Reviews: Rediscovery Tuesday

Where the Tides of Madness Swell

Yusuke Kishi
Shin Sekai Yori, book 1

I had no idea what to review this week … so I left it to chance. Manga Fox’s surprise me option handed me the manga adaptation of Yusuke Kishi ’s 2008 Nihon SF Taisho Award-winning novel Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World ). If there exists a translation of the novel, I am unaware of it. That’s too bad, because the sense I get from the manga is that the novel is an interesting work poorly served by its adaptation into a new medium.

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All it is is just my life

The Interior Life — Dorothy Heydt

Dorothy Heydt originally published 1990’s The Interior Life under the pen name Katherine Blake.

Post-Reagan-era housewife Sue’s life isn’t the stuff of melancholy country music, but it’s not exactly rewarding. Her boisterous kids make housecleaning a Sisyphean struggle. Her husband Fred loves her and she still loves him, but there are days when she can barely stand to look at him.

Small wonder she escapes to a fantasy world, even one where the stakes are high and defeat apparently certain.

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And it don’t matter if you don’t believe

Venus of Shadows — Pamela Sargent
Venus, book 2

1988’s Venus of Shadows is the middle volume of Pamela Sargent’s Venus trilogy. It was preceded by 1986’s Venus of Dreams and followed by 2001’s Child of Venus.

I know it is odd to start reviewing a series in the middle … but for various reasons this seemed an apt choice for a review that will go live the same day that Americans strain to make the difficult choice between a flawed candidate and a weasel-headed fucknugget once described by helpful Scots as a “tiny-fingered, Cheeto-faced, ferret-wearing shitgibbon.” Although Shadows is a close follow-up to the first volume, Venus of Dreams, it was published in a bygone era when even series books were expected to stand on their own; thus, it can be read without having read the first book.

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An old classic new to me

Children of the Atom — Wilmar H. Shiras

Tell me if you’ve heard this story before: a well-meaning man founds a school for gifted youngsters. The gifted youngsters are mutants, children of the atom, each with their own gifts. They are mutants to whom the world will react with fear and anger when their existence is revealed.

Like most well-read SFF fans, I’d heard of Wilmar H. Shiras’ 1953 classic Children of the Atom . I had a vague idea what later works plagiarized … were inspired by Shiras’ collection. I had never actually read Children until I discovered that an ebook edition had been published. Knowing when the original text was written, where it was published, and the works it inspired, I thought I had a pretty good idea how the plot had to play out.

I was wrong.

There will be spoilers.

By 1973, the 1959 accident that left the staff of an atomic reactor dying of radiation poisoning is long forgotten. When child psychologist Peter Welles is asked to examine fourteen-year-old Tim, the accident seems to have no relevance to his patient. At a first glance, Tim seems like a perfectly normal young boy. At second glance, it becomes clear that Tim is concealing a great secret. He believes that if anyone were to learn his secret, he would become a pariah.

He’s not wrong.

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No People, No Problem

Faded Sun: Kesrith — C. J. Cherryh
Faded Sun, book 1

C. J. Cherryh’s 1978 The Faded Sun: Kesrith was her fourth novel and the first in her Faded Sun trilogy. It would have been a fine choice for my Because My Tears Are Delicious to You series … save for the trifling fact that I managed to overlook it until the 1980s, after I had stopped being a teenager.

The alien Regul are fighting a losing war with the human Federation. That is, mri mercenaries are doing so, on behalf of their Regul clients. The mri are in many ways difficult: aloof, easily affronted, and inflexible—but they are extremely effective warriors. The Regul have nobody but themselves to blame for their losses. The Regul are bad bosses, the sort who insist on taking a hand in matters they do not understand, then blaming and punishing subordinates for the ensuing setbacks.

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I do not care for Teray

Patternmaster — Octavia E. Butler
Patternist, book 5

Octavia E. Butler’s 1976 novel Patternmaster was the first in her Patternist series to be published; this is not surprising, as this book was her debut novel. In terms of internal chronology, it is the final book in the series, the endpoint to which all the other books—Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay’s Ark, and Survivor—led.

(I will probably review all of Butler’s books eventually. Perhaps even including Survivor.)

Patternmaster is a gloomy destination for a future history.

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The timing of this review is entirely coincidental

Doomsday Morning — C. L. Moore

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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Unexpected Rediscovery Review!

The Best of C.L. Moore — C. L. Moore

As previously mentioned, I am very fond of Ballantine’s Classic Library of Science Fiction. That said, editor Lester del Rey did have one blind spot in common with many of his contemporaries. You won’t find many women in Ballantine’s Classic Library of Science Fiction.

I note just two: Leigh Brackett, reviewed here fairly frequently, and Catherine Lucille Moore, the author of this week’s Rediscovery. Diversion has republished Moore’s 1975 collection, The Best of C. L. Moore, as an ebook. More relevantly to this review, they sent me a copy.

Moore was prolific and well-regarded. She would have been the second woman to be named Grandmaster of the Science Fiction Writers of America, had her second husband not intervened. He claimed that the honour would only confuse her (Moore had Alzheimer’s). But her work has nonetheless been acknowledged in other ways … by collections like this one, for example.

