Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, 2004, £14.99, ISBN 0575-07436-1
I was a little disappointed with Reynolds last novel, but he's right back in form with this new one. Earth has become uninhabitable thanks to nanotechnology which got out of control. The ruined planet is watched over by one of two branches of surviving humanity, which has forsworn nanotech because of its dangers. The other branch has embraced it completely, achieving a kind of immortality and developing powers that verge on the magical. Verity Auger is from the former group, an archaeologist fascinated with the city of Paris. After making a controversial decision that leads to her suspension, she is recruited into a group exploring a gigantic alien artifact which contains an alternate Earth, apparently copied in every detail from our own some time prior to World War II, but recently awakened from stasis. In this separate culture, the war never happened, although there are the same ominous trends in Europe. Verity is part of a secret contact team who discover that renegades from among the immortals are planning to destroy the planet because of their conviction that the people there are simply automatons. Reynolds weaves the almost familiar and the completely unfamiliar together into a coherent and exciting story embroidered with innovative scientific wonders.
Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer, Tor, 4/05, $$24.95, ISBN 0-765-31107-0
The premise of Robert Sawyer's latest novel is a familiar one. Technology advances to the point where a human personality can be completely copied into an artificial body, providing a form of immortality, although the original personality and body are still as perishable as ever. The protagonist is a comparatively young man with an incurable disease who decides to have himself copied before the onset of the symptoms. A condition of this arrangement is that the organic version of himself must immediately go to a resort on the moon to live out the rest of his life. Both versions run into problems. The organic self realizes that he is still just as doomed as he was beforehand, a situation aggravated when a cure is discovered for his illness, and the artificial copy is dismayed when his friends and family refuse to accept him as the same person. All of this culminates in a legal battle to determine whether identity can be passed in this fashion. At first, it is relatively easy to believe in all this, but as the novel progresses, I was thrown out of the story by nagging questions. First of all, given the elaborate and extensive nature of the company's facilities, it is hard to believe that they had set no legal precedents and could spirit people away to imprisonment on the moon with impunity, and that it took this long for someone to challenge the laws of inheritance and property. Secondly, the protagonist is an intelligent man and I just couldn't accept that it would never have occurred to him that he was in fact still doomed, that he could never actually leave his mortal body. His naivetι in believing that his robot form would still be attractive to his girlfriend and comforting to his mother is equally implausible. The trial sequences are quite good and held my interest, but the situation in which they take place just didn't convince me this time.
State of Fear by Michael Crichton, Harper, 2004, $27.95, ISBN 0-06-621413-0
I wasn't sure whether or not I was going to review this here because technically speaking it's just a standard near future thriller with very marginal speculative or fantastic content. The plot is fairly straightforward. A band of ecoterrorists are planning to artificially stimulate four ecological disasters in order to emphasize that we are destroying the world with pollution and global warning. A small band of heroes thwarts each of their plans and saves the day after some exciting but unlikely adventures. What makes the novel science fiction is that it deals very much with the role of science and scientists in society, particularly the politicization of their findings. Crichton's discussions of the ramifications are frequent and very intrusive, interrupting the flow of the story on many occasions. One of his characters even comments on the boring nature of the lectures, but they continue anyway. I'll return to them in a moment. The plot itself just doesn't hold up. Even when the government knows that the terrorists are planning to cause an undersea earthquake and unleash a tidal wave against California, they respond by sending two agents and two civilians to deal with the problem rather than a massive military intervention. The result is exciting reading but so implausible that I was unable to remain immersed in the story.
Now for the author's message. Crichton provides an afterword in which he states that given the polemical nature of the arguments presented for both sides, he felt obligated to make his own position clear. This statement is disingenuous at best because no one could possibly read the novel and not know that he believes global warming to be at best unproven and that the environmentalist movement does more harm than good. He is in fact shrill on the subject. He falls into the usual trap of creating paper tigers to represent the opposition. The environmentalist characters are all caricatures including an actor who refuses to believe in cannibalism who, naturally, gets eaten. Crichton is so partisan that even when I agreed with him, which I frequently did, I wanted not to. The trivialization of other viewpoints is so obvious that it made me suspicious that he was leaving out counterarguments which he could not reduce to absurdity. So as a polemic, the novel fails. But even more importantly, as an entertainment, it fails even more obviously.
Conrad Stargard: The Radiant Warrior by Leo Frankowski, 12/04, $24, ISBN 0-7434-8863-6
This is an omnibus edition of the first three novels in the series, first published back in 1986-1989. Stargard is an engineer from the present who finds himself back in 13th Century Poland and helps build a technological and organizational base so that the Poles can resist the foreign invasions that devastated their country. The series was a lot of fun when it first appeared, if not completely plausible, and it has aged rather well.
Trojan Odyssey by Clive Cussler, Berkley, 12/04, $7.99, ISBN 0-425-19932-0
This is one of the author's Dirk Pitt series, the first I've read in a long time. Dirk has two grown children now, and they play a large part in this unfocused adventure story that involves the greatest hurricane on record, the true location of the city of Troy, a mysterious billionaire, a floating hotel, the discovery of a toxic lifeform in the ocean, and a gaggle of other subplots. Too much happens too quickly to be plausible, and Cussler's prose is so full of superlative adjectives that I became almost physically tired reading them. It will probably be a long time before I read another Dirk Pitt adventure, I'm afraid. The characters are indistinguishable, the happy outcome always certain, and not always achieved convincingly, and the prose is occasionally awkward.
Space Patrol by Jean-Noel Bassior, McFarland, 3/05, $49.95, ISBN 0-7864-1911-3
During the early 1950s, Space Patrol was a popular SF program for children. The author has compiled a pretty exhaustive history of that program, along with episode guides for almost two hundred episodes, plus the radio series. There are biographies of the cast members, trivia about the show, discussions of memorabilia, and lots and lots of photographs. I don't think I ever saw an episode, but the plots sound surprisingly sophisticated for its time. You can order this from www.mcfarlandpub.com or use their 800 number, 800-253-2187.
Schism by Catherine Asaro, Tor,12/04, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30951-3
This is the tenth installment in Asaro's non-linear history of the Skolian Empire and also the first in a subordinated series the Triad. The setting is early in the empire's existence, set a few years after the events in Skyfall. Relations between the Skolians and a neighboring power have been deteriorating for some time, and war seems possible though not imminent. When an internal quarrel disrupts the aristocracy of Skolia, foreign agents intervene in an effort to worsen the situation and weaken their rivals. There are elements of space opera, romance, military SF, and high adventure in this one, which should more than satisfy her very diverse readership. This is shaping up as one of the major series in the genre, and unlike many other similar sequences, it hasn't become diluted with the addition of more volumes.
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, Houghton Mifflin, 2004, $26, ISBN 0-618-50928-3
Alternate history has never been the exclusive poaching ground of science fiction writers, used previously by such mainstream names as Mackinlay Kantor, Oscar Lewis, and David Westheimer. Now Philip Roth, whose fiction I have enjoyed for years even though he has only once previously written anything that properly fell within the genre, provides us with one of the most thought provoking and skillfully done alternate histories ever. The premise is that Charles Lindbergh defeated Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940 and was elected President of the United States. While not strictly speaking a Nazi sympathizer, Lindbergh has no objection to the German conquest of Europe and in fact believes that the push toward confrontation originated within the American Jewish community. Roth doesn't suggest that Lindbergh would have instituted pogroms or other forms of persecution, but the very fact that he was willing to tolerate it elsewhere makes life very different for Jews in America. This is a sober, intelligent, and very effective novel of alternate possibilities that is unfortunately applicable to the present.
The Shadow of Saganami by David Weber, Baen, 12/04, $26, ISBN 0-7434-8852-0
Author David Weber may have tired of his recurring character Honor Harrington but not of her universe, because this is the first in a new series with the same setting but a new cast of characters, the next generation of soldiers of Haven. There's a fresh interstellar war but the crew of one particular ship is assigned to watch over a backwater planet where nothing much is happening except occasional attacks by space pirates. But then the attacks become less than occasional, and the pirates are more than they seem, because a variety of interests, local and interstellar, want this particular world to remain outside Haven's influence, and they are perfectly prepared to brush aside any soldiers who might object. Although I've been overdosed on military SF for quite some time, I actively enjoyed this one, an unpretentious but rather complex space opera.
The Prometheus Project by Steve White, Baen, 3/05, $24, ISBN 0-7434-9891-7
Steve White's latest reminds me of some of the SF I used to read when I was first discovering the field, specifically Eric Frank Russell. Aliens have discovered humanity, aliens with far superior technologies. Humanity has managed to maintain its independence, but only by running a spectacular con game. That may change when someone seems poised to reveal the truth. The premise is amusing and I wish White had spent more time developing it, because much of the story is just a routine though quite entertaining action adventure sequence. That cavil aside, I still thought this was White's best book to date.
Destroyer by C.J. Cherryh, DAW, 2/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0253-0
C.J. Cherryh continues what is now her longest series with volume seven in the chronicles of a remote colony founded by stranded settler on a world dominated by an alien race who have a complex and highly ritualized society. Although the two cultures have remained mostly isolated, they have been forced to work together to build a viable space program, particularly given the threat of a mysterious alien race who may or may not have designs on that planet. This is the first volume of the third trilogy set against that background, and as you might expect, it's rich in detail about the native aliens, involves many layered intrigues, and a fast paced, adventurous plot. I confess that I've grown a bit jaded with the setting, though, and I'm not sure how much more Cherryh can draw from it without becoming repetitious.
Star of Gypsies by Robert Silverberg, Pyr, 3/05, $15, ISBN 1-59102-309-2
This inventive space adventure was originally published back in 1986 and has been unavailable for some time. The gypsies of Earth have evolved into a new culture among the stars, in large part because only they have the physical and psychological ability to pilot interstellar ships. The king of the gypsies becomes disillusioned and retreats to an isolated world where representatives of his people visit in an effort to entice him to resume his former place, eventually prevailing. Unfortunately that proves to be more difficult than he expected. This one is right in the middle of Silverberg's work in terms of quality, which means it should have been reprinted a long time ago.
Alternate Gerrolds by David Gerrold, BenBella, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 1-932100-37-7
I don't usually think of David Gerrold in terms of short stories, but glancing through the contents page of this new collection, I realized that I had read, and remembered, more stories by him than I might have expected. Most of these were originally published in alternate history anthologies, including one of my favorites, "Franz Kafka, Superhero". "The Kennedy Enterprise" and "The Fan Who Molded Himself" are also cute. There are is Arabian Nights style fantasy, a Christmas story, dinosaurs, and a sort of deal with the devil story. Some of the premises are cleverer than others, but whatever the basic plot, Gerrold also delivers an enjoyable story.
The Time of New Weather by Sean Murphy, Delta, 1/05, $13, ISBN 0-553-38245-4
Here's one of those near future satires with content so off base that it could just as easily be called fantasy as science fiction. The super corporations have effectively become the government of the United States, with consumers functioning as vassals rather than customers, and some of the natural laws of science have also been subverted in some never completely described fashion. The protagonist has a few very small psi powers, or perhaps they're magic, the nature of time itself has changed, and there is a revolution brewing. The plot really doesn't matter in this farcical grand tour which pokes fun at a number of human foibles. Some good fun at times, but I started to lose interest in the second half.
Superfolks by Robert Mayer, St Martins, 3/05, $12.95, ISBN 0-312-33992-5
This send up of comic book superheroes was first published in 1977 but has been unavailable ever since. The hero is exactly that, a superpowered, costumed hero who retired to the quiet life to make way for the next generation. Unfortunately, all of the other superheroes have suddenly gone missing, so he has to come out of retirement to find out what's up. It's a moderately amusing comedy wrapped around an adventure story that should appeal particularly to comic book fans.
Nebula Awards Showcase 2005 edited by Jack Dann, Roc, 3/05, $14.95, ISBN 0-451-46015-4
The venerable Nebula Awards collection adds another fine book to its resume, mixing some of the best fiction of the past year with several good essays relevant to the field. The contributors this time tend to be predominantly familiar names like Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Barry Malzberg, and Elizabeth Moon, but there are also pieces by Adam-Troy Castro, Cory Doctorow, and China Mieville representing the young generation of writers. Not really a best of the year, but contains many of the best stories of the year.
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr., Tachyon, 2005, $15.95, ISBN 1-892391-20-1
I recently had an excuse to re-read some of James Tiptree's stories, and I am very happy to say that they hit me just as intensely after a gap of years as they did when I first encountered them a long time back. Tachyon here brings a good selection of many of her best back into print, including the moving "The Girl Who Was Plugged In", the fascinating sort of time travel story "The Man Who Walked Home", the controversial "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?", and the very impressive story of an alien lifeform, "Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death". There are a total of eighteen stories here, only one of which I thought was among her minor work. Tiptree was one of a handful of writers who seemed capable of taking the field and molding it into something greater than it was. If you have not read her work before now, you really need to correct that situation now, and this new assortment of stories is an excellent way to go about it. There was an earlier Arkham House collection with the same title, which I have never seen, so I don't know if the contents are similar or identical.
The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century edited by Harry Turtledove and Martin Harry Greenberg, Del Rey, 1/05, $17.95, ISBN 0-345-46094-4
The title is rather hyperbolic, and given that "All You Zombies" by Robert A. Heinlein isn't included, it's also clearly incorrect, but that cavil aside, it's a very nice collection of time travel stories, and reprints some of the best known classics of that type, like " A Gun for Dinosaur" by L. Sprague de Camp, "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury, and "I'm Scared" by Jack Finney. There are lesser classics by Theodore Sturgeon, Henry Kuttner, Richard Matheson, R.A. Lafferty, and others, plus newer tales by Nancy Kress, Connie Willis, John Kessel, and Ursula K. Le Guin. A nice solid assortment but probably of less interest to seasoned genre readers.
Valnir's Bane by Nathan Long, Black Library, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-166-9
Dawn of War by C.S. Goto, Black Library, 2004, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-152-8
Two new Warhammer novels, each from one strain of this bifurcated shared world universe. The first is sword and sorcery, set in a primitive world caught in the battle between Order and Chaos. A small group of condemned prisoners is given one chance at redemption. They must penetrate into enemy held territory to retrieve a magical artifact. The survivors will receive a pardon. Pretty standard fantasy fare although not badly done. The second title is set in the far future, when the demons command legions of space marines and interstellar war is the order of the day. A pack of marines on the side of good tries desperately to retain their foothold on a planet which conceals a number of dark secrets as well as a hostile invasion force. Military SF with supernatural undertones. I believe both of these were first novels. The first seemed much better to me than the second, but that may be at least in part because the mix of military action and fantasy never jelled for me, and usually doesn't.
Crossing the Line by Karen Traviss, Eos, 11/04, $7.50, ISBN 0-06-054170-9
Eos never tells me about their paperback originals, so I was lucky enough to spot this one in a bookstore. It's the second adventure of Shan Frankland, who traveled to a lost colony world in her first book, only to discover a very complicated arrangement among three different intelligent races which resulted in an uneasy and very fragile balance. Her personal decisions in that book alienated her from her own people and now she has to act as she thinks best again when it looks like open conflict will break out, chiefly because of the interference of visitors from Earth. Her efforts to derail the inevitable slide toward war make her even more enemies, and it looks for a while like she will be one of the war's first casualties. The novel is an unspectacular but well written adventure story, and worth the effort to track it down.
Crache by Mark Budz, Bantam, 12/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58659-9
Mark Budz's first novel, Clade, mixed environmental and technological themes with considerable skill and his second tackles much of the same material from a slightly different viewpoint. Initially the novel has two separate points of focus. The first is an asteroid that has been partially terraformed to support a colony, but which is effectively destroyed when something goes catastrophically wrong during an experiment, and so quickly that only a single person from that group survives. The second involves a failing of the system that allows people of Earth to interact through a kind of future evolution of the internet. There's a little bit of everything in the mix cautionary novel, satire, hard science fiction, adventure, cyberpunk, and even a hint of mysticism. Budz seems poised on the brink of writing a major novel, and given the obvious quality of his first two, I doubt we will have to wait very long to see it.
Human Resource by Pierce Askegren, Ace, 1/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01079-2
The opening volume of the Inconstant Moon trilogy is a light but pleasant mystery adventure story set in a near future when the moon has been colonized. The protagonist, Erik Morrison, is temporarily assigned to the lunar colony, which he doesn't like and wants to leave as quickly as possible. Alas for him, he discovers evidence of mysterious plots and counterplots, and before long he's sucked into a dangerous world of violent and sudden death. Straightforward adventure competently told, and some pretty good efforts at making the lunar setting feel realistic.
H.G. Wells's The Time Machine: A Reference Guide by John R. Hammond, Praeger, 2004, $79.95, ISBN 0-313-33007-7
This is an academic press so the price seems quite disproportionate to this 150 page hardcover with no dustjacket or cover art, but that's not atypical for such books. The book itself is a collection of essays about the Wells classic, with sidetrips into discussions of the possibility of time travel and other associated matters. The best part of the book deals with the history of the story, which first appeared as "The Chronic Argonauts". Later discussions of the text itself sometimes resort to such detailed microanalysis that Wells is probably looking down on us and shaking his head in wonderment. The academic desire to find significance in every turn of phrase often amazes me. On balance, though, this book provides more interesting material than chaff, and it's a shame that it is priced too high for the average reader.
Old Man's War by John Scalzi, Tor, 1/05, $23.95, ISBN 0-765-30940-8
This first novel has an interesting premise. In an interstellar war which has drawn off a disproportionate number of the population, the government decides to recruit those normally considered too old by offering them homesteads on distant planets in return for short terms of service in the military. What follows is military SF, I suppose, although not your typical space adventure, following the career of its protagonist as he and a few fellow aged soldiers pursue their duties. I'm not sure this was a complete success as my attention wandered from time to time, but it avoids the awkwardness of many first novels and was at times quite effective.
Cusp by Robert A. Metzger, Ace, 1/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01241-8
Disaster novels go in and out of style, and it seems like they might be coming back again. If they're going to be as good as this one, then I'm all for it. A solar flare has devastated much of the world, leaving the climate dramatically altered and the Earth with two rings to further complicate matters. Some groups are attempting to adjust to the changes, while others aided by a supercomputer are considering whether or not they should provoke another flare in hopes of restoring things to something close to the situation before the first. As you might expect, there are determined people on both sides of the issue, some of them willing to resort to violence to get their way, and not every intelligence involved is human. A big leap forward for Metzger whose previous books have all been quite impressive as well.
The Art of Halo, text by Eric S. Trautmann, Del Rey, 2004, $21.95, ISBN 0-345-47586-0
There are quite a few computer games whose scenery is really spectacular and which might well support an art book. Just off hand I thought of the Serious Sam games and Myst, and I'm sure there are lots of others. Halo is a military SF game set on a distant world, and as you might expect, there are some weird landscapes in this book, but most of the full color art is of soldiers, creatures, and weapons. That tends to make them repetitive, but there's another problem for me. They are overwhelmingly dark in color, so dark that I often can't make out details that ought to be visible. The sections where sketches are provided along with text to show how settings or entities were created are often interesting, but as a book of artwork, this one just doesn't measure up.
Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Weapons and Technology by W. Haden Blackman, Del Rey, 2004, $24.95, ISBN 0-345-44903-7
This is an expanded version of an earlier book, with new sections on the history of the Star Wars universe and its technological advances, and other invented elements to fill in some of the gaps in the movies. The illustrations by Ian Fullwood are amusing and sometimes quite attractive, and the text by Blackman is well written, and sometimes genuinely interesting even if we do know he is making it all up. For those of us who are incurable Star Wars fans even if Lucas has lost some of his gift for making magic.
J.G. Ballard Quotes compiled by V. Vale and Mike Ryan, Re/Search Publications, 11/04, $19.99, ISBN 1-889307-12-2
There's not a whole lot I can say about this except to tell you it's a very large selections of quotations from sometimes science fiction writer J.G. Ballard, drawn from interviews, articles, novels, short stories, articles, and elsewhere, gathered into a fairly wide number of broad categories like art, media, sex, writing, etc, and into smaller subcategories within those. Most of the quotes are indeed quite quotable, and gathered together like this they present some interesting insights into the author. There are not a lot of writers whose prose is so consistently interesting that one could draw nearly this much that stands on its own.
Homeward Bound by Harry Turtledove, Del Rey, 12/04, $26.95, ISBN 0-345-45846-X
Although some of Harry Turtledove's alternate history stories strike me as repetitive, there are others that are still fresh and interesting. This is one of the latter, which puts a cap, at least apparently, on the series that consists of two previous trilogies, the Worldwar and Colonization series. Aliens invaded the Earth during World War II, were fought to a standstill, but remained too powerful to be driven away. Now humans have finally developed a faster than light drive of their own and they know where the aliens came from, so it's only logical to send a ship to that system to make it clear that the battle is far from over. Good fun all around.
Cleopatra 7.2 by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Ace, 12/04, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01206-X
The sequel to Channeling Cleopatra from 2002 continues the story logically. Using a controversial scientific process, scientists are able to implant DNA from Cleopatra into two contemporary people, providing them with her memories and to a certain extent her personality. Although I found this concept unlikely, I was able to suspend my disbelief sufficiently to enjoy the complex and intelligent story that follows. One of the women agrees to search for a suitable candidate for an implant of Mark Anthony's DNA, to allow a sort of second hand reunion of old lovers, while both discover that their circumscribed scientific world is subject to the violence of international politics and an unreasoning fear of scientific advances. One of the author's best books.
