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Kelson Reads

Joined 1 year, 1 month ago

Techie, software developer, hobbyist photographer, sci-fi/fantasy and comics fan in the Los Angeles area. He/him.

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Key out of time (EBook, 2023, Standard Ebooks) 4 stars

The fourth novel in Andre Norton’s Time Traders series, Key Out of Time follows Ross …

The line between fantasy and science fiction has always been fuzzy

4 stars

The Andre Norton books I've read over the last couple of years have all been on the action/adventure side of sci-fi, and this is no exception. What I found myself thinking about was how fuzzy, and sometimes arbitrary, the line between science fiction and fantasy really is.

90% of the book takes place on a world with pre-industrial technology. There are two factions with sufficiently-advanced technology that might as well be magic. The Cold War elements of the earlier books are pushed aside by the local conflict on Hawaika, with a handful of stranded humans and dolphins caught in the middle with nothing more high-tech than scuba gear and a convenient translator device. It could easily be a portal fantasy!

While the adventure was entertaining, I started paying more attention to the tropes connecting to the other books and, in some cases, being turned on their heads. Instead of a …

The Defiant Agents (EBook, 2022, Standard Ebooks) No rating

The space race has gone interstellar! Western and Soviet agents vie for control of the …

An enjoyable space western with Apaches as the good guys

No rating

An enjoyable space western with Apaches as the good guys, wrapped up in the cold war and tossing in the Golden Horde, a lost alien city and Russians with a mind-control ray.

Third in the Time Traders series, it stands alone pretty well even though it appears much more closely linked to the second book (which I haven’t read) than the first (which I have), largely because the setting has moved from Earth’s past to a distant world in the near future.

It’s kind of a mish-mash, but as an adventure it moves quickly. The characters’ memories are all scrambled, mixed with those of their ancestors (this is how the western and Mongol Horde tropes are brought into the future). But they’re still distinct characters, and when alliances shift they’re actually for character and cultural reasons, not just plot contrivances.

All that said, I’m a white guy reading a book …

Dracula (Paperback, 1992, Signet) 4 stars

It tells the story of Dracula's attempt to move from Transylvania to England so he …

A great read, not just for codifying vampire lore, but the way it's built from letters and diaries.

5 stars

The original novel is a great read. Not just for the way it codified modern vampire lore. But for the way it's built entirely out of diary entries, letters, news fragments, telegrams and so on. For the way it shows modern science coming to grips with ancient superstition and figuring out how to deal with it. For showing an early example of a woman participating in her own rescue. And for some of the parts that didn't make it into general pop culture. (Count Dracula spends an awful lot of time in a shipping box.)

In some senses it's the written-word equivalent of the "found footage" horror genre. Except the "sources" are wildly varying. John and Mina write their journals and letters to each other in shorthand. Business letters are of course written formally. Dr. Seward keeps an audio diary on a phonograph. Van Helsing's speech is rendered with every …

reviewed The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

The Time Machine (2010, Megalodon Entertainment LLC.) 4 stars

The Time Traveller, a dreamer obsessed with traveling through time, builds himself a time machine …

Thought-provoking speculation about the future of humanity

5 stars

Content warning Not sure why I'm putting a spoiler alert on a book that's more than a century old, but hey, you might not have seen either of the movies, and even if you did, they might not have made it clear what was going on with the Morlocks and Eloi.

Fuzzy Nation (2011, Tor) 5 stars

Jack Holloway works alone, for reasons he doesn't care to talk about. Hundreds of miles …

Enjoyable remake of a classic with more characterization and less deus ex machina.

5 stars

It feels weird to rate this higher than the original it’s based on, H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy. I’m not sure it’s actually a better book, but it is more enjoyable, largely because it’s written in a more modern style and to today’s sensibilities. The characters are more distinct, the personal stakes are higher, the corporate malfeasance and environmental exploitation are amped up, and the twists are carefully set up instead of dropping in out of nowhere.

Fuzzy Nation tells largely the same story as Little Fuzzy: a prospector on a company-owned planet encouters a cute animal species that may or may not be sapient, in which case the company loses its license to exploit the world, finishing with a courtroom drama over murder charges and whether the fuzzies are people or animals, with a major breakthrough in communication settling the question. But it takes a different enough path that …

The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) (2021, Scribner) 5 stars

From one of the most dynamic rising stars in astrophysics, an accessible and eye-opening look—in …

Engaging read for general audiences on what we know about the history and future of the universe

5 stars

An engaging read for the general audience about what we currently know about the history and structure of the universe and what that knowledge -- and the pieces we don't know -- might mean for its future and eventual end. Katie Mack writes in a casual, entertaining style. It's clear she finds all of this absolutely fascinating. And she sprinkles the writing with funny stories and quotes and side notes to get across the basics of quantum mechanics, Higgs fields, high-energy physics and the like without delving too much into the math. But the math, and the measurements, are important, because as it turns out, very small changes in how things work at the quantum level can have major implications on the universe's ultimate fate.

The last time I read about this topic in anything resembling depth was about a decade ago. Since then there've been major discoveries in …

Chivalry (Hardcover, 2022, Dark Horse Comics) 5 stars

Another delightfully humorous and sweet fantasy graphic novel adaptation of a Neil Gaiman short story, …

A beautifully drawn and illustrated, charming tale of Arthurian legend brought into modern times.

