Crystal Soldier: a Liaden Universe novel Book One of the Great Migration Duology by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
I don’t do so well with prequels. They usually go over territory covered briefly in books “later” in the same series, but of course in considerably more depth. The problem this causes for me is that the prequel most often fails to live up to the imagery in my head of what happened in the past of the “later”-dated book, and sometimes even blatantly contradicts the information we were first given. For example, I would probably have been a happier dragonreader if Dragondawn were not part of the official continuity. So, realizing that Crystal Soldier is a prequel to the rest of Lee and Miller’s Liaden Universe books means realizing that for me it starts out with one strike against it.
M. Jela Granthor’s Guard is a soldier in the war between humanity and the altered strain of humanity known as Sheriekas. When his fighter is shot down in battle, he lands on a dying planet mostly desert. Following the course of a dried river, he finds a single, living tree amongst the corpses of many more. It feeds him seed pods and seems to be communicating with him. When he is rescued, he takes the tree with him, and is soon transferred to a special unit that will have him working undercover. He takes the tree with him.
Cantra yos’Phelium is a smuggler and runs a small-time shipping company. Going ashore to relax after a successful run and before another, she stops in at a restaurant staffed by clones (I think; they’re called batchers), and, discovering that there’s a pilot on the premises who wants company for dinner, takes the offer to have someone to talk to, and so meets Jela. Jela is waiting for a contact, but that one doesn’t show and Cantra shows instead. To try to find out what she’s up to if anything, he keeps her company for much of the evening, and the two of them are soon attacked by someone disguised as licensed bounty hunters. Escaping that trap, they backtrack and find that someone has killed all the staff at the restaurant, except for one Batcher who hid. Taking her (and Jela’s tree) they flee the planet, on their way to Cantra’s next rendezvous.
But Cantra really doesn’t want company. And Jela recognizes that much of her ship’s tech is of Sherieka making. And the Batcher has her own goals.
When I first read this through, I was struck not by how it explained the backstory of the main Liaden books, but rather how it filled in the background of Balance of Trade. Subsequent re-reading for this write-up, after having re-read the other books, convinced me that the whole backstory is there. However, I cannot help but feel that the brief discussions of the story given in the “later” books was all that was really needed. There is a section at the end of the book where they explain the Dramliza, a step that is completely unnecessary. Moreover, the entire first 60 pages of the book, about how Jela finds the tree and gets put into the undercover operation, is unnecessary as it could all be explained one character to another during the story. And that brings us back to, really, the whole story is unnecessary. Those who don’t read it will be no worse off in their understanding of the Liaden Universe, and may even be slightly better off. So, mildly recommended for completists; mildly not recommended for everyone else.
A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones
It’s 1939, and 12-year-old Vivian Smith is being evacuated from London (along with a lot of other children) to the countryside. She will be staying with her cousin Marty, whom she has never met. She doesn’t even know if Marty is a man or a woman; not that it matters. Vivian never gets there.
When she gets off the train she is intercepted by a pushy, slightly peculiar-looking boy who basically kidnaps her . . . into the future. Jonathan and his friend Sam are citizens of Time City, a domain of artificially-maintained time that is, at “present”, in some danger of running down and being destroyed. The boys think that she is another Vivian Smith, “the Time Lady”, someone who knows much about Time City. They want to know how to awaken “Faber John”. She manages to convince them that they’ve got the wrong girl, but by then they can’t take her back, either. They hide her in Jonathan’s house, disguised as his cousin Vivian Lee, whose parents are presently back in time. This disguise will work for a short period of time, but it can’t last forever. Sooner or later the real Vivian Lee and her parents will return to Time City. If, that is, Time City isn’t destroyed first when the spare time it uses to exist in wears out, or if history doesn’t unweave itself as it seems to be doing.
So the kids begin questing through (to us) future history, looking for the wards that protect the city so they can bring them back and save the city. But they don’t seem to be the only ones looking. Who are their opponents, and what do they plan for Time City?
Jones has created something amazing here: a time-travel story that doesn’t make my head hurt. She avoids paradox and self-folding, and lets the people complicate things. Within that, she does her usual excellent job, and I recommend this one very highly. Oh, and if you’re anticipating the ending that I was anticipating (and if you’ve read a lot of time-travel stories, you probably are), you’re wrong, in a good way.