Sunday, January 31, 2016

Read-Along: Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey, Part 5

Welcome to week five of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Scion. This week’s questions cover chapters 37 through 44, and they’re provided by Lynn of Lynn’s Books.  If you’re interested in getting involved in this or future read-alongs, please check out our goodreads group!  Now, on to the questions, and beware of spoilers through chapter 44 below!

1.Firstly, what do you make of The Guild and why do you think Anafiel declined to join them.  Do you think Imriel should join them?

I expect it is not more complicated than Claudia suggested, and Anafiel did not want to swear loyalty to something that might interfere with his previous loyalties.  If it came down to it, I doubt Anafiel would have ever put anything above Rolande.  I bet the Guild wasn’t very happy about that, either.  I suspect Imriel will follow the same route as Anafiel, especially since he has already given an oath of loyalty to Sidonie.

2. We have the philosophical debates - how do you think these are going to play a part in the story overall, if at all?

I still think Piero’s class was mostly useful for introducing the other students who would become Imriel’s friends.  I think the latest lecture was valuable for them, though, to remind the college kids why the locals might not be particularly fond of them.  I guess this is something that was as true in their Tiberium as it is in modern day university towns.

3. Claudia - what do you make of her.  Do you trust her?

I guess I trust her to be who she is, which means she’s certainly not telling Imriel the whole truth.  I trust that she likes sleeping with him, and that she probably does want him to join the Guild and not be killed.

4. We have lots of possible attempts on Imri’s life, even going so far as to start a student riot - and his own attempts to bring these to a stop.  What do you make to all of it?

I really enjoyed his scheme to stop the murder attempts!  I also thought it was pretty funny how shocked the guy was that Imriel did not take the assassination attempts personally.  I guess it’s happened enough times so far in Imriel’s life that he’s a little used to it.  

However, I think he was bluffing about the letter to the ambassador, right?  I mean, there was a letter, but he gave it to the priest before he found out Caccini’s name and location.  He could have given some general information (Bernadette de Trevalion has hired someone here to kill me), but it couldn’t have singled out Caccini.

5. Two particular characters that I find intriguing are Canis and Piero.  What were your first impressions and how do they differ now?

They both seem like decent, non-murderous people, but I don’t think my opinion of them has changed in any significant way.  I can see why Imriel likes Canis, since he has essentially done what Imriel wishes he could do, completely discarding his own identity in order to be free.  

Other Things:

—Poor Gilot! I hope he recovers fully.

—I’m glad Imriel appreciates what a good friend he has in Eamonn.  He’s such a good guy, helping out Imriel and accepting that he isn’t telling him everything.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

TV Musings: The Man in the High Castle, Season 1

I watched the pilot for The Man in the High Castle during Amazon’s free pilot preview session, and discussed it briefly along with the novel, here.  Now I’ve seen the rest of the first season, and I wanted to discuss it a little bit.  This is going to be less of a general review, and more along the lines of pointing out things that I thought were interesting.  I’m also not going to compare it to the original novel any longer, since by now the show is really a separate entity. Given that a second season is already confirmed, it was pretty much guaranteed that they would need to deviate dramatically from the source material.

Beware of spoilers from here on out!

One of my first reactions to the show was simply to be impressed by the high quality of the production.  It felt like a lot of care went into crafting the setting, the costumes, and the details of the world, and I think all of the actors for parts minor and major did really excellent work. I think that choosing “Edelweiss” from “The Sound of Music” as the opening theme was a also a good idea, since the American audience would likely associate that particular song with the grief of losing one’s nation to a foreign occupation.  

I really don’t know any German at all, but I can comment that I thought the Japanese language was well done. I found it a little amusing that all of the Japanese characters primarily spoke English to one another, but I think that was mostly to avoid scaring off English audiences with long stretches of subtitles. I was also initially a little confused by the value of yen. Today, yen is in the ballpark of around 100 yen per US dollar, so the amounts quoted for various extortions and ransoms seemed ridiculously low.  However, I had a look at the historical exchange rates, and pre-WWII Japanese Yen were around 2-3 yen per US dollar.  I thought that was an interesting historical detail that they carried forward into the alternate post-WWII world.

A good show, but so sad.

