A bit of light reading…

My main group of friends all have similar interests when it comes to books and movies. This is great when we want to get together to watch something, and means an “extended library” of sorts for reading material. A few of us take great pleasure in finding second-hand book stores (or anywhere else that sells books) and filling gaps in our collection or starting new sets.

Books are expensive, so there’s also the hope to find places with a range of books at a low price. I don’t have the time or budget of one of my friends, so I’m generally looking for a specific short list of novels. Sometimes, though, you grab what opportunity presents to you…

My mate found someone who had advertised just over 2000 books for A$2000 – fantasy and science-fiction – that they hoped someone would take as one lot. It wasn’t looking like that was going to happen, so the seller had told him to come over to take what he wanted.

It takes a long time to sort through that many books. The two of us spent just over four hours checking each book and putting aside the ones we wanted. I think I got a couple of books only because I saw them first. I can look through books faster than he can, either because I’ve got a better memory for what I’ve got, or a smaller book collection (or because of both) and I was able to put aside anything I knew neither of us wanted. I’m quite sure there’s one book we both took – two copies with different covers.

We filled about 12 bags with books and left a bunch of empty shelves. I’ve come home with 47 books, and my mate claimed 291. I could have taken more, but I didn’t want to spend any more money and they weren’t anything that I really wanted. As it is, I picked three books that I already have. I really need to spend more time scanning all my books into my phone (book manager app) so that I have a complete record of my library. (I wonder how many duplicates my friend choose by mistake!)

So what is in these new books?

Anne McCaffrey, Larry Niven, CJ Cherryh, Terry Brooks, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mercedes Lackey, David Brin, Robert Asprin, Eric Frank Russel, Ursula Le Guin, Clifford D Simak, Andre Norton, Piers Anthony, David Robbins, and some Star Wars novels (asst authors).

Most of these I haven’t read before, so I have plenty of reading material to keep me going through the end of the year and my January holidays.


Discworld – The Luggage

Back in the early 1980’s an interesting bloke defined the colour of magic as Octarine. (A sort of fluorescent greenish-yellow-purple.) I think this was the first novel I ever read that regularly used footnotes. The Colour of Magic eventually became part of a series of books – I’ve just recently finished reading No.40, Raising Steam. I have also strayed into his other short series and stand alone novels.

Colour of MagicAll in all, Terry Pratchett became one of my favourite authors – especially for fantasy mixed with comedy. His books often make me laugh out loud. As the Discworld series has grown, his characters and writing have developed, and he manages to regularly poke fun at real-life issues, culture/society, even other fantasy. He’s tackled music, war, politics, religion, feminism, theatre, movies, vampires, fey-folk, Australia, truth, and a lot of other things. He likes to twist words and meanings, looks at traditional legends and myths in different ways and seems to have a lot of fun. [If both male and female Dwarves have beards and wear chain-mail, think of the confusion in trying to meet the other sex.]

Where is all this going? There are regular characters who pop in and out of novels, sometimes as a major character, sometimes on the sidelines. One of my favourites right from the first book was the Luggage. (Closely followed by DEATH and the Librarian)

A large wooden chest made out of sapient pearwood (extremely rare and expensive), that follows its owner on lots of little legs. “So great was the ability to follow its master anywhere, the grave goods of dead emperors had traditionally been made of it…” It’s bigger on the inside than the outside, cunning, very fast and known to eat thieves.

At least a decade ago, my sister found a miniature of the luggage for me and it’s spent nearly all that time riding on the dashboard of whatever car I’ve owned… well, until last week. I decided it was time it got painted! It’s a metal miniature, about 18mm high and was fun to paint. Eventually, it will go back into the car.


Anne McCaffrey – The Tower and Hive Series

I have said before that Anne McCaffrey is my favourite writer. I love her interesting plot-lines and well developed characters. While I’m sure that “The Ship who sang” (1969) was the first book of hers that I read, “Dragonflight” (1968) and Crystal Singer” (1982) weren’t far behind. All three were discovered in my High School library in the early 1980’s. By that time there was a lot of her books for me to find! After I finished the 8 books by Julian May (see previous post) I went onto the similarly themed ‘Tower & Hive’.

Get off the Unicorn – short stories:

When I read “Get off the Unicorn” (1979) recently – a collection of early short stories – I was delighted to read the introductions in which Anne talks about when and where the stories were published and insight into why she wrote them or what inspired them.

