The Biofab War by Stephen Ames Berry

Heldig snuggling MY book.

Why I Read It: Scifi + Action. Need I say more?

Where I Got It: paperbackswap.com

Who I Recommend This To: Lightspeed action-packed scifi junkies.

Publisher: ACE (1984)

Length: 192 pages

Series: Biofab Book 1

The Biofab War is a fast-paced near-future science fiction adventure that spans the universe. The K’Ronarins are a millenniums-old humanoid species – basically genealogical cousins of Terran Humans. They are running a loosing battle against the insectoid race S’Cotar. In a last-ditch effort to stem the tide, the battleship Vigilance is sent out to track down and recover Old Empire technology that may give the K’Ronarins the edge they need. And they end up at Earth, which is how the rest of our heroes enter the story. KGB, an Israeli woman, and CIA folks all combine to unravel this mystery and then to stand by the K’Ronarins to defend home Earth and the Universe.

It was a crazy good ride. I enjoyed this book immensely and ordered the next three in the series before finishing the first. This week, I have had a head-cold and have been crashing out a bit earlier than usual. With that said, I have been literally reading this book up to the point that sweet oblivion takes, dropping off in mid-sentence. My Main Man has found me sacked out with this book on my face for the past 4 nights. I sooo wanted to read the whole book in one night; alas, my snotty nose and light fever had other ideas for me. Check out Stephen Ames Berry’s works.

What I Liked: Fast paced; multiple extra-terrestrial races; powers of Earth must join together to save mankind as we know it.

What I Disliked: I got distracted by other shiny books and haven’t gotten back to this series (hey, I know it’s happened to you, don’t try to deny it).

Note: This review was originally published on Darkcargo.com on 11/24/2011 and republished, and reformatted, here with permission of Lady Darkcargo.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Why I Read It: Recently finished Earth Unaware and wanted to reread this one.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: Scifi Freaks Unite! If you haven’t read this, it is a classic for a very good reason.

Narrators: Stefan Rudnicki, & cast

Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America (2004)

Length: 9 CDs

Series: Ender’s Universe Book 1

Wow. Just wow.

This book was super intense with a myriad of little kids being pushed into saving the human race; they had no childhood, growing up before their time. Orson Scott Card gifted us with the far-future tale of humans versus the insect-like aliens, known as the Buggers. The government selects kids for their intelligence and temperament and Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggin is the next hot schiznit out there. At age 6.

Once Ender gets onto the space station, there is The Battleroom. This is a pretty important room, as it is training the kids to think, react, and fight in zero gravity. Just when Ender gets his feet under him, the teachers pull his shoes out from under him, forcing him into another untenable situation. The competition between these kids is fierce, in and out of The Battleroom. The tension in this book is kept high by never quite knowing what obstacle is going to be thrown at Ender next. Back on Earth, Ender’s two older siblings have plans of their own. Ender’s ruthless, even sadistic at times, brother Peter has delusions of grandeur. He’s willing to use his sister to obtain control – total control.

Orson Card truly put together a twisted, harsh, thoroughly entertaining read. The story maintains a tight aspect of great need, the need to keep the human race alive in the universe. The reader often catches glimpses of the adults in the story privately regretting putting Ender, and all the other kids at Battleschool, through such hell. Having this human side to the procrastinators of the story really rounded it out and made it a classic.

Stefan Rudnicki (have I mentioned that his voice could turn sandpaper into Dove chocolate?) performed the majority of this book. His voices for the little kids were awesome (a side I hadn’t heard from him before) and his rendition of the kid slang was great, often having me laughing. The rest of the cast also gave a quality performance.

What I Liked: Battleschool; Peter’s cruelty is well portrayed; The mutual love and respect between and Ender and his sister; the secret final Battleschool location and tests; the ending of the book was incredibly moving.

What I Disliked: Hmm…. For some reason, I kept wanting to give Peter a British voice; I blame the Narnia movies.

Passion Play by Beth Bernobich

Why I Read It: It was my first ARC and the premise looked interesting

Where I Got It: From Lady Darkcargo.

Who I Recommend This To: Those into fantasy espionage fiction. Maybe.

Publisher: Tor (2010)

Length: 367 pages

At DragonCon 2010, my friend received an advanced reading copy of Passion Play by Beth Bernobich. She passed it on to me. This book is due to be released October 2010 by Tor Publishing. The book is 367 pages and it wasn’t until the last 100 pages that I started to enjoy the main character, a teenage woman. The romance, or passion play, didn’t start until about the last 50 pages, so I am not sure why the title Passion Play.

