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Books for Review should be sent to: Don D'Ammassa, 323 Dodge Street, East Providence, RI 02914

LAST UPDATE 6/30/08 

The Cold Minds by Kristin Landon, Ace, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01609-9 

This new novel continues the story begun in The Hidden Worlds.  Machine intelligences have destroyed most of the human race but the survivors and their descendants have found a safe haven elsewhere in the galaxy.  Until now.  The two protagonists are among the few who realize that the Cold Minds have discovered the location of their refuge and are preparing to move again, eradicating the last of us pesky humans.  Unfortunately, when they appeal for help to the organization that controls most space pilots, they find themselves facing an intransigent unwillingness to face up to the truth, even to admit publicly that the danger is real. But all is not as it seems.  Many of the themes and treatments that I enjoyed when I was first reading SF are no longer in style, so itís always a treat when someone goes back to the classics.  After all, Fred Saberhagenís Berserker stories remained popular for decades, and the antipathy between the organic and inorganic is always fertile ground for fiction.  6/30/08 

Love in the Time of Fridges by Tim Scott, Bantam, 7/08, $12, ISBN 978-0-553-38441-3 

Tim Scott returns to the wacky world he introduced us to in Outrageous Fortune, a not to be taken entirely seriously future in which common household appliances can talk and have personalities.  The plot involves conspiracy, pursuit, and secrets revealed, but frankly the plot is almost secondary.  The real pleasure of the book lies in the decidedly strange world that the author has created, one not to be taken seriously, even though there are elements in the novel that are very serious indeed. The strength of the writing is perhaps illustrated by the fact that the reader actually cares what happens to a man who is on the run from the authorities accompanied by a gang of refrigerators gone wild after having made an authentically stupid blunder that could alter the future of the entire country.  Or maybe not.  This is not your ordinary SF novel.  Itís nice to see broad satire finally making a comeback, however limited. 6/30/08 

The Man with the Iron Heart by Harry Turtledove, Del Rey, 7/08, $27, ISBN 978-0-345-50434-0 

Harry Turtledoveís latest alternate history appears to be a standalone novel.  It involves a change in the aftermath, though not the outcome, of World War II.  Reinhard Heydrich, who died early in the war in actual history, survives in Turtledoveís version and goes into hiding after the Allies finally subjugate Germany.  Unwilling to admit defeat, he forms a guerilla army to resist the joint occupation of Germany, surprising an army that was unprepared for unconventional warfare.  The comparisons between Turtledoveís invented conflict and the current situation in Iraq are obvious and occasionally instructive.  As is the case with most of his alternate history, there is a large cast of characters Ė though not unmanageably so in this case Ė and we see the consequences of the continuing, low level war as reflected in soldiers, political leaders, and civilians alike.  This is one of the most successful of the authorís uchronian adventures, in this case examining the ramifications of a new idea as much as of a new course of history.  His best book in several years. 6/30/08 

The Ashes of Worlds by Kevin J. Anderson, Orbit, 7/08, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-316-00757-9 

The seventh and final volume of the Saga of the Seven Suns takes the vast interstellar war to its conclusion.  There are frankly so many different contending forces and the allegiances are so fluid that I had to read the lengthy summary that is fortunately provide, and then re-read it to get the various characters straight in my mind again.  This is certainly the most ambitious space opera Iíve read in a very long time, and there are more different aliens and political combinations than Doc Smith ever dreamed of.  The difficulty is that there is so much happening to so many people that I wasnít ever really invested in any of the characters, which eliminated much chance of emotional attachment.  At the same time I was fascinated with the shifting alliances, betrayals and reversals, victories and defeats, and for the most part the sweep and fast pace of the series kept me reading.  That said, Iím glad to see things finally come to a conclusion because the author has demonstrated the ability to write more varied and often more involving novels in the past, and Iíd like to see more of that from him in the future.  6/30/08

Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler, Touchstone, 7/08, $14, ISBN 978-1-4165-5225-3   

 The aftermath of a nuclear war, global disaster, or just a breakdown of modern society hardly seems likely material for humor, but there have been notable examples to the contrary for some time including Adrift in a Boneyard by Robert Lewis Taylor and Ron Goulartís best novel, After Things Fell Apart.  This satiric novel is in a very similar vein.  Mortimer Tate retreated into a bomb shelter and emerged a decade later to find the world a very different place.  The United States no longer exists and most of North America is fragmented into many often bizarre communities with little contact.  The most thriving industry consists of strip clubs and other unsavory places and what technology survives is primitive.  Sounds like an average disaster novel.  The author sends his hero on a trip from Tennessee to Georgia, accompanied by a pair of strippers with some unusual talents and a cowboy named Buffalo Bill.  In contrast to the title, the humor is subtle, not slapstick, and there are times when it feels like a straightforward adventure story.  6/25/08

The Valley-Westside War by Harry Turtledove, Tor, 7/08, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1487-1

 Harry Turtledove and Timothy Zahn are just about the only writers keeping young adult SF alive these days.  This is the latest in the Crosstime Traffic series in which teenagers are enlisted in expeditions across various alternate realities in search of merchandise and, more importantly, knowledge.  The knowledge sought in this case is the reason why so many of the variant worlds experienced a nuclear war that effectively destroyed civilization.  The immediate setting is a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles where two tiny, adjoining political subdivisions have decided to engage in war over access rights when one arbitrarily decides to place a toll station on a major road.  Although these are less ambitious than his multi-volume alternate history series, they are generally more controlled and the smaller cast of characters makes it easier to slip out of the real world and into the story.  6/18/08

