Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Caliban's War, by James S. A. Corey

Caliban's War (The Expanse, #2)Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read Leviathan Wakes back in 2013 when it was nominated for major awards, and have not revisited the series since then. Just came back to it. It's great as a late night read, because it does not make you work too hard and it's fast-paced so you stay awake. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will continue to catch the series up at some point.

I'll leave the plot summaries to others. When I read a SF book several years after it came out I like to note what the authors were anticipating. Smartphones had not consumed us in 2012 the way they have now, but the authors and others saw it coming. But the phrasing is kind of awkward--the characters in the novels all carry "hand terminals" that seem to have the same function as smartphones. I'd bet a good bottle of scotch that, for as far into the future as we actually carry them in our hands, we will call them "phones", because it's such a simple word and carries the history of large-scale person-to-person communication with it. Even though phones are busy subsuming all other media (and tools) into themselves.

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Company Town, by Madeline Ashby

Company TownCompany Town by Madeline Ashby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came across this refreshing piece from the 2016 Locus Awards listings. While it didn't win it was a good effort and an entertaining read. The protagonist, Hwa, has Sturge-Weber syndrome, which comes with a large port-wine stain on the affected side of the face. This comes up over and over in the book--in the narrative one gets a little tired of it, until you think about how people with facial deformities are actually viewed and what it's like to go through life with one. The central trope in the book--a "clean" protagonist in a world of highly augmented people, who overcomes odds to do better than the augmented ones--is one we've seen several times in SF. So are highly stratified oligarchies and, well, company towns. This book doesn't break a lot of ground there, and the ending is somewhat weird and contrived, but in between there's a lot of good gritty humor. Hwa has learned how to grind her way through life, and it makes the people around her like her and want to help her more than she knows. This gratitude element is very subtly carried off and makes it worth getting through the somewhat spare narration and plot softness. I enjoyed it all the way through.

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I just read this, coming to it after it's been out for some time. In addition to all its other accolades it was second in the Locus Awards science fiction novel category--that's how I found it. Mostly it's an alternate history, with a very near resemblance to the real thing.

I am not sure what to think. A lot of important critics like this book, giving it a Pulitzer is a pretty big deal. Maybe it's the feeling that I'm supposed to like it. There's some good writing here, I found Cora's introspections more meaningful than some reviewers did. Partly that would be because early on I let go of the notion that the characters would have authentic period voices. Colson Whitehead is living now, during the rise of the Right and of Black Lives Matter, and his characters seem like the hardest, most extreme and most self-aware versions of current activist-type people. It's a harsh, tell-it-like-it-is novel so he's getting points for that.

It's not the sort of book you actually like. But if it were put together better it would have more impact. I'm with many of the more disappointed reviewers--it's hard to engage with the characters, they are closer to caricatures and rather thin. The shocking violence gets the point across about the times and the very clear way in which white settlers took what they wanted from anyone in their path. But in the end I was pretty remote from it.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Roadsouls, by Betsy James

RoadsoulsRoadsouls by Betsy James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Roadsouls is a fascinating and wonderfully different kind of fantasy novel. As Suzy McKee Charnas noted, it's not about royalty, war, and magic as a weapon. This book is character driven, and works as deeply with the characters as any I have read. The protagonists, Duuni and Raim, are both highly capable and deeply flawed. Duuni is an artist channeling her work as though from elsewhere, and this is where the book is the most "fantastic". Raim is a highly capable man, but blind, caused when he became reckless through his pride. His anger at this fate never left him. Raim in particular suffers trials that make Job look weak. Duuni's struggles are more interior. It's a fine description of differing cultures, told very strictly through how Duuni and Raim experience them. Also plenty of excitement, with suitably villainous people as foils. A very good read indeed.

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Death's End, by Cixin Liu

Death's End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3)Death's End by Liu Cixin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The is the last entry in the Remembrance of Earth's Past series, and my final read for the Hugos for 2016.  I can say that this last entry in the trilogy is better than the previous one. In fact, it is probably my favorite in the series, on the strength of a more artful translation and the sheer breadth of ideas Liu explores. The scope is the entire universe, which is something I enjoy. In the end, though, the writing is still a bit stiff for me, and the ideas being thrown out there feel scattered. I'm not sure what enthralls people so. Other than that he's an old fashioned chauvinist. I guess I am glad to have experienced the series through to the end and have seen what he is about, but I have seen plenty now.  My favorite for the Hugos this year was probably All The Birds In the Sky.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Dark Forest, by Cixin Liu

The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2)The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There are a lot of glowing reviews on here, which makes me wonder if these reviewers actually read books. Shades of Edward Bulwer-Lytton! The Three Body Problem was not that smooth either, but Ken Liu's translation gave it a bit more help than Joel Mortensen's workmanlike effort. Not to mention the fairly obvious misogyny and stereotyping pointed out elsewhere. Should I mention here that Cixin Liu is one of Vox Day's (of Hugo trolling Rabid Puppies fame) favorite authors? He tells a story the old fashioned way.

That means there are some ideas in it that are relatively fresh, or at least give us a different, uniquely modern Chinese perspective. The idea that the political officers are an overworked and vital part of Earth's defense is something you wouldn't find an American author writing. Liu makes a case for this.

There are a lot of ideas in all, more than the book really needs. I am going to go ahead and read Death's End, hopefully we get something decent for persevering.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Sudden Appearance of Hope, by Claire North

My Goodreads review -The Sudden Appearance of HopeThe Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first experience with Claire North, and I'll look forward to reading more. The book has a logical clarity that really works well with the literary experience. North has come up with an excellent form of invisibility, in that having people forget they have seen you is just as good as not being seen in the first place.

The story is really just a vehicle for this exploration. How Hope Arden gets by in life ties into really overly efficient self-help software, but even though the author makes it clear that Hope is really invested in the outcome, the story line and the exploration end up sitting side by side rather than integrating. The book is all told in the first person, and we really get a sense of the voice of someone who can talk with others, interact with them, but never be real to them.

We even get some interesting exploration of the boundaries of the phenomenon. Can you remember that you have interacted with someone you can't remember? Not easily, you have to make a lot of notes and in some way doubt your own sanity.

The book is well-written and a deep exploration. I would recommend it to anyone really trying to get into the gears of building speculation, because they are somewhat exposed here, in a good and artful way.

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I think it's a real contender for the 2017 World Fantasy Award.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Story of Kao Yu, by Peter S. Beagle.

My LibraryThing review.

