This is the place for hard science fiction – the kind of stuff Star Wars, Star Trek, and Firefly are made of.
HORNED WINGED BLESSED by Emi Croucher
Post-apocalyptic story with LGBTQ bits
Blurb: Follow Joan on her adventure of discovery, as she learns the hard way that her post-apocalyptic utopia isn’t always full of rainbows and Merlot. She lives on the nicer side of the settlement, as the daughter of the Mother Founder. But after a life-threatening attack on her home, she soon realizes that many out there are against the Silver Party regime. Horned Winged Blessed is the story of one girl fighting against a tyrannous government, elected to power amidst the unending chaos of World War III. Heavily enriched in their pagan values, the Silver Party are to thank for pulling Broken Britain up from the brink of a depression, but at what cost? Will Joan decide to take down the Silver Party from the inside…or will she go on to fight alongside the rebel faction that allures her so intensely?
Review: Joan Wood is the daughter of the founder of the Silver Party, a political party in Britain in power since the end of World War III. Joan’s privileged lifestyle means she believes everything in her world is wonderful. The Winged (women) are in power and the Horned (men) are second-class citizens. The third genders—Blessed—are around as well. Use of other terminology has been outlawed. Rape and other similar crimes are punishable by death. Joan’s world is safe. Or so she thinks. Then her house is attacked by underground rebels and Joan starts to learn real truths about her “safe” world.
What I liked: The author’s worldbuilding is excellent, though it does take some time to figure out the new world—especially the terminology. But the descriptions are very well done. Joan is a character that grows from a spoiled rich daughter of privilege to someone who is willing to fight for what is right. Other characters are similarly well done. Also the idea behind the story—that even “perfect” political parties have issues—is an interesting one, especially given the current political climate around the world.
What I didn’t like: Having no clue what the terminology meant until well into the story. Also, this is promoted as a YA book, but Joan—though she seems like a teenager—is actually well into her twenties. Her age just didn’t jive with her actions for me. Also, the story was a little slow at times for me.
Recommendation: Horned Winged Blessed is an interesting YA novel with good characters and great world building. There are a lot of dystopian stories out there that show utopian societies and their problems. This is a good addition to the genre. If you are into this kind of story, this would be a good addition to your reading list.
AURORA BLAZING by Jessie Mihalik
Aurora Blazing is Jessie Mihalik’s newest installation in her three-part series The Consortium Rebellion. We have to have a rebellion, right? We’re always fighting the evil government, never paying attention to the fact that, if we win, we will become the evil government that good rebels will fight. Meanwhile, the rank and file who die by the millions in the fighting would just like to be left alone to live their lives in peace.
Anyway, that’s just one of my many quibbles with Aurora Blazing. This novel is the sequel to Ms. Mihalik’s earlier novel, Polaris Rising. I read that book earlier and wanted to see more of this particular space opera. The titles, by the way, refer to the names of the truly remarkable, fully automated space ships that can make leaps across the universe with a crew of one person! Ms. Mihalik, like many writers, seems to think that one unimaginably vast galaxy is not a large enough arena, she needs the entire, even more unimaginably vast universe of multiple galaxies to work with.
Despite the unimaginably vast universe of multiple galaxies, there do not seem to be any intelligent alien species. It’s an empty universe, populated solely by humans. Humans who still eat raspberry mousse and yogurt. The reason for this must be that humans, capable of colonizing an entire universe stuffed with planets, can’t eat anything local to those planets, even after terraforming. There also don’t seem to be any alien critters on these planets.
This unimaginably vast universe (called in the text the ‘verse, a shout-out to the much lamented Firefly TV show) provides the backdrop to the personal and political struggles of the three High Houses (three!) vying for control of the entire universe. Three. Each of which is ruled by a single person. There are plenty of lower houses which do come into play, but they don’t run the universe.
Writing as a person who regularly attends municipal meetings, I’m deeply impressed that one person can keep track of and control unimaginably vast sections of the universe. My board of supervisors manage 27,000 people plus the township we all live in and that’s hard enough. As political entities get larger, they get harder to manage. That’s what the classic Chinese proverb implies: “The mountains are high and the emperor is far, far away.” Ms. Mihalik’s series does incorporate amazing communications systems which helps negate some of the issues of ruling, policing, legislation, and hanging onto political control. These amazing communications systems are so amazing that they transcend the laws of physics: the characters, like Dr. Who, can make calls across the unimaginably vast universe with zero time lag or loss of signal.
In addition, this communications system is so amazing and so complete that our heroine can planet hop across the unimaginably vast universe and be recognized wherever she goes.
Our heroine in Aurora Blazing is Lady Bianca von Hasenberg. She’s widowed and very happy about her status. The marriage was arranged for political reasons by her evil, manipulative father, the head of House von Hasenberg and ruler of the universe. Her deceased husband used her as a guinea pig for his body modification experiments (they don’t show). Her modifications can be extremely helpful, while also being debilitating. Bianca isn’t as annoyingly super-skilled in everything as her sister, Ada, is. She has to figure out who kidnapped her older brother, Ferdinand, while attempting to fend off the scrutiny of House von Hasenberg’s hyper-competent head of security, Ian Bishop.
Since Bianca has always had a crush on Ian Bishop and he on her, romance eventually ensues when they stop fighting each other. Poor communication skills, you know? Ian has his own problems, starting with being not just a stunningly handsome blond, well-built, above-average human male, but a genetically modified super soldier with amazing, super-hero abilities. Yep, he can see in the dark like a cat, has extreme endurance and strength, and he can kill dozens of enemies at one go, and survive being shot by blasters. These modifications are all strictly illegal so he doesn’t talk about them.
Do these amazing people have problems? Well, yes, they do. They have to infiltrate a criminal syndicate. They have to work with Bianca’s younger sister and her genetically modified super-soldier with amazing, super-hero abilities (read Polaris Rising for the details). They have to travel the universe, cutting deals that might come back and haunt Bianca in the sequel (Chaos Reigning due in late May 2020). They have to fight it out with mercenary troops all eager to capture Bianca because of the huge bounty on her head. They have to infiltrate the mining world held by the evil House Rockhurst (the second High House; the third is House Yamado) to rescue Ferdinand, heir to House von Hasenberg.
They keep busy.
The novel moves along smartly, except when it bogs down in computer techno-babble.
Should you read it?
I read Aurora Blazing because I read Polaris Rising. I like space opera. I don’t believe I was the right reader for either of Ms. Mihalik’s novels. I can accept the most absurd premises in my fiction (cough–Discworld–cough or cough–Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars series—cough). That said, if the writer implies some level of scientific accuracy and the story doesn’t grab me whole, issues like those I mentioned above will leap out at me. They’re like typos that way.
Will I read Chaos Reigning? Yep, simply because I want to see how Jessie Mihalik wraps the series up with Catarina von Hasenberg’s own story. I’ll put in my request at the library and wait in the queue for my number to come up.
How would I rate this story? I’ll say three sparklers because I did read the entire novel, rather than skimming or worse, not finishing at all. Everyone else in the ‘verse rates it higher than I do, giving it four- and one-half stars overall. Your mileage may vary.
Here are the links if you’d like to check out Jessie Mihalik for yourself:
Ms. Mihalik’s blog: https://www.jessiemihalik.com/
Teresa Peschel aka Odessa Moon 11/5/19