Wednesday, May 27, 2015

We Are All Completely Fine, by Daryl Gregory

We Are All Completely Fine is the first story I've read from Daryl Gregory, but I hope not the last.  This novella definitely fits in the horror genre (he even shouts out the Last Girl plotline), but Gregory doesn't go for the easy gore.  He tells the story in a fairly difficult way and gets great results.

We have an ensemble cast for the story--a group of people who share horrific, supernatural experiences of some kind. Five of them plus a psychologist who assembles them into a group for therapy. 

What's different here is that she believes the stories of her clients.  We have a guy who was partially eaten by cannibals, a woman who was a victim of a mutilator, a man who sees things in his gaming goggles, and a woman who appears to have been abused by a cult.  Lastly, Harrison Harrison, the nominal focus of the book--as a boy he battled a supernatural invasion in the town of Dunnsmouth, and the experience was fictionalized.

All have their roles, and they play them well.  Harrison reluctantly steps into the leadership role as they confront their demons--he manages to say little about himself, but lets on that he knows things (he killed, or attempted to kill, the mutilator. 

The progression of the story is just about perfect, you can't see what's coming but feel like you're learning things along the way.  I enjoyed every page--Gregory's writing here is tight, there's nothing unnecessary.  I give it a strong four stars, and recommend it highly.

So that covers all the novellas for this year's Nebula.  Which one do I like? While Yesterday's Kin and The Regular are contenders, I'll pick We Are All Completely Fine as my winner.  We shall see.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Trial by Fire, by Charles Gannon

Back to the Novel category for the Nebulas, for the past couple of weeks I've been reading Charles Gannon's Trial by Fire, sequel to Fire With Fire, which was nominated for a Hugo.  Trial by Fire likely would have been nominated in a normal year, but this wasn't a normal year for the Hugos.  So it goes.

I wasn't real appreciative of Fire With Fire.  Trial By Fire doesn't change the formula, but Gannon definitely refines it and plays to his strengths, making this a much better book. 

Gannon's strengths are definitely in the military aspects of the genre.  He really brings the otaku factor to his descriptions of current, historical and future weaponry.  We get pages of fine detail on weaponry and tactics, with lots of happy warriors.  Not our hero Caine Riordan, though--he continues to be disturbed by the carnage but capable of dishing it out.

This is a standard middle volume in a series, in that it is mostly setting the stage for what is to come.  The humans fight a war against the advanced but normally peaceful Arat Kur and the equal but very warlike Hrkh'Hkr (or something like that).  The humans have behind the scenes aid from the Dornaani, the most advanced of the alien species, while the Arat Kur have the K'tor, a very mysterious bunch.  Gannon layers the plot twists onto the battles in a way that keeps you guessing.

The technology speculation is amusing at times--the speculation is tight on weapons, pretty nebulous elsewhere.  Interstellar travel is done in well-defined lanes with acceleration (usually) but not too much detail.  Reading is done on "dataslates"--here in the 21st century we call them "tablets".  Too simple I guess.

So it's Golden Age SF, and as I said earlier, if you want more of it just go back to Heinlein.  But this one is decent, I will give it 3 stars.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Yesterday's Kin, by Nancy Kress

Yesterday's Kin is another entry in the Nebula novella category.  This one was not online, but my library carried it. 

I can't help comparing this one to her last novella nomination, After the Fall...since the look and heft of the book is about the same.  But I liked this one quite a lot better.

Earth gets a visit from an alien race.  Except they aren't alien, they are human, spun off from Earth early in mankind's history.  This gives Kress the most straight-up shot at working with aliens that are really pretty much like us.  She takes full advantage of it by presenting a culture that is very different, having evolved under different pressures, but recognizable.

The alien humans come to Earth with very advanced technology, including a "star drive".  Also a warning. Panspermia is part of the speculation here, and the aliens warn of a cloud of "spores" carrying a virus.  Earth will pass through it within a year, the aliens 25 years later.  The aliens do not know how to prevent or cure it and would like our help.

Kress extrapolates on current politics, speculating that our current divide will continue and isolationism will rise up.  Makes dealing with the aliens rather itchy.  But they are taking the high road, working through the United Nations.

The fact that these aliens are indeed human plays well into the story.  It's very coherent and well written, probably my favorite so far of the novellas, though there have been several good ones.  It's a short read but very enjoyable.  4 stars from me, that good.