Galactic North: A Brief Book Review

galactic north

Cover art for Alastair Reynolds’ book ‘Galactic North.”

A friend of mine loaned me his copy of this book because we share similar tastes in reading and I must say I found it well-written and compelling. Galactic North is a collection of eight short stories all set in the same “universe” and spanning centuries.

They involve different variations of the human race, and how they cooperate and compete with each other across the ages and light years. It’s space opera at its finest including plausible “space pirates.”

Author Alastair Reynolds has a Ph.D in Astronomy and was previously employed as an astrophysicist for the European Space Agency, so he definitely possesses the qualifications for writing “hard science fiction.”

Interestingly enough, in addition to realistically portrayed interstellar travel, suspended animation, and human cybernetic hive minds, he focuses quite a bit on the medical adaptations to human beings, from the hyper-cerebral Conjoiners, to the terrifying Denizens.

The only thing that put me off a bit were the instances of what I call “medical atrocities,” that is, how some of the people in the stories end up horribly altered and mutilated, but that’s more a problem with my squeamishness than Reynolds’ writing.

As I understand it, Reynolds has written a number of other short stories and novels in the “Revelation Space” series, comparable to Larry Niven’s “Known Space” series. I have no problem giving “Galactic North” a solid five stars on Amazon, which I will be doing in just a bit.

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Deasiling with Brady

starbucks closed

Scott Mayerowitz/AP

Twenty-four year old Brady Walsh authentically enjoyed it when people called her a ginger. It was much better than being a drab brunette or a vaunted blonde, and anyone meaning to insult her with the term were doing so out of envy.

She had resolved to deasil, invoking only positive qualities and expressions of her personality, now that she had arrived in America, as a counterweight to all of the negativity in the world.

“Oh damn,” the former Dubliner muttered. “There goes my resolve. Bloody Starbucks is closed because of negativity. No. Postponing my afternoon caffeine is a finite problem. Plenty of other coffee places in Portland.”

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Aekh’s Kikroot

planet

Image: hongkiat.com

Surprisingly, they were sexually compatible, so Aekh could teach him the forty-one forms of the Shin Ratda, as well as his native planet’s Kama Sutra and Ars Amatoria. She stood fully one meter taller than Quinn, and he marvelled that her elongated limbs and torso could hold her upright. Of course, at the moment, they were both prone, with her arms and legs encircling him like ivory pythons.

Within his thoughts, he called her “the Albino,” but all Uok’ahr were chalk-white and completely hairless. The iris of her eyes were a faint pink, except when she was angry or climaxing when they turned blood-red. Her body temperature was slightly higher than his, so when he entered her or even touched her skin, he momentarily thought he was going to be burned.

She spoke standard Castailian with just a faint accent, but he could never quite place it. No one off of her homeworld could speak the Uok’ahr language or languages, but then, no offworlder had been permitted to enter their solar system for several centuries. The last who tried, Birooli pirates, had vanished in a brilliant flare of incandescent light as their ships passed the system’s first warning marker. The type of weapon used was unknown.

“My Kikroot.” It has her term of endearment for Quinn. It meant something like “little one” but could also be translated as “student” or “child.”

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This Year’s Father’s Day

father's day

Photo credit: Susan Spaulding

Every morning for the past three years, Gary took his convenience store donut and coffee to the park and had breakfast at one of the picnic tables. It had been a difficult time between the forced retirement and then Helen suddenly and angrily divorcing him. Most of all, he missed his kids and grandkids. They’d taken Helen’s side in the split up. He was lonely but stoic, or at least he pretended to be.

“Grandpa! Grandpa!” It was his grandson Tony running up to him from the parking lot. The eleven-year-old hit him like a loving freight train.

“You’ve really grown. I’ve missed you.” They drowned in each other’s arms.

Gary looked up to find himself surrounded by all of his kids, their spouses, and all of his grandkids.

Emily, his youngest, kissed him on the cheek. “Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Come home with us and have a real breakfast. We love you.”

It took a few minutes for the old man to compose himself enough to leave the park with his forgiving family.

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction of June 17, 2018 hosted by Susan. The idea it to take the image above and use it as a prompt for creating a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 174.

