Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hex delivers aliens and adventure

Allen M. Steele
Ace, June 2011

Reviewed by Ann Wilkes

Steele has opened a whole new delightfully alien can of worms with Hex. What's not to like about a Dyson sphere, an inhabitable, hollow sphere surrounding a star? And how could it be more interesting? Steele's answer is to have numerous alien cultures each have its own "world" within.

The story begins with bored, veteran space captain (Andromeda Carson) who's given the job of forward scout into the unknown. The Talus is an alliance of aliens that humanity belongs to after colonizing the planet Coyote. Another of the Talus races extends an invitation to humanity: Come to our star system and we'll give you a world you can live on. Sounds too good to be true. What could be the catch?

First off, current star maps don't show any planets in that system. But this is too great an opportunity to ignore. Apparently humanity was not the first race that the danuii extended this offer to and these other Talus races are already living on worlds of their own in the danuii system.

The danuii send the starbridge key to their system and the Chief of Operations for the Coyote Federation Merchant Marine Theodore Harker sends Andromeda Carson. As fate would have it the crew they assemble for her includes her own son. The one who's not talking to her.

Imagine a sphere large enough to encompass, but not be vaporized by, a star. Can you?

An entire habitat, far bigger than anything even remotely like it that humans had ever built. The great crater cities of the Moon would easily fit inside the thing, with plenty of room to spare. And this is just one, Andromeda thought. How many did Tom estimate are here? Over a trillion? She swallowed hard, feeling her heart beat against her chest. This is impossible. How could anyone build anything this big?

A low, awestruck whistle from Rolf. "That's it," he muttered. "I give up. I'm retiring. I have no business calling myself an engineer..."

Steele's strength is in his aliens and perfectly flawed humans. I enjoyed the adventure and the varied ways in which each character reacted to danger and the unknown. What I really appreciate about Hex, and what has been true for other Coyote novels I've read, is that Steele does not skimp on the alien descriptions. That keeps me reading even when I get a little annoyed at Andromeda's son Sean's petulance. The tension between the two adds another layer of conflict. And mother and son are each other's kryptonite.

The adventure on Hex has only just begun I'm sure. There must be ways for things to get nasty and out of control. I'm eager to find out more. Maybe I can pry a tidbit or two out of him at Conjecture (He's the GOH). ;)

Editor's note: Read my 2009 interview with Allen M. Steele herein.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Renovation revisited and more con news

I find, several days later, refreshed and regrouped, I have more to say about Renovation, the Worldcon in Reno last weekend. I mentioned getting a chance to meet all kinds of cool authors face to face whom I had only virtually met. Well, what do you care? Let me tell you now, why you should care.

I have promises of interviews from:
Madeleine Robins
Steven Gould
Scott Edelman (editor)
David Boop
Harry Turtledove

Look for those to roll out soon.

I also scored copies of The Brahms Deception by Louise Marley and Brenda Cooper's Mayan December. You should check out the cover of Mayan December. The woman on the front looks like Zoe from Firefly. Not exactly, but the expression is what does it. I'm looking forward to reading them both.

I let slip that I review books while in the dealers room and before I knew it, was inundated with books. Yikes! I'm sure some of them will be worthy of a review at Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys. One guy, however, was so desperate for a review that he insisted his self-published historical fiction was alternate history. I need to learn to keep my mouth shut.

I requested Harry Turtledove's latest from the publisher as it's silly SF. I can definitely go for that.

I didn't make the Hugo Awards, but heard about this highlight and found the video. Chris Garcia - best acceptance speech ever!

Scholastic emailed me when I got back requesting reviews of their titles, so you may see some YA reviews in the near future here at SFOO.

And in other con news, FOGcon is back! I went to the first one in San Francisco last year and they just announced their plans for 2012 after Renovation. The second annual Friends of the Genre Convention will be held in Walnut Creek, CA (East Bay) March 30 - April 1. The theme for 2012 is The Body. Registration is open and memberships are $60/adult.

From their first progress report, here are their Guests of Honor:

Nalo Hopkinson, Honored Guest

NALO HOPKINSON, born in Jamaica, has lived in Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana and for the past 30 years in Canada. She is the author of four novels and a short story collection (_Brown Girl in the Ring_, _Midnight Robber_, _The Salt Roads_, _The New Moon's Arms_, _Skin Folk_). She is the editor of fiction anthologies _Whispers From the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction_, and _Mojo: Conjure Stories_. She is the co-editor of fiction anthologies _So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction_ (with Uppinder Mehan) and _Tesseracts Nine_ (with Geoff Ryman). Hopkinson's work has received Honourable Mention in Cuba's "Casa de las Americas" literary prize. She is a recipient of the Warner Aspect First Novel Award, the Ontario Arts Council Foundation Award for emerging writers, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the Locus Award for Best New Writer, the World Fantasy Award, the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, the Aurora Award, and the Gaylactic Spectrum Award. She was the Guest of Honor at the 2011 WisCon.

