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in libris

Read much. Talk little.

Currently reading

The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. A: Middle Ages
Stephen Greenblatt, Alfred David, James Simpson, M.H. Abrams
Progress: 367/543 pages

50 Q's, accompanied by A's

1. Do you sleep with your closet doors open or closed?


I never close my closet. Funny, because a "closet", etymologically, is a thing meant to be closed.


2. Do you sleep with your sheets tucked in or out?


In, if possible. Sometimes I forget.


3. Have you ever stolen a street sign before?


Not that I can recall. If I'm gonna be a deviant, it'll be in a way more interesting than that.


4. Do you cut out coupons and never use them?


No, that takes too much time. I just get loyalty cards when they seem worth it -- that takes virtually no investment in time but gets me savings nonetheless.


5. Would you rather be attacked by bears or bees?


Well, the movies tell me that backing away slowly from a bear usually works, whereas, bees will just follow me and sting me. If the bees are rather numerous and harmful (e.g., hornets), I'd rather face a bear. If they're carpenter bees, then I'll gladly face the bees.


6. Do you have freckles?




7. Do you always smile for pictures?


Actually... I think I do. There are only one or two times when I didn't.


8. Do you ever count your steps when you walk?


Only on the stairs... every time. I can't break the habit.


9. Have you ever peed in the woods?


Practically every time I go to the woods, unless it's a public park.


10. What about pooped in the woods?




11. Do you chew your pens and pencils?


Pens, yes. I seldom use pencils.


12. What’s your song of the week?


Most of the music I like is purely instrumental... so, technically, I don't listen to many songs.


13. Is it okay for guys to wear pink?


Yes. I had a male anthropology professor who wore a pink shirt tucked in to his dressy khakis every Friday... Hawaiian shirts on MTWTh.


14. Do you still watch Cartoons?


No... but I could see myself watching Star Trek: The Animated Series.


15. What do you drink with dinner?


Red red wine... bitter is better.


16. What do you dip a chicken nugget in?


Chick-Fil-A sauce, of course.


17. What’s your favourite food?


My mom's macaroni and cheese.


18. Were you ever a boy/girl scout?


I was a Cub Scout, but never went any further.


19. Would you ever strip or pose naked for a magazine?


Maybe... depends on how much they'd pay me.


20. Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket?


Just that one time when I was doing 45 in a 35.


21. Favorite kind of sandwich?


I eat plenty of sandwiches but don't think much about them. I don't pay much attention to my sustenance.


22. Best thing to eat for breakfast?


Eggs, in their many and varied preparations.


23. What’s your usual bedtime?


10 or 10:30 p.m. During the school year I wake up at 5:30 to get ready to teach. During the summer I just sleep longer.


24. Are you lazy?


Mostly. I don't like cooking or cleaning. I get all my work done on time or early, and when someone asks me for help, I help. But in my natural state, when unbothered by social obligations, I am lazy. I read, watch movies, and play games. I exercise sometimes but only because I feel it necessary.



25. What is your Chinese astrology sign?


Hold on, let me Google it...


... I'm a Pig. Sounds about right.


26. How many languages can you speak?


English, with proficiency, seeing that it's my native language. I know bits and pieces of Spanish, French, Italian, and German. I can read Latin and ancient Greek very well, write them pretty easily with a dictionary, and speak them pretty haltingly.


27. Do you have any magazine subscriptions?


Yes. I used to subscribe to some sci-fi and fantasy magazines in college, but now I work for living, so my schedule for reading is less reliable. So I subscribe to some history magazines now. The articles are shorter, so I can usually squeeze them in before bedtime.


28. Are you stubborn?


Sometimes. Ten years ago, I was way more stubborn, but I guess I've mellowed out more by now.



29. Are you afraid of heights?


Where there's a railing or other barrier, I'm fine. Otherwise, I'll give the edge some healthy respect.


30. Do you sing in the car?




31. Do you ever dance in the car?


Only when it is safe to do so.


32. Ever used a gun?


A bit... just some target practice in the woods. I don't shoot animals or people, though.


33. Last time you got a portrait taken by a photographer?


About 10 months ago, for the school yearbook.


