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Archive for September, 2012

Science Fiction Saturday – Ashes of Candesce

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012


Ashes of Candesce by Karl Schroeder


Review by Bowden P. (Trey)


This is the final book in Schroeder’s Virga series (Sun of Suns, The Queen of Candesce, The Pirate Sun and The Sunless Countries) wrapping the series up in a big enjoyable way all the while continuing to wrestle with the questions posed in The Sunless Countries.

So what is it about?

It picks up shortly after the end of The Sunless Countries where Leal and the survivors are trying to escape back the Virga. Along the way, they discover a hidden outpost or colony of rebels against Artificial Nature trying to rediscover science. Among them is one odd young man, Kier Chen, who is getting younger and loosing his memories. With his help, they escape back to to the familiar airs Virga and the story takes off like a rocket.

Hayden Griffin, Antea Argyre, Venera and Chaison Fanning and even Jacoby Sarto all return and have major roles along the viewpoint characters of Leal, Keir Chen and Antea. This band of heroes and villains has a mission worthy of their talents – to save Virgan and Candesce from the terrifying post-human forces outside.

This wouldn’t be the novel of big ideas and interesting characters it is if the plot were that simple. The world beyond Virga is composed of more things than terrifying post-human forces (as to them think of the Vile Offspring from Accelerando who want to turn all matter into computronium). Its more nuanced than that with potential allies and foes – sometimes in the same package. Another problem is, is Virga worth saving as it is? After all, aristocracies, monarchies can be interesting places – and also have little issues, like secret police and a lack of basic human rights. Problems that might be alleviated if the technology suppressing field of Candesce were dialed back or eliminated.

I mentioned a big idea and its a grand one – what happens when you place the tools of intelligence at the disposal of the non-sapient? The possible answer is interesting. It also completely upsets the order of things as we´re  used to it. Imagine an AI partnered with an oak tree, thus giving the tree access to everything from tools, to weapons, to lawyers at its disposal to further its ends – namely some sun, water and dirt, plus to make lots of acorns.

This novel and series are a blast for me. Where eles can you get a load of space opera tropes, married to a logical technology and physics with big questions? That, plus steampunk touches and chrome work.

Overall, 5 stars –

Likes: Setting; Ideas; Tribute to space opera tropes; Characters, particularly Leal and Keir – Keir because he is very human in a post-human world; Antea struggling with what the right decision is; Seeing other characters from previous books; Necklace towns; Colonizing winter zone spaces with mirrors.

Dislikes: Deus ex machina in the form of quantum gravity; Opposition that is occasionally mustache twirlingly bad.

Suggested for: Fans of the Integral Trees and Smoke Ring series; people who were intrigued by the aliens in Peter Watts Blindsight and the implications of Athena from Stross Rule 34; those that like steampunk with a brain; anyone that enjoys transhumanist SF and pondering the implications.






Fantasy Friday – The Lamp from the Warlock’s Tomb

Friday, September 21st, 2012

The Lamp from the Warlock’s Tomb by John Bellairs


Review by Rebecca (rocky1)


Long before Harry Potter books were even dreamed up, another author dominated the genre of young people dealing with mysteries, ghosts, horror and the unknown-and his work was not only scary, but enough to captivate adults too! His name was John Bellairs.

The books that Bellairs penned had a common theme: they were set in the 1950s and dealt with young people (usually just starting high school) and their older counterparts (a neighbor, someone they worked with). The crux of the story was the adventures of the two as they uncovered the mysteries they unknowingly stumbled on to, usually something involving the occult, ghosts, or another world.

