Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Sneak Peak at Eclipse Online: "The Contrary Gardener" by Christopher Rowe

Over the last few years, Nightshade Books has published four volumes of an anthology series titled Eclipse, edited by Jonathan Strahan.  Now that series is going online, with new stories published on the second and fourth Mondays of every month.  (The press release says first and fourth, but an email from the editor to me said second and fourth.  Since the premier is on October 8, I'm inclined to go with the second and fourth.) 

Anyway, Mr. Strahan was kind enough to send me advance copies of the two stories he'll be publishing in October.  One is a fantasy by K. J. Parker which I've reviewed over at Adventures Fantastic, and the other is a science fiction by Christopher Rowe, the subject of this review. These are short stories, so the review aren't going to be as long as the ones I write for novels.

"The Contrary Gardener" is a quiet, thoughtful piece of relatively near future science fiction set in what appears to be Kentucky, although it's somewhat hard to tell how near future it is since no dates are given.  It's the story of a young woman, Kay Lynne, who is a gardener in a society in which genetically grown fruits and vegetables are the main source of not just food but ammunition.  All of this is strictly regulated by the government. As are most aspects of daily life, including how father and daughter greet each other.

Kay Lynne is something of a nonconformist and has a strained relationship with her father, who grows beans for the military.  There's some sort of war going on, with the usual propaganda.  The beans are used as ammunition.

In addition to advanced bioengineering, there are advanced machines, which are taking the place of people in a number of jobs. 

As a consequence of her nonconformity, Kay Lynne is pretty apolitical.  At least until something happens that forces her to make some uncomfortable choices.

That's all I'll say about the plot.  The two principle characters, Kay Lynne and her father, are well drawn, especially for such a short tale.  The world they inhabit is well-thought out and detailed.  I've read somewhere (and don't ask, because it's been so long I have no idea where) that good world building is like an iceberg.  The reader only sees the tip of all the work that went into it.  I got that impression from reading this.  Rowe has definitely done his homework here, for his world is rich in detail.  I'd be open to seeing more of it.

This story in many ways had a pastoral feel to it, not unlike the work of Clifford D. Simak.  I consider Simak to be a neglected master, and it was nice to read something reminiscent of his work.

With the story and it's companion, Strahan has set the bar high on his initial choices to launch Eclipse Online.  He's going to have his work cut out for him to keep the quality this high.  If I were a betting man, I would lay my money on his being able to do it.  Check this publication out.  It's going to be good, and I'll be surprised if the stories we see here don't pick up some award nominations as well as a few awards.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Android That Ate its Grandmother

Madeline Ashby
Angry Robot Books
448pp trade paperback
$12.99 US $14.99 CAN
448pp B-format paperback
£8.99 UK
ebook $4.89 Kindle $6.01 Nook

This book took me over two weeks to read, but please don't take that as a negative comment on the book.  It's actually a high compliment.  Life was happening at the time, and the fact that the book could hold my attention when I wasn't able to read it for literally days at a time speaks highly of the author's ability to tell a compelling story.

Normally, I don't get excited about the whole androids who act like humans subgenre, partly because I got enough of it with ST:TNG and Commander Data.   I like Data, but the whole trope gets old after a while.

Fortunately something I read in a blurb by Joe Lansdale on a novel by Christopher Golden years ago is true:  There are no boring genres, only boring writers.  Madeline Ashby is not a boring writer, and vN is anything but a boring book.  This one surprised me several times by the direction it took.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Review of Mary Sisson's Trust

Mary Sisson
Various ebook formats:  $2.99
Amazon, B&N, Smashwords

I reviewed the first book in this series, Trang, not too long ago. It was the author's first novel, and I found it to be enjoyable.  Now, Sisson's sophomore effort is available.  It's more enjoyable than the first, which is as it should be.  Authors, especially those early in their careers should be learning and improving with each new work.

There are some mild spoilers for Trang in what follows.  No way to avoid them, really, if I want to talk about this novel, since picks up shortly after the previous one ended.  

Friday, June 1, 2012

Clarkesworld Issue 69 is Now Available

Clarkesworld Issue 69
free online or available by subscription in various ebook formats

Clarkesworld has gotten some high profile attention in the last few years, having won the Hugo for Best Semiprozine in 2010 and 2011.  I've had subscription for the past six months or so.  Time constraints have kept me from finishing all of the issues, but based on everything I've read so far, it's been a good investment. 

This magazine provides a good balance of fiction and nonfiction, and the new issue is no exception.  Here's a closer look at the contents:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Review of Night's Engines by Trent Jamieson

Night's Engines
Trent Jamieson
Angry Robot Books
29 May 2012
416pp mass-market paperback
$7.99 US $8.99 CAN
29 May 2012

7 Jun 2012
384pp B-format paperback
£7.99 UK

This book won't be released for another week here in the States, and later in other parts of the world, so if you haven't read Roil yet (reviewed here), don't worry.  You still have time before the conclusion of The Nightbound Land duology hits the shelves.

This is a science fiction novel that reads like fantasy, but a careful reading of either book shows it's clearly science fiction (or at least science fantasy), which is why I'm reviewing it here rather than at Adventures Fantastic.  It's different than most anything I've seen lately, further proof of my conclusion that Angry Robot is one of the publishers you should be reading.

