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Reviews from August 2015 (28)

It’s about soldiers,” he said. They fight, then they have sex, then they do drugs, then they fight some more.”

War Games  (Hybrid Wars, volume 1)

By Karl Hansen  

19 Aug, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck


It’s a good thing that the title for this review series is Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn’t Suck and not, say, Military Speculative Fiction That is an Exemplar of All That is Good in Fiction. I’m not sure that I would say that Karl Hansen’s 1981 War Games is good. That may be too positive a word for this enthusiastically nihilistic war story. The book has definite points of interest — but I am not 100% sure I would call it good. 

But it sure is energetic.

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A Spy Abroad

The Drowning City  (The Necromancer Chronicles, volume 1)

By Amanda Downum  

18 Aug, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


Amanda Downum’s 2009 debut novel The Drowning City, first of the Necromancer Chronicles, takes us to the exotic city of Symir, a city balanced between ocean, river, and volcano. As the city’s sobriquet The Drowning City” suggests, water has a slight edge over fire at present. To necromancer Isyllt Iskaldur, who has spent three weeks sailing from her homeland of Selafai, the Drowning City is exciting and novel. Most importantly it’s a potentially useful catspaw in the ongoing struggle between Selafai and the Assari Empire.

For the people who live in Symir, the city isn’t exotic at all. It’s home. And as convenient as it would be for Isyllt and her spymaster boss if the Symirians were willing to become naive pawns in the Selafian plots, the Symirians have their own complex relationships with the Empire of which they are a reluctant part. They have no intention of playing along with Isyllt’s cunning plans. 

In fact, the locals have their own cunning plans and Isyllt will be doing quite well to survive contact with them.

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Not with a whimper but a bang

The Fifth Season  (The Broken Earth, volume 1)

By N. K. Jemisin  

17 Aug, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


The unfortunates in 2015’s The Fifth Season live on a world almost as active as Jupiter’s moon Io, a world constantly rattled by tremours and reshaped by volcanoes, a world where geological and historical timescales are the same. 

Embracing whimsical gallows humour, they call their single landmass The Stillness”. 

Any particular community on this world can be certain that, in time, it will be wiped out by earthquake, tsunami, acid rain, or abrupt climate change. Humanity as a whole survives on the Stillness because until now, no calamity massive enough to kill absolutely every human has happened. 

Thanks to the forward-thinking social policies of the Sanze Empire, humanity’s run of luck is about to end. 

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Look out, Telzey Amberdon and Paul Maud’Dib! Here comes Mary!

Mind of My Mind  (Patternist, volume 2)

By Octavia E. Butler  

16 Aug, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


1977’s Mind of My Mind, second in Octavia E. Butler’s Patternist series [1], is Butler’s take on classic Science Fiction themes: an examination of a world where mental powers are real rather than the delusions of the confused, the bewildered, and the fans of Analog. 

Like Telzey Amberdon and Paul Maud’Dib, Mary is a Campbellian superhuman. Born to a latent telepath and another psychic, Mary has potential mental powers that could dwarf anything ever seen on the Earth of the late 20 century!

Too bad she’s property. Or, possibly, food. 

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Behind the Mask

Soon I Will Be Invincible

By Austin Grossman  

15 Aug, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


I’m the smartest man in the world. Once I wore a cape in public, and fought battles against men who could fly, who had metal skin, who could kill you with their eyes. I fought CoreFire to a standstill, and the Super Squadron, and the Champions. Now I have to shuffle through a cafeteria line with men who tried to pass bad checks. Now I have to wonder if there will be chocolate milk in the dispenser. And whether the smartest man in the world has done the smartest thing he could do with his life.” 

No, he hasn’t. And thanks to Malign Hypercognition Syndrome, Doctor Impossible won’t. Probably can’t. When his old foe CoreFire vanishes, CoreFire’s old teammates don’t take long to decide that even though Doctor Impossible is in prison, he is the logical suspect.

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A victim’s eye view of Space Vikings

Dark Piper

By Andre Norton  

14 Aug, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks


The good news for the poor doomed bastards on the planet Beltane in 1968’s Dark Piper is that the great interstellar war is finally over. Even better, while the world lost many of its young men to the draft, Beltane itself is such a backwater that neither side saw fit to scorch the place. 

The bad news is that the war didn’t so much stop as grind to a halt after all the combatant polities suddenly collapsed. A long dark age looms, perhaps even the end of mankind’s long domination of the stars. Since Beltane was a research station that was never intended to be completely self-sufficient, the inhabitants might be able to slow the looming technological and economic decline … but they cannot hope to prevent it.

As it turns out, that won’t matter 

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Lady Elaine, please remember to order your bride-sized fridge

Space Viking  (Space Viking, volume 1)

By H. Beam Piper  

13 Aug, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck


I will probably review all of my H. Beam Piper novels (or at least the SF ones) eventually. I have a specific reason for reviewing 1962’s Space Viking this week. A reason I will not explain until Friday. Foreshadowing! The mark of quality literature!

Speaking of foreshadowing, when Lady Elaine warns her husband-to-be Lucas, Lord Trask, Baron of Traskon that 

It’s bad luck to be called by your married name before the wedding.”

Trask should have listened. For that matter, every aristocrat on the planet Gram should have noticed just how crazy Lord Andray Dunnan was, and what a bad idea it was to allow Dunnan to assemble his own private army. Elaine and Trask in particular have good reason to be worried: through no fault of her own, Elaine plays a central role in Dunnan’s rich fantasy life. But … Dunnan is the nephew of Duke Angus, who is poised to make himself king of all Gram. Dunnan is too well-connected to be shot out of hand, so everyone tacitly tolerates his obvious craziness.

Then everything goes pear-shaped. Dunnan’s men hijack the starship Enterprise; in retrospect, the purpose for which Dunnan recruited all those mercenaries. Dunnan tries to assassinate Elaine (for rejecting him) and Trask (for winning her) before fleeing in the Enterprise. Dunnan’s mistake is to kill Elaine, but only wound Trask. While the aristocracy of Gram may not be inclined to pursue their vendetta into space, nothing will stop Trask from chasing Dunnan to the ends of the galaxy. 

Chasing is easy enough. Actually finding Dunnan, on the other hand.…

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This week’s discovery

Justice and Her Brothers  (Justice Cycle, volume 1)

By Virginia Hamilton  

12 Aug, 2015

Special Requests


I am continually surprised at the depth and width of my ignorance. Case in point: Virginia Hamilton, an award winning author who was previously unknown to me. I got to be one of yesterday’s lucky ten thousand; now you can be too [1].

Like most adolescents, Justice Douglass — Tice” to her parents and friends, Pickle” to her brothers Thomas and Levi — has to deal with change. In particular, Justice finds herself resenting her mother’s late-blooming college career. Each hour her mother invests in schoolwork is an hour less for Justice and her brothers.

It eventually becomes clear that Justice is worrying about the wrong thing. She should be paying more attention to her twin brothers. Thomas and Levi are mirror twins. They may look alike, but one is right handed, one left, one is a leader, one a follower, one is a victim and one … one is a monster.…

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Puckish Whimsy!

Beauty Queens

By Libba Bray  

11 Aug, 2015

James Tiptree, Jr. Award

1 comment

Yesterday I said

I may or may not also review some of the works that made it onto the (Tiptree) Honor Lists and the Long Lists; the limiting factors are time, my puckish whimsy, and whether or not anyone sees fit to sponsor those reviews. 

It turns out another factor is James wrote this review before deciding to do the Tiptree Reviews and does not care to sit on it for a year.” Also, puckish whimsy!

It’s completely unfair to the books I review but … I must admit that how favourably I react to a book can depend a lot on the circumstances in which I encounter it. Case in point: Libba Bray’s 2011 novel Beauty Queens.

The novel opens with fifty contestants plus ancillary personnel on their way to the Miss Dream Teen beauty contest. Fear not that you will have to keep a bewildering array of names straight: the plane crashes on page three. Of the fifty contestants, thirteen [1] survive. Of their chaperons and other support personnel, none survive. A baker’s dozen of contestants are lost on a deserted island, far from help, left to their own devices, with only the wreckage of the plane and the skills they brought with them to help them survive.

Did I say deserted island”? Make that seemingly deserted island.”

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The First Tiptree Award Winner Review

A Woman of the Iron People

By Eleanor Arnason  

10 Aug, 2015

James Tiptree, Jr. Award


Eleanor Arnason’s 1991 A Woman of the Iron People was one of the two winners of the very first James Tiptree, Jr. Award. It also won the inaugural Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature and came in third in the 1992 John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Even in the Before Times, when computers were coal-fired and USENET still ruled the interwebs, A Woman of the Iron People got very good word of mouth … so it has been a considerable source of irritation to me that despite decades of bookstore browsing, I had never seen a copy of the hardcover or the split paperback versions (of which more later).

Huzzah for Open Road Media, which offers a very affordably priced edition! Huzzah for my various electronic devices, which allow me to read said edition!

Despite some very impressive efforts, humanity has failed to transform Earth into an anoxic, lifeless desolation (which says a lot for Earth, given the rampant resource plunder and widespread pollution in the backstory). Moreover, a surprisingly sensible humanity has spent centuries trying to undo the damage it did in the 20th century. About a century before the book begins, humans even managed to build and then send a sub-light starship to Sigma Draconis. This sun-like star is not too far from good old Sol on a galactic scale; but it is unimaginably far on a human scale … which is why it took a starship travelling at a good fraction of the speed of light more than a century to reach its destination.

Like the sun, Sigma Draconis has an Earth-like companion world, and like Earth, that world has intelligent inhabitants. Humanity’s first interstellar voyage is also going to be its first contact with aliens.

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