October 2010

The third in the Jani Kilian SF series.

Once again Jani’s past is coming to haunt her and not just as survivor’s guilt. She works now for the Commonwealth military as a document analyst. Someone has made a white paper about Jani’s past which suggests that Jani is a security risk. Colonel Niall Pierce warns Jani about it but there isn’t much she could do about it. Niall also tells Jani about a document in the hands of the Earth military which seems to indicate that Nema has forged an important document. Nema is the religious leader of the alien idomeni and Jani’s previous mentor and close friend. Nema is also humanity’s most vocal defender among the idomeni leaders. Jani is convinced that someone is trying to frame Nema and damage humanish/idomeni relations.

Because of her past close dealings with the alien idomeni, Jani has become something of an adviser to the government diplomats concerning the idomeni. However, nobody seems to appreciate her efforts. The leading diplomat Anais Ulanova is determined to work with the idomeni in her own way. Unfortunately, she doesn’t really understand the aliens. To the idomeni falsehood and hiding one’s feelings are an anathema but Anais doesn’t believe that. She doesn’t trust the aliens, or Jani, and continues to work in her customary way, spinning half-truths, expecting to be betrayed at any point, and working towards her own goals.

Jani sees the train wreck ahead and tries to warn everyone away from it. When she’s repeatedly ignored, she has no choice but to make her objections in public which earns her even more enemies. Then her parents send word that they are coming to Chicago to see her. Jani is convinced that they will be in danger and tries her best to keep them safe. This will also be the first time they will physically see each other in twenty years and Jani is a bit nervous about that.

This book felt somewhat longer than the previous books and the pace of the story wasn’t as quick as before. The main plot is still political intrigue and Jani has to play the detective and find out just who her enemies are while dodging handgun fire and assassins. Also, in addition to her parents, two of her oldest friends come to Chicago and try to help her.

Jani’s relationship with her bed partner Lucien is different from a normal romance. (I can’t really call them lovers and definitely not partners.) They are both damaged people who are convinced that they can’t have normal relationships, and they don’t trust each other. Jani knows that Lucien’s past, and physical and mental augments make is impossible for him to feel love anymore. While he can be caring and loyal, he is mostly looking after his own interests. He’s also attracted to the idomeni and as a human/idomeni hybrid, Jani feels that he is attracted to her because she is a “freak”, as she calls herself. Jani is also convinced that no normal man could ever want her. So in the end she feels alone and that she can’t really trust anyone.

Many of the diplomatic people are pretty self-centered here, almost to the point of ignoring reality for what they would want it to be. They ignore Jani’s advice and are convinced that they know better. Anais Ulanova, Lucien’s previous boss, is a prime example of this. I almost felt like they are liability to the Commonwealth and should be fired.

There are some very interesting developments for idomeni in this book. Shai, the leader of Earth’s embassy and Nema are clearly at odds here. While Nema advocates for closer ties between the two species, and is convinced that Jani’s hybridization will be the way of the future, Shai wants to keep the relations as they are or even to lessen them. The leader of the idomeni species himself, and by extension most of the born-sect idomeni, want isolation from the humanish. Then there are the Haárin, who are the outcast idomeni and who have the most contact with humanity. They want to settle on human planets and have closer ties between the species. I was actually mostly more interested in the idomeni happenings that Jani’s.

Jani’s hybrid body is still acting up. There are only specific foods she can eat; no lactose and lots of spice. Her joints hurt and she doesn’t heal as quickly as she should have with her augments. Her eyes have also changed to look like idomeni eyes and she hides them behind contact lenses, or films. She’s taller and her fingers and toes are longer and more slender. It’s interesting to see just how idomeni-like she will in end up being.

