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

LAST UPDATE 7/28/10   

Children’s Crusade by Scott Andrews, Abaddon, 2010, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-906735-81-4  

Third in a subset of the Afterblight Chronicles, set in a post-apocalyptic England after a plague has destroyed much of civilization.  The story focuses on a group of children at a particular school after some group has begun abducting those orphaned by the disaster for reasons of their own.  But these kids are street smart in a new way and they’re not going to be easy victims.  This was okay and I liked some of the feisty kids, but the depressingly violent, decadent emerging society was so familiar to be that I felt like I was watching a direct to video action film rather than reading a novel.  Readers more tolerant of the setting should find this more interesting than I did because it’s well enough written. 7/28/10

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois, St Martins, 2010, $21.99, ISBN 978-0-312-60898-9

In order to read as many novels as I do, I’ve had to become very picky about short fiction and rarely read an entire issue of a magazine.  I am less interested in anthologies than I once was, I don’t read any of the online sites, and I haven’t the time to track down most of the less accessible venues for short fiction.  But I doubt that I often miss any notable short SF simply because once a year Gardner Dozois distills all of that down to identity those that I really need to have read, and he also provides a lengthy honorable mention list if I decide to track down more by a particular writer.  This year is no exception with more than thirty stories, plus the usual lengthy and informative summation of the year’s events within the genre.  For a change, I had actually read the great majority of these already.  The traditional prozines are even less in evidence than in the past, a sign that times are changing, and there’s a mix of familiar and less familiar names.  Included this time are such reliables as Robert Charles Wilson, Ian McDonald, Robert Reed, and Nancy Kress as well as a sampling of newer writers.  The one anthology you need to read this year to stay aware of contemporary short SF. 7/27/10

Fatal Alliance by Sean Williams, Del Rey, 2010, $27, ISBN 978-0-345-51132-4  

I have felt all along that the Star Wars universe was much more diverse and interesting than that of Star Trek.  This new novel – based in part on a multi-player online game – is set thousands of years prior to the events in the movies, so there are no familiar characters, although place names, races, and other elements are familiar.  I guess the Old Republic was a pretty stable organization.  Anyway, one of the Hutt clans is planning to auction off a priceless treasure and people have come from all over the galaxy to bid on it.  But several of those prospective bidders are fake; they want the object all right, but they have no intention of paying for it.  And the artifact is more than just valuable; it has the power to destroy all of the players in the game, and everyone else as well, a power so great that even old enemies must set aside their differences if they’re going to survive.  Williams writes very fine space operas of his own creation, so it’s no surprise that he can do so much with someone else’s playground. 7/26/10

The Saturn Game by Poul Anderson, NESFA Press, 2010, $29, ISBN 978-1-886778-89-4  

I recently did a tour of our local Barnes & Noble and Borders and was dismayed at the number of classic SF authors who have no books at all on their shelves, among them Poul Anderson.  When I first started taking SF seriously as literature, I had already read a large amount of Anderson and thought of him as a good adventure writer but nothing more.  It was only years later when I re-read him that I was impressed by his literary as well as storytelling skills.  NESFA’s reprint program has picked his short fiction for their program, of which this is the third volume.  It contains several of his best stories including the title story, “No Truce with Kings,” “Sam Hall,” “The Only Game in Town,” and “Eve Times Four”, along with some associational material.  Five hundred pages of such excellent short fiction would be a bargain at twice this price.  Buy copies for your friends. 7/26/10

Dream Called Time by S.L. Viehl, Roc, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46346-3  

The author plays a variety of cards in this, the tenth Stardoc adventure.  Our recurring heroine has suffered amnesia which has left her confused about the state of the galaxy and partially estranged from her own family, when she is recruited to help investigate the appearance of a derelict starship – or is it? – which is outfitted with a previously unknown form of alien technology.  During her investigations, she is precipitated into another time as well as space, no doubt leaving her even more confused about herself. This series has had its ups and down with the present title floating somewhere in between.  It’s as well written as the best of them, but I wasn’t really engaged with the protagonist this time as much as I have been with some of the earlier books in the series. 7/23/10

