October 2011

Today, in the Top Ten Tuesdays the topic is Books Bought because of the Cover or Title.

1, Fistful of Charms by Kim Harrison
Both the title and the cover tempted me to buy this one. I had no idea that it was fourth in a continuing series, though. I like the play on words with the Western title Fistful of Dollars, and remembered the Star Trek: TNG episode Fistful of Datas. However, the series is post-apocalyptical urban fantasy and doesn’t have a western feel at all.

2, The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rucsh
I was looking for more SF and this one caught my eye on the internet. It was only available used and is was a bit of a hassle to order a used copy from US. It was worth it.

3, The Iron Hunt by Marjorie Liu
For some reason I really liked the cover of the first edition even though it’s simple. The later prints have had gorgeous covers, though.

4, The Snake Agent by Liz Williams
I really like the wonderful cover and the blurb about a Chinese hero lured me in.

5, The Alexander Cipher by Will Adams
The Alexander in the title is Alexander the Great so of course I had to get it.

6, City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer
I knew that VanderMeer was famous is US when I bought it but I wasn’t prepared at all for the new weird sort of book with several intertwined novellas.

7, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter by Michael Swanwick
This felt like a different sort of fantasy than I read at the time (epic, mostly) and it was translated into Finnish. Those days, it was very rare to find a translated fantasy book which wasn’t either for children or based on a roleplaying game.

8, Elfquest by Wendy and Richard Pini
I wasn’t at all prepared for the gorgeous and addictive world of Two Moons and the elves when I innocently picked up my first EQ album.

9, The Right Hand of Amon by Lauren Haney
Obviously, there’s a references for Ancient Egypt but that was all I knew about the book.

10, Murder in the Place of Anubis by Lynda S. Robinson
Another that I requested from BookMooch based on the title.

Obsidian Alliances has three stories. The first focuses on the crew of Voyager, the second on the New Frontier characters, and the third one on Deep Space Nine characters.

The Mirror universe in the book is based on the DS9 episodes where Terrans are slaves and the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance rules most of the known universe. The Dark Passions books are set in a different alternate universe.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 435
Publisher: Pocket Books

I read the first and the third novellas. I think I’ve read a few New Frontier books at some point but that was years ago and I didn’t remember much about the characters which took away the point of reading Peter David’s Cutting Ties.

In The Mirror-Scaled Serpent by Keith R.A. DeCandido Chakotay, Seska, Kate Janeway, Annika Hansen, Tuvok, and Harry Kim are a cell in the rebellion. Chakotay is the captain of his ship Geronimo and Kate is his engineer. The crew are in the Badlands, being chased by Gul Evek when they encounter two escape pods that suddenly appear. They are able to save one of pods, and the Alliance ship rescues the other. The Rebels get Neelix, an alien from far away. Neelix tells the skeptical humans, Cardassian, and Vulcan that his lover Kes is a powerful telepath and he wants her back. Tuvok convinces the rest of the crew that the Alliance must not get a telepath, and they start a desperate rescue mission. Evek has taken Kes to an old science station where B’Elanna is the commander. B’Elanna herself is partial to torture as well and her favorite is a blond Terran named Thomas.

The story contains a lot of torture. At the start of the story poor Kes is being tortured by the Kazon-Ogla and soon the Terran doctor Zimmerman is torturing her again in order to study her. Apparently, the torture activates her telepathic powers. Also, Tom has to endure a lot in the hands of sadistic B’Elanna who combines torture and sex.

The crew of the Geronimo don’t get along well. Chakotay spent his childhood on a remote colony but after the Alliance conquered the planet, he and his family became slaves. He’s only escaped slavery a short time ago. He doesn’t have Starfleet training or discipline, and neither does his crew. Harry Kim is the most tortured man in the crew and has become bitter but an excellent fighter and saboteur. Seska was the right hand woman of Gul Evek until she defected. She believes that the Cardassians have been twisted by their association with Klingons and is fighting to end that. She also despises humans. Tuvok has a secret mission of his own. Additionally, one of Geronimo’s crew is a traitor and their actions seem actually pretty logical, given the world they live in.

This story is very dark, by Star Trek standards. None of the characters are really admirable; they’re just trying to survive as best they can. Chakotay has some idealism but even he has to face facts. He actually pretty close to his Prime universe counterpart in character. However, I was amused that this is the first story with Seven/Annika in it when she didn’t take over the whole story. She’s also clearly nothing like her Seven persona; it’s seems that she’s more interested in sex than work.

