Other worlds blog hop

Other Worlds Blog Hop

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My work-in-progress takes place in what is currently Portland, Maine, several hundred years from now. When the United States fragmented, the Portland area, most of modern-day Maine, and parts of Vermont and New Hampshire consolidated into a city-state of the same name. Jet fuel is scarce, so most valuable trade is done via ships, and Portland’s primary industry is shipbuilding. Three mega-corporations (Corps) control Portland along with the municipal government: Harbor Securities, Michaud Dynamics, and Fairchild.

Picture of Portland's Old Port area
The Old Port in the modern era

Portland, Maine was named after the English Isle of Portland by English settlers. Before that, the Algonquian people who lived there called the peninsula Machigonne. Portland, Oregon was named for Portland, Maine when pioneer Francis Pettygrove won the right to name the town he and Asa Lovejoy founded on the Columbia River when he won a coin toss.

Why set a cyberpunk novel there? One of my assumptions when considering a future was that several large nations would fragment because governing that many people is very difficult to do with any nominally democratic process. I’ve been to Portland a handful of times and developed affection for the city: it was enough unlike Boston (where I lived in and around for almost ten years) that I thought it deserved its own place in my fictional future. A city, but not the Big City.

To celebrate summer and the blog hop, I’m giving away some SFR books:

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And don’t forget the Grand Prize on the blog hop if you haven’t entered already!
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Book Review: Breathing Vapor by Cynthia Sax

The time and place

Unknown time, presumably the future. The story takes place aboard various transport ships and on the planet Tau Ceti, a world colonized by the Humanoid Alliance. As per usual, the native people are second-class on their own land.

The suspension of disbelief

Humans have colonized space. They’ve also created cyborgs, biological constructs fused of human, machine frame, and nanomachines, as supersoldiers. They’re created as babies in vats, and then aged with acceleration so they grow to adulthood in only a few years.

The quick summary

Mira “the Merciless” Breazeal is a cold, cruel, capricious socialite and the daughter of a scientist known as the Designer (a higher-up in the Humanoid Alliance who deploys and dissects cyborgs). The cyborgs serving the Designer have decided to kill someone to make an example, and Mira makes a good target. Vapor, the would-be executioner, suspects Mira’s not all she seems. Or perhaps he just wants her for himself. Conflict of interest, much? Mira may want what’s best for Vapor (and also to do super fun things with his body), but she can’t trust anyone, as it will mean her doom. Can the two of them see eye to eye and earn Vapor’s freedom?

My squees

Mira makes this book for me. She’s brave and vulnerable, with a big heart she has to hide at all costs. Her best talent is bluffing, and she uses it well. She tries the best she can to do compassionate things while keeping her cover so she can do more good later. It’s a tough balancing act and she’s willing to have people believe the worst of her and hate her when she only wants to help them. Vapor, for his part, recognizes Mira’s specialties and lets her shine. He also understands what she is giving up by choosing a future with him. She may be the only woman he’s ever met until the start of the story, but he convinces her and the reader that his obsession isn’t due to that. Good on him.

The action is well-paced and the story’s tight: there’s no flab on it.

Sax does not pull punches: Mira goes through some terrible loss during the story and has to make sacrifices to do what she thinks is right and be with her love. This is my candy: high emotional stakes and sometimes getting curb-stomped in the emotional department.

My grumbles

What on earth kind of scientist gives subordinate people an unmonitored communication channel?! The cyborgs can all talk to each other without any of their supervisors even noticing that they are communicating. That snapped my disbelief right there: all of us using electronic communication today are under surveillance. I noticed a lack of different types of men in the story: the ones we meet are all virile cyborgs, weak and stupid guards, or cackling villains. Maybe that’s related.

There’s an exhibitionism scene near the end that made me blink several times and crook an eyebrow. Somehow it lacked the punch the earlier intimate scenes did for me. There are D/s elements, but they seem to be there for spice instead of lifestyle.

Read if you

  • Want the crushing lows of emotion along with soaring highs
  • Enjoy a high heat level in your romance
  • Need a heroine you can root for and believe in
  • Are a cyborg junkie

Skip if you

  • Don’t want to read about bad things happening to good people
  • Are turned off by violence or eff-bombs and other crude language
  • Think gray is not an acceptable skin color

Final thoughts

I’m not very interested in alpha males or D/s sexual encounters. I usually find them pretty boring, so if that’s all there is I can say well, this book went completely over my head and it’s better judged by someone who likes those. I bought this book on a sale (I thought Kobo, but the truth is ARe) because I’m a cybernetics fan and figured it was worth a try given the sample I’d read. I haven’t read Releasing Rage yet, and don’t think I missed anything because of that. I bought Crash and Burn a few weeks ago, and should get on reading that.

The elements I was meh about were there, but they didn’t get much in the way of the emotional payoffs of the story. The story addresses families, friendship, and the price a person can pay for their beliefs. This may be an erotic romance with lust riding the characters hard at the beginning (heh heh), but the love they express by the end feels real.

Author site: A Taste of Cyn

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes and Noble / Kobo / ARe


my own romance has few words!

A week ago I proposed marriage, and John accepted. I’d planned it for half a year and it’s such a relief to have that done. We’ve known each other over twelve years and been together for four. I’m touched by the outpouring of congratulations. The words that come out are clinical, almost blocked, though. I feel zoned out: I just want to get the logistics of the wedding dealt with (booking the judge, getting the license, measuring for and ordering rings, arranging the family dinner after). It just feels like a formality at this point, but a welcome one. Ratifying what’s already there.