Crux by Albert E. Cowdrey, Tor, 12/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31037-6
I've enjoyed Cowdrey's short stories for a while, so I was pleased to see his first novel appear, particularly since it's the kind of science fiction that caught my interest in the first place. Despite nearly exterminating itself, the human race survived, spread out into the galaxy, and established if not a Utopia at least a society that is considerably more equitable than it might have been. Unfortunately, and inevitably, there are malcontents, and several of them steal a revolutionary device that allies time travel, intending to go back through time and assassinate a crucial figure, hoping to prevent the series of events that caused so many deaths. But by doing so, they might well wipe out the greater society that has developed since then. Opposed to them is, as you might expect, a group determined to maintain the integrity of the timelines, and what ensues is a wild and wooly battle through time and space, with plots and counterplots, twists and reversals galore. Best fun I've had in a long time.
The Gods and Their Machines by Oisin McGann, Tor, 11/04, $19.95, ISBN 0-765-31159-3
This first novel reminds me somewhat of Enemy Mine by Barry Longyear, and is almost certainly meant as a commentary on the current violence in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. Two very different societies are in conflict, one highly technological and sophisticated, the other comparatively primitive and religious oriented. The latter group feel oppressed, with some justification, and since they cannot hope to win a conventional war, they use suicide bombers and other covert tactics to strike at the other side, which responds with wide ranging assaults using advanced weaponry. When one of their pilots crashes in enemy territory, he forms an unusual and difficult alliance with one of his adversaries, because both are aware of a terrible threat which could devastate both their peoples. The ending is upbeat, which works in context although it seems a bit oversimplified. This is the author's first novel for adults.
Hostile Takeover by Susan Shwartz, Tor, 12/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-76530461-9
Susan Shwartz adds quite a few new looks to this familiar SF plot. Her protagonist is on a mission to a remote colony world to investigate problems with its administration, and subsequently uncovers a secret unlike any she had expected. What makes this interesting right from the outset is that she's not a two fisted private detective or security operative, she's essentially a bean counter, a business professional out to check the books and procedures and find out why the colony hasn't been turning a profit. What she uncovers and I won't tell you what it is has implications far wider than a simple profit and loss statement. Oh, and she finds time to develop a romantic interest in the process. A nice, solid, blend of old fashioned story telling and modern literary sensibilities.
Coyote Rising by Allen Steele, Ace, 12/04, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01205-1
The sequel to Coyote takes place only a short time after the events in that novel. A small group of dissidents seeking renewed freedom escape Earth and establish a colony on Coyote, but they can't outrun progress. More settlers arrive, this time under the thumb of the repressive government, and the original colonists are forced to flee into hiding in the interior of the planet. But the growing population, the increased desire for freedom when it is so near, and various pressures within the occupying force all combine into a very unstable situation. Steele has provided another very believable story about the way humans might actually expand to other worlds, in search of a better life but still restrained by the baggage of their parent society.
Powersat by Ben Bova, Forge, 1/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30923-8
Ben Bova has made the near future space adventure almost his private hunting ground lately, and this new one helps tighten the fence a bit. It's the not too distant future and entrepreneur Dan Randolph is determined to help relieve the energy shortage on Earth by establishing power generating satellites in orbit. Unfortunately, the project is plagued by sabotage, engineered by outside agencies who have reasons either commercial, political, or both for wanting him to fail. A blend of hard science, contemporary thriller, and old fashioned science fiction delivered in Bova's usual smooth, professional, and always entertaining fashion.
The Myriad by R.M. Meluch, DAW, 1/05, $23.95, ISBN 0-7564-0279-4
R.M. Meluch wrote several above average military SF adventures some years back, but has had no new fiction in about ten years. She returns to active duty with this new space adventure, first in a series about the USS Merrimack, a military starship patrolling space during a war between humanity and the alien lifeform known collectively as the Hive. In their first adventure, they stumble upon a small cluster of human colony worlds which were until recently within the Hive's sphere of influence, but apparently somehow managed to avoid being absorbed. But the Hive hasn't abandoned the area and the colonists must be galvanized into action, although only after the secret of their society is revealed to the newcomers. Action packed space opera, nicely done, and not so much emphasis on the military content to overwhelm the rest of the story, a common failing in military SF. Meluch's return looks to be good news.
Exultant by Stephen Baxter, Gollancz, 2004, £12.99, ISBN 0-575-07429-9
The story begun last year in Coalescent continues in this new volume, which also extends the author's Xeelee sequence. Humans and aliens are locked in a life and death struggle that spans the galaxy, but humans may finally have found a way to bring the conflict to an end. Much of the novel has the feel of a particularly intelligent military SF novel, with battles in space, the discovery of new technologies, a penetration deep into the heart of the Xeelee power structure, and the revelation of what might be the final battle for the future of both races. Baxter fills the novel with wondrous events and ideas, and may finally be bringing the Xeelee series to a close.
The Empire of the Stars by Alison Baird, Aspect, 11/04, $13.95, ISBN 0-446-69096-1
Although this novel, sequel to The Stone of the Stars, takes place against the backdrop of an interstellar empire, it's really a fantasy because the magic isn't just advanced technology. More than that, it even feels like fantasy, with court intrigues endangering the legal accession to the throne, an ancient prophesy apparently fulfilled, an imminent war, and a shape changing character who is at least partly dragon. As science fiction, it doesn't work at all, and as fantasy, it is all too familiar. Baird seems to be a perfectly competent writer, but she has so far contented herself with over used themes and plot devices.
Natural History by Justina Robson, Bantam, 1/05, $13, ISBN 0-553-58741-2
Robson has had two previous novels published in the UK, at least one of which is SF, but neither of which I've actually seen, although I suspect that situation will be remedied before long. Her third novel is a first rate space opera in which a cyborg starship returns from its solo voyage to the stars, claiming to have found an ideal planet for human colonization. That leads to a second voyage, in which a human passenger will investigate in more detail, but what they find is something entirely outside his expectations. I had a little trouble getting involved in the story initially, but that soon passed. Robson is another promising newcomer.
Haydn of Mars by Al Sarrantonio, Ace, 12/04, $6.50, ISBN 0-441-01236-1
Al Sarrantonio has written a good number of very good horror novels, but his previous science fiction trilogy was not nearly as good. This new SF novel is very different, and might well be labeled fantasy, since it is set on a distant Mars that bears little resemblance to the one we know. The planet's inhabitants are intelligent, and more than slightly feline, and young Haydn is a princess trapped into an arranged marriage, although she soon has even greater problems. Although Mars is a republic, there are revolutionaries about, and Haydn is eventually running for her life across a colorful and sometimes dangerous landscape. She eventually becomes the symbol of resistance to the new order after a fairly interesting coming of age story. I enjoyed the exotic settings, even if it wasn't the Mars I was expecting.
Acts of God by James Beauseigneur, Warner, 10/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61329-0
This is the third volume of a trilogy about the future apocalypse, with all of the religious symbolism you might expect, but also with a strong scientific grounding. Humanity is on the verge of taking its next evolutionary step despite terrible disasters which have killed much of the existing population and left the oceans barren. A new leader has risen to show humanity the way to a better future, but entrenched interests including established churches, are prepared to fight to hold onto their prerogatives. Not to everyone's taste, including mine, but well enough written.
Orphanage by Robert Buettner, Aspect, 11/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61429-7
Here we have the kind of implausible adventure that used to fill the SF magazines. Aliens have invaded the solar system and established a base on Ganymede, from which they have launched a long range bombardment of Earth. Humanity is ill prepared, and can only build one ship with a chance of reaching the base, using hopelessly outclassed weapons and barely trained soldiers. Somehow you know they're going to accomplish the task despite the apparently insuperable odds, and what follows is a not entirely plausible but still rousing military adventure story. I didn't believe a word of it, but I enjoyed the ride and will watch for more from this newcomer.
Less Than Human by Maxine McArthur, Aspect, 10/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61342-8
Maxine McArthur's space adventures were a hit here, and her first novel set on Earth is even better. A series of mysterious deaths, apparently as the result of accidents or suicides, lead a computer specialist and a police officer to similar suspicions. They eventually pool their resources and discover the existence of a religious cult that uses a futuristic version of the internet, and which has been committing secret crimes as part of their program to bring down modern civilization. The author handles the "buddy" part of the novel very well, and although her mystery isn't very mysterious, there are some surprises and revelations along the way, and intriguing glances at an imaginary future world. It's always good to see an author break out of an old pattern and explore new territory.
Hammered by Elizabeth Bear, Bantam, 1/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58750-1
Jenny Casey is on the room from her former bosses, hiding in a future Connecticut where the criminals are just as likely to be on the side of good as is the government. Although she hopes never to be found, there are some who have a particular interest in running her to Earth, because the modifications made to her body make her an ideal subject for a new round of experiments. Another dystopian future where we learn it is still possible for an individual to make a difference, although sometimes at a very high price. I believe this is a first novel, although it reads as though it was done by an old hand.
Dancing Naked by William Tenn, NESFA, 2004, $29, ISBN 1-886778-46-9
William Tenn's fiction writing career only includes one novel and a few dozen short stories so far, most of which was previously collected in two volumes by NESFA Press. Now there's a third volume, this one mostly essays on a wide variety of topics, associated with the field and on other topics, as well as two interviews. Altogether they provide an interesting overview of the author's life, and his relationship with the genre. Nicely packaged and full of interesting tidbits.
Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold, NESFA, 2004, $23, ISBN 1-886778-53-1
In some ways I think this is still Lois McMaster's Bujold's best novel. The quaddies are genetically bred children who essentially have arms in place of legs, designed to make them ideal workers in a gravity free environment. As such, they are rather shamelessly exploited by the company that employs/enslaves them, until the invention of economical artificial gravity makes them not only unnecessary, but an embarrassment to the company. Exceptionally well drawn characters, a clever environment, and the unique nature of the quaddies help make this one of her very best, which means it is one of the field's very best.
All the Rage This Year edited by Keith Olexa, Phobos, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 0-9720026-5-0
This is the third in a series of anthologies to come out of a judged contest that involves Orson Scott Card and other SF professionals, designed to give new talent a showcase similar to that of the Writers of the Future series. That means none of these names is likely to be familiar to readers, although I enjoyed the first novel by James Maxey, who has a story here. Although there are no potential award winners here, they are all of professional quality and some show considerable promise. This might be your best chance to sneak a preview at some of the significant writers of the next decade.
The Disappearance by Philip Wylie, Bison, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 0-8032-9841-2
Wylie's story of gender roles first appeared in 1951, and has been largely overlooked ever since. The premise is that all of the men in the world waken one day to find the women missing, and the women waken to find the men gone. Both societies evolve with the passage of time, but each is doomed to failure because of their overspecialization. Wylie uses his story to examine whether this is because of inherent differences in the genders, or the results of events living up, or down, to our expectations. Readers might quarrel with his conclusions, but his speculations are thought provoking. This is probably one of the most consistently underrated SF novels.
Legions of Space by Keith Laumer, Baen,2004, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-8855-5
Another collection of stories and novels mixed, this time four stories sandwiched between two early adventure stories. A Trace of Memory is from 1963, the story of the discovery of an ancient alien starship in orbit around the Earth, and a subsequent chase when humans reactivate it. Not as polished as Laumer's later work, but lots of fun. Planet Run from 1967 is an other worlds space opera in which a disgruntled man is coerced into opening up another frontier world, but plots revenge while doing so. It was a collaboration with Gordon R. Dickson and is not up to the standards of either author, although it is certainly readable enough. Laumer was a great story teller though, even when he wasn't being a great writer.
Interlopers by Alan Dean Foster, read by Ben Browder, Buzzy Multimedia, 2004, $47.95, ISBN 0-9657255-4-5
This is an unabridged recording running nine hours on eight CDs. Browder does a good job on this suspenseful story of a man who stumbles upon the existence of an alien life form that has been existing on Earth for centuries and which has the power to affect humans without their knowledge. Unfortunately, this was not one of Foster's best thought out novels. Given the situation, there is no way that the hero could possibly have survived. If you can accommodate a really enormous suspense of disbelief, you'll find this one thrilling, but if you keep asking yourself questions about the plot, you're going to grow impatient with the story. Foster has done much better than this.
Death Match by Lincoln Child, Doubleday, 4/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-385-50670-8
Christopher Lash, psychologist and ex-FBI agent, is hired by Eden Incorporated, a high tech matchmaking service that uses a sophisticated artificial intelligence to find near perfect matches between couples. Lash is impressed by their efficiency, effectiveness, security, and the high commitment to the job displayed by almost everyone on the staff. Unfortunately, they've hired him to investigate the inexplicable suicide of one of their rare perfect matches, and almost immediately afterward a second couple dies under similar circumstances. Lash believes that they must be homicides, but his investigation runs into unusual problems, including a subtle but effective attack against Lash himself. Although this is marketed as a mainstream thriller, it's science fiction as well, and pretty good SF, although I guessed most of the solution about a third of the way through.
Lurulu by Jack Vance, Tor, 12/04, $23.95, ISBN 0-312-86727-1
I had almost given up hope for this title, but the sequel to Ports of Call is out, and it's even better than I had hoped. Myron Tany sets out into space with his difficult aunt, but finds himself stranded, after which he obtains a position aboard a traveling merchant ship. The captain takes him into his confidence and reveals that he is searching for his mother, who left their home accompanied by a smooth talking gigolo who is undoubtedly living off her income and treating her badly. Their subsequent adventures are witty, humorous, and exciting in Vance's unique way, and delivered with his particular gift for prose that feels just the slightest bit off, but which provides a texture unlike that of any other writer. The title, incidentally, is an imprecise term for a state of blissful achievement, which is what the characters eventually achieve. Vance's elaborate, bizarre future universe is a familiar and welcome playground for the reader's imagination.
The Cobra Trilogy by Timothy Zahn, Baen, 9/04, $24, ISBN 0-7434-8847-4
Cobra, Cobra Strike, and Cobra Bargain, all in one big hardcover edition. This trilogy from the mid-1980s was from early in Zahn's career, but he was already producing excellent novels regularly. The Cobras are specially trained and enhanced guerillas whose purpose is to fight the alien Trofft, although by the second volume the war is over and the Trofft are allies against another and more menacingly alien race. The third volume concerns the efforts by a young woman to become the first female Cobra. Although technically these are military SF, Zahn does a much better job of avoiding the monotonous devices of that form and instead peoples the series with much more fully developed and interesting characters.
Dogs in the Moonlight by Jay Lake, Prime Books, 2004, $29.95, ISBN 1-930997-56-6
Jay Lake has accumulated an impressive list of award nominations in a very short period of time, particularly unusual considering that all of his work to date has been short fiction. This is a collection of fifteen stories, about half reprints though from small presses that most readers will not have seen, and the other half new material. There is a little bit of science fiction, but most of the book is fantasy or even mild horror fiction, particularly including the title story, best in the collection, and with one particularly creepy scene. There are other ghosts stories, although none of them fit the usual patterns, and clumps of stories about angels, gods, and aliens. "Shattering Angels", "Goat Cutter", and "Twilight of the Odd" spoke most directly to me, but other readers may have other preferences, as the quality is quite uniform, as well as being quite high.
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Two A edited by Ben Bova, Tor, 2/05, $29.95, ISBN 0-765-30534-8
This anthology of some of the best early science fiction was first published in 1973 and is long overdue for a new edition. Classic tales by Jack Williamson, John W. Campbell Jr., C.M. Kornbluth, Theodore Sturgeon, Cordwainer Smith, and others. Includes the short novels "And Then There Were None" by Eric Frank Russell, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, and Nerves by Lester Del Rey. An excellent volume to introduce readers to the field, or to revisit old favorites.
Between Worlds edited by Robert Silverberg, Science Fiction Book Club, 2004, $12.99, ISBN 1-58288-108-1
Here's another good reason to join the SF Book Club, because I don't believe this is available otherwise. Silverberg has put together a very good selection of stories set in outer space, stories by authors who use modern writing techniques without losing track of the importance of telling a good story. There's hard science and high adventure, suspense and humor, mysteries, intrigue, and interstellar politics. The stories, including a very good one by Silverberg himself, include excellent contributions by Nancy Kress, Walter Jon Williams, Mike Resnick, James Patrick Kelly, and Stephen Baxter. My favorites were by Kress, Resnick, and Silverberg, but you can't go wrong with any of them.
Traitor General by Dan Abnett, Black Library, 2004, $19.99, ISBN 1-84416-112-9
Dan Abnett has emerged as the single best and most popular author writing on the science fiction side of the Warhammer universe, which is dominated by sword and sorcery at the other end of its unusual spectrum. This one is a military adventure story whose problem is a general who has been captured, or perhaps has defected to the opposite side in an interstellar war that literally pits good against evil. If he spills the beans, the balance of power could be dramatically shifted, so a select team is chosen to infiltrate, rescue, abduct, or execute the general before it is too late. A good deal of violent action follows, and seasoned SF readers are likely to be disappointed with the relatively pedestrian story line, but it certainly compares well with most recent military SF.
Forced Conversion by Donald J. Bingle, Five Star, 11/04, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-254-8
Much of the population of the world has decided to escape from the tribulations of life by "converting" themselves into a virtual reality from which they will never emerge. The remaining population dwindles, but there are many who don't want to give up their real bodies and lives, so a quasi-military force is established to oversee the forcible conversion of the malcontents. The protagonist is a soldier in one of these units who eventually begins to question what he has previously believed implicitly, particularly when he actually listens to some of those resisting the change. This is a first novel but it is smoothly written and doesn't shy away from tackling major issues, which are arranged around a fast paced and exciting story line. It's always pleasant to stumble across another promising debut.
City of Gold and Lepers by Guy D'Armen, translated from the French by Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier, Black Coat Press, 2004, $20.95, ISBN 1-932983-03-1
Most early English language science fiction of any consequence has long since been reprinted, but the classic adventures which first appeared in other languages have largely been overlooked in the US. Jules Verne is probably the only French SF writer that most readers will be able to identify easily, but there are others who deserve attention, such as Guy D'Armen, who created this lost race novel back in 1927. Lost race is perhaps the wrong designation; it's more of a hidden civilization. Doctor Ardan is an explorer who stumbles into the remote stronghold of Natas, a brilliant but twisted man who has infected all of the locals with a virulent form of leprosy that becomes almost instantly fatal if anyone ventures beyond the range of his influence. Natas uses nuclear power, among other things. The story is a bit crude by modern standards, but the translators have done a good job in rendering the prose and have made some effort to modernize details. D'Armen will never be a serious rival to Verne in popularity, but his story is exciting and imaginative and better than some recent novels that have come my way.
New Worlds edited by Michael Moorcock, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2004, $18.95, ISBN 1-56858-317-6
It is very difficult to describe to new SF readers the impact that New Worlds magazine had on the genre back during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was the home of the New Wave to a great extent, and while some of its experiments were doomed to failure, others succeeded, and the genre has not been the same since. Michael Moorcock was editor of the magazine during much of that period and now he has edited a retrospective of that period, from writers like Thomas Disch, J.G. Ballard, Norman Spinrad, John Sladek, Hilary Bailey, James Sallis, M. John Harrison, and many others. I read just about all of these when they first appeared, and have to admit that there are a few I didn't like at all, but there are many others that I enjoyed immensely, and some that made me think about just what a short story was and what it could be.
The World Turned Upside Down edited by David Drake, Jim Baen, and Eric Flint, Baen, 1/05, $24, ISBN 0-7434-9874-7
The selection of twenty nine short stories in this retrospective look at SF is as varied as you might expect given three editors, and there are a few stories that don't seem to have the stature of the rest which are probably personal favorites. That said, there isn't a bad story in the book, and almost every one of them is one I remembered just by seeing the title. Among the best are "Thunder and Roses" by Theodore Sturgeon, "Rescue Party" by Arthur C. Clarke, "A Gun for Dinosaur" by L. Sprague de Camp, and "Shambleau" by C.L. Moore. Another nice collection to use to introduce someone new to the field, and also a chance to bring some worthy but overlooked classics back into print.
Life by Gwyneth Jones, Aqueduct Press, 2004, $19, ISBN 0-9746559-2-9
The image of science fiction held by most non-genre readers is still predominantly one of space travel, monsters, futuristic cities, and violent action, and to be fair, those are all important and popular aspects of the genre. But there is subtle SF as well, stories set in the very near future which explore more complex themes. Gwyneth Jones has found fertile ground there in the past, and now she does again in this surprisingly complex and rather moving novel about how people interact within society and with each other, and how we think about and deal with people of the opposite sex. Rather than suggest easy answers, Jones demonstrates that the issues are even more complicated than we might realize. Her story is wrapped around multiple interesting, fully developed characters and set in a world that is clearly a potential evolution of the present day. It's one of her best novels, and that's tough competition.
The Shadow Runners by Liz Maverick, Love Spell, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 0-505-52589-5
Leisure Books sends me their horror novels, which is fine, and their thrillers, which I usually can't review, but they don't send me their SF and fantasy romance titles, which is just as well in some cases, but disappointing in others, because I wouldn't even have known about this title if I hadn't stumbled across it at a yard sale. 22nd Century Australia has become a new Regency world, although much of the land is hopelessly polluted and the country has become once again a dumping ground for criminals and undesirables. There's an underground as well, and two people are about to mix politics with their own personal relationship with volatile results. This is a romance novel, but it is also pretty good SF, though unfortunately most fans of the latter will never know about it.
