Sunday, January 19, 2020

Take Us To A Better Place: an anthology

Take Us to a Better Place 

I’m not usually a fan of anthologies. The quality and tones of the stories can be highly variable, which I find personally jarring, and one story not to my taste can make me stop reading the whole volume. When I read short stories, I always prefer single authors collections. 

In addition, I’m often skeptical of corporate sponsored anthologies - the messaging can be heavy handed and the contributors sub-par. 

So why did I request a eARC of Take Us To A Better Place, a “culture of health”-themed short story collection by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation?  

Well, I get up in central New Jersey, so I have some childhood memories of emergency room visits to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. 

More importantly, I saw the list of contributors to the collection and I decided to take a chance. There are new stories here by authors Madeline AshbyHannah Lillith AssadiCalvin BakerFrank BillYoon Ha LeeMike McClellandKaren LordAchy ObejasDavid A. Robertson, Selena Goulding, and Martha Wells

Once saw that there was a new story by Martha Wells and Yoon Ha Lee I decided to take the plunge. After devouring the Macinieries of Empire series by Yoon Ha Lee and the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells (not to mention the Raksura books) I decided to give it a go. 

I was not disappointed. As promised, the stories in the collection deal with the extrapolation of where a culture of health could bring us in the future. 

In Yoon Ha Lee’s excellent “The Erasure Game” we see just how dystopian a future controlled by the gamification of health tracker data could be. 

In Martha Wells’s short story “Obsolescence”, a beleaguered station administrator on a space station full of children has to deal with a serial killer. Without spoiling anything, I can say that the story dealt interestingly with the issues of health care for an aging population, as well as touching on issues of childcare and prosthetic replacements.  

Did the stories in the collection lean a little heavily on their theme? Of course they did. Were they still well written and enjoyable? Yes!

You can learn more and request a free copy yourself from Robert Wood Johnson here:

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Sea Change by Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress is a master of short form storytelling. 

I first (re)discovered Nancy Kress a few years ago when I was in an reading dry spell. I was listlessly perusing the library shelves feeling like I had nothing to read when I came across a copy of her then-just published novella After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall. I recognized her name from having read Beggars in Spain years before so I picked it up. 

It blew me away. The book was a masterpiece. The author created a fully realized world, She didn’t need a thousand pages to do it. Up until that point I had been disdainful of shorter works; Nancy Kress made me realize just how much hard work and talent was needed to excecise economy when world building. 

Nancy Kress writes hard sf. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Just because the hard science she’s basing her work on is usually biology instead of physics doesn’t make it any less hard. 

I quickly sought out every volume of Ms. Kress’s short fiction I could find on my library’s shelves. Which brings me to today. 

I was lucky enough to be granted an eARC of Sea Change (thanks to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications). It was, in a word, fantastic. Ms. Kress has crafted a brilliant and frighteningly realistic near future world where genetically modified foods are a crime and anyone trying to use science feed the hungry is hunted down by the government. It is a taut thriller that never slows down and leaves you wanting more. 

The protagonist Renata is a beautifully drawn character, realistically flawed and hauntingly familiar. I don’t want to spoil any of her arc but I will say that the final revelation of how she is betrayed was both surprising and did not feel like a cheat. 

Very minor spoiler: I wish the book had come with trigger warnings for death of a child/parental bereavement. 

That being said I wholeheartedly recommend this. Buy it when it comes out in April. I bet it’ll be on your 2021 Hugo ballot! It’ll be on mine!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Salvation Lost by Peter F. Hamilton

Peter F. Hamilton’s latest tome, Salvation Lost, is fantastic and well worth your time. 

I have been a fan of Peter F. Hamilton since I first got Fallen Dragon as an SFBC book of the month. I fell in love with his worldbuilding and excellent characters. I plowed through the Nights Dawn series and still remember how I felt when, not realizing it was not a standalone novel, I blitzed through Pandora’s Star when it was first published and howled with dismay as I turned the last page and realized I was left with a cliffhanger as momentous as when Riker said “Mr. Worf, fire.”

So of course I was excited when the Salvation trilogy began last year, and of course I couldn’t wait to find out what happened after the cliffhanger at the end of the first volume. I was lucky to get an eARC from Net Galley and it did NOT disappoint. 

In addition to following the same characters as the last book in both the near future and far future timelines, Mr. Hamilton has added a number of additional characters - a British Street gang of thieves and drug dealers who make up their own found family. This group had some well rounded characters in it that you want to root for as well as some venal and despicable people that bring to mind Hamilton’s take on the ghost of Al Capone or an early obnoxious Dudley Bose. 

