2014 Women Reading Challenge


The second book in the Jenny Casey SF trilogy.

Publication year: 2005
Format: print
Page count: 368 + an excerpt of Worldwired
Publisher: Bantam Spectra

Scardown continues right after Hammered and most of the familiar characters return. Jenny Casey has been partially reconstructed; she’s a cyborg with metal parts, enhanced reflexes and strength, and an artificial intelligence in her head. She’s also now a pilot to a spaceship. The technology comes from an alien ship found on Mars and the humans don’t really know how the faster than light drive works. However, thanks to humanity, Earth is on the brink of destruction and space seems to be our only hope. Unfortunately, Canada isn’t the only country with a spaceship – China has one as well, and both countries are determined to be the only ones who get to leave Earth.

Jenny, her lover Gabriel Castaign, and Gabriel’s children are in the middle of the space race in a very intimate manner. Gabriel’s older daughter Leah has been accepted into the pilot program along with a dozen other teenagers. Jenny is both proud of her and angry at her government for involving children. She also has to deal with the Unitek, the corporation which is sponsoring the Canadian space race but in a ruthless way. Oh, and Jenny is in around 50 years old and a Native Canadian.

We also follow one of the Chinese pilots, a former gang leader Razorface from the previous book, Elspeth Dunsay who is Gabriel’s other lover and the maker of the AI program, and various other characters. The variety of characters makes the plot quite complex and I recommend reading the books close together. I didn’t do so it was sometimes hard to remember what was in “Hammered.” But I’ve learned my lesson now and will continue with “Worldwired” very soon. This isn’t an easy comfort read, but the reader needs to pay attention and connect the dots herself. Also, the setting is quite complex and the history isn’t spelled out for the reader. I really enjoyed connecting the dots, though.

Personally, I didn’t care for the Razorface storyline which felt tacked on but otherwise I liked this book more than the first one, although it’s a bit too grim and dark for me still. Jenny’s part is written in first person present tense while all the others are in third person and past tense. It can be a bit jarring at first but it didn’t bother me.

A stand-alone SF book.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 392 plus an excerpt of Undertow
Publisher: Bantam

Michelangelo Osiris Leary Kusagi-Jones is spy, a bodyguard, and an assassin. He’s also something which his people call a Liar; extremely good at lying to everyone, especially to people close to him. About forty years ago, he met the love of his life and they were spies together on missions. Unfortunately, part of one of Michelangelo’s mission, 17 years ago, was to undermine his love’s mission and that’s exactly what he did. In the end, they were parted and sent to different worlds. But now, he has just been reunited with his love for one more mission. Once again, Michelangelo is a double agent with orders to betray his love. He isn’t happy.

Vincent Katherinessen is a diplomat and a spy. He’s also a double agent to his mother. He’s very good at his job and dedicated to it. He also loves Michelangelo still after 17 years spent apart.

Both have grown up in Coalition, a governing body which rose when the Old Earth’s natural resouces had been almost depleted and in order for humanity and the planet to survive, ruthless measures were taken. And they are still in effect. The ruling body of the Coalition seems to be a group of AIs called the Governors which were programmed by extreme environmentalists. The AIs literally decide who lives and who dies when human population grows too large. In the past, they killed off most of the human population in order to save the environment. Some humans also escaped to other planets and now the Coalition wants to govern all of those planets, too. However, the day to day governing is done by a human group called the Cabinet. Also, humans are forbidden to use any animals either as food, a source for food stuff (such as milk), or as slaves, generally called pets.

The Coalition is aggressively heterosexual to the point that being non-hetero is criminal and treated either with “therapy” or forced retirement. While women are able to vote or nominally become a candidate for the Cabinet, in reality they rarely have actual political power. Indeed, there are apparently no female diplomats. The Cabinet has only one woman in it and she comes from a planet where the women were rulers before the Coalition conquered it.

Vincent and Michelangelo are sent to New Amazonia. It’s a planet settled by disgrunteled women who made a society which benefitted them (of course). In New Amazonia, hetero males’ position in society is very limited: they have to have permission to leave the house they belong to. They also have to combat each other to death in the Trials. They’ve sent to train in combat when they’re 10 years old. But homosexual males, called gentle, can learn other things and even become scientists. This is done to protect women from males, rather than assuming that the would-be victims should protect themselves (as is pointed out on page 107).

The New Amazonias specifically requested “gentle” males or women as diplomats and that’s why Michelangelo and Vincent have been reunited and sent. However, they enter a complex web of treachery and politics where people are rarely what they seem at first glance.

The third point-of-view character is Lesa Pretoria, the head of security at the city. She had two surviving children. One of them is a young boy who will soon turn ten and be sent to battle. Lesa doesn’t want him to die in battle but instead to learn and have a better life that he could have on New Amazonia. However, that would mean trusting the male diplomats with the boy. And her family wants nothing to do with Coalition so that’s also her official policy.

Neither faction knows that an alien intelligence has taken an interest with New Amazonia. So far, humanity hasn’t encountered any aliens. New Amazonia is built on an old alien city, though, so the humans know that intelligent aliens have existed in the past.

The two cultures are, deliberately, intensely different from each other, from eating habits to personal relationships. I don’t think they’re meant to realistic and neither is ideal for the any of the characters. However, that’s what cultures tend to be like: ideal for a few, most can get by, and horrible for some. Little details stand out to me and make the cultures real. For example, when Vincent and Michelangelo come to New Amazonia, they’re horrified to see pets and people eating meat. At first they’re unable to eat much because butter or some other animal produce has been used in pretty much everything and they’re also very repulsed by the smell of cooked meat. Lisa carries her weapon, which is called her honor, everywhere and feels helpless without it. And Vincent and Michelangelo are called with the honorific “Miss” because “Mister” isn’t an honorific.

The culture clash is very interesting to me and I enjoyed the book. However, this isn’t a quick and light read.

This is a collection of five novellas/short stories of detectives in various genres. Some of them have no speculative fiction elements. However, since one of the stories has a dragon detective, I’ve adding this to my Once Upon a Time reads. I’ve read two of the stories before.

”Blind” is set in Seavy Village, Oregon and it’s told in a first person POV. Scott didn’t have the happiest of childhoods and he thinks that his brother is wasting his life by living in the small town tied down to his wife and three daughters. Scott moved away as soon as he could and became a millionaire working for Microsoft. But when his brother dies in strange circumstances, Scott returns to the village to find out what has happened. He has to confront his brother’s family and a mystery from his past.

In ”Discovery” Pita Cardenas is a lawyer in a small town and because she’s desperate for work, she takes on a case against the rich and powerful, which means this time a railway company. She has to become a detective in addition to a lawyer in order to win the case.

”Stomping Mad” is set in Los Angeles during a movie SF convention, Jurassic Parkathon. The main character is called Sam Spade of science fiction because he has successfully helped out the police a few times. He is part of the convention’s staff and clearly an SF fan. When something goes wrong, the con’s staff turn to him.

The main character in ”Dragon Slayer” is a dragon. Humans have been killing more and more dragons in the recent years and the dragons have become worried about it. The main character has gone to see all of victims and so when another dragon is found dead, he is consulted even though he is young and insignificant.

The last one is ”Retrieval Artist”, the short story which inspired Rusch to write a whole series in that world. In this story, we meet Miles Flint, a former police officer who is now a Retrieval Artist. In this world humans and aliens are trying to live side by side peacefully but in order to do that, the humans have to follow alien laws which don’t always make sense to humans. A Retrieval Artist hides humans who have broken alien laws. Flint gives his clients new identities but he also charges exorbitant rates and have to know that he’s doing the right thing. That’s not easy.

Rusch is one of my favorite authors so it’s no surprise that I liked all of the stories. The last two were my favorites, though. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like the dragon society and I’d like to see more of it. I love the Retrieval Artist series and this story is a good introduction to it.

The second book in the series. Sequel to Indigo Springs.

Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Page count: 382
Publisher: TOR

As sometimes happens with sequels, I didn’t like it as much as the first book. The book, Indigo Springs, has quite an intimate feel to it and in contrast Blue Magic is epic in scope. Blue Magic has four POV characters and two of them are familiar from the previous book, Astrid Lethewood and Will Forest. In addition, we follow Astrid’s gender changed parent, Ev Lethewood, and Juanita Corazon who is a US Marshal. In Indigo Springs a group of friends discovered blue, liquid magic (called vitagua) and it bled into the real world.

Blue Magic starts pretty much from where Indigo Springs left off. In the first book, US Army had imprisoned Astrid but she managed to get away, and now Sahara and some of her followers are in prison. In fact, the book starts with the beginning of their trial. Sahara Knax and her mystics are charged with terrorism because they brought magic into the real world and killed people. They are also trying to convert other people into following goddess Sahara. Sahara’s followers call themselves the Alchemites and they call Astrid the Filthwitch. The two groups of mystics are sworn enemies.

Juanita is charged with guarding Sahara. However, the Alchemites have kidnapped her brother (sort of, he is trapped in a dream world along with others) and are blackmailing Juanita into helping them. She’s not happy with the situation but has to reluctantly smuggle enchanted objects to Sahara. She’s also personally loyal to the judge of the trial so her loyalties are very much divided.

Will Forest is in the same dilemma. He’s a hostage negotiator in the employ of the US Army and their local commander, general Roche, is his old friend. Will’s wife Caroline, now ex-wife, is one of Sahara’s most reverent followers and she’s also on trial. Worse, Caroline has kidnapped their two children and Will don’t know where they are. He only knows that the Alchemites have them. He tries to persuade Caroline to give up the kids she’s adamant. Astrid offers him a way to get to the kids to safety through magic.

Ev Lethewood started her life as a woman and gave birth to Astrid. However, she was never comfortable in a woman’s body and Astrid’s father was the only man she’s ever been attracted to. When she was exposed to magic, it promptly changed her into a man and he feels that is right. Astrid has sent him to the Unreal. The Unreal is another world where the magic comes from. Religious zealots have imprisoned a lot of people in there, over the centuries. Most of them are buried and frozen under the magical ice and Astrid is trying to free them. The most vocal amongst them is Teoquan who is very angry that he and his people have been entombed into the Unreal and he wants revenge.

And then there are the Fyremen. They are an ancient brotherhood of religious zealots who have been taught that all magic and magic users are evil. They punish the use of magic by burning the witches and banished people into the Unreal. US Army has allied themselves with the Fyremen.

Astrid and her group are trying to mitigate the drastic effects of the magic when more and more bleed into the real world. Astrid has seen glimpses of the future and she’s sure that things will be alright for most people. Everyone calls this the Ever After. However, she doesn’t know how that bright future will come about and lots of people will die before it happens. So, she and her people are trying to save as many people as they can.

Despite the fact that Astrid has a lot of volunteers following her, she feels alienated. She’s not entirely sure if she can trust the knowledge she receives through magic but she tries to be optimistic. She’s been in love with Sahara for a long time and Sahara has betrayed her, showing that Sahara only cares about Sahara. She’s developing feelings for Will and her magical insight tells her that they will become a couple in the future. However, Will doesn’t trust her and it seems unlikely that he will ever be attracted to her. She’s also not so sure she can trust him. She’s also not a leader and yet a lot of people are depending on her. Most of her life she’s been a gardener.

The book is fast-paced and has quite short chapters. The scenes change quickly and compared to the previous book, Blue Magic has surprisingly many fight scenes.

The book has a lot of secondary characters. Most of them have some personality but many are barely more than names. Patience is one of them more intriguing. She was an old woman, Astrid’s neighbor, whom the magic transformed into the most beautiful woman ever. However, because people’s perceptions and opinions of beauty change, she can also change herself. Teoquan is an interesting foil to the pacifistic aims of Astrid’s group.

Astrid herself seems to be a pacifist but some of her followers aren’t. Some of them want quick and decisive action against the Fyremen and even the Army.

I quite enjoyed it.

The seventh book in the series.

Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Page count: 325
Publisher: Del Ray

Laurence and his Celestial dragon Temeraire have been exiled in disgrace to Australia. After the events in the previous book, they are reconciled to live more or less peacefully there. However, the British government still needs them and Hammond is sent to Australia. It turns out that Napoleon has allied himself with the African Tswana tribe and has sent troops to South-America, too. The French are attacking Brazil (which is held by Britain’s ally Portugal) and there’s a concern that they are making inroads with the Inca. So, Britain sends Laurence and Temeraire to South-America because they have some experience the Tswana. Laurence guesses that the Tswana want to free the slaves which the Portuguese are keeping so he’s unhappy about the order.

Temeraire isn’t happy about following orders anymore but when Hammond reinstates Laurence as a Captain, Temeraire agrees to leave. So, Temeraire, Iskierka, and Kulingile are loaded into the familiar dragon transport ship Allegiance. Unfortunately, they are caught in a mighty storm and Allegiance sinks leaving the three dragons and some of their crews in the middle of sea.

This book is very similar in style to some of the other Temeraire books where we explore new areas of the world. Novik is very good at creating new cultures which have both dragons and humans in them, and I love to read about them. However, readers expecting some resolution with Napoleon’s forces, are going to be disappointed.

I adore the dragons and they are really the highlight this time, too. Temeraire and Iskierka have long been at odds with one another and more recently they’ve apparently developed some attraction to each other. I loved that Iskierka hasn’t become any softer because of it, if anything, she’s more obstinate and annoying than ever, especially to her poor Captain Granby. (I loved what Iskierka was scheming on behalf of her hapless captain!) Of course, both Iskierka and Temeraire are terribly young. In fact, Temeraire is only seven years old currently and Iskierka is a year younger!

