The giveaway winners for Containment by Christian Cantrell have been selected and contacted. The winners are:

Elise
Ben
Renee

Congratulations and I hope you each enjoy the book!

The 2012 Hugo Award winners were announced Sunday night. Best Novel went to Among Others by Jo Walton and Game of Thrones took Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. I was especially pleased to see the wonderful blog SF Signal won Best Fanzine. A complete list of the winners along with a few photos can be found on tor.com. Congratulations to all the winners!

September 7 (this Friday) is National Buy a Book Day. Here’s the idea behind it as stated on the foundation’s website:

 

The National Buy a Book Day Foundation’s primary activity is educating the American people on the importance of books to our culture and community by encouraging citizens to go to any bookstore on September 7th of each year, which we hope to establish as National Buy a Book Day, and buy a book. By buying a book, as a community, every year on the same day, we come together in support of books, booksellers, authors, and publishers alike.

This day holds a special spot in my memory since I bought one of my favorites, Elfland by Freda Warringon, on this day. Of course, I can also get behind any day that involves supporting books and those who make reading them possible!

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. 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.

Last week there were no books to discuss, but this week was a VERY good week for books! First of all, I really want to read every single book that showed up in the mail this week. Second of all, I took Thursday and Friday off from work and had a great find at a bookstore on one of those days.

For reviews, I haven’t gotten much writing done with my mini-vacation, but my next reviews will be Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire and House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier. Both of these were wonderful. I just finished Ashes of Honor before starting this post and think it’s the best book in the October Daye series yet!

One of the books that came in this last week is the finished copy of a book I already talked about in a previous post so I’m not going to include all the info on it again in this one. If you are interested in reading about This Case is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova, you can read about it here. It’s an urban fantasy debut that will be on sale on Tuesday.

Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton

Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton

This stand alone science fiction novel will be on sale in hardcover and ebook on December 26 in the US. It will be released in the UK later this month (September 27).

I have heard that Peter F. Hamilton writes fantastic books so I’m really excited about this one. As a slow reader, I’m also a bit daunted by the length (my ARC is hardcover size and about 950 pages), but mostly I’m excited to read it!

New York Times bestselling author Peter F. Hamilton’s riveting new thriller combines the nail-biting suspense of a serial-killer investigation with clear-eyed scientific and social extrapolation to create a future that seems not merely plausible but inevitable.

A century from now, thanks to a technology allowing instantaneous travel across light-years, humanity has solved its energy shortages, cleaned up the environment, and created far-flung colony worlds. The keys to this empire belong to the powerful North family—composed of successive generations of clones. Yet these clones are not identical. For one thing, genetic errors have crept in with each generation. For another, the original three clone “brothers” have gone their separate ways, and the branches of the family are now friendly rivals more than allies.

Or maybe not so friendly. At least that’s what the murder of a North clone in the English city of Newcastle suggests to Detective Sidney Hurst. Sid is a solid investigator who’d like nothing better than to hand off this hot potato of a case. The way he figures it, whether he solves the crime or not, he’ll make enough enemies to ruin his career.

Yet Sid’s case is about to take an unexpected turn: because the circumstances of the murder bear an uncanny resemblance to a killing that took place years ago on the planet St. Libra, where a North clone and his entire household were slaughtered in cold blood. The convicted slayer, Angela Tramelo, has always claimed her innocence. And now it seems she may have been right. Because only the St. Libra killer could have committed the Newcastle crime.

Problem is, Angela also claims that the murderer was an alien monster.

Now Sid must navigate through a Byzantine minefield of competing interests within the police department and the world’s political and economic elite . . . all the while hunting down a brutal killer poised to strike again. And on St. Libra, Angela, newly released from prison, joins a mission to hunt down the elusive alien, only to learn that the line between hunter and hunted is a thin one.

The Grass King's Concubine by Kari Sperring

The Grass King’s Concubine by Kari Sperring

I have been curious about both this book and Kari Sperring’s first novel, Living With Ghosts, for awhile now so I picked this one up when I came across it at the bookstore. It’s set in the same world as the first novel but takes place about 150 years later.

The Grass King’s Concubine was released in mass market paperback and ebook last month. There is a giveaway for 10 copies on Goodreads right now that is open to a lot of countries.

The only excerpt from The Grass King’s Concubine I could find is on Amazon.

Kari Sperring’s first novel was a finalist for the Crawford Award, a Tiptree Award Honor Book, a LOCUS Recommended First Novel, and the winner of the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. Now she returns to the same amazing and atmospheric world with an entirely new story set several hundred years after the earth-shaking events of Living With Ghosts.

When a wealthy young woman, obsessed with a childhood vision of a magical Shining Palace, sets out with her true love to search for a legendary land, she discovers the devastated WorldBelow – the realm of the Grass King – and the terrifying Cadre, who take her prisoner, and demand she either restore the king’s concubine… or replace her.

Clean by Alex Hughes

Clean (Mindspace Investigations #1) by Alex Hughes

This debut will be released in mass market paperback and ebook on September 4. An excerpt is available on the publisher’s website.

I love reading about telepaths and think this sounds like fun so I’m looking forward to reading it. I’ll be reading it pretty soon since I’m participating in the blog tour for Clean later this month.

