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Review: Times Three [★★★★★]

Times Three

Times Three
by Robert Silverberg

My rating: ★★★★★
Read From: 23 February 2015 - 28 February 2015
Goal: Specific Authors

Time travel stories are my favorite sub-genre of science fiction. I've always loved the idea of visiting other times. I'd like to experience history directly. I'd love to sit in the audience for the first performance of Handel's Messiah or one of Beethoven's symphonies. I'd love to experience Teddy Roosevelt's charisma for myself. What was imperial Rome like, at the height of its power?

I'd also like to experience the planet as it existed in the past. I'd love to see what it would be like to walk through the forests that used to sit where Buffalo now stands. What would it be like to hear Niagara Falls from a distance and walk up to it through the trees? What did the Great American Plains really look like, during the pioneer days?

In this collection, Robert Silverberg provides three time travel stories that touch on these elements. I've read a lot of time travel stories and these three are all worthy of a place in my personal top ten list.

Hawksbill Station

Hawksbill Station is the perfect prison for political dissidents. Instead of spending money to guard them or courting political dissent by executing them, just exile them to the past instead. In this case, the late Cambrian era. The only form of life is trilobites; everything else is rock and water. There are no trees, no grasses, no ferns, no birds, no fish, no mammals, nothing. There's nowhere for the prisoners to escape to and no way they can interfere with history, to change the world of their past.

When I first read this story, I fell in love with Silverberg's description of the bleakness of the late Cambrian era. It's haunting, in the best possible way, and makes me excited about that part of the Milwaukee Public Museum's pre-history exhibit in a way that probably mystifies everyone else.

But the setting is almost the least important part of this story. "Hawksbill Station" is really a character study of Jimmy Barrett, the King of Hawksbill Station. He was a reluctant revolutionary long before he was a political prisoner. Silverberg invites us into his life, both at the beginning and end. It's a moving story where the time travel, as fascinating as it is, is the least important part of the story.

Up the Line

This is a more comic story. Judson Daniel Elliot III is a bored young man, who allows himself to be talked into a job as a Time Courier, a tour guide of the past, because of his love for historic Byzantium. A job as a Time Courier gives him the opportunity to criss-cross Byzantium's history, seeing all of the great events, people, and places.

Don't picture the Time Couriers as lantern jawed heroes, in love with the past and devoted to their duty. You should picture them more like a group of clock punchers, more dedicated to having fun on the job than to the job itself. And, well, with all of history to play around in, hijinks will ensue. Things will go wrong, and the police (the Time Police) may get called.

As is typical with Silverberg, the story revolves more around the characters than around the gizmos. It's a human story, but also a bit of a farce as we get to witness how human nature mixed with time travel can be a recipe for trouble.

Project Pendulum

Two identical twins: Eric and Sean Gabrielson are the subjects of the very first human experiment in time travel. They'll start their journeys through time together, from the same platform. They'll both move through time, like a pendulum that's gradually increasing its swing. First Eric will move five minutes back while Sean moves 5 minutes forward. Then Eric will move 50 minutes forward (from the fixed reference point), while Sean moves 50 minutes backwards. They'll continue alternating swings through time, each swing taking them an order of magnitude further into the past and future.

That's the hook. Silverberg uses it to paint one vignette after another of both humanity's past and humanity's future. With the twins, we see an inauguration parade for President Harding, have an encounter with neanderthals, and get to experience the majestic grandeur of California's redwood forests, centuries before they were overrun by development and tourism.

This is another story, like "Hawksbill Station", that I'll love just for its beautiful descriptions of lost worlds. I'll never be able to see them in person, but Silverberg has a genius for helping me to see them in my imagination.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Lock In [★★☆☆☆]

Lock In

Lock In
by John Scalzi

My rating: ★★☆☆☆
Read From: 20 February 2015 - 23 February 2015
Goal: Awards

Warning: This review contains spoilers. If you don't want to be spoiled, don't read it.

Haden's Syndrome is a flu-like virus with a nasty side effect: one percent of its victims experience "lock in". They're fully awake and aware but they're completely cut off from control of their own bodies. They can no longer speak or move. It is, essentially, a conscious coma.

A whole panoply of technologies were created in reaction to the disease. The locked in are able to interact with the physical world through the use of cybernetic bodies called "threeps". (In homage to C-3PO.) They're also able to control the bodies of volunteer Integrators, through neural links.

Lock In is the story of FBI agent Chris Shane's first week on the job. It's a nasty first week, as his first case involves the murders of multiple "Hadens" and the suicides of multiple Integrators. As he investigates, he begins to see a common thread weaving everything together.

That grand tapestry is what ruined the book for me. (This is where I spoil the mystery.) The criminal mastermind is that most likely, most stereotypical, of suspects: the corporate billionaire. One man, seeing harsh times ahead as his government subsidies come to an end, decides to keep the profits flowing by any means necessary.

The billionaire's plan involves committing multiple murders, blowing up a competitor's research facility, manipulating stock prices to crash multiple competitors, and then buying everyone up to create a near-monopoly. Because, greed. Everyone knows the rich are greedy and will doing anything to keep the wealth coming. Murder and stock market manipulation are common tools of the wealthy elite. One frequently sees it in the news headlines.

I like the set up Scalzi created for this novel. I though Haden's Syndrome was creative and the various tech created to help the Hadens offered a lot of storytelling potential. But Scalzi decided to waste all of that on a murder mystery with an unintelligent plot.

This is a plot that I expect from the worst of the mass-market action thrillers. This story is science fiction only in that the hero has a robo-body and the villain controls people through neural links rather than blackmail. Without those elements, it's just another by the numbers murder thriller. Boring.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Asimov’s, September 2014 [★★★☆☆]

Asimov's Science Fiction - September, 2014

Asimov’s, September 2014
by Sheila Williams

My rating: ★★★☆☆
Read From: 22 August 2014 - 26 August 2014
Goal: Flotsam & Jetsam


Place of Worship by Tochi Onyebuchi—Lit fiction. I couldn't even read it; I had to just skim it. It seemed to wander around aimlessly. It was less of a story and more of a meandering reflection. Parts happened in space—that was about the only thing in it that could be loosely considered to be SF.

A Lullaby in Glass by Amanda Forrest—New writer takes us to a future Vietnam. A young man struggles to figure out what caused a recent production failure, to protect his family. I feel like I should have felt more than I did, reading this story. But I didn't.

Bogdavi’s Dream by Tom Purdom—This novella is the concluding piece of a much longer story that Purdom's been writing about interspecies war in the distant future. Groups of humans and aliens will have to join together to fight other groups of humans and aliens, to protect the dream of peaceful coexistence. Before reading this, I hunted down some of Purdom's previous stories. I enjoyed them. This feels more like the mid-50's SF that I read growing up.

Short Stories

Patterns by James Gunn—A secret lurks inside of the most hidden of patterns. Of course, to talk about the secret is to trigger another pattern: denial, denunciation, and ridicule followed by dismissal and irrelevance. But the secret is still there, still lurking, still waiting. This was extremely short, but I really like it.

Everyone Will Want One by Kelly Sandoval—What is it about this new toy and why will every teen want one? It just might hold the key to gaining social status in the most elite of cliques. Isn't that reason enough? This was another really good story. It's something that's plausible and that I could imagine being reality in another decade or two.

Scouting Report by Rick Wilber—A baseball scout spends a few days watching Cuban teams, checking out some new prospects. He also reflects on the aftermath of an alien crash that occured 10 years ago. I wanted to like this story more than I did. The infodumping was heavy handed and I feel like the main character is a real dunce for not seeing what was obvious to me just one-third of the way into the story.

