Hollow World ~ Michael J. Sullivan

  • Cover of Michael J. Sullivan's Hollow WorldTitle:  Hollow World
  • Author:  Michael J. Sullivan
  • Genre:  Science Fiction, Dystopian
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description:  The future is coming…for some, sooner than others.

Ellis Rogers is an ordinary man who is about to embark on an extraordinary journey. All his life he has played it safe and done the right thing, but when faced with a terminal illness, he’s willing to take an insane gamble. He’s built a time machine in his garage, and if it works, he’ll face a world that challenges his understanding of what it means to be human, what it takes to love, and the cost of paradise. He could find more than a cure for his illness; he might find what everyone has been searching for since time began…but only if he can survive Hollow World. 

Welcome to the future and a new sci-fantasy thriller from the bestselling author of The Riyria Revelations.

Review:  I freely admit that I loved Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations and I was excited to find this new and different novel up on NetGalley for a review. I snapped it up and the ideas it presents have been racing through my brain ever since.

Hoping to find a cure for his illness, Ellis plans to jump ahead 200 years. Instead, he actually jumps ahead 2000 years. What he finds when he gets there is . . . grass. Fearing he has traveled to a time where he has the world to himself, and knowing he didn’t bring the proper tools to forge shelter for himself, he follows the river to see what he can find. What he finds is a murder – and a bunch of naked people who all look identical.

As I read this book, the voice in my head sounded very much like a performance of The Time Machine by Leonard Nimoy and John De Lancie I heard years ago. The same kind of eerie, echoing music played in the background of my head as Ellis slowly progresses through the world by himself. It seemed fitting. Even when he finds others, I still had that sound track echoing through my brain.

There isn’t a lot of action in this story – and what does happen does so in short spurts and it really isn’t until that last few chapters that things start moving at a break neck pace. So, there was no sense of urgency as I read but, rather, a sense of peace. It wasn’t a book that urged me to turn the page to see what happened next, yet I couldn’t put it down either. Instead of action, what we have here is a bunch of thought provoking nuances. And, make me think it did.

It also isn’t your typical dystopian world where one group has enslaved another. Instead, the world has evolved via science – to make everyone identical, because that is what was best for society. Or so it thought. And, because global warming has decimated the planet, they have all moved into the core of the earth – hence, Hollow World. Now, the science involved here, in time travel, in forming identical people, in ‘hollowing’ out the world, is not quite believable. But, you aren’t supposed to believe, you are supposed to accept and think ‘what if?’ And, that is something Mr. Sullivan does quite well – make you think.

In this world, there is no religion. No religion, no war, and no love. (Every stop to think how many wars are brought on by differences in religion?) Everyone is identical, so there are no comparisons. Everyone has a ‘maker’ (and how this comes about is very reminiscent of the Linux world) so everyone can have anything one wants. There are no genders or races or castes, no reason to be at odds with each other. So, what do people do? They seek out individuality – the seek tattoos and clothing and other things to make them stand out from the crowd. They seek new ideas (read religion and war) to advance civilization. I mean, really, where is there to grow?

The characters very search for individuality and God made me think about everything in my life. As a Christian, it made me seek God. But, both sides are presented here. There is no club over your head going – believe in God! Or You are a ninny if you believe in God! It is up to the reader to arrive at his own conclusion.

Love. Love is also an interesting thought process here. With no genders, how and who do people love? (There is an ‘app’ for sex . . .) Why do we love? How do we love? What is love? It made me appreciate the people in my life and appreciate what I have – even though I would be quite poor next to these folks.

I don’t believe there is any greater complement to a story than “It made me think.” I continue to adore Michael J. Sullivan. I adore his writing style. I adore his work ethic. I adore his publishing stance. I think he is a ground breaker and a genuinely good man. None of this made me like this book any more, but it made me more willing to pick it up – something outside of his typical book. I enjoyed the fact that instead of bloating the series he has already written for monetary gain, he sought readers and all of us stepped outside of our comfort zone to share in this new story. I hope that this will encourage other authors to come up with new worlds and new series instead of dragging down the ones we already love. Not that it isn’t possible to continue series in a good and polished manner, but an author should not be forced to do so either.

I give this one a solid 4 stars. It was an intriguing story in a different style written in a soothing manner. It is not action packed and there is no sense of urgency but, rather, a story full of ideas that will increase the wonder of the world around you.

