January 2014

Publication year: 2006
Format: Audio
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Running Time: 10 hr, 34 m

A light and fun read. In fact, I loved the first half of the book, especially the start which was almost hysterically funny.

Farting starts an interstellar incident between humans and the Nidu, who are aliens with an incredibly sensitive noses. Their elite people have even developed a language based on smells. And so during a conference the Earth trade representative farts deadly insults to the Nidu trade representative. Both keel over dead and Earth is in deadly danger from the Nidu. You see, Earth is powerless against pretty much all of the alien governments who are part of the Common Confederation. However, the Nidu give Earth one last chance: they have to produce in one week a sheep from a rare, genetically engineered breed called the Android’s Dream.

The job of finding even one sheep is given to Harry Creek, a former solder and current problem solver who has some pretty intense personal history with the Nidu. Unfortunately, a group of anti-Nidu people is trying their best to wipe out all of the sheep first. It turns out that there’s only one Android’s Dream sheep around and she’s Robin Baker, a human/sheep hybrid.

In addition to humor, Scalzi also offers up ironic potshots on religion, middle-management, incompetence, and other subjects. And there’s also an AI or two. I really enjoyed the Church of the Evolved Lamb. All of its adherents know that it’s based on made-up prophecies but they still try to make them come true.

I really enjoyed the book and Wheaton’s performance is spot-on.

Booking Through Thursday

Do you do other things while you read? Watch TV? Cook? Brush your teeth? Knit?

(For the record, I’m guilty of all of the above.)

Or is it a quicker question to ask when you DON’T read? (Please tell me you don’t read while you’re driving.)

When I’m traveling in a bus or train, I tend to read a print book. But otherwise I don’t usually multi-task when I read a print books. Often I don’t even listen to music.

However, when I listen audiobooks I tend to do other stuff almost all the time. Usually I play simple computer games when don’t require much concentration. But some times I clean closets or cook. When I’m reading an ebook I also play simple computer games (I guess you can say that I’m addicted to certain games…).

When I was younger I even walked around reading but that can be dangerous in a city. I also don’t listen audiobooks anymore when walking because of the noise which drowns out the book.

The first book in the Coldfire trilogy.

Publication year: 1991
Format: Audio
Narrator: R. C. Bray
Running Time: 23 hrs, 51 m

The book is set on Erna, a world which humans colonized over a thousand years ago. The planet has an energy field which reacts to people’s feeling; apparently mostly to their fears. I guess fear is such a strong feeling that it’s easy for the energy to pick up. The energy is called Fae. Over the centuries, some humans have learned to use the Fae to their advantage (they’re called Adepts or sorcerers) but most people still fear it. There are at least three different kinds of Fae: Earth, Solar, and Dark. Most humans sorcerers use Earth Fae to do magic.

The Church of Human Unification wants to stop people from using the Fae ever again because in their view the Fae are evil and can only bring destruction to humans. The Church seems to be a descendant of some Christian church.

The main character of the book is Reverend Father Damien Vryce, a priest of the Church. He is one of the very few priests who can also work the Fae and he has come to the city of Jaggonath to teach his skills to others. There he meets the beautiful Adept Ciani and is attracted to her. However, Ciani is attacked by mysterious creatures. She’s alive but wounded spiritually; her magical abilities have been robbed. Damien decides to help her. Against his Church’s orders he, Ciani, and Ciani’s friend and assistant Senzei “Zen” Reese hurry after the creatures.

Damien is essentially a paladin, a character type which I tend to like more than the “bad boys”. He’s a great fighter and devoted to his faith. He’s battled the forces of evil all over Erna. He’s against the Fae but at the same time, he can work them. He seems to use them mostly for healing. At the start of the book he’s rigid in his beliefs but during the story his faith and questioned and he has to make difficult decision, especially concerning one of his traveling companions.

For much of the book Ciani has been robbed of her powers and even her memories, and she has to rely on her companions. However, I was delighted when she turned out not to be wholly good person; she would do pretty much anything to get her powers back.

The trio is soon joined by a mysterious man called Gerald Tarrant. Damien dislikes him instantly. It turns out that his dislike is more than warranted. Tarrant is a fascinating character and I think he’s very complex one, too.

