2015 women


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.

The first in an SF trilogy.

Publication year: 2000
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 27 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Gregory Linington

In the far future humans have discovered other planets and aliens. Most of the aliens are very human-like because some previous species have seeded lots of planets with similar species. At least, that’s the most accepted theory. However, humans have also discovered a couple of very different species and one of them are the Fallers. Humans and Fallers are at war and Fallers don’t answer any attempt at communication.

Humans have also discovered gates in space which lead to other planets. The gates were built by a long since dead species, possibly the same seed race, possibly not. Humans don’t know how the gates are built but they use them anyway.

One of the alien planets they’ve discovered have almost human-like species who calls their planet simply “the World”. They’re older than the human race but haven’t even developed steam technology. The reason is their most distinctive difference from humans: they all see only one reality. This is called “shared reality” and any deviation from it causes severe head pain. To avoid it, the Worlders literally stop seeing things or people who differ from their acknowledged reality. Such people are called unreal. This makes things like inventions almost impossible. They don’t have wars, either, because to physically hurt someone is against the shared reality. But stealing is ok. Also, when a child is born who by a rather young age haven’t been able to participate in shared reality, he or she is killed. They also have neck fur instead of hair.

Humans have sent a previous anthropological team to World but they left abruptly. Now, a new team has been sent down. The four people, and two infants, have orders to explore the native culture which is heavily influenced by flowers. However, unknown to the scientists the military ship which brought them there has another mission: one of World’s seven moons is artificial and the military is here to investigate it.

The youngest adult member in anthropological team is David Allen, the son of an admiral. He resents his father, though, and is keenly interested in shared reality because he thinks that it can be adopted by humans which would make humans more peaceful. The other anthropologists don’t share his views.

We also get an alien viewpoint character: Enli who has become unreal. Because the Worlders don’t yet know if humans are real or unreal, government department of Reality and Atonement has sent Enli to spy on the humans. Enli isn’t a very good spy but slowly she becomes more and more acquainted with the humans. We find out the reason Enli is unreal but I won’t spoil it here. Dealing with humans give her almost constant head pain but Reality and Atonement has given her pills which make the pain go away. Enli is very eager to regain her reality and will do almost anything to achieve it.

Syree Johnson is a military physicist and she’s the leader of the military team examining the artificial moon, the Orbital Object number 7. However, she’s not the ship’s captain and so she doesn’t control the whole mission.

I found the book fascinating. The flower culture was especially interesting although it got a bit too much at times when everything was about flowers. Shared reality is also a very interesting concept and I enjoyed it a lot, even though I couldn’t swallow the reason why it was developed. The characters were ok. The book has a few info dumps which aren’t even masked as anything else.

This is a great blend of hard and social SF. Johnson doesn’t deal with the locals at all; she’s focused entirely on the Orbital Object number 7. That’s the hard SF part with quite a lot of technobabble. But the anthropological team’s work takes up more of the book and is focused on the interaction between the humans and the aliens. The local’s flower culture was fascinating; their metaphors are based on flowers and when a person comes into a house, he or she is given a welcome flower. Personally I preferred the anthropological team’s story and the exploration of the natives’ culture.

The end gives closure to the World situation, for now at least, but leaves the other issues open. I’m eager to jump into the next book, Probability Sun.

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.”

The second book in the Collegia Magica fantasy series. The main character Anne was a minor character in the first book “The Spirit Lens”.


Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Running time: 17 hours and 18 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Angele Masters

Four years ago Anne de Vernais’ father was tried in absentia and found guilty of treason, murder, and the use of foulest magic. He’s still on the run. This judgement has torn her family apart: her mother is crazy and lives with Anne’s uncle far away, and Anne’s own younger brother is a hostage and kept in the most notorious prison in the land. Anne is the only one left to care for the estate but without money that task is increasingly hard.

Anne’s younger sister is the only one who hasn’t been affected as much because she’s a student in the Collegia Seravain, studying magic. But now her tutors have send a message that she had died in a magical accident. Anne travels to the university but her sister has already been hurriedly buried and she finds no answers to her questions. Anne herself doesn’t believe in magic and the cavalier way her sister’s death is handled makes her furious to all so-called magicians.

