2018 pick and mix


The first book in a steampunk trilogy.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours 37 minutes
Narrators: Luke Daniels

Romulus Buckle is the captain of the steam airship Pneumatic Zeppelin. In this post-apocalyptic world, people die young and so Buckle himself and his crew are all under 22. He’s an orphan, like many of the young people, and he was adopted by Balthazar Crankshaft, the leader of the Crankshaft clan. Now, Balthazar has been kidnapped and he is in the dungeons of the impenetrable City of the Founders. Romulus and his crew are on their way to rescue him. But first they must brave the terrible dangers of the wastelands of Noxious Mustard where forgewalkers, steampipers, and other enemies lurk.

The chapters are very short and the point-of-views switch from chapter to chapter. Some of them are flashbacks. I didn’t mind the flashbacks, in fact I found some of them quite interesting but on the other hand sometimes they frustrated me when a flashback was inserted in the middle of a fight scene.

The book has a lot of swashbuckling action and a bit of drama, as well. The airship itself is very well described and it’s often right in the middle of fighting, a character by itself. The writing style is very verbose and might get some time to get used to, but it gives a unique atmosphere to the story. The names are also very distinctive, such as Pluteus Brassballs who leads, of course, the Ballblasters, and Andromeda Pollux, leader of the alchemist clan.

The story has a couple of significant female characters, as well. Sabrina Serafim is the navigator and the second in command of the ship. She’s also Romulus’ adopted sister. Max is the half-Martian chief engineer and she keeps her emotions under tight control, because Martian emotions run hotter than humans. Some characters are also prejudiced against Martians.

This was a fun and action-packed adventure. It didn’t quite end a cliffhanger but the crew isn’t safe yet.

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The fifth and final book in the Vatta’s War science fiction series.

Publication year: 2008
Format: Audio
Running time: 15 hours 40 minutes
Narrators: Cynthia Holloway

Ky has gathered allies and is getting ready to confront the ruthless pirate captain who is behind her family’s fall. But she’s starting to understand just how large the enemy fleet is and that the pirates have undercover agents in many places. They’ve managed to get some enemy communications but they can’t interpret them. The pirate captain in threatening entire planets.

Meanwhile on Cascadia, the young engineering genius Toby has fallen hard for a local girl, but her parents aren’t happy about Toby being an outsider and belonging to an impoverished family. Stella remembers her days of being desperately in love while being very young and is trying to help. However, soon she notices things that might point towards the girl’s family being involved with the pirates. Stella is also running Vatta Enterprises.

Rafe, Rafael Dunbarger, is now the CEO of ISC (the firm that has so far had monopoly on interstellar communications). The firm is also the biggest one in the system, in fact, so huge that the government let ISC almost run the planet. But his troubles are far from over. His father is still fixated on Vatta being the bad guys and the firm is riddled with spies, embezzlers, and traitors. Also, both people inside the firm and outside it are blaming Rafe for the company’s current compromised position and are trying to replace him. Rafe is trying to deal with these people. Also, this is the first time he’s really expected to be a respectable man. He needs to act quite differently than what he’s used to during his years as undercover agent.

For the most part, this was a good read and it’s a good conclusion to the series. I particularly enjoyed Rafe’s younger sister, Penny, and her road to recovery from the kidnapping and the murder of her family which happened in the previous book, Command Decision. Aunt Grace is her own formidable self, but she isn’t seen much. Ky needs to make some very difficult choices.

Unfortunately, there were also a couple of things I didn’t really care for. We got a few new POV characters and I didn’t really care for most of them. The young romance between Toby and his girlfriend was one of them, especially since it was so obvious that her family were up to no good. Also, another new POV I didn’t care at all and felt that it was mostly a waste of time. Ky’s and Rafe’s sudden romance also rubbed me the wrong way. When they were together, a couple of books since, I didn’t get any great romantic feelings from them, almost the contrary. But longer they were apart, the more warmly they thought about each other. Also, other people accuse them of being attracted to each other and that influencing their choices which I was really tired of. It seemed like the more vehemently Ky and Rafe denied it, the more their feelings grew to each other. They also did have the perfect means to be in touch secretly but didn’t use it. That especially seemed very strange to me: if they’re in love, surely they would have used that means.

