of Kate Griffin/Claire North, so perhaps unsurprisingly, I found North's heavily descriptive, almost stream-of-consciousness style utterly captivating. At moments, it's also just plain funny, particularly in the lists that Hope continually writes for herself.


For me, the book's major weakness was the characters. I never really felt connected to any of them, which may have been something of a blessing, as North is as casually brutal to them as she is to the sidekicks in the Matthew Swift series. Perhaps some of my sense of alienation came from Hope's condition. As one character says of her,

It's a peculiar thing, but I find emotion, when it comes to you, rather hard to engage with [...] Instead of feelings, I find with you there are only facts.

She is, naturally, a drifter, herself oddly disconnected from the world. Despite her many heists, she spends most of her time simply drifting, and more often reacts to situations with blind flailing rather than planning. As she puts it:

Having no one to define the limits of me, I have to define myself, otherwise I am nothing [...] I don't know what my destination is, but I keep on travelling, surrounded by other people's stories, absorbing them, and in their way, though they are not me, they become me. I am just… travelling.

This was clearest in her efforts to stop Perfection and Byron. What on earth was her plan? She disagreed with Byron and sought to stop her, but had no plan of her own except, apparently, blindly hoping for the best. And that also seemed to be the sum of her plan to stop Byron.

(show spoiler)

With a character who cannot be remembered, development of relationships is effectively impossible, and for me, this led to a sense of alienation from the other characters, a perspective that Hope seemed to share. As she says towards the end of the story of one of the major characters: "How strange to think of her as something human."


Unsubtle it may be, but my favourite part of the book was the way North uses Perfection and Hope's condition as a lens to examine the feedback loop that is human interaction with the world. Some of the more memorable quotes:

Perfection is derived by a consensus of society, Perfect-- to perfectly fit the mould.

Alone, you can lose yourself, or you may find yourself, and most of the time you do both.

Shall we break down the truth, the bitter, unloved, bloody-nosed truth? Tell me, in a world where wealth is power, and power is the only freedom, what would desperate men not do to be heard? [...] The internet gave us all the power of speech, and what did we discover? That victory goes to he who shouts the loudest, and that reason does not sell.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope is a unique story, and I'd have a hard time describing its perfect audience. However, if you're intrigued by an unusual character and a thought-provoking dialogue about the way society shapes us, Hope is well worth a look. As she says,

I think there has to be a moment when you turn round and permit yourself to be defined by the world that surrounds you.


~~I received this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Redhook Books, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~


Cross-posted on Goodreads.

4 Stars
"We are oil and humans are water. We do not need to be other than what we are to exist in the same vessel."
Visitor: A Foreigner Novel - C. J. Cherryh


by C. J. Cherryh


I've been wanting to try Cherryh's series for a while, and I'm thrilled to have finally had the opportunity. Cherryh is an intriguing writer, and the world she creates is fully-fleshed and complex. Long ago, a human spaceship found itself transposed a multitude of lightyears from Earth, orbiting the planet of a non-space-faring species called the atevi. Some of the humans onboard leave to create a colony on the atevi homeworld, and for centuries, the humans and atevi live together on the planet in a state too tense to be called "peace." Bren Cameron, a human born on the atevi homeworld, acts as the paidhi-aiji of the atevi court, a translator and mediator who acts as a tenuous bridge between two cultures. Now Cameron must step outside his experience to negotiate with the enigmatic, powerful, and frighteningly alien kyo, and failure could spell doom to human and atevi alike.

If you've read any of my reviews before, you're probably aware that I routinely start series out of order, sometimes at the halfway point or later. So when I say that Visitor is not a good book to start the series with, take it from an inveterate series-order-ignorer and start somewhere else--and no, I can't tell you where. Why? Well, the story assumes the reader is already familiar with the backstory--and there's apparently quite a lot of backstory to be familiar with-- but the sensation of being transported into the middle of a vivid history is one of the many reasons I enjoy reading series out of order.

The real reason why you shouldn't start the series with this book is that it is, indisputably, what I'd term a "payoff book," and payoff books work best when you've actually paid for them by navigating the story arc's slow build. It's the reason why you shouldn't start with Deathly Hallows or Night Watch or Memory: the power of those books comes from the history, from the experiences, from the characters' pasts and the ways they've changed. In Visitor, most of the characters appear to be drawn from previous stories, and in this book, the background politics are put aside as Cameron's friends and allies rally around to support him. I got the sense that such camaraderie should be poignant and touching, but without understanding the base state of conflicts, I missed out on the grand effect. The plot, too, is primarily centered on the repercussions of previous books. Without experiencing what Cameron and his allies went through at Reunion, without seeing their previous confrontations with the kyo, I think the book just can't have the same punch that it would have for the series regular. And this is a good enough story that it's worth doing it right.

