July 2011

The second book in the Orion SF series.

Publication year: 1988
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Stefan Rudnicki
Running Time: 11 hrs and 21 minutes

At the end of the previous book, Orion was reunited with his lady love, Anya, in the future “now”. They are going to leave together on a space ship for their new adventure together. However, in the next moment Orion wakes up on a sea ship, under a lash, and without any memories of himself or how he got there. He finds out that the ship is headed towards the city of Troy to wage war. Orion is one of the thess, a masterless man, not a slave but he also doesn’t have anyone who wants to keep him alive. An old man called Polates talks with Orion helps him. Soon, Orion starts to remember who he is and what happened to him: he and Anya had been on a star ship who blew up. She died and Orion blames the Golden One Ahriman who couldn’t let a “goddess” to be with a creature Ahriman had created.

The Golden One visits Orion in dreams. Ahriman is called Apollo here. Apollo wants Orion to help the Trojans to defeat the Greek because the Trojans are more civilized and will be able to unify the world in a way that the Greek, fighting amongst themselves in their city-states, can’t. When Orion refuses, Apollo says that he can bring Anya back to life.

The plot is fast-paced. After the battle for Troy, Orion meets the Hebrews, and later he and his group go to Egypt. The book has a lot of hand-to-hand combat with ancient weapons. The SF elements are mostly the time-travel plot and the gods; Orion lives in historical times without any modern conveniences.

I found Orion to be weirdly inconsistent. At one point, he comments that the attackers aren’t going to call themselves Greek for over a thousand years. He also thinks that the Hebrews are religious zealots, and have no problem saying to others that gods can die and aren’t really divine. Yet, at the same time, he doesn’t seem to remember any details about the Trojan war; there’s no quips about how Homer will tell the fall of Troy. He also doesn’t make any comments about how the Hebrews will be seen in the future or, er, about the quite famous Biblical story he takes part in. He has modern attitudes and doesn’t bother to hide them.

There are also more gods this time; a whole pantheon of them. Not all of them support Apollo, either. They keep their guises as the Greek gods even though Orion knows that they are likely just advanced humans from the future. Strangely, even though Athena/Anya died in the future, she isn’t in this time, either and the other gods say that she’s dead. Why would she be dead in the past? The answer makes sense plot wise (if she was alive, she and Orion would be together and there wouldn’t be adventures) but makes no sense otherwise.

Like in the first book, there are few continuous supporting characters. Most of them change when Orion and his group move on. The old storyteller is mostly likely Homer although this isn’t said explicitly.

A fun historical/SF adventure if you don’t mind reading about brutal treatment of women and slaves.


Booking Through Thursday

What’s the first book that you ever read more than once? (I’m assuming there’s at least one.)

What book have you read the most times? And–how many?

I’ve never been much of a rereader; there’s always been too many new books and new authors to explore. Even when I was little, there were so many Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew books that I didn’t have to reread them. I’m also fan of series so can enjoy the same beloved characters in new adventures.

However, I think the first book I reread was the Black Stallion which I just adored.
In the recent years I’ve started to listen audiobooks and it’s much easier to relisten them than reread books (I’m a slow reader). I’ve relistened Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series and Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series a few times now.

The first in an SF trilogy. I got it through BookMooch.

Publication year: 1978
Page count: 252
Format: print
Publisher: Daw

Niun is a young man in a warrior race called the mri. The mri hire themselves to another species, the regul, who are not violent. The mri guard regul space ships and battle against each other when the regul want it. However, for the past forty years, the mri and the regul have fought against the humans. During it, a hundred thousand mri has died and they are on the brink of extinction. The mri train with hand-to-hand weapons and want to duel. The humans use weapons of mass destruction.

The humans and regul have signed a treaty at the start of the story. The mri see this as surrender and are not pleased. Niun is especially depressed: he’s the last of the warrior cast Kel on the planet Kesrith and he’s been looking forward to getting his own share of glory in war. The leader of mri on Keshrith, the she’pan, has kept Niun beside her for far longer than is usual, and Niun resents the old she’pan for it. Except for Niun’s truesister Melein, who was told to join the Sen caste, all other mri on Kesrith are old people.

