New Author Challenge 2012

The first book in the Thursday Next series set in an alternate universe.

Publication year: 2001
Page count: 373
Format: print
Publisher: Hodder

The book is set in an alternate 1985 Great Britain where the Crimean war with the Russians is still going on. Goliath Corporation is the biggest company in Britain and pretty much runs the country. The people are very enthusiastic about art, especially literature, to the point that people change their names to classical poets and instead of door-to-door missionaries, they have the Baconists who go door-to-door and try to convince people that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Also, Welsh is an independent country and since the war is with Russians, it seems that the Soviet Union never existed.

Thursday Next is a veteran of the Crimean war and now a LitraTec, a literature detective, stationed in London with her pet dodo. The original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit is robbed in broad daylight and nobody saw anything. Thursday investigates the scene but doesn’t find any clues. Then SO-5 operative contacts her and drafts her into finding the fiendish villain who has stole the manuscript, Acheron Hades. Hades is a psychotic master villain with powers nobody else has and he can even hear it when someone says his name so its use is avoided.

Thursday and two other operatives stake out Hades’ brother’s place and soon Hades shows up. The operatives attack but things go sadly wrong. Thursday is the only operative left alive and Hades escapes again. However, Hades’ getaway car crashes and he’s believed to be dead.

When Thursday is recovering in hospital, she sees a brightly colored sports car appear in the middle of the hospital room and a familiar looking woman shouts to her to take a job in Swindon. Then the car vanished and it takes a few moments for Thursday to realize that the woman was… herself.

Swindon is Thursday’s home town and she’s reluctant to return there. However, she thinks that she should listen to herself and returns.

I really enjoyed the setting of the book; it’s full of little scenes that make me laugh. For example, Thursday goes to see a Richard III play where members of the audience are also the actors and the rest of the audience joins in the performance. Also, Thursday goes to Swindon to replace a LitraTec operative who was “shot to death during a bookbuy that went wrong”. The Swindon office has two officers who specialize on Shakespeare related crimes: “They keep an eye on forgery, illegal dealing and overtly free thespian interpretations. The actor with them was Graham Huxtable. He was putting on a felonious one-man performance of Twelfth Night.” I was laughing out loud, in a bus.

However, Acheron Hades was a bit too much a mustache-twirling bad guy who was doing evil because he liked doing evil. Each chapter of the book starts with a quote from another in-world book or a news article, and in one quote, from Hades’ book (Degeneracy for Pleasure and Profit), he even admits that “the best reason for committing loathsome and detestable acts – and lets face it, I am considered something of an expert in this field – is purely for their own sake.” He has some pretty strange assistants, though.

Thursday has a lot of emotional baggage. She fought in the Crimean war ten years ago and her brother was there, too. Thursday survived but her brother didn’t. Also, one of Thursday’s fellow officers said that her brother was steering the attack to the wrong place and her brother got a bad reputation because of that. That fellow officer was Landen Parke-Laine, Thursday’s fiancee. Thursday broke the engagement after that. Landen lives in Swindon so Thursday knows that she has to meet again the man she still loves.

I thoroughly enjoyed Thursday’s uncle Mycroft. He’s an inventor and brought to my mind Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movies. However, Mycroft’s inventions involve, of course, literature. He invented the Prose Portal though which a real person can get into a book and a book’s character can go to the real world. The bookworms were also very entertaining.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast weren’t really memorable to me. Despite that, I enjoyed the book and I’m likely going to read the next one, Lost in a Good Book, which to my surprise is in the library.

The final book in the Star Trek: TNG A Time to… series.

Publication year: 2004
Page count: 344 + an excerpt of Star Trek: Titan: Taking Wing
Format: print
Publisher: Pocket Books

The year that started in A Time to Be Born is finally over. Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E are finally back in the good graces of Starfleet, if not the fleet’s finest as they once were. This book almost feels like an episode of TNG.

The book starts in Qo’nos, in the Klingon homeworld, where Worf is unhappy with his job as an Ambassador because, once again, the job has required him to compromise his honor. Then, a group of Klingon terrorists attacks the Federation embassy rounding up almost all of the staff and visitors, Alexander among them. Unhappily for the terrorists, Worf is the only one who manages to stay free.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise is full of more frivolous story lines, which is almost a relief after the previous books which were so full of death and war. Riker and Troi have finally decided to marry and Troi’s mother immediately decides that the wedding will be on Betazed and that she will micromanage it. Riker has accepted the captaincy of starship Titan and he’s looking for his first officer. His first choice is LaForge who spends a lot of time thinking about it. At the same time, Starfleet Command is sending an inspection team to the Enterprise. Scotty has learned about it and is worried that the team has only people who have a personal grudge against someone on the Enterprise. So, he managed to include himself in the team.

