By Sarah Hoyt
Baen, 384 pp., $15.46
Darkship Thieves by Sarah Hoyt won the Prometheus 2011 award for showcasing an interesting and possible future libertarian world, yet this is just one aspect of her complex novel. It’s a rollicking fun and well-plotted space opera with more twists and turns than a genome map. In fact, the fifth book in the series Darkship Revenge just released in May 2017.
The adventure starts when Athena Hera Sinistra awakens during what she perceives to be a mutiny or highjacking of her father’s space cruiser. She escapes into a lifepod and starts toward the base they’d visited and sends an SOS. As she approaches, a broadcast announcement declared her hallucinating and armed and dangerous. Terrified of detainment, she turns away from the base and into the dangerous harvesting field, seeking assistance from one of the harvesters.
Her lifepod runs into a darkship (a ship of legend) and the captain, an Engineered Life Form or ELF for short, saves her. Bioengineered humans left the planet three hundred years ago and were understood to have died on the journey seeking a new home planet. This information has been redacted for most and partially lost due the ensuing turmoils (riots and wars) after the human earthlings terminated all bioengineered humans. Most on Earth think none survived the turmoils and the launch to space a myth, but Athena has knowledge of their exodus, as she is a type of princess for being a daughter of one of the fifty Good Men, who each run a section of the planet.
Chaos ensues as the captain, Kit, knows all Earth history, and Thena thinks he and his kind didn’t live. Personal revelations and attacks aside it is clear that Thena is being hunted by her father, one of the Honorable Patricians, and the only way to save her is to take her back to the colony called Eden, which results in it’s own set of significant problems.
This page-turner book promises to keep you up past your bedtime. Thena is a petulant, know-it-all, rebellious teenager, raised by a wealthy, disinterested father who has never wanted for anything, except love. Through her first person narration she discloses that she is different from others as she posses speed, strength, sense of direction and mechanical ability. Her transformation over the novel is believable as she learns about her history, understands others’ point of view, becomes less self centered, and ultimately more human. Kit is another clever character who is immediately more likable despite his extensive bioengineering.
The libertarian world of Eden is intriguing. The flyer car scenes in a place of no traffic laws are a hoot while the serious concept of bled geld – paying a fee to the surviving family members for murder – showcase conflicting wills can be a determent of the community. My only criticism is the cover art. Forgive me for being a prude but I worried this was a hard-core book. In actuality the cover doesn’t show a scene from the book. It’s an interpretation of Thena being caught in the powertree plants next to the darkship, which occurred with her in a lifepod wearing a nightgown; she wasn’t naked floating in space wrapped in plants covering her nakedness.
Darkship Thieves was a fun jaunt on Earth and the outpost of Eden. The characters add a healthy dose of excitement while the reader attempts to unweave to multi-layered plot.
The Worker Prince (Saga of Davi Rhii Book 1)
By Bryan Thomas Schmidt
WordFire Press, 326 pp., $15.99
Bryan Thomas Schmidt author and Hugo-nominated editor, deals up a fun, fast-paced adventure in The Worker Price and it received an Honorable Mention on Barnes and Noble Book Club’s 2011 Science Fiction list. Wow!
The action takes place on several planets in the Boralis Solar System. Captain Xander (Davi) Rhii, the Prince and heir to his uncle, the Emperor and High Lord Councilor of the Borali Alliance, has received his first assignment upon graduation from the elite Borali Military Academy. Despite his distinguished flight skills he’s sent to Vertuliss, the only planet in the solar system with slaves, to oversee the Worker crew guards. Davi knows little about the planet only that it will be a proving ground where he’ll work to earn respect beyond his Royal Family rank.
