Friday, December 25, 2020

Short Book Reviews: Black Women Take On The Demons of the Ku Klux Klan

 Ring Shout, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tordotcom)

This is the book that got me through the final days of the 2020 Presidential election.

It’s now 1922, and the Ku Klux Klan, fueled by a re-showing of The Birth of a Nation,  is on the rise. The hatred and violence it encompasses has opened the doors to an even greater, supernatural evil that turns human members into demonic Ku Kluxes (imagine the peaked hood and eye holes conforming to the shape of the skull beneath). Will the menace spread to every corner of the land? All is not lost however, for four intrepid Black women have banded together to defeat it. Each has her own talents, whether skills gained as airwomen in World War I, or through the magic passed on from generations past. Although unique in personality, the bonds of sisterhood and shared purpose has welded them into an indomitable team.

This is the book that got me through the last days of the 2020 Presidential election. I’d turn away from the news, as full of fear and bigotry as it was of hope, and dive into the world of Ring Shout, where the loyalty and courage of Black women heroes stood fast against the forces of evil.

That gives me hope.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Blessing for the Longest Night

 Blessing for the Longest Night

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

—Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief

© Jan Richardson from The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief.

Monday, December 21, 2020

[shameless self-promotion] Kimberly Unger Reviews Collaborators

Kimberly Unger, author of Nucleation, has this to say about Collaborators:

Deborah J. Ross opens Collaborators by flipping the script in a first contact scenario and not stopping there. In her story of a strange new world, the Terrans are the outsiders reaching in and the people of Chacarre and the Erlind are the normal, the everyday folk. 

It’s through this flipped lens that the story first opens, a rare look at our version of humanity through the eyes of a different… humanity.  Because, as details of this alien world get revealed, it becomes apparent that while some of the structures of Chacarran civilization are strikingly familiar, particularly in politics and protest, there are just as many cultural and biological differences, from gender constructs that transcend the binary on through to clan structures and societal languages hidden in the tremble of fur.

Ross brings us along to follow several life stories as they play out across the backdrop of the politics and perils of diplomacy and, as is almost inevitable when new cultures meet, mistakes are made.  Brief windows into the lives and relationships of the Terrans first reveal an earnest attempt to stay neutral and avoid upsetting the balance between two nations in conflict, then a desire to do everything in their power to repair their ship so they can go home. As they overstay their welcome, the Terrans leverage first their influence and then their might. The logic is the same line we have all heard before both in real-life and fiction, to establish a new and stable rule of law so they can get the help they need and leave. The Chacarran and the Erlind start the story on the edge of conflict with each other, but as all the tragedies unfold, the truth of the Terran manipulation comes to light. 

With the Terrans and the Chacarran now entangled in a conflict that none wants to continue, but neither can find a way out of, the storylines of our main characters all come together, each contributing their own piece to the final outcome and ultimately finding a way forward that everyone can live with.

This novel is a refresh of a work Ross originally published under the name of Deborah Wheeler, and as such, I feel it may have been a bit ahead of its time.  The depth of the world and the complex relations feel much more at home among today's science-fiction trends than in previous decades and as such I am delighted I managed to catch this novel in it;s latest release. Deborah Ross is an expert worldbuilder and the care and attention she pays to developing the specifics of Chacarran culture and the diverse viewpoints of her world helps to put a fresh frame a complex story of first contact, political machinations and a revolution that everybody, even the invaders, wants to see succeed.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Book Reviews: Surviving Trauma in a Magical Plague

 The Electric Heir (Feverwake, Book 2), by Victoria Lee (Skyscape)

This is a sequel to Fever King, which I reviewed here. Although I loved the premise of magic being carried by a highly contagious, near-fatal virus, and the virus having been unleashed on a fractured United States by a single power-mad man, I expressed reservations about the depiction of the moral consequences of actions, specifically politically motivated murder. Yet the world and its principle characters were powerful enough to linger in my memory, so I decided to give this next volume a try. And in it I found everything I missed in the first book. To be sure, this isn’t an easy, light-hearted read. It’s a brutally honest delve into the abuse of power. And as such, I found the story powerful and emotionally fearless. Lee doesn’t shy away from difficult or distressing aspects of the deep trauma suffered by the victims or the pernicious nature of the way their thinking and reactions become warped as the result of repeated abuse. In all the essentials, The Electric Heir completes and redeems The Fever King.

