Sunday, November 29, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey, END

Welcome to the final week of the read-along of Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey, a week which also marks the end of the read-along of the trilogy.  Many thanks to Susan of Dab of Darkness for organizing this read-along, and for inspiring me to read to read a series that I have ended up enjoying so much.  Also, many thanks to the other participants—Emily, Lynn and Lisa—for all of their discussion and differing perspectives.  I hope I will be able to read and discuss more books with you in the future!  I provided the questions this week, and they cover chapters 83 to the end of the novel, so beware of spoilers for the entire trilogy below!

1. Phedre stops by to extract a promise from Melisande.  Why do you think Melisande chose the condition she did, out of the two that Phedre asked for?  Do you think she has some other scheme afoot that no longer involves the d'Angeline throne?

I think Phedre was right that this was the only time she would be able to extract a promise from Melisande, and I believe that she will keep it.  I am suspecting that Melisande may have chosen the condition that least interferes with her current schemes, though.  There are other sources of power besides the d’Angeline throne, so I’m wondering if she is turning her eyes elsewhere.  I really don’t know what exactly she might be after, starting a cult based around, but I suspect she’ll show up again in future books.

2. When Phedre gets back to the City of Elua, she faces Ysandre's anger.  Do you think Ysandre treated Phedre & Joscelin fairly?  What do you agree or disagree with in her reaction?

I was actually pretty disappointed with the way Ysandre handled this. In their first meeting, I lost a fair amount of respect for her when Ysandre brought up that Phedre’s profession and lack of noble blood made her worth less than other nobility.  Phedre has probably done as much or more than any noble to prove her value to Terre d’Ange, so that felt like a much lower blow than Phedre’s bringing up Anafiel Delaunay.  To be honest, her denigrating Phedre’s position made me more angry than her delaying Hyacinthe’s rescue.  He had endured for over a decade, so adding a few more months before his rescue was harsh, but not life-threatening. 

After seeing how it all played out in the end, I suspect it was just a show of dominance from Ysandre, so it didn’t look like she could be so easily manipulated by a Comtesse.  I think this could have been avoided by Ysandre meeting with Phedre and Joscelin privately, and then deciding how to spin things in public.

3.  The next major event of the story is the confrontation with Rahab.  Did this go how you expected, or were there any notable surprises?

I did not expect Phedre to take on the curse herself, and I didn’t expect Kushiel’s Dart to come into play.  It was a really powerful confrontation, though, and I appreciated that Phedre tried to convince Rahab to show mercy before she used the Name of God.  I don’t think he necessarily deserved mercy, but I respect Phedre’s compassion as well as her ability to do what has to be done.

4. Do you think Hyacinthe will (or should) pass on his knowledge and power at some point? Also, how much of an impact do you think he will have on the Tsingano culture?  

I feel like I understand a lot more about the Master of the Straits deal than I did before!  I had assumed his power would be gone with the curse, so I hadn’t really thought about this in advance. It seems like his power is pretty important for the defense of Terre d’Ange and Alba, so it would make sense for him to pass it on, especially now that it doesn’t come with a curse.  I expect he’ll need a young apprentice to carry it to the next generation.  I think this knowledge is too powerful to be lost, so I hope he passes it on.

As for the Tsingano, it looks like he has already had an indirect impact on their culture.  They seem to be rethinking their stance against Didikani and the Dromonde, at the very least.  I liked that he did his best to help them move more towards gender equality, though that kind of change would certainly take a long time to really take root.

5. At the end, all is well, and Phedre seems content with her life.  Was there anything that stood out to you in the resolution of the story, or in Phedre's massive party in Night's Doorstep?  How do you feel about the way her trilogy has ended?

I loved the simple happiness of this ending.  Phedre and Joscelin are happy (as we see in the bath scene…), they have their adopted son safe at home, Hyacinthe is free, and all is forgiven with Ysandre.  Phedre’s party was also very impressive, and I think it was important that Hyacinthe’s value was finally acknowledged by all in the City of Elua.  It was also a reflection of the beginning of the series—Phedre began as a child, quietly attending elaborate parties, now she is a woman in her thirties that has the money and power to throw them in honor of others.

There has been so much suffering throughout this trilogy, I think this conclusion was a good balance.  Their story is also clearly not yet over, since they still have many years ahead of them raising Imriel, enjoying their hobbies at Montreve, and interacting with the d’Angeline court. “Love as thou wilt,” was a fitting final thought for the series, and now Phedre, Joscelin, Imriel, and others are finally free to do just that.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey, Part 7

Hello all, and welcome to week 7 of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Avatar!  I’m a few days late this time, due to having way too much work to do over the weekend.  Better late than never, right?  We’re finishing up this read-along next week, but if you’re interesting in catching the end, or in future read-alongs, please check out our goodreads group page!  This week covers chapters 74-82, and the discussion questions are provided by Lisa of Over the Effing Rainbow.  Beware of spoilers, and let’s get to the discussion!