Windows by Susan Palwick—This story showcases the harsher side of life. A mother travels to a far-away prison to pay a visit for her son's birthday and to share birthday greetings from his sister, onboard a generational space ship. She arrives at the prison only to learn that the generational ship just exploded, but hides that news from her son in order to create a happier birthday for him. It's another story, in this issue, that I didn't really feel was SF at all. The only sci-fi element in the story was that it mentioned a generational ship. I think a story needs more than that to qualify as SF.


Reflections: Flashing Before My Eyes by Robert Silverberg—Every career has to start somewhere and this is Silverberg's story of how he started his. Silverberg reflects on the SF magazines that he admired as a teen and his struggles to get his own stories into these magazines, next to the writers that he so admired.

Thought Experiment: Tomorrow Through the Past by Allen M. Steele—This is a speech that Steele gave at the Philcon Science Fiction Convention, in 2013. He looks back at the history of the SF field and how the genre has reinvented itself over the years. He laments the current clichés: alien invasions, space battles, dystopias, and guys in body armor shooting at each other with big guns. He argues that SF has become paranoid and militaristic and needs to regain a sense of optimism, to tell stories with positive outcomes instead of just stories with negative outcomes. He argues that the genre needs to be more about stories set in the future, rather than just stories about the future. It's a thought provoking speech and I hope some of the authors and editors in the field are inspired by it.

My Take

I liked Steele's speech. I liked three of the seven stories in this issue. Asimov's continues to be something that I subscribe to and read but not something that I eagerly wait for each month.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Asimov’s, August 2014 [★★★☆☆]

Asimov's, August 2014

Asimov’s, August 2014
by Sheila Williams

My rating: ★★★☆☆
Read From: 18 August 2014 - 21 August 2014
Goal: Flotsam & Jetsam


Of All Possible Worlds by Jay O'Connell—The Old Man lives downstairs, in the first floor apartment. He's busy editing Earth's history to save us from imminent doom from nuclear bombs and asteroid impacts. He's ensuring that our timeline truly is the best of all possible worlds.


Placebo by Nick Wolven—A medical mechanic working in a home for sick children, does what he can to bring joy into the children's lives. Even if that means putting up with a pet. Life is full of unsung heroes, but it may be a while before we forget about the protagonist of the story.

Writer’s Block by Nancy Kress—An off the beaten track novelette about a dreaded authorial problem. The protagonist tries different paths, through many a dark and stormy night, to get past his block. He finally succeeds.

Mountain Screamers by Doug C. Souza—This is Souza's first sold story. A teenager and his grandmother capture several mountain cats. They're destined for a planet that humanity will use as one massive wildlife preserve. Along the way, the teenager strengthens his bond with his grandmother and learns more about her lifelong commitment to wildlife. This story had warmth and personality. It didn't blow me away, but I'm willing to read more of Souza's work.

Short Stories

Wet Fur by Jeremiah Tolbert— This short story depics the unquestioning loyalty of humanity's best friend. Unfortunately, I didn't care for it. Tolbert told the tale entirely as a first person report, to a second person, of that second person's conversation. I thought the resulting pronoun usage was confusing—needlessly so.

The Low Hum of Her by Sarah Pinsker—This short tries to remind us of family, grief, and love. Mostly, it reminded me of how much I don't like steampunk / gollem type stories. That element just ruined the whole thing for me.


Reflections: Longevity by Robert Silverberg—Silverberg reflects on the many SF authors who have had long, productive lives. There sure are a lot of them. This was mildly interesting, but seemed like filler in that it was mostly a listing of people and ages.

My Take

I thought that "Of All Possible Worlds" was a strong story. I enjoyed the whimsy of "Writer's Block". The rest of the stories were okay, but I don't feel like I would have missed out if I hadn't read them.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Days of Fire [★★★★☆]

Days of Fire_ Bush and Cheney in the White House

Days of Fire
by Peter Baker

My rating: ★★★★☆
Read From: 28 August 2014 - 18 September 2014
Goal: Non-Fiction

Peter Baker wrote a surprisingly even handed account of the Bush presidency. I say "surprisingly" because I was familiar with the antagonism between the New York Times and the Bush White House. I wasn't sure what to expect from a book written by a Times reporter. What I got was a well researched, balanced look at how Bush ran the White House and how decisions were made.

Baker starts the book with a back-and-forth look at Bush's and Cheney's early careers. He covers their respective college years, then moves on to their political years. He covers Cheney's years in Congress and in the Ford White House. He covers Bush's political efforts on behalf of his father, his time with the Rangers baseball team, and his time in the Texas governor's office. He focuses the majority of the book, of course, on their partnership while running for office and while in office.

The book wasn't just about the politics of the White House. Baker relates some of the interactions between Bush and his staff. Bush, like most Presidents, had many ways to torment his staff. Visits to the ranch at Crawford provided unique opportunities.

[H]e loved clearing brush, of which there seemed to be endless supplies.

Aides would be recruited to join the brush clearing and judged on their prowess and endurance in the sweltering heat. Stephen Hadley, the new national security adviser, was teased for showing up in tasseled loafers. (In fact, they were leather shoes with laces, but the loafers legend stuck.) “There was like a hierarchy that was completely different from any other hierarchy,” said Steve Atkiss, the president’s trip director who traveled regularly with him. “When you start, your job is basically, after someone cuts down a tree, to drag it out of there and put it wherever it is going to go. Then, if you really did good at that, the next level up was you could be in charge of making a pile of all the things that had been dragged over so that it burned well when you lit it on fire. If you were really good at that, you might be able to, one day, get to use a chain saw.”

I wasn't really surprised to learn that Bush liked to be thought of as a slow-witted dunce. He felt that it was an advantage to have his opponents continually underestimating him. I was surprised to learn that Cheney had a reputation as a moderate early in his career. People took his quiet, low-key personality to mean that he was far less conservative than he actually was. This benefitted him, as he started out.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the book was that Bush really was the Decider in the White House. Everyone interviewed for the book, and Baker interviewed many people, agreed that Bush was definitely in charge. Cheney had opinions and Bush knew what they were. But Cheney rarely spoke up in meetings and didn't dominate the conversations around the White House. Instead, it was very clear that Bush was in charge of each meeting and ultimately made each decision.

Early in his presidency, Bush agreed with Cheney on a great many things. The most obvious area was how to respond to 9/11 and what to do about Iraq. But they were also in agreement on domestic policy, such as tax cuts. Bush allowed Cheney to be the point person, in areas where they agreed. Cheney would work quietly, through his massive network of government contacts and loyalists. He was very effective at getting done what Bush wanted done.

Bush definitely made his share of mistakes and had character flaws. One of them, in my opinion, is that he deferred too much to trusted subordinates. Everyone needs to delegate, but I think Bush took it to an unhealthy level. One example is the de-Baathification of Iraq.

Saddam Hussein was the head of Iraq's Baath party. Some of the Baath party members were true believers, dedicated to Hussein and his methods. Most party members were not. They were only members of the party out of necessity, to hold a job and survive in a brutal environment.

Before the invasion of Iraq, Bush and his advisors debated what to do about the Baath party. Some favored disbanding it entirely and firing all of its members. Others favored a selective purge, of just the true believers. Eventually, Bush decided on a selective purge, reasoning that it would be too risky to dump many well trained and well armed people on to the streets.

After the invasion, Bush appointed Paul Bremer as his personal representative in Iraq. After getting to Iraq, Bremer decided to go ahead with a full purge of the Baath party. He fired everyone and put them all on the streets. Many of these people ended up forming the core of the Iraqi insurgency. Many experts believe that the de-Baathification of Iraq led to the insurgency and made it as bad as it was.

Bush had made the decision to only partially purge the Baath party. Bremer knew of this decision and decided to go ahead with a full purge anyway. Instead of overruling his deputy, Bush let his decision stand.

