2017 pick & mix


The third Babylon 5 book, set during the middle of the second season, before “Coming of the Shadows”. It draws heavily on the first season episode “The Parliament of Dreams”.

Publication year: 1995
Format: print
Publisher: Boxtree
Page count: 232

G’Kar receives a data message where the daughter of his old enemy Du’Rog swears the blood oath against him. The Shon’Kar is a powerful part of the Narn culture and G’Kar is very much afraid. Shortly, he leaves the station in a one-man craft which explodes before reaching the jump gate. Garibaldi suspects murder and it seems that G’Kar’s craft was tampered with. He investigates but before any conclusions can be drawn, Sheridan sends Garibaldi and Ivanova to the Narn Homeworld, to participate in G’Kar’s funeral and to tell everything they know about the ambassador’s death to the Narn ruling body, the Kha’Ri. Na’Toth will travel with them and also a new character Al Vernon whom Garibaldi meets just before he leaves. Vernon used to live in the Homeworld and offers up himself as a guide to the two humans. Garibaldi accepts but is determined to keep a close eye on him.

Of course, G’Kar isn’t dead. He faked his own death in the hopes of resolving things with Du’Rog’s family, one way or the other, before he’s really killed. He travels to the Homeworld, too.

Most of the book is set in the Homeworld, which was a fascinating place. Temperatures are really cold during the night and really hot during the day, in the same place. This doesn’t seem to bother the Narns but does bother the humans a great deal. We’re shown the rigid caste system of the Narns; people who don’t make it are shunned and live in horrible slums which are practically lawless. The Rangers who are supposed to keep up the law are bullies.

We also meet G’Kar’s wife Da’Kal who is apparently a well-connected woman whom G’Kar loves – but whom he just cast aside when he moved to B5. I don’t think there was ever a mention of G’Kar being married in the series.

This was another quick read. It was mostly enjoyable but there were pretty significant typos, like Garibaldi’s and G’Kar’s names exchanging places. Also, I rather liked Da’Kal but G’Kar’s abandonment of her made him a really callous character. I also really like Mi’Ra who was Du’Rog’s spirited daughter hellbent on getting her revenge on G’Kar. So, interesting alternate version of G’Kar.

The first book in a space opera series.

Publication year: 2004
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours and 45 minutes
Narrator: Cynthia Holloway

Kylara Vatta is the youngest of the Vatta family who owns a very successful space shipping firm. But Ky wants to be a soldier and so she goes to the military academy even over her family’s objections. However, another cadet tricks her and she’s kicked out in disgrace. She’s now an embarrassment to her family so they want her out of sight. At least until everyone forgets her troubles and her mother can marry her off.

However, her father and brother conspire to give her a star ship to captain. The ship is an old one and in fact Ky is expected to take it to a scrapyard. But along the way, she finds opportunities to trade and takes them. Unfortunately, the ship breaks down and leaves her and her crew in the middle of a war, without a functioning FTL drive, so Ky will have to grow up fast and think quick.

This is Ky’s coming of age story as a captain. For her maiden voyage, she’s been given a very experienced crew. She knows that and learns to rely on them, even though at first she wants to do herself everything she can. Her previous experience at the academy serves her well and even though she isn’t a teenager, she still has some flaws to overcome. Other people don’t expect much from her because of her youth and those who know about her previous blunders think that she wants too much to help other people. But she’s very resourceful and a no-nonsense character. She also has a dark side.

The other major characters are the crew members. One of them Ky has known off and on her whole life. I also rather enjoyed a certain senior Vatta captain when he made an appearance later in the book. Ky’s family is very supportive of her but they definitely treat her like a little princess who needs to be rescued. But that did mean that even if Ky had screwed up, her family would have bailed her out which diminished the danger somewhat.

However, only Ky herself is really a memorable character. Also, the story devotes more time to business dealings and trying to get enough money for repairs than action. I was a bit thrown by the fact that this universe uses ansibles for communication because I though Ursula Le Guin invented them.

Even though this is the first book in the series, it doesn’t end in a cliffhanger. But I enjoyed the book enough that I’ll continue with the series.

The second Babylon 5 book, set during the middle of the second season, between episodes “The Coming of Shadows” and “All Alone in the Night”.

Publication year: 1995
Format: print
Publisher: Boxtree
Page count: 278

Commander Susan Ivanova is the second in command of the huge space station Babylon 5. When she gets a message from J.D. Ortega, her flight instructor, she’s at first delighted because she hasn’t see him in years. But he tells her that he’s in trouble and on B5. He suggests a meeting but never shows up. Then his body is found and Ivanova doesn’t have an alibi for his time of death. Worse, J.D. is now a suspected terrorist and Earthdome sends their own investigative team to B5. The team leader Commander Wallace immediately suspects Ivanova of working with a terrorist and soon she’s relieved of duty. Ivanova is convinced that her former friend can’t be a terrorist, even though he is from Mars. She and chief of security Garibaldi investigate.

I’ve heard that this is a terrible book so I was rather pleasantly surprised. The characterization is pretty good. But it’s clearly written for fans of the show as not much time is spent explaining anything. I liked that. Ivanova and Garibaldi are the main characters and most of the rest of the human cast appears.
Despite being in the cover, G’Kar dosen’t appear and neither do the other aliens.

Ivanova had dedicate her whole life to her career, so faced with the possibility of dishonorable discharge or even accusations of terrorism, she isn’t happy, to say the least. However, Sheridan assigns her to a pilot duty which allows her some outlet for her frustrations and she investigates raider activity. Meanwhile, Garibaldi has to deal with the very disruptive and arrogant Commander Wallace who suspect anyone and everyone from Mars.

Good, quick B5 treat.https://www.worldswithoutend.com/covers/lt_accusati.jpg

A fantasy book set in near future.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 319

Six-year old Patricia Delfine finds a wounded little bird and it talks to her. It leads her to a Tree who tell her that she’s a witch and gives her a riddle. She can’t answer it and even soon forgets its wording but it haunts her. She can’t find the Tree again no matter how much she searches it nor can she do anything magical. She’s shunned at school, no matter what she does, and her demanding parents blame her for everything.

Laurence Armstead is a nerdy little boy who manages to build two second time machine watch. He loves science and wants to go and see a space rocket launch. But his absent-minded parents don’t allow him to go. So, he steals some money and goes by himself. There he meets scientists and can touch a real rocket until his parents take him away.

Patricia’s parents forbid her to go to the woods and Laurence’s parents keep sending him to nature camps against his wishes. They’re bullied at school and everyone blames them. Reluctantly at first, they team up against the world. Even though they’re very different, they feel that they can sort of rely on each other. Until Patricia manages to do real magic which scares Laurence.

Life takes them to very different places. Years later, they meet again. This time, they’re working at cross-purposes. Humanity is destroying Earth and they both are determined to do something about it. But very different things.

I liked most of this book a lot, especially the start. The school bullies rang a bit too true to me. I also really enjoyed the assassin who was surreal. One of the best things was Patricia and Laurence’s friendship. They really are very different. Patricia loves nature and she wants to use her natural powers to save it, not just humanity. Laurence loves technology and can build amazing things even at a young age. He wants to use technology to save humanity. They have different circles of friends and they both have things they can’t reveal to each other. Unfortunately, things don’t stay that way.

The characters are very human: they aren’t just good or bad but various shades of gray, doing what they think is right. They’re also very vulnerable.

Unfortunately, for me it lost a lot of its rareness near the end, which was really frustrating. I also didn’t like that all adults in child Laurence and Patricia’s are toxic, including, especially their parents. In the end, I wanted to like it more than I did.

The second book in her Five Hundred Kingdoms fantasy/fairy tale retelling series.

Publication year: 2006
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 hours and 32 minutes
Narrator: Gabra Zackman

Princess Andromeda is the only child of Queen Cassiopeia of Acadia. The king died several years ago. The ambitious and extremely beautiful Cassiopeia rules the country with the help of her adviser Solon. Andromeda, Andie, is 19 but is still considered a child without responsibilities. This frustrates her because she would like nothing more than her mother’s approval. Unfortunately, Andie is plain and her eyesight is so bad the she needs oculars which disappoint her vain mother even more.

