Vonne’s Shelf: Borderline by Mishell Baker


By Mishell Baker

This novel is on the shortlist for the Nebula Award this year, and rounds out my reading for that Award. When I first heard about it, I read the words “urban fantasy” and groaned until it turned into a yawn. Then I read the words “borderline personality disorder” and nodded until it turned into grunting with – well, maybe not approval, but – Why not give it a go? Could be interesting! (Spoiler: it WAS!)

Let’s begin with parental guidance, as usual; then a spoiler-lite synopsis; my useless opinion; and finally what I think of its award chances at the Nebula.

Parental Guidance

Profanity: Yes! I wouldn’t call the f*bomb pervasive, but at least common. Then the dreaded c**nuclear bomb went off around page 300. That can get you thrown off my website. I’m a little mollified that the utterer of the utterly unutterable immediately goes into a 2/3 page apology for their behavior and speech and recommends such language not be used in real life. “Little” mollified because the utterer is a fictional character made up by the author who could have just refrained from having someone utter it in the first place, but more about manipulation later!

Violence: Some at the very end. This is an action fantasy procedural private eye deal that keeps things swinging without actually hurting anyone until the protagonist has to save the day; then an evil person gets it but good!

Sex: No. Some talk, flirting, etc. But nothing showed on page. There’s a little nudity, but never described in detail and usually not in a sexual context anyway.

Spiritism/Occult: Kinda sorta maybe no-yeah? Please see synopsis to follow.

So, for parents, just because of the language, give this a read first, then do what you wish for your youngins. Remember that very few of the works I review are actually intended for YA audiences. So, the author of an adult fantasy is not obligated to keep it clean for an audience they aren’t writing for anyway. And now it’s time to make you wonder why that last sentence should even exist! Woot!

Spoiler-lite Synopsis

The protagonist of this has borderline personality disorder, however they are pretty far along in therapy and, at least, can identify the symptoms and start engaging in coping skills immediately. Her past mental health issues ultimately drove her to risky behavior followed by a serious attempt at suicide. That attempt left her with lots of scarring, a missing leg, and missing the other foot. Getting around is tough. She has prostheses and a wheel chair, but that doesn’t make an action adventure any simpler.

Borderline also describes the borderline between our reality and an alternative place called Arcadia, wherein all the inhabitants are “fey,” or fantastical in nature. No werewolves or vampires, but sprites, faeries, fauns, etc. These beatific creatures are usually reserved for children’s fantasies, and that’s why stating this is not aimed at that audience is a bit disingenuous. However, there is no rule forbidding an author to use children’s artifices for adult purposes, so do what I did: roll with it.

Our protagonist will be conscripted to search for a missing “fey” in our side of that borderline. She ultimately finds several more missing “fey” and will expose a terrifying plot to subvert the magic-folk for greedy purposes in our reality.

By the way, this all takes place surrounding Hollywood, so the magic is aptly placed! There gets to be some confusion between movie magic, fey magic, and human personality disorders that is quite engaging.

That’s all you’re going to get from me, so let’s get to . . .

My Useless Opinion

FANTASTIC! Go read this book! I know, I know, the sordid language is daunting, but . . . follow your conscience. This is a blast. It took very little time to read because the writing is so smooth and the pace is relentless and complicated.

There are only two nits I have. One is based on personal experience, and the other is just baffling.

I have a friend who’s been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. She completely rejects the diagnosis and acts like it’s just foolishness. Everyone comes to me boasting about how wondrous and amazing she is – and I nod knowingly, waiting for – and regaling me with the things they are on their way to do for her – and I nod knowingly, diagnosis confirmed. And when she does something truly awful to herself and ends up in a mental hospital, they all rush to get her out and take her home because she is so wonderful and just misunderstood. I hang my head and weep for her. They are not helping.

So, I kept looking for that kind of surreal behavior from the protagonist, and just didn’t see it because she is so well developed in her coping skills that it’s obscured. Until the end. Then her BPD comes in real handy when the options are death or death. I waited to the end to see clear indications of her illness (and yes, that page 300 thing was the first real sign).

Second nit: On page 184 of my Saga Press edition, the characters attribute the Sistine Chapel to Leonardo da Vinci. Now, I LOVE Leonardo da Vinci (NO, eejit, not Leonardo de Caprio!) And I would love it if Leo da-V had actually painted the Sistine Chapel. I just don’t think Michelangelo would appreciate the mis-accreditation for his own really nice work on that Chapel. M-angelo is the better sculptor, but Leo is the better painter and all around genius, but M-angelo actually painted the Sistine Chapel. How did this odd goof happen? I kept waiting for the author to pull a fast one on me and show me how we were already in an alternate universe where Leo really DID do it, but . . . no. No further mention of it. A goof, I guess.

Nebula Winner?

I would love to say “Yeah!” because I really loved this book. It is great fun, and the protagonist has a sense of humor that is often sublime. But I don’t think it’s strong enough to overcome Jemisin. So, no from me, but who cares because I don’t vote anyway!

Really: read this book. It cooks. It rocks. It makes your heart, then breaks your heart, then almost makes it all up again.

I wonder if Ms. Baker plans a number of stories in this universe.


15 March 2017


Health Care for Americans

To be clear: I am a disabled person with a debilitating, possibly congenital, bone disease who is unemployable, but requires regular health care, and am enrolled in ACA.


At its inception, President Obama offered something he called the Affordable Health Care Act. It included a “public option” to get health “insurance” directly from the government. But he also wanted the Insurance Companies to underwrite the law. They wouldn’t do it as long as participants in the program had the option to not go through an Insurance Company. So, Obama scrapped the public option. This decision effectively undermined the law’s effectiveness.

In reality, the AHCA then became an “Affordable Health INSURANCE Act” though no one changed the actual name to that.

Handing things over to the Insurance Companies, within a year or two, allowed said Insurance Companies to begin raising the premiums, excluding conditions, not covering some medications, even pulling out of markets completely if enough people didn’t sign up. This actually happened here in Arizona, where exemptions from the mandate were being sought by Congressional representatives because, at one point, NO INSURANCE COMPANIES WERE OFFERING SERVICES IN PINAL COUNTY. Effectively making all of its residents lawbreakers.

At this point, it was no longer an “Affordable” anything act in some places.

Now, it’s simply called the Affordable Care Act, leaving “health” out of it completely, whether or not it is affordable or even offers care of any type.

So, now Trump’s GOP is trying to repeal it for — I don’t know, just spite and political bragging rights? — reasons, and replace it with something — “better?” — else. And to do it, they are turning back to the Insurance Companies again, the very people who broke the original law.


(Yes, I know the answer to that question: cronyism, making sure money pie is distributed to all lobbyists [no lobbying to Executive Branch for a time is fine, but the problem will only be solved when there is NO lobbying to ANY branch of the government EVER], and the Government doesn’t take on too much responsibility for the well-being of their citizens. HAH!)

Let me explain: the figures you are about to see are at least a decade old, and yet the reality is even worse now. Here goes:

Before the ACA, Americans were spending 16% of their income on health care. Meanwhile, a little drive north, Canadians with National Health Service were spending 9% of their income in the form of a tax. (Please don’t waste time telling me horror stories about NHS. They are generally happy with it, and Americans liked it enough to drive north every time they wanted a prescription refill, because it was so much cheaper. Guess what: Arizonans and others in the south make similar trips into Mexico for the same reason.)

Look at those figures again: 16% for us and no insurance mandated vs 9% tax for them and everything is covered.

Well, Canadians are pretty affable folks, and we Americans are pretty snooty folks, so lets strike a happy medium (that poor spiritist sure gets smacked around a lot, though she remains cheerful about it).

Let’s tell the Insurance Companies (insert Lobby here) to go take a flying leap. They are making plenty of money off of life, auto, renters, and homeowners insurance! They do not need our health insurance money. They can just go away.

