Tag Archives: Ecological changes

Kirstein, Rosemary: Steerswoman

The Steerswoman's roadI have one complaint about the series – Where is the next book????? My goodness, this series was riveting. Kirstein needs to keep on writing – well, actually, in all selfishness, I need her to keep on writing. I think this was my third read-through and I was still captured by the writing and held prisoner until the end.

THE STEERSWOMAN’S ROAD (2003)

Rosemary Kirstein Steerswoman’Road is an omnibus containing The Steerswoman and The Outskirter’s Secret. In it Kirstein tells the story of the friendship between Rowan, the Steerswoman, and Bel, the Outskirter. Rowan and Bel meet right at the beginning while they are both about their own business. Bel has been travelling with other Outskirters and Rowan has been investigating strange blue jewels that are neither cut nor dug up.

Steerswoman are men and women who travel around the land asking questions and answering them. One must tell the true answer to any question and the Steerswomen must also do so. If one refuses to answer a Steerswoman, they can ban you. That means that no matter what the question you ask is, they will not answer it. Strange rule, but as knowledge is their whole purpose perhaps not.

Rowan’s questions about the jewels seem to have stirred up interest from the wrong parties. Thankfully, she and Bel have decided to travel together for a while because the next day brings an attack. From that point on there is tension, action, betrayal, discovery, friendships and travel. In fact, Rowan’s search for the truth of these blue jewels brings her into the Outskirts.

The Outskirter is about this part of her journey of discovery, and The Outskirter is just as exciting as The Steerswoman. The Outskirters are nomads who live at the border of where people can actually survive. Every day for them is about destroying and seeding the land so humans can live there. Steerswomen are unfamiliar territory to the Outskirters, yet Rowan manages to gain their trust and help them in her own way. The importance of her work becomes clearer and clearer as the role of the wizards in the attacks on Rowan begins to make a strange sort of sense. Rowan is also beginning to realize that perhaps wizards aren’t quite as wizardly as she had thought.

We as readers should have started realizing this long ago. What does not make sense to Rowan and the regular citizens of both the Outskirts and the Inland does to us. This is a science fiction series that to begin with might seem to be a fantasy one. Quite a few science fiction books are like that. The meeting between different sorts of technologic knowledge can, after all, make it seem like magic is afoot. Pressing a button on the wall to make light in the ceiling is pretty magical if you ask me – and I know how it all happens.

The Lost SteersmanTHE LOST STEERSMAN (2003) – 2004 Locus Science Fiction Award Nominee

Rowan and Bel have parted ways (on friendly terms). Bel is in the Outskirts spreading the bad news, and Rowan has ended up at the Annex in the town of Alameth looking for more information about Slado and the wizards. The Annex is a mess. Mira, the last Steerswoman living there, had not cared one whit about her duties. She was tired of being a Steerswoman and left everything a mess when she died. Now Rowan has to try to find desperately needed information in this chaos. On top of that the townspeople have problems accepting Rowan because she is so different from Mira.

When Rowan meets Janus, a Steersman who resigned the job and was considered lost, she is happy and confused. He was one of her oldest friends and Rowan finds the ban on him difficult in their conversations. After a while, Rowan begins to suspect that things are quite complicated with Janus.

The Lost Steersman is every bit as suspenseful as The Steerswoman’s Road. Kirstein keeps the standard of her writing amazingly high. It goes against the grain, but I think I’m going to put her along with Pratchett. Their styles are completely different. However, they both manage to involve me as a reader in some very serious topics with skills beyond anything I could aspire to.

The Language of Power THE LANGUAGE OF POWER (2004) – 2005 Locus Science Fiction Award Nominee

Rowan and Bel are once again together in their adventures. The Outskirts have been warned and Rowan is finally beginning to get somewhere in her search for the answers to Slade. All roads lead to Rome, it is said. In the Inlands, all roads seem to lead to Donner. To Donner Rowan and Bel go and there they unexpectedly meet Will – our lovable wanna-be apprentice – from the first book.

Will is on the run from Corvus, trying to hide in Donner and looking for revenge on the wizards. Rowan and Bel are overjoyed at meeting their old friend and seek to help him in his quest. But, as would be expected from an adventure novel, things never turn out as one would wish. Will is surprised at Rowan’s grasp of “magic”. Because he knows so much more about science than she, he tends to be a bit overbearing with her. Just because she doesn’t have the background Will has, certainly does not mean that she is without the ability to infer and deduce. After all, her whole life has been about the quest for knowledge – a true addict.