West and East by Harry Turtledove, Del Rey, 2010, $27, ISBN 978-0-345-49184-8 

Volume 2 of the War That Came Early, another alternate version of World War II.  Chamberlain refused to back down over Hitler’s early moves so the war started a year earlier than in our time.  Much of what follows parallels events in our own history, not surprisingly given the system of alliances and vested interests that existed.  Turtledove stirs things up a bit by introducing some new wrinkles, an anti-tank weapon and another used on submarines, which threaten to change the balance of power very quickly.  Interesting story but I don’t find the evolution of things entirely convincing.  Hitler really needed more time to prepare for the war, not less, so his successes here raised my eyebrows a bit.  The influence of a small number of powerful men to throw the entire world into chaos is well illustrated though, and the individual story lines are stronger than in many of the author’s other alternate histories. 7/19/10

The Ocean Dark by Jack Rogan, Ballantine, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-38518-2 

This first novel is marketed as a thriller, which it is, but it’s also SF and horror.  A container ship crewed by a motley assortment of small time crooks is supposed to rendezvous with another vessel carrying contraband guns.  The other ship has found an uncharted Caribbean island and has been attacked by mysterious creatures whom we don’t see until better than halfway through the book.  I won’t describe them but they are at home in water and on land and they start picking characters off pretty quickly.  Even an intervention by the Coast Guard and FBI doesn’t bring the killing spree to an end.  I enjoyed this thoroughly, but only after getting over a couple of humps.  The smaller one is that an uncharted island in the Caribbean just is not plausible any longer in these days of satellite surveys, particularly in an area where there is so much traffic.  The larger and more serious one is that it was very hard to feel any sympathy for most of the characters, who smuggle drugs as well as firearms and other illicit cargo, and who often act in very brutal ways to one another, particularly the undercover agent they discover amongst them.   Not fatal flaws, but serious ones. 7/15/10

The Eden Cycle by Raymond Z. Gallun, Ballantine, 1974

Raymond Gallun's most popular days were well behind him when this novel appeared, and the fact that he had done little to change his style or subject matter during the interim may explain why he became such a minor figure.  As with his earlier People Minus X, humans have acquired nearly godlike powers, this time the gift of a mysterious alien force which has come to Earth.  Supposedly everyone can have pretty much the kind of world they'd like, but there are always strings attached to gifts of power and this proves to be no exception.  The story never really caught me and even if it had, Gallun's awkward prose - which often links two unrelated ideas in a single sentence - would have thrown me out of it.  I couldn't remember this novel at all from having read it thirty years ago, and I'm not likely to remember anything this time thirty days from now.  7/14/10

Growing Up in Tier 3000 by Felix Gotschalk, Ace, 1975

Felix Gotschalk's SF career was very brief, just this single novel and maybe three dozen short stories.  He almost always used an invented jargon of his own incorporating psychological terms - he worked in that field - and others.  The style was somewhat reminiscent of David R. Bunch and, as with Bunch, it worked very well in short stories, but as this novel illustrates, not necessarily at longer length.  The setting is the far future when humanity's technology has become close to magical.  Things come so easily to the human race that initiative and adaptability are on the wane, and that could be deadlier than a more obvious menace in the long run.  Okay, but the shorts are a lot better.  7/14/10

Black Hand Gang by Pat Kelleher, Abaddon, 2010, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-906735-84-5 

This is from a publisher fairly new to me that specializes in shared world series, although I’m not sure if this is one or not, although it is labeled the first “No Man’s World” novel, so it probably is.  The premise is an old one.  A group of human soldiers – in this case from World War I – are abducted from the battlefield and plopped down on an alien planet. But unlike most such series, it is unclear why they have been brought there, and most of this first installment consists of them finding a way to survive in their new environment, meeting and dealing with the indigenous aliens, and discovering that someone among their number is not who he claims to be.  An exciting plot and competent writing keep this one moving quickly, but obviously the ending is not going to tie up most of the loose ends. 7/10/10

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, Pyr, 7/10, $26, ISBN 978-1-61614-204-9  

Ian McDonald is one of those few authors whose work I relish on two levels – both the actual story and the structure of his prose.  There are intricacies and texture to his work that are missing in most other SF.  Most other fiction, for that matter.  This is similar to some of his earlier work, an exploration of the future of a non-Western country, in this case Turkey.  It’s a Turkey that has joined the European Union but which is still caught in a web of contradictory trends and belief systems.  The story opens with a suicide bomber on a bus, then follows several different characters whose stories generally converge later in the book.  These include a young man with a religious fetish, an entrepreneur, and a boy with an interesting handicap.  The conflict involves clandestine robot spies, conspiracies, and a touch of madness.  It’s a rich, intelligent novel for adults and readers will have to pay attention if they want to mine its valuable ore because this is not a lightweight or casual adventure story. 7/4/10

