Mini Reviews, Vol. 14

The Black Dove cover The Black Dove by Steve Hockensmith

Holmes On the Range Mystery #3 – I know, look at me reading all the series!

Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer end up “deducifying” in Gold Rush San Francisco, looking to solve the mystery of Dr. Chan’s death. Hockensmith does a good job of keeping these mysteries fresh; changing up the settings while staying true to the Old West. I listened to this on audio; the dialog shines with William Dufris.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea cover Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Think of every ocean/undersea adventure ever. Toothy whales? Check. Giant squids? Check. Antarctic sailing? Check. Atlantis? Check. Island of savages? Well, check. Generally, I really enjoyed this book. Published in 1870 (1872 in English), Verne revels in science. The submarine, the underwater breathing apparatuses, the natural classifications of so much aquatic life—all of it gets good press. Honestly, the only bits I glazed over during were discussions of where the Nautilus was and where it was going. Seaman, I ain’t.

alt text Lizzie: The Letters of Elizabeth Chester Fisk 1864-1893, edited by Rex C. Myers

I bought this last summer at The Old Sage Bookshop in Prescott.

I’ve read a few memoirs and collections of letters by 19th century pioneer women. Usually, they are from the prairie or southwest. In this case, Lizzie Fisk lived in Helena, Montana. Instead of a farmer or a rancher, her husband was a newspaper man. Many of her letters are about the Herald, her husband’s, newspaper and the politics of the city and the state. Fisk was an abolitionist and a suffragette, but she was also terribly judgemental and, as a woman of her time, selectively racist. In all, her letters filled out my notion of the American frontier, but honestly, Fisk isn’t someone I would have liked to spend time with. (And I doubt she would have thought much of me either…)

hosted by Nick @ One Catholic Life

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

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Deal Me In, Week 31 ~ “The Touch of Love”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Touch of Love” by Day Al-Mohamed

Card picked: K
Found at: Daily Science Fiction

The Story
There is a content warning at the top of this story and, yeah, it’s appropriate. Soft science fiction asks questions. If you can make companion robots, could you (or should you) make robots that are tolerant of abusive relationships? But what about machine learning, that “deep” knowledge gained by experience? What would a companion robot in an abusive relationship learn about love? All that in a flash fiction piece!

Deal Me In, Week 13 ~ “The Dust Enclosed Here”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Dust Enclosed Here” by Kage Baker

Card picked: 7
Found at: Infinity Plus

The Story
Will Shakespeare is a holographic educational entertainment exhibit at Southwark Museum’s Globe Restored. He is programmed to recite certain sonnets and soliloquies that are still allowed by the Tri-World Council for Integrity, to marvel at the technology of the modern world, and to encourage patrons to visit the Gifte Shoppe on their way out. But unlike a simple program trained with the works of the Bard and some scholar-agreed-upon personality traits, Will yearns to create new material and remembers a time when he had the freedom to do so. Will’s programming, it would seem, is different and maybe even illegal. And it might just take the hacking efforts of a strange and equally improbable boy, Alec, to let Shakespeare write again.

I’ve enjoyed just about everything I’ve read by Kage Baker, which makes me wonder why I haven’t read more of her work. This story was included in the collection Black Projects, White Knights: The Company Dossiers, so I assume that it’s part of Baker’s Company series. Now, I’ve only read a different collection of Company stories, In the Company of Thieves, back in 2013. I’ve found that you really don’t have to be familiar with the world to enjoy any of the related stories, though it probably helps. I kind of imagine that Shakespeare’s memories being part of the holo-program and Alec “setting him free” is a sideways plot to undermine whatever totalitarian government had put something like the Council for Integrity in place.

Review ~ Frankenstein Dreams

Cover via Goodreads

Frankenstein Dreams: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Science Fiction edited by Michael Sims

Long before 1984, Star Wars, or The Hunger Games, Victorian authors imagined a future where new science and technologies reshaped the world and universe they knew. The great themes of modern science fiction showed up surprisingly early: space and time travel, dystopian societies, even dangerously independent machines, all inspiring the speculative fiction of the Victorian era.

In Frankenstein Dreams, Michael Sims has gathered many of the very finest stories, some by classic writers such as Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, and H.G. Wells, but many that will surprise general readers. Dark visions of the human psyche emerge in Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s “The Monarch of Dreams,” while Mary E. Wilkins Freeman provides a glimpse of “the fifth dimension” in her provocative tale “The Hall Bedroom.’

