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Review

“Knaves”

I was going to start with “it’s been a while since the last anthology I read and reviewed,” but, as it turns out, it hasn’t. I wonder if it’s the variety of stories that makes an anthology feel further away in my memory? No single story has as long to get lodged in my memory, or something. Hmm.

Still, I do like the anthologies – they’re fun in the same way that a 22-minute-long TV show is, a great way to fill a bit of time without getting yourself too invested in something.

Knaves is, admittedly, less fun than some of the other ones, because the focus is on villains. So, by the nature of their stories, it’s a bit of a gloomy topic.

Which isn’t to say the stories aren’t interesting, because they absolutely are. “All Mine” is heartbreaking, as is “Hunger in the Bones”; “The Bloodletter’s Prayer” is a fascinating piece of dark fantasy; “Cat Secret Weapon #1” is a delightful spin on the Bond archetype; “The Hand of Virtue” is sweet and a touch melancholy; and “Old Sol Rises Up” is… well, honestly, mostly confusing. But I suspect that was the intent, so I won’t fault it.

And, of course, there’s an introduction – every anthology has to have one. What caught my eye and, frankly, got me to actually read the introduction was who wrote it – Howard Tayler, the man behind Schlock Mercenary, another delightful piece of media that I’m happy to recommend. Read the intro – it’s weird, and silly, and fun.

In fact, read the whole book. It’s a good use of time.

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Review

“Skin Deep Magic”

Craig Laurance Gidney
This book is… melancholy.
I read it in bits and pieces over the course of a couple of months, which it’s well suited for, as a collection of short stories.
Some of them were creepy, and some were sad. One or two were happy, and hopeful. But overall, the feeling I have is melancholy.
Part of that is the way the last story ends, which is certainly coloring my opinion, as I set the book down and immediately started writing this, but I think the whole thing feels that way, as well.
Melancholy certainly isn’t the best of moods to be in, but sometimes it’s what you need. And, considering that I’m posting this as we’re making our way into autumn, it’s entirely appropriate. Get yourself a seat looking over trees preparing to shed their leaves, a mug of tea, and read this book.

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Review

“Wireless and More Steam-Powered Adventures”

Alex Acks
I was genuinely surprised that I don’t have another review to reference here — I would swear that I wrote one about the book where these characters were first introduced, Murder on the Titania, but apparently not.1
So, the introduction: in the Sherlock Holmes style, very vaguely. Zombies, and steampunk, and all the other internet buzzwords abound, but it works surprisingly well together. The primary arc of the first story can be summed up with the image of a Native American man and a Latina woman rolling their eyes as an elderly white man tries to convince himself he’s the hero because he’s slightly less of an imperialist than the bad guy.
And if that hasn’t sold you on the concept, I’m not sure what will. It’s a fun little read, check it out.


  1. I was actually entirely relying on being able to search in my archives here to find the name of that book, but no dice; I had to look it up on the author’s lovely, exhaustive list of everything they’ve written. 
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Review

“Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space)”

I do love a good anthology. It’s all the fun of starting a new book, several times over, and with much less of a time commitment each time.
This did have some of the downside, though – about halfway through, I found myself getting rather bored of the concept of pirates. It’s a bit too coherent a theme, I feel; the book had a lot of the variance that makes anthologies fun, but keeping everything tied to ‘pirates’ limited it a bit more than is really healthy for an anthology.
After that midway nadir, though, it recovered nicely, going off into some interesting science fiction bits, and ending on a delightfully weird fantasy (or, possibly, extremely-distant-future?) piece.
So hey, have some fun with a variety of pirate stories.

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Review

“Ghost Garages”

Erin M. Hartshorn
“This feels like an indie novel,” I told one of my friends as I was reading it. “The content is really interesting, but the title says ‘there wasn’t an editor.’” Looking at the cover now, I’m doubling down on that statement. It looks, honestly, ridiculous. But it was also one of the most fun books I’ve read recently.
It also feels like it’s setting up for a series, both in the subtitle and in the amount of world-building it contains, which I’m pretty okay with. That world building was quite interesting, and I’d like to see what Pepper does next. It’s a fascinating blend of little and big stakes — competing for promotion from ‘assistant manager’ to ‘manager’ at work, a bit of relationship drama, and, oh, a serial killer.
Which leads me to the other thing I said to someone about this book as I was just starting to read it. “It feels like the plot is going to be a Scooby Doo episode, just a real estate developer using ghost stories to drop property values… except they’re murdering people so that they’re Actual Ghosts.”
And hey, if that doesn’t sound like a fun book to you, then… you’re reading the wrong blog for book reviews. Give it a read.