1.Yevuneh and the other women agree to help Phedre continue on her quest, and though it doesn't go smoothly, she succeeds in finding the Broken Tablets and the Name of God! What did you think of how this part of the story played out?

I think this is how it had to have happened.  If the men hadn’t chased them down, Phedre wouldn’t have been threatened.  If Phedre hadn’t been threatened, Imriel wouldn’t have tried to defend her. Then if Imriel hadn’t been in danger, Phedre might not have been able to reach that place in herself that held selfless love.  I really appreciate that it was an adopted parent/child love that made her worthy to carry the Name of God.

2. When the dust settles, Imriel's position on where he feels he belongs is all the more firm - he wants to be with Phedre and Joscelin, and not with House Courcel. Do you have any thoughts on how things will go for them when they return home?

I would be extremely sad if Imriel didn’t end up as Joscelin and Phedre’s son at the end of this.  He clearly has chosen them as his parents.  For their part, both Phedre and Joscelin seemed not altogether content with their decision not to have children.  Phedre didn’t want to risk her child having to also bear Kushiel’s Dart, and Joscelin thought that would be going too far against his former Cassiline ideals.  For both of them, it was more external reasons than emotional reasons that they didn’t want to start a family.  Now, their love for Imriel will allow them to have a child without having to worry about any of these considerations!  In terms of the politics, I still hope Phedre will use her boon to adopt him as Imriel nĂ³ Delaunay.

3. Among other important changes to their way of life, the possibility of trade between Saba and other nations has opened up in the aftermath of what Phedre has done. This leads her to speculate that the intentions of the gods go far beyond what she was aware. What do you think of that bigger-picture theory? What might it mean for the world in general?

I hadn’t really considered that angle on the situation.  In that sense, perhaps the deities are working together, Elua and his Companions alongside the Jewish God.  I think that does make some sense, given the connection of Elua’s birth with the death of God’s Son.  In that sense, perhaps it was God’s intention to find a home for Imriel, to stop the Angra Mainyu cult, to forgive the people of Saba, and to free Hyacinthe from his curse.  I still don’t like that Imriel had to suffer to start this chain of events, but it does seem to be righting a lot of wrongs that have been resting unaddressed for many years.

4. We're heading toward the finale, and hopefully to a resolution regarding Hyacinthe's fate... Do you have any thoughts about what might happen when Phedre gets back to him?

I’m hoping he’ll be free, and he’ll go to be with his British almost-girlfriend.  Of course, I’m also hoping they’ll visit Phedre and Joscelin from time to time.  Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I’m so ready for everything to end up happy!  If freeing Hyacinthe really is part of God’s plan to right wrongs, then I am wondering if the Name of God will vanish from Phedre’s mind after she uses it to lift Hyacinthe’s curse.  It was a gift, after all, and seemed to be given to her for this purpose.

Other Things:

—The descriptions of rain were just so miserable!  I can’t imagine having to travel like that for so long.

—Joscelin’s lion mane is amazing.  I even found a fan art of it.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Review: Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said

Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick
Published: Doubleday (1974), Gollancz (2001)
Awards Won: Campbell Memorial Award
Awards Nominated: Nebula, Hugo, and Locus SF Awards

The Book:

Jason Tavener woke up one morning to find himself completely unknown. The night before he had been the top-rated television star with millions of devoted watchers. The next day he was just an unidentified walking object, whose face nobody recognised, of whom no one had heard, and without the I.D. papers required in that near future. When he finally found a man who would agree to counterfeiting such cards for him, that man turned out to be a police informer. And then Taverner found out not only what it was like to be a nobody but also to be hunted by the whole apparatus of society.”

I’ve read a handful of novels and short fiction by Philip K. Dick, and have enjoyed most of them.  Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said didn’t really work for me.  On a happier note, Amazon Prime’s television adaptation of The Man in the High Castle, one of Dick’s novels that I did really enjoy, is now online!

