Today, I’m talking about books by Kay Kenyon, Nancy Kress, and Caitlín R. Kiernan: two science-fiction works and one not-quite-ghost-story. If anything sounds good to you, be sure to check out the book and other work by that author — and if you have enjoyed something by them that I haven’t mentioned, let me know in the comments.
Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon
This book starts with amazing, passionate characters in a fascinating world — AIs run amok, handlers, corporations looking for advantages, . . . and Titus Quinn, a pilot who lost his entire family and his memory on a journey in space. When he’s told that a new universe has been discovered, one that might hold his missing family, he goes. Anything to get his family back.
At this point, Kenyon lost me when I first read the book. The transition to the Entire, the other universe, left me feeling bereft. I’d become invested in the world and the characters she’d already built up, and I had to start all over again, with only Titus left. It took over half the book to get back to Helice Maki and Lamar Gelde in the control room (where they’d sent Titus through to the Entire), but the story line wasn’t dropped entirely, which made me feel better.
What does Titus do after he crosses? He works to find his family, trying to hide who he is from those around him. Along the way, he starts recovering his memory. What he learns about his own choices, as well as those of his daughter since he left, is not what he expects.
I first downloaded Bright of the Sky when Pyr set it up as a free download on Kindle. (It still is, so check it out if you haven’t already.) I may never buy a hard copy of the book (full shelves and all), but I am more likely to purchase copies (either physical or digital) of the other books in the series. I want to know what happens To Titus, after all.
There are two things I love in a story: A fascinating setting and deeply felt characters. I think science fiction (and with Bright of the Sky there is a definite “fantasy feel” to it) is the ideal sort of book for me. I combine adventure with character, and in Bright I think I created my biggest, strangest world–the Entire–and most heartfelt character–Titus Quinn. I am currently at work on a fantasy and hope I can bring these favorite aspects into a new genre.
Find Kay Kenyon on her Website, www.kaykenyon.com.
The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan
When I first started reading The Red Tree, I expected a gothic novel. It’s all there in the prologue — lonely writer, haunted house where a previous tenant committed suicide, a spooky tree that invaded the writer’s dreams, the eventual death of the writer. And all of that is there, unquestionably. However, it’s cloaked in the prosaic, the everyday — the writer who doesn’t want to face her own past and can’t write about anything else, cigarettes, beer, foul language, memories (half made up), cell phones, cars that break down — all very modern and normal. That very normality makes the increasing detail of the nightmares all the worse, creating a feeling of “It could happen to anybody.”
Kiernan does a wonderful job with the suspense and build-up. As I said, the prologue gave the gist of the book; I spent the entire book knowing in broad outline what was going to happen. I kept reading because I wanted to know how and when and all the details and whether Sarah Crowe knew what was coming. Foreshadowing and honesty of emotion work together to create a book I didn’t want to put down.
Caitlín R. Kiernan can be found at www.caitlinrkiernan.com.
Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
I’ve often wished I could go without sleep — just think of all I could accomplish if I had eight more hours a day! So I felt just a bit of jealousy for Leisha, created by genetic engineering with just such an ability — one of the earliest Sleepless. I understood her sister Alice’s anger and bitterness, not just because she didn’t have any genetic modifications, but because in the eyes of her father, of the world, she wasn’t worth noticing compared to her sister.
Alice, of course, is only the first we see of such emotions. The Sleepers — the rest of humanity — rise against the Sleepless. Then the second generation is born, their genetic progeny, the Superbrights, or Supers, and the jealousy and anger grows worse.
Using the science of genetic modification, Kress explores economics, individual excellence, equality, genius, and a whole panorama of emotions from love to anger to hope. I’m still a little jealous of Leisha — but not of the challenges she had to face. I highly recommend this book, and I’m open to suggestions on which other Kress books I should add to my TBR pile.
About her writing, Kress says,
I have been writing about genetic engineering for twenty years now. I think it’s an important topic, a real-future topic, and — most important — a fascinating topic for the light it can shed on what humanity considers important. If you could engineer your children to carry genes for specific qualities, what qualities would they be? There lie your deepest values.
Various stories of mine have focused on engineering empathy (“Act One”), ESP (“Trinity” and STEAL ACROSS THE SKY), athletic ability (“Dancing on Air”), and the elimination of the need to sleep (“Beggars in Spain”). This last looks a lot less grand than the previous list, but I think it reflects a genuine American value: commercial success. Without sleep, thinks the self-made entrepreneur who chooses this genemod for his unborn daughter, the child will have more sheer time than anyone else, an advantage that will catapult her to greater career success. It doesn’t exactly work out like that — but, then, when do our plans for our children ever work out as we hope?
Before I began writing SF, I wrote fantasy, a different way of exploring human values. Recently I have returned to fantasy, with the YA novel CROSSING OVER, written under the name “Anna Kendall” to keep the two genres straight. There is no particular reason for my return to fantasy, except that this scruffy kid kept tugging at my elbow, going “Write me! Write me!” Eventually I gave in. You really can’t argue with these people.
My own blog, which frequently focuses on writing issues, is at nancykress.blogspot.com. Meanwhile, thank you for letting me appear on yours.