Sci fi & Fantasy reading update

“Thank you” to all who follow/ like/visit my blog(s).

Currently reading/ planning to read:

Theodora Goss: “The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter” (c) 2017 (nominated for the Nebula Award 2017).

The lives of four women, and unsolved murders, are at the heart of this fictional mystery set in the Victorian Age. Goss draws on horror and sci fi classics for the fictional characters in the story: Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Beatrice Rappacini.

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Charles Stross: “Singularity Sky” (c) 2003. (nominated for the Hugo Award).

Space opera: faster-than-light travel. Advanced AI civilization, “The Festival” visits Rochard’s World, a colony of the repressive New Republic. The result is anarchy and rebellion. A spy and an engineer track the New Republic’s plans to strike back at the Festival.

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Ann Leckie: “Ancillary Justice” (c) 2013 (The novel won multiple awards: the Hugo, Nebula Arthur C. Clarke and the BSFA Award).

Space opera: the Radch empire. Quest for justice for the destruction of a Radch starship, the “Justice of Toren”. Mindships.

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Neal Stephenson: “Quicksilver” (c) 2003 (won the Arthur C. Clarke Award).

Historical fiction. Three books: “Quicksilver”; “King of the Vagabonds”; and “Odalisque”.
Various narrative styles including epistolary.
Set in England, France, and the United Provinces from 1655 through 1673.

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Robert Masello: “The Jekyll Revelation” (c) 2016

Robert Masello: “The Jekyll Revelation” (c) 2016

A riveting tale: Historical fiction and present day thriller based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s horror fiction “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”.

Masello’s thriller story is set in two time periods, the 19th century and the contemporary times. The macabre elements that underlie and connect both periods are revealed by Masello in alternate chapters. This creates a sustained tension-filled connection throughout the entire story.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s life, literary works, and times are the basis of the historical fiction.

Masello’s imaginative and richly detailed fiction draws particularly on the circumstances in Stevenson’s life that led to the creation of the horror story “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “

Masello heightens the suspense in his story by including the real-life murders by Jack the Ripper. The first of these murders occurred on the opening night of the stage adaptation of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. For a time, Stevenson, and the actor who played the role of the fictional characters Jekyll/Hyde, were under suspicion for committing the murders.

In the present day, Rafe Salazar is an environmental officer for the Land Management Office in Topanga Canyon, California. In an abandoned 19th century trunk, Rafe finds a private journal by Robert Louis Stevenson in which Stevenson describes the fateful events that led to the creation of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and to the discovery of the identity of Jack the Ripper.

However, Rafe overlooks another relic in the trunk, a flask containing the dregs of wolf blood with potent transformative powers. A potion that is connected to the story of Jekyll and Hyde and Jack the Ripper. Someone else opens the flask, a strong whiff of brandy masks the real contents of  the flask. And a terrifying sequence of events unfolds.

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Jonathan Strahan, editor: “Reach for Infinity” (c) 2014.

“Reach for Infinity”  is one of “The Infinity Project” Anthologies, all edited by Jonathan Strahan. The SF stories are about people taking on scientific & technological challenges on Earth & beyond. The stories are original, written specifically for the project. Some of the stories have been reprinted in other SF anthologies.

The series began with the anthology “Engineering Infinity” (2012) and continues to evolve with each anthology having a basic guiding scientific concept, and different authors writing stories “as they see it.” The result is a diversity of SF stories written by award-winning master storytellers.

 

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“Reach for Infinity” has stories by 14 writers. Each writer brings different ideas and concepts to the questions and challenges about going beyond Earth. Some stories are set on Earth, including environment and biological challenges; other stories are about traveling and living within the Solar System. And others are about going deeper into space. Some stories are set in the near future, others in the far future.

“Reach for Infinity” writers:

Greg Egan, Aliette de Bodard, Ian McDonald, Karl Schroeder, Pat Cadigan, Karen Lord, Ellen Klages, Adam Roberts, Linda Nagata, Hannu Rajaniemi, Kathleen Ann Goonan. Ken MacLeod, Alastair Reynolds, and Peter Watts.

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Summaries of a few selected stories:

Pat Cadigan: “Report Concerning the Presence of Seahorses on Mars”

A story about life on Mars. Narrated by Rose of Finixity, Mars.
Earth has strict statutes limiting population growth on Mars. Women on Mars are not allowed to have children. Then Governor Zeke of Finixity announces that he has been pregnant, and has just given birth to a baby girl, Juno Amara. A legal loophole. Other pregnant men on Mars, and women as well come forward. There are even a few people who already have children born on Mars…

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Karl Schroeder: “Kheldyu”

Set in Siberia.
Gennady, a hazardous materials expert, is hired by Achille Marceau to check out the solar updraft plants he had built some years ago and then closed.

