Saturday, February 25, 2012

Some of the Best from

Title: Some of the Best from
Editors: Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Liz Gorinsky
Genre: Science Fiction stories
Published: 2011

Summary: A short story collection from a number of well-known science fiction and fantasy authors.

Reactions: I have become alarmingly opportunistic with my reading ever since I got my Kindle. Mostly because I've found that I can find books for free. And not just any books -- but new(ish) books that I would normally pay money for to read. Since I have this free-book craze, I downloaded this free anthology from and enjoyed it. I am going to write a few thoughts about each story and hopefully you can pick up the ones that sound interesting to you.

Six Months, Three Days by Charlie Jane Anders (7/10). The premise of this short story is that a man and a woman live in the regular world, but they each have a superpower. The man can see the future and the woman can see a number of different futures. The premise of the story is that they meet and date each other. It's a story about their views on free will, and their superpowers interacting. It's a pretty cool premise -- though it takes a stretch of imagination to swallow the idea of these people existing and meeting each other. The relationship takes a few turns that I feel are not quite realistic either, but overall it raises a number of interesting issues and is a pretty interesting read.

The Dala Horse by Michael Swanwick (5/10). A story about a little girl who needs to walk to her grandma in the neighbouring village and meets a fugitive on her way there. Sounds a bit familiar? Here's the twist: the girl's backpack, map, and toys are all intelligent and their meeting will lead to clash between AI superpowers that control the human world. The story has an interesting twist, but I found myself disliking the POV that the author chose for the story and I guess I just didn't care as much for this rendition of the more familiar tale.

A Clean Sweep With All The Trimmings by James Alan Gardner (9/10). A story firmly rooted in noir genre staples where a "Cleaner" type tough guy is hired to dispose of an alien body in a brothel. In the process he meets a "Doll" whom the aliens are hunting. Her specialty is becoming exactly the sort of Doll a man next to her wants her to be. It's a very tongue-in-cheek adventure and I loved the language and the resolution of the story. A very well done noir science fiction that makes me want to check out this author's other works.

Beauty Belongs to the Flowers by Matthew Sanborn Smith (7/10). Set in futuristic Tokyo, this coming-of-age tale follows the teenage girl Miho whose father is dying after being infected with nanobots. It's a story giving a perspective on teenage rebellion and self-worth in a world where technology can make anyone and anything look beautiful. The tale is a combination of a love story and learning about yourself. I think I would have liked the story better in a longer format -- the character growth was a bit too rapid for the story timeline and the ending was rather bizarre.

A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel by Yoon Ha Lee(5/10). This rather strange story is a collection of descriptions of cultures of a variety of civilizations and their approach to interstellar travel. It's interesting in the variety of the imaginings, but I was somewhat hard-pressed to understand the meaning of the story. Perhaps others may like this one better.

Ragnarok by Paul Park (5/10). This was actually not a short story, but rather an epic poem set in post-apocalyptic Iceland following the traditions of epic narratives. The story is well-told, but I just didn't enjoy the epic poem medium of telling the story. Not quite my cup of tea.

Hello, Moto by Nnedi Okorafor (7/10). An atmospheric tale set in Africa where a woman mixes technology and juju to create three powerful wigs for herself and her two friends. The wig gives them powers over others, but also changes them in ways the creator didn't expect. I thought the setting made this story quite interesting as well as the mechanics of magic. The overheating wigs left me amused and the story-telling was pretty good if not in itself as imaginative as some of the other authors in the collection.

Shtetl Days by Harry Turtledove (10/10). Probably my favorite piece of work in this anthology. The premise of this novella is that Reich has won WWII and by mid-21st century it has exterminated most Jews. To remind the world of how awful things were before their reign, Germany sets up a pretend-village modeled after early 20th century Polish settlement where German actors play roles of Jews and Poles in the village. The production is set up for realism - the actors get immersed in the atmosphere day in and day out and are taught to completely ignore the tourists visiting the village. With the actors practicing the language and the culture daily, the novella examines the idea of actors becoming what they are portraying.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Of Blood and Honey

Title: Of Blood and Honey
Author: Stina Leicht
Series: A Book of Fei and the Fallen, book 1
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2011

Recommendation: A solid character-driven fantasy set in Northern Ireland in 1970s.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Liam Kelly is a teenager in 1971 Northern Ireland. Involved in political troubles despite best intentions, he spends time in prison for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He gets out of Long Kesh, but his troubles, both political and personal, are far from over.

