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The tragedy of John Varley

The Persistence of Vision

By John Varley 

5 Jul, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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The tragedy of John Varley’s 1978 collection, The Persistence of Vision, isn’t that its contents have aged; although time has not been kind to some of them, others have fared well. The tragedy is the stark contrast between the John Varley of the 1970s and the John Varley of today. Young Varley was one of the few male authors of note to emerge in the disco era, the author of a remarkable series of short works [1]. The mature Varley wastes his talent on second-rate Heinlein pastiches [2] and novels whose moral is that, as bad as the collapse of civilization would be, at least it would turn women back into homemakers and get the kids off the Twitter. 

To quote a noted social activist, Why are so few of us left active, healthy, and without personality disorders?”


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Learn from my mistake

The Necessary Beggar

By Susan Palwick 

4 Jul, 2015

Special Requests

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While she had been actively publishing at shorter lengths, Susan Palwick’s 2005 book The Necessary Beggar ended a thirteen year novel publication drought, a return to longer form her fans certainly appreciated. Inexplicably, despite counting myself among those fans, this is the first time I have ever read this novel [1]. Having finally read it, I regret having delayed gratification so long. 

No one in Lémabantunk knows why Darroti murdered Mendicant Gallicina; Darroti won’t explain and of course Gallicina cannot. Darroti’s punishment is the harshest the city can exact: exile through a one-way gateway to another universe, to an alien nation calling itself America. 


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The Scouts Are Dicks

The X Factor

By Andre Norton 

3 Jul, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks

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Andre Norton was never known for bright shiny futures but 1965’s The X Factor is a gloomier novel than most of her books. Protagonist Diskan Fentress is a large, clumsy man who feels like a subhuman; he sees himself as suitable for nothing save brute labour. He has recently been reunited with the Scout father who left before he was born. Diskan believes that he falls far short of his father, Renfrey Fentress, in every conceivable way (a belief that Renfrey does nothing to correct). To rub more salt in the wound, the aliens with whom Renfrey has made his home are to Diskan’s eye without fault. Their perfection only highlights Diskan’s flaws.

Better to turn criminal than suffer under the lash of charity. Diskan steals a starship and a navigation tape (to a world his father had marked as anomalous) and heads up and out. He is lucky enough to reach his destination and survive a bad landing whole and largely unharmed. His luck would seem to have ended there. He is alone, poorly equipped, and trapped on a planet whose mysteries even his talented father was unable to unravel. What hope is there for poor, dim Diskan?

(This will get somewhat spoilery.) 


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Trapped in a warzone

Trading in Danger  (Vatta’s War, volume 1)

By Elizabeth Moon 

1 Jul, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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If I am going to review MilSF that doesn’t suck, at some point I need to address the Elizabeth Moon issue. On the one hand her books (or at least some of them) are clearly candidates. On the other hand, many of them have been published by Baen, whose publisher is a willing participant in this year’s attempt to nobble the Hugos. Baen is a company whose works I don’t review. A company that’s dead to me. 

However … thanks to various events that are Googleable, Moon moved over to Del Rey. That company is not colluding in an attempt to nobble the Hugos and is not dead to me. The system works! 

2003’s Trading in Danger kicks off Moon’s Vatta’s War series. Well-meaning Ky Vatta is booted out of the naval academy when a well-meaning attempt to help a friend results in a PR-disaster for the service. The navy doesn’t consider meant well” a defense. Former cadet Ky finds herself on the curb outside the Academy, waiting for a ride home. 

This is a bold opening gambit if the series as a whole is supposed to be military science fiction. 


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Not Exactly Queen of the Undead

My Life as a White Trash Zombie  (White Trash Zombie, volume 1)

By Diana Rowland 

30 Jun, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

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2011’s My Life as a White Trash Zombie begins with a scene with which readers will be familiar from scores of movies and books: protagonist Angel Crawford wakes in a hospital bed with no idea how she got there. The news that she barely survived an OD is believable given her drug habit. What is inexplicable, thanks to the giant hole in Angel’s memory, is why she was found wandering naked on a back road miles from anywhere. More mysteries: is her appearance on that back road related to a murder that had taken place nearby? Which mysterious benefactor left her a supply of unfamiliar tasting but nummy slushies, along with a letter explaining how to conduct herself over the next month in order to avoid jail and inevitable death? 

Angel’s amnesia erased hours from her life [1] but at least (unlike many characters in her position) she knows who she is. What she doesn’t know is what she is.


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Canadian Content

Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril

By Judith Merril & Emily Pohl-Weary 

29 Jun, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

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2002’s Hugo-nominated Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril is the posthumous autobiography of noted writer/editor Judith Merril. Merril having passed away in 1997, the work of turning Merril’s notes into a book fell to her granddaughter Emily Pohl-Weary. Better to Have Loved is also a forthright and frank reply to a few sanitized histories of science fiction published in recent years.

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Together — one and great — apart far less!”

Three Against the Witch World  (Estcarp, volume 3)

By Andre Norton 

26 Jun, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks

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1965’s Three Against the Witch World returns to Andre Norton’s Witch World, a generation after the events of Witch World and Web of the Witch World. This sequel sees Simon Tregarth and his witchy wife Lady Jaelithe relegated to off-stage status. The novel focuses on their triplets: Kyllan the fighty one, Kemoc the smart one, and Kaththea the witchy one. 

All three children were born to do great things, as predicted by a fell portent, but only Kaththea is of interest to the Women of Power of Estcarp. Only Kaththea is female and therefore a potential witch. When Kaththea reaches a certain age, the witches bear her off to be educated according to their ways. Dread supernatural protections prevent her brothers from rescuing her. Kaththea is lost.

For the moment.


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And now for some hard science fiction

Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues  (White Trash Zombie, volume 2)

By Diana Rowland 

25 Jun, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

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I picked Diana Rowland’s 2012 novel Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues o read after a painstaking selective process: I needed something to read and it was the first book I saw at eye level in the library. Why more authors don’t arrange for their books to be in the sweet zone [1] I don’t know.

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Whatever Happened to Robert Frezza?

A Small Colonial War  (Small Colonial War, volume 1)

By Robert Frezza 

24 Jun, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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1989’s A Small Colonial War is Robert Frezza’s debut novel [1]. It is also the first volume of Frezza’s short lived Small Colonial War sequence, a military science fiction series that would bookend Frezza’s career as an SF novelist. 

All the world’s problems finally came to a head in the great calamity known as the break up. Four billion corpses later, Japan emerged as the remaining dominant power on Earth. Not especially humanitarian in purpose, the empire seems no better and no worse than the empires that came before it.

By the 22nd Century, Japan’s empire reaches to the stars. But there’s a catch: their ships may be faster than light, but they’re still slow. A combination of time dilation and time spent in hibernation means that travellers return home to Earth to find that decades have passed while they have only aged months or years themselves. As a result, the Japanese Diet has only the vaguest ideas as to what its imperial tendrils are doing, way out in the stars. A second consequence is that interstellar travel is exile, something that those in power avoid if they can. 

Which brings us to Lieutenant-Colonel Anton the Veriag” Vereshchagin and his command, the 1st Battalion, 35th Imperial Infantry. 


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