Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Mask of Death (The Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries #10), by Karen Musser Nortman (author), Michelle Babb (narrator)

Karen Musser Nortman, December 2022 (original publication February 2022)

Frannie and Larry Shoemaker, and their dog, Cuba, are once again in an RV campground--but not as guests this time.  They're here to act as the hosts at a campground only an hour from their home, for the month of May. It's part of their longer-term plan to get an assignment at a campground someplace warmer than Iowa for the winter months. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, right, it's the Shoemakers, with Larry's sister Jayne-Ann and her husband Mickey coming to join them. Something will happen, and they'll be involved in finding the first signs of trouble. And Frannie will find clues whether she wants to or not. She is patient, she is kind, she is smart, and people talk to her. And now, for this month, they're the campground hosts.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Secret Life of the Mind: How Your Brain Thinks, Feels, and Decides, by Mariano Sigman (author), John Chancer (narrator)

Dreamscape Media, ISBN 9781666601855, November 2017

This is another fascinating look at the development and workings of the human brain. Sigman begins by looking at the brains of babies and toddlers, that period of life we all go through, and yet have few if any memories of. We tend to think of babies' brains as very simple, but there is in fact a lot of complex activity going on inside those little heads. Babies, by the time they are five months old, can respond to puppet shows that show puppets that help another puppet, and puppets that show another puppet that refuses to help. When offered a choice between the helpful puppet and the unhelpful puppet, the babies prefer the helpful puppet. That's an oversimplified description, but children as young as five months can already choose, and express the choice, for kinder, more helpful behavior. There are other experiments described here that show more complex moral choices babies and very young children are able to make.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Christmas at Baskerville Hall: A Sherlock and Lucy Short Story (Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James Mystery #7.7), by Anna Elliott (author), Charles Veley (author)

Wilton Press, November 2019

This is a short story in a larger series in which, in addition to the regulars we are so familiar with, Sherlock Holmes has a daughter, Lucy James. She's married to a young policeman, called Jack, who has a ten-year-old sister, Becky, for whom they are apparently responsible. (This is the first and so far only story in the series that I've read.) They also have a large dog, a mastiff called Prince.

This entire found-family group has received an invitation to Baskerville Hall for Christmas, ten years after the events of "The Hound of the Baskervilles." Sir Henry has been married to Beryl, the former Mrs. Stapleton, for eight yeas, and they have a five-year-old son, Hugo. Lady Baskerville is pregnant again, and due right around Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

The Complete Psychotechnic League, Volume 1 (The Complete Psychotechnic League #1), by Poul Anderson

Baen Books, October 2017

Poul Anderson began writing his own "future history" in the 1950s, with its starting point being that there would be a limited nuclear war at some point in the 1950s. From that point would develop a secret effort to build a new social structure that could permanently prevent war. This project was founded on a new discipline of human and social psychology, and a secret organization within the UN, secretly manipulating people and events, including the occasional assassination.

You might think these people are the bad guys, but Anderson intended them to be the good guys, building a human civilization of freedom, prosperity, individual freedom, and no more war. Nuclear weapons meant war could never be allowed to happen again. If you've looked at photographs and films from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including interviews with the survivors, it should be clear why. So Anderson has his initially tiny cadre of people studying the mathematics of the new science of the human mind, who work first to ensure militaristic dictatorship doesn't become an acceptable form of government for UN members, and then to have enough influence to ensure all the countries stay on track and the UN develops toward being a true world government.

One of the interesting features of this story sequence is the Un-Men, the UN's top, and top secret, agents, who undertake all the most dangerous missions to thwart the efforts of nationalists and authoritarians in various countries, including the US, to weaken the UN, strengthen national governments, and bring back the ability of national governments to pursue their view of national interests, even if it means invading and conquering their neighbors. Two things go into making these Un-Men the super-agents that they are. One is superior mental and physical training grounded in the ever-advancing science of the human mind, related to the science that also enables the Psychotechnic Institute to project and manage the future development of human civilization in the direction they want. (It's worth noting that the Psychotechnic Institute is officially independent of the UN, lessening its direct power, but providing a level deniability on both ends.)

The other thing is that one very exceptional man, extremely intelligent, strong, and adventurous, never chose to enlist in the program, but was eventually cloned. The clones emerge identical to the original, not just physically and in some important aspects of temperament and personality, but in every way, except for particular scars that one individual got and another didn't. And this is true to the point that, when necessary, one Un-Man can impersonate another well enough to fool even his wife, in even the most intimate circumstances. This is of course impossible because nurture and life experience does play a role in how we turn out. But in the 1950s, who knew? We were still decades away from cloning Dolly the sheep. The superior science of the mind resulting in more effective education for those to whom it is extended, I'm totally willing to believe as a potential reality. The completely identical Un-Men? That's something I go with for the sake of the story.

