2017 pick & mix


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.

The fourth and final book in the series Magic Ex Libris where magic comes from books.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 44 minutes
Narrator: David DeVries

About a year ago, Libriomancer Isaac Vainio told the world that magic exists. He was hoping for a future where he and the other Libriomancers can help and heal people openly but instead they face a lot of suspicions and fear. Still, Isaac was able to found New Millennium, a research facility for all things magical. But the US authorities want everything researched thoroughly which frustrates Isaac and sometimes the people he wants to help. Especially when the person he wants to help is his young niece.

But another group of supernatural people want a war with the normal people and they’re attacking politicians who are against magic. Soon, Isaac and his friends are also in the crosshairs.

I’ve really enjoyed this series and was somewhat saddened to see it end. But it ends on a high note which is always good. I loved the new, and old, gadgets and magics Isaac and his friends use. And I really like his endless optimism in seeing how much good magic can do.

The ending is also open enough that there’s a chance Mr. Hines will write more stories in this world.

The third Penric novella in the Five Gods/ Chalion universe. Ends abruptly in almost a cliffhanger.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Kindle e-book

This time Penric is on a secret mission in Cedonia, a new city for us readers. His new master, Duke of Adria, thought he would make a good secret agent and has sent him to offer a job to one of Cedonia’s generals, Adelis Arisaydia. Unfortunately, things go wrong almost at the start and Penric is imprisoned. Fortunately, he is a sorcerer in the Bastard ’s order and his demon could help him escape. Also, the papers he’s carrying get into the wrong hands. As a consequence, the young general Adelis Arisaydia loses his career and more.

The other POV character in the story is Nikys Khatai who general Arisaydia’s widowed sister. In fact, Adelis has been imprisoned for treason even though he is so loyal to his country. Nikys trys to make him escape imprisonment with her, but he refuses, willing to trust his superiors. Unfortunately, that trust is betrayed.

The paths of Nikys and Penric cross and Penric is quickly attracted to Nikys. But Penric realizes that the secret papers he carried put Adelis in danger in the first place, so he can’t say anything to her about his attraction. Also, he feels very guilty about the pain he’s caused to Adelis and decides to do something about it.

This story is set ten years after the first “Penric and the Demon” novella. Penric and Desdemona are comfortable with each other and used to working together. Penric is very confident in his many roles as a healer, a divine (a priest), and a sorcerer. Desdemona is the one of the pair who wants more excitement in their life. She’s also very protective of him; if he dies, she has to leap into the nearest host without much choice whom or what animal she’ll get.

Nikys is a young widow and very close to her stubborn and proud brother. She’s the more level-headed and practical of the two. But I guess Adelis is used to achieving anything he wants and trusting in his own skills and strength. When he’s suddenly helpless it’s very hard for him to trust anyone else than Nikys.

I enjoyed this story a lot, too. It’s gentler tale without emotional wringer, unlike some of her earlier stories. Which is good! Not every tale has to be brutal! And I like her writing style and the characters are great. Nikys and Adelis are very well drawn characters.

The only complaint I have is the abrupt ending. Almost nothing is resolved and the characters are left in a precarious position, if not in an outright cliffhanger. But the next tale, Mira’s Last Dance, is already out.

The first book in an SF series. Which isn’t mentioned on the book, by the way.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Page count: 432
Publisher: Tor

This book is very difficult to review and it wasn’t an easy read, either. It’s complex, very wordy, full of interesting ideas, and frustrating. Mostly it’s written in first person in a deliberately archaic manner by an unreliable narrator who keeps secrets from the reader and more than occasionally addresses the reader directly. It’s also not just influenced by great philosophical and theological thinker but their ideas are talked about in the book, at length. If those are to your taste, you might want to pick it up.

