Friday, June 28, 2013

Red Planet Blues

A private investigator, a gorgeous woman, a missing person: standard noir fare. But Alex Lomax is the only PI on Mars, the gorgeous woman is an android with a transferred human mind, and how can her husband be missing in a domed habitat only four kilometers across? The case gets more complicated from there, leading Alex towards the one thing that everybody in New Klondike dreams of finding: the source of the most valuable luxury commodity known to humanity, the long lost mother lode of perfectly preserved Martian fossils.

This is the first thing I've read by Robert Sawyer, but I confidently predict it won't be the last. I was extremely entertained by the voice of the narrator, and the concept of transfers raised a lot of really intriguing questions about what it means to be human and an individual. A couple of times I recognized a twist coming before the detective figured it out, but then, I've read a lot of detective stories. Very impressive, and highly recommended; I'm planning to mention this author to my book club the next time they ask me about the kind of stuff I like to read.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (20)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: Refusal, by Felix Francis (September 3, 2013, from Putnam).

Six years ago, investigator Sid Halley retired for good. He'd been harassed, beaten, shot, even lost a hand to his investigating business, and enough was enough. For the sake of his wife and new daughter he gave up that life of danger and uncertainty, and he thought nothing would ever lure him back into the game.

He thought wrong. Sir Richard Stewart, chairman of the racing authority, begs Sid to investigate a series of dodgy races. Sid adamantly refuses, but the following day, Sir Richard is found dead under suspicious circumstances. And then a man with an Irish accent contacts Sid, telling him to deliver a whitewashed report about the suspected race-fixing . . . or else.

At first Sid ignores these warnings, knowing that once he submits to this criminal bully, he will forever be under his control. But as the intimidation tactics escalate—and Sid's own family comes under threat—Sid realizes he must meet his enemy head-on . . . or he might pay the ultimate price for his refusal.
I've read all of Dick Francis's novels, most of them two or three times. They don't tend to stick in my mind, and I don't object to that; it means I can read them again without remembering who the villain is. 
Son Felix's extremely similar thrillers are pretty fun too, though I've skipped a couple of those without regret. For the most part, they don't really use characters created by his father, and I kind of wish that they didn't all have Dick Francis's name on the cover as if he were still alive and had something to do with writing them; I think Felix Francis could totally command a certain readership without that.

This one, though, does have Sid Halley in it, the one character that Dick Francis used often enough for him to qualify as a series hero, so I guess it's fitting that his name is all over it. I like Sid as a character, so I'll probably pick this one up.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (19)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: The Lord of Opium, by Nancy Farmer (September 3, 2013, from Atheneum Books for Young Readers).

Matt has always been nothing but a clone - an exact replica, grown from a strip of old El Patron's skin. Now, age fourteen, Matt suddenly finds himself thrust into the position of ruling over his own country, Opium, on the one-time border between the US and Mexico, stretching from the ruins of San Diego to the ruins of Matamoros. But while Opium thrives, the rest of the world has been devastated by ecological disaster...and hidden somewhere in Opium is the cure. And that isn't all that's hidden within the depths of Opium. Matt is haunted by the ubiquitous army of eejits, zombie-like workers harnessed to the old El Patron's sinister system of drug growing...people stripped of the very qualities which once made them human. Matt wants to use his newfound power to help stop the suffering, but he can't even find a way to smuggle his childhood love Maria across the border and into Opium. Instead, his every move hits a roadblock - both from the traitors that surround him and from a voice within himself. For who is Matt really but the clone of an evil, murderous dictator?

Basically, I want to read this because I really liked The House of the Scorpion, to which this is the sequel.  I like Nancy Farmer; she writes some really fun and thought-provoking science fiction for young people, which of course translates to really fun and thought-provoking sf for anybody.

She was ahead of the curve on the whole dystopia-for-teens thing which is so big now in the wake of The Hunger Games; the first book she wrote in this setting came out ten years ago, and her book The Eye, the Ear and the Arm (about a post-apocalyptic Africa) was a Newbery honor book in 1995.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (18)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: Blood of Tyrants, by Naomi Novik (August 13, 2013, from Del Rey).

Shipwrecked and cast ashore in Japan with no memory of Temeraire or his own experiences as an English aviator, Laurence finds himself tangled in deadly political intrigues that threaten not only his own life but England's already precarious position in the Far East. Age-old enmities and suspicions have turned the entire region into a powder keg ready to erupt at the slightest spark - a spark that Laurence and Temeraire may unwittingly provide, leaving Britain faced with new enemies just when they most desperately need allies instead.

For to the west, another, wider conflagration looms. Napoleon has turned on his former ally, the emperor Alexander of Russia, and is even now leading the largest army the world has ever seen to add that country to his list of conquests. It is there, outside the gates of Moscow, that a reunited Laurence and Temeraire - along with some unexpected allies and old friends - will face their ultimate challenge . . . and learn whether or not there are stronger ties than memory.

I'm not sure now where I first ran across the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik; possibly it was just random bookstore browsing, and I was attracted by the covers (and by the fact that the first three books in the series came out in the same year, so there wasn't much of a wait between volumes). 

I've read some historical novels set in the Napoleonic War period; one summer twenty years ago I went through all the Sharpe novels Bernard Cornwell had written so far at the rate of one a week. But I've never managed to get through any of the Aubrey and Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian (not even using my good friend Ronda's recommendation to skip the first three chapters of each book and just start when they go to sea), and while I did enjoy the Horatio Hornblower TV movies with Ioan Gruffudd, the novels by C.S. Forester don't do much for me.

However, this treatment of what the Napoleonic Wars might have been like if both sides had had an aerial corps of dragons is rollicking fun. I'm catching up with the rest of the series now, in preparation for this penultimate volume coming out. (I'm also inclined towards a good bit of fangirl squee over the fact that Peter Jackson has optioned the series. I'd love to see what he makes of it!)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (17)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.  So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: Elysian Fields, by Suzanne Johnson, third in her Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (due out August 13, 2013, from Tor Books).

New Orleanians are under attack from a copycat killer mimicking the crimes of a 1918 serial murderer known as the Axeman of New Orleans. Thanks to a tip from the undead pirate Jean Lafitte, DJ Jaco knows the attacks aren't random - an unknown necromancer has resurrected the original Axeman of New Orleans, and his ultimate target is a certain blonde wizard. Namely, DJ.

Combating an undead serial killer as troubles pile up around her isn't easy. Jake Warin's loup-garou nature is spiraling downward, enigmatic neighbor Quince Randolph is acting weirder than ever, the Elders are insisting on lessons in elven magic from the world's most annoying wizard, and former partner Alex Warin just turned up on DJ's to-do list. Not to mention big maneuvers are afoot in the halls of preternatural power.

I have been following the consistently brilliant blog for years now, almost since its inception, and I have found more cool things to read there than I can well remember. Suzanne Johnson is one of their regular bloggers --she does a monthly roundup of upcoming releases in science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal romance, among other things--so I was interested when I read she had a novel coming out. It helped that the novel was an urban fantasy, that it was set in New Orleans, and that it dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

I live in south Louisiana, and I know how easy it is for authors to get New Orleans wrong, but Suzanne Johnson lives in NOLA and I had high hopes she'd get it right; hopes that were entirely borne out. The second book in the series goes on to get Plaquemines Parish right, which is even more impressive. I like the plots, I mostly like the characters (though the romantic subplot makes me grind my teeth) and I'm really looking forward to the third book.