Shelley Jackson, Honored Guest

SHELLEY JACKSON is a writer and artist known for her cross-genre experiments, including the groundbreaking hypertext _Patchwork Girl_ (1995). Her works deal with issues of the body, displacement, touch, and desire. Born in the Philippines, Shelley Jackson grew up in Berkeley, California. She is the author of several hypertext novels, including _Patchwork Girl_, a non-chronological reworking of Mary Shelley's _Frankenstein_, as well as the autobiographical _My Body_ and _The Doll Games_, which she wrote with her sister Pamela. In 2001 she received the Electronic Literature Award. Shelley Jackson's short story collection, _The Melancholy of Anatomy_, appeared in 2002. A year later, she launched the "Skin Project", a novella published in the form of tattoos on the skin of volunteers. Her first novel, _Half Life_, won the 2006 Tiptree Award.

Mary Shelley, Honored Ghost

MARY SHELLEY is best known for her pioneering novel _Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus_ (1818), often considered the first science fiction novel. She wrote the book while she was 18, unwed, and pregnant with her first child. Given that her own mother had died in childbed when Mary was only 11 days old, the terrors of pregnancy and childbirth are a powerful theme in the text. Her second novel, _The Last Man_, is also science fiction: it is a portrait of the end of the world from a plague in the 21st century. Mary Shelley moved in the first intellectual circles of her day. Her father was the political theorist William Godwin; her mother, the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, author of _Vindication of the Rights of Woman_; family friends included Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and Leigh Hunt. Before she turned 17 she eloped with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was married and the father of two children. Their friends included Lord Byron. She traveled widely and wrote several books about her journeys. Although her later books are overshadowed by the fame of _Frankenstein_, she continued writing novels, essays, poetry, and criticism throughout her life, as well as editing her husband's papers. She died, aged 53, of a brain tumor.

And two more tidbits...
Gameforge, which just hit 300 million registered players, launched a new ommunity-based, free-to-play Star Trek Q&A game. More information at www.keengames.com.

Kindle users can now download the digest edition of Fantasy and Science Fiction for free. That's the good news. The bad news is that you get all the editorial goodies but only one story. You can get the full edition for $12/yr.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Broads rule at Worldcon!

My Worldcon blog report is about the Broads (Broad Universe members) who made it so special - at least for me. This was my first Worldcon so I can't compare it to others for you, nor can I tell you much about the scheduled events. I had a ball at Worldcon, but did it mostly outside of the box. I only hit a couple panels and no other scheduled events - unless you count book launches and room parties.

To me, Worldcon was about the people. Where else can I see so many marvelous sci-fi writers all in one place? I met many authors whom I had only met virtually and caught up with old friends. I arrived in Reno late Wednesday afternoon and spent the evening with my cousin who so graciously put me up and put up with me coming in late at night. She lives way out in the country with the cottontails and the quail. And the sage brush - echew!

Thursday I went to breakfast with her and her husband and experienced a first. I ordered tea. I have to say the abysmal lack of good tea or even tea water was certainly the worst thing that happened at Worldcon. The waitress brought the generic restaurant tea along with a pot of ... air. How did she not notice how light it was? The food for the Worldcon green room did not include water for tea until I made a small stink. Still, they insisted to the contracted caterers that we just wanted to drink hot water so they wouldn't have to pay the exorbitant price for the cardboard dust they call tea. The last day, someone snuck in some Twinings. Now that's more civilized. But, again, the pot was dry. Grrrr. I hate coffee. Can't pay me to drink the stuff. But get between me and my tea and there'll be trouble. I drink the hard stuff at home. PG Tips, baby. I even carry Bigelow tea bags in my purse as a Lipton defense. That was much more than you needed to know about my tea habits, but I feel better. ;)

Friday morning started early with a 7AM Broad Universe breakfast at a casino restaurant. How great to meet so many Broads face to face! Karina Fabian went around the three tables recording video interviews with all of us. I expect that is posted somewhere or will be soon. I'll drop the link in later.

Next, it was off to the very well-attended Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading. I ran a tight ship and 12 ladies were able to read from their work before we had to clear the room. The response was super and many listeners headed to the dealers room to buy our books.

Next up for me was the book launch of Defending the Future IV: No Man's Land with Brenda Cooper, S.A. Bolich and Jennifer Brozek. That was less well-attended, but went very well. Of the ladies I read with Jennifer's was the only story I hadn't read yet. Now I'm anxious to read it, too.

