Parsia-Clone

'Documentation is a love letter that you write to your future self.' - Damian Conway

42 minute read - Literature

Book Reviews

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The local public library uses the bibliocommons platform. I've started adding short reviews for each of the books I've read. You can see most of them them at the bottom of the book list.

The titles are "[author(s)] - [series (if any)] - [book name] - [finished timestamp] - [score/5]". DNF == Did Not Finish.

Greg Egan - Zendegi - 5/5

Disclosure: I was born and raised in Iran. I liked the book and especially the parts related to Shahnameh. Not all the Farsi/Persian words used in the book (mostly in conversations) were translated. I think non-native speakers would have benefited from it. Greg's short story in Galactic Empires (see the next item) named "Riding the Crocodile" also uses Persian/Middle-Eastern elements.

Neil Clarke - Galactic Empires (Anthology) - 4/5

Nice collection of stories. I love anthologies because if I cannot connect with a story after a few pages, I can move to the next story. Fortunately, this only happened twice with this book (doesn't mean those stories are bad, I just didn't like them).

David Drake & S.M. Stirling - The General 01-02 - Warlord - 2/5

The first two books of the Raj Whitehall or General series. I only finished the book because I love David Drake. I didn't like the very monotonous battles. I guess I am more of a Hammer's Slammers fan than low tech war.

Bruce Sterling - Pirate Utopia - 1/5 - DNF

Stopped two short stories in. While I liked the settings, it was more of an anarcho-sth equivalent of the Freehold series by Michael Williamson (oh, boy do I have the spicy review for what he has become since he wrote it). Not enough action in the collection of short stories.

Christopher Ruocchio - Sword and Planet (Anthology) - 5/5

Good collection of short stories at the intersection of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I enjoyed reading all of them. This is a sub-genre that I need to explore more. Cyborgs in a fantasy setting? Sign me up.

Ann Leckie - Imperial Radch 01 - Ancillary Justice - 3/5

I enjoyed the book. It has won a laundry list of prestigious awards. While I loved the main character, the world building took most of the book. It's as-if the book was written with the intention of being the first in a series. I did not excite me for the second book (as of September 2023 I've not continued the series, yet).

Kevin Anderson - Saga of the Seven Suns 01 - Hidden Empire - 4/5

Book first in the Saga of the Seven Suns series. Most of this book is world building. This might get boring There are a ton of characters, factions, and plots. If you like vast space operas, this is the series for you. I subtracted one star. Because IMO a lot of the world building could have been done in later books. There was no need to include some minor plots in book one.

Think of this as the Sci-Fi equivalent of Wheel of Time series.

Ernest Cline - Ready Player Two - 0/5

Oh God, where do I start? Even being a fan of "main character transported to virtual/parallel/fantasy worlds" (or Isekai if you're an anime fan), I did not like the first book (Ready Player One).

I didn't think it would be possible to cram more 80s references than the first book, but Ready Player Two did. It's a non-stop vomit. This new book introduces the concept of "Needlepoints." These are locations in the OASIS that trigger background music. Every page has at least 2-3 song references played at these points.

Following the tradition, the new book also has a series of quests. The quests are very simple. Most of them are hand$$waved with "I have already done a series of activities on this planet and have this thingamajig that solves it." At least 3 of them where unnecessary.

John Scalzi - The Dispatcher 01 - The Dispatcher - 4/5

John Scalzi - The Dispatcher 02 - Murder by Other Means - 4/5

Scalzi writes "Sci-Fi that sells" and I guess I respect that. You gotta earn a living. Not every book can be Old Man's War.

Both books are quick and easy reads in the same universe. The universe's premise is interesting. 999/1000 you return to life after you're killed. The dispatcher is a state regulated killer. They kill people who are dying so they return to life.

Jason Cordova - Chicks in Tank Tops (Anthology) - 5/5

Nice collection of SFF short stories with female protagonists and, well, tanks! The tanks are not always conventional. They're balloons, spring-wired contraptions, and at least in one occasion, a beloved classic literary character. I only skipped one story in the book.

There are two stories by my favorite author David Drake. You would have expected the stories to be about Hammer's Slammers, but they are not. The tank in the stories is a surprise.

Christopher Ruocchio & Sean CW Korsgaard - Worlds Long Lost (Anthology) - 4/5

I've quickly become a fan of Baen's anthologies (mostly by Chris Ruocchio).

Collection of short stories involving alien archaeologies. It has quite a few horror stories, ranging from "ancient Gods waking up" to "mind-controlling aliens." Some others were more relaxed like "we've found an ancient city, let's extrapolate how the aliens looked like and lived." Some were more adventurous and followed the footsteps of extinct civilizations.

The only reason it got 4/5: The story by Orson Scott Card really felt out of place in this anthology. It really didn't have anything to do with ancient aliens remains or artifacts. I think they just wanted to include a story by a famous writer.

Christopher Ruocchio & Tony Daniel - Star Destroyers (Anthology) - 3.5/5

I gave this book 3.5/5 because not all of the stories were really revolving around "ships."

My favorites:

  • "Superweapon" (disclosure: I am a huge David Drake fan) and "Another Solution" were two of my favorites. Thoughtful and almost zero action with the theme of "ships have souls."
  • Some were great action/combat stories like "Hate in the Darkness," "Try Not to Kills Us All," "Helping Hand," and "Not Made for Us." TBH, the latter's connection to a ship is tangential and the setting could have been anywhere else.

