Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Local Custom

We jump 250 years into the future from the last book, to the time of the generation preceding Shan, Val Con and all the others the whole series started with.

Er Thom yos’Galan is a son of Korval who is required to marry a particular young woman. As is customary on Liad, the marriage is a contract between clans, one clan paying the other for providing a partner for child-making, the marriage to terminate after the child is born. Er Thom must marry, as he does not yet have the heir the law requires of him – simply put, Korval requires another yos’Galan – but he cannot forget a woman he had a brief affair with years ago. To clear the deck, he goes look up that old flame, to say good bye all over again.

Anne Davis is a Terran untenured professor of comparative linguistics based on the planet University. She remembers her brief affair with a Liaden trader fondly. She had even gotten a child out of him, though she never told him. It is customary to name the child with the father’s surname. Shan yos’Galan is a sharp little kid, who never met a stranger and who sees sparkles around people.

When Er Thom and Anne meet again after years of separation, the game changes. When Er Thom yos’Galan meets Shan yos’Galan, the game changes.

Local Custom is one of several space regencies as the authors call them: old-fashioned how-will-boy-and-girl-get-each-other romances. The principals are adults, capable and thoughtful people. Each wants to do the right thing, but their cultural backgrounds are so different that a lot of messages get mixed; both know enough of the other’s culture to think they know enough, but each only knows enough to be a danger. Along the way, we learn a lot about Liaden cultural dynamics and get glimpses of history that was later filled by the Crystal books; and I believe it to be the only book where delm Korval and thodelm yos’Galan, the head of the clan and of the line, respectively, actually command a clanmember to do something they strongly oppose.

One really lovely part of these space regencies is the quotations in the beginning of each chapter, mosly from fictional in-universe sources like Cantra yos’Phelium’s log book:

Here we stand: An old woman, a halfling boy, two babes; a contract, a ship and a Tree.

Clan Korval.

How Jela would laugh.

I have always liked all the Liaden regencies, though I open each of them with some trepidation, because they all touch my heart, in as much pain as in joy.

This is the first book in this series narrated by Bernadette Dunne. I like her; she does everything competently and brings some spirit to the whole affair. That she is not my favourite is not due to any fault of hers.

Local Custom is in print as part of the Dragon Variation omnibus, which is also available as an ebook. There is a standalone audiobook.

Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Balance of Trade / Trade Secret

Balance of Trade is one good place for a new reader to pick up the Liaden series. The action is set a millennium or so, maybe more, after the events of Crystal Dragon and almost 250 years before the chronologically next sequence (which starts with Local Custom). This is around the time when Liadens and Terrans are both expanding with some expansion starting to overlap, with some ports starting to see both races more regularly; this, naturally, creates friction.

Jethri Gobelyn is 17 years old and the youngest crewmember on the family-run Terran looper starship Gobelyn’s Market, and an apprentice trader. Since his father, Arin Gobelyn, died, his mother, Captain-Owner Iza Gobelyn has treated him rather harshly; he is now due to leave the ship for a berth he does not want. Alone on port, he is introduced by another Terran trader to a short-term opportunity with unbelievably good expected return – guaranteed by the card of a Liaden master trader. Liadens are, after all known to be very scrupulous about their honor, Jethri knows the deal must be legit. When the payment time comes and the other party never shows up, he goes to call on the Liaden master trader. It was a scam, of course; but the master trader, Norn ven’Deelin Clan Ixin is impressed by his honorable actions and offers him a better berth, as an apprentice of Master Trader ven’Deelin herself. So begins Jethri’s adventure as the first Terran ever to become a Liaden trader. It is, of course, not smooth sailing.

The main character is an outsider learning (and wanting) to fit in in an alien culture. This allows us the readers a rather different outlook on the Liaden culture than we otherwise might have. Melant’i (one’s honor in general and the role one has in a specific situation, in one weird concept), the code of proper conduct, and the life-and-death language of bows are introduced through Jethri having to learn them. The main character is also a trader and not a pilot like most other key characters in the series and this gives us another unique vantage point to the culture. Since the book also follows the Market after Jethri leaves her (she undergoes a major refit in drydock), we get in addition a different look on Terran ship culture, the only significant peek on it in the whole series (except perhaps for Trade Secret).

We also learn about Arin, Jethri’s father. Surprisingly, though he is a mystery to Jethri as well, we learn the most from scenes where Jethri is not present and of which Jethri never learns. The name Arin should ring a bell, if you have read other books in the series (or have paid attention to my previous blog posts on the series); it is not a coincidence, nor is the fact that Arin’s family includes an Uncle (who this time is given a first name – Yuri) and that the family trades in the old technology. There is also a big revelation, but it is a major spoiler, and I will not discuss it.

I did not appreciate Balance of Trade when I first read it. It was a solo book, set in a time far away from any other stories in the series, and dealt with topics far removed from those of key importance to the other stories. I find I like the book more after every reread. I catch all sorts of subtle and not so subtle connections to the rest of the series, and I appreciate now more the look into both Terran and Liaden cultures. But my appreciation has enormously increased once the sequel appeared in 2013.

