Reviews: Miscellaneous Reviews

Seven Times I Pierce My Heart

The Stars Are Legion — Kameron Hurley

Kameron Hurley’s 2017’s The Star Are Legion is a standalone space opera.

In a distant future, a flock of huge world-ships orbit an unnamed star. Within the ships, there are life forms of all kinds, including humans. But every living thing has its allotted span and the world-ships are no exception. They are dying and when they do die, so too will all the humans who live within them.

Zan and Jayd have a cunning plan to escape the coming mass extinction. The cost of the plan will be much greater than they expect.

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Evening of Another Day

Light and Shadow: Eight Short Stories by Linda Nagata — Linda Nagata

2016’s Light and Shadow: Eight Short Stories by Linda Nagata collects eight of Linda Nagata’s short pieces. Straightforward, that.

Nagata’s career began in 19871, but the focus of this collection is on recent work, published after the years-long hiatus that divides her career in two.

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Mistreated, misplaced, misunderstood

The Mystic Marriage — Heather Rose Jones
Alpennia, book 2

2015’s The Mystic Marriage is the second volume in Heather Rose Jones’ Alpennia series.

Antuniet Chazillen has lost everything: her foolish brother has been executed for treason and her mother is dead by her own hand. Antuniet has been stripped of her aristocratic rank. Determined to restore the family honour, Antuniet flees Alpennia for Austria, there to use her alchemical skills to win back for her family the respect and position her brother cost it.

In Austria she finds a treasure of rare value, a treasure others are determined to wrest from her. She escapes from Vienna to Heidelberg, but her enemies are still close on her heels. She sees no choice but to trade her virtue for transportation to safety.

Which means returning to Alpennia…

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Wisdom like the bitterness of stars

She Walks in Shadows — Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles

2015’s She Walks in Shadows (published by Prime under the less evocative but also less ambiguous title Cthulhu’s Daughters: Stories of Lovecraftian Horror ) was compiled by editors Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles. The theme of the collection:

The present volume assembles stories about women, by women. Why an all-woman volume? The first spark was the notion, among some fans of the Lovecraft Mythos, that women do not like to write in this category, that they can’t write in this category. […] We hope this anthology will help to dispel such notions.

It’s always a mistake to think that the mere existence of an anthology filled with cosmic horror stories will dispel delusions rooted in knuckle-dragging prejudice. Still, despite the generally troglodytic nature of the Lovecraft community, this anthology won a World Fantasy Award in 2015.

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Strange fascination, fascinating me

Rosewater — Tade Thompson

2016’s Rosewater is Tade Thompson’s second novel; it follows 2015’s (unrelated) mystery Making Wolf.

Kaaro was once a talented thief. Now he’s a very reluctant member of Nigeria’s Section Forty-five, an obscure branch of the Ministry of Agriculture. S45 specializes in the odd and weird, the occult phenomena that have become all too real in the world created by the alien incursion of 2015.Nowhere on the world is the strange as present as it is in Kaaro’s hometown of Rosewater, which formed around an alien dome (known as Utopicity) in the 2050s.

Utopicity seems happy to remain sealed and indifferent to humanity but the lifeforms it released have spread quietly across the world. A lucky few have been transformed. Kaaro is one of those changed ; that’s why he has ESP. Which in turn makes him valuable to S45.

Kaaro is a reluctant draftee, but he’s also too lazy to do anything strenuous to escape his bureaucratic servitude. He limits his protest to habitual insubordination. Happily for Kaaro, adventure is coming for him.

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My Brain IBM

Brute Force — K. B. Spangler
Rachel Peng, book 4

2016’s Brute Force is the fourth instalment in K. B. Spangler’s Rachel Peng  series.

Hope Blackwell can handle herself, but the child with her cannot. Ambushed, Blackwell has no choice but to go peacefully with her kidnappers for the sake of young Avery.

Taking Blackwell is a bold move for the kidnappers. Not only will Blackwell be a very … uh, challenging prisoner to contain, but by kidnapping her, they’ve made themselves targets for her husband, Patrick Mulcahy, head of the Office of Adaptive and Complementary Enhancement Technologies. Behind OACET’s harmless name is a tight-knit community of cyborgs.

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Hear my whispers in the dark

Penric’s Mission — Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric and Desdemona, book 3

Penric’s Mission is the third instalment in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric and Desdemona series.

