Farrugia, Nathan M.; Inversion (Helix V)(2016)

Farrugia‘s Sophia and Olesya serials have forced me to reevaluate some of my preconceptions, stereotypes or prejudices. Thrillers are meant to keep us at the edge of our seat until some sort of climax occurs. Farrugia’s episodes have brought us threats to humanity, political entities and various teams. His “super-heroes” are Olesya and Sophia, and their various team-members have had their spot in the lime-light. Like all thriller-heroes, Olesya, Sophia and their team-members survive when they, logically, should not. My Aspie demands that I check out what exists and what does not, i.e. stun-net-guns with adhesive qualities. I can lay that aside, because an excellent thriller needs to stretch our sense of logic but not completely break it. Or, at least, that is my judgement of an excellent thriller. Inversion proves, once more, what an excellent writer Farrugia is.

An excellent thriller also needs convince us that their plot could happen in real life. Authors who are not willing to sacrifice their writing to tighten up their plots, research their material and have writing in their blood, never reach that point. Farrugia does.

Inversion brings us to Wrocław, Poland and once again to Purity.

“But how do they frame Russia if everyone’s dead?” Aviary asked.

“Exactly,” Sophia said. “The world will be furious. And in their fury, they’ll support Purity.”

Consider Poland’s Jarosław Kaczyński’s methods:

…Law and Justice party has continued to depict the accident as an assassination of its leader, with blame shared by the usual villainous alliance of liberals and communists….

Poland’s present turmoil is the story of how anger at Poland’s liberals mutated into a war on liberal democracy itself. (The Guardian)

A thriller also needs to mess with our minds. In the Sophia and Olesya serials we do not know who the real powers are. I have made guesses in all of my previous reviews, and some of those guesses now seem wrong. Part of that has to do with the long lives of those who are behind the messes of Farrugia’s world. We have been told, through Major Sievers, Hal and Denton, that there are some seriously powerful people behind what is going on. But I have no idea how interlinked the various groups are.

This time around, the people behind Purity use a celebratory march in Wrocław as a lure for Aviary, and, through her, the Russian Directorate. Purity needs a big, bad bear to blame for what is about to happen. The people behind Purity control elements of The Fifth Column, the leadership of Purity and JW GROM (Poland’s antiterrorism unit).

Intron’s Hélio does not trust the documentation Doctor Meresz shared about the kill-switch. As we saw in Anomaly, that is a good thing. Hélio wants to stay with Sophia until he has run some tests on her theories. He and his body guards go with the team to Wrocław. Whether they are trustworthy is debatable. That depends on Intron’s agenda.

Inversion shows us how little control Sophia and Olesya actually have. Their choices depend on Aviary’s findings and those findings are the result of people who know what will trigger both team-leaders, and especially Sophia.

“… she won’t rest until she rights her wrongs.” He stared at the trashcan. “Even then, I don’t think she’ll stop.”

Besides wanting to know who the people behind these groups are, I really want to know how DC knew how to turn up where he did when he did. And what about that gunship? Who do the cloaked ones belong to? Oh, and when you go into a fight, don’t partner with a person your are falling in love with. Losing focus on the roofs around the market place is seriously dangerous to your health. Try to remember that the next time you go to Wrocław in Poland. And do those bobby pins mean anything? Please, I need to know.

Definitely recommended.

I received a complimentary copy of Inversion from Farrugia


Reviews:


My reviews of:

  1. Helix I (Olesya and Sophia)
  2. Exile (Helix II)
  3. Interceptor (Helix III)
  4. Anomaly (Helix IV)
  5. The Chimera Vector (Sophia)
  6. Seraphim Sequence (Sophia II)
  7. Phoenix Variant (Sophia III)

Inversion can be bought at Amazon.com

 

Vaughn, Carrie: Steel (2011)

steel-by-carrie-vaughn
Steel is a historical fantasy about a girl who is thrown into the past and desperately wants to return to what she had not realized she had. It is an action-filled coming of age story set in beautiful Bahamas on the Diana, captained by Marjorie Cooper. It is a story about choices, and how those choices end up defining us. What Steel is NOT is a swashbuckling romance.

A large wave surged under them then, sending the boat rocking steeply. Jill, the world-class athlete who’d never yet lost her balance in a fencing bout, fell. Stumbling back, she hit the side of the boat and went over. Grabbing uselessly for the edge, she rolled into the ocean. ….

