Change of Pace

I need a break from new books.  But I couldn’t think what to reread.  And then I thought about how long it’s been since I sat down and read through a manga series.  The last time was Claymore, and the most I’ve done since then is catch up on Blue Exorcist.  So I figured I’d look to something else.

Today I read volumes 1-10 of Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan.  This is yet another shonen (boys manga) title from Viz as previewed in Shonen Jump.  The main character is Rikuo Nura, the grandson of the demon Nurarihyon who leads the Night Parade of 100 Demons.  Essentially a yokai (demon) yakuza (gang/mafia).  And Rikuo stands to inherit his position.  Or at least, he would if he wasn’t so human.

The first ten volumes take us from the introduction to this world to Rikuo’s acceptance of the fact that he is only three-quarters human to his quest to improve his skills that he can better protect his friends.  At this point, the end of volume ten, he’s just arrived in Kyoto.  As the former capital of the country, Kyoto’s been a focal point for yokai in the past as well.  And we’ve seen how, in this ancient city, Rikuo’s grandfather and grandmother first met and fell in love.

This is definitely a “tournament” manga, even if there’s no formal competition and everyone’s playing for keeps.  The enemies get successively stronger, requiring that Rikuo and his allies do the same as the story goes on.  However, it’s not just about combat.  There is a strong story of how Rikuo seeks to mold his world into one that has room for everyone and everything he values.

It’s also a manga that, for the first two thirds or so, I find myself envisioning and remembering the corresponding anime episodes as I go.  There are two seasons of Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan.  The first covers the initial arc and that of the 88 Demons of Shikoku.  The second season, Demon Capital, is the Kyoto story I’m currently in the middle of rereading.  This does mean that there should be (or should have been?) at least one more season for what happens after this concludes, but it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.  The anime is a good adaptation, remaining quite true to the manga it covers.  In fact, the biggest difference I can think of is during the Shikoku arc – the anime goes into more detail on defeating the Seven Phantom Travelers than the manga and it’s not a bad choice at all.  I’d skip the recap episodes though, those are just a waste of time.

Hopefully I’ll finish the rest of the series tomorrow.  If not, I’ll wrap up the last few volumes Monday.

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A Look Back

There was an introduction to Angelfire.  And I read it, as I read all things in my books, save glossaries and casts of characters.  I peruse those lists, but rarely read the whole thing through.  Anyway, in the introduction Marc Zicree says that Angelfire was written by Maya Kathryn Bohnhoff.  That Angelfire was written nigh simultaneously with Magic Time.  I didn’t pay much attention to this explanation at the time, being more interested in resuming the story.  This was a foolish decision.

Now I wonder if I should have read those words as an apology because, on reflection, they explain so very much.  Namely, why Angelfire sucks in comparison to Magic Time and Magic Time: Ghostlands.  Now, I’m not saying an author can’t write multiple books in a series at once.  In fact, such a choice can often make their life easier.  But it’s clear looking back that Bohnhoff did not have a good grasp on what was going into Magic Time.  Or she may just be an inferior author, particularly when compared to Barbara Hambly.  Or both.  It doesn’t really matter.  The point is that, because I didn’t stop to reread Magic Time, I allowed Angelfire to make me think the first book was less engaging than I had remembered.  This is not at all true.  There was just such a dip in quality that it had me questioning my memory.

Thankfully, Robert Charles Wilson, the coauthor of Magic Time: Ghostlands, has a great deal more skill.  And the final volume was everything I wanted from a thrilling climax.  We picked up characters from the first book who were “mysteriously” absent from the second, met new characters, and had a number of thrilling battles along the way.  Like the first book, Ghostlands returns to a third person narrative, instead of the first that Angelfire used.  (People, please don’t switch the type of narrative within your series!)  It also builds on everything we’ve seen and learned in the first two books, melding them together in new, yet logical, ways.  And, of course, secrets are revealed.

I love the underlying theme that the Change which has so altered our world is giving us the opportunity to be ourselves – our true selves, independent of the roles society attempts to force us into.  The characters are strongest when they trust their instincts, give in to their deepest selves, and ignore their doubts.  Now, we here may not be transforming into strange creatures or displaying unnatural abilities, but that doesn’t make this advice any less valuable for us.  They say that if you do what you love, it’s not a job.  People who are happy live longer.  Etc.

