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Surly Czechs and unlucky mercenaries

The Forlorn Hope

By David Drake 

13 May, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck


In any discussion of MilSFF, David Drake’s name is likely to come up earlier rather than later. Partly this is because he is seen as one of the founding figures of military SF (at least as it developed in the US). Partly it’s because, the occasional off-note aside [1], his work is generally never less than competent and sometimes very good [2]. Against the backdrop of the dismal swamp that is the majority of commercial MilSFF, even his merely competent material stands out.

A lot of people — me, mostly — hold a grudge against Drake for his part in establishing the Heroic Mercenary trope in MilSFF, which is a bit unfair. Firstly, Jerry Pournelle and his literary spawn are far, far more responsible for the figure of the noble mercenary bravely gunning down dissidents in sports arenas [3]. Drake’s mercenaries are often not good people — some of them are very bad indeed — but they look good because the people around them are even worse.

Which gets us to 1984’s The Forlorn Hope.

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The boys who survived by teleporting, or I don’t know what Cox’s issue is but the Far Being Retzglaran is definitely a dick

Jumper Caverns  (Jumper, volume 1 The Journeys of McGill Feighan, volume 1)

By Kevin O'Donnell, Jr. 

12 May, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


[I am aware the title and credit for the two books is somewhat munged at present]

Publishers like Tor send reviewers like me free books because they hope a review will result. Mission accomplished! Tor sent me a copy of Steven Gould’s latest book Exo and as a direct result of that I am writing a review featuring not one but two books. OK, one of them is of a different Gould book, 1993’s Jumper, and the other is of 1981’s The Journeys of McGill Feighan: Book 1: Caverns, a book by an author whom Tor has never to my knowledge published, a book that predates Tor’s very existence but still … book goes in, review goes out. The system works.

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Some day I will review a secondary world fantasy where the government isn’t some kind of autocracy but that day is not today.

Sand of Bone  (Desert Rising, volume 1)

By Blair MacGregor 

11 May, 2015

Special Requests


2014’s Sand of Bone has a very pretty cover, which is missing one crucial detail. I wish author Blair MacGregor’s publishers had seen fit to highlight the fact that this is volume one in the Desert Rising series[1].


The kingdoms along the Great River, not the least of which is SheyKala, are ruled by the Velshaan, a lineage that can quite rightly claim to be descended from the gods themselves. Judging by the lamentable history of the Velshaan, divine ancestry confers no particular wisdom. The gift of quasi-immortality seems to be coupled with a massive sense of entitlement, an entitlement that blinds the Velshaan to the consequences of their actions. 

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According to the record, you have been an undergrad here […] for approximately thirteen years”

Doorways in the Sand

By Roger Zelazny 

10 May, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


I get the impression that his star has dimmed somewhat since his untimely death in 1995, but during his prime — from the 1960s to the 1980s — Roger Zelazny was considered one of the great authors of science fiction. Corner a group of SF fans of the right age, reveal the implements of questioning,and they will fall all over themselves revealing which of Zelazny’s works they admire most.

My great shame is that not only did I miss some of his most famous stories — it took me until the 2000s to get around to A Rose for Ecclesiastes” — but I didn’t care for such later-considered-classic books as I did encounter (like the early Amber novels). Worse yet, due to a quirk in my memory, I’ve forgotten almost entirely the contents of many of the books on my Zelazny shelf [1]. Lord of Light: forgotten! Creatures of Light and Darkness: forgotten! Nine Princes in Amber, except maybe for that first chapter: forgotten! But there are a few books that for some reason, I both liked and remembered. 

First among them is Doorways in the Sand.

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Sea Story


By Hal Clement 

8 May, 2015

Graveyard Orbits


Hal Clement’s career spanned seven decades but he was never a particularly prolific novelist [1]. Although he published five novels in the 1950s, after that he never put out more than one or two a decade [2]. Despite this comparatively small output, he was still considered a significant enough figure that he was named the 17th SFWA Grandmaster in 1999. His 1954 Mission of Gravity is considered a hard SF classic; his 1949 Needle may well have been the first science fiction mystery novel of note.

