Free Google Fiber T-Shirts Huntsville, AL

This is not book related in any way, and for that I apologize. However, if you live in Huntsville, AL USA then Google Fiber will give you a free t-shirt by way of promotion/thanks. Simply go to https://fiber.google.com/cities/huntsville/tshirt/ to collect. Limit 1 per address.

You will be asked for your email address, name, and physical address. You can be sure to receive junk mail/email about Google’s fiber internet in the coming days, but I’m excited about it Google Fiber anyway. Besides it’s a free t-shirt damn it. That’s laundry you don’t have to do for days if you are slothful, and hygiene flexible!

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Book Review: The City Born Great ☆☆☆☆

cityborngreat_fullI didn’t realize that tor.com put free short stories up by, established authors (OMG N. K. Jemisin!!), on their website. I found out when The City Born Great popped up on my Goodreads wall. I hadn’t heard of it so I looked it up and there it was for free online! It had been posted since 09/2016!! You can find it here.

This story was only about 20 pages. Due to how compact it is I do not think I can fully review this story without touching on large parts of the story though I will avoid spoilers. So absolutely spoiler free my review is that I absolutely loved The City Born Great! It was fast paced, and had an intriguing concept. I loved the flavor of the city, and the voice of the hero. I hope that Jemisin revisits this in more detail soon.

Nothing I say from this point on would constitute a spoiler for me. I will not spoil plot specifics, and most of what I say is covered in the synopsis at the head of the story which I will post below. However I accept that spoilers mean different things to different people continue at your own risk.

 

In  this standalone short story by N. K. Jemisin, author of The Fifth Season, the winner of this year’s Hugo Award  for Best Novel, New York City is about to go through a few changes. Like all  great metropolises before it, when a city gets big enough, old enough, it  must be born; but there are ancient enemies who cannot tolerate new life.  Thus New York will live or die by the efforts of a reluctant midwife… and  how well he can learn to sing the city’s mighty song.

 

The concept of this story is that there are living cities. As a city evolves, and grows it must be born, or die. These cities choose midwives to birth/nurture/protect them. I loved the idea of these living cities, and the midwives that birth them! Technically this isn’t a spoiler as the synopsis tells you this much.

Also mentioned in the synopsis is an ancient enemy that our hero fights. Only I have no idea why they are fighting, or where they are coming from. I have no doubt this was omitted due to space, but I would love to know more!

As for the flavor of the NYC, I got the impression that if you’ve ever lived in NYC you’ll appreciate this much more. Proper nouns were being dropped left, right, and center. Being that if I ever did visit NYC I would only ever be one of those annoying tourists mentioned in the story I didn’t bother to look them u. I didn’t feel I was missing anything by not doing so. It just seemed like if you did know the area it would give the story an additional layer.

I don’t feel this next part is a SPOILER, but, again, everyone’s idea of spoiler is different.. I include it only to give context to what I’m about to say. Our hero is a young, black, homeless man. There is only one point of view, and so one perspective. The format basically demands this. His voice makes the story, but his experiences have very much shaped the way he sees the world. Particularly the way he views law enforcement. There is also some swearing, but this too fits his character.

Personally I enjoy stories that can help me see things from another perspective. Homelessness, and America’s current law enforcement culture (both actual, and sensationalized) are real issues in our society. Seeing these problems from all sides, and working toward understanding, and compromise are the only way I see them being resolved.

Saying all that I appreciate that people might not agree with the hero’s assessment, or the one sided nature of these issues in the story. Being told in the first person brings this out even more. And of course with all fiction sometimes you just want to forget about life, politics, and simply lose yourself for a time. Nothing at all wrong with that.

I’m including the actual links to both tor.com’s free stories, and the exact link to The City Born Great below:

http://www.tor.com/category/all-fiction/original-fiction/

http://www.tor.com/2016/09/28/the-city-born-great/

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Edit: I originally gave this 5 stars, but the more I think about it the more the lack of another perspective for the hot topics it contains, and the complete lack of information about the bad guys (seriously who are they, and why do they want to destroy these cities before they are birthed?) really makes this 4 stars in my mind. I’m still thinking about it though after having read other things which says something for the story.

