Review: Witch World by Andre Norton

Series: The Estcarp Cycle #1
Published by: Gollancz
ISBN: 0575039957
ISBN 13: 9780575039957
Published: 1968
Pages: 224
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

This starts as a master of intrigue. A marked man, Simon, who is or once was very capable, and once honest and a Corporal, is on the run. He expects death at every turn, and yet is still darkly witty when prompted. Having been tricked into falling on the wrong side of the law he has had to leave his old life behind him, and has so far managed to beat off those who come after him… but he finds himself following someone expensively dangerous who says he can be of some assistance – and that assistance has to do with Simon’s Cornish heritage.

This reminds me hugely of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon for various reasons (though Estcarp Cycle came first, of course) as well as the many many other ‘MC gets transported to a magical land by various means and has to struggle on’ books out there. The general interactions at the start of the book, the light worldbuilding, and leaving the reader to make their own inferring makes this a strong book as it keeps you paying attention. The fact women are those who have magic is always a favourite of mine – turning often weaker characters who just gather herbs or sit and worry a force to be reckoned with.

Overall though, the intrigue from the start kind of set me off to expect an entirely different book, and this was a mainly plot driven piece rather than by character or worldbuilding as is my preference. This is an interesting book to read for its time, and to enjoy the genre as it once was, but overall it wasn’t as for me as I’d previously hoped.

Review: Sheepfarmer’s Daughter by Elizabeth Moon

Series: Deed of Paksenarrion #1
Published by: Orbit
ISBN 13: 9781405530422
Published: 1988
Pages: 512
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

This book was absolutely what I needed at the time. I’ve fallen behind in my reading challenge currently, and short stories weren’t working for me. This I couldn’t put down. We have the usual offspring doesn’t want to be a farmer so goes off to join the army trope, but in this the characters feel so utterly real you love every minute of it. The joining of the Duke’s troops is interesting in its attention to detail, and though they do a load of walking, it makes the landscape seem real, harsh, and every bit real. This book does what movies now do for us – provide us the rich landscape that words don’t often capture – this does, and doesn’t get bogged down in it.

Paks, the main character, is lucky (and possibly God blessed if we keep reading?) and through grit and determination she earns herself a good name through her training, loyalty, and what she inspires in others. This book isn’t gentle in what we see or who we lose through the pages, and though there is one triggering scene it made me see just how well a certain subject can be handled and now I’m all the more judgey of other books that don’t pull it off half as well.

At times Moon throws us into action. There’s one chapter end where the next our beloved Paks wakes in a cell worrying about what’s about to happen to her next, and you learn the previous night through back story – it makes you worry for her all the more as you piece it together, and learn with the reaction of others just how good her chances are.

The Duke in this is both remote and yet utterly human. He has his failings, and there’s many countless people separating a lowly new recruit and the Duke himself, but through damn good writing we get to know him here and there, and I look forward to seeing more of him.

Basically, I want to finish writing this review so I can go back to reading the next one.

Discussion Post: Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold

Barrayar is the second book we are reading as part of the Vorkosigan Saga Project. It sequentially follows on from Shards of Honour, but was actually not published until 1991, five years and several other books later. It follows Cordelia as she grapples with having moved to Barrayar and the external events which make that even more difficult than it might have originally seemed.

 

You can read Tsana’s review of Barrayar here, and Katharine’s review here.

 

Tsana: This was an interesting book to come back to. Certain events that happen later in the book are kind of burned into my brain from my first readthrough and I spent the entire first half or so (maybe it was less than that) anticipating the oncoming storm. I had forgotten how staid the opening was!

Katharine: From a new reader the first part of the book was quite nice – almost a little domestic, having the side-character’s romance as the biggest worry of our main characters… and then it starts having minor instances of things to worry about – which also made it even more realistic – they have all the intelligence and spies and such, in some books the action would just Happen Without Warning to be ‘dramatic’ whereas in this half the worry is because they know what is about to happen.

Tsana: Yep. And really, given Aral’s critical position in running the planet, it would have been really silly for there not to be any warning of things to come. But before we get to the really spoilery bits that we’re going to have to put behind a cut, let’s talk about some of the other elements, especially in the early parts of the book. When Cordelia came to Barrayar, she knew Aral was probably going to eventually become a Count but, as we saw at the end of Shards of Honour, he actually has a much larger role to play in Barrayaran politics, even before he was made Regent. I think Cordelia did a reasonable job of taking this in her stride. What do you think?

