Tag: Science Fiction

Starfire: A Red Peace – Spencer Ellsworth

A confession, reader, before starting this book review: when browsing Audible’s list of books for review, I saw a familiar name in the Narrator column, and chose this book before looking at the title or genre. Starfire: A Red Peace is jointly narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal and John Keating; long-time readers of this blog will recognize Mary as an author whose work I admire and someone who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and learning from, on that cruise as well as subsequent online classes. I knew that she was an audiobook narrator, but hadn’t heard her work, so I jumped at the opportunity to listen to the first novel in Spencer Ellworth’s Starfire trilogy. Before I dig into the book and narration, I want to thank Audible for providing this book for review, and flag for you, listener, that they’re running a promotion until May 4th, 2018 that gets you a free kindle when you sign up for a one-year membership—12 audiobooks and a kindle for around $130 is a pretty good deal, especially if you consider how they discount audiobooks if you already own the kindle version. I’ll stop that spiel now, lest my words meander into the realm of sponsored content.

Kowal and Keating’s performances for Starfire: A Red Peace are excellent, their choices of accents lending color to a space opera that could otherwise have seemed like yet-another-brits-in-space affair which, continuing my confession, I had been expecting. Instead, there was twang and grit, a bit of a different soul inside the characters. I found it particularly interesting that a change in accent could do so much for certain aspects of characterization—which, on reflection, could have been a result of my own ingrained biases. Something to ponder later, for sure.

What I found in A Red Peace surprised me. It has the pieces of a great space opera—a military populated with genetically engineered soldiers, aliens of various sizes and degrees of ferocity, a plucky young heroine with a knack for getting herself into trouble, and writing that echoes its forbears.

But Spencer Ellsworth’s novel took me by surprise, too. I half-expected to be nonplussed by A Red Peace; not enthralled but not bored. Instead, I found myself fascinated with the ways Ellsworth infused his take on space opera with a breath of fresh air, from the arthropodal spacecraft to the exquisite sequences of intoxication that painted the universe in haunting melodies and strange colors, scenes that lingered on my ears and tongue long after I’d finished listening to the book.

Because I’ve been somewhat derelict in my duties as a reviewer, the space between my having finished A Red Peace and publishing this review is, regrettably, nearly half a year. Many of the details of the story are hazy now, but there are things that do stand out: the excellent performances of the narrators, the spectacular execution of an addiction cycle powered by PTSD…these things stuck with me.

There’s a silver lining, however. Taking so long to publish this review leaves me with the opportunity to pick up the next two books in the series: Shadow Sun Seven and Memory’s Blade, which I intend to add to my to-read list forthwith.

Starfire: A Red Peace is a quick read that will sate your hunger for classic space opera while giving a taste of something new. You can support The Warbler by using these links to pick up the book on Amazon, or to find some of Spencer Ellworth’s short fiction in various magazines at Weightless Books.

A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers

While I haven’t read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, the first book in Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers series, I found A Closed and Common Orbit, last year’s Hugo-nominated sequel to that volume, a deeply enjoyable and approachable read. The characters are rich and honest, the universe is extensive and fascinating, and the writing is excellent.

At the core of A Closed and Common Orbit is one question, explored from several angles: what is personhood?

Whether the AI learning the limitations of a single body, an escaped genetically engineered slave finding out about the world outside her prison, a ship AI exploring motherhood, or an alien shifting between genders with fluidity, each character arc deals with the question of personhood. (Personhood as opposed to humanity is something particularly interesting to explore, given our own proximity to artificial intelligence and our somewhat limited understanding of consciousness.)

There isn’t an adventure at the heart of A Closed and Common Orbit, but there is action and change, despite the slow pacing of the novel. From a quick search, I gather that the pacing presented a problem for some readers, but I feel that a book about asking difficult questions and exploring them with genuine care should take it slow, be methodical, and not detract from it’s central premise with an epic dressing.

I am sure that, by making a categorical statement, I am shooting myself in the foot. There’s no doubt that it’s possible to write a compelling adventure that deals with the essence of personhood. That isn’t this book, though. This book takes time to show the confusion, fear, pain, and the joy, wonder, and curiosity that are part of the conscious experience. It made me think. A lot. And for that, I genuinely appreciate it. In a year filled to brimming with excellent reads, A Closed and Common Orbit may have fallen short of where it otherwise might have been on best-of lists. It’s an excellent book. One I won’t soon forget.

