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review 2017-10-21 18:31
Artemis
Artemis - Andy Weir

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

I loved “The Martian”, so of course I was bound to request this one. To be fair, I didn’t enjoy it as much, but it was still a good, fun read in several ways.

I found the characters in general likeable enough, in definite ‘shades of grey. The ‘heroes’ of this story are seldom all white, and go about their business with good intentions and shady ways. The businessman who moved to the moon to help his ailing daughter, but is a crook on the side. The economist who almost single-handedly set a whole country as the only entry point to the Moon, and won’t shy away from closing eyes on criminal deals as long as they help keeping Artemis afloat. The city’s policeman (Artemis has something like 2,000 inhabitants, minus the tourists, so Rudy does the job) who’s keeping order by breaking a few arms at times if he deems it’ll be a better punishment than prison. And, of course, Jazz Bashara herself, porter by day, smuggler by night, of sorts, running her little operation with no one the wiser.

(Granted, not everyone is a complete a-hole here, Jazz’s father for instance is a law-abiding citizen who doesn’t want anything to do with his daughter’s shady side; on the other hand, Jazz clearly has him to thank for her own ethical side, the one that makes her never renege on a deal, and puts her in the (trustworthy criminal’ category, so to speak.)

The story itself starts in a fairly typical way for heist stories: Jazz needs money, her criminal activities aren’t bringing in as much as she needs, nor quickly enough, so when a dangerous but particularly juicy deal comes her way, she shoves her qualms in her pocket and accepts it. Only it turns out she’s bitten more than she could chew, and finds herself embroiled in an almost conspiracy, forcing her to gather all her wits, resources and allies in order to find a way out. All in all, the kind of story I like to read: maybe not the most original, but with high potential for action, fun, quirky characters, and, well, capers.

There isn’t as much technical detailing in this novel as there was in “The Martian”, so it’s definitely not hard to follow. The whole caper(s) resting on scientific knowledge and using the moon’s gravity and peculiar sides to work within the plan, that was really interesting for me. Maybe the welding-related descriptions were a little too long at times, though; at least, I didn’t care as much about those as I did about other scientific explanations.

I liked the overall diversity in Artemis. This small city has, from A to Z, a multicultural side that I think worked well, and didn’t rest on the usual ‘Western world colonises space’ (Kenya and its space company holds the entry door to the moon, Artemis’s administrator is a Kenyan woman, the policeman is Canadian, Jazz and her father are from Saudi Arabia, many of Jazz’s contacts are Vietnamese or Slavic, etc.).

I wasn’t totally on board with the way Jazz told the story, though. The wit didn’t work as well here as it did in “The Martian”, mostly, I’d say, because there’s too much of a dichotomy between Jazz’s ‘voice’ and her age: sometime in the middle of the story, we learn she’s 26, but from her tone, attitude, expressions and way of being, I would’ve thought her late teens/20, and not older. There -is- an immature side to her character, so in itself it’s not like her voice doesn’t fit at all, yet it didn’t feel ‘right’ either.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars. Disregard the author’s previous best-seller, take this story as it comes, and enjoy the heist parts, the assembling of Jazz’s motley crew, the description of Artemis, and the outings on the Moon in an EVA suit that can spring a leak just any time due to the characters attempting bold moves and daring rescues.

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review 2016-06-26 17:22
Street Magicks
Street Magicks - Paula Guran

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

In the past, I read a couple of other anthologies edited by Paula Guran, and I remember liking them overall, due to the choice of stories: they may not all have been breathtaking, but they also weren abysmal, and as far as anthologies go, I think I do tend to appreciate that a little more than reading excellency pitched against really bad writing.

The stories here deal mostly with magical happenings and encountering in cities--a theme I especially like. Most are modern fantasy, but more traditional fantasy also has its place here.

“Freewheeling” - 2/5
A young woman tries to help a kid whose very special take on life may be madness... or a real touch of magic? And the question is, will mundane life keep interfering until something tragic happens, or will magic happen instead?
Not my favourite. I could see the ending coming almost from the beginning.