Katharine: I think she had her suspicions that neither of them were going to happily retire, and as we see in Shards of Honour she may not like it, but she also understands and is quite passionate about the fact he’s the best one for the job. Though at the same time, I was a little surprised at the instances she tells him regardless, he has to put his family first – which is interesting. Noble, of course, and good on her … just, not expected.

Tsana: I think she starts off seeing Barrayaran politics as a bit of a joke. Except also not since she was there for the war in the previous book and knows more about it than most. But the war is over, everything is fine and she can focus on being a Barrayaran Vor lady, even if there’s also suddenly this whole Regent Consort thing to deal with. Basically, no very high demands are placed on her near the start and she’s more or less left to focus on her pregnancy and impending motherhood. I think motherhood/pregnancy and the differences between Beta Colony and Barrayar are one of the key ways Bujold uses “backwards” Barrayar to shine a light on some of our real-world society’s faults, along with many other instances of misogyny/gender inequality and heteronormativity depicted in the book.

Katharine: Agreed, and yet Bujold is careful to not go over-the-top as I expect some others would do – it still feels quite accurate and believable. Although Barrayar feels quite advanced as far as weapons technology is and so on, it certainly doesn’t care about its people. I’d love to see more about Beta Colony and their tech – it all sounds fascinating! I also think it’s interesting that we see the majority of Barrayar’s way of thinking via Aral’s father, Piotr.

Tsana: Yes, and the animosity from Piotr towards Cordelia’s way of life pretty much only grows, despite all the good Cordelia manages to accomplish. Especially once baby Miles comes into the picture. I liked how certain ideas gradually become more prominent in the text. For example, we had some hints about ableism in Barrayaran culture in Shards of Honour, and in Barrayar we see Koudelka with his walking stick not coping too well with his new disability. But then we witness Cordelia sitting behind some chaps who call Koudelka “spastic” which is the first really blatant piece of ableism we are slapped with in the series. This foreshadows the ableist attitudes from Piotr and others towards baby Miles.

Katharine: At least they have the ability to seem abashed when Cordelia confronts them on it. I was actually really impressed with how charming Piotr could be when he was happy with the idea of getting a grandson, and then how instantly he turns all hackles raised and all. BUT, then, when the trouble really starts he does count his family first, and does good by Cordelia. Should we activate the spoiler shield now to get into the nitty gritty?

 

Spoilers start here! 
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Review: Seed to Harvest by Octavia E. Butler

seedharvestbutlerSeries: Patternmaster #1-4 (Wild Seed / Mind of My Mind / Clay’s Ark / Patternmaster)
Published by: Headline (and many many others)
ASIN: B00F0LUXOW
Published: 1976
Pages: 784
Format reviewed: iBooks thanks to Alex
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

A very kind gift from Alex was part of the idea that spawned my need to expand my knowledge into the classics side of speculative fiction. All I knew of this book going in was the sneak peek I accidentally saw on goodreads when getting the data needed for the draft of this review:

‘The Patternist series is a group of science fiction novels that detail a secret history continuing from the Ancient Egyptian period to the far future that involves telepathic mind control and an extraterrestrial plague.’

And of course, that only made me all the more excited to read. It also helped that there’s currently a book club for reading our way through Butler’s work, which can be found here.

Wild Seed

Took a while for me to get into it, but suddenly I was so captivated that I was reading whilst knitting or cooking as I just couldn’t put it down. The character of Anyanwu is complex and addictive, as she is able to achieve so much and yet still has believable and honest failings or weaknesses. She’s an immortal who is hunted down by Doro, who is also immortal, and much, much older than she is. Their powers differ, as well as their beliefs and morals, and this is what drives the novel onwards as the main point of conflict. They are so well matched and yet intrinsically different that they both can’t survive together, nor apart.

What I find most interesting is how they choose to live their lives, and what they do with their gifts. Doro lives his life hunting down those with a variety of gifts (usually either his or Anyanwu’s descendants), or he finds Wild Seeds (such as Anyanwu and the title of the book) who can be new breeding stock in his incested villages. Whereas Anyanwu is only contend when surrounded by family, who are loved and cared for. Doro throws away those who are defects, or who don’t obey his every rule – where Anyanwu takes in those who need her help and is above all else, a healer.

