Reviews, August 2017

Mean What You Mean When You Say

In Other Lands — Sarah Rees Brennan

2017’s In Other Lands is a standalone young adult novel by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Abandoned by his birth mother, raised by his emotionally detached dad, and subjected to incessant bullying at school, thirteen-year-old Elliott does not have much to tie him to the mundane world. When he is offered a spot at school in the until-now-unknown-to-Elliott magical realm known as the Borderlands, he has no reason to say no.

Elliott may expect Hogwarts. What he gets is a place where modern conveniences do not work and nobody is taught interesting spells. This school is a boot camp designed to transform the naïve youths of today into the Border Guard of tomorrow. One consolation: Elliott now has ample excuse to display his skills at bitter sarcasm and complaint.

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The Fight Was My Home

Zeroboxer — Fonda Lee

2015’s standalone futuristic sports story Zeroboxer was Fonda Lee’s debut novel.

Zero gravity boxing — zeroboxing — provided Carr “the Raptor” Luka with his ticket out of Toronto and up into orbit, where the best people live. It’s a brutal sport — but for the handful who claw their way to the top, it can be lucrative. Despite his youth, Carr is a promising boxer, promising enough that respected impresario Gant offers Carr a contract. With luck and the right handler, Carr could become one of the luminaries of the Zero Gravity Fighting Association.

Pity that Carr’s success is based on a lie.

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A Heart Stained in Anger

The Thing Itself — Adam Roberts

2015’s The Thing Itself is a standalone novel by Adam Roberts.

Perhaps in another trouser-leg of time, Charles Gardner’s Antarctic sojourn with fellow researcher Roy Curtius ended with professional accolades all round. In the timeline related in this novel, Gardner and Curtius not only failed to provide the world with tangible evidence of SETI, but Curtius went mad and Gardner only narrowly survived the murder attempt that followed.

A traumatized and scarred Gardner spent the next few decades tumbling down the ladder of British society, only coming to rest when there was nowhere else to fall. Obscurity and an unremarked death seemed all that was left to the alcoholic, abrasive former scientist.

The researchers at an obscure Institute are convinced that Curtius holds the key to their ambitious research. They believe that Gardner can provide them with the leverage to render Curtius, long consigned to an institution for the criminally insane, tractable. Why bother? They are sure that Curtius holds the key to understanding the true reality behind the reality we perceive.

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Cruel Garden

Hothouse — Brian Aldiss

1962’s Hugo-winning Hothouse is a standalone SF novel by Brian Aldiss.

In a distant future, the Earth is tide-locked to the Sun, while the Moon has retreated to one of the Earth-Sun Lagrange points. On the illuminated side of Earth, a vast banyan tree dominates the land. In this overheated world, voracious plants dominate. Only four groups of insects still exist on the banyan-dominated land: wasps, bees, ants and termites. All other animals are extinct.

All, save for the stunted, degenerate descendants of humanity.

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Not Here No More

Cadaverific — Becka Kinzie

To quote Becka Kinzie’s site:

Hello, I’m a freelance artist from the K-W Region. I’ve also been working as a colour flatter and colouring assistant since the early 2010s. In my spare time, I create my own macabre series of comics, which are posted online. The pages are eventually made into comic book issues, and so far I have self-published 15 of them (for sale at events/conventions).

Kenzie’s first webcomic, Cadaverific, ran from 2008 to 2014.

Corey Bowman’s story should have ended the night the night he died. A minor altercation between Corey and a low-rent acquaintance ended in Corey’s accidental death. Yes, the story should have ended there, but it didn’t. Corey’s cousin J. P. just happened to have come into possession of a monkey’s paw — sorry, the Monkey’s Paw — and in an idle moment of grief, wished Corey was back among his friends.

