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Reviews from June 2015 (28)

A curate’s egg

Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction 1926 – 1965

By Eric Leif Davin  

8 Jun, 2015

Special Requests


Gary Farber occasionally cites 2006’s Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction 1926 – 1965, a text by Eric Leif Davin on the history of women in science fiction. This is a topic that interests me, but I’d never gotten around to tracking down a copy of the book. Then one of the Sadly Rabid Puppy fans, cited it favourably in File770’s comment threads on the current unpleasantness. That made me go hmmm” while stroking my beard in a way that I hope makes me look thoughtful and not as though I have a flea infestation. It occurred to me that my collection of library cards includes one for the local academic libraries and that this is exactly the sort of book on SF such libraries might have. 

What I found was a curate’s egg, a text ranging from useful to dire and often genuinely interesting — as long as you ignore the loud sound of ax-grinding in the background. 

A warning: I treat non-fiction as a collection of linked essays. This is one of my longer reviews. 

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Continuing this week’s theme of travelling entertainers

Born to Exile  (The Tales of Alaric the Minstrel, volume 1)

By Phyllis Eisenstein  

7 Jun, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


Phyllis Eisenstein’s award-winning 1978 Born to Exile takes us to a secondary world not unlike Medieval Europe, at least as perceived from the US. It’s a world with all the dangers and prejudices of old Europe minus (as far I can tell) anything like the Church. It is a region divided into pocket feudalisms, without any grand unifying authority. Although someone is working on that last detail.…

It’s also a world with magic or at least something that will do until genuine magic comes along. Alaric the Minstrel has a fine voice but he also has a special talent, a talent so very special that if any of the people listening to him sing had the faintest inkling he had such an odd talent, they would build a special commemorative bonfire with Alaric as the centerpiece.

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Apparently, this was SF novels about nomadic actors” week

Nail Down the Stars  (Del Whitby, volume 2)

By John Morressy  

6 Jun, 2015

Special Requests


John Morressy (1930 – 2006) was a prolific author, publishing more than two dozen novels over the course of a two-generation career. Nevertheless, 1973’s Nail Down the Stars is the first novel by Morressy I’ve ever read. Despite the fact that local used bookstores are oddly well stocked with mass market SF of the 1970s and 1980s [1], I had to resort to ordering this book from AbeBooks via the interwebs. Obviously I am guiltless of authorial neglect, as he seems to be one of those authors whose books didn’t make it to the hinterland of Waterloo Country [2].

Career criminal and conman Kynon Gallamor wasn’t the kind of man to hide from heavy hitters like Orcull and his henchmen. That is why this book is not about Kynon, but about his orphan son Jolon. To save his grandson from the excessively diligent Orcull, Faxon Gallamor arranges to apprentice Jolon to an off-world merchant. It’s a pity that Orcull is determined enough to ensure that the merchant’s ship explodes soon after launch.

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A disappointing sequel

Web of the Witch World  (Estcarp, volume 2)

By Andre Norton  

5 Jun, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks


1964’s Web of the Witch World is a direct sequel to Witch World, in which Simon Tregarth transformed himself from fugitive to hero when he fled from the world of post-war Europe to the strange realm of the Witch World. Simon, Jaelithe (now Simon’s wife), and their allies stymie an invasion by the otherworldly, malevolent Kolder and save Estcarp, the witch stronghold … for the moment. 

Simon and his allies are painfully aware that even though the initial Kolder invasion failed, the Kolder still lurk in their island stronghold. There is no reason to believe that the bad guys have abandoned their designs on Estcarp and the other polities of the mainland. It is likely that they are even now plotting to strike again. 

Our protagonists will find that the Kolder have already begun their next campaign, this time with the aid of willing quislings. 

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Buy this book

Station Eleven

By Emily St. John Mandel  

4 Jun, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


Among my many charming quirks is a general dislike of back-swing” novels. That’s Andrew Wheelers term for novels where the author kills off billions of humans to make room for the protagonist’s sword’s back-swing: your Dies the Fireses, your Directive 51s, and so on. I am also not keen on most modern dystopias; I find most of them shallow and trite, with hilari-bad world-building. Station Eleven looked exactly like the sort of book I would hate.

Sometimes my expectations are totally wrong.

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The Peter Principle as an Adventure Novel

The Big Black Mark  (John Grimes, volume 10)

By A. Bertram Chandler  

3 Jun, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck


John Grimes, star of a long-running series of novels and shorter works by A. Bertram Chandler (1912 – 1984), has worked his way up through the ranks of the Federation Survey Service despite the enmity of various senior officers. He has a quality few others can match: he has been extraordinarily lucky. Every error in judgment or failure to follow the precise wording of regulations has been balanced by successes so noteworthy that his superiors have had no choice but to (grudgingly) promote him.

Eventually every run of luck ends. Which gets us to 1975’s Big Black Mark.

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My own fault

Log Horizon: The Beginning of Another World  (Log Horizon, volume 1)

By Mamare Touno  

2 Jun, 2015


Sloth is its own punishment. I could have gone across the room to the large box of books Resonant sent me [1] to select something to read. I could even have picked up either of the two books at the bottom of the stack of unread books nearest me [2] … but instead I picked up the 2015 English-language translation of Mamare Touno’s 2011 light novel Log Horizon: The Beginning of Another World. It was the book on the top of the nearest stack and it looked short.


The tale begins with a promised upgrade to a (fictional) MMORPG called Elder Tales, a popular online game, with 30,000 players in Japan alone and more world-wide. The developers promise to make an already interesting game even more fascinating. They live up to that promise in an unexpected way: everyone who was logged on when the upgrade went live suddenly finds themselves transported to the world of Elder Tales, trapped in bodies just like those of their player characters (which is to say hot, fit, and tingling with very special abilities). 

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Same tree, bigger rocks

Treachery’s Harbor  (Across a Jade Sea, volume 2)

By L. Shelby  

1 Jun, 2015

Special Requests


2014’s Treachery’s Harbor continues the Across a Jade Sea series, picking up where Serendipity’s Tide left off: the completely unexpected revelation by Chunru Dachahl Pralahnru to his new bride Batiya that he is not a burgie [1], that is, someone whose family is somewhat more well-to-do than her working-class clan. Rather, he is the sole unequivocally legitimate heir to the Emperor of Changali. I am the heir to a vast and powerful empire” seems like the sort of personal detail that should have come up at some point during Chunru and Batiya’s courtship, but in his defense, it was a lightning romance and also people were trying to kill the two of them at the time.

Domestic crises aside, Chunru still has to find his way across a foreign, balkanized continent to Changali’s embassy in Xercalis, in the hope that he can repair the inexplicable rift between Changali and Xercalis. Batiya has too much potential hostage value to be left behind, so she will have to come as well.

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