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Reviews from May 2016 (23)

The Homunculus and the Lunatics

The Rolling Bootlegs  (Baccano!, volume 1)

By Ryogho Narita  (Translated by Taylor Engel)

31 May, 2016



Ryohgo Narita’s light novel Baccano! The Rolling Bootlegs won the Dengeki Gold Prize when it was published in 2003. Translated into English in 2016 by Taylor Engel, it is the first volume in the ongoing Baccano series. Narita’s tale of criminals and lunatics, alchemy and murder is capably illustrated by Katsumi Enami.

Nothing provides results quite like foolish shortcuts. The boatload of alchemists on their way to the New World in 1711 learn this the hard way. While they may be almost immortal, immune to age and injury, they are not invulnerable. All of them can still die at the hands of their immortal companions. Since the killer absorbs all the memories of the victim, there is incentive to murder. A strong incentive, as only one of the alchemists knows how to brew the elixir of immortality. It takes less than a day for the ambitious Szilard Quates to start murdering his fellow alchemists for their knowledge and power.

Twenty-two decades later in Prohibition-era1 New York…

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Whatever happened to Jani?

Rules of Conflict  (Jani Kilian Chronicles, volume 2)

By Kristine Smith  

28 May, 2016

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck


Kristine Smith’s 2000 novel Rules of Conflict is the second volume of her Jani Kilian Chronicles.

Jani Kilian is a cautious woman for very good reasons. Until now, her caution has served her well, keeping her out of the clutches of Commonwealth military services. This time her healthy paranoia betrays her. Fearing her allies, she walks into a trap and is recaptured.

Although recaptured” is not quite the right word. She wakes to discover she is not a prisoner. She is a patient. 

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Daughter of Shadows

Delirium’s Mistress  (Tales of the Flat Earth, volume 4)

By Tanith Lee  

27 May, 2016

A Year of Tanith Lee


Tanith Lee’s 1986 Delirium’s Mistress is the fourth book in her Tales of the Flat Earth series.

Although true love is alien to the demons who live beneath the Flat Earth, Azhrarn truly loved his Dunizel. She died, as mortals do. An enraged Lord of Darkness fixed the guilt on his brother Chuz, Master of Delusion, and vowed to even the score at some later date. 

Azhrarn has one tangible keepsake of Dunizel: their daughter, whom her mother named Sovaz. The girl’s demon father calls her Azhriaz. He does not love her as he did her mother; he sees her only as a possible playing piece in his games. He keeps her sequestered in his underground city until he finds a use for her. 

Of course, keeping your daughter hidden away in hell, concealed within a magical stone, surrounded by demonic guards, is basically begging some heroic adventurer to come retrieve her. 

Enter Oloru.…

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Not quite Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters

Safely You Deliver  (Commonweal, volume 3)

By Graydon Saunders  

25 May, 2016

Special Requests


Graydon Saunder’s 2016 Safely You Deliver continues the Commonweal series that began with The March North. It is a direct sequel to the second book in the series, A Succession of Bad Days.In fact, a reader could treat both of the later books as two halves of the same story. I generally don’t suggest back to back reading for series novels, but in this case it may be necessary.

The Commonweal’s experiment turning Edgar, Chloris, Dove, and Zora, a collection of humanoid potential existential threats — what superhero comics and movies might call persons of mass destruction” — is still on-going. As the book opens, the end point of the experiment is still unclear. 

What is clear is that Reems, one of the Commonweal’s neighbours, takes the Commonweal’s school for PMDs seriously enough to see it as a threat. They are worried enough to launch a pre-emptive attack, in the hopes of killing a potential dragon before it hatches out of the egg.

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Fuck off,” snarled the author


By Robert Sheckley  

22 May, 2016

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


1975’s Options ended an eight-year drought in Robert Sheckley novels. 

Forced by equipment breakdown to set down on an alien world, Tom Mishkin is at first optimistic. There should be a convenient cache of spare parts nearby. He discovers, to his great distress, that the cache had been cannily dispersed. If an ailing space craft crash lands, only a small fraction of the cache will be lost. The part he needs is only a few miles away; however it is a few miles through an alien realm for which Tom’s terrestrial senses are poorly suited. 

This is an entirely predictable problem and one for which a known fix exists. Tom will be accompanied by a helpful Special Purpose Environmental Response robot, an intelligent machine programmed to understand and deal with the challenges of Darbis IV. Which would be great if the robot and Tom were on Darbis IV and not where they actually are, that is, the planet Harmonium. 

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Did I mention it won a Hugo?


By John Scalzi  

21 May, 2016

Special Requests


I’m about to review John Scalzi’s 2012 standalone Hugo-winner Redshirts and I have a problem. I do not have much of a sense of humour, which makes me a bad fit for a book widely known to be funny. You may therefore expect a review that concentrates on the metaphysical underpinnings of the book than on the jokes. Incidentally, you can also look forward to the first ever James Nicoll review cliff-hanger! 

The Intrepid is the Universal Union’s flagship, a mighty vessel to which only the most important missions are given, a ship whose command crew have earned the highest accolades. Kudos to seminary-student-turned-ensign Andrew Dahl for warranting such a plum assignment.

There’s just one catch.

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Blake’s 7 without Blake

Sarcophagus  (Blake’s 7, volume 35)

By Tanith Lee  

20 May, 2016

A Year of Tanith Lee


Tanith Lee wrote the script for the 1980 Sarcophagus, a third season episode of Terry Nation’s Blake’s 7. Before I talk about the episode, let me explain Blake’s 7.

Blake’s 7 was a British science fiction television program. It was broadcast on BBC1 from 1978 to 1981. Unlike Star Trek, in which the Federation was supposed to be a force for good in the galaxy, Blake’s 7s Federation is explicitly dystopian and oppressive. It may not be coincidental that B7’s Federation uses a symbol that is essentially the Trek Federation’s Starfleet symbol turned on its side1.

The episode opens with a lengthy funerary ceremony, during which odd images are shown (their significance will become clear only later). At the end of the ceremony, the entire structure in which the rites were held is shot off into deepest space. 

Many centuries later…

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