The Man in the High Castle quickly became a show I wanted to watch each evening, even though the turns the story took were often surprisingly painful to witness. By the end of the second episode, I realized that this was going to be a brutally depressing story, and one which would make me feel terrified of governments for a while.  The reveal at the end of the second episode--that the Kempeitai had executed Frank’s sister and her children--set the tone for the rest of the series.  Up until that point, I genuinely thought they were going to be saved at the last minute, or that the threat was just being used to scare Frank.  Afterward, I think I lost some essential bit of hope for the eventual outcome for the characters, and I spent each subsequent episode bracing for the worst to happen. The show has a very skillful way of showing the magnitude of impersonal evil that can be committed by humans for the most unworthy of reasons.

The Cost of Loyalty

I felt like loyalty, to a nation or a person, was a major theme throughout the show.  Rather than showing this as a positive trait, it seemed like loyalty always brought suffering to those who held it. For instance, Frank went through hell due to his connection to his girlfriend Juliana and his continuing support for her, while Juliana’s choices rarely took him into account at all.  The compassion and loyalty of Frank’s best friend Ed was admirable, but it also cost him dearly.

When it came to nations, loyalty was shown to be just as destructive. Tagomi, Kido and others were willing to sacrifice their lives and their integrity for the well-being of their government, even if the force demanding that sacrifice was the government itself.  I was also interested by the situation of John Smith, whose psychological comfort depended on his false belief that his loyalty to the Reich had helped build a better world.  Throughout the season, we see the cracks start to appear in this conviction, as he must confront the fact that the monstrous world he has built is going to destroy everyone he loves, as it has already done for millions of others.

The Ending

The Man in the High Castle ended with quite a few surprise twists, and I can only be happy that it has already been renewed for a second season.  Unless I miss my guess, we have now met The Man in the High Castle, and he is not at all who I expected him to be. Juliana’s decision at the end was quite a shock, and with Tagomi-san’s final scene, it looks like the second season may move into more mind-bending territory.  What do you think of season one?   

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Read-Along: Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey, Part 4

Welcome to week four of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Scion.  This week covers chapters 28-36, and Lisa of Over the Effing Rainbow has provided the discussion questions.  If you’d like to get involved in this or any future read-alongs, check out our goodreads group.  Now let’s get to this week’s section, and beware of spoilers below.

1. The aftermath of Imriel's night at Valerian House takes a bit of a dark emotional turn... What did you think of what happens between him and Phedre? Did it surprise you at all?

My first reaction was that Imriel was throwing a melodramatic temper tantrum. Things seemed to be going well the morning afterward.  Mavros made sure Imriel got home safely, and he seemed to be mostly okay, except for the hangover.  Then there was that moment where he felt lust for his adopted mother.  I can understand that freaked him out, but he went a bit overboard with sawing his hair off, running around the city getting drunk, and starting fights.  He really put Gilot through a lot, and I’m impressed the guy was willing to go with him to Tiberium.

I don’t think that moment itself was really surprising, especially given that Phedre figured something like that would happen eventually.  I think he really just needed to calm down and to realize that he was not completely in control of the physical reactions of his teenage body.  I know that there is the mystical component going on here, but I still think that he, Joscelin and Phedre could have worked through the issue together. 

2. We go from this scene to Imriel's decision to leave Terre D'Ange and visit Tiberium, and he doesn't waste much time arranging the trip - though he does make time to say some goodbyes, and to confront Barquiel L'Envers. Any thoughts about this encounter - or his meeting with Sidonie?

Though I think he could have recovered from his post-Valerian moment at home, I don’t think it is a bad decision for him to go to University somewhere else for a while.  He was already feeling kind of locked-in, like there were no adventures in his life.  I think he needed to go somewhere outside of his parents’ shadow (both biological and adopted) to find himself.

Concerning the farewells, I’m beginning to think that Imriel needs to find his female equivalent of Joscelin soon, so that they can save him from dying of melodrama.  Even Mavros was exasperated at how challenging he was being, telling Sidonie to meet him in the place that he first smiled at her.  Then, he was awfully prickly towards Sidonie, though I think they eventually left on fairly good terms.  The confrontation with Barquiel seemed completely unnecessary, though it was not entirely Imriel’s fault. I’m glad Sidonie came around to cool things down.

