Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Long War

The Long WarUnknown

by: Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Harper/Collins New York, NY  2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-206777-7

I Have been a fan of Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld novels for a long time.  That’s how I happened upon this one, looking for a “new release”.  When I got it I realized that there was a previous novel, The Long Earth.  I hoped that, like the Discworld novels, this book wasn’t dependent on the earlier one and dug in.

It wasn’t what I expected.  This is clearly meant to be a series, and the timeline between books is sequential and the characters repeat.  But, I was entirely engaged in the world as it was presented in this novel alone.  There is a lot going on, and I’m sure it would be easier with the first book under my belt.  However, I must admit that this book stands on its own. (But darn it now I’m going to have to go back and read the first one anyway.)

The Discworld is written as a fanciful tongue in cheek commentary.  The books comment on our dearly held institutions like the Post Office (Going Postal), religions (Small Gods), and hot button issues (Equal Rites).  Discworld doesn’t even take itself seriously (The Wee Free Men).  The Long War is more classically science fiction.  It still has social commentary themes (environmentalism and racism) as is common in the genre.  It isn’t lacking internal humor, but it is not the comedy many Pratchett fans expect.

Apparently (and I’m sure this is the context of the first novel) an event occurred that allowed a significant portion of the planet’s population access to alternative Earths.  Natural “steppers” could simply walk across that invisible boundary into the next Earth over, and then the next and so on.  Additionally technology was developed to allow people who were not natural steppers access to these worlds as well.  Even with the tech, there are some people who simply can not make the step.

At the start of this book, the “wild west” of the multiple Earths is being settled.  There is enough time and distance from Datum Earth that those communities are no longer feeling “represented” by the Datum Earth government.  Additionally, the party in power has no tolerance for the other hominoid species found in the Long Earth.  It has a strong sense of colonialism, but a great fear of what those colonists represent.  Datum America has confiscated all assets the colonists left behind and instituted a taxation program that is burdensome to the frontier lifestyle.

The racism (yes, those other hominoid species are really different races) is not limited to Datum Earth.  A gross injustice, spread virally across the Long Earth equivalent of the internet, brings things to a head.  The race involved, the Trolls, is invaluable to the settlers – at least those willing to work with them.  The Trolls seem fascinated by human culture.  They are better suited physically for heavy labor and have inherent knowledge of how to survive in the Long Earth.  The incident is severe enough that the Trolls begin to disappear en masse from the Long Earth.

The war is the war of independence that pits the colonies and their interests against the interests of the central controlling government.   The story is specifically about the United States, but references are made to other nations and their experiences with the Long Earth.  The implication is that eventually there will be some sort of shifting on a global scale.

That shifting may come on the heels of an environmental disaster.  There are signs on Datum Earth and the “low Earths” within a few steps that the Yellowstone caldera has become unstable.  The suspicion is that global climate change may be responsible for this shift.  No one is entirely sure what it means, or what to do about it but eventually the government recommends an evacuation.  In this world evacuation can mean to another Earth as well as to other areas of Datum.  An interesting dilemma for those who can not, or will not step across.

I really enjoyed the multi-verse premise.  I was familiar with the potential for a Yellowstone “super volcano” going in, so the environmental sidebar was easy to follow.  I do think that with this kind of expanded universe it’s not long before a series becomes dependent on the reader having familiarity with previous books.  Pratchett and Baxter haven’t hit that point yet, and maybe they won’t.  Still, since I’ll probably continue to follow this world, I have every intention of going back and getting “caught up.”

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Posted by on July 27, 2013 in Science Fiction


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The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke LamoraUnknown

by: Scott Lynch


This is an incredibly finely crafted first novel.  It is a rambling tale of the layers of power and authority in a fantasy city-state.  It is a tale of a brotherhood of thieves and con-artists.  It is a morality piece, if morality is akin to honor among thieves.  It is a smart romp through the city and sub-cultures of Camorr.

How do I explain this complicated convoluted story?  The characters would welcome Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser into their fold.  The interweaving plot makes Leverage look simple.  The banter between characters and the general camaraderie is vaguely reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven (either version).  That’s a literary, television and movie reference and still doesn’t begin to comprise the flavor of the work.