There are a variety of secondary characters throughout that you come to care for, even though they appear and leave so quickly compared to Doro and Anyanwu, because normal human lives are so short compared to theirs. We see the world change and still remain the same (so much war and slavery), and where it leaves us makes you want to pick up the next novel immediately, to see what changes will bring them next, as they’ve gained an almost steady peace together.

Mind of My Mind

This was such a fast read and although I finished last night and waited until the following morning to try sum up my thoughts, I’m still absolutely blown by how this book ended. I’m also very glad I read in the order that I did – apparently Mind of my Mind was published before Wild Seed? I certainly feel I’ve got more out of it by reading in this order – learning about Doro and Emma/Anwanyu from the start of their stories and the family/ies they’ve built, before coming to this book and their lives many generations on.

This book seems mostly about Mary, although we see a few chapters from Doro we mostly witness how he responds and coordinates those around him to do what he demands without as many words. What I’m vastly enjoying about this series is the complexities of how they show the powers they all have – their differences and the subtleties in how they each have more or less power than each other in both their strengths and how they choose to play the game. Whilst they have power, they also are staggeringly human at the same time, and easily brought down by seemingly simple things. Love. Ego. Loyalty.

Having seen a little of Clay in this book, I’m now really excited to pick up the next as it’s called…

Clay’s Ark

This book jumps forward again in the timeline – in the first book it seems like we’re in the very start of America being colonised and yet in this book we have spaceships and a desolate America that’s sieged by clans and feels quite like Mad Max. Although we have mention of Clay who we met in the previous book (but didn’t show up in this one other in passing unless I missed something clever, which is a shame) the only other connection is how even without Doro’s influence, his people will still have the compulsion to impact, spread and procreate, and with that the factions that comes with it.

I read this book over a holiday of much travel, so bits were snatched on planes or tour buses (the traffic was horrific, so even though it was a hop-on hop-off bus I didn’t feel the need to stare out the window at the same view after half an hour of waiting!) It worked well for this style of reading as it jumps back to the past and then to the present as we see Eli start with his infection from the spaceship, and his initial urge to spread this to anyone and everyone he meets – and how he battles this initially or how he chooses to utilise this. It jumps to the present where Eli is established with his clan, and has now captured Blake – father to two girls, who are also captured, and we see the same thing play out again.

Overall it’s an interesting and compelling piece to the series that extends the idea on a global scale. Though I do wish we had some characters from the original…

Patternmaster

Here we see the destruction of the disease we see in Clay’s Ark, and fittingly it’s now known as that, Clayarks and these people know how to avoid or work with it. This is apparently the first that Butler wrote in the series, and it both shows and it doesn’t – I honestly can’t imagine reading in this order, as I doubt I’d be anywhere near as sensitive to their side of the story if I hadn’t followed it from the beginning with Doro and Anwanyu – I wouldn’t be able to care for these characters, and think they’re all parasites.

The social status fight back and forth is what drives this one. People are now so much more easily dominated as the disease has reached paramount, and the characters given their divine right to rule don’t question it. Ultimately, these characters are selfish and desperate beings, and I only wish that this book was longer, and served Teray the same realisation that Doro came to have. Instead, Amber and Iray suffer for his choices, and the reader is left with the discussion of what dangers lurk when the young have too much power. It’s sad to see that women are to be treated as inferior (as we see them treated so much better in the books earlier in the omnibus), and that there’s the prediction that sexuality is still such an issue.

~

Incidentally, if you love Butler’s work then you may be interested in a non-fiction book that Twelfth Planet Press will be bringing out later in 2017. Following the success of Letters to Tiptree, we are currently working on a similar project now revolving around Octavia E. Butler. More information can be found here, and Twelfth Planet Press plans to publish the volume in time for Butler’s birthday on the 22nd of June 2017.

Also, if you read this in time, Twelfth Planet Press are hosting a book club for Butler’s books. You can find out more about it here. Currently we’re about to discuss Wild Seed at the start of March. The next books will be Fledgling; then Dawn; then Parable of the Sower. Each book club will be on the first Sunday of the month.

Discussion Post: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Through 2017 and 2018 Tsana and Katharine are reading The Vorkosigan Saga (in more or less chronological order), starting with Shards of Honor all the way through to Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, including novellas. Tsana is re-reading, and Katharine is brand new to the series and together they’ll be discussing themes, characters, worldbuilding, and anything else that sparks their interest.

