Friday, December 19, 2014

Follow Friday - USA-189 Was an Experimental Satellite Launched in 2006


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - I Sold My Soul for Books and Lisa's Library.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Do you have a go to genre when you’re happy, sad, or angry?

Science fiction. My go-to genre is always science fiction. For anything. No matter whether I'm happy, sad, angry, or anything else, science fiction is the first genre that I turn to.


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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Review - Asimov's Science Fiction: Vol. 33, Nos. 4 & 5 (April/May 2009) by Sheila Williams (editor)


Stories included:
The Great Armada by Brian Stableford
The Spires of Denon by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The Armies of Elfland by Eileen Gunn and Michael Swanwick
This Wind Blowing, and this Tide by Damien Broderick
True Fame by Robert Reed
An Ordinary Day With Jason by Kate Wilhelm
Atomic Truth by Chris Beckett
Human Day by Jack Skillingstead
Cowgirls in Space by Deborah Coates
Exegesis by Nancy Kress

Poems included:
Small Conquerors by Geoffrey A. Landis
We Ignore Him by P.M.F. Johnson
Bridges by Peter Roberts

Full review: The April/May 2009 double issue of Asimov's Science Fiction is also the 400th issue of the magazine, and it is clear that the editors tried to get a collection of stories by somewhat notable names in the science fiction field. As a result, this issue features stories by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kate Wilhelm, Robert Reed, Nancy Kress, Brian Stableford, and Michael Swanwick. Unfortunately, this seems to have required some shortcuts in the editorial selection process, so several of the stories in the issue are simply not up to the usual standards of contributions by these authors.

The Great Armada by Brian Stableford is the latest in his "fleshcore" series of stories, all set in an alternate 16th century England in which Jane is Queen of England and the greatest threat faced by humanity comes from beyond the stars. Humans, with endoskeletons, are the rarity as invertebrates in the form of alien analogues of mollusks and arachnids dominate the galaxy. The stories all feature famous individuals from history: This one features Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, Christopher Marlowe, Rabbi Low, and Doctor Faust, all of whom who deal with an etheral being they regard as an angel and a machine intelligence they regard as a golem as they fend off an invasion of etheral creatures and finally return to meet the "Great Fleshcore" which is the ruling intelligence of the invertebrate empire. I've never been a big fan of this series, as it wanders and meanders about in a confusing manner, but this installment was better than most of the others. This Wind Blowing, and this Tide by Damien Broderick also takes on an alternate history idea, but this time the alternate history is so far in our own past that it could plausibly be true. The story follows a scientist in the future who is a proponent of the idea that saurian life had evolved sentient intelligence tens of millions of years before the rise of humanity and set about exploring outer space. An unknown spacecraft is found that may support this idea, and the lost crewmembers of this ship bring back the scientists own memories of his lost child. It is interesting both for the speculative history and the personal connection that the author infuises into the story.

The Spires of Denon by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is the story of an archaeological expedition hunting through the ruins of an ancient alien city that has huge, beautiful crystal spires over it. Characters with competing interests try to drive the exploration in differing directions until an expedition into an unexplored area under the city triggers a crisis that reveals the answer to some key mysteries. The story highlights the danger that archaeologists exploring technologies that simply don't understand might have to confront. The story is decent, but I wasn't that impressed by it overall, simply because there wasn't much to the story except for the exploration of this self-contained fictitious city. The Armies of Elfland by Eileen Gunn and Michael Swanwick is a bizarre fantasy told from the perspective of a child that has grown up after the invasion and conquest of the Earth by elves. The protagonist must learn to deal with the truly alien thought process of the elves and (with the aid of an eager suitor for her hand) figure out a way to exploit their weaknesses. The elves in the story operate by rules that make internal sense, but bear limited relation to human thoughts, which makes the story compelling in a horrible (but good) way.