34. Do you think muscles are cheesy?


No. They're either pleasant (if subtle) or disgusting (if overt).



35. Favorite type of fruit pie?


Blueberry. Mmmmmmmmmmm.


36. Occupation you wanted to be when you were a kid?


Paleontologist. Sam Neill in Jurassic Park was my hero.


37. Do you believe in ghosts?


Define ghosts.

... slightly less cheeky answer: no, not unless given definitive proof. I do, however, believe in spirits or souls (whether they are separable from bodies, I'm not sure yet).


38. Ever had a deja-vu feeling?


At least once a year.


39. First concert?


A Nutcracker performance that my parents took me to a looooooooooong time ago.


40. Nike or Adidas?




41. Ever take dance lessons?




42. Regularly burn incense?


Not even once.


43. Who would you like to see in concert?


Yo-Yo Ma.


44. Hot tea or cold tea?


No tea.


45. Tea or Coffee?


Coffee! Bitter is better.


46. Can you swim well?


Well enough to survive a sinking boat no more than 100 feet from shore.


47. Are you patient?


Sometimes. It depends on what I'm waiting for. I've been told I'm a very patient teacher.



48.  DJ or band at a wedding?


Band. Live music is almost always better... it feels more like music.


49. Which are better, black or green olives?


No olives.


50. Would you rather live in a fictional world or the real world?


I don't think I can answer that in a binary way. The real world is only comprehensible insofar as it is fictionalized (i.e., given meaning by human minds). And so, the real world is understood in many different ways, depending on who the observer is.


But if I understand the intent of the question correctly, I would say that there are some fictional worlds I would rather live in -- utopian worlds, such as the Federation in Star Trek, are way better than the world I live in now.

Another great Year's Best from Strahan!

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Ten (Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year) - Jonathan Strahan

I started reading Jonathan Strahan's anthologies about six years ago, when I picked up Volume 4 of his Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year. His year's-best anthologies, together with his other ones (especially the Eclipse series), by now add up to an impressive body of editorial work. This latest, Volume 10 of his Best series, is no exception, and might be just a cut above most of the rest (though Eclipse Two is still the crown jewel... check it out!).


I did not like every single story there -- there were three stories that I would not have been able to justify putting into my own Best, were I to edit one -- but the other 24 stories were either quite good or terrific. Here are some highlights:


The horror and horror-like stories here gripped me tightly by the aorta, especially Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers, by Alyssa Wong. It's horrifying, for sure, and will make you uncomfortable, but it's also kind of alluring, which for me is the greatest appeal of horror, that strange border territory of the taboo. There's a similar mother-daughter dynamic in The Deepwater Bride, by Tamsyn Muir, a Lovecraftian thriller/bildungsroman -- possibly the most outright fun read in the book. Neil Gaiman's Black Dog and Caitlin R. Kiernan's Dancy vs. the Pterosaur are both effectively atmospheric. Finally, there's Alastair Reynolds's story, A Murmuration, a darkly humorous story about a scientist (whom we realize, gradually, is insane) working on an experiment that becomes genuinely terrifying. The suspense in this one was almost unbearable.


Other unsettling premises form the setting for some of the most powerful sci-fi stories in the collection. City of Ash (Paolo Bacigalupi) and Oral Argument (Kim Stanley Robinson!) are short and savage rebukes of the capitalist/industrialist economy that, without significant change, will sink us -- this is crusade sci-fi at its absolute best. Sam J. Miller landed two slots in this anthology with his dark visions of the near-future effects of capitalism: Calved is a sci-fi entry about a botched father-son bonding in a world of high sea-levels, and Ghosts of Home is a fantasy imagining that houses have spirits and that they are perhaps not entirely satisfied with their lot in the aftermath of the housing crisis (I get the feeling that this story is set after the next housing crisis, which is sure to come in the near future).


