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Reviews from June 2015 (28)

Return to a world of ancient magic: or, so about those potatoes…

A Succession of Bad Days  (Commonweal, volume 2)

By Graydon Saunders  

18 Jun, 2015

Special Requests


Graydon Saunders’ 2015 novel A Succession of Bad Days returns to the world of his earlier book, The March North. It takes place shortly after the events in that novel. 

The Commonweal has struggled for centuries to achieve and defend a prosperous, stable, defensible and democratic state, one in which everyone is dealt with equitably, regardless of magical potential. Just say no to wizardly autocracies. The usual magical
training technique is aimed at preventing such misuse of magical powers by detecting potential mages young and steering them into appropriate courses. However … it may not be the only way to shape young wizards. Some of the Commonweal’s magical heavy-hitters have come up with an alternative, and the Commonweal is allowing them to experiment. If the experiment works, the Commonweal will be in much better shape to resist its enemies. If it doesn’t … well, the only thing at stake if Parliament gets it wrong is the fate of freedom on this magic-plagued world. 

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The Girl in the Seven Trillion Tonne Refrigerator

Leviathan Wakes  (Expanse, volume 1)

By James S. A. Corey  

17 Jun, 2015

An Expanse of Coreys

1 comment

I remember 2011’s Leviathan Wakes, the first book in the currently ongoing Expanse series by pseudonymous author James S. A. Corey, as a welcome breath of fresh air and a refreshingly upbeat novel. (I will return to the upbeat” thing later.)

While Jim Holden’s job is suitably SFnal, the XO of the interplanetary ice transport vessel Canterbury, Detective Miller languishes in a far more mundane position, as a cop on the beat in Ceres. He’s that detective on the force with whom nobody wants to partner. This is not because he’s the kinda can-do guy who doesn’t let the rules get in way of justice, but because he’s long past his best days. He’s on the fast-track to career oblivion and obscurity.

Then Miller is handed the seemingly low-priority job of finding the vanished heiress and political idealist, Julie Mao. It is a case that will ensure that everyone in the Solar System knows Detective Miller.

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Murder in the White House!

State Machine  (Rachel Peng, volume 3)

By K B Spangler  

16 Jun, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


2015’s State Machine is the third book in the Rachel Peng series [1]. The protagonist, Peng, is among the survivors of an ill-conceived experiment in neural prosthesis. Having struggled back to sanity, the surviving cyborgs have banded together under the banner of the Office of Adaptive and Complementary Enhancement Technologies for mutual support and protection. They offer their services to the government in an attempt to convince society in general [2] that the cyborgs are more useful than dangerous. 

Rachel Peng’s personal contribution to the cause is serving as OACET’s liaison to the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police. She uses her unique array of senses to crack baffling cases. Her latest case, a murder, is notable because it took place in a heavily secured section of the White House and because the only apparent motive for the murder is theft. But theft of what? 

(light spoilers)

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Cry Havoc!

The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction

By Justine Larbalestier  

15 Jun, 2015

Special Requests


Australia is geographically isolated from the Americas and the western marches of the Old World; a certain level of cultural isolation results. This can sometimes be an asset. In the case of The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction, comparative isolation from the transatlantic mainstream allows author Justine Larbalestier (someone who in the early 1990s when she began the research that became this book had heard of but not read figures like Heinlein and Asimov) to take an outsider’s perspective in her 2002 study, The Battle Between the Sexes in Science Fiction.

One thing I will say up front: Eric Leif Daven was very lucky I read this after his book and not before. On its own, his book was flawed. Next to the Larbalestier, it’s crap. 

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The Child is Father to the Man

Capitol  (Worthing Cycle, volume 1)

By Orson Scott Card  

14 Jun, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


Good old Wordsworth’s poem is certainly apropos to this collection of stories, but it’s my second choice. My first choice was Before Ender’s Game.” However, that had the drawback of being somewhat inaccurate: while Ender’s Game the Novel didn’t come out until 1985, Ender’s Game the Novelette came out in 1977, to great acclaim. (It definitely held my interest when I read it in 1977, despite the fairly notable distraction that, midway through my reading of that issue of Analog, someone inadvertently set me on fire.) Between 1977 and the 1985 founding of the great sausage factory that is the Ender’s Game Extruded MilSF Franchise, Card and his editors didn’t seem to realize Ender’s Game was where Card should be focusing his efforts. Instead, he spent a lot of time playing with the Worthing Cycle, a much less successful body of work that, if it is remembered at all, is remembered because it was done by the same guy who did Ender’s Game, the Alvin Maker series, and that ebulliently hilarious parody of right wing anxieties, Empire.

