The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld, Tor, 3/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30555-0
Intelligently written space operas seem to be making a comeback lately, and Scott Westerfeld has joined the trend with this, the opening volume of a series about a far future galactic empire. The emperor is virtually immortal, and his ability to dispense a form of extended life ensures his continued reign. Or does it? A fanatical organization of cyborgs and artificial intelligences is seeking to undermine the government, and its latest plan involves kidnapping the emperor's sister. What follows draws upon military SF, interstellar intrigues as complex as those in the Dune novels, rescues, chases, escapes, and battles. Readers should be warned that it's not really a complete story, but it's the beginning of what promises to be a major new series.
The Wreck of the River of Stars by Michael Flynn, Tor, 4/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30099-0
The River of Stars is an old style ship that travels around the solar system using magnetic sails for propulsion even though most traffic now makes use of a newly invented fusion drive. When a disastrous mechanical failure cripples them in space, they decide to attempt to repair the ship rather than simply wait for rescue. It's a little like The Poseidon Adventure in space, with the optimistic crew solving one problem after another, but always finding another one waiting around the corner. Flynn seems to have a very firm grip on the plot at all times, and the reader is carried along by the inevitability of each new step in the plunge toward disaster. It's nice to read a story about ordinary people who demonstrate heroism simply by doing their jobs rather than saving the world, particularly when it's as well written as we've come to expect from Michael Flynn.
The Tomorrow Log by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Meisha Merlin, 2/03, $30, ISBN 1-892065-86-X.
Lee and Miller have been writing entertaining space operas for a while now, most of them in an ongoing series while this is a standalone, at least so far. The protagonist is a professional thief who is in hot water with a local crimelord because he refused to accept an assignment from her. As if that wasn't trouble enough, a young woman begins to follow him, claiming to be a "cousin" from his youth among a nomadic spacegoing culture. She insists that he has an obligation to perform his duty and return to fulfill a prophesy, which lands him squarely in the middle of interstellar politics as well as the criminal world. The authors use a slightly formal style of dialogue that distracted me at times, but the story is exciting and the payoff appropriate to the buildup. A trade paperback edition will also be published.
Prey by Michael Crichton, Harper Collins, 2002, $26.95, ISBN 0-06-621412-2
Crichton's latest SF thriller features nanotechnology gone wild. The protagonist is concerned that his wife, who works for a high tech firm with a remote lab in Nevada, is having an affair. When he is given a chance to do some consulting work for the same company, he finds himself thrust into a crisis. Swarms of nanomachines have evolved in the nearby desert after apparently escaping from the facility, and they have become more advanced and adaptive with each generation. As they increase in numbers and deadliness, the handful of people at the installation engage in a desperate fight to destroy them before they are too powerful to destroy. But there is another danger as well, a hidden threat that is even more frightening. The rationale behind the evolution of the nanomachines is convincing and interesting in itself, and the story certainly accelerates quickly and steadily. I'd be very surprised if this is NOT made into a movie in the very near future.
Dragon and Thief by Timothy Zahn, Tor, 2/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30124-5
Zahn starts off a new series with this one, which isn't labeled as young adult but features a fourteen year old boy. Jack Morgan is on the run in his spaceship, accompanied by the virtual personality of his uncle, a roguish con man, when he inadvertently witnesses a space battle which was supposed to be secret. While exploring the wreckage of one ship, he meets and becomes part of a symbiotic relationship with Draycos, a dragonlike creature who can alter his body so that he effectively exists in only two dimensions and can plaster himself to the boy's body. Together the two set out to solve two mysteries. Why did someone go to elaborate effort to frame Jack for a theft he didn't commit, and how and why did Draycos' companions find themselves ambushed while rendezvousing with supposed friends, ambushers who were armed with the deadly weapon of an alien enemy remotely removed from this part of the universe. It's a good lightweight adventure story, a space opera for all ages.
Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds, Golden Gryphon, 2002, $15.95, no ISBN.
Golden Gryphon initiates a new line of trade paperback limited editions with this novella, set in the same universe as Reynolds' three novels. On a remote world which sees starships only after generation long gaps, scientists are studying the Pattern Jugglers, form of intelligence which transmits information to those who literally swim in its oceans. When a starship is detected approaching their world, the anticipation is a mixture of pleasure and concern, but upon arriving, the crew of the ship indicates that it is only interested in comparing notes about the Pattern Jugglers. Unfortunately, there is at least one among their number who has a different plan entirely. A nifty little tale presented in some very attractive packaging, and at eighty pages, it's as long as many of the early Ace Double "novels". Apparently this is available only direct from the publisher at 3002 Perkins Road, Urbana, IL 61802 or through their website at www.goldengryphon.com.
Polyphony edited by Deborah Layne & Jay Lake, Wheatland Press, 2002, $16.95, ISBN 0-9720547-0-7
Here's an original anthology that falls outside the normal genre dividing lines. The stories here are SF and fantasy and a few that don't even have a fantastic element at all. They're just good stories. The editors have eclectic tastes, but they run toward the literary, so there's mystery and emotion and wonder and a little bit of humor here, but no hard core horror or adventure, at least this time around. Best of the batch are tales by Douglas Lain, James Van Pelt, Leslie What, Maureen McHugh, and a revised version of an older story by Lucius Shepard. Close behind are Vandana Singh, Bruce Holland Rogers, Carol Emshwiller, Ray Vukcevich, and others. Not all of the stories were to my taste, but even the ones I liked were all well written. There's probably something here for just about every discerning reader though, and you can't say that about many anthologies.
Hour of the Gremlins by Gordon R. Dickson and Ben Bova, Baen, 12/02, $14, ISBN 0-7434-3569-9
The House of the Kzinti by Jerry Pournelle, S.M. Stirling, and Dean Ing, Baen, 12/02, $15, ISBN 0-7434-3577-X
These are both omnibus collections from Baen. The first consists of three unrelated novels, two by Dickson alone and one in collaboration with Ben Bova. Hour of the Horde is a 1970 novel, readable but not one of Dickson's best. A horde of alien creatures has been rampaging through the universe despite the efforts of various races to stop them, until finally Earth's primitive ingenuity helps turn the tide. The theme is much the same in the somewhat better Wolfling from 1969, in which a "primitive" Earthman travels to the stars to try to free humanity from an oppressive alien culture. Gremlins Go Home, the collaboration, is the best of the lot, a humorous adventure set in a universe where gremlins, elves, and such are actually alien races. A good buy for the money for the last novel alone. The second title is a collection of three short novels from the Man-Kzin Wars series. Cathouse and Briar Patch, both by Dean Ing, are both very good, and a reminder of how much I miss seeing his byline in SF. Stirling and Pournelle collaborated on The Children's Hour, probably the best single title in the series. This one's a steal at the price if you don't already have copies of the individual titles.
With a Little Help from My Friends by Mike Resnick, Farthest Star, 2002, $16.99, ISBN 1-57090-193-7
The Science Fiction Professional by Mike Resnick, Farthest Star, 2002, $16.99, ISBN 1-57090-199-6
Harlan Ellison was the first SF writer to produce a collection of his collaborations with others in book form, and now Mike Resnick has become the second. This largish book contains his joint efforts with writers like Catherine Asaro, Michael Burstein, Barry Malzberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, Joseph Sherman, Susan Shwartz, and many others. Most of the stories are considerably lighter than Resnick's best work, but the ones with Nicholas DiChario, Susan Shwartz, and Barry Malzberg are all memorable. There's a brief introduction to each. The second title collects seven years of Resnick's "Ask Bwana" columns from Speculations. They cover a broad range of toics of interest to SF professionals and fans alike, and very few of them are dated by the passage of time. Both books are well produced, sturdy, and solid, both physically and in terms of content.
The Hundred Acre Spaceship by Ralph Roberts, Farthest Star, 2002, $14.99, ISBN 1-57090-186-4
The day when one can write a story about a lone inventor creating an interplanetary spaceship is long past, at least if you're serious about it. Roberts has done just that, but seriousness is not a problem here. The protagonist discovers a string of inventions, including a gun that can penetrate the Earth and hit a target on the far side, but when he turns his home into a spaceship, things really get interesting. American and Russian astronauts are battling each other and a disaster in space until they are rescued by the flying house lot. When the Russians start making moves to consolidate their position in space, the US government tries to seize the new technology, but they're no match for a man who knows what he's about. At times very funny, although I think it went on for just a little bit too long.
Throne Price by Lynda Williams and Alison Sinclair, Edge, 3/03, $13.95, ISBN 1-894063-06-6
First of all, I believe that this is not the same Alison Sinclair who writes SF in England, so don't be confused. This appears to be a first novel for both authors, and while it has some of the stiffness common to first novels, for the most part it's quite entertaining. Humankind has spread into space, spawning a variety of cultures and societal forms. Two of these are moving toward an interstellar conflict, and a number of outside parties are trying to avert the disaster. Unfortunately, none of them realize the complexity of the situation, and it looks increasingly likely that they will fail. The best parts of the novel are those dealing with the philosophical differences. The action adventure sequences are the least interesting and sometimes a bit forced.
Zero Hour by Benjamin E. Miller, Onyx, 1/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-41000-9
Various teams of military personnel and scientists are working in the Antarctic when a volcanic eruption underneath the icecap presents them with a threat to the environment. Superheated water could generate a storm with winds so severe that no human structure could withstand it. If the progression is not interrupted, a worldwide disaster is inevitable, and only the small, ill equipped group on the spot may be able to act in time to stop it. An exciting first novel from a writer educated in planetary sciences. This is more likely to be marketed as a mainstream thriller than as SF, but it's a disaster novel in the classic SF tradition, and a pretty good one at that.
Human Prehistory in Fiction by Charles De Paolo, McFarland, 4/03, $32, ISBN 0-7864-1417-0
As you might guess from the title, this is a look at how human prehistory is portrayed in fiction, and how closely it adheres to what we know, or think we know, about how it really was. The author focuses on a relatively low number of stories. Jean Auel is mentioned, for example, but none of her many imitators. There's an examination of stories by H.G. Wells, Lester Del Rey, Arthur C. Clarke, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Pierre Boulle, and William Golding, but no mention of others who have written serious works involving prehistoric humans like Michael Bishop, Stephen Baxter, Vardis Fisher, or Jack London. The author clearly knows the subject well, but the style is a bit too academic for casual readers.
Humans by Robert Sawyer, Tor, 2/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-87691-2
The follow up to Hominids is, I'm sorry to say, a decidedly mixed bag. It's good to see more of Ponter Boddit, whom I rather liked the first time around, but we've already seen enough of his world and that the new details this time really don't have the impact of the first novel. Despite reluctance on the part of his people to reopen contact with our universe, Ponter convinces them to open a more or less permanent gateway, only to discover that humans also have mixed feelings about continuing the contact. Ponter and his people, despite some minor failings, are just too good to be true, and their society is as implausible as that of most of those found in early Utopian novels. If you liked the first, you'll probably enjoy this as well, but I wouldn't move it to the top of the reading stack.
Crossfire by Nancy Kress, Tor, 2/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30467-8
Jake Holman organized and led the colonization of the planet Greentrees by a disparate group including the exiled royal family of Saudi Arabia and their retainers, a group that wishes to recreate the Cheyenne nation and abandon technology, and more conventional settlers of various types and interests. Greentrees is supposed to be uninhabited, and in fact no intelligent aliens have been encountered yet during humanity's exploration of the stars. When a handful of villages are discovered, each inhabited by members of the same species but each genetically altered to create a different culture, the humans are puzzled, then astonished when it becomes obvious that they are not native to the planet. Then an alien spaceship arrives, piloted by intelligent plantlike creatures, and they learn of an interstellar war that could threaten even humanity. Kress does her usual fine job of creating a complex situation and then letting her characters play in it. There are a few too many coincidental arrivals and encounters to make me entirely happy, but I ignored the problem and found myself enjoying the way in which the author works out the problems confronting Holman and his companions. Some of the supporting characters particularly the Quaker and his rebellious daughter were frequently of more interest than the main plotline.
Warchild by Karin Lowachee, Aspect, 4/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61077-1
I missed this when it first appeared quite a while back, and if I'd noticed it even then, I might have shrugged it off as another standard military SF adventure novel. I'd have been half right. The story does involve people caught up in an interstellar war. But it's more than that. Unlike most military SF that concentrates on the action and uses its characters to advance the plot, for Lowachee the characters are the plot and the military environment is just the setting. The protagonist is a young boy, later a young man, who is orphaned and enslaved, liberated, trained as a soldier and spy, and given little chance to mature in a normal human fashion. For a while he does what he's told, but sooner or later he's going to start thinking for himself. Lots of interesting twists, and enough military action to keep those fans happy as well as the rest of us who like a little more substance to our entertainment. This won Warner's first SF novel contest, and it's easy to see why. A very promising debut.
Angelica by Sharon Shinn, Ace, 3/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01013-X
Sharon Shinn returns to the lost colony world of Samaria for this, the fourth in a series about the world where a new society with strong religious underpinnings has been created on a distant world, cut off from the rest of the human race. Not as cut off as they might wish, however, because a party of offworlders has invaded, using high tech weapons that the Samarians cannot match. This is the backdrop rather than the central story, however. The protagonist is Susannah, wed to the head of the religious community, a marriage of convenience rather than love. On the other hand, the man of her own tribe for whom she feels genuine affection is no saint either. Susannah's decisions about her own life and her role in the effort to repel the invaders are intertwined in this astute, intelligent tale of conflict between cultures, even within the planetary population. This is the best yet in a highly regarded series.
Purity in Death by J.D. Robb, Berkley, 9/02, $7.99, ISBN 0-425-18630-X
The fifteenth in the ongoing series of Eve Dallas, a policewoman working more than fifty years in the future, is a lot more SF than many of the other volumes. This time she's after a gang of vigilantes who have found a way to use a computer program to alter the patterns in the human brain, eventually leading to a painful death. The device is, unfortunately, implausible, since computers in 2057 work very much the same as computers in 2002 with no direct contact. No combination of subliminal displays and sounds is going to make one's brain swell until it bursts. That caveat aside, it's an entertaining story, interrupted for two episodes of explicit and almost formulaic sex. Dallas finds the conspirators a bit too quickly this time not one of her leads or guesses is wrong, but it's still fun watching her trap them into revealing themselves. The subplots involving her co-workers continues to evolve as well.
Hyperthought by M.M. Buckner, Ace, 1/03, $5.99, ISBN 0-441-01023-7
Earth of the next century was already suffering from a major ecological disaster when a nuclear war rendered most of the planet uninhabitable. Now the survivors cluster at the two poles, with the government in the Arctic repressive and that in the Antarctic relatively free. When a young entertainer submits to experiments that are designed to enhance his thinking ability, he becomes an unwitting pawn in the ensuing power struggle not just between the poles but between rival parties in the north seeking any advantage in their increasingly violent struggle. A tour guide is drawn unwillingly into the middle of the situation and finds herself growing to like the man she is protecting. But with so many different people searching for them, is there any way for them to survive. A nice, workmanlike adventure story from a new name is always a welcome event. This is the kind of debut novel that will have you watching closely to see how Buckner develops as a writer.
Star of Erengard by Neil McIntosh, Black Library, 12/02, $6.95, ISBN 0-7434-4328-4
Straight Silver by Dan Abnett, Black Library, 12/02, $6.95, ISBN 0-7434-4325-X
Only in the Warhammer universe would it be possible to have these two novels part of the same series, one a sword and sorcery epic, the other a traditional military space opera. The first, which I believe is also a first novel, is actually a pretty good pseudo-Conan style adventure, with the protagonist traveling to a frozen city to meet, and defeat, a series of enemies both natural and supernatural. This one would stand quite well outside the Warhammer series, although it's not quite the same formula as most current mainstream fantasy. The second is less interesting, another story of interstellar soldiers battling enemies who have the support of evil supernatural forces at large in the universe. The mix works occasionally most notably in the novels Ian Watson contributed to the series but more often it jars. And this one has a bit too much battling and a bit too little story for my taste.
The Fantastic Four Volume Two, Marvel, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0731-2
The second compilation of 22 separate adventures of Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch, the Thing, and the Invisible Woman. There seems to be more of the annoying squabbling among the good guys that was so common in Marvel land, but there's also a good array of villains and semi-villains this time. The foursome battle Dr. Doom, Moleman, the Hulk, Sub-Mariner, the Thinker, the Red Ghost, Rama Tut, the Super Skrull, and the Frightful Four, and get tricked into a battle with the X-Men. They also have guest visits from Dr. Strange, Daredevil, and the Avengers this time, as well as meeting the father of Sue and Johnny Storm. Some of the charm is lost along with the color in this black and white rendition, but the stories bring back fond memories.
The Return of Santiago by Mike Resnick, Tor, 2/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30224-1
The original Santiago is one of Mike Resnick's best known novels, the story of a man searching for a legendary outlaw in the fringe worlds of human civilization, only to discover that the name has been passed on from one person to another, and that he is the next in line. The sequel is set about a century later. The last Santiago was killed without providing for succession, and the repressive human government has once again begun inflicting upon the frontier worlds arbitrary justice and ready violence. A petty thief stumbled upon a famous poem and decides to continue the poet's work, chronicling the colorful frontier characters. But he has also decided that it is time for a new Santiago, and with a few friends he sets out to interview candidates for the job, someone who will pretend to be an outlaw but actually function as a rebel against the central government to make them more aware of the their obligations. I'm not sure how this was really supposed to work, but it doesn't matter. Predictably, their plans don't go smoothly. Each candidate brings a slightly different vision to the role, and their visions aren't always productive. It didn't take very long before I figured out what was going to happy in the end, but it didn't matter because Resnick's tale of larger than life people is a kind of fairy tale of the Old West set in outer space, and if you think that isn't a viable combination, then you haven't read Mike Resnick. Gunfights, glory, and great storytelling in one of his best recent novels.
Little Doors by Paul Di Filippo, Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002, #24.95, ISBN 1-56858-241-2
Paul Di Filippo's latest collection is another assemblage of sparklingly written madness. "Billy", for example, is a young boy born without a brain, whose head is invaded by a collection of small animals who transform him into a functioning human, and that's one of the more conventional stories in the collection. Spend a day with Salvador Dali, or walking around an alternate New York City, or meet a woman who steals the moments of happiness from everyone around her. Dally with a man who changes into a woman when the moon is full, or learn the truth about reincarnation, and follow a paranoid horror writer on a typical day of his life. My favorites include "Moloch", "Jack Neck and the Worrybird", and "Return to Cockaigne", along with the amusing Mehitabel poem that rounds out the collection. Give this one a read and have your world turned end over end.
Man Who Could Work Miracles by H.G. Wells, edited by Leon Stover, McFarland, 2002, $49.50, ISBN 907864-1237-2
Here's a genuine rarity for you. Wells wrote a screen treatment for what would be the film version of his story, "The Man Who Could Work Miracles". This book presents the entire treatment, plus the original story, along with three other stories and a bibliography. The text is heavily annotated, much of it quite interesting. This is part of a series of high quality volumes of annotated work by Wells which McFarland has been publishing under the editorship of Stover, and it is by far the rarest item yet, and one of the few pieces of Wells' fantastic fiction that I hadn't previously read.
Firing the Cathedral by Michael Moorcock, PS, 2002, $14, ISBN 1-902880-44-7
Riding the Rock by Stephen Baxter, PS, 2002, $14, ISBN 1-902880-59-5
VAO by Geoff Ryman, PS, 2002, $14, ISBN 1-902880-48-X
These three new novellas from PS are pretty spiffy looking with full color, dustjacket like covers and contents even spiffier. The first of three titles is a new story of Jerry Cornelius, the spy/Jesuit/oddball who was featured in more than half a dozen previous novels. It's the longest of the threesome, and if you liked Cornelius before, you'll like him again as he confronts terrorism and other modern concerns in this satirical swipe at Americanisms. Next up is Baxter's latest story of the war with the Xeelee, an alien race confined to the galaxy's core by a human race that has subordinated everything, even basic humanity, to pursuing a war that has already lasted more than ten thousand years. The protagonist is sent to investigate a religious movement that has sprung up near the battlefront, a belief system that is contrary to the official doctrine that dominates the human race. A well told story but definitely not one to cheer you up on a dismal day. Last, and best of the three, is Geoff Ryman's story of a near future in which aging hackers outwit the government and track down a gang of senile criminals whose reign of terror may endanger the welfare of an entire generation. The story is so good it just zips past and I was disappointed on the final page only because it was the final page. The books have introductions by Alan Moore, Gregory Benford, and Gwyneth Jones respectively, and all are available in hardcover editions as well. The PS line of novellas has turned out a consistent string of top notch tales that deserve, and no doubt will, attract discriminating readers worldwide.
Bone Walk by Kevin Howe, Firelight Publishing, 2001, $15.50, ISBN 0-9707206-2-9
This book has languished on the to-be-read pile for unconscionably long, but frankly I was put off by the cover and the description made it sound as though it was only marginally fantasy. Well, the cover still doesn't move me, but the description didn't really evoke the flavor of the book. A nobleman has found a magical book which gives him great power, and wakens his thirst for more. The protagonist is a simple man, puzzled by the strange events taking place in his village, including the disappearance of some of his neighbors. Then he is drafted into a small party sent on a quest, designed to enhance the powers of the villain. After a series of adventures, both pleasant and brutal, he and his companions discover the truth, and eventually undergo a form of transformation that will help them become players rather than pawns. The novel comes to a clear ending, but there are clear hints that the story may continue in further volumes. I'm not sure where a bookstore would shelve this, given its mundane appearance, so you might want to try ordering it online. It's a well written quest fantasy that doesn't feel like every other quest fantasy you've read.
The Changeling Plague by Syne Mitchell, Roc, 2/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45910-5
Goeffrey Allen is a very rich man with a very bad disease, one which is technically incurable. He decides to risk everything with an experimental virus tailored to rewrite his DNA, and much to his relief, the treatment works and his health is restored. But then things start to happen around him. His friends and acquaintances begin to develop odd health problems, which seems coincidental at first but eventually leads to the revelation that he is the carrier of a brand new plague. It spreads so quickly that there is an international crisis, and those infected are increasingly confined to what amounts to concentration camps. The human race seems to be on the brink of disaster, but it's just possible that the plague might not be entirely a bad thing. Interesting speculation and a satisfyingly exciting plot in Mitchell's best novel to date.
The Braided World by Kay Kenyon, Bantam, 2/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58379-4
Kay Kenyon's previous novels have all been entertaining without making a really outstanding impression, but this one might be just the thing to bring him a wider readership. The human race is facing extinction despite expansion to the stars, facing a terrible plague and other dangers, and apparently lacking the ability to adapt to the new conditions with which it is faced. An expedition to another star encounters aliens that look surprisingly like us, and a second mission is launched to make contact with them, and just possibly discover the truth about their strange culture and a solution to the human problem. A tightly written scientific thriller with an interesting alien culture and believable human characters.
Skylock by Paul Kozerski, Baen, 11/02, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-3570-2
First novelist Kozerski has debuted with an exciting, violent, but convincing story that reminded me more than a little bit of Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley. A solar change accelerates environmental degradation on Earth, and even the US shatters in the face of worldwide famines, climatic changes, and the resulting chaos. A secret laboratory in Wyoming may have made a breakthrough that will ameliorate much of the damage, but someone has to travel from Washington to Wyoming and back in order to get the information to the parties with the potential to use it. The protagonist is a complex, not entirely likable man whose mission is troubled not only by the chaos and physical dangers he faces but also by the fact that someone wants him to fail, someone who believes that the collapse is more advantageous than a recovery. Breakneck action and a resounding resolution.
The Fifth Horseman by Richard Sherbaniuk, Tor, 11/02, $7.99, ISBN 0-812-57090-1
I missed the hardcover edition of this when it appeared a couple of years back, but I was in the mood for a contemporary thriller, preferably one with SF overtones, and that's what I got. A very well done thriller at that. It's the near future and widespread drought is exacerbating the tensions of the world. A group of well equipped terrorists make things even worse by releasing genetically designed organisms into the ecosphere. Their purpose is to disrupt the world's economy, but they may have been more sweeping in their efforts than even they had hoped, and a worldwide disaster is in the making unless the infestations can be neutralized. An intelligently written, frighteningly plausible, and thoroughly entertaining adventure.
Star Wars Mythmaking by Jody Duncan, Del Rey, 11/02, $19.95, ISBN 0-345-45624-6
This is by far the most detailed and entertaining coverage of the mechanics of making a motion picture that I've encountered to date. It feels as though the author has explained virtually every shot in the movie, providing information on background, special effects, the way the actors interacted with their environment, site preparation, and just about every other aspect imaginable. It's a fairly long oversized paperback, well over two hundred pages, and there are color stills and photographs on every page, usually more than one per page in fact. Some people say that books like this take the magic out of a film, but I found the attention to detail fascinating and understanding how some of the work was done only made by enjoyment of the film a third time around even more enjoyable.
Metropolis by Thea Von Harbou, Wildside, 2002, $32.95, ISBN 1-59224-979-5
This classic dystopian novel, originally published in 1927, has been newly translated for this edition. I first read this when Ace did a paperback version in 1963, and I found much of it unreadable at the time, although even then it was obvious that the author had touched upon an important and compelling theme. This new version seems more readable to me, or I've grown more tolerant, and doesn't feel nearly as archaic and even abstract as I remembered it. Although it doesn't measure up in quality to the best of modern dystopian fiction, it's still an important early novel and one that deserves to be kept in print.
A Gift of Dragons by Anne McCaffrey, Del Rey, 11/02, $16.95, ISBN 0-345-45635-1
Although they are not necessarily her best books, the Pern series has undoubtedly established Anne McCaffrey as a major genre writer. Part of the appeal is probably the fact that while technically science fiction, they have much of the feeling of fantasy, including the ubiquitous dragons. This is a collection of four tales set against that background, one of them a novella original to the book, and a very entertaining one as well. The best is "The Girl Who Heard Dragons", previous collected, and the weakest "The Smallest Dragonboy". I actually found the short story collection more impressive and successful than most of the much longer and more involved novels in the series. This is a handsome looking small hardcover edition and one of the best of the author's books, recent or otherwise.
Best of the Rest 3 edited by Brian Youmans, Suddenly Press, 2002, $14, ISBN 0-9670056-1-2
There are far too many good stories being written every year for the professional markets, and a great deal of very good fiction appears in the small press, in non-genre publications, and electronically on the internet and elsewhere. Many of these stories are read only by a small portion of the potential readers who would enjoy them. This anthology attempts to address the problem by collecting some of the best from these unusual and small circulations sources, and the editor has done a very good job. Of particular interest are the stories by Ray Vukcevich, whose quirky tales have already established his reputation, James Van Pelt, Tom Ligotti, Mark McLaughlin, Mary Soon Lee, and John Shirley, and the rest aren't far behind in quality. This might be a little difficult to locate, but it's worth taking the time to track it down.
Vectors by Michael Kube-McDowell, Bantam, 11/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-29824-0
It's going to be difficult to review this and explain my reaction without spoilers, but bear with me. The protagonist is a scientist working at a Midwestern university who is recording human personality profiles, hoping to prove that since no two are alike, that personality is not just a function of chemical processes, although he stops short of claiming the existence of souls. His work is unpopular with his peers, but he perseveres, until he is stunned to discover that two personalities are so nearly identical that they seem to contradict his theory. But then he notices that one is from a child who was born shortly after the death of the other, and the reader will be well ahead of our hero in guessing that some form of reincarnation is involved. When the protagonist's lover is murdered, it's pretty easy to guess that he's going to try to find her soul somehow. All of this is beautifully written and thoroughly involves the reader despite its predictability. Unfortunately, the story starts to go wrong just as his life starts to go wrong, and the last few chapters seem entirely out of character to me. If you want to know why I felt that way, read the next paragraph, but it contains spoilers.
The setting of the novel is mildly depressing in itself. The US is in the grip of some sort of right wing government, although we never know the details. Many of the characters are either repulsive the prominent scientist who publicly assails the protagonist or act badly the colleague who rejects his friendship because of her own alcoholism and personality problems. Despite this, he remains upbeat, although he becomes obsessed with the question of reincarnation following his lover's death. He is eventually arrested for murder on evidence so flimsy that I had trouble believing that the hard nosed detective responsible would ever have done such a thing. He contemplates and eventually commits suicide so that he can be reunited with his lost love even though (a) there's no reason to believe that they will be geographical close, and (b) no memory survives so death is effectively the end regardless of the truth or falsehood of his reincarnation theory. Efforts to make the suicide seem like a move toward a goal fall flat. Instead he is just running away from the problems caused by his unpopular theory, the suspicion of his complicity in the murder, and other personal problems. But the author never established the flaws in his protagonist's character until the breaking point, so his actions didn't fit with the character I'd been reading about. And even worse, the field is effectively abandoned to the bad guys. The close minded scientist gets to retain his position, his self centered friends don't even seem to regret his passing, his project is effectively finished, and the suicide will likely add to the public belief that he killed his lover. This was a definite downer to read. Very well written, and the first half is excellent, but the rough ride at the end left a bad taste in my mouth.
Soul Drinker by Ben Counter, Black Library, 10/02, $6.95, ISBN 1-84154-260-1
Harlequin by Ian Watson, Black Library, 10/02, $6.95, ISBN 0-7434-4322-5
The wave of new and reprinted Warhammer related novels continues with these two volumes. The first is a new novel, which I can best describe as rationalized orcs in outer space. Mutated soldiers have enhanced powers and aren't entirely human any longer, but they make excellent troops for the imperium. Unfortunately, when faced with a dilemma, their actions aren't always predictable. Since magic works after a fashion, I suppose this is fantasy, and it certainly feels that way despite the other worldly setting. Competently written, though I've read far better military SF. On the other hand, the Watson novel, originally published in 1994, and it's the second volume in a trilogy he wrote in this universe. The Inquisition was designed to protect humans from falling prey to either the supernatural forces in the universe, or the rather more natural alien menaces, but trouble comes when its inner ranks are themselves corrupted. If you think game tie in novels have to be derivative and uninteresting, it's because you haven't read Watson's Warhammer novels.