Calix Lehrer rose to power by first creating magically gifted “witchings” (the few survivors of the plague he himself unleashed) and then defending them against neighboring nations. Now over a century old, he chooses apprentices from the elite Level IV school – but these teens are not merely students, they are the targets of his seduction, manipulation, and abuse. In the first volume, refugee Noam is first overwhelmed by the privilege of Level IV, filled with hero worship for Lehrer, and first repelled and then fascinated by his fellow student, the charismatically beautiful telepath, Dara. In the course of that story, Noam falls in love with Dara even as he comes under Lehrer’s influence, to the point of becoming Lehrer’s assassin. It becomes clear that not only is Dara’s sexual relationship with Lehrer non-consensual because of the disparity in age and power and the impossibility of refusal, but it involves repeated brutal physical abuse, masked over by Lehrer’s healing magic. The book closed with Dara’s escape and likely death.

Now Lehrer has lured Noam into Dara’s place, forcing him through psychological manipulation and increasingly violent physical abuse into a model of himself: ruthless, exploitive, and devious. In short, to become Lehrer’s carbon-copy heir. Noam, like Dara before him, craves Lehrer’s approval at first, although it is unclear how much of this stems from Noam’s youthful vulnerability and how much is Lehrer making himself charming and magically persuasive. As it turns out, Dara is not dead, although he no longer possesses magic; he has returned with an underground cabal with one purpose: to end Lehrer and his international reign of terror. Lehrer has planted a spy in their midst, perhaps more than one. Noam, after an uncomfortable, divisive reunion, insists on remaining with Lehrer as part of the plot – even though it puts his sanity and his very life at risk. Meanwhile, Lehrer launches a pre-emptive strike against the neighboring nation of Texas, using weaponized magic. As Noam and Dara separately and together come to terms with both the overt and the subtle effects of abuse, it’s a race against time to stop Lehrer. 

It’s a high-wire act to portray slow, intense, personal change and fast-paced action at the same time. Lee deserves immense credit for not abbreviating or minimizing the painful process by which Lehrer’s victims peel back the layers of guilt and shame, discarding the excuses born of what their abuser has led them to believe about themselves. This second volume fully addresses my concerns about the first with courage and compassion. It’s definitely not the place to start the story, but neither is the first book the place to stop. I’m glad I gave The Electric Heir a chance to take me with Noam and Dara in their journey into darkness and the emergence of hope.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Winter Newsletter Coming Soon! Free Holiday Gifts and More

I'll be sending out my winter newsletter soon. Besides the usual greetings I'll be offering a potpourri of free (or low price) books, hand knitted caps, and more for subscribers only. 

Don't miss out on the goodies. Subscribe now!

Sign up here:

Or, if you'd like a preview:

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Do Not Murder In My Name: The Rush to Federal Executions

Now, in the waning days of 2020, the criminal in the White House has pushed through a string of murders. I realize I have used inflammatory language, but nothing less conveys the intensity of my outrage and revulsion. Simply put, someone who initiates and demands the ending of a human life is a criminal. The deliberate, calculated, cold-blooded taking of a human life is murder. 

From the BBC: 

As President Donald Trump's days in the White House wane, his administration is racing through a string of federal executions.

Five executions are scheduled before President-elect Joe Biden's 20 January inauguration - breaking with an 130-year-old precedent of pausing executions amid a presidential transition.

And if all five take place, Mr Trump will be the country's most prolific execution president in more than a century, overseeing the executions of 13 death row inmates since July of this year.

The five executions began this week, starting with convicted killer 40-year-old Brandon Bernard who was put to death at a penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. The execution of 56-year-old Alfred Bourgeois will take place on the evening of 11 December.