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Review

“A Traitor in the Shadows”

Joseph Lallo
Oh, this book got me. I’ve got a Diana Wynne Jones feeling about it — it took a while to grip me, and then suddenly I caught myself thinking “well, how long will it really take me to finish reading this?” and staying up way later than I should’ve to see where it was going. It’s absolutely a slow start, and (given that I had no memory of buying the book/what it was about) I had no idea where it was going.1
And, as always, what really got me was the worldbuilding. It’s distinctly uncooperative at the start — the character who has the most interesting secrets, who knows the most about what’s going on, starts of being super cagey about it all. So even though Alan, the protagonist, is just as inquisitive as you’d want a protagonist to be, there’s no exposition-dump at any point. What you learn happens in a slow trickle, bits and pieces coming up as the story needs them. It’s a dangerous way to do it — done badly, it feels like the author is making it up as they go along — but, in this case, it worked well. I’m interested to see where the series goes: the main plot wraps up in a surprisingly neat bow at the end, but there’s a couple threads by the wayside that very clearly show this was meant to be a series.
So, hey, I liked the book. Check it out.


  1. And, really, that’s the most fun part of this whole “read all the books I have on my Kindle that I don’t remember buying” project — everything’s a surprise! Everything on here was chosen by someone who’s got a reasonable idea of what I like (by which I mean ‘Past Grey’), but they didn’t tell me anything about any of them, I can just see the title and author. 
Categories
Review

“Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets”

I’ve actually read several of the stories in this anthology before, in other anthologies. Which, I suppose, is a statement about my taste in books.
Of the ones that were new, however, a couple of them were sufficient to make a partial repeat purchase worth it.
So, which stood out to me?
Far and away the best was The Lantern Men, which was a mildly interesting take on the Sherlock story (he’s an architect this time around!), but was one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read. It followed The Rich Man’s Hand, which was creepy enough that I thought “oh, I can’t go to bed on that, I’ll read one more,” and that turned out to be a mistake.
A Woman’s Place is a delightful little cyberpunk kind of thing, and my favorite take on Mrs. Hudson that I’ve seen… quite possibly ever. The opening scene, of her delivering tea and sandwiches while Sherlock and Watson interview a client? Oh, I won’t spoil a thing, but within the first page I was enraptured, and by the end, utterly delighted.
The Small World of 221b turned into a different genre than I thought it was, which was a fun twist, and I like the story that it told.
The Final Conjuration, too, was a genre-blending version of the story, and one I quite liked.
Finally, The Innocent Icarus was a great piece of world-building, and I’d quite like to read more in that setting at some point.
And that’s more than half the stories in the anthology; there’s also, as I mentioned, a few that I’d read before and quite liked, so it’s well worth the price. Check it out.

Categories
Review

“Grunt”

Mary Roach
I spent the entire time reading this book thinking that it was by the same person who wrote Combat-Ready Kitchen. Which was an interesting comparison to have in mind, as I quite liked that one, but “Grunt” was much more fun. While “Combat-Ready Kitchen” felt like it was trying to be ready for use as a textbook in a history class, “Grunt” was unabashedly written by a human being who likes to mention their human responses. I’ve got a great deal of highlights of comedic moments that Roach captured very well.1
As someone with precisely zero interest in joining the military, I think Roach is an excellent writer for this topic. Clearly she’s got a bit more experience in this area than I do — nobody who’s spent a week on a nuclear submarine doing research for a book can really be as clueless as she tries to convey — but she’s removed enough from it that she can be an excellent go-between. The feigned cluelessness doesn’t read as an affectation, it reads as making sure the genuinely clueless folks like me can follow along.
And it’s just an interesting subject matter. The Department of Defense has a spectacular research budget, which they put into doing all sorts of neat things. Nothing in the book focuses on the science of Exciting New Ways To Make People Dead; in fact, it’s almost universally focused on the opposite. I’m okay with my tax dollars going to research on reconstructive surgery and heat-stroke prevention.
I can definitely recommend “Grunt”. It’s a fun read, and the science is neat. Check it out.


  1. And a pent-up rant about just how bad the experience of trying to highlight stuff is in Apple Books. While the location of the highlight has a clear correlation to where your finger is on-screen, they’re not directly related in the way that we’re trained to expect from iOS. And god forbid you want to highlight something that spans across a page break – to date, the only way I’ve found to do this is to change the text size until they’re on the same page. Even Amazon does better than that, and their Kindle app has never not felt like an abandoned project. 
Categories
Review

“A Furnace Sealed”

Keith R.A. DeCandido
This is a delightful little bit of urban fantasy, following a man who hunts supernatural creatures for a living. Or rather, deals with supernatural problems — there’s a bit of the ‘hunting’ aspect, but in general he’s got more of a ‘fixer’ vibe, trying to avoid violence where possible. The first chapter sees him fighting a unicorn, along with the delightful revelation that unicorns don’t have any special affinity for virgin maidens, it’s just that they’re infuriated by the scent of men.1 This leads to a slight relationship dispute when it takes offense to one member of a lesbian couple, and Bram, the protagonist, makes a quick escape.
And from there, it’s a fun little journey. Like I said, it’s a delightful bit of urban fantasy: the mental image of someone driving a semi through the streets of the Bronx, hoping nobody notices the unicorn in the back, is a pretty good one. And the actual world being set up strikes a nice balance of depth without feeling overwhelming — there’s a bit of a Buffy vibe at times, some of that “well, there could be a Monster of the Week, but we’ve also established some actual lore” vibe.2
It’s a good book, and I’m lookin forward to the sequel(s) implied by the subtitle. Give it a read.


