Religious Orders


Posted: Sunday January 20 2013 @ 2:09pm

Religious Order: Books

Fantastic Erotica: The Best of Circlet Press 2008-2012

Okay, I don't have lots of erotica on my eReader, so there aren't many other books against which to contrast this one. About the only thing is Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction about which I wrote a very short review last month.

Beyond Binary was okay. My main complaint was that it was tepid considering the promise of its title. It was also short on, well, actual fucking. But, then again, it didn't bill itself as erotica per se.

Fantastic Erotica is, on the other hand, billed as erotica. It's also billed as being fantastic. Does it deliver on both counts? Yeah, it does.

In terms of being fantastic, it covers a wide range of generally fantastic-ish genres. Vampires? Yep. Angels and demons? Yep. Steampunk? Yep. Sci-fi? Elder Gods? Pirates? Yep, yep, and yep. Lesbian pirates? Oh lord, yes!

So, yeah, it covers a wide range of genre, which I loved. No two stories are really alike. Each one is a treat of a different sort in terms of genre.

The sexual variety is lacking compared with Beyond Binary. You have F/M, F/F, and M/M. There's one gender-bending story. There are no groups that I remember. There's a little bondage and S&M but not a whole lot. This made me drop my Goodreads rating to four stars. (Wish I could have just docked it half a star.)

Which leads to the question of erotica, namely, is there much fucking going on? Yes, there is. Each story has lots of explicitly described fucking. And are they well-written descriptions of fucking? Yes, yes they are. (Well, okay, I thought the writing in one of the stories was amateurish, but just in one.) The collection reads as quality fiction to me, just quality fiction in fantastic genres with lots of fucking.

And, honestly, what more do you want. (Other than a little more sexual variety.)

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Books for November and December 2012

Posted: Thursday December 06 2012 @ 8:42am

Religious Order: Books

Yikes! Haven't reviewed any books in a bit. Let's rectify that with a few short ones!

(I'll note that I'm now linking books to their Goodreads pages. Feel free to friend me there.)

Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession

This book really isn't sure what it wants to be. Is it a rant/screed against the South? Is it a serious look into the possibility of secession? It wants to be both. Sorry, but you can't be both. The ranting parts, while enjoyable as such, make it hard to take the serious parts seriously. The serious parts make you wish the ranting was in a different book, because they beg to be taken seriously.

I did enjoy reading it. But I'm a fucking pinko from Minnesota, now living in Virginia. So, of course I'm gonna enjoy it.

Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction

Interesting set of short stories promising to smash the boundaries of traditional relationships. But, honestly, it didn't feel all that ground-breaking. I'm a straight white guy from the suburbs. Okay, I'm more open-minded than most. Still, nothing here made me sit back and think wow. So, I think, given the title, the collection is more tepid than it should be.

That said, most of the stories are good. As with any collection, each reader will find some which really resonate and some which fall flat. Compared to other short story collections I've read, this had fewer clunkers than most.

So, all in all, a worthwhile read. It just won't blow open your perceptions.

Who Could That Be At This Hour?

This is sort of a prequel to A Series of Unfortunate Events. I'm a big fan of that series. This new book is in the same style. If you liked the older series, then you'll likely like this one.

Oh, yeah, it's a series, part one of four. Unlike in the older series, this book doesn't come to any sort of real resolution. So, really, treat it as the first quarter of a larger book, instead of as a book in a series.

Dragon's Egg

The title sounds like fantasy. When I tell you it's about beings living on the surface of a neutron star, you'll think it's speculative fiction of the worst kind. It's not. It's hard sci-fi. I loved it.

True, the human characters aren't fully realized. Not even half realized. But they're just backdrop anyway.

The denizens of the neutron star are the focus and are worked out in loving hard sci-fi detail. There's also a helpful appendix which clears up any issues the context of the story doesn't make clear enough.