I’m happy to continue with the series even though it seems that the next book centers on a trope I don’t much care for.

The first in the Smokey Dalton historical mystery series.

Publication year: 2001
Format: Audio
Narrator: Mirron Willis
Running Time: 11 hrs, 20 m

Smokey Dalton is a black man, living in Memphis in 1968. He has managed to get a good education but has chosen to become a private detective for the local black people but to white people he’s just doing “odd jobs”. So, when a white woman walks into his office, he’s quite surprised. Then Laura Hathaway tells him that her mother has left Smokey a sizable sum of money in her will and Laura wants to know why. However, Smokey doesn’t know the Hathaways and becomes curious himself. He takes the case and starts to look for any link between himself and the rich white woman. Years ago a mysterious benefactor gave him a lot of money and Smokey suspects now that Laura’s mother did that, too.

Smokey is a smart and thoughtful man. He’s also good at his job and looks after people close to him. He’s an orphan and doesn’t have any siblings but he’s taken a couple of young men under his wing. Their mother isn’t capable to taking care of them and it seems that they could easily turn to crime.

The story is set against the backdrop of Memphis sanitation workers’ strike during which the racial tensions between whites and blacks reach a boiling point. Also, Martin Luther King Jr. is Smokey’s old friend, from elementary school. Smokey’s afraid that King is in danger and is trying to protect King when he comes to Memphis.

The historical time and place which comes to life in the book. As far as I can tell, the racial tensions are described well and believably. Several times we get to see that the white people honestly have no idea how blacks are treated. Many whites also behave with a casual racism.

The characters are great and I thoroughly enjoyed the book. That’s not surprising because Nelscott is a pen name for Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

I also really enjoyed the reader; he was perfect for Smokey’s voice.

Publication year: 2012
Format: Audio
Narrator: Emily Bauer
Running Time: 11 hrs, 20 m

Verity Price comes from a long line of Prices, who are cryptozoologists. Originally, they had been part of the Covenant of St. George, a group of people who want to keep humanity safe from all of those things which go bump in the night. However, when grandfather Price realizes that not all of the non-humans are evil or even capable of threatening humans, he decided to leave. After that, the Covenant decided that the Prices are just as evil as any non-human, and the Prices are trying their best to keep to the shadows. They have managed to keep hidden from the Covenant and some of the cryptids even think that the Prices are an urban legend.

However, Verity doesn’t really want to live her life in the shadows. She loves ballroom dancing and wants to compete, even though that means that she will be in the public eye, however briefly. So she takes on a role and a wig, and starts to compete. Her family objects but don’t stop her. In order to compete, Verity moves to New York. In order to live in New York, she has to take a job. So, she’s a cocktail waitress in Dave’s Fish & Strips, which is a strip joint, owned by a bogeyman. And during the night, she runs through the roofs and protects humans from the more dangerous non-humans. She even compares herself to Batgirl.

Verity is an experienced monster hunter and she has been trained to do it pretty much from birth. She doesn’t have any special powers, though. She’s also the snarky first-person narrator. She’s very protective of her family and those cryptids who are harmless. Although I would have thought that killing 15 women isn’t harmless…

The book is full of non-humans: Aeslin mice, Ahools, Bogeyman, Ghouls, Madhura and others. All of them are given at least a short description and most of them have integrated somehow into the humans world. McGuire’s website has descriptions of them.

The book has also a lot of entertaining characters, such as the Aeslin mice. They live with Verity in her apartment and they worship her as their goddess, cheering pretty much anything she does. I also really liked Verity’s adopted cousin Sara who is a telepath. But the best characters for me were Verity’s family, her brother, sister, parents, grandparents, cousins… it’s so refreshing to read about a character who has a, a family and b, family who cares and supports her. Lovely!

Apparently inevitably, the book also has a romantic interest, Dominic DaLuca. He’s from the Covenant. Yep, he’s one of people who want to kill the Prices. Sorry, but I thought the way they met was a bit stupid and I guess the whole romance was the most predictable part of the book. However, I did warm up to him when I realized that he isn’t the stereotypical alpha male and after they team up, I really like the mentoring relationship Verity has with him. That’s right the woman is the more experienced monster hunter and isn’t afraid to point it out when ever it’s appropriate.

Overall, the book has far more good points than bad ones and was lots of fun.

Bauer’s perky, young voice is very nice for Verity but it’s a bit too much for the male characters.

Oh and it has lots and lots of fun, quotable lines:

“Cryptids like to live where humans don’t, but they also like to be close enough to steal cable.”

“Yeah, wow. I didn’t know people actually paused portentously in common conversation.”

