Recent Reading: Science Fiction

I’ve been a steady reader of science fiction for decades, since the days when the “Age of Wonder” could be defined as Twelve, and most of the writers and readers were male. That has changed, happily, and these days science fiction is no longer a male bastion. It has, in fact, expanded to include science fiction romance and/or romantic science fiction, and these two books could tip into either of those categories.

Gunpowder AlchemyJeannie Lin’s Gunpowder Alchemy, the story of Jin Soling, once the daughter of privilege, now struggling to care for her eight-year-old brother and opium-addicted mother, takes place in an alternate China in 1850. The coastal ports of the Empire are full of Westerners with their steam-driven ships airships and weapons, while Chinese technology is powered by gunpowder.

Soling’s two-day journey to the provincial capital, where she hopes to sell the last treasure left by her engineer father, goes horribly awry, sending her on weeks-long journeys to the port cities and the open sea, and to meetings with Westerners and one-time colleagues of her disgraced father, including Chen Chang-wei, the man to whom she was promised at the age of ten. The betrothal was dissolved long ago, but Soling and Chang-wei become friends, and perhaps more, as he helps her find her way back to her family in the face of pirates and rebels. The background of Western invasion, the opium trade, and rebellion within the Empire is very much a part of Soling’s story, as is her independence as an apprentice physician.

Gunpowder Alchemy is a departure from Jeannie Lin’s historical romance novels set in 9th century Tang China, and an enjoyable twist on the steampunk genre. A brief excerpt of Soling’s next adventure, Clockwork Samurai, is included. I’ll definitely be watching for it.

Echo 8, by Sharon Lynn Fisher, is set in a near-future version of Seattle, not quite ours but very close. Tess Caufield is a parapsychologist with Seattle Psi, Ross McGinnis is an FBI agent assigned as her Echo 8bodyguard, and Jake Parker is a captive Echo, a person displaced from an alternate Earth nearly destroyed by a asteroid. The FBI is involved because the Echoes, not all of them captive, are dangerous, energy vampires needing to feed on native humans to survive.

As Tess and Ross delve deeper into the mysterious appearances—and disappearances—of the Echoes and their victims, the dangers mount on both personal and wider levels, while some of the Echoes hit shockingly close to home. Fisher draws a vivid picture of Tess’ Seattle and the parallel ruined Earth, and had me rooting for her characters.

I can also recommend Fisher’s previous books, Ghost Planet and The Ophelia Prophecy; all three are completely different stand alone science fiction romance novels.

Recent Reading

Half Price Books is having a holiday weekend sale, and so far I’ve managed to not set foot in the place, although I did download two books to my Kindle this morning. Meanwhile, I’m trying to catch up on reading and reviewing books. Here are a few I’ve liked recently: nonfiction, science fiction, mystery and, of course, romance.

I brought Queen of Your Own Life, by Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, home from the recent RWA conference in San Antonio. Ratzlaff was one of the featured speakers at the conference, speaking on author platforms and online resources, but this book is not about that. The subtitle is The Grown-Up Woman’s Guide to Claiming Happiness and Getting the Life You Deserve. It’s a short, easy read, but it includes some thought-provoking insights from its two authors on problems most women will identify with: self esteem, defending boundaries, and female friendship. Definitely worth reading.

Sharon Lynn Fisher’s first novel, Ghost Planet, was a colony planet story with a twist. The Ophelia Prophecy is The Ophelia Prophecycompletely different, set on Earth after humanity has nearly been destroyed by the results of genetic engineering gone wildly out of control. The world is now controlled by the Manti, the largely (but not always) humanoid results of those experiments. The heroine, Asha, is a member of the isolated human community of Sanctuary, until the day she wakes up along the lake shore near a Manti male called Pax. Neither of them remembers how they came to be there, and both of them have to protect and to unravel. Their travels in Pax’s sentient scout ship, complicated by Pax’s much more mantis-like sister Iris, lead them first to another pocket of humanity and then to the Manti capital in Granada, torn by factions within the Manti. The Ophelia Prophecy is an exciting story as well as a complicated look at uncontrolled biological experimentation run amok, with a romance for good measure.