The Covenant of Genesis by Andy McDermott, Bantam, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59296-2 

The fourth in this series about archaeologist Nina Wilde and her rough shod boyfriend repeats the familiar plot of the first three.  Nina has made a new discovery that could alter the way we think about human history, but before she can make it public, she and her team are attacked, most of them killed, and the artifact is stolen by the secretive organization of the title, which wants to suppress the knowledge.  The usual chases, battles, captures, and escapes ensue plus a presidential scandal before our protagonist overcomes odds stacked so high against her that her victory is not very convincing, but then again, this is a pulp adventure story that doesn’t really intend to be realistic.  The next, The Pyramid of Doom, is previewed at the end, and looks like more of the same. 6/30/10

For the Win by Cory Doctorow, Tor, 2010, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2216-6  

Just when I thought virtual reality stories were no longer popular, I read two consecutive novels in which they make up the primary setting.  This one is supposedly aimed for young adults, although there’s really nothing much to distinguish it from the author’s adult work other than the age of the protagonists.  The online gaming world has become very big business, spreading across the world, with virtual dollars translating to actual ones through various means. A mysterious woman begins to enlist the aid of some of the more skillful players in a plot to disrupt the virtual world and bring the exploitation of millions of people to an end by conning the conmen.  The story is great fun as you’re reading it, but I didn’t find the set up completely convincing.  It seems to me that they may have caused a great deal more harm than good and should have known that from the outset, but of course the author has the privilege of shaping things so that everything works out.  The book also drags at times as the author treats us to lectures on his pet topics.  This one could have and should have been edited to make the story flow better. 6/28/10

The Planet Strappers by Raymond Z. Gallun, Pyramid, 1961 

This was one of the first SF novels I ever read, and I had a vague recollection of not liking it which was fully corroborated this time through.  Gallun introduces a bewildering number of characters – caricatures actually – and mixes it with naïve and silly science as he chronicles the attempts by a group of quasi-friends to get into space and explore the solar system.  There, predictably, they meet good guys and bad, get into trouble and out of it, and rush off toward a happy ending.  In addition to the pasteboard characters and frenetic but nonsensical plot, Gallun has an awkward prose style that varies from colloquial to artificially formal and it was a struggle to read to the end.  Fortunately, novels were a lot shorter in the 1960s. 6/24/10

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, Blackstone Audio, 2005, read by Christopher Hurt

Obviously this is one of the classic SF novels, the story of the invasion of Earth by Martians who overrun England.  I've probably read the book conventionally at least a half dozen times, and I listened to an earlier audio version many years ago.  This comparatively new one is nicely performed and the story is as compelling as ever.  It occurred to me this time, however, that if a really loyal film version was made, viewers would be disappointed because so much of the action takes place off stage and much of the second half of the novel consists of people talking.  Some of it has dated well; it really doesn't matter that we know flight is possible whereas it had yet to be achieved when Wells wrote the novel.  Other bits don't date as well.  We know now that Earth's bacteria would likely not have affected the Martians directly, and that they probably could not have subsisted on human blood.  There are other aspects of their civilization that are never explained but seem equally unlikely.  It's still a very compelling story and one of the best invasion novels ever written.  6/17/10

Tomb of the Fathers by Eleanor Arnason, Aqueduct, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-1-933500-36-2  

Here’s a clever and quite original planetary adventure.  A crew of humans and aliens is conducting research on a planet supposedly abandoned by its intelligent residents when a malfunctioning AI decides to strand them there.  In short order they begin to uncover secrets about the decline of the alien civilization, which mixes the serious and the humorous in about equal measure, and yes there’s considerable social commentary mixed in with the laughs and surprises.  It’s quite short – not much more than a novella – so the satire doesn’t get too long winded, and there’s an active plot as well.  Have a few laughs and look at human behavior from a slightly different viewpoint. 