What I didn't like:

  • "Boomers" (ironically, also mirrors the generation mindset) and "Icebreaker" were a copy of the typical "non-US country bad" online discourse.
  • "Magnolia Incident" was "don't complain about the military taking away your civil rights because they're the only thing between you and scary aliens and there are also ships in this story." If I want a sermon of how "military is the only thing protecting us from aliens/brown people/bad things," I can re-read Starship Troopers.

Greg Bear - War Dogs 01 - War Dogs - 0/5 - DNF

I stopped on page 130/291. It did not have a lot of action. It takes skill to make a military sci-fi book boring. Maybe I am more used to the writing style of Drake, and Dietz.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt - Infinite Stars: the definitive anthology of space opera and military SF - 4.5/5

Great collection of "Space Opera" short stories by some of my favorite writers. Most are side stories (or in between books) in the authors' established series. E.g., David Weber's story happens before the Honorverse series. David Drake's story is about Lt. Leary (RCN series). Lost Fleet story by Jack Campbell and so on.

If you like this book, read the second volume, Infinite Stars: Dark Frontiers (review below).

I skipped "Imperium Imposter" and "A Taste of Ashes."

Michael Z. Williamson - Freehold 07 - Angeleyes - 0.5/5

Born and raised in an authoritarian Middle-Eastern country, I have a healthy distaste for government. Williamson is a libertarian and Freehold was a libertarian utopia. I loved it and appreciated his worldview of "small folks against big government." I didn't question how the big bad sluggish and incompetent UN became so powerful. I guess this was before I realized I am more of a Mack Reynolds type of "big gov hater."

Most people's problem with this book are the very detailed and graphic sex scenes. It's a series of soft porn scenes interlaced with Sci-Fi. I also think they were unnecessary, but hey, "sex sells."

I am not sure what has happened to the author since the original Freehold book because he has turned into the online libertarian warrior caricature and a walking Facebook meme page complaining about the new generation.

I laughed out loud halfway through the book when in the middle of the interrogation, the torturer said "my preferred pronouns are xir." I didn't expect a "pronouns in bio" moment and the main character ranting about trans people. You wanna make a torturer trans, I have no problem with that, but "xir is a torturer because xir is trans" was hilarious.

There were discussions about how minimum wage, employee benefits (Freehold businesses went bankrupt because they had to provide benefits, lol), work hour regulations (the torturers couldn't work more than 10 hours, lol), government mandated contracts and even warnings on tools/appliances. What makes this more hilarious is the author served 25 years in the US military which has all of this and more. It's the biggest socialist jobs program in the country.

Kevin Anderson - Saga of the Seven Suns 02 - Forest of Stars - 5/5

Book two the Saga of the Seven Suns. I liked this one more than the first because the world building was done and the characters are becoming more interesting (to me).

Kristin K. Rusch - Women of Futures Past: Classic Stories - 5/5

I loved this book. There were so many different stories from different perspectives. I also liked the author introductions before each story. Those give the reader an idea of what else the author has written. I added so many books to my "to read" list.

I loved the settings and some of the stories, especially the main story "The Memory Librarian." "Timebox" was great."Save Changes" was more fantasy than cyberpunk. I skipped "Nevermind" and "Timebox Altar(ed)" halfway through.

Charles E. Gannon & Griffin Barber & Chris Kennedy & Mike Massa - Tales of the Terran Republic - Mission Critical - 4/5

This is a book in the "Tales of The Terran Republic Universe" and part of the "Murphy's Lawless" series. This book is a compilation of three novellas "Infiltration" (Griffin Barber), "Insertion" (Chris Kennedy), and "Assault" (Mike Massa) weaved together. Read the other books before starting this.

I deducted one star because this is not known beforehand. You're dropped in the middle of a built universe without much explanation. Some of the concepts of the book are explained through the book, but some questions are never answered. Like, who are even the Harvesters?

There's a lot of text about character backgrounds and their relationships with the original inhabitants of the system. These are never fully explored because they're the subject of previous books in the series.

Other than that, the action is fluid and I liked the how book jumped between the different locations and how everything came together for the final showdown.

John Ringo - Ghost - 0/5 - DNF

Oh God, where do I start with this. I stopped a few chapters in. Ringo was the guy whose stories made me realize a not so insignificant portion of Military Sci-Fi aliens are in fact "bad brown people" (from the Middle-East).

The only positive thing about this book is the famous "Oh John Ringo, No" meme.

James L. Cambias - Billion Worlds 01 - The Godel Operation - 5/5

The universe is set 10,000 years into the future. The billion worlds refer to the almost innumerable habitats, terraformed planets/moons, and modified asteroids in the solar system (and a few nearby stars) housing trillions of biological and digital beings. There are genetically modified humans, dolphins, Martians, and other species mixed with AIs of different intelligence levels.

The universe offers digital existence, genetic modification, matter printers (e.g., create almost any matter like food or clothes). Travel is still bound by physical laws so going around the solar system is slow (and requires hibernation). There are a few nearby stars that are populated (there's a mention of ships at half the speed of light).

The story follows a group of characters (mainly a "robot AI" and a human) in search of a super weapon. I like the universe and Cambias' writing style.

James L. Cambias - Billion Worlds 02 - The Scarab Mission - 5/5

Another quick read in the "Billion Worlds" universe. I will not repeat the description from my last review (see "The Godel Operation" review above). The stories are not related. There's a recurring character, but that's about it. This one is centered around an empty habitat and a group of salvagers who are looking for valuables.

James L. Cambias - Arkad's World - 4.5/5

This is my 3rd consecutive James Cambias book in 2 weeks.