While she had written a short story for a SF Magazine in 1952, she prefers to acknowledge as her first “The Lady in the Tower” (1959). This is followed by “A Meeting of Minds” (1969). Anne writes “These two stories were supposed to be part a novel I’d tentatively entitled The Bitter Tower. But, when I got started on the story ‘A Womanly Talent’, I got interested involved with Dai op Owen and wrote the four stories which comprise To Ride Pegasus. So these two stories never became part of a novel. But the Raven women are good strong characters, and who knows when I’ll write about that third generation of Ravens.”

I read this with delightful amusement because I have the complete novels that those two stories resulted in a decade later. (Rowan & Damia)

TalentsBackground – Pegasus/Talents:

To Ride Pegasus” (1973) is the first book in the Talents trilogy. It is followed by Pegasus in Flight (1990) and Pegasus in Space (2000). The first book is set at the end of the twentieth century and is concerned with the establishment and operation of the first Centre for Parapsychics. The centre employs, trains and protects those it finds or are drawn to it. Anne includes in her range of Talents: empathy, finding, healing, precognition, telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation. From the Prologue of “The Rowan”: The Centre was to formulate the ethic and moral premises which grant those with valid, and demonstrable, psionic talents certain privileges, and responsibilities, amid a society basically skeptical, hostile, or overtly paranoid about such abilities.” Space exploration, and the discovery of a teleportation talent who could machine gesalt (Peter Reidinger, Pegasus in Flight) to push things much greater distances than ever before sets the scene for the Talent and Hive Series.

Tower and the Hive:

Tower and the Hive is set rather forward in the future where Earth is part of the Nine-Star League. (Planets/stars referred to are: Earth, Altair, Betelgeuse,  Callisto, Capella, Deneb, Iota Aurigae, Procyon.) Talents are given a “T” rating from 10 (lowest) to 1 (highest). It is mostly concerned with the FT&T (Federated Telepath and Teleport) T-1’s, or Primes, who can gestalt (link mentally) with generators and with other Primes. They operate with a support staff to import and export material between Towers.  The main characters are nearly all part of the Rowan/Raven/Lyon family. The books follows the lives, relationships, work and travels of the main characters. In particular it follows their contacts with two alien species – the Beetles, a hive-minded insectoid race, and the Mrdini, furry humanoids who have been fighting against the Beetles. This series is composed of five books:

  • The Rowan (1990)
  • Damia (1991)
  • Damia’s Children (1992)
  • Lyon’s Pride (1994)
  • The Tower and the Hive (1999)

Tower and the Hive

The Rowan is discovered on the planet Altair as an orphan who has very strong telepathy. With the expectation that she will become a Prime, she is learns to develop her telepathy and telekinesis as a child and ward of the planet, then in a Tower under the guidance of Siglen, the Altair Prime. As a young woman she gains her own Tower at Callisto (Jupiter’s moon) and meets Afra Lyon, a T-4 who becomes her friend and main assistant. She first encounters Jeff Raven (Deneb’s Prime) when he requests assistance after Deneb (a newer colony) is attacked by an alien force that seems determined to wipe out life on the planet. The attacking aliens don’t communicate and two ships are destroyed by a gestalt of the Primes under the Rowan’s leadership.  The third is pushed out into space. Debris from destroyed ships and the observations from the talents suggests the Beetles are a large insectoid hive-like alien led by a ‘queen’, similar to ants, in the way the function. The Rowan begins a romantic relationship with Jeff and they commute between the their two Towers/planets. Three years later, emerging Talents on Deneb detect the approach of another Beetle ship. Jeff is sent with representative of the Fleet (the Leagues military arm) to scout and locates a huge asteroid ship approaching with multiple queens on board. When Fleet proves powerless to stop it, all T-3 ratings and above through-out the League are linked through their Primes and while the Rowan leads one gestalt to neutralise the queens, Jeff leads a second to swing the ship out of Deneb’s orbit and into the sun.

‘Damia’ begins by telling of Afra Lyon’s upbringing and how he came to work with the Rowan. The Rowan and Jeff Raven have four children – Jeran, Cera, Damia and Larak. Damia, even as a child, proves to be a powerful talent and difficult to raise. Afra has become greatly involved in supporting both the Rowan, Jeff, and their children. Jeff takes over as Earth Prime and head of FT&T. Their children are sent to Deneb to be raised by Jeff’s talented (but untrained) mother Isthia and to be part of a newly established training program for the young talents emerging on the colony world. Much later, as adults, Jeran becomes Deneb’s Prime and Damia is sent to Iota Aurigae to be Prime for the mining colony there. All the worlds have been concerned about possible beetle attack and so there is great concern when she becomes aware of a alien aura approaching. Afra and her brother Larak assist her in learning more of this approaching ship, of which the only thing they are certain is that it is not beetle. Later, Deneb becomes a the point of a first-contact between talents there and another alien species. This species, the Mrdini had been tracking the huge beetle ship that was destroyed at Deneb. They are looking for an alliance to track and fight the beetles.

