Reviews, February 2016

The Woman Who Walked Home

Kindred — Octavia E. Butler

1979’s Kindred was Octavia E. Butler’s fourth novel, but her first standalone.

Dana has lost an arm, and the police suspect that her husband Kevin knows a lot more about Dana’s injuries than either he or Dana are letting on. Dana is not covering up spouse abuse; she just knows that the police would never accept the truth: Dana is the victim of time travel gone horribly wrong.

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The last of Vis

The White Serpent — Tanith Lee
Wars of Vis, book 3

Tanith Lee’s 1988 novel The White Serpent is the third and final volume in the Wars of Vis series, which has been, as you may recall, not exactly my favourite Lee series.

As this book opens, a fragile peace holds in the lands of Vis. The ancient antagonisms remain, and wars could rekindle at any moment.

It’s ironic that the event that kickstarts the plot is a genuine moment of affection between two people of different races.

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“In all the old stories, the only thing that ever won was love. And occasionally a good sharp knife.”

The Raven and the Reindeer — T. Kingfisher

T. Kingfisher’s 2016 novel The Raven and the Reindeer begins like this:

Once upon a time, there was a boy born with frost in his eyes and frost in his heart.

Kay is prime Snow Queen bait: beautiful, obsessive, and coldly proud. It was perhaps inevitable that Kay would fall for the Snow Queen’s enticements, abandoning home, family, and friends for ultimately fatal delights. Kay’s doom seems assured.

But this isn’t frost-eyed Kay’s story. It’s Gerta’s.

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Alma’s Hawaiian Adventure

Windraker — Melissa Scott & Jo Graham
Order of the Air, book 4

Melissa Scott and Jo Graham’s 2015 novel Windraker is the fourth installment in their ongoing Order of the Air series. In this episode, the cast is drawn to Hawai‘i, where they find themselves tangling with modern prejudice, old curses, ancient history, and the rising threat of fascism.

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Better to break than to bend

Things Fall Apart — Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe’s 1959 novel Things Fall Apart can teach us many things. What it taught me is that my memory is highly selective. I didn’t remember much about the book (having last read it in 1981) but I did remember one scene in particular! Go me! Except it turns out what I forgot can be summed up as “every important aspect of the novel.”

Driven by the memory of his father Unoka’s shameful indolence, Okonkwo has striven his whole life to live up to his personal ideal of the Ibo man: brave, hard-working, and prudent, someone who fulfills every duty his society demands of a man.

At a cost

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Unexpected discoveries

Tamastara or The Indian Nights — Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee’s 1984 Tamastara or The Indian Nights collects seven stories, five original to this volume. I was actually going to skip this one, in part because for some reason I had never catalogued it and thought I didn’t have a copy, and in part because “British author tackles Indian fantasy” filled me with foreboding, especially in the context of the more problematic aspects of The Storm Lord.

Having discovered that I do in fact have a copy, I feel that I am required to review it, trepidation or no.

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Very definitely a hell below

Sly Mongoose — Tobias S. Buckell
Xenowealth, book 3

Tobias S. Buckell’s 2008 novel Sly Mongoose is the third book in the Xenowealth sequence. Now, you might ask “why start with the third book?” There is a very straightforward answer: I wanted to read a book that gave me license to gratuitously embed this image:

Also, this specific book and I have some history, which I will get into later on.

Chilo isn’t Venus but it’s a lot like Venus, from the dense atmosphere to the furnace temperatures down on the ground. The good news is that like Venus, Chilo does have a region where the temperatures and pressures won’t immediately kill humans. The bad news is that region is thirty kilometers above the surface.

Which brings us to the balloon-cities of the sort featured in that gratuitously embedded image above.

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Between the Millstones

The Half-Made World — Felix Gilman
Half-Made World, book 1

Felix Gilman’s 2010 novel The Half-Made World takes us to a continent whose westernmost expanses are still forming out of primordial chaos. Demons and worse lurk there. Two monstrous factions struggle for control of the new frontier: the Gun, a cabal of possessed warriors doling out violence and cruelty on a retail scale, and the Line, a horrific railway that serves up terror and oppression wholesale.