The Art of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones by Mark Cotta Vaz, Del Rey, 10/02, $19.95, ISBN 0-345-43126-X
Following in the tradition of art concept books inspired by the previous movies in the series, the latest Star Wars epic has resulted in this selection of the artist's work in developing costumes, landscapes, creatures, and devices used in the film. Most of this is not finished drawing, so as art it's rough and unfinished. The attraction of the volume is that it provides insight into the development of the visual effects we saw on the screen, and a few we didn't get to see. The text is above average for this sort of thing
X-Men Volume 4, Marvel, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0775-4
The most recent in this set of black and white omnibuses brings the X-Men up to 1984, still a long way from the present. Chris Claremont remained the main writer and the mutant superheroes moved away from the rest of the Marvel world with these, spending much of their time battling an alien race known as Sleazoids who impregnated the team with their eggs. Their other main opponents are the Morlocks, an underground gang of mutants, and the Hellfire Club, yet another evil mutant group. Rogue, a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants which is fairly inactive in this volume abandons the gang to join the X-Men, despite their mistrust. There are also several romances, a battle with a giant squid, the return of Dracula, and other minor menaces. More thoughtfully written than many of the other Marvel series.
Explorer by C.J. Cherryh, DAW, 11/02, $23.95, ISBN 0-7564-0086-4
The sixth adventure set in the Foreigner universe opens things up and adds some new and intriguing plot elements. A joint human and atevi expedition has been launched to find out what happened at a partially abandoned space station after a supposed attack by aliens. What they find is another matter entirely. The aliens are still there, but when the protagonist manages to communicate with them, he discovers that they believe the humans initiated hostilities. Efforts to find out the truth on the station are hampered by a series of booby traps and other problems designed to keep anyone from entering. Our hero has made a living negotiating between human and atevi. Can he now use those skills to smooth over another rift and prevent an even greater conflict? What do you think? Even when I can pretty much tell where the plot is going, it's almost always great fun to see how Cherryh manages to get us to our destination, and this one's no exception.
Atlantis Endgame by Andre Norton and Sherwood Smith, Tor, 1/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-312-85922-8
The first two Time Traders novels by Andre Norton made an enormous impression on me when I first read them, and I've reread both three or four times since then. The later volumes were not as satisfying, lacking the inventiveness of their predecessors. After a gap of many years, Norton and collaborator Sherwood Smith have decided to continue the series, and the results so far have been reasonably good. This latest, third in the new series, is unfortunately the weakest of the new cycle. Ross Murdock and company discover that someone has been interfering with the history of Atlantis, so they travel back to straighten things out, running into the usual run of bad humans and the alien Baldies. There are the usual captures and escapes and they're fairly well done, but the sense of wonder about the universe that made the earlier books so good just isn't there this time.
The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon, Ballantine, 1/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-345-44755-7
Lou Arrendale is an autistic adult, a condition which makes it very difficult for him to interact normally with the people around him. Scientists develop a new treatment which might improve his condition, but the procedure involves some risk and Lou has to make a difficult and potentially dangerous decision about his future. The novel, which is only marginally science fiction, bears obvious similarities to Daniel Keyes classic Flowers for Algernon, although the story explores an entirely different aspect of character. Moon apparently has an autistic child of her own so she knows whereof she speaks. I liked the story very much, even if it isn't SF, and Lou Arrendale is one of those characters that seems like someone you actually met once.
Deathstalker Legacy by Simon R. Green, Roc, 1/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-451-45907-5
Owen Deathstalker died in the previous volume in this series, but that doesn't mean there can't be a sequel. Years have passed and a new ruler has ascended to the throne, ruling the entire human interstellar empire. He's a reluctant monarch, however, and an uncertain one. He appoints the descendant of Owen to be his closest confidant and protector, and just in time, because an old and secretive enemy is about to launch a campaign to undermine his reign. Green is one of the few writers still using the galactic empire as a theme, and he does it to good effect. At times the stories have some of the feel of a fantasy epic, but they're undeniably SF, rip roaring space operas with dastardly villains, exciting battles, nefarious plots, and strong willed heroes. Take this as an antidote after one too many serious and relevant stories about the human condition.
Engine City by Ken MacLeod, Tor, 1/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30502-X
Although I enjoyed the previous two volumes in the Engines of Light series, neither struck me as the kind of story that would linger in my memory. The third and concluding volume surpasses its predecessors and is easily the best MacLeod I've read. Humanity has achieved a kind of immortality as it expands to the stars, but it's also about to discover that all of the achievements of its civilization pale to insignificance compared to the abilities of at least one alien sentience. As one group attempts to alert the race as a whole to the danger of alien invasion, another suspects that it has already taken place. But the greatest danger may come not from belligerent aliens, but from an intelligence that sees life such as our own as merely an infestation to be eradicated without a second thought. Really good stuff.
Ulterior by Darryl Sloan, Midnight Pictures, 2002, no price listed, ISBN 0-9543116-0-4
This young adult novel is a blend of horror and SF, and it's also an old, familiar plot, although done reasonably well. A teenager at a private school is sneaking around at night when he stumbles upon something that he's not supposed to know about. It appears that some if not all of the faculty and staff are actually not human beings at all. He and his friends investigate further and uncover a secret colony of aliens masquerading as human and planning the conquest of the planet. They thwart the plot, obviously, while leaving room for a sequel. Moderate thrills and chills but no points for originality.
The Lost Continent by C. Cutcliffe-Hyne, Bison, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-8032-7332-0
The War in the Air by H.G. Wells, Bison, 2002, $16, ISBN 0-8032-9831-5
Pellucidar by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Bison, 2002, $13.95, ISBN 0-8032-6204-3
The University of Nebraska Press continues its line of reprint of classic SF with these three titles just out. The first is arguably fantasy since the elemental forces commanded by the denizens of Atlantis are indistinguishable from magic. This is probably the best Atlantean novel ever written, first appearing in 1899, and out of print since the Donald Grant limited edition in 1974. There's a new introduction by Harry Turtledove. Next we have one of Wells' minor SF novels, his entry in the future war cycle that was very popular in England at the time. Also out of print for a long time, particularly as a single novel. It was part of a Dover omnibus back in the 1960s. A little dated and not nearly as good as his other genre work, but reasonably entertaining and certainly the best of its type. Finally we have the second adventure of David Innes at the center of the Earth. More of the usual stuff, but the Pellucidar books were among his best written, though admittedly that's not saying much. Put your literary sensibilities aside for a few hours and go on a nostalgic adventure. All three are packaged in the same style as Bison's other titles, including original illustrations and sturdy bindings.
Empire of Dreams and Miracles edited by Orson Scott Card and Keith Olexa, Phobos Books, 9/02, no price listed, ISBN 0-9720026-0-X
This is another of those anthologies designed to give a launching pad for new writers, so there's no one in this collection whose name will be familiar. These usually have uncertain results with no big names to attract buyers, it's hard for the stories to get read. Like the series from Bridge publications a while back, the stories are certainly all publishable and sometimes quite clever, but as was the case with those anthologies, there are no really outstanding works here. The stories cover a host of familiar themes, invisibility, virtual reality, time travel, computers, dystopian futures, and travel to outer space. You'll find this, on average, as good as most other original anthologies being published today and who knows, one of the authors may turn out to be a major writer a few years from now and you'll be able to say your read his or her first story.
Orphans of Earth by Sean Williams and Shane Dix, Ace, 1/03, $7.50, ISBN 0-441-01006-7
This is the sequel to Echoes of Earth and it's an even better story than the first. Earth has been destroyed, but human civilization continues on several colony worlds. Or at least, it will continue if the aliens responsible for destroying the home world don't continue and complete the extermination of humanity. The most promising defense is the secret of a handful of alien artifacts acquired under mysterious circumstances, but the problem is that activating these devices seems to be what attracts the attention of the enemy. Is the gift actually a curse? Can the oncoming Starfish horde be defeated or evaded? You'll have to pick up this exciting space opera to find out.
Between Darkness and Light by Lisanne Norman, DAW, 1/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0015-5
Lisanne Norman has been chronicling the history of the planet Shola and its felinelike inhabitants for seven volumes now, and this latest is her biggest and most complex adventure. Kusac, hero to his people, is sent on a secret mission as a representative to one of their enemies, which is interpreted by many on his home planet as an act of treason. Not even his friends know the truth, and they're finding it difficult to understand his apparent betrayal. But there's a new player in the game, an enemy more powerful than either side, and it may be necessary to make common cause if either is to survive. This is a big, sprawling, convoluted novel sure to appeal to fans of C.J. Cherryh and others who have made space adventure their territory. I found it a bit too talky from time to time, and the story really didn't need to be as long as it is, but it's still a good adventure story for those who enjoy long submersions in an imagined world.
The Essential X-Men 3, Marvel, 2001, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0661-8
Third in the series of mass reprints of the X-Men comics. This sequence starts off with the partial reformation of several victims. We discover that Dr. Doom has his soft side, that Caliban is just misunderstood, and that Magneto has a conscience after all. Further adventures ensue when Storm and the evil White Queen exchange bodies for a while, and there's an epic space adventure pitting them against Deathbird and her gang. More space adventures follow, plus a very odd encounter with Dracula during which Storm is turned into a vampire. With guest appearances by the Fantastic Four and Doctor Strange, although the X-Men seemed to move away from the rest of the Marvel universe for the most part during this period.
Death and the Librarian and Other Stories by Esther Friesner, Five Star, 12/02, $23.95, ISBN 0-7862-4682-0
Dancers in the Dark by Jack L. Chalker, Five Star, 12/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-7862-4680-4
Star Songs and Other Stories by Timothy Zahn, Five Star, 12/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-7862-4696-0
In the Distance, and Ahead in Time by George Zebrowski, Five Star, 12/02, $23.95, ISBN 0-7862-4687-1
Five Star books has quietly but quickly become a significant player in reprint SF collections and their latest selections are likely to increase their visibility. These four writers may have very disparate styles and thematic interests, but they have all displayed a high level of accomplishment. Esther Friesner's collection is the lightest in mood, with several very funny stories including one original to this collection. Jack Chalker's isn't really a collection; it consists of two unrelated short stories plus the complete early novel, Dancers in the Afterglow. On the other hand, the novel which pits human colonists against mind controlling aliens is an exciting and entertaining adventure story, not as innovative as was Chalker's later work but still worth reading. Timothy Zahn contributes a novella and five shorter pieces, predominantly action oriented, but written in his usual intelligent and convincing style. George Zebrowski's collection is probably the most serious in tone, but no less satisfying than the others. His selections are lumped into sections for the near, middle, and very distant future. In an era when single author collections are largely ignored by the major publishers, it's very good news when a hardcover publisher invests in a reprint collection program of this magnitude, and hopefully readers will respond and help it prosper.
The Hard SF Renaissance edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, Tor, 11/02, $29.95, ISBN 0-312-87635-1
It is the contention of the editors, well supported by the contents of this collection, that hard SF had made a major comeback in recent years. It's hard to dispute the point faced with almost one thousand pages of very good fiction from some old standbys and many new talents in the field, although in a few cases one might argue that the stories included aren't really "hard" SF. Whatever you may call the individual entries, this is a very large and comprehensive anthology, providing a good cross section of the genre, and includes a number of stories that didn't appear in normal genre venues and which may be new to readers. Even if the majority are not, it's a great opportunity to have them collected in hard covers. A few of the stories were later expanded into novels because there wasn't room enough at shorter length to explore the possibilities of the plot. A great buy for the money, whether to be read or re-reread.
Drowning World by Alan Dean Foster, Del Rey, 2/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-345-45035-3
Foster's latest novel of the Commonwealth is a particularly good one. The planet Fluva endures almost constant rain, and has some of the most fecund and dangerous fauna and flora in the universe. The native inhabitants are a warrior race recently introduced into the interstellar culture. The planet is also host to an immigrant race that has grown so populous that the natives resent them and internecine conflict is always a possibility. When a human prospector goes missing under unusual circumstances, and a mixed race search party disappears while looking for him, the local administrator suspects foul play. But her resources are tied up in a well orchestrated wave of civil unrest, behind which lies the devious hands, or claws, of the insidious Aann. Wonderfully rich in detail, well plotted and written, and featuring some of Foster's most interesting characters.
From a Buick 8 by Stephen King, Scribner, 10/02, $28, ISBN 0-7432-1137-5
There has been considerable mention of Stephen King's recent announcement that he was pretty much done with his writing career and that he wanted to go out before he started rehashing old plots. As a long standing fan of his work, and particularly after the very rewarding The Green Mile and Bag of Bones, I think he might be seeing a problem that hadn't yet arisen. On the other hand, his most recent novel is certainly one of his weakest. The premise is that a state police troop in western Pennsylvania has been secretly hiding a mysterious object which looks something like a Buick, but which is actually a porthole between realities. Occasionally monstrous things some through it into our world, and occasionally animals and people from our world are sucked into it and disappear forever. The story is told as a series of retrospective narrations to a teenager whose father died in the line of duty. There are two significant problems with the novel. First and most important, the wonderfully realistic characters that fill most of King's other novels are completely absent. The police officers in this case are virtually interchangeable and I had trouble keeping track of who was whom. The kid is a sounding board and isn't significant as a character until the final fifty pages. The two most realistic characters are an obnoxious prisoner who gets sucked into another reality, and the troop's dog, Mister Dillon. Secondly, there's no success. Since the story is narrated from years after the fact, we know who lives and who dies. The creatures that appear die, without exception, within minutes of their arrival, and none of them pose any serious threat to the characters. There's no empathy and no suspense and even at the end no real surprises. I'm sure King still has many fine books left to write, but this wasn't one of them.
Destiny's Way by Walter Jon Williams, Del Rey, 10/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-345-42850-1
Walter Jon Williams has become the latest major SF writer to contribute to the ongoing chronicles of the Star Wars universe. His contribution is set following the fall of Coruscant to an aggressive alien force, with the Republic on the verge of collapse. The usual gang of recurring heroes wants to fight on, using the Force as their most powerful weapon, but others in the Republic have decided on a different tactic, one which might result in an outcome just as bad as defeat. The novel is a space opera and the emphasis is on the physical action, but Williams manages to sneak in some serious speculation about moral choices, their costs, and the way in which people can selectively choose what to believe. This one's good enough to stand as a distinct novel as well as a chapter in an ongoing series.
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow, Tor, 1/03, $22.95, ISBN 0-765-30436-8
Cory Doctorow's first novel is decidedly and refreshingly different. It's the not too distant future, but the world has radically changed. People routinely record their personalities and, in the event of a fatal accident, upload themselves into cloned bodies in what amounts to immortality. As you might expect, this changes the way people interact and how society works. The protagonist has fulfilled a childhood ambition by taking up residence in Disneyland. Although the attractions there are technically obsolete, a corps of volunteers maintains and restores them as a tribute to the past. Unfortunately, there's another faction that wants to introduce new attractions, and since death isn't permanent, assassinating the opposition has become a viable if not entirely accepted way to slow down the opposition. As you might expect, the novel deals with the resolution of the conflict, and even if we can pretty much guess who will be the ultimate winner, it's quite a puzzle how they're going to accomplish that feat. Cleverly plotted, amusingly written, and always entertaining. A very fine debut novel from a writer who has already established himself with some excellent short stories.
Circles of Displacement by Darrell Bain, Hard Shell Word Factory, 2002, $10.95, ISBN 0-7599-0575-4
I hadn't realized that Hard Shell was actually publishing its books in bound format, so it was quite a surprise when this turned up in the mail. The plot is a familiar one, but with an interesting twist. Several chunks of Texas have been transported into the distant past where they exist near to but separate from each other. Eventually exploration parties begin to make connections, but unfortunately one of those circles includes a large number of brutal prisoners, who have decided to set themselves up as masters of the "new" world, enslaving the rest, particularly women and minorities. A workmanlike story follows as the struggle moves back and forth before its ultimate resolution.
The Poison Master by Liz Williams, Bantam, 1/03, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58498-7
The human race has been to the level of serfs by an alien race known as the Dark Lords on the planet Latent Emanation and elsewhere. The protagonist is a young woman practicing a form of alchemy on that world when her services are requested by an offworld visitor who specializes in poisons. Although not actively rebellious, she resents the way they treated her family and soon finds herself manipulated into joining a secretive plot to overthrow the aliens. The story is a fast paced adventure with a culture far more interesting and unusual than most portrayed in SF, and her likable and conflicted main character gives the book a definite advantage over its competition. I liked this much better than her two previous novels, and they were pretty good as well.
The Duke of Uranium by John Barnes, Aspect, 9/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61081-X
Jak Jinnaka is not your ordinary young man. In a solar system that has been largely colonized, except for Pluto which is held by an intermittently hostile alien race, he's the friend of a young woman who is secretly the daughter of one of the noble families, and when she's kidnapped, he's just the right person to launch a rescue, sort of. Barnes' new novel is a rollicking space opera with outlaws, space travel, kidnappings, rescues, chases, and the abrupt coming of age of the protagonist. Not as meaty as his more serious efforts, but quite enjoyable for desert.
Wondrous Beginnings edited by Steven H. Silver and Martin H. Greenberg, DAW, 1/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0098-8
Damon Knight edited an anthology a few years back that consisted of the first stories of major SF writers. Interesting ideas have a habit of recurring, and this collection takes that original idea and adds introductions by the authors and brief essays in some cases by other parties. The authors represented here include L. Sprague de Camp, Arthur C. Clarke, Orson Scott Card, Barry Malzberg, Lois McMaster Bujold, Stephen Baxter, Gene Wolfe, George R.R. Martin, and others. Although the stories generally do not reflect the level of fiction their writers would eventually achieve, they are all competent and interesting and in some cases, most notably De Camp, Hal Clement, and Michael Burstein, the stories are remarkably good for debuts or otherwise.
The Mighty Orinoco by Jules Verne, Wesleyan University Press, 2/03, $29.95, ISBN 0-8195-6511-3
This is one of the rare Verne adventure novels that never saw an English edition, at least not until now. The reason for that is explained in the comprehensive notes section that accompanies the text, There's also an excellent bibliography. The story is about an expedition in South America, and contains all of the adventures you'd expect hostile natives, crocodiles, villains, troublesome weather, disorientation, and disease. Illustrations from the French edition are reproduced as well in this longish, occasionally pedantic, but highly adventurous novel. Fans of Verne should welcome the chance to read a previously unavailable and unknown full length novel.
Martians and Madness by Fredric Brown, NESFA, 11/02, $29, ISBN 1-887668-17-5
I had nostalgic memories of Fredric Brown's fiction for a long time, so about a year ago I re-read virtually his complete SF output, with mixed results. His short stories, previously collected in an omnibus by NESFA Press, were as good or better than I remembered. The five novels, collected in this new volume, were more of a mixed bag. That said, at least four of the five novels here bear re-reading anyway. What Mad Universe, for example, is still one of the most fascinating alternate world stories, in which a man from our reality finds himself in another where Earth is involved in an interplanetary war. The Mind Thing is an alien invasion story, with just one alien, but one capable of controlling the minds of living things, one at a time. Rogue in Space, presented here with the two long stories upon which it is based, is about an alien who becomes fascinated with humans, and Martians Go Home is the strangest, and funniest, alien invasion story ever written. The one clunker is The Lights in the Sky Are Stars, in which one determined man decides to stir the space program back to life. It has its moments, but it's not nearly as good as the other four. An excellent volume, however, and likely to help preserve Brown's well deserved reputation.
Guardian by Joe Haldeman, Ace, 12/02, $22.95, ISBN 0-441-00977-8
I'm not exactly sure what this new novel by Joe Haldeman was intended to be. Until the closing chapters, it's a fascinating and deftly written story of a woman growing up shortly after the Civil War, finding herself married to an abusive but powerful man, and her subsequent flight across the country with her teenaged son, aided at times by cryptic messages delivered to her by a crow. Her story is fascinating, the prose is superb, and I was completely drawn into her world. Eventually she ends up in Alaska and becomes acquainted with a local shaman, and the closing chapters consist of a magical tour of the universe in which shaman and human woman change their physical form magically on each world they visit. The two portions of the novel seem to me completely mismatched, and the solution to her problems is a metaphorical cat out of the hat magic trick that I found completely unsatisfying. I'm still going to recommend this, because the first two thirds of the book though not really fantastic in any sense are great, but as a fantasy novel, it just doesn't hold together.
Miles Errant by Lois McMaster Bujold, Baen, 9/02, $15, ISBN 0-7434-3558-3
Eternal Frontier by James H. Schmitz, Baen, 9/02, $16, ISBN 0-7434-3559-1
Omnibus volumes continue to be popular, and these are two very good ones. The first consists of three Miles Vorkosigian adventures, Borders of Infinity, Brothers in Arms, and Mirror Dance. Although they lack some of the polish of the later books, their enthusiastic and skillful storytelling more than makes up the difference. At this price, this volume is a real bargain. The second title combines the late James Schmitz's lesser novel, The Eternal Frontiers, with twenty one short stories, some of which are minor but many of which are just as good now as when I first read them. With this edition, most of Schmitz's short fiction has now been collected in one form or another, and hopefully that means that his reputation will spread once more. He was one of my favorite writers when I was first getting hooked on the field, and I'd like to think that great pleasure will be shared with a new generation of readers. Editors Guy Gordon and Eric Flint have grouped the stories together in related sequences, but they all stand up quite well by themselves.
Seas of Venus by David Drake, Baen, 10/02, $15, ISBN 0-7434-3564-8
This is an omnibus edition of two previously published novels, Surface Action and The Jungle, both set in the world created by Henry Kuttner in his classic novel Fury. We all know now that Venus is not a jungle planet, but that really doesn't matter. The premise is that Earth was wiped out by a nuclear war and the only remnants of humanity live in domed cities on Venus. Unfortunately, conflict among the cities is on the rise and a new war is threatening to break out. The two novels are essentially about naval warfare, but Drake does a good job of evoking an otherworldly, if somewhat old fashioned, setting and as always, he does a fine job of creating believable and entertaining military SF.
Banshee Screams by Clay & Susan Griffith, Pinnacle Entertainment, 2002, $19.95, ISBN 1-930855-09-5
This very long, episodic novel is set in the world of the Deadlands computer game, which I have not seen. The premise is a familiar one in the gaming world. A human colony is cut off on a distant planet and menaced by the local inhabitants, some of whom can use psi powers so great that they are magical or even supernatural, which lets the game designers introduce almost any element they want, while making it difficult for writers to construct novels that follow any really consistent set of rules. The authors in this case have done a good job of blending all of the chaos into some form of consistency, and while the adventures are necessarily somewhat comic bookish in nature, they have some success in making their characters more than two dimensional, and there are even scenes with genuine tension and suspense.
New York Blues by Eric Brown, Gollancz, 2002, £5.99, ISBN 0-57507-301-2
New York Nights introduced a future America where terrorist attacks have fragmented the infrastructure and easy retreats into virtual reality has shattered the social structure of the nation. The protagonist is a private detective who specializes in missing persons, and this chronicles his second case. His newest client is a movie stars whose sister is missing, but in order to find her, he has to immerse himself within a subculture that is unconscionably taking advantage of the public to enrich itself and further drive the country into a self indulgent dead end. Although everything gets resolved, readers should be aware that this is not an optimistic, action packed adventure but rather a brooding, thoughtful warning about one possible wrong turn our society might take. Easily as good as its predecessor, and there's a third on its way.
Ebb Tides and Other Tales by Mary Soon Lee, Dark Regions Press, 2002, $12.95, ISBN 1-888993-31-6
Mary Soon Lee has been very quietly building a substantial body of very good short fiction, with appearances everywhere from Interzone to Fantasy & Science Fiction to Pirate Writings. This is the second collection of her work to appear, both from small presses, and is an even better selection than the first. There are twenty stories here, four of them original to the book, ranging in quality from quietly enjoyable to quite rewarding, particularly "The Day Before They Came", "Luna Incognita", "Assembly Line", and the title story. Her stories are more about the people in them than the science or other fantastic element that invades their lives, and their reactions are therefore more believable and more interesting, and occasionally also quite funny. She has yet to produce a novel or a story so remarkable that it instantly makes her reputation, but the quality of the tales here promises that she's approaching that point very quickly.
The Maquisarde by Louise Marley, Ace, 12/02, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-00976-X
Ebriel Serique is a successful musician in a divided world nearly a century from now. She lives among the privileged class, believing that those outside are evil and predatory until her family strays across the line and falls victim to terrorists. Her initial quest for revenge changes, however, when she crosses the border herself and discovers that the reality is much different than the portrait drawn by her government. The gradual shift in her loyalties is well handled, and the future described is plausible if rather repellent. Dystopian novels seem to be coming back into style, perhaps a reflection of the current political atmosphere, and while they often leave the reader depressed, in this case it's ameliorated by the fresh plot and Marley's highly entertaining style.
Coyote by Allen Steele, Ace, 11/02, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-00974-3
Allen Steele's latest is very different from his previous work. The opening section is set in a repressive future America where the extreme right has succeeded at a coup and has built the first starship as a monument to its new ideals. The captain of that ship is part of a conspiracy that successfully hijacks the starship shades of Jefferson Airplane which then takes them in suspended animation to the planet Coyote, which they settle after a variety of problems are overcome. The novel is very episodic, and there's one particularly good section in which one of the sleepers wakens in mid-voyage and must spend his entire life alone. There is a saboteur, of course, and some members of the company are not happy with the hijacking, but eventually they realize that it doesn't matter. For the most part, I found the story very entertaining, but the transitions were sometimes a bit abrupt and it would take me a while to get back into the flow of his narrative. This wasn't helped by the regular switch back and forth from present tense to past tense, which I found even more distracting. A bad Allen Steele novel is worth a good one by most other writers, and this isn't a bad one. But it isn't his best one either.
Touched by Russell Davis, Wildside, 2002, $32.95, ISBN 1-59224-987-6
This first novel has an interesting premise. The protagonist is an aging man whose dead wife is being held in cryogenic suspension. As it appears that his own death is drawing near, he is offered a choice. He can continue to wait in the hope that a method will be found by which she can be revived before his own death, or he can meet her in virtual reality for a single day, after which she will be gone forever. His choice is complicated by the fact that an investigative reporter believes the whole thing is a hoax, which the reader knows to be the truth because we've seen the Cryogenics people plotting against both of them. The plot is nicely done, but at times the writing isn't up to it. I found the dialog often trite and uninteresting, and the villains are so incompetent particularly in their arrangement of a faked audio tape that it was hard to believe they ever had a chance to succeed.
Manta's Gift by Timothy Zahn, Tor, 12/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-87829-X
I try to read the books I receive more or less in the order I receive them, but there are a few writers who always get bumped to the front of the row. Timothy Zahn is one of them because he is one of those authors who understands that no matter how sophisticated the writing might be, there has to be a good story underneath or it's all a waste of time. His latest is set on or around the planet Jupiter. Human researchers have encountered an intelligent species living on the planet and rightly interpret their presence as evidence that the manta like creatures can migrate from one star system to another. Humanity is ruled by an elite group of the very rich, who have lately taken a turn toward repression, and who believe that the only way to relieve the pressure is to expand to the stars. To this end, they contact Matt Rainey, a recent paraplegic with an unusual offer.
It is possible for Rainey to become reborn as one of the aliens, with his human memories intact but in an alien body. Ostensibly this is to help both species understand one another, but Rainey quickly discovers that the humans want more, specifically the star drive they believe exists, and less quickly that the motives of his hosts aren't all that pure either. Add into the mix a mini-coup among the elite, Rainey's efforts to fit into a totally alien society, and the power struggle between the original project manager and his overbearing replacement and you have the makings of a topnotch adventure story, filled with unusual characters, strange settings, a puzzling mystery, and an exciting climax. This is one of those books that has to be on the must read list for all serious SF fans.
Heavy Planet by Hal Clement, Tor, 11/02, $15.95, ISBN 0-765-30368-X
One of the earliest SF novels I read was Mission of Gravity in a battered Pyramid paperback edition. It was the first novel I'd read with a protagonist that wasn't a human being, and I wasn't sure if I was going to like it. Of course I did, and the planet Mesklin is one of those so realistically described that it feels like a place I've visited, except I couldn't of course because of its high gravity. This new omnibus edition reprints the original novel and its sequel, Star Light, plus three short stories with the same setting. In the first novel, humans work remotely with a local native to retrieve a valuable space probe. In the second, the inhabitants of Mesklin manipulate their human contacts in order to acquire advanced technology. These are the kinds of stories for which SF provides a unique home, and they're a unique experience for readers as well.
Light by M. John Harrison, Gollancz, 10/02, 10.99 pounds, ISBN 0-57507-026-9
Here's a book that you'd better pay attention to, because if you're not careful, you'll get completely lost. Harrison has filled this new work with enough ideas and memorable characters for a shelf full of books. I'll try a very simplified summary here, but it won't give you a real picture of the depth of the book. There are several story lines, but two are predominant. One involves a woman four centuries from now when humanity has spread into the universe, fought an alien race to a draw, and is now fighting internally. She runs an almost self aware starship and works for the aliens as a sometimes pirate, although she has her own goal in mind, which involves a remarkable piece of technology. The other story line is contemporary and features a quantum physicist who has a very unique theory about time and predictability of future events, which involves visions, murder, and other bizarre events. If you want to see how this all works, let Harrison take you on a wild ride through a future unlike any other depicted in SF.
