Wednesday, November 12, 2014

REVIEW: No Earthly Shore

Title: No Earthly Shore
Author: Jilly Paddock
Genre: SF
Price: $1.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Cathaven Press
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I frankly don’t remember how I found out about Jilly Paddock’s novella No Earthly Shore, but I did, and I’m glad of it.  Set in a far-future universe, this gentle story is that of Dr. Zuzana Aaron-Jones, Zuzu to her friends, and Boadicea Nantucket, Boodie to her friends. 

Boodie is a young teenager on the human-colonized world Yemitzov Five, and she claims that the squilts – masses of gray tissue that float in the local oceans – saved her from drowning.  More importantly, she claims the squilts are sentient, which could force the human colonists to pack up and leave.  Dr. Zuzu and a team arrive from Earth, and quickly start to investigate.  While they are investigating, romance blooms. 

I found this novella near perfect.  There’s conflict, both between the Earth team members and internally (Zuzu doesn’t want the humans to have to pack up and leave) but no great violence.  The characters are well-rounded, and although the colony bears a striking resemblance to an English seacoast village, the setting worked.  I found myself at the end of the work wishing for more.


Friday, November 07, 2014

What A PODpeep Reads: We Who Are About To ...

I was recommended to read Joanna Russ's novel We Who Are About To.... I did, and found it very interesting. It is in many ways the opposite of my friend Jeff Duntemann's Drumlin Universe.

Russ's book is quite slim, barely over novella length. In it, a group of eight people (3 men, 5 women, counting a teen-aged girl) are stranded on an unknown planet with extremely limited tools and supplies. Our unnamed female narrator points out, quite accurately, that long-term survival is highly unlikely. Unfortunately, everybody else disagrees, and is busily making plans to colonize said planet early. Considering that they don't even know what season they are in or the length of same, this decision is the height of foolishness.

Our narrator, upon being informed that she needs to get pregnant and which of the males should do the impregnation, decides to head for the hills - literally - she packs up a small amount of supplies and leaves. This proves unacceptable to the others, and a hunting party is dispatched to forcibly bring her back. Due to luck and our narrator's hidden gun, everybody dies except her. More accurately, except for the one guy who has a heart attack, our narrator kills everybody. This is 2/3 of the way into the book, and the last third is spent with the narrator rambling as she starves.

In fairness to Jeff, his Drumlin-ites have a larger population (a thousand, IIRC) and their starship doesn't blow up, among other advantages. Many SF novels, especially of the "Golden Age," treat landing on an alien planet to colonize much the same as arriving in Wyoming circa 1870. What's not seen or portrayed is that there was a huge industrial and technological complex Back East supporting the Wyoming-ite of 1870. This complex made the settlement possible, (not easy but possible) and the lack of said complex in earlier times meant settlement did not happen.

We Who... also has interesting reflections on interpersonal behavior. The survivors are all passengers, and leadership is decided on by the physically biggest man taking over. Our narrator, after dispatching the hunting party sent to get her, then rather cold-bloodedly kills the two other women, neither of whom is a direct threat. Russ, writing in the mid-70s, has bought into the anti-hero theme popular at that time. All in all, a small but interesting book.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

REVIEW: A Crack in Everything

Title: A Crack in Everything
Author: Ruth Frances Long
Genre: fantasy
Price: $8.97 (ebook) / $8.55 (paperback)
Publisher: The O’Brien Press
ISBN:  978-1-84717-635-6
Point of Sale: publisher’s website Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I recently attended Shamrokon, the 2014 European SF convention, held in Dublin Ireland.  While I was there, Ruth Frances Long held a launch party for her novel A Crack in Everything.  Unfortunately for her, most people attending were just interested in the cupcakes, but she did sell me a copy of her book.  I’ve finished that book and greatly enjoyed it.

