Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Published: Tor, 2015
Awards Won: Arthur C. Clarke Award

The Book:

“At the technological height of human civilization, a great project was undertaken.  Planets were carefully terraformed and seeded with Earth-based life.  A virus was loosed on the animals, designed to aid in their rise to sentience, and humanity eagerly awaited contact with their newly-created sentient alien species.

Then, humanity fell.  The few surviving members of the species have left their poisoned, dying Earth behind and journeyed into the stars in a final, desperate voyage.  When they find a terraformed planet, it seems like a dream come true.  But that planet was never meant for them, and its new inhabitants--a civilization of massive sentient spiders--are far from the gentle uplifted monkeys their ancestors had hoped for.  The spiders’ planet also has a caretaker, the last remnants of a human mind wielding ancient, deadly technology.  Time will tell whether humanity will survive, or will ultimately be supplanted by its own creations.” ~Allie

This is the first novel I’ve read by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and I chose it because it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award.  I have a very strong revulsion to spiders, but somehow it did not destroy this book for me! It helped that the spiders’ civilization was so interesting.

My Thoughts:

Two stories make up the basis of the novel: the development of the spiders’ civilization, and a dying humanity’s final journey. The two sides made a satisfying balance, one story of birth and growth, and the other of decline and death.  The spiders’ story was told over many generations, linking each set of characters by common names and roles. I loved the creativity and careful thought that clearly went into imagining the spider culture.  Their artificial initial conditions were taken into account, and the impact was carefully woven into their growth in an organic way. There are many places where I could see a parallel to the development of human civilization, but the details of their world were often utterly different.  For example, their biology, methods of communication and resources sent their technological progressed in a completely different direction than ours. I may have a deep, irrational fear of spiders, but even I can admit that their world was fascinating.

The humans, on the other hand, were fleeing their dead and poisoned homeworld, so their side of the story was considerably more bleak and depressing.  It was also a little more familiar, as it incorporated a lot of common tropes of generation ship tales.  Their story took place within the lifetime of a single generation, but with many interludes of cold sleep.  The protagonist and a small group of human crew struggled to keep the ship working, to find a new world, and generally approached each setback with the knowledge that they were the last of their species.  I enjoyed their story, though the characters were not as memorable as some we meet in the generations of spiders.     

From the beginning, I did not think it would take long for the humans and spiders to begin interacting directly.  In the end, though, the two stories were kept largely separate for a large part of the novel. In retrospect, I think seeing them both separately helped to emphasize the validity of the needs and desires of each group.  Neither the spiders nor the humans were the ‘bad guys’. Conflict between them arose from finite resources, lack of ability to communicate, and naturally ingrained instincts--not from moral considerations. I also appreciated how believably the novel demonstrates the human tendency to violence in the face of otherness. The massive spiders are just familiar enough to humans to evoke a visceral panic response.  I was surprised by how the story eventually concluded, but it was a good surprise.  I can't think of a better way to have wrapped up this excellent novel.  

My Rating: 5/5

Children of Time tells two stories, one about the beginning of a species and one about the potential end.  I loved reading about the development of the sentient spiders’ creative and alien culture over many generations, even though spiders creep me out.  The human side was more standard, with the remainder of the human race facing a long space journey with an uncertain end.  I enjoyed both stories, though the spiders’ civilization was definitely the most impressive aspect of the book.  Overall, I found the book the be very entertaining, and the ending was surprising and satisfying.  I’m curious to see if Tchaikovsky plans to write more science fiction novels!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Read-Along: Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey, Part 2

Welcome to week two of the read-along of James S.A. Corey’s Cibola Burn!  This week’s reading covers chapters 13-27, and the discussion questions are provided by The Illustrated Page. Beware of spoilers through that point from here on out!

1. How do you feel about Naomi being taken captive?

Well, she has kind of been ‘damselled’, hasn’t she? It does make sense with the plot, and I’m glad that the Rocinante’s plans are meeting with as many setbacks as everyone else’s.  But now Naomi, the only woman of the Rocinante crew, is confined to a small cell to await rescue.  I have hope that she’s going to turn Havelock against Murtry, and convince him to use his ‘extremely free hand’ to de-escalate the situation instead of whatever it is Murtry is trying to do.   

