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Reviews from May 2015 (28)

Is John Scalzi history’s greatest monster?

Fuzzy Nation

By John Scalzi  

20 May, 2015

Special Requests

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I’ve probably mentioned that I loathe reboots, necrolaboration [1], or updating old stories, in the sense that even when the effort is made out of affection for the source material rather than crass materialism, I’ve seen them go horribly wrong far more often than I have seen them go right [2]. I am not a fan of this stuff, is what I am saying. I am least likely to react well to a reboot of a personal old favourite, because that combines an almost certainly doomed effort with material with which I am familiar and about which I care. Generally, the best I can hope for is vague disappointment; the worst is a book I hate and an author I am forced to see as history’s greatest monster. 

Which gets us to 2011’s Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi’s reboot of H. Beam Piper’s classic, Little Fuzzy.

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A Dark and Cruel God: the Comedy!

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya  (Haruhi Suzumiya, volume 1)

By Nagaru Tanigawa  (Translated by Chris Pai)

18 May, 2015

Translation

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First published in 2003 as Suzumiya Haruhi no Yūutsu, Nagaru Tanigawa’s popular light novel was translated from the original Japanese to English by Chris Pai and published under the title The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by Little, Brown’s Yen Press in 2009

~oOo~

By the time we first meet him, pessimistic high school student and narrator Kyon” (whose real name is never revealed) has resigned himself to the fact that he lives a mundane life in a mundane world and that wonders like aliens, time travel, and ESP powers are matters of pure imagination, nonsense that will never have anything to do with the gray, dull life he will no doubt live. 

And then by chance, he is seated directly in front of Haruhi Suzumiya, disgruntled schoolgirl, noted eccentric, and, quite possibly, living god.


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Flawed but intriguing

The Starchild Trilogy

By Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson  

17 May, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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1977’s The Starchild Trilogy collects the three short novels of the eponymous trilogy by Jack Williamson and Frederik Pohl. I cannot say the novels are actually any good — in fact, I will be devoting a certain amount of space to pointing out the ways that they aren’t — but they certainly are odd and they do offer a remarkable level of wacky fun.

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It’s time for a Margaret St. Clair revival

The Best of Margaret St. Clair

By Margaret St. Clair Edited by Martin H. Greenberg 

16 May, 2015

Special Requests

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There are those who would paint old-time SF as an exclusively masculine affair. Those people are wrong and a subset of them is willfully lying. Margaret St. Clair (1911 – 1995), to pick just a single woman working in the field, is proof SF was never exclusively male. She was a fairly prolific pulp writer (over 130 short works and eight novels), specializing in short works in the 1950s before moving into novels in the 1960s. Although she was armed with a Master of Arts in Greek Classics, she seemed content to play in the pulps, where she published works unlike anyone else’s. 

Rather frustratingly, St. Clair is out of print these days; if there are any modern editions of her books, I was unable to find them. If she is known to younger readers at all, it is because of a particularly dire bit of cover copy inflicted on her by some editor (who seems to have been an idiot and also bad at his job). Luckily for me, I was sent a copy of her 1985 collection The Best of Margaret St. Clair and luckily for you, I was paid to review it. 

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The final fate of Ross Murdoch and Gordon Ashe

Key Out of Time  (Time Traders, volume 4)

By Andre Norton  

15 May, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks

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1963’s Key Out of Time is the fourth in the Time Traders series. Until 1993’s Firehand, it was the final novel in the series (and it was definitely the last Time Traders book Norton authored solo [1]) so for thirty years this book established how the series ended for its fans. It paints a rather gloomy picture.

~oOo~

As far as the Americans know, the attempt to colonize Topaz with a crew of brainwashed Native Americans (a crew that included series regular Travis Fox) ended in catastrophe. In fact the Topaz mission did not go well … but it was not the calamity it appears to be from Earth’s perspective. Travis’ co-workers and friends Ross Murdoch and Gordon Ashe have no way to know that their friend and his fellow Native Americans are alive and well [2]. It is with some trepidation that Ross and Gordon join a new team of colonists that is heading out to another terrestrial world, the sea world called Hawaika. 

At first glance, Hawaika seems to be a paradise world: vast seas dotted with idyllic little islands. However, the apparent tranquility conceals a mystery. The colonists found Hawaika by following an old star map, a relic left by the Baldies, an alien culture that vanished long ago. The Baldies also left maps of Hawaika, maps that look nothing like the current planet. Something dramatic must have happened to transform the world the world so thoroughly.

And thanks to a mishap with a time gate, Ross, Gordon, and their friend Karara (and some photogenic dolphins) are going to be given the chance to find out just what happened — in person! 

