Fiction Friday: 5/25/12

It is time for another edition of Fiction Friday, that travelogue of my journeys through the fictional realms. So where have I been and where am I going? Let’s take a look.

Blackbirds (novel)

I finished Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig last week. In case you haven’t heard of it, here’s the quick rundown: Miriam Black is a troubled young drifter who, with a skin-to-skin touch, can see your future. Specifically, the moments of your death. When the novel begins, Miriam is using this ability to live day-to-day, arriving at the moment of someone’s death and stealing enough cash and credit from them to get her to the next soon-to-be stiff. She quickly gets in over her head in a story about death, Fate, and violence. Lots and lots of violence.

The violence level got to me, I’ll admit. Miriam, for all she is a strong female lead, spends much of the book getting beaten up. Yes, she gives as good as she gets, but the violence level definitely slowed down my reading speed on this book. Balancing that is the fact that Chuck’s writing and plotting is compelling, so whenever I put the book down because I was wincing too much at what Miriam was going through, I ended up picking it back up to find out what happens next. Also, Chuck’s writing is, for lack of a better word, cool. He wields similes like scimitars and uses a distinctive, world-weary voice that is much closer in tone to his tweets and blog posts than the hammy, pulpy goodness of Dinocalypse Now (which I reviewed in an earlier Fiction Friday post, and which I enjoyed thoroughly.)

Do I recommend Blackbirds? Yes, with a caveat that if dark, violent fare is not your thing, you might want to stay away or at least steel yourself for it before reading. You can pick up Blackbirds at Amazon or DRM-free direct from the publisher.

Nightside on Callisto (short story)

I found Linda Nagata’s short story, “Nightside on Callisto,” at Lightspeed Magazine. It is set in a future where some sort of digital plague called the Red has infected all the humans on Earth, leaving only those humans who are living farther out in the solar system free to fight back against it. The story focuses on a team of four older women who are setting up an ice-mining operation on the Jovian moon, Callisto, to supply the free humans with water. This is a dangerous operation, which is why these tough-but-expendable women were sent to do it. The mission wasn’t supposed to be this dangerous, though.

I liked that the story was packed with all sorts of neat technologies, had good action scenes, and a satisfying, non-kicker ending.

The Paper Menagerie (short story)

I must admit I have never much paid attention to the various SF/F awards out there; I just read what sounds good to me. However, I saw this list of winners and nominees for the Nebula Awards, so I thought I’d check it out. I decided to read the winner in the short story category, Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie,” which first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2011.

Wow, The Paper Menagerie is one emotional powerhouse of a story. It is about a half-Chinese/half-American boy who grows increasingly embarrassed about his Chinese immigrant mother. I admit I was a bit choked up by the end. I do find it interesting that the story contains only the barest element of magical realism. That element is vital to the story, but it is not what springs to my mind when I think of a story that would belong in a science-fiction/fantasy magazine. Ouch. I can feel my horizons being broadened. Now I’m going to have to read the other nominees in the short story category to see what else I have been missing out on.

2312 (novel)

I picked up 2312, the latest by Kim Stanley Robinson, on its release date and will have a review up once I finish it. I am 10% in (per my Kindle), and so far it is reminding me of his Mars trilogy, which is my favorite of his works. (In second place, The Years of Rice and Salt.) As usual, I have trouble getting my head around some of the science, but it is balanced with interesting characters and a mystery to pull me past the parts that make my brain melt.

Up Next on Lithicbee

Sunday: Part 15 of my SF/F serial adventure, The Only City Left.

Webcomics Wednesday: Each Wednesday I review some of the wonderful long-form webcomics that are out there. Not familiar with webcomics? Think comic books by passionate independent creators, released for free on the web. Check them out!

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Photo Credits:

Header photo of rare books (cropped), courtesy of Amelia-Jane on Flickr.

Cover of Blackbirds from the publisher, Angry Robot.

Image of Callisto via Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of NASA.

Origami animals image courtesy of Jetske19 on Flickr.

Fiction Friday: 5/4/12


For my latest alliterative day of the week, I present: Fiction Friday, an occasional fearless feature. Okay, enough alliteration. So what is Fiction Friday on the Lithicbee blog? Just me talking about what I’ve been reading lately. It may be a novel by a big-name author or short fiction by an up-and-comer, or anywhere in between. So with no further ado:

Dinocalypse Now by Chuck Wendig

This is the first book from Evil Hat’s new fiction line based on the Spirit of the Century RPG, and the copy I read was a pre-release PDF sent out to Kickstarter backers.  The book promised to be a pulp-filled good time full of jetpacks, dinosaurs, and talking apes, and it did not disappoint. In fact, I can easily say that this is the most fast-paced, fun-filled, inventive book I have read in quite some time.

It starts off with members of the Century Club patrolling a speech that Franklin Delano Roosevelt is giving in front of the Empire State Building. Our intrepid heroes are Jet Black, Mack Silver, and Sally Slick, and they have been notified of an assassination attempt against FDR. Jet is patrolling the skies courtesy of his jetpack (of course). Sally, the inventor who created the jetpack, is sticking close to the President. And Mack is in the audience looking for threats and wishing he were in the cockpit of his plane, Lucy.