The Humans ~ Matt Haig

  • Title: The Humans    
  • Author: Matt Haig
  • Genre: Literary Sci-Fi
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: $11 purchase
  • Reviewed by: Mark Matthews
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  The critically acclaimed author of The Radleys shares a clever, heartwarming, and darkly insightful novel about an alien who comes to Earth to save humans from themselves.

“I was not Professor Andrew Martin. That is the first thing I should say. He was just a role. A disguise. Someone I needed to be in order to complete a task.”

The narrator of this tale is no ordinary human—in fact, he’s not human at all. Before he was sent away from the distant planet he calls home, precision and perfection governed his life. He lived in a utopian society where mathematics transformed a people, creating limitless knowledge and immortality.

But all of this is suddenly threatened when an earthly being opens the doorway to the same technology that the alien planet possesses. Cambridge University professor Andrew Martin cracks the Reimann Hypothesis and unknowingly puts himself and his family in grave danger when the narrator is sent to Earth to erase all evidence of the solution and kill anyone who has seen the proof. The only catch: the alien has no idea what he’s up against.

Disgusted by the excess of disease, violence, and family strife he encounters, the narrator struggles to pass undetected long enough to gain access to Andrew’s research. But in picking up the pieces of the professor’s shattered personal life, the narrator sees hope and redemption in the humans’ imperfections and begins to question the very mission that brought him there.

Review:  The world is divided into those who have read this book and those who have not.  Those who have read this book are shaking their heads in the affirmative right now.

It is not so much the story, but read it for that.  It is not so much the characters, but read it for that too.  It is for the statement it makes on the flawed yet wondrous nature of humans. This book will resonate with you long after you read it. (if not, we can’t be friends.)  You will be convinced the author himself is from another world, sent here to give us some wisdom, but perhaps also fearful if we can handle it.  I liken it to “Illusions – The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah” by Richard Bach

Yes, I loved this book and I am a better person for it. A beautiful book that made me cry. At times I feared it would become predictable, but there was just enough variance and certainly more than enough genius. A wonderful range of emotions. The prose was both beautiful and simple. How many times have we all wondered, “What would an alien think if they came to Earth and experienced this?” Well, this book provides an illuminating answer.

Highly recomended. Get ready to highlight on your kindle or dog-ear your  paperback.

-Mark Matthews

Born of the Night ~ Sherrilyn Kenyon

  • Title:  Born of the Night
  • Author:  Sherrilyn Kenyon
  • Series:  The League, #1
  • Genre:  Romance, Science Fiction
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  Own Copy
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Description:  In the Ichidian Universe, The League and their ruthless assassins rule all. Expertly trained and highly valued, the League Assassins are the backbone of the government. But not even the League is immune to corruption . . .

Command Assassin Nykyrian Quikiades once turned his back on the League—and has been hunted by them ever since. Though many have tried, none can kill him or stop him from completing his current mission: to protect Kiara Zamir, a woman whose father’s political alliance has made her a target.

As her world becomes even deadlier, Kiara must entrust her life to the same kind of beast who once killed her mother and left her for dead. Old enemies and new threaten them both and the only way they can survive is to overcome their suspicions and learn to trust in the very ones who threaten them the most: each other.

Review:  This is another I read along with the Vaginal Fantasy group at Goodreads. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. These books always tend to have more romance and sex that that with which I am comfortable.

That being said – I really enjoyed the characters. Though, gotta admit, every single time the phrase ‘tiny dancer’ was used, I had Elton John streaming through my head. I don’t know if this was entirely intentional on Ms. Kenyon’s part, but it is a fact. It is basically the story of the daughter of a rich politician and the man hired to protect her. It is science fiction solely because it happens in a galaxy far, far away and because the bodyguard hired is from another planet. Well, they both are – it happens in another galaxy.

I liked Kiara. She was gentle yet didn’t lie down and let people walk all over her. She was strong yet didn’t let the circumstances of her life create a tough as nails kick ass character. When we first see her, she has been taken captive. She knows that her captors do not have her best interests at heart and plots and schemes ways that she can escape. Or at least damage those who wish her harm. And, when the cavalry arrives, they see a young woman who will not go easily into the sunset.

Enter the assassin Nykyrian – said cavalry. Most of the mystery in this novel revolves around who he is and where he came from. While he and Kiara both share the lack of a mother in their lives, their childhoods have been remarkably dissimilar. While she has been sheltered and protected, even though not totally without loss, he has been battered and abused. He has loved her from afar for years, but, due to said childhood, feels unlovable. Their relationship is a bit . . . unbelievable. But, hey it is a romance, and doesn’t really pretend to be anything else, so unbelievable works. Just because it is unbelievable doesn’t mean it is without difficulties along the way – or, perhaps, because of that.

