THESE REVIEWS HAVE NOT YET BEEN ADDED TO THE INDEX.
Resurrection of Liberty by Michael L. Wentz, Novalibre, 2005, $27.95, ISBN 0-976973-2-1
This is a kind of young adult Doc Smith novel, set in a future when the galaxy has been conquered by an alien race, with the single exception of Earth, which has pretty much been overlooked until a teenager activates an old spaceship and draws their attention. Then he's off to the races, hoping to find another power to balance the nasty aliens and ensure Earth's continued freedom. It's not the most plausible story, of course, but it has a sense of enthusiasm that is often missing from contemporary SF, which sometimes gets too self important and forgets about telling a good story.
Gift from the Stars by James Gunn, BenBella, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 1-932100-65-2
When I was first reading SF regularly, I enjoyed several "novels" by James Gunn, each actually a series of related short stories. This, his first new title in some time, is another in that same tradition, a series of stories about the discovery that aliens are aware of Earth and have conveyed technological information to us, although in a very strange fashion. Unfortunately, this just didn't work for me. The method by which the information is discovered is too convoluted and the ease with which the two investigators uncover the truth in the early stages is just too smooth and convenient to be plausible.
Mayan Mars by Marc Andre Meyers, Green Grass Press, 2006, $14.95, ISBN 0-916251-71-3
Cybernetica by Michael J. Cavallaro, Arcanum, 2/06, $15.95, ISBN 0-9774533-2-4
Legacy of Morevi by Tee Morris, Dragon Moon Press, 2005, $19.95, ISBN 1-896944-29-9
There is quite of stack of unfamiliar publisher names in my pending stack. I've tended to shy away from these because it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between legitimate small press houses and vanity presses, but that sometimes means that I may overlook readable if not outstanding novels, and every once in a while I find one that is surprisingly good. The first of these titles is a case in point. A scientist discovers evidence that Martian microbes pose a threat to the world and gets involved in various melodramatic situations. The prose, while not scintillating, is perfectly readable and the story is generally convincing, although there are times when I thought it moved too slowly. Cavallaro's novel is a bit more mainstream SF. The world has been transformed into a cybernetic civilization, but that doesn't mean the old power struggles and intrigues have been left behind. The story reads quickly and is well constructed and except for occasional flatness in the dialogue the prose is smooth. I wasn't always able to stretch my suspension of disbelief far enough to buy everything that happens, but the author seems to have given his imagined future society considerable thought. The third title is a fantasy, the first in the Arathellian Wars series, and is a follow up to an earlier book Morris wrote collaboratively. It employs many of the usual trappings of the form a kingdom on the verge of a war it probably will ruse, the heir to the throne sent into hiding, the dashing pirate hero and blends action, intrigue, and a touch of romance. As with the previous two titles, the prose is workmanlike and only occasionally rough. There's nothing here to recommend it above the many similar fantasies you'll find from the major publishers, but if you've exhausted them, this is one of the better of such books you'll find from the smaller presses.
The Radioactive Redhead by John Zakour and Lawrence Ganem, DAW, 12/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0282-4
The third adventure of Zachary Johnson, the last private detective on Earth, is just as whimsical and nutty as the first two. This time his job is to help protect a popular star from the threats of a band of terrorists. Things aren't that simple though, as you might expect. Zach has become the target of various murder plots, including a deadly television reality show. And his AI sidekick is acting up as well. Various hijinx follow, but even the predictable ones remain funny as well as inevitable. There hasn't been much good funny SF in recent years, but Zakour and Ganem are doing their part to rectify the situation.
The Star Tablet by Jay Caselberg, Roc, 12/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46060-X
I have always had some difficult reconciling even hints of the occult within a story that is otherwise SF, and this series presents the same problem for me. This is the third adventure of Jack Stein, a genuine psychic in the distant future. His latest quest is to unravel the secret of a missing alien artifact which has wider implications than even he initially suspects. Although most of the story is straightforward SF with a touch of psi, the presence of what appears to be a ghost in Stein's dreams, a ghost with special knowledge no less, put me rather off the story at times. If you can ignore that, you'll have a good time.
Worldwired by Elizabeth Bear, Bantam, 12/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58749-8
Jenny Casey returns for her third adventure, this time dealing with greater issues than ever before. The international situation has continued to deteriorate and it looks like humanity might actually be on the brink of mutual destruction. Casey is plugged into a future version of the internet, but with expanded powers that allow her to be virtually omniscient. Even that won't help if the saber rattling gets completely out of hand, and if that wasn't troubling enough, there are some mysterious alien visitors who aren't very forthcoming about their reasons for being in Earth's orbit. First contact meets cyberpunk meets political intrigue in this tense, convincing look at a not very pleasant possible future.
The Essential Marvel Two-In-One Volume 1, Marvel, 2005, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-1729-6
This is the equivalent of the Marvel Teamup comics, a series of adventures with one common character, in this case the Thing, acting mostly independently of the Fantastic Four. He teams up in each issue with another superhero, sometimes the ones you might expect like Spider-Man, Ironman, Thor, and Captain America, but other times with less well known, even supernatural beings like the Ghost Rider, the Scarecrow, and Morbius the Vampire. The plots are all pretty much the same, bashing the bad guys, extricating themselves from problems, often by deus ex machinas at the end. There's an above average episode involving a change in history that gives the Nazis the victory in World War II, and a few of the others are interesting, but in general I thought the story lines in these fell below Marvel's usual standards.
About Writing by Samuel R. Delany, Wesleyan, 2005, $24.95, ISBN 0-8195-6716-7 (hardcover at $65.00 is ISBN 0-8195-6715-9
One of my favorite writers talks about the subject of writing in this collection of essays, letters, and interviews, and quite a few other subjects along the way as well. Delany has his own untraditional view of the role of writing and writers in society, and the methods by which authors should develop their own image. There is considerable practical information as well, particularly in the sections on plot development and characterization, and other thoughtful observations and suggestions sprinkled through the appendices. Not everyone is going to embrace Delany's general philosophy of writing, but they'd be making a mistake to ignore his specific advice.
Kiddography by Tom Kidd, Paper Tiger, 2005, $29.95, ISBN 1-84340-201-7
Tom Kidd has long been one of my favorite genre artists not just because his paintings are so good, but because he varies the subject matter and approach enough that they don't all look like variations of the same setting. This new full color collection of his work contains both fantasy and science fiction illustrations, and is equally adept with either form. I am particularly fond of his landscapes and his airships. There are illustrations here for classic works of fiction as well, everything from The Three Musketeers to Sherlock Holmes, plus accompanying explanatory text. One of the nicest art books I've seen this year. Or any year, for that matter.
King Kong composed by James Newton Howard, Decca, 2005, $18.99
Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, Walt Disney, 2005, $18.99
The Punisher composed by Dennis Dreith, Perseverance, 2005, no price listed
It always seems rather unfair to judge a soundtrack separate from the film it is associated with. What might be very effective as an accompaniment to images on the screen might not work nearly as well as listening music, and the different situations in a movie often make it difficult to create a soundtrack that feels like a coherent whole. That said, there's reasonable uniformity in each of these three titles. I haven't seen King Kong or Narnia yet, so I had no preconceptions about these two, and I saw The Punisher so long ago that I don't remember the music at all. The individual cuts on the Kong album all seem quite competent and occasionally even exciting, but to me they were just a bit too generic movie background music to really stand out. The Narnia soundtrack starts off with a lively piece. Much of what follows is also hampered by its disentanglement from the film, but I found it generally more entertaining, certainly enough so that I would listen to the CD more than once, which is probably not true of the first title. There are also vocals by Alanis Morrisette, Imogen Heap, Tim Finn, and Lisbeth Scott. I have seen the last of these, The Punisher, which I suspect is the least memorable of the three films, but it is my favorite soundtrack of the threesome, occasionally reminding me of Gershwin with a James Bond twist. A few of the pieces don't stand well alone, of course, and it is sometimes rather repetitive, but overall it is quite listenable, if that's a word.
Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, 2005, £14.99, ISBN 0-575-07438-8
One of Saturn's moons suddenly breaks orbit and heads out of the solar system, revealing itself to be an artifact instead of a natural object. A commercial spaceship with a crew of less than 200 attempts to rendezvous for a quick look and is trapped by the alien drive, carried out into interstellar space. The crew schisms over decisions made during the critical moment, leading to a permanent split into factions that persists, sometimes with violent consequences, even when it is obvious that they all need to work together to survive, drawing energy and raw materials from the alien artifact. And there are more surprises on the horizon. Comparisons to Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke and similar novels are inevitable, but Reynolds has a rather different focus. Although there is no shortage of mysteries to be solved and wonders to be described, the novel is first and foremost about the people who are thrown into this volatile situation, particularly two powerful women, Bella Lind and Svetlana Barseghian, whose friendship changes to rivalry and animosity as they struggle to determine the future of their little community. Reynolds is the best thing that has happened to hard SF in years, but he never loses sight of the fact that good fiction needs believable characters.
Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein, Tor, 12/05, $23.95, ISBN 0-765-31450-9
Although this 1948 young adult novel is somewhat dated, and is really not one of the best of Heinlein's books for that age group, it is still a classic coming of age story, following a group of cadets who want to enlist in the Solar Patrol, the police force that enforces the law throughout the solar system. There is a simple world view and a flair for storytelling that is often missing from modern SF, understandably perhaps, but it still feels as though we have lost something in the transition. It's nice to see this one back in hardcover again.
Conrad's Lady by Leo Frankowski, Baen, 2005, $25.00, ISBN 1-4165-0919-4
Another omnibus edition, this one collecting the fourth through sixth novels in the Conrad series, in which an engineer from our time travels back to help Poland become a power in Eastern Europe before it is conquered by the 13th Century Mongols. His technological expertise helps turn back the invasion in The Flying Warlord, but he has to deal with the even more frightening prospect of a jealous wife in Lord Conrad's Lady. Conrad's Quest for Rubber, published after a gap of ten years, is much less interesting and reprises much of the material from the earlier books, but the first two are still highly entertaining despite their implausibility.
Off the Main Sequence by Robert A. Heinlein, SF Book Club, 2005, $15.99, ISBN 1-58288-184-7
Much of Robert Heinlein's short fiction was loosely gathered into his Future History, the expansion of humanity into the solar system and beyond. Other stories had more varied settings, and twenty seven of these are collected in this new hardcover collection from the SF Book Club. There are a few clunkers included just for completeness, but also several classics including "They", "And He Built a Crooked House", "All You Zombies", "Operation Jackpot", and "By His Bootstraps". In general, Heinlein was better at book length that in shorter form, but there's enough good reading here to be worth twice the quite reasonable price the book club is asking.
9Tailfox by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Gollancz, 2005, £12.99, ISBN 0-575-07615-1
The plot device of having the protagonist murdered and then returned to solve the crime is not new. We've seen the hero come back as a ghost, a zombie, even a dog. This new novel uses a similar concept, with the dead man in another human body, but uncertain how he got there. As he tries to make sense of things, he discovers that someone is determined to murder him again, and that his fate is somehow linked to an ancient Chinese legend. Witty, intriguing, suspenseful, inventive, and strong evidence that Courtenay is on the verge of emerging as a major talent.
The Fire Hills by Steve Alton, CarolRhoda Books, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 1-57505-798-0
I haven't seen the first in this series, but the second title is pretty good. A coven of Wiccans discover that the world is Oh My God! threatened by invasion from the world of evil. The good guys go to a festival where a bunch of nasty fairies, disguised as modern Goths, kidnap a wizard. Unprepossessing and predictable, but a likeable adventure nevertheless.
The League of Heroes by Xavier Maumejean, adapted by Manuella Chevalier, Black Coat Press, 2005, $20.95, ISBN 1-932983-44-9
Fans of The League of Extraordinary Gentleman should enjoy this novel, originally published in French in 2002. Two groups of larger than life characters battle for the future of the kingdom of Albion, an alternate version of England. On the side of good are ranged Tarzan, Professor Cavor, Sherlock Holmes, improbably Captain Hook, and others, while the villains consist of the Horla, Fantomas, Peter Pan, and their cohorts. They wage a convoluted and comic book style battle but much of the attraction of the book is the in groupish jokes and literary references. I'm not sure this is great literature, but it was certainly a lot of fun to read.
The Ultimatum by Susan Kearney, Tor, 2/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-35448-9
Author Kearney mixes space opera and romance in this new novel, in which an alien woman is compelled to find a mate quickly to prevent the deterioration of her body. She becomes involved with a handsome star pilot, but the situation becomes more complicated when she becomes acutely fond of him. The problem is that the more time she spends mating with a specific individual, the harder it is to satisfy her biological imperative with others in the future. Talk about your star crossed lovers. And the pilot has an agenda of his own. He wants her to use her telepathic abilities to discover the cause and cure for a plague that is spreading from world to world, and he withholds his favors until she consents. SF fans are not likely to find this all very plausible, but her prose is readable and the characters fairly interesting. More rewarding for romance fans than SF readers.
Last Sons by Alan Grant, Warner, 2/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61656-7
I lost track of the DC Comics superhero universe many years ago, so I had barely heard of the Martian Manhunter and was completely unfamiliar with Lobo, although the third of the superheroes in this new novel, Superman, is a household word. Each of them is the last of his respective race hence the title and their paths cross this time when Lobo is hired to track down the Manhunter, and finds Superman protecting his quarry. The mix of SF and magic is particularly uncomfortable in this novel, and I was never able to really care what happened to any of the characters.
Blood Avatar by Ilsa J. Bick, Roc, 12/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46074-X
The Mechwarrior novels have rarely sustained my interest long because so many of them are variations of the same overworked theme. I almost let this one pass me by as well, but I tried the first few pages and it was sufficiently different that I continued until I was hooked. It's a murder mystery set on a rural planet, one complex enough that the local law authorities are unable to handle the case, which rapidly becomes more serious. A pair of detectives show up, with the usual byplay between them, and the story evolves along predictably mysterious paths from that point onward. There's enough of the usual trappings to keep fans of the series interested, but there's also a new and more interesting element that might entice others as well. If you're going to try one Mechwarrior novel, this should be it, although it isn't particularly representative of the series as a whole.
King Kong Is Back! edited by David Brin, BenBella Books, 2005, $17.95, ISBN 1-932100-64-4
With the new version of King Kong due out any day now, I was expecting a flood of tie-in books, of which this is at present the only one. More a trickle than a flood. Anyway, this is a collection of essays on the subject, most of them not to be taken too seriously. Paul Levinson, Bruce Bethke, James Gunn, David Gerrold, Bob Eggleton, Adam-Troy Castro, James Lowder, and others write about various aspects of the film, the previous two versions primarily, its relation to SF, to Darwin and Freud, how it was made, why it was such a hit, and other subjects much less serious. Funny in places, thoughtful in others, informative at times, and well written throughout. An appropriate book to read in the lobby while you're waiting for the show to start.
Movies in Fifteen Minutes by Cleolinda Jones, Gollancz, 2005, £8.99, ISBN 0-575-07687-9
Although this is sort of a film book, it isn't really. What it does contain is ten condensations of blockbuster films, with excerpts and summaries that are not meant to be taken entirely seriously. Or even very seriously, although sometimes the barbed humor is pointed and telling. It is significant that seven of the ten films are SF Jurassic Park, Independence Day, Harry Potter, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Attack of the Clones, and Spider-Man, and one of the remaining ones Titanic felt like SF even if it wasn't. An entertain mix of fun and actual commentary.
Kal Jerico: Underhive Bounty Hunter by Gordon Rennie, Karl Kopinski, and Wayne Reynolds, Black Library, 2005, $9.99, ISBN 1-84416-254-0
A black and white graphic adventure set in the Necromundia gaming universe and, which should be obvious from the title, following the adventures of a bounty hunter in a cyberpunkish future world. The plot is about what you would expect and the artwork is quite good, although at times it feel remarkably cramped on the page. This is a collection of previously published comic book adventures and apparently includes all of Jerico's adventures.
War of the Worlds: The Shooting Script by Joseph Friedman and David Koepp, Newmarket Press, 2005, no price, ISBN 1-55704-701-4
I'm mentioning this one primarily so that collectors will know about it. It is being distributed free with the DVD of the new Spielberg version, apparently for a limited time. I don't know what kind of availability it will have after that. This is the complete script plus cast and crew credits, an interview with one of the authors, and some other odds and ends including full color stills. I had a mixed reaction to the film, which is very effective visually but has some minor but distracting plot problems. I was happy to see that the basic elements of the original novel trapped under the house, for example were retained although in different form, but I missed the battle with t he naval warship. The ferry was a poor substitute. I also liked that they retained a few images from the earlier movie version.
The Wayward Muse by Brian M. Stableford, Black Coat Press, 2005, $20.95, ISBN 1-932983-45-7
Brian Stableford collects one short novel and two long stories, all set in an alternate version of our own world whose history is so different you won't recognize it at all. The stories are set on the island of Mnemosyne off the coast of what we would call Europe and all are told from the point of view of Axel Rathenius, a renowned painter who is also noted for seducing his models. The short novel is actually a kind of murder mystery with dark family secrets, strange goings on in the darkness, and rumors of ghosts rising from their sunken ship seeking vengeance. The two shorter pieces involve an extraordinary effort to seduce a gay woman and the secret of a tormented artist rumored to steal the souls of his subjects and trap them in canvas. Although the stories involve no real fantastic content, the setting could be interpreted either as SF or fantasy. What makes them notable, however, is the very complex content. All of them involve artists, reminiscent of the Vermillion Sands series by J.G. Ballard, which Stableford acknowledges in his introduction. The conflicts are often more intellectual than physical, and the language is rich and intelligent. Very nicely done.
The Essential Incredible Hulk Volume 3, Marvel, 2005, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-1689-3
The Essential Doctor Strange Volume 2, Marvel, 2005, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-1668-0
The Hulk has always been one of the more complex superheroes, basically good although he spends much of his time battling the US Army and exploding into rage. It's also hard to find supervillains who can be credible opponents, but the Leader, Rhino, the Absorbing Man, and others appear in this reprint of adventures first published from 1969 to 1971. Bruce Banner gets cured of his Hulk persona briefly, gets voluntary control of the changes for a while, but it isn't long before he's back to his usual predicament. There's also a Manster sequence in which the Hulk and Banner separate into two distinct individuals. The plots are pretty repetitive, but they're fun. I'm a lot less a fan of Doctor Strange, whose subset of the Marvel universe always struck me as out of sync with the rest, even though a number of familiar characters make guest appearances in this volume of stories from the late 1960s and early 1970s. The high point is the lengthy Lovecraftian sequence. Both of these books are black and white throughout, which doesn't make a great deal of difference in the Hulk volume, but robs Doctor Strange of its major asset, the colorful swirls of cover surrounding magical events.
Endangered Species by Cathy Hapka, Hyperion, 2005, $5.99, ISBN 0-7868-9090-8
This is the first in a projected series of novels set in the world of the popular television program, Lost, in which a number of plane crash survivors attempt to plumb the mysteries of an island populated by at least one monster and lots of secrets. The protagonist is one of the passengers not specifically named in the show, a woman with a troubled past. Copying the format of the show, the chapters alternate between her adventures on the island and her back story. There's little fantastic in this one other than some strangely behaving snakes, and the story is merely okay and really doesn't add much to the series.
The Essential Killraven Volume 1, Marvel, 2005, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-1777-6
The Essential Ironfist Volume 1, Marvel, 2005, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-1546-3
Killraven was one of the few Marvel titles that fell pretty much outside its collective universe. The series first appeared during the 1970s and was set in a future, now not very distant, in which Earth was conquered by the Martian invaders of The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, after a second invasion late in the 20th Century. Killraven is a heroic figure who becomes an inspiration to the free humans, who are oppressed by the Martians and their human puppets, most of whom have been genetically altered to give them superhuman powers. There are lots of monsters and mutants to be fought by Killraven and his companions, who number attractive warrior women with names like Volcana Ash and Mint Julep. The series is occasionally quite clever, with in group jokes, a Sherlock Holmes sequence, and so forth, but for the most part I found the separate adventures repetitive, particularly read in close proximity, and the artwork is often crowded and confused. The second title is similarly minor, a Kung-Fu series that pits the title characters against a variety of uninteresting enemies. Even the guest appearances of Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, and the X-Men do little to improve the quality.
