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Recommendations for Friday, April 18, 2014

A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by billba tagged science fiction

Unshelved strip for 4/18/2014

@bookblrb: When a long-dormant evil is accidentally released, a family hides on a mediæval planet ruled by telepathic dogs.

Leviathan Wakes: (Expanse Book 1) by James S.A. Corey

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged science fiction

When XO James Holden and a few crew members went to investigate a derelict spaceship, their ship, the ice miner The Canterbury, was destroyed. Evidence indicates it may have been Martians. Holden releases a video of what was found, then he and his crew try to figure out how to get some payback.

Miller was born and raised in the asteroid belt. He’s a cop in Ceres who doesn’t know that he’s become a sad joke, and that working with him has become a punishment. He’s given the job of finding and kidnapping an inner-planet heiress who has gone native so that he can send her home. As news of Holden’s broadcast reverberates within Ceres, tensions between belters and Mars escalate, rioting starts, and Miller’s life falls apart even further.

Why I picked it up: Recommended to me at Comic-Con by Zack Weinersmith. (He’s two for two. He was totally right about Allison Bechdel, too.)

Why I finished it: Toward the middle of the book, the stories of Miller and Holden converge. The way this happens is brilliant, unexpected, and beautiful. I really felt something for the characters, too, particularly Miller. He’s useless and drunk most of the time, but after investigating the young heiress for a while, reading her email and paging through her life, he falls for her.

It's perfect for: Kevin, who always liked David Cronenberg’s films. When it becomes clear there’s an unexpected alien menace, it reminded me both the weird medical instruments in Dead Ringers and the meat-and-bone weapons in eXistenZ.

And for Dave Kellett, coffee lover, because, on the run and with no where to go, Holden takes a few moments to admire the coffee pot on the ship he’s taken. It can brew forty cups of coffee in five minutes at anything from 0g to 5g burn. “He had to restrain himself from stroking the stainless steel cover while it made gentle percolating noises.”

@bookblrb: After an ice mining spaceship is destroyed, tensions between Mars and those who live in the asteroid belt escalate.

Half A King by Joe Abercrombie

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.” Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Red Country comes Half a King, the first book in a stirring new epic fantasy trilogy that will appeal to fans of George R. R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, and Scott Lynch.

“Another page-turner from Britain's hottest young fantasist, a fast-paced tale of betrayal and revenge that grabbed me from page one and refused to let go.”—George R. R. Martin

"[Filled with] eye-popping plot twists and rollicking good action." —Rick Riordan

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Blood Song: (Raven's Shadow Book 1) by Anthony Ryan

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of agefantasy

Ten-year-old Vaelin Al Sorna is shocked when, immediately after the death of his mother, his father gives him to the Sixth Order of the Faith. His trainers waste no time in telling him that he has no family outside the Order, which will train him to be a weapon second to none. Because Vaelin’s father is Battle Lord, and because he excels at learning the brutal lessons and facing the deadly challenges, Vaelin begins to make a name for himself. But he has a secret, even from his brothers: a “song” in his blood helps him, directs him, and occasionally even speaks to him. 

Later, while he uses his talents to lead a company of men, eliminate political threats, and capture a city, his brothers are always with him. He also secretly learns to listen to his blood song, which will help him earn worldwide renown and hatred, and begin to lead him to the Faith’s hidden Seventh Order.

Why I picked it up: It was recommended to me by a friend who knows my tastes shockingly well. After I read a review he forwarded to me, I immediately ordered it from the library. It is both gratifying and a little embarrassing for someone to know you that well.

Why I finished it: Vaelin Al Sorna is not an average, sword-wielding hero. He is deliberate, insightful, introspective, and willing to risk his life to accomplish what he feels is right, even bucking the direct orders of the King (and paying the price) when he feels they are wrong. And if, like me, you’re not averse to a little romance, you will be rooting for Sister Sherin (a healer) and Vaelin to quit beating around the bush.

Readalikes: I particularly thought this was reminiscent of the excellent four-book series Inda by Sherwood Smith. Indevan-Dal makes fast friends at a military boarding school and becomes a polarizing figure to his classmates, and then later to the world, because of his independent thinking. There is something about shared pain and suffering that brings kids together, and Vaelin and his brothers certainly have that, too.

