April 2010

This is a science fiction book.

Synopsis from Barnes and Nobles:

“On a broken ship orbiting a doomed sun, dwellers have grown complacent with their aging metal world. But when a serving girl frees a captive noblewoman, the old order is about to change….

Ariane, Princess of the House of Rule, was known to be fiercely cold-blooded. But severing an angel’s wings on the battlefield—even after she had surrendered—proved her completely without honor. Captive, the angel Perceval waits for Ariane not only to finish her off—but to devour her very memories and mind. Surely her gruesome death will cause war between the houses—exactly as Ariane desires. But Ariane’s plan may yet be opposed, for Perceval at once recognizes the young servant charged with her care.

Rien is the lost child: her sister. Soon they will escape, hoping to stop the impending war and save both their houses. But it is a perilous journey through the crumbling hulk of a dying ship, and they do not pass unnoticed. Because at the hub of their turning world waits Jacob Dust, all that remains of God, following the vapor wisp of the angel. And he knows they will meet very soon.”

The book is written mostly from Rien’s perspective. All her life she has believed that she’s an orphan, and she will not easily believe Perceval’s claim that she’s the angel’s half-sister and has been born to the ruling class. She has dreamed of it when she was younger but can’t believe the dream would come really true. When they are fleeing, Perceval is forced to give Rien a symbiot which makes Rien an Exalt. After that Rien struggles to understand her changing body and the feats of endurance and strength that she can now do.

The other POV character is Jacob Dust who isn’t human. In essence, he’s a very old computer program. He’s part of the ship and so can do a lot of things such as shapeshift himself and watch almost anyone in the ship. He also knows that the ship is damaged and he can’t repair it without a huge cost to himself. Therefore, he tries to manipulate some of the humans to do what he wants.

There are other POV characters, too, for a short time. Perceval is the most prominent of them. At first, she contemplates her fate at the hands of Ariane.

Each chapter starts with a short quote. Some of them are from real books, such as the Bible and from Shakespeare’s plays, but most are from imaginary books such as The New Evolutionist Bible. These almost made me want to get the print book instead of the audio.

Ariane Conn and her brothers and sisters remind me very much of Zelazny’s Amber. Here, the noble siblings also distrust each other and also live far longer than the lower-class Means. Of course, here the nobles are physically different because they have symbiots, power armor, and nanotechnology. Perceval’s father’s name is Benedict.

Even though some of the characters are named after Arthurian characters (Perceval and Tristan), the most famous Arthurian triangle is, thankfully, missing. Instead there’s the old plotline of the orphan servant who is elevated into nobility. Also, even though it’s not mentioned, the characters are on a variety of quests: first to escape, then to repair the ailing ship, and to stop Ariane’s ambitions. Saving the ship might be called questing for the Holy Grail of these people.

There are a couple of transsexual characters in the book and Rien prefers girls. On the other hand, Perceval doesn’t seem to have a sex drive at all and she has sworn herself into celibacy. Perceval’s and Rien’s father has several wives but that is mentioned just off-hand.

Even though the culture seems medieval to me mostly because of the strict class structure (which is maintained by technology), the people do know that they live in a starship and they don’t call their technology magic. The leaders of the habitats are called commanders and the leader of the whole ship is the Captain.

I liked this book a lot (except for the ending. I want more! More!) and it’s only better when relistening.

Edit: Apparently, this is the first book in a trilogy and the next, Chill, is already out! Hurrah!

Booking Through Thursday

God* comes to you and tells you that, from this day forward, you may only read ONE type of book–one genre–period, but you get to choose what it is. Classics, Science-Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Cookbooks, History, Business … you can choose, but you only get ONE.

What genre do you pick, and why?

Hm. I was going to pick non-fiction but one of the genres mentioned is history and one is cookbooks, so apparently non-fiction is also divided into genres. First, I’m going to have to know whose definition of genres is going to be used?

If I pick fantasy can I only read Tolkien copies or can I also read New Weird, Alternative history, Historical fantasy, Urban fantasy, Fairy tales, comic books, Mythology etc.? After all, on some level and according to some people, *all fiction* is fantasy. Also, aren’t there really broad genres like “non-fiction” and “fiction”? What if I choose an inclusive genre such as “comedy” so I could read books from any genre as long as it has some comedy in it?

As much as I love fiction, I’m still going have to pick history.

The first book in the mystery series about Chief Inspector Richard Jury.

Just a few days before Christmas, two men are found brutally and weirdly killed in two pubs. At the Man with a Load of Mischief the dead man’s head had been stuck into a large beer barrel. At the Jack and Hammer, a mechanical man had told the time in the pub’s sign and now the mechanical man had been replaced with a dead body. Both of them are strangers in the small village of Long Piddleton where they were killed.

The Scotland Yard sends Chief Inspector Jury and hypochondriac Sergeant Wiggings to solve the murders. Luckily, or not as the case might be, they get a lot of help from the locals.

Jury himself is quite a serious man. He’s described as a man who “loved winter above all seasons, even spring. He also liked rain over sunshine, mist over a clear view”. There’s also a hint that his only great love affair ended tragically. And yet, the tone of the book is quite comedic with the over-the-top murders and secondary characters. Jury is also methodical and smart. In contrast, Wiggings is mostly a comedic sidekick with his cough drops and constant sneezing.