Trade Secret is a direct sequel. In it we follow Jethri together with a Scout Captain in pursuit of Balance against people who have misappropriated his property, and Gobelyn’s Market on its shakedown cruise after the refit. Both plot strands have to deal with the legacy of deceased Arin, and with the one great enemy Jethri made among Liadens. We get to meet Uncle Yuri and his companion Dulsey Omron, dare I say, again? We meet members of the DeNobli family, we get to see the brand-new Tradedesk station, both familiar from Dragon Ship. We also get some of the most explicit discussions of Liaden sexual customs (I must admit the first sex sequence in the book is my favourite in all the nonpornographic literature I have read). I also must admit that the final confrontation between Jethri and the chel’Gaibin heir is quite magnificent.

Kevin T. Collins continues to be my favourite narrator of Liaden audiobooks. However, his pronunciation of “trader” sounds way too much like “traitor”, which does diminish my listening pleasure.

Balance of Trade is available in the The Crystal Variation omnibus (both on paper and as an ebook), which also includes Crystal Soldier and Crystal Dragon, and separately as an audiobook.

Trade Secret is available on paper, as an ebook and as an audiobook.

Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: I Dare / Ghost Ship / Dragon Ship / Necessity’s Child / Crystal Soldier / Crystal Dragon

Over the last two months, I have continued listening to audiobooks of the Liaden series. I stopped writing about them because a stressful situation in life (a temporary move to another country) required too much of my energy to leave enough of it around. I still want to say a couple of words of the books I have listened to. Unfortunately, it is impossible to avoid SPOILERS to these books completely, but I will try to limit the damage.

I Dare is a direct sequel to Plan B. It has a somewhat jarring structure: the bulk of the book narrates the adventures of Pat Rin yos’Phelium, a son of Korval, from the time he receives word that Plan B is in effect due to imminent catastrophic damage to the clan and the news that all his kin (including all the characters we have grown used to in the earlier stories) are dead, through his elaborate preparations for balancing this enormous loss until the execution of that balance, which will have tremendous consequences for both Korval and Liad. Interspersed are accounts of the aftermath of the events of Plan B in which our beloved characters are, several months after Pat Rin receiving the death news, very much alive.

Bulk of the Pat Rin thread occurs on Surebleak, a world that was originally colonized by an industrial company for mining purposes but was abandoned (with colonists left on-world) when the company went bankrupt. They never lost contact with the wider civilized galaxy but the colony was not able to attract offworld trade and thus devolved to a relatively low-tech level. The society that Pat Rin encountered was based on the world’s only city consisting of turfs, each run by a Boss, with the only law being the law of the strongest; but under that hard-boiled surface Pat Rin found people with a desire to do better, just no idea of how to do it.

I Dare ends with the two plot strands united. Korval is banished from Liad and starts to establish itself on Surebleak. At the very end, we meet Theo Waitley, a young pilot with a complicated problem…

I skipped the two novels that I would normally read at this point, Fledgling and Saltation. They flesh out the backstory of Theo Waitley and introduce us to her mother Kamele Waitley and her father Jen Sar Kiladi, who we learned in I Dare to be also known as Daav yos’Phelium, Val Con’s father. In the two books Theo begins as the child of two professors living in a university campus, discovers piloting, learns the trade of piloting and gets into heaps of trouble. Both books also contain a rather interesting story of academic politics and academic ethics which I truly recommend to anyone in the academia who has a taste for adventure sf; the second also entertains issues relating to nationalism and its problems. Eventually, Theo’s trouble leads her to seek Delm Korval (whom her father has taught her to regard as the person to whom really big problems should be presented for solving), and to the final chapter of I Dare.

Ghost Ship begins where both I Dare and Saltation end: Theo and her father, both with Delm Korval, and Theo about to present her knotty problem to Delm Korval. You can perhaps see why I skipped the two backstory novels. One part of the problem is an old self-aware ship who had gotten into his head that Theo is his promised Captain; the book is largely about the relationship of Theo and this ship, who is known as Bechimo. Along the way, Theo pilots for a mysterious character known as the Uncle, who has as a side-kick a woman called Dulsey; the ship Theo pilots for the Uncle is called Arin’s Toss. Remember those names; I will mention them again in this post.

Dragon Ship continues where Ghost Ship ends. They really form one continuous story. There is not much I can add to that (but I will mention the good ship Spiral Dance owned and piloted by Cantra yos’Phelium, which appears near the end of the book; they are another pair of names you should remember). Ghost Ship and Dragon Ship also chronicle events on Surebleak and elsewhere, when Korval (and Surebleak society) begins to deal with its changed circumstances. But even though I love those parts of the books, I cannot say I remember them well.

Necessity’s Child introduces a completely new people to the series. The Bedel are “the people of the ship”, who live apart from the gadje, “those others”. On Surebleak, there lives a company of the Bedel, a colony, if you will, left off the ship to learn new things and to be eventually reunited with the ship. Except the ship hasn’t come back after several generations. The Bedel appear a lot like gypsies of the real world, except that they have small little things like the ability to build just about any machine they need (including superhuman-strength glove and leg brace to compensate for grievous injuries to the hand and the leg), and they learn by dreaming. “I will dream on it”, they would say. And this apparently should not be taken as a metaphor.

