Posts Tagged With: science fiction

“iD” by Madeline Ashby

I received a copy of iD by Madeline Ashby from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.  The first book in the series, vN, was one of my favorite books that I’ve read all year.  The plot of vN features the story of Amy, a self-replicating robot whose failsafe fails.  This means that she is in the relatively unique position of being a robot capable of harming humans.

iD is the story of Amy’s boyfriend Javier.  Unlike Amy, Javier’s failsafe is still intact.  This means that he is vulnerable to manipulation and can be forced to do terrible things against his will.  This has some obvious implications (including sexual), but it also carries painful consequences for his personal life.  When Amy’s island is destroyed, Javier alone must pick up the pieces, but how can he when his own decisions are vulnerable to the machinations of others?

The sexual themes in Javier’s story were much more prominent than in Amy’s story.  Javier finds himself in a love/hate relationship with humans.  While he hates many of the actions he is forced to take, he also feels a deep loving connection to the humans that is imposed on him by his failsafe.  This conflict is particularly pronounced as he sleeps with various humans to achieve his goals.  It’s kind of like a biologically programmed Stockholm Syndrome that no amount of therapy can get rid of, and it’s painful at times to watch, even more so because Javier feels a chasm between himself and Amy because she’s never had those experiences and doesn’t want to know that part of him.

As with vN, I was blown away by this novel.  Madeline Ashby makes you think hard about the nature of freedom and oppression.  As Andrea at The Little Red Reviewer noted when describing the book, iD is a much harder story to read.  I think that the book’s darkness makes it even more powerful.  I’d highly recommend it.

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Mini Review: “Downside Girls” by Jaine Fenn

DOWNSIDE-GIRLS-800-coverLast fall and winter, I took a long hiatus from blogging.  Balancing a new job, grad school, and my blog was just too much, and I returned to a more normal blogging routine this spring.  During my hiatus, I read a lot of books that I didn’t get a chance to fully review.  As such, I am writing a series of mini-reviews of the books that I read during that time.  Many of them were amazing, and I want to be able to feature them on my blog even though it’s been a while since I’ve read them.

One of my favorite books that I read during my hiatus was Downside Girls by Jaine Fenn.  I received an electronic copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Downside Girls is a collection of four short stories set in the floating city of Kesh.  Kesh has a social class structure that is reinforced by biology.  Because of the planet’s gravity, the poorer Downsiders must live on the bottom of the city and make their living a scavengers.  The people who live Topside can afford the technological adaptations that allow them to walk on the city’s surface.  There’s only one way for a Downside girl to move Topside, and that is to be chosen as an Angel.  In order to prevent political corruption, the Topsiders have instituted a form of democracy where the voice of the people can cause a leader to be assassinated, a task which is carried out by the Angels, an elite class of assassins specially recruited from Downside, who are simultaneously respected and feared.

Fenn’s stories describe these class relations and make a powerful statement about extreme inequality.  It is a timely message in today’s economic climate.  One of the greatest things about science fiction is its ability to reveal truths about our own society, while at the same time telling a damn good story.  This collection is a perfect example, and I’d highly recommend it.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Best Erotic Fantasy & Science Fiction” edited by Cecilia Tan & Bethany Zaiatz

I don’t normally read a lot of erotica, but this title caught my eye while I was at BEA.  I’m not the type of person who is turned off by adult content in stories, but I do expect there to be some measure of a story and not just sex, otherwise I get bored rather quickly and go back to reading about dragons and robots and space pirates instead.  The idea of mixing erotica with SF/F appeals to me because it means that authors have stepped outside of the rules of our own universe to create something new and imaginative, and each story is inherently a part of a larger world.  There’s not much that I can say about the book as a whole, so here’s a brief look at each of the stories that it contains:

“Vaster Than Empires” by Allison Lonsdale – This is the story of a woman who is a creative and slightly crazy virtual reality artist.  She has an affair with a man with a fetish for flowers.  I enjoyed this one a lot, and I felt that the world that the author describes is a logical continuation of our own (and I’m basing this in part on my own observations from when I decided to briefly check out Second Life a few years back… for every artist/company/visionary creating stuff, there are at least a handful of people seeking to use new technology to fulfill formerly impossible fetishes).  It’s imaginative, and Lonsdale perfectly captures the personality of an eccentric and tormented artist and juxtaposes it with the digital world.

