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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Delilah and the Space-Rigger by Robert A. Heinlein
Part of the The Green Hills of Earth anthology
Mass Market Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Baen Books; Reprint edition (February 1, 2000)
ISBN-13: 978-0671578534

It’s a well known fact that women are a serious and often dangerous distraction on high risk jobs, such as constructing a space station. At least, that’s the attitude held by Tiny Larsen, the crew chief in charge of building Space Station One. He works with an all-male crew, trying to get this monumental task accomplished while maintaining order among the men. That all seems to be in jeopardy when G. Brooks McNye is sent up to the station to replace a man who was fired.

Gloria Brooks McNye is the first and currently only woman on a space station crewed entirely by men. Larsen fears for her safety and the respectfulness of his men, as loudly and obnoxiously as he possibly can. He goes completely out of his way to try and keep her sequestered from the rest of the crew while he hustles to get a male replacement sent up.

This is a humorous story poking fun at the sheer ridiculousness of judging competence and character based on gender. McNye sets out to prove from the beginning that she can do anything boys can do, and in some cases, better. It’s up to her and rest of the crew to convince Larsen that women have as much right to help build this huge undertaking for as men do. It’s a funny story, and I recommend it and the rest of The Green Hills of Earth for any Heinlein lovers and any newbies alike.

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The Girl Who Was Plugged In by James Tiptree, Jr.
Part of The Hugo Winners: Volume 3 anthology
Hardcover: 603 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (January 1, 1977)

P. Burke is a social pariah, deformed in body and in possession of not much mind. The near-future society in which she lives is utterly devoted to the worship of beautiful people. They are seen as gods, striding above the rest of the population on a wave of adoration. Every holocam is pointed in their direction. Burke cannot even hope to be noticed by such people and in the end, her existence becomes too much to bear. She tries to kill herself. And is miraculously offered the chance of a lifetime while recovering in the hospital.

Become a Remote for a new god. No one will ever know that P. Burke is really the brain running the beautiful doll body of lovely little Delphi, the newest splash on the celebrity scene. Burke sits five hundred feet below ground, hooked up to wires and controls and circuits, her own body nearly lifeless, and lives the life of Delphi. But why would she be offered such a chance? What’s the catch?

A set of stringent laws called the Huckster Laws have banned nearly all forms of advertising. The only way you are allowed to advertise is either on or in your product, or during an in-store demonstration. No more billboards, no more TV commercials, no more painted buses. And that just doesn’t work for the corporate men. So they’ve found a way around it. Create celebrities beloved by all, and have them showcase select products in their “everyday” lives. The millions of people who watch their broadcasts won’t fail to notice what brand of toothpaste or what kind of shoes their living gods are wearing.

P. Burke and her alter-ego, Delphi, will be a living advertisement. But when Burke/Delphi falls in love and grows a conscience about breaking the ad laws, her life is irreparably changed.

Tiptree’s deft hand in this story is wonderful to read. The narrative style is great, and the descriptions of corporate life, evil machinations, and the desire to simply be loved for who and what you are, are absolutely captivating. This is a fantastic peek at where are own world could be headed, with our reality TV shows and the incessant consumer culture we live in. Read this story, and weep for Delphi. Then break your TV.

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Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction

Ender Wiggin is just your average six-year old boy, the youngest of three siblings. Average, other than the fact that he’s a budding military genius, taken from his home on Earth and shipped off to be trained in Battle School in space. The human race has been fighting a war against an alien species that attacked the Earth a hundred years ago. They’re called Buggers, for the obvious reason that they look like giant insects. After a fluke victory during the first war, the military has been desperately searching for the next great leader. They hope they’ve found him in Ender. Ender will suffer through five years of grueling training as the men in charge manipulate him and the children he trains with in order to turn him into the best strategist the world has ever seen.

As Ender struggles to survive and thrive in Battle School, his older brother and sister back on Earth are going through their own crucible. Peter Wiggin, the eldest, is a cruel and sadistic boy with grandiose but entirely plausible ideas of ruling the world. Valentine Wiggin is the middle child, protector and defender of Ender and buffer to Peter, trying to keep him from taking out his frustrations and manipulations on the innocents around him. All three kids are scarily smart and intensely calculating; each move they make, each word they utter is analyzed unto the nth degree. Between the three Wiggin children, the world is in for a hell of a ride. But they just might manage to save the human race in the course of all their machinations.

