Visions of Paradise

Friday, February 22, 2008

Best f&sf of 2007

An amazing number of sf sources post lists of their best science fiction and fantasy books at the end of each year, including websites such as SF Site, Fantasy Magazine, Bookgasm, SFF World (which had lists by several critics), Fantasy Book Critic, Strange Horizons, Locus Online, Locus Magazine (which also had several critics’ lists), plus such award nominees as BSFA, Nebulas, and Philip K. Dick Awards.

Recently I logged the number of mentions of the favorite f&sf books for 2007 on about 20 of these lists. Here are the books which received the most mentions, which constitutes a fairly good recommended reading list for 2007:

Title / Author / # of lists containing it
Brasyl / Ian McDonald / 16

The Name of the Wind / Patrick Rothfuss / 13

Thirteen / Richard K Morgan / 11
Yiddish Policemen’s Union/ Michael Chabon / 11

Acacia / David Anthony Durham / 9

The Blade Itself / Joe Abercrombie / 7

Red Seas Under Red Skies / Scott Lynch / 6
The Prefect / Alastair Reynolds / 6
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows / J.K. Rowling / 6
Halting State / Charles Stross / 6

Territory / Emma Bull / 5
The Book of Joby / Mark J. Ferrari / 5
Bright of the Sky / Kay Kenyon / 5
The Terror / Dan Simmons / 5
The Orphan’s Tales: In the Cities of Coin & Spice / Catherynne M. Valente / 5

Spook Country / William Gibson / 4
In War Times / Kathleen Ann Goonan / 4
Ysabel / Guy Gavriel Kay / 4
The Dreaming Void / Peter F. Hamilton / 4
Generation Loss / Elizabeth Hand / 4
The New Moon’s Arms / Nalo Hopkinson / 4
Mainspring / Jay Lake / 4
Cowboy Angels / Paul J. McAuley / 4
The Last Colony / John Scalzi / 4
Queen of Candesce / Karl Schroeder / 4
Softspoken / Lucius Shepard / 4

A Betrayal In Winter / Daniel Abraham / 3
Ragamuffin / Tobias Buckell / 3
Reaper’s Gale / Steven Erikson / 3
The Accidental Time Machine / Joe Haldeman / 3
Endless Things / John Crowley / 3
Daughter of Hounds / Caitlin R. Kiernan / 3
The Execution Channel / Ken MacLeod / 3
Shelter / Susan Palwick / 3
Making Money / Terry Pratchett / 3
Sixty Days and Counting / Kim Stanley Robinson / 3
Axis / Robert Charles Wilson / 3

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Starflame, Part 2

The three peacekeepers ignored the urging of the colonists to begin searching immediately. Instead they spent the night sleeping in a small hut. Anila was a restless sleeper, awaking a half-dozen times, always envious at how Hadar slept so soundly he might have been comatose. Jov moved around in her sleep, her tail twitching almost constantly, but she seemed content. Eventually Anila gave up her efforts to sleep, instead sat cross-legged and meditated. That relaxed her almost as much as sleeping did anyway.

In the morning the colonists gave them another meal, with stewed fruit replacing the vegetables and the bread considerably sweeter.

“The diet in this place is sufficient reason for somebody to run away,” Hadar whispered to Anila and Jov. They both agreed with him. Anila could accept a lot of religious quirks, but why would a religion ruin one of its members’ most important pleasures by serving uniformly unappetizing meals?

Less than an hour after dawn the peacekeepers were ready with their backpacks to begin the search for the girl.

“What is her name again?” Anila asked.


“That’s so we don’t return the wrong girl to you,” she said, enjoying the look of consternation on the colonists’ faces. They were certainly a particularly joyless group of people. She was beginning to understand why Sarah felt the need to flee.

They approached the settlement’s invisible fence and waited for the signal that it had been turned off. Ephron watched somebody standing in front of a warehouse-like building until he waved his arm in the air.

“You can go now,” he said.

Immediately Hadar picked up a rock and tossed it in the direction of the fence. When it passed through harmlessly, he walked towards it, followed by Anila and Jov.


