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The Progressive Corporation Annual Report 2013

Keith Pishnery, with Michelle Moehler and Nesnadny + Schwartz, designed the The Progressive Corporation Annual Report 2013. See More

ŇDrawn

Like a Scientist designed and typeset the 382 page book Drawn To Business for Go Media. Visit

The Progressive Corporation Annual Report 2013

Keith Pishnery, with Michelle Moehler and Nesnadny + Schwartz, designed the The Progressive Corporation Annual Report 2011. See More

GuitarJack

Like a Scientist designed the logo and packaging for Sonoma Wire Works' GuitarJack. Visit

Outer Spaces

Like a Scientist curated and designed the Outer Spaces music project for Retronyms. Visit

RiffWorks

Like a Scientist worked with Scheme on the packaging and promotional materials for Sonoma Wire Works' RiffWorks software. Visit

SonomaKey

Like a Scientist designed the logo for SonomaKey, the online account service of Sonoma Wire Works. Visit

Kojak Creative

Like a Scientist designed the logo for film company Kojak Creative.

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Review: The Gates of Hell

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The Gates of Hell
The Gates of Hell by Michael Livingston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the type of thing that just tickles my likes, but doesn’t exactly blow me away. Discovering ancient and mystical artifacts? Alternate ways of looking at the truth of these artifacts? That’s all cool. The historical element is not something I normally read, though. This particular time period and some of the characters it encompasses does remind me of watching Rome on HBO, though. Not a bad memory and it’s helpful to picture those depictions while reading the book. However, the writing is up and down throughout. Livingston has two annoying habits: 1) repeating things over and over in different chapters to remind you what they are. He does this a lot when talking about the Shards. 2) he ends every chapter on a Dan Brown-style cliffhanger. Sure, I’m sure there are things I like more that do this as well, but in these novels, it feels very manipulative.

Maybe for those reasons in particular, the second book didn’t land as well as the first one, even though it has some fun moments and some crazy revelations. The end in particular was a direction I wasn’t expecting the series to go. Good or bad, time will tell.

As to the characters, there is a distinct lack of Didymus, which is a shame. Also, Juba feels like a different character than where he started, which might demonstrate character growth, but threw me a bit when reading this volume. It changed my memory of the first book quite a bit.

I’m not sure if this is meant to be a trilogy or if it will go longer than that, but I will certainly stick around until at least book 3 to see if some of my gripes improve. After all, the first book left me with a good enough impression that I was looking forward to book 2. Perhaps this is a slight dip only.

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Review: The Wall of Storms

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The Wall of Storms
The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. This second volume of Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty might be the best book of 2016 that I’ve read. While I liked The Grace of Kings quite a lot, there was always a sense in the back of my head that I wasn’t fully on board with it, personally. The storytelling style is so mythic and atmospheric, it’s not my usual cup of tea (hang on…had to take a sip). However, in The Wall of Storms, Liu puts a gigantic story of scholarship, invention, discovery and conflict into a slightly less mythic style and it just hums. This book does for scholarship what Daniel Abraham did for accounting in his The Dagger & The Coin series, taking a non-traditionally epic fantasy career and making it the hero of the conflict. I was all on board. I didn’t love the way the Grand Examination sequence went between present and flashback, but it was a riveting story from beginning to end, especially when…well, I’ll let you discover that.

For anyone not familiar with these books, Liu describes them as “silkpunk” in that they take very heavy inspiration from Chinese lore and invention, as opposed to the industrial revolution in Western society. Set in a fictional world of islands, this second book takes place early in a new reign of an unlikely Emperor and his varied retinue. They overthrew a corrupt reign and were setting out to have a peaceful run until finding themselves in danger from within and without.

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Review: The Last Mortal Bond

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The Last Mortal Bond
The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The thing that stands out to me the most about the conflicts in this trilogy is that a lot of them were caused by disagreements between the 3 siblings. The arguments between these character were very overwrought, even when they were actually trying to accomplish the same things, with minor differences.

