Friday, September 25, 2020

Review by Berthold Gambrel of The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Part Three: Bird of Prey
Reviewing a sequel is always difficult, because the deeper I get into a series, the more spoilers from previous books there are that I have to be careful not to reveal in summarizing the plot of the latest installment. I won’t dwell too much on plot elements here. Let it suffice to say that Capt. Robbin Nikalishin is sufficiently recovered from the trauma in his past that he embarks on a new chapter in his life, but one that brings with it new challenges.

Taylor’s world-building continues to be first-rate—I particularly enjoyed her depiction of the Martian colony and the delightful term she uses for the Red Planet’s settlers: “humartians.” The sprawling world is rich with plenty of detail and a huge cast of supporting characters.

There are more philosophical asides in this book than in earlier installments—commentary from the narrator on the protagonist’s highly questionable and emotional decision-making. This is more of a romance than the previous ones. Maybe “romance” isn’t quite the term—it’s a true biographical novel, as the subtitle implies. As I was reading it, I realized that in many ways it’s a throwback to an older style of novel: the long, winding sort of tale popular in the Victorian era. Except, of course, set in the 28th century.

There’s a hint of spirituality woven in, too—as in one scene where Nikalishin and a character by the name of Fedaylia High Feather speak with a priest—or “prayst,” as he is called in the Eirish dialect. It’s a powerful scene, and reveals a lot about the characters. I won’t say much about Fedaylia High Feather. How can you resist wanting to meet a character with a name like that for yourself, eh? But I will say this: I think it’s interesting that we are informed she was born on April 30, a date which followers of this blog may recognize as the semi-obscure holiday of Walpurgis night, a sort of Spring equivalent of Halloween. And Nikalishin, of course, was born on Halloween itself. Whether the author had this in mind when choosing these dates, I don’t know, but I thought it was interesting.

As previously, Nikalishin’s pathetic inability to form normal relationships with women continues to be a problem for him, and made me want to shout “Oh, grow up, man!” And to be clear, this is a criticism of the character, not of the writing.  Taylor succeeds quite well in crafting a careful portrait of Nikalishin’s extremely irregular psychology. 

I would love to talk at length about all these peculiarities of Nikalishin’s, as well many other things, but the fact is, more people need to read these books first, and I won’t risk spoiling them for others by discussing details here, when there is a very real chance this may be the first time some readers learn of their existence. The world of The Man Who Found Birds Among The Stars is one that more science fiction lovers need to discover for themselves.

Thank you for the great review!  

And check out Berthold's books here: 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Review by Audrey Driscoll of The Blessing of Krozem 

Excellent description of what I was trying to do in the book!  You may recollcct that I wrote this back in the 1970s, so it's quite a bit different from anything I've written in the 21st century.  A couple of comments...  I'm pleased that Halrab came across as a sympathetic character; I certainly wanted him to be.  This book was written after Children of the Music, which is laid in a world much more like our own = many fewer strictly fantasy elements.  Somebody who read it criticized it for that.  So with Krozem, I purposely tried to make the world more fantastic, more magic oriented, and highly colorful.  I found quite intriguing Audrey's comment that she envisioned Ziraf's World as painted on silk scrolls.  However, I like Children of the Music just as much, personally.  

Here's the review:

Lorinda J. Taylor's stated goal is "to write compelling fiction that delivers an emotional impact and leaves her readers with something to think about at the end of each story." She has certainly done that with The Blessing of Krozem.

Who wouldn't want to become immortal? Especially in a body that remains forever in a state of health and fitness. That is the gift bestowed on the priest Gilzara, one of the central characters of this book. It comes with the power—indeed, the obligation— to make others immortal as well, and with the expectation that the power is used wisely. But the gift coincides with a great loss for Gilzara, because his wife, Javon, refuses it and dies.

The creators of the world in which the story takes place gave humans free will, but also trick and test them. Because of this, the gift of immortality becomes a curse for Gilzara, a great responsibility to which he believes himself unequal. And as the only immortal human in the world, he is desperately lonely.

The other main character of the book is Halrab, a young apprentice priest whom Gilzara meets decades later, after much sorrowful wandering. Halrab is practical and optimistic, while Gilzara is a tortured soul. The establishment of friendship between the two takes many twists and turns, and constitutes the greater part of the story. Halrab is a sympathetic character. I could identify with him as he solved problems, made choices, and dealt with Gilzara's many anxieties.

