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Science Fiction for December  2015
by Henry Leon Lazarus
    Science Fiction and fantasy writers have as much fun creating backgrounds as they do interesting characters.
Cameron Dayton imagines a world where civilization at a high level collapsed,. It’s a world where monsters designed for gladiatorial bouts freely roam the earth. People who could afford the nanotech devices to keep themselves young, walk around as specters.  A lot of the original progress came from people with the Etherwalker (paper from Future House Publishing) with the ability to communicate directly with intelligent machines, and when civilization fell they were all murdered except for one saved by his guard and raised in seclusion as a shepherd. Enoch is discovered and his guardian murdered, but he finds friends like an angel whose wings have been clipped and Rictus, and ancient singer turned specter. The story is a standard coming-of-age tale, but the background with details like a half-finished starship used as a city, make it stand out.      Ancillary Mercy (hard from Orbit) completes Ann Leckie’s award winning trilogy set in a far future in which ships and people can have multiple ancillaries. One of these ancillaries, the only survivor of the two millennium old Justice of Toren, became fleet captain protecting Athock station from the civil war between two halves of the Lord of the Radch. When a young ancillary body of the ruler actually arrives at the station, Breq  and her allies on the Mercy of Kalr along with the artificial intelligences of the station and her ship, face doom unless they can counter her. I would start the tale where it began in the Hugo and Nebula award winning Ancillary Justice (paper). It’s a little confusing because Breq sees every person as either neuter or female, but it is an amazing look at a possible human future and this tale provides a satisfying ending to Breq’s tale.
Michael Livingston tale of The Shards of Heaven (hard from Tor) is wrapped tightly in the arms of real history that some of the character’s fates can be looked up in wikipedia. The shards, that may be pieces of God, give magical powers to Neptune’s Trident, that also might have been Moses’s rod and the Arc of the Covenant. This first tale is set in the infamous time of Cleopatra and Marc Antony. Juba II, one of Caesar’s adopted children has discovered the Trident and works to control it at the behest of Octavian. He and Caesarion; the son of Cleopatra and Caesar;  are hunting for the Arc in Alexandria where it has sat since Alexander the great brought it there. This is an excellent historical tale with a magical mythos that doesn’t quite work for me.
Carol Berg’s Dust and Light (paper) introduced Lucian de Remeni-Masson , a pure-blood sorcerer with the ability to draw truth in his portraits. Too much truth. Political consequences first have in working for an ordinary Coroner drawing pictures of murdered victims that help find their murderers. But politics and Lucian’s own quest for truth led him to Order of the Equites Cineré, knights devoted to Justice. His memories deliberately removed, he trains with no idea of his potential to not only paint the truth but also to open portals to a land of an ancient city whose inhabitants have been changed to trees. Three princes are destroying the kingdom while fighting for the throne and  politics throws Lucian, now called Greenshank into a complicated mess shaped by Ash and Silver (paper from Roc). The tale is far too complicated and even strains belief to reach the happy ending of this tale.
Kate Elliott returns to the world of the one hundred that she set up in her Crossroads Trilogy (Spirit Gate, Shadow Gate, and Traitor’s Gate all in paper) Kellas was one of the Kings elite Black Wolves (paper from Orbit) when King Atani was assassinated. Two decades later King Jehosh returns to his capital to discover that his first wife, along with the priests from the Empire the first king had come from, and the people he trusted to rule in his stead have corrupted his empire. The kings Aunt  Dannarah a Marshal of the Reeves who fly the giant Eagles has been pushed out of leadership and she is asked to get Kellas to return and help clean up the mess. I find villains caught up in their own superiority had to read about when then torture view-point characters. However I love the way Ms. Eliot has expanded the magic of the land of the Hundred with a glimpse of mermaids. There is also a clustered family whose men have horns, and a sailing family that can use magic instead of wind to furl their sails.  There’s a surprising ending, but the tale is far from over.    
Deborah Blake has a fun tale of a witch cop who gets witness statements from the dead. When a dead art restorer points Donata Santori at a cursed painting that may have horrible implications for paranormals not out of the closet. Not only that but the Veiled Magic (ebook from InterMix) hidden in the painting is protected by a curse. Soon the cabal of Catholic extremists who want the Church hunting paranormals again are after the painting (which Donata stole from evidence) and only an old shape-changing lover, and a half-dragon art forger can help her and her family survive. Light fun. Hope there’s a sequel.
I’ve been enjoying James Berardinelli’s movie reviews (http://www.reelviews.net/) for years since I discovered him at rotten tomatoes. He has ventured into fantasy with a tale of The Last Whisper of the Gods (ebook). The Gods got bored and wished themselves out of existence. A thousand years before they removed wizardry from Ayberia, but their last gasp restored it. We meet  Sorial of Vantok, as a simple stable boy who works hard and doesn’t know why the Duke keeps bringing his daughter near. As expected, Sorial was bred for his ancestral talents for wizardy and he must eventually quest to a portal in an abandoned city to either face death or become one of the four wizards (earth, air, fire, or water). The Wizard of fire has brought global warming, making Soriel’s home town slowly uninhabitable. The tale takes its time to get started, but the characters are fun and the ending left me wanting the sequel due in January.
Mike Resnick has a second of his Mission Impossible team in the far future, the Democracy of Man. This time the team of Dead Enders has to rescue a prisoner from The Prison in Antares (paper from Pyr) Not only do Nathan Pretorius and his team have infiltrate a world on which they are the only humans, but they have to do it twice. Unlike the last mission, not all members survive. Pulse pounding action. A lot of aliens are casually killed and the team succeeds a bit to easily.  
    The late Robert Jordan along with Harriet McDougal. Alan Romancuk, and Maria Simons have put together a Wheel of Time Companion (hard from TOR)for fans of the long series.
    Five of David Drake time travel tales are collected in Dinosaurs and a Dirigible (paper From Baen). The first two fun Tales of the Time Scouts (trade from Baen) by Robert Asprin and Linda Evans are available. The second two are coming.
    The Science Fiction Society will have its next meeting on, December 11th  2015 at 8 p.m. at the Rotunda on  the University of Pennsylvania Campus.Campus. Fran Wilde author of the fun tale  Updraft will speak   As usual Guests are Welcome.
    Dr. Henry Lazarus is a local 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 where six formulas define our universe.