“Fulgurite” by Vylar Kaftan – A college-aged virgin makes the decision to have sex with her boyfriend after a unicorn-cockroach vision tells her that she will be struck by lightning that day.  Some obvious metaphors going on, and it made me feel as if the protagonist was mentally unbalanced rather than in a story with fantasy elements, but still interesting.

“Now I Live on the Street of Women” by Jason Rubis – This one has a post-apocalyptic feel to it.  There’s been a war, and the protagonist was injured and left mostly paralyzed on the streets.  Some women find him and pimp him out, and he comes to accept it because they take care of him when no one else will.  In a weird way, they’re almost a family.

“Double Check” by Pete Peters – This was a very short story, so I’ll sum it up in two words.  Sadistic chess.

“Metamorphosis” by Deb Atwood – A man who is mourning the loss of his ex meets a new guy at a bar.  You don’t get the SF/F till the twist at the end.

“The Heart of the Storm” by Connie Wilkins – This one was among my favorites in the collection.  It’s a well-developed alt-history featuring lesbian witches during WWII.  Win!

“Alienated” by Helen E. H. Madden – A guy at a bar ends up hooking up with an alien and learning that there is more to intimacy than just a physical connection.  It’s a cute feel-good story.

“Younger Than Springtime” by Grant Carrington – Two time travelers watch their younger selves.  This story was sweet in an “Aww, how cute!” kind of way.

“Make Work” by Bryn Allen – I was impressed by the world-building here.  It’s about a girl named Sarah who works for a religious order that keeps tabs on magical creatures who have become sentient.  She ends up falling in love (and sleeping with) the guy she’s supposed to check up on, even though she’s not supposed to have feelings herself.  I kind of wished there was more to the story; the society described seemed interesting.  (Note:  This is why I don’t generally read erotica.  I’m reading a story about sex and the world-building is what I’m drawn to.  Conversely, this is why this collection of SF/F erotica was so much fun to read.  There can be sex AND worldbuilding.  *evil grin*)

“The Digital O” by Kal Cobalt – A gay programmer named Corbin has a robot and programs him to enjoy giving sexual pleasure.  This robot happens to be on the edge of sentience.  The programmer’s partner has to learn to deal with the fact that their robot now wants to have sex, otherwise it’s feelings will be hurt.  Meanwhile, he’s jealous.  I liked the whole “nerdy programmers don’t necessarily think about the ramifications of their creations until after they’ve made them” subtext that was going on here, and the story made me laugh.

“Taste” by Jean Roberta – A woman has a dream about lizard creatures (use your imagination, I’m not going into detail).  Very strange.

“A Feast of Cousins” by Beth Bernobich – Starts out at a family dinner, where we find out that the main character had her heart broken by her lesbian cousin.  Then she receives a mysterious gift for an erotic massage.  Weird, definitely weird, and I did wonder a bit at how the whole extended family seems so amenable to having sexual relationships with one other.  Maybe it’s the inbreeding.  *shrugs*

“The Boy Who Loved Clouds” by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff – This was my number one favorite in the collection.  It’s about a boy who grew up in a village in India, but moved to New York City to become a writer.  While he lived there, he forgot both his roots and his inspiration.  When he returns to his village for his father’s funeral, he glimpses a woman amidst the clouds who helps him to find himself.  Beautiful, superbly literary, and not at all what I expected to find when I opened the book.

“Rainmusic” by Eric Del Carlo – A former rockstar lives alone  on an outpost moon after an accident with his tech that killed a lot of people at a concert.  One day an elemental sentient slime creature comes out of the rain and takes human form.  Yup, you know where this is going.  This story was also quite well-developed, and delved into the rockstar’s feelings about his accident and his decision to withdraw from the world.

“Passion Play” by D. L. Keith – Oooh, another of my favorites, and I wish that this one were a whole book.  There’s a spy, and she’s delivering information to a contact in an artsy theater that happens to use variations of sex as their medium for performance.  However, our spy finds that she’s been sold out, and ends up taking the stage, as it’s the last place that her enemies would look for her.  She ends up starring in a play with an S&M vibe to it.  I would love to learn more of the background behind this one; it feels almost like a scene from a larger epic fantasy work.

