A Wealth of Unsaid Words
on Nov. 07, 2019
The is a moving story about love and family. Loving someone with a mental illness is difficult, and sometimes timing is everything. This is a perfect holiday story about what can happen when the time is finally right.
Taji From Beyond the Rings
on Feb. 11, 2020
I would rate this 4.75 stars.
Taji is a human linguist who was supposed to be on a small moon, mostly isolated, to compile information on its language, culture, and inhabitants for the Interplanetary Trade Coalition (IPTC) databases. After the deaths of two members of a diplomatic team on the planet below named Mirsa, he is conscripted to assist Ambassador Tsomyal since he is the only person in nearby space even remotely qualified to help decipher nuances of communication in Asha, the language used throughout most of the Sha Empire. Shavians value control and stoicism except in precise culturally acceptable situations. Although humanoid, they seem to have a vast amount of nonverbal communication with their cat like ears. As a native Anglisky speaker with no training in diplomacy and a translator device with inferior software translations, he is thrown into the deep end of a foreign alien culture in political turmoil. Nicknamed Mouth by the IPTC security team, he will find out how accurate that description is as he tries to stay alive.
The IPTC sending a diplomatic team to encourage trade is just an experiment to save the cost of war. They are on the outskirts of space, with a steep learning curve for survival by their wits alone. The author successfully conveys a sense of peril as there is no one close enough to rescue them in time should anything go wrong--even a misunderstanding about the meaning of a word can upend their mission. Here several words cause trouble: shehzha, honor, and gender pronouns. The entire book hinges on Taji's communication minefield. This does what the best scifi does, examines our own society through the lenses of alien society with social commentary on: oligarchy, figureheads, finding the balance between tradition and change, stagnation vs. innovation, rule by fear, class warfare, devaluation of skilled labor and the arts, an uneducated populace, xenophobia, and the dangers of not treating all peoples equally and equitably.
I love all the genders and skin colors represented. Taji, with a bad leg and misaligned prosthetic that hurts him, is surrounded by aliens that are larger, stronger, and not used to dealing with making accommodation for such an injury. Many IPTC like Trenne, join them to get away from societies with restrictive rules. Although Trenne is from Mirsa, he is not considered Shavian, since he is descended from conquered peoples, thus he is discriminated against due to his skin markings. This is used to good effect as how people treat them both, reflects on them. All the characters here are interesting as shown through Taji's viewpoint whilst trying to help navigate the circumstances. The reader knows and understands them as Taji does, so as his opinion changes, so did mine. The political intrigue makes it difficult to tell friend from foe. The love story between Taji and Sargent Major Trenne is moving, explicit, and erotic. Because Taji is caring and kind, he is the heart of the book; since Trenne holds his heart, he also holds mine. Be aware that the sex also has a biological component--a chemical reaction that causes "heat" so although everything between Taji and Trenne is consensual, this could be abused like sexual slavery since it causes addiction like a drug.
This book is like the author mixed up a few of my favorite ingredients (the Claiming series by Lyn Gala, The Prince He Loved by Michael Barnette, the Breeds series by Lora Leigh, Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula le Guin) to make me a cake. Really, really good cake, but I missed the nuts. In other words, I didn't rate it higher because the world-building was mostly political, less physical. The book didn't paint pictures in my mind as much as I would have liked. All of it takes place in the capital or the home territory of the emperor's family. I know there are different districts of the capital like the Gardens, or the Fires, but I don't have a real sense of them. It's alright, because I know some people are allergic to nuts. Althought this is a slightly darker book than I am used to by this particular author, it will be loved and read again, as I usually do with her stories. I really loved it.
on April 11, 2020
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Rook is sent to the alien prison planet B-226 for twenty three years for killing his husband. The average life span on the hostile planet is three weeks. His plan is to live as long as possible to honor his husband’s wishes, and then die and join him. Upon landing he is partnered with a prisoner named Stevie to help guard the miners, or he won’t get fed. There is a strange thrill in fightening off the local fauna and surviving, or having a specific daily purpose, that Rook didn’t count on. Their days are stressful, consisting of violent episodes bracketed by fighting boredom for concentration. Through his POV, the third character is Rook‘s dead husband Carlos. Stevie walks a fine line of teaching Rook how to survive, being wary of any attack or signs of madness setting in, using him for company and sex, but trying not to care too much in case Rook gets killed like all his previous partners.
I found this plot enticing as I personally enjoy when an author explores the psychology of a character. This is a new author to me so I really didn’t know what to expect. The main question here was always going to be, are they just together because of the circumstances? While that is actually asked, finding out the real answer takes the whole book. Bonding over shared trauma isn’t bad as a short cut, as long as it’s not the only thing there. While they are just trying to survive, they don’t actually know anything about each other’s previous lives. What they do know is: how they each react in an emergency, if they are trustworthy and to what extent, how each deals with conflict and triggers, and what factors motivate or de-motivate them. I would argue not knowing facts about someone’s life, or even their particular thoughts at any given moment, is less important than knowing if they can be counted on. I loved that there were so many issues touched on like the complications of choice, personal sovereignty, stages of grief, and PTSD. Having said that, it’s shocking that no one even makes a mention or an attempt at trying to deal with said mental health issues.
There are parts of this book that at times reminded me of movies like Predator, Reign of Fire, Pitch Black, Starship Troopers or Enemy Mine. I mention movies because I saw this story as pictures in my mind. That the author manages to sustain a feeling of suspense and terror for such a large (80-85%) portion of this book is amazing. There are breaks in the tension just when they are needed. There are breaks in the setting, just when they are needed. The focus of this book is very narrow, with the characters in their own world, creating a very intimate rather than epic feel so without the breaks, this could have been stifling. As it is, I felt like I went through everything with them.
Romance is not the point of this book. Finding someone you love and can get along with during one of the worst times of your life is another thing altogether. Sex is also not the point of this book–mostly it is fade to black, or described as a celebration of survival or stress relief as a realistic part of Rook‘s life and circumstances. While there is a HFN/HEA here, it is done in a realistic way consistent with the flavor of the novel as a whole. I am so thankful this author didn’t just slap a bow on it and negate all the work it took to get to the end of this journey. I thought this story was great and complete as it is.