Starship: Mutiny by Mike Resnick, Pyr, 12/05, $25, ISBN 1-59102-337-8
It appears that this is the first book in a five novel series, Resnick's take on a popular military SF theme, the unorthodox junior officer who makes good despite the opposition of his superiors, although it has more the feel of Keith Laumer's Retief stories than military SF. Wilson Cole has lost his captain's rank twice and is assigned to a rundown patrol ship in an area distant from the interstellar war humans and their alien allies have been fighting for an indeterminate time. The ship is filled with personnel who have stepped on official toes, and they have moved from boredom to drug addiction and other vices. Cole decides to instill some discipline, but he also finds himself in conflict with his immediate superiors when a series of incidents throws them into the front lines. Cole's success, to say nothing of the rapid succession of opportunities, is implausible, of course, but readers won't much care because Resnick tells such a good story that we ignore the improbability of it all. Four more fun volumes to come.
Burn by James Patrick Kelly, Tachyon, 2005, $19.95, ISBN 1-892391-27-9
Here's a smart little short novel about dueling philosophies. When a Thoreau enthusiast buys himself an entire planet, he renames it Walden and tries to impose Thoreau's philosophy on the entire population. Not surprisingly, there is considerable resistance and some of that takes the form of non-violent protest, specifically self immolation. As the protestors set themselves on fire, all involved move toward a confrontation. This could easily have become a moderately funny satire, but Kelly treats it quite seriously, questioning whether isolation and ignorance can actually be beneficial to an intelligent species.
Battlestar Galactica: The Series by Jeffrey A. Carver, Tor, 2/06, $14.95, ISBN 0-765-31541-6
I have not seen the new incarnation of this television series, so I have no way of judging the fidelity of this novelization of, presumably, the pilot movie. The premise is basically the same, although in this new version, the cylons are able to create a version of themselves that is indistinguishable from humans, which makes their war of extermination that much more effective. The familiar characters are back slightly altered of course and the story holds together a lot better than did the original. Good enough to pique my interest in the show, but not as interesting as Carver's own work.
Perfect Dark Initial Vector by Greg Rucka, Tor, 2005, $12.95, ISBN 0-765-31571-8
This novel is based on an X-Box computer game called Perfect Dark Zero, which I had never even heard of before. The premise is an old faithful, a future in which corporations rule the world and employ private armies to resolve disputes. The protagonist is a young woman caught in the crossfire, who wields disproportionate influence when she stumbles across a secret that could spell the end of one of the leading corporations. Not badly written, but with nothing particularly new, interesting, or brilliant to hold your attention. As tie-ins go, it's pretty good but that doesn't mean much when you compare it to original SF, even original SF with a similar theme.
Sherlock Holmes and the Coils of Time by Ralph E. Vaughan, Gryphon, 2005, $16.00, ISBN 1-58250-074-6
Back in 1990, Ralph Vaughan chronicled Sherlock Holmes' fight against the minions of Cthulhu in an amusing and inventive adventure story. Now he returns to tell us what really happened when the anonymous time traveler of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine allowed his time machine to be captured and imitated by the predatory Morlocks of the far future, who return to the late 19th Century in search of fresh prey. Although I didn't think this one was as clever as the first, it's still a lot of fun, even though we know what's going on well before the inimitable detective, who is investigating a series of missing persons reports in London.
A Fistful of Strontium by Jaspre Bark and Steve Lyons, Black Flame, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-270-2
Bringers of Death edited by Marc Gascoigne and Christian Dunn, Black Library, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-232-X
A couple of books from the fringes of SF here. The first is apparently related to a game system called 2000 AD and is a Strontium Ace adventure. Johnny Alpha is a bounty hunter who pursues his latest quarry to a planet populated almost entirely by mutants and where no one is exactly whom they seem. Wacky, occasionally funny, and very implausible adventure, but I found myself enjoying this one despite all its faults, remembering how much I enjoyed similar books back in the 1960s. The second title is a collection of Warhammer stories mostly set in space and involving the battles between the forces of good and evil. The contributors are all Warhammer regulars but the only one I enjoyed particularly was the one by Simon Jowett.
Midnight in Death by J.D. Robb, Berkley, 2005, $2.99, ISBN 0-425-20881-8
Yes, that price is right. This is actually a reprint of a 1998 novella from an anthology called Silent Night, so it's a comparatively early adventure of Eve Dallas. A brilliant by psychotic serial killer has escaped from prison and returned to Earth and New York City to track down and torture to death everyone involved in his incarceration, including Dallas herself. All of the usual characters show up, as the body count rises and fresh strains appear between Dallas and her husband, Roarke, although everything is smoothed over in the end. I'd like to see more books of this length and price because novellas are perfect for a free hour or so.
Junktion by Matthew Farrer, Black Flame, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-241-9
Fourth in the Necromunda series, which I believe is based on a role playing game. The setting is a decadent, crime ridden megalopolis of the future, overpopulated and teetering on the brink of chaos. As law and order recedes and chaos threatens to sweep over one portion of that city, a professional lamplighter realizes that someone is systematically murdering people in his profession, which means he'd better solve the mystery before he becomes the next victim. A nicely realized, though unpleasant, setting and a reasonably good mystery.
Worlds by Alec Gillis, DesignStudio Press, 2005, no price listed, ISBN 0-9726676-9-3
There have been a number of books about alien ecosystems in the past, usually consisting of many paintings and some accompanying text. This is another, but instead of paintings the author has used both paintings and photographs, depicting the lifeforms on a variety of imaginary worlds. There are some nifty shots here and some of the creatures look quite realistic. The author works in special effects in Hollywood, so the effectiveness of the presentation is not surprising. The kind of book you leave around for people to look through with raised eyebrows.
Prodigy by Dave Kalstein, Thomas Dunne, 1/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-312-34096-6
Thirty years from now, the Stanbury School is a very exclusive training base for children of the rich. Using drugs and advanced techniques, they manage to turn out a very high ratio of geniuses and prodigies. When someone starts murdering selected graduates of the school, the police miss the connection, although school administrators catch on quickly. Hoping to avoid a scandal, they turn to an amateur private detective to look into the matter. He proves to be more effective than even they anticipated, uncovering a conspiracy with much wider implications. Although constructed as a convoluted mystery, there is a good deal of thinly veiled satire in this first novel.
Future Washington edited by Ernest Lilley, WSFA Press, 2005, $16.95, ISBN 0-9621725-4-5
Ten years ago, David Alexander Smith edited an interesting anthology called Future Boston. Now the nation's capital gets the same treatment in this new and equally fine collection, featuring stories by Kim Stanley Robinson, Allen Steele, Cory Doctorow, Sean McMullen, Jack McDevitt, Jane Lindskold, and several others. One common thread is one which Robinson has used in his recent novel, Fifty Degrees Below, in that global warming and rising sea levels have swamped portions of Washington. Doctorow, Robinson, and Steele have the best of a very good selection of stories.
Zanesville by Kris Saknussemm, Villard, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 0-8129-7416-6
First novelist Saknussemm strikes me as an amalgam of Kurt Vonnegut, Tom DeHaven, and half a dozen other satirists. Unfortunately, satire has not done well in SF for the past decade or two, which perhaps explains why this zany novel is packaged for a mainstream audience. The protagonist may or may not be a mutant. What is certain is that he has lost his memory and has come under the influence of a group of strange characters who are battling a megacorporation which will do whatever is necessary, legal or illegal, to quash its enemies. He sets out on a cross country odyssey, accompanied by a variety of characters including two who are holograms brought to physical life. Obviously the story cannot be taken entirely seriously, but the underlying themes can, and there are portions of the novel which veer away from humor into more serious themes, sometimes jarringly so. Definitely a book that will shake you out of your settled reading habits.
Time After Time edited by Denise Little, DAW, 11/05, $7.50, ISBN 0-7564-0310-3
This is a pretty good original anthology, collecting sixteen stories of SF and fantasy, all involving either time travel or alternate history, everything from vampires to John Lennon. Many of the stories are quite good, including those by Ray Vukcevich, Sarah Hoyt, Laura Resnick, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch (who has a second under a pseudonym). The one unsettling bit about the book is the price, which seems to indicate another step up, particularly for a 300 page anthology. With the price of so many other items rising dramatically this year, I'm beginning to wonder if the mass market paperback is headed for hard times.
Kris Longknife: Defiant by Mike Shepherd, Ace, 11/05, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01349-X
One of the problems I have with much recent military SF is that the authors seem to have little imagination, or are just unwilling to take a chance on something out of the ordinary. The device of having a low ranking, usually at least mildly disgraced officer suddenly thrust into a leadership position and becoming an incredible hero can be done well and has been, as in David Feintuch's Seafort series but after a while it becomes so predictable and familiar that it doesn't engage the reader, no matter how well written. That's the case for me with the third adventure of Kris Longknife, who finds herself trapped into taking charge of the defenses of a planet under siege despite her theoretical inability and lack of authority to do so. And naturally she saves the day. If you aren't already tired of this plot, this is a good buy because the story is well told, but if you've already overdoses on Honor Harrington, you might want to look in another direction.
Star Wars: The Ultimate Visual Guide by Ryder Windham, DK, 2005, $24.99, ISBN 0-7566-1420-1
The Star Wars movie franchise has produced a virtual library of tie-ins, novels and non-fiction, of which this is one of the more impressive. It consists of numerous full color pictures, stills, production shots, and so forth associated with all six of the movies, plus others that provide a wider overview, or cover models, movie posters, comic books, video games, and other merchandise. There are also a handful of full color drawings and a timeline showing major developments in the production of the films. Attractively packaged and presented, with occasional interesting tidbits in the text, but it's primarily a picture book.
Fevreblau by Kenneth Mark Hoover, Five Star, 12/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-361-7
New author Hoover explores a setting Frank Herbert used in one of his more interesting novels, The White Plague. A new pandemic sweeps across the globe, wiping out most of the women on the Earth (not decimating them as it says in the blurb). Those who survived are kept in protective custody by their respective governments, who intend to oversee the rebuilding of the population along nationalistic lines. Meanwhile, scientists on the moon have picked up intelligent signals from another star system. One of their number returns to Earth, where he runs into members of the criminal class who are mysteriously interested in the alien signals, and a woman who has escaped from state custody. Chases and escapes follow as the plot twists and turns its way toward its conclusion. Parts of this were very nice indeed, although the dialogue doesn't always ring true.
The Plot to Save Socrates by Paul Levinson, Tor, 2/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30570-4
It has been quite a while since I read a really memorable time travel novel, but the streak ends here. Paul Levinson weaves a deliberately and delightfully complex tale of time loops and paradoxes as a graduate student uncovers a plot to keep Socrates from drinking the hemlock by means of a time machine. Her investigations eventually allow her to meet a number of historical figures including the famous philosopher in a delightful romp through the ages. There are moments of humor as she untangles plot elements and plotters but the tone is considerably more serious than I expected. Interesting speculations wrapped around a core of nicely done characters. One of the author's best.
All the Gold of Ophir by David M. Drury, Five Star, 12/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-421-4
I am very fond of novels which blend the traditional murder mystery with SF themes, so this first novel is one I was predisposed to like. A massive mining operation is under way among the moons of Jupiter, and lots of money changes hands there. When two people are killed in what at first appears to be an accident, a private detective uncovers evidence that they were murdered, that someone is stonewalling the investigation, and that an illegal operation might exist beneath the legitimate exterior. Not surprisingly, those with something to lose if the secrets are exposed have no compunctions about adding a third death to the list. The resolution involves few surprises but for a first novel it's a surprisingly deft and well constructed mystery.
The Cunning Blood by Jeff Duntemann, ISFiC Press, 2005, $28, ISBN 0-9759156-2-3
Peter Novilio is not having a good time. For one thing, he has been sent to an unpleasant prison planet for violating the restrictive laws in place back on Earth. The prison world has been seeded with nanomachines that destroy any technology advanced beyond the 19th Century, which effectively means that there is no way off the planet, nor any way to substantially improve the local living conditions. That was bad enough, but shortly after arriving he discovers evidence that something is going on there that is supposed to be impossible, and finds himself impressed into duty as a spy working against his fellow prisoners. His third problem is self inflicted. In his bloodstream there is another strain of nanomachines, designed to watch over his welfare but actually engaged in an agenda of its own. Since I had enjoyed Duntemann's short fiction for some time, I was expecting a good first novel, and I wasn't at all disappointed. The tangle of hidden motives and plots within plots is resolved cleverly and entertainingly, and there are lots of tidbits of interesting speculations sprinkled through the narrative. This is one to watch for, and later talk about.
The Skyborn by Paul Collins, Tor, 11/05, $17.95, ISBN 0-765-31273-5
I suppose this sequel to The Earthborn is technically a young adult novel, but like the best books of that description, it is written intelligently enough that most adults won't make the distinction. In the previous book, we discovered that civilization on Earth has fallen thanks to a cataclysm, and the survivors contend with predictable survival problems as well as the existence of mutants. When more advanced colonists return, the tension between the two is evident, but one of the newcomers, Welkin, is dismayed when he discovers that some seek to solve the problem by eradicating what remains of the population of Earth. Exciting, fast paced, and very much in the tradition of 1960s SF adventures.
In High Places by Harry Turtledove, Tor, 1/06, $22.95, ISBN 0-765-30696-4
The third adventure in the Crosstime Traffic series is set in an alternate contemporary Earth where civilization has been stunted and Paris is no more than a town and technology is far behind what we're familiar with. Annette is visiting under a false identity, part of a mission to find exportable products for other realities, when she is taken as a slave while traveling across southern France. At first she fears that no one will know where she is and that she will be lost forever to her own timeline, but then she discovers that the leaders of the slave traders aren't native to this reality either. A nice, light adventure novel with a more focused plot than in most of Turtledove's alternate history novels.
The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl by Tim Pratt, Bantam, 11/05, $12, ISBN 0-553-38338-8
I'm not sure whether you should call this contemporary fantasy or horror, but whatever you call it, you'll want to read it. Marzi McCarty is a quirky and very likable character, working as a waitress full time and writing the comic strip of the title in her spare time. Marzi's life becomes more interesting when a series of very strange incidents impinges on her career. A woman killed in a landslide is back from the dead, driving around with her own dead body in the back seat as well as at the wheel. An odd art student gets stranger than ever. An ancient entity is stirring and the fate of the world may rest in her hands, when she's not serving coffee that is. This reminded me at times of Tim Powers, but for the most part it was all Tim Pratt, and all very very good.
The Bridge of Light by A. Hyatt Verrill, Capricorn, 2005, $16, ISBN 0-9753970-7-9
Although lost world novels have largely gone out of style, they often maintain their appeal because contemporary readers miss the days when it was possible to imagine that somewhere on Earth were places that modern society had yet to intrude, great secrets remaining to be found. This minor classic of the form was first published in 1929 and has been out of print ever since, and it's one of those that fall into the category of SF rather than fantasy because all the wonders of the lost civilization, in this case Mayan, are explained rationally, as technology rather than magic. The protagonist is this case stumbles on a Codex and learns that he must travel to a possibly mythical lost city of the Mayas. He does so, but only after overcoming a variety of Indiana Jones style wards and barriers. The opening is a bit slow and the prose somewhat dated, but fans of the form will welcome a chance to read one of the lost "classics" of the field.
Conventions of War by Walter Jon Williams, Eos, 2005, $7.99, ISBN 0-380-82022-6
I haven't seen the US paperback editions of the first two books in the Dread Empire series, Praxis and The Sundering, but apparently Eos has done them, as well as this third in the series. The galaxy was long dominated by an alien race which committed mass suicide, leaving a predictable power vacuum. The leading contender to replace them is an insectlike race, but the other species particularly humans have tasted freedom and don't want to trade one master for another. As interstellar war rages on an enormous scale, there are differences among the various human forces about tactics.
Star Wars Complete Locations by Kristin Lund, Simon Beecroft, Kerrie Dougherty, and Jmes Luceno, DK, 2005, $39.99, ISBN 0-7566-1419-8
Like every other book I've seen from this publisher, this is a gorgeous book with full color illustrations throughout, the artwork by Hans Jenssen and Richard Chasemore. As you might expect from the title, it has full color, detailed maps and illustrations of all of the major sets from each of the six Star Wars films, everything from the interior of the death star and the settlement on Tatooine to the Jedi Complex and Palpatine's office. The text further explains the layout, which provides much more detail than appears in the films. This is a coffee table book, but a very pretty one.
The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders edited by Gary Westfahl, 2005, $349.95 in three volumes, ISBN 0-313-32951-6, 0-313-32952-4, and 0-313-32953-2
Although this is an interest and potentially useful project, I'm not sure that "encyclopedia" is the term I would use to describe it. The bulk of the text consists of thematic essays on subjects like elder races, destiny, identity, pirates, steampunk, and utopias. In each case there is an overview, a survey of some significant works on that subject, very short discussions, and brief bibliographies. The third volume deals with specific works, mostly books but sometimes films or television. The quality of the individual entries written by a variety of contributors varies widely. The lack of extensive bibliographies of actual works on each theme is a surprising and possibly fatal flaw since the very small number of works cited leaves the variations on each theme largely unexplored.
Tides by Scott Mackay, Pyr, 11/05, $25, ISBN 1-59102-334-3
It is very difficult to write an engrossing story in which none of the characters are human, since that makes it more difficult for the reader to identify with what is going on. There are exceptions, of course, most of which solve the problem by making their aliens essentially human with some exotic traits grafted on. To a great extent, that's what the author has done here, in this novel set on a world where two different sentient species have arisen and developed civilizations, although each in their own part of the world and with no knowledge of the existence of the other. That has to end, of course, and this rather different first contact story does a creditable job of describing what would happen when two roughly equal societies first converge.
Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston, Forge, 9/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31104-6
Collaborating with Lincoln Child, Douglas Preston has produced a number of thrillers, most of which have at least a small element of SF. This is one of his solo efforts, and the SF element here is extremely marginal and actually doesn't even appear until near the end. The protagonist stumbles on a man dying in a southwestern desert, and receives from him a notebook which contains data about a preserved tyrannosaur so unique that it is worth a good sized fortune. At first we believe that the chief villain is a paleontologist and his ex-con flunky, both of whom are willing to commit multiple murders to gain possession of the treasure, but eventually we discover there is a mysterious third party, and that's where the SF element which I won't reveal here since it partially spoils the ending comes in. Lots of exciting action, some interesting supporting characters in fact the minor characters are generally more entertaining than the protagonist - and a nice scientific mystery resolved at the end.
Blood and Roses by Ann Tonsor Zeddies, Phobos, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 0-9720026-6-9
Since this is labeled a "Jayne Taylor novel", I assume that it's the first in the series. Taylor lives in the 1920s and has just returned from war torn Europe to find her own situation nearing the desperate. She becomes involved in criminal activity in an effort to survive, which leads to her recruitment by a government agency in their investigation of agents of the Japanese Empire, who appear to be on the verge of securing some kind of superweapon. Throw in the possibility that we are not alone, and you have an old fashioned adventure story with SF overtones and a likeable protagonist to guide us through the mysteries.
Sword of Orion by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Phobos, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 0-9720026-5-5
The writing team of Lee and Miller are among the few who still actively write old style space operas, and do it well besides. Fans of their long running Liaden series will be interested to see this, the opening volume in the Beneath Strange Skies sequence, which is set in the aftermath of a galactic empire that has splintered thanks to the efforts of freedom loving rebels. Jerel Telmon is the daughter of two who died in the effort, and she is living with her uncle when old enemies of the family show up once again. We're quickly off to the races as she flees with an alien warrior as her primary companion, pursued by those forces who wish to return to the bad old days. Rousing stuff, full of high adventure and unabashed fun.
Designated Targets by John Birmingham, Del Rey, 10/05, $14.95, ISBN 0-345-45714-5
The second volume in the Axis of Time series is labeled as alternate history, but that's not really the case. It's actually a time travel paradox story, as was the prequel in which an advanced military naval squadron from our near future is somehow projected back through time to arrive during the middle of World War II. The time travelers came from many nations, including Japan, so there are conflicting loyalties and pressures all around, as weapons from the future begin to affect the course of the war. The author has a good feel for the military side of things, which is the bulk of the book, and expands into the political arena this time around.
