From my reading: (1) Colson Whitehead: “The Underground Railroad” (c) 2016; (2) S.J. Parris: “Heresy” Giordano Bruno Series (c) 2010.

Two fascinating historical fiction novels:
(1) Colson Whitehead: “The Underground Railroad” (c) 2016.

(2) S.J. Parris: “Heresy” Giordano Bruno Series (c) 2010. Book 1.



Colson Whitehead: “The Underground Railroad” (c) 2016.
Black American historical fiction:
Gripping and powerful historical fiction of slaves escaping to freedom:
the story of Cora and Caesar, two slaves in the 19th century, who escape from Georgia on the Underground Railroad.
In the novel, the Underground Railroad is a real underground tunnel with tracks, trains, and drivers, for slaves escaping to freedom.

2016 National Book Award
2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
The Arthur C. Clarke Award
& longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize.




S.J. Parris: “Heresy” Giordano Bruno Series (c) 2010.

Mystery & thriller historical fiction.
The novel is set in England in 1583.

In the novel: In 1576 Giordano Bruno escapes from Italy and the Inquisition, for his beliefs of an infinite universe with many suns and stars. Pursued by the Inquisition, he becomes an itinerant teacher at universities across Europe. In 1583 King Henri of France sends Bruno to England.

Taken into the secret service of Queen Elizabeth, Bruno’s assignment is to track down Catholics at Oxford Unversity, suspected of plotting against the Queen and England.

Bruno is at Lincoln College for a debate. Very shortly after his arrival, he becomes involved in an investigation of a series of murders of known Catholics at Oxford University. Is the killer using Bruno to uncover a secret network of Catholics at Oxford?


Josiah Bancroft: “Senlin Ascends” (c) 2013; 2017; 2018.

Josiah Bancroft: “Senlin Ascends” is a richly imagined novel – fantasy & sci-fi, steampunk, and suspense.
“Senlin Ascends” is book 1 of “The Books of Babel Series.”
Sequel: “Arm of the Sphinx”

The principal character is Tom Senlin, who changes from being a village schoolmaster to someone who must deal with life-threatening perils, intrigue, scoundrels, nobles, and assassins when he visits the Tower of Babel.

The Tower of Babel is immense, of unknown origin. It towers over a desert on the continent of Ur with numerous ringdoms, stacked one upon another. Each ringdom is unique and is connected to the others within the Tower. Airships fly between the Tower and the rest of Ur, as well as between the ringdoms.

The “Everyman’s Guide to the Tower of Babel” depicts it as a wondrous place of adventure and romance, to explore for its arts, theater, culture, technological and scientific advances. The Tower attracts tourists, pilgrims, merchants, and people searching for a new life.

Thomas Senlin is headmaster and teacher of the school in the fishing village of Isaugh. He and his wife Marya travel by train for their honeymoon at The Tower. When they arrive at The Market, at the foot of The Tower, they are fascinated and overwhelmed by this first encounter with the Tower.

The Market is very crowded, busy, thriving, a constant flow of people, residents, and tourists, shoppers, and merchants. A dangerous place for the new and unwary. One moment Tom and Marya are together, and in the next, Marya has disappeared

Distraught, terrified, Tom begins his desperate search for his wife. He learns many newcomers disappear, never to be found again. Tom’s determination to find her takes him into the ringdoms of The Tower. He discovers The Tower is a more complex place, than the descriptions in the Tourist Guide.

Drawing on his knowledge and abilities as a teacher, and his determination to find Marya, he learns and adapts to survive in the Tower. It is a world of treachery, luxury, poverty, of nobles, and political intrigue.

Tom begins his journal: “Every Man’s Tower, One Man’s Travails” by T. Senlin

The tension and drama in the story ratchet up when Tom steals an airship “The Stone Cloud” and escapes from the ringdom of New Babel to fly north to the ringdom of Pelphia: home of the wealthy Pell nobles. Onboard with him is a small crew: Adam, an engineer; Edith, first mate; Iren, master-at-arms; Voleta, lookout on the rigging, a born athlete and acrobat.

