2017 pick & mix


The sequel to Indexing.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 18 minutes
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal

Henrietta “Henry” Marchen and her team continue their fight against story lines who encroach on people’s lives. This story continues right after the ending of “Indexing” so Henry is in some hot water with the ATI Management Bureau with the things she had to do in “Indexing”. But when their previous foe escapes from the Bureau’s supposedly secure prison, the team has to be ready again. However, Henry’s unorthodox strategy means that a new character joins the team: Sierra who is Bluebeard’s wife and has a few peculiar abilities. The team isn’t thrilled.

Most of the book is narrated by Henry in first person but a couple of chapters are from Sloane’s point-of-view in third person. We also get to know Sloane’ backstory and see more about Henry’s and her brother’s relationship. McGuire also digs deep into the Snow White story. We get a few new stories, such as “the House that Jack built” but mostly we revisit most of the ones in the first book, such as “Cinderella”, “Snow White”, and “Hansel and Gretel”.

This was a great continuation to Indexing but you need to read the first book first.

The first book in a sci-fi series.

Publication year: 2008
Format: print
Page count: 350
Publisher: Tor

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It’s the book of the month for the Space Opera Fans group in GoodReads.

The January Dancer begins with a frame story: a nameless female harper in the Bar talks with a scarred man who tells her the story of the Dancer or Twisting Stone. They are on Jehovah, a planet which seems to be populated by religious humans who are against liquor but allow this one Bar to exist.

The Dancer is an artefact made by prehuman aliens (supposedly). We follow Amos January and his crew when they find the Dancer and three other prehuman objects. The others can’t be moved but January takes the Dancer. It seems that death and destruction follows the object because soon everyone wants it.

But January doesn’t have it anymore. He traded it to New Eireann’s planetary manager in exchange for repairs and promise of a percentage from future sale of the object to the director of the Interstellar Cargo Company. January and his crew are seen a couple of more times but we actually follow other characters.

Little Hugh O’Carroll is a former rebel leader, or the leader of the actual planetary government, depending on your point of view. But he’s in exile, at least until a mysterious figure calling himself the Fundir offers Hugh a chance to get his planet, the New Eireann, back without bloodshed. The Fundir is apparently an agent of much more powerful people.

The other POV characters are servants of na Fir Li. They are sort of policemen. One of them is an expert in moving without being seen and the other is the only woman POV character. She’s drop-dead gorgeous and uses sex as a weapon, leaving broken hearts in her wake (eye roll). Their boss sends them out for other jobs but they are drawn to the Dancer.

The setting is far into the future. Humanity has spread into the stars. The biggest powers currently are Confederation of Central Worlds and the United League of the Periphery. Something has happened to old Earth and a group of people, called the Terrans, want to return to it but can’t. They live in slums (called the Terran Corners) and the others look down on them. Also, apparently people don’t invent new technology anymore. Newton and Einstein are gods and science is religion.

Other human groups seem to be based on cultures from India and old Celts. Some of the cultural stuff I rather enjoyed and I would have want to know more about the setting and the prehumans. Unfortunately, the characters didn’t grab me at all and the plot felt needlessly complicated. Also, there are heavy infodumps when introducing Hugh and later the interstellar police. But on the other hand, some stuff is left (I suspect intentionally but frustratingly) unclear. And the characters speak in a variety of pidgin English. While most of it was clear, some of it was pretty hard to understand.

Interesting ideas and structure but it just didn’t fully work for me.

The first book in the Five Hundred Kingdoms fantasy series. Each seems to be a separate story with different characters.

Publication year: 2004
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 59 minutes
Narrator: Gabra Zackman

Elena Klovis’ mother died some years ago and her father married a woman who already had two daughters. When Elena’s father died, her stepmother took over the household and promptly made her stepdaughter a servant. Elena was forced to become a maid, a cook, and a cleaner while her stepmother refused her even a pair of shoes. Her stepsisters only made her more miserable. Her only friends were the two older women living next door; they help her when they can. The others in the town call her Ella Cinders.

Elena waited for a prince, or any man, to take her away. But the current prince is only eleven years old, and other men are not interested in her. And Elena’s 21st birthday went by without a prince in sight. The story starts when the stepmother and her daughters are leaving. They are heavily in debt and take everything they can from Elena’s home, leaving her behind destitute.

