Reviews, October 2015

A Game of Ghosts

Greek Key — K.B. Spangler

K. B. Spangler’s 2015 Greek Key sends a trio of odd characters on a quest to discover the origins of the Antikythera Mechanism (a real-world artefact that featured in a subplot of an earlier Spangler book, State Machine). The cast of characters includes:

  • Mike Reilly, the World’s Worst Psychic,
  • Hope Blackwell, World’s Second Worst Psychic, previously met in A Girl and Her Fed),
  • and a talking koala named Speedy.

Hope is well connected, rich thanks to her connections and a talented martial artist. She has one quirky ability that makes her particularly useful when it comes to tracking down the origins of an ancient, technologically anomalous device: Hope can talk to ghosts.


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Evil will come and you will welcome it

The Birthgrave — Tanith Lee
Birthgrave, book 1

1975’s The Birthgrave wasn’t Tanith Lee’s first novel but it seems like a good place to begin my new review series, A Year of Tanith Lee.

There were a number of reasons for this choice:

  • DAW has just reissued it, so it’s easily available.
  • I believe that it was this book that established Lee as an author of significance; it was a Nebula nominee,
  • When I solicited suggestions for Lee books to review, this was one of the works that turned up in list after list.

The Birthgrave is of particular interest to me because hard as it may be to believe, even though I have been aware of its existence for OH GOD FORTY YEARS HOW CAN IT BE FORTY YEARS some time, I’ve never read it. There as a reason for this, a very stupid reason. More on that later.

Centuries after the fall of her great and terrible people, an amnesiac wakes deep underground. Berated for her people’s sins by a bodiless voice calling itself Karrakaz, tortured with a glimpse of her own monstrous reflection, the amnesiac is offered death—but chooses instead to flee the caverns, into a world populated by the ignorant descendants of the humans her people once enslaved.

The villagers she encounters offer her worship. She rewards them with death.


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For a woman, she was almost oddly free from irrationality

Conjure Wife — Fritz Leiber

Fritz Leiber’s 1952 Conjure Wife, first published as part of the second and final Twayne Triplet Witches Three, has a rep as a classic horror novel. Now, if you look at the Wikipedia article on this book, you may notice that all the critics cited are men. There’s a reason for that … and it’s not just that the literati doing the reviewing when this book was first published were mostly men (as was the wont of the time). This is a book that a certain kind of man might like. Conjure Wife is a sterling example of a specific variety of mid-20th-century sexism.

Despite some early missteps, fifteen years into his career Norman Saylor is doing fairly well. A professor of ethnology at small Hempnell College, he is popular with students and colleagues. He’s even rumoured to be in the running to be the next head of the sociology department. This is not a big deal in the broader academic scheme of things: Hempnell is a small town college that caters to parents who are afraid their children will be corrupted by big-city universities. It is a bastion of dowdy conservatism. However, Saylor is happy to be a big frog in a small puddle. Compared to his stodgy colleagues, he is young, cutting edge, modern. His life is perfect.

Or so it seems until the night he rummages in his wife Tansy’s dresser drawer.


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I have no idea what was up with the post office full of kiwi fruit.

Revenge — Yoko Ogawa (Translated by Stephen Snyder)

Yoko Ogawa’s collection Revenge was first published in 1998 as Kamoku na shigai, Midara na tomurai. Under the current title it was made available in English in 2013 by Picador.

Revenge includes eleven macabre short stories. The collection is not long but it is very good.



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Appropriate for Halloween

A Night in the Lonesome October — Roger Zelazny

A Night in the Lonesome October is not Roger Zelazny’s final novel1, but it was written in a decade when he mainly focused on collaborations. It was the last novel he wrote without a partner.

It’s also pretty good, which is fortunate for me because I would hate to have to write a Graveyard Orbit review of an author’s last book if that book was … ah … not up to their usual high standards.

Every year, in the month leading up to the last full moon in October, two factions—the Openers and the Closers—gather to determine the course of the world for the next year. It is in their power to determine which eldritch gates will be opened or very firmly closed.