@bookblrb: After his mother’s death, Vaelin’s father gives him to the Sixth Order to make him into a weapon of the Faith.

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson, Ben McSweeney

Link to this review by wally tagged coming of agefantasy

Joel’s dream of becoming a Rithmatist -- a wizard who is able to draw, animate, and empower two dimensional beings called chalklings -- is endangered by low grades and the fact that he missed his initiation ceremony at age eight. Failing his classes isn’t helping him either, but he manages to get a summer internship with his favorite Rithmatic professor, Fitch, who has just lost a tenure-ending chalk duel to a new professor, Nalizar. Fitch is tutoring Joel and Melody (a student who can’t draw a simple freehand circle) in the basics of Rithmatics when a series of kidnappings occurs on campus. It is up to the three of them to figure out what has happened to the missing students before another disappears.

Why I picked it up: Brandon Sanderson finished Robert Jordan’s amazing Wheel of Time series, and Ben McSweeney’s chalk illustrations of the mechanics of Rithmatics promised to make this a unique fantasy novel.

Why I finished it: The idea of two-dimensional creatures -- some natural and wild, some created and animated by humans -- really intrigued me. And the developing friendship between Joel and Melody, two lonely kids who initially see each other as annoyances, kept me going, especially as they learned to work together to solve the mystery.

It's perfect for: Miles, who has complained that most fantasy novels don’t really explain how magic works. He would love Ben McSweeney’s chalk illustrations of the mechanics of Rithmatics, as well as the defensive chalk drawings, which make the magic seem real.

@bookblrb: In a world where wizards bring drawings to life, three friends must find out what’s happening to missing students.

Robogenesis: A Novel by Daniel H. Wilson

“The machine is still out there. Still alive."

Humankind had triumphed over the machines. At the end of Robopocalypse, the modern world was largely devastated, humankind was pressed to the point of annihilation, and the earth was left in tatters . . . but the master artificial intelligence presence known as Archos had been killed.

In Robogenesis, we see that Archos has survived. Spread across the far reaches of the world, the machine code has fragmented into millions of pieces, hiding and regrouping. In a series of riveting narratives, Robogenesis explores the fates of characters new and old, robotic and human, as they fight to build a new world in the wake of a devastating war. Readers will bear witness as survivors find one another, form into groups, and react to a drastically different (and deadly) technological landscape. All the while, the remnants of Archos's shattered intelligence are seeping deeper into new breeds of machines, mounting a war that will not allow for humans to win again.

Daniel H. Wilson makes a triumphant return to the apocalyptic world he created, for an action-filled, raucous, very smart thrill ride about humanity and technology pushed to the tipping point. Robopocalypse was a 2012 Alex Award Winner.

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Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great by Bob Shea

Link to this review by dawnrutherford tagged picture book

Goat is totally disgusted by the new guy in town, who can't stop showing off just how great he is. Stupid Unicorn.

Why I picked it up: I was never much of a horse girl or unicorn fan as a kid (except for The Last Unicorn, but Peter S. Beagle is kinda magic in his own right). I preferred dragons like Smaug. And I'm super sick of My Little Pony and all that cutesy horse nonsense. Any picture book dissing on unicorns was clearly written for me.

Why I finished it: Goat reminds me of myself as a kid. I felt awesome about my bike riding skills and marshmallow square cooking attempts, though my dance moves were more a secret thing.  So I really felt for him when Unicorn starts flying around and making happy little cupcakes rain out of the sky. Goat feels pretty lame by comparison. And when Unicorn starts to envy Goat, that is pretty darn satisfying. 

It's perfect for: Any kid jealous of a new kid at school who is the center of attention, or whose parents have gone overboard empowering them. In a society where everyone is supposed to be special and talented and awesomely magical unicorns, I really believe most of us would be happier just being goats.

@bookblrb: Goat is totally disgusted by Unicorn, who can't stop showing off just how great he is.