Another interesting feature is the story set on Venus. You might argue with the politics of it, and Anderson in his later years certainly did. But this Venus is not the verdant jungle of other sf of this period. It's oppressively hot still, but dry, barren, and uninhabitable in its current state. It's not the real Venus we know now, but it's a lot more realistic than most sf and popular imagination portrayed at the time. The now-independent and unified colonies on Venus are working on terraforming it. But to do so, the colony has become extremely collectivist and top-down, with little to now personal freedom and an ever-present secret police. This is something the 1950s Anderson didn't approve of, the 1990s disapproved of even more, and no one who remembers the USSR, or Mao's China, or other such regimes, would volunteer to live in. Anderson and his protagonist in this story do both concede, and I agree, that some degree of collectivization is necessary to the project they're undertaking. This much, though, stems from the greed and power-hunger of those in charge.

It's also noted that the Venusian political bosses are making use of the as much of the same science the Psychotechnic Institute is using to remake Earth to their vision, and using it quite effectively. And that right there is one of the things I've always loved about Anderson--that ability and willingness to see that there's more than one side, even when he's coming down firmly on one particular side.

Another thing I love is that the characters are interesting, complex, and realistic. People are individuals, not stereotypes or stick figures. There aren't many women in these stories, but the ones that are here, and play significant roles, are also intelligent, resilient, and interesting, as well as varied in their interests and goals. The ones that are more in the background? They look and sound more like what we find conventional 1950s fiction. The basic social roles seem similar. But the ones who are significant characters are real people, without being portrayed as freakish in their own setting.

The stories weren't written in any particular order, but in 2017, Baen gathered them into three volumes, presenting them in internal chronological order, and providing an introduction and interstitial material reframing these stories as the alternate history they became when we didn't have a nuclear war by the end of the 1950s. The stories in this volume range from shortly after the nuclear war, starting with one of the early experts in the new science of human behavior confronting a valued old friend, to try to dissuade him from unfortunately short-term goals, which would result in more war and death in the longer run.

I haven't talked much about the individual stories. They're good stories, and I enjoyed them, but what struck me most deeply in rereading these, is the overall impact, and experience of reading these 1950s stories in the 2020s. Still very good stories, but as different as my politics are from Anderson's in his later years, I agree with him about the weaknesses here. The Venus story isn't the only one where the potential danger of the Psychotechnic Institute's psychometric science is acknowledged, and yes, I think it's a greater danger than the younger Anderson recognized at the time.

And yet these are still very good stories, and I enjoyed them.


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

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Red Scholar's Wake, by Aliette de Bodard

JABberwocky Literary Agency, ISBN 9781625676108, November 2022

Xich Si is a tech scavenger, living in Triệu Hoà Port, and scavenging tech to sell and support herself and her daughter, when she's captured by pirates. Specifically, she finds herself a prisoner on the mindship Rice Fish.

Rice Fish is the Red Consort, wife of the Red Scholar, head of the Red Banner faction of pirates. Or rather, she's the widow of Huan, the Red Scholar, who has been killed in the recent fighting. The Red Widow. 

When Rice Fish comes to Xich Si's cell, while the drunken wake is still going on, Xixh Si fears the worst. What the mindship wants, though, is a huge shock--once the mindship verifies that Xich Si is the maker of the bots that attracted her interest, she wants to marry her. But it will be strictly a business arrangement.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

The Last Wise Man, by Eileen Enwright Hodgetts (author), Leah Klocko (narrator)

Emerge Publishing, August 2021

This is a frustrating, disappointing story. It's the Nativity story, set on another planet in the distant future. The planet has a small and dwindling population of humans, accepted or tolerated to various degrees by the egg-laying natives. We meet three of the humans, who are hearing a voice asking "Where is he?"

There's also, of course, a new star in the sky.

One of the three humans is a young man born on this planet; the second is an older man who was born on Earth before the last humans were forced to leave, and the third is an ancient monk who has been wandering in the wilderness, but now has a vital task to perform.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Anyone But You, by Jennifer Crusie (author), Susan Ericksen (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, July 2008, (original publication January 1996)

Nina Askew is forty, divorced, and newly freed from the last tie to her ex-husband--the stuffy suburban mausoleum of a house they lived in and she always hated. She has a small apartment she loves in the city, the third floor of a divided-up Victorian. She's swearing off men, at least in any way that involves commitment. And today, she's off to the pound, to get what she could never have while married to stuffy, ambitious Guy--a dog. A puppy. A bouncy, energetic, small-breed puppy, who will add joy to her life. 

Friday, December 16, 2022

Diamonds and Lies, by Inge-Lise Goss (author), Natalie Disaster (narrator)

Inge-Lise Goss, February 2021

Mia Sloane is a rising young advertising executive--and together with her brother, Andy Carlyle, a jewel thief. She mostly lives on her legitimate income, and uses her ill-gotten gains to build a nest egg for the future. But now Andy is in trouble; he went gambling with a part of a stash of uncut diamonds--and lost them, instead of winning big. Now he needs to have either uncut diamonds of the amount that he lost, or $5 million in cash, in just a week.

