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Science Fiction for June 2023

by Henry L Lazarus

I love to be surprised  by a good read in Science Fiction and Fantasy. A really good read wipes out the  bad taste in my mouth from books that I cannot finish. 

The best book I’ve read this year is RJ Barker’s tale of Cahan du Nahare, a clanless man living on the farm he had originally been born on, and was distrusted by the people of the local town. This is a world of giant trees, strange fauna, a third gender, and life linked together. Powerful Rai can use life energy to throw fire or water against their enemies. The most powerful Rai, the Cowl-Rai are born rarely. Cahan was selected by a priestess of the god of fire to eventually burn this world, but the monastery was destroyed by another Cowl-Rei with huge armies and is slowly conquering that world. If assassins hadn’t come after Chan. and if the vast forest,  the  Gods of the Wyrdwood (hard from Orbit) and if an Army hadn’t been sent against the small town of Harn. Cshsn would never have been forced to help defend the town.  Mr. Barker takes his time world building, and finds a solid place to end this first book in a trilogy. I hope this finds itself nominated for a major award. 

Ann Leckie takes a look at truly alien culture impacted by humanity in Translation State (hard from Orbit). The very alien Presger took  human DNA to create almost alien humans to serve as translators. Juvenile ones are very dangerous, and usually kept from humanity until they match with another. Two centuries ago one had disappeared into human civilization. Enae was given the job of looking for the missing translator as a sinecure after her grandmother, who she has spent most of her life taking care  of. Unfortunately she takes the job seriously and finds Reet, who far more recently had appeared on a refugee ship and been adopted by humans. The Presger translators demand him, bringing Qven, a juvenile who had gotten into trouble along to eventually match. Reet’s parent’s to the Central Treaty Administration Center where various diplomats get involved in determining whether Reet should be considered human. Then things go crazy. This is a nice return to the Imperial Radch universe for which Ann Leckie won a deserved Hugo. 

Francie takes The Road to Roswell (hard from Del Rey) because she is a maid of honor to her college roommate. She doesn’t know that the wedding is set during the Roswell UFO Festival, that the groom is  a UFO fanatic, and that heer bridesmaid dress glows in the dark. When her friend sends her to her car to get christmas lights, she also doesn’t know that an alien looking like a tumbleweed is waiting to abduct her. Hugo winner Connie Willis  has Francie, already in her bridesmaid dress,  under control of the alien she calls Indy, off on a wild goose chase through the backcountry of New Mexico. Over the next few days Indy also manages to abduct others, like an old woman whose hobby is gambling, a con man headed to the festival, a UFO nut with all sorts of crazy theories, and a retiree with a huge RV and plenty of old western movies. If you believe in any of the UFO stuff, you will probably hate the tale, but for everyone else this tale is a hoot version of first contact. Lots of fun. 

Alexander Darwin has  created a high tech world where legal disputes are decided by Grievar Knights bred for maximum fighting ability. Originally The Combat Codes (hard from Orbit) were the ethical rules that kept a sort of morality, but the cost of losing  is creating its own morality. Once a knight, Murray Pearson now scouts the slums and cheap arenas where death fights are common. Cego lived on an island, he thinks, where he trained all his thirteen years. Suddenly he finds himself dumped on the streets where he is captured and immediately thrown into a death fight. When he wins, unexpectedly, he is sent into rough training to improve his worth for a future sale. That’s where Murray finds him and sees his potential. He brings him to the surface and helps him train for the trials for the elite Lyceum Academy where future knights are trained. The puzzle in this first part is discovering where Cego had trained his few years, because it doesn’t match any place on the planet. Fun. 

Fran Wilde looks at what happens when archeology meets magic. The power of artificial gems is used to support a 19th century technology. Dr. Devina Brunai is a scientist interested in the historic basis of gem technology. When her mentor disappears for the dig at Jeweled Valley where the original civilization is being uncovered, she follows to the place her Grandmother had fled from. However real magic in the form of The Book of Gems (paper from Tordotcom) finds her and her cousin, searching for her lost mother. While this is part of a series, the earlier books which I haven’t read, show the Jeweled Valley centuries earlier. Lots of fun. 