The solar updraft plants were designed to simultaneously generate electricity and remove CO2 from the air. A gigaton of carbon out of the air every year. Then the economy changed and Achille had to mothball the plants.

Nadine Marceau is Achille’s sister, and UN arms inspector. She and Gennady have worked together on IAEA nuclear cleanup projects in the past. She is very suspicious of her brother’s real motives in re-opening the solar plants.

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Karen Lord: “Hiraeth: A Tragedy in Four Acts”

Janik was born on the Moon. As a child, his eyes were permanently damaged when he fell. He has visual implants or cyborg eyes. He acquires other augmentations. And he becomes a Cyborg.

Like his parents and other settlers on the Moon and Mars, Janik suffers from “hiraeth”, a form of delusion, insanity, madness. He agrees to an experimental brain implant…

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Kathleen Ann Goonan: “Wilder Still, The Stars”

On Earth, 2080: An astronomer and neuroscientist, May is 130 years old. Planets and stars have fascinated her from her childhood days. She has been to Mars and the Moon.

Her life takes another direction when she takes in homeless “APs” into her home. An “AP” is an Artificial Person, a technological wonder engineered from blank humanoid templates infused with DNA. The APs can work at many different jobs. Many are very smart. Savants. And many are simply cast off, made homeless by their owners when they are no longer useful or replaced by newer models.

As a neuroscientist May becomes deeply interested in their creativity, their intellectual abilities. But the APs are also feared and hated by many people. They are considered an affront to human dignity. And demonstrations mount against APs.

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Peter Watts: “Hotshot”

In the far future:
Sunday Ahzmundin is a 16-year old girl. A human being and a “Sporan” — designed, educated and trained to be able to travel into deep space.

The skin of the Sporans is implanted with photosensitive neurons, designed for collection of vast and complex bits of information. And their brains have the potential to transform and visualize vast and complex information. Each Sporan is different, and some will succeed in going into deep space, others will not.

Sporans are free to drop out from the program. Sunday struggles with doubts about the Sporan program. There is conflict within her, to rebel and leave the program, or to embrace it. Her moment of understanding and decision comes when she and her shipmates go on an intense (simulated) exploration of the Sun.

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Jonathan Strahan, ed.: “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year” Volume Eleven (c) 2017.

Jonathan Strahan is an excellent editor, of this series and other anthologies.

The stories in Volume 11 of “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year” are reprints of short stories originally published in 2016.  Strahan includes an overview of SF & Fantasy in 2016 .  The anthology features stories by 28 award-winning master writers. Each story is accompanied by  a short summary of the writer’s major works and awards received.

The 28 featured writers are:
Catherynne M. Valente; Paolo Bacigalupi; Naomi Novik; Joe Abercrombie; Rich Larson; Alyssa Wong; Aliette de Bodard;  Daryl Gregory; Alex Irvine; Sam J. Miller; Alice Sola Kim; Seth Dickinson; Carolyn Ives Gilman; Delia Sherman; Genevieve Valentine; Geoff Ryman; Amal El-Mohtar; Nina Allan; Caitlin R. Kiernan; N. K. Jemisin; Theodora Goss; Lavie Tidhar; Yoon Ha Lee; Paul McAuley; E. Lily Yu; Ken Liu; Ian R. MacLeod; and Charles Yu.

I enjoyed reading the stories in this anthology because the diversity of the 28 writers created a wide range of stories across the broad spectrum of SF & Fantasy.

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A  summary of a small selection of the stories

Alyssa Wong: “You’ll Surely Drown Here if You Stay”

A story of witchcraft and desert powers, and of greed, set in a desert mining town. When the mine shaft collapses, many men are killed, including Marisol’s father. Ellis is a young man with witchcraft powers, who talks and wanders with the dead. A preacher comes into town, with the mining company men who want to re-open the mine….

