Category Archives: Science Fiction

Thoma, C. (2014). Boreal and John Grey. Season 2. Self-published.

As with Thoma‘s Season 1 collection, I bought the entire Season 2 of the Boreal and John Grey serial. Once again, I really enjoyed the five novellas that make up Season 2: The Threads (73p), The Snare (77p), The Warp (96p), The Loop (99p) and The Weave.

When we left Season 1, Ella’s boss changed his mind about killing Finn – as much as a Duergar/Guardian of the Gates is able to. Lots of blod had been shed, much of it by the two main characters (Ella and Finn). Now it was time for recuperation and a sort or regular life. As much as a John Grey and his Stabilizer could hope for.

Insistent ringing roused Ella from sleep, shattering a dream of Finn talking to her earnestly about lollipops.

Lollipops? Seriously?

Damn ringing continued. Had to be the alarm clock, Ella thought fuzzily and made a grab for it, upturning the lamp on her bedside table and catching it a second before it crashed to the floor.

Not the alarm clock.

Phone. Blindly she groped for it and rolled on her back to answer, her arm flopping to the side. (p. 1)

Of course, recuperation and rest are not on any hunter’s schedule. Their short leave comes to an end with the sighting of a white flying creature. All land creatures from Aelfheim are white, a necessity on a frozen world. A very long time ago Ljosaelfar made their way to Earth/Midgard through Gates created by John Grey to pierce the veil between worlds. Earth was ripe for the taking, warm and willing, while Aelfheim was frigid and stormy. Primitive Viking leaders were no threat. What the Boreal had forgotten was that invaders cannot only watch the invadees but should also watch their backs. Their attempt was thwarted by the Dokkaelfar.

Because gates have once again started appearing, that means that John Grey must exist. In Season 1 we found out that John Grey is not a single individual but rather a title bestowed on people with the ability to open Gates. As we know, today that person is Finn.

He tensed, his back arching. “Asmodr,” he gasped out. His hands curled into fists and an image hit her like a bullet between the eyes.

A blinding form, humanoid, the face dark but the rest sparkling as if made of broken mirror shards — and there was pain, bowing her spine, splitting her head, until she couldn’t breathe. The light intensified, searing into her retinas. (Kindle Locations 441-445).

However, Finn does not operate in a vacuum. For some reason his abilities require a Stabilizer, and that Stabilizer is Ella. We are about to find out what on earth a Stabilizer is and does.

Something zipped by her head. She waved a hand at her face with the vague idea it was an insect — then that something slammed into the wall of the rooftop entrance, cracking the concrete. (Kindle Locations 492-494).

There are many who want to control John Grey and his Stabilizer, for those “who control the Gates, control everything”. Hopeful puppet masters hunt the couple using their weaknesses against them. Our own history is full of successful puppet masters whose mantra is that “the end justifies the means” and are perfectly willing to kill their potential puppets if they cannot gain that control.

I really like this about Seasons 1 and 2 of Boreal and John Grey. Thoma is a Greek-Cypriot, and if anyone knows anything at all about puppet masters it is they. Even now they are victims of the breed. Maybe that is one reason the author writes so vividly and realistically about the topic.

This time, the collected novellas ended in a true cliff-hanger. If I had thought that was how the entire serial was ending, I wouldn’t have minded it as much. However, as is the case, everything about the ending points towards a Season 3.

Once again, Thoma’s writing is excellent. Rhythm, flow, and plot-tightness is maintained until the last period is written. Point of View is third person told through Ella’s eyes. Again, the story is full of action, betrayal, strange creatures, agencies, and magic, i.e. all the elements required for a great fantasy thriller. There is swearing, violence and sex (Euro-Vanilla on all three/maybe US age 16). If this does not bother you, then Boreal and John Grey ought to be a great read. It certainly was for me.


My review of:

Thoma, C. (2014). Boreal and John Grey Season 1. Self-published.

