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Science Fiction for March 2014
by Henry Leon Lazarus

    There’s something about a hard-fought fantasy battle that stirs the blood. I don’t mean the vampire stuff. The classic medieval war tales like those of Game of Thrones are far bloodier and fun to read and watch because they exist so far from our world and time.
Mark Smylie is an artist responsible for the award winning graphic novels Artesia. As such his visual eye for written scenes is unbelievably good. His tale of a quest for a magical sword stored in The Barrow (trade from Pyr) of an ancient wizard is very compelling, both fro the way he brings his background alive, and for the very likable three-dimensional characters. Start with Stjepan, a map-maker with dark friends, Erim a swords-woman masquerading as a man, and brothel owner Gilgwyr known for his fabulous spectacles. When a magical ritual goes wrong, killing the magician trying to unlock the map to the barrow, the map ends up on the skin of his noble sister ruined by a scandal and sends her, her brother, and his knights along. The barrow is truly cursed and very dangerous and the ending is unexpected. I suspect this impossible-to-put down tale will end up with some nominations.
In the fifteenth century, alchemists Nicholas Flamel and his wife Perenelle supposedly worked out the formula for immortality. According to Stephen Leigh both of them need to feed off human emotions. Nicholas feeds off fear and torture while Perenelle feeds off human talent, causing it to grow. As the Immortal Muse (hard from Daw) she lives with and feeds of such famous artists as Bernini; Vivaldi, and the holocaust victim Charlotte Salomon. Framed by her confrontation with Nicholas in modern times, the tale is one of well described  historical slices slightly modified to fit the story. Fascinating and compelling, this might find some award nods.
Jon Sprunk borrows a bit from James Clavell with a tale of a ship-wrecked sailor in a land his people are attacking. The nobility of Akeshia are born with the ability to move air and wind and fire, and Horace, unknown to himself, has those same abilities. He discovers this when the caravan transporting him and others to the Sun God’s temple is hit by a chaos storm that he somehow calms. This tale of Blood and Iron (trade from Pyr) also has ex-soldiers, turned slaves, and then soldiers again trying to work a revolt. Very exciting and I’m looking forward for the next part.
I really enjoyed Brian Staveley’s tale of the Emperor’s three children, The Emperor's Blades (hard from Tor) Not one to coddle them, he sent the two boys to harsh training and Adare, named finance minister after his assassination has to deal with the high priest of the Sun God  accused of the deed who used his ability to avoid paying for his crime. Valyn is facing the final test to become a Kettral, Imperial troops who ride into battle on giant birds, when he has to deal with attacks on his life. The heir Kaden has been studying with the monks of the shin who try to find the elements of the Blank God within themselves, a process the involves making tons of pots, digging holes and filling them in,  and being buried up to ones shoulders. He is not fully trained when traitorous troops come to kill him. The treachery goes very deep and I’m looking forward to part two.
Anne Leonard tells of the kingdom of Caithen, a small kingdom that is part of a larger Empire. In this tale of Moth and Spark (hard from Viking) dragons used to live, and then the ancestors of the Emperors got control of them and used dragon fire as a weapon against their enemies. Prince Corin is fated to free the dragons and the Emperor will do anything to stop him, including violating the loyalty oaths. The prince, while visiting the north, is given a potion to give him the powers necessary and then made to forget until the potion has done its work. Tam, of a well-to-do commoner family (her father was a physician) comes to court for the season because her sister married into the nobility. She is the observer of the murder of one of the nobility and comes into contact with the prince. Her, unknown to her, seer powers are exactly what the Prince needs – and it helps that the two of them fall deeply in love. I found the tale compelling and very pleasant. The prince and family are very likable as is Tam and the world feels real. Very enjoyable.
Michael Boatman tells of how Jehovah is in human form as Lando Calrissian Cooper, a stand-up comic who has occasionally has to step out of character to vanquish gods like Zeus and the archangel Gabriel gone crazy. He can reset time after winning but that doesn’t help when Bacchus gets him drunk at the meeting with his girl friend’s parents. Not only that but something is coming, something could really destroy him and humanity. The plot ranges from laugh-out-loud silly to serious consideration of what it means to be a God. He may be the Last God Standing (hard from Angry Robot), but will he survive it. I couldn’t put it down.
