Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra coverI love reviewing great books.  I feel actually bubbly when I get to point people towards a book that made me happy.  This book made me happy with every single page.

Mr. Penumbra follows the adventures of Clay, an unemployed man who finds work as the night clerk at a bookstore that is open all night.  The store is clearly the home of many mysteries, and Clay puts together a team of friends to try to discover just what this bookstore is all about.

This book has fantastical elements, but it’s not pure fantasy.  It’s gotten so much buzz that I may very well be the last person to have read it.  Part of this buzz stems from the fact that it has this geeky quality to it that makes it attractive to fans of science fiction and fantasy, even though it’s just barely either.  Plus, because the fantasy elements are so slight, it’s completely accessible to fans of more mainstream books.  It doesn’t hurt that there’s a mystery and a love story in there, too.  The book appeals to everyone and yet makes you, the reader, feel that you are the special reader that this book was made for.

I truly think I loved every single thing about the book.  I got to the last few pages and then I started reading veeeerrrrryyy slowly because I didn’t want the book to end.  I loved the friendships and the roles that books and other kinds of art play in forming and sustaining these friendships.  I loved the love story.  I loved the humor and I loved the juxtaposition between the arcane books and the shiny computers.  I love the description of audiobooks (“When you read a book, the story definitely happens inside your head.  When you listen, it seems to happening a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled over your eyes”.  I like the idea that paper books and Ebooks can coexist.

Often I review books that are well-written, but are designed to appeal to a very small group of people.  In this case, I just can’t imagine anyone not liking this book.  Certainly not anyone who madly loves books.  This paragraph is from the very end of the book, but I don’t think it’s a spoiler – just a very beautiful description of the themes of the book (other than “Reading is cool, and so is art, and so are computers”):

There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care.  All the secrets in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight.  It take forty-one seconds to climb a ladder three stories tall.  It’s not easy to imagine the year 3012, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  We have new capabilities now-strange powers we’re still getting used to…your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in.

After that the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind.  But I hope you will remember this:

A man walking fast down a dark, lonely street.  Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need.  A bell above the door and the tinkle it makes.  A clerk and a ladder and warm, golden light, and then:  the right book exactly, at the right time.

Mini Review: Deep Deception, by Cathy Pegau

Cover of Deep DeceptionDeep Deception is another excellent science fiction romance from the ever-reliable Cathy Pegau.  This is a f/f love story with action, intrigue, and a strong sense of place.  Pegau’s last book, Caught in Amber, took place in a city and most of it was set at a glitzy mansion.  Deep Deception is set primarily in a rural mining town, and you can almost feel the grime.  As compensation, you can also almost taste the miner’s garlic bread, and I must say that the sex scenes are quite well-written (*ahem*).  The book has strong, interesting female characters and a compelling plot.  It works fine as a stand-alone.  In fact, I suspect it works better as a stand alone, because the main characters were supporting characters in Caught In Amber, and they were much more in touch with their feelings here than I would have expected from their appearances in Caught.

In short, this book is imaginative, romantic, suspenseful, and sexy, and Pegau is now an auto-buy author for me.  You can find my full-length review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  The full-length review was published while this book was available for pre-order.  It has since been released by Carina Press.  Enjoy!

Mini Review: Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal

12160890Glamour in Glass was nominated for a Nebula Award in the category of best novel (the winner was 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson).   This book is the second in a series that imagines Regency England as a place where people can cast illusions (glamour).  The use of fantasy here is clever and subtle, because the use of illusions is the only change, and yet adding that element allows all sorts of adventure and explorations of class and gender to occur.  Glamour in Glass involves more adventure then its predecessor, Shades of Milk and Honey, but retains a certain Jane Austen quality in its heroine, who is capable of brave derring-do but really wants to live a proper and normal life.  This is a fun read for fans of historical fiction and works just fine as a stand-alone.  A full-length review can be found at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Mini Review: Ironskin, by Tina Connolly

Ironskin was nominated for a Nebula Award in the Best Novel category, and it’s easy to see why (the winner was 2312).  This incredibly poignant, passionate and inventive fantasy take on Jane Eyre is set in a world in which England has just barely won a war against the fey.

