Science Fiction for April 2010
By Henry Leon Lazarus
Movies and books are two different kinds of animals,
especially in Fantasy and Science Fiction. Movies require a simplified,
linear story-line with complicated background details seen as flashing
details. Books can tell complicated tales, but require lots of words to
describe details unfamiliar to the reader. Itís rare that a writer can
transfer a story from one form to the other,
Eric Garcia is both a novelist and a screen writer and his tale of Repomen (paper from Harper) in a dark future who retrieve artificial organs from debtors, frequently leaving a corpse behind. Renoís tale which starts with him on the run started as a unpublished novelette which somehow became a screenplay. Reno is an army vet of the war in Africa who has no qualms about killing to retrieve a kidney or a lung. After the tale was committed towards making a movie, Mr. Garcia went back and filled out Renoís world with his five divorced wives and his best friend Frank hunting him down for his artificial heart that he stopped payments on when he got a conscience. The movie, which should be so bloody that many will not be able to watch it, should be out by the time this review sees print.
Peter V. Brett has a pretty neat idea. Humans are dying out because every night demons rise from the Earthís core killing everything living. The Demons can be killed, and the release of their magic brings wound healing and health. Magic drawings block, protect, and sometimes kill the demons, particularly if attached to a spear or arrow. The first book introduced us to a man who tattooed himself with ward symbols and people started calling The Warded Man (paper) a new deliverer. In the desert another leader of an arab city devoted to killing demons, The Desert Spear (hard from Del Rey) has decided to take after a remote ancestor and become a new deliverer by waging a day war against the people who live in non-deserts. But the warded man had brought back some of the desert killing techniques to the town of Delivererís Hollow and their leader, a woman who specializes in herbs and wards, Jardir, the leader of the desert people, is fascinated by her had wants to add her to collection of wives. This is a pretty exciting tale, though obviously a middle book of a trilogy. It would have been very easy to turn the tail into a war between to human cultures, but Mr. Brett never takes his eye of the major battle, the one between demon and human. Iím waiting eagerly for the conclusion next year.
N. K. Jemisin has a wonderful shaggy god tale taking place on a world with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (trade from Orbit). Three gods created this universe and other, lesser gods. Then the god of light murdered the female god of life and used her energies to enslave his brother and children gods. The ruling city, Sky which floats in the air, is run by descendants of the priests of the god of light who use the magic their immortal slaves to control the rest of the world. Yeineís mother had been heir to Sky but renounced it for love of a barbarian from a far land. When Yieneís mother died, Yiene is called to Sky, and named one of the three heirs. But she is, unknowingly a part of the enslaved godís plot to regain their freedom. She has an extra soul Ė the soul of the murdered goddess. Her grandfather actually intends for her to die in the accession ceremony only two weeks after her arrival. I couldnít put the tale down and loved the odd background. I canít wait for the sequel.
Fantasy noir needs an ancient city with three Mayors, Like London. Thereís the actual Mayor who does the real work, the Lord Mayor for ceremonies, and The Midnight Mayor (hard from Orbit) for the Occult. The Midnight Mayor has been murdered, the ravens gone from the Tower of London, and something called Death of Cities, made out of paper, has come to destroy London. Resurrected sorcerer, Matthew Swift has to discover why London is in danger, and why graffiti, ďGive me back my HatĒ is written all over the city. I really like the magic of this strange English city and found the tale difficult to put down.
Alexey Pehov has won awards in Russia for his tale of a Shadow Prowler (hard from Tor) or thief caught up in major events. Andrew Broomfield has done such a wonderful job of translating I couldnít tell it was written in another language The dark, deadly Russian spririt still bleeds through. . They sent soldiers and then wizards to retrieve a magical horn from a haunted, ancient tomb still filled with deadly traps. Most didnít survive So they decided to use a master thief, Harold, a man comfortable in his occasional commissions. Sagot, the god of thieves, enmeshes Harold in a great game that soon has him hunting for maps in a haunted section of the city from which few return.. Then, after helping to counter plots against his country by the Nameless One, an immortal wizard looking to conquer the world with an army of orcs, and by the Master whom no one knows about..This first part gets him half way to Hrad Spein, the ancient tomb where the rainbow horn was hidden three centuries before. Iím hooked.
Last month I reported on Adrian Tchaikovskyís exciting tale of a world where people have taken on insect characteristics, including psionic flying wings. The Empire in Black and Gold (trade) wants to conquer the lowlands and is not afraid to use ancient hatreds The ant city of Vek is induced to attack their ancient enemies of the Collegium where new gadgets are designed while the wasps conquer the ant city of Tark with new technology including bombing from dirigibles. Itís a deadly time for the four college students we met in the first book with Dragonfly Falling (trade from Pyr) at the battle of Tark and the Collegium protected by strange devices including a submarine used for the very first time. Lots of fun and excitement. I got the final book and will report on it next month.
Dirigibles fly over New York in an alternate 1927 with steam punk gadgets, an evil gangster named the Roman with only the Ghosts of Manhattan (trade from Pyr) to stop him. The Ghost is the name sake of a rich man fighting crime with a costume and rockets on his legs. George Mann borrows heavily from characters like The Shadow and other pulp heroes. He captures the both the action and readability of those mostly forgotten tales but also their cardboard villains. Goons and mobsters die easily, thereís a damsel in distress, and an honest cop to help corner and stop the Roman from his evil plans. Fun, but nothing that different from discovering a Shadow classic.