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Naomi Novik: “Spinning Silver”

A moneylender’s kindness drives his own family into impoverishment. His daughter takes over his work, very successfully. She exchanges the silver coins she collects for gold, and her business grows to nearby towns. Then a Staryk, forest creatures made of ice and glass, asks her to turn his fairy silver into gold. She must comply, or he will turn her into ice, into his queen…

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Genevieve Valentine: “Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home”

Benjamina March is a developer of the VR game “Themis” , a game about building the first human colony, Themis, on Proxima Centauri. The company Othrys Games, partners with a state penitentiary to test the beta-version. The game developers and players exchange email about the game’s features during the testing. It is an extremely immersive game. Medical, addiction and psychological issues arise. Othrys releases the game, which becomes very popular. Whistle-blower Benjamina is fired…

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Carolyn Ives Gilman: “Touring with the Alien”

Dome-shaped structures appear all over the USA. Alien spaceships? Human beings step out from the structures, claiming to have been kidnapped as children, and trained as translators for the aliens. Avery transports specialty materials on a confidential basis. She is asked to drive Lionel, a translator, from Washington DC to St. Louis, in a converted tour bus…

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Paul McAuley: “Elves of Antarctica”

An eco-fiction story set on the Antarctic Peninsula. Mike Torres is helicopter pilot, working on  a project to prevent the collapse of the western ice sheet. In his free time, he hikes the rugged bare hills. His exploration turns introspective, about how life begins again in the face of ecological disasters, as he follows a route based on “elf stones”, rocks with strange runes written on them.

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Aliette de Bodard: “A Salvaging of Ghosts”

Closure for a space-diver and the wreck of a Mindship:
Thuy is a space-diver. Her daughter Kim Anh is killed aboard a Mindship and is still in the deep spaces of the wrecked ship. Thuy dives to retrieve Kim Anh’s body, and finds that the wrecked Mindship also seeks closure.

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Ian R. MacLeod: The Visitor from Taured

A story of a long-term friendship, of the bibliophile Lita Ortiz, and the astrophysicist Rob Holm, who believes in the many worlds theory.

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Yoon Ha Lee: “Foxfire, Foxfire”

Set in a city torn by civil war. Baekdo is a “nine-tail” fox, with the talent and desire to become a human. He acquires human skills with every kill he makes. When a cataphract, an autocannon, appears in the street, Baekdo decides to go for the pilot.

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N. K. Jemisin: “Red Dirt Witch”

The story of Emmaline and her three children, in Alabama, a few years before the Freedom Marches. Emmaline dreams of spirits, warning her of a visit from a fey White Lady, and of protests and Freedom Marches to come.

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Joe Abercrombie: “Two’s Company”

Warriors, Swords & Sorcery: a tale told with a fine humor and irony.
Two women warriors, Shev and Javre, Lioness of Hoskopp, are being pursued by agents of the High Priestess of the Great Temple in Thond. In the middle of a rope bridge over a canyon, they encounter the warrior Whirrun, coming from the opposite direction, pursued by agents of King Bethod of the Northmen.

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Ellen Datlow, ed.: “The Devil and the Deep – Horror stories of the Sea”(c) 2018.

Ellen Datlow is an excellent editor who has published numerous anthologies of SF, Fantasy, and horror stories.

The stories in “The Devil and the Deep” are original fiction, written for the anthology by 15 writers:

Simon Bestwick, Lee Thomas, Christopher Golden, Terry Dowling, Ray Cluley, Bradley Denton, Alyssa Wong, Stephen Graham Jones, Steve Rasnic Tem, A. C. Wise, Seanan McGuire, John Langan, Brian Hodge, Michael Marshall Smith, and Siobhan Carroll.

The stories turned out to be very imaginative, each with its own unique atmosphere of horror, of intense or unexplainable fear and dread faced by the characters.

Some of the stories are about terrifying sea creatures, others are about unknown and powerful sea forces, of sorcery and magic; of ghosts and ghostly ships; at least one werewolf story; and a story of a hi-tech conference thrown into savage madness and murder, by a lethal foggy miasma from the sea.

One story, “A Ship of the South Wind” by Bradley Denton, is set inland, on the American prairies, once an inland sea.

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Some of the featured writers whose stories I found to be particularly compelling, haunting with that deep sense of terror, with complex characters, and the dark mysteries of the Sea:

Seanan McGuire:
“Sister, Dearest Sister, Let Me Show to You the Sea”

The story is set along the Washington coast. Tracy survives her sister Maya’s attempt to drown her in volcanic tide pools. While Tracy is submerged in the water, four eels slither deep into her, ready to strike out in revenge …

Alyssa Wong:
“What My Mother Left Me”

A young woman’s nightmarish and almost deadly struggle to return to the sea after her discovery that her mother was a selkie. Her mom, who had died and been cremated …

Brian Hodge:
“He Sings of Salt and Wormwood”

On vacation along the Pacific, a surfer is undecided about his future. His wife loves to be near the sea, transforming driftwood into artistic pieces. But she will not venture on to the sea. On one dive the surfer finds the wreck of a sailing yacht, built with lots of wood …

Bradley Denton:
“A Ship of the South Wind”

This story is set inland on the American prairies, once an inland sea. The story is set in the 19th century, after the American Civil War. And with its “wind wagon” it has elements of a steampunk story. A story of unjust and wrongful acts, and of their dreadful consequences.

