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Ender's Game
by Orson Scott Card
324 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/SF

Meet Ender Wiggins, child general-slash-genius. He's going to save the world, as long as his siblings Valentine (kind Val) and Peter (sociopathic schemer) don't destroy it first.

I liked this a lot. I definitely didn't love it. Why? Well, it's very male. Other than that, I can't quite say. I do like "school stories" a lot, and Ender's training takes up a good portion of the novel. I wished for more politics, especially more of Val/Demosthenes. The Val/Peter dynamic was fascinating. By the way: don't be fooled by the child protagonist. This really is not YA.

Recommended to SF readers of both genders, because this is a worthwhile classic. I would avoid researching the author, though, as his political views tend toward the akljfksjdfhdsf side.
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The Dark Reaches
by Kristin Landon
292 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

I picked this up from the library on pure whim. It's pulpish soft SF--fluffy to the max, but more to my taste than equivalently pulpish hard SF. Landon skims over space battles but doesn't shy away from gore (Exhibit A, the captured Cold Minds pilot). I'm vaguely interested in the worldbuilding, though not enough to seek out Landon's other books. The romantic relationship was interesting, not compelling.

Sorry I don't remember anything else... it's been a few months, and it was quite a forgettable tale. Warning for some serious backlog spam up ahead.
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* Via [ profile] yhlee, musical stairs on YouTube!

* Also via [ profile] yhlee, A Regency Romance in 2 Minutes.

* Michael M. Jones puts out an open call for submissions to his new anthology, Scheherazade's Facade: Fantastical Tales of Gender Bending, Cross-Dressing and Transformation.

* Recent Strange Horizons pieces that are excellent: poem "Thirteen Scifaiku for Blackbirds" by Joanne Merriam and story "Minghun: Unlikely Patron Saints, No. 5" by Amy Sisson.

* [ profile] yhlee (Yoon Ha Lee) has an awesome story up at Beneath Ceaseless Skies called "The Pirate's Daughter," about words and poetry and music and awesomeness.

* Another enrapturing story of music from Beneath Ceaseless Skies: Michael Anthony Ashley's "To Kiss a Granite Choir," Part 1 and Part 2.

* Quite the depressing, and truthful, article about grad school in the humanities.
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Diamond Star
by Catherine Asaro
495 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

I didn't realize how starved I was for good fluff; I sped through this newest Asaro in a single night despite its flaws. I'm not a rock fan, so the premise didn't excite me, but I do adore the Skolian Empire world. Diamond Star involves an all-too-predictable addiction arc. I have little sympathy for Del being broke when he can splurge whenever he wants. Del himself treads a thin line between amusing and annoying. I love Asaro for both politics and relationships, but in this particular book, I wanted more space opera and less obstinate romantic misunderstandings. As [ profile] buymeaclue would say (I hope I get this right): less boyfriend, more roller derby.

Still want more books like The Moon's Shadow, about Aristos politics. Especially Jai/Tarquine. Or even about Kelric, who is more interesting when he's not perceived from the POV of a rebellious teenage rock star. Dehya is really interesting too; I'm not so fond of Roca, but her story seems to have come to an end with Eldrinson's (natural) death.
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Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing
by Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss (eds.)
291 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Fantasy/SF

After only managing to skim a few stories back in 2007 when I borrowed it from a friend, I finally bought this "alternative" and obscurely-acclaimed anthology and read it for my monthly Book Club. I only found 3 favorite and 4 hated tales out of 19 total, but--surprisingly--my overall impression is quite positive. Interfictions has earned a place on my long-term bookshelf.

If you aren't familiar with the concept of interstitiality, I would recommend reading Heinz Insu Fenkl's laborious introduction; otherwise, it is probably best left to the academically inclined. In contrast, definitely read Sherman and Goss's conversational "Afterword: The Spaces between" (although you still should read the stories themselves first, for necessary context).

So let me begin with the favorites, first. Jon Singer's "Willow Pattern" is probably the shortest story in the collection, and to me also one of the most interstitial. As Goss says, there isn't another story out there that combines science fiction and china patterns. After my first read-through, my only thoughts were, "Oh, that was pretty." Two years later, I began to "get" the SF aspects; I still don't entirely grasp the point simmering deep beneath the surface, but this flash piece epitomizes what I love best about genre--the extra layer of depth waiting to be plumbed, a depth unique to alienation and surreality.

