3.5ish stars for this Nebula-nominated SF/fantasy novelette. Persephone Aim is sorting through her dead grandmother's memorabilia and possessions, whi3.5ish stars for this Nebula-nominated SF/fantasy novelette. Persephone Aim is sorting through her dead grandmother's memorabilia and possessions, which is worse than it sounds because Grandmother was a hoarder. There are a few valuables left behind from Grandmother's illustrious career as a stage magician, but most of it is junk or worse. But things get interesting when Persephone finds an odd metal hand, marked with swastikas and lightning bolts, and then a mechanical leg.
Meanwhile some government agents are asking if they can "help" sort all of Grandmother's things, and Persephone's own mother has come into town and is starting to act all aggressive about Grandmother's possessions ...
I started "Carpe Glitter" with high hopes but ended feeling a little let down. The beginning and even the middle were great, but it ended with an underwhelming rush. I think it was supposed to be scarier than it was. It felt like the last part needed more details, more events, just ... MORE.
If you're interested in scary + hoarding relatives, I'd suggest The Twisted Ones over this one.
3.5 stars, tentatively rounding up. This sequel to the award-winning fantasy Gideon the Ninth is incredibly ambitious, very wordy, and highly confusin3.5 stars, tentatively rounding up. This sequel to the award-winning fantasy Gideon the Ninth is incredibly ambitious, very wordy, and highly confusing for about 3/4 of the book. It follows Harrowhark, Gideon’s frenemy, as she goes through the slower-than-usual process of becoming one of the God-Emperor’s Lyctors. Mixing second and third person POVs (not to mention several chapters of first person POV toward the end), Harrow navigates a complex web of conspiracies and not knowing for certain who is on her side and who wants her dead.
It’s both fascinating and frustrating, and it often made my brain hurt. If you loved Gideon the Ninth I’d definitely recommend it; if you weren’t a big fan, I’d probably give it a pass.
Full review to come! Thanks so much to Tor for the ARC!...more
3.75 stars. Another Retro Hugo nominee published in 1944, this novelette eventually became part of Isaac Asimov's famous SF novel Foundation. The stor3.75 stars. Another Retro Hugo nominee published in 1944, this novelette eventually became part of Isaac Asimov's famous SF novel Foundation. The story is free online at Internet Archive, but I'd recommend just finding a copy of Foundation and reading all of the stories in order, even though they're semi-stand-alone. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
The Big and the Little (renamed "The Merchant Princes") is the last section of Foundation, and introduces Hober Mallow, a trader who sells the Foundation’s unique atomic-powered goods to other planets in their remote part of the Galaxy. The Foundation is concerned about the disappearance of three trade ships, blaming the Korellian Republic, and the Foundation mayor’s secretary asks Mallow to quietly investigate. Mallow finds evidence that the far-distant but still massively powerful Galactic Empire, which also still has atomic power, may be not quite as distant as the Foundation’s leaders hoped.
The FOUNDATION trilogy is a lifelong favorite of mine, but rereading the first book again now, after many years, I have to reluctantly admit there are more significant flaws in it than I was aware of when I was in my teens. I made a comment to my family the other night about the near-complete failure of Golden Age SF authors to envision the advancement in opportunities for women. The striking scene where Hober Mallow puts the marvelous atomic-powered cloak and necklace on a servant girl, wasn’t nearly as wonderful to me now as it was to Teenage Me. That, and Asimov’s penchant for letting his characters retell some of the most impactful events in his stories rather than showing the events directly, do weaken this story (and some of the other Foundation stories) significantly.
Perhaps, then, it’s partially my lingering fondness for this series, but I still thoroughly enjoyed rereading The Big and the Little. There’s some complicated plotting that goes into it, a few truly memorable scenes, and a twisty but highly fitting ending that I’ve never forgotten....more
4.5 stars - my favorite of the 1944 stories nominated for Retro Hugo awards! You can read "Arena" free online here or here. Review first posted on Fan4.5 stars - my favorite of the 1944 stories nominated for Retro Hugo awards! You can read "Arena" free online here or here. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature, together with reviews for ALL of the current Retro Hugo novelette and short story nominees. Seriously, this FanLit column took me HOURS to put together, even though I didn't write all of the reviews in it, so please scoot over there and take a quick look and let me know if my efforts paid off. Feel free to add a comment to the thread there. :)
Two huge space fleets near Pluto are about to engage in a battle to the death: Humans and the aliens they call the Outsiders. Bob Carson, a young human in an individual scout ship, is about to engage with his Outsider counterpart in another scouter when he suddenly blacks out, only to awaken under a dome on a planet in another dimension. Across from him is a large red ball with retractable tentacles that turns out to be the Outsider scout, and the two are separated by an invisible barrier.
A disembodied voice informs Carson that if the space battle ensues, one side will be wholly exterminated, but that “winner” will be so damaged that it will “retrogress and never fulfill its destiny, but decay and return to mindless dust.” So this powerful entity has plucked Carson and the Outsider out of the two fleets to fight a one-on-one duel to the death. This being will destroy the entire spacefleet of the loser, allowing the winning species to continue to progress. But given the invisible barrier between the two, it will be a battle of brains as much as physical strength.
I first came across "Arena" at about age 13 in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929-1964, a book that was instrumental in shaping my love and tastes for SF. "Arena" was one of the most compelling and memorable stories in the collection, and rereading it now, a few decades later, I’m impressed with how well this novelette has withstood the test of time. Compared to some of the other Retro Hugo nominees from this year, it’s an outstanding piece of storytelling, and there’s a nice note of irony to the ending.
"Arena" was used at least partially as inspiration for a famous Star Trek episode in 1967 (also called Arena), which has a quite different ending. Many prefer the Star Trek ending, and I can't really argue with that, but considering that this was written during WWII, when the mood for righteous war was at its peak, it’s impressive that Brown actually took the time to show that Carson does attempt to make peace with the Outsider, which responds with a wave of hatred so strong that it physically weakens him.
"Arena" may be somewhat lacking in depth and nuance, but as a suspenseful, well-told SF action tale from this era, it’s hard to beat....more
One more Retro Hugo nominee! The Changeling is a 1944 novella by A.E. van Vogt, a well-regarded Golden Age SF author, which is currently a nominee forOne more Retro Hugo nominee! The Changeling is a 1944 novella by A.E. van Vogt, a well-regarded Golden Age SF author, which is currently a nominee for the 2020 Retro Hugo award. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature (along with a link to Internet Archive, if you're interested in checking this out):
The Changeling begins in a fairly promising way: The comfortable life of Lesley Craig, a well-to-do business executive, is upended when his boss comments on how well the firm has done since Craig joined it four years ago. Craig is confused: he knows he’s been with the Nesbitt Co. for (pause while he counts) thirty-four years. Which makes Craig fifty years old and — now he’s getting concerned — he looks and feels like he’s in his mid-thirties, and his memory of most of these years is pretty hazy.
When Craig sets off to confront his wife, he’s taken prisoner by (cue wincing here) a group of tough women who have taken an “equalizing” drug that makes them physically … and presumably mentally and emotionally … as strong and capable as men. Equality of the sexes, 1940’s-style! These “equalized” women haul Craig before the president of the U.S., Jefferson Dayles. President Dayles favors Craig with some “As you know, Bob” info-dumping about their troubled times in 1973, threatens him, takes a sample of Craig’s blood, and then sends him on his way.