Dog Warrior by Wen Spencer, Roc, 10/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45990-3
Ukiah Oregeon is back for his fourth adventure. Raised by wolves, employed as a private investigator, he discovered previously that there are werewolvish aliens living hidden within human society, and that he is akin to them. This time he and his brother run into trouble when they attract the unwelcome attention of a cult of religious fanatics. Spencer has created quite a unique world within a world for this series, and her aliens sometimes seem almost magical rather than rationalized. Her recurring character is appealing and interesting though, and she certainly knows how to tell a rousing story.
Dead Sky, Black Sun by Graham McNeill, Black Library, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-148-X
A story of the space marines, soldiers augmented and trained to superhuman levels, sent to fight wars in space and on other planets, even those which have fallen under the sway of the evil supernatural forces found in other space in the Warhammer universe. Worlds under their influence are filled with the insane, and among those affected are similar super warriors who now turn their technology and skills against their former allies. A discredited marine must prove his value against a violent and often chaotic backdrop. McNeill does a competent job with the story, but for me the mix of demons and spaceships never jells.
Sandstorm by James Rollins, Morrow, 2004, $24.95, ISBN 0-06-058066-6
I have genuinely enjoyed the first five thrillers by James Rollins, all of which were essentially lost world adventures. This new title is more of a hidden world story, but the distinction is a minor one. It starts out promisingly enough. A mysterious explosion damages one wing of a museum, leading to the discovery of anachronistic artifacts and the clue to the existence of a lost city buried under the deserts of Oman, possibly holding the secret of antimatter. The science here gets a bit hokey, but it's so peripheral to the story that it doesn't matter a lot. Before long, various parties are on the chase, including a small army of mercenaries with high tech weapons and no scruples. There's lots and lots of action, fights, escapes, chases, and so forth before things are finally resolved. That's the good part, now the bad. There are too many fire fights. By two thirds of the way through the novel, I was so tired of descriptions of explosions and gunfire that I was skipping over them. What's more, I no longer cared who lived and who died. The characters and there's quite a large cast of them are all just a little too perfect. They all have virtually superhuman powers and, in fact, they improbably survive some really devastating battles. Not one significant character dies until after page 350. They're also too improbably competent. A researcher snatches a poisonous snake from her nude body and smashes its head against a wall. A renegade agent recognizes spoken Aramaic, a dead language, immediately upon hearing it. There is even a two fisted archaeologist named Omaha Dunn. I still like his work and I'll read his next novel, but I hope this isn't indicative of Rollins' new style.
Heavy Planet and Other Science Fiction Stories by Milton Rothman, Wildside, 2004, $19.95, ISBN 0-8095-1572-5
Most of Milton Rothman's science fiction appeared during the 1930s through 1950s under the name Lee Gregor. The title story is his best known, and yes, it's rather dated, but I still had fun reading it again for the first time in many years, and quite a few of the other stories were fun as well, particularly "Last Night Out" and "Flight to Galileo". This collection includes a dozen professionally published tales, four from fanzines, and three never previously in print, plus memoirs by his son, Tony Rothman, and Robert Madle, and a preface by Frederik Pohl. A nice journey back to when SF wasn't as self important as it is today.
The Holy Land by Robert Zubrin, Polaris, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 0-9741443-0-4
There was a time when broad satire was common and popular with SF readers, although that day seems to have passed. Unfortunately that probably bodes ill for Robert Zubrin's new novel, an over the top satire on the Mideast problems and terrorism in general. Earth is a world where Christianity has become an extreme fundamentalist religion and when galactic authorities decide to move some refugees to Earth, specifically the holy city of Washington, they provoke an insurgency that threatens to disrupt a hundred million planets. The book is designed to make us look at real problems from an external viewpoint, and it's a noble effort, although probably doomed to fail.
Eclipse by James Swallow, Black Flame, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416122-6
The Unquiet Grave by Peter J. Evans, Black Flame, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-159-5
I glanced at the first of these and almost didn't read it, because the plot sounded so implausible. Judge Dredd virtually singlehandedly quells the rebellion on a moon and brings the villains to justice. Then I read a few pages, and it was pretty much as implausible as I had expected, but then I read a few more and before you know it, the whole thing was gone, and it was all pretty implausible but I had fun anyway. You might do the same. The second is one of those cross genre things that I usually don't like. The protagonist is a female vampire in the far future, where she runs into mutants, bigots, and a cult of blood worshippers. The action is comic book style and I suspect the novel is based on either a graphic novel or a game I've never seen but it was exciting and sometimes amusing and you could do a lot worse.
The Heart of Chaos by Gav Thorpe, Black Library, 2004, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-114-5
It seems like every time I turn around lately there's another Warhammer novel on the stack. Uncharacteristically for me, I tend to prefer the overtly fantastic ones to those set in outer space, probably because I can't reconcile demons and spaceships. This is the last in a trilogy set within the primitive tribes of Earth, where Order and Chaos are battling it out and humans are caught in the middle, as usual. Thorpe always does a competent job and this one has a rousing finish. If you enjoy sword and sorcery, this is your kind of book.
Smallville Season 1: The Official Companion by Paul Simpson, Titan Books, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 1-84023-795-3
I came to Smallville only recently, searching for a substitute for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so Seasons 1 and 2 are quite fresh in my mind. Although, alas, it was not up to the standards of Buffy, I found the show surprisingly good, though it really needs more continuity control and some better dialogue. This is a pretty good companion guide, discussing each episode separately, both the story and some background information about cast and crew. There are lots of photographs, of course, and some very brief information about the show's genesis and marketing.
Polaris by Jack McDevitt, Ace, 11/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01202-7
This new novel by Jack McDevitt, which brings back Alex Benedict from A Talent for War, is very deceptive in its opening chapters. It unfolds as a quiet story about two antique dealers who purchase a collection of artifacts from a starship, all of whose passengers and crew disappeared mysteriously sixty years earlier. It's a kind of Marie Celeste in space, although enough time has passed that the original alarm has mostly dissipated. Although it appears that little is happening initially, McDevitt plants a few seeds of foreshadowing, and readers are likely to be caught up right away, almost without realizing it. Then the story begins to accelerate as multiple attempts are made to terminate their investigation, escalating to murder attempts at the hands of a small group of people who seem to have no personal history, but who are clearly united and searching for something among the artifacts. A truly captivating mystery, a pair of pleasant and engaging protagonists, and a story that mixes excitement and suspense in equal parts. I was already a big fan of McDevitt's stories, and he just keeps on getting better.
Brimstone by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Warner, 2004, $25.95, ISBN 0-448-53143-X
I was a little disappointed with the last novel by this collaborative pair, but I was up until two in the morning finishing this one, which means they're back in form. FBI agent Pendergast is back, along with Vincent D'Agosta, this time investigating the death of a man who appears to have been incinerated from the inside out, in a locked room, thirty years after he made a pact with the devil. Readers of the previous volumes in the series will know that the authors flirt with the supernatural as well as science fiction, and I can't tell you too much about the story without revealing which direction they go this time, but there are surprises galore, and lots of chases, escapes, captures, mysteries solved, and wrong guesses for an entire shelf of books. The main characters felt like old friends and Pendergast's Sherlockian talents are at their best, and the final chapters are obviously setting things up for another installment, which I will be anxiously awaiting.
A World of Hurt by David Sherman and Dan Cragg, Del Rey, 11/04, $19.95, ISBN 0-345-46052-9
The tenth in the military SF series Star Fist is set on the remote world of Maugham's Station, which is believed to be the site of a number of clandestine attacks by the alien Skinks. A military unit is dispatched to improve that world's security, among whom is Charlie Bass, a likeable ensign who is about to discover that his new assignment includes a remarkable surprise. The authors attempt to describe the stunted grammar and pronunciation of their characters gets a bit tiresome at times, and I though there were too many characters for the amount of story being told, but on the other hand, there's much more actual plot in this one than in much military SF, and the authors clearly know how military units operate. It's a rather uneven reading experience, but fans of the earlier installments won't be disappointed.
Very Bad Deaths by Spider Robinson, Baen, 12/04, $18, ISBN 0-7434-8861-X
Writers working in more than one genre have been attracted to the plot wherein the protagonist has advance knowledge of a planned crime, but doesn't know the criminal's identity, explaining it in mundane terms, as a psychic power, or in this case, as involuntary telepathy. The protagonist, who appears to be a close approximation of the author himself, is a writer who gets an unexpected message from a former roommate, a brilliant mathematician who has developed involuntary mental telepathy. Zandor knows that there is a serial killer at work and has clues about his identity, but how can he, and his reluctant friend, convince them that he's telling the truth? Robinson takes a slightly humorous approach, as you might expect, but the basic mystery is pretty good and this is certainly one of his best books.
Warp Speed by Travis S. Taylor, Baen, 12/04, $22, ISBN 0-7434-8862-8
It has been a while since I last read a novel about the discovery of a new type of space drive, but here it is, reminiscent of the SF I read from the 1950s. There's a team of likeable but stereotyped scientists working on the moon and they stumble across the secret almost by accident. When word of their breakthrough gets out, it causes such an international furor that a devastating global war appears to be inevitable. The story is pleasant enough but the lectures on science, the medical profession, and other subjects sometimes interfere noticeably with the pace of the plot, and some of the international politics seems rather naive, but it's not bad for a first effort.
The Case of the Suicide Tomb by Robert J. Hogan, Wildside, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 0-8095-1594-6
This is another of Wildside's facsimile reprints of a pulp magazine novel, in this case the 1935 adventure serial featuring the Mysterious Wu Fang, a rather transparent Fu Manchu ripoff. Wu Fang is out to dominate the world, this time by gaining access to a tomb filled with Indians who died of a mysterious plague, with which Wu Fang hopes to hold the world hostage. He is holding a beautiful girl as his prisoner, and is opposed by some rugged American adventurers, whom he torments with deadly animals he has genetically modified for his purposes. The novel is obviously in the middle of a series, because it refers to events in previous adventures, and while the current episode is brought to a close, we know Wu Fang will be around for the next.
The Eleventh Tiger by David A. McIntee, BBC, 2004, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-48614-7
Halflife by Mark Michalowski, BBC, 2004, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-48613-9
These two recent novels of Doctor Who provide a good example of the breadth of setting possible in that universe. The first novel, which involves the very first avatar of the Doctor, takes him and his companions back to ancient China, where they become involved in an interesting time travel paradox against the backdrop of court intrigues and other dangers. The second is a standard space adventure with the eighth version of the Doctor answering a distress call from a new human colony world and getting embroiled in the usual array of problems. The first is somewhat better written and has a more interesting set of ideas, while the second is nonetheless an entertaining, light space opera without the spaceships.
The Lone Star Plague by Kate Birch, Leisure, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5424-8
Given recent events, this is only marginally SF at best, but it's a pretty good little thriller so I thought I'd mention it here. The Vice-President is about to make a visit to a small town in Texas when a new strain of a deadly plague appears, throwing everyone into a panic because it resists ordinary treatment. One of the chief medical investigators is a specialist whose life gets complicated when she becomes the primary suspect in the investigation of the creation of the new plague, so she has to clear her own name as well as find a cure. Nothing extraordinarily impressive about the book, but it quietly delivers a convincing story.
Visions in Death by J.D. Robb, read by Susan Ericksen, Brilliance, 2004, $38.95, ISBN 1-59355-537-7
The nineteenth adventure of detective Eve Dallas is the first one I've listened to rather than read in book form, which might explain part of the reason it felt different to me. It also has one of the most bizarre villains, a serial killer who steals the eyes of his victims, and Dallas resorts to her most unusual technique, consulting a psychic. This series of mystery stories is set in a near future New York City that isn't that much different from ours, although there are occasional offhand references to technology unknown today or to space travel. The interplay among the characters is at its usual high level of banter, and the tempestuous relationship between Dallas in her husband is pleasantly muted this time. Robb, who is better known as Nora Roberts, offers a slightly different flavor this time, but the treat is just as good as ever/.
The Notebooks of Lazarus Long by Robert A. Heinlein, Baen, 2004, $12, ISBN 0-7434-8844-X
This is a fifty page trade paperback collecting of choice statements by Heinlein's famous immortal character, Lazarus Long. Some of them are cute, some just reflect the author's political beliefs and sour opinion of humanity at large. Some are clever, others trite. A few are worth quoting, a few worth debating, and a few worth nothing. The price is pretty steep for so little content, but Heinlein fans will no doubt want a copy.
Sliding Scales by Alan Dean Foster, Del Rey, 10/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-345-46156-8
Flinx and Pip are back for their tenth adventure, except this time they really are going out of their way to avoid any excitement. Despite his ongoing quest to discover the secrets of his origins, Flinx decides that it's time for some R&R, so he sets course for an out of the way world for a vacation. You and I know well before he does that his plans are going to be disrupted yet again, because if they weren't, there would be no story. Nefarious aliens, sinister plots, an acid spitting minidragon, mental powers, an exotic planet, travel through space, a small mystery to be solved, what more could you ask? Foster always seems most at ease when he's writing of Flinx or the Humanx universe, and he'll sweep you along with him for another wild and exciting ride.
Dune: The Battle of Corrin by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, Tor, 8/04, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30159-8
Herbert and Anderson bring their long prequel to Frank Herbert's famous Dune series to an apparent end with this volume. The final battle between the human forces and those directed by artificial intelligences is about to be fought, with the future of the civilized galaxy in the balance. There are a lot of familiar names, ancestors of characters who appear in the original series, and we get to see a critical period in the history of the Fremen, the nomadic inhabitants of the planet Arrakis, which will eventually be known as Dune. There are big themes here, and the action takes place on an enormous scale. Although none of these books has seemed to me to really feel like Frank Herbert's novels, they do an excellent job of creating the background against which the classic series takes place.
Master of None by N. Lee Wood, Aspect, 9/04, $14.95, ISBN 0-446-69304-9
Botanist Nathan Crewe smuggles himself onto a reclusive planet in order to collect some specimens, but his cover is blown and he is apprehended. He expects nothing more than a fine and expulsion, but he discovers that the legal system on that world, which has a modified form of matriarchy, is very different from what he expects. He is eventually able to gain the patronage of a prominent local woman, and through his eyes we get a grand tour of a very different society, but one which echoes and comments on many of our own customs. Wood's first few novels were very impressive, but his name has been missing from the new book lists for a while. This new effort is a blend of successful and unsuccessful elements. He does an excellent job at creating a credible but different social system, and he does a very good job of developing believable characters against that setting. The one fault the novel has is that at times the story advances too slowly under the weight of the background material, and at times I had to resist the temptation to skip to the next chapter to find out when the pace would pick up. There's a lot of good writing here, so let's hope the next novel doesn't follow as long a gap.
Iron Hands by Jonathan Green, Black Library, 2004, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-094-7
Legacy by Matthew Farrer, Black Library, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-092-0
Warhammer novels are split between the distant past and the far future, and these two fall into the latter category. For the most part, they are military SF, and some of the titles have amounted to little more than a monotonous recounting of battles, while others have attempted to use that setting to tell a more sophisticated story. The first of these is primarily fast paced adventure, although it does include some insights into the ways in which military units use a common set of beliefs to unify themselves and present a better fighting unit. Unfortunately, there are only suggestions of what might have been more fully explored. The second and shorter novel puts a comparatively small military group right in the middle of a local conflict in which a power struggle has turned deadly. Although also primarily an adventure story, it's much more dependent upon its characters and has a considerably more rewarding plot.
Neurolink by M.M. Buckner, Ace, 8/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01188-8
Buckner's second novel is set in a depressing future familiar to SF fans. Earth is overpopulated and overpolluted, corporate hierarchies function almost like national governments, freedom is increasingly challenged from every side, and human society has become more castelike than ever. The protagonist has a theoretically ensured future, particularly after his father dies, but the older man's spirit lives on in the form of a technological ghost, a recorded personality that urges the "accidental" death of thousands of lower caste humans as a cost cutting device. Although our hero initially shares something of his father's callous attitude toward the less fortunate, subsequent events will change his attitude. A nicely constructed, mildly satirical dystopian future.
Synergy SF edited by George Zebrowski, Five Star, 9/04, $25.95, ISBN 1-41040-221-5
A few years back, George Zebrowski edited a short lived original anthology series called Synergy, which showed great promise even as it died young. There's signs of new life with a new publisher now, and the first volume in what will presumably be a new sequence includes some interesting non-fiction material along with fresh new stories. The essays include a discussion of Cele Goldsmith's reign at Amazing Stories by Barry Malzberg and others by William Tenn and the editor. The stories only reflect a couple of well known names, Charles L. Harness mixes scientific breakthroughs with the law again, and quite entertainingly, and Eleanor Arnason and Damien Broderick also contribute solid stories. There's also an interview with Ray Bradbury and some poems to round things out. Hopefully this new incarnation will enjoy a happier fate than the first.
Singularity by Bill DeSmedt, Per Aspera, 11/04, $25.95, ISBN 0-9745734-4-2
Here's a nice blend of hard science fiction and thriller. The author suggests that the Tunguska Event might have been caused by a miniature black hole rather than a meteor strike, and that the black hole might still be present and active inside the Earth. The protagonist is induced to help investigate a Russian entrepreneur who is suspected of illicit arms trade, but the truth is even weirder, and potentially far more dangerous. He is trying to gain control of the black hole, and harness its power for his own personal enrichment. Exciting and often thought provoking at times, this is a tense thriller that ends with a really spectacular climax.
Gaudeamus by John Barnes, Tor, 11/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30329-9
John Barnes indulges a familiar authorial ploy for his latest, injecting himself as a character into the story. Barnes the character is entertained by a friend who supports himself doing industrial espionage, and whose latest tall story involves a breakthrough that would make time travel and teleportation possible, among other things. A large cast of very strange characters are introduced in the episodic adventures that follow, which reminded me of Arthur C. Clarke's White Hart or L.Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt's Gavagan's Bar stories. They book is amusing and sometimes quite cleverly done, but it left me feeling a bit flat. Barnes is usually very good when he is writing seriously but his lighter stuff, though always competent, is less consistently entertaining and sometimes feels like an extended joke rather than a novel.
Edenborn by Nick Sagan, Putnam, 2004, $19.95, ISBN 0-399-15186-9
This is a follow up to the author's first novel, Idlewild. Sagan, son of Carl Sagan, has taken a genre standby and used it for slightly different purposes. A virulent plague has wiped out the old human race, but a few genetically altered survivors are now setting about sprinkling new centers of development around the deserted globe. They use a form of advanced virtual reality for training purposes as they confront a new danger, a scientific puzzle that could end their efforts at survival before they are properly started. Some interesting speculation and an intriguing mystery once the story gets going, but the opening sequences were a bit slow for my taste.
The Boy Who Would Live Forever by Frederik Pohl, Tor, 10/04, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31049-X
Fred Pohl returns after quite a lapse to the Heechee universe for this, the sixth title in the series, which incorporates three previously published shorter works. The Heechee are, as we know, off in their own part of the galaxy, leaving their elaborate transportation system to humans, but the Gateway project is on the verge of closing as a teenager and his companions are just preparing to explore the universe on their own. The novel is rather episodic and some of the episodes are more interesting than others, but Pohl's stories are always interesting even on his off days, and this addition to the story of the Heechee cleans up some more loose ends.
Prince of Christler-Coke by Neal Barrett Jr., Golden Gryphon, 2004, ISBN 1-930846-28-2
There was a time when biting satirical novels were an honored part of the SF tradition, but that day seems largely to have passed. I'm not sure why exactly. Our society certainly offers an even wider range of subjects that deserve to be lampooned, but maybe we've lost our sense of humor about such things. For whatever reason, the few broad satires that do appear are always worth noting, as is the case with his one, in which the business executives of today have become a kind of aristocracy of the future world, passing their prerogatives down through their families, living in what amount to armored fiefdoms. The protagonist, Asel Iacoca, is a pampered child of one of these whose life is overturned when a power play eliminates his family and sends him to a detention camp, from which he will eventually escape and learn about the world. Barrett dissects prejudice, religion, corporate lifestyles, government, consumerism, and many other targets in this clever and wickedly barbed novel. Get a copy and get your sense of humor back.
Double Eagle by Dan Abnett, Black Library, 2004, $19.99, ISBN 1-84416-089-0
Dan Abnett has been the most consistently entertaining of those authors who specialize in the Warhammer universe tie-in novels, particularly those involving his favored band of space marines. This new novel is set on another contested planet where the forces of good and humanity are ranged against the dark forces led by a powerful and ruthless enemy. Unfortunately, this one is something of a let down. The story is so involved with the descriptions of battles in the air and on the land that the characters don't develop very well and since I didn't care whether they lived or died, I soon didn't care which side eventually claimed the planet.
World-Walker by Melisa Michaels, Five Star, 10/04, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-215-7
Suli Grail is part of a secretive organization that polices activity conducted across the borders between various parallel worlds, protecting the individual realities from manipulation by outside forces. When Suli's one time lover steals her equipment and becomes a rogue traveler, she is given the assignment of tracking him down. The setup is complicated by a set of rules the author imposes on her realities such that two versions of the same individual cannot exist simultaneously, which adds to the complexity of Suli's problems. A more subtle story than the plot description might suggest, and very much character rather than action driven. I haven't seen anything by the Michaels in quite a while, so I hope this is an indication of a resurgence in her writing.
Days of Infamy by Harry Turtledove, New American Library, 11/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-451-21307-6
Many of Harry Turtledove's alternate history novels seem to me so caught up in exploring history's possible changes and introducing very large casts of characters that the individual story lines are often neglected and the books end up lacking unity. That's not the case with this one, apparently a standalone, which assumes that the Japanese followed up their successful raid on Pearl Harbor by invading and conquering the Hawaiian Islands, as a base from which to launch further attacks against the West Coast. There's a more compact group of major characters, representing both the invaders and the invaded, both prisoners and free. Turtledove also makes the whole situation seem much more plausible than is usually the case in alternate histories. This might not be his best book, but it's right up there near the top of the pack.
