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Science Fiction for March  2016
by Henry Leon Lazarus
    For most of my life, the readable Fantasy and Science Fiction were published by the major houses. Self-published works were not worth considering. In the last few years that has all changed. The volume of books from small presses and self-published authors has reached a level that fun and very readable works can be found. This is a golden age of reading.
Lee Kelly tells of A Criminal Magic (trade from Saga Press) in an alternate Depression era. The hottest illegal drug on the market is shine, created by sorcerers from water. It’s major problem is that it only lasts twenty-four hours, like all sorcery. When Harrison Gunn, a rising star in the Sterling Gang, recruits sorcerers for his shine parlor, He thinks that seven of them working together will create far more powerful shine. Joan Kendrick, one of the sorcerers he recruits, has a secret from her mother, a way to seal shine with blood so it stored. Joan works for him because she wants her family safe. Sorcerer Alex Danfrey saw his father arrested for illegal magical work, and decides to join the  Federal Prohibition Unit where he is sent under cover into the Shaw Gang. Gangland  schemes and murder trap Alex and Joan in a web of conspiracy and danger. I hope this finds its way to an award.
Michael Patrick Hicks sets his Convergence (paper) of loyalty in a future California conquered by the Chinese with resistence bands fighting not only the Chinese, but also themselves. Before the invasion, most people had chips inserted in the brain to store memory, and the chips can be read by others. Former artist and refugee Jonah Everitt is an assassin and snuff memory addict. He survives in a refugee camp with his daughter, and kills for extra money. Then he becomes a pawn trapped between two rival resistence groups, one of who has captured his daughter. To me it was as if the Syrian Civil War had come to America. This is very intense and highly recommended.
Marshall Ryan Maresca has a fun series set in a world with both magic and beginning science that take place in the city-state of  Maradain. Veranix Calbert is a university student in Magic by day and the The Thorn of Dentonhill (paper). Things have gotten a bit complicated. There’s someone doing impossible pranks at the University. The Red Rabbits, one of the gangs in the city, has found a way to make effitte, the drug that took his mother’s mind when she was overdosed with it. To make things worse,  Fenmere has hired a gang of female assassins to take out the Thorn in the most public way. The Alchemy of Chaos (paper from DAW). The prankster wants revenge for being kicked out of the University and is mixing magic and technology to wreck havoc. What’s worse, every time he gets close to catching the prankster, the assassins show. Lots of over-the-top fun. Marshall Ryan Maresca is an author to watch.
The Linesman (paper) Ean Lambert who sings to the lines of star ship technology has become the secret weapon of the New Alliance (paper from Ace by S. K. Dunstall) of Worlds which is in a cold war with the Gate Union that controls the jumping slots for all the planets. Selma Kari Wang, captain and only survivor of the ship destroyed in a sneak attack, is asked to captain the newly discovered alien ship, Eleven. What follows is a complex tale of spies and politics and the possibility that other factors may be instigating the war. This is becoming solid series and I can’t wait for the third tale.
Victor Gischler has a satisfying trilogy where wizards can tattoo powers into ink mages skin. Rina becomes an Ink Mage (paper from 47North) when her parents, The Duke and Dutchess of  Klaar,  are killed  by an invading force from the Parranese Empire takes their city with treachery. The only wizard, who is dying,  in the Dutchy tattoo’s the young Duchess and sends her to Talbun another wizard across the continent. Helped by Alem, a stable boy, and Brasley, a Baron’s son the are aided by Gypsies. One of the Gypsies, Maurizan, comes along for adventure. Brasley goes to petition the king for aid, while the others continue their trek. In the city the head of a whore house aided by a soldier, Tosh, hiding in their midst who trains the young women. Rina, with her new powers, aided by this rebellion is able to take back her Dutchy.
The Tattooed Duchess  (paper from 47North) has more problems than the Parrranese Empire because the Kings wants her to marry his son. But with their initial invasions thwarted, they launch thousands of ships at a  major port. In addition, Gods are manifesting. The second tale has a cliff-hanger ending.
With the God of War sending a zombie army after the stragglers from the port city, only Rina and her friends, along with A Painted Goddess (paper from 47North) can face the manifested gods and save the world. While the title, unfortunately, gives the ending away, I still really enjoyed the whole series.
The Courier (hard from DAW ) works in a California built seven layers high and controlled by corporate power. Kris Ballard is a sixteen -year-old run-away earning a living delivering packages on her electric motor bike and living in the poor level 2 area. She has never seen the sun. When she tries to deliver a package given at end of shift, she finds her recipient being tortured. She manages to get away. She manages to get away, but assassins keep coming, mainly because she is chipped, like all citizens, and they are tracking her. Her only hope is ACE, a group opposed to corporate control, but is also under attack. The macguffin, the information she is carrying is very hot. Gerald Brandt tells an impossible-to-put-down tale and introduces us to an exciting heroine I’d love to see more of.