Everyone around Craig — his wife Anrella, his boss, the president and others — seems to have competing ideas about what Craig should do, but none of their ideas involve informing Craig about what is really going on with his entire life. Craig is a confused man, and as he stumbles from one crisis and plot complication to the next, the reader is equally confused. Far-fetched explanations are eventually forthcoming, but the plot is a severely disjointed one, with a few odd jumps in time, and a murky ending that did nothing to redeem the story. Add to that the really cringe-worthy treatment of gender issues; even for the 40s, this seems like awful stuff. The Changeling is pretty much a hot mess, with a lot of wasted potential....more
This review is only for Intruders from the Stars, a 1944 novella that's currently a Retro Hugo nominee. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature, aloThis review is only for Intruders from the Stars, a 1944 novella that's currently a Retro Hugo nominee. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature, along with a link to Internet Archive if you really want to read it. But I can't recommend it!
I have never seen a published work with so many exclamation points. There are dozens of them — on Every! Single! Page! This is one seriously overwrought novella, with tons of purple prose. It stars Bess-Istra, a gorgeous (of course) and megalomaniacal Queen of All She Surveys, who loses a battle against rebels on her home planet and takes off in a spaceship with her remaining (more or less) loyal soldiers to take over another planet 13 light years away.
Their scientist uses a sleeping gas to put everyone on the ship into suspended animation for the trip. Because of Reasons, they miss the planet they were aiming for and, many millennia later, land on Earth during WWII. Bess-Istra promptly moves to take over the Earth.
This novella features another those tough, highly competent guys so popular in Golden Age SF, a war correspondent in this case, who falls in love with Bess-Istra even though he knows she’s bad news (not to mention being, you know, an actual space alien, though she conveniently speaks English). When I hit the phrases “her breast heaving” on the third page and “her glorious, scarlet lips” on the page after that, used in a completely unironical way, I knew we were in trouble. It never really gets any better from there.
The only part that engaged me was the brief explanation of how and why they missed the other planet they were aiming for. :)...more
Trog is a 1944 novella that's currently a nominee for the 2020 Retro Hugo award, in the novella category. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature (aTrog is a 1944 novella that's currently a nominee for the 2020 Retro Hugo award, in the novella category. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature (along with a link to Internet Archive, if you're really interested in checking this out):
It's the 1950s in this story, and civilization is severely breaking down all over the world. People called Troglodytes or "Trogs" have been mysteriously destroying key equipment and industries. The prevailing theory is that humans have a mass consciousness that is fed up with technology and wants to send humanity back to more of a Middle Ages type of existence, so this group-mind thing temporarily possesses individuals, turning them into Trogs. To add to the problem, Trogs can also cause everyone around them to temporarily black out, so no one ever sees them committing the sabotage. People walk around, worrying that they themselves are Trogs who committed destructive acts during their black-outs.
Trog is very much a tale of its era, with tough-minded, competent men who whip out world-changing technical gadgets, mostly useless and decorative women (when women even appear in the story at all), and — this is a 1944 story, after all — Nazis nefariously scheming to take over the world. Despite these drawbacks, and the minimal characterization, I did think this was a reasonably entertaining story, plot-wise.
The “collective unconscious of humanity” theory admittedly doesn’t make much sense, but then, large groups of people often do in fact adopt ideas that in retrospect seem utterly nonsensical, and of course here it turns out that something entirely different is going on. Good thing we have the heroes to save the day … before the plot really had a chance to get exciting, unfortunately. Still, giving due consideration to when it was written, Trog wasn’t so awful that I think it deserves only a single star. That dubious honor I’ll reserve for Intruders from the Stars....more
Ten-year-old Nyma is chosen for a singular role in her country: to be the child whose life stands between the president’s decision to deploy devastating seres bombs in the war against their enemy. The only copy of the access codes to the seres missiles are in a capsule implanted next to Nyma’s heart. The law requires that the president personally kill the carrier child with a ceremonial dagger, to retrieve the codes to launch the bombs. Once the new president, Otto Han, is elected, Nyma is always to be near him. And despite President Han’s reluctance to grow closer to Nyma (he initially resists even knowing her name), it inevitably happens, while the war news grows more and more grim.
The theme and issue are clearly stated in this story, multiple times and in varying ways:
Do you truly wish to use such weapons so badly, that you would be willing to do as the law requires and murder a child of your own land with your own hands in order to gain access to them?
It’s pretty good message fiction: what if the government made it really (REALLY!!) hard for the president to pull the plug on deploying nuclear weapons? Is the loss of so many other lives, a belief in the rightness of your cause, the fear that your own country will be devastated if you don’t take action, sufficient? These are difficult questions that both President Han and the reader struggle with, and Huang doesn’t offer an easy answer. What makes it even more difficult is Nyma’s own belief in the necessity of her role, despite her wish to live.
But I can’t quite wrap my brain around the idea of enough people agreeing to create a law that deliberately uses an innocent child as the sacrifice that the president personally needs to take, with his own hands, in order to bomb the enemy. On the other hand, Ursula K. Le Guin‘s famous short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” a thematically similar parable about the ethics of the greater good, also uses an innocent child as an even more inexplicable sacrifice, and I think that story is great. Maybe Huang’s writing style, which is far less subtle, just didn’t engage me as much as Le Guin’s did.
In any case it’s great food for thought, and is a Hugo nominee....more
4.5 stars. This clever SF novella is just my brand of literary crack. Climate change, time travel paradoxes, shifting reality, the past affecting the 4.5 stars. This clever SF novella is just my brand of literary crack. Climate change, time travel paradoxes, shifting reality, the past affecting the future and vice versa — it’s all here. A 71 year old Russian widow is the main character, and she’s GREAT. And the plot is intricate but actually makes logical sense through all of it, and I am HERE for that.
“War is hell,” William Tecumseh Sherman famously said in the aftermath of the American Civil War, anFinal review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
“War is hell,” William Tecumseh Sherman famously said in the aftermath of the American Civil War, and Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade, a Hugo and Locus award nominated novel, drives that point home. The brutality of a soldier’s life combines with dystopia and hellish corporate behavior, but it’s lightened by the gritty determination of the main character, Dietz, and a handful of others to find the right path out of the nightmarish war, and by a hopefulness that refuses to be beaten down.
In a near-future day, six huge corporations, called the Big Six, control most of Earth’s society, doling out vital services only to people who are citizens. Dietz, a non-citizen of São Paulo, has suffered the loss of family and friends in “The Blink,” a mysterious event that instantly destroyed São Paulo and killed over two million people. Martian colonists, considered “aliens” by Earth, are blamed for the Blink, and Dietz promptly joins the Tene-Silvia Corporate Corps to avenge the deaths and to try to be a hero, a personage of light. Which Dietz becomes, but not in the way envisioned.
Earth has one major advantage over Mars in this war: scientists have figured out how to break down the soldiers into atoms and transporting them, like a beam of light, to various battle locations, even across space. This teleporting technology doesn’t always work out well for the soldiers, but nobody asks the privates for their opinions. The corporation considers that it owns the soldiers, body and soul, and has the ability to order them to do anything and everything. But the war isn’t what the brass in power have made it out to be, and Dietz begins experiencing the war in a non-linear fashion. Each teleporting jump lands Dietz in a different time and place, though generally with the same platoon.