The setting for this story is Ziraf's World, described in the author's Afterword as "a fantasy creation in a galaxy far, far away from our own planet." The world is sort of like Earth, but also quite different. The sun rises in the west and sets in the east. Blue is the planet's dominant colour. The mountains and even the moon are blue. So is the race of humans to which Gilzara and Halrab belong, although there are rumors of other human races in distant lands. Indeed, this world is full of colours—stars in shades of green, red, purple, and yellow, trees whose blue flowers open by moonlight, and a wealth of other plants and animals, each with distinctive names and characteristics. It's a mountainous region, and the highest mountain has the captivating name of Starbell. I loved this aspect of the book.

Another group of characters are the Troil, mostly incorporeal spirits attached to winds, waters, caves, and other natural features. Several of them play key roles in advancing the plot. They are rather charming individuals, whose appearance and ways of expressing themselves add an element of lightness.

As with Taylor's other books, this one includes a constructed language (conlang). I discerned some of its conventions as I read, and there is a glossary at the end. It reinforced the impression of an alien world complete in itself.

For me, the first two-thirds of the story read like a legend set in China, with its communities of priests, mountain and forest shrines, and mentions of distant and powerful deities. I envisioned the plot as though painted on silk scrolls. In the final four chapters, there is a greater degree of tension and immediacy. Crucial revelations are made, and Gilzara either succeeds or fails (I'm not saying which!) in using the blessing with which he is burdened. I could not imagine, when I started reading, what the outcome might be. The ending was satisfying but the story did give me a lot to think about, as its author intended.

Also available on Amazon:

In case you're interested,  here's the Amazon link to Children of the Music: 

Friday, August 21, 2020

Complexities of Teaching Alien Birds to Speak English

 Here is an excerpt from The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Part Eight: Rare Birds.  This is one of the language sessions that Lt. Avi Oman conducts with the avian Science Officer Pikei.  I need anybody, but especially my friends who are conlangers and linguistic scholars, to read and critique this.  Is it terminally boring? Incorrect? Amusing?  Should I cut it out of the book?  Remember part of my purpose is to show how Earthers would go about learning to communicate with extraterrestrials in a first-contact situation.

While Robbie occupied himself preparing his crew for the next chapter of their lives, the language study was proceeding full tilt.  Avi decided he could no longer put off tackling the perfect tenses, so he said to Pikei, “Today we will learn a new tense – a different tense.”

“A n’yew tense ai↑~,” repeated Pikei with excitement but also slight apprehension.

“Yes!  You can say ‘I walk to the door’ – present tense – and you can say ‘I walked to the door’ and ‘I will walk to the door’ – past tense and future tense; but you can also say, ‘I have walked to the door.’  It is called the present perfect tense.”

She twittered her non-comprehension.

“The present tense of the verb ‘to have’ goes with a different form of another verb.  In this use, ‘to have’ is called an ‘auxiliary’ verb.  Remember, we talked about that when you learned of the use of ‘to do’ in questions and negatives.”

Heihei, yes!” said Pikei.  “Aug’zelerery ver’b!”

Avi gritted his teeth and ignored the mispronunciation for the moment.  “When ‘to have’ is an auxiliary verb, it does not mean ‘to possess’ – it only makes the following verb a different tense.  You will use the present tense of ‘to have’ and you will put a verb form called a ‘past participle’ after it.”

“‘Pest … parsefep’le’ … ai↑~] 


“‘Par-te-fep’le.’”  And to the kibitzing Skrov’t, she said, “‘Aug’zelerery’ … ‘parsefep’le’ … This Enge has stranger words than any language I have ever studied!”

Avi was continuing, “With regular verbs like ‘to walk,’ a past participle is the same as the past tense, so it is easy.  You say ‘I walk to the door now’ and you say ‘I walked to the door yesterday’ and you say ‘I will walk to the door tomorrow.’  And you can also say ‘At times in the past I have walked to the door.’”

Avi was despairing about how he was going to explain exactly what this construction implied, but Pikei surprised him by bouncing off her perch, ruffling her feathers, and then hopping back on again.  Hei, I un’dersten’d!  You mean … Nei ani<↔ ch^ !i hí’ut]  Et means the theng thet you do makes the  … ”  She pecked at her breast in frustration.  “I know not the words to say.  Of !Ka<tá the words are chirronó r♪o<naf.[1]  We put ‘<↔’ efter the p’resent tense!”

