Reviews, April 2016

We Are Both Better Than We Should Be

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō — Hitoshi Ashinano
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, book 3

Well, I misspoke. Apparently I cannot resist dipping into the YYK archive at least one more time. Volume three of Hitoshi Ashinano’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō offers more enigmas and mysteries, but not a lot in the way of concrete explanation. Ah well.

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Blue Blooded Ingenue

Crown Duel — Sherwood Smith
Crown Duel, book 1

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 — Fran Wilde

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 — Richard C. Meredith

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 — Hitoshi Ashinano
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, book 2

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 — Tanith Lee

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 — Donald Kingsbury

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 — Laura Anne Gilman
The Devil's West, book 1

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 — Michael Kurland
Greenwich Village Trilogy, book 2

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?


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Whatever Happened to Lady Ista?

Paladin of Souls — Lois McMaster Bujold
Chalion, book 2

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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Christian Dorse is a terrible person but a great protagonist

Lycanthia or The Children of Wolves — Tanith Lee

1981’s Lycanthia or The Children of Wolves is one of Tanith Lee’s standalone fantasies. It is not one that lends itself to sequels.

Christian Dorse returns to the family chateau. It had been lost to debt by his grandfather and has only now been returned to the Dorse family. The restored owner believes himself In the grip of a fatal malady, and does not expect to long enjoy possession of the estate.

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Where Time Flows Lazily

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, — Hitoshi Ashinano
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, book 1

Hitoshi Ashinano’s science fiction manga series Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō (Yokohama Shopping Trip Diary; popularly known as YKK) was serialized between 1994 and 2006.

The climate changed and the oceans rose. Humanity’s cities have either drowned or have become mere shadows of what they once were. The last remnants of humanity are slowly dwindling away into extinction. The general decline poses many challenges to Alpha Hatsuseno, proprietor of a small coffee shop some distance from the much reduced Yokohama, but she accepts them with inhuman calm.

Alpha, you see, is an android. Humans may be doomed but their technological children are doing just fine. As is the Earth.

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(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding

The Stars Change — Mary Anne Mohanraj

The setting of In Mary Anne Mohanraj’s 2013 The Stars Change, the world of Pyroxina Major, is a university world. Its combination of multiculturalism and strategic location makes it an academic hotspot. Beings of many races have flocked to the University of All Worlds, there to study and live together in peace. Or at least that’s the theory.

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First Flinx

Tar-Aiym Krang — Alan Dean Foster
Pip & Flinx, book 2

1972’s The Tar-Aiym Krang was the first in the seventeen to date1 volumes of the Pip & Flinx series, the first book in the more than thirty to date Humanx Commonwealth Universe volumes and as far as I can tell, the very first book Alan Dean Foster ever wrote. That is a lot of firsts for one little book. How does it stand up forty-four years later?

Purchased on a whim by Mother Mastiff, Flinx is, by age sixteen, a talented thief and an experienced street performer. He has no idea that one seemingly minor encounter is going to catapult him from the only home he has ever known into a life of interstellar adventure.

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No attorneys/To plead my case

Trouble and Her Friends — Melissa Scott

Melissa Scott’s 1994 Lambda-winning cyberpunk novel, Trouble and Her Friends, lives in the intersection of Black-Mask-style mystery and science fiction. It also has echoes of the end of America’s fabled Old West, perhaps in ways that were not intended twenty-two years ago.

Convinced that the age of cracking has been ended by the badly thought-out Evans-Tinsdale Bill, Trouble abandons her old online life and her hacker lover, and vanishes into the world of respectability. There she plans to spend the rest of her life living below the law’s radar. Cerise joins the forces of sanctioned anti-cracker security, a Henry Newton Brown of the future.

For three years, those plans work.

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“decayed, ruinous, romantic, and depressing by turns”

The Book of the Mad — Tanith Lee
The Secret Books of Paradys, book 4

1993’s The Book of the Mad is the fourth and final volume in Tanith Lee’s The Secret Books of Paradys series. It is also the first book in this series that prompted me to shout angrily at whoever wrote the cover copy.

The Paris of our real world may be far across the Uchronic seas from Paradys, but Paradys need not feel lonely. Two other versions of the depraved city, Paradise and Paradis, are close at hand. One only need know the correct magical path to walk from one to another.