Double Whammy, by Gretchen Archer, is a very funny and very entertaining mystery, first in a series featuring Davis Way, ex-cop from Pine Apple, Alabama (where her dad is the police Double Whammychief and her twice-ex husband’s family lives). In serious need of a new job, Davis signs on with a Biloxi casino, little suspecting why she’s really been hired. Assigned to seemingly random jobs (and disguises) around the casino, Davis eventually figures out what the real problem is, with the aid of a seemingly disinterested cab driver. In the meantime, Davis falls in love with the absentee owner of her sub-let condo while avoiding another entanglement with her worthless twice-ex husband. Davis, who just might be Stephanie Plum’s distant cousin, returns in Double Dip and Double Strike, and I plan to add those to my Kindle. (I was offered a copy of Double Whammy to review—which was extremely flattering—but I already had it on my Kindle. So far I have enjoyed all the Henery Press cozy mysteries I’ve read.)

For pure romance, I recommend Terri Osburn’s Meant To Be, the first in in her Anchor Island series. When Beth Chandler, on her way to visit her fiance’s family on Anchor Island, has a Meant To Bepanic attack on the ferry (she has a serious water phobia), she has no idea the man who comes to her rescue is her fiance’s brother. Or that first impressions will lead to deep attraction. But how can a self-respecting girl like Beth switch brothers? Even worse, on a small island where everyone knows each other? The story is full of wonderful characters and a charming setting, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The next Anchor Island romance, Up to the Challenge, is waiting on the ever-expanding invisible To Be Read shelf on my Kindle, and I just downloaded the third, Home To Stay.


Welcome, 2013!

The weather has been grey today, the temperature dropping from a morning high of 57 degrees.  I went out to get my newspaper at 8:30 and haven’t been out the door since.  I spent a chunk of the morning (after reading the paper and watching an old Perry Mason episode) dithering over all the Productive Tasks I thought I should accomplish on my day off.  I have lists of them, on my computer monitor, on scraps of paper, in my head.  Pieces I need to write, tasks for my RWA chapter, sections of the house to clean and declutter, and so on.  I’m not very good at relaxing.

I finally convinced myself that this was a Day Off, for heaven’s sake, and I settled on the couch with Nutmeg the cat, a Mysteries in the Museum marathon running on the background TV, and Janet Evanovich’s Notorious Nineteen.  Stephanie Plum’s insane adventures kept me entertained all afternoon, as she and Lula tracked down a few bad guys, blew up a few cars, and made me laugh out loud more than once.

I haven’t had (or given myself) too many chances to sit down and read a book for a while.  I used to read a hundred or more books a year easily, but it’s harder to do that when you work full time at a paying job and take up writing as your other job.  Doesn’t leave a lot of time, and it’s way too easy to fall asleep over even a good book late at night.

This year I read 39 books.  Yes, I keep a list (you mean not everyone does?).  Ten romances (six on paper, four on Kindle), ranging from Regency (Cheryl Bolen) to steampunk (Zoe Archer), paranormal (Darynda Jones) to inspirational (Deeanne Gist), mostly contemporary settings.  I would read more romance–I have stacks of them To Be Read–if I wasn’t writing romance myself.  I suppose I’m afraid of seepage.  And, of course, if I had more time, because I love other genres, too.

I read nine mystery novels (only one on Kindle) this year, mostly on the humorous end, by Diane Kelly, Elaine Viets, Joan Hess, Susan M. Boyer, and Spencer Quinn, with Marcia Muller on the more serious side and Margaret Maron in the middle.   I only read five science fiction novels (one on Kindle), although it’s not easy to draw a line–Zoe Archer’s romance titles are also science fiction, and Sharon Lynn Fisher’s Ghost Planet is also a romance.

I also read four uncategorized mainstream novels, two on Kindle and two on paper, and eleven non-fiction books (six on Kindle, five on paper).  Of the non-fiction, four were on writing topics and three on social media.  The others included a gorgeously illustrated book on all things steampunk and a massive (but fascinating) biography of Queen Elizabeth II.

