The Girl in the Road is the debut novel of Monica Byrne. The writing is solid and competently written, thus fairly engaging for the reader. The blurbThe Girl in the Road is the debut novel of Monica Byrne. The writing is solid and competently written, thus fairly engaging for the reader. The blurb however is a little misleading. The book is billed as sort of a near-future thriller and adventure following two women as they flee their homes to Ethiopia, one headed west from India across the Indian Ocean and the other east from the coast of the Atlantic. Instead it is more of a character piece, examining the women's lives and their emotional traumas as they make their journeys.
So in a character piece the important thing is to make the characters relatable to the reader. However, unlike the prose the characterization is a little under-par. I just never connected to the characters at all. Especially because, and I don't feel this is a spoiler because it becomes apparent quite early on, that both Meena and Mariama are somewhat mentally unstable. I don't always mind this kind of plot device, but if I can't connect with the characters it just makes it all the more difficult. It doesn't help that as the mental unbalances become more and more obvious, the story becomes even more nonsensical.
The Girl in the Road is an intriguing, but frustrating read because I never connected to the characters and thus was ultimately unfulfilling. On the plus side, the book is set in both India and Africa with Ethiopia the ultimate destination for characters who are both women of color. For those that care about that element and can relate to the story, this may be a worthwhile book for you.
David McDonald is an Australian speculative fiction author who has written several short stories and his first novel, a novelization of a Canadian movDavid McDonald is an Australian speculative fiction author who has written several short stories and his first novel, a novelization of a Canadian movie, was released last month. For full disclosure, the author is a friend of mine. The collection, Cold Comfort and Other Stories, features three of McDonald's short stories, two reprints and one original.
"Cold Comfort." This first story is an apocalyptic tale set centuries in the future where Earth is in the grips of an Ice Age and humanity is now confined to domed structures. The main character, Vanja, is a woman trader who travels between the settlements bringing crafts and news, though her true passion is being an explorer and learning history. After an attack by wild animals, Vanja comes across a dome that has not had a visitor for years and must deal with their backward preconceptions. In the process, she learns the truth behind humanity's precarious existence.
"Cold Comfort" is quite a good story with good prose, competent writing, and an interesting main character. The use of prejudice is well handled without overdoing it and so is the revelation of the reason for mankind's current existence. I could easily see this expanded into a novel. The only quibbles I have with the story have to do with a few elements of the world-building. For instance, Vanja is a trader, however, she doesn't seem to carry anything except a small backpack's worth of items for trade, which to me would hardly justify her journeys. Or at least, we the readers don't "see" the items; we're only told she has them. So perhaps a little more "showing" instead of "telling".
"Through Wind and Weather." This story is the shortest of the bunch at just a couple of pages. It's about a space pilot who teams up with a wacky A.I. to deliver badly needed goods to a planet and must survive solar storms to get there in time.
There is a lot of good stuff in this story: solar storms, a bold pilot, an A.I. considered odd even for his kind, and a quick, tense plot. While reading this I was thinking that this story really needs to be longer to really explore everything properly, until I got to the end and realized the story is long enough for what it is. I can't reveal anything without spoiling it, but I have to say it feels strange that the story length is both just right and not long enough.
"Our Land Abounds." The last story is the original of the three and might be the most polished. "Our Land Abounds" is set in the near-future where the world has suffered from shortages in food and other resources while Australia has manged to prosper by using its isolation to its advantage The main character works in the government as an immigration officer who is hardened to his job, but still feels empathy with the people he deals with.
I thought this was a good story dealing with immigration and scarcity, about what happens when people and countries do what is needed to survive. The main issue I have is that it really isn't long enough. The main character empathizes with an immigrant, but there isn't enough done with how he comes to feel that way and what he does with those feelings after.
Cold Comfort and Other Stories is a pretty decent collection of stories from an up and coming author. The stories aren't perfect so McDonald still has a little ways to go as a writer, but with more experience he will certainly make a name for himself.
I thought it was past time I did a full review for a collection/anthology book. I rather enjoyed Brad Torgersen’s first collection, Lights in the DeepI thought it was past time I did a full review for a collection/anthology book. I rather enjoyed Brad Torgersen’s first collection, Lights in the Deep, so I thought I’d give his new collection a try.
“The Curse of Sally Tincakes.” About a female race driver determined to overcome freaky superstition to be the first woman to win on a lunar race track. It’s a fairly decent SF sports story, though utterly predictable.
“The Bricks of Eta Cassiopeiae.” Very solid emotional story about prisoners set on a colony world where resources are scare so everyone must contribute to the economy. The main character is not a hardened criminal, but rather someone who made a stupid mistake in his youth and has worked hard to change himself. As someone who sometimes struggles with his own temper, I can easily relate to it. Possibly the best story in the collection.