I absolutely loved the scifi/fantasy/thriller story Boreal and John Grey, Season One. Thoma is an author that justifies self-published works.  Season 1 contains the novellas “The Encounter” (45 p), “The Gate” (70 p), “The Dragon” (94 p), “The Dream” (100 p) and “The Truth” (107 p).

Although it was early September, the cold bit to the bone and the air smelled like snow. Snow and piss and trash. The alley stretched ahead, empty of life and strewn with crushed cans and paper.

Ella didn’t move. Faint humming filled her ears, and clicking noises sounded. The clouds above shifted, though no wind blew. The Veil was thinning. Shades would be lurking, waiting to pounce. In the past, faint, frail faeries came through; these had recently turned into more malevolent creatures — kobolds and goblins with a taste for blood. (p. 1.)

Right off the story reveals the quality of Thoma’s work and the kind of story we can expect. The first two paragraphs seethe with potential action and foreshadow a dark story. For Boreal and John Grey, Season 1 is a dark and action-filled story about elements of the Paranormal Investigation Bureau (PIB) and its dealings somewhere in the US.

PIB Voyants (“Sight”, i.e. can see Shades) are paired off and sent to investigate and deal with possible sightings of Shades (Vaettir). Ella Benson and Simon Esterhase make up one such pairing. An anonymous call was redirected to their team, yet only Ella turns up to hunt. What she discovers about the Veil and the Shades disturbs her boss, David Holborn. She does not reveal that when a goblin was about to kill her, it was instead destroyed by a man who fought “like a hurricane” and who left after making sure she was OK (without sharing his name). Throughout the story Ella finds that trusted people aren’t trustworthy while suspicious characters might not be suspicious after all. We also meet the ever-trustworthy Mike, Ella’s neighbour, friend and also Oracle (“He hears the Shades.”, p. 116).

Ella and the mysterious stranger are our main characters. Both are “Heroes“, i.e. “solitary people who fight for the greater good to the detriment of themselves and who do what must be done so others can live normal lives.”

Thoma tells us that she was inspired by the Icelandic saga Eddukvæði by Sæmundar (English translation). I saw this in the details of the story and how the characters from the Edda fit into modern US and  its paranoia. Edda’s inspiration made for recognizable yet new and original characters. I loved the description of the alternate evolution on a Boreal world (brrr).

Any steady reader of this blog knows that romance is not my thing. A majority of romance authors seem incapable of writing believable character interaction. Not so with Thoma. In this case I believed both the emotional and physical interactions that took place. The sex was European vanilla, and the violence held back yet remained believable. Swearing fit with its position in the story.

Certain issues were extremely relevant in a global context. Hatred left from wars leading to atrocious actions from extremist groups on both sides (e.g. Dave and Adramar) is one issue. Relationships across racial/ethnical divides is another. Child abuse a third. No preaching was involved. I hate preaching, even when I am the one doing the preaching. The worst part of the story was that it ended.

Information was weaved into the story in a manner that kept the drive going. No stutters or dissonances were found. Due to Thoma’s world-building, and how tight the story was, I found it difficult to  take breaks.

Each episode flowed flawlessly into the next and the amount of editing that must have gone into this showed. Fortunately, the novel ended without a cliff-hanger. There was a clear opening for continuing the story.

By now you must realise that I heartily recommend this scifi/fantasy/thriller. Fun characters, great resolutions, sex and some violence are all wrapped up into one of the better stories I have read this year.

I bought my copy at Amazon.


My other Thoma reviews: Rex Rising

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

My review of Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! from my Terry Pratchett blog.

Terry Pratchett and me

Guards! Guards! begins with an Ankh-Morpork brought to her knees by the fiascos of its previous rulers and the manipulations of its present Patrician, Lord Vetinari. Lord Vetinari has worked hard to subvert any thought of traditional social contract between ruler and the ruled. He has created organized crime/intricate guild system and subverted Ankh-Morpork’s police force/Watch. Its officers are no longer considered a threat to those who break the “law”.

