Review: Psychopath for Hire

Monday, 02/02/2015 ≅09:43 ©brainycat

Psychopath for Hire
Psychopath for Hire by Matt Shaw
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 4
boobs: 2
bombs: 0
bondage: 4
blasphemy: 3
Stars: 1
Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

Full review at booklikes.

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Review: Sick Bastards

Monday, 02/02/2015 ≅09:19 ©brainycat

Sick Bastards
Sick Bastards by Matt Shaw
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 4
boobs: 4
bombs: 3
bondage: 4
blasphemy: 4
Stars: 2
Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

Full review at booklikes.

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Review: The Martian

Friday, 30/01/2015 ≅07:42 ©brainycat

The Martian
The Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 1
boobs: 0
bombs: 0
bondage: 0
blasphemy: 0
Stars: 3 (which is 1.86 in Martian gravity)
Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

This is probably the definitive feel-good story for interplanetary botanists everywhere. I can see how this got the funding to get made into a movie; it's a straightforward story with plenty of precedent so audiences won't feel challenged. Make no mistake, this is first and foremost a feel good story cleverly wrapped up in a scifi flag. Our intrepid hero Mark Watney is a study in charisma and I admit I feel a bit of a bro-crush on the fella. I was drawn into his celebrations and disappointments as his strategy for survival unfolded through his log/diary. It's a credit to the author that he made the monotony of marooned survival as exciting as he did.

The pacing is done very well in the purely literary sense, but I feel it was too dramatically perfect to feel realistic. And this is where the book loses a star. The peaks of his successes and the valleys of his failures line up too well; disasters strike at the most opportune time to advance the plot and all of the emotional highs happen on right on cue as our resident Martian completes his Major Projects.

But as so many journals and accounts of marooned people have shown us through the ages, it's not the major accomplishments that define the person or determine the likelihood of survival. It's how the person deals with the day in, day out monotony of solitude and hard labor. It's the gradual physiological changes and the evolution of psychological coping strategies that, in recollection, mark the passage of time. Daily tasks take on enormous importance - but we never learn about the day to life of Mark. Mark himself never really changes; he just disassembles and reassembles some stuff and travels around Mars until finally the [ending I won't spoil]. This illustration of "good ol' immutable American exceptionalism" loses the book a second star.

I've seen some reviews that lambasted the science for being too accessible, and some reviews that feel the science is too obtuse. This shows me the author got it right. I don't think there's anything wrong with the science, but there were certainly some presents lobbed into Mark's court that were there just to fill in some logical holes. I would have liked to see more detail, especially around the chemistry. But my entire background is in science and I do engineering for a living. I had a lot of fun "playing along" and solving some of the problems; but if a proper engineer who thinks about putting people onto stellar bodies all day long were to write a book I'm sure I'd like that more than I liked this book.

It's a quick read and very accessible; this is book was not even fractionally as ambitious as Red Mars. And while KSR's Mars trilogy will forever be amongst my favorite books, this book just doesn't have the depth or breadth to make any lasting impact.

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Review: Milk-Blood

Friday, 30/01/2015 ≅01:58 ©brainycat

Milk-Blood
Milk-Blood by Mark Matthews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 5
boobs: 2
bombs: 3 (the economic violence of poverty)
bondage: 3
blasphemy: 4
Stars: 5
Bechdel Test: PASS
Deggan's Rule: PASS
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

What a fantastic find this is! Written against the backdrop of inner city poverty, this is a short story about deeply imperfect people trying to cope with extraordinarily crappy circumstances. Drugs are a major part of this story, as is the supernatural. I found myself reminded of a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1626886.The_House" target="_blank">The House by Edward Lee - a miasma from years of psychic pain builds up and takes on a life of it's own, which is the sort of Jungian inspired supernatural shenanigans I like the best.

Speaking as someone with six years of sobriety after a lifetime of chemical addiction, I found the portrayal of addiction in this story to be among the best I've ever read. According to the bios on the usual sites the author's day job is drug counseling. This experience shows through. The horror and depravity of addiction is feels gut-wrenchingly visceral. I found parts of this short story difficult to read - they're that powerful. And I'm the guy that can read Edward Lee while eating dinner.

