Tuesday, June 27, 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!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Read-Along: Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey, Week 1

This is the first post for a read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Curse, book 8 in the Kushiel’s Legacy series and the second book of Moirin’s trilogy!  Every Monday, a group of bloggers will be posting answers to discussion questions and discussing the week’s reading in comments.  If you’d like to be added to the email list to receive the discussion questions,  just drop an email to any of us participants!  The schedule will be as follows:

Week 1: Chapters 1-15, post Monday June 5 Hosted by Allie (Me!)
Week 2:  Chapters 16-32, post Monday June 12 Hosted by Lynn (Lynn’s Books)
Week 3: Chapters 33-47, post Monday June 19 Hosted by Susan (Dab of Darkness)
Week 4: Chapters 48-64, post Monday June 26 Hosted by Allie (Me again!)
Week 5: Chapters 65-END, Post Monday July 3 Hosted by Lynn (Lynn’s Books)

As you may have noticed, I’ve supplied this week’s questions, which I will now answer below. Beware, definite spoilers of the first fifteen chapters of Naamah’s Curse, as well as potential spoilers for previous novels in the series, lurk below.

1) A lot of this section involves recapping the adventures of Naamah's Kiss. What do you think about the way this was incorporated into the story?

At first, I felt like it was a little heavy on reminders of what had come before.  As we moved through the section, though, I appreciated how recaps were worked into Moirin’s conversations with Bao’s family and, later, Batu’s tribe.  I think it would have been extremely useful if I’d had a few years break between books.

2) Moirin heads off alone toward the Tatar steppe in winter.  Do you think this was the best course of action, or should she have traveled with some sort of escort or guide?

Moirin and Bao talked as though the options were a) completely alone or b) with an Imperial entourage.  I think there must be some middle ground in there somewhere.  Why couldn’t she have hired a local guide or traveled with a trade group of some sort?  I agree that Bao might have been put off by a honor guard, but as it is she very nearly died of the cold.  She’s very lucky that just about everyone she meets likes her.

3) What stuck out to you the most about the Tatar tribe Moirin stays with and their way of life?

They were so kind to strangers, it was a little hard to compare with what we knew of Bao’s parentage.  Their milk-fat-tea sounded kind of gross, but I bet it is useful in hard winters.  I’d also like to see a picture of their portable homes and their shaggy ponies.   

4) Bao & Moirin reunite in kind of a difficult situation--he's been married.  Do you think they're searching for a solution in the right way?  What do you think of how Bao has handled things so far?
So far, I’m really side-eyeing how Bao is handling the situation.  No matter whether or not he felt pressured, he did get married. I’m not sure I buy that it was unavoidable.  He was extremely inconsiderate of his wife to whisk Moirin to bed in such a public way.  He was also unfair to Moirin, because she had no idea she was helping him violate a promise to someone else.  His behavior is also a slap right in his father-in-law’s face, assuming the guy cares about propriety and honoring one’s word (I am suspecting he does).

As for their plan to resolve the situation, I am suspecting it may backfire.  Out of all the ways to back out of an arranged marriage, I think “humiliate your warriors and then demand you make good on a technicality” is probably not the best option.  On the other hand, I’m not sure what they could do at this point.  Bao’s already disrespected Moirin, his wife, and his father-in-law, so anything else Bao tries is just going to be more salt in the wound.

5) Bao & Moirin might have been in love before, but now they're forced together by divine magic.  How do you think you would react to finding yourself trapped as they are? Would you initially react more like Moirin or Bao?  

Emotionally, I agree with Bao’s prior assessment of the situation.  I would hate feeling that I don’t have any choice in matters of the heart, like I was being mind-controlled by some external force.  At the same time, I don’t think I would want to force myself away from my appointed soulmate.  I like being happy, and if that was the only path to love, I would probably take it.

I hope they find some way to preserve Bao’s life and restore Moirin’s diadh-anam.  I feel like their relationship will be more meaningful if they both choose it, un-coerced.

Other Thoughts:

--It was nice of Moirin to give her treasures away as gifts to those who helped her, and even to Bao’s not-quite-father.  Every time she did, though, I worried a little that she might need money later to survive.

--I liked the moment when Moirin refused to make a display of her magic to satisfy someone’s curiosity.  It seems that she has learned from her previous adventures.