In 18872, that last full moon fell on Halloween, which, one must admit, is a very good date on which to determine the fate of the world.

The participants are not always named, but they are all archetypes with whom readers will be familiar: the brilliant professor and his Monster, the Balkan aristocrat with an affinity for bats and a dislike of sunshine, the mad Russian Monk, the Great Detective, and of course the Londoner Jack and his marvellously sharp knife.

But this story isn’t about Jack. It’s about his dog, Snuff.


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Where Monsters Gather

Stray Souls — Kate Griffin
Magicals Anonymous, book 1

This is the first book credited to Kate Griffin that I have reviewed here—but it is not the first book by this author to appear on James Nicoll Reviews . Kate Griffin and Claire North are both pen-names for the prolific Catherine Webb. I have no idea how to disambiguate this on my website’s author roll.

What do you do if while out walking one day, you find yourself, however temporarily, at one with the whole of London, unexpectedly imbued with the abilities and responsibilities of a shaman? If you’re the suddenly shamanic Sharon Li, you found Magicals Anonymous, a support group for the mystically perplexed.

And just in time, because one of London’s gods—Greydawn, Our Lady of 4 A.M.—has gone missing and monsters are stalking the streets. It’s just the sort of problem that falls into the purview of Mathew Swift, the Midnight Mayor of London; Mathew’s solution is to punt it over to an unprepared Li.



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Not a Tiptree Review

Dreamsnake — Vonda N. McIntyre

Vonda N. McIntyre’s 1978 Dreamsnake is an expansion of the story begun in her 1973 novelette Of Mist and Grass and Sand. Of Mist won a Nebula and was nominated for a Hugo. Dreamsnake won both the Best Novel Hugo and the Best Novel Nebula, it placed first in the 1979 Best Novel Locus Award, was nominated for a Ditmar and was denied a stab at the Tiptree on a mere technicality (that being that the Tiptree Award was still thirteen years in the future); as it was, the novel made the Tiptree Retrospective Shortlist.

Nuclear war left much of the Earth uninhabitable, although not before the first starships left Earth and founded the Sphere. Little is left of the civilization that gave humanity the stars, and what is left is isolationist. Denied access to the knowledge and resources of the Sphere, Terrans are forced to make do with what is available on depleted, battered Earth.

Snake is a Healer, a wandering doctor who relies on bio-engineered snakes rather than conventional medicine. Earth is vast, communities isolated; cultural misunderstanding is inevitable. A momentary lapse on Snake’s part costs her her dreamsnake and quite possibly, her standing in the Healers. Dreamsnakes are valuable and nigh-irreplaceable.


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My money is on “abomination”

Childhood’s End — Arthur C. Clarke & Tony Mulholland

This review was inspired by the news that the Syfy network, perhaps best known for renaming itself after the Polish term for syphilis, had acquired the rights to Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End . The jury is still out whether the Syfy version will be a full scale abomination, like their adaptation of Earthsea, or merely wretched, like most of the rest of their product. Until the full extent of the horror of this adaptation is revealed, I thought it would be fun to look at—sorry, listen to—a previous adaptation by a considerably more reputable organization with a long history of presenting SF works. I speak, of course, of the two-hour audio adaptation BBC 4 aired back in 1997.

As soon as the radio play opens, it is clear that events have developed not necessarily to Earth’s advantage. The frame: a distressed Jan Rodericks reports to an entity named Karellen, narrating the ongoing destruction of the Earth.


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The Fiftieth Norton in Fifty Weeks

Dragon Magic — Andre Norton
Magic, book 4

Andre Norton’s 1971 Dragon Magic is apparently the fourth book in Norton’s Magic series. Until now I had never even known the series existed, and certainly had not read any of the books in it.

The only things that Sig Dortmund, Artie Jones, Kim Stevens, and George Brown (or as he prefers to be called, Ras) all have in common are that they are all American boys and they all take the same school bus. Even that is not by itself enough to bring them together. While Artie and Sig are friends of a sort (Artie would far rather be friends with football hero Greg Ross, but he’s stuck with Sig), disinterest in bridging racial differences keeps them from reaching out to African-American Ras or Chinese-American Kim Stevens.

