Sunday, 26 February 2012

Moving Mars - Greg Bear - Final thoughts

I loved Moving Mars.  It's a gripping science fiction novel, about the settlers on Mars, and how they grow up and break away from Earth.  It's much more than that, though. I posted earlier about my first thoughts while reading it, and I've had over a week to let it settle in my mind.  Moving Mars is about the people who settle there, and how Mars changes them. It's much like how settlers here in North America or Australia must have felt - and their descendants.  Because the settlement on Mars is 70 years old, when they face the stuggle they have with examining if they should stay with earth, and what right they have to be a world in their own right, it's like remembering our history - how the US colonists fought to not pay extra tax to England, about 150 years after the first settlers arrived.  When does a colony become a self-sufficient country or world?  In Moving Mars, we get to experience first hand the changes that Mars goes through, through the eyes of Casseia Majumdar, and through all the characters around her, especially Charles Franklin, who makes the scientific breakthrough in thinking and physics, that leads Earth to struggle with Mars for control of that power.  It was unputdownable. 

I loved how Casseia travels back to Earth early on, so we get to see how Earth has changed.  I was fascinated by the way Bear shows that economics and the hidden few that control the economic system, eventually paved the way for the different continents to come together in a power base, so there were several groupings that decided how the world would function as a unit as man moved into space - first the moon, and then Mars, were colonized.  People are the same, though how they connect has been changed by social networking - there is a very cool party scene that Casseia experiences while on Earth, that I could see the new generation coming up, wanting to create between their social plug-ins and desire to connect with as many people as possible, in many different ways.  It was fascinating.

I enjoyed the advances in science and technology that Bear explains made moving into space possible, and how life was possible on Mars - the physical contraints, and why they tunneled into Mars to live, rather than just living on the surface.  Most of all though, I enjoyed the idea of the thinkers, the super computers that eventually evolve to having a personality made when a person joins with them - goes into them, in a sense. The blending of human creativity with all that is known to exist, makes for an interesting way to see one possible future for the computers and internet and the vast possible ways we could interface together.  What do we do with knowledge?  Where can we go with it?  In Moving Mars, it eventually becomes possible to break down the smallest particle, to its essence, with thought - the space in the center of the smallest photon, is empty, surrounded by the energy charge that makes it positive or negative.  Out of this, the photon moves towards or from the photons surrounding it, and so we have the physical structure of life.  Once Charles is able to think his way to that structure, and with the help of a Thinker, join his mind to moving the photon, then moving in space becomes possible. I won't say any more, because I don't want to give away what he does, and why, though I will say that it was powerful to read, and very thought-provoking.  I also have to apologize if I got any of the science wrong, I'm sure I got a term in there wrong somewhere!

I read this for Carl's Sci Fi Experience, and also as part of my personal challenge to read more Hugo and Nebula winning science fiction. Moving Mars won the Nebula Award, and deservedly so.

We have 3 days left, and I have two more books to review for Carl's Sci Fi challenge.  If I'm lucky, I will have another one to add in time.  However, I am going to be continuing my science fiction reading this year.  I am participating in the Grandmaster Challenge at World's End blog, and I am having a ball finding new books and authors to read. 

I also am finding I am piling up other books to read very soon - The Morville Hours, and finish reading some books I started before Christmas, like The Most Beautiful Villages in England, and The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction.  And, of course, Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge will be starting very soon (I hope!), and I have several books out from the library already that fall into this fantasy/dark fantasy area. 

Finally, for a brief time:
Plus, I finally broke down and requested a book from our library, that it not currently being published and no copies are floating around:  The Winds of Marble Arch, the collected short stories of Connie Willis.  It finally came into my house yesterday.  I have it for a maximum of three renewals, and then I have to let this dear book (I already love it) out of my hands again.  I won't read it all in time for Carl's challenge, but it will fit into the Grandmaster reading challenge.  I love it because I have read a few short stories by Connie, and I know fabulous ideas await me.  Of course the very best news would be that Subterranean Press finally announces they are publishing the announced but never seen soft cover edition of Winds of Marble Arch.  Not yet. Sometimes, despite all our advances, other things get in the way of getting a book published.

