Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Breath of the Sun

Isaac R Fellman
Completed 8/29/2020, Reviewed 8/30/2020
3 stars

This was a beautifully written book, but I couldn’t get into it.  It’s about a female mountain climber on a planet where the Sublime Mount is so tall it can be seen almost anywhere on the planet.  Many religions revere it as the body of God, and ascending is like trying to see the face of God, although none but the great prophet Asam has ever made it to the top.  All the parts were there, great prose, characterization, and plot.  But for some reason, it didn’t add up to a satisfying whole.  It won the Lambda Literary Award in 2019 for SF/Fantasy/Horror and has received a lot of love in reviews on the internet. 

Lamat is the mountain climber.  She is of the Holoh people who live in the shadow of the mountain.  She wrote a best-selling book about an ill-fated climb with her husband and two friends.  She is approached by Mother Disaine, an apostate priest of the Arit sect to guide her up the mountain.  Like all priests she is a scientist and knows some magic.  She has used her knowledge and skill to create a climbing suit to keep the air pressure on the body high as you climb in elevation.  They go up once, as a test and conditioning run and find the suit has flaws.  They get some money from Lamat’s ex-husband and work to prepare for another suit and another climb.  In the meantime, Lamat is ex-communicated from the Holoh people for her trip up the mountain which seemed to cause a landslide below, an act of God showing displeasure in Lamat’s latest attempt to scale the mountain.  They go up again and Disaine returns to claim that she made it to the top.  This book is Lamat’s attempt at a second book, intended only for her partner, Otile, a real tell-all to describe what really happened on the two trips with Disaine as well as what really happened with her friends.

The prose really is gorgeous.  It makes you feel like you are climbing along with Lamat on both trips with Disaine, as well as on the first publicized trip with her husband and friends.  You feel the cold and the exhaustion, the fighting and the love.  What I didn’t feel was any empathy for Lamat, the main character.  She’s very disaffected, and that made me keep my distance from her.  I actually felt more closely with Disaine, even though she’s a liar and a charlatan.  She’s colorful and believes in herself, even when she Is lying to everyone.  I also liked Otile, who leaves little footnotes in the text, as well as has excerpts from Disaine’s diary which adds an interesting perspective.

The book is short, but it feels like a much longer book, mostly because of the climbing on the mountain.  It is slow and arduous and the pacing reflects that.  I think that was one of my problems with the book.  Reading was kind of slow and arduous despite having some beautiful language.  I give the book three stars out of five.  I think I would have given it four if I liked Lamat better.  Despite only a three star rating, I would definitely give Fellman another try. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Izzy and Eve

Neal Drinnan
Completed 8/26/2020, Reviewed 8/26/2020
2 stars

This book had its moments, but they were too few and far between.  It started off well, but got pretty confusing.  There’s a drug-induced alternate dimension which was just weird.  The subtitle is An Erotic Thriller, but there was nothing erotic about it.  It had sexual content, but nothing that could be classified as erotic.  In fact, it was quite boring and in bad taste.  Somehow, it fooled the judges at the Lambda Literary Awards into thinking this was good literature, winning the 2007 award for Sci Fi/Fantasy/Horror.  I read three of the other four nominees, Carnival by Elizabeth Bear, Spin Control by Chris Moriarty, and Mordred Bastard Son by Douglas Clegg.  Any of those three would have been a better choice for the award in my opinion.  This book is just bloated prose with not-well-thought-out ghosts and alternate dimensions.  Somewhere in there was a good idea, but it was executed quite mediocrely. 

Izzy is an older (42 y.o.) gay man living with his best straight friend Eve who is the same age.  Izzy draws comics for adult magazines and Izzy does the accounting and reception for a brothel, occasionally entertaining a rich sheik herself.  One day, Izzy goes missing.  Freaked-out Eve goes searching for him, finding out he was frequenting S&M clubs and taking a drug called SILT that was becoming popular in the gay community.  She finds that there’s been a ton of missing gay men lately, all middle aged.  Eve teams up with Anton, the bisexual lover of another man lost in the same world.  Their search takes them to the police, to a university professor, and to places they never expected. 