This book seemed to be a very complete final draft of a story that still required some polishing. It will be interesting to see what this author can do in 4 or 5 years. She makes an attempt to subtly lead the reader into the magic side of the story, but the rules of the magic use and past lives never became clear to me. I also hope the published book contains a map.

The characters themselves were pretty one-dimensional, which isn’t always bad. However, I felt the main character was the same person on the last page as the one I met on the first page. While she had several experiences throughout the book, I didn’t really feel there was much internal character development. On the other hand, it was an easy read (didn’t have to look up any vocabulary words) and there were no unexpected twists and turns. I didn’t have to think about the book much; just along for the ride. This could be a good book for that weekend beach vacation, looking for some mental down-time.

One note to Tor Publishing: The main female character is dark-skinned and the woman featured on the cover (who I assume is suppose to be the main character) is obviously white skinned. I heard this called “white washing” the character. It is my understanding that the author has little or no input on the cover, so folks, please don’t fault Bernobich for that.

Another thing – at DragonCon, it was said that if you like Jacqueline Carey, you will love Bernobich. I have read all of Carey’s work, except for her latest 2 books. Bernobich is not, yet, the same quality writer. With Carey, I am always left with several new insights into the human character. I did not get that with Bernobich. At this time, the two should not be thought of as equal.

So, if you enjoy a Fantasy novel with some action, some intrigue, a little bit of romance (with vague sexual descriptions), then check this book out.

What I Liked: The overall fantasy world; the main characters had promise and were interesting.

What I Disliked: Little to no character development; vague rules to the magic system; not sure how the title was arrived at.

Note: This review was originally published on Darkcargo.com on 09/27/2010 and republished, and reformatted, here with permission of Lady Darkcargo.

Don’t Eat This Book by Morgan Spurlock

Why I Read It: I like books that have me questioning industrialized goods, even food.

Where I Got It: paperbackswap.com

Who I Recommend This To: Need some motivation to cut down on your fast food habit? Try this book.

Narrator: Morgan Spurlock (author)

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2005)

Length: 7 CDs

Fast food is all around us. Basically, it is anything you don’t have to cook yourself, from the Burger King Whopper hamburger to Lean Cuisine’s frozen pasta dinners to Uncle Ben’s instant rice (like just add hot water from the tap and wait a few minutes). Living on a small farm, we usually have home cooked meals. However, there are just some days when we are out, off the farm and fast food looks like a good idea. This book was a good reminder of the variety of known health hazards associated with eating fast food regularly and also a brain tickler on what we don’t know about long-term health risks associated with regular intake of junk food.

Morgan Spurlock created a documentary, Super Size Me (2004), in which he eats nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days. This book was a follow on to that filled with various statistics about the American obesity crisis, industrialized food, and food advertising. Spurlock guides the reader through a sea of facts, making them easily accessible through his narration. The book is sprinkled with funny incidents (such as how Spurlock came up with this idea) and the various reactions of friends, family, and doctors. In avoiding fear tactics, he keeps the reader from shying away from finishing his book.

While I have read a few books about the health hazards associated with industrialized foods, I learned some new things from this book. The rate of increasing obesity in America is alarming and the associated increase of obesity in countries that adopt American fast food is saddening. Until very recently, many fast food restaurants did not make the nutrition information available to consumers, including that small amount of beef flavoring used on supposedly vegetarian fries.

While I have no illusions that the world will give up junk food, I do believe that consumers should have easy access to all nutritional information associated with their food. And that is why I read these books; they make me think and reinforce the reasons I support local farmers markets and grow my own food.

What I Liked: The no frills facts; the stats on advertising and lobbying in American government to support industrialized foods; the quirky anecdotes thrown in.

What I Disliked: Sometimes I tired of all the numbers, especially if they weren’t related to something I could visualize.

Come Lady Death by Peter S. Beagle

Why I Read It: Because I have enjoyed Beagle’s The Last Unicorn since I was a kid.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Who I Recommend This To: If you have a fascination for quirky + morbid, this story is for you.

Publisher: Del Rey (1979)

Length: 12 pages

Come Lady Death was a surprisingly delightful short story by Peter S. Beagle, the author of The Last Unicorn, which I loved as a kid. In this entertaining tale, Lady Neville is an ancient, very rich, and extremely bored aristocrat. She has been obeyed all her life and now she must search out, nay, DEMAND a new entertainment. Her miniscule spark of originality comes up with a ball, one to which she will invite Death. Of course there ensues the questions of how to locate Death, how to address the invitation, when to hold the ball, etc. Imagine how Death’s acceptance letter is pawed over and discussed ad nauseum.

