Reviews: Special Requests

Not Ready To Make Nice

The Element of Fire — Martha Wells

Martha Wells’ 1993 debut novel The Element of Fire is a standalone secondary-universe fantasy. It is the first of Wells’ Ile-Rien books. It was followed by The Death of the Necromancer, The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy (The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, and The Gate of Gods) and various short pieces.

A daring night-time raid on a sorcerer’s lair, a victim recovered, a mansion left aflame: enough of an adventure in itself. For Captain Thomas Boniface, this was just the beginning of a longer, more perilous campaign.


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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

The Smoke-Scented Girl — Melissa McShane
Dalanine, book 1

2015’s The Smoke-Scented Girl is the first volume in Melissa McShane’s Dalanine secondary-universe fantasy series.

The kingdom of Dalanine is under attack. The Despot is marching steadily, unstoppably, towards the capital. Dalanine is also dealing with a rash of deadly arson attacks.

Research magician Evon Lorantis is working desperately to work out who or what agency is causing the fires.

What he discovers: a young woman who can’t control her new powers.


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And Drop Them in a Teacup

Carpe Diem — Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
Liaden, book 3

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s 1989 Carpe Diem is the third novel published in their long-running Liaden series.

Set upon by the predatory Yxtrang, Val Con yos’Phelium makes a desperate bid to escape into faster-than-light drive. It’s successful in the sense that Val Con and his companion Miri Robertson escape horrific deaths at the hands of the Yxtrang. It’s unsuccessful in that their badly damaged ship ends up in the back of beyond, orbiting the interdicted world of Vandar.

Briefly orbiting. A forced descent follows.


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All Kinds of Kinds

This Alien Shore — C. S. Friedman

C. S. Friedman’s This Alien Shore is a standalone space-opera/cyberpunk novel.

The Hausman drive gave humanity the stars. It also induced mutations in crew, passengers, and colonists. The mutations thrived in the new colonies, which became known as Variants. A bigoted, xenophobic Earth abandoned its colonies. Two centuries later, the Guerans developed an entirely new method of faster-than-light travel, via ainniq, points that give access to an alien realm governed by unfamiliar laws. The Gueran Guild reached out to all of humanity’s worlds, including standoffish Earth, and rebuilt the interstellar community Earth had cast aside.

Now someone is trying to destroy that community.


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Whisper Whisper

City of Bones — Martha Wells

Martha Wells’ 1995 City of Bones is a standalone secondary-world fantasy.

The relic trade is chancy enough, but for krismen like Khat in a city like Charisat, it is especially risky. Even if Khat can avoid violating Charisat’s trade laws, he could still be murdered by greedy criminals … or off-handedly killed by the city guard or their masters. He is, after all, a despised non-human.

Too bad that there are so few jobs open to Khat. This is the best of the few; as a krisman, he has some advantages.


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The Long Way Around

Travel Light — Naomi Mitchison

Naomi Mitchison’s 1952 Travel Light is a standalone fantasy.

A widowed king remarries. His new wife may have many virtues, but love for her stepdaughter Halla is not one of them. Eager to please his new bride, the king orders his daughter Halla cast out in the wilderness to die.

This should have been the end for Halla. It wasn’t.


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My Soul To Take

Gutter Prayer — Gareth Hanrahan
Black Iron Legacy

2019’s The Gutter Prayer is the first volume in Gareth Hanrahan’s planned Black Iron Legacy series. It is Hanrahan’s debut novel.

Rat, Carillon, and Spar: the ghoul, the runaway, and the Stone Man. Each have their special talents; together they make a splendid team of thieves. Master thief Heinreil seems to think so; he selected the trio to steal valuable documents from the city of Guerdon’s House of Law.

Some missions are more challenging than others. When we meet our heroes, the House of Law is in flames thanks to the wild success of another team’s alchemical explosives. Guerdon’s protectors are well aware that something untoward is up. Rat escapes capture, but Carillon and Spar do not.


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I Know You Can Hear Me

Dark Orbit — Carolyn Ives Gilman

Carolyn Ives Gilman’s 2015 Dark Orbit is a standalone SF novel set in her Twenty Worlds universe.

