Friday, August 30, 2019

Short Book Reviews: The God of Broken Things

God of Broken Things, by Cameron Johnston (Angry Robot)

One of the challenges of writing a sequel is the balance between giving the new reader all the necessary background, developing the characters well enough, and yet not boring readers who are already familiar with the cast and setting. I picked up God of Broken Things unaware that it was a sequel to Traitor God. For most of the book, however, I could not decide if God of Broken Things was indeed a sequel (to a book I knew immediately I wanted to run out and read) or a stand-alone with a rich and brilliantly handled back story.

The world of this story, and in particular the city-state of Setharis, are still reeling after the events in the previous book, which include all sort of monstrous, god-like things running amok and smashing things in horrific fashion.Our reluctant hero, Edrin Walker, a “tyrant” magus who can read thoughts and impose his will on others, among other mental talents, remains at odds with the magical authorities and himself. Behind all this havoc are the barbaric Skallgrim (skull-grim?), many of whom are infested with alien Scarrabus mind-parasites. Now the Skallgrim and their mind-worms (or insects) are back again, bent on battering the world into ruins, and if humanity survives at all, it will be as an inferior, enslaved race. Much as the Setharis magus powers-that-be distrust Edrin’s mental powers, he’s their best hope, so they send him to hold the invading army at bay or at least slow it down until their allies can arrive. Edrin gathers together a personal coterie of arsonists and poisoners, plus a mind-slave or two, a sword that’s really a bloodthirsty demon, an old almost-lover, and a vicious pony, along with a handful of other magi of various sorts. And things go wrong. And more wrong. And then seriously wrong, with one reversal or twist leading to the next, even more awful crisis. And then this-can’t-possibly-get-worse-but-it-does wrong.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Today's Moment of Art

Landscape with Lake - 1894 | Albert Milton Drinkwate

Monday, August 26, 2019

Guest Interview: Heather Albano, Author of the Keeping Time Trilogy

Welcome Heather Albano, author of the wonderful steampunk time-travel novel, Timepiece, and its sequels. I reviewed it here. She's graciously agreed to give us a peek behind the scenes.

What inspired your novel?

(I love telling this story.) It started when afriend of mine told me about a dream she’d had, in which a package arrived in the mail for her then-infant son. Inside the package addressed to him was a package addressed to me (how odd, she thought) and inside that was a velvet bag containing a pocket watch. Opening the pocket watch, my friend discovered the period casing contained a futuristic-looking screen cycling through images of different historical times and places. “I think I had your dream, Heather.”

I tried to write a story about her son and me and the pocket watch, including a reason for the nested packages, but I couldn’t get it to gel. A pocket watch seemed to belong to an older era anyway…so maybe this wanted to be a Victorian time travel story. Maybe steampunk—huge mechanical monsters stomping down a gaslit street? Yeah. Stomping after what? What would mechanical Victorian monsters hunt? Something natural run amuck, of course. The Victorians would totally build monstrous scientific artificial things to constrain monstrous natural things.

Okay, so where did the run-amuck natural things come from? And when? It would have to be long enough before the Victorian era for the organic monsters to become a problem, for a solution to be generated, and for the solution to become its own problem. Seventy to eighty years, say? The “Victorian era” spanned a long time, of course, but I meant the Sherlock Holmes / Jack the Ripper / Dracula / H.G. Wells part of it—so call it 1880 to 1895. What was going on in England seventy to eighty years before, say, 1885?

Five seconds later, I was scrambling for Wikipedia to look up the dates of the Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo. Five seconds after that, I knew exactly what the story was about.

What was your favorite part of writing the Keeping Time trilogy?

My favorite type of reading experience is the one in which I suddenly realize the story I thought I was reading is not the story I am actually reading—the moment when the addition of a perspective or a backstory changes the context entirely. So it’s not entirely true that I wrote the first two books just so I could rewrite the scenes from a different character’s perspective in the third…but it was my favorite part of writing the third. Other people were in the middle of their lives when Elizabeth’s exuberant bildungsroman intersected with them, after all, and their stories have a different shape than hers…

Friday, August 23, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Ekaterin Vorkosigan Solves a Radioactive Mystery

What a pleasure it is to return to the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan, or rather those
featuring his resourceful and compassionate wife, Ekaterin. In The Flowers of Vashnoi, Miles has inherited a tract of land, the Vashnoi exclusion zone, that was once a rich agricultural area, a veritable garden. Now, generations after the Cetagandan war, it’s still radioactively contaminated and uninhabitable. Ekaterin has gone there to check on the clean-up progress. One of the methods used is a bug that consumes and concentrates contaminated matter so that it can be collected and removed from the site. But, as Ekaterin discovers during her tour of the facilities, a significant number of “radbugs” have gone missing. And there’s a mysterious, pale figure flitting through the forest like a wood elf.

