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

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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

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Book Review: Stealthy Steps by Vicki Kestell (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Stealthy Steps (Nanostealth #1) by Vicki Kestell

Three Stars

“You think you’re scared I’m the invisible freak!”

I liked it. Well-developed tale with a strong, if emotionally immature protagonist. Self-depreciating humor fits the character and story. Everything breaks her way, even the bad breaks. Too easy. Italics overused. “Giggles” too much.

“He’s a hardcore Christian. I couldn’t keep seeing [him] anymore.”

Christian literature, but protagonist realistically resists the initial gospel hard sell. Christian characters well drawn. Some antagonists border on caricatures.

“I was where you are twenty years ago. Different town, same drugs. Different corner, same grave just waiting for me to fall into it.”

Quibble: masked from one angle is not masked from all angles. The problems with real-time, adaptive omni-directional masking are enormous.

“Invisible is not a word that belongs in real life.”

Not so much concluded as finished the opening.

“Was life even worth the never ending struggle?”

Book Review: Split Infinity by Piers Anthony (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Split Infinity (Apprentice Adept #1) by Piers Anthony

Three Stars

“If you think you’re conscious, you must be conscious. That’s what consciousness is all about. The feedback is self-awareness.”

Great story telling and contrasting fantasy and science fiction environments, but Anthony doesn’t get a bye for his antediluvian portrayal of gender relations. Even though it was written in the 80s, it’s borderline offensive. His protagonist’s supposed moral uprightness is severely undercut by his treatment of females. Costuming sex as freely given doesn’t excuse his attitude.

“You often don’t have to fight, if you just look as if you’d like to.”

The extended sections of game play slows to the story. The whole game matrix concept rings false: an artificial construct, like quidditch, to pump up the protagonist.

“You are a rational creature, beneath your superficial programming; under my programming I am an irrational animal.”

Quibbles: Published in 1980, totally misses the coming revolution in microelectronics and communications, which renders the story a quaint artifact of a former age. “Two days off his feet” after running a marathon? He’d be a cripple for months. Daily challenge games? After marathons? How’s that fair?

“Murder is not the proper solution to problems.”

Like many series openers, this is larger world, team and goal building. No incentive to read more of the series.

“Know thyself.”

Book Review: Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price

Four Stars

“To them, to kill in revenge was a duty; to forgive the killing of a kinsman sin.”

Excellent science-historical fiction mashup. Avoids the time travel paradox by having travelers visit a past in a world a few dimensions away from our earth, but recognizably similar.

“… always worrying about someone getting hurt, as if people could keep from getting hurt.”

Changes point of view often–paragraph by paragraph–but with sufficient clues to keep the reader oriented. Deep into the minds and emotions of all the principle characters (who vary enough to reflect vastly different mores and experiences), to the point that we understand the motivation and worldview of those we might normally consider villains. Female lead has near-terminal conscience and indecision problems, which makes her the perfect lens into the story.

“Lovers divided by family and feud made good stories, but in life it was nothing but misery.”

Excellent immersion into medieval culture: not just sights and sounds, but smells and taste …. And all that filth. Music and folk tales deepen our cultural engagement. A skilled archer misses; hooray!

“It was like the music stopped and I had no chair.”

Quibble: Land Rovers haven’t had hub caps for decades.

If I had but a swan’s wings

Far over hills and sea I’d fly–

To my true love’s arms I’d fall at last

And in her arms I’d gladly die.

Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Four Stars

“The unexpected is what makes life possible.”

Excellent. Le Guin demonstrates the verbal prowess that earned her early science fiction honors. Her later stuff reflects her hardening prejudices.

“Almost anything carried to its logical extreme becomes depressing, if not toxic.”

Better introduction than Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter. Read this; not that.

“The whole tendency to dualism that pervades human thinking may be found to be lessened, or changed on Winter. On Winter … one is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience.”

