Review Supernova by C. A. Higgins

Supernova
By C. A. Higgins

Before we begin this review: Please, if you have not read “Lightless,” the first novel in this series, go do so now. This review will contain spoilers of that novel, and perhaps even some mild spoilers for this one, though I will try mightily to minimize them.

We’ll start with Parental Advisories for parents, then a brief summary, some difficult portions for me (and those could be simply due to the density of my brain), concluding with a recommendation.

Parental Advisories

Profanity: Not much. An f-bomb in the beginning, another at the end, maybe one in the middle. Not enough to raise too many warnings.

Sex/Nudity: None.

Violence: A lot, but the themes herein are a violent revolution spanning many planets and moons. Also some kind of cruel psychosis, so be warned that violence is part and parcel of this novel. There is an especially gory and extended scene at the end, and all I can say about it is that it amps up the terror and horror of part of the surprise ending.

Plot Summary

This story vacillates back and forth between two different plot lines. One part (guesstimate 35%) following the interactions between Althea and her surprise AI ship Ananke who has awakened into sentience. Most of this novel follows the rebellion against the System, an interplanetary tyranny, led by the Mallt-y-Nos, Constance.

The rebellion continues through far off moons to Mars, Venus, Mercury and back to some of them but incorporating Jupiter and Saturn to mop up returning System inclined opportunistic warlords, endeavoring to assure freedom by violence. Allies betray Constance, while she gains or losses other allies.

Meanwhile Althea tries both to raise and protect her AI child. The author pulls off a pretty neat trick here: the ship is called the Ananke while the AI person is simply called Ananke. I tried hard to catch any inconsistencies here (because I can be that kind of jerk sometimes), but the only time could have gone either way. Kudos to the author!

The mood aboard the Ananke remains delightfully claustrophobic, while the revolution sprawls system-wide, diluting the tension in that struggle. Constance has to face a reality more akin to Ahab and Moby Dick, while Althea deals with a sentient glorified computer that has no comprehension of human morality.

An auxiliary teenage girl named Marisol proves to be the humane advisor to Constance and her revolution, while the (in my opinion) autistic Althea proves incapable of teaching her AI daughter basic moral concepts. The dichotomy is interesting to meditate on.

My Difficulties

All of my difficulties with this novel are with the system-sprawling revolution portions. The Ananke/Althea portions are brilliant. Even the grotesque surgery scene at the end is necessary. This is an adult novel that is not squeamish about any kind of violence.

There is a scene early on in which Constance gives a hand gun to a ten-year old girl stuck in the bombed out rubble of her war torn city so she can protect herself. The instructions given are minimal – safety off, point, pull trigger – and I wondered if this was on purpose. Certainly a young girl should be warned about recoil, and/or blowback. No such warnings are given. Is that unawareness on the author’s part, or symptomatic of Constance’s slide from reality?

Another difficulty for me was the ease of moving fleets of ships from planet or moon to other bodies in our solar system. Late in the novel a relativistic drive is briefly mentioned as the means to travel vast distances in days instead of months, but no further explanation is offered. I googled the concept and found that such a thing is improbable and hotly debated. That doesn’t spoil it for me, but the lack of explanation does. I don’t criticize books that use FTL drives, even though most scientists consider them impossible. But an earlier notice would have removed the confusion earlier.

Along these same lines, the convenient lining up of the planets on one side of the Sun for easy access destroys any hope of suspending my disbelief. That just isn’t realistic.

Lastly, how Constance can rid all the planets and moons of the dreaded System without some idea of a replacement governmental system is amazingly short-sighted. She never really gives thought to anything beyond destroying the System.

So, as a result, the story flagged for me so much that I went into “skimving” mode around page 220 of 290. “Skimving” is a copyrighted and trademarked method of reading quickly, and it’s all mine, so don’t try to use it without permission!

But, I had to drop into normal reading by page 270 because the ending goes off the HOOK! On both sides of this story!

Recommendation

Read this book. Get the sense, get the flavor, endure until the end. You might like the bits that bored me. But the ending of both parts are nigh unforgettable, and well worth the effort.

Something puzzles me: Why exactly is this titled “Supernova?” Is it a reference to Althea, Ananke, Constance, the rebellion? What exactly is that supernova-like thing that Constance sees at the end?

I have a hunch, but not much evidence to support it. Regardless, another installment would be welcome.

VA
25 August 2016

Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit

by Yoon Ha Lee

Machineries of Empire Book One

Let’s begin with Parental Advisories, as normal. Then an attempt will be made to tell you what this book is about without – oh, who am I kidding?! There will be spoilers, but you’ll be given fair warning to bail before then if you want to read this novel for yourself. This means I’ll have to change the order of things.

Parental Advisories first; THEN I’ll tell you what my own opinion about this book is; lastly it will be summarized with well advertised spoilers at the end. Agreed? (No? My website, so deal with it.)

Parental Advisories

Profanity: LOADS! I won’t say the f-bomb is pervasive, but it certainly comes close. Basically this is a war story, and (trope #1) everyone knows soldiers swear like a little blue “F-U-Elmo” when you give him the slightest squeeze.

Violence: LOADS! Grisly, gory, bloody, any way the author can depict it and MORE! He describes the viscera, brain splatters, intestinal flailing as if it’s a Rockette’s Can-Can line badly out of sync. Then he glories in it, adding sprightly poetic descriptions to evoke the sense that there is a strange beauty to the carnage.

Sex: One bizarre scene near the end. Slightly graphic, but young readers won’t know what they’re reading, so it barely achieves “mentionable” status.

Parents: It is not my place to tell you what to let your gremlins read or listen to. All I can tell you is that I wouldn’t let mine near this. Do what you want.

My Own Opinion

Well, if anyone has read the webpage here called “Vonne’s Ratings” (where I detail the rules in my universe) you already know that Mr. Yoon Ha Lee has triggered an avalanche of stuff I hate. So, we are off to a bad start.

Mr. Lee is a skilled and beautiful writer, subject matter notwithstanding. He is best known for dozens of short stories that are staggeringly imaginative and inventive. This particular novel has been anxiously awaited by the SF scene, primarily because it is Mr. Lee’s first full length novel. Many well respected SF writers have chimed in with enthusiastic reviews, marveling at its mathematical precision and world building. Google it, you’ll see.

