Heart of Iron covers a lot of ground in content. It's alternate history, it's steampunk, it's early feminism, it's a spy novel, and it touches the edg...moreHeart of Iron covers a lot of ground in content. It's alternate history, it's steampunk, it's early feminism, it's a spy novel, and it touches the edge of fantasy (with the Spring-Heeled Jack elements). Oh, and it's set in Russia.
Sasha is a young woman being raised, since her father's death, by her slightly silly mother and her intensely practical maiden aunt, Eugenia. During her 'coming out', Sasha's aunt gets into an argument with the Emperor (who is obsessed with all things English), that results in her becoming part of the first group of women to be admitted to university.
At university, Sasha becomes friends with a group of Chinese students -- equally outcasts in the eyes of the Russian male students -- and runs into a mysterious British man who appears to have super-powers.
And then she finds out about British plans abroad, and ends up on the run, taking the secret British plans to a China in the middle of the Opium Wars, hoping to persuade the Chinese to approach Russia about an alliance against the dastardly British plans.
I really like Sasha. The author does a great job of showing a young woman thrust into roles that she was not raised for, considering the time period. The prejudice of her teachers rather reminded me of a Canadian Heritage Minute commercial about the first woman (Jennie Trout) to go to medical school, and the reaction to her (you can find the video at the official website -- and it is also part of a DVD that can be ordered)
In other words, the author does a great job of avoiding the common mistake of dropping what is essentially a modern woman into a historical period.
I look forward to reading more of Ms Sedia's writing.(less)
A great side-story to the Axis of Time series. We finally get to see Prince Harry (in this universe) as a focal character, including what was determin...moreA great side-story to the Axis of Time series. We finally get to see Prince Harry (in this universe) as a focal character, including what was determined of his position in the royal family when his grandmother is younger than he is. It's also interesting how, instead of Berlin, Rome is the divided city with a wall down the middle.
Spies, defectors and secret Soviet weapons (since Stalin, who has now lived longer than he would have in our world, is determined that the collapse of the USSR won't happen the same way in this changed timeline).
I look forward to the next part of this story.(less)
Deck Z isn't the first 'zombies on the Titanic' book I've seen, but it's the first one I've read. (Don't ask what the other ones were titled. They loo...moreDeck Z isn't the first 'zombies on the Titanic' book I've seen, but it's the first one I've read. (Don't ask what the other ones were titled. They looked so bad that I didn't bother finding out anything more).
Dr. Weiss is a German expert on disease in the days before the first World War. During a mercy mission to China, he comes across a disease he's never seen before, that turns its victims into madmen, and sets them to attacking their fellow humans. After dealing with the small outbreak, he returns to Germany with one of the victims, and sets about finding a cure. But he finds out that his country, planning a war, wants to use the disease as a weapon of terror against Russia. Horrified, he torches his lab and flees with a sample of the Toxin, planning to escape to the US to continue his attempt to find a cure, and ends up on the Titanic, pursued by a German agent trying to retrieve the Toxin.
Of course the agent gets the Toxin. And after Weiss tries to convince him that it isn't actually the toxin, he tests it on a flea-ridden rat, which then starts spreading the disease.
This leads to the classic battle. The Toxin, of course, turns people into zombies. We get the heroic captain, trying to save his passengers. We get the representative of the ship's owner who orders full speed ahead, wanting to get to New York faster because of the invasion, leading to the crash with the iceberg. There's the ship's doctor, who become infected, the ship's designer, who also goes down with the ship, and even the scene of the ship's band playing until the end, even as the zombies advance, reflecting history.
Plus we have the heroic german scientist, and the plucky girl in third class who befriends him, plus the agent with a tragic past that he wants to avenge, but which drives him to commit attrocities
And there's the chance of a sequel, since the story starts with a submersible retrieving the metal container that holds the vial of Toxin.
