Tag Archives: science fiction

Making The Galaxy Sizzle…

DragonDreamsJen’s #CBR7 Review #3  Born of Shadows by Sherrilyn Kenyon

I picked this book out of a clearance bin, during an escape weekend to Halifax early in January,.thinking that it was one of the novels in the Dark Hunter series.  Instead, I found myself swept into Kenyon’s science-fiction universe featuring star systems and worlds where the League is law.

Having devoured novels by this talented author before, I knew from the very first chapter that I was in for a treat.  Once I got over my initial confusion at not being able to place myself into the Dark Hunter series during the opening chapter, I settled in to enjoy the complex tale and society that she had created.  Science Fiction is one of those genres that is either masterfully written, detailing alien cultures and societies so intricate that we feel as if we grow to know them, or so badly crafted as to feel hokey and contrived. With her talent to create such memorable characters as the charming teenage “man dork” from her Chronicles of Nick YA series, I had little doubt that Kenyon could write believable stellar backdrops for this series of personalities.  What took me by surprise, was the depth with which Kenyon took Band left me wanting to hunt down the others in this series like one of her League bounty hunters!

The fact that Born of Shadows seemed to be the fourth in the set meant little due to the way in which Kenyon satisfyingly pens her intricate plots that are able to stand alone by themselves against the larger tapestry of the universes she creates.  I have no doubt that knowing more about some of the other characters that came to the rescue of Callen Dagan, galactic soldier of fortune, might have added a deeper level of enjoyment and understanding of potential inside jokes, but this book remained strong and true on its own.

In one frenzied reading, I found myself drawn into the tangled web of a  street rat mercenary suddenly elevated to nobility when he turns out to be the long-lost son of a powerful planetary figure.  Throw in a beautiful warrior princess from a nearby solar system and a vicious plot to pit their cultures against each other with some murder and you have a thoroughly enjoyable romp that steams and sizzles from cover to cover.

WIthout a doubt, I will now be trying to track down the other League novels in the series to add to my CBR7 challenge, regardless of whether they are in a sales bin or full price!

Hardcover format, 418 pages, published by Grand Central Publishing

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Review #90 The Heritage of Hastur by Marion Zimmer Bradley

When it was first published in 1975, The Heritage of Hastur was proclaimed to be Marion Zimmer Bradley’s best novel thus far, the longest and most intricate of her saga… destined to become her masterpiece.

Thanks to a wonderful friend in Toronto, who loaned me a copy from her personal Darkover collection, I have at last been able to read this detailed and sweeping part of the planet’s history for myself.  Much of what has always been alluded to in other novels now makes sense and I have a deeper appreciation of the nuances of several characters than ever before.

 

The Heritage of Hastur is partly about how Lew Alton comes to be trapped in the web of the Sharra Matrix, which has repercussions for he and his family from then on, and party about the coming of age of Regis Hastur.  This is the novel in which the famous and beloved character grows from young man to leader, giving up some of his dreams for the sake of his planet.

I cannot believe it has taken me so long to read this key piece of Bradley’s Darkover legacy, but it was well worth the wait.  Now I just have to try to track down a copy for my own library eventually.  Thank You, Christine!

The Heritage of Hastur  paperback format, 381 pages, published in 1975 by  DAW Books

 

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Review #87 The Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/7/79/The_rise_of_nine_official_book_cover.jpg/220px-The_rise_of_nine_official_book_cover.jpg

We bought this book for our family as soon as it was released this fall, but thanks to a terrible round of Rock/Paper/Scissors, I had to wait until my daughters were done reading it before I could add it to my list.

The Rise of Nine is the third book in the now expanded I am Number Four series.  Perhaps in the void left with the end of the Harry Potter and Twilight Series (both books and movies) the temptation to expand the story and thus the profits was too great to stick to the original trilogy format.

Luckily for readers, the author and alien hiding among us Pittacus Lore tells great stories.  The Rise of Nine is no exception.  The story is gripping, thrilling and rushes the reader towards the ending only to leave them wanting more.

If I had one complaint, it was the jumpiness between all the separate voices.  Each character gets their own font to help distinguish which person is speaking in each chapter, but some of them were similar enough typographically that you wasted precious time at the beginning of each chapter trying to figure out who was speaking until it became obvious. As a graphic designer, I would have like to see a much bolder mix of serif and sans serif font combinations to make the distinction easier.  I noticed this more than my daughter who read the book in a weekend gulp because I had a busy few days where I was picking the story up every chance I could around what life was throwing my way.  Perhaps this erratic change to the style and number of voices telling the story came from the writing upheaval that the book went through before its publication.