Convert Medicare into actual Medical Care, and use their infrastructure already in place. Tax me and all my fellow citizens 12-13%. Give the entire country Medical Care. Simple!

After that, the only laws that need to be dealt with are the ones regulating who qualifies as a medical care provider and controlling what kind of profit the pharmaceuticals are allowed to make. After all, they’ll now be billing the government, and I’m sure the government won’t want to waste money, right? (Snark.)

But wait! What about the lost jobs to insurance employees? Well, I’m pretty sure the new Medical Care Department of the US Government will need experienced medical billing people, and the government always offers better benefits, and regular pay increases!

But wait! What about BIG GOVERNMENT getting BIGGER? Well, what about it? Do you not understand that government ALWAYS gets bigger? Do you not understand that the current President has no problem expanding the government to include Trump Towers and Mir-a-Lago (sic, yeah, look it up), Florida at a very hefty cost to the taxpayers? One man is exponentially draining the tax dollars all by himself at an unprecedented rate! He said he wouldn’t accept a paycheck as President, and for all I know, he’s not. But, he sure has transferred his expenses to US! No one gets to whine about big government anymore.

And no, I do not have a smartphone. Can’t afford it with all the medical bills. And buying one wouldn’t have been relevant to my health condition anyway.

So, to recap and refocus the foolish hysteria out there:

  1. Convert Medicare to Medical Care.
  2. Enroll every citizen in it.
  3. Tax us 12-13% for health care.
  4. Give us health care as agreed.
  5. Tell the Insurance Companies to take a long jump off a short pier.
  6. Regulate qualifications to be a healthcare provider and profit margins for pharmaceuticals.
  7. Done. Thank you.
  8. No, really. Thank you.
  9. Quit thinking about insurance, and start thinking about health care.
  10. We’re done here. VA 7 March 2017

2017 Nebula Nominees

Nebula and Hugo Award Season

On Monday, February 20th, the Nebula Award nominees were announced by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA). The nominees were immediately altered because one of the nominees, Cat Rambo, withdrew her nominated novelette for consideration. (Novelettes have a minimum of 7,500 words, and her story only had 7,070. That’s the official line, anyway. I wonder if Ms. Rambo’s position as the current President of the SFWA played any role. Regardless, she is to be commended for her honor and respect of the genre.)

Current List of Nebula nominees can be found here:


To qualify to vote for any of these, the voter needs to meet some qualifications. First they need to be a member of the SFWA; membership fee is $100 currently. There are other qualifications, such as being a professional writer with three recognized sales to one’s credit, and a specific word count goal to surpass.

The full qualifications can be found here:


Basically, this means the Nebula is a peer-group award that writers give to other writers, so there is a certain amount of prestige involved within the SF Publishing Universe.

Voting on the listed nominees begins on March 1st, 2017, and the awards will be presented during the annual Nebula Conference May 18th-21st in Pittsburgh.

The Hugo Awards are a little different. They are trademarked by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS). To be a part of that, you need to be a member of Worldcon. This will cost anywhere from $50 and up, depending on what kind of access you want to pay for. But, you must be a paid member to vote for anything in the Hugos.

The voting for the Hugos is still going on through March. A list of nominees very similar to this Nebula list will become available in mid-April. The actual awards will be presented in August in Helsinki, Finland, the home of the next Worldcon.

Authors dearly love the Hugos because they approximate what the fans like. That’s the paying public that is supporting them, so they want to be recognized by this group more than their peer group.

But, as you can see, the fans voting only represent those willing to pay for the privilege and are actually members of Worldcon. I hesitate to call it a true fan-based award, thus the word “approximate” in the previous paragraph. I know this fan can’t pop for tickets to Helsinki, Finland, and doubt most of them can. You don’t have to attend to be a voter, but surely you’re expected to show up at other Worldcon events. Maybe not.

The relationship between the two awards is interesting to puzzle over. On the surface, they seem a bit unconnected, but in reality they often cover the same ground. My own personal observation is that it is rare for an author to win both the Nebula and the Hugo, as the awards tend to be spread across both lists. (Yes, I do think there is collusion, but it doesn’t matter because both voting blocs know what they are doing.)

I’m going to limit by comments to the Nebula nominees for Best Novel. They are:

All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)
Borderline, Mishell Baker (Saga)
The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Ninefox Gambit,Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris US; Solaris UK)
Everfair, Nisi Shawl (Tor)

The only one of these I haven’t read is Borderline, by Mishell Baker. I understand it is an urban fantasy, and that is not my normal bailiwick. However, I note my local library has it, and the title references borderline personality disorder. That sounds pretty interesting, as all things involving mental and emotional illness are very intriguing to me. I’ll try to read this one before May, so I can give a cogent review of how it might fare against the others nominated.

Of the listed nominees, I’m betting N. K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate walks away with the Nebula. Follow my reasoning here:

First of all, this whole series is FANTASTIC! Not just the ideas, but the writing is gorgeous, practically a clinic on many ways to captivate the reader. She lost in this category with The Fifth Season last year. Yet, THAT won the Hugo last year. I honestly believe she will get the Nebula, but not the Hugo this year; then return next year with the final volume and sweep the Hugo for Best Novel and Best Series. (If I read my TwitterScream correctly, she is in finalization phase of the manuscript for that last volume. Cannot WAIT to get my hands on it! Must wait for the actual publication, unless somehow miracles happen. So far, miracles seem in short supply lately.) This series is a genre changer.

Secondly, Charlie Jane Anders should get the Hugo this year for All the Birds in the Sky. This is an extraordinary science fiction/fantasy hashup that everyone should read. If the profanity had been scaled back significantly, this could become required reading in high schools. It — in my opinion — has the word “classic” written all over it. Plus, the politics are right for the time: it infers that SF/F geeks can overcome corporate overlords (insert Trump reference of your choice here), and the Hugo voters will love that. So, the Nebula folks will acquiesce to the Hugo voters and let the Nebula go to her closest co-nominee: Jemisin.

Ninefox Gambit was simply incomprehensible to me, and though I might not be the brightest spark in the campfire, I can clearly tell when an author is trying to write viscera as if it were poetry. Considering the violent times we have thrust upon us, I hope the Nebula people don’t reward this. Yoon Ha Lee has constructed an incredibly complex world-order that no civilization in their right mind would actually adopt. He is a darling of the genre right now for two reasons: first, his short fiction is brilliant; second (here comes the hate mail), he and his family were caught up in the flood damage in 2016 and suffered much. We are a sympathetic lot. But, focus on the book, people. It is the first of a trilogy (why the HELL is everyone writing trilogies these days?), so there will be future opportunities to reward him.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl is a fascinating alternate history tale involving north Africa. The actual history it is based on is simply not taught in most schools of USA, where I sit and where the awards are made. So, though it is complex and cool (steampunk, people! how cool is that!?), I just don’t see it getting the award, due largely to ignorance of the subject matter. A worthy novel, certainly, and belongs in the nominations. But, just don’t see it winning.

Some have complained that Death’s End by Cixin Liu wasn’t nominated. My response to that is: why nominate a work that will surely lose? Cixin Liu is a genius, and this novel piles so many fascinating ideas between its covers that I feared to open it; the explosion of ideas might put someone’s eye out. But: the politics. He basically argues for isolationist-protectionist-fear-mongering as a survival strategy. We have enough of that crap playing out in our lives right now; we can’t and won’t reward it.

So, for now (pre-Borderline) that’s my picks.

Ms. Jemisin: start working on your Nebula Award speech.

Ms. Anders: start working on your Hugo Award speech.

I will start working on letting Mishell Baker blow me away with Borderline.

Peace. Love. Out.

23 February 2017


Vonne’s Shelf: Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

Arabella of Mars

by David D. Levine

This is on Locus Magazine’s recommended reading list under the category of First Novels, which makes it possible for this to be a Hugo Nominee. Is it good enough for that? Is it actually BETTER than that and should be eligible in the Best Novel category as well?