The Complete Roderick by John Sladek, Overlook, 10/04, $17.95, ISBN 1-58567-587-3
This is an omnibus edition of the two novels, Roderick and Roderick at Random, satirical looks at the foibles of the human race as seen through the eyes of a robot. Roderick's personality grows and changes throughout the two books, and the complete work is undoubtedly Sladek's greatest achievement. Although the novels have been available separately in the US, this is their first combined edition on this side of the Atlantic, and I believe that the individual volumes failed to contain the complete original text, as is the case here. One of the more notable reprint volumes of the year.
Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad, Overlook, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 1-58567-585-7
If I'm not mistaken, this classic novel has been out of print for more than thirty years, so it's long overdue for reprinting. At the time it first appeared in 1969, it was extremely controversial, a near future satire that involved the battle between a news caster and a businessman contained scenes of explicit sex and strong language that was shocking at the time, because SF was largely considered a field for adolescent readers despite the adult packaging. I've read raunchier romance novels recently, but it still packs a powerful punch, particularly for its indictment of the way public opinion is manipulated, a criticism even more valid now than it was then. Rejected by several publishers because of its content at the time, it remains an important achievement in the history of the genre as well as a very fine literary achievement.
Prometheus Road by Bruce Balfour, Ace, 10/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01221-3
Some time in the past, a cataclysmic upheaval destroyed modern civilization, and much of the physical world as well. California is gone and a new mountain range has risen, in the shadow of which a simple farming culture has developed, although it is constrained by the active involvement of the gods. One of the local farmers ignores the law to retrieve forbidden treasures from the ruins, the first step on a trail which will lead him to discover the truth about the gods, that they are actually the remnants of artificial intelligences which survived the devastation and now have an agenda of their own. Balfour's latest novel is a step up from his previous one, which wasn't bad itself, with a more fully realized imaginary world and a reasonably well developed protagonist.
Thunderbirds Soundtrack, composed by Hans Zimmer, Decca, 2004
The Village Soundtrack, composed by James Newton Howard, Hollywood Records, 2004
I haven't seen either of these two movies yet, so I can't comment on how well they complement their respect motion pictures. Thunderbirds, as you might expect, includes the original theme song somewhat redone, along with various rousing sequences that are probably the backdrops to the main action. Some of it is minimally atmospheric and generic, but there are bits that are quite rousing even in a vacuum. If it's of any value, I thought tracks six, ten, and twelve were the highlights. There's also a track by a rock group named Busted, whom I am, alas, also unfamiliar with, although they provide a good closing number here. The second soundtrack is for M. Night Shyamalan's newest movie, which promises to be nicely creepy. Although the music is pleasant enough, I suspect it loses much of its punch in the absence of the visuals. In a vacuum, much of it seems to lose character. I might feel differently after seeing the film and having some mental imagery to which to link it.
3 X T by Harry Turtledove, Baen, 7/04, $24, ISBN 0-7434-8835-0
Harry Turtledove was just getting up to speed when the three books collected in this omnibus edition first appeared in 1990-1991. Kaleidoscope is a collection of short stories, several of which are quite good. Earthgrip is a pretty good space adventure involving a naive young woman who discovers that theory and reality aren't always the same. The best of the three is Noninterference, a planetary puzzle story about a man who breaks the rules and interferes in the development of a pre-space travel intelligent species, with results so dramatic that the authorities are determined to conceal the truth. Fans of his recent fiction might be surprised at the variety and selection of themes here, which include only a smattering of his present subject matter, but the two of the three titles are quite good, and the third isn't bad.
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, Eos, 2004, $16.99, ISBN 0-06-053180-0
This is probably going to be shelved by bookstores with young adult fiction, but don't be fooled. The publisher compares it to Jules Verne and that's not far off. The setting is an alternate version of our world where travel between continents is accomplished by means of gigantic zeppelins, although there's a risk. Many parts of the planet have not been fully explored, and there are also air pirates who board peaceful ships to rob and kill their occupants. The protagonist is a young boy aboard one of these, whose involvement in a daring, mid-air rescue is the first step in a series of adventures that will change his life. A dying man talks about creatures unknown to modern science, and his granddaughter shows up determined to prove that he wasn't hallucinating. Their joint efforts are intertwined with a band of ruthless air pirates and the results are enormous fun. Oppel does an excellent job of evoking his alternate reality, and the airships are described in a convincing manner. It's something of an old fashioned adventure, but only in the best sense of that phrase.
Divided in Death by J.D. Robb, Putnam, 2004, $21.95, ISBN 0-399-15154-0
Eve Dallas is back for her eighteenth adventure, along with her reformed criminal husband, and her crew of tightly knit subordinates, this time to solve a crime involving a double murder and the apparently framing of a security specialist, and valued employee of Eve's husband. This is one of the best in terms of the mystery element, which involves secret identities, doublecrosses, and other surprises, and has more SF content than most of the others. The Homeland Security Office has become a corrupt secret government within the US, and their involvement just adds another layer of complication to an already confusing situation. The usual battle between Eve and her husband, followed by violent sex as they make up, has grown repetitive and distracting, and no longer adds anything to the development of the characters, although I imagine it fits the formula. That said this, which I believe is the first hardcover in the series, should satisfy mystery fans more than SF fans, as was the case with the earlier volumes, but has sufficient speculative content to appeal to any of the latter who crave a somewhat different twist on the near future.
Jedi Trial by David Sherman & Dan Cragg, Del Rey, 10/04, $25.95, ISBN 0-345-46114-2
Battle Surgeons by Michael Reaves & Steve Perry, Del Rey, 7/04, $7.50, ISBN 0-345-46310-2
Clone Wars novels are appearing fairly regularly now, filling in some of the holes in the Star Wars saga. The first of these describes the mission which defines Anakin Skywalker as a Jedi Knight, although he has yet to make the break that will result in Darth Vader. It's essentially military SF set on a world caught in the war between the Republic and the Separatists, so the choice of authors is smart for this installment, and the collaborators deliver a good if somewhat predictable story. The second title, a paperback original, is set during approximately the same time frame, but on another contested world. We don't see the major figures this time, but instead a group of doctors trying to do their job under desperate conditions. Not surprisingly, given the relative freedom in this plot, it's a much more effective and engaging story.
River of Gods by Ian McDonald, Simon & Schuster, 6/04, £17.99, ISBN 0-7432-5669-7
John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar dealt with the future disintegration of western society, using a large cast of characters to illustrate the many faceted world he had created. Now Ian McDonald does the same with India, in this large and very impressive novel set in a future India which has collapsed and splintered into several successor states. Similarly, McDonald uses a large number of viewpoint characters in what is initially a bit confusing but which soon resolves itself. The various protagonists are necessary to provide the panoramic view of his new world which is required, and their separate stories will all be merged eventually in the resolution of a crisis. This is a major new work from a writer whose previous novels have not always been entirely successful, but who is at his best one of the most thought provoking and original authors working in the genre.
Thirteen Ways to Water and Other Stories by Bruce Holland Rogers, Wheatland Press, 2004, $16, ISBN 0-9704210-4-4
Stable Strategies and Others by Eileen Gunn, Tachyon, 2004, no price shown, ISBN 1-892391-18-X
For the most part, single author collections seem to have been relegated to the small press, which is small press' gain and general readers' loss as far as I can see. These two recent collections are both excellent cases in point. Neither author is a big name in the field, but both show definite signs that they might be one day. Most of the stories in the first were previously anthologized, and they run the gamut from fantasy to SF, although mostly the former. Rogers has a nice sense of the faintly gruesome, the slightly out of kilter, and it's in evidence in most of these tales. Gunn's are predominantly SF and the alternate history story, "Fellow Americans", and "Stable Strategies for Middle Management" are my two favorites. These are both very workmanlike books and you're going to miss some fine reading if you don't exert yourselves to find them.
Breathe by Christopher Fowler, Telos, 2004, $9.95, ISBN 1-903889-67-7
Robonocchio by Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier, Black Coat Press, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 1-932983-04-X
Chasm: A Weekend by Dorothea Tanning, Overlook, 2004, $22.95, ISBN 1-58567-584-9
Here are three slender little novels, very different in style and subject from one another, but all sharing the fact that they are set in a world that is just slightly distinct from the real one, or at least the one I live in. The first, and best, of the three takes place inside the walls of a vast corporation which has some very rigid rules of behavior, an atmosphere of repression that is worsened by something almost intangible which is warping the thoughts and actions of certain employees, a subtle pollutant with mind altering effects. This one's a little bit horror, a little bit SF, and a whole lot strange. Next up is a very cute story, published in this case in both English and French on alternating pages, about a robot boy created as an attraction for a carnival who is brought to life by the intervention of an odd alien. It's a new rift on Pinocchio, of course, but an often clever one. Lastly we have the almost surreal account of a prolonged party at a remote house, the guests to which are sucked into a complex psychological and perhaps supernatural whirlpool. Deftly told and very subtly creepy.
The Inquisition War by Ian Watson, Black Library, 2004, $9.99, ISBN 1-84416-138-2
The Warhammer shared universe series is loose enough to accommodate a wide variety of writers and settings, so it's not surprising that some well known writers have been induced to contribute to it over the years. The most famous example of this is the Inquisitor trilogy, set in a distant future, published originally between 1990 and 1995, following the eruption of conflict in a universe where paranormal powers and spaceships exist side by side. Over seven hundred pages long and written up to Watson's usual standards, this is a complex blend of intrigue and invention that should appeal to a wider audience than fans of the original game system.
Dryland's End by Felice Picano, Southern Tier, 2004, no price listed, ISBN 1-56023-520-9
I reviewed this back when Masquerade published it originally in 1995. Thriller writer Picano tried his hand at far future SF, setting his story in a galactic matriarchal society whose stability is threatened by rebellion automatons. There are elements of good writing all through the book, unfortunately draped over a framework of implausibilities and interspersed with painfully awkward scenes, many of them overtly sexual. It works fairly well as an allegory but most SF fans are likely to find it tedious and annoying.
The Great Divide by Frank M. Robinson and John F. Levin, Tor, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-34968-X
I first read this novel more than twenty years ago, and re-reading it now I'm surprised at how prophetic some aspects of it are, and how wildly off are many others. A disastrous foreign policy has resulted in an oil embargo by the Arab nations, which precipitates a crisis when North America has an unusually cold winter and fuel supplies begin to run low. The division between the poor and the wealthy becomes partly regional as well, and it appears possible that the United States might actually split into two separate countries. A bit dated, but still a tense thriller.
Subterranean Worlds edited by Peter Fitting, Wesleyan, 12/04, $29.95, ISBN 0-8195-6723-X
Early sf novels like Journey to the Center of the Earth by Verne and the Pellucidar series by Edgar Rice Burroughs made use of the possibility that the Earth was to greater or lesser extent hollow, and that entire civilizations and different ecologies might survive unbeknownst to us and beneath our feet. This collection of essays focuses primarily on very early work, starting with a brief summary of the evolution of the concept in scientific thought, and then it's use, primarily in Utopian fiction and later in adventure stories. This might be a bit dry for general readers because many of the works are effectively unavailable, but on the other hand it describes work that is largely unknown to the SF community. There's a bibliography of source material that's quite useful, but a bibliography of books and stories using the hollow earth premise would have been even better.
Stepping Through the Stargate edited by P.N. Elrod and Roxanne L. Conrad, BenBella Books, 10/04, $17.95, ISBN 1-932100-32-6
I've only seen a few of the early episodes of this cable television program, so this collection of essays dealing with various aspects of the program, mostly background material, settings, and science, wasn't as interesting to me as it would probably be to a fan. The individual essays are generally well written, including contributions by Jim Butcher, David Gerrold, Catherine Asaro, and other familiar names, along with several new to me. Gerrold's comparison of Star Gate to Star Trek is particularly effective.
Thunderbirds: The Making of the Movie by Andrew Darling, Reynolds & Hearn, 8/04, $19.95, ISBN 1-903111-77-3
I think I saw the television show on which this is based once or twice, which used puppets instead of live actors, and I wasn't impressed even as a kid. Judging by the pictures in this book, I won't be rushing out to see the film version when it's released either, even if it does have Anthony Edwards, Ben Kingsley, and Bill Paxton. The book itself does a reasonable job of conveying the contents of the film, with spiffy vehicles and equipment some pretty blah uniforms, and a plot likely to infuriate viewers with its silliness. It's full color throughout, filled with tidbits about the production, and probably serves as a good substitute for seeing the movie itself.
The Best of Xero edited by Pat & Dick Lupoff, Tachyon, 9/04, $29.95, ISBN 1-892391-11-2
As pointed out in this collection of letters and articles, fanzines during the 1960s were very much like the internet on paper, which helps explain why they have largely vanished as the internet prospered. One of the most famous titles from that period was Xero, edited by the Lupoffs, which published work by many names well known at the time and even better known today. This is a sampler of that work, and the roster of contributors is impressive indeed Avram Davidson, Wilson Tucker, Harlan Ellison, Rog Ebert, James Blish, Donald Westlake, Jack Chalker, Donald Wollheim, Frederik Pohl, and L. Sprague de Camp, just to name a few. The contents range from serious to whimsical, casual to formal. Here's your chance to read Ellison's review of the Hitchcock version of Psycho, or Fred Pohl's defense of his editorial policies at Galaxy. Fanzines used to be the heart of SF fandom, and Xero, which won a Hugo award, was one of its most respected forums. This collection also includes several examples of illustrations which also appeared in the fanzine.
Marque and Reprisal by Elizabeth Moon, Del Rey, 9/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-345-44758-1
Ky Vatta is back for her second adventure in what the published is calling a military SF series, although it's more of a convention space opera than military. Vatta and her family run an interstellar merchandising company, and she herself serves as captain of a trading ship. An unknown enemy launches an attack, killing several members of her family and endangering the future of their combined holdings. Vatta finds herself a virtual fugitive, unable to call for help or, initially, even identify the nature of the danger, which also involves control of an entire planet. A rousing space adventure powered by a distinct and interesting protagonist and the author's gift for telling a story gripping enough to demand the reader's attention.
Overstars Mail: Imperial Challenge by Roberta Gellis, Five Star, 8/04, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-228-9
Cyn Lystris thinks he has finally found the kind of safe, undemanding job he has been looking for, delivering mail, packages, and the occasional passenger among several star systems. His latest voyage looks to be routine as well, but unbeknownst to him, one of his passengers is actually a prominent and controversial planetary leader traveling incognito. That wouldn't ruffle his feathers either except that another of his passengers is apparently an assassin who intends to prevent the leader from reaching his destination. And since Cyn doesn't have the faintest idea who is who or what is going on, his trip is about to become unpleasantly exciting. Gellis' first attempt at a space opera is a very good one, with the adventure story wrapped around a mystery, but there are compensations. Since Gellis is best known for her romance novels, it should come as no surprise that he finds a love interest as well. I suspect this is intended to be the first in a series and, if so, further adventures will find a receptive audience here.
For Those Who Fell by William C. Dietz, Ace, 10/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01198-5
The latest in the Legion of the Damned military SF series puts out heroes in a serious pickle. Alien enemies have destroyed their ship based capital and threaten to harass them further. They attempt to reorganize and establish a planetary base, but no one wants to play host to what might become a major military target in the near future. Their eventual choice is an uneasy one, unpopular with the locals, and the aliens are on the brink of capturing a new technology that could give them a substantial edge in any battle to come. The only solution is to launch a pre-emptive strike to remove the target. Standard military fare for the most part. Dietz handles it well but without adding anything new to the form.
Dreams of the Desert Wind by Kurt R.A. Giambastini, Fairwood Press, 9/04, $17.99, ISBN 0-9746573-3-6
Kurt Giambastini switches from alternate history to contemporary events in this new novel, set in the Middle East, a story of intrigue that seems to have little fantastic content at first, then moves forthrightly into the world of mental powers, whether fantasy or science fiction from that point is up to the reader to decide individually. An American scholar overhears a woman speaking in what he believed to be along dead language and , curious, decides to investigate. That trail leads him to the discovery of a plethora of mental powers concealed from the modern world. The main story is complicated by the affection of an Israeli soldier for the protagonist, which causes a conflict between her feelings for him and her sense of duty to her country. The payoff wasn't quite up to the buildup in this one, but the characters were interesting enough to carry the story to its conclusion.
The Clockwork Woman by Claire Bott, Telos, 2004, $9.95, ISBN 1-903889-39-1
This is the third in a multi-author series of novellas from this British publisher, the "Time Hunter" sequence. The two protagonists are time travelers who find themselves trapped in the 19th Century, foiled by a brilliant inventor whose expertise is such that he has even created an artificial, mechanical woman to cater to his somewhat twisted sexual desires. She, or it , I suppose, comes to the assistance of the stranded time travelers, but only after they and the readers are taken on a tour of Victorian England. A clever, lightweight story that reminded me a little bit of the Doctor Who series.
The Roswell Dig Diaries, Pocket Books, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 0-7434-8612-9
Here we have the complete report of a team of scientists who were hired by the Sci Fi Channel to thoroughly investigate the site of the supposed Roswell UFO crash. The team did a very thorough job, and their detailed reports are included here, filled with information about soil samples, debris, and so forth. The scientists made it very clear that there were alternative explanations for every observed and reported phenomenon, and that in effect there was nothing more than circumstantial evidence, and little of that, to indicate that anything extraordinary had happened. Of course that wouldn't be dramatic enough for the Sci Fi Channel, so there's an afterword by the Vice President of Programming, misleadingly called "the truth be told", which essentially asserts that since the government says nothing happened, then something must have happened. What a waste of effort, and paper.
The Scientifiction Novels of C.S. Lewis by Jared Lobdell, McFarland, 2004, $32, ISBN 0-7864-1824-9
This is a critical study of the Ransom trilogy by C.S. Lewis, consisting of Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, aka The Tortured Planet. The premise of the novels is that each planet has a supernatural spirit, which we think of as God, but that the one governing Earth has gone insane, hence our penchant for wars and other violence. The opening volume takes Ransom to Mars, where he learns the truth, the second to Venus, where he saves a pristine world from a malevolent human, and then back to Earth for the climactic battle between good and evil. The novels are scientifically illiterate, but very effective as metaphors for various theological issues. Many of the author's observations are interesting, and he uses a very informal, non-academic approach that makes the book accessible to most readers, although at times it becomes awkwardly overly familiar and casual.
Flash by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 9/04, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31128-3
The future development and use of advanced technology in the advertising and public relations fields has a long history in SF, including classics such as The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth and "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" by James Tiptree Jr. Now L.E. Modesitt Jr adds another ambitious title to the list, this one set in the same version of the 24th Century that he introduced in Archform: Beauty. The protagonist is a consultant hired to investigate the advertising campaign for a political candidate whose popularity seems suspect. He isn't on the job very long before an attempt is made on his life and he realizes that he may have intruded on a plot that is more ambitious and ruthless than he originally believed. His best chance to save his own life is to expose his enemies before they succeed, but his resources are considerably fewer than theirs. A well conceived, suspenseful thriller which also examines an all too plausible corruption of democracy.
The World As It Shall Be by Emile Souvestre, Wesleyan University, 11/04, $29.95, ISBN 0-8195-6615-2
Wesleyan University Press adds a new title to its list of obscure but interesting classics of speculative literature, this time a French satire originally published in 1846 and unavailable in English until now. We see the world of the year 3000 through the eyes of Marthe and Maurice, who are taken on a grand tour of a world in which geographical changes are only the smallest evidence of the rapid pace of progress. Despite the frequently funny encounters and situations, the novel is an indictment of extreme capitalism, characterizing it as based on greed. Some of the trends Souvestre predicted are now part of everyday life, although much of his satire is too exaggerated to be serious prediction. As usual for that period, the novel was heavily illustrated and there are almost a hundred pictures inserted in the text, although they are generally not very interesting either artistically or in terms of their addition to the story. If you liked Jules Verne's recently discovered Paris in the Twentieth Century, you should enjoy this one as well.
Settling Accounts: Return Engagement by Harry Turtledove, Del Rey, 8/04, $25.95, ISBN 0-345-45723-4
Well, I could see this one coming even before it was announced. Harry Turtledove has already traced the future of the USA and the separate Confederate States of America up through the first World War, so it's not surprising that his latest, first in another trilogy, opens with the Confederacy launching a surprise bomber attack on Philadelphia, inaugurating his alternate history version of World War II. The novel has all the strengths and weaknesses of the previous installments. A good grasp of historical events, although given how much changed already in this world's history, the number of people in equivalent positions is rather suspect. The speculation is often interesting and the author has another few tricks to play on us. On the other hand, there are just too many characters to make this one any more cohesive than the others, and it becomes more an exercise in history making than a work of fiction. It will certainly please his avid fans, and given the apparent growing popularity of alternate history stories, may well help swell those numbers.
The Doublecross Program by Chris Bunch, Roc, 7/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45986-5
The mercenaries of Star Risk Ltd are back for their third adventure, this time finding themselves regrettably short of both cash and prospects for work. That means that they are more open to a different sort of assignment, and when they're approached by someone who wants them to perform a reverse bank robbery inserting rather than removing money they shrug and decide that it's an odd but acceptable job that isn't likely to cause them any serious problems. You don't have to be an experienced reader to know that things aren't going to be that simple, and it isn't long before they're caught in the middle of a bigger and more dangerous conflict. Bunch does this sort of thing very well, and his characters have considerably more depth than those in other military SF series, and there's a welcome touch of humor as well.