I guess my main problem with the characters was their lack of motivation. Ciani has, of course, a clear motivation in wanting her powers and memories back. But I couldn’t understand why Damien would defy his Church to help her and possibly even lose his life. At one point, he thinks that he could have loved her, given enough time (but I doubt that; he didn’t really know her at all) but I think a much better motivation would have been the simple need to find out what the creatures were and to kill them. Similarly, Tarrant’s motivations are very unclear.

The book is very dark in tone. There isn’t much humor and everything is desperate and depressing. I don’t think I’ll continue with the series.

This is a new science fiction thriller show from Canada. It’s available to Finns through the Finnish Broadcast company’s net pages (Yle Areena) until the end of January, so for a couple of more days. The first season has 10 episodes.

The main character is Sarah Manning who is an absent mother and involved with a drug-dealer. She’s used to running cons and has left her daughter Kira to her own foster mother. The show starts when Sarah sees a woman who looks exactly like her. Moments later, the double throws herself under a train and is killed. Sarah grabs her bag and looks through it. She notices that the double has a lot of money in the bank and so she decides to impersonate the woman until she can steal that money. Quickly, Sarah realizes that she has taken on more than she can chew: in turns out that the double, Elizabeth Child, is a cop and that both Sarah and Elizabeth are clones. And someone is hunting them.

I really enjoyed this show. It has action, plot twists, and humor. Often the humor is quite black and Sarah’s former boyfriend grew (to me at least) from a quite a frightening character to a tragi-comical one. However, the strongest draw to me are, again, the characters. Sarah’s actress does also all of the other clones and she’s (and the writers) are excellent at keeping them apart from each other. One clone is a cop, one a con-woman, one is a scientist, one a homicidal killer…

I also really liked the cast of characters. Sarah has a foster brother, Felix, who brings some comedic elements: he’s a struggling artist but apparently also works as a prostitute. He’s gay and not shy about it. He’s also very loyal to his family and protective of Sarah.

Mrs. S is Felix and Sarah’s foster mother who is now raising little Kira because Sarah hasn’t been able to. Mrs. S loves Sarah but she also loves Kira and is trying to protect Kira from the worst parts of Sarah’s life.

The various clones have also different personalities and they quite different from each other so it seems to me that the show suggest that nurture is more important than nature (identical genes in this case). Sarah also becomes very competent very quickly. Of course, otherwise she would be dead.

The show raises questions about identity and what makes a human.

I got this from the local library, much to my surprise, and was hooked. SGU has lots of elements in common with Galactica (the new one) so in retrospect it wasn’t strange that I really liked it.

SGU has lots of elements which I like and some which I don’t care for but the good outweighs the bad. I’m anxious to see the second season but it’s not in the library system and currently I don’t have extra 50 euros to spend on it.

Good things:
The premise: this is a lot like Galactica: a random group of people are flung together and sent to an Ancient spaceship billions of light years away. They have to survive together. Whee!
In the recent years, I’ve started to really like groups of disparate people flung together in order to survive (like Walking Dead). It’s rife for all sort of conflict and tension, and here it’s done right.

The conflicts between the main characters: the main conflict is of course between the Dr House (or Holmes) like abrasive Rusch and the military leader Colonel Young. There’s also conflict between Young and the civilian leader Camile Wray, although this isn’t seen as often. Also, the rest of the cast aren’t each others’ best friends.

Exploration: of the ship, the universe, and various planets. In fact, I’d like them to explore the ship quite a bit more. They did explain that it was damaged and so inaccessible but still.

The communication stones: I loved this concept that they have a way to “visit” Earth but in other people’s bodies. I was expecting that they would do some drama with that and so they did. (Even when your billions of light years away, you can apparently still screw up your marriage…) Yet, I’ve like most of the stuff, like Eli visiting his mother or the episode with a disabled scientist. And also they can send experts into the ship but not stuff.

Camila Wray: She’s tough and capable but she’s not military; her expertize is in other matters. I also really like her back story; she’s in a stable same-sex relationship.

Continuous story lines.

