2013 Mount TBR Reading Challenge


1. Tell us how many miles you made it up your mountain (# of books read). If you’ve planted your flag on the peak, then tell us and celebrate (and wave!).  Even if you were especially athletic and have been sitting atop your mountain for months, please check back in and remind us quickly you sprinted up that trail. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you’ve had along the way.

I signed up for 24 books (Mount Blanc) and managed to read my 24th book in August. Overall, I finished 31 books from my TBR. Waves!
List of books I finished for this challenge. Most exciting was to finish Kage Baker’s the Company series. I also really enjoyed the Buffy book (Spike & Dru: Pretty Maids All in a Row) and N. K. Jemisin’s Killing Moon.

2. My Life According to Mount TBR: Using the titles of the books you read this year, please associate each statement with a book read on your journey up the Mountain.

Are you male or female?: I’m one of the Five Female Sleuths
Describe yourself: Burn the Night
Describe where you currently live: The Machine’s Child
If you could go anywhere where would you go?: London Under
Your favorite form of transportation: Agatha H and the Airship City
What’s the weather like?: The Killing Moon
Favorite time of day?: The Dark Light of Day
Your relationships: Loyalties
You fear: All Spell Breaks Loose
What is the best advice you have to give?: The Shades of Gray
If you could change your name, you would change it to: The Lord of the Sands of Time
My soul’s present condition: Babylon Voices

The final book in the Company science fiction series.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 501
Publisher: TOR

This is the book where the series has been leading. I would recommend starting with the first book “In the Garden of Iden” rather than this one, if you haven’t read Baker before.

The book has multiple points-of-view. The main part is devoted to the Botanist Mendoza and her companions. These passages have a lot of wry humor and observations of domestic life. Unfortunately, I still find their situation more than a little creepy.

During the first half of the book we also follow a small girl who lives under a hill with Quean Barbie and her Uncles, and the stupids who live just to serve the others. The girl, who is initially called just Baby, finds a man who used to be a slave to the big people. But the man turns out to be alive, just hurt very badly. He’s Literature specialist Lewis who disappeared a long time ago.

We also follow Joseph who is busy freeing the old Enforcers and a couple of powerful Section heads, immortals who are poised to take over when the Silence starts. A couple of them want to destroy humans and one wants to protect humans. All of these powers have been building their powerbases and now, we finally see what will happen in 2355.

I felt the ending was somewhat too easy. Then again, we’ve been given so many hints and speculation about the Silence that I don’t know if anything would have been fully satisfying. It was certainly different from most SF (and fantasy) endings and Baker does weave all of the various plot threads together. Perhaps I was somewhat disappointed with just how cowering and ineffectual the human “master minds” are compared to the cyborgs they created. Of course, it was no surprise, because Baker has shown it plenty of times. Also, the more I see Alec, the less I like him and he has really taken over the series by now. But I thoroughly enjoyed the familiar immortals and their melodramatic ways, as usual.

The seventh book in the series.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 356
Publisher: TOR

“The Machine’s Child” continues from the cliffhanger at the end of the fifth book, “The Life of the World To Come”. At the end of that book something happened, which I didn’t know about and which I don’t want to spoil for any potential reader.

At the end of “The Life of the World To Come” Mendoza, the immortal cyborg botanist who was the main character in the first and the third book, was sent into a hellish place for rogue cyborgs where they are tortured forever. That place is situated in 300 000 BC. But Mendoza’s lover Alec and his companions have a time machine and they are tracking Mendoza to her jail. They manage to save her and the majority of the book is dedicated to Alec and Mendoza trying to heal each other and jaunting through time and Alec arguing with his companions. I really (mostly) liked the dynamic between Alec and his companions and the short vignettes of Alec and Mendoza in different times.

Unfortunately, the book also has a lot of things which I didn’t care for. Mendoza was hurt badly. In fact, so badly that Alec’s Artificial Intelligence (named Captain Morgan) has to rebuild her body. And he rebuild it as a fourteen year old girl. Mendoza has also lost her memory. Alec convinces himself (and his companions) that it’s best that Mendoza doesn’t remember her past. So he lies to her about her near past. But then he starts to lie more and more, about himself and about their shared past. I found this to be pretty icky. I started to hope that Mendoza would get her memory back and Alec would be held accountable for his lies. The longer this situation continued, the more uncomfortable I felt with it.

