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

Tor.com, 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 Galactanet.com, 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.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Where the Trains Turn, by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

Tor.com, November 2014


Emma Nightingale is a relentlessly practical, logical single mother raising a highly imaginative son. Emma does not read fiction or poetry or go to the movies; Rupert loves his Donald Duck comics, draws fantasy creatures, and tells wildly imaginative stories. Emma feels this is dangerous, but there's a limit to what she can do about it.

She also doesn't understand his enthusiasm for trains, but it's something he shares with his father, so she tolerates that for the sake of the father/son relationship.

But one day Rupert and his father Gunnar come home from their expedition very upset. Rupert says that a train tried to kill them, and says confusing things about trains that don't keep the timetables and can leave the tracks.

Pluto Tells All, by Pluto, ex-Planet, as told to John Scalzi

Subterranean Press Magazine, Spring 2007


Pluto, shortly after his demotion from Planet to Dwarf Planet, talks to John Scalzi about life in the Kuiper Belt, knowing who your friends are, and the silliness of the new definition of "planet."

  • I have problems with the new definition, yeah. What is this “sweep your lane” shit? Let me toss Eris at your planet and see what sort of job Earth does sweeping the lane. I don’t think you’d like the result. Look, when people want you gone, they’ll use any excuse. Simple as that.
And yes, Pluto is excited about the New Horizons mission, though he wishes one of the Voyagers had passed by on the way out of the system.

It's fun. You'll smile, you'll laugh, I promise you won't cry. Go read it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Mothers of Voorhisville, by Mary Rickert

Tor.com, April 2014

This is a 2015 World Fantasy Award nominee for Best Novella.

This is a horror story.

I don't like horror stories.

I like this horror story.

A very handsome man named Jeffrey comes to the dingy small town of Voorhisville, and charms all the women he meets. They aren't even put off by the fact that he drives around in a hearse. The story unfolds for us in a number of voices--fifteen-year-old Ellie, her mother Theresa, widowed Sylvia, and others, as well as a collective voice calling itself "The Mothers."

Each becomes pregnant, and each gives birth to a beautiful baby boy. Jeffrey, by this time, is long gone.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North (author), Peter Kenny (narrator)

Hachette Audio, ISBN 9781478928652, April 2014

Harry August is born in rural northern England in 1919, the bastard son of a wealthy landowner, and is adopted and raised by the estate's groundskeeper and his wife. He lives a full, if uneventful life, eventually succeeding to his adopted father's position, and dies in his seventies.

Then he is born again, into exactly the same life, with full memory of his prior life returning by the time he's four. This leads to the belief that he's mad, leading in turn to suicide by jumping off the roof of a mental hospital before he's ten years old.

And then he's born again, into exactly the same life, with his memories of his two prior lives returning by the time he's four.

Jackalope Wives, by Ursula Vernon

Apex Magazine, January 2014

A 2015 World Fantasy Award nominee for short fiction.


A rather foolish young man watches the jackalope wives dancing in the woods near town, and decides he has to have one to marry. Not too long after, he's banging on his grandmother's door, bringing his terrible, tragic mistake to her.

The jackalope wife is caught halfway between rabbit and human. When the young man tossed her rabbit skin into the fire to burn up and keep her human, she screamed in horrible, heart-rending pain, and he snatched the partly burned skin out of the fire.

And the jackalope wife, in desperation rather than thought, put it on.

So the young man, who is self-absorbed and unthinking, but not intentionally bad, has brought her to his grandmother for help. Grandmother sends him away, takes care of the jackalope wife's injuries, and then brings her to some resources her grandson could not have reached.

In the process, we learn long-hidden secrets of this respected grandmother.

It's quiet, moving story, well worth the time to read.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Grand Jeté (The Great Leap), by Rachel Swirsky

Subterranean Press Magazine, Summer 2014

Grand Jeté (The Great Leap) by Rachel Swirsky

This is, like The Devil in America, in some ways a very painful read, but well worth reading anyway. Both stories feature just-adolescent girls. And that's the last point of resemblance between the stories.

