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Science Fiction for December 2016
by Henry Leon Lazarus

    War is only fun if you’re reading about it from the winning side. Fantasy and Science fiction can make war more interesting to read about, but not to live through
Michael Z. Williamson takes another look at the war between the UN of Earth and the Libertarian world of Freehold. Angeleyes (hard from Baen) is an peacetime vet from Freehold bouncing around various ports working odd jobs.  She knows all the station hiding places and how to survive when money runs low. Then the UN takes Freehold over and the war begins. So she volunteers to help a black-ops group find their way around the various stations to sabotage UN troops. Most of the time she doesn’t know what is going on. Still this is a fascinating look at the underbelly of war.  
Will Panzo borrows his plot heavily from A Fist Full of Dollars and I found myself humming the theme song as I read.  The Burning Isle (paper from Ace) the he Island of Scipio exists on the edge of civilization with no law and two gangs controlling it. Instead of guns there are gauntlets used by spellcasters and a duel can be quite deadly. In the jungle, a general and his army keep things calm, indirectly. Cassius, a mage  trained on the Isle of Twelve,  may be more powerful than the hundreds of spellcasters on the island. The tale follows the movie plot well with a few surprises from the background. Very Intense.
To Stephanie Burgis, alchemy includes the ability to take energy from people. At the meeting in 1814 in Vienna, government representatives came to rewrite to map of Europe after Napoleon’s defeat. To this Congress of Secrets (trade from Pyr) come two people still hunted by the Emperor’s secret police. Michael Steinhüller who once had been a radical printer’s apprentice whas come to Vienna in the guise of a prince to be paid off when his kingdom is folded into Poland. Lady Catherine Wyndham, the daughter of that printer now widowed, wealthy, and connected, wants to hopefully find and rescue her father. After capture, she had been tortured by Alchemy used by the head of the Secret Police. If her identity were discovered, she would be put again into the hands of evil. Of course their paths cross. This intense tale is difficult to put down.
Imagine mixing 2001. A Space Odyssey with Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Christopher Mari and  Jeremy K. Brown start with an em pulse from the Ocean of Storms (paper from 47north). This leads to  a new expedition to the moon, a race from both the US and China, with famous archeologists  Dr. Elias Zell and Alan Donovan as crew members. Sabotage forces a united crew from both nations and almost traps them on the moon. What they find there is over two million years old and that leads them to another discovery in deep Africa where the bad guys block their path in. I don’t want to give away what they find, but the tale is fun and the deaths have meaning.
Vaslisha Tor Dain is a mercenary captain with her own planet. When she returns two weeks late from where she parked her ship, she discovered it had been cut into pieces, and she was left with the horribly named Warrior Wench (ebook). Collecting her crew, her first engagement is a trap which the ship barely survives. She has a first mate who can’t be killed and is friends with an ancient alien, and numerous fun adventures. There’s an underlying corruption in the heart of civilization that she might be the only cure. Marie Andreas tells a fun and exciting tale that begins a trilogy. I’m eagerly waiting the next installment.
The Death of Caesar and the age of Augustus might be considered the beginning of the modernity. Michael Livingston has been adding magic in the form of The Shards of Heaven (paper) to very real history. Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra and Marc Antony has retrieved one of the shards from the temple of the Vestals in Rome. Then, with her husband, Jubal II, an adopted son of Caesar they join Augustus in a campaign against Spanish rebels with a shard that can rain fire. At the same time the Ark of the Covenant shard has been stored in Elephantine, on the boundary between Egypt and Kush, protected by Caesarian. As Jubal and Selene start to experiment with their shards, they open up The Gates of Hell (hard from TOR) in this middle book of a trilogy. This is a well- researched and fascinating look into historical Rome with an odd fantasy veneer.
Jean Johnson is writing a series about Fae traders who come to a desolate world of desert and wind magic. Dawn of the Flame Sea (ebook) told how they and an immortal human named Ban (death in the local language) arrived and essentially adopted a local tribe. Decades later the locals have started to secretly worship these Fae. Another group of off-worlders have come to mine mercury. These  Efrijt are known to live by the contracts they write, usually with unwary locals. Thus we have Demons of the Flame Sea (ebook from InterMix) from the native view. This a tale of negotiations, not war and there are no villains or heroes. Still the series is growing on me and I look forward to the next challenge for these adventuresome to face..         
Marion G. Harmon’s sixth tale of his superhero Astra takes oddball twists and tuns. An encounter with a serial killer who uses mirrors, sends Astra to an alternate Earth, specifically the universe of  Seanan McGuire’s Velveteen. In the winterlands Santa Claus gives her a magical ball to send her to other universes, including that of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Giggle) This group of tales of Team-Ups and Crossovers (ebook) is just as must fun as the previous Astra tales. I’m hooked.
J.A. Sutherland has transferred the Napoleonic War period to the far future by having a need for sails in Dark Space. Lieutenant Alexis Carew has been given the command of the HMS Nightingale (ebook)   a small revenue cutter patrolling several systems, including Alexis’s home system. Hunting pirates doesn’t prepare her for the religious fanatics who inhabit the worlds on her route. So she has to deal with a surly crew, her own nightmares and, for some reason, a mongoose that likes to live in her boots. It’s easy to positively compare this series with the early Hornblower tales by C. S. Forester. I look forward to the next adventures.
There’s a lot of fun in mixing magic with guns. M. C. Plank has been telling about Christopher Sinclair, and engineer from our world. In the first two books he introduced flintlocks and cannons, allowing the draftees from his village to survive the wolf-men attacks. In this third tale he must first save his friend, corrupted by evil with a Judgment at Verdant Court (trade from Pyr). Then his king sends him off to conquer the wolf-men territory. This is a fun series, but should be read in order.
Emma Newman tells a near future tale set a few decades After Atlas (paper from ROC) a generational starship, lifted to the stars to find God. Carlos Moreno and his father had joined the Circle of people left behind,. Carlos ran away from the circle and ended up in London as a detective, and indentured servant to the state. Then Alejandro Casales, the extremely rich leader of the Circle is found chopped to pieces after being hanged. In a world where most people are chipped to connected to the internet, and whose activities are constantly recorded, there is very little need for detectives. Members of the Circle refuse to be chipped,. Their own colony tries for a more natural life-style and even grew their own food when Carlos had been a member. As expected the murder is only the tip of an iceberg of corruption that Carlos must face and hopefully survive. This is a fascinating tale, but I was disappointed with the dark ending.
Finally we have David Weber’s latest in his honorverse universe which is only for fans of the series. In this heavily populated galaxy, the Solarian League, Based on Earth, has a huge number of planets under its control. While their battle ships are centuries old, they haven’t improved their technology. In the last century the star kingdom, now Empire of Manticore has fought the People’s Republic of Haven and has drastically improved their weapons to the point that in the few naval engagements in this current tale of the Shadow of Victory (hard from Baen) are heavily lopsided. The Mesan Alignment tries sending weapons to rebellions fighting the corruption in the League  in the name of Manticore, hoping that Manticore will disavow these rebellions. The real battle between Manticore and the Solarians is still coming, but Manticore has at least been driven to declare war and blockade trade routes.  
    Tor has reprinted the late editor David G. Hartwell’s tales of Christmas Magic(trade). DAW has a new collection of Valdemar tales by  Mercedes Lackey, Tempest (paper).
    Baen has two of Louis McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan tales in trade; The Vor Game and Gentleman Joe and the Red Queen. They’ve also reprinted in trade the classic The Right To Bear Arms from the late Gordon R. Dickson. They also have a collection of tales to honor David Drake, Onward Drake (edited by Mark L. Van Name) in paper.
    The Science Fiction Society will have its next meeting on December 12th  2016 where short story writer Carmen Maria Machado is the guest speaker. The meeting starts  at  8 p.m.  at The Rotunda on  the University of Pennsylvania Campus.  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 unified field theory at henrylazarus.com/utf.html that suggests a simpler way to achieve fusion generation.