When Neil Gaiman came to town

OceanatendoflaneDark skies and local goths descended upon the desert theater on the night that Neil Gaiman came to town. It was an unseasonably chilly spring, (well, chilly by our standards), made all the more chilling with rain, wind, and the arrival of a shaggy British man wearing several shades of black, who took to the stage to read a few chapters to the brave outliers of this rural industrial community.

He read an excerpt from The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2014). I leaned over to my husband and whispered, “The toast gets burned and then they find a dead body.” He read a selection from “A Calendar of Tales,” (Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, 2015) about a man who takes literal refuge in his books when his wife abandons him. My husband whispered back, “Can we get a burger after this?”

Neil accepted questions on index cards from the audience. “Do the cats in your books represent cats you have known in real life?” “What do you recommend for me to read?” “Where do you get your ideas?”

Yes, let’s go get that burger. Now.

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Iron Sunrise (2004) by Charles Stross

IronSunriseIn 2003’s Singularity Sky, Charles Stross introduces us to a post-singularity universe, where a hivemind spaceship drops mobile phones to the citizens of a technologically-repressed planet. He jabs, he winks, he plays with tropes, and spouts his wisdom through the forms of Rachel and Martin, two undercover spies who get involved in related hijinks.

In Iron Sunrise, Stross returns us to the same universe, but this time he is darker, less jokey, and plays it slightly more subtle, although he still delivers a humdrum science fiction spy story supported by the two-dimensional Rachel and Martin, but this time starring a snarky teen techno-goth girl and rough-around-edges warblogger.

In four strands that eventually intertwine, our characters investigate the mysterious obliteration of New Moscow, the planetary home of 16-year-old Victoria “Wednesday” Strowger. Wednesday’s family escapes the blast, only to be murdered later while she’s at a party. Wednesday’s reliable, but invisible friend, Herman, helps her escape the planet by starship, where her path eventually collides with warblogger Frank, and special agent Rachel Mansour, recently assigned to investigate the bombing of New Moscow. The team must put this puzzle together amid bombs, brawls, and backlash from what is basically the Aryan Borg. Continue reading

The Peace War (1984) by Vernor Vinge

ThePeaceWar1

If you look into the bobble, you can see a reflection of yourself shrugging with mildly entertained indifference. Also, you have spinach in your teeth.

I have two notes and twenty odd highlights (an unusually low number for me) for this 1984 Hugo-nominated novel, none of which form a cohesive lens with which to write this post. So… on with the synopsis…

In 1997, the ultimate weapon is conceived: The Bobbler. A vague business bureaucracy that calls itself the Peace Authority uses the Bobbler to end warfare by—don’t laugh— forming giant, impenetrable, reflective bubbles (bobbles) to trap enemies inside. These bobbles—seriously, stop laughing, it wasn’t that bad—can be as large as buildings and mountains, and become permanent geographical features on the landscape. We encounter our main characters in year 2048, fifty years after this event, when a decayed, rundown society is controlled by the Peace Authority and/or feudalistic lords, and medicine is prohibited and basic daily supplies are limited. But a bobble explodes, and a small boy with super intelligence may be the key to aid the rebellious Tinkers in confronting the evil Peace Authority.

Not quite the big government paranoia alert you might be expecting, Continue reading

Mirror Dance (Vorkosigan Saga #8) (1994) by Lois McMaster Bujold

MirrorDance1

Hey! It’s Richard Branson, everybody!

With clones and diplomatic intrigue muddling up the Vorkosigan lifestyle, yet again, another adventure takes Miles out of the picture. Instead of our normal Vorkosigan friends, Mirror Dance offers a unique point-of-view, that of an intruder, giving fans, and detractors, a new perspective on this wealthy Barrayaran family

A series with character, as in strictly character driven, with things happening and things to be accomplished, Mirror Dance belongs somewhere in the early middle of this lengthy series that revolves around members of the same noble family. The Vorkosigan series reminds me of a dollhouse where the fashionable and wealthy characters leave their mansions each day, and drive their expensive, powerful cars (or starships), to run errands and have adventures. Maybe someone gets kidnapped, or deals with a bad guy, or sinks into quicksand… I’m pretty sure I played out these plots with my dolls as a little girl. (Though my dolls did more dressing up than hijacking of rocket ships, but they were pretty adventurous.)

In this episode, Miles’ doppelgänger, Mark, the genetic clone brother who was originally created for the infiltration and destruction of the Vorkosigan family, tricks Miles’ mercenaries into aiding in the rescue of other clones held on Jackson’s Whole. Miles finds out, but before he can put a stop to the violent conflict that follows, he is killed by a grenade. His body is cryogenically frozen for future medical attention, but then lost in space in the chaos of battle. Despite this, the Vorkosigans accept Mark into their home, but Mark feels responsible for the loss of his hated clone/brother/enemy, and his investigative actions result in his own imprisonment and subsequent torture.

But, like the adventures of Barbie and Ken, it’s always going to work out for Miles and his lot, and there is always the same root, the same hearth, the same heart to which they return. But unlike Barbie and Ken, the Vorkosigan charisma and fortitude might be entertaining and inspiring enough to distract from the aristocratic glaze of this elite Barrayaran family. Continue reading

The Planet Buyer (The Boy Who Bought Old Earth) (1964) by Cordwainer Smith

ThePlanetBuyer

The story is simple. There was a boy who bought the planet Earth… That’s the story. (p. 7)

Except, the story happens in a land of infected, overgrown sheep that sprout drugs on their hides. Sheep that are raised by silent telepaths who reincarnate into the same body to achieve peak maturation of skills. A place where judicial court is held in a trailer van by a secret society of anonymous neighbors, and punitive measures are carried out by a snake alien.

This. Is. North. Australia.

Norstrilia! (NorstrAlia, though. Bugs my head off.) Continue reading

Aurora (2015) by Kim Stanley Robinson

aurora1It was as if she were the steward on the boat crossing the Lethe. It was as if they were dying. It was as if they were killing themselves. (loc. 4226)

How to share the essence of a breathtaking space drama without spoiling the most enjoyable discoveries? How to present the humor, the tragedy, the joy, the humanity, the realism without revealing the important parts? How to convey Aurora’s “as-ifness” without overblowing it with hype?

Narratives, Robinson’s narrator tells us, “are futile and stupid” (loc. 1643).

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Mother of Storms (1994) by John Barnes

MotherofStorms1It’s an interesting experience to pair John Barnes 1994 multiple award-nominated Mother of Storms with Ian McDonald’s 2004 multiple award-nominated River of Gods. I read both during the same week, alternating between books in order to avoid story fatigue, and found the structural similarities uncanny, and the differences, including my reactions to each, vast.

It’s 2028, and a baby nuke explosion in polar ice (for a reality T.V. show, I think, but I’m not quite clear on it, to be honest) releases clathrate compounds that form a monster hurricane that spawns more monster hurricanes. People die. The tale follows a number of characters including: a vengeful dad, a reality T.V. hottie, a cardboard college boy and his activist girlfriend, a weather scientist, an astronaut in space, his weather scientist wife in the ocean, a businessman, and the president and vice president of the United States, as they seek to either solve the problem, save themselves, or profit from the disaster.

It sounds completely different from the super-tech, culture rich exploration of McDonald’s India in River of Gods, but allow me to list the similarities of these two speculative collages: Continue reading