The title Ender’s Game refers to so much more than the mock battles he learns to fight in the Battle School. He is both pawn and player, manipulated by the military men around him, but also trying his best to fight back any way he can. He is very much aware that they are playing with his life, even at the beginning of the story when he is still a child. Although Ender is still very young when the story ends, he stops being a child very early on.

The story asks many questions of us: How far will we go to turn a child into a killer? How much manipulation and isolation can one boy handle for the sake of humankind? Is the price of survival too high? Is the complete and utter destruction of another race really what it takes to ensure our continuation? Is the only true path to power through the means of manipulation and deception?

There are few easy answers in this book. What Ender, Valentine, and Peter endure and engender because of who they are and what they can would be too much for most normal children. But it is very clear that they are in no way normal children. This book is not about childhood. It is about the loss of one, two, or three childhoods for the good of many. Ender is the butt of the worst of the training, but every boy and girl he fights beside and against is a victim of necessity.

Ender, in himself, is not a killer. He has been forced into situations that cause him to defend himself, but on his own, he is a sweet and caring boy. Forces outside of his control cause the literal weight of the world to descend on his small shoulders. Card manages to portray him as very human and very real, even as Ender is pushed above and beyond the edge of human endurance. The people in charge of his life are all bad; many of them care deeply for Ender. But because of the threat of the Buggers, they can stop at nothing to create the ultimate defender. Valentine is also seen as a good sister and a kind person, as she is coldly manipulated both by the military and Peter. Peter is the real bad guy, but he’s bad in such a way that can’t be stopped or proven, but must be endured. He is a megalomaniac in the truest sense, convinced he is the only one that can prevent war between the countries of Earth after the Buggers are defeated. It’s very unfortunate that he might be proven right. In the end, even the Buggers are proved not to be all bad, but merely guilty of misunderstanding the structure of the human race.

The characters and settings within Ender’s Game are compelling. This is a true classic of science fiction. You have space battles, weightless fights, an alien species, and truly genius characters. You also have examples of the best and worst of humanity. There are strong and weak male and female characters, although the boys vastly outnumber the girls in Battle School. Valentine manages to stand out even against her two brothers, though, and she is a genuinely interesting character in her own right.

There are some mixed feelings in the Speculative Fiction community about Orson Scott Card’s works because of some of opinions he has expressed in regards to the gay and lesbian community. Because of those opinions, I can’t honestly endorse buying Ender’s Game, because I feel that the author does not deserve to be supported by the very people he admits to loathing. But sometimes a story reaches beyond petty feelings, and in this case, Ender’s Game is one of those stories. So go to your nearest library or used bookstore and get this book. It’s absolutely worth reading, regardless of the author.

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valors choiceValor’s Choice by Tanya Huff
Mass Market Paperback: 409 pages
Publisher: DAW; 1St Edition edition (April 10, 2000)
ISBN-13: 978-0886778965

Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr is a proud member of the Confederation interstellar military. She travels to far off planets and fights against The Others, a race bent on destroying or conquering every other sentient species in the universe. When the Others bumped up against the peaceful aliens of the Confederation, the Confederation realized they needed troops to help fight them off. As they themselves had lost the art of war centuries ago, they recruited the still mostly planet bound human species to be their shock troops. That was about a hundred years ago, and the humans, along with the di’Taykans and the Krai, have created a military force to be reckoned with. Staff Sergeant Kerr is one of their finest products.

When Torin and her company are tapped for ceremonial duties on a new planet the Confederation is hoping to recruit, she knows things won’t go as planned. The Silsviss are a lizard-like race that weeds their excessive number of males out by sending them into battle against each other. And Torin and her Sh’quo Company of Marines are there to convince them that the Confederation is a powerful force that would be a worthy ally for the Silsviss planet. Of course, nobody told Torin or her Marines that this would involve being shot down in a game preserve and fighting off scores of hormone-crazed adolescent Silsviss males.

