Priest-Kings Of Gor


Like all of John Norman’s Gor novels, Priest-Kings of Gor is a rehash of Edgar Rice Burroughs more enjoyable Barsoom novels, except with some super uncomfortable ideas about the role of women and some crude and unsuccessful stabs at eroticism.

No, I can’t justify having read this book, except to say that, when I was much younger and prowling used bookstores, this series was ever present on the sci-fi/fantasy shelves.

The protagonist visit the home of Gor’s unseen rulers and learns that they are a race of intergalactic spiders who communicate by scent (I’ll say this much, Norman does a good job of describing and explaining this). He sort of forgets that they destroyed his city and scattered its citizens, including his ‘Free Companion’ (sort of like a wife), to places unknown and becomes friends with the spiders and… well, it’s exciting enough, but you’re better off just reading A Princess of Mars.

Just as a note, there is, apparently, a small Gorean subculture who participate in Norman’s deeply awful ideas of gender roles and sex, which mostly involves a belief on his part that women really want to be ruled by men and to call them master. It’s sort of like someone took an occasional, kinky date night idea and decided to do it every day and not just when the kids are asleep. It’s so weird. It also means that every female character is incredibly shallow and two dimensional.

‘The Tiger’s Daughter’ By K. Arsenault Rivera


This book was beautifully written, but maybe not written for me, if that makes sense. In some senses, it is a very long fairy tale about two born for each other lovers.

The lovers are both noble (one, technically royal; the niece of the emperor and his heir, due to a lack of children) and both female. This is not presented as being truly insurmountable. I would compare it to being lesbian in the early nineties or eighties. People know ‘it’ exists and maybe even know some people who are queer, but its acceptance is limited and so are civil protections (which is not to diminish the challenges and harms that LGBTQ+ people faced and still face).

There is some kind of a dangerous threat to the empire from demons who are nearly impossible to kill and whose blood can actually transform someone into a demon. Which all should be a bigger deal than it is. I mean, it appears as a trigger for an important plot point, but the presence of incredibly dangerous demons feels like it should be more of an ‘all hands on deck’ situation for any political body than it is treated here.

I have, until now, skipped over the second item for which this book was best known when it first came out (the first was the queer love story). That is that it is not a western fantasy, but takes places in an empire based on China.

And it gets one big thing very, very right. China is huge. China is diverse. China has tropical jungles, freezing mountains, grasslands, temperate zones, steppes… pretty much every kind of biome you could imagine. From this follows there are many different cultures and languages. Generally, when one thinks of China, in a western context, it is of what primarily emerged from Han culture (I say this being not at all a China expert). This books gets it right. The two protagonists are from different cultures. One is from the ‘Han’ imperial culture. The other is darker skinned and from the steppes.

Sword Of Destiny


This is by the best of the three Witcher novels I have read. Much better.

Sad, wistful, hopefully. Emotionally satisfying, is what I think I’m trying to say.

Like The Last Wish, it is a short story collection, taking place before Blood of Elves, but leading up to it (and also contains some of the stories upon which the Netflix show was based). There is a novella that takes up a good portion of the book and it is that novella and a story about the relationship between Geralt and Yennefer (and the failure, thereof) that gives the book its heart (and that also tug at the heart’s strings).

Anyway, now I get why people love the Witcher stories.

The Burning God


Magic schools or science fiction academies almost always make for good reading. JK Rowling made a billion dollars out of writing novels that almost never left the grounds of Hogwarts. Probably because the next step is almost always the hardest. I would argue that only Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea novels every featured stories taking place after the magic university was finished that match up to (and even surpass) that time in college. Maybe it’s like real life. Nothing really beats those school days.

Credit to Kuang for trying and for writing a non-western themed fantasy. But she didn’t stick the landing. She struggled mightily and came close in this final book, taking the logical conclusion, while still giving her protagonist redemption… but it didn’t quite work.

Down Among The Dead


Did you know that K.B. Wagers hasn’t finished her second trilogy (the ‘Farian War’ trilogy)?

Because I didn’t. And I made a pledge to avoid starting series that are not already finished, because I don’t want to wait for authors to finish.

Oh, and it was good. Better than the first book in this trilogy. The big reveal was telegraphed, but at least our intrepid heroine was reasonably prepared for it.

But it’s not done. Ugh. How long do I have to wait? According to her website, it’s available for pre-order, but I’m not inclined to do that. And the first trilogy has been optioned for television or movie (television makes more sense these days), so when that happens, I can act superior to fans who haven’t read the series, which is a plus. But you know what would have been better? The third book.