And truthfully, I was a kind of relieved that they didn’t make a big deal about the fact that the characters don’t have any change of clothing available. 🙂 Same with the caffeine and tobacco addictions.

Stuff I wasn’t so wild about
Eli: he seems like a personification of the preferred viewership. I get that we need a new person in the show who is asking about stuff which new viewers don’t know. Still, do we really need yet another white, straight man for this? Someone who is apparently more intelligent than the resident genius? Bah.

Focus on the military: except for Eli and Rusch, all the main characters are military. Sigh. In fact…

Most of the crew are apparently just waiting to be rescued: Really? Isn’t there anything useful they could be doing? T.J. could be training a couple of civilians to help her out, at least.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this show and it’s a shame it got canceled.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Page count: 155

Snow White and Charming have been married for thirty years but then Charming dies. Snow White’s heart breakes and she can’t even look at her only child because she resembles Charming too much. A year later her daughter Raven is getting married but Snow refuses to even talk with her. Then one day, Snow searches for solitude and climbs into the tower where her stepmother used to live. Snow sees the magic mirror and has to confront her whole life because the mirror shows only what is already inside the person looking into it. Snow thinks of herself as weak, always needing Charming to defend her or to make things right. But is that true?

This is a short novel and explores grief, losing a romantic partner. But it also follows Snow’ life, from the early happy years to abuse at the hands of her stepmother, and beyond. In fact, the start of the story is pretty grim.

Snow is a well-rounded character but all of the others remain more one-dimensional. Even Charming is less well defined. In fact, he is sometimes seen in less than flattering light even though Snow doesn’t think so. He’s also quite a bit older than she; when they meet she’s 16 and he’s 30. We get to see something of the world around her, too, but that’s, of course, limited to her point-of-view.

Even though this is a fairy tale retelling, it’s not suitable for children because it has violence and one explicit sex scene.

The author gave me a ecopy in exchange of an honest review.

Booking Through Thursday

All other things (writing quality, story, etc), which would you rather read?
1. Something written by a man or a woman?
2. Something with a male or female protagonist?
3. Something funny or something tragic?
4. Something short or something long with many parts?
5. Something simple or something layered?

What hard questions! It’s also my experience that things aren’t usually “equal”. 🙂
1, You’re making me choose between Lois McMaster Bujold and Steven Brust?? Or Neil Gaiman and Kerry Greenwood?? Well, I do tend to read more female authors these days than males.
2, Hmmm… Amelia Peabody or Commander Samuel Vimes?? I tend to read more books with female protagonists.
3, Reading something really heart-breaking is always hard but of course all interesting characters go through hard time. But I’ll choose funny.
4, I love series!
5, I’m sure some people “know” that I haven’t read a layered book in my life. 😉 But I’ll choose layered.

A stand-alone science fiction book.

Publication year: 1966
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2011
Format: print
Finnish translator: Jyrki Iivonen
Page count: 166
Finnish Publisher: Avain

This short book has more going on than most 600-page modern fantasy books. 🙂

Rolery lives in a planet which has very long solar cycle, about 60 Earth years. Her people are nomads who live in tents and travel with the seasonal changes which, of course, don’t happen as often as in Earth. Her people also have children based on the seasonal change. Rolery was born during the long summer and so was born out of season. She doesn’t have any age mates. Even though she’s outspoken and independent, she also worries that she will die single and childless, which according to her culture is worse than death, for a woman. At the start of the book she goes to Landin where the farborn people live. Rolery’s people, the hilfs, fear them and think that they are witches. However, Rolery wants to see the sea. There she meets Jakob Agat and is afraid of him and fascinated by him.

Agat has found out that Rolery’s town is in danger because of the gaals. The gaals are another (humanoid) tribe which live in the mountains and when the year turns towards winter, they walk in small groups near the town towards South. However, this year they would not be walking by. Instead, they are coming in great numbers and destroying everything and everyone in their path. Agat thinks that the only way that both the hilfs and the farborn can survive is by banding together. But to do that, they have to get over generations of distrust and fear.

The third point-of-view character is Roleyr’s old father who is pretty set in his ways. He’s still the chief of the village but younger and stronger men are challenging him.

