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Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries, #4)Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The Murderbot Diaries as a whole are as much about an AI evolving towards humanity as they are about solid space opera. This concluding volume is no exception, though Wells kicks the geek factor up a notch. Murderbot's hacking skills have always played a part in the narrative -- beginning with its origin story! -- but they really come to the fore in Exit Strategy. Not being particularly versed in these things myself, I got a little confused from time to time. Murderbot's final set-piece fight, however, showcases these skills in a way any SF fan is likely to cheer.

As usual, Murderbot's own snarky-yet-sympathetic voice carries the plot. And a good thing, too, because I found that plot more than slightly convoluted. The time between releases of these novellas seems just long enough to let the reader lose track of significant details, though Wells is good at weaving in reminders. That said, don't even attempt to start this series anywhere but at #1.

This final volume (or is it?) of The Murderbot Diaries brings the series' plot arc to a satisfying conclusion, though an open-ended one. And, as ever, this installment seems pricey for its length. I'd definitely recommend checking your local library's collection first.




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Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries, #3)Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The Murderbot Diaries continue to hold my interest, improving with every installment. The plot of this third offering, though still action-oriented, focuses as much on Murderbot's relationships with humans (and another bot, who seems to be a sort of pet) as it does on Murderbot's own still-murderous combat skills.

This shift from full-out SF action ( All Systems Red) to action plus interpersonal focus didn't slow down Wells' dialogue in the least, either. Murderbot remains snarky and wryly observant of the humans around it, despite its own adventures & travels as a rogue SecUnit. One of its most poignant comments came near the end:

I hate caring about stuff. But apparently once you start, you can't just stop.

I'm having the same problem with this series, so I was glad to see that my local library has The Murderbot Diaries #4 on order. With any luck, I'll be the second person to dig into it this fall.








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Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, #2)Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a fine sequel to All Systems Red (which you should definitely read first, if you haven't), & expands upon Murderbot's world of humans, augmented humans, & bots of various flavors. If anything, Murderbot's observations about both humanity & itself are more pointed.

The plot of this one starts directly after All Systems Red. To avoid spoilers, I'll just say that it involves suppressed information, stolen files, at least a couple doses of good old-fashioned SF violence, & a transport with an AI every bit as snarky as Murderbot itself. Murderbot also goes through certain modifications to appear more human (at least augmented human), which gives him no end of psychological grief.

I continue to find these novellas great -- & thoughtful - fun, though the pricing problem remains. This time around, I checked out a Kindle copy from my local library.



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All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)All Systems Red by Martha Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A right-sized, straight-up SF mystery tale -- from the POV of a self-aware security android. This last bit makes all the difference. Murderbot (its own name for itself, due to a nasty piece of backstory) seems more aware of its own motivations -- and the motivations of others -- than any of the humans or augmented humans in this story.

I found Murderbot's quirky, brutally honest voice the most compelling thing about this visit to an Evil Corporate Future. The rest of the SF trappings are done well enough, but (for me) only this unique POV made the adventure stand out. I really liked Murderbot, which is why I'm sad about the Kindle pricing of future entries in the Murderbot Diaries. Novel prices for novella-length works, no matter how Nebula-winning, are pretty much a nonstarter for me

Fortunately, my local library has the next volume on order.





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big blue pin
in their invasion map
Earth Day


-- Ann K. Schwader
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The Island of Dr. MoreauThe Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I was expecting more horror and less philosophy from this one, but was actually fascinated to see how deep into the human condition Wells goes while telling his suspenseful tale. The Island of Dr. Moreau covers a lot of ground in a very economical number of pages, and quite a few of its observations age well. The anti-vivisection argument is over (it may have been aided by this novel), but the question of how Law is made and who gets to make it -- for whose benefit -- is still with us.

On the science fiction side of things, this is a very early "uplift" story, dealing with the unexpected consequences of forcing humanity on animals by brutal means. And, like Mary Shelley's over-ambitious protagonist, Moreau doesn't know when to quit.

One caution to modern readers: this novel was first published in 1896. Keep that in mind, and you'll have more sympathy for its protagonist (or at least I did).



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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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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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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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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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I don't usually post about crowdfunding projects, but I've recently backed one (also rare for me!) that I'm pretty excited about.

Tony C. Smith of the District of Wonders podcasts is doing a Kickstarter for a new SF/F anthology.  It's entitled Everyone: Worlds Without Walls.  Its stated goal is to:

explore and celebrate how we are greater together – and, conversely, the need to tear down walls of ignorance, prejudice, and injustice.

The TOC for this one is international, diverse, & impressive -- and will expand as stretch goals are met.   Dr. Amy H. Sturgis[livejournal.com profile] eldritchhobbit will be writing the introduction. At this point, there are 21 writers involved!