A RUTHLESS KILLER—OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND I used to work for the Telepath’s Guild before they kicked me out for a drug habit that wasn’t entirely my fault. Now I work for the cops, helping Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino put killers behind bars. My ability to get inside the twisted minds of suspects makes me the best interrogator in the department. But the normals keep me on a short leash. When the Tech Wars ripped the world apart, the Guild stepped up to save it. But they had to get scary to do it—real scary. Now the cops don’t trust the telepaths, the Guild doesn’t trust me, a serial killer is stalking the city—and I’m aching for a fix. But I need to solve this case. Fast. I’ve just had a vision of the future: I’m the next to die.

Fair Game by Patricia Briggs

Fair Game (Alpha and Omega #3) by Patricia Briggs

This is the great book find I had when I visited a bookstore a couple days ago! Patricia Briggs signed at a bookstore in my state as part of the book tour for Fair Game earlier this year. I didn’t go even though it’s pretty rare for an author to come to my state since it was still 2 – 3 hours away from me and the event was on a weeknight, plus I’m not nearly as big a fan of Alpha and Omega as Mercy Thompson (Alpha and Omega is a spinoff series related to the Mercy Thompson books). On Friday, I was in the same city and decided to check out the bookstore while I was there. While browsing I came across Fair Game. I wasn’t planning to buy it since I still haven’t read the second book in the series, but a sticker that said “Autographed Copy” caught my eye and I decided I just couldn’t pass up a book autographed by Patricia Briggs! I felt lucky to find it since there were only 2 copies on the shelves and the signing was months ago now. I’ve been hearing this particular installment in the series is amazing so I’m pretty excited about finding a signed copy.

Fair Game is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. The first story in the series is actually a novella titled “Alpha and Omega” that is available in an anthology, On the Prowl. The first novel is Cry Wolf and the second is Hunting Ground.

An excerpt from Fair Game is available on the publisher’s website.

Patricia Briggs, the #1 “New York Times” bestselling author of the Mercy Thompson novels, “always enchants her readers.” (Lynn Viehl, “New York Times” bestselling author) Now her Alpha and Omega series-set in a world of shifting shapes, loyalty, and passion- brings werewolves out of the darkness and into a society where fear and prejudice could make the hunters prey…

They say opposites attract. And in the case of werewolves Anna Latham and Charles Cornick, they mate. The son-and enforcer-of the leader of the North American werewolves, Charles is a dominant alpha. While Anna, an omega, has the rare ability to calm others of her kind.

Now that the werewolves have revealed themselves to humans, they can’t afford any bad publicity. Infractions that could have been overlooked in the past must now be punished, and the strain of doing his father’s dirty work is taking a toll on Charles.

Nevertheless, Charles and Anna are sent to Boston, when the FBI requests the pack’s help on a local serial killer case. They quickly realize that not only the last two victims were werewolves-all of them were. Someone is targeting their kind. And now Anna and Charles have put themselves right in the killer’s sights…

The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

The Dirty Streets of Heaven (Bobby Dollar #1) by Tad Williams

The first book in a new urban fantasy series by Tad Williams will be released in hardcover and ebook on September 4. I was sent an ebook copy to take a look at. I don’t read a lot of ebooks since I prefer paper books and have a significant number of them around, but I am considering reading it after looking at it. It looks interesting, and I’m kind of ashamed to admit this as a fantasy fan, but I’ve never read a book by Tad Williams before. That’s definitely something that needs to be remedied at some point!

Bobby Dollar is an angel—a real one. He knows a lot about sin, and not just in his professional capacity as an advocate for souls caught between Heaven and Hell. Bobby’s wrestling with a few deadly sins of his own—pride, anger, even lust.

But his problems aren’t all his fault. Bobby can’t entirely trust his heavenly superiors, and he’s not too sure about any of his fellow earthbound angels either, especially the new kid that Heaven has dropped into their midst, a trainee angel who asks too many questions. And he sure as hell doesn’t trust the achingly gorgeous Countess of Cold Hands, a mysterious she-demon who seems to be the only one willing to tell him the truth.

When the souls of the recently departed start disappearing, catching both Heaven and Hell by surprise, things get bad very quickly for Bobby D. End-of-the-world bad. Beast of Revelations bad. Caught between the angry forces of Hell, the dangerous strategies of his own side, and a monstrous undead avenger that wants to rip his head off and suck out his soul, Bobby’s going to need all the friends he can get—in Heaven, on Earth, or anywhere else he can find them.

You’ve never met an angel like Bobby Dollar. And you’ve never read anything like The Dirty Streets of Heaven.

Brace yourself—the afterlife is weirder than you ever believed.

The Serpent Sea is the second book in The Books of the Raksura series by Martha Wells, following The Cloud Roads. The third book, The Siren Depths, is scheduled for release in December 2012.

Warning: Since this is the second book in a series, there may be spoilers for the first book in this review. If you are interested in reading about the first book in this series, here is my review of The Cloud Roads (one of my favorite books from last year).

Moon, the solitary Raksura found by Stone of Indigo Cloud, has found a place with the court as consort to Jade, the sister queen. After all the trials Indigo Cloud has faced against their Fell enemies, the entire court is need of a new home. As the oldest member of the group, Stone remembers the mountain-tree they came from, which still belongs to Indigo Cloud even though they haven’t lived there since he was young. Since most other territories in the area are claimed by other Raksuran courts, all of Indigo Cloud makes the long journey by flying ship to the cavernous mountain-tree that was once home to their ancestors.