Grasp the Stars by Jennifer Wingert, DAW, 7/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0220-4
DAW Books seems to have concentrated its science fiction selection to variations of the same universe from author to author, typically one in which humans are just one of various races trading in interstellar space, gathering in common venues to bargain with one another as in the Chanur series by C.J. Cherryh. This first novel is right in that tradition, this one with a trace of Babylon 5 thrown into the mix. The sudden closing of another station has resulted in a sudden influx of new travelers into Earth Port, which is simultaneously undergoing a thorough audit which has left the staff short handed and irritable. Throw in a saboteur or two and a variety of less immediate problems and you have the mix for a tense story even before the arrival of a fugitive alien. This is a long novel and sometimes provides more details than we really need, but it should satisfy readers who enjoy this kind of setting and is well enough written to suggest Wingert may evolve into a more ambitious writer.
Pitch Black by Frank Lauria, St Martins, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-93509-9
Apparently this novelization of the first adventure of Riddick appeared when the movie came out, but I never saw a copy until this edition, which coincides with the opening of his second adventure, The Chronicles of Riddick. I haven't seen the new one yet, but I was very impressed with the first, which pits the survivors of a crashed spaceship against a species of creatures that lives on an unpopulated desert planet, emerging from its underground caverns to feed only on those rare occasions when all of its suns are in eclipse and the planet is plunged into darkness. The book lacks the great visuals, of course, but the story was actually a fairly good one for a Hollywood originated SF film, and this treatment is certainly as entertaining as many recent original novels.
Califia's Daughters by Leigh Richards, Bantam, 8/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58667-X
One of my favorite mystery series is a set of novels about the woman who married Sherlock Holmes, by detective fiction writer Laurie R. King. This new post apocalyptic novel is her first SF novel, published under a pseudonym. A generation after the bombs and a subsequent plague brought down civilization and killed off most of the population, the surviving enclaves are effectively dominated by women, since men were much more likely to die and are now a tiny fraction of the remaining population. These surviving communities have largely remained aloof from one another, but with the renewal of contact comes both fresh danger and the promise of welcome as well as unwelcome changes. As always, the author tells a good story, although it is one that has few surprises for seasoned genre readers. Although I'd much rather have another story of Mary Holmes, it's nice to see her try something new., and this was promising enough that I'd be interested to see if she dabbles in SF again.
H.G. Wells by Thomas C. Renzi, Scarecrow Press, 2004, $35, ISBN 0-8108-4989-5
You wouldn't guess it from the title, but this is actually a book about films, specifically those directly adapted or influenced by the works of H.G. Wells. The author pretty much confines himself to six major works, The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The First Men in the Moon, and The Food of the Gods, although he refers to a couple of others in the appendices. Other than Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley, I can't think of another writer who has had such a powerful effect on Hollywood, although Stephen King is approaching that level. The book is academic at times, though readable for a lay audience, and goes into the relationships between original stories and screen versions in great detail. This is a new, updated edition of a book first published in 1992, and it's one of the more enjoyable film related books I've encountered recently.
Solar Labyrinth by Robert Borski, Iuniverse, 2004, $17.95, ISBN 0-595-31729-4
Readers who find themselves perplexed by Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series should save themselves some headaches and frustration and pick up this book length study of the novels, which analyzes them in great deal and suggests solutions to many of the unanswered questions. The prose is an accessible style, almost too casual at times, but provides the author's reasoning in great detail and almost always in very convincing fashion. Borski's speculations are interesting and worth considering even when his points are less demonstrable. The appendices are also quite useful. Wolfe is a fascinating and complex writer and I'm sure this won't be the last book about his work.
The Wilding by C.S. Friedman, DAW, 7/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0164-X
C.S. Friedman returns to science fiction with her latest, set in the middle of an interstellar war between two vast empires that has gone on so long that no one can imagine a different state of affairs. The strategy of the two foes is dramatically different. One relies on the development of a warrior caste with advanced physical abilities while the other prefers to encourage the breeding of individuals with extraordinary psychic powers. Both sides have become more or less repressive, and many people from either side feel caught in the middle and seek to escape to less dangerous territory. That leads to unrest within both populations, exacerbated in some cases by mental breakdowns and insanity resulting from the stimulation of psychic abilities. Friedman tells a story of conflict and complexity reminiscent of Alastair Reynolds and Dan Simmons, although without quite achieving the same degree of involvement. It is a far more ambitious work than her previous efforts, and sometimes that works quite well, although at others I thought the need to explain the complex background was interfering with the flow of the plot.
The Cestus Deception by Steven Barnes, Del Rey, 6/04, $25.95, ISBN 0-345-45897-4
The Star Wars tie in novels have always struck me as more interesting than the rival Star Trek franchise, and not just because in general they are written by more widely experienced writers. For one thing, there are fewer of them. For another, the universe is basically richer and more interesting, and unlike in the Trek universe, they are tied into a consistent timeline although the authors are given some latitude in developing and even altering characters. In one of them, Chewbacca actually dies, for example. This new one is set during the Clone Wars, and there is a nice flyleaf chart showing the progression through novels, movies, comics, and even computer games. This one involves efforts by Count Dooku's forces to purchase an army of cyborgs from an economically depressed planet, and the mission by Obi-Wan to convince the planetary government not to cooperate with the rebels, even though he himself is having second thoughts about the motives of Emperor Palpatine. Barnes does his usual fine job of storytelling as he adds to the ongoing saga.
Postscripts 1 edited by Peter Crowther, Spring 2004, $10, ISBN 190461920-7
This looks like a digest magazine, and the dating seems to imply the same, but it also has an ISBN number, so I suppose it's a descendant of titles like Quark and New Destinies. Whatever its lineage, it is chock filled with good stories, with a debut volume that includes new work by the sorely missed Brian Aldiss, as well as Ray Bradbury, Ramsey Campbell, Joyce Carol Oates, Gene Wolfe, Peter Hamilton, Ed Gorman, and others. Some of the stories are merely quite good, but others are even better. There's an introduction by Christopher Fowler, which confirms that it's a magazine, one devoted to weird and scary stories. There's also an interview with James P. Blaylock and an article by Mike Ashley on collection SF magazines. A very promising start indeed and hopefully the harbinger of many similarly delightful volumes to come.
Those Who Survive by Kir Bulychev, Capricorn, 2004, $14.99, ISBN 0-9753970-1-X
The late Kir Bulychev was a prolific Russian writer whose work has rarely appeared in English, although that may be about to change. Translator John H. Costello has provided this rendition of a novel first published in 1988, available in print on demand format, though handsomely packaged, through Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. A party of humans has eked out a new life on the world where they crashed, but the older generation has never become reconciled to their relatively primitive life in a vast forest, despite the acclimatization of their children. Eventually a party decides to make the arduous trek to the site of the disabled ship in an attempt to escape their involuntary exile on a planet that reminded me somewhat of Harry Harrison's Deathworld. This doesn't read at all like the tentative SF adventures that were common from the Soviet Union and the fauna and flora of Bulychev's imaginary planet are interesting and inventive, providing the backdrop for an above average adventure story.
Spy High by A.J. Butcher, Little, Brown, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 0-316-73760-7
Chaos Rising by A.J. Butcher, Little, Brown, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 0-316-73765-8
These are the first two volumes in a young adult technothriller series that seems to borrow from Mission Impossible and the X-Men, with a nod toward the James Bond movies. The characters are a group of young people enrolled in what appears to be a private school in Massachusetts. It's a private school, all right, but it's teaching the students to be spies. In their first two adventures, they battle, and naturally defeat, a megalomaniac determined to rule the world and a band of nasty terrorists, using their wits and a handful of superscientific devices which constitute the main fantastic element. Although their adventures are reasonably well written, the plot was very similar from one to the other, and I can't help wondering if this might be a very short lived series simply for lack of anything new to say.
Counterfeit Kings by Adam Connell, Phobos, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 0-9720026-4-2
The human colony on Io is ruled by a king, but the king has enemies who launch a concerted attempt to kill him and the members of his family. With the king missing and believed dead, two of his bodyguards are called out of retirement by the queen to track down and rescue the missing monarch and restore order to the colony before civil war or a coup make his return impossible. They set out to do so but their lives are complicated by the existence of a host of surgically altered doubles who formerly stood in for the king but who could now become pawns or even players in the effort to install a new government. Connell has created a fascinating outer solar culture, if not necessarily a believable one, and a pair of reasonably interesting protagonists to rush hither and yon on their thankless mission. I wouldn't call this an unmitigated success, but I found it enjoyable enough on a hot and very muggy afternoon.
Hunters of the Dark Sea by Mel Odom, Tor, 7/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30480-5
Somehow I never managed to see a copy of this when it appeared almost a year ago, and I finally spotted a copy on Ebay and picked it up. I regret that I didn't find it sooner, because it's the best thing Odom has written, and one of the best novels of 2003. The setting is during the War of 1812 and most of the action takes place aboard sailing vessels, a whaler, a British warship, a pirate, and an American research ship dispatched to investigate reports of a deadly sea creature. The human conflicts are thick and convincing. In addition to the obvious threat of the pirates and the British, the chief protagonist is serving under an incompetent captain and is concealing the fact that he was briefly a pirate himself, the arch foe of the captain of the pirate ships. Each ship has an encounter with a rogue sperm whale, one with massive scarring on one side of its head. They also encounter bodies riddled with a venom that dissolves flesh and metal with equal ease. Stories about the monstrous sea creature are traced back to the year when a falling star crashed into the ocean nearby, so it's not a spoiler to tell you that there's an alien on the prowl. There are battles between humans and with the creature, chases and escapes galore. This is a thriller like none other you're likely to read any time soon, so don't wait for it to show up on Ebay again before buying a copy of your own.
Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson, Bantam Spectra, 6/04, $25, ISBN 0-553-80311-5
Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel is about global warming, and more specifically about the disconnect between the scientific establishment and government agencies reluctant to spend money even when faced with powerful evidence. Charlie Quibble works full time trying to convince government officials to be proactive, while his wife works at a scientific establishment where efforts are being made to find actual solutions, sometimes exploring very untraditional avenues of approach. Unfortunately, I suspect that Robinson's scenario is pretty accurate, not for global warming specifically but for any long range project that doesn't have immediate popular support. Only when an actual disaster occurs in this case a severe storm, coastal erosion, and major flooding on the East Coast of North America will politicians be forced to act. Hopefully, it won't be too late by then. A nicely controlled, only mildly melodramatic story of one possible near future, with a couple of interesting side plots as well including one about the ambassador from a newly created island nation.
Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross, Ace, 7/04/ $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01159-4
The sequel to Singularity Sky has Rachel Mansour back in action. Someone has destroyed the planet New Moscow, the survivors of which believe a neighboring world to be responsible. An automated fail safe system launched a responding strike which can only be disabled if they can be convinced that someone else is responsible. Rachel Mansour is investigating the situation when she discovers a far broader plot, and a teenaged girl who unwittingly has a clue to the identity of the conspirators, who want to undermine the entire interstellar human civilization. This is a space opera on a grand scale, wrapped around something of a murder mystery, and with a pair of interesting and convincing characters to hold our attention. It hasn't taken Stross long to establish an enviable set of credentials for this sort of thing, and further adventures of Rachel Mansour are undoubtedly on their way.
The Regiment: A Trilogy by John Dalmas, Baen, 5/04, $25, ISBN 0-7434-8823-7
This omnibus edition includes, if I'm remembering correctly, the first, second, and fourth novels in the Regiment series, omitting The Kalif's War. The titles included are The Regiment (1987), The White Regiment (1990), and The Regiment's War (1993), all military SF stories about a planet which exports mercenaries somewhat similar to the Dorsai stories by Gordon R. Dickson, but heavier on action and lighter on politics and world building. I remember these as being better than average, so this is probably a good buy for most fans of the type.
Fitzpatrick's War by Theodore Judson, DAW, 8/04, $23.95, ISBN 0-7564-0196-8
A disaster in the 21st Century destroyed much of technological civilization. Centuries later North America is in the midst of a new feudalism, with a repressive government dominating most of the continent. The new nation, the Confederacy of the Yukon, briefly made an attempt to conquer and rule the entire world, following the lead of a charismatic leader whose memory is revered. But when the memoirs of one of his intimate's surfaces more than a century after his death, the events described therein cast him and the history of that nation in an entirely new light. This is a really good first novel that reminded me at times of early Poul Anderson, set in a quite interesting future world.
Horizon Storms by Kevin J. Anderson, Aspect, 7/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-446-52872-2
The Saga of Seven Suns continues in this third installment, with the vast war precipitated by the destruction of a star by humans, inadvertently triggering war with a very powerful alien race. Humans have been seeking alien allies, but not even all the disparate factions of their own species have been united, and there are growing divisions among the various aliens as well. Much of the action this time involves the alien Ildirans, who have broken into two groups themselves. A soaring epoch with a large cast of characters and mind boggling battles and events. This isn't the end either, in fact, it's just the opening phase of a new round of conflict, one that will consume entire worlds. A space opera to rival the best the field has ever seen.
Crucible by Nancy Kress, Tor, 8/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30688-3
In Crossfire, Nancy Kress introduced us to a world settled by humans who discover previously unknown intelligent aliens living on the same world, although subsequent investigation revealed that they were not indigenous. That led to humanity's involvement in a war between two alien civilizations, which is now becoming more dangerous in this sequel. Humanity has sided with the Vines, a race of intelligent plants who seem to be more inclined to harmonious relations with their neighbors, but their enemies, the Furs, are technologically superior and appear set to win the war. The best chance of reversing the situation is the release of a tailored virus which will reduce the aggressiveness of the Furs, and it is up to a small number of humans to disperse the contagion quickly enough to prevent the eradication of the entire species.
Bengal Station by Eric Brown, Five Star, 7/04, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-212-2
The protagonist of this futuristic detective tale is a telepath who accidentally learns of the existence of a cult who worship the god of a distant world, and who use illegal drugs to control their members, and murder to silence their enemies. His life becomes intertwined with that of an Asian prostitute who accompanies a second telepath on a visit offworld to Bengal Station, where she hopes to learn the fate of her missing sister. Their joint efforts answer both of their questions, and resolve their individual emotional issues as well when they fall in love. Brown does a fine job of letting us get inside the heads of his characters, and wraps that around a set of satisfying mysteries and their unraveling.
Sunrise Alley by Catherine Asaro, Baen, 8/04, $24, ISBN 0-7434-8840-7
Samantha Bryton rescues what appears to be the survivor of a shipwrecked pleasure boat in a world about thirty years into our future. But Turner Pascal is more than just a man. His body is a blend of organic and mechanical components, and he claims that his personality is that of an artificial intelligence implanted by a mysterious man named Charon. Turner is on the run from Charon, and that inevitably makes her a fugitive as well. The subsequent chases, escapes, and unraveling of the mystery of Turner's origins are entertaining, though somewhat predictable. The relationship between the two main characters evolves in a familiar fashion as well, but Asaro is quite good at creating a credible connection between her protagonists and her fans will not be disappointed by this venture away from her Skolian Empire series.
The Wizard of Karres by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, and Dave Freer, Baen, 8/04, $22, ISBN 0-7434-8839-3
Back in 1966, the late James H. Schmitz wrote what would prove to be his best novel, The Witches of Karres, in which a spaceship captain discovers that his young female passengers have unusual psi powers and a strange sense of humor. Almost forty years later, three of Baen's regular authors have teamed up to write a sequel, presumably tied in to their recent reprinting of most of Schmitz's SF. The witches are back, and they have a friend this time, and poor Captain Pausert will never be the same. The plot is quite loyal to the Schmitz creation, and there is an attempt at times to replicate Schmitz's wittiness and humor. If this had not been a sequel, I might have been more impressed, because it's an occasionally cute and rarely disappointing story, but I found myself constantly comparing it to my memory of the original, and there it came up short.
Gloriana by Michael Moorcock, Aspect, 8/04, $14, ISBN 0-446-69140-2
Although the advanced copy gives no indication of it on the copyright page, this is a reprint of Moorcock's 1978 alternate history novel, which is also in my opinion his best book by a considerable margin. This edition also contains two endings, the original and a newly revised one, so you can take your pick. The British Empire exists, after a fashion, under the name of Albion, and its queen rules much of the world including parts of North America. Moorcock has a real gift for showing us the contrast between the surface appearance which is one of peace and prosperity and the darker secrets that lie beneath, corruption, power brokering, abrogation of human rights, and naturally lots of international intrigue. One of the genuine classics of the field.
Metal Sky by Jay Caselberg, Roc, 9/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45999-7
Jack Stein, psychic investigator in a futuristic setting, is back after tracking down a party of missing persons in the first in this series, Wyrmhole. Now he and his ward have relocated to a quieter world, but the drawback is that there isn't a lot of business to be had there either. That's the case until a woman hires them to locate an ancient artifact whose origin is unknown and probably not human. The chief suspect is an antiques dealer, but when a case looks straightforward, that's usually a sign that something devious is about to happen, and that's exactly the case here. The sequel's better than the original, a good blend of SF and mystery themes.
City of Pearl by Karen Traviss, Eos, 3/ 04, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-054169-5
A distant star system is home to more than one alien civilization as well as an ageless guardian who watches out for the natives even if that means the massacre of invaders. The arrival of a group of religious fundamentalists from Earth precipitates a fresh crisis, and potentially one that could ramifications outside that one star system. The leader of a research mission finds herself in the middle of a complicated tangle of conflicting rights and desires. I happened upon this first novel by chance when I noticed the intriguing cover. The text is a blend of familiar SF elements and some unusual plot elements takes a while for the story to get going, but there's some intriguing details about the alien civilizations and enough active conflict to hold your interest.
The Gernsback Days by Mike Ashley and Robert A.W. Lowndes, Wildside, 2004, $29.95, ISBN 0-8095-1055-3
Like many students of science fiction, I have heard the argument that Hugo Gernsback did the field a distinct disservice with his early magazines, which emphasized the genre's differences from other forms of fiction, sacrificing most literary standards in favor of ideas, even implausible ones. In this book, which actually consists of two book length works, one by each author, we get a fresh look at Gernsback, showing the positive side of his efforts as well as the negative ones. As with most controversial issues, there's a case to be made for either side, and the authors do a good job of presenting them without bias. Some of the appendices are also very worthwhile also, including detailed indices to several of those early magazines. The period covered is from 1911 to 1936, and in conjunction with Alexei and Cory Panshin's The World Beyond the Hill provides a very detailed history of the genre up to the post war years.
Camouflage by Joe Haldeman, Ace, 8/04, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01161-6
Two nameless aliens have been living on Earth, apparently from different species although both are immortal, one for many thousands of years, the other a more recent arrival. Neither remembers its past prior to arriving on Earth, and each has a unique talent. One is known as the chameleon, capable of impersonating any human being it sees, living by moving from one personality to another. The other is the changeling, whose shape changing ability is even greater. The changeling can mimic almost anything, even disassemble itself into smaller components although doing so diminishes its collective intelligence. Over the course of generations, the changeling grows to have a certain respect for humanity, but the changeling grows increasingly contemptuous and kills without compunction. They have never met each other, but when an alien artifact is discovered deep in the ocean, apparently a disabled starship, their paths will cross at last. Haldeman's latest builds its suspense relentlessly as we skip back and forth between the two aliens, watching them develop distinct personalities, knowing that sooner or later they will have to confront one another. Very nicely done throughout.
A Flame in Hali by Deborah J. Ross and Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW, 8/04, $$24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0218-2
This is the third in a series of new Darkover novels Ross wrote based on background material Bradley provided. It is a particularly critical time in the history of that world, because myriad feudal holdings engage in incessant and destructive war, so common that it has made progress virtually impossible. Some farsighted leaders realize that it is necessary to channel this violence into a less disruptive form since it cannot be eliminated entirely, and they conceive of the Compact, by which all parties will agree to a ban on weapons that kill at a distance. As if it was difficult enough to convince the disparate population to accept such a radical change, an old friend has been psychically programmed as an assassin, and his efforts will eventually lead to a major tragedy. But hope is often born out of tragedy as well. As in the previous two volumes, Ross has done an admirable job of replicating Bradley's style and the atmosphere of her world.
Ringworld's Children by Larry Niven, Tor, 6/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30167-9
Louis Wu is back on Ringworld, which is about to face a new crisis. There's war in the offing, and despite its immense size, this artificial habitat is definitely vulnerable. Already there are signs that the physical structure is deteriorating, and the previous order and peace that prevailed among its countless inhabitants has begun to unravel. Throw in a superweapon, a large cast of characters with differing and sometimes conflicting agendas, and you have the recipe for an exciting adventure story. Some of Niven's recent novels seem to me lacking in energy, but that's not the case here. The Known Space stories were always among my favorites and it's good to return to the world of the Puppeteers, the Kzinti, and the ultimate big dumb object with a personality once again.
Lost and Found by Alan Dean Foster, Del Rey, 6/04, $23.95, ISBN 0-345-46125-8
Marcus Walker is a businessman who supports himself speculating in commodities, or at least that's what he does until he is kidnapped into space by aliens, who initially confine him to a cell that resembles a zoo habitat. Once he seems to have accepted the reality of his situation, they allow George, a dog, to join him. George is not your ordinary dog, however. The aliens have augmented his brain and provided him with vocal chords so that he can speak intelligible English. George is more adaptable than Marcus, and subsequently helps him to integrate himself with the other alien captives aboard the ship, a very varied lot indeed. The tone is obviously one of light humor and mild adventure. This is also the opening volume of a trilogy, although the plot premise doesn't seem strong enough to me to support two more volumes. Hopefully Foster will prove me wrong.