It's the not too distant future. Jakub's grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Born in the US but raised by the grandparents in Poland after his mother died and his father couldn't cope with four sons, he subsequently emigrated back to America. He had a thriving career as a robotics expert, and married a ballerina, Meryem. It's now a dozen years later, Meryem died a few years ago, and their eleven-year-old daughter, Mara, has cancer and is dying.

So far, the science-fictional elements seem minor. Mara has apparently undergone forms of treatment that don't exist yet, without success. She attends school and has friends, or did until she grew sick enough that it's too hard, in "attic space," a form of cyberspace. There's the household AI that we mainly encounter playing back videos of Meryem dancing for Mara.

But Jakub is a robotics expert, and the last person he loves in this world is dying. And an old colleague contacted him some while back to consult on a problem in neural nets.

Jakub has been at work in his workshop. He believes and hopes he's found a way not to lose Mara, not to be utterly alone.

We see the first part of the story through Mara's eyes, the middle through Jakub's eyes, and the last, well, that would be telling. It's gently yet uncompromisingly told, with the strengths and weaknesses of the central characters fully examined. Yet it's kind, also. The sadness, the grief, the love here are all very real.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

I Can See Right Through You, by Kelly Link

McSweeney's Quarterly 48


A 2015 World Fantasy Award nominee for short fiction.

This is the story of a Demon Lover, or an aging actor still playing af ageless vampire he first played twenty years ago.

It's the story of his relationship with his co-star, Meggie, who is the one enduring relationship in his life even as they both flit from lover to lover, occasionally getting married.

It's the story of a nudist colony where years ago the nudists mysteriously disappeared. Now, Meggie's latest tv series, Who's There?, is filming an episode there, looking for supernatural or otherwise mysterious forces. The Demon Lover turns up, fresh off the break-up of his latest marriage, convinced Meggie is the one he should have been with all along. Meggie has her latest lover, Ray, with her, and he's--twenty years younger, looking remarkably like the Demon Lover at the start of his career.

The Devil in America, by Kai Ashante Wilson

Tor.com, April 2014


In August 1877, Easter Sunday Mack is twelve years old, and about to confront the consequences of a choice she made when she was six.

In August 1877, the violence that has characterized relations between black and white in America for centuries is about to erupt in another massacre of blacks by whites, this time in the little town of Rosetree.

Easter's family, through her mother, has a history of magic, old African magic, but while they inherit the power, the knowledge of how to use it effectively has been lost. Easter's great-grandfather, when he was kidnapped in Africa and taken as a slave, was struck in the head and suffered brain damage, becoming simple-minded. He no longer had the knowledge of their heritage to pass on to his slave children in America.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Fisher Queen, by Alyssa Wong


Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June issue, 2014

Lily is the oldest of three daughters of a Mekong delta fisherman, and as the oldest, at age fifteen, she's become an experienced fishing boat deckhand. Her mother is dead, died too young for even Lily to have any memory of her, but her dad tells a crazy story: the girls' mother was a mermaid.

Mermaids are fish. Unambiguously fish, not intelligent, not beautiful, only superficially human-looking. They are the most desirable fish to sell at the fish market, bringing the highest prices, especially the deep-sea varieties. It's a ridiculous story, obviously intended to avoid telling the girls their mother ran off and abandoned them.

And then comes the fateful fishing trip on which Lily encounters her first deep ocean mermaid, and the mermaid calls her "Daughter."

This is a gently and yet mercilessly written story, the revelations building slowly. We see the sisters' love for each other, Lily's protectiveness of her younger sisters. We experience Lily's surprise, then shock, then horror as, fifteen years old, she is increasingly treated as a near-adult and sees things previously shielded from her.

And we experience the terrible, difficult decision she makes.


The One Minute Time Machine, by Devon Avery (director)


James wants to pick up Regina, and he's got a wonderful little edge: a one-minute time machine. When he says the wrong thing, he hits the red button, and goes back one minute in time--a second chance at making a first impression. Unfortunately, he doesn't fully understand the reality and the implications of what his time machine is doing. As their relationship advances through these repeated steps backwards, we, and he, find out.

It's short, sweet, charming, funny, and creepy. Well worth a few moments of your time!


