Book Review: The Future is Female!

The Future is Female! cover

The Future is Female!

Edited by Lisa Yaszek

Read between November 12 and 24, 2019

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (Average Rating: 3.69)

Anthology Contents (courtesy ISFDB)


My Thoughts

Earlier this year I listened to an interview of the editor, Lisa Yaszek, via a Wired Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast (Episode 346), and I immediately added The Future is Female! to my TBR shelf. Months passed and I remembered to check the catalogs of the various libraries I patronize (recently increased to six cards with a trip to Lawrence last month). I was also recently challenged to increase the print materials circulation statistics of my closest library branch. A happy miracle occurred when I found The Future is Female! in the catalog of the Kansas City Public Library. A hold was placed and a few days later all eight requests, including this one, arrived at the Plaza branch for easy (translate that two ‘why did I forget my large tote bag at home?’) pickup.

I like reading anthologies; they are a great break for my usual longer epics. I can read a story or two a day, when I get up over my morning breakfast tea, or right before bedtime. Weekends, of course, I could squeeze in more stories. When I read a short story anthology, I post a GoodReads status update as soon as I finish it with a rating and any comments I have upon completion. Here’s an example status posted about “Space Episode” earlier this month:

Finished “Space Episode” (1941) by Leslie Perri (4 stars – very short but very impactful, almost gut wrenching) and “That Only a Mother” (1948) by Judith Merril (3 stars) — Nov 13, 2019 05:57PM

Jon Moss is on page 100 of 531

My Favorite Things

In the Contents listed above (thanks to the great community of editors at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB), I have added my rating in parenthesis with bold emphasis.

My top five stories from this anthology are:

  • C.L. Moore’s “The Black God’s Kiss(sword & sorcery & horror & adventure)
  • Baby, You Were Great” by Kate Wilhelm (this one really gets in your head, literally).
  • Andre Norton’s “All Cats Are Grey(space opera-ish but some hard SF)
  • Space Episode” by Leslie Perri (hard SF but with heart like only a woman can write it and experience it)
  • And a tie between Joanna Russ’ “The Barbarian(a nod to C.L. Moore’s Jirel with Russ’ Alyx – so more sword & sorcery & adventure but with some SF elements) and Doris Pitkin Buck’s “The Birth of a Gardener(beautiful hard SF – again as only a woman can relate it).

I had previously read “The Black God’s Kiss” and “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain” (by Tiptree). Surprisingly, the latter did not hold up as well to a second read. It had shock value (sort of) the first time I read it, but the luster was gone on a re-read. I was also disappointed in the last story included in the anthology by le Guin. Again, it was probably groundbreaking at the time, but just didn’t wow me like some of her work does.

Some of these stories were my first exposures to the writings of these women. But many of them I have read numerous books by. I’ve read all of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels and short stories. I’ve read most of Ursula K. le Guin’s novels – Earthsea, of course, but also many of her famous science fiction novels. I’ve read most of C.L. Moore’s fiction, at least what I can get my hands on. Also Leigh Brackett, but I like her work less than CLM’s writing, which is very hard to put down. Another one I try to read but is often hit-or-miss for me is James Tiptree, Jr.

I’ve read a few novels by Andre Norton, but since I don’t care of young adult fiction, I skip most of her canon. Kate Wilhelm I discovered last year, listening to her only science fiction novel Where the Late Spring Birds Sing. I found that book thanks to a recommendation I found in a review by Jo Walton of a book on clones (Never Let Me Go) I was reading for one of my many book clubs.

Ad Astra Per Aspera

I read most of the biographical notes and found that at the time of publication, three of these amazing authors were still alive. However, upon closer examination this morning, it grieves me to relate that Carol Emshwiller, author if the intriguing “Pelt” tale, passed away on February 2, 2019. Katherine Maclean, author of “Contagion,” very recently passed on September 1, 2019. Which leaves Juanita Coulson (pseudonym John Jay Wells above on the story “Another Rib” co-authored with Marion Zimmer Bradley) as the last woman standing from this august company of pioneers.

