to SF Reviews

of SF Reviews

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

LAST UPDATE 12/29/07

Courageous by Jack Campbell, Ace, 1/08, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01567-2

I'm not really a fan of military SF, not because I don't like the good ones - I was a big fan of the late David Feintuch - but because so many of them seem to be very much alike.  One of the exceptions is this series by John G. Hemry, under a pseudonym, not really surprising because I've liked the stuff under his own name as well.  This is the third in the Lost Fleet series, which is mostly about Captain John Geary, a legendary officer who was in suspended animation and now is back to help lead the fleet of one side in a major interstellar war.  Unfortunately, he starts with outnumbered and inferior forces and he's been pretty much retreating from the outset.  That doesn't change much as this volume opens, with the fleet desperate for raw materials in order to keep fighting the oncoming enemy.  But there's another secret this time, although I found the surprise revelation that there's a third player in the game rather disappointing.  The series was going fine as it was and this new ploy is a familiar one, but I won't mention the specifics on the off chance that there are one or two readers out there who are going to be surprised.  Still good stuff, but Campbell/Hemry seems to have trouble keeping this consistently above cliché level. 12/29/07

Genius Squad by Catherine Jinks, Harcourt, 5/08, $17, ISBN 978-0-15-205985-9

Having read novels by William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and Stephen Crane recently, I was looking for something amusing but relatively simple as a break.  This sequel to the young adult novel Evil Genius was a logical choice.  The first story featured hijinx at a school for the children of mad scientists.  It ended with the protagonist helping foil their plot to rule the world, with the chief architect dead and his lieutenant, Prosper English, in jail awaiting trial.  Our hero is feeling a bit cut off from the world in the aftermath.  He's supposed to testify against English, but he's in a kind of temporary limbo.  So when someone representing another group tries to recruit him into an investigation of one of the institution's evil subplots - no pun intended - he decides to go along with them even though he has reservations about the veracity of what they're telling him.  And then, of course, English escapes and all the rules are out the window.  The first book had a pretty clever idea and handled it well.  This one's also quite well written and has plenty of adventure, but I wasn't as captivated by the story.  It did make a nice contrast though and is written on a level that should entertain most adult readers. 12/28/07

Manxome Foe by John Ringo and Travis S. Taylor, Baen, 2/08, $25, ISBN 978-1-4165-5521-8

The third in this series of retro space operas is as lively as its predecessors, though it is perhaps beginning to wear out its premise.  Way back in Into the Looking Glass, an explosion opened a gateway between Earth and an alternate universe filled with particularly nasty aliens.  Humans begin exploring, and the action got thick and fast in Vorpal Blade, the second installment, in which the monsters got their comeuppance.  Or did they?  They're back again, and the action is fiercer than ever, but not quite as much of a novelty.  The blend of military SF and other worlds adventure is fun, with lots of alien races and a cast of humans to interact with them.  There is also a tendency to talk things over a bit too much from time to time, and despite the violent and theoretically exciting plot, it is occasionally flat and uninvolving, not nearly as readable as Vorpal Blade.  If there's a fourth volume, it needs to take off in a different direction.  12/27/07

Raise the Titanic! by Clive Cussler, Bantam, 1977

The most famous novel by Clive Cussler was the third adventure of Dirk Pitt, a kind of civilian James Bond whose many exploits often involve secrets from the past.  Pitt makes only a couple of token appearances in the first half of the novel, which is mostly concerned with efforts to solve a mystery from 1911 in which a group of Americans secretly ran a mine in Siberia for an element called byzanium, which was lost when the Titanic sank, and which is now the key element in a defensive screen that is planned for the borders of the US.  The byzanium stuff is all nonsense, of course, since there aren't any missing spaces on the elemental chart, but it was a plot common in the 1940s and Cussler was only a few decades behind the times.  There are a lot of coincidences in the book as well, but they usually don't involve major plot points so it's possible to ignore them.  The interplay among the various Soviet agents is embarrassingly silly. The characters are all purest cardboard, of course, but that's normal for fast paced thrillers like this.  I've read a few of Cussler's other books, and this is actually better written than most of them, if you make allowances for the grotesque scientific illiteracy.  Cussler also gets in a few light digs at liberals and some heavier ones at feminists. 12/27/07

Dust by Elizabeth Bear, Bantam, 2007, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59107-1

One of the first SF novels I ever read was Starship/Non-Stop by Brian W. Aldiss, soon followed by Robert A. Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky.  I've enjoyed stories about multi-generation starships ever since, probably most recently with Gene Wolfe's series.  Now Elizabeth Bear takes a stab at it, creating a retrogressed, tribal society that exists within a ship now locked in orbit around an apparently dying star.  The passengers seem content with their situation and more interested in making war on one another than in escaping their metal hulled prison.  Not that the people are all recognizable as such.  Some of them are physically angels, with wings, and it is a sign of profound cruelty when one noblewoman amputates the wings from a prisoner.  It's part of a plot to set off a new round of conflict, but the situation changes when an unlikely player, a servant, takes a hand in things.  A very interesting and intricate if rather small world, but I had some difficulty identifying with the characters, and the tone veers a bit too far toward fantasy for my taste.  Not my favorite of Bear's novels, but certainly not a bad one.  12/22/07

Only in Death by Dan Abnett, Black Library, 2007, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-426-8

I've read quite a lot of the Warhammer novels, both the sword and sorcery and the military subsets.  This is in the latter, part of Abnett's chronicles of an elite military unit, Gaunt's Ghosts, who are currently engaged in a multi-volume war to liberate a group of worlds from enemy control.  He is the most consistently entertaining of the writers working this particular vein, but either I was in the wrong mood or he was having an off month when he wrote this one because it never caught fire at all.  The battles are fairly colorless and the characters never appealed to me either, although I applaud the efforts to describe how combat affects their mental state.  It may be that he's reached the point where it's difficult to say anything new about the basic premise, a problem that afflicts a very large proportion of the military SF I read.  It would be interesting to see what he'd do with another setting.  I really liked his dark fantasy novel, Fell Cargo, and would like to see him do more in that vein.  12/22/07

The Wannoshay Cycle by Michael Jasper, Five Star, 1/08, $25.95, ISBN 978-1=59414-661-6

Michael Jasper's first novel is a first contact story, opening with the crashing of alien spaceships in North America.  In a sequence of events vaguely reminiscent of the Alien Nation movie and television series, the survivors are slowly being integrated into human society when an unfortunate incident suggests they are dangerous.  As a result, they are sequestered in detainment centers.  Some of the champions of the aliens suspect that they were not responsible for the disastrous incident and set out to find the truth.  Their investigations take them to one of the ships where they discover the truth about the aliens' culture and physiology.  I've always liked first contact stories because they provide a way of examining the human condition from a slightly, or sometimes greatly, altered point of view.  Jasper has a clear, crisp prose style and and nice feel for his characters.  The story moves smoothly and without loss of momentum.  I thought it might be just a hair too long for its premise, but it wasn't bloated.  I'll be looking forward to his next. 12/17/07