At the same time, two humans are on their way to Kesrith to prepare for the human colony that is going to be built there. They are on a regul ship and under strict orders to stay in the cabin except for short periods of time. Stavros is the leader of the small group; he’s an old and respected diplomat and he’s going to be the new colony’s governor. Sten Duncan is Stavros’ young aide and the other POV character. Stavros is spending his time trying to get the hang of the regul language while Duncan is going slowly mad with the isolation and boredom.

Unfortunately for the mri, the regul haven’t told them that their current home world Kesrith is going to be given to the humans.

The regul and mri both have distinct cultures and mindsets. Even though the mri have served the regul for over two thousand years, neither understand the other and they also loath each other. The mri have three castes; the Kel who are the warriors, the Sen, who are the scholars and leaders, and the Kath who are the gentle life-bearers (and only briefly seen in this book). Men can become either Kel or Sen, but women can belong into any of the castes. They have rigid boundaries: the Kel aren’t literate and they must obey the Sen without question or thought. The Sen are the leader, the decision makers, and the keepers of knowledge. They are forbidden to even touch weapons and have to remain chaste. The regul call the San religious leaders, but I didn’t think of the mri as religious. There was a brief mention of multiple gods but nothing else. The She’pan also called the Mother and all the warriors of her clan are her ritual husbands. The warriors are free to have sex with any Keth or Kel.

The regul have a completely different social structure. They respect age and the elders are in charge. The elders can even kill younglings if they want to; the younglings are certainly verbally abused almost at every turn. The regul don’t have biological sexes until they mature and they live for hundreds of years. They also find lying to be extremely distasteful and never forget anything. They find humans baffling. 🙂 The elders are described as frail; they move around on machines and make the younglings do as much work as possible. (They reminded me of the Hutt even though I know that they have legs and are capable of walking, although slowly.)

Even tough the book centers on a warrior caste and is set in an aftermath of war, there’s little violence in the book. Most of the struggle is against the hostile planet. Kesrith’s atmosphere is acidic but barely breathable, it has hostile creatures, and boiling mud and water. At least the parts that we see seem to be mostly sand, mud, and rock. For such an unforgiving planet, the local wildlife is pretty large. Dusei are one of the local animal-like creatures. They seem to have some empathic talent and are able to form a bond with the mri, but only if the individual dus wants to. Niun doesn’t have a dus of his own and that just adds to his misery and self-doubts.

The plot doesn’t really start until near the end. However, I was fascinated with the cultures, so I didn’t really mind. At the start Niun is pretty self-centered and selfish in his concerns. He has a tendency to pity himself and think that he’s worthless. He had close relationship with his sister but that ended when she became a Sen, so Niun has been quite lonely among the old mri. Still, when the plot does start, it does so with a bang. Also, there’s no resolution at the end.

Once again, Cherryh has a very… interesting cover. That’s probably Melein, who is forbidden to even touch weapons. And that outfit is very, er, movie-like instead of being some actual use in a desert-like environment. Still, I guess it could have been much worse, too. The trilogy cover is pretty awesome, though.

Written by Joss Whedon
Artists: John Cassady and Laura Martin
Collects Astonishing X-Men 1-6
Publisher: Marvel
Publication date: 2006

I’m a fan of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly, and I’m also a long-time X-Men fan, so I had high expectations for this comic. It was originally printed in the Finnish edition of X-Men in 2006, so I’ve read it a few times. 🙂

The stories have a lot of classic X-Men vibes: the us (mutants) against them (humans), a great moral dilemma, and villains to bash. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact I was relieved that I recognized all the main characters. But at least the first few issues don’t really give anything new. In fact, the old Logan/Scott conflict is resurrected.

The story starts with a little girl who is afraid. Later we learn that she has frightening mutant powers she can’t control and that a doctor of genetics has research a “cure” for all mutants. Then we witness Kitty Pryde’s homecoming at Xavier Mansion. Later, Scott tries to make his small group into a team (again). The line up is: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine, and Shadowcat. Cyclops and Wolverine are at each other’s throats and Kitty doesn’t trust Emma who apparently loathes her.

The geneticist Kavita Rao declares that she has found out that mutants are just sick and she has a cure for them. Meanwhile, Ord from Breakworld and his human merchenaries has taken a bunch of upper class people hostage and the X-Men are quick to engage Ord and his men. Ord almost wipes the floor with them but Lockheed arrives just in time to save the team.

