Nominations for Book Discussion Group (BDG) from July to October 2001

The nomination period is open until Thursday, 26 April (incl.).



Nominated books: 9 (26 April 2001)

Recommendations:


Raphael Carter: The Fortunate Fall


  • Keith Hartman: The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse
    I read this book quite a while ago, but I still pull it out every so often for a chuckle. There is also a lot of social commentary in it and a unique vision of a near-future Atlanta. I like the twists on issues such as will anti-abortionists suddenly find abortion okay if potential homosexuality can be detected in a fetus.  I also like the coming of age story, but would be curious of other people's views on the two teenagers (I am a high school teacher) and on the depiction of Wicca.  In general, there is just a lot happening in the book that seems worth discussing.

    All the quotes below are from Amazon
    "The date is September 2024. Atlanta is a patchwork of subcultures, coexisting but not communicating. Young gays are all Catholic; since the gay gene was identified, others countenance abortion in the case of homosexuality. Baptists, represented by televangelist media mogul and U.S. Senator Zachary Stonewall, denounce Wiccans as Satanists (along with most other denominations). The Wiccans worship naked, though, and Wiccan magick actually works. The Cherokee made their pile in casino gambling and seek a return to Native culture in Northern Georgia, led by a cross-dressing shaman who actually sees the spirit world.

    That's the backdrop for The Gumshoe, The Witch, and The Virtual Corpse, a noir mystery-thriller with SF and fantasy elements…"

    Charles de Lint, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 1999:
    "If you can get past the unwieldy (and rather too cutesy) title, there's a fine debut novel by Keith Hartman. What kind of novel I'm at a little of a loss to say. Equal arguments can be made that it's a police procedural, a contemporary Wiccan fantasy, a gay PI novel, a near future sf thriller, a novel of social commentary, and even, in the sections from the point of view of one character, a YA coming of age story.

    In the end, it's a bit of them all, I suppose, which is part of what made me enjoy it so much. I love a book that breaks down the walls between genres, that just tells a story, the author trusting himself and the story enough to let it go wherever it leads him. "

    Oh yes, I enjoyed this novel. Very much. It's a deft, unusual combination of mystery, social commentary, fantasy, and humor. I couldn't have told you where it was going until the last chapter, but I kept reading faster and faster find out. --P.C. Hodgell

    A Fabulous romp-- with some sharp edges. --Nicola Griffith

    Liked his hero, loved his plot, and envied his style --Mike Resnick

    Witty, inventive, and endlessly entertaining, Hartman's debut novel seamlessly weaves the plausible and the outrageous, the hilarious and the fearful. This is an amazing book. --Nancy Kress

    This is a wonderful first novel by an exciting new author. I look forward to seeing more of his work. --Lee Killough

    Compelling and engrossing, this book grabbed me and didn't let go until long after the end. --Nina Kiriki Hoffman



    Mercedes Lackey: The Black Swan
    Description

    AS the only child of a powerful sorcerer, Odile Von Rothbart has studied the magical arts under  her father's stern tutelage all her life.  Yet she feels only fear toward him.  For considering his wife's untimely death the ultimate betrayalk, BAron Von Rothbart scours the land in the shape of a great bird of prey.  His personal mission is to capture women who arouse his wrath and inspire his rage for vegeance against all womankind.  These poor souls he turns into swans - forcing them to spend thier lives as beautiful but powerless animals who only regain thier human forms briefly eacn night by the transitory light of the moon.  Yet though Odile is terrified of him, she has learned far more than her father intended to teach her - both of the magical arts and of Rothbart's nature.  And both as a woman and the guardian of his swan flock, her heart goes out to each and every young maiden ensorcelled by her father.     And then the noblest of Von Rothbart's enchanted flock, the Princess Odette, finds the courage to confront her captor, wrestling from him a pact which could lead to freedom for herself and all the swan maidens. Knowing Von Rothbart will use all his magical cunning to avoid honoring this pact, will Odile have the strength to face him in a final magical confrontation which, if she fails, will lead to her death and the murder
    of all her flock?



    Ursula K. Le Guin: Always Coming Home
    First published in 1985.

    There is also a CD with songs and poems of the Valley available ($18).

