Gorman, K.; Black Dawn (Eurynome Code 1)(2017)

Karin Makos has a secret she wants to keep under wraps. Her sister knows about it. After all, Nomiki was another child experimented on. In Black Dawn, Karin is our protagonist. We get to know her sister through Karin’s dreams. Black Dawn is told from a third-person perspective as seen from Karin’s point of view and everything we find out about her universe is what Karin experiences and thinks.

Karin, Marc and Soo-Jin  are scavengers, travelling in the Nemina, chasing First Gen Earth objects – like beer cans. They travel to abandoned sites/worlds to find goods and sell them on to collectors. Karin is the overqualified pilot, Marc owns the Nemina and Soo-Jin is their First-Gen specialist and marketer. They are both Karin’s side-kicks and play vital seconds to her in different episodes of this novel. Karin is the only three-dimensional character.

After a successful run someone enters their space ship and attacks all three while they sleep. Abruptly waking from a dream …

She sucked in a breath.

It was a man – or, at the very least, a very life-like, man-shaped shadow. Tall, with edges that blended into the room’s already significant darkness, he stood against the wall with no definition to him, only darkness. she couldn’t see any features, not eyes or the rumples where clothes might be, or – heck, were those arms?

Karin is forced to use her special ability or die. An ability that becomes more and more difficult to hide as the story progresses.

Light pricked through the blackness. The white droplets on her arm still shone, dimmer than before, but persistent.

She brought her hand up. Muscles shaking, she pushed energy into the light. It shivered at her touch like water under a full moon, waxing, growing. The thing’s hand moved into her eyes. A fingertip brushed through her skull like the touch of a feather. She cringed, pulled away. Then she pushed back.

Light exploded from her skin.

The black think shrieked.

Karin confronts her dilemma many times during Black Dawn. To use or not to use. She knows what to expect if people find out about her ability, yet it may be that her ability can save people from the effects of the Shadow people. Few individuals find themselves with both a talent that might save many along with a tendency to freeze in dangerous situations. Karin does. If she had been all alone in the situations in Black Dawn, the novel would have ended much sooner. However, our shero works hard to control her panic attacks and manages to pull through each time.  Black Dawn might be about learning to trust yourself and others. It’s also about needing to use gifts/talents if you want them to grow and about trying to not let past decisions rule current ones.

We find out about Karin’s background and genetic modification as the story develops. Even though it is a serial, the Black Dawn ends at a good spot rather than in the middle of a climax. The story is a science fiction space opera low on technology but high on action/drama/adventure. There is no graphic violence or  sexual content. I liked the prose and do not think I have come across plots with Shadows attackers in them. This was an entertaining story that is the first of a trilogy. Recommended.

Wells, Martha; The Books of the Raksura (I, II, III)(2013)

Published in 2013, the first three stories in the Raksura series are found in a trilogy called “The Books of the Raksura“. After reading a review that had me doubting my previous reading experience, I re-read “The Cloud Road”, “The Serpent Sea” and “The Siren Depths”. I’m glad I did.

A few outsiders lived with the Cordans, but Moon tended to stand out. A good head taller than most of them, he was lean and rawboned where they were heavyset. He had dark bronze skin that never burned no matter how bright the sun, dark hair. The only thing green about him was his eyes.

The Cordans on the other hand were “short and stocky, with pale gray-green skin and dull green hair” and “patches of small glittering scales on their faces or arms”. And, of course, they thought Moon was butt-ugly.

Our introduction to the main character, Moon, reveals some of the themes of all three stories. Resiliency is a trait that grows with practice. When he was around 7 years old, Moon’s family was killed and eaten. Fortunately, his mother had taught him basic survival skills and somehow he managed to live through the next 35 years of being thrown out of communities, towns and camps. One of the first things Moon discovered was that his life depended on his ability to hide his second form (the aeriat one). Most people thought his ariat shape was that of their worst enemy (i.e. Fell, antagonists). When the Cordans discovered he was something more than a groundling, they staked Moon as food for one of the many predator animals of The Three Worlds. That is when Stone changes his life.

It looked bigger from this angle, more than three times his size, but it was hard to focus on. He got an impression of sinuous movement from a long tail, spines or tentacles bristling around its head, a long narrow body standing upright, with a broad chest to support the giant wings…..

…. the dark form was suddenly made of mist and smoke. Then it was gone and a man stood in its place, a tall, lean man with gray hair and strong features, his face lined and weathered.

