Review: The Jade Setter of Janloon by Fonda Lee

Review: The Jade Setter of Janloon by Fonda LeeThe Jade Setter of Janloon (Green Bone Saga #0.5) by Fonda Lee
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Green Bone Saga #0.5
Pages: 112
Published by Subterranean Press on April 30, 2022
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Fonda Lee returns to the world of the Green Bone Saga with a new standalone novella.

The rapidly changing city of Janloon is ruled by jade, the rare and ancient substance that enhances the abilities and status of the trained Green Bone warriors who run the island’s powerful clans.

Pulo Oritono is not one of those warriors. He’s simply an apprentice jade setter with dreams of securing clan patronage and establishing a successful business. His hopes are dashed, however, when a priceless jade weapon is stolen from the shop where he works.

Now, Pulo has three days to hunt down the thief, find the jade, and return it to its rightful owner if he wants to save his future prospects, the people he cares about, and his very life. The desperate mission will lead Pulo to old vendettas, vast corruption, and questions about everything and everyone he thought he knew.

My Review:

When I finished Jade Legacy at the end of the year, as much as it felt like the appropriately bittersweet ending to the epic Green Bone Saga, I was far from ready to let Janloon go. Settling into the opening pages of this book felt like a return to a place well-loved, and I sunk beneath its pages without even a ripple of wondering where or how things were. I was just glad to be back.

Even better, this little story, which combines a bit of the “Portrait of the Pillar as a young man” with a bit of mystery and features not the doings of the high and mighty but rather gives the reader a glimpse into the life of an average person in Janloon just two years before the events that open the awesome Jade City and kick off that saga.

So for readers who loved the Green Bone Saga, this is a great way to visit those old friends and see what they were like before they became old. But for readers who have heard how terrific the series is, but aren’t quite ready to tackle all 2,000 pages of it, The Jade Setter of Janloon is a great way to dip a toe into these deep waters to see if you’ll enjoy the swim.

It begins simply enough, through the eyes of the apprentice to the most respected jade setter in Janloon. Pulo Oritono is in his mid-20s, full of both ideas and disappointments. He wanted to be a jade warrior, but didn’t have the required ability to wear and master the quantity of jade necessary for even the middling ranks of the discipline. But he has a paradoxically and usefully high tolerance for being around jade – even if he can’t control the use of it. It’s the perfect combination for someone to be a jade setter – which is emphatically NOT what Pulo wanted. But it’s turning out to be something he can be good at, and Isin Nakokun is an excellent master.

But Pulo is in his mid-20s, and still thinks he knows everything. He has all sorts of ideas for expanding the shop – among other things. This story is about Pulo learning just how much he REALLY doesn’t know.

The shop is emphatically neutral, belonging to neither the Mountain nor the No Peak clans. Which allows the shop to cater to discerning jade warriors on both sides of the clan divide that is already beginning to roil the city.

The trouble begins when the Mountain clan brings the ceremonial blade of its leader, Pillar Ayt Madashi, to Isin for repair. That sets off a chain reaction that tears the lives of Pulo, Isin, and Isin’s assistant Malla into pieces. The knife is stolen. Malla is accused and jailed for the crime during an investigation that seems to run into nothing but roadblocks. Isin disappears, and a desperate Pulo calls on the No Peak clan for help.

And uncovers a tragedy of blood and honor that can only be answered with blood.

Escape Rating A+: The Jade Setter of Janloon is an absolute chef’s kiss of a coda to the marvelous Green Bone Saga. One that paradoxically will give readers who already loved the epic a taste to start all over again in Jade City.

And if this is your first exposure to this rich, tasty reading treat, it’s more than meaty enough to serve as an appetizer to get new readers to devour the complete, three-course, utterly delicious meal. I meant series.

My metaphors are mixed because it feels like I’m still there, at a table at the Twice Lucky restaurant watching it all begin again. I just wish I didn’t have to leave.

