Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Grim Tales, by E. Nesbit (author), Peter Yearsley (narrator)

LibriVox (original publication 1904)

I had no idea Edith Nesbit wrote for adults, but, since she did, it makes sense she'd write at least some horror.

A total of seven stories, they're darkly creepy rather than filled with screaming, dramatic incidents of terror, and gore.

A man in love is approached by another woman he knows with a letter his beloved wrote to the woman's brother--a passionate love letter. He ends his engagement, and gradually, comes to love, and marry, the woman who exposed the truth. But was it the truth? Was the letter a forgery? Can the answer to both questions be "yes"? He makes a tragically wrong decision, and has a tragically dark encounter.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth, by Joseph Campbell (author), Evans Lansing Smith (editor)

New World Library, ISBN 9781608688289, first paperback printing August 2022

Joseph Campbell was a professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College, and wrote extensively about comparative mythology. His "hero's journey" theory has been extremely influential.

This book is a collection of his lectures and writings on the Arthurian adventures and Grail Quests of the Middle Ages, specifically the "Matter of Britain" stories of the 12th and 13th centuries. These are the stories, or the basis of the stories, of Arthur's court and its knights and ladies that we are most familiar with, and have nothing to do with the probable historical Arthur figure of the late 5th/early 6th centuries who may have led the Celtic Britons in resistance against the invading Saxons. If the historical Arthur existed, Arthur would have most likely been a nickname or title, not his name.

And that's not the Arthur Campbell was interested in. He was in it for the mythology, the fantastical adventures, the stories of the Grail, the Fisher King, the Dolorous Stroke, Tristan and Isolde. He makes it fascinating.

In these lectures, essays, and his previously unpublished master's thesis, "A Study of the Dolorous Stroke," he traces the origins of these myths and legends, the sources in Celtic mythology, influences from Greek, Islamic, and Indian myths and poetry, and the transition from originally religious mythology to perhaps the first secular mythology, influencing and influenced by the emerging customs of courtly love.

That Greek mythology would have influenced European poetry and story-telling is of course just a given. Islamic influence is also not very surprising, given that much of Spain was occupied by Muslims who had conquered the territory. I was initially quite startled by the idea of Indian influence. That seemed a reach--until I reminded myself of the Silk Road and the trade and communication between Muslims in Europe and the Middle East, and Muslims in India. The contributions to one of the most popular, influential, and lasting story cycles of Europe was truly not just international, but from the entire Eurasian world. That's part of why we see repeated themes told differently, including the "dolorous stroke" that wounded the Fisher King and made his kingdom a wasteland until the true and proper knight arrived to set things right, occurring several different times, with kings of different names. And while the "dolorous stroke" is most often from a spear, sometimes it's a sword.

There are even echoes of some of the Arthurian themes in African stories from cultures distant enough to wonder if this is influence, or an underlying theme arising in more than one culture.

It's interesting, complex, not always an easy read, but well worth the time and the effort. Highly recommended.

I received a copy of this book as a gift, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Moon Over Soho (Rivers of London #2), by Ben Aaronovitch (author), Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781452680088, September 2012 (original publication October 2011)

Peter Grant, Patrol Constable and apprentice Wizard with the Metropolitan Police, is called in by Dr. Walid to listen to a corpse.

Cyrus Wilkinson, jazz musician by night and accountant by day, died suddenly, right after a performance, apparently of natural causes. However, in the process of doing the postmortem, Walid hears a song. He recognizes it as jazz, but jazz isn't his thing, and it is, if not Peter's, at least his father's. Richard Grant, nicknamed "Lord" Grant by his fellow musicians, stood on the brink of becoming a jazz legend twice, and managed to destroy his own career both times. Peter has grown up with jazz. He recognizes the song as "Body and Soul," but can't identify the musician. The fact that this remnant of music is clinging to the body, though, means that some really powerful magic was involved in Wilkinson's death. There's a killer out there, using magic, and he has to be caught. That means it's Peter's business, or rather the Folly's, which means--Peter and his boss, Thomas Nightingale.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Corpse of Discovery (The Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries #9), by Karen Musser Nortman (author), Michelle Babb (narrator)

Karen Musser Nortman, September 2022

Frannie Shoemaker and husband Larry, along with friends Mickey and Jane-Ann Ferraro, and Rob and Donna--I think but will not swear I heard their last name as Kenwick--are on another RV camping adventure. Like many of their previous trips, this will be a little more exciting than they would really prefer.

This time they're at a campground adjacent to an annual celebration of Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery exploration of the massive land purchase, the Louisiana Purchase. There will be demonstrations and reenactments of the craftwork, survival skills, clothing, everyday life and food, and Native American dances. It should all be so much fun...

Friday, September 23, 2022

A Brief History of Black Holes: And Why Nearly Everything You Know About Them is Wrong, by Becky Smethurst (author, narrator)

Macmillan, September 2022

Becky Smethurst is an astrophysicist with a great love of black holes, and a desire to share her enthusiasm for them with the rest of us.