I really enjoyed most of the secondary characters here. The mysterious Niall: what does he really want and is he really trustworthy? Jani’s old friends Steve and Angevin whom Jani tries to keep out of the loop for their own protection. Of course, they don’t appreciate that and are furious about it. Angevin redecorates Jani’s apartment. John Shroud, the doctor who orchestrated Jani’s hybridization and who is in love with her, just waiting her to choose him. And of course Jani’s bewildered parents from the frontier. Nema who is devoted to his own vision of the future which has been supposedly given to him by his gods. The Haárin who irritate both humans and the idomeni.

The atmosphere in the books is darker than in many other space opera stories. Jani has good reasons to be paranoid and she has very few friends. There are no easy answers and endings are rarely happy.

Please don’t start the series with this book!

In honor of Halloween this weekend:

What reading skeletons do you have in your closet? Books you’d be ashamed to let people know you love? Addiction to the worst kind of (fill in cheesy genre here)? Your old collection of Bobbsey Twin Mysteries lovingly stored behind your “grown-up” books? You get the picture … come on, confess!

Once again I refuse to feel guilty about such an innocuous activity as reading, especially since I’ve gotten all of my books and comics legally. No, I’m not ashamed of reading R. A. Salvatore, Anne Rice, or various superhero comics.

I’m a big fan of the Vorkosigan series, so when I spotted Cryoburn at Audible I shouted in joy and downloaded it. It was absolutely wonderful that it was available to us non-USAians so quickly! (I’m still waiting for Tongues of Serpents…)

First things first: pretty much all of the elements I most enjoy in this series are present: writing style, humor, and characters. The plot is a bit too convenient in parts, though.

The setting is a planet called Kibou-Daini where the most notable industry is cryotechnology. The wealthiest people freeze themselves when they’re near death or if they have life-threatening diseases.

The book starts with Miles in trouble, as usual (yay!). He’s been drugged and kidnapped (by the way, shouldn’t this be adultnapped?) but the kidnappers used the wrong drug. It made Miles violent and he managed to fight off the kidnappers. Then he promptly got lost in the vast and cold Cryocombs. Tired, hungry, bare-footed, and hallucinating, he manages to find a way out and a street kid Jin kindly agrees to help him. Meanwhile his loyal Armsman Roic has been kidnapped and is trying to escape.

When I realized that Roic is one of the three point-of-view characters, I shouted in joy again (unfortunately, for my neighbors). The long-suffering Armsman is a great character, a sort of Watson to Miles’ hyperactive Holmes. Roic is also the one who reminds Miles to eat, sleep, and keep tabs on his seizures, so he’s almost a nanny. 😉

While we get glimpses of familiar figures, such as Ekaterin, most of the characters here are new. Doctor Raven Durona has apparently been in one of the earlier books but I didn’t remember him. I liked him a lot here; he’s calm and professional and follows Miles’ antics with an ironic view. The rest are new.

The third point-of-view character, in addition to Roic and Miles, is a local street kid Jin Sato who is almost twelve. He has a lots of animals that he takes care of, including rats, chickens, a hawk, and a three-legged cat. He’s passionately interested in all animals and ran away from his foster home in order to keep his creatures. He also has a younger sister Mina.

The long-suffering Consul Vorlynkin led the Barrayaran consulate before Miles showed up and outranked him. Vorlynkin has only been on the planet for two years but knows quite a lot about the local customs. His aide is Lieutenant Johannes (Finnish name, yay!) who is mostly bewildered.

On the surface, the book is a funny adventure tale but underneath Bujold tackles questions about life and death. The people of Kibou-Daini fear death so much that some of them elect to be frozen while young, or youngish, in the hope of getting a better future. Some of the older frozen people have been revived only to realize that they are no longer wanted in the current time. Some also die during the freezing procedure and can die during the revival. This is a grim view which urges people to live now instead of hoping for something better at some other time.

The biggest difference to some of the previous books, such as Mirror Dance and A Civil Campaign, is that Miles has no personal stakes here. He or his family are not in real danger. Of course, that is to be expected; he’s there doing a job and not trying to find himself or woo a wife. He has a family and wants to keep them out of harm’s way.