Researcher Saraswati Callicot transmits home to Capella Two only to find that during the years she spent in transit, she was sued for and lost the intellectual property from which she had expected riches. The same light-speed delay involved in matter transmission means that by the time she is reconstituted into a living human, the period during which she could have appealed is long over. Not to worry! Director Gossup wants to recruit Sara for a very important mission.

The known worlds (linked to each other by superluminal communication and light-speed matter transmission) were founded by sub-light probes sent out in the era of the great diaspora. They’re all human-friendly, thanks to terraforming. One of the ancient probes, long since written off, has called home unexpectedly. It has found something quite new.


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Four Winds Converge

Halting State — Charles Stross
Halting State, book 1

The opening paragraph informs you that the book featured in today’s review is Halting State. This novel was written by Charles Stross and was published in 2007. You muse on how long ago that was.

The book opens with protagonist one, Sergeant Sue Smith. She is summoned to Hayek Associates, who are victims of a robbery that proves much less straightforward than expected.

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Everything’s Going Our Way

The Way Back — Michael E. Briant
Blake's 7, book 1

Terry Nation’s Blake’s 7 is a dystopian SF television series. It originally aired between 1978 and 1981. “The Way Back,” written by Michael E. Briant, aired on January 2nd, 1978.

Roj Blake is a seemingly unremarkable member of society. Blake’s friend Ravella is determined to convince Blake otherwise.

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Twilight Zone

Rat’s Maze — M. E. S. Gibson
Avalon City Vice, book 1

2018’s Rat’s Maze is the first volume in M. E. S. Gibson’s Avalon City Vice fantasy-noir series.

Humans come to Avalon City in search of magical wonders. They bring with them human vices like drugs. Confronted with unfamiliar challenges, the ferals native to Avalon City have responded by copying human solutions. Thus the Avalon City Police Department. Thus ACPD Vice, charged with containing the city’s drug trade.

Detective Reis “Rat” Attalus is a vice cop. His partner just died and the week looks like it is only going to get worse.

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Whisper in the Night

Stand Still, Stay Silent — Minna Sundberg

Minna Sundberg’s Stand Still, Stay Silent is an on-going fantasy webcomic.

Ninety years ago, a mysterious contagion known as the Rash swept across the Earth, infecting almost every mammalian species. Those not lucky enough to die were transformed into hideous monsters. Inside the Known World — Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden — a quarter of a million humans survive. The rest of the planet is deemed the Silent World and sensible humans, particularly those without inborn immunity to the Rash, avoid it.

The Nordic Council of History and Rediscovery approves a bold proposal to explore some of the nearer regions of the Silent World. (A mistake, really; at least one of the Council members didn’t understand what they were approving.)

The Council-provided budget is smaller than the backers of the proposal had hoped. The backers set out to recruit affordably priced volunteers from the ranks of the foolish, the desperate, the poorly informed, and the expendable.

Enter Tuuri Hotakainen (driver/mechanic), Lalli Hotakainen (scout/mage), Emil Västerström (cleanser/pyromaniac), Sigrun Eide (commander), and Mikkel Madsen (medic/cook/voice of reason).

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King of the Road

Special Deliverance — Clifford D. Simak

Clifford D. Simak’s 1982 Special Deliverance is a standalone SF novel.

When a student hands in an atypically good paper with citations unfamiliar to Professor Edward Lansing, Lansing summons the student to his office for questioning. The student admits he did not write the paper. No surprise. What is a surprise is the source of the paper: a slot machine in the basement of the Student Union Building1.

Of course, Lansing has to see this paper-writing slot machine for himself.

The machine is terribly insistent that it has to provide everyone who activates it with a boon. When the machine’s dirty joke fails to amuse, it provides Lansing with two keys and detailed instructions. Curiosity gets the better of Lansing. In short order he finds himself in very unfamiliar territory.

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Last Train Home

Growing Up Weightless — John M. Ford

John M. Ford’s Growing Up Weightless is a standalone coming-of-age novel.

If Luna had an Age of Heroes, that era is long over by Matt Roney’s time. Independence from Earth was won decades ago. Geniuses gave humans starflight; by Matt’s era, interstellar travel is mundane. All of the interesting things have been done by previous generations. What is a teenager to do with himself?

To be honest, Matt does have a wealth of opportunities. So many that he cannot decide. Nor is it clear that any of them will offer him the independence and self-esteem he craves.


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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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