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review 2020-01-20 23:19
Invader / C.J. Cherryh
Invader - C.J. Cherryh

Nearly two centuries after the starship Phoenix disappeared, leaving an isolated colony of humans on the world of the atevi, it unexpectedly returns, threatening the stability of both atevi and human governments. With the situation fast becoming critical, Bren Cameron, the brilliant, young paidhi to the court of the atevi is recalled from Mospheira where he has just undergone surgery. Upon his return to the mainland, he Cameron finds that his government has sent in his paidhi-successor, Deana Hanks—representative of a dangerous faction on Mospheira who hate the atevi.

Haunted by the threat of assassination, Bren realizes his only hope may be to communicate with the Phoenix as the spokesman of the atevi—an action which may cut him off for good from his own species. Yet if he doesn't take this desperate action, he may be forced to witness the destruction of the already precarious balance of world power.

 

I am well and truly hooked on this series! Bren Cameron is such an understandable main character. I’ve struggled with non-English languages--specifically several undergraduate courses in Ancient Greek--which almost broke my brain. The necessity of doing math in one’s head in order to know which word ending to use would reduce me to jelly in no time.

This book picks up quickly from where the first book left off. There is a great deal of tension provided by Bren wondering just how well he understands the atevi society around him. The atevi seem to thrive on intrigue and when that is combined with the cultural differences and a complex language, this is a fearsome barrier to understanding.

Despite this, Bren seems to have made a very favourable impression with the atevi around him. He is packed into a suite next door to the current ruler, complete with a large staff who all vie to provide the best service, be the most useful, and just generally receive his thanks. Technically they are Damiri’s staff, but she mock-accuses him of trying to sweet talk them away from her. Plus, she lets us know, all the female staff are longing to get their hands on him! Ah, the allure of novelty!

Cherryh leaves us at a critical juncture, making me wish I had book three in my hand right this minute! However, I’ll have to wait until the library produces it from one of the branch libraries. In the meanwhile, I’ll work on other books in my reading queue.

Book number 349 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2020-01-15 22:40
Fall of Angels / L.E. Modesitt
Fall of Angels - L.E. Modesitt Jr.

In Fall of Angels, Modesitt moves deep into Recluce's past to chronicle the founding of the Empire of the Legend, the almost mythological domain ruled by women warriors on the highland plateau of the continent of Candar. He tells the story from the point of view of Nylan, the engineer and builder whose job it is to raise a great tower on the plateau known as the Roof of the World. Here the exiled women warriors will live and survive to fulfill their destiny. Here a revolutionary new society will be born...if Nylan can get the tower built and defenses in place before the rulers of the lowland nations come with their armies to obliterate them all. And if Nylan can learn to control the magical powers that are growing within him. 

 

In this book, we get the beginnings of Westwind, the kingdom which gave us Creslin in The Towers of the Sunset, which is my favourite of this series so far. We also find out that both the Order and Chaos populations on this fantasy world are originally from elsewhere, marooned on this planet and seemingly doomed to conflict over it.

This “stranded on another planet” plot line is a familiar one. Think of the Coldfire Trilogy by C.S. Friedman, the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh, and the Saga of Pliocene Exile by Julian May. The struggles that the small Angel force face when they are stranded were well realized. It would definitely be a challenge, especially coming from a high tech society where so many things are manufactured for you.

It is told from the point of view of Nylan, one of the few men in the Angel population. He is pretty consistent with a Modesitt main character: he’s an engineer, learning about his black mage potential; he is taciturn; he really wants people to acknowledge how much work he has done, but he’s not willing to let people know this; he works himself half to death in search of this approval. Once again, the story is a bit heavy on the description of all of his engineering projects for my taste and a bit light on the interpersonal relationships. But this just seems to be a hallmark of Modesitt’s writing.

Not my favourite series, but not bad either.

Book number 348 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2020-01-07 23:58
Memory / Lois McMaster Bujold
Memory (Vorkosigan Saga, #10) - Lois McMaster Bujold

Forced to abandon his undercover role as leader of the Dendarii Mercenaries, Miles Vorkosigan persuades Emperor Gregor to appoint him Imperial Auditor so he can penetrate Barrayar’s intelligence and security operations (ImpSec). Simon Illyan, head of ImpSec and Miles’ former boss, is failing physically and mentally, and Miles sets out to find out why -- and who, if anyone, is behind Illyan’s rapid decline.

 

I always enjoy the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan, but this is the best book in the series so far in my opinion. I’ve always been entertained by Miles’ forward momentum, his dual roles as Lord Vorkosign and Admiral Naismith, and his willingness to plunge into danger with only a skeleton of plan. This is the book when Miles grows up and becomes a much better human being.

The book begins with Miles making a very serious error in judgement and being removed from his Imperial Security position by Simon Illyan, the head of ImpSec. Now, Lord Vorkosigan must find out who he is when he’s not pretending to be someone else. When something bad happens to Illyan, it is Miles who steps up to the plate and convinces the Emperor to let him investigate. This installment may not have interstellar travel or gun fights, it has a more “spy novel” vibe.

I wonder if Bujold became tired of the military type adventures and decided to change Miles' life course? If so, I highly approve and I can hardly wait to read the next book in the series.

Book number 346 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2019-12-20 20:22
A Game of Thrones / George R.R. Martin
A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

 

What a pleasure to read! GRRM writes fabulous fantasy. I can see why this was turned into a TV series--the world is so well realized. I could easily picture it in my mind’s eye. Yes, it’s a violent, dark world, but there are also moments of kindness and compassion. Martin’s female characters have to live within the bounds of this very medieval society that he has created, but they find creative ways to achieve agency and to become formidable in their own right.

The boundaries between good and evil are muddy in GoT. I found myself cheering for people on both sides of the battles. For example, I love both Catelyn and Tyrion. I also have to admit that I love any fantasy world that includes dire wolves and mammoths. I’m hoping that there will be more prehistoric animal action in upcoming books.

Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, but the Stark’s motto, Winter is Coming, really speaks to me. I could feel the chill of standing on the great North wall, looking out into the wilderness and wondering what was out there in the dark and the cold.

It has taken me a long time to start this series, but I look forward to continuing with it in 2020. I’m interested in every character introduced thus far--I realize that Martin is famous for killing off his characters, but I’ll take what I can get!

Book number 345 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2019-12-09 22:00
The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues / Harry Harrison
The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues - Harry Harrison

The 25th century's most outrageous outlaw is back. When a heist goes terribly wrong, Slippery Jim DiGriz, thief, conman, is allowed to cut a deal with the Galactic League. In return for his life, he must rerieve an alien artifact from a crazed prison planet.

 

I’m glad that it has been a while since I last read a Stainless Steel Rat book. They are best consumed with considerable space between them, otherwise the sameness of the adventures and the humour becomes a drag.

But there are a few treats in store in each book. In this one, Slippery Jim must visit a prison planet to find a stolen archeological artifact, undercover as part of a band. Their first encounter with unwashed nomads sends up organized religion. Next, they encounter a society where men and women live separately, a comic rewrite of Sheri Tepper’s The Gate to Women's Country. Most of the men don’t even know that women exist, giving Harrison the chance to thumb his nose at the whole Iron John: A Book About Men concept and the men’s movement.

These are short and that’s a good thing. Especially as I have two more of them on the horizon for 2020!

Book number 341 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

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