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The Scar (New Crobuzon, #2)

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After finding Perdido Street Station to be one of the best fantasy novels I've read in years, I picked this one up shortly afterward. Mieville's style and world-building continues to amaze me. The absurdity of a floating city faded into the background as I read more of the book. The society feels real, with real political and social interactions. This continues to be new territory for fantasy, truly unlike everything else I've read.

I didn't find this book quite as compelling as the first, largely because I did not sympathize with the main characters to the same degree. Bellis has whiny-hero syndrome, and Tanner isn't given enough space to pull the weight. What's more, the book sometimes strains believability juuuust a bit too much.

Still, this is a good book. I'm definitely looking forward to reading the next in the series.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/343208912

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The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer

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Having read this a second time, I have to say that this is definitely my favorite standalone Stephenson book. The world is vivid, and the societal structure is a believable evolutionary point for humanity. Though the technology has changed for humanity, the really interesting future forecasting here is not technological, but rather societal. This is cyberpunk past the 80s, with social structures and nations changing wildly to encompass new ways of thinking.

Of course, the whole thing hangs together with Stephenson's crisp writing, and there are moments of wonder spread throughout. The full package: a page turner and a think piece.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4700376

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Android: Free Fall

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This is not my usual type of novel. Although I read science fiction, it tends a bit more to the side of William Gibson or Neal Stephenson, and less on the series genre fiction. Still, I'm an avid board gamer, so when I saw that there was a novel based on the game, I had to read this for the novelty factor if nothing else.

I expected complete genre trash, but this book is actually better than that. There's interesting themes here of humanity and crime, and the noir sci-fi thriller style works pretty well. The world is convincing, and the story moves along.

If you're interested in the board game, or have played it and want more, it's worth finding a copy of this book. It's good enough to hold up as more than just a novelty.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/240412593

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Cleopatra the Great: The Woman Behind the Legend

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A bit ponderous in the beginning, with an Egyptian version of so-and-so begat so-and-so begat so-and-so, but this book really gets going when Cleo herself enters the scene. The point of the book is to try to evaluate Cleopatra through the lens of the contemporary sources, and thus try to eliminate the strong anti-Cleopatra bias that many of the later Roman sources have, after Caesar Augustus decided to alter the record to make himself look better. The book succeeds admirably at this.

It is very clearly meticulously researched, with annotations and citations throughout. The approach is also (necessarily) holistic. Because of the paucity of primary sources that are 2000+ years old, there is a healthy dose of extrapolation done, along the lines of "Perhaps Cleopatra's pearl earrings came from this pearl-harvesting region of Europe" or "The image of Cleopatra's regalia is likely presented in this way to recall her Macedonian ancestry." But, the book is very explicit when it makes these assumptions.

This book manages to balance between well-researched and good narrative, and succeeds admirably as an analysis of one of the great rulers.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/364901607

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Perdido Street Station (New Crobuzon, #1)

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Quite unique. Fantasy with world building of the best type. Although there are a few tropes here and there, this is one of the few novels that is willing to take fantasy outside of the generic pseudo-medieval setting.

This is a save-the-world plot; its credentials as fantasy would be dubious if it weren't. However, the world here is a mere single city, depressingly corrupt, systemically violent and not necessarily worth saving. What's more, this isn't a rampaging mythical malicious force, but one of the main character's creation. This makes it more more real, as too much of the time, what we have to deal with as humans is our own mistakes. This character has to deal with his mistakes, they just happen to be on a whole different scope.

This is the most unique fantasy novel I have read since The Gone-Away World over two years ago. If fantasy seems stale, this is a wonderful book to revive your interest.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/134275966

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The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

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I feel like an obnoxious twit for saying this, but this really did change my outlook. Most of the facts were not new to me, as I knew them from talking to more food-conscious friends and reading a bit here and there. Pollan, however, has a remarkable talent for crystallizing these issues and putting them in a way that simultaneously is more troubling, yet less intimidating.

This book owes its impact to Pollan's deft descriptions that neither hide from the truth, nor pretend that there's an easy answer. Although he isn't completely objective, he acknowledges his point of view frequently. This doesn't read as a screed, but rather as analysis of the highest caliber. He's careful to point out the problems with big food industry, but he also is willing to talk about the weaknesses of organic, slow food, foraging, family farms, and everything else out there. Pollan is willing to admit that there isn't an easy answer here, and it makes his point even more powerful.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. I haven't had a book have this kind of impact on me in years.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/80692327

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Bizarro Comics

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I'm not sure I ever wondered what happened when you combined a bunch of independent comic authors with one of the big studios, but I now know. Fittingly, Bizarro Comics is bizarre. Its melding of independent irreverence and non-traditional storytelling with the flat characters of the tights-and-cape set makes for a strange collection. I'm not willing to call it interesting, but it is a spectacle.

Ultimately, I'm not that interested in the DC stable of characters. I sense that there is a vocabulary that is intimate to fans that would make this collection a bit more appealing, but I felt like I was missing the joke, sometimes.

Perhaps worth it for DC fans, but not for the indie set.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/343171153

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Exit Wounds

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The best word for this graphic novel is 'quiet.' In a style reminiscent of an art film, much of the book is occupied with the main characters lost in thought, not ignoring each other, exactly, but not talking to each other either. It's a unique setting as a reader, as it forces you to engage with the artwork, and with the world surrounding the characters. I've never encountered another comic that does that, and it's an amazing feeling, one I'm more used to from poetry or meditative texts.

The story itself is fast, and not particularly satisfying. It's a story of isolation, which fits with the artwork. The characters, while convincingly real, aren't likeable, and they aren't compelling. Missing one of those traits is adequate, but missing both makes for an unsatisfying read.

Still, this is a flawed work of beauty, and I would recommend it to fans of independent comics.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/343162617

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Kiss and Tell: A Romantic Résumé, Ages 0 to 22

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Autobiographical comics are some of the best independent, cutting-edge comics out there, with some very bold experiments with the form, particularly in the writing. I eagerly picked up Kiss and Tell from my library when I saw it, figuring that it’d be a good fit for what I like.

It delivers on the edginess, in a good way. It’s refreshing to see a woman be so forthright regarding sex, particularly in an industry so testosterone-laden as comics. There’s plenty laid out here, good and bad, and MariNaomi doesn’t pull any punches or fall into the trap of simpering. It’s a good thing.

That said, it’s a little bit on the navel-gazing side. But hey, it’s a fast read, and it’s an easy read, so you won’t really be out much if you don’t like it. Worth a look, I’d say.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/326893145

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I Am Legend

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The novella version of I Am Legend got a lot of press when the movie came out, and I recall hearing about how different it was from the movie, so I picked it up on a whim when I saw a copy at the library.

Make no mistake, this has firm grounding in pulp. The main story, I Am Legend, was apparently a standalone book from the beginning, but it feels like it’s been torn straight out of a sci-fi serial, and the rest of the stories have been directly republished from those serials. The writing shows it too, as the characters are very flat, the dialog extremely stilted, and the sentences simple, verging on boring.

But the strength of the volume is not in its writing style, but rather in its ideas. I Am Legend is interesting because of its earnest examination of the crushing loneliness and futility of a human life when the rest of humanity is gone. Other stories in the volume display similarly strong themes.

You can do better than this book, but you can certainly do a lot worse as well.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/326786388

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