Tag Archives: Kage Baker

Friday Faceoff – The Color Purple…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is the one we prefer. This week the theme is purple covers, so I’ve chosen Mendoza in Hollywood – Book 3 of The Company novels by Kage Baker, which happens to be one of my favourite books of all time.

 

This cover produced by Tor Books in April 2007 is the purple one and is definitely my favourite. Although I’m a tad allergic to having such a strong protagonist featured on the cover as my mental picture isn’t anything like this, I’ll forgive that as all the other main elements of the book are reasonably accurately represented here. I particularly like the depiction of the unspoilt countryside before Hollywood becomes established and so many plants are lost.

 

This offering was produced by Tor Books in May 2006 and is another strong contender. I do prefer this version of Mendoza, who I think did dress up as a saloon girl in some of their evening entertainments, if my memory serves me well.

 

This earlier edition, produced by Eos in July 2001, is where it all starts to go wrong. While the artwork and overall design is subtle and detailed with lots of allusions to the content, the whole effect is ruined when some bright spark decides to write the equivalent of chapter one across the top of the cover in white against the black background. Immediately this is where our gaze is drawn to, rather than the clever design.

 

Produced in March 2003 by Mondadori, this Italian edition is clearly going for a retro look harking back to the science fiction covers of the 1960s and 70s. I think it’s a shame the design only covers a relatively small circle in the middle of the white expanse, given the quirky subject matter and once again, the cover design is blighted by that ugly block splatted across the top. What about you – which is your favourite?

Friday Faceoff – Any planet is ‘Earth’ to those who live on it…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is planets, so I’ve chosen The Empress of Mars by the wonderfully talented Kage Baker.

 

This is the cover produced by Tor in May 2009. I like this one – the depiction of the half-terraformed planet is vividly portrayed without any undue clutter or blurb, which makes this one very effective.

 

This Italian edition, produced in October 2007 by Delos Books is more static with the red desert landscape featuring, rather than showing any of the feisty characters that ping off the page. I don’t feel this cover does the book justice, but neither is it an egregious travesty either.

 

Published in December 2008 by Subterranean Press, this cover is less about the Mars environment and more about the characters. It tends to have a sense of fantasy about it, which isn’t quite right. That said, it is eye-catching and effective and anything that encourages a reader to pick one of Baker’s books off the shelf is to be encouraged.

 

This cover, produced by in 2003 by Night Shade Books, once again features a Martian landscape. This depiction certainly looks very like a lot of the images we have seen of Mars, especially the pink-tinged sky and rather foreshortened horizon. I particularly like the font on this one. As for my favourite? This week I simply cannot decide. What about you – do you have a preference?

Favourite Time Travelling Novels – Part 1

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Loreen had posted a number of time travelling novels – which was when I recalled that I’m really fond of this genre and wanted to share my own selection with you…

Doomsday Book – Book 1 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis
For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as doomsdayreceiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received. But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin–barely of age herself–finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours.

This is one of my outstanding reads, ever. I love this book – it is such an intelligent, layered read, with splashes of dry humour amongst the fear and terror. See my review here.

 

 

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
thetimetravelerswifeClare, a beautiful, strong-minded art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: his genetic clock randomly resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity from his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous and unpredictable, and lend a spectacular urgency to Clare and Henry’s unconventional love story. That their attempt to live normal lives together is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control.

This remarkable book is not just about Henry – it’s main protagonist is Clare, who is scooped up in the middle of this adventure before she is old enough to make a choice. An issue that she eventually resents… I love Niffenegger’s leap of imagination to consider how it must be to live alongside someone with this ability. The film doesn’t come close in doing justice to the book, by the way.

 

 

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
“I’ve had a most amazing time….”thetimemachine
So begins the Time Traveller’s astonishing firsthand account of his journey 800,000 years beyond his own era—and the story that launched H.G. Wells’s successful career and earned him his reputation as the father of science fiction. With a speculative leap that still fires the imagination, Wells sends his brave explorer to face a future burdened with our greatest hopes…and our darkest fears. A pull of the Time Machine’s lever propels him to the age of a slowly dying Earth. There he discovers two bizarre races—the ethereal Eloi and the subterranean Morlocks—who not only symbolize the duality of human nature, but offer a terrifying portrait of the men of tomorrow as well. Published in 1895, this masterpiece of invention captivated readers on the threshold of a new century. Thanks to Wells’s expert storytelling and provocative insight, The Time Machine will continue to enthral readers for generations to come.

I read this first when I was a teenager and I reread in my 20s, still impressed with Wells’ prescience. If you haven’t encountered this one, I highly recommend it.

 

 

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
tomsmidnightgardenLying awake at night, Tom hears the old grandfather clock downstairs strike . . . eleven . . . twelve . . . thirteen . . . Thirteen! When Tom gets up to investigate, he discovers a magical garden. A garden that everyone told him doesn’t exist. A garden that only he can enter . . .

