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Archive for May, 2009

Tides from the New Worlds: Shoah Sry by Tobias Buckell with Ilsa J. Bicktides

Installment 6

In this collaboration with Ilsa J. Bick, Buckell touches on very traditional themes in Feminist Science Fiction, but in an interesting way. We are introduced to a future that is made up entirely of women, with men mysteriously going extinct at some point in history.

Instead of a utopia where women live together in sisterhood, there are desperately fighting factions. In a world where children are reproduced through cloning and genetic manipulation, one faction, the Talorans, wish to look for male genetic material in order to bring the other half of our species back. The other faction, the Imperialists, wish to suppress this material and bring all women under their thumbs. The title refers to the Taloran’s word for this material, and for the person that the material will help them create.

On a secret mission to a distant planet thought to contain the fabled genetic material, two women from the Taloran faction crash land and must escape from the Imperial Inquisitor coming to kill them. Dinah, the one that holds the key to the revitalization of the race, is sent off, while the other stays to fight. But as Dinah tries to escape, she slowly begins to change, and also begins to realize that her sisters do not always have her best interests at heart.

This story is fascinating to read. There are so many themes packed into it. Why are the women fighting so hard to bring Man back into the picture? Is the integrity and dignity of the individual more important than the mission? Can you trust someone who has been raised as your enemy? Does the freedom to make a choice, instead of the forcing of that choice, change the outcome? Are you forever bound by what is contained within your genes?

I truly liked this story, and I plan to pick up some of Ilsa J. Bick’s other work to see how it compares. I think this collaboration brought up some very interesting questions from the two authors, and I hope they’ll do something again someday.

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You can check out Tobias Buckell on his website, or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
The master post can be found here, Tides from the New Worlds

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tidesTides from the New Worlds: Aerophilia by Tobias Buckell

Installment 5

Buckell professes his love for airships at the beginning of this story, a fitting admission when you take in the title. I have to admit a secret love for the word dirigible here, too, which Buckell uses almost immediately in the story. I think he and Hayao Miyazaki would get along very well, since Miyazaki is also known for imagining the improbable or impossible with flying devices. Aerophilia begins in such an imaginative airship, traveling through the cloudy, gaseous atmosphere of Riley, a planet colonized by humans far in the future.

Vincent is a captive of his own split personality, Vince, as are the crew and passengers of the zeppelin Vince has hijacked. Vince has grown tired of his whiny host, Vincent, and is out to make himself rich. But his plan goes awry when the original Vincent takes over again and calls for help from an old girlfriend, Suzie. But Suzie has plans of her own, and a grudge to vent agains Vincent.

This is a fun little romp that was a quick but entertaining read with an edge. Vincent/Vince is a washed up spacer, but he truly brings to mind an old cowboy trying to go home again, to a place that no longer exists. I was a little turned off by how crazy and bitter Suzie comes off, but I don’t think Vincent comes off too much better so they’re sort of meant for each other.

Mixed in the with the lighthearted banter between Vince and Vincent and the humor of the run in with the law and the old flame, there is the message that things change and the people you once knew change, even if you continue to refuse to. Some day the wrongs you’ve done will come back to you, and we all must atone eventually. Nobody comes out clean.

The twists at the end would make this story worth reading even if the rest of it was blah, which luckily it isn’t. Stay tuned for more installments.

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You can check out Tobias Buckell on his website, or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
The master post can be found here, Tides from the New Worlds

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LGFrontcover_website_800pxw_jpgLooking Glass by James R. Strickland
Paperback: 308 pages
Publisher: Flying Pen Press LLC (June 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0979588901

When I first started reading Looking Glass, I was immediately reminded of cyberpunk classics by William Gibson and Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson. Similar settings: our near future gone totally tech crazy, new lingo, new lifestyles, corporations run amuck and the United States split up into multiple smaller, meaner countries. But Strickland manages something other cyberpunk authors haven’t, in my experience.

We are introduced to Dr. Catherine Farro, screen name Shroud, a woman who thinks she’s past her prime, stuck in the corporate world playing guard dog for OmniMart’s internal communications network. Relatively easy work for someone with her elite computer skills, but it’s the best she can get. The corporate grind is slowly wearing her down day by day, sapping her vitality and life, giving her excuses not to stretch herself any more, but she’s trapped in the life. That is, until some unknown but very powerful hacker cracks their network and kills her team of guard dog colleagues, including the woman she loves.

Thus begins the rebirth of Shroud, as she hunts down the people responsible for her friends’ deaths and her own exile from the company she has served well for eight years. As each lead is followed, and Shroud takes more and more dangerous risks to track down the killer, we are shown a world of technology, software, and hacker culture that most of us will never understand. She must fight against her own inner bitterness and physical limitations as well as the outside forces trying to stop her investigation.

The thing that Strickland does so well that other authors in the genre have failed at, is heart. Shroud is a complex woman of middle years, with many quirks and foibles that come off as natural and endear the character to the reader. Her relationships are as fraught with uncertainty and misunderstandings as those of the people reading along, and it’s very easy to root for her and understand her need for vengeance.

