Monday, February 19, 2018

Short Fiction: October 2017

Hugo nominations season is upon us, and I have not yet read all the short fiction that I intended!  As a recap on these series of posts, it was the Hugo Awards that initially prompted me to dive more deeply into the world of short fiction.  The low nomination rate for short fiction (relative to novel nominations) leaves their categories vulnerable to gaming.  I figured that for my part, the best thing I could do is to read more short fiction and nominate the stories I like.  These posts grew out of that, simply from a desire to share stories that I personally thought were especially enjoyable.  The amount of short fiction I’m able to read in time varies from post to post, but I try to continue reading until I’ve found a few that I’d like to share.  

This batch of stories is more towards the fantasy side of SFF, with a new d-space novella from Jeremiah Tolbert, a divine match-making story from Jordan Ifueko, and a quiet alien contact tale from Dennis Danvers.  Tolbert is the only recurring author from previous posts, and I have recommended previous stories of his here and here. All the stories are available to read at the listed links.

The Dragon of Dread Peak by Jeremiah Tolbert (Novella, Lightspeed): Since this is a sequel, I would recommend reading “The Cavern of the Screaming Eyes” first.  If for some reason you don’t want to, it is still perfectly possible to understand this story without having read the first.  The basic premise is that space-time portals to d-space (essentially ‘dungeons’ or ‘instances’ in MMORPG parlance) have begun to pop up, and only teenagers have the ability to enter and resolve them. This might sound a little silly, but the emotional authenticity of the characters grounds the story in reality. The main character Ivan’s brother went missing in one of these instances, and he is keeping his fledgling (and somewhat inept) d-space team a secret from his still-grieving mother. Overall, it is a fun story about teamwork, leadership, and trying to outwit a dangerous dragon.  The novella is complete in itself, but it also furthers the ongoing plot of Ivan’s search for his brother.    

Oshun, Inc. by Jordan Ifueko (Short Story, Strange Horizons): This one was a fun story about the immortal employees of a Nigerian goddess, Oshun.  The main character works out of the LA office, seeing to the prayers of Nigerian-Americans. She uses her divine tricks for match-making, and she’s determined at the beginning of the story to impress Oshun by matching two particular lonely people.  However, matches are not always as good in practice as they might sound in theory. This was a pretty upbeat and humorous story overall, but I would note that the main character exposes some racist and misogynistic attitudes along the way.

Penelope Waits by Dennis Danvers (Short Story, Apex): I really enjoy peaceful, friendly alien contact stories.  A woman lives in a small town with an unreliable boyfriend, working at a dog wash and taking literature classes.  She wants a better life, but doesn’t seem to see a path toward it. When she encounters the aliens, though, she sees the potential for change. Her daily routine is filled with her thoughts about the Odyssey, the aliens, and the role she’s playing in her own life. It was a quiet, uplifting story told in a conversational style, and it left me with a smile on my face.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Review: Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey
Published: Gollancz (2011)
Series: Book 9 of Kushiel’s Legacy (final novel)

Beware of spoilers for previous books in the series below!

The Book:

“After resolving their relationship troubles, Moirin and Bao have returned from Asia to Terre d’Ange.  Together, they face the aftermath of the situation Moirin left behind.  Her beloved queen has died in childbirth, leaving behind a daughter who is desperate for affection from a father who is in despair. Moirin vows to protect the happiness of the young princess, but she has little political power as an outsider to the court.  

The one person who could protect the girl’s interests, her older half-brother and heir to the throne, is missing and presumed dead on an expedition to the New World. It is clear where her destiny now leads, to a dangerous and unknown land. Moirin and her small band of loyal companions will journey to the New World, to search for the ill-fated expedition and hopefully return the heir alive.” ~Allie

With this review, I close out my reading of the Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey.  It was a lot of fun to join in the read-along, and I thank Susan of Dab of Darkness for putting all of this together.  Our spoiler-filled discussions can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

My Thoughts:

As usual with this series, this final novel again explores new lands and new cultures.  However, this time she also spends a significant amount of time in Terre d’Ange, dealing with everything that has happened since she left for Ch’in.  As much as I enjoy seeing new cultures, I really love Terre d’Ange (fantasy-France), so I was delighted to see the story was going to bring us back there. In terms of new lands, Moirin travels to the New World and encounters several different civilizations there.  I felt that Moirin was pretty respectful of the ways of life she sees in the different societies she passes through.  However, human sacrifice plays a large role in the depiction of the religions of the New World, and I’m not sure I’m very comfortable with how that side of the story ultimately played out. I think that's mostly because I'm not comfortable with the idea of human sacrifice in general.      
I’ve complained before about Moirin’s passivity in following her predestined path, but I felt like that was less of an issue in this final novel.  She does still consult her diadh-anam, but I didn’t feel like it led her contrary to what she would have decided without its influence. Her mystical pair-bonding with Bao is also less of an issue, since they’ve now also consciously chosen to be married and joined for life.  They feel more like a naturally happy couple, now that neither of them are fighting their destiny.  Moirin is also still a channel for divine influence, and often allows other forces to act through her. I thought it felt more like a deliberate choice this time, though, rather than just being used by her divine sources.  