Jov’s weapon was the ability to track, so Anila and Hadar followed her as they passed through the field into the woods. They soon stumbled upon a group of white apes who were as startled to see the peacekeepers as they were seeing the apes. Up close they looked less like Earth apes. Their feet resembled flippers and their arms had no joint in the middle. But those arms were incredibly strong as they grasped small trees and easily pulled them out of the ground to get at the vegetation high over the apes’ heads. Their faces were decidedly un-Terran, more like canine snouts than apelike. Up close the white fur resembled the quills of porcupines rather than real fur.

The apes were obviously intimidated by the peacekeepers, immediately turning and fleeing from them. They did not even stop when they were a safe distance away, but kept running until they were totally out of sight.

“I guess the colonists were right that they are peaceful,” Hadar said.

“Don’t confuse fear with peacefulness,” Jov growled. “Terran cats are easily frightened, but they are still predators by nature. It might be our size that frightens the apes more than their disposition.”

“Our size?” Anila snickered.

Jov growled. “All right, your sizes.”

After tracking for several hours, the peacekeepers stopped for lunch. Both Hadar and Jov opened cans containing meat. Jov’s were chunks of meat in gravy, while Hadar’s was a loaf of bread stuffed with meat. Anila was a vegetarian whose stuffed bread was filled with beans and spices.

“This is a hell of a lot tastier than stewed anything!” she said as the spices filled her head. “I’m surprised they don’t flavor their meals with alcoholic drinks.”

“They certainly do,” Hadar said.

“How do you know that?”

“I sneaked a peak in the back room of the meeting hut. It contained a still.”

Anila and Jov both laughed.

After eating and resting they continued their search.

“How’s the trail?” Anila asked Jov.

“Faint after a whole week, but I’m having no problem following it.”

“Do you have any idea how far away Sarah is?”

“Not yet. From the faintness of the trail she did not pass this way recently. She could be halfway across the planet by now.”

Hadar sighed. “Too bad we could not track her in the shuttle.”

“You know I cannot track inside an enclosed vehicle.”

“Well, I wish the damned scientists would start working on that. It would certainly ease much of the harshness of this job.”

“Aren’t you the one who loves native flora and fauna?” Anila said.

“I do, but I’m not particularly fond of hiking for days on end. I could experience native life just as well by flying toward a location and sitting there observing for a few hours.”

They continued hiking through the dwindling day, stopping for another meal in the evening, then continuing until it grew too dark to see. They selected a relatively open area to set up the tent which Hadar carried in his pack. Anila carried the portable fence which she set up around them. While it was certainly not as powerful as that used by the colony, anybody passing through it would set off a signal loud enough to waken the three peacekeepers.

Unlike the previous night, Anila was so tired she fell asleep quickly and did not wake for a long time. When she did waken it was abruptly to a flurry of scuffling noises in the tent.

“Hadar? Is that you?”

“No, there’s something in the tent with us!”

Suddenly Jov flicked on a light which brightened the entire tent. All three peacekeepers gasped at sight of a huge creature standing in their midst, moaning as it looked anxiously at the light. It was one of the apes. When its gaze settled on Anila it moved towards her, its short arms held outward as if it intended to grasp her.

“Watch out for those arms!” Jov screamed.

Anila jumped to her feet and held her own arms out in front of her. Her weapon was the ability to confuse a being’s sensory input, and she unleashed it against the ape. Immediately it stopped walking and looked around the tent confusedly, its eyes wide and unfocussed. The problem with Anila’s weapon was that its effects spilled over, so the peacekeepers were momentarily disoriented as well.

The ape stumbled around the tent, waving its stubby arms, as the peacekeepers cringed away from its quill-like fur. Hadar particularly was jumping around the tent, shaking his head trying to see the ape. His weapon was the ability to make beings comatose, but first he had to touch them. If he could not see the ape, he could easily impale himself on its quills.

“Hurry!” Anila cried as the ape swung its arms over her head. Quickly she ducked and scampered to the other side of the tent.

Suddenly Hadar fell to the ground and rolled across the tent floor, stopping when he felt something.