That said, The Last Mortal Bond is a worthy capstone on this very unique story and extremely interesting world. I loved the details in the cultures, the sense of a history we are only seeing part of, and the central goals of the antagonist. It was remarkable. Unfortunately the main characters were extremely stubborn and made some incredibly selfish and short sighted decisions throughout.

Aside from the 3 main characters, points go to Pyrre, Gwenna, and Annick for being MVP characters that really need to be explored again (excited there is a Pyrre book coming out).

Can I recommend this series? Tough one. Pros: Satisfying story, unique world, interesting conflicts. Cons: frustrating central characters, overlong arguments, massively bleak tone with tons of “filthy” language, sketchy social dynamics (acceptance of slaves were never addressed, threats of rape prevalent, a brutal view of humanity throughout). If you like your grim dark very very grim and bloody, then go for it. If you are squeamish, I’d hesitate.

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Review: The Obelisk Gate

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The Obelisk Gate
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not as massively ming bogglingly as The Fifth Season, but a pure pleasure to read. The world and characters are completely engrossing. There’s a real sense of the wider world through the mentions of different areas, peoples, cultures. That makes the events that overtake our characters all the more high stakes, especially towards the end of this installment. Essun continues to be a fascinating viewpoint (2nd!) to experience this story through, while the added perspective of her daughter is a wonderful lens through which to view Essun as well.

Jemisin’s writing is breathtaking here, moreso than the somewhat difficult The Fifth Season. There’s an effortless flow to the 2nd person viewpoint she employs, peppered with modern colloquialisms that are funny and relevant (the chapter titles alone are a riot, sometimes).

Very curious to see how this wraps up as the main “goal” that manifests in this volume is…a very big risk.

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Review: The Providence of Fire

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The Providence of Fire
The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like the first book, this is a brutal world devoted to blood and war and cruelty. Diving into the Urghul population only amplifies that. However, the extremely intricate circle of distrust and manipulation grows ever tighter here as several arcs dove tail on a battlefield that reads like a siege movie (think about Helm’s Deep, but 100x bloodier).

For me, the most interesting parts of the book are world history related, as the past is most definitely coming back to haunt the Annurians. This is the kind of thing I love about fantasy the most, so it’s really welcome for me.

As for our main characters, Valyn continues to be a mopey jerk most of the time, Adare changes her mind a lot, and Kaden still seems most together, but also makes some “oh no no” decisions. They are a very odd group of siblings for sure.

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Review: Life Debt

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Life Debt
Life Debt by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh boy here we go again. For my feelings on EU/Wendig’s style/diversity, see the review of the previous book. It’s quite possible Wendig wrote this one as a direct response to the backlash against the first one. The writing is a little more “normal” but the hot button issues are much more prevalent. Totally fine, cause the characters are fun, and it’s a rollicking jaunt through post Return of the Jedi. I really don’t understand the overwhelming sense that these books are no good. Because it’s a lot of fun and fleshes out post-Empire Star Wars in a way that only the very first Zahn books did. It’s fun, with witty banter, and dead-on characterizations of old friends. I think these first two and the next, final one are just always going to be contentious for the aforementioned reasons, which is kind of a shame because they nail the frenetic, swashbuckling pace of the movies.

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Review: The Builders

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The Builders
The Builders by Daniel Polansky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Short book, short characters, short review: Assume that your favorite fantasy author wrote Watership Down. Then years later, Quentin Tarantino came along and made a movie of it. That’s more or less The Builders. You’ve got a lot of odd compatriots meeting in a bar, some flashbacks that don’t flash too far back, sometimes moments before the bar, there’s some revenge, and everyone has an exaggerated character trait.
PS: I have no idea what the title means. It’s a bit too subtle for me.