2003’s Noise is noteworthy for an unhappy reason: it was Hal Clement’s final novel, published only about a month before he died. 


Centuries after the water world Kainui was settled by a diverse assortment of Polynesians, Terran linguist Mike Hoani arrives to study the languages that have evolved on that distant world. What he finds is a world unlike any other.

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A thrilling colonialist adventure

Eye of the Monster

By Andre Norton 

8 May, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks


I learned a couple of useful lessons reading 1962’s Eye of the Monster. One was that, contrary to my belief that the Number 24 bus loops back to Westmount and Highland in ten minutes, it actually takes long enough for me to read a considerable fraction of a short — 135 pages in the 1984 Ace MMPK — novel like Eye of the Monster [1]. The other lesson was that Norton could write books that reminded me of Jack Vance’s novels, but not in a good way.

The planet Ishkur! Once part of the South Sector Empire but now, thanks to the whim of the Imperial Council, on the verge of independence. The native Crocs have promised toleration to such of their former colonial masters as remain on Ishkur, but this is merely a ruse. Inexplicably, the rank-smelling natives have no love for their former colonial overlords, even though Imperial ways were better than the rule the natives had for themselves.” The only peace the off-worlders will be granted is the peace of the grave!

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Leigh Brackett’s Outer Solar System

Beyond Mars  (Leigh Brackett’s Solar System, volume 6)

By Leigh Brackett 

7 May, 2015

Leigh Brackett's Solar System


This collection of Leigh Brackett short stories finally moves out past Mars, into and beyond the Asteroid Belt! It also provides a nice lesson in why I should look over omnibuses carefully before beginning a review series: it would have worked better to ignore the organization of the omnibus and simply review each novel on its own and then write one huge review covering all the short stories. There are only five short stories in this collection, all published between 1941 and 1950, and they’re all fairly slight.

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The Forever War  (Forever War, volume 1)

By Joe Haldeman 

6 May, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck


This is a case of a commission dovetailing nicely with my themed reviews. For the most part I would prefer to stick to military speculative fiction that I think readers may have overlooked. There are a few classics, generally early ones, that I believe it would be illuminating to review [1]. One of those is Joe Haldeman’s classic 1975 novel, The Forever War.

When I reread this book, I remembered a more obscure work by the same author, an early short story called Time Piece”, which was published in 1970. I don’t know of any other review that has compared the two. This may be because Time Piece” didn’t win the Nebula, the Hugo, the Ditmar, and place first in the Locus, which The Forever War did. Something told me that it would be interesting to compare the two works; I’m glad I did. 

The edition of The Forever War I am reading is the 1976 mass market paperback, first printing. I understand there is a later, somewhat different edition; I don’t own that one. The edition of Time Piece” I am reading is the one in Reginald Bretnor’s 1980 collection The Future at War: Orion’s Sword.

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CanLit meets SF

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination

By Margaret Atwood 

4 May, 2015

Special Requests


In the world of Canadian literature, Margaret Atwood is revered as a major figure, a giant who towers above such lesser authors as Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, Anne-Marie MacDonald, and Margaret Laurence — who even stands far above such revered past masters of Canadian authorship as Alistair MacLeod and Robertson Davies [1]. Well, if the world of Canadian literature is defined as me. 

Alas, despite the fact that at least three of her books—The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood—are indisputably science fiction, her relationship with the science fiction community is somewhat, shall we say, fraught. In large part this is because she denies that her books are science fiction at all. The uninformed perception is that she is hostile to science fiction, which feeds into the whole perception that litfic types disdain and mock science fiction. I believe that this canard goes back to that time Ernest Hemingway gave Robert Heinlein a thumping and then took his lunch money [2].

This is unfair and untrue. Proof of that assertion exists in the form of Atwood’s 2011 collection of essays and other work, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination. Her text isn’t intended as a general work on science fiction as a whole, but rather as an exploration of Atwood’s personal relationship to science fiction.

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