Blog & reading update

Thank you for following the blog.

Reading: ongoing;
blogging: likely to continue in a rather random fashion.

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From my recent reads: 2 novels

Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland: “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.” © 2017

A very enjoyable novel! Richly imagined, fantastical web of sci fi, magic, history and romance.
The novel is intricate, complex, and rapidly turns into an exciting and exhilarating thriller:

The novel is set in the near future with Cambridge, Mass. as the base of operations for D.O.D.O., the Department of Diachronic Operations. Its goal is time travel to the past, in multiple alternate realities and reshape history in small subtle ways, without causing Diachronic Shear, or a major tear in the space-time fabric.

DODO specialists Melisande Stokes, Tristan Lyons, and Dr. Frank Oda work together to navigate past and present using the ODEC, a time machine based on quantum mechanics. Working with them is a network of witches and magic.

*****

Another immensely enjoyable novel:
Margaret Atwood: “The Blind Assassin” © 2007
(first published in 2000, it was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2000).

This is a complex and intricate novel, a novel within a novel within a novel, written with Atwood’s excellent prose, richly detailed with exquisite narration.

The narrator, Iris Chase Griffen, is writing her biography.
The story is set near and in Toronto. Told in flashbacks, the novel covers the period from ~ 1900s through the 1990s, drawing on the people, places, and events of those times (historical fiction).

At the heart of the novel “Blind Assassin” is the life story of  two sisters, Iris and Laura Chase. Within the biographical thread, there is an embedded novel, also titled “Blind Assassin”, of two illicit lovers. The lovers create a sci fi story, of the planet Zycron and its blind assassins. The sci fi tale becomes a novel within the story of the lovers.

In the biographical thread, Iris Chase has the novel of the two illicit lovers and their sci fi tale published in 1947 as “The Blind Assassin.” At the time it is met with public disapproval.  Some decades later the novel resurfaces as a neglected masterpiece.

*****

Currently reading:
“The Fifth Season” — a  fantasy novel by N. K. Jemisin (c) 2015.
Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2016.
First volume in “The Broken Earth” series; followed by “The Obelisk Gate” and “The Stone Sky.”

Planning to read:
Margaret Atwood: “The Year of the Flood”; 2009; book 2 of the sci fi trilogy “MaddAddam”. [Book 1: Oryx and Crake (2003); book 3: “MaddAddam”, 2013].

Peter Watts “Blindsight”; 2010. (Firefall Series, Book 1)

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Jeff VanderMeer : “Annihilation” (c) 2014; book 1 of the “Southern Reach Trilogy”.

Jeff VanderMeer’s “Annihilation” : a gripping, very imaginative sci fi and horror mystery.

“Annihilation” is the first book of the “Southern Reach Trilogy.” Area X is a mysterious coastal area that has been cut off from civilization for decades. Southern Reach is a government agency that controls access and exploration of Area X.

“Annihilation” is the story of the 12th expedition sent to Area X. The team is made up of four women: a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor. It is a dangerous mission.

Past expeditions sent to the area have ended in disasters and suicides. There is an abandoned lighthouse and unmistakable signs that people once lived in Area X. It’s a complex and varied ecosystem of forests, swamps, salt marshes, the ocean; birds of all kinds; wild animals on land and in the waters.

The biologist’s husband was a member of the eleventh expedition. He and his team members had returned suddenly to their homes, unable to describe how they had made their way back from Area X. They spoke of their expedition in calm tones, as if from afar. All died of cancer shortly afterwards.

The fate of the 12th expedition is narrated by the biologist. In their exploration of Area X, they make an unexpected discovery: a spiral staircase, an underground tower, going deep into the earth. On the walls there is cursive writing, continuous ominous sentences, biblical in tone.

The biologist accidentally inhales spores of phosphorescent plants growing from the walls. She senses a growing “brightness” within her. She realizes the psychologist can control the team through hypnosis. She becomes resistant to the hypnosis.

Area X reveals its bewildering and deadly nature. Deep in the tower, the biologist and the surveyor find the anthropologist, dead. She was attacked ferociously by the Crawler as the biologist comes to think of the script writer. The biologist has a terrifying encounter with the Crawler in the Tower: a living creature, somehow alien, complex and transforming Area X into a different world.