When the Raksura of Indigo Cloud finally reach their new home, they are more than ready to leave the flying ship and start settling into their new home. However, Stone has a feeling that all is not right, and it is soon confirmed that something is very wrong when some of the Raksura discover that the tree’s heartwood is dying. The seed necessary for the tree’s survival has been stolen recently, and Indigo Cloud will need to find a new home all over again if the tree cannot be saved. Their search for both answers and the missing seed brings Moon, Jade, Stone, and a few of the other Raksura on a new journey – to another Raksuran court that has a history of strife with their own court and to the distant Serpent Sea and a living land rife with magic, secrets, and danger.

The Serpent Sea is a fantastic book that expands on the inventive world introduced in The Cloud Roads. While the first book focused on the Raksura, the second book ventures into new places both with another Raksuran court and an island full of other races. It also adds a little bit of depth to the characters while showing Moon’s struggle to fit in with his own people after being separated from them for most of his life. The beginning of the book did not engage me quite as quickly as its predecessor, but I ended up enjoying The Serpent Sea every bit as much as the first book in the series. It made me love the world and characters even more after spending more time reading about them, and I’m now incredibly eager to read the third book in the series.

What continues to make this series unique is the world that Martha Wells has created. The Books of the Raksura bridge the gap between fantasy and science fiction by combining common fantasy elements like good vs. evil and quests with an alien world focusing on an original race of shapeshifters, the Raksura. Biology is destiny and the roles of each Raksura are defined by the type of form they have. Raksuran society has its own rules and norms, but that also does not mean the individual Raksura are so unusual that it’s hard to relate to them. They each have their own personality, and Moon’s struggle to understand his own people’s ways and resistance to the expectations that consorts are demure make him an endearing character. After being alone for so long, it’s not easy for him to navigate the rules and traditions of the Raksura. He’s not quite sure what sort of role a consort is supposed to have, but if it means sitting on the sidelines, he’s not having any of that. I love the gender role reversal and how Jade has to put up with her spunky male consort’s insolent ways.

What I especially love about the gender role reversal in these books is that both the male and female characters are depicted as real people (or, er, Raksura). The females are stronger and have more power, but the males still add value to the community. Some of them are warriors or mentors, and the queens still ask the consorts for advice. There were times Moon seemed like the smart one behind the scenes who gave Jade valuable insight, and Stone’s years of wisdom were also important to Indigo Cloud. There’s a respect for all the characters and their roles in the community.

Overall, I felt The Serpent Sea did a better job of fleshing out the characters than the first book. In the previous book, Moon was the only one I felt had any depth. While none of the characters had enormous depth in this book, I did think Moon was not the only one who had any. There’s more of Chime’s humor and more of the consequences of what it means for him to have changed from a mentor into a warrior are shown. There’s a sense of Flower’s wisdom and Stone’s age and steadfastness. I loved the dynamic between Jade and Moon and Chime and Moon as well. This second book made me care more about the characters than the first, which mainly just got me to care about Moon. There are also some rather interesting new characters who are introduced, and more is learned about some new races that inhabit this world through them as well.

As with the first book, it is very simply written, and I think this fits well with an adventure story set in a completely foreign world. The writing style is uncomplicated prose that is in the background, making the story being told the focus. The one complaint I have is that there is quite a bit of infodumping, especially toward the beginning, and I think that’s the main reason I had some difficulty getting immersed in this book to start with. There was enough telling that it kept the story from really getting going immediately. The first book also started off more quickly since Moon was immediately in a precarious situation, and I do think this one started off more slowly in comparison. Yet once it got going, I was hooked and did not want to put it down.

The Serpent Sea is a wonderful continuation of the Books of the Raksura. It is brimming with creativity, adventure, and characters both relatable and endearing. I enjoyed it immensely and am eagerly awaiting the release of The Siren Depths.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy:  I bought it.

Read Chapters 1 – 2 from The Serpent Sea

Read descriptions of the books in the series, free short stories and missing scenes, and other extras

Other Reviews of The Serpent Sea:

This is not technically a review since I did not finish Indigo Eyes, a dark fantasy novel by Fel Kian. It is the author’s first novel, and as far as I know, it is a stand alone.

I always feel kind of badly about writing posts about books I liked so little I didn’t even finish them, but I try to write them anyway since I find these types of posts useful when other people write them. After all, not everyone shares the same likes and dislikes when it comes to books. My personal stance on the matter is that there’s nothing wrong with stating one didn’t finish a book and writing about why. If you don’t find these types of posts helpful, feel free to skip it. In this particular case, I really feel like I should write about this book since several people expressed interest in it when I first mentioned it, and I can’t recommend it based on what I read.

Since I only read 113 out of 337 pages, I’m going to use the standard book description instead of writing a plot description. I will not be avoiding potential spoilers for those first 113 pages.

While I will not be rating this book, I did use the usual layout for finding more information on other sites since I always encourage others to read numerous opinions on books they are interested in reading. (There aren’t that many reviews on any of these sites right now, but I decided to leave it up there in case more show up. In fact, I only saw one review on Goodreads, but it is positive unlike my opinion of what I read.)

Warning: There will be discussion of rape in this post.

With that out of the way, the description of the book and my thoughts follow.

