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I don't think I'm going too far when I say that Diane Duane's Young Wizards series has captivated her readers, who have become attached, not only to the central characters Nita, Kit, Dairine and their immediate families, but also to the wizards - and other beings - from planets far and wide who have become a part of their extended family, as well as colleagues they can rely on.

This is why I was so excited to learn that Duane is writing a trio of novellas about some of the secondary characters - if any of them can actually be called secondary - as they deal with the defining moments of their future lives as wizards, their Ordeals. In fact, I immediately bought the two novellas currently available from Duane's website.

The first novella I read was On Ordeal: Roshaun ke Nelaid, which, in addition to showing us that an Ordeal need not be full of physical threat and heroic deeds in order to be a profound test of courage and will to do what is best for all, provided much welcome background information into Roshaun's life, his family and his world.

The second novella of the planned trio, On Ordeal: Mamvish fsh Wimsih, tells of the Doom of the Wimseh at the hands of the Lone One, and the events leading up to Mamvish's rather unorthodoxly concluded Ordeal. The history of Mamvish's people, and Mamvish herself, is a difficult one, but Duane handles it with skill and sensitivity. A beautifully told story.

The third novella, not yet released, features another of the fascinating young wizards who have worked with and become companions to Nita and Kit - Ronan Nolan. I am keeping an eye on Duane's website so I can read it as soon as it's available.

The idea of seeing these familiar characters before their wizardry comes to them, and as they negotiate the trial that confirms them as wizards and agents of the Powers, appeals greatly to me. I rather hope that Duane will continue with these novellas, giving us the Ordeal stories of more of the wizards who are a part of Nita and Kit's lives.

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Diane Duane's tenth young wizards novel, Games Wizards Play, is just as wonderful as the earlier books (and shorter pieces) in the series. Yes, I am a huge fan.

On the surface, it's a step back from the high-stakes save the universe stories in many of the earlier books. This time around, the mission for Nita, Kit, Dairine and her wizard-computer Spot is hardly the stuff of life or death: they are mentoring young wizards competing in the Invitational - a "science fair" held every 11 years where wizards with a flair for creating new spells present their work for judging, with the prize being a year's apprenticeship with Earth's Planetary wizard.

But of course it's more than that. The novel is full of encounters, coincidences, and prophetic dreams that warn us to read carefully, because what is happening around this seemingly low-risk assignment will have an affect on whatever is coming. Some plot-threads from earlier books are happily furthered, or resolved, as well.

And it's also a treat for fans, because we get to see wizards - lots of wizards - interacting, and we learn a lot about how wizardly society works around the world.

Lots of fun for long-time fans, probably not a book for a new reader to start with.

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Diane Duane's Young Wizards novella Lifeboats is a look at a somewhat different side of errantry - the kind that may still be high-stakes, but isn't full of adventure and derring-do.

A planet is about to die. Tevaral's massive moon Thesba is breaking apart and when it does, the planet will at best become uninhabitable, and at worst will slowly break up itself. Hundreds of thousands of wizards from species all over the universe - including Kit and Nita and most of thrir wizardly friends - are called to aid in a massive refugee action: to hold open worldgates to new planets where as much of the biosphere, the cultural artefacts and the beings that inhabit Tevaral can be relocated before the end comes. It's a hard job - worldgates are difficult to manage at the best of times, but when you have so many thousands of them operating non-stop in one place, and so many different stresses on them, the gates need constant support and surveillance. It's work that's tedious and nerve-wracking by turns.

And there's another problem. Not all of the Tevaralti are willing to be rescued, and they have not been able to explain why. The wizards responsible for the relocation efforts know they must respect this decision - but still hope that if they can discover why some of the Tevaralti feel this way, they can find a way to change their minds.

What makes the story really work is that, given the nature of shift work, the wizards involved in the rescue effort have time to visit and socialise, to keep their spirits up in the midst of such a vast dislocation. With Kit as the focal point, the reader meets his new wizardly colleagues Djam and Cheleb, follows his developing relationship with Nita, and enjoys getting to know the rest of the gang a little better - including some insight into how one species might make use of low-carb ketchup.

But ultimately, like all of Duane's Young Wizard works, there is a deep and deeply satisfying philosophical message, and one that spoke very strongly to me: "life is better."