For pure story pleasure, the title goes to Csilla Kleinheincz's lyrical and poignant tale about a man and a lake: "A Drop of Raspberry." Translated from the Hungarian by Noémi Szelényi, it is interstitial in its superrealistic treatment of surreal/fantastical events (yet tonally different from magic realism). Kleinheincz also happens to hail from the same country as Goss, and she is Hungarian-Vietnamese--too cool!

Finally, "Queen of the Butterfly Kingdom" by Holly Phillips (also coincidentally a Canadian author) is a cross between mainstream and fantasy that seduced me into caring despite a seeming lack of originality. The protagonist is a writer, even, which typically repulses me. But I suffered along with her as she waited for news of her beloved, and the last scene made me stop for a moment to smile.

Then we have the have-nots, those stories that flatly did not work for me. However, of the four I would only label one terrible per se; the rest are a matter of conflicting tastes. For instance, I found Karen Jordan Allen's "Alternate Anxieties" a pretentious deconstruction of Story using the trite writer's-notes conceit; but another reader might think it a brilliant piece of experimental fiction (the experimental classification does tend to draw such extreme opinions). Similarly, I was confused by the mythological underpinnings of Joy Marchard's "Pallas at Noon"--another "writer" story--and I thought that Chloe's (Allen's) poem, once revealed to the reader, was frankly incomprehensible.

In my review of Loghorrea, I have previously blasted Leslie What for her unthinking vilification of a chronic illness; her story here, "Post Hoc," thankfully commits no such sins, but I thought the story unoriginal, uninterstitial (save for the "liminal" post office conceit), and largely unengaging (the main character, anyway--I did like Joe the postman). It's not a bad story, though, just not a very good one. I would rank it above Rachel Pollack's "Burning Beard," an explicitly hip yet faithful retelling of the Biblical life of Joseph. Personally, I'm not a fan of Biblical allusions (even when written by a literary master like Milton); Pollack is considerably less skilled than Milton, and her retelling comes off as trite and silly rather than uniquely interstitial.

Some stories just did nothing for me. I don't understand Anna Tambour's story "The Shoes in SHOES' Window" at all--only that the world appears to be Communist-esque?--and unlike Singer's tale, it gave me no superficial pleasure. After praise heard through the grapevine about K. Tempest Bradford's "Black Feather," I was disappointed to read an unremarkable fairy-tale variant that didn't seem particularly interstitial. Veronica Schanoes's "Rats," a fictionalized biography -slash- Cinderella story about two depressed drug addicts destined for love, was too consciously grungy for me. Similarly, "Timothy" by Colin Greenland could be read as an eroticization of bestality if one were so inclined. And I was unconvinced by the m/m relationship in "A Map of the Everywhere" by Matthew Cheney, which is interstitial by virtue of sheer weirdness but failed as a tale first and foremost.

Some others, I enjoyed but did not love: I liked the collective narrator of "What We Know of the Lost Families of --- House" by Christopher Barzak, a horror tale that doesn't aim to scare. Mikal Trimm's "Climbing Redemption Mountain" wasn't as good as Kleinheincz's version of superrealistic surrealism, but it did emotionally satisfy. I likewise enjoyed reading Vandana Singh's "Hunger," especially the POC focus and all the foodie details, but found her sole fantastical element extraneous--the story is much better read as straight realism, which would not be interstitial. Two other translations also fail to live up to Kleinheincz: Léa Sihol's "Emblemata" from the French by Sarah Smith was interesting for its Buddhist philosophy but just missed the cut for favorites; Adrián Ferrero's "When It Rains, You'd Better Get out of Ulga" from the Spanish by Edo Mor had no plot and not enough theme or insight to make up for said lack. The anthology's closing piece, "A Dirge for Prester John," was typical of Catherynne M. Valente's style in its outlandish, monstrous imagery.