Foxfire, Foxfire, by Yoon Ha Lee

My review on LibraryThing.

Red as Blood and White as Bone, by Theodora Goss

Here's my review on LibraryThing.

A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers, #2)A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky  Chambers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a thoroughly entertaining book that shows Chambers' skills well. We have two parallel narratives, one with Lovelace the embodied AI living with Pepper in current time, and a flashback to Pepper's origins. The stories weave together well and keep things fresh. It's an excellent followup to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Have fun with a classic SF piece

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1)The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky  Chambers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like to read the major award nominated novels each year. Chalmers' A Closed and Common Orbit was nominated for the Hugo award this year, and now that they've gotten their act mostly back together I take them seriously again. So I wanted to catch the series up.

I would describe the Wayfarer's setting as an alternate, less heroic version of the Star Trek universe. The GC (Galactic Congress?) is the equivalent of the Federation, a group of spacefaring races that took in a faction of the human race that left Earth when it collapsed environmentally. The alien species are closely related, most having some kind of symmetric body plan, a central nervous system including a brain, and DNA. Interspecies sex is just as common but brought up to date.

The author shares a reflection of Roddenberry's vision of Federation goals--an inclusive grouping dedicated to helping all, but prone to mendacity in the details. That mendacity drives the plot, as the GC prepares to take in a new, perhaps not very stable, race.

The protagonist is Rosemary, a woman from a different (wealthy, escapist) faction of the human race that was found later. She is fleeing her past. She joins the ensemble cast of the Wayfarer on their part in working with this new race.

The strength of the book is in its deft, solidly competent weaving together of the stories of the crew and the current situation. The characters are easy to care about. Chalmers makes a solid case for Federation (er, GC) values through characters' actions, so it's only mildly preachy. And the writing carries you along, you're never bored waiting for something to happen.

Original? Not so much, but that's pretty hard to achieve now. This is darned good storytelling, and I'm excited to move to the next book in the series.

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That Game We Played During the War, by Carrie Vaughn

That Game We Played During the WarThat Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the last story I read of this year's Hugo nominees. The setting is a peace in a long-running conflict between two countries, one where the people are telepaths, one not. The protagonists were involved in the war, one as a combatant and one as nurse. The story is told from the nurse's point of view.

The premise is a little shaky, and I don't know how a race of people could be telepaths and otherwise be pretty much normal people. But Vaughn does a good job of selling that notion through the story, and describing what such people would be like from the perspective of someone who isn't one. That would be the main reason the story deserves a good rating. Overall it was fun to read, but my favorite in the group is Seasons of Glass and Iron. It won the Nebula and will likely take the Hugo too.

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Lovecraft Country, by Matt Ruff

I am now going to write these reviews on reviewing sites, and link them here.

Lovecraft CountryLovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have to say I really enjoyed this book. It's a fine nominee for the World Fantasy Awards. It fits the horror genre well without getting overly gross. Most interesting is the fresh perspective, of having African Americans in the Jim Crow south as protagonists. I don't think it spoils much to say that the very end of the book sums it up perfectly--it's very hard to scare them with supernatural horrors, given the treatment they have received from ordinary humans. The book is a fine sampling of horrors of various kinds, held together most obviously by the theme of race, but also by the notion of the practice of wizardry and witchcraft as some sort of "science". We see that the notion is mostly to make the practitioners feel in control of what they were doing, and they really didn't understand it at all. A fine many-layered book that I think will make a strong showing for an award.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate is the second book in the Broken Earth series, and was nominated for at least the Nebula and the Hugo this year.  I really enjoyed the first book, The Fifth Season, and was looking forward to this one also.  It did not disappoint.

Our protagonist, Essun (once Syenite--that gets confusing, I don't think I ever figured it out from the first book) has gone in search of her daughter Nassun, but has pretty much given up on that quest and is trying to settle into Castrima, a comm (community) where orogenes are welcomed and have been summoned.  Essun tries to fit in, but it isn't really working.  Especially because her mentor, Alabaster, is dying there but trying to pass on his knowledge to her.  We also get to see some development of Nassun, who survives a journey with her father to an orogene colony in the Antarctics.

There is some real and fascinating progression in the plot, more than enough to keep the story very enjoyable.  We learn more about the very alien Stone Eaters.  It took me awhile to remember where the Stone Eater Hoa fits in--might be worth skimming the previous volume as Jemisin doesn't spend a whole lot of time reviewing the previous book.

I think it's a contender for a sweep this year, though All The Birds In the Sky and Borderline will give it a run for the Nebula.  I give a narrow edge to Borderline but Jemisin is better known and may be the favorite.  This book is four stars, and I'll look forward to the last one.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway is the first book in the Wayward Children series, and the last of the novellas nominated for a Nebula that I'll be reading this year. 

McGuire is a very competent and prolific author.  I am familiar with her through her Newsflesh trilogy (here is one of my reviews) which was aimed more at adults, but a lot of her work is aimed at teen girls.  Every Heart a Doorway is one of those.

The story is fairly basic.  Our protagonist is one of a number of girls thought to be kidnapped, but actually having visited an alternate reality through one of many fairy-tale type doorways that open up to those who look for them.  There are a few boys, but mostly it is a girl thing.  The girls sometimes return from these alternate realities, willingly or unwillingly, and are thus reunited with their families, but are permanently changed by their experiences.  They don't fit here anymore, and the ones sent to Eleanor Wilson's Home for Wayward Children want to go back to their alternate worlds.  The actual plot in this book is a murder mystery--the girls are getting killed one by one--but mostly it illustrates the alternate worlds.  It's all pretty orderly--there are major and minor axes for the types of worlds.  There are a few plot inconsistencies that cause grief in this orderly universe--the worlds the girls discover "fit them well" and they want to go back, but there's also a mention of another home for those who hated their alternate world experience and don't want to go back.  Oops.

So this is another fairly well executed, not overly original book by McGuire.  If you like the rest of her stuff you will like this.  3 stars.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer

Too Like the Lightning is one of the Hugo nominees this year.  The awards seem to be back on track, and we've had strong entries so far in All the Birds In the Sky and Ninefox Gambit.  This is another worthy entry.

I'll say up front, though, that it takes some work to read and appreciate this book.  The setting is several hundred years in the future after the Church Wars nearly wiped out humanity.  What has been settled on is a system of Hives, approximating old political regions and tightly interlocked.  There is freedom of belief, but preachers and proselytizing are no longer allowed.  In their place, we have sensayers, people who help interpret your beliefs and educate you about others.  They seem like a mild parody version of Unitarian Universalists.  People live in 'bashes, extended group homes for both life and work.  The focus of the story is the Saner-Weeksbooth 'bash, in charge of the entire network of self-driving cars.