G.N. Gudgion supposes a medieval world where Christianity is based on a King Arthur figure. His lost hand is a relic to the Guardians, a wealthy order of knights that , like our Tempolars, has been stripped of wealth and many of them  burned for heresy. The inquisitors are searching for the relic. Adelais is in a Sisterhouse because she had an affair with a priest in training and she wants only to escape back to her home where people still believe in runic magic and the Hammer of Fate (ebook from Second Sky). She helps Guardians rescue a dying man and gets caught up in their quest to bring the hand to a safer location. This is a well detailed look at the harsh middle ages and an excellent beginning to a fun trilogy. Recommended. 

Beth Cato knows A Thousand Recipes for Revenge (paper from 47North) in a world where magic is given by the five gods through cooking. Adamantine “Ada” Garland was drafted into the Army and went AWOL when she had to give her new-born daughter to the father because of safety. Solenn, a princess of Braiz, brought to Verdania at sixteen to marry the fourteen-year-old heir. For no reason she can consider, she discovers she has a magical tongue when she detects poison in the wine served to her and her future husband. While Ada is dealing with attempts on her, and her friend's life from an ancient enemy recently released from prison, Solenn has to stop the poison attempts. Things are far more complicated, because the gods are involved and they once were human. Interesting with a complicated mythology, 

Rob Deakin is close to dying from bullet wounds sustained in the trench warfare of world war I, when a man he later calls ‘the medic’ whispers something to him. After that he quickly heals. But the gift he was given is much more than that, it is literally A Life Eternal (paper from Burning Chair Publishing). Over the next century he doesn’t age and can’t be killed. It’s hard to find friends, love, or even to stay in the same location. Richard Ayre follows Rob for the next century, as he deals not only with the problem of multiple identities, and a government agency chasing him, but also the question of how he became immortal. Fascinating. 

Simon R. Green’s latest powerful hero, Jack Damian, is the outsider, erasing dangerous magic from our science based world. Then a woman from his latest case convinces him that magic was wrongly erased from History and takes him back in time from the Roman invasion of England, to the time of Beowulf, King Arthur, and Frankenstein . To show him how to be  a hero and For Love of Magic (hard from Baen) return the world to what it  was supposed to be. Fun. 

Jeremy D. Miller creates an interesting world in which Dungeon masters make potions for the Empress's armies, and adventurers try to destroy them. Gabriel Shook starts his own dungeon with only minimal money and the most minions he can afford; half-skeleton, rat, and cursed zombie.  It doesn’t help that his sister is dying of consumption. Luckily the zombie is far more than he seems. At the same time, the people of a remote island worship a trapped mage, Pa’vil, who needs blood from a designated villager, a Dai'akan. But mages are attacking the island and it is the time of  The Last Dai'akan (paper fromBooks to Hook Publishing). At the heart of what is going on is a baby who will figure in the sequel. There’s some awkwardness to the tale, it is otherwise absorbing. I’m interested in the sequel. 

Glynn Stewart has a fun series set in another world’s wild west with magic. Teer had to leave the ranch he was raised on, even though his mother had married the rancher, because he wasn’t the heir. Kard is an El-Spehari’, the sterile result of a union between the elf-like Spehari’ and human. He fought in the El-Spehari’ rebellion and is in hiding, using magical illusion to hide his features. In  Wardtown (paper) Teer and Kard meet and go after bandits who have been attacking small towns. In Blood Ward (paper) the two go after a girl who attacked a noble, and end up sending her out of Unity to live with one of the tribes.Blood Adept (paper from  Faolan's Pen Publishing) sets the two facing real monsters that eat and absorb brains. They have to work with the Unity Army against these impossibly deadly creatures, leaving possible discovery of Kard’s true identity. Along the way Teer has learned he has inherited extra abilities that accentuate his senses and speed. Great series. Too long between episodes. 

Baen has a collection about settling harsh worlds in The Ross 248 Project (paper) edited by Ken Roy and Les Johnson. 

Baen has reprinted in paper Catherine Asaro’s 4th Major Bhaajan mystery The Jigsaw Assassin; David Weber and Jane Lindskold’s 4th tale about treecats with A New Clan on the planet Sphinx;  and the second tale of three older ladies from our Earth in a fantasy world with an Aurora Borealis Bridge (there’ll be a new one in September) by Jane Lindskold.  

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.