Henry L Lazarus                                                                                                                                                                                                               HOME
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Science Fiction for October 2018
by Henry L Lazarus

    Fantasy and Science Fiction can be great in October. This year they are truly amazing.
Derek Kunsken has a tale set in a far future where genetic engineering has created new human species. The Numen made themselves to gods to their slave Homo Pupa, until their slaves decided it was better to lock their gods up. Belisarius Arjona is a flawed Homo quantus.  He can’t leave the quantum-computing fugue state voluntarily and almost died several times before leaving the Garret to work con games to keep his mind interested enough to stay alive. Now living in the Federation of Puppet Theocracies, he is approached by members of the sixth Expeditionary Force of the Sub-Saharan Union. They need the con man known as The Quantum Magician (paper from Solaris) to smuggle a dozen ships through the wormhole in the center of Puppet space. For forty years the Sixth Expeditionary Force has been building new drives and weapons and the Puppets want half of the ships as payment to let them through. The fleet wants to break their world from the Congregate. To work his con, Belisarius needs an old partner, his long-long girl friend who hadn’t followed him in his exile, a genius geneticist, a pilot designed to live deep in an ocean, an A. I.  who thinks it is the reincarnation of St. Matthew, and an explosive expert who has to broken out of prison. What follows is an impossible-to-put-down tale full of twists and counter-twists and, of course, treachery. This is an amazing tale.
In Becky Chambers future, humanity was forced off Earth when it became uninhabitable , launching the survivors in an Exudus fleet. In her present contact was made with a galactic civilization filled with many alien species and many people have left the fleet to seek opportunities. Record of a Spaceborn Few (hard from Harper Voyager) is a tale of people living in the communist culture of the fleet, aliens visiting, and even one who moved from an alien planet who dies. It starts after a horrible accident destroys one of the ancient ships. In the end lives are changed. Some leave, some go off and then return. This is a quiet tale that allows Ms. Chambers a chance to show off her world-building skills I suspect it will be on future award nominations.
Richard K. Morgan, whose Altered Carbon made for a great Netflix series, has a tale of a corrupt Mars with its cities under laminate bubbles of Thin air (hard from Del Rey)  and controlled by a huge corporation. Hakan Veil was modified pre-birth to protect the freight moving around the solar system. He was dumped on Mars after a bad incident, and earns his keep with semi-legal enterprises. He murdered a Casino owner and was sitting in lock-up, when he was suddenly asked to guard a member of the high level audit team. When she gets kidnaped despite five guards, and an attack on his home with a Naval missile at the same time. The audit was triggered by a missing lottery winner of a trip to Earth, but the roots go far deeper and so do the attempts on Hakan’s life.  This will also make for a great, pulse-pounding Netflix series.
Tomas Piety had been a gangster in the industrial city of  Ellinburg. When the war is won, leaving an impoverished country. He had been picked by his commander as a Priest of Bones (paper from Ace) and leader of a squad. He and his brother make their way home, only to discover all his properties,  like the gambling house and whore house, had been stolen. As he begins to reclaim his turf, a knight-agent for the Queen, Ailsa, wants him to push harder. Behind the new gangs were agents of another country hoping to use Ellinburg as a base to conquer the weakened country. Peter McLean sets an intense and exciting stage with magic and nineteenth century technology. It ends at a stable point, but I can’t wait for more.
The  demon Tarrik Nal-Valim is summoned to a human world by a powerful sorceress Serenity “Ren” Branwen who is one of the nine sorcerers trying to bring back a very powerful demon who almost conquered the world. Ren knew of him from her Grandfather who somehow had been Tarrik’s friend. Forced into helping her even though it will mean his death, Tarrik soon discovers Ren has deeper plans that will help her confront the Shadow of the Exile (paper from 47th North) Mitchell Hogan tells an enthralling tale and sequels are promised.
The first Martian expedition landed on Mars in 1963 in Mary Robinette Kowal’s alternate history that diverged from ours when a meteor hit the Eastern Coast a decade before and threw enough water into the air to create a greenhouse effect. The Calculating Stars (trade) introduced us to Elma York, pilot and physicist, who becomes the “Lady Astronaut” from being on the Mr. Wizard television show. The Fated Sky (trade) has her as one of the two calculators, both female, on the Martian Expedition. From dangers on Earth from wild protestors, to the dangers of a three year trip to Mars, the tale is an exciting, yet well-researched tale. Excellent.
It’s been over fifteen years since Julie E. Czerneda had a tale about Esen, the youngest of six web-shifters who can shift to an individual on any species she has records. She and her human friend Paul Ragem have created  All Species' Library of Linguistics and Culture on his original home planet. Then an old human friend, Evan Gooseberry arrives with a problem. The Dokeci Na have discovered a new intelligent species, and all their efforts to save them, have made the elf-like beings conditions worse. Search Image (hard from DAW) shows the love that Julie E. Czerneda puts into the aliens who range from silly to imposing. I’m really glad that more tales are promised.
Charles Stross’s Laundry Files series mixes Lovecraftian monsters with a British spy agency assigned to keep magic a secret while protecting England and the world from an emergence of these powers. In the previous tale, the worst happened and an  elder god N’yar Lat-Hotep is now Prime Minister. The Labyrinth Index (hard from Tor) tells of a US agency, the Nazgûl, who are  occupying the government and attempting to summon Cthulhu. They have created a geas to remove the American President from the memory of all Americans. The real President is protected by Secret Service agents trying to stay awake so they remember their charge. Enter Dame Mhairi Murphey, an agent afflicted with the PHANG (vampire) curse. She is entrusted to create a team to rescue the American President. Along for the ride are: the only female elf wizard; Jim her superhero boyfriend, Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Grey; and Brains, a former gamer with magical dice. A very exciting tale with lots of twists and impossible situations. Great series.
S. L. Huang introduces us to Cas Russell, a young woman who can read the vectors and angles of the world around her to pull off impossible feats, like throwing a rock to take out several attackers at once. Off grid, she works as a retriever of stolen objects. The case starts with a girl held by a drug lord. That part was easy, despite have to kill a number of henchmen. It turns out that girl was not what she seemed and working for Pithica, an organization using mind control to create a better world. They are after her friend Rio, a psychopath, who uses religion to provide the morality he needs and loves to take down evil corporations like pithica. Helped by an ex-cop Arthur Testing and his hacker friend, Cas is facing a Zero Sum Game (paper from Tor) that could easily get her killed. The tale kept me up late, and I can’t wait for Cas’s next adventure.     
George R. R. Martin, who isn’t writing new Game of Throne books, has edited a heart-warming wild cards tale, Texas Hold'em (hard from Tor) set at a high-school Jazz band competition in San Antonio. The band from Xavier Desmond High are all jokers, causing lots of bible belt protests. There’s a stink bomb, a kidnaping, and a lot of music. Prejudiced kids are taught lessons, and somehow it all works out. It left a tear in my eye.
John Varley was the best SF writer in the early 70's. His high tech future in which humanity had been kicked off Earth by aliens and survived on the other planets depicted an awesome future with body switching and other odd life styles. Christopher Bach is a glitch veteran who likes to pretend to be a 30's gumshoe with his intelligent dog partner, Sherlock. Because of his horrible experience, he doesn’t allow brain connections to the local net. This leads him, indirectly to the case of the Irontown Blues (hard from Ace) where a dame claims she was infected with leprosy without her permission. Her trail disappears despite both his and Sherlocks efforts. The best part is a translation of Sherlocks story in his own words. This is a minor addition to the universe, but still fun.
Brian Trent has a gritty far future. Humanity has recovered from a nuke exchange, and its government, based on Archologies on Earth,  has settlements all over the solar system. Waste lands on Earth remain outside the recovery and grow with stolen weapons, and a hatred of the haves. The destruction of a shuttle coming in from Mars to the Moon, creates a cascade of events. Gethin Bryce was on the shuttle,  rebirthed with memories from his last backup two weeks before, and set to investigate the strange energy that destroyed the shuttle. He is assisted by two employees of Prometheus corporation, one his ex-wife. A wasteland warrior is added after she is attacked by something strange. At the heart of the puzzle are ancient gods who preceded the creation of life on Earth. Ten Thousand Thunders (hard from Flame Tree Press) is set in a wonderful, and complicated future. It’s a complicated mixture of technology and culture and makes Mr. Trent a writer to watch.
Charlie J. Eskew has an odd, almost satyric look at superheroes. His Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark (paper from Lanternfish Press) is the tale of Donald McDougal,  a young man in a dead end job who gets power over electricity after being struck by lightning. Trained by someone with the same powers, he applies to join the American Collective for Resolving Overtly Negative Yowled Misconducts when the first African American member quits. Eventually he is the second African American superhero. He has to survive being killed and chasing away both his girl friends, before earning real income from the PantheUsa group and advertising. Lots of fun with a giggle.
Merrin Smith, an orphan on Isla Perla, joins pirate ship Riptide disguised as a man. Her captain, Erik Winters,  is hunting for his lost love stolen to mythical island of Bracile that exits in a hole of reality.  The Isle of Gold (paper from Black Spot Books) turns out to have a sea goddess on it, and on it Merrin is faced with both her parents and the sister she never knew. Seven Jane tells a fascinating, and well-researched  tale of magic and the high seas that is hard to put down.
A decade after the adventure in Valiant Dust (hard) , Lieutenant Commander  Sikander North is assigned as the intelligence officer on the commonwealth ship Exeter. He’s part of a diplomatic fleet to the ancient alien Tzoru Empire. Like ancient China in the 19th century, technology has passed by the Tzoru, Even though they were the ancient astronauts that visited Sargon, now they are a technologically a good century behind. Politics lets an anti-alien philosophy loose. Richard Baker tries hard to put Skiander’s Restless Lightning (hard from Tor) to use, and puts him in a number of dangerous situations with his researcher friend Lara, but he is not in charge of what is a far bigger story. I still will eagerly read the next adventure.
After her father disappeared, Tessa Andrews spent her last year of High School delivering food to the local elderly. Then one of her clients,  Professor Brandard, has his house go up in flames with him turning back to his twenties. That was Tessa’s introduction to magic. Unfortunately a very powerful wizard is making his way to America and Tessa has to help the The Late Great Wizard (paper from DAW) help find the relics that have pieces of his memory and are scattered all over the North East cities. Other eccentric wizards sometimes help and sometimes hinder. When she learns her father has been caught in a magical trap, it makes the quest personally important to her. A fun tale.
October Daye, fae changling and Knight of the Realm located in our San Francisco, is back for a 12th adventure. The daughter, Gillian. she had to give up when she was turned into a fish for fourteen years, has been kidnaped from UC Berkeley. Her ex-husband and his new wife are frantic and blaming her. Night and Silence (hard from DAW) sends her into area’s of the fairy world she never knew existed and also introduces to her all-too-human grandmother who also is immortal.  Seanan McGuire brings back an old villain thought captured, and a fae form of vampire. As usual, lots of fun.
Ernestine “Ernie” Terwilliger is now playing with a full deck. She is one of the immortal dealers who use magical cards that are also the animals tattooed on their skin. Her father had been one, and has been missing for twenty years. In The Guardian (paper from 47North),  Sarah Fine finds Ernie sent to an alternate universe where a giant grasshopper is eating people. Her father had been sent there twenty years before. Is he still alive? This is a fun series, but this second adventure is a bit generic.
    Daw has a  novella and two short stories set in the universe of the best selling Green Rider series by Kristen Britain, The Dream Gatherer (hard). Great series that’s been around for twenty years.
    Baen has a collection of Eric Flint’s tales, Worlds 2 in trade, the late Gordon R. Dickson’s classic Outposter in trade and reprinted in paper Sharon Lee and Steve miller’s last Liaden tale The Gathering Edge.
    The World Fantasy Award finalists are: The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager);  Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymirby John Crowley (Saga Press); The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss (Saga Press); Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory (Bond Street Books CA/Knopf US/Riverrun UK); The Changeling by Victor LaValle (Spiegal & Grau); and Jade City by Fonda Lee (Orbit).
    The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin (orbit) has won the Hugo Award.
    The Science Fiction Society will have its next meeting on October 5th at  8 p.m. at the Rotunda  on  the University of Pennsylvania Campus. Aaron S. Rosenberg, author and Game designer, will speak.  As usual guests are welcome.
    Dr. Henry Lazarus is a retired 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 that suggests a simpler way to achieve fusion generation.