With contributions by Edgar Allan Poe, Alice Fuller, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, Arthur Conan Doyle, and many others, each introduced by Michael Sims, whose elegant introduction provides valuable literary and historical context, Frankenstein Dreams is a treasure trove of stories known and rediscovered. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
At the beginning of last year, I noticed that many of the “literary” writers of the late 19th and early 20th century seemed to have a real enthusiasm for science that spilled into their works. In that time period, there seems to be a fuzzier boundary between literary and  genre.

What Worked
Frankenstein Dreams is chronological survey of science fiction starting at the publication of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein in 1818, which can arguably be considered the beginning of the genre. All types of science fiction are included: bats on the moon, a tale of mesmerism (which was thought to be a science), high-tech submarines, augmented humans, augmented dinosaurs, time travel, future societies, and more!

Included are some of the “genre” authors you’d expect (like Edgar Alan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Jules Verne) along with some classic authors I don’t think of as having genre connections (like Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy) and many authors I wasn’t familiar with at all.

A surprise favorite was “The Senator’s Daughter” by Edward Page Mitchell. The introduction made me worry that it was going to be a very scattershot view of the future world of 1937 (it was published in 1879). I was further worried that about the premise of the US having been conquered by “the Mongolians.” If you read enough Victorian Era stories, you’ll come up against cringe-worthy Yellow Peril propaganda every-so-often. Mitchell’s story is thoughtful though, dealing with an interracial relationship that, while isn’t approved of, exists! Mitchell has two stories in the anthology. The other, “The Clock that Went Backwards,” is a time-travel tale. (I also recently read Mitchell’s “The Ablest Man in the World” for my automaton anthology. Definitely an early name in SF.)

What Didn’t Work
There were a few excerpts. In fact, the anthology starts with a series of excerpts from Frankenstein, which I would think a reader would be somewhat familiar with if they’re reading this book. Other excerpts are from Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau, Vernes’ Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the SeaStrange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Two on a Tower by Hardy. The excerpts work more or less as stand alone stories, but I wish Sims would have stuck to short  stories only.

My other sort of half-problem was that some of the stories weren’t really science fiction. “The Monarch of Dreams” by Thomas Wentworth Higginson involves the attempt by the narrator to control his dreams, but it’s more fantastical than science-based. The same goes for Mary E Wilkins Freeman’s very good “The Hall Bedroom.” While there’s speculation of a fifth dimension, what occurs could as easily be called a haunting.

“Monsters of Magnitude” by Thomas Hardy (what Sims decided to call the excerpt of Two on a Tower) isn’t really science fiction, but is more like science *in* fiction, which is part of what I find interesting about a lot of literature in the Victorian era. As I also noted on Twitter, this excerpt makes me want to read the novel; I had sworn to forever hate Thomas Hardy since an unfortunate circumstance of being made to read him in the 7th grade. Similarly, Kipling’s “Wireless” involves science, but with a speculative fiction twist. Despite that, it too was one of my favorites of the anthology.

Overall
This was a solid set of short stories and a great taster of Victorian science and speculative fiction.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Bloomsbury, 2017
Acquired: Tempe Public Library
Genre: science fiction

Deal Me In, Week 10 ~ “Pythias”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Pythias” by Frederik Pohl

Card picked: 8 (It’s week 10 and I still haven’t drawn a club…)
Found at: East of the Web

The Story
“Pythias” begins with our narrator, Dick, in jail for the murder of his friend Larry. Dick tells us that the murder is considered particularly heinous since Larry had recently saved Dick’s life. You see, there was an incident in which terrorists stormed a government meeting and Larry jumped on a hand grenade, its pin pulled. Larry survived, only being knocked out for a day. That event reminded Dick of a theory that Larry once espoused:

“You claimed that the human mind possessed powers of psychokinesis,” I said. “You argued that just by the mind, without moving a finger or using a machine, a man could move his body anywhere, instantly. You said that nothing was impossible to the mind.”

Larry admits that he’s found the secret of telekinesis and that anyone can learn to do it. While Larry is demonstrating his abilities to Dick, Dick kills him, believing that such power could corrupt even a good guy like Larry.

I had to familiarize myself with the Greek legend of “Damon and Pythias,” which this story riffs on. In the legend, Pythias is accused of plotting against Dionysius in Syracuse and is sentenced to death. His friend Damon volunteers to be human collateral while Pythias goes to settle his affairs. Dionysius doesn’t believe that Pythias will return, but when he does, he’s so overcome by the gesture of true friendship, that he allows both to go free. Generally, this story is seen as one friend relieving the burden of another, which works out for both because…friendship!