I can only hope that the rest of the series remains focussed on what made the original book  “I am Number Four” so wonderful…. great storytelling!

Hardcover format, 360 pages (plus extras), Copyright 2012, Harper (an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers)

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Review #80 The Alton Gift by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah J. Ross

While Traitor’s Sun could have wrapped up the Darkover saga after Marion’s health began to decline, it is obvious from the ideas and partial tales that she left behind, her mind was still weaving plot twists and challenges for her favourite characters.  Luckily, her talented friend and protégée, Deborah J. Ross was able to gather the pieces that Bradley had left unfinished and deftly weave them together into the fabulous adventure found in these pages.

The Alton Gift is perhaps one of the most introspective of all the Darkover novels.  While Marion never shied away from difficult topics or taboos, The Alton Gift takes a long hard look at the ethics necessary to deal with the power of “forced telepathic contact” that lies behind the Alton family talent.

Marion Zimmer Bradley long admitted that the character of Lew Alton was her favourite and this novel finally allows the beloved character to lay many of his demons to rest in the twilight of his life.  Deborah J. Ross was no doubt working with Bradley fairly closely until her death in September of 1999 and was intimately aware of how she felt at the end of her life, yet that sense of closure is easily felt by any reader picking up The Alton Gift.  There is a sense of acceptance of self and accounting for one’s actions that makes this novel the most poignant of all the Darkover novels.  While the torch has been successfully passed to the capable hands and heart of Deborah J. Ross, with possible stories about the Modern Darkover still forthcoming, this book remains the final Darkover novel in my mind.  Marguerida and Mikhail’s son, Domenic grows into his own manhood throughout the challenges and twists of this tale as Lew Alton’s life settles finally into one of peace.  There remains bits and pieces of the story for readers to imagine, but the saga itself is drawn to a poignant and satisfying close.

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for Ross to bring this story to a close and prepare it for publication without her beloved friend and mentor, but I commend her for providing readers with this wonderful gift almost a decade after Bradley’s death.  Many of us had wished for one more visit to this wonderful world.  Rereading all of the books this summer reminded me of what classics they truly are.

Paperback format, 528 pages, published in 2007 by DAW Books.

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Review #79 Traitor’s Sun by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Despite devouring the books themselves in less than 5 days, it has taken me ages to sit down and write the reviews to the last 2 Darkover novels due to some chaos in our family’s life.  During the past month, I may have struggled to write up my reviews, but I never stopped reading books for my challenge.  I think the reading kept me sane!

Traitor’s Sun picks up the story of Marguerida Alton and her husband, Mikhail some fifteen years after the adventures chronicled in  Exile’s Song.  Their life appears to be more settled now that they have children and a life as seconds-in-command to the aging Regis Hastur, but things in the Terran Federation are crumbling from within. Darkover may soon have to protect itself from desperate and ambitious Federation employees loyal to the powers off world rather than the planet they are stationed on.  When the legendary Regent, Regis, dies amid this chaos, it provides the perfect opportunity for some to ignore the rules that they have always followed.  Will Margeurida and Mikhail be able to save their planet with only their telepathic Laran powers?

These last Darkover novels remain some of the best examples of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s writing talents.  Traitor’s Sun not only showcases the fullness of her storytelling abilities, it allows the saga of a much beloved world finally come into its own.

Paperback format, 534 pages, published in 1998 by DAW Books.

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Review #78 The Shadow Matrix by Marion Zimmer Bradley

In Exile’s Song, Margaret Alton returned to the world of her birth, found the love of her life, discovered her hereditary psychic powers knows as laran, defeated a legendary Keeper  and brought  a strange Shadow Matrix back from her adventures in the overworld… permanently bonded into the flesh of her hand.

The Shadow Matrix continues the adventures of Lew Alton’s headstrong daughter and her efforts to find her place in Darkovan society.  Her Federation education and independence had already caused some conservative members of the Comyn council to regard her with distrust, but the fact that she and the Heir to Regis Hastur have fallen in love makes them a very powerful and politically dangerous combination to boot.  Margaret is sent off to learn how to control her powers and Mikhail Lanart-Hastur is sent to examine the unstable, unpredictable offspring of the traditional ruling family.  Both of them end up embroiled in an adventure that will not only change their lives, but potentially change the balance of Power on Darkover forever. Will this put Darkover on an even footing with the Terran Empire?  Will they ever be able to be together or will the other powerful families of Darkover keep them apart?