Aces Abroad edited by George R.R. Martin, Ibooks, 2002, $14, ISBN 0-7434-5241-0
Back in the late 1980s, George Martin started a series of mosaic novels, shared world anthologies set in an alternate version of America where an alien infection led to mutations throughout the world. Some of the results were horribly deformed, known as Jokers, but some ended up with super powers and were dubbed Aces. Some Aces were good and, alas, some were bad. I waited avidly for each and every volume when these were appearing, and I still mourn the end of the series. Now Ibooks has brought the first back into print and hopefully the others will follow and enthrall a new generation of readers. The contributors include Martin himself, Edward Bryant, Lewis Shiner, Michaell Cassutt, Melinda Snodgrass, and others. Although the lineup changed somewhat from book to book, the quality was almost always very very high indeed.
The Essential Howard the Duck Volume One, Marvel, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0831-9
I had a mixed reaction to the Howard the Duck comics when they first appeared, and I find upon re-reading the first couple dozen adventures from the 1970s, collected in black and white in this paperback, that the same feeling persists today. When he was good, he was very good. The first few issues, the Star Wars spoof, his encounters with Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, even his brief sojourn as a member of the villainous Ringmaster's troupe. And there are bits and pieces from the others that are memorable his battles with an oversized pickle, the salt shaker with ape arms, a vampire cow, the space turnip, the gingerbread man, and the crusading intelligent bubble bath. But other chunks of story line were either just silly or just boring. His time in the insane asylum, his brief transformation into a human being and the entire sequence where he battles Dr. Bong go on far too long with not enough jokes and not enough story. It was an unusual breaking of the frame for Marvel, and sometimes it worked, but sometimes it fell horribly flat.
The Plague Doctor by E. Joan Sims, Wildside, 2002, $32.95, ISBN 1-59224-963-9
This is actually a fairly conventional murder mystery, but it has science fictional overtones so it's worth a mention. The protagonist is a mystery writer whose prospective son in law is accused of a brutal murder. Her investigation reveals the real culprit, an unbalanced but brilliant man whose secret activities could unleash a new plague on the human race, one that could possibly make humanity extinct. It's a pretty good murder mystery kept me guessing until very close to the end and well written enough to keep me turning the pages. The SF element is pretty minor though, so read it as a break from the genre even if it technically might fall inside.
The Prisoner by Robert Fairclough, Ibooks, 10/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-7434-5256-9
The Prisoner by Thomas M. Disch, Ibooks, 10/02, $12, ISBN 0-7434-4504-X
The arrival of these two books couldn't have been better because I had just purchased and was halfway through viewing the complete run of the television show, The Prisoner, when it arrived. The first is a companion book, first published in 1967, how augmented with a DVD that contains two episodes and some additional material. The program, for those unfamiliar with it, is about a man who resigns from British intelligence and is spirited off to a peculiar community on a remote island where everyone has a number rather than a name. His battles to escape, avoid telling those in charge what they want to know, and to keep them from brainwashing him was a fascinating if rather short lived series. The most obvious SF element is the strange globular creatures/machines that are used to prevent the inmates from getting away. The profusely illustrated guide includes detailed summaries and background information about each episode, plus pieces on the village itself, the novels, and other odds and ends. The map of the village is particularly helpful. Ibooks has also reprinted the best of the tie-in novels, and as good as the series was, Disch's novel was even better, and one that deserves better than the long period of unavailability it has experienced. So here's your chance to experience one of the classic television shows of all time, in more depth than is usually possible.
The Praxis by Walter Jon Williams, Earthlight, 10/02, 17.99 pounds, ISBN 0-7434-6111-8
The Shaa are an immortal alien race whose technology is so advanced that they are able to subjugate the other intelligent races of the galaxy, including humans, and force them to live under a strict and repressive code of behavior designed to prevent any challenge to their authority. But immortality has its drawbacks, and the Shaa begin to commit suicide, eventually wiping themselves out and leaving a power vacuum in their place. At first it seems like a chance for freedom for their subject races, but at least one of these has decided to supplant their old masters and carry on as before. This is the opening volume of a series, so there's not a whole lot of things resolved here, but the set up, though familiar, is well designed, and there's plenty of action. This is a blend of military SF and political thriller and it harkens back to the old days of grand space opera, delivering the best of both worlds an old fashioned story with strong literary qualities.
Mind Catcher by John Darnton, Dutton, 8/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-525-94662-4
I enjoyed this author's previous two SF thrillers reasonably well so I was looking forward to this one, but I have a rather ambivalent reaction to it. On the one hand, it's a reasonably well done thriller; on the other hand, it's extraordinarily predictable, and the characters are so stereotyped that they feel flat and uninteresting except for some portions where the protagonist's grief for his comatose son seems genuine. The forementioned boy is the subject of an unusual experiment, designed to maintain his body functions by computer management while stem cells from his brain are cultured and regrown outside the body. But the doctor in charge has been experimenting with transferring information back and forth between human brains and computers, and you can pretty much guess where the story is going from there. Good enough to be enjoyable if you're not demanding much from your reading, but a bit too formulaic for me to actively recommend it.
Ruled Britannia by Harry Turtledove, NAL, 11/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-451-20717-3
I've been disappointed in the last few alternate histories from Turtledove because I had the feeling he was more interested in presenting anachronisms and working up the background than he was on telling a good story or creating believable characters. That all changes with this new one, however, which is the author at the top of his form. The Spanish Armada was not defeated and England is now subject to the king of Spain. The Inquisition has come to England the people are more or less cowed with the Queen imprisoned and the army defeated. Just as things seem hopeless, William Shakespeare stirs from his political apathy to create a new play that will stir up trouble, if he dares risk his life by doing so. Ensuing events prove that the pen really is mightier than the sword. This story is complete in itself, and it doesn't appear likely that sequels are planned. But you never know. We might yet get to see what happens with Spain under English rule.
Probability Space by Nancy Kress, Tor, 9/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30170-9
Nancy Kress brings her trilogy about the war between humans and the Fallers to a close with this exciting chase adventure. Young Amanda Capelo sees her father kidnapped by parties unknown but probably agents of the repressive human government. She goes into hiding, attempting to reach Marbet Grant, a trained sensitive. Unfortunately, she falls into the hands of an opposition group just as violently disposed as the government, and Marbet has in any case left the moon for a return visit to World, the alien planet where she and others found a device that can destroy worlds or even the fabric of space itself. The machine also provided universal telepathy for the inhabitants of that planet, and their society has crumbled following its removal. Elsewhere, an aggressive, powerful woman sets out to find her missing son, and doesn't care whose affairs she disrupts in the process. All of these threads are drawn together for the rousing climax and the end of a fine sequence of original adventure stories.
Alice: The Girl from Earth by Kir Bulychev, translated by John H Costello, Fossicker Press, 2002, $22.94, ISBN 1-40101312-0
Several years ago, MacMillan published a series of translations of Russian SF from the Communist era, some of which were surprisingly good. There has been little effort to continue that process, even after the fall of the Soviet Union. Kir Bulychev has been writing through both eras and it's good to see that some of his work is finally reaching American readers. This second volume of his fiction from Fossicker is a collection of related stories about a young girl's adventures in time travel, with robots, and on other worlds. They're aimed at younger readers, and are highly regarded in Russia, where several have been filmed. They're filled with quirky humor, absurd situations, grotesque creatures, and a good natured view of the universe at large. Read them to your kids, or your neighbor's kids, or just read them for your own enjoyment and remember what it was like to be discovering SF for the first time. You can order this through Xlibris, or even better, go to www.fossickerbooks.com. It's also available in a hardcover edition.
Maps by John Sladek, edited by David Langford, Big Engine, 2002, 9.99 pounds, ISBN 1-903468-08-6
I don't know how well Big Engine is being distributed in the US, but it would be a shame if this collection of the late Sladek's uncollected work was to be as unavailable as are several of his previous collections on this side of the Atlantic. Contained herein are about twenty short stories, plus a large selection of poems, short plays, essays both serious and not very, and miscellaneous writings either alone or in collaboration. Almost every Sladek story is a small delight, and I'd only read two of these before, so I had an enormously fun time rediscovering one of the few truly genuine humorists the field has ever produced.
The Forge of Mars by Bruce Balfour, Ace, 9/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-00954-9
A team of explorers on the planet Mars stumbles onto the remnants of an alien civilization, but the artifacts are dangerous, resulting in the death of those who first discover them. An unorthodox but brilliant scientist is recruited from Earth to help solve the problem, but he quickly learns that it is more complex than he expected. Not only must he outwit the traps laid for him, but he must also protect himself from a secretive organization which has located earlier relics, and which hopes to preserve its monopoly on the technology to be found there. Balfour provides a nice blend of technological mystery and more conventional intrigue, all within a fairly well realized version of Mars. His protagonist is more introspective than most, which gives us deeper insight into the character and his motivation.
The Essential Marvel Team Up Volume One, Marvel, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0828-9
I always thought the Team Up series from Marvel comics was badly named. Sure, each issue involved pairings of two superheroes against some array of villains, but it was almost always Spider-Man as one of the pair, and this seemed like a thin excuse to give him a second magazine. He is in fact half of the team in 23 out of these first 24 issues, and he has a cameo in the other as well. On the other hand, the combinations were frequently unusual and produced some of the most interesting situations. So here he is, in black and white alas, paired with the Hulk, Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch, the Vision, Iron Man, the Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Doctor Strange, along with a handful of other major and minor Marvel characters. They battle a variety of villains, some times in multi-issue epochs, including Mole Man, A.I.M., the Grey Gargoyle, Kang, Morbius, Sandman, and Annihilus. There's less than usual of the egomaniacal rivalries that provided an excuse for the heroes to fight each other.
Farscape: The Illustrated Companion by Paul Simpson and David Hughes, Tor, 9/02, $12.95, ISBN 0-765-30164-4
I have to admit up front that I've never seen an episode of this series, so I'm certainly not the best judge of this companion piece. It seems fairly comprehensive, covering the entire first season. There's a very detailed episode guide, a section devoted to each of the main characters, a section on special effects, and a list of unusual words or phrases and their meanings. The whole thing is profusely illustrated with stills from the show, all in black and white, and the text is occasionally broken by boxes with special quotes. It all seems quite well done and the series is more complex than I expected, but I wasn't inspired by anything here to actually go out and watch an episode.
Council by Greg Tobin, Forge, 8/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-312-87353-0
This marginal near future novel is the sequel to another, Enclave, which dealt with the elevation of the first American to be the head of the Roman Catholic Church. The new Pope has some revolutionary ideas about the role of the church in society, and he calls a council of bishops in order to put forward his new agenda. Understandably, there are powerful forces within the hierarchy that are less than tolerant of any change in the status quo. Interesting primarily for its detailed description of how things work within the top levels of the church, and only mildly interesting to SF fans. It's reminiscent of Frederick Rolfe's Hadrian VII.
Resurgence by Charles Sheffield, Baen, 11/02, $24, ISBN 0-7434-3567-2
Charles Sheffield returns to the Heritage Universe for his latest novel. From various planets a group of investigators is gathered, including a condemned man and an academic, to investigate a peculiar object in space which seems to defy the known laws of physics. It doesn't take them too long to find out that this is another artifact left over by the mysterious Builders, a race that has vanished from the universe, but the mechanics of that creation are filled with surprises that I can't tell you about here. The characters are a little flat, probably because Sheffield devoted so much of his attention to unraveling the wonders of his created universe, and he does such a good job at the latter that it's likely you won't notice, or care, that he skimped somewhere else.
Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick by Philip K. Dick, Pantheon, 11/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-375-42151-3
I imagine this new cross collection of Phil Dick's stories is designed to take advantage of the popularity of the film, Minority Report, but we shouldn't really need an excuse to bring his short fiction back into print. The twenty one stories here include the inspiration for several movies, including Minority Report, Total Recall, and Screamers. Several of the stories are acknowledged classics, including "The Second Variety", "The Days of Perky Pat", "Foster, You're Dead", "Beyond Lies the Wub", and "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale". Dick had a unique perspective on the world that resulted in a substantial body of first rate fiction, and even his lesser stories are usually worthwhile for some oddity of thought or viewpoint. I wouldn't call this the "best" of Dick, but it's certainly a representative cross section of his shorter work There's a brief but interesting introducing by Jonathan Lethem as well.
Dark Passage by Junius Podrug, Forge, 10/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-87514-2
You really know that science fiction has entered the mainstream when you find a changewar novel that is being marketed as a thriller. In this intriguing first novel, a window in time opens connecting contemporary New Mexico with the Mideast during the life of Jesus. The US government doesn't move fast enough to prevent a group of terrorists from traveling back in time, intent upon assassinating Jesus and preventing the rise of Christianity. So the government recruits an unlikely trio, an actor, an Israeli military officer, and a woman suspected of being a prostitute, and sends them back to thwart the bad guys. What follows is sometimes predictable, sometimes not, and while some of the rationale for things that occur didn't always convince me, it was in the minor details and didn't really affect my enjoyment of the novel.
The Mountain Cage and Other Stories by Pamela Sargent, Meisha Merlin, 4/02, $30, ISBN 1-892065-61-4
Pamela Sargent went on my list of authors to watch very early in her career, and she's been there ever since, even though she has not been particularly prolific. This is a new collection of her work, several stories from which appeared previously in The Best of Pamela Sargent, but much of which is previously uncollected. She deals with a wide variety of themes here including alternate history, space travel, immortality, psi powers, and other, less familiar territory. Whatever her subject matter, the thing that is most important in Sargent's stories are the people who give it life. The best in the collection is "Danny Goes to Mars", but the rest are so uniformly good that it's difficult to mark any as the high points of the collection. I particularly liked the title story, "Fears", "The Summer's Dust", and "Dream of Venus", and I found the author's afterwords to her stories much more interesting than is usually the case. There's a trade paperback edition at $16 for those on a budget, so there's no excuse for you to neglect some of the best short fiction of the past several years.
Heris Serrano by Elizabeth Moon, Baen, 8/02, $18, ISBN 0-7434-3552-4
The wave of omnibus volumes from Baen continues with this massive trade paperback collection of Hunting Party, Sporting Chance, and Winning Colors. Serrano is a female spaceship pilot who is framed and forced to resign her military office and become a civilian spacer, in which role she encounters pirates and others dangers, escorts an aristocrat who is the object of a murder plot, and eventually raises a small, informal spaceborn army in a bid to win back her former position. Exciting space opera adventures mixed with some military SF.
Stone by Adam Roberts, Gollancz, 2002, 9.99 pounds, ISBN 0-575-07064-1
The protagonist of this strange space opera is the last criminal in the galaxy, recently sprung from his prison because he is needed to commit the ultimate crime, the murder of an entire world. While preparations are being made, he goes on a mini-grand tour of the universe, designed to keep him out of trouble until it is time for the big event. But he has questions of his own. Who is behind the plot and what is their motivation? In a universe where humans enjoy great longevity and good health thanks to nanotechnology, why would anyone feel the need to grasp for more? Roberts' style takes some getting used to because he has an unusual descriptive touch, but once you've made that adjustment, you'll find yourself in a fascinatingly original universe, and following the adventures of a cleverly differentiated character. Roberts hasn't found a US publisher yet, but I doubt that will last much longer.
Ersatz Nation by Tim Kenyon, Big Engine, 7/02, 9.99 pounds, ISBN 1-903468-07-8
Here's a rather odd first novel. The ruler of a despotic parallel universe version of Earth has employed an agent to abduct individual from our world for arcane reasons of his own. His latest order raises questions in his agent's mind, a man who had discovered he likes our reality better than his own. Elsewhere, a loyal servant of the tyrant questions the order of things following the disappearance of his wife. There were good bits in this novel, but the story never drew me in, and I didn't develop any fondness for the characters, so that ultimately I didn't care what happened to any of them. Enough was of interest that I'd try Kenyon's next novel, but not enough to make me recommend this one.
Janus by Andre Norton, Baen, 8/02, $15, ISBN 0-7434-3553-2
I have mixed feelings about this omnibus volume of Judgment on Janus and Victory on Janus, both previously published during the 1960s. On the one hand, it's good to see novels from that period returning to print. On the other hand, Judgment was the very first Andre Norton novel to disappoint me, and the passage of time hasn't improved my opinion. It starts well, with a young indentured laborer seeking to fit in on a colony world dominated by religious fanatics, but then he is transformed into one of the original inhabitants of the planet, inheriting foreign memories as well, and the mix of magic and science never worked for me. The sequel, in which the transformed shapeshifting neo-aliens team up to prevent the outsiders from dominating their planet, is only marginally better.
The Cosmic Crusaders by John Russell Fearn, Gryphon, 2002, $15, ISBN 1-58250-046-0
Parasite Planet by John Russell Fearn, Gryphon, 2002, $15, ISBN 1-58250-047-9
Gryphon books has been slowly bringing back into print the Golden Amazon series by John Russell Fearn, of which these are the 14th and 15th volumes respectively. I'll say right up front that Fearn was hardly a significant literary figure even in his time, other than by virtue of the volume of his work, but he did have an enthusiasm and sense of wonder that sometimes overcame the shortcomings of his writing and logic. These two volumes marked a sharp turn in the series, because the protagonist abandoned Earth for a series of adventures on other planets, starting with an encounter with a planet sized brain that has turned to evil. In the second volume, they visit another planet, one that seems pastoral and peaceful until a mysterious menace begins threatening their lives. Suspend your disbelief and give your critical values a short vacation and you might find yourself wrapped up in these strange adventures. Both novels were originally published in magazines during the mid-1950s.
Resurrection by William Latham, Powys Media, 2002, $15, ISBN 0-9677280-1-0
I've never understood why Space 1999 remains so popular. The science was dreadful, the acting mediocre, the scripts banal, and the premise unbelievable. But the story of Earth's moon careering around in interstellar space has its fans even today and now, after a gap of many years, someone is doing new novels set in that universe. The first of these is actually a better story than ever appeared in the television series. Someone or something is stalking and killing people in Alpha, and no one knows who the next victim will be. A fairly entertaining mystery even if the setting does defy logic.
Med Ship by Murray Leinster, Baen, 8/02, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-3555-9
Calhoun of the Med Service was one of my favorite characters when I was first reading SF. He traveled from planet to planet, solving problems, curing plagues, having adventures, accompanied only by his organic diagnostic device, Murgatroyd the tormal. This is a collection of many of those stories, including two novels previously published separately as This World Is Taboo and The Mutant Weapon. They're old fashioned SF adventures, and to a large extent follow a formulaic plot, but it was a good formula and Leinster did a consistent job of turning out entertaining and engrossing adventure stories. NESFA Press did a fine retrospective of Leinster's short fiction a short while back, but this mass market paperback may do an even better job of introducing Leinster to a new generation of readers.
Nightmare by Steven Harper, Roc, 10/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45898-2
This is the second novel in the "Silent Empire" series, set in a familiar future interstellar society which has become disparate in nature and frequently barbaric. Kendi Weaver is a young boy with extraordinary telepathic powers, powers which enable him to enter the dreams of others. He is rescued from slavery by a secretive organization which takes him to a remote planet where he can be protected and raised among others of his kind, but the refuge turns out to be anything but safe. A serial killer is on the loose, and Kendi's abilities will prove instrumental in tracking him down. The mystery/suspense element didn't work for me, but the background society was interesting and Harper continues to do a good job with characterization.
Cretaceous Sea by Will Hubbell, Ace, 10/02, $6.50, ISBN 0-441-00989-1
Rick Clements has been trained to study dinosaurs through examination of fossils, and he doesn't believe that time travel is possible. That makes him skeptical when he is approached by agents of an organization that is sending people back through time to study them at first hand. The chance is too good to miss and, despite the secrecy that shrouds the project, he agrees to be recruited for a journey back. But their efforts to find out just what caused the dinosaurs to become extinct backfires when they find themselves trapped just as the meteor strike is about to occur, and in great danger of becoming extinct right along with the dinosaurs. A nicely told story with a couple sections that moved a bit slowly but nothing to seriously interfere with your enjoyment of a clever, old fashioned time travel adventure.
Time Past by Maxine McArthur, Aspect, 5/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-60964-1
New author McArthur's follow up to Time Future takes a very different turn. In the first volume, which was a kind of cross between C.J. Cherryh and Babylon 5, Commander Halley of the orbiting space station Jocasta had to deal with an enigmatic alien blockade of the station. In the sequel, Jocasta is about to become independent and totally neutral when she is caught in the backlash of a captured alien stardrive and carried back through time to the previous century. There she is trapped unless she can find a way to return to her original time. When a friend shows up, having followed her through time, she thinks the solution is at hand, but she has also learned things about the contact between humans and aliens that alters her appreciation of the situation in her original present. The sequel has a totally different feel from the first book and caught me slightly off guard in my expectations, but once I'd adjusted, I found the author's portrayal of the complex human-alien situation intriguing and, more importantly, entertaining.
Memories End by James Luceno, Del Rey, 7/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-44471-X
The opening volume of the Web Warriors series is one of those rarities, a novel you can read through in one sitting. The protagonists are two tech savvy brothers named Tech and Marz, and their occasional employer, a detective named Felix McTurk. The two are orphans and experts at exploring virtual reality, but when they hack into the EPA site, they may have bitten off more than they can virtually chew. Someone is manipulating programming behind the scenes, and the on line adventure is about to get a good deal more personal, and dangerous. There's nothing really new here, but Luceno delivers a good if somewhat predictable adventure story.
Draco by Ian Watson, Black Library, 9/02, $6.95, ISBN 0-7434-4318-7
I'm not really fond of those novels which mix space travel and magic, but occasionally there are exceptions. This is the opening volume of the Inquisitor War series, originally published in 1990, which was probably the best subseries in the Warhammer universe. Humanity has spread throughout the stars, but it has discovered that supernatural powers and entities are real, and they inhabit the galaxy as well. The protagonist is a government official of sorts who discovers an insidious plot and risks being branded a traitor in order to fight against it. Watson imbues his story with an intricate background that almost makes the contradictions of magic and science work, and there's some nasty villainy and insidious plotting to hold the reader's interest. I've always enjoyed Watson's mainstream SF work, and while this doesn't have its sights set quite as high, it's every bit as entertaining.
The Avengers Volume 3, Marvel, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0787-8
The third omnibus volume of old Avengers comics covers a period in which the membership of the group of superheroes changed almost with every issue. Hercules is gone, Captain America is mostly on leave of absence along with the original crew, and Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch have been lured off by Magneto and are sulking. The Panther leaves his home in Africa to join, and the Vision an android created by the villainous robot Ultron 5 has changed his ways and become a member. Goliath has a mental breakdown and becomes Yellowjacket briefly, then decides to keep that identity, but Hawkeye borrows the growth pills and becomes Goliath in his place. There are the usual crossovers with the X-Men, the original Avengers, the new Black Knight, and an unusual one involving Doctor Strange. They travel through time and create an alternate world in which the original Avengers are corrupted and destroy all the other superheroes, and they battle the usual assortment of villains including Ultron 6, Egghead, the Mad Thinker, the Ringmaster, Magneto, and even a pair of giants from Norse mythology. They're a bit flat because the color hasn't been reproduced, but there's certainly plenty of action and unexpected twists in this volume.
Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, 2002, 17.99 pounds, ISBN 0-575-06879-5
Reynolds' third major novel contains enough story for an entire series, but let's see if I can manage to give you an idea of the complexity without making it sound too confusing. Humans have expanded to numerous star systems and have begun to differentiate themselves. There is currently a war being fought between the Cojoiners, who have implants that allow them to share consciousness to a limited extent, and another group more like conventional humans. Civilization has been dealt a heavy blow by the melding plague, which attacks humans as well as machines, and which destroyed much of the infrastructure of human civilization, particularly on the planet Yellowstone and throughout its orbiting colonies. Resurgam is a planet with a small population, under a quarter of a million, governed rather autocratically and facing rebellion led by a man who wants to abandon the planet.
That's the general background. Now the new elements. Ancient alien machines have discovered the Resurgam colony, and are disassembling entire worlds to build a weapon with which to exterminate humankind as part of their ongoing campaign to cull intelligent species from the galaxy. Elements within the government of Resurgam want to co-opt the rebel leader because evacuation seems necessary. But they are also aware of a collection of superweapons concealed on an orbiting starship, weapons which might be able to stop the alien machines. But there are problems because the weapons are controlled by a possibly insane man who has physically merged with the starship thanks to the melding plague. The weapons are also sought by Skade, a member of the secretive inner circle of the Cojoiners, a woman who may have become host to yet another alien intelligence. Her plotting alarms Nevil Clavain, a fellow Cojoiner, who defects and seeks to gain control of the weapons in order to prevent her from doing so. Both parties have access to some revolutionary technological advances, and Skade is able to communicate to a limited extent with the distant future, which gives her some obvious advantages.
There's a whole lot more going on in this rich, epic novel, set in the same universe as Revelation Space and Chasm City and featuring some of the same characters. Reynolds is clever and inventive and juggles his varied plots so deftly that the reader doesn't realize how complex matters have become until the book is set aside and he or she tries to mentally summarize what has just been read. The gift of making the complex seem simple is a rare one, as it the author's talent for creating an utterly alien but entirely believable universe. This is for fans of Vernor Vinge and Dan Simmons and for anyone who still has a sense of wonder capable of being stimulated.
The Collected Stories of Greg Bear by Greg Bear, Tor, 10/02, $29.95, ISBN 0-765-30160-1
It's probably a sign that I'm getting old, but I still think of Greg Bear as a relatively new writer, so it struck me as rather odd to see a retrospective collection. Then I checked the copyrights and realized he'd been writing for twenty years and felt even older. In any case, this is a topnotch selection of stories that includes the basis for the novel Blood Music plus two other short novels, and all of his significant (to date anyway) short fiction. Most of the stories have been previously collected, but those earlier volumes are out of print, and the stories are good enough that they should certainly remain available for the current generation of readers. At just over six hundred pages, this is a real find for those who haven' t already read Bear's short fictions, and equally attractive to those who want to reacquaint themselves with some of the best SF of the past two decades.
Deuces Down edited by George R.R. Martin, Ibooks, 2002, $23, ISBN 0-7434-4505-8
Several years back, George R.R. Martin edited the Wild Cards series, set in an alternate universe where an alien virus causes widespread mutations on Earth. Some of those affected became superheroes, or Aces, and some were just deformed and became known as Jokers. In between were the Deuces, those individuals with unusual powers which weren't quite impressive enough to make them into crimefighters. This brand new collection concentrates on the Deuces, and brings back some of the writers who made the earlier series so successful. The stories involve the first flight to the moon, a baseball player with unusual powers, jokers as movie extras, an amusing reprise of King Kong featuring a mutant ape, and the best of the selection, two stories set in Jokertown by Daniel Abraham and Kevin Andrew Murphy. The remaining stories are by Medlina Snodrass, Michael Cassutt, John J. Miller, Walton Simons, and Stephen Leigh, and they're all enjoyable. My only cavil is that there are only peripheral references to the major characters from the earlier series, so it didn't quite satisfy my nostalgic yearnings.
Vossoff and Nimmitz by Adam-Troy Castro, Wildside, 2002, $32.95, ISBN 1-58715-292-4
The SF equivalent of the buddy movie is the story in which two variably competent heroes, often in a spaceship, confront a problem and either solve it or find themselves in hot water. Adam-Troy Castro poked fun at this form with a series of short stories in the late lamented SF Age featuring Vossoff and Nimmitz, two incompetent interstellar thieves who managed to end each adventure in the hottest of hot water. This is a collection of those stories, including some unpublished material, and it's a genuine hoot. See what happens when they adopt an extinct species of odiferous plants, or their adventures on a planet designed to support exactly two inhabitants, or what happens when they run into a starship shaped like a bunny rabbit. Follow them when they discover that fat is a universal constant, or into a human race, or in a campaign to stop a revolution inside a man's liver. There's even a spoof of Babylon 5. Take my word for it these are very funny stories, and writing good humorous SF isn't as easy as you might think.
Conrad's Time Machine by Leo Frankowski, Baen, 9/02, $24, ISBN 0-7434-3557-5
Frankowski returns to familiar territory with a different twist this time, presenting us with a prequel to the Conrad Stargard books. Three brilliant entrepreneurs are determined to develop their discovery into a working time machine, but they have problems everything from differences of opinion to financing woes. Over the course of years, they move their operation from one location to another, resolve their differences, create the time machine, and eventually use it to enrich themselves and have other adventures. It's a sometimes amusing background piece to the main series, but as a novel it just didn't work for me. The episodes were not sufficiently entertaining in themselves, and the overall plot didn't grip me at all. It was probably not helped by the fact that I really didn't like the characters at all. Their cavalier attitude toward robbing others to finance their obsession struck a raw nerve. The overall tone is of light humor, and sometimes that works, but other times it fell flat. In general I like Frankowski's work, but I'd have to call this one a mildly amusing failure.
The Magician by Colin Wilson, Hampton Roads, 2002, $21.95, ISBN 1-57174-280-8
This is the third volume in a series of reprints of Colin Wilson's series about an Earth conquered by a race of alien intelligent spiders. The conquest altered when Niall, a human, proved to have mental powers sufficient to cause the conquerors to accept humans as equals. A new society has evolved, an uneasy one in which the two species share the planet, but that equilibrium has come into question. Someone is committing a series of murders apparently designed to undermine the stability of society and cause fresh conflict. Wilson's blend of SF and detective fiction is very different from other such attempts, and he has created one of the strangest societies in all of SF. I enjoyed this series when it first appeared, and am happy to see that it will be reaching a new and certainly appreciative audience.
