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Science Fiction for June 2015
by Henry Leon Lazarus
    The best science fiction and fantasy books create worlds that not only differ from our own, but feel as though they have a life of their own. In them characters live and breathe with concerns unrelated to our own, and yet somehow very important to both them and the reader.
K. M. McKinley starts an epic tale set on an ancient world, Ruthnia, that has seen numerous civilizations rise and fall. It is a world of two moons, of the Tyn, enslaved magical beings; and of steam power generated from magical sands. It is a world where horses are extinct and dogs, some of whom speak, have replaced them It is also a world where ghosts walk unless released by Guiders. Most of the Gods were killed two centuries before leaving only the God of Drink.  A lot of technology has been rediscovered from ancient cities, and the discovery of an untouched city in the far, frozen South sets off a race among the hundred kingdoms. We follow six  Kressind siblings. One designed The Iron Ship (paper from Rebellion), one is a playwright who suppresses his magical powers after he blinded one eye of his brother who has become a Guider. One bought rank in the army and because he slept with someone’s wife, finds himself exiled to the Gates of the world. And one takes over her husband’s factory, not approved for women in this Victorian age, and routs out corruption. This first part of the tale follows the construction of the first ship made of iron despite efforts to stop it. This is a marvelous and complicated world and I hope the sequels follow soon.
Marc Turner has a fun tale set in a complicated world. When the Heavens Fall (hard from Tor). A mage, Mayot, steals the Book of Lost Souls with the unknowing help of one of the Gods, Spider. Spider sends her high priestess, Romany to unlock the book and help the mage protect himself as part of a play against the death god, Shroud.  Mayot uses the book to cause the dead to rise in the uninhabited Forest of Sighs, and they attack the city of Majack. This brings Galita’s king, Ebon  into the fray, trying desperately to stop the magic of the book. A Guardian, think psychic warrior, Lurker is part of an expedition from the Empire from which the book was stolen. Add into the mix Parolla, strong in death magic and looking for a way to get even with Shroud for killing her mother who has crossed the world.  Everything culminates in a massive battle against ancient dead, some of who have magical powers. This is very intense introduction to a complicated world. More tales are promised.     
Naomi Novik, known for her talking dragons during an alternate Napoleonic era, has a wonderful fairy tale about an evil forest that needs to be Uprooted (hard from Del Rey). The forest grabs people and turns them evil, if it lets them return. A wizard named Dragon tries to keep the forest at bay. His demand on the local villagers is one woman every decade. They don’t want to stay in their village after the decade, but none want to return to their village. This has been going on for centuries since wizards don’t age. What he doesn’t expect is his current selection, Agnieszka, who has magical powers. The tale does have a tinge of Beauty and the Beast, but it is far, far more. First she thinks he is tormenting her by making her learn minor spells that exhaust her. When she discovers her magic, it turns out to work differently than his. Then her best friend Kasia is corrupted by the forest and when recovered is very corrupt. It takes her months, but eventually Agnieszka,, with the help of Dragon, cures her friend. Rumors of that brings a Prince to their door, a prince who wants his mother, captured twenty years before, rescued. This is a marvelous tale full of adventure and puzzle. The spirit of the evil forest is not killable, and Agnieszka, has to delve to its heart to find a way to calm it. This should be nominated for an award.
Open Road Integrated Media has found Greg Keyes first novel. Footsteps in the Sky (paper) is a solid tale of Hopi settlers on a wold first modified by aliens to almost human standards. Earth is on edge because revolts have broken out on other colonies, so that when three huge, alien  starships arrive, they send a small expedition to investigate. Twenty years later, when the earth ship arrives, one of the aliens drops off a cloned human with the downloaded brain of one of the ships. On the planet, the two factions – one traditonal, and one embracing technology are at odds. There are also the more, technologically- advanced Earth expedition with it’s own agenda and the three ships above that have the ability to destroy the colony. Two of them have gone mad from the millions of years they have been at their task. Caught in the middle is Sand, whose dead mother was cloned, and who will do anything to save the clone who looks like a younger version of her mother and to save her culture.  Fascinating. I don’t know why this never got the acclaim it deserved when first appeared.
