Between our time and that of 17-year-old Noria Kaitio is the Twilight Century, a period of climate-change-driven chaos left the world a much poorer place. Noria lives in the Scandinavian Union, which in turn takes its direction from New Qian. Democracy is a thing of the past, as it generally is in stories like this, and government is very much top down. A sensible person in these circumstances either tries to exploit a dying system for ephemeral personal power or they try to avoid attracting the attention of ambitious people. Noria rejects one and fails at the other.
Given that the University of Waterloo has been a hotbed of innovation since its founding it is not surprising that there have been science fiction authors connected with it at least as far back as the 1970s, but despite the fact that I have lived on campus on and off since 1961 I’ve met fewer of them than seems reasonable in retrospect.
It may be that at some point during his years at UW, I crossed paths with Thomas J. Ryan (The Adolescence of P1) but that would only have been in the literal sense, two strangers passing on some particular bit of campus. It’s not impossible that at some engineering mixer thrown by my parents I met the late Edward Llewellyn-Thomas (The Douglas Convolution as well as other books) but if I did I certainly never connected him with his pen name Edward Llewellyn. The first science fiction author connected with the University of Waterloo I know for a fact I met is James Alan Gardner, whose work I heard first on radio in the 1970s, who I met in person thanks to a UW theatre group, and who gives me a ride to gaming every week.
Walter Jon Williams wastes no time establishing his world in this mid-1990s science fantasy novel:
A burning woman stalks along the streets. Ten stories tall, naked body a whirling holocaust of fire. Terrified people on Bursary Street crumple into carbon at her passing, leaving behind only black char curled into fetal shapes. The heat she radiates is so powerful that structures burst into flame as she passes. A storm of paper, sucked out of buildings by uncontrolled drafts, spiral toward her and are consumed. Uncontrolled rivers of flame pour from her fingertips. Windows blast inward at her keening, at the eerie, nerve-scraping wail that pours from her insubstantial, fiery throat. In a city that girdles the world, all-devouring fire is the worst thing imaginable.
It is a sad truth that a life spent reviewing books, particularly genre fiction, particularly fantasy, involves reading a lot of terrible books. Worse, reading variations of the same terrible book, over and over. There is a benefit, which is that a gem of the first water like Sarah Tolmie’s The Stone Boatmen stands out against the rest that much more.
John McPhee is one of America’s great writers, a master of “creative non-fiction” whose eye has fallen on subjects as diverse as tennis (1969’s Levels of the Game), citrus farming (1967’s Oranges) and the chimera of commercial lighter than air vehicles (1973’s The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed). In 1974’s The Curve of Binding Energy, McPhee turned his attention to nuclear terrorism as seen from the point of view of Ted Taylor, a talented nuclear weapons designer.
1951’s Between Planets continues the evolution in Heinlein’s fiction of Earth’s government away from the optimistic portrayal in Rocket Ship Galileo. This Federation is overtly oppressive, and while the atomic bombs of Circum Terra keep any terrestrial nation from rising up, there is no such brake on the colonists of Venus.
Set in the same universe as Digital Divide and Maker Space (and A Girl and Her Fed, which I have still not read), this novella offers a change of pace, eschewing the procedurals of the two Rachel Peng novels for the very sexy adventures of Josh Glassman, Deputy Director of the Office of Adaptive and Complementary Technologies, hunky cyborg media relations expert and self-declared man-whore.
So the thing about me and math is I took a lot of math classes in high school despite a near complete lack of aptitude and interest in the subject and except for calculus, which for some reason clicked1, I generally had mediocre marks. Some people find math beautiful for itself,
perverts good for them, but I was generally only ever interested in it to the extent I could use math as a tool to examine subjects I did care about, which is why I can rattle off mass ratios (as long as Vdelta/Vexhaust is an exponent of e I’ve memorized) or but am crap at most other applications. Which is a long way of saying I was probably the wrong person to review this book.
This is a bit unusual for the Rediscovery series in that while I opened my copy knowing I would ultimately recommend the book, I also went into this knowing that aside from used copies there’s pretty much no way for any of you folks to acquire a copy. I had fun rereading it, though, and isn’t that the important thing?
Centuries in the future, the Solar System has been settled by humans and their derivative varieties and thanks to a combination of hibernation and implausibly (but carefully never explained) Nearly as Fast as Light Hoshi drives, so have the nearer stars. Even better, an alien network of wormholes provides access to the greater galaxy.
There is a catch with the wormhole network, or rather a number of catches:
Sequel to Digital Divide, this opens with the destruction of Gayle Street in a series of explosions. The careful timing of the explosions, calculated to maximize casualties, shows that this is no Lac-Mégantic-style infrastructural misadventure but rather an act of deliberate willful malice aimed at Americans, one carried out on a spectacular scale.