Lis Carey Review: What Moves the Dead

What Moves the Dead (Sworn Soldier #1) by T. Kingfisher
Tor Nightfire, July 2022

Review by Lis Carey: This is a retelling of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Kingfisher discovered on a rereading that Poe’s story was much shorter than she remembered, and that there was room for…more.

More background and explanation of why this happened, in particular.

It’s 1890, and Alex Easton is a retired soldier, plagued by tinnitus, from a tiny European kingdom called Gallacia. Kan is a “sworn soldier,” a status which requires an exchange of gendered for nongendered pronouns. Kan is also the childhood friend of Roderick and Madeline Ussher, and travels to their ancestral home in Ruritania, in response to a letter from Madeline.

Madeline says she’s dying.

Easton is nearly there when they encounter Miss Eugenia Potter, a knowledgeable and practical English mycologist, who shows them some of the creepier mushrooms of the area. This proves to be important information.

Arriving at the Ussher home, Easton is shocked by its state of decay. The Usshers themselves — Madeline is fragile, pale, clearly very ill. Roderick isn’t really in much better shape. There’s also another visitor, an American doctor, who is clearly confused by Madeline’s condition. He says she’s suffering from catalepsy, but that this is more a description than a useful diagnosis. He can’t identify a cause.

Roderick, meanwhile, says he hears sounds in the walls. It’s not rats. There are no rats, which is abnormal in itself.

Madeline sleepwalks, and speaks very oddly when Easton finds her doing so.

Around the manor house, there are hares, very strange hares who move very unnaturally, and don’t stay dead when you shoot them. The local tarn, or lake, which the manor house sits on the shore of is both strangely dark, and strangely lit at night by what, at sea, might be bioluminescent algae.

Easton’s batman, Angus, catches a fish and wishes he hadn’t.

This is clearly a very bad place to be, and Madeline and Roderick both hate it. Why won’t they leave? What holds them there?

Easton, Angus, Denton, and Miss Potter all want explanations, and the more information they uncover, the darker their speculations get. The mushrooms Miss Potter showed Easton aren’t the only, or the strangest, fungi in the area. When they cut open first a fish, and then a hare–which doesn’t stay put even after a second killing blow — they realize it’s time to be very, very scared.

But how can they fight a fungus that’s in the lake, and the local wildlife, and, they realize to their horror, in Madeline?

Read this, and you might never eat mushrooms again. Or hare, if hare meat ever comes your way. Or fish you haven’t caught and cleaned yourself.

I haven’t half done this story justice. Just read it, and see for yourself how good it is. How creepy, atmospheric, peopled by good characters, and with a real scare awaiting you.

I bought this book.

Lis Carey Review: Even Though I Knew the End

Even Though I Knew the End by C. L. Polk
Tordotcom, ISBN 9781250849458, November 2022

Review by Lis Carey: This story was definitely not for me.

I had bad feelings just reading the title. It telegraphs that there’s something not positive about the ending, right? And the publisher’s blurb for it cheerily states that the protagonist, Helen, sold her soul to save her brother’s life. This is accurate.

As a direct result, she and her brother are no longer on good terms, or even in contact. She also got kicked out of the magical order they belonged to because, of course, damned soul.

Then years later, her time is almost up, and she gets pulled into the investigation of Chicago’s White City Vampire, a serial killer who is apparently a demon. She doesn’t want to be involved; she has only three days left and wants to spend them with her girlfriend, Edith. Her client offers irresistible bait, though–the chance to win her soul back, and have a lifetime with Edith.

It turns out Edith has her own secret, and also the White City Vampire isn’t a demon, although they are something closely related. 

Helen, Edith, and Edith’s secret start investigating the killings, the victims, and seeming bystanders who had mental breakdowns shortly after each killing. It’s what happens to those bystanders that makes the real identity of the killer even more appalling.

There’s so much I want to say about what happens here and why I dislike the story. Unfortunately, I can’t say what I want without spoilers, and it probably doesn’t matter because probably most readers, or at least enough readers for this story to have the audience that made it a Hugo Finalist, either wouldn’t agree with me, or wouldn’t care.

