Reviews

all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

Cities in Flight — James Blish

1970’s Cities in Flight collects revised editions of James Blish’s four Cities in Flight novels, They Shall Have Stars (1956), A Life for the Stars (1962), Earthman, Come Home (1955), and The Triumph of Time (1958), along with Richard D. Mullen’s essay, The Earthmanist Culture. The four novels document the Decline of the West, followed by the eventual rise and inevitable fall of its successor, the Earthmanists.

It all begins on Jupiter in the far-off year 2013.

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This dewdrop world

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō — Hitoshi Ashinano
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, book 11

Volume 11 of Hitoshi Ashinano’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō is much like the previous ten volumes: quiet moments, mysteries, and not much in the way of answers.

Well, one answer: Ojisan is still among the living, at least for now.

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Won’t you let me in, won’t you open up the door/ Surely there must be some room inside for just one more

Black Unicorn — Tanith Lee
Unicorn, book 1

1991’s Black Unicorn is the first volume in Tanith Lee’s Unicorn trilogy. Like last week’s Shon the Taken , Black Unicorn is a juvenile.

Young Tanaquil does not have a jot of magical talent (unlike her sorceress mother Jaive), not does she have much patience with a life constricted by her mother’s rules and whims. Life in a magical palace in the desert is tedious and annoying by turns.

At least until the day Tanaquil’s pet (a peeve) finds a bone. A very special bone:

Long and slender, unhuman, not at once identifiable, the material from which it was made glowed like polished milk-crystal. And in the crystal were tiny blazing specks and glints, like diamond—no, like the stars out of the sky.

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For the love of God, SF, embrace the Enlightenment

Behind the Throne — K.B. Wagers
Indranan War Series, book 1

K. B. Wagers’ Behind the Throne, first in the Indranan War Series, is the story of a plucky gunrunner who rises to become the heir to the throne using only her wits, courage, and the fact that she is the sole surviving child of the reigning empress. It’s a rags-to-riches story that makes me wonder “why is so much SF inherently reactionary?”

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Girl in a Cell

The Far Side of Evil — Sylvia Louise Engdahl
Elana, book 2

Sylvia Louise Engdahl’s 1971 The Far Side of Evil is a sequel to 1970’s Enchantress from the Stars . It is set in the same Anthropology Service Universe as Engdahl’s Star trilogy: This Star Shall Abide (1972), Beyond the Tomorrow Mountains (1973), and The Doors of the Universe  (1981).

The Academy Director was afraid that Elana would find her first post-graduation assignment an anticlimax after the events of Enchantress from the Stars . Their fears could not have been more misplaced. For Elana, there’s nothing anticlimactic about waiting in a tiny cell for an interrogator determined to break her.

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Nothing is as validating as attempted murder

Borderline — Mishell Baker
Arcadia, book 1

Mishell Baker’s 2016 debut novel Borderline is the first in her Arcadia series.

Six months after a failed suicide bid cost her both legs and her film career, embittered auteur and long-term Leishman Psychiatric Center resident Millie Roper receives an unexpected visitor and a more unexpected offer: Caryl Varro wants Millie to work for the Arcadia Project.

Millie does not know Caryl from Adam and she’s never heard of the Arcadia Project. Millie’s doctor has; her reaction is intriguing enough for Millie to venture outside the safe confines of the Institute and back out into the real world.

Perhaps real world isn’t quite the right term.

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Follow sweet children, I’ll show thee the way

Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen — H. Beam Piper
Paratime, book 1

Before I delve into H. Beam Piper’s 1965 alternate history novel Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, I would like to thank John F. Carr and his biography of Piper for providing a context for the novel. Context (for me at least) transformed what I once read as a somewhat problematic but engaging power fantasy into something much more tragic.

One moment, Pennsylvania cop Calvin Morrison was poised to arrest a fugitive. The next moment he was in a weird, high-tech vehicle, whose pilot seems very upset to see Calvin, judging by the pilot’s response: he tries to shoot Calvin with a ray gun. Moments after that unsettling confrontation, Calvin finds himself alone in a virgin-growth forest.

It does not take long for Calvin to suspect that he has moved in time rather than space: he recognizes the contours of the land as the familiar hills he knows from his own Pennsylvania. He at first believes that he might have been shifted to a time before the coming of the white men. Then he happens upon an isolated steading inhabited by whites; Calvin begins to suspect that he has been sent to a distant future in which humanity is still crawling out of some post-Atomigeddon dark age.

Wrong again.

