Book Review: Everfair, Nisi Shawl (2016)

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Fascinating Idea, So-So Execution

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Ever fair, ever fair my home;
Ever fair land, so sweet—
Ever are you calling home your children;
We hear and answer swiftly as thought, as fleet.
Tyrants and cowards, we fear them no more;
Behold, your power protects us from harm;
We live in freedom by sharing all things equally—
We live in peace within your loving arms.

Leopold II of Belgium founded the Congo Free State in Central Africa in 1885. Ostensibly established as a humanitarian and philanthropic venture, Leopold instead exploited the land and people as a personal venture. Indigenous workers were forced to harvest ivory, rubber, and minerals. Failure to meet quotas was punishable by death, so proven by delivery of the offender’s hand – leading to a rash of mutilations, as villages attacked one another to procure limbs in anticipation of not meeting Leopold’s unreasonable demands. Between murder, starvation, disease, and a drastically reduced birth rate, countless indigenous Africans perished under Leopold’s short rule; some estimates put the death rate as high as 50%. Due to international criticism, Belgium annexed the Congo Free State and assumed control of its administration in 1908, after which time it became known as the Belgian Congo.

Turning her lens on “one of history’s most notorious atrocities,” Nisi Shawl looks at what might have become of the Congo Free State, if white socialists from England and African-American missionaries had united to purchase land from King Leopold II, making it a haven for free blacks, “enlightened” whites, and Chinese and African refugees from Leopold’s reign of terror. Picture an eclectic fusion of Western, Asian, and African cultural practices, politics, and religious beliefs, all made more prosperous – and feasible – through fantastical steampunk technologies: aircanoes capable of transcontinental flight (and easily weaponized); mechanical clockwork prosthetics (also made deadly with the addition of knives, flamethrowers, and poisoned darts); steam-powered bikes; and Victorian-era computers, to name a few.

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Book Review: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (2016)

Friday, August 26th, 2016

Weird, Magical – and Hella Feminist

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ebook for review through NetGalley.)

When were women ever anything but footnotes to men’s tales?

“Some people change the world. And some people change the people who change the world, and that’s you.”

— 4.5 stars —

When third-year student Clarie Jurat goes missing from Ulthar’s Women’s College, her Mathematics professor Vellitt Boe sets out to retrieve her. Clarie’s father is one of the College’s Trustees, and it’s well within his power to shut the college down in the face of such scandal. This would prove a devastating loss, as the Women’s College – the newest and humblest of the Seven Colleges of Ulthar’s University – is a sanctuary of sorts for “women who don’t fit anywhere else” in the Six Kingdoms.

Vellitt lives in the dream world, a universe crafted from the minds of dreamers in our own world, the waking world. For whatever reason, all of the dreamers seem to be men – and they have dreamed into existence a world that is mostly absent of women, deeply entrenched in sexism, and ruled by gods that are as petty as they are numerous. The Women’s College is a beacon of light in an unkind world – and Vellitt, for one, is determined to keep the flame burning.

In her younger days, Vellitt – then known as Veline – was a far-traveller; she walked the lands of the Six Kingdoms, traversed its seas like her mother the sailor, and fell into and escaped from the under-realms. She has evaded zoogs, battled ghouls, rescued gugs, and marveled at krakens. She’s seen flying cities and passed over vast undersea civilizations. She knows all ninety-seven stars in the dream-realms sky, and can name the six constellations. Now she must call upon these dusty skills – and a few old connections – to find Clarie before she crosses into the waking world with the charismatic dreamer Stephan Heller.

Her quest will take her from the temple at Hatheg-Kla to the distant kingdom of Ilek-Vad; from the caverns carved deep beneath the ruined silver mines of Eight Peaks to a church in Wisconsin, present day. Along the way she’ll learn that Clarie Jurat isn’t who she claims to be – or not just, anyway – and it’s not only the fate of Ulthar’s Women’s College that’s at stake.

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Book Review: The Unseen World, Liz Moore (2016)

Friday, July 29th, 2016

Brilliant, heartfelt, and full of surprises.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

The work of the Steiner Lab, in simple terms, was to create more and more sophisticated versions of this kind of language-acquisition software. […]

These applications of the software, however, were only a small part of what interested David, made him stay awake feverishly into the night, designing and testing programs. There was also the art of it, the philosophical questions that this software raised. The essential inquiry was thus: If a machine can convincingly imitate humanity—can persuade a human being of its kinship—then what makes it inhuman? What, after all, is human thought but a series of electrical impulses?