Necessity’s Child tells events that begin somewhere within Ghost Ship and continue well into Dragon Ship. A daughter of the Bedel company and a son of Korval, both about the same pre-pubescent age, meet and become friends. This in turn allows the Bedel and Korval to start dealing with each other as equals. At the same time, a Liaden man is grievously injured, loses his memory and is brought into the company as a gesture of mercy, where he recuperates, learns to live among the Bedel and searches for clues for who he used to be. We get insights into Korval and into Surebleak, and we learn a lot about the Bedel, of course. It is quite different a book, and one that I initially resisted, but I like it a lot now, after two or three re-reads.

The three books just discussed are the first books in this re-listening round to have a new narrator. Eileen Stevens has a soft voice, but she uses it very well. As much as I dislike Andy Caploe (except for his magnificent Clutch turtle voice), I love Stevens (except for her not-so-magnificent Clutch turtle voice). Her handling of Silain, the Grandmother and the luthia of the Bedel, is quite excellent.

Crystal Soldier introduces a completely different time and place within the Liaden storyline. We meet M. Jela Granthor’s Guard, an M-series soldier; that means he is a genengineered human, deliberately bred to be a soldier; but he is, I gather, considered a legal person. We also meet Dulsey (the similar name is not an accident), a batcher engineer turned waiter. A batcher is an artificial human being, a chattel slave with no rights of her own. We also meet the ssussdriad, an almost extinct species of self-aware and telepathic trees who used to live in symbiosis with a flying species known as dragons. In the beginning of the book, Jela meets the last known living ssussdriad at a war-devastated planet, and wovs to bring it to safety. In return, the ssussdriad (which gets often called Jela’s tree) creates seedpods for Jela and others to eat, which turn out to have surprising properties… And we meet Cantra yos’Phelium Clan Torvin, a dark trader piloting alone the small ship Spiral Dance, which she used to co-pilot until the owner-pilot died and left the ship to her.

Jela, Cantra and Dulsey meet each other about the same time. Exciting stuff happens. Events force Cantra to take both Dulsey and Jela as crew on the Spiral Dance. Dulsey wants to go to the near-mythical place where batchers have created their own free and equal society. Happens Cantra knows that place, it’s beyond the Rim of the galaxy, in the deeps, and she doesn’t think it’s such a free and equal place as that. But Dulsey wants to go. For complicated reasons, Cantra and Jela agree to transport her there. Along the way, they visit a planet that vanishes into thin air almost immediately after they leave, and some other interesting places. Eventually they find the batcher society and meet its leader, known as the Uncle.

Crystal Soldier introduces us also to a time when humankind had been in war with their enemy for longer than anyone cares to remember (longer than any of the principal characters had been alive, I believe). The enemy, called the Sheriekas… “They’d been human once, at least as human as [Jela] was”. Now they wanted to destroy everyone who wasn’t them.

Crystal Dragon is a direct sequel. We meet the dramliz (another name that should be familiar, this time from Plan B); but here they are Sheriekas-made weapons, human-like in appearance but almost godlike in their powers. The Sheriekas are winning, and the end of everything not Sheriekas is near. The only hope for humankind is the liberation of Liad dea’Syl, a master mathematician, or his work, from Osabi Tower where the best scholars of mathematics are seated (or, in more familiar terms, are given their own chair). Cantra and Jela team up again: Cantra becomes an undercover agent (a task well known to her from her past life), a scholar of mathematics Maelyn tay’Nordif who sues for a chair in Osabi and is admitted, with Jela as her dull worker kobold.

The scholarly life in Osabi Tower is striking in how utterly corrupt it is. Scholars are served by grudents (yes, you guess correctly where that word comes from) who eventually are allowed to leave to conduct their wandering. During their wander years they are expected to produce mathematical results, eventually producing “coin”, a theory of such importance that they are regarded as worthy of their own chair. Once seated in a tower (Osabi is the most prestigious but not the only one), they are given their own grudent and are expected to teach and continue research. So much so good. But here comes the strangeness: any seated scholar may challenge any mathematical work of another seated scholar, who is then expected to defend it. This defense happens in public, with grudents and other seated scholars as an audience, and is conducted with truth blades until one or both scholars die. The outcome of the proof decides the fate of both scholars’ life work: one or the other’s work will get destroyed, either because it failed the proof (in the challenged scholar’s case), or because it was found fraudulent (in the challenger’s case). If a scholar survives long enough, they will be elevated to Master and become immune to further challenge.

In this book, we are also introduced to a young pilot Tor An yos’Galan Clan Alkia, who finds that his birth-world no longer exists and starts investigating why. Eventually he ends up at Osabi Tower and meets the other main characters.

Of course, Liad dea’Syl is eventually liberated. The rest of the book tells the story of the great migration from this corrupt universe to the new universe (in which the rest of the series takes place). We meet Dulsey again, this time accompanied by a fellow liberated batcher called Arin. The Uncle makes appearances, as well. Jela obtains Cantra’s promise to keep his tree safe after he dies; partly because of that promise, Cantra and Tor An decide to create a new clan, Clan Korval, with Jela honored as the founder. The Crystal Duology, as the two books are collectively called, thus tell an origins story.

