Reviews, March 2018

Shadows of the World Appear

DragonQuest — Eric Goldberg, Gerard C. Klug, David James Ritchie, Edward J. Woods, Redmond A. Simonsen

Simulation Publications, Inc.’s 1980 roleplaying game DragonQuest (DQ for short) is the third game in the trifecta of RPGs on which I imprinted some thirty-eight years ago. Principle designers were Eric Goldberg, Gerard C. Klug, David James Ritchie, Edward J. Woods, and Redmond A. Simonsen.

Nota bene: I am cheating a bit because I’ve long since lost my original box with its three stapled booklets. Instead I wrote this review based on my second edition hardcover, which I acquired after I turned twenty.

My other RPG faves were Runequest and Traveller. DragonQuest was a fantasy RPG, as was Runequest. Traveller was SF. But RQ and Traveller were alike in that they both had extensively developed campaign settings1. DQ, on the other hand, assumed a bog-standard medieval fantasy Europe but failed to flesh it out. This is because DQ was published by a company that was doomed. Doomed, I tell you, doomed.

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Under Pressure

The Warrior’s Apprentice — Lois McMaster Bujold
Miles Vorkosigan, book 1

1986’s The Warrior’s Apprentice was Lois McMaster Bujold’s first Miles Vorkosigan novel.

Miles was exposed to a lethal gas while still in the womb and his bones did not develop properly. They are short and brittle. He looks odd; he looks like a mutant, which is a bad thing to be on his native world of Barrayar. During Barrayar’s time of isolation from other human-settled worlds, mutants were killed at birth. Modern medicine has better answers, but hatred of muties (and of people who are visibly deformed or disabled) is still ingrained in Barrayaran custom.

Mile must deal with daunting physical limitations. What may be worse is the disdain and even hatred of his fellow Barrayarans, who see his very existence as an affront to all that is right and good.

Miles is an aristocrat; a period (or a lifetime) of military service is customary for Barrayaran aristocrats. Miles wants to be a soldier like his peers. He may lack physical prowess, but he has charm, brains, and cunning. Those sterling qualities are enough to take him to the top in the academic courses at the military academy … but don’t help him pass the final physical test. He breaks both legs on an obstacle course. There will be no Vor military career for Miles. What to do with the rest of his life?

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Swift To Its Close Ebbs Out Life’s Little Day

Girls' Last Tour, book 4

2016’s Girls’ Last Tour Book 4 is yet another instalment of Tsukumizu’s post-apocalyptic wanderjahr. Amanda Hayley translated this volume.

It’s not at all clear where the automated train buried deep beneath the dying city will take Chito and Yuuri, but at least they will get there quickly.

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Sometimes In My Dreams

Under The Pendulum Sun — Jeannette Ng

Jeannette Ng’s 2017 Under the Pendulum Sun: A Novel of the Fae is a standalone Gothic fantasy novel.

In this world, Captain Cook’s explorations found a route to the Faelands. Just as India, China, and other far off lands were eventually forced to grant Englishmen access, so too has Arcadia been opened to traders, diplomats, and others. Change has come into the world beneath the Pendulum Sun.

The Reverend Laon Helstone has travelled to Arcadia hoping to convert the heathen to the one true, Anglican, faith. Was he successful? Impossible to say, as no word has returned from this visitor to the Faerie realm. The silence is ominous, given the fate of his predecessor.

Concerned for his well-being, his sister Catherine Helstone follows in Laon’s footsteps.

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We Are Select

The Tea Master and the Detective — Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard’s 2018 mystery The Tea Master and the Detective takes place in her Xuya universe.

Cashiered following a deep-space calamity, shipmind The Shadow’s Child now makes a meagre living brewing medicinal infusions. It claims that these infusions will alleviate the stresses of other-dimensional travel.

Long Chau seems to be just another human client. She is in fact something unusual.

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A Little Bit Genghis Khan

Floating Worlds — Cecelia Holland

Cecilia Holland’s 1976 Floating Worlds is a standalone SF novel.

Thousands of years in the future, Earth is a polluted wasteland where to venture outside unprotected is to commit suicide. This is a lamentable state of affairs but not one that the anarchists running Earth, for very loose values of running, seem interested in fixing … or able to fix. The Moon, Mars, Venus, the Asteroids, and the Outer Planets, however, are all home to thriving human communities. All of which seem to be managing their affairs, and their environments, more successfully than is Earth.

Paula Mendoza is a doctrinaire anarchist, the last person one would expect to get drawn into government work. She has a rare skill, however, one that is of unique value to Earth’s Committee for the Revolution. Paula is multilingual.

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Hello Darkness

Blood of the Mantis — Adrian Tchaikovsky
Shadows of the Apt, book 3

2009’s Blood of the Mantis is the third volume in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series.

Spymaster Stenwald Maker is tasked with the surveillance of two other city states … but he has only a few trusted agents. He decides to split his forces.

This may or may not be a bad decision. Dividing one’s forces often is.

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After The Garden Is Gone

Sisyphean — Dempow Torishima

2018’s Sisyphean is a standalone work of SF that hovers between a short story collection and a novel. The stories are connected by their setting. It was translated by Daniel Huddleston, written and illustrated by Dempow Torishima.

Welcome to the exciting world of tomorrow, where many of society’s institutions appear not to have changed, even if the beings that inhabit them are unfamiliar in form.

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Do What You Do With Your Head Held High

Always Human — Walkingnorth

Walkingnorth’s Always Human is a hard-SF-romance webtoon.

Intrigued by the oddly modless woman whose path she keeps crossing at the local transport station, VR environment designer Sunati sees the stranger’s hayfever attack as a chance to introduce herself. The offer of an appropriate mod (biomanipulating nanotech) does not go as Sunati envisioned. Instead of gratitude, the offer provokes tears.

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Cold As Hell

One Way — S. J. Morden

S. J. Morden’s 2018 One Way is an SF murder mystery.

Franklin Kittridge accepted that the cost of killing his son’s pusher would be a life spent in prison. He expects to die in prison. Imagine his surprise when Xenosystems Operations, the parent company of the corporation that owns Frank’s prison, offers him an alternative:

Die on Mars instead.

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Mystery Dance

Virgin Planet — Poul Anderson

1959’s Virgin Planet is a novel-length expansion of Poul Anderson’s 1957 novella of the same name. It takes place in Anderson’s Psychotechnic League, a future history he developed from the 1940s to the late 1950s (it is in fact very nearly the final work in that setting.).

Davis Bertram, the young, proud owner of a splendid starship, is determined to make a name for himself. He sets out on a voyage of exploration to the Delta Capitis Lupi system. The system has only recently emerged from a fifty light-year-wide trepidation vortex; the system may or may not be home to an Earth-like world. What is certain is that Davis will be the first man to visit the system.

But not, as he discovers, the first human.

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Let The World Sing Along

Cart and Cwidder — Diana Wynne Jones
Dalemark Quartet, book 1

1975’s Cart and Cwidder is the first book in Diana Wynne Jones’ Dalemark Quartet.

Osfameron Tanamoril Clennenson — Moril for short — has spent his life travelling from town to town with his father Clennan, mother Lenina, and siblings Dagner and Brid. The family troupe makes a living as travelling entertainers, messengers, and occasional escort for travellers in strife-torn Dalemark. In the course of their travels, they frequently cross from North Dalemark to South Dalemark and back.

A brutal encounter at a lakeside campsite ends their travels.

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