2015 New Author Challenge


A book of six tales nested within each other.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 529

I’ve seen the movie which of course influenced my reading. I also liked the movie quite a lot. But watching the movie first “spoiled” the book; I already knew the big idea behind the book so the book couldn’t wow me.

Cloud Atlas has six novellas each set in different time period and with different characters. They’re also written in different style. In each story, the central character of the story reads the previous story, except in the first one, obviously. It is a kaleidoscope of lives which are connected through the years in a tapestry of human life.

The first one is Adam Ewing’s dairy about his sea voyage around 1800s. It’s written in first person and emulates the style of writing at that time. Adam is a religious man and deeply dislikes the rowdy ship captain and his crew. He’s also a sick but managed to find a doctor to travel with him.

The second story is a number of letters written by a broke English composer Robert Frobisher in 1931 to his friend (and lover) Sixsmith. He manages to secure himself a place as the assistant to a former great composer Vyayan Ayrs who is a very sick man and very disagreeable, too. Robert is attracted to the composer’s younger wife in addition to the small amount of money Ayrs pays him.

The third is called Half-Lives the first Louisa Reye mystery. It’s written in multiple POVs and present tense, mimicking noir style. Louisa is a journalist in the 1970s US. She has integrity and wants to prove herself but she working in a less than reputable paper. However, she stumbles into a very big secret and doggedly pursues the truth.

The fourth is “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish” and is written by an elderly vanity publisher. It’s most humorous piece in the book. Timothy stumbles upon a book which sells millions… and puts him into deep trouble.

The fifth is “An Orison of Sonmi – 451” and is set in the future where corporations rule the world, or at least the small part of the world we see. Sonmi is a replicant, a person designed and grown for the sole purpose of being a waiter. But one day she has a chance to see the world outside her diner.

The final story is set in apparently far future when civilization as we know it has collapsed. The first-person narrator uses somewhat different English than the modern day variant and it’s somewhat difficult to read. The narrator is a goat herder in an Iron Age village but sometimes the village is visited by people who have far more advanced technology.

Except for the last story, the others are interrupted in the middle by the next story and after the last story is done, the others continue, the first story’s final part last.

I really like this type of structure and I liked the links between the stories, too. The final story was quite difficult to read and by that time I was impatient to find out how the other stories end. My favorite was Sonmi’s terrible tale. However, the links weren’t enough for me to bring this to a coherent whole: they feel separate stories to me.

Cavendish’s tale has some amusing pokes at the literary establishment and reviewers, perhaps Mitchell is anticipating what some people will say about his work. He also puts down the British railways.

All the characters are flawed people and convincing as humans. They depict people at their worst, being cruel to each other, but in the end, hope glimmers in every human who ends up behaving humanely to each other, especially if their society frowns on it, or even forbids it.

The first in a steampunk trilogy and the final book in the Steampunk bundle I bought last year. It’s set in a secondary world which is reminiscent of India.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Page count: 264

Aniri is the third daughter of the Queen of Dharia, the wealthiest country in her world. Her older sisters have both married for political reasons but their mother has promised that Aniri will be free to marry for love when she comes of age. Aniri is happy about that because she already loves Devesh, a charming courtesan from Samiri, a less wealthy but technologically very advanced country. But just couple of weeks before Aniri’s birthday, the Queen tells her that a prince from a primitive land of Jungali has asked Aniri’s hand in an effort to seal the diplomatic relations between their countries and to keep peace in the prince’s own land. After meeting with the thoughtful and noble prince Malik who is willing to sacrifice his own chance for happiness in favor of his country, Aniri can’t say no right away.

Then the Queen tells Aniri that she has heard through her spies that the Jungali have a terrifying flying machine and asks that Aniri will pretend to accept the prince’s offer and go to Jungali to find out if the rumors are true. Aniri accepts. She can’t tell anything about it to Devesh who runs after her to the train station. Aniri leaves with a heavy heart but determined to do her duty and then return and marry Devesh, if he’ll still have her.

Jungali and Prince Malik turn out to be a somewhat different than Aniri expected and as the days go by it becomes harder and harder for her to lie to the prince who seems to have his people’s best interests at heart.

As a third daughter Aniri hasn’t paid much attention to the politics and the court around her – even Devesh calls her naïve. She longs to go after her father’s killers and she practices with a saber she inherited from her father. Her father the king was killed ten years ago by some ordinary ruffians, apparently, and the queen never investigate things, as far as Aniri knows. She’s stubborn and feels stifled by the court.