I still question why I found Magic Time in the horror section.  I think this is fantasy, or if you must subdivide, dystopia, and damned good stuff at that.  In fact, I personally could see these books shelved in the young adult section.  Aside from swearing and some hints at sex, they’re rather tame and thoroughly optimistic.  Not to mention much better (overall) than a lot of the books on those shelves.  I am glad that Barbara Hambly’s name caught my eye on the first volume, else I would never have read these books.

Interestingly enough, the three books are not marketed as a trilogy.  Given how many books try to sell themselves on that strength, it is a very interesting oversight.  As I mentioned, the story certainly qualifies as a trilogy in that it follows the same set of characters throughout, successively builds on its events, and comes to an overall conclusion.  Maybe if they’re reprinted the publisher will take advantage of those traits.

There’s still a number of books in my Pile as of yet, and I haven’t had any strong urges to reread one of the older books in the past few days.  On the other hand, I’ll admit that I’m still reflecting on Sabella by Tanith Lee and the absolutely amazing twist that I did not see coming.  So that may be blocking up my mind a bit.  In the mean time, I have more reorganizing to do.  I had moved my Hambly to the opposite wall where more of the fantasy lives, and obviously Zicree has to be next to her so that Magic Time can be in both sets of books.  (This same arrangement sees David Weber next to the Bolo series, for example.)  But, because I have a lot more fantasy books than science fiction, this means I have some reorganizing to do in order to fit Ghostlands in.  So I’m off to do that while I can still keep my eyes open.

Lukewarm

I honestly did not expect to be writing this blog post tonight.  The book isn’t as long as The Madness Season, true, but it’s still longer than I can guarantee I’ll finish in a single day.  But, here we are.  Today I read Magic Time: Angelfire, this time written by Marc Scott Zicree and Maya Kaathryn Bonhoff.  It seems that Zicree wrote each book with a different person which is an unusual choice, particularly for someone I had never heard of before.  It makes sense to have a separate coauthor for each book in series like Anne McCaffrey’s Planet Pirates or C.J. Cherryh’s The Sword of Knowledge. In both of those cases, the more experienced and famous author works with three up-and-coming writers to give them exposure and practice.  That’s not the case here, but I really can’t figure what the idea was anyway.

I probably should have reread Magic Time first.  There are details in the first book that I needed to recall and I didn’t.  I knew it was a risk when I picked Angelfire out of the pile because Magic Time wasn’t nearly as clear in my mind as it could’ve been. But, while I was interested enough to find the other two volumes, I just couldn’t drum up the interest to reread the first book at this time.  It’s easy to see that while these books aren’t bad, they’re nowhere near the level of what I’ve been reading recently.

Angelfire sees our party of heroes continuing their journey towards the Source, which we continue to presume is located in the Badlands of South Dakota.  The group still consists of Cal Griffin, the leader, Herman Goldman, the crazy Jewish seer/wizard/lunatic, Doc (yes, he’s a real doctor), and Colleen.  And the ultimate destination of this particular book is Chicago, which of course perked my interest.  Especially once they made it into Illinois and discovered that the Fox River is a rather terrifying expanse now.  This strikes home in a few ways, given the major flooding in the region earlier this year.  I think the Fox crested a good six feet or more over its flood level?

Of course, this also led to one of those moments where I get some serious nerd rage.  You see, crossing the Fox River they took route 14.  County Route 14, the book says.  Well, I hate to break it to you, but that is a state route.  Not a county route.  Illinois county routes have weirder numbers, like A39 and V14.  I’m sorry, but I have to point  out a major error that anyone from around here would know.  It’s like the movie Mean Girls, which I think was based on New Trier High School?  There’s a scene in the movie where they go to the mall, and they call it Old Orchard.  This is a crime, as anyone from the area knows.  The mall in the movie is clearly Woodfield instead.  How do we know?  Simple.  Old Orchard is an outdoor mall.  Woodfield, like the mall shown in the movie, is an indoor mall.  Nobody cares that New Trier is closer to Old Orchard.  If you’re not going to show an outdoor mall, don’t call it by the name of one!

Anyway.  Our heroes journey ever onwards, growing and learning as they go.  We’ve been aware that not all of them are mundane humans anymore, but Angelfire makes it perfectly clear that there’s only one mundane in the group.  Which is interesting, as there’s one very obvious non-mundane, one somewhat obvious, and one that I don’t think has been shown with any abilities or changes whatsoever.  Because that wasn’t fleshed out in this book, I suspect it will come into play more in the next.  Or perhaps there’s already been signs but nothing overt or spelled out to the reader.

