Reading Emergency!

I don’t really care what it is you’re doing right now but you must drop it, whatever it is, and run out and find a copy of The Undiscovered by William Sanders.

The thing is, this is probably the best thing I’ve read this year.

But I can’t tell you *why* because it’s the surprise of the story that makes it what it is.

Trust me. Read this. I’ll be checking up on you. The discovery of The Undiscovered came via Amy H. Sturgis.

It’s a novellette, first published maybe a decade ago, and republished in various collections. The one I found was Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year’s best science fiction, edited by Gardner Dozois.

Norilana Press has a paperback and hardback collection of his work, called East of the Sun and West of Fort Smith. Wildside Press has a paperback collection called Are We Having Fun Yet? American Indian Fantasy Stories

Good luck in your Emergency Reading book search, we’ll catch up in a few weeks.

Kat’s List of 2012 Reading Accomplishments

Here’s a list of what I read this year, for kicks, in no particular order. What was your reading list for 2012?

(Note: these are books I finished, or include some short stories I finished in larger collections. A list of what I started would be too long, lol)

A couple stories in Sherlock Holmes Vol 2
Call of Cthulu- H.P. Lovecraft
American Gods- Neil Gaiman
The Naked Sun- Asimov
Robots of Dawn- Asimov
Robots of Empire- Asimov
A Christmas Carol- Dickens
Undead and Unwed- Mary Janice Davidson
Undead and Unemployed- Mary Janice Davidson
Undead and Unappreciated- Mary Janice Davidson
Undead and Unreturnable- Mary Janice Davidson
Undead and Unpopoular- Mary Janice Davidson
Undead and Uneasy- Mary Janice Davidson
Cold Vengeance- Preston & Child
Wizard of Oz- L Frank Baum
The Plagiarist- Hugh Howey
Wool Omnibus (1-5)- Hugh Howey
Gideon’s Sword- Preston & Child
Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat
Rashomon Gate- I. J. Parker
Dragon Scroll- I. J. Parker
Ready Player One- Ernest Cline
Redshirts- Scalzi
Jaws- Peter Benchley
Maltese Falcon- Dashiel Hammett

Wow, is that all of them? Whew!

Arkady Renko

You don’t know Arkady Renko?

Well, I have done you another disservice. Allow me to remedy that.

This is the audible hyperlink for this series. They’ve been reprinted recently in paperback, but the audios are well done and are how I have re-experienced this series.

Arkady Renko starts out his career in Gorky Park as a low-tier Soviet police inspector. In a country that has no crime because There is No Crime in the Happy and Prosperous Soviet State, it’s awfully hard to–well–investigate crimes. He ends up getting handed all the crappy investigations, those for which there are no right answers.

The time setting for these novels is very recent, but still is historical fiction. In Gorky Park, Renko gets in trouble for pursuing criminals fleeing the Soviet Union into the  US, for which he gets shit-canned and sent to serve as a fisherman on the Polar Star. He muddles through, politically, and he watches his Soviet government fall to revolution in Red Square. In the ensuing governmental chaos, he manages to land an investigation in Havana Bay. In Wolves Eat Dogs (the most interesting in the series, I think), he travels to the ghost-land of post-disaster Chernobyl. Stalin’s Ghost studies post-traumatic-stress-disorder experienced by the Russian veterans of the Chechnyan War as viewed through an investigation of a WWII crime, bringing to question whether or not humanity has a driving need for war, whatever government or political face that war carries.

The Renko series is one of my favorites of all my reading, period. I’ve listened to/read them multiple times and every time, even though I can tick off on my fingers the list of  plot points, each book is a new experience. Like the C. J. Sansom’s Shardlake series, Martin Cruz Smith’s Renko series is for me the definition of hisorical fiction.

This Alien Shore

This symbol, and the tag search term “BookBloogerHandsell” means that any independent, brick-and-mortar bookseller of new or used books may utilize the contents of this post to sell this book.

I really liked reading This Alien Shore, by C. S. Friedman (DAW, 1991).

In this space opera, we meet teen-aged Jamisia Shido, who is fleeing her currently-in-the-process-of-blowing-up station via escape pod. She comes to find that she is being hunted, but doesn’t know why.

The reader comes to realize that Jamisia has split-personality disorder.

In this universe, space travel is managed by entering the anniq, and for humans, if you’re not already a nutter, entering the anniq will make you one.

Humanity spread through the stars, but in so doing, discovered that space travel wreaks havoc on your average genetic code, and upon planetfall, had diversified into a variety of new and unique species. Earth is intolerant and terrified of these no-longer-humans, and cuts off all contact, leaving the fledgling colonies to sink or swim with no Home support.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there’s a software virus targeting anniq pilots.

