June 2010

I’ve never read Reynolds even though many of his books have been translated into Finnish. I guess their size have been intimidating.

This book was part of the Audible sale and the only Reynolds’ book in the sale. I’m under the impression that it’s a stand-alone SF book.

The book has three first-person narrators. Two people tell the story and one other tells a sort of back-story.

The book has been divided into eight parts and each part starts with a short flash-back that is narrated by Abigail Gentian. She is the template for the clones who are the other main characters so I guess the others have her memories. At the start of the book, she’s a rather lonely child who has only one occasional playmate. They are both children of very wealthy families and they get almost everything they want. Abigail gets a virtual-reality game where she plays a medieval fantasy princess. Slowly, she starts to think of herself as the princess.

The other two narrators are Campion and Purslane who are Abigail’s clones. They belong to the House of Flowers which seems to be quite influential. At the start of the book, they are traveling to their House’s 32nd reunion but have had some detours. Campion has a passenger, Doctor Meninx, who is never satisfied with anything and travels in a water tank. He speaks through an avatar which looks like harlequin made from paper. He has strong opinions and isn’t afraid to express them.

Campion is trying to get a replacement ship for his “Dalliance” but instead he ends up rescuing a machine person Hesperus. Doctor Meninx distrust all machines and is vocal against Hesperus but the clones decide to give him a ride to the reunion world. They are very late, even by galactic time spans, and are hoping to win back some good-will by bringing in a respected guest. However, when they get near the reunion system, they get a warning that the House has been ambushed and almost everyone is dead.

The world feels huge. The people travel in space ships for hundreds of years to get to their destinations. Some of the time they are in abeyance, suspended animation, but they still seem to live a lot longer than us current humans. And that makes sense because they were designed to be space explorers and travelers. The clones can also share each others’ memories.

The plot is mostly rather slow. There are lots of great ideas but you can’t really see how they are interconnected until the end. Or I couldn’t at any rate. I’ll definitely need to relisten this.

The biggest problem I had was that Purslane’s and Campion’s narrative voices are quite similar. So, if I didn’t pay close attention I might not know which one was talking. They also spend a lot of time in the same places which didn’t help when trying to find out which one was talking. Of course, I was delighted that they are one of the rare established couples which I prefer to a courtship romance (which there’s none! Yay!). Doctor Meninx was snarky and quite funny but he’s a real bigot about machine intelligences.

It was also a little jarring to go from high space adventure into a flashback which is taking place in the virtual world’s medieval setting with knights and wizards.

There’s a strong theme of history in the story. Abigail’s experiences before the cloning. The clones’ own history stretches back millions of years but they’ve actually experienced quite a small portion of that time. Civilizations falling and rising. Yet, the focus is in characters.

It was a good read but not excellent.

The first book in Liu’s UF series which doesn’t have witches, werewolves or vampires but demons.

Maxine Kiss is the last protector of humankind. Demons have been expelled from Earth into a supernatural prison but some of them still roam the Earth.

Maxine’s mother was a Warden and she taught the profession to Maxine. The Wardenship and the tattoos that go with it are hereditary so Maxine didn’t have a way to decline them. The women of her line have always been Wardens.

Except for her face, Maxine is covered in tattoos which make her pretty much invulnerable. However, the tattoos are really manifestations of the five demons she carries with her. By day, the demons are the tattoos and protect her. By night, the demons separate themselves from her and she becomes vulnerable again. Of course, the demons are expected to defend her during the night. By the way, this isn’t a 12 hour cycle; when the sun goes down, the demons separate from her.

The five demons are with Maxine because of an ancient pact. According to it, Maxine has to get a child and when her child is old enough, Maxine will die and give the demons to her. This happened with Maxine’s mother who died five years ago. Maxine never knew her father or any other family than the demons which she calls “the boys”.

She lives with her boyfriend Grant who is a former priest. He can play his flute and sooth zombies, which are humans that demons have taken over. Grant and Maxine live in the building where his homeless shelter is. Maxine seems to know Grant pretty well and yet there are rather broad hints that Grant might not who she thinks he is.