    Based on the recommendations my suggestion is to read the frame story, "Stone Telling":
    - Part one, p.7-42,
    - Part Two, p. 173-202,
    - Part Three, p. 340-387

    Reviews:

    Danny Yee's Book Reviews

    "The subject of Le Guin's work is the Kesh - a people who inhabit a valley in a far-future California and who are clearly based on native American models. Mostly she lets them speak for themselves, allowing the reader to learn about them through a montage of their short stories, poems, and myths. These are laid out around a central novella, which tells the story of a woman called Stonetelling who leaves the valley to live with her father's people, the Condor. The "back of the book" contains additional information about the Kesh in more traditional ethnographic form. While there are a few passages of reflexive commentary in Always Coming Home (where Pandora the archaeologist addresses the reader directly) and some of these make direct comments on contemporary issues, Le Guin's "message" is not directly imparted. [...]"



    Joan Slonczewski: Brain Plague
    This is a book in Slonczewski's future that also includes _A Door Into Ocean_, _Daughter of Elysium_, and _Children Star_ but definately can stand alone.  It is set in the same approximate present as _Children Star_ on Valan (the twin planet to Elysium).  Briefly, it deals with issues of microbial 'people', control, infection, and oh so many more things.  The plot follows an artist, who due in part to economic pressures and feelings of social threat puts herself on the list to receive brain-enhancing technology.  It turns out that this new technology is really special strains of microbial colonies (readers of _Children's Star will recognize the idea) that are also part of those warnings (the brain plague) of infection and slavery (humans to microorganisms).

    I thought it was a really great book, and it has so many issues I want to discuss about it, and I think it is very much worth taking up on the FSFFU BDG



    Starhawk: The Fifth Sacred Thing
    From the Publisher
    Imagine a world without poverty, hunger, or hatred, where a rich culture honors its diverse mix of races, religions, and heritages, and the Four Sacred Things that sustain all life - earth, air, fire, and water - are vallued unconditionally. Now imagine the opposite: a nightmare world in which an authoritarian regime polices an apartheid state, access to food and water is restricted to those who obey the corrupt official religion, women are
    property of their husbands or the state, and children are bred for prostitution and war. The best and worst of our possible futures are poised to clash in twenty-first-century California, and the outcome rests on the wisdom and courage of one clan caught in the conflict. Ninety-eight-year-old Maya has helped shape the ecumenical culture of the North by reviving and re-creating an earth-based spiritual tradition. Madrone, the granddaughter of Maya's longtime lovers, is a healer trying to thwart recurring epidemics that she suspects are biological warfare waged by the tyrannical South. Bird, Maya's grandson, returns from ten years in a Southern prison with warnings of impending invasion and an urgent request for help from the resistance in the hills. When Madrone travels south to aid the rebels and search for a cure to the deadly viruses, she finds herself fighting for her own life alongside battle-weary guerrillas and beautiful pirates. Meanwhile, in the North debates rage about how to repel the invaders. "All war is first waged in the imagination, first conducted to limit our dreams and visions," Maya says, and warns that by killing their enemies, they may themselves become transformed by violence and destroy all they have built. Bird champions her alternative vision and becomes a leader of the faction calling for nonviolent resistance. When he is captured and pressured to cooperate with the enemy, the fate of the North hangs in the balance. Richly imagined and beautifully written, The Fifth Sacred Thing is a powerful novel


    David Weber: The Honor of the Queen (Honor Harrington)
    We've had some discussions about the Honor Harrington series on this list before, and I know there are some who just flat-out don't like this space jockey heroine.  I do.

    This is the second of the series. It's the first one that I read  and it made me a fan. Most reviewers think it outshines the first HH  book (On Basilisk Station) and I agree. You don't need to have read the first one to enjoy this one.

    Is it feminist? People will disagree about this, and already have if you check the archives. It's action-packed, lots of military stuff, a huge cast of characters.

    And, just for fun -- here are three interesting reviews from readers on amazon...

    * ... I passed this and other Honor Harrington books because of the female lead character. I made a BIG MISTAKE. The is one of the best sci-fi book I have read in a LONG time. Honor Harrington makes other space heros (Cpt. Kirk and company) look like whimps! [sic]

    * ... Basically, I think it's a sin to read this book...

    * ... As for this book it is bigoted. it puts down Christians and over-amplifies the prejudice against women. The story, if it were set in that time, would not at all happened that way...

