When the culture wars returned a couple of weeks ago, I was in the middle of Sheri S. Tepper’s 1998 novel Six Moon Dance. My brain blew a fuse. It was one of those serendipitous moments when what you’re reading informs the news of the day—and vice versa.
Whether you believe the current culture war is about women’s health and access to contraception, or about religious freedom, or both, there’s no denying that reproductive and sexual politics have come into play. Just turn on any cable news station.
When it comes to literary commentary on gender issues, Tepper is a master in the science fiction/fantasy genre. Her novel The Gate to Women’s Country is a landmark in feminist sci-fi. (And a darn good read, too!)
In this Tepper novel, the author turns gender stereotypes on their head. On the human-colonized planet Newholme, a matriarchal society has evolved. A virus that attaches itself to the double-x chromosome means fewer births of live females. Women become treasured, and the families of young men pay dowries to the families of young women to forge families. As in pre-modern times, the marriage arrangements are not romantic but economic. Once a woman has given birth to children—done her “duty”—she can buy the services of a consort, a man who has been trained in the art of pleasuring women.
This is where protagonist Mouche comes in. He is the son of parents who have been unable to produce daughters. These families are unable to pay dowries for their sons because they have been unable to collect dowries for daughters. Their options are few. One option is for the family to sell a son to a Madame who grooms young men to become consorts. And so Mouche finds himself in the house of Madame Genevois, the most prestigious consort house on the planet.
In this house, Mouche will rediscover the “Timmys”—another life form on the planet to which human children are intimately connected. But as children grow older, they are told the Timmys are illusions and must be ignored. But Mouche can’t ignore them. And increasingly, it appears the other residents of Newholme can’t ignore them either. For the Timmys once held the key to protecting this volcanically-active planet, an activity that reaches dire proportions when Newholme’s six moons align.
The above description of Six Moon Dance doesn’t even begin to touch upon this almost-epic work. Suffice it to say there are many more characters, many secrets, and a million-year-old back story that only adds richness and intrigue to Tepper’s commentary on gender, sex and mysogyny. And once the big questions are answered, and you feel you have just finished a great book, there is the most delightful of payoffs.
There are a number of interviews with Tepper out on the web, but this is my favorite one!
I. Can’t. Wait.
Internet Movie Database page on The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games Trilogy fansite
Other Okie Reads posts related to the trilogy:
• End Game
There must be a thousand ways for civilization to come crashing down around our heads. You can always depend on good science fiction writers to come up with horrifying scenarios about a world reset. John Barnes has produced a doozy with his new Daybreak trilogy. The first two installments are out, and I’m going to have to wait until 2012 to read the third and final chapter. It’s the perfect time to get on board this exciting techno-thriller.
It’s the final Young Bill Young’s Summer Reads post for the year, and I can’t tell you how happy I am that the current temperature in OKC is a sweet 83 degrees! Labor Day really was the end of summer this year!
Barnes’s Daybreak series is part end-of-the-world horror story, part post-apocalyptic adventure, and part political speculation. The collapse of civilization in Directive 51 is caused by a movement known as “Daybreak”—an Internet-connected group of diverse people (ranging from eco-crazies to stewardship Christians to disgruntled techno-geeks) who have only one thing in common: they all want to bring the Big System down. The release of nanoswarm and biotes destroy rubber, plastics and oil products, and the destruction spreads rapidly around the planet, causing a dramatic and quick end to modern civilization. Following the initial collapse of modernity, Daybreak rears its head with additional poxes that are aimed at making sure Earth stays primitive, including radiation bombs that are set off in strategic locations.
While the reader is given some of the gore that follows America’s collapse, Barnes is more interested in what happens to America following such a scenario. Enter National Security Presidential Directive NSPD 51 (it actually exists), the plan that “claims power to execute procedures for continuity of the federal government in the event of a catastrophic emergency.” Despite the directive, it doesn’t take long for the two political parties to flex their muscle, with opposing governments set up in Athens, GA and Olympia, WA. Meanwhile, an informational and research arm of the “federal government” is operating out of Pueblo, CO, charged with disseminating information via steam train to pockets of people around the country. (Are you old enough to remember those Federal Citizen Information Center ads asking you to write to Pueblo for free federal government brochures? Turns out they still have all of that information!)
