Review: Reap the Wild Wind, by Julie E Czerneda

The Oud, the Tikitik and the Om’ray all live on the planet Cersi, three sentient species that share little beyond a common language and an Agreement stipulating the rules of co-existence.

The Yena Om’ray lead a marginalised and secluded life, deep in the Lay Swamp, when one Harvest is disturbed by a foreign thing exploding in the air, taking both Harvest and harvesters with it. When they fail to meet the expectations of the Tikitik, coming to take their share of the harvest that’s not there the world as Aryl Sarc knows it changes. Forever.

The journey thus begins…

Populated with strong characters this well paced story is the starting point of a tale longer and larger than this single volume. Without having read parts two and three of the Stratification trilogy I none the less recommend Reap the wild wind to anyone who has a thing for this kind of yarn.

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Insanely great? Species Imperative trilogy, by Julie E Czerneda

Recently, as can be seen in the set of reviews I have posted here, I have read Julie E Czerneda’s Species Imperative trilogy. For some reason it blew me away. It was so intense, even when the story paused for a bit – I just HAD to read this chapter, and next, and next, and… It really is one tale chopped up into three physical tomes, and it felt almost impossible to write a separate review for each of them. Also, it felt hard to put it down after the last word was read.

What, then, was so great?

The plot as such is off-the-shelf science fiction – mysterious entity/species threatens all life; enter stage left, dark horse in the form of a scientist; everyone doubts but in the end scientist is vindicated; happy ending. Czerneda manages to take this truly unimaginative device and make something great of it, and it is her characters that do it. Dr.Connor – Mac – is mono-focussed bordering on obsessive; something that works both with and against her throughout the story. This makes her strong but with built-in weaknesses that makes her vulnerable and voilĂ  the danger of the too perfect hero is avoided.

Part of the charm is Mac’s interactions with other species. Prior to the happenings in this trilogy she has had no interest in anything outside her research field. While other humans travel the stars she has less than no idea of what people from other parts of the universe can be like. Because she looks at them all from the biologist’s point of view she wonders about the environments they evolved in and many of them soon switch from ‘alien’ to ‘person’, both to Mac and to the reader. I have no idea what, say, Fourteen looks like, despite Czerneda describing him, and in many ways it’s unimportant, just like skin colour is – in a multi-species universe personality and motive is what matters, nothing else.

And talking of motivations, Nik is another piece of work. A classical superhero – educated, intelligent, skilled in both diplomacy and killing – struggling with his feelings, sometimes getting it right and sometimes not. Despite this Czerneda manages to pull the stunt and make him believable. I still wonder how she did her trick. What did I miss?

Also there’s those small things that makes up the larger picture. The Dhryn don’t use water, at all, so of course Mac is threatened by dehydration while staying with them. And then there’s species that are allergic to other species, which makes perfect sense. The list could go on.

There are some flies in the soup, though. The first part (Survival) is riddled by infodumps; in the second part (Migration) the main character frequently talks to herself in the form of addressing her absent/abducted friend; and in the last part (Regeneration) sidekick Oversight harrumph one time too many.

These are minor issues, though. Because in the end Julie Czerneda has managed to write a 1500+ page story that is consistent in tone and attitude from the first page to the last, the while handling a “threat to all life” scenario in a way that makes it anything but derivative, daring the reader to become friends with the characters. And the ending? A Sinzi would be proud.

I have found a new favourite author.

Words: Treason or loyalty? Thoughts on the Chanur books

Recently author Jo Walton posted a review of the trilogy Chanur’s Venture/The Kif Strikes Back/Chanur’s Homecoming. It’s an interesting piece because it highlights the way interpretation can vary, and the way different people put different meanings in a word.

For me what Pyanfar does is not to commit treason to her species but to risk being ostracised for her defence of the Compact, the stability of which she views as a guarantee for Hani autonomy.
In her case it means going against the Han, the ruling body of her culture, and this is the core of the issue – is the ruling body, of any society, the same thing as the society it governs? Is it possible to be loyal to the society and not to the governing body, at the same time?

I, of course, think so. My continuous questioning of those managing the company employing me is based on that tenet. I view that as loyalty towards my employer – I want the company to thrive so I get interesting assignments and a reasonable salary. Pyanfar does much of the same, even if it becomes personal when Sikkukkut threatens annihilation of her species. That this loyalty crosses swords with the narrow-minded self-interest of a local government is only to be expected because that is what happens when you have people entrenched in status quo, with vested interests in maintaining the present situation.

If someone commits treason it is Tully, the only human. But looking at his motives it becomes clear that he doesn’t share the interests or motivations of the human fleet (which is neither Mazianni, Alliance or Union – I read it as a Sol initiative to seek it’s luck in the opposite direction, to make it possible to sever the connection to the three aforementioned forces) – he feels more at home with the hani crew than with his own species.

So, even looking at the same situation it is possible to name it two things – treachery or loyalty.

No wonder we humans don’t understand each other.