Avi was astonished at how quickly Pikei had caught on.  It seemed their language had the same concept, expressed by suffixing a drawn-out whistle to the appropriate verb. 

Pikei was saying, “Es the per’fect tenses to the pest end the f’yuture also?”

“Yes!  You can say, ‘I had walked to the door after he arrived’ – that is past perfect.  And ‘I will have walked to the door before he arrives’ is the future perfect.”

“Pest per’fect – Nei anim<↔ ch^ !i hí’ut oit !id hwomam]  And f’yuture per’fect es Nei oi’ana<↔ ch^ !i hí’ut <uk !id hwoma]  I got et!”

They both cackled and laughed with great pleasure and Pikei warbled enthusiastically to Skrov’t, “♪♫♫  I have wondered if they lacked these subtle semantic variations, although I may have heard this construction used a thousand times and simply didn’t catch it.  This knowledge will make my ability to communicate much more flexible.  But using multiple words – that certainly is an odd and awkward way to form the consequential verb.”

Then to Avi she enthusiastically intoned some examples of her new knowledge.  “‘I heve ate the food now.’  ‘I hed saw them when I was there .’…  Ai↑~]

Avi was shaking his head.  “No, P.K. – remember, I said the past participle of regular verbs is the same as the past tense.  With irregular verbs the participles have different forms.”

This caused Pikei to again leap from her perch and hop around the room, the feathers flying from her tortured breast.  Skrov’t whooped merrily.  Ú↔kha, <Wagumát, come back and settle – you’re making a bald spot!  Surely you weren’t expecting it to be that simple!”

Glaring at her companion, Pikei returned to her place.  Avi was saying, “Here is the correct way to speak those sentences:  ‘I have eaten the food now.  I had seen them when I was there.’  But sometimes the participle for an irregular verb is the same as the past tense.  An example is ‘to hear.’  You say ‘I heard you clearly yesterday’ and you also say ‘I have often heard you clearly.’  I will read you a new list of irregular verbs with the past participles added.  You will have to memorize them.  That is the only way to know what the form is.”

The distracted Pikei warbled, “♫♫  ‘Parfeteple!’  ‘Aug’celery!’  Hakhis↓]

Keeping an admirably straight face, Avi said, “Not ‘aug-celery.’  ‘Celery’ is a vegetable.  I think the Dauntless gave us some – I’ll bring it to show you.”

Later, when Avi was reporting to Robbie on the language progress, he said, “I was really amazed.  She caught on to perfect tenses right away and we quickly moved on to the progressive.”  Noting his Captain’s blank expression, he added, “That’s like, ‘I am speaking to you’ or ‘I am walking to the door.’”

“Oh, yeah, I would have known that if I would just think!”

“So that meant I had to introduce her to the present ‘parsifipple.’”

Robbie guffawed.  “Is that how she pronounces it?”

“That and half a dozen other ways!  I shouldn’t make fun of her – I mean, we can’t say anything right in their language – but it can be amusing.  It’s all I can do sometimes to keep from laughing out loud, Captain.”

“I can empathize with that!”

“Their language also has the progressive concept, and they do use a sort of an auxiliary verb for that, or maybe it should be called an indicator.  They stick the word nok with a high-pitched whistle in front of it after the verb.  I would like to know why they do it that way.[2]  In fact, it would be really fascinating to study the etymology and syntax of their language even though we may never be able to speak it.”

“Well, you’re just the boy to do that!”

“Oh, no, I’m a rank amateur, Captain!  If I had known that being a Com Officer meant I’d have to teach somebody else the rudiments of Inge, I’d have taken more linguistics courses!  You really need to be a Professor Specialist in the field to do the work justice!”

“You know what?  In my little communiqué to Pres. Sarkisian, I suggested that they form a task force to deal with this first-contact situation, and two people I recommended they recruit were a Professor of anthropology and a Professor of linguistics.”

“Oh, that’s terrific, sir!  That showed great foresight!”

“If you can find the time, you ought to work up a little treatise on what the Birds know and how you’ve taught them – help out the expert who takes over the study.”

Avi nodded.  “I thought of that myself, Captain.  I’ve made a rough beginning.”

[1] Consequential verb, a term comparable to the proper definition of the perfect tense or aspect in Inge.

[2] The progressive indicator <&nok is related to the verb khenokí’a (to act or to carry out).  An example in !Ka<tá would be Vral nei ni’afim <&nok | ♫vei ♫hwomam <&nok] (When I was leaving, they were arriving).

