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Science Fiction for January2021
by Henry L Lazarus

    Welcome to a new year of Fantasy and Science Fiction. There should be an abundance of great stuff because writers had plenty of time to write in 2020.
Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms writing together as M. A. Carrick have a fantasy sure to be nominated for an award. Arenza Lenskaya had been a street urchin who fled Nadezra with her blood sister. She returns as Renata Virauda supposed daughter of an exiled member of the Traementis family. The idea is a long scam to weasel her way into the family register. Her time as a maid to the exiled woman and stolen jewels provide what she needs to pull off the scam. Nadezra resembles the Republic of Venice ruled by its nobility, and magic seem superficial, until it proves to be very powerful, powerful enough to sink the city into  the nightmares of  The Mask of Mirrors (paper from Orbit). Somehow Ren is thrust into a position to save the city from a nightmare from her past and a noble bent on amassing more power. Aided by a Zorro like figure called the Rook who has been around for over a century and a crime boss, she survives and leaves enough of the city unexplored for the next two parts of the trilogy. Excellent.
Tim Pratt tells of Zaxony Delatree who every time he goes to sleep, he goes through the Doors of Sleep(paper from Angry Robot) in a new universe. Unfortunately The Lector, a scientist he met on one world, has discovered how to travel the same way and wants to conquer every world he enters. Helping him stop this evil is Minna, a slave botanist who can work magic with plants and a crystal intelligence small enough to fit on a ring. The worlds he and Minna travel are wild and very imaginative, ranging from paradises to dangerous dystopias. I suspect this will be up for an award. Excellent.  
Nnedi Okorafor tells of Sankofa, a young girl wandering the world with the ability to bring death at will. They call her Remote Control (hard from Tor) and both hate and fear her. Her abilities from from a meteor she found and planted by her favorite tree. At age twelve she was hit by a truck and somehow killed her whole town in reaction. Electronics die near her, including cars, so she wanders on foot, euthanizing people who need death and protecting herself as needed. This is impossible-to-put-down, and will probably end on an award list.
Joshua Phillip Johnson sets his tale of pirates and ancient cities on The Forever Sea (hard from DAW) of an endless prairie. Ships float over the endless plants using the magic of their hearthfires to help harvest the food needed for the towns. It’s a harsh environment, with permanent rationing of the water collected from dew and rain. Kindred Greyreach is one of the few hearthfire keepers who can hear the voices of the fire. She is second keeper of the harvest ship Errant, when the ship is forced to flee Acadia because of the rise of a would-be tyrant. Their only hope is the Once-city, an ancient and magical place constantly moving. After barely surviving a monster attack, they arrive at the Once-city now under attack by Acadia, and with it’s own problems. This is an exciting adventure from a new voice and the first of a trilogy. Highly recommended.
. Peter Keith starts his massive tale of an odyssey across the stars with the exploration ship Ulysses and it’s small crew of explorers heading to Jupiter.  In Wine Dark Deep (paper) the ship has its refueling tankers refused by a rebellion on the small colony on Ceres who think independence can make them rich. Captain Cal Scott has to use the space taxi left in orbit to go down to the colony and somehow rescue his needed supplies. Then they have an Encounter at Jupiter (paper) were an ancient alien craft docks with them and sends them hurling down through the center of the huge planet to emerge from another gas giant. There The Odyssey (paper from Uphill Downhill Press) as they explore this new system, work with the alien device that stranded them and find an alien who learns to talk to them. A lot more is coming in this hard science fiction tale that is careful with its orbital mechanics and its near future technology. Fun.
Jeff Wheeler’s latest trilogy is set in a world of armored knights. Marshal is a  knight, nicknamed Ransom. He had been a hostage to the previous king, who was too kindly to have him killed when his father rebelled. This Knight's Ransom (paper from 47North) is a bit too honest for his own good, especially with his contacts with the ruling family. Including being sworn to the son when he attempts to overthrow the king. Ransom is fountain blessed which gives him greater stamina and fast healing. This is a fun beginning to an adventure that will lead to the tale of a great man.
In 1890, Anna May Jones was sickly in her mining town, so her mother sends her to her Aunt Jinny. She soon learns that her Aunt is an Earth wizard and that she is to.  Soon, she learns  to use her abilities, and finds a boy in the farm next to her new home who loves carving stone. Then there’s Jolene (hard from DAW) who seems human but is really The Queen of the Copper Mountain, a spirit who protects miners and artists. Jolene just offers to teach her, but the foreman of local mine, who uses his elemental abilities in evil ways, wants to collect her.  But Jolene wants the boy, Anna is falling for, for her collection. Mercedes Lackey tells in down-to-earth story of young love and fairy tale problems set in a very real rural America.
Angie Fox has a properly silly tale of Dr. Petra Robichaud drafted into a M.A.S.H. unit in Limbo saving the lives of the demi-gods and humans injured in the centuries old war between the old gods and the new gods. For non-immortals service in  The Monster MASH (ebook from Moose Island Books) is for life, but they make the tedium between incoming injured pass with practical jokes on their commander, and helping each other out with their problems. Petra has three problems no one can help with. She has a knife she removed from a patient that keeps finding its way back to her. She used her illegal abilities to touch ghosts to pull a dying patient’s soul back into his body, and that sexy demigod doesn’t want to leave. Then there’s the prophecy about ending the war that seems to be about her. Lot’s of fun. I pre-ordered the sequel.  
