Reviews, January 2017

And I Hear Something Scratching Through The Wall

The Lottery and Other Stories — Shirley Jackson

1949’s The Lottery and Other Stories is a collection of short pieces by Shirley Jackson. Aside from The Haunting of Hill House, there’s a giant Jackson-sized hole in my reading. When I saw how inexpensive The Lottery ebook was, I snapped it up. Time spent in various waiting rooms allowed me the leisure to actually read it.

There are twenty-five pieces in this book. I am not going to do my usual story by story approach; cue sighs of relief all round.

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Game of Therns

The Gods of Xuma or Barsoom Revisited — David J. Lake
Breakout, book 4

[due to a technical issue, this is unedited]

1978’s The Gods of Xuma or Barsoom Revisited is the fourth book in David J. Lake’s Breakout series1. Readers intrigued by my review need not worry if they have not read the first three books; not only does Gods function as a standalone, good luck finding a copy. Many authors benefited from the golden age of ebook reprints but the late Mr. Lake does not appear to have been one of them.

The stars are ours! Well, the Moon is ours (albeit at the cost of World Wars Three and Four largely depopulating the Earth but eggs and omelettes), not that the Russians, Americans and Chinese like sharing that world with each other. The stalwarts of the Euro-American moon base have every hope Operation Breakout will plant Euro-Americans on the worlds of 82 Eridani, Epsilon Eridani and Delta Pavonis.

The unfortunates sent to Epsilon Eridani found only airless rocks and the Delta Pavonis ship has yet to report its findings but in 2143, starship Riverhorse hits the jackpot. 82 Eridani 3 is small but habitable, the Mars ours solar system never had. Linguist Tom Carson favours the name “Barsoom”, after Edgar Rice Burroughs but humourless Captain Mannheim insists on Ares. Whatever the planet is called, it is clearly life-bearing, a potential home for humanity.

Pity about the natives.

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Visited By A Majestic Hymn

A Wizard’s Henchman — Matthew Hughes
Kaslo Chronicles, book 1

British-born Canadian Matthew Hughes has lived in many places. One of them was Kitchener-Waterloo, which earns him a spot in A Year of Waterloo Region Speculative Fiction. Hughes writes in a wide range of genres, both non-fiction and fiction. To quote from his site, he has been employed as

a journalist, then as a staff speechwriter to the Canadian Ministers of Justice and Environment, and — from 1979 until a few years back — as a freelance corporate and political speechwriter in British Columbia.

He also writes science fiction and fantasy, as well as mystery. He has won the

Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award and has been shortlisted for the Aurora, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, Endeavour, A. E. Van Vogt, and Derringer Awards.

Despite these accolades, Hughes is often overlooked. It’s inexplicable, although his tendency towards humour may explain some of it. Humorous F&SF, save of the broadest, least subtle sort, is generally not popular in North America. Perhaps this work, which is more apocalyptic than funny, will appeal to a broader range of readers.

2016’s A Wizard’s Henchman is the first volume in Matthew Hughes’ Kaslo Chronicles.

There are ten thousand inhabited worlds in the Spray and none of them are utopias. Problems abound. Erm Kaslo has made a very nice living for himself as an all-round troubleshooter for rich men who are able to pay well for services rendered. The rich and powerful don’t get that way by being ethical or trustworthy—but even the most ruthless learn that it’s never a good idea to disappoint Erm Kaslo.

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You Get To Meet All Sorts In This Line Of Work

Hammers on Bone — Cassandra Khaw
Persons Non Grata, book 1

2016’s Hammers on Bone is the first work in Cassandra Khaw’s Persons Non Grata series.

The sign on his door says “John Persons, PI”. It doesn’t say “John Persons, Killer for Hire.” Abel, the kid currently on the other side of Persons desk, wants a killer, someone who will deal with his stepdad McKinsey before the stepdad can kill Abel and his brother James.

Persons has killed, but only in self-defence. Just like any other completely normal person. Persons is trying very hard to be a normal person. Abel is convinced that there’s more to Persons than meets the eye and he’s a very persuasive kid. Persons agrees to take a look at the stepdad and proceed as seems … ethical.

A faint mewling voice in the back of Persons’ head thinks that this is the right choice.

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Just Like a River Running Through

Tomoe’s Story — Stan Sakai
Usagi Yojimbo, book 22

Tomoe’s Story is the 22nd volume in Stan Sakai’s long-running Usagi Yojimbo anthropomorphic comic series. It collects six stories featuring Tomoe, a feline woman samurai, who keeps crossing paths with Miyamoto Usagi. Unlike other friends/allies, such as morally unencumbered Gen and ostentatious jerk Inukai, Usagi and Tomoe share many moral perspectives, but their friendship is not without its complications.