Of course, a good Best of anthology will have a great variety of stories, so here are a couple of outstanding ones that don't necessarily fit into the categories I noted above. First, The Winter Wraith, by Jeffrey Ford -- atmospheric and a bit frightening, so it would fit with my first group above, but it's just so weirdly funny -- an average middle-class Joe in Ohio loses track of the Christmas tree, and he and his dog seek it out. The whole thing is entirely implausible and seemingly pointless but entertaining nonetheless; as the protagonist says to his dog, "This is unparalleled bull****." Finally, there's the inimitable Catherynne M. Valente, whose prose is unfailingly the most dense and most beautiful that I can ever find -- her story The Lily and the Horn feminizes the whole concept of war and works marvelously as a kind of classic utopian satire.


These are the outstanding stories -- 11 out of the 27. Many of the rest were good, and only three were ones that I considered bad. My calculator gave me 4.29 when I averaged my ratings for the stories. That would make a batting average of .858 -- so, pretty darn good.

Reading progress update: I've read 377 out of 624 pages.

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Ten (Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year) - Jonathan Strahan

I've read the last several volumes of Strahan's Best SF&F and found that his tastes and mine have consistently meshed well over the last few years. I always enjoy his collections, but this volume is so far excelling them all. I'm about 2/3 of the way through and have so far marked more stories 5/5 than in any other of Strahan's anthologies -- and I still have ten more stories to read! 2015 must have been an amazing year for short SF/F -- either that, or Strahan had some better-than-usual insights this time around (maybe it's a combination of both).

ST Voyager: Full Circle

Star Trek: Voyager: Full Circle - Kirsten Beyer

This one is billed as the beginning of the Voyager novels' "relaunch". Well, the Voyager does get launched on a new mission about three-quarters of the way through the book after a whole lot of tying of loose ends from previous Voyager novels.


I have not read those novels. The result was an interesting exercise in filling in the blanks, on my part at least. B'Elanna and Tom Paris have to resolve a situation concerning their daughter and some worshipful Klingons, and this subplot actually ties in well (eventually) with the more interesting plot involving Voyager's direction after the catastrophes of Star Trek: Destiny.  Tuvok's ninja adventure is a nice diversion. Janeway and Chakotay's romance gets a little repetitive from time to time, but at least this leads to Chakotay's conversations with the new ship's counselor, a brusque Englishman who's wiser than he seems -- these exchanges make for some nice highlights. Seven of Nine's travails are a bit angsty and seem to be there mostly to mark time.


So, overall, it's a mixed bag. The plot is scattershot but characterization is good -- the latter is as you should expect from Voyager-maven Kirsten Beyer. I do have hope for the series, though, because the final act of the novel firmly establishes where the Voyager-story is headed, and it's got a lot of promise. So I'll be reading the next entry, Unworthy, pretty soon.

Yes, there *are* doors.

There Are Doors - Gene Wolfe

As with anything written by Wolfe, I feel eminently unqualified to say much about the book. It is a struggle to put together any kind of well-thought-out essay concerning a Wolfe work because most of what he writes defies logical expectations and resists rational analysis.


For instance: in There Are Doors, we're told in chapter 1 that the protagonist has fallen in love with a woman, presumably after a brief dalliance, and that she has disappeared, leaving only a mysterious note in which she tells him to be careful not to walk through doors that lead to other realities, and you'll know which doors do this because they look "significant". Now, there's no direct indication anywhere in the novel that any particular door is significant. So, every time our man walks through a door, you have to wonder -- is he in another world, or not; and indeed, will he ever see this remarkable woman again?


But there's more trouble: the main character is probably insane. I say "probably", because the whole thing is told from his perspective (it's third-person narrative, but the perspective is entirely his -- Wolfe never stoops to omniscience). So, what's real and what's not? Well, don't fear -- when you read Wolfe, you have to remember one thing: everything is real, but reality is not simple. In fact, it's really complicated... just like in reality. This last bit, actually, is why Gene Wolfe is my favorite author. When you read one of his stories and read it intently, you access a kind of reality that you'll experience nowhere else. You'll also be reminded of how bewildering the world really is if you stop to think about it. And, even better, you'll be invited in to the creative process, because Wolfe keeps so many secrets up his sleeve that you have to fill in the gaps; you become an active reader in a truly Barthesian sense.