One such story involves Anthony Monday and his pal, Miss Eels, the local librarian he works with, in The Lamp from the Warlock’s Tomb. Miss Eels purchases an antique oil lamp from weird old Mrs. Grimshaw, who is very secretive about it. On their way back they notice a funny little man covered in cobwebs who nearly causes an accident, but think nothing more of it. After she lights the lamp at home, Miss Eels starts noticing strange things happening. Anthony asks to borrow the lamp for a school project-and shortly thereafter the high school watchman is murdered. Anthony tries to convince Miss Eels to stop using the lamp, but in an effort to prove there is nothing behind his superstitions, she takes it to the library and lights it there-and unwittingly sets free a spirit that should have stayed trapped away. Anthony and Miss Eels set out to return the lamp to Mrs. Grimshaw, who has summoned them for some odd reason, but when they arrive at her store, something weird and mysterious has happened. Can Miss Eels and Anthony solve the puzzle and return the spirit back to the underworld?

I remember my mother reading this to me when I was only seven or eight, and being scared out of my wits. Now, re-reading it again as an adult, I have to say-it is still scary! Although originally aimed at ages 9-12, they can easily capture the imaginations of any child or adult whose inner sleuth is looking for something not quite mainstream, but still exciting with just a hint of danger and lots of mystery involved.




Historical Fiction Review – Queen By Right

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Queen By Right by Anne Easter Smith


Review by Bruce


In “Queen By Right” author Anne Easter Smith relates the under-appreciated story of Cecily Neville, wife of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York and mother of two British monarchs, Edward IV and Richard III. As Smith points out, Lady Cecily is the ancestor of all subsequent British monarchs from Henry VIII to the present Elizabeth II.  The duchess, known to her contemporaries as the Rose of Raby and Proud Cis, was an outspoken, brash, intelligent woman who asserted herself into her husband’s confidence, often earning the respect and sometimes scorn of her peers.

The novel begins with 9 year old Cecily’s betrothal to her father’s 13 yr old ward, Richard Plantagenet. This was a risky arrangement as Richard’s father had been executed as a traitor for asserting his legitimate right to the crown and the slightest political misstep could condemn both Richard and Cecily.  But as it turns out, the two children are instantly smitten with one another and thus begins Smith’s epic love story. Make no mistake, this novel is a love story first but Smith remains faithful to telling the full account of Cecily’s life and keeps the historic narrative moving at a brisk pace.

It is the history that drew me to this story. In my opinion, the Hundred Years War and the War of the Roses is the most interesting time in British history. “Queen By Right” begins during the Hundred Years War and ends with the War of the Roses so it was the perfect opportunity for me as a fan of British monarch history to immerse myself in my favorite literary genre and my favorite time period to boot. Smith didn’t disappoint. While her novel is “chick lit” there was enough history to keep me hooked.

I entered the novel with some trepidation however. As a pro-Yorkist, I was somewhat leery that Smith would not portray the Lancasters as the dirty dogs that they were or that she might illustrate some of my favorite White Roses in less than flattering fashion. Let me assure you that the White Rose blooms bright in “Queen By Right”. I recommend this novel to those who would like to learn about this episode in British history and “Queen By Right” serves as an excellent complement or segue into Sharon Kay Penman’s “The Sunne in Slendour” which is an even better novel that focuses primarily on Cecily Neville’s sons.  Grab a copy of both novels, you’ll be glad you did.

VostromoScope – Pisces

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

by Vostromo




Ruling planet: Neptune
Element: Bouillabaisse
Symbol: A caper wrapped in an anchovy
Birthstones: Amethyst, aquamarine, dried wasabi


Fans (a word wrapped in Super Secret Double Probationary air quotes) of the VostromoScopes know I’ve been struggling to put the Pisces entry together for quite a while. There are some straightforward-enough reasons for the delay (the RIP of EoP; Chicago meteorology babe Ginger Zee’s defection to Good Morning America; that rerun of New Girl; McKayla Maroney’s smirk; Thursday; the persecution of Pussy Riot in the Soviet Un– sorry, “Russia”; also I dropped a thumbtack) and the inescapable reality that the creative process, howsoe’er crappy the outcome, is not on any schedule known to humankind.