My Thoughts:

It might be the case that I was really just in the wrong mood for Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said, because I have generally enjoyed Philip K. Dick’s work in the past.  I know a lot of people really enjoyed this novel (look at all the awards!).  In fact, I’m really surprised I bounced off of this one as hard as I did.  For me, the first issue was the writing style.  Philip K. Dick’s prose is often pretty plain and workman-like, but it seemed particularly clunky in this novel.  For instance, he actually used the word ‘friendlily’ multiple times.  I wondered if he was deliberately playing up the artlessness of the prose to get the right tone for Tavener’s life of shallowness and celebrity.  Even if that’s the case, though, I find modern-day celebrity culture tedious, and thus was not really drawn in by this fictional version.
This lack of interest ties into my issues with the characters, who all seem pretty vapid and aimless, and with the plot, which is more or less nonexistent.  Random things happen, but they often don’t seem to have an impact on either past or future.  For instance, shortly after the opening of the story, someone nearly succeeds in murdering the main character.  Afterward, neither the event nor the perpetrator have any further role in the story.  Tavener’s vanished identity is a mystery, but it’s not one he’s going to solve.  Instead, he wanders around, encountering the a variety of women, and the reasoning for his situation is tacked on to the end of the story like an afterthought.  I gather that this is one of those books where the wandering around is really the point, and I know PKD often abruptly ends his novels with wild ideas that are interesting but might not make much sense.  In this case, though, I think I was just not engaged enough with the story or the characters to really appreciate the ideas behind them.

It seems like the world might have been a kind of 1970s nightmare, and in that sense I think it has not aged well.  Some of the things which might have been extrapolations of trends in the 1970s no longer have any resonance with this Millennial reader.  I think this would be a surmountable obstacle, except that the world-building seems to exist only for these atmospheric purposes that it does not achieve for me.  Tavener’s country is a police state, where rebelling university students have been trapped underground and people are regularly sent to labor camps for little or no reason. Everyone is always ready to turn on everyone else, so there’s not much genuine connection between people.  There’s also this weird thing about the main character being a ‘Six’, a person genetically engineered to be better and smarter than baseline humans.  Except he isn’t, at least in any way I can tell.  I’m not sure if this is a jab at the idea of genetic engineering or a failure of voice. Given how many novels Philip K. Dick has published, I suppose it’s not surprising that some of them are just not my thing.

My Rating: 2/5

I normally like Philip K. Dick’s work, but I bounced very hard off of this one. This is the story of a shallow pop star briefly losing his fame and identity, and of his wandering around until it is restored.  All of the characters seemed vapid, shallow and incapable of meaningful human connection, and I was frustrated by the apparent pointlessness of the plot.  I think the reveal at the end could have been an interesting twist if I’d been in the mood for it, but instead it just felt tacked on.  I’ll probably still read more Philip K. Dick in the future, because I am honestly surprised I did not enjoy this one.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Video Game Reviews: Science Fiction Variety

In another departure from my usual reviewing habits, today I’m going to tackle science fiction video games for Sci-fi Month!  I have been a kind of intermittent gamer since I was a child. I played my share of NES titles, but then switched to PC games until the PS2 came out.  After a brief, intense period of playing PS2, I switched back to computer games--most especially World of Warcraft, in which I had a lot of fun.  These days, I mostly play Resident Evil, Left4Dead and Diablo 3 on PC, and my husband and I have launched a new project to enjoy console gaming.

Shortly after the PS4/Xbox1 came out, we purchased an Xbox360, planning to check out all the best used games.  To that end, we had an amazingly fun day-trip to Lyon, where we visited all of the gaming stores we could find and picked up a wide variety of titles.  We have primarily targeted science fiction or fantasy games that are not FPS, since FPS on console is extremely annoying for my left-handed husband.  I’ve been considering doing short reviews of these games on this blog, as we go through them, so I figured Sci-fi Month was a great time to give it a try!  

Remember Me by DONTNOD Entertainment

Remember Me is one of the most memorable (haha) of the games we’ve played so far.  Not only does it include some creative game dynamics and aesthetically pleasing art, it also featured a really interesting future world and story.  The story is set in a dystopian future Paris, where a corporation called Memorize has commodified memories through a popularly-used implant.  The main character, Nilin, begins in the Bastille, where the prisoners are kept docile through forced amnesia.  The amnesiac discovering her own identity is not a unique story in video games, but I loved learning about the world and Nilin’s life alongside her.

The game dynamics ranged from decent to really interesting.  The combat involved the ability to build your own combos, which would allow you to both do damage to your enemies or heal yourself. There was also a fair amount of climbing around Neo-Paris, but only on predefined paths. The most unique dynamic of the game is the main character’s ability to change a person’s memories, and therefore change who they are in the present.  I liked how it emphasized the relationship between our experiences and our identities, and the shaded morality involved in the manipulation of memories as means to an end.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West by Ninja Theory

In case you didn’t pick it up from the name, this post-robot-apocalypse game is based on the ever-famous Journey to the West. I was really surprised by how well the ancient story translated into science fiction, though of course there were some changes. The main characters are the ‘monk’ Tripitaka and Monkey, though in this version they are a young woman who manages to trap a muscular guy known as Monkey through the use of a modified slave collar.  They journey to the west together towards Trip’s home, and they learn about the truth behind their broken world in the process.

