Science Fiction for November 2011
by Henry Leon Lazarus
This year is turning out to be a good one for major novels from writers who are not prolific. I expect to see difficult choices for the science fiction and fantasy awards this year.
Two decades ago Vernor Vinge introduced us to the Star Ship Out of Bound II, running from the Blight which was born in an area of the Galaxy where high level physics, that seem almost like magic, exist. They crashed on Tines World, a world whose intelligent life are packs of dogs (anywhere from four to eight in a pack) Itís three decades later and information from the starshipís library has gotten to the natives. The Children of the Sky (hard from Tor) have to contend with Tycoon, a tine growing a commercial empire. Dr. Vinge has a lot of fun imagining a world with potentially immortal beings (as long as they keep replacing older dogs with pups) whose personalities can be modified with the death of certain pack members. Then thereís the choir in the South filled with so many dogs that no personality can survive the noise. The is a certain Hugo nominee.
We have lost the magic that Victorians looked at circuses. In fact, according to Erin Morgenstern, we ignore all magic, thinking it is a sort of trickery. Two wizards devise a challenge for their apprentices, Celia and Marco, in the form of The Night Circus (trade from Doubleday which I bought for my kindle app), a collection of tents only open from dusk to dawn, filled with impossible wonders. Celia is the illusionist creating impossible displays that can only be created with real magic. Marcus runs the circus from a distance as assistant to the owner, and adds his own magical displays. As described this is a wonder of the ages, with its own fan following. It need no advertising, appearing overnight suddenly and then gone in a few weeks. The rules that constrict Celia and Marco to showing the best magician, are not clear, but they do not include the two falling in love. This belongs in a collection with Cirus of Dr. Lao, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. This is a wonderful first novel and I only wish that the Le Cirque des Rêves were real so I could explore its marvelous tents.
L. E. Modesitt, Jr. likes to create prequels to his marvelous works, frequently set centuries before the first set of tales. He returns to his world where magicians create through imaging things. Quaeryt is a Scholar (hard from Tor), and an advisor to one of the major rulers. He hides his ability to image, though has no qualms using that talent to kill some of his enemies. Tilbor was conquered a decade before and, unfortunately still requires too many soldiers. So Quaeryt quietly heads their, using his skills as a sailor to help support the trip, which unfortunately ends him in a shipwreck from which he barely survives. In Telbor he discovers a governor with a Regiment under his control which would die for him, and rebel land holders who have grudges that predate the conquering of their land. Quaertl is a quiet person who hides his abilities so well, that he is hard to get a true sense of. The tale is worth the read. I am already looking forward to the continuation of his saga.
John Nassise introduces us to Jeremiah Hunt, a man so obsessed with finding his missing daughter that he used a magic ritual to give him Eyes to See (hard from Tor) the ghosts that haunt the Earth. Instead nearly blind, he finds he can borrow sight from a friendly ghost he calls Whisper. Now, no longer of Professor of exotic languages, he exorcizes Ghosts and works as a consultant for the Police who think him merely psychic. Then a series of murders leads him to the spirit who stole his daughter. Very intense. I gulped this down and am looking forward to the promised sequel.
Jacqueline Carey introduced us to Santa Olivia ( paper) a town under martial law on the border with Mexico. Loup is the daughter of a genetically modified soldier and in the first tale managed, with her girl friend Pilar, managed to escape into the real world. These Saints Astray (trade from Grand Central Publishing) they are recruited into a bodyguard agency, which gets them aliases.. Training is, of course, a lot hard for Pilar but she shows surprising strengths. Then they have several gigs as bodyguards before ending up working for an internationally famous band. Soon Loup is an icon selling t-shirts with her picture. Then an old friend, who was supposed to testify about Santa Olivia, is kidnaped in Las Vegas and that forces Loup to head to the U.S, a place where she isnít considered human. Itís impossible not to be caught up in the fun characters here, especially the rock band members who fit every cliché, and yet are lovable.
Catherine Asaro continues her tale of the peace finally growing between the Skolian and Eubian empires. Jaibriol, Emperor of Aristos is really a Ruby telepath. Kelric the Skolian Imperator knows this but must keep it secret. A decade before the song Carnelians (hard from Baen) Finale had been hush up, but now on the eve of negotiations schemers trying to stop peace get it widely released and then Del, the Ruby prince turned holo-singer, is kidnaped. Adding to the complication is a Ruby telepath seeking refuge at the Skolian Embassy who unknowingly becomes a pawn. Many of the threads from previous books are finally completed in this tale which is a must for fans of the series.
A practicing physician herself, Mickey Zucker Reichert is the perfect choice to show the first few months of Susan Calvinís residency in Child Psychology. Susan Calvin who will become the Robot Psychologist of Isaac Asimovís famous series has four cases to start with, three of which are actually medical puzzles. But I Robot: Protect (hard from Roc) also has Susan involved with a medical study using nano-robots, robots corrupted by a protest group. She also makes friends with Nate, a robot designed by her father, that her hospital is afraid to use to its full potential. Very absorbing and an interesting look at the near-future of medicine and what technology has allowed to change and what elements of medicine seem set in stone. I really enjoyed it.
David Chandler concludes his tale of a thief who gets in over his head by befriending one of the knights of the ancient swords. In the last book they found a ancient dwarf city enhabited by the last elves and in surviving managed to bring down both the city and the mountain over it. Now the Barbarians of the East have a wide path to invade. Croy, ever faithful knight, stays to fight the invaders and protect his king. By Malden takes Cythera, Croyís betrothed and Maldenís love back to Ness, where strange circumstances make him Lord Mayor of a town missing all its able-bodied men. Soon the Barbarians have Ness under siege and Malden has to find the Honor Among Thieves(paper from Harper Voyager) and the strength of the prostitutes to defend his city. It doesnít help that his love has decided to follow her motherís path and become a witch, which means no lovers or husbands. This was an exciting end to a fun series.