Tom begins the ship’s log: “The Stone Cloud’s Logbook, Captain Tom Mudd.”


From My readings: Becky Chambers: “Record of a Spaceborn Few” (c) 2018; & S. A. Chakraborty: “The City of Brass” (c) 2017.

From My readings: Becky Chambers: “Record of a Spaceborn Few” (c) 2018; & S. A. Chakraborty: “The City of Brass” (c) 2017.

Sci Fi and Fantasy: immensely enjoyable: richly imagined and complex characters; quests; world-building

Becky Chambers’ novel “Record of a Spaceborn Few” (c) 2018 is a stand-alone science fiction novel in the Wayfarers Series. It is set in the same fictional universe, Galactic Commons, as “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” (2014) and “A Closed and Common Orbit”(2016).

The Wayfarer Series won the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Series.

The novel “Record of a Spaceborn Few” is about people living on The Exodus Fleet which is now part of the immense universe of the Galactic Commons. The fleet left Earth many centuries ago, bearing the last humans as Earth sinks into catastrophic disasters. The Fleet is currently in orbit around an artificial sun.

The Exodan way of life changes with each generation. There are many other alien civilizations and sapient species living in the Galactic Commons. Contact with these other species influences and changes the Fleet in various ways. Some people choose to continue to live within the community on the fleet ships, others leave to settle on planets, and some leave to travel and explore the Galactic universe; some return to the Fleet as there is nothing like it anywhere else.

The story is told from the viewpoint of five characters aboard the homesteader ship “Asteria.”

Isabel is the chief archivist. The archives are extensive, including Earth’s history; memories of Earth; the Fleet’s history – the outward journeys of the first homesteaders, the journeys beyond Sol history; and individual archives.

Eyas is a “caretaker” who performs the Exodan funerary services. The services are held in The Center aboard the ship, where the dead are buried in soil, to be recycled into compost for the plants that sustain the people. This is integral to the existence of the Fleet: it is people who keep the fleet community alive, and the dead remain a part of the community.

Tessa – a cargo handler; husband George; two young “spacer” kids. Her job will soon be done by AIs. She thinks of moving to a colony on the planet Seed.

Kip is 16 years old; he is uncertain whether he should remain aboard the Fleet or explore the Galactic Commons, or live on one of the planets.

Humans in the interstellar communities of the Galactic Commons have connections to one degree or another to people on the Exodus fleet:

Sawyer, 23 years old, is from the planet Mushtullo; his great-great-grandparents were the original homesteaders on the Fleet ship Al-Quam. He has recently moved to the Asteria to explore and learn more about the Fleet’s history.

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S. A. Chakraborty’s novel “The City of Brass” is a great combination of fantasy, historical fiction and suspense.

Nominated for major awards. Book 1 of The Daevabad Trilogy.

A fantastic and spellbinding tale:

of the young Egyptian woman Nahri, who discovers she is part human and part djinn; of Dara, a Daeva djinn and an ancient warrior, and possessor of extraordinary magical powers; and of Prince Alizayd,, a Geziri and Ayaanle djinn whose father King Ghassan al Qahtania is the current ruler of the Djinn city of Daevabad !

The story begins in 18th-century Cairo:

Nahri is a poor young woman, with a gift for healing. Nahri however does not believe in supernatural powers. She knows there is something different about her, as she has a talent for learning many languages, including Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew, Persian, Venetian and Swahili. And she speaks another language which is unlike all these languages and which seems unique to her. She has no knowledge of her origins, parents or other family. She becomes a skilled con artist, making a living by swindling the wealthy.

During a zar or exorcism ceremony for a young girl, Nahri speaks in the unknown language, and inadvertently summons an ancient warrior, a djinn, Dara. He realizes that Nahri is part djinn and part human.