 

The Empress Lylithe, with the aid of a succubus and incubus and the holy sickle of Kronos, is hunting seven of the fallen – angels who donned incarnate form and hid in the human world. The world where Saraquinn Morrigan chose to live, rejecting her dark past and faerie ancestry, in order to create a normal future for herself and her son Peter. The world where a fiery, outlandish, twentyish urbanite Adriana Malkov-Severina to her friends-living in downtown Ligeia, must see her dying father one last time. A world they are all forced to leave behind, each tale a thread, weaving wonderment and horror…

Peter is beguiled across a faerie portal by a winged woman bearing a keen resemblance to his mother Saraquinn, who vanished six years prior, on the eve of his tenth birthday, without trace or explanation…

Severina, in mourning, discovers a horizon beyond the pale, where love is to be found enslaved within a glass jar…

Their lot: a dangerously playful Undine, outcast dwarves, Ash Mares, androgynous seers and a monstrous Ammit. Ultimately they must face Lylithe, and learn that the veil between worlds is as fragile as gossamer, as brittle as the divide between sex and gender, love and hate, flesh and blood…

I wanted to read Indigo Eyes for two reasons:

  1. I love dark fantasy and really liked the sound of the book from its description.
  2. It was published through Immanion Press, a publisher founded by Storm Constantine (whose Wraeththu books are among my favorites).

The reasons I did not finish it after reading about a third of it are both that it was not that interesting to me and that it was too over-the-top gratuitous for my taste. In general, I like dark fantasy and don’t mind dark scenes, but the ones in this book were a bit much for me, especially since I also found many of the characters’ actions to be unbelievable. This book made me stop and go “WTF?” many times before I quit reading.

There are two main characters who are followed in what I read of this book, as well as the occasional “Interlude” focused on Lylithe. The first of the main characters, Peter, is the one whose storyline had the most promise. It starts when he is a young boy on a day when he went to the cinema with his mother, Saraquinn, who is quite mysterious and has some intriguing answers to some of Peter’s questions. When they are walking home that night, a man tries to mug them and grabs Peter. Saraquinn quite easily fends him off and adds to her mystique by how she does so. As the book progresses, Peter grows older and has to deal with life with just his father since Saraquinn disappeared when he was still very young. While I did find Peter’s storyline rather slow and dull, I did like the precocious boy and was curious about his mother’s true origins and powers.

The second main character, Adriana, is someone I found very unlikable because she is so angry. Like Peter, much of her story I read is about her relationship with her parents and I also found her story rather dull. In the last chapter I read containing her, she suddenly finds herself in a magical world where she meets a dwarf and is attacked by a water creature. She defeats the creature with the aid of a trowel given to her by the dwarf, and then pretends to be more hurt than she is and asks him to help her up. While he is helping her, she grabs his testicles, squeezes them, and threatens to castrate him if he doesn’t call out the others who must be lying in wait to gangbang her. (There aren’t any.) After injuring the dwarf and accusing him of being part of a hidden gang of rapists, Adriana panics when he starts to just quietly leave to go home to put ointment on his sore balls. She is filled with remorse as she realizes he didn’t actually do anything other than try to help her. She apologizes and convinces him to help her since she has nowhere else to go – and he forgives her quite easily and allows her to follow him home. It was at this point I stopped reading, especially after seeing the next section was another one of the Interludes.

The Interludes showed Lylithe, the incubus, and the succubus hunting the fallen and described their horrific acts in a lot of detail. The very first scene involved them raping then killing one of these fallen, who is into BDSM and aroused by his own rape. The way he ended up in this situation is quite preposterous. This fallen-disguised-as-man got a message from his regular (paid) BDSM partner telling him to meet him in a warehouse. Someone else tied him up where he waited for her, only to have Lylithe and her helpers show up instead, and what they do to him is told in very graphic detail as well as his reaction to it. The other interlude I read has Lylithe and the others killing another one of the fallen and then cutting off his privates. This is a very uncomfortable scene because it is told from the perspective of the murdered fallen’s twelve-year-old daughter, who is often molested by him and is waiting for him to come into her room and do so again.

Between the overly graphic detail of the interludes, which I found more gratuitous and over-the-top than dark or creepy, and Adriana’s interaction with the dwarf, I decided I just couldn’t force myself to finish this one. If I disliked it as much as I did after reading over 100 pages, I didn’t see how reading 200 more pages could possibly redeem it.

My Rating: N/A – Didn’t finish

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the author.

The giveaway for one copy of Besieged by Rowena Cory Daniells is now over, and a winner has been randomly selected.

Besieged by Rowena Cory Daniells

The winner is:

Dovile

Congratulations! Please send your mailing address to kristen (at) fantasybookcafe (dot) com so the book can be sent to you.

Update: I never heard back from the winner so I drew a new winner from the entries. Congratulations, SueCCCP!

For those of you who didn’t win, you can still sign up to try to win one of three copies of Containment, a new hard science fiction novel!

Courtesy of 47North, I have an excerpt from the new science fiction novel Containment by Christian Cantrell and 3 paperback copies of the book to give away!

Containment by Christian Cantrell

About Containment:

The colony on Venus was not built because the destruction of Earth was possible, but because it was inevitable…

A brilliant young scientist and one of the first humans born on Venus, Arik works tirelessly to perfect the science of artificial photosynthesis, a project crucial to the future of his home, V1. The colony was built on the harsh Venusian surface by the Founders, the first humans to establish a permanent extraterrestrial settlement. Arik’s research becomes critical when he awakens from an unexplained, near-fatal accident and learns that his wife is three months pregnant. Unless Arik’s research uncovers a groundbreaking discovery, V1’s oxygen supply will not be able to support the increase in population that his baby represents.