She tries to cover, concisely but with absorbing detail, everything important about them, starting with the important facts that they're not black, and they're not holes. They're not black because an active black hole has an accretion disk which generates a great deal of light and other radiation. They're not holes, because that absolute darkness inside the accretion disk isn't a void. It's an immensely dense accumulation of matter, usually many, many times the mass of a star--certainly our star. Smethurst compares  black holes to mountains, which I find not personally satisfying, but entirely reasonable.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, by David Reich (author), John Lescault (narrator)

Blackstone Publishing, ISBN 9781982541286, June 2018

This is the least satisfying of the books I've read/listened to about genetics and the history of human evolution.

In many ways it's excellent. Reich is voracious in absorbing and telling us about other people's research as well as his own. His ego isn't tied up in his own theories; he's enthusiastic in reporting on research results that overturn his own theories and prior work. In many ways, it's both informative and enjoyable.

And yet. Reich seems utterly unaware that he has any biases. He says he's arguing against racism, being very clear that our traditional ideas about race just have no basis in science. Then he goes on to say that the best way to study human genetics is by large population groups, and that some large modern population groups have been separated long enough for significant differences of cognition and temperament to exist.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Fair Trade (Liaden Universe #24), by Sharon Lee (author), Steve Miller (author)

Baen  Books, May 2022

Jethri Gobelyn was born and raised on a Terran family Loop ship, where he was an unfavored junior, resented by the Captain for reasons of family history. Unexpected events led to him being taken aboard the Liaden tradeship Elthoria, and rising to the rank of second trader under his foster mother, Norn ven'Deelin Clan Ixin.

Now new changes are coming into his life. He's being transferred to be Lead Trader on a smaller Liaden ship, attending his first big Terran trade conference, and taking the lead position in pushing for the adoption of his late father's plan to revamp the trade loops to enable the small Looper ships like the one he grew up on to survive the encroachment of Rostov's Dust.

Friday, September 16, 2022

What Abigail Did That Summer (Rivers of London #5.3), by Ben Aaronovitch

Subterranean Press, ISBN 9781645240280, March 2021

This is a novella in the Rivers of London series.

Abigail Kamara, younger cousin of police constable and apprentice wizard Peter Grant, has been left largely unsupervised while he's off in the  sticks on a case. This leaves Abigail making her own decisions when she notices that kids roughly her age are disappearing--but not staying missing long enough for the police to care.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson (author), Katie Schorr (narrator)

Blackstone Publishing, ISBN 9781538522035, May 2019

Content Warnings: domestic violence, sexual assault, bigotry

The content warnings are things that made this a rough read for me, and more than once nearly stopped me finishing it. Some readers may conclude I'm a bit oversensitive, given there's no really gruesome detail, but truly, for me, emotionally it was rough.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The World Before Us: The New Science Behind Our Human Origins, by Tom Higham (author), John Sackville (narrator )

Yale Press Audio, ISBN 9780300263985, August 2021

Tom Higham gives us a fascinating, absorbing history of our species and our genus. We're the last genus Homo species standing, but 50,000 years ago, we were not alone.

Not so long ago, we thought that 50,000 years ago, there were homo sapiens and homo neanderthalensis, and that Neanderthals died out because Sapiens were smarter and more adaptable, and perhaps more deadly to our cousins than they to us. We met in Europe, and they went extinct.

Then recovery and analysis of ancient DNA advanced dramatically, and we got some major surprises.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Paladin's Hope (The Saint of Steel #3), by T. Kingfisher (author), Joel Richards (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9788765012147, May 2022

Piper is the lich-doctor--effectively, the medical examiner for a district of the city of Archon's Glory. He played a role in the investigation of the "smooth men," who were leaving headless bodies around for unclear reasons. 

Galen is one of the surviving Paladins of the Saint of Steel, a god who died, leaving his paladins to run berserk for just long enough that only seven of them are left alive. They're now in the service of the Temple of the White Rat. Galen is recently returned from a mission in which he played a mostly secondary role in the final resolution of the "smooth men" problem.

Piper and Galen find each other extremely attractive, and are each certain it's just hopeless, for different reasons. What draws time together into a new investigation is a new set of mysterious deaths, several bodies found floating in the river, each killed in different and hard to explain ways.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Existential Physics: A Scientist's Guide to Life's Biggest Questions, Sabine Hossenfelder (author), Gina Daniels (narrator)

Penguin Random House Audio, ISBN 9780593592885, August 2022

Like The Disordered Cosmos, this is a book by a woman physicist, taking about her life and work in physics. And that's pretty much where the resemblance ends.

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is a black American woman of Caribbean descent on her mother's side and Russian Jewish descent on her father's, who describes herself as a Reconstructionist Jew. She's encountered, and engaged strongly with, issues of racism and sexism in the world of physics. She says it has robbed her of a lot of the joy of doing physics.

