Book Review: Sci-Fi Chronicles, edited by Guy Haley

Welcome to what is possibly the shortest review ever posted on this blog – my review of sci-fi chronicles: a visual history of the galaxy’s greatest science fiction.

Here’s the review:

This book is really fun and a great reference guide, but if you share a bathroom with your husband and daughter don’t leave it in there because people will read it in the bathroom and forget to come out while you do the bathroom dance of “I need to pee but someone is in the bathroom reading that damn book again.”

To elaborate:

This book has an entry for most major science fiction works from 1818 (Frankenstein) to 2009 (Avatar). It includes a chart of spaceships (oooooooooh) and a vast chronology and a glossary of genre definitions. Something like Frankenstein  gets multiple pages, that include information about the original work and further adaptations.

I mean be honest, isn’t that just beautiful? Some works have a two-page spread of color photos, other have a single entry. The entries include books, movies, TV shows, and comics. It’s very well-organized and a lot of fun to browse through, which is why keeping it in the bathroom is both obvious and disastrous.

The entries are not neutral in tone. They are, essentially, a series of reviews, although they are all careful to note the legacies of the works. The real fun of the book is in how meticulously it shows the connections between works and the scope of science fiction. The index alone is a work of art. I highly recommend this book. Just be careful where you put it.

Book Review: Heaven’s Queen, by Rachel Bach

cover of Heaven's QueenHeaven’s Queen is the final book in the Paradox Trilogy by Rachel Bach.  I reviewed the first book, Fortune’s Pawn, in October 2013.  I loved the first book for, among other things, the competent, intelligent female heroine, Devi.  The first book consisted largely of the author ducking sexist trope after sexist trope – and to give her publisher credit, this started with the cover image (which you can see below).  The covers show a woman in what appears to be a space suit but is actually a reasonable portrayal of Devi’s mecha-like armor.  Devi has a beautiful face but there is nary a bare midriff or sassily cocked hip to be seen.  It’s wonderful.

The rest of Fortune’s Pawn follows the tone set by the covers.  Devi is business-like and very good at what she does (she’s a mercenary trying to work her way up in the world).  She is open to the idea of romance but it does not consume her every thought.  And much attention in the series is paid to her armor and how she uses it. The second book, Honor’s Knight, was fine, but it suffered the fate of many middle books,  It clearly serves to steer the story towards the third book.  It also insisted of action sequence after action sequence.  If futuristic action sequences are your thing, believe me , you’ll love that book.  If not, then, like me, you’ll enjoy it but mostly as a way to pass the time until we get to book three.

Which brings us to:  Heaven’s Queen!  In this final book, Devi has to sort out just tons of crap.  There are multiple homicidal aliens from parallel universes.  There are crazy homicidal little girls who can kill you with their brains.  There are crazy homicidal military guys.  Her boyfriend is perfectly sane except for rare occasion during which he tries to kill her.  Her ex shows up out of nowhere, claims he loves her, and sics the military on her.  Other than one night of great sex, her life  totally sucks and it seems inevitable that it won’t suck for much longer because she’s going to die.

Heaven’s Queen doesn’t succeed as well at avoiding sexists tropes as the first two books did, mostly because of the romance with Rupert.  Even when she’s wearing her armor, Devi is a lesser warrior than Rupert, a fact which is mentioned many times.  And he’s possessive and protective of her in a way that I found deeply irritating.  Meanwhile, the appearance of the ex comes completely out of left-field and seems to serve no function except to reinforce the idea that Devi is sexually and romantically compelling.

However, the book does most things right.  Time and time again, Devi finds some way out of certain doom.  She has common sense and she has physical needs – when she finally finds a safe place for a while, she sleeps for eighteen straight hours and then she has to pee.  Every time she is near a power source, she charges her armor and runs it through a cleaning and repair cycle – whether there will be time to finish the job or not.  She speaks directly and she works very hard to get direct answers in return.  And the day is saved by her, not Rupert, although he’s certainly a big help.

The book is madcap, gung-ho space adventure with real heart.  All the villains have motives and many of them have perfectly good arguments for why they should get their way.  This adds a lot of depth to the story, not to mention some great plot twists.  I recommend this series for anyone who likes space opera, futuristic action and adventure, and fantastic, complex heroines.

covers of Fortune's Pawn, honor's Knight, and Heaven's Queen

Book Review: Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, by Samuel R. Delany

cover of "Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand"I’ll be going to the Nebula Awards in May, and the grandmaster is the amazing, groundbreaking writer, Samuel R. Delany.  In an attempt to seem like an intelligent and well-read person, I sat down to read his most famous novel, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand.

