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Science Fiction for September 2023

by Henry L Lazarus

What with talking animals, and strange cultures, Fantasy and Science Fiction frequently go into unusual places.
Christopher Rowe imagines a world where some animals talk. Quintus Shu'al,
The Navigating Fox (paper from Tordotcom) knows how to access the magical silver roads to traverse the continent quickly. Quintus was the only survivor of an expedition, looking for herbs to cure the Empress. Now has been hired to lead a group to the Gates of Hell, located near where the first expedition ended badly. Mr. Rowe lovingly intermixes both expeditions to provide a solid tale that I highly recommend.  Hopefully Quintus will return for another adventure. 

Once upon a time there was Roven , a great hall of gold and silver. Its lord created six warriors who were unbeatable.  When the hall fell,  Ikandra Thygethyn settled down in a small farm where she had three children and a loving husband. But her old enemies found her and now she has to recover her armor and A Sword of Bronze and Ashes (hard from Flame Tree Press). Life is not so simple, because there is g uilt from her past and the main enemy wants to marry her oldest daughter rather than fighting her. Anna Smith Spark tells a dark fairy tale that is difficult to put down. Recommended. 

Frank Vickers is the monster who inspired Mary Shelly, but he was not created by mad science but by an ancient magical text, The Book of Ur (ebook from Black Rose Writing). The Vatican has lost it, and Frank, with the help of two Vatican agents, has to retrieve it.Mark Everett Stone’s tale is impossible to put down and has the monster not only dealing with modern weapons, but also other monsters like werewolves and vampires. I hope there’s a sequel. 

Naomi Novik tells of the worst possible high school ever. Young wizards are delicious food for monsters, so the Wizard community created the Scholomance to train the wizards to protect themselves til they reach eighteen. It's still A Deadly Education. (paper from Del Rey). Galadriel has always been a loner because her talents tend towards destructive spells. Orion, who has been rescuing other members of her Junior class, which she finds annoying. Unfortunately the Senior class, as a way to save themselves, have found a way to force the monsters coming for them at graduation to attack the rest of the school instead. Galadriel and Orion and their friends have to work together to save the school. Fascinating. 

A group called the Talismans have been using  magic to gain power. Wolf Five - The Magic Agent (paper from BooksGoSocial) and his girlfriend Nana were recruited after they figured a way to shut down Amazon’s website with a virus and were hunted by international police. Normally Wolf would have to kill Nana as an entrance initiation to join the group, but luckily, an alternate group of Gypsies help him create a fake head, and other fake other murders so he can rise in Talisman ranks and find their ultimate end. Frank Pfeifer has a fun adventure set as much in the psychedelic alternate world of magic as much as our own. 

 John Scalzi imagines that there is a convocation of  super villains hidden in our world since the Boer war. Charlie Fitzer, divorced ex-reporter living with cats, knows nothing of this until his uncle, Jake Baldwin, dies of cancer. Then his house blows up with an FBI agent inside, and his cats lead him to another house, where he learns his cats are intelligent, and his uncle was a super villain. After a test, he is told that he will inherit his uncle’s business as a Starter Villain (hard from TOR) but first he  has to deal with the Convocation who demands billions, the talking dolphins who are on strike, and a hidden trove of Nazi treasures. Lots of fun and I had a grin the whole time I read it.

The town of Rattlnboro, Kansas is devoted to Halloween, mainly because of the real witches that live there.Flair Hardwicke, who had grown up there, gave up her magic, married and had a daughter. Then her husband cheated and she fled back to her hometown with her teenage daughter to open  a bakery. She intended to avoid Halloween, but the return of her mother who had hexed her ex-husband, and her magical ability with tarot cards (she baked them as cookies). Unfortunately there is a dark secret in the town, putting her daughter at risk, and only by Playing the Witch Card (paper from‎ G.P. Putnam's Sons) can she face the ancient evil in the town. . I really enjoyed this tale by KJ Dell'Antonia, and would enjoy visiting with the characters again. 

