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Midnight Crossroad (Midnight, Texas #1)Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I read this because I enjoyed the TV series Midnight, Texas a lot this past summer, and was curious about the novels that inspired this series. So far, I've only read the first of three, but can already report that the reading experience was much different than the viewing experience.

The viewing experience, for me, was a fast, fun, guilty-pleasure throwback to shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Midnight Crossroad is more like reading an occult-flavored cozy mystery. The same cast of characters is involved -- though a couple of them are not the same ethnicity as they were in the series -- and the mystery will be familiar to series viewers. However, not all of the characters' occult identities are fully revealed. This might be interesting for those who have watched the series, but confusing for others.

I also noticed several abrupt switches of viewpoint during the novel, sometimes without a great deal of warning. It was always clear whose viewpoint the reader was getting, but I wasn't always sure why Harris had chosen to switch POV at that particular point.

I'm not sure how much of my mixed reaction to this mystery was due to previous exposure to the series, but I found it to be a rather toned-down and somewhat confusing read. Those new to the Midnight world might have an entirely different experience.






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I have a haiku -- my second -- up today, October 2nd, on Haikuniverse. This one is both speculative (I hope only speculative!) & decidedly dark.

Find it here:

http://www.haikuniverse.com/

If you're visiting the site after today, it will give you an option to view previous haiku.
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Barrayar (Vorkosigan Saga, #7)Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I'm continuing to reread -- by listening -- Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, and once again finding myself delighted by its mix of solid space opera, warm humanity, and flashes of wry humor.

Barrayar is the "origin story" (literally!) for Miles Vorkosigan himself. Of course, this being set on Barrayar, there has to be a conspiracy, an attempted assassination, a civil war, and various other obstructions to his arrival on the planet.

The Audible audio edition -- voiced by the same reader as Shards of Honor -- is clear and well-produced, without a lot of distracting bells & whistles.






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The Delirium Brief (Laundry Files, #8)The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Stross pulls out all the stops -- & many of his previous story arcs -- for this eighth entry in the Laundry Files series. Bob Howard is back as the main protagonist at last, & he has Serious Eldritch Problems. In fact, the entire UK has Serious Eldritch Problems, and the United States isn't doing too well either. (Yes, there did seem to be a few sideways political comments -- but they never got in the way of Stross's storytelling.)

The Delirium Brief suffers from a few too many characters to keep track of, but otherwise delivers the most satisfying Laundry experience I can remember having for at least the past few novels. Plot descriptions would be too much of a spoiler, here, but suffice it to say that you really should read #1-7 before even thinking about trying this one.

This is a "stars turn right" apocalypse tale that pushes its Lovecraft/le Carre flavor to the limit -- with an ending that left me wondering exactly what Stross intends to do with his Laundry universe next. And, of course, determined to preorder Laundry Files #9, because I really have to find out.








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The winners of the 2017 SFPA Speculative Poetry Contest were announced today. Almost 350 entries were received in three categories (dwarf-length, short, & long), from a remarkably diverse and international group of poets.

Three prizes will be awarded in each category. All placing poems will be published on both the SFPA website and the StarShipSofa podcast!

For all the winners, their brief biographies, and a bit more explanation, check here:


https://specpo.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/2017-sfpa-speculative-poetry-contest-winners-announced/

[Full disclosure: Yours Truly did enter the contest this year, but will not be found on the list of winners.]
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Shards of Honor (Vorkosigan Saga, #1)Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is the first time I've listened to Shards of Honor rather than reading it, and it may have made the experience even better. (Or at least easier to fit into a busy summer!)

Shards is the opening volume of Bujold's Vorkosigan saga. Without spoiling any of the plot for first-time readers, suffice it to say that it offers a remarkable, character-driven space opera read, with a central (but never intrusive) romance between two actual grown-ups. It also has some of the loveliest ending lines of any SF novel around.

Lois McMaster Bujold just won a Best Series Hugo Award for these books. It was richly deserved.






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Just in time for H.P. Lovecraft's birthday (August 20th), Spectral Realms #7 is now available from Hippocampus Press http://tinyurl.com/ya8xglow . Edited by S.T. Joshi, this latest issue of the twice-yearly journal of weird verse offers over 120 pages of poems and related articles from old hands and newer practitioners.