Kylie Chan continues her tale of a nanny to in Hong Kong, whose employer is really a celestial God. In Red Phoenix (paper from Harper Voyager) Emma has to deal with being John Chenís heir once he loses enough energy to require him to become his primary form and leave Earth. She helps set up martial arts schools and gets better at the art herself, doing things that should be impossible for humans. Also she finds herself dreaming about being a snake. Iím eagerly awaiting the conclusion of this fun series next month.
Jennifer Estep, whose books have become one of my dirty pleasures, concludes her tale of Gin Blanco, an assassin with ice and stone elemental powers, who runs a Rib joint on the side. In Spiderís Revenge (paper from Pocket) she finally faces her enemy, Mab, a powerful woman with fire elemental powers who dominates the corrupt city, and who has a put a huge bounty on Ginís head. This is a fun, classy ending to a great series.
Kelly Meding takes a dark look at an alternate Earth where super-powered metahumans had a city-destroying war. Trance (paper from Pocket) was just a kid in that war that ended when all Metaís lost their powers. Since then she grew up, served time, and works three jobs to pay her rent. Then she got new powers, very powerful energy control, and so did an old enemy. Her allies are the grown-up kids who now have their powers back; a shape-shifter, a man with super senses; and a few other who come to the old Ranger headquarters that somehow had been maintained. Constantly under attack by a meta who can take over other metaís minds and use them to attack the new Rangers, she has to find this hidden meta before he kills her. Very exciting beginning to a new series.
David Weber revisits A Beautiful Friendship (hard from Baen) between Stephanie Harrington and Climbs Quickly, a telepathic tree cat from the forests of Sphinx. This first contact was briefly mentioned in Mr. Weberís Honor Harrington series, and got a short story a decade ago. This fun young-adult novel fleshes out the details and adds a tale of Stephanie and Climbs Quickly fighting an off-planet poacher determined to sell tree cats off world. Lots of fun and it looks as if it is the beginning of a fun series.
Mike Shephard has kept his heroine facing internal enemies in her part of the galaxy. In the 8th book of the saga, he has Kris Longknife:Daring (paper from Ace) to go into unmapped parts of the galaxy where they meet humanoid enemies who shoot first at anything challenging them and they also destroy planets with living civilizations. Kris is outgunned even with eight battleships with her along with a new devastating weapon. I gulped this down in a day and canít wait for her next encounter with this vicious enemy.
Chuck Palahnuik manages a modern Dantean look at hell with his tale of Madison, a thirteen-year-old girl who thinks she is Damned (hard from Doubleday) bec ausedied of marijuana overdose. Madison is the daughter of two extremely rich and liberal film stars who are constantly adopting orphans to make themselves look good and have houses around the world. Madison was watching her mother win the Academy Awards on television with the latest orphan, a boy slightly older than herself who she is interested in, when she died. Hell is properly disgusting, but somehow it is a place for Madison to discover who she is, how she really died, and what she wants out of death. In between she has to find a way to tame a giant demoness, and work the telephones to interrupt peopleís dinner with pointless surveys. She makes friends with people waiting to die who eventually make their way to hell. Lots of fun and appropriately silly.
Richard Kadrey looks at Hell as an ugly Los Angeles. In the final book of the trilogy, Sandman Slim gets an Aloha from Hell (hard from harper voyager) from a boy possessed by his arch-enemy, Mason. So he has to return to Hell to stop Masonís war on Heaven, and ends up having Jack the Ripper helping him as he kills demons and anything else that gets in his way. This is a pulse-pounding, hard-boiled action thriller. Lots of fun.
Ryan Brown manages to put an old-west town into the 21st century. Sam Bonham is running towards from a murder he doesnít remember committing, when he comes across a plane crash with the cryogenically frozen John Wayne. Somehow he manages to waken the Duke accidently and now Thawed Out and Fed Up (trade from Gallery Books) the two of them find themselves in a rebuilt western set with the townsfolk menaced by evil cowboys. Mr. Brown doesnít miss a single oater cliche, but somehow manages a compelling plot.. Lots of fun.
I really enjoyed the first two books of Laura Anne Gilmanís tale of the Vineart war. Her world in which magical wines are cultivated by Vinearts picked and trained from the slaves of the previous Vineart because they show affinity to magic. In the final book, Jerzey returns home to his vineyard, which is still recovering from his masters death. The enemy mage is still attacking his country using evil magic. Only Jerzey can repair The Shattered Vine(hard from Gallery Book). In an effort to edit the size of the book down, Ms. Gilman has cut out scenes that were probably necessary, eliding though them too fast. I really think that this tale should have been longer and cut into two books.
Collections include tales from the late Robert Asprin, Myth-Interpretations (paper from Baen); and The Best of the Bolos (paper from Baen) a long running series created by the late Kieth Laumer.
Paper reprints include Lois McMaster Bujold Hugo nominated tale Cyberburn (paper from Baen); Robert A. Heinleinís classic Starman Jones (trade from Baen); and Lois McMaster Bujoldís The Sharing Knife fantasy series Beguilement, Legacy, Passage, and Horizon (all paper from Harper Voyager.) Tor has rpeprinted Michael Swanwickís classic, The Dragons of Babel in trade.
The 75th Anniversary Philadelphia Science Fiction Conference, Philcon, will be on November 18 - 20, 2011 in the Crown Plaza Hotel, Cherry Hill, NJ. The Principal Speaker is Cory Doctorow. Itís $50 for the weekend, but there are day rates. Always fun. Iíll be there
Dr. Henry Lazarus is a local Dentist and the author of A Cycle of Gods from Wolfsinger Publications