“Parting Shadows” gets its initial spark from the character Estella Havisham from “Great Expectations”, however, as someone who fails at reading classics, I can confidently say you don’t have to have read Dickinson’s novel in order to understand, or appreciate, the world that Swed presents. Ultimately, this is a story about the layers of a person, of nurture vs. nature almost, and overcoming what you were raised to do in order to live the life of your choosing—without a murderous AI in your head. Which Astra has. Did I forget to mention that? Well, there it is: Astra was raised by an advanced AI—almost think Hal from 2001 Space Odyssey—all because a human man used her programming against her, he manipulated her, had her heart broken, and then abandoned her. I may not have read “Great Expectations” but I’ve seen things like the Terminator often enough to know you don’t do that sort of thing to an advanced AI and expect things to just be swell after. In retaliation, the AI adopts a daughter, Astra, and from the moment Astra is able to walk practically, her AI mother is training her to be heartless, to pick out a person’s mental weaknesses, and to destroy the man who hurt her most.
There are very few nonfiction books I like to read, but true crime is always the exception. So, of course, when I found this beauty about the first American serial killer, one that occurred just before all the Jack the Ripper Killings—and had some people across the pond believing these fiends were the same perpetrator—sign me up! I was a little leery though, mainly because after reading “Devil in the White City” I was, frankly, a little disappointed. That book was mainly on the Chicago World’s Fair, not so much on Henry H. Holmes and how he committed his murders, or what really happened in his murder hotel. This book didn’t have THAT problem. Oh no! Hollandsworth scoured old newspaper reports, police statements, and death certificates and was able to present his readers with the utter brutality of this killer. Unfortunately, however, that was about all the author could give.
One of my favorite things in sci-fi is the question of what it means to be human, and when do machines cross that line into being truly alive, capable of free will, of questioning their makers, of wanting to be a part of this thing called “life”. “Urban Heroes” leans hard into that question and I love it. You have the main character, Calista, who is on the run from the uprising between man and machine she was accidentally a part of. Calista is a pilot, which means she has an almost symbiotic relationship with her ship all for the low, low price of trading her arm for a robotic one. Calista runs in with people who have more machine parts then actual machines, and yet they are offered more rights than the true robotic AI populating their world. Which is occupied by floating cities now that the world has kind of crumbled away, or something. With Calista is Axton, who pretty much everyone and their mother wants to get their hands on. Why? That is slowly teased out over the course of this very short book, and I loved the tragedy that was Calista and Axton. This book makes you think, question what is truly alive, breaks your heart, and leaves you wanting more. Maybe too much more?
I am a big fan of ancient historical fiction. Some of my favorite historical fiction books are the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell mainly because it helps me feel like I am learning about a time long forgotten and being supremely entertained at the same time—don’t yell at me, I know historical fiction is Fiction with that capital “F” and lots of liberties are being taken, but a good historical fiction will inspire you, me, and maybe your mom too, to go out and then learn more about that time, or at least Google it for the next two days. That’s what “The Silver Horn Echoes: A Song of Roland” did for me. You see, I was 0% familiar with “La Chanson de Roland”, the epic poem/story this novel is based on. It’s the story of the most honorable of knights in the Christian Frank Kingdom as he protects his king and country from the Emir of Saragossa. Who is Roland’s king that he becomes the champion for? That he’ll stand against countless waves of enemies for, and uncover murder plots for? Oh, just the guy who later becomes known as Charlemagne, maybe you’ve heard of him?
Oh lord, friends, where do I begin? Firstly, with a plea for you to read the first book, “Imber”, in this epic series first and foremost. You have to or nothing else will make sense, but it's worth it, so, so worth it. Once you do that, come back, sit down next to me, and let me tell you about all the heart strings that “Tellus” is going to pull, because it will pull them and pull them, break some, but then give you more because there are moments so achingly sweet mixed in with the pain our dear heroes face. What kind of pain? Oh, just the fate of the world, no biggie. “Tellus” picks up pretty seamlessly from where “Imber” left off: Nat has failed to retrieve one of the Scepters that is keeping the Titans locked away. There are 2 more left, but they don’t know where they are, or who could be conspiring against them, keeping Nat from her throne and risking the life of her family—by blood or no.
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