The ship swooped through the turbulent chromospheric crosswinds, tacking on the plasma forces by subtle shifts in its own magnetic shields ... sailing with sheets made of almost corporeal mathematics. Lightning fast furling and thickening of those shields of force -- allowing the tug of the conflicting eddies to be felt in one direction and not another -- helped to cut down the buffeting dealt out by the storm.
Those same shields kept out most of the screaming heat, diverting the rest into tolerable forms. What got through was sucked up into a chamber to drive the Refrigerator Laser, the kidney whose filtered wasteflow was a stream of x-rays which clove aside even the plasma in its path.
Still, these were mere inventions of Earthmen. It was the science of the Galactics that made the Sunship graceful and safe. Gravity fields held back the amorous, crushing pull of the Sun so the ship fell or flew at will. The pounding forces of the center of the filament were absorbed or neutralized, and duration itself was altered by time-compression.
Sundiver is set less than thirty-five years after First Contact with the Galactic Civilisation. Virtually all space-faring species were uplifted into sapience by a patron race, so humanity's lack of a patron race is unusual and their status is increased by having two client species of their own, having recently uplifted chimpanzees and bottlenose dolphins, and not everybody in the galaxy is happy about that. There are two groups of humans who have very strong opinions on the subject; the Skins, who believe that humanity uplifted itself through evolution, and the Shirts who are certain that we were uplifted by an alien race and then abandoned by them.
This book is basically a detective story. Jacob Alvarez is invited to join the Mercury-based Sundiver project because the crews of the expeditions ships have started seeing strange things on their trips into the sun's chromosphere, ghostly figures that seem to be herds guarded by shepherd who sometimes transform themselves into humanoid shape and seem to be trying to communicate. Are these sun creatures real, and if so, could these sun creatures be humanity's lost patrons? It's a good mystery story, and I liked the aliens, especially Kant Fagin and Bubbacub, but the human characters were less so. Still, I am looking forward tot he rest of the series.
Book 32: "The Golden Acorn" by Catherine Cooper
Jack stood very still and listened. There wasn’t a sound apart from a slight rustling of leaves. For the third time today he could hear his own heart pounding. He didn’t like being alone in the lane. He got the feeling he was being watched. Next time he went for a walk he’d go with Grandad.
He was about to turn and run when he saw a gleam of light; something underneath the hedge glinted in the sunlight. He bent down and pulled the grass apart. A small shiny object lay on the ground. Where had it come from? Jack looked around before he picked it up and examined it more closely. It was a golden acorn; not quite like any acorn he’d ever seen before. It was beautifully carved, big and heavy and felt warm in his hand. Jack put it in his pocket then searched around to see if he could find any more.
When Jack Brenin comes to live with his grandfather he is drawn into a magical quest to save the hamadryad of Glasruhen Forest and re-open a lost gateway to Annwn (the Celtic Otherworld) who have been trapped in this world since the closing of the gateways between the worlds. His grandfather's neighbour Nora turns out to be a lot older than she looks and needs Jack's help to retrieve some cauldron plates from Roman Britain, and whenever he isn't at school Jack is learning the magical skills he will need to take part in a solstice ritual to pass through the time portal and return to the time when the Romans were burning the sacred groves of the Druids.
The story is quite convoluted and it took me longer to read than I expected for a children's book, but I liked the Night Guard of rats, Jennet the water sprite and the other creatures who helped and hindered However, my favourite character, and probably most readers' favourite, is Camellin the raven. At first he just seems to be a rather grumpy and extremely greedy bird, but it turns out that there is a lot more to him than that.
The book starts with a map showing the main characters' houses and the surrounding forests, which I always like to see, and there are cute illustrated chapter headings, showing what Camellin gets up to in each chapter, with my favourite showing two ravens asleep in cat baskets with their legs in the air).
Book 33: "The Castle of Crossed Destinies" by Italo Calvino
In the uncertain light the cards describe a nocturnal landscape, the Cups are arrayed like urns, caskets, graves among the nettles, the Swords have a metallic echo like shovels or spades against the leaden lids, the Clubs are black like crooked crosses, the gold Coins glitter like will-o'-the-wisps. As soon as a cloud discloses the Moona howling of jackals rises as they scratch furiously at the edges of the graves and fight with scorpions and tarantulas over their putrid feast.
There are two stories in this book, one taking place in a castle and the other at an inn, and in both cases the travellers spending the night there are struck dumb, and start to tell their stories to each other, using a pack of tarot cards. At the castle they use a beautiful painted tarot deck, and the stories are told one at a time, with each storyteller starting with a court card to represent him or herself, and then laying the cards down to build up the story, and intersecting with cards already laid down when they need to use the same cards. At the inn they are using a cheap tarot deck printed from wood-cuts, and everyone tries to tell their story at the same time, grabbing at cards that have already been laid down, rather than designing their story to intersect with them.
The pictures on the cards are used to show what is happening in the story, but since a card can stand for many different people, places or events depending on the context, the story is also told in the storyteller's gestures facial expressions, and in the imagination of the people watching the story unfold on the table. Sometimes the cards seem to be telling well-known stories from mythology, or from Shakespeare, but is that just what the writer is reading into the cards put down by the other travellers?
This was a re-read for me, and for some reason I enjoyed it much more this time. I found these stories and the storytelling more interesting, so perhaps I was just more in the mood for this type of book.