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book reviews by Althea


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**** Blood Grains Speak Through Memories – Jason Sanford

Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #195, Special Double-Issue for BCS Science-Fantasy Month 3
Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #195,

**** Blood Grains Speak Through Memories – Jason Sanford
Long in the past, facing an environmentally ravaged world, nanobots were programmed to protect the land. The nanotech symbiotically infects appointed guardians, directing their actions. All other humans are forced to live a nomadic existence, never settling down, never damaging flora or fauna. Inarguably, the land thrives – but the rules of the nanobots are harsh and inflexible, and sometimes, in conflict with human compassion or desires.
Here, we meet one particularly dissatisfied ‘guardian,’ a woman who has been through pain and loss. When a travelling family begs succor from her for an emergency, she comes into conflict with a programmed mandate once again. Will she be able to circumvent the dictates of the ‘grains’?
Imaginative and original, with great characterization.

 

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*** Lullaby for a Lost World – Aliette de Bodard

Lullaby for a Lost World
Lullaby for a Lost World by Aliette de Bodard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aliette de Bodard’s website describes this story as “A dark and creepy answer to ‘The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas.'” Since I re-read LeGuin’s story (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…) earlier today, as well as another story by de Bodard (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…) (which I loved), it seemed like an auspicious time to go ahead and read this one.

Unfortunately, ‘Lullaby…’ did not fare well by comparison. I think I would’ve liked it better without any mention of the LeGuin story. While it features a similar situation, rather than exploring a variety of complex ethical questions, it presents a comparatively simplistic dark-occult revenge story.

In a post-apocalyptic scenario, one house, containing hundreds of survivors, is protected by the magic of a sorcerer who apparently gains his power through human sacrifice. His victims are the weak and the ill – apparently always young girls. The tale is told through the eyes of the ghost of one of these girls, who is roused by the impending fate of her successor.

The sorcerer is unambiguously portrayed as a hypocrite acting out of self-interest, and no mention at all is made of the choices of those who shelter in the house’s safety (the parallel to what was the main focus of LeGuin’s piece). There are no ‘ones who walk away’ mentioned.

In summary: decent occult horror; not an ‘answer’ to ‘Omelas.’

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A Salvaging of Ghosts – Aliette de Bodard *****

A Salvaging of Ghosts
A Salvaging of Ghosts by Aliette de Bodard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Aliette de Bodard is good; she is very good. I think I’ve said it before, but the tone of her stories often reminds me of Somtow Sucharitkul, whom I like a lot – science fiction, but with a glittering, decadent edge.

Here, our main character works in a high-risk field: venturing into “deep” layers of space where ships have wrecked to retrieve the jewels that these weird layers of reality form from human corpses. The jewels are beautiful – but they’re commercially viable because they’re used as a recreational drug. On this venture, though, she’s not interested in profit – but in retrieving a memento of the daughter, who died on an earlier job, doing the same thing.

The story is poignant and weird, but what really makes it is all the glimpses of the even stranger world around the edges of the story.

This one is part of the ‘Xuya’ universe.

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Dissolution – Ellen Kushner (Tremontaine S2 E13)

Dissolution
Dissolution by Ellen Kushner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Last episode for this ‘season’ – and yes, it looks like there’ll be another season.
Although we climax at the long-awaited vote in which we discover if Diane de Tremontaine will become Duchess ‘in her own right,’many of the other plot threads which looked like they were about to be resolved and tied up neatly suddenly unravel at the last moment… leaving plenty of room for more story to-come!
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And Then, One Day, the Air was Full of Voices – Margaret Ronald ****

Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 117
Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 117 by Neil Clarke

My rating: 0 of 5 stars

**** And Then, One Day, the Air was Full of Voices by Margaret Ronald

The theme of how humanity would react upon first receiving transmissions from an alien culture has been well-trod, but Margaret Ronald revisits this idea with a thoughtful gaze. The story focuses on a mother-son relationship. The mother is a researcher specializing in the scientific study of the communications from the aliens. Her son, she fears, may have joined a far less rational UFO suicide cult. Her worry leads her to abruptly leave a conference to confront him – but what she discovers isn’t quite what she expected.

Ronald is a new author to me; after reading this poignant story I’ll be keeping an eye out for her name.

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Smoke and Ashes – Mary Anne Mohanraj (Tremontaine S2 E12)

Smoke and Ashes
Smoke and Ashes by Mary Anne Mohanraj

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, this is an extremely downbeat episode. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good – but a bit more depressing than I expected, as things do not turn out happily (to say the least) for quite a few of the characters.

Only one more in this ‘season’ – and I suspect that more unhappiness is on the way…

On to find out!

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The City of Ice – KM McKinley ****

The City of Ice
The City of Ice by K.M. McKinley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do not even think about starting here! If you haven’t read the first one, go here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show… and read ‘The Iron Ship’ first! These are really not ‘books in a series’ but one continuing story… scratch that; it’s several continuing stories, some of them with very little relation to one another. (And if you don’t start at the beginning, they will seem like they have absolutely no relationship to each other.)

I have to admit, the looseness of the plotting could be seen as a flaw in this epic work. However, at the end of the day, I don’t really mind. I really like this story (stories.) I found all of the separate plot threads engaging, I enjoyed all of the imaginative detail, and the big epic-fantasy threat-to-the-world-itself works well here too (and succeeds in tying together all of the separate dramas going on here just enough.)

There’s a bit of something here for everyone… wizard battles, steampunk-ish technology, a nautical quest for the city of the title, ancient technology, dire hordes from other worlds, alien/inhuman powers, rogues and conmen, brave warriors and military action – and even a dash of sadomasochistic romance.

I recommend the series – but again, start at the beginning!
Many thanks to NetGalley and Solaris for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

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