I am the family member of a murder victim, and I speak from personal experience of the impulse to revenge the taking of my mother's life. I also know that this is a natural expression of grief, and that with healing, it passes. To me it is essential that those left behind be given the support and time to process that loss and to re-engage with their lives. To focus on killing someone else freezes us in retaliation mode. 

Over the years, I have spoken out against the death penalty, telling my story to groups as diverse as city councils, law students, death penalty abolition activists, and state legislators. In 2012, I was invited to participate in an international conference put on by Murder Victim Families For Human Rights. Then I met others like me, who had lost a single family member to violence, those whose loved ones had been executed or were on death row, and those who experienced both. Every single person who had experienced both was Black. There is no escaping the racial injustice in the way the death penalty is applied (or the way crimes are investigated and prosecuted). Yet the most moving part of that weekend was listening with an open heart to mothers weeping for their executed sons -- and realizing their grief and loss was no less than mine. 

If you, who are reading this, take away nothing else, remember this: every person who is put to death is or has been loved by someone, and is grieved by someone, and missed like an aching hole in the heart by someone.

In 2019, I penned a blog for Death Penalty Focus, called "When we focus on revenge instead of healing, we never heal." You can read it below.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Very Short Book Reviews: For Your Winter Reading Delight

 A Killing Frost, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)

The “October Daye” series keeps getting better! And by “better” I mean richer and more nuanced, always packed with action and dramatic tension and characters we have come to adore. As Toby and Tybalt-King-of-Cats prepare their wedding, she is jolted to discover that she must invite her father to the ceremony or risk the dire consequences of an insult. In this case, her father is not her biological sire but the ex-husband of her mother – the notorious and much-despised Simon Torquill. Simon had made strides toward redemption when he traded his Way Home to save his daughter and is now in the thrall of an evil faery queen. Toby’s quest involves far more than tracking him down. The themes of forgiveness, loyalty, self-discovery, and compassion for self and others run like golden threads through the vivid action.

The Properties of Rooftop Air, by Tim Powers (Subterranean)

“If Charles Dickens had written Killer Klowns,” by Tim Powers doesn’t come close to the weirdness of this dark – dare I say Dickensian – novella. It’s definitely one of the edgier, darker Powers works I’ve read, and the novella length sharpens the focus further. A must-read for Powers fans and lovers of the darkly twisted, although not for the faint of heart and probably not the best gateway drug. If you’re new to Powers, try The Anubis Gates, On Stranger Tides, or Declare before diving into this one.

Adventures of a Dwergish Girl, by Daniel Pinkwater (Tachyon)

Daniel Pinkwater is at his best, most charming and delightful in this tale of a girl from the Dwerg people – you know, the “little men” responsible for Rip Van Winkle sleeping for twenty years? The ones you can never find, no matter how hard you look? The ones who mine gold in the Catskills, can run unbelievably fast, practice domesticity on a level capable of boring any young person to tears? Such is Molly Van Dwerg’s world until she decides to leave home, armed with a couple of Dwergish gold coins and irrepressible self-confidence. Her gift for making friends is rivaled only by her appetite for pizza and papaya juice. When the nearby town of Kingston is menaced by bad guys after the gold and willing to burn down the town to get it, Molly enlists her friends and her wits to save the day.

Charming reading for the entire family.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Short Book Reviews: Florence of the Eternal Renaissance

 Or What You Will, by Jo Walton (Tor Books)

Imagine a world that unites Shakespeare’s two plays, As You Like It and Twelfth Night. Imagine that world as a fantasy series by a contemporary author, determined to finish the series before she dies of cancer. Imagine the narrator being her muse, the solace of her wretched childhood, now determined to save her life by transforming her into a character in her own world, where death comes about only by an act of will. That’s a very rough description of this ground-breaking novel, liberally sprinkled with fascinating forays into the Renaissance – its artists, architects, and thinkers. Illyria, the creation of the author, Sylvia, is an idealized Renaissance Florence frozen in time, set apart from “Progress.” 

