**spoiler alert** The Weight of Reason is a novelette about a private investigator named Trant, who happens to be a cyborg, in a near-future world whe...more**spoiler alert** The Weight of Reason is a novelette about a private investigator named Trant, who happens to be a cyborg, in a near-future world where an island-city has emerged off the coast of Britain.
The story starts when Trant is called to the scene of a crime to offer his expertise. Once there, he informs the official investigators that their murder victim is an Otter, a genetically modified human capable of working under the sea (presumably with little apparatus). There is no apparent reason why someone would kill an Otter, the city’s underwater industrial workers, so Trant goes off to a run-down, central market to work his contacts for information.
Once there, he learns the victim had been taking a drug, that though technically legal, she was able to get at a cheaper price through a street supplier. This drug is key, but our cyborg doesn’t know why. Soon after, a mysterious person contacts Trant and gives him a clue - the weight of reason.
While pursuing this case, our cyborg investigator ends up being a suspect in this case and then is subsequently released when more victims turn up. Someone is killing innocent Otters and it appears it has something to do with some impending world-threatening event. Information is revealed to our investigator and the killer finally comes after Trant himself, only to be apprehended by our private investigator and handed over to the authorities.
A tidy tale told in the first person voice, I found this novelette problematic. While the prose is well written and the character Trant is relatable, I found the depth of supporting characters to be far too thin and I never fully understood why Trant being a cyborg was a negative for him. Throughout the tale, our main character seems to lament his condition, though he uses his cyborg abilities to help in his investigation. There never seems to be downside to him being a cyborg. I mean, wouldn’t being a cyborg be considered cool and advantageous? Especially if you happen to be a private investigator? To tell you the truth, his abilities didn’t seem to help him all that much, so in the end, I wondered why he was a cyborg to begin with. Also, some things were just never explained. And I don’t mean the big picture questions (What do those tremors beneath the city mean?), but story-line and logistic questions, like, why would a random person in the know give Trant vague information when later on, he then gives Trant more specific information? Why not give him all he needed to know the first time round? Otherwise, the writing is well paced. The author uses a direct, no-nonsense narrative style that works well with the futuristic-noir-like setting.
I hesitate to recommend this novelette. I would love to see this developed into a novel-length effort to fully explore the ideas and relationships presented in The Weight of Reason.(less)
Ten years after the events of The Killing Moon, the city of Gujaareh finds itself at the brink of violence yet again. Some conspire to take advantage...moreTen years after the events of The Killing Moon, the city of Gujaareh finds itself at the brink of violence yet again. Some conspire to take advantage of the city as it struggles against Kisuati’s harsh rule, others work to preserve its fragile status, while a former prince plots to retake the city.
In the middle of it all, we follow the story of the first female priest of the Hetawa, the city’s religious heart. Though the story of The Shadowed Sun is presented from several viewpoints, this priestess, Hanani, is at the center.
The story begins with a mystery. Dreams are killing people, and no one knows how someone can do that, or who is behind the murders. Hanani, an apprentice Sharer, or one who heals with dream-magic, experiences the tainted touch of the perpetrator first hand during a test and her beloved assistant is killed during what should have been a routine procedure. After that tragic event, whether she wants it or not, Hanani is thrown into the political intrigue that threatens to swallow the city.
A well known character from the first book, Nijiri, a Gatherer (of souls), sends Hanani and her mentor out into the desert to assist Wanahomen, the prince who wants nothing to do with the Hetawa and their priests, especially Gatherers, but is assembling a barbaric army to take back the city – and the Hetawa wants to help him.
Once there, Hanani learns of a culture unlike her own. She is also used by the prince to get what he wants and she suffers for it in a way that many may find…disturbing. She struggles to reconcile the prince’s actions with her feelings for him and the changes going on within her. Tragedy strikes again, when her mentor attempts a healing that goes terribly wrong. This leaves Hanani even more vulnerable, but with the Wanahomen’s help, she discovers more about herself as a woman and as a priestess of the Hetawa.
