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Reviews from November 2015 (29)

Sail Away, Sail Away

Lion’s Blood  (Bilalistan, volume 1)

By Steven Barnes  

30 Nov, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


In Steven Barnes’ 2002 novel Lion’s Blood, little Aiden O’Dere is rescued from a dismal life in a hidden Irish village when bold Viking entrepreneurs provide Aiden and those members of his village who survive the negotiation process (including his mother and his sister, but not his father) with free transportation to Bilalistan1, far across the ocean. There, the kindly Muslims provide the Irish with room and board, in exchange for such duties as their new masters deem appropriate.

Aiden proves inexplicably ungrateful, even though his new owner, the Wakil Abu Ali, is notoriously easy-going towards his property. Perhaps it’s the hard work, the beatings, the short lives many slaves face, the way slave women are used as sexual playthings, or simple white intransigence, but something about his new life does not sit entirely well with Aiden. There does not seem to be much that he can do about his situation.

Well, except

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Two from Delany

The Ballad of Beta‑2 and Empire Star

By Samuel R. Delany  

29 Nov, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


The Ballad of Beta‑2 and Empire Star is a 1976 omnibus of Samuel R. Delany’s 1965 novel The Ballad of Beta‑2 and his 1966 novel Empire Star . It’s not quite my first pick for a Delany review for my Because My Tears are Delicious to You series (more on that later), but it is as close as I can come with my current library. 

These are both very early Delany novels. Expectations based on later works like Dhalgren, Triton, or Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders may well be misleading. 

These two books are also very, very short. Almost novellas. Brevity does not mean simplicity. 

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Delight and Malice

Night’s Master  (Tales of the Flat Earth, volume 1)

By Tanith Lee  

27 Nov, 2015

A Year of Tanith Lee


1978’s Night’s Master, by Tanith Lee, is volume one of the Tales of the Flat Earth. Set in the days when the Earth was flat and floated on the ocean of chaos,” this is less a novel than a collection of three two-part novellas connected by a recurring character, the eponymous Night’s Master, the great and powerful demon prince Azhrarn. 

Azhrarn loves beauty almost as much as he revels in malice.

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A Rising Tide

Arctic Rising

By Tobias S. Buckell  

26 Nov, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


Tobias Buckell’s 2012 novel Arctic Rising takes us to a global-warming future in which the arctic is increasingly clear of unsightly ice … as well as the animals that used to live there. Open seas mean access to all the resources of the north; ports are springing up all around the Arctic Ocean. Prosperity abounds in Canada and other, less important, nations!

But someone always has to be a spoilsport. Possibly because Canada’s benefit is the bane of most of the rest of the world, which must cope with rising sea levels and increasingly savage storms. 

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Authors should not suffer for the poor decisions of the marketing department

Range of Ghosts Range of Ghosts  (The Eternal Sky, volume 1)

By Elizabeth Bear  

25 Nov, 2015

Special Requests


2012’s Range of Ghosts is the first novel in Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky series, which currently includes three linked novels and five shorter works. Or so I see on consulting the ISFBD, because if the hardcover I read has any hint that this is part of a series, I overlooked it. I will return to this point later. 

Life as a relative of the Great Khan isn’t all beer and skittles and sacking the defenseless cities of the great plains. Sometimes it involves massive civil wars. The death of a Khan usually triggers a squabble over the Khanate. Which of the rivals, Qulan or Qori Buqa, will gain power? Or will the war end with the Khaganate in ruins? Choosing which faction to join is a matter of life and death and neutrality is not an option. 

Temur chose poorly, which is why when we meet him he is the lone survivor of a slain army. He has been left for dead amidst the heaped bodies of his close relatives. 

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A Small Bug in the System

Children of Time

By Adrian Tchaikovsky  

23 Nov, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


Anyone who has read Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ten-part Shadows of the Apt series, with its insect-themed kinden (clans) might well think that Tchaikovsky is fond of bugs. Unlike so many of the rest of us. Remember the neighbourhood kids warning you about earwigs? Those horrifying creepy crawlies that might even now be laying their eggs in your ear while you are distracted reading this text? 

You don’t know the half of it. But you will, once you read 2015’s Children of Time.

Centuries from now, the never-modest Doctor Kern thinks of the nameless world twenty light-years from Earth as Kern’s World”; she may not have terraformed the world, but she certainly plans to populate it with a species of her creation; monkeys infected with a nanovirus designed to push the primates towards intelligence. 

Everything goes exactly to plan … except that there’s a catastrophic, civilization-levelling war back on Earth. All the monkeys are killed before they can reach Kern’s World. However, the nanovirus reaches the surface. There, it finds alternate hosts on whom to inflict the Exaltation of Beasts. 

Spiders …

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Christ, what an imagination I’ve got

Stand on Zanzibar

By John Brunner  

22 Nov, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


1968’s Stand on Zanzibar is the first of a thematically connected series of dystopian novels, each wrestling with a different significant issue of the day (the day being the 1960s and 1970s). It is arguably John Brunner’s finest work. 

Brunner takes us to a 2010 where Earth is home to so many people — seven billion! — that if we all stood shoulder to shoulder in one location, we would cover the island of Zanzibar. There’s no sign of a Malthusian collapse on the horizon, but the unthinkable overcrowding has had consequences, ranging from draconian eugenic laws to outbreaks of violence. Conventional sexual mores have broken down and society has become saturated with frivolous, pandering, Murdochian mass media. 

Two roommates, Donald Hogan and Norman House, are drawn into seemingly unrelated events on the opposite sides of the Earth. 

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Trash Talk


By Makoto Yakimura, Gorō Taniguchi & Ichirō Ōkouchi  

21 Nov, 2015



I love quasi-plausible SF set in our solar system, especially SF that tries to be at least semi-plausible. For a long time, Anglospheric SF had little interest in that particular literary niche. I was forced to look abroad. Which eventually resulted in my exposure to the 2003 – 2004 26-episode anime series Planetes, adapted by Sunrise from Makoto Yakimura’s manga of the same name.

Ah, the bright and shiny world of the 2070s! Space travel is, if not routine, at least common; oil has been replaced by lunar helium three1, thus ensuring the continuation of energy-intensive civilization. Prosperity abounds!

For the people working for Technora’s Half Section, prosperity is unevenly distributed. Space is just where they happen to work. The Half Section, more correctly called the Space Debris Section, are the garbagemen (and women) of SPAAACE!

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for there was still life in it, waiting, stored like seed. 

Drinking Sapphire Wine  (Biting the Sun, volume 2)

By Tanith Lee  

20 Nov, 2015

A Year of Tanith Lee


Tanith Lee’s 1977 Drinking Sapphire Wine is a sequel to 1976’s Don’t Bite the Sun1.

Dragged back to utopian four-BEE following the death of her pet and her unborn child, the nameless narrator chafes against a society which, they now realize, is much too limited. Life in four-BEE is pleasant and utterly meaningless; the narrator and other adolescents, the Jangs, are expected to do nothing but enjoy themselves … but even the adults (known only as older persons ) play no really useful roles. Any job worth doing is done by robots and quasi-robots because they can be trusted to do important jobs correctly. 

Even rebellion is meaningless in four-BEE. The quasi-robots who keep the city running simply fix any damage with a long suffering sigh. Or so everyone thought. And then … one of the Jangs, Zirk, outraged over a comparatively trivial disagreement, challenges the narrator to a duel. The duel leads to an interesting discovery. There is a crime the quasi-robot-run Committee will not forgive: 


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