True Fame by Robert Reed is a short but convoluted story about how the paparazzi might be replaced by direct action by fans, with a strange twist at the end. The story is an interesting commentary on fame and what people do to be near it, as well as how one betrayal might be foiled by an even bigger one. An Ordinary Day With Jason by Kate Wilhelm is a tale about a particular brand of heritable magic, told from the perspective of a woman who has married into such a family. Wilhelm's writing is always good, and this story is no exception, but there's no real deep meaning to this tale: It is just a glimpse into the world of a quirky family. Atomic Truth by Chris Beckett is also a story that takes currently emerging technology to a logical conclusion, as the lives of two individuals - one completely linked into modern society and the other standing mostly outside it - interact accidentally. The story takes the modern proclivity towards replacing actual human contact with connections via technology to an extreme, with somewhat disturbing results. Human Day by Jack Skillingstead also tackles the question of technology replacing human interaction, but in a rather more direct and disturbing manner. When a story causes one to question whether anyone in the story is human or not then I would consider that to be an eerily effective tale.

Cowgirls in Space by Deborah Coates revolves around a quasi-magical alien device and a group of female rodeo performers who found it as teenagers and discovered its power, and the price is exacted. Years later a second device is found in China which reunites the girls, all of whom have differing attitudes concerning their own use of the device they found so many years before. The questions concenring what the device is and where it came from are never resolved, but that's not so important to the story, rather the critical theme is how the girls view using the device and that is really well-presented in the story. Exegesis by Nancy Kress is a brief story told via the evolving interpretations of Rhett Butler's famous last line from Gone With the Wind. Kress imagines how future generations of overly analytical scholars might deconstruct this simple phrase and how it gets distorted through the lens of time and successive overlays of academic cruft that has built up over the years. It is funny, and at the very end, briefly touching.

Although I consider it likely that my lukewarm response to Stableford's "fleshcore" series of stories is probably idiosyncratic to me, coupling The Great Armada with the other somewhat weak stories in the issue (including the other novella in this issue The Spires of Denon) results in a less than impressive issue. This is all the more disappointing given the anniversary status of the issue, and the clear editorial decision to try to pack the issue with notable authors. While there are some less than impressive stories in this issue, there are still several good ones, so while this issue is not anything particularly special, it is at least average.

Subsequent issue reviewed: July 2009

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Musical Monday - White Wine in the Sun by Tim Minchin


Tim Minchin is mostly known for his funny, silly, and satirical songs. What sometimes gets forgotten is just how good a songwriter he really is, and how good he is at capturing just the right emotional tone for a song - which is why he is so good as a musical humorist. But that's not the important point here. What is important is that in a beautiful, pointed and poignant song, Minchin is able to capture exactly what is truly wonderful about Christmas while giving it the melancholy tone that always seems to run as an undercurrent to the holiday. My writing skills are too feeble to adequately express the mixture of almost cloying forthright love for Christmas mixed with a mild amount of cynicism that is found in the song, so I'll mostly let Tim's lyrics do the talking here.

This song also kind of makes me want to move to Australia, so that Christmas will be a time of sunny days and white wine. Maybe. It's a long way away though, so it would make it less likely that I would see the people I want to see on Christmas, so moving there for the sunshine and alcohol to share with them would probably be somewhat self-defeating.

Previous Musical Monday: The Music Box by The Trans-Siberian Orchestra

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Book Blogger Hop December 12th - December 18th: Vercingetorix Was Born in 82 B.C.

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: How many books do you read in a week? How many hours do you spend reading a day?

My normal reading pace is two to three books a week, but for the past couple of months I have fallen far short of that, for a number of actual reasons as well some small modicum of pure laziness. For the past couple of months I have been reduced to something on the order of one book every two weeks or so, all the while my to-be-read pile glares at me balefully, glowering in the corner waiting for me to get to it. My historic pattern has been to read an hour or two every day and then binge read large volumes of material every now and then. Due to various exigencies, the daily hour or two has mostly vanished and I have been left with just the binge reading, a situation I aim to rectify in the hear future.


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Friday, December 12, 2014

Follow Friday - NGC 188 Is a Five Billion Year Old Open Cluster in the Constellation Cepheus


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Downright Dystopian.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Do you have a favorite place to read?

