Book Review: A Case of Conscience by James Blish and Greg Bear (four stars)

Book Review: A Case of Conscience (After Such Knowledge #4) by James Blish and Greg Bear (four stars)

Almost all knowledge, after all, fell into that category. It was either perfectly simple once you understood it, or else it fell apart into fiction.

Published in 1958, this novel is simultaneous outdated and relevant. First contact of a non-Trekkian kind demands deeper introspection. A good read.

“This is not a question of information. It is a question of whether or not the information can be used. If it cannot, then limitless information is of no help.”

Folks under thirty may have trouble identifying with a Jesuit scientist or politicians of the 50s. The absence of integrated circuits and microcomputer-based information transfer is striking.

It was right and proper to pity children, but Ruiz-Sanchez was beginning to believe that adults generally deserve any misfortune that they get.

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer (Four Stars)

“We have served admirably for many, many years. Abandoned?” “It is the fate of all made things,” Ship said. “I am grateful to find I have not outlived my usefulness, after all.

A pleasant excursion into the minds—albeit small—of the electro-mechanical minions of a superannuated spaceship on what may be a suicide mission. Both the central computer and the bots have an opinion about that. Who knew?

“Ship, find your damned bots and get them cooperating again.” “Yes, Captain. There is, perhaps, one other small concern of note.” “And that is?” “The positron device is also missing.”

Palmer draws the reader slower into an intimate but charged relationship with 9, yet grounds us also in the outer world’s issues. They collide in a humorous, but logical denouement.

“Space did odd, illogical things at jump points; turning space into something that would give Escher nightmares was, after all, what made them work.”

Book Review: West of January by Dave Duncan (Four Stars)

Book Review: West of January by Dave Duncan

(Four Stars)

“Revenge was my choice … and I was crazy again. That helped a lot.”

Incredible world building. What if a world, very similar to ours, was in tidal lock with its sun–almost? First published in 1989, this tale slowly introduces the problem and how various groups try to solve it. Followed plot line makes sense in the end.

“Why, when the gods created friendship, did they leave us mortal?”

Some great turns of the phrase: “Voice thin as a lark’s ankle.” “As innocent as a raw egg.” “Madness hung over the grasslands like the stench of rotting meat.”

“Nothing argues more convincingly than cowardice.”

Unlike his contemporary Robert Jordan, Duncan puts a huge story into a single volume–one which he finished. There’s potential for a separate novel in each chapter, but Jordan stays focused. The result is a challenging, satisfying epic. Instead of creating a never-ending story, Duncan wrote more novels.

“I want … no great dying, the next time the sun comes west of January.”

Book Review: Children of God by Mary Doria Russell (Six Stars)


Book Review: Children of God (The Sparrow #2) by Mary Doria Russell

Six Stars

“It wasn’t your fault.” “Tell that to the dead.”

Six? Yes, this is what comes from giving five stars so liberally. This is the best book I’ve read this year (102 and counting), not just the best science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction or biography. Why didn’t it win a cluster of awards? Was it as fun to write as to read?

“Rain fails on everyone; lightning strikes some.”

Not necessary but recommended you read The Sparrow first. Russell skillfully weaves in the backstory when you need it.

“No one was deliberately evil. We all did the best we could. Even so, what a mess we made of everything.”

Each character the protagonist of his or her own story. Russell assures no actors are bad or good in their own eyes. Each point of view character does Continue reading

Book Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Five Stars

“Genius may have its limits but stupidity is not thus handicapped.”

Extraordinary writing. A rich blend of science fiction with philosophic inquiry. The casts (there are two stories, tangentially connected) are deeply and realistically developed to clash, promote, love and hate one another. A first-contact story of the best kind. Humor.

“None of you will ever know what it was like and I promise you: you don’t want to know.”

Folded timeline irritates at first, but is gradually revealed to be Continue reading

Book Review: Way Station by Clifford D. Simak (Three Stars)

Book Review: Way Station by Clifford D. Simak

Three Stars

“Our horizons are so far, and we see so little of them.”

Not quite a first contact story but close enough. The story starts so slowly I almost gave up, but it’s a full, rich tale once it gathers momentum. Almost four stars.

“As if he were a man who had walked away from his own humanity?”

Written in 1963, this story reflects the uncertainty and fear of that time. (How many of you remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? Vietnam?) Current Americans can hardly imagine the barely suppressed hysteria of many people living then. Without understanding that context, the immediacy of the story is dulled.

“A man must belong to something. The galaxy was too big a place for a being to stand naked and alone.”

Awarding winning science fiction of the different era. SF/F has different tropes and de rigueur topics now. The sixties were all about the coming Armageddon.

“It doesn’t matter much what any of us are, just so we get along with one another.”

Book Review: Who Fears Death by Okorafor Nnedi (Five Stars)

Book Review: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Five Stars

“I was … one who used what she had to do what she had to do, and so I did.”

A wonderfully complex, non-linear tale of redemption and finding one’s self. Okorafor proves that rich, engaging fantasy can spring from most any cultural root; in fact, it will if we don’t let our preconceived notions stifle our imagination. A refreshing change from all those Tolkien-clone fantasies with Medieval European-analog settings.

“Just because we are all hurting doesn’t mean others should.”

A bright story of self-discovery and self-sacrifice painted against the somber darkness of genocide. While the story hints of a Darfur analog, the divisions could be/are just as easily geography, gender, race and ethnicity. Okorafor argues against Continue reading

Book Review: All My Sins Remembered by Joe Haldeman (Four Stars)

Book Review: All My Sins Remembered by Joe Haldeman

Four Stars

“Right action is abstaining from killing/stealing; Right livelihood is earning a living in a way not harmful to any living thing; Right effort is to avoid evil thoughts and overcome them.”

Gritty. An interstellar James Bond. Licensed to kill and commit just about any other crime to preserve the Confederación and protect the rights of humans and nonhumans. What could be more honorable? It’s what he has to do. A dirty job, but someone ….

“… rougher, raunchier, dirtier and noisier than any place he had ever been. He liked it.”

The dry, self-depreciating writing expected of Joe Haldeman. He doesn’t write space operas, he writes survival tales which happen to be set in space (though most of these stories transpire on someone’s terra firma).

“Can you keep a secret?” “As well as the next man.”

Haldeman can tell even the most repulsive tale well; he wants the reader to be repulsed–and attracted–to Otto McGavin.

“You killed those [forty-five] people and you must forgive yourself, not merely shift the blame.”