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Jim's reading in 2017

The Green Dragon

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1Karlstar
Edited: Jun 8, 5:15am Top

Happy New Year! I know this is late, but I have been reading in 2017. I will post my list and my reviews, all comments are very welcome!

The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick (started in 2016)
The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams
Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf by R. A. Salvatore
Mission to Mars by Buzz Aldrin
Footsteps in the Sky by Greg Keyes
The Temporal Void by Peter F. Hamilton
Through the Gate in the Sea by Howard Andrew Jones (Pathfinder)
1984 by George Orwell
Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan
The Evolutionary Void by Peter F. Hamilton
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Gears of Faith (Pathfinder Tales) by Gabrielle Harbowy
Apollo 8 by Jeffrey Kluger
Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (re-read)
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
The Sorcerer's Daughter by Terry Brooks

For those new to my reviews, I include a 'Slogging Through the Mud' rating, to indicate how much of the book is spent on excessive travel, if any.

2Karlstar
Jan 23, 5:08pm Top

The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams
STTM: 8 - but its a chase story
Rating: 8 out of 10

Finally, another Osten Ard book by Tad Williams! Its been forever (like 2 decades) since his Memory, Sorry and Thorn trilogy ended. This book picks up right where the trilogy left off and is a bridge novel to the new trilogy that's coming out. For me, Williams is one of the best fantasy novelists currently writing and it was exciting to see him go back to his own world. The book is relatively short, not the typical Tad length, but I really enjoyed it. It was nice to get back to the feel of Osten Ard again, even if it was only a corner of the world and a subset of the characters.

3BookstoogeLT
Jan 23, 5:14pm Top

>2 Karlstar: I really enjoyed MST, so I'm not sure I'd want to revisit that world again and ruin my memory. Guess I'll have to go check out some other reviews.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention though.

4majkia
Jan 23, 5:24pm Top

Good to see you, late or not!

5YouKneeK
Jan 23, 5:53pm Top

Hi Karlstar, How did you like Footsteps to the Sky? Or is that a book you’re still reading or planning to read?

I read the author’s Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone fantasy series (starting with The Briar King) a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it, but I haven’t yet tried any of his other work.

6SylviaC
Jan 23, 5:53pm Top

Nice to see you back, and still slogging through the mud!

7clamairy
Jan 23, 7:23pm Top

Welcome back! I can't wait to hear about the Buzz Aldrin book.

8Karlstar
Jan 23, 8:44pm Top

>3 BookstoogeLT: Bookstooge, there is a new MST trilogy coming up, first book is due late this year! I know what you mean, this book felt sort of incomplete, but I was really happy to be back reading about Osten Ard.

>4 majkia: majkia, >6 SylviaC: SylviaC Thank you both, glad to see you too.

>5 YouKneeK: YouKneeK I am still reading Footsteps in the Sky. It is a bit of a departure for Keyes, its scifi. I've read some of his Star Wars scifi, so far this is fairly good, though I'd put it in the category of 'soft' scifi. I loved the Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, also Waterborn/Blackgod and the Age of Unreason series.

9BookstoogeLT
Jan 23, 8:46pm Top

>8 Karlstar: Thanks, I think I'll be waiting until the whole trilogy is out before I dip my toes back in.

10YouKneeK
Jan 23, 9:56pm Top

>8 Karlstar: That sounds interesting. I’ll look forward to seeing what you think when you finish it.

Thanks also for the mention of some of the other Keyes books you liked… that’s helpful, especially coming from one of the 2 or 3 people I have "spoken" to in the whole wide world who have actually read and enjoyed Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone. :)

11Karlstar
Jan 24, 10:03am Top

>10 YouKneeK: I really, really enjoyed that series. I just checked, I gave all of the books 4 stars, which is for me a very high rating. Really, some of them should have been 4.5 stars. It has to be a top 10 all time book for me to give something 5 stars. I'm surprised it isn't more popular, but there's so much fantasy out there these days, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Just for discussion, I'd put my current list of favorite fantasy writers at Tad Williams, G. R. R. Martin, Keyes, Steven Brust, Brandon Sanderson then a whole bunch of others that don't quite reach this level.

12Sakerfalcon
Jan 24, 10:06am Top

It's good to see you back again! I look forward to slogging through the mud with you this year!

13Karlstar
Jan 24, 4:33pm Top

>12 Sakerfalcon: Thank you, that's very kind of you!

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick
STTM: 3 - very little travel
Rating: 3

I've had this on my TBR list for a long time as it is a scifi classic and award winner. When my wife and I recently discovered the Amazon TV series of the same name, I had to read the book.