Shits. Between  a fleeing crazy-girl and murder-by-hacker-virus, I had a really enjoyable read with This Alien Shore.

We’ve seen some of these tropes before/since (this novel was originally published in 1991): Earth as intolerant, xenophobic, overpopulated; Awesome Hacker Does Awesome Punk-Hacker Stuff and Saves the Day; monopolized space travel; but for me, who can’t stand overdone tropes, this was fine in this novel.

I loved the discussions of tolerance and diversity; that the community of Outworlders based their survival on the varieties of abilities that different species brings. Sometimes, reading older science fiction can be a little tedious because the science is simply not true anymore, but I like how Friedman sets this novel up for re-reads into the future: she doesn’t describe verbatim how the anniq functions, doesn’t bog down in outdated details how the hacker-hero solves the software problem. She creates all these with beautiful and extremely functional metaphors of surgery, or color patterns.

Jamisia is a fascinating character, in that she is not one, but five characters. One reason I’ll put a book down is because the characters are basically all the same character, but with different names; I get confused in following a dialogue because the two characters in the dialogue have the same speech patterns. Basically, it’s a really rough read for me when the characters are interchangeable in speech, mannerisms, personality. I have to be shown that Character A would never do or say what Character B is doing/saying. Kudos to Friedman, here. Not only does she have unique and engaging characters peopling her universe, but she tightens that writing skill down to a massive black hole that is Jamisia. There are five characters that are Jamisia Shido! Derik is an impulsive and frustrated young guy with a chip on his shoulder. Katlyn is a bit of a ho, seeing men as no more than manipulable beasts of burden. Raven is practical and savvy. Zusu is paranoid and depressed, always ready to hide away. And then there’s The Crying One.

This Alien Shore was a great read for me. I’ll be hitting the re-reads for a while, savoring this experience, since I’m certain it will be a while before I find another author so worthy of taking over my Space Opera soul. Sigh.

Matthew Shardlake series

Yes, I’ve been holding out on you. I don’t know why I haven’t done this post already. This series is excellent.

The Matthew Shardlake series, by C. J. Sansom, is a series of mysteries set in Henry VIII’s England.

The hubs and I have listened to all that are available on audio, and the reader, Steven Crossley *is* Matthew Shardlake–well done! Audible link to the series– and hey! Book 1 is just recently become available! Score!

  • Dissolution
  • Dark Fire
  • Sovereign
  • Revelation
  • Heartstone

I’ve enjoyed listening to/reading these because I find both the story and the reader totally immersive. I put the headphones on and I am in Tudor England, minus the stench. I am very skeptical about historical fiction because so often the author has to pose ridiculous situations or create truly far-fetched characters. For me, C. J. Sansom sets the bar by which I judge all other historical fiction. As much historical fiction as I enjoy, I only have ever found one equal to this series.

Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer, and as such is often roped into Royal politics. He’s also a hunchback, unmarried, and not very religious–the combination of which in religiously tormented England of the mid 1500s, was a difficult thing to be.

The stories encompass and utilize an Oddfellows cast of characters. Shardlake’s best bud is a Moorish doctor. A woman interred in the Bedlam becomes a major player in the second portion of the story-arc.  Sir Richard Rich is a shit-faced asshole.

I love this series because the stories, more than anything else, explore the average Joe at this time. Sansom doesn’t focus on the wealthy and reknown, but rather what it was like to be an Innkeeper, a medic, a soldier, a drunk, a guard. Through the narration, I learn about how people just got along with their lives, dealing with politics and religion and the changes that swept England. How they paid their debts, how food was distributed, what one type of person might of thought of another, how they avoided the draft, how orphaned children and widows get along.

I learned, among other things, about the Law system, about the Dissolution of the monasteries in England, about religious fanaticism, about medical knowledge and practices, about how that society dealt with its clinically insane, about crime, about debt, about money, about water and food, about raising an army, about what average folks would have thought of Henry VIII’s wife-o-matic, about perception and treatment of animals, about the orphan-system, about small-town politics, about travel, about alchemy/chemistry, about warfare, about hygiene…

Through it all, we get to know Matthew, get angry at his humiliations, anxious over his troubles, heartbroken with his tragedies. We get to know him as he gets to know himself, while he is going through his own spiritual definitions, has troubles and arguments with his friends, learns to navigate social and political life.