A Closed and Common Orbit is available on Amazon. (Use that link to buy it, if you like, and support The Warbler while doing it!)

Forest of Memory – Mary Robinette Kowal

I’m steadily working my way up to total fanboy status regarding Mary Robinette Kowal’s work. As I’ve mentioned several times on the blog, her insight, perspective, and wit are one of the great draws of Writing Excuses, and her work that I’ve read (Shades of Milk and Honey, The Lady Astronaut of Mars, and her contribution to the Shadows Beneath anthology) I have absolutely loved.

I have her most recent novel, Ghost Talkers, on my to-read list, as well as Word Puppets, a collection of her shorts, but the book that drew me first was Forest of Memory, a novella published by Tor.com. The cover art, by Victo Ngai, of a surreal forest with an etherial buck jumping away from the viewer, captured my attention wholly.

Paired with the title, the image piqued my interest, and I wanted to know how the seemingly disparate images would connect to each other.

What I found in the novella is yet another example of Kowal’s stellar craftsmanship. The world, though never explicitly seen, feels enormous and lived-in, and the characterization is shows remarkable depth for its quickness.

Forest of Memory also asks a question that is increasingly important these days: in a world of perpetual connectivity, what would it feel like to suddenly find yourself alone? Unable to reach out to the entire world at a moment’s notice? Cut off from the global conversation?

I think about it often, because while I used to disconnect for several months at a time (as a result of working in the mountains), I haven’t truly disconnected from the web in almost a decade.

Almost 10 years of using the internet every single day. It’s remarkable. I wonder if it’s an inextricable part of my life and future. But it’s not all bad, of course. I socialize on the web, and have used the internet to build a life for myself in the writing community, which has been terrifically rewarding and healthy, not to mention profitable in some ways. I use the internet to learn, to laugh, to play, to connect. But I also use it to distract, to numb, to shout into an echo chamber with rage at the political problems of today. It is counterproductive and addictive.

What would it be like to lose something so wonderful and so destructive??

Kowal’s story is near-future science fiction, where the internet is ubiquitous, and devices are directly integrated into the body and brain. The protagonist collects antiquities, and deals in authenticity—the sale of legitimate artifacts and their stories. That last bit might be a little on the nose, but it’s worked well into the plot and setting, and it doesn’t feel as overbearing as it might have with a less skilled author. It does raise a good point, though. Digital facsimiles are all around us, and there may come a time, soon, when replicas are more readily available than the real thing.

I’m digressing from the story again. Spoilers follow, so if you want to read Forest of Memory—and you do—come back here when you’ve finished the 88-page story.

Kowal’s protagonist is riding along on a highway through the forests  Oregon when a group of deer cross her path. She stops and begins recording them, knowing she can sell this moment, this experience, on the web. The moment is interrupted when one of the group, a buck, is shot. An illegal act. The hunter appears and begins working   on the body of the buck, so the protagonist tries to run. She, too, is shot. Tranquilized, it turns out. Like the buck.

She wakes, kidnapped by the hunter, who is doing  something  to the bucks and deer. When she tries to use her tech to connect to the web, to call for help, she discovers that she can’t. She’s offline. She is terrified.

What follows is her strange captivity, watching the man work, wondering what he’s doing to the animals before releasing them, coming to some sort of terms with the discomfort of being disconnected. The hunter assures her that, once his work is done, he will release her and she’ll be able to connect to the net.

She tries to sleuth out what he’s doing, and the reader is lead to understand that he’s installing some sort of signal-blocking technology into the animals, so that the web doesn’t work around them. Through their conversations, he informs her that a wealthy party is interested in having him complete the work, and is additionally interested in purchasing an antique from her—a typewriter—and a story written on the selfsame typewriter about her experience. After her days of captivity, she is released, and soon is able to reconnect to the net.

The experience shakes her, but leaves her (largely) unharmed. For me, reading it, I was left thinking about technology addiction, unadulterated appreciation of nature, and just how good Mary Robnette Kowal is at this whole “writing” thing.

I can’t wait to learn more from her. (I took a short story class with her earlier this year, and am attending the week-long writing excuses cruise this July.)

Forest of Memory is available on Amazon.

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi

John Scalzi is a somewhat enormous figure in genre fiction, having published some 20+ novels, eight non-fiction books, and a generous handful of short fiction and essays. Not only that, but his role as “influencer” is further cemented by the popularity of his “Whatever” blog and his more-than 110,000 followers on Twitter. But we’re not here to talk about Scalzi’s reach as an author, prodigious though it may be. We’re here to talk about the audiobook of Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi I listened to, courtesy of Audible.