I hope you have a week filled with good reading ahead also!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Saturday meme, or too many heroines to name just one

So DesLily over at Here, There and Everywhere tagged me for a meme. It's been a long time since I've done one, and I thought I would take this snowy Saturday and do it.  I'm home with a sick child - ear infection, also, a result of the virus we have all had in this house over the past two weeks.  I've been sick enough that I haven't been able to come on here and post even though I have been reading some fabulous books.  Tomorrow, perhaps, if my son is feeling better......

In the meantime, Deslily's Meme:
1. What are your most favorite books that you have read more than once (name at least two): Yikes!  Surprisingly easy to answer though: Persuasion by Jane Austen, and Bellwether by Connie Willis. 
2. Who is your favorite male character from a book? It should have been easy, Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.  But then I began thinking about my favourite can you make me choose between Erlendur (Reykjavik series), Martin Beck (Sweden), John Rebus (Scotland), and my current amour, Harry Hole (Norway)?  What about Aragorn (LotR), Hamish McBeth (anyone else want to move to Loch Dubh?), or Jon Snow (A Game of Thrones)?  Captain Wentworth from Persuasion?  Deep, deep down, he came back to see what had become of Anne, because he could not forget her.  *rapturous sigh*
3. Who is your favorite female character from a book? It would have to be Elizabeth Bennett.nbsp; I would love to chat with her, and she has such a good sense of humour, and good spirit about her, and loves so intensely.  Plus she's thoughtful. But then I thought of Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables series), whom I have loved since I was a child. Irrepressible, even though she had such a hard beginning, kind, funny, and introduced me to poetry - especially Tennyson.  Magical. I think often even now of her and her red hair and her freckles, and Marilla and Matthew who adopted her. What about Anna Lee of the mystery series by Liza Cody?  Calm, unpretentious, quiet, thoughtful.  Cordelia Gray?  I was devastated when I learned there were to be no more books from James about her.  Thursday Next?  Jilly Coppercorn in the Charles de Lint ongoing series?  Mercy Thompson, as she learns ever so slowly about what being a coyote shapeshifter is?  I love that she is so independent.  There are so many good female characters out there - VI Warshawski is a real favourite of mine, as is Kinsey Milhone (whose series I have to catch up on), and Jane Eyre - once more, another spirited heroine, independent, fiesty.  I don't have a favourite.  But looking back on this list, I can see that I admire female characters who are outspoken, fair, honest, who try to live by a moral code, and who care, even if it is their pet hamster (Stephanie Plum!).  One standout character for me is Ista, from Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold - a middle-aged fantasy, one reviewer called it.  I thought Ista was exciting to read about, and refreshing.  She was a cynical, world-weary but fiesty woman, who  takes to the road after everything is over for her at her former home. Fantasy is for all ages (Gandalf was hundreds of years old!) Pat, I'm very sorry, I have too many favourite female characters.  What a wonderful world we live in,!  So many good characters!
4. What is the last book that you read that is out of your comfort zone, and did you enjoy it?  Hmm. The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton.  I don't read much regular fiction, and she sent me this to read.  I ended up really enjoying it - so much so, that I've kept it to reread again some day.  I particularly like the main character's life in France, and how she settles into the village and new country life style.  It's been a year since I read it, and I can still recall some scenes, which doesn't happen often for me. 
5. If you could have gone on the movie sets of any movie and watched it being made, which movie would you choose, and why?  OH - Lord of the Rings!  I want to be there now for the making of The Hobbit!  New Zealand!  ok no real dragons, but still - hobbits! Gandalf! dwarves and elves!  *ignores the possibility of encountering the spider* Followed by the Alien movie (cool sets, and a space ship). 
6. What food is your most guilty pleasure? chocolate!!!!!!!!  even though I'm diabetic, I still eat some every day.  There had better be books and chocolate in heaven (followed by tea) or I'm coming back here asap.
7. If you could travel somewhere (money is no object) where would you go? only one place?  really?  My list is so long...London England.  There is so much to see there - British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, historic houses and buildings, the streets where authors lived and walked.....and especially, my favourite area, Charing Cross Road. Bookstores, - Foyles, Forbidden Planet, Persephone Books, Waterstones, and then the marvellous tiny bookstores hidden away on the side streets all along Charing Cross Road.  A slice of heaven for this book lover. 
8. If you could change one thing in our world, what would it be?  I would stop crop manipulations/sterile seeds.  This frightens me almost more than anything, because if the sterility spreads to nearby crops (which it has), one day we could see the end of our food supply, all because we didn't stop to think about what we were doing (and the money involved, of course).
9. What is something that you’d like to accomplish this year?  You don't ask easy questions, do you, Pat? I'd like to start and finish the second draft of my novel that I finished the first draft of, 4 years ago.    I'm afraid that it's so bad that I haven't been able to look at it yet.
10. What are 3 things that are very important to you? Watching my blood sugar levels, my children, and aboriginal rights .  My brother is Ojibway, he's adopted, and because he is part of my family, I have been privileged to meet a part of society that has a different culture, and which I have developed immense respect for.
11. If you could go back in time, where and when would you be? 1832 London Ontario, when my Welsh ancestors arrived.  I have always wanted to see how the pioneers lived, and knowing now that my ancestors were among those that founded the community in and around London, makes me wish I could go back in time and see what London looked like then, with the great forest all around, and the tiny log cabins in the wilderness as each family cleared their space and developed the land.

Now, it's my turn. I have to pick 11! bloggers, and ask 11 questions for them. Like Pat, I'm cheating and picking five.  
Geraniumcat at Geranium Cat's Bookshelf
Bride from Bride of the Book God
Wendy from Musings of a Literary Feline
Jane from Reading, Writing, Working, Playing
 Emily from Telecommuter Talk

My quesions:
 1. What is your favourite place in the world?
 2. Have you ever visited an author's home, and did the experience live up to your expectation?
3. Do you read biographies of authors you like, or do you prefer to let their words speak for them?
4. Do you have a comfort food?
5. Do you have a favourite classical author? 
6. Do you prefer to watch the movie first, or read the book first?
7. Do you have enough bookshelves?  (I know this question is a cheat, because really do any of us have enough bookshelves?)
8. Is there an author that you are planning to read this year for the first time?
9. Do you have a favourite historical period, and why is it your favourite?
10.  Name a book that you are anticipating reading that is being published this year.
and just because I like this question so much:
11.  Name two of your favourite novels that you have reread more than once.

 These are the only rules: 
1. Post the Rules :
2. Answer the eleven questions that were asked of you by the person who tagged you
3. Make up eleven new questions and tag eleven new people to do the meme!
4. Let them know you tagged them!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

thoughts on a new/old love affair with science fiction

I am finding myself in a puzzling place. Puzzling because I feel like I've been caught up in a love affair, except it's not with a person, but with books.  Specifically, I mean science fiction.  It's kind of like the nerdy guy who you were afraid to like in high school in case you got typecast along with him (and sorry, we all know this happens, high school is a terrifying place for being anything other than cool).  You flirted with him, read some Heinlein and Asimov so you could share some conversation, partake of little jokes, but in the end your heart wasn't in it because the science was too far above what you could imagine at the time.  So you said good bye to the cute, intelligent guy, a little sadly.  Zoom ahead 30 years.  All of a sudden, life on earth seems limited.  Is this all there is?  you ask yourself once more.  And suddenly, there he is, now an established professor/director of dark star studies/renowned physicist:  even if you still don't quite understand everything he says, suddenly he is COOL.  The beauties in high school had it wrong.  Jocks are now plump and have head traumas, so they can't always talk clearly (just joking, kind of, sporty guys.).  Now, the misfit chess club guy who loved maths is the one who has lots to talk about. He is the epitome of everything that could be, that is fun, that is exciting, that is out there and not limited by gravity.  Welcome to my new crush, the science fiction novel.