Unfortunately, I found some plot elements to be very, very convenient, including Jin’s place in the larger plot. I also wasn’t convinced that Miles had any legal right to investigate matters in another government. However, it seemed to me that Miles realized this, too.

Overall I’m still happy with the story and it’s been a long time since a book has made me cry.

The topic for Top Ten Books today is Halloween: the Top Ten spooky/creepy/scary books.

I’m not a fan of horror (the only Stephen King book I’ve read is the Gunslinger) but surprisingly I have apparently read quite a few creepy books:

1, Dracula by Bram Stoker is, of course, the classic. I read this years ago and I’m currently rereading it.

2, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is another classic with both fantasy and horror elements.

3, I am Legend by Richard Matheson which was surprisingly good and different from the movie.

4, The two Xombies books by Walter Greatshell had an interesting twist about zombies; it’s a virus, not undeath.

5, Lestat by Anne Rice. One of my favorites from the Vampire Chronicles.

6, Guilty Pleasures by Laurell Hamilton also combines sex and the undead.

7, Blood Magic by Matthew Cook. The main character Kirin can control corpses. The book has a very intense atmosphere.

8, Nightwalker by Jocelynn Drake. The main character is an old vampire and not the sparkly kind. I surprised myself by liking it a lot.

9, Something from the Nightside by Simon Green. The bad side of London is called Nightside and it’s fully creepy characters.

10, Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane. The main character Chess banishes ghosts for a living.

The second in the Detective Inspector Chen series.

After the events in the first book, the demon Seneschal Zhu Irzh has been moved from Hell’s Vice section to Singapore Three’s police force. Detective Inspector Chen and his wife are on a well-deserved vacation in Hawaii. When an unidentified young woman’s body turns up, Zhu Irzh is assigned to the case. However, when the police finds out that the woman is the rich celebrity Deveth Sardai, the demon is taken off the case, unofficially. But Zhu Irzh is interested and continues his own investigation especially after he meets the seductive Jhai Tserai, the murdered woman friend, a canny business woman, and a suspect in the case.

Deveth’s girlfriend Robin Yuan works in a lab. Her job is to do tests on a demon who is a captive in the lab. Robin comes from a very poor family and is grateful for her good job. However, she’s starting to feel very sorry for the demon. Then she catches really bad cold and in her delirious state she sets the experiment free.

Dowser Paravang Roche is having a really bad week. A demon police officer cancels his Feng Shui license and his dead mother keeps calling from Hell asking why he isn’t married yet. Then the demon makes him work for free and during the job, the demon attacks Paravang! Naturally, the dowser wants to return the demon back to Hell.

Jhai Tserai owns a very big company. She has also lots of secrets. For one thing, she isn’t human and non-humans aren’t allowed to own property in Singapore Three. She has to take medication to keep her non-humans side in check. Unfortunately, that means that even though she can seduce practically anyone, she can’t enjoy sex. She also made a deal with Hell which includes doing experiments on certain non-human subjects to make a virus. Now, one of her formerly competent underlings has managed to let the experiment loose into the city.

The demon Zhu Irzh is the main character in the book and Chen doesn’t appear until around halfway. However, the demon is a very entertaining character. He isn’t “good”; he’s always looking for his own gain. He doesn’t have fixed loyalties, not even to Hell. In fact, he might be more loyal to Chen than Hell.

The other characters are also entertaining although I felt that Paravang was a bit detached from the overall story. However, his tragicomedic story brought more humor to the book. Robin struggles mightily with her conscience; she tries to convince herself that the experiment is evil and so she can continue to, in essence, torture him. But she doesn’t really buy it.

For me, the setting overshadows the characters. The Chinese mythology, the afterlives, demons, gods, and goddesses are so different from the other settings available in SF or fantasy that I pay a lot of attention to them. The Night Harbor, an afterlife between Hell and Heaven, is a chilling place, and some souls can be forgotten there. Heaven isn’t just or even kind place, and Hell seems to be very much same as Earth.