The eighteen stories in Miniatures are, as the title suggests, very short. In the introduction, Scalzi says that the longest piece in the collection is only 2,300 words long. The audiobook for the collection is teeny-tiny, clocking in at just under three hours. The stories are funny, and all hover around the central of subverting “conventional” science fiction tropes or dropping a surprise reveal at the end of the story. I enjoyed Miniatures tremendously. The different narrators for each story (and sometimes multiple narrators in a single story) were all excellent, bringing precisely the right kind of humor each moment demanded. Some were deadpan, others matter-of-fact, others over-the-top dramatic. More than once, I found myself having to stifle giggles at my desk, lest I inform the whole world that I’m multitasking.

Some of the stories were more compelling for me than others, as is often the case with collections, but rather than talk about one story that really did. “The Other Large Thing” was a delightful story that introduces a curious protagonist, master of his domain, who watches as a new entity is introduced into his world. This new thing learns to communicate with Sanchez, the protagonist, and acquiesces to all of Sanchez’s demands. Sanchez plots to use this thing to take over the world.

Spoiler: Sanchez is a cat. But you don’t know that until later in the story—though on a second listen, it’s rather obvious. Something about the way that story unfolded had me grinning the entire time I listened to it. Bolstered by the gravelly delivery of the narrator, the Sanchez character is at once absurd and very serious. The way he makes demands, punishes and rewards his “others” and the “other large thing” is delightful. Long story short (no pun intended), it’s a great story that left me curious about how to pull of a similar feat.

For those of us who enjoy audiobooks but are not particularly keen on forty-hour epic fantasies, Miniatures is perfect. Short and sweet, with a host of narrators and wildly different settings (though, like I said, there’s a thematic thread throughout), it’s something I recommend to anyone and everyone. And hey, if it’s not your cup of tea, at least it’s only a few hours long.

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi is available on Audible and Amazon.

Missing Link – Frank Herbert

When I read Frank Herbert’s Dune as a teenager, it was a revelatory experience. Dune is widely considered to be a crowning achievement in science fiction, and I’ve heard it called “The Lord of the Rings of SF.” I’m aware that it’s polarizing as a book, and that the series as a whole isn’t as well-loved as I’d initially thought, but none of that changes my relationship with those books.

I remember days in high school where I’d float from class to class, not listening to a word any of my teachers were saying, because I was so immersed in the political dealings of the Atreides and Harkonnen, in the zealous fury of the Fremen, and of the extraordinary universe they occupied. Dune hit me like blast to the chest, and changed the way I read.

And even if I hadn’t read anything else by Frank Herbert until somewhat recently (Destination: Voida few years back, which I thought was strange and wonderful), I considered him one of my writing idols. So you can imagine my delight at discovering a short he’d published in 1959 in the Astounding Science Fiction anthology edited by John W. Campbell.

Missing Link is a great example of Frank Herbert’s work. It’s certainly a product of its time, and not without its representational issues, but at its core is intrigue, political maneuvering, and a clever protagonist with an uncanny ability to read between blurry lines in moments. The story revolves around two conversations, though one’s a bit more action-packed than the other.

In the first conversation our protagonist, Lewis Orne, is talking with the superior officer on his ship regarding the risky mission on which he is about to embark. The conversation smacks of Herbert’s other works; tempers brandished like rapiers, a subtle back-and-forth that’s more fencing than discussion. In this case, we have military personnel frustrated with the bureaucracy, and a scientist caught between. The conversation serves to set the why of the short story. A ship has gone missing near the planet they currently orbit. It’s Lewis’s job to investigate, potentially by encountering the—and here’s the representational issue at the heart of the work—the barbaric/savage denizens of the planet.

The second conversation is another great—and very different—example of classic Herbert. Lewis is on the planet, talking with the leader of the hunting party that found him and attacked his vehicle. During the conversation there’s much to distract us, from the fantastic scenery to the seemingly incongruous amount of technological development on the part of the natives—again, that representation thing. But what happens during that conversation behind the scenes, inside of Lewis’s mind, is Herbertian perfection.