Saturnís Children by Charles Stross, Ace, 7/08, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-441-01594-8

I kept thinking of Robert A. Heinleinís Friday while I was reading this, probably not surprising since itís dedicated to Heinlein and Asimov.  The story is set in the future some time after the human race manages to become extinct, leaving behind a race of androids Ė in this case humanized robots Ė to carry on in very much the same fashion.  The protagonist, Freya, was a former sexual escort no longer possessing a clientele and she takes a job as an interplanetary courier in order to pay the bills.  Unfortunately, she does not initially realize that the job is not that of a simple messenger.  What she carries is very valuable to certain unscrupulous parties who seek to gain possession at all costs.  There follows a nicely done adventure story marred Ė for me anyway Ė by the use of present tense.  Pause for a small diatribe.  I donít have anything against present tense narration when it serves a purpose.  I even understand that it is quite common in some other languages than English.  In English, however, it is such an exception that it immediately draws attention to itself.  Under certain circumstances, that is a conscious and useful tool.  When used for a story, or novel, which would be just as effective if told in more traditional past tense, it makes the reader Ė this reader at least Ė acutely conscious of the author.  That makes me acutely conscious that Iím reading a story, and that makes it harder for me to immerse myself in it.  So color me tone deaf or something, but I just donít think it makes particular sense in this case. 6/16/08

Fall with Honor by E.E. Knight, Roc, 7/08, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46210-7

 The seventh in the Vampire Earth series is pretty much a place marker.  The human resistance movement has been reasonably successful in pushing back the invaders, in part helped by alien allies of their own, but progress is slow.  David Valentine, now a major leader in the resistance, is involved in two significant efforts this time, one to test the reliability of a group of former collaborators, the other to establish a new power base on the East Coast to provide leverage in the battles to come.  The latter expedition runs into some unexpected difficulties, however, unexpected for the participants although not for the readers.  This is another series thatís beginning to show its age, a common problem in military oriented SF series that lack any other strengths to fall back upon.  The last three in the series tend to blur together and this doesnít stand out either.  It may be time for the author to consider a new direction.  6/12/08

By Schism Rent Asunder by David Weber, Tor, 7/08, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1501-4 - 1155

 Let me start by venting a couple of frustrations with this novel.  First of all, there are a handful of marginally pronounceable names, which is a personal gripe of mine.  Second of all there are 235 named characters in this novel.  Thatís not just excessive.  Itís absurd.  Particularly because many of them are in the same family and the names are often quite close.  There are nine Ahrmahks alone, to say nothing of Ahstyns, Ahrthyrs, , and Ahzgoods.  Even with the bibliography, I had trouble keeping them straight.  This was particularly frustrating because beneath all of this clutter, there is a good story about the tension between civil and religious authority, the question of how far freedom should go when it undercuts order, and other interesting questions.  The planet Safehold Ė introduced in the slightly less ponderous Off Armageddon Reef Ė is a theocracy where one island kingdom has chosen to rebel.  Unfortunately, in order to get emotionally involved, the reader needs to identify with at least some of the characters, but there are so many that itís impossible to get invested in any of them.  What might have been Weberís best work to date collapses under its own weight. 6/9/08

Where Angels Fear by Ken Rand, Fairwood Press, 2008, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-9789078-4-3 

One of my constant complaints about contemporary publishing is that except in the case of a few big name authors, single author collections have become rarities.  When I was first reading SF, collections of stories by Lester Del Rey, Poul Anderson, Gordon Dickson, and others were common even before they reached the height of their careers.  Today, most of the stories that appear in the prozines and anthologies are one shot deals Ė if you donít read them there you may never have another opportunity.  The small press has filled in some of those gaps, though not nearly enough.  This particular book is the first of two projected volumes collecting the short fiction of Ken Rand, both of whose novels Iíve read are both fantasies, although most of the stories collected here are SF or horror.  About a third of the stories included here (34 in all) are original, the rest reprints.  Not surprisingly, the quality of the reprints is higher than the others, but not dramatically so.  My favorites here include ďBuzzards of OzĒ, ďGone FishiníĒ, ďThe FindĒ, ďCrickets EverywhereĒ, and ďThe Eye.Ē  Some of the stories are humorous, and Rand seems to have a particular talent for light comedy mixed with serious content.  A nice fat collection that will give you your moneyís worth. 6/5/08

The Yearís Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois, St Martins, 7/08, $21.95, ISBN 978-0-312-36335-4 

Here it is, the longest lasting best-of-the-year series the field has ever seen, and the most comprehensive.  I've been dipping into this for several days now, surprised at the number of first class stories I missed when they first appeared.  As always, Dozois culls stories from sources both familiar and unfamiliar, professional genre magazines, online sources, original anthologies, and other magazines.   I had actually already read a surprisingly large proportion this year, which hasnít always been the case in the past. There are more than six hundred pages of stories as well as a lengthy list of honorable mentions and the usual detailed summary of the field for the year.  Thereís a mix of well known writers like Ian McDonald, Greg Egan, Pat Cadigan, Nancy Kress, and Robert Reed Ė as well as talented newcomers like David Moles, Vandana Singh, and Keith Brooke.  There is a mix of several different kinds of story, hard SF, adventure, satire, humor, space adventure, and unclassifiable.  Each story has a short introduction.  If you donít have time to keep current with short SF, you should at least find time to read this cross section each year.  Dozois might miss the occasional gem, but not very often. 6/4/08