Audiobook Review: The Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon

The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

by David Grann

Read by Ann Marie Lee, Will Patton, and Danny Campbell

Listened in November 2019

My rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

Synopsis

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history. A true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history.

GoodReads Synopsis

My Thoughts

If it weren’t for my book clubs, I’d only ever read Tolkien, epic fantasy or the occasional space opera. Thankfully, I have many wonderful women in my life who push my reading boundary buttons and pull me out of my comfort zone. This book, a true crime non-fiction selection published a couple of years ago, was recommended to me last year by one of my small town local library book club members. Killers of the Flower Moon was our final book of the month selection for 2019, which we discussed in mid-November. We typically skip December and choose to read a classic over the winter months for discussion in early January. This year’s classic is Hard Times by Charles Dickens.

Nine of us gathered at the local library for our discussion. A couple of us read the audiobook but most of read the print edition. The general consensus about the book was favorable (good research) but before reading Flower Moon, none of us had heard of the Osage murders, and we are within a couple of hundred miles of where they occurred. Even odder, as I noted during our discussion, that Tim White, the special agent in charge of the murder investigation, left the Bureau to become the warden of the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth. Even more shocking, our resident skeptic (which really isn’t the right word but I can’t think of one that means ‘person who rarely likes the books we read as a group) stated she enjoyed reading Flower Moon.

With respect to the audiobook, I became distracted by Will Patton’s narration. Not because it was ‘bad’ but rather because it was so amazing. I felt sorry for the other two narrators because when compared side by side (or as book ends) to Will Patton’s performance, theirs was forgettable. And that is why I took a half star off of what would have been a four star rating. The content was informative, well researched and sparked very good group discussion. The audio production gets five stars for Will Patton and three stars for the other two.

This book club is still finalizing what we’re reading in 2020. The polls are out and as soon as I get the results, I’ll update our GoodReads group book shelves and post the slate here and at the library. We at least know what we’re reading for January and February. Beyond that, you’ll have to wait and find out!

Book Review: A Tolkien Compass

A Tolkien Compass cover

A Tolkien Compass

Edited by Jared Lobdell

Published (paperback): 1975

Read: November 2019

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Partial Synopsis: Contributors analyze Gollum’s character transformation, the psychological journey of Bilbo, the regime set up by Saruman at the end of Lord of the Rings and its parallels to fascism, the books’ narrative technique, and Tolkien’s rich use of myth and symbol.

List of Essays

Contents courtesy of the ISFDB entry for this edition (“Publication: A Tolkien Compass,” n.d.):

My Favorite Essays

I found most of the essays collected in A Tolkien Compass to be intriguing and thought provoking. At least three of them added twenty new books, journals and articles to my to-be-read queue. The notes alone on a couple of the essays were three or four pages in length and sent me down fantastic research rabbit holes. I can’t decide which essay is my absolute favorite, so I’ll list my top five here (in author alpha order):

  • Huttar, Charles A. “Hell and the City: Tolkien and the Traditions of Western Literature”
  • Miller, David M. “Narrative Pattern in The Fellowship of the Ring
  • Rogers, Deborah C. “Everyclod an Everyhero: The Image of Man in Tolkien”
  • Scheps, Walter “The Fairy-tale Morality of The Lord of the Rings
  • West, Richard C. “The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings

Honorable Mentions include Agnes Perkins’ “The Corruption of Power” and U. Milo Kaufmann’s “Aspects of the Paradisiacal in Tolkien’s Work”

My Thoughts

A Tolkien Companion, originally published in 1975, amazed me with the depth of insight and scholarship gleaned from the then available works published by Tolkien and about Tolkien’s writing. I saw at least one reference to the manuscripts archived at Marquette University in Wisconsin. Yet, these essays still pre-date the publication of The Silmarillion and the volumes of The History of Middle-earth. Unlike Master of Middle-earth, however, I did not gain any new revelations about Tolkien’s Legendarium, but I did experience profound and thought provoking moments. If I had to choose my favorite essay from the collection, it would probably be Richard West’s “The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings” because I had to restrain myself from recording the entire essay as an audio excerpt.

