Religious Orders

The Erotofluidic Age?

Posted: Friday February 01 2013 @ 7:46pm

Religious Order: Books

So, a few weeks ago, I reviewed Fantastic Erotica: The Best of Circlet Press 2008-2012. My only complaint, really, was that the sex itself was pretty plain vanilla.

Following my review, one of the authors in the collection sent me a message suggesting his own The Erotofluidic Age as a rather kinkier alternative. Of course, I had to take him up on his suggestion.

Structurally, the book is basically three linked novellas, and this serves the stories fine. But you don't care about that! You want to know about the fucking, right? What did I think about the fucking?

Fucking weird-ass shit, man! No, really, this is some weird stuff. It's not tentacle porn. Oh, no, tentacle porn isn't nearly strange enough. Think mutated gooey ducks, phonetically. I'll say no more, just, really, the sex is weird. And I'm fine with that. The strap-on scene is, well, wow. Just wow.

(I'll note that, while weird, the sex isn't violent or mean. It's a happy, good-natured weird. But it is really fucking weird.)

So, is that it? A seriously weird wank book? Well, no, there's more to it than that. It's billed as a pornographic steampunk comedy, and, to be sure, it's pornographic. But what about the rest, you ask? It's also a darn good steampunk yarn. The descriptions and dialogue feel right. Authentic, if you will. I'm not the world's biggest steampunk fan. Even so, this went down smooth. (Phrasing!) All that steampunky goodness is melded nicely with the sex, making it, well, steampunk sex. Weird Victorian steampunk sex. And there's a hilarious throw-away joke about goggles.

Oh, right, is it also funny? Yeah, it is. It's not a joke-a-minute sort of book. Rather, there's a fun amusing quality throughout, punctuated at intervals with full on hilarity. I laughed aloud at several points.

(Side-note: Why don't we write LA for laugh aloud instead of LOL?)

In the end, the real test is to ask whether the book would be worth reading without the sex scenes. For me, the answer is a big thumbs up. I would have been perfectly happy with it had the story been less explicit. The explicitness was just a bone-us!

But, fair warning, if you find the thought of really weird sex to be disturbing, then you might find that it detracts from the rest of the book. It didn't for me, but I'm pretty fucking weird at times, too.

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January 2013 Books

Posted: Tuesday January 29 2013 @ 9:01am

Religious Order: Books

Thirteen - Richard K. Morgan

I've read earlier books by Morgan and always found them to be entertaining. This one is no different. Instead of the distant future body swapping of the Takeshi Kovacs books, this one is more near future, dealing with genetic enhancement. Whereas Kovacs, the protagonist in the those earlier books, has tech and special training to make him a super bad-ass, the protagonist of Thirteen has enhanced genetics and special training to make him a super bad-ass.

That's a little harsh. I mean, it's true, but it doesn't mean this isn't a fun read. Plus, this book actually delves into issues of whether Wolverine-type characters are actually useful to society without dogmatically coming to any actual conclusion. So, it's a pretty sophisticated book, as well as being a slab of action-packed goodness.

I also maintain that Morgan writes sex scenes far better than most sci-fi writers.

The Curve of Binding Energy: A Journey into the Awesome and Alarming World of Theodore B. Taylor - John McPhee

A friend recommended I read this. It's from 1974. The book bounces between being a biography of Taylor and an examination of the state of the nuclear industry regarding security. Both topics are interesting as well as frightening. In the end, you'll gain an appreciation of the risks taken in the early years of atomic weaponry. You'll also start worrying more about nuclear terrorism. Finally, you'll grasp the meaning of the curve of binding energy and have your mind blown by this:

He said that Carson Mark had once pointed out to him a number, a fact, that brought with it the most astonishing realization he had ever experienced in physics. It had to do with binding energy, and it was that when Fat Man exploded over Nagasaki the amount of matter that changed into energy and destroyed the city was one gram - a third the weight of a penny. A number of kilograms of plutonium were in the bomb, but the amount that actually released its binding energy and created the fireball was one gram. E (twenty kilotons) equals m (one gram) times the square of the speed of light.

I should note that it's actually more than a third of a modern penny. Old pennies have a mass of just over 3 grams. Newer pennies are 2.5 grams. So, it's 40% of a modern penny. Or, just say less than half a penny to be safe. But, in any case, I just sat back with my mouth literally hanging open after reading that. Well, my mouth was literally hanging open, but I was reading in bed, not sitting.

The book makes predictions about the direction of the nuclear energy industry. It would be interesting to check those against how the industry has actually developed over the past few decades. Not that I'm going to do that.

One, Two, Three...Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science - George Gamow

The Curve of Binding Energy makes many a reference to Gamow, including this non-fiction gem from 1947. It's a look at science covering a wide range from numbers themselves, hence the title, to the physical world from micro to macro scales. It's enhanced by illustrative drawings by Gamow himself, which are delightful.