The chapters were very short, usually just two or three pages, and the point-of-views changed quickly. The plot moves along quickly and the stakes turn up to be very high.

Booking Through Thursday

Name a book (or books) from a country other than your own that you love. Or aren’t there any?

To name just a few:
Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar, Brothers in Arms, and Mirror Dance.
Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Buried Deep, Paloma, and Duplicate Effort.

I live in Finland. None of my favorite writers are Finns.

The second book in the Raine Benares fantasy series.

Raine Benares is a seeker who finds lost objects and people. However, in the previous book she was bonded with the soul eating stone Saghred which gives her a lot of magical abilities and enemies to go with it. Some want Raine and the stone as their own weapons, and others want to protect people from Raine. Neither is really a good deal for Raine herself.

Raine wants to get rid of the stone and in hopes of doing that she traveled to the Isle of Mid which is home for a lot of powerful wizards. She’s given her own bodyguards and the leader of the Guardians has also taken a special interest in her. When spellsinger students are kidnapped, Raine wants to help, too.

The plot moves along briskly and the narrative style is light and humorous. There’s also some politicking among the most powerful mages. We get to know more about the relations between the races, how the Saghred works, and how vulnerable pretty much everyone, who isn’t stinking rich, are in this world. Being a powerful mage seems to be an especially vulnerable position because the people with more money and political power will want to use him or her for their own benefit.

Most of the supporting cast from the first book returns. The young Piaras is auditioning for a place as a student. He also gets first hand experience of how the more politically powerful people treat a handsome and talented youngster. There’s some talk that training a mage costs a lot of money. Weirdly, nobody mentions money when Piaras’ training starts so he seems to be so talented that he’s an exception.

Raine’s cousin, the pirate captain Phaelan, is also on the island protecting Raine. Mychael is the leader of the Guardians so he’s on his home turf. He tries his best to protect Raine from all her enemies. He and Raine also flirt a lot. Tam is seen more briefly and he has as much secrets as before.

Unfortunately, the book contains one of my pet peeves: Raine is the only significant female character in the book and, even worse, she’s the only competent female character in the book. The few girls are all kidnap victims. No wonder all the eligible males are after Raine: she’s the only game in town.

I also couldn’t help but wonder why all the Guardians are male. Is there some specific duty that only male police officers can do? None of the other professions seem to be as sex segregated. There are human and elf Guardians so race is also not a limiting factor.

One of Raine’s previous enemies ended up in the Saghred but that doesn’t stop him from speaking directly into Raine’s mind and barging into her dreams. However, he is the only one of the imprisioned souls to make appearance. Specifically, I expected Raine’s father to show up, too, but he didn’t.

Overall, I did enjoy the book and will likely continue with the series.

This time at the Broke and Bookish blog’s Top Ten is about fictional crushes. I have quite a few of them but I managed to get them down to ten.

1, Perhaps my first fictional crush ever, as far as I can remember, was Sir Lancelot. Of course, I read the childrens’ version of the Arthurian stories so the whole adultery thing was swept under a carpet quickly. I loved how brave and loyal he was.

2, Robin Hood followed shortly after. I also loved his merry band of followers. Of course, I also loved BBC’s short Robin of Sherwood series. No other series has been able to surpass that one.

3, MacGyver from his own series. He always tried to help people and find a non-violent solution.

4, Commander Data from Star Trek: TNG. He was an outsider trying to fit in and best of all, he succeeded spectacularly.

5, Cutter from the Elfquest comics.

6, Then started my fantasy phase with no other than the brooding, goodhearted drow Drizzt Do’Urden.

