Book Review: Duplicate Effort (Retrieval Artist #7)

Book Cover from Amazon

Duplicate Effort (Retrieval Artist #7) by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON

Retrieval Artist Miles Flint has a mission: take down the law firm of Wagner, Stuart, and Xendor. He enlists the aides of old friends and old enemies. But as the mission gets underway, one member of his team dies horribly.

Flint can no longer take on the entire universe. He violated the rules of his Retrieval Artist mentor and now has a lot to lose. But he can’t reverse the events he set in motion—and the crisis he caused might destroy everything—and everyone—he loves.

International bestselling writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch has won two Hugo awards, a World Fantasy Award, and three Asimov’s Readers Choice Awards. IO9 called her six (so far) bestselling, award-winning Retrieval Artist novels, inspired by this novella, one of the top ten science fiction detective series ever.

 

MY REVIEW

First off, love.the.book.title “Duplicate Effort”, which has more than one meaning in the story.

This is the first of the fifteen-book “Retrieval Artist” series I read and it is the 7th of the series and works well as a stand-alone, though I believe it would work better if read in order. The author does provide good insight to the other books like a universe building on itself.

Second, I love the initial premise. What is a cop to do with a self-cleaning crime scene? How do you save the evidence before it is destroyed?

Each layer of the book get more and more interesting. I’m not going to go any further so I don’t give any of the mysteries away. 

Geeking Science: Inspiration

Image courtesy of Nasa: Jeanette Epps

The most valuable commodity in the world is human intellect. We can’t dig it up, refine it, and put it on the market in a quick just-in-time product stream. Intellect, in all its forms, requires discovery, shaping, honing, and continued usage. Whether a person excels in spacial, verbal, social, political, mathematical, educational, technological, or musical aspects of understanding the world, each individual must be given a safe, welcoming environment to sharpen the intellect to its fullest. Doing otherwise is burning scare resources and delaying advancement.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) has been throwing away millions of IQ points a year with their neglect, nay, their criminal abuse of women, especially women of color. In a field where “nerdy geeks” rule, women have been kicked out of the treehouse. Half of humanity actively discouraged from participation, and people wonder why we don’t have flying cars and we aren’t living on Mars?

July 2017 released study created from interviewing 474 astronomers and planetary scientist revealed Doctorate level women scared to attend conferences or participate in field research. Let me repeat that – women our society has trained to be the best, invested over 20 years of education, because of PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE cannot attend intellectual exchanges or go to isolated locations with their co-workers because they fear for their physical and mental health. Really, WTF? (See “Women of Color Face a Staggering Amount of Harassment in Astronomy“)

Last year #MeToo had a month of buzz on Facebook and social media as woman after woman spoke about her personal experiences. I include some of my experiences along that line in “Blog: Made Me Look“. Shortly after the month of #MeToo, the celebrity circle suffered a “witch hunt” (as some called it) of improper sexual behavior accusations. Most women I know just blinked and muttered “about time.” The long-standing joke of “sleeping on the casting bed” had its covers pulled back.

Sexual harassment costs society brains, women who choose not to go into fields where only men live. Women cautiously refusing life in the military, avoiding writing because of backlash, staying home from conferences instead of sharing papers.

Maybe a part of your brain is whispering “good”, maybe another part of you has cancer which a woman who could have discovered a life-saving cure in your lifetime never entered the field after threats were made in her pre-med classes. 

Yes, someone is likely to figure it out. After all, science is just a study of the world and discovering how it works. Eventually a solution can be found. Depending on how many people are looking, “eventually” can be minutes or decades away. 

Pushing half the people out of the STEM treehouse is beyond stupid. 

A quick perspective of how making the scientific community hostile to women and people of color affect research: ORCID – A non-profit research organization with 1 million registered scientists is 33% women. The number of women in the organization would need to MORE THAN DOUBLE to achieve parity of gender.**

You can’t get those numbers overnight.

Not even in astronomy.

So how do we help those that can’t help themselves? Provide inspiration.

People emulate what they see in fiction. Having Uhura on the Enterprise bridge inspired hundreds, thousands of people – women and people of color.

Writers can provide a face for people to see in fields they never thought to try. Make people question how the world should work. Point them in a direction.

WRITING EXERCISE:  Write a STEM flash with a woman of color as a positive protagonist. Be sure she has the strongest agency in the story and not a front for a different member of the cast.

READING EXERCISE: Find a biography or autobiography of a woman or person of color who had been in space and read it.

