Review – Vox by Christina Dalcher

I was looking forward to reading this book. The idea of a book actually showing how frequently women’s voices are silenced or unheard was one I was looking forward to reading. Unfortunately, the book I was looking forward to isn’t the one that Dalcher wrote, so that will color my review. You may disagree.

Vox is set in the near future, in a world in which a Pure Movement has gained control of the U.S. government through their relationship with the U.S. President. Their agenda is that of complete separation between men and women, and men will have complete control over the women in their lives. In addition to all women being fired from their jobs, each woman is given a counter to wear around their wrist. Each day, at midnight, that counter is reset to 100. That is the number of words a woman, or girl, is allowed to use throughout the day.

The main character of the story, Jean McClellan, is a cognitive linguist. She has been working with a team working on a treatment for Wernicke’s aphasia. Her husband, Patrick, is a physician, and she has four children, three sons and Sonia, her six-year-old daughter. Dalcher tells the story of how the Pure Movement, and the counters, have come to be. Jean’s oldest son, Steven, is indoctrinated into the philosophy in school and has become a believer in the Pure Movement. Her husband advises her to go along with what’s happening, that something will be worked out.

The beginning is interesting, but the remainder of the book doesn’t really live up to its promise. Instead, it becomes a “fix the problem” book. Due to a skiing accident, the President’s brother has suffered from brain damage that is causing aphasia. It is the same type of aphasia for which Jean had been working on a treatment, so his people have come to her for assistance. And, from there, Jean’s efforts to find the treatment, and then find a way to quiet those who have put this movement in place, continues.

We see some of the effects of the policy throughout the rest of the novel, but I would have preferred a more in-depth look, rather than the “thriller” Dalcher has written. It’s a great idea, but the execution doesn’t do it justice.

Dalcher, Christina. Vox. New York, NY: Berkley, 2018 (August 21). 336 pages. 3 stars.

Review – Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

As the first book in the Hugo-nominated series October Daye, I wanted to enjoy this book. Unfortunately, I think I will be putting Ms. McGuire on my “Do Not Bother” list.

This should not, however, stop anyone else. I suspect my issues with McGuire have more to do with my personal tastes than with her ability to write and tell stories. My best guess may be the same reason that I don’t enjoy Jemisin’s works even though I can identify that she’s a good writer and deserves every last Hugo that she has won.

There is very little happiness in Rosemary and Rue. In the very beginning of the book, Toby (October) Daye loses her beloved partner and child, and there’s likely no way for her to get them back. Then, an ally dies, leaving her with the mystery of her killer, and a curse that will kill Toby unless she figures it out.

I enjoy fantasies with Faerie Courts as a supporting character, which this definitely falls into. I enjoy mysteries, especially if I don’t have to figure out “whodunit” before the end. I’m lousy at it; as with this book, I generally figure it out at about the point that the detective should be collecting the final pieces of confirming evidence. (Not my kind of puzzle.)

I don’t require that the books I read be overwhelming cheerful; I don’t even require a happy ending (all of the time). I don’t read for beautiful writing; I enjoy it when I find it, but it isn’t a requirement. I don’t read for intricate plots; again, I enjoy them when found. I read to engage my brain, to visit other “worlds”, and to escape my world for a few hours.

Rosemary and Rue is well-plotted and well-written. The characters are fairly well-drawn, although I’m sure that will become more true as the series progresses. The mystery is a decent one; I figured it out just before Toby did (so I felt smart). But, just as with everything else of McGuire’s that I’ve read, it’s a dreary world with very little to be happy about, at least for Toby.

McGuire, Seanan. Rosemary and Rue. New York, NY: Daw Books, 2009 (September 1). 368 pages. 3 stars.

Review – The Million by Karl Schroeder

As long as science fiction novels have been written, there have been explorations of different ways of protecting the Earth from humanity. The Million is a somewhat different take on this trope than I’ve seen before. Limiting the population to a specific population, the “million” from the title, is hardly a unique idea, but cryogenically storing the rest of Earth’s population, about ten billion people, who are waiting to

Every thirty years, there is a Jubilee. The ten billion are unfrozen and set loose on Earth and the Million mostly hide for that month. At the same time, it is the time when the reports are given and the grand political trends are set until the next Jubilee. It is also when visitors, people from the ten billion, hide outside for their own purposes. The auditors are those who police the Earth, ensuring that all the agreements are kept to; they are also the ones who do the reporting.

