Harper, T.K. (1990) Wolfwalker, New York: Ballantine.

Cover artist: Edwin Herder

It was dark, and she could not see. She could not hear for the roaring in her ears, and she could not move. Oh, moons of mercy, moons of light… She tried to spit out the panic but choked on grit and fur and dirty blood. Guide me in the darkest night… Struggling, she dragged a breath into her lungs, and then the fright that held her frozen burst and she screamed, the sound suffocating in the black death above her. Keep me safe from evil spirit…….(p.1).

Ember Dione maMarin is one of two main characters whose points of view Harper switches between. She also happens to be my favourite. Defying the patriarchy and traditional roles assigned genders Dion has gone all out by being both Healer and Warrior in addition to a Wolfwalker. She and her twin had just started their Journey before it all went wrong. Wolfwalkers are humans who bond with wolves. Because each of them has to adapt to each other, the human becomes wilder and the wolf less wild. Harper made the bond believable – you will see how.

Wolfwalker is the first of three novels in the Wolfwalker trilogy and was also my introduction to Harper’s authorship. And I loved that journey. A fun fact about Harper is that she has been through many of the same types of extreme sports as Dion has. She has also been a martial arts performer. I would be fair to say that Harper knows what she writes about, and it shows.

It was midday when the four men reined in at the river. The raiders had beaten them to the Phye by hours, and Aranur stook on the baks, his anger growing cold and hard as steel within him: The raiders had had a boat waiting at high tide. (p.48)

Aranur Bentar neDannon is our second main character and male. I’m not certain I ever really warmed up to him. At times he really got on my nerves. This is a man who is used to getting things his way. Most of that has to do with his size, abilities with a weapon, position in society and leadership abilities. Fortunately he is not a bully. Harper did a good job in maintaining their different personalities throughout the story. Obviously, these two will grow into a couple. Thankfully not in an annoying or cloying manner.

Group cohesiveness, individual coping methods and thrills are the main themes of Wolfwalker. While we do get to smile at something every once in a while, for the main part this is a grim story where grief, fear and exhaustion are more common. Harper handles both the lighter and grimmer sides of the novel effortlessly (it seems) and maintains her flow throughout the story. She walks a fine line between just enough and too much well and does that through all three novels. After reading her work, Harper has become one of my favourite authors.

A cry that knots your heartstrings
Is not easily untied (p.10)

Each chapter begins with a poem that foreshadows its contents. When I read the story by myself I skipped over them. It’s one of my failings as a reader. That was not an option when I read the story out loud to my daughter (24). I made her read out loud the chapter headings. Turns out I should have read the poems the first time through. I actually enjoyed them. Oh, well. Better late than never. My daughter also gave Wolfwalker a thumbs up and had me begin the next in line as soon as possible.

My copy is the 1990 soft-cover edition and 310 pages. Its blurb is one of the few I have read that represents the contents of the story:

A girl and her wolf.

Dion was a healer and a wolfwalker, and the unique telepathic bond that she shared with the wolf Gray Hish sometimes seemed to amplify her sensitivity to her patients. But she never guessed how strong that bond could be, or what kind of power it could wield, until she found herself lost in the wilderness, with angry slavers at her heels and war on the horizon. Suddenly she and her fellow travelers were fighting for their lives in the snowy winter wastes, where the wolves were their only guides, the greatest secret of the ancients their only salvation … and Dion their only hope to survive! (back)

We soon find out that this is a science fiction story placed somewhere on a strange planet. Most of its creatures are strange, deadly and obviously non-Terran. Personally, I’m not sure there are any weak points to the novel – aside from having to buy it used.

Wolfwalker seems intended for mature readers who enjoy grim stories. Harper’s writing expects something of the reader and deals with complex issues.

I loved it. Go buy it. I often use Thriftbooks.

Idehen, J. (2015) Parable of the isms. Twitter.

Source: yuwie

Lisle, H. (2014). Born from Fire. One More Word Books.