Well.

I work on a schedule in which I need to read a complete book every three days on average.  To read Stars properly would take me three years.  It’s not because the language is terribly difficult.  It’s because the book is marvelously thematically dense.  This book explores multiple alien cultures and in doing so it explores race, gender, sexuality, slavery, knowledge and access to knowledge, culture, language, biology, politics, and economics.  There are people who have two tongues and who say different words with each tongue.  There’s a poet who uses “shift runes”.  These are letters which are pronounced differently depending on where they are placed in the text.  There’s a whole sequence about dragon hunting – when you “catch” the dragon you experience life as a dragon for a time.  There are worlds in which every expression of sexuality is permitted and worlds which are oppressive, and one world in which the only thing you aren’t legally allowed to do is have sex with someone much shorter than yourself.  There’s a lot going on here.

The plot is basically this:  There’s a world in which you can volunteer to have your anxieties removed.  You mellow right out, but you also become barely cognitively functioning and you become a slave.  It’s not a trick – when you volunteer, you’re told that you’ll become a slave – a basically mindless slave.  A character who is hereafter referred to as “Rat Korga” has this procedure done.  The first section of the book is a futuristic slave narrative in which various things happen to Rat Korga – none of which he understands.

Rat’s world is destroyed and he is the only survivor (it’s more complicated than that, but basically he’s the only one).   He is rescued by people from yet another world.  There are lots of worlds, and I’m using the word “people” to describe any sentient being.  Since Earth is never identified, from the readers’ point of view every character is an alien.  Anyway, a diplomat named Marq is told that Rat Korga, who has been all fixed up and who’s brain is more or less restored, is his “perfect erotic match”.  Will Rat and Marq be happy together?  It turns out that the answer to this has repercussions that affect an entire civilization, so…no pressure.

My advice is to give yourself a season of Stars and read no more than one chapter a week.  Read slow and read when you are awake – don’t try to read this when you have a huge deadline on your mind, or the flu, or a headache.  You’ll want to be able to really pay attention.  Some readers have said that they were captivated by the plot.  For me, this wasn’t the case.  I found the book very easy to put down. I found it difficult to connect to some of the characters and I found some of the passages to be repellent, especially during the first section of the book, when Rat is a slave.  What made me keep picking it up again was lines like this:

To say the name of your perfect erotic object is always to say it for the first time.

And I love this beautiful passage, in which Marq tries to explain his fascination with hands:

It’s a beautiful universe, Japril, wondrous and the more exciting because no one has written plays and poems and built sculptures to indicate the structure of desire I negotiate every day as I move about in it.  It’s a universe where hands and faces are all luminous all attractive, all open for infinite contemplation, not only the ones that are sexual and obsessive but the ones that are ordinary and even ugly, because they still belong to the categories where the possibility of the sexual lies.  It’s a universe where what is built, what is written, what has been made, makes hands hold the beauty they do; and what is thought, or felt, or wondered over is marvelous because somebody clutched their hands, or held them very still, or merely moved them slightly during the feeling or thinking of it.

Stars is a humbling experience and one I’ll have to revisit many times.  There’s so much to absorb and think about within its pages.  A lot of the story is about ambiguity, and I thought this quote by the author, Samuel R. Delany, was telling, so I’ll leave with this:

I was a young black man, light-skinned enough that four out of five people who met me, of whatever race, assumed I was white…I was a homosexual who now knew he could function heterosexually.

And I was a young writer whose early attempts had already gotten him a handful of prizes…

So, I thought, you are neither black nor white.

You are neither male nor female.

And you are that most ambiguous of citizens, the writer.

There was something at once very satisfying and very sad, placing myself at this pivotal suspension.  It seemed, in the park at dawn, a kind of revelation – a kind of center, formed of a play of ambiguities, from which I might move in any direction.

― Samuel R. DelanyThe Motion Of Light In Water: Sex And Science Fiction Writing In The East Village

 

 

This Just In: Sci-Fi and Fantasy Romance Titles in November

This just in (text next to pile of books)October may be over, but there are still a great many paranormal romances being released this month, plus some science fiction and fantasy romance.  This list is drawn from whatever publishers send to my inbox, so it’s not comprehensive.  If you know of a science fiction or fantasy romance novel that is being released in November, please let us know in the comments!