“Caught” by Paige E. Roberts – Fun space opera.  Diana’s the captain of a starship, and she’s fighting against a rebel named Wolf.  When he’s captured, she gets to interrogate him, and ends up beginning to doubt her own allegiances.

“Sybariote” by Diane Kepler – While on a mission, a man finds a sex doll robot and she slowly takes over his life.  This was another one with fantastic world-building that feels like a glimpse of a wider saga.

One very very very minor thing that bothered me about the book is that the intro said there were sixteen stories, but there were actually seventeen.  This shouldn’t bother me, but I spent about ten minutes counting and recounting and thinking that I was going crazy.

Overall, I enjoyed the collection more than I’d expected.  Erotica is outside of my usual comfort zone when I’m looking for reading material, but this collection managed to intrigue me because each story felt like there was more to it than just sex, even if sex was the major plot point of the story.  It makes good bathtub reading.

Categories: Erotica, Fantasy, Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Wild Seed” by Octavia Butler

I received a review copy of Octavia Butler’s “Wild Seed” from the publishers via Netgalley.  The book was originally written in 1980, and is being re-released as an e-book by Open Road Integrated Media.

Before I get into my review in which I gush about how awesome Octavia Butler is, I’d like to share this video which is a mini-documentary (it’s only about two minutes long) about her life and writing.  It features Samuel Delaney and N.K. Jemisin talking about her books, and it makes me very happy.

“Wild Seed” is the first book in the Patternist series, but it was the last one published.  It’s one of the C. S. Lewis type deals where the books don’t go in the order that they were written, and I’m okay with that.  Apparently Butler didn’t like “Survivor,” so it hasn’t been reprinted since the 70s.

If you’d like to read the series chronologically, it goes:

  1. Wild Seed
  2. Mind of My Mind
  3. Clay’s Ark
  4. Survivor
  5. Patternmaster

“Wild Seed” describes a power struggle between two immortal mutants, Doro and Anyanwu.  Doro was born in ancient Egypt, but he is able to switch from one body to another at a whim, killing the person whose form he takes.  He is obsessed with trying to find others who could share his longevity, and so he begins a breeding program, gathering up psychically talented individuals in the hopes of creating a race of gifted mutants.  This quest takes him to a small village in Africa, where he discovers Anyanwu, a shape-shifting medicine woman who has been alive for three hundred years.  Anyanwu is lured by Doro’s vision and the hope that she could have children who would not die, and agrees to come with him to the New World, where she begins to realize that she has become his slave.

So, there’s the obvious slavery theme.  Octavia Butler whacks you over the head with the realization of the emotional and psychological impact of slavery, not just in the moment that it happens, but also the way that it shapes future generations.  She’s not gentle about it, and it comes with a bit of a shock.  She makes sure her readers get it.  She’s a very special writer because she is able to explore topics like slavery, race, and gender in her stories in such a way that she perfectly captures the dynamics of different relationships, but at the same time she’s not preachy about it.  Her messages are organically woven into the story, and it’s brilliant.

“Wild Seed” is a mix of alternate-history/historical fiction/sci-fi.  One of the things that I enjoyed was the way that Anyanwu’s powers were described; she has the ability to rearrange the molecules of her body to cure sicknesses or take different forms.

“There were things in your hand that should not have been there,” she told him.  “Living things too small to see.  I have no name for them, but I can feel them and know them when I take them into my body.  As soon as I know them, I can kill them within myself.  I gave you a little of my body’s weapon against them.”

And just like that, she gives Anwanyu knowledge of germ theory as she heals an infection in Doro’s hand.  She can make antibodies.  I can’t stress enough how cool that is.  (Not that we can’t make antibodies, but she can do it better.)  And with the ability to rearrange herself to take any form, Anyanwu isn’t helpless.  Yes, she’s being psychologically manipulated by Doro, and yes, he could kill her and take her body quite easily, but at the same time she could rearrange her molecules to give herself incredible strength and then crush him.  Doro and Anyanwu’s relationship is complicated.  There’s the slavery dynamic, but there’s also the fact that both of them have psychic powers and are relatively evenly matched.  You know that the two of them have to come to terms with each other because they’re the only immortals, even if that takes a couple hundred years for them to work out their differences and make peace with each other.