Meanwhile, the mutant kids at the Mansion have heard the news about the cure and some of them want it. The X-Men investigate it, of course. It turns out that the vaccine has been developed from a mutant who is dead so the X-Men raid the Benetech building where Rao does her research. While they’re away, Ord attacks the mansion and the mutant kids.

The story has a great mix of character moments and action, and no wonder. The X-Men have a lot of internal tension which is always good. The story starts with a brief Scott/Logan fight, over Jean, of course, but they don’t seem hostile for long. Then there’s Kitty who doesn’t trust Emma and never will. There’s a great moment between them in the second issue where Emma asks Kitty to keep an eye on her and Kitty says that for her Emma’s face is synonymous with evil. (I tend to agree with Kitty, by the way. I encountered Emma for the first time during the Dark Phoenix saga when Emma was mind torturing Storm (one of my favorite characters ever), and now she’s teaching ethics for the next generation of mutants? Riiiight. I’m patiently waiting for her to show her real colors.) Then there’s Beast, who really wants to use the cure on himself and is trying to somehow evaluate it impartially.

The cure is an interesting source of conflict. I can believe that a lot of mutants with visible mutations would be eager to get it. Wolverine is fully against it. He doesn’t want to be called a disease and he doesn’t want any of the other X-Men to quit. The cure also causes riots although we don’t really see them except for the one near the end.

There’s also conflict between the X-Men and Nick Fury. Fury has sometimes been even friendly towards the X-Men but here he’s again shown to be their enemy. And I think Fury’s quip about how Scott haven’t yet earned a right to yell at Fury was a bit uncalled for. They’ve known each other for decades, real world time, and in Marvel time they’ve saved each other at least a couple of times. Otherwise, I rather enjoyed the banter.

I wasn’t impressed with Ord. He seems to be pretty generic super strong alien. He’s a new character and yet he seems to have a personal vendetta against the X-Men. We slowly find out that he has a reason for it but it’s told, not shown, so it’s never really believable to me.

The ending is open, of course. The cure still exists and the Ord is after the X-Men. There’s also a prophecy about interstellar war started by the X-Men.

This is very much a beginning volume.

My newest review: Sarah Jane Stratford’s Midnight Guardian.

It’s a new vampire series set during the second World War. I rather liked it, especially some of the characters, and I gave it four stars from five.

The third book in the October Day fantasy series. I thought it was best in the series.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal
Running Time: 12 hrs and 32 minutes

How many miles to Babylon?
Three-score miles and ten.
Can I get there by candle-light?
Yes, there and back again.
If your heels are nimble and light,
You will get there by candle-light

October Day is a half-blooded Daoine Sidhe and a private investigator. This time her story starts a bit mellow. She goes to a four-year-old boy’s birthday party; his mother Stacey is a good friend of Toby’s. Then things start to go down hill, a lot and fast.

Toby’s Fetch shows up. A Fetch is a death omen; she or he looks exactly like the target and when the target dies, he or she will escort the target to the afterlife. However, there’s no way to know when the target dies. Toby is, of course, upset.

Then Stacey tells Toby that two of her kids have vanished and one is sleeping so soundly that she can’t be awakened. Toby investigates, of course. Then she finds out that other fae kids and some humans kids have vanished, too. She finds out that a very old and terrible fae called Blind Michael, the leader of the Wild Hunt, is responsible. He gathers a new hunt every hundred years. Toby is determined to get the kids back.

Most of the book is set in the faery lands. Blind Michael’s lands are not easy to get into and Toby has to get there. This involves old children’s rhymes and the three roads have each strict conditions.

This book has pretty nightmarish side to it with kids being kidnapped and what is being done to them. And what Toby has to do to save them. But there’s also humor in the characters and some situations. It has the funniest car chase scene I’ve ever read. And Danny the bridge troll/taxi driver who adopts a litter of barghests who are small dog sized poisonous creatures

All of the established (alive) characters are seen again. The Sea Witch tells Toby that she’s going to kill her at some point but at the same time she is a sort of teacher and adviser to Toby. Toby’s liege lord has a lesser role than in the previous books but he stops by.