I don't have a favorite place to read because I pretty much read every time I get the chance. I most frequently read while riding the bus to and from work every day, but that is by no means the only place I read. I read at my desk at home, on the couch, while standing in lines, while sitting and waiting for my wife when I pick her up from work, and so on. The only place I generally don't read is in bed, which I'm pretty sure is yet one more thing that makes me odd.


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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review - Asimov's Science Fiction: Vol. 33, No. 6 (June 2009) by Sheila Williams (editor)


Stories included:
Going Deep by James Patrick Kelly
Controlled Experiment by Tom Purdom
Sails the Morne by Chris Willrich
Bare, Forked Animal by John Alfred Taylor
Cold Testing by Eric Brown
The Monsters of Morgan Island by Sandra McDonald

Poems included:
And Drunk the Milk of Paradise by Robert Frazier
Within Your Shoes by Mark Rich
Split Decisions by Kendall Evans and David C. Kopaska-Merkel

Full review: While this issue makes a big deal out of the 25th anniversary of James Patrick Kelly having a story in every June issue of Asimov's, what makes this issue truly special is a sterling line-up of excellent stories. Every story in this issue is at least good, and some are very good, and range from near future hard science to bizarre space opera to monster driven dark fantasy.

The issue kicks off with a tribute to James Patrick Kelly, who has had a story appear in every June issue of Asimov's for twenty-five years. Several other contributors offer various congratulatory blurbs about Kelly's genius. His entry in this year's June issue is Going Deep, a pretty good coming of age story about a girl grappling with her identity and rebelling against her clone-mother's plans for her.

After the Kelly love-fest, the issue gets down to business, starting with Tom Purdom's Controlled Experiment, a disturbing story about both the implications of widespread, easily exploitable technology that creates a world in which criminal behavior to take others down a notch becomes not only accepted, but for many a badge of honor. The story centers around a "mischief" whose actions got out of hand, provoking real criminal prosecution, and the difficulties of rehabilitating him. This was my favorite story in the issue, depicting a future that is both scary and compelling.

On the other end of the thematic scale is John Alfred Taylor's Bare, Forked Animal, depicting the horror that ensues when an inhabitant of a culture in which people are entirely dependent upon technology finds himself unrecognized by the automated systems the run everyday life. Locked out of society into a nightmare netherworld, the protagonist almost starves to death and realizes the truth of King Lear. While this story was good, it was too short, and I wanted to see more of the world behind the technology.

Continuing the parade of good stories is Eric Brown's Cold Testing featuring an unusual love triangle between a man, a woman, and an AI  with a sad resolution that somehow felt inevitable. The Monsters of Morgan Island by Sandra McDonald also has a somewhat sad ending to its strange love story, but that is the only similarity, as this story is a fantasy about an island that has a pit full of monsters as a tourist attraction, until the monsters have other ideas. It is bizarre, creepy, and also quite good.

Sails the Morne by Chris Willrich is probably the most bizarre tale in the book, dealing with a long haul space freighter from a backwater Earth delivering an artifact to aliens and dealing with space pirates and a murderer on board ship. I cannot come up with a description that can do the strangeness of the story true justice, and for all its strangeness it hangs together in the end and adds one final tick to the list of good stories found in this issue.

When the worst story in the issue is a pretty good 25th anniversary story by an acclaimed author, you know you have a good issue. Each story in this installment of Asimov's is both good and quite distinct from the other stories that accompany it, which makes for a good read with plenty of variety. This is simply one of the best issues of Asimov's in the past couple years.