When she travels to Jungali, by train, she takes with her only her handmaiden Priya and a bodyguard Janak. Priya is very loyal to Aniri and flirts with the men around her. She also knows fashion and Aniri depends on her to wear appropriate clothing. Janaka is a stern bodyguard who’s loath to let Aniri out of his sight at all. He was also Aniri’s father’s bodyguard on the day the king was killed and Aniri bears a grudge about that.

This was a light, entertaining read. I don’t know enough about Indian culture to know how much actual Indian culture is in the book. However, I did notice that all the mentioned clothing come from western culture, such as corsets. Also, there weren’t a lot of steampunk elements.

The plot focused on spying and intrigue and had lots of adventure.

A stand-alone Finnish Science Fiction book. The Finnish title is Teemestarin kirja (The Tea Master’s Book).

Publication year: 2012
Format: ebook
Page count: 329
Publisher of the Finnish language version: Teos

“Water is the most versatile of all elements. It isn’t afraid to burn in fire or fade into the sky, it doesn’t hesitate to shatter against sharp rocks in rainfall or drown into the dark shroud of the earth. It exists beyond all beginnings and ends. On the surface nothing will shift, but deep in underground silence, water will hide and with soft fingers coax a new channel for itself, until stone gives in and slowly settles around the secret space.”

The writer is a Finn and she wrote the book in both English and Finnish. I read it in Finnish but I’ve got sample chapters of the English version on my Kindle.

Noria Kaitio is the only child of a tea master and she lives in a world which is very different from ours. In this world, drinkable water is scarce and owned by the military government of the New Qian. The drinkable water is purified sea water. The military controls who gets water and how much; most civilians get just enough to survive and if the military even thinks that someone is guilty of a water crime, they will not be seen again. But the task of the tea master is to serve water as much as he serves the people who come to him to enjoy the tea ceremony. Noria’s father knows about a clean spring deep undergrown in the mountains; the knowledge have been kept in their family for generations. When Noria’s graduation time draws near he takes her to the spring and tells her that she must keep the spring a secret because nobody owns water. Now, the secret is Noria’s, too.

This is a melancholy tale set into an almost hopeless world which have been almost destroyed by humans long ago. Now, the humans have accepted the yoke of the military and struggle to live their lives as best they can. Sometimes, people elsewhere rebel and make life worse for the people in Noria’s village.

This is not an adventure story and it’s not plot driven. In fact, a plot doesn’t kick in until near the end. But it’s Noria’s story with all its joy and sadness. It’s set in Finland but in a very different land where snow and ice are only seen in freezers, and those aren’t common, either.

The language is lyrical and beautiful. Water, and its lack, is present all the time both in the words and in the theme. The book draws a fascinating contrast with the elegant tea ceremonies and the beautiful language versus the bleak, tightly controlled society that the people live in.

This was an excellent read, if somewhat depressing at times.

“Silence is not empty or immaterial, and it is not needed to chain tame things. It often guards powers strong enough to shatter everything.”
“Secrets carve us like water carves stone. On the surface nothing will shift, but things we cannot tell anyone chafe and consume us, and slowly our life settles around them, moulds itself into their shape.”

A stand-alone science fiction book.

Publication year: 2003
Format: ebook
Page count: 345
Publisher: Mythic Island Press

Jubilee is one of 16 children and the second oldest. Her mother is the keeper of Temple Huacho which (like all temples) is built around a well which produces kobolds which do pretty much of the all work in this society. They’re small machines and they also protect stuff from silver. Silver is a deadly substance which rises from the ground and kills people and animals who are caught in it. It also transforms matter which is caught in it, including buildings and landscape. The new constructs are called follies.

One night, Jubilee and her older brother Jolly descend to their mother’s kobold well and Jubilee is hurt. Later that night, silver creeps up again and comes into the house, eats away a part of the wall, and takes Jolly. Jubilee thinks that Jolly called it to himself but she can’t be sure and since she’s only eight years old, she convinces herself that she couldn’t have seen that.

Seven years later, Jubilee becomes convinced that her brother is still alive. One night, a strange and mysterious man steps out of silver and demands to know here Jolly is. Jubilee is shocked to see that the stranger is able to live in silver and apparently also command it. She starts to find information about silver and anyone who has survived in it, which turns out to be dangerous. At the same time, she finds out that she has a lover; a man she’s genetically destined to be with. Genetic compatibility is the only way to find a spouse in this world and Jubilee is very fortunate to have found her lover when they’re both young. Her uncle Liam has been searching his lover for 40 years, for example. However, Jubilee’s lover lives far away and traveling is dangerous because of silver.