And Elena concocts a plan: she will sell herself as a servant to anyone (kind) who will take her. But nobody wants to cross her stepmother so nobody will hire here. But then a strange woman asks for her services. She turns out to be Madam Bella, her Fairy Godmother. Bella is the Godmother to whole kingdoms, too, so she has a lot on her plate. But she has been following Elena’s life and thinks that Elena will be a capable apprentice and eventually a Godmother on her own. Elena is used to hard work which is good because she will have her work cut out for her, even though it’s different sort of work than before. As she grows more accustomed to fairy servants, flying horses, and all sorts of magic, the only thing still bothering her is that there isn’t a Tradition for a Godmother having a consort. Will she have to be alone all her life?

This was a fun read! I haven’t read Mercedes Lackey before, but I’ve of course heard of her. I didn’t know quite what to expect but thankfully I liked this book quite a lot. It’s a Luna imprint so there’s a romance and couple of sex scenes, too, but they’re later in the book. This sort of romance, where we get to really know the characters well first, suits me much better than an ordinary romance book.

The first half we spend with Elena and learning about the Tradition, which is the power of fairy tales. The Tradition steers appropriate people into traditional (heh) storylines but sometimes something goes wrong. Elena was supposed to be Cinderella but her prince is too young for his role so magic just built around her without any place to go. If Bella had not rescued Elena, she could have become an evil sorceress. (Although I doubt it: Elena is too good-natured for that. But perhaps if she had grown bitter later.)

I really enjoyed the Tradition and the various side characters, such as Madame Arachnia. The unicorns were a lot of fun, too, and the various fairy characters. Elena is also in charge of testing Questers and rewarding the kind knights and teaching a lesson to the arrogant and cruel. If only we could have something like that in the real world!

Gerda Zackman was a great narrator and captured Elena well.

It seems that each book in this series has a different main character. I’ll certainly try the next one which is apparently based on Saint George and the dragon.

The first book in a French historical fantasy series. Original title: Les lames du Cardinal. Finnish title: Kardinaalin miekat.

Publication year: 2007
Publication year in Finnish: 2010
Publisher in Finland: Gummer kustannus oy
Finnish translator: Taina Helkama
Page count: 383

The book is set in Paris in 1633 with Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu ruling the country, in their own ways. Paval has done meticulous research. Indeed, he sometimes interrupts the story to tell us details about Paris and the historical characters at the time. A couple of Dumas characters make cameos.

As a powerful man with many enemies, both personal and France’s enemies, Richelieu employs swordsmen. Some of the best were known as the Cardinal’s Blades but some five years ago the Cardinal had to disband them because of political reasons after a disaster at La Rochelle. Now, he has summoned them to serve him again.

Captain Étienne-Louis de la Fargue isn’t happy to serve and Richelieu has to resort to some blackmail to get the elderly captain back, and soon la Fargue is gathering his group together again. The womanizing, hard-drinking Nicolas Marciac who is also a doctor. The elderly Spanish master swordsman Anibal Antonio Almadès de Carlio. Young Baroness Agnés de Vaudreuil who is headstrong and independent. And a couple of others. All of them respect and love the captain and follow him willingly, even though most have reservations about the Cardinal.

On the other side are the forces of the Black Claw, a secretive Spanish group of people descendent from dragons. They use magic and small pet dragons as well as manipulation and assassinations to infiltrate France. And perhaps the Cardinal who is ruthless when it comes to keeping France safe.

In this world, dragons are real and there are different kinds of dragons. The smallest ones some people keep them as pets and a few can be trained as couriers. Some dragons are larger than horses and willing to carry people. A few people have dragons as ancestors so they are “half bloods”. They have lizardlike eyes and many people shun them. A few were described as lizard men. Apparently, the ancient, huge dragons were very intelligent and malevolent. Also, close contact with dragons can infect people with incurable disease.

And yet, all these dragons don’t seem to have affected the flow of history much. Also, dragon couriers are apparently not trustworthy because important messages are still sent in horseback. Indeed, one of our heroes is carrying such a message and is followed and attacked. I would have thought that following a flying courier would have been much harder.

Pevel has lots of action with daring escapes, duels, and swordfights. He also describes the Paris of the time wonderfully: it has both mansions were the rich and powerful live, the secret courts where the beggars and criminals meet, and filth-ridden streets. The Finnish translation includes a map of Paris in 1633.