This is another fighting/climbing adventure game, but with the added fun of partner-based strategy. The player takes on the role of Monkey, and has to coordinate with AI Trip’s particular set of technology-based skills in order to survive.  For instance, Trip can send a robotic dragonfly around to spy out the land, or make a hologram to draw fire away from Monkey.  I really loved the AI-teamwork aspect of the game, and finding out how to optimize the use of both characters.  The way the story ended was very unexpected, but I think it is a more ambiguous, thoughtful ending that will stick in your mind long after the game is through.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown by Firaxis Games

XCOM is a game I’d always heard was awesome, but I seemed to have missed my window to play the original game--I ran into all sorts of problems trying to run old XCOM on a new computer, and eventually gave up.  I’m glad I checked it out in its newer incarnation, because it is an awesome game!  In fact, it’s one of the only games I feel like I might want to play again sometime (and maybe not lose Australia to the aliens.  Sorry, Australia!).  I don’t mean that as a slight against other games, though, I just think that a strategy game like this one tends to have more replay value than an action role-playing game.

XCOM balances base-building, research, and turn-based combat.  All of these things are really fun, but I think the soldiers that you gear up and take out to fight aliens were my favorite part.  I was surprised by how attached I got to my soldiers, and I still have happy feelings about Maria the psychic sniper being one of the survivors of the final battle.  I was one of those people that obsessively saved after every minor skirmish, because I just couldn’t handle the thought of my favorite soldiers being killed by aliens.  Just writing about this makes me think it might be time to play it again soon...   

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified by 2K Marin

Then one day, someone thought that XCOM really needed to be reimagined as more of a shooter/ role-playing game.  In practice, it was reminiscent enough of Enemy Unknown that I was disappointed by the differences.  There is some research, but it doesn’t quite carry the same weight.  You do fight with a squad of soldiers, but the combat is time-based instead of turn-based, and it revolves around the main character. I didn’t feel as attached to the soldiers, and their class skills seemed less interesting and useful.

The main positive difference is the inclusion of a story that involves a small set of major characters.  If you want a kind of XCOM that has more immediate action and a more linear story, this might be what you’re looking for. Agent Carter (no, not Peggy, sadly) starts off as a pretty standard doesn’t-play-by-the-rules tough-guy, whose dark past has sent him into alcoholism. Once the aliens get involved, though, the story picks up and becomes more interesting. If one can avoid comparing it to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, then it really is a fun game in its own right.

Prototype by Radical Entertainment

Prototype follows a guy named Alex Mercer as he tries to find out the truth behind the virus that is changing his body, while it simultaneously spreads to kill everyone in his city. The story is not that complicated, but the game is really based around action and violence.  You have a lot of freedom to leap around the city map--engaging in challenges and generally rampaging--in between the central story quests. The story is kind of interesting, and it was kind of exhilarating to send Alex running up skyscrapers and leaping from rooftop to rooftop, though I had a hard time getting fine control over his movements.  

The world has three factions: civilians, military, and infected.  You’re supposed to stay undetected by the military, or they’ll send tanks and helicopters after you.  Of course, you can always just commandeer the tanks and shoot down the helicopters instead of hiding, and it’s usually faster.  The infected include the most difficult enemies to fight, and the civilians are mostly collateral damage. Prototype was a little less my style than the other games listed here, in that it felt more like an action game than a science fiction game, and I’m not really into the gratuitous violence. I’ve already got a copy of Prototype 2 on the shelf, but it might be a while before I get around to playing it.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey, Part 6

It’s time for week 6 of the read-along of Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey!  This week’s questions cover chapters 62-73 and are provided by Emily of Emma Wolf.  If you’d like to join in for the end of Kushiel’s Avatar or other future read-alongs, the group can be found here, on Goodreads.  Now, on to the questions, and beware of spoilers through chapter 73! 

1. We see yet another attempt on Imriel's life. Any new thoughts?

I really didn’t anticipate people hating Imriel this much.  I mean, that soldier was willing to die to murder the kid.  I thought the average person didn’t even know the whole of what Melisande had done, so that kind of shocked me.  Was he just so loyal to l’Envers that murdering a child and then killing himself seemed like a reasonable request, or did Melisande directly ruin that soldiers life somehow as well?  I guess he’s dead in the river, so we’ll never know.

