Survival by Julie Czerneda
There aren’t a lot of SciFi books about biology. So it’s interesting to read one. I first found Czerneda with her book A Thousand Words for Stranger. I was hooked. So of course, when I saw Survival I knew I had to read it.
In this story, Mac is a biologist studying salmon in a wilderness preserve in the Pacific Northwest. She is a very insular person, has never been off-world, and has never wanted to. She just wants to study her salmon and be left alone. But she’s not left alone. Instead, she’s dragged into an interstellar war that’s been going on since before Earth knew we were not alone in the universe.
The concepts and ideas come thick and fast, as you may expect from better science fiction. And since Czerneda is herself a biologist, she brings the personalities of the scientists in the story to life in a way that only someone who works with them would know.
As with all of her stories the aliens in this story are very well thought-out. That makes the whole thing that much more interesting. But unlike her earlier stories, the reason I enjoyed this one so much was because of her human characters. Mac herself is very fun and believable, and the other humans she meets are as well thought out as the aliens.
I enjoyed this book so much that when it turned out that my copy was missing something like 30 pages, I didn’t want to stop reading. So I just skipped ahead and kept reading in the car while we headed back to the bookstore to get a more complete copy. I missed some crucial parts, but nothing I couldn’t figure out and the rest of the book was worth it.
Smoke and Shadows by Tanya Huff
This book was not, by any means, a difficult book to read. It took about 2 days (with time off for working) and was fun. However, often throughout the book I got the sense that I was missing something. I thought I had read the other books about these characters, but the main character, Tony Foster, wasn’t familiar to me. Normally, it wouldn’t bother me at all, but there were a lot of references throughout the book to other stories that I wasn’t familiar with.
This is the story of Tony Foster, protege of Henry Fitzroy, vampire detective. But really, Henry was nothing more than the hired muscle. Instead, the main action was played by Arra, a reluctant wizard, and Tony, a young production assistant for a third- (no second-) rate production company. When shadows start moving by themselves, Tony is the only one to notice. And when they start killing people, he steps up to the plate to save the day.
Why is it that most urban fantasy always seems to be little more than mind-candy? This book is very enjoyable, a fun read, and quick, but there isn’t much substance. Guessing what happens isn’t terribly difficult, and even the quasi- “twist” isn’t all that twisted. The only real morals I got out of this book were that Vampire straight-to-syndication TV shows are not generally very good, most actors are pompous idiots, except for the misunderstood co-star who is “a better actor than anyone gave him credit for”. I spent long segments of the book speculating if Lee was meant to be Spike (from Angel) and wondering if there were a Vampire Slayer in the background somewhere.
If you’re looking for something deep, you should keep moving, but if you’re looking for a fun read that is easy on the mind and a good romp, then Ms. Huff delivers the goods. I enjoyed this book, but probably won’t be reading it again any time soon.
Zulu Heart by Steven Barnes
Book two in the series, this is a second look into an America where Africa conquered the world, and enslaved the whites. I don’t know enough about African culture to know how much of what I know and what I read is true and how much is just stereotyping. But that didn’t deaden my enjoyment of this story.
In this episode, Kai has grown up a little more and has to deal with the death of his uncle, father, and older brother. Aidan has his freedom and has built a home for himself and his family along with a number of other freedmen. But in order to stop a war, Aidan has to go back into slavery to help his childhood friend Kai.
That was what I struggled with the most in this book. Why would Aidan, even for the love of a childhood friend, be willing to go back into slavery? Many other characters asked him the same question, often many times. I, along with them was not totally convinced by the answer he gave.
A lot of the book felt like it was re-running episodes in US history, only with the skin color changed of the primary participants. It got me very interested in both African history and history from the Civil War era.
But the real strength of this book is the way I was sucked into thinking about the characters. After the first few pages, I never gave a thought to the color of the skins and instead was cheering and dismayed for everyone. This is a book that will make anyone take a long look at the US culture and how it was built on slavery and really start questioning it.
The Morgaine Saga by C. J. Cherryh
DANG! That’s all I can really say. This book was three books in one, but it took me about as long as it takes me to read like 6 or 8 books. It was very slow reading. It follows a man who has indentured himself to a half-elven woman (okay I’m embellishing, but that’s what she felt like) who’s only goal in life is to close the gates to Elfland in all the worlds she can. Granted, it’s set as SF (so Elfland is incorrect), but her race are taller than humans, paler of skin, wield what appears to be magic, and appear through a portal into worlds of men.
What I noticed was that as the main character began to understand his liege more the books became more understandable. It was a slow and often painful process, but by the end I felt like I almost knew what was going on. It’s sad, I think I should have just quit reading it, as it was a lot to comprehend while also studying Negotiations and International Management. But I stuck it out and finally finished it on Monday night.