Bush was loyal enough to subordinates to trust their judgment ahead of his, once he'd delegated an area of responsibility to them. The de-Baathification of Iraq was just one example. There were others, throughout the book. I think this represented a real flaw in his leadership, as he failed to fully take ownership of decisions and enforce his own decisions.

While it often appeared that the Bush White House was lawless, doing whatever it wanted to in the name of national security, that wasn't quite true. Baker tells of one renewal of the NSA's wiretapping program, when the Justice Department objected to the terms of the renewal.

John Yoo was now gone, and a new crop of lawyers had arrived at the Justice Department, only to be shocked at what they found. Jack Goldsmith, a conservative law professor who had taken over as head of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, thought some of the opinions he had inherited were poorly reasoned and unsustainable.

As a result, he refused to agree to the reauthorization of the program. A majority of the Justice Department's top leadership agreed with him and backed him up. Ultimately, the FBI did too.

The President was determined to renew the program, whether or not the Justice Department agreed. When he tried, however, a dozen administration officials threatened to resign, including Goldsmith himself and FBI director Mueller. Bush was forced to rescind his reauthorization and modify the program to comply with Justice Department and FBI requirements.

These kinds of conflicts—between Cheney and those representing the rule of law—continued to escalated. Increasingly, Bush began to side with everyone else. Baker demonstrates that Cheney and Rice represented the two sides to President Bush. Cheney represented Bush's impulse to protect America at any cost, going it alone if necessary. Rice represented Bush's impulse to work within the law, to build Congressional support for his policies, to work with other foreign leaders, to cooperate, and to build a reputation as an international leader rather than an international cowboy.

During the first term, Bush agreed with Cheney more often than Rice. But as the first term drew to a close, Rice started winning more of the policy arguments. When Rice moved to the State Department, at the beginning of Bush's second term, it was a clear signal that Bush was siding more with Rice and wanted her to have the clout necessary to carry out his desires. As the second term continued, Rice won almost all of the policy battles and Bush and Cheney grew increasingly estranged.

Ultimately, it become clear to me that Bush was who he claimed to be during the 2000 Presidential campaign. He was a moderate conservative, interested in domestic achievements that reached across the aisle and in building consensus among foreign governments. The 9/11 attacks shocked him, threw him off balance, and pushed him to respond in drastic ways.

Bush began correcting course at the end of the first term and became increasingly moderate throughout his second term. Ultimately, the dictatorial White House that the press loved to demonize didn't truly exist. The aspects of it that did exist were a reflection of Cheney's policies and Bush's agreement with those policies in the months after 9/11.

As Cheney and Bush grew apart, that image of the White House became less and less accurate. Bush was his own man, fully in charge, and capable of growing in office. But he was consistently identified with his Vice President and the public's image of him reflected the Vice President's policies and not his own policies. I think history will remember him far more kindly than people do today.

This is how Baker sums that up, at the end of the book.

And yet to blame or credit Cheney for the president’s decisions is to underestimate Bush. “Bush had a little bit of Eisenhower in him,” said Wayne Berman, “in that he didn’t mind if people thought that he was the sort of guy who was easily manipulated because it also meant that his opponents underestimated him and the people around him thought they were having more influence than they really were. And he used that always to his advantage.” While Cheney clearly influenced him in the early years, none of scores of aides, friends, and relatives interviewed after the White House years recalled Bush ever asserting that the vice president talked him into doing something he otherwise would not have done.

Bush, in the end, was the Decider. His successes and his failures through all the days of fire were his own. “He’s his own man,” said Joe O’Neill, his lifelong friend. “He’s got the mistakes to prove it, as we always say. He was his own man.”

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Parasite [★★★★☆]


by Mira Grant

My rating: ★★★★☆
Read From: 20 June 2014 - 22 June 2014
Goal: Awards

This is the second 2014 Hugo nominee that I'm reading, before voting.

About three months ago, I listened to an EconTalk podcast episode about autoimmune disease and parasites. Russ Roberts, the host, interviewed Moises Velasquez-Manoff about his book, An Epidemic of Absence.

Roberts and Velasquez-Manoff discussed why allergies and autoimmune diseases have been increasing over the last 50 years. Epidemiologists have recently theorized that these diseases are increasing because of an overly hygienic environment that's causing a decrease in various microbes and parasites. Some people have theorized that we could actually make people healthier by reintroducing parasites into our bodies and several groups are running FDA trials to test that theory.

This is a theory that I've read about a handful of times in the past 2 years. I was ecstatic when I discovered, a few pages into Parasite, that it was about exactly this idea. The story takes place in the near-future.

In 2016, SymboGen gained FDA approval to sell a genetically engineered parasite—based on a tapeworm—called the Intestinal Bodyguard™. Patients ingested the parasites in pill form. From there, they grew in the intestines and cured asthma, allergies, and diabetes. They also secrete natural birth control and prescription medications on a regular basis, freeing patients from the tedium of managing schedules for different drugs. They became the miracle drug that humanity had been looking for.

Our narrator, Sally Mitchell, had an implanted Intestinal Bodyguard™ when she suffered a seizure while driving and crashed head-on into a bus. Ten days later, her doctors declared her brain dead and tried to persuade her family to let her body die. Then she woke up. Her memory was completely gone but, somehow, she'd lived through the brain death that should have been fatal.

The story proper begins 6 years later, in 2027. SymboGen has been paying for her medical care for the past 6 years, investigating how her parasite saved her life. Sally (now preferring to be called "Sal") has built a new life and just wants to be free of SymboGen, psychologists, and the constant medical examinations. That's when the "sleeping sickness" starts, quickly growing into an epidemic. It appears to be linked to the Intestinal Bodyguards™ and as the world's most famous survivor, Sal is right in the middle of the chaos.

Mira Grant's story captivated me. I read well-nigh the entire thing in less than 24 hours. I could not put it down or—once put down—resist taking it up and devouring it in large chunks. The pacing and tension were superb, effortlessly driving the story forward.

Best of all, this story was true speculative fiction. Mira Grant took an on-going scientific debate, ran it on fast-forward a few years, and then wrote a compelling story about one possible implication of pursuing the science. It's been a while since I've read speculative fiction and I hadn't realized how much I'd missed the excitement of thinking through the implications of scientific discoveries.

Mira Grant's story isn't perfect. The biggest flaw is that too many of the characters are one-dimensional. Sally Mitchell, our narrator, is fully realized. Her motivations and conflicts are believable and understandable. Unfortunately, few of the people around her are similarly well fleshed out.

Dr. Steven Banks, one of the putative villains, is mostly a caricature of the evil profit-grubbing scientist. Sally's parents and sister are insubstantial. Her boyfriend is too, although to a lesser degree. Some of this is understandable, as Sally is the narrator and has all of six years of life experience. It's understandable that she would feel distant from her family and wouldn't know them intimately. Given her expressed desire to learn though, the story's lack of strong secondary characters is a weakness.

Don't let that weakness dissuade you from reading Parasite. It's an intriguing scientific idea, woven into a thriller of a horror story. It's easy to see why it was nominated for a Hugo award.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Ancillary Justice [★★★☆☆]

Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice
by Ann Leckie

My rating: ★★★☆☆
Read From: 15 June 2014 - 20 June 2014
Goal: Awards

This is the first of the books that I'm reading before voting for the Hugo awards. I'm ambivalent about this book. I don't hate it but I don't love it either. It has an interesting premise, but it never emotionally grabbed me.

The central character, the narrator, is Justice of Toren, the AI for a ship, a giant troop carrier. She is the ship. She also operates hundreds of human bodies, as her ancillaries. The ancillaries are the bodies of criminals and rebels, now transformed through implants into extensions of the Justice of Toren. (Punishing someone by making her an ancillary is equivalent to punishment by execution.)