The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez, 2/.08, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-`834-3

A. Lee Martinez has already brought us odd little half spoofs of horror and fantasy, so it comes as no surprise that he has turned his hand to SF for this new one.  The protagonist, as you might guess from the title, is a robot named Mack Megaton and he lives in Empire City.  Mack wants to do something to prove his worth so that he will be considered a citizen rather than a piece of heavy equipment, so he decides to investigate a kidnapping case.  He finds an unlikely ally, an intelligent ape named Jung, and uncovers a sinister plot before effecting the rescue.  Lots of wacky superscience along the way, and a few good jokes interspersed with a lot of inspired silliness.  I was reminded of Ron Goulart at his best, although Martinez has a slightly denser prose style.  The characters are mostly stereotypes, but designedly so.  SF has been taking itself entirely too seriously in recent years and this is just the thing to loosen us up.  12/12/07

Rule of Two by Drew Karpyshyn, Del Rey, 2008, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-345-47748-4

Drew Karpyshyn has gone way back in time to events long before those chronicled in the movies for this, the second of his Star Wars novels featuring Darth Bane.  As you might guess from his name, he's a Sith Lord, but he's also the one who decrees a change in policy, the Rule of Two - hence the title - that limits the number of Sith Lords to two at any one time, the master and the apprentice.  The earlier book described his rise to power, and his treachery against his own followers in order to ensure that this new limitation would be imposed.  As he begins the training of his apprentice, Bane attempts to remain concealed from sight by the Jedi, who are much more numerous and who, for the most part, believe that the Sith are now extinct.  But one of their number suspects the truth, and he's on the hunt.  I won't give away the ending but - hint! hint! - there's another book in this subset of the Star Wars universe yet to come.  Generally speaking, I find the Star Wars novels much more interesting than their rival, Star Trek, simply because there's more room to maneuver in the Lucas universe.  This is reasonably well written, but a little more comic bookish than some of the others in the series.  12/10/07

Singularity's Ring by Paul Melko, Tor, 2/08, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1777-3

This first novel opens with a rather unusual situation.  Ninety percent of the population of the Earth disappears following the advent of a singularity, and no one knows whether they have been killed or simply changed into a different form of life.  Whatever the truth, Earth now has a ring around it and is largely depopulated, although the survivors have managed to maintain a fairly high level of technology, high enough that they still have a space program and are planning interstellar flights.  The protagonist is unusual as well, five individuals united as one gestalt, or Pod as they are called here, a blend of their separate talents and intellect into a single, coherent personality.  Apollo is training to be a starship captain but there are problems.  Of course, if there were no problems, there wouldn't be much of a story.

The obvious thing would be to compare this to More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon, but the gestalt is entirely different here.  The five facets seem to have considerably more individuality than in the Sturgeon.  The tone is nothing alike either.  Sturgeon's was a brooding, intellectual puzzle.  This one is a mix of hard science fiction and a mystery story, wrapped around an adventure and with more than a hint of space opera.  So the author should be spared the challenge of comparison to one of the best novels the genre has ever produced.  Not that this isn't pretty good in its own right, particularly for a debut effort. In fact, it's remarkably good, refreshingly inventive, and the protagonist(s) provide an unusual perspective. My only real complaint, oddly enough, is the same one I had with the previous book I read, which should be reviewed in the fantasy section.  There's insufficient description.  The short paragraphs with lots of dialogue really help to accelerate the story, but I often found myself with no image of where the action was taking place.  I was probably over sensitized to it because I'd just read the other book but looking back through the text, I think it's valid in this case as well.  It's a stylistically choice that I don't mind in short fiction but which makes me restless at novel length.  12/8/07

Endless Blue by Wen Spencer, Baen, 2007, $25, ISBN 978-1-4165-7385-2

 Her latest is a bit of a departure for Wen Spencer, whose previous SF has been earthbound.  The human race is on the brink of extinction thanks to a belligerent alien race, but at the last moment an artifact suggests that an older spaceflight found another world where it might be possible to escape humanity's enemies.  The only problem is in discovering where the ship went and where the sanctuary world might be.  An expedition sent to locate that world finds instead a vast graveyard of spaceship, an interstellar Sargasso Sea, but they also find a secret that might save the day, if only they can overcome their captain's insanity and find a way back.  Not surprisingly, they overcome these various obstacles, forge an alliance with some of the people stranded in space, and the human race is saved, at least for the moment.  An inventive old style space opera with exotic settings, lots of action, and tolerably well drawn characters.  12/3/07

An Alternate History of the 21st Century by William Shunn, Spilt Milk, 2007, $5.

There are six short stories in this slim booklet, two of them original to the book.  It opens with "From Our Point of View We Had Moved to the Left", an account of a humorous but tragic incident at the inauguration of an ultra-conservative President.  It was originally published back in 1993, but the paranoia is just as relevant today.   "Kevin" is a better story, describing one of the drawbacks of cloning.  The middle two stories deal with various forms of technology, at least peripherally, but they're both really about their characters, and both are more portraits than stories." Strong Medicine" is pretty good. The last two are previously unpublished.  "Objective Impermeability in a Closed System" is a time travel story.  "Not of This Fold" is a thought provoking story of religion and proselytization in outer space.  All six stories are quite solid, the quality uniform, but none of them leap up and grab you.  There's no ISBN so may have to order this from the publisher at PO Box 266, Bettendorf, IA 52722 or check www.spiltmilkpress.pbwiki.com.  11/30/07

The Lifehouse Trilogy by Spider Robinson, Baen, 2007, $24, ISBN 978-1-4165-5511-7

This is an omnibus edition of three of the better novels by Spider Robinson, loosely making a trilogy although more because of a shared future world than a continuous story.  Mindkiller is from 1982, is a novel of paranoia.  The newest addiction is wireheading, which is just what you think it is, direct stimulation of the pleasure centers.  The protagonist discovers that there is a secret conspiracy to control the world by means of the same technology.  Time Pressure from 1987 involves an apparent traveler from the far future, a woman whose presence might trigger cataclysmic events.  Last is Lifehouse from 1997 is about an amnesiac woman who discovers she is being pursued by a hidden society of people with extraordinary powers.  It is frankly a stretch to call this a real trilogy, but all three novels are good, particularly the last one.  This combined edition is a bargain.  11/27/07