But still, I was mostly happy with the way this series ended.

The first book in the SF series Expanse.

Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 582 (including an excerpt from the next book and Corey’s interview)

I’ve watched the two seasons of Expanse on Netflix, so I was quite familiar with the world and the story when I started to read the book. However, I was somewhat surprised to find out that the book had only Holden and Miller’s point-of-views and reaches about the middle of the second season. Also, I couldn’t help but to think of the actors and whole visual image of the show. The book didn’t have much descriptions of items, which was also a surprise. My two favorite gadgets from the show are the hand terminals which can be pulled to a smaller or larger size and the zero-g boots which turn off or on when you click them together. I don’t think they were described at all in the book.

James Holden is the second-in-command of the ice miner ship Canterbury. He’s from Earth and used to be in the military but was drummed out and is now on an old space ship. When the Canterbury receives a distress signal from a small ship, the captain orders Holden and four others to investigate. They take a small ship and go out. While they’re investigating, a strange ship destroys Canterbury and everyone on it. Shocked and horrified, Holden sends out the video of the destruction and indicates that Mars is responsible. Holden is an idealist and thinks that people will do the right thing, when they see the video. Unfortunately, the relations between Earth and Mars, between Mars and the rest of the inhabited solar system called the Belt, and between Earth and the Belt are very strained and some people use the video as a reason, or excuse, to stir up war. But Holden and his small crew are stranded and don’t know anything about it. When they call of the company for advice, they’re told to surrender to the Martians. Reluctantly, they do so, but the huge warship is soon under attack.

Josephus Miller is a cop at Ceres station, or rather he works for the security firm which is contracted to keep order on the station. The station has several criminal organizations and it’s his job to know they don’t step over the line. Sometimes he’s given a side mission, like now. The Mao family want their adult daughter Julie back. Essentially, Miller must kidnap her to do that. Reluctantly, Miller starts to look for her but before he can find out much, the station is rocked by the news of Canterbury’s destruction and that Mars could be behind it. When the dust clears a little, Miller returns to Juliet’s case and comes quickly to admire the willful and independent girl. She’s apparently mixed up in very dangerous company and Miller is also drawn in.

Miller and Holden are quite different POV characters. Holden is an idealist who wants the people to know everything possible so that they can make the right choices. Miller has been in the security business for almost 20 years and has seen the worst of humanity. He’s a cynic, always expecting the worst and rarely disappointed.

The world, or solar system, seems dystopic to me: most people (at least the ones we see here) are poor and struggling to survive on Ceres and on Eros station. Then we have the very rich and powerful who have their own agendas and toys. The tensions between people for the Belt, Earth, and Mars seem pretty clear racism to me; no rational cause, just fearing and hating people who are different or coming from a different place. Belters are described as taller and slenderer than humans from the gravity well (Earth and Mars), but in this case I think watching the show did a bit of a disservice to me because of course the actors couldn’t be like that.

Compared to the show, the book has very few female characters and suffers a bit from the “only one girl in a team” syndrome.

Otherwise, I quite enjoyed the book. The tv-show is very faithful to it so many of the scenes were familiar. Of course, there are some differences, as well. The book combines noir mystery, thriller, and horror to the main science fiction genre. It moved along at a nice pace and when it needed to jump ahead some weeks, it was done well. It’s different from many other SF series because it doesn’t have aliens and humanity is confined to our solar system. It’s also handles space travel more realistically, with radiation and the stresses in the body when the ship must accelerate.

The book can be read as a stand-alone but I’m definitely continuing with the series and impatiently waiting for the third season to arrive here.

An SF short story collection.

Translator: Sarianna Silvonen
Publication year: 2016
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2016
Format: print
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Gummerus
Page count: 370

A collection of 19 sf stories. Some are similar to the Quantum thief trilogy, meaning that they have science (nanotech, AI, implants etc.) which is pretty much indistinguishable from magic except by name. Some are mix of science fiction and Finnish mythology, a couple are even modern-day fantasy or horror.

Deus Ex Homine: the main character and his girlfriend are transhumans, soldiers in an AI war. Now, they have one weekend with the girlfriend’s family.

The Server and the Dragon: an isolated AI meets another and wants companionship. A fairy tale in science fiction trappings.