The reader is dropped in the middle of things at first without explanation. But later things are explained, perhaps more than absolutely necessary. The main POV character is a Mycroft Canner, a convict who is now a Servicer, doing penance for his crimes by owning nothing and giving service. In his case, he knows the most important people in this society and while serving them, he gets mixed up in their business, of course. These people aren’t very likable but I guess powerful people rarely are.

The most fascinating, and best, part of the book to me is the society. It’s set in 25th century, during a time when the people of Earth (and on the Moon, yay!) no longer have nation-states. Instead, they have Hives, classes based on what they’re interested in. For example, the Cousins are the care-takers of people. If that’s your passion, you can join the Cousins, no matter where you live. The Utopians are the most advanced scientists who are currently mostly occupied trying to travel to Mars. The Masons, the biggest Hive, are the lawyers and administrators. There are also the Hiveless. Each Hive follows their own laws but there are some laws which are universal. Each Hive also has a different method to choose their leaders. For example, the Masons have an emperor who chooses his follower but the Cousins have a democracy, and the Humanists can vote for anyone they want, not just a guy from a premade list. (Somewhat disappointingly to me, they still choose to vote most for the rich, handsome celebrity who is voted into office time and again.)

Following the great violence in the Church War, organized religions is illegal and even talking about religious ideas in groups of more than three is illegal. However, each person is assigned a sensayer, a priest and a philosopher, with whom they can talk about religious ideas. Sensayer is trained to know all religions, history, and philosophy. Also, biological sexuality has been suppressed. Even though English is still the universal language (but not the only one, people speak French, Japanese, Latin, and other languages) he and she are forbidden because they are too sexually titillating and explicit. So, they is used as a singular. Except that Mycroft uses he and she because he uses archaic language. But he doesn’t use them as a biological differentiator but according to the female and male personality traits of the person he’s describing. Clothing it also gender neutral. Fascinating stuff! (and yeah, I’m a Finn and we don’t use gendered pronouns so it’s not a new idea to me but very interesting to see in English which is so very centered on gender. What about languages with female, male, and neuter pronoun? Would the neuter be used there?)

Oh, the plot. We are introduced to Bridger, a 13-year-old boy who can make things come alive with a touch. More a fantasy concept than scifi. Mycroft and some of his friends are trying very hard to keep Bridger a secret from everyone else and especially from the very powerful people. Also, there’s a burglary which involves a list of names and that becomes more and more important.

I also loved the concept of bash’ which has substituted a family. Essentially, it’s a group of people (usually 2-8 adults) living together and kids are raised in these bash’es. But the adults aren’t all necessarily involved with each other – they can be just very good friends or even siblings. But they could be parents and grandparents, too. Oh, and people from different Hives can live in the same bash’.

Unfortunately, no book is without some flaws. This one felt too long and I wasn’t really interested in all of revelations, especially later in the book. And the setting is much more interesting that the plots. It also doesn’t have a proper ending, just an end.

The third book in the Star Trek: TNG Double Helix series.


Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 293 + an excerpt of the next book, Quarantine.
Publisher: Pocket Books

This time the TNG crew only appears in a couple of chapters and the main character is new character: Eric Stiles. Both Spock and McCoy appear.

The story starts several years before TNG series. Ensign Eric Stiles is the leader of a Starfleet security services special squad. They’re going in planet PojjanPiraKot where the population wants all aliens out. Federation embassy is the last one to be evacuated and Stiles’ group has to get them out. Unfortunately, the who group is full of ensigns on their first mission and things go wrong. Stiles is captured and imprisoned for years. His only companion is another alien prisoner: Romulan scientist Zevon. They keep each other alive and develop a deep friendship.

Years later, the Romulan Star Empire is in an uproar. They’re attacking Federation ships and the Romulans claim they’re just renegade captains. However, the engineered virus has struck again. This time the victims are the Romulan empress and all her blood relatives. And the Romulans are accusing the Federation.

Eric Stiles is a well-drawn character. At the start, he’s a nervous ensign, determined to look good in front of his hero, Spock, who is at the embassy. Then he grows up fast and becomes even a heroic figure but without realizing himself. He carries a lot of guilt around, too.