The pace of the story is quick with short chapters that sometimes end in cliffhangers. There are a lot of POV characters: in addition to all the blades, there’s the Cardinal, two or three antagonists, and a surprising number of only once-seen characters. This made it sometimes a bit hard to remember who the characters were.

The characters are painted with broad strokes and are epic swordsmen who can handle a dozen enemies at once. In contrast, the plot has lots of twists and turns, keeping this reader guessing. There are also a couple of surprise revelations, one which I guessed beforehand and one which I didn’t see coming at all.

I didn’t like this as much as I wanted to but I might read the next in the series. Hopefully that one doesn’t end in a cliffhanger because the rest haven’t been translated to Finnish.

The final book in the Star Trek: TNG series which returns to the beginning. And to Stargazer.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 276
Publisher: Pocket Books

The cover is misleading: Beverly isn’t in the book much. (Now that I took a good look at the cover on GoodReads I realize that it’s not the same cover! My cover has Beverly and Tuvok. GR cover has Beverly and some unknown white guy, presumably Jack Crusher. So, if you took a mash-up of the covers, they’d be right: Jack Crusher and Tuvok are in the book.)

This is one of the previous untold adventures of Picard’s Stargazer years. (So, still not a Next Gen book…) About a decade before Enterprise-D, (Wesley is just a little boy at this point.) Picard and his crew are about to investigate some very exciting, nearly unexplored ruins. But instead they’re ordered to stop a war between two species who aren’t Federation members. The Melacronites and Cordracites races have hated each other for generations but a Benniari diplomat, Cabrid Culunnh, has managed to avert a war before by creating a neutral place where their diplomats can discuss things. But now a wave of terrorism has swept over both species and they are blaming each other for it. As the nearest starship, the Stargazer is ordered to support the Benniari. Also, they are picking up a person who is familiar with the species and this sector of space. That person is Ensign Tuvok, who resigned from Starfleet decades ago but has recently rejoined.

The diplomat Culunnh suspects that a third party is responsible for the terrorism. Picard sends Ensign Tuvok and Lieutenant Commander Jack Crusher undercover to find the culprit.

The book actually starts with the machinations of the guilty party so we readers know who is responsible. We also know because that same person was behind the plagues in the previous books and was revealed in “Double or Nothing”. So, this is a “how he’s going to get caught” rather than a “who did it” mystery.

We follow Picard’s efforts in diplomacy and he’s fully in character. But the more fun (and funnier) part of the book is Tuvok and Jack Crusher undercover. Tuvok is very formal and cold but he seems to reach a little common ground with Jack through their families. Both have wife and children at home. But Jack’s style rubs Tuvok the wrong way very quickly.

Because this tale isn’t set in Federation space, we also get to experience bars and brothels which aren’t usual in a Trek novel. I can get those in almost any book, so it took away that Trek-feeling.

A decent read but not really necessary to the series, unless you’re interested in Picard’s Stargazer years.

The penultimate book in the Double Helix Star Trek: the Next Generation series. Captain Mackenzie Calhoun and the crew of Excalibur take over the book.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 276
Publisher: Pocket Books

Like previous books in this series, “Double or Nothing” doesn’t have much TNG content. It starts seven years in the past where a fierce Orion dancing girl named Vandelia has been kidnapped by a thug of a man, Zolon Darg, who wants her for himself. She’s rescued by Mackenzie Calhoun who is, in fact, undercover doing something quite else. Darg confronts them but when his base explodes around him, Calhoun and Vandelia leave him for dead. But he’s not. Instead he has a burning desire for revenge.

Seven years later, researches at Daystrom institute have found a way to use nanites to make a computer interface directly to the human brain. Unfortunately, the outpost is attacked by Darg’s forces and the prototype computer stolen. The USS Independence is taking Riker to a fancy celebration. It notices the distress call and comes to help the outpost but is too late – it can only chase the villains to Thallonian space. There the starship is surrounded by many Romulan warships led by Sela, Tasha Yar’s half-Romulan daughter. They attack and destroy the Federation starship. Riker and a some of the crew are rescued by Captain Calhoun and USS Excalibur.

Admiral Nechayev decides to keep Excalibur in Thallonian space, looking for a secret Romulan base. However, she has another assignment for Calhoun and Riker is appointed Excalibur’s temporary captain, much to the annoyance of Excalibur’s first mate, Commander Shelby (from the episode “Best of Both Worlds”). Calhoun is sent into an undercover mission.