Tyche and the Ants: Tyche’s parents had to leave her alone on the Moon. She tries to follow their orders and protect the base from the ants. This is another nice mix of fantasy and SF. Tyche seems to have created a whole fantastical world in her mind. Or has she?

The Haunting of Apollo A7LB: Hazel is one of the women who sewed the spacesuits for the 1960s space program. Now, when she’s an old woman one of the suits returns to her… with a very puzzled man inside. One of my favorite stories in the collection.

His Master’s Voice: the Dog and the Cat were mostly happy living with their master aboard an old oil rig. The master is a scientist and thinkers with the animals’ intelligence. But then another person comes aboard and everything changes. This is told from the point-of-view of the dog and even though he’s intellectually augmented dog, it still feels like a dog.

Elegy for a Young Elk: in the distant future, almost all humans have chosen to leave Earth to the computer programs which ran over the cities. But one stubborn man chose to stay (with his talking bear) and now his transhuman wife has a huge favor to ask.

The Jugaad Cathedral: Kev knows that he’s spending way too much time on Dwarfcraft. He wants to be a fashion designer but the time on Dwarcraft is lowering his points on Frendipity app so now he must focus on the real world instead of games. This feels like near-future story with apps that dictate people’s relationships and how successful they are at work or at school. Some people, of course, reject them.

Fisher of Men: a modern Finnish man is on his summer cottage when he meets a woman who is much more than she seems at first. The first story which has Finnish mythology and some horror elements.

Invisible Planets: this seems to be a homage to Italo Calvino’s Invisible cities. An ancient probe ship is traveling and gathering data about various planets. Each planet’s society is described briefly.

Ghost dogs: what happens to dogs when they die? Written from the perspective of a child in a dysfunctional family.

The Viper Blanket: another horror/fantasy story. An elderly man picks up his brother from a nursing home for their family reunion.

Paris, in Love: the City of Paris falls in love with a rural Finnish man who doesn’t know how to cope.

Topsight: In future where everyone is connected through apps, a girl is grieving the death of her friend. Their circle of friends are honoring her memory.

The Oldest Game: A Finnish man returns to his rural home, planning to kill himself.

Shibuya no Love: Finnish girl Riina is visiting in Japan and uses for the first time quantum-lovegety program. It’s program that draws people together, but it’s much more than a dating app. I can even see someone working on something like that right now.

Satan’s Typist: a very short horror story.

Skywalker of Earth: Kate Leroy is an NSA agent who works for the division which is looking for ways to stop, well, possible aliens from conquering earth. She never took it seriously, until they found a perfect sphere heading towards Earth. She’s sent to talk with an old scientist who is much more than he appears to be. Great fun. An adventure story which is full of homages to old SF.

Snow White Is Dead: modernized fairy tale. Apparently, this was a choose your own adventure -type of story and this is the most chosen path, although it seems to have two endings.

Unused Tomorrows and Other Stories: a collection of Twitter stories.
I think the Twitter stories are far too short for me. They’re more like an idea of a story and even the longer ones, which are several Tweets, feel like a sketch of a story, leaving the, well, the meat of it out. Too bad, the half-mummy detective is a fun idea.

I liked almost all of these stories, although I’m not a horror reader. I especially enjoyed the blending of Finnish culture with SF which I don’t see much. Also, the dating program thing was a hoot. If you like the Quantum Thief series, you’ll probably like these, too.

While many of the stories have similar elements to the Quantum Thief trilogy, others are very different and show the writer’s flexibility and range. I’m looking forward to reading his newest book, Summerland.

The fourth book in the Vatta’s War science fiction series.

Publication year: 2007
Format: Audio
Running time: 15 hours 3 minutes
Narrator: Cynthia Holloway

Kylara is finally on the trail of the space pirates who’re responsible for killing most of her family and the family business. She’s in command of three vessels and she’s trying to get more people, and governments, to stand up for the powerful and ruthless pirates. However, her small force needs supplies and repairs. With ansibles down, many planets don’t have a way to communicate with one another. And some are taking advantage of the lack of info. Gretna Station’s people are pretty despicable to begin with; they’re raging racists who don’t have any respect for anyone whose appearance doesn’t match they very specific criteria. Now, they’re also slavers. When Ky arrives there she fortunately gets a quick warning about what could happen.

