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Romance Saturday Returns with Brenda Cooper’s EDGE OF DARK

Edge of Dark coverIt’s Romance Saturday at SBR! And today, I have a special treat for you…and a question: Can robotic intelligence really feel love? And if it does, what form would that love take?

While Brenda Cooper’s EDGE OF DARK is about many things, perhaps it’s mostly about just that: love, and its various forms.

But describing how EDGE OF DARK gets there is somewhat convoluted.

Within the first few chapters, we meet Nona — scion of a powerful family from an area of space known as the Glittering Edge, her soon-to-be-love-interest, Charlie (a ranger and conservationist from the planet Lym), and Nona’s best friend Chrystal and her family (Chrystal’s wife Katherine, husband Yi, and husband Jason). We also meet a race called the Next.

Now, the Next are hard to describe. They’re a form of artificial intelligence that’s gone way beyond AIs and robots; they’ve actually found a way to digitize human experiences and put them into inanimate objects. How and why they did this in the first place is unclear, but one thing’s for sure: The Next don’t particularly like humans, and they doubly don’t like the humans who reside in the Glittering Edge.

Anyway, Nona and Charlie’s story arc is easier to follow. They meet on the planet Lym, which is a type of natural paradise — one the people of Lym have worked hard to restore over time, as technology once nearly wrecked their world. Charlie, as a ranger, believes in conserving nature. But sometimes he has to “do the pretty” and meet up with important dignitaries, then show them around as Lym depends on tourism for a good amount of its income in order to continue staying as pristine as it is. Nona is one of those dignitaries, a visitor from the Glittering Edge (a bunch of space stations and artificial planetoids, roughly); she was asked by her now-deceased parents to please visit Lym, as it’s the closest planet around.

And of course, this being Romance Saturday and all, Charlie and Nona eventually pair off.

But that’s not the end of the story by a mile. (Especially as I promised robots in love. Trust me, I’m getting there.)

Chrystal and her family are by far the more important storyline. They originally reside on a space station called High Sweet Home, and are scientists who create genetically engineered animals. They live and work together, and are a totally self-sufficient unit.

Then the Next comes to High Sweet Home. They gather various humans, purposes unknown; they only take the healthiest, the strongest, those in their physical prime. Babies, the elderly, the crippled, and the injured are all killed out of hand.

The remaining humans of High Sweet Home are offered a choice. They can become part of the Next — become artificial intelligences. Or they can die.

Chrystal and her family definitely do not want to die. So they decide to go along with the Next.

But becoming an artificial intelligence isn’t easy. Even though the Next have a way to make their new bodies look and feel much like their old ones, Chrystal and her family will no longer be able to have sex; they also do not eat or breathe. And while they can and do move, talk, and think, it’s not exactly the same.

Yet their love for one another survives this horrible displacement. (Hold that thought.)

Now, why did the Next do this? They needed someone in between the humans and the full-blown, ancient Next. These newly-made Next — Chrystal and her family, among others — are meant to become ambassadors, so the humans will be able to understand what the Next wants.

And one of those things the Next wants, inexplicably, is the planet Lym. Which is why Charlie is so important. (But I digress.)

Of course, Chrystal and Nona are best friends, which means Chrystal in particular is well-placed to begin negotiations. (Thus why Nona is important.) But Chrystal is ambivalent; she is still angry at the Next for doing this to her and her family.

The rest of the story is for you to read. But I have a few more thoughts for you before you do.

First, the stronger human element is obviously Chrystal and her family. Their love matters whether they’re in human bodies or robot bodies. Their personalities do not change when they become digitized.

Second, Nona is a very weak protagonist. She is smart, but she is not driven; the first thing she has ever cared much about — Chrystal becoming a robot through no fault of Chrystal’s — is not really strong enough to do much with.

Third, Charlie is stronger, but somehow isn’t as strong as he should be, either.

I don’t know why Nona and Charlie weren’t stronger as a couple. I liked them both, even though Nona is nowhere near strong enough to compete with Chrystal and Chrystal’s family. I believed that Charlie and Nona would have a dalliance. And I believed they would both become better people for it — which is what a good romance is all about.

Even so, I just didn’t care that much about them. And I don’t know why.

That’s why the real romance that I cared about here was between Chrystal and her family. How they adjusted to becoming Next was well worth reading, even though in some spots it’s incredibly disturbing.