Michael Alan Johnson continues his graphic novel Hexed (which I haven’t read) with a real novel about The Sisters of Witchdown (Trade from Pyr ), witches trapped in the Shade. There’s a book wrapped in human skin that, if read, will allow the witches to trap a young woman to eventually hold one of their souls. Gina, who they trap, fortunately has a cop for a father. He has the connections to contact Lucifer (named for her two grandmothers who saved her life). She is a seventeen-year-old illegal alien who earns a living stealing dangerous magical items. With the help of Gina’s boyfriend David and the cop, she not only has to steal a painting from an art gallery and face an ancient witch for answers. Then she has to break into the magically warded Graeae with its protective demons. Finally she has to get into the Shade without dying. She doesn’t have magic herself, but does have magical tools and a willingness to take risks. Lots of fun.     
Michael Z. Williamson has a solid tale of a US patrol in Afghanistan, eight men and two women, sent back in time to a warm period of the last ice age, A Long Time Until Now (hard from Baen) This is a tale mainly about using hidden talents to survive and improve the basics. Not only do they build their fort, capture goats, and harvest local fruits and vegetables; but they also deal with locals and other time travelers. Of course there’s Romans but there’s also two from the far future. Cooperation is the order of the day except for the Romans who are culturally evil and need proof of the American technical superiority. I didn’t approve of the of one of the women always expecting to be raped. The future time traveler’s people eventually get them home where they have to prove their story. Fun, but everything comes too easy.
Robert B Marcus, Jr and Ryan B Marcus tell a tale of Richard Johnson, a college student, ex-marine who’s drifting. He’s taken set theory because he really likes the teacher, but won’t try to talk to her. He’s got a strange neighbor, frequently away, that turns out to have a time portal in his living room. It goes to two locations. In one human population has massively dropped, and the other, about sixteen thousand years ahead, there is the House of the Last Man on Earth (paper from Mockingbird Lane Press). Dr. Rumpkin, the neighbor, is a genealogist, and in his lab he meets Sam Robinson who can explain how mankind might have been wiped out. His sister turns out to be Richard’s math teacher. They end up in the far future and are picked up by a star ship to go to the final battle between invaders of our Galaxy and it’s defenders. Yes, there’s a touch of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but this tale stays a bit more serious. A lot of fun.
P. N. Elrod introduces us to Alexdrina Victoria Pentleburry of Her Majesty’s Psychic Service. Set during an alternate Victorian England. Alex is called in to professionally  read feelings in the room of The Hanged Man (hard from Tor). It’s immediately obvious that the man had been put to sleep with ether before being hanged, but the murderer left no psychic imprint. Then she discovers the victim is her father, who she hasn’t seen in a decade. That brings in the head of the service, who is attack with air rifles. Add in a mad seeress at headquarters who warns them just before and attack; an occult group that may be more than it seems, and the political England for the English group and you have a complication that may also involve Alex’s family. Fun. I’m looking forward to her next case.
Diana Pharaoh Francis returns us to Diamond City where magic works and where Riley Hollis, a tracer who can even trace the dead has had her powers exposed. Now she has bodyguards she didn’t ask for. She thinks she knows who hired them, but she is wrong. There’s a magical drug trade in Diamond City and the designer of the drug that brings people to the  Edge of Dreams (paper from Bell Bridge Books) before turning them to waifs, wants her talents and lures her deep into the caves below Diamond City before exposing her to the drug and hopefully making her an addict who would work for him. Luckily she has friends and talents he doesn’t know about. This is a magical version of a drug war tale, but still lots of fun.
Mike Shepherd’s of Kris Longknife take place in a future where two human empires are in conflict. Vicky Peterwald is the daughter of one of the Emperors and has become Kris’s friend/enemy. In Vicky Peterwald: Survivor (paper from Ace) she has run from the palace after her step-mother tried to kill her. Her stepmother’s family has destroying the empire’s economy while Vicky’s new mother keeps her father occupied. So it’s up to Vicky with the help of the Navy and a developed planet working with her. Crystal is at the heart of the future economy. The executives on the mining world have choked off production leaving starving miners. Other planets have had complete collapse of civilization as the loss of tools to repair the base structures have disappeared. Vicky, as Grand Duchess might have to avoid being kidnaped an risk her life many times, but it is possible to bring the economy back in at least a small section of the Empire. Fun.