Dara and Nahri flee form Cairo, as demons and ghouls appear, intent on killing them both. As they travel to the djinn city of Daevabad, Nahri learns more about herself from Dara, of the six Djinn kingdoms created after King Suleiman separated the Djinns into 6 tribes many thousands of years ago.

Nahri is the daughter of a Daeva djinn, from the Nahid family. The Nahids were healers and founders of the city of Daevabad.

In Daevabad, Nahri quickly discovers and becomes embroiled in the complex web of Djinn personal ambitions, political struggles, racial and religious conflicts and terrifying creatures — with a history that stretches back thousands of years!

The Djinn kingdoms in the novel are alternate worlds – fictional worlds drawn from the Sahara; Egypt; Arabia; Persia; Turkmenistan; and India.

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Dan Simmons: “The Terror” (c) 2007

Dan Simmons is an accomplished and versatile master story teller of horror and Sci-Fi.

“The Terror” is historical fiction based on real events and historical figures of  Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition to locate the Northwest Passage in the Arctic, in 1845–1848. Franklin’s expedition sailed on two steamships of the Royal Navy, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. The ships were last seen in Baffin Bay in July 1845.

Dan Simmons’ novel is a gripping fictional story of the fate of the seamen. The novel is character-driven: Set in the dangerous Arctic sea and landscape, Simmons’ characters convey in a powerful and vivid manner, their struggle for survival, and the horror of an unknown predator, the “thing on the ice” , an immense polar bear-like creature, that stalks the men.

Captain Francis Crozier of HMS Terror is the main character and narrator in the novel. The novel is also the story of his inward journey, and a life-changing decision as he learns more about the Arctic, its peoples and their ancient mythology.

The novel begins in October 1847. The ships have been frozen into an expanse of ice about 25 miles NNW of King William Island since September 1846, after Sir John Franklin’s decision to push through waters with floes and increasingly thickening ice. The driveshaft of the Erebus is broken.

The sea of ice is actually a maze of huge pressure ridges, icebergs, spires and pinnacles. And the ice is in constant motion: it surges and cracks, pushing the ships higher above the surface, and splinters and damages the stern, rudder, keel, wood & metal.

There is no Arctic spring or summer in 1847. Franklin sends out scouting parties across the ice to find open water. But there is only endless ice, and there is virtually no sign of the wildlife, the aquatic life that is abundant in the Arctic springs and summers. Food supplies become critical as the ships’ tinned provisions are often putrid.

One of the scouting parties returns to the ships with two “Esquimaux”, a young woman and an old man. The young woman is named “Lady Silence” – she is mute, as her tongue appears to have been bitten off. Silence remains with the expedition for a while.

In June1847, John Franklin is killed by the predator. Crozier becomes commander of the expedition, and James Fitzjames becomes the captain of the Erebus.

As winter approaches, the men face unrelenting cold, temperatures that plummet to 80-below; blizzards and blustery winds; and lightning storms. Food and coal supplies become critical. Starvation and disease set in as the months pass. More men are killed by the predator.

Crozier and Fitzjames realize their best hope for survival is to leave the ships, and make their way across to King William Island, and keep searching for open inlets along the coastline.

In 1848, the men begin their brutal and arduous journeys across ice, over the sea and along the coast . They man-haul their whaleboats, pinnaces, and supplies on sledges. They move from their first camp, Terror Camp, southwards, setting up two more camps. They are now at a Strait with open water, perhaps they can somehow reach the Great Fish River, and eventually open seas.

Many of the men die from exhaustion, exposure, and disease, including Fitzjames. The predator continues to stalk the men. Capt.Crozier defuses a mutiny, but eventually he lets the men decide their own fate. Some of the men choose to try to return to Terror Camp, and to HMS Terror. Others, like Crozier, choose to continue to move southwards along King William Island.