Lewis deduces the location of the missing spaceship and its fate by paying close attention to his captor/passenger’s choice of words. He quickly connects linguistics to anthropological phenomena he witnesses, then subtly shifts the conversation in order to corroborate his hypothesis. It’s that kind of intellect, and that approach to sleuthing out the facts, that attracted me to the Dune universe. And though it’s short, Missing Link was an excellent soupçon of the writing I fell in love with as a teenager.

It also provided some important perspective on how the zeitgeist in speculative fiction has changed. After reading Missing Link, I read a few other pieces, including Mary Robinette Kowal’s Forest of Memory, which I’ll review later this week or next week. The two pieces are radically different, and demonstrate how technological advances have changed the way we view the future, how social changes have changed the way we view the world around us, and how exploration needn’t happen at the expense of the explored. There was a beautiful counterpoint in those reading experiences, which together served as yet another reminder that I’m a fortunate person to be able to spend so much of my time reading and thinking about books.

Missing Link is available for free from Gutenberg, or can be purchased on Amazon.

Author Interview: Matthew Isaac Sobin

Warbler’s Note: I’m thrilled to bring you the words of Matt Sobin, author of a beautiful novelette called THE LAST MACHINE IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM. If this interview intrigues you enough to want the book—and it should—let me know in the comments below and you will be entered to win one of two copies of the book! 

I repeat: leave a comment below the post for a chance to win a copy of this book!

Q:  Much of THE LAST MACHINE, stylistically, is highly poetic. As I understand it, your background is in poetry. Is this your first long-form piece? How did your work as a poet influence the way you approached this story?

A: I love this question. Since the story is told from Jonathan’s perspective, perhaps I’ve created the first robot poet? That’s kind of cool to think about. I thought that an android with knowledge of all of Earth’s languages, who had analyzed every written work, should be eloquent. Not stilted and mechanical. Why shouldn’t he tell his story poetically with striking visual images?

This is my first published work but not my first long-form piece. I have a completed novel that I am preparing to publish. I am considering entering it into the upcoming Launchpad competition on Inkshares. It’s very different from The Last Machine in the Solar System. It’s literary fiction instead of SciFi. For both the unpublished novel, and this novella, I think my poetry plays a role in terms of how I think about imagery. I really want people to see what is being described. With The Last Machine, I tried to describe big beautiful images on Earth, on terraformed Mars, and then in outer space, so that the reader would see it alongside Jonathan. The feeling an image conveys is also important to me. When Jonathan and Nikolai stand next to the Atlantic Ocean and see the buildings half-drowned in the distance, it should be a striking image, and emotional too. I hope readers see the image in their minds while feeling it in their hearts.

Q: Working with Jack Katz on designs for Jonathan must have been remarkable. Did working with him influence or change the story in any substantial way?

A: Working with Jack is my greatest privilege. I always tell people who ask that I never tell Jack how to illustrate my work – whether it was this story or one of my poems. I am obviously biased, but from an artistic perspective, the man can do no wrong. So to your initial premise of us working on designs together, I would say that we would talk about how it would be great to have an image of Nikolai constructing Jonathan in his Ukrainian laboratory, or Jonathan flying by Jupiter or Saturn. But our discussions were always in the most general terms, and then I would let myself be surprised with what he came up with. And it was always great.

Conversations with Jack influence me but don’t change the story, per se – let me explain. He is one of the purest creatives out there since he’s unimpeded by the noise on the internet or even on TV. He has his books, his art, classical music and a collection of movies. When Jack starts speaking about Nikolai, the creator, like he’s a real person, I listen closely. He wants to know, did he have siblings? What were his parents like? What sports did he play in school? Would he care about politics? So Jack was very invested in not only The Last Machine but in the larger narrative of Nikolai’s life, which I plan to write. And I thought about a lot of these questions. I wasn’t always sure of the answer but I usually had a leaning in one direction. Jack would say something along the lines of, “Nikolai is inside you, he is you, you just have to unearth that fossil within.” So in theory, the story has already been written.

Q: THE LAST MACHINE is a lament to humanity, delivered as a eulogy for a lost friend that scales outward through the telling. Did you find any contemporary events pushing you to tell this story? Can you remember what was going on in the world in general when the idea struck you?

