Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey, Part 1

Welcome to the first week of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Blessing!  This is the final book of the 9-book series, and also the book that brings Moirin’s story to a close.  It will be sad to say goodbye to this world, but I’ve had a lot of fun reading the series. This weeks questions are provided by Susan of Dab of Darkness, and they cover chapters 1-15. Beware of spoilers below!

1) Wow! We're back at Marsilikos and then into Terre D'Ange right away without any lengthy travel scenes. How was this change of pace for you after the lengthy travel journal we've had so far in this series?

I’m pretty fine with it.  I was impatient to get back to Terre d’Ange, so I was happy that we started there already!  Moirin is a very different person than she was the last time she was in this country, and it was interesting to see her and Bao’s take on the society after their long time away.

2) What do you think of King Daniel's management of the realm while he's in mourning? The relationship he has with his daughter Desiree?

I don’t think this is a problem that’s likely to go away anytime soon, and he’s not really fulfilling his role as a monarch or a father.  He endured after his first wife’s death, but it looks like losing Jehanne too was just too much.  I feel like he needs to spend some time at Balm House until he can cope with daily life again.

3) Moirin has taken up the role as Desiree's protector. What do you think of tet political quagmire she's gotten herself into? Will her tumblers and poet be able to sway the general public in her favor?

Well, someone needed to do something.  I’m actually kind of shocked that none of the local nobles stepped in to help, after Daniel kind of opted out of taking care of her.  It doesn’t reflect well on the nobility that they were just willing to let the situation fester until Moirin came back to help.

For the tumblers and the poet, I think it will help.  I think the biggest thing that would help is her doing a good job, and not running off to another country. Over time, she’s bound to win over a lot of the nobles. I know patience is not really her thing, though.

4) Moirin's father has a lover, Rogier, who is also in the king's favor. How big of a problem for Moirin and Bao do you think he will be?

I did not expect him to be an enemy, so that kind of caught me off guard.  He’s a really bad person to have as an enemy, since he is essentially the King at this point.  I expect he’s going to be a major problem, if she doesn’t find out what he has against her.

Other Thoughts:

--Moirin is a trust fund girl, and I am curious to see how she would cope in Terre d’Ange if her money runs out.

--The head nursemaid seemed weirdly prudish for Terre d’Ange.  I thought Bao’s subtle joke was harmless and inoffensive, and I was surprised that she even remarked on it.

--On that note, I would have expected patience and compassion to be some of the traits most commonly found in nursemaids.  Desiree didn’t really seem much worse than an average toddler, so it makes me wonder what other d’Angeline toddlers are like (fashion forward and careful of propriety?).

--It was neat to see Bao’s interest in d’Angeline acrobatics.  I bet both sides will learn a few things!


Monday, July 24, 2017

Short Fiction: March 2017

Time for another look at some of my favorites of this year’s short fiction!  Today, I’m focusing on stories that were published in March 2017.  One of my favorites is another story by Naomi Kritzer, a writer who won a Hugo Award for last year’s short story, “Cat Pictures, Please”.  The second is a story that ties into Yoon Ha Lee’s heavily award-nominated novel, Ninefox Gambit.  The third is a clever story by an author new to me, Stephen Graham Jones.

Waiting Out the End of the World in Patty’s Place Cafe by Naomi Kritzer (Short Story, Clarkesworld): Naomi Kritzer is one of a handful of writers whose writing style really meshes with the way my mind works, so I’m always excited to see another story published by her.  This one is a slice out of the life of a young woman who has been disowned by her parents, as she considers how to spend her last day before an asteroid might strike the Earth.  Despite the grim subject, I found it to be a pretty positive story.

Extracurricular Activities by Yoon Ha Lee (Novelette, Tor.com): At some point, I promise I will put up my review Ninefox Gambit.  Having read it, I was pleased to see this prequel story about Shuos Jedao. In the novel, he is a very important character, but his life and era have long since ended.  I enjoyed seeing this bit of occasionally humorous insight into Jedao’s life and the forces that shaped his personality, before he becomes the dangerous ghost of Ninefox Gambit.

