Reviews, July 2016

Blood and Souls

Elric of Melniboné — Michael Moorcock
Elric Saga, book 1

As a teen, I was shallow enough that a silly surname like “Moorcock” was enough to steer me away from reading any Michael Moorcock novels. Pity, because whoever stocked the University of Waterloo’s bookstore’s F&SF section in the 1970s really loved Moorcock. My chronic search for reading material would have been greatly aided had I taken advantage of the opportunity. Ah well.

I did read some Moorcock. Some of those I read were Moorcock’s tales about that pallid emo wally, Elric of Melniboné. And where best to start with Elric but at the beginning of his reign, as portrayed in 1972’s Elric of Melniboné?

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Thief King

King of Attolia — Megan Whalen Turner
Queen's Thief, book 3

2006’s The King of Attolia is the third novel in Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series.

Marry the queen, become king! Sounds like a great career path. Except it turns out that kings have responsibilities and that their subjects have Expectations with a capital E. And there are enemies eager to take advantage of the King’s failure to perform as expected.

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Forge a Perfect World

Gold Unicorn — Tanith Lee
Unicorn, book 2

1994’s Gold Unicorn is the second novel in Tanith Lee’s Unicorn trilogy.

Some time has gone by since the events in Black Unicorn . Enough time for Tanaquil to find a new identity for herself (after turning her back on her mother and, reluctantly, on her half-sister Lizra). This has also been enough time for Lizra to metamorphose into the Empress Variam, the so-called Child-Eater.

Lizra is determined to save the world.

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Before She Was Kate Elliott

A Passage of Stars — Alis A. Rasmussen
Highroad Trilogy, book 1

1990’s A Passage of Stars is the first volume in Alis A. Rasmussen’s Highroad Trilogy. A Passage of Stars was her second published work after The Labyrinth Gate . It is therefore a very early work in a career that has thus far spanned four decades and at least twenty-five novels. Many of you may be familiar with Rasmussen’s work under the pen name Kate Elliott.

Lilyaka Hae Ransome is one of the Reft’s lucky few, born into comparative wealth rather than poverty. She doesn’t see it that way. From her perspective, she’s very hard done by indeed. People of her class are expected to put their personal interests aside in the interests of the family and there will be no exception for Lily. So, no more martial arts from a teacher her family is convinced is not the right sort. Instead, she can look forward to an unrewarding career.

That’s the plan, anyway. The plan gets tossed out the window when Lily sees her martial arts teacher kidnapped by aliens.

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The Obelisk Gate — N. K. Jemisin
The Broken Earth, book 2

2016’s The Obelisk Gate is a direct sequel to 2015’s The Fifth Season and is the middle volume in N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. The Fifth Season was nominated for the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award. It was also listed on the 2015 Tiptree Long List 1. Any sequel is certain to face some high expectations. This book lived up to mine; whether or not it will live up to yours is unclear.

It’s some months after the end of the world.

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all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

Cities in Flight — James Blish

1970’s Cities in Flight collects revised editions of James Blish’s four Cities in Flight novels, They Shall Have Stars (1956), A Life for the Stars (1962), Earthman, Come Home (1955), and The Triumph of Time (1958), along with Richard D. Mullen’s essay, The Earthmanist Culture. The four novels document the Decline of the West, followed by the eventual rise and inevitable fall of its successor, the Earthmanists.

It all begins on Jupiter in the far-off year 2013.

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This dewdrop world

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō — Hitoshi Ashinano
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, book 11

Volume 11 of Hitoshi Ashinano’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō is much like the previous ten volumes: quiet moments, mysteries, and not much in the way of answers.

Well, one answer: Ojisan is still among the living, at least for now.

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Won’t you let me in, won’t you open up the door/ Surely there must be some room inside for just one more

Black Unicorn — Tanith Lee
Unicorn, book 1

1991’s Black Unicorn is the first volume in Tanith Lee’s Unicorn trilogy. Like last week’s Shon the Taken , Black Unicorn is a juvenile.

Young Tanaquil does not have a jot of magical talent (unlike her sorceress mother Jaive), not does she have much patience with a life constricted by her mother’s rules and whims. Life in a magical palace in the desert is tedious and annoying by turns.