It’s not uncommon for authors to spend some time struggling before they find their voice. It’s somewhat unfortunate for Card that so much of his material from that period of his career saw print (although he did get paid, so there’s that), It’s even more unfortunate for him that I happen to still have my copy of this … ah … illuminating sample of Card juvenilia. 

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Znidd suddabit!

Uller Uprising  (Federation, volume 1)

By H. Beam Piper  

13 Jun, 2015

Special Requests


1952’s Uller Uprising may be one of H. Beam Piper’s minor works but it’s not without its points of interest. It is a relic of a fascinating failed experiment in science fiction publishing; it is the first novel where he played with the basic ideas of his Terro-Human Future History; and it is almost certainly his most problematic work, even counting Space Viking.

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Return to Warlock

Ordeal in Otherwhere  (Warlock, volume 2)

By Andre Norton  

12 Jun, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks


1964’s Ordeal in Otherwhere starts off at a sprint. When we first encounter young Charis Nordholm, a cult leader and his idiot followers1 have staged a coup and murdered her father in the process. Charis is on the run and faces an unpleasant choice: surrender to the cultists and accept whatever horrible fate they deem suitable for a heretic OR try to hide in the local jungle, where she will almost certainly be eaten.

It turns out there is a third option, which is to be captured by the rebels and then sold to an off-world trader2.

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C. J. Cherryh for SFWA Grandmaster

The Pride of Chanur  (Chanur, volume 1)

By C J Cherryh  

11 Jun, 2015

Special Requests


One of the many ways in which the SF norm and I diverge is that I have an antipathy for fictional cats. This may sound odd, given the number of cats I have owned, from poor Othello1 back in the 1960s to intellectually uncomplicated Ibid now. I think what bothers me is that SF authors seem to fetishize their fictional cats, painting them as little humans in fursuits, rather than as gleefully predatory obligate carnivores2. To quote Pratchett:

If cats looked like frogs we’d realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That’s what people remember.”

(Although I think he is being unfair; there’s also the question whether cat-owners are just meat-puppets dancing on T. gondii’s strings.)

C. J. Cherryh’s 1981 (1982 for the expanded version) Pride of Chanur might therefore seem to be an odd choice for me to review, since the hani are very clearly modeled on terrestrial lions and lions are, as we know, big cuddly cats who just to hug us all. Or ingest us. It’s one of those. 

The Compact occupies a region far enough from Union/Alliance space to have been hithertofore overlooked by humans, but close enough for an unwary and unarmed merchant ship to blunder into it. The Compact comprises seven technologically sophisticated species, each shaped by its own evolutionary history. Despite significant communication challenges and behavioral differences, the seven have managed to coexist, if not always peacefully.

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Some days I wake up wanting to read a Zen Cho work

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo

By Zen Cho  

9 Jun, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


This review came about because Romantic Times editor Regina Small very considerately assigned me Zen Cho’s upcoming novel Sorcerer to the Crown (of which more later, over at Romantic Times, which if you are not reading you should be). The wheels of reviewing grind slow but sure. Today I woke up thinking I am really in the mood to read an unfamiliar to me Zen Cho work!” but … alas, the book is still on its way to me. 

Then I remembered: the author has a website and on that website she has links to works of hers one can buy in ebook form. While I have read and reviewed Spirits Abroad], I had not yet read her 2012 novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo! Which, to be honest, is an epistolary historical romance, a genre in which I am not well read and with whose conventions I am unfamiliar. There are many pitfalls for reviewers dabbling in new genres, but, in the same bold spirit that led Napoleon to Moscow and Vercingetorix to Rome, I forge onwards! 

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