The Chapter’s Due by Graham McNeill, Black Library, 2010, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-861-3  

Role playing game and military SF meet again in this new novel set in the future side of the Warhammer universe.  McNeill is one of the steadiest and most reliable of the authors working this particular story line, and his stories of the Ultramarines are invariably filled with action and adventure. Once again the soldiers of tomorrow are called upon to fight the ultimate battle – there are lots of ultimate battles in the Warhammer universe.  This time the loyal marines have to fight a renegade group of their own kind who hope to conquer the planet which is home to their particular branch of the military.  No surprises here in an adventure I didn’t think was one of McNeill’s best, although his writing is so consistent that there’s not much of a dropoff. 6/8/10

Distant Thunders by Taylor Anderson, Roc, 2010, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46333-3 

This is the third novel in a row that I’ve read that is the fourth in a series.  There must be some significance there.  Anyway, it’s a Destroyermen novel, set in an alternate Earth where Lemurians are engaged in warfare against a reptilian race.  A destroyer from our World War II somehow crosses to their reality and becomes allied with the Lemurians, who are hard pressed.  The previous book was sort of a climax with a devastating battle and a change in the tide of war, but Anderson hasn’t abandoned the series.  Now we discover that the destroyer’s crew aren’t the only people who have been swept into the alternate world.  In fact there’s an entire island nation descended from earlier involuntary immigrants, and the revelation of their existence leads to an even bigger threat than the one our heroes have already faced.  Of course.  This is more military SF than anything else, reminiscent of series by William R  Forstchen, S.M. Stirling, Leo Frankowski, and others.  It breaks no new ground but provides some exciting adventure and some entertaining intrigue. 6/7/10

The Omega Point by Whitley Strieber, Tor, 6/10, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2334-7  

I have generally been disappointed by Whitley Strieber’s SF, although I’ve liked a good deal of his horror fiction – Wolfen is an underrated classic.  This was no exception, a disaster novel that starts off reasonably enough with a nearby supernova bombarding the solar system with heat and debris.  The story devolves into a metaphysical disquisition about other realities into which we move when we die, but which might be reached by other means, ancient knowledge, and similar subjects.  Strieber adds a lengthy afterword in which he “supports” his theories citing a number of sources including Harold Puthoff – who has been connected to Scientology and to claims of having a perpetual motion machine, Graham Hancock (a journalist, not a scientist) – whose work allegedly involved moving certain artifacts to make their location conform to his theories, and Strieber also asserts that there was a higher technological civilization than our own that is now ruined and under the sea, repeats his claims that he was abducted by aliens, and now adds that he has also traveled back through time, and makes other bizarre statements. Boring and embarrassing. 6/5/10

Endymion by Dan Simmons, Brilliance Audio, 2010, $49.99, read by Victor Bevine, ISBN 978-1-4233-8263-4

The first half of the Endymion duology, which follows the Hyperion duology.  The structure is much different, concentrating on a single story line, the pursuit of our three heroes across a variety of planets by agents of the Pax, an interstellar theocracy which is actually being manipulated by the Core, a combination of artificial intelligences inimical to humans.  The viewpoint alternates between pursued and pursuers.  As much as I liked this, it was a step down from the first book.  The story is much less complex and there is less attention to most of the characters, and despite the more focused plot, I thought it wandered a bit at times.  I was also less than convinced by some of the settings.  The ecology of the ice planet, for example, seems to me totally unworkable - there are only two forms of life and they prey on each other.  No plants or insects.  I am also troubled by the theme of predestination which is necessarily a major plot element since the girl who is the object of the search is unstuck in time and knows, sometimes, what is going to happen next.  Still a magnificent book though, and well performed by the reader.  6/4/10

The Noise Within by Ian Whates, Solaris, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-906735-65-4 

Modern space opera is often set on such a large scale that it is scarcely recognizable as the same sort of thing that was popular in the 1960s.  This new one mixes old ideas in an exciting new way.  The protagonist has uncovered dangerous knowledge, a familiar ploy for getting a character on the run.  Elsewhere a government agent is ordered to track down an elusive but apparently insignificant space pirate.  The two plot elements eventually converge but only after some hectic and quite engaging action along both story lines.  I didn't notice any of the clumsiness or tentativeness common in first novels, so I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more from Whates. A very promising debut novel.  The author also has a fantasy out from Angry Robot, which I haven’t seen but will look for. 5/23/10