  1. Having occasionally had to clean the men’s locker room when I was working at the pool, I can relate. 
  2. If I’m going to make Buffy references, I should probably watch the show at some point. Or at least read the Wikipedia summary. 
Categories
Review

“Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies”

Nick Bostrom
This was, simultaneously, one of the driest and most terrifying books I have ever read.
Really, the conclusion summarized it well:

“Before the prospect of an intelligence explosion, we humans are like small children playing with a bomb. Such is the mismatch between the power of our plaything and the immaturity of our conduct. Superintelligence is a challenge for which we are not ready now and will not be ready for a long time. We have little idea when the detonation will occur, though if we hold the device to our ear we can hear a faint ticking sound.”

It is what the title says: a list of ways we can achieve superintelligence (including, I’d note, a discussion of the fact that it’s both necessary and inevitable), a harrowing discussion of exactly how many ways it can go wrong, and some things we can start trying to do to keep it from going all Skynet on us. Or, as is more likely, wiping out humanity without really noticing, because we were a convenient source of raw materials.
Like I said: terrifying.
But valuable. I’m also convinced this book should be required reading for any AI course. And, y’know, a good chunk of the population beyond that: I count AI as one of the three most likely existential threats out there.1
So hey, want to somehow be a little bored and scared out of your mind at the same time? Read it.


  1. I’ve got it tied with “Global War, Nuclear” and “Climate Change.” Lower on the list are “A Pandemic With 100% Transmission Rate and 90-Plus Percent Lethality” and “Something From Space.” 
Categories
Review

“Mythology”

Edith Hamilton
I’ve always had a bit of an interest in Greek mythology. It started with “D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths”, went through the Percy Jackson phase, and since then has mostly consisted of using names from Greek mythology as names for projects. Hey, they’re objectively cool names — they had to be, to stick in people’s minds through centuries of oral retellings.
This book is definitely in a different style then d’Aulaires. The latter was noticeably aimed at children, both in the style of illustration and in the way the content was edited. Hamilton’s audience is clearly more adult, and rereading these stories was interesting in that context. Part of it, I’m sure, is just the context of “I’m an adult now, and know quite a lot more of what the world is like,” but the actual events are different in some of the telling, as well.
Where the book really shines, though, is in the design — it’s gorgeous. It feels like the literary equivalent of a coffee-table book. In the edition I have, at least, the actual paper has a weighty feel to it, and the page design, interspersed with the occasional light-text-on-dark-paper section headings and family trees, is a delight. There’s also the occasional full-page ‘plate’ illustration, which feel right at home with the rest of the design of the book.
The title itself is a little bit misleading, in my opinion — with the full title, “Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes” implying a bit of “this is all the mythologies.” The cover art, however, is very clear that we’re sticking to the Greco-Roman world, which helps. (Admittedly, there is a little section at the end that goes into Norse mythology, but it’s a very small portion of the book, and quite limited in scale. It’s also very interesting to read — again, some of the stories are very different from how I know them.1)
So, if you like mythology and having pretty books you can put out on the coffee table so that your guests know just how cultured you are, I absolutely recommend this one.


  1. … probably related to the fact that my knowledge of Norse mythology comes entirely from its use as cultural context, and never actually directly reading any. Turns out Marvel’s Thor isn’t 100% accurate to the source material, shocking
Categories
Review

“Ra”

Sam Hughes
This is one of the most interesting pieces of fantasy/science-fiction I’ve read recently. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, in these book reviews, that I like world-building and systems of magic, and this delivers in spades. Magic, in Ra, is a type of engineering, and involves a great deal of math and rules and planning ahead. It’s a system to be uncovered, and scientists around the world are doing science at it, figuring out the rules. Why isn’t natural mana usable? What’s up with the weird dreams that all mages share? What happens to waste energy — magical friction — and why hasn’t anyone managed to detect it yet?
Basically, this is a book that takes solid aim at the mindset of someone like me, who will sit down and read through a veritable textbook on the workings of a magic system. And then, instead of just being a textbook, it comes with a whole story, that answers some of those questions in a way that makes for a solid story. (It helps that there’s a good amount of in-jokes for computer nerds — I mean, Wheel? That’s a neat touch.)
So, if you’re at all this sort of nerd, go give it a read. (You can also read it for free on the author’s website, but, y’know, pay people for their work.)

