The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Spear of Light, Infomocracy, and Like a Boss

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Review of Spear of Light by Brenda Cooper (Pyr, June 7, 2016)

We return to the adventures of Nona and Charlie on the planet Lym after the treaty with the Next has at least temporarily put a war with them on hold. Tempers are very volatile on all sides, and Nona works as an ambassador trying to forge links between the groups. Others have different ideas and use violence and terrorist attacks to try and get their way, or at least prevent others from having theirs. How the different factions of humans sort everything out certainly could give some present day humans ideas about what to do instead of blowing up their neighbors.

There is interesting planetary exploration of old hidden caverns in this volume, as well as some fights and ship battles. Most of the book takes place on Lym with only small amounts completely being on the Diamond Deep (although it is close enough that there are real-time calls between Nona and the space station). Nona and Charlie’s romance picks up some steam, although being on the same planet and not being together all the time makes the two of them very frustrated!

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When we have the robots’ viewpoints we are starting to get an idea what the Next might want, but the robots aren’t mature enough yet to truly understand the Next. As with many conflicts, the ultimate problem is one of communication. The Next communicate at a whole different level of speed and complexity than humans or the recently-made Next robots. The history of the Next and how that is entangled with the history of Lym is something many of the humans don’t know, so as they unravel the puzzle this will hopefully allow them to understand the Next better. Continue reading

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Friday Quick Updates: Animazement this weekend, Grady Hendrix next week, ConCarolinas next weekend, and tons of new events including “Harry Potter” midnight launch party info

Friday, May 27, 2016: We are definitely in the early summertime here in the Carolinas, and all of a sudden the event calendar is starting to fill up a bit, starting with Animazement 2016 at the Raleigh Convention Center this weekend, with plenty of costumes and a huge dealer room packed with all kinds of everything, and what is setting up to be another fantastic ConCarolinas in Concord next weekend (June 3-5), there’s also quite a few “new-new” events since the May newsletter went out; I won’t try to mention them all, but as there’s a few that will happen before the next newsletter comes out:

 

Before I get back to more “new-new” upcoming events, a few words on ConCarolinas next weekend as it’s the last day to pre-order 2016 memberships online: June 3-5 (Friday to Sunday) — ConCarolinas 2016 at the Embassy Suites in Concord, NC with author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, artist Ursula Vernon, and special author guest Christie Golden, media guest Nana Visitor (Kira Nerys on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and more. And! Once again ConCarolinas is printing a special flyer page to unveil this year’s Manly Wade Wellman Award nominees, so look for that news starting to spread next Friday as well.

All right, back to some of those “new-new” events, including the title-teased information on July 30 midnight book launch parties for the forthcoming Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Get your calendars ready: Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Runtime by S.B. Divya

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Review of Runtime by S.B. Divya

Marmeg is a bouncer at a club and wants more than anything to race and place in the Minerva Sierra Challenge. The prize from placing would allow her to pay college tuition and buy her younger brother his postnatal license. No public education, health care or retirement without it. She wants better for him than she had. She earned her license herself by working for three years.

She has worked for a friend doing some coding for the black market in order to get chips implanted, and has scrounged some exoskeleton parts from the dumpster of a repair shop. Everything works but she packs some spare things to do repairs on the fly during the race.  No data connection other than GPS is allowed during the race so you have to research routes, terrain and weather ahead of time.

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Marmeg also aspires to be a moot, a gender neutral person. She wears a torso shell to mitigate the appearance of her breasts and buttocks and has a neutral haircut. Many persons who have embedded chips and enhancement software are not gendered, but the moot surgery is expensive so Marmeg would need a real job as a coder in order to afford it. Enhanced humans being gender neutral makes complete sense because the individual chooses their appearance as part of the enhancement and many enhancements would make having children neither desirable nor safe. The way the code driving the chips and other hardware influences the speed and smoothness of movements is very realistic. Human body mechanics are very complex and there could never be just one way to code any of it.

Moots use the pronouns zie and zir, so there is extensive use of these in the story. Their use does not really cause any issues and does make it clearer who is a non-gendered person. Reader confusion only occurred at one spot and that was due to a question of who the pronoun referred to, which would have been an issue no matter which pronouns were repeated there.

The setting is dystopian, but not really that dark. Marmeg has hope and some luck so the ending is upbeat if not the complete happy ending of a more optimistic tale. There is not really much romance in the tale, and although Marmeg does notice other pleasing-looking persons, it is not clear whether she is interested in them in a sexual way. She is also very young, so it could just be the fear of unlicensed babies which dulls her interest. Further stories where she isn’t in a race for most of the story would need to address it.

