Reviews

Looking Down on Creation

Riding the Torch — Norman Spinrad

Norman Spinrad’s 1974 Riding the Torch is a standalone science fiction novella.

Mistakes were made. Earth is a lifeless cinder. Before the planet was seared, a small fleet of interstellar ships managed to escape. Surely somewhere in the sky, there must be a second Earth.

A thousand years later, the torchships are still looking. On and on they travel, harvesting the materials they need to survive and prosper from the interstellar void.

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Go Ask Alice

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo — F. C. Yee

2017’s The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is F. C. Yee’s debut novel.

Bay Area high school student Eugenia “Genie” Lo is highly motivated and hard-working, determined to earn her way into Harvard. She’s going to claw her way to the top, despite all her equally motivated, hard working, and better-connected rivals. Harvard is not just a top-ranked school. It is as far from Genie’s well-meaning, interfering mother as it is possible to be without leaving the United States. Genie does not need distractions on her journey to the east. She gets a major distraction in the form of brash transfer student Quentin Sun.

Also known as Sun Wukong.

Also known as the Monkey King. That Monkey King.

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Be My Homeward Dove

Mira’s Last Dance — Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric & Desdemona, book 5

2017’s Mira’s Last Dance is the fifth instalment in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric & Desdemona series. The series takes place in the setting of Bujold’s Five Gods novels.

In the previous book, Penric was badly injured in a duel with a Cedonian sorcerer. His symbiotic demon Desdemona was able to keep Penric alive, but Penric and his two human companions, former General Arisaydia and the general’s sister Nikys, have been forced to pause in their flight from Cedonia while Penric heals.

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All I Do is Win

Tempest — Yoshiki Tanaka
Legend of the Galactic Heroes, book 7

First published under the title Ginga Eiyu Densetsu volume 7, 1986’s Tempest is the sixth volume in Yoshiki Tanaka’s Legend of the Galactic Heroes 1. Daniel Huddleston’s translation was published by Haikasoru in 2018.

All hail the glorious Kaiser Reinhard, who has either conquered or neutralized all enemies of his galactic empire. Having unified the galaxy, it’s odd that the Kaiser is not a happier man.


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Can’t Get There From Here

The Luminous Dead — Caitlin Starling

2019’s The Luminous Dead is Caitlin Starling’s debut novel.

Gyre Price lies to get the contract for a solo caving expedition. It’s a calculated risk: caving is dangerous. But the payoff for the foray could be lucrative enough to pay Gyre’s way off the dead-end colony world of Cassandra-V.

Cassandra-V’s wealth, such as it is, is based on subterranean mineral deposits. It’s a reasonable guess that Gyre’s employer hopes to discover a new vein of ore. A guess is all it is, as the employer is oddly reticent about the project’s goals. This isn’t the only piece of important information that Gyre has not been given. The employer knows that Gyre lied about her experience but hired her anyway.

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Lost in the Garden of Eden

The City of the Sun — Brian M. Stableford
Daedalus Mission, book 4

1978’s The City of the Sun is the fourth novel in Brian M. Stableford’s Daedalus Mission series.

Earth’s first expedition to recontact its abandoned colonies found only empty worlds, worlds where colonists had been overwhelmed by local conditions. The Daedalus Mission is the second expedition, sent out to assist colonies when possible and to determine the reason for the colony’s demise if defunct. Thus far the crew of the Daedalus (Nathan, Linda, Conrad, Karen, Pete, Mariel and Alex) have found two surviving (if odd) colonies and one world where humans were horribly transformed by unforeseen local conditions.

As far as they can tell from orbit, Arcadia seems to have failed utterly. Then the expedition spots one lone city.

Here there be spoilers

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Maker of Rules

The Expert System’s Brother — Adrian Tchaikovsky


Adrian Tchaikovsky’s 2018 The Expert System’s Brother is a standalone science fiction novella.

Aro is a village like any other: nestled next to a great tree, run by ghosts sharing the bodies of living persons, persons selected by the wasps. Handry was an unremarkable example of an Aro inhabitant … until the day of the mishap.