J. P. was nowhere near specific enough about his wish.

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Today’s unrequested surprise

Was learning that the reason DreamHost (which hosts James Nicoll Reviews) was targeted for DDOS attack is because they decided to host the Daily Stormer, an American neo-Nazi and white supremacist news and commentary website. My site will be moving. Until it has been moved, I won’t be posting updates here. I will go back to posting reviews on DW.

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Grain for Grain, Sun and Rain

Gene Mapper — Taiyo Fujii

Taiyo Fujii’s Gene Mapper is a standalone futuristic thriller, first self-published in 2012. The 2015 English translation is by Jim Hubbert.

The great red-rust blight was a tragedy for the ten million Asians who starved to death as a result. For companies like L&B, it was an opportunity to replace unreliable natural crops with their carefully designed and wholly owned commercial seed. L&B promises a reliable food supply and security from famine to the world’s twelve billion people.

At least, that’s the plan.

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The Supple Suitor

The Maze Stone — Eileen Dunlop

Eileen Dunlop’s 1982 The Maze Stone is a standalone juvenile fantasy.

Fanny Mowbray’s reunion with her birth father Dr. Mowbray might have been cause for celebration, if the reason for the reunion had not been the sudden death of Fanny’s grandmother (the woman who had raised her). Fanny is too grief-stricken to have any energy, or will, to revive her ties with her father or build new ones with her stepmother Mrs. Mowbray or her stepsister Hester.

An old mystery will bring the two teens together.

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Little Things That Keep Us Together

White Trash Zombie Unchained — Diana Rowland
White Trash Zombie, book 6

2017’s White Trash Zombie Unchained is the sixth volume in Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie series.

After taking a few months off to collect herself after the events of White Trash Zombie Gone Wild, Angel Crawford is very nearly her old brain-eating self. Dividing her time between work at the Saint Edwards Parish Coroner’s Office and college bio classes, she studiously avoids alone time with her ex, Nick, for whom she still carries a torch.

In this instalment, Angel is given an excellent distraction from hunky Nick. Too bad that the distraction is an apocalypse.

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So Said The Lighthouse Keeper

The Keeper of the Isis Light — Monica Hughes
Isis, book 1

1980’s The Keeper of the Isis Light is the first volume in Monica Hughes’ Isis Trilogy.

Olwen Pendennis has been the keeper of the Isis FTL beacon ever since she was an infant, an infant orphaned by calamity on distant Isis. For her, life with no human companions is perfectly normal. After all, she has her wise robot Guardian to advise and keep watch over her, her amiable but formidable-looking Hairy Dragon Hobbit for company, and an entire planet to call her own.

On her tenth birthday — sixteenth by Earth years — her life changes forever.

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Cast a Deadly Spell

A Pocket Full of Murder — R. J. Anderson
Uncommon Magic, book 1

2015’s A Pocket Full of Murder is the first volume in R. J. Anderson’s Uncommon Magic series. Pocket is a young adult fantasy-mystery.

Despite the sober foresight that placed most political power in the Tarreton City Council in the hands of the local aristocracy, Tarreton has not prospered. In large part this is because the local Sagelord Lord Arvis is a fool whose decrees have consistently undermined the local economy.

It is fortunate for the aristocracy that they are sufficiently buffered by personal wealth that they can maintain a proper lifestyle despite economic downturn. It’s a very different story for such plebeians as widower Urias Breck and his family. Not only is he unemployed (thanks to Arvis’ whimsical kneecapping of the local economy), but as a Moshite dissenter he is at the bottom of the list for most employers (who prefers their employees to belong to the Unifying Church). His affiliation with the Workers’ Club (wild-eyed extremists who want fair pay and responsible government) would further diminish his chances of being hired if anyone were to find out this last disreputable, disqualifying fact.

Or it would, if Urias had not just been arrested for murdering Governor Orien. Unemployment would be preferable to hanging.


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The Kindness of Strangers

Goth — Otsuichi

Otsiuchi’s 2002 Goth is a collection. Most of the English translation was done by Andrew Cunningham, although one section was translated by Jocelyne Allen. The Haikasoru edition was published in 2015.