As Arik works against time, he begins to untangle the threads of his accident, which seem inextricably linked to what lies outside the protective walls of V1—a world where the caustic atmosphere and extreme heat make all forms of known life impossible. For its entire existence, Arik’s generation has been expected to help solve the problems of colonization. But as Arik digs deeper and deeper, he discovers alarming truths about the planet that the Founders have kept hidden. With growing urgency and increasing peril, Arik finds himself on a journey that will push him to the limits of his intelligence and take him beyond the unimaginable.

The excerpt is below, and information on the giveaway follows that. Happy reading!

Easter Egg

Although Arik was home from the Doc Pod, he still had to go in several times a week for physical therapy. He was only going into the Life Pod a few days a week now, partially because of headaches, partially because of Cadie. When they were both at work at the same time, they kept the polymeth wall between their offices opaque, and they made it a point to check to see if the other one was in the dome before going in themselves. If Arik was there during lunch, he usually brought Cadie a boxed meal, but after she thanked him, he carried his own back to his office and ate alone.

Arik swallowed two pain pills then dimmed the wall lights in his home office to ease the stress on his eyes. He brought his workspace up on the wall and immediately noticed the string of characters in the lower right-hand corner of the polymeth:

2519658000000 922.76 40.002 DELTA

His initial thought was that nothing was going to boot because of an unrecoverable error in the shell program, but when his workspace appeared just as he’d left it the night before, he assumed Fai’s team was just doing some debugging on the live system. V1CC (the V1 Computing Cloud) was usually capable of debugging itself either proactively by using idle CPU cycles to look for potential errors in byte code, or in real time by verifying processor instructions as they were being executed. But sometimes humans were just smart enough to introduce bugs that even computers couldn’t catch, which meant they had be tracked down manually.

Most software engineers resented having to manually debug code. It was considered a waste of their time, a task that was beneath senior engineers and architects, which meant that it was usually delegated to those with less seniority. But Arik actually enjoyed debugging. He found the process stimulating, even rewarding. Most errors were predictable and relatively easy to fix, but occasionally an anomaly was so complex and subtle and elegant that tracking it down and holding it all in your head at once actually pushed you to the edges of your comprehension. Sometimes fully and completely grasping both a problem and its solution simultaneously felt like stopping time.

To Arik, these moments were euphoric.

The message remained in the corner of his workspace for the next several hours, and Arik became increasingly curious. It wasn’t uncommon to see diagnostic output for a few seconds or maybe even a few minutes while someone tried to track down a problem with the live system, but he’d never seen something like this remain visible for an entire day. He was thinking of contacting someone in the Code Pod when he got a video message from his father asking him if he had time to look into what he called the “anomalous string” that was appearing in the corner of everyone’s workspace. Darien seemed to be in a hurry, and sent off the message without any additional information or details. Arik looked at the time and realized that Cadie would be home from work within the hour. He knew that they would have to discuss the baby very soon, but now that he had a new problem that needed solving, it wouldn’t have to be tonight.

Arik wondered why the request to debug the problem had come from his father. Darien was a chemical and structural engineer. He headed up the Wet Pod and had designed several of the buildings in V1. Like all engineers, he knew computers well, but he didn’t have any obvious stake in bugs in the shell program. He was good friends with Fai, however, which suggested to Arik that Fai had probably asked Darien for his son’s help. Fai would have been too proud to ask Arik for help directly, and Arik imagined that the circuitous request through his father was still presented more as the Technology Department simply not having the time or resources to be distracted by such a trivial issue. But if the request did in fact originate from Fai, that meant the message was not simply diagnostic output, but probably a series of error codes that were unusual enough that nobody in the Code Pod had any idea what they meant.

Arik stood up in front of the polymeth wall and stretched while bringing up the source code for the shell program. He had been taking pain medication all day, and he needed to stand and move around the room in order to clear his head and stay focused.

Before he even had a chance to begin his debugging ritual, he recognized the first number in the error code, 2519658000000, as a date. Since computers weren’t inherently able to distinguish one absolute date from another, they used relative dates expressed as some unit of time since a known epoch. V1CC inherited the ancient convention of expressing moments in time as the number of milliseconds since midnight on January 1, 1970. Since numbers like 2.5 quadrillion didn’t come up very often in day-to-day computing tasks, when they did, it was usually safe to assume that they were machine-readable dates. And since the last six digits were all zeros, Arik could even tell that the number probably pointed either to exactly noon, or exactly midnight.

The date was most likely what programmers referred to as a “time stamp.” Error codes almost always came with time stamps so whoever was debugging the problem could figure out exactly how long ago it happened, or could try to recreate the conditions that led to the problem. But when Arik did the math of subtracting the error code’s time stamp from a time stamp representing the current time, he was surprised to find that the result was a negative number. The computer wasn’t reporting a problem that occurred in the past; it was predicting an error 2.75 days in the future.

Although computer models were used to predict the probability of errors and failures all the time, as far as Arik knew, V1CC was not programmed to perform predictive diagnostics on itself. It was far more likely that the computer’s clock had wandered prior to printing out the message, or was even wandering now. As powerful as computers were, left to their own devices, they were astonishingly lousy timekeepers. In order to keep their internal clocks accurate, they needed frequent calibration. Every ninety minutes, V1CC received a signal from a satellite that passed overhead which contained one of the most accurate clocks ever built. The clock used twelve lasers to monitor the optical light emitted by the electrons in a single atom of ytterbium. Counting the tiny pulses of light allowed the clock to break a second down into almost a quadrillion parts. By the time the sun burned through most of its hydrogen gas and expanded to the point that all life in the solar system was destroyed, the ytterbium clock would have likely strayed less than one second. Of course, for V1CC to benefit from the accuracy of their micro-gravitational optical atomic clock, it would have to successfully receive the time calibration signal.

