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Book Review: Metro 2033, by Dmitry Glukhovsky

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Gamma World meets Wool: mutants, nazis, commies, and Satanists in a Russian post-apocalyptic novel that was made to be gamed.


Metro 2033

Gollancz, 2005, 458 pages



The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct and the half-destroyed cities have become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boundaries, they say, lie endless burned-out deserts and the remains of splintered forests. Survivors still remember the past greatness of humankind, but the last remains of civilisation have already become a distant memory.

Man has handed over stewardship of the Earth to new life-forms. Mutated by radiation, they are better adapted to the new world. A few score thousand survivors live on, not knowing whether they are the only ones left on Earth, living in the Moscow Metro - the biggest air-raid shelter ever built. Stations have become mini-statelets, their people uniting around ideas, religions, water-filters, or the need to repulse enemy incursion.

VDNKh is the northernmost inhabited station on its line, one of the Metro's best stations and secure. But a new and terrible threat has appeared. Artyom, a young man living in VDNKh, is given the task of penetrating to the heart of the Metro to alert everyone to the danger and to get help. He holds the future of his station in his hands, the whole Metro - and maybe the whole of humanity.


I remember a soldier sleeping next to me, riding on the metro...Collapse )

Verdict: There seems to be a lot of good SF and fantasy coming out of Russia nowadays. Metro 2033 isn't terribly original and it gets a bit long, but it's a dark, violent, underground ride that should entertain any fan of post-apocalyptic fiction.




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Book Review: Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

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A Great American Novel about ugly, petty Americans.


Freedom

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010, 576 pages



Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul—the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter’s dreams. Together with Walter—environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man—she was doing her small part to build a better world.

But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz—outré rocker and Walter’s college best friend and rival—still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become “a very different kind of neighbor,” an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street’s attentive eyes?

In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom’s characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.


A lengthy but tightly-connected drama revealing all the cracks in the American dream, and Jonathan Franzen's fixation on poop.Collapse )

Verdict: A complex narrative by a gifted writer who clearly doesn't care who he does or doesn't appeal to. I enjoyed Freedom despite or because of the way it made me squirm on several levels. It also a quintessentially American novel, and at times it's not clear whether it's meant to praise or bury the American dream. Recommended as an important and worthy read, though not necessarily to everyone's taste.




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Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

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A witty critique of Aestheticism that's been reinterpreted as a horror story.


The Picture of Dorian Gray

Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, 1890, 252 pages. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.



Oscar Wilde brings his enormous gifts for astute social observation and sparkling prose to The Picture of Dorian Gray, the dreamlike story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. This dandy, who remains forever unchanged---petulant, hedonistic, vain, and amoral---while a painting of him ages and grows increasingly hideous with the years, has been horrifying and enchanting readers for more than 100 years. Taking the reader in and out of London drawing rooms, to the heights of aestheticism, and to the depths of decadence, The Picture of Dorian Gray is not simply a melodrama about moral corruption. Laced with bon mots and vivid depictions of upper-class refinement, it is also a fascinating look at the milieu of Wilde's fin-de-siècle world and a manifesto of the creed "Art for Art's Sake." The ever-quotable Wilde, who once delighted London with his scintillating plays, scandalized readers with this, his only novel. Upon publication, Dorian was condemned as dangerous, poisonous, stupid, vulgar, and immoral, and Wilde as a "driveling pedant." The novel, in fact, was used against Wilde at his much-publicized trials for "gross indecency," which led to his imprisonment and exile on the European continent. Even so, The Picture of Dorian Gray firmly established Wilde as one of the great voices of the Aesthetic movement and endures as a classic that is as timeless as its hero.


Oscar Wilde is on my list of Top 10 Dead Authors I wish were still alive and writing today.Collapse )

Verdict: Oscar Wilde can be relied upon for quotable lines on every page, and as a story of a man falling headfirst into Faustian temptation, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a very readable literary classic. It is not perfect (it's awfully convenient how often Dorian escapes judgment by someone else's timely death, and the prose is a bit turgidly Victorian), but it's full of great one-liners and witty observations about Wilde's milieu.





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Book Review: Heroes Lost and Found, by Sheryl Nantus

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A superhero trilogy fizzles into the sunset.


Heroes Lost and Found

Samhain Publishing, 2012, 325 pages



Jo Tanis is still recovering from her near-death experience in Las Vegas when she receives a mysterious postcard from Harris Limox, who claims to have a promising lead on the whereabouts of the Controller. Over her boyfriend/guardian Hunter's objections, she sets off to a sleepy Oregon town to ferret out the truth.

The Controller is more than just a disgruntled super. He's a rogue Guardian who was presumed dead and is now armed with a slew of high-tech hardware that not only makes him physically superior to the supers—and therefore almost impossible to destroy—he's got the ability to detonate the implants in the back of all supers' necks.

In Oregon, Jo meets a surviving Alpha super, Kit Masters, whose wild plan to capture the Controller could put an entire town of innocents at risk. But instead of successfully talking her former idol out of his disastrous bid to regain former glory, Jo finds herself betrayed and trapped in her worst nightmare.

Fight her former teammates, or die.