Wikipedia has the following astronaut lists

Women: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_female_astronauts (include US, Soviet, Chinese, Korea, Italy, India, and more)

African-American: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_African-American_astronauts

Asian: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Asian_astronauts

Hispanics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Hispanic_astronauts

And you can go here to find the Arab, Jewish, and Muslim lists as well as by country splits: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_astronauts

***

** Statistics calculation – 33 doubled is 66. Divide 66 by 100+33 (66/133) and you only got 49%. 

Flash: Unloading

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The noise of a thousand bodies in a small space quieted as the ship doors opened to reveal the immigrants new home. Non-canned air slipped in on hot wind, replacing human stink with the unmistakable odor of sulfur. Human noses inhaled deeply the pungent scent, glad for something new to smell after so many days in transit. Bright natural light rushed to fill the corners of the room as the doors widened enough for the ramp to be deployed.

Clarence huddled mid-way in the masses with his family. The trip had indentured them for ten years labor. More likely twenty years for him and Monique to cover the costs of Grandpa and Nanna’s trip. They were young and could suck it up. Food and other living expenses were going to keep the family down for a generation. Still, they had gotten out of the ghetto.

He waited for the other shoe to fall. He figured he wasn’t about to step into Eden. Others might buy the brave new world bit the recruiters sell. But there had to be a reason why they recruited in the slums and not in the colleges. Someone needed to do the work before brains arrived.

The people at the front stepped back seeing their new home. A few started wailing and cursing.

His dad and Gramps pushed the crowd back from the women on one side, Clarence stepped between the family and the mob on the other. Lincoln, a young man and his pregnant wife who had befriended the family on the trip out, helped him. On this new world they were going to be family too. That is if the company allowed it.

Yelling started in the front, and the side walls started slowly moving inward, forcing people off the ship. Nothing for it but to leave, although a few people fought the issue. Idiots, like a company is going to pay to haul bodies out here and allow you to turn around to go back.

Bridges burnt, Clarence and his clan stepped onto their new planet.

(Words 343 – first published 5/30/2013; republished new blog format 1/7/2018)

Book Review: Wool

Book Cover from Amazon

Wool by Hugh Howey

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON

Thousands of them have lived underground. They’ve lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside.

Or you’ll get what you wish for.

 

MY REVIEW

This one is a little weird to write up. Originally published as a short story of only 50 pages, the story was so popular Mr. Howey was encouraged to write a followup, and then another, until he wrote a total of five books in a series (over 500 pages available as a single omnibus as well as sold separately). And that series did so well he added another trilogy. And that did so well he is allowing others to write in his Silo world. So do I rate the story as a short story or the first of a series? Because as a short story it is thought-provoking and as a series introduction, the world-building has huge holes unacceptable for the long-form.

Mr. Howey writes some pretty good short stories that make you think. A number of his stories available on Amazon show his like for this format. “Wool”, as a short story, follows a man mourning his wife and dealing with a post-apocalyptic world where everyone is locked in a buried multistory building with only a few windows to the outside world, which slowly get covered in grime. The story covers both the present day and the history leading to his wife’s death. Wool removes the grime and allows clear-seeing to how the world really is. “Wool” is a solid short story worthy of a good anthology or collection.

As the first of a series, “Wool” lacks a lot. The survival just doesn’t seem possible. To start, how does the central staircase survive? Diamond treads wear off in just a couple of decades, not the 200 plus years they have been inside and using this as a major thoroughfare. Yes, no weather – still humans produce a lot of water naturally. Moisture and rust and use would have killed this in the first 50 years. Second, where does the wool come from – or any of the cleaning products. A carbon suit? Argon? The digital screen? So much is just not possible. I don’t know if he resolved these issues in later books. Again, his original book was not aimed at being anything but a short story and short story worlds do not need to make complete sense. They need to get a reaction – and this story definitely achieves that.

But not enough, for me at least, to continue in this depressing post-apocalyptic world. I agree with the main character who says the children books with green and blue just speak to a person. You know those are the correct colors. I don’t want to read about a people locked in a buried tower without sunlight or hope. Although it would be interesting to see how they survive. How it changes what it means to be human.

Picked up while free on Kindle; using typical marketing model – first of a five book series, with the first book free.

Flash: Open Door Policy

Image courtesy of Phil_Bird at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Floors and walls first shook, then thrummed. Step.Step.Step boomed, vibrating the air as the Orcian left their headquarters single file. My stomach dropped to my knees, which wasn’t far as I huddled down behind some crates in the industrial section of the station. I glimpsed their beetle plates, shiny black, crossed with matted black straps for weapons. More knifes, guns, and curved hooks than any human would think of carrying. They would slow us down, much too much, when we needed to run from the Orcian down here in the ragged-halls.