Darwin's Paradox by Nina Munteanu, Dragon Moon, 2007, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-896944-68-5

This very ambitious first novel has its ups and downs.  The premise is that an intelligent virus crops up on Earth at just about the same time as an artificial intelligence and both entities are determined to master their environment.  That environment, of course, includes the human race.  The disturbance is limited to one city initially, but the threat is worldwide.  The protagonist is a woman with a unique ability to communicate with both of these entities, if she can only figure out how to do it without making matters even worse.  Part of the set up is quite well thought out; other parts strained my credulity.  Among other things, I wasn't satisfied with the conditions that limit the threat initially.  The modern world moves too fast and is too interconnected.  The prose is the same mix of good and bad.  The author moves the story along quickly and, given its assumptions, logically.  Unfortunately, there's too much futuristic jargon for my taste, and the characters all talk as though they learned English by watching too many direct to DVD movies.  Did you ever try to speak with a snarl?  Or let impatience rise in your voice?  Or assure someone with a smirk?  Strong points for effort and occasional ingenuity, but this one needed a few more drafts.  11/25/07

War Machine by Andy Remic, Solaris, 2007, $15, ISBN 978-1-84416-522-3

Andy Remic is the author of a trilogy set after a nuclear holocaust which has not, as far as I can tell, ever appeared in the US.  This isn't part of the series, and the setting is in fact an interstellar society.  The protagonist, Keenan, is a veteran of the Helix Wars, now working as a private detective, although his life is on the skids following a personal tragedy and the death of his family.  He's about ready to give up even his current career when a prospective client hints that he can provide details about the death of Keenan's relatives, and that perks up his interest.  In return, he needs to solve another mystery, and to accomplish that, he's going to have to reunite a group of ex-soldiers who have no wish ever to see one another again.  He does, of course, and he's off to the colony world to perform his half of the deal.  Remic's previous books have all been military SF, so there's no surprise that this follows the same pattern, although there are enough innovations to make it a bit more interesting than most similar books.  I certainly wasn't bored when I was reading it, but when I had finished, I knew that I wouldn't remember the plot a week later.  It's labeled as a Combat-K novel, so I assume there are sequels on their way.  11/24/07

Lord of the Flies by William Golding, 1954

Not particularly surprisingly, this story of a group of young boys marooned on an island during the middle of a future war has become one of the most frequently challenged books in American libraries, probably because of its cynical attitude toward human nature.  The boys, aged 6-12, quickly establish a loose society under Ralph, although the only really bright one among their number is the unpopular Piggy.  Ralph’s chief rival is Jack, and the tension between the two boys is behind some but not all of the conflict that ensues.  Irrational fears of a mythical “beast” don’t help, particularly when a dead airman’s body falls with its parachute onto the nearby mountain, a shape and sound that they misinterpret as monstrous, letting their imaginations fill in the gaps.  The book is replete with symbols, many drawn from Christianity, and the island itself is a kind of Garden of Eden which the boys despoil.  I recently read that the original version had considerable background about the outside world, which the publisher asked Golding to remove, and that was a good decision because it makes the allegory that much more universal.  I liked this so much when I first read it that I went out and bought most of Golding’s other novels, and it’s past time that I re-read them.  Just as soon as I figure out how to arrange a 36 hour day.  11/24/07

Genesis by Paul Chafe, Baen, 2007, $24, ISBN 978-1-4165-5509-4

Among my favorite novels are Non-Stop by Brian W. Aldiss and Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein, so it should come as no surprise that I was very interested in Paul Chafe's second novel, following an okay but undistinguished Kzin book a while back.  This one also reminded me at times of The Lights in the Sky Are Stars by Fredric Brown because it features an obsessed but not particularly likable man as the force behind the project.  The blurbs suggest that the project - a one thousand year voyage to colonize another world - is meant to rescue Earth from overcrowding, but that's obvious nonsense.  It's actually a chance to avoid having all of our eggs in one basket as overcrowding and other pressures threaten to have catastrophic consequences for human civilization.  The novel is a thoughtful extrapolation wrapped around an adventure story, and it's considerably better than the author's previous book, probably at least in part because it's set in a world of his imagination rather than one created by someone else.  The story did seem to slow down noticeably a couple of times, but not fatally so, and for the most part it's an excellent, slightly old fashioned piece of entertainment.  11/22/07

The Down Home Zombie Blues by Linnea Sinclair, Bantam, 2007, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-553-58964-1

As was the case with some of her earlier novels, this new one by Linnea Sinclair could have been published as either straight SF or as a futuristic romance, except that the science and the writing are both a lot better than is true in most of the books in that latter category.  Her primary protagonist is a highly competent female officer of an interstellar police force who has come to Earth to prevent it from being overrun by a contagion of machines masquerading as living things.  The secondary protagonist is a Terran police detective whose latest case involves some high tech equipment like he's never seen before and a mysterious corpse which ditto, he's never seen the like of before.  Their paths cross, of course, and not entirely smoothly, since she doesn't want him to spill the beans about what's really going on, but she also needs his help in order to function in an environment totally alien to her.  This is a rather long book but Sinclair keeps the plot turning at a good pace from beginning to end, mixing suspense, romance, and light humor as appropriate.  They're calling this one a romance but ignore the label.  The borders between various genres have been blurring increasingly lately.  I just hope that this doesn't get shelves exclusively in romance and thus get missed by the SF readers who would enjoy it.  11/18/07

Metal Storm audiobook by Kevin J. Anderson, Brilliance, 2007, $42.95, ISBN 978-159737-227-5

I recently read and reviewed this novel, the latest in the Saga of the Seven Suns series, and you can read that review here.  This is the unabridged audio version, read by David Colacci.  It's on sixteen discs and runs about 19 hours.  I listened to enough to know this was ably done.  The series, and this novel in particular, is sufficiently complex that you might have trouble keeping things straight in your mind, since you can't page back in an audiobook, but otherwise this is a good alternative way to enjoy the book.  11/16/07

Solar Heat by Susan Kearney, Tor, 2/08, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-5844-8

This is the second futuristic romance I've read this week, but in this case, I was familiar with the author, having read some of her previous work.  The science is pretty much window dressing.  An asteroid miner rescues a woman from suspended animation, unaware of the fact that she is an agent of an enemy power.  She's determined to fulfill her mission, but she's also attracted to her rescuer, and there's not much mystery about what's going to happen along that plotline.  And since it has to have a happy ending, there's a reason for them to reconcile their differences and work together.  The woman is from a slave holding world, so we know she has to see the error of her ways.  The inter-character stuff isn't bad, although I didn't think this was as good as some of her other novels.  The jargon is rather overpowering at times and doesn't add anything to the story.  There are a couple of interesting bits, but this is definitely for the romance rather than the SF audience.  11/14/07

