Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Accidents Happen, by Louise Millar

Atria/EmilyBestler Books, ISBN 9781451656701, June 2013

Kate Parker is living a stressful life, and most of the stress is generated inside her own head. She's obsessed with statistics--two glasses of wine lower your risk of a heart attack, but three increase you chances of cancer, 85% of bicycle casualties involve riders not wearing helmets, etc. She governs her own life by the pursuit of the greatest possible safety, and does the same with her eleven-year-old son, Jack.

There's a reason for her anxiety, and her desperate attempts to keep her son and herself perfectly safe. On her wedding night, her parents died in a bizarre accident, killed when the taxi taking them home, driving on a dark road, hit a dead elk who had been shot by a poacher and then stumbled off to die in the road. Six years later, her beloved husband Hugo is killed by a gang of young toughs out to steal his expensive new sports car. It's all too much, and Kate is fighting fate to keep her son safe. To that end, she moved from London to Oxford, to be near her in-laws, so that they could help with Jack.

But her in-laws are increasingly worried by the effects of her paranoia on Jack. And when she starts finding small things missing, or says she does, and hearing strange noises, everyone knows it's Kate's anxiety kicking into overdrive.

Even Kate knows this.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

With All My Love, by Patricia Scanlan

Atria Books, ISBN 9781476704517, July 2013

On the anniversary of her father's death when she was a small child, Briony McAllister, young wife and mother, is helping her mother Valerie Harris settle into her new vacation home in southern Spain. In looking through an old photo album, she discovers a letter--to herself, from her paternal grandmother, Tessa Egan.

A letter Valerie never gave her.

A letter that reveals that Valerie has lied to her for years, about the real cause of the split between the Egan and Harris families after the death of Briony's father Jeffrey.

She never saw her paternal grandparents again after the death of her father, not because, as Valerie told her, they could not bear it, but because Valerie would not allow it.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Inside Job, by Connie Willis (author), Dennis Boutsikaris (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, April 2008

Rob's a professional debunker, publisher of a skeptic/debunker magazine. At the insistence of his too-good-to-be-true, beautiful, former actress assistant, Kildy, he attends a performance of a hot new channeler. It's all very normal and boring, with the alleged spirit, Isus, spouting typical "insights" and advice--until a different booms out from the psychic "channeling" him. This voice is different, skeptical, belittling--and oddly familiar.

Is Ariaunna channeling H.L. Mencken?

Or is this a new trick or scam? And if so--whose?

This is a neat little story, with Willis in very good form. The plotting and character development, and attention to detail, are all excellent and entertaining.


I borrowed this book from a friend.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ocean on Top, by Hal Clement (author), Tom Picasso (narrator)

Audible, January 2013 (original publication 1973)

It's a couple of centuries in the future, and Earth is ruled by a Power Board created with the energy crisis became so severe that the choices for the human race were Ration or Die. Our protagonist, who hates his name and therefore never says it, is an engineer with the Power Board who has been assigned the risky task of investigating the disappearance of three other Power Board officials--friends as well as colleagues of his--who have disappeared in the South Pacific.

What he discovers is shocking--an undersea secret nation using unrationed volcanic power to live lives free of the restrictions and constraints of society on the surface.

And all three of his friends are alive--two of them working for the Council that rules this undersea culture.

This is a nifty little story that presents the narrator with a real moral dilemma.


I borrowed this book from a friend.

Time One: Discover How the Universe Began, by Colin Gillespie

Big Fizz Inc., ISBN 9780795333538, April 2013

I'm not quite sure what to make of this book. Gillespie seems to be serious about his physics, and to a non-physicist, it doesn't sound much stranger than currently accepted physics. Gillespie also has what appear to be real physics credentials, too. He seems to have the notion of popularizing high-end physics and encouraging broad popular interest in revitalizing physics.

But there's the rub. If you want to inspire serious interest in physics, it's a bit odd to do it in a book with a fictional narrator on the fringes of a terrorist plot. It's as if he thinks he has to sugar-coat the physics and spoon-feed it to us. Generations of other science popularizers have done far better with far more respect for their readers.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Noise, by Hal Clement (author),

Audible Frontiers, March 2013 (original publication 2003)

