Brainycat's Occaisonal Reviews

About Me: Full-time smartass, part-time misunderstood genius.

Interests: photography, reading, Formula 1, natural history, technology, science

Favorite Books: Stories featuring antiheroes: Cyberpunk, Horror, Urban Fantasy (not romance), Erotica (kinky and taboo)

Cats have theories. Every cat owner knows that. The cats can’t and won’t tell you their theories. You must deduce the theories from their behavior. Then you have theories about the cats’ theories. If you modify your behavior in response to your theories about their theories, you may change their theories. It is an endlessly recursive loop. The viewer affects the system. It’s Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle with cats.
Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2012 Edition - Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Liz Gorinsky, David G. Hartwell, Gene Wolfe

-from "About Fairies" by Pat Murphy
seen in Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2012 Edition

RIP - Nook Touch Glowlight (JUN 2013 - JAN 2015)

I rooted that thing minutes after I got it home and I don't even know how many books I read with fbreader on that thing. Last night it threw a kernel panic and reset itself from the recovery image undoing the rooting. It panicked a second time while I was configuring the options after the reset. All the data on my sdcard (including my entire library) is OK, fortunately. I have the books on PCs too but this saves me some effort.

 

After the two panic/reset cycles, it didn't want to connect to wifi; I had to forget/reconfigure about a dozen times. Once it got an IP, I let it sit while I went online to research the current market for ereaders. Once I'd ordered an Onyx Afterglow 2 I was able to read for another hour or so without incident on the Nook.

Experimenting with textual motifs.

Oops - forgot to review this a couple of years ago

Already Dead - Charlie Huston

I devoured this series a couple of years ago, and apparently I've neglected to review it. I'll have to skim over them again to remember where each book starts and ends.

 

UPDATE

I did review this, and it came in with my GR import. But there are 11 duplicate records for this title in the DB, and my review is buried in it's own edition. Bug filed with the PTB. I need to review the rest of the series. I'll probably cutnpaste the same review like I did for a bunch of Ed Lee books a while ago. Except for which chord of the plot and character archs are covered, there isn't a lot to tell them apart.

My Review of Already Dead

Dead Souls - Put it down and move on to another Necro book

Dead Souls - David G. Barnett

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 4
boobs: 1
bombs: 0
bondage: 4
blasphemy: 3
Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.



I finished the first two stories in this collection (21% of the book) and moved on. I really like a lot of what Necro has published, so when I saw the blurb explaining this is the guy who runs the publishing house I was excited to see what he's writing. Unfortunately, the writing didn't excite me.

The first story is written from the POV of a psychopathic killer, and is in the vein of the "I'm normal but everyone else is weird" device. This works best when the author draws out sympathy from the reader, so we are left wondering if we're harboring some sort of psychopathology. While I wanted to relate to the protagonist - a nerdy kid who got picked on in school, rather like myself - I just never felt like I related to him enough, nor did I feel engaged in what he was doing. Failing to connect to this kid meant that I never had to question my own delicate sensibilities, and thus the whole story fell flat.

The second story could have been interesting except I saw the ending from a mile away. I think the explanation for the relationships between the parents and their adopted son was explained too early which completely gave away the conclusion in the first few pages of the story. Finishing the story was just an exercise in moving my eyes across the page while the inevitable concluded itself.

Overall, I found the writing felt expository with a very even cadence. I like writing that mixes it up a little (ie, of a much higher caliber than my own writing) and the vocabulary was conversational but not especially evocative. Reading these stories hasn't dampened my enthusiasm for the Necro label, but it has reinforced my opinion that writers can be good authors or good editors, but not both.

Overtime - Only for fans of the Laundry Files

Overtime - Charles Stross

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 0
boobs: 0
bombs: 0
bondage: 0
blasphemy: 3
Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.



This is a very, very short addition to the Laundry Files series. It pokes a bit of fun at the English Christmas traditions, a lot of fun at corporate bureaucratic culture, and then wraps itself up in a tidy conclusion. All to the tune of "Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas". As I was reading this, I thought my file was corrupted -  I was 20 pages into a 38 page story and I still wasn't sure where the conflict was and had only one clumsily inserted clue about the nature of the antagonist.