From Berkeley/NAL:

Kinked by Thea Harrison (paranormal)

Rumor Has it by Jill Shalvis (contemporary)

Because We Belong by Beth Kerry (contemporary, erotic)

Colters’ Gift by Maya Banks (contemporary, erotic)

Archangel’s Legion by Nalini Singh (fantasy)

Wild Darkness by Lauren Dane (paranormal)

Eternal Sin by Laura Wright (paranormal)

Gossamer Wing by Delphine Dryden (historical steampunk)

From Orbit:

Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach (science fiction)

From Carina Press:

Sing for the Dead, by PJ Schnyder (paranormal)

Redemption:  a Defiance Novel by Stephanie Tyler (post-apocalyptic)

Through the Black Veil by Steve Vera (urban fantasy, science fiction)

Self-Published or Publisher unknown:

Bound by Wish and Mistletoe by Kat Bastion (time travel)

Book Review: MaddAddam

cover of MaddAddamMaddAddam is the last book in the brilliant trilogy that includes Oryx and Crake and In the Year of the Flood.  I absolutely recommend it.  I give it many thumbs up.

MaddAddam has a helpful intro that sums up the events of the previous two books in the series.  I had read them, but forgotten almost all the details, so it was helpful to me.  I certainly recommend reading the previous two books, because they are amazing – but I think you can follow MaddAddam without having read them as long as you read “The Story So Far”.

This book concludes the story of a not very far in the future dystopia in which a bioengineered plague has destroyed most of humanity.  As with the other books, this one is dark, violent, gross, beautiful, touching, and has a deep core of optimism and warmth – much more than you’d expect from a story which, at various points in the series, has involved child abuse, rape, murder, mad science at its most disgusting, pollution, and the importance of eating whatever is in the freezer first, before the power goes out.  Of course a lot of this horrified me – it was meant to.  But at the end, I felt hopeful.  The series is demanding, but not nihilistic, despite having many nihilistic characters (particularly in the first two books – the characters in MaddAddam are pretty much focused on survival as a community and a species, not on wreaking havoc).

The other surprising thing about this particular piece of dystopia is that it’s funny.  The story of “Oh Fuck” for instance, is hilarious, as is the understatement of the century, “This is a major cultural misunderstanding.”  This humor helps make the poignancy of the story bearable – and it’s needed, as characters battle grief and confusion and loneliness in their own ways.  But they also make, or keep and strengthen, deep emotional connections to each other.

E.M. Foster said, “Only connect!”  The first book, Oryx and Crake, was about destruction.  The second book, In the Year of the Flood, was about survival.  This book is about connection, and that’s what makes it uplifting despite all the pain within it.

covers of Oryx and Crake and In the Year of the Flood

One last thing – Margaret Atwood claims that all the science stuff in the trilogy is either actually in place now or is theoretically possible.  As evidence, she has this site:  maddadam’s world.  It’s AMAZING.  so go check it out.

This Just In: Sci Fi and Fantasy Romance Titles in October

This just in (text next to pile of books)Welcome to a new feature:  “This Just In”.  Once a month I’ll be letting you know about some of the new science fiction and fantasy romance titles being released each month.  So – whassup in October?

Carina Press

Well for starters, Carina Press is listing so much new science fiction and fantasy romance as coming out in October that I’m just going to send you over to their page instead of typing out every title.  Carina Press is a reliable source for digital only genre romance reading.  Most books they publish are short (novella length or slightly longer).  The quality is uneven.  Some Carina books are clunkers, but several have earned ‘A’ grades from me.  If you are looking for “Romance with a capital R”, and you want it to be in a science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, or paranormal setting, this is the place to start looking!  Click here for the list of goodies:  carinapress.com

Tor Press

Tor is another publishing house that has tons of romance coming out this month:  This link takes you to a list of paranormal romances.  It seems that October is THE month for paranormal romance releases – gosh, I wonder why?

Everything else!

October 1:     Hero, by Alethea Kontis

October 29:  After Dead:  What Came Next in the World of Sookie Stackhouse, by Charlaine Harris

Happy Reading!

