Aug 232011
 

In the Star Wars tradition with Space Elves

Hope Jaine forgives me for that headline. I mean that in the best way possible.

Reading an ongoing book series is a change of pace from everyday life. One year between episodes would not go down well on television (my other interest) but it does when reading. You still want it earlier but the gap between books in a series let you re-read the ones you already have and good books are like really good friends, they are always there when you need them so I often do.

The Hidden Empire series by Jaine Fenn is one such. Principles of Angels, Consorts of Heaven and
 Guardians of Heaven  has been good company while waiting on Bringer of Light. The two first are standalone to establish the characters and the third brings them together.

The series is basically about the fight against the Sidhe (the space-elf) females that rule the galaxy from behind the scenes. They once upon a time enslaved humanity but were killed off with the help of the male elves. Or at least that is what the galaxy at large believes.

Now Jarek seeks to bring the hidden world Serenein back into galactic civilization again. But he needs the help of the secretive Sidhe males to make that happen but they have their own agenda as he soon discovers. He is accompanied by the two assassins Taro and Nual, the later a rebel Sidhe female, the ancient enemies of the Sidhe males which complicate things.

But meanwhile things on Serenein heats up, the place is the Sidhes’ source of jump kernels and they won’t give that up without a fight. When not fighting off Sidhe incursions Kerin impersonates the old Sidhe ruler to keep the priesthood from getting suspicious.

It feels good to rekindle my friendship with these great characters. Jaine writes characters that are well-developed and easy to love. Especially Kerin and Taro step forward in this novel. Did I mention that Nual and Taro is in love and Jarek is married to Kerin? Love makes things more interesting.

This is still something of a journey of discovery (a thing I like). We learn more about the Sidhe males. Talk about learning making you want to learn more. Wonder what kind of evolution lead to their behavior, especially their reaction to females of the specie. Such a screwed up situation must have been developed at a RND department. That is my guess – where I work? In RND but we never screw up that much.

Jaine Fenn has done it again. Bringer of Light is an action adventure in the tradition Star Wars where a small group strikes back at the mighty Empire. Who is Leia and who is Luke? That is the question? There are no light-sabers but a lot of mental powers. Jokes aside you should read the other books in the series before this one it is not as standalone as the first two. Another warm recommendation from me. The next book Queen of Nowhere will be out next year.

Book Information

Bringer of Light (The Hidden Empire book 4) by Jaine Fenn (Gollancz) – Amazon US | UK

Jarek Reen is trying to save a lost world. He discovered the primitive theocracy of Serenein by accident, and now he wants it to take its place in human-space. To do this he needs a shiftspace beacon – without it, there is no way to find the planet again. The beacons were made by the Sidhe, the race that originally gave humanity access to the stars – and dominated human-space for millennia, before a coalition of human rebels and Sidhe males brought the evil Sidhe females down. Most people think the Sidhe are long dead, but Jarek knows better: a renegade female Sidhe is one of his companions, and a male Sidhe gave her and her lover the special powers that made them Angels, very unusual trained assassins. Jarek’s only hope is to find Aleph, the hidden system where the last Sidhe males are rumoured to live. But even if he can persuade these eccentric, introspective beings to put aside their interminable internal squabbles, he still has to persuade Serenein that joining the rest of humankind is a good thing …for the price of progress is likely to be high. Can he stop it turning into tragedy?

Sep 072010
 

This is a story about how starship pilot Karl Allman survive reentry on planet Isheimur after his ship is destroyed and how he meets the abandoned colony there, heal some broken bones, hikes across the wilderness, and other twists and turns. Here is my review.

The Author

This is the first Novel I read by Colin Harvey. He lives in Bristol in the south-west of England with his wife Kate and spaniel Alice. His first fiction was published in 2001, since when he has written novels, short stories and reviews, edited anthologies and judged the Speculative Literature Foundation’s annual Gulliver Travel Research Grant for five years. Colin’s reviews appear regularly at Strange Horizons and he is the feature writer for speculative fiction at Suite101.