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Review: The Emperor’s Blades

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The Emperor's Blades
The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This had been on my list for awhile (I even had a promotional ebook of the first 7 chapters on my iPad since release), but it took awhile to actually slate it into the reading schedule! I’m glad I did, though, as it’s an extremely interesting world here. Even though we only follow 3 perspectives in this book (a welcome respite from 100s of PoVs), I got a real sense of scale from the pieces dropped. Each character, 3 siblings, giving a different facet of the world. From Valyn, you get the war and conflict side of the world, from Adare you get the political side within the capitol, and Kaden delves into the history and mythology of the world.

A few things were unfortunately obvious in the plot, but they didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story. I won’t go into those, though. Usually I would tend to favor Kaden’s story as it deals with the mythology, but I found myself eager to get back to Valyn’s story every time, as it’s the most twisty and detailed. I say this while seeing Valyn as a bit of a jerk. He has no wider view tempering his attitudes and it makes him short sighted at times. That said, it’s a tight storyline. Kaden definitely has the most eye-opening revelatory passages, but the actual story can be a little boring by it’s nature. Adare…I like Adare as a character, but she has the most passive story with the smallest amount of pages (perhaps 5 chapters total of 50? That’s what it felt like). She does a pretty intense moment, though that I was shocked by.

A large caveat is that I’m giving Staveley the benefit of the doubt with the first book being a fairly grimdark chauvinist perspective, with lots of mentions of whores and slaves that are commonly accepted across the empire. The offhanded way that slaves are referenced by main characters (ostensibly our heroes) is particularly disturbing. I dislike the idea that every “dark” fantasy book has to have a perspective that “life sucks, this happens in pseudo-medieval times, people are nasty.” It doesn’t have to be that way and a large responsibility of heroes is to see that perspective.

Regardless, I’m excited to read the rest of the trilogy and can’t wait to find out what is going on in the wider world.

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Review: A Blade of Black Steel

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A Blade of Black Steel
A Blade of Black Steel by Alex Marshall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Crown For Cold Silver was my favorite book of 2016. I loved that relished in subverting epic fantasy tropes and having a sense of humor. Felt a bit more relatable and modern than most swords and sorcery. It had a gobsmacking weird cliffhanger and I was excited to see where it would go in the middle volume. Somewhere I saw this called Empire Strikes Back and that’s pretty apt. There is a lot of swashbuckling here, but it’s also a dark hour for our heroes, with foes new and old coming at all angles. There’s even some Boba Fetts and Yodas if you squint your eyes.

That said, I didn’t have quite as much fun with this one as the first one. I wager that’s because it’s a more known world and a bit of the mystery and build-up are gone. There’s some stagnation happening in one plotline that feels like some wheel spinning, but then on the other side, there is the balls-out insanity that happens at the end of Part One. The WTF chapter I’ve ever seen in a fantasy book, I think.

Not entirely sure where this is going to wrap up, but I have no doubt it’s going to be one fun ride in the concluding volume. Marshall (or Jesse Bullington) is surely throwing in the kitchen sink on this one and I can only imagine it escalates further.

Also, Zosia is still cranky.

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Review: The Republic of Thieves

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The Republic of Thieves
The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I don’t think this was quite as perfect as book one or as epic as book two, the thing I enjoyed the most about The Republic of Thieves was that it started to hint at the central story for the entire seven book series. The history and scope of this world comes more into focus through the Bondsmagi and their machinations.

And then, of course, there is, as Holmes would say, the woman. I believe the official summary mentions this person, but I’m not going to say too much about her. Only to say that she’s a frustrating character due to the lack of point of view from her. Lynch primarily writes in Locke’s POV for most of these three books, but once in awhile, he dives into another head like Jean to show another side of what’s going on. That’s fantastic and I would have liked to see this character in particular more fully fleshed out.

I finished this days ago, but just remembered to write a review upon hearing the news, that book four, The Thorn of Emberlain finally has a release date of this September. Hurray!

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