Posts Tagged Science Fiction

Rysa Walker’s “Time’s Echo” and “Time’s Edge” are Smart, Interesting and Surprisingly Hopeful

Rysa Walker’s Chronos Files have quickly become one of the best-known young adult (YA) sagas around, and it’s easy to see why. With crisp dialogue, excellent characterization and an intriguing premise, the story of Kate Pierce-Keller and the people who surround her is engrossing and thought-provoking. I reviewed the first book of the Chronos Files, TIMEBOUND, here. (If you haven’t read that review, go do so now, or what I’m about to say will make little sense.)

smallTimesEchoCoverChronologically, TIME’S ECHO is a novella that explains just who Kiernan is — the mysterious, dark-haired stranger who seemingly popped up every time Kate was in trouble during TIMEBOUND has an interesting backstory of his own. Kiernan, you see, is from the early 20th Century, and like Kate, is able to use a Chronos device in order to travel through time. Not being limited to the world he grew up in, Kiernan has been to the 21st Century, 22nd Century, even the 23rd Century…but his heart belongs to Kate.

However, the Kate he knew — a nineteen-year-old, rather feisty Kate who’d entered into something akin to a common-law marriage with him — is not the Kate we got to know in TIMEBOUND. You see, the same bad actors who were causing trouble in TIMEBOUND have already caused trouble for Kiernan and Kate…and the history and life experiences that created his version of Kate Pierce-Keller are so altered that the Kate who now stands is not only younger than the one he knew, but no longer recognizes him.

See, this is where I have to describe some of the doings of the bad actors (stuff I decided to gloss over in my previous review). They are known as Cyrists, and they’ve created a new religion that dates back to roughly the 15th Century. The founder of this religion, Saul, is actually Kate’s grandfather — and like Katherine, Kate’s grandmother, is from the 23rd Century. Saul and Katherine had a huge blow-up, because Katherine believed that timelines should be preserved — what she’d been taught all her life — while Saul believed that time-traveling historians (like himself and Katherine) should be able to alter time any way they wanted. (You can see where this would be a huge problem, yes?)

Anyway, Katherine didn’t know it, but she was already pregnant by Saul when she became marooned in the 20th Century. She married, had twins — one being Kate’s mother, the other being Kate’s long-missing and presumed dead aunt, Prudence — and settled into a new life as a historian and teacher. She no longer can time-travel due to the actions of Saul, and Saul cannot time-travel either — but their descendants can, at least some of them. (Prudence can, for example, while Kate’s mother cannot. And those who can’t time-travel mostly disbelieve those who can. Keep that in mind.)

So in TIME’S ECHO, we actually get to see a little bit of nineteen-year-old Kate. She’s deeply in love with Kiernan. They have built a life that’s unconventional in that they both time-travel at will, but it works for them. And so long as they both maintain their Chronos devices (an amulet that glows a different color for each time-traveler, but looks like a dull metal to non-time-travelers), they will continue to be in the same timeline and be able to stay together.

Then disaster strikes. The Cyrists decide that nineteen-year-old Kate is too meddlesome, so they figure out a way to remove her as a threat to them by some adroit shifting of the timeline. This also takes nineteen-year-old Kate away from Kiernan, who pretends he doesn’t know who she is when asked by Prudence, Kate’s aunt. But in reality, he is steamed, and vows to find out just what happened to Kate.

That’s why Kiernan shows up to protect Kate so often in TIMEBOUND. She’s not the Kate he knew, no. She’s younger, more innocent, hasn’t had the same experiences, and is in love with another young man, Trey. But she’s still Kate, and he still loves her.

TIME’S EDGE goes back to the Kate we know. She’s working with Kiernan and her aunt, Katherine, to retrieve as many Chronos devices as she can in order to keep them out of the hands of Saul and his Cyrists. Working with a man who’s in love with you when you’re in love with someone else is not easy…but Kiernan has vowed to help bring down the Cyrists, and Kate needs his help, so they’re doing the best they can.

As for Trey, he’s learning to love Kate all over again, but their relationship isn’t quite the same as before. (This is because the original relationship Kate built with Trey was wiped out by a time-shift. Note the parallels here between what happened to Kiernan’s Kate, and Kate’s Trey.) But they’re working at it, and Trey still does feel something for Kate…Kate has hopes that eventually, their love relationship will be as strong as it was before.

There are more time-traveling adventures, this time to the 1930s, the 1960s, and of course a bit back to the early 1900s (Kiernan’s original time). These are all well-written and engrossing, and show the problems of several other stranded time-travelers, including an interracial married couple who unfortunately got stranded in the Southern U.S. of the 1930s. (It was still illegal for white women and black men to be together, much less sleep with one another, at that time.)

Throughout TIME’S EDGE, there is a palpable sense of danger. Kate has already been targeted by the Cyrists before, and they’ve missed twice. How long can she keep going before they kill her and wipe away all memory of her from the timeline? And what will happen to the other time-traveling historians in the wake of the Cyrists’ new religion?

