Gabriel’s Road

Gabriel’s Road: A Novella of the Devil’s West by Laura Anne Gilman

After a year spent mentoring Isobel, Gabriel has completed his bargain and is free of obligations in the territory. But the Devil’s West and especially the call of the river aren’t done with Gabriel Kasun quite yet. Starting out on a solitary journey in this alternate western America, Gabriel looks back on his past, worries about how Isobel is doing on her own, then has encounters with strange and wild beings. There is a strong sense of place in this mostly uninhabited and dry part of the West, and Gabriel is intriguing company. When he needs shelter from a storm, a small community takes him in and then asks for his help protecting their well and their village. This novella can be read before or after the fantasy trilogy beginning with Silver on the Road, and is available as an e-book in our Media on Demand collection from Overdrive, along with the short story collection West Wind’s Fool.

Brenda

The Fated Sky

The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

In this alternate history/science fiction novel, Lady Astronaut Elma York is piloting a shuttle on the Moon, several years after an asteroid strike in 1952 led to an accelerated international race to reach outer space. The sequel to The Calculating Stars, currently a finalist for the 2019 Hugo Award for best novel, cleverly details daily life on Earth and in space. Elma and her engineer husband Nathaniel have been involved in the space program since the beginning, and have figured out a way to communicate via teletype when Elma is selected for the first voyage to Mars. As a southern Jewish woman, Elma thinks she understands discrimination, but her African American and Asian colleagues set her straight after her efforts to help make things worse. As a mathematician, Elma calculates their ship trajectories (often faster than their mechanical calculator), bakes to relieve stress, and pilots a shuttle to their companion ship after its crew falls ill. While very issue-oriented, this is an enjoyable, absorbing novel. Now I have to re-read the award-winning novelette Lady Astronaut of Mars, which was written first but is set later.

Brenda

The Calculating Stars

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

This alternate history of the space race is an excellent readalike for Hidden Figures, Code Girls, and The Mercury 13. In 1952 a meteorite hits Chesapeake Bay while scientist Elma York is on vacation in the Poconos with her husband Nathaniel, an engineer. They have a narrow escape in Elma’s Cessna plane, and end up in Kansas City working for the International Aerospace Coalition. Elma was a WASP (pilot) in World War II, and works as a computer on calculations of the effects of the meteorite and later on rocket trajectories. She has kept her phobia of public speaking secret, but an adversary from the war years may expose it and derail her hopes of becoming a lady astronaut. The Yorks are Jewish, and their struggle to stay observant is noted, but prejudice against women and African-Americans in science is a major theme. The author, most known for her Regency-era fantasy novels, really did her research on Apollo era science, technology, and daily life, and this makes for an immersive, compelling reading experience. I would have liked less about Elma’s anxiety disorder and more about how others survived the meteorite strike but still found this to be quite the page-turner. The second part of the Lady Astronauts’ story is The Fated Sky, which I hope to read while I’m rereading Rocket Men by Robert Kurson, for a book discussion on February 19.

Brenda

Red Waters Rising

Red Waters Rising by Laura Ann Gilman

Isobel is riding with her mentor Gabriel, exploring the hot, humid southern portion of the Devil’s West, in the third book of the trilogy which began with Silver on the Road. Isobel is the young Left Hand of the territory; arbitrator and sometimes enforcer in this magical land. As Isobel and Gabriel approach the Mudwater River (aka the Mississippi), everyone they meet seems increasingly uneasy. Gabriel is feeling the call of the River while Isobel may be too closely connected to the land of the territory. In the city of Red Stick they may be facing a riot, or another flood. An imaginative, well-drawn book set in an alternate 19th century North America, which leaves room for more stories in the Devil’s West.

Brenda

Underground Airlines

underground jacketUnderground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

The author of the dystopian trilogy The Last Policeman takes a different approach to contemporary fiction: alternate history. The Civil War never happened, slavery is still legal in several southern states, and free does not mean equal. Victor is a free black man on assignment in Indianapolis for the U.S. Marshals Service, on the trail of a runaway bonded person known as Jackdaw. Victor infiltrates a cell of the underground airline, a master of disguise. In flashbacks, we learn that Victor spent his childhood as a bonded person, so why is he tracking down runaways now? Is it just that he enjoys the privileges of his job and situation, from air-conditioning to a car to the music of Michael Jackson? And yet he befriends Martha Flowers, a young white woman with a biracial son. As Victor travels between free and slave states, the world is a fascinating one, as the economy doesn’t seem to be thriving and technology lags behind ours. Laptops, cell phones, and GPS exist, but most cars are older and foreign. This novel is not light reading, but the world-building and storytelling skills of Winters make this book very hard to put down.

Brenda

Karen Memory

karen memory jacketKaren Memory by Elizabeth Bear

I’ve read only a few steampunk novels, but I really enjoyed this fast-paced steampunk adventure. It’s set in an alternate 1878, in Rapid City, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, complete with airships and mechanical marvels. Karen Memory finds the best job available to her after her father’s death, and works as a “seamstress” at the Hotel Mon Cherie, run by Madame Damnable. Karen really is a seamstress on the side, but the hotel is a respectable bordello. The ladies gather in the parlor for a meal after their guests leave, and are surprised when Merry Lee shows up, badly wounded while rescuing Priya. Priya and her younger sister came from India for work, only to be trapped by powerful bully Peter Bantle, who wants to be the next mayor. Karen falls hard for the brilliant Priya, and wants to rescue her sister. Next Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves rides into town looking for a killer, and Madame Damnable’s girls volunteer to help along with Merry Lee, hoping the trail leads back to Peter Bantle. Lots of action and adventure in a very unusual setting, with an appealing narrator in Karen.
Brenda

 

 

11/22/63

11/22/63, by Stephen King

If you’re intrigued by time travel, mysteries, romance, and alternate histories, then 11/22/63 is the book for you. Although this book is anything but a short story, you’ll find yourself unable to put it down until the last page. I found it to be one of his best works to date and proof that King continues to be a great storyteller.

The story begins in 2011, when Jake Epping, an English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, reads an essay from one of his students, Harry Dunning. It’s about the time decades earlier when his father killed his family and injured Harry.

As the story progresses, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, describes how he has discovered a time portal to 1958 in his storeroom. Al has been traveling back in time regularly to buy inexpensive hamburger for his diner and plot Lee Harvey Oswald’s whereabouts. He is planning to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy when he is diagnosed with lung cancer.

Al eventually persuades Jake to take his place as the time traveler who will stop Oswald from assassinating Kennedy. This is where the story really begins because saving Kennedy is only one of the book’s interconnected storylines. Jake’s first test is to go back in time to save Harry Dunning’s family from being murdered. Jake goes through the portal to 11:58 a.m., Sept. 9, 1958 – the portal always drops a person at this exact time and date. After partially succeeding in his mission and learning from his time travelling mistakes, he returns to the present, then goes back to try to save Kennedy. He must live several years in the past, until Nov. 22, 1963 when he can attempt to save the President. Jake becomes George Amberson (an identity provided to him by Al), moves to Jodi, Texas, teaches high school, falls in love, and tracks down Oswald.

There are numerous questions that you will have to read the book to have answered. Will Jake prevent Kennedy’s assassination? If so, how will it change the course of history? Will Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. be imperiled? What about the Race Riots and Vietnam? How will Jake’s personal life be affected by his stepping back into history?

Throughout the book Jake learns that the past and the future are connected in some very unexpected ways … and changing the past is not always as easy as you’d think.

George