An interesting point I had not remarked before: On Vandar (which we had encountered in Carpe Diem), the locals cursed by the wind. On Surebleak, a cold world, the favourite curse words appear to be related to frozen water (sleet being a common one). Cantra swears by the deeps.

These “books of before” are narrated by Kevin T. Collins. He is by far my favourite of the Liaden narrators. He has a very expressive voice and brings life to the characters. How he handles the difference between Cantra and Maelyn is magnificient.

All the books mentioned here are available in print, ebook and audiobook formats either standalone or (except for audiobooks) in an omnibus edition. At least Fledgling is available also as a legally free ebook. I am too tired today to go hunt for the links. Google is your friend.

Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Plan B

“Other people,” she said, apparently to the room at large, “give their wives flowers.”

Plan B is a rather different book from those published earlier in the Liaden series. First of all, it was first published about a decade after the previous book, due to commercial issues not under the authors’ control. Second, it is a plot-driven story with good solid existing characters instead of being a character-driven book with a plot to keep the characters active.

Some reviewers have placed the Liaden series under the category of military science fiction. In my opinion, Plan B is the only one that truly fits that label. The action takes place on a Liaden planet that comes early in the book under attack by the Yxtrang, with the invasion continuing until the end of the book. Military units, particularly the impromptu defense force formed of mercenary units that happened to be on-planet at the time of the attack as well as local volunteers, feature prominently; the familiar characters take on military roles if the already did not have it; and military action (involving land forces and air forces as well as space combat) is central to the plot.

This change of pace is well justified by the story arch of the Agent of Change sequence, of which this is the penultimate volume; after all, at this point, the characters have been introduced, the chess pieces have been placed on the board and all the initial moves have been completed. All that remains is actually seeing who comes on top in the fight.

Below the fold, I will discuss the book in a bit more detail; the discussion contains SPOILERS for Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors, and Carpe Diem.

Continue reading Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Plan B

Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Carpe Diem and Prodigal Son

Normally, it takes me two to four weeks to listen to an audiobook from beginning to end, depending on the narrator’s speed, the length of the book and how much I invest daily in it. You see, normally I only listen for no more than an hour, often no more than 30 minutes, a day, while getting ready to sleep in the evening. Sometimes I manage a book in one week, if I have been having difficulty catching sleep and thus ending up listening for two hours or more an evening.

This week has been unusual. I’ve been at home due to a stomach bug since Wednesday, with not much energy to do anything. Listening to an audiobook is an easy way to spend time in bed, or in the bathroom, and takes less energy than actually reading myself, or even watching television. And if I happen to drift off (which happened often in Wednesday when I had a moderate fever), the Audible player’s automatic timer stops playing after 30 minutes or so (annoyingly, I must remember to set it up that way each time), and rewinding allows me to find a place I still remember having heard. Spending 12 hours listening to a book a day is not unusual in these circumstances. Thus, it is not surprising that I finished the 15-hour book Carpe Diem a little more than a day after I had finished Agent of Change. I capped it by reading (from an ebook, not an audiobook) the short story Prodigal Son, which revisits the key setting and characters of the novel I had just completed.

Carpe Diem continues directly from where Agent of Change left off, in fact overlapping by a chapter. Given that, this review will necessarily contain spoilers for Agent of Change. The book also picks up characters and worldbuilding from Conflict of Honors, which is a loosely connected prequel published between these two books; while Carpe Diem can perfectly well be read without that background, it does (like this review) contain some spoilers for Conflict of Honors.

Prodigal Son additionally contains significant spoilers for Plan B and I Dare, since it’s set after the events of those books. I will avoid those spoilers in this review.

Continue reading Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Carpe Diem and Prodigal Son

Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Agent of Change

Since it was first recommended to me, the Liaden series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller has been on my regular re-reading list as one of my all-time favorite series. I’ve just started another reread – well, actually, I’m listening for the second time to the Audible audiobooks. Earlier today, I finished Agent of Change.

This is one of the most logical places to start the series; after all, it is the first book written and published. It is, however, not the earliest in chronological order, and there are good arguments for starting from, for example Conflict of Honors, or from several other portal books in the series. I am, however, drawn always first and foremost to Val Con and Miri, whose story starts here.

Here we have two relatively young people, both in perilous trouble when the story starts, who against their better judgment team up as they run one step ahead of their pursuers. Along the way, they set a room on fire, dine with large intelligent turtles, start a firefight between two factions of their pursuers, drink with mercenaries, and ride a psychedelic starship made of rock. Despite all these fireworks, the plot is fairly simple, with obstacles thrown in and evaded in entertaining but a bit too easy manner. Instead, the focus of the story is firmly in these two characters and their developing relationship, dealing with one’s low self-esteem and the other’s deadly mind programming, each helping the other.