British Summertime by Paul Cornell, Gollancz, 2002, 10.99 pounds, ISBN 0-575-07369-1
Alison Parmeter is peculiarly susceptible to visions of things that remain concealed from most of the rest or the human race. She is about to discover that there is an ancient race of humanoid creatures who have lived on Earth secretly since prehistoric times, representing themselves as angels, to say nothing of time travelers from the future, including a bodiless head. Paul Cornell's new novel is an inspired bit of zaniness that manages to be wryly humorous even while it appears on the surface to be deadly serious. His style may be a bit too reserved and cool for American audiences to appreciate him immediately, but his work is a rare brew that deserves to be savored quietly and with a proper degree of intellectual appreciation.
Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams by C.L. Moore, Gollancz, 2002, 6.99 pounds, ISBN 0-575-07417-5
C.L. Moore was one of those writers who managed to blur the distinction between SF and fantasy on a regular basis without losing her audience. This retrospective collection of her work includes a good selection of the Northwest Smith interplanetary adventures and the Jirel of Joiry sword and sorcery tales, and there's not a lot of difference in the feel of the two series despite their disparate natures. Included are such classics as "Shambleau", "The Black God's Kiss" and "Black Thirst". There's an unadulterated enthusiasm in these stories that many contemporary writers haven't managed to capture, and although there are occasional minor anomalies, as a whole they have aged extraordinary well and should entertain this and other generations of readers yet to come. Hopefully a US publisher will pick this up as well.
Earth is But a Star edited by Damien Broderick, University of Western Australia Press, 2002, $19.95, ISBN 1-876268-54-9
I'm not sure of the availability of this large reprint anthology in the US, but if you don't have an extensive SF library, this is a good chance to acquire a number of very fine stories in a sturdy volume. The collection consists of short stories followed by essays that deal with similar themes, combining to provide a discussion of some potential future development. The stories are by Arthur C. Clarke, Brian Aldiss, C.J. Cherryh, Poul Anderson, Gene Wolfe, A.E. van Vogt, and several other well known writers, and the articles are by Brian Stableford, Stanislaw Lem, John Clute, and many others. Lem's piece on Stapledon was particularly interesting.
Sol's Children edited by Jean Rabe and Martin H. Greenberg, DAW, 8/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0082-1
Theme anthologies generally work best when the theme isn't a particularly restrictive one, and this is one of those cases where it almost appears to have no theme at all. The collection presents a grand tour of the solar system, with each author choosing a different planetary body as the setting for his or her story. The contributors include Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Roland Green, Mike Resnick, Jack Haldeman, Timothy Zahn, and others. My favorites were by Zahn, Brian Hopkins, Stephen Sullivan, and the collaboration between Resnick and Mark Stafford. Most of the stories are straightforward adventures, but there's some series stuff here as well and even an occasional touch of humor. One of the better recent DAW anthologies.
H.G. Wells on Film by Don G. Smith, McFarland, 2/03, $39.95, ISBN 0-7864-1058-2
Wells is one of the best known SF writers and introduced the concepts of interplanetary invasion, time travel, invisibility, mutation, and other genre plots to the general public, so it's not surprising that all of his major work and many of his minor stories have been turned into films. Author Smith provides here a very detailed look at each film version, directly taken from or even just inspired by a Wells story, produced up through 1997. He provides plot scenarios of both book and film, evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of each, and provides information about marketing and other associated matters. He's kinder to some of the films than I would be, but his criticisms are generally right on. As far as I can tell, he hasn't missed anything except the television series War of the Worlds, which is arguably based on the Wells novel, and I was rather surprised to find out how many of Wells' non-fantastic novels had been filmed. There are a few stills and a reasonably comprehensive index. This is one of the better genre related reference books from this publisher.
Dune: The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, Tor, 9/02, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30157-1
Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson have been filling in the details of events preceding Frank Herbert's Dune series, of which this is the fourth and to date best novel. Despite the animosity of the robotic thinking machines, the League of Nobles has been rather lax in defending their assets. Now their enemies are using a form of cyborg, human brains installed in mechanical containers, to improve their ability to wage war. Xavier Harkonnen is one of the few who realizes the danger and acts to prevent a catastrophe. Like the original series, the book is filled to overflowing with characters, so many that it is occasionally confusing. It's worth the struggle though, because this time the authors have managed to capture much of the feeling as well as the names and places of the Dune series. At least two more titles are planed. Let's hope Herbert and Anderson are able to maintain this level of quality.
The Great Flying Saucer Conspiracy by Thomas A. Easton, Wildside, 2002, $32.95, ISBN 58715-700-4
Earth has been introduced to the interstellar community. A variety of alien races have sent representatives to Earth and, although they are not particularly forthcoming with their technology, they appear to be reasonably friendly and civilized. But even if there intentions are benign, why are they concealing so many secrets? Does the human race really know why they are here, or for that matter, how many of them may secretly have infiltrated the human population? Tom Easton spins a complex and sometimes oddly humorous story about intrigues, conspiracies, confused motivations, duplicity, and revelation. This one's fun, and not to be taken too seriously.
Hawksbill Times Two by Robert Silverberg, Fox Acre Press, 2002, $15, ISBN 0-9709711-6-8
Robert Silverberg's novella about a prison lodged safely in the prehistoric past was an instant hint, and led quickly to a novel length version. This new volume from a publisher I've never heard of previously combines the two into a single book, with some additional material by the author. The story of a single man whose arrival changes the structure of that microcosmic society is as powerful now as it was more than thirty years ago, and the juxtaposition of the two versions is interesting and educational. Apparently Fox Acre has brought other early Silverberg titles back into print, so you might want to look on foxacre.com and see what else is available.
Celestial Debris by Lawrence Watt-Evans, Fox Acre Press, 2002, $17.50, ISBN 0-9709711-4-1
Lawrence Watt-Evans is primarily known for his fantasy fiction, since most of his novels have been in that field, but he has quietly produced a substantial body of short fiction, a large proportion of which is SF. This new collection consists of nineteen reprints, plus one story never previous published, and together they provide a pretty good cross section of his work. There are a few fantasies, and a good deal of barbed humor, as for example "Pickman's Modem". There's a zombie story, and a superhero story, and some space opera, interstellar politics, unicorns, holy grails, and other delights. He uses a deceptively light, straightforward style that appears effortless even though it isn't. A very high quality title from a new imprint.
Through My Glasses, Darkly by Frank M. Robinson, edited by Robin Wayne Bailey, KaCSFFS Press, 2002, $15, ISBN 0-935128-02-6
Frank Robinson has never been among the more prolific SF writers, but his stories have the admirable quality of sticking in your mind, and I can still remember his first novel, The Power, quite vividly even though I haven't read it in more than thirty years. This collection of five stories includes three of my very favorites: "East Wind, West Wind", one of the best stories of ecological disaster, and "A Life in the Day Of ", in which the future becomes a bit less unclear to one fascinating character, and "The Hunting Season", a dystopian future that looks a lot more plausible today than it did a year ago. The remaining stories include an amusing but light satire and a disturbing alternate history story. If you haven't read Frank Robinson before, shame on you.
If Lions Could Speak and Other Stories by Paul Park, Wildside, 2002, $15, ISBN 2-58715-508-7
I've always thought of Paul Park as a novelist, and was surprised at how many of the stories in this collection I've never seen before. I was even more pleasantly surprised to discover how good most of them are. The best of the lot are "Get a Grip", an amusing variation on the we-are-all-actors story, "The Lost Sepulcher of Huascar Capac", and "The Last Homosexual", a mildly dystopian cautionary tale. His other plots include time travel, communication with autistic children, and confusions between realities. A common theme in his work is the suffering protagonist. They are often suffering from diseases, dying of cancer, losing their visions, going through a divorce, or experiencing some other physical or mental pain in addition to the tension of the plot. The collection puts a checkmark next to his name in my mind, and I'll be watching more attentively for further shorts in the future.
The Wild Blue and the Gray by William Sanders, Wildside, 2002, $15.95, ISBN 1-58715-648-2
Are We Having Fun Yet? By William Sanders, Wildside, 2002, $15.95, ISBN 1-58715-709-8
The first of these is an alternate history novel previously published in 1991. I enjoyed it immensely at the time and it certainly deserves to be rescued from oblivion. The Confederacy won the Civil War by forging an alliance with the Cherokee nation. Now a Cherokee warrior has gone to Europe to fight for England against the Germans. An excellent adventure story. The second volume is a collection of short stories, all involving American Indians, and some of these are also alternate histories, including "The Undiscovered", in which Shakespeare moves to the new world. Other stories of note include "Smoke", "When This World Is All on Fire", and "Going After Old Man Alabama". I never quite understood why Sanders has not become a more significant figure in the field, but hopefully it's a temporary aberration.
The Pet Plague by Darrell Bain, Double Dragon, 2002, $14.99, ISBN 1-894841-37-9
This is a mildly erotic SF novel in which the human race has uplifted its pet population to the point where they have virtually taken over the world. The surviving humans have retreated into fortified cities where they become independent city states, adopting rather libertine sexual customs along the way. When an alien spacecraft crashes on Earth, expeditions are launched to seize the technology, but the rival enclaves are ready to battle one another, if they can survive assaults by legions of their former pets. There are some amusing bits in this, particularly some of the scenes involving the enhanced animals, but others are awkward. You might want to give this a try if you can find it easily, but I wouldn't move heaven and earth to locate a copy.
Dreaming Pigs by Lynne Carver, Paint Rock River Press, 2002, $11.95, ISBN 0-9709174-2-2
I had never heard of this publisher or this author, so I approached "the best novel about cloned pigs ever" with a certain degree of trepidation. To my pleasure, I found one of the best small press novels I've ever read. Scientists have been mixing human and pig DNA in order to make it possible to transplant organs from pigs into humans, but something sinister is happening behind the scenes. Three characters a grieving grandfather, a slightly muddled graphic artist, and a young man whose father died under mysterious circumstances are thrown together in an unlikely alliance which will unmask a conspiracy that involves enhanced intelligence, murder, and the secret manipulation of society. I found it thoroughly absorbing, the plot surprising and tightly constructed, and the characters fascinating, if not necessarily likeable.
Born in Fire by Arthur Byron Cover, Ibooks, 2002, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-3512-5
This is the first novel in the Rising Stars series, based on the comic book sequence by J. Michael Straczynski. Superficially it bears some resemblance to the Wild Cards series of a few years back. A meteor strike in the Midwest in 1968 results in over one hundred children with varied super powers. The government, predictably, wants to keep them under control using legal, and not so legal, means of doing so. The Specials have their own ideas, however. Several of them are killed, sometimes at random, but eventually as part of a sinister plot. Is the government exterminating a potential menace? Have some of the Specials gone bad and hatched a plot to consolidate their power? Or is there another answer? You won't find out all the answers here, because there are at least two more novels to come. Cover does a fine job of rendering the story in a new format, and it's been far too long since I've seen his name on the spine of a book in any case.
Worlds Enough and Time edited by Gary Westfahl, George Slusser, and David Leiby, Greenwood, 6/02, $59.95, ISBN 0-313-31706-2
This collection of essays is actually far more interesting than most of the academic studies from this publisher. Each of the fourteen articles looks at one or more aspects of time paradoxes, backward timestreams, differing perceptions of its passage, alternate histories, doing things over a second time, and so forth. The language is occasionally rather stilted but some of the discussions are intriguing. The bibliography of stories involving time and time travel is, on the other hand, pretty useless. As the compilers state, it is woefully inadequate, but even more perplexing is the inclusion of items like "What Was It?" by Fitz-James O'Brien, 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon, and others that have little if anything to do with the subject matter.
The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Reader edited by Jeffrey Meyers and Valerie Meyers, Cooper Square Press, 5/02, $28.95, ISBN 0-8154-1202-9
This five hundred page collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's writings is long overdue. The creator of Sherlock Holmes wrote extensively in addition to his mystery stories, of which four are included here. But he also wrote adventure, science fiction, horror, and other forms. Included in this volume is the short, but rather disappointing novel, The Poison Belt, excerpts from The Lost World and other novels, plus historical and contemporary adventure stories. There are sections of his autobiography, a chronology of his life and work, and selections of his non-fiction, including his lamentable but interesting fascination with fairies and spiritualism.
Spider-Man Confidential by Edward Gross, Hyperion, 2002, $16.95, ISBN 0-7868-8722-2
Spider-Man is rivaled only by the X-Men in popularity among Marvel's superheroes, at least partly because he had the best array of villains. This new book, predictably timed to coincide with the movie, chronicles his career from comic book to the screen. There's a listing of the comic books with author, artist, and chief villains included, followed by similar information for the American and Japanese animated series, and finally a discussion of the recent film. Most interesting to me was the section profiling all of the villains he has faced throughout his career. Nothing particularly earth shaking here, but a nice competent guide to one of comics' best known figures.
The Prince by Jerry Pournelle and S.M. Stirling, Baen, 9/02, $28, ISBN 0-7434-3556-7
This massive omnibus contains four complete novels, the first two by Pournelle alone, the others in collaboration with Stirling. Falkenberg's Legions incorporates two previous military SF books, West of Honor and The Mercenary, into one episodic adventure. Prince of Mercenaries is set after a political collapse on Earth makes the colony worlds more independent, and more inclined to resort to military force. Go Tell the Spartans and Prince of Sparta both involve efforts by Falkenberg's mercenaries to help the planet Sparta resist the encroachment of a still bloody minded Earth. Most military SF is monotonous and unimaginative, but this series has always been the cream of the crop.
Worlds That Weren't by Harry Turtledove, Mary Gentle, Walter Jon Williams, and S.M. Stirling, Roc, 7/02, $21.95, ISBN 0-451-45886-9
There's no editor listed for this collection of four alternate history novelettes by four of the most popular writers in the field. Alternate history has almost become a genre of its own lately, with writers from outside the field trying their hands as well as familiar genre writers. Stirling contributes a story set in the same universe as his recent novel, The Peshawar Lancers, and since I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, it's not surprising that I liked the shorter piece as well. Mary Gentle provides another story of Carthage, an entertaining piece about the difficulties encountered by a small band of professional soldiers. Turtledove takes a look at ancient Greece and the fate of Sparta, and Walter Jon Williams has my favorite in the book, set in the Old West, but not exactly the Old West we're familiar with. Very nicely done indeed, and whoever picked this fine selection deserves to have been credited.
Human Voices by James Gunn, Five Star, 8/02, $23.95, ISBN 0-7862-4317-1
The Retrieval Artist by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Five Star, 8/02, $23.95, ISBN 0-7862-4330-9
Five Star continues its line of reprint collections, although in the case of these two, they've moved away from their concentration on novelettes to general short stories. James Gunn is a byline that has appeared far too frequently in recent years, but often enough to provide a pretty good collection of his short fiction, almost none of which has been previously collected. He presents new takes on first contact with aliens, shows us a variety of semi-dystopian futures, and includes several stories about the effects of altering our own bodies, through chemicals, self mutilation, or artificial augmentation. Rusch has had a shorter career, but she has already turned out more books than Gunn, and she's gaining on him at shorter length as well. The title story is her well known tale of a future in which murder is legal under some circumstances, and her newest novel, The Disappeared, uses this same premise. Other stories involve time travel, alien invasion, and other familiar themes. Best of the lot are "Dancers Like Children", "Reflections on Life and Death", and the title story.
Burning the Ice by Laura J. Mixon, Tor, 8/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-312-86903-7
We've been waiting for a long time for a new novel by Laura Mixon and it's here at last. I'm happy to report it's worth the wait. The story is set on a distant planet, colonized under not entirely clear circumstances by several sets of clones, each of which forms the basis of a kind of clan family. Their planet is not a pleasant one; it is locked in the grip of ice, and their efforts to terraform their new home are not going well. The protagonist is one of the rare singletons whose twin died in an accident before they were born. This makes her an outcast, and she has grown into a rebellious and lonely adult. Even members of her own family treat her poorly. But when the resident AI leads her to the preserved body of one of the original settlers, she is set on a course that will change her life, and reveal hidden secrets about the nature of their culture. This is a longish but thoroughly engaging novel that creates a believable picture of what such a society might evolve into. I just hope the wait for the next of her novels isnt as long.
Hope's War by Stephen Chambers, Tor, 8/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-87350-6
Further adventures on the planet Hera, whose human colony was founded in part by a clone of the poet William Blake, a society which contains strange blends of different eras from human history. In the previous volume, the society seemed a bit too artificial to be credible, but Chambers has refined it somewhat this time, or perhaps because it is now familiar I don't find the oddities as jarring. Our hero has reluctantly assumed the throne but it's not an easy post to hold. A terrorist group has possession of advanced technology, most of the population is in danger of starvation, and everything seems to be disintegrating around him. The sequel to Hope's End is a worthy successor, which like its predecessor has much of the feel of a fantasy novel rather than SF, which should help it to appeal to fans of both forms.
Archform: Beauty by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 7/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30433-3
Although I've found Modesitt's fantasies uneven, his science fiction has steadily improved in quality over the years, and this is certainly his most ambitious and thought provoking effort to date. It's set a few centuries from now, but the world is only superficially unfamiliar. There's still an active terrorist threat, although their methods have become more sophisticated. Technology has advanced dramatically, but personal privacy is largely a thing of the past except for the privileged few who have the means to secure their own. The story is told from the point of view of several diverse characters, but the central theme is the role of art in society, chiefly in this case as music. Modesitt tells a serious story, embellished with some pointed satire.
Permanence by Karl Schroeder, Tor, 5/02, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30371-X
Betrayed by a family member, Rue Cassell travels to a remote region of space to escape his plotting. There she becomes involved in an effort to establish ownership of a derelict alien ship, aided by a variety of odd characters, eventually falling in love with one of them. Their efforts to exploit their find run into difficulties, however, and provide the platform upon which Schroeder's characters can explore various philosophical concepts about the nature of intelligence and its role in the physical universe. The blend of a complex interstellar culture and thoughtful consideration of its implications should appeal particularly to fans of Vernor Vinge, Peter Hamilton, and Alastair Reynolds.
Rebellion by Richard Hatch and Alan Rodgers, Ibooks, 7/02, $23, ISBN 0-7434-4503-1
Richard Hatch, once an actor in the Battlestar Galactica films, has been teaming up with genre writers to produce a continuation of the adventures of the fleet of human survivors in their quest to escape the murderous Cylon. This one is set after Adama has died and Apollo is in command. The fleet runs into a peculiar region of space where their engines will not work. Stranded, they begin to run out of supplies, and fighting breaks out among the refugees. When a scandal sullies his name, Apollo is imprisoned and the refugees take command of the fleet, but their efforts only make things worse. Eventually the Cylon show up, followed by an even more dangerous alien menace, and the nature of space time itself presents a new threat. Can Apollo free himself in time to recover command, clear his name, defeat his enemies, and lead the survivors on another desperate bolt for freedom? What do you think? The plot piles things on a little bit too heavily for my taste, but this is a comic book style story anyway, so suspend your disbelief and take a wild ride.
Strangers and Beggars by James Van Pelt, Fairwood Press, 7/02, $27.99, ISBN 0-9668184-5-8
James Van Pelt is one of those writers whose stories I enjoy almost without exception, but whose work is so scattered that it's easy to underestimate the breadth and quality of his output as a whole. His first short story collection ought to help correct that situation. His subject matter ranges from science fiction to fantasy to a sort of low key horror or suspense fiction. The subjects include teachers obsessed with spiders in their classroom to mysterious sharks that claim office victims in high rises, possibly my favorite in the book. Baseball, information technology, the teaching profession, and the backward flow of time are just some of the things he takes apart and puts together again for his readers' entertainment. There are a lot of good stories here, and a few just readable ones, but there's not a bad one in the lot.
The Metal Monster by A. Merritt, Hippocampus Press, 6/02, $15, ISBN 0-9673215-1-4
Hippocampus Press is apparently now planning a series of reprints of novel which H.P. Lovecraft read and which probably influenced him. Possibly of minimal interest to Lovecraft fans, but on the other hand, it's a great excuse to bring some classic novels back into print. This present one was not my favorite of Merritt's lost world adventures, but it's not far below the top. An expedition into the Himalayans finds the obligatory lost race, but they also discover a metallic form of life that has been biding its time and building up its resources, and is now preparing to conquer the world. Although the language is a bit dated, it actually is a plus in this case, because it helps capture the otherworldliness of the story. I wouldn't mind seeing some of Merritt's other novels back in print as well.
Worlds Enough and Time by Dan Simmons, Avon Eos, 12/02, $14.95, ISBN 0-06-050604-0
There have been quite a few very good reprint short story collections this year, and this is certainly among the very best of them. There are five of Simmons' shorter pieces here. Of them, my favorite is "Looking for Kelly Dahl", the story of a man pursuing and pursued by an enigmatic young woman who is capable of changing the nature of reality through an act of will. Unfortunately, her personality is none too stable. Next in line would be "On K2 with Kanakakaredes", the story of a mountain climbing team which includes a very non-human alien visitor as one of its crew. Right behind that is "Orphans of the Helix", an add on to the universe Simmons created in Hyperion and its sequels. The remaining two aren't as impressive, but considering the competition, they stand up pretty well also.
The Longest Way Home by Robert Silverberg, Gollancz, 5/02, 10.99 pounds, ISBN 0-575-07352-7
Joseph is the oldest son of one of the aristocratic families that dominates Homeworld, having conquered the human colonists who originally settled the world, establishing a modified feudal system which, from the point of view of those in power, best serves the needs of both classes of people. Homeworld also has at least three indigenous intelligent species as well, groups which Joseph will meet more intimately when he is caught in the middle of a revolution during a visit to a noble house on another continent. His servants and fellow masters are all dead, but a loyal servant helps him to escape. There begins his very strange odyssey as he sets out for the coast, hoping to find passage home, ignorant of how successful or widespread the uprising has been. He is helped at times by some of the local indigenes, although he discovers that they are more alien than he had imagined, and later by some of the servant class, after he pretends to be one of them. This is a coming of age novel filled with strange cultures and some fairly low key physical adventure. Joseph is changed dramatically by his ordeal, both physically and mentally, as he discovers a portion of the truth about his heritage. I haven't seen notice of an edition in the US, but I'm sure it's on its way. The UK edition is also available in hardcover.
Autumn World by Joan Marie Verba, Tess Meara, Deborah K. Jones, Margaret Howes, and Ruth Berman, FTL Publications, 5/02, $9.95, ISBN0-9653575-3-8
Yes, this really is a novel written by five different authors, and yes, it does hold together as a unit quite well. It's the story of a young woman who survives a crashlanding on a world inhabited by a population which has reverted to a kind of modified tribalism. She (and the knowledge that she represents) become the object of various intrigues, pursuits, captures, escapes, political maneuvers, battles, and so forth. Stylistically, the novel varies only slightly from section to section, so I suspect that one or more of the authors did a final unifying runthrough. It's not a worldshaker but it's an entertaining adventure and an interesting experiment.
Once Upon a Galaxy edited by Wil McCarthy, Martin H. Greenberg, and John Helfers, DAW, 9/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0091-0
Future Sports edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois, Ace, 7/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-441-00961-1
We have here two new theme anthologies, one of original stories, the other reprints. First is the original collection. The basis for this one is that each author took a traditional fairy tale and retold it as science fiction, rationalizing the magical elements if necessary. There's a good variety of styles, as some of the writers like Michelle West, Tanya Huff, and Fiona Patton write primarily fantasy, while others like Gregory Benford and Thomas Wylde write predominantly SF. I particularly liked the stories by Scott Edelman, Robert Rogoff, and Gregory Benford. The second collection has sports as a theme, everything from racing to wrestling to baseball. A couple of these were new to me but the rest have all previously appeared in prozines or anthologies. Kim Stanley Robinson, Alastair Reynolds, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ian McDonald have the best stories, but they're all quite good.
Contacting Aliens: An Illustrated Guide to David Brin's Uplift Universe by David Brin and Kevin Lenagh, Bantam, 6/02, $14.95, ISBN 0-553-37796-5
David Brin's Uplift novels have been immensely popular for years, so it's not surprising that he would take what were presumably his background notes and turn them into a companion book, in this case designed to look like a handbook for field agents who plan to have contact with the various alien species of his created universe. There's lots and lots of very fine illustrations interspersed in the text, so you can finally find out just what a Tymbrini looks like, as well as acquiring background information on his species. The book is mildly amusing in its own right, and very useful for those who actually have read or plan to read the source novels.
Aristotle and the Gun and Other Stories by L. Sprague de Camp, Five Star, 9/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-7862-4311-2
Dragon's Island and Other Stories by Jack Williamson, Five Star, 9/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-7862-4314-7
Five Star continues its program of producing collections of classic novelettes and short novels with these two titles. The de Camp includes some of his best stories, including the title, in which a man travels back to the time of Aristotle in an attempt to change the future, and "The Gnarly Man", about a surviving Neanderthal. Time travel is predominant in the remaining stories as well, all of which are quite finely told although none are the equal of the first two mentioned. The Williamson collection is dominated by the complete title novel, one of the earliest to deal with genetic engineering. The protagonist is looking into a mysterious disappearance when he discovers a remote island where animals have been altered to serve as a work force. The other two stories are from very early in Williamson's career and are more interesting as curiosities than as fiction.
Stars and Stripes Triumphant by Harry Harrison, Hodder, 2002, 18.99 pounds, ISBN 0-340-68921-8
This is the concluding volume of Harrison's Civil War alternate history trilogy. The bumbling efforts by the British to intervene in the American Civil War backfired, with the Union and the Confederacy uniting against a common foe. In previous volumes, the combined Navy sweeps the British from the seas and successfully attacks and occupies part of Ireland. Now the victorious Americans are preparing to invade British soil. Harrison uses a very similar approach to that of Harry Turtledove, and the novel is in many ways simply a war journal. He does do a good job of bringing William Tecumseh Sherman to life, and even makes the American victory seem reasonably plausible. The trilogy as a whole is clever and entertaining, but I have to admit that the ultimate ending is a bit anticlimactic.
Meerm by F. Paul Wilson, CD Publications, 5/02, $35, ISBN 1-58767-050-X
This is the third of Wilson's stories set in a future in which various simians have been uplifted and now provide much of the cheap labor in the world. Resentment is high, their legal status remains in doubt, and now there are groups who use the sims as a source of medical treatment for human patients, even though that is clearly illegal. When one such site is destroyed and its staff murdered, investigators are puzzled by the violence of the act, but will ultimately discover that it is designed to cover up an unsettling secret.
Spectrum SF 8, Spectrum Publishing, 2002, 3.99 pounds.
The eighth volume in this bookazine series doesn't let up a bit. The Charles Stross serial is the dominant piece, but there are also a handful of really good stories. Neal Asher has a very good other worlds adventure, although the ending is somewhat telegraphed. Michael G. Coney and Eric Brown provide a mystery set on a planet where trees are intelligent and ambulatory, and they do an excellent job of it. Josh Lacey takes us to a future when movies are a quaint and nearly forgotten cultural artifact, and Colin Davies provides an amusing little diversion to round out the group. There's also considerable news and commentary. If we had a few more magazines like this, I suspect the SF short story would regain its lost place in the genre.
Star Trek: Present Tense by L.A. Graf, Pocket, 6/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-671-03635-1
Star Trek: Future Imperfect by L.A. Graf, Pocket,6/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-671-03636-X
It's been a while since I've seen a new adventure of the original Star Trek crew, but they're back for these two books in what will eventually be a trilogy, although most of them, arent around for long. Kirk and McCoy disappear in what appears to be a malfunction of the transporter beam, so Sulu and a rescue party are sent to find them. Unfortunately, they encounter a kind of time warp which brings them to a future version of the galaxy where the alien Gorn empire has almost finished conquering the entire Federation. There Sulu meets an older version of a friend, now a leader of the resistance, and together the two attempt to stay alive long enough to find a way to return through time and prevent the Gorn from succeeding in the first place. I've always liked the Sulu character and considered him under utilized, so I was particularly drawn to this series, which is sufficiently unlike Trek to be interesting in itself, and sufficiently like Trek to entertain its fans as well.
Planet of the Apes: The Fall by William T. Quick, Harper, 6/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-008620-3
Apparently spurred on by the remake by Tim Burton, Harper inaugurates a new series of Ape novels with his one. The original concept is pretty well ignored, however, since this is clearly a starship crashing on a planet other than Earth. The local fauna are insectlike and savage, so the human survivors use genetic engineering to uplift some otherwise normal apes, hoping to build a protective army. But with the added intelligence, the apes question whether or not they should be serving a comparatively weak species, and the conflict between the two is inevitable. This nods at the original but is pretty much an independent novel in a more mainstream SF tradition, and Quick does his usual fine job of crafting an exciting if somewhat predictable adventure story.
The Essential X-Men Volume Two, Marvel, 2001, $15.95, ISBN 0-7851-0298-1
The second omnibus volume, comprising issues #120 through #144. The dominant story this time is the evolution of Jean Grey, who becomes Phoenix after obtaining unprecedented super powers. Her mind is affected by the interference of Master Mind, who confuses her about her personality and eventually turns her into the Black Queen, a villain. Although she eventually recovers from this, her drift toward the dark side of the force I mean toward the influence of absolute power eventually transforms her into a monster who destroys an entire world full of people. Although the X-Men try to protect her from those who want to rid the universe of an unpredictable menace, she sees the truth of the matter and arranges her own death. This all transpires over more than a dozen issues. Some of the original X-Men rejoin, at least temporarily, and we have new member Sprite as well. There are fewer villains this time the Sentinels, the Wendigo, Arcade, and a few others, but internal problems predominate. There's also a very good sequence set in a future when all but a few of the world's superheroes have been executed by a repressive government. Here's your chance to get a big chunk of X-Men history in a single gulp.
