Friday, October 28, 2016


J.M. Frey
Completed 10/22/2016 Reviewed 10/24/2016
4 stars

Triptych was a surprisingly good book.  It’s about alien refugees from a dead world coming to live on earth and integrating themselves into our society.  It specifically follows one alien, Kalp, who comes to fall in love with and enter a relationship with a human couple, Gwen and Basil.  There’s a little more going on in the book than simply that, but that plot is a substantial portion of the book.  Told from the point of view of the alien, it is one of the most intriguing books I’ve read in a while.

What I liked best about this book was that it looks at humanity from the point of view of the alien.  It makes it an examination of human behavior from an outsider’s point of view.  There are some scenes which are a little trite, like confusing laughing and crying and of course sex and fighting.  But they are done well and keep the story moving.

Kalp the alien is a wonderful character.  He is so earnest in his attempts to integrate himself with humans that I just ached for him.  The aching grows as he falls in love with Gwen and Basil.  You see, on his planet, unions are made of threes, not twos.  Hence the title:  A triptych is usually a painting or some other art on three frames hinged together.   By having three persons in a relationship, one can bear and raise a child, the second takes care of the bearer, while the third continues to work and support the whole family.  So it is natural for Kalp too fall in love with the couple.  The fun, and eventually, the heartbreak comes in as the three adapt to the triptych.

Needless to say, this setup does not sit well with everyone.  Some humans show their lack of humanity as they target the aliens and their lovers for assassination.  It is an obvious reflection of our society’s intolerance to the LGBT community.  But I didn’t mind being hit over the head with the metaphor because the characters, particularly Kalp, are so well done.  And the writing is particularly good for a first novel. 

This book is definitely a hidden gem, one that I wouldn’t have discovered if I hadn’t worked on the LGBT resource list for Worlds Without End.  It was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award several years ago.    I give this book four stars out of five for the interesting take on bisexuality and polyamory with the twist that the third is an alien.  But also because it was highly readable and a great third person narration from the alien’s perspective.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemisin
Completed 10/15/2016 Reviewed 10/18/2016
4 stars

This book is a bit of a difficult read at first.  There are three character narratives, one in second person present, the other two in third person present.  Each character is an orogene, someone who can move or stay geophysical forces like earthquakes and volcanos.  Through them, we learn what it is to be an orogene in three different circumstances.  First, you are young and your gift (or curse) is first discovered, you are taken to the Fulcrum, where you are assigned a Guardian who has often abusive control over you.  Second, you are halfway through your orogene training in the controlled environment that is none too pleasant.  But now you’re outside the Fulcrum on a journey and have to use your gift.  Third, when you live with your gift hidden from everyone, or as hidden as possible.  (Sorry, it’s quite by accident that I began writing in 2nd person).  None of these situations is pleasant.  It turns out being an orogene isn’t pleasant.

This is magnificent world building.  It’s incredibly imaginative, a world where the magic is in control of the earth.  It’s a little like being an earth bender from the cartoon Avatar: The Last Air Bender.   But here it’s all about the earth.  “Earth” is used like we use “Hell”, and “rust” is a curse.  The continent is called The Stillness, but it is anything but still.  Hence the need for orogenes to keep the ground from shaking.  But the world is afraid of the orogenes for the potential destruction they can cause as well.  So they are rounded up and taken to the Fulcrum, a sort of school where they are watched by their sadistic guardians and trained in their gift.

As you can see, the world is very dark, but not dark in a typical middle-ages pseudo-European world.  People are light and dark skinned, male and female, and not exclusively heterosexual.  It makes for a really well-rounded world.  I have to say I occasionally had a hard time remembering who was what race, which I think speaks to how much I am conditioned to thinking that the characters of a story are always default white.  

The prose is also amazing.  I have to admit, 2nd person is not my favorite tense to read, but those chapters read more easily than I expected.  I think it speaks well to Jemisin as a writer.  I had a much tougher time reading “Halting State” by Charles Stross, which was also written in 2nd person.    Here the narrative flows much better, though it still took me several chapters to get into the swing of the tense.  Especially since it alternates with chapters written in 3rd person present.