First of all, let’s look at Parental Advisories, as that is the main purpose for my reviews. Then a brief synopsis of the plot, with as few spoilers as possible; my inconsequential opinion of it; and lastly discuss that Hugo potential.

Parental Advisories:

Profanity: NONE, with only the suggestion of it. Those suggestions take this form: Do you know what “d—-d,” “d—l,” “b—–d,” or “f—–g” mean? That’s how the author writes them. You could probably figure it out. That is the extent of the profanity in this novel. Go back and look at that second one again. “d—l” means devil. I didn’t know that was a swear word, but I do understand why the author portrays it that way, considering this novel’s historical setting.

Sex/Nudity: One scene where a female character has her upper torso bared in preparation of a whipping. There is no description other than her efforts to cover herself, and as a result of what she couldn’t cover no whipping takes place.

Violence: There is some. The battle scene with a privateer corsair is very exciting, and some of the results are depicted. At all times, any violence in this is treated as sad, abhorrent, and to be rejected as unacceptable. A proper adult view.

So, as parental guidance goes: We have a WINNER! The most obviously fitting YA SF/F novel I have read in a long time. Parents, read it if you like, but I don’t mind recommending this to anyone over ten years old. Those under ten might not understand the societal norms on display here, but there is little to take offense at.

Brief Synopsis:

This novel takes place in 1813! Yes, that’s what I said: 1813! A Regency era where the galleons that plied the oceans blue also plied the route from Earth to Mars! It mashes up quaint manners and societal propriety with Mars, Martians, and space pirates. It makes the assumption that the scientific beliefs of the day regarding the makeup of space were correct: that it had a breathable atmosphere, was lit quite well, and had space currents the airships could catch, sailing away.

It follows Arabella Ashby, raised on Mars, whisked away at the age of 17 by a demanding mother who insisted she live a more proper life back on Earth. Arabella is attacked by a nefarious cousin, who is intent on getting to Mars to wrest the family estate there away from Arabella’s brother, Michael. Arabella escapes imprisonment and gets passage on a Mars Company airship named “Diana,” intent on getting to her beloved brother first to warn him of the cousin’s intentions. However, she must masquerade as a young man aboard ship and assume all the duties of a young man.

Because of her — er, his? — youth, she — er, he? — is appointed to be the Captain’s boy; someone who serves and the beck and call of the Captain, relaying messages, providing tea or dinner, generally keeping him at his best. (No, NOT the Captain’s boy you first thought of! Get your mind out of the gutter! Remember: propriety!) The Captain is enamored with his automaton named Aadim, which he can program to help with finer adjustments in navigation. Arabella also likes automatons, as her Father relayed his love for it to her when she was young. She begins to learn how to work the complicated mess of levers, weights, brackets, cogs, etc.

She hears some of the crew discussing mutiny. They are attacked by a French privateer corsair that very nearly overwhelms them. They survive, but the Captain is badly injured and comatose. It is up to Arabella and Aadim to navigate the battered ship to an asteroid to replenish and repair.

Ultimately they get to Mars, only to learn that the Martians are in full rebellion against humans and all their lives are at stake.

No more. Read it!

My Opinion:


The false scientific assumptions are whimsically pleasing. The romance and adventure is stirring, causing me to keep reading long after the lights should have been out! The Martians are alien enough to be fully fleshed out with cultures and rules of propriety of their own. There are surprises all over the place, and the ending surprise portends astonishing things for the next novel, if there is one. Its recognition of appropriate and inappropriate behavior is given the utmost respect, which is simply delightful.

I did find one little hiccup in the events, but this is so minor I’ll say no more about it.


And for the record: I WANT THIS COVER ART TO HANG ON MY WALL! It is scrumptious! If you doubted that a galleon could set enough sail to travel in space, study this cover’s brilliant depiction of the brave “Diana.” It’s simply gorgeous!

Hugo Chances:

Mr. Levine has received the Hugo and other awards for his short fiction, and that’s why this is in the category of First Novels. I would love for him to get it, but can’t quite commit that for three important reasons.

First, there doesn’t seem to be some deep truth that changes my life, or my understanding of others. Here’s the best I could come up with: this novel demonstrates that personal accountability includes word of ownership, followed by actions that demonstrate acceptance of the consequences, even if someone else is deciding the consequences.

Second, “Infomocracy” by Malka Older is also on this reading list in this category. I’m thinking it will take it. I also think “Ninefox Gambit” by Yoon Ha Lee will be nominated in this category, and this novel is unworthy of him. Yet, Yoon Ha Lee seems to have a lot of feel-good from the genre for short fiction, and that can sometimes mess up judgment.

Third, I don’t understand why this novel isn’t also included in the Young Adult category. Don’t some works get included into combinations of lists? I’ll have to research this. If it were in that category, I think it would be nominated for sure, and likely would win it.

I’ll say one more thing about this novel: Even if it doesn’t get the Hugo, it should go on every school’s reading list, and should be destined for “Classic” status right alongside “Treasure Island” by RLS.

Yes, it is that good as far as I’m concerned. A Classic that will be loved by anyone who loves adventure, romance, “other,” robots, powerful female leads, blah, blah, blah.

Seriously, read it and love it.

19 February 2017


(IMO) Hugo Predictions 2017

(IMO) Hugo Predictions  2017

At the Worldcon being hosted by Helsinki, Finland, in August, 2017 the next Hugo awards will be handed out.

I focus on predicting the Hugo winner in the Novels category only. Please note that I am not a member of any Worldcons invited to vote, so this is little more than one reader/writer’s opinion. If you are an author and don’t appreciate my statements, feel free to burn effigies of me. I’m from Arizona and deal with the flames of hell quite well.

However, you should be aware that I have accurately predicted the winner in the last 28 years in a row. Twenty of those times I waited until after they were awarded to predict them (vastly increasing my odds of success), but the last three have been called in advance, as were 2006 and 2007. Considering that the award ceremony is seven months away and the nominees aren’t even decided yet, it’s pretty cheeky to be predicting already.

The Process:

On January 31st, 2017 Locus Magazine published its recommended reading list for 2016, and you can find that here: http://www.locusmag.com/News/2017/01/2016-locus-recommended-reading-list/

Inevitably, all the Hugo nominees will come from this list. Opening nominations began immediately and will continue until 18 March 2017, and so this is the time the eligible voters are sending in their votes for the Hugo in various categories.

The Hugonauts will distill these votes down to the six highest rated names in each category. So, in April the list of Finalists becomes available, and voters will pick from these for the top spot. The process has changed this year, and become a whirlwind of baffling higher mathematics, but you can try to calculate them yourselves at their webpage, here:  http://www.worldcon.fi/wsfs/hugo/

My degree of difficulty in predicting a winner now is huge, as I don’t even know if any of my picks will even be Finalists in April. But, I am resolute in my determination to stare embarrassment in the face and dare it to point its grubbly little piggies at me! Go ahead, shame and indignity, make my day! I eat you for breakfast and crap crow-pie for giggles!

Here are the six novels that I believe should get the most votes, and only one of them is there out of sentimentality:

“Death’s End” by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

“The Wall of Storms” by Ken Liu

“All the Birds in the Sky” by Charlie Jane Anders

“The Medusa Chronicles” by Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds

“The Obelisk Gate” by N. K. Jemisin

“Infomocracy” by Malki Older

“Central Station” by Lavie Tidhar, and “Everfair” by Nisi Shawl could go on this list without any quibbles from me. The reality is that SF/F has a lot to celebrate this year. The quality of material being written now is staggering! The only reason these aren’t included on my personal list is because only six can usually contend for the actual award (unless there is a tie). That’s not going to stop me making brief comments on them at the end (and no one will like it).

“Certain Dark Things” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia might also show up, but that’s Horror, so I am unqualified to judge its merits. “Cloudbound” by Fran Wilde is getting a lot of attention, and I’ve not read anything by her yet, so that goes on my To-do list. I will not comment on those two at this time, but reserve the right to do so before April.