The Light Brigade is a military science fiction novel that follows the time-honored path, first popularized in Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, of following an eager but naïve recruit into the military machine, through basic training and into battle, gaining experience, seniority and skepticism along the way. Dietz’s Brazilian origins and yearning for the benefits of citizenship, among other things, make it clear that The Light Brigade is in conversation with Starship Troopers (there are a number of these deliberate homages and references to various MilSF novels). But Hurley’s novel is far more spiritually akin to Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, which speaks to the dehumanizing effect of war and the alienation experienced by soldiers.
The Light Brigade takes the discussion in a somewhat different and more modern direction. It’s more viscerally and overtly brutal and bloody and profane, punching home the point that war, in addition to being hell on earth, is more often than not unjustified by the circumstances. Dietz narrates almost the entire book, other than some occasionally transcripts of interviews with a prisoner of war, the purpose and import of which become clear much later in the novel. It’s interesting that we don’t find out Dietz’s sex for a long time, or first name for even longer. Soldiering and war are equal-opportunity, and equally brutal for both sexes. Dietz is truly just a cog in the warfare machinery … until Dietz isn’t.
There’s a lot of jumping around in time and place and the plot can get a little hard to follow as a result. In the acknowledgements at the end, Hurley mentions her debt to the person who helped create a mathematical graph to track all of the events in the book and ensure that they line up correctly, so I’m certain that the events and timeline(s) would make far more sense on a second read. The Light Brigade is a bit simplistic with its villains, contrasting the profoundly uncaring and frequently even evil corporations and their leadership with the hopeful and hope-bringing socialists. The world-building is also a little sparse, as are the characterizations of the soldiers other than Dietz. With just a couple of exceptions, I tended to lose track of who was who.
But Hurley’s handling of the events and themes is powerful. There’s optimism and hope in the face of despair, corrupt corporations and governments, abuse of authority and a blasted world. The teleporting and time travel aspects add to the intrigue of the plot.
The Light Brigade is based on Hurley’s 2015 short story of the same name, published in Lightspeed magazine. I read it after reading the novel, and it’s rather like reading the CliffNotes for the novel (so, spoilers ahoy). I don’t always prefer novelizations of shorter works; for example, I think the original short versions of Daniel Keyes’ “Flowers for Algernon,” Isaac Asimov’s Nightfall and Nancy Kress’s Beggars in Spain were all more potent than the subsequent novels. But in the case of The Light Brigade, I’d definitely recommend the novel, as long as the reader has the stomach for unpleasant wartime events.
Content notes: Pretty hard R rating for gory and brutal battle scenes and lots of F-bombs. Dietz has sex (all non-explicit) with multiple people of both sexes (at least one of whom was married)....more
Time travel to ... the late 1970s? It's actually pretty good. This is a review for "A Time to Reap," nominated for a Locus award. My review was first Time travel to ... the late 1970s? It's actually pretty good. This is a review for "A Time to Reap," nominated for a Locus award. My review was first posted on Fantasy Literature. This novella is free online here at Uncanny magazine.
In this time-travel novella, Kitty Whelan, a petite 16-year-old actress in the year 2028, is playing the part of 12-year-old Sissy in the play Time to Reap, based on a real-life series of unsolved murders that took place in 1978 at the Abbott family reunion. The cast, along with a few reporters, takes an excursion to the Massachusetts farm where the reunion and murders occurred fifty years earlier. When Kitty sneaks off to the barn, she’s yanked back in time to 1978, before the murders have occurred. She meets Margaret Abbott, inadvertent inventor of a time machine … who Kitty knows will be the first victim of the murderer.
Kitty quickly convinces Margaret that she’s from the future (she doesn’t mention the pending murders) and Margaret introduces Kitty to the clan as her great-niece. As Kitty meets Sissy, who will also be one of the murder victims, and gets to know various members of the Abbott clan, she dithers about time paradoxes, changing the past and whether to say anything to the people she’s befriending. She also becomes aware of some of the undercurrents and tensions among the Abbotts … and she may herself be in danger from the murderer.
Kitty has her own issues to deal with, mostly arising out of her stage mother’s controlling behavior and diet demands on Kitty, that add some nuance to this story. It’s fun to see the past through Kitty’s eyes, especially where the play she’s been rehearsing diverges from reality, and her surprise at some of the things (like children traveling alone) that people took for granted in the 1970s.
Meeting one Abbott after another … I realized what made them such a weird-looking family. What had been bothering me on the way up the stairs.
Every last one of them was white. The whole family.
The past really is a different country.
The story loses some steam toward the end as the plot — and the treatment of time travel and multiple timelines — get a little muddled. The ending raises some interesting ideas, though, and I overall I enjoyed A Time to Reap....more
Curiosity about Elon Musk led me down an internet rabbit hole: his “rococo’s basilisk” joke meet-cute with Grimes to Roko’s Basilisk to this SF short Curiosity about Elon Musk led me down an internet rabbit hole: his “rococo’s basilisk” joke meet-cute with Grimes to Roko’s Basilisk to this SF short story about an image that messes with your brain and kills you if you get a good look at it, and what happens when it gets into the hands of domestic British terrorists. Free online here: http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories...
Full review to come.
Content notes: a few F-bombs, and hateful thoughts about religious groups and gays by the terrorist....more
This is absolutely delightful! My favorite of the Tor shorts I've been binging on the last few days. A grumpy robot, Constant Killer, who makes a liviThis is absolutely delightful! My favorite of the Tor shorts I've been binging on the last few days. A grumpy robot, Constant Killer, who makes a living through engaging in a robot deathmatch/assassination game, is forced to mentor a chirpy, innocent new robot who is having problems with its life.
This story is told in a creative, offbeat way. It is so funny and charming, but deals with some underlying serious issues about the exploitation of workers. I want everyone to read it.
3.66 stars. In this SF/fantasy "Wild Cards" story, you gradually are introduced to a benevolent but weirdly innocent (you find out why, later) charact3.66 stars. In this SF/fantasy "Wild Cards" story, you gradually are introduced to a benevolent but weirdly innocent (you find out why, later) character initially called the Visitor, who can (usually for a brief time) take over other people's bodies. She tries to do that only by invitation, and she can only take over your body if she or someone she's inhabiting has touched you. And often people really do invite her in: she also has a certain superpower that travels with her and is temporarily assumed by whosever body she's in.
Gradually the story focuses in on an evil pharmaceutical corporation that's trying to prevent the release of a new medicine that would hugely benefit humanity but trash their profits. They'll stop at nothing ... and they have other superpowered people like Ruby, the "Dragon," whose power is about what you might expect with a moniker like that.
It's a pretty straightforward plot, other than the initial confusing part where you're trying to figure out what this story is all about and the author keeps changing to different characters' points of view. It has some stock villains and a few more interesting and complex characters, including the assassin Ruby.
