A novella in the Diving universe sci-fi series. Set before the series started.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Running time: 2 and 21 minutes
Narrator: Flora Plumb

Tory Sabin is the captain of the anacapa space ship Geneva. She’s extremely capable and she knows the dangers of the anacapa drive personally: when she was young, her father disappeared into the fold space with his ship.

When Sabin hears the distress call from captain Jonathan “Coop” Cooper from the Ivoire, she knows that he’s in real trouble. Coop is very reluctant to ask for help. She whips the other captains into helping Coop but they arrive just in time to see strange smaller ships firing on the Ivoire which then slips into the fold space. And doesn’t return.

Sabin is a driven character. For many years, she was focused on finding her father and became a fold space specialist because of it. Now, she’s a captain and extremely good with that.

This was a great novella, set among the Fleet. We get to know more about the Fleet itself and about Coop’s background. It’s very short and focused on Sabin’s story.

This is a planetary romance book which has two novellas: “The Secret of Sinharat” and “People of the Talisman”.

Publication year: 1964 for the stories, 1982 for the book
Format: Audio
Running time: 8 hours and 31 minutes
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne
Publisher: Del Rey

Dying Mars! This Mars has both Earth humans and aboriginal humans, just like Venus and Mercury. Terrans have apparently often come to exploit the other planets, and their peoples. The aboriginals on Mars seem to be barbarian tribes which wander in the deserts looking for water and loot.

This has two quite straight forward adventure stories: Stark is a loner type, a hardened fighter who still has his own honor code. He was raised by aborigines in Mercury and others consider him a barbarian. But he’s very loyal to his friends and once he gives his word, he’ll keep it. He’s also very practical. But he knows what it’s like to be the underdog and at the start of the first story he’s running from a prison sentence which he earned by smuggling guns to Venusian aborigines who use them against a mining company run by Earth humans.

In the first story Stark agrees to spy on Delgon who is apparently raising a large army of Martians. In exchange, the Earth Police Control will forget his crimes. Stark arrives to the city where many tribes of Martians have gathered. Unfortunately, one of his old enemies, Luhar, is also there and wanting Stark’s blood. Delgon agrees to take Stark on as a mercenary but on the condition that he fights only with Delgon’s enemies. Luhar and Stark aren’t happy about it but agree – for now.

Then Kynon appears. He’s a young man but already a leader. Stark is amazed when he speaks: Kynon claims to know the secret of the Ramas and is willing to share it with his followers. The Ramas were a legendary, ancient race of Martians who had discovered a means of immortality: they can put their own consciousness to others, younger bodies. Kynon has two circlets and a rod. He puts one circlet on a young man and the other on an old man. Their personalities seem to change bodies. But Stark isn’t convinced; he thinks it’s just a trick. But the alternative troubles him.

Stark tries to spy on Kynon but finds out more than he would have thought possible. Also, Kynon has a beautiful mistress who pleases Stark’s eye – and so does her maid servant.

In the second story, Stark is traveling to the city of Kushat with Camar the thief. Camar is badly wounded and wants to return to his home and Stark has promised to take him there. However, Camar realizes that his death is near and takes out a talisman which he has stolen. It’s supposed to keep the city of Kushat safe. Camar makes Stark promise to take it back. Stark sees strange visions through it but he agrees. Soon, he’s captured by riders of Mekh, a barbarian tribe which lives near the city. Their leader Cianan questions Stark and reveals that he intends to conquer Kushat. He tortures Stark but Stark manages to escape to Kushat.

Unfortunately, the city’s leaders don’t believe that the tribe will attack; instead the commander of the city even threatens to jail Stark. They boast that the holy talisman of Ban Cruach will protect them. Stark realizes that if he reveals that he has the talisman, they will kill him, so he says nothing. But he has to stay and wait for the attack even though he knows that the city can’t hold.

Both stories have wonderful, vivid atmosphere of the dying Mars and the people on it, trying to carve out their own existence and fighting each other. Apparently, Brackett was doing a pastiche of Burroughs, and she does it very well. The tribes are full of fighting men and have rigid gender roles. And yet, the women in these stories don’t feel just ornaments, even though the society around them clearly wants them to be so.

I enjoyed these stories a lot.

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.