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A delightful and wildly funny Christmas-themed novella set in Duane's Young Wizards universe. The young wizards we've come to know and love are having a Christmas party at the Rodrigeuz home, and friends from across the galazy are invited. The special aspect of this party lies in the decoration of the tree - a role played by Filif, the young Demisiv wizard who closely resembles the traditional Christmas evergreen, and who has been dreaming of being gloriously decorated ever since he heard of the human tradition. While the story is mostly the wizards having fun with their friends, there are a few serious notes concerning the healing of grief, the wrongness of bullying and the dynamics of being an individual and and being a part of a close-knit community. A treat for Young Wizards fans.

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More series reading from 2013, this time books that are in series that are, or may be, unfinished.

George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire
A Feast for Crows
A Dance with Dragons

Elizabeth Moon, Paladin's Legacy series
Limits of Power

Kate Elliott, the Crossroads series
Shadow Gate
Traitor's Gate
(Technically, this is the end of a trilogy, but Elliott has a stand-alone novel and a second trilogy planned in the same universe which will continue the story.)

Michelle Sagara West, the Chronicles of Elantra
Cast in Peril

Katharine Kerr, the Nola O'Grady series
Water to Burn

Marie Brennan, the Onyx Court series
In Ashes Lie
A Star Shall Fall

Juliet Marillier, Sevenwaters series
Heir to Severwaters
Seer of Sevenwaters

Diane Duane, Young Wizards series
A Wizard of Mars

Jasper Fforde, Thursday Next series
The Woman Who Died A Lot

Liz Williams, Inspector Chen series
Iron Khan

Kevin Hearne, Iron Druid Chronicles

Mercedes Lackey, Foundation series

P. C. Hodgell, Kencyr series
Bound in Blood
Honor's Paradox

Deborah J. Ross, Darkover series
Children of Kings

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i seem to no longer have time, strength or energy to write the kind of commentary I used to on the books I've read, but I still want to keep a record. So I guess I'll use this journal now to just list them, and perhaps write a thing or two when I can.

So, the last books from 2012 are:

Nnedi Okorafor, African Sunrise (novella)
Nnedi Okorafor, The Shadow Speaker
Diane Duane, A Wind from the South
Nalo Hopkinson, New Moon’s Arms 
Jo Walton, Lifelode
Kathy Acker, Pussycat Fever

Okorafor's visions enchanted and enlighted me.

Hopkinson's magical realities are wise and deep and true and I can't get enough of her.

Duane's fantasy novel set around the history of the birth of Swiss independance is new ground for this reader - so much European-set fantasy is modelled after places and situations in England, France, and to a lesser extent, Germany, Spain and Italy. A strong and interesting heroine. This is the first novel in a projected series, I hope Duane finds the time and reader support to write more.

Jo Walton is a magical writer. In Lifelode, as in her multiple award-winning novel Among Others, the magic is a mostly subtle thing in the beginning, but it builds and builds until you can feel its power despite its seemingly simple roots.

I'm not quite sure what to say about Kathy Acker. Read it and see what you think.

Thomas King, Medicine River
Mary Stewart, Airs Above the Ground
Wayson Choy, All that Matters
Rosemary Sutcliff, Sword at Sunset

The Thomas King novel is a must-read. His work is a gift.

I was similarly struck by Wayson Choy's novel, his second. I must now go find and read his first, which is about the same characters - a family of Chinese immigrants living in pre-WWII Vancouver.

The Stewart and the Sutcliff are re-reads from my youth, and were enjoyed as much now as they were then. Stewart's Airs Above the Ground was a tight adventure/romance, and the relationship between the main character and her husband as they deal with danger and mystery was as egalitarian as much of whay's written today. Makes me want to go back and reaquaint myself with Stewart's other heroines to see how they meet the test of time.

I remember Sutcliff's Sword at Sunset in particular as a relatively early approach to a more realistic retelling of the Arthurian mythos. Also for Sutcliff's casual and completely non-judgemental mention of same-sex relationships between a few of Arthur's companions.
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Diane Duane, Lior and the Sea
Diane Duane, The Span
Diane Duane, Parting Gifts

Diane Duane, Not on My Patch
Diane Duane, Uptown Local and Other Interventions

I've always tended to think of Diane Duane as a "long-form" writer. I associate her with novels, unlike, say, James Tiptree Jr. or Eleanor Arnason, who i think of more as short-form writers (despite the fact that both have written novels that I've read and much enjoyed). But recently I have been reading a lot of the shorter fiction that is available on her website, and I am now aware, as I was not before, that her short-form work is every bit as compelling and enjoyable.