5 stars

A sweet, charming take on Arthurian legend brought into modern times, beautifully drawn and painted by Colleen Doran. Worth it for the art alone, which continues the style you can see on the cover: painted scenes and panels, with borders and calligraphy and margin drawings like a medieval manuscript. I've read other graphic adaptations of Neil Gaiman stories that tried to keep too much of the prose, but here the words and illustration are balanced perfectly to serve the story, and again, the art is amazing.

The story is kind of fantasy fusion comfort food. It follows familiar patterns, mixing the magic-item-found-in-a-shop trope with the Arthurian grail quests.

An old widow picks up the Holy Grail at a thrift shop, takes it home and sets it on her mantelpiece. Soon after, Sir Galahad shows up. He's been looking for a long time. He keeps coming back, offering one thing …

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (2017, Tom Doherty Associates) 5 stars

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were …

Creepy tale of twins transported to a world out of 1930s monster movies.

5 stars

The characters and plot mesh together better than the previous book. It doesn't tell us much new about Jacqueline and Jillian, but we get a deeper understanding of how messed up their childhood was. (Parents, remember: children are people, not status symbols.) And why one would jump at the chance to be adopted by a vampire, and the other would take so well to becoming apprentice to a mad scientist.

And of course, there's what really happened when they returned to the normal world!

A Dragon For William (EBook, en language, Daw Books) 5 stars

The troubled young truthseer, Werfol Westietas, misses Marrowdell. He dreams of a dragon and writes …

A welcome return to the world of A Turn of Light (though shorter!)

5 stars

There’s a political story dealing with fallout from the previous novel, but it’s a paper-thin wrapper around the real story: a character-driven family drama about healing from trauma and learning to handle uncontrollable magic and what dangers it might unlock.

One of the things Czerneda does really well in this series is balance the fantasy elements so that they’re both wondrous and dangerous at the same time. Like the Turn that happens daily wherever the normal and magical worlds intersect, it’s just a shift in which facet we’re seeing at the time.

Every Heart a Doorway (2016) 4 stars

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed …

Fast read, intriguing concept and characters, but the plot gets in the way

4 stars

A fast read with an intriguing concept that reverses multiple YA fantasy tropes: It’s a non-magical boarding school for teens who have experienced magic. And it’s not about the adventures they have going through the portal to a fantasy world, but about how they handle the trauma of coming back to the mundane one. The characters are interesting, and I’d like to read more about them, but halfway through it turns into a murder mystery. That gives it a plot, but it comes at the expense of the characterization. (And some of the characters.) It was entertaining, though, and it does make me want to check out the second book.

Norse Mythology (Hardcover, 2017, W. W. Norton & Company) 4 stars

Introducing an instant classic―master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse …

Entertaining, sometimes gruesome, sometimes funny and sometimes sad

4 stars

collection of stories about the gods of Asgard and the elves, dwarves and giants around them, book-ended by the Norse creation myth and the world-ending battle of Ragnarok. It’s a storytelling approach, not a scholarly description. And it’s not the shiny, techno-magical Asgard of Marvel’s Thor, or the ethereal Olympus we’ve come to think of with Greek myths. For all the magic and impossible feats that get tossed around, it’s still a gritty, harsh world with wars, murders, lust, deception and betrayal.

The stories are mostly separate, but a pattern emerges: not just when stories refer back to earlier events, but the slow transformation of Loki from the kind of trickster who steals Sif’s hair, tricks rival smiths into creating fantastic gifts, and generally outwits his opponents (while finding ways to embarrass the other gods if he can) to the kind of trickster who thinks it would be hilarious to …

The Kaiju Preservation Society (EBook, 2022, Tom Doherty Associates) 4 stars

Jamie’s dream was to hit the big time at a New York tech start-up. Jamie’s …

Escaping the pandemic by learning to survive on a world with gigantic monsters

5 stars

A fun, breezy story about unexpectedly landing a job at a secret scientific base on a parallel world studying giant Godzilla-like animals. Which is about as dangerous as it sounds. Plus, of course, not all humans are interested in the kaijus' welfare, and the KPS has to step up the "Preservation" part of its name.

There's some interesting world-building in terms of what kind of environment and ecosystem would actually support 100-meter-tall animals, what kind of biology would be able to handle the size, the energy, shooting beams of radiation, etc. And what might evolve to protect itself in a world with kaiju. And of course: what role nuclear explosions have in the whole thing, because these are kaiju after all!

It's also weird because it takes place in 2020. Like, real 2020, complete with Covid-19 lockdowns and everything. The main character starts out working for a GrubHub competitor at …

reviewed Quantum night by Robert J. Sawyer

Quantum night (2016) 4 stars

Quantum Night is a 2016 science-fiction thriller novel written by Canadian novelist Robert J. Sawyer. …

If consciousness is a quantum state, can we reboot humanity?

4 stars

I read Quantum Night when it was new, back in early 2016. And while a key part of the premise doesn’t add up, I keep thinking back to it.

It links human cruelty, psychopathy, and mob behavior to the nature of consciousness and quantum entanglement, mostly focusing on the main characters but playing out against a global crisis brought on by a rising tide of xenophobia.

There’s an ultra-conservative US President who makes grandiose statements. A rising trend of anti-immigrant murders. A war launched by Putin.

Through all this, the main characters are investigating their own dark pasts, trying to figure out what caused them to change for the better… and ultimately, can we reboot humanity?