Good science fiction is a joy forever. John Scalzi writes good SF.
In this first installment of a new series, humanity has spread across the cosmos, and each world is united with all others under a single umbrella called The Interdependency. Interstellar travel and the spread of humanity was made possible by the discovery of a force known as The Flow, accessible at designated points in space-time. The Flow changes and shifts, opening up new areas of the universe and, occasionally, cutting off others.
The Flow is currently in a period of flux, and this fluctuation seems to be more volatile than other previous shifts. In fact, it seems that The Flow may disappear entirely within a very short time, thus leading to the collapse of the empire of the title.
The house of the Emperox, the leader of the Interdepency, is also in flux. The Emperox died suddenly and his daughter, the new Emperox, was not quite prepared to be thrust into leadership so soon. That, and the expected Flow catastrophe, makes for an uneasy start to her rule. As you may have anticipated, all the uncertainty leads to much political maneuvering — read that as plotting and backstabbing — among the rest of the ruling houses of The Interdependency.
So, politics, impending doom, human foibles, space travel, and lots of foul language. Vintage Scalzi. I can hardly wait for the next volume.
Neil Gaiman is one of the most original writers currently publishing. He defies category: how does one classify an author whose work ranges from SF to horror to social commentary to parable and back, all within the pages of one book? His style is reminiscent of Clive Barker and Harlan Ellison, perhaps with a touch of Lovecraft thrown in for seasoning.
AMERICAN GODS tells the story of the war brewing between the “old” gods of the United States — the piskies and brownies and vrokolaks brought over from the Old Country by immigrant believers — and the “new” gods of technology and progress worshipped by the descendants of those immigrants. One human, an ex-con called Shadow, is enlisted by a man calling himself Wednesday to help unite the old gods in resisting the new. Shadow, at loose ends after the sudden loss of his wife, agrees to work for Wednesday, and is plunged headlong into intrigue and strangeness, where people are not who they appear, time does not track, and even the dead do not stay in their graves.
A haunting tone poem of a novel. Highly recommended.
Although I had been intending to re-read this book for years, the impending debut of the Starz series (April 30!) finally got this book down from the shelf and into my hands in mid-April.
It’s funny how time can distort the memory of a once-read novel. I remembered this story as being mostly a road trip with Shadow and Wednesday. While there is definitely a great deal of travel involved, I had completely forgotten the events that take place in sleepy, quiet, wintry Lakeside. I had also forgotten the outcome of Wednesday’s machinations, and how truly noble Shadow turns out to be.
Now I’m prepared for the TV show. It better not be awful.
(Side observation: I expect researching this novel is what eventually led Gaiman to write Norse Mythology.)
“She breathed deeply of the scent of decaying fiction, disintegrating history, and forgotten verse, and she observed for the first time that a room full of books smelled like dessert: a sweet snack made of figs, vanilla, glue, and cleverness.”
Pause for a moment and ponder that quote.
I’d substitute cardamom for vanilla (because I’m not overly fond of vanilla), but otherwise, yes. This is what books smell like. Imminently satisfactory, is it not?
Charles Manx loves children. He wants children to be happy all the time. He seeks out special children so he can take them to Christmasland where, as you may have guessed, it’s always Christmas and children are always happy. Taking these children to Christmasland and leaving them there has the side effect of keeping Manx young and vigorous, but that’s merely an inconsequential bonus to Manx’s generosity of spirit.
Victoria McQueen, usually called Vic, rides her bicycle as an escape from her tense home atmosphere and warring parents. One day when she is still quite young, she discovers her bicycle gives her the ability to travel across a non-existent bridge and find things. She finds jewelry, and scarves, and photographs, and all manner of lost things. She tells the grownups cover stories about where she finds these items, and as she grows older, eventually comes to believe these stories herself. Because riding a bicycle across a non-existent bridge and coming out miles or even whole states away would be crazy, right?
On one of these excursions, Vic encounters Charles Manx. Manx recognizes Vic’s special talent and wants to take her to Christmasland. Of course, her talent will fuel his continued youth, but that’s not his primary motivation, of course. He has true compassion for Vic’s unhappy life and wants to alleviate her pain and suffering. Really, he means nothing but the best for these special children.
Vic manages to escape Manx. She grows up, grows older, has a child, endures multiple hospitalizations and medications (both doctor-ordered and self-prescribed) to deal with the trauma of her kidnapping and the constant murmur of voices in her head.
Then Charles Manx takes her son. And Vic must summon all her courage to go after him.
That’s the story. But this book is really about love. Vic’s love for her son and for Lou, the father of her son; Lou’s love for Vic and their child; Vic’s parents’ love for her, although she didn’t recognize such love until nearly too late; the sacrifices all parents make to keep their children safe; even Manx’s twisted version of love for the children he “saves”: all of it, every word of this novel turns on love in its many-splendoured and sometimes malformed manifestations.