Gods also exist in Drew Hayes’s silly tale of Pears and Perils (ebook). Start with a contest from the fast food chain Camelot Burger which has a reality ad planned in which the three winners go to the island of  Kenowai to participate in a ritual to release Kenowai from the tree in which nature imprisoned him for the last few centuries. Nothing would have happened except for the cat, the King of Kenowai, who just happened to come along. Soon the god is released inside Clint, one of the contests. All they have to do is take the pear that was part of the ritual to Nature’s temple on another island. Unfortunately the pear was stolen and a trickster god is determined to stop his fellow god’s rebirth. Yes it’s a silly as it sounds, but it’s also quite fun and very enjoyable.
AD Starrling has an exciting chase tale filled with car crashes and massive gun fire. There are two clans  of immortals, both who die for real after seventeen deaths after revival.  Lucas Soul is a rare half-breed of both families, the Crovirs and the Bastians. Even though both clans are infertile since the Red Death of the fourteenth century, Lucas has been hunted by both sides for his first few centuries. He’s working as a private eye with an ex-cop, and human partner  Reid Hasley when a potential client turns out to be hunter and gives him his fifteenth death. The trail leads to Europe and a genetics professor and from Paris to Prague and places in between. Soul Meaning (paper) is as much fun as many shoot-em-up movies with sword play added, especially since Lucas can bring permanent death when he kills an immortal with a sword. Lots of fun.
Trent Jamieson continues his tale Steven de Selby, who had risen to head of Mortmax in a short novel The Memory of Death (ebook from Momentum Books). Considering he died saving the  Earth in the last tale after becoming the Death of Earth, coming back to life is a little difficult, and several versions of him walk out of the sea. But it all works out, setting the stage for more adventures. Fun.
 B.R. Maul tells a fun tale of two teenagers sent  In The Land of Magnanthia (ebook from JKSCommunications ) Simon Whittaker, a nerd who sings in the school choir  gets the ring of affinity. He was supposed to be trained but a cracked portal moved things up and he has to get over his homesickness to prepare for his new role as guardian. Meanwhile Jak Jakobsin a rich bully who has been tutored, is kidnaped by evil warlocks and has to face a treacherous maze before given magical powers. Light fun with more to come.
Ian Mcdonald continues his tale of a teenager searching for his father through multiple parallel world. The dirigible Everness crashes when in finds itself on a Ring world built by intelligent dinosaurs on an Earth where the dinosaurs never died. The nine Earth’s already connected would find huge problems if these technologically-advanced ever got a hold of way to leave their universe and, alas, Everett Singh is faced with survival on their deadly world  ruled by the Empress of the Sun (hard from Pyr)  On our Earth the Everett cyborg is trying to fit in with Everett’s friends while battling the mind virus that destroyed Earth 1. Fun, but heavy with pulp. I’m still reading.
Adam Christopher mixes horror with hard science fiction in The Burning Dark (hard from Tor) has ghosts on the U-Star Coast City which is being dismantled. Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland, a hero of the Spider War is sent on final assignment before retirement to help oversee its dismantlement. The crew doesn’t believe his tale of heroism and the records have been erased. Then crew starts disappearing and ghosts including a female cosmonaut from our age, start appearing. I didn’t swallow the solution to the central puzzle, but the book is impossible to put down.
Finally we have a wargamer’s delight, the seventh volume of David Weber’s battle on Safehold against a corrupt church. Like a Mighty Army (hard from Tor) wipes out church armies that are  poorly-led  with less fire power to the edge of the Temple lands. There’s a lot of fun rooting for the side with the better weapons. There’s some neat battles between the incessant talking that sets up each battle. I missed book six and don’t think I missed anything. I’m still enjoying this long tale, but it’s getting harder to keep my interest up.
Baen has reprinted in paper Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden tale, Necessity’s Child; and  Charles E. Gannon’s exciting Fire with Fire. They’ve also reprinted in trade Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Fall of Atlantis; the third and fourth tales of S. M. Sterling and David Drake General series, Hope Rearmed; and the latest Honorverse tale Shadow of Freedom.
    The Science Fiction Society will have its next meeting on March 8, 2014 at 8 p.m. at Rotunda  on  the University of Pennsylvania. Campus, Jay Smith, one of the writers of Parsec-winning, audio-drama HG World,  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).