The biologist is the sole survivor. At the abandoned lighthouse, she discovers innumerable journals left by many past expeditions, including her husband’s journal. She writes of the Crawler in the Tower. She leaves her journals and her husband’s journal with all the other journals for future expeditions.

In his journal, her husband had written of an island farther along the shore. She decides to remain in Area X and to explore what lies beyond the Lighthouse.

“Annihilation” won the 2015 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 2014 Shirley Jackson Award for best novel.
(2018: Paramount Pictures released a movie based on the novel ).

The Southern Reach Trilogy books:
“Annihilation” (book 1); 2014.
“Authority” (book 2); 2014.
“Acceptance” (book 3) ; 2014.

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Peter Cawdron: “Retrograde” (c) 2016

Peter Cawdron: “Retrograde” (c) 2016

Set on Mars, Peter Cawdron’s sci fi novel “Retrograde” is a gripping story about survival, sacrifice, compassion and friendship; and a fascinating and thought-provoking story about what defines life and consciousness.

The story is narrated by Liz, a micropaleobiologist.

The Mars Endeavour international colony is thrown into a deep crisis, struggling with grief, fear and distrust when nuclear war breaks out on Earth.

The 120 scientists, engineers and doctors are from the US, China, Russia, UK, Israel, and India. The colony’s modules are built deep into the bedrock of Mars, in the vast labyrinth of caves, caverns and lava tubes. In many ways the colony has become self-sufficient and supplies from Earth are sent on a regular basis.

When war breaks out on Earth, the colonists from the different countries lock themselves into their separate modules. Liz, a member of the US team, is convinced that for the colony to survive, they must think as Martians, to somehow rebuild a spirit of co-operation and to continue their scientific research and exploration of Mars.

However, very soon, a tense and undeniable feeling grows that Earth’s war has arrived on Mars. As Liz talks to the Chinese and Russian colonists, questions arise about the supply spacecraft from Earth. Has it landed on Mars or not? Liz sets off to the landing site of the supply spacecraft. Her Mars rover malfunctions, and she is nearly killed. The crisis at the colony deepens when environmental controls fail in the medical hub and in one of the modules, killing several colonists. With a shock, they realize that someone has tampered with the computer data feed, the rover and the environmental controls.

Someone is playing off the colonists against each other. But the colonists decide to work together, to find their elusive, unknown and very dangerous enemy.

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Nancy Kress: “Tomorrow’s Kin” (c) 2017.

Nancy Kress: “Tomorrow’s Kin” (c) 2017.

“Tomorrow’s Kin” by master storyteller Nancy Kress is a fascinating and suspense-filled first-contact sci fi story in which evolutionary biology plays the key role.

There are 30 lines of human mitochondrial DNA known to have evolved from an ancient original DNA.  Dr. Marianne Jenner, an evolutionary biologist, identifies another line, L7 in a group of people.  In a startling discovery, the Denebs are aliens whose mitochondrial DNA also belongs to the L7 group, implying their ancestors were originally from Earth.

The novella “Yesterday’s Kin” (2014) is the basis of the trilogy and won the Nebula Award for Best Novella. The novella is the opening section of the novel “Tomorrow’s Kin”.

“Yesterday’s Kin Trilogy”:
“Tomorrow’s Kin” (2017)
“If Tomorrow Comes” (2018)
“Terran Tomorrow” (2018)

“Tomorrow’s Kin”

“Tomorrow’s Kin” is set on Earth at various locations. The story begins with the arrival of the aliens on Earth. They are referred to as the Denebs because of the direction of their trajectory from space. They make immediate voice contact, speak in English, and will only talk to the UN. Their spaceship, referred to as the Embassy, floats on a pavilion in New York’s harbor. Dr. Marianne Jenner and a select group of people are invited to meet with the Denebs aboard the Embassy.

The Denebs explain they have come to alert the Terrans about a catastrophic spore cloud that is on a trajectory heading towards Earth and will arrive within months. The spore cloud has already killed Deneb colonies. The Denebs ask for help to identify the micro-organism and to develop vaccines for the Terrans and the Denebs.

Marianne Jenner and other world-renowned scientists jump at the opportunity to learn more about an alien people, also of human origin. However, the Denebs also cause fear, panic and angry violent protests. Several groups spring up, some with the express intent of killing the aliens and anyone who works with them.