2. Imriel pulls the old switch-a-roo and ends up with Joscelin, Phedre, and Kaneka on their way to Iskandria. Phedre decides to press on rather than turn back. What do you think of her course of action? What do you think of Imriel's trick? Some seem to be reminded a bit too much of Melisande's escape from Troyes-le-Mont. What do you think? What do you think of Imriel's rationale that he is in Hyacinthe's debt?

I think Phedre’s right that the similarity won’t earn him any friends among d’Angeline nobility, but I don’t think he should worry about it too much. If a particular noble was really going to hate him because of a rumor of him using a trick similar to his mother’s at Troyes-le-Mont, I think that noble would have probably hated him regardless.  I fully support Phedre’s decision to press on for the selfish reason that I like Imriel being in the story :).  Within the story,  I don’t think Phedre was being paranoid about sending him back to Terre d’Ange without her—the two murder attempts justify her fears. Also, I think it is nice that Phedre gave him a sense of purpose in the quest to free Hyacinthe.

3. Phedre meets with Pharaoh again...and threatens to tell Ysandre that Pharaoh has been in touch or in league with Melisande should something happen to her or Imriel. What do you think of her move?

I don’t think the Pharaoh would have done anything to her, really.  It was smart of her to make certain, though.

4. Kaneka finds some healing with Wali, and Phedre finds her way back from the darkness of Darsanga. Thoughts?

I’m glad Kaneka found some happiness with Wali, but I think in some ways her healing was a little simpler than Phedre’s.  Phedre also has to cope with the guilt of killing the Mahrkagir and the possibly worse guilt that she physically enjoyed the torture he put her through. I was so happy that Phedre found her way out of that darkness, and came back to Joscelin.  Their time together, after he caught the fish, felt like a scene of making love, not of just having sex.  I also have a lot of respect for him for giving her time and space to heal, and leaving the timing of their resuming their physical relationship completely up to her, with no pressure.  Imriel’s happiness was also adorable— he was so delighted that his chosen mom and dad were finally completely back together.  

We get the reminder that Phedre is still an anguissette, but I wonder if she is going to be able to take assignations anymore after Darsanga.  The novel showed clearly how her time with the Mahrkagir was very, very different from consensual BDSM, but I wonder if the surface similarities between the two might be enough to take her mind to a very dark and unhappy place.   

5. Phedre et al. journey down the Nahar, through the desert and into Jebe Barkal and Saba. What do you think of these new places and the new characters we meet?

It was a very interesting journey down the Nile…I mean, Nahar.  Apparently, the Nile is referred to sometimes as ‘Nahar Mitzrayim’ in Genesis, which I guess is where the name comes from.  I don’t really have a lot of thoughts about the people they met on their way.  I guess I was very focused on the destination.

6. Phedre meets with the elders of Saba and is disappointed. Then she meets with some of the women. What do you think? Will they help her when the others didn’t?

I’m suspecting the women are going to help Phedre in an attempt to make up for not protecting the Covenant of Wisdom all those years ago.  I hope it works out for them, and they are forgiven by God.  It sounds like it really is what Phedre needs to save Hyacinthe. I’m hoping that her purity of intent, that she wants only to rescue a friend, will protect her and allow her to speak the Name.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Review: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
Published: Atheneum, 1974
Awards Nominated: Mythopoeic Award
Awards Won: World Fantasy Award

The Book:

“The powerful, isolated young sorceress Sybel lives alone on a mountain with her animals, wondrous mythical creatures originally summoned over the years by her forefathers.  She is content to spend her life caring for these creatures and trying to summon more, until the day that a man named Coren brings an infant to her door--an infant that is her nephew and also the son of a king. Sybel agrees to care for the child and give it what it needs, which is most of all to be loved.

Through the growing child, Tamlorn, Sybel is once again connected to the world and its troubles.  Tamlorn is eager to know his father, King Drede, but Coren and his family oppose Drede for killing their brother, the late queen’s lover.  Sybel considers herself above all this squabbling, but it is difficult to escape the ties formed from love, fear, and hatred.” ~Allie

This is yet another audio commute book!  I thought this one worked very well as an audiobook, and I really liked the narrator, Dina Pearlman.  This is the second novel I’ve read by McKillip, and I have been enjoying how different her style is from the books I usually choose.

My Thoughts:

This was a fairly small story, focusing primarily on Tamlorn, Sybel, Coren and Drede. There were a variety of minor characters, including the mythical creatures, but it always seemed clear that the four main characters were the axes around which the story turned. This tight focus on a small set of characters, as well as the world of wizards, magical creatures, kings and hidden princes, made the story feel like a fairy tale. This atmosphere was enhanced by the simplicity of the language and dialogue, especially apparent in audio.  I found it completely charming, and often pretty funny.  Especially since I had just finished listening to the end of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, it was refreshing to listen to such a relatively light-toned and straightforward story, where most of the characters are trying to be good to one another.

