the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘Vintage SciFi

I discovered this wonderful short story in The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer.  I did some research on the author, and learned about her incredible legacy. Read the story because it’s fun,  learn about Rokheya Shekhawat Hossein (also known as Begum Rokheya) because she’s freaking amazing.

 

 

One of the many wonderful things about fiction that’s older than 100 years old, is that you can often read  it for free, online.  If a fifty pound anthology isn’t for you,  you can read “Sultana’s Dream” at Strange Horizons, where they reprinted the story as part of a series on Utopias.

 

Because all science fiction (and a lot of art) is a reaction and reflection of the time in which it was written,  here are a few contextual things you might want to know before you read “Sultana’s Dream”.

  • Begum Rokheya was born in 1880,  in what is now known as Bangladesh, and at the time was British India
  • She is considered the pioneer feminist of Bengal
  • She was raised in an intellectual, multi-lingual home that was wealthy but also very traditional.  This combination meant that she learned Arabic and Urdu, and then English and Bengali.
  • You may want to understand what purdah is. (or not. up to you)

 

Reading this story sent me down a google rabbit hole of the phrase “gender-flip”.  That term has to be fairly new, right?  hahahaha, NO.    I love that gender-flipping has been having a moment for the last, oh, 20 years,  but the concept has been around for quite a while.   My brain is also going down the rabbit hole of “what was social media way back when?”  more on that at the end of this post.

 

“Sultana’s Dream” plays with gender flipping (and women’s rights!),  with the idea that in this Indian Utopia,  the women run the country and the men are kept in seclusion.

 

The plot goes like this:   Sultana is drowsing away the afternoon,  when a woman walks into her room and invites her out for a walk.   Sultana at first thinks the woman is her friend Sister Sara,  but later realizes the woman is a stranger.   Upon leaving Sultana’s home, they end up where not-Sister Sara lives,  and Sultana states that  she feels weird walking around in public unveiled, as she is a purdahnishin.

 

The rest of the story  is not-Sister Sara explaining to Sultana how her women-run world, called Ladyland, came to be.  A young Queen insisted that all women in the country have access to education,  thus women’s universities were started.   The women’s universities used their discoveries and inventions for the good of the whole community, while the men stayed focused on military might.  The men insisted that the inventions that came out of the women’s university’s were nice, but nothing compared to the value or importance of military strength and other men’s work.

 

When the country finds themselves on the losing side of a war,  the Queen and her female advisors come up with a plan, which I won’t spoil.   They win the war, and in the process transform the country into one where women can be in public unveiled, and the men are kept in seclusion.  When the men ask to be let out of seclusion, the Queen’s response is “if their services should ever be needed, they would be sent for, and that in the meanwhile they would remain where they were”.

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We’re about  a week into Vintage month,  and it’s been so wonderful so far!  There’s been wonderful discussions in comments sections,  chit chat on twitter,  cool stuff happening every where!

 

I catch the posts I can, so anything i missed, feel free to leave a link in the comments.

 

Howling Frog Books is having a blast using the Vintage SciFi Month bingo card, and has reviewed Spock Must Die by James Blish, Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison, and Exiled from Earth by Ben Bova. Three reviews in a week?  Yikes, I gotta up my game!

 

Bookforager has a  beautifully written review of Driftglass by Samuel R Delany. Srsly, if you have not read his work, you are missing out!

 

Eclectic Theist enjoys Past Master by R.A. Lafferty, with bonus recommendations in the comments section.

 

Kristen Brand has a blast talking about her favorite Vintage Scifi tropes. What are you favorite vintage scifi tropes? which ones annoy you?

 

Wiki Fiction offers a very indepth look at Stanislaw Lem’s fiction, and primarily the frustration with Solaris.  I too was frustrated, but as luck would have it, I ended up being OK with how it ends.

 

Judith Tarr (yes, that Judith Tarr!)  is over at Tor.com talking about reading Andre Norton’s Quag Keep.  Fantasy fiction certainly wasn’t new in the last 70s, but Dungeons and Dragons was.