In his first two weeks he’s stuck at the office, but then he participates in a guided tour of the area he oversees. During the tour he learns first hand the true Worker relations; the Alliance Worker guards are aggressive overlords who incorrectly report Workers are lazy, subhuman, troublemakers, and complainers. The Vertullian Workers accurately accuse the Alliance of unreasonable and unfair quotas accompanied with excessive physical abuse. In the following week he witnesses several instances of barbaric means of discipline, saves a slave from attempted rape by an off-duty guard and unintentionally kills the Alliance solider, and finally learns that two decades ago all first born Worker sons were killed, no matter their age, to “honor the gods,” yet most understood this as a preventative measure against a future Worker uprising. These revelations transform his world and challenge his understanding of the Alliance. Armed with this new knowledge Davi makes decisions that align him with the Workers and could forever alter the path of the Alliance.
Mr. Schmidt wrote an exciting, action-packed space opera embellished by dashes of the Biblical Moses story and dashes of Star Wars. In fact, Chapter One starts the excitement with a flying sky-taxi battle. The writing is easy to read and the content is PG, despite the heavy topic of slavery and freedom, making the book family friendly. There’s a glossary in the back defining all key terms, especially when one needs to know the difference between a Floater, a Courier Craft, a Shuttle, a Skitter, a Transport and VS28. Hint: you’d want to fly the VS28 in battle. The only surprising aspect of the book was religion. The Alliance believes in many gods. The Workers believe in one god. Their disparate beliefs were a source of conflict and while this is true to life and was well presented, it rang a bit hollow and, at times, sounded dogmatic. These rare instances didn’t detract from the overall story; they just caught this reader off guard, as most sci-fi novels don’t delve as deeply into religious beliefs.
The Worker Prince (Saga of Davi Rhii Book 1) introduces a new solar system, with believable good and evil characters, and a unique action-filled plot; it earned its Honorable Mention.
Flavor empowers. It energizes composition. Its absence renders things inert and yet, when well used, it’s the fulcrum on which everything pivots. Sarah Bird introduces the reader to the place and times of Okinawa, but it’s her infusion of the Okinawan sense of being, of their understanding of life, that completes her story.
Here’s my review from January 21, 2017.
Award winning Texas novelist, screenplay writer and columnist, Sarah Bird, bursts through her comedic chrysalis and takes flight in her newest fiction novel Above the East China Sea. The difficult trajectory of tragedy, both in historical wartime Okinawa intermingled with the present day Okinawan challenges as experienced via a United States military family stationed at the Kadena Air Force base, reveal her writing evolution.
The novel follows two first person narrators: Luz, present day and Tamiko, wartime. Luz, newly relocated teenager and Air Force military brat, lives with her sergeant mother while they both address the recent loss of their third family member, Codie, Luz’s older sister. Tamiko, Okinawa native whose high school education ceased when she became a battlefield nurse, worked in the Japanese Imperial Army’s cave hospitals.
The stories begin with Tamiko jumping to her death off the suicide cliffs located on the southern most tip of Okinawa Island. Flanked by Japanese soldiers pushed south by the oncoming American soldiers, she intentionally selects the exit for her and her unborn child, as to die a violent death at the hands of soldiers would condemn them to haunt the place forever and never reunite with their clan. In present day Luz is standing at the top of the cliff contemplating suicide. Overwhelmed by their new location, the first move made without her sister, Luz seeks escape while her mom is on a 2-day temporary duty assignment. A new friend checks on her, they are partying on the beach, and she reintegrates back into the group still reflecting upon options. Later that same evening, intoxicated, she walks alone on the beach, which turns into a swim, and a near drowning incident during which Luz sees Tamiko and her son imploring her to rescue them.
The brilliantly executed and sophisticated overlapping stories simultaneously educate and inspire as each narrator addresses coming of age, but it’s the setting, the exposé on grief, and the careful incorporation of the Obon festival and Okinawans beliefs make this novel a masterpiece. The conversations between Tamiko and her son, Luz’s escapades with the Quasis, the delicate presentation of wartime violence, and the Okinawan saying of “Nuchi du takara” (life is the treasure) are just a few of the key components Ms. Bird employs.