As the first novel nears its close, the two governments are actually contemplating war with each other, as if Daybreak wasn’t bad enough. It will take the wisdom of protagonist Heather O’Grainne (administrator of the Pueblo operation), the skills of a surviving reporter, and the Socratic Method to try to spare what’s left of America.
The sequel Daybreak Zero opens only two months after the final events of Directive 51, and one year since the first catastrophic events known as Daybreak. In this second installment, we learn that tribes have formed across the country to battle any re-emergence of civilization. We learn that a new Post-Raptural church has emerged that is preparing for the tribulation. More importantly, we learn that Daybreak must be the deadliest meme ever. Those who have incorporated the ideas of Daybreak actually have seizures when trying to go against the meme. And Daybreak is infiltrating the governments of Olympia and Athens, and the research institute in Pueblo.
Some reviewers criticize the “one-dimensional” aspect of Barnes’s characters, but I didn’t find them to be so. No, you will not read pages and pages of philosophical, social and psychological ruminating by the individual characters. But you do get enough insight into the characters to give a damn about what happens to them. And, anyway, this is a story about people who are trying to stay alive while they attempt to bring back some kind of stability to their crumbling world. The meaning of life for these characters, is the meaning of survival.
The site is big and bold, filled with enough information to make any sci-fi/fantasy fan drool. The book reviews are thoughtful and professional, and there are exclusive interviews with authors in the field. Spotlights is a feature which focuses on notable books coming out each month, although it appears they lost interest in including graphic novels a few years back. Upcoming Releases is a detailed listing of titles that are heading our way. (It’s like the biggest buffet ever!)
Or, you may want to start with their substantial Best of Lists, produced by Fantasy Book Critic’s contributors. The feature includes End of the Year Best of Lists, Best of Genres, Best of Upcoming Releases, and any other Best of Lists.
As with many weblogs, the search function isn’t up to par with the best search functions on traditional websites, but that shouldn’t keep you from exploring this great site. It gets a Literary Kitty stamp of approval. Meow!
A little break from my usual format for my summer reads. I was just so taken with this little book…
Many people think that a very abstract activity, like the playing of chess, would be best. It can also be maintained that it is best to provide the machine with the best sense organs that money can buy, and then teach it to understand and speak English. This process could follow the normal teaching of a child. Things would be pointed out and named, etc. Again, I do not know what the right answer is, but I think both approaches should be tried.”
We’ve all seen science experiment with the chess playing computer, but what about this second approach—to raise an artificial intelligence (AI) as you would a human child?
The book is the story of Blue Gamma software employees Ana Alvarado and Derek Brooks, and their digients (AI programs represented by avatars) named Jax, Marco and Polo. We “watch” as Ana and Derek help their digients develop motor skills, explore their emerging curiosity, learn human language, recognize themselves versus others, and socialize with other digients and humans. New hardware even allows the digients to “port” to physical robots to experience the real world versus the dataspace.
As the digients advance—and Ana and Derek develop parental affections for Jax, Marco and Polo—the standard upgrades inevitable in the world of software brings newer versions of digients to life. The discontinuation of a virtual world platform, and lack of support for Blue Gamma AIs in other platforms, threatens the very existence of Jax and his friends. To save Jax and other digients like him, Ana and Derek join with other Blue Gamma parents to create a private dataspace to protect the developing cyber life.
But the parents must solve a problem: how to upgrade the Blue Gamma AIs so they can rejoin other digient friends and continue their development. This quest for solutions ends up posing some interesting questions for the characters and the reader:
• At what point can an AI make a decision for itself?
• Are AIs on their way to being persons with similar rights as human beings?
• Should AIs follow traditional child development with the implementation of an adolescence and sexual awakening to reach their full potential?
• Should humans make the same sacrifices for digients as they often do for human children?
As the story progresses toward its conclusion, Derek and Ana find their paths diverging in the name of love: love for a fellow human in one case, and love for a digient in another.