The more sadistic characters are on the side of the Alliance. Doctor Zimmerman seems to enjoy torture. B’Elanna enjoys torturing others but she’s also a tortured character; she despises herself because she’s a half-breed and because she’s been demoted to the supervisor of a remote science station.

The story has a lot of action.

Saturn’s Children by Sarah Shaw brings back a lot of familiar characters from the DS9 Mirror episodes.

The former Overseer Kira Nerys is a bad place: after her disgrace, she was allowed to live only on the “mercy” of Regent Martok who delights in inflicting every cruelty on her. Then, she’s given to the new Bajoran Intendent: Ro Laren. Apparently, Ro and Kira have been adversaries for a long time and Ro wastes no time putting Kira into the slave quarters and into menial jobs. Ro’s headquarters are on a Klingon ship and Kira doesn’t have any current allies on it.

Meanwhile, Rebel General O’Brien has his own troubles. General Bashier and his newest closest ally, General Zek, are trying to undermine O’Brien’s authority and control the Rebels themselves. O’Brien is more interested in staying alive and keeping other people alive, too, and posturing. Bashier and Zek accuse O’Brien of being soft when he didn’t destroy a civilian outpost. Also, O’Brien met Keiko Ishikawa just two weeks ago and they are already a couple. Bashier thinks there’s an informant in O’Brien’s crew which forces O’Brien to spy on his crew. At the same time Bashier and Zek have plans in motion.

This story has lots of familiar characters: Leeta is O’Brien’s first officer aboard Defiant and I was delighted to see that she’s no-nonsense officer and competent. Ezri Tigan is the tactical officer, and married to Leeta, and Sito Jaxa is the pilot. Michael Eddington is O’Brien’s closest ally and he seems to be as levelheaded as in the show. Worf’s brother Kurn is the captain of the Klingon ship where Ro and Kira are. I think that Zek is supposed to be the Mirror universe counterpart but he’s just as greedy and ambitious as in the prime universe.

This story focuses more intrigue than in action and we also get to know more about the Rebel characters when O’Brien has to look at their personal files.

Both of the stories are fast paced with lots of plot twists. They’re a great glimpse to the twisted Mirror Universe.

Booking Through Thursday

If you could get a sequel for any book, what would it be?

I read a lot of series but it wasn’t hard to come up with a few books that I’d love to read more about. I really liked the dowager royina Ista and I’d love to see what life is like after Paladin of Souls.

The first book in a humorous mystery series.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 296 plus a preview of Murder with Puffins
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks

Meg Langslow is down-to-earth, no-nonsense woman. She’s a self-employed blacksmith who usually makes jewelry. However, she was able to get a whole summer off from work and return to her small home town in Virginia in order to be the maid of honor for three weddings. Meg’s best friend, brother, and mother are getting married withing just a few weeks. She actually doesn’t care for her brother’s bride, Samantha, but agreed to be her maid of honor, anyway. Meg’s also not wild about her mother’s groom who is the man next door, Jake.

Most of the brides seem to be far interested in small details, like interior decorating or being out of town, and leave the big things to Meg which keep her incredibly busy. Of course, Meg’s strange relatives aren’t helping things, either. Then Jake’s first wife’s sister appears. The sister doesn’t like the impending wedding at all and seems to be in general quite unlikable person. Soon, she’s found dead on the beach. Meg’s father, a retired doctor, is a mystery enthusiast and even though the local sheriff claims that the death is an accident, Meg’s dad starts an investigation drafting Meg, too.

Murder with Peacocks is written in a very humorous style. Most of Meg’s relatives are very strange from her dad who eats almost anything and gives lectures on poisonous plants to the Uncle who insist on wearing a gorilla suit in every party. Also, since Meg’s single, her best friend Eileen is determined to get her together with Eileen’s fiance’s brother Barry. Except that Meg loathes the uncouth, borderline rapist Barry. In fact, Meg seems to be the only sane person in her family. Then there’s Michael, the other sane person in the book.

The local dress-maker was going to make all the costumes for all of the weddings, but she’s currently in Florida with a broken leg. So, her handsome son Michael is filling in for her, and quite expertly. The dresses are made by a group of Vietnamese women who don’t speak English at all and Michael is their interpreter. The local gossip insist that Michael is gay, or What-a-Waste as the local homophobes say. However he seems to be very interested in Meg but whenever he tries to ask her something, he’s interrupted.