Previous issue reviewed: April/May 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: July 2009

2010 Locus Award Nominees
2010 Nebula Award Nominees

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review - Asimov's Science Fiction: Vol. 33, No. 7 (July 2009) by Sheila Williams (editor)


Stories included:
Earth II by Stephen Baxter
SinBad the Sand Sailor by R. Garcia y Robertson
The Last Apostle by Michael Cassutt
Camp Nowhere by Kit Reed
Sleepless in the House of Ye by Ian McHugh
Shoes-to-Run by Sara Genge

Poems included:
For Sale: One Moonbase, Never Used by Esther M. Friesner
Exobiology II by F.J. Bergman

Full review: This is a mostly disappointing issue of Asimov's Science Fiction. The issue leads off with an editorial by Sheila Williams in which she argues that in prosperous economic times, authors write hopeful, mostly upbeat science fiction, while in down times, they write depressing stories. The evidence she marshals to support this contention is not that impressive, but the story selections for this issue seem to be aimed at proving her right.

The longest story is Earth II from Stephen Baxter about the descendants of a group of settlers on a new planet. The new Earth is mostly water covered, and has a axial tilt that results in long hot "days" and long cold "nights" that last for months. The inhabitants have divided into nations and fallen to fighting with one another, but that only serves as the backdrop for the real story as one group tries to preserve the store of knowledge handed down by the original settlers, while another group seeks to find the remnants of the long lost indigenous inhabitants of the planet. The story ends by basically stating that the only way forward is to destroy the past, which I find to be a very depressing conclusion.

Of the remaining stories, the only truly fun one is SinBad the Sand Sailor by R. Garcia y Robertson, which is a sort of realistic version of the conditions that could create a Barsoom-like Mars complete with flying cities, sand sailors, men fighting with swords and crossbows, slavers from Thuria, and so on. Michael Cassutt's The Last Apostle is a less than convincing story about an alternate group of Apollo astronauts who find evidence of life on the Moon, and then for completely unexplained reasons cover it up until all but one are dead. Shoes-to-Run, by Sara Genge, features both gender identity issues and the conflict between the civilized inhabitants of a future city and the barbaric dwellers of the countryside on a future Earth apparently destroyed by global warming and radiation.

The weakest stories in the volume are Sleepless in the House of Ye by Ian McHugh and Camp Nowhere by Kit Reed. I would describe Sleepless as an ambitious failure - it is told from a completely alien perspective with almost no human reference points. Unfortunately, that makes for a difficult story, and ultimately I think, a failed one. Camp Nowhere, on the other hand, seems simply to not belong in a science fiction magazine. Although possibly set in the future, there is no science fiction idea in the story, unless one considers group therapy and child abandonment to be science fiction.

Overall, this is simply not a particularly good issue of the magazine, with only two really decent stories, and the others ranging from barely adequate to pretty bad. The most interesting part of the issue was Robert Silverberg's column on his efforts to obtain foreign language editions of his own work, which, while amusing, shouldn't be the highlight of an issue. For me, this volume was simply a disappointment.

Previous issue reviewed: June 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: August 2009

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Musical Monday - The Music Box by The Trans-Siberian Orchestra


Christmas is aggressively marketed as a season of happiness. Every year one is supposed to be filled with holiday cheer and have the best Christmas ever, even though that is actually impossible. Because of this, what it often really does is remind people of other, happier Christmases they had in the past. Or, more often, it reminds people of how not full of holiday cheer they are. And it scolds you for feeling that way.

There are two versions of this song. The other one, titled Music Box Blues, seems to be more popular, and is a pleading and soulful rendition originally sung by now-deceased former Trans-Siberian Orchestra vocalist Daryl Pediford. But I chose this version, sung by Katrina Chester, because it has a more resigned, almost defeated tone. And that's where I am now, dealing with the fact that some things probably cannot be fixed, no matter how hard you might try. I don't want to use the phrase "irretrievable broken", but I fear that there are relationships between me and two people that I care about quite a bit for whom I might have to say exactly that. Even now, I keep trying to think of ways to repair the damage that has been done, and yet I know that it likely isn't possible.

This is not going to be a Christmas full of happy cheer for me. And probably not for them. I don't regret many things that brought me to where I am now, but my ever deteriorating connection with them. I'm almost out of hope, but I'll leave a candle burning in the window and live on memories.