All of these questions will be answered, but in turn will raise even more questions — which is the main reason why I can’t wait to read TIME’S DIVIDE (book three in the Chronos Files)…but I digress.

These are excellent stories, full of action, great characterization, witty dialogue, and fine romance. Despite the apocalyptic nature of the Cyrists and all of their menacing power, there’s somehow a sense that Kate, Trey, Kiernan, and Katherine can prevail. This hopefulness suffuses the entirety of the Chronos Files series, and is the main reason I find these stories to be so addictive.

Bottom line: Read Rysa Walker’s Chronos Files, or you’re missing something extraordinary.

Grades: TIME’S ECHO — A

TIME’S EDGE — A-plus

–reviewed by Barb

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Superposition — Clever SF Thriller With A Solid Punch

SuperpositionIt’s not very often that I pick up a book, read it and then afterwards think “My God, the science works!”

Superposition by David Walton did that to me this past weekend.

Jacob Kelley is a physics professor far away from the brilliant minds who he had worked with in recent memory and trying to make a difference with young, fertile minds at a local small college. His life is good, and everything is in order… until one night when an old friend showed up and turned his entire life upside down. Brian Vanderhall, who worked with Jacob on the New Jersey Super Collider (think CERN, but in New Jersey), is convinced that something is chasing him. Jacob is only mildly concerned (more for his old friend’s mental state than anything) until Brian pulls out a gun… and shoots Jacob’s wife.

Except that the bullet didn’t hit her. Instead, somehow it moved around her and struck the wall. Angry beyond belief, Jacob punches Brian and throws him out of the house. But then things get very, very weird, because then ext day Brian is found dead from a gunshot wound — the same gun that he used to shoot at Jacob’s wife.

And then Jacob’s family is brutally murdered in front of his eyes by some eyeless entity from within the quantum universe itself… and their bodies disappear seconds after, gone without a trace. Weird? Oh yeah, this book is going to hit you over the head with weird, and make it work.

Superposition is half-SF novel, half-murder mystery, and is perfectly done. There was some initial confusion early on, due to the two concurrent storylines being told from a singular POV (broken down by “Up-Spin” and “Down Spin”). Once the reader figures out the pattern, however, the true brilliance of the story emerges and it truly takes off.

Imagine that in quantum entanglements there is a “mirror-verse”, for lack of a better term. Not a copy of you, but a reflection. Now imagine if that reflection came to life and had your memories, your thoughts, your feelings. Almost like a clone, but better. A mirror image, where the moles on your cheek are on the other side of your reflection’s face (hey, give me a break, this is hard to explain in mundane terms). That version of you is temporary, however, because the wave which separated you two must collapse at some point (typically when the reflection and the original are in the same situation).

That’s… not a very good explanation. David Walton does a much better job of explaining it in the novel.

The story is fantastic, and the plot is fresh and original. I’ve read books on quantum theory and a Higgs boson before (Travis S. Taylor’s Warp Speed series comes to mind first and foremost), but this is the first time where it was explained to me in terms that I could completely grok. The hell which Jacob must endure before the end of the novel makes the payoff worth it, and leaves you with a good feeling.

The pacing starts slow, but soon enough is racing along so fast that the reader can barely keep up. Some of the characters blend together, but the main characters are strong enough in their differences and opinions to make each one special and memorable in their own right.

This book is a definite read for any science geek or a murder-mystery fan, but especially for both. This one is a solid “A” for me. You should definitely check it out.

–Grade: A

–Reviewed by Jason

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Vengeance From Ashes — Compelling New MilSF

vengeance from ashesVengeance From Ashes is the first military science fiction book from author Sam Schall in the Honor and Duty series. It’s a solid piece of storytelling, and a compelling work of fiction that will be enjoyed by any fan of MilSF.

Ashlyn Shaw was a former Marine captain now incarcerated on fabricated charges and shunted off to the deepest, darkest hole they could find: the Tarsus Penal Colony. Condemned to five years of solitary confinement and practically left for dead, Shaw is surprised when she is suddenly transferred out of the penal colony and back planet side. FleetCom (the military) wants her, though she does not know why, and until she does, she will not trust anybody.

As the story progresses, it becomes clear to the former marine that there has a been a change in the government which had locked her up and made her disappear. A former admiral who had supported her even though she had been on trial was elected on the promise of clearing the charges the captain was under, as well as reforming the government as a whole. But while Shaw is being informed of all the happenings in the two years she has been “in the dark”, an attack by unknown perpetrators occurs in the capitol. Shaw, along with members of her former unit, the “Devil Dogs”, must try and protect a senator and repel the mysterious attackers.

Sometimes when you read a story, you seem to find yourself in the middle of something grand. You get to reading, eagerly awaiting the back story to propel the novel (as a whole) forward. The only problem I had with this book is that it seems like this it is the middle section and I missed the beginning. It’s not bad, per se. It just feels like I had missed something very, very important. Once I was able to break through that sensation (about 20 pages in or so) it was smooth sailing from there.