I cannot recommend it. The calendrical culture is – in my view – merely an artifice with no more relevance than to lend an exotic air to a story that is really mundane. The caste system of the hexarchate is about the same, merely a reflection of what is probably truer than we care to admit about our own societal systems. (Americans especially would hate the idea of acknowledging any caste system here, but the wiser know it has already been that way for a very long time.)

Plot Summary

There were originally seven main castes in the hexarchate (then known as a heptarchate), but one caste became too rambunctious and started breaking a lot of rules. So, they were nearly decimated into extinction. That’s all in the past.

This story kicks off with that seventh caste (the Liozh) arising again and taking control of a very special space station that represents all of the castes (called the Fortress of Scattered Needles). Now they are imposing a “heretical calendar,” or way of living that is not in harmony with the standard calendrical way of the entire human race. This leads to “calendrical rot,” an unstable society.

What should the other castes do to take back their special space station and restore order? (No, I’m not going to tell you the names of any castes but the three main ones. The others are there for . . . well, I suspect they are there to occasionally move the plot along, but otherwise really serve no actual purpose at all.)

They get the cooperation of a Kel (the boot soldiers of the military) named Cheris, a female officer who has shown an aptitude for math far above her station in life. Then they download into her the personality of a dead, possibly insane, General of the Shuos class, named Jedao. This general has been in a sort of hibernation over the last four centuries because he is amoral, not really caring who or how many people he kills, and can’t be let loose except in very extreme situations. Like this one.

A caveat here: this General Shuos Jedao casts his own shadow around Kel Cheris, as if she has two. Only Jedao’s shadow has nine eyes of a fox that glow. Neat trick that, and it explains the title.

They are given a swarm of assault ships with exotic weaponry to go liberate the Fortress of Scattered Needles. Mayhem ensues with the occasional amusing servitor sideshow (R2-D2 and C-3PO equivalents), and some really funny message interchanges among the Liozh who are trying to figure out if they should even acknowledge, let alone try to repel, the approaching swarm. I liked them. That’s about it.

SPOILERS TO FOLLOW! DO NOT READ BEYOND THIS POINT!

What in the HELL is so great about this story? Rather bland, unimaginative, Seven Samurai, Patton, Ocean’s Eleven even! The whole “download-but-with-a-shadow” trick is unexplained, nor are any of the weapons explained, nor how the ships operate. It reeks of fantasy rather than science fiction.

And what is the message? Is the author really trying to tell me that chaos is a valuable part of culture? I learned that watching Bugs Bunny when I was a tadpole! OLD NEWS!

Alright, we find out by the end that General Jedao completely takes over Kel Cheris’ body and is implementing a centuries old plan he set in motion to breed heretic ideals throughout all of the hexarchate. We find out that the hexarchate suspected this and really sent him on a suicide mission with even his own swarm dedicated to killing him at the slightest hint of treachery, which they failed to do.

Setting up nicely the second book in this series. Which I will probably not waste my time on unless someone tells me I’m just being obstinate.

Let’s be clear: I have no bones with Yoon Ha Lee, and have enjoyed his exotic stories. But this is a vile, blood-drenched, average war story with lots of words that lack clarity. “Invariance Ice:” What comes to your mind when you hear that? “Carrion Bomb?” “Threshold winnowers?” They aren’t explained, so they mean NOTHING! Except clearly new ways humans have found to destroy each other, and the author would rather show that than explain anything.

And to think I could have been playing cribbage with my soul-mate instead of wasting so much time on this book. Now THAT I resent! Give me my time back, Mr. Lee! Certainly in your universe that’s possible.

VA

15 August 2016

Vonne’s Ten Rules of Writing

Vonne Anton’s 10 Rules of Writing

I’ve read lots of “how to write” books and/or web pages from various unknown authors; nincompoops who couldn’t sell a book even if it were dipped in chocolate. People like Stephen King, David Brin, Jack McDevitt, Poul Anderson, Harlan Ellison and others like them. You’ve probably never heard of those people, but hopefully they’ll be successful one day. I’ve boiled down their recommendations into a simple Top 10 Rules of Writing.

  1. Write, write, write every day about anything (most say this is all of the Top 3 Rules). Write letters, blogs, stories, vignettes, scratch hate messages onto bathroom stalls, “tag” your neighborhood with remarkably provocative novel concepts, re-write cereal box trivia, etc.
  2. Edit and rewrite whatever you wrote. Over and over and over and . . . I think you get the point.
  3. Establish a goal, and construct a reasonable plot to achieve it. A “goal” is defined as “What do you hope to accomplish? What message do you want to convey, if any? How far will you need to throw it to swish the trash basket?”
  4. Do research to enhance the plot’s feasibility and to assist the suspension of disbelief. There’s an old maxim: “Write what you know.” But they didn’t have Google back then. With Google and imagination, I say challenge yourself and research what you don’t know and write about it if it helps you achieve your goal. You’ll become a smarter writer. Fun fact: most successful writers pay someone to do this for them. Yeah, that’s what money can buy.
  5. Respect all of your characters; keep dialogue or clothing styles, attitudes, personalities, motivations, and goals unique to each character, while still allowing them to grow and change. Be patient with them. They’re only people. And you created them. For those who believe in God, you’re pretty glad He’s patient, right?
  6. Don’t panic when your characters change the direction of the plot on you; it’s their story and they might know better. If this happens, save the original plot for later and write characters that will actually behave themselves.
  7. Don’t challenge the vocabulary of readers before they have engaged with the characters; you can teach them new words later, and the reader will accept it because they are already invested. Some authors deliberately throw in a couple of words in the first couple of pages that cause me to scramble for the dictionary. But then I get captivated by the plot of the dictionary and never get back to that other thesaurus. And no, I am not content to wait for that fabled “Dictionary” movie.
  8. Disappear from your project. This is a blow to the writer’s ego, but your name is on the cover, so relax. If the reader keeps thinking about the author and how wondrous your writing is, ultimately they miss some of the finer points of the story, and then you failed. If the reader stays engaged with the story to the very end, they will reflectively stare at the cover name afterwards and remember you for future reads. Joy and peace fill the land.
  9. Think of a title, but don’t fall in love with it. Editors and agents may break your heart with their own ideas about the title. They aren’t always right, but they are the folks giving you money, so flex.
  10. Write, write, write.

Harlan Ellison adds: Be angry. If a writer isn’t angry they shouldn’t be writing. But Mr. Ellison has quite a reputation for being a cranky, angry, old man. Ray Bradbury was rarely angry and he wrote beautifully.

