Tag Archives: #SpaceOpera

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:

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.

Stross, Charles; Iron Sunrise (2004)

Considering this is my third or fourth time reading Iron Sunrise, it should come as no surprise that I like it. Iron Sunrise is a science fiction thriller space opera lingering within certain degrees of believability. There are two main characters. One of them was apparently in the previous Eschaton story, Singularity Sky.

Rachel Mansour is Black Ops, i.e. top-secret with/without wet-work (e.g. killing people). I’ve never figured out why politicians, academics and the military use so many substitute words in an attempt to camouflage what a soldier often has to do. Although, in the case of politicians, in real life and in Iron Sunrise, I expect it has to do with living in pretend worlds inside their own heads. Pretenses and pretty words do nothing to save people like Rachel from having recurring nightmares. She is the kind of person, who instead of asking “Why should I do this?” or “Why is this happening to me?” asks “Why not me?”. She is who the UN sends out to clean up their or other worlds’ messes. In the first part of Iron Sunrise, Rachel has a nasty encounter with Emperor Idi Amin. She manages to save Geneva from him. After that, she is sent off to save humans from themselves.

One of the people who experienced the start of the mess Rachel is trying to fix is our other main character, Wednesday Strowger. The first few pages are about her experiences three years earlier when  her invisible friend, Herman, asked for her help.

She’d read the papers in the strong room, realized how important they must be, and pushed the door ajar, thinking to leave – yanked it shut barely ahead of the snarl and the leap. Acrid smoke had curled up from the hinges as she scrambled into the duct-work, fled like a black-clad spider into the service axis and though the pressurized cargo tunnel and the shadows of the almost-empty dock, panting and crying as she went. Always hearing a scrabble of diamond-tipped claws on the floor behind her.

After the evacuation of Old Newfoundland Four, we next meet Wednesday three years later. She is now 19 has people out to kill her. Wednesday ties them to her past. Again, with the help of Herman, she jumps, once more, into the fray. That jump eventually brings her into contact with Rachel.

Another person sent by her government to clean up after other people’s stupidity is U. Portia Hoechst. Same thing, only she belongs to the other side, the enemy to Wednesday and Rachel’s beliefs about right and wrong. Portia is as convinced of the need for the ReMastered as Rachel believes in the need for Eschaton. Two people, each trying to bring the galaxy back into their kind of order. Take what it may. Already, Wednesday’s home-world, Moscow and her second home on Old NewFoundland have been destroyed or made uninhabitable for humans. Once more, Wednesday and millions of other people stand to lose their lives.

I’m on Wednesday and Rachel’s side, but that is because Stross has written the story with them made out to be the quasi-goodies. Yet I can see the attraction of a tyranny run the way the ReMastered do. Only if I was considered one of the usable ones. The only good tyrannies, in my mind, are ones with leaders who put the needs of their people before their own wants. Yeah, not likely.

There are some technologies that Stross describes that I wouldn’t mind. Smart pigments for hair and skin could be incredibly fun to play with. But not really practical unless you’re trying to camouflage yourself. I’m not sure about brain implants (basically a smarter brain) because the concept seems too easy to hack. Plus they seem kind of clunky. Plus I’m not sure which parts of the brain they would be hacked into. Our brains are only electrical impulses traveling along a fragile network easily disrupted by neurochemical signals. I imagine our calorie intake would have to increase to make up for the extra energy requirements of a global implant such as Stross describes. Cause we would have to be able to energize these networks by ourselves, the way we do with our meat brains. Which is why I’m not buying all the “hard science fiction” labels that Iron Sunrise has gotten. Not when it comes to Eschaton either.

Faster than light travel, wormholes, null spaces or even almost up to light travel are never going to happen for humans. We are too stupid to come together as a planet for long enough to get it done. Hell, we’re too stupid to make our own planet more environmentally sound. Even me, and I know what is going on. But that doesn’t make this stuff any less fun to read about. Iron Sunrise is an excellent thriller that is already, more or less, happening here on Earth. This is how stupid people are. And how dedicated. And how terrified yet willing. And how terrifying. And how greedy. Greed. Ain’t it wonderful. Where would thrillers be without it or fanaticism.

If ever an Artificial Intelligence comes about that is somewhat like Eschaton, it deserves a UN citizenship.

According to Stross, the set-up of Iron Sunrise

“allows for narrative structures that map onto intercontinental travel circa 1880-1914; we have railroads space elevators that link national planetary populations to ports space stations where steam starships dock, to transport passengers and cargo slowly between stops; and we have trans-oceanic telegraph cables causal channels to allow instantaneous (but expensive and limited-bandwidth) information transfer.”


My reviews of other Charles Stross stories

Gorman, K.; Black Dawn (Eurynome Code 1)(2017)

Karin Makos has a secret she wants to keep under wraps. Her sister knows about it. After all, Nomiki was another child experimented on. In Black Dawn, Karin is our protagonist. We get to know her sister through Karin’s dreams. Black Dawn is told from a third-person perspective as seen from Karin’s point of view and everything we find out about her universe is what Karin experiences and thinks.