The Screaming Staircase: (Lockwood & Co. #1) by Jonathan Stroud

Link to this review by dawnrutherford tagged coming of ageparanormal

In Great Britain, a steep rise in hauntings over the last forty years has caused major changes. Most adults don’t go out at night (they can’t see ghosts), so supernaturally sensitive youths are employed to investigate and dispatch these dangerous spirits.

Lucy’s first job ended in the deaths of all her coworkers when their adult supervisor refused to listen to her. She moves to London where she finds work with an unusual agency, Lockwood & Co.  It is headed by a young orphan, Lockwood, and his trusted friend George.  Together the three work together to fight ghosts, save the agency from financial ruin, and bring a murderer to justice.

Why I picked it up: Stroud's Bartimaeus series is one of my favorites, and I hoped this would have the same wit and terrific characters.

Why I finished it: I really enjoyed how Stroud took the plucky orphan thing one step further than your typical fantasy. Not only are the main characters free of pesky parents, all the adults seem to want them to fail, as though they resent depending on children to rid the world of threats. Lockwood & Co. really do struggle to make it, and they make plenty of mistakes along the way -- burning down client's houses, giving away too much information about the firm, and holding on to dangerous souvenirs from cases.

It's perfect for: Fans of Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake who prefer that ghost hunters are smart-ass teenagers and that ghosts are occasionally sympathetic (but mostly menacing). If they are anything like me, they will be dying to read the next book in the series to find out what happens with George’s spectral skull in a jar, which has been luring Lucy into secret conversations.

@bookblrb: Lucy works with George and her boss, Lockwood, to dispatch deadly ghosts that adults can’t see.

Homeland by Cory Doctorow

The New York Times bestselling sequel to Little Brother.

Just a few years after Little Brother, Marcus's problems are back: California's economy has collapsed, taking his parents and his university tuition with it. M1k3y's political past saves him and lands him a job as webmaster for a muckraking politician who promises reform.

Things are rarely this simple—as Marcus discovers when his onetime girlfriend Masha resurfaces. She has emerged from the political underground to gift him with a thumbdrive containing a Wikileaks-style cable-dump, full of hard evidence of conscious corporate and governmental perfidy. It’s incendiary stuff—and if Masha goes missing, Marcus is supposed to release it to the world.

If Marcus personally leaks it, he’ll cost his employers the election, though he’s surrounded by friends and acquaintances who regard him as a hacker hero. He can’t even attend a demonstration without being dragged onstage and handed a mike. Nobody—his current girlfriend, his weary parents, his progressive-minded employer, his hacker admirers—knows just how unsure of himself he really is.

Meanwhile, hard people are beginning to shadow him, people who look like they’ve got plenty of experience inflicting pain until they get the answers they want. Inflicting it on Marcus…or, worse, on people he loves.

Fast-moving, passionate, and as current as next week, Homeland is every bit the equal of Little Brother—a paean to activism, to courage, to the drive to make the world a better place.

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Remission: (Prophet Volume 1) by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelscience fiction

10,000 years in the future, John Prophet emerges from a pod long buried in the Earth. He has a mission to complete, but our planet has changed. Life is harsher and more violent. It’s much stranger than it used to be, thanks in large part to the aliens that now live here.

Contains Prophet #21 - #26.

(This is the first book in a relaunch based on a character created by Rob Liefeld that appeared in two comic series back in the 1990s. No knowledge of the old comics is necessary, but confusingly it does continue the old series’ numbering.)

Why I picked it up: I love Brandon Graham’s comics. I’m a fanboy.

Why I finished it: There was creative weirdness at every turn: Jell City’s smell-based society, the slimy Dolmantle Prophet carries for protection, and the spider-like Xiux-Guin Blade that chooses him as its prey. Then he mates with an obscene-looking alien to find out his mission -- to reactivate the G.O.D. satellite and awaken the Earth Empire.

It's perfect for: Allen, who likes space opera on a galactic scale. This one starts small, but after the satellite is reactivated and the signal goes out, thousands of other John Prophets awaken across the vastness of space. Their different forms and tasks, as well as the complexity of the art, give this graphic novel a distinctly European feel, which won’t hurt it’s appeal to Allen. (He’s a bit of a francophile.)