Double Trouble Squared by Kathryn Lasky, Harcourt, 2008, $5.95, ISBN 978-0-15-205878-4

Shadows in the Water by Kathryn Lasky, Harcourt, 2008, $5.95, ISBN 978-0-15-205874-4

A Voice in the Wind by Kathryn Lasky, Harcourt, 2008, $5.95, ISBN 978-0-15-205875-3

   These are new editions of three young adult SF novels originally published in the early 1990s that deal with the adventures of two sets of twins, all four telepathic, although the communication generally but not always only works among themselves.  In the first and best of the three, the four kids travel to London with their father and overhear another telepathic voice that reveals the existence of a secret society within London.  What makes the story really interesting is that the mysterious characters revealed by their telepathic eavesdropping bear a strong resemblance to characters out of a Sherlock Holmes story, suggesting that perhaps Conan Doyle wasn't simply inventing his tales.  The second book is considerably more trite.  They move to the Florida Keys, talk telepathically to dolphins, and with the help of an odd neighborhood kid discover the secret of a group who have been dumping toxic waste in the water.  Well intentioned but overly simplistic and not nearly as interesting a story.  The third one moves from SF to fantasy because their latest secret communicant is the ghost of an Anasazi girl, who can only be laid to rest if an old mystery is solved.  The story's a bit better this time, but some of the details are pretty corny, including the psychic hampster.  Above average for younger readers but unlike the best such fiction, it has only a limited appeal for adults.  6/3/08

The Ant King and Other Stories by Benjamin Rosenbaum, Small Beer, 8/08, $24, ISBN 978-1-931520-52-2

This is one of those collections that defies precise definition.  Although most of the stories are science fiction as least in terms of plot, the treatment is generally surreal, somewhere between logic and magic realism.  The title story, for example, is about a woman who explodes into gumballs, and others include alternate history, alien critters, intrigue aboard a zeppelin, assassins, pirates, house hunting in a development of pirate ships, designer viruses, entrepreneurship and new technologies, mystical cities, intelligent woodpeckers, the end of the world, and even a touch of Howard Phillips Lovecraft.  Although the stories are almost all treated farcically, the absurdity masks more serious themes of personal responsibility, to family and to society, and perhaps most of all to ourselves.  A few of the stories didn't work for me, but most of them did, and even though they share a basic similarity that usually results in my taking a break and reading something different for contrast, in this case I continued straight through. The zeppelin story alone is worth the price of the book, and there is also a less expensive trade paperback edition.  I'm not aware of any other current writer who can make the completely bizarre seem so consistently compelling.  6/2/08

Multireal by David Louis Edelman, Pyr, 7/08, $15, ISBN 978-1-59102-647-1 

The sequel to Infoquake builds on the setting and situations established in that novel.  Itís a couple of centuries from now and technology has become smaller and more personal, including nanotechnology implanted directly into the human body.  As with all new technologies, the uses to which it is put are not necessarily those which were originally foreseen.  The protagonist, Natch, has made a breakthrough that could potentially change the world, and heís been fighting a battle against organizations that sort of blend government and private industry and which seek to control the shape of the future.  Although he foiled the opposition in the first book, thanks to some very unusual strategies, his enemies arenít about to let things go that easily.  Since they cannot crush him openly, they opt for a clandestine operation to undermine the company Natch controls from within.  The stakes are more than just the financial rewards possible.  There is a possibility that the human race could experience a form of freedom previously impossible, but also the chance that they could fall under a tyranny more insidious and irresistible than ever.  I suppose you could call this cyberpunk because itís very much about the interface between people and technology, but itís also a very perceptive speculative look at how the human potential might be enhanced, or crippled, by its own creations.  I look forward to the third book in the trilogy. 6/1/08

Reading the Wind by Brenda Cooper, Tor, 7/08, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1598-4 -1194 

This continues the story begun in The Silver Ship and the Sea, in which several teenagers are stranded on a colony world that is horrified by the fact that they have been genetically engineered.  The animosity became so great that all but one of them escaped in the opening volume, with one teenaged girl remaining behind.  Now the escapees discover that the authorities back home, convinced that the colonists have executed them, have dispatched a team to wipe out the colony in retribution.  Unfortunately, that would include the one member of the group left behind.  As before, Cooper writes a strong, moving story about people facing adversity, particularly the adversity of unreasoning prejudice.  I didnít find the reaction of the home world any less cruel than the prejudice of the colonists, which makes the mission to save the stranded teen necessary and exciting, but which certainly doesnít create a rosy picture of the future of the human race.  But then a great deal of contemporary SF takes a rather jaded view of our nature. 5/31/08