Exciting journey of a group of humans through a strange planet inhabited by countless species of aliens. I give the world building 6/5 and main character development 3/5. The extensive world building makes sense when I realized he is a fantasy tabletop game designer.

I especially liked how the author had devised a sort of distinctive grammar and sentence structure in English for the each species' usage of the planet's "common tongue" language. My favorite is the Itooti's usage of adjectives based on the tone of the conversation. E.g., "Curious [Name] wants to know why flimsy looking aliens [referring to humans] are in civilized [city name]."

Some cons: 2 of the 4 main humans are stock characters and they did not have a lot of development. A couple of loose ends are not tied.

John Scalzi - The Kaiju Preservation Society - 3/5

It's an entertaining read. Scalzi is honest about writing science fiction that sells. I cannot really argue with that, as artists need to eat, too.

Kevin Anderson - Saga of the Seven Suns 03 - Horizon Storms - 4/5

Book 3 of the "Saga of the Seven Suns." In the honored tradition of such a big space saga, we will be keeping up with dozens of "main" characters. I like how some of the characters are being developed (e.g., the king) and how the Ildiran society is challenged.

John J. Adams - Cosmic Powers: The Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies - 4/5

I liked most of the stories.

I didn't like "Temporary Embarrassment in Spacetime", "Infinite Love Engine", "Dragon That Flew Out of the Sun", and "Diamond and the World Breaker."

My favorites:

  • "The Deckhand, the Nova Blade, and the Thrice-Sung Texts": Story of a reluctant hero told through diary logs.
  • "Frost Giant's Data": Cyberpunk infiltration of a security planetoid.
  • "Chameleon's Gloves": What makes us human?
  • "The Sighted Watchmaker": Why did our creator leave?
  • "Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance" and "Unfamiliar Gods": Variations of "Monkey's Paw."
  • "Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World": Time is a flat circle.

Alex Lamb - Roboteer 01 - Roboteer - 0.5/5 - DNF

I stopped halfway through after I saw it's going in circles.

There are two major groups of humanity: The eugenic, augmented and advanced rich spacers (similar to Asimov spacers) who fled the Earth after the environment was destroyed. The misogynistic religious earthlings who are waging war against them. We're supposed to like the spacers. If this was reddit, I would say ESH (Everyone Sucks Here).

There's even a "they hate us because they ain't us" conversation between two spacers. This was giving me post 9/11 vibes.

John Scalzi - The Dispatcher 03 - Travel by Bullet - 4/5

Another quick and fun read in the Dispatcher universe. Tons of recurring characters and some new ones. Some cryptocurrency and techbros mixed into the story.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt - Infinite Stars: Dark Frontiers (Anthology) - 5/5

Second anthology in the "Infinite Stars" series (see the previous one above). I don't think I skipped any stories in this one. List of stories.

Some of my favorites:

  • "The Traitor": Set in the Bolo universe by David Weber.
  • "Shambleau": Great story. I only skipped it because I had recently read it in Women of Futures Past.
  • "Earthman, Come Home": Man goes back in time to kill humanity's fake masters.
  • "Cold Sleep": I woke up in this ship and have no idea what's happening.
  • "Rescue Party": Aliens go to rescue a doomed civilization. The last sentence gave me goosebumps.

David Weber & Jacob Holo - Gordian Protocol 01 - The Gordian Protocol - 0/5 - DNF

Oh God, what did I just read?

If you're a Weber fan, don't read this book. If you don't know Weber, read another book. He has good series like Empire of Man or his Bolo book.

If you're still inclined to read this book, read the prologue (chapter 0). SKIP CHAPTERS 1 AND 2.

Chapter 1 is basically non-stop whining about how the American college is woke. It's how high schoolers who've never been to college or old folks who were in college decades ago, think it is. The professor is being silenced!

Chapter 2 is about shooting and how the professor is not a bigot because he has a gay brother.

As another reviewer on Goodreads had a fun note. You would expect chapter 3 to be about quartering soldiers in homes or the 3rd amendment because that's how the other two were, lol.

I am not sure WHY I actually read these two chapters. I mean I expect military science fiction is to be full of conservatives, but this sort of nonsense was just too much. It didn't even have to do much with the rest of the book. It looked like the authors wanted to rant. The book got better, but when it has hit rock bottom, the only way is up.

David G. Hartwell & Jacob Weisman - The Sword & Sorcery Anthology - 4/5

It had been a while since I had read actual fantasy. This was a breath of fresh air between all the Sci-Fi and Mil-Sci-Fi.

Loved:

  • Tower of the Elephant: Of course, no fantasy anthology is complete w/o Conan.
  • Black God's Kiss: Woman goes to hell to get a weapon. Holy shit, the depiction of hell gave me goosebumps. I mean, what else do you expect from the author of a masterpiece like "Shambleau."
  • Undertow: What a surprise ending!
  • Barrow Troll: David Drake, yeah! The burden of guarding a treasure.
  • Soldier of An Empire Unacquainted With Defeat: Very fun! Not like other soldier rehabilitation stories.
  • Sea Troll's Daughter: A troll gets revenge after death.

Good:

  • Unholy Grail: Grey Mouser gets revenge. The beginning was frustrating, but it got much better as the story progressed.
  • Tale of Hauk: Helping a disturbed ghost pass into the afterlife.
  • Adventuress: Two women go on an adventure. I was very confused by the ending. They saw two men from afar and immediately wanted to marry them before even meeting them?
  • Gimmile's Songs: A magical figurine with a curse.
  • Red Guild: An assassing can never be happy because of a curse.
  • Path of the Dragon: I am not a Game of Thrones fan, but I liked this story. The lady who owns dragons (I don't even remember her name) find an army.

