Reviews: Special Requests

A Parcel of Rogues

Quillifer — Walter Jon Williams

Walter Jon Williams’ 2017 Quillifer is a standalone secondary-world fantasy.

Amiable womanizer Quillifer is dispatched to serve a summons on river-stealing aristocrat Sir Stanley. Quillifer is enthusiastic about the mission; it lets him skip boring apprentice-lawyer duties. He is less enthusiastic about the prospect of a confrontation with a notoriously violent land-owner.

The mission has an unexpected benefit. Quillifer returns home to Ethlebight to find the seaport town in flames. A vast pirate fleet has invested the town and is in the process of carrying off much of its population for ransom or slavery. Quillifer is safe, albeit bereaved. His entire family chose to die rather than submit to the pirates. His master, Lawyer Dacket, is also lost.

Quillifer could choose to stay in Ethlebight and help rebuild. He chooses otherwise.

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Have No Fear of the Baying Hounds

The Disappeared — Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Retrieval Artist, book 1

2002’s The Disappeared is the first volume in Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Retrieval Artist series.

Faster-than-light travel gave humans the stars and contact with other intelligent species. Each alien civilization has its own set of laws. The question of whose laws apply when and to whom is the subject of carefully negotiated treaties. Those treaties complicate the lives of hard-working space cops.

Miles Flint and Noelle DeRicci enforce the law in the Moon’s Armstrong Dome. Armstrong has a starport, which means that alien entanglements are always a possibility. Still, treaty complications aren’t exactly common, which is why it is so odd when Flint and DeRicci are faced with three such cases at the same time.

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The Bright and Shiny Book

The Invisible Library — Genevieve Cogman
The Invisible Library, book 1

2014’s The Invisible Library is the first volume in Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series.

The Invisible Library exists outside time itself. It is a repository of books gathered from many timestreams: worlds where science, reason, and logic reign supreme, worlds of fantasy, worlds tainted by chaos. Irene, child of two Librarians, was born to her role. She is a book scrounger supreme, adept at infiltrating alternate worlds, locating specific rare books, and stealing them for the Library.

Ideally, she does this without leaving any trace of her involvement. As the opening scene of the novel establishes, sometimes she has to settle for legging it with the goods while pursued by gargoyles. It’s a living.

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When You’re Lost

Star Girl — Henry Winterfeld

Star Girl is the title given to the English-language translation of Henry Winterfeld’s 1956 novel, the children’s science fantasy Kommt ein Mädchen geflogen.

While wandering in the woods, Otto, Walker, Gretel, and little Lottie encounter a stranger, a well-dressed blonde girl with an enormous bruise on her forehead. The girl, whose name is Mo, explains that she got the bruise when she climbed down out of a tree. How did she end up at the top of a tree in the first place? She fell out of her father’s damaged spaceship.

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Telling Stories

Fairy Tales from South Africa — Mrs. E. J. Bourhill & Mrs. J. B. Drake

Mrs. E. J. Bourhill and Mrs. J. B. Drake’s 1908 Fairy Tales From South Africa is exactly what the title says: a collection of fairy tales from the peoples of South Africa. It is illustrated by W. Herbert Holloway.


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Near Beyond the Moon

Mare Internum — Der-shing Helmer

Der-shing Helmer’s Mare Internum is an ongoing hard-SF webcomic.

Doctor Mike Fisher is one of the elite few chosen to explore Mars, now in the initial stages of colonization. Or rather, he was. Bitter, alarmingly hostile, and socially isolated, he was fired after the loss of his artificially intelligent LEVi robot in the mysterious catacombs under the Martian surface. As soon as transportation is available, he will be sent back to Earth.

Before he goes, however, newly arrived Doctor Rebekah “Bex” Egunsola would like to take advantage of Mike’s EVA skills. Initially reluctant to venture back into the Martian caves, Mike allows himself to be talked around. It’s just one quick foray into the labyrinth. What could go wrong?

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I’m Gonna See Ya’

I am Princess X — Cherie Priest

2016’s I Am Princess X is a standalone young-adult thriller by Cherie Priest. It features illustrations by Kali Ciesemier.

Once upon a time there were two schoolgirls, artist Libby and writer May. Together, they created a shared fantasy world, ruled over by Princess X. Their partnership came to an abrupt, violent end when the car containing Libby and her mother went through a bridge guard rail and into the waters below.