I don’t want to get into too many spoilers, but this volume follows directly from the end of the last book, but does not progress too far in time. It had a bit of middle-book-in-trilogy syndrome, inasmuch as, at times, it felt like it was building without conclusion or spinning its wheels. Having read most of Mr. Hamilton’s work, I know that I cannot fully judge this book until the series is concluded and I finish the reread - only then will I understand exactly why he made some of the choices he did. 

None of that detracts from my overall conclusion that this book is fantastic and I cannot wait for volume 3!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Meet me in the Future by Kameron Hurley

Kameron Hurley is a treasure.  I first heard about her on Ann Leckie’s blog a few years ago, when Leckie had gushed about Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion several months before it was published.  When it finally came out, I got a copy from the library and was blown away.  Her worldbuilding was so intricate and her characterization so amazing.  I still find myself, years later, thinking about different scenes and being haunted by some of her imagery.  (Also, I never stop smiling when I think of the alternate title:

Earlier this year, I just had to buy Hurley’s The Light Brigade, which I found to be unputdownable. A masterpiece! It’s going on my Hugo nomination ballot next year for sure.

So I was thrilled when I saw that her new short story collection, Meet Me in the Future, was coming out this summer! I received an eARC from NetGalley and tore through it! If the Stars Are Legion was a banquet, this collection of Hurley’s short fiction was like a chef’s table of small, delectable plates that leave you wanting more. 

This collection is filled with a wide range of different kinds of stories – fantasies and science fictional tales, adventures and dramas, small character moments and big wows. 
Two of the stories are in the same universe, following a body-swapping soldier who can upload his mind into corpses and reanimate them when they feel that they are about to die.  Once again, Hurley’s worldbuilding skills are top notch.  In a short story, an author has so much less space with which to create a fully realized universe, but time and again Hurley managed this monumental task.  

Some stories were quite emotionally moving, such as the one where a child has to accompany her mother to a war memorial.

Even in her serious pieces, Hurley’s trademark humor shines through.  I nearly chortled out loud on my morning commute reading her hostage negotiator’s reasoning for requisitioning a dog.  

For Fans of The Stars Are Legion, there is a story here that is a possible prequel, explaining a bit about how that universe came to be.  The collection also includes the original short story version of The Light Brigade that Hurley later developed into her novel.  It is a fascinating read after having enjoyed the novel – it is like an unpopped kernel of corn, just waiting to explode.
I cannot recommend this short story collection enough.  If you are not familiar with Kameron Hurley’s work, it is an excellent introduction and jumping off point.  After reading this, I am going to check out her Worldbreaker Saga and the Bel Dame Apocrypha series.  If you have read her novels before, then you definitely should buy this collection.  

I’d like to thank the publisher and NetGalley for the eARC I received – all opinions are my own.  I’ll leave you with the table of contents to peruse.  

Buy this book!

“Elephants and Corpses”
“When We Fall”
“The Red Secretary”
“The Sinners and the Sea”
“The Women of Our Occupation”
“The Fisherman and the Pig”
“The Plague Givers”
“Warped Passages”
“Our Faces, Radiant Sisters, Our Faces Full of Light!”
“The Corpse Archives”
“The War of Heroes”
“The Light Brigade”
“The Improbable War”

Seanan McGuire’s Laughter at the Academy

Seanan McGuire can do it all - fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Her stories are equal parts funny, tragic, and inspiring. This is her first short story collection under her own name and I sure hope it’s not the last. Her pseudonym, Mira Grant, had a collection a few years back of short stories in her Newsflesh universe, but, unlike that collection, nothing in this volume comes from one of her established universes (although I would sincerely love to read more stories set in the Dollmaker’s world or after the dinosaur apocalypse).

Ms. McGuire is one of the most prolific novelists writing today, but, as someone who does not read a lot of anthologies, I did not realize that she was an equally prolific short story writer. If you are like me, coming to all of this material fresh, you are in for a treat! Also some tricks along the way (after all, it is being released on Halloween).

If you already love her work, buy this book. You won’t regret it. If you are new to her work, this book is an excellent introduction to Seanan McGuire’s incomparable talents.

Ms. McGuire is not only an amazing storyteller but an all around fantastic person. I have had the good fortune to meet her at several signings at both NYCC and my local comic book store, and I cannot stress enough how wonderful she is. I was lucky enough to be granted an eARC of this book though Net Galley, but that didn’t stop me from preordering a physical copy from Subterranean Press. I can’t wait to get it signed by Ms. McGuire next year!

Introductions are for people who can’t handle in medias res

My name is Harrison, and Jim has graciously allowed me to post content here. I’ll mostly be posting book reviews and other musings.

Jim thought I should introduce myself but I found that idea boring. I read a lot - mostly SFF - and I wanted someplace to write about that. If you need to know more about me, check out this link: