March 2016

The first book in the fantasy duology A Dirge for Prester John.

Publication year: 2010
Format: print
Page count: 270
Publisher: Night Shade Books

This book, too, has an unusual structure: it includes alternating chapters from three different books with occasional reflections from the transcriber. It has each book’s first chapters, then the second chapters etc.

Hiob von Luzern is a priest who together with other priests has searched for the legendary Prester John, a rich and pious Christian king who supposedly ruled a Nestorian Christian nation somewhere in the Orient. But when Hiob and his compatriots arrive to the Hindus River they find at first a small village. But it turns out to be far stranger place because it has a tree which instead of fruits grows books. Hiob is allowed to choose three of the books based on their covers alone and they happened to be the right ones for him. Or perhaps the wrong ones because the poor priest is plunged into heresy many times over. Unfortunately, the books also rot away quickly. As he transcribes them, parts of each book begin to molder and he’s unable to decipher them or their ends.

The first book tells of a naïve monk from Constantinople who arrives half-dead through a sea of sand to a land where he’s the only human and none have even heard of Christianity. He’s greeted by a talking lion, a woman with a snake’s body, a gryphon (talking one, of course), and a blemmyae: a woman who doesn’t have a head but instead her eyes are on her nipples and her mouth on her stomach. John is quite overwhelmed. He’s looking for the Tomb of St. Thomas the Doubter who is supposed to have come here. He tries to preach to these strange creatures but they aren’t receptive. Confused, he tries to fit this world into his own world view.

The second book tells the tale of the blemmyae woman, Hagia. She’s young by the standards of this country but this country has the Fountain of Youth and everyone is required to imbibe, so they’re all immortal. She was born to parents who plant and care for trees which grow books, that is covers and pages. The family writes down the books. She’ll have a complex relationship with John.

The third book has the stories which a nursemaid tells her three children in her care. The children’s mother rules this land of immortals.

Much like the “Orphan’s Tales” duology this is also a strange and wonderful book, inspired by ancient and medieval myths rather than Tolkien. It also looks at Christianity’s tales as just another collection of legends. It has various creatures which aren’t explained much. (That seems to frustrate some readers.) It’s wildly imaginative and wonderful.

First in a dystopian time travel series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: Audio
Running time: 15 hours and 37 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Kevin T. Collins

James Griffin-Mars comes from the far future where the Earth is a horrible place to live, suffering from a plague that affects not only humans but plants and animals, as well. Those who can afford it, have moved off-planet. But James is one of the elite who doesn’t have to worry about that. He’s a chronman who travels to the past in order to salvage technology, information, and other resources needed in the present to ChronoCom, the corporation which owns the time traveling technology. James is forbidden to bring anyone back from the past and so he’s used to thinking about the people he inevitably meets, and can’t help, as long dead. There are other rules, too, but that’s the most important one. The Chronmen suffer from lag-sickness if they jump too often but ChronoCom takes care of that by scheduling the jumps far enough apart. Also, jumping to the past can be directly dangerous, too.

James and his handler Smit have gotten a gig which should bring them enough riches that they can retire. But on James’ final mission he meets Elise Kim and is fatally smitten. Elise is going to die so James brings her back with him. After that, they’re fugitives. Both ChronoCom and Volta, the very powerful corporation behind it, are going to hunt them down.

There are several POV characters. In addition to James and Elise, there’s handler Smit and an antagonist Levin Javier Oberon who has a personal grudge against James and also works for the Evil corporation.

James isn’t a nice protagonist; he’s cynical and seen far too much death and destruction to be anything else. He’s had to bury any instinct of wanting to help other people deep. His past also troubles him; he had a mother and a younger sister who died when James was young. He’s forbidden to help them with time travel. Elise is pretty much his opposite. She’s a scientist who was working in the 21st century to fix the pollution in the seas. She was working for a non-profit organization so the world she’s yanked into is pretty horrible to her. Also, everyone she’s known are dead. She’s not sure if she can trust James.

Compared to “Just One Damned Thing After Another”, “Time Salvager” is much grimmer and less fun. But the world-building holds together better. Most of the cast are also… well, assholes. The book does have a lot of clichés: the most groan worthy might be the evil megacorporation whose employees are also evil… to everyone all the time or James’ decision to save Elise at the expense of his career and possibly life… after literally knowing her for just one day. After that scene I seriously considered just dropping it. I won’t regret finishing it but I won’t continue with the series.

I was also not a fan of the narrator. It’s hard to say what it was specifically. I just had hard time concentrating on the book.

Today the topic of Top 10 Tuesdays is Ten Books On My Spring TBR .

I’m concentrating on reading the books I already own and specifically completing the series I’ve started. So, the majority of the books I’ll be reading in spring and summer will be those.

1, Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer
The third book in the Southern Reach horror/SF trilogy.

2, The Merchant of Dreams by Anne Lyle

3, The Prince of Lies by Anne Lyle
The second and the third books in her Elizabethian alternate history/fantasy trilogy

4, Last Day in Limbo by Peter O’Donnell

5, Dead Man’s Handle by Peter O’Donnell
The last two Modesty Blaise mysteries I own and haven’t read yet. I’m highly tempted to get the rest from the library.

6, Harbinger of the Storm by Aliette de Bodard

7, Master of the House of Darts by Aliette de Bodard
Her Aztec fantasy series books 2 and 3.

8, Dawn’s Early Light by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
The next in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences steampunk series

9, The Drawing of the Dark by Timothy Powers
I’ve got one more Powers book in my shelves, still unread

10, The Folded World by Catherynne Valente
The second book in Dirge for Prester John series. I’m reading the first one right now. Valente is coming to Finncon, our only national large SF/F convention, in July so I’m reading some of her stuff before it. I’ve also really liked the books I’ve already read from her.

The second book in the Southern reach horror/SF trilogy.

Publication year: 2014
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2015
Translator: Einari Aaltonen
Format: print
Page count: 382
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Like

The first book centered on a small group of people inside the mysterious Area X which appeared inside the US overnight, years ago. This book focuses on the people right outside Area X, government’s secret facility called the Southern Reach. The place is very near to the border to Area X. The scientists investigating Area X live there, as well as their administrators. A small military base is also near. The first book ended without a conclusion but this book doesn’t start where the previous one ended. We get only tantalizing hints at what happened or might have happened. We also find out that some of the things previously accepted as facts are not true.

John “Control” Rodriquez is the new director of the facility. The current assistant director, Grace Stevenson, doesn’t care for him and makes it clear. Grace is convinced that the previous director will return. Control has heard somethings about the facility and Area X before going there. Now he has to delve deep into just what has been found out about Area X and the border. Quickly, he also finds out that the people who have been in the facility are… peculiar and they have their own small groups and ways of doing things. There might also be something wrong in the whole building. Control reports to the Voice, behind everyone else’s backs, and so he’s also spying on the staff. He doesn’t know who the Voice is.

In a previous assignment, Control made some disastrous decisions and this place is his last chance to prove his worth to the Central. His mother also works for Central.

The atmosphere in “Authority” is similar to the previous book, “Annihilation” but it’s more centered on people and the wrongness in their behavior than the environment. At first it’s filled with strange little moments which lead to full-on weirdness. But for me it was a bit too slow at times and I wanted to know more about Area X rather than the people around it. Still, this was a very good and an unexpected continuation to “Annihilation” and I’m looking forward to the last book.

First in a modern time-travel SF series, the Chronicles of St. Mary’s.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 hours and 48 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Nola Zandry

St. Mary’s isn’t like other universities: it’s dedicated to investigating “major historical events in contemporary time”, in other words going in back in time to research what really happened. That’s a premise which already grabbed me. I really enjoyed Connie Willis’ time-traveling historians and loved to get more. But the style is quite different.

Madeleine Maxwell, or Max, has a Ph.D. in history and is mostly interested in ancient history. She had a difficult childhood and she’s distrustful of people in general and authority in particular. She’s also a loner and not a team player at all.

Her former teacher, Mrs. Sybil DeWinter, sends her to St. Mary’s and to Max’s astonishment, she finds out that the institute has working time travel which is kept as a strict secret. Once Max realizes that it’s true, she wants nothing more than to work there. However, she’s just one of the students applying and the students are expected to help each other and work as a team, because nobody is sent alone into the past. Max starts the studies with gusto but the social side of things is a bit more difficult to her.

This book has both the Library of Alexandria and dinosaurs! It has fun characters and a fast moving plot. But it’s not perfect. The characters don’t spend much time in each time period so we don’t get to see much of them. The writing style is light and humorous and Max is good-natured first-person narrator. However, she and the rest of the students, who are all accomplished academics already, seem sometimes more than a bit immature for their ages. And if you’ve already gotten a PH.D. do you really want to return to being a student again for several years? Max doesn’t mind, in fact she loves it.

Time travel isn’t the easiest thing to write and that’s clear here, too. Perhaps because of that, History itself is presented as working against the historians. History wants to preserve itself and will even kill a historian who tries to change it too much. Yet, some changes are tolerated… or perhaps they’re paradoxes… always meant to have happened? Also, there are some points in time where you can’t travel to… because the co-ordinates of the time devices simply won’t lock there. Why? Nobody knows. Also, it seems that past is a very dangerous place even when History isn’t trying to specifically kill you. Historians are apparently lost routinely. Despite, you know, the whole time travel thing. I also felt that the romance came out of nowhere really fast.

Still, because of the light writing style this was a fun read and I liked the characters, although they would have worked better as actual students.

Collects: X-Men: Battle of the Atom 1-2, All-New X-Men 16-17, X-Men 5-6, Uncanny X-Men 12-13, & Wolverine & the X-Men 36-37

Writers: Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Wood, Jason Aaron
Artists: Frank Cho, Stuart Immonen, David López, Esad Ripid,Giuseppe Camuncoli, Andrew Currie, Tom Palmer, Chris Bachalo

Ah, crossovers! The bane of my superhero reading! Or they used to be before Marvel Unlimited. Now, they’re easier to read, as long as each comic is part of MU.

Battle of the Atom is a time travel mini-series featuring X-Men past, present, and future. In the end, there’s a lot of X-Men fighting other X-Men and that seem to be largely the point.

The original five X-Men have been brought to the present and they’re at the center of the conflict: if they should go back or stay. So far, the five have stayed and even split: Jean, Scott, Hank, and Bobby stay at the Jean Grey school under the tutelage of Kitty Pryde while Warren has joined Scott’s, er, the present Scott’s small band of rebels. Then, a group of X-Men from the future appear at the school and claim that the five have to return to the past or something terrible will happen.
The future group has some familiar and startling people: Xorn (who killed the original Jean Grey), Kate Pryde apparently from the Days of the Future Past future, Bobby as a huge ice monster, old Hank, and Xavier’s grandson.

Yes, we have no less than three Beasts and three Icemans at the same time in this story. If time travel and multiple same characters don’t make your head hurt, this can be fun. I loved the glimpses to the possible future and enjoyed the interaction between the various Hanks and Bobbys. Jubilee also had some very good moments. My problem was that it has far, far too many characters who don’t have much to do. Storm, Rogue, and Psylocke are some of my favorites and they mostly stand in the background but apparently have to be here for some reason. In fact, when I first read the few X-Men issues I didn’t have MU and no access to the rest of the story. In issue 8, after this cross-over, there was some mention that Rogue had left the team because of this event and I assumed she had a big role. Nope. She apparently died in Uncanny Avengers. And was resurrected. (Whew! Ever since Kurt died and was left dead, I sometimes worry about my other favorites.)

