novella


The second novella in the Murderbot Diaries SF series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 3 hours 21 minutes
Narrator: Kevin R. Free

I enjoyed the first Murderbot story, All Systems Red, and I enjoyed the voice of the Murderbot just as much in this novella. We also get to see a bit more of the world.

The Murderbot is a security unit, an android with both mechanical parts and cloned biological parts. It’s designed for security on various sites and ships. What it hasn’t been designed for is interactions with humans and that makes it nervous. Because of an incident in the past where it (supposedly) killed lots of humans, it christened itself Murderbot. However, it has only a partial memory of that event so it has decided to go back to that planet and research what actually happened.

The Murderbot has left it’s human owner and former ally. It’s technically a rogue SecUnit but it’s trying to pass for an cybernetically augmented human. However, that’s not easy. When it finds a transport space ship which is going to the right planet, it hitches a ride. However, the transport doesn’t have a human crew, so the Artificial Intelligence of the transport is lonely and wants to interact with the Murderbot. Who just wants to be left alone and view its shows.

I enjoyed the first novella a lot and this was a great continuation. We get some more world-building because the ‘Bot is now outside and eventually forced to work with humans. It tries to minimize that as much as it can but don’t really succeed. It also forms a bond with the transport despite the fact that it calls it ART (Asshole Research Transport). The ‘Bot denies having feelings and yet it clearly has them: it cares for the humans when they’re under its care, it’s scared and anxious. I love that the bot doesn’t have gender. Bots that have sexual parts are called sexbots, or Comfort units. Murderbot doesn’t want to help humans because it’s in love with or attracted to any of them: it’s has been programmed to do so. Just like most humans.

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The second book in the Tensorate fantasy series of novellas.

Publication year: 2017
Format: print
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 211

The first novella followed the childhoods of twins Mokoya and Akeha, and Akeha’s life afterward. This story begins four years after the tragic ending of The Black Tides of Heaven.

Mokoya couldn’t continue her life after that tragedy. She ran from her husband and her life and she joined a ragged band of misfits who are struggling against the tyrannical rule of Mokoya’s mother, the Protector, and also hunting monsters called the naga. Mokoya took with her a large, flying raptor whom she calls Phoenix. She rides it. Mokoya used to be a prophet, working for her ruthless mother. But the tragedy took away her visions. Now, she’s a broken woman who can’t bear the company of her husband or live anywhere familiar.

The band Mokoya joined is led by Adi, an older and very plain spoken woman. They are told that a gigantic naga is approaching the near-by mining city. They also find out that the naga has been magically (or through the Slack as magic is called in this world) altered. Mokoya is hunting the naga alone, against Adi’s commands. When she encounters one naga, she thinks that’s their target and she sets the band against it. However, that naga has a human rider, mysterious and alluring Rider. Mokoya isn’t monogamous and when Rider tempts her, she goes to their bed. (Rider is a non-binary person, using the pronoun “they”.) However, the gigantic naga attacks the city, and soon Mokoya is told that Rider is the one controlling the huge naga. Mokoya isn’t sure what to think.

Mokoya is a broken woman. She’s faced the worse thing that can happen to a parent and it broke her on the inside and outside. She’s reckless and often goes out alone, especially to danger. She can’t accept the tragedy and did something which others don’t approve of. Her husband is patient with her, willing to wait but she can barely look at him.

I really enjoyed the characters in this novella. It has a lot of women which is still pretty rare in fantasy. Blunt-spoken Adi was my favorite. Rider is a mystery, almost an ethereal person, with their own past and goals. The story has also women as bad guys. The world-building is just as delightful as in the first book and we find out a bit more about the Slack and it’s use.

Mokoya’s twin Akeha from the previous book is a significant secondary character. He’s very angry with the world and with their mother. He lives in the mining town, as leader of the local raja’s security forces.

The story deals with grief and grieving, and also with trust. It’s very different from the first book, both structurally and thematically. Like the first novella, it’s also quite different from most other fantasy books that I’ve read.

The first novella is the Tensorate fantasy series. It has a companion novella The Red Threads of Fortune.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: TOR

The novella follows 35 years in the life of Akeha, one of twin children born to the Protector, who is the tyrant ruler of the Protectorate. They’re the youngest of her children. The story begins when Sung, the High Abbott of the Grand Monastery, comes to the Protector to collect a reward he was promised: one of the Protector’s children as a novice. Sung has his eye on the youngest of the Protector’s children, but instead he’s confronted by twin newborns. While the Protector is merciless, she always keeps her word. So, Sung gets two new novices instead of just one. However, the monastery can accept children only when they’re six years old.