This is pretty much a straightforward romance with science fiction over tones. If you look to read this type of book and accept it as such, it is completely enjoyable. I give it 3.5 stars – rounded to 4 because I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

The Eyre Affair ~ Jasper Fforde

  • Title:  The Eyre Affair
  • Author:  Jasper Fforde
  • Series:  Thursday Next, #1
  • Genre:  Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction
  • Format:  Audio Book
  • Source:  Overdrive Library
  • Reviewed by:  Sonja
  • Rating:  3 out of 5

Description:  Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.

Review:  Well, wasn’t this one a nice kettle of fish. I must have listened to beginning of ‘The Eyre Affair’ a thousand times before I finally moved forward. Seriously. I counted. The beginning, as is so often the case especially in the case of books first in a series, is a bit of an info dump. What kept me going you ask? The reader: Susan Duerdan. Ms. Duerdan does such an amazing job, her voice is just mesmerizing. Simply mesmerizing. She gets everything exactly right, the tone, the expressions, the laughter, the concern, the humor – simply everything. She made me wish to listen to this book.

But, other than the narration, I was not taken with this book. Maybe it is all the time travel. . .  are you now, are you later, or are you way in the past? Maybe it was just the information overload. Maybe it is just all that doggone literature – literature which, I might add, I actually love. Maybe, it is just that there are too many ideas, amazing though they may be, competing for attention here. It may have been the lack of any real mystery – we know who the bad guy is almost immediately. Or, more probably, it is the political commentary happening.

The breadth of the story is about different literature books, especially, as you can tell by the title, Jane Eyre. It seems that if you time travel into a novel, you can change the way it turns out – at least from that publishing forward. This makes, as you can imagine, the original manuscripts of great literature extremely valuable and important. However, the only constant in this mash-up of time and literature is the constant referral to the War in the Crimea. Which, according to my research (and, I actually researched, I couldn’t believe I had missed such a politically charged war) happened over 100 years ago. So, I can only assume it is some oblique reference to current warlike conditions and many a political statement was being made. Or, at least the same statement – over and over again. And, it grew tiresome.

One of the reasons I listened to this novel was that I read many review that reference the humor in it. Sadly, I found it devoid of humor other than a wry smile a time or two. I don’t know if it was the British influence, the fact that I listened instead of read, I zoned out during those parts, or it just wasn’t funny. But, I was sorely disappointed.

Ultimately, I reluctantly give this one 2.5 stars. I really wanted to like it more. I really did. I am upgrading it to 3 stars because Ms. Duerdan made me want to hear more.

The Risen Empire ~ Scott Westerfeld

  • Title: The Risen Empire
  • Author: Scott Westerfeld
  • Series: Succession #1
  • Genre: Science-fiction
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  From the acclaimed author of Fine Prey, Polymorph, and Evolution’s Darling (Philip K. Dick Award special citation and a New York Times Notable Book) comes a sweeping epic, The Risen Empire, Scott Westerfeld’s dazzling hardcover debut.

The undead Emperor has ruled his mighty interstellar empire of eighty human worlds for sixteen hundred years. Because he can grant a form of eternal life, creating an elite known as the Risen, his power has been absolute. He and his sister, the Child Empress, who is eternally a little girl, are worshiped as living gods. No one can touch them.

Not until the Rix, machine-augmented humans who worship very different gods: AI compound minds of planetary extent. The Rix are cool, relentless fanatics, and their only goal is to propagate such AIs throughout the galaxy. They seek to end, by any means necessary, the Emperor’s prolonged tyranny of one and supplant it with an eternal cybernetic dynasty of their own. They begin by taking the Child Empress hostage. Captain Laurent Zai of the Imperial Frigate Lynx is tasked with her rescue.

Separated by light-years, bound by an unlikely love, Zai and pacifist senator Nara Oxham must each in their own way, face the challenge of the Rix, and they each will hold the fate of the empire in their hands. The Risen Empire is the first great space opera of the twenty-first century.

Review: Some books take a while to really get going, and some books throw you into the action from page one. This book was one of the latter. It opens with a thrilling space battle with a completely unexpected twist, and had me completely hooked from the get-go.

