Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

a417ab808a36ffd596872666a67434f414f4141So post-apocalyptic fiction is really hot right now. I have quite a bit of it in my to read pile. And I’m really not in the mood for it. Consequently, I’ve been rereading a bunch of books this year in a happier vein. Like fairy tales. This is the lead up to say that I probably didn’t enjoy this book as much as I would have if I’d been in a different head space while reading it. (I picked it up because it was the oldest unread book on my Kindle.)

The story weaves back and forth between the time before and after a pandemic has wiped out most of the world’s population. It’s centered on Arthur Leander – an actor who has a heart attack and dies on stage a day or two before all hell breaks loose.

Twenty years on, and those who are left live in small villages. In the area around Toronto, a group of musicians and actors has formed together as the Traveling Symphony – playing music and performing Shakespeare as they travel around to these villages. The initial connection is a young woman named Kirsten – she had been a child actor in the play that Arthur Leander was doing when he died. He had been kind to her, and he looms large in her life, probably because the pandemic was so close after his death.

The story weaves back and forth between Arthur’s screwed up life (three wives, one son he never sees, plenty of tabloid action), and the surprising links it has to the future. It’s all about the interconnectedness. And it’s very well done. It’s even moderately hopeful in the end, which is never a given with this kind of story. But like I said, I think I would have enjoyed it more if I was in a better headspace for it.

Advertisements

Miles Errant – Lois McMaster Bujold

3f2e94c1de3a4a0593865705451434f414f4141This omnibus consists of the short story “The Borders of Infinity”, and the books Brothers in Arms (which I’d previously read) and Mirror Dance. All the stories deal with Miles Vorkosigan’s alter ego Admiral Miles Naismith, commander of the Dendarii mercenaries. More importantly, the two books deal with his clone brother, Mark.

In Brothers in Arms, Miles deals with having a clone with a great deal of equanimity, welcoming him as a brother – which makes sense when you remember his mother is a Betan, and has very liberal views about such things. At the end of that book, Mark escapes, but Miles wants to find him, and convince him that he really does consider him family.

Mirror Dance is Mark’s story of how that happens, mostly because Miles is dead for most of the book. (Which makes sense with the level of technology in this universe.) Mark has a pretty complicated (one might even say horrific) journey to even accept that he might want to be Lord Mark Vorkosigan. It’s an amazing story – absolutely typical of why I love these books. Bujold really makes you think about a lot of things in the course of these stories.

Defying Mars – Cidney Swanson

1939543010-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_This is technically the second book in this series, but I’m starting to get the feeling the author pulled apart one (maybe two – the series is young) books to make more parts.

In the last book, Jess and her brother were among the crew of a Mars ship sent to Earth to get the food they need to survive. Officially, there’s no one on Mars – they’ve been considered dead by Earth for years, but there have black market support back on Earth. Their mission went terribly wrong, and only Jess and the mechanic make it back to Mars. In this book, Jess pretty much steals the ship almost as soon as they get back, and returns to Earth. That’s it.

Yes, there’s a some action on Earth where her brother Ethan is getting used to his new body (long backstory), and other things happens (with characters you won’t understand unless you’ve read book one). That’s why this seems very incomplete to me – the whole book is a transition act. I can’t even say it’s good or bad- it just is.

Exile’s Song – Marion Zimmer Bradley

917a6495bf373a5596750376e41434f414f4141This was the book that well and truly got me into the Darkover series, which is somewhat ironic, as she didn’t write all or most of it. (I’m not able to find the exact details around this – the trilogy it’s a part of was started around the time of her death, so was in some measure written by Adrienne Martine-Barnes.   I assume the final book at the least was not Bradley at all.) I was in a sci-fi based book club in college, and had forgotten to send the monthly slip back in, so this book arrived. I had read some of the short story books before this, but something about this book hooked me in. I’ve since collected all of them, which was an interesting adventure in the early days of Ebay.

Margaret Alton is the daughter of Senator Lew Alton from Darkover, but they left that planet when she was very young, and she remembers little about it. She’s also grown distant from her father, and has not seen him since leaving for University. Since then, she’s become a scholar in her own right, accompanying her mentor, a renowned musicologist, to a number of worlds. And that is what brings her back to Darkover.

I think that’s what I liked about this book, as Margaret has to discover her home again, so it’s a reintroduction for the reader as well. (It also represent a tonal shift in the books – the series was written over a great span of years, so the style, times, and themes vary wildly. This is the first of the post-Bradley era style.) She’s basically an heiress, which she had no idea was the case, and she also is not aware of the planet’s people’s telepathic abilities (for reasons that become a major plot point.) It’s a good introduction to the series, if someone is looking for a way in.

Impossible Things – Connie Willis

c0809e025b55007597767325367434f414f4141This book of short stories is a fun sampling of Willis’ work.

Some of my favorites are: “Even the Queen”, a great send up to women’s lib. Who knew talking about your period could be so funny? “Jack” was a great story about how WWII in London let some people rise above anything they might have accomplished if there had been no war, with an interesting twist. And “Winter’s Tale” was a purely historical fiction tale,with a very interesting take on a very old mystery.

This is only my second foray into Willis’ work – I definitely need to read more.

Shades of Grey – Jasper Fforde

e12d7193b31891c59316e385967434f414f4141So some sort of unnamed thing happened, and the world has evolved into a society where everyone fits according to their abilities at color perception. Eddie Russet is on his way to the outer fringes, where his father has been tapped to replace the local swatchman (doctor, more or less), who recently died. Eddie’s just shy of his twentieth birthday, so hasn’t been rated yet, but he thinks his red perception is enough that he’ll be able to comfortably marry up spectrum.

It’s really hard to describe this book, because so much of it hangs on the world that Fforde’s created, which is rich, and complicated, and totally absurd, all at the same time. It’s mostly about Eddie discovering more than most people know about the Colortocracy, which sets up the possibility for some more stories down the line, as that’s explored more. This is very much a beginning book, one that shows a lot of promise.

Falling Free- Lois McMaster Bujold

61csft7tdmlThis story takes place in the Vorkosigan universe, but takes place about two hundred years before Miles is born. It’s the story of the development of the Quaddies – genetically engineered humans with a second set of hands instead of feet, bred to live and thrive in zero gravity.

It’s very much a cautionary tale of genetic engineering – the Quaddies are a project within a gigantic galatic corporation, and when they’re made obsolete by new technology, the fact that they are a thousand human beings is buried so deep that they face real extinction.

Fortunately, some of the regular humans assigned to their project aren’t so callous, and find a way to help the Quaddies save themselves.

This is actually a pretty hard story to read, because it’s a very good portrayal of some of the worst of human nature. But, I think that’s what makes it an important story, because someday, we are going to be able to do the things in this book, and we need to think really hard about that means for the future of what we think of humanity.