Le Guin reminds us that the issue is not being manly men or feminine women–nor fem men and manly women, or whatever–but being totally human. Modern politics Continue reading

Book Review: The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu

(Four Stars)

“No guns in Container Town.”

See? It can be done. Kick off a series with an enjoyable, self-contained story–not a chopped-off cliffhanger. A near future dystopia with aliens, set in the universe of Chu’s Lives of Tao books. Why wasn’t this Hugo Award finalist?

“It was one thing to witness a slum, it was another to see a beautiful city reduced to one before your eyes.”

Even if you haven’t read previous stories in this setting, Chu focuses you on his protagonist and gently fills in the background as the story develops. The data dumps are appropriately placed and paced.

“Stop acting like life is some precious gift from a higher power. Everything dies, Ella. Everything is expendable.”

Totally immerses the reader in the setting. Captures the sights, smells and tastes of a post-modern slum in Continue reading

Book Review: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

Four Stars

“Is this what Chiss do? See a trap, and just walk into it?”

Good science fiction–albeit a space opera–not just good Star Wars fiction. The reader need not have any previous exposure to Star Wars nor Thrawn to enjoy this origins tale in which Zahn skillfully weaves the many threads of existing stories into a fresh, original story.

“There’s no trust in politics. Never has been. Never will be.”

Thrawn is there in all his glory, but he is also limited and occasionally tone deaf, so he’s less superhuman.

“All Eli could see in his face was that maddening confidence of his.”

The two primary threads interweave convincingly. Bad people see themselves as serving a greater good, just a good people are often blind to their own faults. Good Holmes-Watson interchanges. Understanding an opponent through his art is Continue reading

Book Review: Galactic Bounty by William C. Dietz (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Galactic Bounty (Sam McCade #1) by William C. Dietz

Three Stars

“Now the stars no longer seemed mysterious. Just beautiful points of light, none of which were home.”

A product of its times (first published in 1986) can be seen in both the portrayal of women, though Dietz did better than many contemporaries, and the cigars. Today such a work would be boycotted, if not banned. Did I much the cigars?

“Somehow it seemed important to finish what he’d started.”

It’s space opera. Not much socially redeeming quality; more popcorn for the brain. Better than average. (Except for the cigars.)

“The wise man trades words before blows.”

Book Review: Far-Seer by Robert J. Sawyer (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Far-Seer (Quintaglio Ascension #1) by Robert J. Sawyer

Three Stars

“I cast a shadow in your presence.”

A great premise: What if Galileo was a sentient theropod on a Jovian moon? Good development of raptor culture and metaphors. Good unraveling of the astronomical puzzle. Okay storytelling.

“Your heroism saved my life.” “It was nothing.” “My life? Or your deed?” “I’d like to think that in either case, that’s not true.”

Got the dynamics of planetary body movement and observation correct enough to make it fun for science nerds, while enough social, language and philosophy filters through to please right-brain-dominant readers.

“No God meant no meaning to it all, no higher standards by which everything was measured.”

The protagonist is certainly The One. Everything is too easy: hunt, astronomy, love, and politics. He swims in secret allies. One pops up whenever he needs. People conveniently die on cue too. (Cover quibble: saurian looks too like a T. Rex. More spoilers in that cover than this review.)

“The world might be coming to an end. But they’d worry about that tomorrow.”

Book Review: “Bourbon, Sugar, Grace” by Jessica Reisman (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “Bourbon, Sugar, Grace: A Tor.com Original” by Jessica Reisman

Four Stars

“Life exists in more forms than we can predict or comprehend.”

A pleasant science fiction short story, which challenges the reader to keep up and entertains at the same time. Set in a dystopian mining colony after the mines have played out and the corporate overlords are reneging on closure promises.

“The thing that needed doing.”

Much better storytelling than the current crop of Hugo Award finalists. Potential lead in to a larger story.

“She knew it was the wrong thing to do, at the wrong time. But …”

A good take on how language evolves in “moms.” Nice cover art by Jon Foster.

“Please … let me not be graceless in this.”