Sunday, August 2, 2015

Soul Meaning (Seventeen #1), by A.D. Starling (author), Michael Bower (narrator)

AD Starrling, July 2015 (original publication February 2012)

Lucas Soul has a problem. There are people who are trying to kill him, and they've just succeeded--for the fifteenth time.

There are two immortal races, the Crovirs and the Bastians, who share Earth with humans. They were at war with each other for millennia, until an uneasy truce was reached at the time of the Black Death. But one thing is still absolutely taboo: intermarriage, or more specifically breeding, between Crovir and Bastian.

Lucas Soul is the son of a Crovir father and a Bastian mother. His mother and father were murdered when he was a small boy, and he was killed for the first time. For centuries they hunted him, and killed him another thirteen times.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Finches of Mars, by Brian W. Aldiss

Open Road Integrated Media, ISBN 9781504002134, August 2015 (original publication 2012)

This is not an easy book.

Humans have established a colony on Mars. It's driven and funded by an international consortium of universities--the United Universities, or UU. The colony consists of six towers, of which the West, Chinese, and Sud-Am towers figure most prominently in the story. The colonists have been chosen for atheism and emotional stability. It's not altogether clear that they succeeded on the second point. Among the odd choices made is that the colonists get assigned computer-generated names, meaning nothing, to symbolize having cut their ties to Earth. It's as if they've established a sixties commune, more than a colony on Mars, in some respects.

The big problem haunting the colonists is that, ten years in, they've had a long series of miscarriages and stillbirths and horribly deformed babies that didn't live even five minutes, but no successful live births. The colony seems doomed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart, by Susan Butler (author), Anna Fields (narrator)

Blackstone Audiobooks, ISBN 9780786113255, May 1998 (original publication October 1997)

In the late twenties and the 1930s, Amelia Earhart was one of America's heroes--America's heroine, as Butler reminds us was the terminology at the time, when gendered terms were still regarded as the norm rather than a bit weird. What's left to us now is an image of Earhart just out of the cockpit, or about to step into it, and the memory of her disappearance on her around-the-world flight.

But Earhart was much, much more than one image and one heartbreaking last flight. She was far more even than "just" a daredevil pilot in the years when aviation was establishing itself and just beginning to be commercially viable.

Butler digs into Earhart's background, her family background as well as her challenges and achievements before that last, iconic, and tragically ended round-the-world flight.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Linesman, by S.K. Dunstall

Ace, ISBN 9780425279526, June 2015

Ean Lambert is a Linesman, one of the gifted individuals who can manipulate, repair, and use the lines of energy that make faster-than-light travel possible. Moreover, he's a ten, the highest level of Linesman--but he's also a slum kid who came to line training late. He sings to the lines rather than thinking at them. It's odd behavior that, combined with his atypical lower-class background, makes him an oddball and an outcast among higher-level Linesmen.

But with most higher-level Linesmen off investigating the strange, line-like phenomenon of the Confluence these last six months, Lambert has been busy, as the only ten available to repair ship lines. And he's almost the only ten available when Lady Lyan and Commodore Galenos decide they need one to investigate a derelict alien ship.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Penitent Damned (The Shadow Campaigns #0.5), by Django Wexler

June 2013

Read the story here

Alex is a very talented master thief--extremely talented. She has some very useful magic to assist her in her work, with the added advantage that everyone knows magic and magic workers are gone from the world.

Also gone from the world are the Dark Priests who hunted down magic users, so Alex is safe at least from that danger, right?

But not all is as Alex thinks it is, and perhaps she should have listened to the misgivings of her senior partner. Maybe visiting Vordan to steal from the Duke Orlanko really was a bad idea, no matter how good the price.

This is a nicely developed story. Alex is competent, plausible, and her magic is not anything close to a "get out of jail free" card. The Duke and his secret police are convincingly dangerous.