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Review of The Korinniad by A. G. Caggiano

The Korinniad by [A. K. Caggiano]

Hilarious romp through the world of Greek mythology

What a fun book!  Korinna, a worker in a pottery factory, is about to come of age and, as a virgin of no consequence, is the perfect person to sacrifice to the Monster in the Pit in order to ensure the fertility of the annual crops.  She decides to attempt to lose her virginity deliberately and a local priestess finds a way to convince the gods to intervene in her behalf.  Athena, Hera, and Apollo are each to provide a man whom Korinna might choose to be her “adelphi-psychi” – her soul-mate.  Aphrodite provides one of the Erotes (Cupids in later terminology), whose name is Nikeros, to shoot love arrows at each man so he will become infatuated with Korinna.
So the scene is set for a hilarious and mostly light-hearted romp through the world of the Greek gods.  The three Fates start the story in motion, and along the way we meet Ares, Zeus, Poseidon, Hermes, and finally Hades himself.  We achieve the requisite visit to the Underworld and it’s an Underworld quite different from any other you’ve ever encountered.  Charon is a surprise, and you’ll particularly enjoy the rendition of Hades (the god) and of his hound Cerberus.  And I don’t think it’s a spoiler when I say, Korinna does find her adelphi-psychi and they all live happily ever afterward.
The author has a terrific imagination and a light touch (with a few satiric barbs thrown in); I particularly enjoyed the asides where the author argues with her own Muse.  If you know a little bit about Greek mythology, you’ll probably appreciate the tale more, but if you want more information, you can always look up the allusions.  I would recommend this tale for anyone who wants a spritely, irreverent, and fast-moving fun fest.  Just what we all need right now!

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Blessing of Krozem - Alternate Covers

I've made two covers for The Blessing of Krozem, which I'm going to publish soon.  I've posted them on Facebook and gotten opinions, but I want to put them up in a blog post and see if I can get some more opinions, because I'm having trouble deciding between them.  The night scene, without the portrait of Gilzara, is more striking, I think - better composed, has depth and as one person on Twitter commented, it gives a better picture of the world.  But I think it looks too much like a children's book.  Somebody commented on Twitter, "Ah-h, that's so cute!"  The second cover is more serious and shows the main character, but somebody else thought it also looks like a children's book. 

So what do you think?  I wondering if I could use both - one on Amazon and one on Smashwords.

 And here is the proposed blurb (subject to editing) so you'll have some idea what the story is about.

What would it really be like to be immortal?  And how important is the power of friendship and the need for communion with one’s fellow humans?

On Ziraf’s World, a planet in a universe far away from ours, an old priest named Gilzara decides to ask the Dreamers for the gift of immortality, and Krozem the Creator of Humankind grants his request, including giving him the power to make others immortal.  However, things go tragically wrong for Gilzara; his dying wife refuses the gift, and Gilzara is left to live his immortal life alone.  The Troil, incorporeal spirit beings who also inhabit this world, take it upon themselves to save Gilzara from destroying the token that holds the key to his immortality, but he continues to see himself as a freak and an outcast, unable to relate to any mortal.  The Troil teach him the power of venwara – wizardry – and thus fortified, he returns to the human world, desperately searching for a connection.  He finds it in Halrab, a young novice priest, and together they set out to climb the Starbell, the highest mountain in Ziraf’s World, the symbol of an unattainable goal.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

So Where Did My Characters Come From?

[This post was inspired by the following post on The Story Reading Ape’s blog.  Thanks, Chris!] 

TSRA’s article ends with a question: “What books do you love that have teenage protagonists? Have you ever written a story from a teenager’s point of view?”

Unfortunately, my response strayed from answering that question, so I’ll just say, not really.  I don’t recall ever loving a book with a teenage protagonist.  In fact, current young adult books as a rule leave me cold – the few that I’ve read always seem contrived and shallow.  Now, my series The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars is a fictional biography, so part of the first volume does deal with Robbin Nikalishin’s childhood and adolescence but only because what happens to him then is foundational to the rest of his life.  Otherwise, most of my characters are adults, with a few exceptions.  In The Blessing of Krozem (not published yet) Halrab is 28 at the beginning of the story, which is just past adolescence in that culture; and in Children of the Music, two important characters are children (seven and five years old), but that book was written for adults.
I should say I didn't read fantasy as a child, except for the Oz books – I read a lot of those because we had a close friend who was crazy about them and made sure I had a big supply.  Oh, and I also read Dr. Doolittle.  There were only two of those books that stuck in my mind – Mudface the Turtle (where a giant sea turtle carries two youngsters to the new world during Noah's flood and that's how that region got populated) and The Canary Opera (Note a burgeoning interest in language and in talking animals, essentially aliens).  I credit Mudface with the beginning of my interest in anthropology.  But there were two books (or types of books) that really molded my development.
The Secret Garden (HarperClassics)