One other thing to remember (yes, James Patterson, I’m looking at you): don’t allow yourself to sink into formulaic writing habits. Grow and improve and claim victory over “different!” If the reader suspects you are merely changing the names of places and characters and hitting “Print” or “Attach” to crank out one or more novels a year, then you have lost your soul, and the reader is on to your evil machinations.

Somewhere in there you’ll need to take some time submitting your stories and arguing with editors or agents, but that is about publishing, not writing. I don’t know anything about publishing. Oops, did I just say that? I only know two sure-fire things about publishing: 1) Write really good! and 2) Pay close attention to how your target publisher wants the story formatted. The quickest way into the slush pile is to ignore their rules.

Well, there it is.

What did I miss? Don’t be afraid. Tell me.

VA 7 August 2016

Hugo’s and Jemisin’s The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

By N. K. Jemisin

I’ve puzzled for days about writing this review, but eventually came to the conclusion my difficulties were my own biases and not relevant to this novel’s merits. So, we will begin as usual with parental advisories, then into a lame review, a discussion of my own waywardness about this novel, and finally, a discussion of all the Hugo Nominations for Best Novel this year of 2016 (predictions included).

Parental Advisories

Language: A moderate amount of the f-bomb and little else that would register very high on the “possibly offense” meter. Only a couple of references to male genitals; the occasional f-bomb is due to high-stress WTF circumstances, but most of them are used accurately to describe sex between people who don’t love each other; and perhaps a couple of times coarsely describing sex between people who DO love each other. This is a trend in SF/F these days: the idea that this word is appropriate in all situations. Personally, I disagree, but well, there it is.

Sex/Nudity: Some, usually not explicit. There is one scene that is explicit between a threesome: a man and a woman who do not love each other but are having a child because of an edict that they must, and another man that both of the others are in love with. Or perhaps, in lust with. Anyway, that menage a trois is more explicit than usual.

Violence: When you think about it, there is quite a lot, but little bloodletting. This will be explained in the summary that will follow. Hint: Volcanoes and Earthquakes.

Recommendations: parents might be best off reading this first and then deciding for themselves whether it is appropriate for their yearlings.

Summary (particularly lame)

This novel insinuates more than it explains, so some of this review will include my inferred out-sinuations. The first one is that this takes place on an Earth in the far future, having been spoiled by humans to the degree that its very mantle is convulsing. (It is not clearly stated whether this is far future earth, but the inhabitants are humans, and they call it Earth, so . . . well, there it is.) Therefore, this is a dystopian future wherein mankind no longer looks to the stars because their full attention is demanded by tectonic plate shifting and continental drift and lots of earthquakes. There is basically only one continent at the time of this story (map included).

A few humans have developed a special ability – stemming from their, well, brain stem appropriately – to sense the quakes and even exert substantive force to quell them, limit them, or redirect them. Unfortunately, this ability can – and is – used as a weapon also. It is hard to wage war when the enemy has a citizen that can literally drop a mountain on you. To constrain such, there has developed a group of people called Guardians, who can render impotent that seismic ability (called orogene: you might as well get used to that word as you will see it a lot if you read this novel). Don’t bother getting a dictionary, as the author provides a nice glossary to help the reader out. (And – not one, but – TWO Appendices! Mostly boring historical background stuff.)

Then there are the stone eaters. They literally subsist on rocks. Also, they pass through rock as if melting into them and coming out the other side of that mountain; or go underground and come up where they wish, and can even drag people underground with them. These humanoids are carefully not called human. And this is where my problems begin, because they feel like “fantasy.” More on that later.

Moving on, three groups of characters, all headed up by a strong female point of view, are followed throughout this novel as they seek a way to just exist safely on this world. All three of these women/girls are orogenes with varying degrees of power to shake and bake. One is a school girl getting her training in the central government’s school for the seismically gifted called the Fulcrum. Another is searching for her lost daughter and the no-good husband who stole her and killed their baby son. The third is paired up with the most powerful orogene on the planet, a man named Alabaster, and they are seeking to stop a volcano erupting in a coastal city, as well as procreate a more perfect orogenic baby. (Rather like that name, Alabaster. Don’t you? If he dies, it might describe the baby, sorta. That was a joke. Yes, lame, but well, there it is.)

Tumultuous and surprising times occur, but protocol forbids me from telling you that [redacted for spoilers], and that will blow your mind! The only further thing I can say about [redacted] is that when you finish the book, you will start reading it over again armed with foreknowledge and delight once more!

The first couple of chapters in this are written exquisitely. As if the author chose each word carefully and precisely to reveal mysteries you did not suspect were lurking there. I couldn’t predict what the next paragraph, nor even the next sentence, nor even the NEXT WORD was going to be. Honestly, after that grandiose beginning, the rest of it settles into more easily understood and accessible adventure prose. This kept me from engaging with the characters, as I was continually thinking about the author. Rule #8 violation: The author shalt disappear from thine storeys!

My only real criticism is the tone. The future is dark and bleak again, and again, and again. I am SO TIRED of dystopian views of the future. The author has a degree in the Trick-Cyclist field (that’s what I call Psychiatrists, and is a misnomer when applied to her; she is trained in psychology and education). Please everybody, go take some Xanax and relax, or take some Zoloft and conquer your depression! You might be right: the future could be awful; but you might be wrong, too. I read for entertainment, and studiously refuse to meditate on the possible pointlessness of my existence for entertainment! Ms. Jemisin should know this!

This is the first in the series, and I am likely to read the next simply because it is called “The Obelisk Gate,” and the obelisks that float gemlike in the air over this world are never clearly explained. I want to know about them!

My Limitations

I don’t do fantasy. Not really. Exactly what category this novel is eludes many other reviewers, and that might be the point. Before I started this review, I felt it important to see what others had said. They were each as conflicted as me. I have decided to call it “science fiction fantasy” for lack of a better term. And yes, I stole that from one of those other reviewers.

When it comes to “science fiction fantasy” I am a complete hypocrite! I love Star Wars and Star Trek and they both contain fantasy elements (that whole FTL bugaboo), but because they are in space it’s okay. Here, in this novel, I really couldn’t quite get there. This problem goes back a long, long way.

A decade or more ago, booksellers started lumping Science Fiction in with Fantasy and that ticked me off! I didn’t want to read fantasy, and I didn’t want to shuffle through a bunch of zombies, unicorns, wizards, and vampires or werewolves to find the rare actual Sci-Fi book! Hours of frustration for me have been spent on this.

