March 2010

This is the first in the space opera series about space navy officer Kristine Longknife.

Ensign Kris Longknife’s father is the prime minister of her home planet Wardhaven. She’s tired of being a politician all the time, so she joined the navy over the loud protestations of her family. Her first mission is to rescue a kidnapped girl. Unfortunately, that mission cuts a bit too close to home because when she was six years old, her younger brother was kidnapped and killed. Now, she’s determined to rescue the girl no matter what. But she and her team quickly find out that they aren’t just facing local robbers but a band of heavily equipped criminals from Earth.

After that mission the navy is trying to save money and she, along with all other officers and crew, are allowed to go home for a while. Kris doesn’t get along well with her family who is expecting her to give up her career and come home. Also, after the death of her brother, her mother is very protective of her.

It’s almost a relief to Kris when she and some of the officers are called back on duty. An active volcano has devastated planet Olympia where there’s a farming community. The navy is sent to help them. However, the commanding officer there is Hancock who is known for shooting first and asking questions later. Kris and her team descent to a place which has lost any hope for the future. Kris, however, isn’t going to give up.

Kris is a very young heroine. She’s trying to still find her own place in the universe and to convince her parents that she’s an adult. She carries a lot of guilt from the death of her younger brother Eddie and she’s very protective towards kids. After Eddie’s death her father buried himself into work and her mother tried to make Kris into a young lady which Kris resented. Kris copes by drinking. Her great-grandfather finally gets her to stop drinking but she’s still reluctant to drink anymore. She’s also an optimist and somewhat naive. However, she grows a lot during the book.

Kris’ family is an interesting group. Both of her great-grandfathers are alive and well. They are also war heroes and they haven’t had much contact with Kris at all. Her father is, of course, very political and has raised Kris to be aware of all politicking around her. Her mother has a “busy social schedule”. Her aunt True is a computer genius who makes her own rules. Kris’ elder brother is being groomed to be the next politician in the family and isn’t seen much.

She doesn’t get along with either of her commanding officers, first Captain Thorpe aboard the Typhoon who seems to resent the rich and powerful Longknifes, and then Lieutenant Colonel Hancock who seems to hate pretty much everyone equally because of his own murky past.

Kris’ loyal side kick Tommy Lean is also an ensign who follows Kris’ lead for pretty much everything. Tommy is from a poor mining colony. Unfortunately, many of the other characters are quite clichéd.

There’s some interesting technology in the book. The ships have mutable steel which can change the form of the ship. Kris has a personal supercomputer Nelly which can access almost anything and has a lot of information in it.

There’s a mention of one non-human species which apparently had fought fiercely against the humans but is currently dormant.

The book is set among the colonies which appear to be very unhappy with their trade agreement with the wealthier Earth and “the Seven Sisters”. They are all supposed to be part of a federation call the Society of Humanity which, for example, prohibits the death penalty. Still, many seem to resent the Society.

The start of the book is somewhat awkward because there are long flashback sequences to Eddie’s kidnapping while Kris is supposed to organize her team and go to very serious work. However, the writing gets better later on.

Some reviewers think that the name of the book (Mutineer) is misplaced because Kris doesn’t mutiny against the navy. However, she does rebel against her family in pretty spectacular fashion.

I accidentally bought the second in the series first and I’ll certainly read it.

Booking Through Thursday

Do you take breaks while reading a book? Or read it straight through? (And, by breaks, I don’t mean sleeping, eating and going to work; I mean putting it aside for a time while you read something else.)

I usually read two books at the same time: one in audio format and the other in print or ebook form. I usually listen the audio book when I’m doing something else such as roaming the internet of playing an online game or answering questions like these. 🙂 However, I couldn’t read instead of listening so I guess the answer would be no.

I tend to find the print or audio book before starting another unless the book is atrocious that I don’t finish it. Short story collections are another matter. I rarely read a collection straight through.

This is the first book in the Inspector Rebus police detective series which is set in Edinburgh.

