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review 2018-09-11 21:50
Beggars in Spain / Nancy Kress
Beggars in Spain - Nancy Kress

In this future, some people need no sleep at all. Leisha Camden was genetically modified at birth to require no sleep, and her normal twin Alice is the control. Problems and envy between the sisters mirror those in the larger world, as society struggles to adjust to a growing pool of people who not only have 30 percent more time to work and study than normal humans, but are also highly intelligent and in perfect health.

The Sleepless gradually outgrow their welcome on Earth, and their children escape to an orbiting space station to set up their own society. But Leisha and a few others remain behind, preaching acceptance for all humans, Sleepless and Sleeper alike. With the conspiracy and revenge that unwinds, the world needs a little preaching on tolerance.

 

I read this original short story version of this title in July of this year. I was sufficiently impressed that I ordered the novelized version through interlibrary loan and I’m glad that I read both versions. Ms. Kress really managed to flesh out the ideas better when she had a bit more elbow room.

Now, I love to sleep. It is one of the basic human pleasures and when I have occasional bouts of wakefulness during the night I am pretty cranky the next day. I have never, ever wished to do without sleep (although sometimes, during particularly exciting periods of my life, I’ve declared that I’ll sleep when I’m dead). I once had a coworker who just hated the idea of sleep—like Roger Camden, father of our main character Leisha in this novel, she thought sleep was a complete waste of time. Each night, she would try to shave off minutes of sleep, working her way towards eliminating it. And she completely failed because sleep is really, really important to our health. (See Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams for an excellent discussion of these ideas). It really is the basis for avoiding illness and being able to reason and make sensible decisions.

The one thing that bothered me about the assumptions in this work was the conflation of not needing sleep with increased intelligence. It was my understanding that parents in the book could choose either/or for their genetically modified offspring. Just because a child was one of the Sleepless didn’t necessarily mean that they would be super smart or would have driving ambition. I guess those options were almost always chosen together? And much longer life was an accidental genetic change, much more likely to cause envy, in my opinion.

One other assumption annoyed me—why would being extremely smart curtail a person’s compassion? This whole idea that the rest of humanity consisted of beggars, not only not pulling their own weight, but relying on others for their support. Leisha, although she appears to be emotionally stunted, maintains that everyone has their place in the economic ecosystem, as people actually do in our world. I am left to suppose that the genes for sleep (or lack of the need for it) and/or intelligence would somehow also affect the genes for feeling emotion, not a proposition that I accept.

Despite these misgivings, I found the book to be an interesting exploration of intolerance, including taking it to the extremes to see what could happen. There is, of course, the old warning against messing around with genetics without fully realizing the consequences and then our new demographic group goes on to repeat the pattern. That particular ‘message’ is becoming a bit boring, honestly, but I still enjoy a book in which it is approached with a new twist, such as this one.

Book number 294 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-19 20:41
July 2018 — A Wrap Up

 

Originally published at midureads.wordpress.com on August 19, 2018.

 

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Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs

 

“Silver”

I finally learned how Samuel and Bran became werewolves. The story is dark and violent but that seems fitting.

 

“Roses in Winter”

Asil, an aging werewolf in the Marrok’s pack is more man than beast. An innocent girl, Kara, begins to change all that.

 

“Redemption”

Ben has always been an interesting character in the Mercy series. He is misogynistic and can’t say two words without cursing. He also has a lot of baggage to deal with due to an abusive past. Yet he redeems himself in this story!

 

“Hollow”

I don’t really remember much about this one, except that it felt incomplete. Funny thing is that this one featured Mercy and I loved the one before this and the one before that.

 

“Fairy Gifts”

This is the story of Thomas the vampire who comes back home to repay a favor. I found it boring.

 

“Gray”

Elyna Gray is a vampire who must face the consequences of her actions when she killed the man she loved. Sad but interesting story.

 

“Alpha and Omega”

I have never really cared about the other series. This story takes us back to the first time Marrok’s son Charles met his wife Anna. I found it okayish. You can see the author’s uncertainty about the whole concept of Omega werewolves. She hasn’t gotten there yet and the story suffers for it.

 

“Seeing Eye”

A werewolf Tom meets a witch Moira. Gruesome things happen in this one but I liked it anyway. One thing that bothers me is why the author looks down on witches’ magic and the whole concept that it comes from pain and blood sacrifice. Even when she is describing white magic, it feels as if she is against it. Why though?

 

“The Star of David”

David Christiansen gets a family reunion that gives him a reason to continue living. Scary as heck but a feel-good story.

 

“In Red, with Pearls”

We are allowed to peek into the relationship that the werewolf Warren has with his boyfriend Kyle. While I love em both and together, I wasn’t a fan of this one. Warren was too overprotective of Kyle and not in a good way. I solved the identity of the person who hired the hit as soon as they were mentioned, which took the fun out of the story even more.