This novel makes me look at it differently, and somewhat more positively. Just not enough for this year’s crop of Hugo nominees. Three of the five are fantasies, including this one.

The 2016 Hugo Nominations for Best Novel

I’ve already commented elsewhere in this blog that Seveneves by Neal Stephenson is another epic doorstop and great, but derivative from Jack Williamson’s 2002 winner of the John W. Campbell Award. I don’t expect it to win. He could really use an editor. Don’t get me wrong, I love his stuff, but he evidently loves the sound of his own voice typing more than he should.

Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy will likely remain unread by me. I liked the first one (Ancillary Justice), but all the gender confusion was just boring and slightly irritating in the second one (Ancillary Sword), which I didn’t bother to finish. A case of the gimmick getting overdone. Ms. Leckie won the Hugo – deservedly so – for the first one in 2014. I doubt they will give her another one in this series.

I am chagrined to admit that I have never read a single Jim Butcher novel. That fantasy thing again. He’s been around a while, so he might get it.

Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is fantasy, and I probably won’t read it. She already has the Nebula Award for this novel this year, so I’m guessing the Hugo folks will bypass her just because The Fifth Season exists as an alternate.

My money is on The Fifth Season, perhaps just because I read it, but also because there is a big controversy about diversity in science fiction that is a massive distraction. I think the Hugo will go to Jemisin just for the backlash, if not for the writing. Ms. Nora K. Jemisin is an African-American woman living in New York. Perfect statement award. That is not meant as a slam of her or this novel in any way. If it wins, I will be happy for her and glad I read it.

You will probably be glad you read it also. It has served to stretch my view of exactly what “science fiction fantasy” can be. I’ve known this for some time (way back in the early 70’s when reading Ellison’s Dangerous Visions and Again DV), but have generally tried to play in my preferred sand box. Perhaps I have been missing out on a lot of good experiences.

And finally: well, there it is.

VA – 6 August 2016

Religion in Science Fiction

Fundamentalist Christians in America believe that 6,000 years ago God created the universe in six 24-hour days.

Science has pretty much blown that idea out of most rational people’s minds.

But does that mean there is no God, Creator, or Intelligent Designer? Surprisingly,  many scientists believe there IS an intelligent designer of life, ecosystems, cosmos (in 2003, the actual figure, according to the PEW institute, was 33% believe in God, and 18% believe in a vague higher power; that equals 51%, which is rather startling). Atheists would have us believe the two main theories – evolution and creation – are mutually exclusive, and therefore all science and all religion collide and reconciliation is impossible. But, is that what most religious people actually believe? What role can religion possibly play in science fiction?

The answer to that last question depends on what the author is trying to achieve, and who the target audience is for their stories.

Some authors vigorously defend evolution and – with the same intensity – rail against the inconsistencies  between religion and established scientific fact. (I call them “radicalized/militant atheists.”) Others allow religion, but give it to backwards, un-technological beings, half-savages that haven’t developed any meaningful science yet, and therefore are ignorant of reality. Their target audience evidently is those who consider themselves rational beings and look down from exalted heights at the pitiable quasi-animals that still base their civilization and ethos on mythology and folklore.

Most just ignore religion altogether in their science fiction. Perhaps they just want to avoid arguments and simply tell a story.

Then there are those rare few who acknowledge that even scientific, rational beings can believe in something grander and more intelligent than themselves, and accord religion some respect.

The biggest mistake science fiction authors make is to lump all religious people into one system of belief. Even members of the same religion may have different views of core doctrines. Just ask different ones of the Christian faith to explain the Trinity doctrine and you will likely encounter many different views, mostly personal and distinct from the official dogma, which no one can explain.

The same happens when discussing creation; there are multiple views among people of faith. To illustrate this, consider the following interview I had with someone who claims to be a Christian (we’ll call him Joe just for grins):

Vonne: So Joe, you believe in a God, a Creator, right?

Joe: Yep. Hey, are you recording this?

Vonne: You mind?

Joe: Nah. [Joe shrugs.]

Vonne: Why do you believe in some supernatural being that no one can see?

Joe: The evidence points to a Creator.

Vonne: No it doesn’t. The evidence points to a singularity of incredible mass exploding exponentially into the space time continuum that is ever expanding that rational people like me like to call The Universe, which happens to be measured at roughly 13.7 billion years old! So, when did this God create all this stuff?

Joe: In the beginning.

Vonne: Yeah, that. When was that?

Joe: I don’t know.

Vonne: Don’t know?!? You people say it happened 6,000 years ago!

Joe: No we don’t.

Vonne: Yeah, ya’ do! In just six 24-hour days the whole shebang was supposedly created by some God thingy. All Christians believe that!

Joe: That sounds absolutely ridiculous.

Vonne: Duh!

Joe: The Bible doesn’t say that, only fundamentalists do. Even Catholics don’t believe that.

Vonne: The Bible does too say that! Right there in the first part, Genesis!

Joe: Well, let’s see if that’s true. Remember I only have 15 minutes. I have my Bible right here. Genesis 1:1 reads: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Vonne: Exactly! That’s what I said. Six thousand years ago God created all things. Only it happens be a LOT older!

Joe: Where did you see 6,000 years in this passage?

Vonne: Um . . . well, um . . . it’s not there, but it’s got to be somewhere!

Joe: Actually, the references to 6,000 years is merely a reference to the accumulated years of generations listed in the Bible back to Adam’s creation. It has nothing to do with the heavens and the earth, nor the creative process.

Vonne: Okay, so that amount of time is off by . . . what, six DAYS?

Joe: Much more than that, it seems. You see, from Genesis 1:2 all six of the creative days were focused on Earth, and what someone would see from Earth looking at their surroundings, including the night sky. When 1:1 takes place is unidentified. It could have been 13.7 billion years ago. We simply know that it happened “in the beginning” of The Universe, whenever that was.

Vonne: That’s weird. Nobody seems to talk about that.

Joe: The fundamentalists don’t, that’s for sure. Mainly because their main purpose seems to be political, and not necessarily sticking to the Bible.

Vonne: It still doesn’t explain the days.

Joe: You’re right, it doesn’t, but we do get a clue about them from the context itself. All six days come to an end, right?

Vonne: If I agree to this, you’ll understand that it’s only provisional. I’ll never agree to this nonsense.

Joe: Fair enough. But don’t you think you should know what the Bible actually says, and not what people say it says?