Ann Leckie gives the reader a good idea of what it would be like to be an individual that's capable of being in multiple places at once, doing many different things. It's interesting to think about what it would be like to be able to multitask to that degree and to handle multiple different situations and tasks simultaneously. We get to experience that often, throughout the book.

Ancillary Justice also raises the question of what it means to be of two minds about something. We often talk of being internally conflicted, of disagreeing with ourselves, or of being at war with ourself. Would that look any different if you had multiple bodies? What kind of effect would that have on the world around you?

Finally, the book plays around with gender. The Justice of Toren has been operational for thousands of years. She's seen many different cultures—and many different versions of the same culture—over the years. Gender markers are constantly changing: long hair or short, make-up or not, style of clothing, type of clothing, behaviors. As a result, she can never tell which gender an individual is and defaults to using the feminine pronoun for everyone unless forced to do otherwise.

Every character in the book is referred to as "she" or "her", regardless of actual gender. I finished the novel and I still don't know the gender of some of the characters. Even when I could figure it out, the constant repetition of the feminine pronoun made it hard to remember. It played with your head, in the best possible way.

This was a book with a lot of good ideas. On paper, I should love it. But I didn't and I never felt like I just couldn't wait to get back to it. I was disappointed by that.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Skin Game [★★★★☆]

Skin Game cover

Skin Game
by Jim Butcher

My rating: ★★★★☆
Read From: 7 June 2014 -10 June 2014
Goal: Awards

Quite often, Jim Butcher uses a Dresden Files novel to either introduce a specific type of supernatural character or tell a specific type of story. In Skin Game, Butcher tells a heist story.

Harry Dresden's spent the last year living on his magical island, Demonreach. He's been forced to stay there because of the magical parasite in his brain. It's been giving him incapacitating headaches and will soon kill him, as it continues to grow. Demonreach's caretaker has been suppressing the parasite. But that's only a partial solution and it looks like Dresden has only a few days left before the parasite finally rips free, killing him.

That's when Mab, the Winter Queen, shows up offering Dresden a deal. She'll help him deal with the parasite. But first she's going to use him (as the Winter Knight) to pay off a favor that she owes Anduriel, the Fallen angel possessing Nicodemus Archleone. Dresden has to help Nick, one of his worst enemies, rob the vault of Hades, Lord of the Underworld.

Mab will kill Harry if he doesn't follow her orders and help Nicodemus. Nick will try to kill Harry as soon as he doesn't have a use for him any more. And Hades will kill them all, if he discovers their plan to rob him. Whichever way you look at it, Harry's going to have a hard time saving his skin and living with himself afterwards.

If you're already a fan of the Dresden Files, you should definitely read Skin Game. Butcher's added another solid story to the series. The humor and one-liners are there. So is Dresden's self-doubt and fear of turning into a monster. Dresden's reactions and fears are very realistic, especially his feelings regarding the safety of his friends and family.

Best of all, Butcher succeeds at making his world feel real. This story is impacted by most of the previous stories in the series. Dresden's decisions continue to have rippling consequences and previously minor characters return to become focal characters. Everything is built on what came before it, in a way that feels natural and inevitable.

You could read this novel as a standalone story but it is very much richer when read in the context of the entire series. Butcher does a great job of rewarding his fans for being fans and for being invested in the series.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: My Real Children [★★★★★]

My Real Children cover

My Real Children
by Jo Walton

My rating: ★★★★★
Read From: 26 May 2014 – 2 June 2014
Goal: Awards

Patricia is 88 or 89 years old. She's living in a nursing home. Her nurses make daily notations on her chart: confused, less confused, very confused.

She gets most confused when she thinks about her children: does she have four or three? Did she have five stillbirths or none? When Cathy comes to visit, she knows Cathy is one of her four children. But when Philip comes to visit, she knows Philip is one of her three children.

Her memories of the last 60 years are all doubled. There are the memories of the life where she married Mark, had four children, President Kennedy was assassinated, and the moon has a research base. Then there are the memories of the life when she didn't marry Mark, had three children, President Kennedy was involved in a nuclear missle exchange, and the moon has an armed military base.

Her memories of her early life aren't doubled. She clearly remembers growing up in Twickenham and attending Oxford. She'd made one crucial choice. One day, in a little phone box in a corridor in The Pines, and Mark had said that she would have to marry him, now or never.

Patricia's current, confused, state forms the framing story for the novel. My Real Children starts and ends at the conclusion of Patricia's life. For the rest, Jo Walton transports us back in time to 1933, when Patsy Cowan was 7 years old. She then moves us through her life to the fateful moment in 1949 when Mark Anston demanded that Patricia marry him "now or never".

From that point on, the story alternates between the life in which Patricia said "yes" to Mark and the life in which she said "no" to him. One chapter will take us through a short period of Tricia's life and the next will take us through the corresponding period in Pat's life. Alternating back and forth, through the years, we saw how her decision rippled through her life, creating two very different people.

Realistically, I'm not convinced that this book qualifies as science fiction. There's the fact that the story covers two alternate views of one life and that Patricia can remember both sets of personal histories. And there's the fact that both sets of histories contain a moon base. But that's it. There's nothing in there that's beyond current science and technology. There are no machines or gadgets that created Patricia's two lives or allow her to step between them. It is, quite simply, a story about one person and the two possible paths that her life could have taken.

I enjoyed this book very much. We often talk about how decisions, such as marriage, can change the course of a person's life. It's one thing to talk about that, in a casual way. It's another thing to see it lived out, over the course of one woman's life. I found the story to be moving and I loved the way that Jo Walton set it up so that neither life was clearly "better" than the other. They were different, but each had its own joys and sorrows.

The book ends on a poignant note, reminding us that both lives mattered. At the very end, Patricia thinks back to the crucial moment and tries to decide which life she'd pick, if she could pick just one.

She felt her strong young body that she had never appreciated when she had it, constantly worrying that she didn’t meet standards of beauty and not understanding how standards of health were so much more important. She bounced a little on her strongly arched young feet. She felt again the Bakelite of the receiver in her hand and heard Mark’s voice in her ear. “Now or never!”

Now or never, Trish or Pat, peace or war, loneliness or love?

She wouldn’t have been the person her life had made her if she could have made any other answer.

I love that ending. I can definitely recommend this book as one worth reading.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Analog, July 2014 [★★★☆☆]

Analog, July 2014

Analog, July 2014
by Trevor Quachri

My rating: ★★★☆☆
Read From: 27 May 2014 – 7 June 2014
Goal: Flotsam & Jetsam

This is Analog's annual double-issue. It certaintly was packed with content.


The Journeyman: Against the Green by Michael F. Flynn—The continuing story of Teodorq and Sammi. This time, they're serving in the foreign legion of the hill people, scouting westward. They're continuing to look for the descendants of the crew of the crashed shuttle that they'd encountered in an earlier story.

I enjoyed reading it. It wasn't spectacular but it was solid and entertaining.


Who Killed Bonnie’s Brain? by Daniel Hatch—Our narrator is Frank Adams, a reporter. He wrote the obituary for Bonnie Bannister, a computer scientist who died at 107. That would be a remarkable age, if it wasn't for the fact that Bonnie had been living as a disembodied brain for the last 13 years. As a living brain, she could have been expected to live for many more years.

Bonnie's housemate, Judge Adams, is another disembodied brain. Fearing for his own safety, he asks Frank to investigate the cause of Bonnie's death.

The story reminded me pleasantly of an Agatha Christie story. Frank Adams, as an investigator, is a less dithery, less flighty version of Miss Marple. He moves around, interviewing everyone involved with the case, before reaching his own conclusion. It was a very enjoyable story and brought back many good memories of reading Christie's stories when I was younger.

The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale by Rajnar Vajra—A silver Venusian, a golden Martian, and an Earthling walk into bar—and promptly start a fight. Micah Cohen, Priam Galanas, and Emily Asgari are cadet Exoplanetary Explorers. Their accidental bar fight almost gets them tossed out of the academy.