It’s not easy to remember a lot about Magic Time, but I think I’ve had a similar reaction to Angelfire.  Both books contain interesting things, but I feel like there’s a fair bit of tedium, of standing around and talking when we could be reading something more interesting.  I was counting down the pages as I drew closer to the end tonight, which is not a great sign.  I guess I feel like…the authors spend a lot of time on things that are less important and then the climax felt somewhat rushed.  Or maybe I was rushing through it, trying to finish.  Or maybe it just wasn’t as engaging as I want a climax to be.  Regardless, I’m still fairly lukewarm on these books.  On the warmer side of luke, sure, but nowhere near hot.

But there’s still one more book to go and as it’s the last one, it should be more rewarding than the other two.  Theoretically.  We’ll see how this goes.

Short’s Not Bad

One day, my mom bought me a book.  Yes, I’m starting yet another blog post this way.

The book was Gold Unicorn by Tanith Lee and I read it.  I also found Black Unicorn and Red Unicorn and read those too.  But I no longer own any of them.  They weren’t particularly long books as I recall – I was reading Brian Jacques at that time and those were far longer.  But Tanith Lee’s writing style required more maturity and understanding than I possessed at that age.  I finished the books knowing they were…something.  But I didn’t understand them and so I decided I didn’t like them.  Even now, I can’t recall more than a few scattered impressions from any of the three, and possess no accurate memory of how I truly felt.  All I can say for certain is that I was too young to be reading them.

However, Tanith Lee has popped up in anthologies now and again and I’ve enjoyed those stories.  Because I didn’t start reading anthologies until I was older, there was less of a disconnect than I’d had with the unicorn books.  And so when I was browsing in the Gallery recently, I decided that it was time and past to give her another chance.  It wasn’t her fault I’d been too young.

Of the three books I picked up, I chose to go with Sabella or The Blood Stone, continuing the science fiction theme I’ve been going with lately.  (Of course it turns out that this wasn’t the only continuing concept…but that’s all I’ll say about that.  No spoilers here if I can avoid it!)  It’s an old DAW yellow spine book from 1980, only about 150 pages long.  And yet…does it really need to be longer?  A lot of books today are filled with seemingly endless prose and description, often taken to an unnecessary extreme that just clutters up the novel with details that simply aren’t essential.  I won’t say that there aren’t books that justify their length – there most definitely are – but some people think that “length” equals “quality” which is not at all true.

Sabella is the story of a vampire.  On a distant planet known as Novo Mars, or New Mars, she lives quietly as she must, until her aunt dies and Sabella is invited to the funeral.  If not for this single event, she might have lived in the boonies quietly for the rest of her life.  But, of course, that would not be nearly as interesting to read.  The resultant adventures cause Sabella to step beyond the comfort zone she’s known her entire life and allow her to understand who and what she truly is.  I’ll admit, I did not see that twist coming, but I definitely approve.

The book is divided into three parts, each with a different focus.  In the first, we see Sabella as she has seen herself for years: calm, confident, and dangerous.  Here I saw this book as a fairly normal product of a female science fiction writer, showing a strong, independent woman.  In the second, we see her shaken, tormented and driven.  This section bothered me a great deal after the first, because of Sabella’s male torturer completely overpowering her, despite what we know from the first third.  Here I was prepared to be ultimately disappointed in the book.  In the last, she is running from everything, and trying desperately to find some kernel of faith or salvation with which to repair her mind and soul.  And this is where Tanith Lee took the first two thirds of her book and showed the readers how they are merely two halves of a whole, and the third portion shows that there are no seams between them, that they are two halves of a single coin.  This is when I understood why the book was in a plastic cover, and not just for being a first edition mass market paperback.

For all the trouble I had with the middle segment, I ended up not only pleased with Sabella but also awed by the power I felt in it.  Because I reread a lot and because a lot of the books I read can be fluff, I don’t have strong reactions to most of the books I read.  This of course makes me pay more attention to the books I do feel something for.  And I’m not talking about when I want to shout at the characters or laugh or anything like that.  I’m just talking about that moment when you finish a book, close it, and pause for a moment.  Sometimes all I can do in that moment is sit and say “wow.”  Sabella gave me one of those moments.

It also drove me to go reread the last thirty pages or so and look up a scene from the second section to doublecheck my memory.  The former happens in two situations: either because the climax is not totally clear and I need to reread it to figure out how exactly things resolved the way they did, or because that was so amazing and transcendant that I simply have to relive it again.  The latter tends to happen only in books I’m enjoying; I don’t need to go reread a foreshadowing moment if I just want to finish this thing and get to something better.

