Review: Lightspeed: Year One

Lightspeed: Year One
Lightspeed: Year One by John Joseph Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoy science fiction, and I am definitely on the laser side of the sword and laser spectrum. I enjoy reading about interesting new ideas and conjecture about how future developments might shape our lives. I really enjoy dystopian novels, but I am actually quite the optimist at heart. For all of these reasons, Light Speed seemed like a perfect match to my interests.

Overall this collection is very, very dark. Many of the short stories paint extremely bleak pictures of a possible future. Loneliness, separation, abandonement...these are all central themes. A few of the stories here stood out. I enjoyed the Stephen King story, as well as the story from Le Guinn. Altogether, though, I have to say that this collection was too bleak for my taste. I like my dystopia with a dash of good, and you won't find any here.

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Review: Guitar For Absolute Beginners

Guitar For Absolute Beginners
Guitar For Absolute Beginners by Daniel Emery

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This year I have been trying to teach myself guitar. I picked up Rocksmith and had some fun with that, and tried my hand at playing from tablature found online. Unfortunately, I never felt like I was "getting it". On the advice of another self taught player, I picked up Guitar for the Absolute Beginner. It has a nice, conversational format, and takes you from the very basics of how to hold the guitar and how to use a pick, to your first chords. The book is intended to follow a class by a school in New York, but it works just as well for solo play. By the end of the book you are to be comfortable withe the CAGED chords, and have a few songs to play to practice each.

I am not sure that I would recommend this book. It isn't that the book is bad. Instead, I think you can get just as much use out of the Justin Guitar series of videos on YouTube.

So, can I play guitar? No, but not for any lack in the material. I can scratch out the chords, and sometimes even switch between chords in rhythm, but it will take a lot more practice before I feel comfortable.

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Review: Bossypants

Bossypants by Tina Fey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tina Fey is funny and smart, so it is no surprise that her book is also funny and smart. Bossypants is mostly a biography of the highlights of Fey's career. She briefly discusses her childhood, and then moves on to her career starting with Chicago's Second City, Saturday Night Live, and 30 Rock. There is humor throughout, as well as a health dose of feminism. I particularly enjoyed the audio book as it is narrated by Tina herself. The only downside of this medium is that, due to checking it out from the library, I missed out on the PDF she references for the visual aids. I would recommend this to anyone.

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Review: The Fall of Hyperion

The Fall of Hyperion
The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hyperion had a cliffhanger ending and for a while, I thought Simmons might just be stalling throughout The Fall of Hyperion. He created the captive audience with the first book. What happens to the pilgrims? Will they defeat the Shrike or not? Let me warn you that you are not going to get a quick nor easy answer.

I like these two books, and for very different reasons. Hyperion was almost a series of short stories giving us a rich background on each of the characters. Strangely, Fall turns them into pawns in part of a much larger plot. I enjoyed the second book for it's density, and it is _dense_. There is a lot going on, and while I originally thought that weaving of Severn's wakefulness as a way to provide political overview might be stalling, by the end I'm thinking that if there was any stalling it was his dreaming.

I have no appreciation for poetry. For that reason, I think there may be a lot of nuance or subtlety here that is lost on me. Both books have prose that, for me, did nothing. It was totally opaque. That is probably a fault with me, but it is the one area that I felt could have been trimmed and not reduced the story. I get the sense that Simmons is an enormous fan of Keats and this was his love letter.

Theology plays an even greater role in this second book than it did in the first. I had speculated that each of the pilgrims represented one of the 7 deadly sins in my earlier review. I'm not so sure, now, that each character was intended to play that role, at least not entirely. There are whiffs of The Inferno here, as Severn plays both Virgil and Dante. The Shrike metes out punishment paired to the sin of each character.

Hoyt: Pride - Dies at the hands of the shrike and is resurrected as Paul Dure. Dure later refers directly to his pride bringing about his fall.

Kassad: Lust - Dies in ultimate battle with the Shrike(s).

Silenus: Gluttony - He was a glutton for his poetry. His punishment is to endure constant pain, potentially for eternity, finding only small relief in reciting poetry that the Shrike may be feeding him.