On the night of the ball, it looks like Death will not show; all the guests are disappointed and Lady Neville is embarrassed. Then Lady Death walks through the door. She is young and fair; soon the ladies are jealous and all the men wish to dance with her. But throughout the night only Lady Neville and one man have the courage to dance and talk with her. I won’t spoil the ending for you, which was an intriguing surprise for me, and there are many little tidbits I’ve left out. Enjoy.

Come Lady Death was one story in the collection The Fantasy Worlds of Peter S. Beagle (430 pages).

What I Liked: The ending; the endless debate of how to address the envelope inviting Death; the discussion of what Death would look like.

What I Disliked: The story was a little short, but I guess that just shows I would have enjoyed more.

Note: This review was originally published on Darkcargo.com on 07/29/2011 and republished, and reformatted, here with permission of Lady Darkcargo.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

Why I Read It: A book about a bibliophile? How could I resist?

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: Those into real crime.

Narrator: Judith Brackley

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2009)

Length: 5 CDs

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is an interesting little audiobook (only 5 CDs) that takes the reader into the world of bibliophiles, con men, and bibliomaniacs. Allison Hoover Bartlett, a journalist, has given us a very approachable read on John Gilkey, a con man who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of rare and valuable books over the years. She also interviews several book dealers, chiefly Ken Sanders out of Salt Lake City, UT (Ken Sanders Rare Books is still around and accessible via the web).

Join Bartlett in the world of rare and antiquarian books; meet the book dealers who go to uncommon ends to prevent book theft; sit and have tea with a repeat book thieve. If you are reading this , you probably already know the magic and power books hold. This book takes you a bit deeper into the world of bibliophilia, and even into the mind of one bibliomaniac. John Gilkey is the center of this story. In and out of jail and prison for a variety of violations – card theft, writing bad checks, possession of stolen items, etc. The author captures his sense of entitlement and his total lack of guilt over theft.

This book was narrated by Judith Brackley, who has an even, melodious voice. She brought the elements of incredulity, wonder, disgust, and sadness to this tale.

What I Liked: The journalistic voice of the book; book appreciation.

What I Disliked: I could have enjoyed a little more to this book as I felt the ending left the mystery open-ended.

Note: This review was originally published on Darkcargo.com on 09/13/2011 and republished, and reformatted, here with permission of Lady Darkcargo.

Aurora in Four Voices by Catherine Asaro

Why I Read It: Author Paula Jordan wrote a great Asaro fan piece on Darkcargo.com that got me interested.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Fans of Scifi based on math, physics, and damn good plot.

Publisher: ISFiC Press (2011)

Length: 274 pages

Aurora in Four Voices is not only the title of Catherine Asaro’s book, but also the title of the first short story in this collection. This book was my introduction to Asaro’s works; Paula and Lady Darkcargo have been fans of Asaro for some time and I have to say, they know what they’re talking about. This book was comprised of 5 short stories, plus goodies. There is an intro by Kate Dolan and an afterward by Aly Parsons. There is also a short chapter by Asaro on the math used in her science fiction stories.

On that note, Asaro throws in bits of math and physics through out her tales. But if you don’t get it, it isn’t a big deal. The Story still goes forward. If you do get the math and physics references, then you can feel like a Smarty Pants. Which always boosts my ego just above level for a little while. (And no, I didn’t get all the math and physics, but I had a darn good time trying.)

Jigan and Aurora in 4 Voices

Aurora in Four Voices (46 pages)

For those of you who have read Asaro’s works, you will probably be familiar with the two main characters in this tale – ISC Imperialate Messenger Soz and Jato. Soz is our biocomputer enhanced heroine. She is strong and beautiful, has integrity, becomes slightly flustered in her personal relations. This makes her a very approachable character. Jato is this angry, lonesome man that has been trapped on the world of Ansatz in the city of Nightingale for several years for a crime he didn’t commit.

Intriguingly, Jato isn’t computer savvy. The Dreamers, natives of Nightingale, find him ugly and rarely interact with him. Over his lonesome years, he has made this beautiful bird sculpture  – it’s proportions correspond perfectly to a fugue he dreamed up.

Granite Crankenshaft, a master Dreamer artist, is using Jato to create his master art – which is the dark side of the Dreamers – the Aristo. Aristo are the ancestral founders of Ansatz and are now known as the compassionless Traders who are trying to dominate the Universe through slavery.

So here is Soz, merely for a day or two while minor repairs are made to her ship. Plopped right down into a minor mystery of why Jato is being held on this planet for a falsified crime. The chemistry between Soz and Jato was alternately fumbling and steamy. I was sucked in by the depth of character and then swept along by the scenery, and driven to the end of the story by the gripping plot.