Sabine Hossenfelder is a white German woman who hasn't encountered, or chooses not to mention, any issues of sexism in her professional life. She expresses seemingly pure joy in doing physics. That makes this a much easier book to listen to, though as I  mentioned in my review, Prescod-Weinstein engaging those hard issues makes it a valuable book in its own right.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible, and A Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure, by Stant Litore

Daniel Fusch, 2019

This is a really interesting and enjoyable book about reading the Bible, what we've lost in translation, and how the message of both the Old and the New Testaments has been altered by both the difficulties of translation between different languages, and different cultures. While Jews still read the Jewish Bible in Hebrew, Christians read it in translation. And while no translation can ever be perfect, in many instances in the Bible, the early translations, made at a time much closer to at least the New Testament, and with more communication between Christians and Jews who were often still part of the same communities, have continued to influence our translations as the meanings attached to critical words and phrases have changed.

One example is the phrase, "woman of virtue." The original, Litore explains, is closer to "woman of valor." "Virtue" is from the Roman word "virtu," which was much closer, thought not exact, to the sense of the original Hebrew.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred, by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (author), Joniece Abbott-Pratt (narrator)

Hachette Audio, ISBN 9781549133961, March 2021

This is simultaneously a book about about physics and in particular dark matter, and an account of what it's like to be a black American woman of Caribbean extraction in the world of science, and in particular in physics.

Prescod-Weinstein loves physics, and started loving physics as a child, looking up at the night sky. Later in the book, she notes that her childhood in Los Angeles gave her no idea what she was missing until later in life, when she was a working theoretical cosmologist and astrophysicist. When, in the course of the book, she's talking about physics, she's often expressing joy and excitement.

When she's talking about being a black American woman of Caribbean extraction working in physics, not so much.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy (Monk & Robot #2), by Becky Chambers (author), Em Grosland (narrator)

Macmillan Audio, ISBN 9781250808646, July 2022

The tea monk Sibling Dex, and the robot Mosscap, are arriving back in the human-inhabited areas, so that Mosscap can pursue his mission of discovering the answer to a great question. What do humans want?

As they arrive in the first village, the people greet them with enthusiasm, Yet when Mosscap asks its question, the responses are all very practical--a door needs repair, a bicycle has a flat tire, some more complex machinery needs repair. Dex is worried that Mosscap is being taken advantage of, but Mosscap is happy to help, and feels it is learning something useful about humans. As they travel, Mosscap gets very similar answers everywhere--very practical, immediate needs on the one hand, and on the other, a desire for everyone to have their social and emotional needs met as well as the practical ones.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Star Born (Pax/Astra #2), by Andre Norton (author), Mark F. Smith (narrator)

LibriVox, October 2007 (original publication January 1957)

Dalgard Nordis is the descendent of the Free Scientists, who fled an Earth brutally ruled by Pax, and established a colony on the planet they called Astra. They made the journey mostly in cold sleep, and on awaking and landing, built their colony. However, they also met natives--the fur-covered mermen. The mermen, equally comfortable on land and in the water, were just starting to emerge from the water, where they had retreated when escaping the brutal rule of the species they call Those Others, who now seem to be gone.

Dalgard is traveling with his merman friend, Ssuri, on the exploration trip whose successful completion will see him welcomed as a full adult when he arrives back at the colony.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Victories Greater Than Death (Unstoppable #1), by Charlie Jane Anders

Tor Teen, ISBN 9781250317315, April 2021

Tina Mains knows she doesn't have to worry about being ordinary. She's known since she was quite young that she's the clone of an alien war hero, hidden, disguised, on Earth, and when the time comes, the beacon implanted in her body will activate, and her life will change. In the meantime, she just has to survive high school.

When it happens, though, suddenly she's being hunted by the enemies of the woman she was cloned from before the starship that will take her to her destiny even arrives. When it does, barely in the nick of time, she and her best friend, Rachel, are injured, and need the resources of the ship's sick bay before anything else.

But the ship is more battered, worn, and short of crew than it is a shiny, powerful battle cruiser, and it turns out that the Royal Fleet has been counting on the return of their late hero more than she had imagined possible. Tina, Rachel, and four more teenagers they recruit using video games, soon find they will need to learn fast, and start coming up with their own ideas, if they're going to face anything other than the defeat and destruction of the ship they're on.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Bark to the Future (Chet & Bernie #13) Spencer Quinn (author), Jim Frangione (narrator)

Recorded Books, ISBN 9781705060179, August 2022

Chet and Bernie are back, with another mystery to solve--though it takes them a while to find a client for this case. They meet an older man, clearly hard-used by life, whom Bernie is shocked to realize is a high school classmate. Rocket was a teammate on the high school baseball team, and made a game-winning save that took them to the state championship.

Something, clearly, happened after that high point. Bernie and Chet take him out for a good meal, then drop him off at the highway off ramp he considers his territory.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Beasts Before Us: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and Evolution, by Elsa Panciroli (author), Ruth Urquhart (narrator)

Tantor Media Inc., ISBN 9781666142747, September 2021

For a long time, most of us have had the impression mammals first emerged in the late Cretaceous, not long before the asteroid that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs, 66 million years ago. In reality, as Elsa Panciroli explains here, the line that became mammals, the Synapsida, began their split from reptiles in the late Carboniferous, over 300 million years ago.