Book Review: Tales from the Arabian Nights ☆☆☆☆

9780864382559-us-300No offense to Dickens, but Tales from the Arabian Nights is the classic I wish I’d read in school! To this day I associate ‘classic’ with boring, and depressing. I know that isn’t fair, and not always the case, but it was imprinted on my brain at an early age. Thankfully my mother took my siblings and I to the library religiously where I was able to choose from books I found interesting. Otherwise I fear my love of reading would never have become the joy and solace it is for me today.

Tales from the Arabian Nights is a story about a noblewoman named Scheherazade telling a series of stories to a Sultan. The lives of countless women, her own included, hang in the balance. These stories are full of adventure, swashbuckling, romance, mystery, and of course magic. Tales from the Arabian Nights is the source of such iconic characters as Aladdin, Sinbad, and Ali Baba though perhaps Scheherazade herself is the greatest hero of them all.

I read stories where our heroes, and heroines, found strange and wonderful magical items, and met magical creatures pleasant and frightening. I was taken on journeys into China, Africa, Asia, India, and if I remember correctly even Europe. Many times they were shipwrecked, forced watch their friends be cannibalized, become cannibals themselves, were turned to stone, or buried alive. Fortunes were won, lost, and (sometimes) won again. Quick thinking is always rewarded, and things are rarely what they seem.

 

If this book had been written today I might have a few gripes about sexism, racism, or telling not showing, but these stories were collected from as early as the 8th century through the 13th century. Given that I’d say they were pretty enlightened with women often saving their male counterparts, and in many instances different races/religions living, and working together amicably.

Overall I highly recommend Tales from the Arabian Nights. It is a book I’ll be rereading again at some point to my daughter, and for my own personal enjoyment!

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Book Review: The Forever War ☆☆

21611There are so many things to like about this book! So many ideas are put in front of you to consider. It deals with war, obviously, but not so much about the actual fighting itself although that is a part of it. Instead it deals more with the effects it has on the soldiers, the world back home, and reintegrating into that life after having been in war. Add to that massive time dilation, and reintegration takes on a whole new meaning.

It tackles many hot bed issues of the time, but that are still contentious today to varying degrees: Homosexuality, Eugenics, Population Control, Racism etc. Some of these are brought right to the front, while others are mentioned almost in passing. All of these issues I’ve long ago considered, but I kept wondering how this book would have forced me to reconsider views I held back when I was 13, 16, or 20.

I want for this review to focus on these things, or even about the comparisons from The Forever War and Starship Troopers. I’ve read that Joe Haldeman, and Robert A. Heinlein were, if not friends, at least friendly toward one another. In their writing they expressed very different points of views, and yet for all the differences in their books there were quite a few similarities as well.

While I want to talk about these things I feel I need to mention a small passage two paragraphs long on pages 45 and 46 instead:

The orgy that night was amusing, but it was like trying to sleep in the middle of a raucous beach party. The only area big enough to sleep all of us was the dining hall; they draped a few bedsheets here and there for privacy, then unleashed Stargate’s eighteen sex-starved men on our women, compliant and promiscuous by military custom (and law), but desiring nothing so much as sleep on solid ground.

The eighteen men acted as if they were compelled to try as many permutations as possible, and their performance was impressive (in a strictly quantitative sense, that is). Those of us keeping count led a cheering section for some of the more gifted members. I think that’s the right word.

WTF is that? I did a double take, and read it again. Then I reread the entire chapter to make sure I wasn’t taking something out of context. I wasn’t.

So just to be clear these women are drafted into the military, and then forced to have sex with male soldiers. They are pressured into it because of the culture/custom, and if that fails it is written into the military law. Haldeman’s future of the female soldier is a trafficked sex worker.

I tried to rationalize that he must have put this in as an extreme idea of what women in the military would become. A kind of cautionary tale. After all this was a controversial issue at the time, and is still unpopular in many military circles. Besides tackling controversial issues is kind of what this book does. He’s asking his readers to take their preconceptions on hot topics like homosexuality, divisive especially in regards to the military, and really examine it.

That was my rationalization. Except it kept bothering me all throughout the book. You see with other issues that come up Haldeman takes the time to offer some sort of counter opinion, or conflict. With the aforementioned homosexuality he gives both conflict, and multiple points of view. Further details would involve spoiling plot which I will not do.

When mentioning eugenics he floats the idea that if we are all one blended race, racism and all its inherent hatred and division ceases to exist. His counterpoint is that if something goes wrong our genetic pool is shot all to hell. I’m liberally paraphrasing, but you get the idea. Point, and then counterpoint.