People who really enjoy David Weber’s Honor Harrington series will also enjoy Christopher Nuttall’s tales of Captain Kat Falcone’s adventures in the galactic war between the Theocracy and the royal Commonwealth. Falcone Strike (paper from 47North) sends Kat deep into unmapped Theocracy territory commanding her ship, Lightning and a bunch of obsolete cruisers to harass the enemy until the Commonwealth can build enough ships to follow through. Lots of fun.
Gene Doucette has a strange tale of The Spaceship Next Door (paper from Amazon). Sorrow Falls, a small mill town in Massachusetts, has been infamous for three years as the place where an alien starship landed and simply sat. People who get too close find themselves running away. So the Army guards it. Real scientists study it. Outside the gates, UFO crazies also study it while the townspeople go about their business. Then  Edgar Somerville, an analyst comes to town because something has changed. He recruits Sixteen-year old Annie Collins, the girl who knows everyone in town and what everybody is doing, to help him measure the effects of this new change on the local population. But soon dead bodies are rising, and people are controlled when they go to sleep. It doesn’t help that Annie’s mother, who is dying of cancer, has to leave town for treatment and Annie gets to strange friend Vivian who may have zombies as parents. Impressive.
Scotland, in a world much like our own, is divided in two. The southern half are run by the Sidhe clans with magical abilities.  Integrity, the only surviving member of one of those clans has been a Gifted Thief (paper from Amazon) living among the clanless and, with a crew, stealing from the rich. She doesn’t know why her father murdered all the other members of her clan and she doesn’t care. Then the council of clans forces her confront her background, because she is the only one who can open one of the gates that guard the source of magic, and that source is breaking down. Helen Harper tells of a feisty heroine who can’t trust the sidhe she is forced to work with. Lots of fun for the first in a series.
H. Jonas Rhynedahll has a pleasant light fantasy series on a world where the disembodied spirits influence action, and sometimes become embodied. Magicians have specific spells that are frequently useless, and wizards can have thirteen. Everett can make bad wine from water, but his main spell is Potatoes, Come Forth! (Paper from Rhynedahll Software). A new spell, Beautiful Woman, come forth!  Sends him Sarah. It also sends him towards a war in which Technology (embodied as a technician) has created tanks and bombs. Magic wants him to stop this war and keeps giving him more spells. Two years later he and Sarah have an adorable baby who is a manifested version of Magic. Then Destiny takes a hand literally and his powerful spells are all messed up. Not only that, but he has to rescue Sarah who has been trapped in an ancient city and needs to complete thirteen great deeds before she will be let go. Magic, Unfettered?  (Paper from Rhynedahll Software).  Is just as much as a giggle as the first and remind me of Piers Anthony without puns.
Christopher J. Valin tells of a Sidekick (paper from CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform) to a Batman like hero, The Black Harrier – a billionaire by day and crime-fighter at night. Age sixteen, Red Raptor has the ability to memorize fighting moves from just watching them, and hides his ability to his  alcoholic single mom, and from his classmates Then the evil crown Pierrot kidnaps his boss, another young heroine, Osprey, starts helping him. And his arch-nemesis in school, Logan, attacks him where he can’t show his abilities, in school. There’s a solid ending. I can’t wait for the next adventure.
Randy Henderson’s sequel to Finn Fancy Necromancy (paper) about Phineas Gramayare wrongly sentenced to twenty-five years to the other realm where the Fey ate at his memories and who discovered that his grandfather was at the heart of evil, has Finn trying to make up for his grandfather’s evil by doing good deeds, like finding true love for a Sasquatch. Unfortunately his Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free (hard from Tor) gets him in the middle of a potential war between two demesnes in the other realm and has already led to the murder while a feyblood rights group was protesting. Finding the truth of a murder of a nymph shot-in-the-back and then stopping the war finds Finn, and the fey who shares his mind, Alynon, into fights with authority and facing a return to the Other Realm. Like its predecessor, the tale mixes silly bits with tense dangerous, and leaves plenty open for the next tale in the series.
   Baen has reprinted in paper By Tooth and Claw about a world in which dinosaurs never died out with four linked tales by S.m. Sterling, Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, and Jody Lynee Nye,. They have also reprinted David Drake and John Lambshead’s tale of a future George Washington who goes Into the Maelstrom.
    The Science Fiction Society will have its next meeting on, March 11th  2016 at 8 p.m.  at International House on  the University of Pennsylvania Campus. 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.