Most of the time, Meg is furiously trying to get the wedding organized instead of investigating the murder. Even when there are a couple of attempts on her father’s life, the local sheriff tries to write them off as accidents. So, the plot centers more on the weddings instead of the mystery. The main attraction to the story are the eccentric characters and not the plot.

I was quite surprised that Meg had agreed to this monumental task in the first place and that she didn’t quit when it came clear that none of the brides are going to help her at all. The families seem to be rich so surely they could have hired someone to organize the weddings as a full time job? But of course, if you like the humor, the premise is quite funny.

Today the topic of Top 5 Sundays at Larissa’s Bookish Life was a tie between two topics so I chose Favorite Novellas.

When I thought about novellas I realized that I don’t read novellas much and then mostly science fictional ones. I do have some collections in my TBR, though.

1, Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold
Where young Miles has to solve a murder mystery and gets much more.
It’s available for free here: http://www.webscription.net/p-622-the-mountains-of-mourning.aspx

2, Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold
A somewhat older Miles infiltrates a prison camp as a prisoner.
Part of “Borders of Infinity” novella collection and “Miles Errant” omnibus.

3, Labyrinth by Lois McMaster Bujold
Miles and his Dendarii Free Mercenaries are trying to smuggle a scientist away from his current employer.
Part of “Borders of Infinity” novella collection and the omnibus Miles, Mystery, and Mayhem.

4, Worst of Both Worlds by Greg Cox
The Mirror universe Jean-Luc Picard vs. the Borg.
Part of “Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Glass Empires” collection

5, Araminta or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake by Naomi Novik
Lady Araminta is a headstrong young woman who is sent to the Colonies to marry and settled down. But on the way, pirates attack.
Part of the “Fast Ships, Black Sails” collection.

Superheroes and zombies!

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Jay Snyder and Khristine Hvam
Running Time: 11 hrs and 32 minutes

Two years ago zombies overran the Earth and society as we know it collapsed. Now, a couple of thousand survivors are holed up in a fortress called the Mount which they have built from a former film studio on the outskirts of Los Angeles. The Mount is lead and protected by a small group of superheroes. St. George is strong, very durable, can fly, and breathe out fire and smoke. He used to be called the Mighty Dragon and he was one of the most famous heroes before the collapse. Stealth is a mysterious woman who can fight really well, move silently, and turns herself invisible in her suit. She’s also a great strategist. Then there’s Zzzap who can change into pure energy form. In his human form, he’s in a wheelchair and he doesn’t get a miracle cure. Also, when he’s in his energy form, he uses up his own energy reserves which are limited. Danielle is a scientist who was working on a battle armor called Cerberus. Now, she’s using it to keep others, and herself, safe. However, Cerberus isn’t as flexible as the Iron Man armor; it takes about an hour for Danielle to get into and other of it, and that was a great touch of realism.

The book starts with a humorous episode where St. George gets a haircut, which isn’t easy because of his almost indestructible state, and the population celebrates USA’s Independence Day. It downplays the horror aspects of the situation.

Then a small group led by St. George and Cerberus heads out to LA to gather any possible supplies. To my surprise, only a few of the local Marines are in the group. They shoot down any zombies that gets too close and continue their ongoing competition in who can kill the most famous people. This again downplays the horror.

Some of the people at the Mount are expecting the rest of surviving humanity to rescue them. Some are convinced that they are the last survivors. However, when a drone plane flies over the Mount, both groups are surprised, some pleasantly and others not so much. St. George sends Zzzap to investigate and he confirm that the drone belongs to a group of US soldier. However, after two years of isolation, can the groups trust each other?

There are a lot of different people at the Mount. Some of them are ordinary people but there is a Marine base, too. Apparently a gang, the Seventeens, started the zombie apocalypse and some of the gang members are now in the Mount but they aren’t exactly trusted. Christian was a member of the local government and she resents the power that the superheroes have. She’s agitating for an election. I was expecting her to have a more prominent role but she didn’t. I can’t help but to think that the heroes should have giving her a role in the new governing structure.

There are a lot of pop culture references in the story. For example, one of the buildings in the Mount is called the Roddenberry, Zzzap laments that he’s never going to know how Lost ends, and when the scavengers are given armor, they say they should be in the Lord of the Rings. Yes, it’s cheesy but I liked it.