It is a compelling story.  The intrigue between factions and around the con games is finely tuned.  The narrative shifts back and forth in time.  This can seem a bit confusing, but it always serves the story.  The dramatic tension is maintained by giving us just enough background to follow the line of the con.  Alternatively we see the con played out and then are given the backstory so we can understand what just happened is not as it appeared.

The story kept me guessing all the way through, and mostly I guessed wrong.  The level of plotting, distraction and illusion is delightful.  The “magical” elements are well integrated.  The language whispers familiarly, but I can’t be placed as being derived consistently from Spanish or Italian or something else all together.

This promises to be a series, but not necessarily a sequential one.  Certainly this book stands alone.  Perhaps it is only the desire to go on another romp with these characters that has the series notion running through my brain.  There is surely more trouble to be had, more scraps to be gotten into and out of, and at least one character who is a member of the gang, but who we have yet to meet.  I am genuinely looking forward to more.

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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Fantasy, Science Fiction


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The Mermaid Collector

The Mermaid CollectorUnknown

by: Erika Marks

Penguin Group New York, NY  2012


Another book by Erika Marks, but no they aren’t a series.  This story also takes place in a little town in Maine.  It also addresses non-standard family structures, keeping secrets and small town dynamics.  You would definitely recognize the author’s style and interest.  However, this is not the same story revisited.

The small town in the Mermaid Collector has an interesting history.  The lighthouse keeper and three other men walked into the ocean together and drown.  Apparently they couldn’t resist the call of the mermaids.  To bolster the economy, the town began to celebrate its history with a summer festival, which brings hundreds of tourists through each year.

The narrative shifts back and forth from the historical setting and the unfolding of the lighthouse keeper’s  story and the present day Tess.  Tess is an artist and an import.  She and her mother moved to the town when she was a child.  She’s never quite fit, but she won the commission to sculpt the mermaid for the historical society.  The unveiling is to be at the summer festival.

There is also a new family moving into the lighthouse keepers cottage.  No one in town knows anything about them, or why Tess’s uncle would have left them the property.  The historical society is determined to maintain their access, and really felt they should have gotten the inheritance for the town.

The core of the tale is mental illness.   The consequences of guilt, and manic depression, and alcoholism all weigh on the characters in this tale.  To contrast and delight is the fantasy of the mermaids.  Beautiful, appealing, and deadly their siren call is warded by wind chimes and celebrated in piles of souvenirs.

Marks has a clear understanding of her characters and her settings.  She holds a solid line of not whitewashing the problems while still maintaining an upbeat tone to her writing.  I suspect she is an under appreciated author who is on the verge of hitting that best-seller popularity.

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Posted by on July 13, 2013 in Fiction


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Little Gale Gumbo

Little Gale GumboUnknown

by: Erika Marks

Penguin Group New York, NY  2011

ISBN: 978-0-451-23465-0

Little Gale is an island, not in the Gulf of Mexico, but in Maine.  The Bergeron sisters are brought there as pre-teens by their mother to escape their abusive father.  They are a long way, both by distance and by culture, from the New Orleans where they spent their childhood.   Sadly, it’s not far enough.

This is a tale of the ties that hold a small town together.  It is about what it means to be a family.  It is about choices and consequences.  It’s about keeping secrets and sharing traditions.

The racism that exists in the town is not overt, as is typical in the north.  The interesting thing is that an insular town like this might treat any newcomer in much the same way, regardless of racial heritage.  It is the cultural differences, the food, the easy New Orleans jazz, the Creole Voodoo that make the Bergeron’s stand out among the hard wintered lobstermen.

In the family itself it is the racism that sparks a goodly portion of the abuse.  Charles, the father, is a red-headed, freckle faced jazz trumpeter.  His oldest daughter is as black as her grandmother.  The younger one looks much like Charles.  The differences of temperament, acceptance, and expectation between the girls are underscored by color.

The gumbo is good, and it is the analogy at the center of the story.  What makes a good gumbo: the carefully crafted dark roux, the holy trinity of vegetables, and the shrimp.  The story shifts back and forth in time starting and ending with family secrets.  At its heart it is a tale about what makes a family.