It is a very well-written story. It’s a good mystery, and a good romance, despite the thing that spoils the enjoyment of it for me. It doesn’t, however, have the substance and depth that made me consider “Rabbit Test” a serious candidate for my first place vote in the short story category, despite also being dark and depressing in a way that made it hard for me to read. This story is supposed to be just a fun story, and maybe it is for many, but not for me.

I received this story as part of the 2023 Hugo Voters Packet.

Lis Carey Review: Chasm City

Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds (Trantor Audio, 2009)

Review by Lis Carey: Chasm City is set in Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe, a century or so after the events of The Prefect and Elysium Fire. Or, put another way, some years after the end of the Belle Epoch, the golden age of the height of human civilization in the Yellowstone system, where Chasm City on the planetary surface, and the Glitter Band, made up of thousands of orbital habitats, offered the near-idyllic life of your choice, until the Melding Plague brought it crashing down. 

 The Melding Plague infects all nanotechnology, including nanotech implants in human beings, and causes it to mutate and distort in ways that in machinery is disturbing and dangerous, and in humans is horrific. The near-utopian life of the Belle Epoch civilization in the Yellowstone system depended on that nanotech and what it made possible. The wealthy who were able to get their implants out, or who sealed themselves into high-tech coffins that allow them to live lives with the tools and pleasures of implants, live in relative comfort in the Canopy of Chasm City. The non-wealthy live in much less desirable areas lower down, and the lowest and worst of those areas is the Mulch. 

The main character is Tanner Mirabel, or at least, he sincerely believes he is. He comes to Yellowstone from the world of Sky’s Edge, and he’s hunting the man who killed his friend and employer, Cahuella, an arms dealer and, by many accounts, a sadistic monster. Tanner has a better opinion of him than many others, indeed thinks of him as being in some ways a good man. Cahuella’s wife tells Tanner he’s better than Tanner realizes, that he was better than his reputation when she met him, and has continued to improve since. 

Tanner is one of the two narrative voices in the book, the other being Sky Haussmann, born on a slow colony ship from Earth to the intended colony world of Journey’s End. The ship has a crew of about 150, and a cargo of tens of thousands of sleepers, who will be awakened on arrival at their new home. We meet Haussmann as a young boy, and follow him as he rises through the crew, by intelligence, hard work, and, oh yes, treachery. He becomes both the hero and the villain of the story of how the planet–now called Sky’s Edge–was successfully settled. 

He also becomes a religious figure, inspiration for a cult, and his followers have created a virus that gives those infected visions of his life. 

Tanner’s home is Sky’s Edge, and he has become infected with the virus. 

Tanner leaves Sky’s Edge and goes to Yellowstone, after Cahuella and his wife are killed, pursuing the killer. Without FTL, the trip takes fifteen years, and it’s during those fifteen years that Yellowstone goes from the very height of civilization to collapse under the effects of the Melding Plague, and struggling to preserve any civilization at all. The Glitter Band is now the Rust Band, and only parts of Chasm City are civilized and pleasant–and even that part has a bloodthirsty edge that perhaps was just not so apparent before. Along the way, he meets the religious order that cares for those who awake from cold sleep with their minds not yet fully reintegrated, the entrepreneurs who, for a price, will remove your implants, hopefully before the Melding Plague gets you. He meets some interesting people, some of whom are part of one of Chasm City’s more bloodthirsty sports, and some very attractive women who may or may not be his friends. 

His sleeping visions of the life of Sky Haussmann become more frequent, more intrusive, and start to depart from the official version of Sky’s life. 

In his waking hours, outside the visions, he starts to learn some confusing and disturbing things about himself and those around him. 

And we start to ask ourselves, as he is, who is Tanner Mirabel, really? 

There are twists on twists, here, and the answer may not be what you think. 

Tanner, Sky, and the people Tanner meets, are interesting and compelling characters, not necessarily likable, and not necessarily who you think. 

It’s an absorbing and exciting book. 

I received this audiobook as a gift. 

Lis Carey Review: John Wiswell’s “D.I.Y.”

“D.I.Y.” by John Wiswell
Tor Books, ISBN 009781250870209, August 2022

Review By Lis Carey: The opening of this story does not bring us to a happy world. Climate change has had a major impact, most strongly felt in the heat and the shortage of potable water.