Panciroli doesn't just tell us about the mammals, but about women as well as men who did important work in uncovering the fascinating, and longer than we often assume, history of mammals. She also talks about some of the less attractive history of paleontological research, the degree to which racism produced not just imperialistic dismissal of local knowledge and observations, but real crimes. This isn't, however, a politicized history; it's just reporting facts about the history of paleontology that are often ignored.

Friday, August 12, 2022

What to Say Next: Successful Communication in Work, Life, and Love—with Autism Spectrum Disorder, by Sarah Nannery (author), Larry Nannery (author), Kelsey Navarro (narrator)

Simon & Schuster Audio, ISBN 9781797116150, March 2021

Sarah Nannery, as a young professional with autism spectrum disorder, got her first job at a small non-profit, sure she knew what she needed to do to move ahead. Instead, she found she was missing messages and hidden meanings in her coworkers texts, emails, conversations, and actions.

After a particularly confusing and frustrating experience, she started consulting her neurotypical husband Larry. This became a series of consultations mostly via text. Sarah learns more about how neurotypicals think, and how to communicate. Along the way, Larry and Sarah learn more about communicating with each other, and raising, managing, and communicating with their autistic son.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

We Could Be Heroes, by Mike Chen

MIRA, January 2021

Jamie Sorensen woke up, two years ago, in a small, barren apartment, with a pile of paperwork saying the lease was being paid by a company called 2D, suggesting his name might be Jamie Sorensen, and telling him he could read people's memories. He quickly acquired a needy little cat he named Normal, and took up a career robbing banks, and becomes known as the Mind Robber. His long-term career goal is to save up enough money to move himself and Normal to a Caribbean island, where he can spend most of every day reading memoirs.

Zoe Wong also woke up in small, barren apartment, with a similar pile of paperwork. Hers includes a cheap, stick-on name tag that says "Zoe Wong." A note tells her, "you're stronger than you think you are." She doesn't acquire any pets, and she takes up the perfectly legal activity of putting her newly discovered strength, speed, and ability to hover in the air to work in fast food delivery. When convenient, she beats up bad guys, and accidentally becomes known as the Throwing Star. She wants to figure out who she really is, and her hobby is watching horror movies on a free movie app.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Big Data: How the Information Revolution is Transforming our Lives, by Brian Clegg (author), Alex Moorcock (narrator)

Dreamscape Media, ISBN 9781666532036, August 2021

We live in a world of big data, with government, corporations, social media, and all kinds of organizations in possession of vast amounts of quite personal data about us--most of which we've handed over ourselves.

That's just one piece big data, though. The accumulation of enormous amounts of data, and the use of modern, advanced computers to process it, has affected every area of our lives and our world. Not much over two centuries ago, medicine was still largely a matter of trial and error, and medical theories we know to be completely wrong.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

The Grief of Stones (The Cemeteries of Amalo #2), by Katherine Addison (author), Liam Gerrard (narrator)

Macmillan Audio, ISBN 9781250856616, June 2022

This is the direct sequel to Witness for the Dead, picking up Thara Celehar's life immediately after those events. Thara spends mornings in his office, waiting for petitioners for his services as a Witness for the dead, and has a steady enough traffic to make it not pointless. He responds to calls from the Vigilant Brotherhood, or other authorities as necessary. He has cats who aren't his (he's very firm about that), but whom he feeds regularly, and a few friends.

But though he's settling in, he's also extremely depressed. This isn't new, but it's not getting better. He's caught in a conflict with a local religious authority, Dach'othalar Vernezar, who is angered by the fact that Thara is the only cleric in Amalo who isn't under his authority. Thara's presence in the city was request by Prince Orchenis, and he was appointed directly by the Archprelate. It's an uncomfortable position to be in, and it gives him powerful enemies.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Tales from the Ant World, by Edward O. Wilson (author), Jonathan Hogan (narrator)

Recorded Books, ISBN 9781980091714, August 2020

Edward O. Wilson was a highly respected and accomplished myrmecologist, i.e., an expert on ants.

You may not think ants are fascinating, but in this book, narrated by Jonathan Hogan, Wilson geeks out about them with joy. In this short book, he gives us overviews of twenty-five different species of ants. Fire ants and leafcutter ants, the fastest-moving ants and the slowest-moving ants, ants who conduct slave raids to steal juveniles who will emerge into adulthood in the raiders' colony and grow up as part of that colony. Ants who farm and ants who keep "cattle." 

Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest (Newford #18), by Charles de Lint (author), Charles Vess (illustrator)

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, March 2013

Lillian Kindred is an orphan girl living with her Aunt on a farm in the hills, surrounded by a very tangled forest. When she is not doing chores, she wanders the forest, looking for fairies and spirits and spirits and magical things. Aunt warns her spirits don't necessarily want rambunctious little red-haired girls bothering them, Lillian says she's not bothering anyone. She just wants to say, "Hello hello."

One day, Lillian is out wandering, and lays down under a tree to rest. She falls asleep, and is awakened by a snake biting her. It's poisonous, very poisonous, and Lillian realizes she is dying. 