How badly do I have it?  This is what I brought home from the library on Thursday:

I had gone in for the Bond Girl book, and look what I came out with:  all science fiction novels.
The Collapsium - Will McCarthy - (in the future, death is unlocked.  But, even without death, rivals remain, and two rivals in spacetime exploration must put aside to save the universe from destruction)
Lear's Daughters - Marjorie B. Kellogg - (environmental disaster on earth, a planet in the universe that might hold the key to earth's survival, only the race that is indigenous to the planet claims twin goddesses rule and the planet is their battlefield.  It's more interesting than this, trust me!!!)
Terraforming Earth - Jack Williamson - for my Grandmaster Challenge author this month.  After a meteor crashes into earth, one space ship flees to the moon.  After generations pass, they return to Earth when it is ready again for life.  But how have they changed?  sounds very interesting)
Rainbow's End - Vernor Vinge -  (A look at the future of the web, and featuring Mr Rabbit, a mysterious friend of the character's granddaughter. who could resist this?)
Bond Girl- Erin Duffy (I requested this from the library, a brand new novel about the stock market crash in 2008, from the point of view of a woman who starts from the bottom.  Fluffy and fun, though not sure if she can muscle her way through all these science fiction heavy thinkers)

 No deal is too good to resist:
But that's not all.  Last night I went to Chapters to see what their two-for-one deal consisted of.  ALL pocketbooks qualified, mass market size.  I had the whole store to range through, and this is what I picked: 

Red Bones - Ann Cleeves (I read book one, Raven Black,  over Christmas, have yet to do my review,  and have broken down and bought this one because I can't find book 2, White Nights, anywhere.  Excellent first book in the series set in Shetland, featuring Jimmy Perez)
The Day Watch - Sergei Lukyanenko (I read book one, Day Watch, last year from the library, based on Memory's review.  I really enjoyed it, vampires in modern Russia, with magic and sorcerers.  So cool!  I can't find book one to buy, so finally bought book two to continue the series)
The Atrocity Files - Charles Stross (Bride of the Book God brought this author to my attention, but my real attention got hooked on the description:  office clerk fights Lovecraft monsters in the cubicles.  Hey, this could be my office on some days!  Must read it)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - NK Jemisin -on everyone's best of fantasy lists last year.  A first novel) - nominated for a World Fantasy Award last year.
A Fire Upon the Deep - Vernor Vinge (for my Grandmasters challenge, but also, this story looks fabulous:" two children are survivors of a crash on a world with a medieval, lupine race."  This book had me at lupine.) Hugo winner
The Engines of God - Jack McDevitt - (first in the Priscilla Hutchins series.  Chindi, third in this series, is considered among the best among recent scifi novels.  I wanted to begin with the first one, also considered highly.  It keeps coming with references to Rendezvous with Rama quotes, so good thing I bought Rendezvous already.  Plus: a female pilot, star of a series that has won the Hugo.  Science fiction has come a long way, baby!)
And then, just because I came across it on the Worlds Without End listings,
The Vampire Tapestry - Suzy McKee Charnas - a vampire novel that I haven't read!  one that was nominated for a Nebula!!  When I saw it on the shelf, I grabbed it, and it might be the only thing that might lure me away from the pure science guy.  Temporarily at least).
3 science fiction, 1 mystery, 1 fantasy, 1 horror.  Um, see the trend?  Am I hooked?

