Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Short Fiction: June 2017

It’s time to talk about my favorite pieces of short fiction published in June 2016! This month’s batch is full of science fiction short stories, including tales of memory manipulation, space exploration, and even both in one case.  As for the authors, I recently reviewed Allen M. Steele’s novel Arkwright, while Jamie Wahls and Pip Coen are new to me.  All the stories for this month are available to read online, and I have linked to their locations accordingly.     

Utopia, LOL? by Jamie Wahls (Short Story, Strange Horizons): The writing style in this story is probably going to be the polarizing point.  The narrator is a far-future human, who mostly lives her life darting through near-infinite virtual worlds.  She’s serving as a guide to a newly woken human from the past, who is confused and upset by his new surroundings.  Her voice is just adorable, and I loved her infectious enthusiasm.  Beneath the silly narration, there is actually a bit of a serious plot driving the action of the story.

Welcome to Astuna by Pip Coen (Short Story, Apex): This is one of those clever stories, where all the details line up neatly at the end.  A near middle-aged woman wakes up in a hotel, missing sixteen-years-worth of her own memories.  In this world, you can gamble with your memories at a casino, though it’s uncommon to lose as much as she has.  The mystery involves how she lost the memories, and what she will uncover when she gets them back.  It feels kind of like a heist story, where you can see at the end how everything was arranged for the ultimate goal.  

Sanctuary by Allen M. Steele (Short Story, Tor.com): This short story is comprised of a colonization ship’s logs, detailing their arrival at their chosen planet.  The format of the logs gives it a certain detachment, as does the framing of it as a historical document.  The story is pretty interesting though, involving an alien lifeform that spells disaster for our society’s technology.  It feels like a beginning to a larger story, and I’d be in for reading more about the colonists’ experiences on the planet.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Read-Along: Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey, Part 2

James S.A. Corey’s Nemesis Games is getting very intense, very quickly!  It’s time to discuss the second quarter of the novel, which includes chapters 13 through 25.  This week’s questions are provided by There’s Always Room for One More.  


If you’re interested in getting involved in the read-along, feel free to check out our Goodread’s group, and/or to follow SFFReadAlongs on Twitter.  From here on out, beware of spoilers!


1) Woah. Okay, was anybody expecting this level of drama? Prediction time: what will Marco do next? Any thoughts on who his mysterious allies are?


No, I was definitely not.  It was foreshadowed with all the talk about the Belters’ feelings about the gate and thousands of habitable planets.  It was also foreshadowed by the discussion of the militant sect of the OPA and Naomi’s past involvement in it.  Marco’s request for Naomi was also a clue.  It seemed like a really minor thing to call her out for, just to charter her son a ship.  I was trying to figure out what was the real purpose.  The prologue, also, gave us some hints toward what they were up to.  Despite all this, I did not see the attacks coming at all.


As for the rest, I suspect his next plan involves the protomolecule.  Their goal seems to be to actually wipe out planet-bound humanity, so I suspect he plans to unleash the protomolecule on Earth.  I’m not sure if it will do the same thing as it did on Eros or Venus, now that the gate is built, but I don’t know.  I have no idea who his allies are.  Maybe aliens?


2) So Earth is full apocalypse. The Secretary General is dead. The Martian President may be dead too, but Mars was pretty much flailing anyway. What Should Fred Do? (and will Holden approve?)


I think Fred should unilaterally side with Earth and Mars, and focus the full military might of the planets to wipe out the militant OPA.  At this point, I’m not sure if even infiltrating the OPA terrorist cell is useful.  Anyway, Naomi’s in there.  If they can establish communication with her, she would gladly pass on any information she could uncover.  Also, I think that publicly acknowledging the OPA terrorists as a legitimate political force would cause more damage than he could possibly balance by any good.  They are not legitimate, they are mass murderers, and they should be treated as such.


3) All of Naomi’s past is laid bare for us now. Will she save Filip’s soul? Is she right to try?


I wouldn’t say she’s ‘right’ to try, but I understand why she wants to.  I think the guilt will get to him eventually.  Right now, he’s high on ideology and indoctrinated to not think of Inners as people.  Once he really understands, in his heart, what he has done?  I think it’s very likely he’ll at least try to kill himself.  I hope she is able to save his soul, but I don’t really see any future for him besides suicide or execution.


4) Who are you most worried about/for?

Right now? Amos.  He’s on Earth, being bombarded by rocks, surrounded by violent body-modified criminals. If I’m right about the OPA’s plans, he might be stuck on a dying planet poisoned by protomolecule.  I think he’s in the toughest spot right now, even though the whole crew is in danger.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold

Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold
Published: 1989, Baen
Series: Book 8 (chronologically) of the Vorkosigan Saga

The Book:

“Miles Vorkosigan lives a double life, splitting his time between being a Barrayaran noble and leading a mercenary army under the alias of ‘Admiral Naismith’.  He’s just finished a dangerous mission with his mercenaries, one which was generously--and secretly--backed by the Barrayaran government.  When he arrives on Earth in order to see to his ships’ repairs, though, the promised money is nowhere to be found.

While their resources dwindle amidst communication delays, Miles ends up assigned with his cousin Ivan in the Barrayaran embassy.  The longer Miles and ‘Admiral Naismith’ are stuck in close proximity, the more likely someone is going to figure out his secret.  Miles comes up with a clever tale to explain the mercenary leader’s resemblance to him, about a foreign power growing a clone in an attempt to supplant him.  When an actual double appears, his story begins to look more true than he ever anticipated!” ~Allie

Surprise, I have not stopped reading the Vorkosigan Saga!  I just had a lot of books on my reading list, and this series dropped off my radar for a while.  I am certainly planning to finish the series at some point (including the latest one, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen).

My Thoughts:

Like Ethan of Athos, this novel feels like a lighter side story. Brothers in Arms does not cover momentous events for the Barrayaran Empire, but is instead a minor caper Miles falls into after the Borders of Infinity novella. The story stands on its own, but I would strongly recommend reading it once you’re already versed in the characters and setting of the overall saga.  Though the characters here are as vibrant as ever, I think it helped that they were already established in my mind from other novels. Brothers in Arms introduces a few important minor characters, but it doesn't really break any new narrative ground for the series. It's still very entertaining, though, and I enjoyed having such a fun and undemanding book to read in the evening.
The most interesting aspect of the story for me was the introduction of the clone of Miles.  The idea of a double is popular in fiction, and I think that using it as a narrative technique can illustrate interesting aspects of a character’s personality. The way a person and their double react to one another is heavily influenced by how they believe they themselves would behave in the opposing situation. In action-oriented stories, it seems like the two often try to destroy one another, which might speak highly of their self-knowledge but not of their decency.  Miles chooses a more unusual path, and his choices led me to appreciate him even more as a rational and compassionate hero.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing where his life next leads him.  

My Rating: 3.5/5

Brothers in Arms is another lighter entry in the Vorkosigan Saga.  The story is completely stand-alone, but I think it would help to already have an understanding of and attachment to the characters involved.  The story involves a stopover on Earth, where Miles learns that his made-up story about a foreign power growing a clone of him is not as fictional as he might have hoped.  It is both amusing and exciting, with some action-packed conflict and suspenseful moments. As usual for the Vorkosigan saga, this novel was a pleasure to read, and it left me eager to carry on with the rest of the series.