When I was looking Sabella or The Blood Stone up on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (it’s much easier to add to my personal database if I have the ISBN number), I happened to notice that there is is a sequel.  Or possibly just another book in that world, I’m not going to spoil for myself which it is.  But I will definitely keep an eye out for it.

To finish up tonight’s post, I will mention that isfdb.org is a great resource when it comes to looking up a lot of the older works I read.  It may not have the short summaries you can find on some authors’ wikipedia bibliographies, but it will have everything they’ve written (which led to a lot of scrolling for Tanith Lee – the woman wrote a massive pile of short fiction).  Not only that, but each book has a page that lists its entire publication history.  And those are just the easy things I use the site for.  Mad props to the people who maintain and update the site so that anyone who wants to can use it.

Mad Musings

When I sit back after finishing a reread of The Madness Season, my first reflection is always “wow, that was twisted.”  Which is not actually the case for most of the book.  It’s only the end where we see what can be called twisted.  The majority of the story is a fairly straightforward hero’s journey of discovery and courage.

Daetrin Ungashak To-Alym Haal was very carefully minding his own business on a Subjugated Earth when the Honn-Tyr come for him.  These near-silent warriors bring him to the Kuol-Tyr that serves as planetary governor and he is taken from his homeworld, never to be allowed to return.  The Tyr found evidence to suspect him, but even they cannot begin to understand just what it is they’ve found…because Daetrin has been concealing his true nature, even from himself, for years.

But that name.  That’s not actually a name, and it’s just one example of how thoroughly the human race was defeated by the Tyr.  Daetrin’s name is actually just a number in an alien language, fully as demeaning as a Holocaust survivor’s tattoo.  Not a lot of time is spent dwelling on that fact, certainly not drawing that actual comparison, but it does explain the careful emphasis by those humans who bear actual human names.  By using real names, they declare themselves to be individuals, people, and more than just census entries for their overlords.  Really, given the amount of action and creative thought C.S. Friedman put into this book, she doesn’t spend a lot of time examining what the Subjugation has done to humanity as a whole.  Yes, the docile humans are boring and not worth wasting space on, but I think perhaps a little more detail could have helped.

On an unrelated note, I’m always inteterested to note what books or stories come to mind as I read.  Sometimes it’s more logical, that I might read one of Orson Scott Card’s prequel books about the First Formic War, which starts off in a family spaceship in the outer solar system, and compare what I find there to the merchanter ships in C.J. Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe.  Other times it’s the similarities in story, such as the ones which prompted me to follow Out of the Dark with The Madness Season.  Then there’s comparisons which are less about content and more about tone and feel.

So I’ve been thinking about “The Only Death in the City” from C.J. Cherryh’s Sunfall.  Eventually our sun will begin its shift into a red giant, and by that time one hopes that most of humanity will have moved to other worlds.  But, humans being humans, there are those who will refuse to leave the homeworld and remain behind.  And they’ll live in the same cities that exist today.  “The Only Death in the City” is a tale of Paris in that far-flung future.  It’s the first story in the collection and is probably the strongest and most memorable.  One of these days I’ll reread the book and give a more thorough breakdown, but I assure you this is one powerful short story.  (Also I have discovered that I am not a huge fan of C.J. Cherryh’s short fiction overall.  Sunfall works because there is an overall concept behind the collection, even though each individual story has no connection to any of the others.)  My point here is that both The Madness Season and “The Only Death in the City” are stories I find particularly powerful and poignant, and very very good reads.

At this point, I could read more science fiction.  I don’t think I’m quite ready to dive back into pure fantasy, but I have some older books in my Pile that would be classed as science fiction simply because fantasy was not yet a separate genre.  Or I could continue rereading science fiction.  There’s another book by David Weber that’s popped into my mind a few times recently, but it’s also much longer and I’m not sure I’m ready to reread something that…intense.  It’s a good book, but I think I want to avoid military books for the moment.  The Madness Season involves war, yes, but not to the extent and amount of detail Weber considers sufficient.

Ugh, this book is so good.  How else would I have read almost five hundred pages in a single day and why else would I stay up later than I should writing this post?

Why Isn’t This a Movie?

I complain about how divided genres have become over the years, and yet, when presented with a book that not only contains but relies upon elements of multiple genres, I have an immediate negative reaction.  Well, okay, I was only super pissed off the first time I read it and had no idea what was coming, but my point still stands.

