Another Day, Another Blog

July 31, 2007

The Cave in the Rock

Filed under: ficlet — iamza @ 4:38 pm

 The second child came just as the sun began to rise above the flat top of the mountain. Grandmother Witch sucked in her breath as the child began to wail. “This is not good. Two children born at the same time — this is an evil omen.”

Thandi lay silent, her face streaked with sweat and tears, eyes fixed on the highest part of the thatched roof where the branches curved so that they lay horizontally above the circular mud floor.

Grandmother Witch sighed and began to wrap the children in a brightly woven blanket Thandi had been working on for months. “There will be other children,” Grandmother Witch said, “but these two belong to the mountain.” 

She stood, and gathered the twins to her breast. “There will be other children,” Grandmother Witch repeated softly, hoping repetition would make the words truth.

Thandi remained still, and would not return Grandmother Witch’s gaze.  

***

The spring leapt merrily from the mountainside, darting between trees and over rocks as it skipped towards the grasslands beyond. Not far from the village, no more than half a day’s walk, the spring was split in two by an enormous rock. 

Grandmother Witch eyed the rock warily. When she was a child, her father had spoken of strange happenings around the rock — lightning that sparked near the rock on cloudless days, and the sound of muffled drums coming from within. Her mother had cuffed him about the ear, and blamed the stories on too much Amarula. Still, whenever she was around the rock, Grandmother Witch could feel her skin prickling, and she was reluctant to stay nearby for too long.

So she picked her way carefully but quickly through the stream, and laid the babies on the black surface of the rock. No sooner had she done so than a muffled drumbeat began to sound in time with her heart.

The Mountain Dwellers!

Grandmother Witch cried out and stumbled quickly away from the rock. With one last frightened look at the ominous black rock, she hastened back to the village, and safety. 

***

To be continued…   

July 30, 2007

Words, words, words

Filed under: books, sci-fi, science fiction — iamza @ 12:27 pm

It amazes me how quickly the body becomes accustomed to time off. It’s like the brain is in a perpetual holding pattern, just waiting for that precious vacation call so it can skip gleefully onto the runway. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to your holiday. Please remain seated until the brain-plane comes to a full and complete stop.”

This time around, at least I was in the mood to read. Too often, my days off are lost in a haze of DVDs and movies. I can still remember the bemused expression on the face of the cinema clerk back in South Africa when I returned to the ticket counter for the third time on the same day. Ah, how I miss 09h15 screenings…

So, books what got read:

Linnea Sinclair: Wintertide and The Accidental Goddess. Both novels are both set in the same universe, but a goodly time apart — a fact which completely bypassed my sister, who liked the first novel, but hated the second. 

In Wintertide, orphaned Khemsin finds out she is somehow connected to a sorcerer, a fact which does not make her particularly happy. She decides to go have a chat with him, to see if she can persuade him to keep out of her life.

This novel is a quick and mostly entertaining fantasy (ideal for skim-reading). Its biggest flaw is the romantic subplot, which is all too predictable. 

The Accidental Goddess is more my speed: space opera. After a space battle against a vicious foe, Captain Gillaine Davre of the Raheiran Special Forces wakes up on a space station to find out (a) she has somehow travelled 342 years into the future, and (b) she is now revered as a goddess. Add to the mix the disconcerting presence of Admiral Makarian, a Raheiran crystal ship with a knack for humming wedding tunes at just the wrong time, and the re-emergence of an old foe, and Gillie’s beginning to wonder if life could get any more complicated…

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Both Gillie and Mack are engaging characters, and Mack’s lieutenant and Gillie’s ship add some much needed humour. All around good read.

Elizabeth VaughanWarprize, Warsworn, and Warlord. A fantasy romance trilogy, which came highly recommended.

In the first book, Xylara, daughter of the King of Xy and Master Healer in her own right, is claimed as Warprize by the Firelander Warlord, in exchange for peace between their warring nations. Initially unhappy, Xylara gradually learns that the Firelanders are neither as hostile nor as uncivilized as she’d been brought up to believe.

In Warsworn, Xylara and Kier are diverted on their path to the Firelander homeland when they run across a diseased village. As Master Healer, Xylara tries to aid the village, but then the plague spreads to the Firelander army, and Kier.

Having successfully retained his title of Warlord, Kier leads the Firelander army to the Great Plains, and home. But he travels alone, as Xylara has been taken by the Firelander Council to the heart of the Great Plains. There, Xylara must prove to the council that she is truly worthy of the title, Warprize.

I must admit that I was not keen on the first few hundred pages of this epic, what with the idea of a woman being claimed by the leader of an opposing nation as his just reward for peace. I disliked the slave imagery, and the feeling that Xylara had no say in her future. Even once the true status of what it means to be claimed as Warprize is revealed, it left me uncomfortable, because, essentially, Xylara’s position was unchanged. Xylara did not choose to go with Kier of her own free will — she was forced into it because if she did not go along as Warprize, Kier and the Firelanders would have destroyed her home and killed her people. Call it what you want, but that strikes me as blackmail.

I had fewer qualms with later books, once it became clear that Xylara wanted to stay with Kier. I’m still thinking Xylara’s suffering a bout of Stockholm syndrome, but, hey, that’s barbarian romance for you. Also, I guess in some ways, she’s made a political alliance for her people through marriage. 

On the whole, an engaging story with a huge dose of romance. Still not entirely sold on the notion of the Warprize, or the Firelander way of life, but it all ends on a relatively happy note. All three books are good pageturners, and well worth reading, if you can keep from chucking the first book across the room for the first hundred or so pages.

James Rollins: Deep Fathom is an adventure novel in the Hollywood blockbuster sense of the word. The new millennium brings with it a series of catastrophic natural disasters, culminating in the crash of Air Force One and the re-emergence of once lost continent off the coast of Japan. The discovery of a mysterious crystal with peculiar gravitational properties in ancient ruins on the continent may forecast the destruction of the Earth, or a way to save the world. 

This is switch-off-your-brain action of the highest order. Great (skim) reading for airports, or after long journeys when your brain is tired but you just can’t sleep. It has everything Hollywood looks for in action adventure: a down-and-out hero, romance, talking computers, big special effects, nonsense science, and the requisite super, ultra, really bad, bad guy (because, God knows, saving the Earth from blowing up just isn’t enough of a challenge sometimes).

Frank Schatzing: I know, I know, I keep bringing this book up, but The Swarm is hands down my favourite read of the summer thus far. Seriously, if you read one science fiction novel this year, make it this one — it is that good.

The oceans are rebelling against man. The coasts around the world are being ravaged by marine creatures, some known, but some which appear to have been artificially evolved. Meanwhile, a huge tsunami triggered by the collapse of the continental shelf off the coast of Norway wreaks havoc all around the North Sea. An international group of scientists struggle to understand what is behind the sudden surge in disasters, and come to a very disturbing conclusion: We are not alone.

This book has it all — an excellent story which is thoroughly absorbing; a great cast of characters; loads of action and adventure; the destruction of whole countries; and a bunch of seriously alien aliens. And it’s thick enough that you only have to pack one book for your holiday! :-)

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