Having a race which depends on athletic skills, survival skills, and map skills as well as on your physical enhancements and the software you run on them makes for an awesome setting. The physical challenges posed by the natural environment, the moral questions Marmeg must deal with regarding other racers and her battle to keep her enhancements running make the story an exciting one and a quick read.

Of the science fiction novellas which Tor.com has published to date, this is our second favorite with only the Nebula award winning Binti ahead of it. A must-read for every science fiction lover!

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews A Whisper of Southern Lights by Tim Lebbon

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Review of A Whisper of Southern Lights: The Assassin Series Book 2 by Tim Lebbon

This volume revisits Gabriel’s fight against Temple the demon which we saw in a previous novella (Pieces of Hate). Now time has passed so the two are enduring World War II and are in the Pacific theater.

A soldier who had encountered Temple leaves a message behind and tells his best mate where to find it. Gabriel searches for this soldier in the Japanese prison camps and eventually finds him. This leads to a harrowing race against Temple through the jungle.

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The scene descriptions leave nothing to the imagination regarding the horrors of war. And particularly when Temple is involved even hospitals, doctors, and nurses are not safe. There are several battles depicted as well as some marches and the race through the jungle. All these are detailed and make you feel like you are there. You feel sorry for the soldiers who encounter Temple and get in his way as well as feel for Gabriel who is still on his tortured journey following Temple through time. The secret that Temple and Gabriel learn in this story will likely impact their futures, but it is not clear exactly how. We will be interested to see what happens in future volumes.

A dark, war-filled time travel tale with a strange protagonist and a nasty demonic villain. An excellent choice for lovers of grim-dark.

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Paul Kincaid’s From the Hardest Part, April 2016: Clarke Award shortlist, Nick Wood, Jenni Fagan, Ali Shaw, and Jurassic London’s Extinction Event

[Editor’s Note: From the Other Side is Paul Kincaid’s monthly column on books and news from the other side of the Atlantic.]

From the Other Side, April 2016
By Paul Kincaid

This year will see the presentation of the 30th Arthur C. Clarke Award, so, for reasons that I am sure made sense when they were explained to me, everything is running late. The award ceremony isn’t until August, and the shortlist has only just been announced. The six books this year are:

 Europe at Midnight (Fractured Europe Sequence #2) 
  

I confess, this isn’t the most inspiring shortlist I’ve seen. Of the four books I’ve read, only two seem to me to fully deserve a place on the shortlist. It is a list that seems more populist than challenging, designed to elicit more likes than arguments. Even so, it is head and shoulders above the decidedly insipid Hugo shortlist announced only the day before. Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Their Favorite Anthologies and Short Story Collections from 2015

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Review of Accessing the Future: A Disability-Themed Anthology of Speculative Fiction edited by Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad (Futurefire.net, 2015)

This anthology alternates between short fiction pieces and illustrations. The black and white illustrations all fit with the theme of the volume and show wonderfully imaginative futures with disabled participants. Our favorite image was the astronaut on the cover who appears to be having a great time in zero gravity moving their graceful body about.

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Every one of the stories in this volume offered a unique look into a disabled character’s world. You saw disabled people dealing with issues we have today and also with new issues which will appear when we get off Earth and into space. Our favorite story was the first one, “Pirate Song” by Nicolette Barischoff. A young woman gets rescued off a ship, but the pirates who take her have no idea that she needs a chair to move around, nor do they realize that she is a VIP’s daughter. They end up with more than they bargained for and both she and they end up learning about parts of their world they never knew existed. For Angela, the story was a poignant reminder of the life her cousin could have had. Her cousin was also a young adult with spina bifida but he passed away a few years ago. Continue reading

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May Newsletter: Jay Posey’s Outriders, Free Comic Book Day, Gabriel Dunston’s Purgatory Pub, Animazement, Manly Wade Wellman Award nominations deadline, and more

Vol 6 No 5. Friday, May 6, 2016: Is it May already? It is, with plenty going on as soon as tomorrow morning with Free Comic Book Day in comic book shops everywhere, not the least of which being festivities here in the Triangle at Ultimate Comics (both Durham and Raleigh locations), Atomic Empire, Chapel Hill Comics, Capitol Comics in Raleigh, Enterprise Comics in Pittsboro, and probably a few other places nearby as well, many with their own lineup of local and visiting comic book creators, writers, and artists.

