Gravity Dreams: Some interesting themes but not much else

Gravity Dreams by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Tyndel is a religious leader in his society. Any use of nanotechnology is forbidden and those who change their bodies with nanotech are considered “demons.” When someone purposely infects Tyndel with the forbidden “mites,” Tyndel must flee his country before he’s arrested and killed. When he gets rescued by the “evil” empire that allows technological body enhancements, his faith is challenged.

Gravity Dreams (1999) is very similar to The Parafaith War, the last Modesitt book I read. Both stories involve two societies, one whose religion teaches that the other is evil because it uses technology to upgrade sensory processing and increase lifespans. The heroes of both books ar... Read More

Heavy Liquid: These characters move through a world that leaves a mark

Heady Liquid by Paul Pope

Heavy Liquid by Paul Pope is a futuristic neo-noir comic book put out by DC’s Vertigo imprint. The story is a little disorienting and slow to start, but it builds into a very engaging tale about a mysterious substance called Heavy Liquid. Is it a special metal, a drug, or a weapon of mass destruction? Perhaps, possibly, this black liquid is even alive. All of these possibilities are considered in the course of the comic. Overall, the book is not for everyone, but if you like Paul Pope’s art, it is an essential read, perhaps his greatest single narrative other than Batman: Year 100.

The story is about “S,” a man whose job it is to find people. He’s been hired by a wealthy art collector who wants S to find Rodan, a famous artist who has become a recluse, lost in plain sight in the middle of a sprawling futuristic city. Rodan also happens to be S... Read More

Bios: A rare miss from RCW

Bios: A Novel of Planetary Exploration by Robert Charles Wilson

Isis is not the M class planet we have been looking for, and upon landing the humans discover that it’s extraordinarily toxic to them. It’s not cheap traveling through space to distant planets, so the scientists will just have to do their best. This is the premise of Robert Charles Wilson’s Bios: A Novel of Planetary Exploration. The scientists initially try to solve this problem with nifty machines and suits, but eventually one of them tries to change people at a genetic level to make them fit the planet, rather than conquering it.

Zoe carries the modified “bloodware,” and she wants to make life work on the new planet. On Earth, she was sexually abused, and though her emotions were “smoothed,” or muted, she is still troubled by them... Read More

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories: Speculative Christmas-themed stories

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories (1999) is a collection of eight short science fiction and fantasies by Connie Willis, plus an introduction and an afterword. It was on sale for $1.99 in early December 2016 ― a great value. It combines Willis’ heartfelt love for Christmas with a clear-eyed but sympathetic view of humanity and its foibles. In the introduction, Willis talks about how she has tried to walk the fine line between cynicism and “mawkish sappiness.” I think she’s done a fine job of it.

"Miracle:" 4 stars. In this story, as sometimes in real life, office Christmas party planning and politics threaten to sideline the true meaning of Christmas. Lauren is looking for the perfect Christmas dress to catch the attention of office hottie Scott, while ... Read More

White Mars: A response to KSR’s MARS trilogy

White Mars by Brian W. Aldiss

While rereading Kim Stanley Robinson's MARS trilogy, books I consider to be among the very best in science fiction, I came across various references to White Mars; Or, The Mind Set Free: A 21st-Century Utopia (1999) by Brian W. Aldiss, written in collaboration with prominent physicists Roger Penrose. Robinson's utopian vision of a terraformed Red Planet is not something everybody would see as ideal or even morally acceptable. In the MARS trilogy Robinson pays a lot of attention to the discussion between what he calls the Reds, a faction opposed to terraforming the planet and convinced of its intrinsic value, and the Green faction who would exploit the planet and make it more hospitable to human life. Aldis... Read More

Ash: A Secret History: One of the most important books in the genre

Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle

I have long had a debate in my mind about the place of the woman warrior in fiction, particularly the type most often presented in epic fantasy/sword & sorcery. Robert E. HowardJoe AbercrombieGeorge R.R. MartinDavid Gemmell, and Tobias Buckell, for example, have all included the undaunted, sword-wielding, occasionally bra-defying warrioresses in their tales of adventure and battle. But in these stories, the women are most often just men with breasts. A distracting veneer is lacquered on the character: she is sexualized, given a sw... Read More

The Antelope Wife: Dark, sad, beautiful and funny

The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich

In 1999, Louise Erdrich’s book The Antelope Wife won the World Fantasy Award. Erdrich is not a genre writer; she is firmly planted in literary territory, even if she and her husband did write romance novels under a pseudonym to pay the bills early in their marriage. The Antelope Wife is not a fantasy book. It is a beautiful, dark, sad, funny story, filled with magic and mythology, weaving Plains Indian and Ojibwa myths into a modern-day tale about a large and complicated family in 1990s Minnesota.