Flesh and Blood by Michael Jan Friedman & Robert Greenberger, DH, 2007, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-59582-047-1

I'm not a big fan of tie-in novels, and while I enjoy the occasional Star Wars or Star Trek adventure, I tend to shy away from most of the others.  The exception has been the Aliens and Predators novels, which sometimes overlap.  I think the reason is because the films left the background so vague that it gives the authors more room to maneuver, and it also helps that I like nasty aliens, which are prominent in both.  This one involves a future human civilization which has despoiled the Earth and is in the process of chewing up the solar system in general, squabbling over resources, devolving into a clan system.  One of these groups decides to enlist the aid of the Predator race in order to give themselves a big advantage, but they've opened Pandora's Box.  The book is full of fast paced action but it never really evoked the feel of the Predators for me.  They could have been Kzinti or some other, less impressive bellicose species without altering the story line.  It's an okay book, but I had hoped for more.  11/12/07

Mission by Pamela Leigh Starr, Indigo Love Spectrum, 2007, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-58571

My past experiences with futuristic romances have, almost without exception, been disappointing, irritating, or hysterically funny.  I had never heard of this author or this publisher (a division of Genesis Press, equally unknown), which didn't bode well either.  The protagonist is a citizen of a matriarchal planet, an old standby in SF, but there's a problem.  A mysterious disease has wiped out the entire male population, so they decide to kidnap men from Earth.  That doesn't work out so well because these Earthmen don't accept that they are inferior beings.  In the midst of that comes a potential war with another planet.  The problem with romance writers who choose SF settings without having any experience in that genre is that they tend to repeat mistakes that were corrected in the SF world back in the 1940s or earlier.  For example, even given the possibility of physically compatible males and females, they would not be genetically compatible so it wouldn't do any good to steal men from Earth.  The prose isn't bad, but the story is so filled with scientific illiteracy and self conscious sex scenes that I couldn't take it seriously.  It might work tolerably well as a romance, but as SF, it's a failure. 11/11/07

Descent of Angels by Mitchel Scanlon, Black Library, 2007, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-508-7

Military SF meets heroic fantasy in this latest Warhammer novel.  This is part of a subset called the Horus Heresy which involves a splinter within the theocratic human empire.  That led to a major civil war, which is the backdrop to this novel about the rediscovery of a colony world and the subsequent battle for control.  The bulk of the book is pretty much what you might expect given the above, not badly written but not very original.  The author has done some much better work, particularly the Psi Division series, but while this one isn't bad as military SF goes, it has nothing to particularly recommend it.  Since I find the juxtaposition of fantasy elements with spaceships jarring anyway, I have had difficulty getting involved in several of the space opera brand of Warhammer novels.  This one pretty much leaves that distraction out, but it doesn't replace it with anything that grabbed my interest. 11/5/07

Lost Horizon by James Hilton, 1933

This is the classic novel of Shangri-La, the lost valley in Tibet where people don't age the same way they do elsewhere in the world.  One could call this science fiction or fantasy with equal validity because the cause is never explained.  Four outsiders are aboard a plane hijacked to the valley where they stay in a lamasery and slowly learn the truth about their surroundings.  It's a surprisingly low key novel in which very little physical happens and although it's a lost world story, it avoids the usual devices of that form.  In some ways it also resembles utopian fiction.  Hugh Conway, the protagonist, is initially drawn to it, but eventually leaves, succumbs to temporary amnesia, and then tries to find his way back.  Some of my recollections of the novel proved to be false.  I thought that everyone in Shangri-La remained young forever, but in fact the process only acts on a few, and mostly outsiders, and it retards but does not entirely stop the aging process. When I read this as a teenager, I believe I was disappointed because everything is so low key, but reading it now, I am impressed by how riveting it is despite the lack of monsters, murderers, or other forms of mayhem. The ambiguous ending is perfect. 11/5/07

Shadow Moon Soundtrack composed by Philip Sheppard, Lakeshore Records, 2007

This is the soundtrack to a documentary about the space program, so I expected it to be more coherent as music since it didn't have to cater quite so much to what was actually taking place in the story line.  The first few tracks are full of lush strings and full orchestral pieces which were pleasant to listen to without being particularly distinctive.  There's a hint of mystery in "Gemini to Apollo I", and a few somewhat varied pieces follow, leading to the excellent "The Launch" and the quite nice "Apollo 13".  The remaining pieces range from inoffensive to quite nice, and they generally seem quite appropriate for the subject matter. 

One Day on Mars by Travis S. Taylor, Baen, 2007, $23, ISBN 978-1-4165-5505-6

The Martian colonies have become increasingly dissatisfied with rule by the authorities on an increasingly bureaucratic and repressive Earth authority.  Yes, this is what you think it's going to be, although it's a lot more evenhanded than most similar books.  We see the conflict from both sides and neither side is all right or all wrong, and in fact there are conflicting loyalties and other strains.  Much of the book is military SF, with battles on the surface and even a major confrontation in space, and Taylor manages to make it all reasonably exciting even though most SF fans will have read it all before.  This is designed to set up a sequel due out next year, The Tau Ceti Connection, but it's pretty much complete in itself.  There were times when I thought the action was too compressed - it felt more like a comic book than a novel during some of the battle sequences - but for the most part, this is well above average military SF, and the best of Taylor's three solo novels. 10/30/07

The Battle at the Moons of Hell by Graham Sharp Paul, Del Rey, 2007, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-49571-6

More military SF, this time set on an interstellar stage.  The Federated Worlds are pretty much the Federation and the Hammer Worlds are pretty much the Klingons.  There is technically peace between the two empires, but the Hammer Worlds are nasty and they've recently waylaid a Federation starship, stolen its valuable cargo, and taken the crew and passengers to a prison world where they become slave labor.  So naturally the Federation wants to rescue them, but preferably without starting an interstellar war, so they send a small group led by Michael Helfort - and this is the first in the Helfort's War series so we know he's going to be back - to sneak onto the prison planet and carry off the prisoners, who include members of his own family, just to give him some extra incentive.  The adventure is reasonably well done and the writing isn't bad, but the atmosphere and style suggest a grim, humorless approach that encourages my aversion to a great many novels of the type.  It's as if the author was so focused on the martial aspects that the novel becomes one note, and when there's only one note, it becomes background noise.  Not a bad book but I hope the next in the series will relax a bit.  10/30/07

