California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout
Now I do not know why I haven’t heard more people raving about this series. Any book that can open the series with cannibalism that is not about zombies and yet intrinsic to the world building has my buy in. It was gorgeous and dark and it reminds me of how I feel when I sit down to read a new book in a series I love; if I can ingest the magic of the writing I will somehow become more than the sum of my devoured past.
Can you imagine a world in which the fossil record is used to add bits of kraken, dragon, or basilisk magic and physical traits to your skill set? Daniel Blackland is the son to a powerful osteomancer in the Hierarch of Southern California. Under the heel of the powerful the land and its people are slowly being consumed to fuel the need for constant magic that most osteomancers need.
Daniel isn’t a traditional hero; he was raised to gobble the power and flesh of others. He was also raised to sneak and steal and he and his crew are good at it, but when they plan to steal back the sword invested with Daniel’s essence by his father before his death things go terrible awry.
A magically gluttonous read. If you’re not convinced imagine Gone in 60 Seconds but with magic as the target theft. And if you still aren’t convinced then I wish you the best of a dull life.
Stay tuned for my review of Pacific Fire, because why read just one in a series when both are out?
Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox
Hopefully we all know by now that men didn’t do everything of note in science, no matter what a lot of the popular history might suggest. What I would also like to believe is that you know that without the research efforts of Rosalind Franklin the basic structures underlying DNA would not have been ‘discovered’ by James Watson and Francis Crick.
Of course, I’d also like to believe in dragons.
For those of you that this is old hat to and you’ve read numerous biographies and research papers by Rosalind Franklin and are steeped in the social justice movements as they relate to academia, you might be tempted to skip this book. But don’t.
This book remains a good read because in many ways the topics discussed in this book: women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), non-WASP and underrepresented groups, and the struggle for research funding and a place in the hierarchy of higher education is still a very real problem. Sure most schools can’t get away with not allowing female faculty ‘just because’ anymore, but if you think that stops institutions from bullying or being bullied into letting go of faculty because of their status or views as minority, you aren’t paying attention.
This book covers both the good and the bad about Franklin. She was a brilliant researcher with a personality that was dedicated to science and not the politics associated with garnering research funds and political allies in a turbulent academic environment. You get a chance to explore her time researching carbon structure in France and how this work helped launch her thoughts on the structure of DNA and how best to tease it out. We sit side-by-side as she stretches the limits of science and technology to better understand the fundamental structures of the world. She was a wonderful friend and passionate person in areas outside of the lab as we see from her time in Paris and visits to the United States. But she wasn’t always easy to get along with and she didn’t share her methods or research space well with many others even when overtures were made, but if anything this doesn’t separate her from her colleagues because it is a trait that she shared with many researchers.
The Dark Lady doesn’t just apply to her Judaism, or her reported moodiness, or the fact that her work was overshadowed by Watson and Crick’s letter to Nature that was the foundation of their Nobel Prize, which was based on ‘Photo 51’ a photo taken in Franklin’s lab using techniques and equipment she helped design and struggled to get funded. The moniker applies to the fact that all of these things are true of her. She was more than ‘Photo 51’ and it is a shame she died so young, but don’t think this was the sum of her contributions to science she also work on the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus and on polio.
For those of you that a book is too long for TLDR.
The Way Into Chaos: Book One of the Great Way by Harry Connolly
Let’s talk a little about what this story is and isn’t.
This story is an ensemble cast centered on Tyr Teyjohn Treygar, a soldier, to the King and Queen of an Empire and protector of the Crown Prince. The book opens with what we are led to believe is the usual visitation by a magical race to trade performances and shows of creativity for spells, which is the source of preeminence for the empire. Instead a vast swarm of creatures comes through and devastates the empire in very short order.