That said, I have to believe Ms. Cooper wanted it this way. She must’ve wanted to show that love is more important than the nature of the form. I get that.

However, I don’t understand why Nona is even in this book (much less Charlie and the whole issue of Lym’s fate as a planet). She’s not strong enough to compete with Crystal and her story.

And I really don’t understand why Lym is so important to the Next. They’re artificial intelligences. Why do they need anything at all? (The whole bit about the Next needing raw materials that only Lym can provide is very flimsy, to my mind. If you have all of space to get your raw materials from, as it appears the Next does, why would you be so hot on trying to get a foothold on Lym?)

Bottom line: EDGE OF DARK is compelling and disturbing, and I appreciated reading about Chrystal and her family. But somehow, I felt disconnected from most of the book, even though I liked the characters.

That said, I do want to find out what happens to Chrystal and her family next (pardon the pun), so I do intend to read the second book in the Glittering Edge duology. But I hope that somehow I will be able to become more invested, emotionally, in what happens with all involved.

Grade: B-plus.

–reviewed by Barb

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Sunday Musings – Guest Essay by Barb Caffrey

Today here at Shiny Book Review we’re going to try something a little different I’d like to call “Sunday Musings”

As you may have noticed, reviews have been down lately as both Barb and I struggle to finish novels we currently have in the works (she’s editing the sequel to An Elfy on the Loose, I’m working on Kraken Mare). However, I got to thinking… this is a book review site, true. But what if we tried to offer more? I thought about bringing in various different authors (and I still will), and was kind of stumped about today’s article, until I spotted something over at Barb’s that got my attention. I approached Barb today after reading her wonderful essay and asked if I could cross-post it here. She agreed, though she was a bit surprised, and now I present to you Barb Caffrey’s essay, Easter Meditations on Christian Laettner.

Happy Easter, one and all!

A few years back, I wrote a blog called “Meditations on Easter.” In that blog I discussed the nature of forgiveness, redemption, and hope through the story of Jesus Christ. It is still my own, personal gold standard as to why people of all faiths should try to recognize why Easter remains such an important holy day, 2000 and some odd years later.

And this got me thinking.

Recently, I watched an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary called I Hate Christian Laettner. It’s about former college and pro basketball star Christian Laettner, who sank a game-winning shot in 1992 for his Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA championship game…but because he’d also stepped on an opposing player’s hand (Aminu Timberlake) earlier in that tournament and was unrepentant about it, his game-winning shot was highly controversial.

People still remember the shot, years later. But it’s not because Laettner was brilliant. It’s because many people, myself included, felt Laettner should’ve been suspended for stepping on Timberlake’s hand. And when he wasn’t, most fans were indignant — even furious — as it seemed like Laettner was getting special treatment due to his star status as one of college basketball’s best players.

And that has fueled a whole lot of hatred toward a guy who, at the time, was only 22 years old.

Yes, he was an arrogant cuss. Yes, he was a difficult and prickly personality.

But maybe he had a reason for being that way. He was a tall guy who was often mischaracterized in the press as something he wasn’t. He was called wealthy and overprivileged, simply because of the fact he was white and going to Duke. And it wasn’t true — his parents worked hard and were members of the middle class, something I never heard one word about until I watched the 30 for 30 documentary about Laettner.

This particular documentary really made me challenge my assumptions.

Simply put: We humans still have a lot of growing up to do in some ways, don’t we? We judge people based off the appearance, the outward aspect, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

In this case, much of the outward aspect of Laettner was flat wrong. He was a middle class guy who would never in a million years have been able to afford a high quality education at Duke unless he had a compelling gift for playing basketball. He needed that scholarship so he could go, grow, learn, and improve himself, both as a player and as a human being.

Now, did he do some stuff that was juvenile? Sure.

But at 22, I have to admit that I did all sorts of things that were juvenile, too. I was just fortunate enough not to be in the public eye, so my immature behavior was not trumpeted from the bully pulpit as Laettner’s lapses were.

After watching that 30 for 30 documentary, I was left shaking my head at how even someone like me — someone who’s very well aware of how the narrative can be framed as a writer and editor — can’t realize that Laettner’s story was far more complex than had been reported in the media.