My favorite scene in the book was on the voyage to America when Anyanwu shape-shifted and swam with dolphins.  Despite the serious tone of the book, it has its share of lighthearted and whimsical moments.

Octavia Butler is a powerful writer, and I am planning on reading the rest of the books in this series.  I would highly recommend “Wild Seed” to anyone who’s interested in sci-fi that explores race and gender themes.

Categories: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

“Silently and Very Fast” by Catherynne Valente

I can’t say enough good things about Catherynne Valente.  After reading Deathless, I’ve been trying to read other books.  I’ve been disappointed by most of them, not because they aren’t good, but because no other author is able to live up to Valente’s prose.  It’s exponentially phenomenal.

“Silently and Very Fast” is no exception.  In this Locus award winning novella, Valente tells the story of a robot named Elefsis.  Elefsis began as a Smart house interface, but then evolved into a robotic creature with sentience and even feelings.  And of course Elefsis usings the word “feelings,” because robots aren’t allowed to have “feelings” like a human being.

The brilliance of “Silently and Very Fast” isn’t the story itself.  The difference between man and machine has been explored in other works of fiction, but never like this.  Elefsis’ journey to consciousness is framed through various fairy tales and memories, and when put together they explore Elefsis’ relationships with her former human masters and mistresses over the course of several generations, and explore the depths of the unique form of non-human thought and perception that Elefsis develops.  Elefsis’ mind contains an ever-expanding world known as the Interior which is limited only by imagination.

The storytelling in “Silently and Very Fast” is fragmented and non-linear, but poetic and oh so beautiful in every way.

Most everyone lived twice in those days.  They echoed their own steps.  They took one step in the real world and one in their space.  They saw double, through eyes and monocle displays.  They danced through worlds like veils.  No one only ate dinner.  They ate dinner and surfed a bronze gravitational surge through a tide of stars.  They ate dinner and made love to men and women they would never meet and did not want to.  They ate dinner here and ate dinner there–and it was there they chose to taste the food, because in that other place you could eat clouds or unicorn cutlets or your mother’s exact pumpkin pie as it melted on your tongue when you tasted it for the first time.

Valente crafts a world of Machine Princesses and monocles, of crystals and Turing tests, of doormice and dreambodies.  The world that exists within Elefsis’ mind is filled with great joy and a childlike form of innocence, despite also containing the wisdom and experience of generations.  As Elefsis grows, she (he?  it?  all of the above?) begins to understand the darker history of what’s been going on in the outside world at the same time as she and her owners had been exploring the Interior in their dreambodies.

Valente has an irresistible imagination, and as I mentioned with Deathless, her writing makes everything else seem bland and watery by comparison.  The vividness of “Silently and Very Fast,” is remarkable, and I’m rooting for it to win a Hugo.

It was even more brilliant than I’d expected.  If you haven’t read it yet, you should do so immediately.

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I read this book as part of the Award Winning Books Challenge.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Post-finals book buying binge

My classes for this semester are officially done, and I got A’s.  Now that I’ll (hopefully) have more time to read, I went on a bit of a sci-fi book-buying binge.

I went into the used bookstore with the intention of picking up something else by Sheri S. Tepper.  I recently read Singer From the Sea and couldn’t put it down, despite the fact that the book was so very strange and had such a strong eco-feminist agenda.  I was in luck and ended up getting two of her books, “The Gate to Women’s Country” and “Six Moon Dance.”

I had hoped to come across a copy of Larry Niven’s “Ringworld,” but they didn’t have it.  However, I did find Niven’s “The Integral Trees,” complete with the fabulous Michael Whelan cover!  I also picked up the second book in Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series.  I read Dune last summer as a groupread and have been toying with trying one of the sequels for a while now.

As I was getting ready to check out, the nice bookstore employee noticed my Sheri Tepper books and got excited.  We had a nice chat about sci-fi novels, and she ended up recommending that I try Theodore Sturgeon and Octavia Butler.  Both of these books look fantastic.  The Sturgeon one was the winner of a Retroactive Hugo award.  I can’t wait to read these two books, and it was really neat to meet someone in real life who enjoys the same books that I do.

