What We Have Read 4

From our reading journal:

New Amsterdam
Elizabeth Bear

Vampires? Been done. Add a female forensic sorcerer? Tell us more. Add an alternate history where the colonies lost the French-Indian war, New Amsterdam is still part of the British Empire in 1901, and the Empire still has a strong monarchy, with alternate near-steampunk technology? Brilliant. Include extensive character development? Please be a series.

Cruel and Unusual
J C Duffy

Collection of “Fusco Brothers” comic strips. One of my favorite books of cartoon drawings is Moot Points: imagine Kliban with more caricatures than cats, and manic absurdity turned up to “11”. Unfortunately that humor is not considered marketable by comic strip syndicators, so Duffy tones down the visual humor and relies on witty dialog and puns. Sometimes the visual humor peeks through: extreme close-ups of glaring eyebrows, and characters Axel and Gloria.

Soon I Will Be Invincible
Austin Grossman

Fatale, a cyborg who doesn’t know her own origin story, is the newest member of the New Champions, a superhero group with undercurrents of personal conflict. Doctor Impossible is a mad scientist and preeminent super villain, newly escaped and working on another scheme to take over the world, for perhaps the tenth time.

The superhero world has been parodied and explored from many unconventional angles many times, but the writer’s approach is fresh. Too often we see super villains as simply evil, without exploring the life choices and motivations for this career choice. And while the troubled personal lives of superheroes are a staple of some Silver Age stories, notably Spiderman, this story explores the self-doubts of a rookie hero trying to join a team of legendary heroes, only to learn they also have secrets, frustrations, and conflicts often found in small teams.

The Sons of Heaven
Kage Baker

It is nearing the end of recorded time 2355, and several factions within the Company are plotting to gain control and eliminate rivals. Mendoza and her three lovers form an unexpected arrangement, come to terms with their troubled individual pasts, and prepare for Destiny.

We are treated to a solid finale of the Company series.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
J K Rowling

Starts with high action, deaths early. A middle part has the heroes wandering in the wilderness, unsure what to do next, and the story drags. JK is such an adept plotter that one must assume this is her intent (pun: in tent): life first outside of school presents lots of choices that can be overwhelming. The pace begins to build, our jaws drop as key secrets are revealed, and finally the protagonists return to Hogwarts for a battle royal involving tons of characters. The series wraps with fireworks and hugs.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
J K Rowling

Re-read, preparing for the final installment.

The Canon
Natalie Angier

The writer takes us on a whirlwind tour of the sciences, with a chapter devoted to chemistry, evolutionary biology, physics, geology, etc. The great issues and key concepts of each field are touched on with clarity and wit and contagious enthusiasm.

Robert J Sawyer

Who is this writer who has won so many top SF awards, and why haven’t I heard of him? My bad.

Dr. Sarah Halifax deciphered the first message from intelligent beings, and helped draft a reply. Now, thirty eight years later, a second message has been received, and it seems to be encrypted. Sarah is 87, and rejuvenation is only affordable by billionaires, but she accepts the treatment in order to work on the message, on the condition that husband Don also receives treatment.

Sadly, on her the treatment fails, and husband and wife are now separated by years. Racing against time, Sarah struggles to understand the message, while Don must cope with “issues”.

The ideas of how the aliens would communicate their language, and what message they send, and the contents of the stunning second message are original and thought-provoking, leading to a strong ending.

This reader has a problem with plots involving infidelity. Perhaps it’s just me, but empathy for good-intentioned main characters that stray is difficult, no matter how delicately handled by the author. In this particular story, however, a solid plot, well crafted characters, and stimulating ideas outweigh my prudish distaste for marital hanky panky plotlines.

Philip Reeve, illustrated by David Wyatt

A steampunk Victorian juvenile tale in a world where Newton made quite a lot more scientific progress (evidently avoiding Mercury poisoning as in our timeline) enabling space travel in the early 1700s, so by the 19th century Britain has colonies on several planets, and strange space creatures are able to breath and swim the thin aether of outer space. Young Arthur (narrative voice) and older sister Myrtle live in an ancient mansion Larklight floating in space. After being assailed by unknown alien creatures, they are thrown into company with dread pirate Jack Havock and his alien crew, in a ripping good adventure yarn where hangs the fate of Her Majesty’s Extraterrestrial Possessions, Earth, and even the royal family.

A lot of humor derives from Myrtle’s relationship with Jack, and her pluck and bravery in situations where a young well-bred lady is expected to faint and rely upon some eligible young gentleman. Superb drawings by Wyatt, including Sears catalog-type ads in the inner jacket.

Plastic Man On the Lam! (graphic novel, juvenile fiction)
Kyle Baker

Plastic Man is stretched with influences of Mad Magazine and Tex Avery. Sillier than old episodes I remember, with at least on sight gag per panel. While working for the feds, Plas’ alter ego is framed for murder, the hero must work with and around sidekick Woozy, Chief Branner, and new addition Agent Morgan to bring the villain to justice.

Greg Bear

Mary Choy, Seattle PD, investigates a murder that leads to Omphalos in Green Idaho, suspected site for life extension for the very rich.


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