29 January 2012

Review: Geek Mafia

Geek Mafia
Geek Mafia by Rick Dakan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Giving the writing a 2, but the sheer amount of fun I had reading this a 4.5, I think a 4 is fair.

Paul is getting fired from his job tomorrow. His job is being the creative force behind a pretty big deal of a video game, and the rest of the top-level guys want him out. Paul ends up meeting Chloe at the Mexican restaurant he's hiding out in, and suddenly Paul is in the middle of a massive con to try and get what he's truly owed from the company.

Thus begins the wild ride that is Geek Mafia. The plot is strung together by a bunch of fun, tech-heavy heists, the characters are fun and fascinating, and the book reads like a really freewheeling action movie - this means there's not a ton of depth going on, but it really doesn't matter much in the end because you're enjoying yourself so much.

If I have any complaints, it may be that the author is clearly seeing himself in the main role here. Not a big problem - write what you know. However, a lot of less-than-necessary opinionating along the way kind of throws things out of whack a bit. If you dislike that sort of thing in your fiction, this may be fun enough for you to be able to let it slide, but that might be my only issue. I'm really, really looking forward to the sequel (which I already have on my Kindle). Highly recommended if you're a nerd into something different.

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26 January 2012

Review: The Rook

The Rook
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'll put this out there immediately - this is likely to be a front runner for my favorite book of 2012. I've not been able to get into urban fantasy, but this book may have changed my mind on the genre on a whole. It's that good.

The book benefits by not wasting much time at all. Myfawny Thomas wakes up with a bunch of bodies littered around her and no recollection of who she is, what happened, or how she got there. There is, however, a note in her pocket that starts to explain things. It turns out that Thomas is a member of an elite supernatural protection agency for the United Kingdom, and someone has wiped her clean.

I don't want to give up too much more than that, because the book is outright brilliant. It doesn't take itself too seriously at all, which mean you get the occasional joke or wink along the way. The conceit is great and, while not new, doesn't feel old or tired. There's an opening for sequels perhaps, but works beautifully as a stand-alone as well.

Seriously, this book is great. If you have even a passing interest in mysteries, in urban fantasy or similar nerdy concepts, put this book on your list next. Highest possible recommendation on this. I wish I could buy myself a copy right now.

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24 January 2012

Review: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John Green is a magnificent writer and human being, and that's the long and short of it. It takes a lot for me to be emotionally moved by a book, but this one had me choked up more than a few times.

It's hard to not make a book that's about illness and disease and cancer and disappointment fun and worthwhile, but John Green pulls it off quite well. It's not like his other books, which is a good thing, but it follows a girl dying of cancer and the people in her lives, including a teenager who lost his leg to cancer. Just heartbreaking across the board as is, and the characters are genuinely good people trying to get by and you just pull for them. It's great.

This is a great, great book. Everyone should pick this one up, because it's that well done. It's powerful without losing its subtlety, it's topical without being preachy. It's hard to toe that line, and this is just a beautiful piece of work.

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19 January 2012

Review: Reamde

Reamde by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First things first: Neal Stephenson has some of the more interesting ideas in fiction lately, even if I don't love everything he's done, or even find it 100% compelling.

Second things second: The assumption that Stephenson is a sci-fi writer first and foremost may be my own individual error that I need to repair, as Reamde is not a science fiction title. It's a good book with a lot of great moments, but it's not really science fiction.

What it is happens to be part criminal thriller, part corporate espionage, part techno-heist. A virus is loaded into an MMO-style game run by a man who's essentially created a stable currency in his game. The story tracks his - and his company's - attempts to stop the theft of the money and involves a lot of terrorism, hacking, etc.

For a 1000+ page book, it's very fast-paced. As long as it was, I don't feel like it was padded for any real reason, and, while it wasn't the book I wanted to read, it was still a book I'm glad I read. I think the one issue I have is the positioning of this, either in my brain or publicly, is that this is a science fictional title when there's really no sci-fi elements to speak of. It's probably better written than most books like it, but it also ensures that those who would enjoy it may never get around to picking it up.

Anyway, yes, recommended. Good-to-great, but not what you might think it is. I liked it, in any regard.