Meanwhile, back in the city, Nijiri and Sunandi, a Kisuati representative living in the city, struggle to maintain peace while searching for the source of the killing-dreams. We are introduced to a new character, Tiaanet, whose story is truly heartbreaking. Her corrupt father (oh, so corrupt in so many ways) also conspires to strike at the city in manner that will leave it reeling, and may even kill everyone in it.
The Shadowed Sun is a complex novel, and the Dreamblood world is complicated. The city-states are at war, fallen princes can wield dangerous magic, and it seems no one is ever truly safe. With this series, because of the complexity, I felt that I expended more mental energy keeping all the types of priests and their abilities straight, as well as all the different political players. Because of that, I feel the series requires a certain commitment. Know that if you do invest the time to this series, it will pay off.
I do have a gripe about this book. It felt heavy on the romance-side of things. It seemed the relationship between Hanani and Wanahomen oscillated a bit too much and I would have liked more focus on the Gatherer’s story. This is a personal gripe, of course. Nijiri, whom we were first introduced to in The Killing Moon, is still my favorite character and I was a bit bummed that we got so little time with him in The Shadowed Sun. I can only hope that his story continues in future books of this series.
Though not a particularly fast paced book, N. K. Jemisin keeps the tension high with stakes that are even higher for all her characters. Jemisin’s style of writing is intimate and seductive. There’s nothing here that the reader wants to miss nor can they lest they lose the intricacies of the plot. A great follow up to The Killing Moon, I very much enjoyed The Shadowed Sun and enthusiastically recommend it to those looking for a complicated world setting with characters that feel real.(less)
(Review copy (e-arc) provided by publisher, the Humanist Press.)
Kylie’s Heel is about a humanist woman who writes a column dispensing rational advice....more(Review copy (e-arc) provided by publisher, the Humanist Press.)
Kylie’s Heel is about a humanist woman who writes a column dispensing rational advice. She also happens to be a mother, and when her only child goes on a medical mission to Africa, Kylie has reservations, but she is in no way prepared for what happens when her son disappears.
The story begins as Kylie’s son prepares to graduate from high school. He’s an average teenager and Kylie is as attached to him as any mother would be, especially at this time of significant change in both their lives. She tries not to dote on him, and he tries to acknowledge her devotion.
Even though she anticipates missing her son, Kylie is looking forward to spending more time with her second husband, and finding ways to take up her time with special writing projects. She also owns several rental units (on a property that she lives on as well) that she manages. Overall, at the beginning of the book, Kylie’s life is in flux. And, for the most part, she is handling it well.
Kylie’s story soon sours when she finds out her son will be going on a mission over the summer break. Yup, a bona-fide religious mission to Africa.
Though Kylie is not religious, nor did she bring up her son to adhere to a specific dogma, Kylie’s sister, Pheobe, is religious and has convinced Kylie’s son to take part on a mission to help others. He’s a pre-med college hopeful, and this trip would give him field experience. He also seems open to some of the ideas that Pheobe’s “people” hold.
Regardless of his beliefs, he has decided to go. Kylie doesn’t like it, of course. She rightfully questions her sister’s motives in going and in taking her son, and worries about the financial funds to support what could be a dangerous trip. However, despite her misgivings, she allows her son the space he needs to become an independent adult and reluctantly supports his decision.
Tragedy occurs mid-way through the trip when Pheobe calls and explains that Kylie’s son has been kidnapped.
I won’t spoil the story by telling you what happens next, but I will say that it isn’t pretty.
In Kylie’s Heel, Ms. Perry has described the unraveling of a woman at a crossroads in her life. With clear and insightful prose, the author shows us how devastating the dissolution of all that a woman holds dear can be. We follow her through pain and anguish culminating to a decision to take her own life. But then Ms. Perry shows us how a rational person can bear such loss without resorting to a “higher power” nor denigrating those that believe in a “better place”.