NOS4A2 isn’t the best book ever, but it’s well worthy of the multiple award nominations it received and it’s certainly worth the time one spends delving into its nearly 700 pages.
Hint: Make sure you read to the very last page. Really. The VERY last page. Otherwise, you miss out.
With heavy hearts, my husband and I announce the loss of our beloved and beautiful Jacquenetta, age 20 years, 10 months, and two weeks.
Jacquenetta entered my life as a six-week-old kitten in late March 1994. She was one of two kittens that came home with me from the Garland County (Arkansas) Animal Shelter (the other kitten, Puck, was sadly lost in the woods several months later). She was quiet and affectionate and loved sitting behind me on the back of the sofa so she could groom my hair.
She was a mighty hunter in her day, a terror to the local rodent and bird population. Many’s the day I came home from work to find an offering on the front porch: a field mouse, a vole, the occasional sparrow, once even a baby rabbit. Then came the day she hopped in through the hole in the screen door and dropped a bluejay at my feet. A live bluejay, which promptly flew about my kitchen in a panic while I chased it around with a dishtowel until I managed to herd it out the back door.
When Jacquenetta was about three years old, I brought another rescued kitten home and Miss Q immediately began mothering him. She and Mote became bosom companions, and could be found snuggled up together most evenings.
After my husband and I met, moved in together, then married, Jacquenetta became a well-traveled kitty, because that’s when we started moving around a lot. She became an indoor kitty, as well, because when we moved, it was out of the country and into town. She never lost her sense of adventure despite her confinement to well-defined square footage. In fact, she scared me nearly to death when we lived in a condominium with a 20-foot vaulted ceiling and a plant shelf at about the 12-foot mark. I looked up one fine day and saw her on that plant shelf, shrieked, and sent spouse upstairs to coax her off the shelf. She cooperated, and we blocked the pass-through to deny her future access.
Due to either my work or spouse’s work, we moved from that condo in South Arkansas to another condo in Little Rock and then to a house in the Quapaw Quarter; from there we went to California for a few years; returned to the South in 2010, and finally we landed in the Atlanta metro in early 2013. During those years we added two Pomeranians to the household. All animals handled the moves well, including being driven across country twice.
And somewhere during all these moves, Jacquenetta found time to pose for Kitty Hustler. Okay, not really, but that’s what we called it whenever she sprawled out on the sofa like she was waiting for someone to hand her a beer and the TV remote.
It was shortly after we moved to Atlanta that I noticed Jacquenetta wasn’t her usual self. She spent most of her day upstairs, away from the exuberance of the dogs and the noise of the television. She would come downstairs to eat and use her box and for the occasional snuggle with me or Mote, but generally she could be found in the dimness of the upstairs hall just outside the door to the guest bedroom. I put it down to her age but I watched her. We started getting more concerned when she could no longer groom herself as usual and became matted in her hindquarters. She also couldn’t tolerate being brushed for long, so keeping the matting under control became difficult. Then one day last April, she had a horrific seizure. Spouse and I rushed her to the vet, who kept her several days for observation and testing, and then delivered the diagnosis: end stage renal failure. This condition could be managed for a while, but in the end, it would be fatal.
“Is she hurting?” I asked. “No,” said the vet. “It’s painless.”
Spouse and I chose to manage Jacquenetta’s condition at home, with medication to prevent seizures and twice-weekly subcutaneous fluids. We ground the Valium and calcium into a fine powder and mixed it into soft foods; we hung the IV bag from the dining room light fixture while we pumped saline solution under the skin between her shoulders. Mote recognized his life-long companion was desperately ill, and spent as much time snuggled up with her as he could. We also let her outside now and then to bask in the sunshine on sun-warmed concrete.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, I noticed Jacquenetta no longer climbed upstairs; instead, she lay across one of the floor vents downstairs for the warm air rising through the register. I laid a towel across the vent so her paws wouldn’t get caught in the grating and told spouse it wouldn’t be long now. A couple of weeks later, we put up the Christmas tree and spread the skirt out in such a way that her preferred floor vent was covered and she could still rest on top of the warm air. She stopped eating the Sunday or Monday after Christmas; when I came home from work Tuesday, spouse said she was passing blood in her urine. We called the vet and we all agreed it was time.
I left work early Wednesday and we took Jacquenetta to the clinic. They wrapped her in a soft fleece blanket and let me hold her while they administered the medicine that would let her rest. Spouse and I both petted her and loved her and talked to her while she went to sleep for the last time.
Sweet dreams, baby. You were loved so very very much.