This is one of the early 'alternate history' novels, one of the earliest that I'm familiar with, being written in 1962, before that genre was really popular. In Dick's 1962, the USA lost WW2 and is now divided between Japan and Germany with a 'neutral zone' in the Rockies. Why there's a neutral zone is not explained, which is one of the book's deficits, since so much of the action takes place there.
Most of the novel is taken up by describing what the Pacific States are like and how they interact with Germany. Unfortunately, one of the key facets of alternate history is giving a solid chain of events that produces the changes, in this book it's barely mentioned. This book also is one of the first to rely heavily on the parallel worlds/multiverse concept (even before Moorcock expanded on it) because there is apparently some way to get between the book's 1962 and 'our' 1962 - though again this is barely explained. The book also relies heavily on an ancient Chinese fortune telling method, the I Ching, which apparently everyone in the book practices. There is also a mysterious novel that tells what might have happened if the US had not lost the war - basically the story of our reality.
There are 3 main characters that the book follows through a few weeks. Frank Frink, a Jew hiding out in San Francisco making his way as a machinist; R. Childan, a dealer in 'authentic' American trinkets to Japanese clients; and Juliana Frink, Frank's ex-wife, now living in the neutral zone.

The story is interesting, but to me it lacks the proper chain of events of true alternate history and the tantalizing parallel worlds side plot makes it frustrating - will both worlds continue as they are? A warning for those who haven't read it, the book is a bit jarringly racist and sexist. I'm not sure that's just 'our' 1962 coming through or the even worse 1962 of the alternate world.

I enjoyed the Amazon TV series much more than the book! They've done a great job expanding on the basic ideas of the book, but as usual for an adaptation, its very different.

14clamairy
Jan 24, 5:24pm Top

>12 Sakerfalcon: I've had a lot of people telling me I need to watch the series. I'm seriously considering it, but now I know I can skip the book with a free conscience!

15Karlstar
Jan 31, 9:29pm Top

Mission to Mars My Vision for Space Exploration by Buzz Aldrin
STTM: 0 - no travel at all
Rating: 7 out of 10

When I first started reading this book, my impression was that it was 'fuzzy' - no budgets, no spaceship designs, no plans for Mars settlements, no nifty technology that would make the trip possible. This book is exactly what it says it is - Buzz Aldrin's vision of space exploration. He firmly believes that we as a species should settle on Mars and he explains why in this book. Some time is spent on what he sees as necessary conditions - a Mars to Earth cycling ship or ships; additional manned presences on the Moon and in near Earth orbit; missions to asteroids. He sees it as essential that we help other nations develop the infrastructure to go back to the Moon, but we don't 'race' back there, its been done. Its also essential that we investigate NEO asteroids and be prepared to deflect them. Its also important that both governmental and commercial space efforts continue and be encouraged. There are political and social/education factors to be considered also.

As he points out and as others have pointed out, if we let an asteroid destroy humanity like it did the dinosaurs, we're no better than they were and we'll be just as extinct. Its worth it to be prepared and diversify.

16Sakerfalcon
Feb 1, 7:39am Top

>15 Karlstar: This sounds interesting, but I am amused at the irony of a book about space exploration containing no travel at all!

17Jim53
Edited: Feb 1, 1:37pm Top

I liked TMitHC a lot better than you did, apparently. I was struck by Mr. Tagomi and his moral dilemmas, by the mystery of the quasi-spiritual experiences that seemed to be triggered by the jewelry, etc. I don't recall any suggestion that people could actually move between alternate realities; I thought that was part of Mr. Tagomi's odd experience. I was satisfied with the explanation of the state of the world--as I recall, FDR had been shot and the US didn't get into WWII until they were invaded simultaneously by Japan and Germany. Not only did Abendsen use the I Ching to write his book; Dick claimed to have used it to write his. I've had too many new things to read to go back and re-read this; maybe I should do it anyway.

18Karlstar
Feb 1, 8:38pm Top

>17 Jim53: I may have been influenced by the TV show a bit too much, it emphasizes the connections between our timeline and the book timeline more and travel happens. You're right about the war, the book's timeline hinged on the failed assassination attempt of FDR in 1933, in the book it succeeded. However, that really only got a passing mention in the book and I don't recall any specifics at all on how the war was lost, maybe that was part of one of Joe's rambling speeches.

At the end of the book, there's hints, just hints, that Abendsen and perhaps his friends know about 'our' timeline from actual experience, maybe I read too much into that part.

