Steven C. (SteveTheDM) - , - Reviews

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Accelerando
Accelerando
Author: Charles Stross
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 68
Review Date: 3/23/2010
Helpful Score: 1


This was an odd novel... It clearly shows its roots as a series of connected short stories; each of the first three chapters especially --- they all have a clear narrative arc with satisfying conclusions when they finish. It isn't until later in the book that things start to actually look like a novel.

The book also has an odd metamorphosis, as the narrative starts in the near future and then moves along to post-singularity humanity. Kind of by definition, that means that I can relate to the people in the start of the book, but by the end there's so much hand-waving about how things work, that that ability to relate has faded significantly. It wound up giving me an odd response at the end of the book: while I was still very interested in the story, I really wanted it to hurry up and end!

Ultimately, it was a good read, and I think Stross actually did a good job extrapolating out what the future might hold, even if it is mostly hand-waving. He makes interesting characters (for the most part), and kept finding ways to keep his humans puzzling out their issues.

It wasn't my favorite Stross book, but it was solid. 4/5 stars.


Agent to the Stars
Agent to the Stars
Author: John Scalzi
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 32
Review Date: 6/26/2010
Helpful Score: 2


This was the story of how aliens with a bit of savvy might go about initiating first contact... Not by speaking with governments, but by speaking to Hollywood. It's a fascinating and original idea, and Scalzi does a great job of making a wonderful, tongue-in-cheek tale of alien contact.

A highly-researched novel with all the I's dotted and the T's crossed this is *not*. There are plenty of places where I found myself asking, "But what if?" and other places where I thought that Scalzi's depiction of the "common man's" response was a bit more optimistic (in service to his story) than was strictly believable.

But in the introduction, Scalzi himself notes that he'd never actually intended to publish this: it was his first practice novel. And if you read it to enjoy the wonderful characterizations of humans and aliens, setting aside the logic flaws, the book truly shines. I had a wonderful time with it.

5 of 5 stars.


All Clear (Oxford Time Travel, Bk 2)
All Clear (Oxford Time Travel, Bk 2)
Author: Connie Willis
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 26
Review Date: 7/4/2011
Helpful Score: 3


All Clear is the second (of two) volumes of Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear "novel". Do not read this book until you have first read Blackout. These two volumes are not independent stories. All Clear picks up right where Blackout left off, and there's truly no help for you if you start with All Clear. Willis herself has said that these two volumes should be treated at one novel, and you do yourself a great disservice if you don't treat them that way yourself.

I really like Willis' time travel stories, her "Doomsday Book" being one of my all-time favorites. Blackout/All Clear is set primarily during the London Blitz of World War II (with some diversions to other WWII locales and times). The storyline essentially is that of historians sent back in time to study elements of the war, and who wind up trapped in their past and spend the bulk of the books trying to get back to their base in 2060 Oxford.

The storyline here has a tendency to get frustrating, since the characters have a very difficult time accomplishing the things they're trying to do. The ultimate resolution of the plot has more to do with what is done accidentally, rather than deliberately, and that tends to weaken the characters. It also means a close reading is helpful, and I'm sure a re-read (should I ever empty my to-be-read pile) will yield a significant amount of relevant detail I missed the first time around.

Nevertheless, the ending is strong and well done --- once the "frustrating" bits are over, and the characters start to get a glimpse of what's really going on, it became really hard to put the book down.

The world Willis paints of 1940s England is fantastic, and might really be the true star of the show. I don't really know if any of it is accurate, but I really got the feeling that she'd done an amazing amount of research and loved making sure the details were right.

This pair of books was well worth reading, even with the frustrations there. 4.5 out of 5 stars.


Amazon Burning
Amazon Burning
Author: Victoria Griffith
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 11/28/2014


Full disclosure: I received this book free from the Goodreads "First-Reads" program.

Amazon Burning is a thriller set in the lush jungles of Brazil, with a young, collage-age female reporter from New York and a another young and able male photographer from Rio sent off into the rural surroundings to try and bring an animal smuggling operation to light.