There are very violent, very disturbing scenes in this series, and yet, they are not so very different from headlines and criminal motivations of today.

AudioBook Review: The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

The Passion of Artemisia is a gripping historical fiction about an Italian female Renaissance painter. Susan Vreeland caught the white-hot drive of the genius painter, and her life. She is constantly struggling against the confines of her gender – against her father, the church, male artists, and even female models. During her lifetime, she lived in several of the premier historical and artistic cities in Europe. She learned to live off of the proceeds of her art, tend and care for herself and a child, and travel without a male escort.

Other artists of the time make guest appearances throughout the novel. Galilie Galileo also gets a few scenes as a kindred spirit. I spent some quality time on Renaissance books this past year, including one on Galileo. So much happened in Europe during this time – so many old concepts were challenged in art, history, astronomy, theology, etc. And The Passion of Artemisia does an excellent job of providing that feeling of the struggle birth of new thoughts.

The books starts off with the roughest scenes of the story. Artemisia, a daughter of a painter, has suffered repeated rape by her farther’s friend, her painting instructor. In addition, a valuable painting has been stolen by the same man. Artemisia is forced to endure a very public trial, which includes public torture (to prove the truth of her words if she holds to under durress). But you have to read that part to understand her character through the rest of the book. She takes all that pain, humiliation, and anger and feeds into her passion – painting.

Here is a link to some of her paintings. Artemisia was a real-life painter and many of her paintings featured heroines in a time when female power was seen as a challenge to the status quo. At the time, male artists were not allowed to use female models for nudes. Because Artemisia was female herself, she could use female nudes for her paintings, giving them a more realistic quality. In a previous article, I commented on this.

Gigi Birmingham was our audio artist for this book and she did a most excellent job. Her pronunciation of the Italian words added to the ability to this book to transport me to another time and place.

AudioBook Review: Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

I know – I already read this book at least twice. But listening to it gives a whole new quality. I have to slow down and listen to each word. James Marsters does an excellent job of bringing to life Harry Dresden’s sarcastic comments, his dry humor when faced with near-certain death, and his exasperation with himself.

As many of you know, Fool Moon is the second book in the Harry Dresden series. Jim Butcher has written one of my all-time favorite series and I keep returning to this world. In this story, Chicago Wizard Harry must face the awful reality that werewolves are loose in his city. But how many? Do they all have the same agenda? Butcher once again wove a tale bringing together different shades of ‘bad guys’, fully making clear their individual motivations. Love, power, control, justice, for the greater good – they’re all mixed in there.

So many characters in the Dresden world I can relate to. In Fool Moon, we meet the geeky college students, The Alphas. Lt. Karrin Murphy continues to play a big part, her desire to trust Harry and her inimical distrust of nearly everyone warring within. This book also had some of my favorite quotes – such as the need to smile at children and idiots. Tara West also had some of the best dry remarks, and proves to be the biggest, and yet simplest, mystery of the book.

On an ending note, I have to share that I borrowed this audiobook through Inter-Library Loan. Unfortunately, there was an indecent accident involving a cat and a cutting board that ruined all the packaging. As a result, I have ‘purchased’ this book, providing a check to the loaning library to replace it. Sigh…. cats…. They have no taste.

Fly-By-Reviews November 2011

OK. You know the drill. This is stuff I read over the past 30 days, roughly, that I didn’t bother to put together a lengthy review on. Enjoy.

Riddle in the Sands by Erskine Childers: This was an audiobook that I borrowed from the library and both M3 and I listened to it. First off, the author’s first and last names are pronounced with soft i . Like in the word ‘chill’. So no Erskeen ChIlders. Next, this book is considered a classic in the espionage genre – one of the cornerstones. I think it must be the back, right cornerstone. It’s necessary for structural support, but very hum drum. The story was really big on yachting and funny, quaint English terms. Spy stuff is hinted at through the book, but not much espionage, 007-Style, is going on. I did learn some nifty things about the North Sea and what kedging is.

The New Frugality by Chris Farrel: This was another audiobook. Nonfiction focused on personal finanaces. This book made Riddle in the Sands seem absolutley roller-coaster exciting. With that said, there were some good nuggets in here. But there were also long stretches focused on different retirement plans that were just way too in depth for what I was looking for. I kind of wanted an overview – just to get me use to the terms, etc. Luckily, this was a short book.