Further books concern Damia’s children (primarily) as they take positions as Tower Prime’s or mobile Primes with Fleet ships as they work with the Mrdini. The eldest daughter Laria goes to Clarf, a Mrdini world, to learn and teach language & culture, (eventually becoming it’s Prime); son’s Thian and Rojer, serve with Fleet tracking three beetle ships. A live hive queen is captured, and a number of beetle colonies are discovered. Zaria tries to understand and communicate with the hivers. Tensions have also begun to rise on Human and Mrdini worlds – resentment over the power of certain Talents and the division of potential colony worlds discovered by those exploring space.

Final notes:

I’ve given the most detail on the first book and a little less on the second. I won’t give an in-depth summary of the whole series. That would give away some of the developments – if what I’ve written gains your interest – then read the series yourself!

The characters are well defined and realistic. They make relationships, travel, learn, make mistakes and suffer loss. Anne is not afraid to have her characters suffer, be attacked or even die. They live, love, have regrets and find fulfilment. Their worlds are not perfect – there is abuse, resentment, jealousy, prejudice, ethics and morals – on a small and large scale. Her aliens are alien – the humanoid Mrdini are human-like, but even with human telepathy – there’s no universal translators or fast communication. The captured Hiver Queen doesn’t make noises, rarely moves and completely ignores humans near her as if they don’t exist. One theme in the books is trying to find out how the hivers communicate between themselves. The humans and Mrdini have ideas about the technology in the Hiver ships, but no idea how to make anything work. There is intelligent use of science, which is common in Anne’s books – she consults experts to make sure that the science in her fiction is based on real knowledge.

I highly recommend this as a series. The first two novels could be read as stand-alone books, but I would not suggest picking up the last three if you hadn’t at least read ‘Damia’, and planned to continue in sequence.

When the phone rings in the evening…

Today was the the first proper day of my Christmas holidays and annual leave…

It was a delight to go back to bed after feeding the chickens!

I’ve enjoyed a large breakfast, read (Chimera, Rob Thurman), watched two movies (R.I.P.D. with Ryan Reynolds & Jeff Bridges, and Hercules – the one with Dwayne Johnson), played World of Warcraft (Troll Hunter on Uther), criticised an incompetent Estate Agent (I spoke to the manager), taken joy in phoning a gas company (to say the bill I received relates to someone else), walked with the chickens, changed a light bulb, de-fragged my computer drives, had home-cooked fried noodles for dinner (my wife is Chinese), and booked the car in for a service. No more figure painting yet… that starts again tomorrow!

At 5.45pm tonight the phone rang…

There are expectations when the phone rings between 5 and 7pm – especially on a weeknight:

There’s a small chance that it could be my mother calling (memories of a Police song just went through my head), it might be a mate who rings weekly (sometimes more often) hoping I’ll arrange a get together on the weekend, or as it is most of the time, a person with an African accent pretending that they are in Australia representing some company doing a survey, installing lights/solar panels/other crap, or to tell me my computer is infected with a virus…

Depending on my mood – the rubbish calls either

(1) get told where to go fairly quickly,

(2) I ask for clarifications they can’t give me (I studied I.T. at University and know my way around a computer)

or (3) I’ll lead them on for as long as possible. One of the best nights was where I was on the phone for 30 minutes plus, and spoke to 9 different people – I kept saying “I can’t understand your accent – do you have someone who speaks better English?”

Tonight I got an American accent (which is very different) and they got my name right after I answered (extremely unusual). Then they said they were from a publishing agent. <is this a fake call after all?> I can play along with that…

She asked if I had a time-lime for the completion of my novel. <Now pick me up from the floor>

The call didn’t get much further because I was so flustered, and I said it wasn’t something I was focused on at the moment and had a few chapters but didn’t know when I’d finish. She said she emailed me something and I could give her a call back if I was getting somewhere. After hanging up I wished I’d paid more attention because she mentioned a hotmail address, and I cancelled that months ago. I also can’t remember the company name.

I AM writing a novel.

I’ve been working on a fantasy novel for years, but haven’t really done any work on it this year. I’ve got 6+ chapters typed out, and lots of notes. Last year’s bout of creativity produced more notes, guidelines, background and character detail rather than actual story writing, when I wasn’t re-writing some of the oldest material. Most of my stuff is typed into the computer (and backed up) but I’ve also got a folder of hand-written stuff.

