Reviews, April 2019

Do You Believe in Magic?

The Barrow Will Send What It May — Margaret Killjoy
Danielle Cain, book 2

2018’s The Barrow Will Send What It May is the second entry in Margaret Killjoy’s Danielle Cain series.

Danielle and her new chums Brynne, Doomsday, Vulture, and Thursday survived the events in The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, the previous book in the series. However, they find themselves suspected of causing (rather than surviving) the pile of dead police in the town of Lamb. Rather than try to convince skeptical detectives that the dead cops were slain by a demon, the quintet have hit the road. Perhaps they can become itinerant demon-hunters?

America’s great highway network will whisk them away from suspicion. It’s a fine plan. Too bad Danielle manages to total the car near Pendleton, Montana.


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Outside of That

Beyond This Horizon — Robert A. Heinlein

1948’s Beyond This Horizon1 is a standalone novel by Robert A. Heinlein.

The development of workable methods for genetic selection sparked two genocidal wars. But all that’s in the past. The world has recovered. The Americas are practically a utopia. A long-running program aimed at creating the perfect human is close to completion. The latest iteration is Hamilton Felix. He would be the perfect man save for two flaws:

  • He could have a perfect memory (or so think the program planners2).

  • He refuses to marry and produce the child who would be the perfect human.

Oh, and his pal Monroe-Alpha has committed a spot of treason. We’ll get to that later.


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You Say You Got A Real Solution

Schismatrix — Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling’s 1985 hard SF novel Schismatrix is the sole novel set in his Shaper/Mechanist universe, a setting also featured in handful of short pieces1.

The human colonies of the Solar System are divided into two factions: the Shapers, who want to enlist biology in reshaping humanity, and the Mechanists, who rely on technology. The two sides loath each other and are engaged in an increasingly tense cold war. It isn’t clear which camp will shape humanity’s future.

Abelard Lyndsay, born to a high-ranked family in the Mare Serenitatis Circumlunar Corporate Republic, was sent as envoy to the Shaper city-states in the Rings of Saturn. This was during a brief period when the Republic was flirting with a Shaper alliance. Once the lunar aristocrats allied with the Mechanists, Abelard found himself an embarrassing relic of a failed policy.

Already radicalized by the Shapers, Abelard turned to extreme political gestures. Upshot: Abelard’s lover Vera dead, and Abelard an exile from his former home.


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A Box Just For Wishes

The River Twice — Brenda W. Clough
Edge to Center, book 1

2019’s The River Twice is the first volume in Brenda W. Clough’s Edge to Center series.

It’s good to be the king! And if one lives in a purported republic with a dubious record of democratic transfer of power, it’s good to be the grand-daughter of the President. Calla Ang’s grandmother is Madame President of Jalanesia and (save for the tragic deaths of Calla’s parents when she was but a child) Calla’s life has so far been prosperous. Her future as the likely inheritor of her grand-mother’s position seems secure.

Her comfortable life is disrupted by the sudden appearance of a bewhiskered Englishman.


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Numb to Pain

Kohske
Gangsta, book 1

Gangsta, Volume 1 collects the first five issues of Kohske’s eponymous SF crime manga. First published in 2011, the English language edition came out in 2014.

Ergastulum is a hive of scum and villainy, populated by monsters and victims. The cops are crooked, the criminals are in charge, and life is for the most part unpleasant.

Worick Arcangelo and Nicolas Brown are handymen. They handle problems the other people of Ergastulum are unwilling or unable to face.


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Follow Me Now To The Vault Down Below

Atlas Alone — Emma Newman
Planetfall, book 4

2019’s Atlas Alone is the fourth installment in Emma Newman’s Planetfall series.

Humanity’s second crewed starship is on its way to the distant star system pioneered by the Pathfinder. The 10,400 people on board Atlas 2 have a twenty-year voyage ahead of them1, which raises the question of how they are to fill their time. Dee knows exactly how she will spend it.