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Ten Fathoms Deep on the Road to Hell

Spanish Mission — K. B. Spangler
Hope Blackwell, book 2

2018’s Spanish Mission is the second volume in K. B. Spangler’s Hope Blackwell series of novels1.

Seeking to distract her cyborg friend Mary “Mare” O’Murphy from the disquieting revelation that ghosts exist and are quite visible to Enhanced Americans, Hope Blackwell takes Mare and their talking koala pal Speedy on a road trip to Vegas.

This bold gambit sets Hope and Mare up for an encounter with paranormal impresario Eli Tellerman of the reality show Spooky Solutions [2]. Tellerman knows Hope for the psychic that she is. In short order he manages to strong-arm her into joining his latest venture.

It’s an exciting foray into the desert in search of ancient treasure, pirate ships lost in an arid wasteland, and (of course) ghosts.

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Simple Gifts

Adachitoka
Noragami, book 7


Adachitoka’s Noragami Volume 7 collects issues 24 to 27 of the adventures of the stray god Yato. The manga was first published in 2013; the English translation dates from 2015. Included are:

  • 24. “Always” (ずっと一 “Zuttou”)

  • 25. “When Sleeping Gods Are Provoked” (触った神の祟り “Sawatta Kami no Tatari”)

  • 26. “How to Worship a God” (神様の祀リ方 “Kamisama no Matsuri Kata”)

  • 27. “Do and Due” (業と業 “Gyō to Gō”)

Yato is a god, but even a god suffers when snubbed by a friend.


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Why Don’t You Be You?

No Man of Woman Born (Rewoven Tales) — Ana Mardoll

2018’s No Man of Woman Born (Rewoven Tales) is a single-author collection by Ana Mardoll.

Thanks to the place Tanith Lee’s Red as Blood has in my heart, I am always up for fairy tales re-imagined in a new light. Of course, this is sometimes not fair to new collections; I tend to measure them against a collection I like very much. Mardoll’s collection passes the test.

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Up Where We Belong

The War in the Air — H. G. Wells

H. G. Wells’ 1908’s The War in the Air is a standalone near-future (from the perspective of 1908) military thriller.

The inevitable march of progress has transformed bucolic Bun Hill into a thriving London suburb. Greengrocer Tom Smallways views this change (and change in general) with the deepest suspicion. His brother Bert, on the other hand, is eager to embrace change, particularly of the sort that involves Bert becoming wealthy.

Middling bright and uninhibited by any particular sense of ethics, Bert has thus far been denied the riches to which he is so clearly entitled, riches that would enable him to marry the charming Edna. When fate drops into Bert’s lap the chance to make a fortune by selling stolen military information to the Germans, patriotism inhibits Bert not at all.

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Got Away From You

The Lives of Christopher Chant — Diana Wynne Jones
Chrestomanci, book 2

1988’s The Lives of Christopher Chant is the fourth book published in Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series. It is set some decades before Charmed Life.

Christopher Chant was unlucky when issued a family. His father is a well-meaning upper-class bumbler, and his mother is a grasping social climber who is gravely disappointed in her husband. Although they cohabit, Mr. and Mrs. Chant aren’t on speaking terms. Since raising Christopher is Mrs. Chant’s domain, Christopher barely knows his father.

Two developments reshape Christopher’s life. One is that his father manages to lose the family fortune. The second …

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Just Pour Me Another One

They Promised Me The Gun Wasn’t Loaded — James Alan Gardner
The Dark and the Spark, book 2

2018’s They Promised Me The Gun Wasn’t Loaded is the second novel in James Alan Gardner’s The Dark and the Spark1 series. It is a sequel to 2017’s All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault.

University of Waterloo students Jools, K2, Miranda, and Shar were victims of a classic Mad Scientist’s lab accident, which, far from killing them, imbued them all with Light-derived superhuman abilities. Each so-called Spark gained a different set of powers; each adopted a different code-name to reflect their new identities (Ninety-Nine, Zircon, Aria, and Dakini). All of them were drafted into the on-going struggle between the Darklings (the one percent who control society) and the Light.

The Light opposes the vampires, demons, wraiths, and other Darklings. That doesn’t mean the Light is good, as Jools/Ninety-Nine is painfully aware.

