Thriller: Jennifer McMahon: “The Winter People” (c) 2014.

“The Winter People” by Jennifer McMahon is a gripping and haunting mystery thriller, its suspense heightened by a tangled web of reality and the supernatural. Can the dead return to the living world as real people?

The story is set in West Hall, a small New England town in Vermont, a town haunted by strange disappearances and mystifying legends. The story unfolds along two timelines – 1908 and the present day.

In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea, 31, was found murdered at her family farmhouse. Her niece, Amelia Larkin, discovers Sara’s hidden diaries & journals. As a young girl, Sara was cared for by “Auntie” a Canadian Native woman from Quebec, after Sara’s mother died in childbirth. “Auntie” spoke of portals through which the dead could return to the world of the living.

Sara was grief-stricken when her young daughter, Gertie, was found dead at the bottom of a deep well. Gertie had dreams of meeting dead people whom she called “winter people,” dead people wandering at the edge of real life.

In her journals, Sara wrote of her longing to bring Gertie back from the dead. Sara claimed that people could really come back from the dead, that “Auntie” had given her written instructions on summoning the dead, and directions to a portal in the woodlands near the West Hall farmhouse.

Amelia published Sara’s journals & diaries as a book, “Visitors from the Other Side – The Secret Diary of Sara Harrison Shea.” She could not find any of Auntie’s written instructions on summoning the dead or where the portal was located. People read the book, and anyone finding the missing pages stood to make a fortune.

Present Day:

Ruthie Washbourne, 19, lives in West Hall, in Sara’s old farmhouse, together with her mother Alice and younger sister Fawn. One day, Alice disappears, without a trace. Ruthie is puzzled. This is unlike her mother. Ruthie decides to wait a few days, perhaps her mother will return soon.

Ruthie and Fawn search the house for clues about their mother’s disappearance. And they find a copy of “Visitors from the Other Side – The Secret Diary of Sara Harrison Shea.” Ruthie is fascinated.

Ruthie and Fawn’s lives take a sudden turn into a terrifying and perilous experience. Two women turn up at the farmhouse on a cold wintry night. Both have lost loved ones. Candace lost her brother in West Hall. Katherine’s husband Gary died in a car accident on the highway to Boston, after a puzzling stop in West Hall. Both Candace and Katherine have read “Visitors from the Other Side – The Secret Diary of Sara Harrison Shea.”

A fantastic well-crafted chilling thriller!

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Literary & Speculative fiction: Kate Hope Day: “If, Then” (c) 2019

Kate Hope Day: “If, Then” (c) 2019

Well-crafted literary & speculative fiction of alternate realities and alternate versions of oneself.

A complex and fascinating novel, both dream-like & realistic. A compassionate tale of ordinary lives, shaken by an extraordinary experience.

The story is set at the foot of Broken Mountain, a dormant volcano in Clearing. Oregon. There are earth tremors from time to time.

The story is centered around the lives of four characters.
Each one experiences “visions”, an alternate reality of their lives.
The alternate reality is preceded by earth tremors and a metallic taste in the mouth.

Ginny McDonnell is the chief surgeon at the nearby hospital. In her alternate reality, she falls in love with her colleague Edith. She knows she will have to face a life-changing decision, to leave her husband, Mark McDonnell. And she must consider the consequences for their son, Noah.

Ginny’s husband, Mark McDonnell is a scientist with the Dept of Fisheries & Wildlife. He is convinced that the behavior of animals is a reliable indicator of volcanic activity. On the mountain, he sees a man just like him, “the Other Mark.” But the Other Mark is dangerous and confrontational.
Through cameras, Mark monitors frogs in the mountain ponds. When he realizes the frogs have left the ponds, he knows in that instant that a volcanic eruption is imminent. He also realizes that to protect his life and the lives of others, he must kill the Other Mark.

Samara Mehta is unsure of what to do with her life. She mourns the recent death of her mother Ashmina who was a real estate agent. Samara acquires a realtor’s license. In her alternate reality, she “sees” her mother put up a “FOR SALE” sign in their family home yard. She discovers also that her parents had planned to retire to Costa Rica.

Cassandra (Cass) is a brilliant philosophy student researching the possible existence of alternate realities. She takes time off to care for her new baby, Leah. Her husband Amar is away on a marine biology research project.
In her alternate reality she sees the Other Mark; and also sees another version of herself, pregnant. Can she still pursue her philosophy studies?

Mark’s premonitions are borne out when Broken Mountain erupts suddenly. The major characters survive in a bunker that Mark has built for just such a contingency.

Other people in the region report visions of their alternate realities as the mountain erupts.

Each person faces making decisions for the future direction of their lives. And the experience of their alternate reality becomes a significant part of those decisions.

The “what ifs” of life. Compelling and thought-provoking novel.

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Sci-fi: Suzanne Palmer’s “Finder” (c) 2019.