Effortless prose, nuanced layering of past, present, and the world of the imagination, add up to a rich and complex reading experience. If only Sylvia’s “Illyria” books were real, we’d all get to run away there.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Short Book Reviews: The Collapse of All Worlds

 Driftwood, by Marie Brennan (Tachyon)

Consider a universe in which dying worlds slowly accrete together, colliding and compressing into a super-condensed Core. The aggregate is known as Driftwood, with the outer rings being less reduced in size, the inner ones mere fractions of their former selves. Each world operates according to its own rules; some have magic, others don’t; some have more than one sun, and so forth. No matter what the geography or culture, one constant remains: the desperate need to preserve memory and identity against the final, irreversible collapse.

This present volume comprises short fiction, some previously published, others original, loosely framed but eminently readable as stand-alone pieces. Overlapping worlds, occasional familiar place names, a historical timeline, and a charismatic recurring character enhance the cohesiveness of the collection. For me, though, the unifying factor was the shared experience, across cultures and personalities, of inevitable loss through change.

In “The Second Coming,” Yeats wrote, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” But in the world of Driftwood, things fall into a center from which nothing emerges, not even the memory of what was once vital and precious. Yet despite the sadness, in the skillful storyteller hands of Marie Brennan, the stories move through compassion to hope, with many memorable moments along the way.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Jaydium Chapter 6 Now on Curious Fictions

 The next chapter of Jaydium is available FREE on Curious Fictions!

Jaydium, Chapter 6

By Deborah J. Ross
Apr 6, 2020 · 1,707 words · 7 minutes


Art by Vincent Di Fate.  Edit Art · Remove Art

From the author: Far in the future, an interplanetary civil conflict has ground to an uneasy halt. Kithri, abandoned on a desolate mining planet, meets Eril, shell-shocked pilot. A freak accident sends them back to a time when their desert world was lush and green, when an alien civilization stands on the brink of a war of total destruction. They must choose to remain outside the conflict or to stand up for what they believe.

 An audio version is available for this chapter. Listen online →


Chapter 6

"What's happened?" Kithri gasped. "Where the bloody hell are we?"

Eril didn't answer. For the moment, he had no ready answers. Adrenalin thrilled through his veins, bringing his vision into sharp focus--every instrument on the scrubjet's panel, every tone of green filling the endless Plain, every brilliant mote of sunlight.

Silently they circled back and brought Brushwacker to a halt on the wide, wind-scoured ledge. In contrast to the debris-strewn entrance they'd flown into, here they found ample room here to land. Otherwise, the treeless purple-gray mountainside looked just like the one they'd left, but that was the only familiar feature of the landscape.

Kithri yanked the door open and jumped out, Eril at her heels. "The Plain, the dust--it's gone, all gone!" she cried. "Where--oh god, where did all those trees come from? Even the sky looks different, it's..." Her voice trailed off into a whisper. "It's so beautiful..."

Eril had to agree with her. Standing there open-mouthed and momentarily speechless, he could see for hundreds of miles, clear to where the dazzling azure sky melted with the forest in a thin, hazy line. From this height, the expanse of green resembled a felt-topped gaming board. He'd seen forests before, on Terillium where he was born and the two worlds where he saw ground action, but compared to this one they were nothing but pale, manicured gardens. He imagined tigers prowling the depths, hunted by spear-wielding woodmen who guarded the ruins of once fabulous cities, the last remains of a race of galaxy-spanning telepathic tyrants...

Argh! I must have seen too many bad tri-vids as a kid. But his nerves hummed with a

Friday, November 20, 2020

Short Book Reviews: The Murderbot Novel, Hooray!

 Network Effect, A Murderbot Novel, by Martha Wells (

Murderbot, beloved and intrepid SecUnit-with-a-soul, graced previous novellas (All Systems Red -- 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, Nebula Award for Best Novella, Locus Award, and New York Times and USA Today Bestseller -- Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy). Once an android Security Unit capable of ruthless and lethal efficiency but lacking volition, this particular unit managed to free themself from its governor module. Over the course of the earlier adventures, they gave themself a personal name (Murderbot) and developed relationships with humans and artificial intelligences alike, often filling empty time and educating themself about human behavior by watching space-based soap operas. One such AI from a previous novella was the snarky ship brain Perihelion, nicknamed ART. Now Murderbot has their own novel, with plenty of scope for reflection, development, and Things Going Seriously Splody. This current volume reunites Murderbot with their favorite and not-so-favorite humans, with ART, and with yet more seasons of ridiculously unrealistic serial dramas, all tied up with a burgeoning conflict between the exploitive Corporate Rim and pockets of egalitarian resistance.