An urban fantasy novella in Uncollected Anthology called Portals & Passageways.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook
Page count: 47
Publisher: WMG Publishing

I’ve previously encountered these three witches, who are sisters, in a novella in Fiction River: Hex in the City. I was very happy to read about them again.

Portia is a magical dramaturge in Yale. She’s also a witch and that’s mostly a secret. However, some people know and some can guess. An acquaintance from High School contacts Portia for help be-cause nobody else can help her. Genevieve Hill runs a non-profit theater group for disadvantaged kids in Chicago. It turns out that 50 youngsters have disappeared in the middle of a rehearsal of a play and left behind a lot of damages to Chicago’s best hall where they were going to perform. The police blame the kids for the damages and won’t even look for them. Gen needs help.

Portia and her sisters Viola and Rosalind are descended from the three witches in Hamlet. They work best together but they don’t even live in the same city but when Portia calls, they come quick-ly.

In this world, theatres are literally magic. Some plays and songs have portions of spells in them and the spells can affect the actors. Most theatres also have magical energy in them. Also, writing can be magical, too.

This was a fun story and pretty intense even though it’s short. Portia is pretty privileged and her eyes are somewhat opened for how the poorer people live. The sisters don’t always get along, they bicker but they’re all professionals and focused on the job; getting rid of evil magic and protecting people. In this world, technology and magic don’t mix well and only one of the sisters is able to carry a cell phone without breaking it quickly. This sets some interesting limits in a modern world.

The original novella.

Publication year: 1991
Format: ebook
Page count: 210

Roger Camden is a wealthy man and he wants only for the best for his daughter. So, even before she’s born, Roger wants advantages for her. Not just good looks, a slim body, and a high IQ but the newest enhancement: not being able to sleep. It’s still an experimental change and Roger has to stoop to blackmail to get it, but he does.

However, something unexpected occurs: it turns out that Roger’s wife Elizabeth is carrying twins. One of the girls is a normal humans and another is the enhanced one. Elizabeth never wanted a genius child and she’s happy while Roger wants only the enhanced girl. The girls’ grow up rich but from a young age they already sense that they’re different from each other and that their parents treat them differently. Roger wants to send them both to a school for the gifted but after a terrible fight with Elizabeth, Alice, the normal girl, and she goes to a normal school while Leisha is sent to more advanced school. The girls start to drift apart.

When Leisha is fifteen she insists that she meet the other Sleepless, as the enhanced people call themselves. Normal people have difficulty understanding some of the Sleepless’ experiences, so Leisha is very happy to interact with people like herself. However, already some of the Sleepless are starting to be afraid of the normal people whom the Sleepless expect to hate and fear them – because some of the Sleepless consider themselves better than the normal people. Many of the Sleepless have a high IQ and because they don’t have to waste a third of their lives sleeping, they achieve more than normal people their age; they breeze through school and excel in studies.

Unfortunately, the more paranoid Sleepless are correct; some normal people (the Sleepers) don’t understand the Sleepless and are even jealous of them and afraid of them. Unfortunately, this section of US society seem to be more vocal than others and they spread fear among the rest.

This is an interesting study of how humans tend to treat differently people who are different from them. As history shows, humans tend to cast blame and fear towards people who are different from them. The Sleepless, of course, are physically different and can achieve more.

The novella also presents the question of what, if anything, the privileged owe to the poor. Leisha and many of the other characters follow Kenzo Yagai who advocates that man dignity comes solely through what he can achieve through his own efforts and that contracts between individuals is the bases of society, not things taken by force or threat of force. Which is great, as long as a boy is born healthy to a loving family with at least some amount of wealth. Otherwise, not so much. Of women he doesn’t say a word and of course a poor pregnant woman with an illness is in a vulnerable position in a way Mr. Yagai never has to experience himself and can therefore simply ignore.

Some of the Sleepless argue that they don’t owe anything to the normal humans and should even form their own society. However, Leisha is strongly against that. The novella gives an answer to the question which I think is the only answer possible which will likely irritate the people who believe that the poor and the sick should die in gutters because they’re not able to lift themselves out of it.