There is plenty of suspense in the novel, and enough background action to lay down the authenticity of the Devil Dogs and what they do. In the end, however, the story is about a Marine captain doing everything in her power to protect those who love her, and those who are loyal to her.

A positive read. A–.

–Reviewed by Jason

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An Interview with Novelist Extraordinaire Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

Over the past two years, we at Shiny Book Review have avidly devoured every last one of Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s novels — there are five to date (FIRES OF NUALA, HIDDEN FIRES, FIRE SANCTUARY, NIGHT CALLS, and KINDRED RITES), with a sixth, SPIRAL PATH, currently being polished even as we speak.

There’s a reason for that.

Put simply, anything Ms. Kimbriel writes is worth the price of admission. It doesn’t matter whether she writes fantasy or science fiction; it doesn’t matter whether she’s writing a young adult novel, as in her Night Calls series, or if she’s writing a complex and challenging far-future epic clearly meant for adults, as with her Chronicles of Nuala.

Whatever she writes is excellent in all particulars. Guaranteed.

So, without further ado, please welcome novelist Katharine Eliska Kimbriel!

SBR: You’ve written both fantasy and hard science fiction, and your writing has been well-received in both genres. What, if anything, do you do differently when writing a fantasy story as opposed to a SF story?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: As I mention over in my bio on Book View Cafe, I return to the question of power, and the metaphor is either magic or technology.  Who has it, who doesn’t, do they want it, what will they do with it, how were they affected by it?  It doesn’t matter if I’m writing tech or magic–I want to know how people are changed by their surroundings, events, and the catalyst–magic or tech.  On Nuala, a space-faring group of humans is changed forever by being stranded on a planet where the radiation breakdown is 3x what it is on Earth, with the resultant mutation and sterility factors to overcome.  They could dwindle into death, or they could blaze a new path.  In my fantasy, sometimes the magic solves problems, and sometimes it makes problems–but the people have to deal with it, while still living their lives and interacting with others, both magical and mundane.  I tend not to change a lot, when I create a society–I change a little, making an interesting blend from Earth societies, just to see what will happen.  On Nuala, I used three things, essentially–the increased radiation level, the mutated mineral-leeching microbe, and the mutation that amplified the ability to heal, the so-called King’s touch.

Little changes can multiply into big things!

SBR: How did you come up with your Chronicles of Nuala? (What gave you the initial idea?)

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Two things…I was fascinated by pictures of the huge vegetables growing in the soil around Hiroshima, and the rampant fertility of the soil. I’d also read about wiring a battery to a bone break to speed healing. So I took two questions: 1) What if people could not only survive, but in some weird way, thrive, in a radioactive environment? 2) What if the the concept of laying-on of hands to heal became a reality? Then the story began.

SBR: What was your first story sale? How did that lead into writing novels?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Actually, my first sale was Fire Sanctuary! I sold it to Bluejay Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s, but they never counter-signed the contract (they had no cash flow, and were in trouble) so I’d gotten an agent, who resold the book to Warner/Popular Library/Questar in about a year. Those were the bad old days. We were captive to New York publishing.

SBR: How did you come up with your Night Calls series starring Alfreda “Allie” Sorensson?

Older cover for NIGHT CALLS

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Allie leapt from my subconscious at a statement from the wonderful writer and editor Jane Yolen. She was doing a series of anthologies for Harper & Row, and the first one was to be Werewolves!. A group of us were lunching at World Fantasy Convention, and we were peppering her with questions, testing the start of funny or serious short pieces. I don’t write a lot of short things–they bloom quickly into novels. But I asked her, “Does the werewolf have to be seen?” Jane replied, “The werewolf does not have to be seen, but its presence has to be felt.”

New cover for NIGHT CALLS

I then had two very sharp images come to mind. First, a young girl in clothing that was not modern–either pre- or post modern–gently brushing away snow to find garlic attempting to root under a window, and a young girl with long, blond braids dragging a chair to an interior door to hang up a braid of garlic. In that first version, Allie was post-apocalyptic, but Kim Moran at Amazing Stories convinced me to place her in the past. Allie was born there.

SBR: What sorts of research did you do to add verisimilitude for each series?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: It depended on the story. I researched Antarctica and mineral-leeching microbes for Nuala–also Mirror Matter/antimatter, recessive eye colors, sequoias! For Allie’s world I have an extensive bookshelf of books on herbs, magic, folk tales, fairy stories of Scandinavia, Ireland and the world–colonial life and times. The War of 1812…

SBR: How well did you know Roger Zelasny, and what influence (if any) did he have on your work?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Roger Zelazny came to several Texas conventions when I lived in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.  I thought he was wonderful, and he decided I was pretty interesting, too.  I came up with the book title If at Faust You Don’t Succeed–that was the weekend he was all excited about the book he was writing from the POV of Jack the Ripper’s Dog, one of my favorite of his books, A Night In the Lonesome OctoberWe exchanged letters when his schedule permitted, and had started talking on the phone (we had different networks, which back then was a good thing–we could swap industry gossip!) when he became ill with his cancer.  Only very, very close friends, most of them in New Mexico, knew how ill he was…I was ready to come to Santa Fe at that point, but did not hear back from him.  Then word went out through the fan networks that he had died, and I knew why I had not heard back. Instead of seeing him, I was writing an elegy for Locus and a sympathy note to Jane Lindskold.