This is a unique world, which feels post-Apocalyptic to me. There are remnants of ancient cities and also newer ones which have been swallowed by silver and spat out changed. The characters often ride in dusty landscapes or near mountains. The players (as people are called) travel from one temple to another with motor bikes and trucks but flying is forbidden. They use savants to communicate long distances. Savants seem to be floating computers which are directed with voice commands and they have a limited internet type function. The players are reborn into the world after death and they rely on skills they’ve learned in previous lives.

Jolly had a dog, Moki, and after Jolly was taken by silver Jubilee inherited Moki. He seems to be a hunting dog but small enough that he can be easily carried on a bike. I loved him; it’s so rare to see dogs in SF.

Jubilee is a strong-willed young woman who loved her brother dearly and took his death badly. She partly blames herself because she wasn’t old enough to prevent Jolly’s death. Silver is thought to be a remnant from the time when the goddess created the world. Silver also nourishes the kobolds and in that way keeps the society working.

The start was more fast-paced than the rest of the book and the ending was a bit abrupt.
This was a very good read. I especially enjoyed the different world and culture.

Early Science Fiction by women writers. A SF short story collection from 1887-1930.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Page count: 228
Publisher: Dover Publications

As the subtitle says this is a collection of SF short stories. Most of them have written other stuff and have been regular contributors to the early SF magazine. But these days they aren’t known. Next time, when someone claims that women don’t write SF, or haven’t written SF until modern times, this is the book to wave at them. Of course, the stories reflect their times and can feel outdated. Some of them use science which seems fantasy today and some use clichés, like beautiful=good, ugly=evil. They also have racism and sexism. But they’re readable and I enjoyed most of them but I tend to enjoy Weird Science. I also found Ashley’s introductions to the writers very interesting since they were all new to me.

Most of the stories have strong atmospheres and some of them resemble ghost stories or horror more than modern SF. Most have male narrators and some use a device that might grate on modern read-ers: another character tells his story to the narrator.

When Time Turned by Ethel Watts Mumford (1901): The main character encounters a man who claims that he is living his life backwards.
The Painter of Dead Women by Edna W. Underwood (1910): A terribly powerful and evil man lures a beautiful socialite woman to his castle where he intends to kill her and preserve her body forever in its youthful beauty.

The Automaton Ear by Florence McLandburgh (1873): A brilliant professor gets the idea that he can build a device which can enable him to hear all sounds ever made. His obsession with the device takes over his life more and more.

Ely’s Automatic Housemaid by Elizabeth W. Bellamy (1899): The most fun story in the collection. The main character’s friend has invented automaton devices (Automatic Household Beneficent Genius) and the MC orders two of them. Chaos and hilarity ensues.

The Ray of Displacement by Harriet Prescott Spofford (1903): The main character has invented a device which allows him to pass through solid objects. Another use of the devise makes the user also invisible. The MC accidentally dematerializes a judge’s diamond and even though he brings the diamond back, the judge throws him in jail. The corrupt judge wants to use the device for profit but the MC refuses.

Those Fatal Filaments by Mabel Ernestine Abbott (1903): The main character invents a device which allows him to hear other people’s thoughts.

The Third Drug by Edith Nesbit (1908): Roger Wroxham is so depressed that he wants to die. However, when he comes face to face with ruffians, he finds that he was too hasty and wants to live after all. He’s wounded but manages to flee into a large house. A kind old man living there alone helps him. But the old man has a chilling reason to appear to help.

A Divided Republic: An Allegory of the Future by Lillie Devereux Blake (1887): Perhaps the most badly aged of these stories. Women get fed up for asking for the same rights that men have and they up and leave. Women form their own two states and men are left to their own devices. This feels satirical to me so it’s not meant to be realistic. Still, both men and women are shown as stereotypes; all men gamble, drink, and smoke to their heart’s content and are planning wars while the women live in “calm monotony” building schools and tending gardens.

