The Liaden Universe – Great Science Fiction

The Liaden Universe

Years ago I read a book entitled Agent of Change, written by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. It was a good story but, for some reason or other, I never read another of their stories – until a couple of months ago.

SaltationWhile browsing through Barnes and Noble at Metro Pointe in Costa Mesa, California, I happened on Ghost Ship and purchased it. Big mistake. I enjoyed the heck out of it and found that it was at the tail end of a series of stories – the Liaden Universe. I then bought the two books preceding it, Fledgling and Saltation; read them, re-read Ghost Ship and got Dragon Ship (in hardcover).

These books deal with the teenage and early adult years of Theo Waitley, daughter of Jen Sar Kiladi, a professor of cultural genetics, and Kamele Waitley, a professor of educational history.

Theo Waitley lives on Delgado at the University and her education revolves around being groomed to follow in her mother’s academic footsteps. She is, however, a bit of a misfit; she is “physically challenged” and grouped in a team whose members all seem to have a different problem.

Jen Sar Kiladi is a phantom with a past and Kamele is both bright and more adaptable to circumstance than seems at first. No, I will give no more hints and spoil no more surprises.

These four books (Fledgling, Saltation, Ghost Ship and Dragon Ship) are Theo’s coming of age story. I enjoyed each story and recommend that you read them in the above order, i.e., chronologically. And, I impatiently await the next story.

Dragon ShipAt the beginning of each book is a list of other stories by these authors published by Baen Books. And, having enjoyed Theo’s story, I wanted to see what else they had written. I didn’t recognize any of the titles so I went to the Internet to see what was there. I found There were a dozen published novels in the Liaden series and, although they were not written in chronological order, there was an “Internal Chronology” list.

The Agent GambitAs a general rule I buy older books at used book stores; why buy a new copy of a book first published twenty years ago? Well, I was hungry; I wanted to read the entire series NOW. Ergo, The Crystal Variation, The Agent Gambit, Korval’s Game and The Dragon Variation. These are omnibus editions of previously published novels and, if read according to the internal chronology, tell a single coherent story. You’ll also “need” to buy Mouse and Dragon and read it after you read Scout’s Progress; these two books tell the story of Theo’s father.

When my package from Amazon arrived with all of the above, I dove into The Crystal Variation, the story of Cantra yos’Phelium and the founding of Liad and Clan Korval. Three days later, remember I am retired and have a lot of time to read, I began The Agent Gambit.

The first story was Agent of Change; hmmm, this seems familiar. When I got to Chapter Five and the Korval's GameClutch Turtles, AHA! Now I remember. How had I missed reading these stories over the last twenty years (A couple of days later I found my original copy of Agent of Change in our garage library.)? Oh well, no matter, I now had all of the stories and the time to indulge myself. I proceeded to do so and over the course of the next ten days finished the series, including Necessity’s Child.

What next for Edger, Theo and Bechimo, Miri and Val Con, Kamele and Aelliana? Guess I’ll have to wait.

Sharon and Steve, please, hurry.

Time to get the short stories.

Necessity's ChildPS – If you’d like to get started on the cheap, visit Click on the Free Library link and you can read Agent of Change and Fledgling for free on your computer or download a copy. Be warned, however, they really aren’t free – you’ll end up buying other books in the Liaden series. 


Kohl’s Shopping – a good deal?

My wife likes to shop at Kohl’s Department Store, although that seems to be changing. We have one a few blocks from our house – where it replaced a Mervyn’s a few years ago.


My impression of Kohl’s is that it is down class from Mervyn’s, not the image I believe it wishes to project. The store layout and placement of product reminds me of Kmart more than any up-scale department store. Its aisles are too narrow and crowded. The “energy-efficient” lighting is just too dark adding to the effect of being in a place where the management does not want you to look too closely at what they want you to buy.


I have in front of me the latest of their mail catalogs: Kohl’s – expect great things – save with style. Right.

