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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.


“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.

Book Review: Friday

FridayFor a year or two in High School, I was on a Heinlein kick. He was the “big deal” author in one of the genres I enjoy reading, so it seemed important to know what he had to say. I remember reading the inside cover blurb on Friday and being intrigued:

Friday is a secret courier. She is employed by a man known to her only as “Boss.” Operating from and over a near-future Earth, in which North America has become Balkanized into dozens of independent states, where culture has become bizarrely vulgarized and chaos is the happy norm, she finds herself on shuttlecock assignment at Boss’ seemingly whimsical behest. From New Zealand to Canada, from one to another of the new states of America’s disunion, she keeps her balance nimbly with quick, expeditious solutions to one calamity and scrape after another.

The writing is formal and literary, while bringing in unconventional relationships of almost every romantic stripe possible and a distinct perspective on discrimination:

Of course, as anyone could guess from this account, I had passed years earlier. I no longer carried an ID with a big “LA” (or even “AP”) printed across it. I could walk into a washroom and not be told to use the end stall. But a phone ID and a fake family tree do not keep you warm; they just keep you from being hassled and discriminated against. You are still aware that there isn’t any nation anywhere that considers your sort fit for citizenship and there are lots of places that would deport you or even kill you–or sell you–if your cover-up ever slipped.

An artificial person misses not having a family tree much more than you might think. Where were you born? Well, I wasn’t born, exactly; I was designed in Tri-University Life Engineering Laboratory, Detroit.

The thing I liked most about the story was that it gave such a distinct, philosophical perspective to a terrible human tendency. And there were quite a few conversations tracing historical antecedents to the problems stemming from the dissolution of the United States that forms the core reality of that story that still stick with me.

For instance, I cited this book this week for my class on management, as we were talking about whether rights have expanded or contracted over time: One of the key passages I remember has a character musing on the inception of the Balkanization of the US in that world. In effect, the man says part of the reason the country fell apart was because there were so many laws, including senseless laws and contradictory laws, that most laws then became unenforceable. He underlines his reasoning by pointing to the same thing happening to the ancient Romans. The argument has stuck with me in the decades since I first read the book, and I’ve often wondered what the tipping point is to having too many laws, that the citizens don’t even know the rules and regulations they’re supposed to be following. It could easily be argued that the majority of American citizens have no idea about the majority of the legislation that pertains to them, given the numbers of laws passed at the federal, state, and local levels on any given year, adding to the previous weight of laws about which they were equally unaware.

So I count the philosophizing as the major up-side to this story. On the down-side: The characterization of Friday. Even as a Freshman in High School she struck me as an amalgam of some weird, idealized female: killer/assassin with amazing reflexes, intense intelligence that at one point calculates the correlation between hemlines and the price of gold (?!), and nympho tendencies that allow for all kinds of different sex. I suppose you could argue that she wasn’t designed to be human, though she tried very hard to pass as such, but there was something just a touch too removed from my female experience to allow me to bond with her as a character.

It’s definitely worth reading, as an example of fast-paced scifi with a unique voice and an interesting perspective on the possible future our country faces–and a cautionary tale on how to write a main character who is just … not quite right.

Book and Movie Review: Contact

ContactThis is one of the very few books I’ve read, where I saw the movie first, and was moved to read the source material. In fact, it was the first Sagan book I had read–something about reading male scifi authors in High School had turned me off of them and their inclination to make paper cut-out or strangely unlikely female characters, and I hadn’t tested the waters again.

But… the movie Contact… Jodie Foster…Contact (Her Little Man Tate and Nell combine with Contact for a tryptich of my all-time favorites of any movies.) If anyone wanted a book trailer to intrigue a reader into buying the book: Here’s one case where I can tell you definitively that the movie convinced me the book must be brilliant. It’s a movie I will watch every time I catch it on a broadcast channel, and I have the DVD. Its portrayal of the evolution and character of Dr. Ellie Arroway were meaningful and moving to me. Her way of arriving at meaning and context in her life was powerful both on a personal level and a global level: An injunction not to forget the awe and curiosity that drives us forward as a species.

The first time I read the book, then, I had to put it down half a dozen times. The story was only vaguely similar to the movie. There were characters and relationships that weren’t in the movie, and the movie had that overtone of a romantic relationship with Matthew McConaughey’s character that added a different context to the visual story.

For some reason, recently, though, I was moved to pick up the book again. It had been a while since I’d seen the movie and I understood this was a different story anyway, so my old outrage at not being able to revisit favorite scenes from the movie had all drained away.