As a conclusion to the trilogy, I liked how Naamah’s Blessing tied together the events in the beginning of the story with the person Moirin has become in the course of her journeys.  I don’t think nearly as much time has passed in Moirin’s trilogy as in the previous two, but she packs a lot of adventures and changes in a few years.  When she and Bao return to Terre d’Ange from Asia, it is quite a contrast to her debut as a naive young girl straight from an Alban cave.  The final novel also nicely addresses lingering arcs from the beginning of her story, such as her misadventures with Raphael and her guilt over leaving Jehanne before her child was born.  It was a satisfying conclusion to her story, though I am sad to have to now leave Terre d’Ange behind as a reader.

My Rating: 3/5

Naamah’s Blessing brings the story of Moirin to a close, and also marks the end of the larger three-trilogy series of Kushiel’s Legacy. In the end, my favorite trilogy is still Phedre’s, and I would still love to read more stories of her adventures.  Moirin’s story takes place in a different (later) time, with more overt magic and direct divine influence.  I had some issues with Moirin’s passivity in following her predestined path, and with the magical influence that directed her romantic life.  All the same, she has plenty of exciting adventures (and misadventures), and I generally enjoyed following along to see where her path would lead her.  It’s sad to leave Terre d’Ange behind, but I doubt this will be the last I’ll read of Jacqueline Carey’s work.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Read-Along: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey, Part 4[END]

Welcome to the final post in the read-along of James S.A. Corey’s Persepolis Rising! Beware below of spoilers of the series to date.  This week’s questions are provided by Lisa of Over the Effing Rainbow.  I’d also like to report that I’m back to my usual schedule, and once again working happily on upcoming reviews and short fiction spotlights.  This read-along has been a lot of fun, and I certainly hope we can all team up again to community-read the final two novels of the series when they’re out!

1. There's no hope for some people... What was your response to Singh's ultimate failure, and his fate? Does anyone feel sympathy for him at this point?

I don’t feel sympathy for him, but I do feel bad for his wife and daughter.  It looks like he was set up for a fall, though I think he was given room to either rise to the challenge of leadership or crash.  He was doing a spectacularly terrible job of bringing Medina together as a community, but I am glad he was stopped before he started just indiscriminately killing people en masse.  I’m wondering if his wife will be a main character in the coming book, as she tries to make sense of her government uncaringly sacrificing someone she loved.  It’s possible this could be the crack through which she really starts to understand the horror of her society.

2. Naomi has The Hardest Decision to make - to save Jim, or to save the rest of her family and the resistance. How do you feel about her actions, and her perspective, in the final chapters?

I think she did what she had to do.  I admit I was wondering if she would take the Rocinante to Laconia, and try to do some kind of a stealth rescue.  I don’t think it would have been possible to pull something like that off, though, so I’m glad she went with the others to Freehold.  Also, it was ultimately very important that she was there to back up Clarissa.  Without both of them working together, those sensors would not have been deactivated.

3. So. Not everyone on Team Rocinante made it to safety... What did you make of Clarissa's sacrifice?

I am sad that she’s gone, but it was a meaningful sacrifice.  She and Naomi both had to be there to make the plan work, and there’s no way they could have beaten the guards without Clarissa using her implants one last time.  I feel like there’s kind of a contrast and a parallel between how her and Singh’s lives ended.  She chose to sacrifice herself, she saved many people, and in the end she was not afraid.  Singh chose to sacrifice other people, his life was discarded by his government, and in the end he was terrified.  I think both of their deaths will leave a lasting mark on history, though Clarissa’s will be more positive and less well-known.  
4. Holden meets Duarte, and we finally learn his ultimate goal, if not precisely his plans for achieving it. How blown was your mind? And is Duarte a madman, or could he just maybe be onto something...?

Oh, I still think he’s meddling with things far beyond his ability to control.  I also think there’s bound to be some terrible eventual side effects of having incorporated protomolecule into his own body.  I don’t think provoking a confrontation with the civilization-killers is a good idea at all, and I think we could have just avoided the situation indefinitely. Humanity does need to learn to make smarter collective decisions about their future, but a dictator is not going to be able to help with that.

Other Thoughts:

--It was pretty amazing that Bobbie and Amos were able to take Singh’s ship.  With that, I feel like they do have a chance for the future.  The technology gap was just too much otherwise, and Drummer’s army didn’t have enough information to win.

--Speaking of Drummer, the battle and surrender was pretty painful to read.  It was also sad to see Avasarala saying that all of her life’s work was irrelevant (for the record, I don’t think that’s true). I’m hoping we’ll at least get to see Holden and Drummer working against Laconia from the inside in the next novel.

--Did I hear a hint that Elvi might be back in the next book?  Her adolescent-romance angst annoyed me in Cibola Burn, but I’d be really interested to see how she’s doing after 30 years. I bet she’s a pretty established and respected scientific expert at this point.

--I’m also wondering if we might see some new viewpoint characters in the next books.  Our only viewpoint character from the new generation (Singh) is, well, no more.  I’m hoping either for Singh’s wife or Duarte’s daughter to become a viewpoint character for the next one.