Many of the local cats gather around her, though, and realize that they can't save the little girl's life, but they can use cat magic to change her into something that isn't dying--a kitten. Lillian agrees, and when she wakes again, she's a kitten, and very healthy. This is when Lillian starts to get her first tough lesson in not thinking things through. She heads off for home, knowing Aunt will be worried about her.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Memories and Murder (A Tourist Trap Mystery #10), by Lynn Cahoon (author), Susan Boyce (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781977333155, November 2019

Jill Gardner hosts a talk on elder abuse at her Coffee, Books, & More shop, but doesn't think it has any personal bearing until she learns her aging Aunt Jackie has been getting some very strange calls. They're from a man claiming to be her deceased husband, Ted. This is very concerning, and Jill asks her boyfriend, local Police Chief Greg King, for help tracking down the predator.

Unfortunately, a more urgent crime takes his attention. A man has been murdered. He's a volunteer at The Senior Project, and boyfriend of the elder counselor, Paula, who gave the elder abuse talk at Jill's shop.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Iron Widow (Iron Widow #1), by Xiran Jay Zhao

Penguin Teen, ISBN 9780735269934, September 2021

Huaxia is trapped in a brutal war against the invading Hundun' They fight the Hunduns' powerful machines, called husks, with Huaxia's own Chrysalises, which are more powerful and more flexible--but which can be made only from captured Hundun husks.

The Chrysalises are piloted by two-person teams, a boy and a girl, using their spirit force. It takes two, but the girls rarely survive a battle, and it's the boys who become celebrated war heroes. The boys are pilots; the girls are concubine-pilots, mostly anonymous. They're genuinely young, in their teens and early twenties, with even the most successful pilots not lasting past 25.

Zetian, 18 years old, a frontier village girl, is finally ready to stop fighting her family, and enlist to become a concubine-pilot. Her motive isn't patriotism or glory, though. Her older sister enlisted before her--and was murdered by her pilot, Yang Guang. Her goal is to avenge her sister's death, and kill Yang Guang.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Mystery on Hidden Lane (Eve Mallow Mystery #1), by Clare Chase (author), Eilidh Beaton (narrator)

Audible Audio, January 2020

Eve Mallow is in the little village of Saxton St. Peter, on her latest assignment, to write a feature obituary of the famed cellist, Bernard Fitzpatrick. Her wirehaired dachshund, Gus, is with her, and she has rented a picturesque cottage with a picturesque history for her stay. The villagers are friendly, and the subject is interesting.

The subject gets more interesting when it's revealed that Bernard Ftizpatrick didn't die due to a fall. He was killed with a blow to the back of his head with a blunt instrument.

Eve isn't willing to leave the investigation to the police, especially after meeting the detective in charge. She also quickly realizes that Fitzpatrick's genial reputation isn't supported by the people who actually knew him well.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Paladin's Strength (The Saint of Steel #2), by T. Kingfisher (author), Joel Richards (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781666135046, November 2021 (original publication February 2021)

Istvhan and Galen, two of the surviving Paladins of the Saint of Steel, are trailing the supernatural killers, the Smooth Men. 

Clara is a sister of the mysterious Order of St. Ursa, tracking the raiders who burned her convent and kidnapped her sisters. 

When they cross paths, neither is telling the whole truth. Istvhan and Galen are presenting themselves as simple mercenaries leading a small unit escorting a shipment of expensive whiskey barrels. Clara isn't telling them why the convent was burned and her sisters kidnapped, or why the Order of St. Ursa exists. They're traveling in the same general direction, though, so it makes sense to join up, especially as Clara's skills include good fighting skills and superior wilderness skills.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Larry at Number 10, by E.C. Radcliffe (author), Dave Hill (illustrator)

Matador, January 2021

Larry is the famous Chief Mouser at No. 10 Downing Street, the official residence, of the UK's Prime Minister. This is a children's picture book about Larry's adventures.

Larry has been through a few Prime Ministers, but the newest official chief resident has committed an outrage; he has brought in a dog! Is this dog, Dilyn, good at mousing? Not unless it's a squeaky toy mouse! Does he do dutiful paw-trol with Larry? He does not! Is he even capable of sitting on a windowsill, keeping lookout? Of course not! On top of everything, instead of chasing mice, he chases sausage strings!

That's along with getting walks, tickles, and compliments on how adorable the silly dog is, while Larry is busy meeting Im-purrtant People.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

A Liaden Universe Constellation: Volume 1 (Liaden Universe #stories), by Sharon Lee (author), Steve Miler (author), Kevin T. Collins (narrator)

Audible Audio, June 2022 (original publication June 2013)

This is a collection of seventeen shorter Liaden Universe stories, and it reflects all the different aspects of that universe. We have several Moonhawk and Lute stories. These feel very much like fantasy, but this is the world Priscilla, future lifemate of Shan yos'Galan. Val Con yos'Phelium, as a young Scout, meets his first Clutch Turtle. 