As complete in itself and entertaining as Network Effect is, I highly recommend reading the previous works first. Themes run like seams of gold from one story to the next as Murderbot develops self-awareness, compassion, friendships, and purpose. This doesn’t happen instantly or easily. Growing up is hard, and even harder when one is a newly empowered consciousness in an organo-mechanical body capable of mass murder at a moment’s notice.

The struggle from being a mere tool to becoming a person often takes unexpected, poignant turns. I found some of the most touching moments to be when Murderbot realizes with confusion that while a few humans treat them as a person, the majority of others don’t, and Murderbot’s nurturing mentorship of another SecUnit. It’s said that the best way to solidify growth is to guide another, and this is true here. By giving SecUnit 3 the key to disabling its own governing module and then asking, “What do you want?” Murderbot may be igniting a robotic revolution. We’ll see where the next installment leads.

Needless to say, Network Effect grabbed me on the first page and held my rapt attention through plot twists, heart-pounding perils, and tender moments. The entire series is highly recommended.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Coping With Post-Election Stress

Earlier, I've posted suggestions for coping with despair and anger due to the magnitude of cumulative stresses of 2020. My series, In Troubled Times, began shortly after the 2018 elections. It turns out that most folks feel some degree of depression following a presidential election. Whether it's a let down from months of effort, disappointment in the results, fear for the future, or simple exhaustion, it's common. And there are steps we can take to recover from it.

In this article in The Conversation, Christopher Ojeda (Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Tennessee) offers the following suggestions:

  1. Focusing on healthy living will help restore your energy. Give yourself breaks from the news – and politics. Get enough sleep, eat well and get some exercise.

  2. Limit time on social media, or better yet, log off altogether for a few days. While it’s a way to connect with other people and share information, it’s also a key source of political misinformation, echo chamber conversations and polarized thinking. Overall, too much time on Facebook or Twitter can intensify anxiety and depression.

  3. Seek out social support. Talk to a trusted family member, friend, community leader – or find a social support group in your area. While that may be a bit more challenging in a pandemic, with the need for social distancing, it’s still possible to pick up the phone, get on a FaceTime call or set up a virtual appointment with a mental health professional. But also remember Goldilocks’ rule: Social isolation intensifies negative feelings, but so does spending too much time talking about problems.

  4. Affirm the value of democracy. Electoral loss is scary because it means having to contend with unwanted or disliked policies – and can create extreme polarization. But accepting loss is part and parcel of democracy. One way to bridge political differences is to join a group, such as Building Bridgers, which brings together citizens with diverse political views to engage in structured conversations.

  5. Once you’ve accepted the outcome, get involved with politics. Elections are just the start of what is a complex policymaking process. Participating is empowering and can help alleviate psychological distress. There are many ways to contribute, from contacting elected officials, protesting, running for local office or donating money to joining advocacy organizations or starting a political discussion group.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Short Book Reviews: Remote Space Exploration Goes Wrong

Nucleation, by Kimberly Unger (Tachyon)

Kimberly Unger’s debut novel opens with a brilliant premise: space exploration, overcomes the vast distances involved by squirting “eenie” nanobots through very tiny wormholes. The eenies then follow their programming to construct whatever’s needed to explore and exploit their material surroundings, such as an alien moon. Included are particles that allow an Earth-based human operator and her navigator to remotely manipulate robotic devices. This is such a nifty set-up, I was hooked from the start. Almost immediately, however, Things Go Wrong. As fast as the eenies can build machinery, other nanobots “the Scale,” are tearing it down, and these are alien, not human-created nanobots – but to what purpose? Who programmed them? Where did they come from? And can our heroine stop the process before the alien bots gain access to inhabited planets and launch a major remodel of Earth?