3. Next stop is Tiberium, and Imriel quickly catches up with Eamonn! What do you think of the University setting, and Eamonn's taste for studying philosophy? Do you think it will help Imri in any way?

It was great to see Eamonn again! I am not really sure how useful their lessons will be.  It seems an unusual style of learning, to say the least.  Right now, I think I’m more interested in Imriel’s classmates than his classes.   

4. An old mystery deepens as Imriel searches for information on Anafiel Delaunay - and appears to find more than he bargained for... What did you make of Claudia Fulvia? 

Imriel is playing a dangerous game with her, but maybe he would not have found the guild of covertcy otherwise.  I suspect she hasn’t seen through his ‘disguise’ as Imriel de Montreve, or she might have guessed that pulling a knife on him was not a particularly good idea.  I’m glad neither of them seems to have been seriously hurt.  I don’t think Imriel’s classmate is going to be very happy if he finds out about Imriel having a tryst with his sister.

On another note, I felt like his night with Claudia was also somewhat BDSM (specifically, mild DS).  It seems like the Shahrizai family tends to focus more on the SM part, but I feel like this is still in the category of ‘darker desires’ that Imriel has been struggling with.  In this case, though, Imriel was playing the role of the submissive.  I’m not sure Imriel even noticed, but maybe it could help him to understand a bit about himself if he does.

Other Stuff:

--I felt so bad for Alais, now that we know she’s going to Alba all alone.  I’m sure she’ll find many friends there, but I can’t imagine how it must have felt when she learned Imriel wasn’t going with her.

--Imriel’s dedication to being a poor scholar is impressive.  Those quarters sound much worse than the dorms I remember living in during my university years!

--I am really curious about Imriel’s ‘haunted’ classmate.  I’m suspecting they’re going to have a falling out eventually, over Claudia, but I would like to learn more about him.

--Imriel may be in a more dangerous situation than he realizes.  It kind of sounds like there might be changes soon in the Tiberian government, and it seems like universities tend to get drawn into causes like that.

--Finally, we’re getting somewhere with the mystery of Anafiel Delaunay! I hope we learn more!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Read-Along: Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey, Part 3

Welcome to week three of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Scion.  Our discussion questions this week cover chapters 20-27, and they provided by Emily of Emma Wolf.  If you’d like to join this or other read-alongs, check out our goodreads group.  Lastly, beware of spoilers through chapter 27 below!

1.Maslin says that Imriel’s gift of Lombelon made the estate small by so easily discarding it. Eamonn says it was Maslin that made it small. Who do you think is right?

I’m with Eamonn on this one.  The only reason it made Lombelon “small” is because Maslin cares more about what people think of the estate than he cares about the estate itself. Also, what exactly was Imriel supposed to do?  It seems like Maslin has the situation set up in his head such that he could have resented Imriel for any action he did or did not take concerning the estate.  Thus, he seems to value preserving the chip on his shoulder more than he does anything else right now.  I’m not overly fond of Maslin at this point.

2.What do you think of Imriel’s oath to Sidonie? Do you believe him? Would you believe him were you in Sidonie’s position? When he makes this oath, Imriel is still fairly young and doesn’t have a lot of experience in politics. Do you think there’s anything that could change his mind?

I think maybe he was a bit drunk, but I also think he meant it.  I don’t think it really changes anything, because he had always intended to be loyal to the throne.  The effect of the oath is simply that now (well, at least after she sees he was serious) Sidonie seems willing to believe his intentions.

3.Things change between them during a hunt. What do you think?

I think Sidonie trusts him now, at least. However, now we have a bit of awkwardness, given that they seem to be attracted to one another.  I am not sure I’m on board with the Shahrizai’s, “Oh you’re barely even related” attitude.  If I’m not getting the families wrong, I think Sidonie is Imriel’s first cousin once removed.  I guess that is distant enough to not be considered highly taboo today, since it is legal in most US states.  Still, it seems a bit weird.

4.Imriel becomes the unwilling target or subject of potentially a treasonous plot. What do you think of Bertran’s reaction? Of Ysandre’s reaction and advice to Imriel?

