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Finally, a Bujold

Curse of Chalion  (Chalion, volume 1)

By Lois McMaster Bujold 

25 May, 2015

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Although perhaps best known for her long-running hard SF [1] series, the Vorkosigan novels, Lois Bujold is also a popular writer of fantasy novels. Between 2001 and 2010, Bujold published nine novels; seven of those were fantasies. 2001’s [2] Hugo-nominated Curse of Chalion, the first volume in the eponymous trilogy, was the first of those seven novels.

~oOo~

Throughout his eventful career, former courtier and soldier Cazaril has participated in many diplomatic successes and military victories … although never on the winning side. Having survived the rough hospitality of the Roknari galleys, a ragged, weakened Cazaril makes his way to the town of Valendia. He hopes that his past service for the Dowager Provincara will convince her to grant him some easy position within her household. Not only is he still recovering from his recent tour as a galley-slave, he has powerful enemies and needs to stay as far from the royal court as possible.

He gains an unanticipated and unwanted success; he is appointed secretary-tutor to the headstrong Royesse Iselle. The Provincara hopes that Cazaril’s age and experience will help him temper Iselle’s well-meaning idealism with caution. Unfortunately, his new position, secretary-tutor to a princess in line for the throne, will expose him to the notice, and the malice, of the court. Even before he begins his job proper, Cazaril muses that it might be faster if the Provincara were simply to have his throat cut on the spot. Time and exposure will show that Cazaril was, if anything, too optimistic.

The Royesse Iselle is cursed.

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Love, hate, and atom bombs

Karma

By Arsen Darnay 

24 May, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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The modern reader’s perception of Jim Baen may be coloured by the sad decline of the company that bears his name into a hollow shell of its former self, a shell catering to nostalgic ideologues. This perception is more than a little unfair to the late Jim Baen, who probably would have gotten a Best Editor Hugo when he was alive if only his fans had not so lamentably lazy [1]. Baen’s editorial tastes, particularly when he was younger, were much broader than a modern reader might suppose [2].

For example, if one were to ask modern readers which right-wing editor of the 1970s, known for publishing such pro-nuclear power authors as Jerry Pournelle and Petr Beckmann, also published an occult science fiction novel about romantic triangles, reincarnation, and redemption, against a backdrop focused on the dangers of nuclear power?” I bet that very few (if any) of them would suggest Jim Baen. 

And yet, I hold in my hand a copy of Arsen Darnay’s 1978 novel Karma [3] (published in hardcover by St. Martins, under an arrangement with Baen’s Ace). It is all about romantic triangles, reincarnation, redemption, and, of course, the dangers of nuclear power.


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My first H.M. Hoover

This Time of Darkness

By H M Hoover 

23 May, 2015

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H. M. Hoover is the author of at least thirteen novels to my knowledge, all published between 1977 and 1995. Her 1995 novel The Winds of Mars won the (unfortunately named but still prestigious) Golden Duck. She is, therefore, someone of whom I am aware [1]. So it is inexplicable, really, that 1980’s This Time of Darkness is the first novel of Hoover’s that I have actually read [2]. No, not when it first came out — only a couple of days ago. The timing is a bit unfortunate; I think readers in the target age range will still like it, although my personal reaction was coloured by the way Hoover used urban decay tropes of which I am very very tired.

~oOo~

In these times, no phrases have such synergy as young adult novel” and hellish, Orwellian urban dystopia.” Eleven-year-old Amy would tell you all about dystopias if the allowed vocabulary for the lower levels included terms like Orwellian” or dystopia”. Already a pariah thanks to her suspicious literacy, she compounds her crimes by befriending young Axel, a visibly disturbed boy with an outrageous tale: he claims to come from outside the City, from outside the decaying realm that is, as far as anyone in it knows, the whole of the world.

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Enter the Witch World

Witch World  (Estcarp, volume 1)

By Andre Norton 

22 May, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks

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1963’s Witch World marks Norton’s shift towards fantasy. After this novel, fantasy was an increasingly large fraction of her output. It is also the first novel in her long-running (later collaborative)Witch World series. Oddly enough, while I have read the other books in the series (Ellen Asher or Andrew Wheeler, then my shadowy masters at SFBC, must have liked them — or perhaps the books just sold well), I’ve never read this particular book. Having read it now, I can see how this could have been a formative experience for a young reader, especially in the context of the early 1960s.

And readers did like it: not only did this novel become the seed of a long-running popular series, it was nominated for a Hugo, sharing the ballot with such classics as Way Station, Glory Road, Dune World and Cat’s Cradle.


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Not Your Parents’ Flipper

A Deeper Sea

By Alexander Jablokov 

21 May, 2015

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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Between 1991 and 1998, Alexander Jablokov published five noteworthy novels, then vanished from the face of science fiction for an uncomfortably long time. It seems that, as has happened to other authors, he was distracted by real life. Happily, this is not another P. J. Plauger affair: Jablokov did return in 2006, in short form, and in 2010 at novel length.