As punishment, they're sent to the site of a failed expedition and told to help dismantle it and bring the expedition home. Of course, they manage to get into more trouble and end up with an ultimatum: figure out how to save the failed expedition or be expelled.

This was another solid but unspectacular story. Judging by the title, Vajra wanted to write a homage to golden age SF. With Venusians, Martians, and weird alien flora and fauna, this story checked all the right boxes. It was pleasant enough but didn't really do anything to make itself truly memorable.

Code Blue Love by Bill Johnson—Two siblings, bodies falling apart from genetic weaknesses, dying from massive aneurysms, race the clock to save themselves. It'll take a healthcare AI and a bio medically engineered stent to do it, but it's the only chance they have. This story brings new meaning to the term "interior monologue".

Vooorh by Paula S. Jordan—A farmer and an injured, water dwelling alien must make common cause against a common enemy. They look different and have different values but they ultimately discover that hope is the a powerful, shared feeling.

Short Stories

Journeyer by R. Garrett Wilson—The Muuks need Jesper weed to make their moltings more bearable, helping to prevent infection and death from incessant scratching. Jo-abeel must run across the desert, the o'Le Bar, to find Jesper weed on the other side and bring it home. Without it, her sister will likely die from infection.

The Muuks reminded me of camels, in both physiology and environment. The setting was strange but Wilson did make me feel sympathy with Jo-abeel.

Valued Employee by James K. Isaac—The BlackSphere company has been slowly encroaching on the surrounding world. Asha Kass grew up in the outside world but has gradually become a valued employee, helping to extend the Black Sphere's dominion—by force if necessary. Now, she returns home to convert her family and friends.

Sadness by Timons Esaias—Aliens, called the "New People" conquered earth years ago. They've gradually been compressing humanity into a smaller and smaller sphere, gradually changing everything about human culture and human lives to suit themselves. This is a story of small gestures against a backdrop of great sadness and anger.

Crimson Sky by Eric Choi—Maggie McConachie flies for the Mars Search and Rescue Service (MarsSAR). This is the story of one of her flights, to rescue a crashed billionaire, playboy pilot.

The Half-Toe Bar by Andrew Reid—Kuznetsova Bogdana is a mere technician on an expedition to explore the culture of a newly discovered world. She's certainly not qualified to interact with the Locals! And, yet, her millwright skills are crucial to making a good impression on a Local blacksmith. She may get kicked off of the project, but she'll make a contribution nonetheless.

Hot and Cold by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro—A married team of explorers, Davos and Xie Yalow, run into serious trouble while investigating a half-kilometer wide cylinder, composition unknown, that stretched for two hundred and fifty million kilometers and opened up on a black hole's event horizon. They'll need all of their skills and ingenuity to even have a chance to survive this encounter. They'll also need to rely on each other. And, in the end, it may not matter. They may die alone anyway.

Science Fact

Spanking Bad Data Won’t Make Them Behave by Michael F. Flynn—A quick lessons on statistics and all of the ways in which "facts" can be very slippery things instead. A fact may exist on its own but it's meaningless without surrounding context. It can be very tricky to put a fact (or measurement) into the correct context—as Flynn demonstrates over and over again.

Special Feature

Foreshadowing and the Ideas of March: How to (Sort Of) Hint at Things to Come by Richard A. Lovett—A survey of the various types of foreshadowing from the blatantly obvious to the nearly invisible and everything in-between. Lovett provides many examples to illustrate how proper foreshadowing can prepare the reader for your story, so as to prevent unnecessary confusion or disappointment.


The Alternate View by John G. Cramer—Is It Space Drive Time? Cramer argues that occasionally the time is just right for a technology to be invented. If one person doesn't invent it, twenty-five others probably will. He thinks we may be getting close to the right time for the invention of better space drives and surveys the field for potential candidates. I sure hope he's right.

My Take

I enjoyed The Journeyman: Against the Green, Who Killed Bonnie’s Brain?, Code Blue Love, The Half-Toe Bar, and Hot and Cold. The stories were enjoyable enough. I'm just not sure how memorable any of them will be. I'd already found my memory of them fading, before I went back and skimmed through the issue to write this review.

The non-fiction articles may suffer the same fate. I liked Flynn's look at statistics and Lovett's discussion of foreshadowing. I'm just not sure how much I'll remember them a few weeks from now.

Overall, I'd have to call this an average issue.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Asimov’s, July 2014 [★★★★☆]

Asimov's, July 2014

Asimov’s, July 2014
by Sheila Williams

My rating: ★★★★☆
Read From: 23 May 2014 – 25 May 2014
Goal: Flotsam & Jetsam


The Legion of Tomorrow by Allen M. Steele—Kate Morressy meets the enigmatic "Legion of Tomorrow." Although at first glance this puzzling organization, of which her grandfather was a member, seems to simply represent science fiction's rich past and a link to someone she didn't know all that well. As she learns more about their goals and why they contacted her, it soon becomes clear that their plans for the future may offer humanity's best shot at an adventuresome new day.

This story felt old-fashioned, in the best possible way. It was a fictionalized history of the SF movement, with the Legion of Tomorrow referencing, and briefly meeting, real-life super group, the Futurians. And it was a story about the possibilities that SF writers are always itching to turn into realities.


Blood Wedding by Robert Reed—The war between life and machines, between bio enhancement and cyborgs, turns all too real. Two men, two families, each representing one pole, have striven against each other for many years. Finally, it all comes to a head at the Blood Wedding.

Short Stories

The Woman From the Ocean by Karl Bunker—What's the smallest possible change you could make to humanity, to end war? Kali found out. Years earlier, she left Earth, with a group attempting to colonize another planet. They failed and had to return to Earth.

After crash landing in the ocean, she found that the world had changed, because of a virus that made one, small, change in human behavior. The virus altered humanity so that people could only imagine belonging to concrete groups (the people they knew and interacted with) and not to abstract groups (strangers who share common attributes). The result was no more us, no more them; no more tribalism or nationalism; no more reason to fight in large groups. That small change in humanity led to massive change in society, technology, and art.


Eat or Be Eaten by Sheila WilliamsAsimov's editor shares her strong dislike of stories featuring intelligent beings eating other intelligent beings, whether aliens eating humans, humans eating aliens, or straight up cannibalism. I quite agree with her here and I'd be be very happy if she continued to deep-six whichever submissions she receives along those lines.

Was Jules Verne a Science Fiction Writer? by Robert Silverberg—Ask any SF fan or author if Jules Verne was the "father of science-fiction" and they'll almost unanimously agree that he was. Silverberg was "stunned" to find out that William Butcher, one of today's preeminent Verne scholars, doesn't think he was.

Verne is not a science fiction writer: most of his books contain no innovative science. … Verne himself was categorical: 'I am not in any way the inventor of submarine navigation.' He even claimed he was 'never specifically interested in science,' only in using it to create dramatic stories in exotic parts; and indeed his reputation as a founding father of science fiction has led to a major obfuscation of his literary merits.

Silverberg reviews the evidence and finds little reason to agree with Butcher. And, if Verne didn't consider himself a "science-fiction" author, that's only because the term wasn't invented until several decades after his death.

Why doesn't Butcher acknowledge Verne as an SF writer? Simple literary bigotry, according to Silverberg.

One big clue is contained in a sentence of Butcher's that I quote above: "Indeed his reputation as a founding father of science fiction has led to a major obfuscation of his literary merits." Butcher, a central figure in Verne studies for many years whose translations are generally accepted as the best in the field, has a vested interest in rescuing Verne from the taint of science fiction, which evidently he regards as trash. It's the old critical cliché: "If it's science fiction, it can't be literature."