The book begins rather normally, introducing these two characters from their first-person perspectives in alternating chapters.  Then when Izzy disappears, he narrates as a ghost or in the alternate dimension (it’s never made clear).  As more people disappear, they appear in the alternate dimension as well.  It took me most of the book to figure out what was going on there.  It wasn’t until a drug seller ends up there that I got it that they were in the other dimension.  Eve’s narrative follows her search for Izzy.  Sometimes their narratives bounce back in time, which got a little confusing.  Towards the end, it jumps ten years without warning, which was also confusing.  Can you tell this book is confusing?

The best drawn character is Eve, though she isn’t very likeable.  She has a terrible attitude toward life, uses a lot of prescription drugs, and is very promiscuous.  Izzy you seem to know in the beginning, but then in the alternate dimension, we just get a lot of overbearing, almost stream of consciousness prose that has little to do with his character.  In the flashbacks, however, you get the sense that you don’t really like Izzy either. 

In the beginning, I liked the prose, but as the book wore on, it seemed bloated and pretentious, like the author was really trying hard to get as many similes and power nouns and adjectives in there as he could.  Sentences ran on way too long.  The author actually notes that he finished his book at a writer’s workshop, which surprised me because it sounded like there was no one there to put the breaks on this book.  Maybe they were just too nice and not willing to be critical enough.

One really important technical point was that the formatting of this e-book was terrible.  It was like they tried to fit a certain (large) number of words to a line and when that number was reached, inserted a carriage return, regardless of whether it was the end of a sentence or not.  At the font size I read, the lines wrapped.  So there would be a full line words, followed by a line of a few words, followed by carriage return and a blank line.  The sentence then continued on the next line.  At first it looked like some kind of poetic formatting, but it was just annoying.  I don’t know who to blame here, the author, the e-book designer, or the editor.  At least with all the blank space, it made me feel like I was reading very quickly.

I give this book two stars out of five.  It’s not truly awful.  It’s just a mess, with some good ideas and bad execution.  But I don’t think I’d give this author another chance.  And I don’t think I’d recommend this to anyone.  Even though this was a Lammy winner, it will not be included on the WWEnd LGBTQSpeculative Fiction list.  I’m just glad I didn’t put it on there when I first put the list together.

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Deep

Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, et al.
Completed 8/24/2020, Reviewed 8/24/2020
5 stars

Right on the tail of a book about women living on an ocean planet, I’ve finished another book about the sea.  This time, it’s a mythological tale based on the horrors of history, our history.  During the slave trade in the U.S., pregnant African women were thrown overboard from the slave ships if they became sick or just in general too much of a hassle.  This mythology is about the infants born as these women died by drowning.  The infants were transformed into water-breathing, finned beings, the wajinru.  Their descendants live together under the sea and multiplied.  The origins were too painful to remember, so they chose one wajinru to remember everything, the historian.  Once a year the wajinru gather and the historian shares their remembrances.  Then after a few weeks, they all forget and continue their lives without the pain of the past.  This story was inspired by a song by Daveed Diggs’ rap group clippings. which was inspired by an earlier concept by a techno group.  Diggs’ song was nominated for a Hugo, as was this novella.  It won the Lambda Literary Award for Sci Fi/Fantasy/Horror in 2020.  I loved it.

Yetu is a wajinru historian.  She is in constant mental anguish from remembering all the terrible things from their history, like their origins and their war with the “two legs”.  This is a different experience from past historians who were energized and emboldened by holding this knowledge.  At the next remembrance, she shares their history, but before taking it back from the other wajinru, she swims away, leaving all of them with the burden of history.  She swims toward land where she is washed ashore during a storm into a tidal pool.   She is found by several two legs and is befriended by one of them.  Another, Oori, is a seafaring woman who fishes, and provides her with food.  This contact results in unlikely friendships, and more.

I was overwhelmed by this novella.  I loved everything about it, the plot, the characters, the writing, the message.  I was glad it was short; I was able to read it in two sittings.  The message is straight-forward.  You must reclaim your past, even the darkness, and learn from it.  The plot is also pretty straight forward, although there are several chapters that jump back to past historians that took me a bit to process.  But otherwise, it’s not really a complicated book.  The trope of someone holding the history of a people, either for the good of the people or to manipulate them, has been done before (I can even think of a 70’s made for TV movie that had this trope).  But I think it is done really well here. 