Rachel Graves starts a fun PI tale set in an alternate America in which a war against things that enslave women. Ex-vet Elisabeth Hicks was wounded in that war and hides her artifical flesh. She discovered in the war that she was a spirit witch and could talk to the dead. On a first date with a masseuse who her family thinks is gay, she ends up discovering the dead body of a close friend. She hadn’t helped the dead recover a ring from a vampire. Then the vampire goes missing and her husband and mother are at odds at finding the missing because it leads to the missing vampire. Dead Man's Detective (ebook) is a fun mystery and a nice introduction to a fun world.
Greta Kelly kept me up late reading her tale of the princess heir to The Frozen Crown (hard from Harper Voyager). To fight for her homeland invaded by an emperor who wants to conquer all of the northern continent, Askia travels to the capital of the empire that rules the southern continent to seek an army to restore her kingdom. Her parents had been admired healing witches who had helped save the Queen, and who had been murdered by a cult that hated witches. Askia has the ability to see ghosts and talk to them, which helps navigate the emperial court. Alas this is only the first half of a fun, fascinating tale.
John Rast is a college, student home for the summer,  who likes competing in sword duels in the local Renaissance Fair. He didn’t expect opponent to turn into a dragon, and he also didn’t expect to use his mother’s volvo to kill the thing. That gets him selected for Knight Watch (paper from Baen) along with an ex-girl friend who wants to be an elfin queen. The organization keeps the unreal from interacting with the mundane, and there’s an evil stirring in John’s town that needs all their efforts to keep the world safe. Tim Akers has an exciting romp that gets a bit nightmarish at times. I look forward to John’s next adventure.
Dellaria Wells , child of a drug addict and partially trained fire wizard, gets a job working with people far above her class. The group is assigned to protect a future wealthy bride from an assassin. Unfortunately the assassin escapes her capture, and kills one of the group guarding the bride to be.  C. M. Waggoner has a taste of Breaking Bad in   The Ruthless Lady's Guide to Wizardry (paper from ACE) set in a version of Victorian England with magical talents. Because the assassin is a drip addict like Delly’s mother, the group figures that creating a better product will let them get close to where the assassin is hiding with the distributers. Add in a slight love story, and a resurrected mouse that steals the show, and you have a fun read. I’d love a sequel.  
Rysa Walker continues her tale of the origin of Chronos with its time traveling historians in the 24th century who opposed a group from an alternate time line trying to alter their present by changing the past. Then they were helped by Madi and her friends in the 22nd century who were the ones who historically invented time travel. In  Red, White, and the Blues (paper from 47North) the other group has kept the US out of World War II with only three moves as part of a new game, Ms. Walker has intensively researched the American Nazi party of the late 30's and brings the horrible ideas of the German Bund and Albert Einstein at the 1939 World’s Fair. Our group of hero’s not only have to reverse the changes , but somehow convince the group of meddlers to stay out of their timeline. Fun.
War with time ships is like submarine war only in four dimensions. Jacob Holo and David Weber set up their time war after the tale of The Gordian Protocol (paper) by three people stealing a timeship, and crashing in the sixth century where they aid Justinian (Byzantine Emperor) in curing the black death and then steering the new universe around all the bad events of our past. Unfortunately there’s a sociopath with god-like aspirations. It also doesn’t help that the technology they’re using has already killed two other alternate universes, and the new dominion’s destruction  will also destroy our universe. The Valkyrie Protocol (hard from Baen) takes a bit long to get to the fun parts. It’s still worth the read.
Larry Chorreia continues his story of a warrior forced to join the rebels when he was discovered to be classless. This time the Capital has decided to wreck genocide on the classless, something Ashok Vadol and his rebels cannot permit, despite their wish to merely find a place to hide from the rest of the world. To help their fight against overwhelming odds, they have been given muzzle loading rifles which promise to be Destroyer of Worlds (hard from Baen). I always worry about series that pass the third book with no end in sight. I still enjoy this exciting tale of magic and gunpowder, and look forward to the next volume.    
I tend to avoid horror tales in this column because either their logic doesn’t make sense, or they give me nightmares. Christoher Laine kept me absorbed in his tale of monsters out of time who love out Screens (paper from Gardenpath books) It seems there are copies of a hand-typed  manuscript that people, who own it, are being murdered over. There’s also a rare Chinese drug that lets people see the real universe. Our hero, an ex-junkie bike messenger gets fascinated by the tragic death of Halpin Chambers, and follows the clues down the rabbit hole. Fascinating.
    Baen has four collections : Straight Outta Deadwood (paper) edited by David Boop about the crazy doings in the frontier town; Stellaris: People of the Stars (paper) edited by Les Johnson and Robert E. Hampson about evolved humanity; a collection of Larry Correia tales in a Target Rich Environment volume 2 (paper); and Weird World War III tales edited by Sean Patrick Hazlett (trade). They have also reprinted  one of Jophn Ringo’s earlier tales There will be Dragons (trade); Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Moon’s Sassinak (trade) about pirate hunters; and D.J. Butler and Aaron Michael Ritchey’s 1930's tale of The Cunning Man.   
    Black Spot books has an ebook, horror/fantasy  anthology edited by Lindy Ryan and set in the Dead of Winter.
    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.