 

Sara Light-Waller has an excellent profile of Captain Future, at PulpFest.   the mythos of Captain Future goes back to the first Worldcon, how cool is that?

 

Still looking for Vintage recommendations?  Prepare to have your TBR explode. Not only does Joachim Boaz have a list of excellent Vintage Scifi recommendations, he’s got an entire website, Science Fiction and other Suspect Ruminations that is 99.99% Vintage Scifi Goodness!

 

I know I missed plenty of links. Help a girl out and put them in the comments?  you can also tweet them to @VintageSciFi_ 

 

What Vintage scifi posts have been popping up in the blogosphere?  So much good stuff, I can’t even keep track of it all!

 

My VintageSciFi Month co-host Jacob at Red Star Reviews has something to say about Gordon Dickson’s Wolfling.  I agree a million percent on the joy that is sparked by the greenish edges of so many vintage-y paperbacks.

 

In case you missed it a few days ago, I was over at Every Day Should Be Tuesday talking about C.L. Moore’s groundbreaking stories Shambleau and Black God’s Kiss. Hard to believe both of these stories were written in the 30s!   Check out the post just for the photo that Justin posted, I really am little and red in that photo!

 

Tip The Wink‘s Forgotten Book feature is Space Tug by Murray Leinster. I appreciate that Richard mentions that this book is realistic with the knowledge and scientific development of the early 1950s in mind.

 

Jean at Howling Frog had a tough time deciding which titles to read first on her Ace Double.  Good thing she enjoyed both Kar Kaballa by George Henry Smith. Unfortunately The Tower of Medusa by Lin Carter was a disappointment.  Ya’ll, read this blog post just for her entertaining take down of Tower of Medusa!

 

Science Fiction and other Suspect Ruminations (have you seen his cover art gallery? go look at it, right now!) reviews A City in the North by Marta Randall, which takes story telling in the direction of anthropology and relationships between humans and aliens.

 

SFF Book Reviews had a lot to say about Ursula K Le Guin’s quietly powerful The Left Hand of Darkness.  speaking of, I’m due for a reread of this novel that is completely different every time I read it.

 

Dinara Tengra has an excellent summary of Clifford Simak’s titles. If you keep hearing about Simak but don’t know where to start,  start with Dinara’s post!  (My fave is Way Station, btw)

 

And speaking of Way StationKaedrin has an excellent review that talks about the novel’s strengths and weaknesses, along with some commentary about what Way Station was up against that year for the Hugo award. It won against Cat’s Cradle?  WHAT.

 

Beamer Books has a concise and informative article on some Andre Norton titles, and the connection between Andre Norton and Martha Wells.

 

Planetary Defense Command reviews John Brunner’s Secret Agent of Terra, a novel that discusses how higher tech civilizations should interact with lower tech civilizations.  Years before Star Trek, Brunner was discussing The Prime Directive.

 

Galactic Journey discusses The Wonder War by Laurence Janifer, along with some biographical info about the author. Unfortunately, this specific title by Janifer did not impress.

 

I KNOW I missed some excellent Vintage posts from the last 10 days or so.  Leave links in the comments, so the rest of us can find them too!

 

Updated to add:

PC Bushi enjoyed Edgar Rice Burroughs’ At The Earth’s Core, and compares it to A Princess of Mars

 

Howling Frog Books had a great time with A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C Clark, enjoying the balance between solving scientific problems, and keeping human problems at bay

 

On the other hand, Bookforager did NOT have a good time with Philip Jose Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go (I’m pretty sure I DNF’d this one)

 

With only a few hours to go in the month of January, yet MORE UPDATES! yay! These updates include reviews that are linked to in the comments below.

Richard at Tip the Wink enjoyed Islands in the Sky by Arthur Clarke, in which a TV quiz show winner gets to visit the Inner Station and experience zero G for a few weeks.  I’m intruiged by the idea of the Inner Station, it is low Earth orbit, and I’m interested to see what future technology Clarke predicts in this book. It’s got some great Vintage cover art too!