2. What are your thoughts on our new POV characters: Basia, Elvi, and Havelock?

I feel like we do not have any new heroic characters in this book at all.  Holden and Miller were both driven by their convictions, and Bobbie and Chrisjen were powerful in their own ways.  Anna, Clarissa, Prax, and Bull were all risk-takers, or able to be driven to it by their principles. On the other hand, Basia, Elvi, and Havelock are all pretty ordinary, and they are not currently rising to the occasion.

I like Elvi, but she is kind of naive and emotional.  I’d like to hear more about the weird stuff happening on the planet, and less about her frustration or her crush on Holden.  Also, is it not odd that the scientists don’t seem to have regular meetings to discuss their findings?  As a scientist myself, I couldn’t imagine being in an environment like this without daily group meetings to discuss new discoveries.

I like that Alex is forcing Basia to take ownership of his mistakes, because he was starting to slide into self-pity there.  I don’t yet see how he can have much of an impact on this situation, and he is a terrible judge of character.  At the same time, I think he may be a little pessimistic about his chances with the justice system.  He didn’t actually murder anyone, and his crimes are likely to look pretty minor next to Murtry’s.

Havelock hasn’t really done much of anything so far, aside from just following Murtry’s lead.  I’m guessing he might be here as a link to Miller, and as someone to turn on Murtry at a crucial moment.  I’m glad he chose to call out anti-belter sentiment directly, but his problems seem kind of small compared with a melting moon, murderous security and possibly an entire hidden biosphere of protomolecule.

3. So, do you think we're going to encounter aliens? The thing that destroyed civilizations? Is there something larger going on than the conflict between the colonists and the corporation?

At this point, it doesn’t seem like they’re going to meet sentient aliens, at least.  The fact that the protomolecule flinched away from some area of this planet makes me think we might meet the civilization-killer.  I think the background story, Miller’s search for what happened to the gate civilization, is going to come to foreground.  And if previous books are any indication, a lot of the people on the planet are going to die.  

4. Speaking of the conflict, what actions do you think Holden can take to resolve it?

I’m not sure he can do anything against something that destroyed the gate civilization.  Concerning Murtry and the colonists, his hands are pretty tied as well.  If Murtry were taken out of the picture, in some legitimate and non-violent way, then maybe that would help to defuse the tension.  The colonists’ resistance is stamped out at this point, so the only violent problem remaining is Murtry.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Short Fiction: May 2017

It’s time for another round of short fiction favorites, this time from the batch of stories published in May 2017!  This month, there’s a story by Hugo award winner John Chu, as well as two authors I had not featured before, Caroline M. Yoachim and Tony Pi.  This month’s stories don’t have much in common, spanning science fiction, fantasy allegory, and Chinese fantasy.    

Making the Magic Lightning Strike Me by John Chu (Short Story, Uncanny Magazine):  This is the story of a man who feels deeply insecure about his body. His body dysmorphia leads him into a self-destructive spiral (which also involves some interesting paramilitary near-future stuff), while his best friend struggles to figure out how and if he can be supportive. There’s not a lot of closure, but I thought it was a very effective emotional story.

Carnival Nine by Caroline M. Yoachim (Short Story, Beneath Ceaseless Skies): This is a story about a society of wind-up toys, and also an allegory of human life from beginning to end.  The main character’s life takes several unexpected twists, and we see how different wind-up people respond to unwanted responsibility and adversity in the face of their inevitable mortality. It was a surprisingly touching story, for being about wind-up toys, and it is one that has lingered in my mind long after I finished reading.

That Lingering Sweetness by Tony Pi (Novelette, Beneath Ceaseless Skies): Tony Pi has been writing a series of short fiction about “Candyman Ao”, a man who can call the animals of the Chinese zodiac by making their likenesses in a blown-sugar confection.  This is my favorite one so far.  Ao is generally tasked with solving some sort of problem that involves the supernatural, but this time an illness has robbed him of his candy-making abilities. His weakness forces him to rely on the strengths of the people around him, and I enjoyed seeing how everyone’s humble abilities fit together to solve the problem. I don’t think not having read the previous stories would hurt anyone’s enjoyment of this clever novelette, but I will go ahead and link here to Tony Pi’s list of the series. All of the stories are available to read online.  