It's billed as a "young adult" novel, though I'm not particularly sure just what that means. The themes are relatively simple and straightforward, and the plot has few, if any, twists and turns. And the protagonist is in her early twenties. I suppose that's "young adult"?

In any event: this is a reasonable competent thriller. The author clearly used her familiarity with the tribal peoples of Brazil in her story, that portion of the novel feel truly authentic. The romance portions, however, feel ham-fisted. Maybe that's my own take on romance plots in general, but there you go.

It's solid. It's good. It's not especially shiny, though. 3 of 5 stars.


American Gods
American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 967
Review Date: 11/5/2011


Wow. What a wonderful ride. American Gods is a Hugo and Nebula award winning novel, and thats probably the biggest reason I picked the novel up. Typically, I find the award winners good, but not great, as my tastes never do seem to match the voting bodies for those awards.

But this book? This book was astounding. I was enthralled the whole time (its a long book), never found any part of the plotting predictable, was thoroughly engaged by the characters, and had a fantastic, wild ride.

Its the story of Shadow, an ex-con widower who finds himself in the employ of an elder god (Odin), whos trying to prevent the destruction of the old gods by the new gods. (Old gods are the traditions brought by immigrants to America, and come from many mythologies. New gods are things like TV, Automobile, and so on: the things that Americans today seem to worship more than any other.) All the gods seem to have day jobs, and live in the world with the rest of us.

This setup let Gaiman go crazy with mixing together of all the old mythologies, and also brought the gods down to earth and made them approachable. The end result of that is a wonderful, understated comic mix of it all.

But Gaiman has a serious story to tell, a quest of sorts, and that quest propels the reader through the novel at a breakneck pace. I loved it.

Highly recommended. 5 of 5 stars.


Among Others
Among Others
Author: Jo Walton
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 24
Review Date: 4/28/2013
Helpful Score: 2


Among Others is the story of a few months of a young runaway girls life, as she meets her father and his aunts for the first time, and then gets unceremoniously shipped off to an exclusive all-girls boarding school in England. An outcast from the start, branded so by her Welsh accent and affectations, she finds solace in classics of science fiction and the wonder of interlibrary loan. Oh, and her mothers an evil witch and she talks with faeries.

This book was fantastic. And I must not be the only one who thinks so, for it won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Written as a series of chronological diary entries, we learn her history slowly: theres no explanatory exposition to speak of. And there are plenty of bits left unresolved, and others that simply exist without needing rationalization. Which, frankly, is a good thing, I think. There have been a number of magical stories Ive read lately which have completely lost their magic by the end due to needless (and poor) rationalization.

There are an innumerable number of references to science fiction from the 1960s to the 1980s. You might also take this novel as a list of good scifi in novel form. Certainly, if youve already read most of what our protagonist is discovering, you get the satisfaction of being an insider, and if you dont get the references, Im sure youd feel left out. (Id already read about half of what she was gushing over, so I felt like an insider who still came away with a great to be read list.)

Its fitting, I suppose, that the copy I read was itself from the library. Arent libraries grand?

5 of 5 stars.


Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch, Bk 1)
Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch, Bk 1)
Author: Ann Leckie
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 24
Review Date: 4/6/2014
Helpful Score: 3


I'm familiar with Ann Leckie due to her work on the Podcast "Escape Pod", where she's been an editor for quite a long while. So I was excited when this book popped up on numerous "looks good" lists, and strove to pick up a copy.

This was a fascinating book. It's got new ideas in abundance (at any rate, new ideas *to me*), and is extremely well written. The protagonist here is (one of) a large number of AI-in-a-human-body workhorses that are all part of larger AI that runs a starship. Oh, and they all share the same consciousness. It's a brainship, sort of, it's emotional computers, sort of, and it's got oodles of answers to the question, "How do you write a first-person story when your narrator is everywhere?"

It's also got an evil society at war with itself, sort of. It's got gender non-obviousness, sort of. It's got all this juxtaposed, subtly, with other cultures which we might consider more "normal".

This is a fantastic piece of work. And this is a debut novel.