Beyond the Sun by P.D. Gilson, Helios, 2007, ISBN 978-0-9803910-0-8

Cry of Justice by Jason Pratt, Bittersea, 2007, $25, ISBN 978-0-9778884-0-5

This is sort of the Not Ready for Prime Time review.  Both of these are from publishers I don't recognize, and they may well be self published, although both look and feel very professional.  They're both perfectly readable, even have interesting plots, but they aren't quite polished enough to make me sit up and take notice.  The first involves an ecological disaster that threatens to wipe out all life on Earth and humans have been visiting another planet to locate necessary resources.  Unfortunately, people being what they are, a global war breaks out that seems likely to hasten things along toward dissolution.  The characters and the situation never came to life for me, and some of the maneuvering of the players was less than convincing.  Not a particularly bad book, but not a particularly good one either.  Pratt's novel is considerably more inventive and more complex, but also never quite got its hooks into me.  The world of Mikon is in turmoil and a fairly large cast of characters try to improve their fortunes following a major war that has left many scars.  The characters are fairly interesting, but it's very difficult to get into the story because the book opens with a sequence of odd scenes, some of them mixtures or rhetorical questions and evocative but unclear phrases.  Given a good editor, I think this one could have been much better.  10/28/07

Star Flight by Andre Norton, Baen, 2007, $24, ISBN 978-1-4165

Another omnibus, this one of two of Norton's earliest and best SF novels, The Stars Are Ours! and Star Born from the 1950s.  They make up a duology that I've read half a dozen times.  The first is a familiar plot nowadays.  Earth has become a repressive society following a nuclear war and scientists are outlawed.  A group of dissenters decides to flee the Earth to the stars in an experimental starship, which they do after various adventures.  The sequel is the better of the two describing adventures on an Earthlike world some considerable time later after civilization has been restored on Earth.  There is a malevolent alien race and more high adventure.  Norton had few equals at this sort of thing, and I wish her career had continued in this vein rather than into fantasy.  These are a bit old fashioned, but I reread them a couple of years ago and they held up well.  10/26/07

Metal Swarm by Kevin J. Anderson, 12/07, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-316-02174-6

With the sixth volume of the Saga of Seven Suns, this series goes to a new publisher, the American division of the British Orbit books.  The interstellar war that has been conducted by humans and aliens in various combinations takes another turn.  One of the alien races that is supposedly allied with humans actually had a sinister purpose, the undermining of human defenses so that the war could take a disastrous - from our point of view - turn for the worst.  And yet another alien race enters the game as a player, a supposedly extinct group that was actually just biding its time.  At times this series reminds me variously of Edward E. Smith and Edmond Hamilton, though the prose is considerably better.  Fun though it has been along the way, this is beginning to wear out its welcome I'm afraid, and the revelations upon revelations are no longer surprising or effective.  There are still some good moments, and it certainly isn't a bad space opera, but I'd rather see Anderson try something else, at least as a change of pace.  10/25/07

The Morcai Battalion  by Diana Palmer, Luna, 12/07, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-373-80289-0

This is a revised edition of a novel first published in 1980 under the name Susan S. Kyle.  I have never seen the earlier book so I have no way of judging how much has been changed, but since it is apparently quite rare, I don't think it will matter to more than a handful of readers.  Judging by the introduction, it seems that some parts excised originally have been restored, chiefly the placement of females in high positions within the military, which the publisher - Manor Books - apparently considered unrealistic back in the 1980s.  The original draft was written in 1963 so the author must have been very persistent to keep it on the market for so long.  The galaxy has been largely colonized but there are, inevitably, factions and conflict.  Efforts to smooth things over by cooperatively developing the remaining habitable planets but an aggressive military move puts everything at risk.  The protagonist emerges as a leader in the battle to restore peace, and he has time to find a little romance along the way.

As a storyteller, Palmer is reasonably good, but much of the scientific content is, if not nonsense, little more than window dressing.  Why, for example, would a planet have to be colonized by clones rather than immigrants?  There's a surfeit of jargon, a few unpronounceable proper names, and much of the text consists of very short paragraphs that give the story a very choppy, uneven feeling.  The dialogue is full of cliches and extremely melodramatic.  Palmer has apparently become a very popular romantic novelists since this appeared and I imagine this was a bit of nostalgia for her, but it's not very good and the note that there will be two new sequels didn't make me feel any better about it.  There's an old saying that you should write what you know, and while Palmer may know about romance, she doesn't seem to know much about science, or science fiction.  10/24/07

Firstborn by Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter, Del Rey, 12/07, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-345-49157-2

I am frankly always suspicious of these novels which appear to be franchised names actually written by the lesser known writer.  Poor Andre Norton will be churning out titles for years to come, apparently.  Clarke is still alive, but I doubt that he contributed more than an outline to this new novel, the final volume in a trilogy.  Fortunately, I like Stephen Baxter's work just fine, so I knew it was probably worth reading despite the suspicious bylines.  This is the book in which we learn the truth about the race that created the mysterious monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The confrontation between humanity and a race that is nearly godlike in its power is pretty well done, but oddly lacking in emotional content.  So what we end up with here is a story that is based on concepts created by Clarke, but without Clarke's ability to make these things seem almost matter of fact, written in large part I suspect by Baxter, who is always impressive when he does this sort of superhuman intelligence, but which didn't feel like a Baxter story.  So although I enjoyed it while I was reading it, I was left with a sense of incompleteness, as though I'd almost read something really good, but had somehow missed it.  But it's a nice try.  10/21/07

The Quantum July by Ron King, Delacorte, 2007, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-385-73418-9

Quantum physics might seem a bit advanced for young adult readers, but the author of this amusing book only refers to it by implication despite the title.  Danny is the kind of kid who is always lost in a daydream, imagining exotic places or variations of his own world where things work out more to his liking.  He never really believes in those realities, until he discovers that they might all be just as valid as the one he thought he was stuck in.  His younger sister has a different take on things.  She believes that Danny can alter the reality and she experiments to find out if she's right.  Danny tries to use his power to reshape things so that everyone is happy, but each attempt has a downside.  Either his sister is gone or his brother is a little monster or something else has gone awry.  Maybe he was better off the way he was at the beginning, but can he find his way back?  This is a kind of junior version of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven.  It's more thoughtful than most young adult SF in recent years, and a neat story as well.  10/17/07

Cauldron by Jack McDevitt, Ace, 2007, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-441-01525-2

Priscilla Hutchins returns for her sixth appearance.  The interstellar exploration program is effectively at an end.  Humanity is withdrawing to Earth, concerned with problems at home and perhaps fearful of the dangerous things we've discovered outside the solar system, including a billion year old derelict, artificially created clouds that destroy anything with a right angle, and mysterious globes that seem to have an intelligent, though hidden purpose.  The one exception is the Prometheus Foundation, which still maintains a single ship.  Their future seems dismal until they are approached by a man who claims to have perfected an experimental drive that makes interstellar travel much faster and more practical. But things don't go right.  A test fails very publicly, support erodes quickly, and the funds dry up with astonishing rapidity. He and his supporters enlist the further aid of Priscilla Hutchins, but she can only trade on her popularity for so long, particularly in a world that appears to be moving headlong toward superstition and pseudo-science.  Eventually the bugs get worked out and the stage is set for an expedition to the Cauldron, a region of the galaxy from which the mysterious omega clouds seem to emanate.