The city wasa, wasa, wasa wossname. Thing. Woman. Thass what it was. Woman. Roaring, ancient, centuries old. Strung you along, let you fall in thingy, love with her, then kicked you inna, inna, thingy. thingy, in your mouth. Tongue. Tonsils. Teeth. That’s what it, she did. She wasa … thing, you know, lady dog. Puppy. Hen. Bitch. And then you hated her and, and, just when you thought you’d got her, it, out of your, whatever, then…

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Wells, Martha; The Siren Depths; (2012); New York, Night Shade Books

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As the last mentor hopped out of the chamber, Moon saw that the seed had sprouted new white tendrils. They snaked out and twined around the crumbling remnants of the dead tendrils to follow their path into the heart wood. The tension ran out of Moon’s body and he leaned back against the wall, letting his breath out. That’s it, he thought. The seed was alive and well and back in its place. ………….

“Well, we’re home now.”

The Indigo Cloud Court mountain tree survived the adventures of The Serpent Sea and is now ready for the adventures of The Siren Depths. The last story of the trilogy begins with the leavetaking of Niran and his two air ships. Stone, the line grandfather, and several warriors and Arbora travel with him to return him safely to his family on the Golden Islands (floating islands).

Stone was cranky, moody, and had lied to get Moon to follow him across the Three Worlds, and Moon wanted him to leave slightly less than he wanted to lose a wing.

Moon loves deeply. In spite of his fears of getting thrown out of the Indigo Cloud court he cannot help loving many of them and hoping that this is his home. A place he does not have to leave. A place to feel safe. A place to belong. In the past six months Moon has come to know what he is (a Raksura Aeriat Consort) and that there are other beings like him (the Indigo Cloud Court). Except for vague memories from early childhood, up until he met Stone, he had never encountered another like himself. His foster-mother and foster-siblings were eaten when he was around 4-5 years old. For the past 35 years he made the best of what survival skills his foster-mother had taught him to survive The Three Worlds and its diverse groundling populations. However, getting accepted by the court’s members has not been a simple matter.

“He doesn’t have to think about it,” Root said suddenly, with a pointed glance around at the others. “Nobody wanted Moon here, remember?”

There was a moment of appalled silence. Then Floret hissed and aimed a slap at Root’s head. He rolled out of reach, bounced up to stand in the safety of the passage door, and hissed at them all. “You know it’s true!”

The past six months haven’t been safe. He has battled the Fell and magicians and has saved the Indigo Cloud Court mountain tree. Not by himself, but he played a major part in all three situations. That is a lot of danger for six months. In spite of proving himself several times over, a faction of the Indigo Cloud Court see Moon as a threat to the Raksura way. That makes sense, when you think about it. Living in a variety of cultures, over a number of years, has shown Moon alternative life-styles and he has trouble fitting into the various views of what being a consort entails. Both consorts and queens are high-strung creatures yet Queens are taught to channel this into aggressive and assertive leadership while Consorts are taught to be timid and nurturing. In healthy courts consorts are pampered and protected from the outside world until they reach maturity. They then go to the consort halls. After a while, they are either claimed by a queen of their court or given away to another court to cement relations between them.

“The courts in the Reaches have to see us as something besides struggling refugees coming back to our old mountain-tree to die off in peace. It’s bad enough that they know we have a feral consort with no bloodline; when you act like one your’re shaming all of us, making us look weak.”

Yet Moon never received that socialization and that is a good thing for the survival of Indigo Cloud Court. Moon has endeared himself to most of the Arbora and the fledglings. Getting the mountain tree up to its old standards takes hard work. Hard work that he is willing to put in but that Aeriats like River are not. Moon has shown much of the Aeriat that they, too, can help make platforms safe, hunt animals and clean house. Particularly Jade has taken his example to heart. Because he is her consort, his behavior reflects upon her. By joining in when she is able to she shows the entire court her approval and her willingness to get dirty. The Arbora appreciates Moon’s example and leaves him small gifts in his bower (the consorts’ rooms).