The world-building is fantastic (pun intended) and the characters shine.  Jane is a wonderful character who shares the original Jane Eyre’s strong sense of ethics, self respect, and passion.  The only flaw in the book is that the romance between Jane and her brooding employer is under-developed.  As long as you are reading this as a fantasy about an amazing woman, as opposed to a romance where the love story takes center stage, you will love the book.  My full-length review is at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

The Nebula Awards Weekend: Unexpected Lessons

Nebula Award LogoToday I have two mini-reviews up of Nebula nominated novels.  I had the great pleasure of meeting both of these authors, and they were incredibly gracious to me.  Tina Connolly was only able to meet with me for a few minutes, but she did so having come straight off a plane.  I don’t think she even had time to check into her room, and she still acted as though she had nothing she’d rather do than tell me about her next book.  Her Ironskin trilogy will eventually include Copperhead, which is about Jane’s sister, and an untitled book about Dorie, the child Jane is asked to be governess to in Ironskin.  In that future book, we’ll meet Dorie as an adult, and I can’t wait.

Mary Robinette Kowal talked to me about her work, and the timeless appeal of Jane Austen, for over an hour.  She hopes to eventually have five books in her Glamourist Histories series.  Her book, Without A Summer came out in April.  Mary said that she likes the idea that you don’t stop having adventures just because you get married, or because of age.  She’d like to return to her series some time in the future and write about Jane and Vincent as a middle-aged couple, and then someday write about them as an elderly couple.

I expected that everyone at the Nebulas would be brilliant, but I hadn’t expected that everyone would be so nice.  There is a strong culture among this group of writers of mentoring and challenging and arguing with and promoting each other.  I had expected to leave that weekend feeling challenged and inspired to write, and I sure did.  But I also felt challenged and inspired to be a better friend and colleague.  I hope someday that I will be that person who knows the ropes – and when I am, I hope I’ll remember to be as gracious a mentor to that year’s rookie as this year’s writers were to me.

A Star Trek Video for Your Every Mood

WednesdayVideoWhen I was at the Nebula Awards, I got to meet John Scalzi, author of Redshirts.  This was John’s last year as the president of Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA).  Part of the president’s duties is, apparently, coordinating the Nebula Awards Weekend event.  When I met him, he was at a book signing table and he looked frazzled as only someone who is simultaneously signing books and coordinating a large multi-day convention can look.  Despite this, and despite the fact that I was fangirling like an idiot, he still managed to be very nice to me   Redshirts is such a great book that Jonathan Coulton wrote a song about it, and trekpropguy made this video.  Lovely and sad.  Read Redshirts right now!  Call in sick!  Stay up all might!  Just read it!

And now, for something completely different…A Katy Perry song, which I loathe and despise, being put to such good use that even I had to smile at it!  Now that time has passed since I saw Star Trek Into Darkness, I have to admit that I remember the plot holes much less than I remember the thrill of lines like, “This is Captain Sulu”.  This video nicely captures the fun side of Trek.  Happy Wednesday!

Things I Heard at the Nebula Awards Weekend

Nebula Award LogoThe Nebulas were an amazing event.  I was surrounded by brilliant people who were also warm and welcoming to me, the rookie.  People put me in contact with folks to interview, helped me with recording, gave me books (So!  Many!  Books!).  And yes, people did very kindly admire photos of my nine year old daughter, and, in one case, also photos of my dog.  Suave and professional, that’s me.  One of the highlights of the event was showing new steampunk author Michael J. Martinez a photo of my daughter holding her Yoda doll and watching Star Wars:  A New Hope and seeing a photo of his daughter using the force grip on him.  Us geek parents are a strange lot – and Michael’s book, The Daedalus Incident, is available for preorder at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, should you wish to check it out.

I’m sure I’ll be blogging about this event for months, but here’s just a few of the odd, profound, funny, and marvelous things I heard, or overheard, at the Nebulas:

Alethea Kontis:  I wear tiaras because they are awesome and so am I!

E.C. Myers (who happens to be male):  I used to read all the books my sister brought home from school, and I loved the Sweet Valley High books, especially the one where Elizabeth gets in a motorcycle accident and wakes up with her twin, Jessica’s, personality.  I also loved The Babysitter’s Club, because Claudia was the only Asian character I could find.