Why did I not give it five stars? I think it's because I tend to give 5 stars to books with strong characterization where I think I could be (or at least wish to be) the narrator. And that's not true here, so I didn't react as strongly as I would to other five star books.

4.5 of 5 stars.


The Android's Dream
The Android's Dream
Author: John Scalzi
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 74
Review Date: 10/1/2009


This was a lot of fun. Action sequences; intelligent computers; weird aliens; twists and turns that came at me completely unexpected.... Scalzi has woven a wonderful tale here.


Annihilation (Forgotten Realms: R.A. Salvatore's War of the Spider, Book 5)
Review Date: 1/25/2009
Helpful Score: 1


Another worthy addition to the series. I'm not as impressed with this one as with Lisa Smedman's tale in book 4, but it was nevertheless very enjoyable.

The changes in the group of drow this storyline follows were quite dramatic this time around, and you do get the impression that different authors were involved in making this happen, as they are quite sudden. (Halistra's conversion; Quenthal's going quietly mad; Danifae's power growth.)

The descriptions of the magic in battles is very impressive, especially as I recognize the spells from my own playing of D&D.

And the events in the final chapter make me desperate to read the final book!


The Apocalypse Codex (Laundry Files, Bk 4)
The Apocalypse Codex (Laundry Files, Bk 4)
Author: Charles Stross
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 8/27/2012


This was the fourth in Stross Laundry Files novels, and the most enjoyable yet, I think. The prior novel, The Fuller Memorandum, suffered from too many strange and confusing settings, and this time the action takes place (mostly) in Colorado, a decidedly more mundane location. Which isnt to say that the storyline was mundane at all, merely that the zany oddball things went on against an easily understandable backdrop. At any rate: better.

The Laundry Files are a set of novels in a world where computational demonology (casting spells by doing math) is a thing, and oh, what a fun thing it is. Bob Howard, our protagonist, is a rising star in a secret British agency called the Laundry, and his dry assessments of world-shattering events along with government bureaucracy mundanities are what make this set of stories fun.

This time, we have new help in the form of external assets, and a return to the evil of the prior book. Reading The Fuller Memorandum isnt a requirement, but it does help to set the stage a bit. Id recommend reading the prior novel first, but its not a true necessity.

4.5 out of 5 stars.


The Armageddon Inheritance (Dahak, Bk 2)
The Armageddon Inheritance (Dahak, Bk 2)
Author: David Weber
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 51
Review Date: 7/9/2009


I've gotta say: I *love* Weber's space battle stories. This one was great. An excellent sequel to Mutineers' Moon, for sure. I can't wait to start Heirs of Empire now.


Ascendancy of the Last (Lady Penitent)
Ascendancy of the Last (Lady Penitent)
Author: Lisa Smedman
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 6
Review Date: 9/13/2010
Helpful Score: 1


I really wanted to love this book. I've been a fan of Smedman's for a while now, and have generally enjoyed the books she's written. But Ascendancy of the Last just left me mostly confused throughout. I constantly felt like there were details that I must have missed, or stuff that I should have remembered from the prior volumes in this trilogy that had slipped my mind.

There's no character development to speak of, and little in the way of evocative description of anything. It really feels like the book just hit point after point on the outline from the publisher contract. It never breathes on its own.

Is there good here? Yes, despite all that I did sort of enjoy the novel. I like the world in which it's set, and I like the interplay of the various elements of the setting. I enjoy the lore and the communal world building that's inherent in the Forgotten Realms. And I'm glad to have gotten the end of the story (seeing as this is book 3 of a trilogy).

3 of 5 stars.


At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror
At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror
Author: H. P. Lovecraft
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 43
Review Date: 3/22/2009


This volume contains "At the Mountains of Madness" and three other stories; I've reviewed them below separately.

At the Mountains of Madness:

I had really looked forward to reading this, since I've been curious about the Cthulu mythos for a long time now, and wanted to see Lovecraft's work directly.

What an amazing disappointment.

This story was all about our protagonist telling us he was scared. What was he scared *of*??? Stuff that he's too distraught to talk about. Stuff that, if known, would shatter the sanity of all humanity. But this kind of description doesn't make *me* scared... It makes me *curious*. And that curiosity is never answered by the story, in any way at all. Very disappointing. 2 stars.