I miss him still.  He never got to see Allie, he was too ill to read the story.  Roger taught me to write short stories as if they were the last chapter of a novel–and a lot about writing dialogue.  You can follow his dialog for pages without any qualifiers telling you who is speaking.  That helps me remember to keep speech patterns distinct.

SBR: How is being published by Book View Cafe different from working with your previous publisher(s)? What do you like about this approach, and do you think there will be more consortiums like BVC in the future?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: It is collaborative, because as a coop we do everything, and we help with everything.  We have a huge forum where there are topics for kibbitzing on cover art, layout, back cover blurbs–we have people currently specializing in everything from ebook formatting to keeping the web site going through blogging and copy editing.  There are people shepherding production schedules and volunteers.  I could not have gotten my books up without my fellow authors, due to my health problems back in the early BVC years.  I hope I have been useful to them.  Right now I do everything from woman the events calendar to serve as a member of the board.  And as you know, I mention all the great books we bring out.  It’s a blessing to me that everyone in the coop is good at what they write, whether their work is to my personal tastes or not.  I have no hesitation bringing their books to the attention of my fans, because there’s a chance that some of them may be looking for just that type of book.

I do think the producer cooperative model will be a successful one for writers.  We are inventing a new way to do business, but we are hopeful and making more money each year,  So…forward!

SBR: You’ve recently announced (via Facebook) that the third book in the Night Calls series has been finished. How soon will it be available?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Well, I’m editing. Once I am satisfied with it, Spiral Path will go to at least one Book View Cafe member for a beta read, because it is an original work. (Also to my cover artist, Mitchell Bentley.) It’s at least a four month lag time from that point. I hope at the end of this week to be able to ballpark it, because I want to send out print copies for review to Locus and possibly Rave Reviews. End of summer, if I can get the lead slot at Book View Cafe? This is possibly Allie’s last chance. I have to make some money from the books, because I spent a great deal of money staying alive. I have to make a living and try to replenish the emptied investment account. So…if not Allie, I will have to try writing something else. In fact, I will be starting a new series, a contemporary fantasy, after this, and also, I hope a fourth Allie book, if she’s still telling me her story.

(Interviewer’s aside: Let us sincerely hope so! Allie’s a great character and I want more of her, pronto. End of aside.) 

SBR: Ms. Kimbriel, e-books of all five of your novels are available right now. But what about hard-copy, “dead tree” editions? Are they, too, available now?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Well, all my books exist in paper. I just don’t get any money for sales of the SF, unless you buy them from me at a convention! I’ll do the third Allie in print, but the sales on the SF are not great enough to justify new cover art. So don’t expect the Nuala books in print soon–I need a better paying job first! On the other hand, I have some new copies of Hidden Fires that might interest folk… ;^)

SBR: As an editor, what is your favorite genre to edit? (Or do you like a little bit of everything?) And what is your favorite book that you’ve ever edited, and why?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Actually, I don’t have a favorite right now. I love the variety. I prefer fiction, and really enjoy concept editing. I like helping someone find their own voice and where they want to go, and making it the best book their idea can be. I would have liked being a NY editor, but that didn’t happen.

SBR: Why didn’t it happen?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Becoming a known concept editor who can make a living at it tends to start with a job (working) for a NY publisher. You had to move to NY in those days, and that was something I would not have dreamed of doing when I was first publishing–my husband had a good job in Texas, and Texas was having its first tech boom at that time. Later I was trying to establish a business that would let me write fiction part time, and I was looking for life balance, so I became a clinical massage therapist. Finally, I became ill, and life has been catch-up ever since. So although I have been told by many writers that I am a good concept editor, and my resume tag line is “Writer, editor, and trainer specializing in retaining the authentic client voice”, becoming a developmental editor at this point is unlikely.

SBR: What do you think is most important when pursuing a career as a writer and editor? Talent? Persistence? Money? Connections? A little of everything? (And does fame, at all, interest you? If it does, how so? And if not, why not?)

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: None of those things hurt. To be a writer, a storyteller, you need stories you are driven to tell (and that may be harder than ever to do, with even more life distractions out there!) persistence, and talent. To be published requires persisting…at the writing, the submissions, or researching how to do it yourself. And then researching how to promote, or not–how to submit the book to a few review sites and let it go, keep writing.

Fame interests me only as a medium to reach more readers with my stories. Money, sadly, would be handy–I spent a fortune staying alive, and I must work now, and need a decent income. If the writing cannot pull its weight, then I have to relegate it to a hobby and return to school or take whatever I can find in the current market. I think Alfreda will outlive me, but who knows what future creators will do with her and her tales. I don’t know about anything else I’ve written or may yet write.

