Something Like a Reading List (Part 3)

It’s part three of books you should read. What more do I need to say by way of introduction?

Wearing the Cape by Marion G. Harmon

Genres: Superhero Literature

Sequels: Four and counting

When Hope Corrigan was eight the first superhumans appeared.

When Hope was sixteen, her best friend jumped off a building in the futile hope that she would be one of the few who would be blessed with superpowers.

When Hope was eighteen the Teatime Anarchist blew up a highway overpass and dropped the wreckage on top of her.

The Event – a 3.2 second period when humanity experienced shared sensory deprivation and marked the beginning of the superhuman era – changed Hope’s life three times over. The last time it left her with superpowers. At just shy of five feet and only a little over a hundred pounds, she is now one of the strongest and most durable people in the nation. Add in flight and superhuman senses and you have readymade superhero.

She has a chance to join the Chicago Sentinels, the first and best known superhero team in the nation. She can work with Atlas, Ajax and Blackstone, people who have been the gold standard for heroes since her childhood. She can have her face dragged into the media every day. She can spend hours reviewing national, state and local rules regulating superhero activity so she can test for certification! Fun!

The truth is, it’s not easy being a hero. You have to work very hard, know what you can and can’t do (in every sense) and do your best to keep your spirits up and your wits about you. For Hope, that means adapting to new abilities, new surroundings and new responsibilities. It means trying to sort out what parts of her old life she can keep and what she has to give up. And it means trying to calm down a drunk and disorderly man who can crush cars with his bare hands.

It’s a lot for a girl to take in. And then the time traveler shows up…

Night Train to Rigel by Timothy Zahn

Genres: Space Opera

Sequels: First in a series of five books

It’s weird when you walk out of a building and a man collapses at your feet. It’s weirder when his last words before dying are “Frank Compton.” The weirdness doubles if your name is, in fact, Frank Compton.

Such is the situation of our intrepid hero at the beginning of Night Train to Rigel. Being a sensible man, Frank immediately rifles through the dead man’s pockets and finds a ticket for the Quadrail. Naturally, the ticket is in Frank’s name and there is nothing to tell Frank who the dead man is. With a dead man at his feet and no idea what’s going on Frank makes a snap decision. He plays along.

Frank quickly packs his bags, grabs a cab and heads out of New York. A week later he’s in out just beyond the orbit of Jupiter, getting ready to board the Quadrail for Rigel, a star in the constellation Orion. And if you’re wondering, the Quadrail is exactly what it sounds like: A train track with four rails that runs between every inhabited star in the galaxy. It’s also the only known practical method of interstellar travel. Twelve civilized species ride the rails under the watchful eyes of the Spiders, a thirteenth race that administers the Quadrail in eerie silence. At least, they were silent until now.

As it turns out, the Spiders want to talk to Frank. They believe someone or something out in the galaxy is getting ready to break their primary rule: The Quadrail is not a weapon of war. Since the Spiders’ flat refusal to ship weapons to any place that isn’t ready and willing to receive them has essentially made interstellar war impossible. But the Spiders have reason to believe that will change soon and, since humanity is the youngest and weakest of the spacefairing races and in the worst position to survive an interstellar war, that means Frank has more than an academic interesting in keeping the status quo.

But Frank got fired from his old government job for rocking the boat. He doesn’t have many friends at home and even fewer out among the stars. With nothing but an agent from the Spiders to help him get around (and make sure he follows the rules) will he be able to prevent interstellar war?

Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger

Genres: Historical Fiction

Sequels? Nope

This one is a pretty simple rags to riches story about a self-styled knight in the era of Italy’s dueling city-states. Andrea Orsini works for Cesare Borgia, Italy’s rising star. Cesare has promised him wealth and influence once the Borgias rule Italy and all it will cost Andrea is his integrity. Being a modern thinking man, Andrea is kind of okay with that.

At least, until he meets a collection of people who begin to teach him to think differently.

Prince of Foxes is a fun book with a timeless message about youth vs. experience. It gives a good picture of what Italy was like in the late 1400s with all the fighting, scheming and kidnapping of nuns (seriously!) that went on then. It also gives a more timeless tale of a man who thinks he can live with sacrificing a part of himself to get all the things he never had but begins to see that his integrity is worth more than just gold or fame.

This is a great example of historical fiction at it’s best – on their own, the halves of this story would only be average. But together they are memorable and fun. Well worth the effort to track down, although at seventy years old finding a copy might be difficult.

Clean, by Alex Hughes

Genres: Paranormal Investigation

Sequels? This is the first of the Mindspace Investigation series, which is four books long so far

Imagine, if you will, that humanity created technology that let you plug the Internet into your brain.

Then humanity, being human, decided to create computer viruses people could catch.

And in the meantime computers got to be sentient and decided to wipe out humanity because really, those viruses were kind of a pain.

And to top it off the psychics showed up and took care of all those nasty thinking computers and restored Order to Earth, terrifying the larger human population in the process.

This, as near as I can tell, is the backdrop to Clean, a story about a once-powerful psychic who got himself kicked out of the powerful psychic club when he got hooked on drugs. (For science.) Anyway, to stay sober our hero managed to get himself a job as an independent contractor for the Atlanta police and uses his gifts to provide a unique perspective into ongoing investigations.

Mindspace Investigations is an interesting series in a lot of ways. It presents us with a future where antigravity is an everyday thing but people are terrified at the thought of the Internet and psychics live in a kind of parallel society, teleporting from place to place and providing powerful medical and scientific assistance at a price without ever really integrating into society. The world building is great, but the characters are better.

In the hands of a weaker writer Hughes’ protagonist and supporting characters might come off as stereotypes but he manages to give the struggling addict, the tough girl cop and the tired police captain a distinctive presence and sympathetic character traits without slipping into cliche. All in all, a book worth reading.

Troubled Waters, by Sharon Shinn

Genres: Paranormal Romance

Sequels? One so far

So before you say anything – Troubled Waters is as much a story of political intrigue as actual romance. This is one of the reasons I like it – the characters grow in affection even as they struggle over the bigger things going on around them and have to balance their responsibilities to the world around them with their feelings for each other. In fact, finding that balance point is pretty much the theme of the story.

Zoe Ardelay’s father was an advisor to the king, until he got himself exiled. And while Zoe loved her father there was a lot he never told her – the biggest part being that her maternal grandmother had appointed her successor to her position of family leadership before her death. The politics are serpentine but that’s okay, Zoe was raised in exile and doesn’t really care about them anyway. She’s just annoyed that no one told her about them.

And most people don’t seem interested in enlightening her now, not even Darien Serlast, an old friend of her father who brought her to the court in the first place.

Much like Clean, Troubled Waters puts a lot into world building but it does so in a very different way. There are a lot of scenes of simple, human interactions build around what are clearly deeply loved local traditions. Traditions that just so happen to come from worlds that don’t exist.

Balancing those non-existent traditions are people that feel as real and human as the people you meet on a day to day basis. Troubled Waters is fantasy and romance at its most believable and most entertaining.

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