19Narilka
Feb 2, 11:11am Top

I'm interested to hear your thoughts on The Skull Throne. I absolutely loved The Warded Man and immediately read the next two in the series with high hopes which unfortunately just went downhill IMO. I still plan to finish the series because I want to know how it all ends, though I'm going to wait for him to finish writing The Core before continuing on. I'm mostly curious if he keeps the pattern of retelling the same story from another point of view. It was ok the second time, but a third time? Does he do it 4 times?.

20Karlstar
Feb 2, 9:23pm Top

>19 Narilka: I felt mostly the same about The Skull Throne. I am really, really tired of the Krasnian politics, which takes up way too much of the book. Maybe he's trying to make it more like Game of Thrones, but it isn't. I thought way too much of Skull Throne was a waste of time and not nearly enough story. I read it, I didn't hate it, but I didn't like it either.

21Narilka
Feb 2, 10:27pm Top

>20 Karlstar: Oh well. That's really too bad. I agree with you about the Krasian politics and the fact that he spends waaaay too much time on it. Hopefully The Core will get back to the fight with the demons, which is what drew me in to begin with.

22majkia
Feb 3, 10:49am Top

Hmmm... I have the next two books after the Warded Man. Moves them down further into planet TBR.

23Sakerfalcon
Feb 4, 5:34am Top

I too loved The warded man but couldn't get into the next book and have given up on the series. Too many other books waiting for me to read them.

24Karlstar
Edited: Feb 4, 5:16pm Top

>21 Narilka: >23 Sakerfalcon: I'm glad to see its not just me. The first 2 books were 'ok', its always nice to see new epic fantasy, but I'm just not impressed.

>22 majkia: majkia The 2nd book is worth reading, but unless you get sucked in, the next ones will frustrate you.

25Karlstar
Mar 8, 8:31pm Top

Footsteps in the Sky by Greg Keyes
STTM: 2 - a little space travel
Rating: 6 out of 10

This is a bit of a departure for Gregory Keyes, as this is pure science fiction and not Star Wars related. As science fiction goes, its a bit on the 'soft' side, while technology is sufficiently advanced, it isn't vastly advanced and the tech isn't a prop in the book. In Keyes' version of the future, humans have discovered multiple worlds that are close to human habitable, with just a bit of terraforming required. On the world known as The Fifth World to its inhabitants, humans descended from the Hopi and related Native American tribes are doing the terraforming in strict adherence to their traditions and mythology. In return for doing the work, they have been promised they could keep this world by the Vilmir Foundation that has been funding the terraforming.
Of course, this has to go badly, in two ways. First, its no coincidence that humans keep finding planets almost perfect for human life, aliens long ago did most of the terrafoming - and now some have arrived at the Fifth World to claim it. Second, the Vilmir Foundation really doesn't plan on keeping its promise to the colonists. The conflict between the colonists and the Vilmir Foundation is secondary, the primary conflict is between the aliens and the two human factions.
I thought this was well done. I'm no expert on Native American culture so what Keyes has to say on the subject I had to take for truth. Its a short novel and was enjoyable. One thing I should mention, the heroes of the book are all women and if there are villains, they are men.

Someone was looking for this review, sorry it took so long!

26Karlstar
Mar 8, 8:44pm Top

The Temporal Void by Peter F. Hamilton
STTM: 2 some space travel which should have taken a long time but doesn't...
Rating: 7 out of 10

This is the 2nd book in what originally was the Void Trilogy, but has since spawned 2 spin-off books. For the longest time I avoided this trilogy. It is set in in Hamilton's Commonwealth universe, the same universe of Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained. Just based on the strength of those books I should have known this would be great, but the fundamental premise seems strange - what if what's at the center of the galaxy isn't a black hole, but instead a Void that acts somewhat like one, eating stars from time to time, but containing its own worlds with its own physical laws and what if one planet of humans survived there?
The Void is the biggest threat to the galaxy as from time to time it expands symmetrically from the center of the galaxy, eating star systems. Nothing can enter it without permission, but at one point the Void ate a whole human settlement fleet.
This sets the stage for the 2 stories within this novel. Outside, the Commonwealth tries to deal with the threat of the Void and the millions of humans that want to join it, while various other factions try to understand it, control it, or battle just to understand it. Aliens too have something to say about what's going on, particularly as the Void appears to favor humans over other alien races. Inside the Void, the humans of Querencia have no technology more sophisticated than black powder weapons, but possess mental abilities unknown in the rest of the galaxy. They also strive to achieve enlightenment and go to the Nebulae after death, but is that an artificial goal imposed by the Void?
Both novels with in a novel are fascinating and well done. Perhaps intentionally, the story of Edeard of Querencia takes over the novel while forces in the outside galaxy mostly try to prevent doom. I enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to the last book in the trilogy and the 2nd spin-off novel, which I haven't read yet.