At least until the day Tanaquil’s pet (a peeve) finds a bone. A very special bone:

Long and slender, unhuman, not at once identifiable, the material from which it was made glowed like polished milk-crystal. And in the crystal were tiny blazing specks and glints, like diamond—no, like the stars out of the sky.

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For the love of God, SF, embrace the Enlightenment

Behind the Throne — K.B. Wagers
Indranan War Series, book 1

K. B. Wagers’ Behind the Throne, first in the Indranan War Series, is the story of a plucky gunrunner who rises to become the heir to the throne using only her wits, courage, and the fact that she is the sole surviving child of the reigning empress. It’s a rags-to-riches story that makes me wonder “why is so much SF inherently reactionary?”

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Girl in a Cell

The Far Side of Evil — Sylvia Louise Engdahl
Elana, book 2

Sylvia Louise Engdahl’s 1971 The Far Side of Evil is a sequel to 1970’s Enchantress from the Stars . It is set in the same Anthropology Service Universe as Engdahl’s Star trilogy: This Star Shall Abide (1972), Beyond the Tomorrow Mountains (1973), and The Doors of the Universe  (1981).

The Academy Director was afraid that Elana would find her first post-graduation assignment an anticlimax after the events of Enchantress from the Stars . Their fears could not have been more misplaced. For Elana, there’s nothing anticlimactic about waiting in a tiny cell for an interrogator determined to break her.

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Nothing is as validating as attempted murder

Borderline — Mishell Baker
Arcadia, book 1

Mishell Baker’s 2016 debut novel Borderline is the first in her Arcadia series.

Six months after a failed suicide bid cost her both legs and her film career, embittered auteur and long-term Leishman Psychiatric Center resident Millie Roper receives an unexpected visitor and a more unexpected offer: Caryl Varro wants Millie to work for the Arcadia Project.

Millie does not know Caryl from Adam and she’s never heard of the Arcadia Project. Millie’s doctor has; her reaction is intriguing enough for Millie to venture outside the safe confines of the Institute and back out into the real world.

Perhaps real world isn’t quite the right term.

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Follow sweet children, I’ll show thee the way

Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen — H. Beam Piper
Paratime, book 1

Before I delve into H. Beam Piper’s 1965 alternate history novel Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, I would like to thank John F. Carr and his biography of Piper for providing a context for the novel. Context (for me at least) transformed what I once read as a somewhat problematic but engaging power fantasy into something much more tragic.

One moment, Pennsylvania cop Calvin Morrison was poised to arrest a fugitive. The next moment he was in a weird, high-tech vehicle, whose pilot seems very upset to see Calvin, judging by the pilot’s response: he tries to shoot Calvin with a ray gun. Moments after that unsettling confrontation, Calvin finds himself alone in a virgin-growth forest.

It does not take long for Calvin to suspect that he has moved in time rather than space: he recognizes the contours of the land as the familiar hills he knows from his own Pennsylvania. He at first believes that he might have been shifted to a time before the coming of the white men. Then he happens upon an isolated steading inhabited by whites; Calvin begins to suspect that he has been sent to a distant future in which humanity is still crawling out of some post-Atomigeddon dark age.

Wrong again.

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The cop, the sorceror, and the shaman

Penric and the Shaman — Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric & Desdemona, book 2

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric and the Shaman is set four years after the events of Penric’s Demon. In the first novella, Penric had to flail his way through an utterly unfamiliar situation; in this one, he has absorbed as much training as the temple can cram into his head in four years 1. Because he has a well-educated demon sharing his head, he has learned a LOT.

Good for Penric, because this time round, we’re treated to a police procedural rather than a coming-of-age story.

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Turn of the wheel

Shon the Taken — Tanith Lee

1979’s Shon the Taken is a standalone fantasy. It’s also a juvenile, which I think makes it the first Tanith Lee juvenile that I’ve read in A Year of Tanith Lee.

Shon and his people live simple lives constrained by simple rules. First among these is not too look intently in a certain direction, lest that which dwells in that certain direction look too intently back. Never stay in the dark woods at night. If bad luck or bad judgement leaves some poor fool in the woods overnight, death is certain. Either at the … grasp … of that which dwells and its servants, or at the hands of that fool’s cautious relatives, afraid that the fool has returned possessed.