To be frank, I didn't have very high expectations for the book; Wicked Run Press is Mr. Mathew's own label. I was very pleasantly surprised at the quality of the writing - he uses an economy of words that flows very well, the characters were all developed well and voicing was especially well done. I do not recall any typos or grammatical errors. This is a well produced book gloriously free of the problems that beset too many self-published books.

I've since purchased several other books from Mark Mathews. They are not going to sit on my TBR list for years; knowing that I have some more stories that could be this good is like having a stash of the good stuff tucked away for later.

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Review: Altered States: a cyberpunk sci-fi anthology

Wednesday, 28/01/2015 ≅00:11 ©brainycat

Altered States: a cyberpunk sci-fi anthology
Altered States: a cyberpunk sci-fi anthology by Roy C. Booth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 4
boobs: 2
bombs: 4
bondage: 1
blasphemy: 3
Stars: 3.5
Bechdel Test: PASS
Deggan's Rule: PASS (with a non-literal interpretation of the test that preserves the intention)
Gay Bechdel Test: PASS

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

To be honest, I'm not sure I'd call most of the included stories "cyberpunk" but I'm an old school first wave cyberpunker from way back in the days of Omni v1. Hipster reviewer says, "I was cyberpunk before Neuromancer was published". Nor are many of the stories post-cyber or transhumanist. If I were editing the blurb, I'd say most of these are dark-scifi or future-horror. Despite being disappointed that the contents do not match the tin, I persevered on through the 17 included stories. The older stories all feel dated, and most of the new stories feel derivative. Unlike most anthologies, I don't recall any stand-outs - I believe the best of the bunch is "pretty good".

I read a CJ Cherryh novel many years ago; I recall not enjoying the experience and I've since avoided her canon. The short story Mech did nothing to change my opinion of her writing. She's accomplished, skilled and confident - but her tone, verbiage and general "style" just don't do it for me I'm afraid. Let this be an example of my own shortcomings as a reader and not her skills as a writer. Also, the story was originally published over twenty years ago and doesn't survive the "dated" feeling well.

Last Human by Jorge Salgado-Reyes is definitely dark-scifi. "Will the last one left alive please turn off the lights?" would be another apt title. In fact, I think it's the title of a totally unrelated short that covers the exact same territory. That's my long-winded way of saying, "This wasn't particularly original".

Gregory J. Wolos's Annabelle's Children is the first to bring up a theme that's in a lot of these stories - the ubiquity of mass media and it's ability to manipulate people. This story emphasizes the effects on one person's legacy after her death through a mechanism I consider gimmicky; YMMV. I'd file this under future-horror as well.

Tom Borthwick's Living in the Singularity took too long to get to where it was going, and didn't surprise anyone once it got there. Not the strongest story in the anthology by any means. I'd call this future-horror; the only scifi element of the story is the gimmick the author uses to talk about loneliness.

Cotner's Bot by D.L. Young is one of the more traditionally cyberpunky stories in the anthology, and even starts to brush up against interesting notions of how much humanity does an entity need to be human - but rather than dig into the meat of the question, we keep to the periphery with a focus on the shenanigans of the people trying to pass off the forgeries.

Midnight Pearls Blue was "First published in Stardate magazine, Oct. 1985" according to the blurb. The film Bladerunner came out in 1982.
"Do you believe [this story] is a replicant, Mr. Deckard?"
Yes, Rachael, I do.
And I do mean exactly that it's a ripoff of Bladerunner and not DADoES.

Better Than Everything by Malon Edwards is another solidly cyberpunk story, and one of the top three stories in the collection. How can you grow up and move on when your first love is always available in a new iteration?

Cynthia Ward's Ex Machina reads like Sturgeon's More than Human for the Nintendo generation, written with a dose of "Kid Sister's Gangster Street Cred" trope thrown in for absolutely no reason at all. I think there's a kernel of a great story in here, but it needs some more workshopping before it develops it's unique voice.

