Lois McMaster Bujold


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.

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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.

A collection of science fiction short stories by very influential women writers. The oldest was written in 1933 and the newest 1989.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Page count: 267
Publisher: Baen

Lots of people are saying the women don’t write, and publish, science fiction. That’s simply not true. As Rusch shows us in her “Introduction: Invisible Women” women have been writing SF since the beginning of the genre attracting readers and winning awards. But readers and critics, both men and women, have many, many ways of marginalizing and outright forgetting women. They write in wrong subgenre, have wrong themes, the science is outdated etc. etc. ad nasaum. Well, Rusch and Baen are now bringing back some of the ignored women whom the younger generation of readers, and writers!, don’t know.

Much to my surprise this collection has only one writer I haven’t heard of before: Zenna Henderson. Actually, I’ve read only one story from these before: Bujold’s Aftermaths. So, I was delighted to read these stories and I dearly hope there will be more.

The stories are in a variety of styles and sub genres from horror to pulp fiction to time travel. I liked the introductions, too, because Rusch tells us the awards and honors these writers have won and the way they’ve influenced each other and the whole genre.

“The Indelible Kind” by Zenna Henderson (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1968): Miss Murcher is a teacher in a small school and Vincent comes to her school. Vincent is eight but he can’t read much. Otherwise, he’s very bright boy and perhaps something more.
This is one of the quieter stories, with the Other as its theme.

“The Smallest Dragonboy” by Anne McCaffrey (Science Fiction Tales, 1973): Keevan is barely twelve and the smallest of the boys who want to be dragonriders. But the more he’s bullied and teased by the oldest boy, the more he’s determined to impress a dragon hatchling.
It’s been decades since I read Pern books but this story brought the setting right back and made me want to read some of the Pern books I haven’t read.

“Out of All Them Bright Stars” by Nancy Kress (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March, 1985): Sally works in a diner. The US government has contact with aliens but Sally and her friends have only seen them on TV. Until one walks into the diner.

“Angel” by Pat Cadigan (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, June 1987): Angel is the main character’s (MC) friend. He communicates with the MC without words and do all sorts of little tricks. Then Angel sees a strange woman he clearly fears.

“Cassandra” by C.J. Cherryh (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October 1978): One of my favorite authors but I don’t think I’ve read her short fiction before.
The people call her Crazy Alis because to her only she is a solid person. Other people are grey ghosts walking around in a town which is in flames and crumbling down. Medicines take away her nightmares and allow her to sleep, but they don’t take away the things she sees when she’s awake.

“Shambleau” by C.L. Moore (Weird Tales, November, 1933): The oldest story in the collection mixes pulp fiction and horror.
Northwest Smith is an intergalactic smuggler and not the most gallant of men. But when he sees a girl running from a murderous crowd, he rescues her and even gives her a place to sleep. However, the girl isn’t human and then his real troubles begin.

“The Last Days of Shandakor” by Leigh Brackett (Startling Stories, April 1952): Another pulp story but this time with the subject of lost city. Set in Mars in Brackett’s Eric John Stark universe where Mars, Venus, and some of the other planets are habitable and have their own humanlike people.
John Ross in a man from Earth but he lives on Mars. He studies the local peoples and places. Then he sees a man who doesn’t look like anyone else John has ever seen. He calls himself Corin and at first he refuses to take John to his city, which is apparently dying. But reluctantly he agrees and the two set into a desert on the road to Shandakor.

“All Cats Are Gray” by Andre Norton (Fantastic Universe, August/September 1953): Cliff Moran is a down-of-his-luck captain. Steena of the Spaceways, and her gray cat Bat, are a legend among the spacefarers. When she says that the legendary haunted luxury liner Empress of Mars is drifting close by, Cliff believes her and they head out to capture it.

“Aftermaths” by Lois McMaster Bujold (Far Frontiers: The Paperback Magazine of Science Fiction and Speculative Fact, Volume V, Spring 1986): Bujold is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read this little gem several times.

Falco Ferrell is a pilot and new to the Personnel Retrieval and Identification branch of the Escobaran space military. He and his new partner, MedTech Tersa Boni, have been assigned the rubble of space battle. Their task is to retrieve the bodies, identify them, and send them home. But soon, Falco starts to suspect that Tersa has been in the service for too long.

“The Last Flight of Doctor Ain” by James Tiptree, Jr. (Galaxy, March 1969): Doctor Ain travels around the world and everywhere he goes, people fall sick.

“Sur” by Ursula K. Le Guin (The New Yorker, February 1, 1982): This story is alternate history without any SF elements.
Since she was a little girl, the main character has been fascinated by the reports and books by men who have gone to the South Pole. But the dream of going there herself has seen unattainable, until she gathers a group of determined women who share her dream.

“Fire Watch” by Connie Willis (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, February 15, 1982): A story about the time traveling historians! I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this one.

