Reviews: Special Requests

Strange Phenomena

Skeen’s Leap — Jo Clayton
Skeen, book 1

1986’s Skeen’s Leap is the first volume in Jo Clayton’s Skeen trilogy.

Skeen is her own creation, from her name to her career as a star-faring grave robber, looting the relics of ancient civilizations for her own enrichment. It’s a heartwarming tale of personal re-invention.

Or it was, until Skeen’s lover Tibo stole her starship and marooned Skeen on Kildun Aalda. Although the authorities do not know who Skeen really is, it’s only a matter of time before she ends up in prison or dead.

Happily, there is a third option.

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Come to Burn Your Kingdom Down

The Human Dress — Graydon Saunders

Graydon Saunders’s 2018 The Human Dress is a standalone secondary-world fantasy novel.

Braemor lies just south of lands still claimed by the Walking Ice. It’s a challenging place for humans. It is barely post-glacial and home to humongous beasts that we might call “dinosaurs.” Misfortune or a bad winter could send the community into a death spiral.

So could a deliberate campaign of sabotage.

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Like a Restless Wind

Arkfall — Carolyn Ives Gilman

Carolyn Ives Gilman’s 2008 Arkfall takes place in her Twenty Planets setting.

An ice-covered ocean world like a scaled-up Europa, Ben has no known native life. Centuries ago, humans settled inside the ice-enclosed Saltese Sea and began their long effort to transform Ben’s oceans into living seas. The Saltese Sea, which is surrounded by mountains high enough to reach the icy surface of the world, is small enough that \their Great Work will have a measurable effect within a few generations. The volcanic Cleft of Golconda =provides the energy that will maintain the new ecosystem.

It’s a hard and demanding life for the human settlers. They cope by cooperating. Courtesy and non-confrontation are the rule. Loud and self-centred people are judged very harshly by their neighbours.

Osaji’s sister Kitani married, leaving Osaji to care for their grandmother Mota. Frail and struggling with dementia, Mota is unable to care for herself. Osaji finds herself resenting Mota (much to her dismay, but there it is) and briefly considers leaving Ben for some other world. But a momentary encounter with a brash off-worlder named Scrappin’ Jack brings Osaji back to her senses. Imagine living with a whole world of such rude barbarians!

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Something That Can Wash Out The Pain

Pursuit of the Screamer — Ansen Dibell
Strange and Fantastic History of the King of Kantmorie, book 1

Ansen Dibell’s 1978 Pursuit of the Screamer is the first volume in her Strange and Fantastic History of the King of Kantmorie planetary adventure series. It is also the very first Dibell I’ve ever read.

Jannus encounters Lur, a Screamer, so named because they telepathically broadcast confusion and fear. The empathic Valde, a guild of female warriors and guards, kill Screamers whenever discovered. But telepathically deaf Jannus sees only a small, frail fellow human. Rather than hand the Screamer to the Valde to be killed, Jannus helps the Screamer escape. It’s a decision that will shape the boy’s life.

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Do What You Do With Your Head Held High

Always Human — Walkingnorth

Walkingnorth’s Always Human is a hard-SF-romance webtoon.

Intrigued by the oddly modless woman whose path she keeps crossing at the local transport station, VR environment designer Sunati sees the stranger’s hayfever attack as a chance to introduce herself. The offer of an appropriate mod (biomanipulating nanotech) does not go as Sunati envisioned. Instead of gratitude, the offer provokes tears.

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And Rain Keeps Falling Like Helpless Tears

Winterlong — Elizabeth Hand
Winterlong Trilogy, book 1

Elizabeth Hand’s 1990 debut novel Winterlong is the first volume in her Winterlong Trilogy.

Nuclear war and germ warfare have left Washington a shadow of its once glorious past. A handful of administrators, descended from self-appointed curators, control the relics of America’s lost past, defending the remnants from the diseased, mutated, and simply unlucky inhabitants of the surrounding sea of ruins.