The plot is an unusual change of pace from your standard space opera. Don't go into this story expecting battles or heists or daring escapes. It's a book of secrets and repercussions, of breathless waiting and slow-burning tension, of strained negotiation. It's a book about understanding humanity, or, since most of the characters are nonhuman, whatever one calls that core sense of self and civilization. Previous interactions with the kyo involved a lot of mistakes, and now only care and goodwill on both sides can save them all from disaster. Cherryh approaches the conflict she sets up thoughtfully, yet with an endearing optimism. As Cameron puts it, bridging two cultures is all about "Work[ing] until they understand what the person meant, rather than investing in winning." While this may not be the perfect starting book for the series, but for those who are already fans, know you've got something to look forward to. As for me, I've finally been galvanized to put Foreigner on my to-read list.

~~I received this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Berkley Publishing Group, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final versions, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~

3.5 Stars
"A man without a past and a woman without a future."
Company Town - Madeline Ashby

Company Town

by Madeline Ashby


In the future Ashby envisions, bioaugmentation has become so universal that Go Jung-Hwa, unedited and suffering from congenital Sturge-Weber Syndrome, is effectively unique, a black swan in a world where everyone else's perceptions and interactions are fully regulated by augmented reality. Hwa is just trying to live her life, working as a bodyguard for the local sex workers' union and teaching them self-defense on the side when her duties bring her into contact with Daniel Siofra, a mysterious fixer who works directly under the man who now owns the whole town. Suddenly, Hwa finds herself tasked with protecting a vulnerable child while around her, her old start dying under horrific circumstances.


The strongest aspect of Company Town is the worldbuilding. Ashby's new future is gritty and immersive, familiar and yet imbued with an alien strangeness. The story takes place in a near-future mining town in Canada that is undergoing the same sort of rusting as so many current industrial towns. The single-product economy is on the brink of failure, and while the town's new owner/investor may bring it back to life, everyone in the town is on edge about the potential cost. However familiar the social and economic situation might be, the people themselves walk around in augmented reality, their vision tagged with identifying information of the people they see, their forms obscured and defined by virtual reality instead of physicality. Botflies--no, not those botflies; these are flying robots-- buzz around everywhere, acting as tiny and ubiquitous paparazzi. A post-human civilization seems to be just on the horizon.


The concept is fascinating and the book itself is packed with nonstop action. However, I found the plot itself rather more problematic, from the core concept to the solution of the underlying mystery. I felt that not even the basic setup could withstand cursory examination; for example, I was completely puzzled about why Hwa, hired as a bodyguard for a kid, ends up attending school with him as a fellow student rather than actually guarding him. Everyone knows what she's doing, so it's not a disguise, and having your bodyguard take classes and do homework seems a great way to keep them distracted. Outside of school, Hwa spends basically all the time on her own rather than actually guarding the kid, again without any explanation. Not only that, but Hwa herself ends up as a target, and even though her very presence puts her charge in danger, they keep her as his bodyguard, with no explanation for why anyone would keep a bodyguard who is clearly getting the body into danger rather than guarding it.

And then the point where they both stay home because the bodyguard is getting rape/murder threats? And they both skip school because she's in danger? Really?

(show spoiler)

Very little else about the plot could bear scrutiny, from the action scenes to the final reveal.

For example, when they duck into the bathroom to avoid the killer, why doesn't he just come in after them instead of politely waiting outside or wandering away so they can regroup and have a nice chat before heading to the elevators? Why did Hwa so quickly forgive the freaking destruction of the city? And the whole singularity thing just didn't work for me. The problem is that as soon as you set up a killer who can come back over and over again, you've set up an inherently losing situation. Forget the whole time paradox issue; you now have a protagonist who simply cannot win, unless the author cheerfully ignores the rules she put into place.

(show spoiler)

The book is also a good example of a common device used in mysteries that I call "plot-driven obscurity," where characters withhold facts or wrap them in cryptic statements solely because doing otherwise would reveal the mystery.