To be honest, I didn't think this is a very good example of Mr. Stross's abilities as a writer. If it were longer he could have added more subtlety and mystery, but the very short length meant he had to pare the story down to it's absolute bare essentials. For me, the long setup and short conclusion threw the balance and cadence way off. A crucial read for fans of the Laundry Files series, but not recommended for people who aren't already familiar with the series.

The Getaway God - No, please don't go out like this!

The Getaway God - Richard Kadrey

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 5
boobs: 1
bombs: 5
bondage: 0
blasphemy: 5
Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.



I'm going to share an uncomfortable truth with you here. This is not the best book in the series, and in fact it's not even a very good final episode. One of the things I've always liked about this series is the frenetic pace; "no rest for the wicked" and all that. This book, however, doesn't really start to take off until around the 50% mark. Once it picks up a lot of long lingering plot lines are resurrected and thrown into the mix, the tension builds until the last 20% of the book, and then SPLAT! The apocalypse blows it's load into a climax that's - we're friends, I'll be honest - is disappointing.

The casual cynicism, saucy word play and nonstop pop culture references are still in abundance, and once the violence gets started it's a good as any of the other books. All the things we love about Sandman Slim aka Jim Stark are here, and the weird little circle of friends he's accumulated are just as weird and fun as ever. Reading this book felt a lot like getting in touch with some old friends.

This book shows a deeper interior life for Stark, and I think Kadrey worked very hard to develop the character and round him out. Unfortunately, this happens at the expense of a lot of action and intrigue. I don't believe in an either/or dichotomy between actioning and adventuring OR feeling and relating. I think what happened was the author tried too hard to grow the character and lost track of his cadence, and let the interior development drive too much of the plot.

We're told many times that the apocalypse is upon creation, and several details are repeated to this effect: nonstop rain and flooding in LA and Hell for example. But I never felt any impending doom. Maybe because Stark and Candy are too busy lovingly quipping at each other? Maybe because there's not enough time spent with the supporting cast to get a feel of how the world is falling apart, because are protagonists are too wrapped up in themselves and their relationship with each other? All I know for sure is that any sense of impending doom was told rather than shown and this really didn't help me to get to the final conflict.

The final conflict was... I've already used the word "disappointing" once in this review, so let's say it was "unsatisfying". Unlike the final conflicts in the other books, I knew what he was working on ahead of time. I love to see a plan come together in unexpected ways. But I wasn't surprised. In fact, the whole battle felt like it was phoned in. The oldest of the old gods is invading creation to take it back from god, and the best we can do is tear up a few blocks of LA across a couple of pages? It just felt like it was too little too late and didn't engage me. I didn't feel afraid, I didn't feel cosmic forces wreaking havoc on all the physics I've ever known, I didn't feel like these characters that I've known for 5 or more books were ever in any real danger. It just felt like I needed to consume the words to get through the pages to reach the conclusion.

A whole host of lingering plot lines were brought up in this book, but most of them did not end satisfactorily - see "phoning it in", above. I suppose the ends are loose enough to squeeze a few more novels out of some of them, but at some point I think epic characters in long series' need to find a new set of Major Antagonists to up the stakes and move the whole arc of the world into new territories. I feel an opportunity to do just that was lost here.

If this had been the first book in the series, I don't think I would have read any of the others. I feel really bad writing such damning words. Maybe this book is just mediocre, but the rest of the series is so much fun and so well written that it feels like The Getaway God is worse than it really is. I do know that I hope this review doesn't put anyone off of starting the series; up until this installment, they've been top notch rollicking good times and a total hoot to read. It's entirely possible I brought too much expectation into this book, and my disappointment has nothing to do with Kadrey and everything to do with what I wish I had read.

Is this the last Sandman Slim novel? My halfhearted attempts at googlefu don't turn up any interviews saying so, but the book ends on a note that's suitable to end the series. On the other hand, it also ends on a note that leaves room for a nearly infinite stream of sequels. I guess it's a matter of what Kadrey wants to do with the series. Personally, I'd like to see him baby the thing into a Netflix miniseries a'la GRRM and GoT.