Vonne: (Grunt and nod)

Joe: Actually, in this case, it’s important to note what the Bible does NOT say.

Vonne: Is this going to hurt my head?

Joe: No. It’ll be painless. Right here in verse 5, it separates the day into divisions of Night and Day. That’s not confusing at all. But it does suggest that the word rendered “day” is flexible. Then we go to Genesis 2:4, where every day, including “in the beginning” is called “a day.”

Vonne: You said this wasn’t going to hurt my head. That makes no sense!

Joe: Obviously, we need to know what the original Hebrew word used in these places mean, right?

Vonne: (sigh)

Joe: That word means “a specific period of time.” So, how long is that?

Vonne: 24 hours.

Joe: How much time do I have? Do you remember?

Vonne: 15 minutes?

Joe: Right. Is that a specific period of time?

Vonne: What are you getting at?

Joe: That fundamentalists assume the creative days were 24 hours each, but the context itself gives the clue that this term is fluid. The Bible says that the 7th rest day hasn’t even ended yet. That would make that one day much longer than 6,000 years. What if they all were?

Vonne: The seventh day hasn’t ended yet?

Joe: Nope. Way in the back of the Bible, in Hebrews, Christians are told to enter into God’s rest. That’s over 4,000 years after the seventh day began. Genesis never says the seventh day ended, so there is reason to believe the days were merely specific periods of time, but very long ones.

Vonne: How do you know it has ended? That Hebrews thing was still written 2,000 years ago.

Joe: Yes, well, the rest day was specific to God resting from his own creative works. We’ll know it’s over when He starts creating again. Have you seen any new critters around lately?

Vonne: [sigh] Isn’t it time for you to go?

Joe: I have a few more minutes if yo — “

Vonne: Please go. Now.

Joe: But wouldn’t you like to know when the seventh day began?

Vonne: Will you go afterwards? Okay, when?

Joe: We don’t know.

Vonne: WHAT?!?

Joe: The sixth creative day didn’t end with Adam’s creation. It ended with Eve’s, and we don’t know how long that was.

Vonne: Is this over now? My head hurts.

Joe: But, you haven’t asked me who created God yet! I can’t wait until you ask that stupid question, because then I’ll get all quantum-physicky on you!

Vonne: GO! NOW!

Joe: See ya’ later, dude! [Clatters off on his skateboard, beard trailing behind like oily contrails]

That is really annoying. I hate it when religious people seem so . . . so . . . reasonable. Makes me sick.

So, when deciding whether or not to tackle religious subjects in your science fiction, please consider your target audience. Also, don’t assume you know what they believe just because of official dogma, nor that all religions are the same. And don’t assume their stupid. I wonder how Joe can go all quantum-physicky on me if he’s stupid.

This means it would be wiser to treat religion with respect, if you incorporate it at all into your science fiction. It is so easy to plunk all religions into one loony hat, but it is a form of bias, and it’s not very interesting. Maybe it would be easiest of all just to tell the story.

What do you think?

VA 21 July 2016

What Melania Trump Taught Us About Her Husband

Melania Trump walked confidently out onto the world stage Monday night (sure, there were only a few hundred people present, but the cameras were rolling for the world). This is amazing for many reasons: first, she usually avoids the spotlight, preferring to stay in the background; secondly, because public speaking to a large audience is one of the top five stressors to most people; lastly, because her mission was challenging.

Her mission was to let all the women voters in the US know that her husband – Donald Trump, now the Republican candidate for the Presidential election – is really a great guy. Her husband had repeatedly said dismissive, derogatory, and disrespectful things about several women during his campaign, and had engaged in Twitter-spats with a few (ironically, this includes one female anchor who works for his pet conservative news organization, FOX; you’d think they’d be great friends, but no). Melania’s job was to go before America and convince the women voters that they would be treated well by her beloved husband, and could cast their vote for him with complete confidence that  – as President – he would respect and strive to meet their needs.

Then she gave her speech.

Well, partly hers or maybe not, and partly Michelle Obama’s from eight years ago. There was an immediate flame-out on social media, and the news outlets continued for the next couple of days talking about plagiarism while the campaign went on a “whodunit” search to find out how this gaffe happened.

On the run up to this speech the official line was that Melania wrote it herself. Afterward, a staff of speech writers helped her; then two men were pointed at; then one woman offered to resign over it, but was declined. Who knows, and frankly, who cares about the speech anymore? Nobody, really. It’s a bit intriguing to see women on the floor of that convention praising Donald Trump in spite of the speech.

Because women voters were taught something about Donald Trump, if they care to learn.

He knows his beautiful wife avoids the limelight; he knows she speaks English with a cute European accent that she is self-conscious about; he knows she isn’t a political sort by nature. You would think he would have instructed his staff to treat the love of his life like all the gold he owns, to make sure her appearance before the world would be a singular success.

Nope. She was sent out on her mission equipped to fail, to be humiliated, to be dismissed by a cruel public. The scorn she suffers is so intense that when the family showed up yesterday (Wednesday) in support of Donald, she was absent. Either she didn’t want to be seen, or the campaign didn’t want her to be seen, perhaps to avoid reminders of Monday night.

I have only respect for Melania Trump. She is beautiful, smart, eloquent, multi-lingual, dignified, brave, and willing to support her husband. All the things you would want in a First Lady. I’m heartened that she likes Michelle Obama, and treats the sitting President and his wife with more respect than her husband does. Too, that she is free to express her own feelings that might be divergent from her husband’s. Too bad her husband and his staff don’t have respect for her.

Most of the “speech plagiarism hoopla” is not really the main story. It wasn’t what happened, how it happened, or who should be held accountable for the blatant plagiarism. It’s far more important to focus on WHY it happened. It happened because her husband and his staff don’t care enough about her to make sure she would succeed in her mission.

So, women voters of America, if Donald Trump and his campaign treats the most important woman in his life with such disregard and so shabbily, how do you think he’ll treat YOU?

VA 21 July 21, 2016

Cixin Liu and Enrico Fermi versus Jack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt: An SF Voice of Reason Today

Whole segments of the world’s population are either being attacked and killed for being “Other,” or are attacking and killing those who are perceived as “Other.” Race, religion, politics. Doesn’t matter.

Science Fiction has an enduring voice for us to listen to. His name is Jack McDevitt, and he’s been publishing good SF since 1986. I first picked up on him in 1995, when I saw the paperback copy of “Engines of God,” and have been reading every novel he’s written since. My lack of experience with him is that I haven’t read many of his short stories. That’s my next endeavor.