The story quickly morphs into a murder mystery industrial espionage thriller space-gadget adventure with a most satisfying, intelligent, and determined female protagonist. Unger moves the reader from one vivid scene to the next, skillfully weaving in context and background. Even the most exotic, remotely accessed environments become accessible as we follow our characters from Earth to the far-flung stellar mining outposts. Corporate power structures and personal relationships emerge through action, so that even complex, subtle aspects are balanced with dynamic plot twists. Unger’s handling of breath-taking tension and reflection held my attention, page after page.

The verdict: A spectacular debut novel, at once thoughtful and exciting, packed with innovative ideas and plot twists. I’m looking forward to Unger’s next!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

[shameless self-promotion] Dashiell Harrison Reviews Collaborators


Here's another rave review for Collaborators, this time from Dashiell Harrison:

Collaborators follows the social and political fallout of first contact between an alien spaceship crewed by powerful and technologically advanced spacefarers and the population of farmers, poets, book-sellers, and diplomats on whose politically volatile planet the spacefarers land. The twist: the spacecraft is crewed by Terran humans from our solar system, and the unsuspecting natives are the alien population of the planet Bandar. The Terrans try to remain neutral, but the political situation in Chacarre is especially unstable, and they soon transition from visitors to invaders. The occupation of Chacarre quickly spawns an insurgency that turns friends to foes and lovers to enemies, and threatens to wipe out the entirety of the Terran expedition.

Collaborators immediately sets itself apart from standard first contact type stories by focusing primarily on the alien perspective. Human characters feature heavily in the first few chapters, but no sooner have we come to know and like the Terran astronauts than Ross subverts our expectations by whisking us out of the relative familiarity of the Terran-crewed spaceship and drawing us into the rich and complex world of the Bandari aliens as they grapple with the effects of Terran occupation on their already fractious society.

It is in the interactions between the Bandaris that Ross reveals a mastery of world building which rests firmly on her background as a biologist and international traveler. The Bandari feel simultaneously alien and human, with single-sex bodies that exhibit sexual dimorphism only when they are pregnant or in heat and a single-gender culture that is as exotic as their urban, clan-based society is familiar.

Ross strikes a neat balance between humor and thoughtfulness in the scenes when the Chacarran diplomat Ferro first meets with the Terran landing crew. How does one read emotion on the face of a creature without a crest? He wonders. What kind of civilization crews a spacecraft with pregnant personnel?

The characters - both Chacarran and Terran - come through vividly and sympathetically, each the hero of their own story, each painfully ill-equipped to understand the needs and customs of the aliens with which they are suddenly forced to interact.

At its core, Collaborators is a tragic tale of cultural misunderstandings and a compelling journey into how they can be fixed.

Here's where to order the book (ebook, trade paperback, and hardcover editions):

Amazon (ebook and trade paperback)
B & N (ebook, trade paperback, and hardcover/laminated cover) 
From your local bookstore, order via Ingram:
     Trade paperback: 9781952589003
     Hardcover/dust jacket: 9781952589027

Kobo (and other ebook retailers) 

Monday, November 9, 2020

Jaydium: Chapter 5 Free on Curious Fictions

Between the wildfires and evacuation, I've fallen behind in posting free chapters of Jaydium on Curious Fictions. With apologies, here's the next one!

Jaydium, Chapter 5

By Deborah J. Ross
Nov 6, 2020 · 1,761 words · 7 minutes


Art by Vincent Di Fate.  Edit Art · Remove Art

From the author: Far in the future, an interplanetary civil conflict has ground to an uneasy halt. Kithri, abandoned on a desolate mining planet, meets Eril, shell-shocked pilot. A freak accident sends them back to a time when their desert world was lush and green, when an alien civilization stands on the brink of a war of total destruction. They must choose to remain outside the conflict or to stand up for what they believe

 An audio version is available for this chapter. Listen online →


Chapter 5

For a moment Eril considered telling her the truth, that he had as much chance of getting into the Corps without her as she had getting off Stayman without him. In the mood she was in, she'd probably tell him to stuff a comet up his pitouchee. The only thing to do was to keep his mouth shut and wait for another opening. He hoped he'd get one.