I'm doubly indebted to Silverberg for this essay. I found out where to look for today's best translations of Verne's novels. And I found a passionate defense of Verne's bona fides as a pioneer of the SF genre.

On Books by Norman Spinrad—Spinrad leads off this column with a defense of the idea that cultures should be forward looking and that speculative fiction is an important part of that cultural orientation. He then talks about the difference between speculative fiction and modern "sci-fi". Whatever you think of the reviewed books (and I thought several of them sounded very interesting indeed), this introduction is well worth reading.

My Take

This was a very good issue. I found both a novella and a novelette that I enjoyed, as well as a thought-provoking short story. Norman Spinrad's "On Books" column gave me a good definition of speculative fiction and Silverberg's column was worth saving as well.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Trade Secret [★★★☆☆]

Trade Secret

Trade Secret
by Sharon Lee

My rating: ★★★☆☆
Read From: 22 April 2014 - 26 April 2014
Goal: Series

The continuing adventures of Jethri Gobelyn—Liaden Trader, Terran Trader, the one man with good standing in two cultures. Jethri had loaned the Liaden Scouts a notebook he inherited from his father. It was supposed to be copied and then returned to him. It wasn't returned. Balance was required. Jethri teamed up with a Liaden Scout, to track down and recover his stolen notebook.

The notebook, of course, is a MacGuffin. It's an excuse to send Jethri and the Scout from port to port, world to world, both Liaden and Terran. It's an excuse to show Jethri operating in both of his cultures, sometimes simultaneously.

There were some interesting moments. But, mostly, I was unimpressed by the book. Jethri had a purpose to what he did but I didn't feel a connection to that purpose. The story itself wandered all over the place and didn't have a strong narrative thread.

The book constantly jumped back and forth in time. There were a lot of chapters that started out a day or more after the previous chapter ended, making it feel like you'd blacked out and missed what had been happening. Then, all of the sudden, one of the characters would either reflect on what had been happening or would relate the events to another character, filling in the details of what you'd missed. It was an irritating narrative device and quickly grew old.

I normally enjoy Liaden Universe stories. I didn't really enjoy this one and I would have been happy to miss it.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Analog, June 2014 [★★★☆☆]

Analog, June 2014

Analog, June 2014
by Trevor Quachri

My rating: ★★★☆☆
Read From: 20 April 2014 - 21 April 2014
Goal: Flotsam & Jetsam

Two short stories and one essay stood out to me, in this issue.

Field of Gravity by Jay Werkheiser— This is a tale of one possible future for American football. Hundreds of gravity generators are embedded in each field, allowing coaches to dial the gravity up or down for specific plays. Coaches can use their energy budget to offset the gravity changes of the opposing coach, adding an additional level of strategy to the game. It was a clever concept and I enjoyed the execution.

The Region of Jennifer by Tony Ballantyne— Genetically modified humans are on the path to becoming slaves of a very patient alien race. And pretty much no one seems to care. It's a morality tale of what happens when disinterested people sit back and try their best to ignore what might inconvenience them.

"I can see your friend down there. He cares." "That's good. It sort of relieves me of the responsibility. I can sit back and do what I want and hope that other people sort out the mess we're in."

Alternate Abilities: The Paranormal by Edward M. Lerner—The real highlight, for me, was Lerner's non-fiction essay on the paranormal. It was an interesting look at what various experiments have—and haven't—proven. And he raised the question of whether the paranormal can ever truly be proven.

In another test, a CIA agent gave the coordinates of his private cabin in the woods. The test subject came back with a description with similarities to a nearby NSA facility. Was this experiment a success (the subject was drawn to a facility of claimed psychic significance to the CIA) or a failure (the viewed scene was not at the specified coordinates)? In the same experiment, the subject reported reading words and phrases out of file cabinets. Some of the vocabulary matched out-of-date NSA code words. Was this a success (real code words detected from a distance)? Or did those words popping up somehow reflect that those code words had been in effect when Targ, the interviewer in the room with the subject, had worked for the NSA?

And he finishes the essay out with a survey of what we know about quantum physics and how quantum physics may make some forms of ESP possible.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Local Custom [★★★★☆]

Local Custom

Local Custom
by Sharon Lee

My rating: ★★★★☆
Read From: 26 April 2014 – 28 April 2014
Goal: Series

Three years ago, Er Thom yos'Galan met and had a torrid relationship with Anne Davis. He hasn't seen her since and has spent the last three years acting as a Pilot for Clan Korval. Duty requires that he take a wife and produce an heir for yos'Galan. But he hasn't been interested in, or attracted to, any woman since Anne Davis.

In desperation, he decides to visit her one last time. He intends to declare his love (verbalizing it for the first time) and then return home. Once home, the Healers will dim his memories and he'll be able to move forward, as a dutiful son to the clan.

His good intentions quickly go awry and he's drawn right back into the torrent of emotion that he never left behind. Anne, it transpires, is still equally enthralled with him. She loves him too much to allow her love to stand between him and Duty. He loves her too much to allow Duty to take her from him without a fight.

The real problem is the fact that he's Liaden and she's Terran. He thinks he understands Terran culture and mores. And she, a professor of Comparative Linguistics, think she understands him and Liaden Culture. And, yet, they spend the entire novel never quite communicating on the same level. They're constantly misunderstanding each other and those misunderstandings threaten to tear them apart.

This is a romantic tale, almost a comedy of manners. At times, it put me very much in mind of the conflicts central to all Jane Austen novels. The real conflict is between two lovers who struggle to transcend two very different Cultures and two different conceptions of Duty. In the end, of course, they do. But the journey is the interesting part. This is another enjoyable story in the Liaden Universe.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Balance of Trade [★★★★☆]

Review: Balance of Trade

Balance of Trade
by Sharon Lee

My rating: ★★★★☆
Read From: 21 April 2014 - 22 April 2014
Goal: Series

Young Jethri Gobelyn is a crew member on Gobelyn's Market, a Terran trade ship. It's a family owned ship. His mother is the captain, his uncle is the Trader. He's 17 years old and studying to be a Trader himself. He was born on Gobelyn's Market and he's lived there his entire life, with his family. But all of that's about to change.

Jethri was relaxing in a dockside bar, after successfully completing a Trade deal and earning a good bit of profit for the ship. He was approached by another Trader and learned of a too-good-to-be-true deal, if only the other Trader could raise a little bit of ready cash. Normally Jethri would have rejected the deal out of hand, as a sucker's bet. But this deal was backed by the word of a Liaden and Liadens are known to never break their word.

Jethri bit on the deal. When it fell through, he went directly to the Liaden involved, only to find that it was a scam after all and the other Trader had no right to use the Liaden's name. Because of Jethri, the Liaden were able to break up a group of con artists who were trading on their reputations. Because the Liaden owed Jethri Balance, she offered to take him on as an Apprentice Trader.

It just so happened that Gobelyn's Market was looking to send Jethri out on his own and his only other choice was to join the ship of a cousin that he hated. He'd always been fascinated by Liaden culture, so he jumped at the chance to join a Liaden ship.

So begin's Jethri's journey. He has to learn to Trade on his own and to navigate the many cultural minefields that exist between Terran culture and Liaden culture. He has to learn the language, the etiquette, and the expectations. It all ties into a very well executed coming-of-age story.

I always enjoy the Liaden Universe and this book is a welcome addition to the series.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: The Eye of the World [★★★☆☆]

The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World
by Robert Jordan

My rating: ★★★☆☆
Read From: 8 April 2014 - 18 April 2014
Goal: Series

I've been thinking about reading this book—this series—for a couple of years now. Robert Jordan crafted one massive story, told through fourteen books. It's a singular achievement, as both a creative and commercial success. I've never read it, but I've been increasingly curious about it. Now I've read it and I am disappointed.