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Save the World

Krrish — Rakesh Roshan
Krrish, book 2

2006’s Krrish is the second film in the Krrish franchise (which includes at least five films, a television show, television movies, a comic, and a computer game, and probably more tie-ins I’ve missed). It was written, directed, and produced by Rakesh Roshan. It stars the producer’s son Hrithik Roshan1 as the title character, as well as Priyanka Chopra, Rekha, and Naseeruddin Shah.

As soon as orphan Krishna Mehra’s super-intelligence begins to show itself, his doting grandmother Sonia (Rekha) whisks him away to a remote village in northern India. Krishna’s father Rohit had similar abilities, which led to tragedy when an evil man tried to exploit him. Sonia is determined not to lose her grandson as she lost her son and daughter-in-law.

Sonia can flee the world but that won’t keep the world from coming to that remote village.

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Evil Genius

Vicious — V. E. Schwab
Villains, book 1

2013’s Vicious is the first volume in V. E. Schwab’s Villains series.

ExtraOrdinary (EO) people are the stuff of rumours. That doesn’t stop ambitious college students Eli and Victor from trying their hand at artificially inducing EOs. The key seems to be near-death experiences, which are easy enough to orchestrate provided one has no professional ethics and less caution.

EOs do exist and Eli and Victor’s method does work. Which is how Eli and Victor got their powers, why Victor spent a decade in prison, and why as the book opens Victor and his new friend Sydney are digging up a dead body.

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On the Road Again

The Man of Bronze — Lester Dent
Doc Savage, book 1

Lester Dent’s 1933 The Man of Bronze is the first volume in the Doc Savage series. It was published under the house name Kenneth Robeson and was followed by 180 further adventures (penned mostly by Dent) until the title was cancelled in 1949. There have been further sequels and adaptations, as detailed here.

Trained from birth to be a paragon of human achievement, Clark “Doc” Savage is the Man of Bronze: a gigantic, extraordinarily talented genius who is monumentally wealthy as well. He uses his abilities to better the world.

Clark “Doc” Savage returns from a sojourn in his arctic Fortress of Solitude to face a tragedy. In his absence, his father, Clark Savage senior, has died of a mysterious illness. No sooner does Doc convene with his five chums on the 86th floor of a skyscraper to discuss the matter than a mysterious red-fingered sniper tries to murder Doc. Something is up!


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The Colours of Your Life

Dreams of the Golden Age — Carrie Vaughn
After the Golden Age, book 2

2014’s Dreams of the Golden Age is the second volume in Carrie Vaughn’s After the Golden Age series.

Anna West is the grand-daughter of two of Commerce City’s greatest superheroes (Spark and the late Captain Olympus) and the daughter of Dr. Mentis (telepath). Anna’s mother Celia and Anna’s sister Bethy dodged the superpower bullet, but Anna was not so lucky. She has a bona fide extraordinary ability. Like her four friends (Teddy, Sam, and twins Teia and Lew) she has the makings of a genuine superhero.

If only her power didn’t seem to be useless.

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Nothing’s Gonna Change My World

A Real Sky — tori_siikanen

tori_siikanen’s A Real Sky is an unfinished novel, readable at Archive of Our Own. It attempts to give Tanith Lee’s Don’t Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine duology a concluding volume.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

But not in Four-BEE, Four-BOO, and Four-BAA, where, for humans, there is no death and no escape from the carefully orchestrated existence permitted by their quasi-robot (Q-R) tenders. Attempts to step outside carefully defined borders spark the close attention of the Q-Rs.

Case in point: a nameless protagonist plagued with unexplained dreams of a past of which they should have no knowledge. Also, unfashionable interests.


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And Then Marched Under a Chair

NieR: Automata: Long Story Short — Jun Eishima & Yoko Taro

2017’s NieR: Automata: Long Story Short is Jun Eishima’s novelization of Square Enix’s computer game of the same name. The original story is by Yoko Taro. Translation is by Shota Okui.

Seven thousand years ago, aliens conquered the Earth, or rather, their Machines conquered the Earth. Humanity’s last refuge is the Moon. Just as the aliens act through their artificial servants, so too has humanity left the war for Earth to their creations, the YoHRa androids. Between android and Machine, there can be no peace.

