Carolyn – Empress Game – Rhonda Mason
I’ve just started Empress Games by Rhonda Mason. Given that I’ve changed my mind at least thrice already about how the book is approaching the themes I think it is raising, I’m very excited to get further into it.
The novel starts out with Kayla fighting in the Blood Pit–think futuristic gladiators fighting for the entertainment of the seediest patrons to watch. She goes by the moniker Shadow Panthe and, as most protagonists do, stands out amidst her competition both because she is exceptionally well trained and because she defies the system. At the outset of fights when the women are asked for whom they fight (the only other character we see answer the question claimed a fire god), she declares herself. But what else would the #infamouschampionwench do?
We learn fairly quickly that she is fighting to support herself and her only remaining brother. She is his protector now as dictated by their culture. They are natively from the Wyrd worlds and it appears that her particular people have psionic powers although she has “lost” hers. I’m curious to see this develop as things progress. What role will her lack of powers play?
The other point-of-view I’ve come across has been a man who wants something from Kayla. While I’m not 100% certain at this point that she was always his mark, she certainly is now. Her fighting prowess rather cemented that. His goal is to convince her to impersonate the princess he works for and fight in the Empress Games (thereby winning his princess control over the realm and averting disaster). He is wildly uncomfortable in the stands of the Blood Pit, clearly holding himself to a higher standard even before we know enough to “support” that. I’m curious to see what role he ultimately plays in all of this.
I’m rather excited to carve out time to read this book. I’m very curious what I will take away from it.
Chappy – How We Got To Now – Steven Johnson
Since we last met I’ve read a couple well written but flawed fantasy thrillers by R.S. Belcher. Fun reads but with frustratingly large plot holes you could drive a Templar’s rig through. And, Straight to Hell by John Lefevre which is an engaging but juvenile memoir about what that stereotypical business-major frat-guy does after college. And then The Spy’s Son, by Bryan Denson which was the latest in a long line of true spy books that I’ve read over the last couple years. It’s not the best or the worst but it does make you wonder about religion and family and motive in the context of the cold war and beyond.
Basically, it was a string of mediocrity and disappointment punctuated by glimpses of the worst of humanity. I needed a winner. A positive. A home run– given the nearness of baseball, that metaphor works as well as any other.
So I picked up How We Got To Now, by Steven Johnson. I knew it would be a winner because I’ve already watched the documentary series based on the book. I’m a sucker for this kind of transdisciplinary tale of history. (The British series Connections with James Burke is about as good as learning gets!)
So, here I am living the life of the future, I carry a pocket-computer around with me that holds within its brains a reasonable facsimile of the entire sum of human knowledge. I’ve recently flown cross-country at hundreds of miles an hour well above the highest birds and returned to earth safely. I can see clearly through a pair of polycarbonate lenses to read and I eat fresh and safe food wherever I go.
Yet sometimes I forget just how great this science-fiction world we are living in actually is.
In How We Got to Now, Johnson takes us on a journey of the kinds of large societal changes that occurred because of the invention or discovery of common items. He draws a connection between semi-clear glass found thousands of years ago in the Libyan desert and the rise of eyeglasses from the demand following the invention of the printing press, to the ability to create long strands of clear glass fibers that allow this missive to show up consistently on your LCD anywhere in the world.
You could literally hold the passage of all the information in the world in the palm of your hand in the form of Fiber Optic Cables.
Is Johnson a little too neat in his connections as Burke was before him? Certainly. But he also reminds us of the spirit of Science Fiction, which is at least as much about describing the Promethean drive to create and change the world as it is about telling a good story.
Abigail – Ship of Fools – Richard Paul Russo
I spent last Saturday afternoon in a mechanic’s waiting room and was surprised to realize that over an hour had passed. My mind was otherwise occupied in Richard Paul Russo’s Ship of Fools.
After hundreds of years spanning generations aboard the spaceship Argonos, its inhabitants have lost all sense of a collective history and purpose. The abandoned Earth has become little more than myth. And the ship’s gradual deterioration mirrors that of the factions feuding within its hull.
Bartolomeo Aguilera, the captain’s trusted advisor, is at the crux of these feuds, with involvement in the ruling class (the upsiders) and the downsiders who live to serve them, the church, the crew, and the Executive Council.
Through Bartolomeo, readers are introduced to varied understandings of Argonos’ mission: from the church’s mission to convert non-believers, to downsider’s quest for colonization, to the upsider’s interest in continuing the voyage to maintain the social order.
Tensions threaten to upend the status quo when Argonos encounters the first inhabitable planet in fourteen years. The events that follow are proof that those aboard the Argonos have lost all historical records. They could have benefited from one of Earth’s cautionary horror films.
Detect an endlessly looping transmission from a creepy abandoned colony? Don’t follow it!
Unearth a secret chamber filled to the brim with ritually killed corpses? Leave them be!
Discover a massive, deserted alien vessel that gives everyone shivers?
Move on past!
What’s maddening is that, so far, there are relatively few consequences to the fools’ ill-advised actions. Sure, a few scouts have lost their lives in creatively gruesome manners or slipped into unexplained comatose states, but I worry about the serious repercussions lurking in the upcoming pages.
I was no less worried about the fate of the Argonos when the mechanic told me my Oldsmobile failed inspection. I’ve scheduled another appointment, another opportunity to lose myself in Ship of Fools. Hopefully both the Argonos and the Lu-mobile will survive the encounter.
Meg – Empress – Karen Miller
I went on an adventure to the used book store with one thing in mind. I wanted some epic fantasy or science fiction with female protagonists I could stand.
I’m not interested in “the whimsical mystic mother” or “the spirited and spunky hot chick who loses all personality once the protagonist proclaims his love” or “the strong female protagonist™ with a bottomless bag of one-liners who always wins!”
No, I wanted a real person. Is it so much to ask that female characters be as mentally tortured and wretched as the males?
I walked away with Empress by Karen Miller. One look at the hateful little girl on the cover and a glance at the synopsis and I was sold. Ornery little shits are one of my favorite types of protagonists, especially when they reside in horrible fantasy worlds full of violence and oppression.
And oh boy, does she! Hekat’s world is full of abusive fathers, slavers, harsh punishments for small slights, and a general apathy for human life. She starts out as an unwanted she-brat on her father’s shit hole desert farm and travels with the slavers who bought her down into the heart of the Mijak Empire through a changing landscape of awful.
I can dig it. I’m only 75 pages into a hefty 700 odd page tome and, judging by the arc in the synopsis and what I already know about Hekat’s world, things are only going to get worse. Woo! I mean, how pleasant can a culture possibly be if they worship a scorpion god and are ruled by various ravaging warlords?
I’m enjoying Miller’s use of Hekat’s POV. The character starts with a tiny world view based solely on what she knows of her little village on the fringe of a much larger world. She doesn’t have a great grasp on language, being the cast aside useless she-brat she is.
The language of Hekat’s dialogue as well as the framing of the narrative change and grow with Hekat as she’s exposed to more and more of the larger Empire of Mijak. I’m going on this journey of figuring out the world Miller has build with the character and while I’m thrilled about it, and curious, I’m also happy I’m safely on the outside of the book looking in. With plenty of water and a/c, and you know, not being sold into slavery.