Friday, September 8, 2017

Read-Along: Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey, Part 1

It’s time for another read-along!  This time, I’m joining the in-progress reading of James S.A. Corey’s “The Expanse”.  I’d already read and reviewed the first three books: here, here, and here.  Now we’re going to read Cibola Burn book four of the series.  The schedule will be as follows:

Week 1: Prologue to Chapter 12, Friday 8th September, hosted by Over The Effing Rainbow
Week 2: Chapters 13 to 27, Friday 15th September, hosted by There's Always Room For One More
Week 3: Chapters 28 to 42, Friday 22nd September, hosted by The Illustrated Page
Week 4: Chapters 43 to End, Friday 29th September, hosted by Tethyan Books


As you can see, this week’s questions cover through chapter twelve, and are provided by Lisa of Over the Effing Rainbow. Beware of spoilers below! I’ve been listening by audiobook, so I’ve already read a little in advance to hedge for not being able to keep up (my commute is not that long).  I’m trying very hard to keep everything straight, so that I don’t accidentally let any extra spoilers slip.

1. Bobbie Draper is back! Though we don't get much more than a re-intro scene with her in this section ... Any thoughts on what form her role in this book might take?
It was great to see her again!  I felt a bit bad for the beggar that she humiliated (I think the specific stories are usually false, the real story is simply “I need help”), but I can see how his claiming to be a veteran hit a nerve.  I really don’t see how she’s going to be involved, since she’s apparently not going to the new planet.  I hope we get to see more of her!  

2. We also get to see Havelock again, and in a larger role than before, as we're set up with a colonisation/(another) 'evil' corporation story this time. How do you feel about those kinds of stories? Does this one grab you, and what are your thoughts on Havelock's role in particular?

Hah, I didn't remember him at all until you said that.  He was Miller's partner back in the first book, right?  I don't remember much about him except that he was an Earther.  Since Havelock’s on the ship, I don’t really see yet how he’s going to be involved.  I hope this doesn’t devolve to ships shooting at the surface.

I’m not necessarily seeing this as an evil corporation story, though I’m not averse to them. Corporations are often evil, after all--capitalism is not a particularly good moral structure.  In this case, however, it seems like the corporation was trying to do everything right and proper. They seem to have been planning to work with the illegal colonists as well, given that they hired them to build the landing platform. The security team, on the other hand...

3. We're given perspective on both sides of the battlefield here, as it were - not only with the colony vs. Murtry and his goons, but with the teams of scientists (and Elvi as a new POV character) who are there for their own reasons. What were your first impressions of Elvi, and your thoughts on the general attitude of the scientists present?



I like Elvi.  She seems naive, but well-meaning and competent at the same time.  I felt bad for her when she was trying to get the colonists to limit their impact on the planet.  She was not a politician, but she stepped into a political problem.  I’m generally positively biased towards scientist characters, though, as long as they don’t fall into the old “mad scientist” trope.

4. Once again, Holden appears to have the crappy end of the stick, trying to mediate between these two sides. Do you think Avasarala is setting him up, expecting failure, or is there some way he can actually make this work...?

I’m not sure anyone knows what will happen out there.  I think Fred and Avasarala wanted him because he’s famous, so it would be hard for either side to kill him, and because he’s known for being super transparent.  I’m not sure if they expect him to succeed, or if they just need him to buy time while they push forward some more devious plans.

On a final note, I feel like I should mention our other viewpoint character, Basia.  I feel a little bad for him, because he’s in way over his head.  I’m glad we have his perspective, because we can know for sure that he genuinely never intended to hurt anyone.  He just sorely misjudged his comrades, and now I can’t see a way this will go well for him in the end.  I hope he at least chills out enough to let Felcia go to college.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Review: Borderline by Mishell Baker

Borderline by Mishell Baker
Published: Saga Press, 2016
Series: Book 1 of the Arcadia Project
Awards Nominated: Nebula, Tiptree, and World Fantasy Awards

The Book:

A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she's sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.