The first was The Secret Garden. It probably would be considered MG today, but I read it 14 times the year I was 8 and had the whole first chapter memorized.  It has children (not adolescents) as the chief characters, but they develop and grow in the manner of much adult literary fiction, and the psychology of Colin in particular is quite comprehensible.  I think my interest in how the minds and characters of my MCs develop probably stems from being so immersed in that book.
And then the second influence was historical fiction.  I believe the first thing I ever read that had a historical (and medieval) setting was Adam of the Road, by Elizabeth Janet Gray.  But it wasn’t long before I discovered Alexandre Dumas!  Swashbuckling stories became my thing!  At the same age I was reading The Secret Garden, I found in the school library a bowdlerized version of The Three Musketeers, and that was it – I was hooked!  At the age of 10 I read the (unbowdlerized) Count of Monte Cristo.  I read that one many times, also.  It probably wasn’t suitable for my age (do you want your 10-year-old learning what “infanticide” is?) but I was fascinated by the character of the Count and how his experiences stimulated his later actions.  When I was 12, I read every book by Dumas – all the Three Musketeers books and some things I don’t even remember now.  At fourteen I read The Black Tulip, which is not like Dumas’s other books at all.  It’s about the tulip craze in the 16th century, which I had never heard of, but there was a certain charm about that book that none of his other books had.

The Count of Monte Cristo (Bantam Classics)
 And then there was The Prisoner of Zenda when I was twelve.  It was my first introduction to an imaginary land (or as my conlanger friends prefer, a constructed world), although Ruritania is really an imaginary country.  (Well, I guess Oz is a constructed world, but I had no concept of that at the time.)  After Zenda I made my own imaginary countries and drew castles and maps – lots of fun.  And the imaginary country idea is why I really liked Ursula K. LeGuin’s Malafrena setting, many years later.
I mustn’t omit my Roman period.  When I was ten years old, the movie Quo Vadis came out, and I became fascinated by all things Roman.  A new period of history to opened up before me.  I read the book of Quo Vadis – another tale most parents wouldn’t approve for their ten-year-old, but I was captivated by it, and I learned a lot.
Quo Vadis
I read some of what today would be called YA.  I liked the nursing series – Cherry Ames and Sue Barton – but I hated Nancy Drew.  I only read a couple, I think.  I remember it felt completely unrealistic.  No girl of the age of 16 that I knew had her own car and ran around solving crimes on her own.  But I soon discovered adult mysteries, particularly Ellery Queen.  And Sherlock Holmes – I read every one of his stories when I was twelve!
And then of course my mother was an English and Romance Language teacher, and because of her, my interest in languages developed, and I got into Shakespeare.  That kind of goes along with the historical swashbuckling theme.  I read a lot that was not required in school, and for Christmas when I was fourteen, I asked my mother for a Complete Shakespeare.  I still have that book.
Then I went to college, intending to major in history.  But I hated my history teachers in my freshman year and I loved my English teacher, so English literature became the major of choice.  After that I read mostly literary fiction.  Then at the age of 29 I finally discovered Tolkien and to coin a cliché, the rest is history (or fantasy).  It was actually several more years before I read any science fiction, and when I did, I discovered LeGuin.  I’ve always said I got into SF through the back door of fantasy.

And all of these things influenced the kinds of characters I write about.  The concept of a weak or troubled male character who has to overcome a lot of odds probably began with Colin and his father in The Secret Garden, proceeded with the Count of Monte Cristo, and shows up in Griffen Gwidian in The Termite Queen and in Gilzara in The Blessing of Krozem.  My female characters are usually stronger types, particularly Kaitrin Oliva in The Termite Queen.  I think they began with Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden.  I’m not sure where Robbin Nikalishin came from – probably a combination with the swashbuckling D’Artagnan and the troubled man who has to overcome a lot of odds, ultimately realizing he must give up retribution as a motivator, like the Count of Monte Cristo. 
And what about the conundrum of my termites? I presume they came from Mudface and the talking animals, and from Shakespeare and from Greek myths, and from a growing interest in science.  Ki’shto’ba is a quintessential hero, but it commits the sin of Hercules, who killed his children, and so has to atone and find redemption (a favorite theme of mine) through the Twelve Labors and the visit to the Underworld.  Za’dut is the ultimate Trickster character, which turns up a lot in Dumas, and the villains owe a lot to characters like Cassius and Iago and Cardinal Richelieu. 