A balanced piece, I recommend this book to those looking for a contemplative book about one woman’s story of loss and recovery.(less)
If you are familiar with Jonathan Strahan’s anthology efforts, then you probably know about this anthology. I was not familiar with Strahan, nor did I...moreIf you are familiar with Jonathan Strahan’s anthology efforts, then you probably know about this anthology. I was not familiar with Strahan, nor did I know of this anthology’s existence until my brother handed me the thick tome and said, “It’s worth it.” So, there’s a chance that you may not know about it either. Let me tell you.(less)
The Killing Moon is a story of greed and peace, of emotion and ambition, and of a place in our minds and hearts. That may seem muddled and over-reachi...moreThe Killing Moon is a story of greed and peace, of emotion and ambition, and of a place in our minds and hearts. That may seem muddled and over-reaching, but those are the things that came to mind when I sat down to review N. K. Jemisin’s first book in the Dreamblood series.
For the record, though I did back Mr. Sullivan’s project on Kickstarter and while I did know I had some (very...moreReview originally posted on SFFWorld.com
For the record, though I did back Mr. Sullivan’s project on Kickstarter and while I did know I had some (very small) part in (literally) kick starting this project, I truly had no idea his short story, Greener Grass, would become Hollow World. Frankly, I forgot about it for some time. As a Kickstarter backer, I received updates, but I pretty much ignored them and really had no intention of reading Hollow World. For anyone who has read the initial short story that seeded the novel, while it was a good short story, you may recall the protagonist is not particularly endearing. So, for me, backing Mr. Sullivan’s Hollow World project was support for his previous works (The Riyria Revelations), and not necessarily an endorsement to write a science fiction story illuminating our social and political missteps. Even though one might think I was predisposed to like this book, I was not. I put off reading it for quite some time. Actually, not until after I received my hard back edition (gorgeously put together by Robin Sullivan) that I thought, with a sigh, okay, I’ll read it.
With that disclaimer made, let’s get to the story, shall we?
Hollow World begins with Ellis Rogers being told he is going to die of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and he laughs. No, he’s not a crazy old man. He just knows something his doctor doesn’t: he’s got a time machine sitting in his garage.
Thus begins Ellis’ journey into a future that is both frightening (to him) and awesome (in the true sense of that word). After learning he’s got so little time left to live, Ellis goes home. His estranged wife, Peggy, is there. Ever since his son’s death years ago, their relationship hasn’t been the same. Ellis thinks she loves the TV more than she loves him. And it seems that Ellis doesn’t feel for her the same as he used to either. Though he doesn’t want to hurt her, that doesn’t make him want to stay. After visiting his best friend down at the local bar, a bigoted, ex-football player, Ellis decides he’s going to do it – he’s going to travel to the future. He tells his buddy, Warren, how he figured out the math to get to the future. Even gives Warren the paper and schematic that explains the impossible machine Ellis’ has built – just in case it blows up. Before Ellis leaves, their last conversation touches on all the things wrong in the world; political oppression, racism, social ineptitude of the next generation, and so on. We get a clear sense that Ellis and Warren are god-fearing, 50′s-loving, old dudes hankering for a world that never was and never will be.
When he goes back home, his wife is gone and he discovers something that catapults him to test the machine now; that very night. There’s nothing keeping him in the present and he’s gonna die anyway, so why not?
Miraculously, the time machine works. Ellis finds himself in a forest so majestic he wonders if he got the math right. Could he be on another planet or somewhere in the Amazonian jungle? He’s expecting a great city with skyscrapers and flying cars, not an ancient forest. Regardless, there’s just enough familiarity in the landscape for Ellis to make his way down to a valley that contains, surprisingly enough, the Henry Ford Museum. He’s in Dearborn, Michigan. As he tries to find an entrance to the museum and reconcile the changes in the landscape, he overhears a troubling conversation on the other side of the walled museum compound. To his dismay, it sounds as if there’s a murder in progress. He runs around till he finds the gate and sees something so alarming, it is a wonder he doesn’t have a heart attack.