Island by Terry Faust - As I look over the text for this review, I remember reading this but it made absolutely no impression on me whatsoever. And that's all I have to say about that.

John Shirley comes to the rescue and makes the anthology worth the couple of quid I paid for it with Meerga. Truly cyberpunk, truly thoughtful and truly one of the best stories in the book. Worth most of the price of admission right there.

To Sleep, Perchance is Mark Terence Chapman's contribution to the anthology. A super quick read, I think it's a great premise for the obvious conclusion but just needed a bit more honesty and vulnerability from the author to make the story really connect at a human level. Also, I think this is squarely in the "dark scifi" genre and isn't even remotely cyberpunk.

The Walk by Druscilla Morgan carries the posthumanist torch for the anthology, though again it would be better labeled Future Horror rather than cyberpunk. Mostly because it features a plot hole so big it could only be filled in with supernatural woowoo.

The Electrified Ants by Jetse de Vries is the third story that carries this anthology, and one of the stories that relies on the relationship between ubiquitous surveillance and nonstop consumerism. Imagine if Mark Zuckerberg ran GCHQ, and 10 Downing Street was a wholly owned subsidiary of Halliburton- that's the setting and origin of the conflict for this story. One of the longer stories in the collection, it reminded me of Wolf Time by Walter Jon Williams because of the bittersweet relationship stuff laid on top of some good ol' fashioned rebels vs. the Corporate Government.

Extrenum is a joint project from R. Thomas Riley and Roy C. Booth. I don't know who was responsible for which part of the finished product. It was originally in Apexology, and I've long been a huge fan of Apex Publications. This is not an example of the best work Apex has ever published. I'd call this just straight horror; the only thing remotely scifi about the whole thing is that it's set on Mars. Other than that, it reads like nearly every other multiple personality inspired short horror story.

Kerry G.S. Lipp's Attention Whore used a lot of words to make it's point. Too many words, actually. Speaking for myself, I'dve liked to have seen more conflict (story) and less exposition. It's a good start to what could be a great short, but like others in this collection it could use some more workshopping to develop the plot and tighten the characters. This story is overtly and self-admittedly based on the woowoo, and as such I'd call it Future Horror.

Frank Roger got shortchanged when they put his Unholy Grail in the same anthology as The Electrified Ants. For all intents and purposes, both of these stories cover EXACTLY the same intellectual territory and this makes it impossible for me not to compare them. I'd say Jetse's story is slightly better; but a significant part of my reasoning is the plot is more developed. Unholy Grail isn't as long, though, so it scores higher on the "brevity breeds eloquence" scale. I'd say this story gets an honorable mention, and helps make the anthology worth what I paid for it.

I think the people who put this anthology together read a lot of the same things I do (actually, they read a lot more than I do which is why they're putting this together and I'm buying it) and we share a lot of the same aesthetics. I am disappointed that the majority of the stories don't fit my strict definition of Cyberpunk, but since I like dark scifi and future horror I was still able to appreciate the stories. There aren't many "top shelf" writers in the collection, and this shows in the overall quality. Nevertheless, nobody gets to launch their writing career fully formed and at the top of their game - so we can forgive a bit of youthful exuberance and appreciate the efforts. I got this on Kindle Unlimited; I think the out of pocket price is about 3 quid, and I think that's a fair deal.

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Review: Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate

Tuesday, 27/01/2015 ≅03:09 ©brainycat

Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate
Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate by Lazlo Ferran
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
boobs: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
bombs: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
bondage: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
blasphemy: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
Stars: 1
Bechdel Test: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
Deggan's Rule: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
Gay Bechdel Test: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

I DNF'd this book at 10%. I found the protagonist unbelievable - I felt no depth to the character, I felt he was just a collection of attributes and a repository of Things That Happened To Him. It was as if he had no agency in his story, but just existed to move the plot along. Not a good place for the main character to live.