I applaud Sherman and Goss for their conscious shaping of geographic and cultural diversity, as well as their willingness to publish utterly unknown authors. I understand interstitiality a little more now, at least; I just wish that experimental fiction would constitute a smaller part of the (ironic) genre.
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Worlds Apart?: Dualism and Transgression in Contemporary Female Dystopias
by Dunja M. Mohr
312 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Nonfiction/Literary/SF

Since I selectively read this for a research paper, I can't say I really finished it; and it wouldn't do me much good to finish reading it on my own because I'm not familiar with the works discussed other than Atwood's Handmaid's Tale. Kohr does extensive and interesting close readings of Suzette Hagen Elgin's Native Tongue trilogy, Suzy McKee Charnas's Holdfast tetrology, and of course Atwood's best-known novel. The dualism argument is fascinating but I'm not sure I understand the transgression aspect. In any case, I've added the Native Tongue books to my list because they deal with linguistics!--anyone with more knowledge of the series or Charnas's care to chime in?
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Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology
by Nick Gevers (ed.)
441 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Historical

I read the first two stories but never finished this anthology; I'm just not that interested in steampunk. The magic was cool, but the mechanical aspect bores me. Of the first two: "Steampunk" by James Lovegrove is about mechano-boxing and maintained a level of not-particularly-engaging throughout. "Elementals" by Ian R. MacLeod is about magic, of a sort; the concept is more original but execution still failed to compel my attention. All of this is likely my fault, not the authors'; the only conclusion to be drawn here is that people who don't like steampunk in general probably won't like this steampunk anthology. Y'know?
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The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
311 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/SF

In the Republic of Gilead, a religious fundamentalist government ruling the former United States of America, there awaits a woman called Offred. Offred is a Handmaid, a fertile woman given six years--three chances--to produce a child for one of the elite Commanders as a surrogate for his childless Wife. She lives every day and every night, waiting for a spiritual surrender she is too cowardly to accept. Once, Offred had her own non-patronymic name, and she was married to a man named Luke with a young daughter. But her daughter has been adopted by some nameless Commander's household; what else does she live for? Her fundamental uncertainty lies at the heart of The Handmaid's Tale.

I first read this novel, one of Atwood's most renowned, about two years ago. I picked it up on a whim at the library, attracted by the cover; it introduced me to the subgenre of literary dystopic fiction, after which I read its original inspiration 1984. As a simple story--that is, setting aside literary merit--the novel just works. I sympathized immediately with the narrator (whom I shall call June, although her name is only deducible after reading most of the book) and her world's tragedies, particularly the political demise of democracy and feminism. Atwood also sets her tale in the remnants of Harvard Yard, which I'm sure will be amusing to those of you more familiar than I am with the area.

Atwood's prose shines like a full moon through sheer white curtains: subtle, elegant, and veiled. She writes with sparse beauty, interleaving strange yet familiar images of flowers, eggs, night, and silence in a purposeful vignette structure framed by the epilogue (pseudo-commentary titled "Historical Notes"). And her world-building grows outward from June's narrative, pervading the reader's sense of setting without needless exposition. The setting qualifies this Atwood novel as firmly science fiction, even if the author would not categorize it as such, and its literary qualities recommend comparison to Kazuo Ichiguro's Never Let Me Go or Maureen McHugh's Nekropolis.

I am intrigued by the themes of isolation, waiting, and illusion, three different but not dissimilar concepts that Atwood intertwines. The story remains inherently untrustworthy and unverified, unverifiable; June even states more than once that "I don't want to be telling this story," or that she is not reconstructing her memories in truth. And then I am struck by passages like this one, a snippet of narration that occurs while June prepares for the monthly Ceremony:

I wait, for the household to assemble. Household; that is what we are. The Commander is the head of the household. The house is what he holds. To have and to hold, till death do us part. The hold of a ship. Hollow.

Hollow feels like an apt description of Gileadean society, ironic given its emphasis on fertility; hollow is also an apt description of June until her illicit affair with Nick. This tale is obviously a story warning against the dangers of fundamentalism, but what does Gilead do right (if anything)? Like any totalitarian government, it wrought terrible cruelties. And like any structure of power, it left an indelible impact. Maryann Crescent Moon, Professor of Caucasian Anthropology, claimed that Gilead redrew the map of the world. In the end, this is perhaps what I love most about The Handmaid's Tale--the clichéd but oh-so-possible sense of DOOM.
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The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
374 pages
Genre: Fiction/YA/SF

What authors seek, more than anything else, is word of mouth advertising. And for Suzanne Collins, the word of mouth campaign has succeeded spectacularly. Long before I read The Hunger Games, I had repeatedly read high-praise reviews of the novel on my flist. I am fond of dystopias--one of my favorite books is Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale—but also suspicious of the young adult genre, particularly young adult science fiction as spearheaded by Scott Westerfeld, whose books I enjoy but do not really appreciate in-depth. So I approached The Hunger Games with a certain amount of trepidation. Katniss sounded like just your typical stubborn, free-spirited protagonist (supposedly a "strong female"), and the plot synopsis was interesting but not astoundingly original.