Kethani by Eric Brown, Solaris, 2008, $15, ISBN 978-1-84416-473-8 

Eric Brown has written earlier stories about the Kethani, which have been incorporated into this thought provoking novel.  The Kethani are an alien race who come to Earth with apparently benevolent intentions and bearing the gift of immortality.  Sounds too good to be true, right?  Well it is and it isnít.  The process requires what amounts to death and rebirth, and that process necessarily alters the person who undergoes it.  Numerous questions arise as the story progresses.  What exactly does it mean to be human?  Is it worth surrendering some portion of that humanity in order to become something else, something that will live indefinitely?  Even if thatís true, is there a moral problem if someone chooses to end his or her previous existence prematurely in order to participate in a potentially more promising and interesting new life?  Brown doesnít really answer most of the questions, since the answers are by their very nature subjective.  He does pose some interesting possibilities, however.  I was reminded at times of Arthur C. Clarkeís classic Childhoodís End.   You wonít be able to get this one out of your mind for a while after you read it. 5/27/08

Ten Sigmas & Other Unlikelihoods by Paul Melko, Fairwood Press, 2008, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-9789078-6-0

The reluctance of the major publishers to promote single story collections in a field where the short story has always been a major factor has at least one good consequence, a much better chance that small and medium presses can snag high quality collections from established writers.  Although Paul Melko has had only a single novel, Singularity's Ring, which had an intriguing set up but which was written in a style I thought poorly suited to the story.  The author's relatively spare style feels much more appropriate at shorter lengths, however, including one story related to that novel.  Accompanying it are eleven others, several of which I'd read before, and a couple of which had made strong first impressions, namely "The Summer of the Seven" and "Singletons in Love."  The others vary in tone and subject matter, lightly humorous to deadly serious, parallel universes, aliens, and other oddities.  Unlike some newer authors, Melko has actual stories to tell.  5/26/08

Valiant by Jack Campbell, Ace, 7/08, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01619-8

Fourth in the Lost Fleet series by Campbell, who is actually John Hemry.  This is military space opera with a larger than life hero, Captain John Geary, who is revived from suspended animation to lead a retreating space fleet to - if not victory - at least an avoidance of defeat.  Marshalling his outnumbered forces, he plays tag with the enemy successfully from one book to the next, but he has enemies among his own command.  Some are jealous of his position, some just don't like him, and some are alarmed by his most recent decision, to return to a system where they were badly mauled in a previous engagement.  It begins to look like his friends may be a greater danger to him than his enemies as the plots unfold.  I find most military SF to be comparatively unimaginative and repetitious, and this series isn't entirely free of that problem, but it is refreshingly well written with no pretensions to be anything more than it is - lively adventure. 

Rivers of Fire by Patrick Carman, Little Brown, 2008, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-316-16672-0

I never saw the first book in this series, the Atherton novels, aimed at young adults.  Although it looks a lot like a fantasy novel, this is actually science fiction, reminiscent of Philip Jose Farmer's World of Tiers series.  Earth has become overpopulated and ecological damaged.  A brilliant but deranged man created an artificial orbiting world consisting of three tiers, one for the aristocracy, one for the common people, one apparently a dangerous wilderness.  It turns out the habitat isn't stable and the three lands are collapsing into one another, precipitating disastrous events and the onset of a war of survival among the inhabitants.  Three young people explore the various parts of this well imagined world, avoiding villains and natural forces in what is a quite pleasant adventure story.  Carman has also done a fantasy series, which I will be looking for.  5/21/08

The Mirrored Heavens by David J. Williams, Bantam, 2008, $12, ISBN 978-0-553-38541-0

I read two books in a row with space elevators in them, although in this case it gets destroyed right off the bat, exacerbating international tensions in a clearly dystopian future.  Although terrorists claim responsibility, some government officials believe that foreign powers were behind the attack.  Two spies whose own pasts are open to question are enlisted to discover the truth before an already tense situation leads to open global warfare.  But what they discover may prove both versions wrong.   It's a techno-thriller as well as SF with lots of paramilitary action.  I probably would have liked this a lot better if it wasn't written in what I felt was a completely inappropriate present tense, but that artificiality threw me out of the story constantly.  If you're not bothered, your reaction might be different.  A promising debut otherwise.  5/18/08

In the Company of Whispers by Sallie Lowenstein, Lion Stone, 2008, $22, ISBN 0-9658486-7-1

This is a clever and ambitious approach to fiction, a novel spanning ninety years from the 1950s into the overpopulated future, concentrating on one woman who represents the past and her grand daughter from a not very pleasant future who together explore both eras.  The third point in the triumvirate is an odd man who might be insane, or might just be sane in an insane world.  No real experiments in the text as such, but the book consists of travelogues and numerous photographs reflecting the woman's reminiscences of the passage of time.  There is not a great deal of physical action and what there is seems muted by author's slightly distanced treatment of the subject.  The prose itself is certainly readable and it's definitely SF, but aimed at readers who prefer a more contemplative and personal approach rather than sweeping events and dashing heroes.  5/18/08

Sideways in Crime edited by Lou Anders, Solaris, 2008, $15, ISBN 978-1-84416-566-7

