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Confusion is Nothing New

Doomsday Book

By Connie Willis  

6 Dec, 2021

Special Requests

4 comments

Connie Willis’ 1992 Doomsday Booktakes place in the same continuity as Firewatch (1982), To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998), and Blackout/All Clear (2010).

A time-travel apparatus provides mid-21st century Oxford University scholars with access to the past, an unparalleled opportunity that the scholars use with all the acumen previously demonstrated by the R‑101, the de Havilland DH.106 Comet, and the UK’s rapid deployment of thalidomide.

In another novel, the combination of time travel with hapless nincompoopery could have led to zany hijinks. Unfortunately for aspiring historian Kivrin Engle, she is not a character in madcap comedy. She’s found herself in a tragedy.

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Do You Believe in Magic?

The Barrow Will Send What It May  (Danielle Cain, volume 2)

By Margaret Killjoy  

30 Apr, 2019

Miscellaneous Reviews

1 comment

2018’s The Barrow Will Send What It May is the second entry in Margaret Killjoy’s Danielle Cain series. 

Danielle and her new chums Brynne, Doomsday, Vulture, and Thursday survived the events in The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, the previous book in the series. However, they find themselves suspected of causing (rather than surviving) the pile of dead police in the town of Lamb. Rather than try to convince skeptical detectives that the dead cops were slain by a demon, the quintet have hit the road. Perhaps they can become itinerant demon-hunters? 

America’s great highway network will whisk them away from suspicion. It’s a fine plan. Too bad Danielle manages to total the car near Pendleton, Montana. 


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War For Tomorrow

The Chronoliths

By Robert Charles Wilson  

8 Jul, 2021

Special Requests

5 comments

Robert Charles Wilson’s 2001 The Chronoliths is a standalone near-future science fiction novel.

Scott Warden turned a programming contract into an extended stay in Thailand, where he became yet another expatriate beach-dwelling riff-raff (much to the displeasure of his long-suffering wife Janice). Scott’s self-indulgent adventure comes to a screeching halt one day in 2021 when a mysterious towering artifact suddenly manifests in Chumphon Province. While Scott and his sketchy pal Hitch are off investigating the artifact, Scott and Janice’s daughter Kaitlin falls ill with a life-threatening disease. Detained by the authorities, Scott has no idea what is going on. By the time he is freed and discovers that Kaitlin had been ill, the crisis is past and Janice has decided she has had enough of marriage. 

Life as a 21st century divorcé stretches before Scott. The artifact, and its successors, will provide ample diversion.


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Panicky teenyboppers stampeded in tight circles, shrieking, Dig it! Dig it! Dig it!” and knocking unwary tourists off their feet.

The Butterfly Kid  (Greenwich Village Trilogy, volume 1)

By Chester Anderson  

18 Jan, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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1967’s The Butterfly Kid, first volume in the Greenwich Village Trilogy, is perhaps the finest science fiction thriller in which a ragtag group of hippies and hipsters (based on real people) save the world from blue meanies. While that’s not a huge field, it’s one with surprising stiff competition.

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The War on Boredom!

Moonscatter  (Duel of Sorcery, volume 2)

By Jo Clayton  

2 Feb, 2016

Special Requests

0 comments

1983’s Moonscatter is the second volume of Jo Clayton’s Duel of Sorcery.

Immortal, powerful, the grandest of his kind, Ser Noris [1] faces a nearly insurmountable challenge: he’s bored. A thrilling conflict might be just the ticket … but the only possible rival worthy of a man of his power is She, the phoenix-like embodiment of the cycle of life. Victory for Ser Noris might mean the end of all life — but at least he won’t be bored.

But Ser Noris isn’t the protagonist of this adventure. His former acolyte/lever to change the world Serroi is. Cast aside when she did not suit Ser Noris, Serroi built a new life for herself, a life now threatened by her old master’s efforts to escape boredom.

Elsewhere, a young girl named Tuli provides a peasant’s-eye view of what living in a secondary fantasy world prone to world-saving quests looks like. 


