Peace • 1975 • Literary novel by Gene Wolfe

★★★★★

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Summary:  In this literary masterpiece, protagonist Alden Dennis Weer looks back at his life in a 1960ish Midwestern town. He describes in nonlinear memoirs his growing up, coming to age at his Aunt Olivia, financial success and getting old. Interleaved are several stories, some of them ghost stories.

Review: Reading it in a kind of daydreaming way, the author’s stream of consciousness narration would drift you from story to story, and the listening to its beautiful, atmosphereic, and sometimes nostalgic prose would lure you into sleep.

But one cannot walk simply into Wolfe’s narrations: If you urge for a comfy reading, don’t want to stand the fight of understanding his work this novel (as most of his short fiction) would just end in an unsatisfied waste of time. I would not recommend this book to you. On the other side, if you love an unreliable narrator (lying to you), decrypt the author’s hints, or read interpreting blogs (most helpful is the WolfeWiki), then it is a perfect book for you.

In fact, there is no such thing as spoilers for peace: You need to read it twice anyways to fully embrace it. You are in good company with Neil Gaiman, Michael Swanwick and others.

Meta: isfdb.

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The Doors of Eden • 2020 • SF novel by Adrian Tchaikovsky

★★★★

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Two British girls Lee and Mal write articles for Fortean Times which specializes on speculations about anomalous phenomena, Cryptozoology (think of Yetis), or conspiracy theories. Out in the Wales landscape, they encounter a mysterious bird man, and it seems that their journalistic dream came true. Only that one of them got lost for several years. Four years later, the story sets off by slowly opening the doors to alternative Earths in parallel universes. Don’t expect Werewolfes jump scaring you like in an Urban Fantasy.  Instead, Tchaikovsky explores diverging paths in Earth’s history where other entities could have developed intelligence – there are the Neanderthals of course, but also rat populations, as well as far more bizarre developments like huge immortal cambrian trilobites conquering the solar system and beyond, or super intelligent squids.

This mixes well with a secret agent story arc around MI5 agent Julian and intelligence analyst Alison working from their London offices. They try to save and rescue a kidnapped mathematician Khan who should solve the multiverse puzzle – because the universe is collapsing.

Last time I read something from Tchaikovsky was Children of Time in 2015, and it went very well. First of all, I like Tchaikovsky’s style in this novel: His tongue in the cheek telling of cryptoid hunting girls uncovering an alternate reality. Interleaving the story, pseudo scientific articles extrapolate how biology could have evolved. Also, I loved the setting – the landscape of Great Britain with London as a focal point as a welcomed divergence from so many SF novels, with its insights to British culture like the weird magazine Fortean Times. I found the pacing very good with a slow exposition turning to high speed James Bondish stunt action resolving in a thoughtful unexpected ending. All characters are relatable and charming in their diversity. I just miss a single main protagonist that I could focus on.
It is certainly a different story than his Space Opera Children of Time or his fantasy novels – as it is set in our time and our world (mostly). But then again it is not so much different, as there are spiders and WhatIf scenarios about alternate biological developments.

I’d like to recommend this book on your watch list, it will be published at May 28th 2020.

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The Diary of the Rose • 1976 • Dystopian novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin

★★★★★

 

In a despotic government, minds need to be aligned to a canon of orthodox thoughts and beliefs, intellectuals might be electroshocked out of their minds. This story investigates the relationship between a “criminal” Flores Sorde, and his psychotherapeutic doctor Dr Rosa Sobel. The patient undergoes an examination for “political psychosis”. Rosa maps into the patient’s mind using a telepathic device which uncovers the conscious and unconscious mind. As the story develops, they influence each other.

Rosa’s diary entries affected me, the story stays and provokes thoughts for quite a time. It reminds of Soviet institutional oppression and torture. The final sentence is heart breaking

“I am the rose. The rose with no flower, the rose all thorns, the mind he made, the hand he touched, the winter rose.”

Although the protagonist’s names are Orsinian, the story never gives us an exact place. Also, it is SFional in contrast to the typical realistic style of the other Orsinian tales.

Meta: isfdb. Published 1976 in Future Power (ed Dozois). Finalist for Hugo, second place for Locus award.

