- Belarus (by Lee Hogan)
- I should have liked this book more than I did. About half of it was a space opera, with nanotech and a war and exciting explosions. About a third of it was a serial killer profiling mystery. The leftover sixth was wonky alien relations. It sounds like my genre. But the plots didn't fit together right, and each of the genres felt like it got short shrift. The serial killer gets described as a "superkiller" by the profiler, but she never explains why, other than because she hunts superkillers. And he's just not smart enough; at the denouement he just degenerates into obscenities and misogyny. The war is a little too off-screen to make sense. And what the heck was up with Baba Yaga trundling around in her chicken-leg hut on another planet? I know, I know, an advanced enough technology is indistinguishable from magic, but the reasons for that level tech back in old Russia is left unexplained. Ambitious, but it doesn't quite make it. Two and a half stars.
- The Aware (by Glenda Larke)
- First, I should point out that the cover of this book is in the Wrong Genre. It depicts a squashed-ish Boris Vallejo heroine on a rainbow-finned seahorse-thing. Now, the main character does have a sword, but she'd no more wear a tunic and boots but no pants than I would. And while she does ride a "sea-pony" on occasion, it's explicitly described as something like a hard-shelled earthworm with feelers and eyestalks. Not nearly so cute.
Anyhow, the reason I can be so clear about the cover being the wrong genre is that the book aims for a very specific genre of greyscale, medium gritty fantasy, and it nails it dead on. The main character is mercenary and bitter but decent at heart. The people on top are corrupt, but a little better than the alternative. The adventure is dramatic, with good dollops of tragedy and valor - though sometimes the good guys die before saving the day. Even the frame story, which I can usually do without, has a purpose. Additionally, there's a strong atmospheric sense of place to the whole thing, set on a grotty little fishing island called Gorthan Spit. Caveat to buyers and borrowers: it's the first book in a trilogy, the third isn't out yet, and I don't yet own the second (though it's on its way). Four stars.
- Thomas the Rhymer (by Ellen Kushner)
- Ellen Kushner has not written enough books. (I am not counting the several choose-your-own-adventure novels that Amazon offers me). Lyrical, elegantly written, sad and joyful by turns - there's some of the same themes of love and loss and fate as in the Time Traveller's Wife, but grounded in several old English ballads instead of light science fiction. The book shifts narrator between four of the characters, one at a time, and the voices are distinct without the change being jarring. It's a lovely little gem of a story. Four and a half stars, and the missing half a star is because some of the original-in-the-ballads plots were odd conundrums.
- Halfway Human (by Carolyn Ives Gilman)
- An interesting philosophical examination of gender, but more so of child-ness. I digress to refer to a marvelous essay mjperson once pointed out to me: Most of the meat of the story takes place in flashbacks set on one world, Gammadis (the one with the third class of ungendered, fewer-rights people called "blands"), with the present story on Capella (a different society entirely, all about proprietary information transfer). I found the Capellan society fascinating, in the bits and pieces I got to see (but there weren't quite enough); Gammadis society was also interesting, but it was hard to tell exactly how the non-bland parts worked at all. The biggest problem I had with the story was with the main narrator, who alternates between strong and weak, independent and deferent, without much cause other than what makes for a dramatic soliloquy. fireworksboy spent Easter reading it, skipping from flashback to flashback, and that probably glossed over several of the flaws; that's also points for it being reasonably compelling. I'm definitely thinking about uplift rights again. Three and a half stars.