“That’s me,” Jov cried. Hadar rolled away from him until he felt something else, by which time his vision had cleared enough to see the feet of the ape. Then Hadar gripped one of the feet in both arms and concentrated. Immediately the ape’s legs weakened and it fell to the ground. Hadar rolled away from its bulk in time to avoid being crushed.


Some careful probing quickly told them the ape’s quills were too sharp to move the ape easily, so instead the peacekeepers moved their tent and fence a short distance away. They set a rotation of watch-guards for the rest of the night, but none of them could sleep anyway. Instead they all sat and watched as the ape awoke, stared at them momentarily, then lumbered away into the woods.

“So why didn’t any of us hear the fence’s siren?” Hadar said.

“You sleep too soundly to hear anything!” Jov said.

“I accept that,” he said, “but it’s part of my nature, so it is not a personal fault. However, you sleep very lightly, and Anila hardly sleeps at all. Why didn’t one of you two hear it?”

Jov looked at Anila with raised ears. “I don’t know,” she said.

“Neither do I,” said Jov.

They say thinking briefly until Hadar said, “That eliminates the possibility that somebody turned off the fence for Sarah.”

They both looked at him, seeking some flaw in what he said, but unable to find any.

“So what do we do now?” Jov said.

“I guess we keep posting a guard outside the tent,” Anila said.

“That’s easy for you two to say,” Hadar groaned, “But I need more sleep than both of you.”

Anila laughed. “That’s no problem. We’ll extend our nights so everybody gets sufficient sleep. So what if we spend a few extra days on this planet?”

Hadar waved his hands. “Forget I said that! Maybe we should cut out nights altogether and find that girl as soon as possible so we can go to someplace more civilized.”

“Not to mention easing her parents’ worries.”

“Yeah, that too,” he said.


Anila and Hadar lay in their sleeping bags, eyes closed but very much awake as they waited for something to happen. Anila meditated, concentrating on nothing but her primordial sound. Gradually she drifted into the meditative state which always relaxed her no matter how stressful her situation might be.

An abrupt noise broke her state. She opened her eyes and saw a white ape standing in the middle of the tent, looking around as if it was searching for something. She stood up quickly and faced it. As soon as the ape saw her, its expression changed and it lumbered in her direction.

“Jov!” Anila cried.

Immediately the cat scampered into the tent, stopping at sight of the ape.

“I swear I was awake the whole time,” she said. “Nothing could have possible gotten past that fence without my knowing it.”

“Watch out!” Hadar said as the ape neared Anila. He hunched down and began to duck-walk across the floor.

“Don’t interfere!” Anila insisted. “I don’t think he intends to harm me.”

Hadar looked confused as he looked from Anila to the ape. His brow furrowed in concentration.

“But what about the quills?” he said.

“Please trust me,” Anila said. “There are no quills on his arms or stomach.”

She stepped past Hadar into the path of the ape. Both Hadar and Jov watched nervously as the ape neared Anila, then tilted his head a few times as if studying her. Suddenly it placed both arms around Anila and hugged her tightly to him.

“He just wants to be friends,” Anila said, smiling, as the others watched she and the ape abruptly vanish from the tent.


Anila awoke with a severe headache. She kept her eyes closed and performed a brief mantra to ease it. When she opened her eyes, she was sitting in a small grove surrounded by towering trees.

“Hello,” a voice said softly.

Anila turned around abruptly and saw a human girl standing in front of a cave entrance not far away.

“By any chance, are you Sarah?”

“You found me!” The girl covered her face with her hands and began sobbing. When Anila stood up, the girl hugged her desperately. “I didn’t think anybody would ever find me.”

When the girl was calm, they sat and talked. Sarah had been abducted by an ape in the same manner Anila had been. Now Anila realized the apes were teleports, which explained both how it escaped with Sarah and how it got into the tent twice. Sarah explained that the ape cared for her as if she was its child, even trying to breastfeed her until Sarah refused so forcibly the ape quit trying. At times the ape made Sarah walk with it to a nearby river where she helped Sarah drink and wash. On those trips they always encountered other apes with their own children.

“The young apes look exactly like human children,” Sarah said. “No hair, very thin. I think my ape lost its baby somehow and was replacing it with what it thought was an orphan child since I was not with another ape when it found me.”