Sybel herself was another reason I was so quickly drawn into the story, as I absolutely loved her personality.  She’s very powerful, intelligent, independent, isolated, and uninterested in politics, and she finds fulfillment in her animals and her magical studies.  I think she completely won me over when Coren brought her the infant, only to almost balk at giving it to her when it became hilariously clear she had no instinctive maternal feelings for the child.  Not that she was averse to acquiring a baby, she just didn’t see why raising it would be any different from caring for her other animals.  Sybel grows and changes through the story, as her love for Tam, among other things, draws her into the politics of the kingdom and into forming personal connections with other human beings.

Sybel’s growth explores various ideas, such as the relationship between love and control, the cost of revenge, and the value of connections with others. Sybel, like her forefathers before her, has the ability to summon humans and other creatures to her, whether they will it or not.  While she loves her animals, they are bound and controlled by her will.  At the beginning, Tam is an exception to this, as she loves him but never attempts to control the path of his life.  As Sybel is drawn into the more complex situation outside her home, she faces much more difficult interpersonal issues, such as the challenges of trust and the danger of a rage that can consume much more than its intended target. I loved seeing how Sybel coped and how her new experiences changed her.  I also enjoyed how everything ended up, and I’m very glad I chose to listen to The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.

My Rating: 4 / 5

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld came up at the perfect time on my reading list, when its simple fairy-tale atmosphere was exactly what I wanted.  The story involves a hidden baby prince, of a king whose marriage was broken by infidelity.  Instead of focusing on the prince, though, it centers around his aunt--a powerful, isolated sorceress named Sybel--who takes him in and raises him.  I thought Sybel was fantastics, and I was delighted to follow her as she became unwillingly embroiled in the politics of the land.  The story involves the importance of interpersonal relationships, and the circumstances that lead people to attempt to control others.  The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was a short, delightful novel that I am glad I have finally read!  

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey, Part 5

Welcome to week 5 of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Avatar.  We’re just past the halfway point now, and things are starting to look up!  This was an extremely intense section of reading this week, and it was really hard to stop reading each day after breakfast (yes, I do most of my reading these days during breakfast).  The questions this week were provided by Lynn of Lynn’s Books, and they cover chapters 50-61.  Thus, beware of spoilers through chapter 61 below!

1.There was so much action this week, let’s just take a minute to discuss that - particularly Phedre’s plan for escape.  I realise this isn’t particularly a question but I just found these chapters so edge of the seat that I think we need to take a moment to discuss them and gather all our thoughts.  What stood out for you?  What surprised you?

I was so happy to see things moving in a productive direction!  Last week’s reading seemed to mostly involve people suffering while they tried to find their footing in this new place. The main thing that stood out for me was how many people were involved, and how trustworthy they were.  It really shows you that, given any other viable option, many of the people involved in Darsanga would eagerly reject it.

The other thing that stood out for me was Joscelin’s fight with Tahmuras. Carey has managed to make me care so much for Joscelin’s well-being, and also had fully convinced me that he was going to die.  I mean, there was all the talk about how he and Phedre might or might not recover from this, the earlier hints that she might have ended up with Hyacinthe, her own comment that this was a fight she didn’t want to watch…  it seemed like it might be leading to his tragic death.  Add to that the general tendency for characters to unexpectedly be killed in this series, and I was actually terrified that this was going to be his last fight.  I am so glad I was wrong, and I hope he stays alive for the rest of the story.

2. We’ve already had a debate on Imriel’s abduction and who was responsible and why.  What are your thoughts now on the Gods and their motivations?

I guess Kushiel wanted to judge the Mahrkagir and his followers, in the end.  He chose Imriel as bait to bring Phedre and Joscelin there.  I guess it makes sense because technically Imriel is one of Kushiel’s people.  I still don’t like the idea of hurting a child like that to bring justice to someone else, but I do agree that they had to be stopped.

3. How do you feel about Imriel and also who do you think is trying to assassinate him?  Also, his reaction to his own family history - do you think that Melisande would ever have stood a chance to bend him to her will or not?

I really like Imriel. Since he’s stopped spitting at Phedre and started talking to her, I feel like we’ve learned a lot more about his personality.  I honestly don’t think Melisande had much chance to bend him to her will, and she’ll have even less of a chance now that he thinks so highly of Phedre and Joscelin.  I’m going to have to agree with Phedre that the l’Envers were behind in the assassination attempt, since Phedre’s usually really good at reading people about stuff like that.  In that case, I guess it’s the usual ‘to protect the crown and our family’ stuff.  