Here on my blog, WordPress tells me, I published 81 posts in 2012, with 91 pictures.  I had 21,000 page views (I stand amazed!) by visitors from 96 countries (most of them from the US, with significant numbers from Canada, the UK and Australia).  My most-read posts all concern the TV show Hell on Wheels;  that was hardly my goal when I began blogging, but I do find the show fascinating, and I’m looking forward to the next season.

On the writing front, I’m afraid I’ve been more involved in RWA activities than in actual writing.  I’ve served as president of the West Houston chapter (that’s a chunk of the To Do list on my computer monitor right there), been a finalist in the Golden Heart contest for the second year in a row, and traveled to the RWA national conference in Anaheim.  I’ve written columns and articles for my chapters’ newsletters.  I’ve done quite a bit of editing/revising/polishing, begun a new novel, and I’m learning to use Scrivener.

So, in short, I always have two or three bookmarks in play, even if I don’t get through the books as fast as I used to.  I’m building my “Internet platform,” but only as fast as I enjoy doing so.  And I’m pretty much always planning, plotting, or writing something.  I hope to continue all of this through 2013.  Maybe I’ll even manage to clean the rest of the house and hire someone to do something about my yard.  And remodel the bathrooms.  Maybe.

Happy New Year 2013

Book Review: Sharon Lynn Fisher’s Ghost Planet

With Ghost Planet, Sharon Lynn Fisher has come up with a truly unique premise.  I’m not giving anything away when I say that the protagonist, Elizabeth Cole, dies before the book opens.  It takes her a while to figure this out, though.  In fact neither she nor Murphy, her prospective supervisor at the New Seattle Counseling Center on the planet Ardagh 1, realizes that Elizabeth is a ghost until an alarm goes off when she passes through a sensor.

Ghost PlanetThe two had met only once, casually, years earlier on Earth, but that tenuous connection has turned Elizabeth into Murphy’s personal ghost (supplanting his rather mousy Aunt Maeve).  This strange relationship traps the two together, bound by a force that requires Elizabeth to stay near Murphy but separated by the Ghost Protocol, a measure devised by Murphy to protect the colonists from the emotional damage done by the ghosts, aliens who replicate, and believe themselves to be, the settlers’ lost friends and loved ones.

Elizabeth is not your average ghost.  With her academic background and research skills, she sets out to discover the secrets of the planet, upsetting the established order and drawing Murphy with her into a roller coaster adventure.  Can they save themselves?  The ghosts?  The colonists?  The planet?

This well-done science fiction romance will satisfy lovers of both genres, weaving the love story through a tale grounded in scientific theory and superb world building.  Fisher leaves enough planetary secrets hidden to warrant a sequel, and I hope there will be another visit to Ardagh 1 in store.  Highly recommended!





The Influence of Books, Part 5

That little piece of notepad paper is still on my desk, and I’ve arrived at the line for science fiction.  There are three names there, plucked out of my head the night I made the list, but that’s not enough.  Not for science fiction.  I’m doubling up on this one.

I don’t read as much science fiction these days as I once did–I don’t have the leisure to read as much of anything as I used to–but I have belonged to the Science Fiction Book Club for decades, and my bookshelves are full of SFBC editions.  As I write this I am reading Ghost Planet by Sharon Lynn Fisher, a Golden Heart finalist in paranormal romance published as science fiction by TOR Books.

If I go back to my school days, I remember reading L. Sprague De Camps and Fletcher Pratt’s Enchanter books, James Blish’s Cities in Flight tetralogy, books by Hal Clement and many others, but the big three were Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Poul Anderson.

Asimov wrote (amongst his truly vast output) juveniles under the pseudonym Lucky French, and I’m sure I read some of those, but the books that I remember, and that I read over and over, were the Foundation trilogy.   Looking at Amazon, I am reminded that Asimov continued to write in the Foundation universe, and that younger authors carried on later, but the original trilogy consisted of Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation.  Like nearly all of Asmiov’s work, these were stories of humans.  They might colonize the Galaxy, but the only aliens they met were themselves.