Corie Ralston shared her Speculative Literature Foundation booth with Broad Universe in the dealers room. I have to say that I sold more books than ever at a con and I'm sure it was because of the exposure afforded by the boutique table versus trying to sell books wedged in with a zillion other titles at a bookseller's table. I got a kick out of volunteering there, too. Here is S.A. Bolich and Ann Gimpel taking their turn.

And here I am with Corie (far left), Karina Fabian and S.A. Bolich.

Friday night I attended Brenda Cooper (Mayan December) and Louise Marley's (The Brahms Deception) joint book launch. They're both Broads, as I've mentioned before. Louise sold out and Brenda was well into her second box when I stopped back by toward the end of the evening.

And here is Allen M. Steele at the Asimov/Analog room party cutting the Asimov cakes with the cover featuring his story.

Incidentally, Allen won a Hugo Saturday night for his novelette "The Emperor of Mars". Read all the Hugo results at Tor.com now. AND, my next con is Conjecture in San Diego where he is Guest of Honor.

Read more Worldcon reports by perusing my blogroll to the right.

Now I know why zombies are so popular. That's what sci-fi writers turn into after a five-day con. Write what you know...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Broads descend on Worldcon!

Woo Hoo! I'm heading to Renovation, the 2011 Worldcon in Reno on Wednesday. It's road trip time! I haven't seen the full program yet, but all my cool haps are going to be Friday beginning with a Broad Universe breakfast. I can't wait to meet other Broads I've only encountered virtually. And see some old friends as well. At 10AM, I'll be emcee and reading for the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading. And I do mean rapid. There are 14 ladies reading in one hour! No reading will be more than 4 minutes. The Defending the Future IV: No Man's Land book launch is at noon, where I'll be sharing a reading with Brenda Cooper, S.A. Bolich and Jennifer Brozek (all Broads - Broad Universe members). Later that night I wouldn't miss the combined book launch of fellow Broad Louise Marley's The Brahms Deception and Brenda Cooper's Mayan December at 8PM. I'm also attending some parties. Westercon in Seattle 2012 (bid secured, but no reason not to party) and Worldcon 2015 in Spokane, WA. I love and miss the Pacific Northwest. :)

San Diego's lookin' pretty good, too. I plan to have a play day there on the 9th of September thanks to my invite to sit on panels at Conjecture. The Guest of Honor is Allen M. Steele whom I've interviewed right here on Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys. I also happen to be reading his Hex now. It will be great to meet face to face along with a lot of other writers I've only met in cyberspace.

In Time looks like it might be a good flick. It comes out October 28th.

And The Minister of Chance is recording episode 3! You have to get on board with this great radio play space opera. Then maybe they can crank the episodes out faster. It really is awesome. Read my full review.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

ODDs and ends from the geeky fringe

I know, I know. I'm a writer. Write something already. But I've been busy moving. Think of this as a radio show putting on a "best of" tape while the personality is on vacation. I think mine is...

Filed under: Whoda thunkit
New study shows that knowing spoilers doesn’t ruin a story

Not just for soldiers fighting aliens...
Paraplegics Walk With Exoskeleton – Exclusive Video of Berkeley Bionic’s eLegs in Action

Send it with style...
(scheduled for release in 2012)

A must-have for building your next holodeck program...
Video: Free-Moving Kinect Used To Map Room And Objects In Detailed 3D

I can name that tune in...
Shazam Keeps Rolling — Popular App Names Songs and Shows Just By ‘Listening’

Wish I'd seen it and wrote you a review myself, but, alas, I've been unpacking and breaking down boxes instead. But Gary Westfahl has it covered at Locus.
Ready for Primate Time: A Review of Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Are you a Falling Skies fan? (I am - read my review) And a gamer?

falling skies, steven spielberg, tnt, noah wyle, tnt, skitters, moon bloodgood, scifi shows, sci-fi shows, sci fi shows, aliens

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Heros + Numb3rs - math lecture = Alphas

Better late than never, is my take on Alphas, the new SyFy show. In a nutshell: Heroes + Numb3rs - math lectures = Alphas. I especially liked Gary's ability to see, organize and understand all wavelengths. He can surf the web, radio channels, cell traffic, TV, etc. without the benefit of any device. He uses his hands to pull what he's interested to the fore or rearrange the information he's analyzing. Each gifted individual also has a curse. For Gary, he's a bit special needs with poor impulse control.

Unlike Heroes, these people with abilities work for and help the government rather than getting chased down and locked up. The somewhat motley crew includes a married man who can spike his adrenaline on demand for super strength, a single woman who has super senses, and another single woman with expensive tastes who can manipulate the will of others (glad she's on our side). In the first episode, the gain a fifth member who exhibits an extraordinary sense of balance and sense of space and timing.

The banter between team members was pretty good. I just hope it doesn't become just another detective show with superheros. I'd like to see the down-side of their abilities cause problems for them more and see how they struggle to adjust. I especially want to see how it is that they're all willing to play nice and catch bad guys.

