Henry L Lazarus                                                                                                                                                                                                                Home
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Science Fiction for October 2020
by Henry L Lazarus
    A Chinese curse is to find yourself  living in interesting times, like 2020. Fantasy and Science Fiction is full of interesting and dangerous times that are fun to read about, but dangerous to live through. 
C.S. Friedman tells of a future with huge space stations in This Virtual Night (hard from DAW). A virtual reality game has been used so unaware gamers could plant a bomb in life support killing the gamers and endangering the station. Ru Gaya, an explorer who locates lost colonies and who has lost her partner, has been asked to investigate. Micah Bello, a game designer blamed for the tragedy, is drawn into the chase. The trail leads through Shenshido, a derelict station where survivors are convinced they are fighting zombies, to a criminal station, Hydra and back to Harmony were the villain is planning a horrible attack. This is a fun tale, but I felt the villain came out of left field and the ending came too easy. Recommended.
The Big Rock Candy Mountain was a generation ship too big to enter white space. A synarch packet  ship of methan breathers had docked and it was in trouble too.  Dr. Jen’s won’t risk docking, so she and her team jump to the ancient ship to discover ten thousand people in cryonic capsules, a dead captain,  a Machine (hard from Gallery / Saga Press)  of macro-microbots, and a robot left to care for the capsules. The methane breathers were in suspended animation. So, after  other rescue ships arrive, the Synarche Medical Ship I Race to Seek the Living takes some capsules and the robot back to core general where secrets and a conspiracy endanger the AI’s on board the giant hospital and the giant tree that serves as administrator. Elizabeth Bear tells a fun tale set in a Woke utopia filled with strange aliens and moral problems relating to a special ward that helps fund the hospital.
Sarah Goodman has a strong first novel of ghosts and magic. In 1907 Verity Pruitt and her little sister Lilah are sent on an orphan train to Wheeling Arkansas from New York City after their father was locked up for insanity. Verity has only a few months before turning eighteen and allowed to leave the custody of the Orphanage. Layla is adopted by the town school teacher Maeve Donovan and Verity is indentured to a farming couple. In the woods that no one in town will enter is a well and a center for magic. What Verity doesn’t know is that her mother came from nearby and had a close friendship to Maeve who is hiding a horrible secret.  Verity adopts well to the town and farming live, slowly discovering the danger her sister is in. Eventide(hard from Tor) is truly spine-tingling and Ms. Goodman is an author to watch.
Gyen Jebi is an artist in a conquered country whose personal pronoun is they. Their talent of art works well for the glyphs that magically bring to life the golem like mechanical automatons.  They are hired by the department of Armor to work on a mechanical dragon whose first test led to a massacre. Jodi figures out how to let the dragon Arazi talk and finds their worst nightmare is true. The only way out is to help Arazi escape. Jebi, because of their abilities, has potential as a war weapon themselves, but is afraid of violence and only wants to paint. I found the pronouns related to they a bit confusing, but  Yoon Ha Lee’s Phoenix Extravagant (hard from Solaris)  tells a compelling story about love and revolt.  
V. E. Schwab tells a tale of a deal with the devil. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (hard from TOR) after she makes a deal to avoid a forced marriage. No one can remember her and anything she writes down disappears.  All she has to do to end what at first is a horror, is to give the devil her soul.  He drops in every so often to ask. In 2014 she meets someone who actually remembers her, only to find he also has made a horrible deal. Partially a love story, partially a tale of surviving centuries by using her social invisibility as a gift, this is a absorbing tale.   
Martin L. Shoemaker has a nice police procedural set on Mars’s Maxwell City. One murder proves that the growing city of 50,000 needs a sheriff. Former admiral Rosalia Morais who helped solve the first murder and realized the problems of recycling a corpse that had been poisoned is picked for the job. After hiring the police force for a place that hadn’t needed police before, her husband,  Nicolau Aames, leads her to a case of massive insurance fraud. There’s also
The Last Campaign (paper from 47North) of a mayor who’d been mayor for decades and the political implications of the investigation. But there’s worse. A conspiracy in which the insurance fraud was used to hide something much worse.  Life on Mars is well described and believable. Very exciting.