“The Truth of We”

“We speak the Truth, and the Truth speaks Us,
We live by the covenants, We abide by the Words.

That none may laugh until All can laugh,
That All sleep on dirt until none sleep on dirt.

Dirt is Our birthright. Hardship is Our glory.
Hardship strengthens Us. Hunger feeds Us.

The Known is All. The new is Willful.
Welcome Pain. Pain is Knowledge. We are WE.

Self is selfish. One is none.
All are All. We are We.

Each flesh belongs to All.
Each thought belongs to All.

Children are duty. All tend All.
Duty is life. Life is dying. Dying is duty.
We die for Duty. We are WE.

Within Each hides Evil. Be All, not Each.
In Aloneness is Willfulness. We will never be Alone.

We share, We do not own.
Property is an abomination.

Beauty is property. Property is crime.
Passion is property. Property is crime.

Love is property. We out love and lovers.
Secrets are property. We out secrets and secret-keepers.

All is Sharing. Sharing is Duty.
We serve Sharing. We are WE.

We speak the Truth, and the Truth speaks Us.
We live by the covenants, We abide by the Words.
The Will of All is all of Will. We are WE.” (Kindle Loc 307-339)

Since 1991 Lisle has published all kinds of writing from writing classes, short stories, poetry, novels (sci-fi & fantasy) and co-written material. I own many of the stories and have enjoyed the ones I have read, including Born From Fire.

Born From Fire is a 102 pages long science fiction novella. It is episode 1 of the Chronicles of Longview serial (i.e. not stand-alone). Its title suits the story well and has both a literal and figurative meaning. Born From Fire does not seem to have a particular age group in mind. There is no recognizable swearing, some violence and no sex. 

DOWN THE DARKNESS, down the line of standing cells, three words rippled urgently and under breath. “Death Circus here!”

In the dark, this criminal had waited long and longer for death to come. This criminal could not lie down, could not sit down—its captors had made certain its cell, and the cells of the others like it, permitted only standing.

With its bandaged knees pressed into one corner, its spine jammed into the other, this criminal drifted in that lightless place, never certain whether it was waking or dreaming. When it ate, it ate maggots. When it dreamed of eating, it dreamed of maggots. When it pissed or shit, it pissed or shit down its legs. When it dreamed, it dreamed of the same. (Kindle loc 37-44)

“It” or We-39R is a member of a People’s Home of Truth and Fairness (PHTF) settlement. These settlements are owned by the PHTF franchise and run by Speakers for We. As long as leaders of the various planets in the Longview universe do not execute their citizens, they may do as they wish with their people. PHTF franchises are the worst places to live for everyone but Speakers. We-39R earned the death penalty for Willfulness. However his death was delayed since executions must be carried out by Death Circuses, i.e. space ships travelling from collection point to collection point buying Class A (at least 30%) and Class B (at least 10%) prisoners.

The Longview is the biggest and most expensive Death Circus. It has the best salaries, the most extensive training for its crew and even offers investment incentives. More Class B prisoners are bought by them than by other circuses and it sells the fewest prisoners, yet it makes more money than any other Death Circus. 

Crew members begin as Provisional Crew Three Green. Once a person is hired on, they become Crew Three Green and advance up through Crews Two and One. Each crew is colour-graded from Green to Blue to Silver to Gold.

Born from Fire is told from three points of view, i.e. We-39R, Kagen (Crew Three Gold) and Melie’s (Crew Two Gold). The first half of the novella switches between We-39R and Kagen, the second switches between Kagen and Melie. Lisle handles the transitions well. The greatest differences lie between We-39R and the other two, however I do not think I could mistake Kagen for Melie (or vice versa). Since we see so much less from Melie’s perspective, she is less well-defined than the other two. All three are easy to sympathize with and their worldviews and reactions are believable. Our antagonist is less easily spotted. There is Mash, of course, but he is not the main one. That spot goes to the meta-entity that the Pact Worlds make up.

Freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences is a theme that runs through the entire serial. Anything that might lead to the slave conditions of the PHTF worlds is seen as something to fight against. At the end of my Kindle copy Lisle explains how she built a model of The Longview on Minecraft before writing about it. I appreciate her geekiness and as a reader I get to enjoy her dedication to detail when she takes us through parts of the ship. Both the world-building and plot are interesting, well written, detailed and dark. I liked Born From Fire and recommend it.

Saintcrow, L. (2016). Cormorant Run. New York: Orbit.

Cover design by Lauren Panepinto. Cover illustration by Kirbi Fagan.

STRUGOVSKY: All we can say for certain is that one night, eighty-six years ago, there were strange lights in the skies of many countries. Aurora borealis, perhaps. Then, the Event, at a very specific time….

… Rifts, are actually tears in a fabric we cannot adequately measure. It is not Einstein’s spacetime, it is not Hawking’s and Velikov’s layer cake, it is not the Ptolemaic bubbles of earth and air. When we know what fabric is being so roughly torn, we may begin to reclaim those parts of the Earth’s surface. (Kindle Loc. 125-135).

When rift bubbles appeared the world fell apart. Whole cities disappeared. If a bubble landed in a city, what was inside (even moving things) was lost to the rest of the world. People on the outside could only see a slow-moving opalescent sheen. Railroad tracks could run right through the rift-walls but what happened to the tracks on the inside no one but rifters knew.  Most of the people (military/researchers) who went inside to see what had happened disappeared, probably dead.

Rifters are people of high intelligence who survive running the rift bubbles but come out changed. Either a wanna-be rifter learns how to be still, to quickly analyse their environment, to plan and execute quickly, to test the ground for stability, to be patience, or they died. They developed an acute sense of smell and hearing. Addicted to rifting and different from non-rifters, most of them are underestimated.

The gleaming inside the shattered leav was skeletons, turned into some sort of alloy. It took two weeks of patient work by teams in magsuits to free them from the tangle, and they were carted away to the depths of the Institute. Someone did a hush-hush paper on them—the bones were alloy, where the ligaments were all high-carbon flex with an odd crystalline pattern all over. (Kindle loc 194-196).

Institutes were set up outside the bubbles filled with people wanting to study them. Most of the researchers who went inside never returned. Then the Crash happened. Eventually kill-zones and garrisons were set up outside the bubbles to keep the things inside from coming out and the curious from entering.

There, at the very edge of her vision, a shimmering. Light bouncing in weird ways, and the space inside her empty-aching like a pulled tooth. (Kindle Loc 233-234).

Asje Rajtnik (Rat) died as a result of not being listened to.  QR-715 takes exception to such stupidity and punishes it accordingly. After the attempt, the result was a “shoot on sight” order. However, greed is not always sensible and, one year later, 33-year old Tatiana Pajari, better known as “Svinga” or “Svin”, is taken from solitary in Guan prison to QR-715. Her two year stay in solitary darkness has left her underweight, sickly pale and traumatized. Svin has been a rifter since she was 16 and Kopeland wants because she was apprenticed to Rat. From the first moment in the leav I liked her and that like grew during the story. She is clearly a traumatized person who is making the best of this situation she suspects she is not intended to survive.

Kommandant Kopeland is a frustrated person. He is stuck as top of a local governmental installation and knows he will not advance. Being close to QR-715 tends to make people afraid and bored over time. Plus he is a bully. Combined with his boredom and his fears he becomes obsessed with acquiring the Cormorant and sees it as a way out. So, he has Svin brought to him.

QR-715 is our third main character. Its size makes it unique and full of weird fauna and flora. Geography moves around, gravity and mass changes and time is difficult to nail down. One moment you might die if you step off a ledge, the next you’ll be fine. As we get to know it, QR-715 feels intelligent and alive. And weird, really weird.

Saintcrow’s POV moved between various actors in the story.  Svin, Kopeland and QR-715 were the characters that were brought to life. The rest functioned more as supporting characters. At certain points the many POV’s hiccuped the flow of the story.

