Reviews, April 2017

A Voiceless Song in an Ageless Night

RuneQuest, Second Edition — Steve Perrin & Ray Turney

My first year at university, I encountered my first roleplaying games; two of those games I still remember fondly. Well, perhaps three, but I’ll explain that in a footnote [1]. The first game was Traveller, which I reviewed here. The second was Chaosium’s RuneQuest, 2nd Edition. Which is now in print again, thank Ghu.

Like Traveller, RuneQuest is a skill-based system. Like Traveller, the skills that count are somewhat mundane. However, unlike Traveller, whose basic rule set was quite unspecific about the setting, RuneQuest was explicitly set in Greg Stafford’s Glorantha.

I should perhaps add that both games, unlike a lot of role-playing games then and now, are designed to put wandering murder hobos at a considerable disadvantage. Just in case you wondered.

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We All Want To Change The World

Chiho Saito
Revolutionary Girl Utena, book 1

The collective Be-Papas and Chiho Saito’s [1] Revolutionary Girl Utena, Volume 1 is the first of two volumes in the Revolutionary Girl Utena Complete Deluxe Box Set. Utena first ran in the monthly manga magazine Ciao from 1996–1997. Translation is by Lillian Olsen.

Rescued as a child from drowning by a mysterious stranger Utena knows only as “Licky-lick” [2], Utena vowed to be worthy of her savior, the man she yearns to meet again. She will live a strong and noble life.

The Japanese schoolgirl will become a prince!

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Made a Wrong Turn Once Or Twice

Gehenna: Death Valley — Becka Kinzie

To quote Becka Kinzie’s website:


I’m a freelance artist from the K-W Region. I’ve also been working as a colour flatter and colouring assistant since the early 2010s. In my spare time, I create my own macabre series of comics, which are posted online. The pages are eventually made into comic book issues, and so far I have self-published 15 of them (for sale at events/conventions).

Kinzie’s on-going horror webcomic Gehenna: Death Valley is one of several to be found on her website.

Teenagers! Just how blatant do warnings have to be before teens will actually pay heed? In the case of Lauren, Max, Sean, Max and Anika, more blatant than this.



Hilarity can only ensue.

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Searching for Light

An Ancient Peace — Tanya Huff
Peacekeeper, book 1

Set in the same Confederation universe as her Valor novels, 2015’s An Ancient Peace is the first volume in Tanya Huff’s Peacekeeper series.

A covert op seems like a useful application of the skills of Torin Kerr’s elite squad … as well as a welcome distraction from the revelation that the war that killed so many was an enigmatic civilization’s science project. And it’s not as if the op is unimportant: the future of the human and other Younger races may depend on what it finds.

Archaeology sounds so harmless.

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I’m Riding High Upon a Deep Depression

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 — Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver’s 2016 The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 is the third in a series of reviews … a series I am increasingly coming to repent ever having begun.

When investors decline to continue funding America’s soaring debt, the US’s foreign-born Latino President decides the only acceptable solution is to default on the debts. The consequences will reverberate for decades.

Many members of the implausibly named Mandible family used to take comfort from the knowledge that when their irascible patriarch finally died, his fortune would be divided among them. But the collapse of the US dollar (and the American economy with it) has stripped the old man of most of his assets. His remaining assets have lost most of their value. The Mandibles and America with them will be forced to do something unthinkable: adapt to changing circumstances.

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Expectations Are So High

Cloned Lives — Pamela Sargent

1976’s Cloned Lives was Pamela Sargent’s debut novel.

Paul Swenson and his friends see a brief window of opportunity for biomedical experimentation: technology has advanced, antique rules preventing certain lines of research have expired. Assuming that it is better to ask forgiveness than ask permission, they only reveal their project to the world once they have the first successful results to show. Who are:

Edward, James, Michael, Kira and Albert Swenson.

Paul’s clones.

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Wish You Were Here

The Homeward Bounders — Diana Wynne Jones

1981’s The Homeward Bounders is a standalone science fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones.

Protagonist Jamie’s unremarkable life ended the day he stumbled across Them playing games with human destiny. Luckily for Jamie, the rules of the game include provisions for pieces who know too much, as Jamie does. Jamie was discarded from the game, consigned to wander between realities as a Bounder until he could find his way back home.

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Cover Me in Pretty Lies

Icarus Down — James Bow

To quote James Bow’s website:

I was born in downtown Toronto on April 19, 1972 and lived there until my folks moved up to Kitchener in 1991 so I could attend the University of Waterloo. I’ve lived in Kitchener ever since. I’ve been trained as an urban planner, and I’ve worked as a database manager, web designer, circulation manager, administrative assistant, layout designer, and office manager. The one consistent thing about my varied academic and professional career has been a love of writing.

Three generations ago, the colonists on the starship Icarus emerged from their final jump and found themselves plunged into disaster. The travellers had been promised a garden world. What they got was a hellworld whose electromagnetic environment killed electronics and where the sun was bright enough to burn unprotected skin. The fog-shielded lowlands seemed to offer a haven, … at least until the ticktock monsters attacked. The colonists were forced into refuges suspended between lethal sunlight and deadly monsters. Until now, they have survived.

