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Before the Storm – Review

Title: Before the Storm
Author: Sean McMullen

Publisher: Ford Street Publishing
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 262
Originally published: 2007

Genre: Science fiction, Time travel
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: It’s OK

Fox and BC travel through time from the distant future to 1901. Elite cadets in the Imperial Army, they are young, handsome, well-mannered … and now, mutineers. They have journeyed into the past to save the opening ceremony of Australia s first parliament from being bombed. If the cadets fail, thousands will die, sparking a century of total war. However, to change the destiny of the world, the young warriors will need the help of three ordinary teenagers …

Well, this was fun!

The three ordinary teenagers are: Emily, bright, very proper, and quite bossy. Daniel, her younger brother, bossed by his sister and very easily distracted by both real girls and those in “French postcards”…..sold by Barry the Bag, street-wise, enterprising and Daniel’s good friend. Meeting Fox, and the injured BC, changes their lives in many ways. They must all do things they’ve never done before, and Emily must challenge all the restraints on a girl from a proper family in 1901. The soldiers from the future also turn out to have some unexpected sides to their personalities.

Even though the situation they all find themselves in is quite serious, this is a fun book. I love the way you get to know what goes on in Emily’s and David’s heads, and sometimes the things going on in there are very funny. Barry the Bag is also a very entertaining figure, and turns out to be much more important to the outcome than one might expect.

So, if you want an easily read book with great characters, funny dialogue, and some unexpected twists…. This is it.

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Book Beginnings on Friday – Before the Storm

Book Beginnings on Friday is a bookish meme sponsored by Katy at A Few More Pages.

Here’s what you do: share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments section . Include the title and author so we know what you’re reading. Then, if you are so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and if you liked or did not like that sentence. Link-up each week at Katy’s place.

This week I’m enjoying myself with Before the Storm by Sean McMullen. It begins like this:

FoxS3 cowered in the darkness, and there was such silence around him that he believed he had lost his hearing. It was as if someone had slammed a door on the battle where he had been only a moment earlier. The air had the reek of rotting things, and even this was beyond his experience. The smell of charred bodies was nothing unusual to a warrior cadet like Fox, but in all of his short life he had never smelled rotting vegetables. He was still holding his wounded commander, BC, and had a plasma lance rifle slung over his shoulder. He removed his sunglasses, and as his eyes adjusted to the gloom he saw that he was in a narrow alleyway.

Embassytown – Review

Title: Embassytown
Author: China Miéville

Publisher: Del Rey
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 369
Originally published: 2011

Genre: Science fiction
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: I’m not wild about any of the ones I’ve seen online.

Short summary:

In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak. Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language. When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties: to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak—but which speaks through her, whether she likes it or not.

This was a really interesting book. For me, good science fiction has always been books that grapples with ideas that challenge my mind, and Embassytown is not for people who don’t want to be challenged. Neither is it for people who don’t want to face new words and familiar words used in unfamiliar ways.

The Ariekei and humanity not only speaks different languages, but their whole thinking process is different. So, while the Ariekei cannot lie in their own language, but desperately wants to learn, the human ambassadors that speak Language can both speak truth and lies in it. China Miéville is exploring how language shapes societies, and what happens when the language stops being useful, and maybe even becomes harmful, the way it is. On Arieka this happens suddenly and with dire consequences.

The reason I’m not giving Embassytown full marks is that there’s a few characters in it that I’d have liked to know better. They are central enough to what’s going on for me to want to know a little more about their motivations. But this is only a small reservation. Embassytown is a seriously good novel of ideas with a bit of planetary romance thrown in. And I really, really like the ending.

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