Review by Jim Janney: The Olympian Affair

The Olympian Affair by Jim Butcher (Ace, 2023)

Review by Jim Janney: The Olympian Affair is the long-awaited sequel to The Aeronaut’s Windlass, the first book in Jim Butcher’s series The Cinder Spires. The Cinder Spires are set on, or rather above, a planet that may or may not be a far-future Earth, with a large orange sun and a surface covered by enormous trees and teeming with deadly fauna. The life span of an unprotected, unsheltered human on the surface is measured in hours (exile to the surface is a favored method of execution, conveniently eliminating any need to dispose of the bodies). 

Most people live at a relatively safe distance above the surface, in Spires created by the mysterious Builders; trade and travel between Spires is accomplished by means of airships powered by etheric crystals. The society resembles that of England during the Regency: if Temeraire is the Napoleonic wars with dragons, the Cinder Spires are similar but with airships and crystals, mad etherealists who can bend reality itself, and of course, talking cats. Corsets are worn, duels are fought, airships maneuver, cannon are fired in anger, plots are hatched and twisted, the best laid plans of practically everyone go wrong on a regular basis. Women command airships, fight duels, and generally do everything that men do, not necessarily backwards or in heels. The cats have organized tribes of their own while remaining characteristically feline.

The first book details escalating hostilities between two competing Spires, Spire Albion and Spire Aurora. The second begins two years later, with events leading up to a diplomatic conference to be held on Spire Olympia. Without giving too much away, this goes about as peacefully as you might expect in a Jim Butcher story. It is not necessary to have read the first book in order to enjoy the second; The Olympian Affair stands on its own, with information always available before the reader needs it. Both books have large casts and are written in short chapters intercutting between multiple plot threads.

There is not a lot of moral complexity here: one is either OK with mass slaughter or not. We get the satisfaction of seeing some villains come to richly deserved ends, while the heroes are deeply committed to doing the right thing, at least as they see it, even at considerable personal cost. A few characters are genuinely torn between their sworn duty and basic human decency, and the arguably worst person in the series turns out to have information not available to anyone else.  There is much reflection on friendship, loyalty, and the value of not having to face things alone, none of which is particularly original but which always bears repeating.

I remember liking the first book when it came out, and definitely enjoyed this one. The ending makes it plain that further books are in the offing. Here’s hoping for a shorter wait this time around. I received a free watermarked PDF of this book as a review copy. 

Jim Janney is a mildly cyborged retired computer programmer and former SFF fan. He lives in Salt Lake City, where he enjoys riding trains, skateboarding, ballroom dancing, and catching up on a few decades of missed reading. Where did the time go?

Opening Lines Rewritten for a Pandemic — By Filers

Eli Grober’s “Opening Lines Rewritten for a Pandemic” in The New Yorker humorously changes the beginnings of famous books to suit life as we knew it in the plague year of 2020.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

It was a dark and stormy night, so we stayed inside, just like we’d done every night for the last year. In that way, it was a perfectly normal night.

Filers answered the challenge to add to the list. Here is a collection from yesterday’s comments.

Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein

If a man walks in dressed like a hick and acting as if he doesn’t need to wear a mask, he’s a spaceman.

— Bill

Idle Days On The Yann by Lord Dunsany

So I came down through the wood to the bank of Yann and found, as had been prophesied, after seven days of quarantine and a negative virus test, the ship Bird of the River about to loose her cable.

— David Shallcross

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

During a pandemic, these things are ceaseless: case number charts and social distancing.

— Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed, being careful to maintain a distance of at least six feet.

–Nina Shepardson

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

I will make my report as if I told a story, because I was taught as a child during the pandemic that truth is a matter of the imagination.

— Vicki Rosenzweig

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that his eleventy-first birthday party was cancelled due to Covid restrictions, there was much disappointment throughout Hobbiton. Gandalf stayed out of the Shire bubble entirely, so no fireworks, either.

— Andrew (not Werdna)

Casey Agonistes by Richard McKenna

You can’t just die. You got to book an appointment first.

— Jim Janney

Pipe Dream by Fritz Leiber

It wan’t until the mermaid turned up in his bathtub that SImon Grue seriously began to wonder about the possibility of contagion from the Russians next door.

— Jim Janney

The Pride Of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh

There had been something contagious on the station dock all year, skulking in amongst the gantries and the lines and the canisters which were waiting to be moved, lurking wherever shadows fell among the rampway accesses of the many ships at dock at Meetpoint.

— BGrandrath

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

I could have become a mass murderer after a few weeks of lockdown, but I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays and music consumed.

— Lorien Gray

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Do you remember where you were when the Meteor hit? I’ve never understood why people phrase it as a question, because of course you were inside, just like everyone had been for the last year.

— Lorien Gray

Triplanetary (Lensman Series, Book 1) by E.E. “Doc” Smith

Two thousand million or so years ago, two galaxies were carefully maintaining social distancing from each other.

— Steve Wright

Neuromancer by William Gibson

The sky was a color, but nobody noticed which color because they were all indoors on lockdown.

— Xtifr

Dragonsinger: Harper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

When Menolly, daughter of Yanus Sea-Holder, arrived at the Harper Hall she arrived in style, with a N-95 mask and complete vaccination paperwork.

— Nancy Sauer