However, Andie is very smart and a scholar. When she’s able to prove to Solon that she can research well enough to be useful, Cassiopeia finally starts to treat her as an adult. Andie even finds out that in recent years there have been strange weather patterns along the coast and more shipwrecks than usual. But Andie doesn’t have long to enjoy her new status because a dragon appears in Acadia, for the first time in known history. Andie researches ways to get rid of it but the only thing she finds out is Tradition: the dragon eats a virgin girl every week until a champion arrives to slay it. The queen sends for a champion and meanwhile a virgin girl is sacrificed every week.

But weeks go by and no champion arrives until Andie herself is tied to the stake. Then suddenly a champion appears. He rescues her but doesn’t manage to kill the dragon which just flies away. Andie can’t return home and she persuades the knight to take her with him, which he does but only as long as she won’t be a burden.

This is another enjoyable twist on fairy tales. It’s a mix of St. George, misfit princess tales, and even a dash of Robin Hood. Andie isn’t a traditional princess: she’s plain and bookish but smart and loyal to a fault. She enjoys the company of ordinary guards more than nobility. She knows all about the Tradition and how it tries to change people and things into storylines and so she also knows ways to try to subvert it. Such as it tries to make maidens fall in love with men who rescue them. I was delighted with how this was subverted.

While this book has a romance (it’s a Luna imprint after all) it’s very much down-played. I enjoyed this story almost as much as the first one and especially enjoyed the dragons and the characters who showed up after the half-way point.

The next book, Fortune’s Fool, is apparently based on the Little Mermaid. I’m actually not very familiar with it so I think I’m going to reread it first.

Book two of the Broken Earth fantasy series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours and 19 minutes
Narrator: Robin Miles

Now we find out some of the things that were left unsaid in the first book. Obelisk Gate starts somewhat before the beginning of Fifth Season to show us what happened to Essun’s surviving family: her daughter Nassun and her husband Jija. Nassun’s father took her away, looking for place where she could be cured of orogeny. Nassun is a very smart little girl and she knows her father. But when she found him with her young brother’s body, she realizes that she will have to be very careful with him. So, she goes with him and together they endure traveling and all the dangers. But she can never trust him again; all the time, she has to be on guard and manipulate him. She knows that she can’t be cured and yet she doesn’t want to let go of him.

Meanwhile, Essun story continues from the end of the previous book. She has found a community, Castrima. It’s a strange one, which accepts orogeny and even uses their talents. The comm lives underground and is very selective about their members. Now, she finds out that her former friend and mentor lives there. But he’s in terrible condition; barely alive. He’s still determined to teach to Essun what he knows about orogeny, the obelisks, and history. He brought with him a Stone Eater, a non-human creature and we found out more about them.

The book has one other POV character: a Guardian. We find out more about Guardians as a group and about this Guardian personally. It takes away the mystique the Guardians had in the Fifth Season, of course.

Once again, Essun’s story is written in the second person and the others in first person. The whole book is written in present tense.
At the heart of the story are really the characters and their relationships. Essun is a bitter woman and it’s hard for her to trust. For a long time, she has kept her powers a secret and now she’s in a comm where she can live openly. Indeed, her most useful trait is orogeny. Costrima is far from on ideal place because it’s filled with people who have conflicting feelings and upbringings. They’ve been thrown together because the world is in an upheaval and their own comms have been destroyed. Also, every person has to be useful in order to secure his or her place in the comm.

But Nassun is really at the center of conflicting emotions. She loves her father but also is afraid of him. We also get to know more about her upbringing: Essun was a harsh mother because she thought that she had to teach her daughter to control the power. Essun knows too well what happens when an orogene can’t control herself. Also, Essun herself was brought up just as harshly. But still, I felt very sorry for Nassun who has to grow up too soon and started to loath Essun for what she did to her daughter. At least, she could have explained things better to poor Nassun.

So, I have mixed feelings about this book. Of course, the characters are very well written and the setting is still superb. We get to know more about pretty much everything and I predict that we’ll see a rather emotional ending to the series in the next book (assuming it will end in the next book).

