Reviews, November 2018

Looking Down on Creation

Riding the Torch — Norman Spinrad

Norman Spinrad’s 1974 Riding the Torch is a standalone science fiction novella.

Mistakes were made. Earth is a lifeless cinder. Before the planet was seared, a small fleet of interstellar ships managed to escape. Surely somewhere in the sky, there must be a second Earth.

A thousand years later, the torchships are still looking. On and on they travel, harvesting the materials they need to survive and prosper from the interstellar void.

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Go Ask Alice

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo — F. C. Yee

2017’s The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is F. C. Yee’s debut novel.

Bay Area high school student Eugenia “Genie” Lo is highly motivated and hard-working, determined to earn her way into Harvard. She’s going to claw her way to the top, despite all her equally motivated, hard working, and better-connected rivals. Harvard is not just a top-ranked school. It is as far from Genie’s well-meaning, interfering mother as it is possible to be without leaving the United States. Genie does not need distractions on her journey to the east. She gets a major distraction in the form of brash transfer student Quentin Sun.

Also known as Sun Wukong.

Also known as the Monkey King. That Monkey King.

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Be My Homeward Dove

Mira’s Last Dance — Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric & Desdemona, book 5

2017’s Mira’s Last Dance is the fifth instalment in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric & Desdemona series. The series takes place in the setting of Bujold’s Five Gods novels.

In the previous book, Penric was badly injured in a duel with a Cedonian sorcerer. His symbiotic demon Desdemona was able to keep Penric alive, but Penric and his two human companions, former General Arisaydia and the general’s sister Nikys, have been forced to pause in their flight from Cedonia while Penric heals.

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All I Do is Win

Tempest — Yoshiki Tanaka
Legend of the Galactic Heroes, book 7

First published under the title Ginga Eiyu Densetsu volume 7, 1986’s Tempest is the sixth volume in Yoshiki Tanaka’s Legend of the Galactic Heroes 1. Daniel Huddleston’s translation was published by Haikasoru in 2018.

All hail the glorious Kaiser Reinhard, who has either conquered or neutralized all enemies of his galactic empire. Having unified the galaxy, it’s odd that the Kaiser is not a happier man.


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Can’t Get There From Here

The Luminous Dead — Caitlin Starling

2019’s The Luminous Dead is Caitlin Starling’s debut novel.

Gyre Price lies to get the contract for a solo caving expedition. It’s a calculated risk: caving is dangerous. But the payoff for the foray could be lucrative enough to pay Gyre’s way off the dead-end colony world of Cassandra-V.

Cassandra-V’s wealth, such as it is, is based on subterranean mineral deposits. It’s a reasonable guess that Gyre’s employer hopes to discover a new vein of ore. A guess is all it is, as the employer is oddly reticent about the project’s goals. This isn’t the only piece of important information that Gyre has not been given. The employer knows that Gyre lied about her experience but hired her anyway.

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Lost in the Garden of Eden

The City of the Sun — Brian M. Stableford
Daedalus Mission, book 4

1978’s The City of the Sun is the fourth novel in Brian M. Stableford’s Daedalus Mission series.

Earth’s first expedition to recontact its abandoned colonies found only empty worlds, worlds where colonists had been overwhelmed by local conditions. The Daedalus Mission is the second expedition, sent out to assist colonies when possible and to determine the reason for the colony’s demise if defunct. Thus far the crew of the Daedalus (Nathan, Linda, Conrad, Karen, Pete, Mariel and Alex) have found two surviving (if odd) colonies and one world where humans were horribly transformed by unforeseen local conditions.

As far as they can tell from orbit, Arcadia seems to have failed utterly. Then the expedition spots one lone city.

Here there be spoilers

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Maker of Rules

The Expert System’s Brother — Adrian Tchaikovsky


Adrian Tchaikovsky’s 2018 The Expert System’s Brother is a standalone science fiction novella.

Aro is a village like any other: nestled next to a great tree, run by ghosts sharing the bodies of living persons, persons selected by the wasps. Handry was an unremarkable example of an Aro inhabitant … until the day of the mishap.