“What can I get you to eat, hon?” asked Liston, and rattled off a list of all the snacks of the 1980s that Ada was never permitted to have: canned pastas by Chef Boyardee, Fluffernutter sandwiches, fluorescent Kraft macaroni and cheese. In truth, Ada had never even heard of some of the food Liston offered her.

I was told to ask you something, said Ada finally.
I know, said ELIXIR. I’ve been waiting.

Ada Sibelius had something of an unconventional upbringing, beginning with her very conception. At the tender age of 45, Dr. David Sibelius – “director of a computer science laboratory at the Boston Institute of Technology, called the Bit, or the Byte if he was feeling funny” – decided that he wanted a child. Ada (named after one of David’s favorite entries in the Encyclopædia Britannica) was born to a surrogate one year later. This was no small thing back then: 1971, to be exact.

In keeping with his eccentric nature, David decided to homeschool his daughter; or rather lab-school her. Ada accompanied David – as she called him – to work every day, where she was immersed in his world, in the language of mathematics, neurology, physics, philosophy, and computer science. In the absence of any biological relatives, David’s colleagues – Charles-Robert, Hayato, Frank Halbert, and Diane Liston – became her extended family; his interests were hers. Ada learned to solve complex equations, decrypt puzzles, and present and defend theories. David filled composition books with the names of books, songs, pieces of artwork, and even wines that she should try one day; a cultured bucket list before its time. In many ways, their relationship was more like that of a teacher and his student than a father and his daughter.

At the Steiner Lab, David and his colleagues studied natural language processing and developed language-acquisition software. Their crowning achievement – David’s second child, if you will – was ELIXIR (mmmm, magic!). Everyone at the lab – including Ada – took turns chatting with ELIXIR, to teach it the words and rules and complexities of language. The program was meant to acquire language the way that humans do, and learn it did. Slowly but surely, ELIXIR grew alongside Ada, evolving from garbled, nonsense text to a semi-eloquent conversationalist (albeit one who reflected the habits and speech patterns of its teachers). For Ada, ELIXIR was a confidant, a non-recoverable diary; she poured her heart and soul into ELIXIR, especially when things got bad.

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Book Review: Dark Matter, Blake Crouch (2016)

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

The summer blockbuster potential is strong with this one.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Standing happy and slightly drunk in my kitchen, I’m unaware that tonight is the end of all of this. The end of everything I know, everything I love. No one tells you it’s all about to change, to be taken away. There’s no proximity alert, no indication that you’re standing on the precipice. And maybe that’s what makes tragedy so tragic. Not just what happens, but how it happens: a sucker punch that comes at you out of nowhere, when you’re least expecting. No time to flinch or brace.

“It’s terrifying when you consider that every thought we have, every choice we could possibly make, creates a new world.”

Jason Dessen’s life is a good one, if disappointingly ordinary. He and his wife Daniela have one child, a fourteen-year-old boy named Charlie; he spent his first year in and out of hospitals, but is thankfully healthy now. An artist, Charlie takes after his mom – who was once an up-and-comer in the art world, but is now a part-time art tutor and full-time mom. Jason also chose to put his career on hold when Charlie was born; an atomic physicist, he teaches undergraduate physics at Lakemont College. The science isn’t terribly sexy, but it pays the bills.

Jason is happy…and yet, as he watches college friends receive awards and accolades, he often wonders what might have been if he hadn’t prioritized his family over his career. We’ve all been there: obsessing over old regrets, fantasizing about roads not traveled. Unlike the rest of us, though, Jason’s about to find out what could have been.

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DNF Review: Night of the Animals, Bill Broun (2016)

Friday, July 15th, 2016

 

In this imaginative debut, the tale of Noah’s Ark is brilliantly recast as a story of fate and family, set in a near-future London.

Over the course of a single night in 2052, a homeless man named Cuthbert Handley sets out on an astonishing quest: to release the animals of the London Zoo. As a young boy, Cuthbert’s grandmother had told him he inherited a magical ability to communicate with the animal world—a gift she called the Wonderments. Ever since his older brother’s death in childhood, Cuthbert has heard voices. These maddening whispers must be the Wonderments, he believes, and recently they have promised to reunite him with his lost brother and bring about the coming of a Lord of Animals . . . if he fulfills this curious request.