Also, I started the book liking Alec’s companions quite a lot (more than Alec) but then one of them makes a suggestion which was, well, beyond icky. And also I’m a bit puzzled as to why Alec is so enamored with Mendoza. One of his companions spent quite a lot of time with Mendoza so he could have fallen in love with her, but the other two have spent only a little time with her, so their almost instant adoration is a bit strange. Also, it was established in the fifth book that Alec (and his companions) have an almost magical ability to persuade others to do what he wants. So… is Mendoza’s love nothing more than reaction to that ability? Ick!

We also get to see some other immortals preparing for the year 2355 when the ominous Silence falls. Joseph is repairing his “father” and since he was the one who recruited Mendoza from the clutches of the Spanish inquisition, he thinks of himself as her father. So, Joseph is also trying to find Mendoza. Unfortunately, he blames Alec for ruining Mendoza’s life so he’s also trying to pay back to Alec. Both are trying to bring down the big bad, Dr. Zeus Incorporated.

Overall this felt like a yet another book whose main reason for existing is to prepare for the final conflict which should happen in the next book. And it ends with a cliffhanger!

The sixth book in the series.

Publication year: 2005
Format: print
Page count: 300
Publisher: TOR

The previous book, The Life of the World to come, furthered the series’s overall plot and the book ended in a cliffhanger. Sadly, this book doesn’t continue the story but instead explores a ruthless cyborg who is trying to build his own power base both in the human world and among his fellow immortal cyborgs. This book is a collection of short stories which have a framing story around them to knit them together. This framing story is about cyborg named Labienus who contemplates his works through the times. When I got over my disappointment that the story didn’t continue, I was able to just sit back and enjoy various cyborgs’ adventures through time. It is, after all, what attracted me to the series in the first place.

Executive Facilitator General Labienus is a very old cyborg. Before recorded history began, he set himself up as a god-king of Sumeria. He was called Enna-aru and he treated mortals cruelly. Still, they revered him and allowed him to enjoy a most luxurious life. In fact, Labienus longs to return to such times and resents the fact that after recorded history started, he has had to work from the shadows and among the stinking mortals. He would like nothing more than get back what he thinks is rightfully his. Like all cyborgs, he knows that something monumental will happen in the year 2355, when the Silence begins. The time traveling Dr. Zeus Incorporated doesn’t have any information about anything beyond this date. So, Labienus is planning his own coup to start in 2355 and needs to have everything in place by then.

The book is split between four different time periods by the framing story. In the first two parts, the short stories are actually of different time periods than the framing story. I greatly enjoyed most of the short stories but found the framing story to be a bit clumsy. In the short stories we follow the cyborgs Lewis, Latif, Van Drouten, Victor, and Kalugin when they are caught in Labienus’ web of lies. We also get to see a couple of unfortunate mortals struggling to understand the wider world than just their little monastery or garden.

The framing story is written in present tense while the short stories are written in the past tense and some of them use third person POV and a couple use the first person POV.

The fifth book in the series.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 392 + an excerpt of the Garden of Iden
Publisher: TOR

The book starts with an extract from Mendoza’s journal. She’s an immortal cyborg and the main character of the series. Because of what she did in a previous book, Mendoza in Hollywood, she was sent to Way Back When, also known as 150 000 BC, to grow vegetables to the wealthy tourists from the future. But Dr. Zeus Inc.’s efforts to confine Mendoza doesn’t work. A man in a time shuttle appears. He’s from the future but looks exactly like Mendoza’s lost lover Nicholas, from the year 1555, and like her other lost lover Edward, from the year 1862. Mendoza is now convinced that the three men are actually the same man and that he can’t be human. When the man, Alec Chekersfield , tells her that he’s on a quest to destroy Dr Zeus and he comes from the year 2351, Mendoza realizes that he will succeed. Dr. Zeus Inc is almost omniscient company which owns the secrets of time travel and yet, in 2355 the Company will become silent. Nobody knows what will happen after that year. Mendoza will do everything she can to help Alec. He has stolen the time shuttle and so Mendoza disables the shuttle’s self-destruct device and teaches Alec how to control the shuttle. Alec promises to return and vanishes back into the future.

