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?