Bertran’s reaction seems about as unfair to me as Maslin’s.  There’s absolutely nothing Imriel could have done to be more honest, open, and loyal.  He told everyone right away, and went immediately to report to the queen.  On the other hand, I can see why Bertran would be very leery of anything that had the slightest connection with treason.  Given that, though, I’m not sure why he was ever Imriel’s friend in the first place.

Ysandre was very reasonable about everything, I think.  It is annoying that Barquiel is going to get away with maliciously ruining Imriel’s social life, but at least he did get a slap on the wrist in the form of his forced retirement.  I am sympathetic to Imriel’s anger, but I think Ysandre was right that realistically there was little more to be done about it. 

5.What do you think of Talorcan and Dorelei and the idea of the betrothals?

So far, it doesn’t really look like Imriel or Alais are going for it, though they don’t really know them all that well yet.  I do appreciate that this isn’t about forcing people to get married, but more in the lines of encouraging them to consider whether they’d be willing to do it.  Given Terre d’Ange culture, I don’t think anyone would force Alais or Imriel into a marriage if they refused.

6.Mavros takes Imriel to Valerian House and forces him to confront...less vanilla sex, if nothing else, and Imriel eventually gives in. What do you think of this? Was Mavros too pushy? Why did Imriel give Sephira her own signale?

I think that Mavros gave Imriel exactly what he came to him looking for.  Mavros didn’t say where they were going, but I think it was clear Imriel was pretty certain about their destination. Also, he let Roshana braid his hair, so that he would look like a Shahrizai.  I think Imriel wanted to step outside himself for a while, so that he could do what he wanted to do without all the emotional baggage and history of being Imriel de la Courcel.  Mavros and the others let him just be one of the Shahrizai party at House Valerian. 

I think it’s probably for the best that he finally confronted this part of himself, and hopefully found that it wasn’t too terrible.  Sephira was also pretty great, even though she couldn’t have possibly known the entirety of what she was dealing with in Imriel.  I think it was very helpful for him that she kept giving assurance that he had her consent, and that this was what she wanted and enjoyed.  As for the signale, maybe Imriel was just trying to say that he couldn’t handle it anymore?  He had spent the evening being someone else, and now he needed it all to stop.

Other Things:

—While I’m glad Imriel confronted his teenage desires, I’m not sure his sleeping around all over Siovale was extremely helpful for him.  I’m glad that he was a kind partner, though.

—Eamonn’s departure left Imriel as moody and isolated as I’d kind of feared he would be.  It must have been a jolt to going from spending all his time with someone he completely trusts to hanging out with casual friends that he’s been neglecting for months.

—I’m wondering if Imriel’s going to get his chance for adventure sometime soon!  I don’t think the world is any less in need of heroes than it was when Phèdre was in her twenties.  I guess knowing your parents were so heroic might make it feel that way to a teenager, though!

—I’m glad Phèdre found someone to talk to about Darsanga, and that it wasn’t Joscelin.  I know he would have listened, but it would have hurt him deeply.

—I’m also very happy that Alais’ dog survived.  Hooray for Celeste!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Review: Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta
Published: HarperCollins/Voyager (2014), Original Finnish Publication (2012)
Awards Nominated: Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and Golden Tentacle Awards

The Book:

“Climate change has dramatically altered the world, and water—or rather the lack of it—is at the center of everyone’s concerns.  Noria Kaitio is the daughter and apprentice of a rural tea master, but even their small town must cope with water rationing and military oversight.  When she is old enough, her father teaches her the family’s secret, an illegal hidden spring. 

After her father’s death, the water shortages get worse and the military begins to execute perpetrators of water crimes. Noria’s secret could help her friends and neighbors, but the risk is high.  As she learns more about the foundation of her world, Noria will have to choose the path that will define her life.” ~Allie  

Memory of Water is Emmi Itäranta’s debut novel, and she is currently working on her second novel, City of Woven Streets. If I’m understanding correctly, she worked simultaneously on the Finnish and English manuscripts of Memory of Water, so the English version is also directly written by the author.