The gleam of white here and there from their beady eyes and overbite tusks dripped icy sweat down my back, making me shiver. Seven foot, or more, and a quarter ton, each biological hybrid moved with a fast precision somewhere between military and mob, an avalanche heading to whatever helpless soul had raised their ire this time. They ruled the dark and low places like the angel hybrids ruled the planets and the station links.

My friend put a hand on my shoulder to calm my tremors. Her pale blue eyes sparkled with adventure, a grin creasing her lips. She mouthed, “Wait”.

Why did I let her talk me into this? We were going to die. We were going to get caught. Run over. Beaten. I wanted to breathe deep to calm my nerves but scared the Orcian would hear the inhale over their trooper boots pounding the metallic floors. I reminded myself their human-alien hybrid lost most of human acuteness in the senses of sound, smell, and sight. A trade-off the scientists who made the biological monstrosities took for strength and endurance. Pity they hadn’t thought about the emotional end of things, Orcian like their Angel brethren had no compassion. But I had no pity for the scientists themselves, the first to fall at the hands of their creations forty years ago, only for the rest of natural humanity who had inherited their legacy.

Once the floor ceased vibrating and the last echoes faded from the cavern-corridor, and we waited a bit more, Pips leaned forward and whispered, “Let’s go!”

I bent-scurried behind her as we dashed to the headquarter entrance. The normal guards usually stationed either side followed their cohort through the lower levels.

As she found from her previous excursions, the Black only knows why she hung around so close to the Orcian, the front door was ajar. Barely, but enough for two thin ragged-hall rats to slip between the huge metallic door and its air-lock seal. Another metallic door faced us, equally cracked open just enough. A double-seal with opposite openings for strength during decompression. Both left unlocked and unguarded. Like an arrogant statement, “No one dare enter our realm even when we aren’t here.”

Or, if not a statement, then a trap.

I followed my best friend into the room. Twenty doors opened off the main chamber of the quarters. The walls soared up nearly twelve feet, but the ceiling receded even further. They had carved out the overhead floor giving them two eight foot levels plus the couple feet between the floor/ceiling plates used for maintenance and services – the wires and vents usually hidden, twisted off of normal paths to follow the top of the make-shift walls.

Pips laughed out loud and spun in a circle. “Told you!”

“Yes you did.” I nodded as I walked inside the most non-human place in the whole no-longer human universe, quickly searching for what we could take. I pocketed some rations tossed randomly about the room, each meal size, likely light snacks for the Orcian. For me, an entire day of food.

We started opening the doors, which led to small, for them, sleep spaces. Just enough room for a cot and locker. The locker had armor bits, no coins or cards because they could take whatever they wanted, and, strangely, underwear. It was human male underwear, tighty-whitie variety. Each pair was wider than my shoulders. My brain stopped a moment.

I knew they were part human. But … For a second I saw my brother running around in his underwear, making jokes in our sleeping rooms, before he got caught in one of the Orcian avalanches.

I slammed the door shut on the locker and the memory. Nothing about these monsters could be human. I refused to allow it.

“Hey Spanner!” came a whisper shout.

I popped back into the main room and looked around. Pips’ head emerged out of a wall. Now that is intriguing. What did the monsters need with a hologram? Pips’ wild grin had taken over her entire face. “Got your kit with you girl?”

“You know it.” I rushed over and stepped through the hologram. A door. Metal. Closed. Locked.

The wall here only went up the traditional eight feet with the floor/ceiling covering the space. I walked around the separated room. The roof to the room had been cut and isolated from all maintenance services. Studying the floor, I noticed welds and rivets indicating a possible matching isolation below.

Something off the grid.

I looked up to find Pips staring at me. My grin had to match hers. Returning to the locked door, I stroked the alum-steel challenge. A physical lock, no visible electronic. Not really a surprise there if they wanted it off of the grid. Most of the ragged rats would be totally stopped, but I pride myself in being well-rounded. The richer folks in the link levels like a combination of the strange physical with traditional electronic methods to protect their valuables. I don’t go up to those levels, since I can’t pass for anything but a 100% natural. But some of the rats who work up-levels bring me things which spring open to reveal other things, given the right kind of careful encouragement.

The lock, locks – several layers of them, was fun. Took me nearly ten minutes to open all the various bits, but the obstinate barrier gave up eventually.