 

According to Who’s Dreaming Who, Fritz Leiber’s Hugo award winning The Big Time starts out entertaining if a little basic, and then takes a surprising left turn into Locked-room mystery territory.  I’ve only read a bit of Leiber’s fantasy, I’m interested to see what he does with science fiction!

 

Although dated and lacking in characterization, Mervi thought H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine was worth the time.  Mervi also enjoyed Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth,  where people discuss the scientific ideas of the day, and then manly men go on an adventure complete with imaginative creatures.

 

Dinara Tengri gave John W. Campell’s Who Goes There a try, and found it suffered from death by adjectives, but was able to get past that. Report from Dinara is that John Carpenter’s The Thing is fairly loyal to the source material! (a movie that is loyal to the book? when was the last time that happened?)

 

Tor.com talks about my favorite Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It’s been at least four years since I read this, definitely time for a re-read. Why knot, you know?

 

 

 

Welcome to our last week of #VintageSciFi discussions.

There are some excellent conversations going on in the comments sections, and it’s never too late to join in. Here are links to the discussions posts from earlier this month:

Topic for Jan 6 – Jan 12:  I just dated myself.

Topic for Jan 13 – Jan 19:  Gateway Drug to Vintage.

Topic for Jan 20 – Jan 26: Why is this important to you?

 

for our final week of Vintage Science Fiction month, we’re doing something fun. Let’s talk about cover art! the good, the bad, the weird, and the WTF.  Before going further, I need to give a huge shout out to Joachim at Science Fiction and other Suspect Ruminations, who has a ginormous index of Vintage Cover Art.  There are also cover art galleries available at The Future Is Female, and this rather random but still enjoyable SciFi Books Flickr group gallery. DECADES of wonderful and weird cover art!  because do you judge a book by it’s cover? I know I do.

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Let’s discuss!

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Topic for Jan 27 – Jan 31: That’s, um, interesting.  Post your favorite Vintage Cover art. Post the weirdest cover art you can find. Post Vintage cover art that makes you want to pick the book up, post vintage cover art that makes you say WTF?

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Be warned, this post is just a gigantic gallery of Vintage cover art (loading my be slow) and my comments on the artwork. Based on the cover art, would you pick up this book?   If you’ve read these titles, does the cover art have anything to do with the story?

 

If you’ve got Vintage SciFi Cover art that you love, or cover art that is so weird you’re not sure what to think about it, put a link to the image in the comments.

What a striking image!! But I don’t think that’s what Jirel was wearing??

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This 1962 artwork looks right out of the mid 80s

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my favorite Waystation Cover Art. first time I saw this cover art, I didn’t even notice the little farmhouse.

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um, what??

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Lem’s The Cyberiad is freakin’ fantastic! Love this Monty Python-esque cover art!


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This week’s discussion topic is:

Topic for Jan 20 – Jan 26: Why is this important to you?   Why are you interested in reading Vintage SciFi? What do you get out of it?

With so many new books coming out every year, why even bother reading older science fiction?

Is there value in reading older science fiction?  Is it worth your time?

Why even read this stuff?

 

This is something I’ve thought about a lot over the past five years.  Reading older science fiction, for me, is like taking the world’s most fun history class. I get to see what life was like in the 60s, the 40s, the 30s, and before 1900, through the eyes of speculative fiction.     Because I can’t think of a way to phrase it better, I’m going to plagarize myself from a Vintage SciFi blog post I wrote in 2016:

If you could ask your great grandparents what their life was like when they were growing up, you would, right?

If you could go back in time and see what your country and your family were like before social media took over the universe, you’d be interesting in seeing what the world was like, right?

This January, you can. This January, I invite you to travel through time with me. Travel into the past, look into the youthful eyes of your great grandparents. See what came before so we could have what we have now.

Ok, maybe not time travel exactly. . . but sort of.

Everything comes from somewhere. You came from your parents, duh. But who are the parents of your favorite science fiction books? I’ll tell you: the parents of your favorite science fiction books are the books that author read to be inspired and to dream. And those books have parents too. If you don’t like me using the word “book parents” here, how about “the author’s influences”? Something they were influenced and inspired by to create something new and modern.