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The timing of this review is entirely coincidental

Doomsday Morning

By C L Moore  

20 Oct, 2015

Rediscovery

0 comments

I had never even heard of C. L. Moore’s 1957 novel Doomsday Morning until an ebook version showed up in my inbox. It would have made a fine election day review, if only I had read it a bit earlier. Oh, well.

President Raleigh rebuilt America after the Five Days War and a grateful electorate has re-elected him five times. Of course, the electorate might have been nudged in that direction by one of the tools Raleigh created to rebuild America: Communications US aka Comus. Constant monitoring and finely targeted media control allow the government to nudge Americans in the direction of the most sensible decisions. 

Now Raleigh is dying. Someone will have to replace him. Comus boss Tom Nye is determined to be that someone … but there’s a hitch. Which I will explain later. Tom schemes to remove the hitch with the aid of an old friend, the once great actor1 Howard Rohan … 


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A temple to commercialism

Mallworld

By Somtow Sucharitkul  

22 Dec, 2015

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0 comments

Tor published the 1984 edition of Somtow Sucharitkul’s 1 Mallworld well after the market for collections and anthologies was perceived to have imploded, thanks to the efforts of one Roger Elwood. Hence they really, really wanted readers to think that Mallworld was a novel. It isn’t. It is a collection that Tor has tried to convert into a fix-up by removing the individual titles and adding some minor linking material. 

Titles lifted from William G. Contento’s Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections. I’ve used the table of contents from the 1981 Starblaze edition.

The Mallworld is a vast space station in the asteroid belt, a place where virtually anything you could want is available … for a price. That price could be money or it could be your very soul! But it’ll probably be money because it’s hard to deposit souls in a bank account. 

There is one tiny fly in the ointment as far as the humans of the distant future are concerned, which is 


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In the heart of the Nebula

The Crucible of Time

By John Brunner  

12 Jan, 2016

Special Requests

0 comments

John Brunner’s 1983 The Crucible of Time is a fine example of science fiction inspired by the science of the time. As Brunner explains in his foreword 

It is becoming more and more widely accepted that Ice Ages coincide with the passage of the Solar System through the spiral arms of our galaxy. It therefore occurred to me to wonder what would become of a species that had evolved intelligence just before their planet’s transit of a gas cloud far denser than the one in Orion which the Earth has recently — in cosmic terms — traversed. 

I will leave it to my commentariat to discuss to what degree the above represents current scientific consensus. The basic idea, that an inhabited world has the misfortune to traverse a region like this, 


is certainly enough of a hook from which to hang an SF novel. 

In this case, a highly episodic novel. Really, more a collection of linked novellas. 


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Ages and Ages Hence

The Calculating Stars  (Lady Astronaut, volume 1)

By Mary Robinette Kowal  

12 Jul, 2018

Miscellaneous Reviews

3 comments

The Calculating Stars is the first novel in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series1.

President Dewey’s Take That! to Communist Russia took the form of not one but three successful space launches. Dewey scarcely has time to revel in America’s success before a space rock obliterates Dewey, Washington DC, and everyone else within hundreds of miles of the impact point. 

Five hundred miles away, Elma York and her husband Nathaniel survive the impact and the immediate aftermath. Once the implications of the impact become clear, they realize that their survival — and the survival of the biosphere— may be strictly temporary. 

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Adventure Calls

Exiles at the Well of Souls  (Saga of the Well World, volume 2)

By Jack L. Chalker  

14 Jan, 2024

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

13 comments

1978’s Exiles at the Well of Souls is the second volume in Jack L. Chalker’s Well World Saga.

The ancient Markovians’ technology gave them the power of gods, able to reshape reality according to their whims. While humans might not be able to duplicate that achievement on their own, access to abandoned Markovian relics allowed brilliant scientist Gilgram Zinder to reverse-engineer Markovian technology. Now he too can alter reality as he sees fit. Too bad Zinder is as naïve as he is smart.

