Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone – Book

Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone – Book

A space opera of world building, world destroying, planet eaters, strange goddesses who stride across space, like the Suicide Sisters, and a “ragtag” group, united by a mission – Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone is a mashup of Star Wars and a complex video game, all brought to life with words rather than actual graphics.

Viv knows only Earth. She is a businesswoman. She has not been truly ruthless, but she has been heedless of other’s feelings as she climbed her way to the top of the business world. Just as she is in an enormous server room about to finish uploading a program which could give her dominion over her world, the Empress of Forever, very green and powerful in ways Viv has never even imagined reaches in and grabs ahold of Viv’s heart and zaps her into a place in space called High Cacereal. How is Viv still alive? How will Viv get home? How will she get back to Magda to make sure she is safe? How will she find out what happened when she sent out her virus before it was completely loaded?

Well the answers to those questions will not be quick in coming. Viv first saves the Empress’s enemy Zanj, a feisty space pirate who has been imprisoned for 3,000 years, one of the once-famous Suicide Sisters. Zanj, never one to sit still can use the Cloud to travel through space. The first of the group hunting the Empress that Zanj and Viv meet is the loveable Hong, a monk with lots of courage and common sense. Then Xiara of the piloting Ornclan is added, and Gray of the Grayframes. Of course our band of Empress-haters must travel to every corner of Max Gladstone’s  and Zanj’s world to see the damage the Empress has wrought.

Since Viv arrives in this world from the world of business she brings with her the wisdom success in business has taught her. This blend of How-to-Succeed-in-Business book lore, self-help psychological teachings, warcraft, and science fiction is kind of dazzling. How do people think up this stuff? It’s Linked in, Instagram, and World of Warcraft all rolled into one.

Despite this odd marriage of disciplines, Max brings his fantasy-built world richly alive for us. The novel is fun to read and as Viv learns the lesson that would have sealed her success as a businesswoman or made winning irrelevant, so do we. There is no I in team, but having the support of a truly connected team allows you to realize the very best version of yourself. Empress of Forever introduced me to a whole other kind of fantasy/science fiction novel for the computer age, perhaps intended for younger readers. Still, I found it fascinating to see how the genre is being transformed, and I made some new fictional friends.

Of Blood and Bone by Nora Roberts – Book

Of Blood and Bone by Nora Roberts is the second book in a trilogy called Chronicles of the One. This is a dystopian saga, but it is not Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Roberts pits wholesomeness, the sweetness of summer sunshine, bees, honey, family, children, love—life lived simply and communally—against lives that feature hate, fear, intolerance, and brutality.

When Mr. McLeod cracked the shield and dark Magick was loosed on the world, two-thirds of the world’s population died of an incurable virus which became known as the Doom. Many survivors found themselves with magical talents. Some became faeries, some elves, and some witches. The world split into the light and the dark and war was in the air. Humans who survived with no magical talents also split between good and evil. Some humans felt that magical creatures were an abomination and they tortured, killed, or executed them whenever they got the chance. What was left of governments captured magical creatures ostensibly to save them and to study them, but they imprisoned them and strapped them to metal tables so they could learn what they could and then eliminated them. And gangs bent on chaos and mayhem killed anyone who was vulnerable.

The child of Lana and Max, two witches who had to flee NYC in the worst days of the Doom (Book 1),  Fallon Smith, was known to be “the One” who would set things right before she was even born. Fallon has lived quietly on an isolated farm with her family but now, on her thirteenth birthday, Mallick comes to take Fallon away for training. From here on the story resembles the King Arthur story, except this time the King is a woman. Mallick is her Merlin and when she successfully finishes her training she wins the sword and the shield from the sacred well. During her training she also wins three unusual and powerful companions.

It’s a great tale even if Fallon is a bit like heroic Barbie and the young man, Duncan that she meets in New Hope is a bit too much like Ken. Fortunately, although the novel holds out the promise of romance at some point in the future, for now it stays focused on war and setting the world to rights. This seems as if it would make a great YA fantasy series depending on where it goes in Book 3.

I liked Of Blood and Bone. Apparently, in real life, there was a little issue about two similar titles between two authors, but it was settled amicably I believe. I look forward to the third book. But if we find ourselves in a truly dystopian world I don’t expect that Magick (or even magic) will save us. There is too much fantasy in this to put it in the category of dystopian literature. Still when you need entertainment this trilogy could be a fun choice for a quick break from more serious fare.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Characters Wanted