The characterization is excellent.  The majority of the story is third person from Yetu’s perspective.  She was so well developed, I could feel her anguish carrying the past, and reveled in her curiosity as she interacted with the two legs.  Other characters were also very vibrant, including Yetu’s mother and Oori.  The latter is a very private, introverted misanthrope.  But she slowly lets her guard down with Yetu, giving her a transformative but believable experience. 

Above all, I found the writing to be just wondrous.  The prose is very readable without being overbearing.  I savored every sentence.  This was one of those books where I just sank into the rhythm of the language.  Even when the time frame jumped into the past and it took me a while to figure out what was going on, the writing soothed me into understanding. 

I give this book five stars out of five.  It really touched me at a deep level.  I didn’t want to leave the world that Solomon created.  It was beautiful and painful.  Fortunately, at the end, there’s an afterward by Diggs, the vocalist from clippings.  He discusses the evolution of the story from its techno origins through his group and then into this novella.  It provided a nice way to come out from Solomon’s creation.  I think Solomon is a gifted writer and I can’t wait to read her first book, An Unkindness of Ghosts.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

A Door Into Ocean

Joan Slonczewski
Completed 8/23/2020, Reviewed 8/23/2020
4 stars

I’ve read a lot of books featuring a women’s utopia or dystopia.  They’ve ranged from mediocre to great.  This is one of the great ones.  It has tremendous world-building, a complex plot, and tackles themes like saving the environment, non-violent existence, and passive resistance.  It takes place on Shora, an ocean planet.  The women living on the planet have a purple tint, are hairless, and reproduce parthenogenically.  They live on “rafts,” large floating platforms, and interact with the sea creatures in mysterious ways.  Shora is about to be invaded by the Patriarchy, an empire that controls all the people-bearing planets in the galactic neighborhood.  Their quandary is how to fight off the Patriarchy while sticking to their peace-loving culture.  This book was published before the major LGBTQ book awards came into being, but it did win the Campbell award for Science Fiction in 1987. 

Spinel is a stone-cutter’s son.  He lives on Valedon, a planet in the same system as Shora.  (I wasn’t quite clear on this, but Shora may be its moon).  He’s directionless, not having had much motivation to find a career for himself.  One day, he comes across two naked purple women from Shora who’ve come to learn about Valedon.  They’ve created an uproar in the town, but have not met with much resistance.  He becomes entranced with them and they offer to take him back with them to Shora.  At first, he’s excited, but when they actually make a deal with his parents to take him with them, he balks.  Still, he ends up going.  On Shora, he has a tough time integrating with women there, known as Sharers, but eventually becomes a part of their culture.  The Sharers are not without their turmoil.  They have foreign traders living on the planet.  Then the invasion comes and they choose to fight the only way they know how, by passive resistance. 

There are so many interesting things in this world that Slonczewski created.  The Sharers have developed an advanced medical practice where they use genetics and local plants to heal people as well as manipulate their environment.  For example, they’ve altered insects to carry information.  They’ve done this despite eschewing modern technology.  This causes the invading cultures to consider them witches.  The Sharers have also developed a technique for dealing with grief and pain.  They go into a trance state where their body turns white and they cannot be reached without force.  It is considered anathema to try to bring someone out of this state.   They deal with transgressions by shunning the transgressor with silence for some period of time.  Their language uses, some may say overuses, the word sharing.  It’s a little annoying at first, but then begins to make sense.  You realize it is essential in describing how the Sharers think and act.  Their decision-making is by consensus in a process called Gathering. 

The battle for Shora is not a clear war along gender lines.  Sure, the general, Realgar, is a pretty evil male, and many of the people in power in the Patriarchy are male.  But Spinel is a male who assimilates into Sharer society, and many of the male soldiers stationed on Shora soften to the Sharer’s plight.  And there is at least one woman on the Patriarchy side who is pretty evil, Jade, being the primary torturer.  Realgar and Jade, despite being bad, are a little more three dimensional than most of the bad guys in science fiction, although Realgar becomes quite single-minded in his pursuit of conquest.