Councillor Antor Trelig has a simple dream: become unquestioned ruler of the three hundred and seventy-four human-colonized worlds belonging to the Council of Worlds. At present, his talent for conniving and skillful use of drug-based blackmail has provided him with de-facto control of one hundred seventy-five worlds. Zinder’s discovery can provide Trelig with the rest.

Zinder has no interest in helping Trelig conquer humanity but Trelig did not get where he is today by caring what other people want.

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I am not going to explain how much of my courtship doctrine was based on this book and ones like it aside from admitting it was not a small fraction

On Thermonuclear War

By Herman Kahn  

19 Oct, 2014

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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On Thermonuclear War came out in 1960, a time when a world without nuclear weapons was something a lot of people had actually grown up in, rather than a peculiar fantasy of a few idealistic deviates. The years between 1945 and 1960 had seen some breath-taking advances in technology but sadly the doctrines available remained comparatively crude. This book was Herman Kahn’s attempt to address this gap. Since the outcomes are distinguishable, the US should chose policies that selected for the least bad outcomes and the only way to do that was through rational analysis. 

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Tales of a Darkening World

Tales of a Darkening World

By Edgar Pangborn  

19 Jul, 2014

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

0 comments

This demonstrates a pitfall the preferred length of modern SF generally skirts. I began intended just to reread Edgar Pangborn’s post-holocaust Bildungsroman Davy but because I was also planning to reread Canticle for Leibowitz, which covers centuries to Davys decades I then began to ponder if it would be better to reread all the stories Pangborn wrote in that setting so I would be comparing similar spans of time or at least half a millennium to 1800 years. After all, both The Company of Glory and The Judgment of Eve are short and the collection Still I Persist in Wondering is under 300 pages. Of course, it all added up to something as long as The Past Through Tomorrow or Adventures in Time and Space. I am sure there is a lesson here somewhere and equally sure that I didn’t learn it.

Although he is comparatively obscure now, in the 1950s Pangborn won an International Fantasy Award for his A Mirror for Observers, a Hugo nomination for Davy (which lost to Leiber’s execrable The Wanderer ; what the hell, SF fandom?), and Nebula nominations for A Better Mousehole” and Mount Charity”. A fair fraction of his work was set the Darkening World, in a world where thanks to resource depletion, overpopulation, light nuclear war, and a host of almost certainly engineered plagues, civilization collapsed, leaving in its wake a small and infertile population of people to survive as best they can.

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Cunning and Free

Sun of Blood and Ruin

By Mariely Lares  

23 Feb, 2024

Doing the WFC's Homework

2 comments

Mariely Lares’ 2023 Sun of Blood and Ruin is an alternate historical fantasy.

Decades after Hernán Cortés invaded, Mexico is still divided. In the regions under Spanish rule, the largely indigenous population is subject to inflexible Spanish law and custom. Outside those regions, rebellion is rife.

Lady Leonora de las Casas Tlazohtzin’s position is an uncomfortable one. Her late father was Viceroy of New Spain. Her late mother, to whom the Viceroy was not wed, was indigenous. How to reconcile her two lineages?

By becoming the closest thing to a superhero New Spain has.

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Soaked in 1970s-style sexism like a hopeful swinger reeking of Hai Karate

Colony

By Ben Bova  

29 Mar, 2015

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

0 comments

1978’s Colony is a sequel of sorts to Bova’s earlier Millennium.

Chet Kinsman’s sacrifice in Millennium was not entirely in vain; the Cold War is over and in 2008, the Earth is governed by a World Government directed by the well-meaning socialist De Paolo. Unfortunately the essential issues — overpopulation, and the pollution and resource depletion that accompany it — that drove the United States and the Soviet Union to contemplate nuclear war didn’t vanish with the Cold War. The weak World Government can manage little beyond palliative measures. Doomsday has been delayed, not prevented.

And there are those who are doing their best to push the world towards its final crisis as quickly as they can.

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The Executioner’s Face

Shorefall  (Founders, volume 2)

By Robert Jackson Bennett  

24 Aug, 2023

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2020’s Shorefall is the second volume in Robert Jackson Bennett’s secondary-universe industrial-fantasy Founders trilogy. Volume One was reviewed here.