Mary Robinette Kowal (whose character, Vincent, is loosely based on her husband):  You can tell what a crush I have on my husband by how many times Vincent takes off his shirt.

Connie Willis:  In good romantic comedy, love is a positve force when it is selfless.  Love, communication, compassion, can fix everything.  Sometimes love conquers – especially when people are willing to give each other up.

Sarah Beth Durst:  Fantasy is the literature of hope.

Nick Sagan (quoting his father, Carl Sagan):  We make our world significant by the courage of our questions.

Steven Gould (introducing the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Nominees):  A reading from the sacred texts of my people:  “The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-wracked Northeast sea, is a land famous for wizards”.

Gene Wolfe (accepting the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award):  You are all strange and wonderful people.

Anonymous:  Oh, you have to go upstairs and see the bartending robot!

Your order?

Your order?

And the Nebula Winners Are…

Live from the Nebulas, here’s the winners:

The Kevin J. O’Donnell, Jr. Service to SFWA Award:  

Michael H. Payne

Solstice Awards:  

Carl Sagan and Ginjer Buchanan

Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award:  

Gene Wolfe

Ray Bradbury Award:

Beasts of the Southern Wild, Behn Zeitlin (writer/director), Lucy Abilar (writer)

Andre Norton Award:

Fair Coin, E.C. Myers

Nebula Award for Best Short Story:

“Immersion”, Aliette de Bodard

Nebula Award for Best Novelette:

“Close Encounters”, Andy Duncan

Nebula Award for Best Novella:

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, Nancy Kress

Nebula Award for Best Novel:

2312, Kim Stanley Robinson

Ladies and Gentlemen, your winners!

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All Your Questions About Star Trek Into Darkness Answered At Last

Spock and UhuraQ.  Do we have lens flare?

A.  YES!  Yes we do.  I’d say one-third of the movie is lens flare.

Q.  Do women show up in their underwear for no apparent reason?

A.  Yep, twice.  I’m sorry to say that there is a distinct lack of corresponding male nudity.  This is unfair, people.

Q.  Does the plot make sense?

A.  No, sadly, it does not.  Never trust a movie which includes the line, “I’m initiating the cryogenic process now”.  It is also helpful to be completely ignorant of the basic laws of physics and biology.

Q.  Say!  Is that a picture of Spock and Uhura being adorable?

A.  Why yes it is!  They are wonderful.  They have a fight and they actually have a conversation about it.  With real words!  Like grown-ups!  We love them.  No one kill them or break them up!  You hear me, Hollywood?  WE LOVE THEM!

Q.  Is the movie fun?

A.  Yes.  I had a great time.

Q.  Is the movie deep?

A.  Nope.  It would like to be, but it isn’t.  It’s just fun.  Everybody gets to be a sexy badass, and a lot of things blow up.  Pure summer fun.

Q.  Who would win in a battle for world domination, Loki or He Who Shall Remain Nameless from Trek?

A.  Neither.  I’d watch out for that tribble that McCoy has been experimenting on, though.  That never ends well.  Will Star Trek 3 be about the tribble that ate Earth?  Only time will tell.

Totally not unreasonable video of the week

WednesdayVideoI’m on my way to the Nebula Awards, and I’m pretty nervous.  I have to mingle, right?  And that’s hard, because I don’t know anyone there except from reading their books!  And I’m all shy and awkward!

But hey, it’s cool.  Science Fiction authors are the best, right?  I mean come on – they’re not unreasonable!  Right?  RIGHT?

Review of 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson

cover of 2312

More from the Nebula Award Review series!  2312 is up for best novel, and I can see why – it’s amazing.  This is not a book to whiz through while you’re in a hurry, or tired, or bed-ridden with the flu.  2312 requires your full concentration, but it’s worth it.

As you may surmise from the title, 2312 is about the future, when the Earth has been severely impacted by global warming.  Humans continue to live on Earth, but they have also set up colonies in asteroids and on other planets.  When a city on Mercury is attacked, Swan, Wahram, and Inspector Genette have to figure out who was behind the attack.