Selected for the Sploid Short Film Festival.

Hugo eligibility: This appears to be eligible for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form for 2016.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Silver Ships (Silver Ships #1), by S.H. Jucha

Scott Jucha, ISBN 9780990594024, June 2015

Alex Racine operates an asteroid tug boat, Outward Bound, in the asteroid belt of human colony system of New Terra. It's been over seven hundred years since their ancestors arrived fleeing a badly damaged Earth, and had a rough arrival that cost them many of their original colonists. It's been a hundred years since they recovered  enough technology to get back into space. They've colonized another world in their system, and are exploiting the asteroid belt.

What they haven't had is any contact with Earth or anyone else since they arrived. It's quite a surprise when Racine sees an unfamiliar ship coming from, apparently, outside the system. This strange ship is badly damaged and doesn't respond to his radio calls, so he captures it with the tools he uses to capture asteroids, and investigates.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves ((HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)

This is a Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form nominee for the 2015 Hugo Award.

Mole's Town gets attacked. Theon helps Ramsey seize Moat Caillin. Sansa invents a story to protect Lord Baelish. Various plot lines are advanced. It's very violent--and no, this was not a surprise. It's why this is the first time I've watched an episode of Game of Thrones. It did not draw me in.

But fear not, fans of the show. It's not clear I'm going to be able to see enough of the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form nominees to vote in this category. And If I do, I'll simply leave this off my ballot. The commentary I hear about it convinces me the series as a whole is much, much better than a single episode viewed out of sequence with no real context.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Edge of Tomorrow, screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman (Village Roadshow, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment; Viz Productions)

Released June 2014

Groundhog Day meets every high-tech war movie you've seen. And, really, too violent for my tastes; I don't do war movies. My nerves don't handle the sound and images well.

But this, honestly, is very good.

Tom Cruise plays US Army public relations officer Major Cage, thus neatly dodging any anger of active combat while Earth is being invaded by aliens known as the Mimics. Earth is, by the way, losing, but a nifty new combat exoskeleton has been developed (or perfected; I do believe these are being worked on now, in real life), and the United Defense Forces win a victory at Verdun. Moral and enlistments soar.

And the UDF CIC decide Major Cage needs to be embedded, to report directly from the latest attack on the Mimics. He refuses, tries to blackmail the general, and gets unceremoniously stripped of his rank and sent off as a private to a combat unit.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)

Released August 2014

This is a Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form nominee for the 2015 Hugos.

This is not a movie with any deep thoughts in its head. It's pure, fun, over-the-top adventure, with colorful space battles and explosions.

Peter Quill is kidnapped from Earth as a kid in 1988, and raised by an interstellar criminal gang. As an adult, he steals a mysterious orb sought by a fanatical opponent of a recent peace treaty, Ronan the Accuser. After some entertaining and bizarre events, Peter, along with Rocket the genetically engineered raccoon, Groot the walking tree creature, and Gamora, a trained assassin whose adopted father Thanos hired her out to Ronan, wind up in prison. It's after they break out together, having picked up Drax, who wants to kill Ronan, along the way, that things get really  dangerous. (Fortunately, Gamora would also rather kill Ronan than work for him.)

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Saltation (Theo Waitley #2) (Liaden Universe #14), by Sharon Lee (author), Steve Miller (author), Eileen Stevens (narrator)

Audible Frontiers, September 2012 (original publication January 2010)

Theo Waitley has survived the tough year that culminated in pilot school on a planet very different from Delgado. Along the way she caught the attention of  Master Pilot Captain Cho, and now she has a scholarship to an elite piloting academy. Surely now she'll fit in?

But no. She's behind in some things, ahead in others, and learned self-protection makes her seem to be looking for a fight far too often. And as she catches up on her math, and finally starts to make friends aside from her roommates, political conditions on this planet are changing. The offworld piloting students, especially the Liadens, are less and less welcome. And Theo, despite having just recently learned of her parentage, is obviously Liaden. After a series of incidents, Theo is declared "a nexus of violence," and expelled. To get offworld quickly, she takes her recently obtained guild card, and signs on as an apprentice pilot with a trading company.