Contributing poets include Richard L. Tierney, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, John Shirley, Ashley Dioses, K.A. Opperman, David Barker, F.J. Bergman, and Yours Truly -- among others. (Full disclosure: I have three poems in this issue, all previously unpublished.)


Spectral Realms is published in attractive trade paperback format, with a classic Gustave Doré cover this time around.
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I Am LegendI Am Legend by Richard Matheson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Though this classic post-apocalypse thriller is showing its age a little (especially, to me, in its view of women), it was still an amazing read. Though generally spoken of as a horror novel, it's actually pure SF at its bones. The vampire theme allows Matheson to examine human nature in the face of the unthinkable, although some of the ways this works itself out have since become standard in this sub-genre.

Though the book is short, it's worth slowing down once in a while to savor the stark beauty of some of its prose. It's also interesting to think about all the fiction this book has probably spawned: The Passage came immediately to mind.

Psychologically effective and still chilling after all these years -- a great choice for late summer reading in nervous times.



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the lost art
of looking up
moon dust footprints


-- Ann K. Schwader

http://tinyurl.com/ybg4y63m
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Livia Lone (Livia Lone #1)Livia Lone by Barry Eisler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This is a fast-paced, fascinating, but disturbing thriller centered on human trafficking and its fallout. The title character is a survivor turned sex crimes detective -- with a vigilante streak a mile wide. Eisler never lets the reader forget that Livia is both highly competent and seriously damaged, and offers plenty of evidence for both traits.

I found the plot itself a little predictable, though it still kept me reading. And, occasionally, not wanting to. I hadn't expected this one to be an easy or completely pleasant read, and it definitely wasn't. Livia's skills are a wonder (possibly slightly unbelievable, but we are talking thrillers here), and her cause is just, but there are a few scenes I won't be able to un-see for a while.

The Kindle edition includes helpful chapter-by-chapter notes with links to online articles and video. Most of these relate to Livia's martial arts training and weapons, though there are a couple of articles on actual crimes which inspired the fiction. There is also a bibliography (with links) for those wishing to educate themselves further about human trafficking, police investigation techniques, and other topics.

Possibly recommended for thriller fans looking for an informative, intense read.




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Certain Dark ThingsCertain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


If you're looking for some remarkable worldbuilding in a fast-paced vampire adventure, this might be your next summer read.

Certain Dark Things has a vaguely YA flavor, but with a harder edge and a refreshing swap of the usual roles. In this one, the sympathetic human caught up in a dangerous alliance with a powerful-yet-wounded vampire is a young male, and the P-Y-W is female, the last survivor of a clan of indigenous Mexican vampires dating back to pre-Columbian times.

Moreno-Garcia makes the grittier aspects of Mexico City vibrantly clear, and the plot is a well-crafted chase-and-vengeance item with drug cartels that might be lurking in the back pages of tomorrow's paper. What made this a rewarding read for me, however, was the depth and international diversity of its vampire subculture. Make that subcultures: there are nearly a dozen subspecies, and a glossary worth the price of admission all by itself.

I for one am hoping to read more in this carefully constructed world.










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The 2017 Rhysling Anthology: The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Poetry of 2016 Selected by the Science Fiction Poetry AssociationThe 2017 Rhysling Anthology: The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Poetry of 2016 Selected by the Science Fiction Poetry Association by David C. Kopaska-Merkel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This year's Rhysling Anthology offers an excellent snapshot -- make that a whole photo album, or rather a 200 page perfect-bound trade paperback -- of the current state of speculative poetry.

Trends I noticed this year include a swing away from formal poems (though there were a few), a more mainstream tone, and an increased use of mythology outside the traditional Greek/Roman /Norse pantheons. Strongly narrative verse continues to be favored, and pure science fiction (as opposed to fantasy, dark /weird, or "other") seems to be making a comeback.

The overall quality of the poems this time around is impressive. So is the variety, which means most readers are unlikely to enjoy each and every one -- but will assuredly have their horizons expanded.





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Children of Earth and SkyChildren of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I've actually been reading this one from my own hardcover and the library's borrowed Kindle edition. Given the size of this book, it only made sense to be able to carry it more easily and finally be able to read it more often in more places.