Like many children’s classics, this haunting, bittersweet book is worth reading no matter how old you are. I have often thought it’s because both protagonists are children is the main reason why it has ended up in that genre. Tom, the visitor from the future, and Hannah, the imperious Victorian girl who always seems to be playing alone in the garden, no matter the weather have lodged in my mind ever since I encountered this book when I read it to a class a long time ago.

 

 

Lightning by Dean Koonz
In the midst of a raging blizzard, lightning struck on the night Laura Shane was born. And a mysterious lightningblond-haired stranger showed up just in time to save her from dying. Years later, in the wake of another storm, Laura will be saved again. For someone is watching over her. But just as lightning illuminates, darkness always follows close behind.

I haven’t read all that much Koonz, but I really enjoyed this time-travelling thriller, where it is the shadowy character who keeps appearing to keep Laura safe who is the most intriguing person – see my review here.

 

 

In the Garden of Iden – Book 1 of The Company novels by Kage Baker
inthegardenofidenThis is the first novel in what has become one of the most popular series in contemporary SF, now back in print from Tor. In the 24th century, the Company preserves works of art and extinct forms of life (for profit of course). It recruits orphans from the past, renders them all but immortal, and trains them to serve the Company, Dr. Zeus. One of these is Mendoza the botanist. She is sent to Elizabethan England to collect samples from the garden of Sir Walter Iden. But while there, she meets Nicholas Harpole, with whom she falls in love. And that love sounds great bells of change that will echo down the centuries, and through the succeeding novels of The Company

This remarkable series is part of brilliant premise that is played out over seven novels and the first five are stunningly good – the dreadfully named Mendoza in Hollywood is one of the best books I’ve ever read. If you enjoy time-travelling books then get hold of this series – while the final two do get a bit silly, it’s worth it for Mendoza’s fantastic story up to that point.

My Top Ten Literary Heroines

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Thanks to Sara Letourneau’s list here, I decided to have a bash at this fun exercise. I was initially all set to include the likes of Jane Eyre, Emma Woodhouse and Jo March – all solid favourites of mine, but then recalled that every one of them were married off to drearily bossy, opinionated men. I suspect that twenty-something years down the line, after giving birth to a large brood of children, they would have been reduced to slightly more intelligent versions of Mrs Bennet, suffering from a number of debilitating ailments brought on by too many babies in too short a time, and used as a verbal punchbag by their sarcastic husbands.

So in no particular order – here is my list, shorn of my classic choices…

1. Mendoza, the main protagonist in The Company novels by Kage Baker. She is a highly augmented, partinthegardenofiden cyborg immortal slave, rescued by the Company and trained up as a botanist as part of their workforce. Her story starts in the first book In the Garden of Iden where she is imprisoned by the Inquisition as a small child. The series is remarkable – I have never encountered anything else quite like it, a marvellous mash-up of science fiction and fantasy. Kage Baker is a scandalously neglected writer who died tragically early of cancer, while the last two books do slightly lose the plot, the earlier books in this series are wonderful. Mendoza increasingly realises the Company is not the force for good she initially assumed it was – and takes steps to try and fight back…

 

2. Alma Whittaker, protagonist in The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Alma is a wealthy signatureofallthingsVictorian heiress, but not particularly blessed with looks or social graces. Disappointed in love, she doesn’t lapse into bitterness, or tuck herself away to rot in spinsterly misery – she throws herself into her scientific investigations into the nature of lichens. Gilbert has written a wonderful heroine, full of courage and energy, but still believably vulnerable.

 

3. Mori, protagonist in Among Others by Jo Walton. At the start of this book,15 yr old Mori has been sent to among othersan English boarding school after magically fighting her mother, who is trying to take control of the fairies. Her twin sister is killed in the battle, and Mori sustains major injuries to her leg, leaving her lame and in constant pain. She turns to science fiction books for consolation as she struggles to cope with her grief and pain. It is a wonderful book and swept me up, as well as winning a hatful of awards.

 

4. Sirantha Jax from the series by Ann Aguirre. I read the first three of these books, starting with Grimspace,grimspace featuring the female jump pilot, who is plunged into a series of adventures and scrapes – some of them of her own making. I love her edgy, reckless nature and first person voice that bounces off the page. In looking up the series, I notice with delight that the series is now complete – so I must track down the last three books…

 

5. Mitzy Hatcher from A Half-Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb. Another favourite author of mine, this half forgotten songbook struck so many chords with me, I was humming with pleasure and pain most of the way through… Poor little loveless Mitzy should be an absolute victim – and she just isn’t, though sheer guts and determination to pursue the love of her life… It takes her to some very dark places and an unexpected ending.

