Category Archives: Fiction

Book Review: “The Final Frontier” edited by Neil Clarke

The Final Frontier edited by Neil Clarke

The Final Frontier is a new collection of stories on the general theme of realistic space exploration and first contact.  Clarke has pulled together an outstanding group of stories by excellent authors.

In this case, “realistic” means that most of the stories are strongly informed by and tethered to contemporary science and plausible speculation.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t mind-blowing, far out scenarios.  Some of these stories are breathtaking visions.  (Egan’s method of star faring is still binging around my brain!  Whoa!)

There are, of course, aliens and transformed humans, too.  Some of the aliens are really, really alien. (Peter Watts’ first contact is unforgettable.)  Some of the humans or descendants of humans are pretty alien, too.

But one thing that is notable about this collection is that these stories are rather pessimistic and sad. (As I said, “realistic”.) Space faring is just barely possible as far as we know, and hence, very, very risky.  Many of the stories tell of failures and breakdowns, and of the sadness and loss of those who fall short of their hopes.

Generation ships even to nearby stars are a heck of a crapshoot.  Everything has to go just right, and even then, odds are good that the destination will be lethal.  Only the desperate will ever attempt such a migration, and most will surely fail.

These stories recount episodes of breakdowns of technical and human systems, when everything does not go just right.  It’s grim and sad.  And in many cases, lonely.

And I have to say that there is a lot of loneliness out there in space.  Long distances mean long communication delays, assuming communication is even possible.  And long durations mean that everyone you left behind is long dead.  After long enough, the entire culture that you emerged from will be gone, if not the whole species.  And after really long enough, the solar system will be gone.

It’s really, really lonely out there.

This is an excellent collection of stories, and also something of an antidote to the new-agey happy talk about leaving Earth and transcending humanity.  As these stories suggest, humans may or may not successfully leave Earth, but it will not be soon, easy, or triumphant.

  1. Neil Clarke, ed. The Final Frontier: Stories of Exploring Space, Colonizing the Universe, and First Contact. Nightshade Books: New York, 2018.


Sunday Book Reviews

Housekeeping: Q3 Round Up

The third quarter saw continuing interest in freelancing, robots, dinosaurs, bees, and the cryosphere.

On the robot front, there is a burgeoning new topic of “robot social psychology”, (re-)discovering classic social psychological findings.  Amazingly enough, people interact with “humanoid” robots with similar heuristics, assumptions, and biases as they do with “humanoid” humans.

The exciting space news is asteroid missions, with JAXA’s Hyabasu-2 on station and dropping landers and NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex mission on approach. If all goes well, in the next few years we’ll get not one but two samples returned from these missions.  Cool!

Cryptocurrency and blockchains continue to provide fertile blogfodder.  As the year progresses, the competition for the ultra-coveted CryptoTulip of the Year award heats up.  Who will “win” this year?  Stay tuned for an exciting fourth quarter!

And, as always weekly book reviews.  (Actually, quite a few more than one book per week this quarter.)

Books Q3 2018



Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
City of Demons by Paul French
Totally Random by Tanya Bub and Jeffrey Bub
The Tangled Tree by David Quammen
Nothing edited by Jeremy Webb
The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
Ours To Hack And To Own edited by Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider
Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis
The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker


Open Me by Lisa Locascio
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
This Body’s Not Big Enough For Both Of Us by Edgar Cantero
I Only Killed Him Once by Adam Christopher
Constance Verity Saves The World by A. Lee Martinez
Only To Sleep by Lawrence Osborne
Tell The Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams
Sophia of Silicon Valley by Anna Yen
Red Waters Rising by Laura Ann Gilman
Kudos by Rachel Cusk
The City of Lost Fortunes by Bryan Camp
Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
There, There by Tommy Orange

Ideas for Band Names

Bison Calves of Banff
  (pron.: Floog-robotah)
Density Cusps


Book Review: “Open Me” by Lisa Locascio

Open Me by Lisa Locascio

Open Me is the first novel by Locascio, and she gets things off to a roaring start, with a story I have trouble getting a grip on.

This is a first person tale of a young woman from America on a gap year to Europe.  Roxana’s gap year is, well, messed up.  On the other hand, she has lot’s of new experiences, which is the whole point of the exercise. (“Open Me”, she asks.) On the other other hand, much of the experience is quite troubling, at least from my viewpoint.