Alternate history continues to be popular so here we have an alternate history anthology with a secondary theme, crime.  These all original stories examine both subjects from sometimes quite unusual viewpoints, starting with Kage Baker's quirky story of a very different England, followed by John Meaney's tale of a German speaking American that was allied with England in the war against the Nazis and which developed vortex technology instead of atomic weapons.  A nice concept in the latter although the story had an odd kind of disjointed feeling that made it difficult for me to follow.  Not sure exactly what the problem was because it seems fairly straightforward.  Stephen Baxter has a good one, related to his Time's Tapestry series, and Paul Park an even better one about an assassination gone awry in a world where the American Revolution failed.  Jack McDevitt has a cute story about a world in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never published any of his Sherlock Holmes stories, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a novelette about the murder of J. Edgar Hoover during the LBJ administration that is one of the best things I've read by her.  Paul Di Fillippo creates a unique world of his own, where William Randolph Hearst converted to pacifism and changed the course of history.  Jon Courtenay Grimwood has a not very serious but amusing story of Chicago ruled by gangsters, followed by a solid story by Theodore Judson and a very good one by Pat Cadigan.  S.M. Stirling has a novelette linked to one of his alternate history series, one of his best pieces at shorter length.  The collection winds up with a funny spoof by Mike Resnick & Eric Flint, and two strong stories by Chris Roberson and Tobias Buckell.  A nice range of subject matter, a few very good stories, and no clunkers at all.  This one is well above average and sustains the quality level throughout.  5/17/08

Omega Sol by Scott Mackay, Roc, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46203-9

An elaborate alien artifact from outside the solar system lands on the moon and transforms into a structure known as the Moon towers.  Scientists from Earth are obviously acutely interested and begin the process of deciphering the alien technology.  Although initially it appears that contact with an alien race is just beginning, the creators of the artifact fall silent and humanity discovers the truth, that the purpose of its arrival is to alter the nature of the sun, rendering Earth uninhabitable.  Human technology seems inadequate to prevent this, but it might still be possible to convince the aliens that they should recall their device and allow humanity to survive.  But the communication process is a lot more complex than simple negotiation.  A mix of hard science, first contact, disaster, and other SF tropes in a suspenseful story based on ideas and personal conflicts rather than more overt action.  Mackay has written several very good SF novels in recent years but hasn't really had a breakout novel.  This one isn't either, but it shows that he's moving closer.  5/11/08

Earth Ascendant by Sean Williams, Ace, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-0158506

I actively enjoyed the first in the Astropolis series, even though the hero is not necessarily the kind of guy you would want to know personally, or have running the government, but then most of those doing so in real life are people I wouldn't want to know personally.  Imre has ruled the galaxy for tens of thousands of years thanks to a kind of quasi-artificial-immortality, but he's not as all powerful as one might think.  He is temporarily abducted by a mysterious entity who tells him that Earth faces a devastating and imminent danger, and when he returns to Earth he is nearly assassinated.  Are the enemies external, internal, or both, given how many enemies he has necessarily generated during his career?  The setting is a future so far removed from now that it seems at times like a different kind of reality, but things work pretty much the same as they do now, which makes it feel real at the same time.  Williams does  far future political conspiracy the way it ought to be done.  5/10/08

Relentless by Richard Williams, Black Library, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-501-8

Most of the better Warhammer tie-in novels are those which don't refer heavily to the game and which vary at least a little from the standard sword and sorcery or military space opera formats.  This first novel falls into the latter category, but it does have a more interesting plot.  When Captain Becket is assigned to command the Relentless, one of his subordinate officers, Ward, is unhappy that he was overlooked for the position and decides to promote himself by assassinating the captain.  It appears at first that he has succeeded, but Becket is still alive and hidden among the crew, and he plans to find a way to retake command and punish his assailant.  There are a few minor rough spots but this is on the whole a good entry in the series. 

The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories by John Kessel, Small Beer, 2008, $16, ISBN 978-193152050-8

John Kessel is one of the few writers whose short stories almost always appeal to me and since there are comparatively few of them, it's always nice to find a new one.  About half of this new collection was new to me, and I settled back to read it anticipating a very entertaining few hours.  I was not disappointed.  The title story, which I hadn't read before, is an amusing and biting satire about dependence on wealth for security and happiness. There is a time traveling movie producer in "It's All True" and a jab at sexual mores in "The Red Phone".   "The Invisible Empire", also new to me, is perhaps the most thought provoking, set in an alternate history where feminists adopt more violent, underground tactics, setting up but not answering the question of when, if ever, is violence and terrorism justified.  The stories about a utopian society on the moon are also excellent, particularly "Stories for Men."   My favorite was the period piece, "Pride and Prometheus", which I first read only a few months ago.  Several of the stories would provide fertile ground for a discussion group.  Stories which make you continue to think after the last word is read are rare and valuable.  This collection is full of them.  5/2/08

Flood by Stephen Baxter, Gollancz, 6/08, £18.99, ISBN 978-0-575-08058-4

Back when I was reading SF in high school and college, the disaster novel was very popular, particularly among British writers. Baxter, who has menaced the Earth with devastation in the past, returns to that form with this new one. The protagonists are a group of people who have just been released from several years captivity by a group of religious fanatics Ė of the Christian variety Ė and find themselves in a world threatened by a Biblical disaster. The sea level is rising and many of the most important cities in the world are already in the process of being flooded. It wonít be long before the nations of the world begin fighting over the high ground, literally instead of figuratively. The novel spans several decades and but confines itself to a relatively small number of characters, letting us see the unfolding disaster through their eyes. Although itís not a complete downer, it does suggest that weíre more likely to act badly than otherwise if such a situation were to develop, perhaps suggesting that we need to be warned about the possibility of a less dramatic but no less unsettling change over the course of the next few decades. Iím not always happy with Baxterís novels, but this is definitely one of his better ones. 5/1/08

