Thursday, March 28, 2013

Polar City Blues (Science Fiction Novel)

Murders. Psychic Ability. Politics. Artificial Intelligence. First Contact. Baseball.

Polar City Blues by Katharine Kerr is what I classify as an “I get by with a little help from my friends” novel. Sure, it is solid science fiction with a twist of mystery. Sure, it is packed with action. Yes, it definitely is an example of good world building. Yes, it has a strong heroine. But, what makes this an especially enjoyable novel for me are the different relationships, in all their various forms. I especially enjoyed how Kerr gives many of the characters, even the murderer, a backstory.

Briefly, there is a murder in Polar City on the planet of Hagar. The murder has far reaching political implications. Mulligan, a down on his luck psychic, is one of the first people on the scene. What he may or may not have learned about the murder puts his life in danger. Much of the novel is about finding the murderer before he finds Mulligan. As it becomes clear that the murderer is a hired assassin, the second mystery is the motive for the murder.

I purposely read Polar City Blues because Katharine Kerr is an author who I have not previously read and who is on the Women of Genre Reading Challenge list. As I read this novel, I thought to myself that this is an example of the difference between male and female writing. The basic plot line is typical Science Fiction fare, but the way it is developed is much more yin, feminine. I do not in any shape or form mean that this is a “chick novel.” It is rather that the novel looks more at the sentient (people) side of the story, like many of the mystery novels by women I enjoy, than at the technical or political side. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Bell for Adano (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

A Bell. A Major. Mule Carts. A Town. Americans. Fishing. Fascists. Wine.
I want you to be happy together. I want all of you to have as much as you can of what you want, without hurting anyone else. That is what I want for Adano. 
The Pulitzer Prize winning novel for 1945, A Bell for Adano by John Hersey, is a relatively unsophisticated story that speaks of human nature. It is both humorous and touching. It was made into a movie in 1945.

Briefly, Major Victor Joppolo, a former sanitation worker, is named senior civil affairs officer of Adano. He is the face of the Americans, who now have control of the town. He is a good man, who deep down just wants to be liked. At the beginning of the story, he asks various people what the town most needs. Repeated they say that it needs a new bell to replace the century old one that was taken by the Fascists. The bell represents the spirit of the town. Over time, despite resistance from others in the American military, he is able to win the hearts and minds of the people of Adano. He helps the town to get back on its feet and regain its spirit.

A Bell for Adano is an enjoyable little book. It was easy and fun to read. I do find it interesting that Hersey paints a relatively humorous and not so complementary picture of the US military so close to the time of WWII. The book could not have been without some controversy. I enjoyed the book enough to want to see the movie.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Natural History of Dragons (Fantasy/SF Novel)

A Childhood Passion. A Soulmate. An Expedition. Dragons. Scientific Discovery. A Mystery. Ancient Ruins. Smugglers.

Imagine being a young girl with a passion for science in an age where young girls are expected to be prim and proper, preparing to become the perfect wife. Now, imagine that passion is for studying dragons. The recently released, A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan is a memoir, told by an old woman, of how a forbidden childhood passion turned into a life-long career. Needless to say, the book is part fantasy, but it is also mixed with a good dose of mystery, some science, some adventure, and a bit of a love story.

Briefly, we meet Isabella at age seven when she is dragon-crazy, like many young girls are horse-crazy. She embalms a “sparkling,” a very small dragon, a symbolic beginning. In her early teen years, she dresses up as a boy in an effort to go on a dragon hunt. The results are almost fatal. She then goes through a grey phase where she gives up all things dragon and attempts to be the perfect daughter. Once she turns 16, her parents expect her to find a husband. Her sympathetic father hires a matchmaker, who makes a list of suitable candidates with extensive libraries that they would willingly share with their prospective wife. During a side trip with her brother to a menagerie, Isabella sees a dragon exhibit, where she meets Jacob, who happens to be on the list. He falls in love with her passion for science –well, really dragons. They marry. After a heartbreaking event, Jacob fully realizes his wife’s love of dragons. Isabella manages to convince Jacob to let her go with him on an expedition to study dragons. Something proper ladies just do not do. Once they arrive at their destination, they are confronted by mysteries. What has happened to their contact, who was supposed to meet them? Why are dragons, which normally ignore people, attacking them? Finding the answers will forever change Isabella.

I keep on using the word “beautiful” to describe A Natural History of Dragons. Yes, it has a strong female character. Yes, it has plenty of action and a well-developed mystery. Yes, it has likeable characters. But, what I experienced was a young woman with a passion, that ultimately brought her fulfillment but not without some major heartbreak. I’ve put this novel on my list of worthy award nominees for 2014.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Debris (Science Fiction Novel)

Debris by Jo Anderton is a novel that I would love to watch as a movie. It has a strong, but flawed female character. I could easily feel empathy for her. The novel has cool special effects and wonderful world-building. It also has a fast-paced plot. 

Briefly, the story takes place in the future, where people have learned to mentally manipulate pions, the very building blocks of matter. While the novel is clearly science fiction, the premise has a bit of the feel of magic. Tanyana is a skilled architect, who leads a circle of other pion manipulators. In the opening chapter, they are working on a magnificent – very expensive, very high profile– sculpture, when there is a tragic incident. The sculpture is totally destroyed, and Tanyana’s life is devastated. She loses her ability to see, let alone manipulate pions. She is left with grotesque scars. The government is more interested in having Tanyana make restitution, than hearing her side of the story. They tell her the incident is a tragic incident caused by her over estimating her abilities. She believes that she has been the victim of an attack by something she has never seen before. Against her will, Tanyana is surgically fitted with a “suit,” which will allow her to become a collector of debris, the byproduct of pion manipulation. This job is considered one of the lowest in society. The suit first looks like a series of odd, metal rings around various parts of her body. The suit begins deep in Tanyana’s blood stream. It can extend out to form tools or even a shield. It also has odd symbols on it, some of which allow her to be called to emergencies. Tanyana forms a romantic relationship with the technician who designed the suit and implanted it in her. In the rest of the book, Tanyana tries to adjust to her literal and metaphoric falls and to rise up again. She learns how to become a skilled debris collector. She makes new friends and allies. She uncovers the truth behind her “accident” and the strange things that caused it.

For me, Debris was more than just an exciting story. It hints at the yin and yang that work together to form our world. It describes overcoming a fall from societal grace. It talks about the power in “flaws.” Debris is the first book in the planned Veiled Worlds Series, and I am looking forward to reading the next book.