Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - My Shelf-Filling Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly blog event sponsored by The Broke and the Bookish.

Let me tell you something, folks:  this was a harder entry to write than it should be.  I have books in my house the way that many people have dust bunnies - they're everywhere, in every room (even under the beds from time to time) and periodically float through the air when company's over and land in your coffee.  Well, something like that, anyway.

Anyway, with books scattered through every room in the house, and even more in boxes in storage - there is no way I was going to hunt-and-count every book by every author.  Here's my gut instinct on the authors who take up more shelf space than others, but in no particular order.

1. Tamora Pierce.  Her books aren't long, but she almost always writes her YA books in quartets.  I have all of her Tortall series and several of the other ones.  This means a lot of volume on my shelves.

2. Mercedes Lackey.  Her earlier works are better - and if you missed it, her earlier works have touched a soft spot inside of me, but I still have many of her Valdemar series in mass market and more than a few of the other books (including the Joust series) in hardcover.

3. Lois McMaster Bujold.  She writes both fantasy and sci-fi, and her Vorkosigan series has been running for years now.

4. L. Frank Baum.  Yes, the author of the Oz books.  I have the entire original series in the Dover editions.  In the event I ever have a kid, these will be required bedtime stories.

5. David Weber.  His Honor Harrington series is even longer than Bujold's Vorkosigan saga, so...yeah.  There are a lot of his books on my shelves.

6. Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt.  Same author, different pen names.  I have a couple of Holt's historical mysteries for some reason, but mostly I have the prolific author's historical novels written under the name Plaidy.  And a LOT of them, too.

7. Elizabeth Chadwick.  This woman writes a lot of medieval historical fiction.  I own many of them. 

8. Piers Anthony.  For the same reason as Lackey, I was turned onto his Xanth series as a teenager and have never been able to shed my collection of his books.  I have a few of his other series, too, but I never got into them the same way I loved the Xanth books.

9. Rachel Caine.  She writes adult urban fantasy and YA vampire fiction, all of which are easily found and quickly read.

10.  L. A. Meyer.  Meyer's "Bloody Jack" series currently has eleven books in it and there's another one expected.  With no end in sight, I expect more black-spine-with-red-letters books on my shelf soon.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

The Mote in God's Eye
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Blurb (courtesy of Amazon Reviews):
In the year 3016, the Second Empire of Man spans hundreds of star systems, thanks to the faster-than-light Alderson Drive. No other intelligent beings have ever been encountered, not until a light sail probe enters a human system carrying a dead alien. The probe is traced to the Mote, an isolated star in a thick dust cloud, and an expedition is dispatched. In the Mote the humans find an ancient civilization--at least one million years old--that has always been bottled up in their cloistered solar system for lack of a star drive. The Moties are welcoming and kind, yet rather evasive about certain aspects of their society. It seems the Moties have a dark problem, one they've been unable to solve in over a million years.

As part of my science fiction binge, I picked up The Mote in God's Eye as a frequent entry on "Best of Science Fiction" lists, knowing nothing more about it.  The blurb on the back of my edition makes it clear that this is a book about first contact, and that's the extent of the explanation.

Let's sum up:  humanity encounters another race that is unlike us both psychologically and physically - and yet there is a hope that we can learn from each other and live in peace.  As the story unfolds, the simple and gently charismatic "moties" reveal a darker side to their existence - which I can't really get into without giving away a big part of the story - and the initial thrill of deep space exploration and First Contact is overwhelmed by dread and fear.  A few scenes had my jaw on the floor while simultaneously shivering under my blanket from the delicious mix of "creepy" and "unforeseen."

This book has truly earned its place on the "Best Science Fiction" lists, and yet the ending leaves only questions.  Nothing is truly resolved and the authors leave it up to the reader to decide what the fate of these two species might be.  At least, that's what I thought until I realized this book is the first part of a trilogy.  Granted, it took the pair something like twenty years to finish the second and third books, but still.  Another frickin' series.  Great.

The plot is what drives this story.  There are a least a dozen named human characters (besides the moties themselves) and yet I don't think I could give a decent description of any of them, other than "token female" and "space captain."  However, that's probably okay, because this book is all about the questions it raises.  Knowing that humans are essentially animals - animals that must compete for survival or die - can we ever find a way to coexist with another sentient species whose very existence and competition might mean an end to ours?

This is not a warm-fuzzy book, nor is it really a shoot-em-up space opera.  It's a "thinking" book, in the sense that when you close it, you have to really think about it, to digest it, to absorb it.  I'm honestly not sure if I'll be continuing with the series because I don't know how the resolution of the raised questions could be better than the asking.

4+ stars!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Review: Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

Grimspace by Ann Aguirre
Book 1 of Sirantha Jax
As the carrier of a rare gene, Sirantha Jax has the ability to jump ships through grimspace-a talent which makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. Then a crash landing kills everyone on board, leaving Jax in a jail cell with no memory of the crash. But her fun's not over. A group of rogue fighters frees her...for a price: her help in overthrowing the established order.

