Friday, 12 September 2014

Aurora in Four Voices by Catherine Asaro

Aurora in Four Voices by Catherine Asaro is a collection of short stories that I listened to in audiobook form after the author ran a Kickstarter campaign to record it. I have previously reviewed Asaro's novel, The Radiant Seas, which is set in the same universe as the stories in Aurora in Four Voices.

I didn't love all of the stories in this collection, although I didn't hate any of them either. My least favourite was definitely "Ave de Paso", in which the main characters didn't particularly grab me and which also had a bit of a squick factor towards the end. I liked many things about "Aurora in Four Voices" and I'd say it was probably my second favourite story. I had mixed feelings about the relationship between the two main characters since Soz is the main character of the other Asaro books I've read and her OTP the main character was not. I also enjoyed "Light and Shadows" although it was not, I think, supposed to be an overly cheery story. My favourite story was easily "City of Cries" and I was interested to learn in the outro that there is a novel sequel coming late this year. I will have to keep an eye out for that.

One thing all the stories have in common — with the exception of "Light and Shadows" which only really has the one male character in it — is strong female characters. This is something common to all of Asaro's work, I believe. People seeking hard science fiction populated by women who actually do things, would do well to check out Asaro's work. And in case you were in any doubt that her SFnal universe is indeed hard, this collection contains a short maths essay at the end. I have to admit, I found it difficult to listen to — my brain went into lecture mode and turned off — but luckily there was a simplified URL mentioned to the written and illustrated essay online. You can read it here. (And if you need further proof, some of the mathematical concepts used in her stories have been published in mathematical journals.)

As always, I've written some notes about the stories as I read them. I recommend this collection to people wanting to get an idea of Asaro's work. The stories are pretty broad in setting and, I think, a good showcase of the sort of stories she can write. I particularly recommend it to SF fans looking for more women in their fiction.

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Aurora in Four Voices — Not bad, about Soz (main character in Primary Inversion and Radiant Seas and others I haven't read) and, more prominently, a man who has been trapped on a planet populated by mathematical and artistic geniuses who like to live in eternal night. He has been mistreated by, well, a mean chap and when Soz shows up she helps him escape his situation.

Ave de Paso — Meh. A pair of orphaned cousins deal with recent bereavement, the desert and magical possession by a malevolent spirit. Not terrible, but not my favourite.

The Spacetime Pool — Your classic present-day maths graduate falls into gate in the spacetime continuum and finds herself in an alternate universe where she's at the centre of an empire-changing prophesy. I wasn't fond of the whole "you must marry me and not my brother because he's a bastard" opening but since it's a novella there was plenty of room to turn it around and I enjoyed the heroine rescuing herself with the application of mathematics.

Light and Shadows — A heart broken test pilot deals with his pain by trying to go harder, faster further. When he pushes his plane beyond the specified limits he gets a bit more than he expected. An amusing story (well, not the parts where he was sad about his dead lover) about a character I'm pretty sure reappears in Skolian Empire books I've read.

City of Cries — This was my favourite story of the bunch. It's a gender-flipped hard-boiled PI story in an SF setting. And when I say gender-flipped, I don't just mean that the ex-military PI is female (though she is) but all the trope-mandatory characters are gender flipped. I found this delightful even while unpleasant things were happening to people.

A Poetry of Angles and Dreams — not a story but an essay, which you can read here. For someone with a maths degree, it was a fairly straight-forward description of concepts. Particularly the imaginary number half of the essay starts at the most basic level and builds up to the more complex (lol, pun) concept of Riemann sheets. I suspect the second part of the essay, about Fourier transforms/analysis would be less enlightening to the lay person.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2012 Isfic Press (audiobook 2014)
Series: Stories set in the Skolian Empire universe (apparently including the ones that don't seem like they are)
Format read: Audiobook
Source: Kickstarter reward

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