Reviews, August 2016

Woke Up This Morning, Feeling Blue

Certain Dark Things — Silvia Moreno-Garcia

2016’s Certain Dark Things is Canadian SF author Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s second novel.

World reaction to the revelation that vampires really do exist has varied. Some nations opted for cautious, monitored co-existence. Others simply drove the vampires out. Twenty-first century Mexico did both: Mexico was for many years a haven for vampires fleeing their former home nations, but Mexico City was declared a no-go zone for the blood drinkers.

Declaring it was one thing; enforcing it another.

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Grim Reality

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster — Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster is an unmitigated attack on niceness, kittens, and chocolate … or at least on one of the essential assumptions of modern society. Waterboard an author and the odds are they will eventually confess they believe society is perpetually poised on the brink of collapse, requiring only the impetus of some calamity, natural or otherwise, for that collapse to be realized. This is a widespread belief: it informs our entertainment and it shapes public policy.

There is just one problem. It’s not actually true. Not the way its believers believe it to be true.

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Cosmic Griefers

Macroscope — Piers Anthony

By the time 1970’s Macroscope came out, Piers Anthony was no stranger to Hugo nominations. In 1968, his Chthon was nominated for Best Novel; in 1969, Getting Through University was nominated for Best Novelette. Indeed, 1970 was a banner year for Anthony. Not only did Macroscope get a Best Novel nod (losing to Left Hand of Darkness), he himself was nominated for Best Fan Writer, which presumably ended forever the argument over whether someone can be both a pro and a fan.

How does Macroscope read forty-six years later?

Ivo is the product of a bold experiment, one that tests the limits of directed breeding and specialized upbringing. Poor Ivo seems to be an outlier. Everyone else in his cohort is a genius. Ivo is smart (IQ 125) but apparently not a genius. His only talent seems to be playing games.

Well, except for one other thing.

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Embrace transience the way the grave will eventually embrace you

Children Who Chase Lost Voices — Makoto Shinkai

I decided to review Makoto Shinkai’s 2011 fantasy film The Children Who Chase Lost Voices for two reasons: the first was that I had just tried and failed to watch Age of Ultron. This DVD’s bright cover made me hope that Shinkai’s animated work was not filmed in what I have come to think of as Macular Degeneration-Vision (unlike Age of Ultron) . The second reason: the last few pieces I have reviewed have been pretty death-heavy (as has real life, for that matter). Since I had heard this was a particularly Studio Ghibli-esque work, I was hoping for something upbeat.

I was snookered. Sure the film was Studio Ghibli-esque, in the same way that Grave of the Fireflies is Ghibli-esque.

While still a girl, Asuna had to learn how to take care of herself. Her father is dead and her mother works long shifts to support the two of them. Asuna spends hours in the countryside by herself, listening to an archaic radio set, one of the few mementos left by her late father.

One day, she is attacked by a monster.

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Into the Waste

Wolf Tower — Tanith Lee
Claidi Journals, book 1

1998’s Wolf Tower is the first volume in Tanith Lee’s Claidi Journals , so titled because the story is told as a series of entries in protagonist Claidi’s secret diary. Wolf Tower was also published as Law of the Wolf Tower , while the series is also known as the Wolf Tower series. Names can be tricky things, as protagonist Claidi finds out.

The House is an oasis in the middle of a vast wasteland. In fact, most of its inhabitants believe that it is the oasis in the middle of a world-spanning Wasteland and that to be exiled from it is to be consigned to a short, miserable life. Claidi’s parents suffered such a fate, exiled from the House for crimes against propriety too terrible to mention.

Even the doctrinaire rulers of the House could not bring themselves to punish the infant Claidi for her parents’ crimes. Instead they consigned her to a life of servitude to the stupid and cruel Jade Leaf. Such is the House’s mercy.

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The Beginning

Alice Grove — Jeph Jacques

You may know Jeph Jacques as the writer/artist behind the post-singularity slice-of-life webcomic Questionable Content1. He is also the writer/artist behind the post-singularity, post-apocalyptic webcomic Alice Grove. It was an interesting webcomic on which to archive-binge immediately after finishing Hitoshi Ashinano’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō.

Alice lives out in the country, where nobody will bother her. The townsfolk are fine with this because they are convinced Alice is a witch. A witch who serves and protects the town as best she grumpily can, but still a witch. Alice does her thing and the townies do theirs. It has been that way for a long, long time.

And then the blue-skinned extraterrestrial arrives. The worst kind of extraterrestrial: a tourist. And the worst kind of tourist: an idiot.

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The places where long ago people used to linger

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō — Hitoshi Ashinano
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, book 14

It has taken me four months, but I have finally arrived at the 14 th (final) volume in Hitoshi Ashinano’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō. Like the golden age of humans, the series has come to an end.