"Wild Cards" is a shared author universe set in an alternative future where an alien virus kills 90% of the people who get it, disfigures and/or gives useless superpowers to 9% (the Jokers), and useful superpowers to the last 1% (the Aces). It's helpful to be familiar with some of the other stories, but knowing that concept will see you through. ...more
4.5 stars for the Nebula Award-nominated short story in this issue: “The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power” by Karen Osborne. It's free to read onli4.5 stars for the Nebula Award-nominated short story in this issue: “The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power” by Karen Osborne. It's free to read online here at Uncanny Magazine: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/t... (At least for now this review is just for this one story.)
On a generation ship journeying through space toward a distant planet they call Paradise, a bomb explodes at the previous captain’s funeral, killing everyone in the room except a young girl, Mey. Mey is the only daughter of the captain’s “sin-eater,” who was also killed in the explosion. She’s forced to take on her father’s role as sin-eater, drinking from the sin-cup containing the nanobots that will circulate in her bloodstream for the rest of her life, filling her mind with the consciousnesses of all of the hundred-odd ship captains who have previously died during the ship’s journey.
It’s a terrible burden for Mey, since the captains’ memories that now fill her brain contain all of their worst deeds and thoughts. They can control her body to some extent and prevent her from telling others what she knows. At the same time, the new captain Bethen, the young daughter of the captain who recently died, drinks from the virtue-cup, which fills her with the all of the previous captains’ most virtuous and self-assured memories, so that she can “lead our generation ship with confidence, with a mind tuned to moral truth.” When Mey dredges up an old, deeply-held secret, she also needs to find a way to communicate it and convince others to take action.
The narrative of “The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power” is non-linear (for no particularly good reason as far as I could tell, other than making the plot more challenging to grasp) and somewhat opaque, so it may take some time to fully comprehend what’s going on. I certainly appreciated this story more on my second read. Osborne found an intriguing way to weave the ancient ritual of the sin-eater into a science fictional setting, along with themes of abuse of power and the divide between the privileged and those in steerage class on this generation ship....more
I had hazy memories of reading the title story of this collection, “Story of Your Life,” when it won Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
I had hazy memories of reading the title story of this collection, “Story of Your Life,” when it won the Nebula and was nominated for the Hugo in 1999, and have been wanting to reread it for ages. I finally got my hands on it again as part of this collection, and reread “Story of Your Life” first. It didn’t disappoint… in fact, I thought it was absolutely brilliant. Chiang combines linguistics, psychology, and sociology with alien first contact and loving vignettes about a mother’s relationship with her daughter. It blew my mind how well he did it. That novella was a clear five-star read for me (and now I really want to see the film Arrival).
So I dove into the rest of this collection, which was, for the most part, a slight letdown. Chiang is still brilliant — his ideas sometimes fly a little over my head — but the actual storytelling frequently falters, with a few of the stories striking me more as focused on exploring a particular idea (in a thin fictional setting) than on telling a compelling story.
Here’s the list of stories in this collection, along with my ratings and comments:
5 stars for “Tower of Babylon”: This novelette, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, retells the events of building the Biblical tower of Babel. A group of miners takes the months-long climb to the top of the tower so that they can cut through the “vault of Heaven,” which is a ceiling over the earth that the builders of the tower have reached. The twist is that, in this world, all of the beliefs about our cosmos that held sway thousands of years ago are actually real, including a flat earth. The normal rules of physics and what we know about our universe don’t apply. It’s not as mind-blowing as “Story of Your Life,” but came pretty close. I enjoyed it immensely.
4 stars for “Understand”: An introspective novelette and another Hugo Award winner, about a self-absorbed artistic man who is given a spinal injection of “hormone K” when he’s left brain-dead in the aftermath of an accident. It not only revives his brain but rebuilds his neurons in a far better way, giving him superhuman levels of intelligence. It felt rather remote and slow-paced until the rousing ending. Though that ending was fascinating, I couldn’t quite buy into the justification for the final conflict.
3 stars for “Division by Zero”: This story is an exploration of suicidal tendencies that can strike when a person’s worldview is completely upended. It’s told from a mathematician’s point of view, who discovers a proof that mathematics is inconsistent and illogical. The math elements whooshed over my head and, perhaps partly because of that lack of understanding, the rest of the story wasn’t compelling.
5 stars for “Story of Your Life,” as discussed above. It’s interesting that I loved this so much more the second time I read it. Maybe the ideas needed some time to seep into my brain.
5 stars for “Seventy-Two Letters”: In this Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning novella, Victorian steampunk is crossed with Jewish “golem” mythology, which is treated as serious science here. Chiang’s approach here is similar to that in “Tower of Babylon,” in that the way science (here, biology) works in this world is far different than in the real world. It can a while to really wrap your brain around that, and I’m not sure my brain ever entirely got there. “Seventy-Two Letters” contains several interesting ideas — especially when eugenics pops up its nasty head — but I got a little lost in the weeds.
3 stars for “The Evolution of Human Science”: This is a 3-page short-short in the form of a science journal article, discussing and analyzing what has happened to normal human scientific research now that there are “metahumans” (another subset of super-intelligent humans among us) whose scientific research and knowledge are unimaginable leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of humanity’s. The tone is highly analytical, as befits a scientific article; the subtext seems to be that normal humans are in a pathetic place now but trying to make the best of it.
5 stars for “Hell is the Absence of God”: Yet another “what if the world really worked in a different way that some people believe in” type of literary exploration (Chiang seems taken with this approach). In this disturbing novelette, yet another Hugo and Nebula winner, Chiang assumes the reality of old-style Judeo-Christian beliefs. Heaven and hell, as traditionally envisioned, are indisputably real. Powerful angels periodically appear, wreaking havoc and physical destruction whenever they do. Hell also puts in regular appearances: the ground becomes temporarily transparent every so often, and you can “see Hell as if you were looking through a hole in the ground.” But there’s very little spiritual comfort to be found in this world, along with physical blindness that’s a clear symbol of spiritual blindness. In the end we are faced with a God who is inconsistent, unfair and indifferent. It’s a well-crafted story, but personally I found the hostility to religion distasteful.
5 stars for “Liking What You See: A Documentary”: What happens when scientists figure out a way to sidestep “lookism,” turning off people’s ability in our brains to evaluate the physical attractiveness of others? It’s another piece of fiction that struck me as more of a thought experiment, built around a particular idea. Chiang goes down some less-expected paths, but here again I found the style of his story-telling to be overly analytical and remote....more
Ilona Andrews is having a “Plague Sale”: this collection of the first three books in the Innkeeper Chronicles series is on sale for 99 cents for all tIlona Andrews is having a “Plague Sale”: this collection of the first three books in the Innkeeper Chronicles series is on sale for 99 cents for all three! Great fun for urban fantasy fans. Proceeds will be donated to CDP Covid-19 Response Fund....more
Nebula Award novelette nominee "The Archronology of Love" by Caroline M. Yoachim is in this issue of Lightspeed magazine, free online here: http://wwwNebula Award novelette nominee "The Archronology of Love" by Caroline M. Yoachim is in this issue of Lightspeed magazine, free online here: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fic... (At least for now this review is only for this novelette.) Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Saki Jones is in space, above a colony planet called New Mars, where the ruins of an alien civilization were being researched by the colonists. Her “lifelove” partner M.J. had gone ahead of Saki and their grown son Kenzou to help establish the colony. Saki emerged from stasis when their ship arrived at New Mars to find that M.J. and all of the other colonists are dead, apparently of some alien plague. Saki and her crewmates are driven to find out more about what killed the colonists.
