Monday, June 29, 2020

Coming Out Party, by Nikki Levy (author, narrator), Shangela (narrator), Jake Borelli (contributor, narrator), Nicky Paris (ontributor, narrator), Daniel Webb (contributor, narrator), Rosanny Zayas (contributor, narrator), Angelica Ross (contributor, narrator), Lisa Dickey (contributor, narrator)

Audible Originals, June 2020

This is just a very lively, enjoyable, warm listen.

It is, as the title suggests, a collection of coming out stories, released in celebration of Pride Month. Included are stories of first love, telling parents, coming out in one's work life, surviving Navy service during "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," coming out in response to a question from Barack Obama in a BBQ joint. The stories are all very personal and compelling, and the tellers of them are peronalities who just reach out and make you care.

And in the irony of our time, some of these stories were literally recorded in the closet, as the COVID-19 pandemic kept people in their homes, surrounded by family or housemates. Some of them litereally had no place quiet enough to record except in a well-chosen closet!

It's a lot of fun. Highly recommended.

I received this audiobook free as part of the Audible Originals program, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley

Saga Press, ISBN 9781481447966, March 2019

Dietz is new recruit in the Tene-Sylvia corporate forces, having enlisted to fight the Martians after everyone they know has been killed in the Blink, presumed to have been committed by the Martians, which wiped out much of São Paolo.

Military forces have a new way of deploying their forces now. The soldiers are transformed into light, and rematerialize at their destination. Which is fine, until Dietz starts experiencing drops that are very different from the rest of the squad, and witnessing and participating in a very different war.

Is Dietz crazy? Is Dietz traveling in time? Is Dietz crossing timelines?

Can Dietz do something about the war?

Friday, June 26, 2020

Summer Frost (Forward Collection), by Blake Crouch (author), Rosa Salazar (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, September 2019

Riley is a video game developer, working on the problem of an oddly recalcitrant non-player character in her current project. After a good bit of work, she manages to extract the code and work on that character--which seems to be developing into an AI.

The character is Maxine, or Max, as she is usually called, whose only role in the game is to be killed by her husband in a bloody, ritual sacrifice that kicks off the game. Riley thinks this can be developed into a very capable and interesting AI. And as she continues to work on Max, she begins to get very involved with Max. Her marriage suffers, she's working on no other projects at all--and her boss is finding it increasingly dubious. Riley starts to wonder what will happen if the increasingly intelligent Max ever gets out into the real world.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Last Conversation (Forward), by Paul Tremblay (author), Steven Strait (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, September 2019

A man wakes up in an unfamiliar, dark room, with no memory of who he is or how he got there.

There's a voice, his caretaker, Dr. Kuhn, who will help him remember who he is and recover his physical health.

He slowly gets stronger, the pain goes, his sight returns, and he is starting to recover his memories. Yet, something is wrong. Dr. Kuhn won't answer some questions, questions that seem perfectly reasonable and straightforward. He does learn there's been a pandemic, and a lot of people died.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Ark (Forward Collection), by Veronica Roth (author), Evan Rachel Wood (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, September 2019

A large asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, with destruction of life on Earth the certain result. With enough warning, two ships have been built to move humans and the life they need to survive off the planet.

Samantha is a young scientist cataloging plants to accompany the evacuating humans. With just a few weeks to go, she has her own private plans for what she'll do when she's supposed to board the ship she's assigned  to.

Then, unexpectedly, she makes a real, human connection with one of the older scientists, who loves orchids as she does, and as her mother did.

It's a touching and moving story. Recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

You Have Arrived at Your Destination (Forward Collection), by Amor Towles (author), David Harbour (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, September 2019

Sam and his wife, Annie, are finally ready to have a child. Having worked and planned to give their child the best possible start, they've decided to also take one more step. They're going to use Vitek, the newest and most advanced fertility lab, one that will let you not only pick the sex of your child, and avoid known genetic problems, but something more. Something better, they promise.

You can pick the right balance of your gene's and your spouse's, and view projections of the probable life pattern of each of three different genetic balances.

What could be better?

But when Sam, watching the projections of three different lives of their prospective son, "Daniel," he starts asking questions about the choices he's made in his own life. And a stop at a nearby bar leads to even more disturbing questions.

It's an interesting, thoughtful story. Recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom, by Ted Chiang

Published in Exhalation, Knopf, May 2019

Quantum computing has changed the world--by enabling people to communicate with other versions of themselves, on alternate timelines. This is done through devices called "prisms." Any given prism can only reach a timeline that split off after it was first activated.