I am reading Moving Mars right now.  It's by Greg Bear, and won the Nebula Award.  It's set in the future, in 2160, 2170, and future decades (I'm only 1/3 into the book, and Casseia is writing looking back on her life, so I don't know how far we go ahead yet). Earth has colonized the moon, and Mars, now.  Moon has folded back into earth's control, but Mars, Mars is fighting.  I think that Mars is so fixed in our psychology as the God of War, that any book or tv show that features it, by nature makes Mars fiesty and rebellious, wanting to be set free from Earth's control.  In Moving Mars, Mars has only been a colony for 100 years.  It takes 8 months to journey back to earth by space ship.  Bear carefully explains how all this is possible. I'm sure someone who understands how rocket fuel works, the physicality of life on Mars (with less gravity than earth and completely inhospitable) and about distances between stars and time, could figure out the care he's taken to get that part right.  What I am interested in, is the people.  Who went there to colonize?  How do they develop?  What happens when Earth wants something Mars has?  Which in this case, Mars does, and Mars and Earth are fighting over control of Mars and Mars's development. We see these events through the eyes of Casseia Majumbar, daughter of one of the founding families, who are called Binding Multiples, as the colony as it developed necessarily had different areas settled in, and no coherent government at first, just the heads of each family.  Mars still doesn't have a central government authority, and so when Earth tries to control Mars, the BM's are facing either takeover or fighting back.  Casseia's uncle is one of the men who steps forward to negotiate temporarily, and Casseia wins a place alongside him as an assistant.

So far I have been completely swept up in life on Mars, in the underground cities that have developed, in the warrens they name each of their main colony areas, and how Bear describes Mars, the alien desolate surface of Mars, where only water and extinct life forms are found.  It is thoroughly thought out and imagined, and I can almost feel the sense of growing up in unnatural daylight, because much of Mars' colonial life takes place under the surface. Casseia gets involved as the novel opens with the first university protests by the students when the university president takes away their right to attend school and closes the university temporarily, all because the Mars leader is afraid that any revolt to the proposed earth control of Mars will lead to revolt. She ironically creates the very situation she is afraid of.  Casseia is very young, 17 Earth years old, and  it is through her naivety and innocence that we initially see Mars, the revolution, Earth, and her first love, Charles Franklin, who takes another route to the future - he is a physicist, and wants to be a Thinker, which is learning how to think so far ahead, to perceive reality and time, that you can see the future and the past at once.  If you think of someone who might eventually end up living entirely in his mind and linking to a computer, you would have an idea of what the Mars colony wants to do, though Charles hasn't thought ahead enough to know what he would be giving up.  Such abilities are very rare, and highly prized, and Earth wants control of anything Mars develops in this area too.  Mars doesn't want to share, since Earth won't share their thinkers. And so, Casseia and her uncle fly, along with a little less than 100 others (because it is beyond expensive to fly from Mars to Earth, few can afford it) back to Earth, to hold off the coming changes Earth is going to try to force on the colony.

There are so many fascinating ideas in Moving Mars:  people have become Therapied, and those that did try to correct themselves, found themselves in control of the world's wealth, and those that did not choose to correct themselves, end up on the poor side of the economy.  Which is most of the population.  There are vids, and sims, where people can escape into almost alteranate reality without leaving their bodies.  There are enhancements, of beauty, intelligence, physical features, so that those who choose so, are no longer 'real' and imperfect, but unrealistically beautiful.  Casseia comments that no matter how enhanced someone is, it is no replacement for experience, and I think this is such a wise comment.  It applies to our world now, as well as the world of the future. We always want to be better, and one of the fun things about Moving Mars is, so far there has been no limits on fake experience - through Orianna, an enhanced Earth girl (Terran, called terrie for short), we see the extent to which the enhancements have taken Orianna far from any kind of normal life.  She has experienced simulated sex since she was 10.  She is beautiful, and smart, and physically perfect,
 gifted to learn any language possible (which is all the rage on Earth in the 2170s), and she has travelled both slowly by bike across parts of the world, as well as as far as her mind can take her.  It all seems unreal, both to Casseia and to us the reader, because life on Mars is much slower, cautious, and in realtime. With all our focus on the internet, video games, and looking ahead to how these could be used and expanded in the future, Greg Bear has made many astute guesses to how people will try to escape the limits of their life, as well as pointing out that nothing, but nothing, is better than experiencing it for real.  Real life, real pairings, real face-to-face relationships, are hard, though it is the only way people really grow. I find this so very interesting and certainly it's something I agree with, personally.  MSN, email, facebook - I look at them as quick ways to connect with someone, but the real connection, the satisfying soul connections we make, that we get from seeing someone's face and hearing the inflections in their speech, from occupying a space next to them, from being present and sharing that space and time - that's where we really are.  Where life is made, where we learn with the part of us that hungers for intimacy and connection. Casseia is so bad at this,but even at her young age she knows that no simulation (read msn conversation or online dating for our world now) is better than the real experience.  This really makes Moving Mars such a deeply felt and wise book for me,with these ideas and extrapolations about our future development set against the very real human need to touch, to feel, to kiss, to be near whom they love. 