The story opens in the small, rural, village of the Two Rivers. Rand, along with his friends Perrin and Mat, is preparing for the spring festival of Bel Tine. That night, Rand's farm is attacked by a horde of Trollocs, led by a shadowman, a Myrddraal. Rand and his friends learn that the attack is focused on the three of them and, in order to keep their families and friends safe, they'll need to flee the Two Rivers.

The rest of the story details their flight north, through towns and cities, running from ancient evils, visiting ancient, long forgotten, dangerous places. Along the way, they learn more about the outside world than they ever dreamed, experience more, and change in ways they never would have imagined.

It's not so much that the story is bad. It's that the story felt derivative of The Lord of the Rings. The Two Rivers feels like the Shire. At the beginning of the story, everyone in the village is anticipating the arrival of a gleeman, to perform songs and stories, and a delivery of fireworks for a special performance. That felt exactly like Bilbo's birthday party, with the Shire waiting for the arrival of Gandalf.

The Trollocs looked different than orcs but fulfilled exactly the same role in the story. The fades (the shadowman or the Myddraal) evoked the same fear and played the same role as the Ringwraiths did. The race through the countryside felt the same as the race toward Rivendell and Weathertop.

When we did finally get to the climax, the boss battle was over incredibly quickly. It felt like we had a massive buildup and then, suddenly, it was over. Rand won, the enemy lost. Just like that. I felt cheated out of a dramatic ending.

The worst part was that The Eye of the World failed the most crucial test for the first book in a series: it didn't make me feel need to read more. I keep feeling like I should read the next book, out of a sense of duty and commitment. But I don't feel like I have to read it or that I'll regret it if I don't.

This book, this series, has legions of fan. After reading it, I discovered that I'm not one of them.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Words of Radiance [★★★★☆]

Words of Radiance Cover Art

Words of Radiance
by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: ★★★★☆
Read From: 18 March 2014 – 30 March 2014
Goal: Awards

Brandon Sanderson has made it abundantly clear that he is, first and foremost, a fan of the fantasy epic. This really shows through in Words of Radiance. I've been looking forward to reading this book ever since I finished The Way of Kings. I was even more interested after I read Brandon's explanation of what he wanted to do with the book.

Words of Radiance and the Fantasy Epic.

Words of Radiance is a trilogy.

It’s not part of a trilogy. (I’ve said that Stormlight is ten books, set in two five book arcs.) It is a trilogy. By that I mean I plotted it as I would three books, with smaller arcs for each part and a larger arc for the entire trilogy. (Those break points are, by the way, after part two and after part three, with each of the three “books” being roughly 115,000 words long, 330 pages, or roughly the length of my novel Steelheart, or Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonquest.) When you read the novel, you’re actually reading an entire trilogy of novels bound together into one volume to encourage you to see them as one whole, connected and intertwined, with a single powerful climax.

Words of Radiance is also a short story collection.

I’ve blogged about my goal for the interludes in these books. Between each section of Words of Radiance, you will find a handful of short stories from the viewpoints of side characters. “Lift,” one of these, has already been posted on Tor.com. There are many others of varying length. Each was plotted on its own, as a small piece of a whole, but also a stand-alone story. (The Eshonai interludes are the exception—like the Szeth interludes in the first book, they are intended as a novelette/novella that is parallel to the main novel.)

Words of Radiance is also an art book.

Many book series have beautiful “world of” books that include artwork from the world, with drawings and descriptions to add depth to the series. My original concept for the Stormlight Archive included sticking this into the novels themselves. Words of Radiance includes brand-new, full-color end pages, as well as around two dozen new pieces of interior art—all in-world drawings by characters or pieces of artwork from the setting itself.

My dream, my vision, for this series is to have each book combine short form stories, several novels, artistic renditions, and the longer form of a series all into a single volume of awesomeness.

I want to mix poetry, experimental shorts, classic fantasy archetypes, song, non-linear flashbacks, parallel stories, and depth of world-building. I want to push the idea of what it means to be an epic fantasy, even a novel, if I can.

I think he nailed it. This book was long, but it never lost my interest. I loved the short story interludes. They added a ton of depth and breadth to his fantasy world. This world feels huge and it feels like it gets a little bit larger with each novel. He's setting the story up for world changing events and he's succeeding at making the world feel large enough that "world changing" actually means something.

I was moved by the Eshonai interludes. Sanderson successfully wrote a novella, interspersed with the main narrative, that brought the Parshendi alive as something more than just the enemies of the Alethi. I started out feeling sympathy for what the Parshendi were doing. I finished by feeling grief for what they had become. I've gone from thinking of them as the "bad guys" of the story to thinking of them as some of the biggest victims of events.

Moral ambiguity is another highlight of this story. There are multiple characters pursuing multiple goals, along divergent and parallel paths. At this point in the epic, I'm hard put to tell who is pursuing good goals with evil means, ultimately evil goals through good intentions, good goals from a pure heart, or evil goals from an evil heart. Right now, I think I know who the good guys are. But Sanderson has introduced enough ambiguity that I'm worried that that's just a trick of perspective and that I may ultimately end up sympathizing with one or more characters that I would despise right now.

And then there's the character arcs. My appreciation for just about every character deepened. Shallan proved to have surprising depths and an even sadder than we expected back story. We already knew she was strong and determined but I'm even more impressed after learning her history.

Kaladin. Wow. I thought I had his arc pegged after The Way of Kings. It looked like he'd survived adversity and turned into a hero of the story, on his way up. Then he spent almost the entire novel sliding right back down into the pit that he'd worked so hard to climb out of. He worked hard to alienate his friends and to betray the trust that he'd been given. He acted nothing like the hero that I had thought we were about to see.

Kaladin's arc through Words of Radiance was entirely necessary. After everything he's been through, it would have been far too easy for him to have ended up on the top that quickly. He needed to face the inner demons that he did. He'd banked a lot of hatred and anger during his life. Gaining magical powers couldn't immediately erase that. His success at the end of the book was all the more exciting because of it. It would have been exciting in any case. But given what he went through, it was fist-pumping awesome. As much as Kaladin grew in this book, I don't think he's done changing and learning. I'm looking forward to seeing where he goes next.

Sanderson's world is large. Gigantic forces are in play. Many different people are doing many different things, for many varied and complex reasons. This book was a non-stop, white-knuckle ride and I'm ready to pre-order the next installment.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Consider Phlebas [★★★★☆]

Consider Phlebas

Consider Phlebas
by Iain M. Banks

My rating: ★★★★☆
Read From: 1 April 2014 - 7 April 2014
Goal: Series

I might have had a better idea of what to expect from this story, had I first been familiar with T. S. Eliot's poem "The Wasteland".

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep seas swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

This is a story of Bora Horza Gobuchul's last adventure. His story opens with his intended execution: tied up to drown in an enemy sewer, watching the waste rise around him, waiting for it to rise high enough to smother and suffocate. He survives that experience but things never really do get better from there.

The Culture is a society of anarchists. Indeed, it is more of an idea than an identifiable thing, with defined boundaries.

In practice as well as theory the Culture was beyond considerations of wealth or empire. The very concept of money — regarded by the Culture as a crude, over-complicated and inefficient form of rationing — was irrelevant within the society itself, where the capacity of its means of production ubiquitously and comprehensively exceeded every reasonable (and in some cases, perhaps, unreasonable) demand its not unimaginative citizens could make. These demands were satisfied, with one exception, from within the Culture itself. Living space was provided in abundance, chiefly on matter-cheap Orbitals; raw material existed in virtually inexhaustible quantities both between the stars and within stellar systems; and energy was, if anything, even more generally available, through fusion, annihilation, the Grid itself, or from stars (taken either indirectly, as radiation absorbed in space, or directly, tapped at the stellar core). Thus the Culture had no need to colonise, exploit or enslave.

