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Reviews from October 2015 (29)

A Game of Ghosts

Greek Key

By K.B. Spangler 

31 Oct, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

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K. B. Spangler’s 2015 Greek Key sends a trio of odd characters on a quest to discover the origins of the Antikythera Mechanism (a real-world artefact that featured in a subplot of an earlier Spangler book, State Machine). The cast of characters includes: 

  • Mike Reilly, the World’s Worst Psychic,
  • Hope Blackwell, World’s Second Worst Psychic, previously met in A Girl and Her Fed),
  • and a talking koala named Speedy.

Hope is well connected, rich thanks to her connections and a talented martial artist. She has one quirky ability that makes her particularly useful when it comes to tracking down the origins of an ancient, technologically anomalous device: Hope can talk to ghosts. 


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Evil will come and you will welcome it

The Birthgrave  (Birthgrave, book 1)

By Tanith Lee 

30 Oct, 2015

A Year of Tanith Lee

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1975’s The Birthgrave wasn’t Tanith Lee’s first novel but it seems like a good place to begin my new review series, A Year of Tanith Lee.

There were a number of reasons for this choice: 

  • DAW has just reissued it, so it’s easily available. 
  • I believe that it was this book that established Lee as an author of significance; it was a Nebula nominee, 
  • When I solicited suggestions for Lee books to review, this was one of the works that turned up in list after list.

The Birthgrave is of particular interest to me because hard as it may be to believe, even though I have been aware of its existence for OH GOD FORTY YEARS HOW CAN IT BE FORTY YEARS some time, I’ve never read it. There as a reason for this, a very stupid reason. More on that later.

Centuries after the fall of her great and terrible people, an amnesiac wakes deep underground. Berated for her people’s sins by a bodiless voice calling itself Karrakaz, tortured with a glimpse of her own monstrous reflection, the amnesiac is offered death — but chooses instead to flee the caverns, into a world populated by the ignorant descendants of the humans her people once enslaved. 

The villagers she encounters offer her worship. She rewards them with death.


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For a woman, she was almost oddly free from irrationality

Conjure Wife

By Fritz Leiber 

29 Oct, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

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Fritz Leiber’s 1952 Conjure Wife, first published as part of the second and final Twayne Triplet Witches Three, has a rep as a classic horror novel. Now, if you look at the Wikipedia article on this book, you may notice that all the critics cited are men. There’s a reason for that … and it’s not just that the literati doing the reviewing when this book was first published were mostly men (as was the wont of the time). This is a book that a certain kind of man might like. Conjure Wife is a sterling example of a specific variety of mid-20th-century sexism.

Despite some early missteps, fifteen years into his career Norman Saylor is doing fairly well. A professor of ethnology at small Hempnell College, he is popular with students and colleagues. He’s even rumoured to be in the running to be the next head of the sociology department. This is not a big deal in the broader academic scheme of things: Hempnell is a small town college that caters to parents who are afraid their children will be corrupted by big-city universities. It is a bastion of dowdy conservatism. However, Saylor is happy to be a big frog in a small puddle. Compared to his stodgy colleagues, he is young, cutting edge, modern. His life is perfect.

Or so it seems until the night he rummages in his wife Tansy’s dresser drawer.


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Appropriate for Halloween

A Night in the Lonesome October

By Roger Zelazny 

27 Oct, 2015

Graveyard Orbits

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A Night in the Lonesome October is not Roger Zelazny’s final novel1, but it was written in a decade when he mainly focused on collaborations. It was the last novel he wrote without a partner. 

It’s also pretty good, which is fortunate for me because I would hate to have to write a Graveyard Orbit review of an author’s last book if that book was … ah … not up to their usual high standards. 

Every year, in the month leading up to the last full moon in October, two factions — the Openers and the Closers — gather to determine the course of the world for the next year. It is in their power to determine which eldritch gates will be opened or very firmly closed. 

In 18872, that last full moon fell on Halloween, which, one must admit, is a very good date on which to determine the fate of the world. 

The participants are not always named, but they are all archetypes with whom readers will be familiar: the brilliant professor and his Monster, the Balkan aristocrat with an affinity for bats and a dislike of sunshine, the mad Russian Monk, the Great Detective, and of course the Londoner Jack and his marvellously sharp knife.

But this story isn’t about Jack. It’s about his dog, Snuff.


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Where Monsters Gather

Stray Souls  (Magicals Anonymous, book 1)

By Kate Griffin 

26 Oct, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

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This is the first book credited to Kate Griffin that I have reviewed here — but it is not the first book by this author to appear on James Nicoll Reviews . Kate Griffin and Claire North are both pen-names for the prolific Catherine Webb. I have no idea how to disambiguate this on my website’s author roll. 

What do you do if while out walking one day, you find yourself, however temporarily, at one with the whole of London, unexpectedly imbued with the abilities and responsibilities of a shaman? If you’re the suddenly shamanic Sharon Li, you found Magicals Anonymous, a support group for the mystically perplexed. 

And just in time, because one of London’s gods — Greydawn, Our Lady of 4 A.M. — has gone missing and monsters are stalking the streets. It’s just the sort of problem that falls into the purview of Mathew Swift, the Midnight Mayor of London; Mathew’s solution is to punt it over to an unprepared Li. 



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Not a Tiptree Review

Dreamsnake

By Vonda N. McIntyre 

25 Oct, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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Vonda N. McIntyre’s 1978 Dreamsnake is an expansion of the story begun in her 1973 novelette Of Mist and Grass and Sand. Of Mist won a Nebula and was nominated for a Hugo. Dreamsnake won both the Best Novel Hugo and the Best Novel Nebula, it placed first in the 1979 Best Novel Locus Award, was nominated for a Ditmar and was denied a stab at the Tiptree on a mere technicality (that being that the Tiptree Award was still thirteen years in the future); as it was, the novel made the Tiptree Retrospective Shortlist.

Nuclear war left much of the Earth uninhabitable, although not before the first starships left Earth and founded the Sphere. Little is left of the civilization that gave humanity the stars, and what is left is isolationist. Denied access to the knowledge and resources of the Sphere, Terrans are forced to make do with what is available on depleted, battered Earth.

Snake is a Healer, a wandering doctor who relies on bio-engineered snakes rather than conventional medicine. Earth is vast, communities isolated; cultural misunderstanding is inevitable. A momentary lapse on Snake’s part costs her her dreamsnake and quite possibly, her standing in the Healers. Dreamsnakes are valuable and nigh-irreplaceable. 


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My money is on abomination”

Childhood’s End

By Tony Mulholland 

24 Oct, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

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This review was inspired by the news that the Syfy network, perhaps best known for renaming itself after the Polish term for syphilis, had acquired the rights to Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End . The jury is still out whether the Syfy version will be a full scale abomination, like their adaptation of Earthsea, or merely wretched, like most of the rest of their product. Until the full extent of the horror of this adaptation is revealed, I thought it would be fun to look at — sorry, listen to — a previous adaptation by a considerably more reputable organization with a long history of presenting SF works. I speak, of course, of the two-hour audio adaptation BBC 4 aired back in 1997

As soon as the radio play opens, it is clear that events have developed not necessarily to Earth’s advantage. The frame: a distressed Jan Rodericks reports to an entity named Karellen, narrating the ongoing destruction of the Earth. 


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The Fiftieth Norton in Fifty Weeks

Dragon Magic  (Magic, book 4)

By Andre Norton 

23 Oct, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks

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Andre Norton’s 1971 Dragon Magic is apparently the fourth book in Norton’s Magic series. Until now I had never even known the series existed, and certainly had not read any of the books in it. 

The only things that Sig Dortmund, Artie Jones, Kim Stevens, and George Brown (or as he prefers to be called, Ras) all have in common are that they are all American boys and they all take the same school bus. Even that is not by itself enough to bring them together. While Artie and Sig are friends of a sort (Artie would far rather be friends with football hero Greg Ross, but he’s stuck with Sig), disinterest in bridging racial differences keeps them from reaching out to African-American Ras or Chinese-American Kim Stevens.

And then comes the treasure.…


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The Alteration

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya  (Haruhi Suzumiya, book 4)

By Nagaru Tanigawa 

22 Oct, 2015

Translation

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Nagaru Tanigawa’s 2004 The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is the fourth volume in his Haruhi Suzumiya series. 

Together with the other members of the SOS Club — alien emissary Yuki Nagato, time traveler Mikuru Asahina, and ESPer Itsuki Koizumi — Kyon assists the determined Haruhi in her quest to find aliens, time travelers, and ESPers. And by assists, I mean at any cost, prevents Haruhi from discovering her own true nature.” Just as Haruhi is oblivious to the fact her SOS is almost entirely staffed by the very exotic beings she yearns to find, so too is she unaware of her own nigh-godlike powers or her destructive potential. It is the job of the SOS Club to keep her unaware.

Keeping the irritating sociopathic Genki Girl” (as TV Tropes puts it) too busy to truly see the world around isn’t safe and it’s often unpleasant … but at least it is never boring. Escape from the SOS Club appears to be impossible, so Kyon may as well resign himself to his fate.

And then one day Kyon discovers the world has been transformed.


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