The tech that’s involved here, though, includes magic. The companies expected to address the problem are the great magic academies, among them Ozymandias Academy, where once upon a time, a young man named Noah hoped to become a student. When he’s finally accepted, though, it’s without any financial aid, and his mother, struggling just to support the two of them, has no money. Noah, being a bright young man, puts the blame where it belongs, and in some ways, that sets up later events.

Noah meets up with a podcaster, who goes by MX_POTLUCK, or, to friends, simply “Manny.” Both shut out of any serious magical training, they do their own research and experimentation, including coax water out of the air into glasses. The amounts are small, but it’s a start. They proceed to build on their start, especially as Ozymandia Academy gets more control of the limited water supply, and gets more restrictive, and more elitist, in its distribution of water.

But both Noah and Manny have serious health problems, and when they make a real breakthrough, it coincides with Manny having a major health crisis.

I’ll just say that these are two tough, clever, young men with integrity. This is a more hopeful story than “Rabbit Test,” and I enjoyed it. Sadly, while I think it deserves its nomination, I think “Rabbit Test,” which I will never voluntarily reread, really is the better work.

I received this story as part of the 2023 Hugo Voters Packet.

Lis Carey Review: The Difference Between Love and Time

“The Difference Between Love and Time” by Catherynne M. Valente
Someone in Time: Tales of Time-Crossed Romance, edited by Jonathan Strahan, Solaris Books, 2022

Review by Lis Carey: Our first-person narrator first meets the space-time continuum when she is a little girl playing with her Lego set, and he is presenting as a boy of the same age. He changes her Lego set in to a fancier one, one that possibly Lego does not actually make. It’s the start of an off and on relationship, in which sometimes, for her, there may be minutes or years between their meetings. They go to high school together. She goes to college, but because of the weird dimensional effects of college with all those young people in transitional stages, he can’t even set foot on campus, and has to meet her elsewhere.

They have breakups and reconciliations. He tells her about other dimensions where she’s a happier woman. Or a happier greyhound. It’s a kaleidoscope, which she spends much of in the decaying seaside town of Ocean Shores, WA, because she loves it.

It’s a strange, kaleidoscope love story, and Things Happen that, well, that would be way too spoilery.

Honestly, just go with it. You’ll find out the difference between love and time.

I received this story as part of the 2023 Hugo Voters Packet.

Lis Carey Review: Samantha Mills’ “Rabbit Test”

“Rabbit Test” by Samantha Mills
Uncanny Magazine, Issue #49, 2022

Review by Lis Carey: In this rather dark short story, we follow the troubles of Grace, whom we meet as an 18-year-old girl who has gotten pregnant, in a late 21st century society where technology has been weaponized to make it almost impossible for pregnancy to evade detection. She’s not paranoid and careful enough to be able to terminate it before it’s detected, and this basically eliminates most of her life choices.

In between parts of the story of Grace and her daughter, Olivia, we get bits about the history of pregnancy tests, including the iconic “rabbit test,” as well as earlier tests, dating back to ancient times, many (but not all) of which were surprisingly effective. As society changed to put women more completely in the power of men, many of them became illegal, and termination, when available, also became illegal.

Grace and Olivia aren’t the only women we get to know, at least a little bit, and none of these included stories are happy reading. It’s a powerfully told story, but also dark, and hard to take, at least for me. The nonsequential telling of it gives a good understanding of the history of pregnancy detection, abortion, and the struggle for women to control their own bodies and make their own life decisions. I’m not sorry I read it, but honestly, if it weren’t short, and weren’t a finalist for the Hugo Awards 2023 Best Short Story, I probably wouldn’t have finished it.

As in all things, make your own decision. (While it’s still legal?)

I received this story as part of the 2023 Hugo Voters Packet.

Lis Carey Review: “On the Razor’s Edge”

“On the Razor’s Edge” by Jiang Bo

Review by Lis Carey: I believe the cover shown is the anthology that contains this short story, a finalist for the 2023 Best Short Story Hugo. My apologies to all if I have this wrong.

Zhong Lixin is a Chinese astronaut, on China’s Tiangong Space Station in 2028. He’s working on his assigned projects, along with another astronaut, Duan Guozhu, when they hear what they’ve never heard before on the station — the emergency alarm. Soon they’re working on repairs, fixable ones, fortunately, damage caused by micrometeors colliding with the station. They’ve been fortunate, and can continue their mission.

