New Authors challenge 2013


J. G. Ballard: The Drowned World
The first book in a science fiction trilogy

Publication year: 1962
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2011
Format: print
Finnish translator: Mika Renvall
Page count: 176
Finnish Publisher: Jalava

Robert Kerans is a biologist in a science station in the remains of a city which has been almost submerged because the world’s temperature has risen catastrophically and in consequence, the water level has risen. The whole world is a similar state: only very few areas are still habitable around the North and South Poles. Kerans is part of a team whose mission is to the map the city, which we learn later is London. The other team members are a group of soldiers, lead by Colonel Riggs, and Doctor Bodkin. London also has one other inhabitant: Beatrice Dahl who has refused to leave her (father’s) apartment and spends her days reading old magazines and sunning herself.

Kerans’ work means that he has to spend a lot of time alone, but he has come to realize that he doesn’t mind it. In fact, he now prefers solitude and has trouble getting along with anyone else. He also spends a lot of time sleeping and not doing much of anything. He and Bodkins theorize that the changing environment is awakening long dormant instincts and memories from the human unconsciousness or racial memory, or perhaps from the womb. Unfortunately, this makes Kerans a pretty passive character.

When Riggs gets orders that the team has to get back to the Arctic Circle, Beatrice refuses to leave and Kerans starts to wonder, if he should stay, too. However, in order to live in the city where the temperature is only going to rise still, they would need petroleum and food.

The first half of the story is almost dreamlike. Ballard describes the sunken city and its inhabitants who are starting to see strange dream and become quite lethargic. There isn’t real conflict until the half-way point of the book and to me, it felt forced.

I would have liked to see how the larger society has changed. Ballard tells us this but doesn’t really show and it doesn’t affect the interactions of the characters. He tells us that, for example, most of humanity has died and the survivors have moved to the Arctic Circle. Clearly, there are still countries with their own military services because they are mentioned at the start of the story but we also told that otherwise, the people live clearly different societies.

Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed by this book but maybe I had different expectations.

My newest review: Gilded: The St. Croix Chronicles by Karina Cooper.

This turned out to be a second book in the series and unfortunately, I think I might have missed some information about the heroine so it felt a bit confusing. The heroine is both an abused orphan *and* a rich heiress?? On the other hand, I really liked the setting and that the plot moved very quickly rather than dragging certain points *cough*romance*cough* over several books.

My newest review: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow and Terry Windling.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like all of the short stories but I did find a couple of interesting new-to-me authors.

This book combines science fantasy (or planetary romance) with modern science fiction.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Narrator: Kristin Kalbli, Bernard Clark
Running Time: 16 hrs

I was a bit nervous when I started to listen this book because I liked the premise a lot but didn’t yet know if it would be great or something I wouldn’t like. Happily, I liked it a lot and I’m looking forward to the next book.

Lt. Shaila Jain is the effective Executive officer on a base in Mars in 2132. She’s in JSC, the EU-USA Joint Space Command. Even though she and the mining base’s commander Diaz are military, most of the bases inhabitants are miners with some scientists. She and a French geologist Stefan Duant are exploring a cave when they experience a ground quake which should not be possible because Mars doesn’t have active tectonic plates.

Tom Weatherby is the second lieutenant aboard the HMS Daedalus in 1779. It’s a frigate but instead of sailing on water it sails in space using alchemy. Weatherby is in the Royal Navy and Britain is in war with France and also fighting against space pirates and rebels. Daedalus fights a rebel ship from Ganymede but they loose their alchemist. In order to keep sailing, they need a new one and they go to a British port near Mercury to find one. They commandeer Mr. Finch who is one of the best alchemists of the time and son of a Lord. They also stumble into a murder mystery.

Both story lines were compelling to me. I loved the Burroughs like 1779 world which has not only sailing ships in space but humanoid aliens. Some of them have been conquered and used as slaves while others fight back. To my eyes, Weatherby is a pretty ordinary young officer from a humble family and who wants a long career in the Navy but is somewhat naïve to the way that the world works. Mr Finch is a very much a contrast to him: a drunkard and a cynic. Lt Plum is the first officer and he’s pretty brutal. We also get to see a few historical people.

The JCS is very competent and I always appreciate that. In contrast to the all-male crew on the Daedalus, JCS has both male and female officers and scientists. In their way, both casts are mostly professionals dedicated to their work.

I really enjoyed this book. I didn’t even mind the fact that both main characters have (understated) romantic sub plots. The audiobook has two readers which helped keep the story lines separate.

A stand-alone book based on Dracula.

Publication year: 2005
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2006
Format: print
Finnish translator: Arto Schroderus
Page count: 596
Finnish Publisher: WSOY

The Finnish translation is abridged. The original seems to be almost 1000 pages.