Time traveling to the past is hard. But it’s even harder when you’ve been preparing to walk with Saint Paul himself – and are sent instead to St. Paul’s in the middle of air raids. The main character tries to prepare as well as possible, but it might not be enough.

Not all of these stories worked for me but most of them are strong and some of them are real gems.

Rusch has a related website: http://www.womeninsciencefiction.com/

By the way, some of Leigh Brackett’s work is available on Audible.com if you like audio books.

This is a stand-alone fantasy novella set in the world of Chalion (Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, Hallowed Hunt). Only available to Kindle, as far as I know.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook

I’m a fan of Bujold so I can’t be objective about her work. However, this is a very entertaining fan-tasy novella with a young and somewhat naïve protagonist.

Penric is the younger son of a minor lord. He wants to study but the family can’t afford it. He’s studious, curious, generous, and kind. When the family finds him a marriage match with the daugh-ter of a cheese merchant, he agrees to it and while he doesn’t love his bride, he can easily imagine that he will in time. However, on the way to the betrothal party, he meets a group of people: a cou-ple of servants and an old woman clearly in distress. He offers to help the woman and receives more than he ever imagine: a demon.

In this world, demons are intelligent creatures but they don’t have bodies. Instead, they have to take over another body, animal or human. They’re also not evil but have, of course, very different experi-ences from any human which means that humans don’t necessarily understand them or their reac-tions. Also, if the host has a weak will, the demon can take over completely. Penric has no knowledge of demons or how to control them, so he has to learn it all from scratch. But he’s curious and willing to learn.

This world has five gods: the Mother, the Father, the Daughter, the Son, and the Bastard. They all have their own areas and the Bastard is “the master of all disasters out of Season”, including de-mons and the humans who have one inside, called sorcerers. They’re quite active in the world, in their own way, and they’re a central part of the cultures.

I really enjoyed this gentle tale. It’s very humane, funny, and character-focused. Penric is just look-ing for his place in the world and he’s not a violent young man, at all.

Technically, you can read this before any of the three books set in this world. None of the characters from the books appear here. However, the world is quite complex so it might be a good idea to see it explained more first.

The eARC of Bujold’s new book, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is now out: http://www.baenebooks.com/default.aspx !!

Ms. Bujold has published a new novella set in the five gods universe (Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and the Hallowed Hunt): Penric’s Demon.

It seems that it’s only available as an ebook currently. This is a link to a sample.

11th book in the series in the internal chronological order.

Publication year: 2002
Format: Audio
Narrator: Grover Gardner
Running Time: 10 hrs, 54 m

Miles and Ekaterin are enjoying their delayed honeymoon, off-world, when Emperor Gregor’s message diverts them to Graf station. It’s a commercial space station in the Quaddie space. Komarran ships, which have a fleet of Barrayaran warships as escorts, have run into trouble. Apparently, some Barrayaran soldiers have been murdered or arrested, and shots have been exchanged and some people have been injured. Also, the local Barrayaran informant’s report and the report of the fleet commander are different. So, it’s Miles’ duty to hurry to the station and solve the whole thing, diplomatically. Miles has a mystery in his hands but fortunately he’s quite an accomplished detective by now.

When Miles and Ekatarin arrive to Graf station, they find out that one Barrayaran has apparently been murdered and a group of them are in jail for breaking into a quaddie’s quarters, trying to rescue their fellow soldier from the clutching of the said quaddie. Unfortunately for the fleet commander, the soldier they tried to rescue doesn’t what to be rescued at all.

Miles and Ekaterin’s first children are in the uterine replicators and Miles is anxious to return before their due time, which gives him about four weeks to solve the problem. About half of the merchant ships are owned by the Komarran Toscane family. Gregor’s new wife, the Empress, is a Toscane. Then there’s is of course the mutant problem. Barrayarans hate and loath any mutations and until recently children born with an obvious mutation, even something as easily repaired as a hair-lip, were killed. The quaddies are humans who have been genetically engineered to thrive in free fall: they have arms in place of their legs. Some Barrayarans describe them, in an official report, as “horrible spider mutants.”

The book is set in Graf station so most of the characters are new, which I think was a good choice because the previous book, A Civil Campaign, was set in Barrayar with almost all of the familiar cast present. Here we have Miles and Ekaterin, Miles’ bodyguard Roic, and Bel Thorne who is Barrayar’s informant on Graf station… and in a steady relationship with Nicole, the quaddie musician last seen in Labyrinth. Bel is a former mercenary and Miles’ confidante. We also get an interesting cast of quaddie police, Barrayaran military officers, and various others. We also get to see Miles and Ekaterin working together, which was a delight. I love established couples (or triads but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them) as main characters solving problems together. Not enough of them around!

Quotes:
“All sort of men don’t make it home for the births of their children but ‘my mother was out of town on the day I was born so she missed it’, just seems… seems more profound complaint, somehow.”

“I always thought my parents could fix anything. Now it’s my turn. Dear God, how did this happen?”

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