September 2008

This is first in the Jani Kilian sci-fi series.

This was a rather enjoyable surprise. First, Jani is in her forties. Second, she suffers from back pain and stomach problems so she seems more, well, human than most heroes.

Captain Jani Kilian is a woman on the run. She has been hiding in the furthest planets from the nexus of the galactic Commonwealth. Years ago, she was involved in the try out for humans moving in to one of the cities of the alien idomeni. While the idomeni look very much like humans, their culture and behavior is quite different. The idomeni desire order above all and they consider lying abhorrent. They consider humans to be both chaotic and deceitful but where persuaded into trying co-existence. Unfortunately, the try out ended in a blood-bath and all of the humans involved are thought to be dead. Jani is the last of them and she is still wanted for multiple counts of murder by both humans and the idomeni.

Even though the try out was a failure, currently some humans and idomeni do live in the same cities but in different parts of the cities and their relations as strained at best.

Jani had been hiding successfully for many years but her time is slowly running out. She was very seriously injured in the fighting in the idomeni city and her left arm and leg had to be replaced with synthetics. The synthetics are almost numb and she has developed a limp and back pains because of the false leg. Also, her brain has been augmented for survival and human brains haven’t been designed to withstand that. Usually, an augmented person has to go through check ups every couple of months and a mental purging annually. Jani has started to develop hallucinations about her dead underlings and sometimes her augments don’t kick in when they should.

Because she has to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice and be on guard against attempts to capture her, she has to work for low pay and can’t really develop friendships.

Evan van Reuter, Jani’s former lover and now the Interior Minister of the Commonwealth, has managed to track her down and is offering a job for her. Evan’s wife died three years ago and there are still persistent rumors that Evan himself was behind it. Evan wants to hire Jani in her role as a documents technician to go through the files and to clear his name. At the same time he tries to woo her back him. Jani isn’t too thrilled about either of the prospects but agrees reluctantly to look into Evan’s wife’s death. Unfortunately, that means going back to the very heart of the Commonwealth, Earth, and right under the very nose of the police forces looking for her.

When Jani finds out that her old idomeni teacher is the idomeni ambassador to Earth, she almost changes her mind. But it’s too late: she has already been introduced to Evan’s chief aides and a very nosy butler who turns out to be a spy. Jani enjoys foiling his attempts to get information from her during the trip. Later she encounters him in a very unexpected place.

When they come to Earth, Jani finds out that nothing about the job is easy. There are more secrets than she ever would have believed connected to the death. She also has to confront her bloody past and what she had to do in the idomeni planet. And to make things worse, there’s a virulent disease spreading around the colonies and Jani’s stomach has been upset for some weeks now.

The idomeni ambassador is the second-point-of-view character and he has his own designs about Jani’s future.

The book is very fast paced. I had some trouble with how quickly people started to trust Jani and agree to do even illegal jobs for her. Then again these people weren’t exactly the most law-abiding people around in the first place.

The cultures in the book have been well done. There’s the elitist Earth who is trying to control the much more numerous colonies on other planets while looking down on them. The idomeni are disturbed by the human’s chaoticness and only the charismatic influence of Jani’s former mentor can convince the idomeni to continue to keep in touch with the humans at all. And yet even he is a former criminal and apparently many idomeni consider him to be tainted by the humans. I’d love to see more of the cultures involved.

I was also intrigued by some of the technology. For example, the document technicians have scanpacks which are used to verify the validity of the documents. The packs are made from the technicians own brain cells.

After a couple of chapters I wasn’t even bothered anymore by the cognitive dissonance of Jani’s name: Jani is a male Finnish name and her nick name Jan is a Swedish/Finnish male name.

Booking Through Thursday

Today is the 7th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I know that not all of you who read are in the U.S., but still, it’s vital that none of us who are decent people forget the scope of disaster that a few, evil people can cause–anywhere in the world. It’s not about religion, it’s not about politics, it’s about the acknowledgment that humans should try to work together, not tear each other apart, even when they disagree.

So, feeling my way to a question here … Terrorists aren’t just movie villains any more. Do real-world catastrophes such as 9/11 (and the bombs in Madrid, and the ones in London, and the war in Darfur, and … really, all the human-driven, mass loss-of-life events) affect what you choose to read? Personally, I used to enjoy reading Tom Clancy, but haven’t been able to stomach his fight-terrorist kinds of books since.

And, does the reality of that kind of heartless, vicious attack–which happen on smaller scales ALL the time–change the way you feel about villains in the books you read? Are they scarier? Or more two-dimensional and cookie-cutter in the face of the things you see on the news?

Well, I’ve never been really into “terrorists as the main villains”-books, or movies for that matter. So, in that way they haven’t really changed my reading habits. I noticed, though, that I’m also not very interested in books which have no humor or light moments but just endless suffering for the characters.

As for the villains… We don’t really know the reasons why the terrorists do what they do. Oh, we hear the reasons they or their leader mouth, but we can never really know why they themselves do it. Is it because they have been raised to hate certain people (and if so, why don’t everyone raised that way become a terrorist?)? Is it peer pressure? Pressure from family or leaders? Sheer desperation? Or sheer conviction that you *are* right no matter what anyone says? That your or your leader’s interpretation of text, of world events, of other people’s motivations are the only right ones? Or a certain combination? Or something else?

So no, I don’t think the existence of large-scale terrorism (or our grown awareness of it) has changed the way I view fictional villains. Actually reading more and more complex books changes my views of fictional villains. After all, real people are always more complex than fictional ones so they can’t really be compared.