Subsequent Musical Monday: White Wine in the Sun by Tim Minchin

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Book Blogger Hop December 5th - December 11th: The Sinclair ZX81 Was a Scottish Computer Repackaged for the U.S. Market as the Timex Sinclair 1000

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What is your favorite part about reading a book? Figuring out the plot ahead of time, the feeling of the actual book itself, experiencing the plot unfold, getting to know the characters- or something else entirely?

I read books for story and character. I want to see how the characters interact with the story, and how the story affects the characters. When I read a book, I want well-written characters who are consistent and understandable. Optimally, they will change and grow as the story progresses. I also want a coherent story for these characters to inhabit - an interesting story with obstacles that they can deal with. I guess that most of all, I want the author to play fair. And by that I mean I want the author to have characters react to the story they are in in a manner consistent with their established character traits.

As an example of an instance in which an author failed to deliver this, I submit Arthur in Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles. Throughout the trilogy, Cornwell establishes that Arthur is a maverick who disdains most social conventions - a trait that gets him into trouble when he skips his arranged political marriage so that he can marry Guinevere instead. Time and again Arthur flouts the mores of his society to do things his own way. That is, until he has to deal with the affair between Tristan and King' Mark's wife Isoulde. Then Arthur becomes a stickler for the rules, effectively permitting Tritant to be overmatched and killed in a single combat it is obvious he cannot winn, and Isoulde to be condemned and executed.

There really is no reason given as to why Artur should act this way other than this is the only manner Cornwell could think of to make the story of Tristan and Isoulde play out in a manner resembling the mythical version. And even this seems like an odd thing for Cornwell to have done, because as an author he had proved quite willing to alter so many other portions of the Arthur myth that making his main character act entirely out of character in slavish deference to a tertiary myth is almost inexplicable. And yet Cornwell did exactly that, which was a weird and disappointing aberration in what was otherwise a very good series of books.

That is the sort of character inconsistency that I don't want in a book. What I'm looking for is the opposite.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: Vercingetorix Was Born in 82 B.C.

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Follow Friday - Count von Count's Favorite Number Is 1872


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Books Are My Life and Mo_Books.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Do you decide in advance what you read for the coming week or month?

I do in a very rough way, although my method is usually more aspirational in nature than anything resembling a real plan. I have a pile of books that I keep next to my computer that are theoretically the books that are to be read next, arranged in what is supposed to be the order they are to be read. In practice, this pile is often skipped over for other books that jump the line for various reasons, some of which are reasonable, others of which are merely based upon whims. I also have a bookshelf where I keep my other review copies, which are, once again, theoretically the next books in line to be read after the ones in the pile, but they aren't in any particular order and are likely to be line-jumped for random reasons as well. So I do have a plan for what I intend to read in the coming weeks and months, but the plan is often altered on the fly.


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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Review - Asimov's Science Fiction: Vol. 33, No. 8 (August 2009) by Sheila Williams (editor)


Stories included:
The Qualia Engine by Damien Broderick
California Burning by Michael Blumlein
Creatures of Well-Defined Habits by Robert Reed
Blue by Derek Zumsteg
The Consciousness Problem by Mary Robinette Kowal
Two Boys by Steven Popkes
Turbulence by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Poems included:
Chicken from Minsk by Karin L. Frank
Osteometry by Erin Hoffman
Doing Splits by Ruth Berman
And My Sinuses Are Killing Me by Tina Connolly
Human Resources by F.J. Bergmann

Full review: The August 2009 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction is a decent issue, but lacks a great anchor story that would raise it above the merely ordinary. None of the stories in the issue are bad, but none of them stand out as being particularly noteworthy.