Another reviewer mentioned that the Prime Directive should actually work this way. The farborn are in fact humans who have, for some reason which is never told, settled on the planet but only after they agreed to not use any advanced technology. The locals are of Stone Age level technology so the humans can’t use any of theirs and have in fact started to forget it.

The humans have other problem’s, too. They have difficulty having live children. Those that live in Landin all know each other, perhaps a bit too well.

The culture clash is pretty obvious here. However, LeGuin managed to surprise me quite a bit. As soon as the main conflict was introduced, it was sure I knew how it would end, but the plot went in quite a different direction. This was a very nice surprise. On the other hand, the book is so short it wasn’t possible, for me at least, to really get attached to the characters.

Collects the Battlestar Galactica issues 0-12 and the Battlestar Galactica: Pegasus one-shot.

Writer: Greg Pack (the Returners) and Brandon Jerwa (the Pegasus)
Artists: Nigel Raynor, Jonathan Lau
Publisher: Dynamite

The collection has two different stories which are sent at different points in the time line. The Returners is set during season two but before Pegasus shows up. The Pegasus one-shot is set before the TV-show starts and it’s also wildly inconsistent with canon. In it Admiral Caine and her crew meet and fight the cylons before the show.

I think the Returners is my favorite storyline from all of the Galactica comics I’ve read. It has a lot of the same elements as the TV-show itself: human drama between the characters and between the cylons, and action.

Galactica and the civilian fleet come to ship graveyard full of earlier spaceships which destroyed each other in a war between the humans. They find a old medship which is on fire but full of people, people who have died years ago. One of them is Adama’s younger son Zak and another is Dualla’s brother. Galactica sends a team to investigate. Adama is convinced that this just a cylon trick but many of the humans think that it’s a sign from the gods. Apparently, there’s a prophecy that dead people will return. So, some of the Returners manage to get to the civilian fleet and disappear there. Then a strange illness strikes down most to the people, including almost all of the Viper pilots and other soldiers. Of course, the cylons attack. At the same time Adama and Roslin are trying to deal with a group of human terrorists who think that they’re protecting Earth from the cylons by preventing the fleet from finding Earth.

This story has pretty intense scenes between the three Adamas. Also, one of the Returners has a young kid who is convinced that the Returner is her dad and not a cylon. Once again, Adama has to make difficult decisions.

The Pegasus follows Admiral Caine. The battlestar has just returned from a months long mission but the admiralty sends it immediately to another mission. Unfortunately for Caine, that means that 90% of the Vipers are offloaded before she’s sent into a potentially volatile situation. I liked this as a character piece for Caine but otherwise it was remarkably stupid.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really care for the art this time either. Sharon and the older Adama are about the only ones who looks like themselves. Still, I think this is the best one for any Galactica fan to pick up.

I saw 23 movies in the theater last year, some of them more than once. Overall, most of them were in the ”ok but nothing special” category. But the best were:

1, Gravity
I saw this in gorgeous 3D and I’m seriously considering seeing it again. Now this is the kind of space movie I’d love to see more of. There’s really no need to have enemies or shoot out battles in space. Space itself is already a pretty darn hard “adversary”.

2, Despicable me 2
The best animation (for me) this year. I’m notoriously adverse to the (meeting and courtship) romance storyline but I really loved the movie.

3, Thor 2
So I like comics. And I like action movies with four (count them: Sif, Frigga, Jane, Darcy) women with names and speaking parts. And the heroine coming to the final confrontation in rubber boots!

4, Iron Man 3
This turned out to be quite different than what I had expected. But definitely in a good way.

5, Hunger Games 2
I’ve only read the first book in the series and have no plans to read the rest. So, it was quite surprising that I liked the movie a lot.

6, Hobbit 2
Smaug! (and Legolas…I’m a hetero woman, what do you expect :))

7, Cloud Atlas
Another surprise. It has lots of intertwining storylines and I enjoyed all of them. I also really, really liked that the same actors were used in different roles and different make-up/cloths. I intend to read the book this year.

A bit surprisingly, there were more than a few movies which sounded great at first but which I didn’t see after reading some reviews, such as Jack the Giant Killer and After Earth. I also didn’t see G. I. Joe 2 and based on the reviews, I made the right call there.

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