Reviews

Cast a Deadly Spell

A Pocket Full of Murder — R. J. Anderson
Uncommon Magic, book 1

2015’s A Pocket Full of Murder is the first volume in R. J. Anderson’s Uncommon Magic series. Pocket is a young adult fantasy-mystery.

Despite the sober foresight that placed most political power in the Tarreton City Council in the hands of the local aristocracy, Tarreton has not prospered. In large part this is because the local Sagelord Lord Arvis is a fool whose decrees have consistently undermined the local economy.

It is fortunate for the aristocracy that they are sufficiently buffered by personal wealth that they can maintain a proper lifestyle despite economic downturn. It’s a very different story for such plebeians as widower Urias Breck and his family. Not only is he unemployed (thanks to Arvis’ whimsical kneecapping of the local economy), but as a Moshite dissenter he is at the bottom of the list for most employers (who prefers their employees to belong to the Unifying Church). His affiliation with the Workers’ Club (wild-eyed extremists who want fair pay and responsible government) would further diminish his chances of being hired if anyone were to find out this last disreputable, disqualifying fact.

Or it would, if Urias had not just been arrested for murdering Governor Orien. Unemployment would be preferable to hanging.


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The Kindness of Strangers

Goth — Otsuichi

Otsiuchi’s 2002 Goth is a collection. Most of the English translation was done by Andrew Cunningham, although one section was translated by Jocelyne Allen. The Haikasoru edition was published in 2015.

Morbid, expressionless Morino was a loner until she recognized a kindred spirit in a fellow student (who, being the narrator, feels little need to name himself in these stories). The pair bond over their shared fascination with gruesome murders.

Morino is particularly valuable to her murder-obsessed friend because although she remains completely unaware of the fact, Morino attracts killers, just as rotting meat attracts flies. Pheromones?

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If The Sky Fell

The Stone Sky — N. K. Jemisin
The Broken Earth, book 3

2017’s The Stone Sky is the third and final volume in N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy.

The Moon, long ago torn from its orbit around the Earth, is returning. Two women, Essun and her daughter Nassun, have the power to determine its course: a) past the Earth and back into interplanetary space, b) back into orbit around the Earth, or c) directly into the planet itself.

Nassun, having had a good look at the evil humans do, is firmly convinced the third option is the correct one.

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All My Tomorrows

The Danger Quotient — Annabel Johnson & Edgar Johnson

Annabel and Edgar Johnson’s 1984 The Danger Quotient is a standalone time travel novel.

130 years after World War III turned the surface of the Earth into a lifeless, UV-soaked hellscape, things are not going well for the descendants who took refuge in a vast network of tunnels under Colorado. For reasons unexplained, lifespans keep dropping.

K/C — 4(SCI) (or Casey, for short) is a gene-engineered genius, one whom his designers hope will be smart enough to solve the problem of the shrinking lifespans. Too bad that he probably won’t live long enough. He suffers from congenital defects that will kill him all too soon.

He has a cunning plan to put the little time remaining to him to good use. It’s a plan dependent on his homemade time-machine.

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Let The Memory Live Again

Projections — Stephen Robinett

Stephen Robinett’s1 science fiction career2 ran from 1969 to 1983. In that time he produced five novels and twenty-one short stories. He appears to have disappeared from the science fiction world after 1983. Robinett died from complications of Hodgkin’s Disease in 2004, but it took a further five years for that news to filter back to SFdom.

A 1979 collection, Projections, contains nine Robinett stories, stories of which he was particular fond.

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Our One True Guiding Light

The Princes of the Air — John M. Ford

1982’s The Princes of the Air was John M. Ford’s second novel. His first novel, 1980’s Web of Angels (which I wish I had reviewed, because then I could link to the review) was a cyberpunk novel. The Princes of the Air was a space opera of manners. Ford’s reluctance to stick to a specific genre is only one of the reasons he is not better known.

Orden, David, and Theo had sufficient talents to have spent their lives working up to ever more complicated con games … that is, until the forces of the law fell on them and consigned them to whatever fate waits the criminal classes in a star-spanning empire. Orden evaded this fate by entering the diplomatic service, an alternative career path for those blessed with a gift of gab and an eye for a good con. His friends David and Theo parlayed practice on simulated, video-game starships into crewing the real thing.