Good thing we haven’t met any aliens yet. We would mess it up beyond repair ;-)

Review: Regeneration, by Julie E Czerneda

I find it almost impossible to write a review of this last part of the Species Imperative trilogy – I have no idea how or where to start, properly. Regeneration is the brilliant conclusion to a brilliant story, but it is also impossible to understand it – and this review it – as a single book.

Every species try to find it’s way to survival. Sometimes that survival comes at the cost of the survival of other species. Will Dr. Mackenzie Connor and her team succeed in their valiant try to save not only Humanity but all other species that are part of the Interspecies Union from the threat of total annihilation? And which are the greater threat – the Dhryn or the Ro? Will politics, however well intended, conspire to the end of life in space?

This concluding part is in perfect harmony with the tone of the story leading up to it. Well conceived and executed the ending part of the trilogy is as much about finding a way to handle the threat to interplanetary survival as it is about how the species imperative works on humans, namely Dr. Connor and Agent Trojanowski, both in their relationship to each other and in how they handle a threat to their home world, and this is part of what makes this trilogy worth reading – grand theme, grand setting and repercussions on a personal level makes the reader care for the characters.

I highly recommend the Species Imperative trilogy, starting with Survival.
Well worth the time it takes reading the approximately 1500 pages.

Review: Migration, by Julie E Czerneda

After having identified what threatens the lifeforms of the Interspecies Union biologist Dr. Mackenzie Connor returns to her life as a salmon researcher. The return proves difficult, though. Meeting the alien has not only provided a larger frame of reference but has also resulted in vivid flashback nightmares and a feeling of inadequacy – she is worried that the people responsible for handling the threat are looking in the wrong direction, she also worries about her vanished colleague, Dr. Emily Mamani, but she is forbidden by the Ministry of Extra-Solar Affairs to reveal anything to anyone about the true reasons for her absence from work.

Unbeknownst to her others wants access to her and her insights and she ends up being part of a multi-species effort to find a way to tackle the combined Dhryn/Ro threat to life. This proves a challenge, as the team assigned to her is suspicious of her motives.

The characters are both fun and profound, most of them with his, her, its or their own motivations and quirks and the story itself a well paced and balanced mix between action and reflection.

While part 1 (Survival) can stand on it’s own Migration is very much dependent on it’s successor (Regeneration) to provide an ending. This is, however, not a problem, because the tale holds the reader in constant suspense, making it imperative ;-) to have the concluding part near at hand when finishing Migration.

I highly recommend the Species Imperative trilogy. Start with the first book, though, if you want to get things right.

Review: Unseen Academicals, by Terry Pratchett (audiobook)

Until the release of Monstrous Regiment I have bought and read every one of the ‘adult’, regular, Discworld books. That one marked a clear break in what I otherwise had thought of as consistently funny and thoughtful books.

To tell the truth I didn’t much enjoy Thief of Time either, but that was made up for by Night Watch being very good. Never much liked Going Postal or Thud! or Making Money though so at the arrival of this new one I decided I could just as well listen to it instead of have it take up shelf space.

The decision turned out to be the right one because, I’m sorry to say, Unseen Academicals has the feel of an unfinished work – a working draft, published too early. A few giggles do not make up a book and the football parts are not insightful in the way we are used to from Pratchett’s works.

Like the other Discworld audiobooks it is narrated by Tony Robinson, for me primarily known as Baldrick in all those Blackadder series’ and as the presenter of Time Team. Generally I think he does a good job but as differing voices for the cast goes he’s not transparent and the reader has to engage in some guesswork to understand who’s saying what and to whom, at times.

Go read some of his earlier books instead, like Night Watch or Moving Pictures or Small Gods or Reaper Man.

Review: To Ride Hell’s Chasm, by Janny Wurts

The princess vanishes after her betrothed arrives for their marriage and everyone thinks she has been abducted when in reality she is fleeing for her life. Her only hope is Mykkael, the foreigner captain in command of the Lowergate garrison, but to some he is also the prime suspect – mainly based on his foreignness. The commander of the royal guard, and as such Mykkael’s commanding officer, feels he should trust the captain but is too bound by tradition and law to do so.
Mykkael on his part carries a heavy burden of guilt, a guilt which drives him to act in a way to draw suspicion, acting on his oath of loyalty to Sessalie’s king and not heeding command were he thinks it contrary to this oath.

To Ride Hell’s Chasm is a pageturner, even if the prose sometimes gets a bit dense, seamlessly intertwining discussions of racism, fear of the unknown, honour and ethics with good worldbuilding and strong characterisation.

I think it sad that such a good work is soiled by second rate craftsmanship when it comes to the book’s binding and production – usually I love looking at the maps that accompanies a book in the high fantasy genre but this time someone has sent low resolution placeholders to final print. The result is blurred, pixelated, artwork. A disgrace.

Anyone holding the book thinking of buy/not buy should look further than that – the tale is a good one, well worth the time it takes reading it. And strictly speaking – the maps are not needed to follow the story. Because Janny Wurts is real good at painting that picture in words, too.