Gateway Drugs: The Science Fiction Edition

door opening onto poppiesIt’s time for Gateway Drugs – and this month we’re looking at science fiction.  The joy of science fiction is that it encompasses so many styles of writing.  In popular imagination, science fiction means Star Wars and Star Trek – stories with lasers, spaceships, and aliens, and a lot of action.  God knows, I cherish those things.  But there are all kinds of writing within the science fiction genres – mystery, romance, comedy, tragedy.  There’s space opera and there’s small-scale, character-driven, philosophical stories.  you name it, science fiction has it.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy

Let’s start with an anthology that has a little bit of everything.

The Latest Edition of The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Latest Edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy

Here’s what the author Connie Willis has to say about The Year’s Best:

My second big influence was The Year’s Best SF&F.  This was the 1950’s, when Judith Merrill, and Robert P. Mills, and Anthony Boucher were editors of this collection, which came out every year.  I’d read a Philip K. Dick story, and then a Theodore Sturgeon story, and then a Frederick Brown story, and then a Shirley Jackson story.  It was an amazing experience, not just because the stories were amazing, but because I saw this vast variety of things you could do.  You could have a highly experimental story, and then a rip-roaring adventure, and then a horror story, and then you’d have a sweet little romance – all in one book.  Had I just read novels, I don’t think I would have stuck with it.

One of the first stories I ever sold was a romantic comedy.  It was called “Capra Corn” – a terrible title.  I knew that within science fiction, I would write anything I wanted to.  I thought, I can write a sad story and then a really fun story, and nobody said a word.  I thought, I can do anything I want!  That’s why I had so much fun, and why I’ve stuck with the genre all this time.

R Is For Rocket, Ray Bradbury

r-is-for-rocket

I discovered science fiction when I asked my dad for something to read.  He showed me his collection of Ray Bradbury and Issac Asimov short stories.  Not only did those books get me to read science fiction, but according to a lot of rooms full of current sci-fi authors, those two guys got ALL of us to read science fiction, long before we knew what science fiction was.  In R is for Rocket,  you can read about spaceflight, and sea monsters, and time travel.  You can read about the emotional problems that come with leaving everything you know on Earth behind to colonize Mars.  You can read “The Sound of Summer Running”, which is about a boy who wants new tennis shoes, and isn’t science fiction at all.  I also recommend Bradbury’s S is for Space.

I, Robot, by Issac Asimov

I, Robot

This collection of stories includes a mystery, and a psychological mind game, and a cave-in on another planet.  So again – if you like action, it’s here, but the core of the stories is about how people work, and how robots might work someday, and how robots and people would interact.  The stories are funny, and touching, and scary, and sad, and heart-warming.  I don’t care how much you say you don’t like science fiction – if you don’t find at least some of these stories to be a least a little bit interesting, your soul is dead.  I’m not judging you – simply stating a fact.

But let’s say you want to read a novel.  OK, here’s a list:

If you enjoy love stories, try these:

A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis

Rivited, by Meljean Brook

The Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord

If you like spaceships and lasers, and politics on far-flung planets, try:

A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

Dune, by Frank Herbert

If you like to laugh:

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

If you like to think deep thoughts and be intellectually and emotionally challenged, try these:

The Sparrow, by Maria Doria Russell

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

Kindred, by Octavia Butler

OK, that should keep us all busy until next month!  What are your favorite science fiction books?

Book Review: The Long War, By Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

cover of The Long War

full cover (front and back)

The Long War is fascinating, but not engrossing.  The premise is an interesting one, but the story is so fragmented and slow-paced that it never seems to go anywhere.  From a cerebral standpoint, the book is a triumph.  From a story-telling standpoint, it tries to do so much that it doesn’t fully succeed with anything.

Here’s the premise of the series, as described in Chapter Three:

The Long Earth: suddenly, on Step Day, twenty-five years before, mankind had found itself with the ability to step sideways, simply to walk into an infinite corridor of planet Earths, one after the next and the next.  No spaceships required: each Earth was just a walk away.  And every Earth was like the original, more or less, save for a striking lack of humanity and all its works.  There was a world for everybody who wanted one, uncounted billions of worlds, if the leading theories were right.

Here are the central conflicts of The Long War:

1.  Trolls, beings who inhabit most of the Earths, are leaving those Earths that are settled by humans.  The trolls are frequently abused by humans and the question of what they are, in terms of their relationship to humanity, is controversial.

2.  Lobsang, an artificial intelligence, is manipulating many people who don’t want to be manipulated.  He has essentially brought Sister Agnes back from the dead so that she will keep him in line with her own strong personality.

3.  Back on Datum Earth, Yellowstone is behaving in a strange and ominous fashion.

4.  While Datum Earth is eager to solidify its control over the Long Earth communities, they are eager for more independence.

