The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration (often unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Sci-Fi November

Before I get to this week’s books, a quick update on Sci-Fi Month posts! On Monday, Martha Wells shared some older science fiction books that were a big influence on her. They all sounded really good—I already had one of them in the to-read pile, but the rest were quickly added to my wish list! On Friday, I was part of a blogger panel at Oh the Books! discussing the representation of science in science fiction. This was fun, and I love that these panels were added to this year’s Sci-Fi November! I have been working on a review of Burndive by Karin Lowachee, which I enjoyed very much even though I didn’t love it as much as her first novel set in the same universe, Warchild. It’s been a busy week so I haven’t made much progress on reading, but I did start my first book by C. J. Cherryh, Kesrith.

On to this week’s books!

Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones

Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones

This classic fantasy novel is being re-released in paperback on December 16, and it’s also available as an ebook. There is currently a US/CA giveaway of Deep Secrets on Goodreads.

I’ve only read two books by Diana Wynne Jones (Howl’s Moving Castle and Dogsbody), but I enjoyed them both and need to read more by her! Deep Secret sounds like a fun book.

 

All over the multiverse the Magids, powerful magicians, are at work to maintain the balance between positive and negative magic, for the good of all.

Rupert Venables is the junior Magid assigned to Earth and to the troublesome planets of the Koyrfonic Empire. When the Emperor dies without a known heir, Rupert is called into service to help prevent the descent of the Empire into chaos. At the same time, the senior Magid on Earth dies, making Rupert a new senior desperately in need of a junior. Rupert thinks his problems are partially solved when he discovers he can meet all five of the potential Magids on Earth by attending one SF convention in England. However, the convention hotel sits on a node, a nexus of the universes. Rupert soon finds that other forces, some of them completely out of control, are there too….

Diana Wynne Jones’ Deep Secret is classic adult fantasy novel by an award-winning author, back in print

King of Assassins by Jenna Rhodes

King of Assassins (The Elven Ways #3) by Jenna Rhodes

This fantasy novel was released earlier this month (hardcover, ebook). The previous books in the series are as follows:

  1. The Four Forges
  2. The Dark Ferryman

I’d never heard of this series before I opened a package containing this book earlier this week, and I’d be interested in hearing what others thought about the first book in the series.

 

Thrown into exile on Kerith by a sorcerous act of war, the Vaelinars have used their own unique talents to gain power over the races native to this world, and to create magical Ways that remold Kerith forever. But now their war has followed them, ripping holes in the fabrics of both universes. The Vaelinars stand at a dangerous threshold as old and new betrayals threaten the destinies of the peoples of two worlds.

Against this background of betrayal and ever-shifting alliances, two star-crossed lovers—the half-breed Sevryn and the orphaned, goddess-touched Vaelinar, Rivergrace—must escape the fury of a desperate ruler. The Warrior Queen Lariel, having accidentally revealed to Sevryn the forbidden powers that gained her the throne, has begun a vicious manhunt to destroy him. Fleeing her wrath, Sevryn and Rivergrace find no safe haven as the world’s magic begins to disintegrate around them and the old Gods wake.

In the midst of this chaos, Sevryn is charged with finding the King of Assassins—a quest that may consume him. And only Rivergrace has any hope of discovering the means to save both Sevryn and the world she loves.

Sci-Fi November

This year’s Sci-Fi November has included some blogger panels in which a group of bloggers are asked to answer the same question. I participated in the third blogger panel on representation of science in science fiction along with Nara from Looking for the Panacea, Kayla from The Thousand Lives, Lina from Every Book a World, and Jorie from Jorie Loves a Story. Here’s the question we were asked to answer:

 

How do you feel about the representation of science in science fiction? Does it ever bother you when it’s portrayed as ‘evil’?

Our thoughts on this are at Oh the Books!

The first two blogger panels were on defining sci-fi and scientific knowledge. The fourth blogger panel on how panelists got into the genre will go up at Rinn Reads on Friday.