Be aware that politics and diversity are huge factors this year. Politics because of world shaking events like Brexit and The Trumpalumpa TV Reality Show.

Diversity has been the theme in the last several years due to the obnoxious protestors like Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, who think the genre is inordinately awarding fringe works rather than the run-of-the-mill adventure / military / old white dude science fiction and fantasy simply because it seems chic-artsy to do so.

My response to the Puppy blocs is twofold: First, I formed my own non-voting-impotency-bloc called the Flush Puppies, designed to undermine their cause with a loud shout of boos and hisses from our combined membership total of one: me. If you would like to join, just send me an email. Second, I advise those Other Puppies to remember that excellency in SF/F is — by definition and at its core — fringe work. If you aren’t writing it, you won’t get awarded for it. Run-of-the-mill work will get you nice sales figures from your faithful, and you should accept those receipts humbly as your just due.

Let’s examine my picks one at a time, shall we?

“Death’s End” by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

Cixin Liu is a genius. This volume has enough jaw-dropping SF ideas crammed into it, all jostling for room helter-skelter, so that — when I opened the covers — SF ideas boinged out and scattered all around my living room, making a royal mess! None of them actually achieve transcendence. Instead, what shines through loud and clear is isolationism, protectionism, and closed door politics. He reasons in harmony with the Fermi Paradox that sentient species should keep quiet about their sentience, or somebody bigger and badder is going to come along and take your planet from you. Think most of China’s history, and you’ll get the idea.

But you don’t have to go to the other side of the planet to find exploration choking mindsets anymore. No, you can go to the UK/USA’s current political conundrums to find that. See how that works out? See why Cixin Liu will not get the Hugo this year? He will fall to reactionary forces in the literati, which are leaning hard to the left.

Besides, he got the Hugo in 2015 for “The Three-Body Problem,” the first volume in this now concluded trilogy (before the politics became obvious in the second volume, “The Dark Forest”), so they won’t feel it necessary to give him another one. Add to that, there are plot holes big enough to stick the whole Locus Magazine List through, and then he spent six pages pedantically describing fourth dimensional space to us like we are wee cranial midgets, and SF/F people don’t like being talked down to.

What he has going for him is that President Obama has this on his reading list. Do not underestimate the power of a presidential reading list. In a previous election, George W. Bush stated to MTV that he was going to read “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown next, which was circulating in power circles before its actual release date in 2003. That comment helped to  send “The Da Vinci Code” into the stratosphere as being the break-the-bank-biggest-selling-novel of all time. AND IT’S CRAP! That shouldn’t really surprise us, though. After all, what could Dubya possibly know about good books? Seriously.

But, I truthfully don’t see this idea-exploding tome getting the Hugo, though it will get lots of votes.

“The Wall of Storms” by Ken Liu

CONFESSION: I haven’t read it. It’s the second volume in a trilogy. The first volume is “The Grace of Kings,” and I’m a third of the way through it this very moment as my current project. (Hard to type with this big guy occupying my palms.) TGoK got huge press, but placed 13th in nominations last year, so never made the final ballot.

However, since Ken Liu’s body of work is undeniably brilliant, and won’t get included in Cixin Liu’s gurgling drain swirl, the Hugonauts might find it appropriate to reward him for his hard and excellent work by checking his name here this year.

I’m looking forward to completing them both as soon as . . . you know. If this prediction needs to be revised, it will be before April.

“The Medusa Chronicles” by Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds

Here is my heartbeat all aflutter. This is my sentimental pick. I am Alastair Reynolds’ bastard child, but even though he abandoned me as a wee squirt many years ago to be raised by carny folk, I still adore anything dear old pa writes. He was nominated for the Hugo last year for his novella “Slow Bullets,” and congrats to him for that. (My only complaint is that it should have been a novel, and he would have gotten the Hugo then for Best Novel, except there is that Jemisin revelation, so maybe not.) He lost to the excellent “Binti” by Nnedi Okorafor, and no one can fault that selection.

He’s been cheated out of some accolades from this side of the pond. “House of Suns” is still a smashing, crackling, thunderous good cheddar read, as are almost any of his Revelation Space stuff, and HoS should get a Hugo just for existing.

As for Stephen Baxter, well . .  (yawn) I’m sorry, where was I?

These two pull off the fantasmagorical feat of sequelizing Arthur C. Clarke’s Hugo winning novella from 1972, “A Meeting With Medusa.” In that work, Sir Arthur posited several things about the near future, and none of them have actually come about. But, Baxter and Reynolds have the moxy to stay in that alternate universe! WOOT! WOOT!

Many authors with wee-er cranial midget inner workings would have suggested the protagonist goes to the theoretical liquefied metal heart of Jupiter, but would have recoiled from actually describing the voyage. Not these two! NO! They go there! And a lot farther!

Think inter-system wars with machines intelligences running amok; casual atrocity of the destruction of sentient life forms in the lower layers of Jupiter’s clouds (which should inflame the PETA people to go EVA naked in space); a cyborg that can essentially live forever if he doesn’t get bored; then open up the galaxy for him to make sure he never gets bored!

Hard SF geeks should wee themselves over this! I did. Will it win?

Meh. Probably not. You see, it’s two white dudes in a year of political diversity. Ho-hum. My heart is with this one, and I really want it to win, but I know it would be a long shot.

“The Obelisk Gate” by N. K. Jemisin

This is also the second in a trilogy. The first, “The Fifth Season,” won the Hugo last year, and it richly deserved it. In that volume, the author pulls off a surprise twist that sent dominoes falling everywhere and captivated any reader fortunate enough to experience it.

She does not recreate that in this volume. Actually, this volume is BETTER than the first one. No devices needed to make this one cook up a frightening brew of delicious portions of awesomeness! May I have another bowl, please? (Yes, the third one is on its way sometime later this year, or perhaps early next. I actually have no facts to support that statement, and can’t be bothered to confirm. Merely wishful thinking. If it’s available early, can I have a snack? Please?)

This follows the oregenes as the destruction of their planet looms nearer, and begins revealing the obelisks, the rock-eaters, and other crazy stuff going on in Ms. Jemisin’s huge cranial inner workings. It is so hard to describe how good this series is without starting to gush spoilers all over the nice clean carpet, but I can’t be expected to gather spoilers and Cixin Liu’s boingers at the same time.

Will it win? I don’t think so, though it could easily. This is great stuff. The diversity box is checked, just as it was last year. But, it did win last year, so there will be little impetus to award this series again. Especially because of one of the others on the list that will probably by the Hugo Darling. I think not, but if the third installment keeps up this pace, look for next year to belong to Ms. Jemisin. . . again! And at that time, it will likely get the new “Best Series” Hugo.

(Come to think of it, Cixin Liu might qualify for that Best Series one this year, so he might get an award after all, just not in this category. Those Hugonauts are so sneaky!)

“All the Birds in the Sky” by Charlie Jane Anders

Ah, yes. Here we go. This novel is the reason why this Hugo prediction is coming so early. Just finished it. It will be the Hugo Darling for a number of reasons.

First, it’s an excellent hash-up of hard SF and wackadoodle fantasy. These two disparate genres make love to each other in this one, and their combined love actually saves the planet from some doofuses that are wrecking it right now in the interests of corporate greed. Yes, this novel has the hubris to say “We SF/F geeks will destroy you, Trumpalumpa and Your Corporate Ilk!” Which, of course, we can’t actually do, but wish we could. (How about that for a band name, though?)

Second, the author is well known in the SF/F world, being the managing editor of the io9 website, a must for any true SF/F fan. It’s almost fan-fic, but not really. Look at the help she gets, though: Patrick Nielsen Hayden as editor, Russ Galen as agent; she won a Hugo for a short in 2012. This woman is on the INside of the Hugonauts.