Reactions: I have seen a number of reviews for this book and it's caught my eye. When I saw a free Kindle promotion for the book on Amazon, I decided it was fate and started reading the book. And I am very glad I picked it up for it was quite different from my expectations -- it was better!

The story takes course in Northern Ireland with events taking place in Derry and Belfast most of the time. The story heavily involves the political troubles of 1970s and 1980s in the region and both BA and IRA have a part to play in the story. Not knowing a whole lot about Northern Ireland, I found the backdrop fascinating and ended up reading up some more on the politics of the time which are depicted fairly accurately by the book, but without all the background on the start of the conflict.

The first part of the story is almost entirely devoid of the fantasy component with more and more fantasy elements coming out throughout the story. The major magical elements are the Fei of which Liam's father is one and their battle against the Fallen. Besides that, the story is mostly realistic and largely character-driven.

Liam is a very sympathetic character. He gets into trouble quite a bit in the book, but I couldn't help feel for him starting from the very first chapter. His growth and self discovery on the backdrop of war pulled me deep into the book and made me root for him until the very end.

Altogether I thoroughly enjoyed the novel both due to the interesting setting and for the well-drawn engaging characters. I will certainly be looking forward to the other books in this series.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Saints Astray

Title: Saints Astray
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Series: Santa Olivia, book 2
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2011

Recommendation: For those who enjoyed Santa Olivia.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Having gotten out of the Outpost, Loup and Pilar give statements to politicians in Mexico and reunite with Loup's cousins. Loup is offered a job as a bodyguard and starts a training program together with Pilar. However, their adventures are just beginning.

Reactions: I reviewed Santa Olivia in 2010 and remember enjoying the first book quite a bit. Looking at my first review, I see that the title for the sequel has changed since (from Santitos at Large), though the old title describes the current book pretty well too.

The book picks up where the previous book left off and continues to follow the adventures of Loup and Pilar after they escape from the Outpost. However, unlike the previous book, I didn't find the current one nearly as engaging. In my mind there were two major annoyances. The first one is the sugary sweet romance between Loup and Pilar. They sex each other non-stop and we get to see it in detail way way way too often. For a relationship that's not changed throughout the book, there was really no reason to tell readers about their sex lives every 5 pages. They love each other, we get it, move on already.

My second annoyance with the book is the relationship Loup and Pilar have with their employers. The president of the company who keeps flying out to meet them and the trainers just didn't strike true with me. They didn't feel like realistic characters and that threw me off at various points in the book. I thought the motivation for hiring Loup is pretty realistic -- who wouldn't want a super-strong, super-fast deceptively small girl as a bodyguard? But their amazing treatment by the company seemed a bit over the top.

Ignoring those two gripes, the book itself was quite entertaining. Loup and Pilar get in a bunch of scrapes. I liked their relationships with the band they are guarding and their missions before the band. There are plenty of funny, touching, and poignant moments and we get to see some of the old crew from Santa Olivia. However, I didn't enjoy it as much as the first book and I am not sure if I would pick up the next book in this series (if such were to be written).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

January Recap

January is the month when all the gyms get busy with people working on their New Year's resolutions. For me, I hit the "reading gym" and pulled out with 6 books finished this month. This is more books than I've read in any single month last year, though I have to blush at including a couple of really quick reads in here.
  1. Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
  2. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
  3. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
  4. Heat Wave by Richard Castle
  5. A Fog of Fury by John F. Merz
  6. Among Others by Jo Walton
There are quite a few books on this list that came from other bloggers' best of 2011 lists and hence I've had a lot of fun reading this month. My favorite book of the month is To Say Nothing of the Dog with Among Others coming in a really close second. It's not that common for me to find a book I enjoy enough to give it a 9 star rating, but to find two in the same month is really great. I just hope this won't spoil me to expect as much from the rest of this year's reading.

Another achievement this month is that every single book I've read is by an author whom I haven't read before. Hence I am making a dent in both my "new author discovery" resolution as well as the grand total.

Having started out the year this well, February might end up a grave disappointment, but I am hoping for the best and starting on Jacqueline Carey's Saints Astray, which is the sequel to Santa Olivia. I enjoyed the first book in the series, so hopefully the sequel will not disappoint.

On a slightly different topic. John Scalzi plans to donate all earnings from e-book sales this week to Planned Parenthood cancer screening program for those who cannot afford these procedures. Scalzi is an amazingly talented writer and I would urge you to buy his books regardless. However, if you buy them this week, I feel your money would be very well spent indeed.

Happy February, everyone!