Tag Archives: science fiction

Kristin Landon – “The Cold Minds”

29 Aug

Landon, Kristin - The Cold Minds
GENRE: Science fiction
PUBLISHED: Ace Book, 2008

SERIES: “Hidden Worlds” series, #2

WHY THIS NOVEL: I really liked The Hidden World, the first in this series (trilogy).

After the Earth was destroyed by ruthless machine intelligences known as the Cold Minds, the remnants of the human race sought refuge on the Hidden Worlds. Now, after six centuries of safety, the horrors of the past have returned to finish the extermination…

Renegade jump pilot Iain sen Paolo and Linnea Kiaho know that the Cold Minds have found humanity again. To fight back, they need to recruit jump pilots. But the secretive Pilot Masters guard their knowledge–and their ships–jealously. They refuse to admit that the Cold Minds have returned or that anyone not of their number could posses the ability to fly a jump ship. Now, Linnea must prove the Pilot Masters wrong.

On the run and desperately searching for allies to oppose the Cold Minds, Linnea and Iain face near-impossible odds. But they know that somehow, someway, they must succeed–or humanity itself will become extinct…

As I said, I really liked The Hidden Worlds. In parts, The Cold Minds continues the exploration of elements present in The Hidden Worlds, like the differences between Linnea and Iain because of their background or how power can corrupt and make you think of only yourself and blind to the larger picture. Again, the story doesn’t pull any punches in terms of what can happen and shows characters that are far from nice. And Linnea and Iain, while basically nice, remain flawed characters.

But while the world itself seems more coherent this time around, I have the impression that this novel is all over the place in terms of plot lines and POV characters.

  • Linnea and Iain try to recruit jump pilots independent of the Pilot Masters
  • they have to evade authorities while they are at it (for part of the novel, that is)
  • Linnea and Iain’s relationship is put to the test because Iain made a mistake and all the work and problems take their toll (also, they don’t talk)
  • there’s Linnea’s homesickness
  • there’s backstabbing and intrigue among the Pilot Masters again
  • again, some of the Pilot Masters think to use the time of confusion to further their power
  • the threat of the Cold Minds
  • the power struggle over Nexus, the home planet of the Pilot Masters
  • the power struggle over who is in charge
  • … (I think)

I think I listed enough to illustrate my point IMO (the novel is 293 pages long).

In The Cold Minds, I missed the ethical dimension (which I liked a lot in The Hidden Worlds) and a strong unifying plot. Although the fight against the arrogance of the Pilot Masters (and the Cold Minds) is supposed to be just that, it was weighed down by all the other things and diluted by the many POV characters and several jumps in time which covered a few months. Sometimes I even thought I missed important developments because of that. Throw in a few convenient coincidences too much and that I wanted more about the why of behavior and developments too often, and the end result is a novel that didn’t come together for me. Sadly, I liked The Cold Minds (much) less than I anticipated.

There is a sort of conclusion at the end of the novel, but the threat of the Cold Minds is far from eliminated. So I’ll (probably) read the next novel, The Dark Reaches.

Verdict: Although I’ve finished this novel fast, I easily could have put the book down. There was nothing that actually really gripped me and compelled me to keep reading. (3/5)

Kristin Landon – “The Hidden Worlds”

3 Jun

GENRE: Science fiction
PUBLISHED: Ace Books, 2007

SERIES: “Hidden Worlds” series, #1

WHY THIS NOVEL: I’m not completely sure but I think I read a comment on The Galaxy express a few weeks ago that sounded intriguing so I took a closer look at this series.

The back blurb:
“After the Earth was destroyed by ruthless machine intelligences known as the Cold Minds, the remnants of the human race sought refuge on far-flung planets. Humanity was saved by a hereditary guild of jump pilots who now control all travel and communication among the Hidden Worlds…

Nineteen-year-old Linnea Kiaho lives on a backwater hostile planet, one of the poorest of the Hidden Worlds. To save her family, Linnea does the unspeakable: She accepts an indenture on the godless, decadent home world of the Pilot Masters, hoping that she will be able to barter an old family secret into a future for her loved ones–and perhaps for her planet as well.

Linnea’s unwilling master, the pilot Iain sen Paolo, knows nothing about her secret. But to spite his father, he joins her in uncovering a truth that could throw the Pilot Masters into chaos at a time when they can least afford weakness. For after six centuries, the Cold Minds have discovered the Hidden Worlds…”

The Hidden Worlds is a science fiction novel. There is a romantic thread in the story but this novel is definitely science fiction and not romance. It’s there in the setting, it’s there in the world building, it’s there in the main concern of the story. I would also say that the pacing is different than in most romances and that there’s less dialog.