I thought the character development was really good.  Spinel is perhaps the best developed.  Much of the beginning of the book is from his perspective.  Of the Sharers, Merwen, a woman the Patriarchy sees as leader among this leaderless society, is also well done.  Much of the rest of the perspective from the Sharers is through her eyes.  Her sisters look to her for wisdom in dealing with the invasion.  Her partner Usha is a healer of astounding talent.  Merwen has a daughter Lystra, who is headstrong and against the fact that Merwen brought Spinel to live with them.  Lystra probably does the most growing as she first loses her partner, then falls in love with Spinel. 

I give this book four stars out of five.  I was engrossed with it by about the fiftieth page and subsequently had trouble putting it down.  For someone who generally doesn’t like space opera memes, I really got into the politics of the invasion, particularly how the Patriarchy dehumanizes the Sharers by constantly referring to them as catfish, from which they may have evolved.  At the same time, the Sharers deal with their own question of their enemy’s humanity, considering they have the morality of children and are obsessed with death rather than life.  There are three other books in this series.  I don’t know if I’ll read them, as my TBR pile for next year is so large.  But I’ll definitely consider it based on how much I enjoyed this one. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Drowning Girl

Caitlin R Kiernan
Completed 8/17/2020, Reviewed 8/17/2020
4 stars

Books about mental illness are often both extremely engrossing and disturbing.  This book is definitely both.  I could barely put it down.  The main character is schizophrenic.  She is an unreliable narrator, she acknowledges that she lies, and she makes a distinction between truth and factual.  The story is a ghost story, or maybe it’s just her illness, or maybe it’s somewhere in between.  This book is one of the most nominated books in a while, getting Nebula and World Fantasy Award nominations among many others, and winning the Bram Stoker and Otherwise Awards.

India Morgan Phelps, known simply as Imp, is a dangerously trusting person.  When a neighbor is kicked out of her living situation, she invites her to stay with her.  They quickly fall in love.  Soon after Abalyn moves in, Imp finds a young woman standing naked on the road in the dark.  Out of concern for her, she brings her home, much to Abalyn’s consternation.  Eva Canning, the young woman, leaves the next day, but Imp becomes obsessed with her.  She see’s her around town.  She dreams of her.  She begins to see and hear her when no one else can.  Then she goes off her meds.  Abalyn can’t handle this and moves out.  Is Eva real, a ghost, a siren, a mermaid, a wolf, or simply a symptom of Imp’s schizophrenia?  That is the question that underlies the novel. 

The characters of Imp and Abalyn are very well-developed.  Imp draws a lot of sympathy as she struggles with the questionable reality of Eva and her relationship with Abalyn.  I found myself really liking and being concerned about Imp despite her unreliable, non-linear narration, where lies may not be factual, but they are the truth.  She paints for a living, making art for herself as well as what she considers crap for the tourist trade.  She also writes short stories to help expunge her demons, one of which was published, but others which she never wants to publish.  She is very much behind the times, not knowing anything about computers or contemporary music.  Her album collection is her mother’s vinyl from the ‘70s and she doesn’t know what it means to google something.

Abalyn is transgendered woman who writes video game reviews for a living.  She has just come from a disastrous relationship.  Imp tells her about her mental illness, and Abalyn deals with that as best as she can until it becomes intolerable.  She is a strong person, easy to disturb, but patient enough that she is present through much of the story.  She adds some credence to the ghost story because she actually sees Eva the first time Imp brings her home.  I liked Abalyn a lot and was saddened the first time she leaves Imp. 

The writing of the book is marvelous.  It’s not always quite coherent as Imp meanders and gets side tracked.  There’s one chapter where she is off her meds.  It’s equally enthralling and vastly incoherent.  But the style overall is quite unique.  Reading it is experience, as there isn’t much plot or action.  You experience Imp as she goes in and out of her illness.  You experience Abalyn in her struggle to have a normal relationship.  You experience Eva, whether she’s a siren or a werewolf, or simply a woman in a red dress at the art museum.