That’s a lot of plot for  a 420 page book, and as you can imagine, none of it really solidifies into a detailed story.  I do have a bias against books that jump from plot to plot, but I’m pretty sure even more flexible readers will find it frustrating that each plot line deserves its own book, and all of them get short shrift.  I love it that the authors try to figure out all the implications of stepping, but I think the book would have more emotional impact if it stuck to one or two implications and looked at them in closer detail.

Fans of Terry Pratchett should know that this book doesn’t have the zany quality of the Discworld books.  It does share a certain dry wit and the general worldview is similar.  Terry Pratchett loves protagonists with good common sense, and he has several in The Long War.  Readers should also know that although there are many characters, and most of them are enjoyable to spend time with, this isn’t a character-driven novel.  That’s not a criticism, just a fact.

The most emotionally involving storyline involves the fate of the trolls.  But the message of tolerance and acceptance is undercut by the fact that while many of the characters see the trolls and sentient individuals, the three characters who are most involved in reaching out to the trolls have no problem treating kobolds, who are clearly sentient individuals, with utter contempt.  And they don’t just show contempt for one kobold – they show contempt for the entire species.  I’m puzzled by this discrepancy.

Despite its flaws, I enjoyed The Long War.  I like the idea that the authors take a concept and really examine all the permutations of that concept.  But it wasn’t what I’d call a page-turner.  I cared about the characters, but mostly in a perfunctory way, because there wasn’t time to get to know them.  I never felt invested in what happened.  But I did enjoy watching two brilliant people throw ideas around on the page, and I am looking forward to the next book in the series.  So far, counting The Long War, there are two books in the series, and I recommend starting with the first one (The Long Earth).

cover of The Long Earth

The series begins with The Long Earth

Mini Review: Sky Riders, By Fae Sutherland

Cover of Sky RidersSky Riders is a science fiction/Western m/m/ romance novel.  It resembles the TV show Firefly in many respects – the mash-up of Western and Science Fiction genres, the theme of always being in morally gray territory and always being on the edge of both the law and financial solvency, and the theme of creating a family.  Sky Riders has a lot of action and dialogue, and I kept thinking that it would make a great web series.  The romance had parts that worked for me and parts that didn’t.  I didn’t like the macho stuff that the two protagonists go through in their relationship, but I did like the way they grew as a couple, and the fact that they accept each other for who they are.  By the end of the book, they recognize each other’s strengths, weakness, and flaws, and embrace them, which I found moving.  You can find my full-length review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Here’s the thing I found most refreshing about Sky Riders:  nobody cared about the genders or races or ethnicities of the two protagonists.  In this particular science fiction setting, there are all kinds of social, legal, and economic issues that affect the main couple, but racism and homophobia are not among them (at least, not based on the content of Sky Riders, which is the first book in a series).

June is Gay Pride Month, and it was a pleasure to celebrate it by picturing a world in which people’s relationships are judged by how well they treat each other and how much love they share as opposed to the appearance and function of their genitalia.  I also celebrate the science fiction stories that have used dystopian futures to illustrate the horrors of discrimination in all its forms.  Science Fiction presents us with thousands of possible futures and says, “You have the power to pick one of these for your own (or for your descendants).  You can have a world in which there is more love or you can have a world in which there is more fear.  Which do you choose?”

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!

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?

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: Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed

Welcome to the first of my Nebula Review Series.   I’ll be attending the Nebula Awards in May, and am reading the books that have been nominated for best novel in preparation.  This year has a nice mix of science fiction and fantasy and male and female authors, and a surprisingly high romance content in the books, which I just love, of course.

Throne of the Crescent Moon is a fantasy novel beloved by everybody.  It’s been nominated for both a Nebula Award and a Hugo Award and is getting great reviews everywhere, and I can see why.  It’s a story with a vibrant fascinating setting and interesting characters.  However, I was frustrated by the pacing, which is oddly slow considering the plot elements.

Throne revolves around Adoulla, an aging ghul hunter who is feeling his years, and his assistant Raseed, a young man who is beginning to question the black and white morality of his Dervish training.  Adoulla and Raseed partner with a shape-shifting woman who seeks to avenge her tribe, and a magician and his wife, in an effort to defeat a sinister and darkly magical foe.  Along the way they become caught up in the political maneuverings of the Falcon Prince, who is trying to overthrow the corrupt and cruel Khalif of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms.