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Posted by on July 11, 2013 in Fiction


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The Warded Man

The Warded ManUnknown

by: Peter V. Brett

Ballantine Books New York, NY  2009

ISBN: 978-0-345-50380-0

It seems I’ve gotten myself sucked into yet another series.  Luckily for me this book is not only the first in the series, it also stands on its own.  The sense I had at the end of the book was much like it is at the end of any book.  We know the world and the characters go on even when the tale is complete.  If we really like what we’ve read we sometimes wish for more story, or another book about what our favorite characters do next.  But it’s like having a great meal at a restaurant.  We’re satisfied, but would like to come back.

There are so few series these days that don’t end on a cliff-hanger.  I am so grateful to have found an author who respects his work well enough to give me a complete novel, even as part of a series.  It’s worth exploring the next books for that reason alone.

However, there are plenty of other reasons to appreciate this writing as well.  This is a story in that blending of science fiction and fantasy.  The world here is older than it seems.  Mythology has replaced science, but there are hints of a time where great science was prevalent, or perhaps it was great magic.  The warders use symbols, like runes or Chinese characters, to build nets of magic to keep out the demons that rise from the core each night.

During the time of technology the demons had been defeated and there were hundreds of years of peace and prosperity.  When the demons returned, civilization collapsed into a semi-feudal structure.  The farmers in the small towns on the edges have maintained wards that the city people have lost, and visa versa.  In the city only warders know the symbols, In the country everyone knows them but clearly there are those with a stronger aptitude for constructing them.  In the city placement of the wards is a science of geometry, trigonometry and physics.  In the country you eyeball them in, or maybe use a straight stick to get the lines matched up.

There are three characters whose stories are told.  Arlen, who is a master warder in a small town that would never recognize that.  He is young, and brash, and talented and wants to learn about the times when men would fight the demons.  He feels betrayed by the father he used to admire and runs away, eventually to the city.  He wants to become a Messenger and travel the spaces between the towns looking for hints of the past.

Leesha’s family is at best verbally abusive.  She’s a very bright girl with a strong ethic.  Humiliated by her mother and the man her mother expects her to marry, she runs to the old herbalist for refuge.  The old woman takes her as an apprentice and reveals records and secrets that the wise women have kept since before the demons returned.

Rojer is an orphan survivor of a demon attack.  His father was the inn-keeper who let the wards around the inn deteriorate.  At the time of the attack the inn was housing a Jongleur, a traveling player often found in the company of Messengers.  In spite of himself, the Jongleur takes on the responsibility of the small boy and raises him in the trade.  Rojer was crippled in the attack, losing a few fingers off of one hand to a demon bite.  He doesn’t make a very good juggler, but he has a surprising skill with the violin.

I realized I was looking at a series when I was past the middle of the novel and the three had yet to meet up.  When they finally do it is the demands that each of them makes upon the others, as well as the need each of them has for the others that allows them all to recognize what they have become in the course of the story.

This is the coming of age piece for all three of these characters.  At the end of the novel the demons still rise and the world hasn’t changed.  But the three characters have.  We’re not sure where they are going next, but we know that there will be work for all of them.  They have each come into their own and they live in “interesting times”.

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Posted by on July 10, 2013 in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen Fiction


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Limits of Power

Limits of PowerUnknown

by: Elizabeth Moon

Ballantine Books New York, NY  2013


In 1988 Elizabeth Moon published the first book in the trilogy that would become Deed of the Paksenarrion novels.  This much loved trilogy has stayed in print ever since.  Moon went on to write epic space operas, with a hard science base.  She won a Nebula award for her beautiful fiction novel, The Speed of Darkness, exploring the world of autism.  Then in 2010 she returned to the world of Paksenarrion to begin the series Paladin’s Legacy.

This book is the fourth in the series and the fifth is scheduled to be published early next year.  This series takes the scope of the Pasenarrion story and expands it beyond Russian proportions.  The readers find themselves intimately involved in at least three kingdoms, two duchy’s and four races.  Additionally there are Dragons and Tree people, the true elders of the world, who are ultimately beyond human comprehension.  There is the Singer, Deity of the elves, Falk and Gird the Gods of the realm who all seem very involved with the story, and an older pantheon of Gods that gets referenced from time to time.