The story is told mostly by Mycroft Canner, currently a Servicer--someone who has committed a crime severe enough to warrant forbidding all material possessions and working only for meals.  Canner is an incredibly talented fellow so his services are much sought after, at the highest levels.  Canner has discovered a miracle--a child who can himself perform miracles--and has brought it to the S-W 'bash for assistance.

The first half of the book is a dense slog through scene-setting.  Awkward combinations of ethnic names, acronyms, and characters slowly sort themselves out.  The Saner-Weeksbooth 'bash is weak, having lost its senior members in a freak rafting accident, and now they are trying to deal with a miracle as well. 

Perseverance pays off, as things really pick up in the second half of the book.  One is by turns horrified and rendered thoughtful, and then those get blended.  It's a fine piece of work, and I won't say anything about the second half to avoid spoiling it.  I will say that the book does not stand on its own--it is the first of the Terra Incognita series, and has a cliffhanger ending.  In the end I enjoyed it and it edges over into 4 stars.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The City Born Great, by N. K. Jemisin

The City Born Great is N. K. Jemisin's entry in the Hugo short story category, though it's nearly a novella in length.  Our protagonist is a homeless man, first seen ululating at the city of New York.  In general.  Is he a madman, or clued in on its future?  Pretty quickly we find out the latter--he is chosen to bring the city to birth.  This will not be at all easy or safe. 

Along the way we get a take on our current relationship between blacks and cops.  But the intent of the story seems to be to show someone deeply in love with his city, knowing it in a way others do not.  Not the first of these I have read, and New York is often a focus (see James Blish's Cities in Flight series--this story reminded me of these, if only for the setting).  It's enjoyable and a fine entry for the short story award.  3 stars from me.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Tomato Thief, by Ursula Vernon

The Tomato Thief is a Hugo nominee for the Novella award this year.  This one fits into the Native American tradition, with some interesting twists.  Our protagonist is an elder (the term isn't used in the story), Grandma Harken.  She grows the best tomatoes in the area, and they are getting stolen.  Turns out the thief is a shapechanger--a woman who is also a mockingbird.  The story revolves around what happens when Grandma Harken catches the thief and learns her story.

Vernon had a story called Jackalope Wives nominated for the Nebula in 2015.  Grandma Harken is the protagonist there also, and there's a brief reference, but you don't have to have read it to appreciate this one.

Vernon has constructed a very interesting world in a short space.  We have magical, sentient trains that speak like mystics.  A child with cholla ribs for bones.  It's a fascinating read, and will be a contender for the award.  I give it a strong 3 stars.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Touring With the Alien, by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Touring With the Alien is the first Hugo-only nomination I have read this year, and it's a very strong entry for the award.  We have a pair of protagonists--Avery, the exotic loads driver, and Lionel, the child abducted by the visiting aliens.  They are inscrutable inside their massive, seashell-like "ships".  There is no evidence that these things traveled to get to earth, but they either did that or grew here.

Then an alien wants to tour the country, so Avery is hired to drive the bus.  She starts talking to Lionel and discovers the crux of the story.  These aliens are not conscious, in the exact same sense that we can act without self-consciousness.  They are in the zen flow, every day, all the time.  No self reflection.  No sense of self, so no sense of death.  They act in the world, harnessing technology and other species to work for them, but all without that sense of self that humans have. 

But they get that sense through their abductees--or adoptees.  And it turns out that consciousness is like a drug.  It tears the aliens up and ages them prematurely, but they can't kick it.

The story unpacks this notion, including some of the creepy physical aspects.  The story itself is limited, but the idea is such a dandy one that you just have to admire it.  I will give it four stars for the "zinger".  Fun!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Everfair, by Nisi Shawl

This is the fourth of five novels I'll be reading for the Nebulas.  Everfair is categorized by its author as an alternate history steampunk novel.  And while there is steampunk to be found, it's pretty heavy on the history.

The setting is an imaginary country in Africa, carved out like all others from European conquest.  In this case it is not by force, but by "purchase" from the Belgian king Leopold.  Well-meaning whites in the British Fabian Society facilitate the purchase, and it becomes an African democracy.

The story is one of forward-thinking hope--the narrative is driven by a lesbian love triangle and interracial romance.  Everfair is modern in all aspects--it is scientifically as well as socially advanced.  The technology is interesting--we have bicycles powered by very small steam-turbine nuclear reactors, and very intricate prosthetics (driven by atrocity).  But the technology in most cases does not seem to interact as much as it might with the history, the exception being the development of flight as freight transport through advanced dirigibles.  Mostly it's a recitation of the various political struggles and intrigues of a colony formed by idealists, trying to avoid Liberia's fate.

Personally I just did not find it engaging.  There's very little action that matters, and while drama is the central driver, it rarely reaches more than a simmer.  Everfair kind of bumps along, speaking lessons to our time but in a way that reminds me of an overly warm summer school classroom.  Took me forever to read.

It's a book you want to like, but in the end I can only give it two stars.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee

I have not heard of Yoon Ha Lee, but plenty of people have.  The basis of his SF is math, and he is now devoting most of his time to the Machineries of Empire universe, of which Ninefox Gambit is the first full length novel.

The technology here is the calendar--the regulation of life by holidays and appointment.  The calendar can be used as a weapon, and rebels against it make use of those properties as well.  It's a sort of magic, though never discussed as such here.

There's lots of action and intrigue, and much to enjoy.  Yoon Ha Lee has plenty of fans.  But I have to say I found the book hard to read, and it never really took off for me.  It could be a lack of familiarity with the cultural context--it is apparent that Lee is making different assumptions from what Westerners would.  Still, I spent a lot of my time reading this book confused.  I don't think that's how action novels are supposed to work. 

I guess this reminds me of Aliette De Bodard's work--confusing when it should be transparent.  It still sort of works, but I can't say I favor it for an award.  A weak 3 stars from me.

Monday, May 8, 2017

This Census-Taker, by China Mieville

This Census-Taker is my first read for the Hugo Awards this year.  The Hugos are a clean enough list this time that Free SF Online is listing them again.  The book is up for a novella award.

Mieville is inconsistent, which drives fans nuts in some ways.  The City and the City was one of the most brilliant social speculative fiction books I have ever read.  He is incredibly daring in the topics he takes on, and his style is unique.