SBR: One, final question: What would you like to say to new authors?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: If you have a story that keeps you awake at night, then you may just be a storyteller. Figure out how you want to tell it–book, graphic novel, film–and go for it. No other hobby can compete with creating something unique. Don’t let it be the thing you regret most in life; the thing you never tried.

If you have regrets? Don’t let them be your stories.

Again, many thanks to Katharine Eliska Kimbriel for consenting to this wide-ranging interview . . . now, go forth and read her books already!

— interviewed by Barb

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Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s “The Fires of Nuala” — Complex, Engrossing SF with Romance

It’s Saturday, which for all long-term readers of Shiny Book Review means one and only one thing — it’s time for a romance.

Some weeks are better than others in this regard.  I’ve reviewed romances of all descriptions, plus some books that have romance encapsulated in them but are not predominantly romances.  Tonight I have one of the latter in Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s THE FIRES OF NUALA, surely one of the best books I’ve read all year.  (Note: if you’d rather buy this through Amazon, here’s that link.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The main characters here are Sheel, who will soon be Atare (the ruler of his clan) despite being a Healer gifted with both empathy and the ability to diagnose by touch-telepathy, and Darame, an off-world woman and “free trader” who’s really a combination spy and criminal, but with one caveat: she only cheats other spies and criminals.  The two share one night of passion, then wake up to disaster.  The four or five people who’d been heirs before Sheel are all either dead or dying, and no one’s certain as to anyone’s underlying motivations.  Darame is immediately a suspect despite having an undeniable alibi — she was with Sheel, and in a mightily compromising position, to boot — but Sheel knows that Darame could not possibly be involved.

The plot thickens when it’s discovered that the guaard around Sheel’s kin when they were murdered had been changed at the last minute in a way that’s extremely suspicious.  This suspicion is contrary to everything the guaard stands for, as these complex people — more than security guards, they take an oath to the various noble families (such as Sheel’s) in a quasi-feudalistic rite — have been thought incorruptible.  But when Sheel’s own guaard commander Mailan concurs with Darame’s assessment that at least some of the guaard have been compromised, this forces Sheel to start thinking outside the box immediately in order to assure his kin’s safety.

Of course, Darame immediately suspects another off-worlder in this conspiracy to subvert the guaard and kill Sheel’s kin, as the man who brought her to Nuala in the first place, an enigmatic career criminal named Brant, is definitely hiding something.  That Brant has also made it very difficult for Darame to find out what’s happened to her mentor Halsey, who’s stood as a father figure to her for years, just adds fuel to the fire.

But there’s deeper waters ahead, things that have to do with Nuala’s unusual way of inheritance (half goes through a female offshoot of the family line, this leader being called the “ragäree,” with the other half going through the male) and the fact that the current ragäree-presumptive, Leah — Sheel’s eldest sister — is barren and is trying to cover it up.

Nuala, you see, has had major difficulties with radiation sickness over the centuries.  Eighty percent of its population is either outright sterile or is “borderline,” meaning they may or may not ever be able to have children.  And some — the Sinis and “mock-Sinis” — are so radioactive that people either can’t be around them at all (the former) or for not very long (the latter).  And it’s because of the radiation sickness that this particular way of inheritance became common in the larger families where money and influence was at stake.

So there’s murder.  Conspiracy.  Greed.  The conflict between what’s always been done and new, unexpected methods.  A political economy that’s based on fertile Nualans going off-world regularly in order to bring back healthy genes and/or healthy people who wish to settle there, lest Nuala die out.  A hereditary line of inheritance that’s different, but makes sense according to everything I’ve ever read, sociologically.  And an excellent romance that’s based on competence, mutual regard, and shared values as much as it is about two healthy people in their prime being sexually aware of each other and acting on it.

Ms. Kimbriel has developed a rich, well-developed world to play in, and she does so with great flair.  The characterization is outstanding from beginning to end.  The world building is first-rate.  The romance between Sheel, who needs an off-world bride but has given up on finding one, and Darame, the off-worlder who’d never thought she’d find someone she wanted to settle down with due to her chosen profession, is one of the best I’ve ever read in the science fiction and/or romance categories.  Even the dialogue reads well and easily, which is no mean feat considering all the Nualan loan words.

THE FIRES OF NUALA, written in 1988 and reissued** in 2010, is a book that should be in every science fiction library as it is complex, engrossing, interesting, compelling, and outstanding.  This is the first book in a trilogy and sets up Nuala, its conflicts, its vital people, and its unique and special problems as a world that you will want to revisit again and again.

Why THE FIRES OF NUALA isn’t already known as an outstanding epic science fiction novel of the best kind — complete with romance — is beyond me.   Some novels do not find their entire audience the first time around, and perhaps that was the case here.