27Karlstar
Mar 8, 8:52pm Top

Through the Gate in the Sea by Howard Andrew Jones
STTM: 1 - strangely little time spent at sea
Rating: 4 out of 10

This book is one of the Pathfinder Tales novels, published by the Paizo game company and set in their game world of Golarion. This book picks up the story of Mirian Raas and her crew of salvagers. While checking out a particularly interesting wreck of an ancient lizardfolk ship, they are attacked by pirates. They manage to elude the pirates but the wreck leads Mirian and her lizardfolk blood brother closer to the discovery of his lost ancestors. Along the way they get mixed up with Mirian's half-sister and her treasure hunting husband.
The conflict between colonial exploiters and natives are a sub-plot in this book. Mostly, this is classic fantasy adventure as Mirian and friends fight off savage frogmen, pirates and an evil sorceress. The setting is interesting and well developed and the characters are interesting. Light reading, but fun.

28YouKneeK
Mar 9, 6:31am Top

>25 Karlstar: That was probably me. I had really enjoyed one of his fantasy series and was curious what his science fiction would be like. Your review was very helpful, thank you!

29majkia
Mar 10, 8:42am Top

> I really enjoyed the Void books, and I think Peter F. Hamilton is my favorite SF writer. Although James S.A. Corey are a close second!

30Karlstar
Edited: Mar 13, 2:51pm Top

>29 majkia: At the moment, I can't think of anyone who's currently writing SF that's better than Peter F. Hamilton. I first thought the whole idea of The Void was weird, but he's done a fantastic job with it. I really enjoyed the first spin-off novel too.

>28 YouKneeK: You're welcome! It was worth reading and I wish Keyes would do more fantasy!

31Karlstar
May 19, 1:27pm Top

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
STTM: 6 - there's a surprising amount of driving around the Midwest
Rating: 7 out of 10

Here's my original review from earlier this year, followed by the updated review I just posted.

I really enjoyed this book, but 10 years later, I can't remember much about it or why I liked it so much. I do, however recommend it to people who have similar interests in books.

Updated. Having now read the book, I can comment on what I said earlier. This book is about the myths and gods that Americans brought with them from other lands - though it is not all-inclusive, if you expect to find your favorite mythological creatures or deities here, you'll likely be disappointed. Its the story of Mr. Wednesday (Odin) and Shadow Moon. Shadow Moon is released from prison at the very beginning of the book and meets Mr. Wednesday on the way home and accepts a job with Mr. W. From there, Shadow finds that Mr. Wednesday is trying to raise the 'old gods' to band together and save them from being killed by 'new gods'. Other than television and the Techno Boy, the new gods are vaguely defined - basically all of our current obsessions and vices.

The story of Shadow and Mr. W's adventures are by turns exciting, amusing, sad and dark. The old gods that they meet along the way are an interesting subset of gods. Shadow, who at times is accused of not actually living, eventually becomes a hero in his own right. I can't say much more without revealing too much. Overall, it makes for a very enjoyable story. Some Christians may find this book objectionable, mostly for its omissions.

32BookstoogeLT
May 19, 6:06pm Top

>31 Karlstar: Do you think you'll read the sequel'ish book, Anansi Boys? I wasn't real impressed with AG and so never tried Anansi Boys. If it was better than AG I might try it just to give Gaiman another try.

33Karlstar
May 19, 9:50pm Top

>32 BookstoogeLT: I have given it some thought. I've only read 2 Gaiman novels and I liked both, I figure its worth another shot.

34YouKneeK
May 20, 9:21am Top

>31 Karlstar:, >32 BookstoogeLT: For what it’s worth, I read and enjoyed both books. Anansi Boys is lighter and much more humorous. It made me laugh a lot more than American Gods did, but I did think it occasionally crossed the line from funny to silly. I thought American Gods was darker and had a meatier story. I liked them both equally, but for different reasons. When I was reading reviews, it seemed like a lot of people liked one but not the other because they had such different styles.

35Karlstar
May 20, 11:35am Top

>34 YouKneeK: Thanks YouKneek, that's just what I needed to push me over the edge and put Anansi Boys on my wishlist.