And then comes the treasure….


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The Alteration

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya — Nagaru Tanigawa
Haruhi Suzumiya, book 4

Nagaru Tanigawa’s 2004 The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is the fourth volume in his Haruhi Suzumiya series.

Together with the other members of the SOS Club—alien emissary Yuki Nagato, time traveler Mikuru Asahina, and ESPer Itsuki Koizumi—Kyon assists the determined Haruhi in her quest to find aliens, time travelers, and ESPers. And by assists, I mean “at any cost, prevents Haruhi from discovering her own true nature.” Just as Haruhi is oblivious to the fact her SOS is almost entirely staffed by the very exotic beings she yearns to find, so too is she unaware of her own nigh-godlike powers or her destructive potential. It is the job of the SOS Club to keep her unaware.

Keeping the “irritating sociopathic Genki Girl” (as TV Tropes puts it) too busy to truly see the world around isn’t safe and it’s often unpleasant … but at least it is never boring. Escape from the SOS Club appears to be impossible, so Kyon may as well resign himself to his fate.

And then one day Kyon discovers the world has been transformed.


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Not the House of Shattered Wings

Of Books, and Earth, and Courtship & In Morningstar’s Shadow — Aliette de Bodard

My review title for for this is Not the House of Shattered Wings, but that is just to avoid confusion. What this really isn’t is de Bodard’s Harbinger of the Storm, which I am holding off on reviewing until its author brings the Acatl books back into print. House of the Shattered Wings (part of her Dominion of the Fallen sequence) was plan B until I discovered my Kitchener Public Library’s copy was signed out.

The nice thing about being in a mood for a de Bodard story is that instant gratification by means of ebooks is now an option. Since I was thinking about de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen setting anyway, I bought her short story “Of Books, and Earth, and Courtship” from Kobo and since I noticed her related collection In Morningstar’s Shadow was free, I grabbed that as well1.

Onward!


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The timing of this review is entirely coincidental

Doomsday Morning — C. L. Moore

I had never even heard of C. L. Moore’s 1957 novel Doomsday Morning until an ebook version showed up in my inbox. It would have made a fine election day review, if only I had read it a bit earlier. Oh, well.

President Raleigh rebuilt America after the Five Days War and a grateful electorate has re-elected him five times. Of course, the electorate might have been nudged in that direction by one of the tools Raleigh created to rebuild America: Communications US aka Comus. Constant monitoring and finely targeted media control allow the government to nudge Americans in the direction of the most sensible decisions.

Now Raleigh is dying. Someone will have to replace him. Comus boss Tom Nye is determined to be that someone … but there’s a hitch. Which I will explain later. Tom schemes to remove the hitch with the aid of an old friend, the once great actor1 Howard Rohan …


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“… doesn’t matter if the game is crooked when it’s the only game in town.”

Double Star — Robert A. Heinlein


If all goes according to plan, this will be posted on the day of the 2015 Canadian Federal election. On my Livejournal, More Words, Deeper Hole, I asked for suggestions of SF novels about elections. I had already thought of two options: this book, and The Wanting of Levine. I received many good suggestions, but, in the end, two factors ruled in favour of Robert A. Heinlein’s 1956 Hugo Winner Double Star: I own it and it’s short. I didn’t have much time to acquire and read whichever book I chose.

It turns out at least part of the reason the 1970s-era1 Signet mass market edition is a scant 128 pages is because the font size is microdot. Not that it would have been much longer had it been printed in a reasonable font, as the allegednovel is really more of a novella. Still, it’s long enough to serve its purpose.

A seemingly chance meeting in a bar drops a job opportunity in Lawrence “The Great Lorenzo” Smythe’s lap. While the job, from the few details he gets, sounds like it should be beneath a master thespian like Smythe, it just so happens that his would-be employer, Dak Broadbent, speaks the language that speaks most loudly to a down-on-his-luck actor: money.