To do that they turn to “archronology,” the study of the past through a type of time record, called the Chronicle. It’s a limited type of time travel, enabling you to visit places in the past to view what happened there at a particular time. But the inherent limits of archronology are significant: wherever a person moves in their view of a particular scene from the past, trails of cloudy white permanently blur the original scene.
Layer upon layer of time, a stratified record of the universe. When you visit the Chronicle, you alter it. Your presence muddles the temporal record as surely as an archaeological dig muddles the dirt at an excavation site.
“The Archronology of Love” raises questions of perception and biases in conducting scientific research, how love and personal connections can drive our decision-making. Intellectually Saki realizes that she should step aside from entering the Chronicle because of her strong emotional attachment to M.J., but she comes up with multiple reasons for not doing so. This story also explores the difficulty of understanding an alien culture (from both sides). Yoachim envisions the Chronicle in a way that is believable, creating an interesting twist on standard time travel stories. Saki’s character is also well-developed (if not so much the secondary characters), pulling the reader into Saki’s personal pain and professional dilemmas....more
Jeff Gallagher grows up with Allen Dodson, who’s always been brilliant but weird. One of Allen’s lifelong obsessions is how messy and unfocused the human brain is.
”All those stray thoughts in a mind, interfering with a clear broadcast. Yeah, that’s the right analogy. Without the static, we could all think clearer. Cleaner. We could see farther before the signal gets lost in uncontrolled noise.”
As the boys grow up, they keep in touch sporadically. Then one day Allen excitedly calls Jeff to come visit and meet someone: Lucy, whose brain has no static and who has shot up in the world chess rankings.
Nancy Kress is a talented author (I really love her Nebula Award-winning novella Beggars in Spain, which she later turned into a novel). This story is kind of derivative, but still thought-provoking. It’s worth a quick read if you like SF.
But go find “Beggars in Spain” if you haven’t read it....more
Jay Kristoff’s latest novel TRUEL1F3 wraps up his YA dystopian LIFELIKE trilogy with a lo3.25 stars. Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Jay Kristoff’s latest novel TRUEL1F3 wraps up his YA dystopian LIFELIKE trilogy with a long buildup to an epic battle, set in a nuclear-blasted future version of the “Yousay.” Some humans have (presumably due to radiation-induced mutations) developed superpowers and are often treated as deviants by normal humans; most of our main characters, like Lemon Fresh (named after the detergent box she was found abandoned in as a baby) are in this group. Intelligent robots are everywhere and are bound by Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics … other than a rebel group of advanced “Lifelike” robots, who were treated years ago with a Libertas virus that reprograms them without the Three Laws.
Several of the Lifelikes have been destroyed over the course of the series, but the remaining ones, led by the mentally unstable Gabriel, are determined to set all robots free and, by the way, use that new freedom to annihilate humanity. One of the Lifelikes, Ezekiel, is determined to thwart their plan to wipe out humans, and is doing his best to convince some of the other Lifelikes, particularly his one-time love interest Eve, to switch sides. Meanwhile two mega-corporations — Daedelus, based on cybernetics and high technology, and BioMaas, based on biotech, genetic modification and cloning, but both equally oppressive — are gearing up for a battle to overthrow the other and take control over the entire country.
TRUEL1F3 begins immediately after the end of the second book, DEV1AT3. Lemon Fresh has been taken captive by BioMaas, which wants to use her superpower to destroy the technology of Daedelus. For its part, Daedelus has taken Eve and Gabriel prisoner, and is experimenting with Eve in an effort to unlock the multi-layered security vault that hides the Veritas virus and other trade secret technology. After narrowly averting a nuclear missile attack, the remaining main characters — Ezekiel, the loyal robot Cricket, the Lifelike robot Faith who’s nursing an unrequited love for Gabriel, and several “deviates” that Lemon had befriended — regroup at their not-so-hidden hiding place, a former missile silo, and determine to rescue their friends from Daedalus and BioMaas.
The LIFELIKE trilogy is an action-packed, hard-hitting SF series aimed at older teens and young adults. There are some painful deaths and a good deal of blood and gore along the way, but in standard YA novel style, hope and love prevail in the end. Lemon Fresh has grown from Eve’s sidekick to a strong character in her own right, a damsel who’s determined to rescue herself and burn down the tower, rather than wait for the handsome prince to liberate her. Eve, on the other hand, remains to all appearances firmly on the side of Gabriel and the robots, committed to wiping out all of humanity, and she has the body-count to back it up. It’s difficult to sympathize with her at this point.
The endless made-up slang and jargon can get tiresome, and I think the whole series dragged on for a little too long. Though I was engaged with the characters for most of the series and determined to see how it would all wind up, by the time of the great climactic battle at the end of TRUEL1F3 I was starting to skim.
Overall, though, Kristoff has created a pleasingly complex dystopian world with engaging characters and some intriguing philosophical questions about the nature of humanity and the importance of choices. TRUEL1F3 is a fitting end to the series. I’d recommend it to younger (but not too young, or squeamish) readers who enjoy post-apocalyptic science fiction.
I received a free review copy of this ebook from the publisher through NetGalley. Thanks!...more
The Bobiverse trilogy wraps up here in All These Worlds, as we continue to follow the "replicants" of the original Bob who lived two or three hundred The Bobiverse trilogy wraps up here in All These Worlds, as we continue to follow the "replicants" of the original Bob who lived two or three hundred years ago. Replicants are digital copies of a human's brain who live in virtual worlds, but can also control space ships and communicate with humans. By now there are, I think, a few hundred iterations of Bob. When a new replicant or clone is made, they have to choose their new name, and interestingly, the personalities can be quite different from the original.
Like the prior two books, this one skips around between about six different main plotlines, each featuring a different Bob clone. One (only one, really?) Bob clone falls in love with a human woman, and drama with her family ensues. By now the Bobs have figured out how to insert their consciousness into androids - which aren't always in human form. We've also got Bob clones trying to figure out how to save Earth and its colonies from Evil Aliens, how to save a planet's colony from Evil Government, hanging out with another group of aliens (disguised as an alien himself) and trying to help their society survive and improve, and more.
The concept got a little worn for me with this third book, and I was never able to buy into the idea that almost no humans had interest in surviving as a replicant after their deaths. I would think there would be thousands of people highly interested in having their consciousness survive, especially after the Bobs have worked out most of the disadvantages of being a digital clone. But it's still a fun read, and I got attached to a few of the Bobs.
I recommend the trilogy if you enjoy straight-up hard SF, a little old-fashioned in its sensibilities....more
3.75 stars. A short, heartwarming tale, free on Tor.com. A man on a space ship is injured in an accident that should have killed him ... which is goin3.75 stars. A short, heartwarming tale, free on Tor.com. A man on a space ship is injured in an accident that should have killed him ... which is going to blow some deeply-held secrets wide open. When Graff is rescued by his shipmates, he's got a LOT of explaining to do, and no guarantees that they'll believe or forgive him.
