Category Archives: Science Fiction

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.

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:

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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