This mini-adventure is paced just right, contained within the mystery plot structure yet evoking the larger universe of the Vorkosigan novels. It’s lovely to spend more time with Ekaterin, who tries to take a lesson in leadership from Miles now and again but falls back on her own innate capacity for insight and her scientific curiosity.

Bottom line: just delightful.

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to praise it. Although chocolates and fine imported tea are always welcome.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Today's Moment of Art

The Coast of Labrador, 1866 | William Bradford

Monday, August 19, 2019

Recipe: Vegan Sesame Noodles

This is so good, my omnivorous family loves it! It's also a very flexible recipe, so I will substitute whatever veggies I have on hand (like green beans or zucchini). Plus it doesn't result in a ton of pans to wash. Plus did I mention how yummy it is?

Sesame Noodles (serves 4)

4 oz uncooked spaghetti (I use brown rice, but any kind is fine)
4 c. bean sprouts
2 c. thinly sliced snow peas
2 T toasted sesame oil
¼ c. peanut butter
2 T soy sauce
1 T vinegar
1 T brown sugar
1 green onion, minced
1 T finely minced ginger (or ½ tsp dry)
1 clove finely minced garlic
1 c. grated carrot

  • Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions. Just before done, throw in the bean sprouts and snow peas. Cook for 30 seconds, then drain everything well. Return the pasta, sprouts, and snow peas to the pot and toss with sesame oil.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, scallion, ginger, garlic with 2 T (or more!) water. It should be thick enough to coat the noodles, but liquid enough to be easy to toss.
  • Toss the spaghetti, sprouts, snow peas, and carrots with the peanut butter mixture.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Welcome to the Night Vigil

Sons of Darkness (A Night Vigil Novel), by Gail Z. Martin (SOL)

I met Gail Z. Martin through her #HoldOnToTheLight campaign and was curious to see what kind of fiction she writes (there’s a lot of it, which is a good thing because she’s very good!) I didn’t know that Sons of Darkness is tied into several of her other series, but no prior experience was necessary to enjoy this story.

Martin is highly experienced in her genre and handles pacing, tension, character development, and a host of new twists on old horror themes with deceptive ease that makes for a smooth, fast-paced reading experience.

The book revolves around two men who are both mirrors of one another and distinct individuals. Travis Dominick, ex-priest, psychic medium, and former member of a secret Vatican order of demon hunters, encounters Brent Lawson, vet, ex-cop, ex-FBI agent, former member of a supernatural-black-ops, and surviving twin whose ghost brother hangs around, trying to make contact. Travis’s first thought about Brent as he rescues him from a psi-vampire is: There’s a newbie out there who thinks he’s Van Helsing.

Soon, however, the two overcome their animosity to work together as supernatural invasions mount and a pattern emerges:  every fifty years, a hell gate opens and increasingly terrible disasters feed the spirit dwelling there, climaxing in a horrific blood bath.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Monday, August 12, 2019

A Prayer Against Detaining Children​

A Prayer Against Detaining Children​

by Alden Solovy
God of the captive,
God of the imprisoned and detained,
The voice of heartbreak echoes across the land,
Children rejected at our sunset gates,
The Mother of Exiles weeps for the innocent,
Their journey to Liberty bringing detention, deprivation and death.
Has compassion fled our borders?
Has the lamp at our door been extinguished?
Has Justice abandoned her post?
Source of comfort and hope,
You call upon us to stand in the name of the children,
To witness against mistreatment and neglect,
To fight a government that separates parents from minors
At the border of our nation,
Flaunting power,
Ignoring decency and law,
Allowing the innocent to die.
Bless those who dedicate their lives to human rescue.
Grant them the fortitude to battle in the name
Of the unknown, the unseen,
Those who cannot be forgotten.
May the work of their hands never falter,
Nor despair deter them from their holy calling.
Bless those in human bondage with hope and courage.
Grant them the strength and the fortitude
To face the indignities and privation forced upon them.
Hasten their release.
Grant them lives of health and prosperity,
Joy and peace.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who releases the captive.
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheynu melech ha-olam, matir asurim.