Sci-Fi November

Today’s post for Sci-Fi Month is by fantasy and science fiction author Martha Wells. She’s written the Nebula-nominated novel The Death of the Necromancer, Wheel of the Infinite, Star Wars: Razor’s Edge, Stargate Atlantis: Reliquary, Stargate Atlantis: Entanglement, and much more. My introduction to her work was the first of the Books of the Raksura, The Cloud Roads, and I was immediately drawn in by the story of Moon, a young shapeshifter separated from the rest of his people. The Raksura society is fascinating, the characters are interesting and likable, and the books are difficult to put down! My favorite is the third book, The Siren Depths, but I haven’t yet read her latest book about the Raksura, the recently-released Stories of the Raksura: Volume One. As a fan of her books, I’m thrilled she’s here today to recommend some older science fiction books!

Stories of the Raksura: Volume One by Martha Wells Star Wars: Razor's Edge by Martha Wells Stargate Atlantis: Reliquary by Martha Wells

For SF month I wanted to recommend some older SF, a few books that were a big influence on me.

Zelde M'Tana by F.M. Busby
Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee
(Omnibus Edition)

Zelde M’tana by F.M. Busby was published in 1980.  It’s set in the future, and is the story of Zelde, the daughter of a diplomat from an African country.  She is orphaned when the repressive corporation that now acts as the government for a large portion of earth has her family imprisoned.  Zelde escapes, grows up in a street gang, is captured and shipped out on a spaceship as slave labor, helps the crew mutiny and becomes a space pirate, and eventually captain of the ship.  I read this when I was sixteen, and was probably way too young for it.  It’s gritty and raw, it depicts sexual violence, as well as every other kind of violence.  But as a kid who had been told all her life that girls just can’t be fighters, can’t captain spaceships, can’t do this, can’t do that, just can’t, it was important to me to read a book where they could.  Maybe it was even more important that it was written by a man, and he clearly thought girls could too.

Don’t Bite the Sun/Drinking Sapphire Wine by Tanith Lee, was published in 1976-1977.  These two short novels work best when read as one long work.  They’re set in the far future, among a culture of pleasure-seeking gender-switching young adults in a utopian society on what seems at first to be a deserted, dying world. Their technology allows people who are killed (or who commit suicide) to be instantly restored, so there are nearly no consequences to their actions, and the narrator’s peer group is mostly interested in sex and causing trouble.  The narrator starts to search for meaning, or at least something meaningful to do, and begins to discover just how repressive her society is.  In the second book she ends up exiled outside the domes, and is startled to realize she can actually build a life there.  These books are funny and touching, and the narrator is deeply sympathetic, despite the strangeness of life in her world.

A Judgment of Dragons by Phyllis Gotlieb
Mirabile by Janet Kagan

A Judgment of Dragons, by Phyllis Gotlieb, was published in 1980.  The book is a collection of related stories from the perspective of two cat-like aliens who have become agents for a galactic federation.  I absolutely loved these stories, and I know they were a big influence on my writing, and on trying to write from an alien perspective.  In the first story, the characters accidentally time travel back to 19th century earth and have to prevent a pogrom against the Jewish residents of a Polish village that has fallen under an alien influence.  In later stories there’s a murder mystery, and a visit to the main characters’ home planet.  All the stories explore the differences between alien and human culture, and they’re engaging and gripping stories.

Mirabile by Janet Kagan, published in 1992 is another series of linked stories.  It’s about the descendants of a terraforming colony ship, who successfully managed to land and settle on an alien planet, but accidents while in transit have disrupted their terraforming database.  This has resulted in occasional bizarre genetic mutations of plants and animals, sometimes harmless and sometimes dangerous.  The main character is a woman who is in charge of the response group who deals with the mutations, and the stories are basically problem-solving mysteries dealing with genetics and biology.  This is one of those books that you read and then run out looking for the rest of the series, and are disappointed to find out that this is it.  I think it would be a great book for anybody, in particular a YA audience.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration (often unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week I added an ebook to the to-read pile, which is pretty unusual. I usually stick to reading print books since I much prefer the format and already have many print books I want to read. This book is also a short story collection, which I almost never read, so the author has to be pretty phenomenal for me to make an exception! Before I talk about the book a little, an update on plans for Sci-Fi Month hosted by Oh, the Books! and Rinn Reads.