Alas, at present the only two people who know that secret are Felion and Smara, and they are as mad as they are murderous. They are confined to the Paradys lunatic asylum.

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Uncozy Mystery

Farthing — Jo Walton
Small Change, book 1

2006’s Farthing is the first volume in Jo Walton’s Small Change trilogy. This short novel was followed by 2007’s Ha’penny and 2008’s Half a Crown.

If British mysteries are any guide, England’s stately homes, rising very so picturesquely out of a verdant countryside, exist primarily to provide suitably isolated locations for spectacular murders, murders sufficiently puzzling to justify the attention of the Empire’s greatest minds. Farthing is no exception: not only does it live up to genre expectations by quickly presenting readers with a gruesomely murdered and artistically posed corpse, but the dead man is a man beloved by all England. He is no less than the great Sir James Thirkie, the architect of the peace between Britain and Nazi Germany.

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The Future is Furry

Barsk — Lawrence M. Schoen

Lawrence M. Schoen’s Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard was released in late 2015. The lack of lead time did not stop it from snagging a Nebula nomination two months later. I enjoyed large portions of this book, but I cannot fathom why this was considered worthy of a Nebula.

Sixty-thousand years into the future, the Alliance includes four thousand worlds, each teeming with the descendants of terrestrials. Although not, as it happens, humans. Instead, eighty-seven different intelligent species share the galaxy, each of them evolved from a different non-human terrestrial species.

The elephantine Fants are scorned by the other species. Eight centuries ago, the two species of Fant—Lox and Eleph—were given exclusive occupation rights to the planet Barsk. At the time it seemed like a good deal: the Fants got a homeland away from the other species who so loathed them, and the Alliance got access to Barsk’s pharmaceutical riches (thanks to the Fants’ hard work).

That was eight centuries ago and circumstances change.

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The dead man, the teleporter and the bartender

A Hole in Space — Larry Niven

This is my third foray into what I have decided to call “the essential collections of Larry Niven, being an irregular review series I may not even get around to finishing or continuing” (or, as it turned out, tagging or giving its own formal series name in the sidebar).

The actual physical book I am reviewing is something of a mystery, because I have no idea how I ended up with a copy of the 1974 printing of A Hole in Space . I clearly remember that the first Niven book I bought was the 1975 edition of Neutron Star

I liked it enough to snap up all the subsequent Niven collections. The book sitting on my desk is clearly the 1974 printing and was purchased new; both the price and the absence of the distinctive cover format Ballantine/Del Rey used for Niven in the latter half of the 1970 make that clear. Did I buy an old, but previously unsold copy that had lingered on bookstore shelves?

At first I thought that this book might be a relic of the failed commune that trashed my family’s farm. (Bad decision to rent to them, bad, bad.) They left behind a lot of junk. My copy of Beyond This Horizon is a hippy relic. But on second thought, I realized that we had cleared away the last remnants of the commune by 1971, or 1972 at the latest. Unless the hippies had developed a time machine just for buying books from the future, this book could not have been left by them. It’s a puzzle I will probably never solve.

(Trivial? Well, it matters to me, OK? Provenance is important to collectors.)

This was for many years my favourite Niven collection. Has time been kind to it?

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A World Shaped by Magic

The Door into Fire — Diane Duane
The Tale of the Five, book 1

1979’s The Door into Fire is the first volume of Diane Duane’s Tale of the Five. As I recall, there were to be at least four books in the series, but as of this posting, only two further volumes, The Door into Shadow and The Door into Sunset, have been published. A fourth book, The Door into Starlight, is mentioned on ISFDB, but only as “unpublished.”

In a world where grimdark rules the fantasy bookshelves, this book may seem like an oddly touchy-feely secondary world fantasy. It was even more remarkable back in the Disco Era, when it was first published.

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“This life is all we can expect, and (…) it will probably be unpleasant.”

The Book of the Dead — Tanith Lee
The Secret Books of Paradys, book 3

1991’s The Book of the Dead is the third in Tanith Lee’s The Secret Books of Paradys series. Like The Book of the Damned, it is a collection of short works. Also like The Book of the Damned, it is filled with characters making decisions they probably will regret, for however brief a time remains to them.

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