 

Review: The Return of the Sorceress by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Review: The Return of the Sorceress by Silvia Moreno-GarciaThe Return of the Sorceress by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy
Pages: 104
Published by Subterranean Press on June 30, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From the bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a magical journey of revenge and redemption.
Yalxi, the deposed Supreme Mistress of the Guild of Sorcerers, is on a desperate mission. Her lover and confidant seized her throne and stole the precious diamond heart, the jewel that is the engine of her power. Yalxi sets out to regain her magic and find a weapon capable of destroying the usurper. But this will mean turning to unlikely allies and opening herself up to unpleasant memories that have been suppressed for many years. For Yalxi is no great hero, but a cunning sorceress who once forged her path in blood – and must reckon with the consequences.
Set in a fantastical land where jewels and blood provide symbiotic magical powers to their wearers, The Return of the Sorceress evokes the energy of classic sword and sorcery, while building a thoroughly fresh and exciting adventure ripe for our era.

My Review:

For a fairly short story, this was one that kept surprising me. At first, I thought I knew exactly what it was about. But it wasn’t nearly that simple.

Then I thought I had it figured out – and it changed again. And again. Until in the end, I was nowhere near the place I thought I’d be.

At first, this seems like a combination of two very old sayings, the Biblical phrase that proclaims “how the mighty have fallen” and the oft-repeated paraphrase from Lord Acton about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. (I’m always surprised to learn that the actual quote is “The corrupting influence of power is total when one’s power is total.” but it does make me understand why it got rephrased into something a bit pithier, or at least catchier.)

This story, at first, seems to be all about the Sorceress Yalxi, who was once the Supreme Mistress of the Guild of Sorcerers, and plans to be again. As soon as she overthrows the ex-colleague and former lover who betrayed her.

Without the great Diamond that served as both her badge of office and the source of much of her power, Yalxi needs to find herself a source of power that can not just equal, but actually best it. She’s not worried about beating her betrayer, she knows she’s stronger than he is on his own.

But he isn’t on his own, that’s the point. As long as she is, however, he has all the magical power he needs, as well as all the temporal power required to capture her so he can gloat over her defeat and drain her blood to power his own spells.

When Yalxi reaches back into their mutual past for a way to get her revenge, she hunts out two artifacts. One is a ring invested with a spirit that was her first teacher, her first source of power – and the first friend she betrayed.

The second, however, is the malevolent spirit of her mentor and predecessor as Supreme Sorcerer, someone she and her ex-lover first followed, and then betrayed. His spirit is hungry, it desires revenge of its own and has had plenty of time to chill that revenge to an icy temperature that will burn more than any hellfire.

The stage is set, but what is it set for? A tale of the mighty falling, power corrupting, ice-cold revenge and the pride that goes before a fall? Or something older, sadder, and perhaps just a bit wiser?

Escape Rating A-: At first, very much at first, this story reminded me a lot of The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo, to the point that if you liked that you’ll like this and vice versa – although this story is told in a bit more of a straightforward fashion than that lovely bit of historical fantasy myth-making.

But the likeness turned out to be more about style and setting, and less about the actual plot of the story than I expected.

The story in Empress is about a comeback. It’s also an explicitly feminist story in that the Empress and her unsung handmaiden stand in for all of the women who have been cast aside and forgotten throughout history.

I thought that the Sorceress’ return would be similar, and was surprised in the end that it wasn’t, and that it was a better story for it. But the circumstances are different, in that the Sorceress has already held power in her own right, and lost that power through her own actions. She’s not simply cast aside as inconvenient – she’s deposed from the seat of power that she took in the exact same fashion.

But still, that’s the story I initially expected. Then, as Yalxi furthered her plans, I was expecting her to be betrayed again. And again. Only differently.

The ending was better than that – also unexpected and more uplifting than the beginning led me to believe. Because in the end, this is a story about love and justice, friendship and redemption. And the way it got there – that’s the best part of this unexpected journey.

Review: Jack by Connie Willis

Review: Jack by Connie WillisJack by Connie Willis
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, urban fantasy, World War II
Pages: 112
Published by Subterranean Press on April 30, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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During the height of the Blitz in London, the air raid rescue squad operating out of Mrs. Lucy’s house is close-knit and ever-watchful. When a new volunteer named Jack shows up, his odd behavior—not eating, disappearing during the day for a mysterious job—isn’t concerning at first. The sleepless stress of the job is hard on everyone. Soon, Jack is in high demand, due to an almost uncanny talent for finding buried people still alive under the rubble…

But how does he do it? As the narrator, another member of the squad also named Jack, begins to investigate, the truth turns out to have a dark, tragic twist.