For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she'll have to smooth-talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble's disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.” ~WWEnd.com

This is the first book I’ve read by Mishell Baker, and I actually got this copy at the Michigan ConFusion Convention, where I even got to see her in some panels!  She seems like an interesting person.

My Thoughts:

In broad strokes, Borderline hits a lot of tropes I associate with the fairy-based urban fantasies, but there are also some things that cause it to stand apart.  The general premise seems quite familiar, following a young human heroine who sparks the interest of the fey, and who is recruited by a secret organization to work sort of like a detective.  The heroine, Millie, breaks the usual mold, though.  Rather than being especially appealing to the fey, the metal in her body has made her an embodiment of their childhood boogeyman.  Millie suffers from borderline personality disorder, and her failed suicide attempt has destroyed her career as a director and left her with two leg prostheses. I thought that her voice seemed very human (disclaimer: I have no experience with BPD or leg prostheses), and I appreciated her frankness about the difficulties her injuries and mental illness cause in her daily life. I think that seeing the world from her perspective--and seeing her awareness of how BPD affects her responses--makes it easy to empathize with her.    

Despite the presence of magic, a parallel world, and fairies, this is not the kind of story where anything can be wished better.  Choices have real, and sometimes permanent, consequences, and there’s no guarantee that everything will work out in the end. Millie, her colleagues at the Arcadia Project, and the even the showfolk and fairies all have flaws or weaknesses that can be exploited. Luckily, the people at the Arcadia Project are also quite competent, and Millie is a highly intelligent protagonist.  This combination makes for an unpredictable and tense story. I genuinely didn’t know whether Millie would solve the case successfully, and whether or not everyone would make it through alive.  In case it is not clear, I loved that about the book, and I loved that the decisions the characters made carried real weight.

Millie starts with what should be a routine assignment, but which turns into a progressively more complicated and dangerous case.  It was a satisfyingly twisty mystery, and I enjoyed watching from behind Millie’s eyes as she worked to unravel the many threads. The supernatural parts of the world were revealed and explained fairly slowly, and I think there’s still plenty to learn about how things work in the sequels.  This first novel does tell a complete story, but it’s also clear that this is the start of a series. While novel establishes the premise of the Arcadia Project and its work with respect to the local fairies, I get the sense that this series is going to be more serial than episodic. Thus, it’s probably a series that should be read in order.  I think I’ll probably continue with this story, and see what’s next in store for Millie.  
 
My Rating: 4.5 / 5

Borderline is the highly entertaining first novel of an urban fantasy series, which features fairies from a parallel world and the realities of Hollywood in this one.  The main character, Millie, is a talented and driven young woman with a fascinating personality, who is recruited by a secret organization that manages relations between the parallel world and ours.  She begins the novel in a pretty dark place, and soon throws herself into a dangerous case that becomes increasingly complex.  The story was pretty suspenseful, and I liked that the characters were allowed to fail in meaningful ways.  The next book in the series, Phantom Pains, is already out, and I’m planning to get to it at some point!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey, END

This is the final post for the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Blessing, and therefore also the final post in this epically long read-along of the nine-book Kushiel’s Legacy series.  I’ve had a lot of fun reading and discussing this series with Susan, Lynn, and Grace, and I hope this is not the last read-along we share!  This week’s questions cover chapters 72 through the end, and include a final wrap-up question for the series.  Beware of spoilers from the entire series from here on out!

1) What do you think of the aftermath of Cusi's sacrifice and Raphael's downfall? Were you surprised by how much Moirin could do with her small gift with plants?

That seems like a very high price for so little.  Basically all they got was no power boost to Raphael (because she didn’t die to honor him), and a handful of animated corpses beating him to death.  I guess Raphael also lost the religious support of the people when the ancestors attacked him, which is important because otherwise the d’Angelines would have been executed.  Still, I think Cusi’s sacrifice was too high a price.

