Book Review: “Cemetery in the Clouds” by Sørina Higgins (four stars)

At the turn of the twenty-seventh century, grave-robbing wasn’t what it used to be. 

Engaging short science fiction set so far into the future that what we think we know isn’t necessarily so. Good voice; good character development. Intertwined story lines set up a compelling climax.

Without an ozone layer, the cities relied on smog to keep out the unbearable sun.

Fifty years ago all SF bemoaned overpopulation (with a side of nuclear winter); today it’s wailing over climate change (with a side of post-industrial dystopia). Care to guess the “in” apocalypse of 2070?

“You’re making that up! This isn’t some totalitarian dystopia!”  He stopped, stymied. Wasn’t that exactly what it was? 

Book Review: Stars and Bones by Gareth L. Powell (two and a half stars)

Book Review: Stars and Bones (Continuance #1) by Gareth L. Powell (two and a half stars)

‘We’d wanted adventure, excitement, and really wild things… and we’d received them in abundance. Just not in the way we’d hoped.’ 

Central plot borrowed from a Star Trek movie. Too-stupid-to-survive humans contact inimical aliens with inevitable results. Things get worse. The usual sophomoric misapplications of basic physics and economics. Good, if obvious setup for feel-good ending.

“We’re a team, and if you think I’m going to let you walk in there alone, you’re even crazier than you look.” 

Simultaneously I was reading After Doomsday, 1962 Poul Anderson post-Apocalyptic novel. Powell sure makes Anderson look good.

“What do you think I should I do?” “You’re seriously going to ask dating advice from an unneutered tomcat?” “Oh god, I am, aren’t I?

The rating started as a solid four stars; now three would be a gift. Had I known the extent of profanity I wouldn’t have started, let alone finish, this book. One character knows no other adjective than f—ing. Even the computer curses.

“They have no poetry in their souls.” “That, they do not. Also, no souls.” 

Book Review: After Doomsday by Poul Anderson (four stars)

Book Review: After Doomsday by Poul Anderson (four stars)

‘Hatred of the murderers crowded out fear and grief alike. Hatred focused so sharply on the thing which pursued her ship that it seemed the steel must melt.’

Writing in the early 1960s, Anderson develops a more engaging, plausible tale than current SF authors. Two challenges interweave. His failure to anticipate the coming digital and solid-state revolution dates the book but doesn’t make him unusual.

‘They could be anywhere among a couple hundred billion stars. How can we get word to them?’

Simultaneously I was reading Stars and Bones. a contemporary post-Apocalyptic novel with a similar approach. Anderson wins. The story and storytelling are direct and well-paced. In retrospect humorous that so many characters smoke on space craft.

‘In the Seven Classics of Voyen, one may read, “Many desperations do not equal one hope.”

Book Review: Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse (four stars)

Book Review: Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World, #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse (four stars)

“Godslayer, huh.” His mouth bleeds into a half smile. “I always knew you were the crazy one in the girl gang.”

Excellent story; excellent storytelling. Roanhorse continues her saga woven with Navajo language, culture, and lore in a post-apocalyptic Dinétah, approximately a hundred years in the future. The geography is based on the American Southwest after the Big Water, a series of cataclysms including California sliding into the Pacific. People live as best they can on the remnants, using their clan powers to aid or oppose each other and spiritual deities, including the Diyin Dine’e.

I open my mouth to remind him of her clan powers, but I shut it when I see the look on his face. Why ruin his familial pride with a few pesky supernatural facts?

Maggie is totally believable in a speculative fiction way, which is way over the top. The genesis and inner dynamics of her gang of girls adds to her and their depth. Gratuitous profanity cost Ronan a star. Yes, that’s who Maggie and company are, but beyond establishing character, it dulls the edge which it presumably was meant to whet.

“You know, I grew up in the church, but I’m not sure I believe in all that sin stuff.”
“I have to believe, because if I don’t, then there’s no chance of forgiveness. It’s the only hope I have.”

Mechanics: Roanhorse reveals that she wrote Storm before publishing Trail of Lightning. Assures continuity. Pace and timing propel the reader onward. Kudos to Tommy Arnold for the cover illustration.

“I’ve got issues, if you haven’t notice.” “Oh, I noticed.” “Thanks.”

Upright Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey (three stars)

Upright Women Wanted, by Sarah Gailey (three stars)

“You believe everything you read?”

Almost gave up after the first thirty pages; glad I stuck with it. Good coming-of-age tale about a settled city person thrust into the wilderness. This story is more than it seems. Yes, it’s the agenda-driven stuff claimed in the blurb, but it’s potentially more.

“Awful worldly for a colt. What’s at the end of that road, then, world traveler?” “Nothing but trouble.”

Quibbles: Correctly identifies the dangers of slow travel in the desert southwest, then ignores them. Serious issues with how far and fast horses can travel, especially pulling a loaded wagon. Stumbles over her own contrived pronouns occasionally.