Note: this edition is not quite identical with the 1975 edition; the new ebook omits Lester del Rey’s introductory essay, 40 Years of C. L. Moore.

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Good luck with that coming apocalypse!

The Traitor’s Daughter — Paula Volsky
Veiled Isles, book 1

2011’s The Traitor’s Daughter is the first book of the Veiled Islands Trilogy. Readers may know author Paula Brandon better as Paula Volsky. It’s a nice example of a specific subgenre of secondary world fantasy, a variation on castle opera—or, depending how the coming apocalypse works out, The End of the World. Since I was reviewing for the Science Fiction Book Club at the time this was published, I am surprised that this sponsored review is the first time I have encountered this book.

Of course, this book may also be an example of yet another kind of book: poorly marketed books consigned to undeserving obscurity This may explain why I never saw it when it first came out and why, so far as I can tell, it didn’t sell particularly well.

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Peace isn’t just the absence of war

Water Logic — Laurie J. Marks
Elemental Logic, book 3

2007’s Water Logic is the third volume in Marks’ Elemental Logic quartet. It is also, somewhat to the distress of Marks fans, the most recently published volume in Marks Elemental Logic quartet. To quote the series’ publisher, Small Beer Press:

March 2014: We don’t have any update yet on Air Logic. But, we have seen a very early draft of the manuscript. Once it is finished and actually delivered to us, there will be at least one round of editing and then we’ll get the book out as fast as we can. We love these books and are so glad that there are so many readers out there, just like us, waiting

I have heard that there are others who have seen early drafts; I myself am not among those people. Until then, fans of the series will just have to be satisfied with the three books that do exist.


The problem with negotiating an end to a bitter war is

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Are peace and pacifistic attitudes now passé?

The City, Not Long After — Pat Murphy

Pat Murphy’s 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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A Tales of the Commons, Part Two

Black Brillion — Matthew Hughes
Commons, book 2

Black Brillion is one of those books I would never have thought to read if Science Fiction Book Club Senior Editor Andrew Wheeler hadn’t assigned it to me for review. I greatly enjoyed it, as did Andrew (if I am remembering correctly). Various other figures in the publishing industry loved it too, Alas, the readers, those bastards, ignored it.

It is a dismal fact that the set of the books I enjoy and the set of books that the great masses of SF readers favor do not have much overlap. [Imagine a Venn diagram where the circles do not overlap.] At times it seems like me as if me enthusing about a book is the kiss of death [1]. Surely hundreds of thousands of strangers across the world don’t buy the books they do (or rather, don’t buy the books I like) purely to piss me off?

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A Tale of the Commons, Part One

The Compleat Guth Bandar — Matthew Hughes
Commons, book 1

This week I planned a Rediscovery review of Black Brillion, a novel by self-confessed Canadian Matthew Hughes.You may notice that this is not a review of Black Brillion after all, but a review of The Compleat Guth Bandar.

This is because when I contacted Hughes, he said (in part)

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A lesser-known classic from the 1970s

The Gameplayers of Zan — M. A. Foster
Ler, book 2

M. A. Foster published seven novels and a collection of short stories between 1975 and 1985. Despite having been intermittently out of print since first publication, his work still has its fans1. The Gameplayers of Zan was only the second of his seven novels, but, if you find someone who still remembers Foster’s work, it’s very likely that the book they will mention first is Gameplayers. It’s one of those curious gems the mid-1970s2 produced, a science-fictional anthropological exploration slash Kafkaesque political thriller that probably wouldn’t see print in today’s market.

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The first Deverry novel, in more senses than one

Daggerspell — Katharine Kerr
Deverry, book 1

This is the first time I’ve read Kerr’s 1986 debut novel, Daggerspell. One major reason for that is that book distribution in Ontario in the 1980s was unreliable, even for books from major publishers like Del Rey and I never saw a copy to  read. Pity, because this is a solid little debut.

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The Editor Strikes Back

Five-Twelfths of Heaven — Melissa Scott
The Roads of Heaven, book 1

1985’s Five-Twelfths of Heaven was Scott’s second published novel after 1984’s The Game Beyond. It is the first volume of the Silence Leigh trilogy. The other volumes are 1986’s Silence in Solitude and 1987’s The Empress of Earth. I enjoyed this back in the 1980s (which is why I picked this particular Scott to review) and I enjoyed rereading it.

(Note: 1985 is almost thirty years ago. Baen Books was a very different brand then, so people who stumble over an old copy of this will not find the book they may expect given Baen Books’ current output.)

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Dream of a Better Life

Becoming Alien — Rebecca Ore
Becoming Alien, book 1

Tell me if you’ve heard this one:

A teenager in a rustic, backward community happens to be in the right place at the right time to encounter a distressed space craft. His attempt to help entangles him with a vast interstellar government, one that sits in judgment of humans. His actions could affect the course of human history.

