Book Review: Footsteps in the Sky

Footsteps in the Sky by Greg KeyesI received this book as part of my Netgalley membership last year, and am finally getting around to posting my review. The premise is intriguing: Descendants of U.S. southwestern native tribes remain hard at work terraforming a new planet and trying to retain the faith of their forebears regarding the Kachina preparing a better place for them. Against this backdrop, the mega-corporation that sent them is returning to check on their progress at the same time the original terraformers are returning to the planet. In theory, this sets up a three-way polarity among factions that are each vying for their way to win. It’s a highly unusual mix of space opera with native lore:

The pueblo people who landed on the Fifth World found it Earthlike, empty, and ready for colonization . . . but a century later, they are about to meet the planet’s owners

One hundred years ago, Sand’s ancestors made the long, one-way trip to the Fifth World, ready to work ceaselessly to terraform the planet. Descendants of native peoples like the Hopi and Zuni, they wanted to return to the way of life of their forebears, who honored the Kachina spirits.

Now, though, many of the planet’s inhabitants have begun to resent their grandparents’ decision to strand them in this harsh and forbidding place, and some have turned away from the customs of the Well-Behaved People. Sand has her doubts, but she longs to believe that the Kachina live on beyond the stars and have been readying a new domain for her people.

She may be right. Humans have discovered nine habitable worlds, all with life that shares a genetic code entirely alien to any on Earth. Someone has been seeding planets, bringing life to them. But no other sign of the ancient farmers has ever been discovered—until one day they return to the Fifth World. They do not like what they find.

Because of the multi-polarity and shifting perspective, it is sometimes difficult to track the narrative flow, but I was captivated by the unique take on how a First People might reinterpret their myths and legends in the context of living in a space age. In these few key ways, it reminded me of Louise Marley’s Child Goddess. On the other hand, the insertion of an alien who takes on the form of one of the protagonists’ mothers into the mix, and the delicate balancing of political needs versus emotional needs added a whole other dimension to the tale.

Each of the characters has unique voices and perspectives, but the one closest to the current human condition is Alvar:

Alvar smiled. “Right continent, wrong tribe. Some of the plains Indians of North America used to say that, not the Hopi. ‘Today is a good day to die.’ They mostly did, too, poor fuckers. Did you know that there was a whole movement that believed they were immune to bullets? The Ghost Dancers.”

Teng had a fierce little grin on her face. “I like that. That’s beautiful.”

Alvar glanced back at the speculative ship and shrugged. They sat in silence for awhile.

From the perspective of a memorable tale, this could fit the bill for anyone who likes their scifi flavored with space opera overtones, but Marion Zimmer Bradley-like characterizations. However, I would be careful about recommending this to a general audience since the language is dense and some of the scenes are quite graphic.

Book Review: The Day Before

day-beforeI’ve reviewed other books by Liana Brooks (Fey Lights, and Even Villains Fall in Love) and follow her socks on Twitter, so I was lucky enough last week to get the opportunity to win an ARC of her latest release (HAPPY RELEASE DAY!), The Day Before. I kept telling myself I was only going to read just one more chapter, but in the end, the only reason I took a break at all was because hungry puppies will not countenance a book addiction.

😀

Over the past year, I’ve seen Brooks reference “Jane Doe” periodically (and honestly wasn’t sure that what she was describing in 140-character snippets was exactly my cup of tea), so didn’t know much else about the book when I received the ARC.  Given the body in chapter 1, it was evident pretty quickly that this was a mystery. Given the references to clones and legislation about them, it was also obvious that this was a sci-fi story set in the near future, when the U.S. has been absorbed into the Commonwealth of North America. I’m a fan of both genres, so she hooked me quickly with the premise that only certain kinds of bodies are worthy of a murder investigation.

Brooks has taken her world-building to a whole new level with this first installment in her Jane Doe series. I’m completely in love with the fictitious quotes from future selves of characters both in and outside the narrative that start the chapters:

Picture a wave, it crests and collapses without losing anything. There is energy. So much energy! Time is much the same, choice creates energy, the energy crests into a wave of possibility, a thousand iterations rising, but in the end, the water returns to the ocean. The prime iteration is stable. In the end, all possibilities lead to our reality.

The characters, especially Agents Samantha (Sam) Rose and Linsey MacKensie (Mac) of the Commonwealth Bureau of Investigation (CBI), are both flawed as well as people readers will be anxious to get to know over the course of the narrative. Brooks takes on prejudice on multiple levels, with race and clones being the two convenient targets for her characters to have conversations like this one:

A basic Hispanic face, nothing out of the ordinary, but disconcerting in its similarity to what Sam saw in the mirror every morning. She grimaced as the computer added wavy black hair and a dark skin tint. Sam surreptitiously glanced at the ME to see if he was smirking. Both the men stared at her face on the screen without recognition.

“Wetback?” Marrins harrumphed. “Looks like a friend of yours, Rose. You know her?”

“I was born in Toronto, sir, and not all people who look Hispanic actually know each other.”

“She looks familiar,” Marrins said. “Think I saw a whore with that face back in Texas once.”

“Not all Hispanics look alike, sir, but it’s an easy mistake to make. All white people looked the same to me until I took the bureau’s sensitivity course about racial differences in the workplace.” Her commentary sailed over Marrins’s bald head with room to spare.

Everything about the story gripped me–the speculation about the nature of time and personhood, the way the story unfolded, and the world-building. I’m glad the book is available starting today, so more people can enjoy how Brooks has made a successful mash-up of the sci-fi and mystery genres, and I’m very much looking forward to the next two installments in the series. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes either genre, since the bad-guy reveal is equally balanced between both–and very satisfying to the reader. This is one I’ll be re-reading with particular attention to the chapter introduction quotes and the details that got thrown under the bus as I raced through the narrative to figure out whodunnit.

