Wednesday, August 16, 2017

DAWN, first volume of Octavia E. Butler's amazing Xenogenesis trilogy

(Xenogenesis #1)
Open Road Media
$6.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: Lilith Iyapo has just lost her husband and son when atomic fire consumes Earth—the last stage of the planet’s final war. Hundreds of years later Lilith awakes, deep in the hold of a massive alien spacecraft piloted by the Oankali—who arrived just in time to save humanity from extinction. They have kept Lilith and other survivors asleep for centuries, as they learned whatever they could about Earth. Now it is time for Lilith to lead them back to her home world, but life among the Oankali on the newly resettled planet will be nothing like it was before.

The Oankali survive by genetically merging with primitive civilizations—whether their new hosts like it or not. For the first time since the nuclear holocaust, Earth will be inhabited. Grass will grow, animals will run, and people will learn to survive the planet’s untamed wilderness. But their children will not be human. Not exactly.

This ebook features an illustrated biography of Octavia E. Butler including rare images from the author’s estate.

Don't forget that, in this troubled passage in US and world history, the present Golden Age of Sci Fi on Screen will gift us with the first-ever adaptation of a Butler novel, this one, by no less a new voice than Ava DuVernay. She is the talent behind the good-buzzed adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time!

My Review: I left publicly viewable notes from my Kindle reading on Goodreads. I think those are enough of a review of the specifics of the writing in this book. They're tied to passages I found important and so will, I hope, make the aesthetic points as to why I think you should read this book.

What I comment on now is the why of reading SF, fiction by women, fiction by people of color (a phrase I'm no more comfortable with than the "colored people" of my vanished youth), SF by women of color...reading and absorbing and thinking about the ideas given to you, amazingly freely and trustingly, by people you aren't like and maybe even people you don't like.

I think you should read these astounding gifts of personal creativity because they offer a close look into the ideas that someone unlike you finds important. If you don't learn what people unlike you find important, you run the risk of being caught in a labyrinth of dark sameness, a place where you don't need light because you know the contents of your environment so well already that there's no read need to take a good look at them.

And that is how we got to the point where we are as a country, here in the US as well as in the UK, and a culture, both in the West and the East. No one listens. We wait for our turn to talk without engaging our brains to process what our ears are hearing. And that's only if we're polite.

Open up a little by reading Butler's tale of the Oankali changing earthlings' genetics to improve their health and well-being. In the wake of a species-ending nuclear war, the earthlings aren't grateful to the Oankali for rescue, they're angry that they had no choice, no say, no chance to refuse being saved if it meant being used and manipulated for and by the Oankali.

Butler put her finger squarely on the conflict: The earthlings were given no choice. They were unquestionably manipulated before they were given any chance to comment on these things. They had also just blown their entire planet into an extinction event. Did they deserve a say? Butler gives Lilith the words to complain about the earthlings' treatment and the Oankali to explain but not apologize the whys of it.

In my never-humble opinion, a species that blew its home into an extinction event over stupid crap doesn't need any consultation to be offered, still less consent to be sought. Be damned good and grateful these interstellar gene machines arrived in time to do squat for you, which they didn't have to do at all. Given their culture's immense experience with and commodification of gene manipulation, they could simply have paused, grabbed some material (aka survivors of the holocaust) and used them before disposing of them.

The Oankali's ethics are superior to the earthlings', and they didn't do that. They set about repairing the damaged earth and improving the damned earthlings who caused the problem in the first place, while making every effort to understand and support them along the way.

A lot like animal researchers are doing today among cetaceans and great apes.

Oh my.

Don't like having done to us what we so blithely do to others, do we? And yet it's perfectly justified...the changes are being made for the earthlings' future benefit, after all.

After the weekend of 10 August when neo-Nazi and "alt-right" hate machines burst their closet doors of simply screaming at normal, decent people at last and began the hot war portion of their Civil War against goodness, kindness, and decency, reading a book like Dawn is an excellent primer in how this horror got started: A decent and perfectly reasonable human gets all bent out of shape and even decides she'd prefer to die rather than have her tiny little patch of personal control violated despite the certainty that she is and will continue to be better off for it.