I’m writing a love story that is not much like my own. That’s easier, somehow, than talking about my love life because I don’t know what to share and what not to about John, so I tend to err on the side of not sharing. So this is short and sweet and for posterity.

Madness in March

February was a productive month for words, March not so much. I hit a point in the story (about two-thirds through) where I needed to resolve a bunch of plot questions and character matters before I proceeded with further scenes. Now I have more of a roadmap to the climax, but there are still blanks for the action scenes. I don’t know how to write a chase scene or a fight scene, especially with exotic weaponry. There are a few loose ends to weave in, too. I’m working on mapping out the scenes some more before I write them, because I’m mostly a planner. I’ve also had the cold that wouldn’t die, and a general lack of energy. John suggested maybe doing a month next year in Albuquerque. Rentals are doable for us- thanks inflated software pay! That sounds pretty awesome to me if I can swing it with my workplace.

I’ll be doing April Camp NaNo. Yay! I’m in a cabin with two pro writers and I anticipate some writing and plenty of cheering along on my part.

I’ve been thinking bunches about robots and artificial intelligence recently and human fears about it. With better robotics, we can automate away jobs. This upsets people. I am unsurprised to hear this, but humanity is approaching the point where our output can wildly and trivially meet our needs, if not our demands. With better cybernetics, we can become better, faster, and stronger, disadvantaging groups if access is restricted (by law or by money/resources). Better AIs mean better surveillance, a key ingredient of some imaginary dystopian states. All of these require further thought and reading in news and fiction for me.

Book Review: The Tea Machine by Gill McKnight

The time and place

We start on the research spaceship Amoebas in 1954, alternate history. Then we’re yanked to Victorian England. Several other times and places make an appearance in the story.

The suspension of disbelief

Somebody invents a time machine in 1862. Once that happens, things start getting pretty bonkers.

The quick summary

Millicent Aberly accidentally activates her genius brother Hubert’s new time machine, which throws her into a future where the Roman Empire did not fall, but expanded, even colonizing space. The Romans now fight the space squid for control of…space. Millicent is saved from death-by-space-squid by the dashing lady centurion Sangfroid, who she develops a crush on. As they make their way through the ship, Sangfroid dies, and Millicent returns to her original time and place. Intrigued by Sangfroid and wracked with guilt, Millicent uses the time machine again to try to prevent Sangfroid’s death. Many tries later, Sangfroid accidentally comes back to London and Millicent’s time. Then other strange phenomena begin, starting with giant squid and another Roman soldier from Sangfroid’s time showing up in the Aberly house. Matters get further muddled when there’s another time machine accident; and Millicent has to decide whether to save the version of London she knows, or keep her beloved Sangfroid in existence.

My squees

I have long found the work of HP Lovecraft interesting and hysterical: I went to the university that is Miskatonic’s closest analog (we have a library with books bound in human skin!), and while there I connected with many science fiction fans who loved the Victorian era and all things steampunk. Some of them impressed upon me that linear time is inherently straight and that subversion of it would be queer. This was before same-sex marriage was legalized anywhere in the US, and my friends bitterly joked that their so-called gay marriage agenda was to destroy linear time. So this book tied together some of my fondest memories of my college friends together: a bunch more of them were Classics geeks who could name the five worst Roman emperors. I’ll be recommending this book or loaning it out to as many of them as I can.

The story blends steampunk, science fiction, alternate history, romance, and a tea cult. I love McKnight’s imagination: strange creatures and technology are everywhere, causing mayhem. I wasn’t sure where the plot would go and got surprised several times. Nothing seemed out of place, though. Most of the “hey what about…” questions I had got resolved, although I think some mysteries are still there to explore in further books.

The characters and dialogue are strong, somehow remaining grounded as their reality gets wackier. Watching proper Victorians deal with the fantastical made me smile: they rationalize and hold on to their realities in believable fashion. Millicent worries about her ruined dress when there are far more dire concerns because it’s what she’s used to caring about. Hubert and his fiancée Sophia are gloriously neurotic. If you enjoy witty British banter, this is your cup of tea. Oh, that was awful, but I stand by my words. The romance between Millicent and Sangfroid is very sweet, and there is a hilarious secondary love story and yet another serious crush. There’s a happy-for-now at the end of The Tea Machine that asks more questions than it answers, so their story shall continue.

My grumbles

I’m not surprised that the Victorian ladies misgender Sangfroid, but I did raise a brow at the Romans who do so, when they recognize that centurion Gallo is female. Perhaps there’s a reason for that I missed. Sangfroid says she’s obviously female, but her idea of obvious may not be in line with the others she meets.

The narrative is very twisty: there are several timelines to keep track of, and we’re dumped in the middle of the action. I liked how we start with Sangfroid’s getting the background information after the fact, but the flashbacks and explanations later in the story felt less potent in how they were conveyed.

In the copy I got, there were enough typos that I felt it needed another proofreading pass from the editor(s) at Ylva.

Read if you

  • Enjoy Dr. Who-style time travel and British banter
  • Thought the Roman coliseums seriously needed mechanized beasts
  • Enjoy a sweet slow burn during frantic adventure

Skip if you

  • Can’t handle lots of gore, especially of squid and large animals
  • Don’t want to keep track of different timelines and causalities
  • Are looking for erotic tentacle romance- you’ll be disappointed

Disclosure and final thoughts

I received a free copy for review, but bought one to use as a loaner once I finished it. If you’re not sure if it’s for you, use Amazon’s sample chapters to see if you like the humor and vivid setting. It’s an original screwball premise with unpredictable twists, and I look forward to the sequel.

Author site: Gill McKnight

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon US / Ylva Publishing / Kobo