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Reviews in Project: Special Requests (445)

Against irrational exuberance the fans themselves contend in vain

The Gods Themselves

By Isaac Asimov  

20 Jun, 2015

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Following the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957, Russian-born American author Isaac Asimov turned his energies to educating the American public. By the time of his death he had produced non-fiction books in every category of the Dewey Decimal system save the 100s. This came at the expense of his science fiction. Between 1959 and 1972, he published only one novel (a movie tie-in) and a comparative handful of short stories. 

Asimov’s 1972 novel The Gods Themselves, his first in thirteen years, must therefore have seemed to many science fiction fans as the return of a giant. But not to me, because I was an eleven-year-old still reading through his entire back list to date; from my point of view there was no hiatus at all. Given the context, I can see why Asimov’s fans went gaga over this novel. I am not entirely certain what I was thinking beyond yay, another Asimov!”

Asimov’s return to novel-length SF was an ambitious one.…


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Return to a world of ancient magic: or, so about those potatoes…

A Succession of Bad Days  (Commonweal, volume 2)

By Graydon Saunders  

18 Jun, 2015

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Graydon Saunders’ 2015 novel A Succession of Bad Days returns to the world of his earlier book, The March North. It takes place shortly after the events in that novel. 

The Commonweal has struggled for centuries to achieve and defend a prosperous, stable, defensible and democratic state, one in which everyone is dealt with equitably, regardless of magical potential. Just say no to wizardly autocracies. The usual magical
training technique is aimed at preventing such misuse of magical powers by detecting potential mages young and steering them into appropriate courses. However … it may not be the only way to shape young wizards. Some of the Commonweal’s magical heavy-hitters have come up with an alternative, and the Commonweal is allowing them to experiment. If the experiment works, the Commonweal will be in much better shape to resist its enemies. If it doesn’t … well, the only thing at stake if Parliament gets it wrong is the fate of freedom on this magic-plagued world. 


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Cry Havoc!

The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction

By Justine Larbalestier  

15 Jun, 2015

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Australia is geographically isolated from the Americas and the western marches of the Old World; a certain level of cultural isolation results. This can sometimes be an asset. In the case of The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction, comparative isolation from the transatlantic mainstream allows author Justine Larbalestier (someone who in the early 1990s when she began the research that became this book had heard of but not read figures like Heinlein and Asimov) to take an outsider’s perspective in her 2002 study, The Battle Between the Sexes in Science Fiction.

One thing I will say up front: Eric Leif Daven was very lucky I read this after his book and not before. On its own, his book was flawed. Next to the Larbalestier, it’s crap. 


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Znidd suddabit!

Uller Uprising  (Federation, volume 1)

By H. Beam Piper  

13 Jun, 2015

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1952’s Uller Uprising may be one of H. Beam Piper’s minor works but it’s not without its points of interest. It is a relic of a fascinating failed experiment in science fiction publishing; it is the first novel where he played with the basic ideas of his Terro-Human Future History; and it is almost certainly his most problematic work, even counting Space Viking.


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C. J. Cherryh for SFWA Grandmaster

The Pride of Chanur  (Chanur, volume 1)

By C J Cherryh  

11 Jun, 2015

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One of the many ways in which the SF norm and I diverge is that I have an antipathy for fictional cats. This may sound odd, given the number of cats I have owned, from poor Othello1 back in the 1960s to intellectually uncomplicated Ibid now. I think what bothers me is that SF authors seem to fetishize their fictional cats, painting them as little humans in fursuits, rather than as gleefully predatory obligate carnivores2. To quote Pratchett:

If cats looked like frogs we’d realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That’s what people remember.”

(Although I think he is being unfair; there’s also the question whether cat-owners are just meat-puppets dancing on T. gondii’s strings.)

C. J. Cherryh’s 1981 (1982 for the expanded version) Pride of Chanur might therefore seem to be an odd choice for me to review, since the hani are very clearly modeled on terrestrial lions and lions are, as we know, big cuddly cats who just to hug us all. Or ingest us. It’s one of those. 