The barrier between Faerie and the human world was sealed by Brianna’s human mother Helena. That led to The Exile ( trade from Tor by C. T. Adams). Brianna makes a nice living selling magical implements in our world, happy to stay out of Faerie politics since her father is the King. Then the Fates tell King Leu that he will shortly be murdered by a traitor.  Brianna knowing nothing of this is bringing home a painting helped by her assistant Dave and his cop brother Nick on suspension after being caught in a gun fight that got his partner injured. Then doxies attack the shop and kill Pug’s cat and steal her kittens. Pug is a Gargoyle. Brianna, Pug, Nick and Dave chase the doxies into Faerie and end up in court where politics rules and where a civil war is on the verge. This is only the first part of a longer series and I’m waiting for part two.
Suzanne Johnson returns to a New Orleans in which gates to other worlds were eased by Hurricane Katrina. Drusilla J. Jaco, wizard sentinal of the city, faces a Pirate’s Alley (hard from Tor) of complications arising from the events in the previous tale, Elysian Fields (paper) Jean Lafitte , the undead historical figure, is after revenge on the vampire who used to be his partner. The Elf prince Quince Randolph has discovered that he has sired a boy on Eugenia, D. J.’s best friend and wants the baby. There’s a number of trials, each of which ends with a building falling down or burning up. New Orleans in in the middle of a snow storm and D.. J.  finds that being one fifth elf makes her prone to hibernation in the worst of times. This is a fun romp, and alas, the tale is not over.
Mary Robinette Kowal has the fifth and final tale of Jane and Vincent, Professional Glamourists Of Noble Family (hard from Tor)in the early nineteenth century. With the exception of the magic of Glamour, the world is historically correct. When his father, Earl and traitor to the crown, is reported dead in the family plantation in Antigua. Vincent’s older brother has died in a crash and the second eldest injured, so it falls on Vincent to restore his family name of Hamilton and sail to Antigua where slavery is still legal. Jane discovers her pregnancy on the trip and arriving at the plantation, discover that not only is Vincent’s father still living, but there are  half-brothers and children and grandchildren all slaves. Add in a corrupt manager and mistreated slaves. Vincent and Jane caught in the middle and Jane finds that the only doctor she can trust is a black woman. This is a good historical look at slavery in the West Indies where the slaves couldn’t escape.
\Samantha Bryant realizes that women Going Through the Change (paper from  Curiosity Quills Press) are open to using alternate medicines to relieve symptoms. But what a Chinese doctor, Cindy Liu, comes up with, drastically changes four women. Linda’s soap turns her into a very strong man;  Jessica’s tea allows her to become light enough to float,  Patricia’s skin cream turns her into a dragon creature with bullet proof skin, and Helen’s pills allow her to throw fire. Cindy, herself,  is growing young too fast and willing to experiment on the others which creates the conflicts as each of the women accustoms themselves to the changes and learn to control their power. Alas the tale is unfinished. Lots of fun.
John C. Wright has been mapping the far future in which complications come from interstellar civilizations that move at light speed. In the first tale Count to a Trillion (paper) an expedition to a near star finds a monument and a signal sent to powerful aliens. Menelaus Montrose’s girl friend takes a 60,000 year round trip to argue for humanity while Montrose and his enemy Ximen del Azarchel fight and survive the milleniums. They fled Earth when the first huge, alien vessel arrived in the 111th century and return to find the Earth moved in its orbit and most of it’s population taken to create colonies on other worlds. They can only survive if a massive brain is created in Jupiter, a brain that would control humanity. The colonies fail and that leads to a second confrontation with aliens in the 221th century. In the 515th century Montrose and Ximen are in conflict again with Jupiter which leads to an unusual duel. The Architect of Aeons (hard from Tor) is the fourth of six books and is either a work of genius or a mess. Some parts work well and the historical span is fascinating.
    Baen paper books include Gateway to Never (trade), the sixth book A. Bertram Chandler’s tales of John Grimes, starship captain; Man-Kzin Wars XIV (paper) a collection of tales set in Larry Niven’s universe; and the paperback reprint of Shadow of Freedom set in the Honorverse.
    The Science Fiction Society will have its next meeting on June 12th at 2015 at 8 p.m. at the Rotunda  on  the University of Pennsylvania Campus. Dr. Charles E. Gannon, a nebula- nominated author for Fire With Fire 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). Check out his non-formula unified field theory at henrylazarus.com/utf.html