The book is narrated by a 16-year-old girl who remains nameless. However, most of the time she’s either listening her father tell her about his life or reading letters from various people. Her father, Paul, is a diplomat but he studied history and he tells is story from the time when he’s writing his dissertation about merchants in Holland. The story is also told in several time lines. The main story with the girl happens in 1972 but most of the book is set in the 1950s, and in the beginning some of the letters are from the 1930s. The book has several references to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and it’s pretty clear from the start that the mysterious enemies are vampires.

The narrator lives in Amsterdam. Her father is away a lot and the narrator lives with a housekeeper whom she doesn’t really like. The story starts when the narrator finds a mysterious book and a frightening letter from her father’s study. The book is very old but the only thing on its pages is a picture of a dragon. The narrator insists that her father tells her about the book. Reluctantly, Paul takes her daughter with him on one of his travels and during their stay in various cities, he tells her his story.

Paul was working on his Ph. D. in Oxford university when he found the book. He took it to his mentor, Professor Rossi. To Paul’s amazement Rossi has a similar book and he tells Paul about his research into the historical Vlad Tepes, who is also known as Dracula. On the same night, Rossi disappears.

Paul and a mysterious Hungarian woman Helen start to research Tepes/Dracula in order to find Rossi. They travel to several cities, from Istanbul to Budapest. All the time, they have the feeling that they might be too late to save Rossi and that Dracula’s minions are watching them.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I enjoyed it, especially the descriptions of various cities and the research the characters do. And yet, the book is so very long that I thought about giving up on it a couple of times. Many of the descriptions don’t advance the plot or character development, no matter how fascinating they are. I was also a bit disappointed with Dracula’s final motives and I probably would have been happier about the epilog.

Atmosphere isn’t modern horror by any means. It and the writing style are very much like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, eerie and otherworldly. Also, the Cold War figures into the atmosphere and the plot; it’s difficult to move from the Western European countries to the East. You can’t even send a letter from Britain to Hungary without it being opened and read by a government official at least once. Helen’s descriptions of what it was like to grow up in Soviet ruled Hungary and the tale of how her own mother escaped Romania are quite vivid.

The characters react to the possibility of vampires and more human threats like real people, they definitely aren’t Buffy like characters who laugh in the face of danger and are unaffected by it.

The tenth book in the Star Trek: TNG: Starfleet Academy series.

Publication year: 1996
Format: print
Page count: 120
Publisher: Pocket Books

Beverly Howard (later Crusher) is a first-year medical student. She’s very diligent, just like her room mate Claire Voy. But this morning Claire suggest that they should skip class, because they already know all about Terran Anatomy, and go instead to a nearby archeological site where the archeologists are digging up an old hospital. Beverly agrees, a bit reluctantly, and they head out to the site. Unfortunately, they are caught. Beverly expects for the admiral in charge to put them on probation or perhaps even expel them, but the admiral lets them off with just a warning.

The next day Beverly and Claire take part in a holographic simulation in Medical Emergencies class but something goes wrong. During the simulation Beverly takes part, she feels that the holographic tricorder gives her a shock. Unfortunately, the teacher doesn’t believer her. When Claire takes part in the next simulation, a student is hurt badly. Unfortunately, the teacher blames Claire! Beverly and Claire have to find out what happened.

This is a short book for younger readers. I rather enjoyed the Star Trek atmosphere of hard-working young students. However, the plot has a feel that many YA books do. Namely, that the young protagonists have to do everything themselves because the adults don’t believe or trust them or are just acting stupidly.

Publication year: 2012
Format: Audio
Narrator: Nicky Barber, Shash Hira, Gerald Price
Running Time: 3 hrs, 09 min

Steampunk Holmes was adapted from the “Adventure of the Bruce-Partington plans”. The story starts in a very similar way but later, Martin has added chase scenes and a shootout and the ending is different, too. However, the main change is in the setting and some of the characters.

Mycroft Holmes contacts Sherlock to get his aid. It seems that the plans for the submarine Nautilus have been stolen and they are urgently needed back, or at least away from enemy hands. Sherlock agrees to investigate with the help of Doctor Watson.

In this universe, Watson has a bionic arm, replacing the one he lost in a war and Mycroft is an energetic, beautiful woman working in the highest levels of British government. Sherlock loves to drive too fast on his motorized bicycle, the Widow maker, and his burglary kit contains tools with which he can take over any Babbage engine.

For the most part, I enjoyed the book. The ending felt a bit rushed but the book is pretty short.

Pretty much my only complaint is that Mycroft was changed too much. In the books, he’s a lazy fat man. I don’t know why the writer had to make the female Mycroft extraordinary beautiful. She’s also a very good shot and doesn’t mind leaving her office. In essence, her only resemblance to Mycroft was the name. I find myself in the peculiar position that I quite liked her as a character and most likely if she had been an original character I would have been delighted to meet her. But she’s not Mycroft.

The audiobook has three narrators, two men and one woman. They did an excellent job for the most part. However, for some reason Watson’s voice sounded like it came from a tube or a distance, which was a bit weird.

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