Rising Star by Stephen Graham Jones (Short Story, Uncanny): As a scientist myself, I appreciate a clever fictional grant proposal or paper.  This one is a grant proposal for a time travel project, and I have to say they made their case very convincingly.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey, End

Welcome to my long-delayed final post for the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Curse.  This week’s questions were provided by Lynn of Lynn’s Books, and they cover to the end of the novel.  The final read-along of the Kushiel’s Legacy series, of the novel Naamah’s Blessing, is beginning next week, if anyone is interested in getting involved!  The schedule is as follows:

Week 1: Chapters 1-15, July 24th, hosted by Dab of Darkness
Week 2: Chapters 16-29, July 31st, hosted by Dab of Darkness
Week 3: Chapters 30-42, Aug 7th, hosted by Books Without Any Pictures
Week 4: Chapters 43-57, August 14th, hosted by Lynn's Book Blog
Week 5: Chapters 58-71, August 21st, hosted by Tethyan Books
Week 6: Chapters 72-END, August 28th, hosted by Dab of Darkness

And now, to the final questions for Naamah’s Curse, beware of spoilers of the novel below!

1.) What did you make of the mission to retrieve the black diamond and what do you actually make of the black diamond and whether it could be used for good?

Everything seemed to go pretty smoothly.  When they finally got the diamond, it reminded me a bit of the scene with Galadriel refusing the One Ring.  The diamond is not inherently evil, but it seems to be so in practice.  I don’t think anything that is used to override other people’s free will can be used for good.  

2.)The Spider Queen and Amrita - what were your final thoughts on both of them - did you have sympathy for Jagrati?  Do you think Amrita can affect change in the caste system?

I do have some sympathy for Jagrati, since I think there really wasn’t any way she could have improved her life within the system.  I don’t disagree with her leaving society and making a new life for herself, but I do disagree with the particular life she chose.  Having experienced pain does not give anyone a free pass to give pain and death to others.  I don’t see them as on the same tier as the evil of Darsanga, though, where they were seriously just trying to be as horrible as possible.  

Amrita’s plan to remove the untouchable caste went shockingly smoothly.  There were a few mild protesters, but it seemed like pretty much everyone fell into line with the new order.  I wonder if it went that way because it is a small, isolated village, where the people’s loyalty is more to the personality of their leader than to their religion.  I don’t expect this change to be widespread or even permanent, though I admit I’m biased by real-world history.  It is good that she is trying to change the world for the better, though!    

3.)Moirin and Bao - they’ve made peace with each other.  Did you finally forgive Bao?  Do you think they’ve reached an understanding that will work for them?

I think Bao is really just not my sort of person, and he still hasn’t given a reasonable excuse for randomly marrying another woman.  It was good to see them get back together and work out their relationship, though.

One thing I found really odd was how conservative Moirin is about marriage.  She herself is not well-suited to monogamy, and she was raised alone in a cave.  She spent a fair amount of time in Terre d’Ange, where it is pretty common to have a primary partner in addition to other lovers.  Is Moirin’s fear about being a ‘bad wife’ all coming from her trauma with Cillian?  It doesn’t seem relevant to anything Bao has expressed in his expectation for their relationship.  I mean, he certainly hasn’t been physically loyal, either.  Moirin seems to be exactly the kind of wife Bao wants, so I was a little baffled by her worry.

3.)Finally - any predictions for where the journey will take us next? Can you see a purpose in Moirin’s diadh-anam??

It looks like the next book will resolve the issue with Raphael and the demon, as well as finally sending Moirin and Bao off to the New World!  I hope Moirin also gets a chance to introduce her new husband to her mother and father, in between the adventures.  I’m not sure what’s going on with Jehanne, but I hope she gets to move on to the afterlife when everything is finally settled.  I don’t see any over-arching theme with Moirin’s diadh-anam yet, but maybe that will come clear when we see her next tasks.

Other Thoughts:

--It was a bit sad that the lower-caste workers were against abolishing the untouchables caste, but I can see where they were coming from. I bet a lot of the attitudes toward untouchables will now shift to the new lowest caste.  At least Amrita is also trying to implement a kind of inter-caste social mobility to combat this.

--I wonder if Bao is going to have problems with drugs in the future.  I get the impression that it’s often a bit harder to beat a drug addiction than simply deciding one day that you don’t need it anymore.

--Was anybody else a little puzzled that the Falconer did basically nothing?  He had an impressive villain name and everything.

--We’ve got confirmation that the Falconer has zero interest in anyone who has ever given birth.  But why?  That seems like a weird hang-up to have never explain.