Nat is a young woman with a somewhat troubled past, who is now drug-free, and working in what one might call a "prism cafe," where people who can't afford their own prisms can communicate with their "paraselves" on other timelines. This is a dying business model, because the price of prisms has come way, way down.

Her boss, Morrow, has worked out ways to make money anyway.

The big question is, though, does communicating with other timelines and seeing the results of other choices you might have made, help or hurt? 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A Dead Djinn in Cairo, by P. Djèlí Clark (author), Suehyla El-Attar (narrator)

Macmillan Audio, August 2019 (original publication May 2016)

In an alternate Cairo in 1912, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Superatural Entities investigates potentially criminal activity involving magic or supernatural entities, such as djinn.

Such as, in this case, a Marid djinn who appears to have committed suicide, in a very odd way.

Special Agent Fatma el-Sha'arawi is the agent who got the case, and nothing about it looks right. Suicide isn't common among djinn. Magical exsanguination seems like an incredibly unlikely way to do it. There is evidence of a ghoul being present, but ghouls eat their victims alive, not drink their blood. She and the constable find evidence suggesting a tie an, um, not really an angel but they mostly go with that term, they investigate and find one who calls himself Maker, and is a maker of timepieces, and it doesn't seem at all relevant.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Nut Jobs: Cracking California's Strangest $10 Million Dollar Heist, by Marc Fennel (author, narrator)

Audible Studios, June 2020

Marc Fennel is an Australian reporter who came to the US to do an Audible Original story on nut heists.

Yes, nut heists. Thefts of almonds and other nuts, grown in California, and sold all over the world at a very high profit.

The high profit margin means there's a lot of incentive to steal truckloads of nuts and sell them elsewhere. And loads of raw nuts, not yet processed and packaged, are really hard to distinguish from each other, whether stolen or legit.

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark, ISBN 9781250294807, February 2019

Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr, and his new partner, brand-new Agent Onsi, of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, are called in to investigate the haunting of a Cairo tram car.

This is, of course, not out Cairo. This is Cairo in the first part of the 20th century, and on a different timeline than ours. In 1879, a man bored through the wall separating our world from the world of the djinn, in the process weakening the wall between the worlds everywhere. Egypt was the first beneficiary, for good and ill, and European powers were driven out. Egypt became a constitutional monarchy. And like the UK, they have an active women's suffrage movement.

So back to the haunted tram car. They quickly determine that it's not a ghost causing the problem. That's no surprise. The Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities has never found any ghosts, no matter how much people believe they exist. It's something else, most likely some variety of djinn.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Deep, by Rivers Solomon

Gallery/Saga Press, ISBN 9781534439863, November 2019

The wajinru are the descendants of pregnant women thrown overboard from slave ships. The women drowned, but the babies survived--transformed into beings with gills and fins, able to breathe both in the air, and in the water. Mostly, tehey prefer to stick to the deeper waters.

They make certain other choices. Their history is painful, not just their origins but other episodes in it as well. To maintain peace and amity within their community, they intentionally forget their own history, even their own personal history beyond a few months. That history is absorbed by the Historian, the only one of their number who remembers everything, their entire history.

The Historian for this generation is Yetu. She's been the Historian for twenty years, since she was fourteen, and she's hated it from the beginning. She's of a much more sensitive temperament than her immediate predecessor, and perhaps most previous Historians. She hates sharing all the pain of the wajinru history, and she is free of it for only a few days every year, during the Remembrance, when she transfers those memories to all the other wajinru. And this year, she has had enough, and flees while her people are completely absorbed in their history.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

How the Penguins Saved Veronica, by Hazel Prior

Berkley, ISBN 9781984803818, June 2020

Veronica McReedy is rich, comfortable, and old. She has no family, having divorced her husband many years ago, and her parents having died when she was a young teenager, during World War II. Well, she did have a baby, a very long time ago, but he was adopted, and she never saw him again. Eventually, she learned, from one of his adopted cousins, that he had died in a mountain climbing accident, in his forties. He had no children.

Except--she has found the box in which she stored some keepsakes, a locket with several strands of hair, and her diary notebooks, which she last wrote in during the war.  And now she wonders, is she really sure? Would an adopted cousin really know, for sure, if her son had any offspring?

Patrick Fuller has just been dumped by his girlfriend, who is now living with a builder, and consequently has also lost his apartment, which her income had been essential for. He's working one day a week at Gav's bicycle shop, and his only other income is the dole. He's in a smaller, crappier apartment that Gav found him, not cooking healthy anymore like he did with Lynette, and even smoking marijuana again.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Omphalos, by Ted Chiang

In the collection Exhalation, Knopf, May 2019

Dorothea Morrell is an archaeologist, studying the history of humanity mainly, in her case, through tree growth rings, in trees and in wood incorporated into buildings--going right back to the beginning, almost ten thousand years ago.