A desperate woman appealed to House Miramar for refuge. Too damaged to be of use to Miramar, the woman was cast out to die at the hands of the lazars. But Miramar did keep her two beautiful children, as new Paphians for Miramar’s bordellos. Only Raphael proved suitable. Autistic Wendy Wanders was consigned to HEL.

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Secret Harmonies

A Darker Shade of Magic — V. E. Schwab
Shades of Magic, book 1

A Darker Shade of Magic is the first volume in V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series.

Kell is an Antari, one of two known world-walkers, able to travel between the four known alternate Londons, White, Red, Gray, and forbidden Black. His is a gift rare enough to make him a treasured possession of Red London’s Royal Family.

Officially, Kell uses his gift to serve as an ambassador between the three Londons — White, Red, and Gray — that are still in limited contact with each other. On his own time Kell likes to collect souvenirs. That’s forbidden. But moving minor trinkets from one world to another seems a harmless hobby.

It isn’t.

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Those Little Eyes

Anthonology — Piers Anthony

Piers Anthony’s 1985 Anthonology is a collection of his short works, with added commentary by the author’s foremost admirer, Piers Anthony. The stories are for the most part dreadful … but at least there are a lot of them.

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Christmas at Ground Zero

The Green Glass Sea — Ellen Klages

Ellen Klages’ 2006 Scott O’Dell Award winner The Green Glass Sea is a young-adult historical fiction novel.

Having been abandoned by her mother and left to the care of her aged grandmother by her hard-working father, Dewey Kerrigan’s life has achieved some stability and comfort. But this too ends. Her grandmother suffers a stroke and there’s no other choice for her but to leave her familiar surroundings for life with her father. In an obscure New Mexican town called Los Alamos. It’s 1943.

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If Only In My Dreams

Twenty Palaces — Harry Connolly

2013’s Twenty Palaces is a prequel to Harry Connolly’s Twenty Palaces series.

Fresh out of prison, all Ray Lilly wants to do is find a legitimate job and rebuild his life. His uncle Karl, a cop, warns Ray that his future won’t be as straightforward as Ray hopes. Ray may think he’s paid his debt to society but society doesn’t agree.

As it turns out, American unfamiliarity with mercy is the least of Ray’s problems. Some of Ray’s old friends have picked up a very interesting hobby: magic.

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The Criminal Kind

Artemis — Andy Weir

2017’s Artemis is a standalone hard-SF novel by Andy Weir.

A century after the first Moon landings, Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara is living proof to the other residents in the lunar city, Artemis, that sufficiently poor judgment can lead to many exciting adventures. There may, however, be a hard limit to how long one such miscreant can survive on the unforgiving Moon.

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Seasons Crying No Despair

Northern Tier — David Axel Kurtz

2017’s Northern Tier is a standalone post-apocalyptic novel by David Axel Kurtz.

Two centuries after nuclear war and the collapse of petroleum-based civilization, North America is divided between several nations: Nova Scotia et Hibernia, Minnetonka, Central, Two Crowns, and others. Trade between nations has become slow and difficult, creating a niche for couriers who are willing to brave the dangers of the open road to deliver small, valuable packages quickly. The cycers, bicycle couriers like Slip, fill this niche.

Slip is a survivor, smart and cautious enough to survive a lifestyle that kills most cycers young. But this time, one moment of bad judgment on her part may doom not just Slip, but the entire cycer way of life.

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Dance to a Whispered Voice

The Dazzle of Day — Molly Gloss

1998’s The Dazzle of Day is a standalone generation ship novel by Molly Gloss.

Frustrated with conditions on Earth, a community of Quakers re-purposes an orbiting space habitat. Renamed the Dusty Miller, equipped with vast solar sails, the vessel heads into deepest space for a 175-year journey to another star.

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These Seven League Boots

Exo — Steven Gould
Jumper, book 4

2015’s Exo is the fourth book in Steven Gould’s long-running Jumper series.