My Thoughts:

I would consider Memory of Water a dystopian young adult novel, but it’s also very different from the image (Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.) that this might bring to mind.  It is a slow, meditative novel that is more about observing the world as it is than about bringing change.  The story carries very strong messages, as well, about the need to protect the environment and the value of integrity.  The environmental concerns were laid on pretty thick, especially in the early parts of the novel, where the main characters talk about the irresponsibility and short-sightedness of the global society that ruined the world.  Considering the state of our world today, I think this is a good message to communicate.  However, with the ruined world, all of the death around Noria, and the inability of the characters to do much about it, it made for a pretty depressing book.

Due to the nature of the story, there really aren’t any plot twists or unexpected turns.  The book’s description more or less covers the plot, and anything else is heavily foreshadowed.  I kept waiting for the pace to pick up, and only realized that was not going to happen as I approached the end. However, Noria was an interesting and eloquent narrator, and the descriptions of her study as a tea master, her daily life, her friendship with her neighbor Sanja, and her ideas about life were sometimes quite beautiful. Noria also carried a particular naïveté, in that she both believed deeply in the way of tea masters and her parents teachings, but—with the invincibility of the young—she also did not seriously believe that she could meet with failure. When the novel ended, I was frustrated by how little had changed, but perhaps readers should carry that frustration with them as they return to the current reality.

My Rating: 3/5

The Memory of Water is a very slow, thoughtful dystopian young adult science fiction novel, set in a water-poor world after an environmental collapse.  It follows the life of an apprentice tea master apprentice, Noria, whose family also illegally holds knowledge of a secret spring.  While the prose is often lovely, I felt like very little happened in the story.  I would say the focus is more on Noria’s understanding of her life, her craft, and her world, as well as on the importance of protecting the environment.  At the conclusion, I found the lack of change depressing, even though I felt the ending fit with the tone of the novel.  I think this was a well-written novel, but it was not exactly what I was looking for.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Read-Along: Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey, Part 2

Welcome to week two of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Scion.  This week’s questions are provided by me, and cover chapters 12-19.  Beware of spoilers through this section from here on out!  This week’s section was a lot of Imriel growing up and becoming a teenager, so it’s pretty much going to be an all-about-Imriel discussion week!

1) In this chapter, Katherine and Roshana introduce Imriel to some innocent regional courtship games.  What do you think of the differences between the two games?  Do you remember anything similar from when you were a teen?

Katherine’s game seemed really innocent in comparison with Roshana’s light whipping game.  The only related game I could think of from my life is spin-the-bottle, though I think that’s more the sort of thing young teens talk about playing rather than actually doing. The whole scene seemed like the Shahrizai were trying one last angle to get Imriel to loosen up about his desires, and it once again didn’t really work.  It is a shame that he lost his chance with Katherine, but I guess Imriel wouldn’t have realistically been able to have a future with her anyway.

2) How do you think Imriel’s ideas of love and sex affected by the model set by Joscelin and Phedre? Do you think they’re doing a good job getting him through these awkward years?  

That was something I didn’t really think about until Joscelin brought it up.  Terre d’Ange culture is all about free love, but Imriel’s primary male role model is really not.  I think that Joscelin’s perspective—that sex is only worthwhile when you are truly in love—has influenced the way Imriel thinks of these matters.  Joscelin’s not really well-experienced to guide his son through the traditional expectations of his teenage years.  

I feel like Phedre has been doing all she can to help him, while trying not to embarrass him.  It was nice that she lent him the books that she herself had studied when she was growing up, and she handled the arrangements for his trip to the Night Court with minimal fuss.  I think she is mostly helping him just by being a person that is not ashamed of sexuality, and who doesn’t treat the subject like it’s something not to be spoken about.  I am also really glad they had a chat about consent, and how BDSM is not the same as what happened in Darsanga.

3) Imriel is getting a lot happier and easier at court these days.  Is there anything that was particularly notable for you in this period, during the apple-picking party or on the Longest Night?

I enjoyed seeing him genuinely happy for once!  The scene where he gave Alais the dog was adorable, and the apple-picking party seemed like such a good time.  I’m glad he has friends now, and that he isn’t actually a pariah due to his birth situation.  I’m expecting things are going to go badly any chapter now (as they did in Kushiel’s Dart), but right now it’s really nice to see him enjoying his life at court.

4) Imriel comes of age in this section, and spends his first night in the Night Court, at Balm House. What do you think about his experience with Emmeline?