A Mouthful of Tongues by Paul Di Filippo, Cosmos, 2002, $29.95, ISBN 1-58715-506-0
The strongest asset of Paul Di Filippo's fiction has always been his creative use of languages, sometimes using intricate word play and unusual narrative styles, sometimes telling a more conventional story but with a smooth prose that seems almost effortless and is, of course, exactly the opposite. This new short novel from Cosmos/Wildside is one of the former. It's set in a not too distant future where the corporate world is as rapacious as ever, and where an earnest young woman tries to advance her career while fending off the unprofessional advances of her boss and other temptations. This turmoil will lead to her transformation in a novel that takes us to another reality and another way of looking at the world. Readers should be cautioned, however, not just that this is written in a very untraditional narrative form, but that it's also filled with a good deal of explicit erotica. If you're not put off by such things, you should find this very enjoyable, but if you're easily shocked, you might want to seek less challenging reading matter.
The Sex Gates by Darrell Bain and Jeanine Berry, Lighthouse Press, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-9714827-3-X
Here's a surprisingly good novel from a publisher I'd never heard of before. The premise is the sudden appearance of a series of gates on Earth, alien artifacts which have an unusual power. If you travel through a gate, you receive an entirely new body, with no diseases or injuries, but with your personality unchanged. Sound great, doesn't it? But there are a few catches, the most notable of which is that on every passage, you switch to the opposite sex. That's not the only disruptive element, because with the change of identity, much of the old structure of society no longer works, and the result is violent upheaval. There's another catch as well. Every once in a while, you don't reappear. Have the missing persons died, or is there an even more alien answer? You probably won't find this in your local bookstore, but it's worth taking the trouble to order it special.
How to Write Great Science Fiction by Horace L. Gold, Gateways Books, 10/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-89556-125-5
Horace Gold was editor of Galaxy Magazine for most of its existence, and in a quieter fashion than John W. Campbell was one of the shaping forces of SF. He was also a very fine writer of fiction, although his output was very limited. This is a collection of his short stories, originally published in 1955, each accompanied by the author's commentary and critique of his own work. As a learning tool, it's very valuable, even though the stories are in general somewhat different from what is being published today. As a collection of stories, it's of considerable merit, if only for the classics "The Old Die Rich" and "Man of Parts."
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones by R.A. Salvatore, Del Rey, 4/02, $26, ISBN 0-345-42881-1
I'm going to assume you've all seen this by now, so there are some spoilers here. The latest installment of the Star Wars trilogy has generally been considered a step up from The Phantom Menace, and certainly there is more effort to tell a good story this time, although the top notch special effects still steal the show. One of the most common criticisms of the movie has been the awkward romantic scenes between Annakin and Amidala, and Salvatore has done a good job of smoothing over the roughness and making them a lot more believable. For those who haven't seen the film and need to know the plot, Count Dooku a rogue Jedi has been secretly constructing an army of droids with which to battle the Republic. At the same time, a bounty hunter working under the apparent instructions of another Jedi has donated cells for creation of a cloned army of stormtroopers. Annakin is detailed to protect Amidala, the two fall in love, Obi-Wan gets into trouble, and they go off to rescue him, precipitating a series of battles that set the stage for the next installment, in which the Jedi are destroyed, the Empire rises, and Annakin becomes Darth Vader. Salvatore has added several little tidbits to this, reportedly following conversations with Lucas himself, so fans will want to snatch it up and find out what they've missed.
X-Men: The Legacy Quest Trilogy: Book 1 by Steve Lyons, BP, 6/02, $14, ISBN 0-7434-4468-X
Gen 13 Version 2.0 by Sholly Fisch, BP, 6/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-441-00946-8
Comic book tie in novels continue to be popular, and with the Spider-Man movie and upcoming films featuring Wonder Woman and the Hulk, they're likely to proliferate even further. The X-Men are another popular title from Marvel, one whose shifting membership confused me some time back, so I'm not sure just where this opening volume in a trilogy fits in. Rogue is hear, along with the Beast, Iceman, and Phoenix, if that helps place it. In any case, the plot involves a plague that ostensibly attacks only mutants, and efforts by good guys and bad alike to find a cure. When a friend of the X-Men is kidnapped to an island fortress by an evil mastermind, they're off to the rescue, although the ending is necessarily ambiguous since this is the opening volume of a trilogy. I'm not at all familiar with Gen 13, apparently a more recent DC Comics title. The government has created a band of superheroes, but one of their number decides to resign, precipitating an emotional crisis as well as putting her friends and family in deadly jeopardy. Both books are straightforward action adventure stories, but Lyons is the more convincing writer.
The Essential X-Men Volume One, Marvel, 2001, $12.95, ISBN 0-7851-0256-6
I had stopped reading the X-Men before most of the original members left, to be replaced by Banshee, Thunderhead, Sunfire, and others, so I'd never encountered the Chris Claremont era until I picked up this collection, which includes issues 94 through 119. Despite the usual Marvel tactics of having its superheroes constantly quarreling and fighting with one another, the scripts in this volume are definitely much better. The new team is torn by internal and external problems, and for a long arc of stories are split into separate groups, believing each other dead. And of course they battle a wide array of villains, including Magneto, Moses Magnum, Sauron, Mesmero, Havoc, Polaris, Eric the Red, Juggernaut, and the Sentinels. The artwork also appears to be much better during this period, and I was entertained enough to go looking for the next volume in the series.
Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril by Judith Merril and Emily Pohl-Weary, Between the Lines, 2002, $19.95, ISBN 1-896357-57-1
One of my greater regrets is that I never had a chance to meet Judith Merril. Her short story collection Out of Bounds was the very first SF I ever read, so in some ways she's at least partly responsible for my being here. I looked forward to her Year's Best anthologies every year and I can still distinctly remember many of the stories contained therein, particularly those she found in sources that most SF readers ignored. This is her posthumous autobiography of sorts, written primarily by Merril herself with additional material by her grand daughter. I knew some of what is contained here, but much was new to me, and almost all of it is fascinating. It's easily the best SF related autobiography I've read, and it only reinforces my wish that I'd had a chance to talk to her personally.
The Essential Avengers Volume Two, Marvel, 2001, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0741-X
The second set of Avengers adventures, dating from the mid 1960s. The Avengers changed membership several times, officially and unofficially, during this period. The original crew were back for a while, Hercules was a houseguest who finally became a member, Captain America took a leave of absence, and the Black Widow was briefly allied with them, although she eventually hangs up her costume. There's the usual array of villains, including Doctor Doom, the Ultroids, theBeetle, the Mad Thinker, Diablo, the Dragonman, and the Mandarin, who assembles a small army of bad guys. There's also the usual bickering among the superheroes, and the artificial way the writers provoke these situations became annoyingly repetitious during this period. Not nearly as good as the first volume in this reprint series.
The Sky So Big and Black by John Barnes, Tor, 8/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30305-5
Terpsichore Murray and her father are ecoprospectors on Mars, searching for pockets of buried gas which can be released into the air to help speed the terraforming of that world. Although the human race has spread to the stars, Earth is barred to the colonists because its population has been infected with an organic computer virus that has effectively turned the entire world into one mass mind. And on Mars itself, it appears likely that the human race will become genetically modified into something only slightly resembling its original form in order to survive, although people like the Murrays believe this is a mistake. In many ways, this is a kind of update of Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars, a precocious young girl not entirely in step with her environment, but not entirely happy with her exclusion. It's also one of the more quietly effective of recent SF novels, with relatively little melodrama or action, relying more heavily on interesting characters and situations. It's one of a growing number of recent novels to deal realistically with the colonization of that planet, and it's one of the better ones.
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang, Tor, 7/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30418-X
Ted Chiang has made a surprisingly large name for himself on the basis of a surprisingly small body of work, and in fact this collection brings together all of his published SF and fantasy, eight stories of which one is original to this book. They range from SF to fantasy, but there's not much variation in quality, which is uniformly near the top of the chart, including the Nebula award winning "Tower of Babylon". Most of the stories involve metaphysical questions relating to the nature of the universe or religion or mathematics or the physical attributes of time and space. They feature well delineated characters and a careful, elegant prose that makes even the most complex questions accessible. This is certain to be one of the best, if not THE best, single author collections of the year.
Hidden Empire by Kevin J. Anderson, Warner, 7/02, $23.95, ISBN 0-446-52862-5
I was happy to see Kevin Anderson take a vacation from writing in other people's universes to construct one of his own in this, the first in the Saga of the Seven Suns. The scale is grand, for this one, set a few centuries in the future. Humans have expanded into space and split into three large civilizations, living in uneasy peace with one another. Their expansion was aided by the presence of the Ildirans, the only other surviving space going race, who gave them the secret of a more efficient star drive. The aliens seem somewhat ambivalent about humans, considering them crude upstarts, but actual conflict seems unlikely. The only other known alien species is extinct, although they have left behind countless sentient robots who constitute almost a race in themselves. When human scientists find a device that can turn planets into suns, they naturally decide to try it out, inadvertently disturbing the habitat of yet another highly technological and pretty pissed off alien species, which promptly sets out to exterminate humans as, perhaps, they did to the long gone insectlike race. I had a lot of fun reading this one, but I had one small caveat. There is such a large cast of characters and so many rapid changes of viewpoint that the story doesn't flow as smoothly as it should. Eventually I was able to adjust but initially the constant switching is rather jarring.
Effendi by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Earthlight, 2002, 12.99 pounds, ISBN 0-7432-0285-6
This is the sequel to Pashazade, which should long since have found a US publisher, and the sequel is at least as good as its predecessor. The setting is a major city in North Africa, but a North Africa in an alternate history where Germany did not lose the first world war, and remains one of the dominant powers in the world. The protagonist, Ashrev Bey, has a questionable history, but he's currently head of detectives for the local police force. This time he's called upon to track down a brutal serial killer, which becomes even more urgent when his one time father in law is implicated in the crimes. Courtenay has a real feel for this imagined universe and makes it seem like a real place. Superimposed on that is a clever and original tough detective story format. The whole package works extremely well, and I'll be very surprised if there aren't further adventures of Ashrev Bey. I'll be even more surprised, and disappointed, if some US publisher doesn't grab these up pretty quickly.
The Moon Maid by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Bison, 2002, $18.95, ISBN 0-8032-6200-0
A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay, Bison, 2002, $13.95, ISBN 0-8032-8004-1
The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney, Bison, 2002, $12.95, ISBN 0-8032-6907-2
This imprint of the University of Nebraska Press has been reprinting classics of the science fiction and fantasy genres for a while, each in a new, sturdy edition with commentary and notes. The latest batch is of particular interest. The Burroughs title is the least well written, of course, but it's one of the very best of his works. Ace published this in two volumes, but they're together here along with restored text, with notes on the changes included at the back, along with other information including a timeline, geographical information, etc. It's a handsome volume and the added material should make it particularly attractive. David Lindsay's dreamlike other worlds adventure novel has a less action packed plot, but is much more evocative in its settings and language. A lone Earthman reaches and explores a strange world and an alien civilization. Last, but far from least, is Finney's wonderful story of a traveling carnival that has real magic, and which transforms the lives of the people who visit. There are few fantasies that have affected me as strongly as this one, and it's a shame that it has been out of print for so long.
The Lighter Side by Keith Laumer, Baen, 5/02, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-3537-0
The late Keith Laumer was one of a handful of SF writers who wrote light adventure stories that were infused with humor but still exciting and involving. This new collection brings together eight previously collected stories, plus two novels, The Great Time Machine Hoax and The Time Trap. The first of the novels is about a man who operates a mysterious machine without knowing its purpose, and only later discovers that it is a time machine. The second is the opening volume of a short series involving time agents and the consequences when the fabric of time itself is disrupted. The stories are varied and were previously collected, but they all bear re-reading. Laumer was largely dismissed as a serious writer during his career, but his good natured adventure stories age well and are still entertaining.
The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Roc, 702, $6.50, ISBN 0-451-45888-5
Ekaterina Maakestad is on her way to a new identity on Mars where she hopes to escape her powerful enemies when treachery disrupts her plans and diverts her to another destination. At the same time, a pair of police officers on Mars are faced with the puzzling mystery of a particularly brutal murder in space and the interference by a group of aliens who believe that the crimes of the parents should be avenged on their children. Rusch creates an interesting and fairly original solar civilization in this new book, apparently the first in a series about Retrieval Artists, a group of specialized agents. It's a balanced blend of police procedural and action adventure and a noticeable and welcome change from the flood of media tie-in novels she has been producing with and without the help of Dean Wesley Smith.
The Burning Heart of Night by Ivan Cat, DAW, 7/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-88677-789-5
The colony on the planet New Ascension has a problem. There's a plague native to that world which is invariably fatal to humans. Fortunately, there's a cure, but unfortunately that cure involves the death of some of the indigenous intelligent species of that world, a policy which the local government is not reluctant to pursue despite the unrest this causes among both human and alien populations. Then a passing starpilot crashlands on their world, and his presence acts as a catalyst for the growing rebellion against the government's autocratic and murderous policies. The novel includes a well done depiction of an alien culture and mind set, and avoids most of the obvious clichιs of the situation. The lead female character is quite well done as well, although her villainous father wasn't very convincing.
Star Trek Stargazer: Progenitor by Michael Jan Friedman, Pocket, 5/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-2794-7
Star Wars: Rebel Dream by Aaron Allston, Del Rey, 4/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-42866-8
The two major American SF franchises continue with these recent titles. The Star Trek universe has been getting rather stale of late, but this new series of adventures of a young Captain Picard has been more lively than most. This one has two plots. Picard and one of his crewmembers are on the latter's homeworld to perform a ritual when they discover that someone is using the ceremony as a way of committing murder. The second plot involves the officer left in command of Picard's ship, who answers a distress call and finds herself facing a crisis. The Star Wars tie-in novels are more linear. This one is set decades after the fall of the Empire. An alien invasion is mopping up Republic Worlds, and the legislature has adopted a suicidal policy of appeasement. While Leia attempts to stir up resistance, Luke invades an occupied world to find out the secrets of the aliens. Nicely done space opera with some familiar names, if not faces.
A Golden Anniversary Bibliography of Edgar Rice Burroughs by Henry Hardy Heins, Donald Grant, 2001, $100, ISBN 1-880418-51-7
Here's a new edition of the 1964 bibliography of Burroughs' work, updated, produced in a beautiful bound hardcover with slip case. It has everything you could possible want to know on the subject, even has an index of chapter titles. There are several essays, including one by Burroughs telling how he wrote the Tarzan books. There are lists of radio scripts, pseudonym info, and reproductions of many covers and interior illustrations. There are reproductions of ads and announcements about the books and other odds and ends you won't find elsewhere. And, of course, a comprehensive bibliography of Burroughs' fiction. A very fine volume both for its content and its presentation.
Charisma by Steven Barnes, Tor, 6/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-87004-3
As most readers already know, there is a large body of SF (both books and film) in which a well intentioned experiment goes horribly wrong. Steven Barnes presents another one, and includes in it a genuine moral dilemma. The premise is that researchers hope to give disadvantaged children a leg up on the system by imprinting them with some of the values and attitudes of a prominent man who overcame those limitations to become wealthy and successful. Initially it seems that the project is working well, and it is applied to a very large number of children. Unfortunately, the man chosen as the donor had a rather unsavory sideline, which results in hundreds of potential serial killers. Barnes handles the theme in a non-sensational, intelligent, and thought provoking manner. This is his second novel to appear this year, and both of them have been significant advances from his previous work.
Hominids by Robert Sawyer, Tor, 5/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-312-87692-0
One of the biggest assets of SF is the ability to portray our society as seen through the eyes of an outsider, whether it be an ape as in Damon Knight's The Mind Switch or a human raised by aliens, as in Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Robert Sawyer's new novel follows in that tradition. A quantum experiment performed in our world coincides with another in an alternate reality where Cro-Magnons survived and our branch of humanity did not. A scientist from that world is brought through, causing problems in both realities, although it is his reaction to and comments upon our civilization that are the point of the novel. At time this is very effective, but eventually the book succumbs to the usual problem of such novels. The world from which the involuntary visitor comes is just a little bit too perfect and logical to be believable, and that casts doubt upon his observations. Sawyer depicts the alternate world as one where violence is so frequently fatal that it has been virtually bred out of the species. Every inhabitant of that world is fitted with an artificial intelligence device which records every bit of his or her life, so that they can be played back in case of a death or other reasonable cause to find out what really happened. Those convicted of lethal violence are sterilized, as their children and siblings, under the belief that violence is a genetically linked trait. The visitor finds out world totally illogical, sometimes amusingly so, and can't even remotely understand the concept of religion. As a novel then, I found this readable and mildly entertaining, but ultimately implausible and therefore somewhat suspect in its conclusions.
The Mocking Program by Alan Dean Foster, Warner, 8/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-446-52774-2
Alan Dean Foster has written several short stories set in the Montezuma Strip, and now he has produced a novel in that same locale. The Strip consists of the southwestern US and Mexico, and its dominated by high tech, crime, and sometimes a little bit of chaos. Police investigator Angel Cardenas gets involved with a murder and the search for two people who are apparently on the run from a crime lord. The mother is desperate and the child, as it happens, has an eidetic memory and detailed information about the villain's illicit businesses. The additional twist here is that Cardenas is an intuit, a near telepath who can read body language so well that it is impossible to lie to him. Unfortunately, that isn't always as much of an advantage as it appears. Exciting, fast paced, futuristic action blended with the traditional police procedural, and the ending caught me completely by surprise.
Argonaut by Stanley Schmidt, Tor, 7/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-312-87726-9
Alien invasion stories are old hat in SF, but sometimes a writer comes along and gives it a new twist. Schmidt's story is one of those, although it isn't the kind of invasion we're used to. The protagonist chances upon an unusual insect one day, and when he touches it he has an instant mental reprise of his entire life and collapses. At the hospital, the insect splits into several lesser ones and members of the staff have similar visions. Although no one seems interested in pursuing the matter, the first victim recruits help in the form of an elderly scientist and the two of them discover that the insects are actually surveillance devices of an inquisitive alien visitor. If you want to know where the story goes from there, you'll have to read it for yourself, but I'll tell you now you're unlikely to anticipate Schmidt's plot. Schmidt hasn't written much fiction since becoming editor of Analog, but what he has written has been invariably remarkable.
Goliath by Steve Alten, Forge, 7/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30064-8
I thoroughly enjoyed Steve Alten's first two borderline SF thrillers, but his new one sets off in an entirely new direction, the technothriller, and in fact this is an undersea novel that is an homage to Jules Verne's 20,000 League Under the Sea. The US government was secretly building a super submarine that was to have included an advanced artificial intelligence system. Sabotage and espionage ended that project, at least so it appears, and one of the chief architects was imprisoned for treason. Years later, a powerful submersible defeats an entire US attack fleet and begins systematically destroying shipping throughout the world. Someone has stolen the plans and built the Goliath, and is using it to enforce a program of peace. The former scientist, now on parole, is put on a team to track down and destroy the enemy, using a similar vessel that was secretly built by the government without the artificial intelligence. That may be more of a plus than it appears, because the one aboard the Goliath is beginning to develop its own agenda. Be warned, the story is to be continued. I found various elements of the set up a bit implausible. The leap in technology is too radical, the use of an admitted traitor doesn't make sense, and some of the other character interactions are awkwardly described. Once we get past that and into the action, it's a lot better, and there are some surprises lurking in wait for the reader. It's an ambitious work, and frankly not up to Alten's usual quality level, but it's still better than the last several techno-thriller I've read.
On a Planet Alien by Barry Malzberg, Ibooks, 5/02, $14, ISBN 0-7434-3509-5
Back during the 1970s, it seemed as though there was a new Malzberg SF novel almost every week. The flood only lasted a few years, though, and in retrospect the volume overwhelmed our appreciation of how high the quality was in the majority of them. This is an omnibus of three of those novels, the best of which is Scop, in which a time traveler attempts to prevent many of the tragedies of the past, only to realize that he is actually causing them. The title story is about a mission to uplift a primitive alien species and introduce them to galactic civilization, but someone among the mission doesn't want it to succeed. Finally we have In the Enclosure, the story of an alien who visits Earth, only to be imprisoned and endlessly interrogated. Each is shaped by Malzberg's somewhat acerbic approach to SF, but all of them are also very fine works.
The Ocean of Years by Roger MacBride Allen, Bantam, 7/02, $6.50, ISBN 0-553-58364-6
Allen's sequel to The Depths of Time is every bit as good and convoluted as its predecessor. Describing the setup for this series would require more space than I have here, but suffice it to say that star travel has made it possible to go backward and forward through time, although there is a powerful military group who use force to prevent anyone from bringing information from the future back to the past, for fear it will foul up the timestream. The protagonists, or most of them anyway, are part of a group that know that the terraforming efforts on various colony worlds are all for naught, that each planet is doomed to revert and destroy its human population. They travel back to Earth clandestinely, seeking knowledge about the location of a once presumed dead scientist who seems to know more about the problem than anyone else, but he's in hiding, and he's left clues in the form of puzzles which they must solve in order to pick up his trail. The story doesn't end here either, so be warned, although it does come to a logical breaking point. I've grown increasingly fond of Allen's intelligent space operas, and this latest volume hasn't done anything to lower my expectations about future volumes. He's one of those few writers that jump to the top of the stack almost of their own volition.
Doctor Who: Trading Futures by Lance Parkin, BBC, 2002, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-53848-1
It's not too far in our future, and improbably the various conflicts of the world have been mostly resolved. Now the tension is between Europe and America, and even though sophisticated intelligence agencies supposedly keep everything low key and non-violent, the arrival of a time traveler with a technology that could change the balance of power stirs things up considerably. This is an adventure of the eighth Doctor, but it has very little of the atmosphere of the television show and not enough merit in its own right to be very memorable.
Star Trek Stargazer: Gauntlet by Michael Jan Friedman, Pocket, 5/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-2792-0
The Star Trek franchise continues to search for new ways to explore that universe, and this is the first in a series of stories involving Captain Picard during his first command. His current assignment seems designed to curtail his career, because he is not likely to be a match for the wiles of an inexperienced interstellar pirate, but he's ordered to apprehend the villain, and Picard decides to find a way to carry out his instructions. Surprisingly good lightweight adventure; I could almost forget this was a Trek tie-in. Mainstream SF seems by and large to have abandoned space opera, but it's alive and well in this series.
Karel Capek Life and Work by Ivan Klima, Catbird Press, 7/02, $23, ISBN 0-945774-53-2
This publisher has kept much of the work of Karel Capek, creator of the modern term "robot", in print, and now it adds the first biography of the Czech writer I've ever seen. Capek, whose War with the Newts is a classic, as is the play R.U.R., wrote a few other SF stories, including The Absolute at Large, and a great deal outside the genre. The biography is comprehensive, examining his life as well as his work. To my surprise, it includes no photographs of any sort, not even a portrait of the subject. Klima delves into the intricacies of Capek's fiction in much more detail than in most biographies, but he does so without descending into literary doubletalk opaque to the rest of us.
The Essential Doctor Strange, Marvel, 2001, $15.95, ISBN 0-7851-0816-5
Doctor Strange was always a bit of an oddball in the Marvel superhero stable. Since he used magic and most of his enemies were supernatural, he didn't fit well with the likes of the Avengers, the Hulk, or Spider-Man. That meant that there were very few crossovers of either heroes or villains, and Strange seemed to exist in a little Pocket universe away from the rest of them. There was also more of a continuing story line. The majority of the sections of this volume, for example, involve a series of battles with Dormammu, the ruler of an alternate universe who waged a continuing battle against Strange until he destroyed himself in a confrontation with the mystical being Eternity. Strange's other arch enemy is Baron Mordo, who was apprenticed to the Ancient One along with Strange, but who turned evil and became their mortal enemy. There is some mild romantic interest for Strange, but Marvel apparently never felt easy with it and it went nowhere.
Spaceland by Rudy Rucker, Tor, 6/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30366-3
Poor Joe Cube doesn't know what he's letting himself in for when he takes home an experimental computer one evening. Before he knows it, he's in the clutches of Momo, an inhabitant of the fourth dimension, who coerces him into assisting in an experiment designed to improve the lot of our universe, which Momo refers to as Spaceland. This is a clever inversion of the plot of Edwin Abbott's classic Flatland, mixing science and mathematics and broad satire. Rucker's text is accompanied by amusing illustrations and beneath the jokes is some very clever speculation about the nature of space, in all four dimensions. Guaranteed to exercise your mind as well as your funnybone.
The Far Side of Nowhere by Nelson Bond, Arkham House, 2002, $34.95, ISBN 0-87054-180-3
When I was first discovering the joys of science fiction, one of the short story writers I was particularly fond of was Nelson Bond, and he made a lasting impression even though there weren't a large number of his tales to be found. I'd assumed since then that his few previous collections had brought virtually all of his worthwhile stories back into print, but this new selection culled from 1939 through 1957, proves that my assumption was wrong. Almost without exception, those included here are delightful, and they age surprisingly well. Bond explored the gamut of SF themes here, time travel of various sorts, robots, a hollow Earth, disappearances, marvelous inventions, invisibility, antigravity, and others. There are a few fantasies as well, including a phone call from heaven, a very inept genie who causes a man's typewriter to fall in love with him my favorite in the book, and a bevy of suicidal fish. Some retrospective collections are for historical interest as much as entertainment. This one satisfies both criteria. If you haven't encountered Nelson Bond before, this is your chance. Don't miss it.
The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams, Harmony, 6/02, no price listed, ISBN 1-4000-4508-8
The late Douglas Adams wasn't a prolific writer, but his Hitchhiker books guarantee that he will be remembered for generations to come. At the time of his death, he was working on a new novel in that series, a large chunk of which is the centerpiece of this collection. It is accompanied by letters, essays, fragments, short stories, travel notes, interviews, and miscellaneous pieces of varying interest, although many of his observations are quite amusing. The work in process is understandably a bit rough and not up to his usual standards. It's set a long time after the extinction of the human race, and Dirk Gently makes an appearance. Unfortunately, we'll never find out what the final version may have told us, but fortunately, at least we get one last look at Adams' wonderfully mad universe.
The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold, NESFA Press, 2/02, $25, ISBN 1-886778-27-2
Just a brief mention of this reprint in hardcover of this early novel of Miles Vorkosigian, originally published in 1986. This is the story of his military career in pursuit of the family tradition, despite his frail constitution. His brilliant mind allows him to overcomes his handicaps honorably. I've enjoyed this series more since he moved from soldier to diplomat, but this is still a rousing good tale and it's nice to see it available in sturdier format. There is some additional material including timelines and a genealogy for those interested ins uch things.
Chindi by Jack McDevitt, Ace, 7/02, $22.95, ISBN 0-441-00938-7
A routine expedition into another star system picks up the trace of a mysterious signal. A short time later, Captain Priscilla Hutchins is pressured into shepherding a group of first contact fanatics to investigate. Although she considers the trip a waste of time, it isn't long before they stumble across a series of beacons which relay messages from one star system to another. Their explorations uncover a planet destroyed by a nuclear war, an abandoned outpost in space, and a world filled with malevolent winged primitives. They also discover the remnants of an alien technology which automatically maintains the communications and observations systems set in orbit, sometimes with disastrous consequences for anyone who happens to be in the neighborhood. This one started off a bit slower than usual, and I found myself growing impatient for something to start happening, but once it does, McDevitt will grab you by the throat of your curiosity and keep a firm hold right until the final chapter.
Beast Master's Ark by Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie, Tor, 6/02, $23.95, ISBN 0-765-30041-9
As with most of the other collaborative continuations of Andre Norton's earlier series, this third installment in the life of Hosteen Storm doesn't have any of the feel of Norton's own work, and I suspect that it was almost entirely written by Lyn McConchie. That's not necessarily a bad thing; this is an entertaining and rather suspenseful other world adventure, even if it doesn't really satisfy my wish for a nostalgic return to some of my favorite places and characters. The protagonist is a young woman who travels from world to world in an oversized starship, sampling animals for her work in bioengineering. She had a mild prejudice against beast masters, humans with the ability to meld mentally with their animal teams, but that can't survive her discovery that she is a beast master herself. On Arzor, she and Storm become involved in a series of mysterious livestock killings at the hands of a mysterious night predator, a development which is causing tension among the native tribes as well as causing problems for outworlders. A nice mix of plots and reasonably good characterization combine to provide a nicely done but not outstanding adventure story.
Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn, Ace, 4/02, $14.95, ISBN 0-441-00900-X
Sharon Shinn's latest is an update of the story of Jane Eyre. The titular heroine is removed from an abusive aunt and raised in an institution, later transferred to another run by Everett Ravenbeck, where she is trained as a technician. Human society on Fieldstar is as class conscious as was historical England, and the interaction between the genders equally formal and stilted. Ravenbeck comes to rely on Jenna during an awkward emergency, and the bond between the two grows stronger as the novel progresses. Written in a beautifully appropriate prose style, this is an outstanding romance novel as well as a well crafted SF story.