Smythe convinces himself he is being hired as a double for a politician who fears an assassination attempt. The prospect of being shot at does not please Smythe at all. Smythe is half-right—he is being hired to play prominent politician John Joseph Bonforte, leader of the Expansionist Party, currently the Opposition—but he is completely wrong about the reason behind the ruse.

Smythe has also grossly underestimated the stakes.


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“Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live?”

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus — Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

The Monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is one of the great iconic figures in Western fiction; the story in which it appears is also well known. Unsurprisingly, the idea that a woman was able to create a work of great significance is confounding to certain people. Some have reacted by claiming Shelley did not write the novel, others by claiming that a story that has remained in print for two centuries is mere trash, the kind of thing a woman would write. Mountains of nonsense have been written about Frankenstein over the centuries and now it is my privilege to add a stone to those mountains.


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Parents Who Love Their Kids to Pieces

Unwind — Neal Shusterman
Unwind Dystology, book 1

Neal Shusterman has been publishing for a quarter century, but 2007’s Unwind is the first novel of his I recall having read. I wish I liked it more….


The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. None of the factions involved were able to win a complete victory. The compromise that emerged from peace talks was as counter-intuitive as it was inhumane. While the US legal system now considers life to begin at conception, from ages thirteen to eighteen, parents can opt to consign unsatisfactory children to the organ banks, a process called unwinding. As long as 99% of the teen is used for organ donations, they have not technically died, only become more dispersed. Everyone is happy!


Except for the teens who are slated to be unwound. Eh, teenagers, always complaining.



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The Trader and the Witch

Exiles of the Stars — Andre Norton
Moon Singer, book 2

1971’s Exiles of the Stars is the first sequel to Andre Norton’s Moon of Three Rings. It was followed by 1986’s Flight of Yiktor and 1990’s Dare to Go A-Hunting, neither of which I will review (because they fall outside the boundaries of this review series1). Exiles picks up where Moon left off, with star-trader Krip Vorlund and alien witch Maelen the Moon Singer ensconced in brand-new bodies—Krip in the body of a Thassa and Maelen in the body of a small animal called a glassia—and on their way to the stars on the Free Trader Lydis.


But they’re not out of trouble yet. From the start, Lydis’ contract on Thoth had a whiff of danger. Nervous theocrats, threatened by religious strife and civil disorder, have hired the Lydis to transport precious artefacts, relics of a lost Forerunner race, to safety. The destination: Ptah, one of the other worlds in the Amen-Re system.


A temple insider leaks the news that the priests are sending holy artefacts off-world. Even as the precious cargo is loaded aboard Lydis, angry mobs converge on the starship. Only the customary prohibition against attacking Free Traders can defend the Lydis.


They manage to escape from the riot-torn world, but worse is yet to come. Getting to Ptah will prove more challenging than expected.



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At the narrow passage, there is no brother and no friend

The Dark Forest — Cixin Liu
Remembrance of Earth's Past, book 2

2015’s The Dark Forest, originally published in 20081 as 黑暗森林, is the second volume of Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. It follows Liu’s 2006 (for the Chinese edition)/2014 (English edition) novel The Three-Body Problem.


Three-Body Problem won the 2014 Hugo, despite notable handicaps. Not only had a translated book never before won the Hugo, two bloc-voting schemes conspired (knowingly or not) to keep it off the ballot. Only the fact that Marko Kloos withdrew (for reasons explained here) allowed Three-Body Problem onto the Hugo best novel ballot.


That is a nice story of triumph over great odds, which is rather suitable considering that Three-Body Problem is a story of humanity facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge: resisting extermination at the manipulating appendages of the technologically superior Trisolarians. It’s a bit of shame, therefore, that I was somewhat ambivalent about Three-Body Problem2. Many of the same issues coloured my reading of the sequel.