Any prudent person in Orden’s position would have maintained a low profile in a minor position. Ambitious Orden brought himself and his friends to the attention of the Queen.

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Eat Me Like a Sacrament

The Cannibal’s Handbook & Spider Spun — Kit Daven

2015’s “Spider Spun” and “The Cannibal’s Handbook” are two short stories by Kitchener-Waterloo author Kit Daven. I bought them because they were only 99 cents (less than a coffee and a doughnut) and because for some reason (even though the word counts are clearly indicated) I thought they were novellas. Both are from the upcoming collection, She’s No Good (upcoming, but no release date given).


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What I Wouldn’t Do

The Unit — Ninni Holmqvist

Ninni Holmqvist’s 2006 dystopia, The Unit: A Novel, was translated in 2008 (from the author’s Swedish to English) by Marlaine Delargy.

Dorrit Weger lived her life on the margins of Swedish society: never marrying, never having children, settling for a series of occupations that, no matter how personally satisfying, left her perpetually on the brink of insolvency. At age fifty, she is removed from her decaying house, separated from her loving dog, and consigned to the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. The Unit takes in dispensable people — authors, artists, homosexuals, and other non-conformists whose occupations are of no real use — and transforms them into valuable resources, as experimental medical subjects and involuntary organ donors.

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The Way We Used to Be

The Beautiful Ones — Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s soon-to-be-released The Beautiful Ones is a standalone SF novel. (SF in my estimation; see the discussion below.)

Hector Auvray rose from humble origins because he is an extremely powerful, skilled, and artistic telekinetic. He may not be an aristocrat but at least he is famous and rich.

Valérie Beaulieu is famous, rich, beautiful, and an aristocrat. None of this truly makes her happy, since women of her class have nothing they can really call their own. Her background and beauty have only made her a valuable commodity on the marriage mart. She knows that her impoverished family’s future depends on her. A dutiful daughter, she abandoned her one true love so that she could marry the wealthy Gaetan instead.

Hector was that one true love. Ten years after being spurned by Valérie, Hector has returned to the city of Loisail.

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Like a Mirror Held Before Me

Adam Link, Robot — Eando Binder

Eando Binder’s i 1965 Adam Link, Robot is a fix-up of stories first published in the late 1930s and early 1940s.


Adam Link is the product of years of work by kindly Dr. Charles Link. 500 pounds of unstoppable metal guided by an iridium-sponge brain, the robot is the first of its kind. Thanks to Dr. Link’s careful training, it is not in any way a ravening, unstoppable killbot.

Unfortunately for Adam, Dr. Link is one of the very few people willing to give the robot the benefit of the doubt. When Dr. Link is killed in a household mishap, Adam is immediately accused of killing the old man. With public opinion against him, Adam has little chance of winning a trial. Indeed, the odds of him surviving long enough to get a trial are poor. He is, after all, only a machine.

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A Criminal Mind

9 Tales of Raffalon — Matthew Hughes

Matthew Hughes’ 9 Tales of Raffalon is a collection of short stories, all featuring professional thief Raffalon. Raffalon lives in a time and place not unlike Jack Vance’s Dying Earth . Magic is commonplace, as are ways for a man of flexible ethics to enrich himself. Or, as Raffalon so often discovers, ways to get himself into trouble.

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Hello, Is It Me You’re Looking For?

Hiromu Arakawa
Fullmetal Alchemist, book 4

Viz’ Fullmetal Alchemist (3-in-1 Edition), Volume 4 includes Volumes 10, 11, and 12 of the original Japanese manga. Story and art are by Hiromu Arakawa; English translation by Akira Watanabe; English adaptation by Jake Forbes; touch-up art and lettering by Wayne Truman. The original manga appeared in 2005. The English translation appeared in 2013. Volume 1 was reviewed here. Volume 2 was reviewed here. Volume 3 was reviewed here.

Eager to clean up loose ends, the homunculi have released Barry the Chopper’s former body into the wild. Although Barry’s soul is housed in a tough metal body, that soul is still connected to his body by his spiriti. The plan: body will naturally seek out soul, and in so doing lead homunculi Envy and Gluttony to their disloyal servant.