New York Times bestselling, multiple-award-winning author Connie Willis’s surprising and deftly rendered classic 1991 novella “Jack,” a finalist for the Nebula and the Hugo awards, is a must-have for readers of her beloved works set in World War II, including “Fire Watch,” Blackout, and All Clear.

My Review:

I didn’t catch that this was a reprint when I downloaded it from NetGalley a few weeks ago. Upon further investigation, I discovered that I read this one, a long, long time ago. It’s part of Connie Willis’ marvelous short story collection, Impossible Things. This is one I even have a signed copy of.

And just for the record, my absolute favorite story in that collection is Even the Queen. Even after reading Jack. If you haven’t seen the collection or read that particular story, it’s certainly worth looking into.

But we’re here to talk about Jack. Both Jacks, really. Because the titular character is named Jack and the subject of the story is named Jack and they are NOT the same Jack.

The story here is about a group of Air Raid Wardens in London during the Blitz. A time of chaos and confusion, a time of monsters and heroes. This is a story about someone who is a bit of both.

War makes monsters of us all. Sometimes it makes the monsters into heroes, and the heroes into monsters. One’s perspective shifts depending on whether one is one of the bombers – or one of the bombed.

War is also a time when people reach deep inside themselves and find the hero, or the villain, within. London during the Blitz was a time of rising crime. It was also a time when people went out into the bombed streets to rescue their friends, their neighbors, and even relative strangers.

War is also a time when life is in upheaval, when social norms are overthrown, when some people manage to have the best of times, while others experience the worst.

Jack, our narrator Jack, is a young man waiting to be called up for military service. While he’s waiting, he’s part of a quirky bunch of air raid wardens. The portrait of the life of the air raid wardens, their gallows humor, their intense camaraderie, their harrowing experiences in the field and their endless war against paperwork, brings the read deeply into their little found family just as the other Jack, the subject of the story is introduced to their little gang.

New Jack, Jack Settle, is a bit of a mystery. He has an uncanny knack for finding survivors under the rubble of a bomb site. He is entirely too good at finding people who aren’t making a sound – and he knows when they’ve died while the rescue is still ongoing.

Our narrator can’t resist poking into the conundrum that is Jack Settle, and he finds something unexpected – and shocking. Some monsters are more literally monstrous than others. But even they have a part to play in this war. There are times when a curse can be a blessing, even though no amount of rescues can balance the scales weighing past crimes.

Escape Rating B: Jack is a quiet little story. Quietly heroic and quietly chilling as well. The narrator’s discovery about Jack Settle’s true nature creeps up on both the narrator and the reader, as does that narrator’s understanding that this war, as terrible as it is, has allowed some people to show their best selves – even a monster like Jack Settle – while others display the more monstrous side of their humanity.

I don’t think it’s any accident that there’s a “bodysniffer” every bit as successful as Jack Settle over in Whitechapel. He’s probably named Jack, too.

Jack, the story, is a quick read. If you’re a fan of the author, particularly her award-winning Blackout/All Clear duology, Jack is a return to that setting from a different perspective. And if you haven’t read her Impossible Things collection, the entire thing is available in more formats for less money and is a real treat!

Review: The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster BujoldThe Orphans of Raspay (Penric and Desdemona, #8) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #8, World of the Five Gods #3.7
Pages: 224
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency, Subterranean Press on July 17th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

When the ship in which they are traveling is captured by Carpagamon island raiders, Temple sorcerer Penric and his resident demon Desdemona find their life complicated by two young orphans, Lencia and Seuka Corva, far from home and searching for their missing father. Pen and Des will need all their combined talents of mind and magic to unravel the mysteries of the sisters and escape from the pirate stronghold.

This novella follows about a year after the events of “The Prisoner of Limnos”.

My Review:

There’s ransom – and then there’s anti-ransom paid to make sure that Penric, Learned Divine of the White God, goes away and stays away.

That’s a tiny piece of the end of the story. In the beginning, there’s chaos. In the middle, too. But then again, there’s always chaos in Penric’s life, and has been since the day that he stopped to help a dying woman by the side of the road, and ended up gifted with her demon and her calling.

(That story is in Penric’s Demon, and it, just like all the stories in this series, is a delight.)

Because Penric’s god is the Lord Bastard, the “master of all disasters out of season” Penric himself is something of a chaos magnet. Wherever he goes, trouble happens. Usually to him, but eventually to everyone around him, while he emerges, if not unscathed, at least less damaged than whoever or whatever tried to get in his – and his master’s – way.