This is a woman that many of us could easily meet and know in real life, with her own imperfections and personality flaws. She’s more of an anti-hero than a super-hero. Another plus: the main love interest of Shroud throughout the book is Latino, although the book does suffer from an overabundance of nerdy white guys.

The two things that caught my attention quickly, beyond the likability of the character, were her physical ability, and her bisexuality. Shroud does all her work from the confines of a wheelchair, were she’s been bound since birth. She’s also very casual about her sexual preferences, although not negatively. She strikes me as very evenly bisexual, with equal desire for men and women. The scenes in the book with women are tasteful and well done, as are those with men. Strickland also doesn’t shy away from her paralysis, either, incorporating it into Shroud’s physical awareness freely and naturally. The problems with access that Shroud runs into in her world will translate very easily to those readers who deal with the same difficulties in their everyday lives.

Another aspect I liked very much was the easy-to-read story. Oftentimes when dealing with cyberpunk books, the author relies heavily on metaphors and the surrealism of working in a digital world, making the story hard to follow and the storyline difficult to grasp. Strickland incorporates all the elements of cyberpunk without losing his audience in a tangle of electrical descriptions and overdone jargon.

The story isn’t perfect, there are some of Shroud’s quirks that quickly got on my nerves, such as her endless literary quotes, although both Strickland and Shroud have an English background so I can see where that comes from. There is also a moment towards the very end of the story that struck me as very much a deus ex machina, no pun intended, and I feel like that scene was rushed just to get to the end of the book. I also think it detracted from the character of Shroud, as one of her big weaknesses was “magically fixed”. These minor hangups definitely didn’t kill the story for me, though, and I think as Strickland grows as a writer we’ll continue to see more and better work such as Looking Glass.

I’d highly recommend this book to any cyberpunk fans, and to any speculative fiction fans in general. The easy flow of the story makes for a great introduction to the cyberpunk genre for those who might otherwise be put off, and is a quick and fun read for those already indoctrinated. Pick up a copy from Flying Pen Press or your local independent bookstore. You’ll come away wondering which of your memories are real and which are merely false data.

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You can also check out James R. Strickland’s blog.

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tidesTides from the New Worlds: Anakoinosis by Tobias Buckell

Installment 4

Anakoinosis is the word used to describe the breeding process of an alien species encountered by a group of spaceship-wrecked colonists, but the meaning goes far beyond just “reproduction”. It means the passing on of knowledge and learning, from one generation to the next, through genetic memories. That is how the whiffet pass on information from one generation to the next.

The main character in this story has no name. He/she is merely is, a being conscious and cognizant from birth with the knowledge of its parent, imparted at conception. A group of human colonists have crash landed unexpectedly on an unexplored world, and this leads to the two species meeting and forming a strange and unsettling relationship. In exchange for human technology, the whiffet people basically hand over their offspring as indentured servants, or realistically, as slaves.

The humans wish only to repair their ship and return to their original flight plan, but as their machines begin to break down, they start relying more and more on the raw labor provided by the whiffets. NN-721, as his/her ownership tattoo proclaims, is one among many who merely want to learn from the strange humans, but with a master unlike the others. The master sees something very wrong with this relationship, and does anything and everything possible to try and get his whiffet to see the realities and problems inherent in a society based on slavery.

This story brings to mind our own world’s history with slavery. In the United States, the North beat the South partly through technological advantages. If the South had not relied so heavily on slave labor, would they have innovated more? Does depravity and inhumanity cause us to become less than human? Humanity prides itself on the progress we continually make, and part of that progress is the fair and honest treatment of our fellow man. What happens when we fail to extend that attitude towards other creatures?

Perhaps this story is what would happen. Read it to find out how the master and NN-721 begin to change the whiffet people into something others might recognize as human. Buckell has created an interesting race and posed very serious questions to his readers in this short.

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You can check out Tobias Buckell on his website, or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
The master post can be found here, Tides from the New Worlds

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Tides from the New Worlds: Io, Robot by Tobias Buckelltides

Installment 3

An obvious nod to Isaac Asimov (even says so in his introduction) with its references to the three laws of robotics, Io, Robot also strikes me in its similarities to WALL-E, which is funny considering this story precedes that movie. Sam (Semi Autonomous Machine) is a data collection unit on one of the moons of Jupiter, specifically Io. It has been stranded there for twenty years, compiling information and cannibalizing its fellow robots for spare parts.

When it encounters humans again for the first time since it came to Io, interesting questions start to arise. What makes someone human? Will our dependence and integration with technology one day make us more machine than man or woman? What will the machines under our control think of us (if they think) when we begin to look more like them and less like ourselves?

I admit, this story was actually a very creepy read for me. Sam is not WALL-E, whatever superficial similarities there are between them. This is not a cute and cuddly robot that has been anthropomorphized. This is very much a cold machine, with very calculating thoughts. The ending is surprising and chilling, and makes you think about all those hours you spend attached to your electronics. Would you make good spare parts for them?

Io, Robot is really where this anthology starts to take off.

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You can check out Tobias Buckell on his website, or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
The master post can be found here, Tides from the New Worlds

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