2014 August | Fantasy Review Barn

Home→Published 2014August12
Monthly Archives: August 2014

Post navigation

Reflections: ‘The Dragonriders of Pern’

Dragonflight (Pern: Dragonriders of Pern, #1)So for the last few weeks I have thought about Pern a lot. I mean A LOT. As much as anytime since I was in high school. This was inspired, as are so many things these days, by a twitter conversation I caught the tail end of. An innocent enough question, ‘should I read Pern’ came from Renay from Lady Business and the timeline blew up. I missed the first tweet by an hour yet it was still going. Obviously there are a few other people who still have strong feelings about Pern.

The world needs just one more Pern post, and who am I to argue with that? But what to talk about? My own history with it? An overview or the world for those who are considering reading it? It’s place in the history of speculative fiction? An in-depth look at the gender dynamics? Yes to all of those. Except its place in history because god knows I am no SpecFic historian.

‘You know I’m a dreamer.’

It would surprise almost no one that at lunch in high school I spent my time reading. Due to our school’s strange scheduling there was no set lunch time, we just had to be sure to schedule a period off. By the end of my sophomore year I had figured out that this meant I could skip sitting in the cafeteria commons and instead lounge in a big comfy library chair. Reading mostly mysteries at the time I grabbed a random dragon book at some point and never looked back.

That book was Renegades of Pern, and let me tell you I was confused. Turns out starting The Renegades of Pern (Pern, #10)the middle of the series wasn’t the way to go. But soon enough I had it figured out and worked my way through the entire series up to that point within a few months. I probably read the series three more times before I graduated high school.

The appeal of the books is obvious, the covers showed people interacting with dragons. Be they riding them or playing with cute little ones a person would have to be dead to not get why this seemed so awesome. Dig into them and one would find the books were easy to read, exciting, and had characters to cheer for or root against as needed. Had they been released today the books very well may have be classified as Young Adult, there is a certain simplicity to them that had me entranced.

Just the facts, ma’am.

The books of Pern are fantasy hidden in a sci-fi world, a forgotten colony of earth that devolved back to a medieval state due to an unforeseen attack. The nature of the attack (and this isn’t spoilery at all, the prologue of the first book lays it out) was an unintelligent biological threat called ‘thread.’ Falling from the sky whenever the red star is in the sky this biological matter eats anything organic it comes across. To keep it from falling dragons and their riders patrol the sky, flaming it out of the air. It falls for twenty years or so before the star is out of range giving the people a two hundred year interval.

All the Weyrs of Pern (Pern, #11)Dragons are permanently bonded to one person with whom they share a telepathic link. They can also talk to each other in the same way giving the riders a communication avenue to better coordinate their defense. They live in groups called Weyrs, while the rest of the land is organized into political groups under Holds, which are set in easily defended regions. This is a land of Lords and vassals, with trades strictly organized by a journeyman system. But things have gotten a bit compliant when all this opens up.

The series begins after an interval that went twice as long. The dragonriders are seen by the people as more of a leech at this point, protectors against a long over threat. The first series deals with the Dragonriders prepping the people, dealing with the impossible, and generally trying to save the world. Then the series does something unique. It finishes its arc but keeps going in new ways. The Harper Hall trilogy shows life in Pern away from the grandiose figures on the dragons. Later books deal with exploration of new lands, exploration of ending the thread threat forever, and eventually some very sci-fi crossover with discovery of old technologies. As far as I know the series is even now being continued by Anne’s son but the nature of those books are unknown to me. I stopped reading at All the Wyers of Pern because the story was at a stopping place in my mind.

Nine lives

It all starts with Lessa, who more than anyone can be considered the main character for Dragonsong (Pern: Harper Hall #1)the first books. Her role is fascinating to me, a rule breaker before such a thing was considered so cool. Her starting point is fantasy trope gold; a drudge for a powerful lord with absolutely no agency. Let’s for a minute pretend this series was a Disney movie when looking at what happens next. Early on the dragon riders, mythical in the eyes of Lessa at this point, come through the Hold looking for promising candidates to attach to dragons. Minor struggles, a few points of action, pages pass and BOOM. Who would have thunk it? This dirty drudge ends up ‘impressing,’ or bonding with, a baby queen dragon. By default Lessa is now the highest ranked female in the most important community on the planet. Happy ending, right?

