New Fiction Out This Week

I have a new science fiction short story out this week in Utopia Science Fiction! Selection Error is a short piece that was an experiment in using a different writing style. The idea for the story came to me after reading a short article about human error in an aviation magazine. I applied it to a remote rover exploring the moon of Io, and Selection Error took shape.

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You can read Selection Error by subscribing to the magazine’s Patreon here or just the current issue directly on this page.

I’m currently working on a couple of new short stories while writing random scenes for a new novel idea. I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo officially, but I’m trying to up my word count in general for November.

Find more of my fiction here.

Soundtrack Review – The Rings of Power (season 1)

The legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth begins with music in the Ainulindalë, and songs and poems fill his entire mythos. It is fitting that the first substantial release of material from the new Amazon series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is the soundtrack. Scored by Bear McCreary (with the main title theme by Howard Shore), this is a spectacular and substantial album, featuring 37 songs and running 2 hours, 29 minutes. Read below for my full review. ***MINOR SPECULATIVE SPOILERS***

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Since I don’t usually review music on my blog, let me start with a little background on how I’m approaching this. I love soundtracks and I listen to a large number of fantasy-themed ones. I also love Tolkien. I have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings more times than I can remember. I have read The Silmarillion multiple times, as well as Unfinished Tales, parts of The History of Middle Earth, The Atlas of Middle Earth, and more, and my copy of The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle Earth is in danger of falling apart.

This isn’t all of them. Note the four copies of The Lord of the Rings (two for reading, my red leather-bound precious, and one (gray) special edition signed by one of the Tolkien family. Gandalf guards them all.

I saw the Peter Jackson movies in the theater oh… dozens of times. They have their problems, but it was also amazing to see something of that scope on a screen for the first time. I can’t begin to guess at how many times I’ve listened to the Howard Shore scores. I’ve been listening to those even this week as I re-read the appendices to The Lord of the Rings and start again on The Silmarillion.

I’m also a classically trained flutist (albeit rather out of practice) and almost added a major in music to my college days. I’ve played solo, with band, with orchestra, and with small ensembles. I’ve even played a concert of soundtrack music. However, I know zero music theory so I’m not going to talk about any of that technical stuff.


Now on to the review….

I’ve listened to the entire thing twice now and I’ll repeat what I already mentioned in the intro: this is a spectacular soundtrack. If the rest of the show lives up to the music, I’ll be extremely happy. Bear McCreary captures exactly the right tone and atmosphere for what I imagine the story of The Rings of Power will entail.

My only criticism of the score is that I was a little underwhelmed by Howard Shore’s contribution of the main theme. It didn’t stand out, but perhaps this is because the other themes on the individual tracks are so strong.

The instrumentation is similar to what Howard Shore used – orchestra with vocal accompaniment. Some tracks feature heavier percussion and in one place (end of the Sauron track) the rhythm is the same one that I associate with Shore’s Uruk-hai music.

Other familiar themes are hinted at in a few select places. Chords and chanting reminiscent of a certain balrog feature near the end of In the Mines, while the final track, Where the Shadow Lie, evokes the sinister tones of Gollum’s Song from The Two Towers.

Bagpipes feature in a few places but are not intrusive (I like bagpipes anyway). And you’ll hear of singing in many of Tolkien’s languages.

You can find the full list of tracks here. I’m going to comment my favorites (slight spoilers):

Absolute favorites:

  • Númenor – the theme fits the gorgeous visuals of the island kingdom that I’ve already seen in the trailers. This is one of the best hooks on the soundtrack.
  • In the Beginning – this track starts calmly but is one of the longest ones, running 7:49. Just before the halfway point, it builds to a dramatic orchestral and choral crescendo, followed by the soaring strains of the Galadriel theme and a war march that accelerates and then finishes on sad notes. There are rumors that this accompanies a prologue depicting the corruption of Morgoth and the destruction of the two trees. There might even be something about Finrod’s demise in there.
  • This Wandering Day – this is a vocal track, presumably sung by Elanor “Nori” Brandyfoot and is wonderful. I had a hard time picking out my favorite lines, but I chose some below. This also references the well-known “not all those who wander are lost” quote.

“Of drink I have little, and food I have less,

My strength tells me no, but the path demands yes,

My legs are so short and the way is so long,

I’ve no rest nor comfort, no comfort but song.”

