Category Archives: Reading

Dragon Tide

In which the ancestor of a major recurring character goes a-voyaging.

“Dragon Tide” is definitely a prequel, I reckon, in nature and not just by accident of birth. It’s chronologically the earliest story of the Liaden Universe, but it’s not a good one to read first.

For one thing, if you expect the first story of a series to give an idea of what the series will be like, this story doesn’t do that. It’s told in an atypical mode, features a cast of characters we’ll never see again, and a setting that will be revisited only once, briefly, and then much changed.

For another thing, if you don’t know what’s coming after this, you’re missing out on part of the story, the way that in places it parallels or foreshadows events yet to come. I don’t know what I’d have made of this story if I’d come to it cold.

(I wonder if anyone ever has come to it cold? Some of the short stories debuted in general anthologies, but this one was a chapbook original; I don’t think it’s ever appeared in a book that wasn’t being pitched specifically at readers who were already Liaden fans.)

Necessary Evils

In which Zanith ven’Albren receives the fruits of his labours.

I remember being somewhat confused the first time I read “Necessary Evils”. It was after I’d read the Agent of Change sequence, but before I read any of the early prequel novels, so I had no context in which to understand this society. Were these people Liadens? There were some recognisable similarities, and yet so many differences. A lot of things fell into place when I got around to reading the Crystal duology.

I’ve read it three times now, and I’m still not sure what the title’s referring to.

Crystal Soldier – Chapter 1

On the ground, Star 475A
Mission time: 3.5 planet days and counting

In which M. Jela Granthor’s Guard goes for a walk.

Here, for a change, we are introduced to a character who will be back again tomorrow: M. Jela Granthor’s Guard, Generalist, who is stuck on a desolated planet after his ship was holed in a space battle, and “being a generalist — and an M” has decided that while he’s waiting for rescue he might as well do some exploring.

It is not explained precisely what a generalist is, although one gets the idea that it’s whatever is the opposite of a specialist. (The idea of a Generalist goes at least as far back as a short story titled “The Solution” that Steve Miller wrote in the days before he and Sharon Lee began collaborating.)

Come to that, it’s not explained in this chapter what any of the rest of it means. From memory, “Jela” is his personal name, and “M.” is his Strain (“like R. Daneel Olivaw”, was the thought that flitted through my head). I don’t recall precisely about “Granthor’s Guard”, whether it was his first posting or is his current posting or what, but I expect that will be cleared up sooner or later.

What is explained is a lot of backstory about the sheriekas and the present state of the galaxy, which will no doubt be important going forward.

The chapter ends with Jela making a Discovery. I am nobly resisting the urge to peek at the next chapter and see what the discovery is. (Admittedly, this would be more noble if I weren’t pretty sure I remember what it is from the first time I read this.)

Crystal Soldier – Chapter 2

On the ground, Star 475A
Mission time: 9 planet days and counting

In which Jela conceives an interest in dendrology.

What Jela has discovered is the Trees, or what’s left of them.

While he’s following their trail, hoping to find one that’s still alive, we get some exposition about why he thinks they might be worth finding, along with a hint that although this may be a science fiction universe, it contains things that might well be indistinguishable from magic; and when his mind wanders, some more exposition about his own status as a batch-produced, gene-selected soldier. We also get the first mention of the more recent Strain, of whom we will be hearing more later, whose fashion is to wear their Batch tattoos on their faces instead of on their arms. (The voice of memory says, “On the right – insignia of born-to Troop…”)

Crystal Soldier – Chapter 3

On the ground, Star 475A
Mission time: 14 planet days and counting

In which Jela makes a friend and a promise.

Jela has found the last Tree. It’s an unpreposessing thing at this point, shorter than he is. He gives it water. It gives him food. (And the experienced visitor to the Liaden Universe does not discount it as mere coincidence that, after eating the seed pod it drops, he promptly falls into a hibernation that keeps him until his rescue arrives.) Speaking of the seed pod, though, it’s larger than I expected: “fist-sized”, it says, and I’d always pictured them as smaller. Perhaps they are, usually.

Reading this chapter four days after “Dragon Tide” means that the dream Jela has in the Tree’s shadow is considerably less mysterious than it might otherwise have been.

This chapter begins and ends with two interestingly-written moments: at the beginning, there’s the description of Jela’s emotion when he discovers that there is, after all, a survivor; at the end, the suspenseful wait to find out whether the approaching flyer is friend or foe, which is resolved when Jela recognises the man who jumps out — and completely dispelled when the man loses his footing and swears.

Crystal Soldier – Chapter 4

On the ground, Star 475A
Mission time: 14.5 planet days and counting

In which Jela wouldn’t leave ’til he’d dug up that damned skinny stick of a tree.