For a zombie novel, it was a very good read, with a lot of echoes of actual history, as well as a number of very likeable characters (both created and historical), and some characters that you love to hate. I definitely recommend it to fans of zombie novels.(less)
I read the Time Wars books back when they first came out, back in the eighties (my teenaged years), and I recently decided to try them out again to se...moreI read the Time Wars books back when they first came out, back in the eighties (my teenaged years), and I recently decided to try them out again to see if they hold up to my fond memories.
The first book does hold up pretty well. The concept is that in the future, technology for time travel has been developed. To fight the wars of that time, they send military people through time to fight in the wars of the past, with 'referees' watching over to decide who 'won'.
But a referee has gone rogue and wants to change history. To stop him, a team of soldiers is put together (the third so far, we find out) and sent back to prevent him from taking the place of Richard the Lionheart and changing history by changing Richard's history. The team are physically altered to let them replace Robin Hood and Little John, plus Ivanhoe and his squire. They need to find the rogue and stop him, without changing history.
Of course there turns out to be some hiccups. For example, Robin is a drunkard, and it's Marian who runs everything, and is suspicious about when he actually learned how to shoot straight.
The story blends the tales of Robin Hood and Ivanhoe, with a few little alterations, with the Time Wars concept that made it a lot of fun to reread. I plan to keep going with the series, in between reading new material. A pity there aren't new editions available, since mine are falling apart.(less)
River of Stars is, I believe, only the second time that Mr Kay has written a sequel to a novel that is not a set series (Like The Fionavar Tapestry tr...moreRiver of Stars is, I believe, only the second time that Mr Kay has written a sequel to a novel that is not a set series (Like The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy or the Sarantium duology). The previous sequel-style book was Ysabel, which had two characters from the Fionavar Tapestry that appear later in the book.
In this case, the sequel is to his previous novel, Under Heavan, but set several hundred years later, although the events of the previous book are refered to periodically. There has been several dynasties since then, and the Kanlin Warriors are gone.
Since the last book, Kitai (China) has lost parts of the north to the barbarians of the Steppes (Mongol types). But current events are leading to a conflict over those lands.
The main character is Ren Daiyan, a young man who turns bandit for reasons never explained, then goes into the army for the sole purpose of regaining those lost lands. This is not really a complaint, since I don't consider him entirely to be the protagonist. The book is ostensibly about him, but really, he is the subject that is used to define the other characters. We're not always sure of what he is passionate about, but his actions define what the other characters become passionate about.
There is Lin Shan, a young woman who indulges in things considered inappropriate, like scholarship and writing poetry and songs. She is married to a man who indulges her for reasons we learn later. Then there is the soldier who joins Daiyan as a bandit when he realizes that a failed mission will be the cause of his death. There are poets and emperors and several prime ministers.
The book is heavily based on the fall of the Northern Song dynasty (and a real female poet, a real emperor, a real general, a real pair of brothers. The author explains this in the afterword, which makes me want to go and hunt down history books about those people.
The path of the book is very winding and leisurely. Do not read if you want a straightforward narrative. And while the book is fantasy, there are very few actual fantastical elements (much like the author's other 'history as fantasy' novels like A Song For Arbonne).
It took me longer than usual to finish this book, but that was alright. The pace of the novel leads to a slow read, but it was worth it. I enjoyed Under Heaven, but this book was even better. Well worth reading.(less)
Taft 2012 is billed as a political satire, but I really don't think that's very accurate. Instead it's a light and fluffy (and short) gentle humor nov...moreTaft 2012 is billed as a political satire, but I really don't think that's very accurate. Instead it's a light and fluffy (and short) gentle humor novel.
What if, on the day his successor is sworn in, William Howard Taft disappeared in 1913. What if he turned up again, à la Rip Van Winkle, in 2011, in the start of the build-up to the 2012 election. And what if a disenchanted electorate found that they really like what they know of his politics from a hundred years earlier.