You can read our reviews here:

Tsana: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Katharine: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

~

Katharine: So I have to confess, I have read one other thing by Bujold and that was “Dreamweaver’s Dilemma”… back when I was serious about reading everything and then got overwhelmed by it all.

Tsana: I read that one too, but not close to when I read most of the other books. I felt a bit meh about it, from memory. I originally read all the books that existed at the time in 2011, starting from Warrior’s Apprentice and ending with the Cordelia books we decided to start with. Let me tell you, reading Shards of Honour first instead of second last was a very different (and superior) experience. Starting from Shards of Honour (and yes, I’m going to keep writing it with a u) gave me a better appreciation for both Cordelia and Aral as characters, unlike the first time around when I couldn’t get out of the mindset of seeing them primarily as Miles’s parents and through his eyes. It was easier to relate to them this way and I’m interested to see how that will effect my re-reading of the later books.

Katharine: I want to write it with a ‘u’! American spelling looks so mispronounced. I’m glad I’m getting the superior experience – usually I’m a hard and fast ‘publication’ order reader, but Alex had some strong feelings on the subject. Coming the series brand new, I’m loving starting off with main characters who aren’t spring chickens – Aral and Cordelia are excellent at what they do, and it’s believable because of their rank and experience.

Tsana:  So we’ve discussed the characters a little bit. Before we get into some of the meatier topics, let’s chat about the setting. What did you think of Sergyar? Apparently I didn’t take it in at all the first time I read it. Gentleman Jole is set on the same planet and I noticed a lot more setting when I was reading that one. Coming back to Shards of Honour and discovering that actually the weird wildlife had been there from the start was a bit of a surprise.

Katharine: I haven’t taken in much, somehow, other than to picture a type of FernGully style planet – I liked that it seemed rough and wild, desperate and dangerous. So keep this time mind for the end of the series as the ferociousness will play a part later on?

Tsana: Something like that. I don’t want to spoil anything. ;-p

Katharine: Excellent :p I did really like the differences they showed between the ships – the idea of courier ships, and the technology they all had even though this isn’t exactly a new series. I especially liked Cordelia’s marking of time based on how many rations she’s consumed upon delivery – imagine not having a natural light source to have any clue of what’s going on.

Tsana: The only thing that amused me about the technology — and this is a product of having been written in the 80s — was how static and monolithic the computers were. I gather no one really saw iPhones coming from that far away, but more modernly conceived science fiction tends to have, er, more modern views of the future. Which is maybe obvious. But I didn’t really notice that the Vorkosigan universe was a little dated until I was really paying close attention, so that’s a point in its favour.

Katharine: I did like how they had tablets and laser stylus’ though – that actually seemed like a good attempt for the time, but then I guess I’m not sure what was really available back then anyway in certain circles. Like how email was ‘available’ in the 70s but wasn’t really used (here, at least) until, what… very late 90s?

Tsana: I had email from the mid-90s at school, and I think my mum did too at work from around then or earlier. The first personal computers like we think of them now (except bigger, slower, and uglier) are from the mid-80s. But veering back from that side track, let’s move on to another topic: rape. Although I noticed Bujold didn’t use the word very much at first, she certainly didn’t shy away from discussing the topic, mostly in the context of some Barrayaran soldiers being very steeped in rape culture and setting Aral up as opposed to that culture.

Katharine: It was certainly very present. I think I would have liked to see other characters struggling with it… At times it seemed as though only Aral was morally against it, and that was mainly to show how he’s really not The Butcher as everyone assumes.

Tsana: The whole chunk of story where Cordelia is being held prisoner and then interacting with other prisoners paints a very different picture to her experiences with Aral. Most of the other prisoners assume that all Barrayarans are rapists and don’t believe that Cordelia could’ve met a few that aren’t. But Cordelia’s been shielded by Aral a lot of the time, and by other honourable people (hey, maybe that’s where the title comes from, there are only a few shards/people with honour among the Barrayarans) that are basically Aral’s friends like Koudelka and Illyan. I felt like the story was partly making a point that soldiers are pretty rapey but then had Aral and friends there to say “well, not ALL soldiers”. But I’m partly saying that because I always felt like the Barrayaran army is the most analogous to present Earth armies (especially US, I suppose?) compared with some of the other planet-countries like Beta which is supposed to be more enlightened.

Katharine: This is probably true – those with Aral do seem pretty relieved when he puts things to rights across the war in general. What do we think of the Emperor then? And his son.

Spoilers follow – please only click on if you’ve read Shards of Honor

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