I cheated somewhat and read Iain’s story before writing my own. Since his theme was Father’s Day ( realize there are parts of the world that don’t have this celebration) and I’m a Dad and Grandpa, I decided to go that route as well, taking a sad beginning and brightening it.

To read other tales based on the prompt, visit InLinkz.com.

With Power and Great Glory

sierra nevada

Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite Valley – found at Roadtrippers

Iris Berry pulled up her other boot as she gazed at the breadth of the firmament above her in awe and terror. So far it was clean of Moskeren scouts, but she’d be a fool to believe she could elude them forever, even in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

She had hiked in from Dardanelle, now a ghost town, three days ago and was directly north of what used to be Yosemite National Park. Iris used to go there at least twice a year to hike and climb with Darren. She smiled at the memory and then frowned, pushing the thoughts of his extermination out of her mind. When the first wave of invaders hit, they vaporized most of the Bay Area along with every other major population center on Earth. Her husband of eighteen months was just one among billions.

The young woman extinguished her small camp fire, a risk she took hoping the Moskeren didn’t use infrared, and pulled on her backpack. Iris had been on a wilderness retreat with three other women from her church during the planetary incursion. They heard the news over the small radio they’d brought with them.

Helen died a day later as they were hiking out. Maybe it was suicide, but more likely she was so distraught, she wasn’t paying attention to the loose shale she was walking on and slipped over the cliff. There was no way to get to her body.

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Urartu

Taşlıçay

Taşlıçay, Ağrı, Turkey © Google Maps

He came to Taşlıçay after a snowstorm and entered Mehmet’s restaurant. The last customer had left and the proprietor had let his staff go early.

“We’re closing, Sir. I have nothing left to serve you.”

“I am not here to eat, Mehmet.” He spoke heavily-accented Turkish and appeared middle-eastern.

“What do you want?”

“To save your life. Great forces desire to take it.”

“You’re insane. Taşlıçay is a boring place. Nothing happens here.”

“After the great flood, elemental spirits, both good and evil claimed the area around Urartu and lay dormant. Tonight they rise from the temple on the hill and the höyük to the south. You are the last direct descendant of the ark, the last one who could prevent them from entering your world.”

“Who are you?”

The messenger of Hashem grew large and powerful, was armored in ethereal light, and drew a sword of silver. “They come.”

I wrote this for the What Pegman Saw writing challenge. The idea is to use a Google Maps location and/or image as the prompt for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 150 words long. My word count is 150.

Today, the Pegman takes us to Taşlıçay, Ağrı, Turkey. I looked it up and there’s not much going on in Taşlıçay either currently or historically, except for a few tiny details.

I leveraged the Facebook page for Things to do in Taslicay, which provided the restaurant setting. Going through the Google maps street images, I found the one posted above, which appealed to me since summer is approaching fast.

There’s a burial mound to the south of this rural town and both an Urartu temple and Armenian monastery on the hill above the village of Taşteker. Then I read:

Urartu, which corresponds to the biblical mountains of Ararat, is the name of a geographical region commonly used as the exonym for the Iron Age kingdom also known by the modern rendition of its endonym, the Kingdom of Van, centered around Lake Van in the Armenian Highlands.

Ararat is the legendary resting place for Noah’s Ark after the Great Flood of the Bible, so I thought I’d attempt to wrap all of that together into some sort of mystic tale of disaster and horror, all in 150 words. How did I do?

To read other stories based on the prompt, visit InLinkz.com.

Oh, and how are these locations chosen, anyway?

Happily Ever After?

extortion

Photo: Natalie Orenstein, Berkeleyside

“Do you believe in happily ever after?” Kristy popped another one of her strange questions as she and her fiancée Mike were standing in line for the sando of the day, which today was Green Garlic Roasted Beef.

“No. Nothing is forever including happiness.”

“We’re going to get married in a month. Doesn’t that make you happy?”

“Of course it does, otherwise we wouldn’t be getting married.”

“Next.” Aaron, one of the butcher shop’s owners, was at the counter today and Mike felt embarrassed that his conversation with Kristy had kept him waiting.

“Two sandos of the day, Aaron.”

“Coming right up,” he said signaling a new hire who was helping him out over the lunch rush. “By the way, I agree with Mike. Happiness isn’t forever.”