There is a sticker on the front cover that says: Take an Extra 30% or 20% or 15% off everything – peel to reveal your savings. Let’s see 30%, 20% or 15%, which am I going to save by using a Kohl’s charge card? Peel the sticker. Wow!! 15%!!

Do other people get to save 20% or 30% or is this just a come on? If it is not just a come on, then why do others get to save more than I do? Isn’t my money just as good? Isn’t my charge card just as plastic and subject to the same interest rates as theirs? Why are they charging me more than others? I’ll bet Kohl’s still makes a profit on those 30% discounts – they’ll just make more profit on those of us stupid enough to happily buy with only a 15% discount. What do they think they are a used, or new, car dealership? Or, maybe, the California Lotto (which is actually just an additional tax on people who can’t do math)?

Under the peeled sticker, where it tells me I will save 15%, not 30%, it gives a promo code to use for shopping on-line. BLOOM15. If I shop on-line and type in BLOOM30, will I get 30% off? How about BLOOM100? If I go to the store manager and complain about the 15%, will he or she authorize the 30% discount? Smart shoppers want to know.


Awww, the heck with it. I’ll just go across the street to Target. The parking lot is larger and easier to get in and out of, the aisles are wide and the store is brightly lit. They actually seem to want you to be able to see where you are going and what you are buying. Oh yeah, everybody with one of their cards gets the same discount. I’d rather save 5% off a $10 item than save 30% off a like item at Kohl’s that sells for $15.


Retirement – And Time Enough to Read

Bookcase 1 - ReadTime enough to read.

One of the joys of being retired is that I can now re-read all of the old books and stories I have enjoyed through the years as well as read what is new. My wife and I read quite a lot and have a rather large number of books in our house and garage, something over three thousand soft- and hardcover books. They range from her several hundred volumes about teaching reading and English to my books about cosmology and string theory.

We have mysteries, biographies, juvenile and young adult fiction (in addition to the hundreds, if not, thousands, of these books she has purchased for the students in her classroom); however, most of what we read is fantasy and science fiction. From Jules Verne to Isaac Asimov and Anne McCaffrey we’ve read, and are reading, millions of words. As I am writing, typing, this she is on the patio re-reading Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series and on the table beside me I have Jack McDevitt’s A Talent for War; this is the first in his Alex Benedict/Chase Kolpath series.

Bookcase 2 - ReadIn grade school I had to, like millions of other kids, analyze stories, dissect characters and plots, and write book reports. What a way to kill an interest in reading. I cannot remember the name of a single book about which I had to write a report in grade school. I do remember reading C. S. LewisThe Screwtape Letters, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, Richard Tregaskis’ Guadalcanal Diary and all of the Tom Swift books I could get my hands on; I first found these in our Holy Angels (Arcadia, California) School library. I also collected hundreds of comic books.

In high school (Don Bosco Tech) we had to read Charles Dickens. I hated reading Dickens. David Copperfield and Great Expectations, gag me with a spoon. They may be classics, but forcing them down my throat didn’t make them palatable. A Tale of Two Cities was readable, and written by someone else, could have been enjoyable. The Scarlet Pimpernel, which I found on my own, was fun.

Bookcase 3 - ReadIf you’ve never read The Scarlet Pimpernel or seen the 1934 film, I recommend them both. Written by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, it premiered as a play in 1903 and, with a re-written last act, became a hit in London in 1905 with the book appearing soon after. If you grew up, as I did, with Zorro/Don Diego de la Vega, Batman/Bruce Wayne, Superman/Clark Kent you might enjoy the story. Sir Percy Blakeney is a foppish English aristocrat (secret identity) who, as the Scarlet Pimpernel (hero), rescues French aristocrats about to meet Madame Guillotine. Unlike Don Diego, Bruce and Clark, who make-do with or without girlfriends, Sir Percy has a beautiful wife. If you like the story, try the sequels.

We seek him here, we seek him there,

Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.

Is he in heaven?—Is he in hell?

That demmed, elusive Pimpernel”

How ironic, here I am writing about books, something I was quite loath to do fifty years ago.