Ave de Paso (14 pages)

The location is Southern NM, a most breath-taking locale. The two main characters are native Mayan Mexicans, cousins Manuel and Tina. They are there to mourn her mother, his aunt. In doing so, she sees the Earth God Yahval Balamil. He wants them both and tries to take possession of each in turn.

I could definitely tell there was a bigger story here – each character has history, with each other, and separately. When I finished this short story, it left me wanting more. I especially liked how Asaro caught the nitty-grittyness of the desert.

The Spacetime Pool (72 pages)

Janelle is a strong, intellectual female thrown completely out of her element into an alternate universe where women are valued by the wealth or alliances they can bring to a marriage, and then on their beauty and child-producing ability. Intelligence is last on the list. Dominick and Maximillian are two warring brothers, thrown at each other’s throats over a prophesy made before their births. And Janelle is at the center of that prophesy.

Asaro throws in a few mathematical puzzles throughout the story. But even if you have no idea what Riemann sheets are or the Fourier number, that’s OK. The story still holds together and carries you forward.

I really enjoyed this novella and read it all in one sitting, staying up later than I should have on a work night. When it was done, I felt satisfied, but yet still craving…maybe not an immediate second helping, but more of the same for the next meal. Thank goodness, there were still two more stories in the book.

Light and Shadows (20 pages)

Kelric Valdoria is a test pilot on planet Diesha. Jessa Zaubern is the red-headed engineer for Glint, the test aircraft. Kelric is missing his dead love Cory, driving him to suicidal thoughts.In his grief, he has few interactions with people – his primary conversations being about the new aircraft Glint with his CO or the engineer.

There are a few paragraphs that talk about light speed and how mass increases, etc. Also the time-travel stuff. The concept of the inversion engine was a new one for me, and having it introduced in the middle of an engaging tale means that it will stick with me.

Reading Asaro makes me smarter.

Cities of Cries (88 pages)

Major Bhaajan is hired for a discreet job back on her home world of Raylicon in the City of Cries. She has been engaged by the aristocratic Majda Family. She has to find a missing Prince.

Asaro set up an interesting dynamic by making the Majda a matriarchal society – the women rule the family, the finanaces, and the military. Men are kept secluded and are treasured for thier beauty, nurturing character, and fertility. So, if a cossetted Prince goes missing, it is a big freaking deal.

Bhaajan engages some of her underworld contacts in tracking this handsome MIA down. In digging up her old contacts, she reignites more than one flameable relationship.

I loved all the tech in this story – the little beetle bots, the dampers, the cloaking tech, the weapons, the bio-enhancements. Throwing in a bit of mystery and a bit of romance rounded out this ride to make it a most excellent tale.

What I Liked: The math and physics used as base for the stories; strong realistic female characters; the wide variety of worlds in this one collection.

What I Disliked: That I am a dork and waited so long to discover Asaro.

Note: This review was originally published on Darkcargo.com on 12/04/2011 and republished, and reformatted, here with permission of Lady Darkcargo.

The Florians by Brian Stableford

Why I Read It: I needed an epic scifi, seed the galaxy kind of story.

Where I Got It: Review ecopy from the publisher (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you are conflicted about spending money on the Space Program, this book has great arguments on both sides, all wrapped in an engaging story.

Publisher: Wildside Press (2012)

Length: 203 pages

Series: Daedalus Mission 1

Alex Alexander believes in the need for the human race to spread itself throughout the universe, starting with the nearest inhabitable planets. Earth sent ships to colonize these planets decades ago and then the governments of Earth sank into chaos. Alex, a scientist and adventurer, sees hope in reigniting Earth’s efforts to populate the galaxy by sending a crew on the Daedalus mission to reforge meaningful contact with the surviving colonies.

Brian Stableford told this story through Alex’s eyes using his endless hope, his keen intellect, and his sometimes rash decision-making abilities to keep me very entertained. The crew is made up of a variety of scientists (like Karen), and communicators of one sort or another (Nathan & Mariel). The planet of Floria is the first on the stop. The Daedalus Mission is to provide scientific assistance with any difficulties the colonists may be having permanently adapting to their new planet. In all ways, the Florians appear on the surface to be completely adapted, healthy, with a strong spreading colony. Yet Alex isn’t convinced – all the Earthly transplants are giants compared to Earth norms – the Florians averaging 7-9 feet tall. Watching Alex peel apart this mystery, exploring the odd native flora and fauna of Floria, was a treat for the biologist in me.