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Conditionally Human • 1952 • SF novella by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

★★★

Summary: The overcrowded world led to family planning policy similar to China’s one-child policy. To satisfy the parental instinct of women, they get “neuts” as a replacement for own children: chimps have been genetically altered in such a way, that they don’t reproduce, stay at some certain age, and don’t consume too much food. Deviations are not to be allowed, and inspectors need to gas them. Some engineer goes rogue and creates such deviations, and the protagonist has to hunt them down. His wife has a different opinion.

Review: Are intelligent animals human? Given the current discussion and changes in regulations (like human rights for gorillas, e.g. in Spain), the novella’s ethical question is very contemporary more than sixty years after the publication. The rest of the story reads more like a historical piece – the protagonist’s wife in a typical role as a house wife; the technological state, e.g. why should stationary phones ever change, as they are already perfect? I’d say the topic would need a re-write to be more enjoyable, as some of the premises and behaviour are a bit hard to swallow nowadays.

Meta: isfdb. Published in Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1952 , revised several times.

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Penric’s Mission • 2016 • Fantasy novella by Lois McMaster Bujold

★★★+

Learned Penric has been living together with his embedded demon Desdemona since more than ten years in the World of Five Gods. They are an established team, know how to work with each other, having survived several adventures – as described in “Penric’s Demon” or “Penric and the Shaman” – and probably don’t expect many surprises.

This time, Penric travels undercover on behalf of the Duke of Adria to the mediterranean country Cedonia in order to win over famous general Arisaydia. As a personal mission, he develops a relationship to the general’s widowed sister Nikys. The undercover part didn’t last long, and the whole mission seems to go downhills, develops into a race and rescue mission.

I found the first novella in this series better, maybe because it was more surprising and more full of banters between Pen and Des. But as part of the series, it is worthwhile reading, as it expands the details and backgrounds of spiritual and theological reasoning once again. Also, the relationship gets a new dimension, when Pen starts to fall in love: How would you feel when a couple of elderly women watch and comment on your advances? I just love the complexity of their characters, and besides of that Bujold’s story telling is excellent.

You don’t need to read the novels in the series or other novellas from Penric, but I recommend reading the first installation “Penric’s Demon” for a general introduction to the main character’s background, because it would be too confusing otherwise. Note that there is already a followup novella “Mira’s Last Dance” which picks up this story and characters exactly where they where left off. That’s why I can forgive the small cliffhanger and open ended finish of this novella.

Subterranean publisher does a very fine job of producing dead tree editions of this series. I’d like to have it just to place it in my bookshelf besides my copies of Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls. We only have to wait a year after each publication, to get it in this preferred form. So, if you want to collect the series, it is very worthwhile and constantly expanded.

 

Meta: isfdb. This Fantasy novella will soon be published as a hardcover edition by Subterranean.

 

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Artemis • 2017 • Hard SF novel by Andy Weir

★★★★

To those who liked The Martian novel or movie and wonder if the author can do it again: Yes, he does. He delivers the same funny, sly dialogs, the same Hard SF background, the same level of reckless last minute survival action, the same positive minded and intelligent protagonist.

Only this time, it is different: exchange the male biology astronaut on Mars with a female criminal smuggler on the Moon. A heist gone wrong, an economy thriller and lots of welding in different atmospheres. Of course this is bound to be turned into a movie: The great setting with the different communities in the city of Artemis@Moon, the loveable and believable characters, and of course the accurate science should convince every SF fan who doesn’t need doorstoppers or never-ending series. Because this is one of the great features of this novel: it is short, and it is standalone, bringing the plot and the protagonists’ fates to a very satisfying ending.

 

 

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The New Voices of Fantasy • 2017 • Fantasy anthology by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman

★★★★

Summary: Do you want to learn about the new kids on the block? This anthology gives a very good answer: it collects nineteen stories from the last five years. The editors provide great introductions to every story and gathered a great, balanced selection of stories.

I’m somewhat in a hurry, because tomorrow I’ll be heading for a longer vacation and I won’t blog the next couple of weeks. I haven’t been able to write down full reviews for most of the stories, but I read all of them and can fully recommend it to readers of fantasy literature who are curious what topics, styles, and authors drive the publishing circus these days.