For parents: He doesn’t use anything more than mild profanity on rare occasions; not any violence except adventure style while on the run from non-sentient alien critters who are just doing what instinct drives them to do. Think angry birds or maniacal crabs, etc. Sex isn’t considered, nor nudity. All perfect for families today who are concerned for what their tweenies might be attracted to in Science Fiction.

Most of his work deals with alien artifacts, relics, or the possibility of first contact, or Otherness. There is also a sense of wonder at the universe we are privileged to be a part of, which constitutes more Otherness.

The aliens are fascinating primarily because they have usually gone extinct (perhaps annihilating themselves), moved elsewhere, or transformed into something humans can’t perceive as life. While humans explore their solar system, then the stars, they struggle to find meaning from beings they simply cannot fathom. Exciting things happen along the way.

If there is any downside, it is that sometimes he introduces dozens of characters, only some of whom are essential to the story, but all play a role of some kind. This is actually pretty good because it mirrors real life, but can be confusing trying to remember who is memorable. He seems to want us to understand everybody, whether or not they are relevant to his stories.

And that is a special reason we need to read his works today. Mr. McDevitt is a sorely needed voice of reason amid these socially, politically, and religiously contentious times. There are no bad guys. Aliens that are actually met are welcoming, friendly, curious about us, and don’t have a thought of threatening us in any way. Otherness is met cautiously by all of his characters, but is ready to welcome friendly overtures to achieve the real goal: understanding.

Why can’t we be that way for each other? Black, white, brown, yellow, red, green; Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist; Left, right, center, progressives, isolationists, republican, democrat; Police, protestors, voters; Heterosexual, homosexual, transsexual, transgender.

Why are we so determined to believe that Otherness wants to hurt us? Why are we so willing to hurt Otherness?

There actually might be a scientific theory that explains it. It is called the Fermi Paradox, a thought exercise from Enrico Fermi, a noted physicist.

Recently one possibility of the Fermi Paradox is becoming more apparent as an SF meme: the idea that it is dangerous to communicate, or even attempt to communicate, to alien life signals. This idea may even demand that any such signals be completely ignored. Run silent, in other words, hide.

(Much of the next two paragraphs are quoted right off of Wikipedia.)

‘An alien civilization might feel it is too dangerous to communicate, either for us or for them. After all, when very different civilizations have met on Earth, the results have often been disastrous for one side or the other, and the same may well apply to interstellar contact. Even contact at a safe distance could lead to infection by computer code or even ideas themselves. Perhaps prudent civilizations actively hide not only from Earth but from everyone, out of fear of other civilizations.

‘Perhaps the Fermi paradox itself—or the alien equivalent of it—is the reason for any civilization to avoid contact with other civilizations, even if no other obstacles existed. From any one civilization’s point of view, it would be unlikely for them to be the first ones to make first contact. Therefore, according to this reasoning, it is likely that previous civilizations faced fatal problems with first contact and doing so should be avoided. So perhaps every civilization keeps quiet because of the possibility that there is a real reason for others to do so.’

(End of quoted portion.)

Last year, Cixin Liu, a writer from China, won the Hugo for the excellent “Three Body Problem.” He didn’t even come close in the second book in the trilogy, “The Dark Forest.” Both were reviewed earlier this year on this blog. This year the final third volume will be released, and is much anticipated.

The basics of the story plays right into the Fermi Paradox as described above. Fascinating reading, sure, but let’s all step back for a minute and look at the overall picture: An SF writer in Communist China is writing a story that demands the Fermi Paradox as the basis for the novels. Isolationist, hide, don’t get involved, everyone is dangerous.

I guess it’s no surprise he is from China, huh? That attitude is part of the history and culture of modern-day China, who is really only slightly better than North Korea, which is still controlled by China.

Are we honoring Mr. Cixin’s work because it is excellent, or because it feeds and perhaps even informs the current climate of fear and danger? Have we unwisely honored a very dangerous meme?

I want to read the last volume in the trilogy, titled “Death’s End.” It comes out in September of this year, and is being translated into English by the incomparable Ken Liu. I wonder if it will be a hopeful conclusion, or more fear.

Time will tell. So might history for all of us.

Instead of killing ourselves off, or trying to avoid contact with that we don’t fathom, Jack McDevitt repeatedly suggests we confront and try harder to understand Otherness. Only then will humans be able to help each other, and thus ourselves. I hope Jack McDevitt wins this fight.

VA, 14 July 2016

Weird English

Seen on a coffee cup:

Yes, English can be weird. It can be understood through tough thorough thought, though.

Vonne’s Shelf: The Medusa Chronicles by Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds

The Medusa Chronicles

by Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds

Welcome! Come right on in! Have a seat! No, not those two: those Seats of Honor are saved for the authors. You should know I have correctly picked the Hugo for Best Novel for the last twenty-six years in a row! I usually wait until they are announced to pick them, but this year we’ll just go ahead and call this over and done!

Here’s how we do reviews here: First, because my target audience is families and their SF starving guppies, we begin with Parental Advisories. This time they will take only FIVE important words, then be followed by a bit of meaningless drivel.

I will briefly summarize the prequel to this novel, A Meeting With Medusa by Sir Arthur C. Clarke for reference. This is completely unnecessary, as the Presumptive Hugo in question does a nice job of that. So I will do it in only FOUR words, then explain how I got this for free, and recommend it.

Then, we will give a synopsis of this fine novel in only THREE words, followed by more drivel about what I think the authors did exactly right! Spoilers are usually studiously avoided.

After that, I’ll tell you what makes this duo so AMAZING, and even riff on the Publishing House and what they did right!

Then there will be Kool-Aid and donuts for everyone in the Lounge.

  • Parental Advisories: EVERYBODY SHOULD READ THIS NOVEL! (Word count: 5, as promised.) There is no profanity (unless you count “darn,” which would be rather silly); no sex or nudity; some creature violence, but this kind of violence is essential to help our young ones develop consciences and respect for our fellow denizens here on Earth. The nerdy science bits are challenging, but young minds need a good challenge.
  • Summary of A Meeting With Medusa by Sir Arthur C. Clarke: GO READ TO REFRESH! (Word count: 4, as promised.) This novel does this pretty good, but it is better to read the original. It was published in Playboy magazine in 1971 and somehow won the Nebula Award for best Novella in 1972. (Someone must have actually been buying Playboy for the articles!)