The Rosetta Codex by Richard Paul Russo, Ace, 12/05, $14.95, ISDBN 0-441-01330-9
Cale Alexandros is marooned on Conrad's World as a child after the spaceship in which he is traveling is attacked. He has the misfortune to fall into a part of the world reserved for criminals and outcasts, a gigantic Coventry, and is treated as little more than a slave even after he escapes his original captors. Eventually he gets free, wanders into the desert, and discovers an alien artifact which will eventually lead to his being targeted by a group of cyborgs from offworld and their agents. Everything works out in the well, sort of, when he uses the artifact in some never quite described way to resurrect an ancient alien race. I have always been a big fan of Russo's work, but his latest is extremely disappointing. The story takes far too long to get started, and Cale goes through a succession of barely realized environments and meets and leaves one group of poorly realized characters after another. I kept waiting for the story to actually start, which it didn't do until halfway through the book. The ending is ambiguous, rushed, and not at all satisfying. I had the feeling throughout that even the author didn't know where the story was leading, and tacked on an ending just to escape from a project that had no goal.
Numbers Don't Lie by Terry Bisson, Tachyon, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 1-892391-32-5
Terry Bisson is one of a handful of writers whose short stories almost always impress me more than do his novels. This title collects three of his longer tales, all of which involve his recurring character Wilson Wu, who seems to have a different profession every time we meet him, but who always somehow has the solution to the problems that face him. I've read all three of these before and remembered two of the three as soon as I saw the titles, which doesn't happen that often any more. They're funny, intelligent, deftly written, and although this term is often the kiss of death for modern SF, they're great satires as well.
The Fall of the Shell by Paul O. Williams, Bison, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 0-8032-9848-X
An Ambush of Shadows by Paul O. Williams, Bison, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 0-8032-9852-8
As mentioned in my review of the reprints of the first three volumes, the Pelbar Cycle of five novels from the early 1980s was a very impressive work, and it's a shame that the author fell largely silent after it was published. These two conclude the series, set in a post apocalyptic world where small city states are beginning to push out and brush against one another, some of them matriarchal, some not. In the fourth, one of these cities has steadfastly refused to change despite the increasing contact with the outside world, but the actions of two young people are about to shake up the local standards of behavior. In the final volume, the surviving slave holding powers decide to unite their efforts and defeat their long standing enemies. These were excellent when they first appeared, and they have not dated at all.
Glorious Treason by C.J. Ryan, Bantam Spectra, 11/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58777-3
This is the second adventure of Gloria VonDeem, wife of the emperor of an interstellar empire, and secretly a revolutionary of sorts, although her husband isn't aware of that fact. She is sent to the planet Sylvania to oversee an upcoming election, but she soon has a secret agenda. Ostensibly she is helping to shape things so that the empire can exploit the natural resources of Sylvania, but behind the scenes she is plotting to preserve their freedom of choice. Nice other worlds adventure, something along the lines of Poul Anderson's Flandry stories, but with a flavor all their own.
Platinum Pohl by Frederik Pohl, Tor, 12/05, $27.95, ISBN 0-312-87527-4
During the course of his long career, Frederik Pohl has written so many excellent stories that choosing his best for a collection is an unusually difficult prospect, and one could second guess the selection here. The only real surprise is the absence of "The Midas Plague". Whether or not these are his best, they are certainly all very very good, and many of them are undeniably among his best, including award winners and popular favorites. Just glancing at the list of contents brought back memories for me, as in "Let the Ants Try", the supermen of "The God at Starbow's End", "Day Million" and "Shaffery Among the Immortals". Most but not all have been previously collected, with the exceptions all comparatively recent, but by and large they have been unavailable for far too long. One of the best retrospectives of the last few years, and a good excuse to reintroduce yourself to old favorites.
Coyote Frontier by Allen Steele, Ace, 12/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01331-7
Allen Steele brings the Coyote series to an apparent close with his latest. In the earlier volumes, dissidents left a repressive Earth to found a colony on a distant world, but were soon overtaken by those they left behind, precipitating a new crisis as the battle for control of that world, and their independence, was thrown into doubt. Now they have emerged from that crisis with their freedom, and with much of Earth in ruins. Unfortunately, the devastation on the homeworld has caused the number of refugees to swell enormously, and Coyote is a very desirable home away from home. When someone develops a method of instantaneous travel between the two worlds, the crisis rushes upon the colonists, perhaps too quickly for them to stem the tide. An old fashioned other worlds adventure told intelligently and convincingly.
Masks of the Outcasts by Andre Norton, Baen, 2005, $24, ISBN 1-4165-0901-1
Baen Books continues its reissuing of early Andre Norton SF novels with this pairing of Catseye from 1961, in which a refugee from an interstellar war takes a job working in a kind of interplanetary pet shop only to discover that his employer is using telepathic animals to help him run an interplanetary espionage operation. It is one of the best of her novels involving human and animal teams linked telepathically. The second novel, Night of Masks, is from 1964 and is set in the same universe, with a similar protagonist, in this case a disfigured young man who agrees to undertaking a dangerous assignment in exchange for corrective surgery. Although Norton would continue to write occasional SF after this, most of her later work in that genre was less interesting.
The Absolute at Large by Karel Capek, University of Nebraska, 2005, $16.95, ISBN 0-8032-6459-3
The Girl in the Golden Atom by Ray Cummings, University of Nebraska, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 0-8032-6457-7
Although both of these classic SF novels were originally published during the 1920s and deal with a marvelous invention, there are almost no other similarities. Czech writer Capek was a stylist and a satirist, best known for War with the Newts. In this title, scientists discover a method of absolutely destroying matter, leaving neither remnants nor energy behind, but there is a residue, and that residue is the substance of God himself. The surfeit of godliness paradoxically results in war on an unprecedented scale. Cummings on the other hand wrote adventure stories. In this case, a scientist uses a supermicroscope and discovers an entire universe inside an atom, including a young woman with whom he falls in love. He devises a method of shrinking himself down and goes on a journey of exploration. Neither book has been in print in a while and both are worth reading, though for different reasons.
At Winter's End by Robert Silverberg, University of Nebraska, 2005, $18.95, ISBN 0-8032-9330-5
The Queen of Springtime by Robert Silverberg, University of Nebraska, 2005, $18.95, ISBN 0-8032-9331-3
The University of Nebraska's Bison imprint has been doing classic SF reprints for a while and recently has been looking at more recent titles like the Pelbar series by Paul O. Williams. Now they've brought Silverberg's two part story of the end of a new Ice Age back into print, both first published during the late 1980s. The second title first appeared as The New Springtime. The premise is that the ice is finally receding and the remnants of humanity are emerging into a new and more promising world. Unfortunately, they are no longer alone, because a form of intelligent insect has dominated the world for the better part of a million years and does not intend to be supplanted. Fans of the series will be happy to know that included in the second title is the outline for a projected, but alas never written, third volume in the series.
At All Costs by David Weber, Baen, 11/05, $26, ISBN 1-4165-0911-0
Old Soldiers by David Weber, Baen, 9/05, $26, ISBN 1-41650898-8
One of the more reliable writers of military SF is David Weber, particularly the Honor Harrington series, which reaches eleven volumes with the first of these two titles. Harrington's career has been so extensive that there isn't much room in her life for more adventures, and Weber is cognizant of this fact. She is growing old this time, an admiral on the verge of accepting that a younger generation must take over. I thought this was the best in the series, although perhaps a slight bit too long, and primarily because the characters seemed much more real and sympathetic, raising it above the level of simple action-adventure-political intrigue. The second title is a lesser work, set in the world of Keith Laumer's Bolo series, where sentient tanks are used to battle for control of planetary surfaces. It's an okay entry into the series, almost as good as Laumer himself, but Weber is at his best with Honor Harrington, and if you've got a choice between the two, that's the one to pick.
Learning the World by Ken MacLeod, Tor, 11/05, $$24.95, ISBN 0-765-31331-6
Ken MacLeod has already demonstrated his ability to create interesting new cultures in his fiction, and this time he shows the interaction between two more. A starship that has been in transit for more than four centuries has finally located a promising new star system, and the younger generation is preparing to finally achieve their destiny. But this system already has some residents, and they are advanced enough to notice the anomaly in their skies. As always, MacLeod provides us with a deceptively understated story, this time of first contact, demonstrating that even the most familiar devices of science fiction can still be fertile sources for new ideas and exciting stories.
Cultural Breaks by Brian W. Aldiss, Tachyon, 2005, $24.95, ISBN 1892391260
Non-Stop by Brian W. Aldiss, Overlook, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 1-58567-683-7
One of the very first short story collections I ever read was Galaxies Like Grains of Sand by Brian Aldiss, who has remained ever since one of my favorite SF writers. Although he has not been as prolific in the last few years as he once was, he still continues to turn out interesting and innovative fiction, combining the best of story telling with superior literary skills. Tachyon now provides a new collection, mostly drawn from the last ten years and, I believe, only one of which has previously been collected. The few older stories include one of my all time favorites, "Total Confinement", and several of the new ones were completely new to me, a welcome selection under any circumstances. Aldiss has been rather overlooked in recent years, but he has retained his skills and his classic novels, like Non-Stop (aka Starship), reprinted recently by Overlook Press, will be remembered as long as SF continues to be read.
The Begum's Millions by Jules Verne, Wesleyan, 2005, $29.95, ISBN 0-8195-6796-5
This 1878 novel by Jules Verne is newly translated by Stanford L. Luce, and has appeared in an earlier translation as an Ace paperback some years back as The Begum's Fortune. The premise is that a fortune left to two visionary scientists with divergent views leads to the creation of two Utopian societies in North America, one agrarian and one industrial. There's a genuine mad scientist in charge of the latter, who uses his technological expertise to create weapons for world domination, and he decides to try them out on the rival Utopia. Somewhat low key considering the theme, but an interesting and generally entertaining story. This edition reproduces the original illustrations as well.
Stark and the Star Kings by Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett, Haffner, 2005, $45, ISBN 1-893887-16-2
Haffner has turned out some very useful retrospective collections in the past few years, to which list this new title is a very welcome addition. Hamilton and Brackett were married but, insofar as I had known, never collaborated on any of their fiction. It appears that they did so in at least one case, a crossover story which I believe appears here for the very first time. Hamilton wrote primarily space opera on a grand scale, and the Star Kings series is perhaps his best known, although personally I think it inferior to many of his other novels. Leigh Brackett produced a variety of excellent stories and novels, but is perhaps best remembered for Eric John Stark and his adventures in the now improbable towns on a wild western colonial Mars. Brackett wrote two series of Stark novels, of which this is the earlier, three short novels two of which appeared from Ace books under different titles and now appear here as they were known in the magazines. Some nice interior illustrations and an introduction by John Jakes complete this very attractive and very welcome package.
Silver Screen by Justina Robson, Pyr, 10/05, $15, ISBN 1-59102-338-6
This is a reprint of a novel previously published in the UK in 2003, and long overdue for an appearance here. It's a blend of mystery and SF, with overtones of cyberpunk. The protagonist is a woman with enhanced intelligence who is puzzled by the suicide of an even more gifted young man of her acquaintance. Her efforts to find out the truth eventually put her own life in jeopardy, and this familiar melodrama is played out against a sometimes fascinating examination of the interface between humans and artificial intelligences. The background is very cleverly developed and asks some thought provoking questions.
Alternate Beauty by Andrea Rains Waggener, Bantam, 8/05, $14, ISBN 0-553-38298-5
Here's a first novel that falls outside the tradition of mainstream fantasy and reads more like something Robert Nathan might have written. The protagonist is an overweight woman who nonetheless dreams of leading the life of a prominent fashion designer and celebrity. One night she falls asleep after wishing that fat was beautiful and slender was considered unattractive and she wakes up in the world of her dreams. Suddenly famous and popular, she is wildly happy at first, but soon discovers that even when you get what you wish for, it's not always what you want. Clever, amusing, and at times rather touching.
Origin in Death by J.D. Robb, Brilliance Audio, read by Susan Ericksen, 2005, $36.95, ISBN 1-59600-172-0
This is the 21st book in the Eve Dallas series by J.D. Robb, who is also Nora Roberts, and it is the first one that I've listened to on audio instead of reading it in traditional form. It is also one of the most heavily SF of the series, which is set in the middle of this century in a future that looks surprisingly like our present and which rarely uses speculative material except as part of the window dressing. It's very different this time, as the murder of two prominent surgeons and philanthropists leads Dallas to an increasingly unsettling series of discoveries about their secret activities, which include genetic manipulation and cloning. There's also a very good series of climaxes and some thoughtful handling of the relationships among clones. This is an unabridged recording, 11 hours on 9 CDs, and was completely gripping throughout, almost certainly the best in the series to date.
So You Think You Know Dr. Who? By Clive Gifford, Hodder, 2005, $9.99, ISBN 0-340-89422-9
Personally, I've never understood the appeal of the many quiz books that have been released as tie ins to televisions shows and movies, but for trivia fans, I suppose there's a great appeal. This new title is obviously tied in to the Doctor Who series, and includes questions involving the 2005 season, so you know it's up to date. If you like this sort of thing, here it is.
Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin, Carroll & Graf, 2005, $15.95, ISBN 0-7867-1623-1
Wonder's Child: My Life in Science Fiction by Jack Williamson, BenBella, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 1-932100-57-1
Here's your chance to take a closer look at two of the giants of the genre. First up is a biography of Phil Dick, which concentrates largely on his work and does a good job of giving us a glimpse inside the mind of the author. I thought it was tilted a bit too far in favor of the later works, but Sutin does a fine job of guiding us through the intricacies of Dick's less transparent work. The second title is a newly expanded revision of the 1984 autobiography, incorporating another twenty remarkable years of our longest practicing writer. The earlier version won the Hugo and this new version is even better.
Seeker by Jack McDevitt, Ace, 11/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01329-5
Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath return for a new adventure. Together they run a business locating artifacts from fallen human civilizations among the stars, selling them to collectors and existing in uneasy peace with the established archaeological establishment. This time they're looking for a lost colony, settled by people who fled an oppressive Earth nine thousand years earlier. The odds are long and the clues few and far between, but Alex has a talent for finding things and the prize is worth a great deal to him, both financially and eventually for personal reasons. Unfortunately, someone is aware of his search and plans to stop him, even if that means that committing murder. As always, McDevitt delivers a plausible, engrossing adventure story with intelligently drawn characters, a clever mystery to be unraveled, and a rousing climax to round out the experience. Good space opera has become very rare, but when done this well, it's always welcome.
End of the Beginning by Harry Turtledove, New American Library, 11/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-451-21668-7
Most alternate world or uchronian novels set during World War II have concentrated on Europe, unsurprising giving the Eurocentric cast of American thought. Occasionally an author switches to the other side of the world, as in this new title from Turtledove, sequel to his earlier Days of Infamy. In that book, the Japanese not only attacked Pearl Harbor, they conquered and occupied it. Now we see the aftermath. The Japanese have imprisoned most non-natives in the islands and have re-established the Hawaiian monarchy under a puppet king. As always in Turtledove's uchronias, we see things from a large number of viewpoints, the Japanese military, the native Hawaiians, American prisoners, and back on the mainland, where efforts are underway to organize a military response and take back the lost territory. There is almost certainly at least one more volume coming. It is sometimes difficult to engage oneself in these books because there are so many characters, few of whom ever acquire any depth, and the thrust of the story is the examination of the divergence in history rather than the innate qualities of the story itself, but Turtledove handles this better than any of his contemporaries, and this is one of his more interesting speculations.
Fifty Degrees Below by Kim Stanley Robinson, Bantam, 10/05, $25, ISBN 0-553-80312-3
Robinson returns to the theme of ecological disaster in this new novel, which opens in a Washington, D.C. that has been inundated by an unexpected flood and remains mostly unrepaired and chaotic. The principal protagonist is Frank Vanderwal, an intriguing character who lives in a tree house and works as a high ranking member of the National Science Foundation. Recent data has revealed a strong probability that the world is poised on the brink of a major, sudden climatic change which could plunge much of the northern hemisphere into a sudden, intense ice age within a handful of years. Although there is some possibility of reducing the intensity, the government is as you might expect reluctant to do anything politically sensitive until it is too late, and it is too late very soon. Although I enjoyed most of the novel, there were times when the narrative diverged into a degree of detail about the inner workings of the NSF or Vanderwal's personal strategy that seemed to interrupt the flow of the story and I felt impatient for Robinson to get back to the larger narration.
Running from the Deity by Alan Dean Foster, Del Rey, 10/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-345-46159-2
The eleventh adventure of Flinx and Pip steps outside the ongoing plot and is in fact one of the best in the series. Flinx's sentient ship advises him that it must make repairs and suggests that they land on what is essentially a proscribed world, one whose inhabitants have no space traveling capability and are unaware of the existence of other races. The plan is to remain concealed for the weeks required to complete the repairs but, unfortunately, they are spotted by a local native. Flinx is eventually talked into using his technology and medicine to help some of the local people, but the secret is out and word of his existence spreads far and wide. Fortunately, there is little fear of him as a monster, but unfortunately, acceptance has its own complications. His activity not only upsets local conditions, it alters the balance of power among nations and precipitates a major war, illustrating for Flinx whom some regard as a god the sensibility of non-contact policies. The novel makes its point succinctly and convincingly and the plot moves right along so that I kept wanting to read just one more chapter to find out what was going to happen next, until eventually I ran out of chapters.
Counting Heads by Dave Marusek, Tor, 11/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31267-0
First time novelist Dave Marusek presents here a future in which technology has solved most of the material problems of the world, but left us nevertheless with a mess. Lifetimes span centuries, automata do most of the physical work, and an overpopulated world has to deal with masses of people who have too much time on their hands. Marusek then introduces a power struggle among the ultra rich, assassination, headnapping, conspiracies, and a rescue operation, in a complex plot that occasionally threatens to get out of hand, although the author always manages to tighten the reins in time. There are also occasional touches of grim and entertaining humor. I'd label this one as a very promising debut and I'll be looking forward to the author's next.
Retief's Peace by William H. Keith Jr., Baen, 9/05, $25, ISBN 1-4165-0900-3
When the Retief stories by Keith Laumer first began appearing in the magazines, I found them quite amusing at first, but after a while they became so similar that it felt like I was re-reading old work. There would occasionally be one that stood out, but for the most part I lost interest long before Laumer did, but every once in a while I re-read a couple of them, and in short doses they're still quite entertaining, despite the rather patronizing political content. William Keith, who has expanded Laumer's bolo universe previously, tries his hand at a Retief novel here, and with mixed results. He has the basic situation right and since Retief never had much personality, there's no fault there. But after only a few chapters, I knew this wasn't Laumer the texture was entirely different, and I think Keith erred in playing the situation for more laughs than adventure. There was always an element of humor, sometimes cruel, in the Retief stories, but it was always under tight control. The result here is a sometimes amusing adventure, but with no real meat on the bones.
Secrets by F.M. McPherson, Medallion, 2005, $9.99, ISBN 1932815309
Theoretically, this is a young adult SF novel in which another race lives on the Earth, hidden among humans, passing for them even though they are analogous to werewolves. The science is pretty suspect though. The physical transformations are more than a small leap, and the declaration that the non-humans reproduce by cloning, even though they mate with human females and are born normally, is pure nonsense. The young protagonist is unaware of his heritage until he begins to have memories of others of his kind. Since they are all clones of the same being, they somehow retain all the memories of all their lives. The story itself is okay as the protagonist comes to terms with the reality of his life, but the science was so hokey that it made it very difficult for me to immerse myself in the story.
Pretties by Scott Westerfeld, Aladdin, 11/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-689-86539-2
This is the follow up to Uglies, which set up a clever, satiric utopian future in which every teenager is compelled by law to undergo an operation when they come of age, the object being to make them a beautiful person, an aesthetically pleasing individual who falls into certain rigidly defined boundaries. Tally is a young girl who initially sees nothing wrong with that, but by the end of the first book, she has joined a secret underground that reverses the operations so that people can exercise their right to remain as they were. That decisions becomes a big problematic when Tally decides that she feels comfortable with her new self and begins to lose interest in asserting her individuality, although her old friends are there to remind her that beauty is indeed only skin deep. A clever concept particularly well suited for its target audience, and a refreshing return to the kind of dystopian satire that used to be quite popular.
Another War by Simon Morden, Telos, 2005, $8.95, ISBN 1-903889-93-6
I was reminded at times of William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland as I read this equally short novel by newcomer Morden. The house in this case is an English manor which has lately been enclosed in a mysterious, impenetrable forcefield, and was in the past the place where two men disappeared inexplicably. The military and scientists are attempting to solve the problem when the two missing men reappear, apparently having aged not one minute and with no recollection of what happened. There is a secret in the house, one that might lead to science principles beyond our wildest imagination. Nicely understated but I had the feeling that there was more story to tell than the author actually provided.