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Trouble in Paradise

Prometheus Unbound — Masamune Shirow
Appleseed, book 2

Appleseed Book Two: Prometheus Unbound picks up where The Promethean Challenge left off. While Briareos Hecatonchires recovers from the injuries he suffered in the previous volume, Deunan Knute is trying to fit into a police force made up of former cut-throats barely distinguishable from the criminals they oppose. She’s soon head-hunted by ESWAT (Extra-Special Weapons and Tactics), less for her remarkable skill set and more because the powers-that-be (or a faction thereof) want her somewhere where they can keep an eye on her. Deunan has, as she discovers, a closer connection to the founders of Olympus than she had ever suspected.


The people running Olympus (the city) and Aegis (the world government it heads) have bigger problems than one survivor from badside. The world war was horrible, but it did allow Aegis time to consider and address the issues driving humans towards global suicide. Not enough time, it seems, which leads the Council, bioroids all 1, to consider a bold strategy: apply bioroid discipline to all humans. The result may not be human as humans of the 22 nd Century define it, but at least it and the world it inhabits will be alive.


Interestingly, it’s not the humans who object to this scheme. It’s Athena, Aegis’ senior politician and a bioroid herself.


Athena finds it easy enough to deal with the council: detain them all. While they are in detention, Athena and her subordinates run the proposal through Gaea, the city’s supercomputer. Normally the council is plugged into Gaea while it cogitates, but obviously that won’t work in this case. The vast, cold intellect is free to consider the issue without human or bioroid moderation.


What could go wrong?



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Apartness

The Matter of Seggri — Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin’s 1994 novelette The Matter of Seggri won the 1994 Tiptree, an honour it shared with Nancy Springer’s Larque on the Wing. It was an interesting year for Le Guin and the Tiptree: her A Fisherman of the Inland Sea and “Forgiveness Day” both made the 1994 short list. For some reason ISFDB classifies inclusion in the short list as a nomination, probably because they don’t understand how the Tiptree process works.


The Matter of Seggri takes place in Le Guin’s Hainish setting. Perhaps some background would help. As you know, about a million years ago



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Now I have to wait another year for the next Angel Crawford book

White Trash Zombie Gone Wild — Diana Rowland
White Trash Zombie, book 5

Diana Rowland’s 2015 White Trash Zombie Gone Wild picks up some months after How the White Trash Zombie Got Her Groove Back. Angel Crawford may be technically post-mortal (since she’s what normals call a brain-eating zombie), but otherwise her life existence is going pretty well. Work at the coroner’s office is fine, aside from hints of low-key hostility from her boss, Allen Prejean. She’s currently sans boyfriend, but she’s OK with that. Plus, thanks to a little drug she likes to call V12, she’s energetic, chipper, and has a handle on her dyslexia!


It’s true she has to steal the V12. But that’s totes easy; all she has to do is water down Philip Reinhardt’s experimental V12 medication. It’s not like anyone is going to notice! And it’s not like experimental medications ever have undocumented effects! And it’s true V12 greatly increases her need for human brains. But she can just steal those from work! It’s not like anyone would miss a brain or two or even all of them.


Except Allen does.



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These are the stories the Dogs tell

City — Clifford D. Simak



Clifford D. Simak’s City contains material written in the 1940s, material that wasn’t collected into book form until 1952. New interstitial material transformed it into something like a novel.


City was popular and has been reprinted in many editions. The edition I own is the Ace mass market paperback, which means it does include Simak’s 1976 introduction (not included in earlier editions), but it does not include “Epilog,” which was written for the 1973 tribute collection for Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology1. (“Epilog” is included in later editions of City.)


While it didn’t win the Hugo2, City did win the International Fantasy Award. My copy is well-worn; I still regard it fondly, despite the fact that it would seem to be exactly the sort of city-hating SF I loathe. And the book isn’t exactly keen on humans either. But it has the Dogs and the Cobbly worlds, and apparently that’s enough for me. And for many other readers as well.



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In Which a Minor Norton Mystery is Solved

Forerunner Foray — Andre Norton
Warlock, book 3

Yes, this book should have been featured in my final Norton review. It’s not, because someone (and I am not naming names here) didn’t read the Waterloo Public Library entries for Dragon Magic and Exiles of the Stars carefully enough. That person overlooked the little McC notation indicating that the books were to be found at the McCormick branch (which is effectively inaccessible to me). It will take long enough to transfer the books to the central branch that waiting means missing the deadline for today’s review. And I prefer not to miss deadlines.