So, I'm in love.  Excuse me, I have a journey from Mars to Earth to go join......

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Lucifer's Hammer - disaster sci-fi novel

Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle was published in 1977.  I say this because it is the only explanation I can give for missing reading this novel before.  I  would have been 13, and living outside of Canada (on a sailboat in Central America, so no access to new books.  Really!).  Because otherwise, I surely would have heard of this book long before now!  I LOVE novels about disaster, and movies about them too.  So when I was looking through the Worlds Without End site for nominated science fiction books to read, when I saw the worlds 'gigantic comet' 'earth' and 'survivors', I was hooked. I HAD to read it, especially as it was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1978.  So it had to be good, right, if it was nominated?

It was.  It is.  It's fun to read a book that is 35 years old, have it set in 1977, and be jolted back to what life was like back then.  Specifically, to life when there was us, and them.  In this book, Russia is still the USSR, and the divide is still up, and they are on the wrong side for being communist.  I mention this not because politics enter into this book - it doesn't, not really, but because that strangeness from beyond the Iron Curtain is part of the space program that does play a part in this book. It was like a flashback time for me, because I was old enough to remember life in the 1970s, the aftereffects of the Cold War and the nuclear power problem.

But all of that is only a little tiny part of the book, background that sets up the real story:  the discovery of a comet that is going to pass near earth, only the trajectory changes, and part of the comet's tail pass through earth.  It is the end of the world, literally, as everything we know (expect from movies we've seen, etc) about the end of the world comes to pass: earthquakes, tidal waves, fires, power loss......and then the resulting ash cloud and rain.  I love the disaster part, the cataloguing of what happens when a meteor hits the earth (in this case, several make it through the atmosphere to land).  It is provided in satisfying detail in Lucifer's Hammer.

The best part though, are the people. It is delightful to read a disaster story where the characters are real, where their struggle to survive, and to find a safe haven to survive the coming first winter (the hardest), makes the book gripping.  I literally couldn't put it down.  I read it in one weekend, staying up very late one night, reading through meals with my family, ignoring housework, just happily engrossed in this wonderful story about the end of the world as we know it, and what happens after.

I even found myself laughing at some parts, and crying at others. It is about as realistic a look as I've seen.  And it's good.   The dialogue is good and strong.  It's a fabulous, fun story, and I think it's one of the best post-apocalyptic disaster novels I've read. It's also realistic. Most of the characters who survive are totally unprepared for the end of the world.

Best of all, books feature in this book. One very wise character does something with books that is so unexpected, and so practical, and it's a reminder of all the wisdom and knowledge found in books.

On a personal note, diabetes also features in this book, and it was very interesting reading about one character, who is on insulin when the meteor crashes, and what happens to him. 

 This was read for Carl's Sci-fi experience, and also as part of my personal challenge to read more nominated and winning Hugo and Nebula award novels.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Pern, I love you!