So, we get Taft adjusting to the modern world, his great grand-daughter (who is married to a black man), navigating the modern press and dealing with people who want to draft him to run for president again. Chapters are short, with bits in between the chapters that are news articles, transcripts of interviews, Rachel Taft's to-do lists, and the like.
A pleasant bit of fluff to read while the election is ongoing, but not as biting as, say, Terry Fallis's Best Laid Plans (a definitely satirical novel about Canadian federal politics and elections)(less)
Bitter Seeds is an alternate history sf/f novel set during the early days of the second world war. A German scientist has managed to create a handful...moreBitter Seeds is an alternate history sf/f novel set during the early days of the second world war. A German scientist has managed to create a handful of supersoldiers (one can fly, one can walk through walls, one can see the future, etc), and to counter them, England turns to warlocks, who gain power by bargaining with strange spirits that demand blood sacrifices, like a bomb planted in an air raid shelter.
It's hard to really describe the book beyond this without giving too much away.. The German woman (Gretel) who can see the future (and isn't terribly sane, either as a result of this, or the process that gave her the ability) is plotting and using her visions to arrange things to her own liking, and no one, not even her brother (Klaus, the man who can walk though walls) is sure what she is up to. On the British side, there's a spy of poor birth who is friends with a warlock who comes from a noble family.
Strangely enough, considering the fact that the book involves nazi mutants and british wizards, the things that threw me off were the references to some technology bits, like the mutants being fueled by Lithium-Ion batteries, which were developed until the seventies (three decades later) and the British coming up with portable EMP bomb to counter those batteries (a concept that came out of the nuclear weapon program, so how they could deliberately creat one with basically a small, non-nuclear bomb?). Those two anachronisms really broke my immersion in the story.
Still, it was a really engrossing story. If I were to try to sum up the theme of the book, it would be the price of power; both the price you know, and the price you won't understand until it's far too late.
The end of the book sets up the second of the trilogy, which moves a couple of decades forward to the early days of the cold war. I wonder if the third book will move ahead again to modern time and the war on terror, or maybe just to the eighties and perhaps an event like the invasion of Afghanistan. I look forward to finding out.
A side note: I much prefer the cover on the hardback to the one on the paperback. The hardback cover (by the excellent Jude Palencar) shows a woman with a swastika armband walking across a field of skull while holding a book (Gretel spends a lot of time reading poetry early on in the book). It gives you an excellent idea of where and when the book is set, and intrigues the viewer. The paperback, while just as striking, just shows a woman with a batterypack, giving nothing that really hints at what the story is about. Heck, you can't even tell that it's supposed to be a batterypack, rather some random tech at her waist with wires coming from it and disappearing into her hair.(less)
This is a high-tech science fiction novel set... in the 1980s.
Back in the seventies, scientists find a way to open gates to alternate universes, usual...moreThis is a high-tech science fiction novel set... in the 1980s.
Back in the seventies, scientists find a way to open gates to alternate universes, usually either one fairly similar to their own, or else ones where human civilization never developed. Being the US, they immediately start to intervene in alternate Americas to create a 'Pan-American' alliance. You can get the feel for the attitude when the universe that developed this technology is referred to as the 'Real'.
But after years of this, under the direction of The Company, Jimmy Carter is elected and decides to stop intervention in other world wars. But there are elements that decide to go underground. And they think they know a way to restore expansionist goals.
Adam Stone is a retired Company man, pulled back in after his old partner goes rogue. He tracks the man to the Nixon Sheaf (term for alternate universes), only to be pulled into a conspiracy to change history.
Despite his best efforts, Adam is in way over his head, and people he cares about are dying. The question is, can he save not just his own universe, but a lot of others.
One interesting twist is that the 'Real' universe... is not our. We are one of the alternate universes. And a lot of the moves by the Company (which has a name other than CIA) are familiar in terms of US efforts in the eighties to direct other countries' developement. Iran-Contra, anyone.
By the end of the book, I had a headache, but it was a good kind of headache. This is a book that makes you think.(less)