The novel develops slowly and deliberately, perhaps too much so.  After more than a hundred pages the action finally begins to pick up a little, but it's another hundred pages before they actually launch the expedition.  The last hundred pages is excellent, an old fashioned first contact story mixed with other worlds adventure.  It's worth the slow start to get here, but I think it would have been a much better novel if some of the preliminaries had been compressed.  10/10/07

Killswitch by Joel Shepherd, Pyr, 12/07, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-59102-598-6 

My favorite android is back.  Cassandra Kresnov returns for her third interplanetary adventure.  Previously published in Australia in 2004, this is the novel’s first US edition.  The political situation continues to grow more volatile as Earth’s interstellar empire seems on the brink of dissolution.  A powerful fleet is sent to sever all outside contact to the planet Callay and the planet’s only defensive forces are a relatively untrained, under equipped, and untested volunteer force led by, among others, Cassandra – an android with a mind of her own.  A mind perhaps, but not necessary her body.  She discovers that among the other wondrous objects in her body is a killswitch, a device which – if activated – will result in her immediate, irreversible death.  All it needs is to be triggered by an enemy.  Espionage, battles, secrets revealed, escapes, political intrigue, personality clashes, high adventure, outer space – it’s all here.  Easily the best of the three.  I hope there’s more on their way.  Most novels with this general background get caught up in the military content and forget about the characters.  Shepherd manages to keep everything in balance.  Space opera the way it ought to be written. 10/5/07

When the People Fell by Cordwainer Smith, Baen, 2007, $15, ISBN 978-1-4165-2146-4

Cordwainer Smith continues to enjoy a surprisingly robust reputation despite the relatively small body of work he produced during his career.  There have been almost a dozen different collections now, although he actually didn't write nearly that many stories.  They've been collected and recollected and cross collected at regular intervals.  This is a good thing.  Baen Books has been bringing back into print a number of interesting but less talented writers, but few of them are as welcome as this volume.  There are more than two dozen stories here, including two different versions of one, the entire series published as Quest for Three Worlds, and others.  Most are stories of the Instrumentality; a few are not.  There were even a couple that I don't believe I'd read before.  There are numerous classics here including "Scanners Live in Vain" and "A Planet Named Shayol".  If you haven't encountered Cordwainer Smith before, you're in for a real treat.  10/4/07

Dark Apostle by Anthony Reynolds, Black Library, 2007, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-507-0

Warhammer novels are split between sword and sorcery and military SF, with this falling into the latter category.  A military unit has captured a planet and enslaved its population, forcing them to work on a mysterious construction project.  Meanwhile the empire plans to send fresh forces to drive them out of their stronghold, but will they be in time.  There's more plot in this one than in many others in the series, and fewer military clashes. Although the story was good enough to keep me reading, I had two problems with this.  First, it doesn't really end, and presumably the author will be continuing the story at some point.  Second - and this is a common problem with the Warhammer novels - the dialogue is, perhaps deliberately, artificially formal and awkward.  "Tanakreg teeters on the brink of destruction" and "let us release our anger on the foe" just don't sound natural.  Fortunately, there is surprisingly little dialogue in this fairly long book.  10/3/07

The Blue-Haired Bombshell by John Zakour, DAW, 12/07, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0455-0

Zachary Johnson returns for his fifth case in this series of private detective/SF spoofs.  This time someone has been assassinating prominent politicians on Earth, and Zach suspects that the solution lies on the Moon, whose citizens were thwarted recently in their efforts to gain independence, among other grievances.  His prime suspect is Boris Sputnik, top man on the Moon, and it's pretty obvious early on that no one wants him poking his nose where it doesn't belong.  There are the usual side issues.  In Zach's world, bioengineering has resulted in gorilla thugs, ogres, elves, and naturally some very sexy women.  The result is a spoof of both genres, and although some of the jokes are starting to feel repetitive, it's still a lot of fun.  Thrills and chills interspersed with groaners and guffaws.  What more could you ask?  10/2/07

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert, audiobook, Audio Renaissance, 2007, $$34.95, ISBN 978-1-4272-0236-9

Since I have recently re-read the first three Dune novels, I only listened to the first hour or so of this audibook version.  The novel itself is as good as the first, in my opinion, and the quality didn't really begin to drop off until the fourth.  It's the further adventures of Paul Atreides, Muad'dib, who becomes a religious and military leader on the planet Arrakis, source of the spices that make interstellar travel possible.  Corruption, factionalism, and the various ills of the first are continued here, with a somewhat smaller cast of characters.  The novel is read by a team of four and they do a very good job of bringing the story to life.  This is the unabridged, CD version, running approximately nine hours.  A great chance for commuters who haven't time to re-read to reacquaint themselves with this classic of SF.  10/1/07

Blood in the Fruit by L. Timmel Duchamp, Aqueduct, 2007, $19, ISBN 1-933500-15-7

Volume four in the Marq'ssan Cycle is set almost a hundred years from now.  The world has been through a lot of changes and the United States has become balkanized.  The Pacific Northwest has become a de facto Free Zone, in contrast to the remaining US which has become ruthlessly repressive.  Just as the splinter societies which value civil rights are beginning to cooperate against the increasingly totalitarian regimes, the return of a fleet of alien ships, and the visit to Earth by a particularly troublesome alien youth, precipitates a fresh crisis.  The novel - the series for that matter - is a distillation of political and ethical philosophy, a commentary on the importance and frailty of human rights, a feminist dystopia, and something of an adventure story, although most of the real conflict tends to be on the intellectual rather than physical level.  This is the kind of novel which probably won't appeal to a mass audience, in part because it steps outside the usual genre rules.  For those willing to invest the time to actually think about what they're reading and work out the implications, it's a treasure house.  9/25/07

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

Continuing my visit to novels I haven't read in half a century, I am happy to say that the first half of this four part adventure is just as delightful as ever.  Gulliver's visit to the lands of Lilliput and Brobdingnab - tiny people and giants - are as clever as I remembered, and I get the point of a lot of the satire that was obviously lost on me when I read this at ten years old.  Although Swift was jibing at people and events of his own time, they are just as accurate today.  The argument about which end of the egg should be cracked reminded me of similar ones about the shape of negotiating tables and such.