Tainted Trail by Wen Spencer, Roc, 6/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45887-7
This is the second adventure of Ukiah Oregon, one time foundling, now private detective, and secretly an alien whose very blood can take on a life of its own. A police officer requests Ukiah's help in tracing his niece, who disappeared mysteriously while on a trip to Oregon. During the course of the investigation, our hero uncovers information from the past which has a bearing on his own clouded history as well as finding out more about the packs of aliens who are secretly living among the human race. This series has an odd atmosphere for SF, more reminiscent of contemporary werewolf novels, but Spencer makes it all work and further develops her interesting if sometimes rather self obsessed character.
Deep Strike by Rick Shelley, Ace, 6/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-00952-2
The late Rick Shelley had finished at least two novels in his Spec Ops Squad series, of which this is the second. The premise is that the human race is part of a multi-species military force, and when war breaks out, it is deemed advisable to have integrated combat units even at very low levels. I'm not sure I buy that, but once past that setup, what follows is a standard military SF adventure with the added subplots of the problems of getting differing types to cooperate. In their latest effort, they are given the assignment of invading an alien world, without tearing their own alliance apart in the process. Good lightweight fare but nothing to write home about.
Ares Express by Ian McDonald, Earthlight, 2002, 7.99 pounds, ISBN 0-671-03754-4
Ian McDonald returns to Mars for this innovative and often wryly humorous book. It's not the kind of Mars we're used to in SF. This one has been colonized and has developed an entirely new culture, the far flung settlements held together by a system of railroads with huge engines that are small communities in themselves. The chief protagonist is a young woman who is searching for her place in the world, and her adventures are alternately exciting and amusing. Add in some religious extremists and other odd characters and you have a colorful tale embellished by some decidedly strange people and events. If you enjoyed McDonald's Desolation Road a few years back, you should find this one is even better.
Doctor Who: Bullet Time by David A. McIntee, BBC, 12/01, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-53834-1
Doctor Who: Anachrophobia by Jonathan Morris, BBC, 2/02, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-53847-3
Doctor Who: Palace of the Red Sun by Christopher Bulis, BBC, 2/02, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-53849-X
The first of these recent Doctor Who adventures features the seventh Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, and reads more like a contemporary political thriller than a traditional Whovian adventure. The Doctor shows up in Hong Kong just as the British are preparing to hand it over to the Chinese. Agents of Unit are there, along with Sarah Jane Smith, neither of whom recognize the Doctor in his new manifestation, and suspect his motives. But the Doctor is after bigger fish, including the predictable alien conspiracy, which he deals with in his usual urbane style. McIntee has written several previous novels of the Doctor, but this one has an entirely different feel, and could well have been published as a straight SF novel if a few names had been changed. The second title is one of the most inventive yet in this series. It's set on a planet that has been involved in a terrible war for centuries, and which uses time itself as a weapon, altering the rate at which it passes to hinder each other. But neither side has had the ability to actually travel back through time, but one is about to master the art just as the Doctor and his friends arrive. The threat of war figures in the third title as well. This time the Doctor is on a peaceful planet that faces invasion by a force that obeys a man who may be a ruthless dictator, or a semi-benevolent protector. Somewhat more predictable than the first two, but an amusing interplanetary adventure.
Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars Volume 2 by Greg Cox, Pocket, 4/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-7434-0643-5
This is the second volume in a series about the rise and fall of Khan, one of Kirk's most interesting enemies. He and his fellow superhumans have quietly become to exert their influence within human institutions, planning ultimately to emerge as the rulers of all humankind. But there's trouble in proto-paradise. There are differences of opinion among the genetically engineered master race, and internal rivalries are progressing from heated debate to violent action. Only the strongest, brightest, and most ruthless are going to survive, and obviously we already know who is going to be foremost among those survivors. This subseries is one of the more interesting additions to the expanded Star Trek saga, which is beginning to show its age.
The Essential Captain America Volume I by Stan Lee and others, Marvel, 2001, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0740-1
This omnibus volume includes black and white reproductions of over twenty adventures of Captain America, one of the few Marvel Superheroes who didn't have any extraordinary powers. Revived after being in suspended animation since World War I, he becomes a member of the Avengers, often works in conjunction with Nick Fury, and goes through the usual self doubts and other minor crises of a Marvel character. Several of the early stories are actually retrospectives of his battles during the 1940s, although Marvel soon dropped this in favor of contemporary adventures. His most significant recurring opponent is the Red Skull, who also was in suspended animation following the defeat of the Nazis, but who returns with a host of weapons and allies. Other villains include the almost likeable Frenchmen known as Batroc, Power Man, the Swordsman, Whiplash, Ultimo, the Master Planner, and the Adaptoid, plus the sinister organizations Them and AIM.
Saucer by Stephen Coonts, Brilliance Audio, 2002, $29.95, ISBN 1-59086-078-0
Thriller writer Stephen Coonts turns his hand to SF in this story of the discovery of an ancient but still functioning flying saucer in the desert of Chad by a young engineer working as a flunky for an oil drilling team. The plot and many of the trappings would fit right into a 1930s SF magazine, but they look pretty silly now, and in fact the science and characterization are so bad, I can't imagine any pulp accepting it even then. For one thing, it must be set in an alternate universe in which the human race has been replaced by people who talk almost exclusively in clichιs and act so stereotypically that the book is frequently funny. The President and his chief advisers can't muster an IQ above 60 among them well, maybe that part is accurate. But it's also a government where the President gives direct orders to air units patrolling the US without informing the Air Force top brass, and where the State Department reports to the Air Force rather than the President, and where the Air Force Chief of Staff goes to bed before delivering vital information to the President.
No one else has much of a sense of proportion either. The crisis begins when the Air Force sends its entire UFO study team, including the head of the project, to Chad to investigate when a satellite sees a circular metallic object in the desert, with no other evidence to identify what it is. Accompanying them, coincidentally, is a civilian test pilot who happens to be a gorgeous young woman, who will help the young engineer (who is named, no kidding, Rip Cantrell) to fly the saucer away before the government can spirit it off to Area 51 or the Libyan Army can seize it. He figures out what it uses for fuel because the fuel line has three alien characters on it, obviously H2O. The fact that the Air Force sends a project commander on what should have been a routine investigation is mirrored by the other characters. The chief villain, an Australian billionaire, personally leads the team that steals the saucer and spirits it off down under to be sold to the highest bidder. Throw in an eccentric uncle who's an inventor, a grumbling general, and a variety of interchangeable thugs and you have a predictable and almost painfully naοve adventure story that you can't get emotionally involved in because the characters are straight out of a comic book.
The Lady Vanishes and Other Oddities of Nature by Charles Sheffield, Five Star, 6/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-7862-4169-1
God Is an Iron and Other Stories by Spider Robinson, Five Star, 6/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-7862-4162-4
This new imprint continues its line of new collections by significant writers in the field with these two titles. The Robinson is fairly representative of his work, much of it lightly humorous to farcical, a few like "Stardance" much more ambitious, and frankly much better work. All of the stories contained here have appeared in previous Robinson collections. The Sheffield collection also consists of reprints with the exception of one new story, but none of these have been previously collected. They tend to be adventure stories mixed with mysteries, international intrigues, conspiracies and the like. Sheffield's characters are more likely to face complex problems that require them to make judgments about the morality of their actions, and the stories are therefore much more serious in tone, and thought provoking in retrospect.
Piper in the Night by Dave Smeds, Wildside, 2001, $37.95, ISBN 1-58715-575-3
A military medical technician has recently arrived for a new posting to a Pacific Island when he discovers something very strange. At times, he can step out of our world into an alternate reality peopled with strange creatures. Is he dreaming or hallucinating? And why does he have the feeling that he is being watched by those creatures for reasons unknown? Eventually he begins to interact more directly with the creatures from that realm, while around him the US military is conducting bombing runs on the island as part of their testing and training operation. Smeds achieves an odd balance between the familiar and unfamiliar, and the protagonist's trouble transitioning through the surreal sequences is convincingly done. You can order this direct from wildsidepress.com.
Hannibal's Children by John Maddox Roberts, Ace, 5/02, $22.95, ISBN 0-441-00933-6
Carthage was ultimately defeated and destroyed by Rome, but what might have happened if Hannibal had defeated the legions? Roberts' new novel assumes that the Romans agreed to abandon Italy and move to the north. Five generations later, having built themselves a new empire, they send a spy expedition south to assess their chances of reclaiming Italy. They find that Carthage has grown in power but shrunk in leadership, and that the Mediterranean is ripe for the introduction of a new player. Marcus Scipio is the young soldier who leads the expedition and his story is exciting, provocative, and entertaining. Although there's nothing indicating that this is the first in a series, and it does in fact resolve the major issues, there are enough plot elements left hanging that I'd be very surprised if Marcus and his friends, and enemies, don't return before long. This is far and away the best book I've read by Roberts.
Generation Gap and Other Stories by Stanley Schmidt, Five Star, 6/02, $23.95, ISBN 0-7862-4161-6
Suppose They Gave a Peace and Other Stories by Susan Shwartz, Five Star, 6/02, $23.95, ISBN 0-7862-4166-7
These two new hard cover story collections are by writers whom I had not really thought of as writing significantly at that length, but in both cases I was surprised to realize how many good stories were included. Schmidt, who is best known as editor of Analog, has given us a handful of entertaining novels, but here as well are eleven worthwhile stories published over the past thirty years. Many of these are problem stories or hard science in the typical Campbellian mode, but Schmidt frequently uses a touch of light humor to give them an extra dimension. Pick up a copy if only to read "A Midsummer Newt's Dream". Susan Shwartz has written a double handful of novels, some of them quite excellent, but there are some real winners among these ten reprints. My favorite is the title story, which looks at an America where George McGovern won the Presidency, but there are other topnotch stories as well, particularly "Drawing Down Leviathan" and "Getting Real". The cat fantasy is the only one that doesn't measure up to the general high caliber of the collection, but it's cute and inoffensive. Supposedly short story collections don't sell well, but in the case of these two, it won't be because of the quality.
The President's Weekend by David D. Reed, Vivisphere, 1/ 02, $18, ISBN 1-58776-110-6
You could almost make the argument that this is a time travel romance, since it follows much of the same pattern. Two people from the present day find themselves transported back through time to 1904 and to the vacation resort of the new President, Theodore Roosevelt. They haven't come back completely at random, however, because they discover a plot to kill the President, and as you might guess, they are responsible for foiling the villains and saving the day. The plot obviously doesn't break any new ground, but the prose is good, the characters are reasonably interesting, and there are even periods of genuine suspense.
Alienist by Laurence Janifer, Wildside, 11/01, $15, ISBN 1-58715-500-1
Gerald Knave is back, this time recovering from a malfunction of his space drive that dumps him in previously unknown space. There he encounters enigmatic, bodiless aliens with unprecedented abilities who rescue him and send him back to civilization in time to get involved with a murder mystery and then to discover the truth about his benefactors. The story itself is not up to Janifer's usual standards but some of the speculative material is interesting enough that it held my interest.
The Human Front by Ken MacLeod, PS Publishing, 12/01, $14, ISBN 1-902880-30-7
Another fine novella from this UK small press. This one's set in an alternate world where England the US allied itself with Germany against the Russians during World War II, resulting in an armed conflict which lasts throughout the next generation. The protagonist also discovers that the Americans are using aliens to pilot some of their aircraft, ostensibly Martians and Venusians, although they may actually be from the stars, or perhaps the far future. Much strangeness ensues and you'll have to buy your own copy to find out the answer, because I'm not going to tell you.
The Chronocide Mission by Lloyd Biggle Jr., Wildside, 2002, $15.95, ISBN 1-58715-549-4
Lloyd Biggle's byline has been absent from the SF world for a long time, but he returns with this exciting and somewhat old fashioned novel. In the not too distant future, new weapons are developed which allow a form of mind control. That leads to a breakdown of society every bit as devastating as a nuclear confrontation. A time traveler finds himself coerced into manufacturing weapons for a barbaric empire which has conquered most of its neighbors and which keeps its people locked into specific, predetermined castes. The interloper escapes and joins a disorganized group of semi-feudal states who remain independent, but whose internecine quarrels make it unlikely that they will be able to provide a unified front against an imminent invasion. Lots of action set against one of the more depressing future prognostications, and a welcome return of an old favorite.
Aurora by Mark Tiedemann, Ibooks, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-7434-4460-4
This is the third novel by Tiedeman set in the world of Isaac Asimov's Lije Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw, although he uses different central characters. Tensions between colonists and the Earth have never been more dangerous, particularly after revelation of a plot to turn human infants into cyborgs. Two unofficial ambassadors are recalled to Aurora and find themselves once again involved in a murder mystery, this time one which seems to indicate that one of the supposedly safe positronic robots has somehow managed to sidestep the Three Laws of Robotics in order to harm a human being. This time Tiedemann didn't seem to capture the atmosphere of the original series as well as in the previous volumes, but the story is pretty good in its own right, with a clever solution and an interesting route traveled to reach it. Order from www.ibooks.net or amazon.com.
The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan by William Sanders, Wildside, 2002, $15.95, ISBN 1-58715-485-4
I've enjoyed everything I've ever read by William Sanders, and it's always been frustrating to me that so few of his books have appeared. Wildside pulls off a real coup here with this strange story of a native American ex-soldier whose grandfather speaks to him through the interface of various wild animals. Billy falls in love with a woman visiting from a former Soviet republic, and impulsively follows her rather than allow her to disappear from his life. Elsewhere, a group of fake psychics inadvertently open a doorway which allows an indescribable alien entity to cross into our world, a creature which delights in provoking painful and unusually bizarre deaths. Obviously the two plots are about to converge, and Sanders brings the whole thing off with his usual superb storytelling ability. This is one you'll be recommending to your friends.
Odyssey by Keith Laumer, Baen, 3/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-3527-3
Baen's series of omnibus editions of out of print writers continues with this one, which consists of two novels and five short stories, all of which have been previously collected but which are all now out of print. The stories are all pretty good, as is one of the novels, Dinosaur Beach, a changewar story of sorts with a time agent whose friends are attacked during the Jurassic era, leaving him alone to battle a group that wants to alter the course of history. It was one of Laumer's best efforts, and it's good to see it back in print. On the other hand, Galactic Odyssey was one of his weakest, the story of a man who unexpectedly finds himself a stowaway aboard an interstellar ship. Even without the last, this is a good buy for the money, representing some of the best of Laumer's work and making it available to a new generation of readers.
Mars Probes edited by Peter Crowther, DAW, 6/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0088-0
Mars has long been the most popular planet for science fiction stories, ranging from Edgar Rice Burroughs' unlikely adventures to Ray Bradbury's poetic evocation to Ben Bova's thoughtful hard science. Editor Crowther has gathered together here fifteen original stories and an early unreprinted Bradbury. Several of them are spoofs of the Burroughs school, others range widely in their approach and theme. My favorites were the entries by Paul Di Filippo, Gene Wolfe, Scott Edelman, Allen Steele, Ian McDonald, and Michael Moorcock, but the others were all very close behind. This is a theme anthology whose premise is so wide that there is very little repetition, and the result is a much better collection than might otherwise have resulted.
A.E. van Vogt: Science Fantasy's Icon by H.L. Drake, Booklocker, 2001, no price listed, ISBN 1-59113-054-9
This slim little self published book is an examination of the work of A.E. van Vogt, and it's a strange mixture of detail and lack of detail. The author has obviously done a great deal of research into the subject, but the book ignores the vast majority of his fiction. Even the chronology is spotty and events mentioned there seem almost to have been chosen at random. Van Vogt's work is one of the oddities of SF. His writing was invariably awkward, but his imagination nevertheless resulted in several memorable works. Drake attempts to explain that here, but I'm not sure he succeeds.
Science Fiction, Canonization, Marginalization, and the Academy edited by Gary Westfahl and George Slusser, Greenwood Press, 2/02, $63.95, ISBN 0-313-32064-0
Unearthly Visions edited by Gary Westfahl, George Slusser, and Kathleen Church Plummer, Greenwood Press, 2/02, $63.95, ISBN 0-313-31705-4
These two new high priced academic books bring together essays on two very disparate topics. The first looks at how literary criticism treats science fiction now that universities have actually recognized the existence of the field. The overwhelming conclusion of these essays is that academics tolerate but still have no respect for SF, something that should have been self evident actually. The essays are at their best when trying to explain why such an exclusive attitude continues to exist and, for the most part, these are considerably less formal and stilted than are most other literary essays. This is one you might want to urge your library to acquire if you're not willing to shell out the high price tag. The second title looks at genre related art, although with no illustrations, the essays rarely succeed in conveying their message. Greg Benford and John Clute have good essays, although even these would have benefited from some illustrative material, and the one about the work of Richard Powers is interesting, but on balance I'd rather actually go admire the art than read about it in the abstract.
The Essential Fantastic Four Volume I by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Marvel, 2001, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0666-9
This is another in Marvel's classic comic reprint sets, containing the first twenty issues of the Fantastic Four title plus the first annual. As with the others, there is no color, but the stories are otherwise just as they originally appeared. Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, the Human Torch, and the Invisible Girl battle the usual array of villains, chiefly their arch enemies Doctor Doom, the Skrulls, and the misguided Sub-Mariner, who has fallen in love with the Invisible Girl. Other guest baddies included here are Moleman, the Miracle Man, the Puppet Master, the Impossible Man, the Thinker, the Red Ghost, the Moleule Man, and Rama-Tut. There's even a brief battle with Spider-Man. Marvel Comics were never big on logic, consistency, or scientific accuracy, but they were always fun, and they still are.
The Essential Iron Man by Stan Lee, Don Heck, and others, Marvel, 2001, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0759-2
Another monster reprint of one of Marvel's superheroes. Iron Man is Anthony Stark, millionaire industrialist whose injured heart requires him to wear a metal chest plate, and fight criminals in his secret identity, Iron Man. A product of its times, this collection of stories from Tales of Suspense 39 through 72 tells mostly of battles with communists or their super agents. The most frequently recurring villains are the Mandarin, the Black Widow and Hawkeye, the latter two of whom eventually become more sympathetic characters. The roll call of villains also includes the Black Knight, Gargantus, Jack Frost, the Crimson Dynamo, the Melter, Mr. Doll, the Unicorn, Count Nefaria, and the Phantom. In one episode his armor is stolen and he has to battle himself using an older set, and he also battles a Doctor Strange, although not the same one who later had his own title. As with all Marvel series, these are mindless, often illogical fun. The invaders from the moon have names like Gouda and Elam, for example, and two Russian spies are named Boris and Natasha. But for those of us who haven't read these in decades, they bring back fond memories of a simpler time.
Lion's Blood by Steven Barnes, Warner, 2/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-446-52668-1
Steven Barnes has previously given us a series of quietly competent, enjoyable novels, but nothing that really stood out. That all changes with his newest novel, an alternate universe story in which Socrates went to Africa, Carthage defeated Rome, and history was never quite the same afterward. It is the middle of the 19th Century now, and North America is home to an Aztec civilization and one colonized by Islamic and African explorers. The protagonist is a young European slave who luckily finds himself the property of one of the more enlightened slave holders, even considers the man's son his personal friend. But that kind of relationship never really works when one is the property of the other, and when war threatens to break out in what we know as North America, the slave population grows restive, hoping to regain their freedom if things break their way. A very thoughtful and thought provoking novel that uses the theme not as satire but as a way of seriously examining the culture of slavery and strains it places on both slaves and their owners.
Light Music by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Avon Eos, 6/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-380-97712-5
The fourth in Goonan's series about nanotechnology shows us her new world from two sets of eyes. Nanotech has become so pervasive that the internet, radio, and other forms of communications have become obsolete, and the old national borderlines have crumbled and become largely meaningless. In the artificial Caribbean center known as Crescent City, Dania Cooper is intrigued by a series of mysterious disappearances, and reports of bizarre visual phenomena. Jason Peabody, an aging engineer who remembers the world before the change, has become increasingly isolated from other people despite the new technology. But Dania is about to make an interesting discovery, because the interaction between the microscopic machines and the human genetic structure is on the verge of changing the course of human history, or perhaps ending it. The novel is an unsettling speculation about the way technology changes human society, deftly written and often fascinating.
Mindworlds by Phyllis Gotlieb, Tor, 5/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-87876-1
Phyllis Gotlieb has been presenting us recently with a series of loosely related novels set in a universe where humans and other alien races were seeded among the stars by another intelligent species, now absent. A vast and complex interstellar society has evolved from that, not always to the advantage of those races which are technologically lagging. This latest the best in the sequence concerns a species of diminutive telepaths who spend most of their lives in artificial bodies. Human entrepreneurs are attempting to forge a business relationship with the aliens, but without realizing the extent to which the species is fragmented into rival factions. For their part, the aliens are willing to associate themselves with others, but only insofar as it helps them in their own internecine quarrels. It's a nifty little story that you'll probably read in one sitting, and when you reach the final chapter you'll be surprised at how quickly it went, and impatient for her next title.
Whole Wide World by Paul McAuley, Tor, 5/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30392-2
The difficulty in reviewing a good mystery novel is to give the reader a feel for the story without revealing so much that the suspense suffers. McAuley's latest is a near future murder mystery set in London following the Infowars, which led most countries in the world to implement rigid new security measures. A police detective is assigned to investigate the brutal murder of a young woman, an act which was apparently designed to be broadcast on the internet. It isn't long, however, before he begins to find links to the new security apparatus, despite struggles and rivalries within his own department. McAuley describes an all too credible scenario of the future, more so in view of recent events, and wraps a cautionary note around a good mystery plot.
Diuturnity's Dawn by Alan Dean Foster, Del Rey, 3/02, $25, ISBN 0-345-41865-4
This is the latest in Foster's informal series about the founding of the Humanx union. Humans and thranx are slowly moving toward a combination of their two governments, but the way is not smooth. In addition to the natural reluctance of each side to cede authority, and the very different physical types involved, there are extremists on each side who plan to carry off a terrorist attack at a cultural exchange in order to raise misgivings among their two populations. The reptilian Aan are also happy to cause whatever trouble they can manage, as well as steal possession of a remote world claimed by humans and home to extraordinary alien artifacts. Foster ties various subplots neatly together, including the friendship between a human diplomat and her Thranx counterpart, and the difficulty she has when death claims the man she loves, and shows us a convincing array of motives and schemes, self sacrifice and obsession, before winding everything up. Another fine novel set in one of my favorite created universes.
Going for Infinity by Poul Anderson, Tor, 5/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30359-0
The late Poul Anderson wrote so many very good stories that it seems like a thankless task to try to produce a single retrospective collection that adequately represents the breadth and quality of his work. Tor has made the effort anyway, sixteen stories and two novel excerpts, ranging from 1950 to 1995. There are too many classics here to list them all, "Sam Hall", "The Queen of Air and Darkness", "The Problem of Pain", "Gypsy", and "Epilogue" to name a few. Anderson wrote in a clear, relaxed style that seemed so effortless that he was often overlooked as a writer, although never as a storyteller. Here are collected some of the best of those stories, and if you haven't read them already, you should do so, and then search out some of the many other novels collections of fine stories that he produced during his career.
Lumen by Camille Flammarion, Wesleyan, 6/02, $17.95, ISBN 0-8195-6568-7
This 1872 French novel has been translated into English by Brian N. Stableford for Wesleyan's program of reprints of early SF novels. It takes the form of a series of conversations between Lumen, a discorporate intelligence who has traveled among the stars, and Quaerens, a student who plies him with questions. Flammarion wrote the novel to help popularize then recent scientific discoveries, some of which we now know to be erroneous. It was arguably the first novel to seriously explore the possibility of scientifically conceived alien lifeforms and civilizations. Although there is really no plot to speak of at all, many readers will find his speculation interesting and the historical significance to the genre should be obvious. For fans of Olaf Stapledon.
ChronoSpace by Allen Steele, Ace, 2/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-00906-9
This very entertaining time travel paradox novel escaped my attention last year because I never saw the hardcover. Now the paperback out, so it's even more of a bargain. Investigators from the 24th Century are very cautiously studying the past, and one team has been sent to place two people aboard the Hindenberg on its fateful flight to the US. Although it's a dangerous assignment, they never expect that it will prove world shaking until the explosion doesn't take place. Their panicky attempt to return to their own time results in a crashlanding in 1998, complicating an already bad situation when they are spotted and surrounded by US troops. Something has caused an alteration of the course of history which could have even more catastrophic results, including the extinction of the human race. But restoring the status quo ante isn't as easy as it seems, because the inter-relationship of time is more complex than they realize, and there's a mysterious alien race watching everything as well. It's a great ride as Steele plays with space and time and allows us to tag along on his adventure.
That Worlds May Live by Nelson Bond, Wildside, 4/02, $15, ISBN 1-58715-492-7
This old style space opera was originally published in 1943, and unfortunately shows its years. Bond wrote a number of very fine short stories, but his novels are uniformly archaic. In this one, space explorers discover that the universe is not expanding, but rather the solar system is contracting, promising to extinguish all life in the not too distant future. Obviously this isn't a natural phenomenon but rather an attack, and our heroes have to visit the mysterious inhabitants of Jupiter and enlist their aid in the construction of a space drive that will allow them to go investigate, and just as naturally there's an alien spy hidden among their number. An interesting trip down nostalgia lane, but not a book you're going to be recommending to people to convert them to SF.
The Last Reich by Arthur Rhodes, Rutledge, 2001, $19.95, ISBN 1-58244-211-8
The most common divergence points for alternate history stories are the outcome of major wars, and World War II is second only to the American Civil War as the incident of choice. This novel speculates that the Nazis won the war and that the occupation of America continues into 1960. The protagonist is an historian whose job is to rewrite history to conform to the views of the dominant power, but he rebels both internally and eventually externally, becoming part of the underground movement that plans to overthrow the German invaders and regain freedom. The plot is straightforward and obviously the theme is patriotism. Rhodes employs a clear, transparent style that is occasionally awkward, but he keeps the plot moving right to the climax.
Park Polar by Adam Roberts, PS, 12/01, $14, ISBN 1-902880-28-5
A group of scientists are involved in a project to introduce genetically engineered life forms into the polar ice and transform them into living habitats. This effort is supported by commercial organizations with motives of their own, and opposed by terrorists who somehow believe that introducing life into a wasteland is an ecological crime. Because of this threat, there are military contingents living with the scientists. Unfortunately, the latter group are murdered to a man one day, and those who survive have reasons for not reporting the true state of affairs to their superiors, even though they don't know who is responsible. I found the motivations of the characters a bit opaque in this one, but once past that hurdle, this is a pretty good story. It's also available in a higher priced hardcover edition.
Empire of Bones by Liz Williams, Bantam Spectra, 4/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58377-8
The second novel from Liz Williams is even more inventive and unusual than her first. It's set in near future India and features a woman who has spent much of her life battling the caste system of that nation, but who has now fallen prey to a mysterious illness. The illness is in fact a biological beacon which attracts the attention of the alien race which seeded humans on Earth, a society which has an even more elaborate caste system of its own. They cure the woman but in the process she learns of a complex cultural system that might require the extinction of all life on Earth, and even the elimination of one of its own castes, if things are not resolved to the satisfaction of the caste system. And as you might expect, she chooses to find a different course than those alternatives which are offered. Definitely a treat for those who like complex ethical issues and unusual settings.
Fallen Host by Lyda Morehouse, Roc, 5/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45879-6
New author Morehouse follows up her impressive first novel with another set in the same future. The expansion of the internet led to the advent of the angels, virtual reality entities which claim to be authentic representatives of God. Technological advances also led to more conventional artificial intelligences, of which at least one is on a personal journey to find religion. At the same time, a representative of the Roman Catholic Church has been assigned the task of determining whether or not AI's have souls. The paths of all three are about to intersect. Solid speculative thinking and very fine writing abound in this quite out of the ordinary novel.
Reunion in Death by J.D. Robb, Berkley, 3/02, $7.99, ISBN 0-425-18397-1
The thirteenth adventure of police detective Eve Dallas is even less SF than most of those that preceded it, although it's set in the year 2059 and mentions off planet visits, druids, and other trappings of SF. Robb, who is actually Nora Roberts, writes very fine police procedurals, however, and this is no exception. Dallas is faced with an old enemy, a ruthless murderer who has been released from prison and who is now murdering people almost at random as part of her personal vendetta against the woman who helped capture her years before. Along the way Dallas finds time for the inevitable fight scenes with her billionaire husband Roarke, and some steamy sex as well, and also helps mentor Peabody, her likable assistant. Most readers should find this engrossing and exciting, and despite her rough edges, Dallas is a likable character. The familiar subplots her constant power struggle with her husband and her ambivalent attitude toward her assistant's sex life are starting to seem repetitive and tend to slow the pace unnecessarily at times, but not enough to really matter. Whether you read them as SF or as mysteries, you should try this series, and the latest is a good example of what you'll find in the others.
Belarus by Lee Hogan, Roc, 2/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45868-0
Andrei Mironenko is a hands-on colony administrator who is determined to turn Belarus into a viable world. Personal power is part of the equation, but he's also concerned that the interstellar community is on the verge of a major collapse, and wants a safehaven, one that he can dominate. The derelict habitats orbiting in the same system appear to be remnants of an alien race long vanished, but they're still operational, and deadly. Andrei and his associates will soon learn that the aliens aren't gone either, and they're even deadlier. There's some interesting world building here, including the use of artificial intelligences as explorers, and a kind of cyborg human. I did have some difficulty getting into the story during the early chapters, primarily because the scene shifted too frequently for me to get comfortable with any of the characters. The novel is inventive and fairly suspenseful, however, and certainly proved entertaining enough for me to be watching for Hogan's next effort.