The Dark Ascent by Walter H. Hunt, Tor, 8/04, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31116-X
Sometimes an author's attempt to give his work an original or authentically alien touch backfires. That's the case with this, the third in a series of military SF adventures. Humans have been involved in a protracted interstellar war with aliens and have already lost one charismatic and competent leader, but another has risen in his place. What follows is what would have been a considerably better than average futuristic military thriller, but Hunt uses so many unnecessarily odd and unpronounceable names and words into the text, like Es-Ga-u Ye and Qu'u and Shrnu'u HeGa'u, that it distracted me constantly from the story and frankly ruined what might otherwise have been a pleasant read. Inserting apostrophes and capital letters in odd places might make the words seem alien, but they serve no purpose and calling them Esgawey, Kwu, and Shernu Hegow or some equivalent accomplishes the same thing without the distractions.
The Fourth Circle by Zoran Zivkovic, Ministry of Whimsey, 3/ 04, $27, ISBN 1-892389-66-5
Here's a novel that doesn't fit into any pattern. In fact, at times I'm not sure if "novel" is even the right word to use. Translated from the Serbian, this is the author's first science fiction novel, which ranges across space and time and includes among its characters Sherlock Holmes. Filled with nameless beings, educators who love computers, detectives, mysteries, disembodied intelligences, and other wonders. It's a madcap grand tour of a very strange universe that very closely resembles our own.
The Human Abstract by George Mann, Telos, 2004, $9.95, ISBN 1-903889-65-0
Telos has quietly established itself as a fine publisher for novellas, both science fiction and horror, generally by writers who are little known, at least in the US. This one is pure SF, set on a colony world seeded with human germ plasm many generations in the past, now developed into a reasonably advanced world, although its culture is quite different. The protagonist gets caught up in a mystery that eventually leads him to a revelation about the way in which his civilization was formed, and possibly a hint of the shape of its future. A rather intriguing mystery grafted onto a well realized setting. This is the author's first piece of published fiction, which I find quite surprising under the circumstances.
Black Tide: Enter the Game by Debbie Bishop, Angel Gate, 2003, $7.95, ISBN 0-9664737-3-6
Maze of the Minotaur by Darren G. Davis and Thomas J. Musiraca, Angel Gate, 2003, $7.95, ISBN 0-9664737-4-4
Code: Alpha by Darren G. Davis, Angel Gate, 2004, $$7.95, ISBN 1-93243-103-9
All three of these novels are tie-ins to graphic work from the same publishing house. The first is the best of the set, based on Black Tide comics, set in a world of spies, secret organizations, super science, and teenagers who are more competent heroes than the adult characters. Not much depth and the comics are actually better, but tolerable reading, and certainly a fast paced if not entirely plausible plot. The second title is a straightforward superhero story. The protagonist is a teenaged girl who is the manifestation of the Tenth Muse, title of the comic series, the Muse of Justice. In this opening volume, she solves the mystery of the disappearance of several of her fellow students. Inept dialogue, frequent misspellings or typos, and other problems make this one marginally interesting at best. The last, and least, comes from a comic book called Zak Raven, Esq, about another teenager who leads a secret life battling supervillains. There's no substance to this one at all, and the dialogue is particularly bad.
Black Atlantic by Simon Jowett & Peter J. Evans, Black Flame, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-108-0
Judge Dredd is back, the graphic science fiction series in novel form again. The setting is a future following an apocalyptic war. The Atlantic Ocean is so poisoned with pollution and radiation that it is a menace in itself but Judge Dredd, a law enforcer in a megacity of the future, finds an even greater danger in the form of smuggled bio-weapons. His effort to contain the threat initially fails as an organic bio-weapon escapes, and an extended chase interspersed with violent confrontations follows. The action is, appropriately enough, comic book in conception and execution and there is little here for readers who are looking for serious fiction. On the other hand, if you just want a fast paced, light hearted escape from the everyday world into one rather drearier than ours actually then this might be just what the doctor ordered.
Revisions edited by Julie E. Czerneda and Isaac Szpindel, DAW, 8/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0240-9
I'm not sure why alternate history stories have become so popular in recent years, but it is a fact that they are, that new ones appear every month. The problem with that is that after a while they begin to resemble each other as it gets increasingly difficult to come up with a new take. This is a collection of all original alternate history stories by quite a variety of writers including Geoffrey Landis, Robin Wayne Bailey, Charles Stross, Mike Resnick, and several others, and I'm happy to say that it does in fact vary quite significantly from one to the next, although Stross, Corey Doctorow, and Geoff Landis have some of the more interesting ones. The variance points are generally out of the ordinary, some taking place in the relatively recent past, others in the ancient world. One of the better original anthologies so far this year.
The Year's Best Science Fiction: 21st Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois, St. Martins, 7/04, $19.95, ISBN 0-312-32479-0
Well, here it is, the one volume you can read if you don't have time to read the SF magazines. One might argue about the inclusion or exclusion of a story here or there, but the few really outstanding stories in any given year are always going to be here, and the accompanying selection also provides a good cross section of the rest, a mix of established and new writers, with stories drawn mostly from the prozines, but with some from original anthologies, and a surprisingly large number from websites and electronic publishers this year. There's also a summary of the year's activity, and if you want even more good stories, the honorable mentions list is extensive. Authors represented here include Nancy Kress, Michael Swanwick, Vernor Vinge, John Varley, and Judith Moffett among many others. A hefty and high quality collection, as always.
Gods and Androids by Andre Norton, Baen, 2004, $24, ISBN 0-7434-8817-2
This is an omnibus of two unrelated novels, one science fiction and one fantasy. The first is Android at Arms, originally published in 1971. A handful of people escape mind control on a completely automatic prison world and escape, believing that androids have been used to impersonate them on their home worlds. After discovering that he is in fact the android, the hero finds himself in a parallel world somewhat similar to his own, but even more torn by intrigue and violence. The second title is Wraiths of Time, originally published in 1976, is a fantasy. A modern woman is seized by spirits linked to an ancient Egyptian artifact and carried back through time to an ancient empire. There she learns that she is to be the pivotal player in an occult as well as physical battle between good and evil. Neither are among the author's best works, but both are entertaining light adventures.
Short Trips: Steel Skies edited by John Binns, Big Finish, 2004, $24.95, ISBN 1-84435-045-2
Short Trips: The Muses edited by Jacqueline Rayner, Big Finish, 2004, $24.95, ISBN 1-84435-009-6
Doctor Who might not be on television, but he's still alive and reasonably well in book form. Although BBC Books has apparently reduced the number of new novels appearing, Big Finish takes up some of the slack with these two new collections of original short adventures. Very few of these authors are known to the SF community at large, and the stories are sometimes rather fanciful in their interpretation of science, but it doesn't matter because it's all in good fun. The best stories are by Paul Leonard, Kate Orman, Justin Richards, and Gareth Roberts and they're split about evenly between the two, which are the fourth and fifth volumes in this new series of anthologies. So here's your chance to once more, however briefly, enter the zany universe of the Time Lords, the Daleks, and many other familiar faces (or facial equivalents).
Dragon and Soldier by Timothy Zahn, Tor, 6/04, $17.95, ISBN 0-765-30125-3
When I was first reading science fiction, many adult writers were also producing young adult novels, usually of a quality level comparable to their adult work. This dual activity stopped for a considerable time, and most young adult SF for years was written by people like Nicholas Fisk and Hugh Walters who specialized in that form and rarely if ever wrote for adult markets. There has been a slight drift back in recent years, with Jerry Pournelle, Charles Sheffield, Robert Silverberg, and others, mostly from Tor Books, demonstrating that young adult fiction doesn't have to be written down. Now add Timothy Zahn to that list with this, the second in a series of novels about a young space trader, who is off on a series of adventures with a symbiotic alien companion and the recorded personality of his dead uncle lodged in a computer. The first volume set things up nicely and introduced the ongoing plots one involving an attempt to wipe out the symbiote's race, the other to frame our hero for a crime he didn't commit. This time they'll get involved with space mercenaries, a battle among the stars, and only somewhat advance their individual quests. The fun might be comparatively lightweight, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.
Gladiator by Philip Wylie, Bison, 2004, $15.95, ISBN 0-8032-9840-4
Lost on Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 0-8032-6219-1
The latest two titles in the University of Nebraska's classic science fiction reprint series shows just how varied the field has been in the past. The Burroughs title is the second adventure of Carson Napier on Venus, originally published in 1933. The series was not one of Burroughs' stronger works, but this is a fairly entertaining if rather archaic adventure story in his usual style. The Wylie novel is a different matter altogether. It was first published in 1930 and has been out of print for about forty years. The protagonist was genetically altered by his father and is a superhuman, almost literally of the comic book variety. Unfortunately, that apparent superiority marks him as a perpetual outsider, and while he may be able to impose his will through force, he cannot acquire acceptance, friendship, or love, which makes him in most ways inferior. Although the prose is rather dated by contemporary standards, the essential story is as moving now as it was when the book was first written.
The Locus Awards edited by Charles N. Brown and Jonathan Strahan, Eos, 7/04, $15.95, ISBN 0-06-059426-8
This collection is sort of the best of the best according to Locus Magazine. It includes eighteen of the short works that won the magazine's annual popularity poll among its readers, and for those who want to fill in the gaps, there's a complete listing of each category at the end of the book. As you might expect, the selection is quite strong, mostly science fiction with a little bit of fantasy, a few drawn from each of the three and a fraction decades. There are stories by Harlan Ellison, John Varley, Connie Willis, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree Jr., Gene Wolfe, and others. While every story is very good, there aren't likely to be any new to regular genre readers.
The Axis of Time: Weapons of Choice by John Birmingham, Del Rey, 6/04, $15.95, ISBN 0-345-45712-9
First time author Birmingham starts off with the opening volume of an alternate history series very much in the style of Harry Turtledove, and in fact Turtledove is Tuckerized within the novel. The premise is similar to that of the film, The Final Countdown, except this time it's more than one ship that travels back through time. An international task force from about twenty years from now is accidentally transported back to the hours just before the battle of Midway. Unfortunately they materialize right in the middle of the American naval force, sometimes physically merging with the other ships, and a firefight ensues that kills even more on both sides before things begin to sort themselves out. Although Birmingham raises some interesting ethical questions, like the question of whether the future Japanese sailors can be asked to participate in a strike against the Imperial Fleet in order to restore the balance of history, he ducks away from them at times. The novel is also overwhelmed at times by the detail about naval operations. Once the novelty of the situation wears off, the truth is there's not much story, but readers of alternate history are often more interested in the speculation than in characters or plot anyway, so it won't matter to them.
H.G. Wells: Traversing Time by W. Warren Wagar, Wesleyan University Press, 9/04, $34.95, ISBN 0-8195-6725-6
It's not just the science fiction community that thinks of H.G. Wells solely in terms of his scientific romances. Although a handful of his other novels have been reprinted over the course of years, much of his work even a considerable amount of his fantastic fiction is almost impossible to find. Wagar uses the lesser known fiction as well as much of his non-fiction to re-examine Wells' life and his work. Although this is a scholarly study, Wagar employs an accessible style that should prove equally entertaining and enlightening for most casual readers who are interested in a more in depth analysis of the man who was probably the single greatest influence on modern science fiction.
Doctor Who: The New Audio Adventures by Benjamin Cook, Big Finish, 2004, $45, ISBN 1-84435-034-7
For several years there has been an active program of audio adventures continuing the adventures of Doctor Who while the BBC hems and haws about finally returning the show to their lineup. This large format hardcover is an inside look at the way the programs are conceived and produced, cast lists, plot summaries, interviews, odd facts, and lots and lots of black and white photographs, mostly of the people involved. This is a nifty find, particularly for those of us who have never heard any of the broadcasts.
Breathmoss and Other Exhalations by Ian R. MacLeod, Golden Gryphon, 6/04, $24.95, ISBN 1-930846-26-6
Ian MacLeod is one of the more interesting of the latest generation of science fiction writers, partly because he is unpredictable and his stories vary so much that they have an added feeling of spontaneity. This is his second collection, assembling eight fairly substantial stories, including the title story set in the far future on a distant world, but without losing a genuinely human feel. There is a bit of fantasy and sometimes horrific content, but the collection is overwhelmingly science fiction, and very good science fiction indeed. MacLeod explores the possibilities of alternate history, the consequences of religious fanaticism, the mystery of death and what might lie beyond, contact with alien intelligences, and his characters range from colonists to scientists to femme fatales. The quality is so consistently high that it is difficult to choose one or as standout entries, but I was particularly impressed by "The Chop Girl", which I had not previously read.
Newton's Wake by Ken MacLeod, Tor, 6/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30503-8
Ken MacLeod's new space opera draws on various familiar devices and blends them into an exciting new mix. On the one hand we have human civilization disrupted by the sudden transformation of artificial intelligences into self aware beings of enormous potential. On the other, we have a series of jump gates that facilitate travel through the stars and to various surviving human colony worlds. The protagonist is a likable, feisty entrepreneur who has cornered a small portion of the interstellar trade business, but the author throws in some alien artifacts, a form of virtual reality, and other twists to make life difficult for her and those around her. Ultimately, the potential for transformation is going to change humanity as radically as it has already changed for the AIs. It took me a while to warm to the story, but once I understood more of the background and got to know the characters, it sucked me right in.
Behemoth:B-Max by Peter Watts, Tor, 7/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30721-9
This is actually just the first half of the final volume in a futuristic trilogy. In the last installment, Maelstrom, a cyborg is instrumental in causing an imminent apocalypse that threatens the surface world, having released a genetically altered microbe inimical to other forms of life. The self appointed cream of humanity is living in domed cities beneath the sea where they believe themselves safe. The cyborg herself is battling depression and contradictory emotions. Can a counter agent be developed and dispersed in time to avert disaster? Can Renie avoid her own personal disaster? We'll all have to wait for the second half to find out. Although Watts is a skillful storyteller, you might want to wait until you have both halves in hand because the sense of incompleteness left me feeling unusually unsatisfied when I turned the last page.
The Z Radiant by Jessica Reisman, Five Star, 6/04, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-145-2
The planet Nentesh is accessible by the rest of the galaxy only at great intervals, coinciding with the fluctuations of a nearby wormhole which provides the only practical means of travel. During the brief periods of contact, life on Nentesh is disrupted, its normal forms replaced by an elaborate Festival filled with rituals and transformations, many of which are opaque to outsiders. The author introduces us to Nentesh and its intricacies through the eyes of multiple characters, each faced with a personal crisis of one sort of another. Although there is some overt action, including a flood and several well designed mysteries, the novel concentrates on the psychological transformation of some of the characters, and to a lesser extent their relations with others. It's a thoughtful and intelligently plotted first novel which deals more with psychology and cultural patterns than with adventure or scientific mysteries, and should appeal to fans of C.J. Cherryh and similar writers.
Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling, Roc, 8/04, $23.95, ISBN 0-451-45979-2
What would happen if scattered communities and individuals from our time suddenly found themselves in an altered world where modern communications and supply systems no longer exist? Would they survive and how? S.M. Stirling already explored the fate of a community displaced in time with his Nantucket series, and now he tackles a similar theme in his latest. Using a varied cast of characters, he introduces us along with them into a new environment, where conditions bring out the best of what makes us human. Unfortunately, they also bring out the worst. Stirling always tells a good story, and the set up for this one is pretty good, but I hope he's not settling down into a rut because parts of this seemed like alternate versions of incidents from the Nantucket series.
Dreamspy by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Benbella, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 1-932100-25-3
This sequel to Those of My Blood was first published in 1989, never had a paperback edition to my knowledge, and has been out of print ever since. As was the case with the author's more popular Sime series, this sequence involves rationalized vampires. Alien vampires with good intentions have come to Earth because this is the only planet where dreaming is possible. The possibility of a devastating galactic war forces them to seek a solution on our world, before their entire civilization is plunged into chaos. The premise involves a considerable suspension of disbelief, but once past that, this is very probably Lichtenberg's best single book.
Imortalon by Arthur Herzog, Iuniverse Star, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 0-595-29762-5
Arthur Herzog wrote a number of entertaining marginal SF thrillers during the 1970s, of which the most famous is The Swarm, subsequently made into a movie. I hadn't seen his name in a while, so I was pleasantly surprised when a new title turned up in the mail. Alas, this story of a new drug which confers dramatic longevity, but which actually has a sinister, unpleasant side, just didn't work for me. The reader can guess almost from the outset that there's a catch there's always a catch and the story just sort of plods along toward the predestined conclusion.
Nothing Sacred by Tom Flynn, Prometheus, 2004, $20, ISBN 1-59102-127-8
Some years ago, I read an amusing, satiric novel about the future of religion called Galactic Rapture by an author I'd never heard of, and which lingered in my memory for some time afterwards. Now the sequel is out, and it's even more biting in its dark humor. Earth is a backwater world, looked down upon by most of the rest of the galactic community, and resented because religious movements that start there seem to proliferate much more quickly and widely than those from other worlds. It's an even more complex blend of religious philosophies, often conflicting, a fast paced if not entirely serious adventure story, space travel, and satire. At times the conflicting aspects of the novel don't mesh smoothly, but these are only brief interruptions, and some of the speculative content is fascinating. Much of it is also indescribable. If you enjoy complex stories that aren't necessary all that serious, but which still manage to consider serious issues, this big, sprawling pseudo-space opera might be just what you're looking for.
Bad Moon Rising by David Bishop, Black Flame, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-107-2
The Medusa War by Pat Mills and Alan Mitchell, Black Flame, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-109-9
Graphic based novels remain popular, even from less well known titles. Judge Dredd has been around for a while, of course, although there have been surprisingly few tie in novels over the years. This one has the Judge called to duty when an outbreak of xenophobic rioting spreads through a future metropolis, with savage crowds intent on the massacre of a small alien minority. This plot could have been used to satirize current events, but the author keeps things simple, and what we have is a lot of violent action, well written, but not memorable. The second title derives from something called ABC Warriors, with which I'm unfamiliar. Basically it's a robot fighting machine variation, something like Battletech, but closer to home. In this case the good guys are off to Mars when colonists uncover an ancient Martian lifeform that returns to life and decides to rid the world of this new infestation. Although not very plausible, the story has a basic dare I say it? comic book charm and was quite enjoyable light entertainment.
Cosmic Tales: Adventures in the Sol System edited by T.K.F. Weiskopf, Baen, 6/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-8832-6
Although I enjoy interstellar epics, I have to admit that most of my favorite space adventures take place right here in the solar system. Even though I recognize that Mars and Venus aren't going to turn out to be inhabited by decadent or primitive races, and that human colonies there and elsewhere in the system are unlikely to be anything other than scientific missions, there is still an aura of mystery and wonder that is more effective when it is in close proximity to Earth. So the overall premise for this anthology was right for me. The stories are a mixed selection. The best of them are by Allen Steele, Jack McDevitt, Margaret Ball, and Gregory Benford. Most of the others are pretty good as well, and there are no real clunkers. There is also some non-fiction on allied subjects. Overall, I'd mark this one as a notch or two above average.
What Price Victory edited by Marc Gascoigne and Christian Dunn, Black Library, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-077-7
Swords of the Empire edited by Marc Gascoigne and Christian Dunn, Black Library, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-088-2
Two new collections of all original stories set in the Warhammer universe. As with previous volumes in this series, they vary considerably in quality. Most in the first volume are set on other planets or in space while those in the second are sword and sorcery stories in one form or another. Although that doesn't make for a very consistent universe, it makes rough internal sense because demonic forces which became quiescent in Earth's history have reasserted themselves in the far future. Some of the authors have created their own signature characters within the wider overall setting and have used their particular creations here. I actually liked the fantasy volume better because I have problems with stories that mix spaceships and magic, but if that doesn't bother you, your results may vary. Best in the first are the stories by Gordon Rennie and C.L. Werner, in the latter Dan Abnett and Simon Spurrier.
Black Tide: Awakening of the Key by Debbie Bishop and Mike S. Miller, Angel Gate, 2004, $19.99, ISBN 1-93243-100-4
This is a graphic novel that contains the first eight issues of the Black Tide comic series. First of all, they are very impressive visually, full color throughout, concentrating on the central figures. In fact, my only criticism of the artwork is that there is very little background detail, and I never had much of a sense of the settings in which the stories take place. The underlying plot is that although Atlantis fell, their civilization still exists, hidden from ours and spying on us. Some of the characters interact in our world, particularly Justin Braddock, who uses his martial arts skills against a variety of international villains, but who later learns that he himself was once a powerful Atlantean named Villonious, and that he used to be a bad guy. Given the name, he could hardly have avoided it. The adventures are colorful and fast paced, though often unrealistic and stylized, and inconsistently varies from standard superhero fare. There are a few non-human characters, mermen and cute creatures, but basically this is a series about fights and plots. The comic series continues and a second volume is projected for later this year. Oh, and it's a "lightning bolt" not a "lightening bolt".
The Ordinary by Jim Grimsley, Tor, 5/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30528-3
Lawrence Watt-Evans and Piers Anthony have both written novels, series in fact, in which a world in which science works interfaces one in which magic is valid. Although I enjoy work by both those writers, neither of these series worked for me. On the other hand, Christopher Stasheff's Warlock novels were quite entertaining until they began repeating each other. Now Jim Grimsley tries his hand at merging the genres. A series of gates links an enormous world with a high technology to an alternate universe where the world is flat and magic is the dominant force. An investigator from the former visits the latter, firmly believing that technology provides a great advantage over the primitives from the other realm. Boy, is she in for a surprise. I had some initial difficulty getting into this one, but once the plot was well launched, and the protagonist was firmly engaged in her growing problems, I was able to suspend my disbelief more easily and surprised myself by thoroughly enjoying what followed, even when I had a pretty good idea what was coming.