Upgraded - Despite a couple of duds, it's totally worth the price of admission

Upgraded - Robert Reed, Peter Watts, Neil Clarke, Madeline Ashby, Tobias S. Buckell

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 4
boobs: 1
bombs: 3
bondage: 0
blasphemy: 3
Bechdel Test: PASS
Deggan's Rule: PASS
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.



This collection is exceptionally well curated; I feel like every story fits the theme and every story is strong enough to stand on it's own and provide it's own interpretation of the topic. I really enjoyed the way each story took off in an entirely new and unexpected direction. Perhaps because the topic is so big there's lots of room for wildly different interpretations (and there are!) but the total collection leaves an impression bigger than just the sum of the stories. This is proper Capital "S" Science Capital "F" Fiction that asks the reader to interpret and define their own humanity.

There were two stories in the collection that I didn't finish. Musée de l’Âme Seule by E. Lily Yu isn't bad, it's just written in that dreamy stream of conscious second person POV that I loathe with an irrational passion. You know the kind of writing: every paragraph tries to stand on it's own like a lone tree in a deserted field, and little details weighted with importance glitter throughout every sentence like shards from a broken bottle in an empty alley. I don't doubt that it's fun to write, but I've never seen an example that's compelled me to pretend I'm someone else long enough to read their story.

The other story I didn't finish was Alex Dally MacFarlane's Coastlines of the Stars. It's written in the third person, but it's too lyrical with new chapter headings every two or three paragraphs. This is another device that I'm just not wired to appreciate properly, and while I'm sure it's an accomplished story I just couldn't bear to sit through it.

The real standouts in this collection, for me, are The Sarcophagus by Robert Reed, who takes the standard question "how much of your humanity can you change and still be human" and extrapolates it out to the nth degree in an engaging and thoughtful way. Taking the Ghost by A.C. Wise is another winner; what could have fallen into every post-apocalyptic cliche actually emerged as an example of how to do paranormal sci-fi correctly. E. Catherine Tobler's The Cumulative Effects of Light Over Time is one of those allegorical "the deeper they go into this cave the deeper they go into their self" stories, but it's done very well and kept me interested right up until the predicted end. I'll definitely be looking for more of her work. Seventh Sight by Greg Egan works for me on a number of different levels; I'm not sure it's remarkable in the objective sense but I felt a number of parallels between the protagonist and myself and that counts a lot for me.

Memories and Wire by Mari Ness sort of fell off my radar, but as I went back through the TOC for this review it sparked a rush of affection. IIRC, it's a brilliant concept but needs a bit more development to really come into it's own.

Also notable is The Regular by Ken Liu isn't as allegorical as most short stories, but it's also the longest story in the book and reads like a simple whodunnit. I liked it well enough, but I think I'd like it a lot more if it were fully developed into a novel length story.

This is a great collection of short stories. There is a depth and breadth represented here that makes the collection feel much larger than just the 26 stories it contains, and any fan of scifi should find more than enough worthwhile writing to justify buying this.

Djinn - It didn't take me long to give up on this book

Djinn: An Extreme Horror Novel - Sam West

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
**Intentionally Left Blank**
blood:
boobs:
bombs:
bondage:
blasphemy:
Bechdel Test:
Deggan's Rule:
Gay Bechdel Test:

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.



I left my "5Bs" blank because I didn't read enough of the book to make a valid score.

I made it about 12% into this book before I gave up. Not because it was too "extreme" or "graphic", but because it just wasn't written very well. I'm all about the splatterpunk - I don't even blink an eye at Edward Lee - and I took a chance on this at amazon when I saw the 3.6 average review at GR. I'm glad I didn't pay very much for it.

The content wasn't the problem. The problem is the writing. All of the sentences looked the same. All of the dialogue sounded the same. The author didn't show me anything. The author only told me things. The main character was boring. And she was predictable. I knew what was going to happen to her after her first "test".

