Review: Betrayer, by C.J. Cherryh

It is high praise for C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series that when I received notice that my copy of Betrayer had landed at the SF bookshop I went to town after dinner to get it, arriving 15 minutes prior to the shop’s closing time.

Despite some problems with continuity, like certain populations varying in size (and with no small numbers, either), or with proof-reading the richness of the world, the step by step discovery and understanding of a very different culture, and the character interplay drags the reader into it, book by book, making it a personal experience.

Did this latest instalment live up to expectations?

My first reaction was “it’s so THIN”. So few pages… and the cover is not that well executed; it feels as it was done in great haste. But what counts is between the covers, so I dove into it, closing my eyes to the visual representation on the outside.

At first it was slow going. Not because I couldn’t read but because nothing much happened, storywise.
One of the things I liked with Deceiver was it was full throttle from the very start. Betrayer is a return to the older format were the first third to half is dedicated to reiteration of what happened earlier and to build-up. This builds tension, and ensures the reader remember the pertinent parts when things go sticky, so fills a purpose, but to someone like me, who have read the previous instalments a number of times, it’s a wee (very wee!) bit boring. The world in itself, and the renewed acquaintance with the people, makes it less so, though. And soon enough the pace quickens, which is reward enough.

The story itself, then. WARNING! SPOILER ALERT!!!
A handful of pages in quiet Algini reveals the existence of a rift within the Assassins’ Guild with a splinter faction trying to wreak havoc in the aishidi’tat – a reaction to the transformations to the atevi culture and economy (and political power) in the aftermath of the return of the Phoenix 13(?) years earlier. The renegade faction has manoeuvred to use Machigi and his ambitions on the Western coast as their smokescreen, making him the focus of the aishidi’tat, but with Bren’s, and then the dowager’s, arrival in Najida and then Bren’s arrival in Tanaja, their hand is forced.
Neither the dowager nor Bren had any idea this renegade faction existed and neither had they any idea the legitimate Guild had worked long on exposing and handling these renegades. They thought what happened (in Conspirator and Deceiver) was a plot amongst local lords, the infighting normal to the Marid area, and both finds themselves in over their ears.

Action commences.
END SPOILER

When the dust settles and the book is over my main urge, despite putting another and very interesting read on hold, to go back and reread all of this fourth story arc.

Definitely not a book to start this series with, and perhaps not the strongest instalment either, but definitely a worthy episode for us who need our shot of Foreigner Universe every now and then.

Not quite a review: Seeking North, shared universe stories by Lynn Abbey, Jane Fancher and C.J. Cherryh

At the turn of the year the Closed Circle group started publishing stories within their shared Seeking North universe. It was my definite intention to read them, but, well, somehow it never happened. And then when I finally made it to the Seeking North web site even my jaded self was considerably confused by the site design – what went were, and why, and… freaking nuts, where the **** could I find the STORY?!?!

Eventually, about two minutes later, I found it. And, eventually, too, because life conspired otherwise, I took the text and made it into an .epub file, so I could read it on my phone.

It’s too early in the story process to know exactly where this is heading but so far so good, is my verdict.

On a planet far far away there is a human colony, lost, sort of, and suffering from a planet-spanning EMP shock which took out all electronics, everywhere. The tech present seems more borrowed/inherited than anything else, and the main mode of transport is wagons hauled by mules.

One story, Lynn Abbey’s, features a group of people living in such a wagon, going from place to place; itinerants, earning some money here and there on temporary jobs.

Another, C.J. Cherryh’s, is, this far, about a scavenger who searches the more desolate spots for metals that can be gathered and sold.

The third, Jane Fancher’s, centres on some street kids and the economy of horses and mules.

Lynn’s story got me drawn in. She mainly writes fantasy, normally, and I’ve never read any of her other stories (I’m no fantasy buff), but I found I enjoyed the short story format. A contained voice, holding the story like a crystal ball, turning it this way and that, exploring. I definitely want to know what will happen.

C.J.’s story, now, felt wholly different, yet with deep roots in the same soil. The language conjuring images, scenes, the vastness and desolation… and a hint of the unknown. I know she’s busy doing other things as well but I definitely hope she can spare some energy for this one because I’m curious where this will lead.

Jane’s story, then, because that’s the order that I’ve read them in. Different pace, different altogether, in respect to what Lynn and C.J. has written in this universe. Not my favourite part but good nevertheless and I’ll gladly read on, to see what will happen.

Go read it. And then support living breathing authors by using the Donate button they provide.
Because they have bills to pay, too.

Review: Look to Windward, by Iain M Banks

After having made several tries at other books I decided I wanted to return to the Culture. My choice fell on Look to Windward, the seventh novel set in the Culture realm, and previously unread by me.

To be honest I don’t know how much of this desire to revisit this particular universe stems from my esteem of the other Culture novels that I’ve read and how much of it emanates from curiosity fed by a discussion about Banks’ works that I’ve been party of. What is certain is that my first one – Use of Weapons – was a love/hate relationship. It was poetic and violent and generally promising, until the revelation at end, which turned my stomach and sympathy both. Yet something drew me in (it was something about the language and tone that I just couldn’t resist!) and I decided to read on, this time beginning from the start. So, Consider Phlebas. Which was gory, hopeless and bleak. Still, something I loved in there – the language, perhaps, and the promise of more to come?

Initially I had meant to continue in some kind of publishing order. I did not. As readers of this blog might remember I recently read Surface Detail. Which is the latest one. Seems kind of backwards, doesn’t it? The reason for the rush was Surface Detail got selected as the January group read over at Shejidan. I knew I would read the book sooner or later, anyway, and a good discussion only adds to the reading experience. So I jumped the train. Both the book and the ensuing discussion left me wanting more.

Hence Look to Windward, which most people pointed at as THE Culture novel.

What did I think of it?

Poetic. Sad. Worthwhile. And a bit of fun, too.

Grieving soldier Tibilo Quilan gets an unspecified offer which promises him death at the end – the only thing he really want ever since his wife – also a soldier – died in the lingering end of the civil war they both fought in.
The hidden powers behind what later appears a conspiracy manipulates him towards a horrendous task which step by step is revealed to the reader.

At heart this is a story about what war do to individuals and about the often hidden agendas behind the official reasons for war.
Or, this is what the story is about, to me – reading the analyses made by others I can see how different readers interpret the Culture stories in different ways, depending on background and personal politics.

This possibility of personal interpretations is one of the things that makes the Culture novels such a rich experience and while I can understand this is not everyone’s fare I do recommend them highly, with Look to Windward as perhaps the most accessible one (of those that I’ve read) – a good entry point, especially for those not previously very familiar with the SF genre.