Tomorrow there will be a guest post by Martha Wells, author of the fantastic Books of the Raksura, Wheel of the Infinite, The Death of the Necromancer, and much more. I’m also a participant in the third blogger panel for Sci-Fi Month, which will be posted at Oh, the Books! on Friday. I’m not sure when I’ll have my next review up since I haven’t yet finished reading the next book I’m reading for the month, Burndive by Karin Lowachee.

Last week, Karina Sumner-Smith stopped by to discuss hope and wonder in science fiction. I also reviewed Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress, one of the best books I’ve read in awhile and one of the better books I’ve read this year.

On to this week’s book!

The Very Best of Kate Elliott

The Very Best of Kate Elliott by Kate Elliott

The Very Best of Kate Elliott will be released on February 10, 2015. The only books by Kate Elliott I’ve read are the Spiritwalker trilogy (Cold Magic, Cold Fire, and Cold Steel), but I loved them and now want to read everything she’s ever written.

Next year is a great year for Kate Elliott fans since this is only the first of three of her books that are planned for release in 2015! Court of Fives, a YA fantasy, is scheduled for release in August, and Black Wolves, the first book in a new epic fantasy series, is scheduled for release in the fall. I’m excited about all three of them!

 

Strong heroines and riveting storytelling are the hallmark of groundbreaking fantasy author Kate Elliott (Crown of Stars, Crossroads). Elliott is a highly-compelling voice in genre fiction, an innovative author of historically-based narratives set in imaginary worlds. This first, retrospective collection of her short fiction is the essential guide to Elliott’s shorter works. Here her bold adventuresses, complex quests, noble sacrifices, and hard-won victories shine in classic, compact legends.

In “The Memory of Peace,” a girl’s powerful emotions rouse the magic of a city devastated by war. Meeting in “The Queen’s Garden,” two princesses unite to protect their kingdom from the blind ambition of their corrupted father. While “Riding the Shore of the River of Death” a chieftain’s daughter finds an unlikely ally on her path to self-determination.

Elliott’s many readers, as well as fantasy fans in search of powerful stories featuring well-drawn female characters, will revel in this unique gathering of truly memorable tales.

 

Yesterday’s Kin is the newest science fiction book by award-winning author Nancy Kress. She has won two Hugo Awards and five Nebula Awards, and her fairly recent novella After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall was both a Nebula winner and a Hugo nominee.

Four months ago, life on Earth was changed forever when an alien ship arrived and settled near the moon. The aliens were quick to convey the message that their mission was peaceful, and two months later they were granted permission to set up an embassy in New York Harbor in exchange for sharing the physics of their star drive. Once they settled on Earth, they continued to communicate with the UN, but they refused to show themselves—until the day they request the presence of Dr. Marianne Jenner.

Marianne, a geneticist who recently discovered a thirty-first haplogroup of mitochondrial DNA, is quite surprised when the university’s celebration of her achievement is interrupted by the FBI. She’s even more flummoxed to learn they have come to escort her to the UN Headquarters in New York, which she can only assume is somehow connected to the aliens since no one will give her details about what is going on. After her arrival, she and a small party are the first to actually board the Embassy and meet the aliens, who finally reveal the terrifying reason for their visit to Earth. They came to warn that this planet will encounter the same fate that befell two of their own planets, and all humans will die in ten months—unless the humans and aliens together can find a way to save them.

Nancy Kress is an excellent writer, and she seems to be particularly skilled at novella-length science fiction. After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall was riveting, and Yesterday’s Kin shares many of the same strengths. While the two stories are very different, they are both easy to become immersed in and difficult to put down with their simple but effective prose and wonderful storytelling. They’re both page-turners with interesting characters and situations, and like After the Fall, Before the Fall During the Fall, I enjoyed Yesterday’s Kin immensely.

Yesterday’s Kin is what I consider to be hard science fiction done right. Science is blended into the story well by being integral to the plot and adding to the story being told. Marianne’s perspective contains focus on the scientific research that takes place on the Embassy, and there is a lot of discussion of biological concepts in her storyline. Sometimes I struggle with this in hard science fiction and find it boring when there are paragraphs of infodumps and explanation, but this is seamlessly woven into Yesterday’s Kin. A substantial portion of the science is told through dialogue, but it’s also a natural part of the discussion instead of seeming as though the author is trying to jam explanation into the conversation for the sole benefit of readers.