Didn't like/skipped:

  • Stages of God: No, not really interesting.
  • Epistle From Lebanoi: Skipped after a few pages.
  • Become a Warrior: A cliche tale of revenge.
  • Six From Atlantis: A stranger went to a royal court and killed a bunch of people. I really didn't get the point of the story.
  • Coral Heart: Skipped after a few pages. There was a sword or something. Boring!
  • Year of the Three Monarchs: Tale of three people who become king by killing the previous one. Interesting story, and a great setting but too rushed IMO.

John Scalzi - Fuzzy Nation - 3/5

A somewhat reboot of H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy. The original work is out of copy right so you can read it for free in places like Project Gutenberg (text), Internet Archive (audio book), or standard ebooks (text).

It was a quick read. The first third of the book was boring, the second third was amusing, and the last part of the book (and the entire ending) was very very cheesy and written like fan fiction.

David Boop - Gunfight on Europa Station (Anthology) - 4/5

Western stories in space. List of stories on bibliocommons.

These stories were really creative and blended the genres:

  • "Greenhorn" by Elizabeth Moon: A new farmer with a hidden agenda arrives in a space colony imitating the old west.
  • "Hydration" by Alan Dean Foster: A lost prospector does an unusual trade.
  • "Winner Takes All" by Alex Shvartsman: A commando team is extracting the head of the resistance (an AI) from a low-technology zone (great setting).
  • "Doc Holliday 2.0" by Will McCarthy: Probably my favorite story in the book. A company creates a clone of an old western Gunslinger to deal with robbers. The clone is coming to terms with his existence.

Western stories in space. Fun to read but nothing to write home about:

  • "Penultimate Stand of Pina Gracchi": A classic "law enforcers break up the tyranny in a company town" western tale but in space and aliens.
  • "Seeds": Old man sees new technology. This was a bit of a mix for me. I liked the setting. People live/farm with low technology like the old western frontier in other planets. But the story was a classic tale of "old farmer encounters new technology."
  • "Riding the Storm Out": Recapture a fugitive in the middle of a storm.
  • "Claim Jumped": Detective murder mystery in a mining asteroid. I liked how the sci-fi elements are mixed with the mystery, but the ending was meh.

I did not like these:

  • "Showdown on Big Rock 27": An unfunny version of "kids bamboozle bad people."
  • "Last Stand at Europa Station A.": Are these aliens bad or what?
  • "Riders of the Endless Void": Heroes arrive and save people. Despite the very cool title, this story didn't even pretend to be a western in space.
  • "Incident at Raven's Rift": Standoff with robbers, but on another planet.

Michael Mersault - The Deep Man 01 - The Deep Man - 4.5/5

This book reminds me of the Republic Of Cinnabar (RCN) series by David Drake which is basically "the old British navy in space." I liked the book and the setting because I am a fan of RCN (and David Drake). The author has published a sequel, The Silent Hand. I will update the booklist and this title when the series gets a name. Seems like the series names is "Myriad Worlds" "The Deep Man Trilogy" (according to "The" Silent "Hand" book).

The setting is an honor-bound society (people duel when their "honor is taken") ruled by an emperor. There are of course big families juggling for influence. There are two types of citizens, demi-cits who are provided by the state and vested citizens who can do what they want. There are ways to become a vested citizen, but you face an uphill battle because influential families have the backing of centuries and influence. There's an example of a new vested citizen almost losing his life. Every military person is a vested citizen. Officers can purchase their commissions (kinda). There are aliens (Shapers) who visit every decade and exchange resources for tech. Ship-to-ship action is mostly close range.

Saef, the main character is a male vested citizen from an old but poor traditional family. Very similar to Daniel Leary in RCN who comes from a famous family but is poor because he's estranged from his rich and famous father.

Inga Maru is a copy of Adele Mundy from RCN. The loyal but badass female companion with exceptional abilities. The author has a short story named Flops that deal with Inga's background. You can read it for free in Baen's 2022 Free Stories (first story).

Martha Wells - Murderbot Diaries 01 - All Systems Red - 3/5

This was a quick and entertaining read. An "AI coming to terms with its own existence" tale. This reminded me of Scalzi's books. If you love him you're gonna like this series.

Christopher Ruocchio - Sun Eater 01 - Empire of Silence 3/5

I don't know what to think about this book. I picked up the book because I had recently enjoyed several anthologies edited by the author. I powered through the first part of the book, loved the second, and got bored and skimmed the last parts.

The setting is interesting and reminded me of Europe during the crusades. It's yet another feudalism in space, space opera. Religious organization with an inquisition branch (with its own weapons) that limits what technology is available to the masses. An emperor that rules through hereditary feudal lords living in luxury with manipulated genes to live for half a century. Serfs generally live in poverty. Slavery is legal.

Faster than light travel is possible, but travel time is still measured in years between systems so people go into stasis. And of course, a war with an alien enemy that has been going on for a few hundred years. Allegedly, the settings was pulled from the Book of the New Sun (people refer to the beginning paragraphs which are tbh very similar among other things).

The author is wordy (maybe because he's an editor?). Almost every other page has a quote from a real or fictional writer/philosopher. There are a lot of things that could have been skipped.