Unfortunately the next book in this series has not come out yet. Aaaargh. Please, Kirstein! We need the next installment! I love the intelligence and wit of Rosemary Kirstein. She actually expects me as a reader to think and doesn’t divert my attention with loads of sex and violence. Sex and violence can be fun, but this is sooooo much more thrilling.

Asimov, Isaac: Foundation series

The Foundation series continues on from the Elijah Bailey series. The reason I call it a continuation of the series becomes apparent as one reads the books (too much of a spoiler to tell). If you go to Wikipedia, they will tell all. Having said that, their page carries quite an excellent description of the books along with analysis and links. For another in-depth analysis of Asimov’s work go to Wimmer & Wilkins’ blog. Asimov’s home page contains more general information about his life’s work.

Isaac Asimov brought fresh air into science fiction when he arrived on the scene in the 40’s. He wasn’t afraid of taking a hard look at the possible future of mankind based on what he knew of the day’s theories on sociology and psychology. The Foundation series is considered one of the most important contributions to the field of science fiction, a well-deserved opinion.


PRELUDE TO FOUNDATION (1988) AND FORWARD THE FOUNDATION (1993)

SciFi and Fantasy Art PRELUDE TO FOUNDATION by Slawek Wojtowicz
Cover for Polish Prelude to Foundation
by Slawek Wojtowicz

The Foundation series was started in the 1940’s, but for easier reading you should start with Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation. In Prelude we meet Hari Sheldon, the inventor of psychohistory. Hari’s goal was to be able to predict the general future of humanity, and during a conference he presents his fledgling theory to fellow scientists on the planet Trantor. Unfortunately the Empiror finds Hari’s theories a threat and begin to persecute him. This makes it necessary for Hari to flee, and his flight takes him around Trantor. In Forward the story of how Hari develops his theory continues. Sadly for Hari, the people he loves die off (naturally and unnaturally). Hari refuses to give up and finally develops what ends up being called the Seldon Plan, a way to save the future of humankind.


FOUNDATION (1951) / FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE (1952) / AND SECOND FOUNDATION (1953)

Cover for Polish Prelude to Foundation
by Slawek Wojtowicz

After this introduction to the future Galactic Empire, The Foundation Trilogy with the books Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation, follow. These are Asimov’s first installments in the Foundation history. When you read these books, please keep in mind that the series was written well before Wikipedia or the internet came into existence. As such, they seem a bit dated. Some of the theory can be tedious, but the adventures and people we meet are quite fun. The titles are a dead give-away, so we know well ahead of time that the Foundation is bound to survive. But we know nothing about the road taken.

In Foundation and Empire the leaders of the Foundation has become corrupt. The internal strife that arises from that makes the organisation susceptible to “The Mule”. The Mule advances, conquering planet after planet, making the Empire deviate from Seldon’s plan. The Foundation does not have it in them to win over the Mule, and desperately some of the members begin seeking a rumoured Second Foundation.

The title Second Foundation kind of gives it away. In this novel we are going to discover the rumoured savior of the Empire while enjoying adventure, science and social interaction. The only way to kill the Mule is by allowing members of the Foundation to find members of the Second Foundation. But this also reveals the fact that there is a Second Foundation and that its nature is somewhat different to the First one’s. Herein lies the conflict.


Foundation’s Edge
by Michael Whelan

FOUNDATION’S EDGE (1982) AND FOUNDATION AND EARTH (1986)

And so we come to the two final books in the Foundation series: Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth. We meet Golan Trevize as main protagonist in both books. He is convinced the Second Foundation has survived the attempt to exterminate its members, and goes looking for them. His search brings him to many planets and finally to the ancient planets (no longer on any star-chart) of Solaria, Aurora and Melpomenia. Each journey brings Trevize closer to a conclusion that may or may not satisfy the reader. I felt ambiguous, and that seems to be the intent of the author.


  • 1966 –  Best All-time Novel Series Hugo Award for the Foundation series
  • 1983 –  Hugo Award for Best Novel for Foundation’s Edge
  • 1983 –  Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel for Foundation’s Edge
  • 1996 –  A 1946 Retro-Hugo for Best Novel of 1945 was given at the 1996 WorldCon to “The Mule“, the 7th Foundation story, published in Astounding Science Fiction

Asimov, Isaac: Elijah Bailey/Robot series

Isaac Asimov was my introduction to science fiction. I imagine he has been for a lot of people. The libraries here in Norway didn’t have a lot of fantasy/science fiction material in my youth. But there were a few robot anthologies with Isaac. I fell in love.