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Ten Fathoms Deep on the Road to Hell

Spanish Mission — K. B. Spangler
Hope Blackwell, book 2

2018’s Spanish Mission is the second volume in K. B. Spangler’s Hope Blackwell series of novels1.

Seeking to distract her cyborg friend Mary “Mare” O’Murphy from the disquieting revelation that ghosts exist and are quite visible to Enhanced Americans, Hope Blackwell takes Mare and their talking koala pal Speedy on a road trip to Vegas.

This bold gambit sets Hope and Mare up for an encounter with paranormal impresario Eli Tellerman of the reality show Spooky Solutions [2]. Tellerman knows Hope for the psychic that she is. In short order he manages to strong-arm her into joining his latest venture.

It’s an exciting foray into the desert in search of ancient treasure, pirate ships lost in an arid wasteland, and (of course) ghosts.

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Simple Gifts

Adachitoka
Noragami, book 7


Adachitoka’s Noragami Volume 7 collects issues 24 to 27 of the adventures of the stray god Yato. The manga was first published in 2013; the English translation dates from 2015. Included are:

  • 24. “Always” (ずっと一 “Zuttou”)

  • 25. “When Sleeping Gods Are Provoked” (触った神の祟り “Sawatta Kami no Tatari”)

  • 26. “How to Worship a God” (神様の祀リ方 “Kamisama no Matsuri Kata”)

  • 27. “Do and Due” (業と業 “Gyō to Gō”)

Yato is a god, but even a god suffers when snubbed by a friend.


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Why Don’t You Be You?

No Man of Woman Born (Rewoven Tales) — Ana Mardoll

2018’s No Man of Woman Born (Rewoven Tales) is a single-author collection by Ana Mardoll.

Thanks to the place Tanith Lee’s Red as Blood has in my heart, I am always up for fairy tales re-imagined in a new light. Of course, this is sometimes not fair to new collections; I tend to measure them against a collection I like very much. Mardoll’s collection passes the test.

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Up Where We Belong

The War in the Air — H. G. Wells

H. G. Wells’ 1908’s The War in the Air is a standalone near-future (from the perspective of 1908) military thriller.

The inevitable march of progress has transformed bucolic Bun Hill into a thriving London suburb. Greengrocer Tom Smallways views this change (and change in general) with the deepest suspicion. His brother Bert, on the other hand, is eager to embrace change, particularly of the sort that involves Bert becoming wealthy.

Middling bright and uninhibited by any particular sense of ethics, Bert has thus far been denied the riches to which he is so clearly entitled, riches that would enable him to marry the charming Edna. When fate drops into Bert’s lap the chance to make a fortune by selling stolen military information to the Germans, patriotism inhibits Bert not at all.

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Got Away From You

The Lives of Christopher Chant — Diana Wynne Jones
Chrestomanci, book 2

1988’s The Lives of Christopher Chant is the fourth book published in Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series. It is set some decades before Charmed Life.

Christopher Chant was unlucky when issued a family. His father is a well-meaning upper-class bumbler, and his mother is a grasping social climber who is gravely disappointed in her husband. Although they cohabit, Mr. and Mrs. Chant aren’t on speaking terms. Since raising Christopher is Mrs. Chant’s domain, Christopher barely knows his father.

Two developments reshape Christopher’s life. One is that his father manages to lose the family fortune. The second …

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Just Pour Me Another One

They Promised Me The Gun Wasn’t Loaded — James Alan Gardner
The Dark and the Spark, book 2

2018’s They Promised Me The Gun Wasn’t Loaded is the second novel in James Alan Gardner’s The Dark and the Spark1 series. It is a sequel to 2017’s All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault.

University of Waterloo students Jools, K2, Miranda, and Shar were victims of a classic Mad Scientist’s lab accident, which, far from killing them, imbued them all with Light-derived superhuman abilities. Each so-called Spark gained a different set of powers; each adopted a different code-name to reflect their new identities (Ninety-Nine, Zircon, Aria, and Dakini). All of them were drafted into the on-going struggle between the Darklings (the one percent who control society) and the Light.

The Light opposes the vampires, demons, wraiths, and other Darklings. That doesn’t mean the Light is good, as Jools/Ninety-Nine is painfully aware.

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