Meanwhile, Rafe, Rafael Dunbarger, is finally returning home in the hope of patching things up with his father, who just happens to be the CEO of ISC, the company who owns that ansibles and therefore has a monopoly on interstellar communication. They had a falling out when Rafe has just a child and he has rarely seen his family after that. But when Rafe arrives, working undercover as he’s used to doing for many years, he doesn’t find his family and any attempts to contact them are blocked. Slowly, he finds out that two of his three sisters are dead, and the rest of his family have been kidnapped. He’s able to hire a competent team to rescue them, but’s that’s only the beginning of his problems: he needs to get the person who is behind this and who wants to control ICS himself.

Kylara’s cousin Stella is reeling with the news she received at the end of the previous book, Engaging the Enemy. Stella isn’t sure she has any place in the Vatta family, but Ky assures her that she wants her to continue building the business back. We also see a little of Aunt Gracie in her new position in the Slotter Key government.

This was a fast-paced continuation to the series. We finally get to see just what is wrong with ISC and why. We also get to see the (monetary) reasons behind their draconian way of dealing with anyone else who tries to repair the ansibles, despite them having been down for many months. I loved seeing Aunt Grace again and Stella is really coming in to her own. Rafe become a much more complex character in this book. Both Rafe and Grace have to deal with government/big company bureaucracy idiocy.

While Ky is still the main character of the series, we saw a little less of her in this book than in the previous book. Moon seems to have a way of giving her characters what they want and but not in the way that the characters want them. Ky gets more allies but she’s quite skeptical about them (I thought they were great). Ky wants a warship and gets a merchant ship modified into a warship, but not without problems. Stella wants to be seen as competent adult and not just the family idiot.

A great continuation to the series and a lead-up to the final book.

A stand-alone scifi book set on the Moon.

Publication year: 2017
Format: print
Publisher: Del Ray
Page count: 307

I really enjoyed Weir’s the Martian and when I saw this in my local bookshop here in Finland, I just had to get it.

Jasmine, Jazz, Bashara lives on Artemis, the only dome city on the Moon. She’s a porter, a person who carries stuff from one place to another. She’s also a smuggler but she’s very firm about what sort of stuff she smuggles in: nothing that will really endanger Artemis. So, nothing dangerously flammable, guns, or hard drugs. She’s prickly and foul-mouthed, swearing all the time. When the billionaire for whom she usually smuggles stuff (cigars) for offers her a chance to earn a million, she doesn’t really hesitate. She goes to work to plan a heist. Soon, however, she finds herself hunted by a killer.

Jazz has made a mess of life when she was a teenager and she fully admits that. She’s had a falling out with her father who is a devout Muslim and a master welder. The station’s chief of security has arrested her many times (Jazz has lived on the station since she was six) and knows that she’s up to no good, he just doesn’t have the evidence, yet, to deport her back to Earth. She’s also had a falling out with her best friend. Due to her own stubbornness and “poor life choices”, as she says, she’s stuck doing menial chores for very little money. That’s the reason she’s a smuggler. However, she cares for the city and the residents. So much so that she’s willing to put her own life at risk at times to rescue accident victims.

Artemis was quite a different place than I expected. It has the feeling of being lived in. Some super rich, eccentric people live there, and it attracts a lot of tourists. Many people live off the tourism, both restaurant owners and prostitutes as well as the EVA masters who take tourists outside Artemis, safely. In fact, when we meet Jazz she’s trying to pass the EVA master exam and fails it. In contrast to the super rich, and wealthy professionals, Artemis also has poorer people who do the menial jobs. Jazz considers herself poor, but I can’t really agree when she’s been able to save quite a lot even though her living conditions aren’t good. I was quite surprised that Artemis isn’t run by US or other big country but it was written quite plausibly.

The book has another timeline, too. Jazz exchanges emails with her pen pal on Earth and we find quite a lot about both their lives that way. I quite liked this. Since the book is written in first person, quite a lot depends on if the reader likes Jazz’s voice or not. I enjoyed it. I also enjoyed the humor which is also a hit or miss thing.

This is a fast-paced book with intricate, scientific world-building and interesting characters. I’m eagerly looking forward to Weir’s next book.