The Florians presented a nice quandary about a society kept intentionally ignorant of certain lines of science, such as those leading to firearms. Having the Daedalus, ignorant, unexpected strangers, set down in the midst of an ongoing power struggle between two components of that society provided an engaging background for Alex to do his thing: figure out if the Florian society  is viable long-term. Imagine being surrounded by giants, in a situation where your physical resistance is futile, leaving you to rely on your wits. I am so glad it was Alex’s wits, and not my own, that uncovered the mystery of the Florians.

What I Liked: The weird, creepy, crawly fauna of Floria; the book opens with an excellent debate covering the pros and cons of spending money on a space program; Alex’s sense of humor; the mystery at the heart of Floria.

What I Disliked: While there was 1 key female support character, I would have liked the women to have a bit more central role.

Brain Wave by Poul Anderson

Why I Read It: I felt like some classic scifi.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: It was short, and excellent. Need to feed your brain in a time crunch? This is excellent science fiction.

Narrator: Tom Weiner

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2011)

Length: 5 CDs

Brain Wave was my first Poul Anderson book, and it was quite good. Set in near-future Earth, this short novel (only 5 audio discs) opens with following a variety of people, of differing IQs, around in their daily lives. We have Archie Brock, with an IQ high enough to carry out menial chores once demonstrated, Dr. Corinth and Helga with several other scientists, and Sheila Corinth who is capable of seeing to herself and running a household.

The Earth, moving through the galaxy, and the galaxy moving through the universe, has moved outside of a dampening field. Over a period of weeks, the humans and other intelligent beings of the planet begin to change. IQs are rising. Poul Anderson did a masterful job of capturing the issues that could arise if everyone, humans and animals, all had a sudden increase in intelligence. How would governments and societies reform themselves? How would we learn to cohabitate with other intelligent species, like cows, horses, and pigs? How would we convince people to take care of menial, laborious tasks, such as garbage collection? How soon would we populate the stars? And the book ends with a sweet and hopeful scene.

Tom Weiner was our audio artist for this novel, and he raised the bar for single-person audiobook performances. His range of voices was impressive, capturing nuances of the moment. There was a plethora of accents called for in this novel, since it involved the whole planet. In addition, a few animal voices were required. I look forward to more of his performances.

What I Liked: Thought-provoking premise; Archie Brock was a moving character; the questions raised about how to treat livestock that can hold a conversation.

What I Disliked: I kind of wish Anderson had made this novel a big longer, to play with the idea a bit more.

Note: This review was originally published on Darkcargo.com on 06/30/2011 and republished, and reformatted, here with permission of Lady Darkcargo.

Emperor: The Death of Kings by Conn Iggulden

Why I Read It: Enjoyed the first book in series, love the time period.

Where I Got It: paperbackswap

Who I Recommend This To: Roman Empire fans, Julius Caesar aficionados

Publisher: Harper Collins (2004)

Length: 677 pages

Series: Emperor Book 2

Book 1 in this series was good, like a scoop of chocolate icecream. Book 2 is even better, like nutella on my icecream. At the end of Book 1, young Julius had to leave Rome as Sulla assumed complete control. Book 2 finds him on a ship patrolling for pirates and eventually Julius gets his ass stomped by a crew of swarthy sea bandits. Julius, his commanding officer, and a handful of other Roman soldiers are held for ransom, for months, in a cramped, dirty space. Yeah, that’s the sucky side to being in the Roman Navy.

Once free of the pirates, Julius and crew end up on the northern coast of Africa, with just the stinking, deteriorating clothes on their backs. through force of personality, Julius gathers up a ragtag army and goes pirate hunting. He eventually ends up in Greece, in time for Mithridates great final Grecian rebellion. After that, he returns to Rome for some political wrangling and assassinations. Spartacus’s slave rebellion follows that ups.

Julius Caesar lived in interesting times and he is still a young man at the end of this novel. In Book 1, I found Conn Iggulden‘s writing style compelling, yet simple. In Book 2, he has honed his story-telling ability to a riveting point, keeping me up far too late on a work night traipsing around with Caesar. I found myself reading 100-page chunks of this book at a time. Images from this book have stuck with me, such as Julius threatening the pirate captain, the formation of the Tenth legion after they suffered their punishment for cowardice in battle, his reunion with his wife Cornelia, Brutus’s blossoming relationship with his mother. I loved the juxtapositioning of Rome, a civilized, beautiful city, run by the shadowy side of politics versus the deadly open-field warfare in Greece.

What I Liked: tagging along as Brutus and Julius become men; reformation of Primegenia; the author’s version for the source of Caesar’s seizures; the factual descriptions of the Roman army in the field and on the march; the historical notes at the end of the book.

What I Disliked: The last 50 pages wrapped up several points in a hurry, and I wish the author had been given another 50 pages to flesh the ending out a bit.