I got this free by downloading the Freda app from Windows 10 (yes, I feel your pain), then uploading it to Google Drive. From there, I downloaded the free FBReader app in Google’s Play Store, and voila! I had it on my Android tablet as well. I even recommend reading it before and after this novel to appreciate it even more. (Apple people, I feel your pain. Microsoft and Apple need to get a grip on reality. Google blew up proprietary computerization marketing ploys long ago.) Get it however you can, but get it!

  • Summary of this novel: GO. READ. NOW. (Word count: 3, as promised.) Our cyborg hero, Howard Falcon, mitigates internal human factions, tries to mediate war with the Machines, and protect his beloved Jupiter and the Medusae over a period of almost a thousand years. This journey will take him into an ever growing universe of options, and blew my mind! It is

[AWESOME!]

Wait, what was that? Sounded like an

[AWESOME!]

There it is! Hearken the herald angelic choir is singing this novel’s praises! See, up there? Golden glowing visages, white wings gently holding them aloft, while they sing above to

[AWESOME!]

OMG! Literally! Supernatural Scientist! I wonder which of His nine billion names I should use. Maybe all of them? Oh, wait, Sir Clarke already explained what happens when you do that. Never mind, none will do for now.

But, look! Even The Big Guy Himself is giving this one thumbs up!

There are three things the authors do exactly right!

First, they allow the Machines to think they are immortal and flawless, and then point out those flaws and their mortality as the story progresses. There has been a meme in SF for too long that computers and machines are perfect and last forever, and I have never experienced that! I blow out a PC every few years, and my tablet has only a few months left before it goes to wherever tablets go when they die. Even Sir Arthur knew better than that (remember Hal?), but more on that coming up next!

Second, the authors brilliantly chose to stay in Sir Arthur’s universe! Written in 1971, there is much that the original story gets wrong about the near future, a future we have been living. But, the authors wisely chose to stay in place, writing a wondrous alternate universe that remained faithful to Clarke’s vision.

Note this excerpt (page 115):

“’It’s not that. It’s the darn music.’

Mo laughed. ‘Sacrilege, man. That’s Colonel John Glenn’s Lonely Hearts Club Band . . . The end of the world never had a better soundtrack.’”

I don’t care who you are, that’s FUNNY! And this novel is filled with delightful details like that. They even incorporate aspects of 2001: A Space Odyssey into this! Absolutely

[BRILLO!]

Wow. Get back on bass, Gabriel. A little off key, there. Are you guys about done?

Third, they RESOLVE this story, while leaving open the option for further adventures. Too many SF writers today end on a “Wow, dude, I have no idea what happened there” note. No resolution; just something vague. Even Clarke did that a time or three. Not here! They fantastically imagine what most of us mere mortals can hardly wrap our brains around, and then take us on that journey! It is amazing and

[BRILLO!]

Um, that’s unnecessary, guys. I think you can all go on about angel duties. Please?

Alastair Reynolds has been churning out great Science Fiction for 15 years now, with only a couple of missteps (Poseidon’s Wake being one), and I am a HUGE fan. His works are always intriguing, and watching him grow as a writer is fascinating! While on this subject, Mr. Reynolds, congratulations again for the Locus Award for Slow Bullets! About time, I think!

Stephen Baxter has been churning out the most boring Science Fiction for who cares how long. Usually he bores me to death, but in Moonseed, he only bored me to tears, which is a good thing. That opinion might offend some folks, but well, there it is. Actually, the real problem is that he so SMART, and I probably am just not on that playing field.

What happens when they team up? It is

[AWESOME!]

Okay, guys, you’re just getting annoying now. Enough, already.

The pairing of Baxter and Reynolds is greater than the sum of their parts! This one gets the science right, and the characters are well drawn and vibrant. I LOVE THIS BOOK!

Lastly, the publisher is Saga Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. They did such a great job with this, that I could find only ONE typo! ONE! (On page 132 near the bottom, “Konicki’s” should be “Kon-Tiki’s.”) Americans might think “fulfil” and “distil” are both missing an extra “L” at the end, but they are talking about the American Language, not the English Language. In English, one “L” is correct. (George Bernard Shaw is attributed as saying, “England and America are two countries divided by a common language.” So true!)

Gollancz doesn’t even employ a proofreader as far as I know, and Tor only has one come in on weekends to take out the trash and is given a red pencil if they decide to browse something.

Really, this is

[BRILLO!]

Are you going to do that all night? I have to get some sleep!

Enjoy your Hugo award, gentlemen, you’ve earned it.

What? Gone? Sorry folks. The angelic choir apparently took  all the Kool-Aid and donuts. Yeah, YOU try to get them back! Cheers!

Vonne Anton

10 July 2016

 

Vonne’s Shelf: Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer

Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer

This is a very different book from most Sawyer novels. Oh, yes, he hits some familiar notes which normally elevate his novels into extremely thought provoking science, with a strong correlation to humanity. He is normally excellent, but this one doesn’t meet the standard he himself has established. But there may be a real and forgiving reason for that.

This review is way too long, and will focus on four things: The omnipresent parental advisories; a brief synopsis of the novel without revealing any spoilers; my take on the novel itself and its weaknesses; and then a short love letter to Mr. Sawyer from a very big fan.

Uno: Parental Advisories

Profanity: Lots! More than any other RSJ novel. Pervasive f-bombs, but there may be an enlightening reason for this.

Sex/nudity – not explicit, but one line is cringe worthy, and quite puerile. I give it to you in its unedited state:  “But I thought Kayla looked absolutely stunning: smooth skin; flat tummy; small, high breasts; and a landing strip that was presumably her hair’s natural dark brown.” Did you cringe when you read “landing strip”? If so, that might mean you are a Q3 (which will be explained later). That is easily the worst sentence in this book.

Violence: Lots! Civilization is descending into chaos – even in Canada, of all places – and the protagonists must plot their course through some of the worst of it.

Generally speaking, if you liked Mr. Sawyer’s WWW series for its Young Adult targeted audience, do not expect that from this book. This is very different from his YA WWW series, and even all other Sawyer novels.

Dos: Synopsis.

The story is set in 2020. Professor James Marchuk, a psychology educator with the University of Manitoba, is asked to serve as an expert witness on psychopathy in a capital murder case in the US. He gets destroyed on the witness stand by the prosecuting attorney. He realizes that he is missing memories from first half of 2001, some 20 years earlier.

