Category Archives: sci-fi challenge

Review: Scout’s Progress

Why is it that I always leave the monthly scifi challenge book down to the last minute? I picked this one up randomly in a used bookstore, probably because when I read the back it mentioned her being a brilliant mathematician, and I have a thing for smart people. Also I’ve never read a space opera before, or at least nothing that’s actually labeled as a space opera, so it was new and exciting territory for me.

The book’s by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, neither of whom I’d ever read before, but since this seems to be part of a series and I did enjoy it I’ll probably hunt down more of them.

From the first page we’re thrown into a whole different culture, at first I thought it was one where women were considered inferior, but when I noticed that the head of Aelliana’s house is a female I realized it was just the relationship between herself and her brother that was like that. It’s because her brother is so abusive, and on top of that will one day be the head of the family, or Delm as it’s called, that she decides to run away. But being both practical and not very self confident she realizes that she has no means of escaping to a Terran world.

Then she wins a space ship. Realizing this could be her means of escape she decides to learn to pilot it, keeping it a secret from her brother, (who she knows will take it away if he finds out) until she gets her license.

Aelliana’s character is interesting. As mentioned before she’s not very self confident most of the time. But every once in a while her real personality, before it was beaten down by her brother, comes through. When she’s teaching she’s confident enough because she knows her stuff, and a scene with her teaching is shown early enough in the book that you realize there’s still some spunk left in her, confirmed in the scene at Chonselta Port when she’s had a bit to drink and takes the bet of her quarter share against a ship.

The culture on Liaden is also well developed. You realize right away that the customs are going to be different when the book starts with a conversation at the breakfast table in which Sinit, Aelliana’s younger sister mentions how strange Terran’s are to be able to marry who they want and not have a Delm to tell them what to do. Each family, (or clan, or House) is controlled by the Delm, the Nadelm is the person next in line to be the Delm, in Aelliana’s case her sadistic older brother, Ran Eld. The Delm’s generally control the household and make the decisions.

The difference when it comes to marriage is an important point in this book, since Daav is arranging a marriage through most of it, and Aelliana was married to a brutal friend of her brother’s when she was younger. For Liaden marriage is just another transaction, a way for a clan to get more income or an heir. They aren’t permanent, they last as long as it takes for a child to be born, (in this way houses get heirs from each member of the family) and the family not keeping the childĀ  is given compensation. In fact we’re told right off that Aelliana’s older sister Voni has been married five times and was expecting a sixth proposal any day now. Despite Aelliana’s bad experience most people are fine with the way marriage works.

Though her current Delm had promised Aelliana that she wouldn’t have to marry again, her brother makes it clear that that promise will only last until he become Delm, at which point he’ll be free to marry her off to whoever he likes. Realizing this is what first makes her decide to run away.

There is one clan, a High House, that is different from the others, the Korval, or Dragon. Some of it is explained in the second chapter by Daav to his sister in law, who is a Terran that became lifemates with his brother. Though I found that whole part of the book a bit clunky, as though Daav is explaining everything for the reader, not as part of the story, their family origins are interesting and seem like they might be from one of the other books in this universe, (but I have no idea if that’s true)

All in all I enjoyed the book, a lot of thought was clearly put into the society Lee and Miller created, and they emphasized the differences with the Terran Anne and the Scouts that Aelliana works with and ends up befriending. This will probably end up being one of those books I go back to regularly and I’m definitely planning a trip to the used bookstore where I got this one to see if they have any others.

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Review: Powers That Be

I know I know, this isn’t the review I promised. I got sidetracked from Changes when I realized that it was almost the end of the month and I hadn’t read any sci-fi yet. The sci-fi challenge is really the only one with deadlines, since it specifically said one each month for a year, rather than just twelve in a year.

Anyways when I was home for Christmas my mom had a pile of books that were to go back to the used bookstore because she had doubles of them. One was Power Play the third in the trilogy, which I grabbed because hey, free books. Then I stole the other two, (she’ll probably get them back if only because I don’t have room on my shelves for books that aren’t mine) and decided that it would make a good start to the sci-fi challenge.

Powers That Be is the first in this trilogy by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, I’ve never read anything by the latter and I wasn’t really a big fan of the former before, but then I hadn’t read anything by her since grade school. That summer I decided to read all the Dragon Riders of Pern books, my mom is a huge fan of hers she had whatever was out then. I think I was too young and didn’t get a lot of what was going on since usually I like the same books as my mom and there have also been a lot of times when I went back to books I read as a kid and was surprised at how different my take on them is now.

The book takes place on the planet Petaybee and is mainly from the point of view of Yanaba Maddock, a newcomer who’s sort of retired for medical reasons and sort of charged with spying on the locals to figure out all the weird stuff that’s been going on. Yanna works for The Company, and has pretty much her whole life so even though she got put on disability she doesn’t have bad feelings towards them, though she doesn’t always think much of her superiors. The Company basically owns the planet, they terraformed it and settled people on it, but now generations later they’re finding these people less than cooperative. From space they’ve taken readings that indicate there’s minerals they’d love to get their hands on, but every time they go look for them their people go missing, or die, or go crazy or end up far older than they went out there. There have also been sightings of a bunch of weird animals. Since everything on Petaybee should have been put there by the Company they want to know who’s been messing around.

The guy in charge of the base there is pretty suspicious of the people of Petaybee, but Yanna doesn’t really think much of him anyways, and the locals are all nice and welcoming so she remains pretty neutral when she goes in. That doesn’t last long though. She tries to stay suspicious, or at least keep an eye out for suspicious stuff, but the locals quickly start winning her over, especially Sean who’s the love interest.

Yanna’s relationship with Sean is actually the thing that annoys me the most about this book. It’s not even that I don’t like Sean’s character, I do. But whenever she’s around him she’s so out of character, and all mushy and annoying. But that might just be a pet peeve of mine rather than a problem with the story. I don’t mind romance in books, but the kind of love almost at first sight thing that she has going irks me. I like to see it develop more than just have them hit it off right away with no real obstacles.

Otherwise I liked the book, it’s not often that books have an arctic setting so it was fun to see how she dealt with obstacles that don’t usually come up in stories. The people of Petaybee are very much a part of their world; because the planet isn’t really used for much, and the space base doesn’t care much about the locals, they’ve had to manage on their own. They live off the land and only end up buying bare necessities like pots and such from the Company store. They also care a lot about their roots. The Company took people from earth who they believed would do well in the planet’s harsh climate, so they grabbed people of Irish and Inuit descent. The current generation is a hodge-podge of those two cultures, which you can really see in their songs. I really enjoyed how much thought she put into developing the people on Petaybee.

In contrast we learn very little about Yanna. Besides the incident which left her lungs barely functioning and put her on disability, (which was a big turning point in her life) all we really know is that she’s a Company employee and has been most of her life. Despite that it wasn’t like she didn’t have any personality or was unlikeable, and a couple times I ended up laughing at her attempts to figure out life in the town which was so much different from on a ship. I also liked that she didn’t just blindly follow orders or try and reason away everything that she was seeing, like her superiors. Most of the ‘bad guys’ in this book are really just people so set in their ways that they can’t accept what’s going on.

All in all I’m looking forward to reading the next one Power Lines, and it will fit nicely into February for the sci-fi challenge. I’ll probably read the third one in February too, so I’ll have to find something else for March.

I’m hoping to get a start on some of the other challenges too in February. I’m going to visit my sister in England, (my starting point is Canada) and I usually get a lot of reading done on long flights since the seats aren’t really comfortable for sleeping. Also I really will get around to Changes again!

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