Other favorites:

  • Galadriel – I almost put this one in my absolute favorites, but I think her theme is stronger when it appears on other tracks (like Cavalry below).
  • Khazad-dûm – perfect for what I imagine Moria looked like in its prime.
  • Harfoot Life – I imagine this is one of the themes for the not-quite-hobbit Harfoots.
  • White Leaves – perhaps this will accompany a Numenor scene and a certain white tree? This is a very pretty piece that finishes with a dazzling fanfare.
  • A Plea to the Rocks – when the vocals start, this just screams tragedy to me. Haunting and gorgeous. This was reminiscent of the music from The Fellowship of the Ring when the fellowship is regrouping after escaping Moria and seeing Gandalf fall to the Balrog.
  • Scherzo for Violin and Swords – how fun is this title?
  • Sailing into the Dawn – I don’t know what’s happening here, but this starts with the Numenor theme and is 4 minutes of something epic.
  • Cavalry – this is another action-filled track, presumably with… cavalry in it. The strings drive it forward relentlessly and Galadriel’s theme swirls over the top.

Amazon is also offering two bonus tracks (Find the Light; The Promised King) through Prime music which I also have heard. I didn’t think these added anything special beyond the main tracks.

I hope this gets you as excited to see The Rings of Power as I am. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be seeing the first two episodes in New York in a few days.

Have you listened to the soundtrack yet? What are your favorite tracks? Let me know in the comments (above).

Book Review – Blood of Elves

I have been continuing my audiobook listen to The Witcher books by Andrzej Sapkowski with Blood of Elves, the first volume that is a novel, rather than a series of short stories.

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Here is the blurb:

For over a century, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and elves have lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, the uneasy peace is over, and now the races are fighting once again. The only good elf, it seems, is a dead elf.

Geralt of Rivia, the cunning assassin known as The Witcher, has been waiting for the birth of a prophesied child. This child has the power to change the world – for good, or for evil.

As the threat of war hangs over the land and the child is hunted for her extraordinary powers, it will become Geralt’s responsibility to protect them all – and the Witcher never accepts defeat.

The Witcher returns in this sequel to The Last Wish, as the inhabitants of his world become embroiled in a state of total war.


Geralt, together with the other Witchers, struggles to raise Ciri and train her in combat and magic. Ciri excels in the training and wants to be a Witcher, but as a “Child of Destiny” she starts to manifest something more. This book contains fewer action scenes compared to the short story collections (The Last Wish, The Sword of Destiny), but more moments of character development and worldbuilding that look to be setting up a greater tale.

This was a fun book to read, despite the serious themes underlying the story. Geralt passes for human in most situations, but we are reminded that he is also a target of discrimination because he is different. So even though people need his services, he must shrug off bigoted comments and slights. When this book introduces the conflict between elves and humans, Geralt instantly sees the racism on both sides.

At this time, I’m almost done with the next book, The Time of Contempt, so look for my review of that soon.

Find more of my reviews here.

An Update on Books and Reading Goals

I just realized that we are halfway through 2022, so I thought this might be a good time to stop and look back at how the year has been going.

First – reading goals! I had set an unrealistic goal to read 89 books this year, when I normally struggle to get through 50 in that time frame. As of today, I have finished 23 books, which puts me at 23% of that original goal, but not far off the mark for reaching 50 this year.

Here is a graphic of what I’ve read so far in 2022:

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My plan to read one book from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series every month has gone astray, along with reading one Dune book every month. I have made it through half (3 of 6) of the Dune books by the original author, and only 3 of 14 of The Wheel of Time.

As always seems to happen, I have picked up books I didn’t originally have on my 2022 list, and then branched off into new series and authors. I think that for 2023 I will have to focus on finishing some series that I’ve started.

What am I reading now? Look – pretty covers! I am listening to the next book in The Witcher seriesThe Time of Contempt. On Kindle, I’m reading Lover Unbound, a book in The Black Dagger Brotherhood series which is sort of a guilty pleasure (sexy vampires, yeah), and In a Garden Burning Gold which I received courtesy of NetGalley for review.

After I finish those, next up are these options:

All of these are continuations in a series, except for The Water Dancer. I think I have a series problem!

Which should I read first? Let me know in the comments above. What other books and series have you read this year and enjoyed? Help me add to my ridiculous to-be-read list!

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Book Review – The Graveyard Book

I have been gradually working my way through some of Neil Gaiman’s books, having previously read some of The Sandman, American Gods, and Neverwhere (review here). Next up on my list was The Graveyard Book.

This book is classified as a middle grade novel, but it never felt like something purely intended for children. The Graveyard Book won the Newberry Medal, the Carnegie Medal, the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book.

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Here is the blurb:

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a perfectly normal boy. Well, he would be perfectly normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the world of the dead.

There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard: the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer; a gravestone entrance to a desert that leads to the city of ghouls; friendship with a witch, and so much more.

But it is in the land of the living that real danger lurks, for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.