The one thing I didn’t find was empathy for the characters.  I was really interested in what was happening to them, but I wasn’t right there with them.  I never completely immersed myself into the story.  I found this sad because I was all ready to jump on the five star bandwagon that this book has been riding.  Maybe I’m still in a place where I can’t let myself go completely when I’m reading.  I found myself a little distanced from it, able to observe that this was an intense, well-crafted book, but not able to feel it.  So I give this book four stars out of five. 

As a sort of post script, I want to add that the reader should be aware of the glossary at the back of the book.  It really helps with understanding the universe of the book.  I didn’t discover the glossary until about halfway through the book.  Finding it made a bit difference.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Kappa Child

Hiromi Goto
Completed 9/24/2016 Reviewed 9/25/2016
4 stars

I’ve never read any of the “Little House on the Prairie” books but I understand the general gist from having seen a few episodes of the TV series back in my youth.  They represent a child’s view growing up in prairie homesteading days written for children.  The main, unnamed character of “The Kappa Child” is a bit obsessed with the book.  So when her Canadian family of Japanese descent moves from the lush metropolitan Vancouver, BC to the Canadian prairie, of course she’s going to compare and refer a lot to her favorite book.  But the worlds couldn’t be any more different, with her father’s dream of growing rice rather than something that would actually flourish.  And her father is abusive to the children and the mother. 

The book takes place in the present of the adult protagonist with flashbacks to her childhood moving to the farm.  In the present, she encounters a Kappa, a green water sprite, part frog, part turtle, part human.  But rather than real traditional fantasy, the encounter has more of a magical realism quality.  The encounter, which involves sumo wrestling as Kappas are prone to engage in, leaves the protagonist supernaturally pregnant.  So she must deal with her unbelievable, undetectable pregnancy, the pain of her childhood past, and her not-so-great present relationships. 

I realize the summary of the book is somewhat confusing, but the book reflects that.  The narrator, our protagonist, is an unreliable narrator, often not realizing the reality of what’s going on around her.  She has incredibly low self-esteem, and not so great relationships with her sisters and friends.  So the view we get of her life is skewed toward the negative.  But that’s not to say that the book is a confusing downer.  It is in fact a pretty good read where the jumps between the past and present are actually very easy to follow. 

What’s most confusing is the Kappa aspect.  At the end of the book, the author fully explains what a Kappa is from Japanese mythology.  It left me wondering about the significance of the main character being pregnant with a Kappa child.  Is that what I was supposed to be getting out of it?  Or perhaps, she  herself is the Kappa child. 

Even though I couldn’t quite figure this out, I really enjoyed the book.  The narrator has a very interesting perspective on her life.  It makes the book very readable.  I give the book four out of five stars.  

Saturday, October 1, 2016


Greg Egan
Completed 9/5/2016 Reviewed 9/13/2016
4 stars

This book is science fiction in the true sense of the term:  it is fiction that deals with science.  In this case the science is genetics.  A family is on a tropical island studying butterflies with a strange genetic mutation.  A civil war breaks out and the parents are killed, leaving Prabir to care for his younger sister Madhursee, getting them rescued.  Twenty years later, Madhursee returns to the island to study the growing number of genetic mutations in the region, leaving Prabir to deal with his ghosts from the past. 

The book is very hard science.  I was surprised at how technical the biology was.  There were times I had to skim over the prose because it was too technical for me.  However, I gleaned enough to get the basic gist of what was going on.  My lack of deep understanding didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book. 

The characterization is really good.  Egan wrote Prabir well, delving into the mind of a nine year old, and then presenting him twenty years later, more than a little controlling and broken.  The other characters are good too, but Prabir is the main character and it’s his perspective that the book is written in. 

I should also note that the author is Australian.  His familiarity with the tropics and the politics of the region creates a realism that a non-native wouldn’t have.  It took me a while to integrate this fact with the organic nature of the book.  It reads so naturally of the tropics of Indonesia.   

I give this book four out of five stars.  I really enjoyed it even though the science is quite hard.  It gets especially exciting as the book progresses and Prabir discovers the other mutations that have been infesting the region.  It’s a smart, exciting read.