The two novellas in the issue, The Qualia Engine by Damien Broderick and California Burning by Michael Blumlein both tackle the question of how well we truly understand those who share our lives, but from very different angles. In The Qualia Engine a collection of hyper-intelligent children take on the question of "qualia", or how to truly understand experiences from another's point of view. Along the way they build an engine that allows the user to experience the memories of another person, and the central character in the story learns things about one of his companions that he might rather not have known. The ending is ambiguous as to what impact the new technology will have, which I think is the weakness of the story. In California Burning a man is told that his recently deceased father's bones simply won't burn, and is left with the dilemma of how to cremate him. While trying to solve this problem, he discovers that he didn't really know his father very well, although he finds no answers to his father's true identity. Set against the backdrop of raging California wildfires, the story is mysterious, but ultimately unsatisfying, content merely to pose a bunch of questions, but hesitant to actually try to answer any.

The remaining stories range from the trivial to the pretty good. Turbulence by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is the flimsiest of the bunch: A man takes airplane flights a lot, a woman next to him says that every flight she rides experiences turbulence, the flight experiences very rough turbulence, the man ends the story scared to fly. This is one of those stories that is okay, albeit somewhat pointless, but one wonders why it is in a science fiction magazine. Creatures of Well-Defined Habits by Robert Reed centers around a rather elaborate prank played by the friends of an old gentleman (or rather a replacement robot with an old gentleman's memories) intended to get him to tell new stories and not just rehash old ones. It is diverting, but not much more. Two Boys by Steven Popkes is a story about two neanderthals growing up in the modern world (the neanderthal bloodline having been revived via genetic engineering), set in two different time periods. While nominally about prejudice against those who are different, the story really comes to the conclusion that humanity needs an outside force to help mediate its insoluble problems, a conclusion I find somewhat dubious.

The two best stories in the issue are Blue by Derek Zumsteg and The Consciousness Problem Mary Robinette Kowal. In Blue two survivors are trapped in a spacecraft orbiting a blue black hole (hence the title, the blue effect would result from the light drawn into the hole being blue-shifted). The story focuses on the strained relationship between the two as they fight over minor irritations all the while threatened by the looming power of the black hole that holds their craft in thrall. As the characters struggle to come up with a plan of escape that gives them the best chance of survival, the two clash over food selection, use of exercise equipment, and the hundred other petty concerns two people trapped in a limited space cut off from the rest of the world would have. The story ends just as they begin their attempted escape, which might seem like ending the tale just as the story gets good, but in the end the story isn't about the escape, but rather the isolation.

The Consciousness Problem is told from the perspective of a confused narrator suffering from a debilitating brain injury that has made her unable to focus for any length of time, causes hallucinations, and otherwise interferes with her ability to live a normal life. The action of the story takes place mostly offstage as her husband works to complete a project they had shared before her injury: The cloning of humans complete with the intact memories of the original subject. The purported reason is to allow powerful busy people to clone themselves to get more work done, but it seems somewhat less than plausible that someone would agree to this. It also seems that no thought or consideration is given to the question of whether the clone would be agreeable to this sort of life. In fact, the narrator's husband does successfully clone himself, but the resulting clone, complete with all his memories (including the memories of loving his wife) is treated as little more than a lab experiment. Naturally, the clone regards this as a problem and turns his considerable intellect to finding a way to change his situation. The clone's solution is unexpected and interesting. The story raises serious questions about identity, both from the perspective of the narrator, whose injury has changed her entire mental make up even though she occupies the same body, and the clone, who remembers and feels everything the original did, but isn't the same person simply because he does not occupy the same body his memories were made in. This is the best story in the issue.

Overall, with a few hits, a few moderately engaging stories, and a few modest misses, this adds up to a decent but unspectacular issue of a generally fine magazine.

Previous issue reviewed: July 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: September 2009

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review - Asimov's Science Fiction: Vol. 33, No. 9 (September 2009) by Sheila Williams (editor)


Stories included:
Broken Windchimes by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Soulmates by Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn
Away from Here by Lisa Goldstein
Camera Obscured by Ferrett Steinmetz
In Their Garden by Brenda Cooper
The Day Before the Day Before by Steve Rasnic Tem
Tear-Down by Benjamin Crowell
Her Heart's Desire by Jerry Oltion

Poems included:
Speculative Tai Chi by Kendall Evans
Nearly Ready for Occupation by Danny Adams
The Last Alchemist by Bruce Boston

Full review: The September 2009 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction is another fine issue of a generally excellent magazine with many fairly good stories, a few very good ones, and no clunkers.