A: Well, let’s see. I started writing The Last Machine in the Solar System on October 1, 2015. I know exactly because I always write longhand and date the pages! The Presidential campaign was underway, but I don’t really remember that influencing me. Initially, I didn’t even know I was writing The Last Machine. I was just writing to write. I had watched a really fascinating show on the Science channel about the life cycle of the solar system. I was mesmerized, particularly about the death of the sun. And then of course the question, what would it mean for humans? Would we even be around at the point? Then it was easy to make the jump: Maybe humans would be gone, but a robot might still be around. I didn’t go in with any plans to make a big statement or comment on politics – though in the end, there are a few subtle commentaries. I thought it would be cool to visually tell the story of the life and death of the solar system, and it evolved from there. That humanity’s future seems so precarious and uncertain right now made the ultimate direction and end of the story straightforward, and perhaps inevitable.

Q: Are there other stories that you want to tell in the universe of THE LAST MACHINE?

A: Absolutely! One short story is already complete. It’s called The Creator and the Machine. It’s more of a true short story, about half the length of the novella. And it’s told very differently than The Last Machine. A lot more dialogue and action, which I’m sure readers will appreciate. It takes place during the period on Earth right after Nikolai and Jonathan conclude their travels, but before they depart for Mars. The story was an opportunity to explore the relationship between Jonathan and his creator. We delve more into Nikolai and his personality. But the story is really about Jonathan trying to understand the concept of physical pain, and ultimately emotional pain. So I think it’s quite interesting.

I’m hoping to publish The Creator and the Machine as an eBook in the next few months. The longer term goal is to write a full length biography of Nikolai with Jonathan as its author. I’ve only just gotten started.

Q: What are you reading now, and what’s the one book you’d recommend to anyone?

A: As a writer, I find myself interested in how other writers write. So I am constantly picking up new books, and reading a few pages, tasting their words and sentence structure like I’m at a restaurant with a sampling plate. I read a lot of book openings. Sometimes I pick up books and open to a page at random to check out what’s going on there. So I sample from a lot more books than books I actually read cover to cover. The other day I read the opening to Gravity’s Rainbow; that was fascinating. A very different style.

One book I’m reading (and plan to read most of) is a collection of essays by Albert Einstein called Out of My Later Years. I find both Tesla and Einstein very intriguing. There’s a lot of the two of them in Nikolai.

A book I’d recommend to anyone? Do I have to go SciFi? If it’s SciFi and folks haven’t read it, then of course, Foundation by Asimov is #1 in my hierarchy. If I am going outside SciFi, I would say that it’s time to bring the short story form back to prominence. Especially with the demands on our time, short story collections are a lot of fun. I love reading stories by Fitzgerald and Kipling because of their ability to impact readers emotionally in just a few pages.

Special thanks to Angela Melamud at Inkshares for arranging this interview and providing the books for the giveaway. Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win the book!

As always, if you want to pick up the book and  support the blog, you can do so on Amazon.

EDIT: The contest portion is closed. Winners have been contacted. Thanks for participating!

Binti: Home – Nnedi Okorafor

There seems to be no better day than today, International Women’s Day, to talk about an extraordinary piece of science fiction written by the brilliant Nnedi Okorafor, about belonging and identity from the perspective of a powerful young woman.

You might recall that Binti was one of my two favorite works of science fiction of last year. It was evocative. Beautiful. Frightening. Most importantly, it was different. It managed to pack an incredible and vibrant world, a complex and compelling protagonist, and a spectacular plot into a fairly short piece of fiction. It told a story that could have easily fallen into the category of sci-fi tropes, but it avoided them by applying a unique voice and perspective through Binti, it’s main character.

Binti: Home finds Binti after about a year at Oomza University. A year after she heroically (and accidentally, if I recall correctly) brokered peace between two warring planets. A year after she left home in the dead of night, against the wishes of her family and community, to study what is essentially mathemagics off-world. Binti’s experiences have changed her enormously—represented by a physical transformation: her dreaded hair has become like the tentacles of the jellyfish-like Meduse.

The physical change is a vital piece of the story, not an on-the-nose metaphor for the internal changes in Binti. Much is made of physical appearances in Binti’s world, from the red clay she adorns herself with to the tribal intolerance she suffers at the hands of the upper class on Earth (and at Oomza U), and to the seemingly strange behaviors of the “desert people” that Binti’s tribe finds less-than-worthy of a seat at the table.

As Binti is a story of perseverance and growth in the face of different types of adversity, Binti: Home is a story about shedding preconceived notions and inbuilt intolerances; about how experience inexorably changes us, and changes how the world sees us. The events of Binti were, for the most part, things that happened to Binti. In Binti: Home, she is confronted by the reality that despite her lack of agency or choice in most of the things that happened to her, she is blamed. She is mistrusted. She is made a pariah.