Foundation's Edge and Foundation and Earth

Years after the Foundation trilogy, Asimov wrote these sequels. The first one, Foundation's Edge, continues the story of the Foundation's development. It's an interesting read, with multiple plot lines coming together at the end, but it really just extends the concepts of the second and third books of the trilogy up one meta-level. This includes a character reveal which should surprise no one.

The second book, Foundation and Earth, picks up where the first ends but is an entirely different sort of book. It's a road trip taken by some of the characters from the first book, and it works fine at that. The end is a satisfying treat for people familiar with other Asimov works. Probably won't do much for you if you aren't a fan. Of course, if you're not a fan, you're not likely to be reading these particular books, are you?

The Cosmic Computer

Reasonably fun book about economic development. No, seriously, that's what it's about. But there's enough action to keep you going. Fun, overall.

Agony of the Leaves (A Tea Shop Mystery, #13)

Alas, I may have had my fill of tea shop mysteries. Or this one might just not be any good. I gave up part-way through, which is shocking given the easy-read nature of these books. My first warning should have been the fact that they didn't actually get to the tea shop until the fourth or fifth chapter.

Here's a hint for Laura Childs: I don't read these for the quality of the mysteries. I read them for the tea shop ambiance in which the mysteries take place. The actual mystery is a secondary consideration.

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Even More Old Sci-Fi!

Posted: Thursday October 25 2012 @ 7:28am

Religious Order: Books

Yes, I'm still reading old sci-fi. Here are the latest!

Omnilingual - H. Beam Piper

After thoroughly enjoying Four Day Planet, I decided I needed another dose of H. Beam Piper. Omnilingual is more a novella or even long-ish short story. But it's simply great. The idea is that some archeologists are exploring the cities of the long-dead Martians, trying to decipher the culture. However, how do you ever figure out how to read Martian without even the possibility of some sort of Rosetta Stone? That question powers the storyline and the conclusion is satisfying. This one is a great read.

I should note that Piper is notable (heh) for having strong female characters for the time, such as the lead in this story.

Space Platform - Murray Leinster

Then I decided to switch tracks and try another author. I kinda wish I hadn't.

Well, okay, Space Platform isn't horrible. But it's not all that great, either. The first thing to keep in mind is that this isn't a tale set upon some space platform. It's about building a space platform. All the action takes place right here on Earth.

The plot is simply that the protagonists (basically the United States) want to build a space platform to orbit the Earth while the antagonists (other countries) want to stop that effort.

And for what are they going to use this space platform? As a place for experimentation and as a stepping stone to the stars, to be sure. But they also plan to load it up with nuclear weapons, pointed down at Earth, to make everyone else toe the line. Because this is how you achieve world peace.

No, seriously, the book makes this claim over and over. And over.

But, if you can get past the jingoism, the adventure itself horrible. It's not all that great, either. It was just good enough that I kept reading, but I was glad to finish. So, y'know, meh.

The Cosmic Computer - H. Beam Piper

So, I ran back to the safe arms of H. Beam Piper! The Cosmic Computer is basically a story about economic development. It features the same sorts of hardy capable men as Four Day Planet did. It also includes a hardy capable woman. It's set in the same fictional galaxy, as well.

The adventure isn't quite as rollicking as in Four Day Planet. But nor is the tale quite as simple, either.

The reveals are decent. (One draws a bit from Asimov's Foundation.) The conclusion is okay, short-term, but isn't really a conclusion. But, hey, no one ever promised one, did they?

All in all, a fine read, just not as fun or satisfying as the other Piper works I've read.

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Four-Day Read

Posted: Friday October 12 2012 @ 7:32am

Religious Order: Books

Well, okay, it's not a four-day read. It's not that long a book. I just needed a title for this post.

Anyway, just finished H. Beam Piper's Four-Day Planet, just one of many old sci-fi books I recently snagged off of Gutenberg.

