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Reading Time: Totally Booked

Under the Empyrean Sky – Chuck Wendig Holy crap, dude can write. I loved The Blue Blazes and Blackbirds, so I knew I was pretty well onto a good thing when I bought Under the Empyrean Sky. First up, big fat warning: it’s part of a series and it’s NOT self-contained. You end this book mid-climax, as the whole plot, focus, and setting shift and expand. It’s an awesome story and set to get awesomer in the next installment, but hot damn if it didn’t leave me with the reading equivalent of blue balls. Moving on: Cael is our central protagonist, captain of the Big Sky Scavengers — wait, the actual blurb is way better than any summary I could come up with, so here, from Chuck Wendig’s site: But Cael’s tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He’s sick of the mayor’s son besting Cael’s crew in the scavenging game. And he’s worried about losing Gwennie—his first mate and the love of his life—forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry—angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn’t seem upset about any of it.

See? Aren’t you already digging it and wondering how Cael’s going to cope with the unjust and desperate world he’s been born into? Follow that itch: this is a cracking good book. It’s exciting and fast, and the characters are beautiful and interesting and man, you hope things go okay for them. Jump in and rock out.

Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut

My first Vonnegut! Having heard great things — and seen many, many tribute tattoos to his wonderful work — I grabbed Breakfast and started on what I suspect is going to be a long, tender journey. The plot summary of Breakfast is relatively straightforward: two men, Kilgore Trout the science fiction writer and Dwayne Hoover, the very wealthy and deeply disturbed Pontiac dealer, are destined to reunite just at the moment where Hoover’s last scraps of sanity break and he goes haywire. The book tracks their converging paths. But the writing! The asides, the commentary, the description of minutiae: you’re left looking at a completely different world. Vonnegut’s chief master stroke is using extremely simple and straightforward explanations for troubling things — attitudes to communism and patriotism, racism, sexism, bigotry and cruelty — leaving you with the cold, horrible truth about what many of these things are, stripped of the excuses, contexts and rationales that prevents us seeing them. And alongside that: it’s funny. It’s bloody funny. It took me a little bit to figure out  how I felt about Vonnegut: I wasn’t initially gripped in the same way I was for Under the Empyrean Sky, which I sculled in an afternoon. But it’s stayed with me, and it’s done something very cool to the way I think and the way I articulate things I see — and I feel its brilliance, well after finishing the book.

vN – Madeline Ashby

Because I love Angry Robot Books, I’ve been finding more and more awesome books to read — DRM-free epubs FTW! Step up, Madeline Ashby, you’re on first. Ashby’s novel vN is about the relationships between humans and their synthetic counterparts, the von Neumann machines, smarter and stronger, and with a failsafe that ensures affectionate acquiescence to humans. Except Amy: our main protagonist. Something has gone wrong with Amy’s failsafe, and she’s done something terrible that will ensure she can keep doing terrible things. She’s running from the law, from her metal family, and from all those who want to know how she’s broken the one restraint that protects humans from machines. Issues of free will, parenting, predetermination and programming ripple through this book, as well as questions of ethics, rights, fear, families, and love. It’s a fantastic ride of a book, tender at times and brutal at others, and beautiful throughout. It’s the first book in the Machine Dynasty series — I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately, but I’m openly defying my resistance to series (too much commitment) — and I can’t wait to see what happens next.


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