I need to continue overhauling and expanding my detail on the “Book of Lore” that is the basis for the Kingdom’s rules and customs, and redefining my political scene, to make the set up for the adventure more “realistic”.

Novel summary – The King of Kalindal and his heir have both died recently and there’s five candidates for the throne. Rather than have an election, an old rule is used to start a challenge. Three of the candidates head to a nearby mountain that contains a magical creature, seeking a token of the guardian. One of the candidates has hired an assassin.

The book primarily follows a young noble woman and her male guardian/friend as they learn the secrets of the “Caverns of Rahlt” (named after the Wizard who trapped the creature) and hope to make her Queen. I have very different ideas on presenting my assassin (compared to anything I’ve read before) and an interesting magical weapon.

My D&D background initially influenced a lot of ideas and characters, but its grown a long way beyond that especially after I collected nearly all the Darkover Series (Marion Z. Bradley) and read the Riven Codex (David Eddings).

Now, if I can just sit down and start typing again… (Maybe some of those evenings when my wife is watching Korean TV series)

and hopefully the email bounces and the woman phones me back!

Exploring Metafunctions – The Saga of the Exiles & The Galactic Milieu

In the mid to late 1980’s a book titled “The Many Coloured Land” by Julian May, found me.

This introduced a set of widely different characters – misfits in a future society – who travel back 6 million years into Europe’s past. Like most novels I read in the 80’s and 90’s I found one character in particular that resonated with the way I was feeling. (Bryan Grenfell) Beyond that, I loved the ideas of a futuristic “world”, the time-travel to the past and particularly the mind-powers of many of the peoples in the book. I got the other three books in the Exile series as soon as I could and loved the lot.

Later, May wrote a new book called “Intervention” which described the build up to and contact (or revealing) by the other races in the galaxy, much of which relates to the human development of mind-powers. This was followed by the Galactic Milieu trilogy that detailed the development of the relationships between species and introduction to the larger society of all beings. In each of these four books, the story is wound around the lives of the Remillard family, who produce the most powerful mind-powers and both aid & threaten the whole galactic stability. (These four books are actually a prequel to the Saga/Exiles series.)

Recently I decided to re-read the entire set of eight books, and I chose to do it in chronological order by the events in the books, rather than the order I had originally read them – as they had been written/published. I won’t recommend reading them as Exile Saga then Galactic Milieu or vice versa. Both ways “work” and offer insights to the other books. Make your own choice!

Intervention (1987)                                                              Earth 1945 – 2013

Jack the Bodiless (Galactic Milieu #1, 1991)                        2040 – 2054

Diamond Mask (Galactic Milieu #2, 1994)                            2062 – 2077

Magnificat (Galactic Milieu #3, 1996)                                   2078 – 2083

The Many Coloured Land (Saga of the Exiles #1, 1981)     “2110” (6 million years BC)

The Golden Torc (Saga of the Exiles #2, 1982)                   “2110-2111”

The Non Born King (Saga of the Exiles #3, 1983)               “2111”

The Adversary (Saga of the Exiles #4, 1984)                      “2111”

There are five categories of ‘metapsychic‘ powers in the series:
Creativity: the ability to create illusions, change shape and manipulate energy.
Coercion: the ability of to influence or actually mind control other people.
Psychokinesis: (or PK) the ability to move physical objects (e.g. telekinesis, levitation).
Farsensing: the ability to communicate with others and to sense remotely (e.g. telepathy, clairvoyance).
Redaction: the ability of psychic (or physical) healing and mind reading.

I was very impressed the way these powers were defined, detailed and explained, throughout the books.

I liked the style or set-up used in Intervention & the G.Milieu books. Each section starts off in 2113 with Rogatien Remillard (“Uncle Rogi”) writing his memoirs – a biography/history of the Remillard family. Then each chapter is the “chronicle” with other events of that time to fill in the story fully. Rogi himself has minor powers and the self-rejuvenating (or “Immortality”) gene common to some of his family, which allows him to be a witness to the whole time-line. Starting with the peaceful Rogi and his dominating brother, we follow the family line as they develop powers, attempt to bring a form of world peace and the introduction of humans to the alien races of the Milieu. Later the extended family variously threaten or bring together the milieu, as human worlds are settled and many aren’t sure if they want to be part of an alien culture/society. The final stage is the metapsychic rebellion lead by Marc Remillard, and his brother Jon who stands up to him.