I didn’t think about what the newly freed ants would do, but it makes sense.  They were hungry, and it’s not like they were sentient or malicious.  It was good to see Moirin shine in the aftermath, giving power to life instead of death.  I also liked that it wasn’t an instant fix.  She had to wear herself out in the fields every day, just like everyone else, to achieve the miracle they needed to survive.  

2) It was a long haul back to the Aragonian city and port. What do you think of Emperor Achuatli's proposal to Moirin this time around?

It’s terribly mean to test people like that, but I do believe him when he said he wouldn’t have thought less of her if she had chosen differently.  I think he really just wanted to know what sort of people the d’Angelines were.  I feel a little weird about the fact that the d’Angelines ultimately lied about being there to undercut Aragonian trade agreements.  The Aragonians are not really treating the natives with respect, though, so I don’t feel too bad about it.

I think this is the first time I really got the sense that Bao was not polyamorous, though.  While he was understanding of Moirin fooling around in the past, he seemed very disapproving this time around.  Maybe he saw both of their earlier dalliances as a part of ‘sowing wild oats’, which he hoped they would both put behind them eventually?

3) Some judgments and justice is meted out all around. What do you think about the various punishments? There's Allain Guillard, who abandoned the search for Prince Thierry; Durel who could have lost the entire ship; Jehanne's mother; Rogier, his wife, and his two sons; others?

I agree with the pardoning of Allain.  It was a volunteer mission, and his courage gave out.  He did ensure the survival of the severely injured, and someone would have had to do that anyway.  Durel, I also appreciate the clemency, since he acted under duress.  He did nearly kill them all, though, so it makes sense that he had to serve some time.  I am glad they kept their promise with regards to taking care of his family.  I feel like Jehanne’s mother should be tried for child abuse, but unfortunately I don’t know if that is a crime in Terre d’Ange.  I appreciate what was done to Rogier’s family, and hopefully he will learn from the situation in the future.  He may still end up close to the throne, if Aristide and Desiree end up falling in love one day.

4) How did you feel about Thierry's well-meaning ruse to have Moiirin cloak her, Bao, and himself in twilight so he could observe how the court took the return of Rouse & crew? Needful? Cruel? Unnecessary?

Dramatic, but kind of cruel.  I guess it made sense to do, politically, and at least they never actually said Thierry and the others were dead.  They only strongly implied it.  The full weight of grief would hopefully not have hit before they revealed that they were all alive.  I would have been much more disapproving if they’d kept it up for longer than they did.  

5) Finally, it's home to Alba, Moirin's family, and the Stone Door. What did you like most about this homecoming? How do you feel about the ending over all?

Why was the Maghuin Dhon toying with them, leaving them there to despair that she wasn’t coming? Anyway, I’m glad she did grace them!  I was hoping she would do something, like heal both halves of their diadh-anam so they they both had a complete Maghuin Dhon spark.  Then they could have ended the story with the explicit message that they would spend their lives together through choice, not the demands of fate.  

I am also surprised that Moirin didn’t see her new role coming!  I had figured she would replace Nemed, since we saw that she had the memory-eating gift.  No one else has that, after all.  I also had wondered if she would regain the shapeshifting skill in the end, to signify that the Maghuin Dhon forgave the folk the sins of their ancestors.  Maybe that would have been a little too much magic, though :). Her new fancy cave sounded lovely, and it was good to see that Bao could be happy in Alba and Terre d’Ange.  Overall, I liked the ending, and I imagine that she and Bao eventually had a nice bundle of fat, happy babies.

6) Finally, we have enjoyed the entire Terre D'Ange Cycle. Do you have a favorite book, character, or trilogy? Any final thoughts on this series? Would you like to see more adventures or do you think this is a complete series?