Via the Hewitt Ray by M.F. Rupert (1930): This is pure pulp. Fun but in a E. R. Burroughs way. Lucile is an airline pilot. Her inventor father disappears leaving behind a letter where he explains that he’s going to use his Hewlett Ray device to beam himself into another dimension. Lucile is frantic with worry but she’s not a scientist. However, she contacts her friend Marion and together they build another ray device and send Lucile into the other dimension, looking for her father. There, she finds strange lands and stranger creatures, including a society where women rule over men.

The Great Beast of Kafue by Clotide Graves (1917): An African hunter tells his son about the time he hunted the terrible beast and why his young son must promise not to kill it.

Friend Island by Francis Stevens (1917): Set in a future where women “naturally” rule over men. An old, weathered female sailor tells the story of how she was stranded to a very strange island.

The Artificial Man by Clare Winger Harris (1929): George Gregory is a great athlete and also a scholar. One day he loses his leg and has it replaced with an artificial one. In the next accident he loses his arm and some internal organs, and those too are replaced with artificial ones. But he starts to think that he loses a part of his soul along with his body.

Creatures of the Light by Sophie Wenzel Ellis (1930): Another longer pulp story with Weird Science. John Northwood is an athlete and a very handsome man. One day he sees a hunchback and a very handsome man together. The hunchback drops a wallet to John’s feet and the handsome man warns him not to get mixed up with the hunchback and then disappears into thin air. However, it turns out that the hunchback a famous doctor who wants something from John. The story also has people falling in love based on a picture and a very creepy romance.

The Flying Teuton by Alice Brown (1917): A sort of ghost story set in after the end of WWI (but written before the end of the war).

Many of the stories have technological advancements which have gone wrong and even in “Via the Hewitt Ray” the working ray tech reveals unexpected results. Many of the stories have the inventor as a main character, something which isn’t too common today (except for Tony Stark). On the whole, these aren’t terribly feminist stories; in most of them the main character is a man doing manly stuff in a world full of males. But these were written for early SF magazines where the readership were, presumably, mostly males. But is there any way to find out if most readers were, indeed, males?

Surprisingly many of the stories also had rather disturbing themes or tech. Some of them were horror in atmosphere and some had eugenics in one fashion or another. Most of them also have more spir-itual or religious themes than modern SF.

While the stories aren’t without their flaws, they’re an interesting glimpse into the history of SF and women SF writers.

The first book in Sign of the Zodiac series where superheroes battle supervillains in Las Vegas.


Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 455
Publisher: Eos

I love superheroes and I wanted to like this book. But I’ve read my fill of “grim” superhero stories and they just don’t excite me anymore. And this is grim: rape, murder, screwed up family relations, and cursing, cursing left and right. It felt like those early years of Image comics with the slogan “dead stays dead” and heroes killing people.

Joanna Archer has had a pretty sucky life. Even though she’s the daughter of a Las Vegas gambling mogul Xavier Archer, and so didn’t lack for money, she’s always had a cold relationship with her dad, and her mother Zoe disappeared ten years ago. In fact, Zoe vanished on the night when an unknown man attacked and raped Joanna and left her for dead. But Jo didn’t die. Instead she vowed never to be a victim again and started training martial arts. Pretty much the only decent thing in her life has been her sister Olivia. In fact, their interaction raised the hope in me that this would a book where sisters fight crime together. That turned out to be the wrong impression.

At the start of the book Jo is on a really sucky date which ends with her date, Ajax, showing her a glimpse of another, a paranormal world, and then trying to kill her. Luckily, Joanna has been training martial arts for the past 10 years and isn’t an easy target even when the attacker has powers she doesn’t have. After escaping her attacker, she runs into her ex-boyfriend whom she still has feelings for. But the highlight of the evening, the eve of her 25th birthday, is a meeting with her sister Olivia and their dad Xavier Archer. Xavier promptly reveals that he’s been informed that Jo isn’t his child. So he has disinherited her and wants nothing more to do with her. Jo is actually relieved to hear it. She has no problem cutting ties with Xavier. Later, Jo runs over a homeless man who heals right in front of her and rants about being part of a superhero group who’s going to help Joanna but not be-fore she turns 25 – if she lives that long.

After reigniting her relationship with her ex-boyfriend Ben, Jo goes to her sister’s apartment expect-ing a quiet birthday party. Instead, they’re attacked and Jo goes through a transformation.