This is a fascinating book, but it’s not focused on character or plot.  Really, it’s a travelogue and a catalog of ideas about what the future might look like.  It’s fascinating reading as it goes into great detail about how each planet and asteroid is terraformed or otherwise adapted, and how humans have changed as they’ve lived away from Earth.  Here’s an example of what the writing is like, taken from the first paragraph of the prologue:

The sun is always just about to rise.  Mercury rotates so slowly that you can walk fast enough over its rocky surface to stay ahead of the dawn; and so many people do.  Many have made this a way of life.  They walk roughly westward, staying always ahead of the stupendous day.  Some of them hurry from location to location, pausing to look in cracks they inoculated earlier with bioleaching metallophytes, quickly scraping free any accumulated residues of gold or tungsten or uranium.  But most of them are out there to catch glimpses of the sun.

The book suffers from having Swan as its main character.  She is over a century old and yet she seems trapped in some sort of permanent adolescence.  She was interesting, but you can only stay interested for so long in someone you have no reason to care about.  This is a book about ideas, not people.  That’s a hard sell for me, because I tend to focus on characters, but I couldn’t deny that the ideas were fascinating.  I’m glad I read it, but I have to admit that I’m ready for lighter stuff.

Review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin

Hundred Thousand Kingdoms CoverThe Nebula Review Series continues with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.  For such an amazing book, I don’t have much to say about it, except – WOW.

The Hundred is about a world in which Gods are trapped in mortal form and forced to serve humans, frequently in horrifying ways.  The leading group of humans, the Arameri, rule from their city of Sky.  The book is narrated by Yeine Darr, who is half Arameri, half Darre.  Yeine is ordered to Sky to be named as heir to the throne – news which comes a shock to her.  It quickly become evident that she is supposed to serve as a sacrificial pawn in a power struggle between Arameri elite, but Yeine has other plans.

Every thing about this book is remarkable but I’m not sure how to describe it.  I love the world building and how it expects the reader to be smart enough to figure out what’s going on without a lot of exposition.  I loved the relationships, whether tender, bizarre, or loaded with malice.  I loved Yeine’s struggle to assert some kind of personal power and autonomy over a situation that she knows she can’t survive.  I loved the racial diversity in the world – it’s not all about a group of blond people.  Yeine describes herself thusly:

I have Amn eyes:  faded green in color, more unnerving than pretty.  Otherwise I am short and flat and brown as forestwood, and my hair is a curled mess.  Because I find it unmanageable otherwise, I wear it short.  I am sometimes mistaken for a boy.

This book is full of text and subtext about the corruption and cruelty of colonialism, racial and class inequities, and slavery.  Above all, it’s about power, and how to be “empowered” without becoming vicious.  A question Yeine is constantly asked is whether or not she is a true Arameri, and although she is adamant that she is not a true Arameri, with the callous disregard for life and suffering that being Arameri implies, she is shocked at how far she will go to protect herself and her people.

This book is a must-read for fantasy fans.  For fans of fantasy romance, there is a love story.  In fact the whole book revolves around several love stories – Yeine’s mother left the Arameri to be with Yeine’s father, the Gods have all kinds of tortured love stories amongst themselves, and Yeine has a love story that is…different.  However, I would say this book is much more about questions of power and identity than about love – even though it’s made clear that love, in all its forms, is part of what forms identity.  I’m not entirely sure about everything that happens in this book, but I’m Team Yeine, all the way.

The Super Hero Librarian From Timbuktu – A True Story

Abdel Kader Haidara

Abdel Kader Haidara

This story from New Republic  is about a true library hero – sveral, in fact, although most of them have remained anonymous.  It seems that when the group Ansar Dine took over Timbuktu in 2012, they vandalized the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Studies and Islamic Learning.  When they fled, the mayor of Timbuktu reported that the militants had burned the collection of medival manuscripts.  He did not know if any of the manuscripts had survived.

Well, they did survive, thanks to Librarian Abdel Kader Haidara and hundreds of families who hid the books and couriers who risked their lives to smuggle the books out of the region.  Manuscripts were transported on bicycle and by boat, through checkpoints and under helicopters.  Haidara estimates that roughly 95% of the 300,000 manuscripts were saved.  They remain in Mali, but away from  the more politically turbulent areas.  Currently their greatest peril is deterioration from heat and moisture.  The group T160K is looking for volunteers and donations to protect and preserve the manuscripts.

In the legion of kick-ass hero librarians, Abdel Kader Haidara and his team stand supreme!