From the blog

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Friday, August 9, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Indiana Jones in Contemporary Israel, with Insight

Alpha and Omega, by Harry Turtledove (Del Rey)

Harry Turtledove has written a lot of books. Really, a lot. Alternate history, pure science fiction, whimsical fantasy, humor, historical fiction, and more. I haven’t come across a single one that wasn’t a fast, smooth read with plenty of action and a ton of nifty ideas. Every once in a while, though, he so completely nails a story, concept and prose and thematic resonances, that it stays with me and I find myself blabbing about it like a fangirl to all my friends. The Guns of the South (time-traveling racists arm the Confederacy with automatic weapons) was one such. Also Ruled Brittanica (the Spanish Armada prevails and William Shakespeare writes insurrectionist plays) and In the Presence of Mind Enemies (Jews survive in the shadow of victorious Nazi Germany). Now I can add Alpha and Omega to that list.

The elevator pitch for this book might run, “Indiana Jones in 21st Century Israel, complete with American evangelicals, ultra Orthodox Jewish settlers, Muslim terrorists, and journalists on the lookout for a good story, with an occasional miracle.” But it’s much more. It begins in a perfectly ordinary thriller-ish way with a dirty bomb detonated in Tel Aviv and team of Israeli archaeologists (Jewish and Arab, with a nonobservant Jewish American and a dewy-eyed Christian student thrown in for good measure) excavate under the Temple Mount and find (of course, Indiana Jones style) the Ark of the Covenant . . . floating inches above the floor. And the skeptical journalist who unwisely lays hands on it is summarily carbonized.

What to make of this miracle?

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Today's Moment of Art

Twilight in the Tropics, 1874 | Frederic Edwin Church

Monday, August 5, 2019

[rant] In Troubled Times: Still Here, Still Holding on to Hope

Following the 2016 election, I posted a series of essays called “In Troubled Times.” I wrote about despair, fear, anger, powerlessness, and determination. Then the initial fervor faded. Exhaustion set in for me as well as for so many others. Emotional exhaustion. Spiritual exhaustion. But the constant, increasingly vitriolic litany of hate and fear, as well as the assaults on democratic norms and civil liberties not only continued, it escalated.

What is to be done in the face of such viciousness, such disregard for human rights and dignity? Such an assault upon clean and air water, endangered species, and the climate of planet we depend on for our lives? How do we preserve what we value, so that in resisting we do not become the enemy?

I don’t know what the most effective strategy of resistance is. Social media abounds in calls to action. I do know that there are many possible paths forward and that not every one way is right for every person. Not everyone can organize a protest march (think of five million protesters in front of the White House; think of a national strike that brings the nation’s businesses to a halt). I find myself remembering activist times in my own past.

I came of age during the Civil Rights Movement and the Viet Nam war resistance (and, later, the women’s rights movement of the 1970s). I wore my hair long, donned love beads, and marched in a gazillion rallies. Those memories frequently rise to my mind now. In particular, I remember how frustrated I got about ending the Viet Nam war. In 1967, I joined the crowd of 100,000 protesters in San Francisco. I wrote letters, painted posters, and so forth. And for a time, it seemed nothing we did made any difference. My friends still got drafted and not all of them made it home, and those that did were wounded in ways I couldn’t understand. Others ended up as Canadians. I gave up hope that the senseless carnage would ever end.

But it did. And in retrospect, all that marching and chanting and singing and letter-writing turned out to be important. The enduring lesson for me is that I must do what I feel called to do at the moment, over and over again, different things at different times, never attempt to second-guess history, and especially never give in to despair. Enough tiny pebbles rolling down a slope create a landslide.