If it were a Disney movie. After all, she is now basically queen and oh by the way by default paired up with resident bachelor #1, a ‘bronze’ rider named F’lar. But Pern ain’t Disney and Lessa’s dream doesn’t even last a book. She quickly learns she has no more agency in her new life than her old. The food may be better and the bars gilded, but a cage is still a cage. While the boys are off playing with fire she finds her life completely laid out for her with little excitement or responcibilty outside of taking care of that literal golden egg. Oh joy.

Cue the second escape. Now we are getting into spoiler territory so I will stay vague. What makes Lessa so intriguing is what comes next. She has already had the world handed to her but after that ‘happy’ ending she goes forth and actually forges her own path. It is Lessa’s actions, specifically the titular dragonflight, that truly changes the nature of the fight the people of Pern are going through. She takes control, gains true power, and becomes a character worth reading about.

Let’s talk about sex, bay bee.

Ya, that big twitter discussion that got me thinking about Pern so much? It really fell into one path fairly quickly, a discussion about the creepy sexual dynamics. What creepy sexual dynamics you ask? Oh, I thought everyone knew.

Here is how sex works in dragon world. It isn’t rape because dragons.

Dragonseye (Pern, #14)That telepathic link between dragons and their person extends to lustful feelings. If two dragons ‘go flying’ together then you best believe their people are having the time of their life. Even if they don’t like each other. No ifs ands or buts about it. Because…Dragons.

But here is yet another thing that has to be looked at through the lens of time. Now I doubt it will ever be mistaken for normalcy, and there were some other implications that seem downright bigoted (homosexuality only shows itself between dragons of a certain color known for their promiscuity).

But as pointed out by author Kate Elliot (and let us be honest, if something intelligent is being said on Twitter it often comes from Kate Elliot) this is a book that allowed for the enjoyment of sex completely and unapologetically, for both genders. Zero slut shaming, zero double standards and no jealous rages. The dragons gave an escape into a more modern thinking; they acted as a vessel for a healthier sexual dynamic. Even the very backward attempt to justify homosexuality using dragon emotions is a small step forward as the society allows it even if only in specific situations is it seen.

So…creepy dynamics sure. But maybe something that helped plant the seeds for a fight that is still being fought.

Does this dude ever shut up?

I have rambled enough, despite not getting into half of what I could talk about. This whole post was a long winded way of me saying, yes, I think the books of Pern are probably still worth reading. Perhaps I should actually grab my old copies from the shelf and test this theory? Yes, I think I shall.

Tough Travels – Towers

Tough Traveling jpegEach Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is TOWERS

TOWERS stand along in waster areas and almost always belong to Wizards. All are several storeys high, round, doorless, virtually windowless, and composed of smooth blocks of masonry that make them very hard to climb.

Damn, another easy week. I tried to leave out the most obvious towers I could think off and still could have kept this going all night. In the interest of time I decided to stop. Enjoy.

All the Paths of Shadow (Paths of Shadow, #1)The TowerAll Paths of Shadow by Frank Tuttle –Seriously people, how many times to I need to force this book down everyone’s throat on this blog until at least one of you read it? It is wonderful, quirky, and different; everything people say they are looking for. It has a talking cactus but isn’t silly! Know how hard that is to pull off? Read my review and then read the book. Please.

Oh ya, there is a tower in it and it’s kinda central to the entire plot. Its shadow is pissing off the head cheese and needs to be moved. See?

Ministry of Truth1984 by George Orwell – Big, white, and very hard to miss. Most evil towers are black and twisted in fantasy, but in dystopia they must be squeaky clean in order to be perfectly terrifying. Nothing out of place and all that.

The Iron Wolves by Andy Remic – I can’t remember what the tower is called or the name of the king building it; to tell the truth I don’t care. What made this tower stand out A Madness of Angels (Matthew Swift, #1)from the pack was the fact that it is still under construction when we see it. Often these towers are ancient places of power or have unknown origins/supports. But in the Iron Wolves we know what is building it and how it is being funded; and the mad king seems to be going Winchester Mystery House only strait up. Always building, always adding on.

The TowerA Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin – Even UF gets into the act here. Home of our big baddy. Really should get back into this series, I remember enjoying the hell out of it.