Okinawa was, is, and, due to long-lasting Japanese and American decisions, will remain a place contested. While the novel strikes a careful balance to avoid blame, it does highlight the ongoing powerlessness of Okinawans. At times the character narrative viewpoints border on victimization and some of the religious explanations become preachy. These infrequent descents may be off-putting. The skillfully wrought denouement however unites the community and cultural information providing the reader with understanding and an unexpected treasure: hope.
Above the East China Sea is an exceptional tale. Ms. Bird transforms the darkness into light without downplaying the difficulties of life.
Flavor empowers. It energizes composition. Its absence renders things inert and yet, when well used, it’s the fulcrum on which everything pivots. The Mediterranean Turkey Stir Fry recipe is simple to make with few ingredients; it’s the spices that generate greatness. People love to play the guessing game of which spices are used. Hint – few recognize the cilantro.
Here’s the recipe from July 16, 2016.
- 2 T olive oil
- Coarsely grated zucchini (from about 2 to 3 small zucchinis or one medium zucchini)
- 1/2 coarsely grated onion (medium or large) or 3 green onions, thinly sliced, with onion greens included
- 2 T Mint (or spearmint)
- 2 T Cilantro
- 2 t ground Cumin
- 1 t Salt
- 1/2 t Garlic Flakes
- 1/2 t Black Pepper
- 1/2 t Cayenne
- 1 pound ground Turkey
- Saute veggies with all seasonings.
- Once the veggies have cooked down add meat.
- Finish cooking and serve hot.
- Tip = Feta cheese is a delicious topping!
The above recipe is a variation of a SimplyRecipes recipe which was adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook. Desiring a “bowling” recipe, I took a stir fry approach rather than burgers and eliminated the sour cream sauce.
Fuel ignites. It excites. It’s a catalyst and propellant. Aaron Michael Ritchey’s first book in The Juniper War series is on fire. I can’t wait for book three!
Here’s my review from October 29, 2016.
Colorado Novelist, Aaron Michael Ritchey, breaks the mold with his new novel Dandelion Iron. This clever, well-thought and startling story defies standard characterization. It’s an epic journey with an impossible task, Lord of the Rings; a rural western family drama, Little House on the Prairie, it’s post Sino-American War, Firefly; with a post-apocalyptic sans electricity section of the United States, Revolution; abandoned by the wealthy, technologically advanced sections of the U.S.; Hunger Games; populated with few men and a fighting female remnant, Y: The Last Man; dealing with fertility issues, The Handmaid’s Tale; which furthers questionable genetic research, Dark Angel. Plus there are serious Steampunk elements, young love “romance”, coming of age issues amidst strict moral guidelines, and action scenes that read like Braveheart meets Die Hard. It’s not a mash-up, nor a witches’ brew of trending topics, instead this crafted world where the evolved science and changing political structures provides a plausible possible future and a remarkable background for sincere character growth in the midst of chaos.
In 2029, the second year of the seventeen year Sino-American war, the Chinese nuked Yellowstone which resulted in a massive electromagnetic field covering five states: Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and Montana. This new area, later forced by the United States to revert back to territories, became known as the Juniper, and it’s the most dangerous place on Earth. The war cut the U.S. population in half and decimated several generations of men. In tandem a Sterility Epidemic made ninety percent of the surviving males sterile.
The novel starts in the year 2058, just three years after the remaining final combatants return home and thirteen years since the war concluded, Cavatica Weller retrieved from her boarding school in the United States returns to her home in Juniper for her mother’s funeral. Upon arrival she’s informed of her family’s debt and her mother’s plan to save the ranch: a cattle drive though the most dangerous parts of Juniper. With no other option, she, her sisters, farmhands and three thousand headcount start a thirteen hundred kilometer journey west. Twelve days into their journey, they witness an attack, which thrusts them into a fight against Juniper’s notorious outlaws. They save the attacked boy, whom the outlaws attempted to apprehend and sell to the highest bidder. The three sisters are torn. They know he’ll be hunted: one wants to send him away, another wants to sell him and Cavatica falls in love.