Best stories in this anthology:

  • ★★★★★ • Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers • Vampire short story by Alyssa Wong • review
  • ★★★★★ • The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn • Fantasy novella by Usman T. Malik •  review

Contents:

  • ★★★★★ • Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers • Vampire short story by Alyssa Wong • review
  • ★★★Selkie Stories are for Losers • 2013 • by Sofia Samatar • sad and weird
  • ★★★Tornado’s Siren • 2012 • by Brooke Bolander • awesome idea: a tornado falls in love with a girl
  • ★★ • Left the Century to Sit Unmoved • 2016 • by Sarah Pinsker • a weird pond sometimes lets people vanish when they jump into it, a story about grief
  • ★★★★ • A Kiss with Teeth 2014 clever vampire story by Max Gladstone: a vampire needs to be a father, care for talking to teacher and oppress his needs
  • ★★★★Jackalope Wives • 2014 magical realism short story by Ursula Vernon • review
  • ★★★★ The Cartographer Wasps and Anarchist Bees • 2011 • by E. Lily Yu • innovative allegorical fable about imperialism and anarchism
  • ★★ • The Practical Witch’s Guide to Acquiring Real Estate 2015 humorous how-to-guide for witches by A. C. Wise
  • ★★★+The Tallest Doll in New York City2014  by Maria Dahvana Headley • the Chrysler building walks around to find love
  • ★★★The Haunting of Apollo A7LB • 2015 • short story by Hannu Rajaniemi • seemstress reworks a haunted spacesuit •  review
  • ★★★Here Be Dragons by Chris Tarry • retired dragon slayer faces the boredom and responsibility of everyday life
  • ★★★The One They Took Before2014  by Kelly Sandoval reminded me of Every Heart a Doorway: sadness and fear of returning to a magical world
  • ★★ • Tiger Baby” by JY Yang • predictable story about a human shapeshifter turning slowly into a feline form
  • ★★ • The Duck” by Ben Loory • cute story about the protagonist who is infatuated with a rock, about friendship and love
  • ★★★ • “Wing”• 2012 • by Amal El-Mohtar • really short, strange, and charming story
  • ★★ • The Philosophers • 2016 • formulaic vignette story by Adam Ehrlich Sachs
  • ★★★My Time Among the Bridge • 2017 • Blowers by Eugene Fischer Original Story
  • ☆ • “The Husband Stitch” • horror story by Carmen Maria Machado • horror, didn’t read
  • ★★★★★ • The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn • Fantasy novella by Usman T. Malik •  review
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The Witchwood Crown • 2017 • Fantasy novel by Tad Williams

★★★★

The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

Some 30 years ago, Tad Williams started his Osten Ard  series with The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell, and concluded it in 1993 with To Green Angel Tower. I never expected him to return to this wonderful world and characters. Now, we have a long novella The Heart of what was Lost, which picked up some threads directly after the first trilogy, and this new doorstopper of a novel. So, yes dear newcomer, you have to read all the books before this one.

Those 30 years gone are also reflected in the setting – the main characters got old, mayhaps wiser. Imagine a Mooncalf Simon Snowlock established as a renown king of some 50 years old, shouting around at his drunkard grandson! The Duke of Rimmersgard, Isgrimnur, kind of old back then, is now about to die of age. After some 100 pages, the old gang has gathered: Simon, Miriamele, Binabik, Isgrimnur, Tiamak, and Eolair travel around in a state visit in their dominion, which sounds as boring as it reads. Heavily missing are the Sithi Jiriki and Aditu, but that has its reasons.

On the antagonist side of the Norn, that mischievous folks are gathering their strength again. We get good insights into the culture, heroic characters, and traditions resembling a template for every roleplaying dark elf.

Williams takes his good time to elaborate a tension arc, lets the book start easy, happy, nice, and only Simon’s grandson Morgan seems to be a problem child with his drunkard friends – one of them old Sir Porto from the prequel novella – dangling around. But immortal Norn queen Utuk’ku has awakened and prepares for war against the mortals of the realm. She sent out elite warriors to get her the eponymous Witchwood Crown. Also, political unrest drives the southern part of the realm.

Only the last third of the book takes up urgency again and develops speed. Take your time and enjoy the slow cruising before taking the roller coaster ride! Because that is, what the last 100 pages will bring you.

I feared that I wouldn’t be able to return to this beloved epic fantasy world, because I changed myself in the last couple of years. But Tad Williams has outdone himself to picked up the character, changed them in time without loosing the atmosphere of the first books. He transported me back again to Osten Ard without headaches. Oh joy!