Cuthbert flickers in and out of awareness throughout his desperate pursuit. But his grand plan is not the only thing that threatens to disturb the collective unease of the city. Around him is greater turmoil, as the rest of the world anxiously anticipates the rise of a suicide cult set on destroying the world’s animals along with themselves. Meanwhile, Cuthbert doggedly roams the zoo, cutting open the enclosures, while pressing the animals for information about his brother.

Just as this unlikely yet loveable hero begins to release the animals, the cult’s members flood the city’s streets. Has Cuthbert succeeded in harnessing the power of the Wonderments, or has he only added to the chaos—and sealed these innocent animals’ fates? Night of the Animals is an enchanting and inventive tale that explores the boundaries of reality, the ghosts of love and trauma, and the power of redemption.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

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Book Review: The Last One, Alexandra Oliva (2016)

Monday, July 11th, 2016

The Apocalypse Will Be Televised

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for rape.)

Even the best among us can break, thinks the editor. That’s the whole idea behind the show, after all—to break the contestants. Though the twelve who entered the ring were told that it’s about survival. That it’s a race. All true, but. Even the title they were told was a deception. Subject to change, as the fine print read. The title in its textbox does not read The Woods, but In the Dark.

I pick it up, thinking it might be a Clue. I unfold the paper and read:

INDIVIDUALS EXPERIENCING SYMPTOMS—LETHARGY, SORE THROAT, NAUSEA, VOMITING, LIGHTHEADEDNESS, COUGHING—REPORT IMMEDIATELY TO THE OLD MILL COMMUNITY CENTER FOR MANDATORY QUARANTINE.

I stare at it for a moment, uncomprehending. And then, like dominoes falling, I understand. I understand everything. Taking my cameraman away, the cabin, the careful clearing of all human life from my path—they’re changing the narrative. I remember Google-mapping the area they told us we’d be filming in before I left home. I remember noticing a patch of green not far away: Worlds End State Park. I remember because I loved the name but cringed at the lack of an apostrophe. But perhaps the name isn’t a title, but a statement. Perhaps the park’s proximity to our starting location wasn’t coincidence. For all I know, it was our starting location.

Those clever assholes.

I remember watching a show with a similar premise on the Discovery Channel, years ago. It was billed as an experiment; people who “survived” a simulated flu outbreak had to build a little community before finding a way to safety. They got to do cool stuff like wire up solar panels and build cars. All I get to do is walk endlessly and listen to a rambling kid tell a bullshit story.

Have you all seen the legal releases that leaked yesterday? 98 pages!

Pushing thirty and married to a wonderful guy, “Zoo” is finally thinking about settling down and starting a family. And the idea terrifies her. So much so that she’d do anything to delay the (seemingly) inevitable: including audition for a survivalist-type reality tv show in which twelve contestants brave the wilderness – and each other – for a shot at winning a million bucks.

A week into filming, Zoo and her now-eight cast mates are out on a Solo Challenge when the plague hits. In all the chaos and confusion, the production team is unable to pull Zoo out (they had contingency plans, but not for this!). Guided by what she thinks is a Clue – a doormat reading “Home Sweet Home” – Zoo treks east, ignoring the corpses and ransacked stores that line her path. It’s all just part of the game – and they will not get a rise out of her a second time.

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Book Review: The Many Selves of Katherine North, Emma Geen (2016)

Friday, July 8th, 2016

How do you say “AMAZING!!!” in bottlenose dolphin?

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. This review contains clearly marked spoilers.)

One. Mustn’t trust humans too much.
Two. I know what they can be like.
Three. I was one once—

How can they sell Phenomenautism as image and experience? How can they sell it at all? A Ressy isn’t a consumable. Phenomenautism is meant to consume you.

Buckley always said that reading is the closest an ex-phenomenaut can get to wearing another skin.

The year is 2050, or close enough, and while humans aren’t yet locomoting via our own personal jet packs, we have developed all sorts of cool technology. Chief among them? Phenomenautism, which involves projecting one’s consciousness, using a neural interface, into the bodies of other animals.

