More fiction read in February. Still heads-down in the job search, which is still the usual expected emotional rollercoaster cycle of apply, interview, lather, rinse, repeat. I am also still reading non-fiction, most recently including Fringe Science: Parallel Universes, White Tulips, and Mad Scientists by Kevin Grazier (editor), which is a collection of essays about various fringe science used in the “Fringe” TV series; Australian History for Dummies by Alex McDermott, which is what it says on the tin; Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, from A Game of Thrones to A Dance with Dragons by James Lowder (editor), a collection of essays analyzing Martin’s epic work; GIS for Dummies by Michael DeMers; and The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must by Robert Zubrin. I also remembered when I used to make these posts in the past, I was keeping track of the date in which I finished a book or story. So, on to my February fiction reads:
Brothers in Arms – Lois McMaster Bujold. Continuing her Vorkosigan Saga, this is the first visit to Earth in the main works of the series. Miles meets an interesting and dangerous aspect from his past, one that will change his future.
Mirror Dance – Lois McMaster Bujold, 2/03/13. Miles’ newly discovered clone, Mark, tries to make a heroic move of his own, something to help him with his identity issues, but gets in over his head into a situation for which Miles arguably pays the greatest price.
Falling Free – Lois McMaster Bujold, 2/10/13. Because my epub file for Memory, the next book in the saga in internal chronological order, will not display the text layout properly in the reader software on the Nook Color and Nook HD (paragraphs are each one line that scrolls off to the right), I decided to go back and read this prequel of sorts. It takes place around 200 years prior to Miles, and introduces a very interesting genetically engineered subspecies of humans designed to live and work their entire lives in zero gravity. Takes a hard look at corporate slavery.
Tuf Voyaging – George R. R. Martin, 2/14/13. While I had been greatly enjoying every book and short story in LMB’s Vorkosigan saga so far, my desire to read it in generally chronological order had been thwarted, so, since GRRM had mentioned online that this collection of his short stories was back in print, I decided to give it a try. Besides, I had been considering GRRM among my favorite sci-fi/fantasy authors (right up with Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny, Neil Gaiman, Frank Herbert, etc.) because of how much I love his epic A Song of Ice and Fire series, but it occurred to me I had yet to read any other fiction of his. Haviland Tuf is an eccentric traveling galactic merchant who happens upon an ecological engineering ship, and this is a fix-up novel that collects several of GRRM’s short stories featuring him, written many years before ASOIAF. It is definitely very different from ASOIAF, but it is still GRRM, particularly the humor. I loved it, and, if GRRM ever finishes ASOIAF, I would love to read more stories featuring Tuf. It brings up many questions about ecology and playing god, though, in typical GRRM style, doesn’t necessarily answer them. It also confirms GRRM’s place on my favorite authors list, and I have added several other books of his to my list, including Dying of the Light, Windhaven, Armageddon Rag, and even his Wild Cards series.
Warehouse 13: A Touch of Fever – Greg Cox, 2/16/13. Something light was in order. I’m surprised this is the only existing tie-in novel for Warehouse 13. It was exactly what I expected – like an episode of the show, only longer and with no visual effects restrictions. It almost fits somewhere late in season 2 of the show, but there’s a strange aspect that makes it not exactly a fit there, either, so I guess it’s its own canon. I laughed much. Cox has the main characters (Pete, Myka, Artie, Claudia, Mrs. Frederick, and Leena) down pat.
The Baroque Cycle, Book One: Quicksilver – Neal Stephenson, 2/23/13. Had this entire series in 3 huge hardcovers for several years, but never got around to starting it. The hardcovers are destined to be sold to Half Price Books the next time I’m in Indy, but that has no bearing on my enjoyment of or interest in the story. The Nook epubs also divide the story into the same 3 large volumes, but it actually consists of 8 books (3 in the 1st volume, 2 in the 2nd, and 3 in the 3rd). I love Neal Stephenson’s writing style and sense of humor, and his, how shall I say? …indulgent tangents and explanations, but they make for thick and slow going, so I decided I’m going to break up reading this into the 8 internal books. The first one is set during the mid-1600s and early-1700s, and involves several fictional and real historical characters, including some of the early Enlightenment natural philosophers. It also alludes much to the calculus feud between Newton and Leibnitz, and contains one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever read: use of a cadaver head and larynx, manipulated by hand like a marionette and supplying moving air via bellows, in order to study the physical formation of phonetics.
