Pushing the Limits of Absurdity – A Review of The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross

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This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher, Tor.com Publishing, via Netgalley. This does not in any way affect my review. This book is slated for release on October 30, 2018.

This is a review of the ninth book in a series. While it contains no spoilers for the book under discussion, it may contain spoilers for the previous books in the series. Please do not read this review unless you have already read the previous books.

Some acquaintances of mine have commented on my ability to sustain interest in long-running series before they are completed. Trilogies, they say, are easy enough to maintain interest in, especially if the author is good enough about delivering a book once a year or so. Romance novel series are also fairly easy to maintain interest in even if some of them can run into several books long, because each book deals with one specific couple and can therefore be read on its own.

But in genres like sci-fi, fantasy, and urban fantasy, maintaining interest in a series that runs beyond four or five books is, so my acquaintances say, an almost herculean feat of focus – especially if the series has yet to be concluded. For my part, I do not see how that sort of focus is herculean – not least because I often reread books in a series if it has been some time since I engaged with it and need a refresher before diving into the latest volume. It can be a bit tedious to have to do so, especially if the previous novels are doorstoppers in their own right, but doing so does not require any great expenditure of effort, nor is it in any way onerous. There is something pleasant, after all, about revisiting a story one has already engaged with – especially if one enjoyed it.

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What For the Price of War? – A Review of Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas

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This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher Ace via Netgalley. The book is slated for release on September 18, 2018.

Some of the very first anime I ever remember watching were the ones involving giant robots – mecha – battling it out against aliens trying to invade Earth for one reason or another. I remember watching Voltes V (Chōdenji Machine Voltes V), Daimos (Tōshō Daimos), Combattler V (Chōdenji Robo Combattler V), and the first Voltron (Beast King GoLion). For some odd reason I missed out entirely on Robotech while growing up – or it could be that I did catch some of it, but didn’t get to see enough of it for it to make an impression.

However, of the aforementioned anime, the one that sticks out the most, not only in my personal memory, but in the memory of an entire generation of people, is Voltes V. It might seem silly to think of an anime being historically significant, but in the case of the Philippines, Voltes V is precisely that. Voltes V launched in Japan in 1977, and then a Philippine broadcast network started airing an English dub in 1978, becoming immensely popular while it was on the air. But, when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law the following year, Voltes V (which was just a few episodes shy of the finale) and other shows with similar themes were soon pulled off the air. The official government explanation for the pullout cited “excessive violence” as the reason, but many suspected that the ban was due to the themes of uprising and revolution that underpinned many such anime. Marcos clearly did not want his constituency getting any bright ideas while he was in office.

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A Slightly Smaller, But No Less Entertaining, Adventure – A Review of The Dreaming Stars by Tim Pratt

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This is a review for the second book in the Axiom series, and therefore may contain spoilers for the first book, The Wrong Stars. Please do not read this review if you have not yet read the first book.

This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher, Angry Robot Publishing. This does not in any way affect my review. This book is slated for release on September 4, 2018.

“Science fiction is supposed to be fun.” For a long while, I took this seemingly innocuous statement as a given, albeit with certain caveats surrounding the word “fun”. While there is plenty of literature out there that doesn’t fall into my personal definition of “fun,” as a rule genre fiction has always symbolised “fun” to me – as it does for a great many other readers out there, I am sure. We wouldn’t be engaging with it otherwise.

But not too long ago, that statement was twisted into the tagline of the “cause célèbre” espoused by the Sad and Rabid Puppies, who in 2015 tried to rig the Hugo Awards in an attempt to push a slate of finalists that was more to their liking – i.e. a more racist, misogynistic, and homophobic vision that they claimed was more akin to some non-existent “golden age” of the genre. (To be clear: not all the finalists themselves are racist, misogynistic, and/or homophobic; indeed many requested removal from the slate after learning they were nominated by the Puppies.) According to the Puppies, the progressive and literary slant genre fiction has taken in recent years was making science fiction “less fun”, and something had to be done about it – by which they meant: attempt to rig one of the most important awards in genre fiction to go their way. They failed, thankfully, and as of this year’s ceremonies, the Hugo Awards continues to show how progressive genre fiction has become, with N.K. Jemisin making Hugo history by winning Best Novel three years in a row.

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Burn It All Down to Build It Back Up – A Review of Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

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This is a review of the second book in a trilogy. It may contain spoilers for the first book, though it contains no spoilers for the book being reviewed. Please read the first book before reading this review.

Trigger warnings for this novel can be found at the very bottom of this review.

Amazing first volumes in a series can be a hard act to follow. They tend to set up a specific bar all other books that come after need to at least meet, if not exceed, which a lot of authors find difficult to achieve. Some manage to meet the challenge, of course – and those authors are definitely worth following, because they show they can maintain or exceed the expectations the first book has created.

Yoon Ha Lee is one of those authors. Raven Stratagem is the second novel in the trilogy, and begins some time after the end of Ninefox Gambit. The hexarchate is now facing a new threat: invasion by the Hafn, an enemy they has held at bay for a long time now. In order to ensure that their territory is not overrun, they send out a fleet led by General Kel Khiruev, with orders to intercept the Hafn before they reach the Fortress of Spinshot Coins. The Fortress of Spinshot Coins is crucial to maintaining the stability of the calendar that fuels the hexarchate’s most powerful weapons and most vital technologies. Should it fall, the hexarchate may very well go down with it.

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Doesn’t Quite Hit All the Notes, and Falls a Bit Flat at the End – A Review of At the Table of Wolves by Kay Kenyon

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Lately I’ve noticed something in the book blurbs I come across on websites like Goodreads and Amazon: the “X Meets X” comparison, with “X” representing a popular book, TV show, movie, or video game. On one hand, I understand the prevalence; it is a very useful shorthand, after all, for describing the concept behind a particular book by using widely familiar media to give the reader some idea of what to expect. On the other hand, the comparisons can be (often are, rather) deceptive – I’ve seen these “X Meets X” comparisons, read the book in question, and wondered how in the world the blurb’ writer even thought the comparison was apt in any way except in the vaguest of terms.

Because of this, I’ve developed a rather healthy scepticism where it concerns such comparisons. I find it a lazy way of describing a book’s concept – useful when pitching a book for publication, perhaps, but far less useful once the book has already been published and is out in the wild. I have been burned far too many times by such comparisons to really want to believe them at face value.

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