Penric serves as a bit of a secret agent for both the Duke of Orbas, where he lives when he’s not out running semi-secret errands as well as the Bishop of Orbas, who often sends Penric out on equally dangerous missions. He’s on his way home from one of those missions when the ship he is travelling on is blown off course in a storm, only to survive the storm and get captured by pirates.

That’s where Penric’s “adventure” really begins. Like most of Penric’s adventures, it’s the sort of thing where he’d like it to be a tale told by someone else while he sits beside his wife, safe at home. Or something he’d like to long be over, so that he can look back on it much more fondly than the experience warrants as it’s happening.

Instead, Penric leaps out of the frying pan into the fire – or at least there would be a fire if he weren’t locked in the hold of a ship in the middle of the ocean. And there certainly will be a fire as soon as he reaches dry land – or something equally chaotic and destructive.

After all, he owes those pirates a good comeuppance – even if they quite literally drop him into the mission that the Lord Bastard intends for him to accomplish.

Penric is there to rescue two little girls from slavery – along with himself. Her mother seems to have made a deal with his god, and it’s up to him to carry out his Lord’s side of the bargain.

If he can manage to wreak chaos on the entire slaving operation while he’s there – so much the better. Both his god and his demon ADORE chaos.

Escape Rating A: This series has been a comfort read for me, and right now we all need more comfort reading than usual, so here we are. I have kind of a hit-or-miss relationship with this author’s classic, famous space-opera Vorkosigan series, but I adored the World of the Five Gods series (begin with The Curse of Chalion) and was sorry to see it end. Then it un-ended with Penric’s Demon, which is set in the same world but doesn’t feature any of the original characters. Penric is definitely a character onto himself. And I don’t think you have to have read the “big” series to get into Penric if you start from his beginning in Penric’s Demon. (The series won the very first Hugo Award for Best Series in 2018!)

So I’m all in for this novella series. They are all novellas, so relatively short reads, always complete in themselves but with a “hook” to the wider Penric series. And lovely little bits of storytelling they are.

The success of the series rides – pun intended – on two characters, Learned Penric and his demon Desdemona. I’m not sure the possessive is in the right direction, much like the question about whether we own the cats or the cats own us.

Desdemona is kind of like a Trill symbiont from Star Trek. She’s the demon, she provides Penric with his magic. But she also contains the memories of every person that she has ever inhabited, and Penric has access to all those memories. He may be in charge, but Desdemona is a separate individual who has her own thoughts and her own relationships with the people around them. Lucky for Penric, Desdemona and his wife Niklys get along quite well. If they didn’t, he’d be the chew toy caught in the middle – although probably not for long.

Penric’s adventures often have a “Perils of Pauline” aspect, the out of the frying pan into the fire element of so many of those old melodrama serials. The difference is that in Penric’s case, he’s often the one providing the fire, as that’s one of the many gifts of his demon, and sometimes, as in this particular story, a place just needs a really good cleansing – with fire.

That’s certainly the case here, as Penric is caught in multiple dilemmas. He has to rescue himself and the two girls. He needs to figure out exactly what his responsibility is to those two girls. Not that he isn’t willing to save them, but if it’s a mission for his god he has different options than if he’s just doing a good deed. And there are WAY too many coincidences in their meeting for it to just be a good deed.

At the same time, he, and we, are morally outraged by the economy of the pirates haven and the slaving business that keeps it going. Not just the pirates themselves, but the entire network of middlemen and buyers who make the whole thing so incredibly lucrative – and so distributed that they are hard to eliminate in their entirety – no matter how much Penric wants to.

In spite of the terrible situation, the story itself has a gigantic element of fun to it. Penric causes chaos but he also experiences it fairly often. His plans to get himself and the girls off the island and on their way home backfires on him multiple times. People just won’t do the sensible thing when he’s involved. Seemingly ever.

So he tries and fails regularly, although he tends to fail upwards, making a bit of progress each time. We hold our breath with him as he attempts yet another escape, and worry with him that he’s not going to get the girls to safety. Or that he’ll end up dead. Or both.

In the end, the cavalry quite literally comes over the hill – or at least over the horizon, and Penric lives to cause chaos another day. A day that I can’t wait to read about!