Carrie Vaughn writes well, and I like her unexpected take on the issues here, and on Graff's hidden society. I read it twice today and liked it even more the second time around, but then I'm kind of a sucker for heartwarming stories (unlike karen). :)
Recommended if you like SF and M/M romance.
Content notes: No explicit content; a few F-bombs....more
2.5ish stars. So I downloaded this one as a Tor free ebook, with their eBook of the Month club. (https://ebookclub.tor.com/), opened it to check out t2.5ish stars. So I downloaded this one as a Tor free ebook, with their eBook of the Month club. (https://ebookclub.tor.com/), opened it to check out the first chapter or two, and before I knew it I was halfway through and decided to finish it up, though I wasn't particularly impressed with, well, anything going on here: plot, main character, writing, and the sheer level of blood and guts and violence. That's on me for wasting my brain on this, but maybe I can save someone else the trouble.
I've seen a lot of grimdark fantasy but not so much grimdark science fiction. This is pretty bleak and violent SF, with a few rays of hope and light.
Our main character is Mariam ("Mars") Xi, who has incredibly strong telekinetic powers, which she mostly uses to rip people to shreds and kill them. Before the story begins, she was in a lab of a Very Bad Corporation called MEPHISTO, being trained as a psychic soldier and killer. She managed to escape with the help of an older girl, who (view spoiler)[apparently (hide spoiler)]died in the process, and has been on the run from them ever since.
As the story begins, Mars is being rescued from her wrecked spaceship by another small ship with three people in it, not counting the AI of their ship. They don't trust her, and she certainly doesn't trust them. But as MEPHISTO figures out where she is and who she's with, they may need to help each other.
If kickass superpowered heroines are your literary flavor of choice, this might be worth checking out. There's lots of action (mostly of the violent sort) and it's a quick, fast-paced read. But I didn't see anything new or noteworthy here, I couldn’t identify with the main character, and the high level of violence turned me off. There's a slight cliffhanger ending, but I'm not planning on checking out more of Mariam Xi's adventures.
Content note: Strong R rating for language and violence....more
Really fun YA SF series - but watch out for the killer cliffhanger at the end of this book. Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Aurora BuReally fun YA SF series - but watch out for the killer cliffhanger at the end of this book. Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Aurora Burning, the second book in Amie Kaufman’s and Jay Kristoff’s young adult SF AURORA CYCLE series, follows the tension-filled, nonstop space adventures of the teenage crew of Squad 312, recent graduates of the Aurora Academy. In the first book, Aurora Rising, the crew visited the forbidden planet of Octavia III and discovered, to their horror, that an alien hivemind, called the Ra’haam, has taken over the planet and is bent, Borg-like, on assimilating all intelligent life in the galaxy (or, perhaps, more like the group consciousness alien in Isaac Asimov’s “Misbegotten Missionary” aka “Green Patches”). In fact, the Ra’haam have already infiltrated the command of the Global Intelligence Agency.
Now the six remaining members of the Longbow’s crew are regrouping after losing one of their members to the Ra’haam and barely escaping Octavia III. As Tyler and Scarlett Jones try to sell their Longbow in a lawless space station, they see a media broadcast blaming their crew for a massacre of thousands of people. Instantly the crew is on the run again, trying to evade both the local crime gangs and the infected GIA agents who are trying to recapture Auri, their crewmate who has been gifted with some supernatural powers by another race of aliens who fought the Ra’haam long ago … powers that she hasn’t learned to control at all yet.
Life for Tyler and his crew only gets more exciting — in a not-so-stupendous way — when the sister of Kai (another crew member) tracks him down to insist that Kai rejoin their ultra-violent Syldrathi Warbreed Cabal. You know, the group responsible for blowing up the Syldrathi planet’s sun and killing ten billion of their people, led by the man called Starslayer. But the members of Squad 312 are determined to save the galaxy from the Ra’haam threat, even if the galaxy is being uncooperative.
Aurora Burning is a jet-propelled space adventure for young adult readers, as Tyler, Scarlett, Auri, Kai, Finian and Zila scramble from one crisis to the next. In the process, Auri finds out more about her powers as the Trigger who has the ability to stop the Ra’haam threat, her boyfriend Kai finds that it’s not so easy to escape his past as part of a Syldrathi Warbreed family, and Tyler gets up close and personal with Kai’s hardcore sister Saedii and her monstrous drakkan, a dragon-like beast that has all the odds in its favor when Tyler is forced into a death match with it. There are also some unexpectedly poignant flashbacks to Zila’s past, clarifying why she works so hard to suppress all her feelings.
In most ways, I liked Aurora Burning even better than Aurora Rising. The snarky humor is still present, but balanced by deeper emotions and insights into the pasts and the motivations of the crew. The plot felt a lot more cohesive and original, and there are a few fantastic twists of the kind I like: unexpected but consistent with the overall plot. And I was completely enthralled by some mysterious gifts that the crew receives from some secret helpers — bizarre but helpful gifts that seem to indicate that someone, somewhere, is either time-traveling or foreseeing their future. It’s a fascinating plot element and I can’t wait to get the full explanation for it.
On the flip side, I was never all that convinced by Auri’s and Kai’s romance, though it plays a central role in the plot, or by the crew’s overreaction (in my opinion) to a surprising and highly negative fact that surfaces very late in the story. I simply couldn’t believe that they would all react the way they did. And son of a biscuit (Auri’s favorite expression), Aurora Burning might just have the worst cliffhanger in the entire history of the universe. Kaufman and Kristoff must have worked really hard to come up with a cliffhanger of that scope and magnitude. It’s almost impressive, if I didn’t find it so vexing.
With or without maddening cliffhangers, I’m still definitely on board for book three of the AURORA CYCLE. It’s a fun, action-packed series and the books are quick reads that are hard to put down.
Thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley ARC!...more
Stephen King takes over 550 pages here to relate the story of the mysterious Institute an3.75 stars. Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Stephen King takes over 550 pages here to relate the story of the mysterious Institute and its merciless dealings with kidnapped children. Given that page count, it shouldn’t be too surprising that King spends the first forty pages setting up his tale with a seemingly unrelated story of a man adrift in his life. Tim Jamieson, an out-of-work cop, takes a hefty payout to give up his seat on an overfull flight, and ends up making his rambling way from Tampa, Florida to the small town of DuPray, South Carolina, where the local sheriff gives him a job as a night knocker, an unarmed beat cop who patrols DuPray during the night. But — as King informs us not once, but twice — great events turn on small hinges.
That same summer, Luke Ellis, a twelve-year-old Minneapolis boy with genius-level intelligence, loving parents, and a very mild talent for making pie pans and other lightweight items rattle and move in moments of strong emotion, is kidnapped from his home by a SWAT team that murders Luke’s parents as part of the operation. When Luke awakes from his drugged sleep, he’s in a bedroom that, spookily, almost mirrors his own (there’s no window, for one thing). But outside of the bedroom, he finds he’s in an institutional building in rural Maine that’s nothing like his home, with other kidnapped children and some adult caretakers.
A black girl, Kalisha, introduces Luke to his new life. All of the children and teenagers at the Institute have some degree of talent with either telepathy or telekinesis, and the doctors and staff forcibly work them over to try to enhance their supernatural gifts and to bring out the more-desired telepathy in children like Luke who have only displayed telekinetic power. Luke and a handful of other children are in the part of the Institute called the Front Half. After a few weeks, children “graduate” to the Back Half … and none of them knows for certain what happens to them there, or why they are there. But what’s clear is that no child has ever escaped from the Institute.