By Busiek, Anderson, Blyberg, Sinclair, Ross

This trade has one long story arc and one unrelated story. Busiek combines many classic elements here: a young man coming to big city and growing up, mysterious hero, citizens and the authorities being suspicious of superheroes, and aliens. He manages to pull it off enjoyably.

A teenage boy Brian Kinney comes to Astro City head full of stories of heroes and dreams. He becomes a waiter and sees the heroes up close in their bar. However, he soon gets a ticket to a more upper-class place where the heroes wear evening jackets instead of masks. When a bitter villain attacks the place, Brian gets a chance to show a little bit of the hero inside him. Soon enough, he is recruited by one of the city’s most enigmatic heroes: the Confessor. The Confessor teaches Brian detective skills of seeing the patterns around him and finding what is out of place. Brian puts the skills to good use as the Altar Boy, the Confessor’s sidekick.

However, soon there’s a tide of suspicions against the heroes. One of them is accused of turning into a villain and another’s anti-religious statements are used against her. Things start to look bleak for the heroes.

While non-powered Altar Boy and his mentor the Confessor battle mostly muggers and looters, there are glimpses of more cosmic and large-scale battle going on in the background. I don’t know whether to be pleased or frustrated by this. 😉 I do like my cosmic battles but then again I don’t like just battles all the time with no character development (hi there, Marvel!).

At first I thought that the Confessor was just a redone Batman and I was mildly amused that his relationship with his sidekick was the opposite of the closeness of Bruce and Dick. Boy, was I blown away when his secrets were revealed! Very nicely done.

Although, I was quite frustrated how very few female heroes this world, too, seems to have when even teenage boys without any powers at all can put on a costume and battle muggers.

Another of my reviews: Jefferson Bass’ Devil’s Bones

Phoenix starts only a short time after Teckla. Vlad gets an unexpected audience from his patron god: Verra the demon goddess. She hires Vlad to kill the king of Greenaere which is an island kingdom some distance away from the Empire’s shores. Vlad accepts and Verra promptly returns him from her domain back to the real world.

Vlad and his wife Cawti’s relationship is still strained and Vlad is actually glad to have something else to think about. He leaves quickly to Greenaere by ship. Greenaere is quite different from the Empire because sorcery doesn’t work there. However, the mental connection between Vlad and his familiar Loiosh seems to be working normally. Also, the Dragaeran there don’t have a House system like the one in the Empire. This was interesting and I would have liked to see more of their society.

Vlad skulks around for a day and after that he successfully kills the king. However, during his escape he’s wounded and so incapable of running very far. He meets an absent-minded drummer just before he passes out. Aibynn the drummer nurses him for a day but in the end the royal guards capture both of them.

Vlad is thrown to prison and so is Aibynn who is thought to be his accomplish. They languish some days in their cell before they are rescued by Cawti, Aliera, and Morrolan. That is, of course, only the start of Vlad’s troubles. His wife is part of a group that wants to overthrow the government, Greenaere declares war on the Empire, and Vlad’s bosses are starting to get nervous because of what Cawti is doing and because Vlad own the criminal activity in the increasing unstable area of South Adrilankha where the would-be-rebels live. Soon enough Cawti is arrested and Vlad has to decide what he’s ready to do to get her out. This requires, of course, doing the unexpected.

Some of the most important people in Vlad’s life, his grandfather and Cawti, have told him that they don’t approve of Vlad’s life as an assassin and this is starting to affect Vlad. He starts to think about what he does and why and what else he could do. There’s also some talk about gods and how the Dragaerans see them.

Both food and music make a stronger appearance in this book than in the previous ones. This is also the book where the black Phoenix stones first appear.

I’m always interested in different cultures and the Empire has at least eighteen of them inside its borders: “To a Dzurlord, civilized means adhering to proper customs of dueling. To a Dragonlord, civilized means conforming to all the social niceties of mass mayhem. To a Yendi, civilized means making sure no one ever knows exactly what you’re up to. In the land of my ancestors, civilized means never drinking a red wine at more than fifty-five or less than fifty degrees.” And to a Greenaere Dragaeran civilized means not torturing their prisoners.

Steven Brust’s Dzur

Booking Through Thursday

I was looking through books yesterday at the shops and saw all the Twilight books, which I know basically nothing about. What I do know is that I’m beginning to feel like I’m the *only* person who knows nothing about them.

Despite being almost broke and trying to save money, I almost bought the expensive book (Australian book prices are often completely nutty) just because I felt the need to be ‘up’ on what everyone else was reading.

Have you ever felt pressured to read something because ‘everyone else’ was reading it? Have you ever given in and read the book(s) in question or do you resist? If you are a reviewer, etc, do you feel it’s your duty to keep up on current trends?

Well, yes. I don’t think that I was ever actually pressurized as such but certainly I was felt not part of the crowd because I don’t like that same books that the, apparently, huge majority of Finnish fantasy fans like. George R. R. Martin and Robin Hobb are the rulers of the Finnish fantasy circles. I read the first Martin book and I guess I have him to thank for a realization: that I don’t care for his style of world-building or writing, and that I didn’t have to and nobody could make me. I’ve also declined reading other epics which people tend to assume are automatic reads for fantasy fans. (The old “epic is the end-all and be-all of fantasy”-syndrome.)

I liked Hobb when I was younger and I still have the first book of her third trilogy (Fool’s Errand) waiting in my to-read-pile. But I think she’s way too verbose and could have easily shortened her books.

If I was paid to review, then I think I’d feel the need to keep up. Now, I don’t.

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