There are foot-notes that explain terminology. In my Kindle edition I pressed the highlighted sign and a definition popped up. In the paper edition, it looks like the footnotes are at the bottom of the page. Foot-notes work well for me and seldom mess up the flow, but they might a problem for others. General editing seemed fine. Saintcrow fed us information about the history of the Event and how the world turned out in bits and pieces throughout the story. That is my preferred method of getting to know the landscape.

I really liked Cormorant Run. Most of the people in it were just people. Blind, stupid, thoughtful, afraid, greedy, eager, sociopathic, kind and vengeful. You know, people. What it is not, is a story with a “happy ending”. Saintcrow seldom does those. While reading it, I sometimes felt the way I do when I read some of Philip Dick’s stories – “huh?”. I recommend this story to people who like science fiction weirdness. There is plenty of violence and swearing but Zero romance (YEAH!!!!).


Reviews:

Grey, Z., 1937. Majesty’s Rancho. New York, New York Sunday News.

Reblogging my review:

When “Majesty’s Rancho” was first published, in New York Sunday News, 26th September 1937, Zane Grey was 65 years old. It’s prequel, The Light of Western Stars, was published 24 years earlier. I mention this, because I believe it has an impact on the end result of “Majesty’s Rancho“. Later publishings were in hardcover in 1938 by Harper & Brothers, in 1942 as an Armed Services Edition and in 1949 by Zane Grey Western Books.

I had to pull back several times while reading “Majesty’s Rancho” and writing this review because I kept on being hit by a sense of “Huh?” and “Say what?”. One reason was the way Madge/Majesty was treated in the story. Grey did not like a female protagonist who might be perceived as possibly stronger than the male protagonist (Pauly, T.H., 2014). By the time he had finished with Madeline in The Light of Western Stars, Grey had found his recipe for breaking such women down and he used that recipe for what it was worth in “Majesty’s Rancho“. He was apparently not alone in not wanting that. Reviewers and the blurb all seem to agree that she needed taking down a few notches.

One of the reasons I felt this way, was because all the main protagonists and the antagonist blamed Madge for their own behavior. Madge blamed Madge for how she behaved, Uhl (antagonist) blamed Madge for how he behaved towards her, Rollie blamed Madge for how he treated her, Lance blamed Madge for how he behaved towards her and Gene blamed Madge for how he and Lance treated her. Talk about internalizing and externalizing blame in stereotypically gendered ways. The only people who did not blame Madge for their own behaviors were Ren Starr and Nels. These two men were voices of reason throughout the story.

Nels: “Wal, I have. An’ I’m gamblin’ on her, Gene. Wild as a young filly, shore she was. But good as gold an’ as true as steel. When she was heah last I had some jars, you bet. I had to figger oot thet times had changed since you an’ me ran after girls. We’ve stayed right in one spot, Gene, an’ this old world has moved on.”…………………………………..

The rest of the review can be read on Zanegreyandme.com

Pratchett, T. (1990). Moving Pictures. London: Victor Gollanz

Reblog of my review of Terry Pratchett’s “Moving Pictures” from 1990.

Trust is a valuable commodity. To whom do I give my trust? The entertainment industry? News media? Scientific research? Pratchett’s Moving Pictures is a biting and funny social commentary about the impact and influence media can have on us.

About thirty miles Turnwise of Ankh-Morpork the surf boomed on the wind-blown, seagrass-waving, sand-dune-covered spit of land where the Circle Sea met the Rim Ocean.

The hill itself was visible for miles. It wasn’t very high, but lay amongst the dunes like an upturned boat or a very unlucky whale, and was covered in scrub trees. No rain fell here, if it could possibly avoid it. Although the wind sculpted the dunes around it, the low summit of the hill remained in an everlasting, ringing calm.