My biggest gripe with the book is that same events keep repeating. Does the author think the readers are stupid and need half a dozen examples of sibling rivalry and "my parents don't love me" (in the first part) to get the picture? Or how many scenes of "the chantry are evil" in the last part? Come on :).

Mild spoilers ahead. The book can be divided into four parts:

  • Main character is still on his home planet. Bad father, absent mother, violent sibling. I did not like this part and powered through it.
  • Moves to a 2nd planet and survives in the streets and the arena. I loved this part and couldn't put it down.
  • His identity is discovered and he moves to the palace. Love triangle. Not great.
  • Encounter with the aliens. Chantry messes it up. I just skimmed through this just to finish the book.

The ending was anti-climactic. I am still going to give the 2nd book a try (public libraries FTW) and see if it picks up speed. Looks like it's as big as the first.

Gene Wolf - Book of the New Sun 01 - The Shadow of the Torturer 3/5

I picked this up because of Empire of Silence (the review above).

I am gonna be honest, people praise Gene's writing style. I hated it in this book. OK, I get it, you wanna put all those religious fables and Latin words in the book. What are all these D&D-like "random encounters" that do not add anything to the story (e.g., the gardens)?

I liked the setting. The sun is dying. It's feudal Europe with some existing advanced technology from the past like portals, flyers, and robots. No one knows how these things work anymore.

Anyways, I just finished the book and moved to the 2nd.

Gene Wolf - Book of the New Sun 02 - The Claw of the Conciliator 4.5/5

I am glad I read the first book. This is much better. The pace is faster and the author actually figured out what they want to do with the main character.

My only issue with the book is the missing gap between the books. At the end of book one, the main character is with his group. At the beginning of the second book all of them are gone except one. I thought some pages had been removed from the "Shadow & Claw" edition of the book that I was reading (combines the first two books), but no. There are some cryptic explanations of the events through the book, and I was expecting some extraordinary event, but it was very mundane.

But I like the writing style of this book better. The inclusion of stories and the play reminds me of the Kalila wa-Dimna or کلیله و دمنه, one of my favorite books in Farsi. The stories in that book are like the movie Inception or Russian dolls. E.g., the main characters start a story and in the middle, one says, this is like the story of X. Then the X story starts and in the middle, one of new the characters says, this is just like Y story, and so on. The stories go a few layers deep.

In this book, there's only one layer and they're not like "random encounters" from the first book and actually advance the plot.

I am gonna take a break before reading the 3rd book.

Gardner Dozois - Book of Swords (Anthology) - 4/5

Fantasy anthology. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_Swords_(anthology).

Starting from this story I am going to copy my favorite quotes from the books.

My favorites:

  • "A Long, Cold Trail": Two members of the Council of the Treaty for Safety of the World (AKA fight unnatural evil) + an ally try to kill an unruly demigod. I loved these characters and wanted more. Fortunately, there is a collection of short stories named Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz (review below).
  • "The Smoke of Gold is Glory": My absolute favorite story in this book. Four adventurers storm a mountain to kill a dragon and take its treasure. Amazing setting and five very interesting characters including the dragon. My only regret is not finding the concept art of characters before reading the story. Check the middle of this page: https://scottlynch.substack.com/p/blame-of-thrones. See my favorite quotes from this story at the bottom of this section.
  • "The Colgrid Conundrum": Two thieves do a drug heist in an industrial (almost steampunk) city. I loved the city and was disappointed to see the author has not written anything else there, fortunately he has two free short stories with the same characters:
  • "Waterfalling": The setting has guns, magic, and Gods living among mortals. Very nice. I will read more of Gorel of Goliris.

OK:

  • "The Best Man Wins": Stranger contracts a blacksmith to forge a sword. Twist ending.
  • ""I Am a Handsome Man," said Apollo Crow": Cursed crow(s) tracks down a revolutionary in ancient Rome.
  • "The Triumph of Virtue": Detective-ish Quillifer story. Assassination attempt at court.
  • "The Mocking Tower": Heir to a deceased king tries to steal a sword from a magical tower. I didn't like the story, but the changing descriptions of the tower were exotic.
  • "The King's Evil": Three adventurers go to a cursed island to recover an ancient treasure. The main character has an existential crisis (don't we all?). I did not like the story, but the writing was excellent.
  • "The Sons of the Dragon": History of the two sons of an emperor set in the "Game of Thrones" setting. Reads like a history book. It was full of action, but meaningless to me because I have neither read the books nor watched the TV series.

I didn't like:

  • "Her Father's Sword": Kidnapped villagers return as selfish drones. Girl struggles to connect with the soulless husk of her father. I didn't really like it.
  • "The Hidden Girl": 10 year old girl is kidnapped by assassins and trained. Develops a consicous.
    • "We're all thieves in this world of suffering," the nun says, "Honor and faith are not virtues, only excuses for stealing more."
  • "The Sword of Destiny": Wizard's apprentice is sent to steal a magic sword. Runs away instead and takes a detour.
  • "Hrunting": Man tries to recover his grandfather's ancient sword that was thrown away by Beowulf.
  • "When I was a Highway Man": Dueling youth tries to make a living in big city. The city of Riverside sounds interesting and is part of the author's other books. But I didn't like this story, but I am gonna try some of the other books.
  • "The Sword Tyraste": Man tries to avenge his family with the help of a magic sword. It was an easy read, but very bland.