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Review

“alt.sherlock.holmes”

Jamie Wyman, Gini Koch, Glen Mehn
I’ve probably mentioned before that I’m a sucker for Sherlock Holmes stories. If not, you may have been able to figure it out, based on the number of books I’ve read in the genre.1 I believe I picked this one up as part of a Humble Bundle (or Storybundle, more likely) based entirely on the fact that there was a book in there titled “alt.sherlock.holmes.”
And for that, it was worth it, because this was quite fine. Three different takes on Sherlock Holmes, all unique and interesting. I’ll say right off that my favorite was the second of the three — almost the inverse of Elementary, in a way, with handsome Dr. Watson being recruited by a still-named-Sherlock, definitely-just-miss-Holmes to investigate some very Hollywood murders. The third take, featuring Sherlock and Watson in 1960s New York, was more traditional in its take—Mycroft, I think, being the biggest difference from my mental image of him, as he’s gone a bit more sinister—although having the two actually sleeping together was a nice touch.2 The first was the furthest-out, with Sherlock not especially being a detective, and the setting—a circus—by far the most unique. Unfortunately, it was also the most predictable; in the larger story told there, I picked out the culprit within the first chapter. Still, it was an interesting read.3
All in all, if you like a good Sherlock Holmes story, give these a read.


  1. And those were just the ones that I could find by searching my archives for “Sherlock Holmes”; I know off the top of my head that there’s at least one more. 
  2. I know a few people have written theses about the queer theory of Sherlock Holmes, and I tend to like those interpretations. Historians have gone to great lengths to erase queer people from history (yep, nothing gay at all about Shakespeare writing a bunch of love sonnets to a man, let’s just… republish those with all the pronouns swapped, shall we?) and I am all in favor of putting some of that queer history back, even if it’s in the form of fiction. 
  3. Admittedly, the 1960s version was also quite predictable, but that’s because I took a history class on the 1960s and picked up a great deal of well-informed cynicism as a result. 
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Review

“Redemption’s Blade”

Adrian Tchaikovsky 
This fledgling series, I found out by trawling through Wikipedia a bit, is called “After the War,” and that’s a fitting title if ever I heard one.
The book has extreme Dungeons and Dragons energy. You could use the setting for a game with absolutely no issue, and even the pattern of events in the book feels episodic in the way that a long-running campaign does. What’s really interesting, though, is that the book opens in the aftermath of that long-running campaign. The Big Bad is dead; the gang broke up, and our protagonist already has the endgame-level weapon, an infinitely sharp sword. (Her first side quest, for reference, is trying to find a scabbard that will last for more than a couple hours, so she can walk around without worrying about accidentally cutting off someone’s leg by bumping into them.)
What I really liked about the book is that it’s all about the forgotten bits of world building. Sure, the Big Bad is dead, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’d assembled a massive army, half of which were unnatural abominations created via dark magic. The lands he conquered are still devastated. The nations he crushed don’t magically spring back into being; their scattered (and, largely, dismembered) peoples can’t just reappear back in their homelands, none the worse for the wear. And the grand coalition, all the free nations of the world banding together to fight against the army of darkness? Well, politics kicked back into gear pretty quickly.
“Redemption’s Blade” is one of the best books I’ve read recently, and I can absolutely recommend it to. Give it a read.

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Review

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany
I am disappointed and intrigued.
Let’s start with the disappointment: First, that JK Rowling managed to create a couple characters with truly excellent chemistry, and then aggressively refused to let it actually happen. (And here is where I say that I’m disappointed but not surprised, because she isn’t exactly the most woke about queer representation.)
Secondly, that this is such a weird development for some of the characters. What’s going on with Ron? Ron is a complex and interesting character, who the movies didn’t do justice, and got turned into something barely more than comic relief in Cursed Child.
(And here’s where I throw the spoiler warning; the play-and-book have only been out for three years, and if you’re like me, that’s not enough time to guarantee you know how it goes.)
And thirdly, that this completely breaks some of the rules the original series had established. (Though, admittedly, Fantastic Beasts did that first — apparently magic in the ‘30s was a couple of orders of magnitude more powerful? Why?) In the books, time travel had rules that made sense. Your can’t cause a paradox, because you’ve already time traveled. Here, though, suddenly we care about the grandfather paradox?
And yet, I’m still intrigued. Because Albus and Scorpius are fun together. Because it’s another look into the magical world that was the shared childhood of my generation. Because it’s written as a play, and I cannot fathom how they would stage some of this.
It’s an alright read, doesn’t take too long, so if you’re at all interested, give it a go. And if you’ve got a chance to see the actual play… that’s probably worth the time, just to see the staging.