With 10 days to go,  the project's original goal and one stretch goal have been met.  Pledge levels range from the extremely reasonable -- which gets you a e-copy of the anthology -- to more generous amounts for additional rewards.

All details, including that expanding TOC, can be found here.

(Full disclosure: I am backing this, but I am not one of the writers or otherwise involved with the project.)
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Issue #22 of Eye to the Telescope, the SFPA's online journal of speculative poetry, has gone live!

In keeping with the season, this is the "Ghosts" issue. Edited by Shannon Connor Winward, it offers 27 spectral poems ranging from Gothic horror to folktale to spooky SF. There's a range of forms as well, though this issue runs pretty heavily toward free verse.

And, yes, Yours Truly does have something here: the terza rima sonnet "New World Haunting."
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If you're a Sinclair Lewis fan, a dystopian devotee, and/or a political junkie of any stripe, StarShipSofa's most recent segment of Looking Back on Genre History is a must listen.

In Episode # 451, Dr. Amy H. Sturgis[livejournal.com profile] eldritchhobbit offers an entertaining -- if chilling -- discussion of Lewis's 1935 dystopian novel It Can't Happen Here. Lots of fascinating background on the book's origins, with (I think) a minimal number of spoilers. I haven't read this one yet myself, but it's just gone to the top of my Kindle's virtual Read Soon pile.

Find the episode here, or on iTunes.
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I'm a day late for her birthday, it seems -- but there is no bad day to post about James Tiptree, Jr., & I only stumbled across this very informative article on Tor.com today.

What James Tiptree, Jr. Can Teach Us About the Power of the SF Community

If you aren't (yet) familiar with Tiptree's groundbreaking work -- most of it short fiction -- Tor.com also has a link for that!

Where to Start with the Works of James Tiptree, Jr.

Either way, happy belated birthday to one of the most unique voices in women's SF.

Or SF, period.
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The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This was a reread for me, though I originally read it so long ago that little had stayed with me beyond a good dystopian chill. It still has that, of course – and, if anything, that chill has settled deeper.

What it also has, however, is marvelously lyrical prose. Atwood is also a poet, and most of the book’s descriptive passages reflect this. It’s a bit odd to find yourself stopping in the middle of a truly bleak novel to admire the beauty of the writing, but I did this time and again.

Rereading this after at least a couple of decades also gave me an entirely different view of the main character. In a society obsessed with fertility, older women have few options and little worth aside from their husbands. Younger women have a different, if equally limited, set of options. Which side of the age divide the reader is on matters a lot! To be fair, there’s an age divide for the male characters in this novel, as well. Atwood may not draw it as clearly, but it is no less real – and I suspect male readers will experience it more fully than I did.

A recommended reread (as well as a first read) for fans of literary dystopias, or still-edgy feminist spec fiction.




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I’ve been traveling, so this announcement of the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s 2016 Rhysling Awards is more than a little belated . . .

But is there ever a bad time for good news?

Check out the complete results here. (Maybe check the results for Long Form first.)

And, if you feel so inclined, you can still order your own copy – print or PDF -- of the 2016 Rhysling Anthology here. 176 pp. of nicely produced spec poetry goodness!

(Profound apologies for the fizziness – but whenever a formal Lovecraftian sonnet sequence can get this sort of recognition, it’s time for a Grateful Happy Dance.)
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Earth Day
the archived hologram
flickers


-- Ann K. Schwader
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Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Vorkosigan Saga, #16)Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


It’s almost impossible to review this one without spoilers. Suffice it to say that this is what fans of the Vorkosigan universe have been waiting for since the ending of Cryoburn.

Set three years after those events, this is a lovely, strange, and mature romantic comedy with science-fiction packaging – some of that quite thought-provoking. It is also a Secret History of the Aral / Cordelia marriage, an advanced course in Betan vs. Barrayaran thinking, and a number of other delightful things, all delivered with style and wit.

What is isn’t is the sort of space opera Bujold does very well. It took me a few chapters to realize this wasn’t forthcoming, and I was slightly confused until I did. I also suspect that this book may resonate more with readers who are parents than with those of us who aren’t. However, it’s a must for all fans of this series – and very likely to result in frantic rereading of the earlier books.




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The Left Hand of DarknessThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


First published in 1969, Le Guin’s classic novel of gender, diplomacy, friendship, adventure, and heartbreaking choices on an Ice Age planet is as fresh as ever. SF readers who prefer a “full immersion” experience -- or anyone who appreciates hard questions combined with jaw-droppingly lovely prose – should not miss it.

This was my second reading. I suspect it would reward several more.




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