I am very tempted to describe what he sees, but to do so may spoil the story for you.
Instead, I’ll just say he sees two people from the future. One is dead, the other is covered in the dead person’s blood. And both are naked. The murderer disappears in a slot that appears in the air. And poor Ellis passes out.
When he wakes, he meets more people from the future, one in particular named Pax, and thus begins his true journey. This trip will show him a world where sex, aggression, and some might even say ambition, have been eliminated. After environmental havoc has driven everyone underground, carving out a hollow in the world where it was safe from devastating storms, bioengineering did the rest – creating a humanoid species Ellis can barely recognize.
Pax takes Ellis to Hollow World where he learns that murder is unheard of (even though he just heard/witnessed one) and the world these new humans have built both exhilarates and confounds a person like Ellis*. The new humans are not like him. They don’t have the same needs. Humans have figured out the source of unlimited power. Procreation is not an issue (either the drive or the need). Humans live pretty much forever so the thought of an afterlife (and therefore, a god) just doesn’t make sense. And there doesn’t really seem to be anything in need of conquering or fighting. To Ellis, he sees a hollow world, devoid of desire. This isn’t at all what he thought the future would be like and he’s not sure what to think of it.
But someone does. And he aims to change it in ways that are barbaric by our modern standards, let alone by the morals held by our future brethren. Who this person is and why a recent spate of murders may be linked to that person is a mystery Ellis and Pax rush to discover before all of Hollow World is destroyed.
While the story in Hollow World may seem deceptively simply and some may find Ellis naive in his attitudes towards sexual alternatives and deities, I think Mr. Sullivan has painted very realistic characters. Characters that ring so true, they reminded me of colleagues and neighbors who abhor the very idea of tolerating an open society, let alone living in a world where the very morals they uphold simply wouldn’t make sense. With surprisingly familiar, clear, and poignant (sometimes even funny) language, Mr. Sullivan shows us a world where many of the problems we face today have been eliminated – showing the absurdity of our views. But he also shows us why we hold those views so closely to our hearts.
This book made me laugh. It also made me cry. And in the end, it made me think. I highly recommend Hollow World for anyone looking for a book that brushes on and plays out some political and social issues we face today.
* (For my part, I’m ready for Hollow World. Sign me up on the next trip out.)(less)
Libriomancer’s premise is somewhat unique to me. I’m sure it has been done before, but I haven’t read anything like this. The idea is a type of magic...moreLibriomancer’s premise is somewhat unique to me. I’m sure it has been done before, but I haven’t read anything like this. The idea is a type of magic that enables a gifted reader to physically reach into a book and pull out desired objects. This is libriomancy and it was discovered by Johannes Gutenberg himself (who, in real life, invented the first movable type printing press). Not only did he invent modern printing that changed the world, but in Libriomaner, he also invented a new kind of magic that allowed the very words we all read to literally become real. Of course, once that magic has been released into the world, Gutenberg had to invent a whole organization of ‘porters’ to keep things in under order.
The story begins with Isaac Vainio, a discharged field porter who bent the rules one too many times, while he is cataloguing books into the porters special database that keeps track of weapons, fantastical species, and other objects that might one day make their way into our world. Just as he is about to end his day, his pet fire-spider starts to smoke. A sure sign that danger is nearby. He only has moments to clear the library before he’s attacked by a group of sparkly vampires: Sanguinarius meyerii (yup, from the Twilight series of books).
Despite being able to literally pull a sci-fi gun out of a book, he’s rusty and no match for the vampires. He’s rescued by a beautiful, sexy dryad who just happens to show up. She’s the badass in this book and she summarily dispatches the vampires with wooden bokkens (cool use of those practice swords!).