Kithri picked up the water bottle, took a long swallow and then dropped it, sputtering. She pointed down the tunnel.

As he followed her gesture, Eril's mouth went electrically dry. The last time he'd looked, the tunnel had been empty except for the two of them and the scrubjet. Now a man-shaped mist hovered in the middle of the 'hole, one moment diaphanous, then condensing into near solidity. In stark contrast to the rosy glow of the partly-sealed jaydium, it was a clear, untinted gray. Eril made out a bulbous head, two arms, and two splayed-out legs. He thought he saw markings on the head section, but they faded so quickly he could not be sure.

"What the hell is that?" Kithri whispered. "I've been running these tunnels for years, and I've never seen anything like it."

"Space ghost," he said, dredging his memory. "They're sighted along the old interstellar routes. There are only about six or seven documented cases known, never this close to a planet. By our best guess, they're relics of early attempts to exceed the speed of light. Residues of energy that just happen to be shaped like humans. They probably don't actually exist in three-space."

As he spoke, the figure descended until its feet seemed to touch the tunnel floor. For a moment it stood there, motionless. Then it began to move. First one leg and then the other stretched out and swung back as it drifted along in a mechanical parody of walking. 

Here's the link to the rest...

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Election 2020: A Love Letter From Ruth

   “We must criticize without wounding and debate without dehumanizing our opponents. Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

-- Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Friday, November 6, 2020

Short Book Reviews: A Medical Rescue in White Space

 Machine (A White Space Novel), by Elizabeth Bear (Saga)

My introduction to Elizabeth Bear’s gorgeously inventive “White Space” novels was Ancestral Night (check our my review here). While I highly recommend be read first, Machine stands on its own. Both are huge books in the sense of sweeping plots and vast universe-building.

As before, Bear uses an unreliable but highly competent first-person narrator, in this case Brookllyn Jens, a rescue operations physician ex-cop with a chronic pain condition, who relies on self-administered drugs and an exosuit for support. Despite being estranged from her wife and daughter, she’s formed deep ties with her crew and shipmind, the AI of their rescue vessel. Chance places them first on the scene of a generation ship, drifting far from where it ought to be, with a much smaller ship of methane-breathing aliens attached to it. One mystery unfolds into the next: why are both crews in cryo sleep? What’s going on with the generation ship’s android/ship-computer peripheral unit? Matters take a turn for the much, much worse when one AI after another becomes infected with a meme virus, and all too quickly Llyn realizes there is no one she can trust but herself.

My reactions to this book were very much in line with how I felt about Ancestral Night, so I’ll paraphrase them here: The book is filled with action and reflection that say as much about the different ways of looking at self vs society as they do about Llyn’s journey of self-discovery. It’s all fascinating, if a bit sedate in places, until the pieces start coming together. Then the parts I had previously found slow made brilliant sense and I couldn’t put the book down until the exciting and immensely satisfying conclusion. I say this as an advisory to other readers to hang in there: every piece is there for a reason, and it is richly worth the ride. Machine is in turns dramatic, thoughtful, humorous, hopeful, and tragic. From the government ship name, I Really Don’t Have Time For Your Nonsense to the weird and wonderful aliens to everything I’ve mentioned above, the book is as much about how we balance individual choices with the greater good. Worth savoring, and re-reading, as is the previous book.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

In Anxious Times: Holding on to the Hope We Create

In 2016 and after, I wrote a series of posts called, "In Troubled Times," about despair, anger, determination, hope, and all the myriad emotions that followed the 2016 election. 

Now, as we await the results of 2020, I have a few thoughts to share. If the muses are with me, I'll be posting more. No matter what the results, we are in for a tough, divisive time. But we're in it together, and together we shall prevail.

First and foremost -- As I took my evening shower on Election Day, I was struck by a moment of light. No matter what happens, we always have within us the power to be beacons of hope for one another. We are not alone. We can lift each other up when despair overcomes us. I keep remembering my father's steadfast hope -- and he lived through a revolution, pogrom, starvation, the Depression, McCarthyism, and more. He never gave up working for a better world -- and neither will we.