It’s incredible to me that Asimov began the Foundation series in 1942. I would begin my reading with the Robot series (Elijah Bailey series). These four books give the reader an excellent starting point for understanding Foundation: The Caves of SteelThe Naked Sun, The Robots of Dawn, and Robots and Empire (these are links to Wikipedia so spoiler warning is necessary).

michael whelan_isaac asimov_the caves of steel.jpg

Michael Whelan – Caves of Steel

The Caves of Steel (1954) is the very beginning of the Foundation series. Far into the future (approx. 3000 years) mankind has discovered hyper-travel and has emigrated to the stars. Fifty planets, known as the Spacer worlds, have been terraformed and enjoy a low density of humans. Robots are used for labor intensive jobs. In the meantime Earth is over-populated and have passed laws against the use of robots. Elijah Bailey lives on Earth in one of the domed cities.

A Spacer ambassador has been found murdered outside his domicile. Elijah is forced to go work with his partner, R. Daneel Olivaw, a human-looking robot. Unfortunately one of things Elijah holds against Daneel is the fact that he looks just like the murder victim. On their journey of discovery they end up visiting the Spacer worlds.

Some of the themes Asimov explores in this combination of sci-fi and mystery are over-population, technology and prejudice.

The-Robots-Series-1

The Naked Sun (1957) brings us to the world of Solaria. Solaria is a planet where the population is kept at 20000 and robots serve the human population. In fact robots outnumber the humans greatly. This time the victim is a genetic specialist in the birthing center of the planet. On a planet where contact between people is kept at a minimum, we get a real locked-room mystery. Once again Elijah and Daneel need to solve the murder mystery.

In the Elijah books robots are for the most part treated as property and expected to do as their masters say. When Elijah calls the robot “Boy” it might be seen as Asimov’s way of breaching the topic of racism/slavery/prejudice. Asimov was agoraphobic and as such Solaria would probably be the exact opposite of his heaven. Elijah certainly has to struggle quite a deal with his own agoraphobia in this novel. We also get a look at the way we tend to make assumptions without enough information. The rest of Solaria just “knows” that Gladia has to be guilty of the crime, but Elijah is not as certain of that.

Daneel, Elijah and Giskard in hovercraft by Seabird

In The Robots of Dawn (1983) we once again meet Gladia from Solaria. She has settled on the planet Aurora. A roboticide has occurred and Elijah and Daneel need to find the killer. R. Jander Panell was another humaniform robot created by Han Fastolfe. The robots of Aurora are incredibly lifelike and their interaction with their humans can be quite intimate.

To aid in their investigation, Daneel and Elijah are assisted by another of Fastolfe’s creations, R. Giskard Reventlov. They discover that Jander was a member of Gladia’s staff. In fact, she considered him her husband. Some of the possibilities for motives are jealousy, power and greed. While Asimov’s Robot books are mysteries, they are also an exploration of sociological possibilities. The impact of technology (in this case robots) is one of Asimov’s recurrent themes. How far do we take technology or let technology take us? The Robots of Dawn is also very much about human relationships. How much do we let our urges, the taboos of society and our individualism steer our lives?

The Zeroth Law by Hera of Stockholm

Robots and Empire (1985) is the final book in the Elijah Bailey/Robot series. By this time Elijah has died and we encounter one of his descendants, Daneel Giskard. In it we get a step closer to Asimov’s Foundation series – a natural continuation of the Elijah/Robot’s series.

For most of the Spacer population Earth people are seen as vermin. They have been forbidden emigration to other planets and are forced to stay on over-populated, capped earth.

However, Earth people are overcoming their agoraphobia and are using faster-than-light transportation to get to planets away from the Spacer Empire. These “Settlers” see the Earth as something to revere. One of these Settlers is Daneel Giskard.

On a trade journey Daneel discovers that Solaria seems empty of humans. The robots are left, still working with their previously assigned jobs. Gladia Delmarre is still alive on Aurora and she is asked by Daneel to help figure out what has happened on Solaria. She brings R. Daneel and R. Giskard to aid in the investigation.

Once again Asimov explores the theme of technology and its effect on humans. The ending of Robots and Empire was quite touching and a fitting end to the Robot series. When you read the Foundation series, you will see just how Robots and Empire merges these two series. These books are a treat. While they are dated in some respects, their themes are incredibly relevant today.