7, Gambit from the X-Men comic although that comic is full of great characters so it’s hard to pick just one. Nightcrawler is a sexy swashbuckler, Cyclops is the (mostly) sane bedrock for the others to lean on, Colossus was a fighter with an artists’ heart, and later Longshot the lucky charmer from another dimension. Plus Magneto who might be one of the best fictional villains ever.

8, Marius from Anne Rice’s vampire books. He’s a sophisticated old Roman, for the most part, anyway.

9, Aral Vorkosigan from Lois McMaster Bujold’s books. He’s basically a paladin in an science fiction world.

10, Morrolan e’Drien who is a Dragaeran or Elf for us who don’t live there. By humans standards he’s at least a bit a bit unstable but that’s how Dragaerans tend to be.

Done already? Damn…

Around the blogosphere people are talking about how few women are writing SF. People are also composing lists of their favorite women SF writers. Like a good sheep I decided to join in. 🙂

First, of course, is the question of what is SF.
First I thought “space ships → SF”. However, this would leave out some obviously SF books. So, I added “modern with better technology that most people get their hands on today” but then I decided to just include anything set in the future.

Also, I though at first that anything which has magic, goes to fantasy section. However, then I’d have to define magic. Is telepathy magic? If it is, out goes Star Trek. Star Wars also obvious disqualifies because of the Force. So does time travel. So, that rule goes away, too.

So, all of this ended up being too complicated. In the end, SF and fantasy are often intertwined. So basically I included anything that feels like SF to me.

These are the women SF writers I like the most and intend to read in the future, too:
Lois McMaster Bujold whose Miles Vorkosigan series I adore to bits.
Connie Willis and her time traveling historians
Kristine Kathryn Rusch whose Retrieval Artist books are obvious SF.
C. J. Cherryh. The only series I’ve read from her was space opera, although less operaic than the others on this list.
Kristine Smith, also a space opera writer. (I see a pattern forming…)
Kage Baker whose Company series I think straddles the line between SF and fantasy.
Elizabeth Bear although it’s sort of cheating because I haven’t read her SF yet.

A special mention to Diane Duane whose Star Trek: TNG novel Dark Mirror is the best ST novel I’ve ever read.

In English translation the name of the book appears to be Twenty Years After. In Finnish, the name of the translation is the Return of the Musketeers. We also have a collected edition of all these later stories and this is the first story in that collection.

D’Artagnan has served as a King’s Musketeer for twenty years and he’s still a lieutenant. He’s bitter and doesn’t have much ambitions anymore. His three friends have all gone their own ways and they haven’t seen each other in almost twenty years.

The current Cardinal, Mazarin, is the Chief Minister and is trying to govern France. The current King is only ten years old and his mother, Anne of Austria, is his regent. Mazarin and Anne are lovers and have married in secret. Mazarin is depicted as a greedy and small minded man who isn’t a worthy successor to the great Richelieu.

D’Artagnan comes into the attention of Mazarin who is trying to find trustworthy men to work for himself. After both de Rochefort, the Musketeers’ previous enemy, and Anne speak for D’Artagnan and his three friends, Mazarin decides to trust them at least for a time and sends D’Artagnan to find his friends and lure them back into service.

The writing style here is as leisurely as in the previous book and this book is really just setting up the story to come. The narrator tells us a lot about the politics of the times and the political climate where young the King is popular and Mazarin is hated because he raises taxes.

At the start of the book, D’Artagnan is described as moving and acting like an automation but once he gets out of Paris and is looking for his friends, he quickly gets back his old, more lively manner. He starts to resent his post as a mere lieutenant and wants to get enough money to buy back his family’s old castle and lands.

The other musketeers have changed somewhat but have still their previous habits; Aramis is now a priest but he still has a mistress, and eats and lives well and Porthos owns several castles but years for his old adventuring days. Athos has changed perhaps the most; he has an adopted son who is the apple of Athos’ eye.

The story doesn’t yet even start properly in this bookbut I enjoyed a more leisurely paced book for a change.

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