Of particular delight for me are three novellas set in Duane's Middle Kingdoms universe, the setting for her Tale of the Five. Part of what is so powerful for me about this particular universe, among all those that Duane has created or worked in, is the degree of integration of a spiritual or philosophical perspective that greatly appeals to me with the telling of profoundly engaging personal journeys that Duane achieves (not to say she doesn't do this elsewhere, of course, because she does, it's just that it is in the Middle Kingdom books that I feel it the most). The Span and Parting Gifts focus on the same character, Sirronde, a Rodmistress (the magic users of this particular universe) - the first tells us a key story of Sirronde's early career, the second takes place at the end of her journeys. Both are excellent. Duane plans to write a third novella set between these two, and I am much looking forward to it. Lior and the Sea ... is a beautiful love story, one in which the parties involved find both a deep sense of who they are, and a profound union with each other.

Not on My Patch is set in the Young Wizards universe, and it made me weep over the ultimate fate of a lopsided pumpkin. That's good storytelling.

Uptown Local and Other Interventions is a collection of short stories, some funny, some fascinating, some deeply moving. I laughed, I cried. You know how in most short story collections, here's a few stories that really hit the mark for you, some that are OK but nothing to write home about, and some that just miss the mark? Well, this collection wasn't like that - every single story got to me in one way or another. YMMV, and we have already established here and elsewhere that Duane generally manages to hit most if not all of my squee buttons, but I can whole-heartedly say that if you like Duane's work and haven't read these shorter pieces, then go visit her online bookstore and buy them. you won't regret it.
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The Tale of the Five, by Diane Duane:
The Door into Fire
The Door into Shadow
The Door into Sunset

Of all of Diane Duane’s marvellous books, Door into Fire, the first volume of Duane’s Tale of the Five, is dearest to my heart. You see, back in 1979, when it was published, I was a young queer geek who had never before read anything in her genre of choice that had, not just a queer protagonist, but one who was openly in a committed, long-term (and polyamorous!) relationship with his male lover, who lived in a world where what hadn’t yet come to be called alternative sexualities here on Earth were an accepted part of life, welcomed and cherished and supported. Heterosexuality was not privileged in this world. And I was rocked to my soul with the feeling of joy and rightness Duane’s story gave me.

Oh, I’d read books that had queers in them before. They were quietly getting on with their lives in Samuel Delany’s work, and coming out, sometimes quite fiercely, in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books, and had even popped up in a few short stories here and there, by people like Sturgeon and Farmer who liked to press all sorts of buttons anyway. And outside of genre fiction, what queer girl worth her salt hadn’t real that terrifying book of Radclyffe Hall’s, or scrounged up some lesbian pulps by Ann Banion? But I’d never read a book about a place where queer people were just like everyone else, and could be themselves, and be in love, just as happily (or not, but not because of their orientation) as anyone else. They could be heroes, and their tales could end with them living happily, and in love.

And in addition to all of that, Door into Fire and its sequels are great heroic fantasy, too, with an overarching theme that they share with Duane’s remarkable Young Wizards series, a subtle and ultimately more realistic variation on the classic battle between good and evil in which love is engaged in a long defence against despair, the fear of death and the nothingness of entropy.

I’ve heard rumours from time to time that Duane has, or had, plans to write a fourth volume, which would of course be wonderful, although the Tale has reached a comfortable resting point – complete with the genre’s best wedding ever, and I mean it – at the end of the third volume, The Door into Sunset.

But whether she does or not, the three volumes that exist now were, and are, an important part of my becoming who I am, and each time I re-read them (which I do, every handful of years) I am once again caught up in the tale of the Five: Herewiss S'Hearn, heir to Brightwood and potentially, first man in centuries to wield the Blue Flame; his loved Freelorn, uncrowned king-in-exile whose quest is to remove the usurper from the throne of Darthen; Sunspark, the fire elemental who comes to love him; Segnbora, a Rodmistress in search of her own fire; and the dragon Hasai, who, with Segnbora, must defy all the traditions of his people in order to save them.

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Publisher Pocketbooks has released an omnibus volume titled Star Trek: Sand and Stars, which contains two novels that focus on the series's main Vulcan characters and on Vulcan culture – Diane Duane’s Spock’s World, and A.C. Crispin’s Sarek. The two writers, of course, have their own visions of what lies behind the aspects of Vulcan culture and character portrayed in the various TV incarnations of Star Trek.