Not about our abducted female soldier sex slaves however. Not a single women objects, none of the men as much as frown in distaste or leave the room in discomfort or disgust. Nothing. Well not nothing. They keep score, cheer, and offer encouragement.

Just so we are clear Haldeman does include a scene where rape in progress is broken up back home. So our soldiers know rape is wrong. Apparently it only counts as rape if you are a civilian.

Worst of all to me is how casually this is thrown into the story. It is entirely understated. This is normal. Not even worth mentioning really. Just a couple simple paragraphs slipped in right at the end of a chapter. Then the story shifts to an action scene, and you’ve forgotten all about it.

At the beginning of my review I mentioned I wondered what young me would have thought about all these ideas. Well, what would my little girl think? Should she allow herself to be pressured into becoming “promiscuous” at her prom if she isn’t ready for sex simply because it’s the custom? If I should one day have a son is he to believe that it is acceptable to pressure uncertain women into sleeping with him? Should he cheer on a group of high school or college students raping a girl made “compliant” with more alcohol than she could tolerate? I think not.

There is a love story of sorts in this book. It isn’t especially romantic, but it is there. I won’t do spoilers, but suffice it to say that normally I enjoy a romance thread in my stories. I want the guy to get the girl. Or vice versa. Except now I began to reexamine all the co-mingling, bunk-mates or whatever we’re calling it, which permeate the book. Was it all just more rape? Were the women obligated to have sex with someone, and at best they could choose who that person was if it was not outright assigned for them?

It was only two paragraphs which had zero bearing on the plot or main character, but it has completely ruined this book for me. Take it out, and I could see myself giving The Forever War 4 or even 5 stars. Damn you Haldeman for making me love a book, and taking away all the joy therein at the same time.

My Rating: ☆☆

Book Review: The Gunslinger ☆☆☆

4153hf0aqal-_sx314_bo1204203200_I’ll be honest, I haven’t read much from Stephen King. If I remember right I’ve only read some of his short stories. I’ve watched a few of the movies adapted from his books, but horror isn’t my favorite genre. That being said I know he has a huge following, and somehow manages to produce another huge volume every year.

The Dark Tower series is supposed to be his magnum opus, contains many of his most popular characters, and is SF/F as well as having horror and mystery elements. I’ve always heard very mixed reviews of this series with as many hating the books as loving them. With a movie, and tv series in the works I thought it was a good time to give it a read.

Well I read it, and after thinking about it for over a week I’m still not sure I like this book. The the further along the story came the less I liked the gunslinger. The world was interesting if seemingly deliberately vague. The ending gave me no real answers or sense of closure so I am left as lost at the end as I was at the beginning. I wasn’t a fan of the actual prose either, but that was more of a small irritation than a real point of contention for me.

Booktube and Goodreads assure me that this series gets better, and despite all of my concerns I want to find the answers to the many questions I have. I’ll give the next book a read, but if it doesn’t get better I might stop reading there. For now I’d have to say it is off to a rocky start.

I should also note that I read the revised and expanded version of this book. I bought it without realizing. When I read the foreword I thought of all the Lucas Star Wars edits, and cringed. I’d already bought the book with a Christmas gift card, and told my benefactor, so I just read it. If anyone has read both feel free to let me know if the original was better left untouched, or if the added passages helped.

My Rating: ☆☆☆

Book Review: Among Others ☆☆☆☆

517czt9ohil-_sx322_bo1204203200_Among Others was a joy to read, and yet I find it hard to describe exactly why. I don’t think there is any one thing, but a multitude of many elements that come together perfectly. I’ll try to touch on them briefly.

It is fantasy, but one firmly rooted in our world. Not just the setting which is England, but the magic system. Apparently it’s a sub genre called magical realism which was a first for me.

Basically there are no wizards walking around throwing fireballs or riding dragons. Magic is real and has real consequences, but instead of being fantastic it is almost mundane. As Morwenna, Mori, explains you can never truly tell when magic works, because there is always a rational explanation as to why it did.

While the presence of magic, and the fact that our heroine is able to use it, makes this a fantasy it is really a YA coming of age story. You have a teenage girl who has suffered a recent loss, runs away from home, has parental issues (seriously understated), gets sent to boarding school, is lonely, struggles to make friends, and stumbles her way through romance. So definitely YA. And yet it didn’t feel like a YA novel to me. Our heroine is intelligent, capable, and independent instead of the usual whiny, stupid, self-centered, immature characters that tend to populate YA.