Valorís Trial by Tanya Huff, DAW, 6/08, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7564-0479-6

This is the fourth in one of the few military SF series I actually look forward to, in large part because it doesnít stick to the usual plot elements. Torin Kerr is a seasoned veteran in the interstellar was against the alien Others, an enigmatic race that never takes prisoners. Or do they? When she accompanies a mission into a new zone of conflict, her force is overwhelmed so completely that her superiors believe that no one could possibly have survived. Kerrís father and a friend refuse to accept that sheís dead and theyíre right. She has actually survived and is at large in an enormous underground complex maintained by the others and containing a number of human prisoners. Not only does she need to survive for her own sake, but also because thereís a secret concealed there that could affect the future conduct of the war, even the outcome. Fast moving action and an appealing protagonist embellish an interesting plot. The novel is a kind of cross between early Andre Norton and Lois McMaster Bujold. 5/1/08
 

Talebones 36, 2008, $7.00

The latest issue of this high quality, small press magazine is one of their best. There are two Edgar Allan Poe related stories, the better of which is James Van Pelt's "Rock House", although Jason Wittman's story is also quite good. Joy Marchand has a very unusual fantasy about a woman who absorbs knowledge by eating written materials, and Dean Wesley Smith describes an unusual experiment in time. There are two excellent "hard" sf stories, one by David Walton and one by John Pitts, and an amusing interplanetary romp by Paul Melko, The usual short features and poetry are included as well. Subscriptions and single copy orders are available from www.talebones.com. 4/30/08

Stretto by L. Timmel Duchamp, Aqueduct, 6/08, $19, ISBN 978-1-933500-18-8

 This is the second major series whose final volume Iíve read this week.  Duchamp has created a five volume future history set after the dismantling of the United States as we know it.  Almost a century from now a truncated USA is still laboring under a moderately repressive government, although a number of dedicated women are using their personal power and some sly tactics to re-introduce liberalization.  There are several different story lines, although they are not entirely separate, each following a different subset of the cast of characters. Like its predecessors, this is very much a novel of ideas and personal relations rather than of action or adventure.  The author is more interested in the clash of ideas than in describing pitched battles in the streets of Washington.  If you enjoy books designed to stimulate thought as well as entertain you, Duchampís speculations about the forms of government and the ways in which people in power interact should prove very rewarding. 4/13/08

Attack of the Tyrannosaurus by Rex Stone, Scholastic, 2008, $4.99, ISBN 978-0-545-05377-8

Charge of the Triceratops by Rex Stone, Scholastic, 2008, $4.99, ISBN 978-0-545-05378-5

When I first saw these listed, I thought they might be something along the lines of The Spanish Cave by Geoffrey Household, a young adult book about kids who find a living dinosaur. Alas, these are for a much younger reading level and aren't much more than comic books with more text than usual.  The two young heroes stumble across a gateway to a lost world where dinosaurs still exist.  They make friends with a gentle wannanosaurus, but have to exert themselves to escape the tyrannosaurus in the first book, and almost get trampled by stampeding triceratopses in the second.  Some of the illustrations are cute, but there's almost no substance, not even a little bit of sugar coated science.  They're okay but I don't think they'll make much of an impression even on pre-teens.  4/13/08

Future Americas edited by John Helfers and Martin H. Greenberg, DAW, 6/08, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0508-3  

As you can guess from the title, this is a collection of original short stories envisioning what this country might be like some generations from now.  Perhaps reflecting the times, the stories are predominantly political in nature. The opening story by Brendan DuBois sets the tone with a story of a tomorrow in which the remnants of the present US are ruins and legends, effectively understated.  Barbara Nickless then takes us to an America in which certain religious trends have survived the makeover of the country, and not in a good way.   Jean Rabe has a kind of comedy about politicians and guns but I found the characters a little too whimsical for the story to work.  Ed Gormanís story of a world where children are designed in advance has a vicious little twist at the end and is one of the best in the collection.  George Zebrowski also has a religious theme, clones of Jesus Christ who want to run for the Presidency.  Thereís some nicely barbed satire here, but also rather too much undisguised contemporary political commentary, although the virtual immortality of the current Supreme Court was a nice touch.  Pamela Sargent is equally topical, but her story has a nice thought perhaps predictable surprise ending.  Robert T. Jeschonek takes a look at a virtual Congress for an expanded United States, S. Andrew Swann has a powerful story about child abuse and the nature of punishment, and Steven Mohan Jr. adds a good piece about a man who wants to exhibit a famous politician in his museum.  Mike Resnick and Linda Donohue collaborate on an amusing piece about the future of the acting profession, after which Brian Stableford provides my favorite in the book, the story of a dying woman who wishes to continue her life, after a fashion, in the form of a tree.  Donald Bingle and Theodore Judson both have stories set in a disintegrated United States.  Jane Lindskold considers the implications of genetic engineering.  Peter Crowther considers the last family in America after Earth has become worn out and empty.  Kristine Kathryn Rusch finishes up with a strong story, a mystery set in a future where major crime is almost impossible to carry off.  Iíd have preferred a bit more diversity in the stories, but theyíre all good ones and a couple really shine. 4/12/08