This was most visible with everyone talking about the unknown teacher's proclivities. Why wouldn't anyone just say the name?

(show spoiler)

However, such issues aren't out of the ordinary for thrillers, and if you're in the right mood, I think they can easily be overlooked.


Plot issues aside, Company Town is an interesting story tackling some compelling issues ranging from post-human life to the politics of prostitution. Throughout, Hwa struggles to be seen--and to see herself-- as a person instead of a disorder. She also fights to come to terms with her frustratingly appearance-obsessed mother, and a culture in which people prefer to edit her out rather than see her disfigurement. Despite a few plot weaknesses, Company Town is an interesting scifi read with an interesting protagonist and a vivid vision of a near future.


~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Macmillan-Tor/Forge, in exchange for my honest review.~~

4 Stars
"Choose between what is ethical, honorable, and what is important."
Sleeping Giants - Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping Giants

by Sylvain Neuvel


When Rose stumbles and falls into a deep pit in the woods, she finds herself curled up in the palm of a giant metal hand, her surroundings lit by ethereal blue light. Her accident shapes the path of her entire life, and decades later, she finds herself on an elite team tasked with studying the hand she found as a child. For that giant hand is only a tiny piece of the whole, and her discovery will have repercussions that will be felt throughout the world.


Sleeping Giants is a unique story in everything from plot to narrative structure. The story is told through a series of interviews between the characters and a mysterious man who is at the heart of events. The pace is measured, almost dreamlike, yet I was quickly sucked into plot., and into the mystery of the statue and those who seek it. mThroughout, the characters must make hard choices, and the story delves into the ethics and consequences of their actions and attitudes in everything from whether the ends justify the means:

"You are definitely not one to throw away your life, your family and your career for something as petty as principles."

to perspectives on people who make that one unforgivable mistake:

"What he did, however horrifying, doesn't have to negate every other day of his life."

to measuring tragedy:

"It's one thing to risk your own life. It's fairly easy to rationalize the deaths of strangers. To shoulder the death of a friend, someone you know, that's a completely different thing."

to alterity, defined as "the concept of otherness":

What I am is very much a function of what I am not. If the 'other' is the Muslim world, then I am the Judeo-Christian world. If the other is from thousands of light-years away, I am simply human. Redefine alterity and you can erase boundaries."


The prose is crisp, the story insightful, and as you may have guessed, I found myself repeatedly highlighting quote after quote. The questions that Sleeping Giants explores are complex, and there are no easy answers. The conclusion leaves more questions unanswered than answered, yet in an absolutely satisfying way. It is the start of a larger story, and I'm looking forward to the next segment.


~~I received a copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Random House Publishing Group, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the book as a whole.~~

4.5 Stars
"In the hands of their chosen gods. Or choosing gods."
Penric's Demon - Lois McMaster Bujold

Penric's Demon

by Lois McMaster Bujold


Wow, I hadn't realized just how much I missed Bujold.

If you're familiar with Lois McMaster Bujold, you probably know her through her iconic Vorkosigan Saga and may not even be aware of her high fantasy series. While the style, worldbuilding, and characters are startlingly different from the Vorkosigan Saga, the World of the Five Gods series is well worth the read. Featuring a different protagonist in each book, it takes place in a vaguely medieval high-fantasy world ruled by the aforementioned Five Gods. Like the loas of Santeria, these gods can choose "saints" that they inhabit and ride. But the world is also inhabited by the servants of the Fifth God, the Bastard. These incorporeal demons also choose humans to ride, and a demon-ridden human can become either a sorcerer or a psychotic.

A man became a sorcerer upon acquiring a demon much as a man became a rider upon acquiring a horse, with the implication that the inept horseman was riding for a fall.

This novella centers around the eponymous Penric, a son of an impoverished country lord of a land "more noted for producing cheese than history". At the novella's outset, Penric stumbles into the wrong place at exactly the wrong time and ends up discovering far more about the incorporeal world of the spirit than he had planned. The story itself is thoroughly enjoyable, a gentle exploration of a thoroughly satisfying world infused with the trademark Bujold wit. If you're a fan of the Five Gods books, this little novella is a joy to read. I'm not sure how well it would work if you're not familiar with the world of the five gods, but that's okay, because if you're fond of unique high fantasy, Curse of Chalion deserves a place on your to-read list anyway.

~~I received this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Subterranean Press, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novella as a whole.~~

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