She had seen a man decide that she deserved to die, and she had killed him for it.

Gailey must decide whether she’s wants to serious, challenging fiction or disappear in the sea of pulp writers.

“Dead as shoe leather, and fixing to stay that way.” “I should feel worse about it. Shouldn’t I?”
“You will.”

(2021 Hugo Award novella nominee)

Book Review: Walkaway by Cory Doctorow (Two Stars)


Book Review: Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

(Two Stars)

“So long as you keep on pretending that money is anything but a consensus hallucination induced by the ruling elite to convince you to let them hoard the best stuff, you’ll never make a difference. Money only works if there isn’t enough to go around. (Weimar Germany tried to print “enough to go around” in the 1930s. Didn’t work.)

Wanted to like this more. Doctorow obviously worked hard on creating a gripping, convincing story. Convincing? Oh yes, because this is a 400-page infomercial on socialism.

“Sci-fi and fantasy are two sides of the same coin.”

Science fantasy. Not because of magic or elves, but the fairy tale that you can wish away limited resources and human nature. A post-apocalyptic utopia about Continue reading

Book Review: Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse (Four Stars)


Book Review: Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse

(Four Stars)

“Some people believe to destroy your enemies by making them your friends.” “I find a gun works pretty well too.”

Dresden on the rez. Honestly, not the kind of story I like to read–dark, supernatural urban legend action tale. That said, Roanhorse does as good a job as Jim Butcher integrating her modern/near-future paranormal thriller with both Navajo and Euro-American cultures. Roanhorse takes us deep into the mind and feelings of the protagonist, where even Maggie isn’t comfortable.

“It feels like I can’t tell the monsters from the good guys anymore, so it’s best I pull the trigger and let someone else sort it out.” “You don’t mean that.” “Maybe I do.”

Many references to classic and contemporary culture. Casual readers may miss how connected this story is; they won’t miss Continue reading

Book Review: Doomsday Morning by C. L. Moore (Four Stars)


Book Review: Doomsday Morning by C. L. Moore

(Four Stars)

“Maybe you don’t know it, but the world is dead.”

A fine example of early science fiction in general and the works of C. L. Moore in particular, though no mention of space travel or aliens. Published in 1957. Set in a post-apocalyptic America ruled by an aging dictator and suffering unrest, all seen through the eyes of a washed up actor. Spies and betrayal abounds.

“When a Comus sampling turns up false, they’ll repeal the law of gravity.” “In California the law of gravity has been repealed.”

Well-conceived and executed. Moore still had the touch she first exhibited in the 1930s. She takes you deep into the mind of her protagonist and deep into his world. Works well.

“When you’re young you never doubt yourself. You never wonder if you’re justified. But as a man gets older he learns to doubt.”

Fewer technical groans than you’d expect for a story written sixty years ago. She managed to create a “modern” world which contains few jarring anachronism–except maybe telephone booths, and even those have video.

Quibble: “The hollow thunder of bomber was beginning to blanket all other sound.” Even in the 50s, you couldn’t hear approaching bombers. (B-52 bombers were already operational then.)

“How do I get out of here?” “Don’t act like that.” “It’s not acting.”

Contains the requisite SF/F cliché phrase: “I had been holding my breath without realizing it.”

“What’s past is prologue. Wait and see.”

Book Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley (Three Stars)

41444470Book Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

(Three Stars)

”Everything that’s going to happen has already happened. You just haven’t experienced it yet. We are, all of us, caught within a massive loop of time, bouncing around in the spaces between things.”

Innovative fold-timeline, time-travel story. Narrative follows the protagonist as she tries to figure out when and where she is, what’s happening, and whether she can do anything about it. Hurley worked hard at this; it shows. It could have been the big story of this generation, but it isn’t.

“You all right?” “No. None of us is all right.” “I’m not the bad guy.” “No. We all are.” “I don’t think that’s true.” “Whatever helps you sleep.”

A few decades ago I would have found this cutting edge; now it’s just Continue reading

Book Review: City of Bones by Martha Wells (Four Stars)


Book Review: City of Bones by Martha Wells

(Four Stars)

“If you had any common courtesy you’d die now and save me this trouble.”

A pleasure to read; sorry it ended. Post-apocalyptic steampunk fantasy with a protagonist who is an alien to a culture which may need exactly his expertise to survive. Excellent world building. Leavened with self-depreciating humor. This early (1995) work foreshadows Wells’ talent, since exhibited in her Murderbot tales.

“If I fail, everything terrible that happens next will be my fault. That’s the perfect end to my life, don’t you think?” “If you fail, I promise not to tell anybody.”

Good character development with lots of cross purposes and confused motives. Scene setting is rationed out with the story telling, allowing the reader to Continue reading