This is one of the realistic detective series where pretty much every one is guilty of something, most of the characters are assholes, and there are no happy endings. I can read these every once is a great while but not often.

John Rebus is a police detective in Edinburgh. He’s also former military and his experiences in the Special Air Service where so horrible that he’s suppressed most his memories from that time. He’s divorced and has an 11-years old daughter Samantha. He lives alone in an apartment in a block of flats which smells like cat piss. He drinks a lot and smokes even more. In essence, his life sucks. Yet, he’s devoted to his work. Lately, someone has been sending him anonymous letters which contain a short message and a string tied to a knot.

In contrast, his brother Michael is a very successful hypnotist who owns a big house and a car, and has a happy marriage. John is quite envious of Michael’s life especially since John feels that their father always favored Michael.

John is working a couple of cases but like many other police officers, he’s pulled away from them and assigned to the case of the Edinburgh strangler. He has already killed two eleven year-old girls and hasn’t left any clues. The press and the police are getting desperate.

John doesn’t get along with the chief detective Anderson who assigns him the task of going through the previous murders and sex crimes in the off chance that the strangler might have killed before. John goes to work with his equally hard-drinking and chain smoking partner.

This was written in 1987 and apparently female officers were then very rare. In this book, there’s only one female cop and she’s there just to be the romantic interest for Rebus.

Otherwise, the book was well written and at least to me it felt more realistic than many of the USAian detective novels where officers seem to do things that defy logic. Definitely recommended to people who like realistic mysteries.

Booking Through Thursday

Which do you prefer? Lurid, fruity prose, awash in imagery and sensuous textures and colors? Or straight-forward, clean, simple prose?

Better late than never. 🙂

It depends on the writer, but since English isn’t my mother tongue, I tend to prefer simple prose.

This is the first in the mystery series about English literature teacher Kate Fansler.

One of Kate’s dearest friends is mixed up in murder and Kate is determined to solve it. Janet Harrison was stabbed in Dr. Emanuel Bauer’s office and right in his psychoanalyst’s couch. Emanuel is the prime suspect but Kate doesn’t believe that. The girl herself is a mystery: she has no family and no boyfriend; she was quiet and kept to herself. Kate can’t find any reason for the murder. Because Janet was beautiful, the police think that it was a crime of passion.

The book was written in the mid 60s and has some old-fashioned ideas about psychoanalysis and woman. The generic human is only talked about in the male gender. Still, the book has a lot of charm. It’s a short, old-fashioned cozy mystery.

Kate herself is an admirer of Lord Peter Wimsey and there are many references to literature. There’s also one scene which is probably dry humor about the USAian academic life and politics. Since I’m not from US nor am I an academician, I probably missed some or most of the humor there.

I’m afraid I’m also going to have to call the characters charming, too. Kate is quite the heroine who looks after her friends. She’s an only child and unmarried but she has otherwise a large family of aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews, and also old, trusted friends. It’s also quite refreshing to meet a heroine in her thirties who doesn’t have scores of suitors and whose life doesn’t revolve around a romantic interest(s).

The other characters are also quite likable

While Kate is the main point-of-view character, there is one other, young man, who is the POV character for a short while.

I’ll certainly continue with this series.

Connie Willis has a new book out! Yesss! It was apparently too big and was split into two! Noooo! The rest of the story will come out in the fall. Sigh, that’s a long time to wait.

Blackout is a new story about the time traveling historians. This time they travel to England during the Second World War.

Even though the book starts with Colin Templar’s romantic notions, the main characters are three historians who are going to WWII to observe the contemporary people.

Merope Ward is in a country manor where she’s supposed to observe children evacuated from London. However, since she’s one of the maids, she also has to take care of them which turns out to be a daunting task. Her contemporary name is Eileen which is used during most of the book. She’s trying to deal with Binny and Alf Hodbins (spelling? I have an audio book.) who are real brats.

Michael Davies is going to Pearl Harbor and he has already done the research and the American accent implant. However, his drops have been rescheduled and before he can even do the proper research, he’s dropped into Dunkirk to observe the volunteer ships’ captains who evacuated British troops while under fire.

