Posted by : atcampbell | On : July 18, 2000

The Rift by Walter J. Williams

Once again we had a large turnout, as fourteen people showed up to discuss this book. Additionally, one group member related comments from his wife, who had also read the book but was unable to attend. The Rift is a near-future disaster novel in which the New Madrid fault near the Mississippi River abruptly yields an earthquake of magnitude 8.9 on the Richter scale. The action follows a truly huge cast of characters spread all over the earthquake zone as they struggle to survive the disaster. A unifying theme is provided by two characters (a Caucasian teenage boy and an African-American adult engineer) who travel down the Mississippi in a boat, eventually encountering most of the rest of the viewpoint characters. Along the way, Williams provides details comparing this fictional quake with the little-known historical quakes that hit the New Madrid fault in the early 1800s.

We liked the scope of this book. Williams explored many consequences of a modern quake along the Mississippi, including fires, famine, poison gas, plague, concentration camps, race riots, and nuclear accidents. We were impressed by the detail of the research. Several people felt that following a black man and a white boy down the Mississippi was a deliberate homage to Huckleberry Finn. The

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Posted by : atcampbell | On : June 20, 2000

Mockingbird by Sean Stewart

We discussed Mockingbird at Elaine Powell’s house, where the meeting was combined with a pizza dinner and a pool party. Fifteen people showed up to partake of one or more of these activities. We had two first-time participants, including one out-of-state FACT member who’d been following our group through The FACT Sheet for years.

Mockingbird is an urban fantasy novel set in Houston. The narrator, Toni Beauchamp, is a thirtiesh actuary whose mother has recently passed away. Her mother had been involved with voodoo, and the spirits who once visited and possessed her mother are now turning their attentions to Toni. During the course of the novel Toni has to deal with voodoo spirits, her family, job stress, dating, a

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Posted by : atcampbell | On : June 6, 2000

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

A huge crowd of thirteen people showed up to discuss A Deepness in the Sky. Three of the participants were first-time visitors to our group. The start of the discussion was delayed a few minutes as we tried to find chairs for everyone.

A Deepness in the Sky is a space adventure novel set hundreds of years in our future. The story involves spacefaring humans sent to explore an anomalous star. Orbiting the star is a mysterious planet exhibiting signs of intelligent nonhuman life, with which the humans want to make contact. In addition to the difficult problems of investigating the star and making contact with an alien society, the explorers have another big problem. They come from two vastly different cultures

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Posted by : atcampbell | On : May 16, 2000

Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones

Seven people attended the discussion of Deep Secret, and one person submitted comments by e-mail. Deep Secret is a light fantasy novel set largely in our world in the present. Rupert Venables, a young magid (an interdimensional wizard) is assigned the task of recruiting a new magid from Earth. To simplify his task, he compiles a list of suitable candidates and arranges for all of them to attend a science fiction convention held in Great Britain during Easter weekend. Rupert’s experiences at the con are complicated by centaurs, obnoxious writers, a struggle for succession in an other-dimensional kingdom, and romance.

We liked a lot about this book. The story and characters were engaging, and we appreciated the novelty of a story taking place at a convention. Many details of the convention (hotel overbooking, egotistical authors, strange slogans on

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Posted by : atcampbell | On : May 2, 2000

Playing God by Sarah Zettel

Five people attended the discussion of Playing God, and one person submitted comments by e-mail. In this futuristic science fiction novel, a human corporation is hired to revitalize the ecology of a planet that has been ravaged by decades of war. The planet’s indigenous inhabitants, who have finally reached peace, agree to be completely evacuated to orbiting space habitats while the planet’s environment is being saved. The plot of this book chronicles the first few months of this ambitious project.

We found a lot to admire about this book. We liked Zettel’s writing style, which told the story cleanly yet compellingly. The major characters were an interesting mixture of humans and aliens of various ages and professions. The author did a

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Posted by : atcampbell | On : April 18, 2000

The Veiled Web by Catherine Asaro

The discussion of Catherine Asaro’s recent technothriller drew twelve participants. Asaro is to be the Guest of Honor at this year’s ArmadilloCon. The Veiled Web is a near-future novel in which an American ballerina, Lucia, gets romantically involved with a Moroccan computer genius named Rashid. While Lucia and Rashid are trying to work through their cultural differences, they get captured by spies who want to harness Rashid’s intelligence for their own dubious plans.

We generally found this to be a well-written thriller. The Veiled Web contains several gripping action scenes that we thought worked well. We thought Rashid’s computer research was interesting, and we liked his AI character Zaki. The personality of Lucia seemed realistic for a ballerina, and it’s clear that Asaro

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Posted by : atcampbell | On : April 8, 2000

Sean Stewart Lunch

Sean Stewart was in town to sign Galveston at Adventures in Crime & Space, so eight people from the Reading Group took him to lunch at Ninfa’s before the signing. Sean answered our questions about his books, and he told us interesting stories about his research for Galveston and Mockingbird. After lunch we got our books signed at ACS and heard Sean read a chapter about cannibals from Galveston. We were glad we’d eaten before the reading.

–A. T. Campbell, III



Posted by : atcampbell | On : April 4, 2000

Code of Conduct by Kristine Smith

Ten people attended the discussion of Code of Conduct. This book, a first novel, is a space opera espionage thriller. Its protagonist is a middle-aged female spy who helps a former lover investigate the mysterious circumstances of his wife’s death.

Most of us liked the book. We liked reading an SF spy novel, a type of book that isn’t very common these days. The plot had interesting twists. The protagonist’s personality was developed deeply, with a well thought out depiction of the loneliness and alienation of a spy. Also, many appreciated the author’s realistic

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Posted by : atcampbell | On : March 21, 2000

Diaspora by Greg Egan

Eight people attended this discussion, and one submitted comments by e-mail. Diaspora is set in the far future when humanity has changed greatly. Few people have traditional human bodies. Most of the rest have downloaded their minds either into giant robots or into computers. The people in the computers have a complex society filled with downloaded personalities, their “offspring,” and artificial intelligences. Early in the story, a cosmological event threatens all life on Earth. The computer societies send explorers throughout the galaxy in search of more information about this event and a way to survive it. Along the way Egan fills the story with a lot of advanced material about mathematics, physics, and artificial intelligence.

This book turned out to be too much of a “hard SF” novel for most of our group. Half of the group didn’t even try to read it, and just showed up to socialize. A

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Posted by : atcampbell | On : March 1, 2000

Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

Ten people attended this discussion. Ship of Magic is the first in a fantasy trilogy about a seafaring society where a few rich families have magical “liveships.” Liveships are special because their figureheads are intelligent and can talk, and the ships are made of a special wood that enables them to travel in waters where other ships can’t go. The book begins when a liveship captain dies and his family has to pick a new captain and get the family finances in order. The main characters are the captain’s family, several members of the crew, and a pirate who hopes to capture a liveship. The story features sailing adventure, sea serpents, rebellious teenagers, and slave revolts.

Despite a length of over 800 pages, we all had no trouble finishing the book. We found it to be a gripping yarn. We loved the concept of the liveships. It was obvious that the author knows sailing and has a passion for it. The characters are vividly drawn, and we all found that we liked certain characters and loathed others. The author puts her characters through drastic and irrevocable changes,

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