My selection criteria was simple: I grabbed titles which sounded interesting. Sometimes the resulting books were fairly pedestrian. Sometimes they were, well, really fucked up.

And, sometimes, the result was a really nice enjoyable read. Case in point, Four-Day Planet.

The eponymous planet, Fenris, has a slow rotation rate, causing days and nights lasting 1000 hours each. This forces the populace to live underground except around sunrise and sunset. And, while this odd planet provides the back-drop to the story, it isn't the story itself.

The story itself revolves around the conflict between corrupt local politicians and the equivalent of earthly whale hunters. And, damn, but it's a lot of fun.

The novel is an example of old-skool sci-fi with competent manly men doing things and not fretting overly much about their damn feelings. It's bracing and refreshing after some of the stuff I've read recently.

There's a great running joke about how, with humanity expanding and interbreeding on a global scale, names no long match ethnicity. (Although, having Nip Spazoni's nickname being a commentary on his race is, well, awfully awkward today.)

It has that wonderful feel of sci-fi from an era which doesn't know what's actually coming. Everyone's packing heat and the guns all shoot bullets, not lasers of some sort. Folks get lost in a way that GPS wouldn't allow today. The newspaper still physically pastes layout. Holy crap, they even pull out a goddamn slide rule at one point. It's awesome!

Granted, the big reveal isn't all that astonishing. So what? It detracts not at all from my enjoyment of the book.

And the best news? There are a bunch of other works of his on Gutenberg!

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More Old Sci-Fi

Posted: Tuesday October 09 2012 @ 7:35am

Religious Order: Books

So, I've been working my way through some older sci-fi. Here are a couple reviews:

Tau Zero - Poul Anderson

I'm pretty sure I grabbed this because I saw it on some list of mind-blowing sci-fi. The idea is that a ship heads to a star to potentially set up a colony. Although it'll take 'em a while to get there, time dilation as they build speed will shorten it for them.

The story starts out fairly tame. It bounces between character-focused sections and (rather dry) hard sci-fi sections. The book is a pioneer of sorts in the hard sci-fi genre.

About a third of the way through, things go a bit haywire. The structure of the book remains the same, alternating character studies with dry technical descriptions. But the context in which all this occurs gets more and more extreme.

The conclusion is based on knowledge current at the time the book was written, so just go with it.

It's an odd book in that the ideas are pretty far out there while still being hard sci-fi. The biggest problem is that the technical stuff is dry. The character sections are livelier. Overall, it's pretty damn good, although not great. Give it a read.

D-99 - H. B. Fyfe

I grabbed this one off of Gutenberg, but I can no longer find it there. Anyway, you won't be missing much.

It's about a special department, Department 99, which is tasked with rescuing humans who have gotten themselves into trouble on other planets.

Half the book takes place in the D-99 offices as a city-wide blackout traps them there for hours! Oh noes! Trapped after work! With a generator for power and ample food! They do throw in a complication meant to add some suspense to being stuck at the office after hours. Still, who cares?

The other half takes place at various locations where humans need help escaping.

Oddly, the book initiates a situation on a planet but never resolves it. But it does resolve several situations already in place at the start. It's almost as if it's part of a serial, although it isn't.

The writing is sturdy. The characters are okay if you can ignore the rampant sexism. Sure, it's written in 1962. Still, Tau Zero is really only seven years later and has a much more enlightened view of sexual relationships and roles.

Should you read it? Nah.

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A Voyage to WTF?

Posted: Thursday September 27 2012 @ 5:36pm

Religious Order: Books

So, one day, I had run out of science fiction to read. So I headed over to Project Gutenberg and browsed around for some old skool sci-fi. Basically, I grabbed copies of anything I thought had an interesting title.

One that caught my eye was A Voyage to Arcturus, from 1920. It sounded like it might be some sort of hard sci-fi about, well, a voyage to Arcturus. If not hard sci-fi, maybe at least firm sci-fi?