“A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” - 4/5
A band of retired thieves find themselves back in their ¨line of duty¨ to perform the theft of their lives: steal a whole street. Humour, magic, blackmail, backstabbing, an urban setting, and a cast of mostly women (and an automaton) whoŕe not afraid to be who they are. Whatś not to like?

“Caligo Lane” - 3/5
Read in another anthology “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Nine” so I guess the novelty wasn exactly there. Still, it remains a touching story, of a mage who uses maps to bend space and save people trapped in parts of the world where every other means of escape have failed.

“Socks” - 3/5
A Bordertown story. I don´t know that setting, except through another story in another anthology; however, I still think it´s not such a problem, as mood and theme are easy enough to ¨get¨ even without knowing the whole context. Here, Socks, a young girl, is taken in by a family of strays. Soon after, Perdita joins the crew, Perdita whose mysterious mother taught her many a tale...
Interesting, but I found myself wanting to know more about Socks at the end--it was never clear whereas the whole thing about her feet was merely illness, or a symptom of something else. I kept expecting that something else to happen, and... nothing?

“Painted Birds and Shivered Bones” - 3.5/5
A poetic tale of a man cursed to turn into a bird, going through centuries without respite, until a kind of magic apt to break his curse surfaces in the painting of artist Maeve. A bittersweet tale, perhaps a bit too focused at times on the artist-chic cliche? I may be a little jaded with that one at the moment -- it itself, it doesn´t make the story bad, at any rate.

“The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories” - 2/5
Originally read in “Smoke and Mirrors”. This one relates a writer's experience as he flies to Hollywood, where his novel is to be adapted into a movie, only to see said novel stripped to the bone and reworked every time. A tale of being dispossessed on one's soul, maybe, and of having to let go. Or perhaps a tale of former Holywood legends fallen back into the mist of times, unremembered by all but the humblest?
Not my favourite Gaiman story, to be honest. It's a bit... bland compared to some of his other works.

“One-Eyed Jack and the Suicide King” - 2/5
A good beginning, of a struggle between spirits/local gods fighting for their turf. The story was wanting, though, as it feels like it should be expanded into something more. It's a beginning, indeed, and not a full-fledged plot.

“Street Worm” - 4/5
Rather scary when you come to think of it. A teenage girl runs away from a privileged home, for her parents believe her going on slightly crazy and want to send her to a shrink (probably not for all the good reasons either — a family has standards to uphold within the community...). But is this girl just mad, or does she really see things, things of another kind, worms danglings from buildings like a threat lingering above the city? And the man who tells her sheś magic, is he meaning well, or is he just a creep?
I wanted a bit more at the end, to be honest. Like a lot of stories, this one feels like unfinished business in some parts. Still, a good read.

“A Water Matter” - 2/5
The Duke is dead, may he stay dead! Only a mysterious and potentially malevolent shaman wants the power released upon that death, so the Dancing Mistress, a shapeshifter (...I think?) takes it upon herself to prevent this from happening.
More than with the Bordertown stories, I think I was missing something here—the action is set in a world with its own backstory, and I constantly felt it was part of something bigger, something that deserved more. The actual plot didn't impact me as it could have, had things been otherwise.

“Last Call” - 3/5
A Harry Dresden short story. On principle, I tend to like those, because I'm fond of the world and character Butcher developed (they're part of the works I'd quote first if someone asked me for examples of “urban fantasy”). On the other hand, this one is a bit spoilerish if you haven't read at least the first 8-9 books of the series...

“Bridle” - 1/5
A kelpie story, with a dark fantasy approach that had its poetic moments. Still, it didn't grab me much.

“The Last Triangle” - 4,5/5
A junkie finds shelter at an old woman's who happens to realise a dark magic ritual is about to take place. Together, they do everything they can to stop it, as well as the person casting it.
This one had the kind of plot and ending I'd deem as “definite”. You can see it going somewhere, with a beginning, middle and end, and even though the latter is “open” as far as the main character's future is concerned, it nonetheless brings resolution to the “dark spell” plot.