The second book in the Dreamblood duology.

Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Page count: 492+glossary+excerpt from another book
Publisher: Orbit

This book is set about 10 years after the previous book, The Killing Moon, and a few characters return but obviously older. The book has three major cultures: the desert tribes who fight amongst themselves, the Gujareen who value peace above all but are toiling under occupational force, and the Kisuati who have conquered Gujareen and are now occupying it. The Hetawa are the Gujareen’s religious sect whose religion in based on dream magic and peace. They are also unique in that they can heal people physically. They serve the Goddess Hanaja. The Hetawa have four different kinds of priests who are all male: the Gatherers, who bring the peace of death to people judged too corrupt to live, the Sharers who are the healers, the Sentinels, and the Teachers. Women serve the Goddess as Sisters in a separate branch.

The book has lots of POV characters but we spent most of the time with two people: the exiled Prince of the Gujareen, Wanahomeen, and the only female priest among the Hetawa, Hanani.

Wanahomen was a boy when his father, the previous ruler, was killed and the Kisuati conquered the Gujareen. Wana saw a Gatherer kill his father and has hated the priests ever since. He lives now among the desert tribes and is gathering a large enough force to take his city back. To do that, he has also made alliances among the Gujareen. He lives in two cultures but has always wanted to return to the Gujareen. He will do anything and use anyone to free the City of Dreams.

Hanani is the only female priest in Gujareeh and even most of her fellow priests eye her with suspicion and fear. Fear because she represents change to the traditional order of things. In order to fit in, she has become as meek and unthreatening as she can make herself. She’s a Sharer-Apprentice, learning to become a full healer. Like all Sharers, she uses dream magic to heal physical wounds and illnesses. But during her trial, something strange happens: a boy, who is a younger apprentice, dies while performing a routine duty. Hanani set the boy to that task and so she is blamed for his death. Hanani is deeply disturbed and investigates. However, this death was just the beginning of the nightmare plague which spreads quickly. But before she can find out much, the elders of the priesthood send her and her mentor to Wanahomen as hostages to ensure the bargain between the Hetawa and Wanahomen to jointly rise up against the conquerors. Hanani is terrified when she’s sent among the barbarian tribes but she knows that she must endure it in order to show that she’s not corrupt and can be trusted.

The other POV characters include Tiaanet a young noblewoman among the Gujareen. Her father is one of the schemers against the Kisuati but he also abuses his own family terribly. Another is Sunandi Jeh Kalawe who represents the Kisuati conquerors in Gujareeh. She’s married to the Kisuate general who commands the local troops. Also a couple of the Gatherers are POV characters.

This is a vivid fantasy with deep, rich world-building. Each culture has its own quirks and peculiarities which are natural to the people born into them. They all think the others are weird and barbarians. Among the desert tribes, men are hunters and warriors but they use face veils and the women are the traders who bring the tribes real wealth and are therefore valued by how much they own. Also, the tribes don’t have marriages but have the custom (much like some Native American tribes IIRC had) where the children belong to their mother’s tribe and the mother’s brothers and uncles help raise them. Yet they have slavery but a slave can work his or her way free. Among the Gujareen, there’s no slavery and they are horrified of the who idea but they have strict caste splits and no-one can work their way up from a cast he or she is born in. (The Kisuati also have slavery but we aren’t told much about it, just that it’s very profitable.)

The plot isn’t very fast-paced and doesn’t have many fight scenes but those few have far more weight than in fantasy with a fight scene every 10 pages or so. The focus is on scheming and character interaction. On the other hand, it does have so much implied sexual abuse that if I hadn’t loved the rest of the book, I wouldn’t have finished it.

I loved this book and I’m looking forward to reading Jemisin’s next series, once the final book is out.

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