I was delighted to see that the Enterprise part of the book starts with a poker game! The poker games were one of my favorite recurring events in the TNG series so it was great to see them back. Perhaps it helped to create a lighter mood to the book. The Klingon terrorists turn out to have information which could trigger a war between the Klingons and the Federation (again). However, this feels like pretty standard TNG stuff.

We also get to see a vote for the president. At the start of the book, the previous president and his chief of staff were force to resign over the fiasco at Tezwa. Publicly, they just said that it was time to get the Federation a peace time leader. In this book, two candidates are struggling for the presidency. (Really? Billions of planets and just two candidates?) However, we don’t see them enough for this to be really a book about politics. In fact, we barely get a glimpse of one of the candidates, Fel Pagro, who wants to stop Klingons from acting like, well, Klingons. The other candidate is shown in much more detail and with more moderate opinions. The outcome wasn’t really in doubt, for me at least.

This book sets up a lot of things, such as the Titan books. The final chapter is the start of Troi’s and Riker’s wedding in the movie Nemesis and the epilogue is set after the movie. A great way to tie up the loose ends from the series.

A stand-alone SF book which was the inspiration for the movie Blade Runner.

Publication year: 1968
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1989
Format: print
Finnish translator: Kari Nenonen
Page count: 169
Finnish Publisher: Jalava

Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter working for the San Francisco police. His job is to hunt down and kill any androids who have fled from their owners and come to the SF area. He considers himself a poorly paid civil servant who has to hunt the “andys” to get the bonus money. He’s married but apparently his wife is a housewife. Even though money is tight, neither of them even considers that the wife, Iran, could get a job. The other POV character is J. R. Isidore, a special, a human whose brain functions have been damaged by radioactive dust. He ends up living in the same building as one of the androids.

In this world, Earth has been devastated by a nuclear World War and the nuclear dust has contaminated pretty much everything. Everyone is encourage to emigrate to other planets and everyone who moves away from Earth gets a personal android. Rick hunts down these androids who have escaped from their owners and come to Earth.

Rick hears that his superior, Dave Holden, is in hospital because an escaped andy has shot him. Dave was able to get two of the escaped androids but six more are in SF, pretending to be humans. The androids are of new design, Nexus-6, who are reputed to be hard to find out even with the sophisticated Voight-Kamff empathy test. Rick agrees to retire the androids.

However, first he’s sent to Rosen Industries where he’s supposed to test some suspected androids. Instead he ends up testing Rachael Rosen who is introduced as the director’s niece. Rachael fails the test and the Rosens try to bribe Rick that he would be silent about it. However, it turns out that Rachael is an android after all. Then a Russian agent arrive to SF and wants to hunt the androids with Rick but the Russian turns out to be a android himself. After a brief struggle, Rick kills the android and starts to hunt down the others.

Meanwhile, Isidor works as a driver to a “veterinarian” who repairs artificial animals. However, a new client gives Isidor his pet and Isidor doesn’t realize that the cat is a real animal. It dies on the way to the clinic. The clinic’s owner is livid with Isidor and forces him to call to the client. Isidor knows that his mental abilities are impaired and he’s dreading the call. The client’s wife answers and Isidor is able to deal with her.

When Isidor notices that someone has moved in to the otherwise empty building, he has the confidence to talk with the new person. The new renter, or squatter rather, calls herself first Rachael Rosen and then Pris Sutton. Despite her forbidding attitude, Isidor realizes that he would like to be around other people and strikes up a sort of friendship with her. Mostly, Isidor does think for her, unasked, and she tries to keep him away from her.

The world is pretty depressing. The people who still are on Earth know that they’re stupid to still be there and are pretty hopeless. The people use empathy boxes which link them into other people using the boxes and to Wilbur Mercer whose suffering the people witness when they use the boxes. They also share each others’ emotions, joy and depressions. Mercer and the boxes have even become a religion, Mercerism, where everyone is connected and one with each other. People also use technology to alter their own moods using the Penfield wave transmitter. They also watch TV a lot. Buster Friendly’s show runs 23 hours a day and everyone is watching it.