As the companions split up to seek their own solutions to the plague of beasts both end up facing impossible odds. Tyr Treygar sees the tense political alliances that kept the empire together crumbling at the opportunity to scramble for power and young fosterling Cazia relies too heavily on her magic risking a hollowing. I do look forward to learning more about the magical system and difference between the wizard magic and that gifted to the Empire to use and risk hollowing.
Connolly is a fun author and he does create some interesting characters to follow. Magical elder races exchanging their great magic for a little entertainment to lift their seemingly immortal ennui seems a bit elfish to me. I do enjoy the addition of some of the creatures and cultures surrounding the Peradaini Empire, they seem a lot more interesting and different. So I’d say the story, to date, is not genre bending or breaking.
I have enjoyed greatly Connolly while reading the 20 Palaces series. My bar was pretty high and I felt the 20 Palaces series was much more original, but if you like traditional epic fantasies with multiple POVs and fast pacing I think you will enjoy this. Don’t let my concerns dissuade you because I think books are like ice cream flavors, most people can agree ice cream is good, but they can argue about flavors until the cows come home. There are some editing and consistency issues that you see in many self-published works.
Darkened Blade by Kelly McCullough
Aral is called upon by the shade of his goddess to perform one last task in her name and the name of Justice. Aral gathers about himself the last remaining Blades for a thrust at the Son of Heaven and his risen horde. As the time draws closer the decision weighs more heavily on Aral, who must decide the greater evil – to do nothing and let evil flourish or to intervene and knowingly cause the death of until innocent lives?
I like McCullough’s work with the Fallen Blade series because while it smacks of some very traditional fantasy series it also spends a lot of time questioning the underlying logic of the systems involved. Not only does it question the ethics behind blind obedience to a deity or superior but also the ramifications to the populace affected by the choices people might make. It is also a series about redemption and I, for one, would like to believe in most people’s ability to redeem themselves and others.
While I miss Tien and the adventures Aral has had there in the past this story carries us from the Sylvani Empire through Varya to the ruins of the order and on from there. We get to spend some time with Siri, Jax, Faran, and even Kelos as they work together to avoid armies and risen across the eleven kingdoms. And generally try not to kill each other.
I am sad that we don’t get one more adventure or interaction with Captain Fei, but the book was a strong ending to a very enjoyable series. I think the Blades of Namara need a vacation or a hug after this round. They’ll receive a bit of a break from the written word as this is the last planned installment of the series, sadly.
I’ll miss Aral Kingslayer.
If you haven’t read McCullough’s works and enjoy assassins, magic, familiars, and a world of deities and world building that span millennia then dive in with Broken Blade. Think a little more linear and traditional Vlad Taltos by Steven Brust if you need something to situate it in the genre.
I am sure after some time passes I’m going to have to reread this series.
Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan by George D Morgan
Over the past several years as I went through a drought period with authors I really enjoyed in my usual genres I branched out into non-fiction and creative non-fiction. I’m particularly interested in good books on the history of science and medicine, with special interest in under-represented subjects.
So with that in mind I picked up a copy of Rocket Girl to learn more about Mary Sherman Morgan, the woman who got the US to space. George Morgan is Mary’s son and does a very touching tribute to the memory of his mother. It is interspersed with anecdotes of from his childhood that add richness to the aftermath of resigning her position with the North America Aviation. What happens to an accomplished mathematician after she sets aside her career for her family?
We follow Mary from her small town North Dakota upbringing through an early education in chemistry and into the workforce with the rise of WWII. For me it is a fascinating looking into safety and the workplace as well as the gender dynamics inherent in the struggle for women to be treated fairly before, during, and after large societal shifts. You get a sense of the excitement and cavalier approach to safety that stands out like a mad scientist in a crowd of the early space race.
In other words, pick up a copy and read it. I highly recommend it. Certainly, I am willing to take it with a grain of salt given the author is her son, but given other books I’ve read I think it is pretty credible.
TLDR: Read this short story from Tor.com by Kathleen Ann Goonan that includes Mary Sherman Morgan as well.