This is hard science-fiction (as opposed to the science fantasy from authors such as Jack Vance), with space travel at percentage-of-lightspeed, advanced technologies that sound scientific and plausible, and a suitably advanced culture that is completely believable. One of the coolest technologies is the synesthetic implant that everyone receives as standard, and which allows data to be viewed through the other senses a human possesses. Throughout the novel people see the real world in primary sight and have overlays in secondary and sometimes even tertiary sight, and it sounds pretty awesome. I also loved how there are four types of gravity: hard, easy, wicked and lovely. You’ll have to read the book for explanations of how they all work.

At the centre of the novel is the Empire of eighty worlds, ruled by the Risen Emperor and his sister, the Child Empress. The Emperor has done the impossible: he has found a way to conquer death and grant eternal life by means of a symbiotic implant, though this implant only works on dead people. This gift of immortality is controlled by the Emperor, and he has had absolute power over the eighty worlds for sixteen hundred years.

In contrast to this are the Rix, ‘enhanced’ humans who worship their planetary compound minds and wish to seed these AIs on every inhabited planet in the universe. Caught in the middle is Captain Laurent Zai, who is tasked with rescuing the Empress when she is taken hostage by the Rix.

This book has so much going for it that it’s hard to pin it all down. There is a thrilling space battle that takes up a big chunk of the book and at times takes place in microseconds, yet never gets boring. There is a good dose of politics, contrasting the unbending traditionalism of the Risen and their grey worlds with the pinks: those who believe that to be immortal is to be stagnant, and who would take the power away from the Risen. There is romance, in the form of the relationship between Zai and his lover Nara Oxham, a Senator from one of the pink planets. It introduces the concept of the Time Thief, the effect that the military experiences due to traveling throughout the universe at relativistic speeds. In essence this means that if they spend two years traveling at, say, ten percent of the speed of light, ten years may have passed in absolute time. Ten years relative to them could be fifty years absolute, so any family left at home will age and die long before they do.

I usually prefer to read fantasy over sci-fi, but when I do grab a sci-fi novel, this is the kind of novel that does it for me. Gripping from start to finish, and I can’t wait to read the conclusion.


 

Preview: Game of Adversaries by Susan Elizabeth Curnow

Chapter One

Ice-laden wind tore around Galcia Guardron to find every gap in Marcus Oregada’s clothing. His cloak sodden with snow, he shivered, the chill so deep that his bones aches as tears froze to his lashes. Would he ever feel warm again? Three days of storm, and snow climbed into ever higher drifts, sending crofter and villager to seek shelter behind castle walls.

Toes numb in his boots, Marcus let another family through the gates into Galcia Guardron. Folk already lined hall and corridor, vying for space out of drafts, and tripping over others’ pathetic belongings. Did his wife fare better in Belgrat Guardron, four days ride to the north? Without the storm he wouldn’t be here, shepherding people in from the cold, when his Katerina was so close to birthing their first child.

One look at the shuddering masses with blackened fingers convinced Marcus that love must yield to duty. Folk had slogged their way to the castle from as far away as Frenton village. Those in the outreaches were probably close to dying. He could not send men to help them, knowing none would survive.

Behind him cattle, sheep, and goats milled, turning the central courtyard into a mess of dung-colored slush. Not even the sharp chill could douse the stench of so many beasts. Loud moos, bleats and cries reflected their restless churning as they sought place in new hers. The sounds echoed, even above the wind’s roar, within the castle walls.

Ice clung to Marcus’s beard and moustache as he cajoled exhausted folk, animals and guardsmen into some form of organization. Since his men had worked outside all day, not even the commander of Galcia’s garrison would shirk duty for a brazier in the hall.

Visibility down to a few yards from the drawbridge, snow swirled in angry patterns to turn a man dizzy. Icicles hung from the portcullis like a panpipe, threatening to stab unwary travelers. Marcus didn’t remember a storm such as this. Had not King Eidric showed his charity by sheltering those he could, they and their animals might have died, frozen in place like so many ghosts.

“There’s no more room, Commander,” Captain Garet came to say.

Despite the chaos behind Marcus, many folk remained outside. He could not save them all, even when frustration and pity clenched his heart. Garet looked no better than Marcus felt. His nose and cheeks scarlet under his helm, he shivered in his boots, too close to that point when a man would simply lie down and embrace death.

“Get inside,” Marcus ordered. “We’ll close the gates in a short while. One hour shifts for all men.”