Not only the Arbora and the Aeriat have benefitted from Moon’s untraditional life. His experiences with dealing with trauma has made him the ideal person to help the three fledgling Summer Sky court survivors, Frost, Bitter and Thorn (clutch queen and two consorts). They trust him implicitly and take advantage of him in all ways he allows them. He benefits by having someone to share his knowledge with who will not judge him on what he “is supposed or not supposed” to do. Moon underestimates the impact he has on the Indigo Cloud Court.

When they went to the Emerald Twilight Court, Ice, mother-queen of Emerald Twilight Court, saw something about Moon that made her wonder about his heritage. In an attempt to make up for Halcyon’s behavior she looks into the matter. What she discovers turns Moon’s life up-side-down once more.

Wells’ stories about the Raksura blend current issues with an imaginative world into a compelling story. My brain harmonizes with her writing. It baffles me that her stories have not been translated into other languages.


My review of:

Wells, Martha; The Serpent Sea (Raksura II)(2013)

All countries/societies/cultures/etc. have their own rules and regulations (written and unwritten) that must be followed to avoid being ostracized. Small communities, in particular, have a difficult time with newcomers, because those newcomers shake up their beliefs about right and wrong. Aspies are often life-long newcomers to the places they are born. We cross invisible lines and are called socially deficient. When Moon came to the Indigo Cloud Court he knew only what Shade had told him of their ways.

Moon had been consort to Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud Court, for eleven days and nobody had tried to kill him yet. He thought it was going well so far.

As much as the world of the Court confuses Moon, Moon confuses the Arbora (cannot fly) and Aeriat (can fly).

Moon caught hold of the railing and slung himself up to crouch on it. He said, “Tell the others.” He leapt away from the boat, shifted to Raksuran form in midair and caught the wind.

Consorts are raised to be timid creatures and do not learn to fight. Generally, they are obedient and do not raise their voices. Moon, who takes the lead, changes form in mid-air and joins in hunting for and guarding the Court, is a person who will not accept Raksura strictures. Through his example, he shows others that changes aren’t necessarily a bad thing and that there are options to traditional patterns. In return, the Court shows Moon that living forever in a place can be a good thing. Unfortunately, Moon’s past leaves him expecting to be kicked out of the Indigo Cloud Court.

What is left of the Indigo Cloud Court, after the Fell have decimated them, travel onboard the two wind-ships, the Valendera and the Indara, to their ancestral lands, the Reaches, to find a Mother Tree to live in. Moon’s experience with living in trees has not left him wanting more.

The multiple layers of branches reached up like giants’ arms, and the trunk was enourmous, wider around than the base of the ruined step pyramid that had formed the old Indigo Cloud colony. from the lower part of the trunk, greenery platforms extendet out, multiple levels of them, some more than five hundred paces across. A waterfall fell out of a knothole nearly big enough to sail the Valendera through, plunged down to collect in a pool on one of the platforms, then fell to the next, and the next, until it disappeared into the shadows below.

In Serpent Sea Martha Wells has given us a mystery, a moving island, and an arrogant neighbor. Everything I have to say about Serpent Sea is positive. I love the way Wells blends major and minor tones. The text winds its way through dangers and peace creating a symphony of words that fits my taste and, with ease, draws me through the story. Once again, Moon is the only POV. Seeing through those eyes shows me a complex world and interesting characters. Like Nobent. Talk about excellent predator. And the moving island. Oozing darkness and goo. Not a human society in sight.


My review of The Cloud Roads

Lee & Miller; Agent of Change (1988)

Predictions about how future technology might look when one is bound by the limitations of current technology or the imagination of engineers is one of the things that makes reading science fiction fun.  Agent of Change was written in 1988 and I noticed a few technological doodahs that we have surpassed. Val Con’s camouflage method is not one of those areas.