Talebones #30 edited by Patrick & Honna Swenson, Fairwood Press, 2005, $6.00
Although I don't usually review magazines here, I wanted to at least mention the current issue of Talebones, which has lasted far longer than most small press magazines, almost certainly because the quality of its contents has remained so consistently high. This particular issue is one of the very best, with very good stories by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, James Van Pelt, and Ray Vukcevich, and several others of nearly the same quality. There is the usual non-fiction by Edward Bryant and others, always worth reading, an interview with Ben Bova, and a nice cover as well. Attractively laid out and illustrated, Talebones is well worth subscribing to.
I Am Alive and You Are Dead by Emmanuel Carrere, Picador, 2005, $15, ISBN 0-312-42451-5
The latest in a long string of critical looks at the work of Philip K. Dick concentrates more on an analysis of the author's personality than the work itself, using the published fiction, interviews, and other sources to construct an intricate and generally quite convincing portrait. A complex book, but the subject is itself very complex, and the author does an excellent job of making the abstruse understandable.
A Gathering of Widowmakers by Mike Resnick, Meisha Merlin, 10/05, $24.95, ISBN 1-59222-085-1
With both the Santiago and Widowmaker books, Mike Resnick has adapted the form of the western novel to SF, but with larger than life characters who resonate with the reader even though we know that they are implausibly competent. The Widowmaker is a bounty hunter, the most dangerous man in the galaxy, prowling the frontier worlds to bring down the criminals too frightening for ordinary law enforcement. The original Widowmaker has retired, but two clones of him exist, one as Jason Newman, who shares his memories but seeks a life of his own, and Jeff Nighthawk, who shares only his genetic code and who relies on his youth and skills to get him out of trouble. When the two clones end up fighting one another, the original comes out of retirement to track down the youngest and complete his training. This is one of those books I felt compelled to read in one sitting, partly because the prose moves so smoothly, partly because I was impatient to find out how everything worked out. Some nasty larger than life villains, some clever problem solving, and an exciting ending didn't hurt either.
Map of Bones by James Rollins, Morrow, 2005, $24.95, ISBN 0-06-076387-6
James Rollins, who in another incarnation is fantasy writer James Clemens, has written a number of very exciting, if not always entirely plausible thrillers with SF overtones, of which this is the latest. Someone has stolen the bones of the Magi from a church reliquary, killing hundreds of people in the process by some means not entirely evident. Two operatives from the Vatican join a special operations team from the US to find out who is responsible and why, setting in motion a violent duel with an international organization that has existed secretly within society and the Church for centuries. The action is rapid and constant, but comic book style. The heroes whose characters are only sketched in escape attacks and captures so many times that I was chuckling at it toward the end. All that said, it was a very pleasant read, full of twists and turns and plots and betrayals, sort of a blend of the recent movie National Treasure with a bit of The Da Vinci Code. Not great literature certainly, but a lot better written than Clancy or Coonts.
Night Train to Rigel by Timothy Zahn, Tor, 10/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30716-2
It's always a pleasure to sit down and start a new book, and discover some time later that you've turned the last page without taking a break. This new SF adventure story by one of the most reliable writers in the genre grabbed me in the opening chapter and never relinquished its grip. The protagonist is an ex-government agent in a future in which the stars are quite literally linked by trains that travel through very long tunnels, a system maintained by enigmatic aliens who are themselves merely guardians of a technology they don't understand. Compton is hired by these aliens to uncover the secret of an interstellar plot, which activity soon makes him the target of assassins. As it happens, I was a few steps ahead of the hero in figuring out what was going on, but it didn't detract from the story a single bit. Some nice action scenes, a few surprising plot twists, an interesting cast of supporting characters, and a rousing resolution. There is a tendency to dismiss this kind of story as light weight entertainment, but that judgment underrates one of the core values of literature the ability to entertain the reader. Zahn makes that difficult task seem deceptively easy.
The Masque of Manana by Robert Sheckley, NESFA, 2005, $29.00, ISBN 1-886778-60-4
Among my very first memories of reading SF are the early Bantam collections of short stories by Robert Sheckley, several of which have remained firmly in my memory ever since. This large new volume collects more than forty of his shorts, including such classics as "A Wind Is Rising", "Untouched by Human Hands", "The Story of the Worlds, and so on. Just reading through the contents list brought back multiple images and an occasional chuckle. Most of the stories included here date from the 1950s, but there is a sprinkling of more recent work as well. Sheckley has always been one of those writers who excel far more at shorter length than in novels, and that has perhaps caused him to be overlooked at times, particularly now that the short story seems to be growing ever rarer even within SF. If you haven't read Sheckley before, you're in for a marvelous treat. If you have already, this is your chance to re-read him; you're in for a marvelous treat.
Ghostworld by John Russell Fearn, Gryphon, 2005, $16, ISBN 1-58250-076-2
Gryphon books has been bringing back into print, usually in book form for the first time, the Golden Amazon series by British writer John Russell Fearn, not known for his great prose but often cited for his strong story telling skills. The Golden Amazon is a kind of superhero of the future, who with her companions battles alien and human enemies on Earth and in outer space. This is her 25th novel length outing, set on a distant world where the menace literally watches them from outer space. Comic book style space opera, but still enjoyable for what it is.
The House of Sounds and Others by M.P. Shiel, Hippocampus, 2005, $20, ISBN 0974878960
Authors come in and out of style and M.P. Shiel has been out for quite a while, so it's not surprising that there are fresh stirrings of interest. The most obvious and positive outcome has been this reprinting of his famous SF novel, The Purple Cloud, along with seven short stories. The opening tale, "Xelucha", is my favorite of his works, a kind of ghost story but very unconventional for 1896. Included also is the title story which was highly praised by H.P. Lovecraft. The blend of science fiction and horror is typical of it s time and while the prose is a bit dense by contemporary standards, the stories are worth a little extra effort.
Swine Fever by Andrew Cartmel, Black Flame, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-174-9
Ruthless by Jonathan Clements, Black Flame, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-136-6
The first of these two tie in books, a Judge Dredd novel, has one of the funnier premises I've encountered recently. In the distant future, pigs have been uplifted and some have become intelligent, intelligent enough to agitate for and push through a law making it illegal to sell pork. The craving for ribs is a powerful one, however, and someone is conducting a black market in bacon and ham, so Judge Dredd has to track down the malefactor and bring him to justice. Fun stuff. The second title is in the Strontium Ace series, set in a future where mutants are common. The protagonist is a bounty hunter who specializes in hunting mutant criminals among the stars, but who is forced to take a different path when his own sister is kidnapped. Mildly interesting adventure here, and a not too plausible interstellar society.
Nylon Angel by Marianne de Pierres, Roc, 7/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46037-5
This novel, published in Australia last year, is the first in a projected series about Parrish Plessis, a bodyguard working for a crime lord in a cyberpunkish future Earth. Parrish despises her boss but is smart enough not to force an open clash, since he could and would have her killed without a moment's regret. Her opportunity arises when she becomes involved in a murder case, and finds a way to solve her own problems, even if that means playing with the truth. The novel is written in a kind of tough, gritty style with, thankfully, a minimum of opaque jargon. The story line works itself out logically, with the protagonist recovering from the occasional bump to her plans, and the ending is, more or less, a happy one. My one significant caveat is that I didn't like Parrish at all. Given her background and current situation, it would have been unrealistic to make her too likeable, I suppose, but while I will almost certainly read her further adventures, I'm not looking forward to keeping her company again any time soon.
War of the Worlds soundtrack by John Williams, Decca, 2005, no price listed, UPC 602498814130
This, obviously, is the soundtrack to the new Stephen Spielberg film which, as it happens, I just saw recently. Since much of the film involves people running for their lives, it's not surprising that most of the bands on the album have appropriately exciting music. It works real well in the film, but I'd have to say that it detracts somewhat from its value as a piece of listening music. There doesn't seem to be much variety, and it was very difficult to differentiate among many of the separate pieces. The movie was a very good one that didn't quite make it into the category of "great", so it probably isn't surprising that the soundtrack falls into very much the same place.
Superman Lives!, Time Warner Audio, 2005, $22.98, ISBN 1-59483-073-8
Batman: The Complete Knightfall Saga, Time Warner Audio, 2005, $22.98, ISBN 1-59483-074-6
Technically speaking I suppose these aren't really audiobooks, since they are performances with a cast of characters from a script based on comics. Both include various subplots and both include three CDs. The Superman story includes the fate of Lex Luthor, a love triangle involving Lois Lane, and a supervillain Doomsday with whom I'm not familiar. The Batman adventure is more focused, with Bruce Wayne incapacitated and forced to give over the defense of Gotham City to a new superhero, Azrael, who might be a cure as bad as the disease. Both performances are ably done although there are no well known actors in either cast. I liked the Batman rather better, but I've always been more partial to him in any media form.
The Science in Science Fiction by Robert W. Bly, BenBella, 9/05, $24.95, ISBN 1-932100-48-2
The author examines more than eighty SF predictions which "became scientific reality", although in some cases this simply means that the concepts have become legitimate subjects of inquiry, not that they necessarily have any practical application, like antimatter, other dimensions, and immortality. Other topics include things like cloning, precognition, jet packs, invisibility, weather control, even UFOs. The author examines each in a readable although necessarily cursory manner. No surprises really, but it's nice to see such a thorough overview.
The Pocket Essential Science Fiction Films by John Costello, Pocket, 10/05, $8.99, ISBN 1-903047-44-7
The Pocket Essential Hitchhiker's Guide by M.J. Simpson, Pocket, 10/05, $8.99, ISBN 1-904048-46-3
These two slim little guides are, frankly, very over priced. The first one was spoiled for me by frequent interjections of the author's personal hobby horses, including an indictment of modern civilization in an afterword. His commentary is occasionally interesting but it is rather too argumentative for what purports to be an "essential guide". The second title also has a rather steep cover price but it does provide a good deal of side material about the series by Douglas Adams. It wanders into the author's other work and similar side issues, but is well written and as far as I can see quite accurate.
The Eternity Artifact by L.E. Modesitt Jr., 10/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31464-9
Although L.E. Modesitt has written mostly fantasy in recent years, I still like his science fiction much better. This one is a glorious space opera set in a distant future when humans have spread to the stars and splintered into a number of subsidiary civilizations. The status quo become shaky with the appearance of a mysterious planet, apparently an artifact created by an unknown race, and a team of experts is sent to investigate and determine whether there is simply a mystery or also a menace. Very enjoyable, lots of sense of wonder, and I even liked the characters.
Best Short Novels 2005 edited by Jonathan Strahan, SF Book Club, 2005, $12.99, ISBN 1-58288-173-1
Novellas and novelettes are often relegated to a kind of limbo in publishing, even in SF which is where they thrived in the past, because they're too small to be published as a book in today's publishing scheme and often get left out of short story collections which are themselves at something of a disadvantage because they take up too much space. The SF Book Club here provides a venue for looking at ten such stories from 2004, including one that was published electronically, one only available in a British edition, and a couple of others from relatively obscure sources. The contributors include Garnder Dozois, James Patrick Kelly, Charles Stross, Bradley Denton, Greg Feeley, and others and, as you might expect, they're all of very high quality. I believe you can get this one without being a member of the club so here's your chance to read some fine stories that might otherwise be hard to find.
Survivor in Death by J.D. Robb, Putnam, 2005, $23.95, ISBN 0-399-15208-3
This is the 20th book in this futuristic police procedural series from Nora Roberts. There's almost no SF content this time at all except for some window dressing references to travel off Earth and a few technological devices. Oddly enough, it's also not a very good mystery, although an entertaining thriller. Someone has butchered an entire family, apparently with no motive, and only their young daughter escapes, thanks to an oversight. Detective Eve Dallas and the usual cast of supporting characters protect her life while trying to identify those responsible. They eventually do so, and since the villains aren't even identified as characters until the waning chapters, it's not a particularly good mystery either. That all said, I still enjoyed it. The plot moves quickly and logically, and the young kid was an interesting character who seemed destined to join the continuing cast, although the author reverses herself at the end. That might have been a mistake, because the series has fallen into a pretty standard formula two sexual encounters per novel, at least one fight between Dallas and her husband, variations of the same banter with her subordinates and the kid might have given the mix some freshness.
The Road to Dune by Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson, Tor, 9/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31295-6
Here's a feast of odds and ends for fans of the Dune series. This is a collection of varied materials, fiction and non-fiction. Possibly of most historical interest are the extensive sections cut from the first two Dune novels, available in print for the first time, I believe. With them is correspondence between Herbert and editor John W. Campbell Jr. as well as an article anticipating the first novel. Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson have added the several short stories that they have written in conjunction with their elaboration of the series in recent years, and there is also an entire short novel, Spice Planet, which is based on outlines and notes left by Frank Herbert. Altogether a suitable companion book for the extensive series of novels.
Strong Arm Tactics by Jody Lynn Nye, Meisha Merlin, 10/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59222-045-2
This is the opening volume in the Wolfe Pack series, military SF along traditional lines. The protagonist is the son of a prominent family whose decision to enter the military causes considerable consternation. He's a political problem his superiors don't want to deal with, so they reassign him to an oddball group in a remote region of space, where they place all their problems so that they can be ignored with impunity. Unfortunately for them, Wolfe has no intention of being put out to pasture and he discovers that the members of his new command, although certainly not the kind of troops that one usually sees, are resourceful and potentially a very effective unit. Predictably for this sort of novel, he whips them into shape, proving himself to them and vice versa, as they are sent on what should be a simple mission and turns out to be anything but. This is the kind of novel where you don't expect any real surprises, and Nye provides all the elements that you'll be looking for, some of them quite skillfully.
The Affinity Trap by Martin Sketchley, Pyr, 9/05, $15, ISBN 1-59102-339-4
Here we have an old fashioned space opera with lots of political maneuvering, violence, and exotic settings. Earth has become an overpopulated, decadent dictatorship whose ruler, General Myson, is enriching himself by smuggling arms to outlying planets. Myson seeks to bolster his position by marrying into the upper class of an alien race, but his bride to be has second thoughts and takes to her heels. Myson sends an intelligent operative after her, but the agent has a mind of his own and changes his loyalties once he meets his quarry. There's lots of action and adventure, some of it exciting, but the socio-politics didn't work for me at all, nor could I accept the rationale for the marriage between a human male and a member of a three sexed race, no matter how symbolic it was supposed to be. The novel shows some potential, but I'd wait for the next to sample this author.
The Amadeus Net by Mark Rayner, Enc, 2005, $19, ISBN 0-9752540-1-4
Satire used to be a lot more popular in SF than it is today, possibly because we're all aware of the problems and don't need to be nudged any more. This one from a publisher of whom I haven't previously heard is actually quite a good one, with an interesting premise. Mozart was actually immortal, faked his death, and is still alive some twenty years from now, in a future where sex change clinics are an accepted part of life. There is a nice mix of plots including a possible apocalypse, a journalist who knows his secret, attempts to steal and sell his DNA, The author pokes fun at a variety of modern trends and foibles, and for the most part does so wittily and entertainingly.
Salvation by C.S. Goto, Black Library, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-189-7
Survival Instinct by Andy Chambers, Black Library, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-188-9
These are the first two novels in the Necromunda series, which I assume is based on a game system, although that's not evident from anything in the text. Necromunda is one of several enormous hive cities on a far future Earth, overflowing with people and evolved into a decadent society that is vaguely cyberpunkish. Goto's novel is slightly the better of the two, a mystery adventure in which a museum curator makes a discovery that could upset the balance of power in the city, and almost loses his life in the process. The Chambers book, a first novel, is set among the various violent factions within the city and the corrupt upper class. Neither novel reads like a tie in and both could have appeared quite readily in a mainstream publisher's generic SF line.
Battlestar Galactica Season One soundtrack, composed by Bear McCreary, La-La Land Records, 2005, UPC 826924103227
I haven't seen anything of this new revival of the old, not particularly lamented television series, but I've heard good things about it. One of the better things I've heard about it no pun intended is this soundtrack. The music is not at all what I expected, avoiding most of the musical stereotypes. Although most of the cuts bear some resemblance to one another, they sound to my admittedly untrained ear to have distinct elements of non-western music. The orchestration is excellent and most of the album stands on its own rather than being simply background music. I have no idea how well this meshes with the visuals but it's certainly not hard on the ear.
The Amphora Project by William Kotzwinkle, Grove, 10/05, $23, ISBN 0-8021-1803-8
A frequent problem when writers unfamiliar with science fiction try to write in that form is that they inevitably end up reinventing the wheel, reprising often badly devices and plot elements that have already been done to death, or done much more skillfully. The most common exceptions are humorous stories, because farcical situations and clichιs are more acceptable in that format. Kotzwinkle, who has dabbled in fantasy and science fiction many times before, tries his hand at humorous space opera in this new one, in which a variety of characters, human and otherwise, are locked in a battle for control of the secret of immortality, apparently left behind by an alien civilization. Read as serious SF, this would be a near disaster, but as a spoof, it has many good moments.
Star Warped by A2R Roberts, Gollancz, 2005, £7.99, ISBN 0575-07688-7
Satirist Adam Roberts has definitely gone to the well once too often for this farcical spoof of the Star Wars universe. Most of the jokes have been done before, and some of them weren't even funny the first time. Luke Seespotrun and his faithful droid, Arcy Doo-Doo, save the universe from the bad guys. The cute cover art is the high point this time on a spoof that probably wasn't worth doing.
The Protector's War by S.M. Stirling, Roc, 9/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-451-46046-4
The world has changed dramatically and most technology no longer functions. Predictably, civilization as we know it has fallen apart and the world has devolved into numerous much smaller political units, many of them near feudal enclaves. In the Pacific Northwest, two of these communities have carved out a new arrangement in order to begin rebuilding the world, and have developed friendly relations with one another. But there's a neighboring ruler an historian who has more expansionist intentions. What none of them know is that there is still another party about to add complexity to the mix. Stirling always does a great job with his novels of uprooted communities building a new world. I just hope he doesn't get trapped into writing the same story over and over again in variant versions.
Runner by William C. Dietz, Ace, 10/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01326-0
Jak Rebo is a courier who specializes in carrying information from one world to another, using a series of portals that are much more convenient than starships. His latest job is a bit out of the ordinary. He is instructed to escort a young boy who has been recognized as a mystical figure by one faction of a religious group but there's a problem. Another faction has a competing candidate for the position, and they are determined to see that their choice is officially recognized, even if that means killing the opposition. What follows is an exciting series of chase scenes, escapes and captures, and high adventure against the backdrop of exotic other worlds. This is one of Dietz's better efforts, and Rebo is probably his best realized character to date.
Woman by Richard Matheson, Gauntlet, 2005, $12.95, ISBN 1-887368-75-2
The protagonist of this short novel is a sort of retired psychologist who is bothered by a troubled young woman whom he insists he cannot help despite her insistence that he is her only hope. Eventually she assumes the role of stalker, but one with a particularly menacingly quality, because she has the ability to will others to experience misfortune, injury, even death. We eventually learn that she is a kind of twisted manifestation of a new mass feminine mind that has decided to eliminate males within the next generation. The second half of the novel is quite suspenseful, but the first half is unfortunately a rather labored exchange of speeches and posturing by the characters enabling Matheson to unveil his hypothesis that feminism has failed and only radical separation can save women from the evils of men. There are some really good scenes but this one is too didactic for me.
Remains by Mark Tiedemann, Benbella, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 1-932100-49-0
Mace Preston is a security officer working in the Martian colony who loses his job when he refuses to accept that the death of his wife was an accident. His subsequent investigations are getting nowhere until he joins forces with a troubled young woman who works in a technical job involving data management. Together they uncover more than either bargained for, a web of political and criminal intrigue that reaches the highest levels of government. Their interference could expose the whole plot, and that makes them good candidates for elimination. As always, Tiedemann does a very good job of blending the tropes of both SF and the mystery genre, and leads the reader ever deeper into the convolutions of his plot no pun intended.
War Surf by M.M. Buckner, Ace, 9/05, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01320-1
Buckner's third novel is set in a somewhat familiar future, and a depressingly likely one. The gap between the rich and poor has become larger than ever, with the former able to use nanotechnology and other advances to extend their lifetimes and to protect them from the degradation of the environment that adversely affects the majority of the population. The protagonist and his friends spend much of their time vicariously interfering with the conflicts among the rest of the world, but his situation changes when he becomes romantically interested in a young woman from the masses, altering his viewpoint and his destiny. A very satisfying dystopian novel but not one to read if you're already depressed.