When he gets home to Canada, he meets Kayla Huron, who claims to be his former girlfriend during those missing months. He finds out their breakup had been disturbingly violent, and he doesn’t remember it. He confers with his mentor, the blind professor Menno Warkentin. He had been one of Jim’s teachers during that time period. Professor Warkentin cautions him that some memories are best left un-remembered. A “Quantum Night,” in one sense. Jim will find those memories contain quite a bit of violence, and a life changing event of guilt over a Downs Syndrome child.

Kayla works on quantum physics studies into consciousness at a synchrotron in Saskatoon, mapping the human brain to see if its processes are quantum physical in nature. The synchrotron is a smaller version of the Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Their team believes people fall into three Q (for Quantum) states: Q1, or p-zed, are non-thinking automatons going through life without any inner voice, similar to mob mentality or (famously fabled) lemmings; Q2 are psychopaths – 1/3 of population, demonstrated by amoral bankers, politicians, lawyers, CEOs, etc. They are not necessarily serial killers, but oblivious to feelings of others, being only interested in what is best for themselves; and Q3s. These have consciences and are the smallest group, intelligent, sympathetic, good people. The basic ratio of the populace in human society of these quantum thinkers seems to be 4:2:1, in the same order of Q1, 2, and 3.

Meanwhile, human society seems to be sinking into its own Quantum Night of increasing violence and, by the end of the novel, is poised on the brink of a nuclear war, with missiles ready to fly to and from Russia and the US. They all will fly over Canada, which seems to have become a threat to world peace. That’s what it says: Canada?

All of this will be played out as Jim discovers revelatory events he participated in during those missing months of 2001, escalating violence, and perhaps being able to find a quantum solution that may bring the world to peace.

Amid all this anger, guilt, and violence, our hero will tell some pretty smart jokes, giving much needed comic relief.

The first 135 pages are filled with info-dumps with the occasional humanity thrown in to remind us we are following a story and not experiencing pedantic treatises on psychopathy, quantum physics, neurological brain mapping, etc. Then around page 140, we get Chapter 20, and from then on, the tension builds, and the suspense takes a return route to what Mr. Sawyer writes best, stories about people.

How all this plays into Jim Marchuk’s discovery of missing months, revelations, quandaries, violence, approaching WW3, will be played out nicely. Can there be a quantum physics solution to increasing madness?

Tres: My Take.

There seems to be three acts to this play. Act One is info-dump. Act Two is interpersonal relationships adjusting to mounting memories and a family receiving one of their own back. Act Three is world-wide chaos and an unexpected solution for the world as a whole. It probably would have been better if those all merged together and were played out as various parts of one coherent novel. It was hard for me to match the sudden escalation of violence near the end when it was downplayed in the earlier Acts.

Sometimes, I wondered if Jim was a psychopath. He professes to have a utilitarian philosophy, in which he makes decisions based on what he thinks is the best thing to do to benefit the most, or at least harm the least. Notably, in the middle of the story he is attacked on a lonely stretch of highway by two men. He kills one of them in self defense, and is not arrested by the officers who arrive on the scene. There are two references to this event later, one of them stating how much it bothered Jim, but really no remorse is evident in either his actions or musings. He sleeps just fine!

There is also a significant plot deviation in Jim’s transitions from a Q3 to a Q1 p-zed that – without mob influence – kills one scientist and attempts to kill another; then transitions from Q1 p-zed to a Q2 psychopath willing to seriously injure the one he didn’t kill for the rest of their life. Finally, he is returned to his original Q3 good guy quantum state. A brief Quantum Night, but all the violence should have happened in the Q2 psychopath state, and it didn’t.

In reality, most people are not really p-zeds, but don’t want to get involved in madness. Too, many people change as they grow older, usually through education and experience, not quantum tinkering. Perhaps you have seen people become better (then a few of them back slide in traumatic circumstances); or have seen people get worse, often due to association (then a few of them return to being better people).

Too, quantum states do not excuse psychopaths for behavior, including Hitler and his cohorts, whom are repeatedly referenced as examples of psychopathy. It almost sounded like that was a defense for their atrocities, and the rest of the German populace were characterized as Psychological Zombies (p-zeds) who went along mindlessly. Having known a German tailor who lived in Germany at the time, he told me they enjoyed prosperity for the first time since the end of WW1, and were finally proud of their recovery. They suspected something bad was going on in those camps, but didn’t really want to know, as it might jeopardize their prosperity. Much like the US behaves now.

Often, we in the science fiction genre make a point of hailing the Science portion of that nametag. For this one, I am going to focus on the Fiction part of the tag. It’s only a story; a story that did not suspend my disbelief sufficient to recommend.

When I don’t recommend something, it is usually called “Vonne’s Unshelf” rather than “Vonne’s Shelf.” Why might this stay on my shelf, when it’s not really being recommended? Because of how important it is to fans of Robert J. Sawyer.

Quatro, and Lastly, a love letter: 

Dear Mr. Sawyer:  In the last paragraph of your Acknowledgment introductory piece, you reveal that you haven’t published in three years because you lost your younger brother to lung cancer in the intervening years. That is tragic, and we feel for you and your family. Grieving includes anger and guilt, and this novel plays these themes out in force. That’s why this goes on the shelf; not because it is better than your other works, but because I think it is revealing of where you are right now, and that is as it should be at this time for you. (Is it possible that mourning explains the angry language and increased violence in this novel? Only you can know for sure.) It is sometimes said that a death of a loved one leaves a hole in our hearts or lives. That hole could be a black hole, where we are fortunate to stay in its accretion disk and avoid being swallowed up by the weighty gravity of grief.

You should know that you hold a unique place in my heart. Several years ago, in Factoring Humanity, you told the story of a sub-human little girl who had great difficulty with language. “Off-screen,” it seems that she had been practicing to say something clearly to her Dad. When she finally speaks for the first and only time, I set my book mark in place, propped my elbows on my knees and my face in my hands, and wept through my fingers. You, Mr. Sawyer, are the only SF writer who has made me weep for the poignant joy of that moment.

This is why I will continue to read your books, because you are simply that GOOD! Your humanity is usually on display, and we deeply love you for it.

So please, Mr. Sawyer, from my family to yours: May you have love, peace, comfort, hope, and all our best wishes as you grapple with your loss.

Truly Yours,

Vonne Anton

4 July 2016