Sunday, January 14, 2018

Read-Along: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey, Part 1

It’s time for a read-along of the latest novel in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey.  Persepolis Rising came out last month, and this January’s read-along is organized in our Goodreads group.  Our discussions will be full of spoilers, so please only read these posts if you don’t mind. The schedule is:

Week 1: Prologue - Ch. 12, Sunday 14th Jan, hosted by @imyril at x+1
Week 2: Ch. 13 - Ch. 27, 28th Jan, hosted by Lisa at Over the Effing Rainbow
Week 3: Ch. 28 - Ch. 41, 4th Feb, hosted by Sarah at The Illustrated Page
Week 4: Ch. 42 - End, 11th Feb, hosted by Lisa at Over the Effing Rainbow

I won’t be hosting this month, but I am hoping I’ll be able to make enough time to keep up and participate in discussions.  It’s going to be hard to wait for the next in the series, after we’ve finished this one.  Now, to this week’s questions...

1. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
How do you feel about jumping forward 30 years? ...and about where/how we find the Solar system and the Rocinante's crew?

Part of me wants the crew of the Rocinante to stay young and idealistic forever.  I really like this crew, and it’s hard to see them suddenly 30 years older and ready to retire.  I can see it was necessary to jump forward to see the Laconia story, because their technological development would certainly not happen overnight.

2. ...and what are your first impressions of Laconia?

My first impression was that they were megalomaniacal monsters.  I didn’t actually hate Singh, though.  I think he’s too young to have been involved at all in the attack on Earth, and I’m not sure how much he really knows about what his government does.  I might grow to dislike him more as time goes on.  We’ll see.

I appreciate that they appear to be relatively non-violent conquerors.  They do seem to want to bring peace to humanity, and even want to keep the current governments in place.  At the same time, though, the act of conquering requires both violence and an overdeveloped ego, and the foundation of their society is non-consensual experimentation on human subjects.  I don’t think their society is going to be as utopian as they imagine it will.

3. Did you see Holden's actions coming? Do you think he'll stick with his decision now the circumstances have changed?

Are we talking about the retirement, or about arresting Houston instead of blocking off the colony?  I’m assuming retirement, since I guess the scandal about arresting Houston is kind of irrelevant in the face of the invading army.  I didn’t see it coming, but I think it’s a good idea.  Jim and Naomi have fought the good fight for years, and it’s time for them to pass the torch.  They deserve to have some peaceful years together.  I really hope they’re still able to do that, after this has been settled one way or another.

4. How do you think Drummer will react to the Laconian ultimatum? What about the Earth/Martian Alliance and the colony planets?

Well, they can’t really fight them, can they?  Laconia has ships and weapons that can’t be stopped.  They’re way beyond the rest of human society, technologically.  I am thinking that the way to fight back might have to be within the system.  Duarte is making this all about himself as an immortal “philosopher king”, so maybe if he is removed the system will shake apart to chaos.  Or maybe they haven’t quite tamed the protomolecule as well as they believe.  I just can’t see Drummer and the others launching a military campaign against Laconia right now, not with their current level of weaponry.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Short Fiction: September 2017

For my list of favorite short fiction from September of 2017, there’s an even split of science fiction and fantasy. This is the first time I’ve featured most of these authors on my blog, except for Marissa Lingen, who wrote a story I enjoyed back in February. As usual, I’ve provided links to where each story is available to read online. I’ve now run out of 2017 time-wise, but I’m still going to try to review the last three months of the year before too long!

The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer (Novelette, Clarkesworld): An old, decommissioned spaceship has been called back into service at the desperate end of an interspecies war. That spaceship carries a wide complement of many different kinds of robots, which are carefully assigned to keep the ship functioning. Bot 9, an unreliable old model with a penchant for improvisation and exceeding its mandate, is assigned the task of getting rid of one troublesome rat-bug-thing. The underlying story was pretty sad, but the bots perspectives were engaging, clever, and also really funny. I was completely on board to see where Bot 9’s improvisation protocols would take it!

Party Discipline by Cory Doctorow (Novelette, Tor.com): In a dystopian near-future, two teen girls dream of throwing a “Communist party”. Basically, when a company goes strategically bankrupt (leaving the workers out of luck), the workers illegally use the remaining resources to build goods given freely to all. It’s a socially cool thing to do, but also a very serious crime that will put them in contact with dangerous people. I believe this is set in an existing universe of Doctorow’s, but the story stands alone. It was a really grim look at a capitalist future, where extreme inequality intentionally and blatantly traps people into lives that lead nowhere. At the same time, the girls and their story were full of energy and humor, and I felt that the end carried some hope for the future.