Torin is a Staff Sergeant’s Staff Sergeant. She is the balancing point between the enlisted men and women on the ground and the officers in charge of her people. She must be seen to know all, see all, and be psychic besides. Staff Sergeants don’t make mistakes, at least not where their Marines can see them do it. When Torin wakes up in bed next to her company’s new Second Lieutenant, nobody will hear about it from her. It’s up to her to make sure Sh’quo gets through this ceremonial duty without too many people dying and no one finding out she’s actually human and not infallible.

The Staff Sergeant is an utterly confident woman. She knows what needs doing and she’s not afraid to get dirty doing it. She can shoot, march, and strategize as well or better than anyone, and with her eyes closed. At least, that’s the picture she must present in order to keep her people confident and unflappable. As a leader Torin is charged with upholding morale and getting them through even the most dire situations as intact as possible. What this means as she is unable to show any weakness, even that of normal emotions, for fear of letting her people down. We only learn about her emotions through her inner monologues, but that is more than enough to admire Torin for. She truly cares deeply for everyone under her command, and for the officers who depend on her. She just doesn’t let that get in the way of her job.

Valor’s Choice is a fantastic example of Military Science Fiction. You’ve got guns, troops, aliens, and lots of gore. Huff manages to instill a very human or at least human-like quality, to all of her species. They are thinking and feeling people, not just killing machines. Even as they are cutting their enemies to pieces, they retain those aspects that make good soldiers and good people. Dignity, respect, loyalty. There are three more books in the Valor series, and I suggest you go out and read every one. War isn’t pretty or heroic. Most of the time, it’s just soldiers out there doing their jobs. Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr does hers better than anyone else.
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Check out Tanya Huff’s website or follow her on Twitter @TanyaHuff

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The Enchantment Emporium coverThe Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: DAW Hardcover; 1 edition (June 2, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-0756405557

Alysha Gale leads a double life. On the public surface, she’s just lost her job as a museum assistant and she’s moved back home until something else comes along. But the real story is…she lost her job, and she’s moved back home to her family coven of super powerful, super nosey witches. The Gale family is enormous, with ever-increasing rings of cousins and multiplying children. And they all have the power, some little, some big, to affect the world around them. Alysha is at loose ends right now, thanks to her job loss, and it falls to her to investigate her Grandmother’s death when the family suddenly gets the call that she’s passed away under mysterious circumstances.

When she heads out to Calgary to find what happened to her Gran, Alysha also discovers that she is now the proud owner of a junk shop called The Enchantment Emporium. She soon learns that the shop is much more than a giant bin for ratty old antiques. It has become the center of the magical community in Calgary, with her Gran giving aid and succor to magical creatures in need. Now her Gran is gone, and it’s up to Alysha to find out what happened, organize the shop, help all the strange and dangerous customers, and find out why there are dragons flying over Calgary and what they have to do with an evil wizard and the Gale family. She’ll learn the answers to these questions, and some she didn’t even know to ask.

This is a complicated book, but Tanya Huff does a great job of casually working in important information without info-dumping. You’ve got to pay close attention to catch all the pertinent details of the Gale family witches circles and the mess going on in Calgary, but that serves to immerse you even more in the story. Alysha has been a little knocked around by life lately and it’s made her wary. She’s an interesting character coming from a strange family dynamic. In the Gale coven, boys are prized like precious gold, and girls are a dime a dozen. But it’s the women, the Aunties, who eventually run the family when they grow up. This makes for a large group of nosey, bossy old women hovering over Alysha and her investigation, waiting for her to mess up spectacularly.

Luckily, Alysha is not without friends. There’s her favorite cousin and lover Charlie, who has the special gift of being able to travel anywhere through a mystical plain instead of taking the bus; she’s also a practiced musician. Alysha’s unrequited love interest, Michael, also comes to help after breaking up dramatically with his boyfriend. She makes more friends through the shop, including an ornery leprechaun. Alysha has an organized mind, letting her take a chaotic situation and bring order to it. She also has the ability to ask for help when she needs it, without making herself sound lost. Alysha comes across as strong and powerful, once she starts getting past the bumps and bruises life has seen fit to give her. She learns a lot about herself and what’s she capable of, and manages to grow quite a bit as a character from start of book to end.