In the broken remains of North America, the glorious Capitol rules over 12 colonies, called Districts--there was once a 13th colony, but it rebelled and was utterly destroyed for such defiance. In continuing punishment, each year the Capitol stages the Hunger Games--one boy and one girl ("tributes") from each district, to fight to the death in a controlled arena, captured every second by cameras, as the ultimate reality television. Katniss Everdeen from the 12th and poorest district, a resourceful and hardened girl fighting every day to keep her family fed, finds herself one of the 74th Tributes when she volunteers in place of her younger sister Primrose. The rest, of course, is Collins's book.

By the end of the first page, I was smiling at Katniss's dear, frail little sister Prim. By the seventh page, I had fallen in love with Gale. And I couldn't stop reading; the characters' plight, set against the stark dystopic backdrop, had knotted clear fishing wire around my heart and would not stop reeling me in. I made internal excuses, of course--just one more page, one more chapter, oh, maybe two--but I did not, and still do not, possess the willpower to stop reading a truly good book.

And this is a good book. Certainly the best young adult science fiction tale I've read this year, perhaps ever, given the relative scarcity of that subgenre. Westerfeld, for all his popularity and fans, has never managed to evoke such a reaction from this reader. I connected with Katniss from the start, but Collins showed me Peeta's virtues and ultimately managed to balance the love triangle. As a writer myself, I understand the difficulty of such a balance. At first I thought that I could predict the plot easily enough, but Collins surprised me at several points, particularly the end. The love triangle is patently obvious early on, of course. Though I fall into the "young adult" age category, I usually prefer reading more complex adult literature; however, I am naïve enough to empathize fully with Katniss's confusion. I know exactly what it feels like to not be sure whether you like, rather than just like, someone--much less two people at once! I don't envy Katniss's dilemma but I understand it perfectly.

The cliffhanger ending left me wordless. I could only close the book, close my eyes, and exhale, "Oh, my." Katniss's indecision right up until the last page is absolute series setup. It's a gorgeous cliffhanger, enough closure to end a novel but not enough to end readers' emotional attachment. The plot may be superficially concluded, but the characters—the most important emotional threads—are still at the introduction.

Ironically, the cover (an elegant black affair in itself) proclaims Collins as an NYT bestselling author, but I have never heard of her. In this case, word of mouth has far prevailed. I've already enthusiastically endorsed the book to several friends, and consider this review high praise as well.
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Beggars in Spain
by Nancy Kress
438 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/SF

Leisha Camden is the first ever Sleepless, a genetically engineered human who requires no sleep and is thus twice as productive. Drew Arlen is a Liver, part of the sedentary voting populace--not a donkey actually running government, god forbid--who invents his own identity as the Dreamer. Miri Sharifi is ironically like Leisha, the first Superbright, born on Sanctuary orbital as granddaughter to Leisha's longtime enemy Jennifer Sharifi. Beggars in Spain is divided into four sections, and it is really four linked stories arranged in chronological order with reoccuring characters. The divisions are most apparent after one finishes reading, a testament to the writing's flow.

This novel is truly a work of literature, from the multiple character foils (Leisha and her twin Sleeper sister Alice, Leisha and fellow but opposite Sleepless Jennifer Sharifi, Leisha and Jennifer's Superbright granddaughter Miri, Miri and Jennifer, Richard and his son Ricky, Joan and Alice...) to the themes--nothing new for SF but placed in a new context--revolving around things like governmental philosophy. I especially enjoyed the metatext regarding socialism as symbolized by Sanctuary, the orbital home of the Sleepless led by Jennifer, who is herself a fascinating character study.

I read the first hundred pages of the book about six months ago, but put it down and promptly ignored its existence, as is my wont. I picked it back up on a whim and was engrossed despite having forgotten both background and context. The science behind the fiction is well-thought-out and plausible (to a scientifically-illiterate lit geek who can at least spot hand-wavy BS). I loved the string-thoughts of the Superbrights and spent ten minutes poring over Miri's first explanation complete with chart. Even though I am sometimes doubtful of Kress's connections in that first example, I understand and appreciate the concept's originality.