To get back to There Are Doors: this is a Wolfe story that's rather explicitly about reality. Many questions remain unanswered, such as "is she a goddess?", "is the 'other world' a construct of the main character's imagination, or do other people experience it too?", "who is Mama Capini, really?", and "what exactly does the last page mean?" But part of the fun of reading There Are Doors lies in getting lost in this man's experience between worlds -- he, more than any of us, experiences the tenuousness of reality, and yet he doesn't even realize it. This is important because it means that we have to realize it -- our own perspective, as readers, is constantly scrutinizing Mr. Green and his world, picking apart his realities and discovering the ineffable truths that lie beneath.

The Latter Fire - good start to the TOS books of the anniversary year

The Latter Fire (Star Trek: The Original Series) - James Swallow

If you're a fan of Star Trek (the original series), this book ought to tickle your fancy. To talk too much about the plot would give away a really big and delightful surprise, so I won't go beyond the marketing text on the back cover.


If you read the back cover, you'll find quite possibly the dullest description of a Trek novel that you can think of. Essentially: Kirk & crew run into a ship of a barely warp-capable species they'd encountered a year or so earlier. The new ship has advanced incredibly in only a year's time. But Kirk had not given them any technological help. So, has the Prime Directive been violated somehow? That's it. Riveting, right?


Not really. But the book becomes riveting pretty quickly. For starters, this species was not, in fact, featured in any episode of TV Trek (nor any of the non-canon stuff, as far as I'm aware), so it's kind of interesting to learn about this new species. But there's a really awesome (as in, Sense of Wonder) TOS-style secret hiding behind the technological leap, which it would be a crime to give away in a review. This secret also gets more interesting as more is revealed.


So, A+ for a cool sci-fi plot. Characterizations of the regular characters are mostly spot-on, although I did often struggle to find exactly where the William Shatner voice in my head would pause dramatically. No matter, it's Kirk -- you can tell. Uhura gets some good "screen-time" (as it were), and the TAS character Arex has a few good moment as well (this novel takes place seemingly after TOS but before TAS - so, in the latter half of the Five-Year Mission).


References to TOS episodes are sparing but effective when used ("Devil in the Dark", in particular). The writing style is effective too -- Swallow likes to show off a bit when describing the sense-of-wonder stuff (and it reads a touch too florid on occasion), but the style is just transparent enough for a quick, fun read-through.


I haven't caught up on my post-Destiny reading yet (and that is going to take a long time), but I'm happy that there are a few James Swallow novels waiting for me on that list. Well-recommended.



A nice anthology

A Fantasy Medley 2 - Tanya Huff, Jasper Kent, Seanan McGuire, Yanni Kuznia, Amanda Downum

As my title suggests, I find this a nice anthology. It's not superb, it's better than mediocre, so for the general SF/F reader like me, it's a mildly entertaining diversion. All four of these stories are set in worlds that the authors have already written in, and I have read nothing previously from these worlds. Most of the time, this was not a problem, but there was nonetheless a learning curve for each of these novellas. The steepest is for the first story, by Tanya Huff (Quartered), but the story is by no means impenetrable -- if you pay close enough attention, you may find the political subtexts rather interesting. It's just that there's an intangible something missing from the story that I would have understood had I read Ms. Huff's series. Amanda Downum's story (Bone Garden) is a pretty exciting horror-lite thriller, written with a touch just fine enough and with just enough connective world-building tissue that any ingenue can enjoy it. Jasper Kent's story (The Sergeant and the General) is genuinely hair-raising and employs a certain kind of narrative trick that can't always work but does, stunningly, in Mr. Kent's hands. Anyone with an interest in history (especially of the Napoleonic Era -- here we feel the cold of the infamous winter invasion of Russia) will find this story more than accessible. The final story (Rat-Catcher), by Seanan McGuire, may be the weakest of the quartet, but this faerie romp in London/Londinium of 1666 (look up the date; it's pretty important) is at least a page-turner.

Enterprise lives!

The Good That Men Do - Michael A. Martin, Andy Mangels

If you like Star Trek: Enterprise and feel that the series finale was a let-down (at best) or an abomination (at worst), you should read this book. Trip's death, such as it is, is given meaning... but to say more than that about Trip would be to spoil one of the more delightful revelations in the Trek lit-verse.


