Sunday, January 8, 2012

An oar is an instrument used to propel boats

"This is my story, the story of Oar. It is a wonderful story. I was in another story once,but it was not so wonderful, as I died in the end. That was very most sad indeed. But it turns out I am not such a one as stays dead forever, especially when I only fell eighty floors to the pavement. I am made of sterner stuff than that."

So begins the story of Oar, a woman made of glass. In the first Gardner book, "Expendable," Explorer Festina Ramos saved Oar's planet, Melaquin, from destruction at the hands of an insane Explorer. This time around, Oar joins Festina to unravel the mystery of the Shadill. Four hundred years ago, The Shadill offered to transport humans to a New Earth, where they may join the League of Peoples and share in its advanced technologies. These technologies include genetic engineering, advanced medical knowledge, terraforming, and Faster Than Light star drives. But why have they done this? And why are the species 'uplifted' by the Shadill stagnating?

Oar is rescued from her planet by a Divian smuggler, Uclod, and his wife, Lajooli. Oar is apparently evidence the Admiralty High Council wants suppressed so their misdeeds will not be discovered. Before the little party can escape Melaquin's system, they are attacked by a Shadill ship, but then rescued by Festina and her crew. Still fleeing from the Shadill, Oar and her company have many adventures before they discover the Shadill's secret.

Oar is a genetically-enhanced being with a near-indestructible body and super-intelligent brain. But her genetic modification has left her without the ability to mature, so she is very child-like: naive, selfish, insecure, socially inexperienced, and rash. She is also very loving. And very, very funny.

"Don't you live in the world?"

Arthur Miller is a playwright, the author of “Death of a Salesman,” “The Crucible,” “A View From the Bridge,” and many other plays. He was also married to Marilyn Monroe and blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee for refusing to name names. He is considered to be one of the greatest dramatists of the twentieth century.

” All My Sons” follows the classic structure of a Greek tragedy: it takes place within a 24 hour period, has a flawed protagonist who has committed an offense, and describes the fallout for that offense. Much of the back story is told through conversation between the characters and actions are described instead of being acted out.

The play is set in August 1947, in an unspecified town of the American mid-west. Joe Keller, the patriarch and our flawed protagonist, is a man who reveres his family above all else. He has sacrificed everything in order to care for his family and ensure its prosperity. He has lost one son in the war, and hopes to see his remaining son, Chris, marry and take over the family business, a machine shop that supplied parts for the military in WWII. Chris is in love with Ann, the former fiancĂ©e of his brother, Larry. They plan to marry. Chris’s mother Kate, believes Larry is still alive, but MIA. For three and a half years, she has concealed her knowledge of a crime her husband has committed.

Ann’s father and Joe were partners and owners of a machine shop that sent out defective parts during the war, resulting in the deaths of 21 pilots. Ann’s father was sent to prison, while Joe was exonerated. Kate cannot allow Ann and Chris to marry, because then she would have to admit that Larry is dead and never coming back. If she admits to Larry’s death, then all of her lies to herself will be laid bare.

“All My Sons” explores the meanings of family: the nuclear family, the extended family, the family of man. It asks “how far is too farto go to protect your own?” It wants to know: who are your own?

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Our heroine, Festina Ramos, Lieutenant Admiral of Outward Fleet Explorer Corps, is back!

Explorer Edward York is on an Outward Fleet spaceship, the Willow, when it attempts to transport a dangerous non-sentient being out of its solar system. As the Willow crosses out of the system, suddenly everyone aboard ship except for Edward drops dead, executed by the League of Peoples. Edward, while physically perfect, is a little lacking in the brains department. He survived because he didn't know what was going on.

Alone on a dead ship, Edward explores and finds the dangerous non-sentient: a dead Hive-Queen from Mandasar, the planet where he just spent 20 years in exile.

Edward is rescued from pirates by a fellow Explorer, and soon enough Edward, Festina, and a family of Mandasars are trying to figure out the mystery of the dead queen. To complicate matters, Edward is the son of High Admiral Alexander York, who holds Edward responsible for the death of Samantha, Edward's sister. Admiral York wants his son to stay lost. And the Mandasar home planet has descended into civil war.

The story moves along briskly and the characters are likable and amusing. The universe Gardner has created is well thought out, and tries to avoid space opera cliches.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Stop! You're making me allergic!

I have a hoard of books, comprised of both my late husband’s and mine. I know it is a heavy hoard because we moved it all over the country before we settled. I was going to read all the James Alan Garner books in order of publication—I’m OCPD like that. But surrounded by all these books, I can’t seem to find the next Gardner book. I have all his others, so I’ll move on.

“Vigilant” was the first Gardner book my husband brought me. It began my love for Gardner AND birthed a family meme. It is the third book in Gardner's "League of Peoples" series.

Our heroine from “Expendable” is a guest star here, but our narrator and protagonist for this adventure is Faye Smallwood, a reformed juvenile delinquent. She lives on the planet Demoth, which is populated by both humans and Ooloms, a genetically engineered humanoid species. When Faye was a teenager, a plague decimated the Oolom population. Faye’s father, a doctor, discovered the cure for the plague but died soon after. Faye’s reaction to all this death was to become a promiscuous wildchild and then enter into a group marriage to escape her depressed mother.

As she nears forty, Faye decides she needs to make a difference in the world and joins The Vigil, a planetary organization of mediators who supervise the activities of the Demoth government. After seven years of training, Faye’s first assignment is supposed to be easy and safe: looking at the conditions and budgets of local water treatment plants. But at the first inspection site, assassins kill her partner. Faye escapes, but finds herself caught in the middle of several mysteries, only one of which is: in a universe where a murderer is considered a “dangerous non-sentient” and denied star-travel, how can assassinations occur?

Admiral Festina Ramos is part of the investigation into the assassinations and befriends our Faye, and heart-pounding adventure begins.

The family meme? You’re making me allergic.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Greetings. I am a sentient citizen of the League of Peoples and I beg your hospitality

My husband wooed me with books. I love books and like to read them over and over, so I have a hard time getting rid of a book after I read it unless I hate it, so libraries aren’t for me (too many overdue fees!). He worked in a bookstore and so he brought me books—paperbacks, hardcovers, all genres, best-sellers, non-sellers. I discovered new favorite authors and actually threw out some books because I hated them so much.

James Alan Gardner is one “new favorite author” discovered early in the wooing. is a Canadian science fiction author. He has so far written seven novels in his "League of Peoples" universe. Expendable is the first.

Festina Ramos is a member of the Explorer Corps, experts in First Contact and ECMs (expendable Crew Members). Each Explorer is ‘handicapped.’ Though all Explorers are exceptionally bright and fit, they are chosen to be Explorers because they are less than physically perfect. They may have a disease or a birth defect or something that makes them repellent to beautiful people. If such an imperfect person dies, others will not be as devastated as they would be if a beautiful person dies.

Festina and her partner are sent to Melaquin, a planet from which no Explorer has ever returned. In fact, all contact is within minutes of each landing. They must discover the secret of the planet.

Sounds like a pretty straight-forward Sci-fi novel, right? Only Mr. Gardner has crafted a unique and exciting universe where murder is outlawed: only “dangerous non-sentients” kill other sentients. Dangerous non-sentients are not allowed to leave their solar systems under penalty of death by the omniscient League of Peoples. So in a universe with no murder, how do ‘bad guys’ get rid of people they don’t want? And can they get away with it?

Mr. Gardner weaves his universe’s backstory and structure into the primary narration, so that you learn about history and the story at the same time without having to deal with long-winded explanations. Our heroine, Festina, is a fully-realized human being, dealing with self-doubt, fear, hope, and determination—all with a sense of humor and humanity.