By reading older fiction, you get to see how that fiction progressed to get to where it is today. You get to experience the family tree, as it were, of speculative fiction.

Ok, that’s my two cents.

What are yours?

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

published in 1952

where I got it: purchased used

 

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I was nineteen or twenty years old the first time I met R. Daneel Olivaw. I didn’t know what to make of him.  Was he a good guy? Did he care about humans? What kind of person was he? I was maybe 24 or 25 when I made it to the end of Daneel’s life.  I like that Daneel has been a part of my life all these years. I think my early 20s was the perfect age for me to get to know him.

 

Prior to writing The Caves of Steel in 1952, Asimov had already written a handful of robot short stories that had been published as I Robot in 1950 (Asimov reportedly protested the title of the collection, as another author had already used that title, but his publisher didn’t care. But that’s a whole ‘nother story).    When unsure of how to stretch a robot story out to novel length, Asimov’s editor suggested he write a mystery novel, and make one the detectives a robot. That one conversation started everything.

 

The Caves of Steel takes place roughly three thousand years in the future, and humanity is a star faring race.  We’ve colonized planets, tried to terraform planets, lost some colonies and built others. While the humans of space are living in the future,  humans on Earth seem to be stuck in the past. People on earth mostly live in gigantic domed cities (sort of arcology-esque?), and rarely if ever leave the domes to stand under natural sunshine.  Many Terrans resent the Spacers, for a variety of reasons that Asimov touches on. “Clinging to the past” seems to be a character trait for many characters in this book.

 

Detective Lije Bailey has just been assigned the strangest case:  He’s to investigate the murder of a visiting Spacer. Stranger yet,  the Spacers demand that Bailey partner up with one of their own. His new partner is R. Daneel Olivaw.  The “R” stands for Robot. If Bailey is going to solve this case, the first thing he’s going to have to do is get over the revulsion he feels for Daneel.  And the first thing Daneel is going to have to do is get really good at passing for a human.

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Welcome to week two of Vintage SciFi Month!   Last week we had a fantastic discussion about what makes older books feel dated, or not feel dated.

Topic for Jan 13 – Jan 19: Gateway Drug to Vintage. Your friend says they don’t want to read anything older. They think older books are awful/dated/slow paced/badly written/etc.

What titles(s) do you recommend to them to help them step outside their comfort zone?

How do you convince them to give the book(s) a chance?

 

 

To help you get your thinking caps on, here are some links to some recent #VintageSciFi around the blogosphere

Tip the Wink reviews Sands of Mars, Arthur C. Clarke’s first published novel

Every Day Should be Tuesday reviews Nightfall and Other Stories by Isaac Asimov, and looks at Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee

Kaedrin tackles Robert Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars and explains the most confusing Heinlein conversation I have ever been part of.

Weighing a Pig reviews Destination Void by Frank Herbert

Howling Frog Books reviews Earthworks by Brian Aldiss

This Sporadic Life reviews Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Red Lips and Bibliomaniacs has a fantastic and in depth review of Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet edited by Mike Ashley

Wolfman’s Cult Film Club enjoyed Fantastic Voyage

David Lee Summers talks about A Bertram Chandler’s famous John Grimes

Late to the Game enjoyed the movie The Black Hole

 

Enjoy!

 

The Future is Female!  25 Classic Science Fiction Stores by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin, edited by Lisa Yaszek

published in 2018 (features scifi stories from 1928-1969)

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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When a friend offered to let me borrow his copy of The Future is Female,  I jumped at the chance. The volume features science fictioni short stories dating back to 1928, and featuring authors like C.L. Moore, Kit Reed, Judith Merril, Kate Wilhelm, Leigh Brackett, and of course Ursula K. LeGuin and James Tiptree, Jr., among many, many others.   I pick up a lot of random scifi anthologies and single author collections, I liked the idea that this one pulled fiction from across so many decades and generations. There is also a companion website, womensf.loa.org, that offers more in depth author biographies, and a truly excellent trove of cover art of the magazines and anthologies where these stories were originally featured. (Note to self: remember this website later this month when we’re talking about scifi cover art!)