The anchor story of this issue is Broken Windchimes by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The story revolves around a musician trained to perform before the alien Pane race, who have very specific and constraining ideas about what is acceptable as music. The protagonist of the story is a tenor trained since childhood in the exacting Pane style who misses a note by a hair's breadth and sees his career with them end. In shame, he flees to the nearest human space station where he learns just how much his fame on Pane has unknowingly cost him as well as the sad circumstances that led him to being transported to the dreary Pane world. The story manages to convey the joy of music via the written word, and is the best story in the issue.

Away from Here, by Lisa Goldstein, is a fantasy about a troop of what appear to be carnival folk who show up at a run down hotel to inject some life into a young woman's dead end existence toiling for her parents. The story focuses on the dangers of holding on to an unattainable fantasy and breaking away from the folly of one's parents (or at least hoping to do so). The story has a little bit of an air of unreality to it, which seems odd to say about a fantasy story, but it makes the story less effective than it could have been. Also on the subject of fantasy interfering with the pursuit of real life is Camera Obscured, by Ferrett Steinmetz, which focuses on the increasingly public nature of people's private lives following a teen desperate to be the best at something - in his mind anything will do - just so long as it makes him famous. His quixotic quest leads him to an unlikely friendship, and a realization that maybe his pursuit of fame isn't really what he wants.

Soulmates, by Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn, is an unlikely buddy story, as a drunken night watchman distraught over the euthanasia of his wife forms a bond with a inquisitive repair robot at a manufacturing plant. The story is a little predictable, but it is sweet without being cloying. In their Garden, by Brenda Cooper, shares some thematic similarities to Away from Here, a teen protagonist living and working with an older community preserving the past but yearning to break free and strike out on her own. On the whole, it is a much more effective story than Away from Here because it has a core of reality to its protagonist's frustration and a motivation for its staid elder generation that strikes home in a way that the overtly fantastical elements in Away from Here do not.

The Day Before the Day Before, by Steve Rasnic Tem, is a time travel story with the classic elements many such stories have, but with the twist that the time traveler has rebelled against the dictates of his mission and knows he has altered time. Because the traveler ends up trapped by the fact that the best possible outcome for him is that he is merely stranded in the past rather than being subjected to some sort of retribution from those he betrayed, the story manages to be both hopeful and depressing at the same time, which is a rare feat.

Tear-Down by Benjamin Crowell is a humorous, although fairly lightweight, story about the difficulties an AI driven house and its new occupants face adjusting to each other.  Her Heart's Desire is the one wish-fulfillment story in the issue that has a happy ending, although the wish of the titular "her" isn't fulfilled in the way that she expects. Both of these stories are nothing more than diversions, but they remain fun and entertaining.

Overall, with a collection of stories that range from merely diverting to very good, and lacking in any weak ones to drag the whole down, this is a good issue of Asimov's that continues the magazine's tradition of offering high quality short science fiction.

Previous issue reviewed: August 2009
Subsequent issue reviewed: October/November 2009

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Musical Monday - Thanksgiving Is Better Than Christmas by Molly Lewis


So, with Thanksgiving behind us, and with the all-consuming holiday monster known as Christmas in full swing, I think it is time to reflect upon the two holidays and realize that yes, Thanksgiving is better than Christmas. Molly goes over several of the reasons, and she's dead on correct with every one of them. The all-consuming commercialism of Christmas has overwhelmed a holiday that is supposed to be a happy cheerful time, and transformed it into what is for many people an exceptionally stressful couple of weeks. It has even started encroaching on Thanksgiving's turf so retailers can try to sell you more goodies even earlier. Christmas comes parceled with so many obligations - getting a tree, putting up Christmas decorations, buying gifts for people, making food for office parties, sending cards, and so on - that it is more work than fun.