Gavin Penn-of-Chaffee is a member of a family of the Million, but he’s actually a visitor. After an incident at a party that his father and brother give, Gavin finds himself stepping into the shoes of a young man who was trying to become an auditor. Through his training, he slowly becomes aware of the undercurrents in his society that indicate that things aren’t quite what they seem.

It’s an interesting enough book and a quick read, but I found it a slight, forgettable book.

Schroeder, Karl. The Million. New York, NY: Tor.com Books, 2018 (September 1). 160 pages. 3 stars.

 

Review – The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Fated Sky is the sequel to The Calculating Stars and is set four years later, so this review will have spoilers for that book. If you haven’t already, go and read it; it’s excellent and I’ve babbled quite happily about it.

Not only has Elma York made it to the moon, she now travels there regularly. She is content with this, she sees her husband, Nathaniel, on a regular basis, and they’re even beginning to talk about starting a family. Then, terrorists strike, budget cuts are threatened, and Elma is asked to, once again, put her publicity behind the Mars expedition. The story continues on from there.

One thing I enjoyed about both of the books is that Kowal puts marriage, not romance, front-and-center. Elma and Nathaniel are married before The Calculating Stars begins and they’re still married at the end of The Fated Sky. Their marriage is strong, good for both of them, sometimes romantic, sometimes sexy, but always committed. Kowal gives us a look at a marriage through not just the good times, not just the epically bad times, but through the gritty “eh” times that affect us all. Not only does Elma support Nathaniel when he’s doing important work while she’s consigned to volunteering, not only does Nathaniel support Elma’s drive to join the astronaut corps, when she forgets to pay the electric bill, he accepts that it was a mistake and supports her. It’s not that they never get angry, it’s not that they have a “perfect” marriage, but it’s that they have a good, solid marriage that can handle whatever life throws at them.

Another thing I liked about these books is that there no one is all good or all bad. There are heroes, and people we root for, and there are good and evil actions, but people are a mix of both, and Kowal shows this in her characters. Elma spends a lot of time reminding herself of Parker’s good qualities in The Calculating Stars, because he does such a good job of showing her mostly his bad ones. He despises her because she had the audacity to report him for harassing other female pilots, and getting him into trouble. (Because his actions were, of course, completely acceptable.) On the other hand, she has a tendency to pick at those things that she knows irritate him, without real cause.

Elma really demonstrates that she is far from perfect when she is initially accepted to the Mars mission. Because she has decided she wants to do it, she ignores what it will mean to the others who have already been training together for months. She also steps forward to support, and speak for, the people of color in the group–without talking it over with them first. Racial discrimination is a real issue throughout both of these books, and Elma hates it and wants to stop it, but she’s not always considerate of the feelings of those who have to live with the ways she tries to help.

And, then, of course, there’s the trip to Mars. Which is wonderful, with all the terrific hard science details that make this series such a delight. I recommend this book highly to anyone who likes a good story. This is one.

Kowal, Mary Robinette. The Fated Sky. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2018 (August 21). 320 pages. 5 stars.

Review – The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The fact that The Calculating Stars is an alternate history has very little to do with why I love it, even though I enjoy alternate histories. It’s hard science fiction, the kind that I first fell in love with decades ago and the kind that doesn’t seem nearly as common these days. It’s not a dystopia, although the world could be ending, but it’s not a utopia either. And, since I’ve read Rise of the Rocket Girls and The Glass Universe in the last couple of years, and need to read Hidden Figures, the women computers at the center of the novel seems very timely.

What I loved about this book, and the other stories in this universe, is Elma York. She has a Ph.D. in mathematics and physics, was a WASP pilot during World War Two, is married to a rocket scientist, Nathaniel York, and works for NACA (her universe’s NASA) as a computer. She’s Southern, she’s Jewish, and she’s someone I wish I’d met when I was a girl, because I would have followed her.