I give this book four stars out of five.  I very nearly gave it five stars, but found the ending a little too poetic for my tastes, considering how the rest of the book is much rawer.  I really enjoyed the book, though.  I found the treatment of the transgender character to be one of the best I’ve ever read.  I think this book will be remembered for a long time an excellent example of how to write a book about mental illness without being patronizing. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Ring of Swords

Eleanor Arnason
Completed 8/14/2020, Reviewed 8/14/2020
4 stars

This was a very different take on the first contact trope.  The book describes aliens responding to their first encounters with humans.  It explores what it means to be “people” and considers the topics of morality, war, sexuality, and gender politics.  It’s an ambitious novel that worked pretty well.  My only beef with it was that the names of the aliens were confusing, and that there were a lot of them.  I often wasn’t sure who was talking, other than two of the more prominent alien characters.  But overall, I liked it, finding it fascinating and well-written.  This book was nominated for an Otherwise Award for its exploration of gender issues.

Anna Perez is a researcher of intelligence in other species.  The story begins where she is working on another planet studying a species of jellyfish-like creatures that communicate with flashes of light.  A group of aliens called the Hwarhath come to the planet to work out a peace treaty with humans.  Their translator is Nicholas Sanders, an earthling who was captured by the Hwarhath, became a turncoat and sided with them.  Anna becomes caught up in the diplomatic endeavor, eventually being sent to a Hwarhath space station as an observer for a new treaty after the first one fails.  Over the course of the talks, Anna learns about the society of the Hwarhath and Nicholas’ tenuous relationship with them. 

The society of the Hwarhath is fascinating.  It is divided along gender lines.  Women are nurturers and safe.  They mostly stay on the home planet.  Hwarhath men are aggressive and dangerous.  They become soldiers in the society’s army, searching space for enemies to bring war against.  They are segregated from the women and children upon reaching adulthood.  Children are conceived by artificial insemination to prevent the men from harming the women and children.  Everyone in the society is homosexual and heterosexuality is seen as a perversion.  When they come across humans in space, they are aghast that they are mostly heterosexual, believing them to be barbarians for keeping the genders mixed. 

In one confrontation, the Hwarhath took Nicholas as a prisoner.  He became a traitor to Earth and joined the Hwarhath.  He also became lovers with a high ranking general in the military forces.  It’s an unusual relationship with the general, as these aliens are human-like, though fur covered, and it has not been decided whether or not humans are people or animals.  Nicholas’ primary role is as translator.  He has taught the English language to several of the Hwarhath.  He develops a friendship with Anna, as she is rare among humans to want to learn more about the aliens rather than fear and fight them. 

Anna is a great character, a scientist of Mexican descent who is the first female human the Hwarhath get to know.  She conveys human society to them.  Through her interactions with the Hwarhath , with Nicholas, and through the peace negotiations, we learn all about their society gradually rather than in one huge info dump.  There’s no sexual tension between Anna and Nicholas, which I found refreshing.  The only sexual relationship that has any real development is of Nicholas and the general.

There was another character I really liked.  I remembered his name because it was short, Mats.  He is a playwright who through Anna and Nicholas, learns about Shakespeare.  He becomes fascinated by the plays and adapts them to Hwarhath scenarios and moralities.  The first play he adapts is Macbeth. 

The story is told in mostly alternating chapters between an Anna-perspective third-person narration and Nicholas’ first- person journal entries.  The story hangs together fairly well through the narration, although there were a couple time jumps that confused me.  I thought they could have been signified a little more clearly. 

I give the book four stars out of five.  It was a very interesting read.  It wasn’t full of action.  It’s a philosophical discussion under the guise of space opera.  But it was still intriguing.  It was the reverse of the usual story where earthlings are trying to decide if aliens are “human” or “people” versus really smart animals or barbarians.  If you’re looking for a smart take on first contact stories with some deep meaning, this is the book for you.

Sunday, August 9, 2020


Nicola Griffith
Completed 8/9/2020, Reviewed 8/9/2020
5 stars

Nicola Griffith is the most nominated and one of the winningest authors of the Lambda Literary Award.  This book was her first win.  I really liked her second win, SlowRiver.  Ammonite, however, feels like her masterpiece.  It was also her first novel.  It felt carefully written, with wonderful prose and beautiful characterization.  The premise is the basic trope of a planet of women, but it is done as if women were simply people, not less than men, not greater than men, simply people who have adapted to their environment.  She comments on this in her afterward, that her goal was to write a book where the women’s characters are as varied as men’s in a typical mainstream science fiction novel.  This book also won the Sideways Award and is considered a classic of science fiction about as well as by women.