But sometimes he just misses, and gets published anyway.  This is one of those time.  This Census-Taker is set in a place with a recent chaotic past, where there is some technology but it's not all tied together.  I thought of somewhere like Croatia when I read it.  The protagonist is a young boy in a family that seems schizophrenic in a very detached sort of way.  The father is definitely mentally ill.  Neither mother nor father seem comfortable at all with the rest of their town, or the world.  The father has a talent for making "keys" that make wishes come true in a limited way, thus the speculative element.  He also has a thing for killing small animals.  The book opens as the narrator, as an adult, describes himself running into town shouting about his father killing his mother.

The perspective of the book is supposedly adult, as I said--the narrator refers to himself living in another country, writing in a different language.  But the point of view of the book never seems to depart from that of the boy.  A series of sad events are described in the limited perspective of a seven year old, and aren't really informed by the adult perspective of the narrator.  It just kind of ploughs along.  I kept waiting for the action, or resolution, or something to start.  It eventually does resolve, but you feel like it never really got started.

So I'm not real sure why it was nominated for a Hugo, beyond name value, and I can't really recommend it.  Two stars for me.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Borderline, by Mishell Baker

Continuing my reading of Nebula award nominees for this year, I read Borderline by Mishell Baker.  The basic theme of the book is that an agency exists (the Arcadia Project) that serves as a contact point between the world of Fairy and our world.  Now, this theme has been done more times than I can count--Charles Stross' Laundry series, Jasper Fforde, Emma Bull's War for the Oaks, and more YA series than you can shake a stick at--but it's a trope that keeps on giving. And this book has a lot to offer as an entry in the category.

The Arcadia Project uses the mentally damaged as its agents.  Our protagonist, Millie, suffers from Borderline personality disorder that has driven her to attempt suicide.  The attempt cost her parts of both legs.  We get detailed expositions of life inside a BPD person's head, and dealing with prosthetics ("every amputation's unique, you learn to do what works).

She and a crew of multiple personality, paranoid, psychopathic and dissociative agents investigate the disappearance of Fey visiting our world.  The worlds have much to lend each other--Fey value our social structure and organization, we value their creativity.  Highly creative people tend to have Echoes in Arcadia--Fey who are attuned to their person and can lend them creative vision.  The details are lots of fun.

The mystery and personality disorder elements are well woven together.  Millie is the only truly detailed character, but we get a strong supporting cast.  Her 19 year old boss Caryl is also well done.

This one is going to be hard to beat as a book to simply enjoy.  I can highly recommend it for a good, juicy read.  I had a hard time putting it down, and I have much experience with putting down good books.  I give it four stars.  Go get it now.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson

A Taste of Honey is Kai Ashante Wilson's second story set in his Sorcerer of the Wildeeps universe.  Goodreads readers rate it as a better book than the first, and I tend to agree.  It's a much richer story.

It starts out as a sort of straight up gay romance.  We have a powerful, masculine warrior seducing an effeminate, closeted boy of royal blood.  But as we go along the story gets more complex.  Aqib, the effete prince, is physically weak but discovers a power in his voice--his words have influence.  He moves on from this early affair to marry and sire a daughter of great power.  He matures into a man of wisdom, strongly supportive of his wife and daughter "witches".  We see hints of how the "magic" is based in very advanced science and literacy, which here is viewed as "women's work". 

The story of the initial seduction and the prince's subsequent life are interwoven, and contrast well.  The writing is beautiful, just like the first book, but with more variety so it's even more interesting to read.  I think this one will be a strong contender in the Nebula novella category this year, and I give it 4 stars.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Runtime, by S. B. Divya

Runtime is the next to last of the Nebula Novella nominees I will read this year, unless they make John P. Murphy's "The Liar" available for free somewhere.  It's a fairly straightforward YA level competition story in the mid-future range.  Our protagonist is Marmeg, born "unlicensed" but later purchased, who is trying to get by on hacking while she arranges for a college degree in a (somewhat) robot proof area--elder care.  But she dreams of professional racing, specifically physically augmented off-road running.  She sets her sights on the Sierra Madre Minerva race, where placing would set her up financially.  She's up against much more sophisticated competitors though, so her odds are long.

This one is really different from any others I've read, or probably will read, this year.  The language is very plain and the description sparce.  It's very straight up reporting, even though it's told in the first person so we know what Marmeg (Mary Margaret) is thinking.  Smart termaexoskeletons that are reprogrammable are pretty much current day.  But there's some forward social thinking, particularly in the way she comfortably handles how the future will refer to transgender people.  She thinks discussion of income inequality and immigration will remain current 30 years from now, and I think she's right.

The best part for me is how real her characters end up being, even though they are described in very simple terms.   Marmeg gets both good and bad breaks, people are both devious and generous, all in a very realistic way.  There's tremendous potential here, because Divya has real talent for how to construct a story.

I highly recommend reading this story, it's simple but an eye opener.  4 stars for flashes of brilliance, from me.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Art of Space Travel, by Nina Allen

The Art of Space Travel is my first read in the Novelette category for the Hugo awards this year.  They don't look too gamey, only two Sad Puppy nominees that I can definitely pick out.  Most of them look pretty good.

This one is the story of the head of housekeeping for a Heathrow hotel, one where the astronauts for a one-way mission to Mars in 2047 are staying.  It's a position she has settled for after trying to follow in her mother, "Moolie"s footsteps.  Moolie (not her real name) was a metallurgist, and is now suffering from dementia.

Moolie was working on the previous Mars mission, the New Dawn, that ended in tragedy in 2017.  She had her daughter during that time, but has told her daughter she doesn't know who her father is.

The story is very insightful, you really get to know the protagonist and the other characters.  The mission is very much a part of the story, which could pretty much be happening today.  The ending is just a little off, maybe could be a few paragraphs shorter, which takes it from 4 stars to 3 for me.   But still a very good read.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, by Kai Ashante Wilson

I have enjoyed reading Kai Ashante Wilson's works before, and very much enjoyed this one.  What stood out for me was it's very conscious literary beauty.

Our protagonist is Demane, a distant descendant of the gods, who still has quite a lot more going for him than the average person.  He is in love with another of his kind, Isa, the Captain of the mercenary band that will guard a trading caravan going through the Wildeeps.  They shepherd a band of brothers that have bonded deeply through their life and combat together.  The focus of the story and the beautiful prose is those relationships, though there's plenty of action, particularly at the end.