This book reveals the big bad guy behind the virus plagues in the previous books. It starts as an action, or even a spy, movie and Calhoun’s plotline does feel like a spy movie. Calhoun even gets some specific spy equipment from a mysterious Professor character before he’s sent off. Riker’s half of the book is mostly comic relief when he gapes at the strange crew and their relationships. We also follow Zolon Darg and a mystery man named Kwint.

This was great fun but I had some trouble believing some of the happenings. For example, Nechayev knows that it’s quite possible that Calhoun will be recognized. That would most likely kill him. So why not send someone else? I had the same gripe about the other undercover agent. Also, the main bad guy came out of the blue. I had no idea who he was. Also, I rather liked Vandelia and she would have made a terrific recurring character. So, I was angry with what happened to her. Also, Sela’s fate was left open. She’s captured, mind raped (which was a horrific decision), and left comatose.

On the other hand, it was great to see a crew which is very different from our familiar crews and to see familiar faces from previous episodes.

The book has several alien races who I’ve never seen and they have apparently only been used in books. Thallonians, who are the main antagonists, seem to be from David’s New Frontier books. Some scenes are set outside Federation space which reminded me more of “hive of scum and villainy” than anything seen on TV.

Still, this was a good read and probably would have been better if I had read New Frontier books before. The next book will return us to the roots of the conflict with the main bad guy and to Picard’s previous command: Stargazer.

Book 4 in the Double Helix Star Trek: the Next Generation series.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 259
Publisher: Pocket Books

Quarantine doesn’t have any of the regular ST:TNG crew. Instead, we got Thomas Riker and some of the crew of Voyager who are still Maquis.

Captain Chakotay and his small crew, including B’Elanna Torres, Tuvok, and Seska, are in the Demilitarized Zone. They’ve stumbled upon the peaceful seeming planet of Helena where most of the people are from mixed races. Helena is suffering from an outbreak of a virulent plague and Chakotay and his crew want to help them. Unfortunately, since the planet is in DMZ, the Federation can’t help and the Cardassians are more likely to destroy the whole population to curb the disease. Still, Chakotay’s crew will try their best.

Thomas Riker is the result of a transporter accident as we saw in the sixth season episode “Second Chances”. He spent eight years trapped in remote science station but was found two years ago (which sets this book after TNG ended and right before Voyager started). He’s tried to make a career in Starfleet but he’s still resentful of his fate and detests his post aboard another Galaxy-class starship. When he gets a chance to change his life, he jumps to it. He decides to transfer to the medical branch where he can still help people. His first job is to shuttle medical supplies to a secret outpost. Unfortunately, the shuttle is hijacked by the Maquis on the way back from the outpost. Riker is reluctant to help them but when he sees that the plague is real and the Federation can’t help, he volunteers.

This time the doctors aren’t the main characters and we don’t see many gruesome sickness scenes as in the previous books. Riker delivers medicine together with young Benzite Ensign Shelzane. They also investigate places, trying to find out who has started the plague. Meanwhile, the Maquis crew has to negotiate with the leaders of the town of Dalgren where the plague hasn’t struck yet. Many of the people of Helena are of mixed races and the colony was started when they fled from persecution to this planet. That’s why B’Elanna is almost forced in the role of a diplomat. The Helenites don’t have any half-Klingon people and are delighted to see B’Elanna, who is half-Klingon and half-human. She’s treated as a celebrity which makes her uncomfortable.

The society on Helena is probably one of the most unique ones I’ve ever seen on Star Trek, even though it does have a clear dark side. The Helenites appreciate genetic uniqueness but they’re bigoted against “unibloods” as they call non-mixed people. Still it was refreshing to see a reversal of the old trope of mixed blooded people always looked down on. They don’t seem to live much in basic families but instead have lots of single parents. Some people have even just donated genetic material and left, letting someone else raise the child. (Granted, we actually see a lot of single parents in Trek but IIRC they’re all widows: Beverly Crusher, Luxwana Troi, Benjamin Sisko, and William Riker’s father.) The people seem very wealthy and happy.

I ended up enjoying the characters and the setting more than the plot. The book has lots of point-of-view characters from Thomas Riker, B’Elanna, Chakotay, and Tuvok to one person from Helena and a high-ranking Cardassian.

A good, if predictable, addition to the series, and of course leaves the main enemy at large.

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