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Rise Again

The Muller-Fokker Effect

By John Sladek 

4 Jun, 2023

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


John Sladek’s 1970 The Muller-Fokker Effect is a stand-alone satirical novel.

Bob Shairp is a technical writer reduced to editing computer-generated text. Bob is married to Marge. Together, they have a son named Spot, who is obsessed with military school. The Shairps are spied upon by National Arsenamid owner MacCormick Hines, a deranged oligarch who believes the Shairps to be characters in a drama staged for his entertainment.

Much to his wife Marge’s displeasure, National Arsenamid eliminates Bob’s job. The family’s financial security is salvaged when Bob is assigned the task of human research subject. What he experiences blows his mind.

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Talking to the Moon

The Heavenly Sword  (Sword Maiden from the Moon, volume 1)

By Alice Poon 

2 Jun, 2023

Doing the WFC's Homework

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2023’s The Heavenly Sword is the first novel in Alice Poon’s Sword Maiden from the Moon historical fantasy series.

China has been liberated from the cruel Mongols, who have been replaced by the Ming dynasty. While it’s true that the government is still cruel, capricious, and dangerous to the Chinese person in the street, at least the Ming are Han Chinese.

Tang Sai’er’s native Shandong province suffered greatly during the overthrow of the Yuan. Extreme prudence with regard to the current dynasty is the key to long life. Alas for Sai’er, she is fated to play a role that is significant but in no way safe.

Unlike many Chinese women and girls at this time, Sai’er has been trained in Wudang martial arts. Her prowess is remarkable. Nevertheless, she chafes at the restrictions placed on women at this time and place. Why should boys have all the thrilling tasks? Destiny is on her side, for Sai’er is the earthly manifestation of the moon goddess Chang’e.

Zhu Di, fourth son of the Ming Hongwu emperor, is also a divinity incarnate. Although he is technically not in line for the throne, it is virtually certain that Zhu Di will not allow petty legalities to interfere with his righteous ambition. Given his character, it is also certain that he will be an evil ruler, unless other factors intervene.

Sai’er’s divinely appointed task is to be those other factors. She cannot prevent Zhu Di from becoming the Yongle (“perpetual happiness”) emperor. She might be able to curtail his worst excesses. She certainly has the potential to be a legendary hero … but her body is as mortal as anyone else’s. Surviving the thrilling adventures to come is in no way ensured. If she is not run through in a duel, she might well be quietly poisoned, or worst of all, abducted by an unsuitable groom.


The author does not sugar-coat the brutality of the Ming legal system at this time.

It’s interesting (to me, anyway) that just as the emperor is a giant pain in the ass for the common folk, so too can many undesirable social complications be traced back to the gods making decisions best described as unfortunate.” This does not appear to be a matter of divine plans being beyond mortal ken, more a matter of poor life choices being a phenomenon that goes all the way up to the top.

For those of you who don’t want to do the reading, the Yongle emperor1 ruled from 7 July 1402 to 12 August 1424. He’s not one of those villains destined to fall from a height into a convenient pool of lava at the end of the first volume. However Sai’er mitigates his excesses, it’s not going to be by removing him from the throne or at least not any time soon.

I have two main issues with the novel.

The first is the enormous cliffhanger ending. The end is very abrupt; it’s not so much an end as an interruption. It may be the best way to read this book is by waiting to purchase this book and its sequel (publication date unclear; perhaps disappointing sales of the first volume may doom the sequel). If you want to encourage the author, you may want to buy the first volume knowing full well that you are doomed to lectio interrumpitur.

The second issue is what Le Guin might have called the Poughkeepsie problem, which is that this is a novel set in a fantasy version of historical China in which people toss around words like clone.” This may not be a valid criticism inasmuch as true verisimilitude would have the characters speaking Sinitic languages rather than the convenient-for-me English, but the modern vernacular kept dragging me out of the story.

On the other hand, Poon strives to live up to the standards of her literary model Jin Yong, whom I’m sure you’ve all read. Sai’er needs all the martial arts prowess she has to survive the numerous confrontations she will have. She also needs her cunning to elude the myriad of traps, and friends and family to rescue her on those occasions when her martial arts and keen wit are not quite sufficient. The plot moves along very nicely.