The book manages to strongly celebrate gay relationships, including the sexuality, without getting explicit.  Also, Wilson attempts to ground the magic in science, though it comes of pseudoscientific in places. 

This is a catch up item for me, the second in the series, "A Taste of Honey", is nominated in the Novella category this year.  We'll see how this holds up.  I give this one a strong three stars.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

All the Birds In the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds In the Sky is the first Nebula novel I'm reading this year.  We're off to a great start.  The story follows two protagonists, Laurence Armstead and Patricia Delfine, starting when they are about six years old.  He is a science prodigy and she communes with birds, briefly.  They are both outcasts in beautifully and brutally described home and school environments.  As it happens with outcasts, they end up together even though they don't always like each other much, because they fit nowhere else.  Anders does a great job of creating detailed, real supporting characters--Laurence's desperate underachieving parents, and Patricia's over-driven and self-absorbed ones.  They attend the worst version of an ordinary junior high school, complete with intense bullying and stupidity.  Their counselor, Theodophilus Rose, is actually a member of the order of assassins.  He has seen their future participating in a great war of science vs. magic, and hopes to execute them as a "pro-bono" hit in service of humanity.

In most award nominated books either the speculative or narrative aspect stands out more.  The book might be a very fully imagined universe where the characters are on stage, or it might be strongly character-driven and the speculative aspect is secondary.  This book is one of a very few I've read where both elements are strong, and equal.  Anders perfectly captures the pain and self-centeredness of middle school, then transitions their personalities to adulthood and adult situations.  The science is a stretch on our reality--there, it's possible to find schematics on the internet for a two-second time machine.  This stretchiness allows Anders to make Laurence and Patricia's respective pursuits of science and magic seem equivalently arcane. 

Suffice it to say I really enjoyed reading this book.  I might well recommend it to my kids--there are sex scenes, but they are non-exploitative and emotionally relevant.  As far as I'm concerned it's going to be a tough job for any of the others to overcome this one's lead.  A very strong 4 stars.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle

The Ballad of Black Tom is my second read in the Nebula novella category, and it's a solid one.  It's set in New York City in 1924, centering on the Harlem and Red Hook neighborhoods.  Our protagonist is Charles "Tommie" Tester, a hustler and would be street musician who is actually not much of a musician.  He provides for his prematurely aged bricklayer father with the hustles. 

This New York admits to some magic, starting when Tester meets Ma Att and getting weirder from there.  Tester ends up tied in with an older white man, Robert Suydam, who is trying to make something big happen with occult magic.

That description doesn't capture the interest of the book, particularly how the story is told.  Tester suffers outrages echoing today, but told in a straightforward, passive way that effectively underscores the rage.  The story is a real page turner but it's subdued, not over-the-top.  The very basic unfairness of it all comes through, but effectively reinforces the plot.  Great stuff.

Also was fun to do a little looking around on the occult references.  The Supreme Alphabet has a pretty sketchy article in Wikipedia, and the other sites that come up look sketchy to click.  The Sleeping King is a harder one, I didn't find much relevant on it.

Four stars and a recommendation from me, it will be hard to beat.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Jewel and Her Lapidary, by Fran Wilde

The Jewel and Her Lapidary is the final entry in the Nebula novella category.  The story centers on Lin, the Jewel, and Sima, the Lapidary, the last survivors of treason against the royal family of the valley.  That family invoked the power of gems to protect it.  But there were two great costs that brought them down--the gems cause madness in those who can hear them, unless great skill is used and precautions taken.  More insidiously, it allowed the people of the valley not to participate in their own defense--the gems and lapidaries handled it.  Now their kingdom is at an end.

I really enjoyed Updraft, the Nebula nominated novel by Wilde from last year.  This story is less ambitious, but I can't help thinking it could have been.  Fleshing out other characters and developing the setting would have produced a novel, probably a good one.  As it is, we learn little about the valley society, missing out on what we learned of the people in her novel.  The story is a good one, but pretty much middle of the pack in the field this year.  3 stars from me.

So who's my favorite this year?  If it's my choice I pick Seasons of Glass and Iron, by Amal El-Mohtar.  It's too beautiful to deny.  We'll see what the voters do.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson

I'm starting on the novella nominations for Nebula, and began with The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe.  This is her commentary on The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, an unpublished Lovecraft novella.  There are many references and touchpoints the Lovecraft story in Vellitt Boe. 

Vellitt Boe is a professor at a women's university in Ulthar.  The world is a strange, frightening and arbitrary place--distances, mathematical formulas, and most anything else may change at any time.  The sky is a low, roiling thing with numbered stars and planets that traverse it arbitrarily.  One of Vellitt Boe's students elopes with a Dreamer, a man from our world.  She goes on a quest to get her back.

The story is told in a beautiful, near-poetic voice.  Sort of an antidote to Lovecraft, who did something similar in a dark way.  I've never read Unknown Kadath, but could still appreciate this work.  It celebrates the strength of a woman of experience, showing her in all aspects.  I think it's a favorite for the award, and I'll give it four stars.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0, by Caroline M. Yoachim

Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station is what short fiction can do pretty well--humor.  You don't want a joke to take forever.  There is no hope for actual help, but the path to non-help is pretty funny.  It's written like a choose-your-own-adventure book, but not really.  Which was fun, because I used to like to try to read those things straight through and try to keep the plots straight.  A good 3 stars.

This one was indeed a contender, but my favorite for the Nebula is Seasons of Glass and Iron, by Amal El-Mohtar.  Go check that one out.

A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers, by Alyssa Wong

Now this one, A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers, is pretty good.  A very intense relationship between sisters, sisters with weather working powers, and one of them suicides in pretty spectacular fashion.  The other tries to work through alternate timelines to bring her back.  Pretty darn cool and enjoyable, I would recommend it.  Strong 3 stars.

This Is Not a Wardrobe Door, by A.Merc Rustad

This Is Not a Wardrobe Door is another entry for the Nebula Award for Short Stories in 2016.  Rustad fully embraces the children's fairy tale, which is kind of cute.  It's a story of imaginary doors to imaginary friends that are actually real.  So far our relationship score is 4 gay, 1 cis, 1 trans.  It is good to explore a new space but I like stories that do more with it.  A weak 3 stars.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Things With Beards, by Sam J. Miller

Continuing the Nebula Awards Short Story reviews: Things With Beards is a good strong entry.  The Things in the title is a reference to the movie The Thing, based on the John W. Campbell story Who Goes There?  It's basically a followup to the story, with MacReady and Childs surviving but having carried the Thing out with them.  Figuring out the tie-in is fun, but we also get a message with MacReady becoming involved in violent activism as the AIDS epidemic gets under way.  Pretty interesting, I give it a strong 3 stars.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sabbath Wine, by Barbara Krasnoff

Sabbath Wine is another one of the Nebula Short Story nominees for 2016.  The story is really all about the setting, which is a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn during prohibition.  The daughter wants her father, a militantly anti-religious Jew, to have a Sabbath meal for her new friend.  For that, he needs kosher wine.