Lies, Inc. by Philip K. Dick, Vintage, 2004, $12, ISBN 1-4000-3008-0
No, this isn't another lost novel by a major SF writer. This is the expanded version of his short novel, The Unteleported Man, which appeared as half of an Ace Double back in 1964. It's a theme common to much of his work. Things are not what they seem. Earth is heavily overpopulated and the only hope for many is to be teleported to a distant planet described as idea. The problem is that there is no device on that distant world to reverse the process so, once gone, you can never return. When the protagonist discovers that the company managing the project has been lying about how pleasant things are on that distant world, he decides to investigate personally. For some reason, this longer version has apparently never previously appeared in the US, and if nothing else, it provided a good excuse to revisit an old friend.
Doctor Who: The Audio Scripts Volume Two edited by Ian Farrington, Big Finish, 7/04, $27.50, ISBN 1-84435-049-5
The second volume in this series includes the complete scripts for four adventures of the inimitable Doctor, of which Seasons of Fear and The One Doctor were the better. There's also a wealth of associated material including copies of original story submissions, alternate versions, another script for an episode never produced, annotations, introductions, and commentary. If you're a fan of the Doctor, here's your opportunity to further explore his diverse and sometimes chaotic universe.
The Philosopher at the End of the Universe by Mark Rowlands, Thomas Dunne, 8/04, $23.95, ISBN 0-312-32234-8
Author Rowlands presents here a series of essays, each about a different film, each examining a different philosophical issue in its context, or using questions raised by the film itself. For example, the protagonist of The Hollow Man becomes completely selfish, corrupted by the power of invisibility. Rowlands uses that to question why we feel obligated to ascribe to a moral code under any circumstances. Minority Report leads to a discussion of the concept of free will and The Matrix sparks a discussion of the nature of reality and our ability to perceive it. The discussions are aimed at the lay reader so they're accessible and easy to follow, though others might consider them superficial.
Alien Woman by Ximena Gallardo C. and C. Jason Smith, Continuum, 2004, ISBN 0-8264-1570-9
As Ellen Ripley, Sigourney Weaver helped break the stereotype of female characters in SF films as hapless victims. This scholarly study looks at all four of the movies in that series, specifically at the character of Ripley, examining her characterization and using that as a commentary on gender roles in society at large. The discussion of the ways in which different directors altered Ripley's personality in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways is particularly interesting. On the other hand, I thought the authors spent far too much time summarizing the plots, even individual scenes. Presumably anyone reading this will already be familiar with the films. The style is only mildly academic and the text should be perfectly accessible to anyone. There is a much higher priced hardcover edition as well.
The Two-Space War by Dave Grossman and Leo Frankowski, Baen, 2/04, $24, ISBN 0-7434-7188-1
Collaborators Grossman and Frankowski take a break from the New Kashubia series for this very strange space opera. Their equivalent of interstellar travel is accomplished in a version of hyperspace where sentient wooden spaceships ply their way via sails, and many of the creatures from the legends of humankind have their alien equivalent, including elves and such. Some of the aliens there become enamored of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, which have unusual application to them, but that doesn't prevent Thomas Melville and his crew from getting themselves caught in the middle of a conflict between two large, alien interstellar empires. The amusing set up is the high point of the book, and the first half is much more interesting than the fairly routine stuff that follows. High points for creativity and wry humor though.
The Rackham Files by Dean Ing, Baen, 2/04, $24, ISBN 0-7434-7183-0
Dean Ing has been writing technothrillers rather than SF for the last several years, which is a shame not just because he wrote good stories but also because he was one of the few writing from a libertarian viewpoint who seemed to actually have thought through the consequences of his philosophy, recognizing that it was just as limited in its application as all those competing with it. This isn't a new book, alas. It contains the short post-apocalyptic novel, Pulling Through, which was originally published in 1983 with some essays about the problems of surviving a global holocaust. The non-fiction has been replaced here with two novelettes related to the novel, one first published in 1980 and the other in 2001. The stories aren't quite as good as the novel, but the relatively new one is entertaining enough to reinforce my disappointment that he has largely abandoned us for presumably greener pastures.
Heaven by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, Warner, 5/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-446-52983-4
One of the dangers of writing a novel set in the very distant future, particularly space operas, is that the author must describe a radically different society simply to be plausible given so many generations of change, but the characters must also be sufficiently human and recognizable to allow the reader to identify with the protagonists and care about their fate. Collaborators Stewart and Cohen manage to pull of that difficult balancing act in this soaring space adventure. An independent entrepreneur who trades among the stars finds himself in a very unlikely combination with a soft spoken but earnest religious proselytizer on a mission which could save all of civilization. Seasoned with touches of good humor, this is a consistently pleasant journey into the imaginations of the authors.
Bio Rescue by S.L. Viehl, Roc, 7/04, $22.95, ISBN 0-451-45978-4
The protagonist of this interesting adventure story comes from a race that lives underwater, but she and her crew have been surgically altered so that they can pilot spaceships, serving as part of a kind of localized interstellar patrol. Her particular unit is linked to a medical team which responds to emergencies but after the initial set up, that plot is partially subordinated to one involving the emigration of another species to her home world, a race which lives on the land and plans to colonize that portion of the world which the indigenes have ignored. Although the plan sounds reasonable, you just know that it isn't going to go that smoothly. As always, Viehl tells a good story, and her planetary cultures are reasonably interesting. I did have a problem with the unnecessarily unpronounceable names at times, but that won't bother most readers.
Thinner Than Thou by Kit Reed, Tor, 6/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30762-6
There was a time when broad satire was an essential and welcome part of science fiction. Alas, that time has largely passed, and authors usually have to sneak their barbs into the cracks and crevices of otherwise straightforward work. It is a pleasant treat, therefore, to find a novel that openly makes fun of the foibles and fads of humanity, particularly when it's as skillfully written as this one. The setting is a not too distant future. All of the religions on Earth have been replaced by a single faith one which glorifies the body image and employs diets and exercises as part of ritual devotion. Those who insist on being overweight or anorexic are confined in isolated camps for re-education and therapy. We're not meant to take this all seriously, at least not on a literal level, but the obsession with slim figures and fad diets is all too real. You'll laugh when you read this novel, laugh quite a lot in fact, but sometimes your laughter may be a bit uneasy.
The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, Golden Gryphon,5/04, $24.95, ISBN 1-930846-25-8
I originally read the first half of this book a few years back in the short lived but high quality Spectrum SF from the UK. I thought then that the story, a novella actually, was remarkably inventive and that the author was likely to become much better known in the future, a speculation which has subsequently proven to be correct. The setting is an alternate world where mathematical speculation led to the discovery that the borders between realities aren't as absolute as were once thought. The result is, among other things, that World War II was fought on very different terms, with Lovecraftian horrors employed as weapons of war that are almost as dangerous to their allies as to their enemies. There's a playful talent working here that elevates what might have been just a clever joke into a complex and often gripping narrative. Both this story and the slightly less effective but still enjoyable sequel blend science fiction, horror, espionage, and adventure. It's a tough marriage at times, but Stross always manages to hold the disparate parts of his story together. It would be a shame to miss this one.
The Child Goddess by Louise Marley, Ace, 5/04, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01136-5
The unusual protagonist of this lost colony story is a woman who is both a priest in a future Earth based religion and an anthropologist, a situation which is both reconciled and contrasted during the course of the novel. She is sent to a newly opened planet when the company exploiting it discovers the survivors of an early human colonization effort . A strange new society has evolved here because the new environment has altered the genetic structure of the stranded colonists. The priest-scientist is particularly interested in a young girl who has been ostracized by the rest of her people, and who appears to be virtually immortal. I can't tell you much more without jeopardizing the surprises Marley has in store for you in this, certainly her best novel yet.
The Zenith Angle by Bruce Sterling, Del Rey, 4/-4, $24.95, ISBN 0-345-46061-8
I'm not entirely sure that this novel is technically science fiction, but it feels like SF even if it isn't. The protagonist is a computer expert working for the government who is having troubles convincing them that he knows what he's talking about. His life is complicated by a troublesome girlfriend, an old friend who shows up with big ideas, and his growing relationship with a kind of sophisticated technological spy employed by the US government. The novel is nicely constructed and smoothly plotted and heck, it's a good read regardless of how you categorize it.
Short Trips: A Universe of Terrors edited by John Binns, Big Finish, 2004, $24.95, ISBN 1-84435-008-8
One of the advantages of the Doctor Who series is that stories can be set in any time or space thanks to the Doctor's Tardis, which can take him to literally any reality possible. This is the latest in a series of anthologies of short stories featuring the Doctor, in his various manifestations, with a sampling of his many companions. They travel back into Earth's history, visit other planets, and resolve one problem after another, sometimes in deadly seriousness, sometimes with humorous effects. The best stories in this volume are by Juliet McKenna, Lance Parkin, and Jonathan Morris. If you're not already a fan, you're probably not going to like the book very much, but if you are, here's a nice selection of new adventures to tide you over until the BBC finally gets off its butt and brings the television series back.
Nebula Showcase 2004 edited by Vonda N. McIntyre, Roc, 3/ 04, $14.95, ISBN 0-451-45957-1
The latest volume in this ongoing series is probably slightly above average in quality without containing any single piece that really blew my socks off. There's also a nice balance of experienced writers and newcomers. Adam-Troy Castro, Michael Swanwick, Jack McDevitt, Ted Chiang, and Charles Stross all have very good entrees, and the remaining stories are all excellent as well. There's a retrospective on the late Damon Knight, book excerpts, brief essays, and a listing of previous award winners and the final ballot for the subject year's contest, which is actually for fiction published in 2001 and 2002. A collection of these annuals provides a good survey of the literary side of the genre.
Iterations by Robert J. Sawyer, Red Deer, 2004, $16.95, ISBN 0-88995-303-1
Matrix Dreams & Other Stories by James C. Glass, Fairwood Press, 2004, $17.99, ISBN 0-9746573-1-X
Single author collections have become less and less frequent from major publishing houses, and I don't think it's because the quality of short fiction has declined. Fortunately, there are enough small presses to make sure that at least some of the best at that length is preserved in book form. The first of these authors should need no introduction. Most of his shorter work is here, reflecting some of the same themes as in his novels. Sawyer's prose style is sometimes deceptively smooth and there's usually more going on than is obvious. Particularly liked the Sherlock Holmes story, although some of the others are meatier. James Glass isn't quite as accomplished a writer, but he's certainly no slouch. A few of the stories in his collection feel slightly awkward, but most of the time he's in control of his work. The themes are much more varied, everything from science fiction to horror, and it may be my prejudice, but his darker stories seem to work better than the others. These stories appeared mostly in the small press, so they're more likely to be new to most readers than Sawyer's collection.
The Secret by Eva Hoffman, Ballantine, 4/04, $12.95, ISBN 1-58648-150-9
With all of the news stories about clones that have appeared over the course of the last couple of years, I've been surprised that more writers particularly genre writers haven't picked up on the theme. One exception is this first novel by a successful non-fiction writer. The novel of a teenaged girl who discovers that she is a clone and was not born normally is, as you might expect, almost completely free of genre sensibilities. Iris is troubled by small problems with her mother and her mother's lover, but they are exacerbated when she discovers that she was not born normally but as the product of a cloning experiment. She leaves her home and goes on what amounts to a coming of age journey in which she seeks to discover her origins. The novel is very methodical and understated, and avoids most of the more controversial possibilities in favor of describing its main character and her thoughts and feelings. It would be easy to dismiss it as a pale imitation of such classics as Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm, but Iris does feel like a genuine person and her confusion and her efforts to sort out her own thoughts and feelings will earn your sympathy.
Sirius the Dog Star edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Alexander Potter, DAW, 6/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0186-0
There have been quite a few SF stories involving dogs through the years, the most famous of which are probably "Desertion" by Clifford Simak and "A Boy and His Dog" by Harlan Ellison. None of the stories in this all original collection are going to displace either title, but several of them are quite nice and almost all are worth your while, although you might want to read them in batches because, despite different settings and plots, they tend to feel repetitious even when they're not. Jane Lindskold, Nancy Springer, John Zakour, Mickey Zucker Reichert, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch are all in good form.
Annihilation Squad by Gav Thorpe, Black Library, 2004, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-075-0
Ursun's Teeth by Graham McNeill, Black Library, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-076-9
The two sides of the Warhammer universe are both represented here. The first is a kind of Dirty Dozen variant. A special military group composed of convicted criminals and other reprobates tries to win clemency by infiltrating a hostile planet to assassinate an important enemy leader. Lots of action, competently done, but not much to sink your mental teeth into. The second title is set in a recurring location in the barbaric fantasy side of Warhammer, an icebound fortress that is the outpost of a peaceful people who are menaced by a ruthless invader. Their efforts to resist are hampered by an enemy agent who has been spreading a plague and arranging the assassination of key features, but a retired military officer turned diplomat is determined that the fortress will hold after all.
Resurrection by Steve Alten, Forge, 2/04, $25.95, ISBN 0-312-87558-4
I've enjoyed all of Alten's early work quite a bit, or at least I had until he started this trilogy, of which the present title is the middle volume. In the first volume, the world is on the brink of the final war, suffering from a new plague, when it receives a message, apparently from outer space, predicting the end of the world. Alten throws in a bewildering number of new twists, mystical and otherwise, involving communication with other dimensions, the nature of God, Mayan legends, genetic engineering, and predestination. I was so confused by a third of the way through that I no longer cared what happened to anybody, and my disbelief could be suspended no further. I'll read his next, because he's proven himself very entertaining in the past, but this one is too unfocused for me.
Truck Dogs by Graeme Base, Amulet, 2004, $16.95, ISBN 0-8109-5031-6
I've never previously heard of this publisher or this author, but if this is typical of either, I suspect they'll be better known soon. Ostensibly this is intended for younger readers, I expect, but there's no reason why they should have all the fun. The setting is another planet whose inhabitants are hybrids mixing dogs and trucks. Yes, that's what I said. Rotwheelers and Land Rovers and so forth. The bad truck dogs are making things difficult for the citizens of Hubcap, but a hero arises to save the day. Clever text, with several full color character profiles sprinkled through the text that are worth the cover price alone. Don't let this one slip past you without a look.
Alien in a Bottle by Kathy Mackel, HarperCollins, 2004, $15.99, ISBN 0-06-029281-4
This one is an amusing if not particularly plausible SF story for younger readers. A young boy finds two aliens inside a glass bottle at the beach. They offer him three wishes in exchange for his help, and he takes them up on it. Some cute consequences follow and kids will probably like it, but older readers will find their attention wandering after the initial jokes have passed.
The Tunnel at the End of the Light by Stefan Petrucha, Telos, 2004, $9.95, ISBN 1-903889-37-5
When a bomb explodes in London, people think it's just another dud left over from the recent war, but this one has unusual consequences. Shortly after the explosion, weird creatures appear in the vicinity, attacking people in the area and retreating into an underground hideaway. This is the second in a series spun off from the Doctor Who series featuring two characters who move about in time, heading off disasters. In this case, they have to help a Londoner who apparently has something that the troglodytic invaders want. As with the Doctor Who series, the novel plays games with time as well as space. Absent the Doctor and other familiar characters, it stands more solidly on its own ground as a quirky but quite readable fantastic adventure.
Batman: The Complete History by Les Daniels, Chronicle, 6/04, $18.95, ISBN 0-8118-4232-0
Of all the comic book superheroes, Batman is probably the most interesting as a character. He has been portrayed in comics, movies, novels, and television programs, with varying emphasis. Unlike most of his peers, he has no superpowers, and it has been hinted at times that he is mentally unstable. Les Daniels provides a detailed history of his career from 1939 to the present in this colorful trade paperback designed by Chip Kidd. It includes reproductions of snatches from classic sequences, stills from the movies, and an impressive array of Batman related tie in products. Most interesting to me was the section about influences on the creation of Batman. Attractively packaged and filled with interesting information.
Ring of Fire edited by Eric Flint, Baen, 1/ 04, $23, ISBN 0-7434-7175-X
Technically, I suspect this shared world anthology should be considered the second volume of the series that began with 1632 by Flint, and has been continued with 1633 by Flint and David Weber, with at least one more volume to come. The fifteen stories are set in the alternate world created in that series, and many of them use common characters from the novels, and some of the events cited here are referenced in the books that followed. The contributors include Mercedes Lackey, S.L. Viehl, K.D. Wentworth, and others, many of them names new to me. Flint, Weber, and Lackey have the three best stories in the book, which overall I would say is of about average or slightly below average quality. None of the stories are bad, but several of them are pretty bland.
Powers of Two by Tim Powers, NESFA, 2004, $24, ISBN 1-886778-51-5
In celebration of Tim Powers' stint as guest of honor at this year's Arisia, NESFA Press provides this handsome hardcover edition of his two Laser Books novels from 1976. The Skies Discrowned features adventures in a subterranean city as the protagonist seeks vengeance against a repressive government. An Epitaph in Rust is set in a not too near future California and involves a monk who engages in a forbidden activity, becomes the object of a massive manhunt, and gets involved with androids and assassinations. Both novels are fairly routine adventure stories, and though well told, they only hint at the greater talent Powers was to display later on.
The Silent War by Ben Bova, Tor, 5/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-84878-1
The third and apparently final volume of the battle between good and evil, more or less, for control of the mineral resources of the asteroid belt is here. Martin Humphries, the man who wants to exploit the asteroids for his own personal gain, is still battling Pancho Lane, the woman who inherited his primary competition from a man convinced that those resources should be devoted to raising the standard of living of everyone on Earth. Although at times Humphries is portrayed as something of a caricature, he still makes a really satisfying villain and his eventual downfall is a great end to the ride. The situation is made more complicated this time by two additional players, one another corporation hoping to muscle in on the riches, the other a renegade space captain nursing a grudge. Very well done.
The Hunters of Pangaea by Stephen Baxter, NESFA Press, 2004, $24, ISBN 1-886778-49-3
Although Stephen Baxter is generally labeled a writer of hard science fiction, this new collection has a pretty diverse selection of themes and treatments in its eighteen stories, and there are also a handful of essays to round out the book. My personal favorite of this lot is "The Ant-Men of Tibet", although it's really not a typical story. Almost all of these stories originally appeared in either British markets or fairly obscure American ones, so most of them should be new to readers on this side of the Atlantic, and a goodly number new on the other. "The Orchards of the Moon" and "The Adventures of the Inertial Adjustor" are also exceptional. Baxter seems just as proficient in his short stories as he has amply proved at novel length.
Survival by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW, 5/04, $23.95, ISBN 0-7564-0180-1
Julie Czerneda breaks into hardcover with this, the first novel in a new series. MacConnor is a human scientist who can't resist the offer made by an alien race to help them investigate a region of space in which a number of sapient species have become extinct, possibly as the result of actions by an as yet undiscovered alien civilization. Mac is recruited because this particular race of aliens is forbidden by law from studying biology, a premise which requires a certain suspense of disbelief, although the author makes a good effort at justifying this injunction. Before she can actually find out anything, there's a mysterious attack on their expedition, and she finds herself fleeing for her life, and possibly the only one in the universe who might be able to help avert the destruction of the human race. I liked this better than the author's previous space adventures, which weren't bad themselves, and it's clear from the quality of this new novel that she deserved hardcover publication.
Mothership by John Brosnan, Gollancz, 2004, £10.99, ISBN 0-575-07492-2
We haven't had a good generation starship novel for a while, so John Brosnan fills the gap. The Urba has been on its way so long that no one aboard remembers their origin or their purpose. A new society has evolved, governed by an elite, but one whose growing unpopularity results in a rebellion by the more numerous proletarian class. A bored and not particularly practical young nobleman and his lifelong friend, an entertainer with a much more down to earth personality, set out to explore their environment when some inexplicable malfunction leads to rebellion and general chaos. Nonstop by Brian Aldiss is still my favorite of its type, but Mothership is a close cousin, with liberal amounts of good humor interlaced into an entertaining adventure.
Manna from Heaven by Roger Zelazny, DNA/Wildside, 2003, $29.95, ISBN 1-59224-199-9
Two print on demand publishers team up to bring us the first new Roger Zelazny collection in some time. Although several of the stories have been previously collected, a significant number of them have not, and perhaps most interesting of all, it includes all five of the Amber short stories. There's an introduction by Steven Brust and a cover by Bob Eggleton, but the contents are obviously the big draw. "Come to Me Not in Winter's White", Zelazny's collaboration with Harlan Ellison, is the best story in the book, but there are several others that are quite good and even the lesser stories are workmanlike and readable. There's some SF but for the most part these are fantasies.
Radiant Dawn by Cody Goodfellow, Perilous Publishing, 2000, $14.95, ISBN 0-9704000-0-4
Ravenous Dusk by Cody Goodfellow, Perilous Publishing, 2002, $17.95, ISBN 0-9704000-1-2
There's something from everyone in this sprawling duology. It's a futuristic spy story, a technothriller, and a peripheral add on to the Cthulhu Mythos. The action takes place all over the world, from the Mideast to the West Coast, and it involves an initially secret war to ensure that humans remain supreme on Earth, that eventually expands to encompass bio-engineering and other state of the art weaponry. The players and situations are introduced in the opening volume, which is actually the more tightly written of the two. An apparent effort to find a cure for cancer is more than it seems, human mutations gather in secret, and a long buried tomb may reveal a terrifying truth about the world. The second half has a lengthy and rather slow prologue, but once past that, the action picks up again. Some science fiction readers may object to the explicit and sometimes graphic violence, but horror readers should be well satisfied.