I recommend this to readers who need a different taste in their diet of dark, gritty, near pornish Fantasy worlds of GRRM, Lawrence, or Abercrombie, who want to go for a lighter reading without loosing complex settings, characters, and plots.

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The Year’s Best SF and Fantasy 2017 • SF&F anthology by Rich Horton

The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2017 edited by Rich Horton

Today, this Year’s Best Of anthology by Rich Horton is published. It is one really large collection featuring 30 stories on 576 pages. This year, it overlaps with Strahan’s annual Best Of in only three stories from MacLeod, Valentine, and Miller – so, it would make sense to get them both.

I’ve only read a couple of the stories, but the list of content reads interesting:

Contents:

  1. “Seven Ways of Looking at the Sun-Worshippers of Yul-Katan” by Maggie Clark (Analog)
  2. “All that Robot Shit” by Rich Larson (Asimov’s)
  3. “Project Empathy” by Dominica Phetteplace (Asimov’s)
  4. “Lazy Dog Out” by Suzanne Palmer (Asimov’s)
  5. ★★★★ • The Visitor from Taured • SF novelette by Ian R. MacLeod • review
  6. “Openness” by Alexander Weinstein (Beloit Fiction Journal)
  7. “In Skander, for a Boy” by Chaz Brenchley (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  8. “Laws of Night and Silk” by Seth Dickinson (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  9. “Blood Grains Speak Through Memories” by Jason Sanford (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  10. “Rager in Space” by Charlie Jane Anders (Bridging Infinity)
  11. “Ozymandias” by Karin Lowachee (Bridging Infinity)
  12. “The Bridge of Dreams” by Gregory Feeley (Clarkesworld)
  13. ★★★★+ • Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home • SF short story by Genevieve Valentine • review
  14. ★ • Things with Beards • Weird short story by Sam J. Miller • I didn’t get at all what this story was about, couldn’t get into it
  15. “Innumerable Glimmering Lights” by Rich Larson (Clockwork Phoenix 5)
  16. “Between Nine and Eleven” by Adam Roberts (Crises and Conflicts)
  17. “Red of Tooth and Cog” by Cat Rambo (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  18. “The Vanishing Kind” by Lavie Tidhar (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  19. “A Fine Balance” by Charlotte Ashley (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  20. “Empty Planets” by Rahul Kanakia (Interzone)
  21. “Fifty Shades of Grays” by Steven Barnes (Lightspeed)
  22. “I’ve Come to Marry the Princess” by Helena Bell (Lightspeed)
  23. “RedKing” by Craig deLancey (Lightspeed)
  24. “A Non-Hero’s Guide to The Road of Monsters” by A.T. Greenblatt, (Mothershipship Zeta)
  25. “Dress Rehearsal” by Adrian Tchaikovsky, (Now We Are Ten)
  26. “The Plague Givers” by Kameron Hurley, (Patreon)
  27. “Gorse Daughter, Sparrow Son” by Alena Indigo Anne Sullivan (Strange Horizons)
  28. “The Magical Properties of Unicorn Ivory” by Carlos Hernandez (The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria)
  29. “Something Happened Here, But We’re Not Quite Sure What It Was” by Paul McAuley (Tor.com)
  30. “That Game We Played During the War” by Carrie Vaughn (Tor.com)
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Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers • 2015 • Vampire short story by Alyssa Wong

★★★★★

Summary:  Jenny tinders around not for one-night stands but to feed off the dark emotions and thoughts of her dates. After having had her first killer she knew why her mother taught her to stay with petty criminals: Nothing tastes good after such an overwhelming experience.

Review:  I usually avoid horror stories. I can’t say that this time, I accidentally stumbled over it because I turned around it already a couple of time. After finally giving in (because I absolutely need to read the winners of the Nebula awards), I come to the conclusion that it was totally worth reading. The story started and ended with a bang, the tension arc let you down in between just to pick you up with a new relationship. Although Jenny starts shapeshifting when she fed from her prey, she always retains her selfish identity. Adding to the scenery are the Asian American cultural notes stirred with gay sexuality. A nearly classical Vampire tale with a great twist which I highly recommend for readers who are not used to Horror tales.

Meta: isfdb. Published in Nightmare Magazine, October 2015. Read in The New Voices of Fantasy. It won the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. Available online.

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