If you’ve read any of these, how are they?  I’m so excited for summertime reading!

Categories: Other | Tags: , , , , , , , | 41 Comments

“A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Several people have asked me what my thoughts were on the John Carter movie and how it compares to the original books.  Of course, I hadn’t read “A Princess of Mars,” and I hadn’t gone to see the movie, and so I was at a complete loss.  I was delighted to find that “A Princess of Mars” is available as a free Kindle e-book and bumped it to the top of my list.

The story is told from the perspective of John Carter, a Confederate veteran who went West after losing the Civil War.  He ended up being chased into a scary cave by some Indians and was knocked unconscious.  He woke up  naked on Mars, known asBarsoom by its inhabitants.  Because of the the difference in gravity between the two planets, John Carter is basically superhuman and is capable of heroic feats of strength.

At first I was a bit turned off by the fact that no explanation was given for John Carter’s abrupt teleportation to Mars, or why John Carter could be teleported but his clothing could not.  I wanted a bit more detail, or at least a plausible theory as to what happened.  However, as the story progressed I just went with it and started enjoying John Carter’s adventures as he endeavored to win the hand of the equally naked Martian princess Dejah Thoris.  You see, nobody on Mars wears clothing.  It makes for a better story.  You’re not just imagining John Carter fighting off dozens of men in hand-to-hand combat… that’s too easy!  He has to be completely vulnerable while fighting to make his feats mean even more.  And Dejah Thoris… we know she’s hot because we’re imagining EVERYTHING.  The Michael Whelan cover above provides a very modest depiction of her charms.

The writing in “A Princess of Mars” reminded me a lot of H. G. Wells as far as the general style goes.  Today’s sci-fi and fantasy novels tend to be written in the third person.  “A Princess of Mars” is told as if John Carter is talking to you while having a glass of scotch by the fireplace.

This is the kind of book that you read as a fun adventure, not really for deeper meaning.  There’s a bit of a critique of collectivism, but it seems to be there mostly to create a difference between two different races of humanoid Martians.  If the book were written a few years later, I’d assume that it was a jab against the Soviet Union, but Burroughs wrote this in 1917.  The book is mostly about the action and it follows the general hero-rescues-damsel-in-distress model, but the obstacles John Carter faced on Mars were pretty creative.

I’d recommend the book to anyone looking for some classic sci-fi, and I’m planning on continuing to read the series.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , , | 18 Comments

“Sassinak” by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Moon

“Sassinak”  is one of Anne McCaffrey’s lesser-known novels.  It is co-written by Elizabeth Moon.  I had never even heard of it before I came across it at a used bookstore, but hey, there were space pirates.  What’s not to love about that?

The book tells the story of Sassinak, who becomes orphaned as a child after space pirates raid her colony.  She is sold into slavery, where she meets a man named Abe who tells her about Fleet and the values for which it stands.  When she is finally rescued, she decides to enlist and dedicates her life to fighting the space pirates in order to prevent other children from suffering her own childhood fate.

I enjoyed the premise of this book a lot (even though my boyfriend claims that the story is basically Metroid, which I unfortunately have never had the occasion to play).  At the same time, the execution could have been a lot better.  The pacing felt a bit rushed; Sassinak was orphaned, sold into slavery, and then rescued in the space of less than thirty pages.  I wanted to spend more time watching events unfold and learning more about Sassinak’s thoughts throughout her adventures, and I wanted to spend a bit more time being introduced to the minor characters.  I had to do a couple doubletakes because characters were introduced so quickly that I barely remembered who they were.

I did love Sassinak as a heroine.  One of McCaffrey’s greatest strengths is creating strong female characters who are career-minded and competent.  Even while she’s in captivity, Sassinak manages to learn and excel at science and engineering.  She becomes a skilled pilot, and once she joins Fleet she quickly moves up in the ranks to become a Commander.  It was also pretty cool that the bulk of the action of the story took place when Sassinak was in her 40s.

Overall, Anne McCaffrey’s other books are a lot better.  At the same time, if you enjoy space pirates, dinosaurs, and kickass female heroines, then you might enjoy “Sassinak” despite its shortcomings.

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I read this book as part of the Speculative Fiction Challenge hosted by Baffled Books.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , | 19 Comments

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