There's just too many good books that are crafted by wordsmiths rather than written by content producers and lovingly edited by professionals that are advocating on the reader's behalf to spend time on books that are substandard. I do hope this author continues to refine his craft, the world needs more splatterpunk and I'm sure he has important stories to tell, but until he's better at telling them I'm going to spend my scant reading time on books that are produced to a higher caliber.

Devil City - Not as good as Black City

Devil City - Christian Read

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 3
boobs: 3
bombs: 0
bondage: 0
blasphemy: 4
Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.



I finished this book a few weeks ago, and to be completely honest I'm having a hard time recalling any details of it. I remember the first book in the series, and I remember reading this book and thinking, "Where did the awesome go?" My recollection of this book is of some ridiculous plot twists and a Mary Sue revenant coming to save the day too often. Where the first book was gloriously dark and dystopic and our intrepid hero was properly cynical and jaded, this book just felt like it was full of whiny characters who were being shuffled from one plot twist to another. I just didn't like it nearly as much as the first.

I hope this is just the "second book slump", and the series continues to a third edition to wrap up the Big Boss Fight that's been lurking on the horizon. I'll definitely buy the next book in the series, but I'll be reading it with a healthy dose of trepidation rather than the unbridled optimism I had when I started this book.

The Dark Defiles - Do I get a medal for finishing this?

The Dark Defiles - Richard K. Morgan

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 5
boobs: 2
bombs: 4
bondage: 0
blasphemy: 4
Bechdel Test: PASS
Deggan's Rule: PASS
Gay Bechdel Test: PASS

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.



I finished the previous book in this series about three years ago. I have the attention span of a goldfish, so that's like 27 years for normal people. When I started The Dark Defiles, I had to be reminded of our protoganists names for example. I spend the first couple of hundred pages just trying to get caught up. I even tried to find a map of the world, but in my editions or online I could only muster a few small diagrams of part of the world.

After I gave up trying to figure out exactly what was going on I began to enjoy the series a lot more, though to be honest the story really didn't start to pick up until about halfway through the book. Once it got in gear, though, it was every bit as spectacular as Mr. Morgans other books. I rushed through the latter part of the book; I honestly had no idea how he was going to end it and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride until I found out.

It's hard to wrap up a saga with characters this powerful, and I think some judicious editing could have saved some space on the front half of the book to make more room in  the latter half for a more involved denouement. The last few pages, in fact, feel like they got phoned in as a postcript. I hope that these tantalizing little shards become the nucleus of at least a couple of novellas if not a second series.

I would have enjoyed this a lot more if my edition included some maps and a few pages of recaps of the story so far. Now that the whole series has been published, readers getting into the series might not need them as much as I did, since they don't have to wait for the books to come out.

Devil In the Dollhouse - A bite sized tour of Hell

Devil in the Dollhouse - Richard Kadrey

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 5
boobs: 0
bombs: 3
bondage: 0
blasphemy: 5
Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.



This is a short story tucked into the Sandman Slim series. I read it out of order (I'd already finished Kill City Blues) but that didn't change my enjoyment of the story. As a huge fan of Sandman Slim, my only problem with this book is that it was too short. It had everything we like about this guy - violence, wry self deprecating humor, a wicked (pun intended) sense of sarcasm and tidy little story line that wraps itself up at the end.

The story takes shortly after Sandman takes over hell and revolves around him taking a couple of legions of hellspawn out to the far reaches to take care of some business left over by the last Lucifer. Naturally, chaos, violence, horror, death and destruction ensue.

I'm not sure this would be a good way for people who haven't read the earlier books to dip into the series. It might be a little difficult to follow along; Mr. Kadrey expects the reader to have a firm grasp of the mythology he's created and the history of his major characters. On the other hand, as a quick little horro/action-adventure/romp it's a fun little diversion and for readers don't mind being a little behind on the backstory and motivations, this would be good introduction to the style and tone of the Sandman Slim series.

Black & White Movies - a vanilla collection from Vanessa de Sade

Black & White Movies - Vanessa De Sade

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 0
boobs: 5
bombs: 0
bondage: 0
blasphemy: 2
Bechdel Test: PASS
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: PASS

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.