Waves pitched her, her sunglasses were torn away, the water was cold, shocking after the tropical air. She couldn’t catch her breath – swallowed water instead. Flailing, she searched for up, groped for the surface – couldn’t find it. Her lungs were tightening. It had been sunny a moment ago – where was the sun?

Someone grabbed her. Hands twisted into her clothing and pulled her into the air. She clutched at her rescuers, gasped for air, heaving deep breaths that tasted of brine, slimy and salty. But she was out of the water. She was safe. She wasn’t going to die.

Many people talk about pirates as if they lived a romantic kind of life. I suppose many historical eras have people longing for them. But there was little romance going on in days that were usually all about survival. Marjorie Cooper is the Captain of the pirate ship Jill ends up on. Cooper and the rest of the crew quickly realize that Jill is completely at a loss about everything that has to do with a pirate’s life. Suspicions about her being a spy for Edmund Blane (another pirate) are soon squashed by her ineptitude. Even fencing, a sport Jill thought she excelled at, was of a whole different caliber in the Bahamas in the late 1800’s.

Jill could only shake her head – no, she’d never fought for blood. Not real blood. Only ranks, medals, and maybe a college scholarship. She bowed her head, embarrassed, when tears fell. She wiped them away quickly. Her still-wet hair stuck to her cheeks. Salt water crusted her clothing. However much she wanted to sit down, pass out – or drop the rapier, which she wouldn’t have been able to raise again if Henry came at her in another attack – she remained standing before the captain, as straight as she could, which wasn’t very at moment.

“What’s your name, lass?”

“Jill. Jill Archer,” she said, her voice scratching. She only just noticed that she was thirsty.

“And, Jill, how do you come to be adrift in the wide sea so far from home?”

The tears almost broke then, and she took a moment to answer. “I don’t know.”

Slowly, Jill learns what it means to be a pirate and also what it means to be an adult. Basically, that meant work. The kind that left her little time and energy to plan, to regret or to think about her family. Wood had to be kept free of mold, sails had to be mended, ropes had to be spliced, the ship had to be emptied and barnacles removed and repeat. Slaves were rescued, battles fought, magic rapier tips followed and lives were put on the line. All the time the Diana kept on chasing Blane and Jill became more and more part of most of the crew. But not all of it, the Diana‘s prisoner included.

On board, the pirates have a Doctor Emory. When Diana was landed to clean off barnacles, he tried to signal his friends in the hopes that they would see and come rescue him and kill the pirates. Having signed their articles, Jill does not feel the same.

Often, Jill finds herself thinking that she should tell her siblings Tom and Mandy about her experiences. She wonders if her family misses her. She regrets her moping, when, really, there was nothing to mope about. Slowly she goes from being an unaware, privileged, white, middle-class girl to learning some of life’s more difficult lessons. One is that very little in life can be taken for granted. A difficult lesson to learn is that when you feel helpless it is easier to follow orders you do not understand rather than to disobey. What happens when a point that seems like one of no return appears? What then? Jill learns what obsession looks like and how it brings danger to others. She learns about the dire consequences some choices have and how some of those consequences reach far into the future to bring a 16-year old girl into the past to right them.

Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Steel can be found at Amazon

Carr, Patrick W.: A Cast of Stones (The Staff and the Sword I) (2013)

A Cast of Stones, Bethany House Publishers, 2013
I think A Cast of Stones fits the Harry Potter age range. Patrick W. Carr’s writing is technically excellent. The story is well-edited and the text flows from sentence to sentence. As far as plots go, A Cast of Stones is stereotypical epic fantasy and much of it reminds me of other stories. Readers should be able to tell how the trilogy will end after finishing A Cast of Stones. At times Carr fell for the temptation to moralize. In spite of this, I recommend it for readers who need clear HEROs. Errol is definitely that, although he does not start as one.

Cruk grunted and grimaced his imitation of a smile. “The boy’s got the right of it. He is pretty useless.”

Errol nodded with satisfaction. “See?” (p.103)

That uselessness is due, for the most part, to his alcoholism. A few years earlier, when he was 14 years old, Errol experienced something traumatic enough to drive him to drink. Being an orphan made it easier to go down that road. Because he is our HERO, we know he must find his way to a heroic personality. One of his tools for staying away from alcohol is fighting with a staff.

The only person who remains as he was at the beginning is Liam.