The police come to the shelter looking for Maxine because they found a dead private investigator who was looking for her. She doesn’t know anything about it but doesn’t like it, and she starts to investigate the death herself.

The plot is full of twists and turns. Even though Maxine starts as a confident woman who knows her place in the world and how the world works, during the story she starts to doubt her information and finds out that there are things that have been deliberately kept from her. To make things worse, it seems that the line between the Earth and the demons’ prison, called the Veil, is starting to weaken and the apocalypse may be near.

Lui really throws the reader in the deep end and doesn’t explain much. This can be quite frustrating at first.

I really liked her writing style. Her sentences are often short and she doesn’t do much descriptions.

I liked most of the characters. Grant is a do-gooder who is trying to redeem demons. Maxine doubts that he can succeed but lets one zombie hang around. While I can sort of understand Grant’s desire to redeem demons, the fact still remains that the demons on Earth need host bodies – humans. Isn’t Grant at all worried that the host humans can loose a big chunk of their lives?

The boys have also personalities even tough only one of them can speak. They are usually protective of Maxine but now they have secrets they have been keeping even from her. We meet both Maxine’s mother and grandmother in flashbacks and her grandmother is a very formidable woman.

There are also several mysterious characters. They seemed interesting but were also source of my biggest frustration. They seem to know more than Maxine and yet they refused to tell her anything.

However, the mysteries were intriguing enough and I like the writing style so I’m likely to continue with the series

This is an adaptation of the Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser in modern English. It’s one of the books I chose from Audible during their sale.

The book has six sections and everyone has different characters but the main characters are always elf men who want to prove themselves worthy of becoming the Queens’ Knights. There are six knightly virtues and a knightly tale for each virtue: holiness, moderation, friendship, love, justice, and courtesy.

Their nemesis is Archimago, a sorcerer who hates everything good and pure. The stories were clearly inspired by the King Arthur stories.

The book starts with the narrator telling about the Court of the Faerie Queen and especially about her Knights. The listeners want to become knights themselves and the narrator is telling them stories about the previous knights’ adventures.

The first book is about George Redcross. At the start of the story George comes to the Queen Gloriana’s court and asks for a quest. The courtiers laugh but soon Princess Una comes to the court to beg for help. A dragon has imprisoned her parents. George demands the quest for himself. The Queen agrees and gives him serviceable equipment. She send him out as her knight looking for holiness.

When George and Una first saw each other, they fell in love. However, the long journey to Una’s country has many dangers not only to their lives but to their trust on each other as well.

The second book is about a young, brash Sir Gunion and his quest to destroy an evil witch. She has created a magical island which lures in innocent passersby and turns them into wild beasts. The Queen on her honeysuckle throne gives him a companion, a pilgrim called Palmer whom Gunion scorns at first. Palmer is older than Gunion and tries to give him fatherly advice.

The third book starts with Sir Campbell, one of the Queen’s favorites. He has a magical healing ring. He has also a sister called Cannasie who is so beautiful that she is causing trouble in the kingdom. So, Campbell says that anyone who can defeat him in combat can marry his sister (she, apparently, has no say at all). Only three brothers, triplets, have the courage to fight him: Diamond, Trimond, and Primond. The brothers’ mother is a sorcerer who wants to protect them.

The fourth book is about Britomart who is looking for pure love. This was weirdly shortened because it seemed to skip the middle part. There was the beginning where the girl Britta looked into Merlin’s mirror and became ill. Then it skipped to a wedding feast at the story’s end. Umm… what???

The fifth book is about young Artigol who quests for justice. He’s accompanied by a mechanical man called Talos. This is the book that really shows the times it was written in. To Artigol, it’s justice to stop a man who wanted to divide earth equally between all men and women. He also thinks that it’s natural for women not to fight at all and to just do laundry and washing while the same chores are unnatural for men to do.

