Reviews, July 2014

Voyage of the Shadowmoon

Sean McMullen
The Moonworlds Saga, book 1

I used to have two rules: always read books by people named Sean and always try books by Australians US publishers went to the trouble of acquiring the rights. Like a lot of arbitrary filters, those worked until they failed catastrophically1 but I was well pleased with discovering Australian author Sean McMullen.

Lights up on a world much like Earth but with crucial differences and the siege of the city of Larmentel by the glorious imperial might of the armies of Emperor Warsovran. Unfortunately for Warsovran’s soldiers, their grand skills at siege-craft were learned from the scholars of Larmentel and the scholars kept their best tricks for themselves. Things are not going well but they are about to become much worse.

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The Riddle-Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, Harpist in the Wind

Patricia A. McKillip
Riddle of Stars

I have owned this ever since that day long ago when I didn’t remember to send back in the little SFBC card, which was one of my standard ways to diversify my library. Perhaps the success of that method explains why I am so comfortable letting other people choose my reading material now?

My copy is missing its dust jacket but the art is on isfdb and I wonder if the lackluster cover is why I passed this over for 30+ years?

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The Long Run: A Tale of the Continuing Time

Daniel Keyes Moran
The Continuing Time

For the life of me I cannot recall who recommended Moran to me but while my mass market paperback is a first printing (I think), I know I did not find it on my own. I remember a figure – tetrapod, bipedal, endothermic, homeothermic, and tachymetabolic - raving about The Long Run in my store decades ago convincingly enough that I made a point of buying it. Having bought it, I then tracked down every other Moran book that I could – Armageddon Blues, Emerald Eyes and later, The Last Dancer. Then silence fell. Publishing is a cruel and arbitrary world and it seemed that like so many other authors, Moran had been cast out into the shadows.

Happily, his books are once again available; the link is at the bottom of this review unless, ha ha, I forgot to include it. A sensible person would add it right now; I wonder what I actually did?

Onwards to The Long Run, and if I ever sound a bit negative, do remember this book was good enough to make me a Moran completist1.

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Wild Seed

Octavia Butler
Patternist, book 1

Science fiction has a long, colourful tradition of books about people with very special powers, abilities focused in specific privileged lineages through extended eugenics programs. See, for example, Doc Smith’s Lensmen series, Heinlein’s Howard Family stories and Larry Niven’s Known Space. Generally being a participant in these programs isn’t a bad thing, even though it constrains one’s choice of mates somewhat, and I cannot help but feel the fact most of the authors who come to mind are white and middle or even upper class – not the groups usually subjected to such programs, upper class inbreeding aside – plays a role in how the whole affair is portrayed.

I think it is safe to say Octavia Butler, one of the very very few African American science fiction writers active in the 1970s, had an entirely different model in the back of her mind as to how the whole directed breeding program would work out in real life. Until about 18651 the US had a distinct population whose activities were overtly closely monitored and closely controlled; a pattern that just leaps out at anyone who isn’t a mouth-breathing libertarian or worse is that despite whatever the propaganda of the day said, the program was not being run for the benefit of its subjects.

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Analog, July 1979

When Royce offered to send this to me, I accepted enthusiastically,

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Tales of a Darkening World

Edgar Pangborn
Tales of a Darkening World

This demonstrates a pitfall the preferred length of modern SF generally skirts. I began intended just to reread Edgar Pangborn’s post-holocaust Bildungsroman Davy but because I was also planning to reread Canticle for Leibowitz, which covers centuries to Davy’s decades I then began to ponder if it would be better to reread all the stories Pangborn wrote in that setting so I would be comparing similar spans of time or at least half a millennium to 1800 years. After all, both The Company of Glory and The Judgment of Eve are short and the collection Still I Persist in Wondering is under 300 pages. Of course, it all added up to something as long as The Past Through Tomorrow or Adventures in Time and Space. I am sure there is a lesson here somewhere and equally sure that I didn’t learn it.

Although he is comparatively obscure now, in the 1950s Pangborn won an International Fantasy Award for his A Mirror for Observers, a Hugo nomination for Davy (which lost to Leiber’s execrable The Wanderer ; what the hell, SF fandom?), and Nebula nominations for “A Better Mousehole” and “Mount Charity”. A fair fraction of his work was set the Darkening World, in a world where thanks to resource depletion, overpopulation, light nuclear war, and a host of almost certainly engineered plagues, civilization collapsed, leaving in its wake a small and infertile population of people to survive as best they can.

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New Celebrations

Alexei Panshin
The Adventures of Anthony Villiers

One reason I don’t get all het up about how slowly new installments in the serial of The Knights Who Say Fuck are coming out is because I don’t read that series but a more important one is because I have been waiting for more installments in the Anthony Villiers series for most of my life; mere half decades between volumes do not compare. I discovered Panshin’s light-hearted (or at least seemingly light-hearted) series when I was 17. I am no longer 17. I do not have in my possession the fourth or subsequent books in this series and as long as I don’t have them I do not have the spoons to spare for lesser series. But I am not bitter because I do have the first three and those three are treasures.

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The Stars in Shroud

Gregory Benford

I’ve never read the first draft of this – back when Now & Then Books was at 103 Queen South, Harry had a copy on the shelves for years and yet I was never quite inspired to pick it up. Perhaps this is because there were other books I wanted more but I think it’s because I knew Deeper Than Darkness was the earlier version of Stars in Shroud, a version that its author thought needed a rewrite and Stars is, sadly, full of interesting nuggets that are embedded in a crap sandwich.

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The Kindly Ones

Melissa Scott

Given how the Baen brand has evolved over the years,”Baen Books” does not make one think “Lamba and Tiptree-nominated author” but in the 1980s Jim Baen reportedly made a point of looking for good new female authors and his enhusiasm for gay-bashing SF1 had not yet blinded him to works of quality featuring protagonists outside the usual hetrosexual limits. Post-Del Montefication, it may be hard to believe this ever came from Baen, but it did.

And the cover wasn’t even that bad.

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Adventures in Time & Space, edited by Healy & McComas

I know where I bought this – Waterloo Square – but I cannot recall if the Coles had opened yet or if the little bookstore whose name I have forgotten was still there, as yet uncrushed by giant chains and the grim realities of bookselling.

I am sure this would have been a major part of my teen years if it wasn’t quite so long. Thousand page books are awkward to tote around. It must have been very impressive when it first appeared in 1946; there would not have been many books like it, whereas I started reading SF during a golden age of anthologies and collections.

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