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Quit Hollering at Me

Crosstalk — Connie Willis

Connie Willis’ 2016 Crosstalk is a standalone near-future SF novel. I regret to inform my readers that this review may not be as enjoyably vitriolic as previous Willis reviews. (I may revisit that decision once Crosstalk gets its inevitable, inexplicable Hugo nomination.) As Willis novels go, I didn’t hate it all that much.

In the exciting world of Tomorrow CE, couples are not limited to intrusive social media and ever-present electronic communications. Now there’s the option of the EED, a device that creates an empathic link between lovebirds. Or at least, it’s supposed to.

Pressured into submitting to elective brain surgery by her loving fiancé Trent, Briddey Flannigan gets an EED. Alas! there is no sign of the empathic link that should have formed between Briddey and Trent. What Briddey got was…

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Born to Die

Judgment Night — C.L. Moore

C. L. Moore’s short novel Judgment Night was serialized in two issues of John W. Campbell’s Astounding back in 1943. Judgment Night is also the title of a collection published by Dell back in the Disco Era (which is how I encountered the story) .. but the edition I have in hand is Diversion Books’ 2015 ebook. They’ve presented the novel as a standalone—which it is. Not only are there no sequels of which I am aware, it’s not clear to me how there could be.

The race that holds Ericon holds the galaxy, because the race that holds Ericon can draw on the wisdom of the Ancients. Access to the Ancients does not mean that one will be able to put their wisdom to effective use. In fact, dynasty after dynasty have interpreted the advice they were given in ways that led to their doom. All human governments are as mortal (if not so short-lived) as their members.

Our protagonist, Juille, believes that she can defy fate.

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Dance Me Through The Panic Till I’m Gathered Safely In

Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse — Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s 2014 anthology Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse delivers exactly what it promises: post-apocalyptic tales told from Canadian perspectives.

The moral here seems to be that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Also, it’s not going to get better.

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Into the Magic Night

The Untold Tale — J. M. Frey
Accidental Turn, book 1

To quote the bio in her novel:

(J. M. Frey) is a voice actor, SF/F author, professionally trained music theatre performer, not-so-trained but nonetheless enthusiastic screenwriter and webseries-ist, and a fanthropologist and pop culture scholar. She’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, radio programs, and on television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia.

Frey has been nominated for both the Aurora and the Lambda Awards.

2015’s The Untold Tale is the first volume in The Accidental Turn series.

Kintyre Turn is a bona fide hero, complete with the magic sword Foesmiter and his very own loyal sidekick, Sir Bevel. Most damsels in distress, at least the ones from Hain, would be relieved to get Kintyre’s help. Lucy “Pip” Piper isn’t from Hain and she’s not at all relieved to be rescued by Kintyre. That’s because she has to make do with Kintyre’s much less impressive stuttering brother Forsyth.

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Take a Dream on a Sunday

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe — Kij Johnson

Although modern discussion of Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s fiction often focuses on his virulent racism, he was also something of a misogynist. His female characters tended to be absent or objectionable. Is it possible to write in the Lovecraftian vein without racism and misogyny? Or is Lovecraft’s world of eldritch horrors dependent on rampant hatred of the Other?

Kij Johnson’s 2016’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is something of a test for the hypothesis “I can write Lovecraftian fiction that does not reek of hatred and disgust.” It is also a test of my recent suggestion that the most flawed originals can inspire the best modern interpretations.

Professor Boe is woken from a sound sleep to deal with a crisis. One of her most promising students, Jurat, has eloped with a lover, Heller. Heller is objectionable because he is a dreamer from the waking world and it is to the waking world Jurat and Heller are fleeing. The university’s toleration of Ulthar Women’s College is grudging at best. If news gets out that the daughter of a trustee has been … misplaced, the hard-won women’s college might be shut down entirely.

Someone must retrieve Jurat. Retired adventurer Boe is the logical choice.

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Turn Around and You’re a Young Girl Going Out of My Door

Martians Abroad — Carrie Vaughn

Carrie Vaughn’s 2017 Martians Abroad is a standalone young-adult SF novel, written in the manner of a very famous series of juvenile SF novels. In fact, it seems to be a response to a specific juvenile SF novel, about which more anon.