Reviewer’s Note: This book is currently available in ebook published by Spectrum Literary Agency. The print version will be published in June by Subterranean Press with a new cover.

Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de BodardThe Tea Master and the Detective (The Universe of Xuya) by Aliette de Bodard
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: mystery, science fiction
Series: Universe of Zuya
Pages: 96
Published by Subterranean Press on March 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appareance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.

A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow's Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow's Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow's Child with her.

As they dig deep into the victim's past, The Shadow's Child realises that the investigation points to Long Chau's own murky past--and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars...

My Review:

The Nebula Awards shortlist came out this week. I was reminded to take a look at it by someone on the Library Journal Committee that picked the best SF and Fantasy for 2018 for their annual wrap-up because four of our picks are on the Nebula shortlist, as well as a couple of titles that ALMOST made it.

Looking at the list, I noticed a book that I picked up a while ago, as it was recommended in the context of being an “out of this world” Sherlock Holmes pastiche. It has been said that every generation reinvents Sherlock Holmes for themselves, and The Tea Master and the Detective definitely qualifies as one of the more inventive futuristic reinventions, right up there with Sara Holmes and Janet Watson of A Study in Honor.

In The Tea Master and the Detective, we have a tale set in this author’s loosely connected Universe of Xuya series. It’s an alternate history universe where China discovered America before Christopher Columbus. That discovery altered the history of the world, as such a momentous change would. China turned outward instead of inward, and seems to have become the dominant power on Earth before humanity reached the stars.

An influence that is still felt at the time of this story, probably taking place somewhere in the alternate 22nd century – if not later. (The series is made up of short stories and novellas, and they have been scattered in publication throughout every magazine currently publishing SF and Fantasy. I wish they were all collected somewhere because I’d like to read them ALL!)

As I have not yet read the series, I came into this story with no previous knowledge – and I absolutely loved it. While the entire history of the universe isn’t explained – and it shouldn’t be – this little gem still feels complete. I just want to know more. (I always want to know more.)

The detective, in this case the mysterious Long Chau, claims to be writing a thesis on the decomposition of bodies in the deep places of space. Places that seem to be both theoretical and real, although a bit more of each of those elements than might be presupposed at first glance.

The thing about the deep places is that they are both real and unreal, and the unreality of those places affects the human mind – to its detriment. Humans usually travel those deep places safely within the bounds of a ship controlled by a “shipmind”. A ship that is self-aware.

What makes this story so interesting is that the “Watson” to Long Chau’s “Holmes” is a damaged shipmind named The Shadow’s Child who is psychologically unable to travel the deep places – so she makes her living brewing teas that help humans survive the unreality of the places she no longer feels able to go.

Long Chau goes to the fringes of the deep places to find a dead body. But what she’s really looking for is a lost soul. Her own. That she also finds the soul of the scarred shipmind forges a unlikely partnership.

One I hope to see again.

Escape Rating A: This is lovely. It combines two ideas that really shouldn’t have much to do with each other, but work together anyway – much as the two protagonists really shouldn’t have much to do with each other.

Shipminds are people. And this society has places for them and recognizes them as people. The Shadow’s Child has to deal with many of the things that anyone else does, including meddling family members and paying the rent. She will also remind readers of Anne McCaffrey’s classic stories of the brainship Helga, The Ship Who Sang.

The Shadow’s Child is the Watson to Long Chau’s Holmes. The pastiche part of this story is fairly subtle – if you’re not interested, it’s not there. If you are interested, the way that Long Chau refers to herself as a “consulting detective”, her endless deductions of what people, including shipminds, are thinking, feeling and doing as well as her constant use of drugs to stimulate her mind are there to remind readers of some of Sherlock Holmes’ habits, both the more and the less savory of them.

The case that they ultimately find themselves on is an investigation that no one wants solved – and it nearly gets them both killed. But along the way they learn to respect if not necessarily trust each other, and we get to explore a fascinating universe that has plenty of stories in it that are worth telling.

I look forward to ferreting out more of this series as soon as possible!

