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Reviews in Project: Special Requests (444)

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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It’s time for a Margaret St. Clair revival

The Best of Margaret St. Clair

By Margaret St. Clair Edited 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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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

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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].

~oOo~

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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CanLit meets SF

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination

By Margaret Atwood  

4 May, 2015

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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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The final Silence

The Empress of Earth  (The Roads of Heaven, volume 3)

By Melissa Scott  

28 Apr, 2015

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Continuing yesterday’s theme of third books in trilogies that are also the final books in trilogies, today’s review is of the third and final volume in Melissa Scott’s Roads of Heaven trilogy, 2012’s The Empress of Earth.

Empress of Earth is a revision of 1987’s The Empress of Earth. Despite owning both editions, I didn’t reread the first version, so I cannot say how significant the differences are. 

When we last saw our heroine, star-pilot-turned-magus Silence Leigh, she had played a vital role in toppling the old Hegemon of the Hegemony. As a result, she was owed a great boon by the new Hegemon, Adeban. As usual, there was a problem. Because the Hegemony is egregiously sexist, Adeban couldn’t publicly acknowledge his debt without risking being toppled from power by outraged Hegemonic aristocrats. Still, there’s every reason to expect Adeban to act as an indulgent patron for Leigh, her husbands Denis Balthazar and Julian Chase Mago, her mentor Magus Isambard, and their effort to reach long lost Earth.

Adeban is indeed willing, but, as is so often true with patronage from heads of state, there’s a catch.


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End of the Story

The Wanderers  (Veiled Isles, volume 3)

By Paula Volsky  

27 Apr, 2015

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For readers joining us late, confused why the cover says the author is Paula Brandon but this review credits the book to Volsky, Brandon was a pen-name forced on the author, just one of many methods used by Spectra to undermine sales.

2012’s The Wanderers is the third and final volume in Paula Volsky’s The Veiled Isles trilogy [1]. At the end of volume two, things were not going well for our cast of characters:

  • the world was on the brink of a vast magical cataclysm;
  • Magnifico Aureste Belandor had just, for reasons that seemed sensible at the time, murdered Vinz Corvestri, one of the handful of adepts on whose shoulders the fate of the world rested;
  • Aureste’s daughter Jianna Belandor was fleeing her malevolent husband Onartino, dodging him through the streets of occupied Vitrisi;
  • Jianna’s one true love Falaste Rione was waiting execution for his part in the assassination of Vitrisi’s Taerleezi governor.

It gets worse. 


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Ineluctably American SF

The Android’s Dream  (The Android’s Dream, volume 1)

By John Scalzi  

25 Apr, 2015

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2006’s The Android’s Dream takes us to a near-future where the Earth is unified (in the sense that the US does whatever the hell it wants and the rest of the planet has to live with the consequences), Earth is among the most minor of the minor powers belonging to the galaxy-spanning Common Confederation. Given that Earth is to the mightiest powers of the Galaxy as modern Paraguay is to NATO, the sensible course of action for Earth as a whole is to concentrate on maintaining a low profile while building up its economy and military.

Of course, there’s often a huge gulf between what’s good for a polity as a whole and what’s good for individuals within it.

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Side-quest!

Silence in Solitude  (The Roads of Heaven, volume 2)

By Melissa Scott  

21 Apr, 2015

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1986’s Silence in Solitude is the second volume in the Roads of Heaven trilogy (and Scott’s fourth novel overall, if the ISFDB is to be trusted [1]).

The story begins six months after Silence arrives on Solitudo Hermae to begin her training as a magus. She is working under the supervision of Magus Isambard, an old ally.

As a female pilot in a fanatically patriarchal society, Silence was already unusual; her new career as a female magus makes her virtually sui generis [2].

This is not such a good thing, as the Hegemon has put a price on Silence’s head. Hard to be an inconspicuous fugitive when you are notably unique. 

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Bigger Rocks

The Ruined City  (Veiled Isles, volume 2)

By Paula Volsky  

18 Apr, 2015

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2012’s The Ruined City is the middle volume of Paula Volsky’s (or as the cover would have it, Paula Brandon’s) Veiled Isles trilogy. It begins on a somewhat hopeful note: not only has Jianna escaped from Ironheart, but the adepts of the Isles finally seem to be doing something about an existential threat that makes all lesser conflicts, political, military or domestic, entirely beside the point.

This is the middle volume of the trilogy, so it’s not going to be that simple.

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Nor are jerks

Moongather  (Duel of Sorcery, volume 1)

By Jo Clayton  

14 Apr, 2015

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My terrible confession: until now, despite buying Jo Clayton’s novels with the intention of reading them at some point, despite being aware enough of her work to have picked up significant details of the Diadem series through cultural osmosis, I have a horrible feeling that this is the first Clayton I have actually read.

Jo Clayton (1939 – 1998) was, I believe, another one of Donald Wollheim’s discoveries. Her debut novel, 1977’s Diadem from the Stars, was the 235th book DAW published [1]. The Diadem universe books made up a large fraction of her output and are probably her best known works. That said, the Diadem books were not the whole of her thirty-five book bibliography. The book I have in hand, 1982’s Moongather, first in the Duel of Sorcery trilogy, is completely unrelated to the Diadem series. It is a fantasy rather than science fiction.

It begins with a shocking betrayal 

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