Exile’s Song – Marion Zimmer Bradley

917a6495bf373a5596750376e41434f414f4141This was the book that well and truly got me into the Darkover series, which is somewhat ironic, as she didn’t write all or most of it. (I’m not able to find the exact details around this – the trilogy it’s a part of was started around the time of her death, so was in some measure written by Adrienne Martine-Barnes.   I assume the final book at the least was not Bradley at all.) I was in a sci-fi based book club in college, and had forgotten to send the monthly slip back in, so this book arrived. I had read some of the short story books before this, but something about this book hooked me in. I’ve since collected all of them, which was an interesting adventure in the early days of Ebay.

Margaret Alton is the daughter of Senator Lew Alton from Darkover, but they left that planet when she was very young, and she remembers little about it. She’s also grown distant from her father, and has not seen him since leaving for University. Since then, she’s become a scholar in her own right, accompanying her mentor, a renowned musicologist, to a number of worlds. And that is what brings her back to Darkover.

I think that’s what I liked about this book, as Margaret has to discover her home again, so it’s a reintroduction for the reader as well. (It also represent a tonal shift in the books – the series was written over a great span of years, so the style, times, and themes vary wildly. This is the first of the post-Bradley era style.) She’s basically an heiress, which she had no idea was the case, and she also is not aware of the planet’s people’s telepathic abilities (for reasons that become a major plot point.) It’s a good introduction to the series, if someone is looking for a way in.

Impossible Things – Connie Willis

c0809e025b55007597767325367434f414f4141This book of short stories is a fun sampling of Willis’ work.

Some of my favorites are: “Even the Queen”, a great send up to women’s lib. Who knew talking about your period could be so funny? “Jack” was a great story about how WWII in London let some people rise above anything they might have accomplished if there had been no war, with an interesting twist. And “Winter’s Tale” was a purely historical fiction tale,with a very interesting take on a very old mystery.

This is only my second foray into Willis’ work – I definitely need to read more.

Shades of Grey – Jasper Fforde

e12d7193b31891c59316e385967434f414f4141So some sort of unnamed thing happened, and the world has evolved into a society where everyone fits according to their abilities at color perception. Eddie Russet is on his way to the outer fringes, where his father has been tapped to replace the local swatchman (doctor, more or less), who recently died. Eddie’s just shy of his twentieth birthday, so hasn’t been rated yet, but he thinks his red perception is enough that he’ll be able to comfortably marry up spectrum.

It’s really hard to describe this book, because so much of it hangs on the world that Fforde’s created, which is rich, and complicated, and totally absurd, all at the same time. It’s mostly about Eddie discovering more than most people know about the Colortocracy, which sets up the possibility for some more stories down the line, as that’s explored more. This is very much a beginning book, one that shows a lot of promise.

Falling Free- Lois McMaster Bujold

61csft7tdmlThis story takes place in the Vorkosigan universe, but takes place about two hundred years before Miles is born. It’s the story of the development of the Quaddies – genetically engineered humans with a second set of hands instead of feet, bred to live and thrive in zero gravity.

It’s very much a cautionary tale of genetic engineering – the Quaddies are a project within a gigantic galatic corporation, and when they’re made obsolete by new technology, the fact that they are a thousand human beings is buried so deep that they face real extinction.

Fortunately, some of the regular humans assigned to their project aren’t so callous, and find a way to help the Quaddies save themselves.

This is actually a pretty hard story to read, because it’s a very good portrayal of some of the worst of human nature. But, I think that’s what makes it an important story, because someday, we are going to be able to do the things in this book, and we need to think really hard about that means for the future of what we think of humanity.

Saving Mars – Cidney Swanson

I picked up this book (and the other five in the series) on a .99 cent Kindle sale.     Jessamyn is a pilot on Mars, training all her young life to be able to make the run to Earth to get supplies for the Colony.    This is complicated by a war that resulted in a no contact rule with Earth, enforced by a laser system Earth installed around Mars.    So they need a really good pilot to run through the guns.    And they must make this run – the last war also set them back on the terraforming progress, so supplies from Earth are all that keep them alive.

It’s also complicated by Earth’s rebodying program.    Basically, you live your first eighteen years, than get rebodied into an old body for the next eighteen, move to a slightly younger body for the next eighteen, and finish up your life in an eighteen year old’s body.     And then you die.   It’s a life that those on Earth agreed to, but Mars did not.   So those that go to Earth also have to pass for older people in a younger person’s body.

The premise was interesting enough that I bought the whole series, and it’s not bad.    There’s additional detail of course – like Jess’s brother, who’s brought along to try and destroy the lasers around Mars because he’s a computer genius, but he’s also clearly somewhere on the autism spectrum, and the trip presents problems for him.    I wasn’t completely sold on things – Jess does make an important alley on Earth before escaping, but there are many complications, so she’ll clearly be back (easy to tell even without the other five books).    There was just something very pat about the whole thing.   So I will read more, but I’m glad I only paid .99 cents for each book.

Valor’s Trial – Tanya Huff

This is a great ending to the Confederation novels.    Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr has finally been sent back to her unit on the front, when they’re attacked.    Torin pretty much knows she’s going to die when she hears a bomb coming in on their position, but she instead wakes up in a prison camp.    Except their enemies – the Others – don’t take prisoners.    So Torin’s got a mystery and a massive task on her hands – figure out what the hell is going on, and how to get all her fellow Marines out alive.

This is a satisfying end to the story – we finally get to meet the Others, and see how the Big Yellow Space Ship that was discovered in one of the previous books figures into things.   Of which I’ll say no more, because in that direction, spoilers lie.     I’ll just say that Torin succeeds at her tasks, and I was very satisfied by the conclusion.

The Heart of Valor – Tanya Huff

This is the third book of this series, and due to prior events, Torin Kerr has been promoted to Gunnery Sergeant.     She’s also stuck giving briefings to officers, on a seemingly endless rotation.     So when Major Svensson, who has recently come back from being reduced to pretty much a brain and spinal cord, asked her along as an aid while his new body is tested, to be done on the Marine’s base camp planet – Crucible – Kerr jumps at the chance.     They’re going along with one of the trainee platoons, so things should be easy, right?    Unfortunately, someone seems to have overridden Crucible’s training protocols, and they’re under fire from live rounds.

I really enjoyed this book, like I have the rest of the series.     The story is mainly about Kerr, but the other Marines are always featured prominently – it’s interesting to see a bunch of raw recruits turn into real soldiers.    I also like the bad guy in this story – it was immediately obvious that it wasn’t the first choice for baddee, but I did not see the actual villain coming.     Really good story all around – I’ll be reading the last book in the series shortly.