Morbid, expressionless Morino was a loner until she recognized a kindred spirit in a fellow student (who, being the narrator, feels little need to name himself in these stories). The pair bond over their shared fascination with gruesome murders.

Morino is particularly valuable to her murder-obsessed friend because although she remains completely unaware of the fact, Morino attracts killers, just as rotting meat attracts flies. Pheromones?

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If The Sky Fell

The Stone Sky — N. K. Jemisin
The Broken Earth, book 3

2017’s The Stone Sky is the third and final volume in N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy.

The Moon, long ago torn from its orbit around the Earth, is returning. Two women, Essun and her daughter Nassun, have the power to determine its course: a) past the Earth and back into interplanetary space, b) back into orbit around the Earth, or c) directly into the planet itself.

Nassun, having had a good look at the evil humans do, is firmly convinced the third option is the correct one.

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All My Tomorrows

The Danger Quotient — Annabel Johnson & Edgar Johnson

Annabel and Edgar Johnson’s 1984 The Danger Quotient is a standalone time travel novel.

130 years after World War III turned the surface of the Earth into a lifeless, UV-soaked hellscape, things are not going well for the descendants who took refuge in a vast network of tunnels under Colorado. For reasons unexplained, lifespans keep dropping.

K/C — 4(SCI) (or Casey, for short) is a gene-engineered genius, one whom his designers hope will be smart enough to solve the problem of the shrinking lifespans. Too bad that he probably won’t live long enough. He suffers from congenital defects that will kill him all too soon.

He has a cunning plan to put the little time remaining to him to good use. It’s a plan dependent on his homemade time-machine.

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Let The Memory Live Again

Projections — Stephen Robinett

Stephen Robinett’s1 science fiction career2 ran from 1969 to 1983. In that time he produced five novels and twenty-one short stories. He appears to have disappeared from the science fiction world after 1983. Robinett died from complications of Hodgkin’s Disease in 2004, but it took a further five years for that news to filter back to SFdom.

A 1979 collection, Projections, contains nine Robinett stories, stories of which he was particular fond.

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Our One True Guiding Light

The Princes of the Air — John M. Ford

1982’s The Princes of the Air was John M. Ford’s second novel. His first novel, 1980’s Web of Angels (which I wish I had reviewed, because then I could link to the review) was a cyberpunk novel. The Princes of the Air was a space opera of manners. Ford’s reluctance to stick to a specific genre is only one of the reasons he is not better known.

Orden, David, and Theo had sufficient talents to have spent their lives working up to ever more complicated con games … that is, until the forces of the law fell on them and consigned them to whatever fate waits the criminal classes in a star-spanning empire. Orden evaded this fate by entering the diplomatic service, an alternative career path for those blessed with a gift of gab and an eye for a good con. His friends David and Theo parlayed practice on simulated, video-game starships into crewing the real thing.

Any prudent person in Orden’s position would have maintained a low profile in a minor position. Ambitious Orden brought himself and his friends to the attention of the Queen.

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Eat Me Like a Sacrament

The Cannibal’s Handbook & Spider Spun — Kit Daven

2015’s “Spider Spun” and “The Cannibal’s Handbook” are two short stories by Kitchener-Waterloo author Kit Daven. I bought them because they were only 99 cents (less than a coffee and a doughnut) and because for some reason (even though the word counts are clearly indicated) I thought they were novellas. Both are from the upcoming collection, She’s No Good (upcoming, but no release date given).


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What I Wouldn’t Do

The Unit — Ninni Holmqvist

Ninni Holmqvist’s 2006 dystopia, The Unit: A Novel, was translated in 2008 (from the author’s Swedish to English) by Marlaine Delargy.