Shocked, Moon realizes that he is looking at another shapeshifter. One that speaks the language he knew as a child. One that says “I’m a Raksura. So are you.” With that meeting Moon’s understanding of his place in the world is completely turned around. He goes from not belonging anywhere to belonging with strangers. Strangers who find him crazy for not understanding anything about what and who he is supposed to be.

Because Moon is an outsider to his Raksura culture, we get to learn alongside him. Growing up with a specific cultural mind-set brings with it potential benefits and deficits. Some benefits may be having an implicit understanding of ones position in society vis a vis other people along with a necessary knowledge of historical codes. Deficits might include not accepting that people who look like you do not behave according to your understanding of the world. Such is the case in interactions between Moon and his new family.

“Glower said deliberately, “Stone went to look for a consort.” ………… Confused and wary, Moon asked, “What’s a consort?”

Now everybody was looking at him as if he had said something crazy. …..”

“… He didn’t want to explain himself of prove that he wasn’t a crazy solitary every time they met someone new.” ……….

Some of the people of Indigo Cloud are suspicious of Moon’ solitary life. According to them, only Raksura forced into exile live alone. Other Raksura have impossible expectations surrounding  his role as a Consort. Suspicions regarding motivations go both ways. One of the many coping strategies Moon had learned during his 35 years alone was to be careful with his trust. His expulsion from the Cordans are a great example of how trust was once again broken. Long-term trauma also brings with it long-term consequences that are difficult to heal. Even for a person as resilient as Moon is. It doesn’t help that his new clan, Indigo Cloud, go through many crises in these three novels. Not only the Fell strike at Indigo Cloud. Ambitions from the leviathan people work against them in “The Serpent Road” and internal conflicts also hinder healing.

Letting their protagonist learn how to live in a new culture gives an author plenty of opportunities for humorous situations. I love Moon experience with dancing:

“Dancing was another groundling thing that left Moon cold. The quick movements were often distracting and made him twitchy with the urge to hunt, and the slow movements were just boring. It was more fun to watch grasseaters graze.”

Wells understands how to weave those into the story without breaking with tension or flow. Through his mistakes, personality and courage Moon’s character progresses. Since his is our only window to The Three Worlds, we do not get to know other characters as well as we might like. However, Chime and Jade progress with him. When it comes to Stone, I find it difficult to know whether he has progression or whether it is Moon’s growing understanding of Stone that makes me think there is some.

As far as I can tell, there are no humans on The Three Worlds. That is not to say that we aren’t represented. Leaving us out of it would be impossible. An anthropological background gives Wells an excellent playground. Fortunately, her world-building is great. The Fell play their part as  antagonists well. Their understanding of themselves gives Wells an excellent opportunity to shine a light on the darker sides of humanity. As stated above, I’m glad I re-read “The Cloud Road”, “The Serpent Sea” and “The Siren Depths”. I spent as much time as possible on this enjoyable task that ended all too soon. Definitely recommended.

Halstead, Jason; Voidhawk (2011)

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Longing for his own spaceship, Dexter Silvercloud drags his friend Kragor away from his life as a married man to fix a space derelict called Hawk’s Talon. The space ship is stuck in the asteroid field off their planet. Two nights a week are spent fixing up the vessel and Dexter will do anything to buy it. The rest of the week is spent getting enough money together to buy Hawk’s Talon.

One day while traversing the Playground to fetch his friend Dexter stumbled into an ambush. Contrary to stories told around hearths with mulled ale, most ship to ship encounters in the void do not involve catapult shot and ballista bolts flying. Even the rare bombards so often talked about in the story are seldom seen, let alone fired. Only the Federation and the Elven Armada ships are prone to fire at the slightest provocation. Repairs and even ammunition are too expensive for the private ship owner to run the risk.

Three small ships emerged from teh background of floating rocks to close with him. Dexter quickly identified an Ant, a Dart, and the third was little more than a skiff with a sail upon it. Dexter sped up his Gnat, risking the perils of the asteroid field and trying to lose the pursuing ships. Being a Federation scout ship, Dexter was correct in assuming that his was faster than the pirates. They were very familiar with the asteroid field; however, so he was unable to lose them.

The largest one, the Ant, slammed into a pony sized rock, sending one man flying into the void and another to the deck bleeding. Broken planks of wood drifted free, bobbing in the small vessel’s gravity plane. Seeing that gave Dexter an idea.

Yes. You read correctly. Space vessels with wood plating and sails. In space. Sail ships in space. Sorry. I just cannot comprehend why Halstead would choose to place sail ships in space. It makes no sense. Even if they have their own gravity wells. Even though I do not hold space operas to the same rules as most other forms of science fiction. There are  minimum requirements that I have, and Halstead keeps on breaking them throughout the story.