I can see some of what Pohl intends with the title of this story. Dick is relieving Larry of his burden, even before Larry sees it as such. Larry’s happy doing silly things, like popping to the top of Mt. Everest, and occasionally being a hero. It hadn’t crossed his mind that he could use his power to rob banks or spy on people. It is almost immediately what Dick thought of. The story ends with Dick in jail, facing an inevitable death sentence. But Larry told him the secret of his psychokinesis…

The Author
Speculative fiction writer Fredrik Pohl had a career spanning 75 years. His novel Gateway (1977) won the big four of SF awards: the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Campbell. He edited the also award-winning Galaxy magazine. In the realm of science fiction, Pohl was considered one of the greats.

Review ~ Countdown City

Cover via Goodreads

Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

There are just 77 days to go before a deadly asteroid collides with Earth, and Detective Hank Palace is out of a job. With the Concord police force operating under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department, Hank’s days of solving crimes are over…until a woman from his past begs for help finding her missing husband.

Brett Cavatone disappeared without a trace – an easy feat in a world with no phones, no cars, and no way to tell whether someone’s gone “bucket list” or just gone. With society falling to shambles, Hank pieces together what few clues he can, on a search that leads him from a college-campus-turned-anarchist-encampment to a crumbling coastal landscape where anti-immigrant militia fend off “impact zone” refugees.

The second novel in the critically acclaimed Last Policeman trilogy, Countdown City presents a fascinating mystery set on brink of an apocalypse – and once again, Hank Palace confronts questions way beyond “whodunit.” What do we as human beings owe to one another? And what does it mean to be civilized when civilization is collapsing all around you? (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
So, I won this book from The Geeky Library back in June 2014. Two years later in 2016, I reviewed the first in the series, The Last Policeman. I said at the end of that review I said I’d be reading Countdown City in the near future. Well… I guess that’s what the TBR Challenge is for!

What Worked
As with the first book, the thing I like about this series is the character of Hank Palance. Hank is just a regular guy. He just wants to be a police detective, a job he’s reasonably good at. Sadly, the end of the world is kind of getting in the way. The novel starts July 18th; in 77 days a meteor is going to hit the Earth, a possibly humanity-ending event. Hank is the type of character I like to write: a hard-worker who is being screwed over by circumstances. Despite everything, Hank is still this good, decent guy.

Winters also does a good job of advancing the timeline of societal breakdown as Impact Day approaches.  Things are getting dicey. People are starting to get a little nutty about resources. There are cults and scams and conspiracies. These things are a lot more interesting than the super lawlessness that most apocalyptic stories present.

What Didn’t Work
A bit of a **SPOILER** warning here — Hank has a knack of getting himself into trouble without a plan to get out of that trouble. While he gets the crap beat out of him, the narrative bails him out. There are a couple of swoop-in rescues of Hank in this book. They’re not really unreasonable, but this is a trend that can get old. **END SPOILER**

Overall
I enjoyed Countdown City. I had a couple of problems with the story, but I’m still interested in reading the third book. Maybe I’ll finish the series by 2020?

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Quick Books, 2013
Acquired: Won it from GeekyLibrary, June 2014
Genre: mystery, science fiction

Deal Me In, Week 5 ~ “A New Man in Time for Christmas”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“A New Man in Time for Christmas” by Dustin Adams

Card picked: Q
Found at: Daily Science Fiction

The Story
Sometimes, Deal Me In brings coincidences; sometimes, juxtapositions. Today’s story, set at Christmas, comes late enough in the year that all the glitter and tinsel from the holidays has finally been vacuumed up. The weather today reminds me of early April days in Nebraska when the days are sunny, but the nights are still chilly. (After 18 years in AZ, I still don’t quite have a handle of fall/winter/spring.)

This story could, though, be a companion piece to Week 3’s “How to Sync Your Spouse.” Our narrator has ordered a new husband after the previous Brent’s suicide.

They said he’d be exactly like my late husband, only better, after my suggested changes, but this lump of Brent-looking plastic-rubber wasn’t Brent.

In order to gain a new start, our narrator puts Brent in sleep mode and wraps him up for under the Christmas tree. Unfortunately, she begins to wonder if it’s the improvements she’s made that haves caused Brent to be not-Brent.

The Author
You can find Dustin Adams’ bibliography online at his website. It hasn’t been updated in awhile; like so many, writing isn’t his only gig.