Then I read these words from Robert Hubble

We must be patient. Biden has a path to victory that does not depend on Pennsylvania with its contested mail ballots. Biden gave a hopeful speech on Tuesday evening and urged us to wait until all votes are counted. Trump, on the other hand, declared victory in the early hours of Wednesday morning but demanded that counting cease. That tells us all we need to know about what the respective campaigns believe about the ultimate result of the election and the will of the American people. Trump is now trying to subvert that will based on a legal theory that says the functioning of the U.S. Constitution should be stopped based on his personal preferences. That's not how the Constitution works, and Trump's claim is ludicrous and meritless.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Newsletter: Late October...2020 Was Many Things...


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2020 was many things...

Some we expected, some took us utterly by surprise. Some quickly passed -- and others we are still grappling with. Now that I've had a chance to settle back home after being evacuated for a month due to the California CZULightning wildfires, I am filled with gratitude for the friends, readers, neighbors, family, and strangers who were so unfailingly kind and supportive. 

As the season turns from summer's brutal heat toward winter's equally brutal (think mudslides!) but different weather, I am personally focusing on what has sustained my family and myself through the ordeal that has been this year.

You, my fans and friends.
My wonderful editor and publisher and agent.
The beautiful (if a bit singed) place in which I love.
And especially the stories that fill my mind and my life. Those I write. Those I treasure by other writers.

Many thanks!


First things first: Here is (Red) Sonja smooshed against Shakir. Considering that the first time they were introduced, she a mere wee kitten, she threw herself on her back and screamed, I'd say they have established trust, if not outright affection for one another.

What's new on Darkover?
My agent once told me that waiting on publishers was akin to watching the movement of glaciers. I suspect this has never been more true than now, when my publisher's offices are closed due to the pandemic, and everyone is overloaded.

In the meanwhile, here is a snippet from The Laran Gambit, in which Bryn, our viewpoint character, crashes on Darkover with her father and mentor. The title is a working version and will probably be changed. And this is unedited text, so it, too, may undergo the alchemical transformation of editing.


Bryn forced herself to lay back down and breathe slowly. It was harder than she expected. She imagined the inside of the tent — their pocket of air — turning stale. What were the symptoms of anoxia? She couldn’t remember — didn’t that mean her brain was deprived of oxygen? A part of her, that terrified monkey at the back of her brain, yammered at her to get out now.

Panic will only use up the air faster. Think!

Friday, October 30, 2020

Short Book Reviews: The Diabolist's Apprentices Get Into Trouble

Creatures of Charm and Hunger, by Molly Tanzer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

This third volume in the “Diabolist” series focuses on a family of diabolists – magic workers who draw their power from pact-bound demons. There is, of course, always a catch and always a price. To minimize the danger, diabloists through the centuries have kept meticulous notes on the names, temperaments, and histories of the known demons. Nancy Blackwood is one of a lineage of librarians guarding these and other critical documents. While her sister, Edith, engages in the larger world (in this case, the end of World War II), Nancy lives in a remote British village, along with her Hollywood-obsessed daughter, Jane, and her ward, Jewish refugee Miriam, both student diabolists about to embark upon the “Test” that will lead to full privileges and their own demons. After passing their Tests, each embarks upon perilous paths in violation of the rules: Jane, eager to hide that she has in reality failed her Test, creates a familiar by placing a demonic spirit into her pet cat, but lacks the experience to truly bind it to obedience; and Miriam goes searching for her parents, captives of the Nazis, by taking over the bodies of animals and then people, at a terrible cost to her own spiritual self. What could possibly go wrong?

Tanzer perfectly captures life in a secluded, rambling house in a small British village toward the end of the Second World War, weaving in a story of brash youth, tested friendships, treacherous demons, and consequences. If this is truly the last of the series, I will be sad to see it end.

Creatures of Will and Temper reviewed here.

Creatures of Want and Ruin reviewed here.