My favorite part about this book, though, is the indiscriminate bed hopping. In the Gale family, they like to keep their power within their own bloodlines. This means that you may eventually marry a distantly related cousin to keep the magic going. It sounds odd, but think of it more as a community of witches who all happen to have the same last name then of a closely related family. There are so many Gales at this point, the only ones who can keep track are the Aunties. There is lots of enthusiastic experimentation among the young witches of the family, since they know that they could someday be marrying their playmate. And it isn’t relegated to boys and girls. Alysha and Charlie are hardly the only girls to pair up. The openness and casual but warm feeling they all seem to hold towards sex is refreshing and at times very funny. More people should take notes from the Gale family.

The Enchantment Emporium is a wild ride from start to finish. With so many characters and concepts to introduce, it would be easy for a lesser author to lose her audience. Huff has a deft touch and never gives you more than you can handle. With the revelations and resolutions at the end of this book, I can only hope that we will be seeing lots more of the Gale family, and Alysha in particular.

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Check out Tanya Huff’s website or follow her on Twitter @TanyaHuff

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MagicInTheBloodMagic in the Blood by Devon Monk
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Roc; 1 edition (May 5, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-0451462671

Picking up where Magic to the Bone left off, we meet up with Allie Beckstrom just as she’s recovering from her last adventure in Devon Monk’s first book. For Allie, magic is still pulling a double whammy on her, making her pay in pain and memory. Because of this, Allie does not remember much of the events that happened in Magic to the Bone, including her relationship with the mysterious Zayvion Jones. She also doesn’t remember the investigation of her father’s death or the events that led up to her strange set of magical tattoos. Thanks to her friend Nora, though, she’s gotten the gist of past events.

When her father’s ghost begins haunting her, however, Allie begins to wish magic could be directed to take specific and very unpleasant memories. Daniel Beckstrom was a manipulative bastard while alive and death apparently hasn’t changed him much. He’s riding Allie to investigate the disappearance of some dangerous new technology that Beckstrom Enterprises developed. Meanwhile, MERC, the magical arm of the police department, wants Allie’s help in tracking down a serial kidnapper who’s been stealing young women with the aid of magic.

On top of all of this madness, Trager, a man Allie helped put away years ago for dealing in illegal blood magic has gotten out and is looking for revenge. He’ll use any means necessary, including her fellow Hounds, to get back at Allie for what she did to him. Add to this a creepy new twist in Allie’s magic that is causing ghostly people to attack her, and you’ve got a recipe for either disaster or a great book.

One of the best parts about this book, though, is the relationship between Allie and Zayvion. He’s not out to be her knight in shining armor, although he’s helped her out of more than a few tight spots. He wants her to learn to control her magic and her life, and many times goes out of his way to help her understand what’s going on. The romance between them doesn’t detract from the book, and it’s not even the main focus, but it adds some nice background music to a thrilling story.

Allie continues to grow and change as a character. After living for years with her head in the sand about how her city really runs, she’s finally started to take a look around. What she sees isn’t all bad, but it’s in no way all good either. People are using magic in ways that are dangerous and even deadly and Allie is out to stop them any way she can. As she does her job as a Hound, she also starts to take responsibility for the life she ran away from. Reconnecting with her stepmother Violet is one part of this, but she also starts to realize she has more friends to call on then she ever knew.

My favorite side character in the storyline barely shows up for twenty or so pages, but he’s quite memorable. Grant Rhines runs Allie’s favorite coffee shop, Get Mugged, with a friendly and casual style. He’s a big, tall, and handsome guy who just happens to be gay. Grant is quick to come to Allie’s aid, asks few questions of her, and stands up for her when she needs it. I honestly hope we see more of this very warm character, because he’s a breath of fresh air compared to many of the thugs Allie ends up meeting.

Magic in the Blood is great sequel. It develops the characters and the storyline, and answers some questions that were raised in the first book. Too often, authors think being mysterious and close-mouthed about what’s really going on in their created worlds leads to repeat sales. In my case, it just annoys me when you get so few clues about the behind the scenes action. Monk does a good job of revealing answers to older questions, while bringing to light new questions. The complexity of her world continues to grow along with her characters, and that’s absolutely a good thing. This is one urban fantasy that’s headed in the right direction.

Since this book is part of a series, it’s generally a good idea to read the first book and then go down the list. But I think the author does a good job of giving enough background without info-dumping so that you could conceivably pick up the second or third book and just read.

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Check out Devon Monk’s website or follow her on Twitter @DevonMonk

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