Monday, June 27, 2022

Star Surgeon, by Alan E. Nourse (author), Scott D. Farquhar (narrator)

LibriVox, June 2007 (original publication 1959)

Dal Timgar wants to be a surgeon. He's dreamed of it most of his life, and he has the intelligence and the discipline to do it.

Unfortunately, he's a Garvian, an alien, humanoid, but not human. No non-human has ever studied medicine on Hospital Earth; Dal is the first. And he's mostly not welcome.

When Earth developed a faster than light space drive, they also discovered a thriving Galactic Federation, composed of myriad different races. Each of them contributes some particular talent or achievement. Dal's race, the Garvians, are merchants, and especially good at managing people.

Earth's specialty is medicine. Since having a valued specialty is the price of full admission to the Galactic Federation, Earth, now "Hospital Earth," is determined to protect the reputation of its doctors and medical technology. 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Light from Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki

Tor Books, ISBN 9781250789075, September 2021

Lan Tran is the captain of a spaceship, and has, with her family, fled a galactic war to the backwater planet called Earth. They have purchased the Starrgate Donut shop from the retiring Thamavuongs, promising they would continue to make donuts, and not tear down the giant white donut. In fact, Lan Tran has plans for that giant donut.

Shizuka Satomi is a violin player, a renowned violin teacher, and a woman who has a pact with a demon. Due to an error in judgment when she was young, she owes Hell seven souls in return for not being consigned to Hell herself. She has delivered six, and has just one more year to deliver the seventh. In the course of her search, she by chance goes to the Starrgate Donut Shop, and met Lan Tran.

Katrina is a young trans woman, who has fled San Francisco for LA, to escape the father who objects, quite violently, to her violin playing and her trans identity. Unfortunately, the friend she thought would give her a safe landing in LA proves to be less of a friend than she thought. She winds up homeless again--but she has met Shizuka Satomi in a nearby park, and Miss Satomi had, after hearing her play her violin, urged her to call.

Friday, June 24, 2022

My Evil Mother: A Short Story, by Margaret Atwood

Amazon Original Stories, April 2022

It was never easy being a teenage girl in 1950s suburbia,, even without your mother being a witch. Well, maybe a witch. Maybe she's just very weird. Maybe she's just trying to protect her daughter from the dangers of the world.

Possibly the three aren't mutually exclusive.

Regardless, her mother doesn't quite fit in, despite pearls and floral aprons. There are the quiet but not completely secret conversations with neighborhood women in distress, suspicious plants in the garden, and the stern warning to avoid a boyfriend lest she die in the car crash that's going to kill him.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi (author), Wil Wheaton (narrator)

Audible Studios, March 2022

When covid hits New York City, and the rest of the country, Jamie Gray is stuck in a dead-end job, as a driver for food delivery apps. Barely scrapping by, Jamie is bearing most of the cost of an apartment shared with three roommates. The struggle to keep things together is about to fall apart, when an old classmate, now most regular customer, suggests that Jamie apply for a job at KJS, his own employer. He knows there's an opening, and Jamie can do the job.

I'm going to stop right here and say that Jamie's gender is never identified. This can slip right by the
 reader or listener at first, because the story is told in first person, but Jamie's gender is never identified.

Jamie goes through a grueling screening process, which certainly makes it clear the job is in a remote location, in the tropics, requiring an improbably large number of vaccinations, and cut off from any contact with civilization.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Adult Assembly Required, by Abbi Waxman

Berkley Publishing Group, ISBN 9780593198766, May 2022

Laura Costello has left New York City and moved to Los Angeles, and is barely settled in to her new apartment when the building burns while she's out shopping.

And then it starts raining.

She takes refuge in a bookstore, and makes her first new friends. Nina the bookseller more or less adopts her, Polly decides she's the right person to fill the newly-empty room at the very eccentric rooming house she lives in. The cat that experiences her very wet clothing forgives her.

When they reach the rooming house, Maggie the owner accepts her, she gratefully accepts the room, and she meets some of her new roommates, including Impossibly Handsome Bob, who happens to have the room next to hers, and shares the bathroom with her.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Crosstime (Crosstime/Blake Walker #1 & 2) by Andre Norton (author), Graham Rowat (narrator)

Tantor Audio, ISBN 9781666101126, March 2021 (original publication audio omnibus edition March 2008) (The Crossroads of Time original publication 1956) (Quest Crosstime original publication 1965)

Blake Walker was found as an orphaned or abandoned child, and raised as the child of the police officer who found him. He has no memories before that day, but while wholly human, he doesn't look quite like any familiar ethnic group. He also has a strange ability; he has a very reliable sense for when something seriously bad is about to happen.

Years later, in Crossroads of Time, he's in New York City, about to enroll in art school, when his sense of impending danger leads to him thwarting an attempted murder. 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Fireheart Tiger, by Aliette de Bodard

Tor.com, ISBN 9781250793270 February 2021

Thanh is a princess sent off at twelve as a hostage to another, allied nation Ephteria. Her experiences over the next ten years include falling in love with Princess Eldris, who will someday be Queen of Ephteria, and surviving a fire that destroys a palace there, and kills a lot of people. 