Isabel “Izzy” Gregory is a typical Irish teenager, living in Dundrum, a southern suburb of Dublin.  She does have a minor problem with electronics – it’s not infrequent that she touches an electronic device and it explodes – but other than that she’s solidly normal.  Or so she thinks.  While out and about in downtown Dublin, Izzy comes across an angel, a fae, and discovers that there’s a whole other city – Dubh Linn –interweaved into the city that humans see.  Izzy also discovers that some of the stories she was told as a child are real, and other concepts, such as angels being good, are not entirely accurate.

The story then becomes one of Izzy trying to figure out how to survive and use powers she didn’t know she had, while the fae Jinx, a werewolf-like being, has to figure out how to deal with Izzy and the various backroom deals and double-crosses of his world.  I have to admit I had a problem keeping all the various non-humans straight, which I think was in part intentional.

Dublin, the real city, plays a key supporting role in the story, and at several points I found myself digging out my tourist map of the city to see where the events were happening.  Having seen the city and then reading the book greatly improved my overall experience, but I think it would be enjoyable even if you never get to Dublin.

I highly recommend A Crack in Everything.  O’Brien is an Irish publisher, so my best recommendation for US purchasers is to buy direct from the publisher.  It appears to be the only way to get the ebook, while Amazon can get you the paperback.


Thursday, October 02, 2014

REVIEW: The Queen's Librarian

Title: The Queen's Librarian
Author: Carole Cummings
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $6.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Psyche Skinner

In a feudal fantasy world, Lucas is living a life full of responsibilities.  For his unmarried sisters, his spend thrift mother, his tenants who are facing a poor harvest... but on the up side he has the support of his devastatingly handsome boyfriend Alex and his cousin is the Queen.

Lucas get sucked into a magical mystery full of adventure, flirting, intrgue, humor and cute animals.  I enjoyed the characters, the elements of farce, and the world building.  And then at the end the whole thing suddenly fell flat.

Why?  because I suddenly realized that while no doubt funny, handsome, charming, and overwhelmingly nice, our hero Lucas never really did anything to bring things to a satisfying conclusion--although he certainly took a lot of credit for it. I realized that Mary-Sue-ness of it had been gradually building up and ultimately killed my enjoyment of the story.

6/10 for being full of many other great ingredients.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

REVIEW: Memento Mori

Title: Memento Mori   
Author: Katy O’Dowd
Genre: steampunk
Price: $3.99 (ebook) / $11.69 (paperback)
Publisher: Untold Press
ISBN:  978-0692022351
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

The back-cover blurb for this book talks about taking a walk with the Victorian English Mafia.  I have to say, I wish I had read that first, because I found myself wasting sympathy on the death of an English crime lord in Chapter 1.  I eventually caught on, although in fairness to the author, I was supposed to find Mr. Lamb sympathetic. 

Memento Mori is a difficult book to categorize.  I’ve ended up listing it as “steampunk” but even that’s a bit unfair.  There’s nothing in the book that’s not solidly within Victorian technologies.  However, its sensibilities are distinctly non-Victorian, featuring a female Irish assassin, O’Murtagh, working on behalf of a young woman, Carmine Fox.  O’Murtagh is given a list of enemies to kill by Fox, and she goes to work, rather gleefully (and fairly realistically) killing a collection of Victorian stuffed shirts – all affiliated with the Lamb family.  The Lambs prove ill-named, being more wolves than sheep.

Various bloody complications ensue, including a convenient discovery by O’Murtagh, and an extended visit to London’s famous Bedlam mental hospital.  (Your Reviewer recently visited there, as it is now the site of the Imperial War Museum.  Any irony on putting a war museum on the grounds of a lunatic asylum is purely intentional.) 

I found the story and writing well-done, and the characters well-realized.  I did have a bit of an issue – too much of the plot hinges on the idea that when Victorians engaged in mourning, they did not manage their businesses for a year and a day.  Although that may be true, I found that hard to swallow, especially for a crime family that may not be fully “respectable.” 

At any rate, I quite enjoyed Memento Mori.