--I’ve been noticing that a lot of the changes Moirin is making in the world around her are going to be transient.  I mean, the caste system is still an issue today, and obviously gunpowder is eventually going to be discovered.  It’s a little sad to know that her actions will be undone.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson

Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
Published: Solaris, 2014
Series: Book 1 of the Fractured Europe Sequence
Awards Nominated: BSFA, Campbell, Clarke

The Book:

“After a variety of crises, Europe has collapsed into many small states.  The increasing number of new borders and citizenships has created a chaotic mess where crime flourishes. Rudi is a chef in Krakow, but one day he finds himself quietly recruited into a seemingly silly (but lucrative) kind of spy game.  In his new role as a Coureur, Rudi transports goods, information, and sometimes people across many borders.  

As Rudi gets in deeper, he realizes that the work of the Coureurs can sometimes be deadly serious.  He eventually becomes entangled in a conspiracy that someone is willing to kill to cover up.  Will he be able to discover the secret before it costs his life?”  ~Allie

This is the first book I’ve read by Dave Hutchinson, and I chose it because of the many award nominations.  Also, sorry for the long silence.  It has been a hard summer to find time to write.

My Thoughts:

Europe in Autumn is a kind of spy/organized crime novel, which eventually has some supernatural elements.  It starts out in Rudi’s mundane life before his recruitment as a coureur, and I enjoyed seeing his life as a chef.  I found his impatience and mild embarrassment with his first ‘spy’ work amusing, and I got a kick out of his unenthusiastic personality as he grew in competence as a coureur.  On the other hand, his adventures felt very episodic.  The book jumped around from situation to situation, and I didn’t ever feel like I had a strong sense of the story as a coherent whole.  This is the first novel in a series, so it’s possible that subplots which are dropped here are picked up in the coming novels.

Rudi’s fractured Europe was carefully imagined, but it was also incredibly bleak. I don’t know how likely this scenario seemed to be back in 2014, but now it’s just close enough to reality to make me feel stressed out.  As a coureur (and even as a chef), Rudi spends a lot of time with organized crime syndicates, so the world we see is really dirty, cynical and full of violence.  I’m definitely not opposed to darker books, but I think this one just hit me in the wrong place and at the wrong time.  There were some ideas that I thought were pretty interesting, though, such as the long rail-line that declared itself as an independent country.

As the book moved toward its conclusion, it seemed to focus progressively less on Rudi.  Instead, the story began to be told through the perspectives of a string of minor characters and fictional documents.  At this point, I was mostly interested in Rudi’s personal story, so the shift away from him left me feeling puzzled.  The supernatural elements that eventually come into play are a neat idea, but I had mostly run out of interest in the story by the time they were revealed.  Overall, I think this book was a mismatch for me, but I can see the appeal in the story for others.

My Rating: 2/5

This slightly supernatural spy novel features an amusingly reluctant chef-turned-smuggler who has adventures throughout a fractured Europe.  I enjoyed the personality of the main character, but was less engaged by the episodic nature of the story and the bleak near-future world.  I also began to feel more indifferent as the novel shifted away from the protagonist in the latter part of the book, focusing instead of fictional documents and minor characters. This was not a book for me, in the end, but I can see how it could have caught others’ imaginations.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey, Part 4

I’m a little late for part four of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Curse, but I’m still here!  This week we covered chapters 48-64, and I provided the questions.  Beware of spoilers in the questions and answers below!

1) Moirin makes some new friends on the way to Rasa.  What do you think will come of her decision to entrust them with the jade medallion?  Do you see this as a betrayal of trust or do you think the Emperor would understand?

I feel like this might be one of those decisions that comes back to bite her later. She’s given away most of her valuables as gifts, though, so I’m not sure she has any choice.  I think I would trust the people she gave the medallion to, but I think these things have a way of changing hands unexpectedly.  Hopefully, the Emperor would understand and not hold it against, and hopefully no one tries to use it to cause trouble in Ch’in.

2) On her way to the Lady of Rats, Moirin ends up in a dangerous caravan.  What are your thoughts on what happened, both with the assault and the illness?  

I found it interesting that Moirin compared herself unfavorably with Phedre in these chapters, when her magic makes her far more powerful in some ways.  I was reminded in this section how often Phedre relied on her training in Naamah’s Arts to find a way to power in a difficult situation.  When she was with the Skaldi leader, she faced a similar situation with no twilight to hide her.  Both Moirin and Imriel lamented that they were not great heros/heroines like Phedre and Joscelin, but I think they both found plenty of adventure.