Simon Daud wanted to be a pilot. Catastrophic equipment failure on his final test flight left Simon badly burned. His brother Isaac was killed outright.

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No One Ever Died From Wanting Too Much

Ambition — Yoshiki Tanaka
Legend of the Galactic Heroes, book 2

Ambition is the second volume in Yoshi Tanaka’s Legends of the Galactic Heroes space opera series. It was translated into English by Daniel Huddleston.

Kaiser Friedrich IV is dead! Long live the new Kaiser! As soon as the warring factions within the Empire settle just who that new Kaiser will be!

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Working Darkness Underground

Blade of p’Na — L. Neil Smith

L. Neil Smith’s 2016’s Blade of p’Na is the next Prometheus Award finalist selected for review by my complex sorting algorithm (I threw dice).

Four hundred million years of civilization is long enough for a race like the Elders to have developed some very odd hobbies. Among the avocations the nautiloid Elders dabbled in was Appropriating doomed or interesting beings from neighbouring universes. This did not end so well for the Elders in question (who committed suicide once they noticed the inherent contradiction between their ethic of ‘freedom for all!’ and ‘kidnapping’ [1]) but it has worked out pretty well for the Appropriated and their descendants.

Take Eichra Oren, for example.

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What Was I Thinking?

A Spell for Chameleon — Piers Anthony
Xanth, book 1

1977’s British Fantasy Award-winning A Spell for Chameleon is the first volume in Piers Anthony’s seemingly endless Xanth series.

Spoiler warning.

Poor Bink! Each human Xanth has their own unique magical gift. Bink appears to be one of the few exceptions, with no discernible magical talent. Not only does this place him at a considerable disadvantage to his fellow humans but it will cost him his place in Xanth. Human law mandates exile for those without magic.

On the slim chance the Good Magician Humfrey’s powers can uncover the talent all previous attempts to discover have failed to spot, Bink set out to offer a year of service to the Magician in exchange for Humfrey’s help.

Humfrey may be Good but he is not Friendly or Easy to Reach.

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One Way or Another

Hellmaw: Soul Larcenist — Suzanne Church
Dagger of Sacrados, book 1

Suzanne Church’s 2016 supernatural thriller Hellmaw: Soul Larcenist is book one in the Dagger of Sacrados Trilogy. It is set in Ed Greenwood’s shared universe, Hellmaw.

Called to the scene of a spectacularly brutal double homicide, protagonist Detective Sergeant Windsor Kane has no idea that she and her husband Davian are being stalked by the killer. By the time she does figure that out, she and Davian have been overpowered, kidnapped, and prepared for a slow, painful death.

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Baptisms of Fire

Hiromu Arakawa
Fullmetal Alchemist, book 2

Viz’ Fullmetal Alchemist (3-in-1 Edition), Volume 2 includes Volumes 4, 5, 6 of the original Japanese manga [1]. Story and art are by Hiromu Arakawa; English translation by Akira Watanabe; English adaptation, by Jake Forbes and Egan Loo; touch-up art & lettering by Wayne Truman.

The first thing a stranger might notice about Edward Elric is his prosthetic arm and leg. The first thing they might notice about Edward’s younger brother Al is his huge metal body. More on those detail later. Both are skilled alchemists. Both are not yet teenagers. Both are members of a military organization, trading service for training.

As Volume 2 of the omnibus edition opens, Al and Ed have gotten their asses soundly kicked by a stabby, shape-shifting woman named Envy and her minions [2]. Death is a distinct possibility.

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A Long Cold Lonely Winter

The Core of the Sun — Johanna Sinisalo

2013’s The Core of the Sun is a standalone dystopian novel by Johanna Sinisalo. First published in Finnish, the 2016 English edition was translated by Lola Rogers. It’s also the first of four reviews of 2017 Prometheus Nominees (I sure hope I have written the intro for the series of reviews by the time this review is posted).

The Eustitocratic Republic Finland is a utopia … or so it assures its citizens. If you cannot trust an intrusive, nanny-state that goes to extraordinary lengths to isolate its people from the outside world, whom can you trust? The people of Finland live healthy, properly ordered lives, unlike the legions of unfortunates trapped in hedonistic, decadent democracies.

The key to this dazzling success is the proper domestication of women.

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Hide Me in a Hollow Sound

A Closed and Common Orbit — Becky Chambers
Wayfarers, book 2

2016’s Hugo nominee A Closed and Common Orbit is the second novel in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series.

Forced by circumstance to abandon her life as the mind of a starship, artificial intelligence Lovelace is re-homed in an android body. She adopts a new identity as Sidra. Life in a humanoid shell, tottering precariously on two legs and dealing with complex, unfamiliar social protocols, is challenging.

She meets Pepper, who is eager to help Sidra learn to cope. Unlike many others, Pepper believes that artificial intelligences are people. Why does Pepper have this peculiar and economically inconvenient belief?