Events quickly go egg-shaped when it turns out that the danger is much greater than the Centurions could ever have known. Psychic bipedal dinosaurs show up and try to mind-control the heroes. They barely escape the psychosaurs (Sally gets an assist by the wheelchair-bound FDR) before running into real dinosaurs out of pre-history who  are hell-bent on crushing them.

The story spirals out from there, with talking apes, flying fortresses, Tesla coils, Atlantean artifacts, mystic detectives, sassy flirting, thrills, chills, and more. For all of the hammy pulp dialogue, the characters are all fleshed out pretty well and there wasn’t one in the bunch that I didn’t find myself rooting for. My favorite has to be Professor Khan, the kilt-wearing, British-accented, talking gorilla who must learn to stop living his life entirely in books and, when appropriate, give in to his jungle nature.

I read this book in two days, both because it is a brisk read and because I didn’t want to stop. It is like reading a comic book with the visuals beamed directly into your brain. The end slapped me across the face like a dame I’d done wrong and left me wanting more. As there are two more planned Dinocalypse books by Mr. Wendig, I’ll be on the edge of my seat until the next book is out.

If you want a sneak peek at the first six chapters of Dinocalypse Now, click on the PDF link at Fred Hicks’ blog, but you can take my word for it, this is a great read and worth every penny. You can find Dinocalypse Now at DriveThruFiction, Amazon, Evil Hat’s online store, and eventually at Barnes and Noble (although not at the time of this writing on Thursday evening).

Stone Eater by Brent Knowles

Stone Eater is a short story that can be found in Issue 42 of the webzine Abyss & Apex. Check out this first line: “Ongar stopped eating the pebbles on the eleventh night of his impalement.” It is so concise but manages to intrigue on several levels: “He’s eating what now? Pebbles? And he’s been impaled for eleven days and he’s not dead? I want to know what’s going on!” Well, I won’t spoil the story by revealing the secrets behind that first line, but I can say that the story continues by revealing that Ongar has been tied to a stake facing the tower that he has helped create, his grand masterpiece, which is now being built in ramshackle fashion by an inept overseer. Yes, it’s not the impalement so much that bothers him, it’s being forced to watch someone ruining his creation.

As the story goes on, we learn how Ongar ended up in his predicament and what becomes of him, and the entire story feels very emotionally honest and real for a work of fantasy (as good fantasy should). The world at large is hinted at in such a way that makes this story feel like part of a larger and realistic land that I would be interested in reading more about, but the story itself is nicely self-contained. In other words, this is an ideal short story and makes me want to check out more by the author. To find more information on and stories by Brent Knowles, check out his blog.

Space and Time, Parts 1-9 by Sharon T. Rose

I found the serial SF story Space and Time through the SFstories subreddit on reddit.com. In the first installment, we meet Jegri, a deformed slave girl who uses her cunning to get herself traded to a kinder master in a more comfortable setting. Jegri is a Yerbran, just one of the races of aliens in a galactic coalition called the Mutuality, and she ends up on Fredan Space Station 5. As the series progresses, it becomes clear that Jegri’s new master, the Yerbran Shdr’edno, is a dangerous opponent to have. Outwardly, they are niece and Uncle, since slavery is outlawed in the Mutuality, but beneath the surface, they are playing a game of wits that could have disastrous results for Jegri. She has shamed him by tricking him into taking her into his service, and he is determined to make her life miserable. Their interplay and the question of how Jegri will overcome her role as a slave and best Shdr’endo (for surely she will, right?) is keeping me reading this story.

There is another plotline involving the space station’s human commander and a nearby wormhole that is also shaping up to be interesting. Seems the inhabitants of the wormhole might be holding back a tide of really bad things from elsewhere, and the Mutuality’s increased use of the wormhole as a shortcut could be weakening the barrier.

This story feels a bit familiar: Fredan Space Station 5 and Yerbrans could be seen as a take on Deep Space 9 and Ferengi, and the many types of aliens on a space station story is reminiscent of C.J. Cherryh, but Sharon does make the story her own. The different types of aliens are described well and are not simply two types of earth animals mixed together, for instance. The descriptions of normal Yerbrans and the specific ways in which Jegri is a deformed Yerbran also show that a lot of thought has been put into alien physiology.

There are some sections of the serial that slow me down when reading, such as exposition-heavy sections front-loaded into the story, which might be better served by being spread out more naturally over time. And speaking of time (and space), units of measurement are agonizingly elongated into “Star-Standards,” such as “Star-Standard Measures of Annual Time” instead of year, and “Star-Standard Units of Immediate Distance” instead of, I guess, feet. Granted, with many alien races working together, they will have different definitions of what makes up a second, a minute, a foot, a year. I get that, but perhaps there is a smoother way to handle this.

Those small criticisms aside, I am obviously enjoying the story because I devoured the first nine parts in short order. If you’re looking for some imaginative science-fiction with the promise of fights both small-scale (slave vs. master) and large- (Mutuality vs. world-ending beings from the Void), check out Space and Time!

The Were-Traveler Issue #4

Finally, I have mentioned this webzine before, but I would be remiss if I did not mention that the latest issue went live yesterday and my short story, “Foreign Soil,” is included.

The theme of this issue is Blood Vengeance: Vampyre and the remit was it had to have vampires and revenge, and some kick-ass action. If you like the story, please give it a vote. Thank you!

The header photo is courtesy of balise42 on Flickr. See the full-sized picture here.