The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
I struggled with what to say about this book, not because I had bad things to say or nothing to say, but because there is a lot packed into this book that I could drive off into the sunset about any number of topics. A lot of time with prequels it is hard for me to get excited because it feels like reading books out of order – VERBOTEN. I already know what the outcome is and I can’t seem to get motivated to care, but not for this book.
Speaking of driving – I wanted to give you a metaphor to help you get how I feel about this book because I am not Dr. Okorafor and I can’t write with the depth and feeling of prose to give this book justice I will sum up.
This book is like buying new tires. This may be a strange comparison, but stick with me. You think you’ve been reading good things until you get your new tires and then you realize all the swerving wasn’t the rain or the wind; it was that you had terrible tires. Good writing has traction and texture and doesn’t just move you; it grips you and pulls you over a lot of different terrains. This book is a great ride, not always smooth because it isn’t a soft read, but Okorafor’s writing draws you through.
Phoenix is a great character to develop with and take you on this story. She starts out as an adult and yet she is only 2 years old. The science of Tower 7 has made her an accelerated woman. As Phoenix struggles to understand who she is and how she feels about these very personal violations Tower 7 has wrought on her body and those of her friends. She isn’t alone on this journey, finding and losing love and friendships large and small as we travel to Africa and back again.
What’s ironic to me is a lot of the topic that are central to the book – the uneven cost of ‘progress’ on developing nations and their people, people’s willingness to sell each other out for personal gain in the short-term that goes against long-term interests, and the desire to burn it all down. All these topics were in the Avengers movie I saw this weekend. In the Avengers movie you see people of color and developing nation countries bear the cost for American exceptionalism and scientific discovery, but. Whedon failed to take part in the conversation. We saw the Hulk roll over a South African city and his punishment is – he feels bad? Also, why does everyone speak English? Why do Tony Stark’s robots speak English? He can’t program other languages? Not really the forum for my problems with this movie, but if you want to see something action packed that is full of heroes and villains this book is a better choice.
Life isn’t simple. If you’ve read Who Fears Death, you know that the outcome of the choices made here shape a world very different from our own and it isn’t all flowers, peace, and love. What would you do faced with the same violations?
Child of a Hidden Sea by A. M. Dellamonica
Sophie Hansa is one argument away from finalizing a degree that she can’t quite seem to commit to. She is a diver, biologist, and strong female lead character for Child of a Hidden Sea. This is a seemingly simple portal story akin to Stephen Donaldson’s Mordant’s Need series. Sophie’s relation to this world and the world’s relation to our own are at the heart of an exploration of the meaning and need for relationships.
Sophie is adopted and struggles with the need to know her biological origins. We follow Sophie and her brother, Bramwell, on an adventure on the high seas to uncover a plot to overthrow the peace that has settled on the world while also exploring the unique world, magical system, and search for a meaning in family and what it means to be related to a place or people.
There is a carefree mood to the book even with the very serious topics it explores that is refreshing and keeps the story moving. At times, it toys with becoming a swashbuckling romance or a more political intrigue plot where magic and religion feature heavily, but it manages to sail between each of these potentially dangerous areas.
The magic system is interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is that simple items can be used to add to or alter different types of inscriptions tied to the names or people or things. This combination, by itself, is not entirely uncommon, but added to that is an idea that there is a limit to how many times a person can be scribed before they overload and bad things happen. I think this story has a very strong foundation and I do truly hope that the author continues this story because I feel like there is a wealth of information and culture to be explored still.
My one disappointment came from one of my unexpected joys, Bramwell. I appreciated so much that the story included a smart gay character that I was disappointed that he was excluded for much of the story and all the constant harping on his intelligence really ended up being a foil for the main character’s own revelations. Don’t get me wrong, I like strong female characters and I enjoyed Sophie who is clearly insightful and intelligent, but I felt teased by almost having another character to cheer for.
Either way, I greatly enjoyed it and recommend it for a quick, light-hearted read and we can hope for more.