Young Polly Newton has a bold plan for her life, one that involves pilot school and helming humanity’s first starship. Polly’s mother also has bold plans for Polly and her brother Charles. Those plans involve an unwanted sojourn at the prestigious Galileo Academy on Earth. Polly’s plans are irrelevant. Mother knows best.

Martha Newton didn’t become Director of the Mars Colony by being easy to out-manoeuvre. By the time Polly learns what her mother has planned, it is too late for either Polly or her brother to do anything about it except pack their bags and give in to the inevitable.

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The Art of Letting Go

The Tombs of Atuan — Ursula K. Le Guin
Earthsea, book 2

1970’s The Tombs of Atuan is the second volume in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle.

The influence of the Nameless Ones has dwindled over the long ages, but they still have power in the Tombs of Atuan. There they still are worshipped. There they are served by their immortal Priestess.

The little girl once named Tenar is the latest incarnation of the Priestess. The bodies of the One Priestess of the Tombs of Atuan die, but the Priestess lives on, reborn in a newborn body at the time of the Priestess’ death. Stripped of her birth family and her name, the girl who was Tenar becomes Arha, “the eaten one,” paramount human servant of the ancient and fearsome Nameless Ones.

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My Guide the Morning Star

Two Travelers — Sarah Tolmie

Sarah Tolmie is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Waterloo. Her first spec-fic novel, 2014’s The Stone Boatmen, won a starred review in Publishers Weekly and a glowing blurb from Ursula K. Le Guin. Since The Stone Boatmen, she has published four other books: 2014’s NoFood andSonnet in a Blue Dress and other poems, 2015’s Trio, and the subject of today’s review, a 2016 collection titled Two Travelers.

Two Travelers is a single-author collection containing two short pieces, a novelette (Dancer on the Stairs) and a novella (The Burning Furrow).

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Where the winds of limbo roar

Shin Sekai Yori — Yusuke Kishi

I was so annoyed by last week’s Translation Review selection (the Shin Sekai Yori manga) that I hunted down a fan translation of the novel on which the manga was based. Should a North American publisher ever print this or another translation, I will review that as well, with an appropriate link. Hint, hint.

Yusuke Kishi’s 2008 Nihon SF Taisho Award-winning Shin Sekai Yori is a standalone SF novel.

A thousand years from now, Saki Watanabe and her schoolmates, Satoru Asahina, Maria Akizuki, Mamoru Itou, Shun Aonuma, and Reiko Amano think that they live in a kindly world, one in which they are protected from danger. Fiends and karma demons cannot be current dangers; they are merely the stuff of summertime ghost stories.

Poor coddled teens! They are not safe. Fiends and demons are very real. However, the biggest dangers the children will face will be those created by their own society and their own choices.

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An East Wind Coming

Ninefox Gambit — Yoon Ha Lee
The Machineries of Empire, book 1

2016’s Ninefox Gambit is the first volume in Yoon Ha Lee’s projected trilogy, The Machineries of Empire.

Success is often punished harshly. Consider the case of Captain Kel Cheris of Heron Company, 109-229th Battalion. She has excelled on the battlefield due to her skill and ingenuity. Those are exactly the qualities her superiors need if they are to retake the Fortress of Scattered Needles from the rebels who currently hold it.

Well, skill, ingenuity, and expendability.

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Freedom land will be my last location

Survival Rout — Ana Mardoll
Earthside, book 2

2016’s Survival Rout is the second book in Ana Mardoll’s Earthside series.

College roommates Aniyah and Miyuki expect a summer vacation rich in opportunities for hanging out and having intense discussions about gender and orientation. Thanks to their ever-so-helpful chums Timothy and Craig, what they actually get is kidnapped, mindwiped, and sold to the faerie lord Master of Masques.

Keoki is in the wrong place at the wrong time; his good Samaritan instincts get him abducted and sold as well.

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Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft

Mindbridge — Joe Haldeman

Haldeman’s first novel under his own name1, a fix-up titled The Forever War, won a Hugo, a Nebula, a Ditmar, and a Locus. There’s something to said for not winning that many awards the first time out, because it’s hard to go anywhere but down from such initial success. After that, a single Hugo nomination (something that would normally seem a boast-worthy success—assuming, of course, that this did not result from inclusion on a Puppy slate) will seem like a comparative failure.

Which brings us to Joe Haldeman’s 1976 standalone Mindbridge, his second novel as Haldeman.

By the mid-21 century, Earth is a garden world, an artificial Eden for eleven billion humans. This idyll is dependent on complex technology, and on the solar power that drives that technology. If anything were to disrupt the system, billions would die.