Here and there are pockets of free people, but their freedom is doomed. Despite the Gun’s best efforts, the Line is inexorably consuming the whole of the continent. Victory seems assured.

At least, it does until a rumour begins to circulate.

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We’ll live together, like two neighbour vines, Circling our souls and loves in one another

The Fortunate Fall — Raphael Carter

1996’s The Fortunate Fall was Raphael Carter’s debut novel—and to date, their only one1. While we can regret not having more Carter novels, we can also be grateful that we have at least this one … which is a fine book.

The genocidal Guardians fell to the Unanimous Army, a vast horde of mind-controlled slaves dancing on the strings of neurological implants. Once the Army’s task was completed, the surviving soldiers were freed to survive as best they could, often thousands of miles from home. Chaos followed.

Two law enforcement bodies, the Weavers and the Postcops, are determined to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent anyone from duplicating the crimes against humanity devised by the creator of the Unanimous Army (crimes that include the dark art of mind sculpting). Woe to anyone who falls afoul of either police force.

All this is history. For Maya Andreyeva, it is half-remembered history at best. She is an Eye (what passes for a journalist in the novel’s imagined future). Her nervous system is connected to the net, so that millions of people can experience what she experiences, see what she sees. Of course, her output is carefully edited; her superiors have no desire to see their carefully orchestrated regime endangered by rogue info.

That’s OK by Maya. It is quite unwittingly that she gives the world an experience it will never forget.

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Unintentionally appropriate for Valentine’s Day

Triton — Samuel R. Delany

I admit I am cheating when I include Samuel R. Delany’s 1976 Triton1 in this series, because my Because My Tears are Delicious to You reviews are intended to cover books I read and reread as a teen. I didn’t so much read and reread Triton in the 1970s as much as I tried over and over to read it2. But now I have finished it. Finally.

It is a sad excuse for a book that does not have at least one unexpected positive quality. This is not a sad excuse for a book. But the nature of the redeeming quality will be revealed later in the review. Foreshadowing: the mark of quality literature!

The moon Triton3 is by some measures a utopia: certainly, what passes for government on Triton has done its best to provide a physical and social context in which people are free be happy. It stops well short of reshaping the people to suit the utopia, which for Bron Helstrom is just too bad.

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Leah has many fine qualities

The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales — Tanith Lee

I didn’t care for 1985’s The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales when I first read it, when it first came out. Not because it lacked any virtue but simply because it wasn’t my favourite, Lee collection, Red as Blood. What it is is another fine collection by Tanith Lee, one with fewer dark fairy tales and more horror.

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I may be interrogating this text from the wrong perspective

The Best of All Possible Worlds — Karen Lord
Sadiri, book 1

Karen Lord’s 2013 The Best of All Possible Worlds was her second novel. To paraphrase the author’s site, it

won the Frank Collymore Literary Award for 2009. […] It also won the 2013 RT Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and was nominated for Book of the Year, and was a finalist for the 2014 Locus Awards Best Science Fiction Novel.

And yet, while I like elements of it, I cannot warm to the novel as a whole. Not every reviewer is a good fit for every book.

Despite their generous efforts to provide the other human races of the galaxy with their wise guidance, not everyone loves the Sadiri. Their cousins on Ain dislike the Sadiri enough to reduce their homeworld and everyone on it to ash. Only the Sadiri lucky enough to be offworld survive the disaster.

Cygnus Beta1 is no stranger to refugees. Indeed, the one thing its disparate peoples tend to have in common is a calamitous event in their past that triggered a desperate migration. It is therefore a logical place for some of the surviving Sadiri to settle, a place where they might build new lives for themselves.

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Deconstructing “the Chosen”

Below the Root — Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Green Sky Trilogy, book 1

Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s 1975 novel Below the Root is the first volume in her Green Sky Trilogy; the subsequent volumes were 1976’s And All Between and 1977’s Until the Celebration. Not only is this the first Snyder I have knowingly read … until this review was commissioned, I had never heard of this prolific Newbery winner. It just goes to show there is always more to learn.