I recommend this to people interested in delving deeper into Tolkien’s writing.

Continue reading “Book Review: A Tolkien Compass”

Book Review: Raven Stratagem (3.5 Stars)

Raven Stratagem
by Yoon Ha Lee

Published: June 13, 2017 by Solaris Books

Read: May/June 2018

2017 GoodReads Choice Nominee for Science Fiction
2018 Best Novel Hugo Finalist

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This time last year I was reading the first installment in the Machineries of Empire series called Ninefox Gambit, as part of my annual Hugo Award finalist binge reading.  I remember liking the book quite a bit, but in the intervening months I’ve nearly completely forgotten everything I read.  So, when I started reading Raven Stratagem in late May this year, again because Yoon Ha Lee’s work was nominated and became a finalist for the Best Novel Hugo Award, I almost wish I’d re-read the first book.  Continue reading “Book Review: Raven Stratagem (3.5 Stars)”

Zen for the Ages

My uncle recently read and reviewed the late Robert Pirsig’s seminal Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  I’ve added this book to my ever growing list of philosophy-related to-be-read pile.  For more of Ron’s insightful review, please proceed to his blog via the link below:

Book Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig Five Stars “We are all of us very arrogant and conceited about running down other people’s ghosts but just as ignorant and barbaric and superstitious about our own.” I wish I read this book forty years ago. Instead […]

via Book Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig (Five Stars) — As a Matter of Fancy

You Bet Your Life

Cover Image of Making Sense of it all: Pascal and the Meaning of LifeGoodreads SynopsisAn instructive and entertaining book that addresses basic life questions. Relating numerous personal anecdotes, incorporating, intriguing material from the films of Woody Allen and the journals of Leo Tolstoy, and using the writings of the seventeenth-century genius Blaise Pascal as a central guide, Morris explores the nature of faith, reason, and the meaning of life. His lucid reflections provide fresh, fertile insights and perspectives for any thoughtful person journeying through life.

Read the week of May 7, 2017 by the grace of one of the wonders of the modern world: Interlibrary Loan

My Thoughts

Morris did an excellent job of pulling together Pascal’s Thoughts and presenting powerful arguments in support of his famous Wager.  For me, it ended up being a reaffirmation of my personal faith, a honing of my reasoning and renewed focus on my life’s purpose and direction.  This is the first of many tangential reads I’ll be undertaking as a direct result of my Brain Upgrade Project, the first phase of which wrapped up last week when I took my final in Philosophy.

Tweeted excerpts gleaned while reading:

Continue reading “You Bet Your Life”

Best Novel Nominees Reading Update

Yesterday I finished the fourth Best Novel (2016 Hugo Awards) nominee out of five.  Butcher’s Aeronaut’s Windlass surprised me.  I’ve previously read selections from his Dresden Files and from the Codex Alera series, but this novel, the first in his new Cinder Spires steampunk series, really impressed me.  I simultaneously listened to the audiobook and read the ebook (more the latter towards the end because I read much faster than the audiobook progresses, although I don’t do voice characterizations nearly as well as voice actors do).  I gave it a solid four stars out of five, but when compared to the other nominees, I’m afraid it will fall mid-pack behind Lemke’s Ancillary Mercy and Jemisin’s The Fifth Season.  And I’m having trouble classifying this as fantasy or science fiction, although it does fit well within the subgenre of steampunk.  Both scientific and fantastical elements abound.

That leaves me just one more novel to read to complete the Best Novel nominees for 2016 – Stephenson’s Seveneves.  But before I bury myself in hard SF, I turned my eyes to the Retro Hugo Awards (for 1941) and started reading Slan by A.E. van Vogt.