This may be obvious with the way that I’ve discussed the books, but I still think Kushiel’s Dart was my favorite novel, Phedre’s was my favorite trilogy, and Phedre and Joscelin were my favorite couple.  Phedre was just so unusual as a heroine, and her relationship with Joscelin spoke to me in a way that rarely happens for me with fiction.  I also loved this world, though, so I enjoyed seeing other Imriel’s and Moirin’s  adventures as well.  I think each of the trilogies came to a good stopping point, so I don’t see much room for new novels.  On the other hand, I would love to read some short fiction taking place during uncovered bits of Phedre’s life!  I bet there would be plenty of smaller adventures to tell!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Published: Solaris, 2016
Series: Book 1 of the Machineries of Empire
Awards Nominated: Arthur C. Clarke, Hugo and Nebula Awards
Awards Won: Locus First Novel Award

The Book:

To win an impossible war, Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general. Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris's career isn't the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

Cheris's best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress. The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao--because she might be his next victim.” ~WWEnd.com

This is Yoon Ha Lee’s first novel, so it is naturally the first novel of his that I have read.  The second book in the series, The Raven Strategem, is already out, and I expect I’ll try to get around to it sometime before next year’s award season.

My Thoughts:

Ninefox Gambit is a space opera that tosses you right away into a deeply weird universe, and the novelty kept me interested until I was able to get a sense of how things worked.  If I have understood correctly, their physics is basically determined by conviction, through adherence to a strict calendrical system.  Soldiers can also generate offensive or defensive effects by holding certain formations within areas supported by the appropriate calendar.  If you think that sounds confusing, I should point out that it is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the detailed universe Lee introduces.  It is really a completely different reality than ours, and I don’t doubt that it goes beyond the weirdness limit of some readers.  I spent a lot of time trying to work out how and why the technology worked, and it distracted a little from what exactly was happening in the story.

One really does have to puzzle out this universe, because it is not just a backdrop.  To understand what’s going on, one needs to at least grasp the basis of the hexarchate, the purpose of at least a few of its six branches, and its history with heretics. The tendencies of the members of different branches of the hexarchate are used as shorthand for characterization, and it made the minor characters seem fairly one-dimensional so far. A fair amount of the story also involves military strategy within the calendrical systems, so some attention is needed from the reader for this as well. It’s a lot of information to get through in a first novel, and I hope that having it already introduced will make the second novel, Raven Strategem, run more smoothly.

It is clear by the end that this is part of a larger story, though Ninefox Gambit does come to a satisfying stopping point.  This is clearly the origin story for the protagonist, who I assume will be having more dangerous adventures in the next novels. There was a strong focus on the development of Cheris and her mind-sharing with the insane general Shuos Jedao, but to be honest the world was so alien that it made it difficult to get a sense of who she was and what was important to her.  Knowing very little about Jedao’s past made him seem dangerous and enigmatic, but also difficult to understand. The story also shifts occasionally to single scenes from the perspective of minor characters, which helps showcase the world but does not help in building investment in the major characters. I am invested enough to want to know what happens next for Cheris and Jedao, but what impressed me most with this novel was definitely the creative world building.

My Rating: 3.5 /5

Ninefox Gambit is an unusual and refreshingly creative military space opera.  As the first book in a series, it has to impart a massive amount of information about its intricate setting, while still telling a compelling story.  I was more engaged by the world building than I was by the siege story, and I felt the main characters were a little difficult to build empathy toward.  All the same, this was a very cool novel, and it introduces a world I am looking forward to revisiting in Raven Stratagem.  

Monday, August 21, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey, Parts 4 & 5

Welcome to weeks four and five of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Blessing, the final book of the Kushiel’s Legacy series! I fell a little behind in the recent weeks, so I’m covering both sets of questions this week.  The week four questions were from Susan of Dab of Darkness, while the week five questions were provided by me!  As usual, beware of spoilers below.

Week Four

1) Betrayal again! Did you expect it here in the heart of the jungle? How do you feel about this outcome versus what Durel has endured and has yet to face?

I did not really expect it. I guess Pochotl had no real reason to stay loyal, and we knew he did not want to go to Tawantinsuyo.  It was disenheartening, though, and I don’t blame the men who wanted to turn back.  The others gave a good talk about bravery, but many of the men who continued on with Moirin and the others did die.

