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Reviews from January 2016 (22)

The adventurer-detective

Cyrion

By Tanith Lee 

15 Jan, 2016

A Year of Tanith Lee

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Cyrion, Tanith Lee’s 1982 collection, gathers all of the stories featuring the eponymous hero. In addition to the previously published material, Lee includes one work original to this volume, Cyrion in Stone, as well as extensive linking material.

In a secondary world much like the Medieval Middle East, a clumsy, ginger-haired man stumbles into the Honey Garden, an unremarkable inn. The man is Roilant and he comes in search of the legendary Cyrion, Man of Mystery! Cyrion is not present but some of the patrons have heard of him and are happy to share what they know of the renowned adventurer. 


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The Director is God

The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya  (Haruhi Suzumiya, book 2)

By Nagaru Tanigawa 

14 Jan, 2016

Translation

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2003’s The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya is the second in Nagaru Tanigawa’s Haruhi Suzumiya manga series. 

Audaciously self-centered Haruhi is determined to provide her school’s upcoming cultural festival with a movie of unparalleled quality. The fact that nobody asked her to do this isn’t going to slow her down at all. Haruhi didn’t get where she is by caring one jot about other people’s preferences!

At least the project will distract Haruhi from her failure to find the time travelers, aliens, and ESPers she is convinced must be concealed within the general population. And anyway, what could go wrong with a simple film project?

Quite a lot, if the auteur behind the film is an unwitting god. Which Haruhi is. 


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Every Step You Take

The Trials  (The Red, book 2)

By Linda Nagata 

13 Jan, 2016

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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2015’s near-future MilSF novel The Trials, the second volume in Linda Nagata’s The Red trilogy, picks up where First Light left off. 

SPOILER WARNING: if you haven’t read the first book yet, this review may reveal too much. You may want to minimize this browser window, buy and read the first book, and then return to the review. Just saying. 

In First Light, James Shelley’s Apocalypse Squad, a unit of elite, enhanced soldiers, acted resolutely to punish the highly connected billionaire who orchestrated Coma Day, a series of tactical nuclear strikes on the US. Heroes all! It’s kind of a shame that soldiers taking it on themselves to kidnap an American and transport her to a foreign court so that she can be tried for crimes against humanity is what the army calls highly illegal,” The surviving members of the LCS are be rewarded with what the army calls a court martial.”

And the penalty for conviction is death.


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In the heart of the Nebula

The Crucible of Time

By John Brunner 

12 Jan, 2016

Special Requests

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John Brunner’s 1983 The Crucible of Time  is a fine example of science fiction inspired by the science of the time. As Brunner explains in his foreword 

It is becoming more and more widely accepted that Ice Ages coincide with the passage of the Solar System through the spiral arms of our galaxy. It therefore occurred to me to wonder what would become of a species that had evolved intelligence just before their planet’s transit of a gas cloud far denser than the one in Orion which the Earth has recently — in cosmic terms — traversed. 

I will leave it to my commentariat to discuss to what degree the above represents current scientific consensus. The basic idea, that an inhabited world has the misfortune to traverse a region like this, 


is certainly enough of a hook from which to hang an SF novel. 

In this case, a highly episodic novel. Really, more a collection of linked novellas. 


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One classic and three others

The Martian Way and Other Stories

By Isaac Asimov 

10 Jan, 2016

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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1955’s The Martian Way and Other Stories is a collection of four short works by Isaac Asimov, one of which is, I think, rather well known. The three others? Not so much. Still, this was one of my go-to books as a teen. I just didn’t (and still don’t) think the other three stories had the same oomph as The Martian Way. 

So how well did this classic stand up, you ask?

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None so pure as Dunizel

Delusion’s Master  (Tales of the Flat Earth, book 3)

By Tanith Lee 

8 Jan, 2016

A Year of Tanith Lee

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1981’s Delusion’s Master is the third volume in Tanith Lee’s five volume series, Tales of the Flat Earth. 

A mile from the walls of the great city of Baybhelu, the mad queen Jasrin waits for her husband Nemdur. Her wait is futile. Nemdur will never come; he will never forgive Jasrin for her role in their infant son’s violent death. But Jasrin’s insanity shields her from that unpleasant truth.

One night she finally receives a visitor. It is not Nemdur (who is amusing himself with other women). It is the demon lord Prince Chuz, whom mortals also call Madness. Jasrin is already his; soon, the entire city of Baybhelu will be his as well.


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As full of hope as Greenland is full of green

Our Lady of the Ice

By Cassandra Rose Clarke 

7 Jan, 2016

Miscellaneous Reviews

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Cassandra Rose Clarke’s 2015’s Our Lady of the Ice takes us to an alternate history, one in which Argentinean entrepreneurs have built an amusement park in Antarctica. Hope City was once profitable, but that golden age is long gone. These days the city ekes out a living selling power from their atomic reactor. Life in a marginally viable city in a polar wasteland is desperate. The only thing keeping the community from vanishing in a puff of economic logic is that most of the poor saps in Hope City cannot afford the cost of a visa and a ticket back to the mainland.

The current state of affairs suits Mr. Cabrera just fine. The gangster legitimate businessman’s entire business model is based on exploiting a trapped population. Marianella Luna’s scheme to supplement imported food with produce from local agricultural domes threatens his bottom line. She is keeping the domes secret, but Cabrera suspects that something is going on. Luna is at the top of his personal enemies list.

But covert agricultural domes are not Luna’s only secret, and that’s where private detective Eliana Gomez comes in.


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who was once handsome and tall as you

Consider Phlebas  (Culture, book 1)

By Iain M. Banks 

6 Jan, 2016

Space Opera That Doesn't Suck

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What better novel to inaugurate Space Opera That Doesn’t Suck than Consider Phlebas? This 1987 novel by the (sadly) late Iain M. Banks wasn’t Banks’ debut novel, but it was the first novel to feature his star-spanning, anarchistic utopia, the Culture. 

Banks chooses to introduce the Culture not from the perspective of a sympathetic observer, but rather from the point of view of an enemy. The Changer Horza sees Minds, the artificial intelligences that dominate the Culture, as anti-life and the culture of the Culture as an anti-evolutionary dead end. Accordingly, when the Idiran-Culture War breaks out, Horza casts his lot with the Idirans. The Idirans might be violent, repressive, bigoted religious fanatics but at least they are on the side of life. Or so Horza sees it. And a shapeshifter like Horza is a valuable asset.…

His cover blown, shackled to a cell wall, waiting for a rising tide of waste to drown him …

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It takes a thief

The Thief  (Queen’s Thief, book 1)

By Megan Whalen Turner 

5 Jan, 2016

Special Requests

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I admit I approached The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner’s 1996 novel, with trepidation. Not only was it a Newbery Honor Book (with all that implies), but I had previously read and disliked its sequel The Queen of Attolia. Having read and enjoyed The Thief, I am forced to consider that perhaps I misjudged The Queen of Attolia.

By his own testimony, Gen is the greatest thief the city-state of Sounis has ever seen. That same testimony appears to mark him as somewhat less than the most astute thief in Sounis, because Gen made that boast to a client who turns out to be a government agent. 

By the time the book opens, Gen has spent a fair time in a dank prison, contemplating escape options. Gen can steal anything but not, it seems, his own self from a secure dungeon. 

An opening to freedom appears in the form of the King’s magus, who needs a talented thief.

Someone who can steal a magical icon straight out of a fairy tale.


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Blinded by nostalgia

Mission to Universe

By Gordon R. Dickson 

3 Jan, 2016

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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Mission to Universe is a comparatively obscure Gordon R. Dickson novel. I chose it over more famous alternatives like the Dorsai series1 or the Dragon Knight series, both available in many installments. I chose 1965’s Mission to Universe because sentiment. It wasn’t my first Dickson2, but the 1977 edition was in the first stack of Del Rey books I ever bought. In the 1970s I was a huge fan of Del Rey books.

I may have chosen poorly.…

Four! Billion! People! share an overcrowded Earth. More than fifty nations have armed themselves with nuclear weapons of stupendous power. Nobody wants a nuclear war, but nobody can see a way to safely disarm. All they can do is watch each other nervously while waiting for some crisis to trigger the final war. 

Benjamin Shore thinks America’s newly developed phase ship, able to bridge interstellar distances in an instant, could be humanity’s salvation. Habitable worlds around other stars could provide a much needed release valve for Earth’s population. Shore’s superiors disagree; they worry that the phase ship could itself be the spark needed to set off World War Three.

Following the delivery of covert orders from Washington, Shore hastily assembles a crew and takes the Phase Ship Mark III into deepest space. Once there, he reveals a heavily redacted copy of their orders: to boldly go search the sky until the Phase Ship Mark III finds a new home for humanity!

What Shore’s crew cannot know is that Shore’s redactions conceal the truth; the President never ordered the ship into space. The mission is a fraud.


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