“Maybe it thought it was adopting me too,” Anila said. “Where is the ape now?”

“It generally leaves me alone during the day while it seeks food.”

“So why haven’t you tried to find your way home?”

Sarah frowned. “Where are we? What’s my direction home? How far is it? I tried fleeing the first day I was alone, but after nearly getting lost in the woods surrounding this grove I realized I was a lot safer here being fed by my mother ape until somebody found me.”

“Well, we don’t have to worry about that now,” Anila said, pulling a small cube out of her pocket. “My team can find us via this device. Depending on how far away they are, we’ll just sit here and wait for them.”

“Are you hungry?” Sarah said abruptly.

Anila frowned. “A bit, I guess. Why?”

Sarah motioned towards the distant trees. “Mom is bringing us breakfast.”

Anila laughed as she watched the ape approaching carrying an armful of fruit. She actually felt sorry for the ape who was going to lose her children for the second time.


Saturday, February 09, 2008

Starflame, Part 1

This is the first installment of a story which originally appeared in Visions of Paradise #109. Let me know if you enjoy it and wish to see more fiction in this blog.

Anila was the first person off the shuttle. She was greeted by two dozen colonists who gathered around the landing grid. Standing in front of the group was the apparent leader.

Anila wore a peacekeeper’s jumper, dark brown with beige ornamentation on her wrists, shoulders and waist. The uniform blended with her dark brown skin and black hair. All the colony’s men wore black pants and shirt with a large straw hat, while the woman wore bonnets and ground-length dresses. Anila was not surprised since Penn’s World had been settled by Quaker revivalists.

The colony leader extended his hand to Anila. “I am so pleased you came here,” he said. His smile was a broad one, but Anila realized it was more a smile of relief than a smile of pleasure. “My name is Ephron.”

“I’m Anila.”

“I thought peacekeepers traveled in teams of three.”

Anila nodded. “My partners are closing down the shuttle. We don’t take any chances when we leave it.”

Ephron looked slightly offended. “We would never impose on your privacy, or that of your personal possessions,” he said, a chill in his voice. “We are the most peace-loving religion in the entire Conglomerate.”

Anita deliberately let a trace of offense creep into her voice as she said, “I’m a Buddhist. We’re pretty peace-loving ourselves.”

Ephron’s eyes widened. “But aren’t peacekeepers a military force?”

“We are precisely what our name implies, an organization created by the Conglomerate to keep peace throughout the spiral arm. Our weapons are strictly defensive weapons which will never be used to cause harm to another being.”

“Aren’t there Mercies in your force?” somebody called from the group surrounding Ephron and Anila.

Anila laughed. “Mercies died out thousands of years ago, if they ever existed at all. Many historians believe they were as much legend as the so-called technological age which preceded the crazy years.”

There was some nervous laughter, but a few people studied Anila critically, not sure if she were telling them the truth. She shrugged. Let them believe whatever they wished; her task was keeping the peace, not debunking superstitions.

Suddenly an audible gasp ran through the crowd as their attention shifted to the shuttle. Anila’s two partners were descending the shuttle’s ramp. First was a foot-high grey cat with white trim under her neck and above all four paws. Behind it walked what looked like a male human, but as he reached the ground certain differences became visible. His legs were jointed backwards and he had two opposable thumbs on each hand. He was totally hairless, although the colonists could not see that through his jumper.

“These are my partners,” Anila said. “Jov–“ motioning first to the cat “–and Hadar.”

The crowd’s reaction to the two aliens was completely different. The colonists eased away from the not-quite human Hadar, but the youngsters were fascinated by the cat. A few tried to run to it, but their parents held them firmly at their side.

Anila smiled. “You can let the children go to Jov,” she said. “She enjoys being petted by youngsters.”

Hearing that, two children immediately pulled free of their mother’s grip, while another began pleading with his father. Meanwhile the cat sat patiently awaiting their prodding and poking.

“She really doesn’t mind?” Ephron said, looking dubious.

Anila shook her head. “Jov is the crowd-pleaser in our group. She’ll let people get away with things that would definitely annoy Hadar or me.”