I think Phedre chose the right house for him, and I think it’s best that this happened sooner rather than later.  He had been building up his desires as some kind of insurmountable problem, and I think that now he can start to see that it’s not as frightening as he had thought.  Emmeline was also an excellent partner, having no shame in her actions and no shock—or even curiosity—at seeing Imriel’s scars.  I don’t know whether he’ll visit her again, since that seemed like an impulsive statement out of appreciation for their time together.  

5) Imriel has also made a new close friend, Eamonn mac Grainne!  What did you think of their fight?  How do you think their closeness will affect his image at court? 

To be honest, I guessed it was going to be a draw based on what they had wagered.  It was a really interesting fight, though, to compare the Cassiline style of combat with Alban.  Imriel definitely needs to practice more against non-Cassilines, since the odds of any potential future attacker being trained in that tradition is probably slim.  

It’s great that they became such close friends, but I wondered if this is going to once again isolate him at court.  Will his other friends be around to pick up their friendships when Eamonn has gone back to Alba?  On the other hand, it’s probably a good thing for him politically to start to cultivate friendships with other nations.

Other Things:

—Just to point out, Katherine, Roshana and Imriel’s picnic was completely accurate to French picnicking practices today, including the choices of food, drinks and location.  Picnics are a lot of fun!

—It was also pretty cool to see Eamonn meet his father.  They both seemed so thrilled to meet one another, with none of the angst one might expect from a first meeting between a nearly-grown son and his father.

—I’m glad Imriel’s trying to give Nicola a chance.  Since she and Phedre are so close, she’s bound to be around from time to time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Review: Starplex by Robert J. Sawyer

Starplex by Robert J. Sawyer
Published: Ace Books/Analog, 1996
Awards Nominated: Hugo and Nebula Awards

The Book:

“In the future, the discovery of artificial wormholes has put the sentient Earth races (humans and dolphins) in contact with their counterparts from two other worlds, the argumentative Waldahudins and polite, long-lived Ibs.  For diplomacy and managing future first contact situations, the vessel Starplex was designed, with an environment that allows all four races to live and work together.

Keith Lansing is the current director of Starplex, and his watch is filled with wonders, disasters and personal struggles.  He will lead his crew through scientific mysteries, encounters with new species, and even violent conflict, all while struggling to master his own midlife crisis.” ~Allie

This is another one I listened to on audiobook, and it's my next installment for Stainless Steel Droppings' Sci-Fi Experience.  Instead of listening on commute, my husband and I both listened to this one together during long car trips.  As our first jointly-listening-audiobook, I think this one was quite a success. This is my third Sawyer novel, after Hominids and The Terminal Experiment. Sawyer stated in the introduction that this novel was his ‘swan song’ for far future science fiction, as he planned to shift his focus to near-future stories.  This one makes me think I should check out some more of his earlier work, because his far future stories are pretty fun!

My Thoughts:

My strongest impression of Starplex is that this was a very busy book.  There are so many ideas, mysteries and subplots packed in that I was skeptical it would come to a coherent end.  Sawyer mentioned in the introduction that he wanted to address many of the cosmological questions of our time, and it was a fun surprise to see what fictional answers were provided.  Some of the topics included were dark matter, the expansion of the universe, and the formation of spiral galaxies.  While there was never a dull moment, it sometimes felt like the story was jumping from subplot to subplot, without a strong enough central thread to hold everything together.  The most central, continuous story would be Keith’s midlife crisis and his relationship with his wife, Rissa, and I felt like this came to a nice resolution by the end of the story.

Keith and Rissa were interesting characters, but the rest of the crew also brought the story to life.  All four sentient races were represented aboard Starplex, and I really liked how their physiology and culture shaped their personalities.  On the level of stereotype, each alien race was translated into a particular accent— Brooklyn for the argumentative Waldahudin and a prim British accent for the polite Ibs.  The dolphins played a smaller role, but also had a distinct view of life. The wide variety in character perspective really enriched the setting and the interactions between characters.