The event that sets the novel in motion is a meteorite that strikes Earth in the Chesapeake Bay in 1952. The effects it has destroys Washington, DC and causes destruction all along the eastern coast of the United States. Later calculations, largely done by Elma, indicate that the meteorite may be an extinction-level event. The result of this is an international drive to get mankind into space and start colonizing there.

Although Elma suffers from extreme anxiety when forced to speak before a group of people, she is otherwise a confident driven woman. Since she is a pilot, and was the first person to calculate the size of the meteorite and its long-term effects, she wants to be one of the first astronauts, and she’s willing to do the work to get there.

The book tells Elma’s story as she battles to become an astronaut and go to the moon. In addition to crippling anxiety, she has to battle discrimination because she’s a woman. While she’s fighting that, she has her nose rubbed in the fact that non-white people suffer from much greater discrimination than she does. When she realizes this, she does work to eliminate that as much as possible.

A traditional hard-science plot and a number of strong competent, intelligent women make this a book to enjoy. I talked it up so much that my spouse, who hasn’t had the time or energy to do much reading, even picked it up to read.

Kowal, Mary Robinette. The Calculating Stars. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2018 (July 3). 384 pages. 5 stars.

Review – Once There Was a Way by Bryce Zabel

What if the Beatles had stayed together? What would it have looked like, what would have remained the same? What would have changed? Once There Way a Way, as any good alternate history, give plausible answers to these questions.

I found this book through the Sidewise Awards, which it won for 2018. It’s written as a retrospective on the Beatles’ careers since a The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson interview that is the turning point between the novel’s history and our own. Although I’m not the true Beatles fan in my household–that honor belongs to my spouse–I know enough of the history of the band, the men, and the times to see the similarities, the differences, and to be able to judge the plausibility between the two.

Zabel takes events that happened in our history and changes them into ones that could have happened. He changes songs, creates albums, films, interviews, and historical events, and gives his world the rich details that make it come alive.

Finally, it’s lovely to think about the Beatles and the Rolling Stones getting into a friendly competition as to who can tour the longest. I enjoyed the book and wish we could listen to these wonderful albums.

Zabel, Bryce. Once There Was a Way: What If the Beatles Stayed Together? New York, NY: Diversion Books, 2017 (December 5). 308 pages. 4 stars.

Review – Rocket Fuel: Some of the Best from Tor.com edited by Bridget McGovern

Maybe I’m just getting old, but I assumed that when a site devoted to science fiction and fantasy published a book of non-fiction essays that they would be on a variety of scientific subjects. Instead, these essays are on the science fiction and fantasy fields themselves, with a disquieting detour through centaur digestion. This isn’t a complaint, just a surprise as I read through the book.

The thirty-four essays in this collection cover a lot of territory. The one “science” essay, of the kind I’d been expecting, was on centaur digestion, which isn’t for those with a weak stomach. Some of the essays cover reviews and rereads of specific books, others cover films and/or television shows, and others are more general meditations on a specific aspect of science fiction, fantasy, horror, or writing in general. Nearly all of them are interesting, although I’ll admit there was a couple of long essays on series I’m not interested in that I skimmed. There were several that I’ve bookmarked to review later for writing tips and inspiration.

All in all, I’m glad I picked this up and I enjoyed the reading. In addition, after reading these, I’ve subscribed to the Tor.com website to see the newer material as it’s posted. Just don’t expect science essays.

McGovern, Bridget. Rocket Fuel: Some of the Best from Tor.com Non-Fiction. New York, NY: Tor.com, 2018 (July 17). 291 pages. 4 stars.

Announcing the Hugo Awards of 2018

The Hugo Awards for 2018 were announced Sunday night! And history has been made!

The fiction awards are as follows:

Best Novel: The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin. This is the one that made history. N.K. Jemisin as won the Best Novel award three years in a row, for her The Broken Earth series. I will admit that this isn’t my favorite novel of the nominees, but it is the “weightiest” and the most significant. It’s a terrific win, and I’m pleased it did so.