Arik instinctively checked his watch, which consisted of two separate dials: a digital module that calibrated with V1CC, and an analog mechanical movement that used a steel spring, rotor, gear train, escapement, and about two hundred additional parts to keep time to within about a second a day without relying on any external power source or time calibration signal whatsoever. Although mechanical watch movements were mostly favored by obsessive and anachronistic hobbyists, several of the computer scientists in V1 found them useful for keeping tabs on V1CC. There was no way a mechanical watch could detect a fraction of a second drift in V1CC’s timekeeping, but it could detect a loss or gain of time adding up to a couple of minutes or more. When things like the life-support system relied on the computer maintaining almost perfect time, and the computer relied on an atomic clock orbiting twelve thousand kilometers above the surface of the planet, it seemed like a good idea to have some kind of an isolated analog backup.

But both times on Arik’s watch agreed to within a few seconds, and a quick review of the logs showed that V1CC had only missed a handful of time calibrations in Arik’s entire lifetime, the last one being over four and a half years ago. Whatever the time stamp meant, it was probably accurate.

Arik ran the shell program inside of another program that could trace the rendering of each pixel back to the exact line of code that initiated the drawing instruction. He drew a rectangular debug region around the message in the lower right-hand corner of his workspace, and restarted the shell. He found that the message was being rendered by a little over a hundred lines of code interspersed throughout the shell’s source, nestled in among other similar lines of rendering code with such apparent randomness that it had to have been done intentionally. Each component of the message was calculated using a long and complex equation. Some of the variables in the equations were even random numbers, yet each formula was orchestrated in such a way as to somehow compensate, always yielding the exact same result.

Now that Arik was sure that the message was intentionally injected into the shell program, he believed it had to be an attempt to communicate with someone inside of V1—very possibly him. He looked at the second and third numbers again, and now that he had a fresh perspective, he recognized them instantly. They were radio frequencies. The first frequency, 922.76 MHz, was what the Earth Radio Pod used to communicate with the satellites that relayed signals to and from Earth, and 40.002 MHz was the frequency that V1 used to communicate with the ERP. The ERP was isolated from V1 so that in the event of a catastrophic accident, it might still remain functional. It was a small structure only large enough for one or two people, and it was located a full kilometer south of V1 where it was well out of range of fires or shrapnel should the unthinkable occur. It had its own computer system, power supply, and miniature life-support system based on tanks of compressed air. The only connection between V1 and the ERP was the 40.002 MHz radio link.

Two radio frequencies and a date three days in the future suggested to Arik that the message wasn’t so much a message in and of itself as it was instructions on where and when to find the real message. The problem was that Arik wasn’t able to listen in on either of those two frequencies. All communications to and from Earth were highly secured using encryption algorithms that Arik would be hard-pressed to break anytime in the next decade, even with a multi-core electron computer. That, Arik believed, was what explained the word “DELTA.” In the context of radio communication, “delta” was usually used in place of the letter “D,” however an alternative interpretation—the variation of a variable or function, or the difference between two values—seemed to make much more sense. The difference between the two encrypted frequencies was 882.758 MHz—a frequency which, as far as Arik knew, wasn’t being used for anything, and which he should be able to easily tune in to using the V1 frequency scanner.

By this time, Arik was simultaneously disturbed and intrigued by the fact that he was almost positive the message was intended for him. He was also fairly certain that it was either a trick being played on him by a friend of his in the Code Pod, or possibly a test arranged by Dr. Nguyen or Priyanka to make sure Arik was still up to the task of solving AP. He checked the source control system’s logs to see who was responsible for the changes to the shell program, and was astounded to find that all of the revisions had been attributed to him.

This was almost certainly not a joke. Embedding “Easter eggs” in code for fun and covering your tracks was one thing, but attributing changes to another user was much more difficult, and in the case of Arik’s account, very nearly impossible for anyone except maybe Fai himself. Not only did Arik use the standard DNA identification protocol, but he was probably the only one in V1 who combined biometric identification with gesture identification. Gesture identification required that unique shapes or patterns be drawn in order to verify someone’s identity. Even if someone had figured out how to spoof his biometric signature, his gesture ID was complex enough that it couldn’t be guessed, and since he almost always used his BCI to draw it, it was unlikely that someone could have covertly recorded it, or deduced it from marks or prints left on a piece of polymeth. The likelihood that Arik’s account had been compromised was extremely low.

It was far more likely that Arik’s memory of hiding the Easter egg had been destroyed either by the accident, or in the surgery afterwards, and that the message was an attempt to pass along information to himself in the future. The theory made perfect sense except for one thing: it implied that he had somehow been able to predict the accident.

Conception

Arik felt like his hearing had become more sensitive since the accident. Even from outside the bedroom, he could tell that Cadie had just closed her workstation. Conductive polymeth was supposed to be completely silent, but Arik’s ears could pick up the infinitesimal vibrations of the excited molecules entombed deep in the thick plastic. It resonated throughout the pod just above the threshold of perception, and he usually wasn’t even aware that he was hearing it until it suddenly stopped. Perhaps his hearing had somehow improved, or perhaps Arik was so intent on avoiding Cadie now that he’d simply become much more attuned to her actions. Cadie turned the wall lights out and slid down in bed, and now Arik could hear her trying to find a comfortable position for her unfamiliar body.