Speaking of the setting, I really enjoyed this universe.  I liked that Starplex was not built on a military model, and I loved the emphasis on science and diplomacy. I liked all the detail that went into the imagining of a starship that could support each species in separately in comfort, and adequately together.  The crew faced some entertaining scientific puzzles and problems, and it was fun to watch them reason their way through.  In addition, there was some space-based combat that occurs later in the book, for those who like a bit more action.  Even this conflict involved entertaining considerations of physics, especially since the diplomatic Starplex does not have anything designed to be a weapon.  Altogether, it was a very fun book, set in a lively universe that I can still hope he will revisit one day!

My Rating: 4/5

Starplex is my favorite Sawyer novel to date.  His far-future universe was a very interesting place, and I liked the different perspective his various sentient alien species brought to the story.  There is a big focus on cosmology and physics in the story, which provides fictional answers for a number of open questions.  I really loved how the story revolved around scientists solving problems and mysteries, and how physics considerations came into play in ship maneuvers and the small amount of combat.  It seemed like there were almost too many different subplots folded into this compact novel, but I was satisfied by how all of the important points were resolved in the end. Starplex was a very entertaining book!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Read-Along: Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey, Part 1

Welcome to the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Scion!  This is the fourth book in the Kushiel’s Legacy series, so beware of spoilers of the previous three books (Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, and Kushiel’s Avatar) in the following discussion, as well as spoilers for this week’s section of Kushiel’s Scion.  We’re just now starting up, so head on over to our goodreads group if you’d like to join in, and check us out on twitter @SFFReadAlongs!  This week’s questions are hosted by Susan of Dab of Darkness, and they cover from the prologue to chapter 11.  Let’s get started!

1) Throughout this section, we relearn the events of the first trilogy through Imriel's eyes. What do you think of his perceptions of those events?

I think it was a good way to include a recap of the first trilogy, while also helping us to get into the mindset of the new protagonist. Phedre and Joscelin both seem very heroic in Imriel’s mind.  I don’t blame him for disliking Ysandre’s a bit, based on how she initially greeted him.  In the last read-along, I was really critical about how Ysandre handled their return, and I think this shows again that it was also a mistake in another respect.  She may have staked her claim on Imriel publicly, but she also damaged her ability to have a close familial relationship with him in the near future.  

2) What do you think is in Melisande's letters? How did she escape and who do you think assisted her this time?

I would expect probably a lot of attempts to get back into Imriel’s heart, and to display herself as a person worthy of his love. Since he’s still a child, I think it is reasonable that he wanted his adopted parents to handle the emotional burden of the letters instead of reading them himself.  Based on how guilty he felt about it, though, I expect he will actually read them sooner or later.

For Melisande’s plot, I’m guessing her escape was in some way related to the cult she was growing around herself.  This time, her package to Phedre seems to be designed to allay her fears, instead of to goad her into joining the fray.  I figured the message was, “I’m not coming after Ysandre and her family, so don’t worry about it.” She may be making a play for some other kingdom.  Also, I’d just like to say that it was great that Joscelin vetoed running off to La Serenissima.  There is really no call for her to potentially sacrifice her happy family life just to go chase Melisande again.

3) What do think about how Imriel handled Maslin of Lombelon? Has he made an ally or a foe for the future?

I think he actually handled it just about as well as it possibly could be handled.  I was really impressed with his ability to handle people, given his age and inexperience.  He didn’t go with either of the routes he could see with his ‘gift’, but instead treated Maslin with respect and subtly pointed out the similarities in their emotional situation.  I would say right now he hasn’t made an ally or a foe, but if things continue to go well, he might actually be able to become this guy’s friend one day.

4) There's a few moments of foreshadowing in this section: Elua's priest's words concerning finding and losing love over and over again; Alais's dream concerning a man with two faces. Are you intrigued or just happy to zoom along at this point?

I honestly just figured that first was a general statement about what life is like.  Now that you point it out, maybe it is specific to Imriel.  I hope then that it is referring to him having a tumultuous love life in the future, not that Phedre and Joscelin are going to be tragically murdered.  The man with two faces makes me think that Imriel is not going to succeed in his plan to keep his life sociopath-free.  No idea who it could be yet, though.

5) Imriel's Shahrizai cousins (Mavros, Roshana, Baptiste) have come to visit for a summer. What are your impressions so far?