Something that has bothered me over several rereads is whether Val Con deliberately mislead the turtles to interpret certain of his actions as taking Miri as his wife. As Miri later comments, it is usual to let the bride, at least, know before conducting a wedding ceremony (not to mention the huge issue of consent that is just waved away). Given that a turtle is an unimpeachable witness of such things, that could potentially lead to all kinds of nasty business. The issue is never directly confronted in the books, although the consequences are resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

This book introduces us to the key aspects of the setting. There’s Val Con’s (so far unnamed) employer, whose unsavory methods (if not its goals) are made clear; there’s the Juntavas, on whose black list Miri had ended up; there are the four major power factions in the galaxy (Terrans, Liadens, and Yxtrang, which are all variants of human, and the larger-than-life Clutch Turtles) with their main relations clearly specified; and there is the surprisingly well-established role of independent mercenary companies in warfare. Val Con’s Clan Korval is mentioned but not developed much, and so is Clan Erob, which will feature significantly in several later books. The setting hinted at is richer than it first seems, but that is not surprising considering that (I believe) Sharon Lee had been working in this setting for a long time before anything was published about it. (I sometimes wonder why nobody ever comments about the name of Clan Erob.)

There are aspects of the detailed setting that betray the books’ 1980s vintage. Nobody carries comms on their person; instead, communications terminals are always bulky enough to require a desk, with public comm booths everywhere. Messages are frequently carried in printouts instead read from screens. There is no ubiquitous information network. These are, however, forgiveable. However, the larger setting contains aspects that have fallen mostly out of sf favour (psi being the most notable); I don’t mind, but others may.

Val Con’s survival loop is introduced very early on. It is an interesting idea, a device that computes a (presumably Bayesian) probability of mission success and personal survival for the situation at hand and allows its user to compute probabilities for many contemplated courses of action. Many specific probabilities are mentioned in this book, and most of them seem unnaturally low. If an agent has 70 % probability of survival, then it shouldn’t take many similar missions for them to get killed. But then again, as Val Con notes, he was not expected to survive even this long.

It is a beautiful book; Lee and Miller certainly have the gift and skill to use the English language in masterful ways. The book contains several languages in dialogue (Terran, High Liaden, Low Liaden, Trade, Clutch, and Yxtrang), which are indicated by differences in the style of English. Of all the authors and series I like a lot, Lee and Miller certainly take the top slot in English usage.

The audiobook is narrated by Andy Caploe. He reads very clearly, to the point of annoyance, but I at least get used to his style fairly fast. His character voices are recognizable but far from the best I have heard in audiobooks. The narration is serviceable.

Agent of Change is available in several formats: a Baen Free Library e-book, as part of the omnibus The Agent Gambit (ebook and paperback), and Audible ebook.

David Weber ja Eric Flint: Cauldron of Ghosts

David Weberin Honor Harrington -sarja alkoi vuonna 1993 kirjalla On Basilisk Station (linkin takana laillinen ilmainen ekirja). Tällä hetkellä sarjaan kuuluu 13 päälinjan romaania, kuusi antologiaa sekä 12 romaania kolmessa sivusarjassa.

Sarja sijoittuu (muutamaa poikkeusta lukuunottamatta) noin 2000 vuotta tulevaisuuteen, maailmaan, jossa ihmiskunta on levittäytynyt lukuisille planeetoille ympäri galaksia. Sarja kokonaisuudessaan kuvaa poliittisen murroksen aikaa, joka etäisesti muistuttaa Maan tapahtumia 1700–1900-luvuilla. Geenimuunneltujen ihmisten orjakauppa rehottaa. Huomattava osa ihmiskunnasta elää alikehittyneissä tähtivaltioissa, joissa korruptio on elämäntapa ja terveydenhuolto on huomattavan puutteellista (edes elämää noin 200 vuotta pidentävää prolong-hoitoa ei ole saatavilla); suurin osa näistä alikehittyneistä planeetoista on Maan johtaman rappeutuneen suurvallan alusmaita.

Sarjan päälinja seuraa laivastoupseeri Honor Harringtonin uraa pienen mutta rikkaan tähtikuningaskunnan, Manticoren, alun perin lähinnä tähtienvälisen kaupan turvaamiseen perustetussa laivastossa, kun Manticore joutuu pitkään ja uuvuttavaan sotaan pahasti korruptoituneen, imperialistisen Havenin (kansan)tasavallan kanssa. (Historiaa tuntevat varmaankin tunnistavat Havenia jonkin aikaa johtaneen Robert Stanton (“Rob S.”) Pierren nimen.) Kun Manticore ja Haven viimein saavat rauhan solmittua, tulee uusi uhka geenimuunneltujen orjien kaupalla elävän Mesan yli-ihmisideologiasta ja maailmanvalloituspyrkimyksistä.

Juuri julkaistu Cauldron of Ghosts kuuluu Crown of Slaves -romaanilla alkaneeseen sivusarjaan, jota Weber kirjoittaa yhdessä Eric Flintin kanssa. Geenimuunnellut orjat ovat onnistuneet voittamaan itselleen oman planeetan ja perustaneet sinne oman tähtivaltion nimeltä Soihtu. Soihdussa ei ole orjuutta; Soihdussa entiset orjat ovat kansalaisia. Tuo tähtivaltio on aloittanut sodan orjakauppaa vastaan. Soihtua tukevat sekä Manticore että Haven, ja heidän parhaat vakoojansa, taitava Anton Zilwicki (Manticore) ja pelottavan tehokas Victor Cachat (Haven) soluttautuvat Mesaan juuri, kun Mesaa salassa johtanut salaseura poistuu hyvässä (mutta hyvin paljon hävitystä aiheuttavassa) järjestyksessä Mesasta. On selvää, että Mesan orjuuteen nojannut tähtivaltio kaatuu, mutta miten… ja kuinka kallilla hinnalla?