I’m a fan of Chiang’s work. He’s not a prolific Sci-Fi writer, but his short stories are some of the best in the genre right now, and the critics and readers agree, as his long list of awards indicate.
Read what Ted Chiang has to say in this Locus Online interview about his motivation for writing The Lifecycle of Sofware Objects.
Good Lord, is it ever hot!! But what a great excuse to stay in the cool, or find an exceptionally generous shade tree to park yourself under, during the extreme heat. And what better friend to bring along than a book? Here’s what I’ve been reading…
The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States by Gordon S. Wood
The Gist: Putltzer Prize Winner Brown takes a page from both the traditionalist view (An Idea drove us toward Revolution) and the early twentieth-century progressive view (Ideas don’t create revolutions; cultural, social and economic conditions do) to plot a middle ground in these essays exploring the birth and early years of the Republic. Yet, in doing so, he reveals how the “idea” and “ideals” of a self-governing country remain America’s strongest suit. Indeed, in much of the world, America is an idea to adopt, and an ideal to strive for.
Status: Read intro, conclusions and selected essays.
Summer Escapism: C (This is not a bad thing. You can’t help but reflect on our current government and economic woes while reading this book. You’re learning and thinking. You’re not really escaping. And that’s a good thing.)
Strength of Writing: A
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: A
Social Relevance: A+ (In the Post-Great Recession, as in so many other times of crisis in our country, Americans often turn to America’s beginnings for renewal. Would that they also were inclined to turn to our country’s historians and read more to enlighten themselves about our great land before shooting their mouths off.)
General Reaction: For Brown, the beginning and early formation of America remain the most important events in our country’s history, and he presents a convincing case for this through his essays. The intellectual and ideological values we hold dear, the creation of both a public and private sphere of rights (which our courts must traverse), and our feelings about America’s place and role in the world, have all been influenced (and continue to be) by the Idea of America. Brown’s specialty is the American Revolution, and you know you are in the company of a great mind when reading this book.
Embassytown by China Miéville
The Gist: Humanity has colonized space. Embassytown is a human settlement on the planet of the native Ariekei, sentient beings with a language unique in the known universe. The problems of communication between Ariekei and humans lead to catastrophe and, ultimately, revelation and transcendence for the Ariekei.
Status: Gobbled it up!
Summer Escapism: A (For sci-fi fans, that is.)
Strength of Writing: A
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: A (Interesting take on language and its impact on culture and progress. Plus, you’ll never look at lying the same way again!)
Social Relevance: B (It’s always relevant to explore differences, and the importance of finding common ground.)
General Reaction: I have to tell you, I wasn’t sure that Miéville was going to be able to pull this off. But he does, and it’s a wonder to read. The book has mystery (why are the Arikei trying to make “figures of speech” out of neighboring humans?), excellent characters (especially human protagonist Avice Benner Cho), adventure, conspiracy, war, and an intriguing and satisfying conclusion. He just bats it out of the park!
OK, it’s your turn. What have you been reading during this hellish summer?
While Kitty is getting through the heat by turning up the AC and losing herself in a cozy mystery, my reading habits have been all over the place since Memorial Day weekend. I’ve been to the Nursery Crimes police division in Reading, England (alternative universe England, that is), on an Aussie football field in Melbourne, and in a sick generational ship in outer space. (I told you I read weird stuff!) Here are some quick reviews of my latest reads…
The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde.
The Gist: Nursery Rhyme characters are real! (And so are Greek gods, and aliens.) Humpty Dumpty has a great fall and the Nursery Crimes Division, headed by DCI Jack Spratt and assisted by DI Mary Mary, is called in. Turns out Mr. Dumpty didn’t just fall. He was shot! It was murder!
Status: Read cover to cover.
Summer Escapism: A
Strength of Writing: B
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: B (It helps to have access to Mother Goose Rhymes as a reference. Fun!)
