Jan. 6th, 2016

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When I was younger, I enjoyed Kate Wilhelm's science fiction writing - indeed, I've been collecting ebooks of those classics that are still available with an eye toward rereading them. But I had never explored her other genre writing.

That has now changed. I have read Death Qualified, the first of her mystery/courtroom drama series of novels featuring lawyer Barbara Holloway, and found it to be quite an enjoyable read.

At the outset of the novel, Holloway has been away from her home town of Eugene, Oregon, for some years, and has ceased practicing law. Her father Frank, a lawyer himself, asks her to return to Eugene and to the law to help him with a case he's not sure he can win. Reluctant at first, she eventually agrees, despite (or because?) of the fact that the prosecutor is a former lover who she feels betrayed their personal relationship to win a case.

The case seems straightforward at first. Nell Kendricks stands accused of killing her husband, Lucas, who deserted her and her children years ago and has now suddenly returned. But as the reader knows, and Holloway begins to realise, Lucas' absence is part of a mysterious research project gone terribly wrong, and this may be the real reason behind his murder - if she can only find the evidence.

Part of the fun of reading this is watching everything unfolding - the nature of the research and the reason for Lucas' long absence, the detective work that slowly uncovers what really happened the day Lucas Kendricks died, and the courtroom strategies Holloway employs in an attempt to raise reasonable doubt about her client's guilt.

I especially enjoyed the sciencefictional aspect of the novel that came long with the revelation of the mysterious research that Lucas had been a party to, but the mystery and courtroom elements were equally well done. I'll be checking out more of Wilhelm's mystery writing.

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Nnedi Okorafor's novella Binti is, like all of Okorafor's writing, a many-layered narrative that centres black peoples and black culture in a future that is much richer for it.

Contact and communication between different people is key in much of Okorafor's work. In Binti, she tells the story of a gifted young woman who breaks the traditions of her reclusive people to accept an invitation to study at a university renowned throughout the galaxy. But to reach Oomza Uni she must first navigate the human society of the Khoush, who are one of the dominant human cultures, and then survive an unexpected and tragic encounter with the Meduse, an alien people who are at war with the other known species in the galaxy.

Binti's cultural traditions and personal gift for bringing things into harmony allows her to become the first non-Meduse to communicate with the war-like species and reach an understanding of the reasons behind their aggression.

Backgrounding Binti's story and all the issues of contact interactions between peoples, traditions, cultures, and species are alluring glimpses of a fascinating future where mathematics and metaphysics overlap, and starships are grown from genetically modified shrimp. I find myself hoping that Okorafor revisits this future.


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