Archive for the Novel Category

Winter Reading: “Abyss” Novel Series by Emily Skrustkie

November 12th, 2017

 It’s kind of obvious to most people interested in and embedded in pop culture that we are going through a massive cultural cramp right now as previously silenced and controlled voices find that they don’t actually have to be quiet to protect other people’s fragile sensibilities.

The folks who have decided that gaming and perverting the awards systems to fuel their egos; Gamergate, the few people left arguing that Jane Foster as Thor or female Ghostbusters destroys their childhoods and the Sad and Rabid Puppies are, in a nutshell, pathetic. But they, and their political counterparts, have done the rest of us a service. They serve as a sign post to a miserable, regressive position on the future.  And by being those signposts, we can just as easily look in the opposite direction for inspiration.  And so, I have been spending my days reading science fiction and fantasy again as I had not in many years. I’m using the puppies’ “Do Not Want” lists as my to-read list, and it’s been great.I don’t think I’ve been this happy reading science fiction and fantasy in decades. It’s not suitable for Okazu, but I finished Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor last week. If you have a YA reader of any age who liked Harry Potter or who wished not all magic users were white or male, have them start with Akata Witch. Brilliant stuff. I’m also reading Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series, which I’ll be reviewing here. 

But today I want to talk about a different kind of monster than those who inhabits the Internets. Today we’re talking about giant monsters. Giant Sea Monsters.

Emily Skrutskie’s The Abyss Surrounds Us follows sea-beast trainer Cassandra Leung on her first day testing her skills in controlling the giant monster, the Reckoner, she has trained to fight pirates. Instead of taking down the pirates, Cassandra is captured and forced to train a Reckoner that will belong to the pirates themselves.  

The dialogue and plot are pretty-high tension, as befits both Cas’ character and the situation. There’s violence which is wholly appropriate to the story. And there’s a sexual tension and relationship that builds up between Cas and her captor Swift, who is one of four trainees’ being groomed by their strict, strong and openly manipulative captain, Santa Elena. Swift wants to be captain someday and she’s probably going to be.

The two best things about the series are the way that pirates are portrayed as pretty much terrible people and the Reckoners. There’s alliances, rather than friendships among the pirates…even within a crew. And Santa Elena plays the trainees off of one another, so none of them know enough to take over individually and they don’t know enough to gang up on her and take over together. Skrutskie takes the kind of manipulation and maneuvering we all know from school and work and lays it out as the actual standard operating procedure of the ship.  The beasts are portrayed as beasts. No warm fuzzy mammal-bonding here. These are giant sea-going creatures like squids and whales and turtles, trained to be ship-destroying machines. They are terrifying.

Edge of the Abyss begins a few weeks after Cas has been captured and has negotiated her place in the crew. It opens the world of the pirates up a little larger, and we can see the symbiosis between the pirates and the oceans and their prey, the ships from the land countries. The story swirls more tightly around Swift and Cas’ relationship and how it affects their work, the crew and the larger political relationship with the other pirates, and their relationship with the boats they attack.  But mostly, it’s about Cas and Swift. Their relationship is tempestuous, to say the least. 

The ending of Edge of the Abyss is abrupt, however, I felt it was the right choice to make. Stretching this book into a third story would have been forced and exhausting. By ending it the way she did, Skrutskie left room for a third book without needing cleanup of leftovers, and equally, she could leave this book where it is, wrapped up tightly without need for a sequel. 

Most importantly, Skrutskie has given us a more modern, more realistic, and yet still futuristic idea of pirates and piracy that fails to glorify the lifestyle, even as it is embedded within it. And it gives us an image of women and men as pirates on more or less equal footing without explanation or handwave. And, for us, it provides a same-sex young female couple without  coming of age or coming out clogging up the larger story.


Overall – 8

I found these two books to be enjoyable. Perfect for teen or older reader looking for a more realistic image of pirates and less historical fantasy. No Johnny Depps need apply, but Natalie Portman would make a damn fine Santa Elena. 

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Yuri Novel: Shoujo Mousouchuu. (少女妄想中。)

October 2nd, 2017

As I read Shoujo Mousouchuu. (少女妄想中。) by Iruma Hitoma, I pondered how I might translate the title, as I do. Is it more like the “Girl of my Delusion” or “The Delusional Girl?” This is not an idle thought, either. How I translate the title could easily affect how I saw the stories in the collection.

A girl in elementary school sees an older girl running by and spends the next decade running after that figure. Having rejected the friend who loves and desires her, she knows that her obsession is unhealthy, but can’t help running after her image of the running girl. A girl on the beach meets another girl with a strange name. They spend time together, and run away together…but are either of them real?