The third book I didn't recall at all, and it may have been left out of the edition I read as a child.  There's a flying island and people who are so caught up in abstract science that they cannot function as ordinary humans.  The final part I did remember, though vaguely.  The land of the Houyhnhnms, talking horses, is also populated by the Yahoos, particularly repulsive humans.  I wonder what yahoo.com was thinking of? It isn't up to the standards of the first two books - Swift had become bitter and polemic, and in fact Gulliver ends up a recluse.  Still one of the great classics though.  9/25/07

Desert Called Peace, A by Tom Kratman, Baen, 2007, $23, ISBN 978-1-4165-2145-7

The setting for this novel of vengeance and violence is Earth's first colony, a planet that closely resembles Earth.  Unfortunately, it's home to a particularly unpleasant strain of religious fanatic who make a habit of killing people that don't agree with them.  Among their victims is the protagonist's uncle, aunt, and cousins, and since our hero is an ex-military officer, he feels qualified to exact a little balancing of the books.  To do so requires the formation of a counterbalancing fanaticism, and the conflict that ensues will affect the entire planetary population.  Readers will be able to anticipate the broad outlines of the story, which is essentially an elaborate vigilante fantasy, although much better written than most.  My only real problem with the book was that given the highly emotional nature of the plot, the story itself comes across as overly detailed, analytical, and emotionally flat.  Other than during the immediate aftermath of the first murders, I felt as though I was watching the action rather than experiencing it.  And I never got any real sense of what the fanatics actually believed, which reduced them to numerical targets to be knocked over rather than villains to be subdued.  9/24/07

Keeper's Child by Leslie Davis, Edge, 10/07, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-894063-01-2

Novels of ecological collapse were quite popular a few years back, but seen to have declined in recent years, perhaps because the real problems with the environment have made us unwilling to think about it explicitly.  This is, I believe, a first novel set in a not too distant future, although at times it feels more remote than the author may have intended.  Various problems of pollution and ecological deterioration have devastated the world and the outlook is grimmer yet.  The survivors live primarily in domed cities, where the protagonist has spent his entire life, until a summons from his brother causes him to set out on an enlightening, and depressing, journey across a blighted landscape.  During that journey he will make a discovery that could change the human race's destiny.  The prose in this one is excellent and I enjoyed reading it despite the downbeat setting.  I was less impressed with the plot, maybe because I'm also tired of depressing scenarios, but also because it seemed a bit too pat.  There weren't any big surprises.  It also seemed a bit emotionally flat.  It struck me as the work of a good writer who wasn't quite ready to try a more ambitious project.   Hopefully, that will be her next book.  9/20/07

Kris Longknife: Audacious by Mike Shepherd, Ace, 10/07, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01541-2

Kris Longknife returns for her fifth adventure, daughter of a powerful but controversial family and a brilliant though unorthodox officer.  This series started as military SF, but it's moved in various directions, and this is as much a planetary adventure as anything else.  Kris has made more than her share of enemies, some among her supposed friends, and she decides to take a break from dodging bullets to visit the planet of New England, which has a reputation as being safe and quiet.  But if it was, there wouldn't be much of a story, would there?  It turns out that the planet is seething with rebellions, rivalries, and conspiracies.  Various factions want to take control and the others are obviously opposed.  Her very presence somehow makes her a focal point for all these forces, and before long the body count is rising again. 

The first two books in this series were very derivative and unimpressive, but the next two were considerably more original and interesting.  I'd say this one is marginally the best of the lot, suggesting that Shepherd is growing more comfortable with the series and the character.  There are still times when the dialogue feels jumpy and artificial, but for the most part this is a pretty good adventure, reminding me somewhat of the Miles Vorkosigian novels by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Not a real winner yet but an upcoming contender.  9/17/07

Crash Deluxe by Marianne de Pierres, Roc, 2007, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46184-1

Parrish Plessis returns for her third adventure.  In the previous two, you may recall, she won her freedom from her crime lord boss and sort of self promoted herself up from being a simple bodyguard.  Unfortunately, in her new role as protector of the downtrodden, she finds herself rapidly being overwhelmed.  When a society is corrupt, the difference between a criminal and a rebel is sometimes a matter of viewpoint.  Parrish decides that the only way to shake things loose is to undermine one component of that corruption. 

I was a bit cool to this series at first, in part because I've grown tired of novels set in a kind of cyberpunkish future that varies little from one writer's concept to the next.  For another, it was kind of hard to identify with the protagonist, who worked for a crook and was not above a little bending of the rules herself.  The second volume seemed a little better, with Parrish showing some independence of thought, although even now she's still playing at a disadvantage thanks to a virus she was infected with.  But with book three she seems to be evolving into a more original character, her world is a little bit more differentiated, and there never was a problem with the writing itself.  This came pretty close to being something I really liked, and if the progression continues, I imagine her next adventure will convert me to a fan.  9/14/07

Intimate Relations with Strangers by David Valentine Bernard, Strebor, 2007, $23, ISBN 978-1-4165-4036-6

If you're looking for something different in near future SF, this is probably a title you should enjoy, although I'm not sure if I'd call it SF or Fantasy.  The time is the near future and terrorists are even more prevalent than ever.  The President of the US has been assassinated and there is chaos spread over much of the world.  Following the latest attack on Washington, American army units are sent into Africa, including the unnamed protagonist.  In his youth he experienced an epiphany after witnessing a hallucinatory event in which a female child seemed to spring forth from the earth.  Now that experience mixes with his present and the mix is very volatile.  This is what's usually called a "haunting" story, or an "allegory", and in its way it's both of those things.  There's a lot of it I liked, and the prose is pleasantly intelligent, but it ended up being just a bit too mystical for my taste, though with the set up, I don't suppose it could have done much else.  A qualified recommendation on this one.  9/11/07

Griffin's Story by Steven Gould, Tor, 2007, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1827-5

Apparently there is a movie on its way based, sort of, on the two Jumper novels by Steven Gould.  This new one is meant to be a tie-in to the movie, but it doesn't credit a screenwriter, so I'm not sure how close it is.  There are discrepancies between this and the other books, apparently adjusting to the screen version.  Griffin O'Connor is a nine year old boy who can teleport, jump instantaneously to any place he has been and remembers well enough to picture.  He and his parents have been concealing his talent, but they slip up and both parents are killed by a group of professional killers who can sense when a teleport is made within their range, usually a few miles.