Six years later, the twins Akeha and Mokoya arrive to the monastery. Both are upset because they’re taken away from their home. Even then, Akeha is the serious one and Mokoya expresses feelings far more freely. They are both too young to have chosen a gender or sex, so they’re both called “they”.

When the twins are nine, it’s become clear that Mokoya has the gift (or curse, depending) of seeing into the future. When their mother Protector hears about it, she wants Mokoya sent back to her. However, Akeha overhears this and the twins run away. One of them almost dies. After that, the Abbott sends both of them back.

I quite enjoyed the twins, but the world-building was particularly great. It has a magic system based on most of the traditional elements (fire, water, earth) with the addition of forest and metal. They’re used quite creatively; earth for example controls gravity and water motion. Magic is called the Slack and using it is slackcraft. We don’t actually see much of the society at large, because the twins grow up in the monastery and then later Akeha moves around quite a lot. But what we saw was fascinating. The most striking is perhaps that children are born without gender or biological sex. When they decide if they want to be male or female, doctors apparently change them biologically. We don’t hear more than that about it. Akeha and Mokoya make a pact that they won’t choose, but they were five when they did that and eventually Mokoya chooses a gender. Akeha is shocked because they haven’t even thought about it, despite being in the court since they were nine years old. Apparently, the Protector (their mother) didn’t consider Akeha a pawn in the marriage market.

Akeha is the main character of the novella. They are a serious and contemplative person. But when they are determined to do something, nothing stands in their way. They can also be jealous and perhaps a little too quick to kill when violence is needed.

At the beginning, Mokoya is a significant character, too, but then their lives go in different directions, Mokoya is left behind. Their relationship as children is shown in much more detail than any other relationship. Perhaps that’s why the latter part of the story felt a little rushed to me. The people important to Akeha then were not given enough time to really matter to me. Otherwise, I loved this novella and I was happy to see that the Finnish library system has the companion story.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Yesterday, the topic was Top 10 Favorite novellas/short stories.

This is another really hard one. I’ve read quite a few of shorter stories over the years. Also, older works which were considered books previously would now be novellas, going by length. But here are my current favorites:

1, All Systems Red by Martha Wells
This was a treat because I came into it expecting it to be good, because every review I’ve seen of had been favorable. Often enough this creates too high expectations for the work. But they were right; I thoroughly enjoyed the Murderbot’s adventures.

2, Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories
These stories are set in an alternate universe, where magic takes the place of science, even in criminal investigation. Lord Darcy is the Chief Forensic Investigator or Chief Criminal Investigator for the Duke of Normandy. His sidekick is Master Sean who does most of the magical forensics. Most of the cases take place among the rich and powerful so Lord Darcy must be diplomatic.

3, Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold
This little gem follows Miles Vorkosigan who tries to show his famous dad that he can do stuff, too. It ends up haunting Miles for the rest of his life.

4, A Mere Scutcheon by Nancy Jane Moore
A three musketeers story but the Queen’s musketeers are women! It’s part of her Conscientious inconsistencies collection.

5, Women of Futures Past: Classic Stories, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
This is a wonderful collection of science fiction short stories by very influential women writers. The oldest was written in 1933 and the newest 1989. Rusch’s introduction “Invisible Women” is also well worth reading if you’re at all interested in SF history.

6, Penric fantasy novellas by Lois McMaster Bujold
Ms. Bujold has been writing these shorter stories set in her five gods universe in the recent years. They’re fun and nice reads. I’ve really enjoyed the interaction between Penric and the demon riding inside him. The first one is Penric’s Demon.

7, That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn
This short story is available for free at tor.com.

8, The Tomato Thief by Ursula Vernon
This was a fun and yet thought-provoking fantasy novelette.

9, Fiction River: Timestreams
I’ve enjoyed all of the Fiction River collections I’ve read so far and this is among the best. I love time travel stories anyway.

10, The Dispatcher by John Scalzi
In this world, people can’t be murdered because anyone who is killed intentionally come back. The main character is a dispatcher: his job is to humanely put down people who need it.

A fantasy novella set in Bujold’s Five Gods universe. While it’s the newest in publication order, according to internal chorology, it’s the third. I recommend starting with the first novella “Penric’s Demon” to get the most out of the novella series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 4 hours and 29 minutes
Narrators: Grover Gardner

This story takes place about eight months after the events in “Penric and the Shaman” where Penric met some of the characters appearing in this story.

Learned Penric of the Bastard’s order is fishing with his friend who is a shaman when Locator Oswyl, this world’s equivalent to a detective, comes to get them. Someone has murdered a temple sorceress and he needs help from Penric to locate the demon which was living inside the sorceress. Much to his dismay, Penric can’t locate the demon and they come to the conclusion that someone, most likely the murderer, has stolen the demon.