The Heavenly Sword is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo). If Apple Books carries The Heavenly Sword, their garbage interface successfully concealed it from me.

1: Yes, Zheng He’s emperor. Zheng He is a major supporting character in the novel, under the name Ma Sanbao.

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Visions Of The Things To Be

Toolmaker Koan

By John C. McLoughlin 

1 Jun, 2023

Big Hair, Big Guns!


John C. McLoughlin’s 1987 Toolmaker Koan is a stand-alone science fiction novel.

Only a few million people died during the One-Day War and the Disturbance that followed. To preclude further hostilities, the overcrowded, poisoned Earth was divided between the Greater Columbian Alliance (essentially North and South America) and the United People’s Democratic Republics of Africa and Eurasia (everyone else). Both sides are mutually hostile, vigilant, and heavily armed — but peace is ensured. The alternative, after all, is total species extinction.

Far out towards the Oort Cloud, a Democratic Republics’ space probe discovers a curious object. A third party has entered the game. This new faction is alien.

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And By A Sleep

Insomniacs After School, volume 3

By Makoto Ojiro 

31 May, 2023



2020’s Insomniacs After School, Volume Three is the third tankōbon of Makoto Ojiro’s manga series. Serialized in Shogakukan’s seinen manga magazine Weekly Big Comic Spirits, Insomniacs After School has been ongoing since May 2019. The English translation of Volume Three is slated to appear sometime in 2023

Sleepless students Ganta Nakami and Isaki Magari have protected their access to their school’s observatory by restarting the school astronomy club. The pair has acquired some of the necessary skills. Now they must organize an event.

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Last Year’s Man

Modern Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Its Future

Edited by Reginald Bretnor 

28 May, 2023

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


Reginald Bretnor’s 1953 Modern Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Its Future is a collection of essays by a variety of authors on the subject of science fiction, its meaning, and its future. Bretnor published three such collections. I have previously reviewed the other two:

Science Fiction, Today and Tomorrow: A Discursive Symposium is reviewed here.

The Craft of Science Fiction: A Symposium on Writing Science Fiction and Science Fantasy is reviewed here.

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Whenever You’re In Trouble

The Faithless  (Magic of the Lost, volume 2)

By C. L. Clark 

26 May, 2023

Doing the WFC's Homework


C. L. Clark’s 2023 The Faithless is the second volume in the on-going Magic of the Lost secondary-world fantasy trilogy1.

In the first volume: the city of Qazāl and the regions around Qazāl have been liberated from the imperialist Balladairans. Also, Princess Luca hopes to succeed to the throne of Balladaire, replacing her unpleasant uncle.

Surely every significant problem has been solved, leaving characters to focus on ill-advised love affairs. Then stuff happens.

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Fighting Dragons With You

Delicious in Dungeon, volume 11

By Ryōko Kui 

24 May, 2023


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2021’s Delicious in Dungeon, Volume 11 is the eleventh tankōbon in Ryoko Kui’s secondary-world comedy fantasy manga series. Originally published as Danjon Meshi, Delicious in Dungeon appears in Enterbrain’s Harta. Volume 11 was translated into English in 2022.

Laios and his dungeon delving companions (half-elf mage Marcille, halfling security expert Chilchuck, dwarf fighter Senshi, and cat-beastkin ninja Izutsumi) appear to have the edge over the Lunatic Magician. True, the magician is very powerful, but he is one person while the party is many.

If only the Lunatic Magician were not accompanied by an army of ferocious dragons.

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Castles Made of Sand

The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Twelfth Annual Collection  (The Year’s Best Science Fiction, volume 12)

Edited by Gardner Dozois 

23 May, 2023

The End of History


Gardner Dozois’ 1995 The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Twelfth Annual Collection is, as one might expect, the twelfth annual anthology of notable science fiction edited by Gardner Dozois. The contents of the anthology were first published in 1994. In addition to the essays listed in the table of contents, each story is accompanied by a short biographical note about the author.

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