I was never sanguine about human nature. I'm not turning any corners in that regard now. But I can see a tiny thread visible in the labyrinth: Read. Read the stuff that isn't just like you like the world to be. At least try that much, because it's no exaggeration to say your way of life is on the line. Try to hear what the Other is saying underneath the screams. We have to find the thread and follow it to our common source or we're headed the way of Butler's earthlings.

And I do not think there are any Oankali on the way to help us.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

IRREPARABLE HARM, in which a corporate attorney rediscovers her soul

(Sasha McCandless Thrillers #1)
Brown Street Books
Free on Kindle!

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: There's an app for everything. Even evil.

Attorney Sasha McCandless is closing in on the prize after eight long years: she's months away from being made partner at a prestigious law firm. All she has to do is keep her head down and her billable hours up.

Then a plane operated by her client slams into the side of a mountain, killing everyone aboard. Sasha gears up to prepare a defense to the inevitable civil lawsuits.

She quickly realizes the crash was no accident: a developer has created an application that can control a commercial plane's onboard computer from a smartphone. Now it's for sale to the highest bidder.

Sasha joins forces with a federal air marshal who's investigating the crash. As they race to prevent another airline disaster, people close to the matter start turning up dead. Sasha must rely on both her legal skills and her Krav Maga training to stop the madman before he kills her.

Sasha will need to rely on her legal training and her Krav Maga training in equal measure to find and stop a madman before he strikes again.

My Review: If you'd like to see how far Amazon has to go with its integration of Kindle highlighting into it title quotations, go look at this. Yikes.

Anyway, lookee here at me writing a review! And of a book I read on the Kindle, where if I'm lucky I get around half of what's going on! And follow that link to see just one of my mechanical issues with the Kindle as a note-taking device...I left three notes myownself, all carefully done, and they're only visible to people who bother to read them. Mine make sense, I promise, and I didn't leave dangly bits of sentences or anything. Why aren't they in the quotes? I could not tell you.

But back to why I'm reviewing a Kindle thriller: I think you should read it. I was engaged all the way through, even the parts where Author Miller walks me through the steps of a krav maga attack/defense, which she did several times when once would've been enough. Better yet, most of the time I was excited. Me! The cynical old "and how many times have I read *that* trope?" pursey-lipped nay-sayer! Excited! As in "can't you go up to the dining room for dinner, I'm reading" excited!

Why, you ask...and I'm glad you did because I was fixin' to tell y'all anyway...because Author Miller is a lawyer, and it shows, who *gets* that a legal case is a story with multiple main characters, a built-in motive for a crime, a cast of necessary characters already in place, and a plethora of available outcomes from one established set of facts.

Which is my attempt at tweaking her lawyerly nose with a dryly legalish presentation of the compliment that she followed the winding maze of legal hoo-hah without being predictable or, as I prefer to think of it, lazy. Writers who set the pattern for themselves and then just follow it write well-plotted but often...uninspiring...stories. It feels to me as though Melissa Miller tried to do that but was foiled in her attempt by the stroppiness of both Sasha and Naya, and the exasperated admiration of Judge Cook for Sasha was also (I suspect) a little bit of a surprise to Author Miller. I got the feeling Leo needed to catch up with Sasha a time or two when he was led by the outline to expect her *here* but she was *there*. These are good things. They show me the story was alive when it was published.

The parts of the story that left me the most contented were the usual suspects in a series mystery: ma'at is served, the bad are punished in a manner both swift and condign, and the events of the story leave the landscape intact but altered. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first book published by Author Miller. It is the first in her series of ten thrillers starring Sasha.

And I suggest you think before you buy: The other titles are $4.99 each. You'll want them. I do, and am choosing which pennies to pinch so as to procure them next month.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM, a Cthulhu mythos delight

$3.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn't there.

Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father's head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.

A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?

My Review: If I make a criticism of this wonderful story, it's the author's choice of the novella form to tell it.

My critique (meant to be a helpful form of criticism, the latter of which leaves no room for action or explanation) is (spoiler: that Charles Thomas turned into Black Tom offstage and in a convenient hurry, which is also:/spoiler) about the issues that in part arise from that choice of form.

