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AQATWA: Raging against the dying of the light

Alexandra Quick
The Muse is not cooperative lately.

I'm not one of those people who actually believes in a "muse," even figuratively - writing is a matter of putting the time in with your butt in a chair (and it helps if you're not alt-tabbing to check the Internet or play solo Labyrinth: The War On Terror every few minutes).

Lately, though, I have been realizing that the creative "spark," or whatever you want to call it, is more sensitive than I thought to the environment and life circumstances. It's not something you can just conjure up on demand when it's time to write if your head is not there.

Nonetheless, I've been trying the last week or so to force my way through, especially given the paltry progress this year so far.

I finally finished another chapter. The current word count is 181K, and I'm on Chapter 35.

This manuscript is really a mess. I hope my betas will forgive me for inflicting this on them. I will do my best to fix it first after I finish the rough draft, but right now, just getting words down seems the only way forward.

Book Review: The Woods, by Harlan Coben

A summer camp slasher buries secrets that are dug up years later during a rape trial.

The Woods

Dutton, 2007, 404 pages

Twenty years ago, four teenagers at summer camp walked into the woods at night. Two were found murdered, and the others were never seen again. Four families had their lives changed forever. Now, two decades later, they are about to change again.

For Paul Copeland, the county prosecutor of Essex, New Jersey, mourning the loss of his sister has only recently begun to subside. Cope, as he is known, is now dealing with raising his six-year-old daughter as a single father after his wife has died of cancer. Balancing family life and a rapidly ascending career as a prosecutor distracts him from his past traumas, but only for so long. When a homicide victim is found with evidence linking him to Cope, the well-buried secrets of the prosecutor's family are threatened.

Is this homicide victim one of the campers who disappeared with his sister? Could his sister be alive? Cope has to confront so much he left behind that summer 20 years ago: his first love, Lucy; his mother, who abandoned the family; and the secrets that his Russian parents might have been hiding even from their own children. Cope must decide what is better left hidden in the dark and what truths can be brought to the light.

An observation about the pleasures to be had reading outside your genre.Collapse )

Verdict: The Woods is a mystery accompanied by a legal drama that's almost as compelling as the main plot, if just as full of hoary tropes. I would not call this high literature, but if you just want a pacy thriller with lots of plot twists and interesting if ephemeral characters, it seems Harlan Coben is your guy. 7/10.

My complete list of book reviews.
A global catalog of man-made devastation and how it's only getting worse.

When the Rivers Run Dry

Beacon Press, 2006, 336 pages

Throughout history, rivers have been our foremost source of fresh water both for agriculture and for individual consumption, but now economists say that by 2025 water scarcity will cut global food production by more than the current U.S. grain harvest.

In this groundbreaking book, veteran science correspondent Fred Pearce focuses on the dire state of the world's rivers to provide our most complete portrait yet of the growing world water crisis and its ramifications for us all.

Pearce traveled to more than 30 countries examining the current state of crucial water sources like the Indus River in Pakistan, the Colorado River in the U.S., and the Yellow and Yangtze rivers in China. Pearce deftly weaves together the complicated scientific, economic, and historic dimensions of the water crisis, showing us its complex origins - from waste to wrong-headed engineering projects to high-yield crop varieties that have saved developing countries from starvation but are now emptying their water reserves. He reveals the most daunting water issues we face today, among them the threat of flooding in China's Yellow River, where rising silt levels will prevent dikes from containing floodwaters; the impoverishment of Pakistan's Sindh, a once-fertile farming valley now destroyed by the 15 million tons of salt that the much-depleted Indus deposits annually on the land but cannot remove; the disappearing Colorado River, whose reservoirs were once the lifeblood of seven states but which could easily dry as overuse continues; and the poisoned springs of Palestine and the Jordan River, where Israeli control of the water supply has only fed conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

The situation is dire, but not without remedy. Pearce argues that the solution to the growing worldwide water shortage is not more and bigger dams, but a greater efficiency and a new water ethic based on managing the water cycle for maximum social benefit rather than narrow self-interest.

Look at the pictures.Collapse )

Verdict: When the Rivers Run Dry is an interesting if depressing read, but mostly an around-the-world tour of water mismanagement. It's not a bad book but seems to be under-sourced, and I would recommend The Big Thirst as a superior book on the same topic. 6/10.