There are so many things to love about this book.  For starters there’s the setting.  It is a gorgeously rendered world straight out of The Arabian Nights.  The city of Dhamsawaat is huge, chaotic, and marvelously rendered – in the sense that it’s described with great technical skill, and in the sense that it’s full of marvels.  The smells and sounds and tastes and traffic jams and gardens all seem so exotic and so real at the same time.  You can see why some of the characters love it passionately and other find it exhausting.

Speaking of characters, they are the real high point of the book.  All of them go through profound and believable changes.  All of them are struggling with different life stages.  I loved that some characters were dealing with the realities of aging while other were dealing with the realities of young adulthood. Every character was a person, not a type.  They are funny, they are annoying, and they are moving.  Although it’s not a romance, there is a lot of romance going on, and I liked it that the love stories that involved older people were just as compelling, if not more so, than that between the cute twenty-somethings.

I did get very impatient with the pacing.  Maybe I was just having a weird week when I read this, or maybe I’ve been damaged by reading too many science fiction novellas in which people meet, have sex, save the world, have sex again, and declare eternal love for one another, usually in that order, in about 30,000 words.  But I have to say that considering the massive amount of carnage contained in these pages, there sure is a lot of chitchat in between battles.  Rasheed and Zamia are constantly saying things to the effect of, “The heck with all this research, let’s go kill something!” and eventually I started to agree with them.  I found this book easy to put down, even when I was only a few chapters from the end.  

Throne is the first book in a planned trilogy, and probably that’s why so much of it felt like set-up.  It ended well, on an emotionally satisfying note, with plenty to write about in the future but a resolved enough conclusion to enjoy as a stand-alone.  I certainly recommend it to fantasy fans, but be prepared for a startling amount of both gore and conversation.

Mini Review: Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet is Book Two of the Lunar Chronicles Series.  This series, while not strictly a romance series, is a high-quality romance-friendly crossover, and its inventive steampunk/science fiction twists on fairy tales make it a must-read for genre fans.  I enjoyed the world-building and the twists on fairy tales.  I do recommend that readers read the first book, Cinder, before reading Scarlet.  Cinder is the book that sets events in motion, and frankly, I think is a stronger book overall, although both books are compelling.  For a full length review of Scarlet, check me out at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Donate Blood: Save a Life on Your Lunch Hour

Real heroes donate blood – not just when disasters strike, but every eight weeks, health permitting.  My thanks go out to Bloodsource, which has centers with fairly reasonable hours all over the country and sends me a reminder call when I’m eligible to donate again.  My heart is in the right place, both literally and metaphorically, but without that call I’m sure I’d never remember to go out there and get the job done.

Whenever there’s a disaster, whether human-made or natural, a lot of people rush to donate.  According to the Red Cross, Boston has plenty of donated blood right now, so if you are in that area, consider waiting a couple of weeks and then donating to replenish their supply.  According to my bank here in Sacramento, they immediately shipped blood to Boston when the explosions happened, so they are low and want me to come in this week.  I’d suggest you check with your local center to see if they need donations this week or if they’d rather have you come in towards the end of the month.  Most importantly, if your help permits, make this a regular part of your schedule.  Our hospitals need blood supplies all the time, not just in moments of national crisis.

Science fiction has conclusively shown that donating blood is heroic, but characters sure go about it in some odd ways.  Here’s three shout outs to blood transfusions in sci-fi:

Most bizarre technology:  Thanks to a tip from Sun, Jack performs a blood transfusion on Boone using a sea urchin spike for a needle in Lost:  “Do No Harm”.  Sun, you are a total badass for coming up with a way to perform an intravenous procedure using sea life, but don’t try this at home.

Most unbelievable cure for vampirism:  A veterinarian performs a complete blood transfusion (two, actually), in his garage, in Near Dark.  Long before she was collecting Oscars, Kathryn Bigelow made this movie about vampires who are truly scary.  It’s a great movie overall, but its finest moment is most certainly NOT a bleary Adrian Pasdar drawling, “Daddy, y’ever transfuse a person?”  Look at these far more interesting characters from the same movie – they can’t believe it either:

cast of Near Dark

Seriously?

Most touching blood donation:  Wash donates blood to Mal in Firefly:  “Out of Gas”.  Mal:  “Y’all gonna be here when I wake up?”  Yep, we’ll be here long after Fox tries to take away our Jayne hats.

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