The book isn't all about Trip, though -- Archer goes on a mission with his old frenemy Shran, re-interpreting orders from Starfleet Command (and what good captain wouldn't?), all while the Romulan threat stirs.


If the TV series had neither wasted time on a few pointless story arcs nor been cancelled after only four seasons, we might have gotten to see things like this on screen. Don't cry "alas", though, because if the first Enterprise relaunch novel gives any reliable indication, the Enterprise story only gets better after its TV run.

Blue Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Blue Mars - Kim Stanley Robinson

I've finally finished the Mars trilogy. I'll admit that I'm a slow reader, but this was a long journey even for me. Blue Mars is not an easy read, and a bit more difficult to complete than the first two books of the trilogy. There was a sense of urgency in those, where the human presence on Mars felt tenuous and subject to radical, even epochal change in minute intervals of time. In Blue Mars, human civilization has more or less succeeded on Mars and the questions turn more toward the nature of Martian civilization than what it must do to survive (Red Mars) or thrive (Green Mars). So, it's a slower read.


That's not to say that it's a slog. Robinson has a gift for beautiful prose that can captivate the attentive reader even at its densest. Not every passage is equally brilliant, of course, but there are moments of stunning brilliance. The first that comes to mind graces about a dozen pages in the latter third of the novel, where a theory of history is laid out by one of the viewpoint characters (Zo, a daughter of the cynical magnate Jackie Boone) -- a remarkable synthesis of current historiographical theories, with a healthy dose of scientifictional speculation, charting human progress from feudalism to capitalism to socialism and beyond, with all kinds of mixtures, disruptions, and simultaneities in between. Another moving set of passages, this time over a hundred pages, comes when Sax Russell becomes motivated and eventually succeeds in countering the effects of advanced senescence by biological means. In the meantime, he and his great nemesis, Ann Clayborne, come to terms. This sequence is a magnificent conclusion to the trilogy, bringing the focus back to the First Hundred (or what's left of them) and resolving the great conflict between the forces of cultural advancement (represented by Sax Russell) and the love of the unspoiled (represented by Ann Clayborne). The curiosity and love of the universe that the two share ultimately brings them together without forcing them to agree in the end -- indeed, this kind of unity is a microcosm of the success of Martian civilization (and the expanded human civilization across the solar system) as a whole -- holding itself together (with varying degrees of tenuousness) while taking pains to avoid homogeneity.


So, ultimately, Blue Mars answers the promises of Red Mars and Green Mars -- the fate of humanity on that sister world reaches a satisfying climax while the eternal drive toward improvement pushes humanity to (the potential of) even greater heights. There are some side plots that one is impatient to bypass (speaking for myself, at least), and the epilogue is a bit of a let-down. But in the end, I think the whole trilogy is worth reading, not as a gateway to the simple pleasures of keeping tabs on favorite characters' lives (which the majority of fiction seems to aim at) but as a way of engaging with an entirely plausible vision of the forces that drive humanity to do what it does.


As the Arthur C. Clarke blurb on the cover of Red Mars promises, this really should be essential reading for would-be settlers of Mars. Why? Because Mars is our chance to get it right this time. The protagonists of the trilogy don't get it right all the time, but they do better than their forebears. They're also a model for the new colony ships setting out to do even better in nearby star systems.

Post-Destiny cleanup, part 2 -- A Singular Destiny

Star Trek: The Next Generation: A Singular Destiny (Star Trek: All) - Keith R.A. DeCandido

A short review this will be, for time is limited:


- I like the overall direction, from the cleanup after the Borg invasion, to the next threat on the horizon.


- Characterization tends to be good in this one, but there are too many characters for a 400-page novel. More focus on Sonek Pran (a highly likable and interesting character) would have improved the novel.


- I like that the characters are almost all relatively unfamiliar. Ezri Dax is really the only significant character who is familiar from the TV shows, but she is a fun character.


- Also, the Klingon chapters are entertainingly visceral, despite the fact that I never could get a grip on the Kinshaya sequence.