My complete list of book reviews.
A world of witches, the Inquisition, and nuclear warfare.

Age of Witches

Amazon Digital Services, 2014 (originally published in Russian in 1997), 330 pages

Is it easy to be a witch? Who can, and more importantly, who would want to understand her: this evil otherworldly creature, the symbol of promiscuity and whimsy? The symbol of the Woman?

Is it easy to be the Great Inquisitor? Who can, and more importantly, who would want to understand him, a heartless executioner, carrying out the will of the Inquisition? What would happen if the souls of these two, as incompatible as ice and fire, come into contact?

The novel THE AGE OF WITCHES contains several winningly rare combinations: that of a thriller, detective and melodrama, Western traditions and Eastern European textures. The epic scope of events and tension go hand in hand with the intense psychological twister representing the characters’ inner lives. An element of mystery allows for a new approach to the ancient questions.

What makes the novel unique? The dense atmosphere of a modern city is invaded by the poetry of folk demonology. The characters abide by the cruel laws of nuclear society, and by those of a mythical world. This is a book about love, but also about the price of freedom, and the meaning of life. It is about what can save our world from being suffocated by contradictions and hate.

"Death to all things foul!" in this weird contemporary Russian urban fantasy.Collapse )

Verdict: Weird, a little bit wondrous, with interesting and complex but also confusing characters, Age of Witches also suffers from a sub-par translation. It's not my favorite novel by the Dyachenkos, but I still recommend this Ukrainian pair's work for all Western speculative fiction fans. 7/10.

Also by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko: My reviews of The Scar and Vita Nostra.

My complete list of book reviews.

Book Review: Afterparty, by Daryl Gregory

God is a drug in this near-future medical thriller.


Tor, 2014, 304 pages

It begins in Toronto, in the years after the smart drug revolution. Any high school student with a chemjet and internet connection can download recipes and print drugs, or invent them. A seventeen-year-old street girl finds God through a new brain-altering drug called Numinous, used as a sacrament by a new Church that preys on the underclass. But she is arrested and put into detention, and without the drug, commits suicide.

Lyda Rose, another patient in that detention facility, has a dark secret: She was one of the original scientists who developed the drug. With the help of an ex-government agent and an imaginary, drug-induced doctor, Lyda sets out to find the other three survivors of the five who made the Numinous in a quest to set things right.

A mind-bending and violent chase across Canada and the US, Daryl Gregory's Afterparty is a marvelous mix of William Gibson's Neuromancer, Philip K. Dick's Ubik, and perhaps a bit of Peter Watt's Starfish: A last chance to save civilization, or die trying.

Just because her guardian angel is all in her head doesn"t mean she"s not real.Collapse )

Verdict: Afterparty is a worthy piece of modern speculative fiction, with some genuinely original ideas and diverse and interesting characters, all of which are driven by a good if not entirely unpredictable plot. 8/10.

Also by Daryl Gregory: My review of Raising Stony Mayhall.

My complete list of book reviews.
Even an invasion by genocidal kaiju does not not unify humanity.

Lines of Departure

47North, 2014, 315 pages

Vicious interstellar conflict with an indestructible alien species. Bloody civil war over the last habitable zones of the cosmos. Political unrest, militaristic police forces, dire threats to the solar system...

Humanity is on the ropes, and after years of fighting a two-front war with losing odds, so is Commonwealth Defense Corps officer Andrew Grayson. He dreams of dropping out of the service one day, alongside his pilot girlfriend, but as warfare consumes entire planets and conditions on Earth deteriorate, he wonders if there will be anywhere left for them to go.

After surviving a disastrous spaceborne assault, Grayson is reassigned to a ship bound for a distant colony - and packed with malcontents and troublemakers. His most dangerous battle has just begun.

In this sequel to the best-selling Terms of Enlistment, a weary soldier must fight to prevent the downfall of his species...or bear witness to humanity's last, fleeting breaths.

Better-than-average Starship Troopers imitator.Collapse )

Verdict: An improvement on the first book and, if derivative of Heinlein, it's a good derivative. Lines of Departure shows development in both characters and worldbuilding, and has enough of a hook to keep me interested in the series. 7/10.

Also by Marko Kloos: My review of Terms of Enlistment.