Choice of the Cat by E.E. Knight, Roc, 5/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45973-3
The second volume of the Vampire Earth series has Earth still subjugated by the vampiric alien Reapers, although there's a strong resistance force still operating with some success. They clearly have a long way to go if they are to regain control of the planet, though, and the protagonist this time is sent on a secret mission inside Reaper controlled territory. I imagine that in theory this is supposed to attract both SF fans and vampire fiction junkies, but I suspect it misses its mark with the latter. Like its predecessor, it's a fairly good story of alien invasion, but as vampire fiction, it just doesn't work for me.
Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson, Baen, 1/ 04, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-7179-2
Kendra Pacelli is a wrongly accused soldier who flees the nasty United Nations government to the only planet that still maintains its independence, but possibly not for long because the evil, freedom hating villains back on Earth can't tolerate the possibility that anyone in the whole wide universe might want to be independent of their control. So then we have several hundred pages of lovingly described military conflict interspersed with lectures on why a form of libertarianism is the only political philosophy for the thinking person. If you enjoy thinly described diatribes that assume all differing viewpoints are inspired by satanic plots, and don't mind the fact that the alternative offered would work fine so long as it wasn't applied to the human race, then you'll get your money's worth from this very long but frankly not very entertaining diatribe. Maybe it just caught me on a bad day, but I'm really getting tired of oversimplified, black and white novels that are disguised political tracts, no matter what philosophy they espouse.
Sea of Time by Will Hubbell, Ace, 2/04, $6.50, ISBN 0-441-01143-8
The sequel to Cretaceous Sea is an even wilder time travel adventure. Constance and Rick Clements have made a new life for themselves operating a mine in the 1880s, and they're prepared to make the best of their new environment. Then someone murders Rick, and a renegade time agent agrees to help her prevent her husband's death, even if that means interfering with the flow of history. But possibly his death was an even greater interference, one linked to a plot that could wipe out all history. The earlier novel was enjoyable enough but the sequel is much better, filled with wild ideas and the occasional paradox, and with a protagonist drawn more sharply this time around. Hubbell is proving himself to be a talented newcomer in a field that needs more fresh ideas.
No Phule Like an Old Phule by Robert Lynn Asprin and Peter J. Heck, Ace, 3/ 04, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01152-7
There's a fresh crop of the usual hijinx in this, the fifth adventure of Captain Willard Phule and his loyal, if somewhat inept, command on the planet Zenobia. His commanding officer is none too pleased with the string of petty calamities that have taken place since his assignment, so he sends a team of investigators to find out just what's going on and whose fault it all is. Phule and his people have to keep the newcomers busy while simultaneously dealing with a party of offworlders who have come to hunt the quasi-dinosaurs they think exist on Zenobia, and Phule isn't about to miss a chance to take their money. Amusing, but somewhat predictable, consequences follow.
Broken Crescent by S. Andrew Swann, DAW, 5/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0214-X
Nate Black is just a college student with a knack for hacking his way past complex security systems. He hasn't done anything illegal since he was in high school, but someone has uncovered his secret identity. Fearing prosecution, Nate skips town, but he skips right out of our universe in the process, finding himself in an alternate magical realm with humans subject to an alien race. How did he get here? Who is pursuing him? And what do they want him to do? Readers can probably figure out most of it faster than does Nate himself, but it doesn't matter, because in this case, the journey is more important than the destination, and Swann provides his usual wild ride.
Wild Stars: The Book of Circles by Michael Tierney, Little Rocket, 2004, $17.95, ISBN 0-9748-4030-0
Here's a very long black and white graphic novel set in a future that involves an interstellar war, although you won't find many spaceships in the artwork. This is apparently a compilation of a series of nine previously published comics, plus some new material. The artwork is by Dave Simons, Frank Brunner, David Brewer, and Tom Smith, and for the most part it's quite good. The story is a bit dare I saw comic bookish? for most sf fans, but the story is more complex and even intelligent than in most similar materials I've seen. If you like this kind of material at all, you should find this one a satisfying buy.
.A Sense of Wonder by Jeffrey A. Tucker, Wesleyan University Press, 7/04, $70, ISBN 0-8195-6688-8
Want to know what was really going on in Dhalgren? Here's your chance, a detailed academic study of that and the balance of Delany's later work, including his fantasy and some of his non genre fiction. There are certainly very few SF writers whose work warrants this kind of critical analysis. Tucker puts it in a new context as well. Although Delany's work is generally considered to be racially neutral, the author makes a strong case for the influence of Black American culture on the work he covers. This might be a little dry for the casual reader, but it should be very enlightening for the more serious reader. There is also a less expensive trade paperback edition for $24.95.
Chased by Sea Monsters by Nigel Marven and Jasper James, DK, 2004, $25, ISBN 0-7566-0375-7
If you're looking for inspiration for a sea dwelling monster, this is what you should be looking for. It's the latest in the BBC series about the prehistoric world, this time concentrating on the denizens of the deep from the first stirrings of life to the dawn of the contemporary world. With full color photographs and drawings throughout, the authors take us on a trip through time, introducing us to the major predators and representative prey from each age. The text is pleasant to read as well as being informative and some of the pictures are great. A blend of artbook and natural history.
The Reaches by David Drake Baen, 1/ 04, $24, ISBN 0-7434-7177-7
This is the omnibus volume of the three adventures of Stephen Gregg. After the collapse of the human interstellar empire, ships travel out to explore in Igniting the Reaches. They discover a possible gateway to another universe in Through the Breach and a new empire with less than democratic tendencies is thwarted in Fireships. The trilogy, originally published about ten years ago, is readable adventure but not among Drake's best work.
On Account of Darkness and Other SF Stories by Barry Malzberg and Bill Pronzini, Five Star, 3/ 04, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-038-3
Designer Genes by Brian Stableford, Five Star, 3/ 04, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-033-2
I keep hearing that short story collections are becoming a thing of the past, that readers are only interested in novels, preferably longer novels. Well, the number of writers producing topnotch short stories, particularly in SF, seems to contradict that notion, and some of the better examples are contained in these two new titles. Malzberg and Pronzini have collaborated on and off for almost thirty years, and it looks like all of their co-creations are contained here, along with Malzberg's solo classic, "The Final War", and a few by Pronzini alone. I remembered several fondly the second time through, including "Do I Dare to Eat a Peach?", "Opening a Vein", "In His Image", and the title story. The stories span most of the careers of the authors, but the quality level is high throughout. The stories in the Stableford collection were all published in 1994 or later. Better known for his novels, which have ranged from top of the line space operas to intricate, mystical dark fantasies, he has also written a substantial body of shorts, and I was surprised at how familiar some of these stories were, since I had never really thought of him in terms of short fiction. They tend to be more thoughtful and straightforward extrapolations than tales of adventure; the endings are thought provoking or pointed rather than tricky or humorous. So prove the doubters wrong and go out and buy these two titles; the short story is alive and well in science fiction, if nowhere else.
Superluminal by Tony Daniel, Eos, 5/04, $25.95, ISBN 0-06-105143-8
This sequel to Metaplanetary takes the logical next step from that novel. The solar system is divided into two separate civilizations. The inner worlds are ruled by a form of artificial intelligence which has effectively eliminated personal freedom. The outer worlds host various colonies allied because of their mutual desire to escape the strictures of the more populous part of the solar system. Civil War is inevitable, of course, and we see the consequences from the viewpoints of a wide variety of characters, almost too many characters for the size of the novel in fact. Daniel's imagined future culture is as complex and innovative as any in SF, and the sequel defies tradition by being much better than its predecessor, a rousing, space opera that I'd be tempted to call old fashioned except that it only appears that way. Far and away the author's best book to date.
Cibola by James Cobb, Five Star, 1/ 04, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-108-8
I've read only one of Cobb's near future, borderline SF, military adventures. It was enjoyable enough that I've been watching for the others, but not so much that I've actively pursued them. His first straightforward SF novel is much more interesting. A century from now, entrepreneurs plan to move a small asteroid into an orbit near Earth to facilitate mining operations. Their plans are well conceived, but someone is trying to sabotage the project and the protagonist, a kind of spacegoing police officer, has to stop them. There are some amusing SF references in the book as well. It's a nice, solid space adventure wrapped around a satisfying mystery, and it was good enough to make me hope this isn't Cobb's sole visit to mainstream SF.
Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon, Wesleyan University Press, 5/04, $65, ISBN 0-8195-6692-6
I'll have to confess up front that I've never been as impressed by this as people tell me I should be. Stapledon's panoramic future history of the universe, in which humanity is a minor player soon extinct, does indeed contain some fascinating concepts, but there's not much story in traditional terms, and more than thirty years after my first reading, I still found my attention wandering after the first hundred pages. That said, it's good to see it back in print for all those who really do enjoy this sort of thing, and the new introduction was actually quite interesting. There's a less expensive softcover edition for $24.95.
Gridlinked by Neal Asher, Tor, 12/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30735-9
There was a time when most SF novels featured larger than life characters, usually not particularly well drawn, who solved the universe's problems with one hand tied behind their back. The field has changed a lot since those days, so it's nice to see someone come up with a new hero who is truly heroic, particularly one described richly enough to be fallible and believable at the same time. This was Asher's first novel, published in England in 2001 and now available in the US. Cormac is a special agent in a future where the planets are linked by matter transmitters, sent on a mission via ordinary spaceship when a malfunction wipes out an entire colony, followed by an old and bitter enemy. But the mission isn't as simple as it sounds, and Cormac's enemies proliferate. An exciting, action packed adventure story set in an interesting constructed universe. It wouldn't surprise me to see further adventures of Cormac in the near future.
Shadrach in the Furnace by Robert Silverberg, Ibooks, 11/03, $11.95, ISBN 0-7434-5847-8
This publisher has been reprinting quite a number of classic SF novels, most of which I've never seen, but all of which are welcome. This was one of the last of what I think of as Silverberg's middle period, first published in 1976. Earth is ruled by an egocentric dictator whose body is kept alive by artificial means. A technician charged with his care discovers that the dictator wants to move his mind into another body, and that he himself might be the involuntary donor. One of Silverberg's better novels, and darker visions.
Talebones #27, 2003, $6.
Although I don't ordinarily review magazines here, I had to take a moment to push the latest issue of Talebones, a reliably entertaining small press magazine, which has one of its very best issues this quarter. The lead story by Jack Cady is particularly good, and there is strong support from others by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Catherine Macleod, and others, along with the usual reviews and articles. $20 will get you a two year subscription and their web site is www.talebones.com.
Siege of Tarr-Hostigos by John F. Carr and Roland Green, Pequod, 2003, $49.50, ISBN 0-937912-02-6
This is the third new adventure of H. Beam Piper's Lord Kalvan by Carr, one of the previous of which was also written with Roland Green, and this time full scale war erupts because of Kalvan's successes elsewhere. The invaders are led by a tyrannical religious order that intends to subjugate the free people of Hos-Hostigos and prevent the creation of a potentially powerful and subversive enemy across its borders. The setting is an alternate universe, one which should be familiar to fans of Piper's short lived but still popular series, and authors Carr and Green have expanded on that original work, giving greater depth to the world and peopling it with believable, if not always likeable, characters. The military action this time is more pervasive and on a large scale, but there are enough subplots to keep it from descending into monotony. This one might be hard to find, but if you liked the original series, you should enjoy another helping.
Wolfsbane by Jacqueline Rayner, BBC, 2003, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-48609-0
Timeless by Stephen Cole, BBC, 2003, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-48607-4
Harry Sullivan, long time companion of the Doctor, has died under mysterious circumstances, and legend has it that he found the Holy Grail before his death. The Doctor decides to find out just how he died and who was responsible in a story that feels a lot like a horror novel, complete with werewolves, but which ultimately is something else entirely. It has its moments, but it didn't feel very much like a Doctor Who adventure. The second of these two tie-ins is much more loyal to the original concept, and plays with alternate realities and the nature of time itself. The plot is pretty good but the prose, particularly the dialogue, stumbles at times.
Consequences by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Roc, 4/04, $6.50, ISBN 0-451-45971-7
The third novel of the Retrieval Artists is another intricate mystery, this time involving an agent who appears to have fallen down the job. His client is dead, killed in the artificial habitat of the moon, even though she was supposed beyond the reach of her enemies. A police officer investigating the case finds him very reluctant to divulge details, unaware of the fact that the dead woman might be the catalyst for an interstellar war that could lay waste to an entire civilization. A successful blend of police procedural murder mystery and a light space opera, and a strong continuation for the ongoing series.
Sea Hunter by Paul Garrison, Harper, 2003, $7.99, ISBN 0-06-008168-6
This science fiction novel disguised as a mainstream thriller starts off pretty well. David Hope owns a catamaran which he charters to divers and others. While en route to pick up new clients, he is almost killed by an American submarine that has survived an unusual attack on its computer systems. Shortly after agreeing to help an ambitious young nature photographer film an obscure type of dolphin, he has two encounters one with a kind of dolphin unlike anything ever seen before, the other with William Tree the very wealthy owner of an enormous sailing ship, apparently benign but soon revealed to be a villain. Tree is responsible for creating the dolphin, which is in turn responsible for the attack on the submarine. About half way through, my interest began to fade. Tree is too comic book villain to be believable, the photographer never comes to life, and the moody Captain Hope is too predictable.
Graphic Classics: Mark Twain, Eureka Productions, 2004, $9.95, ISBN 0-9712464-8-3
I've seen a couple of earlier volumes in this series, and was quite impressed by them, and that holds true this time as well. Each volume spotlights one classic author, using various artists and writers to produce graphic variations of some of their best known tales. In this case, only a few are fantastic, but as with the previous books, the wildly varying interpretations and dramatically different visual effects are amazing. I'm not too familiar with who's who in the graphics art field, but I recognize some of the many names here like Lance Tooks and Rich Geary and as with its predecessors, I recommend this even for those readers who aren't ordinarily interested in graphic material.
Pandora's Star by Peter F. Hamilton, Del Rey, 3/ 04, $26.95, ISBN 0-345-46162-2
This is the first half of Hamilton's new gigantic space opera, in the tradition of his other recent novels, and you'll have to wait until 2005 to read the conclusion. Despite that warning, I'm sure his fans will devour this one anyway. I took it with me on a long trip and have to admit that I found it absorbing. The human race has spread to the stars, but when they investigate one particular system, they inadvertently release a bellicose alien race from imprisonment behind a force field. You can probably guess what happens immediately after that. A large and varied cast of characters help flesh out Hamilton's universe and there's plenty of rousing action as well.
Beyond Infinity by Gregory Benford, Warner, 3/ 04, $23.95, ISBN 0-446-53059-X
The time is so impossibly far into the future that it's hard to believe any of the original human stock still survives on Earth, but they do, or at least they do until creatures from another dimension attack and wipe them out. All but one. The survivor, Cley, sets off to the stars, accompanied by a kind of uplifted raccoon, searching for answers and finding instead an almost indescribable and malevolent alien intelligence. This is a longer, more complex variation of the short novel, Beyond the Fall of Night, which Benford wrote as a sequel to Clarke's Against the Fall of Night, altered to fit into a universe of Benford's creation rather than Clarke's. At times it captures the sense of awe that I felt when I first read Clarke's novel many years ago, although I found it difficult at times to empathize with the protagonist.
Dreams of the Sea by Elisabeth Vonarburg, Tesseract, 2/04, $13.95, ISBN 1-895836-96-4
I didn't expect to like this novel, although I think the author is very talented. For one thing, it's written in the present tense, a personal quirk that often interferes with my ability to enjoy a novel. Even more ominous was the plot, which blurs the distinction between SF and fantasy. The setting is a colony world where the human population has been devastated by a natural disaster. The protagonist begins to experience foreboding dreams indicate more danger lies ahead, but it's unspecific at first, and she has to investigate the dreamworld of the indigenous aliens in order to discover where the real danger lies. This is the first of five volumes and probably as well the first present tense novel I've ever enjoyed.
Atlantis Adventure by Antoine Gagne, Lost Continent, 9/03, $9.95, ISBN 0-97274721-4
Here's what is essentially an historical adventure novel with SF overtones, but you could read it as fantasy as well. The story is set just after the end of the Trojan War and follows a small cast of characters through a series of adventures that come to their climax in the Americas. The style is transparent, the plot doesn't contain many surprises, but it was well crafted enough to hold my interest and I've always had a fondness for lost world novels. I wouldn't move heaven and earth to find a copy, but if you chance upon one, it should provide a couple of hours of rewarding entertainment.
Frek and the Elixir by Rudy Rucker, Tor, 4/04, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31058-9
Odd little satirical adventures used to be a lot more popular in SF than they are today, but there's still an audience for them, and Rudy Rucker has been entertaining that audience for some time. His latest is set about one thousand years from now in a world almost unrecognizably changed from our own. The protagonist is the only boy to have been born naturally for many generations in a mildly dystopian world governed by a mysterious figure. Throw in an alien visitor with decidedly mixed motives, a talking dog, high tech weapons, braincasters, and a cast of loony but endearing characters and you have a richly layered, if not entirely serious, novel of one not really possible but sometimes alarmingly familiar future.
House of Reeds by Thomas Harlan, Tor, 4/04, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30193-8
The sequel to Wasteland of Flint is a soaring space opera that makes use of an unusual human civilization. Earth is united under Mexica, a sort of resurgent Aztec empire that has now spread to the stars. Although humans can hardly be called the dominant power in the galaxy, we prove to be as aggressive and egotistical as ever, and the latest manifestation of our talent for upsetting things threatens to engulf the protagonist is yet another totally useless war. The novel should appeal to fans of C.J. Cherryh, particularly her earlier work. The alien cultures are almost as significant as the plot, which also involves ancient alien artifacts and other familiar SF devices. The story slows down noticeably from time to time, but never for long. With more and more SF writers switching to fantasy, it's nice to see one moving in the opposite direction.
Market Forces by Richard Morgan, Gollancz, 3/ 04, £9.99, ISBN 0-575-07512-0
Richard Morgan's third novel is set in a rather unpleasant future. Armies, terrorist groups, even nations can be purchased or manipulated by powerful business executives. At the same time, legalized duels between rival businessmen are the order of the day, these duels generally conducted by automobile on a freeway. Against this violent and rather depressing backdrop, we follow the career of Christopher Faulkener, promising and upcoming entrepreneur and market expert, but his bosses keep pressing for more and bigger successes, and his enemies keep trying to eliminate the competition permanently. Not quite as good as his two previous novels, but there are flashes of brilliance here and there and I'm confident Morgan will soon be regarded as one of the bright new talents in SF.
Reckless Engineering by Nick Walters, BBC, 2003, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-48603-1
Deadly Reunion by Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts, BBC, 2003, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-48610-4
The Colony of Lies by Colin Brake, BBC, 2003, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-48606-6
For almost a year I've been unable to find new Doctor Who novels, although I knew that they were being published, but at last the drought is over. The Doctor has been one of my guilty pleasures for years, I still re-watch the old television series with some regularity, and I've enjoyed many of the new adventures published in book form since. The first of these three is a changewar novel, and while it doesn't have the complexity of Fritz Leiber or the historical accuracy of Poul Anderson, it is nevertheless a nicely complex and entertaining tale with twists and turns throughout. Next up is a story more loyal to the original series, featuring my favorite, the third Doctor, the Brigadier, with mysterious goings on, an apparently supernatural entity, and the Doctor in fine form threading his way through to a solution. Last up, and weakest of the three, is the second Doctor on a distant human colony world that is about to endure a series of crises involving a rift among the original settlers and a sudden influx of newcomers who could destabilize things even further. These aren't mainstream SF, and the Who universe is at slightly odd angles in relation to our own, but once you become immersed in it, it's a fascinating place to play.
Attending Daedalus by Peter Wright, Liverpool University Press, 12/03, $29.95, ISBN 0-85323-828-6
There is no question that Gene Wolfe's recent novels are among the most complexly plotted, symbol laden, intricate and multi-layered SF works written to date, so it's not surprising that the first book length study of the two multi-volume series should be itself convoluted and intellectual. Author Wright attempts to identify the story within the stories, and he enlists the aid of intricate analysis and external sources to support his analysis. I confess that I was at times uncertain that I was following his arguments completely, but most of the time I thought him insightful and perceptive. This is not a book for the casual reader, but serious fans of Wolfe's work should enjoy this effort to provide a detailed examination of the novels mentioned here.
Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: The Rise of the Graphic Novel by Stephen Weiner, NBM, 2003, $14.95, ISBN 1-56163-367-4
This slim little hardcover is exactly what the title would lead you to believe, a history of the rise of the graphic novel book length comic books for adults. Weiner traces the history of the comics, their subject matter, fans, distribution methods, recent developments like Sandman and others, and does some mild projecting about the future of the genre, with occasional illustrations all in black and white. The book isn't long enough to be exhaustive, but is rather a succinct, informative account of the development of what the author believes to be an entirely new art form.
Science Fiction Poster Art edited by Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh, Aurum Press, 4/04, $29.95, ISBN 1-85410-946-4
Science fiction films often have spectacular poster art, and this selection of almost two hundred of them provides a good overview of the last century of SF film art. There is work here by many artists not ordinarily associated with the genre, as well as work by Drew Struzan, the Hildebrandt brothers, and noted mainstream artists Toni Ungerer and Alberto Vargas. All of the posters are in full color. There is some accompanying text, occasionally interesting, but the book is really about the art itself.