It was a plan as straightforward as it is doomed. Now Barry’s old body is on the run and might lead enemies directly to one of Father’s lairs (Father being the big bad and the creator of the homunculi).

There’s worse to come.

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Bounded in a Nutshell

Kobo Aura

The Kobo ereader has been available in various models since 2010. I was an early adopter of ebooks for professional reasons (ebooks can be delivered as fast as email and nobody steals them from my mailbox) but until I got a Kobo for my [mumble] birthday, I used a laptop instead of a dedicated ereader. My Kobo Aura is the second Kobo I’ve owned. While I have one or two reservations about the device, I would recommend it.

Mind you, how I use it may be different from the sanctioned uses the manufacturer envisioned.

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Wild Geese Singing of Endless Flight

The Starmen of Llyrdis — Leigh Brackett

Leigh Brackett’s standalone space adventure The Starmen of Llyrdis was first published in 1952, under the title The Starmen.

Perpetually out of step with the world, Michael Trehearne has travelled to Brittany in search of his family roots. When he glimpses a face much like his own, he is convinced he has come to the right place. He is both right and wrong: some of his kin are at hand but they are only visiting Brittany. Their true home is far from France.

Light years away, in fact.

Spoiler warnings, for this and for the unrelated The Long Tomorrow.

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The Me Inside of Me

Five by JY Yang — JY Yang

I would love to review a single author collection of JY Yang’s short stories, but as far as I can tell, no publisher has yet seen fit to publish one. Happily, the author has selected five short pieces they are particularly fond of and made them available on their site.

Each title is a link to the story in question.

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When the Dark Comes Here

Hiromu Arakawa
Fullmetal Alchemist, book 3

Viz’ Fullmetal Alchemist (3-in-1 Edition), Volume 3 includes Volumes 7, 8, and 9 of the original Japanese manga. Story and art are by Hiromu Arakawa; English translation by Akira Watanabe; English adaptation, by Jake Forbes; touch-up art and lettering by Wayne Truman. The original manga appeared in 2004. The English translation appeared in 2011. Volume 1 was reviewed here . Volume 2 was reviewed here.

Al receives a tantalizing unsigned note. It suggests a meeting in an isolated location. Although he is only fourteen, Al is canny enough to suspect a trap. But he is also familiar with the meeting location and composed entirely of metal … so Al is understandably confident in his ability to handle any trouble he might encounter.

The results are mixed.

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Savoy Truffle

NoFood — Sarah Tolmie

(Sarah Tolmie) is a medievalist trained at the University of Toronto and Cambridge and is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Waterloo.

Her website can be found here.

Tolmie’s 2015 NoFood is a collection of linked satirical tales. It was published in the Aqueduct Press’ Conversation Pieces series.

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I Think You’ll Like It Out In Space

Traveller Core Rulebook — Matthew Sprange

Just over forty years ago, Game Designer’s Workshop released the first version of their SF roleplaying game, Traveller (reviewed here ). Over the years, there have been many editions of Traveller, released to varying degrees of enthusiasm.

In 2016, Mongoose Publishing released the second edition of their version of Traveller. How does author Matthew Sprange’s version stand up?

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The Likeness of a Dream

Death Comes as the End — Agatha Christie

1944’s Death Comes as the End was Agatha Christie’s sole foray into historical mystery. In it, she abandoned her familiar 20 th century England for Egypt at the very end of the First Intermediate Period. I seem to have a weakness? superpower? for discovering authors through their most atypical work, so it should come as no surprise that this was the very first Agatha Christie I ever read.

Recently widowed, young Renisenb returns to her family home in Thebes. Although she has been gone for eight years, little of significance seems to have changed. Her mortuary-priest father Imhotep still micromanages the household (through letters if he is away on business); her older brothers Yamose and Sobek still squabble with each other, and the youngest brother Ipy is still spoiled. The older brothers are married, but their wives have little influence over the household.

Imhotep’s scribe Hori could tell her this stability is an illusion. All it takes to destroy it is an old man’s foolish infatuation with a beautiful young girl.

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The Prodigal Stranger

The Last Good Man — Linda Nagata

Linda Nagata’s 2017 The Last Good Man is a standalone milSF novel.

