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review 2017-06-27 09:11
Final Girls by Mira Grant
Final Girls - Mira Grant

This is an enjoyable and somewhat creepy psychological novella with an interesting idea, and twisted ended.  I can't really say more than what the blurb provides without giving away the plot. 

 

From the blurb:  "Dr. Jennifer Webb has invented proprietary virtual reality technology that purports to heal psychological wounds by running clients through scenarios straight out of horror movies and nightmares. In a carefully controlled environment, with a medical cocktail running through their veins, sisters might develop a bond they’ve been missing their whole lives—while running from the bogeyman through a simulated forest. But…can real change come so easily?

Esther Hoffman doubts it. Esther has spent her entire journalism career debunking pseudoscience, after phony regression therapy ruined her father’s life. She’s determined to unearth the truth about Dr. Webb’s budding company. Dr. Webb’s willing to let her, of course, for reasons of her own. What better advertisement could she get than that of a convinced skeptic? But Esther’s not the only one curious about how this technology works. Enter real-world threats just as frightening as those created in the lab. Dr. Webb and Esther are at odds, but they may also be each other’s only hope of survival."

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review 2017-06-25 15:31
Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant
Rolling in the Deep - Mira Grant

This is a rather short, nicely written novel that explores the story of the ship Atargatis, lost at sea with all hands.  "Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy. Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the bathypelagic zone in the Mariana Trench…and the depths are very good at keeping secrets".  This is a mix between mythological/urban fantasy, horror and mystery.  I found the story to be an original take on an old myth.  There is apparently a sequel to this story out later this year.

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review 2017-06-24 18:58
Intertextual SF: "The Grace of Kings" by Ken Liu
The Grace of Kings - Ken Liu

Lord Garu, you compare yourself to a weed?” Cogo Yelu frowned.

“Not just any weed, Cogzy. A dandelion is a strong but misunderstood flower.” Remembering his courtship with Jia, Kuni felt his eyes grow warm. “It cannot be defeated: Just when a gardener thinks he has won and eradicated it from his lawn, a rain would bring the yellow florets right back. Yet it’s never arrogant: Its color and fragrance never overwhelm those of another. Immensely practical, its leaves are delicious and medicinal, while its roots loosen hard soils, so that it acts as a pioneer for other more delicate flowers. But best of all, it’s a flower that lives in the soil but dreams of the skies. When its seeds take to the wind, it will go farther and see more than any pampered rose, tulip, or marigold.”

“An exceedingly good comparison,” Cogo said, and drained his cup. “My vision was too limited to not have understood it.”

Mata nodded in agreement and drained his cup as well, suffering silently as the burning liquor numbed his throat.

“Your turn, General Zyndu,” Than prompted.

Mata hesitated. He was not witty or quick on his feet, and he was never good at games like this. But he glanced down and saw the Zyndu coat of arms on his boots, and suddenly he knew what he should say.

He stood up. Though he had been drinking all night, he was steady as an oak. He began to clap his hands steadily to generate a beat, and sang to the tune of an old song of Tunoa:

 

The ninth day in the ninth month of the year:

 

By the time I bloom, all others have died.

 

Cold winds rise in Pan’s streets, wide and austere:

 

A tempest of gold, an aureal tide.

 

My glorious fragrance punctures the sky.

 

Bright-yellow armor surrounds every eye.

 

With disdainful pride, ten thousand swords spin

 

To secure the grace of kings, to cleanse sin.

 

A noble brotherhood, loyal and true.

 

Who would fear winter when wearing this hue?

 

“The King of Flowers,” Cogo Yelu said.

Mata nodded.

Kuni had been tapping his finger on the table to follow the beat. He stopped now, reluctantly, as if still savoring the music. “By the time I bloom, all others have died.’ Though lonely and spare, this is a grand and heroic sentiment, befitting the heir of the Marshal of Cocru. The song praises the chrysanthemum without ever mentioning the flower by name. It’s beautiful.”

“The Zyndus have always compared themselves to the chrysanthemum,” Mata said.

Kuni bowed to Mata and drained his cup. The others followed suit.

“But, Kuni,” said Mata, “you have not understood the song completely.”

Kuni looked at him, confused.

“Who says it praises only the chrysanthemum? Does the dandelion not bloom in the same hue, my brother?”

Kuni laughed and clasped arms with Mata. “Brother! Together, who knows how far we will go?”

The eyes of both men glistened in the dim light of the Splendid Urn.

Mata thanked everyone and drank himself. For the first time in his life, he didn’t feel alone in a crowd. He belonged—an unfamiliar but welcome sensation. It surprised him that he found it here, in this dark and sleazy bar, drinking cheap wine and eating bad food, among a group of people he would have considered peasants playing at being lords—like Krima and Shigin—just a few weeks ago.”

 

In “The Grace of Kings” by Ken Liu.

 

 

If you're into SF, read on.

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review 2017-06-23 16:22
The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin (trans. Ken Liu)
The Three-Body Problem - Liu Cixin,Ken Liu

What would you do if the laws of physics, of the universe, turned out not to be laws at all? Imagine you're a scientist confronted with this realization. This is one of the more disturbing realities that characters must contend with in The Three-Body Problem, the first of a trilogy by Chinese author Liu Cixin.

 

The book does an excellent job of making the scale of the universe, from its immensity to its sub-atomic particularities, conceivable and real. One of the scientist characters has a gift that allows him to visualize numbers, and in a note the author reveals that he has a similar gift. The book is very intelligent and detailed in its explanation of science; I can't say I could follow it all, but I understood the larger picture and was fascinated by the minutiae.

 

The book begins in China's cultural revolution and fast forwards to the present, shifting perspectives from the scientist daughter of a persecuted university professor to a man working in nanotechnology. Most of the significant characters are scientists, with the exception of Da Shi, a corrupt, wily policeman who became my favorite character. The protagonist, Wang, learns of the deaths of prominent scientists and starts seeing strange things, such as a countdown that appears visible only to him. He is tasked with helping to investigate a shady scientific organization, which involves his playing a strange video game called Three-Body. Nothing is what it seems, and Wang falls down a rabbit hole (more like a black hole) that leads to knowledge of extra-terrestrial life.

 

This Chinese SF novel was something unique; I found its different style of storytelling often engaging, though sometimes odd. The translator explains in a note that there may be narrative techniques unfamiliar to Western readers, and I could sense them. For example, much is explained through pages of dialogue, and the narrative can feel interrupted by the video game chapters, as much as I enjoyed them. I struggled with the fact that, after a brief appearance earlier in the book, Wang's wife and child do not re-enter the narrative, not even Wang's thoughts. His thoughts themselves are often unknown--for a time I wasn't sure where he stood in the quiet war going on.

 

Nevertheless, I do look forward to reading the next book in the trilogy (after a break) and to seeing the movie adaptation.

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review 2017-06-22 06:45
Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) by Seanan McGuire
Down Among the Sticks and Bones - Seanan McGuire

This is an enjoyable stand-alone prequel (of sorts) to Every Heart a Doorway.  In  this book we learn more about Jack and Jill and why they ended up at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. The writing is beautiful, the characters are fleshed out (even the Vampire has a personality) and the world-building original.

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