 

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Loki: Agent of Asgard, Vols. 1 & 2 by Al Ewing

 

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Classic Loki antics. Plans within plans within plans. I wasn’t crazy about this one but it wasn’t bad either. As usual, Loki is trying to do the right thing in the wrongest of ways and for worse reasons. We see a glimpse of the Avengers in the first one. The second featured Doctor Doom.

 

 

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Ms. Marvel, Vol. 8: Mecca by G. Willow Wilson

 

The humor characteristic of the series is seen in this volume too. Red Dagger shows up in Kamala’s playground. She celebrates Eid-ul-Azha. Kamala also runs away and finds out more people are supporting her and rooting for her than she thought. Captain Marvel makes an appearance and they patch up. In all, a fun installment. Can’t wait to read what happens next! Find my review of the previous volume here.

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The Wilds #1 & 2 by Vita Ayala

 

So, the premise is good. The U.S. plays host to a plague that is slowly turning people into plants. The art is beautiful and the confrontations with those human-plant hybrids are adequately terrifying. Of course, there is a government conspiracy going on that I suppose we’ll find out in about in the next issues. But there seems to be something missing. Mostly though, I couldn’t bring myself to care for any of the characters. That means I dunno if I will be picking up the next in the series.

 

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Moonshine, Vol. 1 by Brian Azzarello

 

A man who works for the mafia is sent to convince a rustic moonshine-maker. His boss wants to be the sole distributor of the amazing liquor. But when the poor guy reaches the place, strange things begin to happen. I liked the dark feel of the comic and the art too. Even so, like The Wilds, the something that would make me rip into the following issues eagerly isn’t there!

 

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Those Left Behind by Joss Whedon

 

The wittiness of the TV series is missing from the graphic novel. It was short and the end came abruptly. The artist translated the facial features of all characters with accuracy, except for Inara’s. She didn’t look right! I am still glad I bought this book because it came with an introduction by Nathan Fillion.

 

It seems I didn’t get much reading done in July and still managed to delay blogging about it. Shit happens! How was July for you?

 

 

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review 2018-08-02 19:37
Master of Plagues / E.L. Tettensor
Master of Plagues - E.L. Tettensor

Having barely escaped the clutches of the Darkwalker, Inspector Nicolas Lenoir throws himself into his work with a determination he hasn’t known in years. But his legendary skills are about to be put to the test. A horrific disease is ravaging the city—and all signs point to it having been deliberately unleashed.

With a mass murderer on the loose, a rising body count, and every hound in the city on quarantine duty, the streets of Kennian are descending into mayhem, while Lenoir and his partner, Sergeant Bran Kody, are running out of time to catch a killer and find a cure.

Only one ray of hope exists: the nomadic Adali, famed for their arcane healing skills, claim to have a cure. But dark magic comes at a price, one even the dying may be unwilling to pay. All that’s left to Lenoir is a desperate gamble. And when the ashes settle, the city of Kennian will be changed forever...

 

So, I have now finished all the published works by this author that I know of, and I’ll be seeing her at the When Words Collide conference in just over a week. Overall, I have to say that I like her writing. I didn’t like this book quite as much as I did the first one of the Nicolas Lenoir series, but that was probably just me—I’ve managed to overload myself just a bit lately and I’m feeling a bit pressured to read and read fast to make library deadlines, rather than reading as my spirit leads me!

As it was, right about half way through this book, the plot grabbed me and I then went fast & furious to the ending. Although this plot line is wrapped up, I have the sense there may be a third book in the offing and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for it. There are still issues to be dealt with, namely Lenoir and his junior partner Kody need to sort out their professional relationship and Lenoir needs to make some arrangements about orphan Zach too. It seems a bit harsh to rely on the kid for information but not make his life good enough that he can leave pick-pocketing behind.

Now that I think about it, although this book inhabits the same fantasy world as the first volume, this was a more prosaic plot line, with human enemies rather than paranormal ones. This rather dismal Victorian-esque world is well suited to the paranormal, so use of a plague as the main problem was a bit disappointing.

Nevertheless, I will be interested to hear the author’s perspectives on writing and writers at the conference.

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review 2018-08-01 02:33
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman

This is my RL's book club selection for August, and seeing as how I skipped the last two (one of which I genuinely forgot about), I felt obliged to give this a chance.  Luckily a friend and fellow BC member loaned me her copy.

 

I actually DNFd it at the end of chapter 2.  Put it down and actually said out loud, 'no, I'm not reading this crap'.  Scenarios of possible book club meeting outcomes played through my head and my inner voice said 'you really haven't read enough to justify your ire'.  So, I made myself pick it up again.

 

Is this a compelling story?  Yes, it absolutely is.  I tore through the book in one sitting yesterday.  There's a lot of talent in the writing and the telling.  

 

There were just two problems for me:  1. I just didn't like a lot of it.  This is subjective, of course; the story just isn't my thing.   2. The story was fundamentally flawed because there were a number of basic inconsistencies to Eleanor's character.  These inconsistencies aren't subjective and can't be explained away by story events, even though the story events are horrific enough to allow for plenty of inconsistent behaviour.