However, considering THE FIRES OF NUALA has been reissued by Book View Cafe, you owe it to yourself to read this outstanding novel.  Especially if you love epics, complex plots with spots of humor, cultural clashes, well-drawn generational battles, or simply enjoy a good yarn that’s extremely well told.

Bottom line?  Technically, THE FIRES OF NUALA is a combination of space opera, romance and mystery.  Book View Cafe’s own description calls it “perfect for fans of Darkover and Pern,” and I can’t say they’re wrong.

But in my view, that’s only part of the appeal here, as I’d classify THE FIRES OF NUALA as closer to DUNE on an epic scale (more understandable, and far more fun, but lots of history and interest that reminded me of Frank Herbert) far more than it did any of the Darkover or Pern novels, even the most complex (such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s THE SHATTERED CHAIN or SHARRA’S EXILE).

If you haven’t read THE FIRES OF NUALA already — and I’m betting most of you haven’t — you need to pick it up, pronto.  Or you will be missing out on something extraordinary.

Grade:  A-plus.

— reviewed by Barb 


** Upon further review, I’ve been reliably informed by Ms. Kimbriel that THE FIRES OF NUALA that I just read is the very same, exact version put out in 1988.  Which makes me wonder, again, what was in the water that year that the awards committees for the various high-profile ceremonies didn’t even consider this amazing novel.  (Shame on them.)

So if you bought a copy back in 1988, and read it and loved it, you do not need to worry about anything having changed.  (But if you want an e-book copy to augment your hard copy, you still might want to look at Book View Cafe’s reissue as $4.99 for an e-book of this size is an absolute steal.)

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E.C. Myers’ “Quantum Coin:” Vivid, Appealing Sequel — with Physics

E.C. Myers’ forthcoming QUANTUM COIN is a science-fiction action/adventure story featuring teenager Ephraim Scott, his girlfriend, Jena Kim, his girlfriend’s alternate self from a different universe, Zoe Kim, and his best friend, Nathan Mackenzie.  This story is set in and on our present-day Earth, but parallel worlds, string theory, and various laws of physics come into play in this vivid, appealing sequel to FAIR COIN (reviewed here).

As you might expect, even though Ephraim had given up his “fair coin” — the coin that allowed him access to alternate universes — at the end of the previous book, the alternate universes aren’t quite done with him yet.  This is made evident when Zoe shows up; Zoe was in love with her world’s version of Ephraim, liked our Ephraim even better and nearly stayed with him in the last book, but had done the virtuous thing and stayed in her own universe.  So for her to show up again, much less at Ephraim’s Senior Prom, shows that something must be desperately wrong.

After a deft recap of the events of FAIR COIN, the plot thickens nicely as Ephraim, Zoe, and Jena end up in a universe that runs faster, time-wise, than our own.  This means their analogues are all older (when they’re not dead or elsewhere); we get a chance to see the fortysomething version of Jena Kim (beautiful, tired, and strained), the fortysomething version of Nathan (eccentric, tired and strained, but honorable), and hear their versions of what’s going on in the multiverse these days.

To be blunt, the situation is dire — worse even than Zoe knew when she went to get Ephraim and Jena in the first place.  (Nathan, pouting all the way, ended up having to stay in our universe.)  The universe seems to be folding in on itself; the math is there to support this belief, and it has something to do with all of the different possibilities that the universe has come up with.  Now, the universe is contracting; as physicists, scientists, and all-around smart people, the elder Jena, the elder Nathan, and the elder Ephraim (when he was still around) have decided to pick the few universes that should continue to exist.

Of course, who are they to decide?  (This is the first question Ephraim comes up with, and Zoe, too.)  And is the decision they’ve made really the best one available, or is it simply due to bare necessity?

But there are other problems; in order to do what they’re proposing, they need a genius of the adult-Ephraim’s level or better, and don’t have one.  That’s why they brought in younger Ephraim, as they thought he might be able to help them find one in the multiverse, before it contracts . . . while they find one (in a slow-time universe, where it’s still the early 1950s), that only leads to more and more problems for all concerned.

This is a very strong sequel that’s better written than Myers’s debut novel (which I criticized for its overuse of archetypes).  Ephraim is much better fleshed out; he’s now his own, albeit still young, man, and no one else need apply whether his alternate self’s name is Ephraim or not.  Nathan, too, is no longer an archetype; he’s flawed, sure, but funny, and definitely his own man.  And the difference between our universe’s Jena, and her analogue, Zoe, couldn’t be more stark . . . all the way around, the point is definitely made that it’s your experiences that help make you who you are, along with the people you know and the knowledge you amass.  And without all three of those things, you aren’t the same person as anyone else — not even a genetic twin such as Jena (our universe) and Zoe (alternate universe) are all that much alike if you see them as individuals, rather than imperfect copies of one another.

QUANTUM COIN is a novel that needs to be on your bookshelf, just as soon as it comes out in October; it has flair, drama, big ideas, excellent characters, and some believable, low-key romance.  I enjoyed this novel thoroughly — in fact, once I’d read QUANTUM COIN, I turned right back to the beginning to start it again (something I only rarely do) because I found it that interesting and involving.  And if you give it a chance — even if, like me, you weren’t a huge fan of FAIR COIN — you’ll be likely to get hooked, too.