The Saga books are a straight forward story covering a shorter period of time in detail, primarily from the point of view of  “green group” who came “back” together. Using a one-way time-gate, non-metapsychic humans have been retreating to the pliocene to live a simpler or different life. Once they arrive they find a dual race of exotics (metapsychic near-humans) from another galaxy have crash landed there previously.  The Tanu use technology to boost their minor or latent powers to full operancy, and this also works for humans. They incorporate travellers into their society – sometimes willingly, but often by force and coercion – primarily as a workforce and for breeding stock. The Fivulag are operants (primarily creativity) who regularly fight against the Tanu, but don’t utilise humans. Three of the green group are special – Aiken (latent creativity & PK), Felice (latent coercion & redaction) and Elizabeth (former operant farsense & redact) – because they attain (or regain) full operancy. Aitken wants to rule the world, Felice wants revenge on the Tanu (or anyone else) who try to dominate her, and Elizabeth wants to run away and find peace. The books follow the development of their power(s) and those around them as they overthrow the Tanu and try to build new societies. There are also links to Celtic mythology here – suggesting that the tanu and fivulag relate to the “stories” of elves and dwarves in our human history. It doesn’t blatantly hit you over the head with the idea, but it is a well detailed theme in the background.

I’ve only given a general summary of the books here – it’s easy to find reviews and more detail on the internet. I loved the powers, the explanations and development of human potential, the politics (much more interesting than real world stuff), alien races, the mysteries presented, solutions found and the hints that point to other books in the whole set. There are well visualised settings, interesting and detailed characters, long ranging themes and mysteries, gems of amusement, sadness and joy. There are plenty of suggestions that May had planned her ideas before everything came out, because the Milieu series meshes so well with the earlier written Saga/Exiles. I’d love to read a follow on to the Pliocene Saga!

Digressions… (to and from Reading)

I’ve been meaning to write about what I’m currently reading for quite some time – it is one of the reasons I liked the idea of setting up this blog – but mostly my posts have been about figure painting. [Nothing much happening there… I’ve got one nearly finished figure that has been that way for the last 2 weeks!]

Once I’d decided to write (back in October), it occurred to me that I would digress from what I was reading, so I’m starting with most of the digressions and the reading post with be for the future. I’ve already read another 7 books since then, and likely will finish the current book before I post! [Edit: Yes – finished it last night.]

I’d finished a long book series and come into possession of a book of short stories by my all-time favourite author – Anne McCaffrey. “Get Off the Unicorn” (1977). [I’ve read a few of the stories in here before from other sources, but never the whole book] I was still in the mood for reading series and had a theme of sorts that I’m continuing. [Books I own, that grabbed my attention right from the beginning, that I hadn’t read for a long time, favourite authors.] In particular, Anne states of some of the stories that they were early ideas she hoped to turn into novels. 37 years later, I know that she realised her hope – I’ve got those complete novels on my shelf. This started me into a series of hers based on two of the short stories (Tower & Hive, 1990-1999) that also related in theme to the series I’d finished by Julian May. [Intervention, Galactic Milieu, Saga of the Exiles. 1978-1992]

I read a lot. I’m a fast reader (I read quickly, which is not the same as “speed reading”). I read almost every day.

One of my most inspiring days as a very young person was when I realised that libraries had fiction books!

Normally, I start reading while I have breakfast; I read at lunch-time, and during morning and afternoon breaks at work. (I used to read on the bus/train when I caught Public Transport – and I missed my stop many times.) This year I’ve often made a drink and sat out with the chickens and read to relax for 30min or so after work. I like to sit in bed and read for a while before I sleep. I used to get in trouble for reading in class in High School… early English Classes were terrible when we were reading parts of a book because EVERYONE else was sooooooo slooooooooow.

How many books have I got?

Last estimate was about 600 novels. [I checked – I’ve got an old Excel spreadsheet list, but it needs updating. I’m not going to count my other books!]

Who are my favourite authors?

Top of the list is Anne McCaffrey. (Since I picked up “The Ship who sang” in my High School library in the early 1980’s.)

I also really like: Marion Z Bradley, Steven Brust, Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Raymond E Fiest, Barbara Hambly, Patricia McKillip, Terry Pratchett and J.R.R. Tolkien. (Alphabetical by surname, not in order of preference.)

Mostly I read Fantasy and Science Fantasy/Fiction, although I enjoy adventure and mystery novels as well. I’ll read nearly anything if it sounds worthwhile, or on a subject/theme/person that I’m interested in. My interest in Dragons may relate to the Pern/Dragon-rider novels (Anne McCaffrey), since in Primary School I was more interested in Dinosaurs.

Aside: “Dragons of Lancasm” is the name of my World of Warcraft guild, on the Uther server. (I say my guild because the only characters in it that aren’t mine are my wife’s. I got the charter signed using my main Character and nine 10-day guest passes.)

I think that covers my assortment of thoughts and now I can get onto what I’ve been reading…