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Reviews from July 2015 (28)

The Warlock’s Tale

Warlock of the Witch World  (Estcarp, book 4)

By Andre Norton 

31 Jul, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks

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1967’s Warlock of the Witch World is the sequel to Norton’s 1965 Three Against the Witch World. Having journeyed east to Escore, a long forgotten part of their world, siblings Kyllan (the warrior), Kemoc (the scholar), and Kaththea (the witch) are now caught up in the war between light and darkness that divides that ancient land. 

Rather inconveniently for the siblings, they will find themselves divided in their choice of allies: light or darkness? Are they sure which side is which?


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It’s Latin to Me

NVSQVAM (nowhere)

By Ann Sterzinger 

30 Jul, 2015

Special Requests

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Ann Sterzinger’s 2011 novel NVSQVAM (nowhere) establishes its protagonist Lester Reichartsen as a rather unlikable fellow on its very first page. If asked, Lester would doubtless explain that he’s prickly because he is suffering. Cue litany of woe: a decade ago he was kicked out of his band; he had to marry his pregnant girlfriend Evelyn (so self-centered that she refused an abortion!); he can’t stand the resulting kid; he isn’t keen on his faculty colleagues; he hates his thesis topic, the students he has to teach, and the southern Illinois town where he and his family live; he hates his dad; and he’s not fond of the family cat. 


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Someone to watch over us

The Red: First Light  (Red Trilogy, book 1)

By Linda Nagata 

29 Jul, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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Linda Nagata’s Nebula-nominated The Red: First Light is the first volume in Linda Nagata’s Red Trilogy.

At first glance, life in Nagata’s near-future seems pretty sweet. Many of the civil liberties that have long been such an onerous burden to hard-working Americans have been set aside, allowing them to focus on more important matters. Lieutenant James Shelley is a fine example: in another life he might have wasted his life as a political activist, agitating against wars and other profitable activities. In this life, his first attempt at political activism prompted a firm response from the government that stands in loco parentis over all its subjects. One plea bargain later and Shelly became a hard-working member of America’s military forces serving overseas.

If that wasn’t wonderful enough, the same advances in neurological interfaces that allow Shelley and his fellow soldiers to function as a Linked Combat Squad allow his minders to keep an eye on what he is doing, or even feeling, pretty much 247.

There is, however, one glitch in the program. 


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No shinjū featured in this story

Emma  (Emma, book 1)

By Kaoru Mori 

28 Jul, 2015

Translation

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No, not the Jane Austen Emma. Aside from nation of origin and sex, Kaoru Mori’s Emma has almost nothing in common with the more famous Emma; neither class, occupation, personal character, nor personal history.

Emma has no money, no family, no surname, and she owes her position as a maid (and her education and her glasses) to retired governess Mrs. Stowner’s generosity. Despite her lack of prospects, she gets lots of offers, being a comely lass. But Emma has no interest in matrimony

And then one day, Mrs. Stowner’s former student William Jones comes to pay his (extremely belated) respects to his former governess.…

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A worthy adaptation of a classic

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds

By Jeff Wayne 

26 Jul, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space. No one could have dreamed we were being scrutinized, as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets and yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this Earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us. 

Ever since its publication in 1897 (1898 if you don’t count serialization as publication), H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds has been adapted to a variety of media: stage, radio, comic book, and, of course, movies, each one worse than the one before.

And of course, there was the concept album, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds, whose introduction I quote above. 

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The causality in this makes my brain hurt

Operation Time Search

By Andre Norton 

24 Jul, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks

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1967’s Operation Time Search is a stand-alone. Spoiler warning.

By the far off year of 1980, the people of Earth — or at least an Earth — have done a pretty good job of using up all the resources of their world. Other worlds beckon, but rather than reaching across space, the researchers Hargreaves and Fordham have cast their eyes across time, with some success. Their time probes have reached something, somewhere, somewhen — the past, or perhaps some alternate world — but it’s definitely not modern Ohio.

Thus far, Hargreaves and Fordham have settled for peering through time; physical transportation is for later. Or at least that was the plan until photographer Ray Osborne snuck onto the Indian mound the researchers had commandeered. Hargreaves and Fordham’s device may not have been intended to catapult physical objects through time, but as Ray discovers, it is nevertheless quite capable of punting the young man all the way from modern Ohio to … somewhere. 

Somewhere wild. Somewhere with old growth forests of a kind not seen in North America for centuries or more. Somewhere where Ray is almost immediately captured by soldiers from a place called Atlantis, soldiers who suspect that Ray is an agent of Mu.…


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Meredith Means Well

Shelter

By Susan Palwick 

23 Jul, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

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Susan Palwick’s 2007 novel Shelter takes us to a future America where:

  • excessive” altruism has been pathologized;
  • machine intelligences have joined humanity;
  • criminals and the mental ill (then as now overlapping sets) can be mindwiped; 
  • immortality of a sort is available to those with the money to pay for it;

and where, as always, the people who pay for rich people’s mistakes are never the rich people themselves.


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Comedic Sociopathy Meets Military Science Fiction

Black Lagoon, Volume One  (Black Lagoon, book 1)

By Rei Hiroe 

22 Jul, 2015

Translation

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2003’s Black Lagoon manga collection is military fiction! it’s a translation! Two, two, two reviews in one! 


Although one might argue that this book is at best marginally SF, as the only aspects that seem at all speculative are the alternate laws of physics to which some of the characters appear to have access.

The crew of the repurposed WWII-era torpedo boat Black Lagoon (Vietnam War vet Dutch, nihilistic gun nut Revy, and hacker Benny) don’t bother with the conflicted personal histories of a Drake protagonist or the shiny white aura of a Pournelle mercenary. On the grand moral scale of sell-swords, they’re well towards the unabashed-villains end of the scale. The only reason they’re at all sympathetic is because their enemies are even more depraved (and because the plots conspire to keep them from giving in their their worst impulses). 

Enter the unfortunate Rokuro Rock” Okajima, a salaryman who has the great misfortune to be in possession of a computer disk the Russian Mafia hired the crew of the Black Lagoon to … acquire. The crew have no problem snatching the disk and as an extra cherry on the sundae, they snatch the hapless Okajima as well. Why not? If he proves useless, they can always toss his bullet-riddled corpse over the side.

And it gets worse from there.

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A Labour of Love

Larry Niven’s Ringworld: Roleplaying Adventure Beneath the Great Arch

By Sherman Kahn 

21 Jul, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

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Many, many role-playing game companies have been tempted into doing RPG adaptations of established media franchises, such as books, TV shows, or movies. The attraction is obvious; the product comes with a built-in market. Unfortunately, there are also many, many pitfalls. Many of the companies who have dabbled in licensed products have emerged from the experience poorer for it. There’s a trick to surviving adaptations and not every company has it.

Way back in 1983, I was thrilled to read in Different Worlds 29 


that Chaosium Games had acquired the rights to do a role-playing game based on Larry Niven’s Ringworld (a title that did not at that time inspire feelings of melancholy and despair over the decline of a once-great author). Not only had Chaosium created Runequest, one of my favourite RPGs, but they had ample experience at turning literary properties into games [1]. By 1983, Chaosium’s licensed products included Thieves World, Stormbringer, and of course Call of Cthulhu.

It’s not entirely true to say that Ringworld the RPG got caught up in Development Hell but I do think it’s safe to say the project turned out to be bigger than John Hewitt or any of the other people involved could have envisioned. Despite delays, Larry Niven’s Ringworld: Roleplaying Adventure Beneath the Great Arch was finally released in 1984 [2].

And what did a youthful James find when he popped open his copy of the game?


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