From then on, the action pretty much does not let up. Isaac and Lena, the sexy dryad, go from one porter house to another only to realize that someone is threatening the very foundations of the organization and may have killed Gutenberg as well (he’s more or less immortal). To save Lena’s lover, they end up in a vampire’s nest, but only get more entangled in what could be an earth-shattering mess. Soon they are hunting down not only vampires, but a wronged porter that is more powerful that the two of them put together.
A bit before mid-way through the book, there is a brief, dull moment when the romance in the story takes center stage, but overall this is a face paced, fun read.
Written in the first person narrative, Mr. Hines writing is smart and spare. This is Mr. Hines 8th novel and it shows. The prose is smooth and overall the pacing is just right for this genre. He explains enough for the reader to understand what is happening at just the right moment and in just the right amount.
So, why don’t I like it? That's right, I don't. Even though I am giving it four stars and am recommending you read it.
Two main reasons (plus another, but you have to go to my blog to hear that rant): the romance and the villain. Explaining in detail about either will probably spoil a lot of the story for you, so I won’t. But I will say this: just because you set up an inescapable sexist situation, it doesn’t make it right. And, not all self-published writers are bad!
Okay, I may have spoiled it for you. Sorry. Please, go read it and make up your own mind. :)(less)
I have to admit, I picked up Theft of Swords only because Mr. Sullivan was gracious enough to agree to submit a story to an anthology I worked on. Of...moreI have to admit, I picked up Theft of Swords only because Mr. Sullivan was gracious enough to agree to submit a story to an anthology I worked on. Of course, before that, I had heard about his books throughout the interwebs touted as ‘traditional sword and sorcery’. I am into traditional fantasy, but after reading the first few books of the Wheel of Time series, I had my fill of traditional fantasy. While it is true that Theft of Swords is a traditional fantasy, I found the story of two endearing thieves refreshing and surprisingly realistic and haunting.
The thieves, Royce and Hadrian, call themselves Riyira. In this first book (consisting of two shorter works that had originally been self-published), we don’t find out why they call themselves that, but when we first meet them, their name and reputation precedes them: they are a duo capable of outstanding feats of thievery. But we soon find out that Hadrian has a sweet, kind heart and Royce is just…misunderstood.
The book starts with the two completing a job successfully. They meet-up with their compatriots at a brothel in the city of Medford, the capital of the Kingdom of Melengar. There they are met by a noble spinning a tale of woe and hefting a large bag of gold. The nobleman speaks with Hadrian and convinces him to take a job. All they have to do is steel a sword – from Essendon Castle, the royal seat of Melengar. Though risky, it seems an easy enough job as the noble will ensure the sword is in an empty chapel. He’ll even leave a remote window open for the two.
And so Hadrian agrees and mayhem ensues. Once in the chapel, the two discover a body, the dead body of the king. A dwarf sees them and calls the alarm. The two are apprehended for a crime they didn’t commit. The dynamic duo were quite easily framed.
At this point, I could have easily stopped reading this book. As every review I read said, this is standard fantasy fare. I knew there would be a princess (that they save). I knew there would be a conspiracy to take over the kingdom (that they thwart). And I knew a wizard would get pulled out of a hat (okay, out of the ground in this case). Yes, very predictable. And I knew all that at this point of the story. I knew I could have put the book down at that point and still write this review.
But I didn’t. Why?
I’m still not sure. I think this is a testament to Mr. Sullivan’s writing: he makes it funny. Not ‘laugh out loud’ funny, and the book is not a parody of the genre – at all. In fact, I would say is is more like a homage to the genre. The fact is, you’ll snort here and there at the dialogue used, in addition to becoming enamored of our plucky heroes and the characters they encounter.
And while yes, they save a princess, it is a spectacular, stone-crashing scene and she’s a witch, too.
And while there is a conspiracy to overthrow the kingdom, its scope is far greater than we can imagine and harbingers epic events in subsequent books.
And the wizard has no hands.