Could I have been more wrong? Nope! This book is a fucking crazy trip, man! It's wild-ass speculative fiction like you've never seen. Ummm, read.

Now, let me note that I'm not saying the book is good. I don't think it is. It's not well written. The characters are not compelling. The dialogue is more stilted than you can imagine. And the plot is basically that this guy goes to a planet orbiting Arcturus, where he walks around, meeting other people who expound on their various philosophies. I honestly can't tell if the author loves these various takes on the nature of reality or whether he's satirizing them.

Personally, I found the philosophy boring. There's way too much it's naturally so to cover up bald assertions. There's also a bunch of assertions about the natural roles and attributes of the various sexes. Yeah, I know, it's written in 1920. Still, so much of it is just groan-worthy. At one point, gravity is described thusly: The great body of the earth is continually giving out female particles, and the male parts of rocks and living bodies are equally continually trying to reach them. That's gravitation.

Plus, as I mentioned earlier, it's all presented via the most stilted language one can imagine.

You can get a good overview of the plot at Wikipedia's entry for it but don't go read the entry if you're planning on reading the book.

Wait... what? Why would you read it if I'm telling you how awful it is?

Because, as I also said, it's a fucking crazy trip, man! The best description of it is one I saw in a GoodReads review:

If a 14 year old who was really into Gnosticism were asked to invent the science fiction genre, this would be the result.

There are all these really weird parts, with bizarre descriptions of the planet, the denizens, the twin suns of Arcturus, and the nature of reality. It's like being on acid while simultaneously listening to baroque prog-rock and conversing with stoned Philosophy undergrads.

So, y'know, it's free to download if you want to spend a few hours going What the Fuck?

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Seriously? Nine?

Posted: Friday September 21 2012 @ 6:56pm

Religious Order: Books

The Young Visiters

So, what did you do for fun when you were nine? If you're Miss Daisy Ashford, you write this captivating story, put it away, and rediscover it as an adult.

The story is a love triangle. And, yes, there's an actual story here. The language is a treat. My poor wife was trying to read her own book while I continually interrupted to read yet another hilariously charming passage aloud.

It's not a long book, so there's no need for a long review. Just go get a copy. It is freakin' adorable!

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Science Non-Fiction

Posted: Friday September 21 2012 @ 6:49pm

Religious Order: Books

Here are a couple of science-oriented non-fiction works to make you more knowledgeable about the world:

Eight Amazing Engineering Stories: Using the Elements to Create Extraordinary Technologies

This one is a little weird in that the title makes it sound as if you're going to get actual stories about how different technologies came to be. And that's not really what this is. True, it looks at eight different technologies but mainly describes, in impressive detail, how each one works. And it does an excellent job at that task. We all kind of know how a battery works. After reading this, you'll really know how one works, how one is charged, and why it's really bad to drain some batteries too low. How does an atomic clock work? By the end of the book, you'll really know and understand how they work.

The explanations are very detailed yet understandable for someone with a moderate amount of science know-how. If that's you, then you'll want to give this a read.

Don't, however, go into it assuming there are stories.

Want stories? That's okay...

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

This one is an amazing and captivating spin through the Periodic Table. It talks about the Table itself and its development. But it's also a tour of the Table, hitting, basically, every area on it. And each and every section is packed with truly interesting tales. There's a good flow through the book, making the tour seem natural. It gets, maybe, a little shaky at the end. I started to feel as if the author was struggling just a wee bit and linking things together.

Or that may just be me needing to fine something about which to complain.

In the end, a very nice read.

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Stick to Comic Books

Posted: Friday August 17 2012 @ 6:23am

Religious Order: Books

Just finished reading Grant Morrison's Supergods.
By finished, I mean gave up two-thirds of the way through.