Polly Churchill is going to be a shopgirl in London during the Blitz. She’s observing the civilians there while living and working among them.

Colin is 17 and in love with Polly. He’s determined to stay in a different time period where he can live long enough to catch up to Polly, age wise. Polly doesn’t agree and neither does Mr. Dunworthy who is the head of time travel.

However, something weird is going on in Oxford: Mr. Dunworthy has changed almost every historian’s drop schedules which causes a lot of vexation among them. There’s also a long discussion between Colin and Dunworthy about how time travel is destroying the universe which I think will be significant in the second book.

Each chapter starts with a quote which is usually from the year that the chapter’s start is set in. They range from the speeches from Kings and Queens to wartime headlines.

There are a lot of people in the book. The three historians are all in different places and get to know different contemporary people. All of them are ordinary British people who are doing their best to cope with the war. The Hodbin hellions are exceptionally entertaining to read about.

Often enough there’s an atmosphere of confusion in the scenes when the people are trying to get from one place to the next, and the buses and trains don’t run and the streets can be rubble. In the shelters, the atmosphere can be claustrophobic. But I felt that was quite appropriate for the subject matter.

Even though the war is hardly a light thing to write about, there is also humor in the book. Particularly the parts set in the 2060 Oxford contain a lot of humor, IMHO. Also, the Hodbins with their pranks are giggle-worthy. However, the mood of the book darkens as it goes along and things start to go wrong for the historians.

Otherwise, 2060 seems to be curiously non-futuristic. For example, the phones there have receivers instead of being cell phones.

The audiobook has a foreword from Willis herself.

But I did enjoy this a great deal and I’m looking forward to the next part!

I like polls in others’ blogs and I’m curious by nature so I decided to add my first poll. Feel free to vote, if you want to.

Defining a genre for a book can be quite difficult. For example, quite a few SF and fantasy books have mystery plots. But often enough these books are defined by their settings (the SF or fantasy kind) and only mystery books set in the modern(ish) setting are considered part of the mystery genre. The same thing happens in romance, too. Interesting.

Booking Through Thursday

How do you feel about illustrations in your books? Graphs? Photos? Sketches?

In fiction, I don’t like illustrations because they make me feel like I’m reading a children’s book. The only exceptions are maps.

But in non-fiction I actually like pictures of places, people, and maps.

Outer Dark by Ellis, Hitch, Neary.
The Nativity by Millar, Quitely, and several inkers.

It’s December 29, 1999 and weird things start to come from outer space. The space shuttle Endeavor is hit and two crew members killed while space walking. Some sort of cocoons with tentacles and wormlike things launch from the Moon and hit Africa and Tokyo. The cocoon in Africa is starting to unterraform the Earth around it while the things landing in Tokyo are destroying the people. The Engineer feels strongly that something’s changed in the Earth’s atmosphere and the Doctor is briefed by the earlier Doctors: “We inherited this Earth. We do not own it.” And the owners want their property back.

This is possibly the strangest and most cinematic of the Ellis’ Authority stories with the team fighting on Earth, on the Moon, and in a surreal landscape. The intense action is interrupted by small humorous moments such as the Engineer getting to finally kick Jenny Sparks in the ass and moments of pure awe like Apollo and the Engineer landing on the Moon.

There are also intriguing clues about the Carrier. Apparently it’s alive. It was abandoned by someone and is waiting for its owners to come back. The Engineer and the Doctor found it but don’t know who built it or why.

Millar took the book into another direction in “the Nativity”; PR, media, and getting involved in the political sphere.

The box “Why do super-people never go after the real bastards?” starts the story. The Authority is trying their best to stomp on dictators. They depose one in Southeast Asia and soon the US president is warning them not to overstep their boundaries. Far from intimidated, Hawksmoor warns him right back to watch his own steps. But it’s clear that the politicians really dislike that “ham fisted super heroes” are charging into their turf.

