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Science Fiction for March 2015
by Henry Leon Lazarus

    Super hero tales are becoming more and more common in both fantasy and science fiction books, movies and television. I’ve always loved them, but it takes a lot to make them unique.
S. C. Browne introduces us to a group of human guinea pigs who earn enough money by testing prescription drugs to float through life. Lloyd is one of them. He also panhandles in central park  with funny signs like “Will take verbal abuse for money.” He has a permanent girl friend, Sophia who is a manager at an office, but also moonlights as a living statue of a fairy in the park. Then his small group of Less Than Hero (trade from Gallery Books) guinea pigs develop the ability to send drug side- effects to other people. Lloyd puts people to sleep, one of his friends gives people a rash, and a third causes rapid weight increase. But there’s some bad people out there. One erases memory and another causes hallucinations. Somehow this low ambition group gets the idea to protect the homeless from threatening thugs. It’s hard to read this tale without a smile on your face. Very enjoyable.
Veranix Calbertis a college student studying magic, and at night he tries to disrupt the drug dealers, particularly the smuggler and drug lord, Willem Fenmere who murdered his father. The Thorn of Dentonhill (paper from Daw) interrupts what he thinks is a normal drug shipment and discovers a magical rope and cloak destined for an evil magical ceremony. Marshall Ryan Maresca tells a fun, exciting tale in a corrupt medieval city in which some magic users, the Blue Circle will attempt impossible magic to become rulers. Veranix has some help from his cousin, a gang leader, and inspires other gang members. It’s hard to juggle two lives, but Veranix has sufficient reason in this fun an exciting tale. I hope there’s a sequel.
Imagine Dances with Wolves with a Roman soldier. Alan Smale starts his trilogy in the early thirteenth century in which the Roman Empire never fell. A legion is sent to America looking for gold under the command of Praetor Gaius Marcellinus. They march to the Mississippi where the mound building culture, the Cahokian is at it’s peak. While lacking the steel of the Romans, they counter with hang-gliding braves in this Clash of Eagles (hard from Del Rey) and only  Marcellinus survives. Kept alive for reasons he doesn’t understand, he integrates into the new culture, learning its language and teaching them Roman ways of fighting and steel making. The battle at the end with the Caholian’s facing other tribes who have picked up some Roman technology, is quite exciting. I look forward to the next two books in the trilogy.S
Rysa Walker has a series of tales that remind me of the late Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol series if the hero was a six-teen-year-old girl. Grabbing from odd, and forgotten incidents that really happened like a serial killer at the Chicago World Fair of 1893 who built a whole hotel for his deviltry or the legend of a town in which all the inhabitants died.  A few centuries from now CHRONOS sends historians into the past, all genetically modified to use the small pins that allow time travel. Her grandfather, Saul, decided to change the past, destroying the headquarters and locking in all time travelers from CHRONOS to the past. It turns out that their children and grandchildren who inherit the gift can use the pins to travel in time. Saul is using his family, including Kate’s aunt Prudence to create a religion Cyristism that is a strange mixture of Scientology and Christianity, rewarding some with investment advice from their future.  In Timebound (ebook or paper) Kate is given on the pins from her grandmother which protects her when the past is changed so that her grandmother had been murdered at the 1893 World’s fair and she was never born. That means she has to travel back to 1893 and figure out how to protect her grandmother and, alas lose the new boyfriend Trey who has been helping her. Time’s Edge (paper from Skyscape) has her working with a friend from 1905, Kiernan whom her previous version loved and who has the ability to work the key. She also has a new version of Trey in the present. The idea is to collect the keys from the trapped CHRONOS historians without getting herself killed. That sends her to a lynching in 1905 Georgia, and a few other places. I’m waiting eagerly for the next tale.
Greg van Eekhout continues his tale of a Southern California Kingdom where magic comes from the bones of magical creatures. California Bones (paper) told the tale of how  Daniel Blackland killed the Hierarch and stole his golem (think magically created clone.) A decade later Daniel and the golem, Sam, are living on the run because of the magic in Sam. This is a world where cannibalism is common because it is an easy way to grab magic. The Hierarch has never been replaced, but some lesser powers think it would be a good idea to resurrect a dragon. Pacific Fire (hard from Tor) tells the exciting tale of how Daniel and Sam went to Catalina to somehow destroy the dragon. It’s lots of fun and very exciting.   
David Drake and John Lambshead continue their tale of a future in which bicycle powered starships can move from planet to planet. Full warships are limited in size and attacking a colony is difficult. The Cutter Stream colonies are tired of being under control of Brazalia Allen Allenson had proved himself in the battles that led Into the Hinterlands (paper) in which Brazalia fought Terra for control of the colonies. It’s time for a George Washington and a new congress. Into the Maelstrom(hard from Baen) depicts the first few battles borrowed, as Mr. Drake usually does, from history. There’s even a reference to crossing something like the Deleware in the final battle. Lots of fun with a very eighteenth-century feel to the background.
L. E. Modesitt, Jr. returns to his world where magic is imaged into being four centuries  after the five part series that showed how the continent was united. A  Rex with a royal temper determined to raise tariffs, and the council of High Holders determined to keep the tariffs the same. The kingdom is running out of money at the same time the head of the Army has expanded  the number of battalions and has invested in cannons that have greater range. Caught in the Madness in Solitar (hard from Tor) is Alastar the new Maitre of the Collegium of Imagers. The problem is that it’s been over a century since the Collegium has shown the power it potentially has, and there hasn’t been war training in the curriculum. So Alastar, a powerful imager who is  widowed , has to find the narrow path between haste that could turn the population against the imagers and slowness that could get the Collegium destroyed by the Army. The tale is a bit slow in parts, but a fascinating view of power struggles.