A Logic Named Joe by Murray Leinster, Baen, 6/05, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-9910-7
This paperback, nearly 600 pages long, is one of the best returns for your money you'll find this year. It includes three novels by Leinster, as well as three short stories. The novels are The Pirates of Zan, one of the best of his space operas, Gateway to Elsewhere, one of the first novels in which a character from our world is transported into an alternate reality where magic works, and The Duplicators, an amusing but comparatively minor other worlds adventure that demonstrates that matter duplication isn't necessarily a blessing. Eric Flint made the selection, which provides a reasonable cross section of Leinster's work, particularly in conjunction with the previous reprints Baen has already published. Now if someone would only bring together Monster from Earth's End, War with the Gizmos, and Creatures of the Abyss.
The Bright Spot by Robert Sydney, Bantam Spectra, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58759-5
According to the copyright page, this is a pseudonym for Dennis Danvers, who has written three previous SF novels, all three of which I enjoyed. This one features two not particularly successful actors in a mildly repressive dystopian future. Their paths cross that of an elderly, wealthy, determined entrepreneur who has the secret of time travel and wants to use it to alter the history of the world and bring about a better present. The author approaches what seems to be a rather familiar theme from a slightly different direction, and uses strongly delineated characters to make it seem more plausible than it probably really is. It also has a particularly striking cover that you might not recognize as SF unless you look closely.
In Milton Lumky Territory by Philip K. Dick, Gollancz, 2005, £7.99, ISBN 0-575-07465-5
Mary and the Giant by Philip K. Dick, Gollancz, 2005, £7.99, ISBN 0-575-07466-3
Both of these are non-fantastic novels by Dick, the second of which I had read previously but the first of which is completely new to me. Both are set during the 1950s in the western part of America, and there are actually some similarities between the two apparently unlike protagonists, a young woman trying to make a life for herself and an ambitious man who hopes to improve his fortunes by an alliance with an older woman. Both are very fine novels, which should come as no surprise to readers familiar with his work, and much more conventional than his science fiction.
Worlds Apart by Dunja M. Mohr, McFarland, 2005, $39.95, ISBN 0-7864-2142-8
This is another of those high priced academic studies, but a more accessible one that many. The author explores "dualism and transgression in contemporary female dystopias", which sounds daunting, but much of her analysis of works by Suzy McKee Charnas, Margaret Atwood, and Suzette Haden Elgin is interesting and informative. Not for casual readers, obviously, but if you're interested in the subject, this is a nice way to explore it in some depth.
The Fiction Factory by Jack Dann, Golden Gryphon, 10/05, $24.95, ISBN 1-930846-36-3
From the Files of the Time Rangers by Richard Bowes, Golden Gryphon, 9/05, $24.95, ISBN 1-930846-35-5
The Last of the O-Forms and Other Stories by James Van Pelt, Fairwood Press, 8/05, $17.95, ISBN 0-9746573-2
I am happy to say that the single author short story collection continues to do well with small presses if not with major publishing houses. The first of these reminded me of Harlan Ellison's Partners in Wonder, because all of the stories included are collaborations between Dann and other writers, which include Gardner Dozois, Barry Malzberg, Gregory Frost, Susan Casper, Michael Swanwick, and others. Several of them are quite good including "Touring", "Down Among the Dead Men", and "High Steel". The chemistry involved in collaborations is unpredictable, but in most of these cases, it seems to have worked. Richard Bowes' book is a fix-up, a "novel" that consists of several previously published shorter pieces interlaced to create something approximating a single narrative. The blending is only slightly awkward in this case, the story of an organization that travels through time to various periods of the 20th Century. This isn't SF though; it's fantasy, because many of the major characters are the ancient gods. Although some of the individual episodes were good, I was not as happy with the book as a hole, partly because of the way it was constructed, partly because the gods didn't really come across as people. Last but by no means least is the second collection of short fiction by James Van Pelt, this one predominantly SF rather than fantasy, including the title story, which was on the Nebula ballot a while back. The other fourteen stories aren't bad either and include several quite good ones, like "The Safety of the Herd", "The Long Way Home" and "The Invisible Empire". Already a well established writer of short fiction, Van Pelt is more than due a book from a major publisher.
Old Twentieth by Joe Haldeman, Ace, 8/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01285-X
Joe Haldeman's recent novels have varied dramatically in setting, and this one is no exception. The time is many centuries from now. Humanity has reached the stars, but only by sublight drive taking many years, often centuries. That doesn't matter as much because we have now become virtually immortal. Still, a journey of that length would be incredibly boring if it were not for virtual reality, specifically, an artificial intelligence capable of recreating replicas of life and situations on 20th Century Earth, allowing the passengers to spend much of their time in that very different environment. Unfortunately, the AI had begun to evolve into a new state, and has altered the parameters of the program as part of its newly contrived imperatives.
Longevity City by David Murphy, Five Star, 8/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-322-6
Irish author David Murphy brings an old fashioned dystopian novel with new fashioned clothing. Ronald Carver rules over a future in which a new biological technology causes people to be born as twins, with enhanced abilities. The twins, however, are essentially clones, identical even to their fingerprints. The discovery makes the drug company effectively the world government, and Carver moves to consolidate his power while some among the population move from unrest to outright rebellion. Once you accept the premise for the society in which this is set, the story moves along quickly and logically, but I had some difficulty accepting that such a radical change could be accomplished as quickly as described here.
How I Helped the Chicago Cubs (Finally!) Win the World Series by Harper Scott, Aardwolf, 2005, $24.95, ISBN 9780970622570
One hundred and fifty years from now, the Cubs still haven't won the World Series, so two fans use a time machine to recruit star players from the distant past. The tone is light enough that the reader isn't going to be particularly bothered by the implausibilities of the situation. Much of the subsequent humor derives from the difficulties the classic players have adjusting to life in the future, and some from the time travelers misapprehensions about the past. Hopefully, particularly if you're a Cubs fan, this novel won't prove to be prophetic.
Rocket Science by Jay Lake, Fairwood Press, 8/05, $17.99, ISBN 0-9746573-6-0
Newcomer Jay Lake makes his novel length debut with this mildly humorous adventure about an alien artifact. Floyd Bellamy returns from Europe at the conclusion of World War II, and he has brought something interesting with him, an artifact which was recovered from under the Arctic ice and which was left there by another civilization in the distant past. Unfortunately, Floyd and a friend do a poor job of keeping it secret, and it isn't long before everyone and his brother and sister are chasing after the twosome, hoping to secure the secret of an advanced technology for themselves. The thrill and chills are entertaining and low key and I enjoyed the book right to the end, although I had the sense afterward that something had been left out, that there should have been more to the story than there actually was.
Eternity and Other Stories by Lucius Shepard, Thunder's Mouth, 9/05, $15.95, ISBN 1-56025-662-1
The novella is usually something of an orphan, too small to be published as a book, too large for most magazines and anthologies. For that reason, they are comparatively infrequent, and the quality is usually quite high. That is particularly true when they are written by Lucius Shepard, who collects seven very long stories in this new title. The stories don't fit into any single genre, fantasy, science fiction, and non-fantastic tales are all represented here. Shepard is equally at ease describing American soldiers lost quite literally in the Islamic afterlife, or writing offbeat ghost stories set in the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center, or uncovering the secrets of crocodile men in Africa. He writes of mental deficient revelers with loaded handguns and aging heroes of third world nations with equal skill. There is not a single less than excellent story in this collection and you're going to regret it if you miss picking up a copy.
The Way to Glory by David Drake, Baen, 5/05, $25, ISBN 0-7434-9882-8
The fourth adventure of Lieutenant Daniel Leary is another romp of a space opera with military overtones. The interstellar war is not going well for the good guys, and the defeats have caused unrest on the home world and uncertainty even among the military ranks of the defending forces. Leary is highly regarded because of his previous successes, but that doesn't prevent him from being given an impossible task, serving under a possibly insane officer who is cracking under the strain. There are no surprises, just straightforward story telling. It's a foregone conclusion that Leary will find a way to triumph again, but it's fun figuring out just how he's going to do it this time.
The Stonehenge Gate by Jack Williamson, Tor, 8/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30897-5
The amazingly durable Jack Williamson turns out another wild, old style adventure story, this one based on the premise that four unlikely adventurers might accidentally stumble across an alien artifact that would allow them to travel from one world to another. The episodic thrills follow as they encounter empty worlds and others very full, deal with alien politics, cultural differences, physical dangers, and logical problems. There aren't many writers producing this kind of wild, inventive excitement any more, but Williamson proves to be as effective as ever.
Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson, Little Brown, 2005, $16.99, ISBN 0-316-15556-X
James Patterson is a successful writer of mainstream adult thrillers, none of whose books I have read. This new one is the first in a series aimed at young adults, and for these Patterson has ventured into SF. What results is clear evidence that he is very good at writing action, adventure, and mystery, but that he should stick to mainstream or brush up on his basic science. The premise is that a group of individuals, now teenagers, have been genetically interbred with birds, as a consequence of which they are capable of flight. The ensuing struggle by various groups to make use of their abilities takes the reader from one stirring sequence to another, but the premise is so shaky that I for one just couldn't get involved with the characters. If you're less fastidious about scientific logic, you may enjoy this more than I did.
Formidable Enemy by Terry Bramlett, Five Star, 6/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-280-7
Imprint by Paul L. Bates, Five Star, 7/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-312-9
Both of these are first novels from a publisher who primarily targets libraries, so you'll probably have to look on line if you want them. The first is futuristic espionage. The protagonist is an ex-hero trying to lead a quiet life who has to go into action again when one member of an alien race warns him that there is a plot among a faction of his people to assassinate a prominent human official and precipitate an interstellar war. His efforts to counter the threat, overcoming the usual incredulity of the authorities and the henchmen of the aliens, are convincing and often exciting, and the novel is a quite successful debut. The second title reminded me slightly of the movie Total Recall in that the protagonist this time remembers a girlfriend who seems to have been wiped from the memories of everyone on Earth, as well as its databanks. The society he lives in is a repressive dystopian society with a very obvious police presence, which makes it even more difficult for a simple worker with no political connections or wealth to conduct an investigation of his own. Despite that fact, he discovers the truth in a reasonably plausible thought sometimes a bit contrived way. Not quite as successful as Bramlett's novel, but good enough to suggest there may be a dawning talent here as well.
Ravenor Returned by Dan Abnett, Black Library, 2005, $19.99, ISBN 1-84416-184-6
Dan Abnett brings back his character Gideon Ravenor for another round of espionage and adventure. This time Ravenor and his team infiltrate a remote planet, initially to penetrate and expose a group of interstellar smugglers who are dealing with alien technologies. The situation turns out to be more complicated than they anticipated when some of those artifacts are revealed to involve a potential for disaster of far more significance than simple smuggling. Mostly action adventure, as you might expect from a Warhammer tie-in, but more thoughtfully told than is the case with most novels in this multi-author series.
Scattered Suns by Kevin J. Anderson, Aspect, 7/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-446-57717-0
The Saga of the Seven Suns reaches its fourth volume in the continuing story of a future humanity that stumbles inadvertently into a war with an alien race whose far superior technology seems insuperable. The war has spread to other alien civilizations as well, causing shifting alliances and battle fronts, and now the strain is beginning to tell, leading to power struggles, disagreements, and even civil conflict. This series is a big, sprawling space opera similar to the work of Frank Herbert or Peter Hamilton, with an interesting variety of alien cultures and a large cast of characters. This last might be the series only drawback, because it is sometimes difficult to keep track of just who is where and what's happening to them.
The Dark Crusade by Walter H. Hunt, Tor, 8/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31117-8
Although humanity has expanded to the stars, it has not been without strife. A devastating war with an alien race almost destroyed both civilizations before a peace was forged between the two. Now aware of the fact that they were both victims of a third, manipulative force, the former enemies are now allies, although the conflict still remains multi-sided and sometimes quite confusing. The secretive enemy is now on the defensive and it looks like retribution is only a matter of time, but they still have a few surprises in store for us in this wide ranging space opera that mixes military SF with interplanetary adventure. Hunt's series has become increasingly deep in background as it progresses and promises to be one of the more memorable SF creations.
War of the Worlds New Millennium by Douglas Niles, Tor, 6/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31142-9
Given the imminent release of the Stephen Spielberg remake of the movie version, updated to the 21st Century, it's not surprising that someone would try to do the same thing with the novel. Fantasy writer Douglas Niles tries his hand with this one, which follows several characters as they act and react to the invasion of Earth by malevolent Martians. Niles retains the characteristic tripod walking machines and death rays, but upgrades human weaponry to include aircraft, although it proves similarly ineffective. Much of the treatment, and even the solution, parallel that of Wells quite closely. This isn't a serious rival to the Wells classic, of course, but it's a likeable novel in its own way, and includes some suspenseful sections toward the end, although I think the author spent too much time on the early part of the story and rushed the events following the actual outbreak of hostilities.
First Warning by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Morrow, 8/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-06-052538-X
Following the success of the Acorna series, McCaffrey and Scarborough have returned with this, the first story about Acorna's Children, in this case a daughter named Khorii who ranges through space, encountering a derelict spaceship that may provide a clue about a mysterious plague that is spreading from planet to planet through civilized space, threatening to engulf the entire race. She's off to solve the problem, accompanied by a man who survived being left to die, and discovers that the plague isn't just a natural occurrence but part of a deadly plot. Satisfying space opera with an interesting protagonist, but I confess to feeling some impatience for novels filled with unpronounceable proper nouns and accompanied by an extensive glossary.
Afterburn by S.L. Viehl, Roc, 8/05, $23.95, ISBN 0-451-46029-4
S.L. Viehl has quickly become recognized for convoluted and adventure filled space opera, most in the Stardoc series. This sequel to Bio Rescue perhaps indicates another series is underway, this one focusing on a team of medical professionals who specialize in interplanetary rescue missions. This time they're involving in a crisis more rooted in politics than medicine. The daughter of an ambassador to a peace conference is kidnapped, endangering the entire course of the proceedings, and the Bio Rescue people are stuck in the middle of the ensuing tension. The water world setting is nicely drawn, although I'm not sure I believe that the civilization found there could have evolved that way, but given that premise, the story that follows is convincing and well thought out. Viehl is another writer prone to unnecessarily unpronounceable proper names, but that's a minor caveat.
Drive to the East by Harry Turtledove, Del Rey, 8/05, $26.95, ISBN 0-345-45724-2
Turtledove's alternate history of the world following the Confederacy's independence continues with this, the second volume of Settling Accounts, a sequence that takes place in that reality's version of World War II. Not surprisingly, the two countries find themselves on opposite sides once again, hostilities break out, and bombers begin leveling cities on both sides of the border. When a Confederate raid almost accidentally kills the northern president, the entire course of the war begins to change. As with all of the books in this series, Turtledove employs a very large cast of characters in order to give the reader multiple viewpoints about what is happening. There are fewer genuine historical personages this time, however, and the individual characterizations are somewhat stronger than in the previous books in this series. Alternate history fans will love it, and will be hotly anticipating the next, which presumably will lead us to the era of nuclear weapons.
Down These Dark Spaceways edited by Mike Resnick, Science Fiction Book Club, 2005, $12.99, ISBN 1-58288-164-2
Galileo's Children edited by Gardner Dozois, Pyr, 2005, $25, ISBN 1-59102-315-7
Although both of these are theme anthologies, the common thread in both cases is loose enough that you won't find the stories repetitive. They are also similar in that they contain no bad or even mediocre stories. The first is the latest original anthology from the SF Book Club, which has a very good track record in this regard already, and personally I think this is the best they've done. The six longish stories here blend SF with the hardboiled detective story, a marriage that has worked surprisingly well for a number of authors in the past. These six, by Resnick himself, Catherine Asaro, David Gerrold, Robert Sawyer, Robert Reed, and Jack McDevitt, are all good ones, particularly Resnick and McDevitt. One of the most enjoyable collections I've read this year. The Dozois anthology has a very different theme, the persecution of science and the battle to eradicate superstition. These are all reprints, with stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Silverberg, Brendan DuBois, James Tiptree, Ursula K. Le Guin, and others, and they're well selected, high in quality and balanced in setting and style. I was particularly glad of the excuse to re-read the stories by Tiptree, George R.R. Martin, and Edgar Pangborn, but they're all worth your time. As is the theme.
Out of Time by John Marsen, Tor, 10/05, $16.95, ISBN 0-765-31412-6
This is a relatively short, young adult novel about time travel about a boy who is troubled by a restless urge to do new things and see other worlds. His wishes are about to be filled as he encounters an unusual man, a scientist who has built a machine that allows passage forward and backward through time. Although the adventures are pretty tame compared to adult SF, there's an unusual charm about this book, and it makes a nice change from the more self consciously complex novels that dominate adult SF.
Echoes by Iain McLaughlin and Claire Bartlett, Telos, 2005, $8.95, ISBN 1-903889-45-6
This is part of the Time Hunter series, the sixth I believe, a multi-author sequence involving a contemporary detective and a woman from the far future who can travel through time, although the mechanism is almost mystical and the stories sometimes verge on fantasy. This time they solve the mystery of a corporation which has peculiar connections with different time frames. Fans of Doctor Who in particular should take a look at this series, which is attractively packaged and generally well written, this new title being no exception. The action tends to be less physical but the conflicts are just as intense.
End in Fire by Syne Mitchell, Roc, 6/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46033-2
Astronaut Claire Logan finds herself in an unenviable position when the battle for control of natural resources leads to a nuclear war between India and China, which quickly spreads to affect the entire world. Caught in orbit, she and her friends have no idea what fate has in store for their families, and when they dock with a Chinese space station, they have the additional problem of finding themselves sitting in the middle of a military target. Mitchell tells a convincing, gripping tale of uncertainty and danger, with a credible scientific grounding and a small cast of believable characters. This is the author's fourth and best novel, strong evidence of an evolving talent and a name likely to become more familiar in the years to come.
Beautiful Monsters by David McIntee, Telos, 2005, $17.95, ISBN 1-903889-94-4
The Alien and Predator franchises were not quite the pivotal cross breeding of science fiction and horror movies that this book implies but they certainly marked the first time that serious film makers devoted considerable budgets to that effort. This is a guide to the four Alien, 2 Predator, and one crossover film, with reviews, trivia, background material, and commentary on associated material like toys and video games. Most of the text is quite interesting, often informative, and the book is solid text, none of the stills and photographs normally associated with this kind of book.
Dark Companion by Andre Norton, Baen, 2005, $26, ISBN 0-7434-9898-4
Beast Master's Planet by Andre Norton, Tor, 2005, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31327-8
Each of these two titles reprints a pair of Andre Norton SF novels. In the first case, the two are unrelated. Dark Piper from 1968 is one of her better later SF novels, set on a planet where a plague has wiped out much of the population. Dread Companion (1970) is less interesting although still a pretty good story, set on a world where the local ecology causes morphological changes in its visitors, a theme Norton would use more than once. The second title contains two linked stories, including my favorite of all Norton's novels, The Beast Master (1959) and its mildly disappointing sequel, Lord of Thunder (1962). Ex-soldier Hosteen Storm attempts to make a new life on a pastoral planet after a war with the alien Xiks, but stumbles onto a deadly secret instead.
Imperium by Keith Laumer, Baen, 2005, $25, ISBN 0-7434-9903-4
The latest in Baen's omnibus volumes is a welcome one, although the labeling is a bit misleading. It is true that Worlds of the Imperium, The Other Side of Time, and Assignment in Nowhere make up the complete trilogy of Brion Bayard adventures, but there were four novels in the series, not three. Zone Yellow is not included here, but since it is not nearly as good as the first three, it's not a significant negative. The premise is the familiar one of interlaced parallel worlds, with Bayard kidnapped from our world to replace his brutal dictator counterpart in another. In the remaining two volumes he deals with rival cultures with advanced technology and a mysterious menace to the existence of the multiple worlds. They're all great fun in a style that is sadly rare in contemporary SF. A possibly interesting sidelight. Laumer actually wrote five novels about Bayard. The first one, Embassy, is not science fiction and takes place before his abduction.
Dragon and Slave by Timothy Zahn, Tor, 6/05, $17.95, ISBN 0-765-30126-1
The third in Zahn's young adult series about a teenaged star traveler and his alien companion, a benevolent alien who can mold himself into the form of a tattoo, takes a slightly darker turn. Jack still wants to know who is response from framing him for a crime he didn't commit, and clearing his own name, and the alien still hopes to uncover the truth about the near extinction of his race. Some information that might be held in the databanks of a major slave trader could help, so Jack surrenders his freedom in order to penetrate that organization and gain access, helped of course by the unusual abilities of his hidden companion. Zahn has always managed to tell an enthralling story in the past, and this one is no exception. Ignore the young adult label if you're older and read it anyway.