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04 January 2012

Review: I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four
I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the best 2 star (closer to a 1.5, really) book I have ever read. There is so much that is terribly, horribly wrong with this book from start to finish that I really couldn't stand it, but it was ultimately engaging in that Mega Shark v. Giant Octopus sort of trainwreck way that I breezed through this like no one's business.

Short plot: our protagonist is the 4th of 9 aliens from another planet. They're being trailed by some evil, resource-hogging aliens, and Earth is next on the list. The 9 must be killed in order. The bad guys want Earth's resources, too. Yeah.

First, the writing. Just really nothing special at all, almost offensive in its blandness. Given the publishing house that threw this together is sketchy as all get out (not that we should be surprised that James Frey of A Million Little Pieces would be involved in something sketchy), there's no surprise that this appears to have been sold as a movie before the book was even done. It reads like a movie, it feels like a movie, it's paced like a movie. Just not a very good one.

And the choices! Holy crap, the choices! First, for a "special" alien, John is just dumb as a rock. I almost don't want to mention the dog in fear of giving something away, but if you've ever, you know, read a book or watched a movie or seen a television program, the moment the dog arrives on the screen, you're 99% certain of what the deal is with the dog even if the details aren't predictable. Dog ex machina, or something? Bad analogy, but the second part is that the book is absolutely littered with big neon signs of foreshadowing that provide no mystery and no joy when they're revealed with huge clues that essentially scream "Hey, hey, look, over here, it's important you pay attention here! Seriously!" Just shameful writing.

I think my whole problem with this book is just how blatantly obvious it is that it's a cash grab intended for an eventual/intentional film. It's almost like reading a film novelization without it actually being a film just yet. I'm not sure I'd have noticed it quite as clearly if I wasn't aware of Full Fathom Five's overall agenda, but it would truly be hard not to.

It's less a story than an event, and that...I don't know. We already have candy in the form of books, and this makes the candy look artful in comparison. I don't know how to recommend this - it should be read because it's such a spectacle, but I don't know whether it's just good for what it is or I've just become too cynical.

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02 January 2012

Review: Revolver

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't normally share lines or verses from books, but this one is simply too great to pass up, as a character describes his Colt pistol:

"The Colt is the finest machine I have ever seen in my life. It does one thing, and it does it superbly well.

Imagine I take one of those cartridges there, from the box. I'm not going to, but imagine I did. It's a tiny thing. It's made from four separate parts. There's the case, the brass case that makes up most of its length. At one end, the back of the case, is the percussion cap, a small disc of copper with a little fulminate of mercury inside. At the other is the bullet itself, a tiny cone of lead weighing so very little. Inside the case is the gunpowder.


Imagine I took this cartridge, and lifted back the gate on the back of the cylinder here. It slides into one of the six chambers, a perfect fit. Everything measured and made to perfection. I pull back the hammer on the back of the gun, just halfway at first, so I can rotate the cylinder into place. Now the cartridge we loaded is sitting directly under the firing pin, on the underside of the hammer.


When the hammer hits the percussion cap, the fulminate of mercury explodes, for it cannot tolerate being struck. Once the cap explodes, it sets fire to the gunpowder inside the case, and instantly the temperature inside the case rises to a couple thousand degrees, as hot as the smelting works at the mine, but all inside that tiny brass case...

[T]he brass case, being so hot, there and then expands, and swells to press against the inside of the chamber, and so now it released its grip on the lead bullet...inside that barrel is a series of three grooves, set out in a spiral down its length. The bullet, which is lead, and with the hellfire of that explosion behind it, is now both hot and soft. It's forced into those spirals. They bite into it, so that as it makes its way down the barrel, it spins. It spins and spins, and by the time it leaves the barrel, with the last of the gas pushing out behind it, it's not only spinning faster than Rumpelstiltskin, it's moving at over a thousand feet per second, which means that the bullet has hit whatever the barrel was pointing at before the bang has even left your ears."

This is a relatively short read about a family mystery, about gold hunting in the snowy north, about the valuable things a family can teach you, and about loyalty until the end. The few flaws this book has are far, far outweighed by some really beautiful writing and a story that mostly kept me on my toes from start to finish.

Definitely recommended.

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