There’s certain measurable chance that the title for this review will be “still stuck on Mars.” To be perfectly frank, I just don’t get the obsession with Mars, not when the Solar System is filled with bodies just as interesting. Leigh Brackett was certainly interested in Mars. This collection of short stories, Martian Quest, is drawn from the many stories she published over her long writing career.
Military speculative fiction doesn’t have to be all pew-pew-pew and Stern People Who Do What’s Necessary. There’s lots of room for other approaches, including satire. The (or at least a) master of military satire was, of course, Eric Frank Russell, a British SF writer active mainly in the 1940s to the 1960s. His milSF story “Allamagoosa” won the very first Hugo Award for Best Short Story, in 1955.
Inaugurating my series of reviews of MilSFF That Does Not Suck with a classic like “Allamagoosa” strikes me as a necessary antidote to the blind military-worship that all too-often characterizes the genre. There are two catches: I actually inaugurated the series last week with Cook’s The Dragon Never Sleeps and I have already reviewed “Allamagoosa.” Here, have another worthy Russell work: 1962’s The Great Explosion.
Continuing yesterday’s theme of third books in trilogies that are also the final books in trilogies, today’s review is of the third and final volume in Melissa Scott’s Roads of Heaven trilogy, 2012’s The Empress of Earth.
Empress of Earth is a revision of 1987’s The Empress of Earth. Despite owning both editions, I didn’t reread the first version, so I cannot say how significant the differences are.
When we last saw our heroine, star-pilot-turned-magus Silence Leigh, she had played a vital role in toppling the old Hegemon of the Hegemony. As a result, she was owed a great boon by the new Hegemon, Adeban. As usual, there was a problem. Because the Hegemony is egregiously sexist, Adeban couldn’t publicly acknowledge his debt without risking being toppled from power by outraged Hegemonic aristocrats. Still, there’s every reason to expect Adeban to act as an indulgent patron for Leigh, her husbands Denis Balthazar and Julian Chase Mago, her mentor Magus Isambard, and their effort to reach long lost Earth.
Adeban is indeed willing, but, as is so often true with patronage from heads of state, there’s a catch.
For readers joining us late, confused why the cover says the author is Paula Brandon but this review credits the book to Volsky, Brandon was a pen-name forced on the author, just one of many methods used by Spectra to undermine sales.
2012’s The Wanderers is the third and final volume in Paula Volsky’s The Veiled Isles trilogy . At the end of volume two, things were not going well for our cast of characters:
- the world was on the brink of a vast magical cataclysm;
- Magnifico Aureste Belandor had just, for reasons that seemed sensible at the time, murdered Vinz Corvestri, one of the handful of adepts on whose shoulders the fate of the world rested;
- Aureste’s daughter Jianna Belandor was fleeing her malevolent husband Onartino, dodging him through the streets of occupied Vitrisi;
- Jianna’s one true love Falaste Rione was waiting execution for his part in the assassination of Vitrisi’s Taerleezi governor.
It gets worse.
Blame my fondness for old timey radio for this review. I was re-listening to my archive of X Minus One (a 1955 – 1958 radio program featuring SF content) and was suddenly overcome by an urge to re-read this Asimov collection, an old favourite, after listening to their adaptation of Hostess.
2006’s The Android’s Dream takes us to a near-future where the Earth is unified (in the sense that the US does whatever the hell it wants and the rest of the planet has to live with the consequences), Earth is among the most minor of the minor powers belonging to the galaxy-spanning Common Confederation. Given that Earth is to the mightiest powers of the Galaxy as modern Paraguay is to NATO, the sensible course of action for Earth as a whole is to concentrate on maintaining a low profile while building up its economy and military.
Of course, there’s often a huge gulf between what’s good for a polity as a whole and what’s good for individuals within it.
1963’s Judgment on Janus returns to the Dipple, that oubliette for refugees. Life in the Dipple is so wretched and horrible that young Naill Renfro considers it only sensible to sell himself as a contract labourer — a slave — so he can earn enough money to buy his dying mother a fatal overdose of drugs. Naill can do nothing to make her life in the Dipple bearable; dreaming herself to death is the only escape possible for his mother.
Naill at least manages to trade the Dipple for a new life on Janus, although given what he finds on that backward world, it’s not clear he got the better of the deal.
Old-timey planetary romance authors sure loved them some Mars. Not the Mars of science, but the slowly dying Mars of fiction: crisscrossed with ancient canals and full of strange relics and degenerate remnants of once-great civilizations. 1944’s Shadow Over Mars takes us to one of those Old Marses, where we join Earthman Rick Urquhart as he flees through the streets of Ruh, trying to escape the ruthless press gangs of the Terran Exploitations Company.
The odds are fairly good that if you’re aware of Glen Cook, you know him for series like Garrett and Black Company; if you’re of a certain vintage, you might have read his early Dread Empire books, or perhaps the Starfishers space operas. The Black Company (novel, not series) would have made a fine inaugural book for my new review series, Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn’t Suck. However, it happens that I prefer SF to fantasy , so I will review something that (thanks to Stupid Publisher Tricks back in the Late Reagan) was unjustly obscure: 1988’s The Dragon Never Sleeps.
1986’s Silence in Solitude is the second volume in the Roads of Heaven trilogy (and Scott’s fourth novel overall, if the ISFDB is to be trusted ).
The story begins six months after Silence arrives on Solitudo Hermae to begin her training as a magus. She is working under the supervision of Magus Isambard, an old ally.
As a female pilot in a fanatically patriarchal society, Silence was already unusual; her new career as a female magus makes her virtually sui generis .
This is not such a good thing, as the Hegemon has put a price on Silence’s head. Hard to be an inconspicuous fugitive when you are notably unique.