It's just awful. First off, it's misleading. The subtitle is What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human. And it does indeed start as an examination of comics and society. It's not a great examination. Most of it you've heard before. The rest just sounds like Morrison thinks tossing loads of adjectives together will impress. Honestly, he uses lysergic three or four times. Probably more.

But at least it's interesting reading. Then in starts creeping his own personal story.

Now, let me be clear, there's a great genre of books where an author blends his biography with some topic near to his heart. A good example of this genre is Cardboard Gods. One that works in spite of the personal stuff is Candyfreak.

Alas, Morrison's story just isn't very interesting at the start. He draw comics for himself, for fun. Then he gets a drawing job for the local paper. Then he gets a job on a small book. Then larger ones. It's not what one would call compelling. Oh, and he didn't fit in as a teen. Good lord!

But the personal story doesn't detract too much until the mid-point, when it becomes clear that Morrison wants to talk about himself more than he wants to talk about comic books or superheroes. And, oh, does he like to talk about himself.

Look, if you like wordy descriptions of someones self-congratulatory faux occult travels whilst on drugs, then you might really like the second half. Me, I started quickly flipping through the pages, looking for a spot where he might actually talk about the book's subject again. Not finding one in a reasonable time, I gave up.

It doesn't help that he's just a poor writer of prose. It's as if he's being paid by the adjective while being penalized for each full stop. Several times I had to re-read a paragraph just to figure out what the hell he was trying to say.

Maybe it would have helped if I were a fan of his comic work. It's not that I dislike his work. It's just that, while I read plenty of comics, I just haven't read many of his.

That said, even if Gaiman had written this, I'd still think it was crap.

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First Half of 2012 Book Reviews

Posted: Wednesday June 27 2012 @ 6:26pm

Religious Order: Books

Please excuse the lack of a clever title. Anyway, here are some books I've read sort of recently, along with half-assed reviews, listed in reverse chronological order of reading! I haven't written any reviews for a while, so there's lots of them. At least that's forcing me to keep each one short!

Blue Remembered Earth - Alastair Reynolds

Reynolds' latest. Good, but not great. I didn't really like any of the characters, although I suppose there's no reason I need to do so. It's one of those books where folks follow obtuse clues to some grand revelation. The clues themselves were so bizarrely obtuse that I didn't really care about them. The grand revelations weren't really all that grand. But, in between, the writing is solid, although lacking the level of deliciously descriptive detail that marks Reynolds' best works.

His best work? The Prefect.

Redshirts - John Scalzi

Scalzi writes a fun and clever take on those expendable redshirts from Star Trek. This is a fast-reading lightweight book. That's a compliment. That's what he means for it to be and it is completely successful on that level. It doesn't mess about trying to be anything different. The main story is followed by three related short stories. The second one tries out a rarely seen gimmick. I think it should have been limited to just the video part of it, with the set-up moved to the main story. The gimmick would have worked better that way.

Solaris - Stanistaw Lem

After reading Roadside Picnic, see below, I decided to watch the glacially slow movie based on it, Stalker. And that got me to thinking about watching the just as glacially-paced Solaris. (Made by the same guy.) But, before I did that, I decided to read the book first.

Interesting, overall, with one of those open-ended musing endings which I find annoying. Still, was certainly worth reading. Just don't expect it to scratch any sort of hard sci-fi itch.

Roadside Picnic - Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Old school Soviet sci-fi. It's not, however, loaded with propaganda. The current release is notable for being free of governmental edits, despite the lack of any sort or real political content. It's a really good read. The protagonist feels real and there's enough sci-fi stuff to keep me interested. As mentioned above, it was adapted into a movie, Stalker, in which very little happens, but where the non-action is strikingly filmed.

A Universe From Nothing - Lawrence M. Krauss

This may be my favorite book about hard science. One problem with science-oriented non-fiction is that it tends to be pitched at a low level. If you have a decent background in various sciences, then you're usually left wishing for much more and deeper detail. (I don't mean having advanced degrees. I just mean having something like a year of college-level physics under your belt.)

