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Reviews from May 2015 (28)

Friday’s Big Sister

Rissa Kerguelen  (Rissa Kerguelen, book 1)

By F. M. Busby

31 May, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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Francis Marion Busby (1921 – 2005) was a Hugo-winning fan [1] and a prolific author whose career ran from the 1950s to the 1990s. After 1970 his focus was increasingly on novels, not surprising given how the SF market evolved over the course of his career [2]. While strong female protagonists weren’t unknown in the 1970s, they weren’t exactly common; Busby’s 1977 Rissa Kerguelen—a lengthy reworking of two earlier works, 1976’s Rissa Kerguelen and The Long View—belongs to a select group.

I wish I had enjoyed re-reading it more. I wish it had been a book that I could have liked, unconditionally, when I first read it. I believe I have at least figured out why I did not. I hope my reasons are interesting. 


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The two-faced boy

Night of Masks  (Dipple, book 2)

By Andre Norton

29 May, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks

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Galactic Derelict and 1964’s Night of Masks were my two iconic Norton novels, the ones that shaped how I saw her fiction, the books to which I returned over and over. I owned the mass market paperback with this cover 


and I literally read it to bits [1].

~oOo~

The Dipple on Korwar has become no nicer since we last saw it in Judgment on Janus. This novel’s protagonist, Nik Kolherne, has a harder row to hoe than Januss Naill or Catseyes Horan. Not only is young Nik an orphan with no prospects, not only is he trapped in an urban hellhole — he is disfigured. A war-time injury transformed half his face into a horrific mask, a jumble of scars and keloids. 


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Bold Plan for a Better Humanity

Eutopia

By David Nickle

28 May, 2015

Special Requests

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The first time I encountered a work by self-confessed Canadian David Nickle was during the 2009 Montreal Worldcon. I wandered by a huckster’s table and saw this looking back at me.


The cover art definitely got my attention — in much the same way that a bowl full of spiders would get the attention of an arachnophobe. So … hey, well done, art department!

I mentioned the collection to my various shadowy masters and in no time — that is to say, after a couple of years — I began to get a trickle of Nickle publications and other works from his publisher, ChiZine. One of those Nickle pubs is the subject of today’s review. Please welcome 2011’s Eutopia: a Novel of Terrible Optimism.


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Peacetime MilSF

The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream  (The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream, book 1)

By G.C. Edmondson

27 May, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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I expect that WWII-era Marine José Mario Garry Ordoñez Edmondson y Cotton (1922 – 1995), who published under the name G. C. Edmondson, is filed under obscure by this point. Twenty years after his death, the only book he wrote that may still have some currency is The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream, first published in 1965. Even this book has been out of print since 1981. Sic transit gloria mundi.

~oOo~

The Alice, based in San Diego, is one of the odder ships in the United States Navy. She’s a small sailing ship better suited to the USN of the pre-Civil War era than to the atomic age USN. What the Alice offers the USN is the proper test bed for Professor Krom’s experimental hydrophone array [1]. What the Alice offers its captain, Ensign Joseph Rate, is a chance to earn some points with senior staff by catching its crew using the ship as a party boat. The Navy is certain something hinky is happening, but, to its utter frustration, cannot prove it. It’s almost as if the ship manages to be in two places — out at sea, filled with naked women, and back in its slip where it is supposed to be — at the same time.

There is a logical explanation but the senior staff won’t like it.


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After the Great War

Cuckoo Song

By Frances Hardinge

26 May, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

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Sometimes commissions arrive as N possible choices, chose one.” Even when a suggested title doesn’t make the first cut, I often leave it on my reading list as a possibility for an unsponsored review. I’m particularly likely to do this if it is a title I’ve not read but that looks interesting or is critically acclaimed. Novels like Frances Hardinge’s (Carnegie Medal short-listed) Cuckoo Song are the rewards I get for expanding my reading list.

~oOo~

The Great War came and went, taking Triss Crescent’s brother Sebastian with it. The post-war era brought material prosperity to the Crescent family, but nothing that could compensate for their long-mourned loss. Money could not bring Sebastian back; nothing could bring Sebastian back. No method known to mortal man, at least.

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Finally, a Bujold

Curse of Chalion  (Chalion, book 1)

By Lois McMaster Bujold

25 May, 2015

Special Requests

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Although perhaps best known for her long-running hard SF [1] series, the Vorkosigan novels, Lois Bujold is also a popular writer of fantasy novels. Between 2001 and 2010, Bujold published nine novels; seven of those were fantasies. 2001’s [2] Hugo-nominated Curse of Chalion, the first volume in the eponymous trilogy, was the first of those seven novels.