Bookcase 4 - Read some moreAs an afterthought, I also read Robert L. Scott’s God is My Co-Pilot while at Holy Angels; the Huntington Dog Beach organization seems to use the phrase “Dog is My Co-Pilot” as its motto.


A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

In the April 16th, 2012 issue of the Orange County Register Michael Hewitt wrote about his reactions to the HBO production of A Game of Thrones (I’d provide a link to the article but the Register now charges for content.). I e-mailed my reaction to his story: Orange County Register Logo


I couldn’t help but chuckle at and sympathize with your reactions to George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.

I read the first book in the A Song of Fire and Ice series several years ago after picking up a used copy in Camelot Books in Fountain Valley. I found A Game of Thrones to be well-written and interesting. I went back and picked up the other three books a short time later. The second and third books were ok but not as good as the first; the fourth was a great disappointment – nothing but tying up loose ends with, mostly, minor characters.

Last year one of my students, a seventh grade boy, was reading the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, during our twenty minute Homeroom/Reading Break and I struck up a conversation with him about the series. Here was a kid reading fantasy at the same age I had discovered Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. He later gave me a copy of Dragons as a retirement gift (after forty years in junior high/middle school).

I took the book on vacation and was about halfway through when I discovered, in North Dakota, that I had left the book in Minnesota.

I understand the way you feel about the HBO series based on these novels. I am a fan of the genre and I can’t seem to get excited about the series. Some of the individual episodes are quite good, but something is lacking. I want to like it and look forward to what is coming – but it just doesn’t seem to matter. Maybe it just doesn’t equal what I have in my imagination, Jon and Daenerys sure don’t. The Rest? I don’t know.

Tolkien needed four books to tell his story; Martin needs six (The Winds of Winter), seven (A Dream of Spring) or more to tell his. What was really necessary was a good editor and/or publisher who was more interested in quality rather than quantity and money. The story and characters would have made a good trilogy with, maybe, some of the plot lines and characters transported into another storyline.

Who knows, with luck Martin will finish A Song of Fire and Ice as well as he started it – and in the not too distant and wordy future.

And his reply:

Thank you for your note, Joe.A Game of Thrones front cover

I was a big fan of Lord of the Rings as a kid; I read the books several times by the time I graduated from high school. But for some reason I never progressed beyond that in the fantasy realm. If I recall correctly, an attempt at the Gormenghast books did me in.

I hope Mr. Martin gets around to finishing his series. I gather his slow writing has become something of a joke in the fan community.

As for the show, it often seems that fans of books are let down when the characters that they pictured in their minds become “fixed” in real people for TV or movies. There is bound to be disappointment.

I hope you enjoy finishing the book when you get back to mosquito country.

Michael Hewitt


Photo Albums

Mom between two friendsThis last summer I found several of my mother’s photo albums “hidden” in a cabinet in her home in Minnesota. She passed away in 2000 and some of these photos I’d never seen. One of the albums “My High School Days” contained pictures of her as a young adult in the 1930s and 1940s. Unfortunately, my mother did not label her photos with names and dates.Mom in Death Valley

Some of the pictures are of her and others in uniform; they must come from 1942-44 when she was a WAVE and stationed at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Others are pictures of her with May, her best friend from grammar school in Warroad, Minnesota.

MomI never knew my mother as a young woman; she was thirty-eight when I was born (dad was forty-one) and most of my memories are as she looked in her fifties and beyond. Looking at her in these photos is almost like being introduced to a new person. The same is true of the pictures of dad and my sister, Joyce.May and dad

May Acre was my dad’s first wife and died young, leaving dad as a single parent. Mom married dad after she came to California following the war; that was in 1948 and I came along two years later.May and dad

When I’ve finished scanning in all of my photos, I’ll get around to fixing the scratches, folds and other markings which mar these sixty and seventy year old pictures. I’m also putting together an electronic album for my sister; I don’t know if she has copies of these pictures or not. If not, I hope they’ll be a pleasant surprise. May's parents & May, Joyce and DadMay, Joyce and Mom