The characterization is surprisingly good. The people have come somewhat used to the situation and are using humor to make things bearable. However, Danielle has been so traumatized that she doesn’t feel safe outside the Cerberus armor and refers to herself as “tiny, helpless woman”. She’s a scientist and an engineer, just like Tony Stark. St. George is a clear analog to Superman and Stealth is an analog to Batman. Apparently, they are romantically involved, sort of, but Stealth keeps St. George, and everyone, at an arm’s length. There are also several super soldiers who are trying to do the right thing. I was delighted that the female character aren’t shown just as accessories or possible romances to the males or as hostages. Stealth uses a suit that covers her up completely and the Cerberus armor isn’t gendered (no pointy breasts here!). Even though Stealth is quite underpowered compared to St. Gorge and Zzzap, she’s competent and more than holds her own in a fight.

Most humans aren’t comfortable calling the undead zombies, so they are often called “ex-humans” or exes.

Some of the heroes got their powers accidentally, much like most of the heroes in the DC universe. However, most of the secondary super powered characters are soldiers who got the powers through a US government program. The zombiefication seems to be a virus that is spread through biting.

The chapters have been divided between “Now” and “Then”. The Now chapters follow St. George and his group in third person. The “Then” chapters each have a different narrator and some of them are set in the time before the zombie apocalypse and some after it but before “Now”. These chapters are in first person. They showcase characters who are in the current storyline but don’t get a POV which is a great way to give more insight into them and getting a bit more sympathetic POV to characters who aren’t sympathetic in the other story line. Near the end of the book, we get POV chapters from the villains, too. This structure worked really well for me.

The audio book has two narrators: Jay Snyder is what I’d say the dominant narrator; he narrates the Now chapters, no matter if the POV character is male or female, and the various male characters’ dialogue. Khristine Hvam narrates female dialogue except in “Then” chapters which are narrated by a female character. Then Hvam narrates the chapter except for male dialogue which Snyder narrates. I’ve listened to both of them with other books and I liked them. However, I was really impressed how well they worked together. I haven’t listened before an audiobook with two narrators but at least here it worked really well for me.

The Audible book has a bonus short story at the end which runs about an hour. Codependent is about Holly who is surviving alone among the ex-humans. Then she meets up with another woman who claims not have been infected with the zombie virus. For me, this story was more horrific than the main story. The zombies, called junkies this time, seem to be somewhat different than in the main story. For example, they can speak a little and fight amongst themselves over food.

Oh, I’ve just realized that this was the second book in the series. Well, I’m certainly getting the first one!

The second book in the science fiction trilogy starts right where the first one ended.

Publication year: 1987
Format: print
Page count: 253
Publisher: DAW

Kesrith ended with the last two surviving mri terribly wounded and in the hands of the humans. Sten Duncan, who spent a little time with the mri, gained such respect for them, that he rescued them even against their wishes. The mri don’t want medicines or anything else from the non-mri races, but they are unconscious and unable to resist. Some of the humans hate the mri because the mri killed a lot of humans during the war but still they nurse the two aliens.

Duncan is in disgrace because he told straight what he thinks about the regul bai Hulagh’s actions. The bai is responsible for killing all the other mri who were on Kesrith. The human governor Stavros is playing his own game; he allows Duncan to return to the former mri holy place. There Duncan retrieves the mri holy object and records the place, too.

The human scientists examine the mri relic and determine that it’s a navigational item. Duncan is convinced that it will lead the two mri to the rest of the mri race, if any are still alive. Stavros agrees to give Duncan and the two mri an unarmed space craft to follow the navigational tape and see where it leads to. However, when they are already underway, Duncan realizes that Stavros has betrayed him and sent warships to track him to the possible mri home world.

First third of the book follows Duncan when he tries to preserve what he can from the mri culture. The two captives are kept sedated and they are wasting away in human laboratories. We also get a glimpse of bai Hulagh who is still deathly afraid of the mri whom he suspects will turn again the regul who betrayed them. Hulagh also seems to fear the mri simply because they are different.

The mystery around the dusei deepens, too. The huge bear like creatures are native to Keshrith but have formed a tight bond with the mri. They seem to be able to send emotions to the mri and mri can also send emotions to at least his chosen dus. Duncan also suspects that they are at least almost sentient creatures and might be able to even control others’ perceptions.