In the course of escaping that fire, she meets Giang, a servant girl from her own country of Binh Hai, who helped her get out of the burning palace, and whom she could never locate afterward.

Now she's back in Binh Hai, the least favored daughter of the Empress, and nominally responsible for managing negotiations with Ephteria. Ephteria has been growing stronger, a threat at least as much as an ally and trading partner, and negotiations will be tricky. Along with the more usual members of the delegation, Princess Eldris has come, and she has her own plans.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Miss Leavitt's Stars: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe (Great Discoveries), by George Johnson (author), Stephen Bowlby (narrator)

Blackstone Publishing, May 2022 

In the early years of the 20th century, a "computer" was a person, an actual flesh and blood human being, who was good at math. These computers were often women, because women were so much cheaper to hire. You could perfectly legally and openly offer much lower wages to women than to men, for the same work.

One of these women was Henrietta Swan Leavitt, employed by the Harvard Observatory to calculate the positions and luminosities of stars in astronomical photographs.

There were two competing theories about the size of the universe at the time. One held that the Milky Way, our galaxy, was the entire universe, and the nebulae seen outside it were just wispy gas clouds. The other held that those nebulae were, in fact, other "island universes"--other galaxies like our own. It was Henrietta Leavitt who did the calculations that made it possible to answer the question. 

Saturday, June 18, 2022

The Past Is Red, by Catherynne M. Valente

Tordotcom, ISBN 9781250301130, July 2021

I'm honestly not sure how I feel about this one. No question it's well-written, with some interesting characters.

It's set on a floating garbage patch after global warming has wiped out human civilization, as the rising oceans has drowned the land. The people surviving call the garbage patch the story is set on Garbagetown. Brighton Pier, the actual Brighton Pier, has been equipped with engines, and is traveling, apparently, among various floating garbage patch settlements. Early on, Garbagetown engaged in the Great Sorting, and one result is that, whatever you need, you know where to go to get it--assuming it's part of the wreckage of the civilization now called Fuckwits, that collected in this garbage patch.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher (author), Amara Jasper (narrator)

Macmillan Audio, ISBN 9781250824776, April 2022

When we first meet Marra, she's building a bone dog in a barren, haunted wilderness. That's not where her story starts.

Marra is the third of three royal daughters, the youngest, the least apt, both socially and politically, but she loves her sisters and her mother. We don't hear much of her father, the king, mainly because it's the queen who has the good head for politics, and he lets her handle things.

Marra is heartbroken when her oldest sister, Damia, is married off to Prince Vorling, heir of the large and powerful Northern Kingdom, which has designs on their little harbor-focused kingdom--because of that very valuable harbor, through which so much valuable trade flows. But Damia dies far too soon after the wedding, and in mysterious circumstances, and after a year of official mourning, the next sister, Kania, is married off to him. Marra is sent off to a convent, she assumes because she's useless and will be happier there. Her mother loves her, but she hasn't lost track of the fact that Marra, too, is a royal princess. She's being kept in reserve.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks, by David Rooney (author, narrator)

Recorded Books, ISBN 9781705051788, October 2021

This is a history, not of time, but of timekeeping and clocks, and how clocks have changed our lives.

Rooney grew up with parents who were clockmakers, and pursued a career in the maintenance and history of technology generally and clocks in particular, and is a former curator of timekeeping at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.

He's also very focused on how clocks and timekeeping have been politicized and weaponized. Sometimes this can be annoying; sometimes it's just weirdly ironic. He offers us at the start the story of KAL Flight 007, the Korean commercial airliner shot down after entering Soviet airspace on September 1, 1983.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Colors of the Immortal Palette, by Caroline M. Yoachim

Uncanny Magazine, March 2021  https://www.uncannymagazine.com/article/colors-of-the-immortal-palette/

Mariko's mother was Japanese, and her mother French, and she has grown up in 19th century France, becoming an artist's model and an artist when Claude Monet and Èdouard Manet are active. She sits most often for the man she refers to as "the immortal artist," and by "immortal," she does not mean his fame will never die. She wants to be immortal as an artist, and also simply immortal, and persuades him to help her transition to the second sort of immortality.

We get episodes of her life, headlined by a dominant color, as she matures, transitions to immortality, loses friends to old age, and struggles for artistic fame. Her meetings with the immortal artist grow less frequent, as their ideals and values drift apart.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Bots of the Lost Ark, by Suzanne Palmer

Clarkesworld, June 2021 

Ship (the shipmind of an old, damaged, starhopping ship) and Bot 9, one of the bots that helps maintain and operate the ship, don't really trust each other, but they face some major problems that they can't solve without working together. We don't at first know where the human crew is, or why the ship has been traveling, or drifting, for 68 years.

