Science Fiction for June 2012
by Henry Leon Lazarus
n the eighties one author stood out in the
field of hard Science Fiction. David Brinís Startide Rising rightfully
won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for 1984. There was a time when Mr.
Brin had a new major book ever few years. Itís been a decade since weíve
had a new tale from him. This one is a doozy.
In 1950 Enrico Fermi suggested that if Aliens were evolving on other stars, we should have found signals. David Brin has his tale start a few decades from now when SETI still hasnít found intelligent radio signals. The reason is that, according to Mr. Brin, that it is far cheaper to send crystals with digital versions of intelligent minds. Their miniature ships are actually floating in the Asteroid belt waiting for Humanity to reach a technological level to show their Existence (hard from Tor). But nothing is as simple as it seems not only because the humans interacting with these crystals have ulterior motives, but the aliens do also. So we start with Gerald Livingston collecting garbage in orbit; Hamish Brookemanan anti-technology writer, Tor a viewpoint writer with strong ties to the web; and Xin Pu Shi whoís salvaging off of Shanghai and finds a crystal in the hoard of a long dead rich Chinese gentleman. Add in the Aliens who have literally sat for millions of years waiting for this time and you have a fun look at everything you want to know about the Fermi Paradox that is known today in very digestible form.
Karen Thompson Walkerís The Age of Miracles (hard from Random House) has the same tone and quiet intensity as Nevil Shuteís On the Beach. Mankind hasnít destroyed the Earth, instead it is a gradual slowing of rotation and increasing length of day that will eventually do in all life. Julia is a normal, California eleven-year-old when the effect starts, and is very normal. She goes to school and worries about bullies, watches her neighbors, and a year later has a boy friend. But the people around her and her family react in very different ways to the increasing crisis and attempt in very human ways to survive. Most of the book covers the first two years, but she is apparently writing the tale years later when she is going to try to attempt to get into one of the few colleges still remaining. This is a very difficult book to read, but impossible to put down. I suspect it will find itís way on more than a few award nominations. It gave me nightmares.
Elspeth Cooper starts a trilogy in which magic comes from a sense of the Songs of the Earth (hard from Tor which I got from the library. We meet a young man, Gair who had been in training to be a Church Knight, waiting for judgement that will see him burned because he has the ability to work magic and had hidden it. Outside of the Churchís main city, however, people treat those magic workers with a little more deference because they are the guardians of the Veil, a magical barrier that keeps monsters out. Itís fraying and a sociopath with great magical ability wants to bring it down. With help Gail gets away and is taken to the Chapterhouse of those guardians to be trained. This first volume ends with a major attack on the house. This is a very satisfying fantasy with all the elements that work well tegether. I gulped it down in a few hours and canít wait for the sequel.
Allison Sekemoto is an unregistered teen living in New Covington, a vampire city that barely feeds the people who donít donate blood. Itís sixty years since civilization fell to the red lung virus. Vampires were immune at first and then when one of them worked with humans to create a cure, the disease widened and now the outside is filled with rabid vampires and other rabid animals. Hunting for food in the old decaying city leads to her almost-death. Kanin a vampire living outside vampire society gives her the choice of dying or becoming a vampire. He teaches her The Immortal Rules (trade from Harlequin Teen) before he is caught by the other vampires and she flees the city. There she meets up with a small group of people traveling at night to avoid being surprised by rabid vampires who burrow into the Earth at dawn. Hiding her vampirism she helps them on their way to the fabled human city of Eden, even after they kick her out when they discover her true nature. Julie Kagawa tells a very intense and impossible-to-put-dow tale.. Allieís world feel very real. I suspect there are sequels coming and I canít wait.
I really enjoy tales of people who donít age. Gene Doucette has a fun tale of a man born before recorded history and who shows up historically in the Epic of Gilgamesh and is actually worshiped as Dionysius though he actually brought over the secret of wine from Crete. This Hellenic Immortal (paper from The Writerís Coffee Shop) is on vacation, drinking and gambling in Las Vegas when he meets an ex-FBI profiler who has connections to an eco-terrorist. Everything has to do with a religion our hero invented for Satyrs (who are quite real) and a forest monster dryad who will kill him and all the worshipers unless he can figure a way to kill it. I really loved the historical references and the look at our present through eyes that had seen it grow. I hope thereís a sequel.
An old trope in science fiction is putting chips in the brain for problems like autism and to augment normal people. Daniel H. Wilson imagines the wave of hate that can come from fear of such people, especially when the Supreme Court declares that these Amped (hard from Doubleday). Owen Gray was a teacher cured of epilepsy by his surgeon father who was one of the early developers of these chips. Owenís father has given him far more capability than Owen expected and that is the only way he can survive as communities of the amped form to escape from the persecution of the normal. This feels very real because of historical outbreaks of hate in America against communists, blacks, and jews. I donít think that his solution to the problem at the end of the tale would work, but this is a difficult tale to stop reading.
Paul Hoffman continues his harsh version of the middle ages where Christianity took a much darker path. A general of the Redeemers has created a teenage military genius whom he considers The Left Hand of God (paper). In the first tale he had escaped and wrote the war plans of both the Redeemers and the empire he had escaped to. Now Bosco intends to use Thomas Caleís victories to advance himself to become the Pope and end the world with The Last Four Things (trade from New American Library) This is an intense look at a place where life is worthless and death ever-present. I canít wait for the final volume.
