2016 New Author

I joined the New Authors challenge for 10 new to me writers but ended up reading 25.

Happily I liked most of them and found at least four writers I will be reading more: Karl K. Gallagher, Becky Chambers, Leigh Brackett, and Genevieve Cogman

A stand-alone time travel book.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours and 43 minutes
Narrator: John David Krygelski

It’s the eve of John Augur’s marriage to Gail and he steps out from his bachelor party. Outside, he meets an older man who yet seems strangely familiar. He calls himself Jack… and is John from thirty years into the future. Apparently, Gail is a narcissist and a borderline psychotic. Life with her was almost unbearable. Luckily, Jack’s best friend Cal is an inventor and he has invested a time machine. Call has given the time machine to Jack so that Jack can warn his younger self not to marry Gail. Cal has warned Jack from changing anything else, but shortly an accident happens which kills Cal, years before he invents the time machine.

Jack, John, and his best friend Kurt have to try to figure out what to do. Things take a turn to the worse when John tells Gail that he’s going to cancel the wedding and she starts to plot revenge. Meanwhile two detectives are trying to find out what’s going on.

This isn’t an adventure book. Instead, the characters talk and theorize about time travel, paradoxes, and alternate realities which was quite interesting at first. Unfortunately, it got somewhat repetitive. There are some mysteries and twists, though.

John hasn’t seen how manipulative Gail is even though his friends and parents have seen it and tried to talk John out of marrying her. It takes Jack’s horror stories from his past (John’s future) to persuade John. Yet, I didn’t see John really loving Gail; he wasn’t devastated or anything, more like relieved. Indeed, he found a new love interest literally on the same day. So, I wondered why would he stay with her? But I guess that’s her manipulative side. Otherwise, John read a lot and has a beloved miniature train set.

Kurt is the best friend who jokes a lot and Jack is very determined, bitter man. All the four named female characters have romantic or family ties to John.

First in a science fiction series. Can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 232 + an excerpt of Spiral Labyrinth
Publisher: Night Shade books

Henghis Hapthorn is a discriminator, a private detective in a world thousands of years in the future when humanity has spread far into space. The nobility is so far removed from the ordinary people that the nobles are literally unable to see them, unless the ordinary people, like Henghis, put on certain items and make certain gestures.

Lord Afre hires Henghis to find out just who is Hobart Lascalliot. Lascalliot has become a constant companion to Afre’s daughter and yet it appears that the young man isn’t anyone of significance. Henghis takes on the job and has to travel to several planets until he discovers the humiliating plot centered on the daughter. Just after Henghis has returned home, a man in an invisibility suit calls on him. As a famous, and apparently (at least according to himself) the most successful discriminator, Henghis has more than a few enemies so as a precaution he attacks the man and renders him unconscious. Only afterwards he realizes that the mystery man is the ruler of humanity, the Archon. Fortunately, the Archon has a problem that he needs Henghis to unravel and doesn’t throw Henghis to a deep dank cell for assault.

The book has a fascinating setting. In this universe, there are seasons for when magic is ascendant and seasons when reason is ascendant. Currently, reason rules but the time of magic is rapidly approaching. Henghis is a man of reason and loathes and distrusts magic. He uses reason to unravel conundrums, pick apart puzzles, and uncover enigmas. This world has space travel and high technology, all built on laws of nature. At least the wealthier people have all AI assistants called integrators which have access to an internet which spans all the known planets. Yet, magic is starting to seep back in to the cosmos.

Henghis knows intimately that magic is coming. He has encountered it before and in that encounter he and his assistant (whom he has built, so I assume it’s an artificial intelligence in a tiny, robotic body) were changed. Now, Henghis’ intuitive self is a separate persona inside his skull. That intuitive self is the part of him which will rise to the surface when the age of magic starts. But that earlier encounter apparently triggered its self-awareness prematurely. Henghis knows that the other is a part of him but still he resents and distrusts him. Also, his assistant has apparently come to life. Previously, it didn’t need to eat or sleep – now it does both and often at inconvenient times.

Other reviews compared Henghis with Sherlock Holmes and I can see the resemblance: Henghis is conceited, arrogant, and very intelligent. He also has a temper when things don’t go his way. The book is written in first person from his POV.

Unfortunately, the writing style didn’t agree with me. That’s too bad because the universe was interesting and so were Henghis and his other self.

