(Because I make my way through so many books and movies for CCLaP, I regularly come across projects that are interesting enough unto themselves but that I simply don't have much to say about, or at least not enough to warrant an entire entry. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found on CCLaP's main book and main movie archive pages.)
Chocolate-Covered Eyes: A Sampler of Horror
By Lori R. Lopez
This sampler of short horror pieces (both stories and gothic poems) by Lori R. Lopez just barely qualified in length to get reviewed here, with a reading experience to match -- it is certainly competently done, but with very traditional pieces that leave not much of an impression, the whole thing over and done before most people will even have a chance to let the work soak in. And while that's not bad, it's not that great either, a wispy collection that I don't have much to say about precisely because there's not a lot to say; and so I will instead give it a standard middle-of-the-road score, encourage horror fans to pick it up if they have a chance, and mention how much I'm looking forward to Lopez giving all of us something more substantial in the near future.
Out of 10: 7.5
By Charles Stross
Regular visitors will know that I'm currently in the process of reading every novel sci-fi author Charles Stross has ever written; I started last time with his very first, 2003's Singularity Sky, which told a surprisingly funny and absurdist tale set in the far future, centuries after the human race was split and flung across the universe one day by a far advanced alien life form, because of a united humanity recently discovering time travel and thus technically now capable of accidentally wiping out this "Eschaton"s very existence. And this is the same universe where his next novel is set as well, 2004's Iron Sunrise, although it's not exactly a sequel; for although it features the same duo of main heroes as the first book (a plucky female UN inspector and a male secret agent for the Eschaton, the two now married after falling in love in the first novel), the story itself takes place among an entirely different planetary system, basically starting with the unexpected explosion of a local star and the destruction of the world orbiting it (the "iron sunrise" of the book's title), which leads us down an ever-widening rabbithole of conspiracies, ultra-fascist organizations, and galaxy-domination plots.
And indeed, the either good or bad news, depending on what you think of the subject, is that Iron Sunrise adheres much more strongly to the traditional tropes of 1990s and early 2000s cyberpunk, after a first novel that cleverly combined hard science-fiction with the gonzo silliness of countercultural "motley fool" writers like Ken Kesey; the latter now features such familiar genre touches as a rebellious 15-year-old girl as our main protagonist, five or six different small storylines that all come together into one giant climax at the end, spaceship chases and planet-hopping bloggers and all the other things you would expect from a SF tale written in those years. (Also, this second novel makes it clear that the Eschaton is actually a single entity, essentially the result of a cloud computing system like the Google server farm gaining sentience; and while that helps make things clearer from a plot standpoint, I admit that it kind of removes the fun in the first novel of never quite knowing what exactly the Eschaton is/are.) Still, although far from his best or densest or trippiest work, Iron Sunrise is definitely an interesting read and worth the time of Stross completists; although I have to confess that I'm looking much more forward to the next title in my reading list, 2005's Accelerando, the first of Stross's books to make a big splash in America and coiner of the entire cultural phrase "The Accelerated Age" (a popular way among SF fans to refer to stories that take place in a post-Singularity universe).
The Doctor and the Kid: A Weird West Tale
By Mike Resnick
Although it's the second book in the series, this is my first experience with Mike Resnick's "Weird West" novels, in which the tropes of steampunk are exported to the cowboys and saloons of the American frontier; and I have to say, for being a deliberate B-level quickie genre tale, this was much better than the usual kind of books on this level I receive, and I find it no surprise now that Resnick will be the main Guest Of Honor at this coming summer's Worldcon in Chicago. (CCLaP will be there! Will you?) The story of a fictitious showdown between the real Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid, in a slightly fantastical America where Native Americans like Geronimo can perform literal magic, and Thomas Edison has been hired by the government to combat them using futuristic electrical devices, Resnick takes great joy in the genre practice of piling together famous coincidences, gleefully dropping a touring Oscar Wilde into a random scene and an indignant Susan B. Anthony in another, while using the famed tight-lipped wit of the real Holliday to great effect within a fast-paced, action-oriented storyline; and for steampunk fans craving gadgets, this book won't let you down either, an admittedly pretty silly story but that delivers in spades all the things we fanboys are looking for. It's no mindblower, but is at least a solidly crafted and always delightful Western take on a genre so usually steeped in the trappings of big cities like London or New York, and it comes strongly recommended specifically to all my fellow steampunk fans.
Out of 10: 8.5, or 9.0 for steampunk fans