Reviews: Graveyard Orbits

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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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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If You Listen, You Can Understand

From the End of the Twentieth Century — John M. Ford

If I had been more on the ball, I’d have had this review ready in time for 25 September, the ninth anniversary of John M. Ford’s death. Ford was an author’s author, beloved by the literati, someone who didn’t condescend to the reader by making his texts easy to read. That, and a habit of drifting from genre to genre, left him more obscure than he deserves. Although no more obscure than lazy readers deserve.

To make matters worse, although he had long been in ill-health (in the US, no less), Ford never got around to choosing a literary executor. Due to barbaric laws that grant no inheritance rights to significant others to whom one is not legally married, the rights to his books are held by his blood kin. They didn’t approve of his career and have not, the last I heard, allowed any out of-print-material to be reprinted.

I seriously considered reviewing John M. Ford’s 1993 juvenile Growing Up Weightless to get the taste of Luna: New Moon out of my mouth … but I was already in a bad mood. Thinking about why Growing Up Weightless is out of print would have just made it worse. So I decided to review his 1997 collection, From The End of the Twentieth Century, one of three works by Ford that I believe are still in print. (See the end of this review for a list.)


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Sea Story

Noise — Hal Clement

Hal Clement’s career spanned seven decades but he was never a particularly prolific novelist [1]. Although he published five novels in the 1950s, after that he never put out more than one or two a decade [2]. Despite this comparatively small output, he was still considered a significant enough figure that he was named the 17th SFWA Grandmaster in 1999. His 1954 Mission of Gravity is considered a hard SF classic; his 1949 Needle may well have been the first science fiction mystery novel of note.

2003’s Noise is noteworthy for an unhappy reason: it was Hal Clement’s final novel, published only about a month before he died.

~oOo~

Centuries after the water world Kainui was settled by a diverse assortment of Polynesians, Terran linguist Mike Hoani arrives to study the languages that have evolved on that distant world. What he finds is a world unlike any other.

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