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The cop, the sorceror, and the shaman

Penric and the Shaman — Lois McMaster Bujold
Chalion, book 5

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric and the Shaman is set four years after the events of Penric’s Demon. In the first novella, Penric had to flail his way through an utterly unfamiliar situation; in this one, he has absorbed as much training as the temple can cram into his head in four years 1. Because he has a well-educated demon sharing his head, he has learned a LOT.

Good for Penric, because this time round, we’re treated to a police procedural rather than a coming-of-age story.

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Turn of the wheel

Shon the Taken — Tanith Lee

1979’s Shon the Taken is a standalone fantasy. It’s also a juvenile, which I think makes it the first Tanith Lee juvenile that I’ve read in A Year of Tanith Lee.

Shon and his people live simple lives constrained by simple rules. First among these is not too look intently in a certain direction, lest that which dwells in that certain direction look too intently back. Never stay in the dark woods at night. If bad luck or bad judgement leaves some poor fool in the woods overnight, death is certain. Either at the … grasp … of that which dwells and its servants, or at the hands of that fool’s cautious relatives, afraid that the fool has returned possessed.

Shon becomes one of those poor fools, thanks to a spiteful trick by his resentful brother (plus some very bad luck).

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Old Business

Kojiki — Keith Yatsuhashi

Third in the parcel of ebooks sent me by Angry Robot, a publisher whose works I often find intriguing. Just not this one.

Keith Yatsuhashi’s 2016 fantasy novel begins with a young woman dispatched on a quest she does not understand, by a man no longer available to explain his reasons. Keiko Yamada’s father has vanished, leaving her his jisei, his death poem, and a passport, a ticket to Japan, and a short personal note that read:

Go to Japan in my place. Find the Gate. Your camera will show you the way.

There are many torii gates in Japan. Finding the specific one Keiko’s father meant seems an impossible quest. Unfortunately for Keiko, her search proves all too possible.

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B is for Bradbury

R is for Rocket — Ray Bradbury

If I were to make a list of the science fiction authors that the teenage me resentfully read out of a desperate longing for SF, any SF, Ray Bradbury would be near the top. I didn’t care for his fiction … but he was considered a respectable author, despite all the rocket stuff. That respectability, plus his slipshod approach to science, made him suspiciously literary to my eye. But it did mean that libraries, even libraries in small rural schools, could be counted on to have at least a few of his books.

Take 1962’s R is for Rocket….

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Final Birthgrave

Quest for the White Witch — Tanith Lee
Birthgrave, book 3

I only just now got my hands on a copy of 1978’s Quest for the White Witch , the third and final volume in Tanith Lee’s Birthgrave series. A fine choice for Throwback Thursday! If only this were Thursday and not Friday.

Heir to godlike powers that would make him lord of any land he cared to possess, Vazkor has but one aim: to find the goddess Karrakaz, the woman who abandoned him as a child. Having found her, he will have his revenge.

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After a while, the sunflower wilted and died without thinking of our feelings.

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō — Hitoshi Ashinano
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, book 10

You may have been concerned when I skipped a week but never fear! I do intend to finish reading all of Hitoshi AshinanoYokohama Kaidashi Kikō. Which brings us to volume ten. It is a very … Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō volume of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō.

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It’s a ma’am’s world

A Brother’s Price — Wen Spencer

In the world of Wen Spencer’s 2006 A Brother’s Price, a world where male babies rarely survive to term, young men of breeding age are a valuable commodity. Jerin Whistler is more valuable than most; he comes from gentry and is good-looking as well. That’s lucky for his sisters, who can trade him off to buy a husband of their own!

The body in the creek complicates their plans immensely.

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To the people who voted for Brexit, a love letter

On The Beach — Nevil Shute

What better work to celebrate Brexit’s victory than Nevil Shute’s 1957 ode to the power of collective determination, On the Beach?

In 1963, the world is at peace. No wars, no riots, no arguments mar the calm in the Northern Hemisphere. This is because many of the 4700 nuclear weapons detonated during the thirty-seven day war that broke out in 1962 were cobalt-clad. Bathed in lethal radioisotopes, the Northern Hemisphere is innocent of life and all its complications.

In Australian and the other nations of the Southern Hemisphere, life continues. But only for the moment: lethal fallout is slowly but inexorably spreading on the winds. Even as the book opens, northern Australia has been cleansed of life. By September 1963, everyone—everything—in southern Australia will as dead as the unfortunates in the north.