Doctor Who: Drift by Simon A. Forward, BBC, 2002, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-53843-0
Doctor Who: Relative Dementias by Mark Michalowski, BBC, 2002, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-53844-9
Doctor Who: Mad Dogs and Englishmen by Paul Magrs, BBC, 2002, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-53845-7
Doctor Who: Hope by Mark Clapham, BBC, 2002, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-53846-5
The Doctor is back for four more adventures. The first is an unusually suspenseful story of the Doctor caught up in the midst of various mysteries including a missing aircraft, an apocalyptic cult, and quite possibly the end of the world. This one, anyway. The Doctor can always go elsewhere. In the second, he and his friends visit an early 21st Century Alzheimer's clinic, and discover that the disappearing personalities are being replaced by something else. The third, and strangest, forces the Doctor to try to manipulate time to prevent the production of a movie that will have disastrous consequences in the future if it is released. And in the last, the Doctor is stranded in a far future city which has descended so far into corruption and insanity that he is desperate to leave. But to do so he must retrieve the Tardis from its resting place beneath the sea. Forward and Clapham have the best written ones of this set, and along with Michalowski, the most convincing plot. The last gets points for weirdness but wasn't as convincing as the others.
Star Trek Next Generation: A Hard Rain by Dean Wesley Smith, Pocket,. 3/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-1926-X
I confess that I have generally thought that the holodeck episodes and novels were among the best, simply because they are outside of the usual Star Trek formula, which employs a universe that, basically, I find simplistic and uninteresting. Picard's role playing as Dixon Hill, private detective, is much more interesting, and Dean Wesley Smith brings his surrogate character to life in this well conceived mystery which involves both the false story of the holodeck and the real threat menacing the ship. This is definitely one of the best Next Generation novels.
Spider-Man: Secret of the Sinister Six by Adam-Troy Castro, BP Books, 3/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-7434-4464-7
Spider-Man: Revenge of the Sinister Six by Adam-Troy Castro, BP Books,3/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-4463-9
Some years back, Adam-Troy Castro wrote these two and one previous adventure of Spiderman, but a controversy involving the rights held up publication of all but the first until recently. Now they're out, and the Sinister Six has been reconstituted, a group of super villains who are dedicated to eradicating the pesky superhero. They have two big advantages they know Spiderman's secret identity, and they have brainwashed his sister and recruited her into their organization. Can he outwit them and win back his sister? Of course he can, but only after some of the most elaborate and original adventures found in any of the numerous Marvel tie-in novels.
Collecting Science Fiction, Fantsy & Horror Paperbacks by Gary Lovisi, Gryphon Books, 2/02, $15, ISBN 1-58250-043-6
This is an expanded version of the 1997 edition from another publisher. Although it's comparatively short, the author manages to cram a great deal into it, explaining the importance to collectors of various cover artists or specific writers in the genres, providing a very brief history of the publication of softcover genre fiction. Lovisi also explains how to determine the physical condition of a collectible book, briefly discusses paperback collecting conventions and auction prices, and provides some very limited information on pseudonyms and other odd facts. The list of auction prices paid for several paperbacks was interesting (and convinced me once again that I'm under insured) but the section about buying SF on the internet doesn't mention Ebay. Since I found the top seventy-five SF books on my wantlist on Ebay in one eight month period, I think it needs to be included in any study of book collecting.
Dimensions of Sheckley by Robert Sheckley, NESFA, 2/02, $29, ISBN 1-886778-29-9
The latest NESFA omnibus consists of five novels by Robert Sheckley. Immortality Inc., filmed as Freejack, is set in a future where immortality and bodynapping have become everyday events. Journey Beyond Tomorrow is a satire set in a future where superstition governs society. A man wins a galactic prize and gets lost in alternate universes in Dimension of Miracles and another finds his personality moved to a different body in Mindswap. Minotaur Maze is a spoof of the ancient myth. Only the first of these is entirely serious in tone. Sheckley's wry humor and talent for making the improbable seem possible infuse all of the novels, however, and readers who missed these on their first appearance are in for a real treat. I wouldn't be surprised if another volume appeared in the near future as there are several other novels that deserve to be reprinted. Add $3 for shipping if ordering direct.
Dorsai Spirit by Gordon R. Dickson, Tor, 6/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-312-87764-1
Bones of the Moon by Jonathan Carroll, Tor, 5/02, $13.95, ISBN 0-312-87312-3
These are a pair of very noteworthy reprints. The first is an omnibus of the very first Dorsai novel, which appeared as an Ace Double under the title The Genetic General in 1960, introducing us to the complex world of interstellar politics in Dickson's created universe, and The Spirit of Dorsai, a short novel published by Ace in 1979 with extensive illustrations which are not included in this new edition, and which explores the life of the women of the world of mercenaries. Some of the best interstellar fiction of all times, and even forty years later, the original novel resonates with its original power. The second title is one of the author's earlier novels, out of print for more than a decade. The protagonist is a woman whose very realistic dreams are often predictors of what will happen to her in real life. So when she begins to dream adventures in a fantasy world, it's obvious that she's about to experience a few dramatic changes. Two fine volumes from two different genres, both good enough to appeal to a wide range of readers.
Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold, Baen,5/02, $25, ISBN 0-7434-3533-8
Miles Vorkosigian is back and he's married. In fact, this new novel opens as he and his wife are on a voyage back to Barrayar from their honeymoon. They are diverted to deal with a crisis involving a somewhat less than diplomatic military officer and the administration of a large artificial habitat maintained by the quaddies, Bujold's genetically engineered people who have four arms and no legs so that they can function in weightlessness. Miles finds himself in the middle of a mystery; a security officer has disappeared and there is evidence indicating that he's been murdered. Another man has gone AWOL and efforts to reclaim him led to a violent conflict between Barrayaran soldiers and the local authorities. And shortly after arriving, Miles himself is nearly killed in what appears to be an assassination attempt. But the situation is more complex than that, involving an interstellar conspiracy, three different make that very different cultures, a renegade, a quest for vengeance, plague, and general disorder and confusion. It's lots of fun, and our old friend Bel Thorne returns as well. Another winner to add to a long shelf of them from this writer.
The Great Escape by Ian Watson, Golden Gryphon, 2002, price not listed, ISBN 1-930846-09-6
For some reason, Ian Watson seems to have gone out of fashion on this side of the Atlantic, which puzzles me because his books are of such consistently high quality, including the few British titles I've managed to acquire over the years. This is a collection of his short fiction, mostly SF but with a few fantasies thrown in as well. On the fantasy side, there are some non-horrific ghost stories, the account of Jesus' twin brother, life in Hell, a vampire, and the secret of a hidden room. In general, the fantasies are inferior to the SF. On that side we have an interesting tale of living people providing host bodies for the dead, an amusing detective story involving a shapechanger aboard a starship, the real secret of the Crucifixion, a story set in a future where everyone is connected by thought mail and what happens when there is an interruption in the service, a wickedly funny story about decapitation as a necessary prelude to immortality, alien contact, and even a relatively hard SF story set among the asteroids. You probably won't like every story in the collection. You'll probably enjoy immensely the vast majority of them.
Psyclone by Roger Sharp, Barclay, 2001, $14.95, ISBN 1-931402-01-9
A brilliant scientist ignores the public outcry against cloning and develops a method of cloning an adult human being. His goal is to replace his twin brother, who died tragically, and restore his family. Unfortunately, he doesn't realize that you cannot clone a soul, and the resulting person is a conscienceless monster. The predictable plot and inevitable outcome were overdone years ago, and the timeliness of the issue of cloning doesn't excuse another thinly disguised and clearly irrational critique. The prose is also marred by countless grammatical errors and misspelled words. Bad dialogue, bad plotting, bad characterization. You can safely assume this will not be on the Hugo ballot.
Memory Bank by Sandi Marchetti, Barclay, 2001, $15.95, ISBN 1-931402-12-4
The Earth has been largely depopulated as the result of a series of plagues. The survivors come up with a plan to preserve human culture by having those still alive act as hosts to the personalities of great minds from the past. They accomplish this by a sort of rationalized regression. Unfortunately, in one location, someone seems to be designing the project to revive only the personalities of people best forgotten, murderers, rapists, and maniacs. A team of specialists investigate to find out what is happening. The science in this SF novel is suspect, to say the least, and much of the story that does make sense is overly familiar. Marchetti does display good narrative skills, her prose is readable, and she does a fairly good job developing her characters. If she turns her hand to a topic about which she is more knowledgeable, she will probably turn out a much better book.
The Approaching Storm by Alan Dean Foster, Lucas Books, 2/02, $26, ISBN 0-345-44300-4
Dark Journey by Elaine Cunningham, Lucas Books, 2/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-42869-2
The Star Wars universe continues to expand in various directions. Foster's novel is set between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, and follows the adventures of Obiwan, Anakin, and another Jedi as they travel to a remote planet in an effort to prevent the civil unrest there from causing it to secede from the Republic. The task proves considerably more complex than they thought, and they end up traveling across the planet in order to achieve a peaceful solution. The Cunningham novel follows the exploits of a daughter of Han Solo and Princess Leia. She has returned from an expedition into hostile alien space, pursued by her enemies, and takes refuge in another system which secretly holds the Jedi responsible for a previous disaster. Caught between two enemies, one openly hostile and the other devious, can she hope to escape despite some deep internal turmoil? You betcha. The Foster novel reads like a Foster novel rather than a Star Wars tie-in, and that's a good thing. It's an above average interplanetary adventure that just happens to feature Lucas' characters in two of the main roles. The second is less successful as SF, but does a good job of continuing the adventures of the Solo family. You won't be wasting your money in either case, but Foster's book should appeal to a wider variety of readers.
The Essential Silver Surfer by Stan Lee, John Buscema, and Jack Kirby, Marvel, 2001, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0271-X
Back in the 1970s, I was an avid Marvel Comics fan, and my favorite superhero was probably the Silver Surfer. He was a bit of an absurd figure, a silver clad humanoid who flew around on a surfboard, confined to Earth by a barrier erected by Galactus, his former master. The Surfer was the ultimate in misunderstood heroes. Every time he tried to do good it went wrong or was misinterpreted. Marvel used misunderstandings often so they could pit one good guy against another, and in this omnibus of the first eighteen solo issues plus one from another series, the Surfer battles the Fantastic Four, Thor, the Inhumans, Nick Fury, and Spiderman in addition to the villains. His main nemesis was Mephisto, essentially the Devil himself, who continually tried to tempt the Surfer into giving up his soul. Other supervillains here include the alien Badoon, the Stranger, the Overlord, Quasimodo, Count Frankenstein, the Flying Dutchman, the Abomination, a South American dictator, a robot, and his own doppelganger. The reproductions here are in black and white, but they're lively and it was a nice trip down memory lane seeing old faces, good and evil, once again.
The Essential Avengers Volume 1, Marvel, 2001, $14.95, ISBN 0-7851-0701-0
Unlike the Fantastic Four, the Avengers were a group of superheroes who changed personnel frequently. This opening volume contains the first twenty four adventures of the group, which originally consisted of Thor, Giant Man, the Wasp, Iron Man, and the Hulk, although he was quickly replaced by Captain America. The Avengers defeated a large number of villains despite their egotistical internal feuds, but eventually they got tired and were replaced almost en masse by Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye. Here they confront a vast array of villains including Sub-Mariner, Captain America's arch-enemy Count Zemo, Kang the Conqueror, the Lava Men and the Mole Man, both of whom lived beneath the Earth's crust, the Space Phantom, Count Nefaria, Wonderman, Immortus, various aliens, an even a counterfeit Spiderman. These collections are only in black and white, alas, but they still provide a complete record of the caped superheroes' earliest adventures.
Kiln People by David Brin, Tor, 1/ 02, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30355-8
In his latest novel, David Brin speculates about a future in which it is possible to create temporary duplicates of yourself, with various abilities depending upon their purpose. The catch is that the duplicates, which are by law easily distinguishable from real people, have a lifespan of only twenty-four hours. Albert Morris is a private detective who uses his duplicates for many assignments, particularly the dangerous ones, uploading their memories when they reach the end of their limited lives. But his latest case, or rather cases, are unusually confusing. A missing man shows up dead, but his duplicates seem to hang around longer than expected. Someone is impersonating one of his clients in order to frame him, and another has been kidnapping his duplicates for use in his secret experiments. There is a small problem inherent to the plot; the multiple first person narrative viewpoints are occasionally confusing and often disorienting. Once you've adjusted to that, however, you're in for a rare treat, a novel that wraps a mystery around some genuinely new and interesting speculation. This is Brin's best book in years, and an early candidate for best book by anyone this year.
Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick, Avon Eos, 3/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-380-97836-9
Richard Leyster is a paleontologist who receives an offer he cannot refuse. A government official hands him an intact, recently living head of a stegosaurus, and tells him that he can find out more only if he agrees to complete secrecy. Yes, you guessed it, the government has time travel, the gift of an inhuman species from the unimaginable far future. Leyster agrees, of course, and joins a group of scientists from various times who are able to travel back to selected points in prehistory to study the evolution of modern life. Steps are taken to avoid the possibility of a paradox, and fortunately, time itself seems resilient enough to adapt to this rushing back and forth. Leyster's life is complicated by the presence of another scientist, with whom he has a love hate relationship, and more immediately saboteurs from the militant Creation Science movement, who apparently want to disprove the existence of the far past by killing or stranding those who travel through time. Swanwick's newest is an intricate, thoughtful work, which is no surprise. It did surprise me how quickly I read through to the end. I haven't read a book of this length in a single sitting in quite a while. His narrative style is superb and I was constantly waiting to see what would happen next. This one's a winner.
One Door Away from Heaven by Dean R. Koontz, Bantam, 12/01, $26.95, ISBN 0-553-80137-6
There are some unavoidable minor spoilers in this review so be warned. The latest Koontz is pure SF, of the X Files variety, and only remotely horror. There are two major plots which eventually collide. The first involves a ten year old girl with some physical handicaps, whose mother is a New Age dopester of the first order, and whose father is a UFO worshipping nut and occasional serial killer. The second involves a young boy who is being pursued by government agents and some unspecified other bad guys whose nature will eventually be revealed. It's clear from the outset that there's something odd about the boy, and the fact that he's not entirely human comes as no surprise at all. Leilani, the young girl, is probably the most interesting characters I've ever encountered in a Koontz novel, and it's worth reading the book just to experience her. Unfortunately, I think she's largely wasted in this pale reflection of an earlier and far superior Koontz novel, Strangers. There are some moments of genuine suspense in the chase sequences, but the bad guys are generally dealt with off stage, and I kept wondering when we were actually going to see something at first hand.
Hopscotch by Kevin J. Anderson, Bantam, 2/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-553-10474-8
In the not too distant future, it is possible to temporarily swap bodies with other people. A new business has arisen, in which people will take your place while you undergo some unpleasant experience, then swap back when it's over. The protagonist is one such entrepreneur who gets into serious trouble when the rich client he has exchanged places with refuses to return his original body. His plight is complicated by his relationship to a woman who has become obsessed with a cult, and another who works for a government agency specializing in tracking down missing personalities, both of whom were childhood friends at an orphanage. Anderson has always been a more interesting writer when he is creating his own universes instead of playing in someone else's, and this latest is more evidence of that fact. Some interesting speculation about the consequences of his premise and a nicely paced adventure story.
Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan, Tor, 5/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-06-105093-8 and Gollancz, 2/02, 9.99 pounds, ISBN 0-575-07123-0
Greg Egan's latest takes us to a very distant future where human technology is so far beyond that of today that it is almost incomprehensible. Humans can travel to the stars in discorporate form as well as physically. The story opens with a scientific experiment that results in a pocket of existence in which the laws of nature function differently than in our familiar universe. Unfortunately, the area begins to expand. The story jumps six hundred years into the future, and the novo-vacuum has absorbed hundreds of populated planets and is expanding rapidly. Two major movements have formed, one of which wants to neutralize or destroy the encroaching sphere of influence, the other more interested in understanding and perhaps accepting the changes. It's a dichotomy that will tear apart worlds, as well as friendships. Fascinating speculation, although the setting is so distant in time and space that I didn't feel the kind of tension that the situation ought to have evoked.
Manifold: Origin by Stephen Baxter, Del Rey, 2/02, $26, ISBN 0-345-43079-4
The third and final volume of this sequence opens with some momentous events. The Earth's moon is mysterious replaced with a new one, bright red, and displaying some unusual physical properties. At the same time, its arrival causes the displacement of a number of people through time and space, including the wife of Reid Malenfant, astronaut, who finds herself in a primitive quasi-Africa. Malenfant pushes for immediate missions to the new object, not just out of scientific curiosity but in an effort to find his missing wife, whom the rest of the world believes dead and gone. Filled with marvelous scientific speculations, strange events, novel concepts, and an awe inspiring sense of the wonders of the universe. One of the best hard SF writers in the business.
The Peshawar Lancers by S.M. Stirling, Roc, 1/ 02, $23.95, ISBN 0-451-45848-6
I'm a long time fan of the works of Talbot Mundy, so when I read through the blurb on this new alternate history novel, I had high hopes. I wasn't disappointed. The Earth is transformed when a meteor shower destroys much of civilization during the 1870s. In the aftermath, scientific progress is slowed and in the 20th Century the world is dominated by two major powers. One is the British Empire, now administered from India and controlling much of the world; the other is Russia under the Czar, an aggressive, expansive power spoiling for a fight. The main protagonist is Athelstane King, a British officer who becomes caught up in espionage as the two governments move toward a confrontation. Throw in a woman with psychic dreams, a feisty female scientist, and various inventions including lurking assassins and pitched battles and you have all the makings for a fast paced, exciting story. I enjoyed this far more than any of Stirling's previous novels, and hope we haven't seen the last of Athelstane King and his friends.
The Rock Rats by Ben Bova, Tor, 4/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30227-6
Ben Bova continues the story begun in The Precipice. Although her mentor is dead, Pancho Barnes holds a place on the board of his conglomerate, and she is determined to keep both the company and the asteroid belt in general out of the exploitative hands of rival industrialist Martin Humphries. Humphries is obsessive on the subject, wants to control the asteroids not just for their wealth, but because he sees it as a key step in his plan to dominate the entire solar system. He also has a personal grudge against one of the asteroid miners, having been crossed in love as well as commerce. Bova seems equally at ease describing the technical side of mining in the asteroid belt and the more human aspects of inter and intra-company maneuvering. This is the latest in a string of good, solid, realistic novels he's given us dealing with human exploration and development of the rest of the solar system.
Falling Sideways by Tom Holt, Orbit, 2002, 16.99 pounds, ISBN 1-84149-087-3
David Perkins doesn't really want to find out about the secret masters of the human race. He's fascinated with a woman from another age after seeing her portrait, purchases a lock of her hair, and has her cloned. Unfortunately, her reaction to the new world and his fondness for her aren't entirely what he expected. Then he comes under suspicion in the murder of a small time art thief, and that eventually leads him to discover that the destiny of the human race is secretly controlled by another intelligent species living on Earth frogs. Holt's usual dry wit and sense of the ridiculousness are in good but not top form in this farcical tale.
Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright, Overlook, 2001, $21.95, ISBN 1-58567-148-8
This is one of the classic quasi-Utopian novels, published after the author's death when his heirs reduced a much more massive manuscript to this existing one thousand page version. It's the story of a mythical country which has been cut off from the rest of the world until recently, seen through the eyes of a new American ambassador. Wright explored his fictional country at great length, providing history, social structure, even a description of its artistic heritage. When I first read this when Signet did a paperback edition back in the mid 1960s, I found it fascinating at first, but eventually lost interest in Wright's world because there really isn't a great deal of story. Many others have become lost in the world's intricacies, however, and there have been several sequels by author authors over the years. It's good to see it back in print though. It's certainly one of the more quietly significant books in the genre.
Retief! by Keith Laumer, Baen, 1/ 02, $6.99, ISBN 0-671-31857-8
Back when I first discovered the SF magazines, it used to be a treat to find the latest adventure of Retief almost every month. Years later, I tried reading them in collected form and discovered that they were often so repetitive that it was a chore getting through some of the tales. Eric Flint has selected the stories to be included in this cross collection, and he has wisely chosen and organized them to give an overview of Retief's career, which provides something of an ongoing story line and avoids much of the problem I had experienced in the past. The stories are still quite deliberately rigged so that Retief always has to be right, but most readers will understand that up front and not mind the contrived plots. Laumer will probably be best remembered for Retief, which is a bit of a shame since much of his other work is superior. But even at their worst, the stories entertain on a level that many other writers never reach.
Pandora's Legions by Christopher Anvil, Baen, 2/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-671-31861-6
During the 1960s and 1970s, ChristopherAnvil was almost the poster child for Analog style SF, one of the chief tenets of which was that humankind was the meanest, toughest, smartest race on the block. A good example of that was Pandora's Planet, a short novel in which Earth is conquered by the Central Empire, but eventually becomes the power to be reckoned with as various aspects of human culture corrupt the conquerors and spread throughout the galaxy. This is a restored, or at least reconstituted version of that novel, edited by Eric Flint, which also incorporates several related short stories. Anvil was never in danger of breaking bold new ground with his fiction, but he was workmanlike and reliable and light adventure fans will more than get their money's worth.
The Hidden Dragon by Irene Radford, DAW, 2/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0051-1
Irene Radford is a reinvention of Phyllis Karr, whose previous work has been almost exclusively fantasy. This is her first science fiction novel, although it has overtones of fantasy, and its a very fine other world adventure. The O'Hara brothers are likable rogues, on the run from the galactic authorities because of one too many shady activities. They are forced to land on a colony world whose internal structure has collapsed, leaving a primitive society governed by superstition. The outworlders are seeking help so that they can leave, but their efforts gain them the animosity of a local religious leader, who represents a supposedly magical dragon. Our heroes believe it's all illusion, until they discover that the dragon is all too real. This is the first in a projected series and one that I will look forward to.
Green Boy by Susan Cooper, McElderry, 3/02, $16, ISBN 0-689-84751-3
Lou and Trey are two young children, brothers, living in the Bahamas when they are somehow magically translated into a future in which the world has been overdeveloped, genetic engineering has upset the balance of nature, and they find themselves fugitives, connected to a mysterious myth that says they will save the day. This is aimed at younger readers, but has many of the same themes as the author's superb but apparently forgotten early novel, Mandrake, particularly the concept that the planet has an independent sentience of its own and will react against things which throw the ecosystem too far out of balance. That early novel fascinated me, but this one seems a bit too preachy for its target audience, let alone adult readers.
Leaping to the Stars by David Gerrold, Tor, 3/02, no price listed, ISBN 0-312-89067-2
The distinction between adult and young adult SF has often been almost invisible, and that's particularly true with some writers. This is the third adventure of the Dingillian brothers, a young adult SF series, although written at a level where adults should find it equally engaging. In the last volume, the three youngsters finally abandoned their adults and escaped to the moon, carrying with them the prototype for a radical artificial intelligence unit, a prize so valuable that corporations and governments are ready to commit crimes in order to possess it. Their respite on the moon proves to be a brief one, as they are pursued by their enemies, and Charles and the others turn their eyes to another refuge, one that circulates around another star. Gerrold does this sort of thing very well, and the peripheral tie in to When Harlie Was One will tickle the fancy of fans of that earlier work.
Claremont Tales II by Richard A. Lupoff, Golden Gryphon, 2/02, $23.95, ISBN 1-930846-07-X
This is about as varied a single author collection as you're likely to find. The second volume of Lupoff's short fiction from this publisher includes a Lovecraftian pastiche, a hardboiled detective story, a more traditional mystery, science fiction including a couple of alternate history stories, offbeat fantasy, and other diversions. Read here to find out the consequences of the world's longest urination, or to find out what it might have been like if Jack Kerouac had decided to write a Sherlock Holmes story, or what happened in Dunwich after Wilber Whately and his brother died. What would the world be like if the Roman Empire had never fallen? What happens if the power of imagination transforms the world? How do you foil a cult that believes that the best way to prevent evil is to kill everyone so that no one will ever be tempted? These stories are so varied that it feels almost as though I was dipping into several different books by varying writers. They're drawn from the breadth of Lupoff's career as a writer. You may not like every story in the book, but you're certainly going to enjoy the majority, no matter which way your tastes run.
Swift Thoughts by George Zebrowski, Golden Gryphon, 4/02, $24.95, ISBN 1-93084608-8
Over the course of more than two decades, George Zebrowski has produced a comparatively small but uniformly high quality short fiction, and it was somewhat surprising to realize there hadn't been a collection of his stories until now. Although they are all science fiction, some of them really push the borders of the genre, as in the case of a very effective satire in which spoken words take on physical form and must be cleaned up at the end of each day. There's another tale in which original ideas take on solid form as well. In the alternate world of "The Eichmann Variations", a world dominant Israel captures the Nazi war criminal and duplicates him so that he can be executed six million times in an exploration of the nature of guilt. In another story, aliens come to Earth in the guise of the Three Stooges, and in another, we see a subtle alternate history in which a British agent with his own personal agenda assassinates Lenin. Other stories use more familiar themes escaping death by transfer to a virtual reality world, life in a post apocalyptic America but even when using traditional themes, Zebrowski is always able to find something new to say. If you're not already familiar with his work, pick up Swift Thoughts to find out what you've been missing.
The Great SF Stories (1964) edited by Robert Silverberg, NESFA Press, 2001, $25 plus $3 shipping in the US, ISBN 1-886778-21-3
SF fans have always shown a fondness for creating lists the best one hundred novels of all time, the Hugos as they "should" have been, and so forth. A few years back, Isaac Asimov was editing a line of retroactive Best of the Year anthologies for DAW Books, which ended with the year 1963. Now Robert Silverberg has picked up the torch with NESFA Press, with this the first in a new run. 1964 was my senior year of high school, I had been reading SF for four years, and there was so much older stuff to find and read that I wasn't really aware of how good that year had been. Included here, for example, is my all time favorite Roger Zelazny story, "The Graveyard Heart", and the shorter original version of "Soldier, Ask Not" by Gordon R. Dickson. Fred Saberhagen's "The Life Hater" helped establish the Berserker series, Cordwainer Smith published "the Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal", and there were also great tales by Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, John Brunner, Ursula K. LeGuin, Fred Pohl, Robert Silverberg, and others. At shorter length, 1964 was undoubtedly one of the best years for SF, and this is therefore one of the best anthologies you're likely to find in 2002.
Captain Nemo by K.J. Anderson, Pocket, 1/ 02, $23, ISBN 0-7434-4406-X
The argument has been made that while H.G. Wells is the father of serious SF, Jules Verne is the father of SF adventure. Here's a somewhat different novel from Kevin Anderson which features the latter author as one of its characters. Jules Verne, we learn, based many of his most famous books on the career of a single man, Andre Nemo, who was shipwrecked on an island of dinosaurs, captured by a madman who wanted to build a flying machine, who himself designed a super submarine to prey on warships, who visited the caverns beneath the Earth, traveled around the world, and spent five weeks in a balloon. Anderson cleverly assembles the various episodes into a single coherent story and even manages to develop the character of Nemo and the woman he loves to some extent, although the plot necessarily moves so quickly from one setting to another that you're more likely to be caught up by "what will he do next?" then by his personal trials and tribulations on a non-physical level. Amusing, entertaining, cleverly conceived, and well written, this is one of those adventure stories that you're likely to remember fondly in the months that follow actually reading it.
The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson, Bantam, 3/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-553-10920-0
What might have world history been like if the Black Death had been so devastating that it virtually wiped out Europe, taking Christianity along with it? That's the premise for Kim Stanley Robinson's latest, a novel which spans several centuries as it portrays for us the world that might have been. Islamic settlers flow in to fill the vacuum, and Christianity is reduced to a minor sect of historical interest only. In the new world, a Chinese military expedition accidentally discovers the west coast of the Americas and the civilizations that exist there. Robinson presents a series of historical incidents to draw the broad outline of history, from primitive nomadism to alchemy to world wide conflicts and beyond. His view point moves through space as well as time to provide a panoramic view of his alternate history. Uchronia buffs should love this, and readers in general will be caught up in the sweep of the story, or more properly stories, and the plights of his various characters. Another intelligent and thought provoking work from an author for whom that almost goes without saying.
The Golden Age by John C. Wright, Tor, 4/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-84870-6
Here's an interesting first novel, a space opera of sorts, although more sophisticated than most. The blurbs compare it to Van Vogt and Zelazny, but I'd substitute Jack Vance for Zelazny, because Wright employs a very distinct, artificial prose style that reminded me of Vance. It's set in a distant future when the Solar System has been largely colonized, Jupiter has been transformed into a second sun, and the human race is essentially immortal. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, the human government wishes not only a continuation of their lives into the infinite, but an extension of their power as well. The protagonist is an ordinary member of the aristocracy, or at least so he considers himself until an alien from Neptune points out to him that he is missing large chunks of his memory, and that this results from his mind being tampered with. So he sets out to discover his own past, despite efforts by the highly placed to prolong his ignorance. There were some scenes that didn't work as well as others, but for the most part I found this to be a clever and entertaining rethinking of the traditional space opera.
Wetware by Craig Nova, Shaye Areheart Books, 1/ 02, $22, ISBN 0-609-60595-X
When non-genre authors venture into SF, the result is sometimes embarrassingly inept, sometimes lacking in imagination, sometimes fresh and interesting precisely because the writer isn't familiar with genre preconceptions. This author's first venture into SF is a mild rift on the Frankenstein theme, and happily it's a fairly fresh look as well. The initial protagonist is a biological engineer employed to design and build artificial humans to perform menial jobs. By law these constructs, essentially androids, are not supposed to have human emotions, nor are they supposed to be able to reproduce. But there wouldn't be much of a story if he didn't cheat a little, creating one male and one female who violate the rules, and there'd be even less of a story if they didn't escape, which they do. Their voyage of discovery seems doomed from the outset, but the fact that the female is fertile never leaves the reader's mind. This is a well written and sometimes inventive variation of an old SF theme which manages to avoid most of the usual clichιs.
