bookshelf books

The Books I Read: September – October 2022

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Do not trust the title. For something called “The Mad Scientist’s Daughter” I was expecting a story about the relationship between a father and daughter. It turns out this is a love story about the daughter and the android he invents. Said android is made out of human flesh, so he looks real, but never ages and has a cold computer-like personality. Nonetheless, the daughter grows up with him and ends up falling in love with him. But she does nothing about it because she’s not supposed to love an android.

So this is essentially a romance with a passive protagonist. If I had to read one more chapter about how she’s bored with the husband she settled for, I would’ve plucked my eyes out. It’s a thin science fiction patina over an “unhappy marriage” drama. You know, those ones where the drama is around bad decisions made by the protagonist and it draws out forever. Peel off the serial numbers and the android is no different than another thinly-veiled metaphor for social injustice. You could turn him into a Black man and set this during the civil rights era and not need to change a thing.

The science fiction in this is ridiculously minimal. We only ever hear whispers and hearsay about what’s going on in the mad scientist’s life. The narrative stays focused on the daughter who doesn’t give a rip about what her father is doing. It’s not like he’s a Dr. Frankenstein–he works for a legit company and the android doesn’t go mad and destroy a village.

Plus the daughter smokes like a chimney. Every other sentence she lights one up. This is supposed to be the future. I would have presumed smoking is as outdated as snuff is now. The mad scientist isn’t mad. He’s just a disappointed scientist.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

I’ve always been intrigued by Carrie Fisher, especially when I learned she was also a writer/script doctor (e.g. Hook, Sister Act, and even the Star Wars prequels). So I wanted to see how she wrote. The verdict? Carrie Fisher writes like a mother f**ker.

The Princess Diarist is her memoir from working on Star Wars, based on journals that she kept at the time. Star Wars has lots of “archaeological artifacts” but little personal accounts from the time. She goes into detail about living the Hollywood life, the audition, the creation of the buns, what George Lucas was like, did she have an affair with Harrison Ford, what said affair/relationship was like. What’s missing is her work as a screenwriter. Maybe that’s in a different book?

But all in all, the book just made me feel bad. I’m not sure why, exactly. Bad about the Star Wars fans, bad about celebrities. Fisher talks about being everyone’s first masturbatory fantasy, a sordid affair with a married man for the sake of “having fun”, the good and bad of fan conventions that border on ridicule. A large chunk is straight lifted from her diaries, and I had my fill of that from “Notes to Boys” by Pamela Ribon. They’re funny for a minute, but then they’re insipid. Fisher’s not the hero of her own story.

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

This is the third book in the Lady Astronaut series, but it’s really more like book 2.5. Except there already was a 2.5–the novella “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”. Except THAT takes place after book two and this one takes place at the same time as book two, so this is really book two-two. Or book 2.75? I don’t know. I’m getting off track.

Like I said, this takes place over the events of book two. In that book, we followed Alma as she makes her multi-year trip to colonize Mars. In this one, we find out what happens back on Earth during that time. And what happens is lots of turmoil. This was probably influenced by being written over 2016-2021 (also known as “that whole thing”).

Earth is coming to terms with the fact that the world is ending and very few of them are going to get deported to space to survive. They’re getting left behind, they’re suffering from lack of food, lack of housing, climate change, and so on. They think too much money is being spent on the space program and not enough on the people at home. So the answer is domestic terrorism. What does that sound like?

Nicole Wargin, a side character in the two other books, takes center stage in this one. About half the story is much like the others — expanding space colonization, fun with science, life with the colonists, dealing with the inherent racism and sexism of the period. And the other half is uncovering who is attempting to sabotage everything, because there’s a mole on the moon. (Moon mole? Molemen from the Moon? Wasn’t that a MST3K movie?) That deals with issues of knowing who to trust, fighting with the external need to prove oneself just as capable as men while sabotaging the self.

Nicole is not Alma York. For one thing, while York had to deal with crippling anxiety, Wargin has anorexia. York’s husband is a mathematician while Wargin’s is the governor of the state with the new U.S. Capital and site of the American space program. Wargin is not Jewish. Thus the problems are different. Nicole has to deal with the political ramifications of all her actions, that her marriage might be falling apart because they are too busy for each other. But both are competent, and there’s nothing wrong with competent heroes.

That doesn’t mean Nicole’s not just as interesting as York. She’s just different. This going to be more about a woman who is confident in her skin, more confident about yelling at people. But her big problem is her reach exceeds her grasp. About the half the time, the problems that occur happen because she jumped into the situation before she fully thought it out (which illustrates a big difference between her and Alma York).

The biggest problem is that it’s so long, but so good. I think several “incidents” on the moon were unnecessary and could have been cut. Maybe I have a short attention span. It moves fairly fast but it’s a long journey. The crux of the story is a mystery. And drawn-out mysteries tend to grate on me. There’s a lot to deal with in this book. (Is there such a thing as “situation soup”?) I don’t think this can serve as a standalone, but if you enjoyed any of the first two books, you’ll like this. But you’ll probably grow as impatient as I did.

Nine-Tenths by Jeff Macfee

In a world where superheroes exist, repo work takes on a whole new level of dangerous. You need to figure out a way to tow Starlaser’s car before he wakes up and hurls energy bolts at you. But this book isn’t about the repossession game (which I find misleading and docked points for). It’s a hard-boiled, gritty crime drama and reads like one. A noir detective story, like The Maltese Falcon. There just happen to be superheroes in it.

The premise is that an incarcerated supervillain invented a ring that allows you to phase through stuff. This is an uber-powerful device since it means you could be hiding anywhere, are basically invincible, and can kill people by squeezing their heart. It’s gone missing. The last person to have it was our main character’s old boss. And he just went six feet under. (Like, literally, because he was phased into the ground). If the main character doesn’t find some answers, the government’s going to take his money, his business, and what remains of his broken family.

I like the world-building. I like the main characters–they have a found family vibe. I don’t like how there’s too many characters. I’m not sure if that’s part of the detective genre, where you’ve gotta put in a bunch of red herrings. But it confused me, bordering on character soup. There’s a lot of good dialogue. It drags on in the middle. It reminded me of some meta-textual superhero stuff, like Invincible. I recommend reading a sample of it before you get the whole thing though. And read the whole sample–the whole book does not read like the first chapter.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.