The Pirate Coast by Richard Zacks: Both M3 and I found this to be a very entertaining nonfiction history. I truly learned quite a bit from this book. Now, try to hold your guffaws at my up-til-recent ignorance until the end. Tripoli was the first country the fledgling US went to war with after kicking the Brits out. It was also the first engagement where we tried to employ ‘plausible deniability’. Thomas Jefferson was way relaxed about the dress code once he became President. The deserts of modern-day Libya (Tripoli) have camel caravans. And those caravaners use goat-skin waterbags. Which are greased on the outside, and on the inside. Disgusting, yet life saving. Conversion to Islam usually meant getting out of slavery. But it also meant circumcision. With you wide awake and watching. Aaron Burr killed Hamilton in a duel. Burr also had grand plans to found his own Empire in modern-day Midwest USA. And while he was charged and went to court and all, they couldn’t make anything stick. So he walked. Ok – has the laughter died down? Fun and interesting read.

Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd: Pretty much a series of political monologues about feminism, chauvinism, and eventually, Bushism. Supposedly, the Y-chromosome is shrinking every few thousand years and eventually, the human race will loose the Y all together. We’ll be a unisex culture and all bets will be off when it comes to fashion. Some good points were made about how women have to be exacting and perfect in currently male-dominated arenas, like politics. While men can still get by simply by being men. Example: Dan Quayle as VP. Book discusses double standards – if a man plays the field of love, he is a Playboy. If a woman shows an inkling of sexual forwardness, she is a tart, or slut, or whore, etc. With all that said, I finished the book feeling I hadn’t really gained anything, but merely had some aspects of the gender war confirmed.

Shorts

During this past weekend, I read two short stories on my PC inbetween blogging for the AtHomeCon2. If you’ve been following, one you’ve already heard about – The Button Bin by Mike Allen. The second was Jaludin’s Road by M. Todd Gallowglass.

The Button Bin is this a nitty gritty…urban fantasy? In a previous Darkcargo article, we talk about how Mike Allen usually pushing boundaries of genre definitions. Set in modern America, a young man feels a driving need to find his slightly younger half-niece. The trail has gone cold for the police, but our hero has one scum-bag lead to check with. Following that lead, things start to get a little weird. And that’s what I like. I don’t want to say too much – I mean it’s a short story and if I give it away, you might not be enticed to go check out M. Allen’s work. I’ll also say that the story did not end as I expected, not even matching my second and third guesses.

Jaludin’s Road by Gallowglass I picked up on Smashswords. Set in the desert, Jaludin is going home after a number of years of wandering and various adventures that have left him armed with quite a compliment of enchanted items and almost enough wit. Yes, our hero does end up getting tricked more than once in this story. He steps into his village and finds that everyone is under a curse. He must find the cause of it and remove it before the entire village dies. There’s a wicked wizard in a tower, a young lady in mouse form, and a traveling songmaster who has an untold backstory – and all served to keep me entertained. In reading this story, I really like the feeling that character has depth and a tale I haven’t heard.

TreeBook Review: Aurora in Four Voices by Catherine Asaro

A few weeks ago, Darkcargo announced that Catherine Asaro would be making a guest appearance during AtHomeCon. Contributor Paula Jordon has been working with Ms. Asaro on an interview. Unfortunately, due to the death of an elderly relative, that interview has been postponed. Our warmest thoughts and condolences go out to Catherine Asaro, her family, and friends.

Paula and Lady Darkcargo Beth have been fans of Catherine Asaro’s writing for years; wise they are. Paula wrote a very enticing Asaro fan bit a few weeks ago. Below is an intro by Paula, for those of you who have not bent to the coolness of Asaro’s writing. This is followed by my review of her latest book. I am a newly converted Asaro fan myself.

Science fiction and fantasy writers come from all sorts of backgrounds, but with a couple of common threads: skills and interests in a variety of fields, and a habit of thinking that rarely goes anywhere near the box. But few have the range of skills and interests, or think further out of the box than Catherine Asaro.

A ballerina – with a Harvard PhD in chemical physics and twenty-some novels of science fiction and fantasy to her credit.  A NASA consultant in futuristic propulsion systems and acclaimed author of character-driven hard science fiction in her Skolian Empire series – whose fantasy novels are carefully constructed metaphors for advanced theories of science and mathematics.

Not surprising, then, that Aurora in Four Voices, a new collection of her short fiction, should touch on such varied topics as art, music, psychology, mystery, and cultural diversity as well as echoes of characters and events from the Skolian Empire.

–Paula S. Jordan

Aurora in Four Voices is not only the title of Catherine Asaro’s book, but also the title of the first short story in this collection. This book was my introduction to Asaro’s works; Paula and Lady Darkcargo have been fans of Asaro for some time and I have to say, they know what they’re talking about. This book was comprised of 5 short stories, plus goodies. There is an intro by Kate Dolan and an afterward by Aly Parsons. There is also a short chapter by Asaro on the math used in her science fiction stories.