A goat made a bid for freedom past Marcus. He leapt and caught it by the horns, ignoring its bleats of distress as he manhandled it into the courtyard. There’d be arguments enough when it came to sorting which beast belonged to whom. At least they wouldn’t freeze their blood. Even breathing iced his lungs. He’d sent guards inside already, blood streaming out their noses.

The goat safe, Marcus stamped his feet and swung his arms. As circulation returned, sharp needles of pain replaced numbness, which meant he wouldn’t lose his toes. Katerina would be happy if he lost his toes, or any other parts for that matter. It would take a warm fire to convince him he still owned a pair of balls.

The weather might not be this bad at Belgrat. His baby better wait to be born until he could be there to welcome it and hold his wife’s hand, convention be damned.

“Rider!” Garet croaked. He’d stayed with his commander, disobeying orders.

Marcus shielded frozen lashes to peer through the snow. A beast stumbled in the whiteness. Garet and Marcus ploughed through drifts to reach horse and rider in time.

The messenger lay on the horse’s neck, both encased in ice and snow. The animal’s lungs heaved in distress. Its limbs trembled with fatigue. Marcus called more men to help. Between them they got horse and rider through the gate. Marcus carried the messenger into the gatehouse where several guards stood around a brazier. Men moved aside for Marucs to set the soldier on the wooden floor.

“Strip him and wrap him in blankets—get the surgeon, quickly!” Marcus shouted while he chafed limbs.

A guard ran off as Marcus and Garet unfastened frozen ties and buckles. The man could not even shiver.

“Belgrat, sir,” Garet whispered.

Marcus had seen the badge the moment he’d laid the messenger down. Fear set his heart racing. It was as though his thoughts had brought the rider here. Why would anybody attempt a journey in such weather if not to bring him news he feared?

He cleared a throat dry as ashes, the urge to shake answers from the poor man both sickening and overwhelming.

“Elim?” he asked, remembering the soldier’s name.

Elim’s eyes fluttered open.

While Marcus waited for him to focus, a soldier placed a warm drink in Marcus’s hand. He lifted Elim’s head and held the cup to his lips.

After two sips, the soldier closed his eyes.

Marcus shook him gently. “Elim?”

“Belgrat’s gone,” Elim rasped.

Marcus’s fingers tightened on Elim’s shoulder. “Gone? What do you mean?”

“Men… riding dragons. Breathing fire… weapons killed without touch.”

Dragons? The man must be fevered. What happened to Katerina, goddammit! He drew a breath to force calm. With patience he didn’t feel, Marcus said, “You aren’t making sense, Elim.”

Elim’s eyes wandered, searching, to rest on Marcus’s face. “Didn’t make sense, sir. Thunder and lightning. Village destroyed. Men appearing like magic.”

“What of my father and brothers?”

“Dead.”

A lump formed in Marcus’s throat. “Women and children?”

Elim shook his head.

A white haze filled his vision. It was as though his heart stopped; racing with dread one moment then nothing. “Why do you still live?” Marcus asked in shock.

Elim stirred. “Your brother… before he fell, he sent me. To warn.”

“How long ago?”

“Two… maybe three…”

Marcus had to know. “Katerina?”

“A daughter, you had a daughter,” Elim whispered.

“Do they still live?” Marcus cried. “Elim?” This time he shook the soldier, who lolled, boneless. He’d lost consciousness.

The surgeon arrived with his tools. He bent down quickly by Elim, felt for his pulse, and looked up. “How far did he ride?”

“Belgrat,” Marcus said.

“Then he used all his strength getting here. Brave lad. It’ll be a while before he comes to. Best let him rest if you want him alive.”

You must do something! Marcus wanted to cry. I need to know if she’s alive. I need—Marcus climbed to his feet. Shaken and numb with more than cold, his brain refused to work. He clenched his hands into fists, bewildered by Elim’s words. How could Belgrat have gone? Dragons? Dragons came out of children’s stories. Elim had to be out of his mind. Perhaps Katerina was alive. Maybe his parents and siblings were.

“Saddle my stallion,” he ordered Garet.

His captain faced him. “Commander, you can’t! This man is half-dead from the cold. Maybe tomorrow—“

“Tomorrow will be too late!” Marcus snapped.

“Maybe it’s already too late.”

Strung tight as a crossbow, Marcus’s fist swung at words he never wanted to hear. A prop holding up the ceiling shook under the impact of a man driven too far.