Locascio gives us a more-or-less believable 18-year old, by turns scared and brave, shockingly grown up and shockingly naïve.  I really worry about her, though she seems to mostly come out OK.

A reader can be forgiven for wondering if this is how girls/young women really think and behave.  And who can avoid wondering how much of this is autobiographical.  In this case, the maxim “write what you know” leads to very troubling speculation about the author’s own life.

Whatever else you can say about this book, it will do nothing to sooth the fears of parents about their children’s gap years!  And it surely won’t be happily received by Danish tourism boosters.

This is not necessarily an easy read. And Honestly, I really don’t think I understand Roxana. But I will probably remember her.

  1. Lisa Locascio, Open Me, New York, Grove Press, 2918.


Sunday Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Miller is a scholar of classical stories, dedicated to telling them to contemporary audiences, and she’s pretty good at is.

I really liked her recent novel, Circe.

Achilles (2012) is her first novel, the story of Patroclus, companion of Achilles in the Iliad and related stories.  We all know the story and the characters.  Miller fills in where Homer and others are silent:  the life of Patroclus, the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, the love and intelligence of Briseis.  She also gives her own take on the troubled relationship of Achilles with his mother Thetis, as well as a twenty first century take on the petty Greek “kings” and the “glorious” war at Troy.

In short, even though we know the story, Miller gives us a lot to enjoy.

I don’t think I’m giving too much away to say that Miller tells the story of long time “companions” Achilles and Patroclus, who love each other to the end, even in the face of social pressure and world war.  This is a side of Achilles that is certainly implied but seldom told quite as directly as Miller does.

I’m not the first to note the difficulty of “retelling” one of the most familiar stories in history.  First, you can’t really have a surprise ending, or even too many surprises at all.  And second, Homer has been popular for 3,000 years because his poem is really, really good. So good luck “improving” it, or making anything “new” from it!

Miller actually does a wonderful job with this challenge.

She stays within the bounds of traditional versions, while filling in realistic human details.  Even the gods and goddesses almost make sense in this story.  Of course, the war itself makes no more or less sense than any war does, though she certainly gives us a war that resonates today more than some of the original does.

The trickiest bit is Achilles.  Patroclus is an ordinary bloke, gentle and loving. Briseis is a bright and lovable woman. Agamemnon and Odysseus are conniving egotistical, well, men.

But Achilles, Achilles is a rock star, the very paragon of all rock stars since. A semi-divine half god who has chosen fame and early death over obscurity and a full life. Yet this brilliant and talented star still messes up pretty much everything except the “famous” part.

Still, we can grok Achilles today, even if we don’t believe in the same deities of the original story.  I’d say that we need look no further than the cast of the recent film of this same story to find obvious contemporary examples of how we do semi-divine fame these days.  It’s still really bad for your family and loved ones, and it still breeds disastrous childishness.

I liked this book, but I have to say that I liked her second book, Circe, a lot more.  If that means she’s getting better, then I can hardly wait for whatever she cooks up next!

  1. Madeline MIller, The Song of Achilles, New York, HarperCollins, 2012.


Sunday Book Reviews

Book Review: “This Body’s Not Big Enough For Both Of Us” by Edgar Cantero

This Body’s Not Big Enough For Both Of Us by Edgar Cantero

We met A. Z. Kimrean briefly (and strangely) in Meddling Kids (2017).  They are out of the mental institution now, and set up as private eye(s?) in San Francisco.  Where else?

The thing is, Adrian and Zooey Kimrean are a biological oddity (extremely odd)—a chimera. Somehow two entire people occupy one body. Like conjoined twins only a lot more intimately mixed. Their condition makes for quite an interesting being.

As it happens, together they make a pretty brilliant detective.  Zooey’s loopy, impulsive, intuition and Adrian’s Vulcan logic add up to a lot, and a lot of it is trouble.  It is generally hard to live with a sibling, let alone live in the same body with him/her. Having your ditzy sister ‘in your underpants’, all the time, as Adrian says at one point.

Azie are called in to assist an undercover cop who has been inside a crime operation for more than a year. A possible gang war is coming to a head, so the police need to act to save the operation and the infiltrator. Send in Kimrean!  Really?

its not clear that this freaky chimera is the right entity for this job, but Azie never says no to even the craziest case, so we’re off.

It’s pretty crazy all around, though Kimrean prove more useful than anyone had a right to expect.