Cherry blossoms fall

A YKKless night looms
Weasels rip my flesh

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No Bucks, No Buck Rogers, and Other Lessons Space Fans Don’t Want to Hear

False Steps: The Space Race as it Might Have Been — Paul Drye

Paul Drye’s 2015 False Steps: The Space Race as it Might Have Been delivers exactly what it promises on the cover: a grand tour of the spacecraft that failed to make it from drawing board to reality over the last seventy years. Drye limits himself to the history of crewed spacecraft; probes may offer far more bang for the buck (a factor in the failure of many of the spacecraft included in this volume), but they lack the romance of humans in space.

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Not the Worst Heinlein Novel

Time Enough For Love — Robert A. Heinlein
Lazarus Long, book 2

I no longer remember why I thought it would be a good idea to review 1973’s Time Enough For Love. It is by no means the worst of Heinlein’s books—that’s probably Number of the Beast, although I am told that The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, which I have not read, gives NotB a run for its money—but considered as a whole, TEFL is not very good. It is, however, very long. As is this review.

And yes, I am aware this book was nominated for a Nebula 1, a Hugo2, and a Locus 3.

Lazarus Long was a mere 213 years old when he first appeared in Methuselah’s Children . By the beginning of TEFL, he is an impressive two millennia old. Time weighs heavily on the ancient grognard. All he wants to do die.

His descendants are not done with him and while dying may be every person’s right, it is not one Lazarus will get to enjoy. Chairman pro tem of the planet Secundus, Ira Weatherall, tempts the Methuselah with the one thing he cannot resist: an audience.

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Player Two Has Re-Entered the Game

Darkness, I — Tanith Lee
Blood Opera, book 3

1994’s Darkness, I is the final volume in Tanith Lee’s Blood Opera trilogy. Thank goodness, because I am not sure I could have taken a fourth volume.

In the previous volume, Ruth died, struck down by the revenge-seeking widow of one of her victims. That would have been the end of her story .. except that Ruth is a Scarabae. Not only are the Scarabae slow to age, they reincarnate.

Ruth won’t have to wait too long to live again; Ruth’s mother Rachaela is pregnant….

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The End is Nigh

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō — Hitoshi Ashinano
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, book 13

Welcome to the thirteenth review of Hitoshi Ashinano’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō. How happy I am to have read thirteen volumes of this manga! And how sad, because that means after this one there is only one left.

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Baby on Board

Irsud — Jo Clayton
Diadem, book 3

1978’s Irsud is the third volume in Jo Clayton’s Diadem series.

Two volumes ago, Aleytys, the red-haired and occasionally clothed bearer of the diadem, a strange artifact imbued with the minds of previous bearers, managed to find a way off her backward homeworld. Alas, she is no closer to finding her mother’s world.

Volume two ended on a cliffhanger: Aleytys’ baby stolen and Aleytys herself sold to aliens. Aliens with an … um … parasitic wasp life cycle. I am afraid things will be getting worse for Aleytys before they get better.

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Tell me why can’t I just reach up and simply touch the sky

Law of Survival — Kristine Smith
Jani Kilian, book 3

2001’s Law of Survival is the third novel in Kristine Smith’s Jani Kilian series.

Jani Kilian has had a tumultuous life. Framed for a murder, cashiered from the service, doomed to life as a fugitive … but eventually she achieves a soft landing. She has been cleared of the murder and is no longer hiding from the law. Well, cleared of that particular crime. Life as a fugitive meant cutting a few legal corners. The smart thing to do would be to find some unobtrusive niche in which she can exercise her considerable bureaucratic skills1 and lay low.

But poor Jani is drawn, willy-nilly, back into human-alien conflict.

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The Man in the Moon is Dead

Inherit the Stars — James P. Hogan
Giants, book 1

James P. Hogan’s 1977 debut Inherit the Stars, first in the Giants series, makes me sad. It is not so much that it has aged badly—some parts of it have withstood the suck fairy—but because of what happened to its once-promising author. Of that, anon.

Almost thirty years after man’s triumphant return to the Moon, explorers stumble across a tragic relic: a corpse. It proves oddly difficult to identify “Charlie,” as the corpse is nicknamed; he matches no missing spaceman and his spacesuit is of no known make.

The mystery only deepens when it becomes clear that his body has been lying on the Moon for the last fifty thousand years.

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Bad Seed

Personal Darkness — Tanith Lee
Blood Opera, book 2

1993’s Personal Darkness is the second volume in Tanith Lee’s Blood Opera  trilogy.

Even as the embers of the House are cooling, ancients Malach and Athena retrieve the surviving Scarabae. The hapless Rachaela is carried along in their wake. The Scarabae have vast resources. The loss of the House is merely the latest forced relocation among many. The dead cannot be saved but the Scarabae can rebuild.