Grade: A.

— reviewed by Barb

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Exciting News for SBR: Rosemary Edghill Consents to Interview

Shiny Book Review is proud to announce that author Rosemary Edghill has consented to do a wide-ranging interview, which will run next Thursday, June 28, 2012.  Edghill, co-author of DEAD RECKONING along with Mercedes Lackey (previously reviewed here at SBR) and author of VENGEANCE OF MASKS (soon to be reviewed), will discuss her career, including the highlights of working with science fiction and fantasy Grandmasters Marion Zimmer Bradley and André Norton and her long-standing collaboration with renowned fantasist Lackey.  She’ll also give some helpful tips for writers, discuss her writing process, and talk about what she finds to be the most distressing aspects of publishing.

So be sure to come back next Thursday, as Ms. Edghill has many interesting ideas to impart due to her lengthy and wide-ranging career.  (You’ll be glad you did.)

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E.C. Myers’ “Fair Coin:” Better than Fair, but not Exceptional

E.C. Myers’ FAIR COIN is a suspenseful book set on present-day Earth that contains elements of fantasy and science fiction.  In FAIR COIN, we meet Ephraim Scott, a normal sixteen-year-old-boy who’s worried about girls, school, and his alcoholic mother; however, his life changes the day someone who looks exactly like him dies.  His mother gets called down to identify the body; horrified that her only son appears to be dead, she ends up drinking herself into an alcoholic stupor.  When she ends up in ICU, Ephraim investigates what happened and searches “his” belongings; only then does he find an unusual coin, a commemorative quarter that has Puerto Rico on it and a date of 2008, which clearly isn’t right as Puerto Rico is only a Commonwealth, not a state.

Then, when Ephraim goes to school, he finds a note that tells him that all he has to do is flip the odd coin to make all his dreams come true; it appears to be in his best friend Nathan’s handwriting.  Figuring he has nothing to lose, Ephraim first wishes for his mother to get better and ends up, somehow, in a parallel universe where his mother never identified a body that looked exactly like his — in this universe, Ephraim’s mother, while still an alcoholic, isn’t in the hospital at all.

Confused, Ephraim flips the coin again and asks for two things: for his mother to be well (no longer an alcoholic) and for Jena, the girl he’s been interested in since the second grade, to like him.  This actually happens, and Ephraim grows even more confused; when other strange things happen, like a set of identical twins becoming only one person instead of two, and when his best friend Nathan no longer knows him, Ephraim knows something is deeply wrong.

Fortunately for Ephraim, his love-interest, Jena, is a budding young physicist and recognizes the “parallel worlds” theory from her studies.  She does her best to explain things to Ephraim, but then the unthinkable happens — a version of Nathan shows up who’s violent and irredeemable.  Nathan causes problems for Ephraim, for Jena, and for Jena’s analogue, Zoe, because of one thing: Nathan wants the coin, and he will kill in order to get it.

So, will Ephraim figure out what’s going on before it’s too late?  Or will Nathan  gain the coin, and its unusual powers, for himself?

FAIR COIN is a nice action-adventure story with parallel worlds and some romance.  It relies on the plot carrying the characters rather than the reverse, but isn’t necessarily bad; the plot demands that Ephraim be a teenage “Everyman,” and it’s plausible that bookworm Jena would understand enough about parallel worlds and string theory to explain it to lovesick Ephraim.

The problem I had with FAIR COIN was this: Ephraim, rather than having the idiosyncracies that would’ve made him more lifelike, was instead an archetype — “teenage Everyman.”  While this is OK, it would’ve been better if Ephraim had more internal monologue and some reactions other than, “Wow!  How’d that happen?” or “Why is Nathan behaving so badly, anyway?  What’s up with that?” as it would’ve deepened his character and made him seem far more believable.  (And speaking of Nathan,  he also is an archetype from beginning to end no matter what universe he’s in, which really didn’t help anything, either.) 

In addition, I never really understood why Ephraim’s mother felt so terrible about life that she’d ended up as an alcoholic.  And considering that the whole plot depends on us believing Ephraim’s mother is in bad shape, this is a bit strange.  Once again, the only reason Myers gets away with this is because Ephraim’s mother is an archetype, so the reader immediately categorizes her and then doesn’t worry any more about it. 

Bottom line: there was no reason to use so many archetypes.  One per book is usually all most readers are likely to tolerate; here, we have three.  Worse yet, Ephraim, his mother, and Nathan may as well have been cardboard characters, as for the most part they lacked personality.  More to the point, they lacked soul, which is why I did not believe in any of them.

Fortunately for Myers, he has two very strong characters in Jena and Zoe to help pick up the slack; they have real motivations and idiosyncracies, and I believed they could be real people existing somewhere (or somewhen).  Without them, I’d not have wanted to finish this novel.  