~oOo~

Throughout his eventful career, former courtier and soldier Cazaril has participated in many diplomatic successes and military victories … although never on the winning side. Having survived the rough hospitality of the Roknari galleys, a ragged, weakened Cazaril makes his way to the town of Valendia. He hopes that his past service for the Dowager Provincara will convince her to grant him some easy position within her household. Not only is he still recovering from his recent tour as a galley-slave, he has powerful enemies and needs to stay as far from the royal court as possible.

He gains an unanticipated and unwanted success; he is appointed secretary-tutor to the headstrong Royesse Iselle. The Provincara hopes that Cazaril’s age and experience will help him temper Iselle’s well-meaning idealism with caution. Unfortunately, his new position, secretary-tutor to a princess in line for the throne, will expose him to the notice, and the malice, of the court. Even before he begins his job proper, Cazaril muses that it might be faster if the Provincara were simply to have his throat cut on the spot. Time and exposure will show that Cazaril was, if anything, too optimistic.

The Royesse Iselle is cursed.

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Love, hate, and atom bombs

Karma

By Arsen Darnay

24 May, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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The modern reader’s perception of Jim Baen may be coloured by the sad decline of the company that bears his name into a hollow shell of its former self, a shell catering to nostalgic ideologues. This perception is more than a little unfair to the late Jim Baen, who probably would have gotten a Best Editor Hugo when he was alive if only his fans had not so lamentably lazy [1]. Baen’s editorial tastes, particularly when he was younger, were much broader than a modern reader might suppose [2].

For example, if one were to ask modern readers which right-wing editor of the 1970s, known for publishing such pro-nuclear power authors as Jerry Pournelle and Petr Beckmann, also published an occult science fiction novel about romantic triangles, reincarnation, and redemption, against a backdrop focused on the dangers of nuclear power?” I bet that very few (if any) of them would suggest Jim Baen. 

And yet, I hold in my hand a copy of Arsen Darnay’s 1978 novel Karma [3] (published in hardcover by St. Martins, under an arrangement with Baen’s Ace). It is all about romantic triangles, reincarnation, redemption, and, of course, the dangers of nuclear power.


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My first H.M. Hoover

This Time of Darkness

By H.M. Hoover

23 May, 2015

Special Requests

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H. M. Hoover is the author of at least thirteen novels to my knowledge, all published between 1977 and 1995. Her 1995 novel The Winds of Mars won the (unfortunately named but still prestigious) Golden Duck. She is, therefore, someone of whom I am aware [1]. So it is inexplicable, really, that 1980’s This Time of Darkness is the first novel of Hoover’s that I have actually read [2]. No, not when it first came out — only a couple of days ago. The timing is a bit unfortunate; I think readers in the target age range will still like it, although my personal reaction was coloured by the way Hoover used urban decay tropes of which I am very very tired.

~oOo~

In these times, no phrases have such synergy as young adult novel” and hellish, Orwellian urban dystopia.” Eleven-year-old Amy would tell you all about dystopias if the allowed vocabulary for the lower levels included terms like Orwellian” or dystopia”. Already a pariah thanks to her suspicious literacy, she compounds her crimes by befriending young Axel, a visibly disturbed boy with an outrageous tale: he claims to come from outside the City, from outside the decaying realm that is, as far as anyone in it knows, the whole of the world.

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Enter the Witch World

Witch World  (Estcarp, book 1)

By Andre Norton

22 May, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks

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1963’s Witch World marks Norton’s shift towards fantasy. After this novel, fantasy was an increasingly large fraction of her output. It is also the first novel in her long-running (later collaborative)Witch World series. Oddly enough, while I have read the other books in the series (Ellen Asher or Andrew Wheeler, then my shadowy masters at SFBC, must have liked them — or perhaps the books just sold well), I’ve never read this particular book. Having read it now, I can see how this could have been a formative experience for a young reader, especially in the context of the early 1960s.

And readers did like it: not only did this novel become the seed of a long-running popular series, it was nominated for a Hugo, sharing the ballot with such classics as Way Station, Glory Road, Dune World and Cat’s Cradle.


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Not Your Parents’ Flipper

A Deeper Sea

By Alexander Jablokov

21 May, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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Between 1991 and 1998, Alexander Jablokov published five noteworthy novels, then vanished from the face of science fiction for an uncomfortably long time. It seems that, as has happened to other authors, he was distracted by real life. Happily, this is not another P. J. Plauger affair: Jablokov did return in 2006, in short form, and in 2010 at novel length.

1992’s A Deeper Sea sets out, yet again, a lesson empires have learned and learned and learned … and forgotten every time. Lesson: the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my long-term ally. Once the current conflict is over, the empire may find that the weapons it so considerately handed to its foreign cat’s paws are being turned on the empire itself. 

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