In either format, this is a gorgeous, if slow-paced (mostly) read. Set in a slightly alternate version of Renaissance Europe and ornamented with light touches of the fantastic, it follows several characters through one momentous spring of warfare, politics, and conspiracy. Intriguingly, these characters are on different sides of the conflicts -- and Kay manages to make us care about them all.

The overall message seems to be that war happens to people, not to faceless groups of them. Despite the historical/fantastic setting, this has a distinctly contemporary ring to it due to the religious conflict at its center.

I took my time getting through this, but Kay's prose isn't something to wolf down. It's meant to be savored, and thought about, and rolled around in the mind. Highly recommended for both historical readers willing to expand their horizons a bit, and fantasy readers open to a more subtle approach to the uncanny. There is also a short but highly informative acknowledgments section at the end, for those who are curious about which bits of history had their serial numbers filed off.





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summer thunder
Tiananmen ghosts
roll on


-- Ann K. Schwader
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People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo - and the Evil That Swallowed Her UpPeople Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo - and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I don't read -- or listen to -- a lot of true crime, but I bought this book for my dad a few years ago, & then recently saw it offered on Audible Channels. I'm glad I took the time with it, though the narrator's voice (clipped, matter-of-fact British) may have added to the experience.

This is a journalist's view of a fairly nasty serial killer case. That said, there isn't a lot of extreme graphic description, and what there is seems to be well documented. The Japanese setting was also a plus for me, since I know very little about the country (or its approach to law enforcement, which is very different from the U.S.). The primary focus is on lives and personalities, both the killer's and his victims' (and their families and friends).

I did feel as though there were some slow sections that might have been edited out, but it's hard to judge from audio. The carefully attributed, balanced viewpoint probably had something to do with this. Despite the sensational title, it's a reporter's narrative, not a thriller.



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Tor.Com http://www.tor.com/ is celebrating Space Opera Week (yes!). Author Judith Tarr has contributed an article of particular interest to those of us intrigued by women's literature:


"From Dark to Dark: Yes, Women Have Always Written Space Opera"


http://tinyurl.com/mfhyeus


This one's worth every minute of reading time, but be warned. It is loaded with useful, fascinating, & time-eating links on female writers of space opera, gender inequalities in the field, & even the Smurfette Principle (of which I was totally ignorant until today).



http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheSmurfettePrinciple
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Agents of DreamlandAgents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


One of the most elegant bits of Lovecraftian writing I've read in some time. Kiernan delivers a genuinely chilling riff on "The Whisperer in Darkness" with a touch of the X-Files (or a close approximation) and a dose of botany, all set in the farthest reaches of the Southwest. A mysterious agent known as the Signalman is investigating the aftermath of a cult gone wrong, but is he already too late? And for whom is he too late?

There's quite a bit of time-shifting and viewpoint-shifting here, and not all loose ends are neatly tied up by the novella's bleak conclusion. For me, at least, the prose style (verging on prose poetry) more than made up for a little uncertainty. The plot may be slightly predictable in an apocalyptic way, but the beauty of the writing carries it.

One caution: this one is definitely for those familiar with Lovecraft. It might or might not work as well for horror/dark fantasy fans coming in cold. As with much of this kind of fiction (Charles Stross's Laundry series comes to mind), the more you know, the more entertaining it is.



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I have a somewhat speculative haiku up today (April 29th) on the Haikuniverse site:


http://www.haikuniverse.com/

If you're reading this after 4/29, the site will give you options to view previous haiku.
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If your National Poetry Month is starting to feel a little tired & mundane, don't forget to check out the 2107 Rhysling Poets' Showcase offered on the SFPA's SPECPO blog.

https://specpo.wordpress.com/

The Showcase features poems from this year's Rhysling Anthology, a Rhysling Awards voting tool for members of Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association -- and an excellent snapshot of the year's best speculative poetry, for everyone.

Find six exciting poets -- & links to eight of their poems -- here:

https://specpo.wordpress.com/2017/04/23/2017-rhysling-poets-showcase-12/

And don't forget to check out the rest of the Showcase, as well!

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