It's sweet and well written, a nice dessert.  3 stars.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Seasons of Glass and Iron, by Amal El-Mohtar

Seasons of Glass and Iron is a fairy tale.  I get this information from the title of the anthology it is in, The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, and it fits beautifully.  Tabitha walks the earth in iron shoes, trying to wear them down.  Amira sits atop a glass hill that protects her from rabid suitors.  Both are caught in magical traps of their own making.  It's wonderfully well written and a pleasure to read.  It's definitely my favorite of the short stories so far, and I think it will remain so.  4 stars from me

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies, by Brooke Bolander

So now that I have read my second Brooke Bolander story, I think I am typecasting her--she personifies Angry Woman.  Nothing especially wrong or right with that, it would be better if the stories didn't rely so much on obscenities to generate interest.  Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies is a hint at a story, as most short stories are, and its anger is directed at an entitled male serial killer.  No sympathy there.  But pretty easy as a target.  Red Meat For The Base, as they say in politics.  Though it isn't political.  It took much longer to write this than to read the story--so it goes.  2 stars.

You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay, by Alyssa Wong

You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay is a story of wild magic, featuring power to raise the dead but really not anything like a zombie or ghost story.  So I would say I enjoyed it for originality.  The protagonist is Ellis, a young man who is channeling power (his mother's) to raise the dead.  He, his paramour Marisol and several others have been left or orphaned by a mine accident, and the powerful magic in the story is being used to guard the mine.  Then some bad dudes come to town who have some of that power themselves.

The irritating thing with this story is that it's told in the second person.  You, the reader, are Ellis.  But not really, the device doesn't actually work at placing the reader in the story.  It's awfully tough to pull off second person narrative, it's only been done once or twice and I can't remember the title right off.  And the device is not necessary at all, the story would be just fine, and probably nominated for awards, without this.

In any case it's a decent read and I can recommend it.  3 stars.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Orangery, by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

The Orangery is a very beautiful, literary fantasy story.  It uses advanced literary devices (two points of view that are very different) and gorgeous language to tell the story of Apollo as an erstwhile visitor to a protected garden.  The trees in the garden used to be women, but have chosen to forsake that form for a life in bark.  The Guardian confronts Apollo with his nature.

This is a story to admire, and it's probably a contender, but I like more to happen.  The plot is relatively thin here.  3 stars from me.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Blood Grains Speak Through Memories, by Jason Sanford

Continuing the tour of this year's Nebula awards for novellas, I read Blood Grains Speak Through Memories today.  The title is interesting and unusual in that it is a compact, exact description of the story.  You don't see that every day.

The story itself is on the border between fantasy and technology.  We get hints of a post-apocalypse world, where some desperate means was taken or emerged to survive.  The lands are tended by "anchors", people who acquire a special connection to the land through the title's "grains".  Our protagonist is one such anchor, who is considering carrying out her late husband's plan to rid the world of the grains.  They protect the world, but commit a fair amount of evil in the process.

The world is pretty fully built out for a novella.  We get a good picture of what it's like to be an anchor on the land.  The writing is powerful without getting sappy.  I think this one is a contender, it will be hard to beat.  I like it enough to say four stars.  I haven't read any Jason Sanford in awhile (since 2010), but am glad he's back.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea, by Sarah Pinsker

It's Nebula season again, and this year all the available novellas are published in book form, so I'll get to those later.  First up, the novelettes.

Sarah Pinsker has an entry on the short side entitled Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea.  It is standard post-apocalyptic stuff--we have two protagonists, a rock star and a scavenger.  The rock star gets sick of life on the cruise ships that took to the ocean when everything went to pot on land.  She takes a lifeboat and drifts away, washing up on the scavenger's shore.  The rock star is mildly famous--the scavenger knows who she is--but is not wealthy enough to be a passenger on the ships. 

They are each working through the consequences of the end of civilization.  It's OK as a story, I liked it fine, but there's not a lot there.  I guess 3 stars.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Archangel, by Marguerite Reed

Archangel got a special citation from the Philip K. Dick award for 2015.  The setting is familiar--an earthlike planet that is hospitable to humans is being evaluated for expanded colonization.  Earth is spent and everyone wants to get off, but the 32K or so residents/evaluators on Ubastis are holding out for more study.  Our protagonist, Vashti Lauren, is one of the most influential of these.  She is a standout as a Natch (natural born human), and one who is willing to hunt, kill and eat animals.  Her influence comes as a widow of Lasse Undset, a fierce founder and defender of Ubastis.  She is confronted by her friend's importation of a BEAST, a bio-enhanced soldier, one of whom killed her husband.

The plot resolutions are pretty well telegraphed, though the suspense is maintained.  Vashti is an incredibly emotional woman in a cooler society, and she has to reconcile blinding rage with the realities of the situation.  We really get to know her through this book, the character is very completely developed.  The writing is excellent and fully carries the story.  I enjoyed it all, even as I knew what was coming.  This is Marguerite Reed's first novel, and is meant to be the start of a series.  I would say we'll see more of it, and it might be up for more prestigious awards.  I give it 4 stars for the writing.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Borrowed Man, by Gene Wolfe

A Borrowed Man was nominated for a Locus award in 2015.  Gene Wolfe has written some amazing fiction in his time, so I figured it was worth reading.  I would say so, but it's not a super strong work.

It's the 22nd century, and life has slowed down.  There are far fewer people in the world, but it's a rougher place.  The narrator and protagonist is E. A. Smithe, a mystery writer of renown.  But this version is a "reclone", a recreation of a person from a scan.  This copy of Smithe belongs to the Spice County Public Library, where human reclones wait to be checked out.  He gets checked out by a beautiful heiress who is being pursued by shady figures. 