And she checks the diversity box with a very strong “X-dammit!” I will not explain that, but leave it to your fevered minds to imagine whatever fevered minds tend to imagine.

Finally, this is wild, quirky, zany stuff! It hit all my inane buttons, and kept pounding on them like a 20-ft tall gorilla! King Kong with issues.

Ms. Anders, start preparing your acceptance speech. It turns out you are your own rocket ship, and am about to be handed another shiny, silver one.

“Infomocracy” by Malka Older

CONFESSION: I’ve started this one, but am nowhere near ready to comment in depth. Can’t speak to it completely yet, but will come back to this post and emend it properly, if required.

The deal with this one is that it is touted as being prescient, pretty much foretelling all the political horribleness we’ve started engaging in now. That would make this book a heavy contender. If it is as good as the others on this list, the Worldcon voters will give it the Hugo for sure! Just out of spite, to poke Trumpalumpa in the eyeball!

We’ll see.

That’s the six I’m thinking have the best chance, so now let’s stroll among the also-rans to see how they might fare, shall we?

“Everfair” by Nisi Shawl

This hits all the diversity buttons also, and she has been in the mix for several years. My reason for not punching her ticket on my personal list is that the alternate history she writes of is simply not well known as actual history outside of the nations involved. I had never heard of it, and this could have easily been set on another planet as a fresh plot and I would not have known the difference. I liked the steampunkiness of this book very much, but my own ignorance overshadowed her brilliance. Still, the Hugonauts occasionally like a well written education, so don’t count it out.

“Central Station” by Lavie Tidhar

Here is the remark that will get me death threats: this was very good, but was simply too Jewish.

Yeah. Death threats for that lack of political correctness right there are certainly due. But please don’t cause me unnecessary anxiety by threatening anything. Just do me a favor and surprise me with the actual death later.

This sounds anti-Semitic, but it is NOT meant that way. (My last name, Anton, is very Jewish, so chill!) It’s just that the point of view seemed like a caricature. It’s a fine novel, but once I’ve seen the schtick, I was bored by it. But, given the anti-Semitic biases of the current strangulation of understanding going on in the world, harkening back to that vile, inerasable, we-shall-evermore-be-damned-because-of-it Holocaust, it is unwise to state a simple viewpoint about cliches without getting a piano wire necktie in a dark theater later. I do not want to piss the Mossad off, like, ever.

So, this may be my last Hugo prediction post.

Some of you might be wondering where “Ninefox Gambit” by Yoon Ha Lee is considered. It’s not, at least by me. I found it ridiculously pretentious and thought it tried to glamorize or beautify gory violence, and I have no patience for that. I think well of the author’s potential, and love the short stories, but do not think this exemplified that potential. It might get some nominations from true believers, but I am not one of those.

Please everybody, be nice to each other out there. We humans are the only race that counts clearly as sentient on this planet, and we need to celebrate all the diversity of it and rejoice that we have each other to love and fight for, no matter our petty differences. (Can you hear it? In the background? The Beatles? “All you need is love, ta-ta-da-di-daaa . . . “)

Oh, and if you think of another work you think I’ve treated unfairly, or didn’t treat at all and should have, please leave that in the comments section, and I will thank you for the advice.



5 February 2017


Vonne’s Shelf: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky
by Charlie Jane Anders

This is perhaps the most wondrous read I’ve had this year. Before we get to all that, though, let’s organize ourselves. First, parental advisories; then a short non-spoiler reivew; and finally, my unabashed awe with this novel and the reasons for it.

Parental Advisories:
Profanity: Yes, the f-bomb is very nearly pervasive.
Violence: Some, and it can be gruesome, but the author doesn’t glorify this. Instead, it haunts the characters, so that’s a good thing.
Sex / Nudity: Some nudity, but that’s not a big deal. There is some sex talk, and then the zaniest, somewhat graphic, sex scene I’ve ever read.
So: Parents, read this first and then decide if it is right for your younglings. You will not regret reading it yourself, but may vacillate between your love for this novel and your desire for your family to enjoy it, pitted against the hard reality that this is definitely an adult novel.

Spoiler Free Summary:
Patricia and Laurence are both eight-graders in school; both are part of dysfunctional families; both are different from their peer group and stand aloof, awkward, and friendless. Then they meet each other. Patricia is into magic and can talk to animals, and will ultimately become a witch. Laurence is a technological genius and will ultimately design and build some super scary tech.

As adults, they will meet again. Only this time it might be to do battle.

This is a clash of science and fantasy. Except for the twist: these two characters find comfort and peace in each other’s company, and will ultimately realize the love they have for each other. So, will the collision of science with magic destroy them, their relationship, or will they find harmony within themselves and this Earth? Who will win?

Meanwhile, the Earth has gone wonky with environmental changes and political contention, and the destruction of all mankind looms. Can these two save it?

Read it and find out. Caution: don’t rush through it, especially the last 40 pages. Take your time, savor it, meditate over it, relish the details along the way.

Why I love this book:
There is one word that keeps bouncing around my brain: intimacy. This is an intimate book. I have never felt this connected and intimate with any other fictional characters in my memory. It is not intimacy with the author, no, it is just that the author finds the little things that root relationships and shows them to us, drawing us into this world.

It is, in turn, whimsical, funny, sad, heart breaking, exciting, compelling and satisfying.

Every once in a while, a novel comes along that the reader can sense it will become an instant classic. I felt that way when reading Vernor Vinge’s “Rainbow’s End,” which won the Hugo the year it published. And I felt that again reading this novel. If there had been less profanity and slightly less explicit sex, then this one would become part of every school curriculums must read syllabus. As it is, it will still — in my opinion — become a classic of the genre.

Charlie Jane Anders is the editor of the ubiquitus io9 website that delves deeply into all things science fiction and fantasy. It is not her first novel, but is easily one of the most important novels to come along in a while.

In the current contentious state of our planet, this novel reminds us that there is peace and harmony between opposites; that everyone can cooperate for the greater good; that the world can be a better place if we leave our petty differences behind and respect, accept, and be grateful for each other’s contribution to civilization.

Do yourself a favor: read this. You won’t regret it.

2 February 2017

A Perspective on Peter F. Hamilton

In a previous life, Peter F. Hamilton was a masonry expert and built formidable cathedrals in Europe throughout the middle ages.

Which brings up side-topic numero uno: I do not believe in reincarnation. Purely for mathematical reasons. If a life dies, subtracting one life from the total lives possible, and then inhabits another life, adding one life back into the total lives possible, then the sum population growth is always NONE. But, we know that’s not true, don’t we?

Back to our main subject: Peter F. Hamilton.

He began publishing science fiction in the early nineties with some short stories sold in the British market. Then he started releasing his Greg Mandel trilogy, a series of mysteries to be solved by a near-future psychic private investigator in a dystopian England. (I have read all of these and they are quite good.)

However, it was in 1996 that he electrified the world with his classic, “The Night’s Dawn Trilogy.”

I first picked up “The Reality Dysfunction — Part 1: Emergence” in the late nineties because I thought the cover artwork was cool! I still think that. Did you notice that “Part 1” bit back there? Yeah, originally this trilogy was published in the US as a six-part epic, breaking the three main novels in half. I don’t know what the marketing thoughts were: either make more money, or just cynicism that American audiences couldn’t handle a 1,300 page novel, so it needed to be split.

The full trilogy is now published as designed. They are “The Reality Dysfunction,” “The Neutronium Alchemist,” and “The Naked God.” Total word count estimated at 1.2 million!

Full disclosure: I have never been able to complete it. I don’t fault Mr. Hamilton for that. It’s all on me and my personal beliefs.

The plot is that humans expand into space with extraordinary tech. I really love those parts! At some point, someone accidentally opens a door to a void space full of immortal souls of humans who had died and now were psychotic due to their imprisonment in that void. They broke out and began to inhabit humans bodies and wreaking havoc everywhere. I don’t know if technology beats spirituality because I never got but halfway through the first volume.