Eventually Ephron led the three peacekeepers to a private meeting inside a nearby building. It was traditional for peacekeepers to first be shown their quarters and allowed to rest from their trip, but this was not the first time a colony’s need was so urgent they dispensed with the niceties and got right to business.

The meeting room was well-stocked with food and drinks. Both Anila and Hadar filled plates with stewed vegetables and huge chunks of bread with preserves. Hadar looked for meat, but Anila whispered to him that Quaker revivalists had given up the practice of eating meat. They carried their plates to the table and were getting bowls of punch when Ephron approached Anila.

“Shouldn’t somebody feed the cat?”

Anila laughed. “Jov has opposable thumbs on her front paws. She is as capable of caring for herself as I am, although perhaps not so well as Hadar who has the advantage of double the number of thumbs.”

Ephron glanced at Hadar dubiously, his eyes widening at the peacekeeper’s broad smile which exposed sharp teeth obviously intended for tearing prey.

“Don’t worry,” he said in a deceptively high-pitched voice, “My ancestors gave up eating raw meat millennia ago.”

Ephron’s expression exposed his discomfort as he followed Anila away from the others. In a low voice he asked her, “How do you get along with your partners?”

“No differently than I get along with any two humans.”

“It wouldn’t be easier having human partners who don’t have such differences from you?”

Anila laughed loudly, attracting the attention of other nearby colonists. “The Conglomerate is much more diverse than your little colony is. Anybody who fears differences is better off staying isolated on their self-contained little world than traveling through the spiral arm.”

With that she took her plate to the table and sat beside Hadar who was frowning at his plate of stewed vegetables. He shrugged and dipped a chunk of bread into it.

The peacekeepers ate, while the colony leaders fidgeted, anxious to get started on business. Some of them stared at Hadar tearing the bread with his sharp teeth, while others watched in amazement as Jov ate with a fork and spoon.

The three peacekeepers were barely halfway finished with their food when Ephron said, “Can we discuss our problem now?”

Anila’s mouth was filled with food, so she merely nodded without speaking.

“One of our children is missing,” Ephron said.

Hadar swallowed. “Missing?”

“She did not come to the main hall for dinner a week ago. All our dinners are communal meals by custom. We sent out a search team, but they found no sign of her. We searched for three days without success.”

“Could she have run away?” Anila said.

“My daughter Sarah would never run away!” a woman cried out, her voice filled with pain. All three peacekeepers looked away politely, and nobody spoke while the man sitting next to her calmed the woman.

“It would be impossible for her to run away without our knowing it,” Ephron said.

“Why is that?”

“We have a protective fence around the entire settlement. Nothing can get past it without setting off the settlement’s alarms.”

“Could somebody have shut the power momentarily while she slipped through?” Anila asked.

Several colonists, including Ephron, looked stunned. “Why would anybody do that?”

Anila shrugged. “I don’t know the dynamics of the colony, nor what type of atmosphere you have created for your children here. Sometimes a colony based on precepts which are perfectly acceptable to adults can be hellish for the colony children.”

Immediately the colonists began talking amongst themselves, and from the tones of their voices it was obvious they were displeased. Finally Ephron said in a low, restrained voice, “Your implication is offensive to the entire colony.”

“I am not concerned with placating your egos,” Anila said. “Do you want us to find Sarah or not?”

“Of course we do, but there is no need to insult the entire colony–“

”Stifle your pride,” Anila said. “I grew up on a Buddhist world where all my friends fled as soon as we were old enough because we were absolutely stifled in the overly-strict Buddhist regimen of the colony. Their practices suits the adults’ own conservative beliefs very well, but they accepted those practices voluntarily. We children were not given the same option as the adults.”

Several emotions flicked across Ephron’s face, and she saw his mouth move back and forth as if he were trying to speak. Finally he said, “So what do you want to do?”

“First we will try to find Sarah ourselves, but if we do not succeed we will question every child in the colony. Because, according to what you told me, she could not possibly have gotten past the invisible fence without help, right?”

Ephron clenched his mouth. “Yes.”