But this book isn't dumbed-down at all. Well, of course, it is dumbed-down some. But it's still detailed enough, and difficult enough, to make it a satisfying read.

And, best of all, it gives a concise answer to why there is something rather than nothing, because nothingness is unstable.

Game Change - John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

Get an inside eye on the 2008 elections. This book purports to be factually accurate. Assuming that's so, this is a fascinating look indeed. Obama comes out looking the best. Hillary gains loads of sympathy, striving within a campaign hampered by a lack of organization and a famous husband who still loves attention (and women). McCain only looks good in comparison to the walking disaster that is Palin.

And Edwards is a clueless asshole. How did he fool so many of us for so long?

Kingdom Come - J.G. Ballard

Another new book from J.G. Ballard. (Meaning that it's newly published in the United States.) As usual, it's the same damn book he always writes. I've found, much to my surprise, that I'm entirely Ballarded-out, making this a tedious read.

A Fuller Explanation - Amy Edmondson

If you've ever tried to actually read Buckminster Fuller's Synergetics, you know it's pretty wild and obtuse. I have a copy and I've always had to be content with just looking at the weird diagrams. I just ain't that smart!

Edmondson tries to put it all into normal English, in the hopes that mostly normal people can understand it. And she does a damn fine job. She's lightyears more readable that Bucky. Which is not to say that this is a light read. It's not. But at least you feel like you have a shot at understanding.

One warning, though. You'll forever cringe when someone speaks of squaring and cubing numbers.

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash - Jean Shepherd

This is the book on which most of the Xmas classic A Christmas Story is based. It's not as enchanting as the movie nor is it as fun. It's still funny but the best bits are in the movie. Just go watch the movie.

The Cleanest Race - B.R. Myers

So, what the hell is the deal with North Korea? Why does so much of the population utterly buy into utter loony worship of an utterly loony ruler? Myers attempts to answer that question by drawing on internal North Korean documents never meant for outside consumption. I won't go into the details and I'm not at all sure I buy his thesis. But, damn, it's interesting watching him lay it out.

Make Room! Make Room! - Harry Harrison

Classic novel on which the movie Soylent Green is based. Plot-wise there just isn't all that much. The book is more about the society formed than the particular plot lines. That's not to say it's plotless. There's certainly a plot. It's just that the plot doesn't really seem to matter much. Interesting and classic, but not something I'd read a second time.

Containment - Christian Cantrell

I suspect that this is self-published. Regardless, I enjoyed it a lot. Some reviews have complained about an abrupt ending, but I found that it worked perfectly well. (Although the ending is fairly easily guessed.) In all, some solid fairly hard sci-fi.

Oddly, I can no longer find it at Barnes & Noble as an eBook, which is the format in which I bought it.

Machine Man - Max Barry

This one starts out great as a technological/psychological profile but steadily falters into a robot action novel by the end. Well, not the very end. The very end redeems itself a little. Still worthy of reading, I just wish the early promise had held up throughout the whole book.

Rat Girl - Kristin Hersh

A biography by an artist I don't know writing about her years in a band I didn't listen to. Regardless, I still found it interesting. It's as much about bipolar disorder as it is about music and it's certainly better written than either of these Husker Du / Bob Mould related tomes. And she's much less of an asshole than Bob Mould, too.

Accelerando - Charles Stross

I didn't realize that this was a collection of related short stories while I was reading it. Thus it felt really disjointed. It has some really great concepts, some a little mind-blowing. But it also relies on characters who act in extreme gestures seemingly simply because the story, such that is it, depends on it. In that way, it reminded me of Reynolds' Pushing Ice.

You might note that I have an obvious preference for hard sci-fi that contains great ideas, meticulously described, with interesting characters. Scalzi can hit this sweet spot. So can Reynolds. But it's tricky to do. That's why so many of my reviews are of the good-but-not-great variety.

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