As you can imagine, there is no way an author can fully welcome a new reader into such a complex scenario this far into the story.  Elizabeth Moon does have a lovely way of reminding, or referencing, the histories of past books without the reader feeling like they are reading an introductory prologue.  The story doesn’t ever stop for explanation, which may be frustrating, but generally underlines the delays in communications expected given the scope of the theater.  Her convention of beginning each chapter with the location, time if it’s relevant, and realm of interest helps immeasurably in orienting us as the story drifts from realm to realm.

These are books filled with explorations of tactics, strategies and logistics.  The world is martial and generally governed by the monarchies and the orders of Gird and Falk.  There is a strong guild system.  Magic is accepted and welcomed coming out of the Paladins, as blessed by the order.  It is expected from the elves and other non-human creatures.  But in humankind magic has often lead to great evil.

At this turn of the story it would seem that in spite of all efforts to eliminate bloodlines of ancient magelords, magic is returning to the human realm.  One of the Dukes, in an earlier story, comes into her magic but as she is already made a knight of Falk there can be no question as to her worthiness.  Magic appearing in the royal house, however, threatens the stability of the realm.  In the country towns there is dissension as the Marshals of Gird disagree about letting the children exhibiting signs of magic live.

As a book “in the middle” there is not much resolution in the story line.  Still, the characters and the overarching themes continue to keep me engaged in the world.  I have a fondness for many of the characters, having read about them in earlier works.  Moon continues to allow these characters to grow and change as they are presented with new and unforeseen challenges.

If you have read the original trilogy and love the world, you will also love these books.  If you loved Paks, you may find yourself disappointed as she is no longer the center of the story line.  If you are fond of epic tales of war and politics and the human (and sometimes not so human) response to being thrust into “interesting times” Moon will be a delight to read.

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Posted by on July 7, 2013 in Fantasy


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The back cover reads “Saying she’s sorry isn’t enough”


by: Hannah Harrington

Harlequin Enterprises Limited  Don Mills, Ontario Canada   2012


Although there were points in this book where the parent in me cringed, this is teen fiction at its best.  The story is told from the point of view of the teens, and it reads true.  There aren’t lectures and the moral message remains an honest gray.  There are rewards for “bad” behavior and consequences for “good” that any high school student would recognize.

Chelsea, the main character, is very talented at maintaining her status as BFF of the Queen Bee of the High School, Kristen.  She has a knack for finding “dirt” on her fellow students and she can’t keep a secret.  Then at Kristen’s unsupervised New Year’s party a very drunk Chelsea walks in on a classmate (Noah) in bed – with another boy.

Chelsea’s inability to keep a secret, compounded by her drunkenness, has her thoughtlessly outing the boys.  When Kristen’s boyfriend’s promise to “talk to him” becomes the beating that sends Noah to the hospital in a coma, Chelsea has to accept her responsibility.  She chooses to tell her parents, and the police, what happened and also chooses to stop speaking.  Her mouth gets her into too much trouble.

The bulk of the novel addresses Chelsea’s struggles when school starts back up.  She predictably looses her status and can’t or won’t speak in her own defense.  She is bullied very much the same way she used to bully her classmates.  It’s eye-opening.

The “odd” students who are willing to give Chelsea a chance believe she did the right thing going to the police. But it’s not an easy acceptance.  These are also the students who are Noah’s best friends.

The story covers mean girls, privileged jocks, closeted students and the fantasy and reality of finding love as a teen.  Surprisingly it manages to stay focused, always coming back to Chelsea and her choices.  The characters may fall into classic social groups but they are not stereotypes.

The adults do not play a large role in the narrative, but they are present.  They miss a lot because they are distracted not because they are uncaring or inept. Chelsea’s parents protect her as best they can from the legal implications of coming forward.  Chelsea’s teachers may have agenda’s at cross purposes from Chelsea’s but they are fathomable and reasonable.

It really is a surprisingly good book.  Chances are any parent will find something that the kids do that they don’t approve of.  Chances are any teen will recognize all the characters in their own school setting.

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Posted by on July 1, 2013 in Teen Fiction


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