In general, I was very impressed by how practical, logical, and believable events in Yesterday’s Kin are. It’s a succinct book yet it’s full of little details, such as the different reactions to the appearance of the aliens and the news they eventually reveal. For instance, Marianne’s reflections on the alien’s arrival give a clear idea of the effect they had without details on specific incidents, especially in the last line which so wonderfully portrays the mix of hope and despair they brought with them:

 

When it was announced that the asteroid was in fact an alien vessel, panic had decreased in some quarters and increased in others. A ship? Aliens? Armed forces across the world mobilized. Communications strategies were formed, and immediately hacked by the curious and technologically sophisticated. Seven different religions declared the end of the world. The stock and bond markets crashed, rallied, soared, crashed again, and generally behaved like a reed buffeted by a hurricane. Governments put the world’s top linguists, biologists, mathematicians, astronomers, and physicists on top-priority standby. Psychics blossomed. People rejoiced and feared and prayed and committed suicide and sent up balloons in the general direction of the moon, where the alien ship eventually parked itself in orbit. [pp. 20-21]

In addition to being about aliens and scientists, Yesterday’s Kin is also the story of the Jenner family told through the viewpoints of Marianne and her youngest son Noah. It begins with Marianne’s perspective and only takes a few pages to become interesting since it’s not long before she’s off to the Embassy to meet the aliens, but it captured my attention even before that with its wry glimpse at Marianne’s publication party that is “supposed to be an honor.” I found Marianne to be an intriguing and realistically drawn character. She’s not as young as many protagonists I’ve encountered in science fiction since she has three grown children, and her story revolves around both her career and her family. I’d say there’s more emphasis on her career, which seems to be a pattern from her past since at least one of her children felt she was too involved with her work when they were younger. While she is focused on her work, it’s still clear that she cares deeply about all of her children—the thought that haunts her most about the potential end of the world is their deaths—and her relationships with each are different and complicated. She gets along well with her older son, Ryan, but she’s always arguing with her daughter Elizabeth and rarely in contact with the youngest, Noah.

Noah keeps to himself more than the rest of the family and has never felt like he truly belonged. His mother, brother, and sister each excel at their chosen careers, but Noah has not had clear goals in his life and feels lost. He uses the drug sugarcane to create a false sense of identity, but it’s destructive to his personal relationships and ability to keep a job since this artificial identity changes every time he takes the drug. After the aliens arrive, Noah learns more about himself and his part of the story is both about his search for identity and the aliens. I preferred Marianne’s storyline since I thought it was instantly engaging, and I also thought she had more personality and more compelling observations. Noah’s part of the story takes longer to get going, and it took me a little while to warm to him since his behavior did not endear him to those around him. The first glimpse into his life shows him getting kicked out of his apartment due to sugarcane use, and his family doesn’t seem any happier with him than the woman who made him leave because she’d had enough. His side of the story is important, though, and even if I preferred Marianne’s story I was never bored by his story, especially since it was told in small chunks interspersed with Marianne’s.

Yesterday’s Kin is a wonderful science fiction book, and it’s impressive how full the story is despite its succinctness. It’s satisfying and intense from beginning to end, and it weaves science into the plot while thoughtfully examining what might happen if the world were faced with the arrival of aliens bringing bad news to humanity. While I wasn’t quite as emotionally invested as I may have liked and found one storyline weaker than the other, I enjoyed it very much and highly recommend Yesterday’s Kin.

My Rating: 8.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews:

Sci-Fi November
Sci-Fi November

This month’s first official Sci-Fi Month post here is by Karina Sumner-Smith, author of the Towers Trilogy. I recently finished reading Radiant, the first book in the trilogy, and am now glad the other two books in the series will be released next year! Radiant is unique with some beautiful writing, and I also loved the friendship that developed between Xhea and Shai (like Karina Sumner-Smith I would love to read more SF/F books with great friendships between women). She’s here today sharing her perspective on the oft-asked question of what happened to hope and wonder in science fiction!

Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith Defiant by Karina Sumner-Smith
What Happened to Hope and Wonder in Science Fiction?
by Karina Sumner-Smith

If you attend SF conventions, you’ve probably heard this conversation before – or one of its many tired variations. What happened to the great, bold futures that science fiction once imagined? Where has the genre gone wrong?