All hail the Chosen One! Or at least a Chosen one; young Raamo D’ok’s psychic abilities earn him a position as a trainee Ol-Zhaan, the ruling class who govern the world of Green Sky. Even before his training begins, selection brings with it status and respect, a development that baffles Raamo. He has as yet done nothing to earn respect.

It is not the only false note in Raamo’s world.

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Bildungsroman Thriller

Love is the Drug — Alaya Dawn Johnson

2014’s Love is the Drug is my first exposure to the works of Alaya Dawn Johnson.

If her mother has anything to say about the matter, seventeen-year-old Emily Bird is destined for an Ivy League university, to be followed by a suitable career and marriage. Anything that might threaten the grand design—looking too black for white people’s comfort, insufficiently exalted grades, any hint that Emily takes after her un-ambitious uncle, any hint of an interest in the Wrong Sort of Boy—earns firm parental disapproval. Nothing is going to come in the way of the right sort of life for Emily: not the terrorist-spread flu sweeping the world, not alluring bad boys like Emily’s fellow student Coffee, and certainly not Emily’s own preferences.

So far the grand plan has worked: Emily’s grades are good, she is demure and well-behaved, and her boyfriend Paul is just the sort of ambitious, well-connected boy Emily deserves.

The plan holds together until the night of the party.

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Nyumbani Bildungsroman

Imaro — Charles R. Saunders
Imaro, book 1

I admit I am cheating a smidge with this review of Charles R. Saunders’ 1981’s sword and sorcery fix-up novel Imaro. I’m reviewing the revised 2006 edition, the book I own, not the original (which differs in some ways). I’ve long since misplaced my copy of the second printing of the first edition. However … this is the author’s preferred edition.

More on the cover later…

The laws of the Illyassai are unforgiving.

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Darker Than the Night

Sung in Shadow — Tanith Lee

1983’s Sung in Shadow is Tanith Lee’s reworking of a certain famous play involving star-crossed, love-struck teens. I don’t know why I was surprised to discover this as I read: the play is arguably the iconic romance in English lit. It is also just as intense, melodramatic, and bloody as the best of Lee.

Sana Verensa’s great families are united on one point only: that they are hate and distrust each other and engage in endless struggle for dominance and revenge. Alliances come and go while old hatreds are nursed for decades. In a city plagued by continual violence between bravos, what hope has love?

Who can know where love will find us,
Love far darker than the night,
Love far colder than the snow—
That has been both cold and bright—
Sung in shadow, that was show,
Bitter-tasting are you now,
Music of sweet and delight

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I do not care for Teray

Patternmaster — Octavia E. Butler
Patternist, book 5

Octavia E. Butler’s 1976 novel Patternmaster was the first in her Patternist series to be published; this is not surprising, as this book was her debut novel. In terms of internal chronology, it is the final book in the series, the endpoint to which all the other books—Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay’s Ark, and Survivor—led.

(I will probably review all of Butler’s books eventually. Perhaps even including Survivor.)

Patternmaster is a gloomy destination for a future history.

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The War on Boredom!

Moonscatter — Jo Clayton
Duel of Sorcery, book 2

1983’s Moonscatter is the second volume of Jo Clayton’s Duel of Sorcery.

Immortal, powerful, the grandest of his kind, Ser Noris [1] faces a nearly insurmountable challenge: he’s bored. A thrilling conflict might be just the ticket … but the only possible rival worthy of a man of his power is She, the phoenix-like embodiment of the cycle of life. Victory for Ser Noris might mean the end of all life—but at least he won’t be bored.

But Ser Noris isn’t the protagonist of this adventure. His former acolyte/lever to change the world Serroi is. Cast aside when she did not suit Ser Noris, Serroi built a new life for herself, a life now threatened by her old master’s efforts to escape boredom.

Elsewhere, a young girl named Tuli provides a peasant’s-eye view of what living in a secondary fantasy world prone to world-saving quests looks like.

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