The Institute is a horror story of the human heart. The children who have the supernatural powers are entirely sympathetic; it’s the adults surrounding them who are horror figures, particularly the cruel head of the Institute, Mrs. Sigsby, who is of the Nurse Ratched school. She’s assisted by doctors, technicians and orderlies who punish and torment the children in pursuit of their secret goals. The tortures they inflict on their young charges can make for difficult reading. King weaves in allusions to Nazi concentration camps and digs at individuals who, in their fanatic pursuit of a goal, lose their moral compass. If you’re thinking that might also be applied to the current political climate in the U.S., King certainly wouldn’t disagree.
King is a talented storyteller, and though The Institute is a fairly hefty book it moves with a sense of urgency. But even if one accepts (at least for purposes of reading this novel) the existence of telepathy and telekinetics, the plot’s logic breaks down when the Institute’s true goal is finally revealed. The justification for the entire secret scheme of those in charge of the Institute, combined with some cost-benefit analysis when considering the cost in lives and the other potential methods of reaching their goals, really strained my ability to suspend disbelief. That issue is briefly raised and dismissed in a few short paragraphs, but I wasn’t convinced.
If you’re not too inclined to find logical plot holes and poke at them, The Institute is a compelling science fiction read with a solid mix of action, suspense and horror.
Content warning: death, mistreatment, abuse and torture of teens and children....more
The small colony of humans on the planet Pax, who left Earth a couple of hundred years earlierFull review, finally! First posted on FantasyLiterature:
The small colony of humans on the planet Pax, who left Earth a couple of hundred years earlier, have established a cooperative relationship with at least some of the sentient plant life on Pax, as well as a group of nomadic aliens called the Glassmakers, as related in Semiosis. Their technology now is more Stone Age than Information Age; Pax is deficient in metals. So it’s out of the question to return to or even communicate with Earth, which is 55 light years away. But Earth hasn’t forgotten about Pax.
In this sequel, Interference, a scientific expedition of thirty people from Earth makes plans to travel to Pax to see what has become of the colony. Different members of the expedition have varying reasons for going, ranging from scientific curiosity to a desire to escape the culture of Earth, where women are confined to submissive, secondary roles. But Karola has an especially compelling reason to escape Earth: she’s discovered that she’s a secret clone of a now-dead woman who is so hated on Earth for her crimes against humanity that men create clones of her for the sole purpose of psychologically torturing this woman in effigy, so to speak, until the clone dies. Karola is willing to do anything to get on the expedition to Pax and so escape the fate that the Earth government has in store for her … and she does.
It’s an intriguing beginning, but Karola has only a minor role in the rest of Interference, as author Sue Burke’s focus shifts to the broader question of how the arrival of the new group from Earth affects the inhabitants of Pax, and vice versa. Many misunderstandings ensue, as well as some understandings. Stevland, the highly intelligent rainbow bamboo plant who helps govern the Pax colony, considers whether to let the Earth visitors know of his existence, and how to arrange to send his seeds to Earth when the visitors leave. Meanwhile, the Earth group has its own in-fighting and drama to deal with.
Interference explores the relationships between various beings — plant, humans, and Glassmakers — but does so on a fairly high level. With the exception of its much-later epilogue (which opens the door for a third book that, according to Burke, may or may not get written), Interference doesn’t jump between different time periods and generations in the same way that Semiosis did, but Burke still frequently switches between different characters’ points of view. As a result, it’s difficult to feel particularly attached to any of the characters, with the exception of Stevland.
The SEMIOSIS DUOLOGY creates an intriguingly alien planet, and one does get a good feel for the many unfamiliar dangers that humans might face on such a strange world, as well as the difficulties that are created when people (or aliens) with different motivations, cultures and worldviews collide. Though there are some exciting scenes, the book felt overly long. I felt like it took forever to finish Interference. As I noted in my review of Semiosis, I find Sue Burke’s prose to be merely serviceable, and I didn’t see any noticeable improvement in Interference. Fans of Semiosis will likely be happy with this sequel, but if you weren’t all that enthusiastic about that book, Interference isn’t likely to change your mind.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC!...more
Garth Nix wrote this novelette, and whatever Nix writes is usually worth taking a look at. It's about a Soviet political prisoner in the days of StaliGarth Nix wrote this novelette, and whatever Nix writes is usually worth taking a look at. It's about a Soviet political prisoner in the days of Stalin, a very thin, wiry young woman who's a trained contortionist, a talented sniper, and a deadly fighter. Imprisoned in Siberia for what appear to be bogus reasons, she's "offered" a chance to maybe redeem herself by exploring a strange alien artifact in a desolate area of Siberia, a network of small tight tunnels whose twists and turns lead ... who knows where? But the Soviet authorities want to know, and they've decided that Aleksandra is their best bet.
This story reminded me pretty strongly of the famous classic SF novella Rogue Moon, which I read back in my impressionable college days and which always stuck with me. This one pales a little by comparison, but this SF adventure set in the bad old Soviet Union days is still an interesting read.
3.5 stars. It's a shorter, quicker and less meaty read than the prior novels in this series, but still good fun. Review first posted on Fantasy Litera3.5 stars. It's a shorter, quicker and less meaty read than the prior novels in this series, but still good fun. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Sweep with Me, the fifth book in Ilona Andrews’s INNKEEPER CHRONICLES series, finds Dina DeMille fretting with her boyfriend Sean about an upcoming official review of Dina and the Gertrude Hunt, her magical inn for interstellar travelers. The innkeepers’ Assembly is concerned about some of the goings-on at the Gertrude Hunt and whether Dina and Sean have been keeping their rules, like, say, not letting anyone on Earth know that their inn isn’t an ordinary one. Or maybe the "no crazy stuff that will draw the attention of otherwise unsuspecting natives" rule. Or possibly the "no nukes" rule. (Actually, that one wasn't their fault.)
In the meantime, though, it’s the annual Treaty Stay holiday for earth’s galactic inns, and the tradition is that no innkeeper may turn away a guest during Treaty Stay. So, naturally, Dina and her inn are asked to host a set of particularly troublesome guests: the Drífan liege lord of Green Mountain, originally an Earth woman who’s now the powerful leader of a mysterious and highly magical people, and who is being harassed by her unscrupulous multi-millionaire uncle; two feuding groups of koo-ko, who consider themselves philosophers and look like oversized chickens with hands under their wings; and a Medamoth, a wily hunter and natural predator who ostensibly just wants to visit the Alamo, but makes Dina nervous about whether the plump and presumably delicious koo-ko are safe from him.
This volatile combination of guests causes all sorts of trouble, but it’s fun to watch Dina and Sean (a particularly powerful werewolf) and the magical semi-sentient Gertrude Hunt inn rise to the occasion. The most interesting of the subplots involves the Drífan, a magically-talented ruler who is not entirely happy with her life: she’s hemmed about by well-meaning but strict advisors, she’s homesick for a lot of things about her Earth life (including fast-food burgers and fries, which is making chef Orro's brain explode) and she’s concerned about her upcoming meeting with her ambitious uncle, a man who’s made a living out of ruthless corporate takeovers. And Uncle Rudolph’s actions, like sending mercenaries to attack the inn where his niece is staying, certainly show that the Drífan has good cause for concern.