Allicia Maccon rides a dirigible to Scotland, is pushed off by a spy, and luckily gets gets caught on the side, which is not at all a proper way for an English Lady to act in the Victorian age. In a world of werewolves and vampires, Alicia has a rare talent that renders them human with a touch. Something has come to England with troops returning from India and Egypt that can render whole city blocks Changeless (paper from Orbit) and the effect is moving towards Scotland. As one of Queen Elizabethís hidden council, she has to investigate. Her husband, Lord Connell Maccon, a major werewolf alpha, was already at the Kingair clan to handle the death of their alpha in India. And that, coincidently, is where the strange effect landed. This is just as much light fun as Gail Carriger's Soulless (paper) and leaves me eagerly waiting the third.
A. Lee Martinez has an imposssible-to-put-down giggle about our modern world with gods who provide gifts with proper offerings. When Phil loses a promotion to a rival who sacrificed a fatted calf to Baal, he know itís time to go to the internet and find a god for he and his wife teri. . Luka, a racoon god of luck, seems not to want much, but does want to crash in their house. He also has a friend, Quetzalcoatl who also moves in. Then he falls for Teriís friend, and his ex shows up, a goddess eager for revenge. But the worse problem is Gorgoz, an underground god who requires illegal human sacrifice and wants his followers to offer Phil and Terri to be his next victims when he isnít distracted by watching Gilliganís Island. I gulped Devine Misfortune (hard from Orbit) in a night and giggled the whole time.
P. C. Hodgell finally has continued Jameís tale, finishing up the second half of her first year at the Randon College where she is still as upsetting as usual. Bound in Blood (trade from Baen) doesnít stand on its own, but for those of us who have been following the series for decades, it is a welcome addition. The fun part is when Jame is dragged across the Riverland at the various equinoxes to confront the semi-magical hanging man. Oh yes, she also finally masters the meat-eating rathorn colt she rode for the first time in the last tale. This is going to my home collection with the other books in the series. Hopefully there will be more.
Michael Flynn returns to the universe he developed for The January Dancer (paper) a few decades later. Bridget Ban has disappeared on a wild goose chase. Donoven, who has been cracked into at least seven separate personalities and who has been living in a bar, is asked by Bridgetís daughter Mearana, a harper, to help find her mother two years after the hounds have given up searching. The macguffin at the end of the search is a treasure ship from the old commonwealth full of ancient technology. The search extends across numerous worlds of the civilized spiral arm and into the frontier of lost worlds. Then itís Up Jim River (hard from Tor) where only barbarians live Agents are there to block their way, or even to kill them. Old friends show up to help. The galactic cultures are all hodgepodge and properly weird The plot meanders but the action rarely slows, providing a fun quest.
K. D. Wentworth and Eric Flint return to a near future Earth conquered by the seal-like Jao. In The Course of Empire (paper and free at Baen.com), humans had to learn to work with the Jao in order to fight the evil Ekhat, a species determined to wipe out other intelligent species. The final Lleix are in hiding and slowly dying out when the Ekhat find them, and luckily their ships are destroyed by Jao. Now humans, jao, and Lleix have to meld in The Crucible of Empire (hard from Baen) to prevent the genocide of the Lleix. This has a basic plot, but the cultural differences are solidly limned and worth the read.
Most of you missed the fun Canadian-American sf series Defying Gravity which aired this summer on ABC and should be repeated on Scyfy, and is out on DVD The show borrows heavily from 2001 a Space Odyssey. The monoliths are smaller and one has been found on Earth. The eight astronauts donít know it is on board but suffer from hallucinations caused by the device/living being. HAL has been replaced by mission control and the first season (and probably only season) ends with a landing on Venus. Except for instantaneous communication with earth, the series captured the reality of space exploration and, in flash-backs. also captured the training sessions. I wish the public had found this wonderful show.
Stacia Kane tells us that there really are demons on our shoulders whispering evil thoughts. Psychiatrist Megan Chase is Demon Possessed (paper from Pocket) and her lover Grayson is not only full demon but one of the demon leaders. This is the third fun tale (I missed the second) and takes place during a meeting of the local demon leaders when someone is trying to kill Megan. Thereís also an FBI agent, and an exorcist peddling his non-working wears to gullible people and helped by a rare angel (they were mostly wiped out by witches and demons centuries before). Megan not only has to unravel the plot, but deal with Graysonís marriage proposal that assumes she would quit her career. Properly silly and fun.
I wanted to like Blake Charlestonís tale of a Spellwright ( hard from Tor) cursed by dyslexia. Magic comes in various languages that are written in runes created by magicians muscles and then released into air. Nicodemus may be a promised savior who will save humanity from the gods turned demons, who had destroyed the continent where humans had originally ruled.. He may be the anti-savior from another prophecy. Thereís an evil creature inhabiting various golem bodies who seems to want to capture Nicodemus. kill his master and his friends. Thereís a hidden magic emerald that may contain part of Nicodemusís mind stolen by a demon. As the tale wore on, the background kept getting more and more complicated until it was difficult to tell friends from foes.
Clasic reprints this month include Poul Andersonís tales of David Falkayn: Star Trader (paper from Baen); and Robert A. Heinleinís collection The Green Hills of Earth (trade from Baen).
Paperback reprints include Sharon Lee and Steve Millerís fun tale of a teenager coming of age in Fledgling (Baen)
Travis S. Taylor, PhD has an oddball look at weird science in The Science Behind the Secret: Decoding the Law of Attraction (trade from Baen)