Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Dark Star Rising (Blackwood & Virtue #2), by Bennett R. Coles

HarperVoyager, ISBN 9780063022690, September 2020

Another galactic empire.

A space navy very closely based on the 18th/19th century Age of Sail British navy. This includes propulsion almost entirely by solar sail--seemingly including at FTL speeds. Grappling hooks, boarding parties, cannon.

A reptilian alien species who call themselves Theropods--i.e., the name we give to the category of dinosaurs that includes Tyrannosaurus Rex and the ancestors of birds. Okay. I mean, it seems unlikely, but, okay.

Our heroes, Subcommander Liam Blackwood and Sublieutenant Amelia Virtue, are the executive officer and the quartermaster of HMSS Daring. (That's "His Majesty's Sailing Ship, by the way, not "Space Ship." Those solar sails, able to propel these ships at FTL speeds...) They're hunting down pirates led by the nefarious, mysterious Dark Star. We meet them, and the captain, Commander Sophia Riverton, as well as the ship's doctor, Sublieutenant Dr. Ava Templegrey, as they're heading off to a gala ball while ashore resupplying the ship. Riverton, Blackwood, and Templegrey are all midlevel nobles; Virtue and other crew members we meet are commoners. Within a very hours, they'll be heading off again, much sooner than planned, with a new enemy in addition to the pirate, Dark Star.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Why Evolution is True, by Jerry A. Coyne (author), Victor Bevine (narrator)

Audible Studios, September 2009 (original publication 2008)

This is a pretty good, and comprehensive, discussion of the evidence for evolution, in ways we don't always get it in reports of the latest new findings and the conclusions that scientists have reached.

Coyne's goal is to explain, clearly and thoroughly, how we know evolution is real and factual, and amply supported by solid scientific evidence. It's not "a theory" in the popular sense of that word.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Catfishing on CatNet (CatNet #1), by Naomi Kritzer (author), Casey Turner (narrator), Corey Gagne (narrator)

Audible Studios, November 2019

Steph Taylor and her mother move a lot--roughly every six months or so; sometimes more often. And they don't make friends anywhere; that's her mom's choice. They're in hiding from Steph's stalker father, who burned down their house when she was a small child, and has been chasing them ever since.

At least, that's her mother's story, and Steph remembers just enough that she believes it. Her father is dangerous.

So Steph doesn't have a smartphone, just an old-fashioned flip phone. She can't post any selfies online, or her real name, or her location. They don't stay anywhere long enough for her to make friends, and if she did, she wouldn't be allowed to stay in touch with them when they move again, anyway. Instead, she has her friends on CatNet, her favorite online site. On CatNet, she's Little Brown Bat, and all the friends in her "clowder" have similarly anonymous handles. That includes a moderator, CheshireCat.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, by Nick Bostrom (author), Napoleon Ryan (narrator)

Audible Studios, September 2014

I found this a frustrating book.

It's about artificial intelligence, whether or not we'll achieve it soon, and whether or not it will be good for mere human beings if we do. And while I suspect Bostrom doesn't think so, I found it, overall, depressing.

First, he wants us to understand that, despite repeated failed predictions of imminent true AI, and the fact that computers still mostly do a small subset of what human brains do, but much faster, and we don't even know how consciousness emerges from the biological brain, strong AI is coming, and maybe very soon. Moreover, as soon as we have human-level artificial intelligence, we will almost immediately be completely outstripped by artificial superintelligence. The only hope for us is to start right now working out how to teach the right set of human values to machines, and keep some degree of control of them. If we wait till it happens, it will be much too late.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Rue Stone, by Janet Stock

Janet Stock, September 2019

Janna is working in a little inn with an odd history, enjoying her work, but also wondering how, in their small town, she'll meet someone she wants to marry and have a family with. Among the stories her grandmother and others tell is the story of the rue.

They're strange men who wander the world, with hair and eyes that change color, and carrying a stone that sometimes glows. They are rumored to be legendary lovers.

And sometimes, with a particular woman, their hair and eyes come to match. They will leave their stone with her, go traveling again--and then, eventually, come back.

One busy night at the inn, a rue walks in.

This isn't any folklore I'm familiar with, but that's what it feels like.

It's a sweet and gentle story, and I really thoroughly enjoyed it. Very satisfying.


I received a free electronic galley from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Prime Deceptions (Chilling Effect #2) by Valerie Valdes

Harper Voyager, September 2020

Eva Innocente doesn't want to talk to her sister again.

She doesn't want to call her mother anytime soon.

She and the rest of the crew of La Sirena Negra want paying jobs to pay their bills, and rescue crew member Sue's brother Josh from the Fridge. (It's not clear what the psychic cats sharing the ship want, but they like at least some of the crew members, and know where their purrs are most needed.) An evil organization that is forcing him to work on its nefarious high-tech projects involving banned technology. Sue has been making ransom payments, but no matter how much she pays, Josh doesn't get released.