A Pound of Darkness, A Quarter of Dreams by Tony Ballantyne (Short Story, Lightspeed): A shopkeeper must deal with a demon to protect her autonomy and integrity. It was an interesting combination of two kinds of stories: trying to outsmart a demon, and trying to maintain freedom from corporate control. The main character was a good person, and I was very tense waiting to see whether or not she would succeed. This one was a well-crafted story that was a lot of fun to read.

Across Pack Ice, A Fire by Marissa Lingen (Short Story, Beneath Ceaseless Skies): In this one, a sorceress in a neutral nation is grieving her husband, who died to a magical disease cruelly planted in refugee children. The sorceress and her adopted refugee daughter are determined to find a vengeance that will honor his memory. It was an emotional story, and it did not lead quite where I expected. The story also has a fair amount to say on topics that are very relevant to current events (e.g. the refugee crisis, moral obligations of people and governments).

Friday, December 29, 2017

Review: Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey
Published: Gollancz/Grand Central Publishing (2010)
Series: Book 8 of Kushiel’s Legacy

The Book:

“Moirin has finished her task in Ch’in, far from her European home.  In the process, she has split her diadh-anam, the soul-spark of her people, to guard her love Bao from death.  However, this has made him her literal soulmate--a role he never agreed to fill. Bao flees to seek out his own origins, and to come to terms with his renewed life and unasked-for purpose.

Moirin, frustrated by his desertion, follows after him. However, the lands are treacherous for a lone woman far from home. She will find many friends and some enemies as she struggles across countries to reunite with her soulmate.” ~Allie

This long-delayed review is for a novel read during a community read-along, and you can see our spoiler-filled discussions here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.  This is the second book of the third trilogy of Kushiel’s Legacy, and I will be finishing up with a review of the final book soon.

My Thoughts:

Naamah’s Curse provides some things I always expect and enjoy from the Kushiel’s Legacy series; a focus on exploring fantasy versions of a variety of cultures over the course of many adventures.  Up until Moirin’s departure to Ch’in (fantasy China) in the previous novel, the series had primarily focused on Europe. In Naamah’s Curse, Moirin departs from Ch’in to travel through fantasy versions of several Asian cultures in her quest to reunite with Bao.  It’s always a lot of fun to see the outsider protagonist encounter new cultures and come to appreciate new ways of life.  However, I felt that Moirin sometimes tended to bring more judgment to the cultures she encountered than other protagonists have in the past, and she also seems to have more of a drive to change them to fit her own ideals.

Though she has many adventures, Moirin’s lack of agency continues to be a problem in this series.  All of her major (and some minor) decisions continue to be directed by her diadh-anam, which gives the sense that she is simply serving as a very obedient puppet.  In this book, her diadh-anam has even taken over her love life and emotions.  It has determined that Bao is her soulmate, and neither of them have any more say in the matter.  Given the series’s usual theme of “Love as thou wilt”, I was disappointed to see this trilogy’s romance end up as “love as you’re told”.  I was not even particularly sympathetic to their romance, given that they are sometimes shockingly callous about how their great love affects other people’s lives.  Bao, in particular, makes some very serious and destructive decisions, and they seem to be more glossed over than realistically resolved.  

While Moirin doesn’t seem to have very much free will, she’s also pretty heavily overpowered. Multiple deities speak with her regularly, and imbue her with a wide variety of magical powers. Her bear-witch gives her stealth powers and the ability to remove memories.  Various d’Angeline angels give her powers related to sex, communing with plants and animals, and magically making plants bloom. Her divine powers enable her to heal those beyond the aid of medicine and to open doors to the spirit realm.  She has picked up a charm for finding lost things, and seems to have developed a natural genius for language.  She’s also absolutely gorgeous, a master archer, a survivalist, and able to inspire protective love in nearly anyone who isn’t evil.  Given all these advantages, it seems nearly impossible for her to fail--except in situations where people interfere with her superpowers (like Superman and Kryptonite). Despite my complaints, I did continue reading the series to see the end of Moirin’s journey.

My Rating: 2.5/5

In the second book of Moirin’s trilogy, she explores many cultures in a fantasy version of Asia.  As usual, I enjoyed seeing her encounter different ways of life, and enjoyed seeing the adventures she encounters in her life.  At the same time, I still feel like her diadh-anam is leading her by the nose on a path she likely would not otherwise have taken.  Now, her diadh-anam also controls her romantic feelings and relationships, so her and Bao’s bond is no longer of their own free will. She is also getting pretty overfull of natural advantages and mystical powers, so that her successes often feel too easy and assured.  I continued on to finish Moirin’s trilogy, but I think Phedre’s trilogy is going to continue to be my favorite section of the overall series.