Perhaps I'm sexist, but it feels like the sci-fi books I've read written by women are just better (for me) than those written by men.  Perhaps (and far more likely) my sample size has just been too small.  Whatever it might be, Ann Aguirre's Grimspace was far more enjoyable to me than the previous two books I've read.

The story starts with a prison break and jumps madly from one misadventure to another, never dwelling long on any one situation.  Though each scene has its own tension and excitement, there doesn't seem to be a logical arc to the story, tying the conflicts together.  There is lip-service paid to fulfilling the dream of a (deceased) character, but for the most part it's a lot of Sirantha Jax coming to terms with her past and making googly eyes and/or snarky comments at her copilot.

If you're looking for a drool-worthy ship, this probably isn't the book for you.  From the very first scene where March appears, there is no doubt that he and Jax will end up in the sack.  It's not even subtle enough to be a "definitely, but when" sort of thing, but rather a "before the first half of the book" sort of thing.  Protip:  when you have a heroine with emotional vulnerability, it's almost a given that the first guy who merits more than one sentence of description will be the one she becomes romantically entangled with at some point.  It's far more common in romance novels than others, but it's certainly true here. 

As for plot - this book reads like the novelization of a video game in the best possible way.  There is an initial "goal" suggested at the beginning of the book, but that pretty much flies straight out the window as soon as there are kidnappings and alien attacks and stuff like that.  The PC (in this case, Jax) keeps picking up party members, solving mini-quests for NPCs, and gaining experience points.  The overall story arc never really resolves the initial "goal" and that ends up not mattering.  Despite all of this aimlessnes, it's pretty solid.  I never really knew where the story was heading, but it was so fun it's hard to care.

Will I continue reading the series? 

4 stars!


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review: The Paradox Trilogy by Rachel Bach

Series:  Paradox by Rachel Bach
  1. Fortune's Pawn
  2. Honor's Knight
  3. Heaven's Queen
Hey guys.  Ever have that one relationship that transcends your understanding of love?  The one that makes you realize that everyone you've met in the past was just a test run for this real thing?  That relationship that, once it ends, makes you realize you'll never find anything like it again - and are therefore slightly hollow for the rest of your life?

Yeah, me neither.

I have, however, read the Paradox trilogy by Rachel Bach, and that's almost as good.

This is the series of books that made me realize that I could, in fact, be interested in Science Fiction.  Before this series, I had only read a couple of the classics (most notably Dune), and while I enjoyed them, I wasn't inspired to love the genre as a whole.  This is the series of books that changed it all.

Why?  I don't have any definitive answer, but I suspect I have a few reasons.  

1. Deviana Morris herself
I love reading books with strong female characters.  They don't have to be sword- or gun-wielding, but being more than a damsel-in-distress is pretty great.  And Devi is the type of woman who names her guns (and her super-powered space armor).  She goes for what she wants without any apology - without being a complete asshole about it.  She's not afraid to pick a fight if that's what's necessary, and she knows that what's right isn't always easy - but worth fighting for all the same.  She has a healthy approach to sex and relationships...even if those relationships can cause problems in the future.  While she appreciates a fine masculine physique, she doesn't become a puddle of googly eyes and insipidity the second her man-love walks into the room - and gets incredibly pissed if he screws her over. You know, like a real person.  I want to hug her, but I suspect that she might punch me if I tried.

2, Adventures in SPAAAAAACE

Oh, man.  There is so much going on here.  Alien races.  Mysterious deaths.  "Invisible" monsters.  A secret society.  Twisted "magic".  Saving the universe. "Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles!"  (Okay, that last bit is a quote from The Princess Bride but you know what I mean.)  There are a few calm moments throughout the series, but for the most part this is a driving narrative that Deviana drives through to the end.  Each book expands on something introduced in the previous volume, giving the setting depth and dimension, making it feel like a real place.

3. Mystery/Quest

Fortune's Pawn starts out with our dauntless heroine taking a job that is deceptively dangerous.  While everyone knows that the ship - and whatever its mission is - leaves a trail of dead bodies behind it, it's not clear why.  By the time the real reason for the wake of corpses is revealed, the stakes have been raised so high it's hard not to inhale the next chapter...and the next...and the next, right up until the series is over and you're left feeling spent and satiated.

This isn't to say that the series doesn't have problems:  Devi gets into and out of scrapes faster than any twelve normal people and rarely has anything to show for it other than a few bruises.  Also, the entire ending of the series gets wrapped up a little to neatly for my taste - including a cameo by a Super Important Person that borders on deus ex machina.  It's a bit more of a fairy tale ending rather than a super space epic war-for-all-life type of ending, but I suspect that most people don't mind a happy ending.

To sum up:
Read this series.  Read it right now.