“Working for the God of the Love of Money” - 2/5
Again, an interesting beginning, but the end was very abrupt (in an expected-yet-not-waited-for way).

“Hello, Moto” - 4/5
Three witches with enchanted wigs let themselves be devoured by their magic... or not? For Rain, taking upon herself once again to mix up magic with technology, wants to stop her “sisters” gone on a rampage of take-never-give in Lagos. One may wonder, though, if using precisely what went wrong the first time can right that wrong... or not.
Original and entertaining. I just regret the ending, again too abrupt, with no true resolution per se. “Leaving things to the reader's imagination” can only go so far...

“The Spirit of the Thing: A Nightside Story” - 3/5
A detective doing his job, a shady bar with an even shadier owner, and angry water spirit, the ghost of a murdered young woman, and a twist to try and make things right no matter what.

“A Night in Electric Squidland” - 3/5
Paranormal investigators working on a murder case end up in a night club whose practices may not be what they seem.
I liked the atmosphere (the dark and somewhat perverted rituals going on, while the club also offered “nicer” attractions like a stage magician). I didn't connect much with the characters, though.

“Speechless in Seattle” - 3/5
A.k.a “pay attention to the exact wording of your spells”, which is something a lot of mages should do. ;)
A cute story, with likeable characters. Only, as usual in such cases, the grounds for budding romance were kind of wasted on me.

“Palimpsest” - 2/5
Pretty, I guess, and evoking strange places in a strange city whose elusive map can only be found in some very special places. However, it was rather confusing, without much of a plot to speak of.

“Ash” - 4/5
Laid off from his job with minimum benefits, a man decides to commit a robbery, but one decision made while running away from the security guard has dire consequences.
A story of guilt and revenge, of a dying curse, of the city turning stranger and stranger, darker and darker, until it closes over you and never lets you go.

“In Our Block” - 3/5
Or “two blokes find themselves wondering why the area they're in is so intriguing”, full of strange little shops and sellers/peddlers of unusual talents, like the typewriter girl. Although it was more a slice-of-life story than one with a real plot, it was enough for me, for once.

Conclusion: 3/5. I kind of expected this, as a lot of stories were of the “I liked” kind but not “great/I loved it”. Still, more good than bad in there. Though not a “to buy” recommendation, maybe a “borrow it” one?

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review 2016-03-27 17:24
Steal the Sky
Steal the Sky - Megan E O'Keefe

[I received a copy of this book through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

An interesting world with a lot of background remaining to be discovered, and characters that all hide more depth than one would think at first. However, I found the story itself somewhat confusing.

It starts with an offer that our main thief/conman character, Detan Honding, is in no position to refuse, coming from the very captain of the Watch. A strange request: steal the newfangled airship of ex-Commodore Thratia, an exile from the the Valathean empire, infamous for her ruthless methods. Soon enough, though, Detan and Tibal, his friend and associate, realise they may be out of their depth here, and that the players involved aren't so easy to thwart.

A lot of things revolve around selium, a strange gas found on the Scorched Continent, that can only be manipulated by sel-sensitive people. Privileged in a way, but slaves in many others: they have no other choice than to work in the selium mines (regular people won't be their friends if their shirk their “duty”...), those who lose their skill are forced into retirement, and those with “deviant” talents are sooner or later captured and experimented upon by the Valathean “whitecoats”. Not such very enthralling prospects. As for criminals in Aransa, the mining city where the story is set, they can choose to die by the axe, or to “walk the Black”, aka letting the scorching sun of the obsidian desert kill them in a matter of minutes (if they're lucky).