The sixth book is about Timian, King Arthur’s squire, and Sir Callidor who is questing after a beast which preys on people who feel ashamed. They encounter the murderous beast, a courteous wildman, and a very uncourteous knight. Sir Callidor even falls in love with a shepherdess.

Of course, these old stories aren’t without their own problems. One of them is beautiful=good and ugly=evil. Princess Una is so beautiful and good that even a lion becomes her companion rather than having her as a dinner. The characters aren’t really people. They are archetypes; the knights are perhaps the most human but the others are plot devices who are there to teach a lesson or challenge the knight or serve as a prize.

I found it a bit weird that the faeries apparently worship the Christian God because in many other tales the Christian imaginary repels them. King Arthur himself makes an appearance and even he serves the Faerie Queen.

These stories are apparently meant for children and they have lessons about how you should behave. On the other hand, they also have problems with old behavior models. The fifth book is especially bad for this. The Amazons in the story are evil because they are “unnatural”.

On the whole, I regret a little wasting a good credit for this.

Booking Through Thursday

Do you read book reviews? Do you let them change your mind about reading/not reading a particular book?

Yes and yes. There are so many books that I prefer to read at least a few reviews before reading one or putting it into my to-read-pile. It’s very rare for me to pick a book based on just the cover and blurb.

There are, of course, familiar writers and series which I do get before reading reviews but with all other books I read reviews first.

Oh, I tend to read just a little bit of plot description and the scroll down to what the reviewers says (if anything) about characters, setting, themes, etc.

Do nothing but read day is on Sunday and I decided to join in.
My current list:

West: Hunter’s Death (I’m currently reading this one but I probably won’t finish it before Sunday)
Zelazny: Isle of the Dead
Cherryh: Chanur’s Venture
Bennett: Orion’s Hounds
Sharp: Killer Instinct

I’m expecting to Finish West and maybe Zelazny, and just sample the others.
Oh, and I do intend to eat and sleep. 🙂

A stand-alone fantasy book and the third McKillip book which have been translated into Finnish.

The book has four point-of-view characters but every plot description I’ve seen focuses on only one character: prince Ronan.

Granted, crown prince Ronan is the one we meet first. He has lost is wife and infant child recently. He’s lost his will to live and so he was trying to die in a war. However, he survived and is retuning home when he comes across the witch Brume’s house and kills her white hen. The witch lays a curse on him: after he leaves his fathers house the next time, he will not find his way back again until he has found Brume again. Then she steps into her house made of bones and the house gets up on its chicken legs and walks away.

When Ronan returns home, he finds out that his father the King has already arraigned a marriage to him with the youngest daughter of the king of Dacia. She’s on her way to the palace. Ronan tries to refuse but his father is a cruel and hard man. When Ronan is at last alone, he sees a firebird with the face of a woman. The bird is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen and so he follows it out of the palace and into the forest forgetting everything else.

In the next chapter we are introduced to Eaun Ash who is a scribe in Dacia. The King’s wizard Unciel chooses Eaun as his personal scribe and so Eaun starts to scribe Unciel’s adventures in the wizard’s house. Then Princess Sidonie sweeps into the house saying that she doesn’t want to marry a prince she doesn’t know. However, the king of Serre is an ambitious man. If Sidonie doesn’t agree to marry Ronan, Serre would very likely conquer Dacia. The only thing that is preventing Serre from doing so right way is that Serre’s king is afraid of Dacia’s magic. Unfortunately, that magic has waned over the years. Sidonie has no choice but to agree to go to Serre. Unciel chooses another wizard to accompany her: Gyre.

Euan also falls in love with the princess the first time he sees her. This felt to me perhaps the most clichéd element in the whole book.

Gyre is a younger wizard who lives in a different country but he agrees to go with the Princess to Serre. Unciel saved him once from terrible danger and Gyre wants to repay him. Gyre is mostly interested in magic and power, and the magical forest of Serre is very interesting to him.

Lastly, Sidonie is traveling to Serre afraid for herself and for her future. One of her ladies in waiting tells her stories about Serre and the witch Brume.