    The Christian bigotry noted above relates to a planet with a fundamentalist religion-type society into which Honor comes as part of her job.



    Janine Ellen Young: The Bridge
    From Mysterious Galaxy

    Contact. Most of us have always assumed that contact with an alien species, if it came at all, would (1) come in the
    form of radio waves, (2) be viewed through the Hubble Space Telescope by some scientist geek, or (3) arrive as little green men in neat flying saucers. That said, suppose contact took an entirely different vector. Suppose, if you will, there was an alien species — let's call them Karasans — who communicate through the exchange of genetic material.

    Contact. A message of understanding and welcome, created to bridge worlds, has just crossed the cosmos and fulfilled its mission — in the form of a virus.

    It begins with the end of the world as we know it — the Pandemic. Billions die, fully ninety percent of the Earth's
    population is infected. Those who survive the plague are forever changed by it, for encoded in the virus is the very essence of what it means to be Karasan. Many who survive initially, and are not killed in the aftermath, are driven to madness and/or suicide by what they have experienced. Some "lucky" few have been given the  knowledge needed to bridge the gap between the species, both culturally and physically — the knowledge to build a bridge to the stars. They will stop at nothing to complete their vision.

    The Bridge is, quite simply, as mind altering as the virus described in its pages. Take Carl Sagan's Contact and the most lethal contagion that Robin Cook ever imagined and you might come close to what Janine Ellen Young has accomplished here. The Bridge is, at once, science fiction at its best — complete with all that we've come to expect of the  genre — and a very personal story of understanding and hope brought to the reader  through fully realized characters. An outstanding sophomore effort from the author of the cyber-thriller, Cinderblock.

    Warner Aspect SF paperback original, $6.50.  —PMH

    While there are several POV characters in THE BRIDGE, I feel it
    qualifies.



    Sarah Zettel: Playing God
    From Booklist
    A handful of the all-female Dedelphi, representative of all the Dedelphi families, flees the internecine warfare that plagues their world--and flees an artificial plague, the mutation of the latest nasty weapon, too--to form a peaceful colony among the humans on Mars. Their leader, Praeis Shin of the t'Theria family, hopes to forge an alliance with humans for an enormous project: relocating all Dedelphi to orbiting city ships while humans eradicate the plague and clean up the Dedelphi home planet. Under Praeis and engineer and urban planner Lynn Nussbaumer, it is a hopeful collaboration, especially considering that Dedelphi are so violently allergic to humans that a mere handshake can raise poisonous welts. But Praeis and Lynn are unaware of the seething, vengeful, rebellious factions back in the Dedelphi home world who will stop at nothing to make sure that their respective families not only survive but emerge as rulers. Zettel captures both loving, emotional relationships and the feverish thrill of battle in a fast-paced novel that will satisfy the most demanding sf reader. Roberta Johns

    _Playing God_ was short-listed for the 1998 Tiptree. According to the comments of the jury gender is mostly explored biologically in this novel but I nonetheless think it worthwhile to read. According to most of the reviews it is a good read.

    One of the Tiptree jugdges' comments:

    Some rather wooden and rather politically correct human characters only highlight the fascination of Zettel's aliens, a female-centred species whose internecine conflicts and the culture consequent on their inhuman  biology were both believable and intriguing. The most interesting questions raised by this book were biological at base, and came from a parallel with humanity, and a recollection of Elaine Morgan's hypothesis, that menopause was evolved to keep old females' wisdom as a human resource, rather than have them expend their biological resources in dangerous births. The obvious twist in the Dedelphi story is the gender switch at menopause and the charmingly ironic reversal, both of all those patriarchal SF stories where aliens mutate into deadly female forms, and of all those old quips about brainless women. Because Dedelphi men are the post-menopausal form of  Dedelphi women, and they have literally lost their minds. But the less obvious twist is the question that arises in parallel with Morgan's hypothesis: is the violence that plagues this society due to the absence of "old" women? Could this book function as a parable or investigation of women's post-menopausal possibilities, a fictional version of Germaine Greer's The Change? There is no clear indication of such a purpose. Nevertheless, the potential it invokes make a shortlisting no more than its due. (SK)

    Science Fiction Weekly Review by A. M. Dellamonica


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