Green Mars: Robinson's Utopia

Green Mars - Kim Stanley Robinson

Green Mars is a very good novel, following up on the strengths of Red Mars but occasionally succumbing to an excess of descriptive prose (which, coming from me, means something -- I usually love detailed descriptions). Fortunately, Kim Stanley Robinson is capable of utterly mind-blowing descriptions because of his word choice and the relevance of its style or content either to the character's point of view or to the plots and themes of the novel.


This one follows mostly the First Hundred as the Mars colony evolves from a collection of frontier settlements to a "nation" (as it were) demanding autonomy or even sovereignty. The best parts of the novel involve scientific or political conferences or discussions about the future of Mars -- what it is and what it should be, especially in comparison to the history and the current political, social, and environmental situation on Earth. These are the parts of the book that qualify it as utopian literature (that is to say, literature that not only imagines what another world could be like, but engages directly with the ways in which that world could be created and with discussions of what that world should be like). Robinson's skill in developing these themes is incredible, so that when you read these parts, you truly partake of sublimity. Not to mention that everything discussed there is entirely relevant to the future of humanity...


I'm eager to see how Mars develops vis-a-vis Earth in the final volume of the trilogy, Blue Mars. Will it become Earth the way Earth could have been if we'd been wiser? Or will the utopian experiment fail? Or will humanity just bumble along and figure things out along the way? Green Mars is so successful in conveying the enormity of the utopian experiment in its moral and ethical dimensions that Blue Mars can only be seen, not as a third book in a series, but as the necessary conclusion to a grand idea. Or, at least, that's the hope.

Post-Destiny cleanup, part 1 -- Losing the Peace

Losing the Peace - William Leisner

The Federation won the war against the Borg, but trillions died, and dozens of worlds were scarred or outright destroyed. Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E find themselves set on a new mission, to rescue lost refugees and find new places for them to live.


As I was reading this one, the Syrian refugee crisis was unfolding in the news, and it got me thinking of the effects of war on the majority of people involved (those called civilians). Losing the Peace is one of the more contemplative Trek novels, but no less interesting. Leisner does a pretty good job of communicating the inner lives not only of the familiar TNG characters, but even of some of the refugees as well. The scope of the destruction comes across clearly through the particular incidents chronicled here, and one senses readily just how profoundly the Federation has changed as a result of Destiny and will change in the coming novels.

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Nine

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Nine - Lauren Beukes, Joe Abercrombie, Rachel Swirsky, K.J. Parker, Paolo Bacigalupi, Jonathan Strahan

Another excellent Best Of collection from Mr. Strahan. Below are my favorites. Many stories in this collection are good, but these are the best of the best.


Moriabe's Children, by Paolo Bacigalupi. A beautiful story of monsters from the sea, lyrical and terrifying.


Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (The Successful Kind), by Holly Black. A farm-girl from Mars becomes a smuggler on her uncle's ship, but not in the usual way. This story knows the rules and bends them gleefully. Funny, sweet, thrilling.


Cold Wind, by Nicola Griffith. A sensual tale, engaging the senses. Revel in the ambiance as ancient hunters take shape.


Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8), by Caitlin R. Kiernan. Not really fantasy, unless you count the main characters' delusions. Still, a gut-wrenching tale, with powerful writing.


Grand Jete (The Great Leap), by Rachel Swirsky. A man loses his wife and daughter but gets loving kindness in return, from his new, virtual daughter. After Eros, Philia, Agape, Swirsky leads us in another beautiful exploration of love.


The Devil in America, by Kai Ashante Wilson. Blacks in reconstruction-era America face a new kind of Devil. A powerful and painful allegory on the evil of racism.


The Truth About Owls, by Amal El-Mohtar. Coming of age through owls and flowers and literature, a girl learns just what it is to be.


Covenant, by Elizabeth Bear. A fine and complex story of a change from hunter to hunted, as a serial killer undergoes rehabilitation, with fascinating twists of morality.


Collateral, by Peter Watts. Peter Watts takes another shot at military A.I. moral calculus. As usual, he hits his mark.