But the difficulty has persisted for so long even I found it unusual: many ramblings of mine I think not fatally unfunny have come into being since the Pisces entry was due, and quite on the fly (is that the same as off the cuff? why?) — so I set out exploring not only Pisces but why I seemed to be suffering from “Pisces block” and no, I don’t mean the time Rihanna’s security guards tackled me, nor Jolene Blalock not returning my calls because she’s “Vulcanizing”.

Today I hit the answer. Well probably not the answer but an answer. Something, at any rate, on which I can pin the blame. OK properly it’s an “excuse” but the point is, figures prove nothing, and that footage is absolutely not clear enough to identify me. I mean, the perp, whoever I am. — it is! Dammit!

In peering into the depths of the list of notable Pisceans, one overarching fact eventually rose to the surface: collectively, you rock. And not Van Hagar rock either – Van Lee Roth rock.

Yeah, there are exceptions to every rule (Tammy Faye Bakker; Michael Bolton; Fabio; Justin Bieber) and there’s probably sport to be made of the fact that the Pisces are the fish into which Aphrodite and Eros changed to escape the wrath of Typhon, the “Father of all Monsters” whose name is to be thanked for typhus, typhoon, TomeTrader and Tea Party. (The derivation of “typhoon” may actually be from the Indo-Chinese tung fung (“easterly wind”) or an onomatopoeia of the endless exhaling after one’s mother-in-law finally leaves.)  Let’s face it: surely a sign whose formative concept is running and hiding in a pond is open to mockery, n’est-ce pas?

I thought so too. But there are so very many Pisceans whose mark on the world is undeniable, epochal, transformative:

– in music and dance: Giovanni Palestrina; Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov; Frederic Chopin; Maurice Ravel; Enrico Caruso; Rudolf Nureyev; Kurt Weill; Fats Domino; Nat King Cole; Johnny Cash; George Harrison; Kurt Cobain

– in art and architecture: Palladio; Michelangelo; Auguste Renoir; Mies van der Rohe; Piet Mondrian; Ansel Adams; Hubert de Givenchy; Diane Arbus

– in science: Nicolaus Copernicus; Alexander Graham Bell; Linus Pauling; Jane Goodall; Erich Fromm; Albert Einstein

– in culture and politics: George Washington; Andrew Jackson; James Madison; Joseph Stalin (who, despite being evil, was incredibly handsome as a young man, which just goes to show you); Harry Truman; Dwight Eisenhower; Joseph Pulitzer; Ralph Nader; Bobby Fischer; Ariel Sharon; Mikhail Gorbachev; Steve Jobs

– in showbiz: Fritz Lang; Carl Reiner; Fred Rogers; Cyd Charisse; Lou Costello; Rex Harrison; Michael Caine; Sidney Poitier; Jerry Lewis; Bernardo Bertolucci; Sam Peckinpah; Jackie Gleason

– in literature: Victor Hugo; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Bertolt Brecht; Ted Geisel (Dr Seuss); Anais Nin; John Steinbeck; Jack Kerouac; Anthony Burgess; Tom Wolfe; Edward Albee; John Updike; Phillip Roth; William Gibson

– in ladies with big boobs: Ursula Andress; Elizabeth Taylor; Amber Smith; Jennifer Love Hewitt

– in men who appreciate them: Mickey Spillane; Rob Lowe; Tony Randall (well… maybe not Tony Randall)

— to name just a few!

So maybe my struggle with Pisces lay not within myself, but in my stars: there seem to be an inordinate number of majorly major people born under this sign, and one is led naturally (or as naturally as anything Vostromental can be) to a single question: does this look medium-rare to you? No, sorry, I wasn’t writing to you, I was writing to Becky, who’ll be my server today. Thanks, Becks. Those extensions are completely undetectable.