Thanksgiving also comes with a fair amount of work, mostly involving cooking a really substantial meal in which dishes are prepared that are rarely served throughout the year such as cranberries, sweet potatoes, and green bean casserole. But it is mostly confined to a day or two of activity, and then you can eat the meal and have leftovers for days afterwards. Thanksgiving is actually an enjoyable holiday. Christmas, for the most part, is not. And that is why Thanksgiving is a much better holiday than Christmas.

The stores that open on Thanksgiving are setting a simply terrible example. As a matter of principle I will never shop on Thanksgiving. All the marketing trying to get me to buy stuff on Black Friday is basically a waste of time too. This year Black Friday sales were down. I think this was, in part, due to the Ferguson-related protests designed to shut down Black Friday, but I also think it is because more and more people are becoming disgusted with the overzealousness of retailers regarding the "event". At one point Black Friday was kind of cute - when stores opened at six a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving and had some sales. But now, with retailers asking people to leave dinner with their families and either work all night or wade through crowds of people to get the "door buster" sale items, I believe there is a backlash and people are intentionally staying home. At least I hope there is, and I hope they are.

Previous Musical Monday: Not Very Musical at All Today
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Music Box by The Trans-Siberian Orchestra

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Book Blogger Hop November 28th - December 4th: "Ultraman 80" Was the Ninth Show in the Ultra Series

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you visit the same blogs each week or do you branch out and try to find new blogs?

To be perfectly honest, I barely have enough time to visit any blogs, let alone go searching for new ones. I try to look at a few every day, but between my day job and keeping up with posts on this blog, my time is often occupied by obligations more pressing than finding new and interesting blogs to read. In a perfect world I'd read a dozen new blogs every day and add them to an ever-growing list of blogs that I regularly peruse. Sadly, we don't live in a perfect world, and there simply are never enough hours in the day for me to do all the things I want to do.


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Friday, November 28, 2014

Follow Friday - Kosmos 186 and Kosmos 188 Performed a Fully Automated Docking in 1967


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Bewitched Bookworms and Books & Sensibility.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Describe your favorite book character death scene. Why is it your favorite? Was it a villain or a hero? What made it so good?

The obvious choice would be Boromir, whose death in The Two Towers is one of the iconic moments in fantasy fiction - especially since he is one of the very few significant figures in the trilogy who actually dies and stays dead.

However, I'm going to choose Paul Muad'Dib Atredies from Dune, Dune Messiah, and finally Children of Dune, which is, of course, the book in which Paul dies. What makes Paul's death so interesting is that it was essentially of his own making. Beginning in Dune, Paul was set, not entirely of his own volition, upon a path of conquest that led to his rise to the galactic throne. But along the way, Paul unlocked the secrets of prescience - the ability to see the future, and that is what eventually destroyed him. Because once you can see all ends, you are trapped by what you know will happen as a result. And so, after placing himself astride the galactic empire, Paul must unleash jihad across the many worlds, costing sixty billion people their lives, because he knows that the alternatives would be worse. And he knows that by making the desert bloom, he will destroy his beloved fremen, and they will turn against him and try to kill him, but he must do this or the alternatives will be worse. And so on. Knowing all of the possibilities obliterates any semblance of free will - you can only choose the option that you can foresee will have the least bad consequences.

Paul the man is eventually pushed aside by Paul the legend, as his own sister Alia sets up a religion that deifies him while he is still alive. After the unsuccessful fremen attempt against his life, Paul is left blinded, and retreats to the desert and vanishes. He resurfaces as the man known as a heretic, and preaches against Alia, who has been taken over by the genetic memory of Baron Harkonnen, and her priests, who are nominally devoted to worshiping him. But his heresy enrages Alia's supporters, and they kill him, stabbing Paul to death as he harangues his troubled sister, an outcome that he certainly must have foreseen. In the end, Paul was consumed by an out of control movement of his own creation - and it was a movement that he knew would consume him, but could do nothing to prevent because he knew there was simply no better alternative.


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