Wizard’s TowerDiscworld by Terry Pratchett – Not that one. We all know about that wizard’s tower. In this list we are going to bring up the other one. In The Last Continent. You know that really tiny one? It is almost laughable. Until you climb the small ladder to the top. At which point I hope you are not afraid of heights…

House of the MakerThe First Law by Joe Abercrombie – Ha, got both Abercrombie and Pratchett on the list. Because why the hell not? Plus anything made by The Maker is awesome and it was this or something form The Black Company and I just did something form Cook in aAll the Weyrs of Pern (Pern, #11) recent list.

At one time it was just a place that would fuck with your mind. But after the last small group left it I would pity the next person to open that door.

Weyrs Pern by Anne McCaffrey – The streak continues but I couldn’t leave them off. Natural formations this time, reaching the sky with lots of caves and passages. Important because they house friggen dragons.

You’re welcome.


Join us next week as we look at TURNCOATS

TURNCOATS are people who change to the side of the DARK LORD in mid-tour.

Simple enough, but I have no idea how hard it will be. Seems like it should be easy, but I have been wrong before.  I should think any traitor to the cause would work, even if no dark lord is present.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at any time, and please check out my fellow travelers!

Fantasy Review: ‘Promise of Blood’ by Brian McClellan

Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage, #1)Mr. McClellan

I just finished reading your, um, enthusiastic history paper on the French Revolution. And while I appreciate the time you put into it I must say your grasp on the historical aspects make me question whether or not you have paid attentional all semester. Before making you redo the paper I wanted to make sure we were on the same page for some of the more relevant points of the time period.

You seem to have grasped the root causes of the revolution well enough. A king in the capital building ever more extravagant additions to his palace while the people struggle; financed in large part though foreign means. And yes there was a reign of terror where in a great many people faced execution by beheading, though somehow you misspelled Robespierre as Tamas, a common mistake.   Here is where your historical facts started to drift; the executions were for enemies of the state over almost a year rather than a mass murder of magical Privileged all in one shot.

I admit that I just can’t figure out where we lost you on the use of weapons, perhaps a few sessions with the science tutor may be in order as well. Gunpowder is used to fire projectiles out of weapons. At no point in time was it used to fuel magical abilities and people certainly didn’t snort it, let along get addicted to it. In fact I would find it fairly safe to say that huffing gunpowder would slowly cause death; not the ability to change the direction of projectiles already in the air.

Finally, I think we may have over impressed you with the chapters on Napoleon. While he was a great strategist who came to power at the end of the revolution he was not an ancient god reawaken. I am going to start recording class room sessions because I truly am at a loss how the famous short man morphed into a god summoned by magical were-lions somewhere along the way.

All is not lost though Mr McClellan, I have spoken to your creative writing instructor and have been told this paper is eligible for the year end project. While he wasn’t a huge fan of your take on Robespierre Tamas; a man on whose shoulders everything rides probably shouldn’t be so involved in the action of a revolution, he did find some of the other people’s stories fascinated. I am at a loss as to which historical figures the investigator and the leader’s son were supposed to represent but they were great fun to read about. We both enjoyed the teen you nick named Pole and hope you have some good ideas for her in the future.

A few suggestions from the creative writing instructor should you wish to tweak this report for his class. Maybe cut down a bit on the harems?   I understand that if you have magic floating around the desire to spread it out among more people; but insinuating that the church is involved in such debauchery is an old standby and doesn’t really offer anything new. The instructor is also a bit tired of the ‘dead wife’ motivation; can anything be done about that? And finally, remember to finish out your thoughts. Neither of us knew what happened to the forth view point wrote about; the one working to save a child. She has the means to be a very interesting person but we saw so little about her? Perhaps you could expand on her story next time?

You show some talent Mr McClellan, and I shall be looking forward to reading anything else you have in store for us. You made your characters interesting, your pacing was brisk, and you have a style that makes reading your work a breeze. A very creative magic system that explains just enough to make it believable without bogging the work down will excess rules. Very enjoyable stuff!

But I still will still be needing a paper that actually deals with the REAL French Revolution on my desk by the end of the week.

Thank you.

4 Stars

Fantasy Review: ‘Servants of the Storm’ by Delilah S. Dawson

A sum that is perhaps a bit better than its parts but nowhere close to the potential it Servants of the Storminitially showed. Servants of the Storm caught me with a great premise and a strong opening. A hurricane is coming and people are bunkering down. Young Dovey and Carly are stuck at home talking on a dying cell phone assuring a worried mother that they will be fine. But when the storm finds itself at its end? Of course everything is not alright.