Night's Engines is old fashioned adventure, the kind we don't see enough of these days.   One of the advantages of being in the Robot Army is getting to read some of the most exciting new science fiction and fantasy before anyone else does.  And while not every title I've previewed has worked for me, most of them have.  This series certainly does.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Review of Mary Sisson's Novel Trang

Mary Sisson
$2.99 ebook Kindle Nook Smashwords
Print $11.99 trade paper $18.99 large print

Although it's been years since I read them, I was reminded a little bit of Keith Laumer's Retief stories while reading Trang.  But only a little bit.  Phillipe Trang is also a diplomat, but he's cut from an entirely different cloth that Retief.  For one thing, he's more idealistic.  For another, mankind is just entering what passes for galactic society in Trang

Most of the novel takes place five years after the discovery of a portal in the Saturn system (that's the moon system of the planet Saturn, in our solar system, in case you were wondering).  Phillipe Trang is a rising young diplomat who has been selected to be the first ambassador to the alien station on the other side of the portal.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

RIP Ralph McQuarrie

I've been traveling this weekend, so I just heard the news when I got home and logged in to the computer.  Ralph McQuarrie has passed away.  He was most famous for his work on Stars Wars, but I think my favorite work of his was the set of illustrations for Isaac Asimov's Robot Dreams, back in the 1980s.  He will be missed.  Rest well, Ralph, and peaceful dreams.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Strata in the Sun

Bradley P. Beaulieu and Stephen Gaskell
various ebook formats (Kindle, Nook) $0.99

Between dayjobbery and a number of fantasy novels I'd committed to review, it's been a while since I read any science fiction.  I'm trying to restore a little balance to what I've been reading, and so between things I've committed to review, I decided to take a quick break with Strata.  Beaulieu's The Winds of Khalakovo was one of my favorite novels last year (see my review here), so when I saw he had co-written this short novel with Stephen Gaskell, I knew I had to read it.

And I'm glad I did.  While it's not what I would consider hard science (the authors don't go into a great deal of technical detail), they did do their research.  I've always been skeptical of stories where spacecraft, never mind whole stations such as those here, get right up next to the Sun.  So when I say the authors made me suspend my disbelief, that's saying something.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Franzen Says Ebooks not for Serious Readers

Literary author Jonathan Franzen says that ebooks aren't for serious readers.  You can read  his comments here.

As a person who considers himself a serious reader, I take great offense at these remarks.  The medium through which a person chooses to read, whether paper, electronic, or (as in my case) a combination of both, is in no way a reflection of whether that person is a "serious reader". 

Of course, Mr. Franzen doesn't define what a "serious reader" is.  Is it someone who places a high priority on reading and buys numerous books every year or month or in some cases every week?  Or perhaps it's a person who only reads serious Literature?  (Capitalization mine.)  

Aside from the brain-dead connection Mr. Franzen tries to make between paper books and responsible self-government, his remarks show just how out of step he is with vast numbers of readers, both here in America as well as other parts of the world.  Franzen is a darling of the literati, those arbiters of taste and snobbery, most of whom wouldn't deign to read genre fiction.  At least not in public.  Franzen clearly seems to share this elitist view, despite the fact that his books are available in electronic editions.  He states that paper books provide a level of permanence.  He's also gone on record saying that "It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction."  I strongly beg to differ, but good fiction is in the eye of the beholder. 

Still, I doubt Franzen would recognize good fiction if it bit him in the ass. 

Of course, Franzen's remarks illustrate one of the results of a recent survey by Verso Digital.  Among their findings was that resistance to ereaders is growing, even among avid readers.  If I'm understanding the survey correctly, the resistance is from people who have never been inclined to read on an ereader.  Frankly, I don't care what format you choose for reading.  Just don't take a condescending attitude toward those of us who don't choose the same as you.

Franzen also says that if printed books become obsolete, he's glad he won't live long enough to see it.  Given his attitude, I find it hard to disagree with that statement.  In the meantime, I'm going to read some good indie fiction.

On my ereader.

Over the Horizon

Things have been rather hectic for the last couple of weeks as the semester has started up and I've assumed new responsibilities in the land of dayjobbery.  My reading rate has slowed down, and I've hardly made any progress on my own personal fiction writing.  Blogging has diminished as well,

This week will be the first "normal" week.  I'm hoping to post at least one or two reviews here every month in addition to smaller posts.  I've got a a number of eARCs and one or two paper ARCs publishers have sent me, but they're all fantasy, so those reviews will go up at Adventures Fantastic.  If I start getting any science fiction eARCs/ARCs, the rate of posting here will increase.  As I'm doing with fantasy/historical adventure, I'll try to review indie published books on a regular basis.

So what's in store of the next few months?

Friday, January 13, 2012

David Gaughran's "Transfection"

David Gaughran
various ebook formats, currently free

This is a fast paced little ebook, essentially a short story.  There's still plenty of story crammed into it for all its brief length.  The plot concerns one Dr. Carl Peters.  He's a molecular biologist working with genetically modified foods.  When a scare erupts following the announcement that GM foods can cause cancer, he manages to take advantage of the situation and get considerable research funding.  That's when his troubles really start.  He makes a discovery that costs him, in more ways than one.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Slappy Brew Beer

Some carolers wandered by late last night chanting "Slappy Brew Beer"; at least I think that's what they were saying.  Their voices were somewhat slurred.

Slappy Brew Beer everybody.