I love Pern.  I want to go to Pern.  I want some fire dragons of my own, of course.  And I really hope that if I went to Pern, I would have more talent for something than I currently do, or I wouldn't even make it to Harper Hall.

I am talking about Anne McCaffrey's Dragon books, specifically Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, which I read last week for the Grandmaster challenge.  My first science fiction author for this challenge, new to me, and I am totally swept away and want to go to Pern. Now.

Dragonsong and Dragonsinger are written for children, older children/young teens.  They are written with a breathless quality that makes them extremely difficult to put down. I devoured them, reading over the dinner table,  reading late into the night, wishing the ride on the bus would go longer each day so I could read just a little more!

Menolly is the main heroine of the two books.  She is the youngest child of Yanus, the head of the tiny village in a far corner of Pern.  They are fishermen, and their lives are caught up in the sea, all except for Menolly, who shows a rare gift and aptitude for music that her family are ashamed of.  There are no female harpers on Pern.  I will admit, that at this point I had a terribly violent reaction to this storyline.  I thought to myself, well, all right, it's written in the mid-70's.  Women's rights were still coming.  But to be honest, if I had found that she couldn't harp just because she was a woman, I was going to put the book down and never come back to it. I am so tired of sexism in books!  In fantasy, in mysteries, in fiction, in real cultures in this world, that women can't do something just because they are women, is tired.  I'm fed up with it.  So, I read Dragonsong with half a sinking heart, afraid to open up entirely to the story, until I got to the part where it is resolved and very satisfactorily, too, I add.  Delightful.

Menolly herself is a resourceful heroine, independent, and when her family refuse to allow her to do any music at all, she runs away.  In running away, she leaves herself open when the Thread falls, which is a kind of silver thread coming from one of the planets in the sky of Pern, the Red Planet.  The thread burns and kills or destroys whatever it comes into contact with.  The only thing that can fight it are dragons.  So people become dragonriders and fight the thread - however Dragonsong isn't about these glorious creatures, but about fire dragons, tiny versions of dragons that are rare until Menolly, in her attempt to run away, discovers a nest as some Thread is about to fall.  She saves the nest, and imprints some of the resultant dragon hatchlings, so that they and she are linked together.  And this is the best, the most delightful, wondrous, magical part of the books for me.  The writing is good, the characters are very well done, the pace is excellent, but above all, are the fire dragons.   I want one of my own!!!

Dragonsinger continues Menolly's story, as she finds herself finally at Harper Hall, where her musical skill and gifts quickly become apparent.  This book takes place over 7 days, and very eventful days they are.  We see Menolly be tested to see what her musical knowledge and aptitudes are, we see people react to her in good and bad ways - anyone who has 9 fire dragons is bound to attract envy! -  and we see Menolly begin to grow up and accept she can have a place here, a rightful place based on her skills and love of music.  It is a  charming novel, and filled with delightful characters.  I can't rate these two books highly enough.  As soon as my daughter is old enough to read them (in about a year or two I think) I will be giving them to her.  They are fabulous, fun, magical, everything science fiction can be when it is done imaginatively.  I am currently reading the third in the Harper Hall Trilogy as it's called, Dragondrums.  In this one the novel follows one of Menolly's new friends, Piemur, who is sent off to the southern continent as a messenger.  He wants a fire dragon too, I might add.

I am really happy I read these books.  I hope the rest of the Grandmasters I will be reading for the challenge hold as many happy surprises for me!

By the way, I love the cover of Dragonsinger, so I went looking to see if  I could find the artist, and I did!  She's here.

Super News - Harry Hole is back!!!!
Many of you know about my ongoing love affair with Harry Hole, chief detective of the Jo Nesbo mystery series.  I am ecstatic to report that there is a new Harry Hole novel coming out, Phantom, which will be released here in Canada on March 12. A new Harry Hole novel!!!  I can read The Leopard now!!!  I was saving it until I couldn't stand to go without Harry any more.  Now I don't have to, I can go ahead and read it.