Because, yes, this story is set in a universe that really is less than ten thousand years ago.

In the course of her work and her travels, she meets an astronomer who tells her of a paper he's just reviewed, and, much against his wishes, had to approve because there was simply no basis for rejecting it. The science Dorothea, and the astronomer, and many others, have relied on as the bases of their faith in God, has now given them a most unsettling discovery.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes, by Nathan H. Lents (author), L.J. Ganser (narrator)

Highbridge, January 2018

Nathan Lents gives us a lively and interesting look at some of the major flaws of the human body--starting with our eyes, and working downward. Our lenses are backwards. Our wrists and ankles have extra, unnecessary bones that serve no real function. We have a variety of genetic diseases, more than most other species, and they don't get effectively selected against for a variety of frustrating reasons. Once a gene acquires a mutation, it tends to accumulate more mutations. Once that happens, the problem can't be fixed by another single mutation of the kind that caused the original problem. The deletion of our ability to manufacture our own vitamin C, like most mammals, got deleted in a common ancestor of primate species long ago. It wasn't selected against because all the early primates lived in the midst of a vitamin C-rich food supply. That mutation has been accumulating more mutations since long before genus homo arose. We're not getting it back.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

A Home in Your Heart (Love in the West #2), by Bess McBride (author), Michelle Babb (narrator)

Bess McBride, May 2020

In 2014, Harriet (Harry) Ferguson is engaged, but seriously doubting that she's made the right choice. It's becoming clear that, in any conflict at all between herself and Tom's mother, his mother is going to win. This isn't a loving son; this is a mama's boy. When they pay a visit to his mother in southeastern Arizona, she becomes more convinced than ever that this engagement is a mistake. Partly to have a few hours to herself, she visits the museum at Fort Huachuca, an army post dating to the 1880s. There she sees, in a diorama, a wax figure of a cavalry officer, handsome and strangely compelling to her.

She touches his face, and falls. Falls through time. She loses consciousness, and when she wakes, she's being shaken awake by the handsome cavalry officer from the diorama.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Randomize (Forward Collection), by Andy Weir (author), Janina Gavankar

Brilliance Audio, September 2019

At a point in the not terribly distant future, the head of IT at Babylon Casino in Las Vegas alerts the head of the casino to a major security risk: The arrival of quantum computing means their games of chance, in particular keno, are not safe. Random number generators are not truly random, and quantum computers are fast enough to crack them.

There's only one way to safely reopen their keno game. They buy a quantum computer of their own, and hire the right IT whiz to set up what they need.

Babylon Casino is safe now. Except that someone on the inside, isn't on their side.

It's a clever, fun, really enjoyable short story. Recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

Friday, June 12, 2020

For He Can Creep, by Siobhan Carroll

Tor Books, ISBN 9781250237569, July 2019

Eighteenth century English poet Christopher Smart has been confined to St. Luke's Hospital for Lunatics due to "religious mania," i.e., he believes God has commissioned him to write the Divine Poem. Confined to his cell, but equipped with paper, pen, and ink, Smart is working on his Divine Poem, or trying to. He is supported by his cat, Jeoffry, who does not see the point of this poetry stuff, but is devoted to his human.

Jeoffry has the advantage of being able to come and go.

Jeoffry also has the ability to see, and fight with, the demons that haunt the asylum. He can easily chase off the demons and imps that normally haunt the asylum. Satan, though, is a greater challenge.

Years ago, long before his commission from God, Christopher Smart had made a bargain with Satan that seemed unimportant at the time. Satan did him some favors, and in return, Smart promised him a poem, also.

Satan has arrived to demand that Smart finally write and deliver his poem.

Jeoffry, champion of the streets and torment of demons and imps, has a new challenge. It starts with resisting Satan's blandishments. But even if he can, he'll still need to fight, and defeat, Satan.

How can one cat do that? 

Jeoffry is as arrogant and independent as any good street cat should be. He's also clever, and tricky, and has friends as clever and tricky as he is.

I really liked Jeoffry and his friends. Satan is properly impressive, and Christopher Smart properly values his loyal friend, Jeoffry.


I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye, by Sarah Pinsker

Uncanny Magazine, July 2019

Zanna is a mystery writer who has had her assistant rent her a cabin with no near neighbors, no internet, not even a landline phone, so that she has no distractions while she works on her latest book. The assistant, Shar, will stay in a hotel in town, checking in on Zanna daily, but giving her time and space to write. The cabin proves to be a little more basic than Zanna anticipated, but it has a desk for her to work with, and a good view from the window near the desk, and that's all she needs.