Sarah Nelson has a wonderful suburban life with a loving husband, Fifteen-year-old twins, boy and girl, and a successful job as a realtor. She also uses magic to work through small snags in her life. Unfortunately she got her Hex Education (paper from G.P. Putnam's Sons) with three friends and their magic burned down their dorm. Maureen Kilmer’s tale starts twenty years after the fire, when a memorial plaque brings the three witches back together and increases their powers. As a result Sarah has a talking cat who keeps renting streaming movies and invites friends over, a refrigerator filled with endless sliced turkey bags. The problem is a journalist who might expose them. This is a light and enjoyable tale that kept a smile on my face all the way through. October Daye was barely married, and had to Be the Serpent  (paper) to save the day, Titania, Queen of the Fae, cast a spell that reshaped her magical world, giving her fake memories. A world in which half-breeds like her are treated as servants  Even though she can Sleep No More (hard from DAW) when she discovers the magic, she still has to rescue her friends, take the spell off her, and stop Titania from making the spell permanent. This is a great addition to the series
 Jennifer L. Armentrout tells a romance set after a great war destroyed civilization  and humans have returned to medieval times. The sexuality is so overt with groping women being accepted in public and open orgies, that it edges into pornography. Calista had grown up on the streets. She can  pick up information from people by touching them, and sometimes seeing the future. She is a courtesan of the Baron and a trusted advisor. Prince Thorne of Vyrtus  is one of Hyhborn, a cross of emotional vampire and elf. They are immortal, created, not born, and can  be killed with special blades. Their body parts are all magical, and so Calista is led to Prince  Thorne by her intuition when he has been trapped by organ thieves. But politics  turn things dark and this is a tale of the
Fall of Ruin and Wrath (hard from Bramble). The tale will continue.
Diana Pharaoh Francis has a new adventure about untrained but powerful witch Beck Wyatt. One detective had learned about magic in a previous adventure, and he wants her help in a kidnapping case that has two missing children.
After Putting the Ice in Nice (ebook from‎ Lucky Foot Press in conjunction with BVC) by helping a traffic accident victim, she is captured by the kidnapping witch, and discovers a whole new level of witch politics. Fun but needs a sequel to fully explain witch politics.
Charles E Gannon continues the adventures of
Caine Riordan by having him and his crew fall out of a jump near a harsh, but survivable planet. Leaving their ship in orbit, they parachute to ground near a city, discovering a society built from many landings and filled with human and other  Endangered Species (hard from Baen) with different languages and cultures. There are side bars detailing friends searching for Caine. In the next book, due in  three months, they will hopefully get off the planet to confront their real enemies. I can’t wait.
Simon R Green has another adventure for
Ishmael Jones who, with Penny, has to deal with Very Important Corpses (hard from Baen) in an ancient mansion near Loch Ness. There is a monster, but it isn’t Nessie. The twelve most important people  are being murdered at their annual conference, and Ishmael has to figure who the murderer is. Fun.
My favorite author is L. E. Modesitt Jr.  His
Grand Illusion trilogy which takes place in a pre world War I simplified England with a unicameral legislature and empaths, has come to a conclusion. Steffan Dekkard is an Isolate (paper) immune to empathic pressure. Originally a guard to a powerful Councilor (paper), he is appointed to the Council of 66, and gets a security bill passed that angers the heads of a few corrupt industrialists. When the Council is attacked, first with bombs, and then by a stolen naval warship, Steffen, and his wife, must use his Contrarian (hard from TOR) nature to help create a subcommittee to investigate the attacks on Council, and by heading it, expose the plots that are hurting his country. A dry but enjoyable tale, without a lot of action.
Megan E. O' Keefe continues her tale of The Devoured Worlds. This is a future where new bodies can be printed, and a relkatite provides the technology for that and FTL ships. However,  All of humanity’s colonies and Earth have been killed by a shroud, forcing people to survive on stations. Surviving
The Blighted Stars (paper ) bodyguard Naira Sharp discovers that Canus, a fungus growing on the relkatite, is forcing humanity to find more of the material. The shroud was created to stop Canus. Tarquin Mercator, heir to the greatest ruling family, starts working with her. Then his father absconds with most of the store of relkatite, creating shortage of food and printed bodies in The Fractured Dark (paper from Orbit). Somehow the two of them have to work together to save humanity and stop Canus. Fun. A final book will finish the tale.
Rylan Flynn, who can see ghosts, has to help the police stop a serial killer kidnapping
The Shadow Girls (ebook from Second Sky) , a task especially pressing since her friend has recently been kidnapped, and Rylan can only talk to ghosts of the previous victims. There’s also the ghost of a child waiting for her mother to return a century after her poisoning. This is a fun and promising series by Dawn Merriman .
In the fifth tale of Anthony Ryan’s epic about seven demon swords, Guyime and his companions must travel
Across the Sorrow Sea (hard from Subterranean Press ) to the magical island where the swords were made. They face pirates and monsters on the way 

Tordotcom has a Updated and Revised Edition of Martha Wells’s classic City of Bones as an ebook. The first version was printed in 1995. 

They’re Here (paper from Baen) is a collection of classic tales of alien invasion edited by Hank Davis and Sean CW Korsgaad. 

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.