Book Review: Fluency

FluencyThis was the second of my binge reads last weekend, and actually deeply impressed me for the strong female voice of the protagonist. I had picked it up over the summer while it was on sale, thinking I might have time to treat myself to a break with a book by a Twitter buddy (@Jenthulhu, you should follow her, too, since she shares very kewl science news & geek links on a regular basis)… but… it sat in my TBR pile for longer than expected. It didn’t let me go once I started reading, though.

Given my own love of languages, the protagonist’s vocation made her immediately appealing to me on the one hand, while her self-control allowed her the appropriate distance to maintain productive professional relationships with her colleagues:

“This isn’t how it’s supposed to work, you know,” he said, with a sly smile. She resisted smiling back.

“What?”

“You’re supposed to be the damsel in distress. We’re supposed to save you.”

She snorted and pulled her hand away. “Times have changed.”

“But what does that make us? Two dudes in distress? Pathetic.”

“Two colleagues in distress. Gender doesn’t matter,” she replied and let a hint of a sad smile cross her face.

Even more welcome was the fact that this was a mature woman who was learning and growing through her experiences. (I may be slightly burned out on the YA/NA craze these days, since it seems my Harry Potter fandom has put me in the marketing cross-hairs for a whole lot of juvenile characters…) Wells finally shares some of the reason for Jane’s self-contained distance late in the story in a way that will allow her to springboard to even greater growth in future installments, too, so it was a welcome development to find a character who didn’t bore me with her own inner stagnation.

I was sucked into the adventure of exploring a derelict spaceship and learning about alien races both from the human and alien perspective. The horror of discovering additional, unexpected hazards to space travel, and the Easter Egg bonus of a Smoking Man reference did a lot to cement my geek-heart happiness with the story. In fact, it felt like there were several homages to various scifi classics woven throughout, so I smiled at regular intervals not only from the banter among the characters but also at an author having fun with tropes.

Wells even managed to wedge in some lessons on women’s experience trying to pursue professions in science that helped underline the character’s tenacity while shining a light on the continued disparities between the sexes’ ability to advance credible careers.

My one nitpick was that the ending was a rather obvious cliffhanger, asking the reader to hold on for the ride (very much in the style of Contact, “wanna go for a ride, little girl?”), but having to wait for book 2’s release. While the arc and adventure were complete for this segment of the saga, I’m seeing more series authors closing with a brand new opening, rather than a sense of quiet satisfaction that allows the reader to savor the world without that gnawing sense of missing all the MOAR that is over the horizon. It’s becoming a larger frustration each time I encounter the issue, and detracts, in this case, from a competent debut.

Regardless, I would recommend this to anyone who enjoyed the Miles Vorkosigan stories, the X-Files, or even the Katarr stories (to plug my own publisher’s multi-author series). I am looking forward to the adventures foreshadowed for book 2 (Remanence), and am anticipating (along with what appears to be a robust fan base) its release sometime in the near future.

Release Day: Wytchfire

Wytchfire by Tonya CannariatoFor those who have patiently borne with me while school and life have gotten in the way, the news you’ve been waiting for is upon us: Wytchfire is live and in the wild at Amazon and Smashwords!

🙂

It clocks in at not quite 10K words, so it’s perfect for those evenings when you only have a few hours for your entertainment.

It’s another story based on a dream–though the scene I dreamed didn’t clue me in to how the story would end. The story is an intriguing melange of fantasy and science fiction. Imagine you awaken pregnant and amnesiac, and have to work to find the clues to your identity and location. This is Alice in Wonderland for adults.

I’ve kept the blurb short to reflect the brevity of the story. Without further ado:

Can she remember enough to save herself? Can she change enough to save her planet?

I’m still snowed under with a final this week, but I’m enjoying the new-story-release buzz for the moment. Enjoy it with me by downloading the book from either Amazon or Smashwords!

😀

Book Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyI know. This is a classic. But it’s a classic for a reason. I read it the first time in 6th grade, while I was staying overnight at a friend’s house. We had big plans to complete a complicated school assignment. Sometime after dinner I stumbled across this book on some bookshelf in the house. Something about the cover art intrigued me. (My mom had told me about hitchhiking with my dad the first time she took him to meet her parents, so I suspect I was hoping for a bit more perspective on the whole hitchhiking thing.) Because even in the early 80s, there wasn’t much of a blurb to pull in a prospective reader:

Don’t leave Earth without the hilarious international bestseller The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: About the end of the world and the happy-go-lucky days that follow… About the worst Thursday that ever happened, and why the Universe is a lot safer if you bring a towel…

I also remember several futile attempts to get me to get my nose OUT of the book, because right away from the beginning, the alternating perspectives of “objective reporting” and the personal view of what it’s like to lose your home planet and go caroming through the galaxy sucks in the reader and compels them to keep turning pages. You’re absolutely obliged to continue after reading a passage like:

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has a towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit, etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

So I’m posting a paen to this enshrinement of the absurd. This was my first exposure to this level of irony as well as this kind of scifi. I hadn’t seen anyone make up words to a new language prior to this, nor these kinds of descriptions of interstellar travel. They all grabbed me and hooked me in an irresistible way. This book was my gateway drug into the joys of being a galactic citizen. If, for some reason, you haven’t had a laugh-out-loud read, recently, or have been living under a rock and missed this little gem: Go! Find this book! Read it! You’ll love the mind-bending vacation from reality, spiced with some piquant views of what other intelligences could look like.

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