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A Stranger at Her Place

Mirage — Somaiya Daud
Mirage, book 1

2018’s Mirage is the first novel in Somaiya Daud’s Mirage series. It is her debut novel.

When environmental collapse forced the Vathek from their homeworld, they conquered new worlds. Amani’s world Cadiz was one of the Vathek’s victims. Her world was invaded, defeated, then ruled with ruthless brutality.

As long as she keeps her head down, the worst Amani has to fear is death by starvation or random mass execution. Terrible fates but nothing personal. Amani is not so lucky: she has one remarkable quality that will mark her out for an extremely odd yet dangerous role in the Vathek state.

She looks just like a certain Vathek princess.

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Worry, Worry, Scurry, Scurry

Earthwreck! — Thomas N. Scortia

Thomas N. Scortia’s 1974 Earthwreck! is a standalone near-future SF novel.

Captain Quintus Longo leaves his wife and children for what he believes will be a routine tour of duty on the American space station1. Thanks to a bold gambit by Japanese and Palestinian terrorists, it is the last time Longo sees his family alive.

The first hint the world gets that terrorists have seized control of the Arab Republic nuclear weapons comes in the form of three kiloton-range nuclear explosions in Tel Aviv. The Israelis respond with a megaton-range strike on the Aswan Dam. Millions die in Israel and Egypt; tragic but not world-ending. Russia and China back opposing sides in the conflict, but the Soviet-Chinese clash that follows isn’t necessarily the apocalypse, since both sides initially limit themselves to battlefield nukes. The United States issues an ultimatum to China and Russia: negotiate or face American fury. Rather than forcing the Russians and Chinese to stand down, the result is a full scale global thermonuclear war.

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The Fox is on the Town

Penric’s Fox — Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric & Desdemona, book 3

2017’s Penric’s Fox is the fifth piece published and the third piece by internal chronology in Lois McMaster’s Penric & Desdemona series. The series is set in Bujold’s Five Gods setting.

What should have been a quiet afternoon of fishing and amiable conversation takes an unexpected turn. Penric and his shaman companion Inglis are conscripted to assist an inquirer in a murder investigation.

Murder is always a grave matter. This particular murder is even more disquieting: the dead person is Learned Magal, a sorcerer.

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Two Different Faces

We Have Always Lived in the Castle — Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson’s 1962 We Have Always Lived in the Castle was published three years before her death. It was the last novel she published.

Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood lives on the vast Blackwood estate with her older sister Constance, her ailing uncle Julian, and Jonas the cat. She seldom sees other people, but that doesn’t bother her. Her periodic encounters with the people of the nearby village have convinced her that people are for the most part unpleasant, troublesome, and best avoided.

The villagers would claim they have good reason to distrust and dislike the Blackwoods. Not only is the family standoffish, and not only did the late Mr. Blackwood fence off the estate to keep lesser people from using it as a short-cut, the townsfolk are utterly convinced that Constance got away with murder.


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A Million Miles Away

City of Ash and Red — Hye-Young Pyun

Hye-Young Pyun’s 2010 City of Ash and Red is a standalone horror novel. The 2018 translation is by Sora Kim-Russell.

Although in no way a remarkable worker, the unnamed protagonist is promoted to a post in the head office of his pest extermination company. The office is located in an unfamiliar city, Y, in even more unfamiliar country, C.

He finds himself a figure of envy for his co-workers. But the loss of his friends (if grudgingly tolerant co-workers can be considered friends) is just another blow, following upon a nasty divorce. He can only hope that the transfer will let him rebuild his life.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps the transfer is merely the first step in another, even more epic catastrophe.

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Like Dreamers Do

Otherbound — Corrine Duyvis

Corrine Duyvis’ 2014 Otherbound is a standalone fantasy.

Arizona teen Nolan is a visionary. He doesn’t imagine things: he sees things. Whenever he closes his eyes — when he blinks, for example — he sees whatever Amara sees.

Amara lives in another realm where magic is real. She has a talent, healing, which makes her nigh unkillable. You’d think this would make her a power in the world in which she lives. It doesn’t. She’s a slave. She’s a slave on the run, following her mistress.


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