Grand Central Arena by Ryk E. Spoor, Baen, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-3355-2

This longish adventure story makes use of an old and now seldom used SF plot - the trial by aliens to determine whether or not humans are worthy of leaving the solar system.  In this case the first interstellar ship is launched, but is taken prisoner by aliens who employ a Big Dumb Object of sorts to subject the crew to a series of dangerous tests.  It's a gigantic arena with various competitors from a variety of disparate species.  But the crew isn't homogeneous either and there are currents within currents. Parts of this are quite good, but I did think it went on for rather too long - almost seven hundred pages.  I actually took a break of several days between the first half and the second because I was losing interest.  Spoor seems to be one of the more promising of Baen's writing stable.  5/18/10

Saltation by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Baen, 2010, $24, ISBN 978-1-4391-3345-3

The latest novel set in the Liaden Universe, which sometimes falls into military SF and sometimes just space opera, as in this case.  The protagonist is a typical SF hero, a young woman who is in training to be a star pilot but whose brash and sometimes impulsive personality places her at odds with her peers and her superiors.  Theo Waitley might be a crackerjack pilot but she has a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and finding herself in hot water, so much so that it is clear that her formal training is headed toward a disastrous conclusion.  Eventually she takes to space and proves her worth, which won't likely surprise anyone reading the book but it feels satisfying even when you know it's coming.  Slightly above average for the series, which is itself on the up side of the curve of space adventures as a whole. 5/16/10

Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds, Ace, 2010, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-441-01866-6

Alastair Reynolds, known for his space adventures in a distant future, changes settings for this new novel, although it's still far in our future.  Earth has become unrecognizable.  Spearpoint is the last city, one gigantic construct with various different civilizations, including the angels, who live in the top levels and have wings.  Different portions of the city, and Earth in general, fall into different zones, in which the laws of nature are different so that technology that works in one zone does not work in another.  But the zones aren't fixed and occasionally the borders move, which can be fatal to people caught in the transition without the proper drugs to facilitate movement from one zone to another.  The chief protagonist is an angel who has been modified to live in the lower levels, which he does clandestinely, but a power struggle forces him to flee the city entirely just as the zones make their most dramatic change ever, perhaps dooming everyone in Spearpoint.  The change may have been initiated by a young girl with power to influence the zones. Quillon, the secret angel, encounters various people and unpeople on his travels including robots who are partly organic, an army that moves around in dirigibles, tribes of barbaric madmen, and many others.  All of this is colorfully evoked, and except for some occasional long winded conversations and explanations, deftly told.  An inventive and imaginative trip to an unlikely but still fascinating future world.  5/15/10

Helsreach by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Black Library, 2010, $11.99, ISBN 978--1-84416-863-7

Redemption Corps by Rob Sanders, Black Library, 2010, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-361-8

Both of these are military SF set in the Warhammer universe.  The first title is a "Space Marines Battles Novel", which means it's in a larger format and has a larger cover price. The human theocracy has placed a large contingent of the military to oppose an invasion by the evil Ork space forces and battle is joined.  The action sequences are well done but I was put off by much of the interplay among the characters, which feels awkward accentuated by the artificially archaic dialogue.  I know characterization isn't the point in this kind of adventure story, but it was just too flat for me this time around.  The second title is considerably better though still quite formulaic.  This one's about a roving band of professional soldiers who find themselves trapped between two enemies.  Much better characters, believable dialogue, a pretty intricate problem to be solved, and lots of things going on to advance the plot.  I believe this is Sanders' first novel and it's one of the better ones in the Warhammer series. It might be interesting to see if he tries something of his own creation at some point. 5/12/10

Dark Life by Kat Falls, Scholastic, 2010, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-17814-3

Super Human by Michael Carroll, Philomel, 2010, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-399-25297-6