The voyage to their destination takes months and a large chunk of the book is set in that time. Duncan agrees to try to become one of the mri but it’s very hard for him. For example, the mri seem to be able to withstand the effects of the FTL jumps easily while humans can’t. However, it seemed that when Duncan focused his mind to a task, in this case the game the Niun taught him, he was able to withstand the jump better. I found this rather dubious. Surely, humans should have found out before that meditation helps with the jumps. I think the mri and Duncan both were also very lucky that they can eat the same food. Otherwise, Duncan would have starved. Or maybe the mri would have killed him outright.

Basically, this is Duncan’s tale of trying to become a mri. However, in the end, neither side accepts him anymore because of it. The mri lifestyle is very hard and unforgiving. They also scorn all non-mri things, like skills (although not food or space crafts so I find their way a bit hypocritical). The humans regard Duncan as a traitor. I hope he finds a happier life in the last book.

Except for the end, the plot isn’t action oriented. Instead it focuses on Duncan’s inner turmoil and the relationships between him and the two mri. We also get more information about the mri culture.

Today, in the Top Ten Tuesdays the topic is Top Ten Book Endings That Left Me With My Mouth Hanging Open (because of the cliffhanger or because it the ending was MINDBLOWING, etc. Be careful with spoilers on this one!)

1, Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold
If you’ve read it, you probably know why.

2, Rachel Caine: Firestorm
I really didn’t see that ending coming!

3, Khaled Hosseini: A Thousand Splendid Suns
A bitter sweet ending.

4, Xombies: Apocalypse Blues by Walter Greatshell
Another surprising ending.

5, I am Legend by Richard Matheson
Perhaps not surprising to experienced horror readers but it was to me.

6, Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock

7, Dawnbreaker by Jocelynn Drake
A surprising ending for a book in a continuing series.

8,, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
Another surprising ending.

9, Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik
Yup, a surprising ending but fully in character.

10, Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
A satisfying ending to the mammoth epic trilogy.

Greg Cox: Worst of Both Worlds

Glass Empires has three distinct stories and Worst of Both Worlds is the third one. With a name like that and the main character being the archeologist Jean-Luc Picard, I just had to read it as soon as I got it.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 458
Publisher: Pocket Books Books

The first story is by Mike Sussman, Dayton Ward, and Kevin Dilmore. “Age of Empress” tells about Empress Hoshi Sato’s reign in the Terran Empire.

The second story is by David Mack. “Sorrows of the Empire” focuses on Commander Spock.

I don’t know much about Enterprise or the original series so I haven’t read them yet. Maybe, at some point. I dived right into the third story.

Worst of Both Worlds is shortest with little over hundred pages and I loved it to bits.

Luc Picard is a Terran slave but he has a Cardarssian patron, Gul Madred, who considers himself a scholar in archeology. Luc thinks Madred is a rank amateur but he’s happy to indulge the Cardassian because his patronage allows Luc to travel around the Alliance solving ancient mysteries. He’s just found the second piece of the Stone of Gol. Luc’s former lover Vash breaks into Luc’s unarmed shuttle craft, the Stargazer, and wants Luc to meet someone from the Resistance. Reluctantly, Luc agrees and meets with an old Terran scientist Noonian Soong. Soong has been designing weapons for the Alliance but the work bores him, and so he has ran away. His real passion is artificial lifeforms and he’s heard about a cybernetic species, the Borg. Soong is convinced that the Borg would be willing to help the Resistance. Luc tries to disagree but is almost forced to join forces with Soong to find the Borg.

Well, the Borg aren’t nice in this universe, either.

This was a well done alternative universe. Picard is actually very different from his usual self: he’s grown up as a slave and has learned early to mind his own business and to keep himself safe. He and Vash are the opposite of what they are in the canon universe: the carefree thief Vash is here a woman who cares so much about the fate of humanity that she’s joined the Resistance and takes on dangerous missions, while Picard… doesn’t. Only when his current position as a favored slave is in jeopardy, he takes action against the Alliance.

We see other familiar faces as well: Wesley is a street urchin and Selar is part of the Resistance. Poor Jack Crusher is apparently dead in this universe, too. However, he was the famous space pirate Black Jack Crusher before his death.

There are several references to TNG episodes “Chain of Command I and II” and “Gambit I and II” and to one first season episode, too.

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