That’s almost the last we’ll see of Mendoza in this book which focuses on the life and times of Alec Chekersfield, and the three men who created him.

Three idle rich men call themselves the Inklings Nouveau. They all adore history and re-enact it to the extent that they can, considering that most things are banned in the future (such as coffee, cheese, chocolate, alcohol…). They work for Dr. Zeus designing the cyborgs which the company uses. One of their previous designs have become obsolete and they are asked to design a new breed of Enforces. They start to design a new man which they call Adonai, a template, or an image of, King Arthur. They will try out this new man in various times to see how he will act. At the same time, we see quite a bit of this future.

Alec lives with his parents and their servants in a boat and even though his mother is cold towards him and his father is a drunkard, he’s early life is relatively happy. But then he has to move to London and everything changes. His mother gets a divorce and he doesn’t seen again. His father stays for a short while and then leaves. Alec is raised by the servants and his Pembroke Playfriend which is an AI. The AI is supposed to have strong moral rules and teach them to the child, too. However, Alec is able to get into the AI’s systems and turns off the AI’s moral code. Now, the AI’s primary goal is to keep Alec safe and happy.

Alec is a genius but the AI, named Captain, advises him to keep that a secret. With the AI’s help, Alec nurtures his instinctive grasp of computers and becomes a smuggler.

The future in this series is pretty bland, just like in the previous books. Almost everything is banned from touching children to walking barefoot on grass. Public health monitors are watching all the time and if anyone behaves illegally, he or she is sent to a hospital. Yet, when Alec and Mr. Lewin go to a museum, it has a statue of Nelson because he kept England free from Napoleon who wanted everyone to behave the same. Meanwhile England and US are trying to get all other countries to ban cheese and meat as well. There are two Mars colonies but nothing is said if they’re more free or not.

Alec tasted real freedom on the boat where he spend his early years and he has no problem later becoming a rebel and breaking all sorts of laws. By contrast, the Inklings Nouveau are far more timid lot, only hesitantly breaking minor laws, such as set a fire in a fire place or walking barefoot in grass.

I really enjoyed this one. It revealed the secrets around Mendoza’s lovers and continued the major plot.

It’s time for the October checkpoint for the 2013 Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader’s block.

I signed up for Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s
Read:
1, Yvonne Navarro: Wicked Willow I – the Darkening
2, Yvonne Navarro: Wicked Willow II – Shattered Twilight
3, Yvonne Navarro: Wicked Willow III – Broken Sunrise
4, John Vornholt: Babylon Voices
5, Jill Archer: Dark Light of Day
6, Elizabeth Bear: Hammered
7, Kage Baker: The Graveyard Game
8. Phil Foglio and Kaja Foglio: Agatha H. and the Airship City
9, Steven Harper: The Doomsday Vault
10, K.A. Stewart: A Shot in the Dark
11, Yvonne Carroll: Leprechaun Tales
12, Patrick Weeks: The Palace Job
13, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Five Female Sleuths: a collection
14, Lisa Shearin: Con & Conjure
15, Lisa Shearin: All Spell Breaks Loose
16, Issui Ogawa: The Lord of the Sands of Time
17, Peter Ackroyd: London Under
18, Jocelynn Drake: Burn the Night
19, Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge: Shades of Gray
20, Aliette de Bodard: Servant of the Underworld
21, N. K. Jemisin: The Killing Moon
22, J. Gregory Keyes: Dark Genesis: The Birth of the Psi Corps
23, Terry Pratchett: Jingo
24, J. Gregory Keyes: Final Reckoning: The Fate of Bester
25, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Alien Influences
26, Christopher Golden: Spike & Dru: Pretty Maids all in a row
27, Patricia Barnes-Svarney: Loyalties

1. Tell us how many miles you’ve made it up your mountain (# of books read). If you’re really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you’ve read correlates to actual miles up Pike’s Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc.

I’ve read 27 books from 24 so I’m already at the top! Yes!

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
A. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.

Well… I’m a huge fan of Spike, from Buffy the vampire slayer, so inevitably, I’ll have to choose him. Also, I think that Golden did a terrific job with both Spike and Drusilla in the book, they were very much in character.

The tenth book in the Star Trek: TNG: Starfleet Academy series.