The first book in the fantasy series the Legend of Eli Monpress.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Running time: 8 hours and 20 minutes
Narrator: Luke Daniels

A light and fun fantasy with medieval like setting which has a lot of nature spirits: trees, rivers, stone. Even paper and ink have spirits which wizards can hear. However, you have to be born a wizard. It seems that a wizard has two choices: either be a spiritualist whose job is to protect the various spirits or an enslaver who, well, enslave spirits from his/her own benefit. Spiritualists have helper spirits who are often eager to do what the wizard asks.

Eli Monpress is the best thief in his world. But this time he has been caught and put in a cell deep in the dungeons of Mellinor, a city without wizards. Or is he caught? Quickly, he convinces the spirit of the wooden door to just lay down and relax. In fact, he and his team intend to kidnap the king and demand a ransom for him. And that’s exactly what they do. His team has Josef, an excellent, if dour, swordsman and Nico a young woman who has a deadly secret.

Miranda Lyonesse is spiritualist and she’s come to Mellinor to warn the king about Eli. But she’s a little too late and comes to the capital city right after the people have found out that their king has disappeared. The law forbids wizards from entering Mellinor but since the council is rather in a bind after the king’s disappearance, they allow Miranda in. She starts to investigate. She and her huge ghost hound Gin are chasing after Eli because Eli is bringing down the good name of wizards everywhere. She loathes him.

But soon the king’s deposed brother appears to hijack the thrown to himself. He was deposed because he was born a wizard but in this situation the council wants a king with the correct bloodline and so he has a lot of supporters. He even throws out Miranda who is, now, forced to team up with Eli, Josef, and Nico to save Mellinor from a worse threat.

This was fun and action-packed read, but doesn’t offer anything beyond that. We don’t actually get to be in any character’s head so we only see them from the outside. Eli is clearly meant to be a charming rogue in the tradition of Robin Hood, Han Solo, and the cast of Firefly. Sadly, I didn’t like him nearly as much as those others but we didn’t really see much of him, just him bluffing his way through various situations. The only thing he seems to want is fame, rather than fortune, and he seems good-hearted. Miranda is similarly good-hearted but bound by rigid rules of spiritualists. She’s powerful and has quick temper which makes her intriguing to me. Seeing them in the same team was a lot of fun, especially since I’m a fan of the troupe.

Eli, Nico, and Joseph all have secrets which weren’t revealed in this book. The main plot is wrapped up but it’s clearly the beginning of a series.

A stand-alone speculative fiction detective story.

Finnish name: Toiset (the others)
Publication year: 2009
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2011
Translator: J. Pekka Mäkelä
Format: print
Page count: 367
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Karisto

Beszel is a divided city but not in a physical way. Inside and beside it is another city, Ul Qoma, which is different legally, culturally, and especially in the minds of the citizens of both city states. Daily, they see the buildings and people of the other city but must ignore and unsee them. If they don’t, they are guilty of a breach which the most heinous crime either city has. Breaches are governed by the mysterious organization called the Breach. They are the bogie men making sure that the citizens of two cities keep apart from each other. This book is really a hard-broiled detective story but in fantastical cities.

Detective Inspector Tyador Borlú works for the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad and the story begins when he’s called to a murder scene. A young woman has been found dead. At first, the police suspect that she’s a prostitute. But soon Borlú gets a mysterious phone call which tells him otherwise. The call comes from Ul Qoma which is, of course, almost a breach.

Borlú recruits a young constable to help him. Lizbyet Corwi knows the streets better than the inspector and acts as a back-up and a sounding boards too. Together they suspect the unificationists, who want to unite the two cities, and nationalists who want to keep the cities apart. But their investigation leads inexorably towards the other city Ul Qoma.

The two cities’ relationship is fascinating and Miéville spends a lot of time clarifying it to us. In the end, the book is about how people’s perceptions and thoughts shape our reality. How what we’ve been taught (from birth) shapes the way we see other people and buildings around us. In this story, if the house next door to you belongs to the other city, you aren’t allowed to see it, or the people walking beside you if you think that they belong to the other city.

Borlú is a pretty typical detective. He’s a good cop and very soon he starts to care about the dead woman and her life, putting even his own career in jeopardy in order to find out what happened to her. Corwi trusts him and backs him up all the way, even though they don’t seem to have any special relationship before the story. There’s very little character development and the vast majority of the story is Borlú and his companion interviewing people and making deductions.

While Miéville follows many of the definitions for a hard-boiled detective story, one refreshing element for me was the lack of misogyny. Yes, some of the women are victims but Corwi is a fellow police officer and Borlú clearly needs and depends on her. However, personally I could have done without the constant swearing.