1973’s Forerunner Foray is third in the Forerunner series. It’s also the first one in which the Forerunners play a significant role, three books and thirteen years into the series.

Ziantha’s promising psychic powers have caught the attention of Yasa and Ogan, two ambitious members of the Thieves Guild, and earned her a ticket out of the Dipple. It’s true that she is more of a valued possession than a valued employee, but even that is better than a life spent in the Dipple. It’s not like Yasa and Ogan don’t take care of her; not only have they honed Ziantha’s psychic powers, but they have trained her as a thief and a master of disguise.

All she has to do is follow orders to the letter, never screw up, and never step out of line and she will be secure until the moment she has outlived her usefulness.

In the opening chapter, Ziantha screws up by exceeding her instructions. She has been told to break into the home of a certain Jucundus. While there, she is strangely attracted to seemingly valueless curio. She cannot forget the curio and while brooding over it, discovers a new psychic power. She teleports the curio to her location. While she gains the curio, she also alerts the Patrol’s mentalists to the fact that there is a powerful unregistered psychic somewhere on Korwar. Oh yes, and she succeeds in alerting her master and mistress that she has stepped out of line.


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The Long-eared Samurai

The Wanderer’s Road — Stan Sakai
Usagi Yojimbo, book 3

Labels matter. If I said “funny animal comic” you might think of Mickey Mouse, Captain Carrot, or Tom & Jerry. If I said “anthropomorphic comic,” you might remember somewhat less humorous graphic novels: Maus, Erma Felna EDF, and the subject of today’s review, Usagi Yojimbo. Or more specifically, Stan Sakai’s 1989 Usagi Yojimbo Book Three: Wanderer’s Road, which collects short pieces crafted between 1987 and 1989.

Miyamoto Usagi is a long-eared lagomorph ronin living in a fantasy version of Edo-era Japan. There, everyone is some form of anthropomorphic animal1: rabbits, snakes, monkeys and so on. Lacking a master, Usagi moves from place to place, having adventures along the way.

Here are seven of them.



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Extension Cord FROM SPACE!

Pillar to the Sky — William R. Forstchen

In the past, my main interest in William R. Forstchen was keeping an eye on his Wikipedia entry. Someone, I could not say who, appears to be policing the article (and one of its subsidiary entries) to ensure that no detailed discussion of Forstchen and Gingrich’s 1995 novel,1945, appears. 1945 had a noteworthy sales record1


and in the Darwinian world of modern publishing, it’s all too easy for one poorly selling book like 1945 to torpedo a career. It makes perfect sense that anyone with an interest in the success of an author or authors who have a dud book to their credit would want to minimize public discussion of that book. It is certainly interesting to watch the minimization proceed.

I am happy to say that William Forstchen survived the debacle of 1945 and went on to write quite a lot of novels. I am even happier to say I have not read most of them. If only I could say the same for 2014’s Pillar to the Sky, a book about which the kindest thing I can say is “blandly derivative of far better novels published two generations earlier.”


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Unexpected Rediscovery Review!

The Best of C.L. Moore — C. L. Moore

As previously mentioned, I am very fond of Ballantine’s Classic Library of Science Fiction. That said, editor Lester del Rey did have one blind spot in common with many of his contemporaries. You won’t find many women in Ballantine’s Classic Library of Science Fiction.


I note just two: Leigh Brackett, reviewed here fairly frequently, and Catherine Lucille Moore, the author of this week’s Rediscovery. Diversion has republished Moore’s 1975 collection, The Best of C. L. Moore, as an ebook. More relevantly to this review, they sent me a copy.

Moore was prolific and well-regarded. She would have been the second woman to be named Grandmaster of the Science Fiction Writers of America, had her second husband not intervened. He claimed that the honour would only confuse her (Moore had Alzheimer’s). But her work has nonetheless been acknowledged in other ways … by collections like this one, for example.