Fast forward a year and Dovey has spent most of the time in a medicated state after a few high profile freak-outs; including screaming incoherently at Carly’s funeral. But a chance sighting of Carly, apparently not dead, and Dovey secretly stops taking the meds and finally sees the world for what it is. This small change sends her down a rabbit hole of demons, witches, and the personification of Josephine, the very storm that changed everything.

As setups go I can find no fault. Demon’s feeding on human’s negative emotions is not a new concept but I have never seen it tied to natural disasters. It makes perfect sense after all; the hellions could feast for a few years and move on. I also found no fault in Dovey as a character. Watching her come out of fog and turning back into the person we only got a glimpse of was a delight. This was a more mature version of young adult fantasy than much of what I have sampled, her pain was real. Dovey’s confusion morphed to a certainty in a realistic manner, and people believed in her or not in ways that made sense. Some major positives here.

What lacked in this story was any kind of logic or internal consistency when it came to the supernatural elements. Anything that moves the story forward seems to be allowed, the details can be filled in (or not) later. Not overstating it here; at one point a character claims after yet another revelation that he doesn’t know all the rules but knows where they are kept (in a very large book ). So we get complex combos of incubi and demon’s, slavery by pinky bone connections, a hierarchy of demons with no structure, and ultimately, little reason to care.

This is a story that can be read and enjoyed in a hurry if one likes a strong protagonist, doesn’t mind a love triangle, and cares little about believability. It has a strong ending that I didn’t see coming, and Dawson actually made me blush a little where her protagonist goes vamp for a bit (and feel very dirty because I forgot she is a teen until a bit later). But sometimes the little details matter and this book didn’t leave me with enough to want to carry on. It did however make me curious about Dawson’s adult series so perhaps that can be considered a win.

3 Stars

Tough Travels – Shapeshifting

Tough Traveling jpegEach Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is SHAPESHIFTING

SHAPESHIFTING is frequent among both WERES and MAGIC USERS. The usual form taken is that of a WOLF, but lions, eagles, serpents, owls, and cats are common too. In all cases the rule is that the shapeshifter cannon stay too long in animal form without actually becoming that animal.

I suspect this may be the easiest list for participants since we covered Dark Lords. Can’t wait to see if I was right, hoping for some real diverse lists this week. Let’s get to it!

Zamia BadawiThrone of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed- As far as I know the Throne of the Crescent Moon (The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, #1)only shape shifter on the list whose abilities are affected by menstruation. Obviously lunar cycles are often tied to shape shifting but usually in forcing the change, not stopping it. So Zamia was a girl who was exiled from her clan but can turn into a lion. But not while menstruating.

That is really all I remember about her. This was a book in which I loved the main character but thought his sidekicks, Zamia included, really fell flat. Still, I would read the next book in the series so perhaps this lioness will get a little more life in the future.

(Spoiler)Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan – Ah ha, not going to tell you (and not just because I don’t remember how to spell that character’s name). But I promise you there is a pretty cool, nearly indestructible, lion shifting human prowling around and doing some awesome things.

Kitty and the Midnight Hour (Kitty Norville #1)Everyone Kitty Norville by Carrie Vaughn – Yes Kitty is a werewolf but we can talk about them in a little bit. What I liked about the mythos in Vaughn’s series is there can be a were ANYTHING, as long as it is a mammalian carnivore. Mostly we see wolves and the occasional jaguar (Note, I first saw a were-jaguar in The Black Company by Glen Cook). But anything goes, which leads to a cool encounter with a were-sea lion at one point. Ya. Guy turns into a sea lion. Wicked ain’t it?

Werewolves – How the hell could I do a list about shape shifters and not actually talk about the most commonly used example? I did my best to avoid using them too often because I could make a novel length list with examples; readers of urban fantasy could give Wheel of Time a run for its page count.

But which one to pick? I honestly have no idea. Some candidates would be as follows. Kalix from Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar because a dangerous to her friends and deadly to her enemies teen runaway with serious depression issues made for one of the most unique reads I have ever read. Angua from Discworld because she is awesome enough to know we are all someone’s dog. Or maybe everyone from the Western continent in The Monarchies of God by Paul Kearney; a land filled with exiled werewolves looking to take over everything is pretty damn cool.