Terry Dowling:
“The Tryal Attract”

A whispering skull has been in an Australian family’s possession for five generations. The skull speaks in hissing sounds, of the sea and of an Australian shipwreck , “The Tryal”…

Ray Cluley:
“The Whalers Song”

A modern-day Norwegian whalers’ ship is wrecked in the Arctic. The whalers find themselves on a barren island, with giant whale skulls on the beach, and lances, from an ancient time in history…

A. C. Wise:
“A Moment Before Breaking”

A modern-day tale, of sorcery and magic. A young girl survives a shipwreck. And finds  her life is entangled with a kingdom of the sea …

Siobhan Carroll:
“Haunt”

Set in 1799 in the Indian Ocean, a maritime story of a ship plagued by  sickness, and death, and haunted by a ghostly ship and the dead. Siobhan Carroll draws on real stories of slave traders and their atrocities for this story.

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Reading Science Fiction & Fantasy online: short stories & novellas

A favorite online site for reading SF & Fantasy:

Tor.com features original short stories and novellas written specifically for the site. (It’s the blog site for Tor Books which is part of Macmillan publishing).
The site also features reprints, book reviews and book excerpts, poetry, and comics.
A huge selection  to read/reread, past and present. 

Tip of the iceberg:

Reprint:
Neil Gaiman: “Bitter Grounds” (c) 2006.
Neil Gaiman: “I, Cthulhu, or, What’s A Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This” (c) 2009.   (Lovecraftian story).

original fiction written for tor.com:
Catherynne M. Valente :”The Ordinary Woman and the Unquiet Emperor” (c) 2017.

Reprint:
Cory Doctorow: “Chicken Little” (c) 2010.
SF story inspired by legendary SF writer Frederik Pohl.
(from an anthology, edited by Elizabeth Anne Hull: original stories inspired by Frederik Pohl. 2011).

Reprint:
Mary Robinette Kowal: “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” ; (c) 2013.

Original fiction written for Tor.com:
A series of short stories:
Michael Swanwick: “The Mongolian Wizard stories” (c) 2012- 2015. An alternate Europe, political intrigue and wizardry.

Reprint – Classic SF & Fantasy; Horror.
H.P. Lovecraft: “The Terrible Old Man” 1921.

Article:
James Davis Nicoll: “Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1980s, Part I”; Aug 7, 2018.
(Kathy Acker, Sharon Ahern, Kathleen Alcala, Vivien Alcock, Patricia Anthony, Kim Antieau, Constance Ash, Nancy Asire, and Jean M. Auel).

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Historical fiction: “The Dante Club” by Matthew Pearl; “Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo” by Stephanie Storey.

Two novels that I greatly enjoyed reading:  historical fiction drawing on the lives of great historic figures in poetry; in art & architecture.

Historical fiction: “The Dante Club” by Matthew Pearl; “Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo” by Stephanie Storey.

The Dante Club — Matthew Pearl (c) 2003.

A very imaginative fictional murder mystery and historical fiction, set in Boston, in 1865, at the end of the Civil War.

The title of the novel comes from the original Dante’s Club formed when the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow undertook the first American translation of  Dante Alighieri’s poem “The Divine Comedy” .

The other members of the Dante Club were the physician & poet, Oliver Wendell Holmes, the poet James Russell Lowell; historian George Washington Greene, a longtime friend of Longfellow; and publisher J. T. Fields.

The Dante Club later became the Dante Society of America.

In the novel, the murders  mirror in gruesome detail the punishments suffered by sinners in the canticle  “The Inferno” in Dante’s poem.  The members of the Dante Club become involved in solving the murder mystery.

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“Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo” by Stephanie Storey (c) 2016.

This is a fictional story about the artistic rivalry between two geniuses, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

The fictional story draws its ideas from the real historical period, from 1501—1505, when both Leonardo and Michelangelo lived and worked in Florence. In those few years, two iconic works were created: Leonardo’s painting “The Mona Lisa” and Michelangelo’s sculpture of “David”.

The novel focuses on the individual creativity of the two men, and the conflicts and competition between them when they both want to create the sculpture of “David” for the city of Florence.

Other great Renaissance figures in the story, like the artists Botticelli, Granacci, Perugino and the sculptor Sangallo, add depth and detail, making more vivid the story of artistic creativity and differences.

This was also a time of intense political rivalries and intrigues. In the novel, the impact of church and political power struggles on Leonardo and Michelangelo is conveyed very effectively by including the historical personages of Niccolo Machiavelli, and the Borgia and the Medici families.

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