This is a good look at the less explored side of Star Trek, the less glorified work. Unfortunately, I really wanted to read a book with the familiar TNG cast and this wasn’t it.

Both Spock and McCoy are very distinctive.

A novella in the Five Gods/ Chalion universe. Sequel to “Penric and the Demon”.
Format: Kindle e-book

I enjoyed “Penric and the Demon” a lot and was delighted to see a sequel. It’s not absolutely necessary to read “Penric and the Demon” first because things are explained but I think reading it will increase your enjoyment.

Penric and the Shaman is another lovely piece of fantasy from Bujold and it’s self-contained. However, for a novella length, it has a lot of POV characters: three.

Inglis kin Wolfcliff is the first character we meet. He’s wounded and mistaken for dead but soon he’s rescued by suspicious country people. Inglis is grateful but his life is a mess. He doesn’t really know how to get out of the mess and is just trying to survive.

Penric is minor nobility but more importantly he’s now a divine (a priest) in the Bastard’s order and also a sorcerer because he has a demon inside him. They live and work in the Princess-Archdivine’s court. That demon has had ten previous “riders” or hosts, all of them women. Penric calls the demon Desdemona and they seem to have a very good relationship, except that Penric enjoys reading, translating, and other scholarly duties at the court and Desdemona is bored by them. When a man from the Father’s order come for help, Desdemona is eager to leave and Penric is pretty much just as curious.

Oswyl, a Locator in the Father’s Order, tracking a shaman who has murdered a young man. At least, Oswyl is convinced that the shaman has stolen the man’s soul and possibly murdered him as well. He’s not impressed with Penric who seems way too young to be able to help him but the Princess-Archdivine sends Penric, and so Oswyl has to be content with him.

Many things are not as they first seem. I was already familiar with Penric but I was surprised that four years had gone by since the first novella. Penric has learned and matured to his powers. We also get to see more of the world and the powers of a shaman. However, Penric isn’t really the main character. Inglis and Oswyl are the ones who have to confront their fears and assumptions.

The writing is as beautiful as usual and I enjoyed it a lot.

The third book in the Invisible Library fantasy series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Page count: 358
Publisher: Pan Books

The Burning Page opens shortly after the end of the Masked City. Irene and her apprentice Kai have been kept busy with various assignments in various worlds. In fact, the story starts when they’ve already got their newest book, the Daughter of Porthos by Dumas, and are trying to escape a high-order alternate world were the order comes from a totalitarian society. The portal to the interdimensional library is in an abandoned building and unfortunately it doesn’t work: when Irene tries to open it, the door bursts into flames. Fortunately, they have another way to get off that world and return to the world where Irene is the Librarian-in-Residence. It’s just far more noticeable.

Back in the alternate world where Irene usually lives, her close associate, and a possible romantic interest, Peregrine Vale was previously infected by chaos and has sunk into near suicidal depression. Irene is very worried about him. She knows a couple of possible cures but thinks that they can do more harm than good. She doesn’t really have time to think about them because, somebody is trying to kill her (and/or Kai) and the Library itself is under attack.

The ending of Masked City had consequences to Irene: she’s now on probation and given out the least appealing retrieval jobs. Also, the attention of a dragon king can be negative, at least for her.

This time we get to see more of the inner workings of the Library and meet other Librarians, but under emergency of course. There’s also some inner-Library politicking going on and Irene strongly dislikes that. We also get to see two new alternate worlds, both high-order worlds. I really enjoyed the second one and would love to see it again.

The pace is once again very quick: Irene has hardly a minute to breathe or recover from one emergency until the next. Couple of familiar characters return from the previous books and some earlier plot lines are tied up so I recommend reading them before this one.

This was another great book in this series. I thoroughly enjoyed the alternate worlds and Irene with her growing confidence in herself.

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