The novel begins with the people of a small village on one of the nearly forgotten planets of the Hidden Worlds awaiting the return of their only source of livelihood: the ship on which nearly all the men of the village work. But instead of the return, they see prove that the ship is no more and that the men won’t come back.

Linnea is one of those people. She isn’t married so she didn’t lose her husband as nearly every other women in the village did. But married or not, the loss of the ship means doom to her as to all the other villagers if they don’t move to the town. And so they all do, even knowing that life in town won’t be much better with all the people seeking work there and fewer and fewer jumpships docking on their planet with supplies.

It’s there Linnea first really realizes the power of the Pilot Masters when she is told:

“The Pilot Masters, the men of the Line–they decide, and the decision is final. They control all the communications, all the cargo, all the passengers that come in and out of every world. No one else can do what they do, run their damned ships–excuse me. That gives them total power.” (15)

The power of the Pilot Masters is one of the most important elements in this novel.

When Linnea learns of a secret concerning the family of one Pilot Master, she concocts a dangerous plan to save her sister and her sister’s children and – if she can – to save her home planet from being abandoned by the Pilot Masters. She doesn’t know the exact nature of the secret but nevertheless, sets off to the world of the Pilot Masters. She’s fulfilling a contract her family was offered long ago to become a servant in the household of the Pilot Master who keeps the secret (at the end, this part still seems a bit too convenient).

Linnea’s home planet Santandru is a backward planet with barely any technology. It’s a planet of hard manual labor and no amenities. The society is traditional and women who were not at least once married (which would probably be “all unmarried women” if there weren’t all those losses at sea) are regarded as an oddity. Sexually open relationships between men and women are strongly disapproved of.

The home planet of the Pilot Masters, Nexus, is totally different. It’s an all-men, decadent, sexually depraved world where hard manual labor is not existent, at least for the families of Pilot Masters, and women are shipped in for breeding or pleasure (though male lovers are quite common, too). Houses are intelligent and capable of taking care of everything so having servants is not a necessity.

Given all that, it’s really no wonder that going there means becoming an outcast in Linnea’s world. Even Linnea’s sister won’t speak with Linnea again after she knows of Linnea’s plan, no matter that Linnea does it to save her sister and her sister’s children from starvation.

And so the story begins. And the bleak beginning sets the tone of the novel.

The Hidden Worlds tells a dark and gritty story, a story where the action is driven by the villains, where the main characters can only react rather than act and are at a disadvantage (nearly) all the time, where the power of a few is set against the welfare of all, and where an inhuman threat is on the rise. It’s a story of lies, pain, loss, vicious cruelty and torture and rape. And that’s just what the humans are capable of; it leaves out what the cold minds do and are. That is even more chilling (though there are similar concepts in some horror movies).

But it’s also a story of hope and truth, rare as it is, and it’s Linnea who isn’t willing to accept fate, to lie down and die. And secondary as it is, it’s a story where love overcomes all differences between a Pilot Master and an ordinary human and this is possible:

She blinked hard, as if to keep back tears. “And what if I can never let you touch me–what if it never happens again?”
His heart ached for her. “Then it never happens,” he said. “Eat. It’s best if we think only about today. Tomorrow will keep.” (343)

And what began as a story to save Linnea’s family, and her planet, turns into a story to save the whole galaxy from a lie and from the cold minds. The ending of The Hidden Worlds is just the beginning – a few people taking up the fight against inhumanity in all its forms.

Verdict: I wavered between 4/5 and 4,5/. In the end, I decided on going with 4,5/5 because I thought the look at power and corruption in this novel interesting. The Hidden Worlds is a dark and gritty novel around complex moral and political questions. If I had the second book here with me right now, I would be reading and not writing.

John C. Wright – “Orphans of Chaos”

6 Aug

GENRE: Science Fiction / Fantasy
PUBLISHED: Tor Book, 2005 (e-book)

WHY THIS NOVEL: part of Tor’s free e-book promotion + read good things about it

from the website
“What if your teachers taught you everything–except who you really are?

For Amelia and her friends, the strict English boarding school she lives in is all she has ever known. The sprawling estate, bordered by unknown territory on all four sides, is both orphanage, academy, and prison. The school has a large staff, but only five students, none of whom know what their real names are, or even how old they are.

Precocious and rebellious, all five teenagers are more than just prodigies. Amelia can see in four dimensions. Victor can control the molecular arrangement of matter. Vanity can find secret passageways where none existed before. Colin is a psychic. Quentin is a warlock.