 

6. Mary Smith from The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart. This children’s book is a gem that has always littlebroomstickentranced classes I’ve read it to throughout my teaching career – and while the likes of Madam Mumblechook of Endor College and the sheer delight of the narrative pulls the story along, it is small, shy Mary Smith that quietly dominates… It’s a very neat trick to pull off and I’m really sorry that more people don’t know this wonderful book, with its echoes of the far more famous Hogwarts.

 

7. Granny Weatherwax from the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. I loved her from the moment I first equalritesread the books, more years ago than I care to think. And now, as a granny who regularly practises headology to defuse any confrontations with the grandchildren – she is my absolute heroine. All I now need are the boots and rocking chair…

 

 

8. Oree the protagonist from The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. Oree Shoth is a blind street artist thebrokenkingdomswho lives in the city of Sky, with the ability to see magic. When she finds a beggar blazing with magical potential left for dead in the alley behind her house, she takes him in. This is the second book in the remarkable Inheritance Trilogy and for my money, is the best. I wept at the end of this book – something that hardly ever happens these days. Oree could have so easily been depicted as a victim, but is far too sharp to fall into that category. I think it’s fair to say that she annoys her guest into recovering from his terrible injuries…

9. Alice Dare from Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall. This is a children’s book this adult found absolutely mars evacueesenthralling and shared it with an equally enthralled granddaughter this year, who also loved it. Alice is evacuated to Mars along with several hundred other children destined to continue the desperate fight with the aliens trying to take over Earth. It is poignant, funny, frightening, funny and thrilling by turns. The main protagonist is wonderfully amusing, which goes to some way to leaven the desperate situation they are in – but not by as much as you might think. And Alice’s superpower is that she simply refuses to give up… a wonderful role model for girls of all ages who feel a tad overwhelmed by Life.

10. Sharon Li of the Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin. This series is an offshoot of the very straysoulssuccessful Midnight Mayor series featuring Matthew Swift. Sharon Li is everything Matthew isn’t – for starters, she’s human. And at pains to be as inclusive as possible, as well as celebrating every variation of magical manifestation who turn up to her self-help group. Sharon is marvellous – I love her dogged determination to do the right thing, and the bonus is the laugh-out-loud moments scattered through these books.

 

And that’s my current list. Chances are, you ask me for an update in a couple of years, there will be quite a different selection – though I can’t conceive of a list without Mendoza, Mary Smith or Granny Weatherwax…
What about you? Who are your favourite literary heroines, and why?

Review of The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker

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Your gaze rests lovingly on your battered copy of Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, wondering why no one writes like that anymore… Well, I’ve uncovered another gem in the same mould, folks. Based on Baker’s Hugo-nominated novella of the same name, this is space opera at its rollicking best. While still set in Baker’s world of The Company – her series about time-travelling immortals plundering Earth’s history – it is entirely stand-alone to the extent that you don’t need to be aware Baker has written anything else, in order to appreciate the story.

empressofmarsWhen the British Arean Company founded its Martian colony, it welcomed any settlers it could get. Outcasts, misfits and dreamers emigrated in droves to undertake the gruelling task of terraforming the cold red planet—only to be abandoned when the BAC discovered it couldn’t turn a profit on Mars.

This is the story of Mary Griffith, a determined woman with three daughters who opened the only joint selling alcohol on the Tharsis Bulge. As such, she and her bar, The Empress of Mars, are the beating heart of the bereft colony of eccentrics struggling to survive in the face of BAC’s corporate indifference. However, that indifference switches to something more threatening when an unexpected discovery suddenly makes Mars more important in the scheme of things…

A classic frontier tale of rugged individualistic grit pitted against shadowy religious and corporate ambition, Baker is very upfront about the influence of the Wild West in this book. This emphasis on the individual allows Baker free rein in her depiction of the gloriously mapcap characters peopling Mars as the plot weaves through a series of hurdles that Mary and her family have to scramble under and over. The characters leap off the page as the action sweeps them through edgy tense drama to humorous interludes verging on farce – classic Baker, in other words.

The setting is wonderfully realised. Mary’s bar… the Celtic settlement… the bleak red Martian landscape… without holding up the action, Baker has managed to make Mars and the Martian environment pivotal to the whole story – an element often missing in modern space opera. With their current obsession for character-driven plots and plenty of snappy dialogue, many modern writers treat their uniquely different science fiction settings with nonchalant carelessness. However, Baker never lets you forget that this is Mars – an untamed planet right on the edge of viability for human habitation.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable, well-crafted offering by a scandalously underrated writer, who tragically died at the beginning of last year after a brave battle with cancer. I’ve been banging on about her Company novels ever since I accidentally stumbled across them a couple of years ago. Give yourself a treat, track down this book – and you’ll see why…
10/10