Cent is one of just three humans able to teleport; the other two are her mother Millie and her father Davy. The ability allows the family to treat the entire planet as their home. It has also led to decades of persecution (stalking, abduction, imprisonment) by those determined to control and exploit the trio.

So far, they have survived by hiding. Only a handful of people know what the three can do. Thanks to Cent’s current hobby, that’s going to change.

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Taking This One To The Grave

Emissaries From The Dead — Adam-Troy Castro
Andrea Cort, book 1

2008’s Emissaries from the Dead is the second story and first novel in Adam-Troy Castro’s Andrea Cort series.

When she was eight, Andrea Cort’s home community on Bocai descended into violent mass insanity. Cort succumbed to the madness but emerged one of the few survivors. Cort still thinks of herself as a Monster-with-a-capital-M but her trauma makes her valuable to the Homo Sapiens Confederacy Diplomatic Corps. The Corps stands between Cort and the aliens who would like her tried for her past. If Cort is to stay within the Corps’ safe harbour, she must accept every crappy assignment they hand her.

Which is how Associate Legal Counsel for the Homo Sapiens Confederacy Diplomatic Corps Judge Advocate Andrea Cort finds herself headed to One One One, with strict orders to find a politically acceptable person to blame for a brutal murder, regardless of who the actual killer might be.

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Muscle and Blood and Skin and Bones

Noumenon — Marina J. Lostetter

2017’s Noumenon is a standalone generation-ship epic from Marina J. Lostetter.

Reggie Straifer is twice lucky. First, he has boosted his career with his discovery of an enigmatic stellar object, one that is quite possibly artificial. Second, he has made his discovery at a time when humanity has both the means and the will to travel to that distant object.

There’s just one catch: the round trip will take two thousand years by Earth’s clocks and over two centuries by any traveller’s clock. Happily, the means and the will to deal with that issue also exist. Less happily, the means turns out to be inhumane.

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You Should See My Scars

An Unkindness of Magicians — Kat Howard

Kat Howard’s 2017 An Unkindness of Magicians is a standalone urban fantasy.

Every twenty years, the magical houses of New York City’s Unseen World struggle for dominance in a series of increasingly dangerous contests known as the Turning. This time, the Turning is seven years early. The premature Turning is just one of the disquieting anomalies plaguing the Unseen World. Which may hint that magic itself may be dying.

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The Best Kind of Loving Is The One That Hurts

The High Couch of Silistra — Janet E. Morris
Silistra Quartet, book 1

1977’s The High Couch of Silistra is the first volume in Janet Morris’ Silistra Quartet. It’s also proof that not every reviewer should review every book, because the market it caters to, the BDSM crowd, is not one to which I belong. I’m mostly blind to whatever strengths this work may have.

The ancient Silistrans used their impressive technology to scour their own homeworld. A handful survived in underground refuges. When the surface of Silistra recovered and the descendants of the survivors emerged from their warrens, they vowed to never again become dependent on technology.

Silistrans are hardy, long-lived, and thanks to that ancient war, infertile. High technology might have dealt with the fertility issue. The Silistrans chose an entirely different solution.

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Something in the Shadows

Cold-Forged Flame — Marie Brennan
Varekai, book 1

2016’s Cold-Forged Flame is the first story in Marie Brennan’s Varekai series.

Called up out of shadows, without memory or even a remembered name, the swordswoman is magically bound to carry out a quest using methods that are unclear, for a purpose that is not explained. All she knows is that she must somehow collect blood from the cauldron of the Lhian. Whoever or whatever the Lhian might be.

One final detail she learns: most of the people who try to win a prize from the Lhian never return.

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Mean What You Mean When You Say

In Other Lands — Sarah Rees Brennan

2017’s In Other Lands is a standalone young adult novel by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Abandoned by his birth mother, raised by his emotionally detached dad, and subjected to incessant bullying at school, thirteen-year-old Elliott does not have much to tie him to the mundane world. When he is offered a spot at school in the until-now-unknown-to-Elliott magical realm known as the Borderlands, he has no reason to say no.