The story doesn’t have fantasy or science fiction elements beyond the two cities. It’s set during our time with people using cell phones and email. But Beszel is a poor city so the cops don’t have newest equipment, the streets have litter and run-down houses, cars are old. Ul Qoma is more modern with newer buildings and richer people. They seem to be somewhere in Eastern Europe which was a pleasant surprise because a lot of fantasy/sci-fi books which aren’t set in a secondary world or off planet are set in USA.

The concept of the two cities was far more fascinating to me than the plot or the characters.

I read the Finnish translation and for a while I thought Ul Qoma was the translator’s choice, translating whatever the English word had been for the other city. That’s because a Finn pronounces the city’s name close to what in Finnish would mean “Foreign land” (ulkomaat). But I see that Ul Qoma is the city’s original name. Funny coincidence.

A stand-alone time travel story.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 8 minutes
Narrator: Peter Kenny
Publisher: Redhook

Harry August is born with the ability to live his life over and over. The first time he’s born, he doesn’t know it, of course. But when he’s born the second time, he thinks that he’s going mad and quickly kills himself in an insane asylum. The third time, he starts to sort of adjust to it.

Harry August is born on New Year’s Day 1919, in Leeds. He’s an illegitimate child, born of rape. His mother dies in the childbirth and he’s raised by foster parents. But he doesn’t know about his real mother until in later lives. He chooses different paths in different lives so he ends ups married to different people (the very few times he does get married), sometimes serving in the army and sometimes not. The chapters are rather brief and jump around to different lives. There’s not really a linear plot at all until near the end.

I enjoyed this book and the rambling style of jumping from event to event and from life to life but it’s certainly not to everyone’s taste. There are also some problems with how the time travel is presented. Because Harry isn’t the only one who does this. Yet, he and all the others seem to live different lives pretty much every time. Anyone who is interested in time travel probably knows what sort of hideous problems that would create. None of them are seen here. Also, the others seem to have gone through this loop many, many times before Harry is born which also seems, er, strange. You see, Harry at least claims to remember every life he’s ever lived. And for Harry time resets when he dies. However, the “loopers” don’t all die at the same time. So just what, or whose, reality are they living? I also really didn’t care for the multiple uses of torture.

So, I enjoyed this story as long I didn’t really think about the underlying assumptions or how things are supposed to work. Oh and the time travel aspect is never explained.

Fantasy book about a spy/librarian who works for the Library which has access points to many alternate worlds. To get books!

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Page count: 329
Publisher: TOR

Irene is a junior Librarian in the Library which exists between alternate worlds. Her mission is to save books from various worlds. To do that, she often has to use cover identities and get into places where she shouldn’t be. The book starts with the end of one mission. After Irene returns to the Library, she’s immediately given her next assignment: to get one of the collected fairy tales of Grimm from an alternate world. She isn’t told what is special about it. Instead, her supervisor gives her a trainee, the handsome and mysterious Kai. She’s used to working alone, so she isn’t happy about it, but she can’t say no.

So, Kai and Irene head over to an alternate London to steal the book. However, the owner of the book has been murdered and the book stolen, so their mission becomes far more dangerous and difficult than they thought. Also, a famous private detective notices them, and Irene has to decide if she can trust him or not. Another shadowy character is Silver, a fae noble who is also after the book.

This setting has a wealth of possibilities and it fascinated me. However, Irene is pretty standard plucky heroine. She loves books and has a special love for detective stories. Her specialty seems to be more in spying and acting than fighting, though. She’s dedicated to the Library and its mission of preserving fiction from various alternate worlds. However, at the same time she doesn’t really know the senior Librarians nor does she know their real goals. Her beliefs about the Library and Librarians are challenged in the book, though. This clearly isn’t her first mission and references are made to her previous jobs, especially one involving a charming cat burglar and her fellow Librarian, Bradamant, which made her and Bradamant mortal enemies.

Kai is a very handsome and elegant young man who is more than you’d think at first glance. He’s a trainee who hasn’t yet sworn himself to the Library. This is his first fieldwork assignment. There’s no romance in the book, despite this obvious set up, which was very refreshing.

The Librarians use Language, the primal Language of everything. They use it to command stuff but they’re very limited in what they can do with it. The alternate worlds are battle grounds for order and chaos. Dragons are on the side of order (along with the Library) and the fae on the side of chaos. This London has steampunk technology side by side with vampires and werewolf, who aren’t hiding from the general public. Oh and time doesn’t flow inside the Library, so most of the Librarians are several decades or centuries old.

This was a fun book but clearly first in a series. There are hints about lot of things, such as just what the senior Librarians are up to and about the main villain, a former Librarian. However, the Librarians come across as very focused on books, to the exclusion of everything else, and even cruel towards people outside their company.

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