Dragon and Liberator by Timothy Zahn, Starscape, 6/08, $17.95, ISBN 9780-7653-1419-2  

The young adult Dragonback series comes to an end with this, the sixth and final volume.  The hero is a teenaged space pilot who has had a variety of adventures with the assistance of an alien who can disguise himself as a tattoo on the boyís body, an artificial intelligence, and occasionally a feisty girl his own age.   There have been two chief villains, a human criminal who is responsible for the death of the boyís family and his pursuit through space, and another group responsible for the near extinction of the alienís species.  Now the climax draws near as our heroes learn of the plans of the first villain to launch a genocidal attack and decide to intercede.  This series has been a lot of fun but I think it was time for it to come to a close.  There are just so many times that the villains can be thwarted before one begins to question their competence.  Draycos is certainly one of the more original aliens in recent SF.  There is very little real YA science fiction being published nowadays, so superior books like this one deserve every bit of support we can give them. 4/11/08 

Dreamer by Paul L. Bates, Five Star, 6/08, $25.95, ISBN 978-1-59414-642-8  

Psychic or psi powers are sometimes problematic in stories.  Unless the author sets out the rules fairly precisely, the reader may feel cheated by later revelations, and in some cases it even feels as though the supposedly rationalized powers are actually magic.  The author of this new novel, a companion book to his earlier Imprint, has created a future in which prescient dreams and empaths are both possible.  The government is a reasonably dystopian one, which means that there is an active underground movement, although some of the rebels seem no more likable than the people they are trying to replace.  The underground has recently been frustrated by a series of moves by the government which have foiled their plans and nearly led to their discovery and apprehension.  The only reason they maintain a slight edge is that the wife of one of the rebels has dreams in which she sees what is about to happen and warns them.  Clearly it is a case of dueling prescients.  Bates manages to keep this mostly under control and unravels things in a reasonably logical fashion, but I was occasionally confused and not always sure where my sympathies should lie.  Part of this may be a product of the format of the novel, since itís written in present tense, which I find distracting and disorienting. 4/11/08

Moon Flower by James P. Hogan, Baen, 2008, $23, ISBN 978-1-4165-5534-6 

The perils of meddling in an ecology you donít completely understand can come back to haunt you.  Thatís the premise in this story of a colony world under development by a corporation that is unhappy with a series of disappearances of personnel assigned there.  They send a tough minded investigator and a scientist to look into matters, and those two gentlemen discover something much more unsettling than a few missing people.  Among other things, the absentees donít want to be found. The ultimate cause is something youíll have to find out for yourself, and itís a fairly effective surprise.  Hoganís last novel struck me as rather flat, but heís picked things up in this one.  There arenít enough well written other worlds adventures nowadays.  Nice to see a new one. 4/10/08

The Dead & the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer, Harcourt, 6/08, $17, ISBN 978-0-15-206311-5 - 1120

 This is the companion volume to the authorís earlier Life As We Knew It, set in the aftermath of a disaster caused by a collision between the moon and an asteroid, with predictable floods and earthquakes on Earth when the moon changes orbit.  The first was set in Pennsylvania; this one is in New York City.  Reports of the catastrophe come in quickly because radio and television are still working, but entire cities are wiped out and several young people discover that they are Ė at least temporarily Ė on their own, and that friends and relatives have died.  The story follows one group of teenagers as they adjust to the new state of affairs, with some moments of adventure although the plot is more concerned with their interactions and how they adjust.  It wasnít bad, but I liked the first one a good deal more. 4/10/08

Strangers in Death by J.D. Robb, Putnam, 2008, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-399-15470-6 

Eve Dallas and her crew are back to investigate a new crime in this latest installment of the long running near future detective series.  I keep expecting the next book to be repetitive and disappointing, but so far sheís kept me reading avidly, and this one is excellent, even if the SF elements are essentially window dressing.  A prominent businessman is murdered, his death rigged unsuccessfully to look like an accident during kinky sex games while his wife was away.  By halfway through the book, both Dallas and the reader knows who is responsible but knowing and proving are very different matters.  The clues slowly reveal the truth, but mostly because Dallas looks into corners that others might have ignored.  The interplay among the characters is as sharp, witty, and amusing as ever, and the predictable pair of sex scenes are brief and easily ignored if youíre not into that sort of thing.  Robb, if you didnít know, is Nora Roberts, an astonishing prolific and generally very high quality romance writer, although the few books Iíve sampled outside this series arenít nearly of the same quality.  Iím already looking forward to the next. 4/9/08

Infected by Scott Sigler, Crown, 2008, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-307-40610-1

In many ways, this is a reprise of a popular theme in borderline SF, the disease that causes its victims to become homicidally violent.  All of those zombie movies imitating Night of the Living Dead draw on that dynamic, as well as any number of medical thrillers.  New plagues have been a recurring favorite of mainstream writers who would never dream of writing ďscience fiction.Ē  Scott Sigler is a fairly new name.  The one previous novel Iíve seen by him was SF, so I was expecting something a little different in this even though itís marketed as a mainstream ďhorror-thriller.Ē   There is the usual crisis, the scientists working for a cure, the investigator who suspects itís not an entirely natural event.  Then thereís a manhunt for the terrorist believed responsible with some exciting action sequences, and the ultimate revelation that this is more than just a disease.   The surprise ending wasnít and I suspect the novel might have been more effective if some of the developments were moved forward, but as it is we have a nice, taut thriller with a satisfying climax. 4/8/08