Alone, Griffin makes his own way in the world, sometimes with the help of others, but that always puts them in jeopardy as well, as he finds out tragically.  He makes some efforts to strike back, wounding but not killing any of his pursuers, providing information to the police, but the killers are obviously well connected and have powerful allies because they use the system to track him down over and over again, never quite catching him, although they often come close.  The action comes very rapid fire but I kept wishing he'd just start killing them to protect his own life and avenge the loss of his loved ones.  Reads surprisingly quickly and smoothly, and it is definitely one of the more exciting stories of the year.  The kind of book that makes you think, "now, if I was in that situation..."  9/8/07

Splinter by Adam Roberts, Solaris, 2007, $15, ISBN 978-1-84416-490-5

If I'm not mistaken, Adam Roberts has only had one of his novels published in the US before now, and that quite recently.  He's a British writer who has turned out a number of minor parodies along with an even larger number of serious, unusual, and often quite excellent straight novels including Snow and Polystom.  This new one is, well, not exactly a pastiche, more like an homage to the work of Jules Verne, specifically Off on a Comet aka Hector Servadac.  Verne has been getting considerably more serious attention in recent years, thanks to improved translations of his work, so I'm not entirely surprised.

The protagonist is appalled to learn that his father has redirected the family's considerably assets into a kind of modified doomsday/doomsday group, but he has to eat crow a bit when an asteroid shows up on a collision course and after a bit hits the Earth and shatters it.  Hector and others survive, rather improbably, on a fragment of the Earth that wasn't completely pulverized.  This could have been an interesting and entertaining adventure story despite the outdated science, except that Roberts tries one of his experiments and, for me at least, it failed dismally.  The first part of the novel is narrated in past tense, the middle section in present tense, which always drives me crazy, and the last part in future tense, which sounds like a clever idea but is actually almost unreadable. I really liked the cover on this one, but it's obviously not among my favorite novels by this author.  9/5/07

Rebel Winter by Steve Parker, Black Library, 2007, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-483-7

Like the title that follows, this blends SF and fantasy themes, military SF with sword and sorcery to be precise.  It's the futuristic half of the Warhammer universe, and an unpopular officer is sent on a mission to deal with a rebellious but remote world, apparently a menial task, but it gets a lot less menial when an army of orcs shows up, invades, and our hero finds himself with a small group of soldiers cut off from his friends and trapped between two hostile forces.  Most of what follows is standard combat fare.  The plot is pretty well calcified with clichés, but there seems to be an insatiable audience for this sort of thing.  This is a first novel, but it is as good as most of the other titles I've seen in this series.  A few of them have been good enough to appeal to a wider audience but this one is mostly just for the faithful.  9/3/07

The Forgotten Past by Heather Hayashi, Synergy, 2007, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-933538-77-8

This is the second in a series in one of those blends of SF and fantasy that I really don't care for.  The planet Arhka is caught up in its own war, one party of which is a kind of rationalized vampire, but there are also mystical forces that are effectively magic, dragons, and so forth.  I've never seen the first in the series, but this installment introduces an alien invasion, but this is primarily a kind of quest story, with the object being some missing persons rather than an artifact.  The plotting isn't bad, if you make allowances for the crossbreeding of the two genres, but the prose is filled with odd proper names - mostly pronounceable I'm happy to say - and is often awkward and unnatural.  There are also some grammatical problems like "between each other" when multiple persons are involved, which should therefore be "among each other" and odd and inappropriate word choices.  9/3/07

Gollancz Special Editions: 

This isn't a review but more of a new item.  Gollancz has started a series of reprints with interesting packaging, as you can see by the samples shown.  No title or other text on the front cover, simple artwork, in at least one case with raised felt highlights.  I'm curious to see whether this will continue because it doesn't seem that it would work in the major chain bookstores, which generally only show the spines.  Does that mean that the cover is less significant and needs no text, or is the strategy to provide a tantalizing cover that browsers will pick up to find out what they really are? 

 

The four covers shown here are, clockwise from the top left, Blood Music (ISBN 978-0-575-08109-03) by Greg Bear, Hyperion (ISBN 978-0-575-08114-7) by Dan Simmons, The Separation (ISBN 978-0-575-08115-4) by Christopher Priest, and Altered Carbon (ISBN 978-0-575-08112-3) by Richard Morgan.  There are similar editions of Evolution (ISBN 9780-575-08113-0) by Stephen Baxter, Fairyland (ISBN 978-0-575-08110-9) by Paul J. McAuley, and Revelation Space (ISBN 978-0-7528-8908-5)  by Alastair Reynolds.  All seven novels are, I should mention, among the very best SF novels of the last few years.  They are uniformly priced at £7.99.

Fulgrim by Graham McNeill, Black Library, 2007, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-476-9

Take a heavy dose of military SF, add some planetary adventure, mix with dark fantasy, and you might have something that suggests this new novel in the Warhammer series.  McNeill has done several previous novels on the military side of this dichotomous universe, but I think this is his longest and most complex novel.  There's a vast war underway and one of the sons of the human emperor - who is more or less on the side of good - is conducting a campaign against some really nasty aliens - who are clearly on the side of evil.  There's lots of action in space and elsewhere.  For some reason this reminded me a lot of the old Planet Stories style with a considerably harder edge.  I'm only in the mood for this sort of thing on rare occasions but this one caught me just right.  9/2/07

Navigator by Stephen Baxter, Gollancz, 2007, £10.99, ISBN 978-0-525-07991-5

The third volume of the Time's Tapestry series advances the story through the Crusades and up to the time of the discovery of America.  The premise, if you haven't read the previous volumes, is that individuals from the future are sending messages back through time in an effort to alter human history.  Based on the series so far, which seems to be very historically accurate, they aren't having much of any discernible effect, but that doesn't stop them from trying.  This felt more like an historical novel than SF, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but some readers might be a bit disappointed, particularly since this one is considerably less eventful than the previous volume in the series.  It's an interesting idea applied on a larger scale than heretofore, but I'm not sure if it's interesting enough to sustain an entire series.  9/1/07

Shatterday by Harlan Ellison, Tachyon, 2007, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-892391-48-3

This isn't really a review because this is a reprint of the 1980 collection, but it's so nice to see it back in print that it deserves at least a mention, and it has been handsomely repackaged for this edition as well.  There is no such thing as a bad Ellison collection, so it's probably unnecessary to say this is a good one.  Within Ellison's own work, I'd say it's in the upper half, containing such gems as "Jeffty Is Five", "All the Lies That Are My Life", "Flop Sweat", and of course the title story.  There are the usual introductions to the individual stories, sometimes almost as good as the stories themselves.  If you've somehow managed to miss this title in the past, here's your chance to redeem yourself for an old sin of omission.  9/1/07

MORE SF REVIEWS