I found a copy of this book via my local library’s access the regional library system in Northeast Kansas.  Nearby Atchison kept an edition published as part of the Garland Library of Science Fiction (1975) described as a “collection of 45 works of science fiction selected by Lester del Rey.”  I started the book early afternoon on Sunday the 3rd and would have finished it by ten o’clock if I hadn’t kept nodding off – not because I wasn’t interested, but just because I was up past more normal bed time.  I picked the novel back up this morning with less than fifty pages to go to the end.

Slan kept my interest despite dated technology and the lack of technological development aside from the usual 1940s fascination with atomic power.  The only interesting tech bit was anti-gravity, which was more of a plot device than an actual technological achievement.  Colonization of Mars assumes water and a breathable atmosphere, both of which seem laughable to us today.  The psi powers of the slan are pivotal to the plot, but not in the way you would imagine.  I found Slan to be an enjoyable, fast read with a bit of adventure (typical for the time period and the rampant serialization in SF magazines).  I gave Slan a solid three stars out of five.

Next up for the Retro Hugo Best Novel nominees will be T.H. White’s The Ill-Made Knight, which I found in audiobook format via Hoopla.  I’ve previously read Doc Smith’s Gray Lensman, so there’s no need to re-read that one.  The other nominees are on request via InterLibrary Loan and I hope will arrive soon to give me time to complete them before voting closes at the end of July.

 

Best Novel Hugo Nominees: Two Down, Two To Go

This week, I finished two (2) of the five (5) nominees for this year’s Best Novel Hugo Award.  I started a third one immediately, which leaves me just one left after that.

I enjoyed reading Uprooted by Naomi Novik until I surpassed the halfway point.  From then on, it became a chore and a struggle to continue listening to what seemed like the never-ending tale of corruption in the forest and the protagonist’s slow discovery of her power and identity.

Only a couple of the characters appealed to me and most of them just frustrated me with their actions.  This can probably be attributed to its intended audience (young adult).

If it had not been nominated, I might have just given up shortly after reaching the point in the story where the focus moves from the hinterlands to the capital, and all the political intrigue that comes with that relocation.

I would give this book 3 or 3.5 stars and it will land in the middle or lower standings in my voting for Best Novel.

On the other hand, I couldn’t put down The Fifth Season by N.K. Jimisin.  Well written, some of it using second person point-of-view.  Compelling characters and a plot that moves fast on multiple timelines and fronts.  Interesting new magic (or science, not sure which yet) and a lot of social commentary (but that’s to be expected from this author).

As an author, I’m very impressed with how Jemisin has honed her craft since I first read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  In fact, I’m probably going to read her duology as soon as I finish reading the other Best Novel Hugo award nominees.

I gave The Fifth Season 4 to 4.5 stars and it may get top honors when I make my final vote for Best Novel later this month.

As soon as I finished Fifth Season, I started listening to The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher.  That audiobook is close to 24 hours long and I’ve managed to squeeze in over three hours of reading in the last couple of days.  If the heat wave breaks soon, I’ll be able to get a few more hours of listening in when I go back to walking the dogs.

I’m not going to start reading Seveneves yet.  I’m going to give myself a break and work through some of the short fiction selections in the other categories.  Some of those stories can be finished over a lunch hour.

Book Review: American Tumbleweeds by Elva (4 stars)

Excellent book review posted on my uncle’s blog:

Book Review: American Tumbleweeds by Marta Elva Four Stars “Tragedy of condemning children to the consequences of their parents’ deeds.” Compelling and heart breaking. An already-fragile family rips apart in the border-straddling communities of El Paso and Cuidad Juarez, isolating its youngest member at a vulnerable time of her life. Inez’s sad tale of paradise […]

via Book Review: American Tumbleweeds by Marta Elva (Four Stars) — As a Matter of Fancy