Dorrit Weger lived her life on the margins of Swedish society: never marrying, never having children, settling for a series of occupations that, no matter how personally satisfying, left her perpetually on the brink of insolvency. At age fifty, she is removed from her decaying house, separated from her loving dog, and consigned to the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. The Unit takes in dispensable people — authors, artists, homosexuals, and other non-conformists whose occupations are of no real use — and transforms them into valuable resources, as experimental medical subjects and involuntary organ donors.

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The Way We Used to Be

The Beautiful Ones — Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s soon-to-be-released The Beautiful Ones is a standalone SF novel. (SF in my estimation; see the discussion below.)

Hector Auvray rose from humble origins because he is an extremely powerful, skilled, and artistic telekinetic. He may not be an aristocrat but at least he is famous and rich.

Valérie Beaulieu is famous, rich, beautiful, and an aristocrat. None of this truly makes her happy, since women of her class have nothing they can really call their own. Her background and beauty have only made her a valuable commodity on the marriage mart. She knows that her impoverished family’s future depends on her. A dutiful daughter, she abandoned her one true love so that she could marry the wealthy Gaetan instead.

Hector was that one true love. Ten years after being spurned by Valérie, Hector has returned to the city of Loisail.

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Like a Mirror Held Before Me

Adam Link, Robot — Eando Binder

Eando Binder’s i 1965 Adam Link, Robot is a fix-up of stories first published in the late 1930s and early 1940s.


Adam Link is the product of years of work by kindly Dr. Charles Link. 500 pounds of unstoppable metal guided by an iridium-sponge brain, the robot is the first of its kind. Thanks to Dr. Link’s careful training, it is not in any way a ravening, unstoppable killbot.

Unfortunately for Adam, Dr. Link is one of the very few people willing to give the robot the benefit of the doubt. When Dr. Link is killed in a household mishap, Adam is immediately accused of killing the old man. With public opinion against him, Adam has little chance of winning a trial. Indeed, the odds of him surviving long enough to get a trial are poor. He is, after all, only a machine.

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A Criminal Mind

9 Tales of Raffalon — Matthew Hughes

Matthew Hughes’ 9 Tales of Raffalon is a collection of short stories, all featuring professional thief Raffalon. Raffalon lives in a time and place not unlike Jack Vance’s Dying Earth . Magic is commonplace, as are ways for a man of flexible ethics to enrich himself. Or, as Raffalon so often discovers, ways to get himself into trouble.

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Hello, Is It Me You’re Looking For?

Hiromu Arakawa
Fullmetal Alchemist, book 4

Viz’ Fullmetal Alchemist (3-in-1 Edition), Volume 4 includes Volumes 10, 11, and 12 of the original Japanese manga. Story and art are by Hiromu Arakawa; English translation by Akira Watanabe; English adaptation by Jake Forbes; touch-up art and lettering by Wayne Truman. The original manga appeared in 2005. The English translation appeared in 2013. Volume 1 was reviewed here. Volume 2 was reviewed here. Volume 3 was reviewed here.

Eager to clean up loose ends, the homunculi have released Barry the Chopper’s former body into the wild. Although Barry’s soul is housed in a tough metal body, that soul is still connected to his body by his spiriti. The plan: body will naturally seek out soul, and in so doing lead homunculi Envy and Gluttony to their disloyal servant.

It was a plan as straightforward as it is doomed. Now Barry’s old body is on the run and might lead enemies directly to one of Father’s lairs (Father being the big bad and the creator of the homunculi).

There’s worse to come.

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Bounded in a Nutshell

Kobo Aura

The Kobo ereader has been available in various models since 2010. I was an early adopter of ebooks for professional reasons (ebooks can be delivered as fast as email and nobody steals them from my mailbox) but until I got a Kobo for my [mumble] birthday, I used a laptop instead of a dedicated ereader. My Kobo Aura is the second Kobo I’ve owned. While I have one or two reservations about the device, I would recommend it.

Mind you, how I use it may be different from the sanctioned uses the manufacturer envisioned.

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