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Reviews from September 2015 (29)

If You Listen, You Can Understand

From the End of the Twentieth Century

By John M. Ford  

30 Sep, 2015

Graveyard Orbits


(Added November 2019)

The reasons given in this review for Ford’s work being out of print are wrong. I apologize for the error.

The actual reason can be found here.

If I had been more on the ball, I’d have had this review ready in time for 25 September, the ninth anniversary of John M. Ford’s death. Ford was an author’s author, beloved by the literati, someone who didn’t condescend to the reader by making his texts easy to read. That, and a habit of drifting from genre to genre, left him more obscure than he deserves. Although no more obscure than lazy readers deserve.

To make matters worse, although he had long been in ill-health (in theUS, no less), Ford never got around to choosing a literary executor. Due to barbaric laws that grant no inheritance rights to significant others to whom one is not legally married, the rights to his books are held by his blood kin. They didn’t approve of his career and have not, the last I heard, allowed any out of-print-material to be reprinted. 

I seriously considered reviewing John M. Ford’s 1993 juvenile Growing Up Weightless to get the taste of Luna: New Moon out of my mouth … but I was already in a bad mood. Thinking about why Growing Up Weightless is out of print would have just made it worse. So I decided to review his 1997 collection, From The End of the Twentieth Century, one of three works by Ford that I believe are still in print. (See the end of this review for a list.)

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Unfamiliar familiar


By Nnedi Okorafor  

29 Sep, 2015

James Tiptree, Jr. Award


You might be expecting a review of the 1993 Tiptree winner but since I reviewed that book, Ammonite, last year, that’s not going to happen. Or alternatively, already happened last year. Instead, have one of the more notable books from the 2014 Tiptree Honor List.

2014’s Lagoon puts a familiar situation — first contact with aliens — in a setting that is likely unfamiliar to most readers of the book. Having (presumably) given the Earth a good lookover, the aliens in Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon pass over such standard venues for first contact as the UN building in New York City, the National Mall in Washington, or even a particularly large front yard in America’s Midwest.

Instead, their ship sets down off the African coast, near Nigeria’s sprawling metropolis, Lagos. 

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I don’t care what happens to these characters

Luna: New Moon

By Ian McDonald  

28 Sep, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


I knew before opening this book that it was unlikely to please me (I will explain why later). I probably would have avoided reviewing 2015’s Luna: New Moon (unless paid) … except that Tor went to the trouble of sending me a copy. I am torn between 

1) ignoring what Tor clearly hopes is going to be a popular novel, one they spent money to send me, and

2) giving a full and frank account of what I actually think about it. 

It’s not clear which would be worse from Tor’s point of view. Still, as Roscoe Arbuckle might have said There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” And it’s not like me panning The Wind Up Girl had any negative effect on its sales. 

Luna: New Moon reminds me of Robinson’s 2312 in a number of ways, none of them positive. I have the same sense that this is one of those books fated to be widely praised as a brilliant work of hard science fiction, whereas I will be once again reprising my role as Tolstoy in Nobody Cares Why You Hate Shakespeare, Leo.

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Remember when Niven was fun?

All the Myriad Ways

By Larry Niven  

27 Sep, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


I will be blunt: this second foray into what I have decided to call the essential collections of Larry Niven, being an irregular review series I may not even get around to finishing or continuing” is an attempt to get the taste of Vernor Vinge’s The Witling out of my mouth. 

1971’s All the Myriad Ways was Niven’s third collection after 1968’s Neutron Star and 1969’s The Shape of Space (which I will not bother to review, because I’ve never seen a copy and anyway all the stories were repeated in later collections; it’s not essential). All the Myriad Ways collects stories published between 1965 and 1971, most of them from the later years of that span 1.

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Penny Century Versus the World

God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls

By Jaime Hernandez  

26 Sep, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


I was in the mood for something like Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar collection, but the library didn’t seem to have anything along those lines. They did have collections by both Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, as well as several by Jaime Hernandez alone. It was one of the latter that caught my eye. 

While I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would, it did speak to a question raised by another Hernandez collection. 

A footnote in my review of Esperanza read, in part:

The original setting had superheroes in the way our world has rock stars; they were around, but the odds were that mundanes never got to meet them. One of Maggie’s friends, Penny Century, was a genuine adventurer who kept hoping she’d have an origin.

Thanks to God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls, I now know that’s not the full story.

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Return of the Psychocrats! 

Android at Arms  (Psychocrat, volume 2)

By Andre Norton  

25 Sep, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks


1971’s Android at Arms brings us ever closer to the end of this review series. It’s not a Norton I encountered as a teen. To my surprise, even without the nostalgia factor, I kinda liked it. It succeeds in being creepy; indeed, it’s one of the creepiest Nortons I’ve read. 

Andas, Prince of Inyanga and likely heir to the emperor, went to sleep in a lavishly appointed bed chamber. He wakes in a stark prison cell, which comes as something of a surprise. 

Andas isn’t alone in the prison. His fellow prisoners come from many worlds, but all have one thing in common: they all are important people, at least on their own planets. Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to kidnap powerful (or potentially powerful) people. That someone might be … the Psychocrats. Or the heirs of the Psychocrats. It’s impossible to tell, as the villains rule through their machines. 

On the basis of surprisingly little evidence, the prisoners convince themselves the mass kidnapping is only half of the scheme. The villains must have built android doubles for the prisoners, then swapped those doubles for the originals. Using the strategically placed androids, androids conditioned to obey their creators, the villains can control the galaxy. Bwahahaha! 

The prisoners have been suspended in stasis. They wake up when the prison’s stasis machines break down; they escape the prison because the locks have failed as well. They manage to get off-planet, thanks to the automated spaceport nearby (a spaceport like the one in Galactic Derelict ). Home again? Not so simple. 

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Implied Spaces

Root of Unity  (Russell’s Attic, volume 3)

By S L Huang  

24 Sep, 2015

Special Requests


Third in Huang’s Russell’s Attic series, 2015’s Root of Unity sends protagonist Cas Russell on a treasure hunt. Her quest will pit her against a casually murderous criminal gang and it may well threaten her new friends. The prize is nothing less than a proof that will transform mathematics … and mathematics, or at least a specific application of mathematics, happens to be Cas’ superpower. 

Successful or not, Cas’ quest will definitely raise more questions than it answers. 

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Welcome to Olympus

The Promethean Challenge  (Appleseed, volume 1)

By Masamune Shirow  

23 Sep, 2015



For many people in North America — well, me, at least — Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed series was one of the first translated manga they ever saw. First published in 1985, it won the 1986 Seiun Award for Best Manga. Between 1988 and 1992, the series was published volume by volume by Eclipse Comics, which is the edition I first read1. It was pretty addictive stuff back in the Reagan Era — no American comics I knew of explored SF themes like Shirow’s or had the same striking art — but how well does it stand up today? Does it still have the same punch in a world where many great manga are no further away than the nearest library?

Well, I just happen to have Appleseed: Volume One: The Promethean Challenge to hand.…

No country involved in World War Three resorted to nuclear weapons but there are other weapons of mass destruction. As the prelude puts it, even without (nuclear weapons), the Earth became a quieter planet.”

Survivors Deunan Knute and Briareos Hecatonchires have settled in a very quiet, very peaceful neighbourhood. Before they came to town someone doused the place in sarin. The nerve agent is long gone, and so are the unfortunate inhabitants, leaving their material goods for the two soldiers to loot, and their homes for the woman and her cyborg friend to take for their own. 

But someone has noticed the pair.

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We are only free when we slip through the cracks.

China Mountain Zhang

By Maureen F. McHugh  

22 Sep, 2015

James Tiptree, Jr. Award


The great thing about being one of the early winners of an award is that it’s easy to be the first something. Maureen McHugh’s 1992 China Mountain Zhang may not have won the very first Tiptree Award, but it is the first book to win a Tiptree without sharing that victory with another novel. It also won a Lambda, was nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula and came in first in Locus’ Best First Novel. 

It’s also has a more challenging structure than the previous winners (A Woman of the Iron People and White Queen), which were relatively straightforward narratives. CMZ is an elaborate interweaving of several narratives, which touch each other only tangentially. 

With the Great Cleansing Wind relegated to an embarrassing memory of well-intended but disastrous political excess, 22nd Century Americans like Zhang can forget about politics and focus on their careers and personal lives. Zhang has advantages that many other Americans lack, the most obvious of which is that although Zhang is mixed race, he can pass for Chinese. This is very useful in a world dominated by sometimes xenophobic Chinese. 

But life is not perfect for would-be engineer Zhang, for reasons not immediately obvious to those around him.

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If not for that interfering cop, BZ Gundhalinu.

The Summer Queen  (Snow Queen Cycle, volume 3)

By Joan D. Vinge  

21 Sep, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


As has been previously established, I am very fond of Joan D. Vinge’s The Snow Queen. I was delighted to hear that Tor Books is bringing it back into print, after a lapse of fifteen years1. Granted, it is being republished without the wonderful original Leo and Diane Dillon cover,

but this Michael Whelan kid Tor tapped to provide the new cover 

seems like he has potential. 

What better way to celebrate the re-release of a book I like than with a shiny new review!

Alas, unaware that The Snow Queen was going to be re-released this year, I reviewed the novel in question last year.

So what you’re actually going to get today is a review of one of the two sequels, 1991’s The Summer Queen, plus! extra! bonus! exhortations to buy both The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen.

The Hegemony has temporarily retreated from Tiamat, forced to abandon the only source of the Water of Life, the elixir which reverses aging. Tiamat’s twin suns are again nearing the black hole around which they orbit and the hyperspace route to Tiamat is unstable and unsafe. The Hegemony (the miniscule successor to a fallen galactic Empire) is forced to leave Tiamat to its own devices for the next century. Time enough for Tiamat’s Summer Queen, Moon Dawntreader, to encourage the two cultures of her world to modernize. If she succeeds, Tiamat will no longer be defenseless in the face of superior technology.

Or at least that was Moon’s plan. She’d have gotten away with it too, if not for that interfering cop, BZ Gundhalinu.

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