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

13 minute read - Random

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 last, first] - [series (if any)] - [book name] - [finished timestamp] - [score/5]".

Egan, Greg - 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.

Clarke, Neil - 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).

Drake, David & Stirling, S. M. - 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.

Sterling, Bruce - Pirate Utopia - 1/5

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.

Ruocchio, Christopher - 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.

Leckie, Ann - 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).

Anderson, Kevin - 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.

Cline, Ernest - 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 handwaved 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.

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

Scalzi, John - 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.

Cordova, Jason - 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.

Ruocchio, Christopher & Korsgaard, Sean CW - 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.

Ruocchio, Christopher & Daniel, Tony - 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 also there are 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.

Bear, Greg - War Dogs - 0/5

I stopped on page 130/291. For a military sci-fi book, there was not a lot of action. It take skill to make a book in this genre boring. Maybe I am more used to the writing style of Drake, Weber, and Dietz.

Schmidt, Bryan Thomas - Infinite Stars: the definitive anthology of space opera and military SF (Anthology) - 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."

The only stories that I skipped were "Imperium Imposter" and "A Taste of Ashes."

Williamson, Michael Z. - Freehold 07 - Angleeyes - 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.

Anderson, Kevin - 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).

Rusch, Kristin K. - 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.

Gannon, Charles E., Barber, Griffin, Kennedy, Chris, & Massa, Mike - 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.

Ringo, John - Ghost - 0/5

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.

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

The "Billion Worlds" 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 required hibernation). There are a few nearby stars that are populated (there's a mention of ships being sent at around half of the speed of light).

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

Cambias, James L. - 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.

Cambias, James L. - 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.

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.

Scalzi, John - 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.

Anderson, Kevin - 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.

Adams, John J. - 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 has our creator left?
  • "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.

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

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.

Scalzi, John - 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.