The Year's Best Science Ficton: Twenty-Second Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois, St Martins, 7/05, $35, ISBN 0-312-33659-4
By now most readers should probably know to buy this book without being told. For more than two decades, Gardner Dozois has searched through hundreds of stories every year to present the most wide ranging and comprehensive of the best of the year anthologies, and this latest volume shows no drop in quality. As always there is a lengthy, detailed summation of the year's events in the genre, including films, publishing industry news, and a survey of novels and collections and other materials. There is also the extensive list of honorable mentions for those who want to find even more good short fiction to read. The selections this year come from the prozines, original anthologies, chapbooks, and online sources, and there are quite a few stories you won't find easily elsewhere. The contributors include Vernor Vinge, Stephen Baxter, Kage Baker, Mary Rosenblum, and Paul Di Filippo, cover the full range of the field, and number almost thirty in total. If you don't have time to read these various sources during the course of the year, this is a great way to catch up to most of what's really outstanding at shorter length.
The War of the Worlds: Fresh Perspectives by H.G. Wells, edited by Glen Yeffeth, BenBella, 2005, $17.95, ISBN 1-932100-55-5
With release of the Spielberg remake of the film version of this classic Wells novel, it's not surprising that reprints and tie-ins are already appearing. This trade paperback includes the entire novel, but the real attraction is the collection of essays accompanying it, which explore various aspects of the novel, and which comprise about half of this new edition. The essays are by noted SF writers including Lawrence Watt-Evans, Robert Charles Wilson, Mercedes Lackey, Fred Saberhagen, Mike Resnick, David Gerrold, and others and are entertainingly written and occasionally thought provoking.
Queen of Atlantis by Pierre Benoit, Bison, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 0-8032-6916-1
I believe this is the first new edition of a classic novel of Atlantis since the 1960s. The author is French so it's not surprising that the story involves the Foreign Legion and sets the lost land in the desert of North Africa. The plot is the usual one. A beautiful but cruel queen menaces the men who stumble into her isolated world, where she lives surrounded by a mixture of barbarism and superscience. This is a not the same translation as the Ace edition.
Alanya to Alanya by L. Timmel DuChamp, Aqueduct Press, 2005, $19, ISBN 0-9746559-6-1
I've enjoyed several of this author's short stories during the past few years, and was curious to see what her first novel would be like. It's an odd one, set almost a century from now, with a new terrorist organization that operates globally, with aliens visiting the Earth and much of the planet, including the US, devolving into civil war and chaos. This is the first of a five novel series which mixes politics, aliens, and a variety of feminist and political issues which might easily have become unreadably polemic and convoluted, but which is surprisingly readable and entertaining despite its heavy load of subtext. Here's hoping it is successful enough to lead to publication of the remaining volumes.
Aurealis 33/34/35 edited by Keith Stevenson, Chimaera, $34.50 Australian, 2005
Technically this is a magazine, three issues combined into one, but it looks and feels like a trade paperback at nearly 300 pages. This is Australian's SF magazine and, unsurprisingly, features Australian writers, most of whom are going to be unfamiliar to readers in the US, although Shane Dix has a story and several of the other contributors are certainly good enough to find an appreciative audience here. There are twenty stories here, along with reviews and articles, with occasional illustrations although the quality of the art does not approach that of the prose. Some of the better stories are by Dix, Greg Hill, Natalie Potts, and Richard Harland. A visit to www.aurealis.com.au should probably provide you with ordering info.
Daemon's Curse by Dan Abnett and Mike Lee, Black Library, 6/05, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-191-9
Crimson Tears by Ben Counter, Black Library, 2005, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-160-9
A couple of new titles from the Warhammer sword and sorcery universe. The first title kicks off a new subordinate series with an unusual protagonist. Darkblade is an elf, but he's not a very nice one. He's an opportunist, an adventurer, and is both ambitious and occasionally cruel. His debut takes him through a series of episodic adventures, some of which are quite good, others less so. I was much less satisfied with the second book, at least partly because I find the mixture of demons and military SF too much of a double suspension of disbelief. It's also an overly familiar story the elite space marines accused of treason, or in this case heresy, finding themselves caught in the middle between opposing forces.
A Brother's Price by Wen Spencer, Roc, 7/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46038-3
Sometimes a writer has a successful book and spends the rest of his or her career trying to replicate it over and over again, spawning lengthy series that are often popular with a core group of fans but do nothing to expand the writer's audience. New writer Wen Spencer seems determined not to be caught in that trap, and her newest novel, not part of her ongoing series, is easily the best she has done, a reversal of a theme most commonly found in fantasy. It's a post apocalyptic world with a much reduced culture, and one in which male children are so rare that they are used in arranged marriages to gain political and social standing. Jerin Whistler is a young man who finds himself fated to such an arrangement, but he falls in love with a member of the local royalty, the feeling is reciprocated, and both sides seek a way for them to be together without violating the standards of their culture. Or at least that's the plan. The reversal is sensibly established and convincing, and the story is a definite winner.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, Simon Pulse, 3/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-689-86538-4
Scott Westerfeld's latest is the first volume in a trilogy for young adults, set in a dystopian future that bears some thematic similarity to Logan's Run. In this future, beauty has a precise definition, and everyone is entitled to be beautiful. On their sixteenth birthday, they are subjected to an operation which makes them look very much like everyone else. The protagonist accepted things as they were until one of her friends expresses dissatisfaction and a preference to remain as she is, and what appears to be a simple request turns ugly, no pun intended, quite quickly. This indictment of conformity and superficiality is handled deftly and without letting the message overwhelm the story.
Fall Girl by Pierce Askegren, Ace, 6/05, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01297-3
Askegren picks up the pace in this second volume of the Inconstant Moon trilogy. An alien artifact has been discovered on the moon, which provides the key to a technology that could take humanity to the stars. As work proceeds on the construction of a starship, the protagonists discover that there are some factions within the human race who are opposed to the effort, and willing to use violence to prevent the project from being completed. This is an old fashioned, near future adventure novel, but it's a pretty good one and made me nostalgic for the days of Murray Leinster, Dean McLaughlin, and similar writers.
Master of Adventure by Richard A. Lupoff, Bison, 2005, $16.95, ISBN 0-8032-8030-0
I first read this companion volume to the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs back during the 1960s when his novels were coming out in paperback at long last. I found it very useful then, and it would certainly be helpful to the next generation when they discover the worlds of Tarzan, Pellucidar, and John Carter of Mars. This new edition has a lengthy new chapter added by Phillip Burger to cover Burroughs influenced fiction published during the last four decades and a new introduction. Packaged in a nice, sturdy edition and still the first book I think of when I have a Burroughs question.
The Making of Star Wars Revenge of the Sith by J.W. Rinzler, Del Rey, 2005, $35, ISBN 0-345-43138-3
The Art of Stars Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith by J.W. Rinzler, Del Rey, 2005, $35, ISBN 0-345-43135-9
Along with the novelization of the screenplay, these are the two most predictable companion volumes to the final Star Wars film. The first covers the whole movie making process, from concept through artwork to filming and editing. There are full color photographs on nearly every page, and the text is readable and informative. The second title is equally impressive, filled with color reproductions of paintings, sketches, photographs, covering every part of the story and its transformation to the screen.
Homecalling and Other Stories by Judith Merril, NESFA Press, 2005, $29, ISBN 1-886778-54-X
Years in the Making by L. Sprague de Camp, NESFA Press, 2005, $25, ISBN 1-886778-47-7
Starwater Strains by Gene Wolfe, Tor, 8/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31202-6
The Emperor of Gondwanaland by Paul Di Filippo, Thunder's Mouth Press, 7/05, $16.95, ISBN 1-56025-665-6
I recently indulged myself in a brief flurry of short story collections which, coincidentally, are quite reflective of my many years of reading SF. The very first SF book I ever bought was in fact Out of Bounds, a short story collection by Judith Merril, the contents of which are included in the first title above, which contains all of the short fiction Merril wrote without collaborators. Her startling "That Only a Mother" is here, along with the title story, "Whoever You Are", "Project Nursemaid", and several other classics, along with a larger body of just very good stories. I was hooked on SF before I read L. Sprague de Camp for the first time, but his "A Gun for Dinosaur" was the very first time travel story to make an impression on me, and I remembered it vividly even though I hadn't read it in more than thirty years. It's in the second title, along with the rest of De Camp's time travel stories, including the complete novel, Lest Darkness Fall, which is worth the price of admission alone. Both of these are essential volumes for any real SF reader's library. With the advent of the 1960s, I began to look for more literary content in SF, and writers like Harlan Ellison, Samuel R. Delany, and J.G. Ballard began remaking the field along those lines. One of the writers to follow in their footsteps, mixing fine storytelling with skillful use of traditional literary techniques, was Gene Wolfe, who is probably better known for his novels although I have always preferred his short fiction. This is the latest collection of his short work, mixing science fiction and fantasy and even a little bit of horror. Many of Wolfe's stories sneak up on you, and you don't realize how intense an experience they have been until you have finished and the reaction sets in. Last, but certainly not least, is the latest collection from Paul Di Filippo, whom I knew before either of us had sold anything professionally. Paul always took his writing very seriously and it shows in each volume including this one, which gathers eighteen mostly recent stories into six loose categories. As always, it's hard to pick out favorites, but "A Monument to Afterthought Unveiled", "Up!", and the title story would all have to be on that list. The quirky viewpoints, precise prose, and free form imagination found here will more than reward you for your reading time. Single author collections have not been wildly popular in recent years, but each of these four volumes proves that they can still be among the most interesting books on the bookstore shelves.
The Light-Years Beneath My Feet by Alan Dean Foster, Del Rey, 6/05, $23.95, ISBN 0-345-46128-2
The sequel to Lost and Found has our kidnapped human and his friend, a dog augmented to speak and reason, trying to find their way home from the middle of a chaotic and enigmatic alien society on a distant world. Foster is usually quite good at blending humor and mild adventure, and his aliens are often even more interesting than his human characters. The intricacies of his alien civilization here provide most of the entertainment, although the dog is occasionally amusing as well. This series will not be numbered among his best work, but it does stay entertaining throughout.
The Rivers of War by Eric Flint, Del Rey, 5/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-345-46567-9
Alternate history continues to be a hot sub-genre. Eric Flint turns to an area of growing interest in recent years, the development of the American frontier, for this first volume in a new series. He speculates about what might have happened if the various Indian tribes that were driven westward were able to overcome their traditional bickering and unite into a political and military force substantial enough to resist further aggression. He suggests that fugitive slaves and other disaffected elements might have swelled the ranks of the resistance and forced a confrontation that would result in a very different North America. Unlike many recent alternate histories, this one actually has some interesting internal stories in addition to the political saga. This is the first half of a two volume novel.
Healer by Michael Blumlein, Prometheus, 7/05, $25, ISBN 1-59102-314-9
One of the biggest advantages of fantastic literature is that it allows authors to address abstract ideas in concrete terms, setting it in a fantasy world or an alternate version of our own. In Michael Blumlein's first new novel in entirely too long, there is a small segment of the human race which is not only physically different but which possesses the ability to heal others through means never precisely described. Unfortunately that makes them more valuable as commodities than as people, and their status is barely above that of a slave. The author uses this setting to examine a number of moral and societal issues, including the way in which medicine functions as a driving force in human society, the relative value of the rights of the individual against the good of the population as a whole, and others. Beautifully written, as are all his books, and with a powerful message.
Different Kinds of Dead by Ed Gorman, Five Star, 11/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-213-0
Although Ed Gorman is known more widely for his mystery and suspense fiction, he has also managed to find time to write quite a few very good short stories of the fantastic as well. This collection gathers many of these, ranging from science fiction to horror, with plots involving alien kidnappers, ghosts, detectives, mummies, murder, and even the old West. The best of the stories are the title story, "Yesterday's Dreams", "Emma Baxter's Boy", and "Masque". There is considerable variation in theme and treatment, but the high level of quality is consistent.
The Strangelove Gambit by David Bishop, Black Flame, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-139-0
Blood Relative by James Swallow, Black Flame, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416- 167-6
Both of these novels are tie-ins to what I presume is a game system, 2000 A.D., but in different subsets. The first is an adventure of Nikolai Dante, a rogue and adventurer in a future several centuries from now in a timeline where communism never became a major force in the world. Despite the futuristic setting, it has a lot of the feel of a Victorian adventure story, and is at times quite good. The second is a Rogue Trooper novel, basically military SF, with a protagonist determined to hunt down and seek justice from the officer who betrayed his unit, causing the death of his friends. The second novel is competently done but a little too familiar for my taste.
The Creatures of Farscape by Joe Nazzaro, Reynolds & Hearn, $45, 2005, ISBN 1-903111-85-4
I have never seen an episode of this cable television series, so all of these creatures were new to me. For the most part, they appear to be variations of aliens we've seen on Star Trek, Babylon 5, or elsewhere, although a few are quite original. The book presents them in full color, and in fact there are color plates on almost every page, many of them quite large. The author provides some background information without getting too technical, and the text is quite readable. This covers the first four series and presumably provides a good retrospective of the stories that went before.
Lost in Translation by Edward Willett, Five Star, 2/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-305-6
The only previous work I've read by this author was some young adult fantasy, so I was curious about this science fiction novel for more mature audiences. Humanity and an alien race are on the verge of a terrible interstellar war, and envois with empathic powers have been sent by both sides to try to find a way out. Although hostilities are averted, largely because two empaths cooperate and deceive both sides, the pause seems doomed to be temporary because more bellicose voices are gathering strength on both sides. The story is a little rough around the edges sometimes but the relationship between the two main characters is interesting and well worked out. Good enough to prove Willett can write for a more sophisticated readership than he has in the past.
Lady of Mazes by Karl Schroeder, Tor, 7/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31219-0
Karl Schroeder returns to the universe he introduced in Ventus for this new, panoramic SF novel. The setting this time is an enormous artificial world cast in the mode of Larry Niven's Ringworld, with diverse human civilizations scattered across its living space. Although the various cultures have managed to live in relative harmony, an influx of outsiders has begun to upset the balance and increased the level of conflict. Schroeder raises a number of interesting questions during the course of the book the influence of technology on culture, the limits of tolerance, and others.
The People of Sparks by Jeanne Duprau, Random House, 2005, $15.95, ISBN 0-375-82824-9
This is the sequel to The City of Ember, which I have not seen, both young adult novels about a society emerging from underground shelters many generations after a terrible catastrophe destroyed the surface world. In this volume the young people find a virtual garden world waiting for them, but even the prettiest flowers may have thorns. They are unused to the sunlight and unable to deal with the predatory insects. Although some have their doubts, it stills seems preferable to returning to their claustrophobic underground society. More significantly, as the factions expand and crystallize, the possibility of violence between the two groups becomes more serious and imminent. A surprisingly sophisticated examination of the way cultures splinter and interact for a young adult novel, and well written enough to appeal to adults as well.
Migration by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW, 5/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0260-3
The sequel to Survival picks up where the first volume left off. An alien race is expanding violently through the galaxy, and a team of human scientists have been involuntarily thrown into the mix. Disaster seemed imminent after the first volume, with humanity's potential ally in disarray, but in this volume we discover that some things aren't quite as they seemed, that the aggressors may be reacting to a biological imperative rather than engaging in a conscious war of conquest. Although this doesn't alter the effect, it changes the strategy considerably. Czerneda always tells a good story, and she's shown steady signs of growing sophistication as a writer. One of the better recent space adventures.
The New World Order by Ben Jeapes, David Fickling, 2005, $15.95, ISBN 0-385-75013-7
The latest from Ben Jeapes is an alternate history set in 17th Century England, but in this case the point of divergence is not because of some contrary choice made by humans. Earth has been discovered and partially colonized by an alien race which has introduced a very different culture as well as advanced technology, which has repercussions during the English civil war. Although this is ostensibly for teenaged readers, there's nothing on the book to indicate that, and adult readers who pick it up are not likely to be disappointed. Well written, exciting, and with some innovative variations of the theme.
Woken Furies by Richard Morgan, Gollancz, 2005, £9.99, ISBN 0-575-07325-X
Richard Morgan revives, literally, his recurring protagonist Takeshi Kovacs, this time after a gap of centuries. Kovacs finds himself in a strange new society which is being shaken by the rise of a new religious cult. He also discovers that another version of himself is extant, currently pursuing a fugitive who may be the inspiration for the new rebellion. It isn't long before he begins to suspect the motives of his supposed benefactors either. Morgan has proven himself adept at this sort of dark, mildly satiric world building and his newest novel is every bit as good as the ones that went before.
47 by Walter Mosley, Little, Brown, 5/05, $16.99, ISBN 0-316-11035-3
Walter Mosley's first novel for teenaged readers is an unusual blend of science fiction and fantasy themes. The title is the name of the protagonist, actually a slave in early 19th Century America, whose life is transformed when he encounters a larger than life figure named Tall John. Tall John has unusual powers, including the gift of immortality, but he also is the focus of unusual dangers, for he is in the middle of a battle that is being waged in a world not readily apparent to the rest of the human race. Deftly written, the story thoroughly involves the reader in a world that resembles our own, but which is also very different.
Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, Tor, 4/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30938-6
One day the human race discovers that the sky has changed. The stars are just artificial constructs, as is the sun, although it still provides light and heat. Some unknown alien race has enclosed the entire planet in an artificial sphere for purposes known only to themselves. Although there is less uproar than you might expect, and despite the fact that life returns largely to normal within a very short period of time, a number of people continue to search for a way to understand and escape from this sudden imprisonment. Unfortunately, some of their efforts are potentially dangerous because there are limits to the stability of the alien construct. Thoroughly mysterious, as is the case with most of Wilson's novels, and with a triad of very well drawn characters. Despite that, I never felt caught up in the sweep of the story, and was never particularly curious about the nature of the aliens, probably because the pace is quite slow for most of the novel. Other readers will no doubt exhibit more patience than I did, and even with that caveat, I enjoyed the novel.
Mammoth by John Varley, Ace, 6/05, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01281-7
John Varley's latest is a new riff on an older theme. A wealthy but bored billionaire is looking for something new to occupy his time, so when the body of a preserved mammoth is found locked in the ice in Canada, he figures this is his chance to clone the dead animal and recreate its species. But there is an even more intriguing mystery to be solved, because near the mammoth there is also a preserved prehistoric human body, and the caveman is wearing a modern wristwatch. Varley mixes hard science fiction, mystery, and light adventure in this very engaging novel. His recent novels have been more conventional than his early work, but they are just as skillfully written as ever.
The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Wesleyan University Press, 7/05, $34.95, ISBN 0-8195-6749-3
The future in this novel, sometimes published as Vril, is essentially a Utopia, but not an entirely conventional one. The protagonist stumbles upon them, almost literally, when he falls into a hole in the Earth and finds himself in a subterranean civilization. The society is somewhat matriarchal and highly technological, but despite the "perfection", the hero finds it boring in the end. First published in 1871, this is considered an important work in some quarters, but I'd have to say that large portions of it are now relatively unreadable, and it is of more historical interest than entertaining.
Building Harlequin's Moon by Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper, Tor, 6/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31266-2
Niven and Cooper team up to tell an old time SF story with modern day literary sensibilities. In an effort to find true freedom, many people have chosen to emigrate from Earth on starships aimed at habitable planets. One of these fails to reach its target, however, arriving instead in an inhospitable system where a moon must be rendered temporarily habitable while preparations are made to resume the journey. The original colonists have aged so it is their children who must perform the work, under the direction of an enigmatic and all powerful council that uses them as virtual slave labor. But as time passes and the work progresses, some among them wonder if perhaps their future lies in a different direction than the one they have been told is their destiny. Fine work, with a particularly interesting protagonist.
The Ends of the Circle by Paul O. Williams, Bison, 2005, $13.95, ISBN 0-8032-9849-8
The Dome in the Forest by Paul O. Williams, Bison, 2005, $13.95, ISBN 0-8032-9850-1
When the Pelbar stories first began appearing in the early 1980s, I though SF had found a major new talent. Alas, he ceased to write short after the series concluded, leaving behind five of the very best post-apocalyptic novels, of which these are the first three. Presumably new editions of the remaining two will follow shortly. In the opening volume, a man must invade a city ruled by slavers in order to rescue the woman he loves. The second volume expands the borders of the world, showing us the other fragmented societies that have arisen following a nuclear war. There is the beginning of an effort to pull these disparate groups together in the third, but more conservative forces in at least one of the cities are opposed to the mixing, and determined to see that it goes no further. These are excellent blends of serious themes and high adventure and it's a crime they have been unavailable for so long.