I must confess that for me, just as Duane’s Rihannsu are the real Romulans, her Vulcans are the real Vulcans. This in no way detracts from Crispin’s work, it’s just that what Duane writes, is Vulcan history; what Crispin and other interpreters of the Vulcan way of life write is... alternate history. If an imaginary people can be said to have history, let alone alternate histories.

But I digress.

Duane’s definitive account of the history of Vulcan is set within a frame of a defining moment in Vulcan-Federation relations, as Vulcans debate a referendum proposal to withdraw from the Federation, and Sarek, Spock and Kirk are called to Vulcan to take part in the proceedings. Interspersed with the political strategies, underlying motivations and arguments for and against secession, are snapshots of crucial events in the evolutionary and social history of the Vulcan people. It is unquestionably (at least in my mind) one of the classics of Star Trek literature.

Crispen’s Sarek also looks at interplanetary relations as Sarek and the crew of the Enterprise are drawn into a plot to drive a wedge between Earth and Vulcan, and to ensnare the Federation in war with the Klingon empire. At the same time, the novel explores the story of Sarek’s past, his first marriage, his life with Amanda, his relationship with his son.

Choice reading for the Star Trek fan.

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Wizards at War, Diane Duane

I’ve been reading Duane’s Young Wizards series very faithfully since I first encountered them. In my opinion, these are definitely among the best modern YA novels around, and stand very well against the classics. I cannot recommend them highly enough to (or for) young people, and adults as well – although the current volume, simply by virtue of its length, may be a bit much for the younger of the book’s potential authors (although if a youngish person were to start on the earlier volumes now, she or he might well be comfortable with the greater length by the time they reach this point in the series).

In Wizards at War, the young wizards who are the main protagonists of the series – Nita, Kit, and Dairine – along with fellow wizards Roshaun, Sker'ret, Filif and Ronan, and supporting appearances from other previously encountered young wizards such as Darryl, are faced with their most serious task yet in their struggles against the Lone One, as the very structure of the universe is threatened, and in such a fashion that they will not have the knowledge and experience of the universe’s senior wizards to draw on.

Duane has given her young wizards difficult tasks, with hard choices and painful consequences for even the best of all possible outcomes, from the very beginning of the series, and this book is no exception. Courage, persistence, ingenuity and sacrifice are part of the very best of all quests, and a wizard on errantry, like any other knight errant, must rely on what is in her soul to direct the use of her sword.

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Diane Duane has finally completed her Star Trek alternate universe Rihannsu series, with the publication last year of The Empty Chair (unless, of course, she has some more ideas about what to do with her characters in, oh, another five or ten years). The first Rihannsu book, My Enemy, My Ally was written way back in 1984, more than 20 years ago. The only problem with a series – or in this case, more of a sequence of three related books, one of which was divided up into three volumes – that is written over such a long period of time is that every time a new volume comes out, you pretty much need to go back and re-read everything that’s gone before so that you don’t miss any nuances.

So over the past week I’ve read the whole series, including the final volume:

My Enemy, My Ally
The Romulan Way
Honour Blade
The Empty Chair

At one time, I read all the Star Trek books that were being published, starting with the James Blish episode adaptations, his original Star Trek novel Spock Must Die!, and the Marshak-Culbreath anthologies. Somewhere around the 50th Pocket Books novel, I stopped reading them all, and only bought the ones that really drew me – primarily those that were about Spock or the history of Vulcan, and those written by a very small handful of “Star Trek authors” whose work I’d come to anticipate, whether it was Star trek related or not. One of those authors is Diane Duane.

In terms of plot, there’s nothing all that spectacular or unusual (as Star Trek novels go) about the Rihannsu books, although they’re certainly well-conceived and interesting, and considerably more complex than most: but when all's said and done, what it all boils down to is Kirk, Spock and McCoy save the Federation from the aliens and the aliens from themselves, on an ever increasing scale, with lots of action and intrigue and phasers in space and on the ground. What’s special about these books is Duane’s world-building. The Rihannsu are not the cardboard Romulans of ST:TOS (or even the slightly more developed Romulans of ST:TNG and ST:DS9). Star Trek’s Romulans are aliens who hate us, er, the Federation because they hate the Federation, who are sneaky because they are sneaky, and who are villains because they hate the Federation and are sneaky.