Madam MimThe Sword in the Stone – Magnificant, MARVALOUS, mad…Madam mim. Admit it, that wizard’s duel is one of the coolest scenes in Disney history.


Join us next week as we look at TOWERS

TOWERS stand along in waster areas and almost always belong to Wizards. All are several storeys high, round, doorless, virtually windowless, and composed of smooth blocks of masonry that make them very hard to climb.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at any time, and please check out my fellow travelers!

Short Stories Galore!

War Stories: New Military Science FictionWith three short story collections in my grasp I decided to spend the last week binging on them. May have hit a bit of a short story overload here, but it was worth it because I read some damn fine stuff.

Top of the pack for me was War Stories from Apex Publications. This truly was a collection after my heart, full of stories about futuristic war and all of its ramifications. Broken into four parts; Wartime Systems, Combat, Armored Force, and Aftermath with each hosting a group of stories loosely fitting the specification. Of course there is a bit of crossover effect between each, but the theory is sound here.

War Stories started off with a bang, I am not sure there is a story I didn’t enjoy in the first section. Graves starts us off, closer to horror than any other book within the collection. Halderman sets us up with a story dealing with coroner types in the Vietnam war; no doubt the more observant among us can see where this is going. Ken Liu and Mark Jacobsen both give stories about how war can be avoided; and the tragic cost that their measures would hold.

Things were a bit more hit and miss during the ‘Combat’ section. One Million Lira was the standout here, a tale of snipers and hard choices. Of course I am going to point out Linda Nagata has a story here, and of course it was excellent. Set in the same universe and dealing with the linked suit technology as her novel The Red: First Light, a person needs no outside knowledge for the story to work on its own (a plus to the whole collection, no stories required previous knowledge of the authors’ works).

‘Armored Force’ dealt with power armor and mech suits. No clunkers in this group, though none would stand out all that much.

Last came the ‘Aftermath.’ It was this group that hit hard and tried it’s best to give everyone a good, thorough mindfuck. War Dog was easily my favorite as it was a short story that built enough to give me a since of wonder about the post war world it described. Believe me people, you want to know what a ‘shroom’ is in this context. As would be expected other stories in this section deal with PDSD symptoms, dealing with atrocities of war, and the realization that life will never be the same. Believe it or not there was a happy ending hidden in one of these, but most dealt with the darker side of a war’s end.

A second collection from Apex didn’t excite me as much as I had hoped but still held a few The Apex Book of World SF 3gems. The Apex Book of World: Volume 3 does just what its title suggests, which is bring us readers a group of stories from outside the U.S./U.K. comfort zone we are used to. It falls into what I would consider a more traditional structure for multi-author collections; more diverse in style and theme with its mix of horror, sci-fi and fantasy.

My problem probably came from that lack of structure and falls on me more than the collection. It is rare for me to binge on short stories and a few of the tales in Book of World reminded me why; lack of resolution is often done by purpose. At the end of a long book this is at times a way to surprise a reader and leave them thinking about the various possible endings. A short story is no different in this respect, but after multiple stories use this tactic it grows tiresome. I wonder if I had read some of these months apart would my enjoyment go up?

But if you have a higher tolerance for short story binges than me I doubt you would be disappointed for there is some high quality work in here.   The first story in the collection was perhaps its best; Courtship in the Country of Machine Gods needs to be turned into a full length novel. Or perhaps a movie. I also highly recommend skipping around until you find Act of Faith and The City of Silence; the latter being one of the best 1984 type dystopias I have read in a while.   And while I struggled through the middle the collection ends with another great tale, Dancing on the Red Planet. Mixing music with sci-fi is always a plus for me.

Shattered ShieldsThe last collection was not what I hoped for when I grabbed it and I therefore only read two stories out of it. Shattered Shields is the fantasy version of War Stories. But what I didn’t realize as I picked it up was that almost half of the stories take place in existing fantasy worlds; only one of which I have any background in. After skipping these I struggled with the first two standalone books I tried and ended up just reading Glen Cook and Cat Rambo’s stories and walked away.

I am not saying it isn’t a worthwhile collection, but I had hit my limit for short stories this month.


Copies for review of War Stories and Apex Book of World were provided by Apex Publishing. Review copy of Shattered Shields received through NetGalley.