Melodramatic quirks and trite superhero tropes do not always translate well on the page.Collapse )

Verdict: For superhero fans, this trilogy is a moderately entertaining series with a variety of supers and lots of fights, decent characters, mediocre writing, and a good start at worldbuilding, but Heroes Lost and Found is a bit of a flop at the finish. Your enjoyment will depend largely on your love-of-all-things-superhero to dislike-of-romance-masquerading-as-superhero-fiction ratio.

Also by Sheryl Nantus: My reviews of Blaze of Glory and Heroes Without, Monsters Within.




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Book Review: Mind of Winter, by Laura Kasischke

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A not-quite-horror story about adopting Russian orphans.


Mind of Winter

Harper, 2013, 276 pages



On a snowy Christmas morning, Holly Judge awakens with the fragments of a nightmare floating on the edge of her consciousness. Something followed them from Russia. Thirteen years ago, she and her husband Eric adopted baby Tatty, their pretty, black-haired Rapunzel, from the Pokrovka Orphanage #2. Now, at 15, Tatiana is more beautiful than ever - and disturbingly erratic.

As a blizzard rages outside, Holly and Tatiana are alone. With each passing hour, Tatiana's mood darkens, and her behavior becomes increasingly frightening... until Holly finds she no longer recognizes her daughter.


Something had followed them home from Russia.Collapse )

Verdict: Mind of Winter reads like women's fiction trying to put on a Halloween mask. Suspense is palpable, but trodden down by the angsty whine of the main character's inner monologue. I don't regret reading it, but I wouldn't trust this author again without some good reviews.




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Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

inverarity
Rocket Raccoon trying his Game

Rocket Raccoon Brakka-Brakka-Brakka

Oooooooooh YEEAAAAAAH!!!!

Rocket Racoon

Go see it.

This was seriously good, much more space opera than superhero movie. I was not a fan of the original comics (in fact, I don't think I ever read them, and was only vaguely aware that "Rocket Raccoon" has been around for a while as an actual Marvel character), and I kind of raised an eyebrow that this was the next big Marvel movie.

But hot damn, it was awesomesauce.

You don't need to know anything about the Marvel Universe to enjoy it. But even though this is a completely stand-alone movie, Marvel fans will appreciate all the references: the Collector, Ronan the Accuser, the Kree, and the Nova Corps, and of course the little easter egg after the end credits (my reaction: "Nooooooooo!") may be somewhat obscure, but they have long been part of Marvel canon.

And obviously they are working up to Thanos being the Big Bad in some future movie. Personally, I am waiting for Galactus to show up. (Yes, I know he kind of did in the Fantastic Four movie, but that sucked and wasn't part of the current franchise.)

The reference to the Nova Corps makes me hope that someday Nova will join the movie Marvel Universe, because I was a fan of ol' bucket-head, the original.

Book Review: Terminal World, by Alastair Reynolds

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A steampunk post-apocalypse. Not even a little bit Victorian.


Terminal World

Ace Books, 2009, 487 pages



Spearpoint, the last human city, is an atmosphere-piercing spire of vast size. Clinging to its skin are the zones, a series of semi-autonomous city-states, each of which enjoys a different - and rigidly enforced - level of technology. Following an infiltration mission that went tragically wrong, Quillon has been living incognito, working as a pathologist in the district morgue.

But when a near-dead angel drops onto his dissecting table, Quillon's world is wrenched apart one more time. If Quillon is to save his life, he must leave his home and journey into the cold and hostile lands beyond Spearpoint's base, starting an exile that will take him further than he could ever imagine. But there is far more at stake than just Quillon's own survival, for the limiting technologies of the zones are determined not by governments or police but by the very nature of reality---and reality itself is showing worrying signs of instability.


Alastair Reynolds is an heir to Asimov, which is good and bad.Collapse )

Verdict: Alastair Reynolds is a writer of "highbrow" science fiction, and probably one of the best of those writing today. Terminal World was a bit of a departure from his usual space operas, being set in an almost fantasy-like post-apocalyptic world with trappings of transhumanism mixed with steampunk. I enjoyed it, but all of Reynolds's novels I've read so far read like intellectual exercises that don't quite knock it out of the park as stories.

Also by Alastair Reynolds: My reviews of House of Suns and Revelation Space.




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I'm going to hell

inverarity
I just won my first game of Cards Against Humanity . :o


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Book Review: Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, by Sara Gran

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The world's greatest detective uses drugs, the I Ching, and an old French book to solve a missing persons case in New Orleans.


Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011, 273 pages



Claire DeWitt is not your average private investigator. She has brilliant skills of deduction and is an ace at discovering evidence. But Claire also uses her dreams, omens, and mind-expanding herbs to help her solve mysteries, and relies on Dètection-the only book published by the great and mysterious French detective Jacques Silette before his death.


A badass female detective without a romantic subplot? Surely this cannot last.Collapse )

Verdict: Claire DeWitt joins Joanna Brady, Amelia Peabody, Precious Ramotswe, and Ellie McEnroe as one of my favorite lady detectives. I wasn't really interested in this book when it showed up as an Audible Daily Deal, but some positive reviews convinced me to give a try, and I'm glad I did. It's right on the borderline, but I'm adding it to my Highly Recommended list for anyone who likes detective mysteries.




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