Marcus knew what he had to do. Since his duty as commander was all that he had left, he’d keep the threat from coming here. Even if his family still lived, he’d risk no one else in the storm. He ordered a message sent to King Eidric then made his way to the stables, pushing past restive beasts. He was halfway through saddling his stallion when Prince Aarvern arrived.

“This is madness,” Aarvern stated.

Finished with tightening his girth, Marcus leaned with one hand on the pommel before turning to face the young prince. “Yes, it possibly is, but it’s my family, Aarvern. If someone has overthrown Belgrat, we need to act.”

“My sire knows your mind. He wants information as you do, and begs you take no risks.”

He’d probably said it in more colorful language. In different circumstances, Marcus might have smiled. “I’ll be as careful as I can, that I promise.”

He clasped hands with Aarvern.

Eidric’s son grimaced and left the stables.

As Marcus un-tethered the stallion, three men approached, Garet among them.

He held a fur-lined cloak over one arm. “His majesty sent this and a squad to fo with you.”

Twenty-five men. He hadn’t wanted to risk so many. Marcus took the cloak, touched my his men’s loyalty and grateful for Eidric’s intervention. “I only want volunteers.”

“Aye, sir. Men are already provisioning. We’ll change horses at every posthouse. We can make it in two days, even in this weather. We need to watch each other’s backs because the first enemy is cold.”

* * *

To the last dying beat of a drum, Yiahan rial Krais sank to his knees, hand raise in supplication to Vari.

Silence fell as the echoes in Vari’s Hall faded. The prince of nine worlds waited, chest heaving, calves cramping, ankles aching.

As one, his audience bowed, their thoughts sent in one vast accolade of appreciation.

He’d done it, when his teachers said he couldn’t. You cannot be a prince with all the responsibility that entails and dance for the god.

They were wrong.

He’d succeeded in interpreting Vari’s perfection, lifting the hearts and minds of others with the grace of his art.

Yiahan bowed, locking such thoughts behind a door in his mind, when he wanted to leap up and punch the air in sheer joy.

It was more than personal joy. Vari had lifted him in his leaps and balanced him in his spins. He’d steadied his feet on landing. Silently, Yiahan thanked the god. He had sought perfection to come as close as he ever would. Those moments of harmony still sang through his veins, instilling more faith and love than Yiahan could articulate.

Nothing could touch him.

Shaking with Vari’s glory, Yiahan acknowledged the respect of his people then retreated from Vari’s hall through a small side door. Servants waited to take his clothes and steer him toward the bliss of hot water. If they sensed he had gone somewhere deep today, he could only be grateful they left him in peace.

Beneath the torrents of the shower, Yiahan let the warmth ease tired muscles. When the servants left and someone else entered, he knew instantly. A mental smile reached Kersantia as he emerged from the steaming water into his wife’s arms.

He held her, the delightful curve of her womb swelling in between them. Against his named skin the baby kicked. He thanked Vari for that gift.

“I’m as large as a seacow,” Kersantia declared.

Only she could bring him back to reality. He tucked a strand of golden hair behind one of her ears. “As beautiful as a sistentium flower.”

Her laughter touched him. Yiahan leaned forward and kissed her, lingering as their mouths met, wanting to share the joy he’d found. You taste of flowers, too.

And you of the god.

Gently he pulled away. I felt Vari today more strongly than ever. I gave myself over to him.

Tears formed in her blue eyes. Such beauty, Yiahan, and it wasn’t just Vari. You are…. I can’t find words to express it. Every woman of Ariasthenise envies me. You are god-touched indeed.

Today that might be true. He caressed the curve of their child. “You don’t need to express it, my love. I taste your thoughts as well as your lips. If I’ve returned what Vari gives me, I can be content. As for other women?” He shrugged. “You are the light of my life. Only Vari may eclipse you.”

Her hand covered his. “Or your son.”

“Am I not doubly blessed? What woman would prefer this to the ease of a birthing tank.?”

Her mouth formed a wry smile. “Only the wife of the prince of Ariasthenise.” She reached to caress his face. “They are so wrong, Yiahan, to miss out on a babe’s growth, lest they spoil the lines of their gowns. Beauty isn’t everything. I would have missed so much. We know each other already, and he knows you as well. If he has not yet seen you dance, he has heard its music within my womb.”

“Only you,” he said softly, catching her hand and kissing the palm. “Only you could I love like this.”