“Guard Dog.” A wounded soldier takes one more opportunity to serve by becoming an android in order to protect Earth from a vicious alien race. At least until he discovers the truth. Solid story for the most part, but there really isn’t enough pages devoted to setting things up. Also, fairly dark ending, which is perhaps not too surprising considering it was co-written with Mike Resnick.
“Recapturing the Dream.” A former asteroid miner must overcome emotional trauma to recapture the human dream. Decent story about the severe emotional trauma possibly when one single person survives the death of small, close-knit group. The idea is hardly new, though the author handles it well. It’s just that as an introvert myself, I’m not sure I really understand how such a thing would affect other people.
“The Flamingo Girl.” A murder mystery about a prostitute genetically altered to look like giant birds. A strange story idea from Torgersen, not to mention I felt this world-building element was rather gratuitous for no real reason.
“Reardon’s Law.” A military cop investigates the theft of prototype military armor and stop it from falling into enemy hands. The longest story in the collection, and yet the least developed and the most ridiculous. What I mean is, hardly any of the necessary political backstory concerning a civil war between human factions is explained when it should have been, plus there are faults of logic all over the place.
“Blood and Mirrors.” Another murder mystery, this one about a former sex robot turned cop who must stop a series of brutal murders. Torgersen seems to have prostitutes on the brain lately. Premise relies on robots built for sex that then become self-aware. Okay, I could buy that. But then while the author did think through the commercial and legal implications, he certainly didn’t consider the programming side and why the robots think exactly real people. His lack of experience in the mystery genre is also evident because the killer is painfully obvious.
“The Shadows of Titan.” Horror mystery about alien artifacts on Saturn’s moon, Titan. I like that Torgersen was thinking about what Titan is really like and wrote a story set in the location. But like “Reardon’s Law” above, there are logic problems such as how the captain of the vessel exploring Titan does stupid things for no apparent reason and nearly gets everyone killed. There is supposedly a reason relating to the alien artifacts, but I didn’t find it believable so it comes across like the captain went stupid because she was a civilian with no military training.
“The Nechronomator.” Time travel story where zombies powered by the afterlife go back in time to prevent their own deaths. Really, really weird genre choice and very strange story overall. I’m not really sure what to think to be honest.
“The Hideki Line.” Another time travel episode, this one about “lines” that go back to particular points in time and a small group of extremists want to go back and erase all the mistakes made by mankind. Frustrating, because the whole thing comes across as a spiel against the dangers of environmentalists. Extremists are dangerous no matter which side they’re on, buttercup.
“Peacekeeper.” Humans are used as peacekeepers by a third party on an alien world wracked by civil war. Definitely one of the better stories in the collection, probably because it’s the second story here that was co-written by Mike Resnick, a much more experienced writer. This one really should have been expanded a bit more as there was a lot of good material here.
“Life Flight.” Another solid, emotional story about a kid, on a colony ship headed for another star system, who is unable to go into hibernation and must spend the entire trip awake. Torgersen really captured the essence of being the only person to grow old on a trip like this. However, like some of the other stories, it has logic problems, the biggest one being why kids would be awake during the trip. Yes, some adults are awake as well, but there is no reason I can think of why kids would be except without that there is no story.
Overall, I suppose this was a decent collection of short stories, however, it felt like a letdown after some of Torgersen’s older stories. If you’re pretty new to science fiction, then maybe you might enjoy this. More experienced readers will probably want to look elsewhere.
Wang Miao is a Chinese researcher working on nanomaterials with the eventual goal of creating a space elevator. He seems to be living in strange timesWang Miao is a Chinese researcher working on nanomaterials with the eventual goal of creating a space elevator. He seems to be living in strange times however, as scientists are committing suicide and the military asks him to join a secretive scientific organization as a double agent. He also comes involved in an online video game that seems deceptively simple at first, but turns out to be incredibly complex and may be have staggering implications to the real world and mankind’s place in the cosmos.
The name Cixin Liu, or more properly Liu Cixin, is probably not familiar to most Americans or other English speakers and that’s because the author is Chinese. To others, he is one of the biggest authors of speculative fiction in China, and his Three-Body trilogy, of which The Three-Body Problem is the first book, is China’s biggest-selling hard sci-fi series, spanning time from the chaos of the Cultural Revolution to the end of the universe. This is not the first time Liu’s work has been translated, but The Three-Body Problem is his first novel to have been so.
