Category Archives: Review

Review: Zer0es

Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

Title: Zer0es
Author:  Chuck Wendig
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9780062351555
Publisher:  Harper Voyager
Twitter: @ChuckWendig
Publisher’s Blurb: Five hackers—an Anonymous-style rabble-rouser, an Arab-Spring hacktivist, a black-hat hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and an online troll—are detained by the U.S. government, forced to work as white-hat hackers for Uncle Sam in order to avoid federal prison. Calling themselves “the Zeroes,” they must spend the next year working as an elite cyber-espionage team, at a secret complex known only as “the Lodge.”

… North Korea is like the crazy little brother that keeps kicking over the neighbor’s potted plants and dropping flaming bags of dog shit on their doorstep.  You protect them because they’re your brother, but in private you drag them over the coals for acting like such an epic asshole.  (p. 274)

I came to Chuck Wendig through the Miriam Black series.  Miriam is one of my very favorite urban fantasy protagonists with her dark secret power which has driven her to a life of self-sabotage which makes most of us look sane and normal.

None of the characters on Zer0es come even close to being as interesting.  Not even the AI called Typhon.

And while I enjoyed Zer0es as the perfect mind candy getaway, the story of five disparate hackers forced to make the choice between prison or hacking for a unknown government project read like a Michael Crichton thriller without all the horrifying deathly side effects.

I really wanted to like this book on a level other than a Lord of the Flies-esque survival of the best hackers against each other, conspiracy minded players with a cult like belief they’re on the righteous side, and a terrifying Ai which could have come from any wetware scenario.

The writing is smart, and often times thrilling.  And as I said farther up, it’s a great afternoon read.  But for me, it read like “been there, read that.”  That’s not Wendig’s fault, I’ve probably been reading voraciously longer than he’s known how to string words together.

There are other books written by Wendig which interest me.  I’m looking forward to catching up on Miriam Black.  Zer0es just sort of missed the mark for me.

Review: The Armored Saint

The Armored Saint
by
Myke Cole

Title: The Armored Saint
Author:   Myke Cole
Published: 2018
ISBN-13: 9780765395955
Publisher: Tor
Twitter:  @MykeCole
Publisher’s Blurb:  In a world where any act of magic could open a portal to hell, the Order insures that no wizard will live to summon devils, and will kill as many innocent people as they must to prevent that greater horror. After witnessing a horrendous slaughter, the village girl Heloise opposes the Order, and risks bringing their wrath down on herself, her family, and her village.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

Her wounds sang out with every movement, but it was an old song to her now, sung so many times that she knew the words by heart.  She was good at hurting.  (p 186)

I blame Scalzi again.  He’s also one of the reasons I read Richard Kadrey, and have a never-ending wish-list culled from his Big Idea feature.

Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint is more than just a coming of age story.  It’s about family, right and wrong, identity and, love.  Heloise may only be 16 but she is badass in so many ways, and has become a character I want to know better.

Set in a medieval village ruled by a heavy-handed religious government called the Order, The Armored Saint is the story of Heloise, a teenager who questions everything she’s been taught.  And you know how dictator governments hate that, especially in women.

Myke Cole wrote Heloise for me.  For the woman who questioned things and didn’t understand why she was treated so harshly.  Only Heloise is surrounded by those who love her, and while conflicted about her questioning, protect her from being hunted down and killed by the Order.

Wizardry is not allowed.  Period.  Wizardry opens the portals for demons to crawl through.  Anyone who’s different gets killed.  Including, and especially, the mentally ill.  The man, Churic, normally quiet and described as “simple,”  has a fit one day.  Frothing at the mouth, purple skinned, eye bugging fit.  Which is seized upon as evil by the Order.  And the neighboring village, Heloise’s village is called upon to Knit Churic’s village.

Knitting is an horrific ritual, forcing those from one village to kill their friends in a neighboring village.  But it is in the Knitting that Heloise feels the power of all those questions, and the shoddy answers rise.  Her rebelliousness leaps out, putting her own village in danger, especially her father.  But she can’t help herself, what’s been going on is wrong, and evil, and she won’t stand for it any longer.