2) Raging rivers, deadly illness, efficient deadly natives, scary ants, big snakes: I know you don't want to face any of them, but if you had to choose, which would you tackle?

I really can’t choose.  They are all horrible things that I hope I never encounter.  I keep reading over the list, but I get the same sickening dread feeling on each of them.

3) Vilcabamba held a nasty surprise, didn't it? An army of ants and Raphael controlling them! Were you surprised? How do you think Moirin will learn to deal with the ants?

I was surprised.  I didn’t expect the group’s barbed ‘gift’ to ever really be relevant to the story. I’ve no idea what Moirin will do with the ants.  I was hoping she would be able to communicate to the ants, like she usually can with animals, to win them over.  It looks like she can’t really get through to them, though.

4) Raphael intends to summon Focalor and force him to relinquish his powers or serve him without question. What do you think Focalor’s reaction will be? Will he be so easily enslaved or tricked?

I don’t think he will be enslaved or tricked at all.  In fact, I think Raphael has already been enslaved and tricked.  Raphael is so different from how he was before, and I think a large part of that is the influence of that little bit of Focalor that got through.  When Focalor gets through entirely, I expect whatever is left of Raphael will be destroyed.  I don’t know what Focalor wants to do exactly, though.

Week Five

1) What are your thoughts on the whole situation with Bao and Cusi?  Was it right of Bao and Moirin to engage in blood sacrifice?  What do you think of Cusi’s willingness?

I honestly expected them to find another way, right up until Cusi died.  Phedre was so strongly against blood sacrifice in the previous trilogies, as are d’Angelines in general.  I know Bao and Moirin hated the idea of doing this, and I was shocked that they actually committed to it.  I think a major difference in this situation was that Cusi volunteered.  I think we’re meant to see this as Bao and Moirin respecting a foreign culture.  I’m just not sure I can get behind it.

2) Was the secret of the ancestors what you thought it would be?  Was it worth Cusi’s sacrifice?

I was kind of expecting an army, like Aragorn’s in Lord of the Rings, to suddenly manifest.  I guess I didn’t really take it as the past rulers would literally just stand up and take matters into their own hands. It seems it was one of the only ways to stop Raphael, since the ants could not harm them.  I still don’t think it was worth sacrificing Cusi, but we’ll see about the aftermath.  

3) Did Jehanne’s intervention, or Raphael’s reaction to it, surprise you? Do you think saving Moirin’s relationship with the Maghuin Dhon was worth eliminating their last resort to thwart Raphael?

That would have been a brutal price to pay, but I suspect Moirin would still be accepted by Elua and his Companions, even if the Maghuin Dhon turned her back.  Bao still has his Chinese afterlife to head to, so most of the price would have been Moirin’s.  It really locked them into the strategy of sacrificing Cusi, though, when Jehanne took away her ability to sacrifice herself.  I wish they’d had the backup plan, because that would have at least given them an alternative.

Jehanne did surprise me. I expected her to be a little more help with the current situation, not just resolving the oath tangles.  She managed to get Raphael to back out of marrying her daughter, but he only did it to ensure Moirin wouldn’t lose her powers right as she opened the door to Focalor.  That’s still pretty gross.

4) On Raphael’s attempted summoning, do you think his turn-around at the end is enough to bring him right enough with Elua to pass into the Terre d’Ange that lies beyond? Meaning, do you think he can be forgiven?

I don’t think so, at least not from what we saw.  He admitted he erred in summoning Focalor, but that could have just been him realizing he could not take control of the spirit. He did not have the chance to repent of his other poor choices, or to try to make things right with anyone.  For that matter, he’s killed a LOT of people.  Then again, though, we don’t really know what is required to get into Terre d’Ange that lies beyond.  Maybe, if his heart did truly change, Elua knew.  Maybe there is a place for people who have made terrible mistakes, to guide them back to the light.  Maybe it will be discussed in the next section.

Other Stuff:

--Those ants grossed me out.  I don’t think I could ever get used to their presence.

--It sounds like Thierry has stepped up a lot.  I hope he can handle the situation back in the City of Elua.