Heinlein also wrote a stack of juveniles–no one called them Young Adult novels back then–and I read those along with his adult novels, works like Stranger in a Strange Land, which seemed very daring in their day.  A handful of his many stories stick in my mind:  “The Roads Must Roll,” from his pulp fiction days, The Door Into Summer, Revolt in 2100.  I’m sure I read most, if not all, of his Future History series.  The only Heinlein book on my shelf today is a totally independent novel called Glory Road.  I’m not really sure why–on rereading, it didn’t quite live up to memory.  An omnibus edition of some of the juveniles is no longer on my shelf; I don’t think I even read all three of the novels in it.  But when I first read them, they fed my thirst for books and my dreams of the future.

I still have a whole row of Poul Anderson’s books on my shelf, old favorites including Three Hearts and Three Lions, The High Crusade, and several of his Time Patrol stories, as well as three anthologies of the stories and short novels that made up Anderson’s future history, the Technic Civilization Saga.  Like Asimov and Heinlein, Anderson produced an enormous body of work; his universe was populated with exotic aliens, merchant traders, and galactic empires.  Some of them read a bit too much like pulp fiction today–one of the anthologies has a bookmark in it where I apparently stopped reading and put it back on the shelf–but I devoured them all back in the day.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that these authors from my science fiction past are all men.  The three names on my notepad, like my friend Sharon Fisher, are women, and they all have a prominent place on my keeper shelf (the picture at the top of these pages includes some of my science fiction keepers).  I’ll be back with those three names, but right now I’m going to fix dinner and turn on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.


Buying Books Again

Well, that’s hardly news.  How about this:  I went into the local Barnes & Noble yesterday and didn’t buy any books at all.  I was there to pick up some gift cards, but I did wander through the store, looking.  I’m afraid, though, that I’ve reached the point of feeling a bit overwhelmed in a giant bookstore, and find myself wishing, not for the first time, that there were more small ones left in the world.  There’s just too much clamoring for my attention in the big ones.

Not that I wasn’t tempted.  But I have two book orders outstanding, not to mention a couple of recent instant gratification episodes involving my Kindle.  And no more time to read than usual.

Last weekend I ordered a stack of paperbacks from Amazon.  Three of my Starcatcher sisters have books just out, their Golden Heart finalist manuscripts now in print, and I wanted paper copies of those:  Valerie Bowman’s Secrets of a Wedding Night, Tracy Brogan’s Crazy Little Thing, and Sharon Lynn Fisher’s Ghost Planet.

As long as I was there, I ordered Elaine Viets’ latest Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper mystery, Murder Is a Piece of Cake.  Josie Marcus and Helen Hawthorne, Viets’ other series character, are two of my favorites, and I’ve read them all.  Amazon was running a buy three, get one free sale that day, and three of my four books qualified, so I ordered one more, Dipped, Stripped and Dead, by Elise Hyatt, the first in a series recommended by my friend Jane Perrine.

Then I wandered over to the Mystery Guild and preordered another stack by favorite mystery authors:  Janet Evanovich’s Notorious Nineteen, Margaret Maron’s The Buzzard Table, and Marcia Muller’s Looking for Yesterday.  These are all the latest installments in series I’ve been reading since their first cases, featuring Stephanie Plum (Evanovich), Deborah Knott (Maron), and Sharon McCone (Muller).   And, from one of my favorite SF series, I ordered Lois McMaster Bujold’s new Vorkosigan novel, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.

While I’m waiting for all those paper books to arrive, I downloaded Heather MacAllister’s Haunted Spouse, a Halloween romance about an architect who specializes in designing Haunted Houses.  Who knew?  I started reading this one at lunch yesterday, and it’s charming and fun.

I know I’ll never catch up.  I don’t care.  There are so many worse vices and more dangerous addictions.  Binge book buying seems pretty tame in comparison.