The order of the POV characters per chapter remains the same: Ronan, Euan, Gyre, and Sidonie. Euan is the most remote from the rest of the story but he provides a window into what is going on in Dacia.

The story borrows heavily from the Russian folk tales about Baba Yaga but there are elements from other tales as well. To escape the witch, Ronan has to give her his heart which he doesn’t even remember to miss. The forest has magical powers and stories can come true there. The King of Serre is a wizard, too, and he uses his magic to spy on others and to even throw a few fireballs. The firebird is a symbol of an unattainable object or thing which enchants people so thoroughly that they forget everything else.

The writing is beautiful as always with McKillip and the characters are complex even though they are quite ordinary in fantasy, at least these days. To me the characters stayed rather distant. The story felt a bit fractured because it was seen through four different eyes. Only rarely did the different characters witness the same event.

An enjoyable read but not the best I’ve read from her.

Booking Through Thursday

Do you prefer reading current books? Or older ones? Or outright old ones? (As in, yes, there’s a difference between a book from 10 years ago and, say, Charles Dickens or Plato.)

Most of the books I’ve read are, of course, from the modern era so I’m used to the modern way of writing with quick plots and hooking the reader right from the first page.

Then again, I also own the Finnish translations of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Book of the Dead, writings from Herodotos, the Odyssey, and the Iliad. (I’d give my left foot for a Finnish *prose* translation of the Odyssey. Once upon a time I could even read the hieroglyphs a little.)

For some reason I don’t really care for the Jane Austen type of writing but I do love my Three Musketeers.

So, my answer is: yes. I like to read almost all of them.

By Joss Whedon, Karl Moline, Jeph Loeb, Georges Jeanty

Issues 16-20

The storyline from the previous volume continue when Willow and Buffy head out to New York to sort out the mysterious message. Kennedy is with the New York Slayers and Wiccas. Buffy promptly disappeared into time vortex a couple of hundred years into a future and gets a real shock about the state of the world. She helps the future Slayer Mel Fray with local baddie who have definite plans for Buffy, too. Willow and the other wiccans try to get her back.

Dawn’s troubles continue when she turns into a centaur. She and the Scottish Slayers are attacked by a magic missile (heh!) which conjures up cobra faced foot soldier in green flames. It’s very hard to fight them because they reform themselves even after being decapitated.

The last issue is more of a stand-alone where Buffy dreams about being back in High School with Willow, Xander, Giles, and a sharptongued Cordelia. A really nostalgic piece. However, the art is in cartoon style which I didn’t really care for.

This time, Buffy is in the future most of the time with Mel and her sidekicks so story has more similar feel to the TV-show because the cast is smaller. Also, Mel doesn’t respect Buffy so Buffy isn’t really in a leadership position. It’s a nice change because she’s been the leader of the Slayers so long. Mel speaks more future slang here than in her own comic.

A nice continuation but not as good as the TV-show.

By Joss Whedon, Karl Moline, and Andy Owens

The miniseries Fray issues 1-8.

This is a spin-off series from Buffy, set a couple of hundred years into the future. The collected volume of Buffy: Time of You Life is partially set in this future, so I recommend reading Fray before that Buffy collection. I’ve read Fray before but didn’t remember much about it, so I decided to read it again.

The Earth has changed. Magic and demons are gone. There hasn’t been a need for a Slayer for two hundred years. But now the vampires are back and the demons are scheming to get back, too.

Some of the humans have changed as well. The sun’s radiation has mutated some of them and others have taken steroids to make themselves stronger.

Melaka Fray is a thief who works for Gunther who is a human who looks like a mermaid (a tail instead of legs) and lives underwater. Lately, he’s started to pay too much for the old items Mel is stealing.

Mel lives in the poor section of the city where sun’s rays don’t usually reach. She takes care of some of the poor kids, too. She’s especially protective of Loo who is a one-armed kid who needs constant medication. Mel is strong, heals fast, and can take more damage than a normal girl of her age. She has no idea why but just takes it as a fact of life. Her sister Erin a police officer and so they are constantly at each others throats. Mel was there when a vampire (or a lurk as they are called here) killed her brother and Erin holds Mel responsible for it. So does Mel and she has nightmares about it.