Beggars in Spain is the best piece of hard SF I've read yet, though I'm not as well-read in SF as in fantasy; complete with Kress's remarkably sympathetic characters, I think her novel is deserving of both the Hugo and the Nebula won. And I can't wait to read the sequel, Beggars and Choosers, even though I've heard that it isn't as brilliant as its predecessor.
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* Literary agent Jenny Rappaport on counting spoons, or living with a chronic illness.

* TIME magazine has an article on how McCain makes Obama conservative, in the small-c sense.

* Via Mir at Want Not, Lean Cuisine is selling limited-edition lunch bags with half of each purchase going to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. They are mainly pink, of course, but very pretty and for a good cause!

* Try Ruby (programming experience recommended)! Ruby is the prettiest programming language I've ever seen. This should be of interest to linguists, too, but a little coding background helps if you insist on understanding the entire tutorial, like me.

* Via Strange Horizons, a poem by C.S. MacCath entitled, "Upon the death of my host and waiting for uplink: by Event Horizon, formerly of the Oracle Duality Liselle Marie Michaud / Event Horizon." In a shape-poetry form that I can't remember the name of.

* Via yhlee, [ profile] jenwrites on artistic works being too long for your skill level. Does that mean I shouldn't bother trying to write a novel (and failing, repeatedly)?

* Also via [ profile] yhlee, a fascinating article on tone deafness and/or bad singing. I've never considered myself tone-deaf, but I have both a terrible ear for flat/sharp (although I do hear discordances if the correct form is engrained in my memory from repetition) and the inability to carry a tune. I can match pitches if you give me a few seconds, but I can't reproduce them. And nothing (in terms of music) gets stuck in my head. Not always a good thing, when you're a musician.
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Via Strange Horizons, which seems to specialize in stories that I don't expect to like but end up liking anyway (and with a readable site layout):

* "Little Brother (TM)" by Bruce Holland Rogers, a just-longer-than-flash SF story about sibling rivalry that starts out ordinary with a dark twist ending.
* "Huntswoman" by Merrie Haskell, a unique fantasy retelling of Snow White in sparkling, sparse prose. The end didn't entirely convince me, but I admire its boldness and the story proper is just beautiful.
* "The Jenna Set" by Daniel Kaysen, one of the longer online stories that have sustained my interest. It's semi-plausible SF written in a light and entertainingly sardonic style, the characters very realistic and reminding me of contemporary romance novels like Sex as a Second Language. Although I must say, I prefer the geeky Kelly/Abbie relationship over the protagonist's (Jenna/Ray).

* From Clarkesworld, "Orm the Beautiful" by Elizabeth Bear is a melancholy dragon story set in alternate-present-day--and a dragon story rec from me is rare indeed; I still can't get past the first chapter of Temeraire.

* I actually dislike the style of "The Empire of Ice Cream" by Jeffrey Ford, and I don't find the characters particularly compelling, but: synesthesia! And musical composition! And the ending satisfactorily resolves the central conflict without dipping into my expectations, which was, well, unexpected. (Don't recall who rec'd this story originally, but [ profile] yhlee would like the musical bits a lot, I think.) Warning: the site archives, where I read this, has a terrible split-color background. You'll probably want to be smarter than me and Ctrl-A/Ctrl-C the story into Word or Notepad.

I conclude that endings are absolutely crucial for me; I culled several stories from this linkblogging post because the ending fell flat, and the ending of Ford's piece let it slip in despite the protagonist's irritating arrogance.
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Fantasy & Science Fiction July '08
by Gordon Van Gelder (ed.)
160 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/Science Fiction

This review should attest to exactly how far behind I am on reading--I was sent this copy of the magazine for free, as part of a blogger giveaway, in early May. And I'm reviewing the July issue in late August. Ah, well.

My verdict: highly disappointing, considering that F&SF is basically the tippy-top of the speculative short fiction market. Anthologies are hit-or-miss for me, but this issue of F&SF contained one story that I loved and one that I enjoyed out of 7 stories. The magazine leads off with "Fulbrim's Finding" by Matthew Hughes, a long and extremely boring SF story about a "discriminator," aka private investigator, who searches for a missing "seeker of substance" and in the process discovers the truth of reality. It doesn't live up to such weighty intentions, being presented with stiff, distracting prose and an unsympathetic, unethical protagonist. The world-building is unoriginal and too techy, leaving the reader bewildered like Fulbrim's poor wife Caddice. Ending parallels theme; both are thoroughly unsatisfying.

