Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Every ten years, a local wizard, Dragon, takes a seventeen-year-old girl (the most special girl from that age class), and keeps her for ten years. He releases her with a good amount of silver, and usually, the girl stays in her home village for only a short while before going to a larger city. The villagers give girls to Dragon, as he is the only one who is able to keep the influence of a nearby forest in check. The forest is evil, and everything that comes from there is corrupted and changed. Even pollen brought by wind causes plants to bear fruits that are deadly dangerous.
Agnieszka will be among the girls Dragon chooses as his companion. She might be selected. She and her parents aren’t very afraid, though. She is pretty plain and extremely clumsy, always with a dirty face and torn hem. Her best friend, Kasia, is the most beautiful and smart girl in the village, with wonderful grace, and everyone is sure that she will be the one picked. To everyone’s surprise, Dragon picks Agnieszka. Life in the castle seems pretty grim at first, but it turns out that Agnieszka is a witch who wasn’t aware of her abilities. Dragon tries to teach her, but with poor results, as she doesn’t seem to really grasp the kind of magic Dragon uses. But there might be other styles of magic…
A pretty good book, especially the beginning. The later parts, with more action, weren’t as good, but this was a very worthy and enjoyable book with a very interesting take on magic. The writing was also top-notch. And what was especially nice was that this book told a story. There might be other adventures for Agnieszka, but this story was finished pretty completely and satisfyingly. You don’t always need a trilogy with four parts and 5,000 pages to tell a fantasy tale. This will probably place pretty highly on my voting list.

438 pp.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Astounding Science Fiction, August 1958

A serial takes a lot of space, and there is room for only three stories.

They've Been Working On ... • shortstory by Anton Lee Baker

A train car is facing the wrong way and it cannot be unloaded. A computerized system tries to find a way to solve the problem causing cascading effects; an overlong, stupid, and boring story. **
Cargo for Colony 6 • [The War with the Outs • 7] • novelette by Christopher Anvil
A human world is invaded. A single ship with high-level automation and only few men as a crew is sent with super-secret cargo to help defeat the invasion. The crew notices that the cargo is some sort of new, very powerful space-drive. They meet the hostile aliens, who lead them to believe that a huge fleet is coming just behind them; then they have some mechanical trouble and land on a primitive planet to repair it, have interactions with the natives there, and ultimately manage to bluff the alien invaders. This is a horribly loose story with some strange unneeded and illogical twists. **-
Point of Focus • shortstory by Robert Silverberg
A galactic federation lands on a newly discovered planet of chlorine breathers. They are going to invite them to be members of their grand commonwealth. They are surprised and irritated when they find that the only species ever to say no to the empire already has a base on the planet. The humans have already corrupted the chlorine breathers and they are very suspicious about the federation. Why are humans so against galactic co-operation? This story very much follows the paradigm of Astounding Science Fiction magazine from the fifties: humans are _special_. In spite of that, it is easily the most readable and best written story in this issue. ***½

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth) by N. K. Jemisin

This is the second Hugo nominee I have read this year.
The book takes place (at least apparently) in fairly far-in-the-future Earth, where seismic activity is much more powerful than today. There are periods of catastrophes, “seasons” which happen about every few centuries, when practically everything is destroyed and only the most prepared (and ruthless) communities survive. But a few people have an innate ability to control the Earth, quell earthquakes and even tame developing volcanoes. As they may be very dangerous, all “orogenes” (or “roggas”) are taken to a special school and controlled very carefully by “guardians,” who have an ability to negate their powers. Most communes fear and hate the roggas, and if the guardians don’t find the gifted children, they often are killed by locals. (Often the children have by that time accidentally caused some deaths with powers they can’t yet really control).

In the beginning, the book follows three apparently separate plot lines. Pretty soon it starts to seem fairly obvious how the plots connect--and they do eventually connect with each other just the way I was thinking they would.

In one plot line, a young girl is found to be an orogene, and she is picked up to be taken to the special school.

In another, an older woman with several children runs away from a country town to find her child, who has been captured, and a season seems to be bringing chaos everywhere.

In the third one, a young woman with fairly good orogeny skills is paired with an extremely powerful, slightly older man with apparently the best skills anyone has ever had. They are supposed to get children--children with their powers, even if neither of them is very keen on that idea.

The writing was very good and the converging plot lines were fascinating and interesting and even exciting. The characters were well drawn and engaging, as was the world with relics left behind by past, destroyed, civilizations. The way orogones “communicated” with Earth and geological layers was also well described and novel. This is one of the better books I have read in some time, and it certainly will be pretty high on my voting list. There is one fascinating detail: the book might by chance have an accidental connection with another of this year’s Hugo nominees...

449 pp.

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

This is the first of the Hugo nominees I have read this year. It is the concluding part of the trilogy, of which the former parts have also been nominees - and the first part won practically all genre awards that existed. This book continues the story, where an authoritative ruler of local area of space (whose mind has been uploaded to several ”ancillaries” for centuries) has “fractured” and is fighting a kind of civil war against herself. The emphasis of this book is on the ship minds, powerful AIs, who control spaceships and space stations. They have been considered just as machines without real self-awareness, but it turns out that they are capable beings with agendas of their own - or at least agendas which aren’t the same as the dictator's. A refreshingly alien race has sent a new representative, or “translator”, who looks human, but whose behavior is probably closer to that of the aliens. The aliens will keep up their agreement with humans only if humans will keep their part of the agreement, and the aliens think that humans are worth being taken seriously. The ongoing civil war threatens this balance and might cause serious consequences.
The book was pretty good, but probably not as good as the second part of the series. The first quarter was pretty slow with endless discussions, mostly while drinking tea; if discussions didn’t happen while tea drinking, the subject of the discussions was the planning of having a cup of tea. The alien translator was by far the most interesting character, and I would have loved to read more about her (the word “she” is used for everyone in this book). Now she was more of a side character. A good book, but it won’t probably be my first choice in the voting.

330 pp.

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