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

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A Malice of Trees

Uprooted — Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik’s 2015 novel Uprooted earned her a second Hugo nomination and her first Nebula Award. It has also been nominated for the Mythopoeic Award and the British Fantasy Award. Obviously this is my chance to be the lone voice of reason and taste, disappointed in a popular choice.

The only problem with that strategy is that I enjoyed Uprooted.

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And the moon is full and bright

Heart-Beast — Tanith Lee

Many travel to better themselves, seeking fame, fortune and knowledge in far off lands. Perhaps Daniel Vehmund initially sought to better himself, but by the time he appears in Tanith Lee’s standalone fantasy Heart-Beast, he has embraced a life of expatriate decadence, reveling in the exotic vices of the East. The odds that Daniel will return home alive, let alone healthy, seem quite poor.

And then comes Daniel’s encounter with the tomb-robber and the cursed diamond …

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Turn Your Face to the Moonlight

Plastic Smile — S. L. Huang
Russell's Attic, book 4

S. L. Huang’s 2016 Plastic Smile is the fourth volume in Huang’s ongoing Russell’s Attic series.

Six months after the events of the last volume (Root of Unity), Cas Russell is still wrestling with her unexpected discovery that everyone else has memories that go back more than a few years. Where other people have pasts, Cas has a giant blank and she still does not know what to make of it.

On the plus side, she does have an exciting new hobby: saving Los Angeles from itself.

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The Final Piece of the Puzzle

Clay’s Ark — Octavia E. Butler
Patternist, book 4

Published last, Octavia E. Butler’s 1984 Clay’s Ark was the fourth installment in her five book Patternist series. Along with 1978’s Survivor, of which we do not speak, it abandons the series’ focus on psychic monsters. Rather, it examines an entirely different kind of monster

Humanity’s first foray to an alien world ended in disaster. The remains of the starship Clay’s Ark are scrap scattered across an American desert; the crew are dead. All but one of the crew are dead, that is. Better for troubled Earth had the ship simply broken apart and burned up during re-entry.

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Acknowledging McCaffrey

Decision at Doona — Anne McCaffrey
Doona, book 1

On the one hand, I am not a fan of Anne McCaffrey’s fiction. On the other, she was a significant figure in the field, one of just five women named Grand Master of Science Fiction; at some point I need to acknowledge her. I find that I do have some of her books1. One of those books is the initially standalone2 1969 novel Decision at Doona.

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Strange Omnibus

Dark Castle, White Horse — Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee’s 1986 Dark Castle, White Horse is an odd little omnibus, two short novels in one cover.

It is an incongruous pairing.

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Deeds Not Words

Grass — Sheri S. Tepper
Arbai, book 1

I’m not a huge fan of Sheri S. Tepper, which is why I’ve only now read her 1990 novel, Grass. Not even the 1991 Hugo nomination was enough to tempt me. Why read it now? Someone commissioned this review. I apologize if the result isn’t quite what they expected.

Grass is the first volume in Tepper’s Arbai trilogy; it is set on the planet after which the novel is named. Comparatively few humans call Grass home. There are the bons, self-styled aristocrats, obsessed with hunting and indifferent to the outside world; there are the port city Commoner Town and the friary of Green Brothers. Not much to attract off-world visitors, particularly in an era when the dominant Great Power, Earth-based Sanctity, sees colonies as hotbeds of apostasy and chaos.

But it is of some interest that Grass seems to be the only world where people do not die of a mysterious plague. This not-officially-acknowledged disease seems likely to wipe out the entire human race1. While the theocrats of Sanctity are comfortable with the idea of a mass cull, particularly of heretics, heathens, and non-believers, they would just as soon not see humanity, including themselves, go extinct.

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Home Again, Home Again

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō — Hitoshi Ashinano
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, book 9

I had an interesting experience as a result of last week’s review of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, volume eight. Someone attending an event I was co-hosting showed up on a scooter much like the one Alpha rides, specifically because I reviewed YKK. That’s awesome! And now I am a little worried about how people will commemorate the MilSF and Cosmic Horror books I review.

Ahem. Back to Volume Nine of Ashinano’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō.

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For an ugly week

The Jagged Orbit — John Brunner

1969’s The Jagged Orbit is the second novel in John Brunner’s dystopian quartet. This is not my favourite of the four books, but (when I chose it) it seemed thematically appropriate for this ugly week. Where Stand on Zanzibar was about the consequences of population growth, The Sheep Look Up about unchecked pollution, and The Shockwave Rider about Future Shock, The Jagged Orbit concerns itself with racial divisions, paranoia, and violence dialed up to eleven.

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