Book Review: The Human Division

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Following the events of The Last Colony, John Scalzi tells the story of the fight to maintain the unity of the human race.

The people of Earth now know that the human Colonial Union has kept them ignorant of the dangerous universe around them. For generations the CU had defended humanity against hostile aliens, deliberately keeping Earth an ignorant backwater and a source of military recruits. Now the CU’s secrets are known to all. Other alien races have come on the scene and formed a new alliance―an alliance against the Colonial Union. And they’ve invited the people of Earth to join them. For a shaken and betrayed Earth, the choice isn’t obvious or easy.

Against such possibilities, managing the survival of the Colonial Union won’t be easy, either. It will take diplomatic finesse, political cunning…and a brilliant “B Team,” centered on the resourceful Lieutenant Harry Wilson, that can be deployed to deal with the unpredictable and unexpected things the universe throws at you when you’re struggling to preserve the unity of the human race.

Being published online from January to April 2013 as a three-month digital serial, The Human Division will appear as a full-length novel of the Old Man’s War universe, plus―for the first time in print―the first tale of Lieutenant Harry Wilson, and a coda that wasn’t part of the digital serialization.

Old Man’s War Series
#1 Old Man’s War
#2 The Ghost Brigades
#3 The Last Colony
#4 Zoe’s Tale
#5 The Human Division
#6 The End of All Things
Short fiction: “After the Coup”

 

 

MY REVIEW

Mr. Scalzi attempted a new format of releasing 13 episodes as mini-ebooks; similar to the old method of serializing a story in newspapers or magazines (everything that is old is new again). A format option popular with self-published authors. After the episodes were all released, his publisher put together the whole thing in book format, adding two extras.

I did not read this during the episodic releases, and discovered the hard-copy book did not work very well as a straight read-thru. The characters’ lives had ebbs and swells that needed a break every three or four episodes. After getting about half-way through the book, I needed to set it aside for a week. Since my work was asking for 60 to 80-hour weeks during the time I was reading this book, it actually functioned well. Every Saturday I would set aside time to read three more episodes.

The writing is typical, brilliant Scalizi – a combination of humor and observations that are just too much fun. He continues to create a new character voice for each book. I love that his characters are unique – Zoe’s Tale had a teenage girl voice; The Human Division had a combination – each episode had a different POV (point of view) of diplomatic approaches. As such the diplomatic-POV did not have the pure snark factor of his first book of the universe (Old Man’s War). 

I should note the uniqueness of the universe is beginning to wane simply because of familiarity of the World – now in book five – but the universe hasn’t reached comfortable glove status. So, in places, this book felt … awkward… like a teenager – no longer a cute, shiny baby to ooh&aah over, but not fully mature like a George R. Dickson Dorsai! universe story.

This story is essential to the ongoing Old Man’s War Universe. It clearly sets up the conspiracy for the next story.

Worth the read, just do it in chunks for maximum enjoyment – the way it was originally published on the Internet.

Book Review: Athena’s Daughters

Book Cover for Athena's Daughters Anthology

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Athena’s Daughters is an anthology published by the small press, Silence in the Library.

Athena’s Daughters is a collection of short fiction by women about women from some of the best writers in science fiction and fantasy today.

 

MY REVIEW

Athena’s Daughters is a powerful anthology written by women, edited by women, illustrated by women, about women. And a very good read in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi genre. Stories range from steampunk (Looking Back by Danielle Ackley-McPhail)) to superhero (Commando Bats by Sherwood Smith), Gothic ghost (The World to Come by Cleolinda Jones) to time travel (First Flight by Mary Robinette Kowal), modern urban fantasy (Retribution by Gail Z Martin) to military sci-fi (Not Broken, Just Bent by Tera Fullbright).

I don’t think I have seen a book with such a wide range of ages for the main characters before. Some of the females are in their twenties, some forties, and some sixties (and then there are the vampires). Nice to see older women make an impact on the world. In addition to being stories about women and having a wide range of ages, the stories also have other character traits of “diversity” (see below for some details).

Stories that grabbed me:
Commando Bats – Hera, in her contrary wisdom, has stolen the powers of male gods who were being stupid and granted them to little old ladies around the world to show them how people can use the power for good. Being the goddess of the hearth and women, of course she chose to grant the powers to females. The main point-of-view character is also disabled. I would love to see more superhero-themed stories about these characters.

Millie (by Janine K. Spendlove) – Another wonderful US Marine military short story from Ms. Spendlove (I have seen her in other anthologies) with a time travel twist you see coming if you know your aviation history but still enjoy the entire time. I really like how the main point-of-view character is Hispanic without pushing it on the audience – the character just happens to be Hispanic like most characters in American writing historically just happen to be white.

Are all the stories great? No, as with most anthologies unevenness in skill exists.

Overall a great read. And being an anthology, easy to set down and pick up again while doing chores. And with 22 stories (400+ printed pages if you buy the softback) a really good buy.

Flash: Reelier than Life

Picture of City

From the Library of Congress, Prints and Photograph Collection.
I found it at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pingnews/481790691/
(Please refer to link above for full copyright – Copyright is a Creative Commons variation)

The low reverberation outside my apartment draws me away from my I-Box for the first time since the ships were spotted coming towards Earth yesterday. On my balcony, I can see five ships positioning themselves in a grid above San Antonio. The hum echoes in my chest deeper than my woofer and surround sound ever could recreate.

The big black squares, each about a quarter mile square, have silver lines on one corner, similar to letters. I stare at them puzzling their meaning. My human mind tries to find something to place the logos in perspective. The ships are mostly flat with just a few tubes and depressions adding texture.

I feel sorry for the kids tonight; Halloween just got canceled.