“Weapons? Money? What do you think?” Pips whispered in anticipation.

Smiling back at her, I tapped the metal with the reproducer I had had to break out to take visuals to get around the last tumbler. With a bit of bravo and self-satisfaction, I opened the door.

Our jaws dropped.

That equipment wasn’t legal anywhere anymore. The Angels didn’t want any competition.

Unthinking, my finger nervously tapped the reproducer in my hand while my mind processed how much danger we were in. “We need to leave now.” I looked over at my unstoppably cheerful friend and watched her swallow in fear.

She nodded, and we slammed the door shut. She backed to the other side of the hologram before muttering. “No evidence.”

I stared at her, my eyes widening then I backed through the hologram again and worked my way through the Black-begotten lock, returning it to its previous state. When I returned to the other side of the electronic illusion, I found her hopping from foot to foot, her eyes subdued but brightening.

“All good?”

“Clean except…” I slapped where the reproducer had been secreted on my body. Did those taps take pictures? Doesn’t matter, what’s done is done. She didn’t need to know. “Yeah, clean. You?”

“No prints anywhere.”

“Great.” As we hurried to the entrance, I felt it.

The vibrations.

The floor trembled.

We had taken too long. Maybe. We.needed.to.move.

The pounding of boots shook the walls. Walls built to withstand decompression. Pips froze just before the door. I slipped by her and grabbed her hand to pull her through to the between area but she didn’t budge. I twisted to go back through the first crack when the outer door slammed open catching me between it and the wall.

The second door, the one I had just passed through with Pips on the other side, plowed through the air into the quarters as a hand big enough to palm my face and curl the fingers around the back of my head pushed it open. I saw the whites of her eyes as her pupils pinpointed. She glanced to me only a second, pleading, begging, before blanking her face. The Black bless her.

She backed up into the main room as a wall of plate passed by, blocking my ability to see her.

“What do we have here?” A voice deeper than any I have ever heard questioned. I lost the crack as another wall of shiny beetle plate pushed the door edge completely against the wall, preventing me from seeing anything else. I heard second voice state, “A thief.”

Another ton of monster caused the floor to tremble. “A toy.” Laughter. The pounding boots continued as each hybrid passed into their quarters. I inched further and further into the open area, until I reached the furthest corner between the door and the wall, trembling in time with the footsteps.

“Do I get any?” Said the deepest, strongest voice yet. It’s location the corridor side of the airlock, high above my head.

“After your shift.” Came the uncompromising reply. Several things laughed. The door on the quarters side slammed shut.

The corridor door, the one I hid behind, started moving. “Just my luck,” growled the guard before closing the other door catching me between in the dark.

Pips screamed for a long time. I could hear it through the airlock, the full seal wasn’t in place so air could circulate. She lasted beyond the guard shift change. It took a long, long.

Long.

Time before she stopped making any sound.

Five shift changes.

I stayed shivering in the corner. Terrified every time they opened the door. Terrified to move from the safe corner where they couldn’t see me. Terrified to sleep. Once or twice I slumped, but dared not close my eyes because I would fall down. The bars in my pocket mocked me, but I didn’t know when I could piss again so I didn’t eat them. I grew dizzy from thirst.

Inside, between the doors, I dreamed of warm liquid running down my legs, puddling on the floor. At shift change they found the puddle and me behind the door. I jerked myself upright. I hadn’t been sleeping. I rubbed my face.

With hands covered in blood. That was the puddle on the floor. Beside Pips body. Blood flowing from her to me. I left her, and her blood found me. Shuttering I pushed myself deeper in the corner.

Stay awake. Stay awake.

So thirsty. Hallucinating from the thirst. Right? Her body couldn’t be here between the doors.

Shift change.

Could I piss myself and catch it to drink? Couldn’t miss. Can’t leave a puddle.

Shift change. Number nine or twelve?

I waited for the next avalanche, hoping it would arrive soon. They didn’t leave guards during avalanches. Unless they changed because they found Pips. I hoped not. I needed to get away. Before I give up. No, I can’t give up. So easy to give up. Been so long. So long. I won’t last much longer. No, must last. I could just push the door next time and give myself away. No. Don’t. But… But no.

Because if they find me. Find what is on me. I don’t think they would only play with me for a few shifts and then let me die. No, they would keep me alive a long time. I wouldn’t be a toy.

Because if they had me, they would find the thing on me. They would find the reproducer and those pictures my fingers had tapped. The pictures of the illegal equipment. Pictures capturing the movement I saw inside the equipment.

(Words 1940 – first published 12/31/2017)