En voi valitettavasti suositella Cauldronia ensimmäiseksi kirjaksi, jonka sarjasta lukee. Ongelma ei ole niinkään muun sarjan tuntemuksen tarve, vaan se, ettei Cauldron oikeastaan ole erillinen romaani; se on sivujuoni massiivisessa megaromaanissa. Parhaiten tämä tulee esille kirjan loppuratkaisussa, joka Cauldronista katsoen on puhdas deus ex machina; epäilemättä seuraava Saganami-sivusarjan kirja tulee ennen pitkää kertomaan tarinan toisen puolen.

Sarjaa jo lukeneille Cauldron on varsin viihdyttävä. Sama deus ex machina toki vaivaa silloinkin, mutta sarjan tunteva lukija pystyy annetuista vihjeistä muodostamaan riittävän kuvan siitä, mitä kulissien takana tapahtuu. Cauldron on lisäksi siitä hyvä sarjan kirja, että se etenee suhteellisen nopeasti. Kirja ei ole lähellekään sarjan paksuin. Plus … Cachat. Cachat. Cachat!!! Fanitan Cachatia, kuten ehkä huomasitte.

Itse pidin, mutta olenkin sarjan fani. Sarjaa tuntemattoman näkökulmasta arvioni olisi ★☆☆☆☆, fanin näkökulmasta ★★★☆☆.

Enderin varjo et seq.

Otetaan 1900-luvun parhaimpiin kirjoihin kuuluvan romaanin tärkeä sivuhahmo, ja kirjoitetaan alkuperäisen kirjan tapahtumat uudeksi romaaniksi tuon hahmon näkökulmasta; mitä saadaan?

Ender’s Shadow keskittyy tarkastelemaan Beanin elämää katulapsesta taistelukoulun oppilaaksi ja ennen pitkää osaksi Enderin joukkuetta ja hänen varjokseen, varahenkilöksi. Kirja alkaa samoihin aikoihin kuin Ender’s Game ja päättyy samoihin tapahtumiin. Molemmissa esiintyy sama loppuratkaisu. Sitä voisi epäillä, että eihän tällainen kirja voi toimia, kun loppuratkaisun tietää jo alussa. Mutta muistakaapa vaikka Columboa – aina loppuratkaisu ei ole se olennaisin.

Bean on varsin uniikki hahmo. Alle yksivuotiaana hän tajuaa hengenvaaran ja suojautuu vessanpöntön vesisäiliöön. Lähes nälkäkuolleena pikkulapsena hän manipuloi katulapsien yhteisöä niin, että pian kaikki lapset saavat ruokaa. Tämä herättää kansainvälisen laivaston huomion, ja pian hän onkin taistelukoulussa, koulun pienin ja nuorin … ja älykkäin.

Kun Kuolleiden puolustaja jatko-osineen seuraa Enderiä, seurataan Ender’s Shadown jatko-osissa Beania, Peter Wigginiä sekä kaikkia Enderin vaikutuksen alla olleita taistelukoulun lapsia. Maailma muuttuu, ja sitä muuttavat lapset, nimenomaan nämä lapset. Valtakuntia syntyy ja kuolee, sotia käydään. Bean, luonnollisesti, on Enderin lähdön jälkeen maailman paras sotilaskomentaja, oikea jättiläinen. Kirjat Shadow of the Hegemon ja Shadow Puppets kertovat nämä tapahtumat melkeinpä väsyttävän tarkasti; ne ovat mielestäni selkeimmin sarjaan kuuluvista lukemista kirjoistani ne heikoimmat. Sarjan toiseksi viimeisessä osassa Shadow of the Giant, kun kaikki sodat on käyty loppuun, eläkeikäinen Peter Wiggin vihdoinkin puhuu veljelleen Enderille, kuten Ender’s Gamen lopussa luvataan … ja Bean lähtee lapsineen matkalle.

Sarjan toistaiseksi viimeinen kirja, Shadows in Flight on jotain ihan muuta. Bean perheineen matkustaa vuosisatojen halki ja etsii uutta kotia. Oli mielestäni hyvinkin mielenkiintoista, kuinka Card käsittelee näitä yli-inhimillisen briljantteja lapsia, jotka voisivat alle kouluikäisinä väitellä tohtoriksi, jos haluisivat.

Koko varjosarjan kantava voima on Bean ja hänen poikkeuksellinen perimänsä; loppuratkaisu oli mielestäni hyvinkin järkevä, joskin matkan varrella sydämeni särkyi monta kertaa.

Jos olet jo lukenut Enderin, saatat tykätä näistä kirjoista. Pelkän elokuvan näkeminen ei riitä; lue se kirja ennen näitä. Jos et tunne Ender-sarjaa, tuskin kiinnostut näistäkään. Tosin Shadows in Flight saattaa olla kiinnostava ihan yksinäänkin.