The Levant-Meyer Translation (LMT) providentially offers humanity an off-site back-up. But there’s a catch. Several catches, in fact.

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A Shining Artifact of the Past

After Atlas — Emma Newman
Planetfall, book 2

Emma Newman’s 2016 After Atlas is a sequel to her 2015 novel Planetfall.

The Pathfinder, Lee Suh-Mi, led her people to a glorious destiny among the stars. The Pathfinder’s starship only had room for the chosen few. Carlos Moreno’s mother made the cut, but Carlos and his father did not. His father then joined a community of starship rejectees, one led by a Lee deputy named Alejandro Casales, dragging an unhappy young Carlos in his wake. It took years for Carlos to escape.

Decades later, Carlos is a prized asset of the Noropean Ministry of Justice. He is a talented investigator whose indentured status ensures that his efforts on the MOJ’s behalf will not be sabotaged by nonsense like so-called human rights.

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Creeping Through the System

The Adolescence of P-1 — Thomas J. Ryan

The Adolescence of P-1 is the first and (so far as I know) only work of science fiction by Thomas J. Ryan. Ryan is an enigmatic author about whom little is known. His middle name was Joseph and he was born in 1942; if he has died, that fact is not known to my sources. There is one other fact about Ryan that one can easily deduce from this novel: he was very familiar with the University of Waterloo as it existed in the early 1970s. His book was the first SF novel I had ever read that drew on places and institutions I found cosily familiar.

Our protagonist is Gregory Burgess, a student at the University of Waterloo, majoring in Honours Getting Laid, with a minor in Keeping His Marks Just High Enough to Avoid Expulsion. His indifference to hard study vanished when he first encountered a book on computer programming. Girls were forgotten as Burgess honed his hacking skills and began to amass files and resources to which he was not remotely entitled. He was talented, but not quite talented enough: UW spotted and expelled him.

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Where the Tides of Madness Swell

Yusuke Kishi
Shin Sekai Yori, book 1

I had no idea what to review this week … so I left it to chance. Manga Fox’s surprise me option handed me the manga adaptation of Yusuke Kishi ’s 2008 Nihon SF Taisho Award-winning novel Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World ). If there exists a translation of the novel, I am unaware of it. That’s too bad, because the sense I get from the manga is that the novel is an interesting work poorly served by its adaptation into a new medium.

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Seven Times I Pierce My Heart

The Stars Are Legion — Kameron Hurley

Kameron Hurley’s 2017’s The Star Are Legion is a standalone space opera.

In a distant future, a flock of huge world-ships orbit an unnamed star. Within the ships, there are life forms of all kinds, including humans. But every living thing has its allotted span and the world-ships are no exception. They are dying and when they do die, so too will all the humans who live within them.

Zan and Jayd have a cunning plan to escape the coming mass extinction. The cost of the plan will be much greater than they expect.

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Trying to Catch Your Eye

Up The Line — Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg is a fascinating figure. His career as a science fiction writer spans over six decades and comprises at least three distinct periods:

  • his early, prolific pulp phase, during which he put more emphasis on speed1 than polish;
  • a middle period, when he reinvented himself as an ambitious literary SF author;
  • the most recent period, more polished than the first and more commercial than the second.

I discovered him while he was writing classics like Dying Inside, To Live Again, and Downward to Earth. To me, it’s the serious, ambitious work from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s that is ineluctably Silverberg.

Of course the first book of his I am going to review is his 1969 time-travel sex comedy, Up the Line. That’s because if There Will Be Time wasn’t the SF novel that revealed to me that Byzantium existed, Up The Line very definitely was. Paired review, remember?

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Too Soon Out of Sight

There Will Be Time — Poul Anderson

Today’s Because My Tears Are Delicious to You Review is a very special double review! And not because I want to bump up my stats. The two books I have selected are a pair of thematically related but very different novels that I will re-read back to back. Because There Will Be Time was on the top of the stack “Anderson” comes before “Silverberg,” I will start the re-read with Mr. Anderson’s novel.

1972’s Hugo-nominated There Will Be Time is the book that convinced teenage me that I liked his fiction. It is part of Poul Anderson’s Maurai series, which included three novelettes (1959’s The Sky People , 1962’s Progress and 1973’s Windmill) as well as a second novel, 1983’s Orion Shall Rise.

Centuries after the Judgment War, the Maurai dominated the Earth, guiding other nations away from destructive machine culture and towards more sustainable ways of life. There Will Be Time begins some time before this golden age, in 1933, with the birth of Jack Havig, an American who will play a very curious role in the history of the Maurai.

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