Thankfully, the next story lifted my spirits. "Reader's Guide" by Lisa Goldstein operates on a truly original conceit and goes on to support itself as a light (though not wholly humorous), enlightening tale. It is impossible to describe without spoilers, so I won't try, but Goldstein's contribution is the sole reason this will remain on my bookshelf. However, Michael Blumlein's novella "The Roberts" should not be discounted. It uses the extra length successfully. The world-building isn't standout but the characters are interesting, major and minor both--I especially liked Stanovič's accent. Plot builds evenly to a strong conclusion and a new understanding of the (apt) title.

After which, I had to endure four stories of varying ennui. Paul DiFilippo's "Plumage from Pegasus" begins with an intriguing concept but has no meaning or substance. I seriously can't tell if it's fiction or nonfiction. This is not a good thing. "Enfant Terrible" by Scott Dalrymple follows; weird (in the imitation-punk fashion) is the best descriptor, and the second-person narration feels like an unnecessary gimmick. I skimmed Albert E. Cowdrey's "Poison Victory" one-sentence-per-page at one point--a new low of boredom, I believe--and on top of that, the story is semi-incomprehensible due to random German phrases. "The Dinosaur Train," by James L. Cambias, ends the issue on a slightly stronger note, but only in comparison. I found the plotline suspenseful but the ending lackluster and predictable. Some characters approach caricature and others are realistic--too realistic, as I wasn't invested in their fates.

I will probably still buy another copy of F&SF in the future, when [ profile] yhlee's story comes out (the elemental-music one, I believe?), but that will be in spite of rather than because of this complimentary copy. My regrets.
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I'm putting this review, perhaps the longest book review I've ever written, under a cut for both length and content. A warning: I now hold a decidedly low opinion of Leslie What.

In which I exemplify logorrhea in written form )

While I was initially attracted to the concept of Logorrhea--I love spelling bees and vocabulary words--I chose to read it for Theodora Goss's Kubla Khan story. That, and other surprises such as Daniel Abraham (whose novels have now moved up my TBR list significantly) and Duncan's unexpected success in short form made this collection satisfying. Other stories fell in the mediocre hit-or-miss range, with the notable exceptions of Michael Moorcock's trite "A Portrait in Ivory" and certainly Leslie What's tale "Tsuris." Overall, an average book for me as far as anthologies go, with stories at both extremes. I tentatively issue a broad recommendation because the range of genre and style here is so wide; you will probably find at least one story to like.

ETA: Minor edits to correct grammar.

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by Tobias Buckell ([profile] tobias_buckell)
316 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/SF

I've owned a signed paperback of Crystal Rain, Buckell's debut novel, since Alpha last July, but I somehow never got around to it; and I regretted not buying Ragamuffin instead, for the simple reason that female heroines attract me a lot more than the male equivalent. Nashara drew me into the world, and now I'm interested enough to go back and read about John and Pepper (oh, especially Pepper). Buckell writes fast-paced space opera (real space opera, unlike Grimspace) that focuses mostly on action/adventure. The romantic element is present, but I was unconvinced by it. This was, though, a very fast and fun read. Dare I say that Toby in person is just as cool as his books, or is that too cheesy?

In my opinion, the strongest aspect of Ragamuffin is the plot. Storyline is interwoven and tight, avoiding the all too common episodic feel. Characters are not always fully fleshed out, but Nashara (the protagonist, though not the only POV character) is a classic amazing superfighter and I adore her. I especially liked how Nashara is powerful, but not invincible--she can be tricked, and this fallibility makes her human. The duplication was also very cool, an original SF technology twist. Worldbuilding is strong as well, and original; I loved the integration of Asian and Caribbean elements in the Hongguo and Raga, respectively.