Marghe is an anthropologist going to the planet known as Jeep to study the culture of the women who inhabit it for a corporation that wants to exploit its natural resources.  The women are the remnants of a colony that was decimated by a virus that killed all the men and many women.  The women who survived somehow had children.  The problem with going to Jeep is that the virus is still active.  Marghe, however, is given an experimental vaccine for the virus, a pill she must take regularly.  She goes to Jeep, meets with the survivors of the corporation’s base, and then sets off to live with some of the indigenous cultures.  On her way, she is captured by one tribe.  She escapes, lives with another tribe, and discovers the secrets of the virus and people.

Marghe is a very well-developed character.  Through her exploits, we learn who she is, her past, and what she’s made of.  Griffith does a remarkable job of giving us the full range of emotions and experience of Marghe.  This is most demonstrated during her escape from the first tribe in the dead of winter in the far north of Jeep where the weather is bitter and a blizzard comes through.  Some authors could make this tedious, but Griffith made me feel Marghe’s courage and despair while she tries to save herself and her sanity.

In addition to Marghe’s story, there is a plotline that follows the corporation’s base and its commander Danner.  Danner has serious self-doubts about her abilities to lead.  She is conflicted by her duty to the corporation versus her people.  Her doubts and conflict help create another fully formed character with great complexity.  While not nearly as interesting as Marghe’s journey, Danner’s story line is still riveting as she must deal with corporate spies and keep up the morale of the base.  Between Marghe and Danner, I became a participant in the story, not just a spectator.

While anthropology in science fiction traditionally makes it “soft” versus “hard”, I thought the discovery of how the women of Jeep procreate was the best, most detailed explanation I have come across in any book about an all-women’s society.  I also thought the description of the virus was well done and believable.  These are two aspects of the story that show just how well Griffith did with the world-building.  In addition to these were the three cultures she created, that of the base and the two very distinct tribes in which Marghe lived.

I give this book five stars out of five.  I deeply felt a part of the complex world that Griffith created, although, as a man, the virus would have killed me.  The prose was wondrous without being heavy-handed.  The characters were multi-dimensional.  In the end, Griffith tied everything up beautifully and believably, which made me joyous and at the same time terribly sad that the book had to come to an end. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020


Isaac Asimov
Completed 8/5/2020, Reviewed 8/5/2020
3 stars

I first read the first four Foundation books about six years ago.  I didn’t write a review for the first three because I read them in anticipation of the fourth, Foundation’s Edge, during my Hugo winners reading marathon.  But I did give a brief summary of my thoughts of each book in my review of Edge.  Back then, I liked the first four stories and didn’t care for the fifth. (The first three books are collections of short stories, novellas, and novelettes about the Foundation).  This time, I didn’t care for the first three stories, liked the fourth, and really liked the fifth.  Overall, though, I found all five stories of this book to be too overloaded with exposition.  It’s all “Well let me tell you how I did this” or “Let me tell you what happened” rather than showing me through action.  And granted, these stories were written in the ‘40s, but, OMG, this book is about a bunch of cigar smoking privileged white guys who control or try to control the future of the galaxy.
Hari Seldon is a psychohistorian who through mathematics predicts that the galactic empire is about to fall apart and be replaced by millennia of dark ages.  In response, he creates a foundation whose goal is to preserve all human knowledge, make it available to everyone, and in effect reduce the coming dark ages to a single thousand years.  Each story presents a crisis that if successfully overcome as Seldon predicts through the science of psychohistory, the galaxy comes closer to its goal of a renaissance within the thousand-year time frame.  The crises are religious, political, and economic.  Every crisis is confronted head-on by some powerful individual man against all odds and the forces of other powers that be.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, my biggest problem is the exposition.  Every story has long one-sided dialogues that reveal how the Empire is falling apart and how the Foundation is surviving.  Aside from this, the character development is problematic.  I found it to be quite minimal.  The characters are memorable because of what they do, not who they are.  They have no backgrounds, few emotions, and no growth.  I guess the point of the stories is not the people characters, but the characters of the rising Foundation and the declining Empire.  Oh yeah, there is one female character, the wife of one of the rulers of one of the planets in one of the stories.  She makes two appearances, both short, and she’s annoying.