Quotes from "The Smoke of Gold is Glory"

  • "Anyway, I am famous among my friends for having never in my life behaved with any particular wisdom." - Tarkaster Crale, thief and storyteller.
  • "O King," the dragon murmured, wheezing, and with every breath spilling more fiery ichor on the ground, "in all our ten thousand years, we have had but four friends, and we have only met them this night."
  • [Glimraug the dragon]: "[...] The long-awaited wonder comes! True death-friend, let our pyre be shared, let us build it now! To take is not to keep."
  • [Brandgar, the King-on-the-Waves]: "[...] But there is no true glory in holding. All that must come in the taking ... and letting go."
  • "The point is that it has never been done before," said Glimraug. Another treasure pavillion was swalled by fire nearby. "And it shall never be done again. All things in this world are made to go into the fire, Tarkaster Crale. All things raise smoke. The smoke of incense is sweet. The smoke of wood is dull haze. But don't you see? The smoke of gold ... is glory."

Martha Wells - Murderbot Diaries 02 - All Systems Red - 2/5

Martha Wells - Murderbot Diaries 03 - Rogue Protocol - 2/5

Martha Wells - Murderbot Diaries 04 - Exit Strategy - 2/5

The series is popular, but I think it's mid. It's not my cup of tea. The only reason I am reading them is because they're small books.

The first book was better. I guess the whole idea of the a bot that wants to be independent and wathes TV series was fun, but the other three books quickly got boring and repetitive.

A whole lot of dialoge is dedicated to the murderbot covering its tracks. A good 20% of the books are "I hacked something, I wiped off my movements from logs, and so on." I think we get the idea that for some reason this bot can hack anything and everything. Stations are full of security scanners, cameras, and bots, but they are hackable at a snap.

Another question is other bots like the transport ship bot don't have governor modules and can do pretty much any illegal activity they want. People don't like SecUnits (which have governor modules), but are not afraid of bots or constructs that do not.

Martha Wells - Murderbot Diaries 06 - Fugitive Telemetry - 3/5

I read this one before "Network Effect" (which is marked as the 5th in the series) because chronologically the story here happens after the 4th book (Exit Strategy).

It's a whodunnit murder mystery. A murder has happened in the station and murderbot must find the murderer and gain the loyalty of residents. I actually, liked this book better than the rest mostly because there was not a lot of words dedicated to "hacking" (see review above).

Better, but still not my cup of tea.

Timothy Zahn - Icarus Saga 01 - The Icarus Plot - 4/5

Pretty good book. Space Opera with a lot of action, extensive universe without a lot of boring world building.

There are many references and recurring characters to book 0, The Icarus Hunt (not sure why Goodreads has numbered it 0 instead of 1). I suggest you read it first. I didn't and I still enjoyed the book. The references are explained later.

Two former bounty hunters turned surveyors are tasked with surveying a planet, but of course the plot makes them go back to doing what they're good at, finding people. The book's universe is huge with multiple alien species. An alien race dominate faster than light travel and an alliance of others including humands are competing for domination through economic and cladestine warfare.

I really appreciated how the author didn't have extensive world building chapters and instead kept the action going on. The last third of the book is a bit repetitive especially the part were the good people outsmart the bad folks, and the ending is somewhat cheesy. But I guess it's not space opera if the good people don't win.

I will probably read "The Icarus Hunt" before moving to the next book in this series.

David Drake - Time of Heroes 01 - The Spark - 5/5

Unfortunately, David Drake passed away recently. I had mostly read short stories by him in the last few years. I mostly reread Redliners (DRM-free digital format is free on Baen's website), or Hammer's Slammers. For the last few years, I used to send him actual snail mail for his birthday and he would reply to my email. This year he didn't and it turns out he wasn't feeling that great.

I had not read them before, so I picked up the three books in the "Times of Heroes" series from the local public library for holiday reading. I gobbled the book in less than a day.

2023-2024 holiday reading list courtesy of the local public library:

2023 holiday reading list

I really love the world. There's "the road" that people can use to travel between nodes. I think it's like a long portal because it's mentioned while it has light, you cannot see the sun there.

Nodes are (usually isolated) parcels of land where people can live and is part of "Here." Monsters and magic items are in "Not-Here" (obviously). In between these we have "The Waste" which humans can traverse for a bit with the help of their animal companions with a mental link. Most main characters have one. This mental link allows them to see through their senses. Our champion has a dog and fights through his eyes with added agility and reaction time.

The series is an Arthurian fantasy in a far future world. Champions fight with energy swords and shields. The ancients have left "magical" items that people can reshape or reuse. Is it advanced technology or magic? Doesn't matter, you know the famous quote:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke

The people who can modify these magical items and reshape them are called "Makers." They go into a trance and can see and modify the molecular structure of an artifact to change it. This usually needs extra trace elements (e.g., Iron or Silicon). Our champion is both a maker and a fighter. We even see some boats with limited sentience and they can be used to travel between nodes. The boats are self powered, look like an enclosed cigar, and are airships (I figured this out after looking at the cover for the 3rd book.)

The story has a huge gaping hole. I am going to try and not spoil it. Pal acquires his first kingdom and castle. In the kingdom there's an ancient artifact that acts like an all-seeing eye. You think of anyone and it will give you a live feed of them and their immediate surrounding. The artifact is never used. In the last part of this book Pal nearly dies because a certain person is missing. No one, including Pal thinks of using this artifact to locate that person.

David Drake - Time of Heroes 02 - The Storm - 4/5

I was disappointed with this book which was a first for me as a huge David Drake fan.

Although most series repeat some background information from previous books, this ones has too much. Pal (the main character) keeps repeating how he was a peasant, how he created his original crap equipment, how his current sword and shield are great, how makers work to restore/reuse artifacts, and how the road works.