Author La Valle's tasty new twist on the Cthulhu mythos is an example of later creators using the source material better than the original creator did. This story even nods to the man from Providence himself! I've left a wide swath of ten notes on highlights and they should all be read as part of this review.

I particularly admire Author La Valle's depth of characterization in the limited space of a novella. Otis, Thomas's father, in particular comes to more vivid life in his short time on the age than he would have in the weaker, less passionate grip of a lesser writer. The evocation of Red Hook's louche miasmic atmosphere was shivery good; the notion of Flatbush as countryside where cottages and even a run-down mansion could exist, and mentions of "rural Brooklyn," left me verschmeckeled but in that time were plain old facts.

And now for the truly, unspeakably, beyond-Lovecraftian terror contained in this work: AMC is making a TV series out of it in 2018.

Be very, very afraid.

Monday, August 7, 2017

THE ISLAND OF BOOKS, romantic historical escapism

(translated by Rhonda Mullins)
Coach House Books
$15.95 trade paper, available now


The Publisher Says: The library at Mont Saint=Michel was once known as the city of books. It is there, within the grey walls of its monastery, that a portrait painter grieving the sudden death of the woman he loved finds refuge. And it's there, between the sea and the sky, five centuries later, that a novelist tries to find her words again. They meet in the pages of a notebook left out in the rain.

Like the manuscripts out bereaved—and illiterate—painter is asked to copy over earlier texts, The Island of Books reveals traces of a time before Gutenberg beneath its present. With all the passion and intellect we've come to expect from her, Dominique Fortier offers us a moving homage to books and to those who write them.


My Review:

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

MISSIONARY is my six-star read of 2017, deserves your paltry money and your eyeblinks


$3.99 electronic edition, available now

Rating: 6* of five

The Publisher Says: The Prophet provides everything for the Flock, demanding absolute devotion in return. Before allowing men to wed, they must serve Him, which they do willingly to get their brides. There’s only one little problem. When each man has multiple wives, there’s simply far too many boys.

Knowledge isn’t always power, but ignorance isn’t always bliss…

Jacob Wright’s questioning nature has always gotten him into trouble. The only book he has access to is The Word, but he thinks too deeply about the contents, far more than a devout boy should. When he’s called by the Prophet to serve a mission, Jacob believes his quest for answers has begun, only to discover the more he knows the less he believes.

Kerioth Marshal is an authoritarian, keeper of all knowledge past and present. His duty is to oversee the missionary center library, holding close the secrets of the Prophet. He’s accepted loneliness as part of his job, but then Jacob comes, offering him an escape from isolation. At first, Jacob’s inquisitive nature amuses and enchants him, but how long will it be before Jacob realizes Kerioth has saved him from one horrible fate only to subject him to another?

My Review: Where do I begin...first, this book was a complete surprise to me. Its existence was a surprise. Its subject matter was a surprise. Its imaginative universe was a gobsmacking surprise. So yeah, I was surprised.

Second, I would never have found the book had it not been for a Goodreads group called Gay Science Fiction. I'm coming out of a nasty reading slump and that makes me, to be frank, unwilling to translate from the heterosexual into my native tongue. I'm tired of reading about women who don't like their husbands, are abused by their fathers, etc etc etc. And the unbearable white heteronormative genre that SF has always been gets dreary too. I needed a resource to guide me past yet more gynergy or, worse still, misogyny. I found the group, I found the bookshelf and, best of all, I found one of the mods had posted about this title finally being available.

I read the synopsis above. Mmm...high stakes! Daddy/son relationship! A religious dystopia! Check, check, and check on my readerly desiderata list. A $3.99 gift card later, I settled in for a long summer's afternoon of getting safely riled up about fiction instead of world events that upset me.

Fucking hell.

This North Korea-run-by-Mormons tale smacked my teeth in, kicked my kneecaps, and made the Kindle pages blink past as fast as my thumb could tap the screen. In the Flock's territory, the Prophet is the autocratic leader of the church and the state. The Prophet's many, many wives have given him many, many children. The other church leaders have equally cushy tushy supply. The average man has three wives, the more status he has the more wives he adds.