A deliciously dark masterwork by bestselling author Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by award-winning Dave McKean.


I enjoyed this book and found it to be a quick read. The illustrations by Dave McKean added to the imagery and mood of the story. Apparently this novel was inspired by The Jungle Book, and many of the scenes parallel the events of Kipling’s work.

The story starts out with a frightening scene in the aftermath of the murder of Bod’s entire family. This sounds like a dark opening for a middle grade book, but it is never graphic. Once Bod is adopted by the ghosts of the local graveyard and his vampire guardian, Silas, the menace fades from his day-to-day life until later in the book.

Bod still encounters dangers, but also friends. Each section of the book jumps ahead a couple of years in time, so we see Bod grow up and explore further afield, finding trouble in a variety of places. Finally, the story moves back to the murder of his family and brings it all together for the conclusion. I thought that the ending of this book was bittersweet, but since this is also a coming of age tale, it was also appropriate to that theme.

Have you read The Graveyard Book or other novels by Neil Gaiman? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Children of Dune

I’m slowly continuing my goal to read all six Dune books written by the original author, Frank Herbert. Children of Dune is the third in the series and takes up the story of Paul Atreides’ twin children. I had previously watched SyFy’s television miniseries based around this book, but didn’t remember most of that as I read the events in this book.

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Here is the blurb:

The Children of Dune are twin siblings Leto and Ghanima Atreides, whose father, the Emperor Paul Muad’Dib, disappeared in the desert wastelands of Arrakis nine years ago. Like their father, the twins possess supernormal abilities–making them valuable to their manipulative aunt Alia, who rules the Empire in the name of House Atreides.

Facing treason and rebellion on two fronts, Alia’s rule is not absolute. The displaced House Corrino is plotting to regain the throne while the fanatical Fremen are being provoked into open revolt by the enigmatic figure known only as The Preacher. Alia believes that by obtaining the secrets of the twins’ prophetic visions, she can maintain control over her dynasty.

But Leto and Ghanima have their own plans for their visions–and their destinies….


This book was… a lot. I did have some trouble getting through the middle, but in the end I did enjoy it. Leto and Ghanima each have their own stories, as well as Jessica, Duncan, Gurney, and Irulan. Minor spoilers below:

I feel like I only understood half of the philosophical aspects of this book and that I would need to re-read it again after finishing the series. Leto and Ghanima have a strange mysticism propelling their actions, and it was challenging to understand the depth of this while following the political intrigue of the story. I wanted more clarity about their visions and their internal struggles against Abomination. Another interesting facet was whether having foresight took away all the characters’ meaningful choices about their actions. Was their role in all of it predetermined by Paul’s earlier actions?

The Preacher is clearly Paul, but his character changed, and I wish I had seen more of that. I want to read about what he went through between walking into the desert at the end of Dune Messiah and the events of this book.

The ending of Children of Dune brings much of the story to a concrete ending. With three books to go, I’m not sure where Dune is going next. Book 4 is God Emperor of Dune!

Have you read Dune or the sequels? Please help me understand the metaphysical stuff. Let’s chat in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Friday

I had this book sitting in a box for a long time and had meant to read it, but having it as the pick for one of my book clubs finally forced me to get to it. Friday by Robert A. Heinlein is one of the author’s later works and seems to produce strong responses from readers.

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Here is the blurb:

Friday is a secret courier. She is employed by a man known to her only as “Boss.” Operating from and over a near-future Earth, in which North America has become Balkanized into dozens of independent states, where culture has become bizarrely vulgarized and chaos is the happy norm, she finds herself on shuttlecock assignment at Boss’ seemingly whimsical behest. From New Zealand to Canada, from one to another of the new states of America’s disunion, she keeps her balance nimbly with quick, expeditious solutions to one calamity and scrape after another.

I had thought this book would have more of a spy-thriller type of plot from that blurb. And while there are moments of that, it is more of a series of smaller capers and misadventures. The main story is about Friday’s struggle to belong, both to a family and to humankind. She is an artificial person – created from a test tube and a conglomeration of genetic material from which she cannot trace any particular parentage.

In the society of this world, artificial persons do not have the same rights as normal people, but also cannot be identified through any testing or experiences. Friday chooses to reveal her real nature to others at particular points in this book and faces the repercussions of that decision.

The opening of this book is also hard to read, featuring a gang rape. While it isn’t particularly graphic, Friday’s reaction to her rape is unusual and may be off-putting to many readers. I think that Heinlein was probably using this device to show how Friday truly isn’t human and can rationalize her way through the situation.