The first book in the fantasy series Thieves of Fate.

Publication year: 2017
Format: print
Publisher: Pyr
Page count: 366

This isn’t the ordinary fantasy world set in pseudo Medieval or Renaissance setting. It’s got two other sentient races but it’s far more technologically advanced than usual fantasy worlds. Most people use guns, not swords. All sorts of mechanical contraptions are become more frequent, at least for the wealthier people.

But what really sets this world apart is its religious philosophy. The Theosophy declares that God and Reason are one. Science and religion are one. God is a scientist, and some believe that life is an experiment. The Reverend Doctors are scientists. There’s no magic as such and the book has only one magical element.

This is a very dark world. Poor people are living on the streets and if you take a loan and can’t pay it, you’re thrown into prison and most likely die there. If you have enough money or right connections, you can do any crime you want. The police are corrupt. Some reviews said the world is Dickensian and that’s a good description.

The story has a lot of POV characters and some of them just disappear before the end. One of those was my favorite character and while I really enjoyed the beginning of the story, I was less enthusiastic with the ending. I found the characters sufficient different from each other that I had no problems following who was who.

Rowena Downshire is thirteen and working as a messenger girl for Ivor who handles both legal and illegal post. Ivor’s got a nasty temper and he feeds and pays the kids who works for him as little as possible. Rowena’s mother is in debtors’ prison and she’s trying to earn enough for both keeping fees and for buying her out. When Ivor’s best messenger girl goes missing, Rowena is sent in her place to Reverend Chalmers’ home with important letters. After receiving the letters, Chalmers sends her to the notorious Alchemist. Unfortunately, a lot of people want the book Rowena is now carrying and she’s robbed of the book.

Rare is a thief. She’s been a thief for most of her young life. While she’s been with her master (and lover) at the start of her career, she’s more independent now. She gets some (or most/all?) of her info from her lover Anselm and uses for her own gain. She’s pretty ruthless and when she gets wind of a prize that many people want, she thinks that she can get it first and sell it to the highest bidder.

Anselm Meteron is a retired thief and now owns several legal places in the city. Rare is his primary mistress and while she infuriates her, he’s very fond of her. When the chief inspector of the city, who is in Anselm’s payroll, comes over and acts strangely, Anselm realizes something is wrong.

Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers is doing important and controversial work with a book that he thinks will change the dominant religion in the world. He’s also nervous because he knows that not everyone will be pleased with that. When the delivery girl finally brings the letters from his partner, he panics and sends the book to the Alchemist. Just in time, because he’s attacked and imprisoned.

Bess is Ivor’s former delivery girl. Now, she’s a courtesan for smallduke Regenzi and he’s young and handsome and doesn’t want anything too difficult. She’s happy to be in a place which feels much safer to her. However, when Regenzi goes to buy something from the Alchemist, that mysterious old man warns Bess that her companion is far more dangerous than she could have guessed.

These are just the POV characters at start of the book. A couple of more are added later.
The two other sentient races in this world are quite clearly not human. The aigamuxa (aiga) are very strong and they’ve been used as slaves before. Their eyes are on their heels and their heads are eyeless. They usually travel by swinging from trees, like apes. The lanyani are tree-like creatures which are used as servants by some richer people. We don’t get much info about the lanyani but the aiga don’t care for humans. However, the human nations have trampled their habitats so some of them no choice but to live in cities. They can be aggressive and use brute strength in combat. While I love weird creatures (Barsoom’s kaldane and rykors!), I’m afraid the aigas’ lack of sight made them some what ridiculous as a credible threat.

The story has lots of mysteries and some are left for the rest of the series. I liked the beginning and the atmosphere of the book a lot. Most of the characters are also interesting, but my favorite character disappears too quickly. Many fantasy books shy away from religion, so it was interesting to see it explored at length here. And I loved the revelations about Anselm and the Alchemist so I won’t spoil them here.

Still, the ending was a bit too predictable and I couldn’t take the aiga as a threat. Almost every time I kept wondering how can they see to do that. It seems to me that they must have some other way to either see or sense their surroundings pretty well.

Still, I enjoyed the book and intend to pick up the next in the series.

I won this book from Books, Bones, and Buffy blog some months back.

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