How, you might wonder, does that work. The women are property, barely educated since their purpose in the world is to bear children (one woman is revealed to have died giving birth to the eighteetnth child). They have no semblance of rights, and are married off as early as twelve years old. The average man has no semblance of meaningful rights. He's led by the Prophet's local guy, he's required to make his children perform physical labor for the Prophet starting as young as five years of age, and the Prophet has set up a system to "call into missionary service" prepubescent boys who are...misfits...some too aggressive, some too full of questions, some physically unfit...and from there springs our story.

Jacob Wright is bursting with questions about everything. His father, his first, second, and third mothers, his teachers can't keep up. In an information-poor society they aren't equipped to answer the questions anyway. But no amount of disapproval can keep Jacob from asking and wondering and pondering. Thus it is that he is called to the missionary training center, where he expects to be trained and sent out among the Heathens outside the Gate to convert them. Jacob's bus ride to the missionary center is excitingly interrupted by a military attack from the heathens, whom Jacob sees for the first time. He sees desperate, dirty soldiers who will attack a busload of children, and cracks form in his idea of why he's off to become a missionary.

Things do not go as expected by Jacob. Nor do they go as planned by the theocratic machinery. Kerioth, the missionary center's authoritarian (head dude in charge of being in charge), interviews Jacob and senses something within the boy that makes him special and valuable. Kerioth singles Jacob out for special education, pays him personal attention, and generally makes life in the rigidly compartmentalized and hierarchical center endurable.

As time passes, Jacob learns more and more about Kerioth and more and more about the Flock's society. He is, after his eighteenth birthday, finally admitted into Kerioth's extremely difficult work world as well as his bed. The child has become a young man; the questing intelligence has matured into a worthy and beloved intellectual companion to the lonely and isolated Kerioth.

The job of be the Flock's memory of dead times and forbidden one that Kerioth shares to a limited degree with Jacob. The years that flow past the men are full of silences both beautiful and tense. The slow unfolding of Jacob's understanding of the Prophet, his family, and the very terrifyingly evil way the Flock keeps its promise of three wives for every average man, more for men of higher status, is a titanic blow to Jacob's sense of the rightness of the world he grew up in.

And, at the end of the book, the natural and inevitable and inescapable conclusion to the story... completely upended and shook around and pounded on the storytelling rocks Author Renner has gathered, placed, balanced, and mortared into place, like an octopus being tenderized for dinner. Tentacles of tale meat flail in every direction. Eyes and brains pop against the solid foundation rocks with the force of the change in direction.

But for once this sudden shift isn't cause for puma-screaming killing rage. It is a far, far, far more important story that, in the last lines, Author Renner promises us.

Six stars for that alone.

Also boosting the six-of-five case is Kerioth's intense and respectful passion, love, and need for Jacob. In a society that spends huge effort on controlling all females, males are untrammeled in any meaningful psychosexual ways. Kerioth could have started sexing up Jacob the second he saw the boy had he wanted to. Not one peep would've been uttered by anyone. Kerioth is so appalled by the idea of sexual abuse of children that he simply refuses to countenance it.

This resonates with me, as the child of a sexually abusive pedophile mother. It made me feel Kerioth, for all his fears and quirks, was at heart a decent man with a bedrock of honor from which he operates.

Jacob's growth into a partner for Kerioth is satisfying as well. Jacob never stops learning. Jacob also has a sneaky streak in his pragmatic nature. He "manages upward," so to speak, leading Kerioth to the conclusions that Jacob wants him to arrive at. The more information Jacob acquires, the more he leads his true love Kerioth into rebellious and seditious thought-patterns.

But the secret that the missionary center conceals...its true purpose to the so extremely NOT what Jacob or I was expecting that it rockets this theocratic dystopia to the very top of my reading list for 2017. It is stunning. I can't even hint at it. I want everyone I know to read the book RIGHT NOW so we can all discuss this, this, I can't even be coherent, this abomination, this darker, more horrifying, more unspeakable cousin of the Final Solution.