World Building

Karl comes from a technologically advanced galactic culture where singularity has happened. It is now split into fractions that sometimes fight. Ayes as he calls them ponder their own unfathomable agendas, Traditionalists, who are against all human modification, battle Formers or Ayes. That part of the story also makes me curious on that part of the world; I would like to read more about it.

The scene for this book is Isheimur a partially terraformed planet colonized by earth standard humans of Icelandic descent. The colonists still expect the Formers that started the terraforming to return one day. But they went broke during the wars that made them leave in the first place. Colin paints an intriguing culture surviving on the last remnants of technology the Formers left behind, socially degraded to Viking levels with clans and chieftains. For the colony’s survival women have been degraded to birthing factories.

There is quite much world building in Winter Song but it never feels disturbing for the narrative. Colin weave it in in the conversations and story telling in a way that feels natural and fluent.

Plot

One protagonist is Karl Allman a starship pilot taking a shortcut on his way home when his sentient ship is ambushed by some unfriendly Traditionals. In the last moment when he ejects from the ship it downloads itself in the nearest storage it can find, Karl’s brain. Protected by some really spiffy nano-gel he/the ship falls out of orbit and on to a mountainside down below.

Where he is found by clan leader Ragnar with broken bones and in a miserable way. Ragnars sees an opportunity to add another potentially strong working hand to the clan so he orders the half outcast Bera to nurture him back to health.

The second protagonist is Bera Sigurdsdottir disgraced unmarried mother to a dead born child she never named the father for. She lives on sufferance with the clan since her parents died and there is a reason she keeps the father of her child secret.

Karl starts out as a raving lunatic, driven by urges from his nanotech he eats everything he can get his hands on including grass and dirt. In his scrambled head the ships sentient mind tries to make sense out of his new flesh and meat dwellings; in fact he is the first to emerge from craziness and to communicate with Bera. Ragnar names him Loki and when he comes too and tell them his name, Bera continues to call the ship for Loki as they continue to switch places.

Karl was on his way home to his pregnant poly-marriage wife who is expecting in a few weeks. So he is motivated to get home and leave. Bera helps him find information on the net that might help him but it will mean a long journey.

Their main antagonist is Ragnar the head of the clan, he doesn’t want them to leave and when they do he he sets out to capture or kill them.

But that’s not enough, the world hides dragons and trolls and other mythical beasts from Icelandic myths and they have to pass through their land to get to their objective. As they do Karl starts to suspect the truth …

Characterization

This is a very character driven story. Colin makes the Icelandic heritage and myths in the Isheimur culture come to life and intrigue. The invasive closeness of the clan during the long winters comes across as shackles about to imprison our protagonists.

Karl is not a superman, he comes across as an ordinary man of his time who only wants to survive and get back home.

I am a character guy and here I am happy. The characters are interesting and beautiful even if their culture is crude. Some are not so nice and might be driven by their errors but they all make sense and add their part to the story.

I am also weak for a little romance but don’t expect head over heels true love from the first page. There are some issues…

My view

Winter Song is close to space opera with the crashed hero on a primitive planet where he finds love and saves the day theme, but it is so much more with real life-like characters, intriguing cultural setting, aliens and some strong moral questions. And it is so much fun to read, you should too.

Information

Title: Winter Song
Author: Colin Harvey
Genre: Hard Science Fiction | Lost Colony
Cover art: Chris Moore
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Angry Robot Sept 2010 (US) | 1st 2009
Copy: Bought it myself

Excerpt: Sample chapter

Order by: Amazon USUKB&Nsfbok

The book is dedicated to Colin’s wife Kate. There is an 18 pages excerpt from Colin’s next book Damage Time at the end of the book.

The planet had fallen off the map. When Karl Altman’s spaceship crashed, he had only one question: “HOW THE HELL DO I GET OUT OF HERE?” Rock-hard sci-fi adventure. No-one here gets out alive. When his spaceship crashes on an unknown and forgotten planet, scientist Karl Altman discovers himself hunted by an ancient race. The descendants of a Viking race have reverted to a savage culture of sacrifice, pillage and violence. When Karl falls in love with an outcast girl, he has only one goal: escape. But escape is a distant dream on this nightmare planet.