She may be 16, and small in stature, but girl is fierce.  And I love that Myke Cole wrote her to be the conflicted, flawed, insecure, brave hero she is.  She resonates through my very being and, I imagine, everyone who has ever questioned the status quo and been shunted aside.  Heloise is for those of us who want to be brave, but aren’t sure how.  She leads the way by living her truth, confusing as that may be.  She does it out of love.  And Cole shows in this brutal story that it is love which wins.  Whether he intended to or not, that’s what I got.

Heloise’s village hides her from the Order, and she comes out swinging.  The neighbor who hides her builds war-engines for the  Emperor to be used by his most fanatical officers in the army.  They are giant man-shaped machines, powered by seethestone, driven by men to grind everyone in their path to so much pulp.  (And while seethestone has a perfectly acceptable scientific method for working behind it, it seems a lot like magic to me.)

It is Heloise, broken and battered, and unwilling to give up the fight for those who have died at the hands of the Order who uses a war-engine to its most brutal advantage.  She is doing it for those she loved who died brutally, for those who could die brutally, and for herself.  Because, this shit will no longer stand.

In just over 200 pages, Heloise drives us through a paradigm shift.  From submissive to the Order, to mad as hell and refusing to put up with anyone’s nonsense anymore, she stands for what she believes in.  Which, of course, is in direct opposition to what the Order orders her to believe in.

Battered and bruised, Heloise becomes the sainted one who will lead the rest into battle.  At least, that’s what her neighbors tell her.  “No,” she says, “I’m not the hero you’re looking for.  I’m not brave or strong or anything.  I’m broken and hurting, and scared by the brutality I’ve been witness to, and have committed.  You’ve got the wrong girl.”

The rest of the story comes in the next two books, and I am so looking forward to following Heloise on her quest, standing by her side as I continue to heal from my own brokenness and find ways to say, “This shit will not stand,” in my own life.

Thank you Myke Cole, for this book and the books to come.  And thank you for Heloise, the hero we all need in this time and place.

Review: Spook

Spook by Mary Roach

Title:  Spook:  Science Tackles the Afterlife
Author:  Mary Roach
Published: 2005
ISBN-13: 9780739467298
Publisher:  Norton
Twitter: @Mary_Roach
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Publisher’s Blurb: “What happens when we die? Does the light just go out and that’s that—the million-year nap? Or will some part of my personality, my me-ness persist? What will that feel like? What will I do all day? Is there a place to plug in my lap-top?” In an attempt to find out, Mary Roach brings her tireless curiosity to bear on an array of contemporary and historical soul-searchers: scientists, schemers, engineers, mediums, all trying to prove (or disprove) that life goes on after we die.

This could also be titled Mary Roach Travels the World in Search of an Answer Which Doesn’t Exist.  The book starts in India with Roach trailing a doctor collecting anecdotes about reincarnation in search of proof that reincarnation actually exists.  It ends in a hospital at University of Virginia with a tablet computer mounted to the ceiling facing away from the operating table beneath it.  The researchers hope to prove out of body experiences by having a subject astral project and tell what’s on the computer screen.

Inbetween she travels to England to take classes to learn to be a psychic, gets a cold reading from someone, and discusses spiritualism along the lines of The Witch of Lime Street.  Roach’s snobbish tone arrives at the same place we all do, there is no scientific proof for what happens after we die.

Believers gonna believe, skeptics gonna question; ain’t none of us got a lock an answer which makes universal sense.  And while I didn’t mind the process Roach used to satisfy (or not) her curiosity, I did mind that while asking her questions, she was not so openly mocking those who believed in something with no proof.  That’s why it’s called faith, Mary, it can’t be proven.

My own reading, and conversations, have led me to the same conclusion many have, there may be something bigger than all of us at work (something I choose to believe in), but there’s no definitive answer to what happens next.  In the end, it isn’t what one believes or doesn’t, it’s how one behaves in the present that matters.  Chances are we won’t know what happens next even as it’s happening.

So good for Mary Roach for getting to go interesting places to ask questions about an interesting topic.  If only she’d been willing to set aside her preconceptions for the duration.