--Moirin talks a lot about the mistakes she’s made, but everything seems very nicely entwined. I think she is following exactly the path set out for her.  If she hadn’t joined the Circle of Shalomon, she wouldn’t have had the charm to save Snow Tiger.  If she hadn’t gone to Ch’in, she and Bao wouldn’t have been able to save the day here. Following one’s destiny doesn’t mean everything will be happy, just that there is a purpose.

--I was impressed by the brief glimpse we got of the old Sapa Inca.  He seemed to care deeply for his people.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Review: Arkwright by Allen Steele

Arkwright by Allen Steele
Published: Tor, 2016

The Book:

“Contemporary of science fiction masters Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, Nathan Arkwright is a seminal author of the twentieth century. At the end of his life he becomes reclusive and cantankerous, refusing to appear before or interact with his legion of fans. Little did anyone know, Nathan was putting into motion his true, timeless legacy.

Convinced that humanity cannot survive on Earth, his Arkwright Foundation dedicates itself to creating a colony on an Earth-like planet several light years distant. Fueled by Nathan's legacy, generations of Arkwrights are drawn together, and pulled apart, by the enormity of the task and weight of their name.” ~Allensteele.com

This is technically the first novel I’ve read by Allen Steele, though I enjoyed his stories about the colonization of the planet Coyote as serialized in Asimov’s Science Fiction.  This novel was identified by the community at World’s Without End as one of the award-worthy books of 2016.  

My Thoughts:  

Arkwright is a very different kind of colonization story than you’ll find with Steele’s books about Coyote.  Instead of focusing on the details of the project and the people who eventually live on the alien planet, Arkwright primarily follows the Earth-side humans who are behind this monumental effort.  The story explores what would drive Nathan Arkwright to establish his foundation and how subsequent generations react to their unchosen connection to the generations-long undertaking.  It is a difficult thing to dedicate oneself to a project that spans longer than a human lifetime, and I can’t imagine that everyone would be able to handle such pressure. I’ve had similar thoughts about the architects behind the great cathedrals of Europe, wondering how they might feel knowing that they will not be able to see their life’s work come to completion.  This is a relatively short novel, and it spans several generations of Arkwrights who have very different ways of coping with their family heritage.  I enjoyed seeing their range of reactions to the Arkwright Foundation, but I felt like I didn’t have enough time with each cast to feel an emotional attachment to the characters.

In the build-up to the establishment of the colonization project, it becomes clear that Arkwright carries a lot of love for the social scene of 1950s science fiction.  There are a number of scenes featuring fictional and actual authors of the era, and involving their interaction in conventions and elsewhere.  I was a little impatient to get back to the future-focused story, but these nostalgic parts helped me to understand Nathan Arkwright’s motives.  I also enjoyed how it highlighted the role of science fiction in inspiring scientific development, something that certainly happens in reality.  Science fiction can help us imagine a path to the future, even as it also can point out potential pitfalls of developing technology.  In this case, Arkwright’s vision created a foundation that would define his family for many years, and would spur technological development along the way.    

After all of this, we do eventually get to see the final outcome of the colonization project.  Separated as it is in physical distance and time from the Arkwright family’s story, this part of the novel felt like an extended epilogue.  I would have been disappointed if there had been no closure on what happened to the colony ship, so I was happy that this part was included.  However, there’s only really enough time to see the situation in broad strokes, when I would have liked to see more detail. Despite the brevity, I appreciated the author’s choice to let his readers move into the future, to see the ‘cathedral’ that was completed long after the builders we met had passed beyond knowing.  

My Rating: 3 /5

Arkwright has an interesting premise, focusing on the human side of the development and execution of an extrasolar colonization project.  It has a clear fondness for the history of science fiction, and the way that science fiction can inspire developments in technology.  It’s also a relatively short book that covers a lot of content, from the inception of the colonization project, through multiple generations of the Arkwright family, all the way through to the project’s culmination.  As such, there is not a ton of depth to each segment or each set of characters.  I’m still happy I read this one, and I will probably read more work by Steele in the future.