What we learn fairly quickly is that most of the ship's bots are organized into agglomerations, or "gloms," attempting to replicate the personalities and functions of the crew. This could theoretically be very useful, if different gloms weren't competing to "be" the same crew member. In part because they're fighting each other, and stealing bots from each other, they're not really getting the job done. This is critical, because after all the years in normal space, they're approaching a jump point, and it's inside the territory of a species who deeply distrust artificial intelligence--and who will destroy the ship if they don't find biological beings firmly in control. This makes a real problem for Ship and Bot 9.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Elder Race, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Tordotcom, ISBN 9781250768728, November 2021

Lynesse Fourth Daughter is not her mother's favorite daughter. Indeed, she's barely acceptable, not learning to be diplomatic, reliable, a potential leader of the nation of Lannesite, which her mother rules. Indeed, she has done shocking things, like walk up the mountain to the tower where the sorcerer, Nyrgoth Elder lives. The sorcerer hasn't emerged since the days of Astresse Once Regent.

Lynesse's first trip up the mountain was as a child, just to see the tower and possibly the sorcerer. Court functionaries etched her down, and she got in the worst trouble ever.

Now, as an adult, she has headed back up the mountain again, with serious intent, because something monstrous is attacking neighboring polities, sending refugees fleeing to Lannesite, and her mother the Queen, and her advisors, think it's just the normal contentions among the lesser polities of Ordwood. They'll take in refugees, but not mobilize to take any action against the claimed demon, who surely doesn't exist. Lynesse has gone to the tower to awake and summon the sorcerer.

Nyrgoth Elder isn't a sorcerer. He's an anthropologist, second class, and when awakened from stasis, he's feeling very isolated, suspecting that the authorities that left him there may no longer exist.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

God's Science: Biology, Genetics, and Theology, by Paul Scherz (author, narrator)

Now You Know Media, ISBN 9781632515414, February 2018

Paul Scherz has a Ph.D. in genetics from Harvard University, and a Ph,D, in theology from Notre Dame, and is an associate professor of moral theology at Catholic University of America. He's qualified to talk about the relationship between science and religion, and especially biology and genetics, and religion. He does so, as is probably obvious, from a Catholic perspective.

This set of lectures, just under five hours in total, is a very clear, understandable, and for me enjoyable listen.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

O2 Arena, by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki

Galaxy's Edge, November 2021

It's 2030, global warming has damaged natural production of oxygen, and our narrator and protagonist is entering law school, not because he wants to be a lawyer, but because he needs a career where he can earn enough O2 credits to live a comfortable life. He's prepared to cut corners and cheat if need be.

He has a friend, a woman named Ovoke, who is also entering law school. She's a better student and far more ethical, but they are very good friends, and he's the only one outside her family that she's told about her tumor, which is probably going to kill her. Her family is getting her the best care they can, but they simply do not have the O2 credits to afford the best care. 

Friday, June 10, 2022

L'Esprit de L'Escalier, by Catherynne M. Valente

Tor Books, ISBN 9781250824196, August 2021

In Greek myth, Orpheus, son of Apollo and Calliope, meets and falls in love with Eurydice. They marry and live very happily--for a short time, before Eurydice's untimely death. Orpheus descends into the underworld, and attempts to rescue Eurydice.

In this Hugo-finalist novelette, the story begins after Orpheus has succeeded, and he and Eurydice are living in the home where they were previously so happy.

Things have of course not worked out as Orpheus expected. The storytelling is delicate, sad, grim, merciless. 

Recommended.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Rocket to the Morgue (Sister Ursula #2) by Anthony Boucher (author), F. Paul Wilson (forward)

American Mystery Classics, July 2019 (original publication 1942)

Police Detective Lt. Terence Marshall, of the Los Angeles Police Department, is home with his wife, Leona, feeding their new baby, while she asks about his day. Nothing interesting, he tells her. One dead drifter, though, shot dead in a very cheap hotel. A couple of odd things, though. He had $300 on him, that wasn't stolen, and an unusual rosary, with what seems to be the wrong number of beads.

It's a puzzle.

It's a bigger, more important puzzle, when they discover the dead man also has the private phone number of Hilary Foulkes, heir and literary executor of the late giant of science fiction, Fowler Foulkes, author the adventures of Dr. Derringer. Derringer has outlived Fowler, or would, if not for the fact that Hilary Foulkes charges extremely high fees for any use of Derringer's name, image, or adventures. He's killed many literary projects, original adventures, quotes of memorable lines as chapter headers, even audio records for the National Library for the Blind. A lot of people really hate Hilary Foulkes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Unseelie Brothers, Ltd., by Fran Wilde

Uncanny Magazine, May 2021  https://www.uncannymagazine.com/article/unseelie-brothers-ltd/

The Unseelie Brothers, Ltd., are the fashionable dressmakers everyone wants a dress from--and the men their evening wear, too. Unfortunately for those hopes, the Unseelie Brothers are rarely around. As in, not every decade.

When all the fashionable ladies' phones light up with a message announcing the return of the Unseelie Brothers, they all rush to locate where the venerable old shop is now. Not all will be able to find the shop. Not all who do will gain admittance.

Vanessa Saunders was one of the privileged few years ago, when she and her sister Serena wore Unseelie Brothers dresses to a ball, and met their husbands. Vanessa's husband was and is wealthy and socially prominent. Serena's, Sam Sebastian, was working the event as a busboy.