The radioactive dust has killed off wild animals. Now, it’s every person’s social duty to own an animal and take care of it publicly. The animals are quite expensive so the poorest people have synthetic animals who are so well built that it’s almost impossible to know that it’s fake. Rick has an artificial lamb and he keeps it on the roof of his building, together with his neighbor’s horse. He marvels at Rosen Industries’ animals which even includes an owl which are officially extinct. The Rosen try to bribe him with the owl.

I’ve watched Blade Runner a few times and I’m surprised by how different the movie and the book are. For example, in the book the androids seem to have been built for working in environments where humans can’t work. So there are no battle or pleasure models in the book; in fact sex with androids is illegal.

Rick grows more introspective during the story. At the beginning, he has no problems “retiring” androids but he starts to wonder about the reality of things and people around him. He claims that he can sense when a person is an android because he or she is emotionally cold. However, he meets another bounty hunter who is as cold as the androids. He’s also not really invested in Mercerism and wonders if that makes him emotionally cold. The caring of animals is supposed to make people more empathetic but seems more like a status symbol to me. Isidore’s client’s wife says that her husbands loved the cat so much that he can’t bare to hear that it’s dead; yet the wife is the one who takes care of the cat.

In the middle of the story, there are scenes that invite the reader to wonder if Rick is an android with artificial history and feelings. I wondered about it but Rick never did. He was sure that he’s a real human.

My newest review: K. A. Stewart: Devil in the Details.

Now this is urban fantasy I like! The main character is a modern day samurai and he’s happily married.

The first in a mystery series starring amateur detective China Bayles.

Publication year: 1992
Page count: 306
Format: print
Publisher: Berkley

China Bayles owns the Thyme and Seasons Herb Shop in Pecan Springs. About two years ago, she was a highly successful attorney but she got fed up with the high pressure life, quit and bought the shop. She enjoys the peace and her friends. She’s just started to make some money out of the shop.

One of her friends, Jo, is dying of cancer but she’s still a prominent woman in town and vigorously opposing a plan to build an airport near the town. Then, she’s dies. At first it looks like Jo has killed herself but Jo’s daughter and China’s best friend Ruby are insisting that she could do that. China is drawn into investigating her friends life and the various people who gather for her funeral.

I thought this whole books was rather charming. The characters are quirky but not too weird. China herself knows what she wants and doesn’t bow to anyone. Even when her lover wants a more permanent relationship, China doesn’t give into to his pressure. By the way, the relationship between China and her boyfriend is a definite plus. McQuaid is former cop and current teaches at the local university, he’s divorced with a kid. No teenage romance here! Bubba Harris, the town’s chief of police, looks like a hick but he seems to know what he’s doing. Ruby, of course, is one of them most eccentric character. She’s also left a hectic life before quitting it, and her unsatisfying marriage, to run a New Age shop next to China’s herb shop. She’s convinced that Jo couldn’t have killed herself and is determined to find out who murdered her.

Jo’s daughter Meredith is in town on vacation from her hectic life. However, Jo and Meredith have estranged to the point that Meredith is bitter to her mother for pushing her away. Apparently, Jo’s marriage was an unhappy one and Meredith feels that Jo took care of her out of duty instead of love.

One of the themes of the book are the relationships between mothers and daughters. China has a difficult relationship with her alcoholic mother and Meredith was estranged from her mother. China thinks: “But is wasn’t just her alcoholism that made my mother unknowable. It was the nearly overwhelming idea of mother, a woman who was me and yet-not-me, from whom I had somehow, by some complicated and tricky maneuver, to separate myself. I wondered whether any of us ever really knew out mothers, yet whether we could ever be successful in knowing ourselves apart from them.”

Often it’s very hard to see our own parents as just people.

It’s interesting that in the middle of reading this book, I finished another short book which also dealt with mothers and daughters: Karen Wyle’s Wander Home. That book is set in an afterlife where people, family members included, are very supportive of each other. That’s not always the case in real life, though. In both books, women outnumber the male characters and that’s always refreshing.

I’ll probably continue with this series at some point. Some Amazon comments say that the writer’s other series are better and now I’m tempted to try one of them.

The first in the Adrien English amateur detective series.