Side Topic numero dos: I don’t believe in immortal souls. When we die, we simply cease to exist. I do believe in spirit beings. I hate demon possession, which is what this trilogy deals with. Anyway, I hate most of this subject. So, no wonder I didn’t finish it. I hear it’s quite good. Maybe I’ll be able to put aside my prejudices one day and give it another go.

Back to subject.

In 2004, he released “Pandora’s Star,” a novel placed in a new universe called the Commonwealth. I ate this book alive, and it screamed all the way down. The only thing that punked me a bit is he dropped the dreaded c-word-nuclear-bomb just once. But, the context of it is reasonably clear, and he hasn’t done it since, which gives me delight.

“Judas Unchained” was the sequel and OUTstanding! Followed by the “Void Trilogy” set in the same universe, but a blocked off section of it. His latest duology “The Abyss Beyond Dreams” and “The Night Without Stars” goes back and destroys this void, and ultimately saves planets full of beings.

I just finished it, and that is why you are getting this Perspective.

Parental Advisories:

Profanity: Yes. F-bombs are sprinkled around. Oddly, in his latest offering, “crud” and “crudding” takes most – though not all – of the f-bombs place.

Violence: Yes. Explosions, shootings, alien blue blood, etc. Nothing too grisly, and the author doesn’t glory in it.

Sex and Nudity: Yes. And this is what sets Mr. Hamilton off from the pack of SF/F writers. His characters actually enjoy intimacy and giving each other pleasure, so sex is rarely abusive or instinctual.

Side topic numero tres: between the “Void” Trilogy and this latest duology, Mr. Hamilton wrote a very good murder mystery in the near future in England that involved aliens and colonization of another planet and the dangers therein. This was a standalone novel titled “The Great North Road,” and I liked it a lot. Most people didn’t. Would you like to know why? Well, I’ll tell you anyway. It doesn’t have hardly any of Hamilton’s trademark sex scenes.

SF/F writers hate writing sex scenes for a number of reasons. First, they often view sex through the prism of evolution, and so usually write it as animal instinct instead of what it really is. Secondly, if they write it, their characters are flawed to the point that sex is merely scratching an itch because they are incapable of real intimacy. Third, writing sex scenes is HARD (sic, pun intended). Either go the intimacy route, or write porn, or ignore the subject completely. Hamilton goes the intimacy route and it works!

I know, it’s crazy, but people really like his books for the sex. There are other reasons to like them, though.

Mr. Hamilton is a courageous SF/F writer for many reasons. First of all, he never went to college, doesn’t know a lot about science, mostly shrugged at English classes in school, and just started writing! He doesn’t fit the mold of most SF/F writers. He is a born prodigy meant to write!

Secondly, his subject matter seems mostly to be the collision of spirituality with scientific exploration. Even the Void series and the latest duology have at their core a belief in the immortality of the human soul, clashing with humans trying to keep from getting annihilated through high-concept scientific means. At no time does he deride the spirituality; he simply shows it as an important presence. The fact that many humans have accepted “uploading” of their personalities into a network of similar beings that can be “downloaded” into a grown clone is basically stating a spiritual concept of the soul in scientific terms.

Thirdly, if you have read 600 pages of a Hamilton novel, be assured you are only about two-thirds of the way through. They are humongous volumes! They even invented a word for it when another author writes a “doorstop” or “brick” like these: they call it a Hamiltonian epic, named after you know who. Why so big? Three reasons: dozens of fully fleshed out characters; detailed descriptions of the physical environment; and an intricate plot that will take a while to unravel.

Would any of these be recommended for children? Not likely. Of course, every parent can read them and then decide for their kids. But, don’t discard everything Peter F. Hamilton writes. He is aware of the adult nature of his books, and has kids he would like to write for. So, since 2014 he has also been writing a children’s fantasy series called the “Book of the Realms.” Check those out; you might like them.

I have my personal favorite of Hamilton’s books, and it surprises most people because it is a standalone that just didn’t ripple the pond much. “The Fallen Dragon” encapsulates many of his ideas into one longish work that is complete within itself. Oddly enough, it closely resembles the “Night’s Dawn Trilogy,” the one I never finished.

I have one regret. I currently only own the latest duology in hardcover. In fact, here is a picture of my entire collection of the beloved Peter F. Hamilton’s work.


Pathetic, huh? Hey wait! What’s that thing on the left doing in there? Sorry, Mr. H! (Actually, the two seem to have a lot of respect for each other, so I doubt either one minds that gaff too much. It is actually my two current favorite SF/F authors. [Pssst. Don’t tell Mr. Hamilton I own lots more of that other guys novels. I was at least that smart.])

I wish my bookshelf was full of his books, but I just didn’t think of keeping them at the time.

Here’s why that might be important: “Night Without Stars” ends in such a fully satisfying manner that incorporates many of the characters from the Commonwealth Universe into its conclusion. I don’t know how much more of these Mr. Hamilton will write, but I got this sick feeling in my gut that we were saying goodbye to them all.

Sure wish I’d kept those volumes. There might be room on my bookcase, if — um, someone, er, might like to donate to the cause? Fixed income, and hardcovers are rare in the US. Mailing address available upon request. Hint, hint, know-what-I-mean?

Mr. Hamilton has been nominated for many awards, but only won two. A short story got the BSFA award in 2001, and in 2015 “The Great North Road” won a French award for best foreign SF novel (leave it to the French to award a sexless book, because to our romantic cousins sex likely only means it’s about nine PM on any given day, ho-hum).

Do I think he will win lots of awards? I don’t know, and am not even sure he cares about that. To me, he is such a pure writer that he’d probably rather be writing than attending ceremonies. Too, his whole purpose is the story. He’s not trying to make any political or sociological point of relevance about the human condition. He’s more interested in saying things fun than saying things conforming to someone else’s idea of “important.” I would rather like it if he got a lifetime achievement award somewhere down the road.

Awards or not, Peter F. Hamilton remains the UK’s biggest selling SF author, and his popularity in the USA is growing.

One final side topic for the road: He has a website with a blog, but his last entry there is dated mid-June of 2015. If you wish to interact with him, he seems to prefer Facebook.

So, because Mr. Hamilton writes bricks that include spirituality, he must have been a bricklayer (masonry) in his former life, building European Cathedrals!

See how my twisted mind works?

Mr. Hamilton, consider yourself perspectivized.

13 January 2017










Review: Rogue One

Rogue One Review



Hello Parents! There is probably not a kid on the planet that doesn’t want to see this Star Wars installment. But there is something important you need to be ready to deal with. I will not describe the story for you, as too many other people have already done that. This is simply so parents know what to expect.

There is no real profanity, nor sexuality. But it earns it’s PG-13 rating for this:

Violence! Lots of it! If it wasn’t blaster type fire that leaves a little smoking hole, there would be gore all over the place. But there’s not. This is a WAR story! Therefore, expect a lot of explosions and blaster fire. THAT IS NOT THE CRITICAL SPOILER!


At the end, all the good guys die. That’s right. Die. This is a suicide mission. None of the heroes you will root for will survive. At all. Do yourself a favor and . . .


It is an excellent adult movie. Probably as good or better than “Empire,” if you can believe it. It is highly recommended for everyone who has been waiting for the real Stars Wars story telling and excellent dialogue. The plot intricacies will be beyond many young one’s abilities to follow. The opening scenes are from various places in the galaxy and seem only tangentially connected, but all of them come home at the end. Adults will love this movie.

Kids will have a tough time with it.

My job’s done here. Out.

Vonne Anton

21 December 2016

An Ode to Lois McMaster Bujold

An Ode for Lois McMaster Bujold

(Sung to the tune of “Me and Mrs. Jones.”)