On the assault itself, wow is that guy gross.  I find it disappointing and unsurprising that he is still a respected trader, and will likely do the same thing to the next pretty woman that comes along.  Based on the reaction of his men, I get the feeling Moirin was not the first.  At least she was able to learn some Bhodistani, and the association with him doesn’t seem to have soured the language for her.

I don’t know much about altitude sickness, but is that what Sanjiv was referring to as “mountain sickness”?  It’s amazing that it cleared up after only three days of rest.  If it was due to altitude, then maybe being in the valley helped. That might be the first time Moirin has reached near the limits of her physical endurance due to circumstances beyond her control.

3) Is seems that caste/class is going to be a major point in this story.  Even if Amrita agrees that the caste system may not be just, do you think there's anything that she and Moirin can do about it? Do you see any path to happiness for Jagrati and/or do you think she deserves to be defeated?

I don’t think they’re going to abolish the caste system in a few weeks, but maybe Amrita will be the seed of a new way for the future.  To be honest, I was concerned when I realized our villain was going to be an evil marginalized woman who attacks people through sexual desire.  I think the story is trying to show that she has a valid complaint with society, though, and no one would ever have listened to her without drastic action.  I don’t think she should get away with assassinating people, but I also have a feeling that we don’t have her whole story yet.  

I also think that the novel is trying to address ideas of privilege and class, not only here but also earlier in the story.  One of the reasons Bao got married was to raise his station, because he saw himself as below Moirin.  Amrita even observed that Moirin does not really socialize outside her own caste, though I think that’s not really true.  In any case, I think it will make Moirin more aware of hierarchy in the societies around her.

4) There is a lot of passion in Kushiel's Legacy, but the sex scene in this section doesn't involve much.  Given all of the focus on "love as thou wilt", what do you think about Amrita's gift and it's acceptance by Naamah? What do you think about the idea of sex without desire, but for compassionate purposes?

It was a really unusual scene, and not really all that in line with what I would have expected Naamah to approve.  It certainly helped Moirin, but it seems like the whole situation would be really awkward.  It made me wonder if Amrita desired her husband, or if sex has always been to her a gift to give someone else.

5) Bao returns!  I think we were all a little irritated with him for his Tatar adventures. Do his actions here change your opinion of him? Do you think he has escaped Jagrati's diamond for good?

I am glad that we didn’t have many chapters of Bao not believing Moirin was real, so for that I thank him.  I tend to believe that Jagrati was telling the truth when she said she thought Moirin was dead.  When Bao realized Moirin had not been sent to the Falconer and Spider Queen, that was a much more logical conclusion than to think the Khan had simply sent her somewhere else.  He picked a very self-destructive way to mourn, though, and the addiction is probably something that will stay with him forever (as will the tattoos).  As for Jagrati’s diamond, I’m not sure it has much power over Bao.  It didn’t stop him from recognizing Moirin, and he doesn’t really seem enamored of Jagrati.  It may be Moirin that needs to escape the diamond!

Other Things:

--I wonder why Sanjiv stays with such a horrible group of traders.  It seems like his skills are valued, so he could find some nicer people to join.

--While Amrita’s kid is quite clever, perhaps it was not the best idea to let a child plan their strategy.

--Amrita was safe from the Falconer because she was pregnant, but it’s been a decade since then. Does the Falconer only pursue women who have never given birth?
--How did Amrita recognize Moirin’s caste right away?  It sounded like she didn’t exactly look like royalty at the time.  

Monday, June 19, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey, Part 3

Welcome to week three of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Curse, book eight of Kushiel’s Legacy.  This week’s questions were provided by Susan of Dab of Darkness, and they cover chapters 33-47.  Beware of spoilers through these chapters in the questions and answers below!

1) What stood out to you for Moirin's baptising ceremony? Have you ever been through such a religious ceremony and did it go as you expected?

I really hated that she was forced into pretending a faith she did not have, just to avoid execution.  I also feel like the Maghuin Dhon and Yeshua should have a loophole about oaths made under duress, regarding her later troubles. On the other hand, I appreciated that the novel made it clear that these ceremonies would not have truly made Moirin a believer.  The important bit was that quiet moment earlier, where she personally decided whether or not to accept Yeshua as her savior.