Worlds of the Golden Queen by David Farland, Tor, 5/05, $14.95, ISBN 0-765-31315-4
This is a combined edition of the novels The Golden Queen and Beyond the Gate, originally published in 1994 and 1995 respectively under the name Dave Wolverton. The third volume, Lords of the Seventh Swarm, will presumably follow. In the opening volume, the clone of a murdered human leader tries to rally the galaxy in an effort to oppose the aggression of a bellicose insectlike race. The two novels are glorious space operas with chases, captures, escapes, mysteries solved and battles won and lost. They were a lot of fun when they first appeared and should find a welcoming new audience now.
Lords of Creation by John Russell Fearn, Griffin, 2005, $15, ISBN 1-58250-063-0
Duel with Colossus by John Russell Fearn, Griffin, 2005, $15, ISBN 1-58250-064-9
Although John Russell Fearn was hardly a skilled writer whose prose will be remembered for generations, he was a pretty good storyteller and he had an inventive if not always scientifically literature imagination. Among his many books was a series about the Golden Amazon, a sort of superhuman woman who ranged through space with her Cosmic Crusaders. Many of the Amazon's adventures appeared only in magazine form, and Griffin books has been reprinting them for some time. Now they have a real coup two Amazon adventures that have not been previously published. In one, the Amazon encounters the creation of stars and planets by a mysterious force and in the other she and her companions battle a dangerous menace from outer space. They're both melodramatic and neither ages very well, but there's an enthusiasm to the plots that is missing from most contemporary SF and which I frankly rather miss.
Ships in the Night by Jack McDevitt, Altair Australia, 2005, no price listed, ISBN 0-975-7208-0-5
Jack McDevitt is one of those writers I remember primarily for his novels, so it's always nice when a collection appears to remind me he's equally good at shorter length, particularly a collection that contains two stories I've never read before. The title story is particularly good, a prize winning novelette, and about half of the others I remembered after reading only a few pages. The fourteen stories included originally appeared between 1982 and the present and tend to be adventure stories with a touch of mystery. A couple are fantasy, and there's a Christmas story, an alternate history, and touches of humor. It may say something about the future of short story collections in the US that this appears from an Australian publishing house.
I, Alien edited by Mike Resnick, DAW, 4/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0235-2
The problem with many theme anthologies is that the subject is so narrowly defined that the stories necessarily resemble each other. That's not the case with this one, with more than two dozen original stories involving alien forms of intelligent life. The contributors include both new and established writers including Michael Burstein, William Sanders, Harry Turtledove, Jennifer Roberson, and Terry McGarry. They tend to be on the short side, and generally the tone is light, but there are some pleasant surprises waiting for you in this one.
Finding Serenity edited by Jane Espenson, BenBella, 2005, $17.95, ISBN 1-932100-43-1
The Anthology at the End of the Universe edited by Glenn Yeffeth, BenBella, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 1-932100-56-3
Both of these titles are collections of essays, most of them by names that should be familiar here, the first focusing on Joss Whedon's short lived Firefly television series (soon to be a movie!) and the second on Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide series in its various manifestations. The former was more interesting to me, because I've read a great deal about the latter in the past. Writers like Ginjer Buchanan, Mercedes Lackey, Lawrence Watt-Evans, and actress Jewel Staite write about the show, its strong and weak points, what killed it, and so forth. Staite's commentary on incidents from various episodes was quite interesting, and several of the other articles are mildly provocative. I found myself reading it surprisingly quickly because the individual articles were so different. The second one, which includes contribution by Cory Doctorow, Bruce Bethke, Stephen Baxter, John Shirley, Adam-Troy Castro, and others, is more uneven but is often quite funny in itself. Both are well edited and attractively packaged as well.
Wisdom of the Jedi by Dick Staub, Jossey-Bass, 2005, $16.95, ISBN 0-7879-7894-9
Radio personality Staub has watched the Star Wars series with a mind toward finding incidents that illustrate various Christian principles, and the contention of this book is that the movies can help young people to find a fresh and exciting approach to traditional religion. Much of this is pretty abstruse, and a lot of it strays considerably from Star Wars to make its points. I doubt it will convert anyone but those inclined toward Staub's variety of Christianity should find it interesting.
Isaac Asimov by Michael White, Carroll & Graf, 2005, $15.05, ISBN 0-7867-1518-9
I wondered how long it would be before a comprehensive biography of the late Isaac Asimov would appear. This one covers his entire life, from childhood onward. The sections involving Asimov's early experiences as a writer are particularly interesting. White does a good job of portraying Asimov as a person rather than simply the name behind the stories, and this is a quite readable biography.
Silver Age: The Second Generation of Comic Book Artists by Daniel Herman, Hermes, 2005, $29.99, ISBN 1-932563-64-4
As you might guess from the title, this very large trade paperback deals with comic book artists who were active and influential between 1945 and 1968, the era of Marvel Superheroes, Gil Kane, Lee Elias, Al Feldstein, John Severin, John Buscema, Jack Kirby, and others. Along with the text there are many illustrations, most in black and white but several in full color. Herman provides an accessible, interesting, coherent, and informative history of that era, and has chosen his illustrations well. A book every fan of that period will want to own.
Against the Tide by John Ringo, Baen, 2/05, $25, ISBN 0-7434-9884-4
Military science fiction has been doing so well that it should not be surprising that military fantasy is gaining ground as well. This new one from John Ringo reminds me of the Darkness series by Harry Turtledove, in that the setting is basically that of a culture similar to our own, except that the weapons of mass destruction are dragons rather than bombs. Ringo introduces us to a civil war, seen through the eyes of military personnel and a female spy. Palatable light adventure but the dialogue is often corny and you're not likely to take the story entirely seriously.
Cast of Shadows by Kevin Guilfoile, Knopf, 2005, $24.95, ISBN 1-4000-4308-5
Quite a number of recent thrillers have contained borderline fantastic elements, including this one, which also appears to be a first novel. This one involves a scientist whose daughter is raped and murdered, after which he accidentally acquires a sample of the killer's DNA. Fascinated with the possibilities, he decides to grow a clone from those cells in an effort to identify the murderer. But as the experimental subject begins to grow up, the reader is introduced to a number of complications and surprises, all leading to a reasonably startling ending. I thought the novel plodded along from time to time and should have been edited more tightly, but Guilfoile shows promise, and the premise is a very interesting one.
Interstellar Patrol II: The Federation of Humanity by Christopher Anvil, Baen, 3/05, $26, ISBN 0-7434-9892-5
Here is the third volume in Baen's reprint series of the short stories of Christopher Anvil. Anvil was a prolific and reliable writer, a regular contributor to Campbell's Astounding/Analog and a frequent name in other magazines as well. He wrote a large number of problem stories, usually set in space, and almost always with a humorous undertone. That's true of most of the stories in this series, edited by Eric Flint, which features the Interstellar Patrol. It's a kind of story that has almost completely disappeared from modern SF except as Star Trek novels, and I regret its passing. So here's your chance to read such classics as "Bill for Delivery", the story of a ship whose cargo poses definitely extraordinary difficulties, and "Goliath and the Beanstalk". Also included is the complete novel, Warlord's World. Anvil wrote few novels, which probably explains his relative obscurity, but he was much better at shorter length.
The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy for Teens edited by Jane Yolen and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Tor, 5/05, $17.95, ISBN 0-765-31383-9
I'm rather surprised that no one thought to do this sooner, and I hope it's the first in a series of annual collections. The editors have attempted to find the best stories for younger readers published during 2004, drawing on markets for that specific readership as well as mainstream SF and fantasy publications. There are stories here from young adult writers like Garth Nix but others by David Gerrold, Kelly Link, Bradley Denton, and others. The nature of the source material means this is going to be a rewarding anthology for mature readers as well as providing a sampling of stories appropriate for teenagers. Most of the best teenaged fiction I've read has avoided condescending or writing down to its audience, and that fact is underscored with this selection.
Voices of Vision by Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Bison Books, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 0-8032-6239-6
Another collection of interviews with prominent writers. There are seventeen interviews here, ranging from a section with editors like Gardner Dozois and Gordon Van Gelder to fantasy writers like Charles de Lint and Robin Hobb, to comic book writers like Neil Gaiman. The entries for Harlan Ellison, Gene Wolfe, and Samuel R. Delany were the most interesting for me, but personal tastes will vary. The interviewer does a very fine job of enticing interesting responses from her subjects. Terrible cover on the book though.
Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow, Tor, 5/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31278-6
Cory Doctorow has very suddenly emerged as an author to watch, although some of those watching might scratch their heads after reading his latest. It's a fantasy, sort of, but more a novel of surrealism than anything else. Alan is a businessman who has moved into a new house. His next door neighbor, Natalie, is a student who has a problem with a set of wings that keep growing on her back. He has problems of his own, including a group of siblings who are dolls and one, Davey, who was supposed to be dead but has somehow returned to engage in a new round of nasty tricks. There is no firm anchor in reality to hold onto in this one, so just cross your arms, sit back, and let Doctorow carry you along through his unique vision of a very different version of our world. Brilliant for those who don't mind the chaos, though perhaps too bewildering for those who do.
Into the Looking Glass by John Ringo, Baen, 6/05, $24, ISBN 0-7434-9880-1
I suspect that author John Ringo has his tongue firmly in cheek for at least part of this new novel, which appears to be the opening of a new series. A nuclear explosion devastates a large portion of Florida, originally believed to be a hostile attack by a foreign power. Eventually we and the government discover that a gateway has opened between our world and another, through which emerge deadly creatures. The story alternates between a group of military people dealing with the problem directly and the White House, which resembles amateur night at the student government exercise. These sections often seem satiric, which clashes a bit with the more serious story line. The dialogue could use some polishing, but that won't stop fans of comic book style adventure fiction from enjoying this engaging romp.
The Meq by Steve Cash, Del Rey, 2/05, $13.95, ISBN 0-345-47092-3
The Meq are a race who have been secretly living among us for many ages without being detected. Zianno Zezen discovers that he is a Meq when he turns twelve, and learns as well that his kind stops ageing at that point, frozen in time until they meet the one person in the world with whom they are destined to spend the rest of their lives. As the decades pass, he continues to search fruitlessly, learning more about his heritage in the process. He also crosses paths with a renegade Meq who has become a cold blooded killer, and the rivalry between the two dominates the rest of the novel. This was a quite impressive debut, with an original concept, a likeable and credible protagonist, an impressive villain, and above average prose. It seems likely we'll be hearing a lot more from Steve Cash in the near future.
We Who Are About To... by Joanna Russ, Wesleyan, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 0-8195-6759-0
The Two of Them by Joanna Russ, Wesleyan, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 0-8195-6760-4
Although the settings in these two novels are very different in one sense, in another they are remarkably similar. The first, published originally in 1977, is superficially the story of shipwreck survivors dealing with a new environment, in this case space travelers on a primitive world. Although it is a story of survival, it is the relationships between the characters that command our attention rather than the physical obstacles they face. The second title is from 1979 and involves alternate worlds. The protagonist journeys to another version of history in which a strict Islamic state still circumscribes the rights of women. Once again the story focuses on the relationship between the two main characters, against the backdrop of a hostile world, in this case more emotional and intellectual than physical. Russ wrote several engaging and challenging pieces of fiction from a decidedly feminist viewpoint, and it is only now, seeing them back in print, that I realize how regrettable her subsequent absence from the genre has been.
Framed! by Malcolm Rose, Kingfisher, 2005, $5.95, ISBN 0-7534-5829-2
Lost Bullet by Malcolm Rose, Kingfisher, 2005, $5.95, ISBN 0-7534-5830-6
These are the first two novels in the Traces series for pre-teens 8-12, a kind of C.S.I. with SF overtones for kids. The hero is Luke Harding, forensic investigator, who accomplishes his work accompanied by a robot. Luke is sixteen, but that doesn't stop him from catching two murderers, one who uses an arrow in the first volume, and a firearm in the second. The stories and their solutions are all pretty simple, and the dialogue is occasionally rather flat, but they're pretty good at what they're intended to be, although some may think the level of violence is too high for that age group.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, soundtrack by Denny Zeitlin, Perseverance Records, 2005, $17
Deadly Spawn, soundtrack by Michael Perilstein, Perseverance Records, 2005, $17
Two titles in this label's ongoing program of bringing classic soundtracks into circulation. The first of these titles is from the second of the three film versions of the novel, this one released during the 1970s. For the most part, the music in this one seems to be directly underscoring (no pun intended) what was happening on the screen and as such it doesn't work as well as some other soundtracks for casual listening. There is also a lengthy interview included. The second title is from a much more recent film, one which I have not seen as a matter of fact. Although the quality of the score varies somewhat, for the most part it is quite good, and there's a suite of miscellaneous pieces associated with the film. This one was actually quite enjoyable and I wasn't distracted by trying to remember what had been happening concurrently in the film.
Graphic Classics: H.G. Wells, Eureka Productions, 2005, $11.95, ISBN 0-9746648-3-9
The latest in this series of graphic adaptations of works by famous authors is a completely revised version of the earlier volume of H.G. Wells. These are what the Famous Classics comics of several decades ago could have been if they'd been done with more inventiveness. Each of the stories is adapted by a different graphic artist, in their own distinct style, and the results are frequently fascinating. "The Star" for example is accomplished almost completely without text. The Invisible Man is a much more traditional, straightforward adaptation. The War of the World actually covers the radio broadcast rather than the original novel. Other treatments involve "The Man Who Could Work Miracles", The Time Machine, The Inexperienced Ghost, and others. Another excellent volume in this ongoing series.
The Man Who Lost the Sea by Theodore Sturgeon, North Atlantic, 2005, $35, ISBN 1-55643-519-3
I had begun to wonder if the remaining volumes in this projected series collecting the complete short works of Sturgeon were ever going to appear, but here is number ten, collecting thirteen more stories from around the beginning of the 1960s, with the usual extensive notes, an introduction by Jonathan Lethem, and the same attractive packaging that graced the earlier volumes. The title story is perhaps the best in this collection, but there are a lot of classics including "The Graveyard Reader", "The Comedian's Children", and "A Touch of Strange", as well as one I had never read before, and one of my personal favorites, "Need". When this set is complete, it will be one of the most significant events the genre has ever seen.
The Well of Stars by Robert Reed, Tor, 4/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30860-6
In Marrow, Robert Reed introduced us to the Great Ship, a vessel so large that not only does it contain a planet within it, but the planet was until relatively recently unknown to the crew. Now they have a new source of concern, for they are headed inescapably toward a new nebula that has unusual properties, and although they make an effort to gather intelligence in advance of their entry into its area of influence, their plans go awry and they face yet another crisis. Reed does a marvelous job of introducing us to a very different culture and making it seem real, many sided but consistent. He also plays with wild concepts and keeps the reader guessing until the final chapters. I thought Marrow was his best novel, but the sequel is another contender.
Wild Galaxy by William F. Nolan, Golden Gryphon, 2005, $25.95, ISBN 1-930846-31-2
Live! From Planet Earth by George Alec Effinger, Golden Gryphon, 2005, $25.95, ISBN 1-930846-32-0
Attack of the Jazz Giants and Other Stories by Gregory Frost, Golden Gryphon, 2005, $25.95, ISBN 1-930846-34-7
There is no other publisher, large press or small, who can claim to have published a series of single author collections to rival Golden Gryphon's ongoing program. The three latest titles are a case, or three cases, in point. William F. Nolan has only been intermittently production in recent years, but this selection drawn from his fifty year writing career presents both his satiric, wacky side and his more serious moments. George Alec Effinger was one of the most quietly effective short story writers in the genre, and this selection illustrates that fact quite well. The stories are chosen by other writers, like Michael Bishop, Barbara Hambly, Pamela Sargent, Mike Resnick, Neil Gaiman, and others , each of whom contributes an introduction to the story they selected. "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything" and "All the Last Wars at Once" are the two best of a very good selection. I hadn't thought of Gregory Frost as a particularly notable short story writer until I went through this book, finding a few familiar stories I had enjoyed in the past like the one in the title and "The Girlfriend of Dorian Grey", plus a very good original novelette. The stories range from science fiction to fantasy to horror, but they don't range very far in quality. Nice to see them all together here. Readers who have never had time to read the magazines assiduously in the past might well consider a set of this publisher's books as a way to find much of the best that they have missed.
Here, There, and Everywhere by Chris Roberson, Pyr Books, 4/05, $25, ISBN 1-59102-310-6
Roxanne Bonaventure has a secret, a device that allows her to travel back through time, which she does in a series of light hearted, episodic adventures ranging from the frustrations of teenaged dating to a run in with a rather inept agent of the time police, who look askance at her antics. None of this is meant to be taken too seriously, but despite the light tone, the protagonist emerges as an interesting and likeable character. The story does tend to ramble at times and it's easy to put it down and pick it up later, but the trip, though roundabout, is an enjoyable one.
Berserker Death by Fred Saberhagen, Baen, 2005, $25, ISBN 0-7434-9886-0
This is yet another large omnibus edition from Baen, this one gathering together three separate books about the Berserkers. First is Berserker Wars, a collection of short stories in the series from quite early on. Next is Berserker: Blue Death from 1985, in which a man who lost a family member in an attack launches his own private war against the alien killing machines. Last is Berserker Kill from 1993 in which one of the sentient starships steals human breeding stock as part of a new plan to exterminate humanity. This series is occasionally somewhat repetitious, but that's not evident in this particular, well selected collection.
Crystal Soldier by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Meisha Merlin, 2/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59222-083-5
Sometimes there's just nothing quite as refreshing as a good, solid space opera. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have been filling that prescription for some time now, setting their adventures in the Liadem Universe. This one has that same background, although it is actually part of a two volume set about Cantra yos'Phelium, a spaceship captain who is not above a bit of smuggling if there is insufficient legitimate cargo to pay the bills. She teams up with a genetically enhanced soldier for a series of adventures in this fast paced, somewhat episodic novel. I confess to being put off slightly by the exotic names, which seem to be unnecessarily difficult, but it wasn't bad enough to put me off a very fine piece of entertainment.
Cowl by Neal Asher, Tor, 5/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31420-7
Neal Asher's third novel is technically about time travel, but it's not like any other time travel story you've ever read. In the far distant future, an interstellar war was fought between two powers so far removed from humanity that they both seem rather alien. Some members of the defeated side managed to escape the destruction by traveling into the past, one of whom is known as Cowl, a creature rumored to be horrible beyond imagining. Cowl uses lesser creatures to draw victims to him through time and space, so when Tack, a kind of time traveling supercop, appears likely to succumb, his superiors decide to use him as bait for a trap. The novel is filled with unusual takes on old concepts, and has some particularly good characterization. Not your ordinary time travel story by any means.
Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson, Harcourt, 2005, $15, ISBN 0-15-205340-0
I had read a couple of this other's previous young adult books and had been favorably impressed though not extraordinarily so. This new one, apparently the first in a series, is much better and suggests that Anderson might prove even more interesting in the future. The characters are all teenagers, but unusual ones in a kind of alternate version of our reality where each of them is the hero of a series of adventure novels. They have to team up in order to defeat a mad scientist villain who plans to introduce an army of whales to the surface world, arm them with laser weapons, and conquer the human race. Absurd, of course, but we're not supposed to take any of this seriously, and their comic adventures are a kind of broad parody of old style pulp science fiction.
Hot and Sweaty Rex by Eric Garcia, Ace, 3/05, $13.95, ISBN 0-441-01273-6
I believe this is the third in this series of absurdist SF novels which takes as its premise that dinosaurs survived into modern times, became intelligent, and live hidden within human society by disguising themselves as human beings. Clearly the author doesn't intend that we take this seriously, and the novels have been broad farces. The latest takes private detective Vincent Rubio on another grand tour of this crazy world, with many of the same jokes delivered in a slightly different form. I fear that the author has gone to the well about as often as he can and still draw fresh water, but there's enough novelty to float this third volume, though just barely.
The Mammoth Book of New Jules Verne Adventures edited by Mike Ashley and Eric Brown, Carroll & Graf, 2005, $13.95, ISBN 0-7867-1495-6
What a great idea for a theme anthology, tight enough to be cohesive, broad enough to avoid the kind of repetition that afflicts many other collections. The editors have assembled a diverse and almost always entertaining group of adventures, over the top in some cases but by intention, and sometimes quite inventive as well. Ian Watson's story of a trip to the Earth's core is one of the best, and there are particularly good tales by Stephen Baxter, Eric Brown, Paul Di Filippo, Richarrd A, Lupoff, and Liz Williams. A nostalgic journey into the past of science fiction, but with modern day writing sensibilities.
