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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Asylum, by Various Authors, Post No. 7

This post was supposed to go up on Sunday, but this is what happens when you are hit with SURPRISE CRITICAL SERVER MAINTENANCE! Which took us until Monday night to really resolve, so now I can finally bring you all the seventh and final special Boosting the Signal post for the 2015 NIWA anthology, Asylum. The final featured author is Walt Socha, whose story in the anthology is “The Seventy Percent Solution”, and he offers you a small prologue for that story now! (And Walt is now the second Boosting the Signal guest I’ve had whose piece stars non-humanoid protagonists, too! With a nice tasty goal of GTFO, always a classic.)




Prologue to “The Seventy Percent Solution”

“Your food cravings will cause trouble,” Adur chittered. “Think of the future.” He wiped a paw over his face.

“Future?” M’rist shook her head, whiskers quivering. “We People are bred to be sacrificed to the whims of the Two Legs.”

“Stealing food from the nest of the Two Legs worker will not help.”

“But the dark food is very tasty.” M’rist lowered her gaze. “Makes me feel good.” She looked up. “Is there no hope of communicating with them?”

“We have discussed that. Remember our non-talking smaller cousins? One ran the maze quickly without pretending to be confused.” Adur shivered. “The chief of the Two Legs cut his head open.”

“Even if they knew we can talk like them?”

“We hear their low pitched sounds and understand them, but the Two Legs can not hear our higher pitched words. Even if they could, I doubt they could understand.” Adur sat, licked the back of his paw, and brushed it across his face. Even if they did establish communications by sound or by inking the sound symbols on paper, what would the Two Legs do? Could they trust creatures who cut their prisoners heads open for merely running through their primitive mazes without hesitation?

Letting his grooming falter, Adur let out a deep breath. The Peoples’ only hope was to escape this prison of pain.

But what then? The People did not even know what lay beyond the hard metal doors. They had mastered the many sheets of symbols stored in the nests of individual Two Legs. But even with visual images, it was difficult to interpret the descriptions of the outside world.

He resumed his grooming.


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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Asylum, by Various Authors, Post No. 5

The special Boosting the Signal week for the NIWA 2015 anthology Asylum continues! Today’s featured author is Pamela Bainbridge-Cowan, whose story is “Going Sane”—and whose unnamed narrator is seeking to escape The Facility. (And oh my no, a name like The Facility is not the SLIGHTEST BIT OMINOUS.) Before that, though, there’s a goal of figuring out how to cope with life, and Pamela’s sent me an excerpt in which her narrator and her friend Vo discuss how the narrator has had to cope with what life has thrown her up till now, via painting.




I had one friend at The Facility, maybe one friend anywhere. Of course the universe, with its ironic sense of humor, made sure that he—the least likely to help me—would be the only one who could.

Vo Danielson. Unless you’ve spent your life beyond the Milky Way you’ve heard of him: the best musician of our time, maybe of all time. And also that guy who wrapped his hands around a transport slide wire which discharged, melting his hands into unrecognizable lumps of useless flesh.

I remember the first time we talked. It was late and we were the only ones in the community lounge. Earlier, the walls of my room had felt like they were shrinking. I was having one of my manic nights, a dish of self-pity served with a side of rage.

Brazenly I stared at his hands, balled up into fists on his lap. “They say you didn’t know the wire carried enough energy to fry your hands. Did you?”

I was sitting at one of the carved mahogany tables. Had been reading. He was sitting on the end of one of the tastefully horrific white and pink silk couches my mother had donated. Had been doing nothing. He looked up and smiled. “I knew,” he said.

Later, he asked about my family.

“My family…” I repeated as I thought about the question. “My family is brilliant and unique. My mother, before she retired to be my business manager, was in genetic R&D with Myer-Hoy. She designed me when she was sixteen and perfected her work at nineteen when she got her first breeding license. She hadn’t wanted me to be conventionally pretty—there were far too many pretty people. Instead, my pattern was a truly heteromorphic design. As you can see, she made my features stark and angled, my eyes sharply slanted and of course just this lovely slash across my face for a mouth. She also wanted me tall, but since my torso is about average she put most of my height in my lower legs. Then, to make things more symmetrical she designed my forearms to be extra-long. She thought she was creating a really new exotic, not an ugly freak who looks more like an insect than a human.”

Sometimes Vo made me forget what I was. Forgetting is a set up. It’s like drinking, or drugs, or dreams. It’s a temporary fix that takes you up and drops you so you hit the ground again. It hurts when you hit the ground because you can remember the last time and the time before that: all those bad landings. The aggregate should kill you—but it doesn’t.

Vo eventually asked me why I paint the things I do.

I didn’t want to talk about that, but I didn’t want him to go away again either. Finally I said, “When I was thirteen I saw a dead raven beside a garbage can. It was an old bird, feathers ruffled, not bleeding, not shot. I thought maybe it had a broken neck, some sort of natural death. I wanted that to be true. Someone had tied a wide pink ribbon around its legs. Maybe so they could carry it without touching it too much. I don’t know. And why a ribbon, something so pretty? It was death and beauty. It was black and pink. Rough and smooth. I ran home and painted it. Everyone thought it was amazing. My mother saw it as my first truly creative moment. It was proof that she’d done everything right. Not just my design but all of it—not marrying, giving all her passion to her work. It was affirmation.