From that perspective, all of a sudden I was able to see the real parallels between the two versions of the story. I found this passage:

Because of the nature of her work and her comparative eminence, she was constantly thrown into situations where she was the only woman present, except for those serving coffee or making a stenotypic transcript. Despite what seemed like a lifetime of effort on her part, there was still a host of male scientists who only talked to each other, insisted on interrupting her, and ignored, when they could, what she had to say. Occasionally there were those like Drumlin who showed a positive antipathy. But at least he was treating her as he did many men. He was evenhanded in his outbursts, visiting them equally on scientists of both sexes. There were a rare few of her male colleagues who did not exhibit awkward personality changes in her presence. She ought to spend more time with them, she thought. People like Kenneth der Heer, the molecular biologist from the Salk Institute who had recently been appointed Presidential Science Adviser. And Peter Valerian, of course.

All of a sudden I rediscovered the Ellie that Jodie Foster portrayed, and the story grabbed me this time. It’s dense with science in parts–stuff that goes over my head about the specific wavelengths of particular elements, how you tune radio frequencies, and their relative strength. (Even after reading the Wikipedia article on Janskies, I’m still not entirely sure what it means to the story… and have no way of knowing whether the science in the fiction is real.) But it’s real enough that I’ve geeked out on it.

So I had to write a review about Contact, and pushing my understanding of a different area of physics and astronomy to a different place. Sagan’s story is complex, with layers of commentary sometimes obscured by the technical details he’s chosen to incorporate into the story. But for anyone who enjoys the social commentary possible through the lens of science fiction, he’s incorporated some doozies–that will also be familiar to those who’ve watched the movie. There are conversations and interactions in the movie that bear only passing resemblance to the source, but reveal different perspectives when read from a page. I’m glad to have started again from the beginning to have re-read one of scifi’s classics.

ROW80 Check-in: Dementional PUBLISHED

DementionalIt’s possible I’m going a little overboard with excitement this week… But I actually managed to finalize the print design AND the blurb, and now my second book is live for purchase online.


This time I have a nifty 3-D image of what the paperback looks like, too.


Yes, there was much rejoicing this weekend. And all of a sudden, I felt at loose ends. I met my major goal: I had done everything I wanted to do to get my second book out and promoted.

So I’m adding to my promo plate and looking for additional opportunities to publicize Dementional.

I also publicized the goal of an additional 5K words on Blood to Fire by the end of the month. I’m down to five days to accomplish that, but I think it’s still in the realm of possibility. (Plus, I found that nifty widget that allows me to post progress updates without needing to post additional rambling words here… Check it out in the right-hand column, after the list of my books generated by Goodreads.)

That means if all goes well, the final month of this round should be dedicated to #wordmongering sprints to get as close as possible to my 55K-word goal on Blood to Fire.

This week I also need to clear up the question of when, exactly, I’m to begin my MBA studies. Once that starts (theoretically, right after Labor Day), I fully expect to have to re-adjust my own expectations.

Please find more Row80 participants HERE.

Release Day: Dementional

Today was the day. It was supposed to have been yesterday, but the night kept getting later, it had already been a long week, and we didn’t want any error creep.

DementionalSo today, I present to you: Dementional.

This time, I’m releasing the print and eBook versions at the same time, and Katarr Kanticles Press has come up with a sweet deal: If you’re inclined to buy the paper version, we’re giving you the digital copy for free.

We see it as a 2-for-1 deal for readers, to thank them for supporting realistic pricing for indies–and being willing to carry a copy of our babies so the world can see the beauty of their covers.


I have another thought floating in the back of my mind about this move too: In the wake of the crazy lynch mob that brought down the legitimate book-loaning site LendInk, I want to be on the side of authors who are willing to support the legal lending that comes with owning a DRM-free version of an eBook. I think this represents the best kind of word-of-mouth marketing an author can have: Friends sharing their books as a tacit (or explicit) recommendation of that content. We do it with paperbacks all the time; why shouldn’t we be allowed the same freedom with our digital copies?

I have also set a special library purchase price for my book, to reduce that barrier to entry as well.

The most authentic way for us to build our audience/readership is when those readers are enthusiastic enough to give their circle of friends a recommendation to read our work. Whatever I can do as an author to make that process easier is to my benefit; it’s part of the same marketing calculation that has me sending out free review copies to other reviewers.

So… any reviewers who are interested, let me know.


And I hope all of you enjoy this strange tale my mind concocted that lies somewhere in the intersection of “Quantum Leap” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”–and considers the mass of a soul.

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