And, as time goes by, they’re starting to suspect that none of them are entirely human . . .”

Orphans of Chaos is the first part of the Chronicles of Chaos trilogy and it is told in first person by Amelia, a young girl with otherworldly powers. Normally, I don’t have a problem with first person narrators, sometimes I even think it more effective/appropriate for a story. But I had a difficult time getting into this novel.

My main reason for that was that the story takes place in a strange and somehow “off” world Amelia knows nearly nothing about. Trying to make sense (apart from the figuring out how this world functions) and find the story was sometimes tiring. There are very strict (and strange) rules at the school. What’s up with that? Is the world around the school the world we know? And how old are these “children?” A secondary reason was that IMO nothing much happens in the first chapters. There are mostly recollections of past events (which work well as an introduction) and discussions of the nature of reality (which I found interesting), but there is no actual story. At times is seems as if all what the children (and the reader) know is that they know nothing.

With chapter 7 (around page 100), this changes. After figuring out who’s who (a lot of characters show up at the school then), there’s finally a larger picture and it looks like the “real” story is about to begin. Amelia sums up the situation for her friends (she has to speak fast because most of the time they’re not alone): “The Greek Gods run the school. We’re hostages in a war. They’re afraid to kill us because our families will attack” (p. 144). In the last chapters, there’s more talk than action again. The conversations mostly center around theology and deliver more background information.

What I didn’t like:

  • the undertones that went with the uncertain age thing
    The 5 main characters start out as children, then (around the “second part”), they seem older (at least around 18 I thought), only to revert back to something like 14 at the end. At least, that is what I get from the descriptions and the things the characters themselves think, say and add together. And this differs all the time. I get that they have no concept of age and that they’re in fact age-old beings trapped in human form and in the bodies of children. It seems that their powers are more difficult to contain for their captors because they’re on Earth, making the children’s bodies grow and their bodies age. But that most of the male caretakers (their captors, really) lust after the two girls after they develop a bit of breast while they are still described as children is a bit creepy, IMO. Also, the captors are gods; I thought it was supposed to be easy for them to get some action. Really, there was no compelling reason to put it in the story in this way, IMO.
  • Sometimes the need to display how the children differ in their view of reality by having them all explain the same thing is tiring and slows down the story.
  • Some small things don’t add up. For example, the children grow up really sheltered with nearly no contact to other children and no knowledge about what’s happening in the world around them. When they have contact with them, they don’t know the things the other children talk about. But one of them writes letters to celebrities? I thought they had no knowledge about that kind of things? These things probably bugged me the way they did, because I otherwise admired the world building skill.

What I liked:

  • Orphans of Chaos full of different interpretations of reality (represented by the 5 children) and discussions about reality, theology, Greek mythology and the universe. And all these elements are combined into something new and different, creating an original world out of them, complete with its own theory about the formation of the world and with a war between Chaos and Cosmos looming in the background. Talk about huge. All that I found interesting, and it delivers a lot of things to think about. Figuring it all out – what your point of view is in relation to all that and how it all “works” (not that I actually presume to get it all) – is interesting, stimulating and fun.

Orphans of Chaos ends nearly in the same place it began. There’s only the tiny flickering of something in the body of the POV character that hints at something being different. So as a stand-alone, this novel rather fails because apart from interesting world building and discussions of various concepts and ideas (where this novel shines), it seems as if the story goes nowhere. 5 children grow up as orphans and they know nothing. Then they learn that they’re hostages to prevent a war and try to escape. They are caught and it’s back to square one (more or less).

Since this is the first part of a trilogy, my perspective is naturally skewed as I haven’t read the others. But generally speaking, I’m not too happy when a whole book is spent establishing a world, interesting and thought-provoking ideas and world building notwithstanding. After finishing Orphans of Chaos, I just can’t shake the impression that huge chunks of the second part will again have to deal with the characters learning about themselves and the world, in that way repeating Orphans of Chaos. Right now, I don’t see a point in reading that again.

So, will I get the other parts of this trilogy?

I’m really not sure. Apart from the world building (of which I already have an idea after reading Orphans of Chaos) there’s nothing that really “hooked” me to go on reading. I would probably check them out of the library if I could but I can’t, so I … hmm.

Would I recommend this novel? 1. As a stand-alone, maybe. It depends on who is asking; 2. Yes, if the complete trilogy works as a story.

Would I read this novel again? Yes as part of trilogy, otherwise probably not.

Grade: 3 / 5 (as a stand-alone; it’s a compromise between the interesting world building and my impression that there is nearly not much of a story in this novel)