Category Archives: Science Fiction

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:

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

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