A lovely and classic, different space opera novel; I'm looking forward to reading both Crystal Rain and Sly Mongoose (forthcoming). Unfortunately--or fortunately--I don't have enough experience with SF to offer meaningful criticism on the tropes, but I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to fans of space opera (or of speculative politics, if you happen to have my weird taste).
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"The Fluted Girl," Bacigalupi's first published short story, is a beautiful and suspenseful tale about Lidia, who is.... well, fluted. Literally. Set in an ethereal science-fantasy world, the premise ties together two of my favorite anti-peeves--slavery and music--so I may be biased, but it did keep me from logging off to study like I should have 45 minutes ago. I've never read anything previously by Bacigalupi, due to his staunch SF reputation, but this story made a definite impression and I'll be keeping an eye out for him.

Speaking of which, any recs regarding Paolo Bacigalupi? Online short stories are good, but I'll also take novels for my extremely long TBR list.

ETA: I did think of a caveat: I wasn't quite sure what the TouchSense was, if anyone would like to enlighten me. But that's a tiny detail that didn't interfere with understanding or enjoyment.
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by Ann Aguirre
312 pages (galley proof)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance
Publication Date: February 26, 2008

I won this ARC in a contest on Dear Author a while ago; when it finally arrived in my mailbox, I read the first few pages and ended up finishing the novel by that night. While it's not a novel I'll reread to savor, it serves well as a breezy SF romance that follows some well-worn tropes--admittedly without a lot of creativity.

How to describe the plot? Episodic, in a word (but not mine). The opening bears a certain resemblance to Firefly: Serenity, and I hear from a reliable source that other SF influences are unmistakable. Sirantha Jax, an unusually long-lived "jumper," is the sole survivor of a spaceship crash that killed several crucial dignitaries and her own pilot-lover. She wakes up in the tender care of the Corps, which is more interested in seeing Sirantha safely locked in the madhouse than her safe recovery. March comes to her rescue one day, breaks her out, and introduces her to his ragtag crew. The adventure proceeds from there in the usual space opera fashion, though I would characterize Grimspace as more "baby space opera"--the plot, while tangled and interesting, never quite achieves the tight unity of true space opera. Side characters are introduced, developed, and then tossed carelessly aside as soon as the gang moves on. The ending was surprising and satisfying--10 pages from the end, I had no idea how Sirantha and March were going to get their HEA--but it still felt like a To Be Continued.

The narration is in first-person present tense, an unusual choice for romance that lent suspenseful immediacy and was aided by Sirantha's crisp voice. I strongly believed in the romance, though I can also see how the love triangle could throw people off. As a not-veteran SF reader, I didn't predict much of the plot and the climax in particular was wonderful. Prose is tight, appropriate for this type of novel--no unnecessary description or flowery phrasing. There was perhaps a bit too much exposition, considering that this really is soft SF with "fuzzy" science/technology, not always gracefully meshed. Loras is annoyingly sacrificial, almost a throwaway plot character; the shinai bond disappointed me by taking the easy, cliche route of development. I also missed Keri, who essentially disappears for the latter half of the book, and too bad 245 didn't play a larger role after all the references to her intelligence. In regards to social commentary, a lot of admirable issues were tackled but not pursued to the fullest: slavery, alien-human racial conflict, sexual orientation, the dangers of monopoly.

Ultimately, Grimspace was a solid--not stunning--but nevertheless worthwhile read. I've talked a lot about its flaws, so I feel obligated to add that I did like the book. It's due to be published in a little over a week, but at least one person has already found it on bookstore shelves. Recommended to fans of Catherine Asaro and the SF-romance genre, who don't mind or haven't yet been overexposed to bordering-on-formulaic tropes.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Wolf Who Rules
by Wen Spencer
470 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

The sequel to Tinker. I've been in a brain-rut lately and looking desperately for quick, mindless, de-stressing reads, so when Wolf Who Rules unexpectedly came in at the library I decided to move it to the head of the queue. I had trouble being engaged in the beginning, like with Tinker, but once it got started I was happy to let myself be swept along in the romance. (Exhaustion==shallow taste, pour moi.) Windwolf's POV is less interesting than Tinker's, but it did give me a deeper look at elven culture. I like how Spencer developed it along different-than-usual lines, with the oni and tengu and non-white characters. Japanese mythology isn't really my thing in fiction, but it worked here. And urban scifantasy isn't exactly to my taste either, but this worked. Why, I have no idea, and I do apologize for this post being so rambling and opinionated. I'm not up to any sort of meaningful analysis; but, I do want to record my thoughts.