This is essentially a murder mystery with some intrigue and sorcery added to it. While the temple sorceress is very much dead, her demon (an elemental spirit) which was inside her has mostly likely jumped to another person or animal. Wild demons are very dangerous so Penric must find the missing spirit. The story touches on life and death of humans and the spiritual beings who can be part of the them.

It’s a nice little story. I enjoyed the story and characters, as usual for Bujold. I’m particularly fond of Penric’s demon Desdemona and her interaction with Penric has, so far, always been delight.

The sequel to “Penric’s Mission” and “Mira’s Last Dance”. A fantasy novella. I recommend starting with the first novella “Penric’s Demon” to get the most out of the novella series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 5 hours and 25 minutes
Narrators: Grover Gardner

Penric is a sorcerer in the Bastard’s Order and therefore carrying a chaos demon inside him. He’s also a scholar and a healer, using the demon’s abilities for the healing. He named his demon Desdemona. Des has had 12 previous hosts, both animal and human, but Penric is the first male host. Penric is supposed to return to the temple where he is stationed but has put it off because he has romantic interest towards Nikys Khatai. She’s the widow of a general and the sister of another general. Penric wants to stay near her but is running out of excuses.

Nikys receives a letter which tells her that her mother is kept a prisoner in a Daughter’s House in Limnos. Because of political repercussions, Nikys wants to rescue her quietly. Penric happily volunteers and they set out for another mutual adventure. However, the letter could be a trap.

This is quite a gentle and heart-warming fantasy novella, like a cozy mystery but without the murder (or other crime). The characters are great, as usual for Bujold. There were some tense moments, but I didn’t think the characters were never in any serious danger. Which was fine, for a change. There are a lot of various disguises, daring escapes, and sneaking around.

The story has two POV characters: Penric and Nikys. While Pen is quite a gentle and understanding man, he’s also very powerful because of his demon. But having the demon does have its drawbacks, too, and several of the previous hosts have their own personalities which come to the surface from time to time. Nikys is a very practical and loyal woman. She’s falling for Pen but the thought that he has another person, or rather several people, really, inside him all the time, gives her pause. However, she does seem to take Pen for granted: right at the start she doesn’t even bother to ask him if he’s going to help, just assumes it.

We’re also introduced to a group of new characters. The letter was sent by a woman Nikys’ brother courted before he was declared a traitor. She’s apparently still waiting for him. She and her household agree to help Nikys even with such a questionable and dangerous mission as a prison break. While the Daughter’s House is a temple and not a dreary dungeon, it does have a loyal and dedicated staff. I also really enjoyed several of the new characters, especially Ikos and Bosha, and I’d loved to see more of them.

Overall this was a great continuation and I’m looking forward to seeing Penric and Nikys adventuring as a couple.

A science fiction novella where the main characters is a Murderbot.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: Tor
Page count: 144 in GoodReads

The story is set in a future time where humans have spread to several planets. The story follows a Security Unit, SecUnit, who is an android with both mechanical parts and cloned biological parts. It’s designed for security on various sites. Despite the fact that it’s (it doesn’t have gender nor sexual parts) clearly a thinking and feeling being, legally it’s the property of the company and not a person. SecUnit’s are called Murderbots and that’s what this SecUnit calls itself.

It’s part of a contract to protect a group of seven humans who are surveying a new planet. Another survey group is set somewhat nearby (on a planetary scale). However, the Murderbot’s company buys all parts as cheap as possible so when things start to go wrong, at first Murderbot suspects equipment failure due to shoddy parts. The first anomaly is a huge lifeform trying to eat the scientists. Such a thing should not have been on the planet. Mapping is also faulty. Things escalate even though the Murderbot would rather sit in it’s cubicle and consume entertainment feeds.

The Murderbot is the first person POV character. It has hacked the governor module which is supposed to order it to keep peaceful and to obey the humans. However, the Murderbot just wants to be left alone and watch the entertainment feeds. Everything it knows about interacting with humans it has learned from the feeds. It’s pretty nervous around humans and doesn’t want any face-to-helmet faceplate interaction with them. Face-to-face talk is even more awkward for it. However, pretty soon it doesn’t have a choice.

This was highly entertaining and enjoyable read. Of course, the world’s background isn’t fully explained. The scientists are pretty reasonable people but want to consider the Murderbot’s feelings which it doesn’t want. Happily, there are more Murderbot stories on the way.

“I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,00 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.”

“Yes, talk to Murderbot about its feelings. The idea was so painful I dropped to 97 percent efficiency. I’d rather climb back into Hostile One’s mouth.”

“I was also planning to use the time to watch some Sanctuary Moon and recharge my ability to cope with humans at close quarters without losing my mind.”

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