Reinmar of Bielawa, physician and magician, in 1425 was caught In flagrante delicto with an absent Knight’s wife. Unfortunately one of her three brother-in-laws dies in the chase and the family hires brigands to hunt him down. Andrzej Sapkowski, of the Witcher books, sends Reinmar from one dangerous situation to another all the while the war against the hussian heretics rages. Helped by new acquaintances who become allies, and always misled by his own impulses, is a target for any trouble along the way. At one point he joins with a group of robber knights, at another he flies an enchanted bench to witchly gathering. The worst part is being trapped in The Tower of Fools (hard from the Hachette Book Group) where he and his friends await the tortures of the Inquisition along with members of the insane asylum. The world of the early fifteenth century comes alive with all its smells and dangers. But there is a magical side too with unusual creatures and demon Knights. This is only the first third of the tale.
Joaquin Lowe uses the tropes of the Western in a strange world where the battle is between gunslingers and Bullet Catcher (ebook from Serial Box). Bullet catchers have all but wiped out by gunslingers who can shoot faster. Imma was washing dishes in Sand when a man who may have been the last bullet catcher walks in. She follows him out into the desert, and eventually he teaches her some of his skills, but he is on a mission of vengence against a gunslinger named Bullet. Circumstances finds Imma caught between the bullet catcher, his friends, and her missing brother, and the growing tyranny of the gunslingers. Neat.
In the strange world where magic has returned in the 10th Laundry Files tale, Charles Stross has a tale of a magical book hidden in a world where Dead Lies Dreaming (hard from TOR).  Evil billionaire Rupert de Montfort Bigge needs the book to release a dreaming god. His executive secretary Eve uses her brother Imp and his three friends, all with abilities that let them plan big thefts, to find the location of the book. Wendy Deere, with the ability to conjure things with her mind, starts by chasing the group responsible for a department store robbery and ends up working with them to retrieve the cursed book. Opposing them is a man known as the Bond who is cleaning up messes for Rupert, but wants to get the credit for retrieving the book. Lots of fun and can easily be read without reading the rest of the series.
Vincent Morrone writing with his daughter Danielle Morrone has a tale filled with common tropes that somehow meshes into something fun with relatable characters. Z finds Barnabus’s magical book store while running from bullies. Z is an orphan in the sleeper (think muggle) world. In truth her parents were lost in a war against an evil sorcerer, and her powers drained enough so that the council put her in the state system of foster homes. Of course she is quite powerful and becomes The New Apprentice (ebook from The Wild Rose Press). The magical world is full of realms of different creatures like fairies, dragons, and unfortunately demons. Barnabus is convinced that the evil sorcerer is still alive. There’s also a magical school, of course. Light fun and I would enjoy a sequel.
Cheryl Campbell continues her exciting tale of Echoes of Darkness (paper from Sonar Press) in which echoes are like humans except when they die and regerate. In our near future the Wardens of these echoes conquer the world.  Dani is an echo raised as human over and over again because each time she dies she regenerates at age 10 without her memories. In Echoes of War (paper) she helps unite the brigands and the Continental Army to retake Maine. Now the emphasis is on Boston. Dani helps design the invasion, but then one of her friends is kidnaped, forcing her and her friends to rescue him. Very bloody, very exciting.
Aliette de Bodard returns to the  Scattered Pearls Belt where mind ship avatars interact with humans.  Vân is a poet hiding the mem-implant she had constructed to enter the top class. Sunless Woods is a  mindship and retired thief. Then a body is found in Vân’s student Uyên’d home. The trail leads to a dead mindship in the asteroid belt where a murdered body is found. Eventually the problems is in Vân’s past. Seven of Infinities (hard from Subterranean Press) is a fascinating tale.
There are three known Aran islands off of Ireland. Sarah Tolmie’s tale of The Fourth Island (paper from Tor) where only people who truly despair live, starts with a dead body washing ashore on Inis Môr with a sweater with an unrecognizable pattern. The year is 1840, but the inhabitants of  Inis Caillte can come from other times. It is a place where language is magically understood. Very strange and compelling.  
    Jonathan Strahan has put together The Year's Best Science Fiction Vol. 1(paper from Gallery Books) from stories published last year.  Carrie Vaughn has short tales from her werewolf,  talk-show host Kitty's Mix-Tape (paper from  Tachyon Publications).
    Dr. Henry Lazarus is a retired Dentist and the author of A Cycle of Gods (Wolfsinger Publications) and Unnaturally Female (Smashwords).Check out his unified field theory at henrylazarus.com/utf.html that suggests fusion generation requires less energy because only one frequency is needed rather than a full spectrum.  It also explains dark matter, the proliferation of subatomic particles, and the limit of light speed for matter.