This doesn't leave time for their usual careful planning. Andy picks a target, the owner of a chain of jewelry stores, and sends Mia in to check the place, and the owner, out. As hoped, she connects with him, and gets both more information about the shop, and a date with the man, which will give her a chance to check him and the store's operations out further.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Broken Homes (Rivers of London #4), by Ben Aaronovitch (author), Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (narrator)

Penguin Audio, ISBN 9780756409937, February 2014 (original publication February 2013)

Peter Grant and partner Lesley May are at the Folly practicing their magic skills and researching an Oxford dining club called the Little Crocodiles. Magic--Lesley is doing more careful, disciplined, and therefore somewhat more skilled work than Peter. Little Crocodiles--their professor was illicitly teaching them Newtonian magic.

They're interrupted by a call to an auto accident, with the drunk driver dead and the other driver, who was speeding, not badly hurt. And yet there's blood in the car. Turns out it's not the driver's blood. Whose is it?

Oh, and the driver, Robert Weil, is connected to the Little Crocodiles.

Friday, December 9, 2022

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2022, by Rebecca Roanhorse (guest editor), John Joseph Adams (series editor)

Mariner Books, ISBN 9780358690122, November 2022

This is a collection of twenty stories of science fiction, fantasy, and bit of horror, a Year's Best collection with John Joseph Adams as the series editor, and Rebecca Roanhorse as this year's guest editor.

It's a lively and interesting collection of stories, including the ones that are not to my taste. It includes writers of a wide variety of backgrounds, with the diverse characters you, or at least I, like to see.

Some of my favorites here:

Monday, December 5, 2022

Champagne and Lemon Drops (Blueberry Springs 0.5), by Jean Oram (author), Cris Dukehart (narrator)

Oram Productions, ISBN 9781928198758, January 2015

I had very mixed feelings about this book.

Beth is a very likable character, who wants a quiet life in her hometown of Blueberry Springs, her career helping people in and out of the local hospital as a recreational therapist, and marriage, a white picket fence, and kids. A big family around the table for every holiday. She's planning her wedding to her sweetheart, Oz.

Except that Oz, who has seemed a bit "off" for a little while, announces they need to take a break. He hates his work as an accountant in his father's firm. He's living the life his father wants him to live. He needs to find himself.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Wacky Witches and Haunted Houses, by Amelia Morgan (author), Stephanie Quinn (narrator)

Meredith Potts, September 2021

Meg Walton and her police detective husband, Connor Smith, want to get out of their apartment and buy a house in their little town of  Enchanted Bay. But Enchanted Bay is a small town with not many people looking to move out, so every open house they visit is mobbed. Finally, they go to the least appealing one, the one with the lowest asking price and described as a fixer-upper. When they arrive to see the house, the real estate agent is there, but no one else. They're the only ones wanting to see the house, and the reasons are obvious. Fixing it up will be a huge job. But they're here, and decide to do a walk-through.

A woman approaches them asking for help, but only Meg can see and hear her. She's a ghost, and Meg wants nothing to do with a haunted house. She insists on leaving immediately.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Whispers Under Ground (Rivers of London #3). by Ben Aaronovitch (author), Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781452680095, September 2012

When Peter Grant's young cousin, Abigail Kamara, drags him and his colleague and fellow magical apprentice, Leslie May, to a railroad track running under a school playground, they do find the ghost. But the ghost is no threat, and doesn't seem to be pointing to anything of concern now. So when the first case that lands on his desk on Monday is a man stabbed to death on the track at Baker Street Station, he puts the ghost aside, and sets about finding out why the British Transport Police officer, Sgt. Kumar, thinks there's something odd about the case in a way that makes it the Folly's business.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Gaming Hell Christmas: Volume Two, by Amanda McCabe (author), Kathy L Wheeler (author)

Chisel Imprint, December 2022

It's 1797, and in Georgian England, while women have no more legal rights than they will have in the coming Regency era, they do have somewhat more social freedom. The Girls of Wight, a small circle of friends who attended Miss Greensley's School of Comportment for Young Ladies of Quality, now 29 and all still unmarried, are exercising some of that freedom--still quite limited by modern standards.

One of them is Princess Augusta, a daughter of George III. Another is Alexandra, illegitimate but acknowledged and valued daughter of the Duke of Winsome. There are the twin daughters of an earl, Thomasina and Philomena. Victoria Lanford is an orphan who became the ward of her uncle when her parents died, and was sent to school and Miss Greensley's when she and her cousins, Delphine and Melanie, hated her. She now supports herself writing novels by "A Lady L." 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Miracle at Coney Island: How a Sideshow Doctor Saved Thousands of Babies and Transformed American Medicine, by Claire Prentice (author), Coleen Marlo (narrator)

Brilliance Audio, ISBN 9781536689303, August 2017

For forty years, 1903 to 1943, Martin Couney, the "incubator doctor," both cared for and exhibited premature babies in an incubator facility at Coney Island. He also ran similar facilities at amusement parks and world's fairs around the US and in Mexico, London, Paris, and Brazil.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the medical profession considered it not worthwhile to try to save premature babies. It was assumed that even if they lived, they would always be weak, and not productive. Couney disagreed. He believed, based on an exhibit he may have attended in Berlin, and they one he ran in London, that most of these babies could be saved, with good incubators and good care.