Mike Hoani, a linguist/historian from Earth, has come to Kainui, a true water world, to study the languages of the Polynesian-descended inhabitants. Kainui is an interesting world, and a challenging one to live on. Tsunamis, waterspouts, and electrical storms with accompanying thunder are all constant. It is, as the title implies, noisy. There's no land at all, and the inhabitants live on artificial floating islands that maintain generally the same latitude, but otherwise have no fixed position. The main economic activity is mining the ocean for its dissolved metals, which the cities can trade among themselves as well as with other planets. The technology is mostly biotech pseudolife, and essentially all forms of long-distance communication are impossible because of the constant electrical activity of the atmosphere. Mike is conducting his research as a passenger-cum-junior crewman on a small family trading ship.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Where Angels Fear to Tread, by Allen Steele (author), Marc Vieter (narrator)

Playaway, ISBN 9781608128426, May 2009

Time travel is fraught with problems, starting with the very practical one that, while wormholes should make it possible, the physicists tell us, we have no idea how to make or control wormholes. In science fiction, though, we get to assume a solution to the practical obstacles, and look at the really knotty problems.

Such as what happens if you visit the past and change something--big or little--that has important consequences.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Broken Land, by Ian McDonald

Open Road Media, ISBN 9781480432178, July 2013 (original publication March 1992)

This is an older book, first published in the early nineties, and a true classic.

Mathembe Fileli is a girl on the verge of womanhood living in a village on a far-future Earth, an Earth where biotechnology is the main technology, the dominant technology even in the areas where mechanical technology is still used. It's also a world with strong ethnic and religious divides, with the Proclaimer and Confessor religious split even on such seemingly minor points as which hand should be your dominant one. The Emperor Across the River, though, is a Proclaimer, and so the political power lies with the Proclaimers.

Despite that, the Filelis' home village of Chepsenyt is a peaceful and congenial place for the most part--until the fateful day that Proclaimer and Confessor villagers alike decide to shelter some young rebels, Warriors of Destiny, from the brutal justice of the Emperor's soldiers. From that moment, Chepsenyt is doomed.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Earth Below, Sky Above (The Human Division #13), by John Scalzi (author), William Dufris (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, April 2013

It's the last episode of The Human Division, and I have mixed feelings about it.

Back channel efforts, trade contacts, and plain diplomatic persistence have finally produced a major diplomatic conference on the Colonial Union-owned Earth Station, with some real hope of at least improving relations. The CU intends to surprise the Earth diplomats and put them off balance by offering to sell Earth Station to Earth governments, and lease back the facilities it needs. What the CU wants, of course, is the ability to recruit soldiers as it previously did, and also to accept colonists, although at a much slower pace than in past decades.

Sixteen ships dropping into Earth orbit and opening fire on Earth Station and the Clarke is not part of the CU's plans.

The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads, by John Scalzi (author), William Dufris (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, April 2013

Danielle Lowen is back on Earth after her entirely too exciting adventure on board the Colonial Union's diplomatic ship, the Clarke. Unfortunately, she's not done with events on the Clarke; she's still looking for an answer to the question of why an apparently ordinary Brazilian diplomat decided to kill a colleague and attempt to frame the Colonial Union.

Her investigation on Earth is supposed to start with the very routine step of talking to the Brazilian Ambassador and getting background information on the now-dead killer, Luiza Carvalho. Instead, it starts with a real blast as the Brazilian consulate where she is supposed to meet the Ambassador blows up while she's across the street getting a bagel.

Through the Eye of a Needle, by Hal Clement (author), John Nelson (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, February 2013 (original print publication 1978)

Seven years ago, Bob Kinnaird, high school student, encountered Hunter, a green protoplasmic glob of an alien, and became his host. Hunter is a police detective chasing a criminal, and he and his quarry have both crashed on Earth and are stranded. Since the quarry's crime is callous disregard for his hosts and placing them in danger, tracking him down and stopping him on a planet full of suitable but wholly unaware hosts is even more important.

That problem was resolved, and now, a college graduate with an engineering degree, Bob is coming home to the Polynesian island he grew up on. He's got a job as well as his family waiting for him. Unfortunately, he's also, quite possibly, dying, due to the same friendly alien symbiont who for years has protected him from illness and injury. His immune system and his blood clotting ability and other systems are simply failing, and Hunter, a cop not a medical specialist, has no idea how to fix it. He needs to contact his own kind and get the right specialists on the job, or Bob will die.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Spindrift (Coyote), by Allen Steele (author), Andy Caploe (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, March 2009

This is kind of a sidebar to the main Coyote story, and you don't need to have read the other Coyote books to follow the story and enjoy it.

After a couple of centuries of listening, Earth has finally detected an object that might be natural--just another rogue asteroid--but a signal that is clearly artificial. It's the Western Hemisphere Union that has detected the signal, but they're too bankrupt and exhausted to mount an expedition on their own. Reluctantly, they partner with the European Federation.