Out of the Dark by Davd Weber is science fiction.  But it has other elements and I will admit that they are foreshadowed.  I just didn’t even consider them the first time I read the book because they weren’t at all in line with what I expected.  So that’s my fault more than the book’s.

This story, published in 2010, is a relatively straightforward alien invasion book.  In fact, it could easily be made into a fairly standard action movie and I would pay money to see it.  An alien race known as the Shongairi has decided that our planet would be perfect for colonization – not only is it livable, but it comes with a labor force!  However, it seems they have no real understanding of just how advanced and innovative a species humans can be.  Their psychology is very different from ours – we never give up, never surrender.  They…do.  And give us an inch and we’ll take a mile.

In Orson Scott Card’s Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus it’s theorized that the European invasion of the Americas could have been absolutely disastrous for the seafarers.  Card goes into some detail about how the natives only needed to have a certain level of understanding concerning smithing and metals to be able to properly analyze the European firearms.  Once that was achieved it would be easy for them to make life a living hell for the Europeans.

Weber’s scenario is fairly similar.  The Shongair may be more advanced overall than humans, but the gap is small enough that it can be breached.  More to the point, humans with our refusal to create a single world government have spent an inordinate amount of time developing weapons and defenses to function at the bottom of a gravity well.  The Shongairi fleet may still be able to drop rocks in kinetic strikes, but if they want the planet intact they need to get down on the ground.

It’s a “feel-good” military underdog story where we get to root for humanity against the invading alien race.  Sure, it’s easy to see that Weber is more informed about weaponry than most people and that he’s probably a bit to the right politically, but it doesn’t get in the way of his story or my enjoyment of said novel.

Now, Out of the Dark is originally based on a shorter work that appeared in the anthology Warriors, edited by Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin.  In most cases where a shorter piece has been expanded into a full-length novel, I seem to find the latter first and always prefer it, this being no exception.  My impression, as I recall from browsing that blog post, was that the big plot twist might have been less surprising if I read the novella first.  We’ll never know, of course, but save for that possibility I find the book to be much a much better read.

THE REST OF THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
So let’s talk about the big twist.  The aliens have been getting hammered, they’ve decided it isn’t worth it to make humans into a client race and they’re about to release a bioweapon to kill us all.  And the day is saved by Vlad Dracula and a (small) army of vampires.

I kid you not.  This work of military science fiction has vampires.  And the clues are there for anyone who’s paying attention and not averse to realizing that there are no rules keeping vampires out of sci-fi.  Stephen Buchevsky (one of the four main characters) is stranded somewhere in Romania after the plane carrying him runs out of fuel.  He meets up with a man calling himself Mircea Basarab who leads a small but dedicated force – all of whom are woodsman so skilled they aren’t heard and leave no trace of their passage behind.  Basarab decides to make a point to the Shongairi after a battle and has his men impale the alien bodies on stakes.  He even mentions that when he was younger, he would have preferred to have staked them alive.

Again, I probably only have myself to blame for the fact that the vampires thing took me by complete surprise.  Mircea brings up Vlad the Impaler and Wallachia at least three times before the big reveal, and the rule of thumb is to repeat something three times if you want to make sure your audience remembers it.

This twist absolutely pissed me off the first time I encountered it.  It was out of left field, it had no place in science fiction, it was a deus ex machina, etc.  As I reflect on it now, it doesn’t piss me off nearly as much as The Wonder did.  You may recall that was the first Book of the Month Club selection I received and I hadn’t been so infuriated by a novel since I had to read A Prayer for Owen Meany in school.  I deliberately left The Wonder at my parents’ house, thinking my mom might find more to like in it than I did.  Spoiler: she didn’t.  I guess she was under the impression that 1. I thought she’d like it and 2. that I’d want it back when she finished.  Both of those assumptions were dead wrong.

After discussing The Wonder with her, I think we’ve both come to the agreement that the book itself is not especially good.  That the plot could have used more tweaking and some more clues as to where it was going.  My mom’s impression is that the last chapter just grabbed the wheel and veered everything abruptly to a place that couldn’t really have been predicted.  Both of us pretty much finished the book with a kind of trainwreck syndrome where we just had to see how it ended even though we weren’t enjoying ourselves at all.