Marianne is a widow with three grown children. Throughout the story, Marianne and her children are key characters. The youngest son Noah is adopted and to the shock of Marianne, Noah has the L7 mitochondrial DNA. Noah makes a life-changing decision to join the Denebs.

The suspense in the story grows as the scientists find perplexing and frustrating anomalies in their research on the deadly virus. The Denebs leave before the spore cloud reaches Earth. After the lethal cloud passes over Earth, some people are unaffected, many die. Among animals, some species die off, others survive. Countries see their economies ruined when ecosystems and food chains are devastated.

The Denebs have left blueprints of their star drive and spaceship with the Terrans before they return to their own world. Successful entrepreneurs take up the challenges of building spaceships.

The virus also causes genetic changes. Some children are born deaf while others have super-sharp hearing — they can hear sounds both above and below the normal frequencies audible to humans. Marianne’s grandson, six-year old Colin has super-sharp hearing, and he plays a very significant role in the rest of the story, as Marianne struggles to keep alive her dream of one day going to the Denebs’ world.

 

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Elizabeth Bear: “Dust” (c) 2007.

Elizabeth Bear:    “Dust” (c) 2007

“Dust” is the first book in the space opera trilogy “Jacob’s Ladder” by Elizabeth Bear.

“Jacob’s Ladder” is an Earth generation ship sent to explore space with a mission to find habitable worlds.  Catastrophic damage strikes the ship and it has become caught in orbit around a double star. 

“Dust” is a complex story about genetically engineered descendants of the original human crew; of super-intelligent fragmented AIs, which were themselves once an integrated AI; a story of the struggle for political power, and of repairing the ship to save it from the impending supernova.

The damaged ship has been in orbit around the double star for about 500 years.   In the domains where life is still possible, two powerful groups emerge from the descendants of the original crew, the House of Rule and the House of Engine. 

Commodore and Captain, Alasdair Conn, is dead.  Sir Perceval Conn of Engine is the next rightful Commodore and Captain, but she is challenged and captured by Lady Ariane of Rule.  Perceval escapes with the help of her half-sister Rien.

When the ship became disabled, the AIs became fragmented in order to maintain and rebuild the ship.  The AIs are referred to as Angels and the AIs are themselves in a power struggle to be the main ship-mind, to be a part of the next Commodore and Captain.

The two most powerful AI fragments are Jacob Dust and Samael.  Jacob is the Angel of Memory; his domain is control of the memory systems.  Samael is the Angel of Life Support systems and the Angel of Death. 

One of the double stars is a white dwarf which will explode at any moment into a supernova.  Can the ship escape before the supernova?  Can the ship ride the magnetic crest of the supernova?  It becomes imperative to repair the ship, to make it mobile again.  For that to happen, the AIs need to be reintegrated, and the rightful Commodore and Captain to be in charge. 

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Trilogy series:  “Jacob’s Ladder” by Elizabeth Bear

Dust (2007); Chill (2010); Grail (2011)

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Paolo Bacigalupi: “The Windup Girl” (c) 2009.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s sci fi novel “The Windup Girl” is a complex, intense, compelling, thought-provoking story about biotechnology and genetic engineering  in the 23rd century.

The novel received multiple awards:

Hugo Award for Best Novel (2010); tied with “The City & the City” by China Miéville.
Nebula Award for Best Novel (2010)
John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
Locus Award and Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel (2010)
Seiun Award & Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis Awards (2012)

 

“The Windup Girl”

The 23rd century:  Many countries have been devastated by rising sea levels, depleted carbon fuel sources and deadly bio-engineered plagues. Food production is controlled by giant corporations that have developed genetically modified crops and sterile seeds, replacing the original genetic seed stocks of the world’s plants.

Thailand is in a desperate fight for survival.  Bangkok, which is below sea level, is protected by levees and pumps. Thailand still has its own reserve of original and genetically viable seeds.

Thailand is a monarchy but the real political power is in the hands of three men:
Somdet Chaopraya, regent for the child queen; General Pracha, head of the Environment Ministry; and Minister Akkarat, head of the Trade Ministry.  The Environment Ministry’s mission is to protect Thailand from illegal bio-engineered products.  The Trade Ministry’s mission is to open up Thailand to more trade with the outside world.  An uneasy and fragile relationship exists between them.  Violent conflicts and civil wars are a real and constant threat.