Elliott may expect Hogwarts. What he gets is a place where modern conveniences do not work and nobody is taught interesting spells. This school is a boot camp designed to transform the naïve youths of today into the Border Guard of tomorrow. One consolation: Elliott now has ample excuse to display his skills at bitter sarcasm and complaint.

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A Heart Stained in Anger

The Thing Itself — Adam Roberts

2015’s The Thing Itself is a standalone novel by Adam Roberts.

Perhaps in another trouser-leg of time, Charles Gardner’s Antarctic sojourn with fellow researcher Roy Curtius ended with professional accolades all round. In the timeline related in this novel, Gardner and Curtius not only failed to provide the world with tangible evidence of SETI, but Curtius went mad and Gardner only narrowly survived the murder attempt that followed.

A traumatized and scarred Gardner spent the next few decades tumbling down the ladder of British society, only coming to rest when there was nowhere else to fall. Obscurity and an unremarked death seemed all that was left to the alcoholic, abrasive former scientist.

The researchers at an obscure Institute are convinced that Curtius holds the key to their ambitious research. They believe that Gardner can provide them with the leverage to render Curtius, long consigned to an institution for the criminally insane, tractable. Why bother? They are sure that Curtius holds the key to understanding the true reality behind the reality we perceive.

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The Supple Suitor

The Maze Stone — Eileen Dunlop

Eileen Dunlop’s 1982 The Maze Stone is a standalone juvenile fantasy.

Fanny Mowbray’s reunion with her birth father Dr. Mowbray might have been cause for celebration, if the reason for the reunion had not been the sudden death of Fanny’s grandmother (the woman who had raised her). Fanny is too grief-stricken to have any energy, or will, to revive her ties with her father or build new ones with her stepmother Mrs. Mowbray or her stepsister Hester.

An old mystery will bring the two teens together.

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All My Tomorrows

The Danger Quotient — Annabel Johnson & Edgar Johnson

Annabel and Edgar Johnson’s 1984 The Danger Quotient is a standalone time travel novel.

130 years after World War III turned the surface of the Earth into a lifeless, UV-soaked hellscape, things are not going well for the descendants who took refuge in a vast network of tunnels under Colorado. For reasons unexplained, lifespans keep dropping.

K/C — 4(SCI) (or Casey, for short) is a gene-engineered genius, one whom his designers hope will be smart enough to solve the problem of the shrinking lifespans. Too bad that he probably won’t live long enough. He suffers from congenital defects that will kill him all too soon.

He has a cunning plan to put the little time remaining to him to good use. It’s a plan dependent on his homemade time-machine.

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Our One True Guiding Light

The Princes of the Air — John M. Ford

1982’s The Princes of the Air was John M. Ford’s second novel. His first novel, 1980’s Web of Angels (which I wish I had reviewed, because then I could link to the review) was a cyberpunk novel. The Princes of the Air was a space opera of manners. Ford’s reluctance to stick to a specific genre is only one of the reasons he is not better known.

Orden, David, and Theo had sufficient talents to have spent their lives working up to ever more complicated con games … that is, until the forces of the law fell on them and consigned them to whatever fate waits the criminal classes in a star-spanning empire. Orden evaded this fate by entering the diplomatic service, an alternative career path for those blessed with a gift of gab and an eye for a good con. His friends David and Theo parlayed practice on simulated, video-game starships into crewing the real thing.

Any prudent person in Orden’s position would have maintained a low profile in a minor position. Ambitious Orden brought himself and his friends to the attention of the Queen.

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Bounded in a Nutshell

Kobo Aura

The Kobo ereader has been available in various models since 2010. I was an early adopter of ebooks for professional reasons (ebooks can be delivered as fast as email and nobody steals them from my mailbox) but until I got a Kobo for my [mumble] birthday, I used a laptop instead of a dedicated ereader. My Kobo Aura is the second Kobo I’ve owned. While I have one or two reservations about the device, I would recommend it.

Mind you, how I use it may be different from the sanctioned uses the manufacturer envisioned.

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