If more erotica was written with as much insight, creativity and commmand of the language as Vanessa has, I'd read a lot more erotica. This collection of ten stories (all of them new to me; I don't believe any of them are in any of her other collections) is another set of knockout stories. Even the weakest amongst them are worth reading. The real standouts for me are Trebarthen Cottage, which blends the fantastical into the real seamlessly as Vanessa does in so many of her stories. The Shower Game by far the longest story in the collection, watches 2 relationships evolve around a mutual appreciation for voyeurism, and the story is handled quite deftly.

This collection doesn't really go into any of the taboo kinks that some of Vanessa's stories do, so this would be an excellent collection for the discerning reader looking for some top shelf, witty and well written vanilla erotica.

Maid for Milking - Not my kink, but enjoyable nonetheless

Maid for Milking - Vanessa de Sade

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 0
boobs: 5
bombs: 0
bondage: 0
blasphemy: 2
Bechdel Test: PASS
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: PASS

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.



This is an erotic short about a kink that I'm not particularly into, and yet it held my interest. As always, Vanessa's writing is leagues ahead of most in the taboo erotic genre, and her development of the characters as rounded people rather than vehicles for orifice oriented gymnastics makes the smut that much hotter.

Lactation isn't on my list of kinks, but I'll read anything Vanessa writes. I wasn't disappointed; it was hot and arousing and "did the job", so I'm sure people who are into lactation would be even more impressed.

Equoid -

Equoid - Charles Stross

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 3
boobs: 1
bombs: 0
bondage: 0
blasphemy: 4
Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.



If you like the Laundry series, you'll like this short. It's a very quick read and treads well worn ground, but all the things I like about the Laundry are in abundance: sly digs at English culture, comically overdrawn computer science and good ol' fashioned whatdunnit in the vein of classic Dr. Who.The references to the eldritch gods and Crowley are like a fractal tesseract and provide the real meat of the story.

 

For people not familiar with The Laundry, this would work as a standalone. There's enough context provided to explain who the players and are and what they're doing, and the voicing, cadence etc are all exemplary of the series. For people familiar with the series, reading this out of order (like I have) didn't detract my enjoyment.

Beyond the Rift

Beyond the Rift - Peter Watts Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 4
boobs: 0
bombs: 3
bondage: 0
blasphemy: 3
Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.


One thing about Peter Watts - he has one of the most distinctive voices in scifi since Theodore Sturgeon. Despite the depth and breadth of topic, setting and POV this collection of shorts reads like a cohesive whole. All of these stories are worthwhile, which is unfortunately more than I expect from an anthology, though naturally I felt a few were stronger than most and the weakest are easy to pick out.

First of all, there are two shorts from the Rifters world: "Home" and "A Niche". These are among my favorites if only because I like the Rifters world so much. Other stories that stood out for me are "A Word for Heathens", a morality play in a world where Jerry Falwell and Farenheit 451 intersect. It took a few pages for me to warm up to "The Island", but by the end I was completely hooked and it's message of humility and the limitations of the human scope stick deeply with me.

I wasn't such a big fan of "Repeating the Past"; I felt like I've read that story a number of times before and I'm not sure it adds anything to the canon. I felt much the same for "Flesh Made Word", actually. The first story "The Things" only makes sense when you realize it's a first person account of the alien's perspective from the movie "The Thing". A cynical part of me feels that a story that needs an introduction like that has fundamentally failed to set it's scene properly; but it would be hard to know if it's possible to set the scene in-story without plaigerising the movie. Perhaps I'm asking too much?

This is a great set of short stories. None of them are long enough to need more than a single sitting to read, but nearly all of them contain ideas and emotions with subtle barbs that have sat with me long after I finished the book.

The outro - wherein Mr. Watts talks about his infamous detention at the hands of the US Border Patrol and his feelings about his canon being labeled "unrelentingly dark, "misanthropic" or "savage" is some of the best discourse on the nature of horror and how "bad things" is an entirely relative term that's entirely dependant on scope. Worth the price of admission just for that essay, actually.