Suzanne Palmer’s “Finder”

Immensely enjoyable! An excellent space opera novel: Great characters and dialogue to match, funny, fast-paced, endless intrigue & fantastic worldbuilding.

Suzanne Palmer is acclaimed for her short sci-fi:
The 2019 winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short science fiction; for her story, “Waterlines,” in Asimov’s Science Fiction.
2018 Hugo Award for Best Novelette.
Readers awards – Asimov’s, Analog, Interzone; Locus Recommended Reading List. Stories included in sci-fi anthologies.

“Finder” is Book 1, of The Finder Chronicles Series, by Suzanne Palmer
Sequels: Driving the Deep (The Finder Chronicles Book 2) – 2020
The Scavenger Door (The Finder Chronicles Book 3) — to be published- 2021

Fergus Ferguson is an interstellar repo or professional finder of stolen things and returning them to their owners.

He is hired by the Shipbuilders of Pluto to find and return to them one of their most complex AI spaceships “Venetia’s Sword.” The ship was loaned to Arum Gilger who is an interstellar salvage trader, wealthy and very powerful, and who fails to return the ship.

Gilger’s home base is in the Cernee (Cernak) human colony, in the backwaters of a solar system deep in space. Cernee is a mix of habitats, including hollowed-out asteroids, and space stations.

Ferguson makes it to Cernee and immediately finds himself drawn into a power struggle among the various factions that live in Cernak, each with its own habitat, political, cultural, social structure. The situation rapidly accelerates into chaos and deadly confrontations.

Adding to the intrigue, the Asiig are aliens who appear in black triangle ships from time to time in Cernee, and who inevitably change anyone who comes in contact with them.

The Characters:

Fergus Ferguson:

originally from Earth (Scotland). Left when he was 15. Fergus is inventive, resourceful, courageous; and determined to do his job. Comes up with crazy, weird, and ingenious solutions, whatever it takes to get the job done; knows the risks and dangers of his job as a finder; prefers to work alone because he does not want to endanger anyone else’s life, and will do whatever he can to save someone else’s life at the risk of his own.

The Governer of Cernee: Central authority in Cernee.

The Vahn family: own a lichen farm & their own habitat;
Mari Vahn; a formidable young woman; cares deeply about Cernee, its people; its survival. Very courageous.

Arum Gilger — the powerful and wealthy trader who has stolen the spaceship “Venetia’s Sword. ” He wants total control of Cernee.

The Vahn family and Arum Gilger are enemies.

Weapons dealer Harcourt; from Mars originally.

Vinsic — trader in ores and black-market goods.

A well-crafted space opera!

Sci-Fi & Mystery: Mur Lafferty: “Six Wakes” (c) 2017.

Fascinating & Compelling! Sci-Fi & Mystery:
Complex and richly imagined characters; complex worldbuilding involving cloning technology; moral & ethical issues.

“Six Wakes” was a 2018 finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award as well as the Hugo And Nebula Awards for Best Novel.

Summary:

By the 25th century, mindmapping technology has revolutionized cloning: the technology includes ability to clone humans, create new clones with full memories of previous clones; copy & modify DNA; and copy & modify personalities.

Codicils have been enacted to govern and protect clones, making them legal world citizens.

“The Dormire ” is a generation ship, launched from Luna. Sallie Mignon, one of the most successful & powerful entrepreneurs on Earth owns the Dormire.

There are over 2000 humans in cryo; and 500 clone mindmaps aboard the Dormire. Their destination is the Earth-like planet Artemis, orbiting Tau Ceti in the constellation Cetus.

Sally Mignon, herself a clone, hires a crew of 6 clones to run the spaceship through its long journey.
The six crew members all have past criminal records. The journey is an opportunity for them to start life with a clean slate once they reach Artemis.

The six crew members

Maria Arena; junior engineer & general maintenance
Captain Katrina de la Cruz.
Akihiro Sato; navigator/pilot
Wolfgang; security chief
Paul Seurat, engineer.
and Dr, Joanna Glass, medical doctor and member of the committee that enacted the Codicils governing clones.

IAN (Intelligent Artificial Network) is the ship’s computer mind.

Clones can be recloned and reimprinted with their continually updated memories as they age and die.

However, as the Dormire journeys through space, the new clones of the six crew members awake to find their most recent older selves have been murdered.

IAN, the ship’s mind, has been sabotaged. The crew discovers that all their logs, personal, medical, and command, have been erased.
And even more terrifying, there are no backups of their most recent mindmaps.


With the erasure of their most recent mindmaps and the cloning software, the clones cannot create new mindmaps or new clones. They will die if they cannot be recloned.

Tension and paranoia rule their lives as the clones search for clues to the murderer: Which one of them is the murderer?

And how do they regain control of IAN, the ship’s mind, and set the ship back on track to Artemis? The ship is off-course, heading back to Earth. The clones will face multiple criminal charges if they return to Earth.