Duane’s Rihannsu are a people with a highly developed culture, religion, and history who have very good reasons for mistrusting the Other and whose ways of acting and reacting are perfectly appropriate within their cultural context. Of course, like any civilisation, they have good leaders and corrupt leaders, and in Duane’s ST universe, this is a time when the leaders of the Rihannsu have become corrupt. But Duane’s Rihannsu are not inherently evil or treacherous, and that’s part of what makes the Rihannsu books so interesting.

Duane also writes for an audience composed of Star Trek/science fiction fans reading something they love but don’t take seriously as “great literature,” which means there’s a wealth of in-jokes and ironic commentary on all sorts of subjects. Just as examples, there’s a metareference to the growing popularity of slash fanfiction made by McCoy in My Enemy, My Ally: “People start the damnedest rumours about this ship’s crew, even without provocation…” and Duane’s agent, Donald Maass, is listed among the crew members taking part in a particular mission. And in the final volume, there's a lovely comment about how the English language doesn't just steal from other languages, it drags them off into dark alleys and rifles their pockets for spare change.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed these books. The “guest protagonist” of the series – Rihannsu commander Ael i-Mhiessan t'Rllaillieu of the starship Bloodwing, and aunt of the unnamed “Romulan Commander” from the ST:TOS episode “The Enterprise Incident” – is a marvellous character. We see Ael first in My Enemy, My Ally where, finding corruption and a deep violation of the traditional Rihannsu code of honour (mnhei’sahe, which is of course untranslatable and means much more than “honour”) at the heart of her own Empire, she turns to her bitterest enemies, the crew of the Enterprise, to help her destroy a Rihannsu military/scientific installation where captured Vulcans are being used as experimental research subjects to find a way to give Rihannsu leaders the dangerous mental abilities of Vulcan adepts without the necessity of years of personal discipline and adherence to logic. Ael fears that to give the corrupt and dishonourable leaders of her Empire such power without any restraint would be a disaster for her own people, and sees Kirk and the Enterprise as the only way to stop it, even if it means that she and her crew will be at best exiles from the Empire they are trying to save.

Ael plays a much smaller role in the second novel, The Romulan Way. This book is primarily an exploration of Rihannsu society and politics; plot is secondary – although it does very nicely set up a major character, Arrhae ir-Mnaeha t’Khellian, born Terise Haleakala LoBrutto, and later known as Arrhae i-Khellian t’Llhweiir – for the final three-volumes. In this novel, Arrhae/Terise is a deep cover agent gone “native” and the Federation picks none other than Doctor McCoy to go in after her to see whether she’s still a Federation asset or has been assimilated into Rihannsu society to the point that her allegance is compromised. McCoy eventually discovers that the answer is “both,” and Ael shows up at the very end to yank McCoy’s chestnuts – and an emblematic sword – out of the fire.

The final three volumes deal with the consequences of the events of the first two books, political intrigue and civil unrest within the Rihannsu Empire, the threat of war on a galactic scale involving the Federation, the Rihannsu and the Klingon Empire, secret orders, plausible deniability, the demands of honour and the possibility that one man – or woman – can change the future. Duane makes good use of both the Canon enterprise crew and her own additions (including the young Horta, ensign Nahraht), she draws together all the loose ends from My Enemy, My Ally and The Romulan Way, and brings in as a major character the physicist K's't'lk from one of her other ST novels, The Wounded Sky. The pace suffers from having been released as three separate volumes, but it’s a highly satisfying conclusion, with two minor exceptions. First, I’d been enjoying the idea that Kirk and Ael shared loyalty, honour, respect and friendship, and nothing more; Duane chooses to change that – although in a restrained fashion – at the very end of the final volume. Second, just before the final events of the book, when Ael makes a necessary and honourable choice, it takes Kirk to finally convince her that this is indeed what she must do; the Ael I came to know though these five volumes wouldn’t have needed Kirk to show her what mnhei’sahe requires.

As with almost all Star Trek fictions, this series is marred by the inherent assumptions of the inherent rightness of Federation intervention in the politics and cultures of other peoples (the First Directive is only honoured when the Federation has no vested interest in doing otherwise, and so it has always been), but then we always knew that the Federation was constructed as being intrinsically good. But anyone who is still reading Star Trek fictions at this point in the game has learned to live with that in their own fashion. And within that set of assumptions, Duane’s Rihannsu series is among the best fictions created in the Star Trek universe.


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