There is some interesting social commentary in here--Wolfe has the narrator discussing the treatment of people who are not considered to be human.  Smithe does not seem to consider himself human, except by sneaking up on it.  Wolfe also comes back to a device he used in the Book of the New Sun--using words in odd ways.  He refers to a woman's purse as a "shaping bag".  But the book gets dry toward the middle as it becomes a more straightforward mystery.  The speculations don't really drive one to think about the future, they just add a speculative element. 

The book is OK, I will give it 3 stars, but a weak 3.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson is an author that's really grown on me over time--maybe I've gotten wiser or he's gotten better, but I think it's very much both.  Aurora was nominated for a Locus award for 2015, and I think it probably deserved a nomination for the Hugo and/or Nebula as well.

Aurora is the name of a near-earth size moon orbiting one of Tau Ceti's planets.  Earth was sending out generation starships in the 2500's, and the story is set on the ship bound to Tau Ceti.  There are a few promising candidates for settlement there.  Our protagonist is Freya, child of the "chief engineer" (it's an unofficial title) of the starship, Devi.  They are of the generation that will reach Aurora and try to settle it.

As always with Robinson, the book is brimming with excellent science speculation.  We learn about "islanding" and "codevolution".  The inhabitants of the starship shrink with each generation, and live shorter lives.  The bacteria on their relatively small ship evolve faster than the macro life, of course, which is making each generation less healthy.  Possibly less smart--Freya is wise in many ways but cannot handle numbers even close to the way Devi can.  They have endured social stress and internal dissent.  But they can get around all this if they can establish a healthy colony when they get to Tau Ceti.

I'm going to have to reveal important bits to make my points, so I am going to do something I rarely do--SPOILER ALERT.

The colony on Aurora does not take.  The settlers are sickened by an extremely tiny almost-prion, and many die--all but one who went to the surface.  Faced with a set of very bad choices, they end up splitting, some staying on Aurora and others equipping to go back. 

Robinson uses this failure to illustrate how finely tuned we are to our home.  As we pursue space exploration it becomes more and more apparent how difficult it will be to reproduce those conditions anywhere else.  Robinson puts this forward as an explanation for the SETI problem--the fact that we have not found or heard from any other intelligent life.  Other self-aware life may be out there, but we are too far apart and too different from each other to communicate.  There's no real way to get around relativity.

This book isn't quite up to the standards of David Brin's Existence, but it's a pretty good try and makes a similar argument about what the sheer distances of space do to any thoughts of interaction with aliens.  There is one odd sort of error in it.  Toward the end of the book we get the idea that this book is set in the same universe as 2312, last year's major award nominee.  He refers to a "city on Mercury, on rails and perpetually moving around the planet"--but in this story that city was built while the travelers were away (they return in the early 2800s).  That continuity issue isn't like Robinson.

I give it four stars for entertainment and educational value.  This is my kind of SF.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Karen Memory, by Elizabeth Bear

Having finished all the books and stories I could find related to the 2015 Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards, I branched out to the Locus awards.  Lots of fine material there.  I settled on novel nominee Karen Memory because it was available as an e-book from my local library and I have enjoyed many Elizabeth Bear novels.

Karen Memery is a "seamstress" in Rapid City, somewhere along the West Coast during the Gold Rush.  The seamstressing is done on her back.  She has the good fortune to work for Madame Damnable, an extraordinarily tough and fair madame who is well connected in Rapid City politics.  The setting is Gold Rush steampunk--we have mostly horsepower for getting around, but electricity, dirigibles and advanced engineering are readily available.  A Mad Scientist license in Rapid City costs about the same as one for being a seamstress.

Things get rough when Peter Bantle, a nasty local pimp, gets higher ambitions and decides to run for mayor with outside money and a steampunk mind control device.  He is also harboring a serial murderer of white streetwalkers that brings Bass Reeves, a black US Marshal, to town.

The story is basically a good one.  We have romance (lesbian--almost feels required), adventure, strong women and strong men.  Bear is a good writer and brings it together well.  But there are a lot of problems that detract from enjoyment. 

Most steampunk novels, and lots of alternate history novels, are based around a speculation about the effects of a technological advance that takes place several decades ahead of time, like flight, electricity or computing.  The story then flows from the logical consequences of that advance.  But Bear is not a steampunk author--she writes fantasy.  That seems to show here, since the steampunk advances feel random and don't coherently drive change.  We have dirigibles, "surgery machines" that somehow harness analog power to do advanced medical care, and sewing machines that are operated from the inside like a tank (literally so later).  And a mind control device that acts through a focusing device at a distance, like some sort of early Bluetooth.

The title character's name is after a friend of the author's.  She alludes to the name pun early on but doesn't do anything with it. Karen has memories, but she does not exemplify or otherwise interact significantly with Memory in the book.

Karen speaks in rural dialect, which I find kind of distracting. 

All in all this feels like a book that didn't come together nearly as well as it could have.  The afterword describes her research and adds a lot to the enjoyment, which is why in the end I will give it 3 stars.  Possibly a stretch to consider it for an award.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Please Report Any Changes, by Scott Marengo

The last of my Wired Science Fiction issue reviews.  Please Report Any Changes is just a sad one, really from any time, about those who share their lives to alleviate their loneliness.  The narrator is part of a Belsen family, one whose every activity is monitored for a ratings service.  He's proud of it and his social life consists of relating to the technician assigned to his account.  But when his wife moves out he doesn't report the change, and eventually the service isn't interested in him anymore.  All the Lonely People.  It's sad but not terribly enlightening, though it is decently written.  In the end I can't give it more than 2 stars. 

The L7 Gene, by Jeanne Thornton

Another from the Wired Science Fiction Issue.  The L7 Gene ponders the ethics of cloning and gene manipulation in a way close to, but not the same as, the many other stories I've read on this topic.  I've read plenty, fictional and non, on designer babies.  But what if you could clone your existing, "imperfect" child and correct the mistakes?  The story explores a specific case, one where it is possible to correct the sex selection issue that produces transgender females.  There's some understandable resentment.  And what does the clone do?  Not quite groundbreaking but very current and very well done.  3 stars

Life On Garbage Island, by Ben Lasman

Another good one from the Wired Science Fiction Issue.  Life on Garbage Island describes a new landmass made from the various garbage vortexes in the Atlantic.  A place where people go to start over.  It has a great quote--"Life out here was a big adjustment from Brooklyn. Everything about it was so much nicer."  The protagonist, Francis, struggles to get by on a variety of gigs, noting that many on the island seem to somehow be independently wealthy.  He soldiers on and hooks up with a fellow garbage denizen for a trash romance.  There's a lot Lasman has to say here, the very idea of living off others' garbage is one that gives plenty of room to roam.  I say 3 stars.