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And while you’re out… tomorrow afternoon also sees the book launch party for Durham author Jay Posey’s latest novel, Outriders, which launches a new military science fiction series from Angry Robot Books, at the Barnes & Noble Streets at Southpoint in Durham at 4 pm. Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Tuesday Releases: Fran Wilde, Wesley Chu, and Jay Posey

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Review of The Jewel and her Lapidary by Fran Wilde (Tor.com, May 3, 2016)

This vibrant fantasy novella deals with friendship and family when betrayal occurs. Sima and Lin are trapped in a space far below the floor after being drugged. A fight among the adults goes on above and the actions of Sima’s father cause great destruction and many deaths. The girls try to escape with their lives and some of the jewels to which lapidaries can speak. However, things don’t go well because soldiers arrive and search among the rubble.

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The setting has beautiful descriptions of costumes which are brightly colored, have long veils for young women, and include many bracelets and jewels. Young men wear chainmail, but also chains, and gems. The women are not educated, so Lin and Sima must sneak to learn about the world through overhearing gossip. They are veiled at age 11 until they are engaged to be married. Lin is highly sought after to be a wife because she is a Jewel and this ultimately saves her life at least temporarily, but females in the royal court don’t have very pleasant lives in this world. Even the woman military leader they meet is a harsh, unpleasant woman who lives just to get her son married to a Jewel. The girls are just starting to discover kissing and holding hands. Regardless of her initial actions Sima shows that she loves her Jewel very much by her final actions in the vase. Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Black City Saint by Richard A Knaak and Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire

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Review of Black City Saint by Richard A Knaak (Pyr, March 1, 2016)

This is an urban fantasy set in Prohibition-era Chicago with a very vividly described real-world history which includes bootleggers, mobs, and the turf wars between different factions. The main character is a very old detective of the supernatural who is actually in Chicago to guard the gate between our world and Feirie.

Nick is cursed to always guard the gate because, as Saint George, he slew the dragon guarding the gate. Now that dragon is part of Nick and it wants to escape, so he has to fight mobsters and Feirie folk backing Oberon as well as his internal dragon. Nick has a traditional period view on women, but his friend Claryce has other ideas and she always gets her way. Every time she doesn’t it leads to disaster so Nick learns to let the woman make up her own mind and stop trying to put her out of the action. Several times she saves him which makes him realize that she is destined to be involved and help him, regardless of his wish to save her from the death suffered by her previous incarnations during his 1600 years.

He has a companion named Fetch who is a werewolf who can’t turn back into a human. When he is near Nick and a few other Feirie folk he can talk, so he likes to be near Nick. He is able to go places and observe then report back to Nick, greatly expanding Nick’s spying and observation capacity. Oberon has allied with several mob groups in order to further his own agenda so it is important to keep an eye on his activities to determine when he is going to move.

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Nick has a sword gifted to him by the Lady of Feirie which helps him fight the nasties which have been leaking through the gate. Without the sword he, Claryce and Fetch would have died several times. They also have the help of several other support characters like priests and an honest policeman.

Chicago is detailed with real buildings including several churches and some buildings under construction. Nick’s house has been magically protected so that no one notices it, so it is the point of some interesting scenes when people go there. The violence and alcohol issues of this period make it a great setting for an urban dark fairytale. This rendition of Saint George and the dragon is very different from the usual depictions and he works well as a flawed hero who is serving out a punishment. The dragon is quite a sneaking and conniving fellow as is to be expected of him and this version doesn’t disappoint even if he is stuck inside Saint George. The supporting characters are interesting and not really what you would expect for the time period and setting, so they are a nice surprise there. Claryce is almost more of an assistant than a girlfriend because Nick is so scared to get involved. She is a working woman who is very strong physically and mentally so the Feirie elements don’t really faze her. Nick gets more surprised by her than she does by him, once he explains the situation.

The fight scenes are a combination of period guns, knives, and swords, with magic gauntlets and some magical creatures thrown in as well. It works out well with the reader seeing the limitations of one type of attack against the other.

This is a fast-moving story with a dark creepy feel to it set in a Chicago Your Humble Reviewers would definitely not like to visit. We hope to see more of Nick and his friends!