Nothing but the sand had changed here in hundreds of years. (p.10)

@Josh Kirby

Moving Pictures is the 10th novel in the Discworld bibliography and was published in 1990 (my paperback edition is 333 pages). Its cover was illustrated by Josh Kirby. His illustration is spot on with regards to both the spirit and letter of the story. Our narrator is omniscient and, therefore, knows and shares details from important places and people. One of Pratchett’s techniques is Footnotes. They aren’t essential to the story-line, but they do add to the narrative-believability. Chapter headings are non-existent. At first, that might be confusing but you soon get used to it. There are 17 non-English translations of the story and the novel has been dissected by scholars from some of those countries.

‘Oh, yes. Yes. Yes,’ breathed Soll. ‘What a picture! Pure kinema!’

‘A giant woman carrying a screaming ape up a tall building,’ sighed Dibbler. ‘And we’re not even having to pay wages!’ (p.300)

Making fun of the movie industry begins on the dedication page with Pratchett’s “Thank you speech” and continues throughout the story. Names (e.g. “Silverfish“), titles (e.g. “Last Keeper of the Door“) and places (e.g. “Holy Wood“) are from novels and films (e.g. “Gone with the Wind” + “King Kong” = “Blown Away”) that span the period that started with the Phantasmagoria shows of the 1790’s up through the one-reel Celluloid film from the late 1800‘s that developed into the silent movies of the early 1900‘s ending with the movies 1980‘s.

Many of the characters in this story are like people I know. Main characters are Theda Withel (Ginger/Delores del Syn), Victor Tugelbend (Victor Marachismo), Cut-My-Own-Throat Dibbler (Dibbler), Gaspode The Talking Dog (Gaspode), the Alchemist’s Guild, the Wizards of Unseen University, the Librarian, Holy Wood and Ankh-Morpork.

Our story begins and ends with Holy Wood. From the description above, it seems an idyllic place yet all Keepers of the Door have maintained a 3-times-a-day set of rituals to prevent an apocalypse. When Death puts a stop to the priestly line, whatever was kept back by the chanting begins to seep out……

The rest of the review is at TerryPratchettAndMe

Ronald, M. (2011). Soul Hunt. New York: Eos.

Artist Ron Sipley

As the last installation of this trilogy, Soul Hunt completes our look into life Evie Scelan and the choices she makes to keep people away from the part of herself that she fears. How people see us and the way we view ourselves might not coincide. Evie’s inability to accept her odd talent as intrinsic and of worth has kept her trying to hide it, and indeed from herself. In Soul Hunt this battle comes to a conclusion.

Credit: NPS.gov

All of this meant that on this particular Halloween, instead of threading my way back to Mercury Courier for another job on my beat-up loaner bike (the replacement ever since a curse-riddled jackass had turned my old bike into aluminum salad), I needed to stop for a moment’s rest. Not that it helped much; even the salt tang of the harbor couldn’t quite cut through the day’s murk. I locked up my bike by the Boston Aquarium, made my way through a screaming gaggle of kids on their way to see the seals, and damn near collapsed out on the end of the dock.

Since we last met her in Wild Hunt, Evie has been exhausted. Resting, eating or living healthy has not had an effect. In fact, her exhaustion seems to be getting worse. So much so, that even her nose begins failing her. Her exhaustion is so intense she is no longer capable of comprehending how bad things are. In fact, Evie is tired enough that she no longer cares about how her beloved Red Sox are doing or about her self-imposed responsibilities. Her friends suspect something is seriously amiss.

… “For the love of all, what is wrong with you, Evie? You seemed okay for a while, you were finally getting some from your skinny-butt guy, you’d faced down worse things than I like to think about, but then it just … you just drained away. It’s like you’re a bad recording of yourself.”