The Shadow Matrix was published a year after Exile’s Song  and a year before Traitor’s Sun.  I suspect that Bradley wrote these in sequence in the gap of time between Sharra’s Exile and Exile’s Song (along with her other novels and the huge amount of editing that she did for anthologies etc.) but that these books became a priority for her as her health began to decline.  There is a sense of determination in the books that seep through the main characters as they try to find the best destiny for their planet.  I almost wonder if Bradley stopped thinking of each story as an adventure on its own and began to plan out how she would lay out the next step in Darkover’s future for readers to enjoy.

Regardless of how or why these last novels about Darkover came about, they are perhaps the best examples of her maturity as a writer, her talent as a storyteller and her unique ability to weave in detail  and depth without weighing a book down.  I had forgotten just how wonderful these last great books were until I devoured them again in sequence, savouring over 2,000 pages in less than 5 days during a very hectic week.

Paperback format, 556 pages, published in 1997 by DAW Books.

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Review #77 Exile’s Song by Marion Zimmer Bradley

After the Sharra Rebellion cost him a hand and the trust of many of the ruling people of Darkover, Lew Alton left his home planet behind.  His return to Darkover, and the other events that take place in Sharra’s Exile, eventually lead Lew to being appointed to the Terran Imperial Senate as his planet’s representative, leaving Darkover behind yet again… this time with his wife Dio and the young daughter he’s only just begun to know.

Exile’s Song begins with Margaret Alton’s return to Darkover as an adult and an assistant to a renowned musicologist from the Federation University planet, sent to study local music.  Her red hair and fluency in the Darkover language make her an asset to her beloved professor, but also mark her as one of the Comyn, the Laran talented ruling families of Darkover that she knows nothing about.  After the sudden death of her mentor, Margaret Alton find herself embroiled in a web of intrigue and local politic, inheritance and latent psychic abilities that could not only change her entire future, it might also cost her her life!

Exile’s Song is a fascinating look at the culture of Darkover from someone belongs to the world but is able to see it from an outsider’s point of view.  As an independent, educated, intelligent female, Margaret Alton is dismayed and shocked by some of the aspects of this patriarchal society.  She has been left in the dark about much of her heritage, so an element of mystery/ discovery carries the story along as she tries to sort out the pieces of her destiny. While the “torn between two cultures” has always been a major theme in Bradley’s work and the Darkover novels especially, this book feels far more intimate and poignant than the usual 3rd person narrative.  Perhaps it is just the passion and detail with which Bradley returns to her favourite planet as she creates a new era , one for which she’d laid the groundwork over a decade before.

Exile’s Song was written a full 15 years after Sharra’s Exile and marks Bradley’s epic return to the beloved world that she created.  It sets in motion characters and events that will spread over several other books (one of which was finished posthumously by Deborah J. Ross) that form the closing chapters in the official Darkover timeline.  Like other famous and much loved sagas (Star Trek, Star Wars, Dune etc.) there will be fan fiction and perhaps even other stories yet to come.  But things change in a world once the creator of it passes on.  Exile’s Song has a wonderful ending that could allow it to stand on its own, but I am glad Marion continued with their adventures up until her death(and beyond).

Paperback format, 493 pages, published in 1996 by DAW Books.

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Review #76 Sharra’s Exile by Marion Zimmer Bradley

This was a summer for rediscovering and rereading the Darkover books in my collection.  Thanks to the Internet, I was able to read a great plot summary for The Heritage of Hastur, one of the novels still missing from my collection despite my best attempts to track down a used copy at a reasonable price.  I wanted to remind myself of the basic plot before I moved on to Sharra’s Exile.

Sharra’s Exile covers a pivotal time in the history of Darkover and the planet’s relationship with the Terran Empire.  The books seems to stand as a bridge between Bradley’s earlier Darkover novels, each written as shorter stories about a world that she loved, and the later, thicker novels that went into much more detail about the vast world and intricate society that she’d created. This novel begins the “modern” era of Darkover.  The planet is no longer the isolated, feudal world that grew from the descendants of a lost Terran Colony.  Sharra’s Exile is about a unique world trying to find a way to belong to something bigger than itself, without losing its own identity.  Various players on both sides of the issue plot for Power above all.  When a legendary force resurfaces from an ancient Matrix Weapon, will it be used against the Terrans to drive them out or will it shake apart the very world from which it was born?