Personally, I think Laettner showed a lot of class dealing with some of the stuff that was yelled at him during the NCAA Tourney back in 1991 and 1992. (“Ho-mo-sexual” and the like was yelled at him, and yes, that was considered a slur. How far we’ve come…that behavior today would not be tolerated. But I digress.) And I think, upon reflection, that he did try to rise above a lot of the nonsense directed his way.

But the most important thing I learned from the documentary is this: You have to know yourself. And you have to learn to forgive yourself.

Laettner knows he’s a much different person on the inside than was reported. He doesn’t give any weight, he said in the documentary, to people who don’t know him, because that wastes his time. (This is my best paraphrase, mind, as I watched this movie at least a week and a half ago and I don’t have a transcript in front of me.) The people who matter to him are those who do know him. His wife. His family. His coaches. His friends.

Everything else — everyone else — can go hang. Because they are irrelevant.

As Laettner knows, appearance is not the reality. And we human beings have to learn this, whether we’re sports fans or not.

And as it’s Easter Sunday, that got me thinking. If we’re supposed to forgive people who did us wrong, as the example of Jesus surely shows us we should do, why is it that many sports fans still cannot forgive Laettner?

Maybe it’s a flaw in ourselves that keeps us on the hate-train. And maybe it’s something we should try to rectify, before it’s too late.

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Happy Fourth of July! SBR Returns July 5th

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

We at Shiny Book Review wish everyone a fun, yet safe Fourth of July holiday, and will return on July 5, 2012, with more book reviews, more contests, and more SBR-induced fun for everyone (OK, we made that last part up).

See you all July 5.

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Contest Reminder

Just a reminder, our April contest is currently underway. You can win two books (Jack of Ravens and The Burning Man, books 1 & 2 of the Kingdom of the Serpent series by Mark Chadbourn) by simply following us on Facebook. We’ll ship it just about anywhere (well, anywhere within the US I mean… it’s expensive shipping it overseas). Contest has been extended to next Friday, April 13 (ooh!). If you already “Liked” us, then “Like” one of our recent posts and you’re entered.

We really want to give these books away.

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Really, we want to give you these.

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Winners!

Yes, I was won by two different people. Good thing Shiny Book Review had two copies.

Over at our Facebook page (like us, oh please like us…) we had a competition for a free hardcover of Ari Marmell’s Thief’s Covenant. It went over so well that we chose two winners: Mystik W. and Jessica P. Both winners have been notified and their books will arrive within the next week or so.

Thanks to all who participated.

Stay tuned, as our next giveaway is going to be a copy of Ken Lacleod’s The Night Sessions.

Win me next!

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2011 Year in Review

It’s hard to believe that we at Shiny Book Review are going on our second year in existence. It seems like only yesterday when we came up with the concept of reviewing books for our own enjoyment. Who knew that so many of you would agree with us? We are all very, very flattered and thankful that you’ve hung around and continued to support our efforts.

In 2011 we reviewed 81 books and had 1 interview. That’s about 1.5 book reviews a week, give or take. 2012 looks even more promising as we continue to receive more and more books from publishers looking at us to review their latest (and upcoming) wares, as well as other books coming out later in the year that all of us really want to read. We also had guest reviewers for the first time, and welcomed new potential reviewers to the fold. We also said goodbye to friends who have moved on to greener pastures or have been forced to focus more on their studies.

So here are our favorite books of 2011. We hope you enjoyed them as much as we did. They are listed in no particular order.

The Lion of Cairo (Scott Oden, Thomas Dunne Books — Reviewed March 2011) – Oden had a winner here. The Lion of Cairo is a fun, fantastic trip through the ancient middle east during a time of great upheaval – the Crusades. Intrigue, murder and mayhem follow the hero of the story as he tries to make sense of it all… while accomplishing his mission. (Jason)

— Against All Things Ending (Stephen R. Donaldson, Putnam — Reviewed January 2011) – This is a book that does many things, including: continuing on a major fantasy world, reanimating a dead character in a humane, interesting, intelligent way, showing a complex and multifaceted love story, and using all sorts of unusual, arcane words to both prove erudition (which wasn’t necessary) and to promote the sense of another place and time (necessary).  A book well worth studying, because as I said at the time I reviewed it, it’s both “depressing and hopeful.”  How many books can do that at the same time?  Especially in a long-running genre series? (Barb)

— Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure (Tim Harford, Farrar, Straus & Giroux — Reviewed July 2011) – This is an excellent nonfiction book that proves the power of persistence, melded with the powers of creativity, will always net rewards if you give it time enough and actually learn from why your first attempt (or attempts) didn’t work. (Barb)

— Inventing George Washington (Edward G. Lengel, HarperCollins — Reviewed March 2011) – My fifth selection was tough, but of all the non-fiction books I read this year, Lendel’s Inventing George Washington was the most fascinating. A historian who writes the way I like to read (not too dry, well paced, interesting), this was a very good book that I simply devoured. (Jason)

— Fat White Vampire Blues (Andrew Fox, Ballantine Books — Reviewed March 2011) – This one was tough, primarily because it’s not nearly as fast paced as the other fiction stories on this list. However, the idea of an obese vampire fighting for survival in a changing world tickled me silly and Fox’s writing style was enthralling, to say the least. Can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel. (Jason)

— Countdown: The Liberators (Tom Kratman, Baen — Reviewed August 2011) – Liberators is a venture into modern military fiction by acclaimed SF author Tom Kratman. Despite a long buildup, the action is fast and thrilling when it does finally happen. Well-drawn characters and Kratman’s extensive military knowledge make it a book very worth your time. (Leo)

— Triptych (J. M. Frey, Dragon Moon Press — Reviewed December 2011) – This is the story of the alien, Kalp, and his two human lovers, scientist Gwen Pierson and engineer Dr. Basil Grey. It starts out with Kalp suddenly dead and his lovers back in time trying to stop yet another atrocity from taking place. Then, in the middle, we see things from Kalp’s perspective — how he does his best to integrate into our society by way of the “Institute,” where both Pierson and Grey work. How they take an interest in him, getting him out of the communal alien barracks he lives in and bringing him to live with them; how, eventually, they all become lovers, which seems just right to Kalp as his people marry in threes. Excellent and highly readable, it’s hard to believe this is Frey’s debut novel. (Barb)

— Monster Hunter Alpha (Larry Correia, Baen — Reviewed October 2011) – Please. Like I was going to leave a Monster Hunter book off this list? Granted, Monster Hunter Alpha wasn’t written from the usual point of view of the series hero, but I think this created an added depth to the series and this book could very well be the linchpin that ties everything from here on out together in one neat bow. (Jason)

— Mouse and Dragon (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Baen — Reviewed January 2011) – This book is a sequel to “Scout’s Progress” and a prequel to “I Dare,” so an avid reader of Lee and Miller’s Liaden Universe (TM) knows what will happen but can’t help but be riveted to the page anyway.  Liadens Da’av, Delm Korval, and his lover, Aelliana Caylon, may be fated for one another as they’re mystically suited to each other beyond anyone else.  But that doesn’t mean all the temporal problems have faded away; oh, no. An excellent book from many perspectives. (Barb)

— Ex-Heroes (Peter Clines, Permuted Press — Reviewed February 2011) – By far the best superhero novel I’ve ever read, Ex-Heroes takes the superhero idea and meshes it seamlessly with the growing zombie genre. Mixing adventure, mystery and action around the lives of extraordinary heroes, this novel was, by a huge distance, my favorite novel of 2011. Considering the list of contenders this little book went up against, that’s saying quite a bit. (Jason)

— In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson, Crown — Reviewed April 2011) – Best book of the year? Without question, that’s Erik Larson’s “In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.”  This is by far the book with the most depth and breadth to it; it’s both personal and historical and it gets to the bottom of things fast.  The detailing is excellent.  There’s new stuff in there for people who’ve read a lot about WWII and the run-up to it (as I have) that’s both terrifying and interesting — maybe it’s interesting in its terror?  And the writing is superb. (Barb)

So there you have it, our favorite books of 2011. Agree? Disagree? Let us know.

Enjoy your New Year’s celebration. We’ll see you January 1st.

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News

We here at Shiny Book Review want to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season. I (me, Jason…) won’t be back on SBR until Dec 27, and I’m assuming that Barb and Rebecca will do the same. We have new reviews coming soon, and can’t wait to see what ends up in our mailbox for 2011.

Happy Holidays!

-Jason

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