 

Eleanor is, from the beginning, framed as a super-rational, automaton-like woman with a very expansive vocabulary, a formality of speech that approaches legalese, a scrupulously balanced diet, and a perfectly timed, strictly adhered to routine.  She hoards prescription pain meds, and goes through 2 full bottles of vodka every weekend.  Fine so far in terms of consistency.  

 

But then she meets Raymond, who smokes, and she wastes no time telling him in detail why smoking is vile and unhealthy; when he comments on her knowledge, she tells him its because she considered taking up smoking but as she always researches everything before trying anything, she discarded the idea.  Now, if she researches everything, and discarded smoking because it's detrimental to health, then a personality such as Elenor's would also research alcohol and likewise refrain from systematically drinking 2 large bottles every weekend.

 

I understand cracks in the facade, but really, Eleanor is so rigid at the start you question whether she's on the autistic spectrum; it implies a level of personal discipline that doesn't allow for vodka flavoured cracks.

 

Eleanor's past is a dark and pretty horrific one (Trigger warnings for physical and emotional abuse), but she wasn't raised in isolation.  In fact she's in the foster system from the age of 10, so it's stretching the bounds of incredulity when she visits a McDonalds for the first time and describes a filet o' fish sandwich as though she were an alien visitor to this planet, saying it was her very first visit to a fast food establishment and how she finds fast food repellent and unhealthy.  Hard to believe when you've spent 7 years in a Foster care system that you've never experienced fast food, but, ok.  Where the real inconsistency lies is when she goes home and has spaghetti hoops for dinner, which I'm assuming are the British version of spaghetti-o's, a particularly vile nutritional wasteland in a can.  

 

At one point later on, she comments on someone wearing jeans and jean jacket, saying she never knew you could turn denim in to a suit.  A small thing I'd not have noticed, except I was already inclined to rack up inconsistencies.  She grew up in London and she's now living in a large Scottish city and she finds someone wearing jeans and a jean jacket odd?  I'd have said on any random night in any metropolitan city, a denim ensemble would be amongst the least of the outstanding sartorial choices.  There's no way you walk through a major city for 7 years and find jeans and denim jacket weird.

 

At the end - and this is purely an outright editing error - there are two news articles dated about 6 weeks apart.  The first one says something along the lines of "the victim, aged 10, cannot be named because of privacy laws" (she said it better, but I don't have the book at hand).  The very next article proceeds to name her - first and last name - multiple times.  Guess that underage privacy law was repealed in those 6 weeks.

 

There's a massive plot twist (this is a HUGE spoiler - you've been warned):

Sixth-sense style, which I caught early on and had confirmed halfway through when someone asked Eleanor where her mother was and she said "I don't know".

(spoiler show)

 

So it's a compelling story, but a very inconsistent one.  A book that relies as heavily as this one does on emotional extremes deserved to have had a much more pedantic editor, as befits a pedantic character.  Eleanor had a horrific childhood and is broken in more than a few places, but she lived in the world; participated in it, yet we're presented with a character who might as well be a newly arrived visitor to planet Earth.  Even though I liked Eleanor, and found her funny, and agreed with her views on text-speak, I just couldn't buy into her reality.  Like Eleanor, I value consistency, and this story just wasn't.

 

Your mileage may vary.

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review 2018-07-31 19:46
Jade City / Fonda Lee
Jade City - Fonda Lee

FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.

Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon's bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.

 

Recommended for people who love both The Godfather and kung fu movies.

I found I really had to be in the right mood to get started with this book (and it took me longer than usual to read it). I started it 3 or 4 times before I finally made it beyond the first few pages and discovered what a marvelous world Fonda Lee has created here. So it wasn’t the book at fault, it was my mood.

This is a fantasy world, where jade mined from the country of Kekon has magical qualities and some of the people of the realm have a special sensitivity to the stone. They get extra-special powers when they wear the stones, turning a regular person into someone with extra-strength, super-perception, etc. (they are known in Kekon as Green Bones). It’s real Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon stuff.

But this is very, very much a book about the two clans who uneasily share the city of Janloon, the No Peak clan and the Mountain clan. And let me tell you, they could give the Mafia a run for their money! It’s all about honour, family, & clan. May the gods help you if you disrespect any of these or if you try to trade loyalties!

The reader comes to know the main members of the No Peak clan intimately. There’s Lan, the Pillar (like the CEO) of the clan; Hilo, the Horn (the enforcer); and Shae, the sister who is trying to forge her own way in the world and separate herself from the gang lifestyle that she grew up with.

This is an extremely well-written, well-realized fantasy world. To my caucasian, North American eyes, this was exotic stuff, but I always knew what Lee was writing about, what she was trying to do. I loved her complex system of magic and the rules that governed it. If you’re sensitive about violence, I would say, “Set this book down and walk away. Jade City is not for you.” That’s one of the reasons why it took me so long to read the book—I could only take so much death & destruction per day.

This author will be at the conference that I’m attending in mid-August and I will definitely be fan-girling.

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