It’s a pretty exciting plot, even with the off the wall antics of the shitzo detective and gonzo bad guys.

Cantero is yet another writer who obviously was wanting to let his inner-noir out.  There is a lot of Noir-ish writing and dialog, and he’s pretty good at it.

 “[I]t was a true femme fatale: a deceptive, strong woman forged over the fire and cooled in liquid nitrogen, escaping from a turbulent past and ready to dump her baggage on the first Samaritan to fall for her charms. An angel of bronze skin and Kuiper Belt black eyes, whose sinusoidal silhouette on the door spelled only one word: trouble.” (p. 137)

I’m not a big fan of violence, but Cantero makes even his over the top action fun to read.

And, of course, true to the core of Noir tradition, this misfit, this alienated, flawed, uber-weirdo PI is the last moral man/woman/whatever, still beautifully human and humane in the midst of gritty reality, pain, and tragedy.

In the end, I really like Adrian and Zooey, as well as their friends and allies.

Are you getting the picture yet? I liked this book a lot.

  1. Edgar Cantero, This Body’s Not Big Enough For Both Of Us, New York, Doubleday, 2018.


Sunday Book Reviews

Book Review: “I Only Killed Him Once” by Adam Christopher

I Only Killed Him Once by Adam Christopher

In previous stories, the robot detective Ray Electromatic has faced weirder and weirder cases, and it seems clear that big, dark, dangerous things are happening—if only he could remember.  Classic Hollywood Noir crossed with Asimovian robotics, with the technical wrinkle that Ray has only 24 hours of episodic memory.  Every day is a new day.

A super powered, amoral, amnesiac robot is a pretty terrible private investigator, but an ideal assassin.  He’s also vulnerable to exploitation, especially by his secretary/boss supercomputer, Ada, who both manages his cases and keeps the archive of all his memories.

Ray’s beginning to suspect that things aren’t exactly how Ada or anyone says. But can he overcome his own limits to discover what’s what?  And, as in all Noir, what is the moral course?

Ray is every noir-ier than most noir protagonists. He isn’t the last moral man, he is the last robot, period.  And like a Noir PI, he is detached from humanity, however you define that.  Really, really detached.

Ray has to figure out who to trust in order to unwind the mysteries and conspiracies surrounding him, to punish the wicked and to save himself and the rest of us.

At the end, this is declared to be the last Raymond story.

We shall see.

  1. Adam Christopher, I Only Killed Him Once, New York, TOR, 2018.


Sunday Book Reviews

Book Review: “Constance Verity Saves The World” by A. Lee Martinez

Constance Verity Saves The World by A. Lee Martinez

I’m a huge fan of A. L ee Martinez.  I love his boingy love stories.*

This new story is a sequel to The Last Adventure of Constance Verity  (2016), which obviously wasn’t.  I really like Connie, and we’re all hoping she can get a better grip on her work/life balance.  So, I have been waiting for this installment.

In this installment, Connie has broken free from the most onerous grip of her special curse, supposedly gaining the option to say “no” to adventures.  This should give her a bit of space to make a more normal life with her boyfriend Byron.

But that does not seem to happen.  Stuff keeps happening, and Connie keeps adventuring.  Poor Connie.

Unfortunately, it’s all a bit much for the reader, too.

OK, this is certainly more of the same.  Tiny (but dangerous) adventure after adventure.  Lot’s of chitter chatter.  Crazy enemies, friends, and situations.  It’s like living in a video game (which is not a good thing, IMO).

Part of the joke, I guess, is how difficult it is for Connie to work out the tricky details of relationships and normal life.  For someone who is supposed to be a super-powered genius, she’s pretty oblivious in dealing with her friends.

And that’s pretty much the whole plot.

We all like Connie and her friend, and we want the best for them.  But there isn’t really much story here, just a lot of preposterous “saving the world”.  Frankly, this could have been a lot shorter, and left out a lot of the “adventures”.

Not one of ALM’s best, but still good.

* I have summarized his plots as:

  • Boy** meets girl**.
  • Boy loses girl
  • Boy gets girl and they live happily ever after

**where ”boy”/”girl” is defined to mean “young human*** male/female****”
***for certain values of “human”
****for certain values of “male” or “female”

  1. A. Lee Martinez, Constance Verity Saves The World, New York, Saga Press, 2018.


Sunday Book Reviews