Me and Missuz B’Jold
We got a thang g-owen-o-on
We both know that I’m wrong
Cuz her reps too strong
To let her go now

Lois McMaster Bujold has won many awards for her novels. And I just don’t get it. Now, I know her Vorkosigan Saga series is a fan favorite, and a Hugo or Nebula gets tossed her way occasionally, but for some reason I can’t stay focused when reading her works. Three different works have all collided with my apathy, and the resulting impotence lingers far too long.

I have tried to read her books three times now
Somehow my mind wanders away each time
Love to know, love to know why I drift
While the awards keep piling up for her

There is something inherently wrong with me that I cannot stay focused when reading her books. It must be me. It’s got to be some deficiency in me. We are like two magnets fixed to repel each other.

Me and Missuz B’Jold
We got a thang g-owen-o-on
We both know that I’m wrong
Cuz her reps too strong
To let her go now

I’ll start reading page one, and within five paragraphs my mind wanders to other things. I used to think perhaps I was just too busy, had too much going on, to concentrate. But that’s evidently not true, because last night I picked up another novel and got hooked and have stayed hooked with no problem. Yet, a case can be made for her that she could be the next Grand Master.

I’ve gotta be extra careful
That I stay focused for this paragraph
Because these characters matter to all
And no, and no, not I

I’ve spent four days trying to read “Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen,” and have gotten no further than page 5. Yet, I blew through 33 pages of that other novel by that other writer that I started in frustration before going to sleep. I’m excited about continuing that other novel by a different author, but stare – flummoxed – at Bujold’s lastest offering, sitting on my coffee table like a lead brick.

Me and Missuz B’Jold
We got a thang g-owen-o-on
We both know that I’m wrong
Cuz her reps too strong
To let her go now

Twice I’ve stopped due to lack of inertia; once I stopped for the same reason plus the DREADED C-word showed up. The book better be excellent for me to endure that word. But my general malaise toward her works cancel “excellent” out of my vocabulary. There’s really not many options.

Well it’s time for me to be leaving
It hurts so much, it hurts so much inside
Now she’ll go her way and I’ll go mine
Tomorrow we’ll meet
The same page, the same line

If anyone has any suggestions to help me appreciate Missuz B’Jold’s works more, please don’t hesitate to declare them. I WANT to like her works, and feel inadequate because I cannot.

Me and Missuz B’Jold
We got a thang g-owen-o-on
We both know that I’m wrong
Cuz her reps too strong
To let her go now

See? I couldn’t even write this exasperated blog post without being distracted by a song in the background.

By the way, who the hell is Owen?

Apologies to the writers of “Me and Mrs. Jones”: Cary Grant Gilbert, Kenneth Gamble, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Apologies also to the wondrous  Billy Paul, who recorded it, and died this past year. Apologies also to Michael Buble, who covered it a few years ago.

Primarily apologies to Lois McMaster Bujold, who evidently deserves better from me.

8 December 2016


Vonne’s Shelf: Revenger by Alastair Reynolds


by Alastair Reynolds

“Aye, it be a daaarrrk and stooorrrmy night!” Paladin said, clutching its sword menacingly. Paladin was a battered robot wheeling about the stage on one wheel and one peg leg. It sounded like “screech, stomp, screech, stomp.”

“That is the lamest intro to anything I have ever heard!” someone bellowed from the seated audience.

Paladin squinted into the dark theatre, which is quite a trick since it didn’t have eyes; although, to its credit, it was wearing an eyepatch to sell the squinting thing. “Who be that, then, that daaarrres to call me a liaaarrr?” The robot brandished its sword-like thing in one articulated appendage. The sword was really just a three-foot piece of wood and a small crosspiece at the hilt. It hadn’t even been cut to a pointed tip. So, actually, Paladin brandished a blunt piece of wood.

“Stop it, already, you’re no pirate!” the voice hooted from the crowd.

“Aaarrrgh,” threatened the droid. “Methinks I’ll be showing you some paaarrriting!”

“Squawk!” something . . . um, squawked from nearby. This confused everyone, so no one knew what to say.

“Um, Revenger?” someone in the front row whispered. From the back, they seemed to be wearing a robe that cowled their features, looking like a robed and shadowed MST3K character.

“Right!” Paladin caught the drift, almost. “I means ‘rrriiight!’ Now, landlubbers . . . ”

“Space,” that same stage manager whispered loudly.

“Er . . . maties!”

“Coves,” hissed the front row cuer.

“Aaarrrgh!” Paladin roared. “This heeerrre paaarrrit language be haaarrrd!”


“What the hell?” Paladin growled. “Somebody shut that thing up befooorrre I haves to skewer the . . . squawky thing. I mean, squaaawwwky thing!”

“Jeez!” the heckler in the audience said. “This is the worst review ever!”

Paladin squinted again, stubbing its wooden sword toward the voice, a silent warning.

“Ignore the heckler,” the shadowy blob whispered.

“As I was saaayyying,” Paladin continued. “This heeerrre tale is a paaarrriting tale . . .”


“I swear to God I’m going to kill that thing!” Paladin roared, swiping its eyepatch up. There was, as expected, no eye underneath to patch.

“Review,” hissed the front row.

“Right. Okaaayyy. This tale be called ‘Revengeeerrr,’ and it be a daaarrring tale of danger, excitement, quoins apleeennnty, bauwwwbles and ghooosties that’ll give even seasoned coves a deep case of the shivery! Theeerrre be maidens in distress, and . . . ”

“Hardly!” laughed the heckler. “These girls don’t need help! Dude, they got it going ON!”

“One mooorrre outburst from you, diiirrrty cove, and I’ll make ye walk the plaaannnk!”

“You can’t do that!”

“Just ye wait and see,” Paladin squinted at his anonymous adversary. “Anyway, these two laaasssies get into big adventuuurrre in the Empty, beyooonnd the Congregation, out among the bauwwwbles. The eeevvvil Captain Bosa Sennen, flying the daaarrrk flag of the Nightjammeeerrr, she be capturing one o’them giiirrrls and fooorrrces heeerrr to . . . ”

“Would you PLEASE stop all that hokey, fake pirate talk!”

Paladin swung its sword, er, board at the voice. “I spent a lot of quoins and time to learn Paaarrrit language and . . . ”


Anyone who had not wandered out from sheer boredom at this point, suddenly found a healthy reason to be elsewhere, so the ruckus included falling chairs, punches, ouches, doors flung open, shoving, and one inappropriate horse neigh (which has nothing to do with anything and was surprising to everyone).

That left only the Pirate Droid Paladin, the heckler, the cowled stage director, a sprinking of gold flakes flitting around, and one other droid standing behind the heckler.

The heckler sat, frozen in place, one hand full of popcorn poised to dock with its mouth, staring at all the Empty that was just created inside the theatre. The heckler finished the docking maneuver, and then stood to look at the rest.

The Pirate Droid Paladin leaned on its sword’s blunt end on the stage, idly snapping its eyepatch against its domed head. Pull, “snap!” pull, “snap!” pull, . . .

The stage director sat in the front row, holding its head in its hands, shaking back and forth with frustration at this failed review of an important book by an important author.

The gold flakes flitted around, but oddly slow and halting, like it wasn’t sure what it was.

The other droid standing behind the heckler, three feet tall, silver with blue trimmings, domed swivelling head, simply mourned “Blooooooooo.” It had a parrot sitting on its head.

And Vonne got it.

Vonne, the heckler, asked Paladin, “What do you think you are, again?”

The droid muttered, “A paaarrrite, dammit!”


Vonne nodded. “Every time you say pirate in that stupid accent, this parrot thinks you’re calling it. It’s answering. Now stop it, please. And, please, get on with the review. I’ll leave you alone as long as you don’t talk stupid paaarrrit-ese.”


Paladin sighed, then looked at the stage manager. Have you ever seen a robot shrug? It’s weird. Those little gold flakes seemed like an unqualified and slightly annoying dust devil.

“Parental,” the stage manager cued.