Suddenly lights dance out of the ships like spotlights. I see what looks like spacesuits slide down the beams into the residential neighborhoods. Each ship appears to be concentrating on only one block. I look over my shoulder at my entertainment unit to see if the Internet station I was watching has a close-up.

No news people are nearby, the reporters have captured a video stream from somewhere and are trying to create a close-up effect despite the low resolution. Sparkles and digital squares do not mask the invaders weapon barrels.

Maybe they are sampling tools? I try to delude myself.

I glance back outside in time to see the lights start from the neighborhoods and return to the ships, this time with humans, or at least human bodies, inside the beams. The I-Box behind me focuses on the faces. The people are still alive.

No one is close enough to capture the sound.

They do not need to.

I watched the ships rotate 180 degrees and start lifting away from the surface. The one hundred cities the ships visited report similar behavior. Strangely the snatchers only focus on North American metropolitan areas.

At 7:15 central time, the ships well on their way back to the asteroid belt, the AOC cinema production company announces the remaking of “War of the Worlds”. Today being the 100th anniversary of Orson Wells radio reading of the H.G. Wells classic. They claim credit for the invasion as a publicity stunt.

Exhausted through I was, I could not pull myself away from the Internet. Seems the director wanted to take science fiction to the next level and spent three years developing the tools to do so. Interviews with actors and crew follow. The story how the special effect team cobbled together a limited gravity field to keep dinner down makes me laugh.

The producer makes himself sound like a modern-day George Lucas, the movie genus who invented the steady-cam and graduated science fiction from the straight-to-video genre to 24-hour-pay-viewing. The guy traded the aging 3-D technology for new laser holograms. Overall cost of the movie, with its new technological advancements, and its related advertising stunt still was under the average blockbuster budget. No big name stars were included.

I think with the publicity, the company will see a profit. The damn crazies have hooked me!

(words 511 – first published 4/17/2013; republished new blog format 12/4/2016)

Editing Rant: Copper Pennies

Fingers Holding A Penny Stock Photo

Image Courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What do your characters know?

So last editing rant I went off about Know Your Topic. You don’t want to lose readers because you presented parasailing or embroidery incorrectly. If you don’t know the topic find someone who does: topic experts, beta readers, at least a research librarian whom you are keeping in chocolates and coffee.

Equally important be aware of what you character knows.

This isn’t limited to the more common Point of View (POV) main character (MC) limitations; you may know character B dyed her hair yesterday, but MC doesn’t know yet so describes character B as a blonde. Don’t get me wrong, as an author making certain you only let your MC work from the information known to them rather than to you as the writer is essential. And challenging.

But you also need to limit them on what they are familiar with. Having a twenty-fourth century engineer know how to use a twentieth century keyboard to input information into a computer system is improbable.

Or a twenty-something person forty years after the zombie Apocalypse comparing the scent of blood to new pennies. Yes, this is a common comparison to the point of being clique. But someone born after coins stopped being minted isn’t likely to know what new pennies smelled like.

A person who has never seen the shore would not understand what the salty breeze meant.

Someone who had never been off a spaceship isn’t only going to be shocked by no sky – no walls is as big an issue. And the ship isn’t breathing. Could they even sleep at night? No mechanical noise means “we are all about to die”. How long does it take for the panic to wear off?

Back to the Smell of Blood – as an editor I couldn’t rewrite the line about new pennies. But I did find an article on the scent of blood. If you are describing lycanthropes, vampires, or just have splashes of blood throughout your manuscript you may want to follow the link to Writeworld – “Describing the Smell of Blood”.

(sigh) … And it is research like this that puts writers on watch lists.

WRITING EXERCISE: Create a scene (500 words or less) where your WIP character describes a common day item on your desk s/he is not familiar with and what the actions are taken to discover its use.

Book Review: Prime Suspects

Book Cover for Prime Suspects

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Prime Suspects by Jim Berheimer

Homicide detective David Bagini awakens on a strange world only to discover he is, in fact, the forty-second clone of the Bagini line. Having no memories of why his Prime entered into a clone contract, he wants answers.

The first problem is his Prime has been murdered and Bagini Forty-Two is now in charge of the investigation.

The second problem is all the clues point at one of his fellow clones and they already know all his tricks.

How can he solve his own murder when all the suspects have his name and face?

 

MY REVIEW

**At last, something to go with Caves of Steel on my shelves**

Prime Suspects secures a place alongside Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov in the sci-fi-mystery genre. An extremely well-done mix, mingling the police procedural and the science fiction in equal parts. Keeps one guessing to the end, but provides all the clues. A reader is right beside the detective gathering the clues and learning the world until only one possibility is left.

Jim Bernheimer‘s trademark snarky main character gets a little old in this particular book because, well, it is the distinguishing characteristic of so many of the characters, an inherent aspect of a clone story. I am pleased to see the clones remain close in personality, yet each develops as a unique person as well. The delightful comedic snarkiness of Confessions of a D-List Supervillain takes on a Noir overtone in this novel.

Worldbuilding – Oh, the sociological worldbuilding in this story is absolutely awesome. Identical twins raised apart will each develop along similar patterns; identical twins raised together will deliberately work to differentiate themselves through dress, hair and hobbies. Prime Suspects’ world shows what happens when an individualistic person suddenly is faced with dozens of twins.

And Jim takes the worldbuilding to a second level. For psychology – the struggle for ego in the detectives is worse than the waitresses because the police must work closely together instead of in isolated restaurants. For sociology – In a society without children and without elders, rampant college behavior dominates as the clones struggle to define themselves. For Social-Psychology – In a world without advancement or dreams, the clones face years of therapy, depression, and escapism.

Prime Suspects works well a police procedural, and the mystery is solid. But the story truly shines as a science fiction speculation about how a clone society might function.

(bought at a Convention from author’s booth at full price)