Alex Verus talent is reading futures well enough to dodge bullets in a modern London where master mages are like mob bosses. In this second adventure by Benedict Jacka, there is a new ritual that enables mages to steal magic from magical creatures. Its quite valuable because the old methods left the mage insane.. Soon his spider friend Arachne is paralyzed by the villain so that he can work the magic in comfort in his lair. His apprenticeís boy friend is Cursed (paper from Ace) and Luna, his apprentice, is kidnaped Only his old enemies can help him. I find this fun series very satisfasfying and hope it lasts through many tales.
Phillippa Ballantine has a fantasy that was a bit too complicated for me to connect with. The Valeri had seven gifts that made them masters of their chaotic land and immortal. They invited others to their land and then were conquered by the Caisah. At present they are not allowed sharp weapons and will die if they come into contact with another of their species. Talyn is the only member of her species allowed a weapon because she is the hunter for the Caisah who apparently is attracted to her to the anger of his mistress. Then Finn, the fox, a story teller, crashes a party and tells a tale of the Valeri at top of their power. Now Hunter and Fox (trade from Pyr) find themselves on a quest, along with Talynís brother, to somehow restore the Valeri gifts and return them to power before their land is destroyed. I donít know whether I will be able to read the sequel because I almost stopped in the middle of this first book.
Widdershins; ex-noble, thief, sole worshiper of the god Olgun who gives her special abilities, and bar owner since the last adventure; has an monster to slay too. Ari Marmell tells us that the city of Davillon has trade being shunted away because of the assassination of the Archbishop. So the new Archbishop makes a False Covenant (Trade from Pyr) with the city by faking a monster using base members of the thieves guild and a bit of magic. The idea is to draw people back to worship without hurting anyone. Unfortunately that lures the real monster, a real nightmare that heals instantly from swords and bullets. Lots of fun.
Tor books has put together an odd hard cover of two of Walter Moselyís fantasy tales. On one side is the tale of Prometheus leaving his endless torture to bring The Gift of Fire to a boy in South Central LA. Although it is an obvious retelling of the Jesus story, it still holds a fascination. Turn the book over and you get On the Head of a Pin about a black man hired to write the history of a cgi project to people in old pictures into full visual reality. They use a special screen for this that turns out to be more special than they thought. In fact, Joshua Winterland is especially tuned into the screen and can make it show true images from the past and future. The government wants part of the project then but ... I donít want to give too much away, but it was a fun look at the way the human psyche can turn everything weird.
Jean Bennet has a second tale of Arcadia Bell that belongs into the amateur sleuth mystery genre with demons. Arcadia is a magician with powers her parents gave her that she doesnít understand. Lon, her boyfriend has demon powers inherited from a distant ancestor. His thirteen-year-old son Jupe is full of teenage energy and may have gotten the demon power of persuasion. Other children of demon heirs are being kidnaped in a duplication of another unsolved crime thirty years before. Someone is Summoning the Night (paper from pocket) and will stop at nothing to perform the ritual. Light fun.
Nikki Glass was a P. I. when she acquired the powers of Artemis, one of many who can only be killed by another descendant. In her second adventure she has to face a mad, Deadly Descendant (paper from pocket) with the powers of Osiris and the ability to create rabid Jackals whose bite can infect and then kill the immortals. Light fun.
Val Shapiro is back after losing her virginity and with it, her speed and endurance in fighting vampires. She still has Lola, the succubus inside her and she has the books of magic. Her agreement with the local vampires send her to Austin where someone or something is draining the blood of coyotes. Vampires want to come out, and this might be the work of kinky ones. The head of the local half-demons is also a succubus and uses her power to totally control the men around her. Soon Valís boyfriend is in her power and dead demons are turning up all over the place. Then Micah, head of the San Antonio demons and Valís human room-mate are kidnaped by a mage demon after the encyclopedia of magic. Luckily Fang is still around, to bite and growl if necessary. Parker Blueís Make-me (trade from Bell Bridge Books by Parker Blue) is more generic than the first three fun tales in this series. But it still is fun.
Finally thereís the sixth book in Simon R. Greenís trilogy of Edie Drood, also known as Shamus Bond. This time itís a case of Live and Let Drood (hard from ROC) as Edie and his witch lover Molly Metcalf find Drood hall destroyed and trace its destruction to Crow Lee, the most evil man on Earth. Along the way he finds close relatives thought dead and faces endless horrible opponents. This tale, like all the ones in this series, is properly silly and even has a happy ending. I always enjoy giggling the books in this series, and this one was no exception.
Baen paperback reprints this month include John Ringoís third tale of Earthís connection to galactic politics, The Hot Gate; Larry Correiaís second tale of Hard Magic in an alternate thirties; A. Bertram Chandlerís tales To the Galactic Rim; and Poul Andersonís classic The High Crusade. Thereís also a collection of Man-Kzin Wars XIII in trade. Del Rey has reprinted Peter F. Hamiltonís The Nano Flower as The Mandel Files volume 2 in trade paper. Itís fun.
Open Road has an ebook look at A Field Guide to the Creatures that Stalk the Night and The World's Creepiest Places by Bob Curran.
The Science Fiction Society will have its next meeting on June 8th at 8p.m. at International House on the University of Pennsylvania. Campus. Jane Frank, Artist Agent and Owner of Worlds of Wonder 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)