So, when a demon, which looks like a red goat with it’s nose and upper lip ripped off, steps into Mel’s apartment and tells her she’s the Chosen One, she isn’t exactly thrilled. In fact, she has no idea what the demon Urkonn is talking about and she just wants to continue with her life. Unfortunately, the vampires are scheming.

Even though Urkonn has to tell everything about the Slayer to Mel, it felt to me that the comic is aimed to Buffy fans who already know the universe. There’s a reference to Buffy’s end or at any case a 21st century Slayer’s possible end and many of the things such as Watchers were just glossed over. I think a reader who doesn’t know anything about Buffy would be pretty lost.

The characters use a little bit of slang so that there weren’t many modern day colloquialisms. Lurker for vampires. “This is toy” for something you don’t like or don’t trust. Jesu is an often-used curse word and I automatically pronounced in Spanish in my head. I thought these were cute and didn’t make the reading more difficult at all.

Mel’s world and life felt grimmer than Buffy’s because she doesn’t have anyone to trust. Urkonn wants to train her and tells her a lot of things about herself, but he refuses to give any reasons for helping her. Erin is chasing her as a good cop should and even Gunther is just her employer, not a friend. That’ a huge contrast to Buffy’s circle of friends who fight occasionally but are always there to back her up.

The comic is very futuristic visually. Flying cars (for the rich), holographic images, and electric guns instead of bullets. However, most of the time Mel stays in the gutters and poor areas so we don’t get more than a glimpse of the richer areas. The vampires don’t have the prominent brow here, just gray skin and yellow eyes which puzzled me a little.

I didn’t find Mel as appealing as the Buffy cast but that’s clearly an unfair comparison because Mel has only eight issues. I like Buffy’s supporting cast more than Mel’s. I also thought that Mel learned to fight awfully fast and that she didn’t really need any skills; just enough anger and fury to keep her going.

And, oh, yes, it seems that clothes manufacturers are still selling women only half shirts. Maybe they lack materials or something.

All in all, an interesting glimpse of a different Slayer but I didn’t really like her or her world.

A week or so ago Audible had a promotion where you can buy three books for two credits. I took it, of course. I was quite surprised when I saw that the books which belong to a series, mostly in the SFF and mystery sections, weren’t the first in the series but the second or third, or as is the case with this book, the sixteenth. However, since this seems to be a series of stand-alone detective books, I decided to break out of my obsession of reading series in the internal chronological order and got it.

Martyn Tarne is a young aspiring actress from New Zealand. She’s just come to Britain and is desperate for work. In fact, she’s so broke that she doesn’t have food nor a place to stay. After asking for work in many theaters, she finally comes to the Vulcan Theater where she hears that the leading lady is looking for a dresser and she applies for the job. She gets it on the spot. The night watchman allows her to stay in the theater and they become fast friends.

There are only a few days before the opening night but Martyn gets to know the eclectic group which includes the unhappy leading lady Helena Hamilton, her hysterical understudy Gayle Gainsforth, other actors, the play’s unlikable writer, and the owner of the theater. Martyn looks a bit like the play’s director (who is also the leading actor), so rumors start to fly quickly. The mystery starts about the middle of the book.

Marsh spends a lot of time setting up the cast and the atmosphere of the theater world. They were quite convincing to me and the characters are an interesting bunch. The writer is smart but verbally abusive to pretty much everyone. The understudy resents her position, which Martyn would love to have, and gets hysterical fits. Hamilton turns out to be friendly rather than a diva.

Martyn is the main point-of-view character in the first half of the book and there are only short passages from other characters’ POV. Once the murder victim is discovered and the police is called, the main POV changes into detective Roderick Alleyn and his investigation. The switch is a bit jarring but understandable.

The book is a nice, old-fashioned cozy mystery written in 1950s.

Unfortunately, the recording seems to be of a poor quality. The narrator’s voice fades a few times and often it sounds muffled.

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