There Before The Chaos


It was a mixed joy to return to Wagers’ ‘gunrunner empress’ novels with the first book of her second trilogy featuring runaway princess turned gunrunner turned empress of a matriarchal and Indian influenced space empire, Hail Bristol.

Not mixed because it wasn’t good, but mixed because I grew to love the characters, especially the heroine (and narrator), and got very angry at some of the bad things that happened to her. The first trilogy was more of the Star Wars mold. First one ended in a good victory, telling a reasonably complete story; the second with an Empire still dark setback; and finally with a reasonably upbeat conclusion, following a more conclusive struggle.

This was more of… well, something else. Bad going to worse. And having already started the next book (Down Among The Dead), I know that it doesn’t immediately get better, but instead, rather quickly darker.

I will make one quibble. The aliens are not very alien. One of them, the Shen, can pass as human. And they are, apparently, very close to the Farian, one of whom featured quite heavily in the original books (and is even more important now). For some reason, I had imagined them as looking like Roger from American Dad (I have no idea why), but now that I am noticing descriptions… well, what are the odds that every advanced species in the universe looks more or less like us? I’m a churchgoing man who believes we were made in God’s image, but take that to be more a spiritual statement than as a thesis proposing that all advanced species look more or less the same.

The Last Wish


Another Witcher novel. But actually, a collection of short stories (something close to half of the episodes of the Netflix series are taken from here) which precedes the novel I read. I feel like the novels and stories of Gerald of Rivia, the titular witcher(a sort of monster hunter; a child raised by other witchers and made stronger, faster, and less emotional through magic and chemicals) should be less interesting than they are, but also they are still missing something, though I couldn’t say what.

This stories were better than the novel I read, not in the least because the novel sometimes read like short stories forced together to form a single narrative.

I did also get the Witcher video game (technically the third one; it was deeply discounted because it’s five years old now), but haven’t gotten into, but that is perhaps more about me and my life than the game.

But while the game may get dusty on my shelves, I will read the next book of short stories about this witcher fellow.

She: A History Of Adventure


It should be made clear at the outset: this novel is not a history of adventure. It is a single adventure. In fact, it hand waves a couple of adventures that theoretically take place (the narrator literally says that he’s going to skip over the time he and his ward were held prisoner for six months by a pre-modern peoples).

And, if you are going to read this book, get used to reading She as a name (‘I handed the phone to She so that She could explain why the narrator didn’t want to talk about those six months of captivity.’). Also, is this first time the phrase ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’ was used? It seems that way.

This is your classic, late nineteenth, early twentieth century adventure, as well as being a forerunner of lost world books.

The tale itself, is both fascinating and bats–t crazy. Ayesha, a woman of Arab descent has been alive for… they keep saying two thousands years, but honestly, it sounds like a lot longer when the book notes what she’s seen and who she’s met. She doesn’t use magic, but, similar to the Arthur C. Clarke rule about how a sufficiently advanced technology seems like magic to a less advanced civilization, science that feels pretty magical. She was also interested to hear that the Jewish savior arrived after she’d left the area of the Mediterranean civilizations.

Beautiful, compelling, seductive… she is a pretty cool character. Crazy and arguably immoral, but, without overstating H. Rider Haggard’s writing skills, someone who holds the readers attention.

Tek Kill


Do I really need to write anymore about the plots, characters, and pros and cons of (sort of) William Shatner’s Tek novels? Do I? Do I really?

No, I probably don’t.

It’s not clear why a drug cartel is going after the hero’s boss or why the hero is calm about his teenage son consistently getting involved in the machinations of drug cartels but… meh. It’s decent, untaxing fun.

And I will admit to a strange sadness at reading the intro to the next book, which announces that this (the next one, not this one) will be the last Tek novel.

A Memory Called Empire


I had some back and forth via email with a friend about this book. We both agreed it was amazing in so many ways, however, I felt that it was just a little short of the sum of its parts (he disagreed strongly).

My biggest issue was that, to me, Checkhov’s gun was taken out, placed on the table, and then the book ended without it even having been picked up again, much less fired. My friend pushed back on this and believed it handled well an ambiguity about a sequel that might fire the gun, while allowing for a smaller, self-contained story.

The good parts is a fascinatingly built world (the titular empire) which draws from both Pre-Columbian (especially Aztec) and Asian (especially Chinese) historical traditions. There are also fascinating depictions of different conceptions of identity and memory. There is one culture which prizes memory and the ability to memorize long passages of poetry and one which made perfect recall of past experiences so vital that it created technology to preserve memory and implant it in another, along with something resembling the deceased’s personality (which also brings up interesting questions about who one is when another person’s memories are in your head and also the question of whether those memories are sufficient to identity, i.e., are we just the sum of those experiences, versus identity being tied to being embodied or to a ‘soul’).