Fountain of Age by Nancy Kress

A great collection of short stories–but then, I love Nancy Kress’s writing, so it’s not surprising that I enjoyed these too.

The Erdmann Nexus is a quirky story about a big threshold event, but what makes it so interesting are the main characters. It’s centered on an old folks home, with a wide variety of ability levels and togetherness–but interesting, rich, lived characters. It’s the longest; maybe a novelette?

The Kindness of Strangers is mostly about a group of people, trapped, trying to survive. The inexorable backdrop is interesting, as is the population reduction throughline.

By Fools Like Me is a quirky post-apocalyptic tale, mostly about a grandmother and granddaughter. It’s simpler, with a scathing look at superstitions.

First Rites was an interesting tale of sacrifice and genetic engineering, mostly told from the POV of a shunned woman who is returning to back country China as the book starts, and her American cousin–and the child they share responsibility for. It’s interestingly told, with a final twist that feels… unearned, but that’s not really right. Maybe it just went too fantastic.

End Game is an interesting meditation on focus and genius… and the role of serendipity and stray thought. It doesn’t end well for the world…

Images of Anna is about a woman who runs a photography studio, who meets a woman whose photographs never show her. There’s fascination and strangeness as she sets out to discover what caused the weird photo manipulation…

Laws of Survival is about scrabbling life in the domes, and an odd out… plus the mystery of unraveling who the aliens are and what they’re aiming for.

Safeguard is an interesting story about creating a sealed world… and what happens when that breaks up. There’s good reason to keep the kids sealed away…

Fountain of Age is longer, a winding and complicated and fun tale. It too starts in an old folks home, but Max isn’t a normal hero. He has a twisty past, and knew an important woman well… both of which we visit in extensive flashbacks and a roaming tale. It’s a very interesting future; life extension is tricky!

Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

A cool, cynical tale of first contact with the complexity of modern politics and international relations.

I really liked the characters, both human and alien. Our POV character is a minor middle aged geneticist, suddenly and surprisingly catapulted to the big time–though at terrible cost.

Her relationships with her three children are well done; even the naer-do-well kid has interactions and relations that feel authentic from a trying, striving but failing, effort.

Plus, the twist at the end is awesome and deserved.

Sister Emily’s Lightship by Jane Yolen

An interesting short story collection; all well told and interesting without requiring buy-in from previous works. There’s a lot of twisted fairy tales, but a number of other great story styles too.

The Traveler and the Tale
Snow in Summer
Speaking to the Wind
The Thirteenth Fey
Granny Rumple
Blood Sister
Journey into the Dark
The Sleep of Trees
The Uncorking of Uncle Finn
Dusty Loves
The Gift of the Magicians
Sister Death
The Singer and the Song
Salvage
Lost Girls
Belle Bloody Merciless Dame
Words of Power
Great Gray
Under The Hill
Godmother Death
Creationism: An Illustrated Lecture
Allerleiruah
Sun/Flight
Dick W. and His Pussy – A brief, fun farce
Become a Warrior – An interesting tale about being left behind when war comes… and making your own terms for dealing with it.
Memoirs of a Bottle Djinn – A fun little story about giving wishes back and commitment
A Ghost of an Affair – An odd time travelish story, with great place feel
Sister Emily’s Lightship – An interesting episode from a quiet life, very influenced by the author’s location and exposure to Emily Dickinson.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

A story of a thief in Camorr, from his orphaning as a kid and an early life of street crime to the fleecing of the richest Dukes of the city.

This would be an excellent Thieves Guild campaign in D&D–but better than that bare recommendation. We see a city with a unique history; thieves who prey on all but the nobility, due to a secret peace. (I think Tamora Pierce has a similar setup in her Hound series.)

By delving deep into the guild, we get to see the interlocking nature of the various thieves–the young orphan penny snatchers, bruisers, false priests and stupendous con men.

More than anything, though, it’s the tale of a fascinating kid who dreams big. There’s a nice flashback structure to the middle half of the book, with lots of asides and learning how everyone fit together.

Oh, the city’s fantastical and creole; it felt lively and strongly influenced by New Orleans. It felt like a real place, with interesting hierarchies and business that made sense as more than just people for the heroes to fleece and trick.

There were a number of things hinted at but not delivered–like Lamora’s missing love–that I can imagine a sequel.

The Sword of Conan by Robert E Howard [Gnome Press]

This is a collection of short stories, apparently from the middle of Conan’s career. The included stories are The People of the Black Circle, The Slithering Shadow, The Pool of the Black One, and Red Nails.

I actually liked all of them. The People of the Black Circle was the longest; it’s a cool arabesque adventure, with lots of riding among the steppes and plateaus, dark sorceries, and the like.