Social Relevance: Uh… er… OK! C+
General Reaction: You already know I love Jasper Fforde if you read my reviews of The Eyre Affair and Shades of Grey. While reading this first Nursery Crimes mystery, I often thought that Fforde was trying to hit the reader with too much weirdness. But weirdness is what Fforde is all about. The Greek gods and aliens don’t add anything to the main plot, but they do make for some great laugh-out-loud moments. Despite the gimmick-taken-to-extreme nature of the book, the mystery itself is solid, and just when you think it’s all solved, there’s the weirdest last reveal you could imagine. Priceless Fforde.
Tigers and Devils by Sean Kennedy
The Gist: Gay romance centering on the outing of a Australian Football player. Oh, and… boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy back; the basic formula, except this time with rainbows.
Status: Read cover to cover.
Summer Escapism: B
Strength of Writing: C (You know there may be a problem when the writer has the football-crazy protagonist ask why an injured player has to travel with the team. For team support, doofus! Even I knew that.)
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: C (Well, it did inspire me to learn a bit about Aussie Football.)
Social Relevance: A (Lots of talk right now about gay athletes in pro sports, so, yeah, it was pretty relevant.)
General Reaction: I’ve read plenty of gay novels, but I had never read a gay romance. It’s interesting to see this variation of the classic romance formula. See if you recognize it: Protagonist is sarcastic and a loner, thinking he doesn’t need love, but he really does. Meets Mr. Wonderful. Mr. Wonderful pushes all the right buttons but seems too good to be true. Personalities clash during a crisis. Mr. Wonderful has faults! Love is slipping away. The idea of love lost puts the crisis in perspective. Love is reaffirmed. Fireworks. Happy ending.
Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear
The Gist: Mystery and terror on a generational space ship. Our narrator is awakened from a deep sleep to find himself naked and freezing inside a giant spaceship. He is having trouble recovering his memories, and some of the monstrous creatures around him want him dead.
Status: Three-quarters of the way through!
Summer Escapism: B
Strength of Writing: B (This book is turning out to be a fast read, but it takes a bit too long to really get started, despite the intriguing set-up.)
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: A
Social Relevance: B (Poses the intellectual, ethical and moral questions you expect from good Sci-Fi.)
General Reaction: I’ve never reviewed a Bear novel on Okie Reads, but his Blood Music is a favorite Sci-Fi classic of mine. Although I’m still reading Hull Zero Three, I can tell you that the revelations to the mystery thus far are as big, strong and provocative as you would expect from this master of the genre. Three-quarters of the way through, I’m very pleased with this book. I’ll certainly let you know if it falls apart for me in the end.
OK, that’s what I’ve been reading. What have you been reading during this late spring/early summer heat wave?
My friend Adrienne has introduced me to lots of great reading from the Young Adult side of the book world. Without her and the other youth librarians in the state (Cathie Sue, Emily, Karl), I might never have discovered the wonderful Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, or found myself in the nail-biting world of Incarceron, Catherine Fisher’s extraordinary tale that stands up with some of the best of adult science fiction.
Protagonist Amy has joined her parents on the starship Godspeed. She is frozen along with hundreds of others for a 300-year trip to a new planet. Other shipmates remain awake, living out their lives in space, their descendants keeping Godspeed functioning through the generations. When Amy is thawed too early, in what appears to be a murder attempt, the stage is set for the reader to discover this strange ship and its unusual history through her eyes. For things, of course, have gone awry during the journey, and they have much to say about the issues of our own world.
So far, so good. Amy is a strong character, and a good mouth piece for the values that have been corrupted on the ship. Elder, the young man who will soon assume the mantle of Eldest (leader of the ship), is also believable as a teenager struggling to understand his role, and as a love interest for Amy. There is mystery, suspense, and conspiracy—all typical elements in sci-fi thrillers.
It’s a good book. And yet… something was missing for me. It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished the book, and I’m posting now because I think I know what I found lacking: true, terrifying, danger. Is this because I was never really able to put myself in Amy’s shoes? Is it because I was expecting something as hair-raising as in The Hunger Games or Incarceron? I don’t know. I just know I was left a little disappointed.
I’d still give the book 2 1/2 stars out of 4, or 3 stars out of 5. Like I said, it’s a good book. And I expect some great work from this new author in the future. I will say it’s been hella busy at work, and maybe I wasn’t able to give my all to Across the Universe.