(spoilers for After Atlas)


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Wounds Are All I’m Made Of

Akira — Katsuhiro Otomo

Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga Akira was serialized in Young Magazine from 1982 to 1990. The first English translation was published by Marvel Comics’ Epic line from 1988 to 19951. The US edition pioneered the use of computer colourization, courtesy Steve Oliff. For many North Americans this was their introduction to manga.

Viktor Haag was kind enough to lend me his Epic collection.


Since I am not sure how the Epic volumes map onto the current version from Dark Horse, I decided to review the entire, 2000+ page work as a whole.

All together now:

 “TETSUOOOO!”


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Waiting in the Sky

Identified — Gerry Anderson, Sylvia Anderson, Tony Barwick
UFO, book 1

1970’s “Identified” was the first episode of the TV series UFO. The series was helmed by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, with Reg Hill. The episode was written by the Andersons and Tony Barwick and directed by Gerry Anderson. Unlike previous Anderson efforts, characters were portrayed not by puppets, but by live actors.

Humanity has incontrovertible proof that aliens have discovered Earth and are taking a close interest in humans. This interest outs itself whenever the aliens notice humans noticing them; the luckless humans are killed. One such attack on a highly placed colonel (played by Ed Bishop) moves the top powers of the day (US, USSR, etc.) to adopt a new strategy: secrecy. They’ll form a task force that will covertly investigate the aliens.

Ten years later…

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Searchin’

Unraveling — Karen Lord

Karen Lord’s 2019 Unraveling is a standalone fantasy.

Forensic therapist Dr. Miranda Ecouvo put detectives on the trail of a serial killer. He’s caught and convicted. But it’s not clear why the killer killed or who put him up to it. Human justice cannot solve this. But someone else can.


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Song of the Free

The Undefeated — Una McCormack


Una McCormack’s 2019’s The Undefeated is a science fiction novella.

After a long and successful career, famed journalist Monica Greatorex returns to Sienna, the backwater world from whence she came. She chooses an interesting time for her return. There have been great changes on Sienna. She observes and reflects.


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Like Dragons in the Dead of Night

Voyage From Yesteryear — James P. Hogan


James P. Hogan’s 1982 Voyage from Yesteryear is a standalone science fiction novel.

Faced with seemingly inevitable nuclear war in the near future, the North American Space Development Organization and its Asian partners decided to take the bold step of re-purposing the SP3 interstellar probe. Five years before its 2020 launch, the probe was redesigned to deliver human life to Chiron, the habitable world in the Alpha Centauri system. But there’s a catch.

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A New Dawn

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color — Nisi Shawl

Nisi Shawl’s 2019 New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color is, unsurprisingly, an anthology of original speculative fiction by people of color. It takes its title from an Octavia E. Butler quotation:

“There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.”

The anthology includes seventeen stories plus ancillary material. As a whole it is worth tracking down and reading, but the following are of particular note.


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Trick or Treat

Wasp — Eric Frank Russell


Eric Frank Russell’s 1957 Wasp is a standalone science fiction novel.

Terra and the Sirian Combine have been at war for a year. Humanity enjoys a significant technological edge, but the Sirians outnumber the Terrans ten-to-one. The solution, as far as Terra’s High Command is concerned, is to adopt tactics in which the weight of numbers cannot come into play.

James Mowry is given an offer he cannot refuse. He is to become a wasp.


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Break The Lock If It Don’t Fit

Yusuke Murata & ONE
One-Punch Man, book 3

Yes, this is very late. I keep over-scheduling myself. I have only myself to blame.

One-Punch Man Volume Three collects Punches (issues) 16 through 20 (plus some bonus material) of ONE and Yusuke Murata’s ongoing manga.

Saitama is super-fast, super-strong, and super-invulnerable. He is also super-obscure because neither Saitama nor Saitama’s acolyte Genos have ever bothered to register with the Hero Association. Time to fix that.


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The Rocky Road

The Wizard Children of Finn — Mary Tannen
Finn, book 1


Mary Tannen’s 1981 time-travel juvenile fantasy The Wizard Children of Finn is the first of her Finn novels.