“Fire Watch” – Connie Willis, 2/23/13. Why have I never read anything by Willis before? Several friends have read much of her work, so she comes highly recommended. I recommend her as well, based only on this short story featuring a history student at Oxford a couple hundred years in the future. For his practicum, he travels back to the London blitz and joins the fire watch at St. Paul’s cathedral. It sets up the premise for a number of her novels since, such as Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, etc., which are now on my list.
Memory – Lois McMaster Bujold, 2/25/13. Finally gave up on a quick fix from Barnes & Noble and the publisher, especially since Baen Books no longer holds the rights to this transitional novel in the Vorkosigan saga. Read it mainly on the Windows PC Nook reader application, which, given LMB’s easy-but-not-light writing style, was not the chore I expected. Miles makes a mistake even before the book starts, leading him to despair, and then to solving a case involving his former boss in Imperial Security. This launches him on a new career and a resolution of some of his own identity issues. It also hammers home, if it had not been obvious in the series before this point, LMB’s philosophy with regard to Miles: “What is the absolute worst thing I can have happen to this character now?”
“Dreamweaver’s Dilemma” – Lois McMaster Bujold, 2/26/13. A short story written back when LMB was working on the early Vorkosigan saga novels, before she had sold any of them, I think. This is set in the same universe, several hundred years before Miles, and probably one or two hundred years in our future. Beta Colony is mentioned several times, as are the early forms of some technology in the Vorkosigan saga. It involves a “feelie-dream” composer who gets a mysterious commission and how, with help from a close friend, she wriggles out of a dangerous situation. Very enjoyable, and opened up curiosity about much of the untapped well of fiction in this universe of LMB’s.
Borders of Infinity – Lois McMaster Bujold, 2/26/13. Another fix-up novel, this one contains the Vorkosigan saga short stories “The Mountains of Mourning,” “Labyrinth,” and “The Borders of Infinity.” LMB connects them with a short framing story. It was enjoyable, but I didn’t feel I had missed that much – the framing story is a very small number of pages. Good way to get the stories within, though, and there’s nothing wrong with the framing story.
Komarr – Lois McMaster Bujold, 2/28/13. A newly-minted Imperial Auditor (fancy title for investigator of sorts who has the Emperor’s authority and voice), Miles tags along with one of his new coworkers to investigate what looks at first to be an industrial accident above the conquered planet Komarr. It turns into a terrorist situation, and Miles falls for a woman from his home planet. I highly enjoyed this one, from LMB’s writing, characterization, humor, and story. I did catch a science error early in the book which surprised me, given LMB’s previous record and the fact that she grew up the daughter of an Ohio State engineering professor. In a meeting, an executive mentions the vast amount of heat trapped in the water ice on Komarr, and its “heat of liquefaction.” Melting of water is endothermic – water molecules acquire energy from the environment when transitioning from ice to liquid phase. It didn’t ruin the book in any way, just annoyed me for a bit.
After finishing Komarr, I have 4 novels and 1 short story left to catch up on the Vorkosigan saga. Having read what I have, including the works set well in the past, makes me hope LMB will be writing in this saga for a long time to come. I would love, for example, to see the story of the wormhole collapse that began the Time of Isolation on Miles’ home planet, or the opening of the new wormhole that ended it. I also have several works by Connie Willis, GRRM, Neal Stephenson, and another writer I seemed to have missed in the ‘90s: Kim Stanley Robinson. I’m particularly interested in his Mars trilogy (starting with Red Mars, which I already have on the Nook Color) and his Science in the Capital series (likewise with Forty Signs of Rain). I have also added at least the first novel in William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive), a defining work in the cyberpunk subgenre which has been highly recommended by several good friends. I don’t know how I missed this series years ago, either. Next up, though, is LMB’s next Miles book, A Civil Campaign. I’ve put her non-Miles work on my list as well.