Anyroad, it was Roald Dahl’s uncle Oswald who cracked the shell for me: the way to ‘pproach the ‘portant Piscean puzzle is not to look at these superfish themselves, but at their collective origin — parents! — all of whom enjoyed getting their freak on the previous May and June. Could there be something in the Spring air that made their frolics extra-frolicsome? Could there be something in the old saw about a young man’s fancy turning to thoughts of the horizontal be-bop (or, as in Sharon Stone’s case, a strained cry of Sure, but first put the knife down…)? Could young ladies be o’ertaken by stealth whilst whacking the dust out of carpets in the lush meadows? What about the southern hemisphere, where it was turning to winter, not summer? — could there have been some panicked rushing to store seeds, if you know what I’m saying? Why does Jon Bon Jovi sound mellifluous when speaking, then sing with an annoying nasal whine?

We may never know the answers to these questions. But this much is clear: NBC has no idea how to properly broadcast an Olympics, and Water Polo is as much an Olympic-level event as I am an astrologer. So watch the twelve-hour Unrated Unending Unendurable cut of Waterworld instead, and thank your lucky pescatarian stars McKayla Maroney can’t see you trying to do The Smirk, because she’s a Sagittarius, and she will shoot you in the face with a poison arrow.


This month’s forecast: Be considerate of others at your place of work, as not all will be up to the challenge your cologne poses. For a change of pace, try looking for love in all the right places. I thought so too, but I didn’t have the asparagus.


An Open Letter to the Minionship:

With this final entry the VostromoScopes as we have known them come to a close. Each Sign has been examined, each nuance explored, each arcane secret revealed. Or not, who can say. But there is nothing more to be learned in re-examining the astrological cycles, just as there was nothing to be learned by reading this crap in the first place. And yet, here we are.

It is My hope to continue bringing you the VostromoScopetacular Experience in a new form from here onward: a monthly forecast, coupled with answers to your most pressing questions. Anyone who has ever wondered about anything — anything! — that puzzles them, be it a question on life, love, art, the Segway, or how Megan Fox can possibly be pregnant when I’ve never met her, is welcome to submit a question to Me by Private Message here at PBS. I will choose the two or three most vexing, beguiling submissions each month and publish an answer to the best of My ability. Which is to say, hardly at all. But there will be words, big ones sometimes, and line breaks, and even more random Matt Lauer references, and altogether it will seem pithy, in a deeply and obviously shallow way.

So until we meet thusly and again, Minions, I humbly thank you all for your time, as I’m sure you all humbly thank Me for the lovely toothbrushes you’ve been using to clean the Moat.

Vostromo out.





Desperately Seeking Sex & Sobriety by Paul Pisces


Fish Soup by Ursula Le Guin


The Typhoon Lover by Sujata Massey


Bud’s Instruction Manual: Learn More then the Basics about Janitorial Floor Maintenance Carpet Cleaning Office Cleaning and More by Richard S. Takasch






Mystery Monday – Unholy Dying

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Unholy Dying by R. T. Campbell


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


The twist in this 1945 murder mystery is that no suspect has an alibi. When geneticist Ian Porter, disliked by fellow scientists and research assistants alike, is found murdered most foul at a learned convention, plant physiologist John Stubbs is determined to find the perp and clear his nephew, Andrew Blake.

The star is Professor Stubbs. He frequently quaffs beer lest he become dehydrated, eats with no regard to caloric intake, smokes a disgusting pipe, and speaks like a character out of Dickens. His high spirits, eccentricity, and flowery way with words are mostly amusing and engaging. But in the last quarter or so of the book, the reader is reminded of the New Yorker cartoon in which the wife takes the husband aside at a party and advises, “Would you please stop being so ‘larger than life.’”

Author Campbell was a poet, but he has realistic insight into the rivalries and enmities among scientists, who are ever mindful that credit for generating knowledge be assigned to the correct expert, especially if they are the expert.  The university setting and atmosphere of competitiveness and adversarial challenge ring true, especially for readers who are experienced with principle investigators who are determined to generate knowledge, establish reputations, and attract grants.

Campbell’s next book was Bodies in a Bookshop. It starred Stubbs too, and the narrator was another young associate, Max Boyle. In Unholy Dying, the young narrator Andrew Blake tells the story in the first person in parts one and three.