Orson Scott Card: Ender’s Shadow. Tor, 1999.
Orson Scott Card: Shadow of the Hegemon. Tor, 2001.
Orson Scott Card: Shadow Puppets. Tor, 2002.
Orson Scott Card: Shadow of the Giant. Tor, 2005.
Orson Scott Card: Shadows in Flight. Tor, 2012.
Mitään näistä ei ole tietääkseni suomennettu.

Ender et seq.

Tieteiskirjallisuutta on kahta päätyyppiä. Ensimmäisessä on jokin suuri idea, vastaus johonkin kysymykseen muotoa “mitä jos…”. Nämä ovat yleensä novelleja, koska idean käsittely harvoin tarvitsee isoa kangasta. Jälkimmäisessä tieteisspekulaatio jää enemmän taustarooliin, ja pääosassa on inhimillinen kertomus, joka olisi mahdotonta kertoa arkikokemukseen nojautuvana realistisena kertomuksena. Nämä tarinat ovat romaaneja, joskus romaanisarjoja. Jotkut ovat molempia yhtä aikaa.

Ender-sarja alkoi vuonna 1977 julkaistusta novellista Ender’s Game, joka on laillisesti luettavissa verkosta. Tämä novelli on puhdas ensimmäisen tyypin tieteiskertomus. Sen suuri idea oli, miten sotilaita tulisi kouluttaa avaruussotiin – luonnollisesti käymällä sotapelejä painottomassa tilassa, kuten samannimisessä elokuvassakin äskettäin nähtiin. Tarinan suurin opetus on esillä jo novellin alkulauseessa (suomennos minun):

Oli painovoima miten vain ovesta tullessanne, muistakaa — vihollisen portti on alhaalla.

Toisin sanoen painottomassa tilassa ei ole luonnollista ankkurisuuntaa — muuta kuin taistelussa vihollisen portti, jota kohti sotilaat pyrkivät etenemään.

Novellissa on mukana myös toinen keskeinen iso idea, mutta se on parasta kokea itse joko lukemalla novelli tai samanniminen romaani, taikka katsomalla samanniminen elokuva. En siksi käsittele sitä tämän enempää.

Romaanisarjan varsinainen ydinkirja ei kuitenkaan ole novellin inspiroima ja elokuvan esikuvaksi tullut Ender, vaan sarjan toinen kirja Kuolleiden puolustaja. Tuhansia vuosia Enderin tapahtumien jälkeen tuon kirjan päähenkilö, Ender Wiggin, on koko ihmiskunnan tuntema nimi, Hitleriä ja Staliniakin pahempi hirviö – lajinmurhaaja-Enderiksi (Ender the Xenocide) kutsuttu. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, joka käyttää lapsuudenaikaista lempinimeään enää vain lähimpien ystäviensä kanssa, on suhteellisuusteorian aikadilaatioilmiön ansiosta edelleen elossa, subjektiiviselta iältään kolkyt ja risat, ja kiertää planeetalta toiselle puhumassa hautajaisissa kulloinkin kuolleen puolesta. Hän ennen pitkää päätyy Lusitania-planeetalle, jossa elävät possukat (pequeninos – ainoa tiedossa oleva toistaiseksi lajinmurhan uhriksi joutumaton vieras ja älykäs laji) ovat murhanneet raa’asti ja ilman provokaatiota kaksi planeetan pienen ihmisyhteisön merkittävintä jäsentä.

Jo Enderissä alkanut sivuhahmo, nimimerkki Demosthenes, esittelee Kuolleiden puolustajassa tavan luokitella älykkäät vieraat kommunikaation helppouden perusteella (luokkien nimet on johdettu ruotsin kielen sanoista): utlanning, saman lajin edustaja, joka asuu eri yhteisössä mutta niin lähellä, että fyysinen vierailu on mahdollista; framling, saman lajin edustaja, joka asuu niin kaukana, että fyysinen vierailu on käytännössä mahdotonta, joskin viestintä onnistuu; raman, eri lajin edustaja, jonka kanssa kommunikointi on mahdollista; sekä varelse, eri lajin edustaja, joka on älykäs mutta jonka kanssa ei ole mahdollista keskustella. Kuolleiden puolustaja Andrew Wigginin tehtäväksi jää selvittää, miksi possukat tappoivat nuo ihmiset, ja voivatko ihmiset ja possukat elää samalla planeetalla. Toisin sanoen: ovatko possukat ramaneita vai varelseja?

Ender ja Kuolleiden puolustaja ovat mielestäni molemmat 1900-luvun kirjallisuuden suuria kuolemattomia klassikoita. Samaa ei voi sanoa Ender-sarjan muista kirjoista. Kansanmurha (joka on muuten nimeltään virheellisesti suomennettu, sillä xenocide, älykkään lajin murha, ja genocide, kansanmurha, ovat vaikkakin saman käsiteperheen jäseniä kuitenkin merkittävästi eri tason rikoksia) ja Children of the Mind täydentävät Kuolleiden puolustajan tarinan viemällä loppuun sen aloittamat ja kesken jättämät juonikuviot. Kysymys lajinmurhan oikeutuksesta nousee näissä kirjoissa moraaliseen keskiöön. Ne myös kehittävät Ender-maailman kosmologiaa varsin erikoiseen suuntaan. Ender in Exile laajentaa ja täydentää Ender-kirjan viimeisten lukujen tapahtumia sekä päättää Enderin varjo -sarjan (josta kirjoitan tuonnempana) viimeiset ratkeamattomat juonilangat. Nekin ovat hyvää tieteiskirjallisuutta, enimmäkseen toista tyyppiä mutta myös osin ensimmäistä.

