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text 2019-02-18 17:41
Reading progress update: I've read 20%.
Mortal Engines (Mortal Engines Quartet, #1) - Philip Reeve,Barnaby Edwards,Scholastic Audio

Sometimes it's refreshing to step into a well-written YA science fiction book. This one borders on a fairytale level of improbability but is managing to carry it. It's giving me young people to cheer for and offering me bad baddies and people who are baddies some of the time. Excellent stuff.

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review 2019-02-17 23:35
Athyra / Steven Brust
Athyra - Steven Brust

Vlad Taltos is very good at killing people. That, combined with two faithful companions and a talent for witchcraft, makes him an assassin par excellence. But lately his heart just hasn't been in his work, so he decides to retire. Unfortunately, old enemies have scores to settle with Vlad. So much for retirement!


Although I liked this story well enough, it is my least favourite of the Vlad Taltos books that I’ve read thus far. I think it’s because it’s not narrated by Vlad, but by a young Teckla man who befriends Vlad on one of his self-directed missions. I missed the cheeky, smart-ass remarks that we have come to expect from our Eastern (ex-)assassin friend.

As I say, the story isn’t bad, but it suffers from this change in point-of-view. Brust has made the young man ignorant--he’s smart enough, but he’s had relatively little education and no experience to cause him to question any of his culture’s world views. There’s limited interest in his learning about the outside world and how others perceive it and him, but it’s not riveting.

I imagine that Brust wanted to experiment with a new writing technique--writing the same thing over and over may appeal to your core audience, but I can see needing to try new things to keep yourself interested in an established character. My hope is that book 7 will revert to Vlad as the main voice.

Book Number 309 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2019-02-17 13:23
Brief Answers to the Big Questions- Stephen Hawking

This is a great read, despite some minor repetitions. We have to bear in mind that this is really only a series of essays, some of which cover a little of the same ground. My view is that if Hawking had lived a little longer then this would have been a better compiled set of ‘letters on the big questions’, but that doesn’t much detract from the quality of the work, and certainly not from its messages. These essays run a lot wider than science, into Hawking’s hopes and fears for humankind. Some of the essays run into sensitive issues, which raise a good deal of honest debate. Well, there are just too many of us on our wonderful planet, which we are rapidly destroying, and this alone must justify our questioning of everything, even the very existence of God.

There are a few contradictions in the science, which isn’t surprising when writing about an incredibly quickly advancing field of science, cosmology, and especially when the material was compiled from words written over some spread of time. Inevitably the gravitas, the gravity of Hawking’s thoughts are also less than perfectly modulated. I was only too pleased to read every single word despite my minor criticisms.

I must add though that for me the finest words in this book were actually penned by his daughter, Lucy, in the Afterword. I quote from the many pearls among them. “I think he would have been very proud of this book.” This collection tells us a little about Hawking as a political animal, being in part autobiographical, and given yet greater insight into the man by the biography content of the other contributors. We have had a ‘Brief History of Time’, which is now augmented by this brief and personal feeling encounter with the brave genius in the electrically powered chair. Alas, the book is all too brief, and doomed now to a steady state of content, unlike our dynamic and cosmically unstable universe.


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review 2019-02-16 23:47
Steel Beach / John Varley
Steel Beach - John Varley

Fleeing Earth after an alien invasion, the human race stands on the threshold of evolution, like a fish cast on artificial shores. Their new home is Luna, a moon colony blessed with creature comforts, prolonged lifespans, digital memories, and instant sex changes. But the people of Luna are bored, restless, and suicidal -- and so is the computer that monitors their existence... 


I would have to say that this book is very much an homage to Robert A. Heinlein. That’s not necessarily a bad thing--there’s a very strongThe Moon is a Harsh Mistress vibe, which I was totally okay with. The Central Computer (CC) in Steel Beach is channeling the self-aware computer in TMiaHM and ends up having similar problems. 

There are nods to other writers as well. There’s a lot of sex-changing in this novel, which made me think of Iain Banks’ Culture series and George Effinger’s When Gravity Fails. Varley’s version also made me think of Tiersias of Greek mythology--you know, the guy who found a pair of copulating snakes and hit them with a stick? Hera was so displeased with him that she turned him into a woman for seven years (apparently being female is a punishment). Needless to say, the Ancient Greeks were eager to hear his perspectives on this and he confirmed their bias by saying that women got much more out of the sexual experience than men did. It seems that Varley believed this too.

There’s also a shout out to Arthur C. Clarke, when the CC is worried that he’s going to end up singing “Daisy, Daisy,” like Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Another Heinleinian element: a scrapped spaceship called in R.A. Heinlein, within which his spiritual descendents live & grumble. When Hildy is handing out pseudonyms, she christens one of them Valentine Michael Smith (see Stranger in a Strange Land).

I read until the end because I wanted to see how things were wrapped up, but if you’re not a big fan of RAH, my advice is to skip this book. 


Book number 308 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2019-02-13 23:13
The Legacy / R.A. Salvatore
The Legacy - R.A. Salvatore

Having found a measure of peace among the dwarves in the reclaimed Mithral Hall, Drizzt begins to know contentment for perhaps the first time in his tumultuous life. But for a dark elf renegade from a city ruled by priestesses of a demon goddess, no peace can long last. It is Lolth herself, the dreaded Queen of the Demonweb Pits, who musters her followers to pour up from the black depths of the Underdark to reclaim for their goddess the one soul that had managed to elude her. The soul of Drizzt Do’Urden. 


In which Drizzt learns that family is forever. They may be evil psychotic bitches, but you’re still tethered to them unless you’re willing to do something drastic about it. Readers who have had a change in religion from their families and find it coming back to bite them will also feel right at home in this adventure!

The Spider goddess, Lloth, does her best to re-capture Drizzt and get what she considers her due. Possibly because friendship is an unknown quality in Drow Elf society, she under-estimates the number and quality of Drizzt’s friends and allies.

Obviously, the author is setting the stage for Drizzt to return to his society of origin and settle everyone’s hash with his amazing blade work. The biggest question for the next book is who will be accompanying him, especially after the losses in this book. I guess it says something about character development when one of the major characters can be wiped out completely and everyone else just keeps on keeping on. 

Book Number 307 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

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