Henry L Lazarus
4603 Springfield Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19143

Science Fiction for February 2010
By Henry Leon Lazarus

    High fantasy has a number of required elements. It has to have a unique form of magic and a cataclysmic change forcing the heroes to face impossible odds. A writer canít just copy J. R. R.  Tolkein, but has to create something original. Oh yes, It also has to come in multiple volumes.
Jim Butcher has been writing about a world a millennium years after a roman legion found itself thrown through a gate. People learned to make use of the elemental based furies to alter earth, air, fire, and water, fighting other intelligent species that also found their way to this world. The previous books have followed Tavi, originally young man with a total lack of fury abilities, whose ability to think on his feet, made him special. As he rose in prominence, his blocked abilities came through. At the same time the insectoid Vord have grown as an enemy of all the other beings and, led by their Queen, are attempting to wipe out all other species. In the sixth and final volume the Vord Queen, with her armies, has to face the First Lordís Fury (hard from Ace which I bought) in a very satisfying set of battles that pit the most powerful humans against an unstoppable horde of specialized insects. Wow!
Ari Marmellís single volume tale is exiting and way over the top. There are vampiric mists that occupy dead bodies, demons trapped in jewels, and plenty of bloody battle scenes  Two decades previous Corvis Rebaine led an army across the empire and suddenly ended his fight and left, taking a young noblewoman with him has hostage. Heís been married and living quietly when the latest warlord decides not only to attack the empire, but also sends men to attack Corvisís family. To stop him, Corvis finds his retired old allies, raises an army and follows in The Conquerorís Shadow (Hard from Bantam Spectra). But Corvis was brought into the fight for a reason. His enemy, Audriss, is really in disguise and has ulterior reasons for his conquering army. Lots of fun and I canít wait for more of Ariís tales.
I really enjoy L. E. Modessitt, jrís fantasy, especially his Recluse series. They meander all over the history of this world where order and chaos are the basic elements and in balance and allow the magic to work. Saryn was the pilot of the starship of Angels that broke through the dimensional barrier ten years before. Ten years later  she is Arms -commander (hard from Tor) for the small struggling mountain-top community of Westwind which is ruled by women. Historically women have never ruled, and this provides the impetus for the wars that Westwind has won through its order talents. One of its neighbors, Lorinth, has been friendly to Westwind and has a female regent. Some if its lord holders resent being ruled, even temporarily by women and are willing to rebel Saryn is given a few troops and asked to aid the regency as she struggles to learn her growing chaos/order abilities. The usual fun in a very-detailed world ensues.
Connie Wilis has won a number of awards for her tales of inept historian time-travelers from 2080. Her first in a number of years sends three to observe civilians in England during the Blackout (hard from Bantam Spectra) of the first year of World War II.. Their gates to their present cut off, maybe by the action of one of them at Dunkirk, this first half of the tale has them finding each other in the midst of a very well limned description of the period. Fun as usual, but I still donít understand why historians would work in a very document era when so much from other eras would fill in the information gap. The second half of the tale is due next year.
Jasper Fforde is the only author I pre-order as soon as news of a new book arrives. His British humor and outrageous ideas make make for intoxicating reading. But he is trying for serious in his new series and it just lacked the oomph of his previous works. The future world is heavily caste driven and designed for stability. Rank is based on color perception (with purple at the top) and people who only see Shades of Grey (hard from Viking which I bought) do the hard work that keeps the society going. In fact medicine is based on viewing certain colors and certain greens give a high. Technology has made many leap backwards where the most advanced car is a  Model T ford, but remnants of advanced technology like perpetulite roads that eat debris. Edward Russetís father, a swatchman (healer) is sent to the outer provinces to replace a murdered swatchman, and Edward, who is near his testing date for color perception, is sent along as a lesson in humility for a trick he played on a classmate. There are two more books planned in this series, so only a few hints on how the society got this way are given. The tale is fun, but not the mind-blowing stuff of Mr. Ffordes previous work.