FILE UNDER: Science Fiction [Starship Crash / Abandoned Colonists / Alien Slaughter / Hell Planet]

Excerpt

Jun 092010
 

I started to listen to the audio book version of Haze on my way to work and it is space opera just the way I like it. A mystic planet surrounded by an impregnable  shrouding haze and an expandable government operative is sent down to infiltrate and report back any intelligence he could find. This reminds me of ‘Solens Vargar’ (Sun Wolves) a book by the Swedish science fiction writer Dénis Lindbohm about an agent sent out by an oppressive government to hunt down a stolen weapon that can be used against it only to become the hunted himself. Here is my view:

Title: Haze
Author: L. E. Modesitt, Jr
Narrator: William Dufris
Genre: Space Opera
Paperback: 352 pages
Audio book: 10h 32m
Publisher: Tor 2009|  Tantor Media
Order from: ToriTunes | Audible | Amazon US | UK | B&N | Sfbok
Excerpt: Chapter 1

What lies beneath the millions of orbiting nanotech satellites that shroud the world called Haze? Major Keir Roget’s mission is to make planetfall in secret, find out, and report back to his superiors in the Federation, the Chinese-dominated government that rules Earth and the colonized planets.

For all his effectiveness as a security agent, Roget is troubled by memories of an earlier mission. When he was assigned to covert duty in the Noram backcountry town of St. George, he not only discovered that the long-standing Saint culture was neither as backward nor as harmless as his superiors believed, but he barely emerged with his life and sanity whole. Now, scouting Haze, he finds a culture seemingly familiar, yet frighteningly alien, with hints of a technology far superior to that of the Federation. Yet he is not certain how much of what he sees is real—or how to convey a danger he cannot even prove to his superiors, if he can escape Haze.

Information

I listened to the unabridged audio version narrated by William Dufris, his voice works for the story even if he might come across a little bit snotty at times.

The story is told along two timelines; the now were Major Keir Roget makes planetfall and visits the world below; and retrospects to his earlier missions that made him to the man he is but also made his superiors send him to Haze.

This is very much a political space opera with some pointers to our contemporary society.

The Author

I have enjoyed L.E. Modesitt, Jr. for some time now. The Recluse Saga, Flash, Gravity Dreams and The Octagonal Raven are some of my favorites among his work. I read The Elysium Commission recently and reviewed it here, it reminded me a great deal of Flash just not as good. L.E. Modesitt, Jr. lives in Cedar City, Utah.

World Building

The oppressive interstellar Federation is dominated by China and Chinese culture. Noram as former North America is called is kept in poverty, its citizens kept from leadership positions and harsh green taxes are levied against pollution and travel forcing depopulation of rural areas.

The retrospects back to when Keir was undercover as an energy inspector measuring temperature in the river water to find the slightest misuse of energy worked fine to establish a realistic and believable world occupied by living and breathing people.

Some of the technologies used in the book are interesting but not explained in any detail.

Plot

The plot is thrilling and somewhat suspenseful. It is never boring.

Major Keir Roget and four other agents are dispatched to make planetfall on Haze. Keir survives the entry, lands and walk around in a familiar but slightly different greenery until he is met by a young human woman that seems to have been expecting him. The society he meets on Dubiety, as its inhabitants call it, is very different from the Federation. Their’s is not an utopia but close enough, their values clash with Keir’s preconceptions and their technology is not only different but also surpasses that of the Federation. Keir also worry about it all being some kind of high tech virtual reality and how he will be able to report back to his superiors.

Characterization

One of L. E. Modesitt, Jr.  strengths is characterization, compared to Flash and such these characters are not as well crafted, the retrospects works to establish motivation and some of the nature of Keir’s personality but he still comes across a bit two dimensional in my opinion. I still like the characters but I expect more from Modesitt.

My View

Unwrapping the mystery of Haze is fun and interesting just the way space opera should be. Major Keir Roget makes a journey and grows as a man as he should but the big idea is the contrasting societies. This is not a novel about big space battles and tactical details. Recommended if you like the political side of L. E. Modesitt’s earlier works.