May did her best to convince herself that Libby somehow survived. By the time May was sixteen, she had to accept what everyone around her believed to be true: Libby was dead.

Then the stickers start appearing in Seattle windows.

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A Secret Just Between You And Me

The Other Side of the Moon — Meriol Trevor

Meriol Trevor’s 1957 The Other Side of the Moon is a standalone juvenile SF novel.

The Kingville Lunar Expedition did not intend to take an untrained boy on their mission to the Moon. Nor did Gil Pentfoyle intend to stow away. Having snuck on board to play spaceman, Gil fell asleep. The busy crew overlooked the boy until the expedition was well on its way to Earth’s satellite.

Although displeased to discover the stowaway, Captain Raider doesn’t airlock Gil. Perhaps this is because Gil’s brother, the expedition botanist1, might object. Perhaps this is because the captain is decent guy. Besides … the expedition already has a useless member, the expedition sponsor’s son Tracy. Gil makes two of them. (Perhaps three; see1.)

Turns out that the Moon is a surprising place.

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I Don’t Know Where I’ll Go

The Other Side of Tomorrow — Roger Elwood

1973’s The Other Side of Tomorrow is a theme anthology edited by Roger Elwood. It’s a reasonable example of Elwood’s efforts at this point in his career.

In what sort of world will the young people of tomorrow live? Nine authors imagine futures.

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Uprising

Return of the Breakneck Boys — Geary Gravel
The Fading Worlds, book 2

1991’s Return Of The Breakneck Boys is the second (and most recent) instalment in Geary Gravel’s Fading Worlds series.

Former fix-it man Howard Bell went looking for a washroom and found a pathway to another world. It’s a dangerous world, but he has survived, even thriven. He has attracted followers, warriors of many species. Together, they form a band known as the Breakneck Boys.

The Breakneck Boys are not just warriors. They are rebels against their former masters, the mysterious Keyholders.

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Life Ain’t What It Seems

Cat in the Mirror — Mary Stolz

Mary Stolz’s 1975 Cat in the Mirror is a standalone young-adult novel.

Erin Gandy is a grave disappointment to her mother Belle; she is deficient in the feminine virtues appropriate for women of her class. Neither pretty nor popular, Erin might well one day end up an academic or worse yet, a feminist. At least Erin can turn to her schoolmates for solace. Or she could if they did not despise Erin even more than her mother does.

Spoilers for a book more than forty years out of print.

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I’ll Be On My Way

A Key For The Nonesuch — Geary Gravel
Fading Worlds, book 1

1990’s A Key for the Nonesuch is the first book in Geary Gravel’s Fading Worlds duology.

A small inheritance has allowed Howard Bell to leave his unrewarding job for the life of a novelist. Years later, he has produced an unfinished novel and used up his funds. Nothing left but to parley his handyman skills into a job with Foster’s Fix-It.

Determined to find a working bathroom in the unfinished building he’s been assigned to repair, Howard appropriates a set of keys. The doorway he enters takes him to a different world.

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Silent in the Trees

Changer’s Moon — Jo Clayton
Duel of Sorcery, book 3

1985’s Changer’s Moon is the third and final novel in Jo Clayton’s Duel of Sorcery trilogy.

Ser Noris, bored and powerful beyond reason, is nearing the end of his game with the Goddess. At stake is an entire world. Noris has succeeded in bending all but a few of the world’s mages to his will, and subjecting most of the world to his cruel, misogynistic theocracy. True, the Biserica Valley (refuge of the Goddess followers) is still holding out … but surely its fall is only a matter of time.

Standing between the Goddess and the jaded wizard is a mortal woman, a green-skinned mutant sorceress named Serroi.

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Everybody Knows The Good Guys Lost

The Armageddon Crazy — Mick Farren

1989’s The Armageddon Crazy is a standalone near-future novel by Mick Farren.

The Crash of 1998 was deliberately engineered by banks who hoped to unseat the Democrats. The Panic of 1999 was an unintended consequence. A surprisingly fragile economy imploded. The consequence of that: President Faithful’s victory in 2000. No longer do Americans have to languish under a two party system! Now they can enjoy living under a brutal theocracy.

A brutal, incompetent theocracy.

Spoilers for a book well out of print.


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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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