Sharra’s Exile is a gripping multiple-narrative book that is handled exceptionally well.  I often find books that jump around to different character’s perspective confusing at best, but somehow Bradley’s deft touch lets the different narratives overlap at times and offer more than one point of view about certain key events.  This keeps the reader as more of a neutral observer with excellent box seats to an epic adventure rather than being caught up in only one person’s point of view… and it works exceedingly well with such a complex tale.

The additional details about Regis Hastur in the new Hastur Lord that I read earlier in the challenge, made reading this older novel far more rewarding this time.  I cannot wait to reread more about Regis Hastur, the Altons and how these strong-willed people grow to shape a planet’s destiny!

Paperback format, 365 pages, published in 1981 by DAW Books.

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Review #75 The World Wreckers by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The World Wreckers used to be considered the “last” of the Darkover novels.  Written in 1971, it details the time period after Sharra’s Exile when outside interests hire a covert company to destroy the ecosystem of Darkover.  They hope that if enough damage is caused, both ecological and societal, the planet will appeal to the Terran Empire for help and thus become and open, unprotected world whose resources can be taken advantage of.

This is a time of great personal distress for Regis Hastur, one of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s most intriguing characters.  He faces challenges in his personal life, his political future and the future of his very world.  Yet, amid it all, he finds a way to work with a select group of telepathic misfits and unite most of the Laran-gifted people on his world in a Telepathic Council.

What makes The World Wreckers so moving is not the obvious exploration of gender relations and the attachments we form with each other. Rather it is the character of Andrea Closson, the mastermind behind the World Wreckers, who captures the reader’s fancy as we grow to understand that she has the deepest secret of all to hide.  Andrea becomes a pivotal point in the destruction or salvation of the planet… one that gives this book a truly beautiful, creative and masterfully written ending that never fails to make me tear up.

Reading The World Wreckers again in linear context added more poignancy, even though I read Hastur Lord so much earlier in the year.  It was that review in fact that set off this huge rereading of all the Darkover novels.  I find myself wondering what will capture my fancy once the books finally run their course.

Paperback format, 215 pages, published in 1971 by ACE Books.

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Review #74 The Forbidden Tower by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Haunting used book stores lead to the ultimate temptation and a duplication in order to fill a missing spot in my Darkover collection.  Having found The Spell Sword on its own as a used copy, I discovered the 2002 Daw Omnibus Edition called The Forbidden Circle just a few weeks later, containing both The Spell Sword from 1974 and The Forbidden Tower from 1977 reprinted in one edition.  I broke down and decided that I would rather end up with two versions of The Spell Sword for now rather than miss out on reading one of the missing stories.

The Forbidden Tower fits into an interesting part of Darkover’s history when a few Terrans actually found their place truly belonged among the local culture and way of life.  Like Magda Lorne in Thendara House and City of Sorcery, Andrew Carr is a Terran who has chosen to join Darkovan society.  Luckily for him, the Terran Empire thinks him dead in the plane crash that takes place during the events in the Spell Sword.

The Forbidden Tower follows the trials and tribulations of Damon Ridenow and Andrew Carr as well as Ellemir and Callista Lanart, twin sisters.  These four central characters from The Spell Sword now face the convoluted future that their choices had laid out for them.  A Future that will not only question almost every tradition that the telepathic society of Darkover holds sacred, but possibly risk their lives as well if they stand up for what they believe in.

The most fascinating thing about this novel is the pathos with which the main characters wrestle with basic cultural assumptions and traditions.  This is made even more startling when you add in the mix of an “offworlder” with his own cultural bias and taboos.  Bradley does a masterful job of challenging the reader to understand  “that’s the way it has always been done” is not a reason to accept something without question.  True evolution, whether it be ethical, societal, cultural, personal or spiritual must include being able to ask questions and discover the answers for yourself.

The Forbidden Circle Omnibus Edition

Paperback format, 570 pages, published in 2002 by DAW Books.

containing The Spell Sword (© 1974, 172 pages) and The Forbidden Tower (© 1977, 395 pages)

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