36MrsLee
May 20, 3:58pm Top

I read Anansi Boys first, and really enjoyed it. My daughter told me not to read American Gods, and she usually gets me pretty well. I read it anyway, and although I could appreciate what he was trying to do, I didn't love it at all. For me, I enjoyed the comic side of AB, it tied in with the folk stories of Anansi, which are comical rather than severe for the most part. It may help if you are current with those, or simply read some of them first if you haven't.

37clamairy
May 21, 8:48am Top

#36 I had exactly the same reaction to both books, though I read American Gods first.

38Karlstar
May 21, 10:03pm Top

>36 MrsLee: >37 clamairy: I'm surprised, I thought Neil Gaiman was pretty high on the list of contemporary authors. Not for me, really. When I went to the World Science Fiction convention in Boston a few years back, there were 3 authors signing the day I was there - Gaiman's line was 100's of people deep. I got books signed by Glen Cook and Lawrence Watt-Evans - authors I was much more interested in having sign books, but it was me and 2 other guys in their 'line'.

39BookstoogeLT
May 22, 6:21am Top

>38 Karlstar: Ahh, the fickle public!

40clamairy
Edited: May 29, 3:58pm Top

>38 Karlstar: He is high on the list and I think he sort of belongs there. I have adored some of his books. (The Ocean at the End of the Lane for one.) But American Gods?... Meh. I think the series might be fun to watch, though.

41Karlstar
May 31, 3:04pm Top

>40 clamairy: Fair enough, I can't say American Gods is a great book, but I enjoyed it. I guess I may not be as much of a Gaiman fan as others, though he's a good writer.

42YouKneeK
May 31, 5:37pm Top

>40 clamairy: I’m looking forward to watching the series. I’m too cheap to subscribe to Starz to watch it while it airs, but I’ll watch it eventually. I usually enjoy things more if I don’t have to wait a week between episodes anyway.

43Sakerfalcon
Edited: Jun 1, 8:37am Top

I really enjoyed American Gods the first time I read it, but couldn't finish it on a reread. There are still parts of it I love (mainly the House on the rock section) but as a whole it didn't work for me a second time. I'd be curious to see the TV adaptation. I think my favourite of Gaiman's work is his YA and picture books - Coraline, The graveyard book, Wolves in the walls.

I've just started dipping into Gaiman's non-fiction in A view from the cheap seats.

44Karlstar
Jun 7, 6:55pm Top

The Sorcerer's Daughter by Terry Brooks
STTM: 8 - this is a Shannara novel, for a small place there's a LOT of slogging through the mud
Rating: 4 out of 10

This is the 3rd book in the Defenders of Shannara trilogy. This series features a different set of characters and outline than most Shannara books. There's no Ohmsfords, no Elves, no Dwarves, no elfstones. Instead this features Paxon Leah, the paladin of the druids, but not a druid; the sorceror's daughter Leofur; and Paxon's sister Chrysallin. Mostly the same characters from the previous books, though roles have changed quite a bit.
The plot once again pits the Druids against the anti-magic Federation and their technology. Despite a promising start to this trilogy, this book mostly reverts to standard Brooks form. Throw in a few well known Brooks tropes - a swamp witch, a shape shifter, the Wilderrun and this quickly starts to feel like so many other Shannara books. Someone is captured, someone else has to travel through the treacherous wilderness; a long pursuit and it really does start to blur with others. At one point one of the characters says something about how it is common knowledge that Grimpen Ward is where you go if you want information - of course they do, we know that too, it happens so often!
I had hopes for this trilogy and it started out better, but this one was disappointing. Just the same old stuff.

45BookstoogeLT
Jun 7, 9:02pm Top

>44 Karlstar: Sorry this wasn't good for you. I gave up on Shannara quite some time ago because I realized I was quickly approaching where you are right now. Do you think you'll stop reading Brooks now, or keep on trying?

46Karlstar
Jun 7, 9:57pm Top

>45 BookstoogeLT: I'm torn. I'm a long time Shannara fan, but I skipped the previous trilogy (before Defenders) because it just re-used old plots. The next trilogy is actually supposed to be the final Shannara trilogy. Not sure I need to read it though, I think it will just be disappointing.

47BookstoogeLT
Edited: Jun 7, 10:14pm Top

>46 Karlstar: I might read the final trilogy, after it's done and actually IS the last trilogy and not just a marketing ploy...

48Karlstar
Jun 8, 5:15am Top

>47 BookstoogeLT: That's probably the best plan, wait and see if its final and worth it.

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