A girl falls in love with her aunt, who only has one eye. The story of the accident looms large, but not as large as the girl’s desire for this woman she can’t stop thinking about. A girl goes to the beach with a friend where they discover love for one another, but it was probably all a dream.

You see my point. Is the girl with the delusion the point or the girl being obsessed about? It’s not that easy to tell, as reality and delusion mix and merge and pull apart repeatedly in these stories. In the first story, Ao meets the running girl several times in her imagination before she encounters her as an adult many years later. And the entire love affair in the last story isn’t real at all. So as we read, we’re constantly being asked to re-evaluate the story and see it through two lenses, one of delusion and the other of reality.

Nothing at all happens. Nothing. Less than nothing. I mean, like Misaki and Shirone go to the beach, meet up in town and one day get on a train, then turn around and come back. The end. So if you’re looking for clear cut stories with beginnings and endings, this may not be the thing for you.  On the other hand,, it was a pretty good book, I have to say. Not an easy read, especially when I was tired, but compelling enough that I often read a few pages more than I should have stayed up for.  


Overall – 8

If you want to read something with a little light Yuri and a frisson of mindfuck, Shoujo Mousouchuu. isn’t a bad choice. 

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Summer Reading: The Causal Angel (English)

September 10th, 2017

In May, I reviewed Hannu Rajienmi’s novel The Quantum Thief as a prelude to the rest of my summer reading. We meet and become involved with gentleman thief Jean Le Flambeur, whose escape from prison was a set-up by the woman who sent him there in the first place, his former lover and goddess, Founder Josephine Pellegrini. Set in a Solar System after the Earth has been destroyed, in which virtual and “real” existence are equivalent, wealth is measured in time, and the political forces arrayed against one another are complicated and multi-layered, this book was an absolutely fantastic read.

The second book of the series, The Fractal Prince, shifted the background to the foreground, as Jean becomes less of a focus and his partner-in-need, Mieli’s story starts to step up. Mieli, it turns out was working for The Pelligrini, and has been a double agent in Jeans’ camp since the moment she broke him out of jail. 

Now, as the summer comes to an end, I take a look at the the third book of the series, The Causal Angel. In this volume, all the various Zoku (temporary and permanent groups bonded by need or desire in the virtual realms) find themselves embroiled by Jean and Mieli (working together, but separately,) in a war amongst the technology-based Sobornost and the Founders, for the ability to shape reality itself. The book primarily follows Mieli, as she works her half of the plot developed by Jean to bring down the Founders themselves using the power of the Kaminari Jewel. Mieli navigates multiple virtual realms to gain the jewel but, in the end, won’t turn it over to Jean. When reality is remade, the wish that makes it is pure and unassailable and…most importantly…uncorruptable. Reality will always be corruptable, but that doesn’t mean it has to start that way.

This series was extremely well-written, if what you like is a barrage of new information cannoned at you faster than you can grok it. As it happens, that is exactly what I like. ^_^ Catching up with the story only meant that the story was about to wrap up, not that I was particularly fast on the uptake.

When I reviewed The Fractal Prince, I commented casually that Mieli needed a new girlfriend. Thumbs up, Hannu. Thumbs up.


Story – 10
Characters – 9 all the way around
Lesbian – 10

Overall – 10

If you’re looking for sci-fi that is not at all the usual stuff, with fully-developed characters – both male and female – vast and deep world-building that moves quickly and is compelling, I got your series right here. 

This was a great read and a stellar summer reading series. It would be hard to beat, so my next book is going to have to be something completely different. ^_^

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Summer Reading: The Fractal Prince (English)

July 9th, 2017

In May 2017, I  wrote a glowing, if mostly-incoherent review, of Hannu Rajienmi’s novel The Quantum Thief.  This brilliant, but lightspeed paced science fiction novel centered on gentleman thief Jean le Flambeur, who was simultaneously attempting to free himself from the prison of his own mind after the destruction of the Earth, escape from a detective convinced he had something to do with a murder, and convince an Oortian warrior and her ship to help him steal something – and in return for their help, do a favor for her goddess, the pellegrini, who may well be his former lover in god form. All wrapped up in multi-layered realities of virtual existence, the mechanical Sobornost, the various Zoku, and the Founders all carving up the various kinds of reality for themselves.

Maybe you can understand why I was a little incoherent. 