Review: The Hakawati

The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine
The Hakawati
by Rabih Alameddine

Title: The Hakawati
Author: Rabih Alameddine
Published: 2008
ISBN-13: 9780385664776
Publisher: Anchor Canada
This is a book of stories, about family, Identity, love of family filled with stories from  generations of storytellers.  In fact, Hakawati means storyteller.

Where do I begin with this?  The story of generations of storytellers in one family.  The strands of the stories weaving together the themes of identity (Lebanese or American?  musician, storyteller or engineer?), physical place, and place within the family structure are told.

Osama al-Kharrat returns to Beirut from Los Angeles to bear witness to his father’s death.  The entire family gathers around the hospital bed to reminisce and tell stories reaching generations back.  As with most family reunions, new stories are created as the now adult children discuss events from their childhood and discover the meaning of said events.

I love the way Alameddine weaves the many generations of stories together to tell the story of a this Lebanese family.  Anyone who enjoys good stories will love The Hakawati.

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Review: When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair

When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair by Geneen Roth
When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair
by Geneen Roth

Title: When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair
Author: Geneen Roth
Published: 1998
ISBN-13: 9780786885084
Publisher: Hyperion

The connection between eating and emotions is deep and tight.  It’s a way we learn to soothe ourselves, to fill the holes in our hearts, and may be one area in which we feel we’re in control.

Geneen Roth’s book is about the ways we trick ourselves into sabotaging ourselves with food, and how to become more aware and stop the damage.

Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes knows that I have issues.  Lots and lots of issues which I use food to deal with.  Emotional eating is a learned trait, and did I ever learn it well.

I’m not sure why I initially picked up When You Eat the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair, something clearly resonated.  Becoming the person you love most in your own life is hard, challenging work.  One needs a lot of help to get there.

Roth goes beyond the “just stop eating so much,” or “trade gluten free for x,” form of food talk.  In 50 short (2-3 pages) chapters, she writes about the issues emotional eating covers and offers ways to break some of the chains we’ve formed over the years.

Most of them are things I already do, like wearing bright colors.  If you haven’t seen my wardrobe, it’s filled with bright pinks and deep purples.  But that’s a recent change for me.

When You Eat the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair isn’t about body image or acceptance, it’s about learning to love ourselves as the gems we are, regardless of our looks.  It’s about learning to stop tearing ourselves down.

Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Title: Ready Player One
Author:  Ernest Cline
Published: 2011
ISBN-13: 9780804190138
Publisher: Broadway Books
Twitter: @ErnieCline
Publisher’s Blurb:

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.

I saw the movie with co-workers who are gamers and were so excited I could hardly stand it.  My opinion of the whole deal was, at best, neutral.  My knowledge of Ready Player One was only this was a really popular book, and at least one friend loathed it.

What a perfect escapist film.  Bright, fast, flashy, filled with 1980s pop culture references that had my co-workers talking excitedly for days.  I was bemused.  Then one of them loaned her copy of the book to me.  She was so excited to share it with me.

Perfect escapist fare again. Ready Player One is wish fulfillment 101.  It’s like Cline took every reference from 1980s pop culture and crammed it into a “wouldn’t it be cool if ….” version of “my life sucks and I was really happy back then.”  Which is, pointedly, harsh and maybe a bit unfair to Cline. Because we all have wish fulfillment fantasies, mine is comfortable surroundings on a golden beach surrounded by books and all the time to read them.

Pollution, poverty, climate change, unemployment have all reached their logical conclusion in 2045.  It’s no wonder people would rather be in OASIS, the virtual world created by James Halliday, than anywhere else.  And, like everything else in any world, the rich and powerful want even more.

Wade is the one-dimensional hero.  The teenager who’s smarter and cooler than everyone else, saving the day from the big bad corporation who wants to take over OASIS and profit from it.  Halliday’s death spurs an all out 3-riddle solving winner takes all contest for ownership.  Wade’s team of five against IOI’s massive army of employees whose only job it is to research Halliday’s life and 1980s trivia, or strap up in game harnesses and play until they pass out.

The teenagers win.  Wade gets the girl, the fortune and the power to turn OASIS off one day a week so everyone can reconnect to the “real world.”  That’s pretty much it.  Nothin’ deep or complex.  Just a good mind candy afternoon read.

Although I’m sure my co-workers would disagree about the meaning of all those Easter Eggs.

