Science Fiction for February 2012
by Henry Leon Lazarus
In Fantasy and Science Fiction, as in other genres,
soldiers can be good guys trying to save humanity, or bad guys killing
civilians. In real life, soldiering is a career. Some people are basically
moral, trying to obey their conscience.. There are others who enjoy the
thrill of legalized murder. Only a few tales fall into the gray area,
like Avatar and Dances with Wolves, where their heroes don’t agree with
their superiors and try, instead, to do what they feel is morally right.
Myke Cole has created an interesting near future in which Magic has returned, suddenly giving a few people the power of the earth, air, wind, and fire, and making the dead walk , controlling animals, healing, or making portals. At first, lacking control of their new powers. they frequently kill people around them. Oscar Britton is a helicopter pilot, and lieutenant in the regular Army assigned to assist the Supernatural Operation Corps in killing these out-of-control ‘selfers’. When he suddenly gets the illegal talent to create portals, he runs, and end up killing a few people before they capture him. To control him they put a bomb near his heart and train him on an alternate world where magic is stronger and the intelligent natives are constantly attacking the Earth fort. They want to use him as a weapon, not only against selfers, but also against goblins, both friendly and enemy, and against American Indians who are using their magic to restore the primitive life style that existed before the European invasion. Oscar is trapped between his morality and his willingness to actually use force on enemies. Shadow Ops: Control Point (paper from Ace) is the beginning of a series. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait for the sequel.
Magical entertainment like Something Wicked This Way Comes, and The Circus of Dr. Lao usually have the protagonist visiting a very strange group of entertainers and becoming changed by the encounter. Robert Jackson Bennett upends the concept. George Carole is a sixteen-year-old, self-taught vaudeville pianist who is searching for The Troupe (trade from Orbit) of Silenus, a series of four acts that move about the vaudeville circuit. He is convinced that their leader is his father. Other strange beings of shadow are also hunting for the act. The four acts are lame; a puppet act in which the puppets seem very alive, but only provide bad jokes, a strong woman bending steel guilders which might as well be made out of rubber because of her lack of charisma; a singer; and a final song that always puts the audience into a trance. It isn’t the acts that are magical, it is apparently the real world.. As George gets more and more involved with the troupe, he finds that the world is far stranger than he could ever have imagined and its very fate rests in his hands. This is a memorable tale and I hope it finds award nominations.
N.K. Jemisin was nominated for a Hugo for her first tale of gods and godlings interacting with humanity in a fantasy world with solid logic behind it. Sieh, one of the oldest godlings, is usually a child in The Kingdom of Gods (trade from Orbit which I bought for my Kindle app) Then on a whim he makes friends with two siblings, one the heir to the Arameri family, that rules the human world. Making a blood oath apparently makes him human and he is aging quickly. A godling his mother goddess kept secret from him because it would violate his nature, has decided to make himself a pure god. Unfortunately that would make four, creating an unstable condition which could destroy the universe. So Seih has to discover what his mortality is before he dies, and maybe save his universe. This can be read independently of the previous books and I hope will also be nominated for some awards.
John C. Wright is an idea mine for other writers. Count to a Trillion (hard from Tor) introduces us to Menaleus Montrose, one of a team of astronauts going fifty light-years to a star on which a probe found an alien monument that has to be deciphered. Unknown to the rest of the crew, Menaleus injects himself with a drug designed to give him super-human intelligenceIt does, but it also drives him insane. When he wakes two centuries later, he discovers that the crew now rules the world using technology from the monument they woke him to decode. But the decoding set off a signal and that will bring evil aliens to conquer Earth in eight thousand years. The sequel that resolves the cliff-hanging ending will be out next year. This is a dark future where lawyers duel and space travel is very limited.
Kiera “Mac” McLoughlin is a police detective who is also a Banchee Charmer (trade from Entangled Publishing). Actually she’s a half-banchee with a scream she can use as a weapon. She works on otherworldly crimes like and she is chasing a serial murderer who extracts life force from young woman after sex. If Incubi weren’t extinct, one would be a natural for the crime, but a succuba informer tells her that draining life force enough to kill really warps the mind. There’s an agent from the Otherworlder Enforcement Agency (like the FBI) who is working with her, after the same perp. Then her partner is murdered. Another OEA agent claims the first is a fake, even though the badge is the same. This is a light fun police procedural in a nicely defined urban fantasy background that feels quite real. I hope there will be more cases.
Evy Stone was tortured to death and woke up in the body of a suicide victim. Three books later she’s on the Wrong Side of Dead (paper from Bantam). Her new body is magically immune to the bites of half-blood vampires who spread their disease/ madness until killed by the human triads. In the last book a scientist whose family was killed by half-bloods captured Eva and tortured her, trying to figure out why she’s immune and how to duplicate the process. Walter Thackery failed and now, as Kelly Meding tells it, he is using were-wolves (creatures thought to be extinct because the other shape-shifters murdered them in the sixteenth century) Alas they are just as viscous as ever and their bite drives humans insane. Is he working with the nearly-immortal Fae? Can Evy find a cure for her wolf-bitten lover? Only Pulse pounding action will give the answer.
Remember those old comedies in which several groups of people searching for eachother pop out of various doors and corridors only to miss their prey by seconds. The tenth episode in Barb and J. C. Hendee’s long running tale of the noble dead. With two orbs left to find, Wynn needs to use the library of her sagecraft guild. They have found her reports unsettling and have put her under house arrest. So we have the dhampire Magiere, half-elf Leesil, and their intelligent dog Chap. We also have The vampire Chane and Wyn’s and Chap’s daughter Shade who Leesil and Magiere don’t know is working with Wynn and still regard them as enemies. One the third hand is the group of elves after Leesil; Captain Rodian of the City Guards who wants to do the moral thing rather than follow orders; and members of the Sagecraft guild working against the orders of the guild head. . Between Their Worlds (hard from Roc) has the usual fun. The next episode promises a quest for the two remaining orbs. Maybe eventually this long series will come to an end, but it’s still fun.
Star Wars fans will really want the Millennium Falcon Owners Workshop Manual (hard from Del Rey). Ryder Windham, Chris Reiff, and Chris Trevas have put together blueprints and operational details for the nerdiest of fans.
Baen has reprinted Fred Saberhagen’s classic tale, The Mask of the Sun about Incas and Aztecs fighting across alternate time lines for a mask. Other authors add Golden Reflections (paper from Baen) to create a shared fun universe. Other reprints from Baen include Travis S. Taylor and Les Johnson wishful look at going Back to the Moon (paper); Mercades lackey with Steve Libbey Cody Martin, and Dennis Lee, telling a tale of an Invasion (paper) of evil robots who can only be fought by superheroes; two early David Drake tales combined in Voyage Across the Stars (trade) and one of my favorite Robert Heinlein tales Sixth Column (trade) about a revolt against Asian conquers using super science.
Del Rey has reprinted in trade award-winning, China Mieville’s tale of a strange world and the human diplomats in Embassytown.
The Science Fiction Society will have its next meeting on January 27th at 8p.m. at International House on the University of Pennsylvania. Campus. Shawna McCarthy, editor of Asimov’s in the 80's,other magazines and publishing houses. She is also a literary Agent. There is also a meeting at the Rotunda on the University of Pennsylvania. Campus on February 10th. Catherine Asaro, hugo winning author, will speak. Both programs are free.
Dr. Henry Lazarus is a local Dentist and the author of A Cycle of Gods (Wolfsinger Publications) and Unnaturally Female (Smashwords)