The man who was not Terrence O’Grady had come quietly.

And that, Sam insisted, was clear proof. Terry had never done anything quietly in his life if there was a way to get a fight out of it.

Pete, walking at Sam’s left behind the prisoner, wasn’t so sure. To all appearances, the man they had taken was Terrence O’Grady. He had the curly, sandy hair, the pug nose, and the archaic blackframed glasses over pale blue eyes, and he walked with a limp of the left leg, which the dossier said was a souvenir of an accident way back when he’d been mining in the Belt of Terado.

Val Con yos’Phelium is a deep-undercover agent sent to accomplish “impossible” assassinations. Before becoming a spy, he had been first-in scout, i.e. front-line explorer. When he became a spy, an enhancer was imbedded into his brain. All spies were inserted with similar enhancers. In Agent of Change he discovers most of its down-sides and gets to show off its benefits.

The alley twisted once more and widened into bright spaciousness, showing him a loading dock and five well-armed persons protected behind shipping containers and handtrucks. Before the dock a red-haired woman held a gun to the throat to a Terran, using his body as a shield between herself and the five others.

“Please guys,” the hostage yelled hoarsely. “I’ll give you my share-I swear it! Just do like she -”

One of those behind the containers shifted; the hostage stiffened with a throttled gasp, and the woman dropped him, diving for the scant cover of a wooden crate. Pellets splintered it, and she rolled away, the fleeing hostage forgotten, as one of the five rose for a clear shot.

Miri Robertson had been a sergeant with a mercenary group. After leaving the group, she hired on with Sire Baldwin as a body guard on a three-month contract. Sire Baldwin had not been upfront about what Miri might need to protect him from, i.e. he was on the run from the interplanetary mob called Juntavas. Unknowingly (obviously), Miri and the rest of his staff were caught in Baldwin’s double cross. As a result Miri was on the run from vengeful Juventas with a bounty on her head. The above fight is between Miri and one of the many groups out to cash in that bounty. It is this fight that brings Val Con and Miri together and leaves them sticking together until they manage to outfox those who have it in for either of them.

Rapt, Edger came into the lobby, kin trailing after. Here, he noted, the sound of the sirens was not so shrill; the rich counter-harmony of the singers faded to a primal growl over which the solitary, singlenoted song of the building soared triumphant, nearly incandescant.

And there were other textures herein encountered, doubtless meant as a frame to the piece: the softness of the carpeting beneath his feet; the clearness of the colors; the harshness of the light reflected from the framed glass surfaces. Edger stepped deeper into the experience, opening his comprehension to the wholeness of this piece of art.

Patiently, his Clan members waited.

Edger is a member of the T’Carais, a people who live centuries, even millenia. He is not yet considered adult in spite of being 900 human years old. As they grow, the T’Carais shed their old shells and grow new ones. Edger is on his Twelfth Shell. The name in his visas reads: Twelfth Shell Fifth Hatched Knife clan of Middle River’s Spring Spawn of Farmer Greentrees of the Spear-makers Den, The Edger. T’Carais names show others who they belong to, their positions, their age and important phases during their lives and, therefore, might take hours to say. Due to his interests Edger acts as ambassador/market researcher and is multi-lingual. T’Carais are social animals, much like humans, and there are several other T’Carais travelling with Edger in a Clutch spaceship. Edger is in Agent of Change because Val Con was once adopted by him as clan-brother, and he helps Val Con and Miri because that is what brothers do.

Both Miri and Val Con are essential to the story. Neither plays second fiddle to the other, and neither is a stranger to violence.  Given their roles in life, that is only to be expected. I really enjoyed how gender was played out in the story. Even today’s authors (either gender) tend to fall into stereotypical traps. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have not and I wish more authors would follow their example. In addition, the author pair, try to not make fun of cultural cultural differences, something that might be tempting with a species such as the T’Carais. However, one does not mess with the T’Carais. They have me smiling with, rather than at, differences between Terran, Liad and T’Carais. All three are baffled at times by what the others do, but all of them seem genuinely interested in learning from each other. Val Con and Miri carry mental baggage from their pasts.  Sometimes that gets in the way of them, but not of the plot.