He got up and stood in the doorway. Cadie was hugging a long latex foam pillow that went under her swollen belly and between her legs. She sensed him watching her and rolled over.

“What’s wrong?”

“Before you came home tonight, I was working on something.”

“What?”

“I’m not sure. But I think it was something important.”

“The error codes?”

“They weren’t error codes,” Arik said. “I think it’s a message.”

“From who?”

Arik paused before he answered. He was still trying to make sense of it himself. “From me.”

“From you? What do you mean?”

“I think I sent myself a message before the accident.”

“What does it mean?”

“I don’t know yet.” He paused in a way that indicated that he wasn’t finished, but didn’t quite know how to go on. “But I think once I figure it out, everything is going to change. I think we need to talk about the baby.”

Cadie watched Arik for a moment in the dark, then pulled herself up and leaned against the headboard. She drew her legs up to make room on the bed, and Arik sat down. Neither of them reached for the light.

They each waited for the other to start. Arik had constructed this conversation in his mind dozens of times since he’d returned home from the hospital, and he knew that there was no way to avoid asking Cadie one simple and direct question:

“It isn’t mine, is it?”

“It’s complicated.”

“It isn’t complicated. We both know it isn’t mine.”

Arik’s eyes were adjusting to the dark, and he could see Cadie watching him carefully.

“We need to talk about more than just the baby.”

“It’s Cam’s, isn’t it?”

“I need you to listen to me. I need to tell you something, and I need to start from the beginning.”

Arik could see that Cadie had rehearsed this. He understood his wife well enough to know that she would have to do this in her own way.

“OK.”

She took a moment to prepare herself. She looked down and watched her hands while she spoke.

“We all thought you were going to die,” she said. “Your father contacted me at the Life Pod and told me to meet him here. When I got here, he said you’d been involved in a very serious accident, and that without surgical assistance from Earth, they didn’t think you’d live.”

Arik had never even seen Cadie cry before—at least not as an adult. The way her features changed, and the way she moved her head to the side and her straight black hair fell beside her cheeks, made her look like an entirely different person. It suddenly occurred to Arik what an incredibly sheltered life they had all lived up until now. They had never lost a family member or a friend, and until Arik’s accident, nobody they knew had ever been seriously injured. There weren’t even any pets in V1 to run away, or to get old and die. Living in such a carefully controlled environment had a tempering effect designed to keep emotions as well balanced as the atmosphere.

“The next day, Priyanka came to see me. He said there wasn’t a lot of time, and that if we were going to save any part of you, we were going to have to act quickly. He said I had a responsibility to V1.”

“A responsibility to do what?”

Cadie looked up. “To replace you.”

“Why would I need to be replaced?”

“You have no idea who and what you really are, do you?”

“What are you talking about, Cadie?”

“I’m talking about your purpose,” she said. “You were born to solve problems that no other human being can solve. All of us were.”

“Who’s all of us?”

“Gen V,” Cadie said. She wiped her eyes and took a deep breath. “Our parents were selected. Our genes were selected. We were taught math and biology and physics and computers and every other science practically since the day we were born. We knew the scientific method before we could even feed ourselves. Everything from the formula we were given to the amount and types of stimulation we got to the games we played were all designed to make us the best problem solvers the world had ever seen.”

“We were raised by engineers and scientists,” Arik said. “Of course we were taught to solve problems. I doubt we were raised any differently from kids on Earth with parents like ours. In fact, kids on Earth have access to a lot more resources than we do. Their education is probably much better than ours.”

“Arik, think about it. V1 is an entirely isolated and controlled environment. Food, oxygen, stimulation, genetics, even lighting. Everything here is controlled. There are no distractions, and there are no options. Our housing is taken care of for us. Our meals are taken care of for us. Our careers were assigned to us. Even our marriages were practically arranged. Whether we like it or not, our lives are entirely dedicated to nothing but scientific advancement.”

Arik knew everything Cadie was saying was true, but he had never thought of his upbringing as being in any way malicious or exploitive. It was no secret that they were being groomed to inherit V1—to help improve and expand the colony—but Arik had always thought of this expectation as a privilege.

“What do they want us to do?”

“Expand, of course,” Cadie said. “Colonize the rest of Venus, then the rest of the solar system, then other solar systems, and eventually other galaxies.”

“That’s not even possible,” Arik blurted out. “You’re not making any sense.”

“It all makes perfect sense. The human race has already learned how dangerous it is have our entire population on a single planet. It’s far too vulnerable. If we don’t destroy ourselves, we’ll eventually be destroyed by a comet or an asteroid, or some sort of solar prominence, or a nearby gamma ray burst, or a pandemic. There are an infinite number of scenarios that could lead to human extinction. Everyone agrees it’s not a question of if—it’s a question of when. The GSA has one single directive: preserve the human race by promoting self-sustaining colonies throughout the solar system, galaxy, and the universe. And they can’t do that without us.”

“Cadie, you’re talking about technology that’s hundreds or even thousands of years away, if it’s even possible at all. It’s completely unrealistic. We’ve barely left Earth, and we’re already struggling.”

“It’s not technology that limits us. We’re the limitation. Our technology is an expression of our intelligence and creativity, so the limitations of our technology are a reflection of our own limitations. We can’t fundamentally advance technology until we fundamentally advance ourselves. That’s what Gen V is all about.”