The things that happen to us leave a mark. Sometimes, it’s subtle. Sometimes, it’s as dramatic as having tentacles for hair. Binti: Home explores the intersection between changing personal identity and changed external perception. It’s a fascinating, emotionally resonant exploration of an eminently relatable condition, couched within beautiful prose and a once-again spectacular plot.

Nnedi Okorafor has once again left me deep in thought. While Binti: Home wasn’t as explosive a read for me as its predecessor, it was nevertheless a spectacular book. Nnedi Okorafor’s storytelling is masterful, and she has made a lifelong fan of me with Binti and Binti: Home. I eagerly await the next installment of Binti’s story.

Binti: Home is available on Amazon.

Snapshot – Brandon Sanderson

I’m not sure about other writers in the world, but it seems to me unique that Brandon Sanderson considers writing a new novella to be a break from, well, writing. Granted, he did write Snapshot as a break from working on Oathbringer, the third volume in his mega-epic Stormlight Archive series, but, like, I mean…he wrote a novella as a breather from a bigger project.

Maybe I’m crazy, though. All I know is that I hope to display such fortitude toward the craft in the future, once I strengthen those muscles a bit.

On his blog, Sanderson said that Snapshot was a story idea that wouldn’t leave him alone; something he had to write furiously over the course of a week.

I can see why the idea stuck in is mind. The premise of Snapshot is cool—Cool enough that MGM is already optioning the story—and though it is expansive in potential scope, the story is very focused and leverages the “wow” factor to excellent narrative effect. In the not-so-distant future, something allows for the recreation of a particular day, complete with people, animals, everything, that can be explored by anyone in the present time. In Snapshot, the technology is used for detective work, and the detectives within the snapshots (as the instances of recreated days are called) have special badges that inform any non-person within the snapshot that they are, in fact, a simulation that will perish when the machine is turned off at the end of the night. The moments when people realize they’re artificial are profound and emotional.

There’s a twist within a twist within a twist in Snapshot, and because I enjoyed reading it so much, I’ll forgo talking directly about the plot any further.

What I will talk about is the meat of the idea that drives Snapshot. It’s as though Sanderson took the concept of a “story within a story” and tried to make it literal. There’s something deeply satisfying about reading that structure—the metagame rests in the back of your mind as you read. It’s one of those Inception memes, in the form of an electrifying—and actually very good—story.

What’s especially cool about Sanderson’s execution of this story is that there’s the twist you expect, which occupies the bulk of your subconscious processing while you read, but makes the reveal of the twist you don’t expect a much more powerful experience.

Snapshot is short, focused, and stably-paced. The characters are great, and the action is sporadic, playing a backseat to the general thrill of the story. I can’t recommend it enough—this one will absolutely become a TV show.

Snapshot is available on Amazon.

Inish Carraig – Jo Zebedee

Inish Carraig is a book that was robbed of placement on the shortlist for last year’s Hugo awards, its spot taken by the likes of the inimitable Chuck Tingle, who was placed there by the antics of a group of angry men whose only wish is to Make Science Fiction Great Again.

I hadn’t heard of the book, or of Jo Zebedee, its author, when she emailed me toward the end of last year asking for a review. I imagine that, in some ways, that was the dastardly puppies’ goal. To relegate strong authors to obscurity.  It’s tragic, because so many great books, like Zebedee’s, are casualties of the puppies’ campaign. As I said to her in an email, it’s a tremendous honor for this ol’ blog o’ mine to get contacted by a Hugo nominee. If my review won’t compel you to pick up Innish Carraig, I hope at the very least you’ll check out her other work at jozebedee.com.

Inish Carraig is, among many other things, a great read. Its characters are well-built and compelling (if occasionally frustrating in the way teenagers can be), its setting is electric, and the story so solidly built that I honestly had no idea how the conflict would resolve. Up until the very last pages, I was guessing what would happen, and I was wrong on every count. The surprise was perfect, the resolution satisfying, and the the whole thing packed up neatly.

The story follows John Dray, a survivor of a brutal alien invasion, as he attempts to feed his siblings in bombed-out Belfast. He’s caught up in a conspiracy that is way over his head when he’s accidentally responsible for the genocide of the on-planet occupiers, a sort of insectoid race which came to Earth for its resources.