@bookblrb: Across the galaxy, John Prophets emerge from 10,000 years of slumber to reawaken the Earth Empire.

Helheim: Book 1: The Witch War by Cullen Bunn, Joelle Jones, Nick Filardi

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged fantasygraphic novelhorror

Rikard is a young Viking warrior who excels at fighting and protecting his woman, Bera, from the wildmen and undead draugr that plague their village. Early in the story he is beheaded, and the whole village grieves his death. Bera, a known witch, reanimates Rikard to complete the task he was trying to achieve while alive -- to kill Bera’s rival, the witch Groa. (Rikard is unusual for a draugr; he retains a bit of his personality and enough of his will to resist some of Bera’s commands.) Rikard not only has to cut through the enemies sent against him by Groa, his father also wants to kill the undead Rikard to free him.

Contains material originally published in Helheim #1 - #6.

Publisher’s Content Rating: T+ (Teen Plus)

Why I picked it up: The cover features a beast of a man with impossibly huge muscles that looks like those internet ads on the side of your browser. He’s holding a massive, blood-stained battle axe and looks to have a bad attitude.

Why I finished it: In the midst of gore, darkness, and death, there is a human touch to this story when we learn of Rikard’s family and the plight of the villagers. They are all being used as pawns by both witches; their logic dictates that if the villagers die, they can continue to serve as reanimated corpses.

There is also an ever-varying horde of undead warriors, undead dogs, and magical creatures that are arrayed against Rikard. I enjoyed watching him wade through the sea of their blood.

It's perfect for: Richie, a middle school student who comes into my library frequently to ask me for stories with “tons of violence.” This is a book that would meet his requirements. (I hope his parents consider Rickard losing half of his head age-appropriate. Bera simply sews him back up and sends him out to fight again.)

@bookblrb: After Rikard is beheaded, his woman, Bera, reanimates him as a draugr and sends him to kill a rival witch.

Eostre's Baskets: A New Dawn by Allie Berg

Amnesiac Essie Sundae has no idea that her psychically-inspired Easter baskets have antagonized treacherous supernatural entities. Or that her new lover is anything other than the identity-challenged shape-shifter he claims to be. To Essie, he’s the answer to her loneliness and, if she dares to trust him, possible help in filling in her blanks in her memory.

Xavier Cassidy, aka Rule 34, the soon-to-be god of internet porn, made an ill-advised deal to get help with his little identity problem. Now, he has no choice but to ‘recover’ a priceless treasure from Essie, even though he’s gone and fallen head over fins, heels or claws for the supernatural beauty who seems to have no idea who she is.

When new threats arise, imperiling Essie’s entire existence, Xav’s true nature is revealed. She needs his help more than ever, and he’ll risk his more-or-less immortal life to give it to her -- if she’ll let him.

But Xav’s not the only one who’ll have to sacrifice for Essie to make their sexily ever after.

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Scenes from a Multiverse by Jonathan Rosenberg
Scenes from a Multiverse Book Two: Business Animals by Jonathan Rosenberg

Link to this review by billba tagged comic stripshumorscience fiction

The first two collections of the webcomic of the same name, featuring vignettes that take place in a variety of alternate universes, some more familiar than others.

(Many of the strips, including several linked to in this review, contain strong language.)

Why I picked it up: Jon is a pioneering webcartoonist whose work and career I have long admired and tried to emulate. Talking him into drawing us this guest book club strip about Jonathan Livingston Seagull was a personal triumph. I had to read his new comic strip.

Why I finished it: He's a genius. Each episode takes place in one of infinitely many alternate universes. This brilliant setup allows him to satirize pop culture, politics and/or religion, and his personal experiences at will. Some could just as well take place in our dimension, but giving them their own named universe somehow makes them funnier. Over time certain characters (such as the adorable bunnies and Cornelius Snarlington, Business Deer) have begun to recur, making for a particularly scattered continuity perfect for my short attention span.

It's perfect for: Larry, a lapsed lawyer. He will admire the technique of Horace Greenstein, Scary Owl Lawyer, who wins every case by staring down the opposition.

@bookblrb: Comic vignettes that take place in a variety of alternate universes, some more familiar than others.

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