Note: this edition is not quite identical with the 1975 edition; the new ebook omits Lester del Rey’s introductory essay, 40 Years of C. L. Moore.


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Trent the Uncatchable Does Not Approve of Your Killing Ways

The Big Boost — Daniel Keys Moran
AI War, book 1

One of the great joys inherent in being an SF reader is that it’s perfectly possible to find yourself waiting decades between instalments in an ongoing series. For example, I’ve been waiting for the fourth Anthony Villiers book since roughly the time the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup (an event not actually within the living memory of my exgf). Next to that, the eighteen years between 1993’s The Last Dancer and the subject of today’s review, The AI War: The Big Boost, was but a short recess.

2080: The Unification holds all Earth in its iron grip; the spacers, scattered from the Moon out to the Asteroid Belt, are still free. The existence of the spacers is intolerable to those who run the UN. It is just too too sad that millions of people across the Solar System are forced to live without Population Bureau regulation or helpful Peace Force cyborgs (who impartially shoot down criminals and inconvenient bystanders alike). Accordingly, since 2072, the UN has been constructing the Unity, a seven-kilometer-long spacecraft intended to bring the full benefits of UN government to every corner of the solar system … or destroy those corners trying.

Having tried and failed to prevent the construction of the Death Star UN vessel, the spacers have no choice but to turn to the one man who can consistently foil the UN and its Peaceforcers: Trent the Uncatchable.


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Not the Neil Gaiman Stardust

The Year When Stardust Fell — Raymond F. Jones

If you’re a North American of my age and you read science fiction in any quantity (especially via public libraries), then the odds are pretty good that you encountered at least a few of the Winston Science Fiction juveniles and you would be familiar with this logo.


I had toyed with the idea of reviewing the whole line, but I discovered, to my great annoyance, that there are almost forty books in the line and not one of them was written by a woman. Doing such a series would also do deplorable things to the gender ratio stats for my reviews1.


Instead, I decided to pick one example to give an idea of what the line was like. It was tough to decide between Raymond F. Jones’ 1958 The Year When Stardust Fell and Five Against Venus, Philip Latham’s 1952 epic tale of a thinly disguised Robinson family2 who aim for the Moon but end up on Venus, where they encounter man-bats. I really liked the man-bats, and the notion of a Swiss family Robinson in SPAAACE was … ah … deliciously predictable. I finally decided that the Jones novel was more influential.

The Year When Stardust begins innocently enough.


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Demons Return

Breed to Come — Andre Norton

The People who take center stage in Norton’s 1972 Breed to Come have only a vague idea of who they are or where they came from. Centuries earlier, Demons ruled the world. Then their hubris both doomed the Demons and raised their victims—the feline People, the porcine Tuskers, the ratlike Rattons, and the canine Barkers—from mere animals to people. Or so Furtig of the People has been taught since he was a cub.

As far as Furtig knows, the most serious problem facing him is the need to prove himself to those who choose, the females of breeding age of the tribe. I regret to report that this effort will not go all that well for Furtig, who is brave and smart—but not especially adept at the sort of hand-to-hand contest that is one of the customs of his people.

The good news is, having his head handed to him by a much larger Person isn’t close to worst thing that will happen to Furtig by the end of the book. Not only will his forlorn journey of exploration leave him a prisoner of the foul Rattons, but the Demons are at last returning home….


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How Chi Kim Spent His Holidays

Duty After School — Ha Il-Kwon

This week’s unexpected discovery is Ha Il-Kwon’s webtoon Duty After School, recommended in one of the many, many, very long comment threads over File770, in the context of “works worthy of a Hugo.” I had planned to limit myself to a quick glance, which is how my archive binges always begin….

Being a high school student is stressful enough; if you’re not swotting to pass university entrance exams, you’re probably trying to figure out what real world job to try for after graduation. And you have to deal with crushes, friendships, and the adolescent pecking order. Happily for Chi Kim and his fellow students of Sungdong high school, life hands them an effective distraction.

Less happily, it’s in the form of an alien invasion.


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