Essentially in this world there are heroes who have been literally born into Light side and villains who have been born into Shadows. While it’s possible to change sides, it’s done very rarely and Joanna is the first ever child born whose one parent was Light side and the other Shadow side. The heroes and villains track each other by scent. They all also heal really fast and are very quick. Every-one has a signature weapon and can only be killed with their own signature weapon. Also, their ad-ventures are recorded in actual comic books which are called manuals. And Light side people can’t read Shadow comics and vice versa.

Joanna is an abrasive MC. She’s angry and hurting and just looking for a target to lash out on. But she’s also a survivor and quick to adapt to situations. She’s a loner and has been since the attack. But when she finds out her true inheritance, she’s expected to work in a group of complete strangers. She’s also the prophesied Chosen one. She’s by no means likable but I ended up caring for her and I liked her toughness.

But I had some issues, too. I went through a phase reading “dark” comics and I’ve bounced back from them. I really disliked the way that the Zodiac troop, the heroes, kept her in the dark and just waited her to survive a situation which nobody else would have. I liked the ideas but the whole Light/Shadow split was too dualistically simple for me and a bit strange considering how “adult” and “edgy” the rest of the book was.

A Vish Puri mystery set in modern day Delhi. This actually turned out to be the second book in the series.

Publication year: 2010
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2013
Format: print
Page count: 332 including the glossary
Translator: Tero Valkonen
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Gummerus

Here in Finland Vish Puri is advertised as “Hercules Poirot of India” I think that’s a good comparison if you must make comparisons. To me, the book feels like a Christie type cozy mystery where the overweight private detective walks around the city talking to various people and thus solving the mystery. No gore and no sadistic serial killers here. Hall also gives us a glimpse of the vastly different parts of Delhi: the well-off middle class who have their own servants and the desperately poor who barely have enough to live. They live in different parts of the city and have very different lives. And the food!

Vish Puri of Most Private Investigators Ltd. is in the middle of working for a client who has relocated to India from US and his horrified about the level of corruption and the money he has to pay just to get his children to school. Puri is amused by the client’s attitude but helps him, of course. Then a prominent local scientist is apparently murdered by Kali the goddess herself. The victim, Dr. Suresh Jha, specialized on bringing down the local holy men and exposing them as charlatans. The murder happened in broad day light in the middle of a laughter group gathering. Dr. Jha belong to the group where they practice laughing daily. The other members were able to only laugh and laugh while the goddess appeared in a smoke cloud, put her sword through the victim, and disappeared again. The main suspect is an extremely successful, and wealthy, spiritual guru.

Meanwhile Puri’s wife and mother go to a meeting with their female friends. They each bring a sizable sum of money which is gathered and given to one of the women there chosen with lottery. They do it once a month but this time they’re robbed and the robber gets away with the money! The police are convinced that the hostess’ servants did it and don’t even consider anyone else and even refuse to take evidence which Puri’s mother has arranged for them. She is, after all, the widow of a prominent police officer and thereby almost a detective herself So, Puri’s mother decides to solve the case herself and drags her daughter-in-law into it, too. Puri doesn’t approve of women as detective, so they leave him out of it. And Puri’s youngest daughter returns home: she’s pregnant with twins. It’s apparently traditional for her to give birth in her parents’ house.

Puri has the entertaining habit of giving his underlings humorous nicknames; thus his driver is Handbreak and another underling is Tublight and another Facecream.

Puri is very different from usual modern US PIs: he’s married with grown children and has several servants. He also considers it his duty to employ those less fortunate than himself and take care of his employees. Far cry from the usual single or divorced alcoholic PIs who work strictly alone.

His mother is a determined older woman who is also a very entertanining character. Through her, and Puri’s wife Rumpi, we get a glimpse of the lives of the upper-class women in Delhi.

Hall makes fun of spiritual gurus and magicians who seem to be numerous in India. For me, this was a very exotic element at least in the way they represent their “divine gifts.” Hall also uses a lot of native words, especially with food. Thankfully, most of them were in the glossary because I’m not all familiar with Indian food.

I haven’t read much about India and I’ve never visited there so this was a fascinating glimpse into their culture. The characters feel exaggerated and they could certainly be just as stereotypical as the people in Wodehouse’s books.

An entertaining and mostly light-hearted mystery.

“It was not uncommon for him to experience such a sense of dislocation when working in Delhi these days. The India of beggars and farmer suicides and the one of the cafes selling frothy Italian coffee were like parallel dimensions. As he slipped back and forth between them, he often found himself pondering the ancient Indian axiom that this world is but maya, an illusion, a collective dream.”

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