The next morning, though, when a fuse blows and she has no microwave, no coffee, and in fact there's no power at all now, that's a little too basic. She has to go down the mountain, on foot, to find her landlord, since she isn't even getting one bar of signal on her cellphone.

When she gets there, she finds her landlord, dead. He seems to have fallen, and hit his head on a rock. He also looks, from his position and the look on his face, like he was running in fear from his own house.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Away With the Wolves, by Sarah Gailey

Uncanny Magazine, September 2019

Suss is a young woman, and also a wolf. Her mother, now dead, always taught her it was selfish and self-indulgent to spend too much time as a wolf, out living her wolf life. Suss tries to live by her mother's rules and severely limit her time as a wolf.

Unfortunately, in human form, Suss spends much of her time in pain. Her hips, her shoulders, her legs, her hands; it's the rare day that she's not in some significant pain.

Fortunately, her friend, Yana, understands. Yana's father, Alger, maybe doesn't understand as fully, but he's patient and supportive. Their neighbors are tolerant, as long as she pays for what she kills or damages in wolf form.

But it's a lonely life. And Yana understands better than Suss does that she's not spending too much time as a wolf; she's spending too little.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Emergency Skin, by N.K. Jemisin

Amazon Original Stories, September 2019

A soldier is sent from his home planet to Tellus, or as we usually call it, Earth, to obtain some vital samples. The Founders will reward him richly for this, with a real skin, a beautiful skin. Having a skin which is real and biological, rather than engineered for harsh environments is a mark of high status. And on this mission, he has, inside his head, an AI that is the consensus opinion of the Founders, the rulers of his world, and perhaps the very ones who left Earth.

As they approach Tellus, they find that the orbital junk that had been left behind is gone. The atmosphere is clean. The planet appears to be completely healthy, unlike what the AI claims it expected. The soldier is puzzled.

Then he discovers that humans are living happily on this supposedly ruined planet.

Is the AI lying? Is the AI deceived? 

It's not long before the soldier discovers facts that can't be explained away, and starts to ask questions the AI won't answer, and threatens to punish him for. We also start to learn some really interesting things about the Founders.

This is an interesting story, and an interesting world I'd like to see more of. Recommended.

I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Archronology of Love, by Caroline M. Yoachim

Lightspeed Magazine, April 2019 

Dr. Saki Jones was on the way to the New Mars colony, to do research but also to join her lifelove, MJ, also a scientist with the colony.

On the way, first they learn that a plague has broken out, suspected to be from the alien artifacts found on the planet. They've been looking for a virus or something similar, as the cause, but without success. Then MJ, and the rest of the colony, are all dead.

Now their mission is to find the cause. And because they don't know how to protect themselves from the unknown cause, they need to do that from orbit. They will need to use the Chronicle, a complete, immersive record of everything that has happened on the colony, which, however, they can only access any given part of it once. Collecting the data means it's effectively erased from the Chronicle. So this needs to be done with care.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

And Now His Lordship is Laughing, by Shiv Ramdas

Strange Horizons, September 2019

The time is the Second World War, and the place is Bengal, India.

An old woman is making dolls out of jute, and caring for her young grandson. She's getting regular visits, though, from a British officer. The governor of the region wants one of her dolls for his wife, but Apa has been refusing to make one. The officer tells her she's making the wrong choice, but she won't change her mind, and the officer leaves. For that day, at least.

Then the British start confiscating all the rice, and everything else edible. The village, all of Bengal, and though she doesn't know it, all of India, begins to starve. It's not because of her dolls, but because the British are willing to let the Indians starve in order to feed their troops for the war.

The governor is happy to use her starvation to force her to comply, though. And seemingly, Apa agrees.

But he has made the wrong choice, and he has no idea what Apa's dolls can do.

The story draws the reader into a less familiar culture, and I became fully involved with Apa, her grandson, and her quest for justice. Recommended.

I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Blood is Another Word for Hunger, by Rivers Solomon

Tor Books, ISBN 9781250243911, July 2019

During the years of the American Civil War, a farm now peopled only by women--the wife of the owner, their two  daughters, her mother, her sister, and their fifteen-year-old slave girl, Sully, gets word that the owner has died in battle. Sully forms a careful plan, and puts it into action. That night, she mildly drugs all five of the women, and cuts their throats. The next day, she washes her clothes and all the bed linens, digs a hole, and buries them.