At just nineteen years old, Katherine “Kit” North is the longest projecting phenomenaut in the field, with seven years under her belt. She was recruited to join ShenCorp – whose founder, Professor Shen, all but invented phenomenautism – when she was a kid. Kit’s Mum was a zoologist and her father, a wildlife photographer, so an affinity for our nonhuman kin runs in the blood. Kit works in the Research division, inhabiting the bodies of nonhuman animals to aid outside companies and nonprofits with their research; for example, as a fox Kit helped track the local population for a cub study orchestrated by the Fox Research Centre. She’s been a bee, a whale, a polar bear, an elephant, a seal, a mouse, a spider, a octopus, a tiger, and a bat, not to various species of birds. Very rarely does she get to be herself – although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Nor is she quite sure what that means anymore.

ShenCorp is the only company to employ children exclusively, owing to their superior brain plasticity, which aids in adapting to the new bodies (“Ressies”) they inhabit during jumps. As Kit watches her friends and peers disappear, one by one – let go for poor performance – she worries for her own future. When she’s hit by a car inRessy – destroying the body and ending her study prematurely – termination seems imminent. Yet instead of a pink slip, her boss offers her a promotion, of sorts: to the new Tourism division, where the “animal experience” is sold to regular folks – for a hefty sum, natch. Kit finds the idea of Consumer Phenomenautism repugnant … yet not quite as bad as giving jumping up altogether. Kit accepts, unwittingly stumbling into a corporate conspiracy that runs far deeper that she imagined.

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Book Review: The 100 Year Miracle: A Novel, Ashley Ream (2016)

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you…

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for suicide and child abuse.)

It did things to people, this miracle. Strange and not wholly wonderful things.

“Do you know what it’s like to be terrified of a shower?” Harry asked. Rachel did know. Unfamiliar showers sometimes had abrupt changes in temperature, which hurt her back terribly, but she did not say this to Harry, who had continued talking without her. […]

Most people, Rachel knew, didn’t want you to talk about your pain, not unless it was temporary like a twisted ankle or hitting your thumb with a hammer. If you did not hold up your end of the bargain and get better, things fell apart quickly. People would avoid you. It was easier to keep hidden, and she felt sorry for Harry because he could not hide.

Every hundred years, the Artemia lucis – tiny, eight millimeter long arthropods – come alive. They hatch from ancient eggs and spend the next six days mating, or trying to, before laying the next generation of eggs and dying. During the nighttime, they emit a neon green glow, turning the whole of Olloo’et Bay – their only known habitat – into a wondrous light show. The phenomenon is known as The 100 Year Miracle.

Yet, despite the colloquialism, few people are aware of the insects’ more miraculous properties. The (fictional) Olloo’et – southern Northwest Coast peoples who resided on (the fictional) Olloo’et Island until they were forcibly relocated in the 1920s – believed the (fictional) Artemia lucis sacred. During their infrequent periods of activity, the Olloo’et men partook in a ceremony: accompanied by a shaman and tribal leader, the men spent six days and nights drinking the bay’s water (complete with insects), which had hallucinogenic effects. The men reported having visions, slipped into trances, experienced great physical pleasure – and even claimed that the bugs cured their physical illnesses. Occasionally someone died; “usually by walking out into the water and never coming back.”

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Book Review: Some Possible Solutions, Helen Phillips (2016)

Monday, May 30th, 2016

Tales With Teeth

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.)

Once something I wrote made the judge of a contest indignant. He wrote, “This is something that this woman should share with her husband alone, if with anyone, and probably not even with him.”

If there’s one passage that best encapsulates Some Possible Solutions: Stories, it would be this.

Helen Phillips’s second collection of short fiction is vulgar, imposing, and (at times) weirdly funny: all of which I mean as a compliment. Phillips sees your appeals to smile and act like a lady and raises them with the shocker – flashed while sporting an oh-so-snarky smirk, of course.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the author’s penchant for bodily fluids and other gross things (“Flesh and Blood,” I’m looking at you!), the eighteen stories in Some Possible Solutions deal with Very Adult Matters: marriage and parenthood; growing up and growing apart; watching your parents age, sometimes ahead of their time, and the cosmic betrayal this entails; loneliness and (too much) togetherness; and sometimes smothering societal norms.

While I found the collection entertaining enough, I often felt left in the dust, unsure of what to think or how to interpret what I’d just read. Many of these stories are downright surreal. Usually when reading anthologies I’ll take notes, assigning a starred rating to each piece and summarizing it briefly to help with the coming review. My notes for Some Possible Solutions? Kind of a mess. See, e.g., “Game,” “How I Began To Bleed Again After Six Alarming Months Without,” and “The Worst,” the summaries of which read “I have no idea!,” “WEIRD.,” and “WTF,” respectively. I wasn’t even sure how to rate a few of the stories. That said, I didn’t give any story less than three stars, and even these are enjoyable reads.

