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Reviews from November 2015 (29)

A Belated Halloween Offering

The Haunting of Hill House

By Shirley Jackson  

10 Nov, 2015


I don’t know what’s more embarrassing: that it took me until 2015 to read Shirley Jackson’s 1959 classic The Haunting of Hill House or that it took me until 2015 for me to read my first Shirley Jackson story 1. Or that I actually saw the movie adaptation of this novel before I read the book. At least it was the 1963 movie — the good one — and not the trainwreck from a few years ago. 

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone. 

But now Hill House is going to have guests. 

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A Weird Western

Vermilion; the Adventures of Lou Merriweather, Psychopomp

By Molly Tanzer  

9 Nov, 2015

Special Requests


2015’s Vermilion; the Adventures of Lou Merriweather, Psychopomp is Molly Tanzer’s debut novel. It’s an example of something I call Weird Westerns , a cousin to works like Findley’s Tex Arcana and Sumner’s Devil’s Tower books.

Daughter of a white psychopomp and a Chinese apothecary, Elouise Lou” Merriweather has taken up her father’s calling, sending the restless dead to the next world. It’s a dangerous calling, but as a person of mixed race (not to mention a woman who prefers men’s clothing) in the exuberantly bigoted world that is 19 th century America, it’s not as if Lou has a lot of career options open to her. 

Now Lou is adding a new occupation to her career portfolio: consulting detective. Chinatown’s young men have been heading into the interior of Colorado, enticed by a dubious job offer. None have returned. The authorities could not care less what happens to Chinese-Americans, so it falls to Lou to accept a commission from her estranged mother and investigate the case of the disappearing men. 

What she finds is 

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Like a lighthouse keeper’s beam


By Terry Draper, John Woloschuk & Dee Long  

8 Nov, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


I have no idea how I stumbled across progressive rock band Klaatu — nor did I have any idea that aforesaid stumbling might have been the result of the grim jackboot of socialism stamping on the ears of Canadian radio listeners!

Although certain wild-eyed fans speculated that the band was actually the Beatles, returned under a new name, in fact they were a trio of Canadians: John Woloschuk, Dee Long, and Terry Draper.

Unsurprisingly, given that their band name comes from the name of Michael Rennie’s alien ambassador in the film The Day the Earth Stood Still (which in turn was based on Harry Bates’ short story Farewell to the Master”), science fiction themes are prominently featured in their oeuvre.Take, for example, their Juno-Award-winning concept album Hope.

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It’s So Fluffy!

Earthrise  (Her Instruments, volume 1)

By M. C. A. Hogarth  

7 Nov, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


2013’s Earthrise is the first novel in the Her Instruments series, by the prolific M.C.A. Hogarth. It’s also the first Hogarth novel I have ever read. I picked it up for two reasons: it was free and I had heard others talk about it in a way that made me think the book might scratch my Traveller itch. Traveller, the old-time Dumarest meets the Solar Queen rpg that featured rag-tag crews making a slender living moving goods from system to system in beat-up starships. 

As it turned out, there are indeed some Traveller-like elements in the book, but I was even more strongly reminded of an entirely different, considerably less well-known rpg. More on that later. 

Reese Edding and the rest of her rag-tag crew — twins Sasha and Irvine, Bryer, Kis’eh’t, and Allacazam— do make a slender living moving good from system to system in the beat-up starship TMS Earthrise. The ship had a brush with insolvency before but was saved by a large gift from a mysterious benefactor. Well, not to much gift as a payment for a service to be named later. 

Now that marker has come due. 

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This is James’ Sad Face

The Storm Lord  (Wars of Vis, volume 1)

By Tanith Lee  

6 Nov, 2015

A Year of Tanith Lee


1976’s The Storm Lord is the first volume in Tanith Lee’s The Wars of Vis trilogy. It establishes the setting: oppressed Lowlanders who face endless racial persecution at the hands of the violent and sexually voracious Vis majority.

Dragged away from her people to sate King Rehdon’s lusts, priestess Ashne’e leaves her mark on history in two ways; first, her deadly Lowland sex magic leaves Rhedon a corpse the first time he rapes her. Second, that single night is enough to leave Ashne’e pregnant with Rhedon’s youngest son, a boy who by the laws of the great city of Dorthar is entitled to its throne! 

If he can stay alive long enough to claim his rightful place.

Warning: by the standards of the 1970s, which were kind of rapey, this is super-duper rapey. 

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The Case of the Libelous Corpse

The Silkworm  (Cormoran Strike, volume 2)


5 Nov, 2015

Special Requests


2014’s The Silkworm , the second mystery in Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series, proved to me that sometimes having a legendarily lousy memory can be an asset. Ditto for not looking at author bios immediately. 

Catapulted from poverty to fame and fortune by the events of the first book, The Cuckoo’s Calling , Strike discovers that well-to-do clients can often be entitled prats. Annoyed with his latest jerk client, Strike fires the man to take a considerably less remunerative case: locating errant author Owen Quine for Quine’s wife, Leonora Quinn 

The question very quickly evolves from where has Owen got off to this time?” to Why would anyone want Owen back?” Owen appears to be a collection of character flaws wrapped around more character flaws. A man-child utterly focused on his own needs and desires, an author of little talent and enormous spite, Owen revels in being offensive and grating. He’s certainly not faithful to his wife. To know Owen is to hate him. 

When Owen turns up in a derelict building, disemboweled and very, very dead, the problem is not, therefore, working out who wanted him dead, but narrowing the vast crowd of suspects down to only one. 

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Runaway Robot

vN  (Machine Dynasty, volume 1)

By Madeline Ashby  

3 Nov, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


I missed Madeline Ashby’s 2012 debut novel, vN, when it was first released. Back then, other people picked what I read and I didn’t have enough slack in my schedule to fit in books just because I wanted to read them. Now I that I have the luxury of time again, I intend to use it.

Amy Peterson is a perfect little girl, even better than the organic variety. Raised by her doting organic father and his artificial wife, Amy’s physical parameters are constrained by diet. As for her software—von Neumann robots like Amy are programmed to comply with human demands. She will even auto-destruct if a human suffers harm in her vicinity. 

Well, she should. Amy has a tiny flaw in her programming.

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Some races are disciplined. Is fact.” Tekla said. Japanese are more disciplined than …Italians.”


By Neal Stephenson  

2 Nov, 2015

Special Requests


My former editor Andrew Wheeler used to delight in sending me books he knew would cause me great pain. He would have, I suspect, been smiling very cheerfully had he had the opportunity to send me Neal Stephenson’s sprawling Seveneves, because it combines Stephenson’s traditional weaknesses — intrusive infodumps, shaky plotting, resolutions that feel less like endings than the moment the author got bored typing — with a host of new ones, like an almost Jack McDevittesque grasp of deep time. 

One day, the Moon explodes into seven large fragments and a host of tiny ones. Maybe it was aliens. Maybe it was a passing primordial black hole. Maybe it was an author who couldn’t be bothered to come up with a plausible scenario. The important thing is that scientists soon realized that a process analogous to Kessler Syndrome would turn a handful of large fragments into a vast cloud of smaller pieces. Enough of these fragments would impact the Earth to scour the planet clean of all life. 

The good news is that this will not happen immediately (or this would have been a very short novel instead of the behemoth that it is). The bad news is that it will happen all too soon, in two years or so. Everyone on Earth is doomed. 

Everyone on Earth. Everyone off Earth, on the other hand … 

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As if Larry Niven had been mugged by Olaf Stapledon and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The Palace of Eternity

By Bob Shaw  

1 Nov, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


Bob Shaw’s 1969 novel The Palace of Eternity is almost a mirror image of this week’s Tanith Lee: it starts off looking like the hardest of hard SF, then heads off into territory more often associated with fantasy. 

Sickened by his experiences in the great war between humanity and the alien Pythsyccans, retired soldier Mack Travener settles on the planet Mnemosyne. Conventional interstellar craft cannot approach the planet, which is surrounded by a shell of fragments left by two shattered moons. Mnemosyne seems doomed to remain an eternal backwater. Inexplicably, despite its rustic nature, the planet is a hotbed of creativity, particularly artistic creativity. 

Mack’s attempt to reinvent himself as a civilian mechanic on a planet of peaceful artists is short-lived. 

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