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.

The first book in a mystery series.

Publication year: 1992
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1997
Format: print
Finnish translator: Titia Schuuman
Page count: 272
Finnish Publisher: Otava

The famous German conductor Wellauer is found poisoned in his room at the opera house La Fenice, in Venice. Apparently, someone put poison into his coffee which he drank during the break between the second and third acts of Verdi’s La Traviata. Police Commissioner Guido Brunetti is assigned to the case. Brunetti questions the singers and Wellauer’s significantly younger wife. It seems that while pretty much everyone respected him as a musical genius, they didn’t much care for him as a person. Soon, Brunetti starts to think that Wellauer’s past has something to do with his murder. The conductor was an old man and there were rumors that he had been a member of the Nazi party when he was much younger, during the war.

In fact, it seems that Brunetti is the only competent officer in Venice. His superior got his post because of family ties and it seems that he doesn’t know anything about police work. In this case, Brunetti has two underlings who seem to care more about sitting in cafes than doing their work. In contrast to many other mystery novels, Brunetti isn’t single or divorced. He’s happily married to his wife Paola and they have a son and a daughter. Paola’s parents are aristocrats and they know quite a lot about the people in their circles, which turns out to be pretty important in this case. We find out quite a lot about Brunetti’s and Paola’s life up to this point.

This is not a thriller nor does the book have any action scenes. It’s basic detective work where Brunetti questions people and sometimes finds out something which will point him to the correct direction. The pace is leisurely which fits the plot and the atmosphere.

I quite enjoyed the characters and the leisurely pace for a change. I also really enjoyed the descriptions of Venice.

The first book in a mystery series.

Publication year: 1997
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1998
Format: print
Finnish translator: Ilkka Rekiaho
Page count: 447
Finnish Publisher: Otava

Amelia Sachs is the daughter of a police officer and she’s a patrolling police officer, too, like her father. However, she suffers from arthritis even though she’s just over thirty years old. So, she has asked a transfer into public relations department. But on her last day, she finds serial killer’s victim who has been buried alive. To preserve the crime scene, Sachs stops trains and even traffic on a nearby avenue. However, her supervisor later tells her that she was wrong because she delayed important people from getting to their destinations.

Lincoln Rhyme was one of the best forensics experts in New York before he was paralyzed from the neck down. Now, he’s confined to bed and strongly thinking of killing himself. However, his former partner convinces him to consult on this case. Because Rhyme can’t inspect the scenes himself, he wants a partner who can, and he wants Sachs because she wasn’t afraid to protect the scene and because she’s new to forensics. Sachs agrees, but reluctantly.

Sachs is very beautiful but her arthritis stopped her from becoming a model, so instead she became a beat cop. But she’s not happy with that, either, because reality isn’t like in her father’s stories. She’s determined and headstrong. At first she loathes Rhyme but during the story she starts to respect him and even defend his methods. Unfortunately, the book takes about two days, that’s a very short time for such a change of opinion.

Rhyme was a rude man even before his accident and now he’s even more unlikable. At the start of the book, he has contacted a doctor who might help him to die but then Rhyme starts to get interested in the case. He doesn’t care about the victims, just about the evidence and piecing the puzzle together. In fact, he’s a lot like House or rather because the book was written before House M.D. aired, House is a lot like him.

In addition to these two characters, there is Ryhme’s long-suffering assistant Thom who stays with him even though Rhyme is very dismissive towards him. Ryhme’s ex-wife Blaine is mentioned a few times. Lon Sellitto is Rhyme’s former partner. He has an explosive temper but he’s careful around Rhyme. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters don’t have much of a personality. The best example are two detectives who look exactly the same and even finish each others sentences. They aren’t related.

The plot is very fast-paced and has a lot of twists. Unfortunately for me, the victims are also POV characters and we are shown how the killer tortures them beforehand. Some of the scenes are quite gruesome. I also think that the speed which everything happens is unrealistic. The serial killer/kidnapper seems to kidnap new victims very few hours and the laboratory test results also appear very fast.

The murderer was fascinated with New York’s history and we get to know a little bit of New York’s past. I liked that the most in this book. I also really liked the clues table which is included every couple of chapters. There the reader sees the clues which the detectives have. I’m somewhat surprised no other mystery author uses it.

Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Bernadette Dunne
Running Time: 9 hrs and 25 minutes

Detective Morgan Holiday and her long-time partner Henry Zimmerman are called to see a body. It turns out that the man was shot in a high-powered rifle. Morgan and Henry interview the people who found the body and everyone around the crime scene but they don’t have many clues. Morgan is an experienced detective. Henry is retiring and she’s given a new partner, who looks down on her. Morgan is not happy about it because she has more than enough problems in her personal life: her mother suffers from Alzheimer’s and Morgan couldn’t take care of her full-time, so her mother is now in a home. Morgan visits her every Sunday but her mother doesn’t even recognize her anymore and waits for her son to visit. He lives in Chicago and only stops by a couple of time a year. Morgan is divorced and is struggling to find her own sexuality.

Lois Burnett and Sophie Long are in their late sixties, early seventies and looking forward to their quiet retirement days. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned. Lois’ adopted daughter is a drug addict and she has stolen the money they had saved earlier in their lives. Even though Ruby is now in jail, the women didn’t get their money back. When Sophie is in a car accident, it becomes clear quickly that their pensions just aren’t going to be enough. They decide to do a few sniper jobs in order to pay their bills and even get a little bit of extra. However, they decide that all of the clients have to be strangers and the victims will have to be scum, and not decent people. They would question the would-be clients and research the would-be victims themselves. They stick to the latter rule; their victims are pedophiles and stalkers. But they break the first rule pretty quickly.

Sophie is a former Catholic school teacher and Lois is a former nurse. Lois was in Vietnam and learned how to shoot there. She lived through rather traumatic experiences there and brought with her an orphan Vietnamese girl whom she adopted.

I really enjoyed this book. In addition to Lois, Sophie, and Morgan, there are a couple of other POV characters. One of them is Lois and Sophie’s client Celia Morning who finds out that a pedophile has moved into her neighborhood. I think Miller made a great choice by showing us what a menace the man is and why someone would want to pay to kill him.

I actually felt that Lois and Sophie’s part of the book was the most lighthearted because of the silly secondary characters and the somewhat absurd premise. Celia’s part was quite horrifying, especially when we started to find out what the man was doing, and Morgan’s part was depressing and grim because of her mother. Morgan’s mother manages to escape the facility and comes to Morgan, asking after Morgan’s dead father.

The book has a few delightful secondary characters, such as middle-aged Myrtle whose girlfriend has left her for a former Playboy model. Myrtle is grief stricken but determined to get another girlfriend. The characters feel like individuals and real people.

The books asks questions about the modern justice system where sometimes the guilty are better protected than the innocent. Who can and should choose who lives and who dies?

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