One of the first things someone might ask about this book is how well was it translated and how does it stand up. To my eyes, it does so extremely well. The translation was superbly handled by Ken Liu, one of the best emerging sci-fi authors of the last few years. In his translator’s postscript, Liu mentions that very slight changes, with the author’s permission, were made to help explain background detail of China and to streamline the storytelling differences between Chinese and English.
So what is different about the story than most Western readers would expect? It’s actually a little hard to put my finger on it. If I were pressed, I’d say one thing is that while the plot is very straightforward and linear, the structure is somewhat unusual in that it jumps around a lot focusing on bits here and there that contribute to the story. In other words, the plot may be pretty direct but the story is not. Those who prefer a simpler novel may be put off, but those used to unconventional narratives should be fine.
One thing in particular I want to mention about this book is that I think it works better if you don’t know much about it going in. I believe the story reads much better if you ignore the official blurbs in order to avoid spoilers. That’s why the synopsis I provided above is fairly minimal, and it’s therefore why I won’t say much other than that the novel involves aliens, complicated physics, and an interstellar struggle for survival.
The final point I do want to make is that this book, and the trilogy by implication, is quite complex. It has many of historical and literary aspects that would appeal to Literature readers while also covering many philosophical, mathematical, scientific issues in often mind-numbing detail. A rudimentary understanding of physics is not just recommended, it’s required. It’s easy to see why these books have garnered so much popularity and acclaim in China.
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu is a great, enthralling book and I’m glad it’s now available in English. It is a complex science fiction book and it’s easy to see why it is so popular in China. It is a welcome addition to world speculative fiction. Strongly recommended.
Like the previous book in the Wild Cards series, Fort Freak, Lowball focuses on the cops and the poor, deformed residents of Jokertown. In this book,Like the previous book in the Wild Cards series, Fort Freak, Lowball focuses on the cops and the poor, deformed residents of Jokertown. In this book, jokers are going missing and except for a young cop looking to prove himself, the authorities are unwilling to investigate. This means that the jokers and other wild cards take matters into their own hands. The deeper they get, the higher the stakes get and the seedier the search becomes.
Like the previous books in this long-running series, the stars are the characters: the aces and jokers drastically changed by the Wild Card virus. Characterization and interaction are both mostly good. Most of the stories are good, though like Fort Freak I didn’t care for all the contributing authors. Cassutt’s writing has just never worked for me. And in Mohanraj’s story, a character makes a rather stupid decision that felt like it was done purely for drama.
Unfortunately, there also seemed to be an editing problem. While some of the stories are good, the whole was less than the sum of its parts. Stories by Vaughn and Tregillis were well written, but they featured characters from the previous series Committee “triad” and it felt like they were only included in order to carry the plot forward.
The plot was one of the weakest parts of the book. It took a little while to get going and felt a bit like a B-movie/TV story. It’s also a bit thin and while it mostly gets resolved by the end of the book, the reader suddenly gets a strange cliffhanger ending.
So all in all, Lowball is a decent Wild Cards book, but not a very satisfying one. It has good characters and interactions; however, the B-movie/TV plot feels a bit stretched. And while some of the stories are good, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
Neil Clarke, editor of Clarkesworld magazine, edited this Kickstarter anthology about the positive and negative impacts of cyborgs in science fiction.Neil Clarke, editor of Clarkesworld magazine, edited this Kickstarter anthology about the positive and negative impacts of cyborgs in science fiction. As a cyborg myself, I was curious enough to contribute to the project. There quite a few big-name authors involved, and the anthology is quite well written with very few duds. A few stories, while good, seem a better fit for a more general sci-fi anthology, but most do a good job presenting a more thoughtful look at the cyborg experience itself.
Dream Houses is a limited edition novella written and published for this year's Capclave, a SFF convention in Washington D.C. The story is about a womDream Houses is a limited edition novella written and published for this year's Capclave, a SFF convention in Washington D.C. The story is about a woman who works as a grunt on a freighter run to a nearby star system, but wakes up early to find her crew dead and she faces a long voyage alone with only the ship's A.I for company. It's basically a tale about what happens to a person when they face madness from a long time alone. The story is well told, though it didn't feel like anything that I hadn't already read before.
I've seen this one called a "side-quel" to Blindsight, which doesn't make much sense to me. What I think is more accurate, it that it's a companion piI've seen this one called a "side-quel" to Blindsight, which doesn't make much sense to me. What I think is more accurate, it that it's a companion piece to the 2006 book about sentience and intelligence. This tackles some of the same ideas, but in a different way that is kind of hard to describe. In the appendix to this book, the author suggests, "faith-based hard sci-fi", which is certainly interesting. I didn't enjoy Echopraxia quite as much Blindsight, but then a lot of ideas in this one were over my head. The two books together are certainly full of fascinating ideas and just beg for multiple re-reads.