My first political memories date back to the 1950s, when I saw my union-organizer father 
marching in a picket line. The 1950s were a terrifying time for a lot of folks. For my family, it was because my parents were active in their respective unions, and both had been members of “the Party” in the 1930s. My father was fired from his job on a pretext and soon became the target of a formal Federal investigation. (He’d been under FBI surveillance since 1947.) The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to take away his naturalized citizenship. It was a time of incredible fear: people committed suicide or “went underground” (now we call it “off the grid”) by living in safe houses and using only cash. Some of our relatives did that, and our home became one of those havens. The DoJ suit was dismissed in 1961, although the FBI continued secretly watching my father until his death in 1974. I should add that it is so odd to me to regard that bureau as protecting democracy in current times, after their 1984-like behavior in the 1950s and beyond.

The point of all this is not that my family had a hard time. Lots of families had a hard time. Lots more are having an unbelievably hard, terrifying, horrific time today. The point is that we got through it. Not unscarred -- it’s still excruciatingly difficult for me to call attention to myself by political activism. My parents never stopped working for a better, more just and loving world. They never lost hope.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Paranormal Romance Reads Like Failed Thriller, or Vice Versa

American Witch (American Witch: Book 1), by Thea Harrison (Victory Editing NetGalley Co-Op)

I read a little romance and a lot of fantasy, so I tend to prefer stories that are heavy on magic/plot/dramatic tension and tender love stories, and light on heaving bosoms and overwhelming lust for inappropriate partners. So now you know my prejudices.

American Witch begins promisingly enough with forty-something Molly Sullivan discovering that her attorney husband has been unfaithful to her . . . again. She wigs out, confronts him before the senior partner of his firm, the newly elected District Attorney, and all the guests at their elegant party, throws the contents of their safe into her suitcase, and decamps. From there, matters spin utterly out of control as she discovers banking records for an account in the Seychelles and her soon-to-be-ex comes after her in a near-lethal attack. She fights back, using magical Powers she had no idea she possessed. Soon she’s entangled with Josiah Mason, the above-mentioned DA, who is an ancient, powerful witch himself, and has gathered a coven to track down and eliminate an even older and very wicked witch (one of whose past lives will be immediately recognizable). In other words, the story hits the ground running.

Alas, all that action comes to a near halt as Molly and Josiah become increasingly mired in their mutual lust and repulsion. Finally they tumble into bed together, drenched in overwhelming sexual need, with tons of pretty nicely described sexual acts. There’s even a brief discussion about birth control, for which the author would get a gold star from me except it’s not about responsible, mutually respectful sex, it’s a set-up for the inevitable contraceptive failure and resulting pregnancy.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

I'm in the "A Matter of Time" StoryBundle!

What better way to forget about the present than by exploring the past and future? Ever since Jules Verne turned the dials on his famous machine, time travel has been a staple of science fiction, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's A Matter of Time StoryBundle continues this rich tradition by presenting fourteen temporally vibrant novels by both bestselling authors and rising stars.
SFWA is an organization dedicated to promoting and supporting science fiction and fantasy writers in the United States and elsewhere. The A Matter of Time bundle was curated by SFWA members to showcase the incredible range of thought-provoking stories that can be explored through the conceit of time travel, from adventures in the distant past to the far future.
And the bundle also includes Blue Apocalypse, the first book in a new series by New York Times bestselling author Craig Martelle, Time Trap by USA Today Bestselling author Jill Cooper, and Nairobi Jack by Monique Martin, among many others. The A Matter of Time bundle will run for three weeks only. This is a terrific way to sample a wide variety of stories and discover great new writers!
For StoryBundle, you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you're feeling generous), you'll get the basic bundle of five books in any ebook format—WORLDWIDE.
            Jurassic Jail - Time Wars Book 1 by William Alan Webb
            Einstein's Secret by Irving Belateche
            Jaydium by Deborah J. Ross
            Blue Apocalypse - End Days Book 1 by E.E. Isherwood and Craig Martelle
            Marking Time - Immortal Descendants Book 1 by April White
If you pay at least the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular books, plus NINE more!
            The Continuum by Wendy Nikel
            The Syndicate - Timewaves Series Book 1 by Sophie Davis
            The Redemption of Michael Hollister by Shawn Inmon
            The Lights of Time by Paul Ian Cross
            Nairobi Jack by Monique Martin
            Imposter Messiah by M.W. Davis
            Time Trap by Jill Cooper
            Supernova - The Commons Book 1 by Jessica Marting
            Millennium Crash by James Litherland