What I really loved about the book is that it's from an era far removed from my childhood. If you read enough science non-fiction, you get used to certain analogies being used to describe various things. This book far pre-dates anything I've read before on the subject. So the descriptions are new and novel to my eyes.

It's also entertaining to see where future developments show him to be wrong. Some are technical, for example, the wrong hydrogen to helium fusion reaction for the sun. Some are more, well, almost philosophical. Gamow argues that protons and neutrons may well be the indivisible building blocks of nature. (Quarks don't show up until the 60s.)

This probably isn't the book for a layperson looking to learn about science stuff. Rather, it's a book for the casual science fan who wants to see how science looked from the viewpoint of an earlier era.

Walk the Plank (The Human Division #2) - John Scalzi

Well, it's clear that I cannot continue trying to review these as standalone books. The second release in this series is a good read, but doesn't really work at all as a standalone story. It's also annoyingly written in the form of a play, I guess. Maybe a transcript? But, it doesn't actually seem to do anything with the chosen format. I dunno. Maybe I'm missing something. It reminded me of Scalzi's attempt in Redshirts to write a story in the second person. (You read this review. You ask yourself What is the second person perspective anyway?)

Anyway, the story itself is good. It has a totally different feel than the first chapter. It's not breezy. It's blunt and raw. It's clearly setting up things for later chapters and if I view it solely as being the second chapter of a larger book, I really enjoyed it, apart from the weird experimental format.

That said, I shalln't be reviewing subsequent chapters. Rather, I'll wait until the book is finished.

The Andromeda Strain - Michael Crichton

I read The Andromeda Strain back in my youth and had fond memories of it. So, I recently grabbed an eBook version to revisit it. I'm not exactly sure from where the fond memories came. It's not that great a book. On the positive side, there are few female characters so Crichton's misogynistic streak is mostly absent, but that's about it.

Dialogue is sparse and flat. Characters aren't much better. Crichton seems more intent on showing off his research than about telling a compelling story. The whole thing is written as a report, which gives it an air of authenticity. Unfortunately, this also makes it like reading a report. In other words, it's somewhat dry and boring. I still found it readable, but I actually kinda like dry and boring. Still, this was too dry and boring, even for me.

The story doesn't have the usual climax. The important thing is the journey, not the destination. But, again, the journey itself isn't exactly gripping.

I guess I should now go revisit the movie adaptation of which I also have fond memories. Hope they're not dashed. (I just now realized that there was also a TV mini-series a few years back.)

Agony of the Leaves - Laura Childs

Well, it's been months since I started this one and I've felt no desire to return. I've been reading her series of tea mysteries all along but not for the mysteries, which are just one level above the Hardy Boys. I read them for the characters and the tea. I read them for the descriptions and interactions. I read them for the ambiance.

And this one just rubbed me wrong. It's 4-5 chapters in, I think, before we even get to the tea shop. No one seems true to character. The situation seems contrived. It doesn't feel homey; it feels rote.

It may just be a rough spot for Ms. Childs, or it may be that she has exhausted this particular niche in this particular genre. I hope it's just the former.

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Posted: Sunday January 20 2013 @ 6:27pm

Religious Order: Books

The B-Team (The Human Division #1)

So, John Scalzi is trying out serialization by diving back into the Old Man's War universe. Sweet! The idea is that he'll release thirteen works, one per week. Each one will be a self-contained story but, together, will form an overarching tale.

I want to pause at this point and mention how sweet pre-orders are on an eReader. Pre-ordered books just show up on the release date. It's awesome! That said, you should still strip the DRM from them. Although, in this case, the books have no DRM, because Scalzi is awesome that way. Don't abuse his awesomeness by pirating his books! Or any books, for that matter. If you don't want to pay for it, don't fucking read it! But do strip DRM, so that you aren't locked into an eReader platform.

Anyway, back to the book. The first episode came out last Tuesday, and, of course, I dropped everything to read it. It was a fun read but not a great book. It does have a tall order. It has to introduce a bunch of background and characters while also starting off the overarching tale and providing a decent story of its own. For long-time fans of the universe, there's a goodly amount of review. (Although it had been long enough for me that much of the review was welcome.) So, all in all, there's just too much it has to do in order to shine at any one task.

What suffers the most is the self-contained story. It features clever approaches by characters which are actually kind of obvious. It also crudely establishes things which are supposed to be a surprise later, yet aren't. Finally, it tries for the rushed feeling of a time sensitive crisis while also having characters engage in long-winded banter.

So, overall, it doesn't really shine, but nor is it a bad book. It's just not great. It is, however, good enough to make me want to read the next episode, and that's all it really has to do, isn't it.

(If I was thinking of it as simply the first couple chapters of a long book then I'd give it a better review. When all is said and done, I'll probably post such a review. But, as a standalone work, I stand by the criticisms.)

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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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