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Reviews from July 2015 (28)

Destiny, Not Luck

The Year of the Unicorn  (High Hallack, volume 2)

By Andre Norton  

10 Jul, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks


1965’s The Year of the Unicorn takes us back to the Witch World, across the ocean to High Hallack. Gillan has lived among the people of that land for almost as long as she can remember, but her skin and hair brand her an outsider. She can be thankful that she is not one of the hated Alizon, High Hallack’s great enemy, but she can never hope to be truly accepted by those among whom she lives. A quiet life in a rustic abbey may be Gillan’s best option.

But that is not her destiny. 

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Band of Sisters

The Way into Magic  (The Great Way, volume 2)

By Harry Connolly  

8 Jul, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


When last we saw our heroes, monsters from another dimension had swarmed out of an inter-dimensional gateway to overwhelm the Morning City and then the Peradaini empire (of which the Morning City had been the capital). As the cast of characters dwindled rapidly (in a way that those of us with crappy memories appreciate) the survivors have gained a realistic understanding of their situation. 

The empire is dead, although parts of it remain unconquered by the invaders. But it gets worse. 

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Dresediel Lex Spring

Last First Snow  (Craft Sequence, volume 4)

By Max Gladstone  

7 Jul, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


The thing to bear in mind about Gladstone’s Craft series is that while it has an internal order, that’s not the order in which Gladstone is publishing them. The titles suggest an internal chronology, but the title of 2015’s Last First Snow is a bit ambiguous on that point. 

It is forty years after the God Wars, when craft-wielding mages overthrew the gods. The city of Dresediel Lex is a well-ordered oasis in the middle of a vast desert. It is a city freed from the superstitions of the past and from the oppression of chattel slavery, a vibrant community whose economy is growing quite nicely. At least that’s the point of view of the King in Red, the skeletal autocrat who runs the city. If you cannot trust your dictator, whom can you trust? 

The one sore point in the King in Red’s otherwise satisfactory eldritch post-life 

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Not saving these for a rainy day

White Trash Zombie Apocalypse  (White Trash Zombie, volume 3)

By Diana Rowland  

6 Jul, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


I hadn’t actually planned to write a review today, because I knew I would be spending Saturday [1] moving enough wood to fuel the campfires for an upcoming camping weekend. Turned out that three determined people can move a lot of dead trees very quickly. Fortunately, I had packed a paperback just in case [2].

White Trash Zombie Apocalypse picks up a few months after the conclusion of Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues. Angel Crawford is still working at the parish Coroner’s Office and as far as she knows, the biggest crisis facing her is her looming GED test. It’s just too bad for Angel that while the parasite responsible for zombification confers on its hosts a number of useful abilities, a facility for studying isn’t one of them. 

Even the zombies shuffling around town don’t alarm Angel much, because they’re just extras from a horror film being filmed in Tucker Point, Louisiana. 

Or so Angel believes. 

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The tragedy of John Varley

The Persistence of Vision

By John Varley  

5 Jul, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


The tragedy of John Varley’s 1978 collection, The Persistence of Vision, isn’t that its contents have aged; although time has not been kind to some of them, others have fared well. The tragedy is the stark contrast between the John Varley of the 1970s and the John Varley of today. Young Varley was one of the few male authors of note to emerge in the disco era, the author of a remarkable series of short works [1]. The mature Varley wastes his talent on second-rate Heinlein pastiches [2] and novels whose moral is that, as bad as the collapse of civilization would be, at least it would turn women back into homemakers and get the kids off the Twitter. 

To quote a noted social activist, Why are so few of us left active, healthy, and without personality disorders?”

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Learn from my mistake

The Necessary Beggar

By Susan Palwick  

4 Jul, 2015

Special Requests


While she had been actively publishing at shorter lengths, Susan Palwick’s 2005 book The Necessary Beggar ended a thirteen year novel publication drought, a return to longer form her fans certainly appreciated. Inexplicably, despite counting myself among those fans, this is the first time I have ever read this novel [1]. Having finally read it, I regret having delayed gratification so long. 

No one in Lémabantunk knows why Darroti murdered Mendicant Gallicina; Darroti won’t explain and of course Gallicina cannot. Darroti’s punishment is the harshest the city can exact: exile through a one-way gateway to another universe, to an alien nation calling itself America. 

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The Scouts Are Dicks

The X Factor

By Andre Norton  

3 Jul, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks


Andre Norton was never known for bright shiny futures but 1965’s The X Factor is a gloomier novel than most of her books. Protagonist Diskan Fentress is a large, clumsy man who feels like a subhuman; he sees himself as suitable for nothing save brute labour. He has recently been reunited with the Scout father who left before he was born. Diskan believes that he falls far short of his father, Renfrey Fentress, in every conceivable way (a belief that Renfrey does nothing to correct). To rub more salt in the wound, the aliens with whom Renfrey has made his home are to Diskan’s eye without fault. Their perfection only highlights Diskan’s flaws.

Better to turn criminal than suffer under the lash of charity. Diskan steals a starship and a navigation tape (to a world his father had marked as anomalous) and heads up and out. He is lucky enough to reach his destination and survive a bad landing whole and largely unharmed. His luck would seem to have ended there. He is alone, poorly equipped, and trapped on a planet whose mysteries even his talented father was unable to unravel. What hope is there for poor, dim Diskan?

(This will get somewhat spoilery.) 

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Trapped in a warzone

Trading in Danger  (Vatta’s War, volume 1)

By Elizabeth Moon  

1 Jul, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck


If I am going to review MilSF that doesn’t suck, at some point I need to address the Elizabeth Moon issue. On the one hand her books (or at least some of them) are clearly candidates. On the other hand, many of them have been published by Baen, whose publisher is a willing participant in this year’s attempt to nobble the Hugos. Baen is a company whose works I don’t review. A company that’s dead to me. 

However … thanks to various events that are Googleable, Moon moved over to Del Rey. That company is not colluding in an attempt to nobble the Hugos and is not dead to me. The system works! 

2003’s Trading in Danger kicks off Moon’s Vatta’s War series. Well-meaning Ky Vatta is booted out of the naval academy when a well-meaning attempt to help a friend results in a PR-disaster for the service. The navy doesn’t consider meant well” a defense. Former cadet Ky finds herself on the curb outside the Academy, waiting for a ride home. 

This is a bold opening gambit if the series as a whole is supposed to be military science fiction. 

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