Publication year: 2000
Format: ebook
Publisher: Puffin Books

Adrien English keeps a bookstore and writes mysteries, although he hasn’t been published yet. Then his one-time closest friend, Richard Hersey, is murdered brutally and the police think that Adrien is the prime suspect because both Richard and Adrien are gay and they had an argument the previous night. Adrien is attracted to the sexy detective Riordan but he turns out to be not only a rude alpha male but homophobic. When Adrien starts getting weird phone calls and horrible gifts, he’s convinced that he will be the next victim if he doesn’t find out who killed his friend.

The book is written in first person. Adrien is a very down-to-earth protagonist. He has a heart problem and so he tries to take it easy. He’s lonely but he’s convinced himself that that’s the best for him and he doesn’t complain about it. He’s not stupid but not too bright either. He has a circle of quirky friends who make the novel shine. He belongs to a writing circle with other mystery writers who are, of course, trying to also figure out who the killer it.

Adrien’s mother is a rich socialite who is constantly asking Adrien to move back home with her. She’s a bit scatterbrained and self indulgent but she’s also very determined when she wants something.

A nice, quick read but there weren’t many suspects. The writing style is light but not as humorous as Kerry Greenwood, for example.

A stand-alone SF book.

Publication year: 1994
Format: print
Page count: 311
Publisher: Puffin Books

Tendai, Rita, and Kuda are General Matsika’s children. They live in Zimbabwe in 2194. Because the General fears that the children will be kidnapped, they have lived their whole lives inside their father’s mansion. The martial arts instructor visits them every week and other teachers teach them through a holophone. Yet, the children are often bored. One day, they scheme to get outside the house. They want to just go to the nearest city, Harare, to explore a little, and get back before the parents even noticed they’re gone. And they would get the Explorer scout merit badges. With the help of their friend the Mellower, they manage to get out. Unfortunately, their father was right; soon they are kidnapped.

The General has a lot of resources but they aren’t suitable for such small targets as the kids. So, Mrs. Matsika decides to hire the only private detectives left in the country: Ear, Eye, and Arm. The three men are friends and they were born with special abilities because of toxic waste near their village. Ear has enormous ears and can hear accurately from long distances away. Eye has extraordinarily sensitive eyes and Arm has very long and strong arms and legs and he can also sense others’ feelings. They are poor and live in the Cow’s Guts district in Harare. The trio is delighted to finally get some work.

There are three point-of-view characters: Tendai, the oldest of the kids is the main pov character. Arm is another pov character and the kid’s mother is also briefly a pov character. Tendai and the other kids have various adventures and they become rather knowledgeable about the city’s underworld. General Matsika, who is also the country’s leader and chief of police, led a war against the gangs. The gangs have been demolished except for the Masks which is widely feared. However, there seems to be a network of child kidnappers operating in Harare even though they aren’t part of a known gang.

The children see how different their rich upbringing is in comparison to the poor who have almost nothing. We also get a glimpse of Resthaven which is a walled village where the inhabitants live their lives as Africans have lived for millenia. Apparently, some think that this is like living in a paradise, unpolluted by modern things. I guess it can be, as long as you’re a man. For the villages’ girls and women who have to do all the boring and nasty work, are married off too young, and die in childbirth, it looks like a very different world. It seems that the girls are also given deliberately less food that boys. And on top of everything, they are constantly told that they are worthless.

The science fiction elements are rather sparse. The rich have robot servants and use holophones and most people use Nirvana guns which put people to sleep instead of killing them, but otherwise the book could have been set into an alternate now. In fact, the book has more elements from myths than SF. Tendai prays to his ancestors and interprets events as answers to his prayers. Some of the ancient beliefs which are still alive in Resthaven seem to be true. The Mellower has the strange ability to hypnotize others with his voice. Spirit medium is a respected profession and it’s a commonly accepted fact that spirits can and do possess people. Most of the time these spirits are benevolent and can give the possessed valuable skills. This mix was unusual and unexpected in an SF book.

The plot was somewhat repetitive with several escapes and kidnappings but I guess that’s usual for YA. Tendai is easily the most complex of the kids. He’s thirteen and he wants to be a warrior, like his father, but when he tries to even practice violence, he always thinks how his victim would feel. This almost paralyzes him and he’s convinced that he’s a coward. Like all the other kids, he’s spoilt and rather self-centered. Yet, he tries to protect his siblings. Rita is the most short-tempered of the three and is quick to irritate even adults. Kuda is a bit too young to have much personality beyond wanting food and entertainment.

Next Page »