This rich story narrated in the first person by Cavatica benefits from the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. They provide back-stories on the war, ideological beliefs, various views of Juniper, and the United States, which continues to advance technologically throughout Juniper’s devolution. The tension between each sister, Cavatica age sixteen, Wren age twenty and Sharlotte age twenty-four, deftly portrays family hate, love and female strength. Father Pilate’s actions and decisions over the past thirty years add an honest, adult vantage point for he’s not a product of this time like the sisters. The updated, anachronistic Zeppelins add needed transportation in Juniper and are a source of delightful steampunk fantasy. The post-war East Indian immigration and ensuing Hindu flavorings of language, food and people throughout the novel add a true-to-life layer of rebuilding and moving past war. The television show dramatizing the real Juniper life is brilliant. Lastly, the literary references throughout the story ground this apocalypse back to our time, furthering the “believability” of it all.
There are some challenges. The language is jarring and, at times, unapproachable. It’s red-neck-ish, country-ish, new world techy-ish, Hindu slang-ish, Chinese slang-ish, but Mr. Ritchey anticipated a baffled reader. A helpful 3-page “Glossary of Historical Figures, Slang and Technology” reference list follows the last chapter. The language does grow on you and with his glossary you’re reading and comprehending at full speed in no time. Also, without revealing key scenes, many of them are a serious adrenaline rush. It’s always life or death and conflict can’t be avoided. To the reader it’s somewhat difficult to understand why people would choose to move to Juniper or remain there when the former states lost electricity. Overall, my biggest objection is the cliffhanger ending. Ugh!
Beyond these few quibbles, the larger story is that Juniper girls, like dandelions, can grow (and perhaps even thrive) anywhere, are tough, and pretty in their own unique way. It’s a charming and empowering young adult testament to true strength in the midst of difficulty. Dandelion Iron creates an intriguing world well worth the read.
Fuel ignites. It excites. It’s a catalyst and propellant. The Almond Bread recipe pushed me to start this website and it’s taken on a life of its own. Always a favorite, I’ve watched people eat an entire loaf straight out of the oven. I make double and triple batches, as one loaf isn’t ever enough.
Here’s the recipe from June 5, 2016.
- 2 T chia seeds in 4 oz of water – chia slurry
- 2 C almond meal
- 3/4 C arrowroot
- 1 1/2 t baking soda
- 1/2 t salt
- 2 T apple cider vinegar
- 2 eggs
- Make chia slurry by soaking chia seeds in water. Mix well to avoid clumps.
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Lightly oil pan (I use coconut or olive oil).
- Mix, using a whisk, the almond meal, arrowroot, baking soda and salt.
- In a separate bowl mix the eggs, apple cider vinegar and chia slurry.
- Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Mix until there are no lumps for about 1 minute. The mixture is thick; no extra liquid is required.
- Pour mix into the pan.
- Bake for 40 minutes until the bread has a nice, firm golden top and the edges are pulling away from the pan.
- Let bread cool in the pan and remove once totally cooled.
- Tip = if you double the recipe, which I often do, you will need to add more baking time. Expect to add about 10-15 more minutes. Watching the color and firmness is beneficial as cooking times may vary.
Makes one well rounded magic pan (7.5 by 3.5) loaf.
The above recipe was inspired by a Tania Hubbard recipe. When posting this I found the original link broken, however with more searching I discovered she also modified her original recipe and has since reposted it here. Now the recipes are quite similar.
My goal was to create a clean, uncluttered website, not use a blogging platform, and generate unique content one time a week. Thus far I’ve written twenty-six book reviews and twenty-seven recipes, plus I’ve learned how to build and maintain a website. Phew! I can’t believe it.
I’ve also focused on the craft of writing. While I’ve not produced as much as I’d hoped, I’m on the path. This next year I will work more on my creative writing, so I’ll post every other week.
To celebrate F&F’s anniversary, I’ll highlight some of the best recipes and reading this week, but for today let’s just celebrate!