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Book Review: The Sudden Appearance of Hope, Claire North (2016)

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Hope Arden is one character you won’t soon forget.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for suicide, rape, and general violence.)

And at Edinburgh Waverley, I bought a notebook from the stationery shop, and a bag of pens, and as the engine blared its victory over inertia and the train began to crawl south, back to England, back to the warm, back to Derby and my sister who waited, I began to write.
I wrote of the past.

Of the things that had brought me here.

Of being forgotten, and being remembered.

Of diamonds in Dubai, fires in Istanbul. Of walks through Tokyo, the mountains of Korea, the islands of the southern seas. Of America and the greyhound bus, of Filipa and Parker, Gauguin and Byron14.

I wrote, to make my memory true.

The past, living.

Now.

Here, in these words.

I wrote to make myself real.

— 4.5 stars —

When she was sixteen years old, Hope Arden began to disappear – from peoples’ memories.

It started small: teachers would forget to pester Hope for her homework; friends stopped saving her a seat in the cafeteria. One day, she came home only to find her mother clearing out her room, bagging up her belongings to donate to a charity shop; for a second, she forgot that Hope still lived with them.

Eventually people ceased to remember Hope altogether: a minute or two after turning away, she’d slip from their minds like a shadow. Details of their seconds-old interaction with her would linger, but the girl at the center of the memory was nowhere to be found. Hope’s parents held out the longest, but one day even they forget their oldest daughter. You could say that Hope ran away from home that day, but is it still home if you’re a perpetual stranger?

Being unmemorable is more challenging than you might think. Reliable health care, housing, gainful employment, continuing education – all of it was beyond Hope’s reach. And so she did the only thing she could with this new ability-slash-curse: become the best damn thief she could. Like her anonymity, Hope’s career as a criminal started small: shoplifting led to pick pocketing led to elaborate jewel heists that required months of planning. If she wasn’t always a consummate professional, at least she could fall back on her forgettable-ness. The few times she was arrested, all Hope had to do was wait for someone to leave her in a room, alone…and forget all about her.

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Book Review: The Fireman, Joe Hill (2016)

Monday, May 16th, 2016

Joe Hill strikes again!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for racist/sexist language, violence, and sexual assault.)

It was them making the light. They were all of them tattooed with loops and whorls of Dragonscale, which glowed like fluorescent paint under a black light, hallucinatory hues of cherry wine and blowtorch blue. When they opened their mouths to sing, Harper glimpsed light painting the insides of their throats, as if each of them were a kettle filled with embers. […]

Harper felt she had never seen anything so frightening or beautiful.

“You know what the kids say.”
“I have no idea what the kids say. What do they say?”
“She came back from the eighties to save mankind. Martha Quinn is our only hope.”

The hens are clucking. Harper thought it would be a toss-up, which term for women she hated more: bitch or hen. A hen was something you kept in a cage, and her sole worth was in her eggs. A bitch, at least, had teeth.

The year is 2018-ish (if Martha Quinn’s approximate age is a reliable guidepost), and the world is on fire. A fungus called Draco incendia trychophyton – Dragonscale in lay terms, ‘scale for short – is making the rounds, leaving ashes and chaos in its wake. Once it finds a host, the spore spreads and propagates, infiltrating its victim’s blood, tissue, and organs – including the brain, with which it forms an intimate bond. The first sign of infection is the strangely beautiful markings it leaves on its host’s skin – dark tattoos that shimmer with flecks of gold.

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Book Review: Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1), Sylvain Neuvel (2016)

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Already jonesing for the sequel!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Possible trigger warning for medical rape.)

My deepest wish is for this discovery to redefine alterity for all of us.
—Alterity?
The concept of “otherness”. What I am is very much a function of what I am not. If the “other” is the Muslim world, then I am the Judeo-Christian world. If the other is from thousands of light-years away, I am simply human. Redefine alterity and you can erase boundaries.

Definitely a girl! I couldn’t stop grinning when they brought the chest in. Her breasts aren’t that large, given her size, but they’re still bigger than my car. Perky … She must have been the envy of all the giant girl[s] back in her day.

—You’ve seen her a thousand times. She’s blindfolded holding a scale in one hand and a sword in the other.
—Is that who we call Lady Justice?
—More or less.