In contrast, I do like reading Out of the Dark.  I don’t regret the money I spent on it (and I own a hardcover copy!) and I reread it periodically.  Given the subject matter and how close to home some of it still is, I think about it and refer to it fairly often as compared to other books.  David Weber is a talented author, even if he’s a bit more militarily inclined than I need.  In fact, all of the work I’ve enjoyed from him has been military sci-fi or fantasy.  (Yes, the man writes actual fantasy too, and it’s great stuff.)

I’ll just never get over the whole “surprise! vampires!” thing.

Not as Corny as TV

One thing I hadn’t done in a while was go to a comic shop and pick up new issues of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Go Go Power Rangers.  I’d been thinking about it for a week or so now, and today seemed like a perfect day to do so.  I found MMPR #18 and GGPR #2-3, which was rather nice.  So, I started with the more established series, backing up to issue 17 to refresh my memory.

With Rita a no-show and Zordon unreachable for the moment, the rangers have turned their attention to the vagaries of the human world, helping save people from accidents and natural disasters.  They haven’t stepped in to wars or anything political at this time, but they’re more than busy enough as is.  After an earthquake in Dubai, they run into Grace Sterling, who asks them to investigate a missing plane her company had sent out.

I do not trust Ms. Grace Sterling.  The way she’s been shown thus far makes it clear she has an agenda of her own, and I wonder if she’s the Power Rangers universe equivalent of DC’s Amanda Waller.  For those unfamiliar, Waller is the brains behind Project Cadmus which is a counterterorrist organization of the US government that will sink to any level they feel necessary to deal with threats.  She’s the one behind the Suicide Squad, illegal clones, and so much more.  She could be an ally to the Justice League…sometimes.  Sometimes she was their most dire foe.  And there was no predicting when she’d turn and stab them in the back.

Grace Sterling, however, I’d bet on being worse in some ways.  She appears to be a private citizen, a business owner.  Meaning that one of her key motivations is likely money.  Regardless, I see her as a villain even though there’s no real indications yet as to what she’ll be to the rangers.

Then back over to Go Go Power Rangers which, as a reminder, is about the early days of the team, when being a power ranger was still new and different and there were only five of them.  The teens are just beginning to learn how to balance their social lives (or lack thereof) with their new responsibilities, including how to lie to their parents about just what they’re doing when they vanish for hours on end.

And then there’s Kim’s boyfriend.  It’s been foreshadowed that something happens that causes them to break up and by the end of issue 3, we’re getting close to see that happen.  But nothing confirmed yet.  One thing that can be somewhat annoying is that the story keeps alternating between three months ago and the present (for this series, not MMPR).  It makes sense, but it’s also, as I said, annoying because they switch so often in a single issue.  The frequency is probably exacerbated by the fact that I literally just read issues 1-3, which doesn’t help.

Both series have solid storytelling and I think that someone there actually deals with teenagers because the dialogue doesn’t read as phony or odd most of the time.  And when it does sound weird, that’s probably just Billy being far too intelligent and eloquent for his own good.

What I do find intersting, storywise, is that it seems before there were power rangers, the group of friends was Jason, Zach, Billy, Trini, and Matthew.  Kim, as Matt’s girlfriend, was the outsider.  Which makes me wonder if that becomes part of her attraction to Tommy later, since she too was originally from outside the group…  It’s a theory that I’ll probably never get a solid answer to, but it’s something to ponder.

One nice thing in this series is that we see Rita latching on to the fact that she’s heard what all the rangers’ given names are.  It would be nice to see stories where Rita actually proves why their identities must be kept secret.  I remember the TV show did a little with that, but it usually ended up being stupid filler of some kind.  Obviously by the time MMPR has come around Rita’s given up on that tactic as a way to get rid of the rangers, but it still pops up now and then, such as when Scorpina appeared in Tommy’s house and threatened his family if he didn’t comply.  I hope we’ll see some more original takes on the concept in this series.

I think I still want to read more science fiction, but there’s not much of it in my Pile.  So it must be time to peruse my library.

Orientation vs Plot

I always like to read something while I eat, at least, if I’m eating alone.  But when I was browsing last night I didn’t really see anything that stuck out as what I should read next.  Still, I wanted something for breakfast and it just so happened that there was one rather skinny book in the Pile.  The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part One.  I picked it up in a comic shop a while back and for some reason just…wasn’t inclined to start reading it until now.  For all I know, the second might be out already, that’s how little attention I’ve paid.

So at the end of the animated series when Korra and Asami walked through the spirit portal together, I was one of those people who didn’t read anything into it.  I found out later that this was a statement of sexual orientation.  Now, I personally don’t remember a lot of buildup to this, though I admit I might have glossed over while watching the series.  Regardless, I didn’t care much either way.