Except this isn’t squeaky-clean Kip Russell, but Tom Gentry — who, when we first meet him, is the unwilling witness to his brother Warren’s ambitious drug dealings. Warren is trapped by mental illness and a criminal record; manufacturing drugs is the only way he can imagine to pay the mortgage on the family farm and keep the family fed. Tom doesn’t have Warren’s mental issues but he might as well have the criminal record, because the local authorities, all too familiar with the Gentrys, have marked him as a future criminal. Tom might dream of a better life but his odds of escaping to one are slim.

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Someone whose books I need to obsessively collect.

Fire Logic — Laurie J. Marks
Elemental Logic, book 1

I think Fire Logic  is my first Marks novel. It is certainly not my last. Normally my Rediscoveries are books familiar to me but not to others. In this case, I am the beneficiary of someone else’s experience. 

Fire Logic begins rather like Harris’ Seven Citadels quartet (or The Lantern Bearers, or indeed a lot of secondary world series). For the last generation, Shaftal has suffered a continuing invasion from the Sainnites, an aggressive warrior people of unclear origins. Despite the wise guidance of Harald G’Deon, Shaftal has done nothing effective to drive the invaders back into the sea. Two grim bits of news mark the end of Harald’s era: Harald has died without naming an heir and the Sainnites have taken the holy city of Lilterwess, leaving none alive.

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Once, women had lived with men; the thought was appalling.

The Shore of Women — Pamela Sargent

1986’s The Shore of Women takes us to a time in the distant future after nuclear war has nearly destroyed civilization. Just as it happened in Suzy McKee Charnas’ novel Walk to the End of the World, those in charge after the war decided to lay all of the blame on one sex. This time round, the people in charge are women and the ones assigned scapegoat status are the men.

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“they rejoiced to find an enemy they could conquer at last.”

Walk to the End of the World — Suzy McKee Charnas

Sorry about the cover image. For some reason none of the nice images of the original Gene Szafran would let me save a copy. 

Rather like yesterday’s Canticle, Walk to the End of the World examines the Earth transformed by nuclear war – the Wasting – but where the mob in Canticle turned on the intelligentsia deemed responsible for nuclear weapons, the handful of high officials who survived the final war in their hidden Refuge decide that the true villains were not the men who finally pushed The Button, because that would mean accepting responsibility. Instead they decide to blame  all who opposed them and so made that war inevitable:

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Same river, different shore

Tea with the Black Dragon — R.A. MacAvoy

I was just having a conversation about how context affects my reading of a book. I loved Tea With a Black Dragon back in 1983. The copy I read is the same copy I read in 1983 but my experience reading it was very different.

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At least I still know how to spell “Drapetomania”

The Sardonyx Net — Elizabeth A. Lynn

I have only myself to blame for this. I could have gone with the Chronicles of Tornor or   A Different Light but no, I snagged this one even though there was a quiet voice at the back of my head saying I didn’t enjoy The Sardonyx Net the first time round. Well, now at least I remember why I didn’t like it.

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You call it murder, I call it an unparalleled opportunity for the victim’s understudy

Murder on Cue — Jane Dentinger
A Jocelyn O'Roarke Mystery, book 1

In 2011, I got back into FASS and asked Jane Dentinger, then Editor-in-Chief at the Mystery Guild and someone who accounted for about half the books I was reading, if she knew of any theater-themed mysteries. She then very kindly sent me a package of Jocelyn O’Roarke mysteries. The Jocelyn O’Roarke theatrical cozies were exactly what I was looking for. Their author was none other than Jane Dentinger herself, thus underling the fact that I am the sort of lack-wit who wouldn’t think to drop an editor’s name into Google for the entire time I was freelancing for them. Because I suck. 

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Magic meets politics in this overlooked classic

Metropolian — Walter Jon Williams

Walter Jon Williams wastes no time establishing his world in this mid-1990s science fantasy novel:

A burning woman stalks along the streets. Ten stories tall, naked body a whirling holocaust of fire. Terrified people on Bursary Street crumple into carbon at her passing, leaving behind only black char curled into fetal shapes. The heat she radiates is so powerful that structures burst into flame as she passes. A storm of paper, sucked out of buildings by uncontrolled drafts, spiral toward her and are consumed. Uncontrolled rivers of flame pour from her fingertips. Windows blast inward at her keening, at the eerie, nerve-scraping wail that pours from her insubstantial, fiery throat. In a city that girdles the world, all-devouring fire is the worst thing imaginable.

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There and Back Again by Max Merriwell

Pat Murphy

This is a bit unusual for the Rediscovery series in that while I opened my copy knowing I would ultimately recommend the book, I also went into this knowing that aside from used copies there’s pretty much no way for any of you folks to acquire a copy. I had fun rereading it, though, and isn’t that the important thing?

Centuries in the future, the Solar System has been settled by humans and their derivative varieties and thanks to a combination of hibernation and implausibly (but carefully never explained) Nearly as Fast as Light Hoshi drives, so have the nearer stars. Even better, an alien network of wormholes provides access to the greater galaxy.

There is a catch with the wormhole network, or rather a number of catches:

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