“We’re all the same,” Liam said. “I just concentrate and try really hard at everything. Anyone can do it if they just try hard enough.”

Errol stared. Did Liam really believe that?

“Now,” Liam said, “recite the vowels and consonants.”

He really did. (116)

Liam does most things by working hard and by having a heap-load of talent. In spite of being near-perfect, Errol admires him. And so does every other person Liam meets. Especially women. But Liam is not affected by this adoration and seems not to notice it.

Errol and Liam are joined by Martin, Luis and Crux. All three have secrets they hide from the “boys” (19 years old) and pasts they need to pick up again. Martin and Luis are meddlers and Crux a protector. He is also a tough teacher to Errol who lacks most “civilized knowledge”.

‘Cruk’s eyes narrowed. “You’ll have to learn on the way. I’ll teach you. First lesson, don’t ever annoy your teacher.”‘ (p.82)

At times, the methods employed by meddling Martin and Luis are highly questionable. They,  appear to believe that “the ends justify the means”. For churchmen and believers, they do not have much faith. In fact, that could probably be said of most of the church people we meet in this trilogy. Faith in their deity’s power is low.

The religion we learn about in A Cast of Stones is similar to the Roman-Catholic faith. Three-in-one godhead, celibate priesthood, rituals and hierarchies are close to identical to the RC church. Except for the magic bit that its Readers employ. Any magic but Reader-magic is forbidden and magic-users are usually killed. Rulers inherit their power but each ruler is invested with his (yes, his) powers. The old King has no heirs, which is why a new one must be found. Errol and Liam play an important role in picking the new ruler. No wonder people want to stop them.

One of the people who tries to hinder Errol from fulfilling his heroic destiny is Abbot Morin. He also believes that “the end justifies the means”. Some of those means carry a high price for both Errol and himself.


Reviews:


Cast of Stones is currently free at Kindle

Art based on “The Luggage” @Terry Pratchett

My blogs terrypratchettandme and zanegreyandme are what often happens when an Aspie has an interest. We immerse ourselves and want to share. This collage is an example of that immersion. The Luggage is a great writing tool whose antics I have enjoyed immensely.

Terry Pratchett and me

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Brin, David; Kiln People (2002)

Racism is a huge part of the short lives of the dittos in Kiln People. Dittos are clones, made of nano-clay, who live only 24 hours. Nano-clay’s sensory system can be hyper-sensitive or practically non-existent. A ditto may be forced to do anything you ever imagined doing or have done to you. At least if you have enough money. Your consciousness is copied onto their clay-flesh. Any time up until 24 hours after birth, all memories can be copied back into you again. Dittos are programmed for obedience and varying degrees of independent thinking. Some owners, like Albert Morris, are fairly decent. Others are shitty as hell.

“… I figure if you make a creature, you’re responsible for it. That ditto wanted to matter. He fought like hell to continue. And now he’s part of me, like several hundred others that made it home for inloading, ever since the first time I used a kiln, at sixteen.”

“… The copier sifts your organic brain to engrave the Standing Wave onto a fresh template made of special clay, ripening in the kiln. Soon a new ditto departs into the world to perform errands while you have breakfast. No need even to tell it what to do.

It already knows.

It’s you.”

The color the ditto equals its value and abilities. Orange dittos are  cheapest and used for manual labor that does not require much thinking or sensing. Platinum dittos are the most expensive, and only people like Kaolin can afford them. On this case, Albert can afford an ebony one. Ebony dittos have processing abilities that are far ahead of Albert’s. Greys are the ones Albert sends out to represent him. He uses green dittos to do the dirty work a detective sometimes needs to do. Sensory input is lower for greens but processing is probably about the same as for its archie/rig/owner.

Dittos are at the bottom of the social ladder. Instant destruction follows if they harm a “real” human. A flesh and blood human can do anything to a ditto they meet. At most they will be fined. Dittos are made to fight each other to the death, to be sex-slaves, to dig in the mines or to be substitute private detectives. Their clothes are paper. Albert Morris is a private detective with two missions in life. One is to reveal the identity of Beta. Beta and Albert have a long history of killing each other (their dittos), and Albert really wants to know who is behind his arch-nemesis. Albert’s other mission is to be as good a private detective as possible.

In this future world, where we get to lay any ethical pretensions on the shelf, being a private detective seems unnecessary. But there is always a need for diggers into people’s lives. In this future, wealth buys you out of trouble as easily as it does now.

