Book Review: Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia A. McKillip (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Heir of Sea and Fire (Riddle Master #2) by Patricia A. McKillip

(Three Stars)

“There is an instinct in me to trust you blindly. Beyond reason, and beyond hope.”

Moderns whine the former dearth of recognized female authors and lead characters in speculative fiction. Like most generalizations that’s generally wrong. This book is a case in point. Published in 1977, it features a mostly female protagonist and supporting cast. Sadly, but understandably, the series male hero … (Oops, that’d be telling.)

“I know that silence … sometimes I think it’s a silence of living, then at other times, it changes to a silence of waiting.”

Simple, direct storytelling. Great impact. Hate to think how Robert Jordan would Continue reading

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Book Review: Riddle Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Riddle Master of Hed (The Riddle Master’s Game: Book 1) by Patricia A. McKillip

(Four Stars)

“When you open your minds and hands and heart to the knowing of a thing, there is no room in you for fear.”

Sorry I missed this when first published in 1976. Better than most post-LOTR imitators. McKillip may feel that she’s surpassed this earlier effort, but this is a deeper, more satisfying tale than many more famous competitors, which admittedly is a low bar.

“Truth,” the Master Ohm murmured, “needs no apology.”

It took the entire book to get the protagonist interested in his quest, along the way he discovers that everything he thought he knew—and he was a master riddler—about almost everything, was wrong.

“I have lived a thousand years, and I can recognize the smell of doom.”

Quibbles? Lots, but none that diminish the enjoyment of the text. Go with the admittedly shallow flow.

“I’m also wondering why the High One has never acted.” “Perhaps because his business is the land, not the school of wizards of Lungold. Perhaps he has already begun to act in ways you do not recognize.”

Book Review: The Dragon that Flew out of the Sun by Aliette de Bodard (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Dragon that Flew out of the Sun: Stories of the Xuya Universe by Aliette de Bodard

(Three Stars)

“Everything is a lie. Everything is a fragment of the truth.”

The collection contains the titular story plus “Ship’s Brother,” and “The Frost on the Jade Buds.”

“… seemed to be perpetual mourning, as if some spring within them had broken a long time ago.”

Well-written, but lacks depth. Presumably much backstory is developed in earlier Xuya Universe novels. This is not a good place to start.

“Tales for children. Bedtimes stories: the only narratives that can be stomached.”

(Illustration from deBodard’s website, not from collection.)

Book Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

(Three Stars)

“The key to autonomy, she realized, was more than root access on the programs that shaped her desires. It was a sense of privacy.”

In exploring the limits—natural and imposed—on robotic autonomy, Newitz directs us to consider what limits and expands human independence and the value of human life. Any book which makes us think deserves extra attention. Autonomous comes packaged in good story telling and many well-developed characters—bot and otherwise. Multiple folded time lines.

“He’d asked Paladin whether he should call her ‘she.’ It’s true that he was asking the wrong question, but if she listened to the words behind the words … he was asking her consent.”

Comparisons with Martha Wells’ murderbot series are inevitable. Very different approaches. I like Murderbot better because it respects the reader more, and is laced with self-depreciating humor. Your mileage may vary.

“Humans, you know—they hate us for the indenture laws. Without bot indenture, there would be no human indenture. Human think bots deserve to be indentured, while humans deserve to be autonomous.”

Unfortunately, the story is also laced with soft porn and foul language. Sure, that’s how the immature talk, but it isn’t necessary to wallow in it.

“Everybody is an outsider, if you go deep enough. The trick is reassuring people that you’re their kind of outsider. Just figure out a way to share their problems” * (“I feel your pain.”)

Quibble: “Atop these desks were several servers and projectors, a chip printer, some fabbers, and a high-powered microscope box for imaging atoms.” Even in a science fiction future, this seems rather much to be cluttered atop a couple desks. (Which was the point.)

“I’m never going to stop making open drugs, sequence wants to be free.”

Newitz changes the gender of one character mid-story (for well explained reasons), but perhaps inadvertently she depicts that much gender identity in in the mind of others, out of control of the self.

“The bot had no choice but to fight for his life. Still, to Paladin, it didn’t feel like a lack of choice. It felt like hope.”

Book Review: Amáne of Teravinea by D. Maria Trimble (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Amáne of Teravinea: The Chosen One by D. Maria Trimble

(Three Stars)

“Ever since I can remember, I’d aspired to be brave and strong; to have a mission in life; to be worthy of a quest. But one problem plagued me—I was born a girl.”