I need some help here. Have you read it? If so, what did you think?
Tour Godspeed and find out more about the book at the official site.
And how cool is this trailer!
The latest Fforde novel, Shades of Grey, is the first in a series of books about a future world known as Chromatacia. If you’ve seen my review of his first Thursday Next novel, The Eyre Affair, or if you’re a fan of the author, you already know that fantasist Fforde writes some of the most intriguing speculative fiction around today.
Science Fiction and Fantasy often takes us to bizarre and strange worlds—there’s nothing new about that—but few fictional landscapes are as strangely original, weird and screwball as Fforde’s settings. In so many ways, they are far removed from the conventions and notions of previous speculative writings.
I’ve decided the best way to give you a taste of this novel, is present some of the “what if” questions Fforde had to mull over as he was concocting this delightful work. Here we go…
What if humanity was divided into a hierarchy based on what color individuals could perceive? Protagonist Eddie sees only shades of red, and is classified as a “Red.” Heroine Jane is a “Grey.”
What if your standing in society was based on the level of color perception you have? If you see more purple than other Purples in your community, you become a governing prefect. See more green than other Greens? You’re a Green Prefect.
What if your job was determined by your color perception? You wouldn’t want to be a Grey, since you would work long hours performing sometimes back-breaking duties.
This book is funny, smart, goofy, thoughtful, suspenseful and sinister all at the same time; an unusual stew fitting of Fforde’s most unusual world.”
What if viewing certain colors could heal, or inebriate, or even kill? You don’t call the doctor in this world, you send for the Swatchman.
What if genetic engineering had made humans night blind? Our pupils would be much smaller, for one thing. (And what if other genetic modifications unfortunately led to the far-to-often loss of ears, eyebrows, and fingers?)
What if society was based on a rule book that governs virtually every aspect of life, from what two colors can legally marry, to when you can drink Ovaltine, to what objects can be manufactured.
What if the rule book accidentally left out the manufacture of spoons? Spoons would become some of the most prized objects in the world!
What if some horrible catastrophe had happened hundreds of years in the past that led to this color-centric world?
What if this colortocracy, and these genetic modifications, and all of these rules had one goal: to keep human society in stasis, and to keep the true rulers in charge?
And what if you asked too many questions?
This book is funny, smart, goofy, thoughtful, suspenseful and sinister all at the same time; an unusual stew fitting of Fforde’s most unusual world.
Have you read Shades of Grey or other Jasper Fforde novels? Let us know what you think about his one-of-kind creations.
Went on a work trip and one of my bosses, who knows I like space opera lent me Elizabeth Moon’s Hunting Party. This is the first book in the Serrano Legacy series. Hunting Party is an interesting mixture of old traditions and new technology, tossed with generational conflict, and strong female characters.
Heris Serrano has been forced to resign her commission from the Regular Space Service, for failure to follow the self-indulgent and destructive orders of Admiral Lepescu. Cecelia is the rich older lady space yachet owner who has just given her a job. Of course the Sweet Delight, offers some unexpected challenges to our space captain. Cecelia and Heris find themselves in companionable friendship, making a bet that each learn more about each others dreams and priorities. On board we also find Cecelia’s spoiled brat nephew along with his friends who are entering their own coming of age trials. Young women becoming more than they ever thought they could be when tested by evil and their environment. All this is played out against a background of fox hunting amid a space port that looks every bit like a castle. It’s the stuff space adventure is made of, toss in a little unsuspected romance, and you’ve got yourself a nice long airplane ride read.
I see a lot of whining on Amazon about it not being a great book, blah, blah, blah. Every book doesn’t need to be great. This is a good read if you like the space opera experience. Good enough for me to find more in the series. Now that I’ve finished book one I’m ready for more. I would recommend this title to female young adult readers for a glimpse at a genre that gives them a strong voice.
To give you a feel for her work, try out this audio of Elizabeth Moon reading from Hunting Party. This is a piece starting with Ronnie (Cecelia’s nephew) trying to rescue his friend George before the hunters get to him.