 

Review: Hogfather

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
Hogfather
by Terry Pratchett

Title: Hogfather
Author: Terry Pratchett
Published: 2000
ISBN-13: 9780062276285
Publisher: Harper Fiction

As nonsensical as Pratchett’s Discworld books may seem, they often make a great deal of sense. Hogfather pokes fun at old gods, evolving gods, power, and belief systems. There’s even an “oh god,” as in “oh god I’m gonna be sick.”

The Hogfather is Discworld’s version of Santa Claus, and things go very, very far astray forcing Death to step in and try to put things right, while his granddaughter tries to behave like a normal person.

And I always enjoy reading Death trying to understand humans, and trying to behave as though he’s human when needed.  Usually with very confusing results for the humans he encounters.  Think Nightmare Before Christmas when Jack Skellington  tries to introduce Christmas joy to Halloween Town.

 

Review: The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Epic of Gilgamesh
translated by N.K. Sandars

Title: The Epic of Gilgamesh
Author: Translated by N. K. Sandars
Published: 1972
ISBN-13: 978140441000
Publisher: Penguin Classics
I found SparkNotes helpful.

This is the grandmama of all written epic stories, the progenitor of familiar quest stories and tropes through the ages.  It’s also based on the historical Mesopotamian king Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh is 2/3 god, 1/3 human and has no equal.  As such, his arrogance and hubris get the better of him while he literally rapes and pillages his way through his own land, Uruk.

The gods create Enkidu from clay (completely mortal) as a balance to Gilgamesh’s excesses.  When they meet, they fight each other but once they discover they are equals, they become great friends.

Because Gilgamesh is restless, he and Enkidu go on a quest which includes stealing cedars from a forest forbidden to mortals.  After they kill the demon Humbaba, Ishtar tries to entice Gilgamesh into a love affair with her.  He flatly turns her down, which enrages her and she calls down the Bull of Heaven to kill him.

Enkidu dies from a protracted illness because the gods must punish one of them for killing the Bull of Heaven.  Gilgamesh is bereft and leaves Uruk in search of Utnapishtim, the man who survived the Great Deluge and was given eternal life.

In his travels to the end of the world and back, he finally accepts that life is not eternal, but the impact on those he comes in contact can be.

I first read Gilgamesh for a class about ethics towards animals (Enkidu was raised among the animals).  Reading it is the start of many familiar stories, like the Great Deluge, considered to be the genesis of the Flood story and Noah in the Bible.

For more about the genesis of myths which have become common knowledge around the world, read my review of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Review: The Truth

The Truth
The Truth
by Terry Pratchett

Title: The Truth
Author: Terry Pratchett
Published: 2000
ISBN-13:  9780380818198
Publisher: Harper Torch

William deWorde has a newsletter he sends to rich people who pay him to write about the gossip in Ankh-Morpork. The dwarves move in with a mechanical printer and make a deal with deWorde to publish more frequently. Soon, Ankh-Morpork has two papers, one which publishes the truth as deWorde has been able to ferret out, and the truth people want to believe. DeWorde gets wind of a story which is politically dangerous, and find himself in danger.

It may be heresy to say, but I think Pratchett is funnier than Douglas Adams. And Pratchett’s silliness in my kind of silliness.  And while they’re silly,  Pratchett’s books are also social commentary. The Truth is about facts, truth, justice and what people want to believe is true. It also features mayhem, but then all of Terry Pratchett’s books feature mayhem of one sort or another.

Review: The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
The Man in the High Castle
by Philip K. Dick

Title: The Man in the High Castle
Author: Philip K. Dick
Published: 1962
ISBN-10: 0141186674
Publisher: Penguin Books

To my wife Anne, without whose silence this book would never have been written.
Dedication

Japan and Germany have won World War II and have taken over the world.  Hitler is dying from syphilitic incapacitation in an insane asylum, while his henchmen maneuver for power.

The US, as we know it, has been divided into three regions:  the Eastern US controlled by the Nazis, Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere (the Pacific states) controlled by Japan, and a buffer zone  called the Rocky Mountain States.

This should have been a gripping story, given the premise. But overall, I found the characters bland, and the dependence upon the I Ching an overused plot device.