So far, it seems like they are really trying to help him come to terms with his heritage.  They really don’t know what happened to him in Drujan, though, so all they can do right now is prod and back off when they hit sensitive spots.  I would think that they should have realized talking about how sexy his mom is would not be a great direction to take the conversation, though.

Other Things:

--I love Imriel’s relationship with Alais.  She is such an adorable princess :).  It was very sad, though, when they were playing at knife-fighting and Sidonie seriously thought he was going to kill her.  That must have been a pretty hard blow, to find that even his cousin thinks he’s really that heartless and dangerous.  

--One thing that stuck out to me in this section is how desperately Imriel is trying to justify himself separately from his heritage.  First there is the situation with Maslin, which he resolved by doing what he thinks is right, from Phedre’s model, and where he rejected the use of Kushiel’s Gift.  Then we have his vigil with Joscelin, where he chose to nearly freeze himself to death, following Joscelin’s model, instead of going to a party. Lastly we have his determination to do hard physical labor alongside the workers on his family’s estate, at least in part as a way to distance himself from his noble heritage.

--On the situation in Alba, I wonder if it might be resolved by declaring a son of Hyacinthe and Sibeal as the heir.  If the d’Angeline’s accept Hyacinthe as one of their own, then maybe that would be seen as ensuring the interest of Terre d’Ange in Alba.  I know there are problems with this idea (not the least of which that Hyacinthe doesn’t have a son yet), but that was just something I was thinking about.     

--Lastly, I am a bit puzzled by the book cover, since the main character is no longer Phedre! It is a pretty picture, though.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Best of 2015 & Hello 2016!

It’s time to say goodbye to the year 2015!  It’s been a very busy year for me, professionally, but I’ve also been able to participate in a number of challenges/events and read-alongs, in addition to my usual reviews. I’ve reviewed 39 books this year, which is a bit higher than the previous year--hopefully I can read even more in 2016!  As usual, I’ve also put together a list of my favorite books reviewed this year, separately for recent and older works.

Most Highly Recommended New Books (published 2013-2015)

  • Last First Snow by Max Gladstone: In my opinion, this is the best so far of Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence.  A prequel of sorts, it features Elayne Kevarian and Temoc during a period of unrest in Dresedial Lex. Full Fathom Five also deserves a mention here, as it was another excellent addition to the Craft Sequence.  
  • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: This one’s no surprise, as I had Ancillary Justice listed as one of my favorites last year!  The series continues to be exactly what I enjoy reading, and I really need to get around to reading Ancillary Mercy sooner rather than later.
  • The Worldbreaker Saga by Kameron Hurley:  A complicated and difficult epic fantasy series. I read and reviewed the first two books, The Mirror Empire and Empire Ascendant, this year. The final volume is yet to be published, planned for 2017.

Most Highly Recommended Old Books (published before 2013)
Looking Forward to 2016!

For 2016, I’m looking forward to once again being involved in a variety of read-alongs, events and challenges.  At the moment, I’m in the middle of the 2015-2016 Sci-Fi Experience, and I’m getting ready to start Vintage Sci-Fi Month as well as a read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Scion.  In addition, I have a few new features I’m hoping to add to the blog.  

Hugo Awards: I’m going to have a few posts discussing what I’m thinking of nominating for the various fiction and dramatic presentation categories, leading up to the nominations deadline.

Short Fiction: If we all learned one thing from the Hugo fiasco last year, it’s that there aren’t enough people reading and nominating short fiction.  This year, I’m hoping to have a monthly feature to highlight recent short fiction that I have enjoyed.  For the previous year, I’ve mostly read freely available fiction, but I will probably buy more magazines and anthologies this year.

Video Games: I put up a review of some science fiction video games for Sci-Fi Month 2015, and it was pretty fun. I’ve been playing lots of xbox 360 games since then, so I was thinking I could review a few of them each month.

Television: I have recently been watching quite a lot of genre television shows, so I thought it could be nice to have a feature (perhaps biweekly or monthly) to talk about them. I meant to do that in Sci-Fi Month as well, but I was planning to review Doctor Who, and then the final episode for that month was Face the Raven, and well...  We’ll see how this goes!

That’s it for 2015, I hope everyone has a wonderful 2016!