On the other hand, it seems clear that the koo-ko — or as Sean calls them, the “space chickens” — are there for comic relief, but I never really connected with these chicken-based philosophers who spend far more time squabbling than philosophizing. Apparently my brain is fine with space werewolves and vampires but balks at accepting space chickens.
Sweep with Me is a novella-length book, quite a bit shorter than the prior books in this series: it clocks in at about 140 pages. All of these INNKEEPER CHRONICLES books are light sci-fi/fantasy mixes, but the first three books still had a sense of emotional depth and intricacy that I didn’t get with Sweep with Me (or, for that matter, with the prior book, Sweep of the Blade). There are several ongoing story arcs in this series, like Dina’s search for her missing parents, but none of those progressed in Sweep with Me. It’s still an engaging and fun read, though, and I’d certainly recommend it to fans of Ilona Andrews.
Initial post: WHAT?! An Innkeeper novella by Ilona Andrews that I haven't read? How did I miss this? I'm on it tonight....more
Dispel Illusion is the final book in Mark Lawrence’s IMPOSSIBLE TIMES trilogFinal review, co-written with Kat, and first posted on Fantasy Literature:
Dispel Illusion is the final book in Mark Lawrence’s IMPOSSIBLE TIMES trilogy. (Readers will need to finish One Word Kill and Limited Wish before beginning Dispel Illusion, so we’ll assume you’ve done that.) Kindly, Mark Lawrence provides a recap of previous important events at the beginning of this book. (Thank you, Mr. Lawrence!) Then the story begins, literally, with an explosion. It’s a singular explosion, though: time itself is exploding in their lab, affecting various things in different ways. Dangerously sharp metal shards hang in the air and slowly creep outward, while Nick and other people in the lab are moving on a far faster internal clock. This isn’t as helpful as it might seem; Nick observes that the “air doesn’t want to get out of your way … running at 300 miles an hour is just as hard as standing still in a super-tornado with 300-mile-an-hour winds trying to knock you down.”
At this point in the story, it’s 1992 and Nick is 22 years old. He’s at Cambridge, working on inventing time travel. He knows he has to accomplish this by 2011, the year that he was visited by his future self when he was a teen in One Word Kill. Nick dreads the accident that will inspire his 40-year-old self to go back in time to safeguard Mia’s memories. He also knows that when he goes back to the 1980s, he will die. So at the same time that Nick is inventing time travel and setting events in motion to be able to travel back to 1986 if necessary to save Mia’s memories, he’s also doing his best to help Mia avoid her near-fatal accident in 2011. Those efforts are complicated by the re-emergence of their old nemesis Charles Rust. Rust’s job with Miles Guilder, the unscrupulous business tycoon who has been financing Nick’s time travel research for years for his own reasons, put Nick and Charles at odds once again.
The timeline in Dispel Illusion shifts back and forth between 1992 and 2011, with a few stops along the way in other time periods. Guilder introduces a game-changer when he brings Nick and his girlfriend Mia to a hidden cave that Guilder has discovered, where a shocking, tangible evidence of time travel has been found.
Dispel Illusion is fun. We like Nick and his friends, who are still playing the same game of Dungeons & Dragons that they were playing six years ago. Throughout the trilogy, their D&D game, in which they use spells called Power Word Kill, Limited Wish, and Dispel Illusion, has subtly paralleled the events happening in Nick’s life.
To his credit, Mark Lawrence pays more attention than most authors to the scientific problems and paradoxes that time travel causes, including the complication of the Earth traveling through space. One of the more intriguing complications that Nick and his fellow researchers face is an experiment that causes a time loop. Nick’s handsome, somewhat superficial friend John is forced to rise to the occasion, which leads to an amusing joke referencing the film Groundhog Day. The visible evidence of someone traveling forwards or backwards in time was a unique twist to standard time travel lore. And as Nick and Mia eventually turn time travel into a highly secret enterprise, the psychological motives of the time travelers and the mental effects on Nick were intriguing as well.
I was no longer the Nick Hayes who first met Demus a few streets from Simon’s mum’s house. I had left that boy behind in my wake, just as we all abandon the children we were. Slow or fast, the years pull us apart from them, sometimes in one savage yank, sometimes by degrees, like the hour hand of the clock, too stealthy for us to perceive its motion and yet when you look again it is no longer where you left it. That night I looked in the mirror, not wanting to meet my own gaze, and it was Demus who looked back at me and smiled a bitter little smile.
In our review of Limited Wish, we said, “We are wondering what illusions will be dispelled…” and, indeed, Lawrence pulls the curtain aside and gives us several surprises. The climactic scene sheds a new and unexpected light on some prior events. But in that review we also said, “we’re simply not convinced that the first instance of time-travel, the one that created all these problems for Nick and his friends, ever needed to happen in the first place. So far, the suffering and confusion that has resulted doesn’t seem worth it.”
Unfortunately, we have to report that we are still not convinced. It’s been a while since we read the first two books, so it’s possible that there are facts we’re missing or misremembering, but it seems like there was a much simpler way for adult Nick in 2011 to attempt to save Mia’s life. (view spoiler)[ Why didn’t he just go back far enough to avoid the car accident that damaged Mia’s brain? It seems like that would have been a lot easier and would have avoided all the paradoxes. And though in the end the price paid in pain and loss of life for Demus’s trip to the past was not what it initially seemed to be, Nick/Demus had no knowledge of that when he made the choice to pursue that course, so our point about his motivation being insufficient still stands. (hide spoiler)] And, while we’re discussing this, we’re also not convinced that (view spoiler)[ the truth about Elton’s dad had to be hidden from Nick. Why bother to stage the death if their memories were going to be wiped after? They had their memories wiped twice: once after young Mia notices the wires and they decide to stage it, and then again later. It seems like there must have been another way that didn’t involve losing Elton’s friendship for 25 years. (hide spoiler)]
A few other nitpicks: Lawrence keeps telling us that when Nick goes back in time, he has to do everything exactly like he remembers or it will cause a branch in the timeline. But the human memory is remarkably fallible and there’s no way that Nick remembers every event and conversation (or even most events and conversations) accurately. The text suggests that when Nick doesn’t remember the exact words he tends to naturally say the same thing he said before, but that seems a bit of a stretch. Maybe it doesn’t matter as long as Nick’s memories match, but what about the memories of all the other people involved?
It is possible that we misremember, misunderstood, or simply missed the answers to our questions. If so, we apologize. But even with its flaws, we enjoyed the IMPOSSIBLE TIMES trilogy. Nick and his friends are appealing and it’s easy to sympathize with their plights. The story is fun and after much tension it ends satisfactorily. Who cares that we didn’t always believe it?
Dispel Illusion contains a thoughtful treatment of time travel, moments of brilliance, and the running Dungeons & Dragons subplot supplying several metaphors for the main plot and for life generally. And more (to paraphrase The Princess Bride): Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Friendship. Strong hate. True love. It’s a fitting end to this time travel saga.
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Thank you!