 

The introduction, by editor Lisa Yaszek, gives a very, very quick summary of three generations of writers, and the pulp magazines they wrote for.  I got a chuckle out of Yaszek’s discussion of why these female writers often wrote under a pseudonym – in a number of cases it was to protect their jobs, their privacy, and to protect their government clearance.  I also laughed out loud at the editors mention of some authors with female names, who upon further research, turned out to be men!

 

Designed to be read in the order presented,  I was a jerk and jumped all around in the table of contents, reading what looked interesting first. So far, I’ve read only a handful of the short stories, here are my thoughts on them.   And yes, there are spoilers in some of these mini-reviews, and no I don’t feel bad about the spoilers. These stories are in many cases, older than my parents!

 

The Black God’s Kiss by C.L. Moore (1934) – this is a famous short story, which I am embarrassed to say I have never read until now.  A sci-fantasy starring Moore’s famous Jirel of Joiry, Jirel must defend her fallen lands against the invader Guilliame. Since no weapon on earth can destroy Guilliame, Jirel travels to an unearthly underworld in search of a weapon that can stop him. Here’s where things go from an epic fantasy to sci-fantasy – there are changes in gravity, changes in the laws of physics, possibly alien technology. I love the atmospheric feeling in this story! Makes me want to read a lot more Moore.  She hasn’t got time to wonder about all the amazing (and sometimes horrifying) things she comes across, her goal is Get the Weapon, and then Get Home, and then Kill Guilliame. What she has to do to get the weapon, and what the weapon is, I was not expecting any of this, and I hope it was shocking in the 1930s. Highly recommended.

 

Space Episode by Leslie Perri (1941) –  Lida, Michael, and Erik are astronauts, and upon return to Earth their ship was hit by a micro-meteor, doing damage to one of the engines. If they are going to survive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, someone has to go outside the ship to repair the engine. With the damage to the airlock, whoever goes outside will not be able to get back in. One of these astronauts must sacrifice their life to save the other two.  Lida assumes one of the men will make the sacrifice, but they turn out to be cowards, so (spoiler) she does it. When this story was originally published, apparently male science fiction fans took offense to having to read about two cowardly male characters. Is Lida a heroic female astronaut? Or is she a heroic astronaut?

 

That Only a Mother by Judith Merril (1948) – a cautionary tale. The bombs fell far away, but the radiation and chemicals are in the air here too,  causing children to be born with horrible mutations. Maggie is sure her unborn baby will be fine, and when her husband Hank gets called back to the labs after their daughter’s birth, Maggie sends him letters telling him about their little girls beautiful face, and her laughter, and her development.  If there is anything wrong with their daughter, Maggie hasn’t said a word. In fact, their little girl seems to be developing quicker than expected, at less than a year old, she can speak and can even sing a little! When Hank is finally granted shore leave to spend days on end with his wife and baby daughter,  he discovers a secret he must keep, forever. I was not AT ALL prepared for the shocker of an ending. In the biography area, it is mentioned that not only was That Only A Mother Merril’s first SF story, but it was written to win a bet with John W. Campbell. And yes, she won the bet handily.

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Hello and welcome to this week’s #VintageSciFi discussion!

Topic for Jan 6 – Jan 12:  I just dated myself. In your experience, which vintage SF books don’t feel dated?  What titles have passed the test of time, and feel like they could have been written in the last ten years? Is such a book possible? What, in your opinion, makes something feel dated?

Anytime this week, post a blog post with your thoughts, and leave the link down in the comments so others can more easily find your post.

Not sure where to start?  Here are my questions and thoughts.

 

What makes a Vintage book feel dated?  

On the hard scifi side of things, whenever I read an older science fiction story and the author talks about “computers the size of a room”, or punchcards, I laugh my head off.  1960 called, they want their room sized computer back!  I do want my scifi to have technology – computers, spaceships, flying cars, but almost the less the author speaks to the specifics of the inner workings of the technology (how exactly the spaceship flies, how big/small the computer is), the less dated it feels.  Vintage Science fiction is more a victim of the “dated through technology” issue than vintage fantasy. In fantasy, a magic wand is a magic wand, you know?