Four months after Fatima Atwan was kidnapped by El-Hashem’s Al-Furat Coalition, the US State Department has done nothing to rescue her. Fatima’s desperate father turns to military contractor Requisite Operations to do what the State Department either can not or will not do: save the young woman.

By law, Requisite Operations (RO) cannot deliver a ransom. What the law will let them do is attempt a foray into the chaos left after Daesh’s collapse, a foray to retrieve Fatima. Hussam El-Hashem1 may be a mere bandit using religion as justification for robbery and slavery, but he’s no idiot. Not only is his location secret, it changes on a weekly basis.

It would take extraordinary resources to find him. Luckily for Fatima, RO has those resources.

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Mercy Mercy Show Me Mercy

This Gulf of Time and Stars — Julie Czerneda
Reunification, book 1

2015’s This Gulf of Time and Stars is the first book in Julie E. Czerneda’s Reunification series. It is set in her Clan Chronicles setting (first visited in her 1997 debut novel, A Thousand Words for Stranger).

Refugees without history, the surprisingly humanoid Clan live unseen amongst humans, who in turn live in the vast multi-species galactic confederation, the Trade Pact. The Clan’s psychic assassins eliminate any person unlucky enough to discover the Clan’s existence. Or rather, the Clan once lived unseen amongst humans. Now they live out in the open, outed by a biological trap of their own creation.

The Clan breeding program was so successful at creating females of unparalleled psychic power that no male can survive breeding with them. Hoping that the Trade Pact’s vast R&D resources can overcome the reproductive bottleneck, the Clan revealed themselves and joined the Trade Pact.

The Clan may have traded gradual extinction for swift extermination.

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You’re Watching Snow, You’re Minding Sheep

Hitoshi Ashinano
Kabu no Isaki, book 6

The sixth and final volume of Hitoshi Ashinano’s Kabu no Isaki was published in 2013. Much to my surprise, this volume contains answers to a few of the nagging questions unanswered in earlier volumes—just not the answers I expected.

Spoilers ahoy!

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Scrawled Upon My Soul

Raven Stratagem — Yoon Ha Lee
Machineries of Empire, book 2

2017’s Raven Stratagem is the second novel in Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series. The first novel in the series, Ninefox Gambit, was reviewed here. Readers are well advised to read Ninefox Gambit before reading Raven Stratagem.

The Hexarchate is far too sensible to rely on the obedience of soldiers with free will. Instead, every soldier of the Kel has no choice in the matter, thanks to formation instinct conditioning. To see a superior officer is to be compelled to obey them. It’s a system designed to make mutiny impossible. For the person wearing senior officer Cheris’ body, it means that taking control of the Swanknot shipswarm is merely a matter of establishing that they are the undead General Shuos Jedao. Once they believe they are confronted with a general with three centuries of seniority, the hapless soldiers have no choice but to obey.

By the time the Hexarchate’s rulers discover what Jedao has done, he and his little fleet are long gone.

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Just a Lonely Soul Looking for a Home

The World at Bay — Paul Capon
Winston Science Fiction, book 26

Paul Capon’s 1954 standalone The World at Bay was the 26th juvenile science fiction novel published by the John C. Winston company.

Professor Elrick has long suspected that Poppea, the third world of the dark star Nero, is inhabited. The Professor also believes an invasion from that doomed world is imminent. Alas, aside from his loyal teenaged assistant Jim Shannon, few believe Elrick. Instead, skeptics insist that the objects flying in formation from the Nero system toward Earth are only meteors of some sort.

Once the objects arrive at Earth, a wave of radio silence begins to spread along the terminator. Elrick was right, but the price of his vindication may be humanity’s doom.

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Sail on a Silver Mist

The Harbors of the Sun — Martha Wells
Books of the Raksura, book 5

Martha Wells’ 2017 The Harbors of the Sun is the fifth volume in the Books of the Raksura series and the second half of the story begun in 2016’s The Edge of Worlds.

The quest that drove The Edge of Worlds succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the Raksura, in large part because they had no idea what it was they were searching for. Betrayed by Vendoin and the Hians, Moon and his friends were poisoned, the forerunner artifact the party found was stolen, and Bramble, Merit and Delin kidnapped 1.

The good news is, the Raksura have a potential ally. The bad news is, it’s not an ally any sensible person would trust.

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