Star Trek: Destiny

— feeling nerd
Star Trek: Destiny: The Complete Saga: Gods of Night, Mere Mortals, and Lost Souls - David Mack

I haven't read a Star Trek novel in many years, but this trilogy was enough to get me back into them. Two reasons: (1) I want to know what's been happening with my favorite characters in the 24th century, and (2) this story was so good that there have to be other good ST stories being written nowadays, right?


So, it's 16 months after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis -- a few things have happened, like Picard and Dr. Crusher finally getting married (not really a spoiler, because you know they've always wanted each other), Riker romping around the galaxy in a cool ship of his own (the Titan), and Ezri Dax commanding a pretty sweet new model herself. And there are tons of cameos. Anyway, the Borg invade everything, for real this time, and they're serious like never before. It falls to the crews of the Enterprise, the Titan, and the Aventine to save the galaxy. And boy, do they save it -- but in most interesting ways. The whole thing involves a weird alien race called the Caeliar and time-travel / flashbacks having to do with the NX-02 Columbia (the NX-01 Enterprise's sister ship).


It gets complicated, but the plot twists are a joy to witness, and the quality of the writing carries the action on, except for just a few slow spots. On the whole, though, it's pure, classic Trek -- infinite diversity in infinite combinations, live long and prosper, and Qa'pla all wrapped up into a single novel.


BOTTOM LINE -- best Trek novel I've ever read, and now I really really want to read *all* the modern Trek novels.



Red Mars - Kim Stanley Robinson

Red Mars is no mere romp across the red planet, nor is it a simple story of survival. It's an epic of colonization, chronicling in painstaking detail and moving lyricism the lives of its first colonists as they travel to Mars, study the planet, and lay the foundations for a new world.


The scope is grand -- the movements of the plot, from the two years' journey aboard the Ares to the catastrophic upheavals after colonization, are long and intricate; the descriptions of Mars are breathtaking; and themes such as the human/environment relationship and the utopian endeavor commingle beautifully. Robinson takes his time, giving his readers space to inhabit his world.


Based solely on how well Robinson handles the scope, I will happily read more of his novels. This is what I love most about hard science fiction. But he is also good at giving real human depth to his characters -- a talent that many readers seem to struggle to find in hard sci-fi, and a talent that, I think, is hard to find in any writer. Robinson's got the whole package, so I relish the chance to read everything else that he has written.

Engineering Infinity, ed. by Jonathan Strahan

Engineering Infinity (The Infinity Project Book 1) - Charles Stross, Gwyneth Jones, John Barnes, Hannu Rajaniemi, Stephen Baxter, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, John C. Wright, Karl Schroeder, Robert Reed, Jonathan Strahan

This is another fine anthology edited by Mr. Strahan, and as he always does, he makes the reading order count. That is to say, as you march through the anthology, you'll note interesting connections between adjacent stories (not always, but there are some). But that is almost beside the point of my review. I have below selected my favorite stories from the bunch.



Malak, by Peter Watts. Classic Watts -- a story about a missile with AI that evolves to the point that it must confront the morality of its tasks.

The Invasion of Venus, by Stephen Baxter. Alien intelligence is found to exist. They have an invasion fleet on the way... but it passes right by Earth. This one somehow makes you feel really small without the aliens ever stepping foot on Earth.

The Server and the Dragon, by Hannu Rajaniemi. A beautiful scientifictional fable in which a solar-system-spanning server falls in love with a "dragon". But "dragons" are dangerous.

Creatures with Wings, by Kathleen Ann Goonan. Can a ne'er-do-well in Hawai'i become the savior of an alien race? Read it, and find out.

Mantis, by Robert Reed. An interesting sf take on the ancient concepts of mirrors and the Gaze of the Other.

A Soldier of the City, by David Moles. Far-future cities of Babylonian descent go to war with pirates in the outer rim. One soldier does his duty, caught between family-and-state loyalty and the chaotic outcomes of violence.

The Birds and the Bees and the Gasoline Trees, by John Barnes. We've explored our solar system, but a mystery lurks in our own Southern Ocean. It is indeed a mystery from the sea, but no reason to go mad from the revelation or flee from the light.