Then they get new, disturbing information. Some of that same micrometeor cluster hit the International Space Station, and have caused a fire on it.

“International” or not, the Chinese regard the ISS as an American space station, and when this accident occurs, the ISS crew consists of three Americans. But this is space, and they’re all astronauts together. Yet, Zhong and Duan don’t know of any way they can rescue the Americans.

Fortunately, despite existing tensions between the two governments, those on the ground take the same view about not leaving astronauts stranded whatever their nationality. Even better, someone on the ground has an idea. It’s speculative, risky, involves doing things never tried before. Success is far from guaranteed.

What follows is a nailbiter, exciting, scary, and completely compelling.

A worthy finalist.

I received this story as part of the 2023 Hugo Voters Packet.

Lis Carey Review: Wole Talabi’s “A Dream of Electric Mothers”

“A Dream of Electric Mothers,” a novelette by Wole Talabi, first published in Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction, Sheree Renèe Thomas (editor), Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (editor), Zelda Knight (editor), Tordotcom, ISBN 9781250833006, November 2022

Review by Lis Carey: Brigadier-General Dolapo Abimbola Titilope Balogun is the youngest member of the cabinet of what I think is the country of Yoruba, with what is currently Kenya again separated into Yoruba and Dahomey. (I was intent on the story, and I’m not 100% sure I picked up the political detail correctly, except that Dahomey is definitely “the other country.” If someone can correct me, please do.) They are facing rising tensions with Dahomey, over a border dispute, and are seeking a solution that neither surrenders the territory in dispute, nor results in war. So far, they’re not having success.

Someone proposes consulting the Electric Mothers, the combined electronic memory of all the people of the country who have died since its creation. It’s the Electric “Mothers” and not Elders or Fathers or something else, because when accessed, it manifests as the united voices of many women. This might be because the designer of it was a woman–Balogun’s great-grandaunt, in fact.

Balogun is skeptical of the need to consult the Electric Mothers at this point. She feels they haven’t been deliberating very long, and they shouldn’t rush to seek the electronic ancestors’ aid quite this quickly. They can surely work it out themselves.

But, as mentioned, she’s the newest and youngest member of the cabinet, and also the only one who has never experienced communion with the Electric Mothers before. She does not carry the day. Even with one  of the oldest cabinet members sharing her reservations, they do not carry the day.

They go through some (not all) of the usual formalities, and enter the chamber where they will consult the Electric Mothers. All the cabinet members will commune with the ancestors; they will all experience it individually, and they will all ask the same one agreed question. It won’t take long; no such consultation has ever lasted more than five minutes.

Balogun sticks to her duty on that one question, but it turns out she has her own personal question to ask, not at all related to her duty. While the response to the agreed, official question is unexpected and somewhat disturbing, it’s with her own question that we learn the most about Balogun, her motives, and about the Electric Mothers. Also, of course, about this African country in a future that’s not next week, but also, not the distant future.

It’s a very good story, focused on my favorite thing, good, interesting characters in their own setting. I’d love to read more set in this background.

I received this story as part of the 2023 Hugo Voters Packet.

Lis Carey Review: How to Resist Amazon and Why

Review: How to Resist Amazon and Why: The Fight for Local Economies, Data Privacy, Fair Labor, Independent Bookstores, and a People-Powered Future! Danny Caine (author and narrator)
Pear Press, ISBN 9781732380394, April 2021

Review by Lis Carey: Danny Caine runs an independent, employee-owned bookstore, Raven Book Store, in Lawrence, Kansas. He’s also an active small business advocate, and makes an excellent case that Amazon is destructive of small businesses, local economies, and fair business regulation and practices.

Some of the stories in here are funny and delightful; others are horrifying.

Caine examines the ways that Amazon, as the owner of the platform many small businesses sell on, as well as a direct competitor to those business, and able to set the rules that everyone on the platform competes under, exploits information businesses wouldn’t share with any other competitor, and can rig the rules. Once a business comes to depend on Amazon sales, getting banned by Amazon can be a death sentence, and there’s really no appeal process. Amazon, in such instances, is judge, jury, and executioner.