The major plot in this book is also another missing person. Again, no one thinks of using the all-seeing eye artifact from the previous book to look for them. What was the reason for even including the artifact originally?

The main quest in this book is also abandoned for quite a while. Pal goes around and does side quests while there's no progress on the main quest. I mean, this is the typical open world RPG tabletop or videogame, but still.

It's shorter than the previous book. I borrowed the hardcover versions from the library. The first book is 340 pages and this one is 280. The next book is considerably shorter.

David Drake - Time of Heroes 03 - The Serpent - 3/5

This is my least favorite Drake book. The disappointment continues. The length of the book is again, smaller. From 340 pages in the first book, to 280 in the second, and finally 180 pages here (these are all hardcover editions I borrowed from the public library).

Of course, the redundancy continues. Yes, Pal was born a peasant, doesn't like the court, his past equipment was crap, his current equipment is great, he can predict attacks with his dog, he has a boat, and so on. There was no need to mention these multiple times during the book.

This book doesn't have a main quest or major plot. It's easier to think of this book as a series of short stories in that setting. I guess that's why there's excessive repeating. Each story needs to mention some of the background info. Unfortunately, the plots of stories are kind of similar. Pal goes to some node to solve a conflict, ends up killing the ruler (through no fault of his own, lol) and takes over the node for the commonwealth (and reluctantly pockets half of the taxes).

One of the stories introduced an interesting concept. A female maker. Unfortunately, the character appears in only one story and very briefly.

Another disappointing point for me were the artifacts. So many amazing artifacts were introduced by the end of the third book, but most of them (like the all-seeing eye) were never used or mentioned.

There are a lot of loose ends in this book. I think Mr. Drake (whom I admire a lot) cut the book short in half due to health reasons. Anyways, his passing a big loss and I wish he had been able to complete this book properly.

Garth Nix - Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz - 5/5

Sir Hereward is an artillerist, swordsman, and pistol wielder. He reminds me of the famous Alexandre Dumas' musketeer, d'Artagnan. He is dashing, gallant, easy going, and a womanizer.

Mister Fitz is a sorcerer puppet and the logical part of the duo. He comes up with the plans, and uses magical needles to perform his sorcery.

They both work for the the Council of the Treaty for Safety of the World. This council was created to dispatch evil godlets (extra dimensional creatures) and keep the world safe.

I loved this dynamic duo in the Book Of Swords story "A Long, Cold Trail" (review above). I was delighted to see that all of their short stories (and a new one).

The book also has a map of the world. It's not essential to the stories, but a nice thing to be able to see the cities mentioned in the stories.

  • "Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz Go to War Again": Taking down a godlet that is siphoning the wealth and energy of nearby cities.
  • "Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarskoe": The duo join a band of pirates to take down an evil being.
  • "A Suitable Present for a Sorcerous Puppet": Sir Hereward tries to find a birthday present for Mister Fitz and gets involved with yet another evil godlet.
  • "Losing Her Divinity": This story is narrated by a writer being interrogated by Hereward and Fitz. He had encountered a godlet who wanted to be human.
  • "A Cargo of Ivories": The duo tries to steal a bunch of ivories from a wealthy merchant.
  • "Home is the Haunter": The duo reaches a castle that is getting ready to welcome an evil godlet for a night of festivities.
  • "A Long, Cold Trail": Hereward, Fitz, and an ally take down a godlet in the snow.
  • "Cut Me Another Quill, Mister Fitz": The duo are looking for an elusive dragon.
  • "The Field of Fallen Foe": Mister Fitz sticks to his moral compass when he is tasked to take down a benign godlet.

Preston Grassmann - Out of the Ruins (Anthology) - 3/5

I loved:

  • The Green Caravanserai: Post-apocalypse desert. People scavenge for weapons and technology.
  • Watching God: Really interesting setting. People stuck in the Iron Age living on a secluded island. Ships come from over the horizon and stay offshore. Open-ended story.
  • Mr Thursday: A time agent tries to keep a girl from getting killed. I liked the story, but it's in the wrong collection.
  • Endless Fall: My favorite story of the collection. The title is very clever. Astronaut wakes up in the forest with no memory. Tries to survive. It might be an alien experiment. The author has a book "The Endless Fall and Other Weird Fictions" and I will definitely read.
  • How the Monsters Found God: Excellent story. A group of sentient machines and weapons rediscover their humanity.

I liked:

  • Exurbia: Interesting concept. Someone falling through different levels of a city remembering memories.
  • Rise and Fall of Whistle-Pig City: A group of posthumans rediscover the concept of cities and create one, populated by anthropomorphized whistle pigs.
  • Like the Petals of Broken Flowers: People defeat usurper Gods.
  • Dwindling: A person keeps dying and gets reincarnated as others. Keeps and revisits their memories. While a decent story, it's in the wrong collection.
  • Maeda, the Body Optic: A plague is turning men into machines.

I didn't like or skipped:

  • Age of Fish, Post-flowers: A bunch of people trying to survive the apocalypse in a building.
  • Storm in Kingstown: A lady goes missing, and there's mention of ancient technology (e.g., radio).
  • As Good as New: Halfway through the story I realized I had read it before (maybe on Tumbler?). Girl meets a genie in a post-apocalyptic world and tries to come up with perfect wishes that avoid a Monkey's Paw situation.
  • Reminded: I liked the concept, but the story was boring. A plague has erased the memories of people. A couple keep reminding each other.
  • Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities: I honestly didn't get what the story was about.
  • Man You Flee at Parties: DNF. What even was that?
  • Malware Park: I was excited to read a cyberpunk story, but DNF. The writing style is not for me.
  • Inventory: In the wrong collection. Diary-like memory snippets of someone's interactions with different people, mainly lovers.