Whodunnit writers have a long tradition of poking fun at their own genre. Affectionate jibes are sent the way of John Dickson Carr, with Stubbs reading Carr’s “impossible murder” mysteries to clear out his brain. Readers that like Edmund Crispin and Rex Stout’s beer-drinking amateur detectives will like Stubbs too. Readers that enjoy careful, literate, and entertaining  use of language will be reminded of Nicholas Blake, Michael Innes , and Patricia Wentworth.

Bodies in a Bookshop is pretty easy to find at PBS, but Unholy Dying will have to go on your Wish List. Good luck.


You can read Matt’s review of  Bodies in a Bookshop here: LINK

Memoir Review – Love Letters from Cell 92

Saturday, September 15th, 2012


Love Letters From Cell 92: The Correspondence Between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Maria Von Wedemeyer 1943-45 by  Ruth-Alice Von Bismarck & Ulrich Itz


Review by Dianne (gardngal)


The letters in this book were written by Maria von Wedemeyer to and from her fiance’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer during his imprisonment in 1943-45.

It is interesting to realize that they didn’t know each other very well when they became engaged, but that their love grew through the letters themselves.  These love letters of more than 70 years ago are powerful and passionate.

Their frustration with their situation is obvious, yet they maintained a highly positive attitude and belief in God.    Excellent history of the times and the secret attempt for a coup d’etat against Hitler, of which she knew nothing.  It was gratifying to read that more than a few people in power were trying to overthrow the dictator.

But the highlight for me was the letters themselves.  No one is capable of writing such letters today, with their detail and deep feelings of longing for each other.

This book is not an easy read, primarily due to the German text in places, some of which is not translated. In spite of that, I enjoyed it very much due to the letters.  They are beautiful to read, and are quite exquisite.


Fantasy Friday – Kraken

Friday, September 14th, 2012


Kraken by China Mieville


Review by Bowden P. (Trey)


I picked this up on a whim. I’m glad I did because it has the three W’s (weird, wonder filled and whimsical) in spades. I’ve read Mieville before and found his books full of neat ideas (this is no excpetion) but hard to finish. Sometimes because they lose the thread, other times because of unsympathetic characters. Not this time. Kraken wasn’t hard to finish and entertained me through to the end.

Kraken is about the impossible theft of a giant squid. The immersion of Billy Harrow, a museum curator, in the occult underworld of London, which is weird with its angels of memory, familiars union, gun farmers, angels of memory, monster herds, a crime lord that’s a tattoo, a pair of unaging thugs by the name of Goss and Subby, bizarre cults and cult focused police squad (The Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit) trying to keep a lid on all of this. And oh yes, a kraken worshipping church.

My attempted summary does not do it justice, but in my defense, Kraken is bursting with ideas that could be the basis for other books in the hands of other authors. Here, they’re set dressing and the chorus.  I was particularly taken with the familiar’s union and how pop culture influenced magic (particularly how a certain series influenced a magician that a key part of the plot hangs on).

It reads like it started as a fever dream by Neil Gaiman, that was then polished and carefully edited to make it make more sense. And while it has similarities to Gaiman’s work, it has a flavor all its own. Goss and Subby resemble the Old Firm from Neverwhere, but they’re different. They are much more on screen with their violence, intimidation and torture.

Is it worth it? Yes. I give it ½

Likes: Pop culture influenced magic – why can’t other urban fantasy novels do this? Occasional meta-awareness influenced by that (the nicknames of the occult police academy); the sense of dynamic shifting aliveness of the occult underworld; How the occult underworld shades into the criminal underworld; The weirdness of it all.

Dislikes: The threat from left field – its logical and makes sense, but it doesn’t get much development.

Suggested for: Urban fantasy fans, especially those that enjoy something other than elves, werewolves and vampires (they may exist there, but they are far from center stage); Mieville fans; those that enjoyed American Gods and Neverwhere.