Rachaela’s demon-child Ruth, last seen fleeing from the corpse-filled House Ruth herself set on fire, has no interest in joining her family in their new stronghold, wherever that may be. She has an entirely different goal.

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Shadow War

Oath Bound — Melissa Scott & Jo Graham
Order of the Air, book 5

2016’s Oath Bound is the fifth installment in Melissa Scott and Jo Graham’s ongoing series, Order of the Air .

History books may later claim World War Two did not properly begin until 1939, but the opening shots are already being exchanged in 1935. Germany is busy re-arming. Italy has revealed the essential meaninglessness of League of Nation ideas as its invasion of Ethiopia continues, unopposed by any save the Ethiopians and a handful of volunteers.

Some volunteers join the struggle of their own choice. Others, like Jerry Ballard and his friends, are recruited.

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The Pickpocket, the Bounty Hunter and the Demon

Sleight of Hand — Kate Ashwin
Widdershins, book 1

Kate Ashwin’s Widdershins is an ongoing webcomic. It debuted October 2011; Chapter One, Sleight of Hand, covers the first 59 updates.

Sidney Malik has an inexplicable, involuntary magical talent: pickpocketing. This results in his expulsion from Widdershins University. He had not quite completed his magical studies degree before the ignominious boot, hence he is uncredentialed—which limits his career options. He is adept in the mundane sort of stage magic (slight of hand, illusions, and what have you) but the demand for stage magicians is too limited to pay his rent. As he faces eviction, he realizes that the logical thing to do is to confess all to his parents … but he cannot bring himself to admit his failure.

Then he encounters the self-styled Prince of Thieves, Thomas Macavity.

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The Boy Who Lived

A Wizard of Earthsea — Ursula K. Le Guin
Earthsea, book 1

Tell me if you’ve heard this before: a young man with a talent for magic leaves his home village (where he was always something of a misfit) to attend a school for wizards, where he finds himself confronting a disembodied evil. Anyone? Anyone?

This is, of course, Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1968 award-winning classic A Wizard of Earthsea, first volume in the Earthsea Cycle.

Sparrowhawk knows just enough magic to save his village from Kargish invaders. He knows so little that his ignorance has nearly killed him. He is saved by Ogion the Silent, who then takes him as an apprentice. Ogion tries to teach him patience, humility, and mystical Balance; spells will come later.

That’s not enough for the ambitious young magician.

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The way you’d play with me like a child

Dark Dance — Tanith Lee
Blood Opera, book 1

1992’s Dark Dance is the first volume in Tanith Lee’s Blood Opera trilogy.

Most people might react to the death of a parent with grief. Rachaela Day saw her mother’s death as an escape, a chance to live life as she desired: simply and alone, with the bare minimum of social contact. Rachaela is unhappy, therefore, when a representative of the Scarabae, her estranged father’s family, contacts her.

Not as unhappy as she will be after agreeing to meet with her long-lost family.

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Laid the Wide Foundations

Windswept — Adam Rakunas
Windswept, book 1

Adam Rakunas’ 2015 Windswept is the first volume of his Windswept series. Me being me, I read the second book, Like a Boss , first. Whoops. But I am nothing if not a completist.

Padma Mehta is experienced enough to know not to trust any deal offered by professional scam artist Vytai Bloombeck, especially one as too good to be true as this: forty potential Breaches, defectors from the exploitative labour contracts of the Big Three that run most of Occupied Space. But Padma is desperate to retire to the life of a distillery owner and all that stands between her and that goal is her recruitment quota. Desperation overwhelms prudence.

Always listen to that little voice that says “too good to be true.”

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One Life Isn’t Enough

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō — Hitoshi Ashinano
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, book 12

Once more into Hitoshi Ashinano’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō! But at a cost; at my present rate I will finished the whole series well before August is over. I should have picked some lengthier manga series on which to fixate.

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The Invaders

Alien Taste — Wen Spencer
Ukiah Oregon, book 1

2001’s Alien Taste is the first volume in Wen Spencer’s Ukiah Oregon series.

It has been just six years after Ukiah Oregon was found, alone and feral, in the Oregon forest. Once a speechless wolf-child, he has grown into a seemingly normal young man, albeit one with a peculiar gift for tracking. It is a skill his mentor, PI Max Bennet, puts to good use

Tasked with a search for Doctor Janet Haze, an apparent kidnapping victim whose three roommates have been brutally murdered, Ukiah finds himself face to face with the woman he set out to rescue. She has not been kidnapped; in fact, she is the one who hacked her roommates to pieces. Ukiah barely survives his confrontation with Haze. She does not.

Haze was definitely a murderer … but it seems that she was also a victim, driven mad by an insidious attack. An attack, Ukiah will discover, that is intimately connected to the mystery of his own origin.

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