I agreed to promote ebook giveaways for a publisher with a very unique and potentially exciting model. They pair pros with up-and-comers. Find out more at Phoenix Pick . Meantime, Phoenix Pick's free ebook for August is one of my favorite books. An oldie but a goodie. If you haven't read James P. Hogan's The Multiplex Man, I highly recommend it. And now you have nothing to lose! Get it free with this coupon code: 99922991 through August 31st at www.PPickings.com.

Here's the synopsis in case you still don't trust me that it's a great book:

The Multiplex Man is an intriguing thriller set in a future where every
aspect of life on Earth is micromanaged by authorities who consider any
deviation from the prescribed path as dangerous.

Off-world colonies are considered dangerous enemies threatening to take
Earth’s precious resources .

And who is Richard Jarrow?

Is he the unassuming, mild-mannered teacher he thinks himself to be or
something much more?

And how does the brilliant scientist named Ashling fit into the picture.

Jarrow must find Ashling, who holds the key not only to Jarrow’s own
identity but to freedom itself.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Truthseeker rings true

by C.E. Murphy
Del Rey, August 2010

Reviewed by Deirdre M. Murphy (no relation)

Truthseeker is a story about Lara Jansen, a very unlikely amateur sleuth—she hears a speaker’s truthfulness or falsehood in every utterance as music. How could I not root for her? I was quickly drawn into Lara’s regard for the truth—something that is, to her, a magical absolute, which is quite different from our world where “prove it” means simply, “convince me”. I shared her remembered distress over Santa Claus and other fairy tales, her frustration trying to communicate in a world where white lies are considered a social grace, and her joy in the few friends who believed in her talent and honored her with their truth. I understood her decision to hide in the sheltered world of “bespoke” clothing, making beauty in a world that too often is filled with ugliness and lies.

In addition to loving speculative fiction, I love a good mystery, especially one where an amateur sleuth wanders around talking to everyone, and you get to try to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s lying before the hero reveals the answer. I’m also a musician, and love the various chords, but especially the bittersweet minor sevenths, which grace my senses like dark chocolate.

I liked how the author portrays Lara’s social ineptness as well as her pedantry about words, both of which follow from her innate and powerful discomfort around everything not-true. I know what it’s like to be socially awkward because you see the world differently than others; to have much of other people’s humor just fall flat for you while they don’t even see the things that make you laugh. I can’t imagine how to overcome that without the insights gained from reading fiction. These aspects of her character made Lara very believable for me, and I sympathized with her from the first page.

As the story opens, Lara is using her talent to help her best friend, Kelly, buy a used car, though she insists she’s really along for the company—after all, used car salesmen always lie. We follow Lara and Kelly out of the car dealership and shortly they run into the local weatherman, David Kerwin, and his cameraman, Dickon. Flirting ensues, until the weatherman introduces himself, and the syllables of his name sound dissonant instead of ringing true.

Lara can’t help but react to the sour notes, and the man quickly admits his name is actually Daffyd ap Caerwyn, and asks her on a date. They forget to exchange contact information, but nonetheless, Daffyd arrives at her office to pick her up at closing time, and it’s not long after that he admits to her that he’s a Prince of the Seelie Court, exiled from his homeland until he can find a legendary Truthseeker to come through the portal to his world, Barrow-lands, with him and discover who murdered his brother.

Lara might have laughed at him, but there were no sour notes in his words. He believed what he was saying. He dropped his glamour briefly for her to see his true form. When he resumed it, his human-seeming visage jarred her vision just the way his lies jarred her hearing. Then he added one more detail to his outrageous—and true—story: His time was running out. He had to have a Truthseeker travel home with him in the next few days or be exiled from the Barrow-lands, his brother’s murder forever unsolved.

The rest of the book is an action-filled romp ; the death of a Prince has precipitated a war in the Barrow-lands. Lara arrives expecting to solve the murder and go quickly home, but she and Daffyd are attacked the moment they step through the portal. Even once she’s welcomed into the Seelie Court, the many true answers she gets to her questions shed no light on the mystery. There are twists and turns to her story, and she sees a lot more of the Barrow-lands than she’d planned to, but no mster how many people she talks with, figuring out the answer isn’t simple, and she is unable to name the culprit until the final, climactic battle.

I won this book in one of those “comment here and the author will draw a random number and send someone a copy of the book” online contests. I hadn’t planned on reviewing the book, since the author and I share a surname (though I’ve never met her unless you count occasional casual online contact between from our separate continents). But I really enjoyed this book, and wanted to share it with you. I am eagerly looking forward to the sequel, Wayfinder, which is expected out September 6th. I plan to start reading on a Friday, since I’m sure I won’t want to put it down.