The other major character in the book is Melrose Plant. He’s the local lord who lives in his manor a little way out of the village. He’s given up his title and the moment he did, his aunt, by marriage, started to call herself Lady Ardry. She thinks that she should be the one to live in the manor because Melrose doesn’t do it right. She also thinks that she’s a great detective because she wrights mystery novels. (She’s been working on her first draft for decades now…)

Plant takes an interest in the case and helps Jury. They discuss the case together and go over the clues.

One of the more humorous characters is the local vicar who knows everything about the local pubs and how their bizarre names came to be. Many of the locals have strong opinions about each other and the murder case.

I found the combination of a melancholy main character and the humorous story to be interesting.

Booking Through Thursday

It’s Earth Day … what are you reading? Are your reading habits changing for the sake of the environment? What are you doing for the sake of the planet today?

On audio: Dust by Elizabeth Bear and in print: The Man with a Load of Mischief by Martha Grimes.

A few years ago I started to get more and more books in ebook and audio formats. I guess they are more environmentally friendly because they don’t produce pollution from printing and shipping. Honestly, though I don’t think that publishing industry produces a lot of pollution.

Today I do what I always do: I don’t own a car and I walk whenever possible. I recycle. I read used books and give them away.

It’s not much but I hope it will be enough.

The second book in the urban fantasy series about Chicago wizard Harry Dresden.

This time Dresden entangles with werewolves. Lieutenant Murphy of Chicago Special Investigations asks Dresden’s help in a case where several people have been killed brutally, supposedly by dogs. They head to a crime scene a little bit outside Chicago where Dresden declares that perpetrator is a werewolf. However, a team of FBI agents declares the crime scene theirs and drives the duo off.

After the ending of the previous book, which was about six months ago, Murphy and Dresden aren’t on the best of terms but Murphy doesn’t have a choice. She has to consult a supernatural expert and Dresden is the only one she knows. Dresden doesn’t know much about werewolves but he gets to work. First, he uses magic to trace a blood splatter from the crime scene to the person. She turns out to be a leader of a group collage students/werewolves.

Later, he finds out that there are several kind of werewolves but it seems likely, of course, that the one rampaging in Chicago is the most dangerous kind: a loup-garou.

He gets a visit from the local kingpin of crime, Marcone, who tries to convince Dresden to work for him. Dresden refuses. However, Marcone seems to be quite afraid of the killer and gives Dresden a clue anyway.

Dresden also manages to piss of a leader of a fierce werewolfgang who are now hunting for Dresden’s blood.

The plot is really fast-paced. Dresden doesn’t have a moment to rest, except when he’s unconscious, or think. There is, however, a cheesy scene when Dresden talks with his subconscious self and tries to work out the who-dunnit part. Alas, there a few little bit too convenient coincidences such as the one that makes Murphy suspect that Dresden is related to the killings.

When get some interesting hints about Dresden’s parents. Both theirs lives and deaths might be related to things that Dresden doesn’t know about. Of course, the hints come from a demon so they might not be accurate.

Bob makes the werewolf – where wolf – there wolf joke from the movie Young Frankenstein which cracked me up. The joke part is completely untranslatable, of course, at least to Finnish. Now I almost want to get the movie just to see what the hapless subtitler came up with.

I was a bit surprised that the werewolves here didn’t seem to have any of the famous wolf sense of smell or hearing. They were “just” very good in a fight and had pack loyalty to each other.

Dresden seems to have superhuman strength. After being shot, his foot mauled by a supernatural creature, and beaten unconscious, he can still run, sneak around, and fight supernatural baddies. Granted, he feels occasionally pain and is tired but still…

Unfortunately, the book has quite a few “stupid” moments. Dresden has dangerous info on a piece of paper and yet he just throws it away for anyone to find. Murphy and a FBI woman get into a fight in the middle of a crime scene. Dresden shoots off his mouth to both a crime kingpin and a leader of a werewolf gang, and manages to make them both his enemies. He withholds information from Murphy, and other women. When Dresden escapes police custody, he’s unarmed and in handcuffs and just running away. Yet, the police *shoot* at him.

Also, at least in this book, the supernatural people aren’t really trying to hide the existence of the supernatural world. It also seems to me, that there already are quite a lot of people in Chicago who either are supernaturals themselves or know about it. IMHO, Dresden should have a lot more clients at the very least from people who want to protect themselves from it.

I don’t really understand why Dresden is so very protective towards Murphy. After all, she’s a grown woman and a police officer but Dresden thinks of her like she’s a helpless ten year old girl. She’s not his lover or daughter and she treats him pretty badly most of the time. In fact, Susan is Dresden’s lover. Granted, Dresden is pretty protective towards Susan as well but IMHO not as much. While he’s ready to sacrifice his life to protect Murphy, when Susan wants to drive the getaway car, he’s a bit worried but doesn’t even say anything. I think it was mentioned somewhere that Murphy and Dresden are old friends but it just doesn’t show. Murphy is cold towards Dresden and is suspicious of everything he says. Also, Dresden’s chivalry turns out to be counterproductive. At the start of the book he refused to tell what he knows to his student. Alas, she can’t protect herself from dangers she doesn’t know about.