Regarding the second question, I was baptized when I accepted the Christian faith.  It went pretty much as expected.  My denomination practices immersive baptism, so it was done in a small pool with myself and the pastor.  The baptism itself is intended as a symbolic death and resurrection to a new life with Christ, and also as a public declaration of faith.  No one pressured or coerced me into my faith; it was a choice freely made!  
2) Now Moirin and Aleksei are free. Aleksei has much to learn not just about Moirin but also about the larger world. What moment do you think challenged his ingrained beliefs the most? What do you think he will do ultimately with his life?

I think one of the most defined shifts he had was when he realized that his feelings and his genetic heritage did not mark him as an evil person.  His uncle tried so hard to instill undeserved shame in him, and I think Moirin’s words helped him see that this was not God’s will. I liked that he did not suddenly reject everything he believed.  He only rejected that of his uncle’s teachings that did not ring true when compared with his understanding of Yeshua.  I expect, given his d’Angeline charisma, that he will be a great leader in his faith.  I am glad he has concluded that this future cannot be with Moirin, because they really aren’t suited for one another in the long-term.
3) There comes a moment when Moirin realizes that she did come to love Aleksei, in a way, and that's the same moment she knows she will not see him again. Naamah's curse indeed! Have you had such a moment yourself? Do you think this curse also applies now to Moirin's love of the departed Jehane?

Moirin, like Phedre, has a lot of love in her heart, and I am glad there is a little corner in there for her memories of Aleksei.  I’m delighted that Aleksei did not tragically die, and at least they may see one another again in the world someday.  I would say the curse is simply that humans are capable of a great depth of love, and that this means we will hurt all the more when we’re inevitably parted by death or circumstances.  I would say this applies not only to romance, but also to love for family and friends.  In that sense, I think we all eventually feel that pain.

4) Falcons and spiders and rats, oh my! What stood out the most for you in Moirin meeting up again with Erdene, Bao's wife? And what do you expect Moirin will find as she heads towards the Falconer with his Spider Queen?

This sounds like a fairy tale!  I hope Moirin is kind to everyone she meets, so that she has plenty of magical allies! I’m guessing that Bao’s half-diadh-anam is burning low because he is a mind-controlled assassin right now.  I expect he will face a conflict where he must rely on his love for Moirin to overcome the Spider Queen’s dominating power.

Other Things:

--Did Aleksei remind anyone of Joscelin in this section?  I am remembering Joscelin’s strict discipline, and his shock with Phedre’s behavior.  

--I think it’s a bit unfair that Aleksei says Moirin didn’t hesitate.  She really did! She warned him, and then waited to see if he would back down.  It’s not like she shot an arrow at him on sight.

--I’m glad Moirin got her stuff back.  Erdene seems to be a kind woman, especially after all Bao has put her through.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
Published: Corvus, 2012
Series: Book 1 of the Dark Eden series
Awards Nominated: BSFA Award
Awards Won: Arthur C. Clarke Award

The Book:

“You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of Angela and Tommy. You shelter beneath the light and warmth of the Forest's lantern trees, hunting woollybuck and harvesting tree candy. Beyond the forest lie the treeless mountains of the Snowy Dark and a cold so bitter and a night so profound that no man has ever crossed it. The Oldest among you recount legends of a world where light came from the sky, where men and women made boats that could cross between worlds. One day, the Oldest say, they will come back for you.

You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of two marooned explorers. You huddle, slowly starving, beneath the light and warmth of geothermal trees, confined to one barely habitable valley of a startlingly alien, sunless world. After 163 years and six generations of incestuous inbreeding, the Family is riddled with deformity and feeblemindedness. Your culture is a infantile stew of half-remembered fact and devolved ritual that stifles innovation and punishes independent thought. You are John Redlantern. You will break the laws of Eden, shatter the Family, and change history.” ~WWEnd.com

The Arthur C. Clarke award usually selects some interesting books, so I’ve been meaning to try this one since it was announced as a winner. This is the first book I’ve read by Chris Beckett, and it is the first of a trilogy.

My Thoughts:

The first thing I noticed when I began to read the book was the unusual narration.  The story was told through the eyes of a handful of members of the Family, and the writing style followed the speech patterns of their community. The language reflected their declining mental ability and distance from their Earthly origins, and it was characterized by a limited vocabulary, emphasis through repetition, and a kind of baby-talk for Earth-based words that had no clear meaning on Eden.  It was not difficult to read, but the simplicity of the language and frequent switching between viewpoints made it harder for me to feel invested in the characters.     