Best Novella: All Systems Red by Martha Wells. This is my favorite of the novella nominees in a strong slate. A terrific main character in a terrific story; I keep telling everyone how great this story is.

Best Novelette: “The Secret Life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer. This was number two on my list, and I’m quite content that it won.

Best Short Story: “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™,” by Rebecca Roanhorse. Again, not my favorite, but a good selection from a good slate.

Finally, since I’ve spent all this time reading and reviewing the entries this year, I’ve bought a supporting membership for next year. (I’d love to go to Dublin, but I just don’t see that happening.)

Book Review – An Informal History of the Hugos by Jo Walton

This book started out as a series of posts on Tor.com call Revisiting the Hugos. It was the author’s, Jo Walton’s, look at the Hugos. She look at not just the winners, but the nominees, the books that didn’t make the short list, the other awards, and anything else she found interesting. When putting the book together, she included some of the most relevant of the comments; mostly those from fellow writers and editors.

That highlights the strength and weakness of this book. It’s put together by someone who isn’t only a science fiction/fantasy fan, but by a professional writer who has spent years not just reading but studying the works in the field. The comments that she uses are primarily from editors, who know the field as professionals, not as “simple” fans. The book covers not simply the works, but their place in historical and cultural context, how well they’ve aged, and how well they’re remembered.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I’d read just a year or two at a time. I had to slog and really force my way through it, but I kept thinking that, at some point, I was going to want to go back and read this or that entry again, with more careful attention to it. I never paid a lot of attention to the politics, history, and culture of the science fiction community as a whole; I just read what I enjoyed that I could find.

The tone of the book is informal and chatty; it sounds very much like a conversation. My biggest issue with it is that she puts so much information into each year that it’s intimidating. She talks about books that she read once thirty years ago with actual memory of it; I struggle to do the same with some books I read last year, or last month.

She covers the Hugo Awards, mostly for the novels but the shorter works are discussed and all other awards are at least briefly mentioned, from 1953 to 2000. There’s a lot of material here and I look forward to reading it again…one chapter (year) at a time.

Walton, Jo. An Informal History of the Hugos. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2018. Kindle edition. Amazon. August 7, 2018.

Politics – The Sheep and the Goats

I’ve mentioned that the above parable is one of my foundational beliefs, for politics, religion, and life. For me, here’s what that means.

If you don’t know the passage, it’s in Matthew 25:31-46. To paraphrase it, Jesus tells His disciples that, when He is on His throne of glory, He will gather the people and divide them based on how they have treated Him. He gives six conditions: hunger, thirst, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison. And when the people say, “We never did these things,” He tells them that as they have done to the least of His brothers, so they have done to Him. (Note: since every translation I have read of this uses “brothers” for both genders, I am doing so as well.)

In discussing this as political actions that a Christian should take, there are two basic arguments that people have used to state that this doesn’t apply to political actions, just personal ones.

The first argument is the one that I consider the more defensible one: Jesus is talking personal action, not government action. This is true. However, I vote as a Christian, and I believe in voting for policies that I believe are better for all of us, which means voting for policies that support the “least of our brothers”. The Jewish people of the time, the ones that Jesus was preaching to, had a long history that supporting those less fortunate than themselves was a moral and social good. The Romans, the people in charge of the government of the time, the government that we are supposed to read in the Bible as somewhere between callous and evil, on the other hand, viewed helping those less fortunate as generally a bad idea. To me, it makes more sense to those of us trying to follow Jesus’ teachings to support those less fortunate. In addition to being a more Christian thing to do, studies have shown that it costs less to give support up front than to have to deal with the consequences later on.

The second argument is one that I have a great deal of trouble with: that “of my brothers” doesn’t include all of humanity, which is my reading. They limit that group to their fellow Christians, or their fellow countrymen, or those who are part of some group that they belong to. I disagree. Throughout the four Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that we are all in this together, that “neighbor” is to be defined broadly, and that He speaks to everyone. To me, that means that we are to view everyone as our brothers, and to care for all of humanity. Anything else seems wrong to me.

As I stated earlier, in the passage, Jesus identifies six conditions in which He was in need that those who He considered His sheep provided for, and I intend on discussing them in later blog posts.