The prose here is still nothing special, but it does its job. I had a few moments of questioning the Tinker/Windwolf relationship because of comments that Windwolf made to himself--why did he fall in love with Tinker? And (SPOILER) I figured out the polygamy hints way before Tinker did, though she's supposed to be the genius. The secondary characters were also memorable, to the point where I perhaps love them more than the hero/heroine--Pony and Stormsong especially.

Recommended to SF-romance fans; if you liked Tinker, this sequel should be satisfying.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Ruby Dice
by Catherine Asaro
392 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

I started reading this on the way back from the library. When I got home, I really really needed to study for midterms. Guess what I did instead? Finished reading The Ruby Dice, of course.

Asaro's Skolian Empire series is huge by now, but she always thoughtfully includes a glossary reference and in-text catchups for new readers. The catchups read as basically infodumps, but I remember how much they helped me the first time and they weren't too hard to skip over. This novel deals with Kelric and Jaibriol III after they become Imperator and Emperor of Eube respectively, nine years after an initial peace attempt--the Paris Accord--fell through. I love F/SF politics, and Asaro is one of the best at mixing complex SF politics with equally complex characters and families (the Valdoria/Skolia/Ruby Dynasty family tree is quite intimidating). Jai and Tarquine have a lovely, laugh-out-loud relationship; I wish Asaro would do another book on just Eube, and I absolutely can't wait for her next one to continue the overall plot arc. This book ends on essentially the climax, which is rare these days; but it leaves you trying to catch your breath, coming down from immersion high, and that feeling is totally worth the lost studying time.

The two trademarks of Asaro's stories are strong characters and excellent worldbuilding--here, she doesn't disappoint on either account. I enjoyed the examples of realistic, slowly growing love (Jai/Tarquine, Kelric/Jeejon) rather than romance's usual love-at-first-sight trope. Most of the characters weren't new to me, other than a gap of several months, but I connected with all of them (oh, Hidaka, I love you so). And I absolutely adore the dynamic and convoluted web of relations (familial, political, etc.). I think The Ruby Dice is Asaro's most dramatic work to date--the plot rushes along, smooth as a a river's torrents (i.e. not very but in a good way). At the very end especially, I almost couldn't handle the suspense. I knew what I logically could expect to happen, but I also knew that the author was daring enough to flip that expectation.

Now for the negatives: Asaro isn't going to win any awards for poetic prose. At times the style is downright pedestrian, though always useful and concise--much like ISC, the Skolian military. I'm not sure how much a new reader will get out of this, simply because I'm coming with knowledge of so much backstory--I've read all of her Skolia novels except one (The Radiant Seas, unavailable at the library and I've never gotten around to purchasing it). As I said before, though, her early exposition passages help greatly with comprehension. Also, don't be put off by the cover, which is ugly as hell--the huge hand looks like radioactive putty and the Quis dice like plastic toys. I guess the publisher is trying to appeal to the romance side of her audience, though the background is also very techy.

This is a wholehearted rec to all SF and romance fans; Asaro writes hard SF romances, and she mixes the genres with quite a lot of experience. The character arc continued by this novel begins with The Last Hawk, then Ascendant Sun and The Moon's Shadow (the last of which is about Jai's ascension to the Carnelian Throne and his marriage to Tarquine). My reviews of most of Asaro's novels are also accessible through tags; be warned that her fantasy romance series for the Luna line is very, very different.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
by Scott Westerfeld
417 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/SF/YA

Aya Fuse is a kicker, a sort of futuristic video news blogger, but her face rank is in the two hundred thousands (out of one million) and she is constantly overshadowed by her famous older brother Hiro. In this novel, of course, Aya comes into her own and eventually shoots up to a much lower (i.e. better) rank. How low? About as low as you'd expect in a young adult coming-of-age story.

Suspenseful as usual, of the breezy but unmemorable type that I've come to rely on Westerfeld for. The interpretation of Japanese culture is overall deftly handled, especially the language barrier. The concept of a reputation-society was very cool, and it made sense for Japan. Every time they said "face rank," though, I thought of Facebook. Actually, I personally think that this standalone volume is better than the original trilogy. I certainly appreciated the less biased viewpoint of Tally, who is essentially self-centered (and since the trilogy is written in first-person, everything is filtered through her).

Recommended if you like this sort of thing (a very specific thing, which any of Westerfeld's books is an excellent introduction to).


keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)

January 2011



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