Agent of Change exceeded my expectations. I understand why the Liaden universe has become popular.


Reviews:

Huff, Tanya; Valor’s Choice (Confedation of Valor I)(2000)

“If space is big and mostly uninhabited, it should be safe to assume that any life-forms who really didn’t get along would avoid spending time in each other’s company.

Unfortunately, the fact that said life-forms could avoid each other doesn’t necessarily mean that they would.

When the Others attacked systems on the borders of Confederation territory, Parliament sent out a team of negotiators to point out that expansion in any other direction would be more practical as it would not result in conflict. The negotiators were returned in a number of very small pieces…”

The Confederation and the Others each consist of several sentient life forms wanting a piece of the other side’s action. Unlike the Others, the Confederation had been at peace for long enough to evolve an inability to kill species they defined as sentient, leaving the Elder races desperate for someone to protect them. As Humans had, already, ventured out into their own solar system, they were uplifted on the condition that they, in effect, become the military arm of the Confederation. Once the Krai and di’Taykan were included into the Conferation, that military was expanded.

Valor’s Choice takes us to a world where another warlike species has been discovered. The Silsviss are tough enough that the military want them to join the Confederation and not the Others. Enter  the Human Torin Kerr, staff sergeant for the Sh’Quo Company. General Morris, who has never been in a ground battle, orders Kerr to recall the battleworn Sh’quo Company, supposedly to serve as honor guard for the diplomats. On top of that she is given a brand new  second lieutenant, the di’Taykan di’Ka Jarret to train. Their relationship is part of the humour of the story, but not for the reasons one might suspect. Jarret is not a bumbling fool. Instead the humour lies in their preexisting relationship.

Neither Kerr nor Jarret are fools. Both of them know that General Morris is planning on something unpleasant for them. Nothing they can do other than be as prepared as they can. On to diplomat-sitting duty they travel. Fortunately, Huff does not fall into some of the tempting traps that are available to authors. Male and female characters are not stereotyped. Nor are the other marines portrayed as stupid fighting machines. Granted, the extras do not have in-depth personalities, but Huff has tried to bring them somewhat to life. Huff manages to blend the three fighting species into a unit all the while maintaining species-typical behaviour. Valor’s Choice is told in third person from Kerr’s point of view and  she is the person who is most three-dimensional. I found myself liking her. Another character I really liked was the envoy from the Silvsniss, Cri Sawyes.

There is definitely entertainment value in Valor’s Choice. In the sense that it draws me in and keeps me reading, it could be called escapist. Yet, escapism isn’t all there is to this story. Power and politics are major themes of Valor’s Choice. General Morris is a political general, i.e. he wants advancement at whatever price others have to pay. I strongly dislike people who intend to use other people’s lives to get there. Even when fighting is inevitable, war-hawks tend to up the tally of dead.

Valor’s Choice is also about specieism. Colourism or culturism are inevitable. Humans are programmed to use pre-existing information upon meeting people who look or behave different from themselves and their contemporaries. Humans, Krai and di’Taykan are all war-like. Disparaging remarks are made about the Silvsniss by the marines, but they aren’t said in the same spirit they use on each other. The three military species have worked out their differences (with the help of translators) and joke about those species-specific behaviours (like eating your grandmother). In many ways they find  Silvsniss easier to understand than the Elder races the marines babysit. Nor are the Elder races able to comprehend how bloodthirsty the three military species.

Valor’s Choice is a military sci-fi space opera with fighting on the ground. Except for the last bit. Fighting does not begin until after page 100. For me it was easy to get into and was interesting even when action was slow.