I should note that while Mori can do magic, and is attending a boarding school in England it is nothing like Hogwarts. It is in fact very dull, but I enjoyed her interactions with her fellow students. Just don’t go in thinking this is a magical school. It’s not.

She also has a disability which is well written. I personally am in good health, but my mother has struggled with pain, and disability since her 20s. This representation was the best I have read in a book. It gets the thoughts and actions of the character right as well as the reactions of other people.

There is romance, but it is really a sub plot. I’ve obviously never been a teenage girl, but it felt authentic to me. Also, thankfully, it didn’t take over the story.

One of the best parts of the book was all the literary references. Mori loves to read. It is her one joy, and place of refuge from life, pain, and loneliness. Jo Walton lets us know what she is reading as well as her thoughts about the books. Almost all of these are SF/F which are my two favorite genres. I found myself comparing my opinions of books I had read, and writing down books/authors I had not in order to seek them out later.

Mori, and Jo Walton, have a deep appreciation of libraries which I think anyone reading this book will share. I personally enjoyed Mori’s forays into town to look for books. Or going to book club. It was almost enough to make me look up book clubs at my own library. Then I remembered that I love books; people not so much.

The format of this book is a journal which while not truly unique was well done. In the past I have not enjoyed this style in the least, but that might be because I’ve always seen it in classics which I generally struggle to read. Mostly I think it is because I’m a parent now, and it was so damn convenient having hundreds of natural stopping points.

I will say that in general the pacing is pretty slow. The journal format did help some with this as we get to skip ahead quite often. If you want to see the really cool magic, and the only real confrontation in the book you’ll have to wait until the end.

That’s not really what the book is about though. It’s about a young girl who has suffered a tragic loss, and who is lonely. It is about her dealing with these things, and trying to find her place in life the same as every teenager. The coming of age story is not my cup of tea, but Jo Walton’s Among Others kept me turning page after page. I highly recommend it.

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Edit: First, apparently Jo Walton herself suffers from the same disability as Mori so this is #ownvoices. I don’t particularly go in for #ownvoices if that is all it has going for it. If it so happens to be a great book, and is #ownvoices cool, but it isn’t something I seek out. I mention it because this explains how Walton got the disability dead on.

Secondly, I recently watched a review of this in which the reviewer felt very strongly that the Irish in Among Others are discriminated against. I didn’t get that at all when I read the book. I felt that it was more like how the South might currently view Yankees, and vice versa, in America. I mean sure some old timers, or the ignorant, might think all Northerners are carpet bagging idjits or that Southerners are all inbred rednecks, but overwhelmingly these are not really deeply held beliefs. I mean you can be a Yankee, and still an intelligent, good person. Right? =)

I include this however as I am an American, and am unfamiliar with Irish discrimination outside of basic world history. This review is from the perspective of an Irish woman, and she would know far better than I. Again personally I was not offended at all, but you decide.

 

 

Book Review: The Obelisk Gate ☆☆☆☆☆

9780316229265_custom-6860c06167337b5728fcae0990e09430cc1de865-s400-c85Okay, it’s official, N.K. Jemisin is now my favorite author. She has been top three for a while now, but after reading The Obelisk Gate she has jumped straight to the top! At this point I could only love her more if we were married, and had little milano babies.

If you read this Sarah I’m joking!! You’re so pretty! (Seriously though Nora..)

I loved her Inheritance series very much, but each of those books told a different story with different sets of characters. Albeit all set in the same world, and each building off each other. In the Broken Earth series she is focusing on the same cast of characters over the entire trilogy. This has allowed for a much more in depth, and rewarding story so far.

The Obelisk Gate picks up right where The Fifth Season left off, and it never misses a beat. If anything it gets better as it goes. We get to learn more about the stone eaters, and guardians. We learn about an ancient war fought by multiple parties in which our characters have been drawn into. We finally get to see Essun’s daughter Nassun. And of course our favorite characters are still with us. It’s all really good stuff.

I don’t want to delve too deeply into specifics because of spoilers, but also because I tend to ramble. However I would like to acknowledge that in my review of The Fifth Season I mentioned that the magic was a bit limited. Well in The Obelisk Gate the magic is getting more complicated, and so even more interesting.

In short this book is even better, imho, than the first which is saying a lot. Everything hinges on the final book of course, but it is shaping up to be my favorite series of all time. I cannot wait to read the last book!!

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