The Fetch, May Daye, is a fun new character. She looks like Toby and her personality is molded after Toby’s but she’s her own person. She also has her own rules to deal with. For example, she shouldn’t help Toby in any way. Also, while she has Toby’s memories, she doesn’t necessarily have her skills. For example, it’s a bit different to watch someone drive a car and do it yourself… If she sticks around, she’s like to become even more distinct character from Toby.

We also get to know more about one of the established characters and I enjoyed that.

On the other hand, I felt that Tybalt was out of character. In the previous books, he’s been interested in Toby and even protective of her, but now when the Fetch shows up, Tybalt is incredibly blasé about it. It was mentioned that Toby hadn’t seen him for a couple of months, so I guess he has a new lover or something. Connor seems to be increasingly interested in Toby but he’s still not capable of divorcing his lunatic wife. Too bad.

Also, there’s a lot of repetition. That’s often part of the myths that McGuire draws on but it may not work so well in modern stories. And once again, the existing mysteries of Luna’s kidnapping and King Oberon’s continued absence are left unresolved.

The next book in the series isn’t available from Audible. Sigh.

A stand-alone SF book focusing on gender issues.

Publication year: 1995
Page count: 320
Format: print
Publisher: Tor

Humanity spread on different planets centuries ago. FTL travel had its problems but humans solved it with a drug: hyperlumin. Unfortunately, the drug caused two genetic side effect: miscarriages are far more common and about one fourth of the population is born intersex. These days, the interstellar culture has five sexes and nine sexual orientations.

Warreven Stiller is a hermaphrodite but he was born on the planet Hara which was isolated from the interstellar culture for centuries and so still clings to the old ways: only two sexes are acknowledged officially and only heterosexuality is approved. The other three sexes are called halving or odd-bodied. Gender role are also rigid: women have to wear a customary dress that emphasizes their bodies’ femininity. Sexual roles are also rigid: women are passive in bed and men active. The only concession to the new reality is that people can officially change their official sex apparently pretty easily. Warreven is officially a man.

Haran culture has a strong hierarchy descended from the ship that brought the humans to Hara. The Stiller and Stane families are still hostile to each other because of the ancient history and the Captain is a great mythological figure. The roots of the local religion seems to be in Christianity but there are five spirits between humans and God.

Warreven is a lawyer and part of a three person firm. Often enough, they handle cases around “trade” as the commercial sex trade between Harans and the off-worlders is called. However, Warreven has a comfortable life and he even knows the Most Important Man and his son. One of Warreven’s partners is another hermaphrodite who tried to sue Hara over the gender issue and be called legally a hermaphrodite. However, the person lost the case and their legal gender was changed to a woman.

Mhyre Tatian is an off-worlder and in the employ of one of the medical companies that buys stuff from Hara. The company’s mandate is to steer clear of any local trouble and Tatian does his best to do just that. He’s a man but still Hara’s sexual politics make him uneasy at times. He also has intersexed friends and is gradually drawn into Haran politics.

The plot focuses on intrigue, local customs, and the possibility of social change, so it’s a bit slow. Also, there are some scenes that don’t really go anywhere; people going about their daily lives. They are great from character perceptive and for showing off the culture but not so good for plot. However, when action starts, it’s fast and furious and has consequences.

The three additional sexes have their own pronouns in the interstellar language and they all have letters that my keyboard can’t make. I find this a very interesting choice because surely Scott could have used more ordinary made up words, or words that mean something different for the new pronouns. Still, this forces the reader to really see the different sexes as different and to acknowledge them in a way that the Harans refuse to do. The book has a number of made up words for Haran and galactic cultural stuff and there’s a glossary at the back of the book.

I wonder if this book would lose some of the impact if it were translated into Finnish, because we don’t have gendered pronouns. Everyone would be just “hän”. In fact, I would think that just one non-gendered pronoun would have been more useful to the galactics than adding more gendered pronouns that segregate people more effectively. But maybe that’s the point. The galactics have also pretty rigorous customs, boundaries, and stereotypes even though they are different from the Haran ones. I mean, unless you’re thinking of dating every person you see, what difference does it make what genital configuration, for example a waiter, a cashier, or a plumber has?

The book’s world if full of shades of gray. Even those whose actions are pretty vile from their victims’ POV are motivated by fear or even a need to balance old and new, and not change too quickly because it might destabilize the whole society. From their POV, they are keeping people safe by forcing them to conform.

Oh, the book doesn’t have any sex scenes and there’s no romance.

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