Many readers are turned off and bothered by the fact that older scifi fantasy books tend to feature only white, male protagonists, and that female and non-white characters are built around stereotypes and flimsy characterization.  This can make a book feel not only horribly dated, but also offensive.  In my personal experience, I’ve read some books where this is super-bothersome for me, and other times i am not as bothered. Could be the author, could be the mood i’m in that day, I have no idea.

 

What dated books do I enjoy, even though they feel dated?

 

I recently read Isaac Asimov’s Caves of Steel (review coming soon!).  It is horribly dated, often to the point of being funny. The main character comes off as a country bumpkin at times, and i’m hoping that was on purpose, actually, and his wife is written as a 1 dimensional cartoon character. More of this in the review, but his entire worldview is just so narrow as to be silly.  So, yes, horribly dated, but more in the review about why I think this is an important read, and how influential the ideas presented were.

 

One of my favorite older short story collections is The Best of Hal Clement, but yeah, in style and pacing, these stories feel really dated.  Lots of hard scifi, good conversations, excellent commentary on communication between humans and aliens.  If you’ve never read any Hal Clement, this paperback is worth hunting for.

 

It should surprise no one that Mary Shelley Frankenstein does feel dated, and in my opinion this is 100% due to the writing style, which was perfectly modern when the book came out two hundred years ago (Yes, TWO HUNDRED years ago!!).  If you’re not sure where to start with historical Science Fiction,  Frankenstein a perfect place to start.

 

What Vintage SciFi Books have you read that didn’t feel dated?

 

I’m really interested to hear what everyone else has to say on this one, because the only ones that quickly come to mind for me are Dune by Frank Herbert,  Nova by Samuel Delany,  Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm, and Waystation by Clifford Simak. With the Wilhelm title,  the first chapter or two feel a little dated, but everything after that could have been written last year.

What do Dune and Nova have in common?  They take place in the far future, and the lives and goals of the characters have nothing to do with today’s life on Earth.  In Nova, Earth and Earth based politics are mentioned, but Lorq’s decisions are not based on 20th century Earth.

 

Now it’s your turn to join the discussion!

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, by Kate Wilhelm

published 1976

where I got it: purchased used copy

 

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I’ve been looking for a copy of this book for years.  I had no idea what the book was about, couldn’t seem to find a copy to save my life, so when I did finally find a copy in a used bookstore, I didn’t care that the cover art was obscured by an ugly sticker, I didn’t care that the ratty paperback appeared to be a library discard, I didn’t care that the back cover copy had a glaring spelling error. THIS BOOK WAS MINE NOW. FINALLY. (yes, i know about Amazon. Yes, I know about ABE books.  The joy of visiting used bookstores is better than anything on Amazon or Abe)

 

Described as a cautionary, quiet science fiction novel about surviving an apocalypse, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang won the Hugo, the Locus, the Jupiter, and the Campbell award, and was nominated for the Nebula award.   Along with her husband, Damon Knight, Kate Wilhelm was among the authors who started the Clarion Workshop. Kate Wilhelm passed away at the age of 89, in March of 2018.

 

As the story opens, it’s not so much an extinction level event that begins the apocalypse, more a slow death of a thousand cuts. Radiation leaks, soil that can no longer sustain agriculture, outbreaks of disease, famines, droughts, all which lead to riots and civil unrest.

 

The wealthy Sumner family wasn’t entirely sure what was happening or why, but they knew something horrible was on the horizon, so they planned. A valley full of livestock. A privately funded hospital full of everything they could purchase. A private mill for electricity. Underground bunkers.

 

The goal was for the entire extended family to be self sustaining, no matter what happened to the rest of the world. What they never saw coming was the sterility, the dead children, the lost pregnancies. What’s the point of planning for survival if no one can have babies?   If you can’t create babies the old fashioned way, learn how to make them a new way: through cloning. But even the clones couldn’t naturally have children, so that was another scientific puzzle for the scientists in the family to solve.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.