Siinä oli Enderin lahja meille: hän vapautti meidät kuvitelmasta, että jokin yksittäinen selitys voi koskaan olla lopullinen vastaus iäksi ja kaikille kuulijoille. Aina, aina on uutta opittavaa. — Children of the Mind, luku 17, suomennos minun

Orson Scott Card: Ender’s Game, Tor, 1985. Suom. Veikko Rekunen, Ender, Ursa, 1990.
Orson Scott Card: Speaker for the Dead, Tor, 1986. Suom. Veikko Rekunen, Kuolleiden puolustaja, Ursa, 1991.
Orson Scott Card: Xenocide, Tor, 1991. Suom. Veikko Rekunen, Kansanmurha, Book Studio, 1996.
Orson Scott Card: Children of the Mind, Tor, 1996. Ei suom.
Orson Scott Card: Ender in Exile, Tor, 2008. Ei suom.

Gravity

Mitä teet, jos olet Maan kiertoradalla ja aluksesi tuhoutuu käyttökelvottomaksi, vieden kaikki matkakumppanisi kuolemaan? Todennäköisesti et mitään muuta kuin odotat kuolemaasi – tai nopeutat sitä omatoimisesti. Gravity kertoo kiehtovan mutta täysin epäuskottavan tarinan, kuinka siitä voisi ehkä selvitä hengissä.

Gravity sijoittuu johonkin fantasiamaailmaan, jossa Yhdysvaltain avaruussukkula ja Kiinan Tiangong-avaruusasema ovat samaan aikaan lennossa (tosimaailmassa sukkulan viimeinen lento tapahtui muutama kuukausi ennen Tiangongin ensimmäisen väliaikaisen version laukaisua). Tässä fantasiamaailmassa ISS, Tiangong ja Hubble-avaruusteleskooppi sijaitsevat niin lähellä toisiaan, että ne näkyvät toisistaan paljain silmin ja niiden välillä on mahdollista (juuri ja juuri) matkustaa Yhdysvaltain sukkulaohjelmassa viimeksi 1980-luvulla käytetyn MMU-avaruuslentopuvun avulla, joka jostain syystä on tällä lennolla mukana. Tosimaailmassa edes avaruussukkula tai mikään muukaan tunnettu avaruusalus ei kykene liikkumaan näiden kolmen kiertolaisen välillä.

Samassa fantasiamaailmassa toista sataa kilometriä tunnissa avaruusasemaa lähestyvä astronautti pysähtyy ongelmitta ja vammoitta osuessaan asemaan. Miettikääpä, miten teille kävisi, jos törmäisitte autollanne yli 100 km/h seinään. Autot on sentään rakennettu suojaamaan matkustajia törmäyksen vaikutuksilta ­– elokuvan astronautilla oli vain kevyt avaruuspuku päällään. Lisäksi astronautti kykenee varsin helposti tämän jälkeen kiipeämään aseman sisälle. Avaruudessa luulisi törmäyksen joko rikkovan kaiken, tai sitten astronautin pitäisi yksinkertaisesti kimmota kovaa vauhtia pois aseman läheisyydestä.

Ei siinä mitään, moni scifi-leffa (mukaanlukien edellä arvioimani Ender’s Game) sisältää fantastista fysiikkaa. Ero vain on siinä, että Gravity tuntuu ja näyttää realistiselta – siinä ei ole mitään läjäyttimiä, poimunopeuksia eikä ansiibeleitä. Miltä tuntuisi katsella tornitalon tulipalosta kertovaa katastrofielokuvaa, jossa hahmot kykenevät hyppäämään sadannesta kerroksesta maahan ja kävelemään sen jälkeen turvaan?

Noh, tämä kaikki on avaruusnörtin valitusta. Elokuvana Gravity on loistava. Sandra Bullock tekee mainiota työtä päähenkilönä, tehtäväspesialisti Ryan Stonena, jonka apuna on vain tehtävän komentaja Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). Efektit toimivat, myös 3D-esityksessä, mainiosti. Sekä visuaalisesti että äänimaailmaltaan elokuva on todella realistisen oloinen. Suomennoksen tapa jättää huomiotta radiokutsujen “in the blind” (suomalaisessa fraseologiassa “sokeasti”, jota käytetään elokuvan kuvaamassa tilanteessa: lähettäjä ei itse kuule toisen osapuolen viestintää esimerkiksi radiovian vuoksi mutta ei tiedä, kuuleeko toinen osapuoli häntä) ärsytti lievästi.

Houston, sokeasti, tämän elokuvan arvio on 3/5. Loppu.