Would-be social revolutionaries Sancia, Berenice, Orso, and Gregor have a plan to block the greed of the established merchant houses in the city of Tevanne. They have founded their own, upstart, merchant house, Foundryside. It’s merely the first step on their ambitious plan to bring social justice to the city.

But reforming Tevanne must soon be set aside in favour of simple survival. Gregor’s mother, Ofelia Dandolo of the Dandolo merchant house, is just as determined as the quartet to bring justice to an unjust world. Her methods are significantly more apocalyptic.

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Rocket Ship Galileo

Rocket Ship Galileo

By Robert A. Heinlein  

15 Aug, 2014

The Great Heinlein Juveniles (Plus The Other Two) Reread

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First published in 1947.

Post-war but not too post-war America! While the UN police guarantee global peace and systems as different as the American and Russian ways of life live together amicably, three young men, products of America’s impressive new school system, are focused (as so many young men of this time were) on their homemade rocket. While the rocket itself goes all kerblooie, the young men — Ross Jenkins, Art Mueller and Maurice Abrams – count the experiment as a success, at least until they find the unconscious man on the doorstep of their test facility, apparently brained by a fragment from the exploding rocket.

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Static Connection

A For Andromeda  (Andromeda, volume 1)

By Fred Hoyle & John Elliot  

23 Sep, 2018

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

3 comments

Sir Fred Hoyle and John Elliot’s 1962 A For Andromeda is the first of two Andromeda novels. It is a novelization of Hoyle and Elliot’s 1961 television SF serial drama of the same name. 

In the distant future of 1970, Britain is increasingly under the sway of an America on whom the British are dependent for defense against the Warsaw Pact nations. Once a mighty imperial power, now it enjoys also-ran status. It does have one accomplishment of which it can be proud: the Bouldershaw Fell Radio Telescope, the most powerful radio telescope on Earth. 

Almost immediately following Bouldershaw’s activation, the grand device detects a signal coming from a star in the direction of the constellation Andromeda. 

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Are peace and pacifistic attitudes now passé?

The City, Not Long After

By Pat Murphy  

3 Mar, 2015

Rediscovery

0 comments

Pat Murphys 1989 novel The City, Not Long After exists in the intersection between two subgenres, the post-apocalyptic story and the nonviolent resistance story. There are far more post-apocalyptic stories than stories about nonviolent resistance. That’s because Everything Blew Up and Then Fell Down is a hell of a lot easier to write than stories where the protagonists are not allowed to solve social problems with cathartic violence [1]. Also, if you do write about nonviolent resistance, you will only enrage Gregory Benford and Charles Platt.

This is the sort of subgenre that almost compels spoilers and so, SPOILER WARNING.

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Party at Ground Zero

Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship

By George Dyson  

13 Sep, 2016

Miscellaneous Reviews

0 comments

George Dyson’s 2003 Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship is the biography of an atomic rocket that never was. Strike that, the atomic rocket that never was. Atomic rockets like NERVA or DUMBO may have used the power of the atom, but their approach was not so very different from conventional chemical rockets and their performance not so much better. Orion promised delta vees more than an order of magnitude better than NERVA at its best.

All it asked in return for its astounding performance was a studied tolerance for proximity to nuclear explosions. Repeated explosions. 


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Will Be

Her Little Reapers  (The Night Eaters, volume 2)

By Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda  

5 Jan, 2024

Doing the WFC's Homework

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2023’s Her Little Reapers is the second graphic novel in Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s The Night Eaters horror series.

Four months ago, a home-renovation project revealed to twins Milly and Billy Ting that their mother is a demon, their father is a demon, and thus … the Ting twins are also demons.

Dealing with their new-found status would ordinarily demand intensive training. Too bad for the Tings that their terrifying mother Ipo belongs to the sink or swim school of parenting. Laid-back dad Keon disagrees but is unwilling to cross Ipo. The Wonder Tings are on their own.


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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

Special Requests

0 comments

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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