  Most of the young adult fantastic fiction I've seen in recent years has been fantasy or horror, so it was quite refreshing to receive two SF novels in the same week.  Both are by authors knew to me so I went into these with no preconceptions.  It's a post catastrophe novel of sorts, set after earthquakes destroyed much of the surface world forcing humans to adapt in some cases to living in underwater cities. The young protagonist and his female friend have various adventures involving undersea criminals and a missing brother, and this allows the author to take us on a tour of her imaginary world.  It's a kind of old fashioned SF adventure, told well enough that with minimal rewriting it could have been a passable novel for adults.  And unlike many current SF novels for adults, it's not padded or bestrewn with messages from the author.  Pretty good.  The second is a little less to my taste, though also well written.  It verges on fantasy because it involves an ancient warrior who had super strength and telepathy.  A modern day cabal brings him forward through time to help them seize power, but as it happens a group of youngsters has recently begun to develop fledgling super powers of their own.  Not completely plausible but not outrageous nonsense.  Both of these gave me hope that YA SF may not be dead after all.  5/10/10

The Unincorporated War by Dani Kollin & Eytan Kollin, Tor, 5/10, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1900-5  

In The Unincorporated Man, the outer colonies in the solar system won a sort of freedom although the inner planets are still dominated by your traditional soulless business corporation.  The latter did not take kindly to having their power reduced and they’re now engaged in a war to reassert their authority in what sometimes feels more like an epic fantasy than science fiction. Space battles and other conflicts ensue in what becomes a mixture of space opera and military SF and although there were exciting sequences and lots of big stage action, I didn’t care for this nearly as much as I did for its predecessor, which reminded me of the kind of SF I enjoyed during the 1960s, with vague touches of early Philip K. Dick.  That’s not to say this isn’t quite readable, but I felt a bit let down, expecting more perhaps than I had any right to. I'd be interested in seeing something in a different vein from this collaborative team. 5/7/10

The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun by Raymond Z. Gallun, Ballantine, 1978

John J. Pierce insists in his introduction that Gallun was one of the three most significant SF writers of the 1930s and 1940s, which position I would not want to have to defend.  This collection opens with his best known short, “Old Faithful”, in which a Martian rides a comet to Earth to briefly meet the human with whom he has been communicating.  Scientific nonsense, but even worse is that the story seems to have no destination.  The story ends without really saying anything.  The same is true of “Derelict” in which a despondent man finds an alien derelict and, with the aid of its robot equipment, sets off on a solitary journey to the stars. “Davey Jones’ Ambassador” is much better, following the adventures of a man who is taken prisoner by an intelligent race living under the oceans.  “Godson of Almarlu” is almost unreadable, as is “The Shadow of the Veil.”  “A Menace in Miniature” is an entertaining though implausible problem story.  “Seeds of the Dusk” is my favorite of Gallun’s shorts.  An intelligent plant from Mars takes root on a dying Earth.  “Hotel Cosmos” has a more modern feel, a security man trying to deal with a crisis at a diplomatic conference involving several races.  There’s a dangerous etheric lifeform on the moon in “Magician of Dream Valley” and adventure in the moons of Jupiter in “The Lotus Engine.”  The last few stories, from much later in his career, are less melodramatic and a bit more thoughtful.  There’s a length afterword by the author reminiscing about his life and how the stories were written.  I can’t really recommend this, but the stories are entertaining enough if you can ignore how dated they are. 5/4/10

The Ark by Stephen Baxter, Roc, 2010, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46331-9

Comparisons between this novel, sequel to Flood, with Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer's When Worlds Collide are inevitable and if, as I suspect, there is another volume coming, it will likely be compared to their sequel, After Worlds Collide.  Earth is well on its way to being completely flooded and most of the world's population is doomed but a handful have been picked to travel in an experimental starship to an Earthlike planet where they can re-establish the human race.  Naturally anyone who hasn't been picked is jealous of the ones who have, and predictably this evolves into violence.  There are plenty of action sequences, but I found myself getting increasingly impatient with the story because the really interesting part - exploring the new world - is promised but never happens.  As with fantasy, the middle volume of a trilogy - assuming this one - has a tendency to be a place marker and less satisfying than the first, which introduces novel situations and characters, and the last, which involves the climax. Baxter is a skillful enough writer to hold your interest, but despite the effort to make the story self contained, you're probably going to finish with a sense of incompletion.  5/3/10

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, audiobook from Recorded Books, read by George Wilson, 1998, ISBN 0-7887-1987-4 

