Sunday, November 13, 2011

Six Moon Dance by Sheri S. Tepper

Member Recommendation

The planet of Newholme was first settled hundreds of years ago, but that group of violent men vanished. The later waves of settlers had their own problems trying to develop a world strangely devoid of metals, with increasing volcanic activity and a 50% death rate amongst baby girls. The female-dominated society that has developed subordinates the men, who must remained veiled in order to prevent arousing lust in women. Marriage is an expensive business agreement designed to give the men the offspring that they want, whilst allowing women to obtain entertainment and sexual fulfillment from Consorts, sterilized men who are trained to be the perfect companion and to provide ‘compensation’ for the unpleasant business of breeding. Mouche is an only child and, as a boy, he is only a drain on resources, so he is sold to one of the Consort schools where he begins his training. He soon discovers that life on Newholme is not as it seems: another, indigenous, race lives amongst the humans, but their presence is denied, so much so that everyone over the age of seven simply does not see these ‘invisibles’.

The increased volcanic action, strange gender relations and rumors of the indigenes catch the attention of the Questioner. ‘She’ is a bionic construct, including three human female brains, that is tasked with judging societies against a set of ethical standards. She chooses a pair of humans to join her: Gandro Bao who chose to train as a Kabuki dancer, playing female roles and Ellin Voy a cloned Nordic ballet dancer. The Questioner’s arrival causes panic amongst the Hags who rule Newholme and soon Mouche joins the Questioner, Gandro, Ellin and Ornery Bastable, an orphan girl who has become a sailor and pretends to be a boy, on a quest to discover the truth behind all the problems and peculiarities.

Set in the distant future, this science fiction story includes some novel concepts, such as the idea that people are cloned, grown and trained to be authentic, living parts of history exhibits. Some of the exposition is a bit laborious, but Tepper explores gender / power relations within societies with great insight. Although I found this is very interesting it does slow down the flow of the story, and some readers could get bored in these sections. Also, she follows several strands of the story in a way that seems somewhat random at first, so, for example, we meet Ornery very early on, but then hear nothing more of her for another one hundred pages. Again, this interrupts the flow of the story and can be frustrating. However, there are nuggets of great wisdom to be found that really made me think. Some of Mouche’s training lectures on the ways in which men, women and society function are particularly enlightening, as are the Questioner’s insights into human behavior. It is also refreshing to come across aliens that are truly different in every way, not just humanoids with bumps or based upon a form of life we already understand. The misunderstandings that occur because of these differences show how difficult it is to think outside of our own experience. The characters are intriguing and engaging, even the Questioner, who is nothing like the typical cyborg / bionic constructs that plague science fiction writing. She is grouchy and funny, with a no nonsense attitude and a love of card games. The journey paints a wonderful picture of an alien world, while the ending is satisfying, bringing everything together neatly and leaving no unanswered questions. This is a work of great imagination from a writer with a profound understanding of the human condition. It is also a great read and I look forward to trying some of her other works.

This review is also available at SF Mistressworks

Thursday, November 3, 2011

You Slay Me by Katie MacAlister

October Pick

Aisling Grey is just recovering from a horrible divorce, so a trip to Paris, France, to deliver an ancient artifact seems like a great chance to forget her problems for a short time. Unfortunately, nothing goes to plan. She arrives to find the recipient hanging from the ceiling, which is bad enough, but there is a circle of demon summoning on the floor and a strangely attractive man called Drake Vireo who claims to be an agent from Interpol. As the police arrive, she finds that Drake has disappeared with the artifact and that she is now the prime suspect in a bizarre killing. Within 24 hours she discovers that she is a Guardian, controller of the gates of Hell; that Drake is actually a dragon and she is his Mate; and that there is a whole, hidden world of magic and supernatural beings. In her attempts to clear her name and retrieve the artifact she gains some allies, including the demon Effrijim. “Jim” has been cast out by his Demon Lord, and is a free agent, which means he can be quite useful. However, he manifests in the form as a huge black Newfoundland, with an endless appetite, an overpowering obsession with cleaning his ‘bits’ and a massive crush on her friend’s corgi. As Aisling deals with gallons of drool and prodigious mounds of ‘leavings’, she cannot help thinking that being his new Demon Lord is not such a great job. The bodies pile up as Aisling tries to learn about being a Guardian and Drake’s Mate, while solving the murders and stopping Jim from doing anything too disgusting.

This was an enjoyable read, which moved along nicely and kept me interested. The sexual tension between Aisling and Drake was handled fairly well, and the characters were interesting and well drawn. However, there didn’t seem to be much development in Aisling’s character. Also, she seemed rather passive in her reaction to every revelation, accepting more in 24 hours than seems realistic. If she had been numb and shocked, and later ‘awoke’ to have a major screaming fit / nervous breakdown I would have felt less uneasy. This unease also extends to the first few sex scenes, which she dismisses as dreams, even though there is evidence to the contrary. However, my major stumbling block was the taxi driver, Rene, whom I found totally unbelievable. He collects her at the airport and is exceptional helpful and very, very cheap, dropping his normal business to drive her about for practically nothing. Excuse me for being cynical, but I simply cannot mesh this with my experience of taxis in major European cities. This made me believe that he had some other connection to the story, and so I kept waiting for the big reveal that he was someone important. I will try the other books in this series or some MacAlister’s other titles, but they are not at the top of my reading list at the moment.

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