The best conclusion I can draw is that the influences of our younger days, whether actual or vicarious experiences, come together to make us the writers that we are.

And so I present my heroic termites!  

Sunday, March 22, 2020

My Review of Vokhtah, by ac flory

VOKHTAH (The Suns of Vokhtah Book 1)

“They were now just two frail iVokh pitting themselves against the might of the wild.”

Vokhtah is a difficult but rewarding book.  If you like unusual conceptions of extraterrestrials, this is for you.  Once you’ve read about half of it, the complexities begin to clarify themselves, but two readings are needed for complete understanding.  For example, it took me quite a while to grasp that the Blue and the Messenger were the same individual, and I also didn’t realize that there were two traders’ caravans wending their way to Needlepoint – I thought the Junior and the Messenger were in the same caravan and I got confused.  Part of the problem is that the characters don’t have names, only titles.  In her end matter, the author addresses this – it seems there is a taboo in this culture about enunciating your real name. 
Vokhtah is a grim and forbidding planet; it has two suns, one a hot white star and the other a red dwarf.  Sometimes they both shine at once, creating a climate of extremes.  The planet is populated with an assortment of mostly vicious and predatory lifeforms and that includes the intelligent ones, who prefer to consume their food animals live.  It’s a tribute to the author that she can take these basically repulsive intelligent lifeforms and make them sympathetic.  And I would recommend that any human ship of exploration steer clear of the planet Vokhtah – humans would probably be seen as prey animals!
My guess would be that the Vokh evolved from bat-like creatures – their ability to echo-locate is mentioned briefly.  They have wings (which contain their lungs), so most of them can fly.  They have two hearts.  And they are telepathic hermaphrodites with seemingly magical inner powers, like mind-healing and also mind-killing (their Healers are also trained as assassins).  There are two variant species – the Vokh (large and dominant) and the iVokh (meaning literally “small Vokh”).   The Vokh have a serious flaw – breeding is consummated by means of violent rape; nobody wants to bear an offspring because the “female” always dies in childbirth (this doesn’t occur with the iVokh). 
However, the people have a strong sense of honor and obligation – if you accept help from someone, you incur an obligation and if you don’t fulfill it, you are ostracized. In the second half of the book, after the episode at the Little Blue River, the main characters – the Messenger and the Apprentice – are shown developing a sense rare in these people – empathy, an ability to relate to and care about others with whom one has a relationship, beyond the obligations of the code of honor.
All this just scratches the surface of the author’s astonishing creation.  I should also mention that the book is a cliff hanger, and no second volume has yet appeared.
I must say a few words about the language.  Unfortunately, the Kindle version has no Table of Contents and so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the author provided a brief treatment of the language in the end matter.  It seems to have no pronouns, and verbs are consistently rendered only with the present participle form, all of which helps to create the alien language effect.  Certain words used in the text are self-explanatory, like “ki” for “no” and “s’so” for “yes.” 
There is one etymological gaffe that I can’t help commenting on – the explanation of the word “boot” (a foot-covering).  The character doesn’t know what the word “boot” means and it’s explained as a contraction of “bucket for foot.”  And yet that derivation would be impossible since the iVokh aren’t speaking English.  You have to assume that the Vokhtah words reflect a similar construction, which the author could have fabricated.
But that’s only a quibble – don’t be deterred!  This really is an amazing book and while the culture may not be palatable to everyone (you need a strong stomach sometimes), I definitely recommend it to any serious reader of science fiction.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

First Review of Man Who Found Birds, Part 7 - a humdinger of a review!