“The Argentine tango isn’t here to play nicely with the other children. The Argentine tango is here to seduce your women, spill things on your rug, and sneak out your bedroom window in the middle of the night.”

“‘Telepaths have ethics?’ Dominic’s eyes narrowed, tone and posture united to convey his disbelief.
“My mother and I do,” said Sarah, letting her head settle against the back of the chair. “We mostly got them from Babylon 5, but they still work.”

“Mother Nature is a freaky lady who probably created pot just so she could spend all her time smoking it.”

A stand alone SF book. I have it as part of the Deep Beyond omnibus.

Publication year: 1985
Format: print
Page count: 208 in the omnibus
Publisher: Daw

The Cuckoo’s Egg is set in an alien world and the people who live there, the shonunin, look like lions. Duun is a shonun and belongs to a group called hatani; they seem to be a kind of jedi-like warriors and judges. However, they don’t own anything so they aren’t a ruling class.

In fact, Duun has been grievously hurt and his people can’t even bear to look at him. Still, he seems to have a very high status among them. He takes upon himself the task of raising and training an male alien almost from birth. He gives the hairless, clawless alien the name Thorn and trains him according to the best Hatani traditions. Essentially, he teaches the boy to become a warrior and not to ever trust anyone. We see glimpses of the political situation from time to time and more, of course, as Thorn grows.

This is again a tight book. There aren’t much descriptions and the reader has to infer pretty much everything from context.

Thorn is clearly an outsider just from the way that he looks and he wonders often about it when he’s growing up, but Duun never explains anything until the very end. However, Duun also raised Thorn as an outsider from shonunin culture; Thorn grows up on an isolated mountain and doesn’t meet other (shounin) people until he’s almost grown. Duun himself seems to also be an outsider but perhaps more by choice than birth.

Many times I felt sorry for poor Thorn who is thrust into to situation which seems quite cold and harsh both emotionally and physically. Sometimes I wondered if Thorn was even physically capable of the feats Duun demanded of him and surely in a human society Duun would have been accused of child abuse. But Duun doesn’t do it to be cruel but to prepare Thorn for what is to come.

However, I wasn’t really happy with the ending. I don’t think Thorn should have been able to do what was demanded of him based on just his genes.

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.

I’m going to join the 2014 Women reading challenge.

This challenge will make us want to read more books of any kind written by women, so choose whatever you like and get involved!
Set your level and, if you like, leave me a comment on this post listing your three favourite women writers, in order to suggest new names to other participants as well.
Here are mine (they are just the first ones coming to my mind):
* Simone De Beauvoir
* Fannie Flagg
* Joanne Harris

Rules:

* anyone can join;
* you don’t need a blog to partecipate: if you are a non-blogger please leave a comment with a link (if you review elsewhere) to your review or with the list of the books you read and the level you choose;
* audio, e-books, bound books and re-reads are ok;
* create a sign up post on your blog and post the link in the Linky below (scroll down please, it’s at the end of the italian translation);
* challenge goes from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014;
* here you can link for your reviews.

Levels:

Level 1: BABY GIRL – read 5 books written by a woman author
Level 2: GIRLS POWER – read 6 to 15 books written by a woman author
Level 3: SUPER GIRL – read 16 to 20 books written by a woman author
Level 4: WONDER WOMAN – read 20+ books written by a woman author
It’s never too late to join!

Have fun and good luck! 🙂

I read quite a lot of female authors already and I have more in my TBR.
This year I intend to read more from C. J. Cherryh, N. K. Jemisin, and Ursula LeGuin.
However, I’m going to be cautious and choose level 2: Girls Power.

Read:
1, Ursula LeGuin: The Planet of Exile
2, C. S. Friedman: Black Sun Rising
3, C. J. Cherryh: The Cuckoo’s Egg
4, Seanan McGuire: Discount Armageddon
5, Kris Nelscott: A Dangerous Road
6, Naomi Novik: Crucible of Gold
7, A. M. Dellamonica: Blue Magic
8, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Five Diverse Detectives
9, Lois McMaster Bujold: Diplomatic Immunity
10, Elizabeth Bear: Carnival<
11, Elizabeth Bear: Scardown
12, Kerry Greenwood: Trick or Treat
13, Nancy Kress: Beggars in Spain
14, Elizabeth Bear: Worldwired
15, Seanan McGuire: The Winter Long
16, Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
17, Donna Leon: Death in a Strange Country
18, Agatha Christie: A Pocket Full of Rye
19, Agatha Christie: The Body in the Library
20, Agatha Christie: 4:50 from Paddington
21, Cherie Priest: The Inexplicables

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