There’s also the matter of worker safety, and worker pay. Amazon brags about its $15 an hour minimum starting pay, but that’s for actual Amazon employees. Same with safety practices. The actual Amazon warehouses tend to have a pretty good record overall. But many people who appear to be in every way Amazon employees are in fact third party contractors, and they don’t get the guaranteed minimum $15 an hour. Amazon also sets performance standards that are essentially unmeetable, and that creates pressure to value speed over safety.

Many of the “Amazon delivery vans” that we see daily are in fact owned by third party companies, small companies founded to meet the Amazon demand for delivery trucks and personnel, and aren’t covered by Amazon’s corporate minimum wage, or any other Amazon policies covering employees. And these are the majority of the people delivering your Amazon packages, in trucks marked with the Amazon logo, and wearing Amazon shirts and hats. If there’s an accident, and someone is injured or killed (this has happened, and hit the news sometimes), you’re not going to be suing a huge company with very deep pockets, who can afford to pay large damages. You’re far more likely to be suing a tiny local company that is more likely to go bankrupt.

Since most of these companies exist only to deliver Amazon packages, this seems like a cheat.

Caine has a lot more to say. What he isn’t saying, and I’m not saying (and not doing, either), is to boycott Amazon. Generally, it’s difficult to impossible. If I need something heavy, such as the new air conditioner I recently bought, or the rollator I’m considering now after my knee recently gave way under me, I’m going to need it delivered, and often Amazon is the only retailer that will deliver. It provides the backbone of many other commercial websites–including Danny Caine’s own Raven Book Store. I do my best to get as many as possible of my audiobooks from sources other than (Amazon-owned) Audible, such as Libro.fm, which lets you support your preferred local bookstore with your audiobook purchases, or 

Audiobooks.com, which at least isn’t Amazon. For print books, there’s Bookshop.org, which also lets you support your local bookstore, when you want something they don’t have on the shelf. (Although I have a bit of conceptual problem with this one. If I want a print book, and it has to be ordered anyway, I’m going to order it directly from my favorite bookstore, Gibson’s Bookstore.) There are alternatives for ebooks, too, though sadly I’ve found nothing that’s really a substitute for Amazon there.

But my point is, without committing to a full boycott of Amazon, which can be very hard, you can start shifting some of your business elsewhere, and supporting your local businesses, which keeps the money circulating locally and supporting the local economy–and businesses bound by regulations that Amazon often avoids being subject to. You don’t have to be a purist on this to start doing a little bit of local good.

Caine has a lot more to say, and he tells it more interestingly than I do.

It won’t surprise you to know that this book isn’t available on Amazon. I got the audiobook on Libro.fm, and it’s available in print at Bookshop.org.

Fantaminals Small Dragon Wooden Puzzle, Judy Peterson

FanTaminals Small Dragon Wooden Puzzle
Made by Judy Peterson
Rochester, NY

Review by Lis Carey: This little creature, who has revealed her name to be Orlaith, is officially a “small dragon,” but close examination, which she permitted, and discussion with her, has revealed her to be a fire lizard. She’s very small, and quite maneuverable, and as with all of Judy’s work, the workmanship is excellent. As this little one flew to me from An Unnamed Source, I don’t have all the paperwork and can’t tell you her wood with real certainty, but it looks quite like the black cherry that Brandy, the cocker spaniel, is constructed from. It is likely the same wood.

Certainly her pieces are as well-made, and as pleasing to handle. Also like Brandy, she stands up on her four feet, in a way you just can’t expect of most puzzles.

As you can see here, in this picture of Orlaith hanging out with Brandy, she is significantly smaller than the cocker spaniel, and quite happy to be friends with her. This is natural, since they are from the same artist and the same workshop.

They are not hanging out with the Folkmanis beaked dragon, Gwenna. They have determined that they have Different Duties, the wooden puzzles to defend the windows, and the hand puppet to protect the bed. Cider is not sure she altogether approves of Brandy, a dog, not protecting the bed, but concedes the potential awkwardness of doing that, given that Brandy is made of hard, wooden pieces.

Altogether, they enliven my home, and make it more pleasant and attractive.

As noted above, I received Orlaith the fire lizard as a gift.


Facebook: FanTaminals

Business Card: Judy Peterson, 256 Dearcop Dr., Rochester NY 14624-1731. (608)609-2013. [email protected]