My complete list of book reviews.
The Office meets Lovecraft.

The Atrocity Archives

Ace Books, 2004, 345 pages

Bob Howard is a computer-hacker desk jockey, who has more than enough trouble keeping up with the endless paperwork he has to do on a daily basis. He should never be called on to do anything remotely heroic. But for some reason, he is.

You did not fill out your TPM report after saving the world from Cthulhu, Bob.Collapse )

Verdict: Fun and funny, The Atrocity Archives is a satirical spoof of spy agencies and chthonian horror, loaded with nerd humor. I'll probably read more Laundry novels, but this is a series most appreciated by those who can feel clever for getting the in-jokes. 7/10.

Also by Charles Stross: My reviews of Accelerando, Saturn's Children, Neptune's Brood, and Equoid.

My complete list of book reviews.
A grown-up homage to Narnia.

One Bright Star to Guide Them

Castalia House, 2014, 61 pages

As children, long ago, Tommy Robertson and his three friends, Penny, Sally, and Richard, passed through a secret gate in a ruined garden and found themselves in an elfin land, where they aided a brave prince against the evil forces of the Winter King. Decades later, successful, stout, and settled in his ways, Tommy is long parted from his childhood friends, and their magical adventures are but a half-buried memory.

But on the very eve of his promotion to London, a silver key and a coal-black cat appear from the past, and Tommy finds himself summoned to serve as England's champion against the invincible Knight of Ghosts and Shadows. The terror and wonder of Faerie has broken into the Green and Pleasant Land, and he alone has been given the eyes to see it. To gather his companions and their relics is his quest, but age and time have changed them too. Like Tommy, they are more worldly-wise, and more fearful. And evil things from childhood stories grow older and darker and more frightening with the passing of the years.

Wouldn"t you want to go back?Collapse )

Verdict: While the author's prolixity at times clashed with the compressed worldbuilding and abbreviated story, One Bright Star to Guide Them skillfully bridges the gap between children's and adult fiction, and will certainly appeal to anyone who has fond memories of being transported to another world, and then wondered what happened when those kids grew up. 7/10.

My complete list of book reviews.
Thousands of years after Judas Unchained, there's another threat to the galaxy.

The Dreaming Void

Del Rey, 2007, 640 pages

AD 3580. The Intersolar Commonwealth has spread through the galaxy to over a thousand star systems. It is a culture of rich diversity with a place for everyone. A powerful navy protects it from any hostile species that may lurk among the stars. For Commonwealth citizens, even death has been overcome.

At the center of the galaxy is the Void, a strange, artificial universe created by aliens billions of years ago, shrouded by an event horizon more deadly than any natural black hole. In order to function, it is gradually consuming the mass of the galaxy. Watched over by its ancient enemies, the Raiel, the Void's expansion is barely contained.

Inigo dreams of the sweet life within the Void and shares his visions with billions of avid believers. When he mysteriously disappears, Inigo's followers decide to embark on a pilgrimage into the Void to live the life of their messiah's dreams - a pilgrimage that the Raiel claim will trigger a catastrophic expansion of the Void.

Aaron is a man whose only memory is his own name. He doesn't know who he used to be or what he is. All he does know is that his job is to find the missing messiah and stop the pilgrimage. He's not sure how to do that, but whoever he works for has provided some pretty formidable weaponry that ought to help.

Meanwhile, inside the Void, a youth called Edeard is coming to terms with his unusually strong telepathic powers. A junior constable in Makkathran, he starts to challenge the corruption and decay that have poisoned the city. He is determined that his fellow citizens should know hope again. What Edeard doesn't realize is just how far his message of hope is reaching.

There"s an epic fantasy quest in a void at the center of the galaxy.Collapse )

Verdict: While it will appeal to most fans of big, epic space operas, The Dreaming Void, like Hamilton's previous books, left me lukewarm; I liked it, but I did not find it compelling or particularly memorable. 7/10.

Also by Peter F. Hamilton: My reviews of Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained.

My complete list of book reviews.

AQATWA: Tap tap tap

Alexandra Quick
I finally opened up the manuscript and added a bit to it tonight. Not much, but more than I've managed for the past couple of weeks.

It's not been a good winter, and I know, I am totally turning into George R. R. Martin except without the money or the fame. But AQATWA is just crawling, not dead or dying.

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