Following an ill-fated foray into medicine, demon-haunted, all-round-nice-guy Penric takes up a new occupation: covert agent for the Duke of Adria. As the novel opens, he is travelling into Cedonia, there to contact to recruit a Cedonian general who is believed to be disaffected.

No sooner does he step off the boat than Penric is arrested, beaten, and thrown into prison. Not an auspicious beginning, particularly since his cell is designed to fill with water once his captors have no further use for him. Eventually, they do not.

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Secret Agent Man*

Waypoint Kangaroo — Curtis C. Chen

2016’s Waypoint Kangaroo is Curtis C. Chen’s debut SF adventure novel.

The agent code-named Kangaroo may not be the most skilled agent in the agency, but he is their only super-powered agent. Too useful to fire, too hard to explain, a looming audit convinces Kangaroo’s bosses that this is the perfect time to send Kangaroo off Earth on an all expenses paid holiday to Mars. Independent Mars may be the player on the other side of the cold war gripping the Solar System, but it is also safely distant from the prying eyes of unsympathetic federal bureaucrats.

The bosses should have known: when you send an agent off on holiday, you can expect unforeseen complications.

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Exorcising Leopold’s Ghost

Everfair — Nisi Shawl

Although Nisi Shawl has been publishing short-form spec fic and related non-fiction since 1989, 2016’s steampunk novel Everfair is her debut novel.

Confronted with ultimatums from Leopold’s heavily armed Force Publique , King Mwenda’s least bad choice is to buy time with apparent concessions. He and his Queen Josina hope to use this respite to out-think the Europeans while searching for new weapons in the struggle against the invaders.

Enter the idealist colonists of Everfair.

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Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?

Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Space Flight before NASA — Amy Shira Teitel

For all my twitterings about books by women, my library has some major gaps. For example, almost of all of my books on spaceflight are by men. Almost all. I was delighted to find that my library had a copy of Amy Shira Teitel’s Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Space Flight before NASA , a copythat I had not even read .

Before I launch (heh!) into the review proper, I should point out that the subtitle is a misnomer. This is not the story of space flight before NASA but (as the author acknowledges) a story of space flight before NASA. Whose story? Here’s a hint.



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Fever in the morning/Fever all through the night

Transferral — Kate Blair

2016’s Transferral is a debut novel from Canadian-by-choice author Kate Blair. It is not listed as such on her ISFDB entry because she does not have an ISFDB entry—someone should get on that—but her website confirms the info.

The weed of crime may bear bitter fruit in our world but in sixteen-year-old Talia’s world, crime produces endless snotty hankies. Once science provided the means to move diseases from one human to another, it didn’t take long for lawmakers to see that this could be a perfect tool to reward decent citizens while punishing lawbreakers. Break a minor law and receive some law-abiding citizen’s cold. Break a major crime and say hello to necrotising fasciitis.

Talia, herself a survivor of a brutal crime that left her sister and mother dead, has no doubts about the morality of the transferral system of punishment. What could possibly be wrong with making sure good things happen to good people by ensuring that bad things happen to bad people?

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Party at Ground Zero

Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship — George Dyson

George Dyson’s 2003 Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship is the biography of an atomic rocket that never was. Strike that, the atomic rocket that never was. Atomic rockets like NERVA or DUMBO may have used the power of the atom, but their approach was not so very different from conventional chemical rockets and their performance not so much better. Orion promised delta vees more than an order of magnitude better than NERVA at its best.

All it asked in return for its astounding performance was a studied tolerance for proximity to nuclear explosions. Repeated explosions.


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Woke Up This Morning, Feeling Blue

Certain Dark Things — Silvia Moreno-Garcia

2016’s Certain Dark Things is Canadian SF author Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s second novel.

World reaction to the revelation that vampires really do exist has varied. Some nations opted for cautious, monitored co-existence. Others simply drove the vampires out. Twenty-first century Mexico did both: Mexico was for many years a haven for vampires fleeing their former home nations, but Mexico City was declared a no-go zone for the blood drinkers.

Declaring it was one thing; enforcing it another.

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Grim Reality

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster — Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster is an unmitigated attack on niceness, kittens, and chocolate … or at least on one of the essential assumptions of modern society. Waterboard an author and the odds are they will eventually confess they believe society is perpetually poised on the brink of collapse, requiring only the impetus of some calamity, natural or otherwise, for that collapse to be realized. This is a widespread belief: it informs our entertainment and it shapes public policy.

There is just one problem. It’s not actually true. Not the way its believers believe it to be true.