Resistance by Owen Sheers, Doubleday, 2008, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-385-52210-6  

Itís been a while since I read an alternate history of World War II novel.  This is the authorís first novel as well, although he has apparently published a considerable body of poetry previously.  The setting is a variation in which the Germans did successfully invade and occupy a portion of the British Isles, forcing most of the remaining able bodied civilian males to go into hiding.  The title refers to the underground that fights to drive the invaders out, although the novel does not concentrate on the physical conflict so much as on the pressures on the characters caught up in the struggle, including wives and lovers and even a German officer who is simply trying to do his duty.  This was not published as SF Ė as is the case with a lot of alternate history novels by non-genre authors Ė and in many ways the treatment is very different than it would have been if it had been written by, say, a typical Baen author.  Thatís not to say it wonít appeal to mainstream SF readers.  In fact, the variant approach gives an element of freshness to what is otherwise a very familiar theme. 4/7/08

Turnabout by Steve Perry, Dark Horse, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-59582-054-9  

Itís been a while since I last found a novel by Steve Perry, and even if this one is a movie tie-in, itís an exciting one.  No surprise here because thereís a Predator on the cover, but even though we know what really lurks in the woods of Alaska, the suspense builds nicely just the same.  The protagonist is Sloane, a game warden who is concerned about the presence of a young woman who is searching for the place where her brother died.  Her efforts place her in jeopardy because itís also an area where a nasty poacher operates.  The conflict among the three builds for a while, but behind the scenes we know that thereís a badass alien killing grizzly bears and spoiling for more dangerous game.  Like human beings.  This is much closer to the tone of the original movies than the other tie-ins Iíve read in this series, and a nice, crisp action story as well. 4/7/08

The Houses of Time by Jamil Nasir, Tor, 2008, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-0610-4 

Iíve enjoyed this authorís work since his first novel, Quasar, appeared over ten years ago, and itís been eight years since his last, Distance Haze, which I thought was excellent.  His return to SF is somewhat reminiscent of the latter, the story David Grant, who experiences particularly realistic lucid dreams.  In some of those dreams he believes himself married to a woman whom he has never actually met, and when he encounters her in the waking world Ė though she differs in details Ė the experience only convinces him that it is more important than ever that he understand the real nature of the phenomenon.  To this end, he has been engaged in studies at an institute that specializes in such things, directed by the mysterious Dr. Thotmose.  Thotmose, however, has reasons of his own for being particularly interested in the protagonist, and not just because it is his daughter that grant is pursuing through what appear to be alternate realities.  Although there is a distinctive mystical atmosphere in this thoughtful, intelligent, and very original novel, I still think of it as SF rather than fantasy because it suggests that the power of the human mind is at work rather than some vague form of magic.  Readers who overlook this understated novel are doing themselves Ė and the book Ė a disservice. 4/6/08

Into the Storm by Taylor Anderson, Roc, 6/08, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46207-7

 The opening volume in this new series of parallel world adventures is sort of The Final Countdown meets The Lost World.  In the opening months of World War II, several barely serviceable warships were pressed into service including the destroyer commanded by Matthew Reddy.  When they deliberately navigate into a storm to escape the enemy, they are transported into an alternate world where the dinosaurs are still around and humans never showed up.  That doesnít mean the world isnít inhabited though.  There are in fact two intelligent races and theyíre at war, with Reddy and his crew caught between them.  Their superior fire power and technology could tilt the balance to either side and they have no real basis on which to make their decision.  Fairly good adventure although Iím not entirely convinced that a single destroyer could make that much difference in a war of such magnitude, and even the technological advance would not provide a short term solution.  Presumably the author will develop this further as the series progresses. 4/5/08

A Starship Soldier by Robert A. Heinlein and Jack Williamson, Rahway Books, 2008, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-950329577-71

Yet another Heinlein manuscript surfaces, this one found among the papers of Jack Williamson, an attempted collaboration that apparently neither writer considered a success.  Itís barely a novella and itís impossible to tell how much of it is Heinlein and how much Williamson.  In case you havenít guessed from the title, Heinlein reworked parts of it dramatically several years later when he wrote Starship Troopers.  This aborted effort was apparently conceived in 1952 but died when Williamson lost interest in the project and found Frederik Pohl to be a more effective writing partner.  The protagonist is Roger Danton, a veteran of several campaigns around the galaxy.  After recuperating from a serious injury, he decides to retire and return to Earth, which he hasnít seen in over two decades.  He is appalled by the attitude of most of the people he meets, who no longer feel any empathy toward the men and women fighting in space to keep the home world safe.  Eventually he is recruited by an underground organization of ex-military types who are quietly infiltrating the various governments of Earth in order to influence policy.  We are left hanging with no real resolution since the story was never finished.  The prose is a little rough in spots, but itís not bad for an early draft.  Heinlein fanatics will gobble up this limited edition, no doubt. 4/1/08

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