Patricia Briggs has another tale of the two werewolves, Alpha and Omega in a world where werewolves and the Fae are known. Dead Heat (hard from Ace) take Charles and Anna to a horse farm owned by a werewolf several centuries old. His son, whom Charles grew up with, has refused to be converted to being a werewolf and is in his late eighties. Then the Fae release a child molesting Fae and his grandchildren and daughter-in-law are attacked. Another child at their pre-school has been replaced by a fetch (really sticks) Not only that but this evil Fae has killed a werewolf in the past. The usual excitement in finding this evil being ensues.
Randy Henderson tells a fun urban fantasy about forty-year-old teenagers. Finn Fancy Necromancy (hard from Tor) tells the tale of Finn Gramaraye who had been falsely convicted of dark necromancy and his mind exiled to the fey realm where the fey lived off his memories for twenty-five years. When he is released, the changeling inhabiting his body has disappeared and he finds  the women who accused him dead in the trailer his body had been living in. Going to his family home, he finds his father has gone nuts, His mother’s ghost haunts the living room, and the enforcers are after him. Somehow with the help of his incompetent brothers, including one who believes he is a waerwolf because of a joke played on him years before. There’s the witch Heather now divorced who had been close before, and Dawn, a mundane who has to be told he has amnesia for the last quarter century. Somehow he has to find the keys to his fake conviction before he is sent back for the rest of his life. There a comfortable silliness to the tale that brought a solid smile. Nice one.
B. V. Larson has a fourth tale of soldier James McGill in a universe where galactic technology allows for new bodies after death. This time he’s part of an Earth expedition to take a methane world with available titanium ore. Machine World (ebook which I bought) is inhabited by living machines who eat the suits and armor of dead soldiers, The Cephalopods want the world too, and the Galactics are after James for murdering one of their ambassadors. Lots of battle with lots of death ensue. This is a fun series that I have on my must read list.
Richard Phillips has a second exciting tale about Jack “Ripper” Gregory who is somehow linked to the same alien who lived in Jack the Ripper and Pizarro. Neo-Nazi Conrad Altman, son of Klaus Barbie is  Dead Wrong (paper from Amazon) andon the trail of a magical Incan object. He has one part and is torturing Tupic Inti, and Incan Shaman who knows where the other part is. Jack has been hired to rescue him, but doesn’t know that Tupic has his own plans and doesn’t want rescuing. Sexy Janet Price is working from the inside for the NSA. Jack is eager for the device himself, because Pizarro freed himself from the same alien using the device. It all comes down to a predictable fight in a secret cave in the Tiahuanaco ruins. Very exciting, but I expected more.
It’s Half Past Hell (paper from ImaJinn Books) In Milwaukee a decade after the vampire/human war ended and some cops are vampires. Duvall who became vampire during the French Indian war serves on that shift dealing not only with human vampires problems but also from new ‘sucklings’ who can’t control their thirst. Then some of the sucklings die from tainted artificial blood. He has a new human partner, John Kilpatrick who dislikes vampires and doesn’t like working with one. The trail leads to a hate group, the Brotherhood of the Sun, and then deep into vampire politics. Jaye Roycraft served as a cop and brings a reality to this exciting police procedural.
If Agatha Christie added fantasy to her mysteries, the result might be like Simon Green’s latest. Ishmael Jones walks on The Dark Side of The Road (hard from  Severn House Publishers) since he was created human in 1963 when his saucer crashed. He hasn’t aged and has golden blood. His Colonel, whom he has worked for, for the last fifteen years has called him to the Colonel’s country estate for Christmas where there might be a true horror. But the colonel isn’t there, the servants are on vacation and a butler and cook have been hired for the weekend. A winter story has isolated the squabbling guests, all with reasons to murder. When Ishmael arrives the Colonel has disappeared. Later the guests die one by one in gruesome manners. I felt the murderer was a bit obvious, but I don’t want to give away who or what the murderer is, but the tale is fun. I expect that Ishmael will return for more adventures.
Jon F. Merz sends his Shadow Warrior up against the Slavers of the Savage Catacombs (trade from Baen). After his first adventures, Ran is heading east, working as a Caravan guard when he is captured as a slave. There’s a whole group of cannibals living deep in the Earth and the exiled brother of the king is using slave labor to create a new passage to their world so he can use human troops to become king. Ran is an excellent fighter, but has a lot of luck.  To keep matters simple, the princess Cassandra has been captured too and needs rescue.  The characters tend to be two-dimensional, especially Ran who lacks the intensity that a hero demands. The tale however is compelling enough for a fun light read.
    Baen has a fun collection of military, magical tales Operation Arcana (trade, John Joseph Adams, Editor) written by major voices in the field. And a group of older tales put together by Hank Davis As Time Goes By (trade).  They’s also reprinted in paper  the latest of David’s Drake’s fun adventure in the Republic of Cinnabar series, The Sea Without A shore., and Larry Correia’s fun Monster Hunter Nemesis.
    Tor has Charles Stross’s updated version of the fifth and sixth novels of his Merchant Princes series, The Revolution Trade (in trade) .
    The Science Fiction Society will have its next meeting on, March 13th  2015 at 8 p.m. at the Rotunda  on  the University of Pennsylvania Campus. There will be a guest speaker.  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 non-formula unified field theory at henrylazarus.com/utf.html