The Shunned House:

This was an exercise in mood setting, I suppose. This story is about a man learning about something horrible, and which seems more and more horrible as he learns more. But what he learns more about are the effects of this horror, rather than the horror itself. And even in the conclusion, the horror itself is hardly described at all; rather the effects of that thing are what Lovecraft makes clear. As a whole, the story was moderately enjoyable, but I'm getting tired of "some things man shouldn't learn". 3 stars.

The Dreams in the Witch-House:

This was a story of a man studying "too hard" and breaching into the evil spaces beyond our own. I liked this story a lot better than the others, because the antagonist is made much more clear and concrete, while still maintaining that sense of dread. 4 stars.

The Statement of Randolph Carter:

This is a really short, seven-page story. And it is in a similar style of not presenting the evil, but presenting the reaction to that evil. And when kept to seven pages, it works. I guess I just can't handle that descriptive mode when the tale goes on for hundreds of pages... 3 stars.


The Atrocity Archives
The Atrocity Archives
Author: Charles Stross
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 31
Review Date: 5/17/2010


This book actually contains two stories of Stross' "Laundry". Both of them ("The Atrocity Archives" and "The Concrete Jungle") are wonderful, original stories, based on the premise of secret government organizations dedicated to the protection of humanity from the horrors of parallel universes.

It's the combination of Lovecraftian elder-evil style monster horror and spy-story-techno-thriller. All with a Dilbert-style of mocking of cubicle hell.

Sound bizarre? It is, and it's fun, too.

4/5 stars.


Aurora: Darwin
Aurora: Darwin
Author: Amanda Bridgeman
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 2/1/2015


I received this book as part of the Goodreads first-reads program, which means: free!

But hm. So this is sort of supposed to be military sci-fi, but it feels that way only in the way it hits all of the most negative of military stereotypes. The misogyny was so thick you could cut it with a knife. We had our protagonist, a woman with a military father, joining an existing all-male team (along with another pair of women) as an experiment in how women do in the military. The men all acted cringingly awful toward the women. And the women didnt help, as the inner monologue that seemed to go on was all about which features of the men were attractive.

What is Bridgeman trying to accomplish with this? Is it a statement against sexism? It really doesnt work. Even the most dated sci-fi treats women with misplaced protectionism. Not this unrealistic passive-aggressive nonsense. All we got here were characters to dislike. In the 2010s, I expect my future-facing fiction to show improvement in gender relationships. Not back-sliding.

And the length! Good grief this book is long. Finally, about four hundred pages in, the plot actually started to get interesting. But seriously, 400 pages? It was way too long.

And the physics! Let me just slam my head into the wall. We can hand wave away a lot, but when the characters themselves dont even have a reasonable grasps of things as simple as distance between planetary objects, it just falls apart.

Was it a good book? No, not really. It got interesting about two thirds of the way in, but really, thats too late. That interstingness keeps the rating at three stars, but there are a lot of parts of this one dragging it down.

3 of 5 stars.


The Big Time
The Big Time
Author: Fritz Leiber
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 2/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 3/14/2009
Helpful Score: 1


Wow. This won a Hugo? It sure wouldn't in today's SF world...

As far as I'm concerned, this book was a mess. It presents an interesting idea of time war and time travelers, makes a "locked room" mystery out of it, and tries to posit and discuss the philosophical issues it implies. What I got was a mess of characters that were difficult to keep straight, a cool idea shunted to the sidelines, and weird gaps in the narrative.

The book certainly wasn't trash, but frankly I was glad it was as short as it was.


Blackout (Newsflesh, Bk 3)
Blackout (Newsflesh, Bk 3)
Author: Mira Grant
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
 42
Review Date: 8/4/2012
Helpful Score: 1


This is the third and final novel in Grants Newsflesh trilogy, and was wonderful. To start: dont bother with the book until youve read the first two novels. This set is quite bad for starting in the middle.

But oh, what a great novel this is. You might think that the book would be one fight versus zombies after another, but the Zombie Apocalypse really is simply the backdrop for what this story is *really* about: government agency conspiracy.