From the two cosmic twins who open the book, beading with dark and light, with milky white beads, the indigo beads and the dark red beads with white hearts, and whose threads and sinews comprise the lives of humans in the world, twins loom large in The Antelope Wife. We have several sets throughout the stor... Read More

The Heart of a Witch: Moody writing and an immature heroine

The Heart of a Witch by Judith Hawkes

Back in the late nineties, younger-me was obsessed with reading every novel about witches I could find. (Don’t get me wrong, I still like witch books, but there are just so many now!) The Heart of a Witch, published in 1999, would have appeared right smack in the middle of this obsession, and yet somehow I never discovered it back then, when I was first devouring Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour and Elizabeth Hand’s Waking the Moon. I found it, instead, at a wonderfully labyrinthine used bookstore just a few weeks ago.

The Heart of a Witch tells the story of twins Shelley and Kipling (their dad’s an Englis... Read More

Suki: A Like Story by Clamp

Suki: A Like Story by Clamp

Suki: A Like Story is a three-book story by Clamp. Clamp is one of my favorite modern creators of manga, and I’m particularly intrigued by the fact that Clamp is an all-female collective. Though they’ve had in the past a rotating membership, for the most part, Clamp now consists of a fairly stable roster of four women: Nanase Ohkawa, Mokona, Tsubaki Nekoi, and Satsuki Igarashi. They started out in the 1980s as an eleven-member group of amateur, self-published indie writers (known as “dojinshi” in Japan), and in the 1990s, they turned into a highly successful, professional creative enterprise. Ohkawa leads the group and writes most of the material, and the other ... Read More

Cryptonomicon: Pretty big accomplishment

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

"This code business is some tricky shit."  ~Bobby Shaftoe

Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon is a lengthy historical fiction set during both World War II and the late 1990s with much of the action taking place in the Philippines. In the 1940s, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, colleague of Alan Turing, is hired by the U.S. Navy to help break Axis codes. Meanwhile, Marine Sergeant Bobby Shaftoe, who’s too enthusiastic and courageous for his own good, doesn’t realize that his troop’s job is to make it look like the U.S. hasn’t broken the codes, but just happens to always be in the right place at the right time.

Waterhouse and Shaftoe know each other only superficially, but their descendants, who’ve noticeably inherited some of their traits, meet in the 1990s storyli... Read More

King of Shadows: Historical fantasy for children

King of Shadows by Susan Cooper

Nat Fields is a young boy with a tragic family history who has just joined a new theatre group. Run by the eccentric Arby Babbage, Nat finds solace and escape from his past with the rehearsals of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Nat is to play the part of Puck, and despite some minor difficulties, Nat is happy with his role as an actor, especially as the director plans to make the performance as loyal as possible to the original performances (including having boys play the part of women).

But then, after a terrible illness, Nat awakes to find himself in the past. He is in 1599, acting amongst Shakespeare's theatre troupe at the Globe Theatre. Once more Nat is in the role of Puck, but this time the performance is for the secret benefit of Queen Elizabeth herself. Nat's co-star is none other than Will Shakespeare himself, who brings a sense of calm and healing... Read More

The Wild Swans: Broke my heart and fused it back together

The Wild Swans by Peg Kerr

I still remember the day I bought my copy of The Wild Swans. I’d been on a retold-fairy-tale bender and had devoured almost every book listed in the back of the Fairy Tale Series books edited by Terri Windling, at least the ones I could track down. I knew I wanted something in a similar vein, and the back cover blurb of The Wild Swans promised exactly what I was looking for. The book delivered, too; it turned out to be a stirring novel blending the fairy tale “The Wild Swans” with modern-day issues.

The Wild Swans consists of two interwoven storylines. In one, a young woman must weave coats of stinging nettles for her brothers to save them from an enchantment, all the while remaining silent until she has finished. This plotline is a fairly straightf... Read More

The Barbed Coil: A stand-alone by J.V. Jones

The Barbed Coil by J.V. Jones

My favorite novel by J.V. Jones is The Barbed Coil, a stand-alone novel set in both 20th century Earth and a strange and distant world. It begins in a most unusual manner, and I didn't think it would work for me, but I read on, and I was glad I did.

Tessa McCamfrey suffers from tinnitus, or a ringing in her ears. She is never entirely free of it, but at certain periods of her life she suffers from especially bad spells. At the point where the book opens, she is suffering from such an episode.
Little does she know that she's suffering from the effects of magic.

While in a futile attempt to drive away from her tinnitus, she happens upon a treasure: a pile of stolen safety-deposit boxes lying discarded in the woods. She roots through them, not realizing that she is looking for something until she finds it: A barbed ring. She puts it on. Th... Read More

The Crystal Mountain: Just lovely!

The Crystal Mountain by Ruth Sanderson

If it were up to me, I'd make sure every single children's bookshelf had at least one of Ruth Sanderson's wonderful books. Her stories are simple, sweet, and yet thought-provoking, and her illustrations are clear, uncluttered and utterly beautiful. The Crystal Mountain is no exception, and is definitely up there as one of her best works.

As she did with The Golden Mare, the Firebird and the Magic Ring, Sanderson ingeniously combines more than one fairy or folk tale to create a story that is both new and familiar. In this case she borrows from the Chinese story "The Magic Brocade" and the traditional Norwegian tale of "The Princess on the Glass Hill," to tell the tale of Anna, a famous seamstress who has a dream that she is determined to create on her loom. When the beautiful tapestry of her Eden-like house and garden is comp... Read More