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Reviews from November 2015 (29)

Losing Face

Persona

By Genevieve Valentine  

19 Nov, 2015

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2015’s Persona is Genevieve Valentine’s third novel. 

Suyana Sapaki is one of the International Assembly’s Faces, youthful delegates whose demanding jobs offer very little in the way of power or job security. Even popular Faces can fall from grace overnight and Suyana is nothing like popular; not only is she herself less than personable, but the United Amazonian Rainforest Confederation itself is something of an international pariah. 

Summoned to meet with the American Face and his handlers to negotiate the terms under which the two Faces will feign a relationship — an arrangement that Suyana regards as indistinguishable from state-sanctioned prostitution — she gets a hint that someone believes her utility has dropped below zero. That hint comes in the form of several bullet wounds, none fatal. 


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Missionary astray

The Accidental Terrorist

By William Shunn  

18 Nov, 2015

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I’veread a lot of SF, but there’s a heck of a lot of it. More than Icould read in my lifetime. That’s why this is the first book byWilliam Shunn I’ve ever read, even though he has been publishingfor decades and has been nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula1.But … this book is not SF; it is autobiography.

Shunnhas done a lot of interesting things. He was part of the team thatwrote the venerable word-processing program, Wordperfect, which manyof us still feel was better than the Word that replaced it as thebusiness standard. He was also something of a celebrity in Canada inthe mid-1980s. 

WilliamShunn was the earnest young Mormon missionary whose bomb threat toFlight 789 made newspaper headlines all across Canada. 

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Where Angels Rule

The House of Shattered Wings  (Dominion of the Fallen, volume 1)

By Aliette de Bodard  

17 Nov, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

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2015’s The House of Shattered Wings is the first novel in Aliette de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen setting1. Dominion of the Fallen features a world much like our own, so much like ours as to have its own Paris, City of Lights. This secondary world has been a refuge for Fallen angels for at least the last eight hundred years. Powerful and avaricious, the Fallen easily dominate the humans around them. They have transformed France into a paramount power ruled over by the angel-led Great Houses of Paris. 

In 1914, the Great Houses turned on each other, transforming Paris from one of the world’s wonders into one of its great horrors. At the time in which this novel is set, the Great Houses War is long over, but Paris remains a post-apocalyptic desolation. Some Houses still stand, but they are much reduced from their glory days. 

Thus far, House Silverspires has been one of the lucky ones. It survived the War. It survived the loss of its founder, Morningstar. It survived the unending jockeying for position between the surviving Houses. Whether House Silverspires can survive what is to come is entirely unclear. 


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After War’s End

An Inheritance of Ashes

By Leah Bobet  

16 Nov, 2015

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Leah Bobet’s 2015 An Inheritance of Ashes is her second novel. The first was 2012’s1 Above.

The war against the Wicked God is over; the dread lord and its army of Twisted Things were defeated by a single knife thrust from John Balsam’s blade. How exactly Balsam killed a god by stabbing it is unclear. Balsam vanished in the chaos that followed the Wicked God’s death and no one else knows what happened.

Indeed, all too few of the men who marched south from the lakelands to fight the Wicked God have returned. Young Hallie and pregnant Marthe wait for Marthe’s husband Thom to return, while doing their best to keep Roadstead Farm functioning. Shell-shocked veterans trickle north, but none of them are Thom. One wandering veteran, Heron, stays, trading his labour for room and board over the winter. Still, even with his help, the sisters may not be able to keep the farm … for reasons to be explained later. 

But the appearance of a Twisted Thing at a window hints that the war might not be as over as people think.


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The Big Picture

The Hugo Winners, Volumes One and Two

 Edited by Isaac Asimov 

15 Nov, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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This week’s Because My Tears are Delicious to You review will cover 1972’s The Hugo Winners, Volume One and Two . For one trivial reason (the book is shelved just at eye height in my path from office to front door) and one literary reason (award winning fiction has been on my mind of late). Just how good — or bad — were the older Hugo winners? 

This volume combined two earlier collections, 1961’s The Hugo Winners (later re-titled The Hugo Winners, Volume One ) and 1971’s The Hugo Winners, Volume Two . The whole volume thus includes the Hugo winning novellas and short stories of the 1950s and 1960s .

Incidentally, my copy is the Science Fiction Book Club edition. Older fen will remember that edition from the insert ads that used to grace SF paperbacks 1. What wonders that insert promised! And what structural damage it inflicted on the book binding! 

In addition to enjoying many of the stories, I found the book a fascinating testament to the evolution of science fiction, 1950 – 1970

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The One Hundred

Robot Universe: Legendary Automatons and Androids from the Ancient World to the Distant Future

By Ana Matronic  

14 Nov, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

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Ana Matronic really really really likes robots. Perhaps her name should have been something of a clue. 

She is perhaps best known as the female lead singer of the Scissor Sisters. Matronic is also the author of 2015’s Robot Universe: Legendary Automatons and Androids from the Ancient World to the Distant Future. Which is (I am sure this will astound you) a book about robots.

This 225 page hardcover is a coffee table book, a glossy paged, heavily illustrated guide to the hundred most epic robots and automatons of fiction and history.


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Light and Dark

Volkhavaar

By Tanith Lee  

13 Nov, 2015

A Year of Tanith Lee

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1977’s Volkhavaar is probably counted as one of Tanith Lee’s minor works, but I suspect it’s one that a lot readers found endearing back in the Disco Era. 

Life for Shaina the slave girl, kidnapped when she was very young, is a series of humiliations and beatings at the hands of her owners. Two events will change her dismal lot forever: a seemingly chance meeting with Barbayat, the Grey Lady from Cold Crag, and the appearance of Kernik, the Clever Showman and his troupe, in particular the exceedingly handsome Dasyel. Smitten with Dasyel, the young slave agrees to Barbayat’s terms: she will allow the ancient witch to feed on her blood in exchange for wisdom. Wisdom and power that can unite Shaina and Dasyel. 

What Shaina does not know is that Kernik the Showman is merely the latest name of the grand villain Volkhavaar, servant of a dark and forgotten god. Dasyel, like all the players, is Volkhavaar’s thrall. What Volkhavaar has he does not willingly surrender. 


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I am baffled

Lightless

By C A Higgins  

12 Nov, 2015

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I picked up C. A. Higgins’ 2015 debut novel, Lightless, because 1) it got a glowing review from io9’s Andrew Liptak and 2) it got a starred review from Kirkus. Having read it, I am left wondering what Liptak and Kirkus saw in this book that I did not. 

In the grim boot-stamping-on-a-human-face-forever world of tomorrow, the Solar System is ruled over by the merciless System, an authoritarian regime slightly less lovable than the Qin Dynasty Legalists. Deviation, rebelliousness, and criminality are ruthlessly punished. The entire Solar System is one big panopticon state.

Or that’s the theory. In practice, recording everything everyone does not mean that the System has the means to sift through all the information they are collecting. Dependence on computer surveillance systems means that those systems are vulnerable to people who know how to manipulate them. The System has abundant blind spots; both criminals and terrorists thrive. 

Including people like Leontios Ivanov and Matthew Gale, the two space pirates who have just covertly boarded the experimental space craft Anake.



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A forgotten Canadian classic

The Garden

By Jasper MacDonald King  

11 Nov, 2015

Not Actually A Review

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Canadian author Jasper MacDonald King was, in his day, a bestselling author of children’s fantasy. In recent years, certain politically correct” critics have chosen to ignore his delightful fiction and focus on aspects of his life that were admittedly regrettable — the letter to his distant cousin the Prime Minister urging that the St Louis be turned away, his participation in the Orange Order’s annual flogging Catholics through the streets” celebration (the use of an actual Catholic was discontinued in 1978, I might point out) and his status as the last person to be hanged in Canada (following the discoveries in his garden and a sensational 1952 trial ) — but surely these are mere distractions from the undeniable truth that he wrote some jolly good books. Whatever his life and opinions may have been, surely his fiction can be enjoyed for what it is. 

Of all King’s books, none is more beloved than 1938’s The Garden.


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A Remembrance Day Review

The Buried Giant

By Kazuo Ishiguro  

11 Nov, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

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Ah, Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2015 novel The Buried Giant: true literature or merely fantasy? The author seems worried that readers might be misled by the setting (medieval kingdom, bandits, ogres, dragons, and magic) and mistakenly believe that this is a fantasy novel. Such are the travails of a literary author. 

Post-Roman Britain: the Empire has receded and a seemingly endless wave of Saxons has poured in, pushing the Britons back across the island. These tumultuous events hold little relevance for elderly couple Axl and Beatrice, who are a lot more concerned by the fact that their community no longer trusts them with candles, lest the pair burn their home down. 

Vexed, Axl and Beatrice set out to find their son, who they are pretty sure lives in a village near by, on the other side of a mist-filled landscape populated by bandits, ogres, and oh yes, the dragon. 


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