“Right! So,” Paladin began, pedantically boring and board, er, bored. “This is a story heavily influenced by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s basically pirates in space. It occurs at some distant time in the future. Many of the planets of the Solar System simply don’t exist anymore, but there are tens of thousands of small artificial worlds orbiting the Sun. Most of these artificial worlds are rubble, but there are many dozens of engineered worlds that probably at one time were asteroids, or bits of shattered planets.

“Because this is so far into the future, it is unlikely humans ever got away from their own System. The ravages of broken civilizations have left strange baubles floating among the debris. These baubles are ripe for mining by various adventurers who want to strike it rich. They are full of odd technologies that either descended from past human civilizations, or perhaps even created by a couple of alien civilizations who have passed through. One of these alien civilizations still plays a major role as bankers for humans, controlling the flow of quoins (and hopefully you are smart enough to make that connection).

“The story centers on two sisters. One, Adrana, is old enough to qualify to be an adult and make her own decisions. The other, Arafura, is 17. She is the voice of the story, and is familiarly known as Fura Ness (Ness being the last name). They escape from their overbearing father and ultimately board a scavenger ship that has missions to crack baubles and mine their jubbly (treasures).

“The bad paaarrrr — um, pirate is on a separate ship called the Nightjammer. At one point, this bad pirate, Bosa Sennen, overwhelms the ship the girls are on and takes Adrana for herself to pilot her own Nightjammer. Fura is left behind.

“Now, the way into the baubles is by ‘reading the bones.’ This means there are skulls that can communicate over vast distances in an unknown way, but it takes a young mind to ‘jack’ into them and understand the directions. Older one’s brains lose their elasticity and cannot do it. Both of the Ness girls have this ability, which is why Bosa took one of them captive. She needs a new Bone Reader.

“Fura embarks on a rescue operation to retrieve her sister and bring down the murderess Bosa Sessen. She signs on with a young and inexperienced salvage crew to be their Bone Reader. Ultimately, she leads them to a particularly nasty bauble named ‘Fang’ that holds many lucrative secrets, and will set the stage to, perhaps, rescue her older sister and end Bosa Sessen’s reign of terror.”

“Parental!” hissed the cowled stage manager, adamantly.

“Yes,” Paladin acknowledged. “There’s a couple of bits of interesting tech here. Something called catchcloth that makes up the sails that enable these space ships to catch various solar winds to maneuver around the solar system. Most catch photons, but the kind the WIndjammer uses catch electromagnetic winds, allowing it to be completely black and camouflaged.

“Another is lookstones. These are basically spyglasses that can look through solid matter and see things any other visual tool would be unable to see.”

“What about weapons?” the heckler called while munching popcorn. “How cool are they?”

“The Ghostie tech is particularly exciting,” Paladin began, “but very rare because . . . ”

“Stop it!” bellowed Vonne from the audience. “I want to hear about weapons. What kind of cool weaponry do space pirates normally use?”

“Um. . . that would be crossbows.”


“Yes, but it’s cooler than it sounds.”

“Oh? How does it work?”

Paladin paused, thinking. “These crossbows are . . . um, . . . er, they shoot arrows really fast.”

Vonne stood, scattering popcorn everywhere. “That’s it?!?”

“Well, yes, but they are really, really fast.” Paladin’s pause ground to a full and complete stop; and if a robot could sigh, it would have.

“That’s it, I’m out of here!” Vonne declared and began scooting for the door.

The stage director hissed.

Paladin stood straighter, brandished its wood, waving it wildly above its head (which sounds vaguely obscene).

The little droid behind Vonne moved in closer, articulated arms unfolding from his carapace, pincer joints sparkling blue lightning, but very, very, threatening blue lightning. He intoned, “Blup, blip, bloop, brew!”

Vonne stopped, staring at the little droid with a parrot on top. “Artoo?”

“Bleep, bloop,” R2 confirmed.

Vonne stared, caught between Paladin with a wooden furring strip sword, and Artoo with a built in defibrillator hardly ever used for healing. “How did you get mixed up with this bunch?” He asked.

“Pooo-re-et,” Artoo said.

“Squawk!” echoed in the theatre.

Paladin spoke, “You are being directed, Anton, to sit and listen to the Parental Reviews and the rest of this review.”

“Ah, yes, about that. What if I don’t? What?” Vonne asked, “Are you going to whack me with your cheap piece of wood, or make sweet Artoo here give me a tingle? Doesn’t sound very piratey to me.”

“Sit!” intoned the stage director, not even rising from his own seat to sound magnificent, stately, commanding, god-ish.

Vonne sat.

Paladin continued, “There’s no mooorrre of the stooorrry I can reveal, cove, because that would be spoileeerrrs, and they be not peeerrrmitted!”

“Oh, god, the paaarrrit speak again,” Vonne muttered.


“Paaarrrents,” Paladin cried. “There be no vulgaaarrrities in this story. There be no baaarrreness or sex in this story. Aye, but there be a wee bit of violence, lad, or else how could this be a proper paaarrrite story!”


“A wee bit?” Vonne rose again. “Bloody hand to hand combat isn’t a wee bit!”

“Aaarrrgh, but it be in space and all!” Paladin retooorrrted.

“Decapitation? Skewering in various ways? That’s not a wee bit!”

“Alright,” Paladin conceded. “Let’s compromise around, say, a wee-bit-squared, shall we?”

Vonne was adamant. “Is this a YA novel, or not?!”

Paladin hedged, quirking eyebrows it doesn’t have over the eye patch it doesn’t need. “For a young-ish audience. How be that, then?”

“I guess . . .” Vonne allowed, nodding.

“But!” Paladin brightened, brandishing its wood. “Wasn’t it fun?!?”

“Yeah, yeah, true. It is a blast,” Vonne agreed. “So, you recommend it, then?”

‘Of course,” Paladin said. “Because – as everyone knows – whens you wants fun, it helps to be paaarrrites!” It began cavorting around the stage, in spite of its wheel and peg leg, singing. This sounded like “screech, stomp, ‘Rum,’ screech, stop, ‘Rum.’


“That’s it!” Vonne yelled. “You aren’t pirates!”

Paladin stopped cavorting, and raised its wooden sword. Artoo moved closer behind Vonne, threatening with crackling electricity and blooping, “Bloop!”

“Methinks,” Paladin sneered. “It be time ye waaalllked the plaaannnk, Anton!”

“Oh?” Vonne asked. “Artoo isn’t going to make that happen because he’s too nice. In fact, R2 is so nice, he gets to be called a “he,” while you’re stuck in “it-“dom. And you can’t make me because you have a peg leg and one wheel and I’ll be long gone before you even get here.”

The stage manager rose, turned, and released his cowl, revealing his face and his true identity. “Oh,” he said, making a mystical hand wave. “These are not the droids you’re looking for.”


“How can I be of service to . . . ” the golden sprite said, taking off it’s Ghostie helmet, which had obscured his identity. “Er, should I call you Lord or Lady?” C3-PO asked, a cocked golden head floated above an invisible suit of armor. The joint areas were exposed, which made up the golden sprite that had been jerking around the auditorium.

“Um, Vonne?”

“As a protocol droid, I am able to converse in thousands of languages, many digital, including paaarrrit-ese.”


“So,” C3-PO continued. “I have been ordered to assist you to walk the plank. Please come with me now, Vonne.” C3-PO reached out an invisible hand and grabbed the heckler’s arm.

“But, but, you still can’t make me walk the plank,” Vonne said.

“Oh?” Paladin asked. “Why be that then?”

“Because,” Vonne answered, “On this WordPress website, I never got around to installing the Plank plugin. There is no plank.”

“Oh, Vonne,” C3-PO responded, pulling on his arm. “Remember those digital languages I know?”

“Aha!” Paladin roared. “We win, coves, because we be paaarrrits!”

“Squawk!” the parrot and Vonne screamed in unison.

26 November 2016