The simplicity of the language made the story feel initially like it is intended for a younger audience, but I think a lot of the content was more suitable for adults.  John Redlantern was a teenage protagonist, eager to come into his own and challenge the status quo. However, he lived in a culture that largely revolved around food, sex, and babies.  I think that this made sense for a slowly starving community that was descended from only two people.  As they waited for rescuers from Earth, most people didn’t think much beyond immediate survival and creating the next generation.  This means that there was an awful lot of casual sex, particularly between people that appeared to have good genes.  Even their language showed the preoccupation with sex, since most of their ‘curses’ were references to the sexual characteristics of the initial explorers.  While reading, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of Tommy and Angela’s sadness was from their realization of the hardships their descendants would endure, in the absence of rescue.

Despite the necessary focus on survival, I found it interesting how desperately the people of Eden clung to their stories.  Even after they gave up on the idea of education for the children, they insisted that everyone remember the stories of Earth and of the founders of their Family.  I think it was a way of maintaining their identity as a people, and of giving them hope (of rescue) for the future.  Given how small their Family was, though, I think that valuing these ritualized stories of people who had so recently lived also gave them a sense of the importance of individual actions on the course of their history.  John and his companions were keenly aware of their place in the history of Eden, and John made his decisions while consciously considering how their stories would be told by generations to come.  I can tell that the conclusion of this novel will have a major impact on the future of the humans of Eden, but I’m pretty satisfied with leaving the story here.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Dark Eden is the story of a small human community, descended from only two people, trying to survive on an alien planet.  The language of the novel is unusual and simplistic, reflecting the speech patterns of the community.  The protagonist is a teenage boy, coming of age and challenging the way his society works, and the novel’s perspective shifts between him, his companions, and several other people in the community.  There is a heavy emphasis on sex, since the community depends on having as many healthy babies as possible.  I found it to be an interesting alien world, and a bleak but believable human culture.  This first novel of the trilogy comes to a good stopping point, and I don’t think I will continue the series.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey, Week 2

Welcome to week two for the read-along of Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey, book eight of the Kushiel’s Legacy series.  This week’s questions are from Lynn of Lynn’s books, and they cover chapters 16-32.  Beware of spoilers through these chapters in the questions and answers below!

1. Moirin takes part in the archery contest - what were your feelings of her and Bao’s plans up to this point and what did you think of the eventual outcome?

I did not expect this to turn out well, so I wasn’t too surprised that the leader didn’t just cave and let his son-in-law set aside his daughter for a former lover.  People are not vending machines, and even a competition with the prize of “any favor you ask” is going to have some limits. I’m also not completely sure Moirin didn’t cheat.  She doesn’t know whether or not her bow is enchanted, and she was using the special breathing from Master Lo Feng.  Given her affinity for nature, I’m not fully convinced she didn’t affect the wind.
2. I’m very puzzled about the direction the story has taken with this whole abduction theme - what do you make of this part of the story and in particular Pyotr Rostov?

This I did not see coming at all.  I figured Bao and Moirin would sneak out, and they would head off to the next bit of destiny.  I like being surprised, but I don’t much like Pyotr Rostov.  It’s always unpleasant to see someone giving a poor representation of a fictional version based, at least partially, on one’s own faith. I take comfort in the fact that Rostov is part of a weird cult, and that the mainstream religion is much less gross than Rostov’s interpretation of it.  Also, I think his justification for kidnapping her is stupid.  There are plenty of non-believers in the world, and some of them are a lot more awful than either the Maghuin Dhonn or d’Angelines (Darsanga, anyone?).   

3. I can’t help making comparisons as I read between Moirin and Phedre and the storyline here - are there any particular things that have drawn your eye or given you pause for thought.

I also thought of Phedre, when Moirin woke up in the wagon. It brings back memories of Phedre and Joscelin’s betrayal by Melisande.  I would say Naamah and Kushiel are far less jealous of sharing their scions than the Maghuin Dhonn.  Also, Phedre’s skill with languages, seduction, and endurance would have helped Moirin here.  It was interesting that Moirin actually referred to Phedre’s abilities in conversation!

4.Any predictions about the next stage of the story?