On her eleventh birthday, little Rose Franklin takes her new bike out for a spin in Deadwood, South Dakota…and ends up falling into what appears to be a massive crater. Only the walls are decorated in mysterious hieroglyphics, and at the bottom sits a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, Dr. Rose Franklin – now a physicist – finds herself at the University of Chicago, in charge of studying the very hand that cradled her so many years ago. It turns out that the hand is just one piece of a much larger puzzle (a message? a statue? a spaceship? a robot? all of the above?), and someone – or something – scattered the other dozen-odd pieces around the globe. Primed to react to argon-37, some of the pieces have begun “activating” now that humans have discovered how to “tap the power of the atom,” as it were, causing metal body parts to ascend to the earth’s surface from their hiding places some 900 feet underground. A phenomenon U.S. Army pilots Kara Resnick and Ryan Mitchell stumble onto quite unwittingly when their plane loses power over a pistachio field in Harran, Turkey – and crash lands right next to a forearm.

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Book Review: Join, Steve Toutonghi (2016)

Monday, April 18th, 2016

Quirky and thought-provoking, with a darkly humorous streak.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ebook for review though Edelweiss. Trigger warning for offensive language.)

That kind of intimacy among drives is mocked by solos. Before most solo resentment hardened into religious resistance, there was a famous sketch comedy show, Howard, Howard, Howard, Howard, Howard, Howard, and Howard, that parodied the closeness. The seven Howards would stand in a circle, five men and two women, picking one another’s noses.

“In the beginning,” Rope Three says, “when Join was first introduced, and for a long time after, I assumed we’d all join. That we’d all become one single individual. Can you imagine that? No more other.”

Set in a distant (?) future that’s both inconceivable and all-too-familiar, Join takes the “soul mate” concept to the next level through its innovative “join” technology. Individuals – the vast majority of whom have already had their brains hacked into and connected to the biowave network via implants called “caddys” – can choose to join with one another, creating a single consciousness that lives on even after the death of a member (“drive”). Joins often start out as pairs – i.e., married couples – who later join with younger “honeymooner” couples. As the various drives work and save for additional licensing fees, the join can continue to accumulate more drives, whether they choose to merge with existing joins or court more desirable “solos.”

However, twenty is the upper limit for joins; after this, the competing perspectives can cause disorders in the join, such as the rare but terrifying meme virus. Likewise, the join must be consensual throughout the procedure and recovery/integration period; if one of or more the drives changes her mind, it could cause a “flip” – a progressive and fatal disorder.

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Book Review: Dreamology, Lucy Keating (2016)

Friday, April 15th, 2016

Would make a most excellent ’80s teen movie!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

I MADE HIM up. At least that’s what I always told myself. The combination of all my childhood adorations, combined into one perfect guy. The trouble is, I was wrong. Because right now Max is sitting directly across the quad from me, reading our psych textbook and pausing every few minutes to type something on his phone. He’s wearing a heather-gray T-shirt and I want to go over and sit on his lap.

In this moment, watching Max, I picture my heart as one of Jane’s beloved fish. How many ways could it possibly be murdered before Max is through with me? I picture it now, swimming with a bunch of other little heart muscles down a stream, before they are all caught up in a net, jumping and wiggling around.

Alice and Max have been dreaming of each other since they were children. They’ve traveled the (dream) world together. They’ve had food fights at the Met; played games of Jenga with life-sized foam bricks; boogie boarded down Nan’s grand staircase; and dined on chocolate Legos (all the better to build castles with!). For the past eleven years, they’ve been the one constant, comforting, dependable thing in each others’ lives. Ever since Alice’s mom abandoned the family to study primates in Uganda (and then Madagascar), and Max’s older sister Lila died in a drunk driving accident. Ever since the nightmares began, and their parents enrolled them in the brain mapping study at the Center for Dream Discovery.

Dreams and reality collide when Alice’s father moves the family back to Boston and into her recently deceased Nan’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse. For there, standing in the doorway of her Psych 201 class at Bennett Academy, is Alice’s dream boy. There are just three teeny tiny little problems, though: 1) Max refuses to acknowledge their connection; 2) and already has an IRL girlfriend named Celeste; and 3) as their waking and sleeping lives intersect, Alice and Max begin to have trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy.