I've been spending an unusually large amount of time driving recently so I went through this audiobook pretty quickly. Although this remains my favorite of the later Heinlein novels, I was painfully aware of Heinlein’s misogyny this time, and the sexual references sound like they were written by a frustrated, fourteen year old male virgin. Ignoring that, we have the moon as a penal colony exploited by the Authority, based on Earth, which keeps them as virtual slaves.  Manny, the narrator, discovers the Mike, the colony’s main computer, is self aware.  After meeting Wyoming Knott, a not very convincing rebel, he decides to enlist Mike’s aid in undercutting the local powers and ultimately winning independence from Earth.  Knott, like many SF females, exists only to be sexy and have things explained to her. The novel is written in an odd style that omits personal pronouns and articles at times, although not consistently, which is more obvious in audio than when read in print, although it is only distracting initially.  I had also forgotten the tediously long – one conversation consumes nearly 20% of the book – arguments about government and economics.  Heinlein gets around flaws in his reasoning by simply ignoring them, and he also assumes that there is an engineering solution to every problem – that it’s just a matter of time until, for example, moon rock can be converted to organic matter and water.   Later in the novel, in fact, he states outright that engineers can find a way to build anything, if it is needed. As with Starship Troopers, the society can only function as described if humans cease to act as humans, but the flaw isn’t as evident this time around and the story is much better.  On the other hand, it’s not clear whether or not Heinlein is in favor of this system, which is a blend of anarchy and libertarianism, as opposed to that in Troopers, which is a blend of democracy and military dictatorship. 

Heinlein also makes pronouncements that occasionally make no sense.  The professor is described as a pacifist, but there is no element of pacifism of any sort in his personality.  He advocates violence, murder – even of innocent people if necessary – and at one point asserts that he would carry out the death sentences himself.  Whatever he is, he is not a pacifist. There is also at least one annoying logical flaw.  Mike computes the odds of success before they start.  During the course of the preparations, he changes those odds but not because of what has happened but because they’ve reached another stage in their plan.  This makes no sense at all mathematically since those steps would have been part of the initial calculations.  Despite all these cavils, it remains one of Heinlein’s most readable novels, and he is exactly right in portraying most “popular” revolutions as the result of actions by a very small, motivated minority over the objections and/or lethargy of the majority.   It sometimes comes across as rather cold blooded, but that’s what happens in real life as well.  Heinlein’s disdain for democracy is also apparent – the first free elections on Luna are rigged by our heroes. Later we are told that the historical record shows that popular governments are worse than tyrannies, a remarkably horrid assertion that Heinlein makes no attempt to support. The reader does an excellent job with the artificial grammar and speech patterns, although at one point he reads “fiat” as “flat”.   5/2/10

Migration by James P. Hogan, Baen, 2010, $23, ISBN 978-1-4391-3352-1

James Hogan returns to an old faithful plot in this one.  After the apocalypse, the survivors on Earth are slowly putting civilization back together, rediscovering science, pushing out the borders of the new nations. But it becomes apparent that humanity has not learned from its mistakes and it is only a matter of time until conflict breaks out again.  So a group decide to put together an expedition to the stars - a generation starship - and colonize a new planet the right way.  Unfortunately, and predictably enough, transplantation to another planet does not change the inner nature of people and the old shortcomings are still there.  Hogan has a definite stance on what's going on, but he doesn't hammer us over the head with it, instead letting the structure of the story make his points for him.  It's what makes his books so much more interesting than those of other writers on both sides of the political spectrum who hammer us over the head with their opinions.  I've rarely found a Hogan novel that couldn't hold my attention and this is definitely not one of that minority.  5/2/10

He Walked Among Us by Norman Spinrad, Tor, 2010, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2584-6

Many years ago when I read Bug Jack Barron, I was bowled over by its power.  Although I have enjoyed most of Spinrad's subsequent novels, none of them have seemed to me to share that quality in equal measure.  This one - which like BJB had trouble finding an English language publishers - seems to me to come the closest.  The premise is rather simple.  There's an entertainer, for lack of a better word, who claims to be from the future, back in our time to warn us about the bad choices we're making. Actually, I think the bad choices are for the most part fairly obvious even without intervention, but that's another discussion.  A failed SF writer, a promoter, and others combine to refurbish the man's image and make him a more effective voice, perhaps changing the future after all.  But is he just a charlatan or is he telling the truth?  I'll leave it to the reader to decide that question.  A very polished novel with the vigor of the author at his best.  5/1/10

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