I suspect that the young half-d’Angeline will help Moirin escape, and the next task will be to break her chains somehow and relocate Bao.  I’ll be happy to be surprised with some other twist, though!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

TV Musings: Spring 2017

We are currently in something of a golden age of science fiction and fantasy television, and there are far more options out there to watch than I think any one person could possible handle.  Even narrowed down to the subset of television shows that I personally enjoy, there’s simply too much content for me to stay up to date!  This is a nice problem to have, and I’ve got all my shows queued up to watch at leisure.  However, it also means that my posts about television may be some time behind the initial air dates. In this post, I wanted to point out a few fun science fiction and fantasy shows I’ve enjoyed this spring!

The Expanse, Syfy (Season 2): I love space opera, and this particular show is based on an excellent series of novels by James S.A. Corey (I have reviewed the first three here, here and here).  The second season picks up mid-first-novel and ends mid-second-novel, though I think there have been some small changes in the course of the story. As expected, season two gives us a lot more of the elderly and irreverent politician Avasarala, the tough Martian marine Roberta Draper, and introduces the botanist Praxideke Meng.  I also enjoyed seeing a bit more development for Naomi and Amos, as they both try to follow what it means to them to be decent people.  The show has lots of action, humor, politics, a terrifying alien virus, characters you can root for, and a vivid future for humanity in the solar system. The Expanse remains a solidly entertaining show with excellent acting, high production value, and a well-designed story.

The Walking Dead, AMC (Season 7):  I’ve stuck with this show from the beginning, even though the writing is uneven and the stories are often violent and depressing.  From my perspective, the dramatic intensity of the best episodes make it worthwhile to keep watching through the weaker ones. At the same time, this latest season made it clear to me that there is a rift between what I want from The Walking Dead, and what many other people seem to want. I love stories about building societies, and about the ideological conflicts between groups that must interact with one another to survive. The show does have this angle, but it seems overshadowed by the need to defeat a series of over-the-top evil human enemies. This season’s enemy was Negan, and all but two of the episodes in the first half of the season were dedicated to showcasing how evil he was.  I was bored by this, but really enjoyed the episodes that featured Carol and Tara.  The second half of the season picks up the pace, and I was thrilled to see diplomacy take a larger role. I’m still on board to see what will happen next, and I hope there is some kind of a happy ending for my favorite characters one day.

Emerald City, NBC (Season 1, only season): I did not have high expectations for this Wizard-of-Oz-based drama, but I was curious enough to check it out.  By the end of the season, I was thoroughly hooked (and sad that it had been canceled).  The show starts out a little slow, but it gets progressively more interesting as more details about the unusual world of Oz are revealed. The story begins with Dorothy searching for her way home, but soon spreads out to a wider cast with larger-scale problems.  The primary conflict during this season involves the Wizard, a whiny and violent man from our world who had risen to power, and the Witches, who had suffered great losses in a conflict shortly before his arrival.  Everything seems peaceful at the beginning, but there are problems brewing just below the surface.  As a side note, I especially loved the stories of Jack and Tip, but I don’t think I can say much about them here without spoiling plot twists! I am disappointed that NBC chose not to produce a second season, but I believe that the first season alone is still worth watching.

The OA, Netflix (Season 1): This is a weird one, and definitely not a show that everyone will enjoy. If you don’t mind a cautionary spoiler (otherwise skip this paragraph), it is about near-death experiences causing people to come back to life as angels who can bring about miracles through interpretive dance.  If that’s too silly for you, then you should probably skip this one.  The writers also chose an odd starting point, leaving almost all of the action of the first season to happen in flashbacks.  As a result, we get very little time to get to know the ‘present-day’ characters, and some of them are not very likeable or interesting. There is going to be a second season of this one, and I’m curious to see where it’s going.  I would not give it a high recommendation at this point, though.

Black Mirror, Netflix (Season 3): Black Mirror aims to be a kind of darker Twilight Zone for the information age.  Each episode of the show tells a different story, showing disturbing extrapolations from current technological or sociological trends. I’ve been watching Black Mirror since the first season, and I think it has had some pretty interesting stories.  For this season, my favorites were “Men Against Fire” and “Hated in the Nation”.  The first addresses how future technology could be used for dehumanization and violence, as we follow soldiers who are tasked with eradicating “roaches”.  The second addresses a behavior I think should be criminal, that of making death threats against people on the internet.  It reminded me of “White Bear”, though, in that the story goes way beyond simple justice.  I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll come up with for the next season!