The Visitor by Sheri S. Tepper, Avon Eos, 4/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-380-97905-5
Now that nuclear war seems more remote, SF writers have been turning to other ways of bringing about the end of the world, reviving the old disaster novel form that was so popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Sheri Tepper's latest is a case in point. Several generations have passed since a meteorite struck the Earth, destroying civilization and killing most of humankind, leaving the rest bereft of most of the scientific knowledge they once possessed. New nations being to arise in the aftermath, including Bastion, which is slowly progressing toward a technological society despite a primitive religious sect that dominates the culture. Disme Latimer is a young woman who inherits books that predate the collapse, an orphan who grows up to become a pivotal player in the future of her people, and of the world. Tepper has rarely faltered in her production of thought provoking, gripping SF novels, and this isn't one of the rare lapses. It's a convincing portrait of an entirely new world, one full of adventure and wonders and speculation about the future of humankind as a species.
Travels by Jerry J. Davis, IPublish, 2001, $13.95, ISBN 0759585881. Also available in ebook form.
It's the not too distant future and the power of television, augmented by subliminal persuasion, has become a controlling force in the world. One of the most popular channels is called Travels, which is a seductive but plotless touring program that nevertheless proves addictive to millions of viewers. A major rival is a religious channel, which announced that it will be showing live coverage of the Second Coming of Christ, which you must admit is pretty strong competition. In a world where artificial intelligences are branded as the antichrist, where longevity treatment, cloning, and involuntary sterilization are facts of life, various characters struggle to retain control of their minds and other liberties. An often interesting if rather depressing look at one possible future, told with competent but unremarkable prose.
Frank by Fred Petrovsky, IPublish, 2001, $14.95, ISBN 0759550220
I''ve run into quite a range of print on demand books this year, ranging from absolutely awful to surprisingly good. This one falls somewhere in the middle. First novelist Petrovsky takes a fresh and original look at the Frankenstein story, setting it in the near future. The protagonist is dying of a mysterious disease, because of which he agrees to submit to an experimental, and illegal, brain transplant operation. Initially he is unable to control the body of Frank, his new home, but eventually the operation proves to be successful. Or does it? Are there lingering traces of Frank, and can his family and friends ever accept him as the person he used to be? Despite some ambitious efforts and some thoughtful plotting, this novel never came alive for me no pun intended. I found the situation so implausible that it was hard to believe in the protagonist's plight. There was enough interesting material to make me keep the author's name in mind so that I read his next book, but not enough for me to recommend this one.
Sherlock Holmes and the Terror Out of Time by Ralph E. Vaughan, Gryphon, 1/ 02, $15, ISBN 1-58250-041-X
What would happen if the minds of Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger were allied in a single mission? Could even their intelligence and resourcefulness be a match for the might of Cthulhu and his minions if they were in fact ready to return to our universe? Author Vaughan explores that possibility in this short novel from Gryphon Books, which harnesses Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's two greatest heroes and sets them in the universe of H.P. Lovecraft. The story is cute and the juxtaposition of characters and situation and interesting one. Most readers should find this fun, although it's pretty lightweight and works more as an amusing curiosity than as a novel.
Dance for the Ivory Madonna by Don Sakers, Speed of C Publications, 2/02, $19.99, ISBN 0-9716147-1-7
Don Sakers has here written something of a kitchen sink novel. In the not too distant future, America has split into three countries, and the government of what remains of the original nation has been dramatically changed. Africa has been ravaged by AIDS, and many of the former African nations have merged into one larger superstate. The protagonist is from this region, although he fled to the US following the murder of his father. Now he is an agent working for the Ivory Madonna, an international manipulator with an elaborate spy network, and he's returning for revenge. Throw into the mix a variety of subplots involving a religious dictatorship, prejudice against gays, racial politics, etc., and you get a very large, occasionally disjointed novel that has pockets of really good stuff connected sometimes by less interesting transitional material. I'd give this one a mixed review because its ambitions sometimes surpass its reach, but Sakers certainly makes a good effort.
Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, Gollancz, 2/02, 10.99 pounds, ISBN 0-575-07322-5
Five centuries from now, the human race has spread to the stars, but for the most part all of humanity is governed by the United Nations, which has survived. Human personalities can now be recorded and resurrected in cloned bodies, and the protagonist is a man recently revived from the dead at the behest of a very rich Earthman, who was murdered and wants to know who was responsible. What follows is a reasonably standard tough detective story plot although the setting is anything but ordinary. The only real criticism I have is that I would have expected society to become considerably less recognizable over such a long period of time, but that's a nitpick. The story is quite good, the SF elements wrapped around a good mystery, and Altered Carbon doesn't at all read like a debut novel.
Spectrum 7, 2001, £3.99
The seventh issue of this paperback style magazine is its largest yet, and now there's full color cover art as well. The largest chunk of the issue consists of the first half of a novel by Charles Stross, set in a strange variant of the England we know, a world where creatures lurk in the bathrooms and prey on the unwary. Mary Soon Lee has a touching story about an uplifted dog who serves as part of a spaceship crew. David Redd, who produces entirely too little fiction, has a story about an American mission to a very strangely transformed future England. There's also a novelette by Eric Brown, part of his series about a future in which aliens come to Earth and raise the dead. In less skilled hands this could have been just plain silly, but Brown makes us believe it's real. And there's a great chunk of reviews and bibliographic information this time as well. Still one of the most promising and interesting new titles, but unfortunately still not available directly in the US.
Technogenesis by Syne Mitchell, Roc, 1/ 02, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45864-8
In Syne Mitchell's second novel, the internet has become something more than a convenience. Virtually everyone in the world is connected to the Net all the time, and those who are unable to link in are viewed with considerable distaste. The protagonist is a researcher who is temporarily disconnected, and who begins to notice some odd phenomena in her new state. She gets the sense that she is being watched in some systematic fashion, as though she were the focus of some conspiracy. She also uncovers some anomalous information, including the fact that no one connected to the Net has committed suicide during the previous year. Then she's kidnapped by agents of a government agency who coerce her into undertaking a mission for them that could potentially reshape humanity. Mitchell blends high tech speculation with high adventure as we discover that being able to plug in to a group consciousness may in fact alter us all. Quite well done and genuinely creepy.
Echoes of Earth by Sean Williams and Shane Dix, Ace, 1/ 02, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-00892-5
Humanity has learned to explore space by creating electronic duplicates of actual people and sending them out to explore the stars. One such expedition witnesses a colossal construction project by an alien power, and then learns to communicate with the artificial intelligence that was left behind. The technology which they can bring back home may be minor to the aliens, but it will transform human society forever. But there's a catch to the gift there's always a catch. The authors have already made a name for themselves as writers of intelligent space opera, and this novel is sure to further bolster that reputation. The book is chock full of marvelous events, cosmic significance, mysterious alien motivations, and the wonder of outer space. If you haven't found much fun in your recent SF, try this as a restorative.
Star Trek: In the Name of Honor by Dayton Ward, Pocket, 1/ 02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-1225-7
Star Trek S.C.E.: Have Tech, Will Travel by Keith R.A. DeCandido, Kevin Dilmore, Christie Golden, Dean Wesley Smith, and Dayton Ward, Pocket, 1/ 02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-3996-1
The first of these two tie ins is a somewhat above average formula novel set within the original show. Kirk is involved with peace negotiations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire when he discovers the existence of a prisoner camp which the Klingons refuse to admit exists because they are embarrassed by the conditions there. He has to rescue the prisoners without upsetting the peace talks, and to no reader's surprise, he succeeds. The second title is the first in a new series about the Starfleet Corps of Engineers, commanded by our old friend Scottie. Although this is packaged and billed as a novel, it's more a series of connected stories following the exploits of Scottie's people as they deal with various technical problems. Further adventures are no doubt on their way.
Doctor Who on Location by Richard Bignell, Reynolds & Hearn, 3/02, $24.95, ISBN 1-903111-22-6
For all its many faults of logic, its low special effects budget, and the inconsistency of its plots, the Doctor Who series remains popular even many years after the last episode was shown. It is the only program that rivals Star Trek in the number of original tie-in novels, and books about the show, of which this is the latest I've seen. This one's for a very specialized taste, because it's a guide to the shooting locations for the various episodes. There's even an index by region so you can find out which series were shot in a particular part of England. There are lots of black and white photographs showing on and off screen action and a detailed account of where everything was shot. For fanatics rather than simple fans, but certainly one of the most detailed books I've seen.
Science Fiction from Wells to Heinlein by Leon Stover, McFarland, 3/02, $45, ISBN 0-7864-1219-4
Leon Stover has been teaching and writing about SF for a long time. This new book consists of two parts. The first traces the history of SF from Wells to Heinlein, whom Stover considers the direct descendant of Wells, and who is responsible in Stover's mind for the recent acceptance of SF into mainstream fiction. He presents some interesting arguments, though they remain unconvincing to me. Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Ursula K. LeGuin, J.G. Ballard, and several others contributed as much or more to the cautious acknowledgment by mainstream critics that SF wasn't all trash. The second part of the book is an exploration of various themes in SF, utopias, dystopias, robots, catastrophes, etc. There are also some brief appendices which seem only marginally connected to the main text, and some very nice full color insets showing covers of SF magazines.
Barsoom by Richard A. Lupoff, Gryphon, 9/01, $16, ISBN 1-58250-039-8
Although not my favorite works by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the Mars books are certainly entertaining enough if you're willing to overlook their many obvious faults. Burroughs had a gift for storytelling if not prose, and in fact I recently re-read the opening trilogy with considerable enjoyment. This lengthy examination of Barsoom originally appeared from Mirage Press in 1976, and now it's available again in softcover format, with the George Barr illustrations included. Lupoff examines the logic of Burroughs' Mars, addresses the question of whether or not the Mars books should even be considered SF, and explores the story lines, settings, and characters in considerable detail. Some might say that such obviously light entertainment doesn't deserve close examination, but I found Lupoff's comments interesting, enlightening, and occasionally amusing.
Futureland by Walter Mosley, read by Richard Allen, Brilliance Audio, 2002, $32.95, ISBN 1-58788-985-4
This is the complete, unabridged version of Mosley's latest book, a collection of interrelated short stories set in a dystopian future. Mosley's world is filled with governments that exploit rather than protect their citizens, privately run prison systems that are essentially slave labor camps, brain implants, religious cults, and racial and class prejudice that are an exaggerated version of our own society. The stories themselves vary from merely good to extremely good. On the low end are the story of a female boxer and an effort to outsmart a rich and ruthless businessman. On the high end are the tales of a precocious child whose uncle makes the ultimate sacrifice to ensure his future, the story of a terminally ill man who has a dead child's personality implanted in his brain, and a successful escape from the most secure prison I've ever encountered in literature. Arrayed in between the two extremes are stories of a secret substructure within a major corporation, a murder mystery, and other fine stories. At times the bad aspects of Mosley's world are depressing, but there's almost always a few signs of hope, selfless human behavior, a triumph over the system, freedom persisting even against very powerful adversity. There are seven tapes in all, approximately ten hours. This isn't the cheeriest tape you may listen to, but it's one of the most emotionally effective.
Immersion and Other Short Novels by Gregory Benford, Five Star, 3/02, $23.95, ISBN 0-7862-38771-1
Four very good novellas here, with strong emphasis on hard science, though not at the cost of good storytelling. My favorite is the title story, in which tourists can share the consciousness of chimpanzees and observe them in their native habitats. Close behind it is "To the Storming Gulf", proof that you can still find something new to say about life after a nuclear war. Aliens become fascinated with Egyptian history in "Space, Time and the River", and there's an interesting scientific problem at the core of "Matter's End, which is set in India. Benford's ability to use unusual settings and immerse his readers in his created worlds is one of the strongest components of his work, which proves that hard science doesn't have to be dry and characterless.
In Another Country and Other Short Novels by Robert Silverberg, Five Star, 3/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-7862-3876-3
Another collection of four reprint novellas from this new imprint, and one with just as high a level a quality as in its other offerings. Perhaps the most famous is the title story, which is a sequel to "Vintage Season", C.L. Moore's powerful story about time traveling tourists. I hadn't previously read "This Is the Road", a very clever and exciting story of the invasion of a weird other planet. Aliens have conquered America in "The Way to Spook City", and the portion they control has been remade to their liking. When an outsider enters in search of his brother, he encounters a reality that will change him forever. Finally there's "They Hide, We Seek", the least impressive but still first rate story of the search for a mysterious alien race in outer space. At least three of these are major stories that deserve a place in the library of any discerning SF reader.
The Excalibur Alternative by David Weber, Baen, 1/ 02, $21, ISBN 0-671-31860-8
Sir George Wincaster is head of a group of knights traveling by sea when they are abducted into space by a consortium of alien races who no longer know how to conduct actual warfare and who impress "primitives" as their mercenaries. Although the humans have no alternative but to comply, they bide their time and secretly plot against their masters, eventually learning enough about their technology to turn the tables. This is an okay story with absolutely no surprises, and I can't help wondering why the world needed a rewrite of Poul Anderson's classic The High Crusade just now, and one lacking the light humor that made the earlier novel stand out. Very light adventure reading, if you're looking for some, but if you haven't already read the Anderson, go find that one instead.
Snowfall by Mitchell Smith, Forge, 2/02, $23.95, ISBN 0-312-87896-6
I've never read any of the previous titles by Mitchell Smith, which apparently are contemporary thrillers, as this is his first venture into SF. It's the story of life following another ice age. The protagonists are members of a small tribe of hunters who keep remnants of the old knowledge alive in their treasure house of books. An exiled member of their tribe returns just as they are attacked by a much more numerous group that has in turn been evicted from its own land. After a disastrous attempt to protect their home territory, a small band of survivors is driven into the unknown south, where they encounter other groups with similar though not identical customs. The story is well told, but as the number of survivors dwindles, I found myself progressively less interested in their fate, even that of the relatively interesting protagonist, a female doctor who displays surprising resilience as the situation grows steadily worse. An interesting but not entirely satisfactory effort.
Alien Emergencies by James White, Tor, 4/01, $19.95, ISBN 0-312-87770-6
James White will always be best known for his stories of the hospital station, which served a variety of alien species, and the amusing classification system which he invented to explain its management. This is the second omnibus to appear from Tor, this one including Ambulance Ship, Sector General, and Star Healer, which were published separately between 1979 and 1985. There is a portion of the first title which has not previously appeared in the US. All of the stories in this series are good natured, inventive tales, written in White's transparent and unobtrusive style, and it's always a nice to see old friends back in circulation again.
Redshift edited by Al Sarrantonio, Roc, 12/01, $24.95, ISBN 0-451-45859-1
The blurb on this very large non-theme original anthology of speculative fiction refers to its contents as "extreme visions", and the editor refers to Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions anthologies, but in truth the stories are pretty staid and respectable and could have been published in almost any other current genre market with no difficulty. That doesn't mean there aren't good stories here. It opens with a very powerful Dan Simmons tale about mountain climbing with an alien visitor, for example. Michael Moorcock has an amusing and typically intricate fantasy, and Harry Turtledove provides another fantasy set in contemporary Afghanistan. Paul DiFilippo has a wickedly satiric contribution, Gregory Benford a fascinating speculation about the nature of the universe, and Joe Haldeman has a suspense story that is only SF by virtue of a tacked on and slightly too abrupt surprise ending. Other stories worth mentioning include a novelette by Elizabeth Hand and the stories by Neal Barrett Jr., Gene Wolfe, Thomas Disch, David Morrell, and Joyce Carol Oates. I find most theme anthologies tend to become monotonous, and a good general anthology like this one is a welcome change.
Fear Itself by Barret Schumacher, Forge, 1/ 02, $26.95, ISBN 0-765-30130-X
Reed Haler is a scientist involved in a project that might unlock the secrets of human existence. His wife, newly pregnant, insists that she has prescient visions of the future, and she has premonitions of a man who will harm her and her unborn child. Then a killer murders her, and Reed is forced to re-evaluate not only his life and his work but also to entertain the possibility that there is a metaphysical force of balance at work, that the killer's actions were actually a response to the potential of his daughter to continue his own work and transform the human race. So he sets out to track down the killer and make sense of all this. Despite the anti-scientific rationale, this is at times a very suspenseful and occasionally thought provoking thriller, and it's also a first novel. I find the premise that the quest for knowledge is inherently rather than inadvertently doomed rather repulsive, but otherwise found the story enjoyable enough.
Dark Ararat by Brian Stableford, Tor, 3/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30168-7
Stableford's future history series reaches volume five with this title, and will end with the sixth. Earth has undergone an ecological catastrophe following the development of emortality. To ensure the future of humanity, several ships were launched to the stars, most of the passengers in suspended animation while the crew ages and replaces itself. Now they've reached and begun to explore a habitable planet, but colonization is put on hold following the discovery of the ruins of an ancient fortress and the murder of one of the investigating scientists. The murder was arranged to look like it was done by aboriginal survivors, which would mean that the humans would have to look for another place to live, but there are multiple factions among the humans and a crisis is definitely brewing. There's a fascinating scientific mystery along with the more mundane case of murder, but I can't tell you about it without spoiling the story. Stableford always delivers a strong, entertaining story even when the theme's are intellectual, and this one is no exception.
Pirates of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Bison/University of Nebraska, 12/01, $14.95, ISBN 0-8032-6183-7
In the Days of the Comet by H.G. Wells, Bison/University of Nebraska, 12/01, $11.95, ISBN 0-8032-9825-0
The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Bison/University of Nebraska, 12/01, $11.95, ISBN 0-8032-6634-0
These are the three latest volumes in the University of Nebraska Press SF classic reprint series. Burroughs introduced his Venus series with the first title, one of his typical adventure stories set on a Venus of jungles and forests and featuring Carson Napier, a crashlanded hero from Earth. There's some additional non-fiction material, the most interesting of which is a map drawn by the author himself. The second title is not one of Wells' strongest titles, and in some ways it's rather depressing. Earth is on an apparent collision course with a comet but humankind remains as fractured and quarrelsome as ever. Following the passage, a new gas enters the atmosphere which causes us all to reform. Finally we have Doyle's inferior but interesting sequel to The Lost World, featuring Professor Challenger. Recently returned from his adventures among the dinosaurs, Challenger discovers that the world is about to enter a spaceborn cloud of poisonous gas which could wipe out the human race. All three books are handsomely produced and very welcome back in print.
Patterns of Chaos by Charles Ingrid, DAW, 1/ 02, $7.99, ISBN 0-7564-0055-4
DAW books continues its recent string of omnibus editions, this one including the first two novels in the series of the title, Radius of Doubt and Path of Fire, originally published in 1991 and 1992. Ingrid is a pseudonym of fantasy writer Rhondi Vilott, but this series is pure space opera. Faster than light travel is possible, but only one alien race has the mental abilities necessary to navigate the starlanes. This is a double edged sword because the navigators suffer eventual mental breakdowns, and the other races of the galaxy are jealous and make great efforts to discover the secret and break the monopoly. The opening two books establish the connection between one of these pilots and a human partner. Humans have been discovered but have not achieved the stature of the other races, a situation which may change with the discovery that they can form a kind of symbiotic relationship with the aliens. Nothing earth shattering here, but it was an entertaining series the first time around, and this new edition presumably to be followed by the balance of the series will undoubtedly find a new readership.
Doctor Who: Dying in the Sun by Jon De Burgh Miller, BBC, 2001, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-53840-6
Doctor Who: The City of the Dead by Lloyd Rose, BBC, 2001, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-53839-2
Doctor Who: Dark Progeny by Steve Emmerson, BBC, 2001, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-53837-6
Amidst rumors that a Doctor Who movie is once again actively under consideration, we have here three new adventures of the inimitable time traveler. Miller provides an adventure of the second Doctor, who is visiting 1947 Hollywood when he gets involved with a murder mystery involving a studio whose next release may be more than just a motion picture. It may be a weapon in a plot against the human race. Murder also takes central stage in the Rose novel, which features the eighth Doctor. In modern New Orleans, a dealer in magical antiquities has been killed and certain artifacts are missing, possibly linked to a mysterious tidal wave and other puzzles. But the Doctor's efforts to investigate are hindered by the interference of an apparently sentient bit of nothingness. The eighth Doctor is also featured in Emmerson's novel, set on a newly colonized planet. The automated terraforming process is being plagued by breakdowns and possible sabotage, and several newborn children are demonstrating psychokinesis. Is the problem inherent to the planet, or is a rival corporation trying to engineer a coup. The Rose novel has the most interesting and innovative plot, and the Emmerson is the best written and more traditionally SF in plot and treatment. But all three are welcome adventures for those of us who can't seem to overdose on the Doctor and his companions.
Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Millennium by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Pocket, 1/ 02, $15.95, ISBN 0-7434-4249-0
Star Trek Next Generation: The Genesis Wave Book Three by John Vornholt, Pocket, 1/ 02, $23.95, ISBN 0-7434-4375-6
Although there have been individual Star Trek tie-in novels that are exceptionally good, the most consistently rewarding authors set in this universe are Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens. The first of these titles is an omnibus edition of their three Deep Space Nine novels, previously published as The Fall of Terek Nor, The War of the Prophets, and Inferno. A group of religious authorities on Bajor are concealing the fact that a cataclysmic event is in the offing which could effect every living being in the galaxy. The proximity of two black holes is the catalyst, and Benjamin Sisko is about to find himself with one of the few functioning starships in the universe. Intricate, exciting, and much more character driven and thoughtful than almost any other tie-in novel. Almost as epic a series of events is promised in the second title, third in Vornholt's series about the unleashing of the Genesis Device on an unsuspecting universe. Although it appears that the effects have been neutralized, Picard is about to discover that it weakened the barrier between our universe and another, and that there is more danger to be faced and overcome. Much lighter weight than the omnibus, but likable enough for a slow afternoon's reading.
Rapture in Death by J.D. Robb, Brilliance Audio, , 2001, $24.95, ISBN 1-58788-102-0
Nora Roberts has pseudonymously produced about a dozen adventures of Eve Dallas, a police investigator sometime in the next century. Although the SF elements are often more atmospheric than plot connected, Dallas lives in a world of androids, space travel, and other standard genre elements, and sometimes the SF is more directly related to the plot, as is the case in this, the fourth in the series. Three apparently unrelated suicides make Dallas suspicious this time, and autopsies indicate a small burn mark on the brain of each of the victims. Has someone found a new way to commit murder, or is something even more sinister taking place? This is the six hour, four cassette abridgement. Brilliance usually does an unabridged version as well, but that appears not to be the case here, which is a shame, because the novel is quite good. Presumably if this does well, other titles in the series will also appear.
The Other Nineteenth Century by Avram Davidson, Tor, 12/01, $17.95, ISBN 0-312-84874-9
Avram Davidson was without a doubt one of the handful of short story writers in science fiction who could truly be called a master of the form. In 5000 words he could create a more vivid and believable world than most other writers were able to achieve in an entire novel. There is a level of depth in his stories which allows the reader to find new things to marvel at even on a second of third reading. This retrospective collection of nearly two dozen stories includes some familiar favorites like ""Great is Diana" and "The Montavarde Camera", but most of the stories are less familiar and there were a few I hadn't previously encountered at all. What it does not contain is a bad story. Some of these are alternate history, but most are odd little variations of the real world, each enlivened by Davidson's whimsical, witty, weird take on the universe. A great collection from one of the genre's greatest writers.
Transcension by Damien Broderick, Tor, 2/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30369-8
Broderick's new novel is set in a distant, almost unrecognizable future Earth. Technological and biological sciences have advanced to the point where life can be prolonged indefinitely, where suspended animation is a successful process, and artificial intelligences have been created to help run the world. Because of the increased lifespans, an individual must be thirty years old before enjoying all the advantages of adulthood, which chafes with a young, brilliant, rebellious musician. There are some who refuse to embrace this way of life, and an enclave of religious fundamentalists has been established for those who prefer to accept a shorter lifespan and a simpler lifestyle. The novel follows the interaction between the rebel, a member of that community, and a revived man who functions as a local judge. Some parts of the novel work quite well, particularly the contrast between the two cultures, and the interposed notes about the revival of the judge from his long sleep. Other parts did not work as well for me. It seemed to take too long for the plot to really get going, and I never really got to like any of the characters. If you're in the mood for a slow paced but thoughtful and complex novel, this one might be what you're looking for. But it won't keep you awake reading all night.
The Watch by Dennis Danvers, Avon Eos, 1/ 02, $24.95, ISBN 0-380-97762-1
A visitor from the very far future, a man who might not even be human as we know it, travels back to 1921 and tells Peter Kropotkin that he is about to die, but that he can have a new life with his youth restored, although the catch is that it will be in 1999 in America. So Kropotkin comes to Richmond, Virginia as a refugee, finds works and a few friends, and discovers that other people have traveled through time as well, although not voluntarily. He also must learn to function in a world where capitalism functions very differently than it did in his own time, and where computers, AIDS, and other developments have had profound impacts on society. This could have been the basis for a broad satire or a farce, and there are satirical and amusing moments in the book. But Danvers' novel is much more serious and contemplative than that. An oddly enough, although there is little direct action or suspense, I found myself turning the pages compulsively until I reached the end. Kropotkin is a likeable, intelligent, compassionate character whose fate, troubles, self questioning, and curiosity awaken sympathetic bonds in the reader. This is one of the most quietly effective and deceptively skillful SF novels I've read recently.
The Birthday of the World by Ursula K. LeGuin, Harper, 3/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-06-621253-7
Ursula K. LeGuin has become quite active in the genre during the past year, with two new Earthsea books, and two in the Hain universe, of which this is the second. This one's a collection of eight stories, most of which involve questions of gender roles, sexuality, personal responsibility, and the pressure of culture on the individual. They are predominantly set within the context of the Hain stories, a race which spread to the stars and let its colonies eventually evolve into new cultures. One of the stories is original to this collection. "Coming of Age in Karhide" provides new insight into the culture of Gethen, and provides a touching look at an adolescent facing the terror of maturity. It is the best of several stories set on different worlds within the Ekumen, although the others are all quite good as well. The title story is the second best in the collection, followed by the original story, "Paradises Lost". The only story I didn't care for was "Old Music and the Slave Women", which never came to life for me, but the rest were so good that I didn't care.
Hunting the Snark and Other Short Novels by Mike Resnick, Five Star, 3/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-7862-3878-X
My favorite length for science fiction has always been the novella, so I was really pleased to discover that this new imprint, a division of the Gale Group, is kicking off its debut with at least four collections of stories at that length, of which this is one. All of these are reprints, and two of them are very well known and have appeared previously as chapbooks, but they're all major works. The most impressive are "Bwana", part of the Kirinyaga series set on a world colonized by Africans who wish to restore traditional tribal culture, and "Redchapel", one of Resnick's alternate history stories featuring Teddy Roosevelt, in this instance trying to track down Jack the Ripper in Victorian London. The title story isn't far behind, a lively story of a hunting party that discovers they've been outsmarted by their prey, who has managed to reverse their roles. Despite the high regard in which most readers seem to hold "Seven Views from the Olduvai Gorge", the story of aliens studying the nature of humanity through its artifacts, I always found it pedantic and one-sided and much less satisfying than most of Resnick's other work. You may have read these already, but if you haven't, you're not likely to find a more consistently entertaining writer.
Behind the Eyes of Dreamers and Other Short Novels by Pamela Sargent, Five Star, 3/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-7862-3879-8
This is a collection of three short novels by one of the most puzzlingly overlooked writers in the genre. Although all are reprints, the title story was new to me, an intricate and very impressive tale set on a world where mortality and memory are both quantities viewed very differently than on Earth. It's also one of the best variations of the exile from the sealed city plot. Equally good is "Renewal", which examines the consequences of genetically engineering our own children, not all of them good. Best of the lot is "Shadows", wherein Earth has been conquered by a truly alien race with a completely mysterious agenda for the surviving members of humanity. A nicely constructed mystery wrapped up in an unsettling and very effective story. Sargent has one of the best prose styles in the genre, and one of the best grasps of character in any genre. This one should definitely be on your purchase list.
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer, Firebird, 1/ 02, $6.99, ISBN 0-14-131109-6
This young adult SF novel was originally published in 1994 and received quite favorable reviews, but I never saw a copy until this reprint paperback. I regret that I didn't find it sooner. Set two centuries from now, it involves three missing children who have disappeared somewhere in a very extensively transformed future Africa. Their family is desperate, so they hire three detectives to look for them, three mutants with unusual powers who are known by their nicknames, which makes the title of the novel. They and the children go on a marvelous voyage of discovery through one of the most interesting invented worlds I've encountered recently. I don't believe any of Farmer's other novels have been SF, which is a shame, because this novel for young adults is certainly written well enough to entertain a sophisticated adult readership, and her personal experience seventeen years in Africa imbues her created world with authenticity and considerable depth.
Doctor Who: The Adventures of Henrietta Street by Lawrence Miles, BBC Books, 2001, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-53842-2
BBC Books continues to chronicle the adventures of Doctor Who in the only media tie-in series to rival Star Trek in total number of books published. One of the advantages of the series is that since the Doctor can travel in time as well as space, every possible setting is possible. This new title varies from the formula in that the central character is not the Doctor but rather an 18th Century sorceress who is allied with the Doctor in a battle against an insidious worldwide menace. This has more the feel of an historical novel at times than science fiction, and is one of the most ambitious and more satisfying of the recent titles. This one features the eighth, and so far at least, last of the Doctors, and there are hints that Scarlette, the protagonist, might be back in future volumes.