Sent off by their actress mother for a summer stay at their uncle Rupert’s estate, eleven-year-old Fiona and eight-year-old Bran McCool foresee a summer of boredom. They’ll miss their mother; their uncle will not be in residence. The children have only the company of two eccentric old women whom they barely know, Lia and Bovmall.


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I Ran So Far Away

Starfarers — Vonda N. McIntyre
Starfarers, book 1

1989’s Starfarers is the first volume in Vonda N. McIntyre’s Starfarers Quartet.

The near approach of a cosmic string1 offers humanity superluminal access to Tau Ceti. A light-sail spaceship can hitchhike on the string to explore the nearest star system. A consortium of nations builds the Starfarer as a traveling university, one that will send back dividends of new knowledge that will more than pay for its creation.

That is, if it is allowed to do what it is designed to do. Some of its government supporters have other notions of best use.


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Tell Me Lies

The Cosmic Computer — H. Beam Piper


H. Beam Piper’s 1963 The Cosmic Computer is a standalone science fiction novel. It’s set in Piper’s Terra-Human future history, in the last days of the Federation.

Conn Maxwell returns from Terra to his backwater homeworld, Poictesme, armed with hard-won knowledge. The family friends who pooled resources to pay for Conn’s education did so in the hope that while on Earth, Conn would uncover the secret location of Merlin, the fabled supercomputer that many believe allowed the Federation to triumph over the secessionist System States Alliance. With Merlin’s help, surely the investors could learn how to kickstart Poictesme’s moribund economy.

What Conn learned was that Merlin was not just legendary. It was a myth. There would be no all-powerful supercomputer to guide Poictesme to prosperity.

When Conn returns to his homeworld, he lies to his friends and backers. He claims to know how to find Merlin. This isn’t just an attempt to spare his friends or evade responsibility for the failure. He wants to use the belief in Merlin to inspire his world to take the steps that will rebuild its economy.


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Strange Magic

The True Queen — Zen Cho
Sorcerer to the Crown, book 2

2019’s The True Queen is the second volume in Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown series.

Amnesiacs Sakti and Muna arrive on the island of Janda Baik, preceded by a great storm. They know their own names, but nothing else of their past. They look much like each other, so it is supposed that they are sisters. They are offered a home by the formidable witch Mak Genggang and begin to make new lives for themselves.

Complications ensue.


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She’s Got Me So Confused

FLCL — Yōji Enokido & Kazuya Tsurumaki

FLCL is a six-part anime series written by Yōji Enokido, and directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki. It was released in 2000 and 2001.

Twelve-year-old Naota Nandaba lives with his father and grandfather in backwater Mabase. He grudgingly tolerates the uninvited attentions of high-schooler Mamimi Samejima.

It’s a humdrum life. To quote Naota,

“Nothing amazing happens here. Everything is ordinary.”

Enter attractive maniac Haruko Haruhara, who

  • runs Naota down with her Vespa;

  • gives him CPR;

  • wallops him in the head with her guitar.

It’s not madness, although Haruko is dubiously sane. She has a plan….

Soon after finding himself lip-locked with the madcap Haruko, Haoto finds himself struggling with ill-timed protrusions.


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To Books I Am Beholden

Servant of the Crown — Melissa McShane
Tremontane, book 1

Servant of the Crown is the first volume in Melissa McShane’s Tremontane series.

Alison Quinn, Countess of Waxwold, distrusts men. Every man she has ever met has wanted her title, her money, and/or her body. She has turned her back on romance to focus on her father’s publishing company. But rank comes with obligations. When Queen Zara North summons Alison to Aurilien to serve as a companion to Zara’s mother, the Dowager Queen, Alison has no choice but to obey.

The Dowager Queen is friendly, if a bit naïve. Her son Anthony is also friendly. Too friendly. As the heir apparent to the unmarried and childless Zara, he is confident that he is irresistible.

Alison and Anthony’s first meeting ends in a slap heard around the court.


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