In Volume 2 of the series, The Fractal Prince, nothing is less complicated and into the various Japanese, Russian and Qabalistic references, we now add classic Arabian mythology in the form of the wildcode of the deserts and the Djinn who make deals and possess and the Aun who, as they move through and into people, who wish to consume. In the desert city of  Sirr, left on a destroyed Earth, surrounded by wildcode, we follow a young woman, Tawaddud, as she tries to save her family.  We meet the King of Mars and a economy based upon the time in a lifespan.

While Jean investigates his own mind palace, Mieli and her sentient ship, the Perhonen, find themselves once again entangled by her goddess, the pelligrini, who has indeed turned out to be Jean’s former lover Josephine. The pelligrini wants Mieli to help Jean, but she has a different agenda than the thief. Mieli spends time in her own past with her late lover Sydan, only to discover the truth about who destroyed the Earth.

Because Rajienmi favors throwing you into the story without any extraneous explanation (what Amy Goldschlager at The LA Review of Books called his strict adherence to “show, don’t tell”) there is a certain presumption of your willingness to be in the game without all the rules as you read. For my part, I am all in on this. I love this no-expository form of writing. It assumes the reader is as fast a thinker as the writer and to that, I say, bring it on, Hannu. ^_^

Where in the first book, Mieli and Perhonen are supporting cast to Jean, the story strips away from itself in this second book. The ship Perhonen becomes even more of a character, Jean becomes less of one and Tawaddud and Mieli each take up an equal share. The Fractal Prince is not a gentleman thief’s story anymore, it has become a ensemble cast adventure. And it’s worth every moment spent with it. For a competent, tragic, sensitive, strong lesbian female lead, you couldn’t do better than Mieli. Now all we need is to get her a new girlfriend. ^_^


Story – 10
Characters – 9 all the way around
Lesbian – 5 

Overall – 10

I’m currently reading the third of the series, The Causal Angel. I’ve slowed myself down to a chapter at a time, so I don’t slam through it too quickly because it’s so damn good.

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Summer Reading: The Quantum Thief (English)

May 28th, 2017

Raffles. Bandette. Ana DuPre. Jean le Flambeur.

What do all these names have in common? They are members of the privileged class who, for one reason or another, make their living as thieves.

In The Quantum Thief by Finnish author Hannu Rajaniemi, we meet the last of these – Jean le Flambeur – in prison. Sentenced to die repeatedly in a series of video game-like scenarios until he can convince his warlike and violent partner to work together. So far, he’s not having any luck, but then a sentient ship, the Perhonen, and her pilot Mieli break him out of prison at the bidding of Miele’ goddess. And we are catapulted into an adventure that was so complicated and so damn interesting, I can barely describe it.

Jean is competing with his other self – the self that locked him into the body he currently has – his ex-lover, and the arch-detective who his following his trail after the death of a chocolatier.

Rajaniemi writes at a blazing pace and he presumes you can keep up. From the Oubliette, a shtetl filled with Qabalistic references, to the gaming Zoku of space and the Vir, the virtual realities of a dozen different simultaneous layers of existence and society, you are expected to grasp the obscure and the created knowledge with equal fluency and speed. 

I loved this book.

Which is all well and fine, Erica, you say, a hint of impatience in your voice, but why are you reviewing it?  

Because of Mieli. Mieli is an Oortian, a tribe of people who are portrayed as rather…Finnish…in a mythological manner of speaking. Mieli’s former lover was Sydan, another woman with whom she had a complicated and involved history. Mieli is currently seeking Sydan, who disappeared when Earth was destroyed. Mieli now serves the Founder, pelligrini. Along with her sentient ship, the Perhonen, Mieli is as critical to the plot as Jean is…although I might put Perhonen slightly higher on the cast listing.

If you’re confused about now, no worries, this was just the vaguest, most superficial taste of the high-density information dump that is The Quantum Thief.

Did I mention that I loved it? 

Mieli is another cool, competent lesbian, with a nicely melancholy backstory. She’d fit nicely enough with all the cool lesbian detectives of the 1990s. Kate Delafield, meet Mieli. You’ll get along swimmingly.  


Story – 10
Characters – 9 all the way around
Lesbian – 3, but it’s there

Overall – 10

I adore writers who assume I can keep up with them, and Rajaniemi is the best I’ve ever read in this regard.This book relies on obscura and slang from Japanese, Russian, Yiddish and a few other languages, but if you’re a patient reader, everything is given context in an Escher kind of way. Just hang on for the ride.

Thanks to bestie Daniel H for the recommendation – you are now among the very few who can recommend things to me. ^_^

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