They're working on what their next move will be when Eva's sister, Mari, an officer with the Forge, contacts her.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Murder by Other Means (The Dispatcher#2), by John Scalzi (author), Zachary Quinto (narrator)

Audible Originals, September 2020

Tony Valdez is serious and professional about his work as a Dispatcher, and normally tries to stick strictly to the legal and ethical side of the business. Times have gotten hard with the declining economy, though, and to keep paying the bills, he's had to take a few jobs that are a little shady.

The latest, for a Chinese businessman who says he needs to get back to Beijing very quickly or lose out on a business deal, is about as close to the line as he's willing to go. He charges a premium for that, and is paid in cash.

These, seemingly coincidentally, after a series of stops to pay some bills, leads him to be in the lobby of his bank just as a bank robbery happens. There are some very odd features to this bank robbery, but that's nothing to the series of deaths that happen afterward.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage, by John McWhorter

The Great Courses, July 2013

John McWhorter is always enjoyable and informative when talking about the English language, and this is no exception. 

It's often popular to talk about the decline of English, bad grammar, and the Awful Effects of texting and email on how we speak and write. We may also tend to think that people doing a foreign language are doing something much more impressive than we are in speaking English,

McWhorter shows us how the things we often denounce as Bad Grammar are often the English language changing in response to changes in our lives, the kinds of changes that English has been undergoing for a thousand years or more--such as the often-denounced verbing of nouns--and normal cultural changes.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

People Don't Do Such Things, by Ruth Rendell (author), Mike Walker (narrator), Reece Shearsmith (narrator), Laura Pyper (narrator), and Michael Maloney (narrator)

Serial Box, September 2020

It's the 1970s. Sid Vicious has just died, and Margaret Thatcher is moving up in the political world. Arthur and Gwen Hitchcock are a suburban London couple. Arthur is an accountant, and he has an exciting new client--Reeve Baker, a popular writer of historical novels. Reeve is also an enormous egotist, who uses his charm as a weapon. 

Reeve's "friendship" is going to be very destructive for the couple. This is an interesting, if dark, study of three very different characters.


I got this audiobook as a Serial Box Thursday night freebie.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Heavenly Desire, by Becca Fisher (author), Stephanie Richardson (narrator)

Kevin MacGorman, January 2020

The Kaufmans' three daughters are all married now, the youngest, Miriam, most recently. Miriam is thinking about how to keep romance alive in her marriage for the long term, inspired in part by her parents' approaching 40th wedding anniversary.

The elder Kaufmans are still in love, but there's a cloud on their happiness, and has been for a decade--since their oldest daughter, Abigail, left Lancaster for Philadelphia, and married an outsider. Samuel was appalled, and raged at both her departure from Amish life, and her rejection of his plan for her: marrying the fine young man he'd chosen for her, and inheriting the family's quilt shop. Though she's had some contact with her sisters, Abigail hasn't been back to visit since her break with her father.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Falling in Love With Hominids, by Nalo Hopkinson (author), Bahni Turpin (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781515942634, September 2019 

This is a wonderful collection of short stories, and Nalo Hopkinson, as the writer, and Bahni Turpin, as the narrator, kept me listening to stories that were just straight up horror that I would ordinarily just skip right over. Along with the horror, there's dark fantasy, lighter, happier fantasy, and even a couple of stories that can fairly be called science fiction. There's a reworking of the story of Caliban, and a new Bordertown story. It's an impressive range.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Cat on the Edge (Joe Grey #1), by Shirley Rousseau Murphy (author), Susan Boyce (narrator)

Blackstone Audio, March 2013 (original publication January 1996)

Joe Grey is a cat who has been through a lot of changes in the last week or two. He can suddenly understand human language. Sitting with his human, Clyde, while Clyde reads out loud to him, he finds he can even read the words on the page.

That's unsettling enough. Then he discovers he can speak human language.

Joe does not regard this as a Great Step Forward. It's very upsetting to him. He likes being a cat. Clyde's human friends are a lot more annoying, now that he can understand their conversation--entirely focused on things cats consider trivial.

But he might have found ways to appreciate these changes, with some time. Instead, he and one of his cat friends, Dulcie, who has experienced the same changes, witness the murder of a business associate of Clyde's. And the killer sees them. Not only sees them, but apparently realizes that they can tell what they've seen--that they are witnesses who matter. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man, by Mary Trump

Simon & Schuster, July 2020

Mary Trump, niece of Donald Trump, has written a short, highly readable, interesting, and informative book about her uncle. It's about how damaged parents raised even more damaged children, especially the "favorite," Donald himself.

It's not a political exposé. You will be disappointed if that's what you're looking for. 

Donald was the fourth of five children, and the second of three sons, of Fred Trump and Mary Anne Trump. He was two years old, and his brother Robert, the one recently buried from the White House, was only nine months old, when their mother became very ill and was suddenly hospitalized. It was months before she recovered, to the extent that she did, and in the interim, Fred didn't bother to parent the kids at all; that was Mary Anne's job. It was not his job, even when she wasn't available to do it.

However good a parent Mary Anne Trump may have been before this illness, she was much less able to be an effective parent afterward. Mary Trump, based on what her aunts, father, and possibly her uncles told her, says that Mary Anne was the type of mother who used her children to comfort herself, rather than comforting them.