The Great Dying, by Lydia Millet

Continuing the Wired Science Fiction Issue.  The Great Dying is probably the darkest of the issue's stories.  Basically about the end of the world due to climate change.  The protagonist is a teenager, not yet 18, whose parents have paid for a service to commit suicide.  They grew up in our time, when we could drive cars, eat meat, and other such extravagances.  The earth is in its last acceleration to full-on climate change, and they just can't face it.  The teens are understandably bitter, that the people who helped to bring this on aren't going to stick around for the hard part.

It's well written but a tough read if you think this is pretty close to the outcome we're going to have.  I don't quite think it will be that bad, but there's certainly a pretty good possibility of it.  3 stars for effective sadness.

The Current Entertainments, by Glen David Gold

Another from the Wired Science Fiction issue.  The Current Entertainments is told as a review of a "verite", Lemoin's Assaut Sur L'Univers.  It's very well done, with lots of good literary references--reads like a real, culturally aware review.  I would aspire to write those at some point, I don't do much of it here.  But the story is very much worth reading, it is deep and complex and makes you think.  3 stars

A., by Etgar Keret

More from the Wired Science Fiction issue, and I'd say this is one of my favorites.  Might be an award nominee this year.  Stories with single letter titles are kind of a grabber, so A. was interesting right away.  The story is as artsy as one would expect from such a title, but not more so--it was readable.  A. is some manner of artificial person, and the story of his upbringing and end is absolutely fascinating.  He and his fellows seem to age prematurely, and at the start that looks like the story's technical gimmick.  But it's not.  Can't say much more without spoiling it, so go read it.  4 stars.

First, by John Rogers

More from the Wired Science Fiction Issue.  First is a straight-up exploration story, well written with a fine ending.  The protagonist is a Mars explorer looking for the remains of the First Martian.  The author manages to personalize him in a very short stretch.  Recommended.  3 stars.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Hunger After You're Fed, by James S. A. Corey

One of the better ones in the Wired Science Fiction issue.  The Hunger After You're Fed tells the story of a man searching for a mysterious author, one Hector Prima.  This is not a society of want--everyone seems to have a basic income.  The problem then is purpose.  The protagonist suffers from purpose issue--this seeking of Hector Prima makes him doubt himself.  The town he visits suffers as well, with its denizens looking to get more appreciation than their neighbors, by sharing food they make.  Doesn't seem so bad.  The story is reflective and sad, pulling you along.  I enjoyed it.  3 stars.

I have read James S. A. Corey before, but that book was much more of an adventure.  This is more of a reflective story.  I also did not know that the author is actually a husband and wife team. 

Know Your Enemy, by Matt Gallagher

More from the Wired Magazine Science Fiction issue.  Know Your Enemy is a tribute to Haldeman's The Forever War, and rings very true.  It's set in the future but that's not particularly important--the point is the relationship of war veterans to the rest of society.  We are in a period where we glorify military service beyond measure, partly to make up for the guilt of putting the soldiers in harm's way.  The protagonist in the story, a female Marine, reflects on this and many other things about being a disabled vet.  It's a good story, solidly written and allows drawing your own conclusions.  I give it 3 stars.

Hold Dear the Lamp Light, by Jay Dayrit

Continuing the Wired Magazine Science Fiction Issue: Hold Dear the Lamplight is one of several dystopian stories in the collection.  We see a picture of society failing, rather gracefully actually, through the story of the loss of a community's power plant.  In the story it's climate change taking the plant away, but this could be in any war torn disorderly country in the Middle East or Africa.  The family learns to make do.  It's sort of made to sound tragic but isn't.  Anyway, it's OK, 2 stars.

Stochastic Fancy, by Charlie Jane Anders

Continuing my review series on the Wired Magazine Science Fiction issue.  Stochastic Fancy has our protagonist sitting in a bar, answering polling questions into her KloudScape, which seems like a fancier and more immersive phone interface.  Her thing about incessant opinion polling is pretty on target.  In the story the polling is used as a real-time matchmaker.  Works so-so.  Story OK but forgettable.  2 stars.

The Black Box, by Malka Older

Another from the Wired Science Fiction issue.  The Black Box shares an element with the previously reviewed story Subtext, in that the technology it features is capable of recording and playing back your personal experiences.  The author illustrates how such an outsourced, potentially publicly available memory would shape a person's life.  It's kind of true to life in that it doesn't upend everything, the world is still recognizable.  It's fine, but not amazing.  2 stars from me.

Subtext: It Knows What You're Thinking, by Charles Yu

Another entry from the Wired Science Fiction Issue, Subtext is a literal stream of consciousness, as transcribed and possibly helpfully edited by the app.  Not much different than a raw first-person narrative, which is something of a staple in many fiction genres.  I guess the idea is that we're getting close to making it real.  I suppose we are.  2 stars.

The Evaluators, by N. K. Jemisin

Wired Magazine's January issue consists of 15 science fiction stories they commissioned to allow us to "approach reality a little more obliquely".  SF has always been the best way to tell truths about the future that mere prediction can't manage, and more importantly to tell truths about the present that are impossible to express directly. 

Most of the stories are freely available on their website, so I'll start with N. K. Jemisin's The Evaluators.  She tells the story of humans contacting an alien species through their correspondence. The story has the same driver as John Campbell's classic Who Goes There? (Link courtesy of Free SF Online)  A super powerful, adaptive predator threatens to subvert the species.  What Jemisin does with the predator's origin is what makes the story worth reading.  3 stars

The Owl Keeper, by Christine Brodien-Jones

My daughter asked me to read this book, and had a copy of it for herself--it's kind of stretching to say that it was free since I paid for it, but I'll count getting a second read out of it.

The Owl Keeper is aimed at the younger end of the YA set.  The protagonist Maxwell Unger thinks of himself as a sickly boy, kept at home by a nasty guardian who rules the household, including his weak parents.  Turns out she has influence far outside the household, and he's not so sickly.  He and a fierce girl (Artemis Rose) go out in search of the Owl Keeper to rescue their people from the Absolute Dark and the High Echelon.

What I liked best about this book was the very full and complex character of Artemis.  She is strong and impetuous in the extreme, being fully herself but needing Max to provide calm and make good decisions.  She made what was otherwise a much too youthful book for me a fun read. 

I can recommend this for 10-12 year olds with 3 stars.