I am glad I continued reading the adventures these two get themselves in. After kidnapping the heir to the throne, they take a trip down a river, save the last monk at a burned-down monastery, break-out the no-hands wizard from a magical dungeon, take the heir back to sympathetic relatives, save the witch/princess, and manage to help place the world back in order. A very satisfying read and an excellent introduction to Royce and Hadrian’s world. After completing it, I knew I’d want to complete this series.
The second half of this book consists of another story, involving much of the same characters and requiring the duo to steal yet another sword. As in the first story, nothing is as it seems and the two face challenges that will have us all wondering about the origins of each character. The manipulations of the Novoron church is made more apparent and the reader gets a sense that the implications of their empire building will have consequences that will touch each race in this world and maybe even the gods.
Inspiring, interesting, short summaries of people who have overcome adversity. The author people from a variety of backgrounds, though it felt to me t...moreInspiring, interesting, short summaries of people who have overcome adversity. The author people from a variety of backgrounds, though it felt to me there were quite a few sport stories. Regardless, each person overcame incredible odds in order to succeed.
Overall, I enjoyed the summaries, but would have liked a more intimate portrait of some. I would recommend this book to anyone seeking casual, but personal, inspirational stories.(less)
After a huge break from non-fiction, I get right into the thick of the theist debate with Stifyn Emrys’ Requiem for a Phantom God.
These collected shor...moreAfter a huge break from non-fiction, I get right into the thick of the theist debate with Stifyn Emrys’ Requiem for a Phantom God.
These collected short essays, presented in nineteen chapters, detail the authors exploration of the Christian faith, ultimately trying to answer why Christians have settled for a “little god”.
The author begins with a preface, detailing his upbringing in Christianity and laying down the basis for this book: If there’s an omniscient god, do we really have free will?
I won’t tackle the question of what truly is free will (see my review of Sam Harris’ Free Will earlier this year). That’s a topic for greater minds than my own. Let’s just say that we do have a say in our future, that we have a choice to do right or wrong, believe or not believe. But if that is the case, isn’t it all moot with an omniscient god? Would that god already know (thus it is already done) each and every tiny detail of each of our lives? We can’t have a choice and there be an omniscient god, too, right?
Well, according to Christian philosophy, yes, we can.
In Requiem for a Phantom God, Mr. Emrys explains to the reader in clear and entertaining prose how contradictory those two ideas are and why countless other Christian beliefs undermine the ideas that would move our society and species toward a better future.
In the first essay, the author tackles the very basis of belief, pitting science against blind faith, but ultimately realizing that the burden of proof is upon the believer – the person who claims in a being no one can hear, see, taste, or feel. However, that person’s claim can not be based on logic and modern argument, because it relies on – you guessed it – faith. Regardless, the author doesn’t let atheist off the hook either. As an agnostic (and presumably, a scientist), he recognizes that evidence is the key to any extraordinary claim.
In the remainder of the book’s essays, the author explores the evidence that exists today. By reviewing the very basis of the Christian religion, the Holy Bible, Mr. Emrys goes through points of theological and moral contradiction, illuminates blatant mis-representation and plagiarism, and explains the true nature of the very cruel notion of original sin.
Though a lifelong atheist, Requiem for a Phantom God gave me a light-bulb moment. It seems so obvious now after Mr. Emrys put it all together, but before reading this book, I truly thought Christianity, and its many forms, had its follower’s best interest at heart. But, now I see the religion’s true face: a dogmatic cult that has gotten far too out of hand. The evidence is indeed lacking.
I doubt hard-core believers would tolerate the direct language in this book, but I believe most with an open mind will appreciate Mr. Emrys’ gentle prose and logical arguments. The author doesn’t bog the reader down with a ton of academic references, but does explain key Bible verses and puts them into a historical context that reveals not only their true meaning, but gives us a glimpse into the lives of the intended audience.
This is a short read. And though the essays should be read in order, I think it would be best read at a leisurely pace. Allow the author’s words to settle, and explore the questions he raises at your own pace. After reading, if you’re an atheist like me, you might not question your beliefs, but you might look at your Christian neighbors with a more understanding eye.