“Ugh. What put me in this mood? Could it be Ritu’s news? A reminder that real death still lurks for us all?

Well, shrug it off! Life’s still the same as it was in the old days.

Sometimes you’re the grasshopper.

Sometimes you are the ant.”

Albert gets hired by stinking rich Aeneas Kaolin, co-inventor of dittos and owner of Universal Kilns, to look into the disappearance of Kaolin’s long-time friend, Yosil Maharal. Maharal turns up dead in what seems to be a car accident. Albert wonders if it might be something more.

One thing I really liked about Brin’s writing style was how he told the stories of Albert’s dittos in Albert’s voice. There were four Alberts at the same time. None of them knew what was going on with any of the others because they had not been able to get in touch with each other. The green one had turned into a Frankie. I liked its independent streak. Its ability to disobey.

Brin’s world-building happened through the eyes and ears of the various Alberts. What they learned, we learned. I would not have wanted to live in such a society. I find ours challenging enough. It was an interesting society, though, and one I think most people would embrace. No room for Aspies though. Genetic tinkering had become common enough that our worst ailments were eradicated. That, I wouldn’t mind if we had. Much of Kiln People‘s society did not make sense. Population control is one. Why so many people? At least the fanatics were pretty the same as always.

Towards the end, I felt preached at. I don’t mind crazy men’s ranting, but this felt more like Brin was trying to get a message across. A lost cause in me.

“Albert? Is that you in there?”Illusion or not, I couldn’t refuse her anything. Though lacking a body – or any other means to make sound – I somehow gathered strength to mouth four words.

“… just … a … fax … ma’am …”

Plenty of action, no romance, social commentary, humor, some preaching. Recommended.


Reviews:


Translations:

  • Audible: Read by Andy Caploe; Brilliance Audio, 2016
  • Bulgarian: Килн хора; Translated by Венцислав Божилов; Бард, 2002; Goodreads
  • English (British): Kil’n People; London, Orbit, 2002; Review
  • French: Le Peuple d’argile; Translated by Thierry Arson; Presses de la Cité, 2004; Review
  • German: Copy; Translated by Andreas Brandhorst; Heyne, 2005
  • Hebrew:  אנשי הכבשן; Translated by Ṿered Ṭokhṭerman; מודן הוצאה לאור, 2004; Review
  • Hungarian: Dettó; Translated by Haklik Norbert; Budapest, Metropolis Media, 2009; Reviews
  • Japanese: キルン・ピープル; Translated by 酒井昭伸 (Sakai Akinobu);  ハヤカワ文庫 (Hayakawa bunko) SF1628, 2007; Cover art: 加藤直之 (Katou Naoyuki); Review
  • Russian: Глина; Translated by С. Самуйлов; АСТ: Люкс, 2005 г; Cover art: SharksDen и Д. Бернса; Reviews
  • Spanish: Gente de Barro; Translated by Rafael Marín Trechera; Nova, 2003; Review

Betty Zane (Ohio River I) (1903)

I have a blog called “Zane Grey and me”. This is my review of the first book he wrote, “Betty Zane”. Betty Zane is one of Grey’s ancestors and also the heroine of this historical novel. It does not pretend to be unbiased or historically correct, but Zane has tried to make it as correct as his white male privilege allows.

Zane Grey and me

Heroism of Miss Elizabeth Zane, 1851 Popular Graphic Arts; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-2355

Charles Francis Press, New York, 1903

Parents’ Magazine Press, 1947

In this busy progressive age there are no heroes of the kind so dear to all lovers of chivalry and romance. There are heroes, perhaps, but they are the patient sad-faced kind, of whom few take cognizance as they hurry onward. But cannot we all remember some one who suffered greatly, who accomplished great deeds, who died on the battlefield–some one around whose name lingers a halo of glory? Few of us are so unfortunate that we cannot look backward on kith or kin and thrill with love and reverence as we dream of an act of heroism or martyrdom which rings down the annals of time like the melody of the huntsman’s horn, as it peals out on a frosty October morn purer and sweeter with each succeeding…

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To diverse or not to diverse your writing

While looking for something completely different, I came upon this wonderful video by the author Francina Simone. It is called “Diversity isn’t about adding POC or LGBT”. If you are sensitive to a “fuck” or two, be warned.

By the way. I ordered Francina Simone book. She lives what she preaches.

Use public libraries

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