And it was fun. Grants writing really grips me and draws me in: she does a great job concentrating on her characters and really bringing them to life. These novels understand that the relationships between people and the expression of that relationship is where the humanity and heart of a good story lie, and that understanding really shines through.

Her characters also have to deal with a world thats been messed with in a terrifying yet fascinating way, and the way they deal with that has been a highlight (for me) of the whole series.

Im a big fan of these books. You could do far worse than spend your beach time nestled up with them.

5 of 5 stars.


Blackout (Oxford Time Travel, Bk 1)
Blackout (Oxford Time Travel, Bk 1)
Author: Connie Willis
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 23
Review Date: 7/27/2010


Wow. Just, wow. Loved this one.

So this is the latest installment of Willis' time travel stories, this time with historians travelling back to 1940 and the London Blitz. There are a number of different story lines flowing through here, and thankfully they're just on the "understandable" side of the "descent into utter chaos" cliff. It's hard to put down, though. There's a sense of panic that builds slowly but steadily throughout, and by the time the book ends, the peril is thick. There's the threat of the German bombs, of course, as well as the technical issues with time travel equipment.

The depictions of 1940s England and the people who lived through the Blitz are wonderful. I'm not acquainted with wartime novels so I don't have much to compare with, but after reading this, I'm almost ready to jump in. Willis' characters are full and rich and quite varied.

But here's my warning: This book might end, but it doesn't conclude. Willis' next book "All Clear," is supposed to conclude the story. If you're like me, and don't like to wait to finish a story, I'd suggest that you wait until Autumn 2010 when it's supposed to be released.

I fell in love with Connie Willis' time travel universe when I first read "Doomsday Book" twenty years ago. "Blackout" is at least as good as Doomsday Book, if not better (20 years makes the comparison a little shaky). Highly, highly recommended.

5 of 5 stars.


Blue Mars (Mars Trilogy, Bk 3)
Blue Mars (Mars Trilogy, Bk 3)
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 97
Review Date: 5/20/2009


Good gracious, this book took me *forever* to plow through. About ten years ago I had read Red Mars and Green Mars, the previous two volumes in this trilogy, but had never gotten around to reading Blue Mars. (I think it had something to do with the sudden arrival of babies in the family...) Anyway, I finally snagged a copy of this one and dove in.

The story is basically the events following the Second Martian Revolution (which happened at the end of Green Mars), in which Mars becomes further terraformed (life taking hold), and in which the hard work of building a state and a government post-revolution takes place. The book is told in large sections from the perspectives of a number of the "first 100", switching back and forth as their stories unfold.

What I liked: Watching how a constitution convention works in a technological age was fascinating, if only because the management of human capital is what's really required. I think I've become a fan of light political fare, as long as it doesn't get too dry. I also liked the weird time shifts as all the first 100 start to get truly old (their longevity solutions result in more than two centuries of life). By the end of the book, the characters had become intriguing, but they took me a long time to get used to.

What I didn't like: There were lots of bright spots, and lots of places that just seemed to drag along. I think this could have really used a harsher editing pass.


Bolo!  (Bolo, Bk 1)
Bolo! (Bolo, Bk 1)
Author: David Weber
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 54
Review Date: 6/2/2013


This is David Weber's addition to the pile of "Bolo" stories that many other SF authors have written. A Bolo, for those who don't know, is essentially a sentient tank, a self-award and able-to-think weapon of war in some far flung future where such things make sense.

Bolos were first conceived of by Keith Laumer, way back when, and I was never really impressed with the Laumer stories I read talking about them. David Weber does a better job, I think.

This book is a set of a number of short stories and novellas set across the Bolo history, so it's interesting to see how the different technological levels of them are addressed. Weber has always written excellent military fiction, and these stories fit in very well with his skill set. The Bolo stories are interesting as well because they allow for much more complex thinking (both ethically and strategically) by the weapons themselves, and I really liked Weber's approach.

At any rate, I liked it enough to give Weber's sequel a shot.

4 of 5 stars.


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