Yes. I went there. Author Renner has, in these 300-ish pages, created a nightmare theocracy that is built on something worse than the Final Solution.

Fear him. Words have power. Read his $3.99 vision of a hell so awful you will not be able to look away or to fully process its scope.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Return to service announcement

Hello blog readers! I've been absent for quite a while, and I'm sure y'all have noticed how very behind I am in writing my reviews. I'd like to explain my absence and my seeming negligence. Well, real negligence, just not deliberate or malicious towards the authors and publishers I've promised reviews to.

Many of you know that I suffered a nervous collapse in 2014. For the first time in my then-55 years, the cumulative effect of childhood woes coupled with several years of psychological warfare waged against me by some people I lived with coupled with an unexpected betrayal led me to get very close to suicide.

A chance phone call from a mental health worker named Julie prevented me from going through with the plan. She talked me down off the emotional ledge. I even put away the knife I had planned to use to sever my jugular vein because she jauntily assured me it was unnecessary, help would be there soon.

It was.

I spent 4-1/2 months in the locked psych ward at Nassau University Medical Center. The psychiatrists and social workers figured out the biochemical problem underlying my extreme and disproportionate emotional response to my situation. They *could* have discharged me after 6 weeks, I was stable emotionally, but I had no place to go. The social workers finally found this assisted living facility willing to accept me despite my suicide attempt and here I am today.

Regrettably I am still physically disabled by 36 years of cumulative effects from a severe case of tophaceous gout. The pain of the ginormous deposits of uric acid and calcium crystals on my joints and along my tendons is pretty damned awful. I find sitting for any length of time excruciating. I stand up and lie down's the transitions that slay me. In today's opioid-fearing climate I am undermedicated by the pain management doctor because he's afraid he'll be investigated for giving out such a large prescription. Medicare doesn't pay for cannabinoids, which would do a better job at lower doses and I can't come close to paying the $350 a month the prescriptions cost.

So sometimes the hopelessness of a chronic and incurable condition plus the deep uncertainty that faces every person on Medicare as to whether our care will continue to be funded plus the absurdly deep cuts in Medicaid that pay for the facility I live April I cratered. I couldn't read, let alone write reviews. I am still wobbly in the following-complex-arguments area. Getting a lot better! Adjustments to the thyroid medication made a **HUGE** difference, and upping my use of the facility's on-call psychologist has made things that much more manageable.

So to all of y'all miffed all the way up to ticked that I haven't reviewed your book(s): I most humbly apologize, and promise that I will make good on those reviews this year. I will be back on Twitter, I'm going to learn Instagram use now that I have a smartphone (thanks, Stephanie! *smooch*), and am generally announcing that #ReadingIsResistance is back up and running at 1/4 speed.

Feel free to contact me in all the ways you have if there is something you'd like to know or like for me to know. Remember that responding here on the blog requires that you be a member of the blog, an easy thing to accomplish provided you have a Google account. I hate spam so I never blast BS to my blog followers, just the posts I write.

And to the around 500 daily readers I garner from all my publicity-hounding, I love each and every one of y'all. I am so grateful that my ideas and opinions are that interesting to that many folks.

Friday, July 28, 2017



Harper Voyager
$15.99 trade paper, available now


The Publisher Says: In South Africa, the future looks promising. Personal robots are making life easier for the working class. The government is harnessing renewable energy to provide infrastructure for the poor. And in the bustling coastal town of Port Elizabeth, the economy is booming thanks to the genetic engineering industry which has found a welcome home there. Yes—the days to come are looking very good for South Africans. That is, if they can survive the present challenges:

A new hallucinogenic drug sweeping the country . . .
An emerging AI uprising . . .
And an ancient demigoddess hellbent on regaining her former status by preying on the blood and sweat (but mostly blood) of every human she encounters.

It’s up to a young Zulu girl powerful enough to destroy her entire township, a queer teen plagued with the ability to control minds, a pop diva with serious daddy issues, and a politician with even more serious mommy issues to band together to ensure there’s a future left to worry about.


My Review: