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Reviews from April 2016 (21)

Blue Blooded Ingenue

Crown Duel  (Crown Duel, book 1)

By Sherwood Smith 

27 Apr, 2016

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1997’s young adult fantasy Crown Duel is the first novel in Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel series. It was followed by 1998’s Court Duel. Both are included in this omnibus. Together, they are part of the larger Sartorias-deles sequence.

Two young aristocrats, Meliara and her brother Bran, learn that King Galdran is planning to break the Covenant with the Hill Folk; he wants to clear-cut the valuable colour trees of Tlanth, Meliara and Bran’s domain. The two feel that they must protect the trees, and the Covenant, and the only way to do so seems to be mounting a rebellion against their liege lord. Conveniently, the siblings have been plotting an uprising for some time; Galdran is an all-round bad king and he is comprehensively hated. 

Their rebellion is not going well. Potential allies have refused to help; their mercenary army has already betrayed them.

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Margin for Mercy

Updraft

By Fran Wilde 

26 Apr, 2016

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2015’s Updraft is Fran Wilde’s debut novel; it is set in the same world as her 2013 short story A Moment of Gravity, Circumscribed.” This is a world where humans live confined to immensely tall bone towers; the ground has been lost, far below and long ago. Travel between the towers is by bridge and by wing. It is frequently perilous. Travelers are menaced, and sometimes culled, by invisible predators called skymouths.

Most of the people of the towers see their traditions and laws as their only protections against a dangerous world. The laws are upheld by the Singers, the autocrats who rule from aeries in the Spire. Woe to the person who willfully or otherwise breaks the law. Punishment will be swift and draconian.

As Kerit Densira finds out first hand.

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Forlorn Hope

We All Died at Breakaway Station

By Richard C. Meredith 

25 Apr, 2016

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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I could have reviewed Richard C. Meredith’s 1969 novel We All Died at Breakaway Station in my Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn’t Suck review series but … to be honest, I am not 100% sure that it’s all that good. It is, however, extremely energetic and it delivers exactly what it promises in the title. Everyone dies.

Humans and the alien Jillies have never truly understood each other. What is clear, following the unprovoked Jillie attacks on humans (which range from garden variety atrocities to full scale nuclear holocausts), is that the aliens do not like us. 

Breakaway is twenty-seven light years from Earth. It is an unremarkable but important link in the FTL communications network that connects the Solar System with the Paladine region of the galaxy. It is also a convenient place for Absalom Bracer’s convoy — the hospital ship Rudolph Cragstone and its escorts Iwo Jima and Pharsalus—to pause while on route to the advanced medical resources of Earth. It’s a good place to die.

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It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō  (Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, book 2)

By Hitoshi Ashinano 

23 Apr, 2016

Translation

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I am going to skip my usual practice of giving the publication date of the work I am reviewing because … as much as I hate to shake your faith in me as an all-knowing sage of SFF, I must admit that I am not sure when volume two of Hitoshi Ashinano’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō was published.

In this volume, author Ashinano returns to the twilight world of his protagonistAlpha Hasseno, cafe owner and Alpha 7 M2 series robot. We are given eight short pieces; seven that show Alpha’s world as it is, and one that hints at how it got that way.

Sorry about the tiny cover art. I could not find a larger image.

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A Cork on the River of Destiny

A Heroine of the World

By Tanith Lee 

22 Apr, 2016

A Year of Tanith Lee

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In Tanith Lee’s 1989 A Heroine of the World, Aradia is a child of thirteen when the war begins and her comfortable world disintegrates. She is not much older by the end of the novel, but in just a few years, this former rich girl takes on many identities to survive: a servant, a war-bride, an emperor’s mistress. Among others. 

Aradia’s parents, certain of victory, blithely ride off to war,
leaving Aradia with a cold, unsympathetic aunt. Aradia never sees her parents again. Her father dies in a cavalry charge, her mother in an exploding munitions dump. The conquering Kronians occupy the City where Aradia lives. The aunt commits suicide in despair.

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Eugenic Love Story

Courtship Rite

By Donald Kingsbury 

20 Apr, 2016

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Donald Kingsbury has been writing science fiction since the 1950s, but he has never been particularly prolific. In fact, over the seven decades of his career, he has published a mere five novels, five novellas, and an excerpt (so far as I know). 

Perhaps the most remarkable of his novels is 1982’s Courtship Rite (also published under the title Geta). I have a few scars thanks to this book 1, but that is not the only reason it is remarkable. 

No sensible person would colonize a world like Geta, given a choice. It is arid, poor in many resources essential to advanced technology, and its native lifeforms cannot be digested by terrestrial life. It promises a short impoverished life and eventual starvation to anyone foolish enough to settle there. 

The first colonists — marooned? — came from a starfaring civilization, but even that did not save them. The survivors made some hard choices that let them prevail and persist, in the process losing most of their technology and most knowledge of their past. As far as the Getans know, they were placed on Geta by their god to test them. And their god is not grading on a curve. 

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The Devil’s Left Hand

Silver on the Road  (The Devil’s West, book 1)

By Laura Anne Gilman 

19 Apr, 2016

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Laura Anne Gilman has been a professional novelist since the mid-1990s, so it is indeed odd that I had not read any of her books until now. Her 2015 Silver on the Road is my first.

Sold as a toddler to the Devil, Isobel will soon turn sixteen. Her indenture will end and she will have to make some difficult choices. Should she leave Flood, the only town she has ever known, or should she, like so many others, make a bargain with the Boss?

She could have left. Isobel chose instead to become the Devil’s Left Hand. 

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Psychedelic SF Revisited

The Unicorn Girl  (Greenwich Village Trilogy, book 2)

By Michael Kurland 

17 Apr, 2016

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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1969’s The Unicorn Girl is the second book in what the ISFDB calls the Greenwich Village series; it’s a sequel to Chester Anderson’s 1967 The Butterfly Kid. Rather oddly, it was written by Michael Kurland, not Anderson. One of the defining characteristics of this series is that no two books in it were written by the same author1.

What they do share is a cast made up of the authors’ friends, and a plot centering on the endless struggle of futuristic hippies to protect the world. 

A year after dealing with the butterflies, the panicked teenyboppers, and the blue lobsters from space, Michael Kurland and friends have relocated to the West Coast. There Michael meets Sylvia, who is distraught over the loss of her unicorn Adolphus. Unicorns may be mythical, but anyone who ever lived in the Village is used to encountering odder things twice before breakfast. Rather than leave Sylvia to search on her own, Michael offers to help her.

Pausing only to draft close friend Chester Anderson into the search, the group sets off in quest of the missing Adolphus. What could go wrong?

BLIP!

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Whatever Happened to Lady Ista?

Paladin of Souls  (Chalion, book 2)

By Lois McMaster Bujold 

16 Apr, 2016

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One of downsides of having other people pick what I read is that not only do I miss perfectly good books that were assigned to other reviewers, but I am often so busy reading what I must that I don’t have much free time for unassigned reading. I miss good books that way. One of those books was 2003’s Paladin of Souls. This is another novel set in the world of the Five Gods, the world introduced in The Curse of Chalion1. I like Bujold’s work; this was a Hugo-winning work; ergo, this was something I wanted to read. I just never found the time. 

Until now.…

Finally freed of the Golden General’s curse and the god-touched madness that afflicted her, Ista tires of the boring, custom-bound life of an aristocratic lady. She seizes on the one avenue of escape that is open to her: pilgrimage. 

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