One of the reasons I think I kept on reading was because of a fascination with an author who completely disregards physical laws. Plus Halstead’s writing is halfway decent. If only he had chosen a stricter editor and science fiction beta-readers. Sadly, Voidhawk‘s characters suffer from the same lack.

I cannot say that I recommend Voidhawk. If only … I probably would have.

Andersen, H.C.; Collected stories (1822-1870)

Once upon a time there lived a man in Denmark called Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875). He was born into poverty and its overwhelming harshness. Yet talent and luck brought him out of it.

Many have heard a version of “The little mermaid”. Andersen’s version is one that brought me to tears when I was young. It felt unfair to me, that she gave up so much and gained so little. Now that I am re-reading all of his stories, I’m not certain that was Andersen’s intent. “The little mermaid” is definitely about how unfair life is, how infatuation makes us do things with long-term consequences, but also about hope. Andersen was, according to those who write about his life, a deeply religious man. The idea that he hoped for something wonderful after death shines through his stories. His fears of the horrors that await evil people also comes through some of his stories. To avoid Hell, Andersen made his people go through terrible penances. “The red shoes” and “The girl who trod on the loaf” are two examples his penance type stories. These three stories, and many others, clearly show the position women held in Danish society.

Andersen writes about people who are idiots. “What the old man does is always right” is about a man who is dumber than bread. Yet he still gets out ahead. Irony and humour is strong in that story. Humour was one of Andersen’s tools. “The emperor’s new clothes” is a funny story that nails group effects and foolish traditions right on the head.

Fables were part of his repertoire. Andersen replaced people with animals, plants and inanimate objects. With them he gave us stories such as “The ugly duckling”, “The neighbouring families” and “The darning needle”. Magical creatures such as trolls,  dryads and elves turned up in his tales.

More than anything else, Andersen’s stories are about structural discrimination and abuse. He stood up for people who needed representation. As now, these differences were reproduced and supported by people who could be heard. People like Andersen are always needed. Most societies and cultures discriminate and abuse those unlike themselves. I say most, but I have never heard of any culture where fairness and equal opportunities were practised by either the majority or minority populations. Like society, most of Andersen’s stories have dark undertones and can reveal uncomfortable truths about ourselves if we are willing to look beneath the surface fittings of the stories.

Andersen’s 168 stories have been illustrated by artists such as Lorenz Frölich, Carl Larsson, Vilhelm Pedersen, Stefan Viggo Pedersen and Isidor Törnblom. Many of them have been translated into other languages. H.C. Andersen’s stories are available at Gilead, at H.C. Andersen Centret and in various other languages at Project Gutenberg.

 

Carvic, Heron; Picture Miss Seeton (Miss Seeton 1) (1968)

I bow down to Heron Carvic. Intelligent humour. British humour. If you aren’t a fan of either of those, don’t bother. I giggled. Then I giggled some more.

Each one of Carvic’s gallery is a Character in some way. I’m sorely tempted to compare with other authors, but that goes against everything I believe about writing reviews.

“Miss Seeton prepared to hurry by a couple pressed into an adjacent doorway, when the girl spat:

“Merdes-toi, putain. Saligaud! Scélérat, si tu m’muertes …” She ended on a gasp as the boy’s arm drove into her side.

Oh, no. Really. Miss Seeton stopped. Even supposing the girl had been rude – and it had certainly sounded so – that was no excuse. A gentleman did not hit … She prodded him in the back with her umbrella.

“Young man …”

He whirled and leaped. Deflected by the umbrella he landed beside the prostrate Miss Seeton. Grabbing her by the coat, he jerked her towards him. …”

Miss Seeton is close to retirement age, single and a teacher. Her thoughts are associative and others have trouble following along. She is like this all the way through the book. Well, not all the way. Other things do happen and other people have their own things going. But many of Miss Seeton’s encounters are about her minding her own business until some other person decides to intrude upon it. I have not met such a delightful creature in a long time.

Carvic (pen-name) understood that she needed a strong supporting cast for the concept to work. There is. Due to the crime’s nature, the police – Scotland Yard are involved. Superintendent Delphick (the Oracle) leads up the investigation involving a killer. Deplhick appears able to understand Miss Seeton’s way of thinking. Poor Sergeant Ranger often finds himself at a loss for what to say when Miss Seeton opens her mouth. The village of Plummergen is certainly not ready for her. Except for the gossips. Does she ever fuel their terrible rumours. Then we have Nigel who is trying to save his childhood friend from herself.