Publication year: 1996
Format: print
Page count: 120
Publisher: Pocket Books

Beverly Howard (later Crusher) is a first-year medical student. She’s very diligent, just like her room mate Claire Voy. But this morning Claire suggest that they should skip class, because they already know all about Terran Anatomy, and go instead to a nearby archeological site where the archeologists are digging up an old hospital. Beverly agrees, a bit reluctantly, and they head out to the site. Unfortunately, they are caught. Beverly expects for the admiral in charge to put them on probation or perhaps even expel them, but the admiral lets them off with just a warning.

The next day Beverly and Claire take part in a holographic simulation in Medical Emergencies class but something goes wrong. During the simulation Beverly takes part, she feels that the holographic tricorder gives her a shock. Unfortunately, the teacher doesn’t believer her. When Claire takes part in the next simulation, a student is hurt badly. Unfortunately, the teacher blames Claire! Beverly and Claire have to find out what happened.

This is a short book for younger readers. I rather enjoyed the Star Trek atmosphere of hard-working young students. However, the plot has a feel that many YA books do. Namely, that the young protagonists have to do everything themselves because the adults don’t believe or trust them or are just acting stupidly.

A Buffy the vampire slayer novel, although set in 1940, before the show started.

Publication year: 2001
Format: print
Page count: 353
Publisher: Pocket Books

Spike and Dru are vampires and lovers, and apparently quite popular characters. Spike is one of my favorite characters, ever, so I was quite exited to read this book.

In March 1940 Spike and Drusilla are in New York and Dru is bored. So, she wants a very special birthday present: the mythical Freya’s Strand, the necklace of the Brisings. Her birthday is, of course, the anniversary of the day when she was made a vampire. Spike, of course, will do anything for his lady love and they are looking for someone who knows where the demon Skrymir, the Strand’s owner, is. Spike gets the information and soon the duo is sailing to Norway. However, because the war has started, their journey is a bit rough; the Germans sink their ship and the vampires have to invade the German submarine to get to their destination. But the demon is quite powerful and he doesn’t want to just give the magical item away. Instead he proposes a bargain: if Spike and Dru kill off the prospective Slayers under the Watchers’ Council’s protection, he will give the necklace to them. Spike and Dru are just too happy to agree.

The current Slayer is Sophie Carstensen, a Danish girl, and her Watcher is Yanna who is a seer. Sophie is willful but very determined and capable. She also loves Yanna dearly and is worried that Yanna’s gift of sight will drive her insane at some point. When the book starts, they are on the trail of Gorm who used to be Denmark’s king a thousand years ago. Yanna’s visions warn her of the coming war but Sophie doesn’t want to leave her country before killing Gorm.

Sophie is very similar to Buffy, except that she doesn’t have a circle of friends and she’s an orphan, so the only person she worries about is Yanna. She’s even blond and beautiful. We’re introduced to several Slayers in waiting, as they are called, and they are somewhat different. All of them have been identified as potential Slayers and the Watchers are training them, as Kendra and Faith were trained in the series. I quite enjoyed the potentials but there wasn’t much time to get to know them.

The plot is quite fast-paced but has some repetitive elements: Spike and Dru go after a potential and kills her. For a Buffy book, this book has a lot of pretty gruesome violence and death. Of course, the main characters are Spike and Dru who were quite known for their evil and violent ways in the series. And the setting is during a war. Unfortunately, that also means that characters introduced in this book are killed of pretty quickly and there’s not much room for character development. Also, the book deviates from canon.

The books starts off focusing on Spike and Dru, with Spike as the POV character. However, fairly soon, Sophie becomes also a POV character and then Yanna and even Skrymir steal the spotlight from the vampires. Like I said, I’m a fan of Spike and so I rather enjoyed the book.

A stand-alone science fiction book.

Publication year: 1997
Format: ebook, Kindle
Publisher: WMG Publishing

The story starts with Justin Schafer. He’s a xenopsychiatrist sent to Bountiful which is a human colony on very hot planet. The planet has also aliens who are called the Dancers. Now it seems that the Dancers are killing human children. The maturation cycle is quite different for the Dancers; in order for their children to become adults, the child’s heart, hands, and lungs have to be removed. New ones grow back and the child becomes an adult. Six human children had been found mutilated in just such a fashion. Justin had made a grievous error in his previous case and an alien race was exterminated because of him. Now, he’s afraid of making more mistakes but determined to do better.