Review: I Met a Traveller in an Ancient Land by Connie Willis

Review: I Met a Traveller in an Ancient Land by Connie WillisI Met a Traveller in an Antique Land by Connie Willis
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: books and reading, fantasy, science fiction
Pages: 88
Published by Subterranean Press on April 30, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Jim is in New York City at Christmastime shopping a book based on his blog—Gone for Good—premised on the fact that “being nostalgic for things that have disappeared is ridiculous.” Progress decides for people what they need and what’s obsolete. It’s that simple. Of course, not everyone agrees. After Jim bombs a contentious interview with a radio host who defends the sacred technology of the printed, tangible book, he gets caught in a rainstorm only to find himself with no place to take refuge other than a quaint, old-fashioned bookshop.

Ozymandias Books is not just any store. Jim wanders intrigued through stacks of tomes he doesn’t quite recognize the titles of, none with prices. Here he discovers a mysteriously pristine, seemingly endless wonderland of books—where even he gets nostalgic for his childhood favorite. And, yes, the overwhelmed and busy clerk showing him around says they have a copy. But it’s only after Jim leaves that he understands the true nature of Ozymandias and how tragic it is that some things may be gone forever…

From beloved, multiple-award-winning, New York Times best-selling author Connie Willis comes I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land, a novella about the irreplaceable magic of books.

My Review:

If you love books, this is a terrific story.

Although the blurbs say it’s all about the magic of books, and it is about that, it feels as if it is also, and possibly first and foremost, a book about obsession. And nostalgia. And obsolescence. And definitely books.

I say that it is about obsession because of the main characters reaction to his discovery of and at the strange and mysterious Ozymandias Books.

The name of the bookstore, Ozymandias, probably sounds familiar, but you probably couldn’t place it unless you googled it, as I did. Ozymandias is the title of a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which begins with the line, “I met a traveller from an antique land”.

Ironically, the theme of the poem is hubris, overweening pride, that comes before an inevitable fall. In the case of the poem, it references the inevitable fall of once great empire. One Ozymandias’ other famous lines references that directly, “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

But our protagonist Jim is not mighty. His work, his blog Gone for Good, is all about the inevitable obsolescence of pretty much everything, including printed books, and the way that societies routinely toss things they no longer find needful into the scrapheap of history. And that the things being tossed should not be mourned in their passing, because if they were truly needed they wouldn’t be tossed in the first place.

People, however, have an emotional attachment to those things being tossed, as well as the times they represent. People particularly have an emotional attachment to books, because they represent both the escape of reading their contents and the times and places where we read them. For those of us who are readers, those memories are indelible.

When Jim sneaks his peek into the depths of Ozymandias Books, he finds himself re-captured by that love of books and his own particular memories of the books of his childhood. In other words, he finds the magic and wonder of books and reading all over again, and realizes that their passing away is something to be mourned, and if possible prevented.

But he is ejected from this book lovers paradise, and in the end sacrifices everything to find his way back.

Can we blame him?

Escape Rating B+: I’m pretty sure that most librarians and book lovers are going to love this story. Particularly the people who love books as objects, and not just those who love books for the stories they contain but don’t care as much about the container.

Ozymandias Books, the store, reminds me of two of the libraries in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. As Jim plumbs the depths of Ozymandias, its neverending row upon row and floor upon floor of bookstacks, it is clear to the reader that he is in a magical space that is not limited by the constraints of geography, geology, logic or common sense. Like a TARDIS, Ozymandias Books is infinitely bigger on the inside. Or, and more likely, it connects to the L-space created in the Discworld, where all great libraries flow into one another by magic.

But the nature of the collection at Ozymandias Books, and the way it is acquired, seem more like Death’s two libraries. One is the library of all the books that were ever written, whether or not those works were lost to the mists of time, fate, or mold. The other, and infinitely larger library, is the collection of all the books that were never written. (I probably have a couple of volumes in there myself)

Unlike many of this author’s other short works, I Met a Traveller is not a funny story. It is ultimately sad. It is a story about the death of books as objects. It is also the story of Jim’s growing obsession with finding this place where it seems like books go to die. As the story ends, it looks like he’s going to devote his life to the search, without leaving the reader feeling as if he has a chance at success.

This is a story that asks questions, and does not provide answers. It will make you think. And leave you with more than a bit of nostalgia for those good old days when books were objects that readers carried around proudly, and that carried readers away.