Karin, Marc and Soo-Jin  are scavengers, travelling in the Nemina, chasing First Gen Earth objects – like beer cans. They travel to abandoned sites/worlds to find goods and sell them on to collectors. Karin is the overqualified pilot, Marc owns the Nemina and Soo-Jin is their First-Gen specialist and marketer. They are both Karin’s side-kicks and play vital seconds to her in different episodes of this novel. Karin is the only three-dimensional character.

After a successful run someone enters their space ship and attacks all three while they sleep. Abruptly waking from a dream …

She sucked in a breath.

It was a man – or, at the very least, a very life-like, man-shaped shadow. Tall, with edges that blended into the room’s already significant darkness, he stood against the wall with no definition to him, only darkness. she couldn’t see any features, not eyes or the rumples where clothes might be, or – heck, were those arms?

Karin is forced to use her special ability or die. An ability that becomes more and more difficult to hide as the story progresses.

Light pricked through the blackness. The white droplets on her arm still shone, dimmer than before, but persistent.

She brought her hand up. Muscles shaking, she pushed energy into the light. It shivered at her touch like water under a full moon, waxing, growing. The thing’s hand moved into her eyes. A fingertip brushed through her skull like the touch of a feather. She cringed, pulled away. Then she pushed back.

Light exploded from her skin.

The black think shrieked.

Karin confronts her dilemma many times during Black Dawn. To use or not to use. She knows what to expect if people find out about her ability, yet it may be that her ability can save people from the effects of the Shadow people. Few individuals find themselves with both a talent that might save many along with a tendency to freeze in dangerous situations. Karin does. If she had been all alone in the situations in Black Dawn, the novel would have ended much sooner. However, our shero works hard to control her panic attacks and manages to pull through each time.  Black Dawn might be about learning to trust yourself and others. It’s also about needing to use gifts/talents if you want them to grow and about trying to not let past decisions rule current ones.

We find out about Karin’s background and genetic modification as the story develops. Even though it is a serial, the Black Dawn ends at a good spot rather than in the middle of a climax. The story is a science fiction space opera low on technology but high on action/drama/adventure. There is no graphic violence or  sexual content. I liked the prose and do not think I have come across plots with Shadows attackers in them. This was an entertaining story that is the first of a trilogy. Recommended.

Halstead, Jason; Voidhawk (2011)

https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1397213139l/21607512.jpg

Longing for his own spaceship, Dexter Silvercloud drags his friend Kragor away from his life as a married man to fix a space derelict called Hawk’s Talon. The space ship is stuck in the asteroid field off their planet. Two nights a week are spent fixing up the vessel and Dexter will do anything to buy it. The rest of the week is spent getting enough money together to buy Hawk’s Talon.

One day while traversing the Playground to fetch his friend Dexter stumbled into an ambush. Contrary to stories told around hearths with mulled ale, most ship to ship encounters in the void do not involve catapult shot and ballista bolts flying. Even the rare bombards so often talked about in the story are seldom seen, let alone fired. Only the Federation and the Elven Armada ships are prone to fire at the slightest provocation. Repairs and even ammunition are too expensive for the private ship owner to run the risk.

Three small ships emerged from teh background of floating rocks to close with him. Dexter quickly identified an Ant, a Dart, and the third was little more than a skiff with a sail upon it. Dexter sped up his Gnat, risking the perils of the asteroid field and trying to lose the pursuing ships. Being a Federation scout ship, Dexter was correct in assuming that his was faster than the pirates. They were very familiar with the asteroid field; however, so he was unable to lose them.

The largest one, the Ant, slammed into a pony sized rock, sending one man flying into the void and another to the deck bleeding. Broken planks of wood drifted free, bobbing in the small vessel’s gravity plane. Seeing that gave Dexter an idea.

Yes. You read correctly. Space vessels with wood plating and sails. In space. Sail ships in space. Sorry. I just cannot comprehend why Halstead would choose to place sail ships in space. It makes no sense. Even if they have their own gravity wells. Even though I do not hold space operas to the same rules as most other forms of science fiction. There are  minimum requirements that I have, and Halstead keeps on breaking them throughout the story.

One of the reasons I think I kept on reading was because of a fascination with an author who completely disregards physical laws. Plus Halstead’s writing is halfway decent. If only he had chosen a stricter editor and science fiction beta-readers. Sadly, Voidhawk‘s characters suffer from the same lack.

I cannot say that I recommend Voidhawk. If only … I probably would have.

Bell, Odette C. The Betrothed & Shattered Destiny. 2015

“Life, in all its imperfect variation, was nothing compared to the scale of nothingness that made up most of the known universe.”

Shattered Destiny (loc 19537)