Turf Wars picks up right where the series left off and if anyone was unsure about the writers’ intent with that ending, the book makes it very clear.  Korra and Asami are most definitely a couple.  In fact, I would say their relationship and deciding who to tell what is the main plot of this volume.  Other stuff is happening in the background (the turf wars of the title) and things are far from happy and peaceful, but the focus is most definitely on the two women.

For me personally, I kind of wonder if they’re not making too big a deal over sexual orientation.  I suppose that it’s not often you have something as popular as this with openly nonheterosexual characters.  I also suppose that, given the target audience, it’s totally reasonable for this to be more important than politics and human rights issues – teenagers do tend to be more self-centered.  My philosophy tends to be “do what works for you, just don’t ask me to be part of it and can we please get on to the actual plot?”

Admittedly, I foresee someone using Korra’s relationship with Asami as a reason to discount and discredit them in upcoming books, which could be interesting.  I just feel like half of this book, which is only about 75 pages, is about this relationship.  And I have to wonder if the Asian cultures the world of Avatar is based on are just as sexually repressed as American culture or if this is due to the American perspectives of the authors.  The more I read, the more I get the impression that my country in particular is unusually socially restrictive about relationships in comparison to most.  I can’t know for certain, of course, but that’s how it seems.  Which means that a lot of American media makes a bigger deal about non-heteronormative orientations than is really necessary.

This also means that I feel I’ve written far too much on a topic that shouldn’t be as big a focus as it is.  Believe me, I understand the shit and prejudice going down in the world and this country.  I deal with erasure each and every day.  I see the need to destroy the preconceived notions that only cisgender men and cisgender women in heterosexual relationships should exist.  It’s wonderful to open up the world to the spectrum that is all people.  But, book, you are preaching to the choir and I bought this for a story that is not all teen romance, drama, and angst.

By Any Other Name

Some months back I learned that one of the authors I’ve read for close to two decades had a pseudonym used for science fiction.  Logically enough, I dropped the first book in the series on my amazon wishlist and didn’t think about it very much until things worked out for it to end up in my Pile.

This was Harmony by C.F. Bentley, AKA Irene Radford.  And I really have to wonder why she felt the need to write under another name.  Yes, most of her books are fantasy.  But even though magic plays a powerful role in the Stargods trilogy, that doesn’t make those books in particular any less science fiction.  I mean, we start with the O’Hara brothers on the run in their spaceship and they go through a wild jump point to land on a previously lost colony, which just happens to be a planet where dragons live.

Now, Harmony doesn’t have nearly as many fantastic elements as the Stargods (again, those are the most science fiction of the Coronnan books – the rest of the series is quite firmly fantasy).  However, there are still aspects in Harmony that are best described as magic, even though no one actually believes in it as such.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Jake is a spacer who has hit a dead end.  He’s in the Confederated Star Systems military, or would be if not for that major disaster he just caused, and has been forced into the role of spy to avoid court-martial, among other things.  His mission to the planet Harmony might just be what he needs to turn his life around.

Then there’s Sissy.  She’s a member of the Worker caste on Harmony, an engineer of no little skill.  But when a massive earthquake strikes the capital, she reaches out to the planet and manages to quell the faultlines and tensions.  And she’s no ordinary Worker, it turns out, but possibly the salvation of the planet and its six colonies.  If she lives so long.

Do you smell a romance?  Because these lovers are star-crossed in more ways than they can realize for most of the book.  But even being asexual I’m still cheering for them because I’m caught up in the story as a whole, and seeing the logical progression of their relationship.  I honestly squeed a little when I saw the preview of Enigma at the back of the book, as I had only vaguely remembered that there were more books in the series.  And no, I haven’t read the preview.  I don’t need to whet my appetite further, just to look into getting the other two books sooner rather than later.

I definitely enjoyed myself with Harmony.  I picked it because I needed a break from fantasy and wanted sci-fi for a change of pace.  Of the few books in my Pile that qualified, this was the one that most attracted me the other night, and I am glad of it.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I regret not getting to it sooner, but I’m happy I didn’t wait any longer to expose myself.

Of course, my Irene Radford books are in the middle of a shelf, which means I should go make room and do the reorganizing necessary to see that C.F. Bentley sticks with everything else from the same woman.  I really don’t see why she thought a pseudonym was necessary – as far as I’m concerned, it just means that it took the better part of ten years for me to find out these books existed.