On that note, Asaro throws in bits of math and physics through out her tales. But if you don’t get it, it isn’t a big deal. The Story still goes forward. If you do get the math and physics references, then you can feel like a Smarty Pants. Which always boosts my ego just above level for a little while. (And no, I didn’t get all the math and physics, but I had a darn good time trying.)

Jigan and Aurora in 4 Voices

Aurora in Four Voices (46 pages)

For those of you who have read Asaro’s works, you will probably be familiar with the two main characters in this tale – ISC Imperialate Messenger Soz and Jato. Soz is our biocomputer enhanced heroine. She is strong and beautiful, has integrity, becomes slightly flustered in her personal relations. This makes her a very approachable character. Jato is this angry, lonesome man that has been trapped on the world of Ansatz in the city of Nightingale for several years for a crime he didn’t commit.

Intriguingly, Jato isn’t computer savvy. The Dreamers, natives of Nightingale, find him ugly and rarely interact with him. Over his lonesome years, he has made this beautiful bird sculpture  – it’s proportions correspond perfectly to a fugue he dreamed up.

Granite Crankenshaft, a master Dreamer artist, is using Jato to create his master art – which is the dark side of the Dreamers – the Aristo. Aristo are the ancestral founders of Ansatz and are now known as the compassionless Traders who are trying to dominate the Universe through slavery.

So here is Soz, merely for a day or two while minor repairs are made to her ship. Plopped right down into a minor mystery of why Jato is being held on this planet for a falsified crime. The chemistry between Soz and Jato was alternately fumbling and steamy. I was sucked in by the depth of character and then swept along by the scenery, and driven to the end of the story by the gripping plot.

Ave de Paso (14 pages)

The location is Southern NM, a most breath-taking locale. The two main characters are native Mayan Mexicans, cousins Manuel and Tina. They are there to mourn her mother, his aunt. In doing so, she sees the Earth God Yahval Balamil. He wants them both and tries to take possession of each in turn.

I could definitely tell there was a bigger story here – each character has history, with each other, and separately. When I finished this short story, it left me wanting more. I especially liked how Asaro caught the nitty-grittyness of the desert.

The Spacetime Pool (72 pages)

Janelle is a strong, intellectual female thrown completely out of her element into an alternate universe where women are valued by the wealth or alliances they can bring to a marriage, and then on their beauty and child-producing ability. Intelligence is last on the list. Dominick and Maximillian are two warring brothers, thrown at each other’s throats over a prophesy made before their births. And Janelle is at the center of that prophesy.

Asaro throws in a few mathematical puzzles throughout the story. But even if you have no idea what Riemann sheets are or the Fourier number, that’s OK. The story still holds together and carries you forward.

I really enjoyed this novella and read it all in one sitting, staying up later than I should have on a work night. When it was done, I felt satisfied, but yet still craving…maybe not an immediate second helping, but more of the same for the next meal. Thank goodness, there were still two more stories in the book.

Light and Shadows (20 pages)

Kelric Valdoria is a test pilot on planet Diesha. Jessa Zaubern is the red-headed engineer for Glint, the test aircraft. Kelric is missing his dead love Cory, driving him to suicidal thoughts.In his grief, he has few interactions with people – his primary conversations being about the new aircraft Glint with his CO or the engineer.

There are a few paragraphs that talk about light speed and how mass increases, etc. Also the time-travel stuff. The concept of the inversion engine was a new one for me, and having it introduced in the middle of an engaging tale means that it will stick with me.

Reading Asaro makes me smarter.

Cities of Cries (88 pages)

Major Bhaajan is hired for a discreet job back on her home world of Raylicon in the City of Cries. She has been engaged by the aristocratic Majda Family. She has to find a missing Prince.

Asaro set up an interesting dynamic by making the Majda a matriarchal society – the women rule the family, the finanaces, and the military. Men are kept secluded and are treasured for thier beauty, nurturing character, and fertility. So, if a cossetted Prince goes missing, it is a big freaking deal.

Bhaajan engages some of her underworld contacts in tracking this handsome MIA down. In digging up her old contacts, she reignites more than one flameable relationship.

I loved all the tech in this story – the little beetle bots, the dampers, the cloaking tech, the weapons, the bio-enhancements. Throwing in a bit of mystery and a bit of romance rounded out this ride to make it a most excellent tale.

–nrlymrtl