Bountiful’s authorities want Justin to quickly rubber stamp their decision that the aliens are the killers. Then the Dancers would most likely be exterminated. However, Justin investigates things more thoroughly and finds the disturbing truth: the children were killed by other human children. He has no choice but to inform off-planet authorities who quickly take the kids away. The authorities on the nearby Lina Base are curiously hostile towards the kids and want to sentence them quickly. Justin thinks that the Dancers have influenced the kids and so they should be investigated more thoroughly and possibly the new Alien Influences Act could be invoked. But the authorities want the kids quickly out of sight.

I guess I should admit upfront that the subject matter made me uncomfortable: child abuse. The kids on Bountiful had so difficult lives that they turned to aliens in order to escape it. Most of the abuse seems to be neglect, to the point that the kids didn’t even know basic human biology, but there were indications of physical and mental abuse, as well. It seemed that at least some of the adults on Bountiful knew about it and covered it up. And the way the children were treated before the trial seems abusive to me, also. The story also deals with how kids deal with abuse and how they try to survive it.

The second half of the book focuses on one of the kids when he’s grown up and has to face Bountiful once again. We also get additional POV characters.

The book has lots of point-of-view characters, both adults and children. None of them are good or bad, but humans with different goals and interests. I think this is always Rusch’s strong point: very human characters. However, some of them are seen only briefly, just long enough to see their part of the plot but not long enough to develop a connection with them. The exceptions are Justin and one of the kids.

The story is very focused. We don’t see much about the world outside the characters. The Dancers aren’t the only aliens humans have met and we meet one other alien in the story. Otherwise, we don’t know much about the planets and the organizations on them. I was fascinated with the concept of the Alien Influences Act but we don’t know much about that, either.

The Dancers were also interesting. In addition to having a completely different maturation cycle from humans, they apparently had no concept of past. They simply didn’t remember. This, of course, made them very different from humans and makes it quite difficult to even have a culture. Sadly, they also called their children the Useless ones and they were kept in pens to wait for the time when they could be matured to adults through the cutting ceremony. They also seem to be telepathic and the human children managed to develop their own telepathy, but only between themselves.

Overall, this was an interesting read. At times it felt a little disjointed, like two novellas brought together because a lot of time goes by about halfway through the book and the characters change.

The third book in the Psi Corps series.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 257
Publisher: Boxtree

The book starts several years after the end of the B5 series. Bester is now a hunted criminal and the Psi Corps has been terminated but is has been replaced by somewhat similar organizations, one for hunting down the telepathic war criminals and one which seems to work with Earth police organizations. Bester has nothing but contempt for them.

The Psionic Monitoring Commission has sent several people after Bester, but Bester has trained most of them and is able to evade them. However, Bestar has been running for years around the galaxy and comes to the conclusion that it would be easier to hide on Earth, among billions of humans. So, he returns to Paris and promptly finds a small hotel owner who is in trouble with a local gang. At first Bester doesn’t care one whit about the hotel owner, Louise, and just wants to mess with the gang members and ends up helping Louise. However, he accepts Louise’s invitation to stay at the hotel and finds himself falling in love… with a mundane woman. Bester hides in the hotel using a false identity and ends up writing scathing book reviews for a local paper.

Meanwhile, Garibaldi is using his (or rather his wife’s) company’s great wealth trying to track down Bester. At first it looks like he isn’t going to succeed but then he gets information that Bester has a rare disease which only affects telepaths.

Frankly, I found this to be a disappointing ending to the series and to Bester. He has loathed and killed mundanes all of his life so I found it very hard to believe that he would fall in love with a mundane woman, no matter how saintly she might be. And most of the book is about their life together which, unfortunately, wasn’t exciting. Also, we’re only give a few small hints about the Telepath war which is very frustrating. On the other hand, I think Garibaldi and his obsession with Bester was handled very well.

Police detective Girard is a major character in the book and I think he was well portrayed considering the small page count. However, he’s not a B5 character and so I wasn’t interested in him. I think this was my major problem with the book: not enough B5.

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