The pacing didn't make sense to me at all. In the first couple of pages, we watch as the protagonist's daughter gets abducted by some sort of dimension hopping demon. Describing this (visually, because other senses and the interior life of the character don't exist in this world) takes only a few more words than driving through the french countryside between plot advancements. I felt a complete lack of economy WRT the wordsmithing. I expect authors of books I'm reading for fun to be able to write better than I can :)

The few pages I read showed me that this book isn't lacking for ideas, but isn't cut of the cloth that I like to read. I didn't see any glaring typos or grammatical errors; this is not from the bottom of the self-published barrel. Unfortunately, I think the author needs to keep working on his craft (characterization, pacing, visualization) before I will feel comfortable investing the time and energy into an entire book.

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Review: Shining in Crimson

Tuesday, 27/01/2015 ≅02:44 ©brainycat

Shining in Crimson
Shining in Crimson by Robert S. Wilson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
boobs: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
bombs: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
bondage: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
blasphemy: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
Stars: 1
Bechdel Test: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
Deggan's Rule: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
Gay Bechdel Test: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

I picked this up because it was cheap and it has 250+ ratings and a >3.75 star average rating at GR. I'm not sure I got the same edition everyone else has read. The edition I have had some serious pacing problems and glaring issues with the worldbuilding.

Our intrepid hero finds himself dumped off in Las Vegas, some time after it's been taken over by vampires. This is a state sponsored execution - he and his fellow convicts are expected to die. So far so good. This clearly isn't going to be the best book I read all year, but we're off to a good enough start. In the course of the next few paragraphs he manages to break into an as yet unscavenged army surplus store - that none of the hundreds (thousands?) of convicts before him, or undead residents of Las Vegas had yet broken into. How lucky can one guy be? There's a thick layer of dust over everything - but the store is just as it was when the employees last locked up. There's no hint as to why this store is intact when the rest of Las Vegas is run down and decrepit.

During the course of the scavenging, a fight ensues with a vampire and the vampire gets killed. Hero finds out that if he ingests a wee bit of vampire blood he gets superhuman strength etc (yawn). The whole fight didn't convey any sense of danger - it just sort of ambles along at the same pace as everything else we've done so far. Our hero was detected while he was quietly tiptoeing around inside the store, but the fight that knocked over rows of shelves didn't seem to draw attention from any of the other vampires flying around. And of course everything our hero needs for his solitary, Rambo-esque trek out of Las Vegas and back to (wherever) is right there in easy reach.

The city is completely abandoned and run down with no running water, but there's still electricity? This doesn't surprise Hero, nor is it explained at all. Maybe I'm too old, maybe I'm too grumpy, but I just can't tolerate worldbuilding errors like this. The numerous logical fails, coupled with the uninspired writing (short words and small sentences) put this book on my DNF list.

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Review: Cypulchre

Tuesday, 27/01/2015 ≅01:34 ©brainycat

Cypulchre
Cypulchre by Joseph MacKinnon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
boobs: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
bombs: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
bondage: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
blasphemy: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
Stars: 1
Bechdel Test: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
Deggan's Rule: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]
Gay Bechdel Test: [UNSCORED, DNF AT 10%]

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

The First Rule of Cyberpunk is:
You do not make asides to define your new terms
The Second Rule of Cyberpunk is:
You do not make asides to define your new terms
The Third Rule of Cyberpunk is:
If this is the near dark future, it had damn well better make sense

One of my long standing policies is that I will get through 10% of a book before I declare it DNF. It was difficult getting through this ten percent. Not because of typos, but because the writing was so bad. It felt like someone took a standard format script and removed the "character" column from the left side, leaving only lines of dialogue and stage directions floating around on the page unachored by context. A number of characters were introduced - with some sort of physical attribute to differentiate them - and afterwords they were only ever referenced through dialogue. I had no idea who was saying what to whom. I've never tried to hide the fact that I'm not a very sophisticated reader, but I'm still smarter than the average bear and I've been reading since I was a wee lad. I feel very confident saying that my reading skills are not the weak link in this particular chain.

Secondly, the scenario made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Apparently, it's late Friday night and the most important experiment in the history of a multinational biomedical corporation gets started. RRrrriiiiigggghhht... Ever better, not just one, but two leading researchers independently and without each other's knowledge each kick off a major procedure? WTF? How were these doctors able to staff both the surgeries in the same clinic at the same time without knowing about each other? This scenario makes no sense whatsoever. I can't imagine a management or fiduciary policy where running a lab in this manner seems plausible.