What follows is equal parts action adventure, mystery, teen angst, and political maneuvering. John is caught in the middle of a galactic war between bizarre species, and the safety of all humanity hangs in the balance. It’s all very epic.

It would have been a clichéd YA novel, if not for Zebedee’s hard approach—it’s definitely not a kids’ book—and excellent planning of the story. She seeded my brain with all of the proper assumptions/red herrings to keep me from predicting how the book would end, and that left such a deep satisfaction in me that as I finished the last paragraph, I actually sighed with contentment.

Inish Carraig isn’t what I expected, and I think that, reading my own words above, it probably isn’t what you expect either. The long story can be condensed thus: Inish Carraig is an excellent take on the alien-invasion paradigm, drawn with stark lines that give no quarter from the anger and terror that such a situation would impose, especially on young survivors. You should absolutely pick up a copy.

Inish Carraig is available on Amazon.

Rarity from the Hollow – Robert Eggleton

Robert Eggleton, the author of Rarity from the Hollow, sent a remarkably in-depth letter describing his book when he reached out  for a review a while back. In that message, he described a book that dealt directly and viscerally with issues of child abuse, poverty, and sexuality—a book that explores how children’s lives are affected by the kinds of cruelty that exist within the home and without.

When I finally sat down to open the book , I anticipated a hard-hitting, visceral approach to the topics of child abuse (particularly sexual abuse), and while it was referenced in the book, it was more of a set dressing.

Eggleton paints a picture of a dysfunctional family in a dilapidated, forgotten hollow somewhere in West Virginia. The abusive father, a gulf war vet, ruling the moment-to-moment lives of his wife and young daughter with a switch and his radically shifting moods. The mother, a “classic” example of a victim. And the daughter, Lacy Dawn, the story’s protagonist, who is a peculiar little girl. More about Lacy Dawn in a bit.

The setting is evocative, but it doesn’t appear to say anything about the trauma and hardship of PTSD and physical and sexual abuse; it only acknowledges its presence. A friend of Lacy Dawn’s is violently and sexually abused by her father (and possibly other men in her family), and is eventually killed, leaving Lacy Dawn lonely and determined to save her parents to succumbing to, well, themselves.

If this were the story of a little girl working on her own to help herself, her sick and abusive father, and her uneducated mother, it’d be one thing. Lacy Dawn does, after all, help her family with the many problems that plague it, and eventually the relationships between them are (somewhat) healthy and positive. But she doesn’t do so on her own, or through her own power.

The story takes a few turns that render it less and less stable, less and less functional commentary about the things that Eggleton claims to be addressing. Lacy Dawn is special because she has access to an alien robot, named DotCom, who lives in a hidden spaceship in a cave on the hill, who has implanted her with a reception port that allows him to educate her quickly and efficiently. She falls in love with DotCom, and most of the first third of the story involves Lacy Dawn and DotCom conspiring to heal her parents using advanced medicines that would require her to put implant ports in her parents bodies. (Granted, that’s not all that happens in the first third, but it is the stuff of consequence that happens therein.) After the administration of medication, psychological as well as physical, the family is healed and begins to function with relative normalcy. Dad gets a job working for the local pot grower. Mom gets her driver’s license and GED. Lacy Dawn is finally ready to hear why she’s special.

That great reveal turns out to be a bit of a let-down. DotCom takes Lacy Dawn (and her mom) to his home planet, which is distractingly named Shtpildrp (or something like it. I’m not kidding), which is the epicenter of economic activity in the universe/galaxy. It is a gigantic mall.

What follows that reveal is a somewhat sprawling and complex narrative that seems to have little to do with the purported message of the novel. It becomes a somewhat-confusing thought experiment, a treatise in support of radical capitalism. Lacy Dawn is given a mission: to save the universe. From what? You don’t know until the very end, and that reveal, too, is disappointing.

It seems like there are two stories in Rarity from the Hollow. In one, an abused little girl fights to get her family to a state of normalcy and love—which can be construed as problematic on its own—and in the other, a rural girl falls in love with a robot and has to prove that she is the best at shopping, then selling her wares at a markup. Bonus points for shoe-horned sexual tension between everyone, and a robot that slowly grows a penis.

I wanted to like Rarity from the Hollow, based on the pitch sent over by Robert Eggleton. The book I read differed wildly from what was presented, though, and I couldn’t connect to that at all. It’s certainly an intriguing concept, but one that could have benefited from more deep developmental editing.

Rarity from the Hollow is available on Amazon.