But when Anne returns home a visitor is waiting for her with terrible news: the king commands her to come to the court as one of the queen’s maids of honor. The king has given away de Vernais estate and Anne no longer has a home. She’s able to take with her only a few things, among them books and her sister’s things. The messenger is none other than Portier de Savin-Duplais, the man who hunted down Anne’s father’s conspiracy and made Anne take the stand against her father. She loathes him but it turns out that he has been appointed her “jailer”; the one whom she has to report every few days. Portier is also the manager of the queen’s household.

Anne has no choice: she’s dragged to the court where she hasn’t been in many years and where she’s just a traitor’s backcountry daughter. But the court is full of schemers, the king is away in war, and the queen is sickly and since she hasn’t been able to produce a live heir, people are thinking that king Philippe will set her aside and take another wife. The queen’s step-mother has a lot of power. The queen is a great supporter of magic and she has one court magician. Dante is ill-tempered and feared by the whole court. He’s also whispered to be a necromancer. But almost nothing is as it seems at first glance.

Anne is only 22 and not familiar with courtly ways but she endures at first and soon she’s trying to get to see her brother and get to the bottom of the mysteries surrounding her father. On the way, she finds out a lot about herself and the world around her.

Most of the characters are the same as in the first book, the Spirit Lens, but Anne sees them very differently and doesn’t know their history and secrets. This gives them another viewpoint.

This is a wonderful mystery story with twists and turns. The world is gorgeous; lots of details and people. Excellent continuation to the previous book and it sets up the third book wonderfully.

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.

The final book in the Clockwork Century series (at least so far).

Publication year: 2013
Format: print
Page count: 366
Publisher: TOR

This is the book where the ongoing Civil War in US comes to a head. The Union and the Confederate states have been in war for 20 long years. Texas is almost an independent state and boasts the best technology in the south.

Gideon Bardsley is a former slave and now an inventor. He’s invented and built a thinking machine called the Fiddlehead. However, some people are very threatened by the machine because men are sent to destroy it and kill him. Gideon manages to survive and most of his machine survives, too. He also manages to save most of the calculations his machine has done for the not-so-simple question of who will win this war. He seeks shelter with his patron, the former president Abraham Lincoln. He shows the Fiddlehead’s results to Lincoln. The results are frightening: neither North nor South will win because the rotters will kill everyone. Now, Gideon and his friends will have to find out who is trying to sabotage his work and also to convince people that not only are the rumors about the rotters real but they are a terrible threat.

Maria “Belle” Boyd is a former spy and now works for the Pinkerton’s detective agency, in Chicago. However, she’s nearly broke and miserable in the cold city so when Pinkerton himself gives her a mission which will take her back to the south, she’s happy to do so even though the client in none other than the former president Abraham Lincoln himself. Lincoln sends her to south, to find the evidence that proves Gideon’s machine is correct.

This is an alternate history where Lincoln survived the attack at the theatre but he’s confined to an electrical wheel chair. He’s still an educated and smart man (to say the least) and very respected by most people. The Union’s current president is Ulysses Grant, but he’s an old man who feels that he can’t trust the men closest to him, including the ministers. He drinks too much, too. But when Lincoln confronts him with the Fiddlehead’s evidence, Grant starts to really see the machinations around him and decides to stop them.

This is a more political book that than any of the previous ones, but is has no less action and adventure. Maria was introduced in the novella “Clementine” but the other POV characters are new. She’s a no-nonsense, capable woman who has acquired many un-ladylike skills in her years as a spy for the Confederacy. She uses society’s rules when they serve her and ditches them when they don’t. Gideon is brilliant but abrasive. He has little patience with politics or scheming.

Fiddlehead is a good final book. It ties up the underlying plotlines about the war and the rotters satisfyingly. However, we see only a few of the familiar characters from the previous books, so their fates are still left open. But Priest has already written another novella set in this world (Jacaranda) so we might see more of Mercy Lynch, Briar Wilkes, and the others in the future.

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.

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