The Slithering Shadow doesn’t pull any punches; it begins with the heroes out of food and water, stumbling into the desert as the last remnants of an army, expecting to die. Then they come on a city of weird technology (it made me think of Hawkmoon style brass and jewels) that’s haunted by a demonic thing that slinks through the city…

The Pool of the Black One is an interesting depiction of life at sea… until they stumble on a bountiful island. Conan’s not a hero (he murders the captain unprovoked), until the Black Ones take the crew back to their enchanted pool…

Red Nails is an interesting–they encounter one giant house, with a war/feud among the remnants who are trapped within the walls for generations.

Each story partners Conan with a woman early–a different woman each time. Sometimes they are commanding and respected leaders, sometimes they’re fainting maidens, and sometimes she’s a skilled warrior in her own right. I could see “the women of Conan” as an interesting project from these 4 alone.

Ash by Malinda Lo

A great fairytale retelling, grounding the story and explaining (or justifying) the faerie interference. It’s long on setup–with Ash being acted on, as a child–but eventually she starts to stretch within the confines of her family.

There’s a cool element with the huntress, but that part seems underdeveloped–or, I suppose–mostly hinted at until the very end. The second debt seemed much thinner than the first–I could feel the rails of “must match” more strongly, but it’s imaginative and well told altogether.

While the above is a bit of faint praise, I did really enjoy the book and will look for other things that the author wrote.

Moon Flights by Elizabeth Moon

A neat collection of short stories; all well crafted and relatively uniform in length. They’re mostly books from her universes.

My reaction to stories mostly corresponded to the exposure to the source books. The one short story about the composer who hastily signs a contract was good and memorable — and unfamiliar to me. The stories in universes that I already liked (Paksenarrion), were cool additions to the universe — not required, but new slantwise reads on the way things are. The Vatta series came out well–I really liked “Say Cheese”, and may have to track down the novels that go with it. (The short story about the musician in Sparta was also interesting, but relied on familiarity with the culture (and maybe the hero) a bit too much for me to love it. The Ladies Arms short stories were humorous, but didn’t really grab me.

In the end, it was a fun read–and no clunkers.

Reread: League of Peoples novels by James Alan Garder

I recent reread the League of Peoples novels by James Alan Gardner, beginning again with Expedables It’s been almost 10 years since I last read it–and it was completely compelling, despite remembering the broad strokes. The technique of short punchy sections makes it feel like a popcorn book. The setting is great, as is Festina. If you need someone to do the impossible, call in an Explorer.

Vigilant is an interesting continuation of the world. It’s again a single world, and our Faye is messed up, but not in the deliberate way of Festina. It’s an odd world, with the plague casting an appropriately horrific shadow over everything.

Hunted follows Edward, whose mere presence leads to death and disruption around him everywhere. His Dad is a total dick.

Ascending is told from Oar’s perspective. Her naivete sometimes grates, but the Pollisand’s interference is interesting. We start to learn about the interference of the “higher” races; he walks the line a bit with pointing out cultures corrupted by laziness; the ties to our time were a bit transparent. Still, it’s a fun journey with great payoff–but you’ll really want to have read at least Expendables first.

Radiant finishes off the series. The Unity is a great addition to the universe, with different but comprehensible reactions to Earth and the technologies they were gifted. The trio (Ramos, Youn Sue, and Tut) play off of each other very well. It turns a bit philosophical; Youn Sue’s struggle against the Balrog is fascinating throughout.

The end is a bit ambitious and ambiguous–the Balrog explains the structure and purpose of the explorers and their role. It’s implied that their meddling is having great effects that we should expect to continue… which makes it ironic that this was the series end.

Radiant will spoil key elements in Ascending, so I suggest reading it as the finale. I enjoy Commitment Hour and Trapped, but they’re in a separate sequence–they’re about the “left behinds” of old Earth, not the League and Explorer Corps.

Apocalypse World: Inspiration

Last night and this morning, I was seized by a setting for AW, a setting that excites me. It’s a very specific vision at its core, but with lots of easy messing.

The core is the Central Valley, post disaster. Like normal AW, we’ll play to discover what happened, etc. But some elements will be stable, part of the pitch.

The core idea is that it’s our topography–though minus today’s functioning dams, so we get back Tulare lake, etc. Lots of marshy areas return, but the lack of groundwater (due to current and anticipated pumping) remains, so everyone’s dependent on catchments.

The weather’s like today but worse. Winter brings back dense Tule fog everywhere, with a side of ashy grit. Spring and fall are each a seized month of bliss, before temperatures head over 100 for months. (Basically, today + humidity from the surface water, without a/c, with some climate change to add 5-10 degrees.)

Play will focus on the little towns; Fresno/Clovis and Bakersfield are gone and barren, irradiated. Hell, maybe every city with a population of 20,000+ on this list is gone–burned in the troubles. Assume that everything built post 1970s won’t work. In AW, it was built to fall apart, like fireplaces as decoration rather than useful heat sources.