Reviews: Special Requests

Let The Ants Try

Neoreaction a Basilisk: Essays on and Around the Alt-Right — Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer’s 2017 Neoreaction a Basilisk: Essays on and Around the Alt-Right is a discursive ramble through the brambles of modern day fascism. Not an enjoyable ramble; it’s more like a tour of the Cairo garbage dumps. But it’s informative.

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Stars Shining Bright Above You

Before Mars — Emma Newman
Planetfall, book 3

2018’s Before Mars is the third book in Emma Newman’s Planetfall series.

Anna Kubrin is offered a chance too good to refuse: a chance to go to GaborCorps’ Mars base as the resident geologist/artist. This is her only chance: GaborCorps has a monopoly on Mars exploration. But … if she accepts the post, Anna will spend two years away from her husband George and child Mia.

This weighs on Anna — as does her awareness that two years away from her family does not bother her nearly as much as convention demands. Despite this, there was never any doubt that she would accept; by the time the novel begins she has made the journey.

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‘Tis The Gift To Be Simple

Record of a Spaceborn Few — Becky Chambers
Galactic Commons, book 3

2018’s Record of a Spaceborn Few is the third volume in Becky Chambers’ Galactic Commons series.

Having ruined the Earth, humans mined the Earth’s cities and turned them into a vast interstellar fleet. The Exodus Fleet’s design proved surprisingly robust; not only did the fleet survive centuries and light-years, the people riding the ships neither went mad nor devolved into cannibalistic barbarians. The Exodus Fleet was an impressive achievement. Even if the technology involved was hilariously backward by galactic standards.

If only humans had encountered the galaxy-spanning Galactic Commons (GC) before the Fleet set out, the whole endeavour might have been unnecessary. As it is, the human race was allowed to join the GC as a very junior member, while the aging Fleet was graciously permitted to park itself in an otherwise useless stellar system.

Where it still orbits.

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They Burn In Our Brains

The Gate of Gods — Martha Wells
The Fall of Ile-Rien, book 3

2005’s The Gate of Gods is the third book in Martha Wells’ Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy.

Ile-Rien has fallen to the mysterious, implacable Gardier. Tremaine Valiarde managed to escape. She and her handful of allies — some from Ile-Rien, some from another timeline, and one ambiguously alive sorcerer — have taken refuge in allied Capidara. There they hope come up with a plan for defeating the invaders.

But it turns out that the Gardier have infiltrated Capidara. The supposed refuge is in no way safe.

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Behind The Curtain

Point of Dreams: A Novel of Astreiant — Melissa Scott & Lisa A. Barnett
Astreiant, book 2

2001’s Point of Dreams: A Novel of Astreiant is the second volume in Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett’s Astreiant series.

Pointsman (city guard) Nicolas Rathe and his lover (ex-soldier Philip Eslingen) face a truly terrifying challenge:

Theatre folk.

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Dancing on a High Wire

Exit Strategy — Martha Wells
The Murderbot Diaries, book 4

2018’s Exit Strategy is the fourth volume in Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries series of novellas.

Returning from its field trip to Milu, Murderbot covertly accesses local security networks and discovers that there is a security detail waiting for the ship on which it has stowed away. Further probing verifies that, yes, the detail is waiting for Murderbot.

It’s not the worst news Murderbot has ever heard. In fact, it’s not even the worst news Murderbot has heard that day.

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Not a Public Inquiry

Freeport — Maldoror_Chant

Maldoror_Chant’s 2017 Freeport is a fanfic set in the world of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing.

The grand conflict in MSGW is over. The heroic terrorist protagonists of MSGW now must find new roles for themselves, preferably roles that do not leave a swath of death and property destruction in their wake.

Chang Wufei’s solution is to become a cop. He is dispatched to problem spot after problem spot, by a federation government striving endlessly to keep discord from boiling over into open chaos. Intrepid, uninhibited by petty bureaucratic rules, Wufei lives on a knife edge: he must be useful enough that he will not be cashiered for his frequent use of excessive force.

Assigned to bring a hitman known only as Carver to justice, Wufei recruits his old ally Duo. Duo has become a borderline criminal who operates out of the colony of Freeport — which is Carver’s last known destination. Wufei hopes that Duo’s connections will allow Wufei to nab Carver.

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Ancient Savageries

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent — Marie Brennan
Lady Trent, book 1

2013’s A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent is the first volume in Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent series.

Scirland is not known for encouraging the intellectual interests of its women — not even its high-born women. Isabella, the future Lady Trent, is one of the determined few who prevailed despite all the pressures to focus on the lady-like pursuits she finds boring beyond words.

Why focus on tedious social gatherings when she lives in a world full of natural wonders like dragons?

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Faces of a Stranger

Daughter of the Lilies — Meg Syverud & Jessica "Yoko" Weaver

Daughter of the Lilies is an ongoing webcomic. Meg Syverud writes and draws the comic, assisted by colourist Jessica “Yoko” Weaver (aka Nytrinhia).

Given her druthers, masked mage Thistle prefers to perform beneficial magic: healing, plant growth, and entertaining illusions. As one of the members of Orc mercenary Orrig’s little troupe, she is valued for her lethal spells. Not the life she’d prefer, but one that circumstances have forced on her.

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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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