By Audrey Driscoll

This is the seventh part of the fictional biography of 28th century spacefarer Robbin Nikalishin. It's every bit as gripping and exciting as the very first book. No, actually it's even more so, because in this book, the long-anticipated voyage to the stars actually happens. The first third of the book shows Capt. Robbie and his crew launch into space and settle in to shipboard routines in a long series of temporal quantum jumps and intervals that eventually take them to the vicinity of the star Epsilon Eridani. The only shadow on this optimistic beginning is the secretly delusional state of Chief Engineer Ian Glencrosse. Otherwise, we have a multicultural storytelling session, hormone-driven hijinks, birthday celebrations, and even a wedding. I laughed out loud at some scenes and was moved to tears at others. Many of the crew members are familiar personalities from the earlier books, so it's easy to relate to them as they interact and become an extended family.

Things get serious when part of the ship's engine malfunctions. Two tension-filled chapters are followed by relief and the thrill of discovery and a series of historical "firsts." Then, just over the halfway point, real disaster strikes and the tension is cranked up to excruciating. There were many places where I honestly did not want to keep reading, but couldn't make myself stop. I will say no more at this point, except that the ending promises momentous revelations for humans of the 28th century as well as readers of the 21st. Those who have read Lorinda J. Taylor's book The Termite Queen may guess at some of them. I hope Part 8 is in the works!

A few things that impressed me especially: first, the extent to which Robbin Nikalishin has grown and matured since his younger days. He has definitely overcome some of his personality flaws to the point that he draws upon his earlier errors and their consequences in dealing with a number of issues on this all-important mission to the stars. Second, the aforementioned wedding scene includes a tantalizing glimpse into the writings of one of the Mythmakers. The Valley of the White Bear and the character Ingreaf are referenced in several of the earlier books, so I was intrigued to learn a little more about them here. Finally, I continue to be impressed by the technological terms for engines and other devices that do not as yet exist. When the Engineers and technical crew deal with these items, their discussions sound absolutely authentic (bearing in mind that I'm neither engineer nor scientist).

It may be argued that a reader committed to a long-running series may not be an entirely objective reviewer. On the other hand, having followed Capt. Robbie's career through its many ups and downs, I would have been disappointed if this episode had been less than thrilling. I was certainly not disappointed, and would definitely recommend this book to anyone who appreciates serious science fiction leavened with realistic human relationships and emotions. But you really have to read the first six books to fully appreciate this one!

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Friday, February 28, 2020

Saturday, January 11, 2020

New Review of The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Pt.2: Wounded Eagle
New review by Berthold Gambrel 

This was a tough review to write, because this book is part two of a series, and part one ends on a massive cliffhanger. The majority of part two is therefore about the protagonist, Captain Robbin Nikalishin, dealing with the repercussions of that cliffhanger.

I don’t want to get into the specifics of plot, for fear that people would stumble upon this review without having read part one, and it would be spoiled. Normally, I’m content to give spoiler warnings, but in this case I don’t even want to risk that.

Many of the things I said in my review of part one still apply: The story is still engaging, the characters are still memorable and vivid, the world-building is impeccable, the prose is still crisp, and Capt. Nikalishin is still a brave man who nonetheless can be profoundly irritating in some respects. His stubborn pride remains, although it kind of morphs into something else as he grapples with the consequences of the events at the end of the first book. And his relationship with his mother continues to make me want to grab him by the shoulders and say, “Grow up, you big baby!”

And, as I said in my review of the first book, none of these latter points about the captain’s character should be interpreted as negative comments on the book itself. Quite the contrary. Even more than the first, this book is a character study of Nikalishin, and he is certainly a very interesting, multi-faceted personality.

Again, no spoilers, but one of the central plot elements in Wounded Eagle involves Nikalishin being forced to choose whether to reveal certain information to punish a particularly despicable character, but at the cost that revealing this information will be deeply painful to an innocent third party. Nikalishin’s choice, and the reasoning behind it, are very well thought-out and described, and was satisfying to read, even if I can’t honestly claim I’d have made the same decision.

Read my review of the first one, and if that doesn’t make you want to go out and read this series, I don’t know what will. It’s a sci-fi epic that focuses on human drama, with lots of interesting world-building, as well as some deep philosophical and religious ideas woven into the story, in the form of the “Mythmaker Precepts”—the philosophical pillars at the core of Taylor’s 28th century society.

Now, with all that out of the way, I want to have a word about my favorite character in the series: Prof. Anezka Lara. She’s not actually in this book as much as she is in part one, but when she’s around, she’s a lot of fun. Her gruff, no-nonsense personality reminds me of several academics I’ve known, and frankly, I adore the way she bluntly tells Nikalishin what she thinks. It’s especially nice in this book where—and here I’m straying close to spoiler territory—he’s kind of a big deal, and most people are treating him with kid gloves. Not Lara. She’s never one to mince words.