Anila leaned over and spoke quietly with Jov and Hadar briefly. When Hadar nodded and Jov purred her agreement, she returned her attention to the colony leaders.

“Take us to the colony border. We need to see what’s out there.”


The fence surrounding the colony was two miles long. The three peacekeepers walked its length with the colony leaders, attracting other interested colonists along the way. When Anila tossed a rock above the fence, it set off a loud siren which could be clearly heard through the entire colony. As they walked, she and Hadar asked questions about what they saw beyond the fence. Mostly it was open fields with forests visible in the distance. In one direction loomed a distant mountain.

The peacekeepers stopped when they saw movement far off in one of the fields.

“What is that?” Anila said.

They all pressed close to the fence, careful not to touch it, peering into the distance. Hadar took out a small pair of glasses which he hung over his ears, then twiddled two controls on the sidebars.

“It looks faintly apelike,” he said, “covered with white fur. I think it’s eating vegetation.”

“We call them apes,” Ephron said. “All we have ever seen them do is eat vegetation. They seem very peaceful.”

“Some peaceful-seeming animals can be very dangerous when they encounter humans,” Anila said.

“We have considered that,” Ephron said. There was a low moan in the crowd behind them.

“Have you seen any other native life?”

“Smaller animals, some of them meat-eaters but too small to be any real threat to the colony.”

“How small?” Hadar said.

Ephron motioned toward Jov. “The biggest are about twice the size of the cat.”

Anila pursed her lips. “That’s big enough to threaten a human child on her own. Do you have any of Sarah’s possessions that Jov can use to track her?”

Ephron nodded, and one of the colonists reached into a bag he had been carrying. He took out a small white garment which he handed to Anila.

“We figured you would need something which was in close contact with her body.”

Anila grinned and held out the pair of underpants to Jov. “Are you ready to sniff these?” she said, suppressing laughter. Jov let out a loud growl and reared back on her hind legs, extending her front paws. Her claws stuck out threateningly.

“Do you people think I’m some kind of pervert?” she said in a gravely voice, shocking the colonists both with the fact that she could speak and her obvious anger. “I’m not smelling anybody’s underwear! Get me something she touched, like a book.”

For an instant nobody moved, so Anila tossed the underpants back at Ephron. He fumbled trying to catch them, then picked them off the ground and tossed them to the man who returned them to the bag.

“Y-you heard the cat!” Ephron said. “Get Sarah’s bible, and hurry!”

As the man practically stumbled running to the nearest building, Anila gave in to her amusement and laughed aloud.


To be concluded.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Top-ranked f&sf authors

All right, I confess that I am both a compulsive list-maker and obssessed with rankings. Besides keeping rankings of books which I read (on a school-like A-B+-B-C-D scale), I recently averaged the rankings of all authors who had 4 or more books on the list in an attempt to determine as objectively as possible who is my favorite f&sf author.

Admittedly, there were many years in which I did not rank books I read, so this “average” is woefully incomplete, but it does give some idea of exactly which authors I prefer. It differs from my tally of which authors have the most books in my collection, since quantity, while related to quality, is not directly proportional to it (*ouch* that was the math teacher in my speaking!).

So here’s the top 20 ranked authors on my list. Do with it what you wish! (Note that I have read many Clifford D. Simak novels, but mostly before I began ranking books)

Author / # of Books Ranked / Average
Simak, Clifford D / 4 / 4.25
Michael Bishop / 9 / 4.22
Kim Stanley Robinson / 9 / 4.22
Jack McDevitt / 6 / 4.16
Robert Silverberg / 22 / 4.0
Orson Scott Card / 4 / 4.0
Alastair Reynolds / 4 / 4.0
Marion Zimmer Bradley / 9 / 3.89
Roger Zelazny / 8 / 3.89
Sherri S. Tepper / 7 / 3.86
C.J. Cherryh / 14 / / 3.79
Samuel R. Delany / 8 / 3.75
John Varley / 7 / 3.71
Poul Anderson / 10 / 3.6
Greg Bear / 7 / 3.57
Dan Simmons / 9 / 3.56
Tim Powers / 4 / 3.50
Niven, Larry / 5 / 3.40
Ian McDonald / 4 / 3.25