The Culture was at war with the Idirans. The Idirans had been expanding through the galaxy on a religiously motivated quest to bring order to lesser species. The Culture was not involved in a war of defense. Indeed, the Idirans were explicitly not threatening the Culture. Culture declared war on moral grounds—that of protecting lesser species and peoples from outside aggression. The Culture declared war on the Idirans because they wanted to feel useful, to justify their otherwise hedonistic lifestyle.

The Culture consists of both humans and Minds. Minds are immensely sophisticated and powerful artificial intelligences, usually installed as the brain's of ships. On the fringes of the war, a new Mind was built and installed mere moments before an Idiran attack. The Mind fled and soon came under attack itself. In desperation, it left its exploding ship and used hyperspace to jump directly into the core of Schar's World.

It was good place to hide. Schar's World was a devastated planet that had been preserved by the Dra'Azon as a Planet of the Dead, a monument to futility. The Dra'Azon established a neutral boundary around each Planet of the Dead—almost no one is allowed in and no battles can take place inside of that boundary or on the planet itself. This then is the standoff: the fugitive Mind, hidden inside the core of Schar's World; the Idirans and Culture, both desiring to recover the Mind, unable to directly approach the planet or land on it.

Horza, although descended from Humans, fights for the Idirans. This is his story. How, on behalf of the Idirans, he made his way to Schar's World, to hunt for the Mind. This is the story of why he fights for the Idirans and why he despises the Culture. This is also the story of his complicated relationship with Perosteck Balveda, the Culture agent assigned to rescue the Mind. Horza and Balveda are on opposites sides but Horza seems to have more in common with—and sympathy for—Balveda than he does his own allies.

I've been ruminating lately on what literary fiction is. As a result, I can definitely say that this is not literary fiction. But it's a lot further towards that side of the continuum than most of the stories I read. Horza's motivations and beliefs are central to this story.

He hates the Culture and, as the story unfolds, we are given enough glimpses of the Culture to begin to understand why. They are decadent, undisciplined, and depraved. This is, perhaps, seen most clearly in the Damage game that Horza watches. By the end of the book, it's not hard to see why Horza would rather live with the Idirans than with the Culture.

There's action in this book, lots of it. There's the laser firefight in a crystal temple. There's a slowly crashing multi-kilometer luxury liner. And then there's the scene where Horza pilots a mercenary ship as it escapes from the inside of a docking bay that is itself just one of many that are inside of a truly massive transport ship. Even here, the focus is less on the action itself and more on Horza's reactions to it, as it's happening.

All of the above is just a windy way to say: this is a higher quality story than most I normally read or than most authors write. As a fan of the genre, it's definitely worth reading.

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: Asimov’s, June 2014 [★★★☆☆]

Asimov's, June 2014

Asimov’s, June 2014
by Sheila Williams

My rating: ★★★☆☆
Read From: 1 April 2014 - 5 April 2014
Goal: Flotsam & Jetsam


Shatterdown by Suzanne Palmer—Cjoi was a child miner, a genetically modified slave, who dove into the atmosphere of a gas giant to harvest living diamonds. She was freed as a teenager. Now she's back at the site of her former enslavement. This is her swan song. The story is both sad and engaging. I enjoyed it.

There Was No Sound of Thunder by David Erik Nelson—Time travel is a tricky business. Who's past are you really changing? And can you predict the effects of your simple change? Suze, our narrator, is a member of an anarchist group. When they're offered the use of a time machine to make their mark, she has to struggle with the thornier issues of the ethics and efficacy of time travel. This was an offbeat, fun story. I'm always a sucker for time travel stories and this was a good one.

Murder in the Cathedral by Lavie Tidhar—Ugh. Steampunk. I'm really not a fan of the genre. Fans would probably like this story but space lizards, automatons, and gratuitous anachronisms really don't do it for me.

Short Stories

The Philosopher Duck by Kara Dalkey—"Spheres from Mars were bearing lowly Bangla fisherfolk to safety." This story involved an itinerant duck, a poor family living at the water's edge, a cyclone, and an inflatable sphere for riding out the cyclone (based on the design used for landing the Martian rover). I was more interested in the idea using crash spheres as storm safety devices than I was in the story itself. It's an interesting idea. I'd like to learn more about how practical it would be.

The Finges Clearing by Sylvain Jouty—The narrator documents an interesting area in the forests of France. It's apparently several square miles of forest that have never been walked in, visited, or used by humans. Some power or force kept people away for millenia. The story doesn't resolve the question of why the clearing is unique but does detail how it was discovered. The story has a very nice natural history tone to it, that reminded me a lot of Jules Verne.

Ormonde and Chase by Ian Creasey—A husband and wife team run a business selling designer plants. But this isn't your normal, run of the mail, cross-bred horticulture. These plants have been engineered to look like portraits. Have a flower that carries the image of your beloved mother. Order a dogwood that displays your favorite pet. Their business—and their marriage—hit a rough patch. This is the story of that rough patch and of how they handled it.

The Turkey Raptor by James Van Pelt—So you live in a one-exit dead-end hick town. And you're in high school. And you're bullied by the local bully and his crew. And all of the feral cats in the area annoy you with all of their rowling. But you have a pet turkey raptor. So that's cool. What could go wrong?

Sidewalk at 12:10 P.M. by Nancy Kress—An older woman reflects on her younger self, at a pivotal moment in her life. A moment that's literally on a sidewalk, at 12:10pm.

My Take

This was a decent issue although nothing in here really jumped out and grabbed me. My two favorites were the novelettes, "Shatterdown" and "There Was No Sound of Thunder".

This entry was tagged. Book Review Review

Review: The City on the Edge of Forever [★★★★☆]

The City on the Edge of Forever Cover Art

The City on the Edge of Forever
by Harlan Ellison

My rating: ★★★★☆
Read From: 14 March 2014 – 17 March 2014
Goal: Non-Fiction

"The City on the Edge of Forever" — quite possibly the best Star Trek episode ever filmed. I always knew it was one of my favorites. I didn't know, until I read this book, that it's also been dogged by controversy. The script that was filmed was far different from the story that Ellison envisioned and the script that he wrote. Gene Roddenberry spent years telling everyone that Ellison's script was horrid, too expensive to shoot, and "had my Scotty selling drugs on the Enterprise".

Here, Harlan Ellison lays out his defense in great detail. The defense often veers into (and dwells in) cranky old man territory. But, reading the defense, Harlan Ellison is quite justified in his cranky anger and exasperation. His script wasn't horrid, didn't have to be expensive to shoot (and, in fact, wasn't), and definitely didn't feature Scotty selling drugs. In fact, Scotty never even appeared in the episode.

This book includes Ellison's original draft script and several revisions of the script. Any one of them is better than what actually aired. Ellison is right to say that the produced version is a butchered shadow of his original vision. His story was richer and more morally ambiguous.

Ellison's script featured a drug dealing Enterprise officer (not Scotty!), who changed human history during an escape attempt. It included Kirk who, paralyzed by love, was unable to let Edith Keeler die in order to save history. The drug dealing officer, evil throughout the script, stepped forward to save Keeler. Spock, more coldly logical and alien than ever, bodily stopped him, forcing Keeler to die.

The script forced you to ask whether, in this moment, Spock was the better Starfleet officer and Kirk the better man. Or was Kirk a worse man because he was willing to save the woman he loved and condemn everyone else he ever knew to oblivion? Was Kirk a hero or a monster? Was Spock a hero or a monster? And why was it that the drug dealing officer had to be prevented from doing his one selfless act of the episode?

The script didn't give easy answers and it didn't portray a perfect humanity, free from problems. Of all of the Star Trek episodes I've seen, this unaired version was the most ... human. I wish it had been aired and Harlan Ellison is absolutely right to have defended it as vigorously as he did. This book is worth reading even if you just flip directly to the scripts and read the various treatments and afterwards.