Shon becomes one of those poor fools, thanks to a spiteful trick by his resentful brother (plus some very bad luck).

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Old Business

Kojiki — Keith Yatsuhashi

Third in the parcel of ebooks sent me by Angry Robot, a publisher whose works I often find intriguing. Just not this one.

Keith Yatsuhashi’s 2016 fantasy novel begins with a young woman dispatched on a quest she does not understand, by a man no longer available to explain his reasons. Keiko Yamada’s father has vanished, leaving her his jisei, his death poem, and a passport, a ticket to Japan, and a short personal note that read:

Go to Japan in my place. Find the Gate. Your camera will show you the way.

There are many torii gates in Japan. Finding the specific one Keiko’s father meant seems an impossible quest. Unfortunately for Keiko, her search proves all too possible.

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B is for Bradbury

R is for Rocket — Ray Bradbury

If I were to make a list of the science fiction authors that the teenage me resentfully read out of a desperate longing for SF, any SF, Ray Bradbury would be near the top. I didn’t care for his fiction … but he was considered a respectable author, despite all the rocket stuff. That respectability, plus his slipshod approach to science, made him suspiciously literary to my eye. But it did mean that libraries, even libraries in small rural schools, could be counted on to have at least a few of his books.

Take 1962’s R is for Rocket….

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Final Birthgrave

Quest for the White Witch — Tanith Lee
Birthgrave, book 3

I only just now got my hands on a copy of 1978’s Quest for the White Witch , the third and final volume in Tanith Lee’s Birthgrave series. A fine choice for Throwback Thursday! If only this were Thursday and not Friday.

Heir to godlike powers that would make him lord of any land he cared to possess, Vazkor has but one aim: to find the goddess Karrakaz, the woman who abandoned him as a child. Having found her, he will have his revenge.

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After a while, the sunflower wilted and died without thinking of our feelings.

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō — Hitoshi Ashinano
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, book 10

You may have been concerned when I skipped a week but never fear! I do intend to finish reading all of Hitoshi AshinanoYokohama Kaidashi Kikō. Which brings us to volume ten. It is a very … Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō volume of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō.

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It’s a ma’am’s world

A Brother’s Price — Wen Spencer

In the world of Wen Spencer’s 2006 A Brother’s Price, a world where male babies rarely survive to term, young men of breeding age are a valuable commodity. Jerin Whistler is more valuable than most; he comes from gentry and is good-looking as well. That’s lucky for his sisters, who can trade him off to buy a husband of their own!

The body in the creek complicates their plans immensely.

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To the people who voted for Brexit, a love letter

On The Beach — Nevil Shute

What better work to celebrate Brexit’s victory than Nevil Shute’s 1957 ode to the power of collective determination, On the Beach?

In 1963, the world is at peace. No wars, no riots, no arguments mar the calm in the Northern Hemisphere. This is because many of the 4700 nuclear weapons detonated during the thirty-seven day war that broke out in 1962 were cobalt-clad. Bathed in lethal radioisotopes, the Northern Hemisphere is innocent of life and all its complications.

In Australian and the other nations of the Southern Hemisphere, life continues. But only for the moment: lethal fallout is slowly but inexorably spreading on the winds. Even as the book opens, northern Australia has been cleansed of life. By September 1963, everyone—everything—in southern Australia will as dead as the unfortunates in the north.

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

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A Malice of Trees

Uprooted — Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik’s 2015 novel Uprooted earned her a second Hugo nomination and her first Nebula Award. It has also been nominated for the Mythopoeic Award and the British Fantasy Award. Obviously this is my chance to be the lone voice of reason and taste, disappointed in a popular choice.

The only problem with that strategy is that I enjoyed Uprooted.

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And the moon is full and bright

Heart-Beast — Tanith Lee

Many travel to better themselves, seeking fame, fortune and knowledge in far off lands. Perhaps Daniel Vehmund initially sought to better himself, but by the time he appears in Tanith Lee’s standalone fantasy Heart-Beast, he has embraced a life of expatriate decadence, reveling in the exotic vices of the East. The odds that Daniel will return home alive, let alone healthy, seem quite poor.

And then comes Daniel’s encounter with the tomb-robber and the cursed diamond …

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