The three novels that make up the Evie Scelan trilogy are Spiral Hunt, Wild Hunt and Soul Hunt and may be found on used and new-book sites like Thriftbooks and Amazon. They can also be found in various e-book versions (e.g. Kindle and Kobo). My version is paperback. Soul Hunt is about 300 pages long. Artwork for all three covers is by Ron Sipley and I’m pleased by the way they look. Fortunately they are not representative of the under-dressed female protagonist typical of that and this cover-era. Content-wise, Soul Hunt should fall within US explicit safe zones for most ages. Soul Hunt, like the other two novels, is an Urban Fantasy Mystery. Ronald succeeded well with her stated goals for Soul Hunt:

I wanted to explore the consequences of the bargain Evie had made, I wanted to put her in a place where all her options were gone, and I wanted to explore the nature of dread. (MR)

The author likes a bit of complexity to her mysteries and her way of letting the problems that are brought to Evie meet and divert through the story adds to the fun. Mysteries that need solving are whatever terrified Tessie (seamancer), Deke’s (pyromancer) Roger, Sarah’s (hedgewitch) neighbourhood watch, Nate’s shapechanger curse, the cause of Evie’s declining health, and Evie’s midwinter date.

Moving on from Mystery to Urban, Soul Hunt introduces us to the wetter parts of Boston and their history: Fort Point Channel (Deke’s house), Georges Island (customers), Little Brewster Island, Gallops Island, Nix’s Mate, Lovells Island, and Quabbin Reservoir (spooky). Recognizing the scenes in this novel was simple when I encountered the above links and saw the above video. Getting to research the veracity of Ronald’s writing has been (as usual) the best part of writing these three reviews. Ronald certainly seems to know her bits of Boston and delight in manipulating them.

I found him down by the waterfront, on the footbridge across Fort Point Channel. I locked up my bike by the courthouse and started across, whistling through my teeth, waving once he saw me.

They’d done their best to spiff up this part of the city – luxury hotels, new construction, a fragment of a park – but fragments of the old waterfront remained. Namely one big house out in the middle of the channel itself, on decaying pilings like dead man’s fingers …

As we continue to the Fantasy part of the genre, we discover that Ronald has added to her Celtic mythology with some Greek.  Like much of Greek mythology, the version created in Soul Hunt is extremely unpleasant. However, without it  Soul Hunt would have been much poorer. One of our antagonists is drawn from the story of the Gorgon and the Graeae and what a nasty antagonist this is. Finally, there is the usual Boston Fiana magic. In Soul Hunt Ronald explains some of the odder details. Many of the Fiana (e.g. Deke) of Boston use soul loci to fuel their spells. Shadow-hunters steal another person’s shadow while adepts such as Byron Chatterji use a principle called “severance and return”. Most of our usual crew are magical, although their magic has other sources and does not rely on bits of soul to work.

A great part of Soul Hunt is about the friendship between our main characters. Ronald has done an excellent job in fleshing out most of them, and the way they interact with and without Evie helps me believe in them. It seems obvious to me that the author must have been great friends with all of them.

“He was supposed to be a wizard,” Katie stage-whispered to me. “To go with my costume. but he forgot and he had to get something at the last minute.” She turned and gave him a look that I swear she must have learned from Sarah, the see-what-inferior-materials-I-must-work-with look. “So instead he’s an evil scientist who’s kidnapping fairies and turning them into trolls.”

Her interactions with Katie differ enough from her same-age interactions for me to see how strong the focus on the costs and benefits of friendship is in the series and how difficult it is for Evie to believe that she is worthy of such friends. Evie has many characteristics that I can relate to. For one thing, she lies to her friends and rationalizes those lies with “protecting them”.  Other people and situations are judged through the lens of her talents and experiences and sometimes that leads to poor decision making, e.g. lying to her friends about her condition. Humour (dry and hilarious) plays an important role in how Evie deals with other people.

… What was the rule for telling proper New England spinsters that yes, you were sharing a bed with their nephew? Did Miss Manners even cover that?

Quabbin Reservation

The ending was satisfactory. All of the aforesaid problems were resolved in one way or another and I was left with a sense of sadness that this friendship is over. I am fortunate in being able to return to it at a later date. I definitely recommend that UF fans read Soul Hunt. In fact, start with Spiral Hunt, then move on to Wild Hunt before you finish with Soul Hunt. More people need to meet Margaret Ronald’s writing.


My reviews of:

  1. Spiral Hunt
  2. Wild Hunt

Use public libraries

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