There's a lot seemingly going on behind the scenes. Valathea, for instance, with its blend of refinement and cruelty (I couldn't help but envision a mix between Roman and Chinese civilisations, in terms of conquest and clothing, with airships and an elite corps of scientists bent on dissecting people with sel-related abilities). The Scorched had a “Far West/unconquered land” vibe in some ways—perhaps because of the whole desert thing and of how it tried to remain out of Valathea's influence, but could feel it pressing down closer and closer. Additionally, many characters appear simple at first (Detan is a conman, Ripka the loyal Watch captain, Thratia a ruthless manipulator who won't hesitate to kill people, the doppel a mysterious killer with a single goal...) yet soon show signs of being more than meet the eye, with agendas and knowledge of their own,

However, while the world felt rich, and provides enough ground to cover more than one book in that regard, the plot was a bit all over the place, as if it couldn't decide what to focus on. The expected heist (stealing an airship) wasn't so exciting nor given that much attention, with our conmen being more outclassed than actually able to properly work on it, and with the story veering into murder investigation, and revenge, and intrigue, and a few more things. This felt more confusing than anything else. I guess this is partly a case of “it's not the book, it's me”: I like heist stories, but I like them with my burglars/conmen being able to have a marginal success at least. Here, both Detan and Tibs went from failure to failure, with Detan losing his “rogue” charm, and after a while I didn't really care anymore.

2.5 stars. The setting remains interesting, so I may check the next book if NetGalley or the library has it, because the group at the end has potential for good adventures, complete with an already existing dangerous enemy, and with another potential antagonist looming in the background. We'll see.

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review 2016-02-21 17:34
The Paladin Caper
The Paladin Caper (Rogues of the Republic Book 3) - Patrick Weekes

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

The tone in this last volume of the trilogy is different: somewhat darker, dealing with a more “end of the world”-oriented plot, following several plot points set in place in the previous books, and bringing a nicely-wrapped conclusion to the series. Perhaps too nicely-wrapped? I liked it in general, but I guess I would've appreciated finding more of the first installment's humour.

Loch's usual band of misfits gathers again to disrupt the Ancients' plans, starting with one of their typical heist/cons, in a fashion any reader of this series will recognise. As usual, too, the story goes through a lot of twists and turns: events where our heroes find themselves in dire straits, but had planned for contingencies and switch to Plan B, and so on.

The characters remain well-rounded, resourceful each in their own ways, with their strengths and weaknesses: the ones we know, the ones we see them overcome. Desidora has to deal with her desire to get revenge on the friend who betrayed her, and Ululenia with the transformation she started going through in volume 2. Kail, Loch and Tern get struck where it hurts, as they have to worry for their loved ones. Dairy, definitely not the naïve young man anymore, has to go through his own ordeals, and try to discover himself in the process. Other, secondary characters are brought back into the fray as well. As for the enemies, they are cunning enough, don't hesitate to resort to villains' tactics (hostages, etc.), and manage to be both out of this world and curiously human at times, too.

The story circles through these themes both seriously and humorously. Kail and his “your mother” jokes, for instance: what does it say about his loyalty to his own family? Ululenia and her new urges: they get expressed in ways that correspond to her, making her gradually switch from virgin-lover unicorn to a darker, more eoritcally-inclined version of herself (in amusing ways at times, such as her mind-altering alliterations turning into different words, and in much more lethal ones at other times). Tern with her reactions, the way she makes her friends understand what they need to do, not by ordering them around but through psychology—all the while having to stay away from people she still cares about. Naria with her little games and her ambivalence: it's so hard to tell whether she's “nice” or a “traitor”, and this makes her more interesting, as it's never clear-cut. Pyvic and Derenky: the latter wants the former's job, everybody knows it, and everybody (Derenky included) jokes about it. And other countless little things.

In terms of pacing, much like the characters, we never get to fully rest, and it's obvious that something is always bound to happen. The breaks they manage here and there are never meant to last, and it makes for a grand finale, with action scenes going parallel to each other, enemies that won't relent on the means to take our heroes down, and various settings where every person, every small team has a key role to play.