I Live With You by Carol Emshwiller, Tachyon, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 1-892391-25-2
Carol Emshwiller's stories are so quietly effective that they often don't make an immediate strong impact on the reader, although often they come back to haunt us after we've set them aside. They also tend toward the literary, and some readers might be discouraged before they have time to find out that she's also a very fine storyteller. This new volume collects a dozen of her stories plus a Wiscon speech in an attractive volume with a cover by her late husband, famed SF artist Ed Emshwiller. A couple are original in this volume and several of them first appeared in unusual places, so the collection as a whole should be new to most readers. "I Live With You and You Don't Know It" is probably the best single story, but I also liked "The Prince of Mules" and "Bountiful City".
The Deadstone Memorial by Trevor Baxendale, BBC Books, 2005, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-48622-8
The Indestructible Man by Simon Messingham, BBC Books, 2005, $6.95, ISBN 0-563-48623-6
Doctor Who novels have been going strong even though the series has been gone for a long time, and with a revival currently underway at the BBC, the situation is likely to get even better. These two recent novels are not going to be typical of the show, I suspect. The first title is the closest to actual horror I've ever seen, the story of the monsters who lurk in our dreams, and sometimes in the real world as well. The suspense if much more intense than in most other Doctor Who novels, including the previous titles by Baxendale. It's one of the better titles in this very long series of tie-ins. Messingham's is more SF, with a touch of the superhero story. The title character is a larger than human figure who saves the Earth from conquest by aliens, but with consequences almost as devastating. Ignore the fact that these were inspired by a children's program. They're both quite good.
A Damned Fine War by Bill Yenne, Berkley, 8/04, $7.99, ISBN 0-425-18450-1
Alternate history novels have become their own subcategory in recent years and this one has nothing to indicate it might be of interest to SF readers unless you look closely. World War II is drawing to a close and the Soviet armies are poised to seize Eastern Europe. Fortunately, sort of, in this time line General George Patton was not accidentally killed, and he is perfectly situated to intervene. When the Soviet army attacks, precipitating yet another global conflict, he has his chance to achieve greatness, in his own inimitable fashion. This is mostly a future war novel despite the alternate history premise, and really doesn't have much to interest people who enjoy characters and plot. It is an amusing speculation however.
Cagebird by Karin Lowachee, Aspect, 4/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61508-0
The third in new writer Karin Lowachee's exciting space opera series makes novel use of an old theme. The protagonist is an imprisoned criminal who has worked as a space pirate, spy, assassin, and thief. Such a background is not uncommon in a civilization where war with aliens has led to a good deal of chaos and social unrest. When he is offered a chance to get out of prison, he accepts, even though there are definite drawbacks. The government wants to use him as their instrument, which could get him killed, and the illusion of freedom is far short of the real thing. Lots of excitement, violence, a bit of mystery, and plenty of spacegoing adventure. A space opera for the intelligent reader.
Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair, Bantam, 5/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58798-6
There has been a small but persistent strain of science fiction adventure in the romance field, and during the past few years, more and more overtly SF writers are being recognized by romance readers, particularly writers like Lois McMaster Bujold, C.J. Cherryh, and Anne McCaffrey. This is the first time I've noticed a novel published as SF that openly announces that it is aiming at a romance audience as well, and it's also an interesting first novel, a space opera whose plot is hardly new. The female half of the pair is a spaceship captain who makes a marginal living running cargo from planet to planet. She rescues a handsome but moody military officer who is stranded on a remote world, and their entanglement besides the slowly building romantic element is characterized by intrigue, violence, and high adventure. It's not a bad story at all, although a bit too familiar, and the romantic elements are kept in balance so that mainstream SF readers should not be put off by the labeling.
Anatomy of Wonder, 5th Edition by Neil Barron, Libraries Unlimited, 2005, $80, ISBN 1-59158-171-0
This very large hardcover edition (almost one thousand pages) is meant for libraries rather than individual readers, but it is so full of useful information that many readers here might want to look for it themselves. The book includes a series of historical essays by Brian Stableford, Paul Carter, and Michael Levy describing the evolution of science fiction, followed by a very long annotated bibliography of most of the major books in the genre. The remainder of the book consists of lists of references and other resources, several articles about films, teaching SF, magazines, fans, and major collections. A very nice one volume reference for serious genre fans.
American Science Fiction TV by Jan Johnson-Smith, Wesleyan University Press, 1/05, $22.95, ISBN 0-8195-6738-8
American SF television shows have become too numerous to cover adequately in a volume as brief as this one, but the author makes a valiant attempt. Most attention is paid to the familiar names like Star Trek, Farscape, Babylon 5, and Stargate SG-1. The book does not focus on the series directly, however, taking individual themes and then illustrating them with examples from the various programs, a considerably more interesting strategy. Many of the author's observations are thought provoking and he has written a coherent, organized, and interesting analysis, although an even wider study would be more welcome.
Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Volume 4 by Hajime Yatate and Yoshiyuki Tomino, artwork by Masatsugu Iwase, Del Rey, 2005, $10.95, ISBN 0-345-47794-4
This manga adventure is more traditional SF than most of the recent titles I've seen, military SF in fact involving battles in outer space, although not much of that takes place in this volume. The regular characters have become separated and in fact the group featured here believes that their friends are dead. That makes them preoccupied just as another shift in the power structure takes place around them. The artwork is probably the best I've seen in a manga book and the story is more coherent, and in my case at least, more interesting than in most others.
The Burroughs Encyclopedia by Clark A. Brady, McFarland, 2005, $39.95, ISBN 0-7864-2123-1
Here's an explanation of everything you can imagine from the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, from A-Kor, a tower keeper on Barsoom, to Zytheb, a priest of Brulor. Cogent and complete identifications of each term, a complete list of Burroughs' books with series order indicated, a glossary of invented language terms, and an overall chronology of events. The kind of book that was fun to write, and amusing to browse through, although I'm not sure how much actual reference needs it will fulfill. Some maps might have helped, but it's still a pretty good book for Burroughs fans even without them.
Through the Looking Glass by Josepha Sherman, Tor, 2/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30486-4
The Attitude of Silence by Jeff Mariotte, Tor, 5/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30487-2
I never saw the television show Andromeda, in which series both of these books fall, so I may have missed subtleties of character or plot that would be evident to viewers. Given that handicap, I thought both of these were okay adventures, though nothing out of the ordinary. Sherman takes a plot very similar to an old Star Trek line, and does a much better job with it. A spaceship goes through some sort of interdimensional warp and finds itself in an alternate universe where their physical bodies are different. They are in fact reptiles. A few surprises follow before they eventually find their way home. Mariotte's also reads a bit like Trek. Another hostile encounter in space forces them to a non-aligned world which expresses interest in joining the Commonwealth, but actually plans to use its military force to gain ascendancy. Most space opera nowadays falls into one or another tie-in series, but there's always room for another good space opera.
Cryptid Hunters by Roland Smith, Hyperion, 2005, $15.99, ISBN 0-7868-5161-9
I haven't seen the earlier novels by Roland Smith, but I'll remember his name after reading this one, even if it is for young adults. The thirteen year old twins are a bit too competent to be entirely credible, but that's all right; it's a fun ride anyway. Recently orphaned, the kids are sent to live with their uncle, whose avocation is hunting cryptids, animals not believed to exist any longer or ever, but which may still exist. Their uncle is off to Africa to try to beat a rival to a lost land of dinosaurs, and the twins are supposed to stay behind, but of course they don't and end up being the ones to get the prize. A certain degree of implausibility is inevitable in this kind of novel, and Smith manages to keep things within acceptable limits. This one is for the kid lurking inside each of us.
Mercury by Ben Bova, Tor, 5/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30412-0
To some extent, accurate hard science fiction stories about exploring the solar system have an extra difficulty to overcome. Now that we know so much more about the other planets, much of the romance and mystery has gone. One of the few writers who can still make them exciting is Ben Bova, who has been working his way through near space for several books now, most recently moving inward to the closest planet to the sun. Various people have gone to Mercury, to find out what's there, to prove or disprove theories, to get rich by developing unsuspected natural resources, or for reasons of their own. That already volatile situation is the setting for a new conflict, between a man whose lifetime project was sabotaged, leading to many deaths and his own personal disgrace, and the director of a corporation that had a vested interest in seeing that project fail. Mercury is in one sense only a backdrop for the personal drama, but Bova turns that dead, blasted world into virtually another character, and does so with such skill that you might find yourself sweating while you're reading the book.
Anarquia by Brad Linaweaver and J. Kent Hastings, Sense of Wonder, 10/04, $19.95, ISBN 0-918736-64-1
A very large proportion of alternate history novels take as their change point a major war, usually the American Civil War, the Revolutionary War, or World War II. Authors Linaweaver and Hastings have chosen a much lesser known conflict for this novel, which involves an alternate version of the Spanish Civil War. Like most novels of this type, it is filled with historical characters in slightly different roles, everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Adolf Hitler to Ayn Rand. This mixture of authentic history and imaginative extrapolation is much more convincing than most other alternate histories, well grounded in what did happen. The characters are almost always well drawn, and the villains though thoroughly villainous also seem quite human. I'm surprised this didn't appear from a major publisher, which might be a sideways commentary on the contemporary publishing scene.
Approaching Omega by Eric Brown, Telos, 2005, $8.95, ISBN 1-903889-98-7
If you like old fashioned space adventure, this short novel should be write up your alley, or maybe up your orbit. An automated seedship runs into one difficulty after another, and in order to save what remains of its passengers, it arranges their modification. Unfortunately, when you turn someone into a cyborg, you remove much of what makes that individual a human being. Fast paced, violent, exciting, and colorful, it would make an interesting movie.
Wolf in Night by Tara K. Harper, Del Rey, 2/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-40636-2
The Wolfwalker series by Tara Harper is technically science fiction, but it often feels distinctly like fantasy. The setting is a fairly primitive world colonized by humans who are able to speak telepathically with the local wolves. Like the previous six novels in the series, we see things through the eyes of a human, telepathically bonded to the wolves, living in the wild despite the attempts of an alien race to prevent humans from encroaching on the wilderness. Unfortunately, she turns up evidence of an imminent plague, and that means she's going to have to convince others that she knows what she's talking about. I found it slow going in the first couple of chapters, and I think the tone is considerably darker than in the previous volumes. Once the story starts to accelerate, it's easy to lose yourself in it. I think Harper comes as close to capturing some of the feel of Andre Norton's early SF novels as anyone has.
Dragonriders of Pern by Todd McCaffrey, read by Dick Hill, Brilliance Audio, 2005, $38.95, ISBN 1-59600-116-
The Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carman, Brilliance Audio, 2005, $26.95, ISBN 1-59737-393-7
I just finished reading the first novel, so I only sampled this audio version, read ably by Dick Hill, who has done several previous audio books. This was the first solo novel in the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey's son, a story involving a new illness that threatens to destroy or incapacitate the dragons just as the next threadfall becomes imminent. I didn't think the book added much of anything new to the Pern universe, but it was competently done and is very competently presented here. The second title is new to me, as is the author, and is the first in the Land of Elyon series. Although this one is for younger readers, it has a nice dark tone that I found entertaining, and the reader, Aasne Vigesaa, has an appropriate voice for this particular story, which involves a young girl's efforts to solve the mystery surrounding a magical cottage, an investigation which uncovers the existence of a powerful evil force. A promising opening to what might prove to be a very entertaining young adult fantasy series.
Science Fiction Television by M. Keith Booker, Praeger, 2005, $39.95, ISBN 0-275-98164-9
This is unfortunately a rather brief history of science fiction programming on television, and it rarely mentions other than the most obvious examples. It is more like an introduction to the subject than a comprehensive history, although it is certainly well enough written. Since the blurb cites its "scope and breadth", the brevity and selectivity of the contents seems particularly disappointing. It's an interesting read, but if you're hoping for a really thorough study of SF television, you'll have to wait a while longer.
The Incal: The Epic Conspiracy by Alexandro Jodorowsky and Moebius, DC Comics, 2005, $19.95, ISBN 1-4012-0629-8
Here is a science fiction graphic novel with a reasonably intelligent plot for a space opera. The protagonist is a kind of future private detective who stumbles across an alien artifact, which causes nothing but trouble. He is chased, attacked, and nearly killed, crosses paths with a number of varied characters, and picks up a friend or two. This is the first installment in a series and enjoys full color throughout the book, which runs more than 150 pages. If you like graphic novels, this is probably one of your better choices.
Subterranean Worlds by Peter Fitting, Wesleyan, 12/04, $29.95, ISBN 0-8195-6723-X
The idea that the Earth might be hollow has largely been abandoned in science fiction, but at one time it was a popular idea. Jules Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth is probably the most famous example, but there are several others. This is a detailed study of several such works, not all of them readily available in English, examining them as literary devices and as plausible settings. The unfamiliarity of several of the works covered might make this a particularly interesting book for SF readers, and if nothing else it's a thorough look at a literary device that can now only be used for pastiches and parodies.
The Assassin's Dream by J.D. Townsend, Five Star, 3/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-282-3
A new plague wiped out most of the males on Earth, and the society that evolved from that more than a century from now is a repressive matriarchy which uses officially sanctioned assassins to eliminate anyone who might upset the status quo. The protagonist is one of those assassins, a young woman who accepts what she is told until one of her assigned victims reveals information she hadn't known previously, the first step in what will ultimately be a shocking revelation about her world. This first novel is quite well written if somewhat grim, and has several parallels to Logan's Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, although not as broad in scope. No great surprises for seasoned readers but convincingly done.
Anywhere But Here by Jerry Oltion, Tor, 3/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30619-0
Jerry Oltion follows up his earlier The Getaway Special with this new story set in a future in which the United States dominates the world, and has been corrupted by this power to become a repressive state despite the trappings of freedom. In the previous volume, the discovery of a practical interstellar drive seemed to have solved the problem, providing a way for people to escape to the stars, although only for a small minority. But even they have problems as the government seeks to extend its influence beyond the solar system, and eventually some of those with their eyes on the stars realize that it is more important to solve the problem at home if they are to ever truly be free. This one's not entirely convincing when you consider the odds, but Oltion always tells a good story and you probably won't realize that until later.
The Seven Hills by John Maddox Roberts, Ace, 3/05, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01245-0
John Maddox Roberts provided us with one of the most interesting alternate history novels of the past few years with Hannibal's Children, in which the Carthaginians defeated the Romans and expelled them from Italy, only to have them return years later to re-establish themselves. In this sequel they have become the dominant power in the peninsula and are beginning to extend their power outside their borders. Their smooth development runs into a problem when two military leaders become active rivals, with different goals and methods as well as personal ambitions. As before, Roberts does a superb job of transporting the reader into his created world, making this alternate Roman proto-empire every bit as believable as the real one. Roberts has not been very active in SF in recent years, and his return to the fold is a very welcome one if he can continue to provide excellent work like this.
Moonstruck by Edward M. Lerner, Baen, 2/05, $24, ISBN 0-7434-9885-2
Emissaries of a galactic civilization have contacted the human race and offered a deal to the governments of Earth that seems too good to be true. A few suspect that this is literally the case, and readers will be way ahead of the game as well. There are few surprises in store for you, but Lerner tells a good story and resolves things nicely in due course. Not the kind of book you'll be urging your friends to read, but you won't feel cheated by the cover price.
Paradox by John Meaney, Pyr, 3/05, $25, ISBN 1-59102-308-4
This is the first volume of the Nulapeiron trilogy, previously published in England. It is set in a future that seems to have few links to our present, a corrupt, vaguely dystopian aristocracy that exists beneath the surface of the planet. It sometimes has the feel of the Matrix movies, in that some humans can free their consciousness of a single time and space, and nothing is exactly as it seems. The protagonist undergoes a series of tragic reversals, after which he receives an artifact which changes his life and sets him on a course of exploration of the world in which he lives. Contains some quite vivid scenes and striking sequences but is sometimes slow to develop and is, of course, not complete in itself.
The Resurrected Man by Sean Williams, Prometheus, 2005, $25, ISBN 1-59102-311-4
This novel, originally published in 1999, examines one of the questions I have found most unsatisfying in SF novels, matter transmission. Williams explores a variety of repercussions, including whether the result is in fact the original or just a copy, as well as the more perplexing one of what happens if a transmission is duplicated, resulting in two identical human beings. Various legal questions follow, as you might expect, and Williams deals with them plausibly, although I still think the problem has no acceptable solution.
Fourth Planet from the Sun edited by Gordon Van Gelder, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2005, $15.95, ISBN 1-56025-666-4
Mars has always been the favorite alien world for science fiction writers, and Gordon Van Gelder has pulled a number of classics and near classics from the pages of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction to put together this disparate but consistently excellent anthology involving that world. From Ray Bradbury's magic Mars to the hard science of Jerry Oltion, with diversions into the alternate Mars of Roger Zelazny, John Varley, Philip K. Dick, Leigh Brackett, and others, we have here some of the best short fiction the genre has to offer.
The Best of the Best edited by Gardner Dozois, St Martins, 2/05, $19.95, ISBN 0-312-33656-X
Gardner Dozois has been editing an annual Year's Best Science Fiction anthology for the last twenty years, a considerable achievement given the volume of stories he must read. This is a kind of retrospective drawing the best stories from those earlier volumes, so it is a kind of Best of the last two decades. Most of the names you would expect to be here are present Gene Wolfe, Robert Silverberg, Connie Willis, John Crowley, Lucius Shepard, Ian McDonald but there are also stories by relatively unproductive or recent writers like Charles Stross, Molly Gloss, and William Sanders. One might not necessarily agree with the choices for best, or best of the best, but as always there is not a bad story in the book, and the ratio of quality for price in this volume is unusually high.
Alternate Generals III edited by Harry Turtledove, Baen, 4/05, $24, ISBN 0-7434-9897-6
Harry Turtledove adds another volume of alternate history stories to his editorial resume. The premise of this series is that one or more historical characters who were not noted for their military prowess lived a very different life in some alternate time line, the results of which we get to see. Some of the concepts work better than others, and obviously the more talented writers are more likely to be convincing. I was most impressed this time with the work of William Sanders, Brad Linaweaver, Lillian Stewart Carl, and Mike Resnick, and Esther Friesner's amusing "First, Catch Your Elephant", was also a lot of fun. Unlike most theme anthologies, this one didn't seem too repetitious when read straight through, so you might want to put it higher on your want list.
The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach, Tor, 4/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30593-3
I have often wondered about European and Asian science fiction that never gets translated into English. There have been a handful of translations of German SF in the past, but I don't recall anything recently until this, by Germany's currently most popular genre writer. The novel blends two apparently disparate strains. On the one hand, we have a far future civilization which is dealing with the consequences of visitors from the stars. On the other, we have a family of carpet makers, artisans who dedicate themselves so thoroughly to their work that in the past, a man might spend his entire life weaving a single carpet. The tensions of tradition versus progress manifest themselves, and a family is thrown into turmoil. Questions of duty to family and duty to one's self are raised. The setting is only superficially the same kind of interstellar society that American and British writers make us of, and the author concentrates much more closely on the personal tensions than is true of most English language SF.
Metallic Love by Tanith Lee, Bantam, 3/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58471-5
About twenty years ago, Tanith Lee told the story of a young woman who fell in love with a robot in The Silver Metal Lover. She returns to that world now for this long delayed sequel, set many years later. The protagonist is a child living in the slums of a future quasi-dystopian society who discovers an account of that long ago love affair and has her life transformed by reading about it. It alters her relationships with the other outcasts with whom she has cast her lot and changes her thinking about robots in general, who make up many of the other characters in the story. One of those robots has been supplied with the memories of that earlier artificial man and she is determined to help him finally achieve a kind of freedom. A little uneven, particularly in the early chapters, but once the story began to move more quickly, I was sucked in.
Buried Deep by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Roc, 4/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46021-9
Kristine Kathryn Rusch returns to the world, or worlds, of the Retrieval Artists in her latest novel. An alien race has been granted permission to construct a building on Mars, but the excavation uncovers the body of a human woman who disappeared some decades earlier. An anthropologist and a detective seek to solve the mystery of her death and the concealment of her body, which appears to involve other than purely human motives, and they uncover a long hidden secret that could still be dangerous even after such a gap in time. As always, Rusch provides a good mystery wrapped in a genuinely interesting SF theme. Not quite the best in this ongoing series, but certainly worth the time for most readers.