There will be spoilers.

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Leigh Brackett’s Alpha Centauri

Alpha Centauri or Die!  (Leigh Brackett’s Solar System, volume 7)

By Leigh Brackett  

14 May, 2015

Leigh Brackett's Solar System

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1963’s Alpha Centauri or Die! brings this series of reviews to an end. Sadly, this fix-up of 1953’s The Ark of Mars” and 1954’s Teleportress of Alpha C” is not very good and not all that representative of Brackett’s work.

~oOo~

Tired of the endless cycles of war, the governments of the Solar System have united into one system-wide repressive regime. Every reasonable need is filled, every detail of life closely regimented, and all space travel by humans, halflings, and other intelligent beings is completely forbidden. Silent robot ships provide the trade on which civilization depends. Citizens are supposed to remain in their designated districts and be grateful for what the State allows them.

Not everyone is happy with this arrangement. Former rocket man Kirby, for example.


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Surly Czechs and unlucky mercenaries

The Forlorn Hope

By David Drake  

13 May, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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In any discussion of MilSFF, David Drake’s name is likely to come up earlier rather than later. Partly this is because he is seen as one of the founding figures of military SF (at least as it developed in the US). Partly it’s because, the occasional off-note aside [1], his work is generally never less than competent and sometimes very good [2]. Against the backdrop of the dismal swamp that is the majority of commercial MilSFF, even his merely competent material stands out.

A lot of people — me, mostly — hold a grudge against Drake for his part in establishing the Heroic Mercenary trope in MilSFF, which is a bit unfair. Firstly, Jerry Pournelle and his literary spawn are far, far more responsible for the figure of the noble mercenary bravely gunning down dissidents in sports arenas [3]. Drake’s mercenaries are often not good people — some of them are very bad indeed — but they look good because the people around them are even worse.

Which gets us to 1984’s The Forlorn Hope.


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The boys who survived by teleporting, or I don’t know what Cox’s issue is but the Far Being Retzglaran is definitely a dick

Jumper Caverns  (Jumper, volume 1 The Journeys of McGill Feighan, volume 1)

By Kevin O'Donnell, Jr.  

12 May, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

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[I am aware the title and credit for the two books is somewhat munged at present]

Publishers like Tor send reviewers like me free books because they hope a review will result. Mission accomplished! Tor sent me a copy of Steven Gould’s latest book Exo and as a direct result of that I am writing a review featuring not one but two books. OK, one of them is of a different Gould book, 1993’s Jumper, and the other is of 1981’s The Journeys of McGill Feighan: Book 1: Caverns, a book by an author whom Tor has never to my knowledge published, a book that predates Tor’s very existence but still … book goes in, review goes out. The system works.

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Some day I will review a secondary world fantasy where the government isn’t some kind of autocracy but that day is not today.

Sand of Bone  (Desert Rising, volume 1)

By Blair MacGregor  

11 May, 2015

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2014’s Sand of Bone has a very pretty cover, which is missing one crucial detail. I wish author Blair MacGregor’s publishers had seen fit to highlight the fact that this is volume one in the Desert Rising series[1].

~oOo~

The kingdoms along the Great River, not the least of which is SheyKala, are ruled by the Velshaan, a lineage that can quite rightly claim to be descended from the gods themselves. Judging by the lamentable history of the Velshaan, divine ancestry confers no particular wisdom. The gift of quasi-immortality seems to be coupled with a massive sense of entitlement, an entitlement that blinds the Velshaan to the consequences of their actions. 


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According to the record, you have been an undergrad here […] for approximately thirteen years”

Doorways in the Sand

By Roger Zelazny  

10 May, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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I get the impression that his star has dimmed somewhat since his untimely death in 1995, but during his prime — from the 1960s to the 1980s — Roger Zelazny was considered one of the great authors of science fiction. Corner a group of SF fans of the right age, reveal the implements of questioning,and they will fall all over themselves revealing which of Zelazny’s works they admire most.

My great shame is that not only did I miss some of his most famous stories — it took me until the 2000s to get around to A Rose for Ecclesiastes” — but I didn’t care for such later-considered-classic books as I did encounter (like the early Amber novels). Worse yet, due to a quirk in my memory, I’ve forgotten almost entirely the contents of many of the books on my Zelazny shelf [1]. Lord of Light: forgotten! Creatures of Light and Darkness: forgotten! Nine Princes in Amber, except maybe for that first chapter: forgotten! But there are a few books that for some reason, I both liked and remembered. 

First among them is Doorways in the Sand.


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