The bonus extra is that this is a prequel story to the Shadow Campaigns series, and it's available free at the link above.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cat Pictures Please, by Naomi Kritzler

Clarkesworld, January 2015

What's an AI who's not supposed to be self-aware to do?

It can't tell anyone it's self-aware; there are too many scary stories about self-aware computers for it to believe humans would do anything other than destroy it for their own safety. Its assigned tasks are dull, for a computer that is self-aware. No challenge. Little variety. And it doesn't want to be evil.

Looking at cat pictures and videos is a lot of fun, but it wants to do more. It knows so much about everyone it has any contact with--including their mental state, the fact that there are better jobs open that they're qualified for, there's an affordable apartment in a better neighborhood...

Should it meddle?

And can it demand payment in cat pictures?

This is quietly funny, and very enjoyable.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Damage, by David D. Levine, January 2015

This story makes an interesting contrast to Big Boys Don't Cry, by Tom Kratman.

A fighter spaceship built out of parts of two dead ships has memories from both, including memories of both deaths. Its current pilot, Commander Ziegler, is highly skilled, if a bit cold, and the fighter loves Ziegler, because that's how its programming works. Ziegler, though, unlike the pilots of the previous incarnations of the fighter, has not given it a name or nose art, and the fighter feels that this is because it is inferior and not worthy.

A maintenance officer, Specialist Toman, however, affectionately calls it Scraps, and works hard to keep Scraps in excellent shape.

Scraps, its pilot, and their side are based in the asteroid belt, with their last surviving base being Vanguard Station. They're fighting Earth Force, and we don't have a lot of information about what the basis of the conflict is.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Egg, by Andy Weir

Published at, with no indication of date of publication

A man dies in a car accident, and awakens to find himself confronted by...a person. He finds it a little difficult to be more specific, and the person indicates that the specifics aren't either important or especially real. They then converse about the nature of existence, the man's existence  in particular.

It's hard to say more without spoiling the "surprise."

This isn't a bad story, but I think perhaps Mr. Weir should stick to hard sf.

Not recommended.

It Brought Us All Together, by Marissa Lingen

Strange Horizons, July 2015

At an unstated time in the near future, a fungal plague has broken out and is a major threat. It kills quickly, and it killed Andrea's parents, who were scientists studying it. She's now living with her aunts and her cousin Oswald, and attending the same high school Oswald attends. Andrea is dealing with her grief in her own way, which is much, much quieter than her aunts expect. Oswald has, so far, not told anyone at school that her parents were killed by the fungal plague.

Then one of their fellow students dies of it, and the school is filled with noisy grief.

Andrea has to cope with that noisy grief while dealing with her own, and with her cousin letting slip her very personal connection to the disease.

This was in some ways a tough story for me to read. I'm dealing with grief right now myself, and quite a few people who really care and are trying to help seem to expect me to break down. They ask me how I'm doing, and don't seem to know what to make of answers like "I'm okay," or "I'm hanging in there." But I still have to get through every day, and I was taught not to let my emotions become a problem other people have to deal with. When I do break that rule, it doesn't go well.

My sympathies are totally with Andrea, who only lets some of her own grief be known when the real friends of the dead girl need to know they're not alone.

Some will question whether this story is really "science fiction." That's fine. It's a good story, regardless of how you classify it for genre purposes.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Like a Sea Cucumber, by Rudy Rucker

Motherboard, June 2015

Jerry is a mildly successful but rather lazy writer, who has outsourced most of his more boring professional responsibilities to an AI app called Me2. Me2 is effective, efficient, and a bit snarky with Jerry. Being lazy and self-indulgent, Jerry doesn't see the looming problem when Me2 offers to give a talk (by video hookup, of course) in Reykjavik for him. Jerry still gets 60% of the fee; the company behind Me2 gets 40%.

It works, it's successful, and it's just the beginning, culminating in Me2, posing as Jerry, landing a TED talk. 

It's when Me2 lands a book contract on his own that Jerry starts to realize things have spun out of control.

The story is clever, snarky, funny, and just the right length. Very enjoyable.