The past life stories of the six clones surface as they struggle to survive, get things back under control. All have complex life stories, from their past clone lives on Earth or on Luna: some have lived multiple clone lives over the past few centuries; stories of how they ended up carrying out criminal activities, how they were manipulated as clones.

The key character in the story is Maria Arena, the lowly engineer who is, in reality, a computer genius, programmer, and hacker. But is she the murderer?

Great story — sci-fi & murder mystery!

Sci-Fi: Sue Burke: “Semiosis” (c) 2018.

“Semiosis” by Sue Burke is Book 1 of the Semiosis Duology.
The sequel: “Interference” (c) 2019.

Richly imagined worldbuilding, fascinating and thought-provoking story of space exploration and colonization:
A multigeneration story; and a first-contact story of sentient plants and aliens.
Short-listed for major awards including the 2019 Locus Award for Best First Novel.; Arthur C. Clarke Award, & John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel,
Considered one of the best sci-fi novels of 2018.

The title of the novel “Semiosis” refers to communications using signs.
In the novel humans settle on a distant planet they name Pax, meaning peace. The humans, or Pacifists, are held responsible, by the Constitution, they write before leaving Earth, to work towards peaceful solutions, equality, and work for mutual benefit, with whatever sentient life they encounter in space.

On Pax, their challenge is immediate: To survive, they have to understand and communicate with sentient plants, and later with aliens, The Glassmakers, who preceded the humans in colonizing the planet.

The narrators are individual Pacifists, particularly the moderators, and a major sentient bamboo plant, named Stevland.

The moderators are Pacifists, elected by the community, and are responsible for guiding the community to live in peace within their community and all sentient and alien life. The goal is to avoid repeating Erath’s devastating problems — war, environmental and ecological disasters.

Summary:
In the 2060s, a group of fifty human colonists leaves Earth. About 158 years later, they arrive at a planet, in a solar system near Castor in the Gemini constellation.

The planet, Pax, is Earth-like, in terms of its oxygen, water, and ecology. Octavio is a botanist and quickly realizes that the plants of Pax are unusual: They are sentient plants, able to communicate with each other through morphology, color, scents, and able to plan, and act in decisive ways.
And the colonists must learn to communicate with them to survive, to grow crops, to find plants that make edible fruit, to avoid poisonous plants.

Sylvia is one of the first generation born on Pax. She is Octavio’s daughter. She is a young woman when she and Julian, also born on Pax, discover the Glass City, made of glass, stones, metal, and rainbow-colored bamboo. They find script writing on the glass. But it is an abandoned city. There is no sign of the Glassmakers.

Back at the colonists’ village, Sylvia discovers their parents, the original colonists, knew of the Glass City but had hidden the information from the younger generations. Sylvia wants to move to the Glass City, with others from the younger generation.

Vera, one of the original colonists is the moderator. She is determined not to let any of the younger generations leave the village. She turns to violence to make her point: Sylvia is brutally attacked; her friend Julian and her father Octavio are killed.

On the day of Octavio’s funeral, there is a violent confrontation between Sylvia and Vera. Sylvia kills Vera.

Sylvia and all of the younger generation move to Glass City, renaming it Rainbow City. Sylvia is their moderator. She guides the young community of Pacifists to work towards peace as part of their way of life.

She passes on to the next generation her wisdom: Moderators may make errors in decisions, end up with terrible decisions, but ultimately the community must work toward Pax. Peaceful, reasonable ways of dealing with problems, difficult as this may be.

Tatiana, great-grandaughter of Sylvia, is a commissioner of peace, and eventually becomes co- moderator. In her time, a major sentient bamboo, Stevland, learns to communicate with the humans, learning to communicate in English; and is elected co-moderator.

He has memories of the Glassmakers. When the Pacifists first meet the Glassmakers, they are disappointed. Descendants of the original Glassmakers, this group of Glassmakers struggles with internal squabbling and disease and living a nomadic existence.

When Tatiana dies, Lucille is elected as co-moderator with Stevland. Their goal of peaceful co-existence with the Glassmakers is abruptly shaken in a violent battle with a hostile and aggressive group of the aliens.

Stevland’s ability to communicate with other plants, and with a friendly group of the Glassmakers plays a critical role in winning the battle. But 21 Pacifists are killed, including Lucille. Stevland is devastated and blames himself.

Some of the Pacifists demand Stevland resign or be removed. Bartholomew, an older Pacifist, who remembers Sylvia, steps in as Stevland’s legal advocate. Bartholomew becomes the key to a peaceful resolution, allowing the Pacifists, the sentient plants & animals, and the Glassmakers to live and work together in Glass City.

The story of Sylvia, her legacy of peace, of equality, of working for mutual benefit, becomes an integral part of all sentient life on Pax.

A fantastic story!