Weintraub: Sloth - Refused to act on the command given him, and is left with nothing he can do after the Shrike takes Rachel from him.

Masteen: Envy? - Still not sure what to make of this character's story, although we do learn a great deal about the Templars and their motives.

Lamia: Greed? - the 7 sins metaphor really starts to fall apart here. Not to fear, Lamia still gets to participate in the biblical references, taking on the role of Divine Mother.

Consul: Wrath? - Yeah, the 7 sins metaphor is completely out the window here. homage to Dante, perhaps, or maybe I'm just not familiar enough with Keats. In any case, I would definitely recommend these first two books of the Hyperion series to my fellow sci-fi fans.

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Review: Hyperion

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy the way this story (or stories, as it were) are told. Seven pilgrims are on a journey to meet the Shrike, a mythical, murderous creature that can control time. Each member of the group must relate their story to the rest during the pilgrimage. Each of these stories is told in a different way, giving each character a distinct voice. Each story is also told during a particular leg of the voyage. I think each of the characters are intended to represent one of the "7 deadly sins".

Father Hoyt tells a story of pride while the pilgrims travel on a tree-ship through space. He bears the weight of his contemporary who was not satisfied to remain in ignorance but demanded that he learn the true nature of a small tribe on Hyperion.

Colonel Kassad tells a story of lust while they enter the atmosphere of Hyperion and land. He is enamored with a specter that only appears to him when he is surrounded by violence.

The poet Silenus tells a story of gluttony as they travel upriver. Gluttony here, not in the sense of consumption of food, but in the sense of selfishness. All other concerns are trivial compared to his quest to create the perfect poetry.

The scholar Weintraub tells a story of sloth as they sail the sea of grass. He dreams of the shrike, the Lord of Pain, and disobeys the shrike's order to render his daughter as an offering.

The templar Masteen is lost before he tells his tale. I'm left to assume that his is the tale of envy.

The detective Lamia tells a story of greed while they travel by cable car over a frozen mountain range. On the surface she is telling the tale of her client, Johnny. Johnny is an AI created as an experiment by the techno core, a collective of artificial intelligences. Really, though, this is the story of the fractured core, and their greed for ultimate intelligence. I really enjoyed the pulpy noir style used in telling this story.

The consul tells a story of wrath as the group retires in castle of the dead. He seeks retribution against the powers that led to death of his grandmother.

Unfortunately, we don't get closure as we're left with a cliffhanger leading into the next book. I'll definitely be reading it to see what happens next.

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Review: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a departure from my usual reading. I've heard a number of David Sedaris's essays on This American Life, and I've enjoyed them, so I thought I would try one of his audio books. This is a broad collection without any particular theme that I took away. There are a few gems here that gave me a chuckle, such David's experience waiting in line at an airline and the idle chit-chat with other folks there. Some of the essays were taped in front of a live audience, and I found that I preferred those. Overall I'm not sure that I would go out of my way to recommend this book, but it did help to pass the time during my commute.

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Review: Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this tale. Each of the characters has a distinct voice that I can hear as I'm reading them. I can see twitchy Mr. Croup fancying himself eloquent as Mr. Vandermar ambles along with him, at once bemused and bored. The environment of London below is visceral. It may be the heat of August right now, but I can feel the cold and damp as Richard and Door weave their way throughout London Below.

I've recommended Stardust to many folks, and I would recommend Neverwhere just as highly.

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Review: A Killing Frost

A Killing Frost
A Killing Frost by John Marsden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first book in the series was excellent because it introduced us to the characters as well as the invasion that changed these kids' lives forever. The second book was ok, but I this third installment was so much better. The group from Hell has taken on a much bigger target as they investigate Cobbler's bay, but the risks are also much higher as well.

If I had one criticism of this series it is that all of the character emotions are a bit shallow. That's not to say the characters are shallow. These teenagers are in an awful situation, and I would expect there to be some extremes to their highs and lows. Instead, everything seems to move along with only modest ups and downs. I was especially aware of this in the last few pages which involves a very dramatic turn but it seems to elicit little if any response from the characters.

I'm enjoying this series, and eager to see what the next installment will have the troop from Wirrawee doing.

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Jade Mason