Again, if you like sci-fi at all, read this series. Even if you don’t like sci-fi, there’s a good chance you’ll be captivated by the narrative Taylor weaves.

Now, I’m off to write some fan-fiction about Prof. Lara and…

JUST KIDDING! That is a joke; don’t worry. But if you want to understand the joke, you should read the series.

See the original review at

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Review of Brother Termite, by Patricia Anthony

I've reviewed a very strange book entitled Brother Termite, by Patricia Anthony.

“We should have been more intelligent than to love the thing we were destroying.”

I have conflicted feelings about this book – in fact, I found it profoundly disturbing – and I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to give it three or four stars.  I couldn’t give it five because the plot is annoyingly muddled and hard to follow.  But the book is also very affective, partly because it’s narrated from the aliens’ point of view and the reader can’t help having sympathy for them, so I settled on four stars. 
The story is laid in an alternate reality (I think you know that aliens didn’t really take over Earth during the Eisenhower Presidency) and those aliens are obviously extrapolated from the Gray Aliens of Roswell fame.  These aliens evolved from an extraterrestrial termite-like species, but I doubt the author really studied termites.  I’ve made an extensive study of termites and I can’t believe that evolved intelligent termites would be anything like the creatures in this book.  Apparently the author was fascinated by the hive-mind concept – the inescapable collective consciousness – which I think might be applicable to various species of ants, but less so to termites.  Termites mind their own business and are very peaceable.  They have their castes – workers, soldiers, alates (reproductives) – and each caste behaves according to its genetic imperatives.  They kill only in self-defense, such as against invading ants, when the less powerful termite soldiers sacrifice themselves to satiate the invaders, thus preventing an invasion of the mound and the destruction of the Queen.  And the alates also sacrifice themselves, flying out in great numbers, of which only a very few will successfully breed and form a new colony.  The rest end up as food for every other species in the world, including sometimes humans.  And my opinion is that if such a species developed intelligence and individuality, that would lead to an inner moral sense that is not so different from the human imperative. 
There are many characteristics displayed by the aliens in this book that I take exception to.  They can’t touch each other because that plunges them back into the collective consciousness and they lose their individuality.  Now, terrestrial termites are very tactile – since they are all deaf and only the alates have eyes, they rely on touch, as well as pheromones, for communication.  Pheromones aren’t even mentioned.  These aliens have both hearing and sight, and they seem to be all male (except for the breeding female), so perhaps they evolved from Kings.  (They also seem to have only four limbs and an upright walking stance, and they also breathe and talk like humans, through the mouth.  Insects breathe through spiracles on their abdomen.)
But then there are the “Loving Helpers” – an ironic name for very small, non-intelligent entities who must have evolved from workers and perhaps also from soldiers.  They constantly inhabit the collective consciousness and can’t live apart from one another, and it seems that anything they touch is destroyed.  They absolutely terrify humans.  I can’t imagine any real termite workers (or soldiers) evolving like that. 
As I was reading this book, I kept thinking that if termite-like creatures evolved in this manner, it must have taken a really long evolutionary period like 10s of millions of years.  And lo and behold, near the end of the book it’s stated that these “people” (I don’t recall if a name is ever given to the species) first came above ground 30 million years ago.  So they could have evolved this way, I guess, but I certainly don’t like the results.
 One thing I do like is the impressive descriptive style.  The “Cousins” (as they are known throughout the book) have a great sense of order and anything chaotic unsettles them.  The author uses colors, smells, and configurations (the Cousins especially like fractals) to set up scenes and define emotions and attitudes.  This is done very skillfully and it’s one of the reasons I settled on four stars.
I notice that the Goodreads description mentions that the book is occasionally comical, but I didn’t find one single bit of humor in this whole book.  I recommend Brother Termite only with a warning – prepare to become deeply involved and profoundly unsettled as you read it.

Additional note for my conlanging friends:
In Brother Termite, no attention is given to the communication problem. How did they communicate with Earthers when they first invaded? Everybody speaks perfect English all the time, even among the aliens. There are maybe three words used that would be in the alien language, and don't ask me what they are because I didn't write them down as I read, and finding anything in an ebook is well-nigh impossible. So I found that aspect of the book quite a disappointment.