Alice is convinced that the answers are hidden in the files of the seemingly-sketchy Dr. Petermann, and the research he conducted on them all those years ago. With the help of Max; her NYC BFF Sophie; and her new Boston bud, Oliver, can Lucy set things right – without sacrificing the boy of her dreams?

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Book Review: Version Control, Dexter Palmer (2016)

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Intelligent and provocative; as much about humans & our institutions as the space-time continuum.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ebook for review through Edelweiss. There’s a clearly marked, mild spoil warning near the end of this review.)

The compelling story of a couple living in the wake of a personal tragedy. She is a star employee of an online dating company, while he is a physicist, performing experiments that, if ever successful, may have unintended consequences, altering the nature of their lives—and perhaps of reality itself.

Rebecca Wright has gotten her life back, finding her way out of grief and depression following a personal tragedy years ago. She spends her days working in customer support for the Internet dating site where she first met her husband. However, she has a persistent, strange sense that everything around her is somewhat off-kilter: she constantly feels as if she has walked into a room and forgotten what she intended to do there; on TV, the President seems to be the wrong person in the wrong place; and each night she has disquieting dreams that may or may not be related to her husband Philip’s pet project. Philip’s decade-long dedication to the causality violation device (which he would greatly prefer you do not call a “time machine”) has effectively stalled his career and made him a laughingstock in the physics community. But he may be closer to success than either of them knows or imagines . . .

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

Version Control is a difficult book to review, if only because it’s so damn smart: complex, richly layered, and filled with nuance. The time travel sure complicates matters – if a character travels back in time and picks at a thread that undoes his very existence, how does he go back in time to begin with?; paradoxes, yo! – but the real backbone of this story is Palmer’s insight into humans and our relationships with one another.

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Book Review: The Girl from Everywhere, Heidi Heilig (2016)

Monday, February 15th, 2016

[Insert Fangirling Gif Here]

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Edelweiss.)

Nix’s life began in Honolulu in 1868. Since then she has traveled to mythic Scandinavia, a land from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, modern-day New York City, and many more places both real and imagined. As long as he has a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place, any time. But now he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, before Nix’s mother died in childbirth. Nix’s life—her entire existence—is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years. If Nix helps her father reunite with the love of his life, it will cost her her own.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

Heidi Heilig’s debut novel (dear gods, can this really be her first novel? it’s so damn shiny!) The Girl from Everywhere is the sort of book that makes me wish I was a more eloquent writer – if only so I could craft a review that does it justice. As it is, I’m fighting the urge to post a whole slew of my favorite Firefly gifs and call it a day.

Instead of the usual review, allow me to bullet point this bad girl. (The bullet points keep me on point and spoiler-free.) Here are twelve reasons why you should read The Girl from Everywhere, like, yesterday.

1. The seamless blend of reality and fantasy.

The Girl from Everywhere is nothing if not an epic mashup of genres – and some of my favorites, to boot. Time travel screams SF to me, and yet Slate’s ability to Navigate is also wonderfully fantastical. We have historical fiction and even some travel writing in the Hawaiian backdrop, and along with more mundane settings, like contemporary New York City, The Temptation also visits places that only exist in myth.

Though Slate is the one able to break through the Margins of a map, to reach a different time and place, it’s Nix’s knowledge of history and mythology that truly steers the ship. Many of The Temptation’s voyages are in pursuit of the 1868 Honolulu map – or rather, in search of items that might make their quest more fruitful and convenient: a never-ending pitcher of wine from Greece, a bottomless bag from 1600s Wales, an army of terra cotta warriors from the Qin dynasty.

So very much to savor and explore after the story’s over and the wait for the sequel is driving you bonkers!

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Book Review: The Unfinished World: And Other Stories, Amber Sparks (2016)

Friday, February 12th, 2016

The Unfinished World: Sorrowful to the End

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Trigger warning for rape.)

It just goes to show, people said later. It just goes to show how fairy tales always stop too soon in the telling. Others said it was never a fairy tale at all. Anyone could see that. They were all too lovely, too obviously doomed. But the wisest said, that’s exactly what a fairy tale is. The happily-ever-after is just a false front. It hides the hungry darkness inside.

Sometimes he wonders if it would really be so bad, letting people flood into history like a tidal wave and sweep away the worst of it. Sure, the paradoxes would destroy us, but so what? Did a world that let happen the Holocaust and Hiroshima and the Trail of Tears and Stalin and Genghis Khan and Pol Pot deserve to be spared?