Gordon Van Gelder - Welcome to Dystopia (Anthology) - 3/5

Collection of very short stories about future dystopias. The idea of the book was decent and having very short stories was a new experience. Unfortunately, I was turned off by the book and at some point stopped reading.

The stories hit too close to home.

William Gibson has a quote "The future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed." If I could paraphrase, "The dystopia is already here, it's just not evenly distributed."

If you know me and my background, you know why I've lived some of the stories. Why I moved to Canada (and I am Canadian as of a few weeks ago) almost exactly one year after naturalizing as a US citizen.

Some of the stories I really didn't like, but maybe that was again because they were too depressing.

Michael Mersault - The Deep Man 02 - The Silent Hand - 4/5

This is the second book in the "Deep Man" series. The first one was, well, "The Deep Man" (review is further above). I like both characters. This book was mostly about Inga's character development. I liked the flashbacks that showed Inga's training and backstory. Some is repeated from the short story flops in Baen's 2022 Free Stories.

The first 2/3rds of the book were OK, but not great. I liked the parts about the ground combat on the planet. But my absolute favorite was the all out combat in the last quarter of the book.

Both Saef and Inga are on both books' covers. In this book, both have suddenly become "hawt." Saef is now more attractive and Inga has supermodel proportions. Nothing wrong with attractive characters, but it's a huge contrast compared to the first book. You can see them side by side here:

Covers for The Deep Man and The Silent Hand

Paula Guran - Ex Libris (Anthology) - 3/5

Collection of short stories about libraries. I'd never read a book like this so the concept was intriguing. The introduction lists some related books that I am going to try, too.

My favorites:

  • "In the Stacks": This is my favorite story of the book. A group of magicians fight their way through a magical library to retrieve/return books. Awesome setting. Scott Lynch also wrote my favorite story from Book of Swords named "The Smoke of Gold is Glory."
  • "In Libres": Two students have to venture into a dangerous library (it's a labyrinth) to retrieve books. Similar to "In the Stacks" (by Scott Lynch), but not as much action. I didn't know that, Elizabeth Bear, the writer of this story, and Scott are married.
  • "Exchange": Soldier relives his childhood memories revisiting his hometown's library on his way back from the war.
  • "Summer Reading": Very nice short story. A robot maintains an abandoned library on Earth. Gives away a physical book to a visiting child.

I liked:

  • "Books": Post-apocalyptic setting. Kids encounter a library and steal some books.
  • "Paper Cuts Scissors": Librarian's girlfriend has put herself in a book. He goes to a mansion where the book characters come alive at midnight to save her.
  • "Magic for Beginners": I loved the setting and the story, but didn't understand the ending (read it twice). A kid and his friends are fascinated by a pirate TV show "The Library." He and his mother go on a cross-country trip to Vegas and kinda end up in the same show? Maybe the show and his friends were all part of his imagination?
  • "What Books Survive": Alien invaders have arrived. People live in barricaded town. Teenage girl sneaks out to get books from the school. Turns out the aliens were after knowledge and didn't want to kill humans.
  • "Librarian's Dilemma": Should we destroy overly racist/evil books?
  • "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler": A secret society dedicated to keeping the identity of a poet anonymous. They admire and publish her work (one poetry book), but destroy all mentions of her name.
  • "Sigma Structure Symphony": Interesting concept. A librarian is studying the transmissions of faraway galactic civilizations and it turns out some of them are actually sentient AIs. She designs a way to convert mathematical theorems to music, but the alien AI wants more.
  • "Last Librarian": Nice premise. A librarian thinks humanity doesn't deserve books because it's not civilized anymore. They destroy technology (think like an EMP bomb) and go away with the books. Kinda similar to "Fort Moxie Branch."

I didn't like or skipped:

  • "In the House of the Seven Librarians": Infant grows up in a magic library. It's nice a story, just not my cup of tea. I was expecting the library to turn out to be a simulation in the end.
  • "Death and the Librarian": I couldn't really connect with the story after 2-3 pages and didn't finish.
  • "King of the Big Night Hours": I read this (and some pages twice), but I didn't get it. A few students commit suicide at the library and things became weird.
  • "Those Who Watch": DNF after a few pages.
  • "Special Collections": DNF after a few pages.
  • "Inheritance of Barnabas Wilcox": This story didn't have a real connection to a library. The main character is hired by his former highschool bully to catalog the books in his new inheritance. It turns out the whole premise was a spell for the recently diseased to live through the body of the bully and the inheritance was just a ruse.
  • "Midbury Lake Incident": A witch librarian is running away from magical adversaries who want to get the secrets to the old library of Alexandria. Her current secret identity in this story is also a librarian.
  • "With Tales in Their Teeth, From the Mountain They Came": Soldiers want to destroy a library. The librarians become the books (as in the books are written on them) to save them.
  • "Green Book": Thoughtcrime of a librarian in an authoritarian theocracy.
  • "Woman's Best Friend": Only nominal connection to a library. A women encounters a man sent to her world. The premise is infinite parallel worlds.
  • "Fort Moxie Branch": Aliens preserve the unpublished works of authors. They think we do not deserve them until we've reached a certain level of enlightenment.