Like the Fifth Season, the Obelisk Gate ends in a cliffhanger. It’s really one long story in in several parts.

Audio wasn’t the best format for this story, at least for me, because I tend to do other things while listening and this book is so complex that it needs full concentration.

The first in an epic fantasy trilogy. It won the Hugo award in 2016. The second book is nominated this year.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Page count: 449 + two appendixes and an excerpt from another book
Publisher: Orbit

Much like Jemisin’s Dreamblood duology, I enjoyed this one a lot. It’s got intricate world building, excellent pacing, some revelations I didn’t see coming, and engaging characters. I’ve wanted to read this series but wanted to wait until it’s complete. However, because of the Hugos I’ve plunged in and will be now eagerly waiting for the final book (for a year…). On the negative side, it’s got a culture where people do terrible things to other people routinely, child abuse, and rather horrible stuff happening.

While this is indeed secondary world epic fantasy, it’s not set in a Middle Age world. Instead, the Stillness (as the continent is called) has had many civilizations but most of them are dead now, because of the wrath of Father Earth, or volcanos and earthquakes. They devastate the land irregularly and people try to prepare. Those deadcivs have left artifacts around and also stonelore which will (hopefully) tell the survivors how to continue to survive. The cultures are therefore geared towards survival in ruthless ways. On the other hand, useful info can get lost.

The clearest fantasy elements are the orogenes who use orogeny, or magic (or genetic trait) which allows them to feel and manipulate heat and earth (or rather the energy related to them). Because of this, most of the ordinary people hate and fear them, thinking that they are responsible for earthquakes and volcanos. If an orogene can’t control his or her powers, they can kill people or even destroy whole cities. But if they can control their powers, they can sooth away earthquakes.

The ordinary people kill them, even their own children who manifest this ability. But the Sanzed empire (the dominant nation on the continent) has a way to corral the orogenes: to train them and make them useful. But the Empire has ruled that the orogenes aren’t fully human: therefore, the orogenes they can get their hands on are treated as slaves: trained from a young age to obey their Guardians unquestioningly and they don’t even have a choice on if they have kids or with who. And always, always they need to control themselves.

The book has three POV characters, all female. The first person we encounter in Essun, who has just found her murdered son, who was three years old. She’s an orogene but hasn’t told anyone in her village: she realizes that the boy must have shown his orogeny powers and his father has beaten him to death. Understandably, she devastated. But when she finds out that her husband has left the small community with his and Essun’s daughter, Essun is determined to find them.

The second person is young girl Damaya who has shown her powers in public a couple of weeks ago and her parents have locked her up. She believes that her parents are going to sell her. Instead, they are giving her to a Guardian who will take her to the place where the orogenes are trained. On the way there, the Guardian will teach her a lot about duty and why she must be controlled and be in control.

The third POV character is a young woman Syenite who is very close to being a fully trained Fulcrum orogene. She longs to rise higher in the hierarchy so that she can finally decide even a few things for herself. Instead, she’s sent on a small errant to a coastal city of Allia. But the point of the trip is that she’s making it with another orogene who is one of the most powerful ones alive currently. Even though nobody says it out loud, Syenite has to get a child with him. Problem is that she loathes him on first sight but they both have no choice but to obey. And not, it’s not a romance story.

All of the characters are finding out a lot of new things, about the world and their place in it. We readers also get to explore alongside them. I was fascinated by all the characters and the world. Most of the book is in third person, except for Essun’s chapters, they’re in second person which felt strange at first, but fit the character. And it’s written in present tense. Essun is the only character who clearly wants something and goes for it. To Damaya and Syenite, things happen and they must cope with them.

At first, I was a bit skeptical about how normal people could keep such powerful people in line, but in the end, I think the control was believable. After all, the kids are raise with duty and control pounded into their heads and the Guardians turned out not to be ordinary. There’s a lot of ruthlessness in the book, people doing terrible things because they believe they must do it. All of the POV characters are hurt a lot, so this isn’t a feel-good book by any means. It explores what people do to other people whom they don’t believe are truly human.

The ending leaves everything wide open and raises more questions which will hopefully be answered in the next two books.

Oh yeah, the book has bisexual and gay characters.

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