Imagine Treasure Island set in an alternate world with crazy magic and you might just have a sense of the fun of Robert V. S. Redickís tetrology about the final, disastrous voyage of the six-century-old IMS Chathrand, the last of the huge ships with a six-hundred man crew and enough. After The Red Wolf Conspiracy (paper) was revealed, the only thing that Pazel, the young man with a gift for languages, can do is murder his love, Thasha, to stop the wedding and halt the peace treaty. When that goes awry, he is still on the ship as it sails across The Ruling Sea (hard from del Rey) and facing the dangers that only a ship that size can barely survive. I like the odd characters like the crazed captain who doesnít seem to chose sides, the hand sized Ixshel people with their own agenda. Alas there are still two more books and two years before everything will be revealed. I canít wait.
John Ringo launches a new series about what happens after the Grtul move a space gate to Earthís orbit as part of a series of new gates they are expanding galactic civilization with. Earth, of course has very little to sell to the galactics that come through the gate. Then the Horvath arrive with a warship and demand everything of value. What they donít count on is Tyler Vernon, ex-engineer and famous web comic writer, who discovers that maple syrup has real value to one of the galactic species and manages to smuggle it off Earth on a small trading vessel. Soon itís a matter of maple syrup farmers, who believe in Live Free or Die(hard from Baen) vs the Horvath. That is only the beginning because Galactic civilization is unstable and a potential war is starting that will leave Earth defenseless unless Tyler can beg, borrow, or steal some sort of defense. I canít seen Mr. Ringo avoiding the heavy technical lingo of the middle of the book, which, alas, slows the action down. Liberals will hate the anti-government sensibilities. Iím waiting eagerly, however, for the sequel.
I gulped down Sarah A. Hoytís tale of a future recovering from the rule of bio-engineered mules. Athena is daughter and heir to one of the ruling oligarches of Earth. Energy of the future is farmed from genetically-engineered, giant trees in Earth Orbit. Athena thinks herself safe in her room on a space ship traveling to the Circum Terra station that mines these trees. But she is attacked and manages to escape in a life pod, being rescued by a ship of the Darkship Thieves (trade from Baen) where she is taken to the asteroid where the descendants of the mule followers hide. The tale is heavy on romance, but there was enough puzzles about her attack and background that I couldnít put the book down.
Margaret Ronald has another adventure for Evie Scelan who works part time as a bike messenger in Boston, and part time using her inherited hound abilities to track down magical objects. This time a woman has hired to return an object stolen by her grandmother. The only hard part, Evie thinks, is calling up the grandmotherís ghost, But then people around her are mauled by wolves called to the Wild Hunt (paper from Eos). I didnít read the first one of these, but had no problem following this one, which kept me gripped in its thrall and I appreciated that Ms. Ronald has enough sense to keep sex scenes off screen.
Iíve been enjoying Linda Robersonís tale of a witch who boards werewolves during the full moon and writes a column supporting werewolf rights. In the second tale, Persephone has to go to the Hallowed Circle( paper from pocket) because a close friend has pushed her to compete for the now open High Priestess position of the Cleveland Coven. As a solo witch, Persephone really doesnít want the position, but canít refuse. These tales emphasize the human side of the paranormal Ė relationship issues and normal day-to-day living despite the fey, werewolves, etc that are out in the open. I had a smile on my face reading this tale.
Douglas Preston tells two intermixed tales in his latest thriller. The primary one is of a hired killer chasing after the good guys, a young woman who didnít finish college and a hardened ex-CIA agent,  to retrieve a hard drive stolen from the National Propulsion Facility which analyses date from Martian surveys. The second tale has is about a strange meteor Impact (hard from Forge) in the Islands off Northern Maine which relates to the McGuffen data on the hard drive. Very exciting, and fun.  But I found the rational driving the plot a little too implausible. .
    Classic reprints include the late Poul Andersonís tales of a future James Bond, Young Flandry (trade from Baen), Robert E. Howard (the creator of Conan)ís tale of El borak and other Desert Adventures (trade from Del Rey), and more of Christopher Anvil tales in the Trouble with Humans (paper from Baen)
     Baen has reprinted in paper Steve Whiteís tale of Ponce De Leon in an alternate past in which England lost her war with Spain and looks for St. Anthonyís Fire for help.
     The Philadelphia Science Fiction Society will have its next meeting on February 19th at 8:00p.m. at International House on  the University of Pennsylvania. Campus.  Author Jeffrey Ford will speak. Guests are welcome.