We're not even going to get into the nature of the procedure and why it doesn't even stand up to scrutiny under it's own logic. Nor will we get into the unnecessary and sometimes inappropriate use of Technological Terms. I will say that taking time out of the story (via footnotes!) to define and explain technological terms, rather than just showing the characters using the technology and trusting us to figure it out, feels like a slap in the face. Coupled with the pacing and characterization issues, this points to the dire need for some professional editing and a few more rewrites. I didn't see any new ideas in the few pages I read, but I did see a nonstop litany of amateurish mistakes.

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Review: Pandemonium

Monday, 26/01/2015 ≅23:56 ©brainycat

Pandemonium
Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 3
boobs: 3
bombs: 0
bondage: 1
blasphemy: 4
Stars: 3.5
Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

Imagine Herman Hesse and Theodore Sturgeon eating acid with Philip K. Dick then spending the whole day reading classic comics while watching Bill Moyers interviewing Joseph Campbell. That's the impression I got from this book; it's a self-confessed pop culture mashup with a thin veneer of Jungian psychobabble plastered over the top. This could have gone either way; in the hands of a less confident or skilled author this story would quickly become a parody of itself and lose respect from any decently read reader.

Fortunately this was not the case. Nobody tried to reach too far nor did the story try to pretend it's more than just a contemporary adult fantasy novel. It's crafted well, the editing/proofreading are all of the standard you'd exepct from Del Rey, the characters have enough life to be interesting and stand on their own while the setting just sort of drifts by and occaisonally interjects itself to complicate the plot on cue. There's not a lot of action in this book, which makes this the sort of book I don't normally read. I felt the pacing was brisk but too tightly managed. There were very few surprises and I never felt compelled to try to prognosticate what was going to happen next. I'm not even sure I ever got emotionally invested in the protagonist, actually. I felt like I was reading an inventory of a lot of conversations that some guy was having with a number of different people with the purpose of deciding if I like the guy or not. And I'm still not sure I like the guy.

That being said, the story has a new twist on a premise that's been touched on in any number of books and movies (some of them mentioned by name, thank you dear author) and faith in the premise is what kept me going despite the occasional plot hole or the contemporary setting full of characters who can travel back and forth across the US at will but don't have cell phones.

There's nothing technically wrong with this book; it's certainly better than most of the swill getting published under the contemporary fantasy banner. It's a great premise that's executed well, the author clearly respects me as a reader and I feel a kinship since we clearly count some of the same writers among our favorites, but ultimately this story lacks a certain frisson and failed to grab me. I think this is a great book for someone else, and could easily be five stars for a different reader. I found myself skimming the last third hoping there would be a surprise that would engage me (there wasn't), but I liked it just a little too much to give up on it. I'm giving this a very solid 3.5 stars.

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Review: Down on the Farm

Thursday, 22/01/2015 ≅00:54 ©brainycat

Down on the Farm
Down on the Farm by Charles Stross
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 0
boobs: 0
bombs: 0
bondage: 0
blasphemy: 2
Stars: 3.5
Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

This is an odd little addition to the Laundry Files canon. It clocks in at 74 ereader screens; it's hardly long enough to get a story going, let alone developed and resolved. There's a very long setup and then a super quick resolution which left me just a little puzzled - I won't give anything away but I feel the solution to the problem isn't consistent with the "rules" of the Laundry Files world. We did learn some more arcane trivia about the history of the Laundry, but we didn't learn very much about Bob Howard and the "mystery" aspect of the story leaves some huge gaps that aren't adequately explained. That being said, the writing is crisp and elegant which I appreciate after the clumsiness of [b:The Rhesus Chart|18685526|The Rhesus Chart (Laundry Files, #5)|Charles Stross|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1391370753s/18685526.jpg|25632880].

A weak 3.5; it was enjoyable enough for fans of the Laundry Files but doesn't offer very much for people just coming into the series.

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