I found the writing to be terse, not very readable.  It was almost like reading philosophical or political tracts during all the exposition.  In my previous reading of these books, I found Edge to be better written, even though it still had a lot of exposition.  What I find hard to believe, particularly after rereading and not really enjoying this first book, is that The Foundation Trilogy won a one-time Hugo award for Best All-Time Series, beating The Lord of the Rings.  I guess, though, the Foundation Trilogy was a watermark for Science Fiction the way LOTR was for Fantasy.  Still, it seems like blasphemy.

I give this book three stars out of five.  I was definitely disappointed in my second reading of it.  This rating is kind of an average of my two readings.  I don’t get the hype, but maybe I would have if I read these stories when they were first published.  Reading them today, they definitely feel like a product of their time.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Mother of Souls

Heather Rose Jones
Completed 8/2/2020, Reviewed 8/2/2020
4 stars

It took me nearly a week to read this book, not because it was long, though it was longer than the first two.  It’s because it was so comfortable being in this world that Heather Rose Jones created.  This book introduced two new characters, in addition to the four main characters in the previous books, Daughter of Mystery and Mystic Marriage.  The book was much more complex with more plotlines, but I really enjoyed almost all of them.  The one plotline I didn’t really care for was the one that had to do with some of the politics of the world.  The others though were just wonderful.  This book won the Gaylactic Spectrum Award in 2017. 

In this book, Margerit tries to open an academy for women that teaches the type of magic she does, as well as other academic areas, because the local university barely tolerates women and doesn’t offer them degrees.  Antuniet wants to have a child to carry on the family name and inherit her title if she earns it back, but she wants to do it through alchemy, creating a homunculus.  Luzie, a new character, composes music that generates the same type of magical energy that Margerit works in.  Her dream is to create an opera.  Finally, Serafina, a Rome native whose parents came from Ethiopia, comes to Alpennia because she can see the magic more vividly than anyone she knows, but cannot generate the magic herself. 

There are a lot of plots, but they go together well.  Jones weaves the storylines in and out of each other nearly seamlessly.  I felt she did it much more fluidly than she did in the previous book.  The main plotline is the one with Luzie and Serafina, and that was the one I was most interested in.  When Luzie and Serafina meet, they find they can work together.  Serafina can see the energy coming from Luzie’s music, helping Luzie in her composing to create amazing music.  Together, they compose enough music to make an opera.  This collaboration also comes into play when it is found that sorcery is being used to block the pass though which people enter the country.  It’s blocked with snow from a continuous winter, which doesn’t permit the snow to melt, causing a drought in the country.  There’s a lot going on, but it all comes together as a pretty magnificent whole.

Serafina and Luzie really shine as the new characters.  Jones noted that her inspiration for Serafina was when he posed the question, “Where were the black people in Europe at this time?”  It prompted a lot of research on her part and this is the character she created in response to that.  Serafina is married to Paolo who tried to teach her how to do the magic that she so vividly sees.  Their marriage was based on this more than love, though Paolo expected her to be a good wife.  Because of his job, he is in Paris for three years.  That’s what prompts Serafina to go to Alpennia in the first place, seeking better council on her visual gift and lack of creative gift.  Luzie is a widow with two children who are away at school.  She’s kind of Serafina’s opposite.  She can create magical music but cannot see the magic she’s created.  When the two come together, it’s wondrous.  It also eventually leads to a romance that has many difficulties.  Like all the romance in this series, I thought it was done well.  It takes into consideration both the women’s existing relationship status and the sexual mores of the day.  As a reminder, this book takes place in the early 1800s.

I also appreciated the plotline of the development of the Margerit’s academy.  It’s not an easy chore, and not all of her choices are the best.  But you cheer for her because women and education do not go so easily hand in hand in this day and age. 

Though this book has standalone stories, it is dependent on the previous books for the other plots and the development of the existing characters.  There are no real cliffhangers, which I appreciate, though some of the plots clearly continue in the fourth book.

I give this book four stars out of five.  It’s much better than the second book, but I still like the first book the best.  Reading this book, especially so close to the previous ones, felt like cozying in a comfortable chair in a room filled with your favorite lesbian friends.  I’ve read a lot of really good lesbian science fiction and fantasy literature over the past four years, as well as some not so good.  This series ranks up there as one of my favorites.