Every death is a love story. It’s the goodbye part, but the love is still there, wide as the world.

When I requested a copy of The Unfinished World: And Other Stories on Edelweiss, I thought I was getting the debut effort of io9 editor Charlie Jane Anders. I managed to confuse All the Birds in the Sky and The Unfinished World, probably on account of the covers are vaguely similar and both books come out the same week. But no matter: The Unfinished World was on my wishlist too, and even though it wasn’t quite what I was expecting – it’s a little more surreal than SF, time travel notwithstanding – it’s an enchanting collection of stories just the same.

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Book Review: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1), Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (2015)

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

Can’t Stop the Signal

five out of five stars

CitB: stay on task, grasshopper. we let the Alexander burn us out of the sky, your red hot love will be subsumed by a bigger, hotter flame

ByteMe: how do you even function in society?

CitB: it’s a struggle

Before this moment, I have never wished to be something other than what I am.

Normally I try not to let myself get swept up in all the excitement over the Next Big Book; I’ve been burned one (or fifteen) times too many. But Illuminae? Deserves all the hype and then some. It’s a twisty-turny, roller coaster ride with a little something for everyone: action, adventure, romance, suspense, science fiction, horror. Zombies, spaceships, and an insane artificial intelligence. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story starts with a bang – literally. The year is 2075, and the planet Kerenza is under attack. An illegal mining colony located far from the core, Kerenza is the site of a power struggle between two mega-corps: Wallace Ulyanov Consortium (WUC), which operates Kerenza, and its competitor, BeiTech Industries. Rather than report Kerenza’s illicit activities to the United Terran Authority (UTA) and bury the WUC in fines, BeiTech chooses a more lucrative and diabolical route: kill everyone on Kerenza and steal the planet for itself. Since it’s an illegal settlement, chances are that the WUC will write off the loss rather than report it to the UTA. That’s BeiTech’s gamble, anyway, and it’s a safe one. Only they didn’t wager on there being any survivors.

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Book Review: The Gods of HP Lovecraft, edited by Aaron J. French (2015)

Friday, January 15th, 2016

A Solid Collection of Stories Rooted in the Lovecraft Mythos

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Trigger warning for rape and animal abuse.)

Confession time: I’m not a fan of H.P. Lovecraft. I’m not not a fan, I just know very little about his work. Most of my limited knowledge comes from the recent World Fantasy Awards controversy (which, I must admit, doesn’t exactly make me want to run out and buy copy of The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft), and that one episode of Supernatural (which, as it just so happened, TNT reran this morning. Serendipity!)

I am, however, I huge Seanan McGuire fangirl, and it’s her contribution that sold me on this anthology. (Her short stories in particular are phenomenal, and “Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves” is no exception.) I’m glad, too, because The Gods of HP Lovecraft is a pretty solid collection of science fiction stories. As you can see, I rated everything a 4 or 5, which is pretty impressive; usually anthologies are more of a mixed bag for me. The individual summaries are relatively vague and un-spoilery, but please skip them if you’d rather read this book with fresh eyes.

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Book Review: Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1), Ryan Graudin (2015)

Monday, October 19th, 2015

“The wolves of war are gathering…”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them – made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same.

Her story begins on a train.

Babushka – the one who gave her purpose.

Mama – the one who gave her life.

Miriam – the one who gave her freedom.

Aaron-Klaus – the one who gave her a mission.

Vlad – the one who gave her pain.

These were the names she whispered in the dark.

These were the pieces she brought back into place.

These were the wolves she rode to war.

An exhilarating and imaginative fusion of alternate history, science fiction, and historical fiction, Ryan Graudin’s Wolf By Wolf mines the many what ifs? surrounding World War II: What if the United States had held fast to an isolationist foreign policy? What if the Hitler had successfully executed Operation Sea Lion? What if the combined forces of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan had won the war, painting most of Europe and parts of Asia and Africa red? What if Nazi scientists successfully found a way of “curing” Untermensch, making them at least appear more perfectly Aryan on the surface? What if these experiments surpassed even Dr. Mengele’s wildest dreams, creating mutants who are able to change their skin at will, the way you or I would change our clothes?

While the first three scenarios were arguably possible at one point or another in history – and Nazi scientists did indeed try to tinker with eye color – that last what if is what catapults Wolf By Wolf into the realm of science fiction/fantasy. And is it glourious. (Misspelling intentional.)

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