“But the whole point of technology is to push us beyond our own limitations and capabilities. That’s why we have computers that can perform calculations quadrillions of times faster than the human brain.”

“Arik, you know as well as anyone that computers are capable of far more than even the most complex tasks we give them. Computers aren’t limited by hardware. They’re limited by the software that humans write. That’s why you’re so important. I don’t think you realize this, but you’re already considered one of the best computer scientists in history. At your age, you’re already far beyond Fai, and nobody here or on Earth can use a BCI like you. You have the potential to solve problems that nobody else has even dreamed of solving—that nobody else can even conceptualize. V1 needs you more than you realize. The GSA needs you. When Kelley talks about the Pinnacle of Human Achievement, he’s mostly talking about you, Arik.”

Arik watched her for a moment in the dark. “Priyanka told you all this?”

Cadie nodded. Arik looked down at the bed. He could feel his reality shifting as he began to grasp what Cadie was telling him. Everything she said made sense. In fact, on some level, he felt like he already knew most of it. If the Founders had tried to conceal their plans for Gen V, they had concealed them in plain sight. To see them, you only had to look at the big picture, to broaden your perspective, to stop looking at time in terms of weeks, months, or years, and to start thinking in terms of generations. To really understand your own place in history, you needed to be able to see yourself in the past tense.

Arik felt like he should be angry, but the clarity he was starting to experience felt positive and somehow empowering. He was starting to feel focused, and to realize a new and tangible sense of purpose. But there was also the sense that he was considered nothing more than a resource—that he would only be allowed to reach his full potential in areas that happened to align with V1′s best interests. Arik knew there was more in what Cadie was telling him—more for them to discuss and explore—but all of that would have to wait.

“Tell me about the baby.”

Cadie took a deep breath and continued. “Priyanka brought me a DNA sample. He said if we could recover some part of you, nothing would have been lost but time.”

“Priyanka?” Arik interjected. He recalled his discussion with Priyanka before he’d been allowed to leave the hospital, and specifically the way he’d brought up the baby.

“Arik, you have to understand that I didn’t do it for him, or for V1, or for the GSA. I did it for me. You’re all I have. If you died, I’d be completely alone for the rest of my life. Can you understand that?”

“But what did you do, Cadie?”

“I created our baby.”

Arik stared at her across the bed. He was shaking his head. “What are you saying?”

“I used an infection,” Cadie said. “A virus. I used your DNA to create our baby.”

“How?”

“Listen,” Cadie said. Arik could see that she was changing roles and starting to talk to him now as a biologist rather than his wife. She leaned toward him. “Most people think of viruses as parasites, but they aren’t parasites at all. An organism has to be considered alive to be classified as a parasite. Viruses don’t do any of things living organisms do. They don’t grow, they can’t move on their own, and they don’t metabolize. They don’t even have cells. But the one thing a virus is very good at is reproducing. When it finds a suitable host cell, it attaches itself and injects its DNA through the cell’s plasma wall. The virus’s genes are transcribed into the host cell’s DNA, and the host cell’s genetic code is rewritten. Whatever its job was before, its new job is to do nothing but produce copies of the original virus, usually until it’s created so many that the cell bursts open and spreads the infection.”

“What does this have to do with the baby?”

“Everything,” Cadie said. “Because the thing about viruses is that they’re easily manipulated. The DNA they inject doesn’t have to be destructive. It can be replaced with almost any kind of DNA you want, and it can be programmed to only replace certain parts of the host’s genetic code. In other words, viruses are perfect vectors for genetic engineering.”

Arik could see where she was going. “But you’d have to have an embryo first, wouldn’t you?”

“Not an embryo,” Cadie said. “By that time, it’s too late. You need a zygote. A zygote gets half of its genetic material from the mother and the other half from the father. Before the zygote becomes an embryo, you have a short window of time in which you can make genetic modifications. And the best way to make those modifications is to let a genetically engineered virus make them for you. Do you understand?”

Arik nodded. He was following what Cadie was telling him, but still not entirely comprehending the implications.

“Arik,” Cadie said, “the baby started out as Cam’s, but it’s as much yours now as if we conceived it ourselves.”

She waited for Arik’s reaction, but he was completely still. He didn’t know what to feel. It occurred to him that human emotion had not evolved quickly enough to keep up with what mankind’s scientific capabilities demanded of it. Sometimes the tiny components that made up an experience just didn’t fit in to existing emotional receptors, and the result was simply numbness.

“Arik,” Cadie said, “the baby is yours. It’s ours.”

“Did you test the DNA Priyanka gave you?”

“No, because I didn’t use it,” Cadie said. “I used your DNA from ODSTAR instead. It was the only way I could be sure it was yours. I had to destroy the project, but it worked. She’s a perfectly healthy baby girl. She’s our baby girl.”

Cadie’s tearful smile was all Arik needed to tell him how to feel. For the first time, he reached out and touched his child. Cadie took his fingers away, pulled up her gown, and held his hand firmly against her flesh.

Arik looked up from Cadie’s belly. “She’s going to have that image of Earth inside her forever. Blue Marble. Like a genetic tattoo.”

“I know,” Cadie said. “I think it’s beautiful. Wherever she ends up, whatever ends up happening to her, she’ll always have something inside of her that no one can take away.”

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “Containment Giveaway.” One entry per person. Three winners will be randomly selected. This giveaway is open to those in the US and Canada (sorry to everyone not in those countries). The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Friday, August 31. Each winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

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