The Compact occupies a region far enough from Union/Alliance space to have been hithertofore overlooked by humans, but close enough for an unwary and unarmed merchant ship to blunder into it. The Compact comprises seven technologically sophisticated species, each shaped by its own evolutionary history. Despite significant communication challenges and behavioral differences, the seven have managed to coexist, if not always peacefully.

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A curate’s egg

Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction 1926 – 1965

By Eric Leif Davin  

8 Jun, 2015

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Gary Farber occasionally cites 2006’s Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction 1926 – 1965, a text by Eric Leif Davin on the history of women in science fiction. This is a topic that interests me, but I’d never gotten around to tracking down a copy of the book. Then one of the Sadly Rabid Puppy fans, cited it favourably in File770’s comment threads on the current unpleasantness. That made me go hmmm” while stroking my beard in a way that I hope makes me look thoughtful and not as though I have a flea infestation. It occurred to me that my collection of library cards includes one for the local academic libraries and that this is exactly the sort of book on SF such libraries might have. 

What I found was a curate’s egg, a text ranging from useful to dire and often genuinely interesting — as long as you ignore the loud sound of ax-grinding in the background. 

A warning: I treat non-fiction as a collection of linked essays. This is one of my longer reviews. 

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Apparently, this was SF novels about nomadic actors” week

Nail Down the Stars  (Del Whitby, volume 2)

By John Morressy  

6 Jun, 2015

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John Morressy (1930 – 2006) was a prolific author, publishing more than two dozen novels over the course of a two-generation career. Nevertheless, 1973’s Nail Down the Stars is the first novel by Morressy I’ve ever read. Despite the fact that local used bookstores are oddly well stocked with mass market SF of the 1970s and 1980s [1], I had to resort to ordering this book from AbeBooks via the interwebs. Obviously I am guiltless of authorial neglect, as he seems to be one of those authors whose books didn’t make it to the hinterland of Waterloo Country [2].

Career criminal and conman Kynon Gallamor wasn’t the kind of man to hide from heavy hitters like Orcull and his henchmen. That is why this book is not about Kynon, but about his orphan son Jolon. To save his grandson from the excessively diligent Orcull, Faxon Gallamor arranges to apprentice Jolon to an off-world merchant. It’s a pity that Orcull is determined enough to ensure that the merchant’s ship explodes soon after launch.

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Same tree, bigger rocks

Treachery’s Harbor  (Across a Jade Sea, volume 2)

By L. Shelby  

1 Jun, 2015

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2014’s Treachery’s Harbor continues the Across a Jade Sea series, picking up where Serendipity’s Tide left off: the completely unexpected revelation by Chunru Dachahl Pralahnru to his new bride Batiya that he is not a burgie [1], that is, someone whose family is somewhat more well-to-do than her working-class clan. Rather, he is the sole unequivocally legitimate heir to the Emperor of Changali. I am the heir to a vast and powerful empire” seems like the sort of personal detail that should have come up at some point during Chunru and Batiya’s courtship, but in his defense, it was a lightning romance and also people were trying to kill the two of them at the time.

Domestic crises aside, Chunru still has to find his way across a foreign, balkanized continent to Changali’s embassy in Xercalis, in the hope that he can repair the inexplicable rift between Changali and Xercalis. Batiya has too much potential hostage value to be left behind, so she will have to come as well.


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Bold Plan for a Better Humanity

Eutopia

By David Nickle  

28 May, 2015

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The first time I encountered a work by self-confessed Canadian David Nickle was during the 2009 Montreal Worldcon. I wandered by a huckster’s table and saw this looking back at me.

The cover art definitely got my attention — in much the same way that a bowl full of spiders would get the attention of an arachnophobe. So … hey, well done, art department!

I mentioned the collection to my various shadowy masters and in no time — that is to say, after a couple of years — I began to get a trickle of Nickle publications and other works from his publisher, ChiZine. One of those Nickle pubs is the subject of today’s review. Please welcome 2011’s Eutopia: a Novel of Terrible Optimism.

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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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