My Jane Austen Moment


This is an excerpt from Zoe Taylor’s Story: Confessions of a Cigarette Addict

Chapter 19 – Jane Austen in the Park

I felt so free. Women
were still in arranged marriages, having their feet bound, and in other
male-dominated situations all around the world, but not in America. We were
equals with our men. We had the pill. Surprise babies were a thing of the past.
We could smoke cigarettes, go to college, have jobs. We could go wherever we
wanted to go and do whatever we wanted to do. What a privileged time in which
to be born. We could wear jeans and sit cross-legged on the ground and get high
and read books all day, and eat out in restaurants whenever we could afford to.
We did not need our father’s brother’s, uncle’s, boyfriend’s, husband’s
permission to do any of these things. What would Jane Austen think? I picture
the clothes she had to wear, the socially orchestrated life she had to live.
I’m in the park by the rose garden sitting on the brick stairs at the end of
the brick walk, just enjoying the warm sunniness of the day and the smell of
cut grass and roses. I’m wearing an embroidered Indian white on white top of lightweight
cotton and my khaki carpenter jeans with the little loop for a hammer. My white
Dr. Scholl’s sandals are thrust out in front of me. I’m resting on my elbows,
catching a few rays. I turn and open my eyes and I see Jane Austen walking
towards me down the garden path drenched in dappled summer sun and shadows
filtered through the old maples and oaks that line the path. She doesn’t see me
yet. She seems to float down the brick walk in her long skirted dress, head
high, back perfectly straight. She has slipper-type shoes with low heels. They
are off-white with a bow on the front. Her dress is in the Greek style, empire
waist, loose skirts flowing softly to the tips of her shoes. It looks like an
everyday dress, cream background, small floral design, maybe roses, in pinks
and greens, perhaps a chintz. The dress has a V-neck with a wide creamy cotton
collar, spotless, and sleeves just above the elbow with a crisp creamy lace
edge. She has the handles of a woven handbag twined around her gloved right hand.
It’s one of those small pouch-type bags, pulling on the handles closes the top
of the bag. Her hair is brown, piled atop her head, no loose ends. She has a
summer straw picture hat on her head, pink and green ribbons around the brim,
trailing down her back. A puzzled expression crosses her delicate features. She
doesn’t recognize her surroundings.
She sees me and her puzzlement increases momentarily before she takes control
of her expression. In spite of her control, I can see that she is scandalized.
I remember I am braless. Perhaps, though, that is the least conspicuous of my
“Good morning, Ms. Austen,” I say.
“Where am I she says?” forgetting her usually excellent manners.
“You’re not really here,” I say, “you’re just a figment of my imagination.”
“Oh, thank goodness. I was somewhere that made me very happy,” she says, “I
wouldn’t want to get lost.”
“Where were you? Was it heaven? What was it like?” I ask.
“Oh we’re not allowed to talk about that,” she says.
“Please sit down. Sit down here on the steps with me.” I say, moving down a few
steps to make room for her big dress. Maybe we could have a conversation.”
She is not overly fastidious. She sinks gracefully to perch on the top step.
She looks me over.
“My dear,” she says, “what are you wearing. I have never seen such clothing.
Pants on a women! Where are your undergarments?”
“Call me Zoe, Ms Austen”, I say, “This is the year 1969, and my friends all
dress like this. We’re members of a large social movement called ‘hippies’.”
“1969?” she repeated astounded, “America? Hippies?”
Her eyes started to glaze over.
“We have a commercial for cigarettes that says ‘You’ve come a long way, baby.’
We are also in the middle of a social revolution called the “Women’s Liberation
Movement’,” I say, “I got you here to see what you think of our new freedoms.”
“Cigarettes? Commercial? Baby?” she echoes, still not focusing as I would have
“Cigarettes are tobacco rolled in paper,” I tell her, “a commercial is an
advertisement and, since women can smoke cigarettes openly now and they once
could not the ad is speaking to women. Baby is modern slang, used to show how
cool and hip women are now.”
“Cool?” she says, “Hip?”
“Never mind,” I say, I really just wanted you to notice how free we are. We
have a pill. If we take it everyday we don’t get pregnant. We can have as many
lovers or as much sexual intercourse as we like because we are protected as
long as we remember to take that pill. We don’t have to wear skirts all the
time and we don’t need the protection of a man. We can come and go as we like,
even have an education and a career.”
She thinks, taking in all I have said.
“My dear Zoe,” she says, “you are not as free as you imagine. Given the nature
of some men, who can be as evil as the Devil, I think you will find that total
freedom for women is a myth. And while the idea of an education for women is
wondrously marvelous, and even having projects that occupy the mind is a
concept I can grasp, a woman’s reputation will always be important and must be
guarded at all times. Women, like men, will never be totally free. Free to do
what? To be low and depraved. Sexuality, free of love is an abomination leading
to the basest kinds of behavior.”
I didn’t argue, although this encounter had not gone quite as I expected.
Apparently Jane did not envy my freedom as much as I had hoped she would. I
just gave myself a knowing little “I know better” smile and made my politest
good-byes. I was satisfied with the contrast between our situations, certain
that I was infinitely more sophisticated and that modern women should have
knocked the socks off of Ms. Jane Austen. All of her warnings were just
anachronistic (excuse me) “bullshit”. (She would have frowned over that
vulgarism, but, to underline my point, I was free to say it.)
I stood up, took one last whiff of the roses and walked home, by myself.



My Digital Christmas in New York

Maybe Christmas in New York City would be lovely. Christmas
in New York City would not be a lazy Christmas though. My fantasy of a New York
City Christmas would require lots of money so I could shop to my heart’s
content and see shows and concerts and museum exhibits. Everywhere I walked I
would expect to see my beloved twinkle lights in great profusion and many other
creative light displays. Elegance would be welcome also because I would expect
to see the work of decorators in New York City who are employed for their
tasteful talents. Eating out would also be a part of the wonderful experience
of a NYC Christmas. I’m not sure if Hurricane Sandy has placed limitations on
both the spirit and the extravagance of the Christmas displays in NYC this
year, but I am certain there is still plenty of that traditional sparkle which
we expect from the Big Apple.