British humour is seldom solely about the humour. At least that is the way it seems to me. I did not have to look very hard to find a bit of satire. Yet kind. In that sense Carvic reminded me of a few favourite authors from that part of the world. Picture Miss Seeton is a mystery parody, or a parody mystery, set in a time before electronics took over our lives. I would guess that number one is set at around its publication date in 1968. This e-edition is based on the 1988 version. Apparently parts have been removed from the original version. There are 23 books in the series. Only the first five are by Carvic (he died). Definitely recommended.


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Writing summaries

 

 

Writing reviews got put on hold for a couple of weeks while I wrote summaries for four chapters in two psychology books. My daughter, who attends Vrije University, Amsterdam, asked me if I wanted to write the summaries. The organization (slimstuderen.nl) that organizes the whole thing contacted me and I agreed to write summaries for four chapters. Talk about a brand new experience.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, psychology was my major. I discovered a hard truth about memory. The connections between my neurons have deteriorated. Particularly when it comes to the biological part of Cognitive Psychology and Behavior. Tsk, tsk. Most of chapters nine, “Knowledge”, and ten, “Visual Imagery”, of Cognitive Psychology (Goldstein) and chapters eight, “Control of Movement” and thirteen, “Learning and Memory”, of Physiology and Behavior (Carlson & Birkett) had to be relearned. I had a blast. Back in the day, when I was taught psychology, we were stuck with physical books. If something about the text confused us, we had to move our bodies and find a kind librarian to teach us the archiving system. OMG! The difference. The resources available – yes proper ones as well. How can people not see how amazing the internet is?

Anyways. After editing the summaries a gazillion times, they are now awaiting a verdict. I’m expecting comments to change some of it. Probably not as many for the last chapter I handed in, but definitely for the first chapter. Learning is a blast. Being lucky enough to share with others the joy of writing summaries is beyond belief. When it comes to payment, it is a pittance. But then my reward isn’t the dimes and pennies my daughter gets (yes, it all goes to her). That it would give me such joy came as a complete surprise.

My verdict on the books, themselves? For the main part great. There were paragraphs that could have flowed better. The visual aids were detailed. At times, the visual aids gave a better explanation of processes than the text. It helped that I could enlarge pictures and tables (cause digital books).

Definitely recommended – except for one serious matter. NONE of this material is written with dyslexics in mind. I believe these books are not written with students in mind but rather other academically inclined professionals. The language is exclusive rather than inclusive. My personal opinion is that valuable researchers and psychologists are kept away because of their inability to crack the code neurotypicals habitually use to keep unwanted “dross” out.

I only recommend these books for neurotypicals and “we others” who happen to crack the academic language code. Believe me. It is a code.

 

Kotzwinkle, William: Doctor Rat (1976)

Doctor Rat gives voice to the horrors of the laboratory as seen from the eyes of the lab-animals. Driven insane by the experiments performed on him, many of them without anaesthesia, Dr. Rat encourages the other animals to do their best to be supportive of the torture they experience.

“He’s sensitive chap and it was his exquisite sensitivity that caused him to dream up the item that’s become the latest rage here at the lab: the fabulous removal of the eggs from a female rat’s body—to the tail, to the ear, to the stomach. And for the past twenty-three days, he’s been grafting them to their eyeballs!”

In 2014 one of the Nobel Prizes handed out was for showing why our brain is a GPS system. Two of those who won that prize were May-Britt and Edvard Moser.

In this video, the Moser’s look like nice people. They cuddle the rats and talk about creating lesions on their brains. As far as labs go, this lab is far from the worst. However, this video does illustrate the human position as apex predators.

One argument for experiments like the ones in Dr. Rat or the ones in the labs at NTNU goes something like this “What about medical advancement and further knowledge about improving lives?” I don’t buy that argument at all even though I have benefited and benefit from animal and human experiments. There is no good argument for humans treating lab animals the way cats treat their victims.

I could not read Dr. Rat in one go. Some of the other stories I read can be as violent, but Kotzwinkle‘s writing dug his claws of horror and despair into my brain. In the end, there is a balancing event against the torturers (not only researchers) that in no way makes up for the terrible lives of these animals. Not that such treatment surprises, or even shocks, me. This is the way many humans treat other humans. After all, humans are both predator and prey in our genetic make-up.

“What are they doing to me, Doctor Rat?”

“Let me just check my notes… yes, here we are. You’ll be the tenth rat this week to have his brains sucked out by a pneumatic tube.”

While Dr. Rat is horror, it is also humour, humour of the darker kind, the kind I like. As satire, the story does its job of criticizing society’s proclivity towards violence.

Excellent story. Most definitively recommended.


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