“She took it to a gallery and they wanted more. So for five years, I painted dead birds. Dead birds with ribbons around their feet or their necks. Dead birds covered with flowers, hung from twisted ivy in the branches of trees, heaped on the shores of breathtaking lakes. I got sick of dead birds. One day I painted a bird without feathers. Raw sinews and tissue purple with blood, feathers torn off and thrown down. I was having a tantrum. And they loved it.”


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Book Log, Other People's Books

Book review: Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ancillary Sword, book 2 of the Imperial Radch series, is not quite as awesome as Ancillary Justice–but that’s not actually a bad thing, since “not quite as awesome as its Hugo-winning predecessor” is still pretty freggin’ awesome.

In book 2, we’re picking up pretty much right where book 1 left off. Our protagonist Breq has been handed a Mercy and its crew, and has been tasked to protect the Athoek system. While doing that, she has to juggle dealing with a new lieutenant who’s not the baby-faced young officer she appears to be, the potentially hostile officers and crew of the larger ship Sword of Atagaris, making peace with the sister of one of her slain officers from when she’d been Justice of Toren, class conflict on the space station and planetside–and the risk of angering the alien Presger when one of their diplomats is killed. And all of this is happening under the shadow of the threat of civil war across the Radch–by which we mean, war between the factions of the Lord of the Radch herself.

There’s certainly no shortage of action, to be sure. At no point in this story was I ever bored. However, by comparison to book 1, I found Breq’s jumping around from event to event in this plot less focused. There’s no one particular big problem she has to solve in this story, and this gives everything a definite “middle book of a trilogy” feel. Given how book 1 ended, I came out of this one with an overall impression of the Lord of the Radch having just shunted Breq off out of the way, and a hope that the real action would pick up again in book 3.

So is this one Hugo-worthy? Unfortunately, I’m not convinced. It’s really good, but that’s not quite the same thing. It doesn’t really break any new ground that Ancillary Justice hadn’t already covered, and the lack of specific focus to the overall plot detracts from this book’s ability to stand shoulder to shoulder with its predecessor. Still, though, I enjoyed this immensely and will be eager to snap up Ancillary Mercy once it comes out later this year. Four stars.

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Boosting the Signal, Carina Press

Boosting the Signal: Lonely Shore, by Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen

Earlier this spring I featured fellow Carina authors Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen, with their debut SF novel Chaos Station. Book 2 of that series, Lonely Shore, is now available from Carina, and so Jenn and Kelly return to follow up on the tale of Felix and Zander with a peek at another character–Zander’s brother, who is very motivated to track down his sibling and find out what’s happened to him! Check it out.


Lonely Shore

Still Searching

Brennan Anatolius signed the holographic invoice and with a few key swipes sent it back to his assistant for routing to the appropriate department before closing his wallet’s interface. Darkness settled around him like an old, worn blanket. The emulated sunset beyond his office’s windows had come and gone God knew how long ago—he’d noted it, in the vague way you’d notice the air circulators switching off on their usual cycle. Nothing to worry about.

Leaning back in his chair, he rubbed the bridge of his nose. He should go home. His wife, Roz, was waiting for him and she’d been damned patient these last few weeks. She knew how hard it had been to almost catch up to his youngest brother on Chloris Station, only to have Zander avoid him so completely it couldn’t be an accident. But what, really, had he expected?

After falling into the black hole of Allied Earth Forces covert ops, Zed had stopped carrying a wallet. Any messages sent to his official, AEF-sanctioned account had gone unanswered. Then there’d been the viral holo of Zed and his team saving a bunch of civilians against orders—followed closely by the end of the war. Brennan had been sure that Zed would contact his family then. But he hadn’t. Six months had crawled by without any contact—until Zed’s override code had been used on their family-controlled station, Chloris.

Brennan slouched into his chair, a posture he’d never allow himself during business hours. He had to be calm, in control, a CEO worthy of his father’s legacy. Part of him knew that worrying about Zed wasn’t helping his health—the doctor had suggested his recent bout of insomnia was due to stress. Brennan figured it just gave him extra time to track down his brother.

He pushed forward and pulled out his wallet again. All right. The last lead he’d gotten was about a week ago, when the Chaos had passed through the gate near Mars. He tried not to think about how close Zed had been to their family’s home station of Alpha—Anatolius Industries’ oldest and most luxurious station, in orbit around Earth. Brennan had already established that the Chaos hadn’t docked on Hemera Station at the Hub—the central location where all the galactic gates led—but it wouldn’t hurt to check again.

In the back of his mind, he knew his search was fruitless. The only reason he’d found a trace of Zed before was that Zed had been desperate to get aboard Chloris to help an old friend. His little brother had skills. If he wanted to stay hidden—and clearly he did—Brennan wasn’t going to find him.

Still, he had to try.

When his wallet chirped with an incoming call, Brennan almost let it go to mail. Until he saw the name accompanying it. He scrambled for his wallet, fingers shaking.

“Zed? Zed? Please don’t have hung up!”


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