I am undecided as to some of the twists, though: the last third rests on actions that the characters have planned, but that the readers aren't aware of, and while it's surprising and befitting Loch & Co's wits and abilities to improvise, it also brushes upon of a device consisting in denying information to readers—in other words, it made me wonder if there wouldn't have been a way of letting me, reader, suspect something, without having to use what looked a lot like a deus ex machina. (Not in terms of new events happening: in terms of events that happened in the past, yet are revealed in such a way that they seem to arrive out of nowhere.)

The story's also lacking a sense of urgency when it comes to people dying. Not everyone gets out of there unscathed, however considering the world-shaking potential consequences, the novel seemed to end just a tad bit too conveniently for some (and the scarred ones felt slightly like an afterthought, as if someone had to get hurt for this to be believable, so, hey, let's hurt a few people).

The social commentary, finally, is a bit of an oddball: heavy-handed in some ways, yet crafted through the story in a logical manner that highlights and mocks injustices. Depending on one's mood and sensibilities, this could be a problem. I will confess to paying more attention to the action and characters than to how this commentary was to be taken—sometimes, I guess I just happen to bypass that kind of things.

I'm still giving this novel 4 stars. In spite of my reservations about it, I enjoyed it, and enjoyed seeing all the arcs gathered and solved. The characters are clearly ones I'll keep in my mind for some time.

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review 2015-11-09 14:21
Big Bang Generation
Doctor Who: Big Bang Generation - Gary Russell

[I received a copy of this novel through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.]

1.5 stars

I don’t know where to start, because this one was all over the place. Ambitious, with a plotline that could be awesome and tie a lot of things together, yet… didn’t in the end, not really. I mean, the plot got its ending, but I still have no idea where it all fits within the Glamour series, except for the name being thrown in, and the Ancients bit just made me wonder what/who exactly they were, and what was their purpose? (Not much, considering how they were presented.)

I liked the sense of a con, or several cons going on, at the same time, or at different times. I liked the postcards bit, because in general I’m fond of such devices (cliché as they are) to “gather the posse together and prepare for the big heist”. Only it stayed at that level, and I didn’t get later the feeling I got from the book’s blurb, which hinted at something more exciting.

A lot of things made no sense, to be honest, in how the characters behaved, in their plans, in how they interacted with each other. There was banter (good Capaldi-like lines, for sure) but they felt disjointed from the plot. The characters weren’t as far as witty as they were meant to be. Incoherences thrown in now and then didn’t help (I think they have some time of veiling/cloaking technology, yet Peter has to hide his face under a hoodie?).

The random interest Kik showed for Peter was a big WTF series of moments for me. It just came out of nowhere, and made as little sense as the rest. Their interactions were somewhat fun at first (dog fart in her face to make her throw him away—it’s 100% dumb, but hey, whatever works, also I’m positive it’s the kind of stunt I’d pull in a pen & paper RPG session)... but they didn’t tie at all into “prospective love interest territory”. The badass assassin never projected that aura of badassery I expected from her, Jaansen was just a bumbling idiot, Globb never lived up to his reputation as a conman, Ruth… I don’t even know what she was supposed to do here, apart from being that other guy’s fiancée. I probably missed a few things here. I’m fine with lots of characters… only please develop them more, make them look and smell and feel “real”, otherwise I won’t care much.

And that’s another of the issues I have with this novel. I didn’t get a lot of the references (although I enjoyed the ones I got), my knowledge of the series being mostly the 2005+ seasons and a handful of novels. However, I kept wondering if there wasn’t too much information about Bernice and what she shared with the Doctor, in that now I feel I know a lot without never reading anything about her (or listening to anything—if I’m not mistaken, that was all about audio episodes?). It’s as if the novel hints at too many things for someone who doesn’t know much to the Whoverse, while at the same time recapping too many things as well for those who know a lot and don’t care about, well, many recaps. As a result, there was paradoxically a lot of padding in a novel still too short for its (potentially) complex plot.

Definitely a weird and soon-to-be-forgotten read, unfortunately
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