Meanwhile, the Authority has apparently become one of the most known supers on the planet. They’re interviewed on magazines and TV, they party with celebrities and other supers.

However, the spirit of the twenty-first century has just been born and a lot of people are looking for her. Dr. Krigstein has sent a super team which is a match even for the Authority. They are defeated right in front of cameras.

Millar’s writing style is distinctive from Ellis’. His Authority deals with more down-to-earth situations such as the media. He also uses a lot of cursing in the dialogue. However, he does sneak in moments of humor much like Ellis did. Quitely’s art is also very different from Hitch’s so the difference it quite jarring.

There’s one rape scene in the story. It’s not quite on-camera but heavily implied in the artwork. I call this a complete waste of time and done only for the shock value but that’s quite often Millar’s style.

I enjoyed the new direction. Superheroes tend to just reinforce the status quo so this is a refreshing change. However, we don’t yet see a lot of repercussions from the governments but the seeds are there. People who have power don’t share it.

This urban fantasy series has a strong following and is often listed among the best UF series. It is set in an alternate universe Atlanta after magic has come back to the world. Magic seems to be stronger than technology and so many gadgets are now powered by magic.

Kate Daniels is a magic-user and a mercenary who works for the Mercenary Guild. When her guardian Greg is murdered, she decides to find out who was behind it. Greg was a knight-protector in the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid, which means that he was both a very powerful magic-user and warrior, and had also a lot of political power. His murder is therefore a complicate matter. Much to Kate’s surprise, the Order agrees to let her investigate; they even deputize her for a brief time which gives her a little bit of clout with the law. However, Kate realizes that the Order is, of course, using her as the visible investigator while the real detecting is happening elsewhere.

Greg’s body was found together with a dead vampire and with possible shape shifter hairs which would indicate both of the powerful factions are involved somehow. Kate doesn’t care for the shape shifters and actively loathes the People who deal with necromancy and the undead. But now she has to deal with them. At the same time, she meets a cute doctor and tries to go on a date with him.

Kate herself is pretty standard UF heroine: a loner who speaks first and thinks second. She’s no newcomer to the magic world, though. She knows some pretty powerful magic at the start of the story and quickly finds out more. She’s stubborn but also very loyal to the people she respects. She has a magical scimitar called Slayer which is eager to kill the undead.

The magic seems to mostly consist of knowing words in the magical language and speaking them. For example “obey” or “protect”. The power of the words seems to come from the speaker and depend on how much inborn magic she or he has. Most of the magic is used in warding spells and animating the undead instead of fireballs. However, later in the book there’s a reference to an older form on magic. The magic isn’t really explained much except for: ”Magic could not be measured and explained in scientific terms, for magic grew through destroying the very natural principles that made science as people knew it possible.”

Most people seem to know that magic exists which isn’t surprising because magic affect a lot in every person’s life (at least in Atlanta). When a magic fluctuation hits, magic falls and when a magic wave hits, technology fails. While many people still use cars, horses are also popular. Also, some modern tech has been rebuilt using magic such as lamps which are now feylamps which give off blue light.

The supernatural people have several factions: the shape shifters have the Pack which is ruled by the Beast Lord but seems to have clans according to the animal they change into: Wolf Clan, Rat Clan, Hyena Clan, etc. The Order is trying it’s best to protect the ordinary humans. The People are humans who are trying the best (and succeeding) in making money through necromancy.

I really like the vampires in the book: they are mindless undead. A human navigator can control one, look out of its eyes and move it where he or she wants to. All of the navigators work for the People.

I was a bit frustrated by the lack of back story. There’s no explanation on how or why magic had come back to the world or what magic fluctuations were. The book focuses on the story and lets the background be in the background. However, apparently these will be explained in the second book.

The rest of the cast were appropriate but not really memorable. The one exception was the information broker Saiman who is also a shape changer but he can change into any shape.

Overall: a solid book but not spectacular. However, it’s one of the few UF available on audio so I might continue with it.

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