1992’s A Deeper Sea sets out, yet again, a lesson empires have learned and learned and learned … and forgotten every time. Lesson: the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my long-term ally. Once the current conflict is over, the empire may find that the weapons it so considerately handed to its foreign cat’s paws are being turned on the empire itself. 

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Is John Scalzi history’s greatest monster?

Fuzzy Nation

By John Scalzi 

20 May, 2015

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I’ve probably mentioned that I loathe reboots, necrolaboration [1], or updating old stories, in the sense that even when the effort is made out of affection for the source material rather than crass materialism, I’ve seen them go horribly wrong far more often than I have seen them go right [2]. I am not a fan of this stuff, is what I am saying. I am least likely to react well to a reboot of a personal old favourite, because that combines an almost certainly doomed effort with material with which I am familiar and about which I care. Generally, the best I can hope for is vague disappointment; the worst is a book I hate and an author I am forced to see as history’s greatest monster. 

Which gets us to 2011’s Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi’s reboot of H. Beam Piper’s classic, Little Fuzzy.

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A Dark and Cruel God: the Comedy!

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya  (Haruhi Suzumiya, volume 1)

By Nagaru Tanigawa (Translated by Chris Pai)

18 May, 2015

Translation

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First published in 2003 as Suzumiya Haruhi no Yūutsu, Nagaru Tanigawa’s popular light novel was translated from the original Japanese to English by Chris Pai and published under the title The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by Little, Brown’s Yen Press in 2009

~oOo~

By the time we first meet him, pessimistic high school student and narrator Kyon” (whose real name is never revealed) has resigned himself to the fact that he lives a mundane life in a mundane world and that wonders like aliens, time travel, and ESP powers are matters of pure imagination, nonsense that will never have anything to do with the gray, dull life he will no doubt live. 

And then by chance, he is seated directly in front of Haruhi Suzumiya, disgruntled schoolgirl, noted eccentric, and, quite possibly, living god.


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Flawed but intriguing

The Starchild Trilogy

By Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson 

17 May, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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1977’s The Starchild Trilogy collects the three short novels of the eponymous trilogy by Jack Williamson and Frederik Pohl. I cannot say the novels are actually any good — in fact, I will be devoting a certain amount of space to pointing out the ways that they aren’t — but they certainly are odd and they do offer a remarkable level of wacky fun.

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It’s time for a Margaret St. Clair revival

The Best of Margaret St. Clair

By Margaret St. ClairEdited by Martin H. Greenberg 

16 May, 2015

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There are those who would paint old-time SF as an exclusively masculine affair. Those people are wrong and a subset of them is willfully lying. Margaret St. Clair (1911 – 1995), to pick just a single woman working in the field, is proof SF was never exclusively male. She was a fairly prolific pulp writer (over 130 short works and eight novels), specializing in short works in the 1950s before moving into novels in the 1960s. Although she was armed with a Master of Arts in Greek Classics, she seemed content to play in the pulps, where she published works unlike anyone else’s. 

Rather frustratingly, St. Clair is out of print these days; if there are any modern editions of her books, I was unable to find them. If she is known to younger readers at all, it is because of a particularly dire bit of cover copy inflicted on her by some editor (who seems to have been an idiot and also bad at his job). Luckily for me, I was sent a copy of her 1985 collection The Best of Margaret St. Clair and luckily for you, I was paid to review it. 

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The final fate of Ross Murdoch and Gordon Ashe

Key Out of Time  (Time Traders, volume 4)

By Andre Norton 

15 May, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks

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1963’s Key Out of Time is the fourth in the Time Traders series. Until 1993’s Firehand, it was the final novel in the series (and it was definitely the last Time Traders book Norton authored solo [1]) so for thirty years this book established how the series ended for its fans. It paints a rather gloomy picture.

~oOo~

As far as the Americans know, the attempt to colonize Topaz with a crew of brainwashed Native Americans (a crew that included series regular Travis Fox) ended in catastrophe. In fact the Topaz mission did not go well … but it was not the calamity it appears to be from Earth’s perspective. Travis’ co-workers and friends Ross Murdoch and Gordon Ashe have no way to know that their friend and his fellow Native Americans are alive and well [2]. It is with some trepidation that Ross and Gordon join a new team of colonists that is heading out to another terrestrial world, the sea world called Hawaika. 

At first glance, Hawaika seems to be a paradise world: vast seas dotted with idyllic little islands. However, the apparent tranquility conceals a mystery. The colonists found Hawaika by following an old star map, a relic left by the Baldies, an alien culture that vanished long ago. The Baldies also left maps of Hawaika, maps that look nothing like the current planet. Something dramatic must have happened to transform the world the world so thoroughly.

And thanks to a mishap with a time gate, Ross, Gordon, and their friend Karara (and some photogenic dolphins) are going to be given the chance to find out just what happened — in person! 

There will be spoilers.

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