In Scout’s Progress, one of the chapter headings is an excerpt from Cantra’s Logbook in which she recalls Jela telling her the story of how he found the tree and how he refused to leave the planet without it. The story as she recalls it doesn’t go quite like this, but then stories often change some in the re-telling. (I suspect the embellishment about the tree being so puny Jela could pot it in a left-over ration tin of being Cantra’s own contribution, though; it doesn’t seem characteristic of Jela.)

It would appear that Corporal Kinto, if not a foe, isn’t exactly a friend of Jela’s either. I wonder if there’s something personal behind that or if it’s just interservice rivalry.

Crystal Soldier – Chapter 5

Isolation Ward

In which Jela is isolated, and then made an offer he can’t refuse.

Jela gets put in quarantine. The tree gets put in quarantine. Corporal Bicra, who helped carry the tree, gets put in quarantine. Justifications are available, but Jela suspects somebody’s messing about. There is a hint that Corporal Kinto may be involved, though Jela doesn’t know what his motive might be.

And we may never get to find out, since the Commander shows up and offers Jela a job.

During their conversation, we learn that Jela has in the past found himself in command situations, where he has done well by the people below him but not always got along smoothly with the people above. “Alas, some ‘above my head’ have been raised to different rules and understandings of soldiers, duty, and necessity.”

We learn that independent thought and initiative are characteristics of M Strain (not always appreciated by the people above their heads), along with a distaste for idleness. We learn some more about X Strain as well, including the first mention of them by name. We get some details about Jela’s physical appearance (he’s shorter than a lot of people) and the med tech’s physical appearance (brown-skinned). (I’m keeping an eye on this, because I notice that the cover artist has depicted Jela as dark-skinned, and I’m wondering if there’s in-text support for it.) We also have the first appearance of pilots’ hand-talk.

Crystal Soldier – Chapter 6

Training Base
Mission Time: 34.5 days and counting

In which no one really wants to go to Vinylhaven.

Jela continues to dream of the days when the tree’s planet lived; we learn that this tree is too young to have known the branches-with-wings except through the memories of its elders.

In this chapter, we get the crystal to go with our soldier, as Jela learns that someone (“and we must assume that someone equals the enemy“) is dismantling portions of the universe itself, in a process the mathematicians call “decrystallization”. Somehow involved in the process is timonium, a mysterious semi-stable transuranic element of which we’ll be hearing more later. We’ll also be hearing again about the mathematician who did the pioneering work on the problem before he “had unfortunately come to the attention of those who found his theories and equations anathema”.

The elder of the two anonymous men who instruct Jela in the problem implies that it may potentially threaten the entire universe, and hints that his own thoughts tend in a remarkable direction: his studies, he says, show that there are other universes…

Crystal Soldier – Chapter 7

Awaiting Transport

In which Jela heads off into the wild blue-green yonder.

Not that much happens in this chapter: a shuttle lands, Jela and the tree get in, it takes off again. The interest is in the details: about the technology of the shuttle, about Jela’s training, about Jela’s past (the intriguing description of his name as “nothing more than a quartermaster’s joke”).

Speaking of names, we learn the name of the Commander who recruited Jela to his present course of action: Ro Gayda. Absent further context, it’s not clear whether that’s all surname, or part surname and part personal name (and if so — he added, remembering Ro Laren — which is which).

There’s also an interesting description of Jela helping the tree gain a fuller understanding of flying machines.

Crystal Soldier – Chapter 8

On board Spiral Dance
Faldaiza Port

In which Cantra yos’Phelium goes for a meal and some company, and gets more than she expected.

Enter a new point-of-view character: Cantra yos’Phelium, independent cargo pilot running solo.

With the new point of view, we get an outside description of Jela. He has eyes as black as the space between the stars, and, yes, brown skin. He’s shorter than the breadth of his shoulders would suggest — and shorter than Cantra, though that’s not so indicative since her height is “not inconsiderable”.

We learn about Cantra’s height from her own point of view, as well as the fact that she’s not as young as she was. From Jela’s point of view, we learn that Cantra has green eyes.

Quite a bit of backstory threaded through this chapter: about Batchers; about world-eaters; about the Rim, its people in general and Cantra and Garen in particular. Also about the navigation beacons, which caught my attention when first I read this, because they don’t have (or apparently need) those in later novels. Other things they don’t have in later novels include the smart clothing on display here, that can scan rooms for danger, send messages, display images in the air.

And another thing that caught my attention the first time, as someone who’d only read the later novels, is the mention and description of Solcintra, that fabled origin planet, which apparently is rather less illustrious in its own time than it appears through the filter of nostalgia.