All in all, a nice quick read but nothing special.

Booking Through Thursday

In general, do you prefer the beginnings of stories? Or the ends?

Beginnings. Often enough they are full of chances for characters and plots which the writer then uses or doesn’t, as the case may be. It’s exiting to meet either new characters and places, or old friends in the case of series. Beginning is also the place where, generally speaking, the main characters’ lives don’t suck, yet. 🙂

This is the third and final book in the Trade Pact trilogy. Pretty much every character from the previous books returns.

The book starts a few months after the end of the previous book. Sira and Jason are enjoying their much-deserved time together but it’s not without trouble; specifically money trouble. Except for Huido, none of Jason’s previous clients want to deal with him anymore.

But that seems to be the least of the Morgans’ troubles when Sector Chief Bowman calls. One of her underlings has been mind wiped and she suspects that the Clan is behind it. Since Sira is the Speaker of the Clan Council, Bowman holds Sire responsible. The mind wiped woman had been wearing one of the devices which were supposed to make her immune to the Clan’s telepathy, so Bowman is doubly concerned. Also, space ships have been seen leaving from Acranam, one of the Clan’s most vexing outposts. Sira promises to investigate.

Jason was able to help the mind wiped constable and finds out that his old mentor and current nemesis, Symon, did it. Symon has also been telling rumors that Jason is a telepath and that’s why the clients have disappeared. Jason decides that this is his own problem and he will capture Symon by himself. Once again, the lovers go their separate ways. Unfortunately, Sira runs into Symon who kidnaps her.

Meanwhile, Jason’s alien blood brother Huido is a few problems of his own. One of his male relatives has come to visit and Huido is determined to keep him away from his wives. He has also agreed to shelter a young Clan girl Ruti. She works in Huido’s restaurant. When Huido’s main chef leaves abruptly, Ruti gets an abrupt promotion.

To Trade the Stars is mostly a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. We get to see through Sira’s memories what her life was like before she met Jason. The secrets of the alien Drapsk and the telepathic space M’hiray are finally revealed. Many of the characters get a satisfying “end”. However, there are some plot threads which are left dangling from the previous books such as the human telepaths.

The characters are complex and interesting. The worlds are similarly well done and the cultures are alien enough from each other. The Rugherans, which were quickly introduced in the previous book, are left nicely mysterious.

All in all, very good space opera!

Booking Through Thursday

Plots? Or Stream-of-Consciousness? Which would you rather read?

I’ve never really realized the point of reading stream-of-consciousness. So, it’s plots for me, thanks.

The next Amelia Peabody/Ramses Emerson adventure.

It’s excavation season 1911-12 and the story starts with a mix of mystery and joy: a counterfeited scarab and a wedding.

The form on the story is much the same as in the previous books. The first person narrator is Amelia with frequent addition from Manuscript H, where Ramses writes about his experiences in the third person, and also from letters which Nefret writes to her friend Lia. There is one addition, though: each chapter opens with a passage from Percy Peabody’s book “A captive of the Arabs” which is a badly written combination of swashbuckling romance story and a memoir. Percy’s book is a plot point.

One of Emerson’s archeological acquaintances brings to him a scarab which is supposed to have come from the private collection of Abdullah, Emersons’ late foreman and David’s grandfather. But there are two problems: Abdullah never collected Egyptian artifacts and the scarab is a fake. Further, David is the man who is suspected of making the forgery and selling it. The Emersons are determined find out who is behind it all. Meanwhile, David is marrying Lia, Amelia’s niece, and the Emersons don’t want to disturb the happy couple. So, they decide to investigate the matter themselves without saying anything to David.

The young couple is married in England, on the bride’s estate. The groom’s Egyptian family arrives for the wedding. This further scandalizes many English people who already disapprove of the couple.

Before the Emersons’ and the Egyptians return to Egypt, their house is broken into and the scarab is stolen. The mystery is clearly in full swing!

“The greatest Egyptologist of this or any other era” plans to excavate Zawyet el’Aryan. He seems to appreciate the site, especially since tourists don’t come there, but Amelia and the others are disappointed. The site doesn’t have enough pyramids to satisfy Amelia initially but it does turn out to be more interesting than she thought.

This time the mystery is central to the book even though there are quite a few twists which don’t directly involve the plot. Nefert has opened a clinic for the prostitutes of Cairo and Amelia buys a house to her expanding family. The boat “Amelia” is left for David and Lia when their come to Egypt. Once again, a young woman is trying to woo Ramses who isn’t interested.

The Ramses/Nefret romance gets a new twist. At first, I was delighted but in the end it was very unsatisfying. Of course, the repercussions to Nefret are heart-breaking.

I enjoyed the book quite a lot. Time marches on. Both Emerson and Amelia are getting old while the younger generation is growing up. Even today it’s rare to find a series where the characters age. There’s a lot of comedy early on but the mood of the book turns quite dark later.