I’d participated in such conversations online and off – sometimes having interesting discussions, sometimes mentally filing the complaints somewhere between “nostalgic” and “old man ranting at clouds”. But it was only as I sat on a panel with three older male writers, listening to them decry the loss of hope and wonder in modern science fiction, that I started to react.

They spoke of their early memories of space travel – of the first humans launched into space, of the moon landings, of that feeling that anything was possible. And now they looked at science fiction and what did they see? Dystopian landscapes and tyrannical governments. Dark stories about bleak futures.

What happened to the wonder, they asked. What happened to the hope and promise for the human race?

It felt, to me, like mourning for a genre that had lost its way – and it was that, more than anything, that made me angry.

A moment of silence came. “Do you know my first memory of space travel?” I asked into that quiet. “Challenger.”

In contrast to their earlier stories, I talked of being four years old and watching on television as something went terribly wrong after liftoff. I hadn’t truly understood what I was seeing in that moment, only knew that my mother sat down very suddenly, very abruptly, on the coffee table.  My mother never let anyone sit on the coffee table.

I talked of spending days in my dorm room watching as crews searched fields for the wreckage and remains from the space shuttle Columbia.

Of NASA budget cuts. Of projects cancelled or failed.

“No one has walked on the moon in my lifetime,” I told them. “Yet you try to tell me that it’s my generation who has lost their wonder?  That it’s the young people of today who have let everything slip and fall into ruin? You don’t understand. You had the dream and the potential and the opportunities, and you messed it all up. You got hope and moon landings and that bright, glorious future. I got only the disasters.”

I still remember the other panelists’ expressions. “I … never thought about it that way,” one finally offered.

#

I’ve heard it asked, “What was the first book that got you hooked on science fiction?” For me, there was no first. SFF was always part of my life.

The child of two science fiction and fantasy readers, I was raised on stories of dragons and space adventures. As I grew, I read all the genre work I could find: Asimov and McCaffrey, Heinlein and LeGuin and Clarke. I swung wildly between extremes, consuming fantasies by David Eddings and Mercedes Lackey for months, only to switch suddenly to Larry Niven and hard SF classics. For years, my to-read pile was stacked high with books that smelled perpetually of the used bookstores in which I’d found them.

It was all amazing to me: so many new horizons, new worlds, new futures, new possibilities. Even the darker stories, the bleakest landscapes, were made bright by my sense of discovery.

Yet I never once mistook science fiction for truth. Wondrous and clever as the stories were, it was blazingly obvious that the future imagined in the “golden age” and beyond, for good or ill, bore little resemblance to the world of my adolescence and early adulthood. After a while, I began to yearn for stories that better reflected the world, the people, and the future that I knew.

The future is glorious, those older stories told me.

You’re wrong, the newspaper replied.

Somewhere along the way, I think we started to believe that science fiction had a responsibility. We weren’t just writing about an imaginary future, but about our possible futures, telling stories as if they were stepping stones on the path leading humanity forward. And if that’s what we believe, however far back the notion may linger in the subconscious, is it any wonder that so many cringe to see that the beacon toward which we’re travelling has become darker, that its light has flickered and been cast in shadow?

Yet for all the triumphant pointing when a technology first imagined in a science fiction story is made real, great SF isn’t necessarily about prediction. If stories are a crystal ball, I contend that they show us not visions of the future, but our own images, warped and reflected back to us.

That’s why we can’t simply tell the same stories over and over; why our future is imagined and re-imagined and rewritten year after year. We’re telling stories that speak not to the people we were, not the futures we imagined in years gone past, but the people we are and are trying to become.

What happened to hope and wonder in science fiction? They’re still there, shining threads woven into the tapestries of the stories we tell. They, like the rest of us grew and learned and changed.

And, like us and the genre we love, they’re changing still.

Karina Sumner-Smith is a fantasy author and freelance writer. Her debut novel, Radiant, was published by Talos/Skyhorse in September 2014, with the second and third books in the trilogy to follow in 2015. Prior to focusing on novel-length work, Karina published a range of fantasy, science fiction and horror short stories, including Nebula Award nominated story “An End to All Things,” and ultra-short story “When the Zombies Win,” which appeared in two Best of the Year anthologies. Visit her online at karinasumnersmith.com.

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