I feel like there might be a little bit of foreshadowing that Phedre and Joscelin will adopt Imriel.  I’ve been wondering if maybe Phedre will ask that as her boon from Ysandre.  I’m not sure what will happen, now that Phedre is all set to head to out in search of the name of God, though.

4. Phedre and Joscelin - they’ve been through a lot and ultimately it’s taken a toll.  Do you think this is something that they can get past particularly now that Joscelin has been injured - how do you think he will cope with that?

I think not being physically able is not something Joscelin was really prepared for.  Honestly, he’d have to cope with it eventually, since he’s not going to be a master swordsman/dagger wielder all his life.  I think he’ll recover, physically.  Right now, it looks like they’ll be able to get past this as a couple as well.  I think it will be harder for them to get over their ordeal individually.  

5. It looks like Phedre’s cause to help Hyacinthe will be restored.  It looks, at least, like she will have unexpected help along the way. What are your predictions in that respect.  

I’m not sure where this story is going to leave Imriel.  He was clearly important to the first half of the novel, and it seems really odd for him to now just head off to the d’Angeline court while Phedre and Joscelin go with their new guide.  I just feel like he has to be involved in some way.  Maybe I’m wrong.  I do think the woman from the zenana is trustworthy.

Other Things:

—I was so glad Phedre’s plan with the Mahrkagir went off without a hitch.  I respect that it was painful for her to kill someone who loved her, but I am also glad she accepted that it had to happen.

—Also, how terrifying is the idea that someone could both claim to love you and be okay with killing you? I am so glad that Phedre had no illusions about how far his ‘love’ stretched.

—I was so sad when the physician died.  I was afraid that was going to happen when it was mentioned that she had a gut wound.  She gave so much of herself to help others, but was never able to go home.

—It was really impressive that Phedre is known outside of Terre d’Ange in stories!

—I really don’t have much respect for the Ahura Mazda priests.  Phedre stood up for what was right when they did nothing, and now they look at her with disgust?

—I’m so happy things worked out for the others that escaped from Darsanga, both the eunuchs and the women.  I hope they are able to find some peace.

Movie Review: The Martian

This is the first only-movie review I’ve done on this blog, but I doubt it will be the last.  With that in mind, please bear with me as a I work out the format for reviews in this new medium.  In this case, The Martian is an adaptation of the novel by Andy Weir of the same name, which I have already reviewed here.  It’s going to be impossible for me to discuss the movie without referring to the book, so there’s going to be a fair bit of comparison.  I will try to keep the spoilers all below the spoiler warning, so keep an eye on that if you haven’t yet enjoyed the book or movie.

The Martian is a story of survival in an inhospitable environment, and of the positive side of human nature-- the drive to help one another.  After Mark is stranded on Mars by teammates who think he was killed, he is determined to use his formidable skills to survive until a rescue is mounted.  On the other side, once Earth learns that Mark is alive on Mars, it will take the work of many to try to find a way to reach him before his time runs out.  This sets up a intense, but upbeat, story with a focus on problem-solving and scientific knowledge.  It’s lighter tone and nerdy humor might make it lack some of the urgency of other recent space-survival stories, like Gravity, but that also sets it apart as a very different filmgoing experience.

I also enjoyed coming from the novel to this movie adaptation.  It’s always fun to see a book you liked represented in a visual medium, and in this case I think it really did the novel justice.  The movie played to its strengths, with beautiful scenes of Mars, as well as interesting designs for the spaceship, rover, and Mars habitat.  The cast was impressive as well, and I think Matt Damon in particular gave an excellent performance as Mark Watney. His (understandable, given the situation) profanity was dialed down a bit, but I think that was a good idea. Spoken profanity would have been a lot more jarring than it was as written.  A number of subplots had to be cut out to make this even a roughly 2 and a half hour movie, but I think that they were able to keep true to the spirit of the story.

Now I’ll have some spoilers about specific scenes and the ending (book/movie).  Stop here to avoid them!

However, some of the things they chose to leave out or change actually did cause the story to make a little less sense than it did in the novel.  In this case, I think people who have previously read the novel have an advantage, since they know what exactly was cut and how it affects the story.  For instance, the movie put a lot of emphasis on the ‘space pirate’ joke, but they removed the part where he lost contact with NASA.  In the book, he was a ‘pirate’ because he couldn’t ask permission until he had re-established contact with NASA using the MAV, but in the movie he was acting per NASA’s direct instructions.  This and a couple of other jokes negated by other scenes made me wonder if the editing was a little rushed.