Leisha and later Alice are pretty much only characters with any meat on them. Unfortunately, the rest of them aren’t really fleshed out. Of course, the ideas are central to the story, more than characters. This was written in 1991 so I don’t know how much information was then available about the effects of sleep. However, the bad side effects of sleeplessness (such as irritability, risk of various diseases, and loss of long-term memory) weren’t dealt with at all. In fact, Kress presents the opposite: that the Sleepless are less passionate, more rational, highly intelligent, and less likely to be sick than the normal humans.

Despite all my criticisms I enjoyed the story and while I’ll probably don’t continue with this series, I’m curious to try something else from Kress.

A collection of five mystery novellas.

Publication year: 2011
Format: ebook, Kindle
Publisher: WMG Publishing

Discovery was first published in 2008, Cowboy Grace in 2003, Jury Duty 2005, Patriotic Gestures in 2008, and Spinning 2000.

In these five stories all of the main characters are women and they have to deal with a mystery one way or another, although they don’t all solve crimes. However, I enjoyed all of them. The second one was my favorite.

In Discovery, Pita Cardenas is a lawyer in a small town and she accepts a client whose case seems at first impossible to win. However, Pita aims to just put food on the table and gather enough evidence that her client would agree to settle. But Nan Hughes doesn’t want to settle. Her husband was supposedly killed while trying to race a train. Nan doesn’t believe it no matter how many eyewitnesses the railroad has. So, Pita digs into the evidence dutifully and finds more than she thought she would.

In Cowboy Grace, the title character, Grace, has just survived a cancer scare. She realizes that she wants more from her life than what she currently has: her own accounting firm and a couple of female friends who don’t even ask her how she feels. So, she sells her firm to her only employee, moves, and changes her name. However, her past isn’t so easy to leave behind.

I also really enjoyed Jury Duty. Pamela has been summoned to court for jury duty. However, she has her own reasons not to want to sit in the jury.

In Patriotic Games, the main character, Pamela again, has lost her only daughter. Her daughter was a soldier and Pamela puts the flag out on her porch. Then someone burns her flag and other flags in her neighborhood. Big mistake; Pamela is a crime scene technician and determined to find out the guilty party.

In Spinning the main character Patricia has joined a spinning class in order to lose weight and get in shape. She’s about to give up when her instructor’s disgusted look gives her determination to not only continue but get even with him. However, things turn out differently.

An SF novella set in the Diving universe. It’s set before the second book in th series, City of Ruins, and you don’t have to read the books to enjoy this story.

Publication year: 2011
Format: ebook, pdf
Page count: 52
Publisher: WMG Publishing, Smashwords edition

The novella is written in first person and mostly in the present tense. The POV character is the starship Ivoire’s main linguist, and the ship’s captain’s ex-wife. Her name isn’t mentioned in this novella but it’s Mae.

Mae is one of three people who are still alive from her group of twenty seven linguists. They went down to a planet to meet with and learn from people who are reputed to be extremely violent. Mae returned caked in blood and no memory of what happened to her and the rest of her team. She isn’t told what the other survivors say. Mae has kept herself confined to her quarters and she refuses all contact from her family and friends. She doesn’t want to remember and thinks that she should have been left behind on the planet where the team died rather than being brought back to the Ivoire. Then the medical evaluation unit sends a team to her and Mae wants a legal representative.

We get to know a lot about the Fifth Fleet from the POV of the people who live there. They live on the ships which roam around the space helping people who need it. I found the fleet fascinating; some ships specialize on things, like training or medicine, and some are the work horses, so to speak, which do the main work of contacting other cultures. However, it seems that each ship has to be mostly self sufficient because they may go a while without contact with the other ships. The fleet has very advanced technology.

This universe doesn’t have aliens but it has a lot of planets colonized by humans, but such a long time ago that they have developed their own languages, technologies, and cultures. And not just on different planets but several different cultures on the same planet! The Ivoire was attacked and used its anacapa drive to jump into the foldspace but the drive has been damaged and the ship can’t return. The tensions on the ship are high.

Since she was a child, Mae has been curious. She wants to know about new cultures and she especially loves learning new languages. However, in this story, she has been severely traumatized which has made her curl inward. She’s still a fighter, though.

This is another excellent tale from Rusch; it’s about culture clash and it’s also a psychological story where Mae struggles with the past she doesn’t want to know.

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