Not a Trilogy

One of my finds from The Gallery is a book that I’ve been strangely reluctant concerning.  Not only to read it, but to even pick it up.  Part of that may be the cover art which is quite detailed but also a bit…odd…but I don’t have any other good excuse.  And when I say I’ve been reluctant to even pick this up, I mean that I first heard of this series years ago and never once cared to even look up the name of a single book.

I should backtrack.  Today I finished Shadows over Lyra by Patricia C. Wrede.  This is an omnibus from 1997 containing Shadow MagicDaughter of Witches, and The Harp of Imach Thyssel.  The books themselves are from 1982, 1983, and 1985 respectively.  None of these dates are surprising because I felt, the whole time I was reading, that this is an older mode of story from what I am accustomed to.  Really, I checked years to compare and contrast with the Enchanted Forest Chronicles.  (Chronological books 1-3 there are from the early nineties, Talking to Dragons was also published in 1985.)  But beyond author, dates, and fantasy there aren’t many similarities between the two series.  The Enchanted Forest is meant to be comedic, and Lyra is…not.

On the cover it says “Three tales of the fabulous land of Lyra,” a phrase I questioned several times before and while reading.  However, as I finished Daughter of Witches and began The Harp of Imach Thyssel I began to understand the truth of those words.  Just because this is an ominibus of three books does not at all make it a trilogy.  Instead it is exactly what it claims to be: a set of three books that take place in the same world.  (I am not completely certain if Lyra is the name of the world, the continent, or both.)  For a good day and a half I kept expecting the sucessive books to build upon each other, to up the stakes, to take the reader deeper into their world.  I guess I did get that, but not in the way I have been conditioned to expect.

When presented with a trilogy, duology, quartet, etc., the expectation is that the books can be read as a single long and epic story following one or more characters.  The events of the first book form the foundation for the rest and as the series progresses circumstances and situations pile on top until the climax is reached.  This is not what is contained in Shadows Over Lyra.

Instead, the reader is presented with three separate books, the stories of three separate sets of characters who have nothing to do with the protagonists of any other book.  The novels are presented in chronological order, which is evidenced by asides to events of the past two or four years, depending on which book it is.  There is no sense from book to book of a growing threat, merely the threat of the book.  Admittedly, the enemies in each volume are variations on a theme, all being part of the same group, though each is working independently, much like the books themselves.

What is interesting is that each book dives deeper into the past and foundations of Lyra.  Shadow Magic looks at the country of Alkyra and how it was once unified but now is on the verge of total collapse.  Much of the book reflects on events five hundred years previous.  Then in Daughter of Witches a new element of history is brought up – the existence of the Third Moon, which ceased to hang in the sky about three and a half thousand years prior to the first unification of Alkyra.  However, much less is known about the Third Moon, at least in this book, so it’s mostly “this was a thing.  That’s all we know.”

In The Harp of Imach Thyssel the Third Moon is talked about in much greater detail and the reader gets to learn even more about the ancient history of Lyra.  However even this I didn’t find completely satisfying as I had theories but no confirmation or denial.  But, to my great delight, Shadows Over Lyra also includes “Perspectives on Early Lyran History: A Monograph” which explalins everything I wanted to know.  Perhaps not in complete depth, but more than enough detail to satisfy my curiosity.  Following that informative piece is a “Timeline of Lyran History” which, among other things, clearly denotes when each book in the series takes place.  This makes it clear that my Lyran collection is short the first two books (chronologically): Caught in Crystal and The Raven Ring.  Obviously I’ll have to keep an eye out for those now.

I enjoyed Shadows Over Lyra in the end, and I feel somewhat bad for having put it off so many years.  It’s a series that I definitely need to keep an open mind about whilst reading because it is not the intricately intertwined narrative I usually read, and shouldn’t be judged for what it isn’t.  For some of Wrede’s older books, I actually enjoyed reading these more than Talking to Dragons which I tend to find stiff and rushed.  However, these books share a “fairy tale logic” with that one – that is to say that things happen or people have abilities and they are never truly explained.  Kind of like when we were translating an excerpt from Jason and the Argonauts in Latin and we discovered two of the crew “were equipped with wings.”  Nothing had previously mentioned winged people, so no one had any idea we should expect these two to fly around and scout.

For the record, I did finally do that partial reorganization of my library after finishing Bedlam Boyz.  I still don’t know if I’m completely satisfied with it, but I haven’t the inclination to change it again so soon.