Anderson Lake is the AgriGen representative in Thailand.  He owns a factory to manufacture energy-storage kink-springs from gene-engineered algae.  However his real mission is to find the original seed banks hidden somewhere in Thailand.

The “Windup People” or “New People” are gene-engineered humans, designed by the Japanese to create a young work force for an aging Japanese population.  Windups are designed and trained to work in many areas of Japanese society.  They are trained to obey and to value order and discipline.  However, under extreme circumstances, Windups can overcome their training and turn into “rogue” Windups: able to move very fast, with enough momentum and energy and force to kill a person very quickly.

Emiko is a Windup Girl who is designed and trained to be a modern-day courtesan.  She accompanies her Japanese master to Bangkok but he abandons her in Bangkok when he returns to Japan.  She survives working for a bar owner.  As a bio-engineered human, she is illegal and would be killed instantly in Thailand.  The bar owner pays the necessary bribes because she has become a very lucrative part of his business.

Then she meets Anderson Lake.  He tells her of an enclave, a refuge for Windups in northern Thailand.  Emiko becomes determined to escape to the enclave.  She discovers, quite accidentally, her ability to walk and run very fast, and an unsuspected physical strength when she faces threatening situations on the streets of the city.

One evening, two of the most powerful men in Thailand, regent Somdet Chaopraya and Trade Minister Akkarat are at the bar.  The bar owner puts Emiko through a humiliating and degrading performance.  Emiko is pushed beyond her limits, she kills Somdet Chaopraya and escapes.

The Trade Minister Akkarat accuses the Environment Minister General Pracha of a plot to assassinate Chaopraya.  Violence between the political factions turns into civil war.  Pracha is killed.  Akkarat emerges as the most powerful man in Thailand but more upheavals follow.  Bangkok is flooded as its pumps and levees are sabotaged.

Emiko survives in the flooded city.  Among the other survivors is a former Agrigen scientist, Gibbons, a brilliant geneticist.  Emiko is sterile, but Gibbons gives her hope when he tells her that he can re-engineer her DNA to create fertile New People.

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V. E. Schwab: “A Gathering of Shadows” (c) 2016.

“A Gathering of Shadows” is book 2 of the trilogy “Shades of Magic” by V. E. Schwab.

The trilogy is a very imaginative, fascinating and captivating fantasy of magicians and four parallel Londons, existing at the same time: Red London, Grey London, White London, and Black London. The four Londons are interconnected by magic. Once any magician could travel between them but now only a few have that power.

“A Gathering of Shadows” is the story in particular of three magicians:

Lila (Delilah) Bard is from Grey London. Kell is one of the most powerful magicians, an Antari magician, who lives in Red London, but he has no memory of his family or his original home. Alucard Emery is from Red London.

The story is set at a time when magic is widespread in Red London. A devastating struggle to control magic has left White London in a chaotic state, its king and queen have been killed. Grey London was once a place of magic. Black London apparently no longer exists, and is presumed to have been destroyed by magic.

Kell is one of the few magicians who can travel between the parallel Londons. He is a royal emissary for Red London. His path crosses that of Lila Bard in Grey London.

Lila Bard speaks with a royal accent, she is a street thief, and very capable, dangerous and ferocious in defending herself. She is unstoppable when she takes on a challenge. She discovers she has a magician’s gift when she follows Kell into Red London, and ends up fighting with him to save Red London from the White London king and queen.

Lila is a restless soul, and she sails as a crew member on board Captain Alucard Emery’s ship “Night Spire”. Alucard Emery is a royal privateer for the Red London royalty, and a magician. Lila learns from him more about magic, the skills, the mindset, to control and shape magic, to see, feel, and think of magic as a living thing.

Master magicians can summon the powers from the elements air, earth, water, oil, and bone. In Red London, excitement and tension rises as the “Essen Tasch” or the Element Games approach. The Games are a competition in which magicians fight their opponents using the elements of air, water, earth and oil as weapons. Magicians from the empires of Arnes (Red London), Vesk and Faro converge to compete.

Alucard Emery is one of the competitors. Kell is an Antari magician, a powerful magician, and cannot compete. Or can he? Lila is not on the list of competitors but she is determined to find a way to compete.

The trilogy “Shades of Magic” by V. E. Schwab:

A Darker Shade of Magic (2015)

A Gathering of Shadows (2016)

A Conjuring of Light (2017)

 

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