That being said, the action-adventure works.  The romance, for the most part, worked, though I kept thinking Jena deserved better.  The plot was fast-paced and well-written, which I appreciated, and helped distract me from how much I hated the use of all those archetypes. 

FAIR COIN is a good novel for young adults, but falls short of the exceptional read I’d hoped for, mostly because Myers needs to stop using so many archetypes.  While he tells a nice story, he must learn to draw up characters with a bit more weight and heft to them, as plot will only carry you so far. 

Grade: B

— reviewed by Barb

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Joan Slonczewski’s “The Highest Frontier:” Great Science, Iffy Characterization

Joan Slonczewski’s latest science fiction novel is THE HIGHEST FRONTIER, which is a near-future novel based mostly on a space habitat located above the Earth called Frontera.  The Earth, especially North America, has largely been ruined by climate change, which is why most of the best scientists, artists, and even athletes have removed to various space habitats.  Frontera is just one of a number of space habitats; it’s home to an excellent college, to one of the world’s best slanball teams (slanball reminds me a great deal of Quidditch, except without magic and by using gravitational fields instead), to a number of farmers, and to some mind-blowing science, particularly of the physical and biological variety.

You see, the near future is a very strange place.  People get to and from the various space habitats by going up strands of anthrax — harnessing a dangerous biological weapon this way is a nice touch — while taxes now get “played” at casinos, and there’s an upper limit as to how much you’re allowed to lose.  Biological science has taken a gigantic leap forward, partly due to an “alien invader” called ultraphyte, a type of creature that seems infinitely adaptable and is usually deadly to human beings in any form.

The heroine of our tale is Jennifer “Jenny” Ramos Kennedy — yes, of that Kennedy family, though she tends to think more of the Ramos side of the family as they’ve been the more recent occupants of the White House — a multifaceted young woman with unusual skills.  Jenny is a trained first-responder — meaning she has advanced first aid skills, which are aided by advanced technology — and as ultraphyte has been called, more or less, one of the top “enemies of the state,” she’s used to decisively dealing with ultraphyte in a way that leaves behind as little as possible (as the wily little devils can seemingly reconstitute themselves out of the thin air, though in actuality they need salt and a lot of it in order to reproduce and thrive).  And because Jenny’s recently lost her twin brother, Jordi, due to misadventure, she’s hurting, alone, scared, and sad in short order — yet she’s bound and determined to improve her life by going off-world to Frontera, which shows an unusually steely set of nerves.

At Frontera University, Jenny studies under biologist and Nobel Prize winner Sharon Abaynesh; this is much more important to the plot than it seems at first, as Abaynesh is one of the few people who seem to realize that the ultraphyte are more than invaders — they are sentient, sapient beings who may well not be as opposed to humans as they seem.

Along the way, Jenny has her first romance; she plays a lot of slanball; she gets frustrated because she “only” gets an A (grade inflation has taken place, and now she expects an A-triple-plus on everything or she figures she’s falling short); she works on her public speaking skills, as she knows she’s deficient in that area and as the scion of a political family, that just won’t do.  And she interacts with just about anyone who’s anyone on Frontera, partly because of her high social standing, but mostly because it’s integral to the plot that she do so.

Look.  This is a book that’s really high on ideas.  The way the Internet is newly-conceived as “ToyNet” is a brilliant touch.  The space habitat (“spacehab” in Slonczewski’s parlance) is well-conceived, and seems like something that would actually work.  The way real food is prized and coveted — and is a rare treat — makes sense due to its scarcity in a world that’s now low on natural resources.  And the overall, overarching plot makes sense, which I was glad to see.

But there was something about this book for all its brilliance that bothered me, and that’s the fact that our heroine, Jenny, just wasn’t strong enough to hang the plot around.  While I liked her and often empathized with her, I kept thinking that the only reason Jenny was the main character here was because Slonczewski wanted to write a young adult novel, thus Jenny had to be the main character.  And that’s just not good enough.

I’ve read Slonczewski’s other novels, including the John W. Campbell award-winning A DOOR INTO OCEAN, which is outstanding and a must-read.  She is a scientist by training and temperament, which is why the science of the space habitat is first-rate and why the overall near future world is worked out to the Nth degree, even to the point of Cuban-inflected Spanish loan words due perhaps to the fact that both Puerto Rico and Cuba are now part of the United States of America.

But when you have a main character who, while likable, just can’t hold my interest, that’s not acceptable for a writer of Slonczewski’s caliber.  And that’s why, despite the fact that the world-building and overall scientific background of THE HIGHEST FRONTIER are uniformly excellent, I feel this novel fell a bit short of the mark.


World-building:  A-plus.

Scientific knowledge (AKA, “Is this world plausible?”):  A-plus.

Characterization:  C-minus.

Overall grade:  A very generous B.

My advice is to wait for this one to come out in paperback, or possibly get it from your local library; while the ideas here are outstanding, the characterization isn’t.   And that’s a shame.

— reviewed by Barb

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