The answer to that lies twenty years in the past.

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And I Think to Myself, What a Wonderful World

Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven — Larry Niven

1975’s Tales of Known Space: the Universe of Larry Niven was Larry Niven’s sixth collection (if you don’t count the British-only Inconstant Moon and the Dutch De Stranden van Sirius Vier) or his eighth (if you do.). It is the fourth instalment in an informal series I call “the essential collections of Larry Niven [1], being an irregular review series I may not even get around to finishing or continuing” (or tagging or giving its own formal series name in the sidebar).

An unkind reviewer might call this “the Known Space stories that weren’t good enough to make it into Neutron Star. ” That’s not entirely true … but Niven himself acknowledges that a couple of the stories are not very good. Rather than bury them and try to conceal that they ever existed, he opted for completism (although it took another couple of collections to accomplish that goal).

There’s a very good reason beyond being a Niven fanboy as a teen that I picked this up. I will explain my reasoning at the end of the review.

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Soon Found Out I Was Losing My Mind

Ascending — James Alan Gardner
League of Peoples, book 5

To quote Wikipedia (because if Jim’s site has a bio section, I am missing it):

James Alan Gardner (born January 10, 1955) is a Canadian science fiction author. Raised in Simcoe and Bradford, Ontario, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in applied mathematics from the University of Waterloo.

Gardner has published science fiction short stories in a range of periodicals, including The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Amazing Stories. In 1989, his short story “The Children of Creche” was awarded the Grand Prize in the Writers of the Future contest. Two years later his story “Muffin Explains Teleology to the World at Large” won a Prix Aurora Award; another story, “Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream,” won an Aurora and was nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo Awards.

Ascending is the fifth book in James Alan Gardner’s League of Peoples series.

To quote its protagonist, the transparent glass woman Oar:

This is my story, the story of Oar. It is a wonderful story. I was in another story once, but it was not so wonderful, as I died in the end. That was very most sad indeed. But it turns out I am not such a one as stays dead forever, especially when I only fell eighty floors to the pavement.

Oar’s people are physically immortal, but their minds, sadly, are not. Given time, they lapse into catatonia, living but inert. There is no way to cure the condition nor is there any way to avoid it except dying.

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Your Words Don’t Burn Me Anymore

iD — Madeline Ashby
Machine Dynasty, book 2

Madeline Ashby’s 2016 Company Town is a standalone science fiction novel that has received enough acclaim—in large part due to its position in Canada Reads—that I have as yet been unable to obtain a copy [1]. That is why this is a review of her 2013 novel, iD.

iD is the second instalment in Madeline Ashby’s Machine Dynasty series.

Every von Neumann robot that has ever been built comes with an infallible fail-safe that will kill the robot deader than the dodo if the robot fails to protect and serve their humans. Every robot save Amy, that is. Amy’s failsafe does not work. What’s worse from the human point of view is that vN robots spawn copies unless actively prevented; all of Amy’s iterations will have similarly defective failsafes.

There is an easy solution: simply kill Amy. Or rather, use her lover Javier’s failsafe to compel him to do it for the humans.

This simple plan has only one flaw.

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‘Cause Two Can Keep a Secret If One of Them is Dead

Orbital Cloud — Taiyo Fujii

Taiyo Fujii’s Orbital Cloud is a standalone science fiction thriller. Originally published in 2014 under the title Ōbitaru Kuraudo, Orbital Cloud was translated into English by Timothy Silver. The Haikasoru edition was published in March 2017.

Even in 2020, putting objects into orbit is still the domain of national governments and billionaires. Observation of objects in orbit, on the other hand, is something well within the grasp of the motivated amateurs like Kazumi Kimura’s website Meteor News. Meteor News, focused on shooting star prediction, is among the first to notice SAFIR 3’s bizarre behaviour.

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There Was Two of Everthing But One of Me

Earthblood — Rosel George Brown & Keith Laumer

The Keith Laumer and Rosel George Brown 1966 collaboration Earthblood is a standalone space opera.

Although Roan’s adopted father Raff was only a mutant human, and his adopted mother Bella a lowly Yill. Roan himself was a true-blooded pure-strain Terran—something not seen in the galaxy since the Imperial Terran Navy was swept from the skies by the Niss, five thousand years earlier. Where Roan came from, and how he found his way to a backwater world like Tambool, neither Raff nor Bella can guess. What they do know is they love their adopted son and intend to raise him as best they can.

But in a galaxy populated by mutants and aliens, can there be room for even one true human?

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On My Way to You

The Case of the Vanishing Boy — Alexander Key

Alexander Key’s 1979 standalone young adult novel, The Case of the Vanishing Boy, is the first novel by Key I have knowingly read. It was also his final novel.

How he got onto the commuter train is a mystery to the young boy. So is his name and his past. All he knows is that he is on the run and that it will be very bad for him if his pursuers catch him.

Blind Ginny takes an interest in the amnesiac boy. She cannot see as others do, but she can see as others do not. In short order, she gives him a name—Jan—and something much more valuable: allies.

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