A servant waited outside the door. “Enter,” Yiahan called, sensing her impatience.

“Your ship awaits, Your Highness. May I assist you with your clothing?”

“No, thank you, Temera. I will manage.” Kersantia already wore a blue suit, sensible for travel.

The servant bowed and left.

Yiahan sighed. “Duty calls. Does the traveling tire you too much?”

“No, love, I can rest while you fly. It is only a short hop to Betronia.”

Yiahan crossed to a wardrobe, where he pulled out a pale-green flight suit. He donned it quickly then smiled his thanks at Kersantia, who plaited his hair in a long tail. As they left, he snatched another kiss.

Vari’s hall stood empty. Rainbows of light from a roof-set crystal reached the dais where he’d danced. Silent, the hall became more ethereal, its sanctity and harmony an atmosphere one could inhale.

Beyond Vari’s sanctuary, they walked the palace’s marble halls. Polite, the citizens left them their privacy unless unavoidable. Those they did meet bowed love to the ground in homage to their emperor’s son.

Glass doors opened onto the street where a ground car awaited them. Yiahan paused to look back at the palace of Incaprible. Strong sunlight transformed the many glass windows into one great shining gem. Harmony sang to him as he stepped into the car after helping Kersantia into her seat.

The car whisked past streets with serenity of still pools, ordered with the permanence that only peace could create. As they arrived at the space terminal, Yiahan found it had to image that the world of Ariasthenise had been any less advanced millennia ago. They’d grown beyond violence to embrace beauty in all its forms. This world of peace and perfection, created from barren rock, epitomized who the Arias were.

Sarius, his ship, waited beyond the doors of an elevator, to take Yiahan across the galaxy between his sire’s other words.

The ship’s sentient computer greeted him as he stepped aboard with Kersantia. The hatch closed behind them, leaving Sarius their only company. Yiahan savored the rarity of being alone with Kersantia. Sarius would shield them from outside thoughts, just as their own would stay between them.

Clothes, jewels and court paraphernalia already packed, Kersantia retired to their cabin while Yiahan went to the bridge. From the floor, a chair arose. He seated himself at the console.

“Is all well, Sarius?”

“All… is well, my Prince.”

Yiahan frowned at her hesitation. “Has there been a systems problem, Sarius?”

“None that I have not overcome, my Prince. Shall I alert the spacedock that departure is imminent?”

“Please do.”

Whatever the problem had been, Yiahan felt sure she’d fixed it. A machine could not lie. Later he would ask questions. For now a drift of thought, light as gossamer, reached him. As Sarius finalized their departure, Yiahan closed his eyes, reaching out to his wife.

Rest, my love. We’ll be at Betronia soon enough.

You aren’t lonely?

Always for your presence—sleep.

Kersantia sent warmth, love and a mental kiss. He smiled.

Sarius could fly herself with the ship’s mind on automatic, but Yiahan wasn’t tired; adrenaline still filled him. He formed a neural link to the ship to watch the worlds through her eyes then summoned orchestral music to match the magnificence of the stars.

o-o-o-o

Note from the Author:  Susan Elizbeth Curnow

Games of Adversaries is about contrasts. The story opens with two men, one fighting a brutal snow storm outside a castle, the second dancing to his god on a distant world of wealth and advancement. Two men from different worlds brought together by tragedy and need against a common threat. Complex men who grow to understand one another through pain and war and why sometimes it is necessary to fight. The underlying theme of PTSD runs through the story and how that affects people. But there is also the fun of writing a story with spaceships and castles in the same context. The confusion of different ideologies. The stench of medieval life versus modern conveniences. There is arrogance of strength versus mysticism and arrogance of, I have the strength to take your world, try stopping me.

A quote from a reader, Tali Spencer:

This is a clear-eyed book that does not flinch from a difficult subject and it also has a large overarching plot with the fates of planets hanging on the outcome. Marcus and Yiahan, especially, provide some wonderful character moments, as do the mostly male supporting cast. But Games of Adversaries managed to do what few books do: it satisfied my love of philosophical underpinnings. Much as I sometimes love simple, fluffy books because I need the lightness, few things make me as happy as a deep, complex book that gives me a few things to think about. Five stars for that and for taking me on an exciting journey between worlds.  

Thank you, Tali.

o-o-o-o

If you enjoyed the sample preview of Game of Adversaries, get the book and don’t forget to check out the Susan Elizabeth Curnow’s website for more information.