Heinlein’s portrayal of women is both innovative and problematic in this book. At the time of its publication, there weren’t many strong female protagonists in science fiction. So while I appreciate Heinlein trying to put a woman at the forefront of his story, in other ways he doesn’t quite get past the stereotypes of the time.

There is a lot to think about in this book and while I didn’t love it, I’m glad I read it. Have you read Friday or other novels by Heinlein? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Sword of Destiny

Sometimes my pace of audiobook listening surpasses my physical reading and I end up adrift on my to-be-read list, unsure of what to listen to next. This is how I ended up delving back into The Witcher series of books by Andrzej Sapowski, narrated by Peter Kenny.

Different suggested reading orders exist for this series, and I decided to start with the two short story collections, The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny. I had actually read The Last Wish in 2019, prior to watching the television series based on these books. I never reviewed The Last Wish, but I did enjoy it, so in anticipation of catching up on season 2 of the show soon, I decided that I needed to continue reading these books.

(The books were also the basis for a series of video games which are one of the top-selling series of all time. I have played part of these as well.)

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Here is the blurb:

Geralt is a witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent. He roams the country seeking assignments, but gradually comes to realize that while some of his quarry are unremittingly vile, vicious grotesques, others are the victims of sin, evil, or simple naivety.

In this collection of short stories, following the adventures of the hit collection “The Last Wish,” join Geralt as he battles monsters, demons, and prejudices alike.


Sword of Destiny is another collection of short stories, but I found these to be more connected than those in The Last Wish, with recurrent characters and themes emerging. The sword of the title is figurative, but the concept of destiny features largely in the stories and in Geralt’s outlook on his life. The stories also delve into what it means to be a witcher, and whether someone who has undergone this change is human or not.

These stories were fun to read, with great banter between Geralt and the bard, Dandelion (Jaskier in the show). Geralt solves problems that involve monsters while needing to remain true to the witcher code. This doesn’t always require killing the monsters, and while he is occasionally outmatched in wits, he uses more than muscles to solve problems.

I already started the next book, Blood of Elves, so look for a review on that one soon.

Are you familiar with The Witcher in any of its versions (books, show, video games)? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Sea of Tranquility

I had not read any of Emily St. John Mandel’s books until just a couple of months ago. I picked up her newest release–Sea of Tranquility–as an audiobook and made my way through it quickly. While her books are linked thematically and through some of the characters, you can read them in any order. You can find my review of her earlier book, Station Eleven, here.

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Here is the blurb:

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal–an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s bestselling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.


While I didn’t like Sea of Tranquility as much as I did Station Eleven, it was still an intriguing story. Both books are told through different points in time, but Sea of Tranquility is actually about time travel. Like in Station Eleven, pandemics are also part of this story, and eventually the different viewpoint characters become interrelated through the actions of the time travelers.

I had a harder time getting into this book because I didn’t find the opening chapters as engaging as I did for Station Eleven. However, once the overall theme and story started to take a concrete shape, I found myself enjoying it more. I don’t want to spoil anything by giving too many details, but the book delves into concepts of what is real in our world and how people act when faced with knowledge of mortality.

The audiobook is narrated by an ensemble cast, featuring John Lee, Dylan Moore, Arthur Morey, and Kirsten Potter. This is always a little odd to me, as I seem to grow attached to one narrator for a book. One of the voice actors (Kirsten Potter) narrated Station Eleven, and I also enjoy John Lee’s narrations, having listened to several of his performances in the past.

Have you read Sea of Tranquility or any of Emily St. John Mandel’s other work? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Parable of the Sower

I read Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler at the same time I was reading Station Eleven (review here), a pairing that made for some strange parallels. Both books contain a near-future dystopia where the characters live under a constant threat of violence in a world plagued by scarcity and competition for resources.

This is the second book that I have read by Octavia Butler (the first was Kindred, which I have not reviewed yet but was one of the best books I read in 2021) and is the first in a series of two books known as the Parable (or Earthseed) series. At the time of her death, the author had been at work on a third book in this world. Parable of the Sower was nominated for a Nebula Award in 1995.

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Here is the blurb:

Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.

When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.


This is not a happy book, but Lauren Olamina somehow manages to persevere and exists in this story as a reluctant hero. Her struggles are chillingly realistic and believable. Her vision for an Earthseed community and an ultimate destiny for mankind is remarkable from where she begins.

While reading this book, I was surprised at how many of the themes — social inequality, drug abuse, climate change, authoritarianism, labor issues — are still relevant (and perhaps more relevant) today, almost 30 years after its publication.

Despite the grim themes, Parable of the Sower did paint a hopeful outlook for society. I enjoyed reading this novel and plan to continue on with the sequel soon.

Have you read any of Octavia Butler’s work? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my book reviews here.

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