Crozier has Second Sight, and has had strange and fearful dreams of events to come. When Crozier is shot multiple times in an ambush by a mutineer, he is saved by Lady Silence. She is a shaman, a “spirit governor of the sky” with psychic and clairvoyant abilities. She is one of the shamans who can summon the predator and communicate with it. In the Arctic mythology, the predator is a demon spirit called the Tuunbaq, created millennia ago by an Esquimaux goddess, and that kills humans for their souls.

Silence and Crozier draw closer, able to communicate through their psychic abilities. In a life-changing decision, Crozier eventually becomes a spirit-governor, like Silence .

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“The Terror” was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and
 the British Fantasy Award in 2008;  it was adapted for TV in 2018.

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Reading update: “Quicksilver” ; “Austral”; “Norse Mythology”; & books-in-the-pipeline.

Continuing to read

Neal Stephenson’s “Quicksilver” (2003) which consists of three books.

Sci Fi / Historical fiction. Characters & central events of the  17th and early 18th centuries.
Very imaginative, rich in description, complex fictional characters, vivid and masterful re-imagining of history.

Book 1 “Quicksilver” :

The focus is on the college days and close friendship of the (fictional) Daniel Waterhouse and Isaac Newton. Historic characters: Newton, Hooke and Leibniz. Restoration of the Stuart Monarchy, reign of Charles II (1660).

Book 2 “King of the Vagabonds”:

The focus is on the fictional characters Eliza and Jack the Vagabond. Jack rescues Eliza from a Turkish harem in Vienna. As they flee from Vienna, and journey across Europe, they meet Leibniz and Enoch Root; and historical figures in the English/French/Dutch political power struggles.

Eliza’s story and her correspondence with Leibniz continue in the third book “Odalisque” .
Jack’s later adventures are chronicled in another Baroque Cycle book “The Confusion” , set ~ 18th century; Europe and the Mediterranean, India, the Philippines, Japan, and Mexico.

Currently reading Book 3: “Odalisque”

The major fictional characters are Daniel Waterhouse and Eliza; and the continued story of the historical figures Newton, Leibniz and Hooke.
James II succeeds  to the English  throne after the death of his brother Charles II. Daniel becomes an advisor to James II.

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Completed reading

Paul McAuley “Austral” (c) 2017 

A fascinating novel of courage and survival in a changing Antarctica. Set in the near future, McAuley makes the story powerful and vivid by bringing together in a masterful way three strong elements: eco-fiction, sci fi and literary fiction.

The novel’s main character is a young woman, Austral Morales Ferrado. McAuley keeps  Austral’s own struggles and determination to survive connected closely to  Antarctica’s wilderness, and its changing land and seascapes, and ecological changes.

The novel is also about Austral’s  family, of ecopoets, and their role in creating new ecosystems adapted to changing conditions in the Antarctic as sea levels rise, and the glaciers retreat.

Austral’s parents were ecopoets, who voluntarily had their daughter genetically adapted, or “edited”, to survive in the Antarctica’s frigid and harsh environment. Austral is called a ‘husky’ and is treated as a monster, a second class citizen. But she is determined to live as other humans.

Austral grows up in a time when the Antarctic is becoming more industrialized. The original ecopoets find themselves pushed into the background, as petroleum, mining, and fishing industries dominate, and urban areas develop.

 

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Currently reading

Neil Gaiman: “Norse Mythology” (c) 2017

Vivid re-imagining of the major Norse gods: Odin, Thor, and Loki. Gaiman’s excellent and masterful prose turns the telling of the myths into a novel…

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Looking forward:

  • Madeline Miller: “The Song of Achilles” (c) 2012

  • George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, editors: “Old Venus” (c) 2015; 16 new stories written specifically for the anthology. Stories by Lavie Tidhar, Paul McAuley, David Brin, Elizabeth Bear …

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ice burg floating on water during daytime
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