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Review of Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire (Daw, March 2016)

Verity Price is back! The tough, street-smart cryptozoologist has returned and this time she’s on a dance reality show called Dance or Die. The contestants didn’t know it was going to involve them actually dying though, so there is much mayhem, blood, fighting, magic, and creeping around old basements so Verity can keep herself and her fellow contestants alive.

The mysterious Grandma Alice finally makes an appearance and Verity’s husband Dominic plays an important role. Between the last book and this one they eloped to Las Vegas en route to the Portland, Oregon area where the Prices live.

Verity has help from some non-human allies she met while dancing on the show previously, and meets some new non-humans who help too. She and her allies make an interesting flea market trip to get weapons and stumble across an old friend of Alice’s.

There are some great scenes on the dance stage both of dancing and fighting. The nasty magician even goes bonkers on the stage for the last big battle. The combination of Verity’s free-running skills and the backstage area make for some epic scenes.

This is one of Your Humble Reviewers favorite urban fantasy series. The whole science basis for the non-humans appeals to we science geeks. The books all move very quickly, much like their heroes. The background is extensive and feels like our real modern world with a few strange things around the next corner. This is the fifth volume and we hope they don’t stop anytime soon!

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The Exploding Spaceship Visits Norwescon 39 in SeaTac, Washington!

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Review of Norwescon 39 March 24-27, 2016 (Seatac, Washington)

After enjoying ourselves in the Pacific Northwest last year, we decided to venture out that way for another convention. Norwescon is primarily focused on SFF literature but also covers anime, costuming, art, gaming and other things of genre interest. It is also the host for the Philip K. Dick Awards each year. This award is for distinguished science fiction books published for the first time in the US as paperback originals. In 2016 the nominee list happened to include several authors whom Your Humble Reviewers have read and reviewed books from in previous months, so we were excited to see who would win and see what else the convention had to offer.

The facility at the Doubletree is quite spacious and there was plenty of room to walk around. The hall tables were placed so that different ones weren’t crowded together; when they got busy there was still room to walk. The dealer room was fantastic! It had a great mix of vendor types, including many with very nice craft items like jewelry and geeky clothing as well as many costuming pieces. It also had some nice book vendors.

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The area around the hotel had some reasonably-priced local restaurants which were quite good, such as Pancake Chef and Ivar’s Seafood Bar. Pancake Chef has epic breakfasts in a very quaint building which has the original designs from the 1950s. Ivar’s is a local Seattle legend which has been serving quick but excellent seafood for years: think a local Captain D’s which is actually good! A word of warning though: the Seatac area and Seattle itself are very tight on parking so be prepared to pay a steep price and it might be advisable to use the hotel shuttle or a taxi for short trips away from the hotel.

The choice of panels was quite extensive, and not repeats of the same old things. There were many writer- and artist-oriented ones, so many we couldn’t attend them all; the number of writers attending was staggering! There were parties at night, but we found them to be inconveniently far from the convention space and each other. The hotel is huge so you have to walk a great deal; those with mobility issues might need some wheels. All the spaces are accessible but some require knowledge of where to go because the elevators are hidden. There were a few autograph sessions in a very big room, but even so there were so many authors that they wouldn’t all fit at once! We saw every type of fan imaginable and costumes and cosplay which were amazing. The convention runs a Tumblr page for everyone to post pics so to see the wonderfulness go here: http://norwescon.tumblr.com/ .

Naam Dick Award pic Norwescon 39

We were very pleased that a book we really liked won the Philip K Dick award: Apex by Ramez Naam. A special citation went to Archangel by Marguerite Reed. We had reviewed the second book in Naam’s series, Crux. The series explores what would happen if someone wrote software for the brain which was delivered by a drug and allowed people to link their minds together. The young adult main characters have quite an interesting ride through the trilogy, as they had no idea of some of the implications of their invention until it is already out in the world. They spend the series trying to fix problems and chasing people who hurt others using the software. But they also discover some wonderful things being done with it, so you see both sides of their invention.

Overall this is a very good convention for writers to meet fans and sell books, for writers wanting to learn about the craft or the business of writing, and also for general fans. It definitely felt more welcoming to everyone than some southeastern US conventions have been in the past, so it might be one to try if you want to try a more welcoming convention experience.

Next year the convention is April 13-16, 2017 in SeaTac, Washington and the theme is Over Hills and Far Away. The spotlight publisher will be Angry Robot Books. Artists Guest of Honor will be Cory and Catska Ench and the Science Guest of Honor will be Dr. Ethan Siegel. Visit http://www.norwescon.org to find see further announcements.

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