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Dire Beginning

beginnings

© Sue Vincent

The afternoon sunlight, which had been shining dimly through the mist and overhanging trees, flickered and threatened to extinguish, as if a giant was blowing out a candle.

“They came! They heard me and they came!” In spite of their dire circumstances, trapped between an army of demons on one side and a strangely alien Shay accompanied by the resurrected Sakhr on the other, little Zooey was jumping up and down with excitement. Coming in from high above and crossing the sun was an unprecedented legion of vultures. It was impossible to tell the birds apart as the vast flock began its dive toward the demonic forces, but the girl knew that Gyffus was at the lead. She took the single feather he had left behind, held it up and waved.

The rest of them looked up and then back again at the wounded golden dragon and her companion, Dani’s shadowy reflection, who seemed no worse for wear after having been impaled on the dragonrider’s sword.

“Sakhr! I killed you!” Dani’s right hand ached as she tightly gripped Witherbrand’s hilt. The blade felt heavy, threatening to pull her arm downward, lowering her guard.

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Injured and Dangerous

Alek Minassian

Alek Minassian, the man accused of killing ten people with a van in Toronto April 2018.

I must be living in a cave because I’ve never heard of Incels before.

According to Wikipedia:

Incels (a portmanteau of “involuntary celibates”) are self-identifying members of an online subculture who define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one, a state they describe as inceldom. Self-identified incels are mostly white, male and heterosexual,.Discussions in incel forums are often characterized by resentment, misanthropy, self-pity, self-loathing, misogyny, racism, a sense of entitlement to sex, and the endorsement of violence against sexually active people. The Southern Poverty Law Center described the subculture as “part of the online male supremacist ecosystem” that is a member of their list of hate groups,and self-described incels have committed at least four mass murders in North America.

Holy crap. That’s terrifying.

I follow the blog of author Steven Barnes which is how I came to read his article #NOTALLHUMANS (No, I’m not shouting, he has the title in all caps). I think I’ve heard the term “incels” before, but this was the first time I found out what it meant.

So naturally I went to his source material at We Hunted the Mammoth, which describes itself as:

Specifically, this blog focuses on what I call the “New Misogyny,” an angry antifeminist backlash that has emerged like a boil on the ass of the internet over the last decade or so. These aren’t your traditional misogynists – the social conservatives and religious fundamentalists who make up much of the far right.

These are guys, mostly, who range in age from their teens to their fifties, who have embraced misogyny as an ideology, as a sort of symbolic solution to the frustrations in their lives – whether financial, social, or sexual.

Okey dokey.

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Should We Burn Ray Bradbury’s Books?

f451

Book cover for Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451.”

I just read an essay by Katie Naum at the Electric Lit website called The New ‘Fahrenheit 451’ Movie Fails to Reckon with Bradbury’s Racism.

First of all, I had no idea HBO had remade the film adaptation of Bradbury’s classic novel (I have seen the 1966 film version, and of course I’ve read the novel a number of times). Secondly, Ms. Naum and I seem to have read very different novels titled Fahrenheit 451 and authored by Ray Bradbury.

Here’s what I mean, quoting from Naum’s essay:

I still have that same copy of Fahrenheit 451 — a trade paperback edition printed circa 1993, whose creased cover and flammable pages are already yellowed and crumbling. I reread it prior to watching the new film version, starring Michael B. Jordan as protagonist Guy Montag, and Michael Shannon as his boss — and ultimately, the bad guy — Captain Beatty. The novel was largely as I remembered it, until I got to the end. At the back of the book, there are a few pages Bradbury wrote decades later, in 1979, where he gets into what he thinks the real threat to literature is. I’d forgotten that reading this coda as a child always left me feeling uncomfortable, in a way I couldn’t fully interpret yet.

He is angry at a “solemn young Vassar lady” who asked whether he might write more female characters. He is angry at other readers who disapprove of how he wrote “the blacks” in one of his stories. He is angry at “the Irish,” “the Chicano intellectuals,” at “every minority” that has some perspective on his stories at variance with his. In his own words, every last one of them “feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse…. Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described how the books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever.”

Sorry for the lengthy quote, but I wanted to provide enough specific information to convey the issue at hand.

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