A fun fantasy for young readers. Good story with a good heart. Lots of teen angst; little humor. Clunking, amateur writing.

“Gallen anticipated my reaction. He ducked just in time to avoid the spray of tea that spewed from my mouth. ‘Next time you have alarming news to tell her, you could at least refrain from telling her at meal times?’”

If Amáne’s mother and the Healer had any inkling she might be the Chosen One, you’d think they would have trained her and watched her. For who and what they were, they were Continue reading

Book Review: Agamemnon’s Daughter: A Novella & Stories by Ismail Kadare (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Agamemnon’s Daughter: A Novella & Stories by Ismail Kadare

(Five Stars)

“To launch the ancient Trojan Wars/ They offered up Iphigenia./ For the sake of our great cause/ I’ll carry my darling to the pyre.”

The unifying theme is the urge to power. Whatever the other motives may be for our actions, Kadare sees that we seek power, even when our actions seem otherwise. And we are just victims with evil, but collaborators.

“We’d taken a path not really knowing where it would lead, not knowing how long it was, ands while still on our way, realizing we had taken the wrong road but that it was too late to turn back, every one of us, so as to not be swallowed up by the dark, had started slicing off pieces of our own flesh.”

The three stories differ in setting time and characters, but are all told from the point of view of a close observer, though not the decision makers. Set in Albania in the early 1980s; parallels to George Orwell’s 1984.

Yakov [Stalin’s son] … had not been sacrificed so as to suffer the same fate as any other Russian soldier, as the dictator had claimed, but to give Stalin the right to demand the life of everyone else.”

Kadare’s critique of Enver Hoxha’s absolutist regime in Albania from 1944 to 1985 can be leveled at many western democracies. Whichever side eventually wins the struggle for power, the impact on the people will be the same—indistinguishable from Albania’s Hoxhaism, China’s cultural revolution, or Russia’s Stalinism. Yes, it could happen here; clues are all around us.

“Let us revolutionize everything … How many years of such a drought would it take to reduce life to a stony waste? And why? Only because when life is withered and stunted, it is also easier to control.”

Book Review: Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clark (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clark

(Four Stars)

“Why is the universe here?” “Where else would it be?”

This is why Arthur C. Clarke is thought of as among the Big Three of science fiction. This novel was written in the 1980s, based on a short story originally written in 1957. Don’t read the blurbs; they’re both misleading and spoilers. Too many topics to comment on or even lift his quotes about, but Clark still manages to insert an engaging story.

“No serious philosophical problem is ever settled.”

Golden Age science fiction. In many ways Clark is better than anything being written today. He deals with big issues but gets the details of science and people right. Yes, great portions of his text are sermons on various hobby horses, but Continue reading

Book Review: The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings

(Four Stars)

“I don’t want to contaminate a good story with truth. That’d be a violation of my artistic integrity.”

A fun read. Sort of a tongue-in-cheek parody of epic fantasy. World’s great thief (he thinks), competitive divine siblings, threats to end reality. Faint echoes of Star Wars. Didn’t notice much redemption of Althalus, but who cares?

“It’s not the writing that changes, pet. It’s the reading.” “Wait a minute. Doesn’t the writing mean the same to everybody?” “Of course it doesn’t. Everybody reads any writing gets a different meaning from it.”

Reads like a first draft—wordy and repetitious, but Continue reading

Book Review: Grass by Sheri S. Tepper (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Grass (Arbai #1) by Sheri S. Tepper

(Three Stars)

“You are saying God cannot intervene in this plague?” “I am saying that perhaps God has already done his intervening by creating us.”

Published in 1989, Grass addresses many contemporary issues setting them in far future science fiction. Very slow start. You can’t skip the first hundred pages, but once the story begins to move, you’ll wish Tepper had. Lots of passive voice and participles; slows the pace. Addresses religion more honestly—bad and good–than most modern works.

“Seeking her soul, he had only taken her body, finding there a hollowness he had not expected.”

Some nice word pictures: “nights sat gently upon the sills.” Continue reading

Book Review: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

(Three Stars)

“Shugli believed his falconers. It took a watcher to recognize another watcher. Against an unknown enemy, only one strategy would succeed: stealth.”

Better-than-average science fiction series opener, which admittedly is a low bar. For all that, the character development and storytelling is exceeds the norm. While the close of this story resolves nothing, it is a closing, rather the usual abrupt cut.

“Stay away from the me-me-me. Clients want you to talk about them.” “I didn’t realize we needed to make the client feel good about themselves. It seems dishonest.” “This is Continue reading