A few hours later, she gives birth to another teenage girl, who has been dead for two hundred years. Sully has, due to her rage, and the five murdered women, become a pathway from the other side.

What follows really should be more horrific and less a satisfying tale of Sully, Ziza, and other "recruits" successfully building free and productive lives together. Yet, I found myself really liking these young women and their other friends, and after each moment of  "oh, no, I'm supposed to be appalled at that," I went back to cheering them on. Fighting for freedom is never a bad thing, and you use the tools you have.


I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Friday, June 5, 2020

As the Last I May Know, by S.L. Huang

Tor Books, October 2019

Nyma is a ten-year-old girl, raised by the Order, and now called upon to do the hardest job the Order has.

In an alternate history, Nyma's country was hit with two seres, terrible bombs that vaporized two entire cities. The country responded by becoming a major force for world peace. The country has its own seres now, but it has put a terrible price on the use of them. When a new president takes office, the launch codes are changed, and inserted, in a capsule, into the chest of a ten-year-old child. To get them, to launch the seres, the president himself must kill the child and cut the capsule out of their chest.

Nyma is the carrier for the newly elected president, and the country is at war against a dangerous enemy. She acts as an aide, and is around him nearly constantly. The idea is that, if she is a real person to him, he won't be able to use the weapons he says "should always be on the table. The question is, will it work?

It's  dark story, and yet life-affirming. I've liked the other short story finalists I've read so far, but this one just hits it out of the park. Highly recommended.

I received this story in the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Ten Excerpts From an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island, by Nibedita Sen

Nightmare, May 2019

This is an odd one, a horror story in the form of an academic annotated bibliography, about an island of cannibal women and the consequences of their first contact with the British, in 1893.

Much of the population gets wiped out, possibly because the British noticed they were cannibals. and two young girls are brought back to England. They're sent to a girls' boarding school, the Churchill School, and seem to be adjusting really well, until they reach seventeen. "The Churchill Dinner" is one of the first really alarming references.

We get, over the next few pages, a succession of brief excerpts from academic papers over the years down to 2017. In these, we see both the bewilderment and confusion of the "civilized" people, and confusion and frustration of the descendants of those two "rescued" girls, finding that they don't quite fit in anywhere, with brown skins, Ratnabari eating preferences, English clothing, and English language.

I think it's very good, but I can't quite connect with it. It's a story I probably wouldn't have read at all, if it weren't a Hugo finalist.

I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

A Catalog of Storms, by Fran Wilde

Uncanny Magazine, January 2019

A village by the sea, with a steep cliff overlooking it, contends with dangerous and peculiar weather. They have terrible storms, and storms not seen elsewhere, and all they can do is hunker down. Even when there is no storm at the moment, the sky is always gray; blue skies are a memory passed down from past generations.

Then some of the village's young people start fighting the storms. They become "weathermen." One tool in the fight is naming the kinds of storms, which makes it possible to fight them.

This story is told from the viewpoint of the youngest daughter in a family that has a tendency to produce weathermen. Sila's voice grabbed me and pulled me in.  I found it intriguing and enjoyable. 

I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Do Not Look Back, My Lion, by Alix E. Harrow

Beneath Ceeaseless Skies, January 2019

Eefa has been a good husband to her wife, Talaan, a soldier of Xot, the Golden Butcher. Eefa is a healer, though, and much as she loves Talaan, never a supporter of the wars of conquest.

Eefa has had enough. She's decided to leave.

But Talaan catches up with her, and promises the child she's carrying now won't be a soldier. She won't have her face scarred, promising her to the service of the God of Death. Eefa will have her to raise as a healer.

What follows is the struggle between intentions, promises, and the culture they live in. It's a well-depicted crisis of love, faith, duty, and the demands of an Emperor who needs Talaan for her wars.


I received this story as part of the 2020 Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Life and Times of Prince Albert, by Patrick Allit (author, narrator)

Audible Originals & The Great Courses, February 2020

Prince Albert was the younger son of a fairly minor German prince, and he married the queen of one of the great powers of Europe. They were each among a very short list of eligible marriage partners for each other. That it was a love match was a bonus extra for them.

This isn't a biography of Victoria, or even of Victoria and Albert. This is specifically about Albert, his lie and times, and his unexpected and significant influence on British politics and culture.

Victoria and Albert were both twenty when they married, intelligent, and energetic. However, Albert had received a much better education. This was partly because young men were deemed to be more suited for education than young women, but also because Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent, and the Duchess's lover, Sir John Conroy, were trying to mold Victoria into someone they could easily control. They weren't successful, but that didn't change Victoria's lack of education.