Review: Miniatures by John Scalzi

Review: Miniatures by John ScalziMiniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi by John Scalzi, Natalie Metzger
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 144
Published by Subterranean Press on December 31st 2016
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The ex-planet Pluto has a few choice words about being thrown out of the solar system. A listing of alternate histories tells you all the various ways Hitler has died. A lawyer sues an interplanetary union for dangerous working conditions. And four artificial intelligences explain, in increasingly worrying detail, how they plan not to destroy humanity.
Welcome to Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi.
These four stories, along with fourteen other pieces, have one thing in common: They’re short, sharp, and to the point—science fiction in miniature, with none of the stories longer than 2,300 words. But in that short space exist entire universes, absurd situations, and the sort of futuristic humor that propelled Scalzi to a Hugo with his novel Redshirts. Not to mention yogurt taking over the world (as it would).
Spanning the years from 1991 to 2016, this collection is a quarter century of Scalzi at his briefest and best, and features four never-before-printed stories, exclusive to this collection: “Morning Announcements at the Lucas Interspecies School for Troubled Youth,” “Your Smart Appliances Talk About You Behind Your Back,” “Important Holidays on Gronghu” and “The AI Are Absolutely Positively Without a Doubt Not Here to End Humanity, Honest.”

My Review:

Read this one if you need a laugh. Or a chuckle. Or a groan. But not necessarily in that order. Think of Miniatures as a very short, unfortunately temporary antidote to whatever gloom and doom is currently taking up entirely too much space in your head.

These little bits are funny. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes just chuckle-worthy, and all more than a bit “out there” in one direction or another. Think of Futurama, or Douglas Adams, or Star Trek, or The Twilight Zone, and throw them in a blender on puréed stun, and you’ll get the idea. A bit.

One story in this collection, Important Holidays on Gronghu, may not have been available in print before, but it has been around a bit. Specifically, the author performed it at WorldCon in Kansas City this year. Having heard it done, to side-splitting laughter on the part of both the author and the audience, this feels like a story that is better performed than read. While a chunk of the humor is in the situation, an awful lot of it is also in the unpronounceability of the Gronghu-ish names and holidays. It’s the kind of thing that gets funnier and funnier as it goes, especially as the cascading laughter inhibits the ability to pronounce pretty much anything.

To Sue the World is a bit of a precursor to Redshirts, which is admittedly much funnier, if also a tad longer. But what put the smile on my face in this story was the in-joke at the beginning. The law firm that the UU Redshirts have engaged to represent them is Koenig, Nichols and Montalban. Just think about it a minute, it will come to you, and you’ll smile too.

Several of the stories explore the theme of, not humans first contact with aliens, but more like the 21st million contact with aliens. Not what happens when we meet them the first time, but what happens when we have to live together day after day. Important Holidays on Gronghu is also an exploration of this theme, but in all of these stories, Life on Earth: Human Alien Relations, Morning Announcements at the Lucas Interspecies School for Troubled Youth and New Directives for Employee-Manxtse Interactions, we see humans being human, often with all-too-human mistakes and surprising results.

Two of my favorite stories poke more than a bit of gentle fun at superheroes, supervillains, and all the tropes that revolve around them. Sometimes revolve backwards in an attempt to change history. But in a world where superheroes are as common as they sometimes seem to be, someone has to handle contracts, bookings and OMG insurance. That’s Denise Jones, Superbooker. But speaking of insurance, Denise’s counterpart in the world of corporate-superhero-supervillain relations gets interviewed in The State of Super Villainy. Super villains generally are not very effective, but even nuisances cause problems. Which require planning. And coverage.

My favorite story is The Other Large Thing. It’s one that has to be read to make any sense at all, and the twist that makes it work is loads of fun. It reminded me a bit of Fritz Leiber’s classic Spacetime for Springers, possibly crossed with Pinky and the Brain. And it might come true.

Escape Rating B+: There is oh-so-definitely an escape in this book, and it’s lots of fun. Especially if you like your humor with a twist and a punch. Along with a surprising amount of thought hidden in plain sight.

We all need a good laugh these days, and this collection is guaranteed to have at least one story that will bring a smile to any geek’s face.

However, the poem is just weird, but not weird in the same good way as the rest of the collection. It made this reader think that it was probably an excellent thing that the author turned to prose and stayed there, not just for us, but also for him. At least he can now say he’s a published poet. And that’s probably enough said on the topic.

Me, the next time I fly, I’ll be checking the wings for gremlins.