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The Beginning

Alice Grove — Jeph Jacques

You may know Jeph Jacques as the writer/artist behind the post-singularity slice-of-life webcomic Questionable Content1. He is also the writer/artist behind the post-singularity, post-apocalyptic webcomic Alice Grove. It was an interesting webcomic on which to archive-binge immediately after finishing Hitoshi Ashinano’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō.

Alice lives out in the country, where nobody will bother her. The townsfolk are fine with this because they are convinced Alice is a witch. A witch who serves and protects the town as best she grumpily can, but still a witch. Alice does her thing and the townies do theirs. It has been that way for a long, long time.

And then the blue-skinned extraterrestrial arrives. The worst kind of extraterrestrial: a tourist. And the worst kind of tourist: an idiot.

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No Bucks, No Buck Rogers, and Other Lessons Space Fans Don’t Want to Hear

False Steps: The Space Race as it Might Have Been — Paul Drye

Paul Drye’s 2015 False Steps: The Space Race as it Might Have Been delivers exactly what it promises on the cover: a grand tour of the spacecraft that failed to make it from drawing board to reality over the last seventy years. Drye limits himself to the history of crewed spacecraft; probes may offer far more bang for the buck (a factor in the failure of many of the spacecraft included in this volume), but they lack the romance of humans in space.


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Baby on Board

Irsud — Jo Clayton
Diadem, book 3

1978’s Irsud is the third volume in Jo Clayton’s Diadem series.

Two volumes ago, Aleytys, the red-haired and occasionally clothed bearer of the diadem, a strange artifact imbued with the minds of previous bearers, managed to find a way off her backward homeworld. Alas, she is no closer to finding her mother’s world.

Volume two ended on a cliffhanger: Aleytys’ baby stolen and Aleytys herself sold to aliens. Aliens with an … um … parasitic wasp life cycle. I am afraid things will be getting worse for Aleytys before they get better.

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Laid the Wide Foundations

Windswept — Adam Rakunas
Windswept, book 1

Adam Rakunas’ 2015 Windswept is the first volume of his Windswept series. Me being me, I read the second book, Like a Boss , first. Whoops. But I am nothing if not a completist.

Padma Mehta is experienced enough to know not to trust any deal offered by professional scam artist Vytai Bloombeck, especially one as too good to be true as this: forty potential Breaches, defectors from the exploitative labour contracts of the Big Three that run most of Occupied Space. But Padma is desperate to retire to the life of a distillery owner and all that stands between her and that goal is her recruitment quota. Desperation overwhelms prudence.

Always listen to that little voice that says “too good to be true.”

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Worldbreakers

The Obelisk Gate — N. K. Jemisin
The Broken Earth, book 2

2016’s The Obelisk Gate is a direct sequel to 2015’s The Fifth Season and is the middle volume in N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. The Fifth Season was nominated for the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award. It was also listed on the 2015 Tiptree Long List 1. Any sequel is certain to face some high expectations. This book lived up to mine; whether or not it will live up to yours is unclear.

It’s some months after the end of the world.

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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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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 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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For the Union makes us strong

Like a Boss — Adam Rakunas
Windswept, book 2

Adam Rakunas’ 2016 Like a Boss is a sequel to 2015’s Windswept.

Padma Mehta has not only survived her adventures in Windswept, but has become the new owner of a distillery. On the minus side, having her own business and being enough of a folk hero to have her own song doesn’t make up for the fact that her bold stratagem to save the galactic economy left her a trillion yuan in debt1. Not to mention that being a boss is an odd situation for a steadfast union organizer like Padma.

Not to worry! Soon her current situation will appear much more pleasant. Only by contrast, alas, because things are going to get much worse for Padma and her hometown, Santee Anchorage.


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No attorneys/To plead my case

Trouble and Her Friends — Melissa Scott

Melissa Scott’s 1994 Lambda-winning cyberpunk novel, Trouble and Her Friends, lives in the intersection of Black-Mask-style mystery and science fiction. It also has echoes of the end of America’s fabled Old West, perhaps in ways that were not intended twenty-two years ago.

Convinced that the age of cracking has been ended by the badly thought-out Evans-Tinsdale Bill, Trouble abandons her old online life and her hacker lover, and vanishes into the world of respectability. There she plans to spend the rest of her life living below the law’s radar. Cerise joins the forces of sanctioned anti-cracker security, a Henry Newton Brown of the future.

For three years, those plans work.

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