The changes to Mark’s climactic rescue scene also seemed to depart from the novel in a way that made less sense.  In terms of crafting a movie, I get why it was cool for Lewis to go out on the EVA to finally bring him to the safety of the ship.  However, Beck was the one who was prepared for this task.  In universe, it didn’t really make sense for her to interrupt an already precarious mission at the last second to take on a role she hadn’t prepared for.  I think that it would have been better if they had just arranged for that to be her role in the rescue from the beginning.  In the end, while I really liked the movie as a new medium in which to see a story I had enjoyed, I think the novel still stands stronger than its adaptation.  Even so, I think this is probably the most entertaining science fiction film I’ve seen yet this year!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Review: Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone
Published: Tor, 2014
Series: Book 3 of the Craft Sequence

The Book:

On the island of Kavekana, Kai builds gods to order, then hands them to others to maintain. Her creations aren't conscious and lack their own wills and voices, but they accept sacrifices, and protect their worshippers from other gods—perfect vehicles for Craftsmen and Craftswomen operating in the divinely controlled Old World.

When Kai sees one of her creations dying and tries to save her, she's grievously injured—then sidelined from the business entirely, her near-suicidal rescue attempt offered up as proof of her instability. But when Kai gets tired of hearing her boss, her coworkers, and her ex-boyfriend call her crazy, and starts digging into the reasons her creations die, she uncovers a conspiracy of silence and fear—which will crush her, if Kai can't stop it first.”

I’ve been enjoying Gladstone’s work, and I’ve now finished reading all of his currently-published Craft novels (the review of Last First Snow is coming soon).  I read this one as a part of a community read-along, and the spoiler-laden discussions can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.  As a side note, I read this book several months after I went to my first ever Caribbean island to visit a friend, and there were a good few setting details that really reminded me of St. Kitts!

My Thoughts:

The Craft Sequence is a series of standalone books set in the same universe, but I feel like it’s getting to the point with Full Fathom Five that the books are significantly interconnected.  While the main characters and plot can be enjoyed separately from the rest of the series, events and characters from the previous two novels also play a role.  I think that I would now recommend reading Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise first, in order to fully appreciate Full Fathom Five. The series has generally dealt with the interplay between different kinds of Faith and Craft in society, and this novel adds in the idea of idols--mindless economic constructs that are maintained by a priesthood that goes through the motions of worship.  It was interesting to see how this kind of business would affect a society that had historically been religious, and how it could fit into the larger web of power in this world.

The Craft novels also typically feature a creative new culture and society, and Kavekana is probably my favorite thus far.  It is a religious community that has turned to mindless idols in their gods’ absence, in order to maintain their economic and political independence.  Just as the idols are only shadows of their former deities, other things have become warped from their original purpose as well.  For instance, the horrifying stone figures that encase, torture, and brainwash petty criminals might have served a gentler purpose of instruction in better days.  It felt like Kavekana was in a precarious equilibrium, at the point of having lost its old mythology without yet developing something new and meaningful to take its place.  Change is inevitable, though not always good, and I was very curious to see how the mystery at the heart of the novel would change Kavekana.

Kavekana may being going through an overall transition, but how this will affect the people who live there varies based on what level of Kavekana society they inhabit. The island is a different place for the people who work with foreign businesses, the poets and regulars of the casual beach bars, and the refugees and other street children who are just trying to keep enough soul to live. Primarily through the eyes of Kai, an idol priest, and Izza, an orphan of the Wars, we see how different these two views of Kavekana are, and how little they overlap. Kai is very good at her job, and her intelligence and resources put her in place to uncover the conspiracy, but Izza is the one who stole the story for me. I was impressed by her resourcefulness, faith and compassion, even after she had suffered so much already in her short life. She knew very well how bad things could get for her in Kavekana, but still felt obligated to minister to the other children. Their stories do eventually merge, and I enjoyed how well everything tied together in the end.  I hope Izza and Kai show up again in future novels!

My Rating: 4 /5

Full Fathom Five is the third novel in the Craft Sequence, and the first one that I would suggest having read the previous novels first.  It has a standalone story and all is explained as needed, but events and characters from the previous two novels come into play.  The island of Kavekana, which had lost its gods and now marketed idols, felt like a living and changing place, and I was eager to unravel its secrets.  The main characters, Kai and Izza, showed very different views of their society--from the privileged to the homeless.  I appreciated Kai’s determination and intelligence, and was drawn in by Izza’s faith, pain, and internal struggle between self-preservation and caring for others.  This was another excellent installment in the Craft Sequence, and I hope Gladstone writes many more!