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

LAST UPDATE 12/30/09 

Remote Control by Jack Heath, Scholastic, 2010, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-07591-6

In some ways this sequel to The Lab (both were previously published in Australia) recapitulates the plot of the first in the series.  Our hero, code name the Ace of Hearts, is a biogenetically enhanced teenaged secret agent in a future (?) version of Australia. As before, he is neither fish nor fowl.  His fellow agents are suspicious of his abilities and loyalties, and the enemy is, naturally, uninterested in nuances of character.  So he's on his own in a complex web of alliances and betrayals.  The series is targeted as young adults, and I found the first book readable but not outstanding.  This time there is considerable more self confidence on the author.  The characters are better drawn, the plot more crisply constructed, and I found it thoroughly engrossing.  There's a third in the series, not yet available in this country, and I'll be looking forward to it.  12/30/09

Double Jeopardy by David Sherman & Dan Cragg, Del Rey, 2009, $25, ISBN 978-0-345-50101-1

Wings of Hell by David Sherman & Dan Cragg, Del Rey, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-50100-4

    Two new Starfist novels for fans of military SF. These two authors have been expanding this series ever since they started writing together.  The human race is at war with the Skinks, fighting in space and on the surface of various worlds.  In Double Jeopardy, the unit which revealed the existence of the aliens to the public is still in the doghouse, but now that the cat's out of the bag - I couldn't resist the flood of cliche given the subject matter - the fat is in the fire. They're sent back into battle on a colony world where the enemy seems determined to win at any cost.  Wings of Hell reveals the details of how the news got out and how the public is being swayed by dumb liberals who think the aliens are cute and should be handled with respect even though they've attacked without warning.  The politics are primitive and mind numbingly stupid and if I hadn't already read the other book, I probably never would have.  It's bad enough to have a book turn out to be badly concealed propaganda, but the use of comic book style paper tigers is insulting as well.  The authors are quite good at writing action sequences but dreadful when they attempt more than superficial characterization or anything approaching sophisticated poltiics.  12/28/09

Young Flandry by Poul Anderson, Baen, 2010, $13, ISBN 978-1-4391-3327-9

Dominic Flandry is probably my favorite of Poul Anderson's recurring characters.  This omnibus edition includes the story of his first major escapade, Ensign Flandry, written comparatively late in the series and pitting him against the alien Merseians as well as his own compatriots.  A Circus of Hells involves a supposedly uninhabited moon and a lost treasure, and obviously things are not as they seem.  The Rebel Worlds is one of my favorites.  Sensing that the galactic empire is on the verge of collapse, a charismatic leader prepares to lead a rebellion, but Flandry arrives to negotiate a less violent outcome.  All three are excellent, exciting adventure stories but with a sober note at times, particularly in the first, which was in part a commentary on the war in Vietnam.  12/28/09

Nine Black Doves by Roger Zelazny, NESFA, 2009, $29, ISBN 978-1-886

This is volume five in NESFA's reprinting of the complete short fiction of one of the best short story writers ever in SF.  Only a couple of the entries this time are among his major works, although even his lesser stuff makes most writers look like amateurs.  Included also are bibliographic material, several articles, and some odds and ends including outlines for stories Zelazny never wrote.  Only a couple of the stories were new to me and I re-read selectively from among the others.  One of these weeks after the sixth volume appears, I'm going to sit down and read all of them straight through.  I expect it to be one of the more memorable weeks of my life.  12/28/09

Brain Thief by Alexander Jablokov, Tor, 1/10, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2200-5  

It has been far too long since the last Jablokov novel appeared.  This one is rather unlike anything I’ve previously read by him, a complicated story with several interlocking plots.  In part, it’s about a kind of new Luddite movement, with a villain who is opposed to the creation of artificial intelligences and not too fussy about what he will do to prevent them from existing.  There is an artificial intelligence as well, but our protagonist – who has a variety of problems – is puzzled about some unexpected aspects of its performance.  There’s a whole handful of other menacing figures, killers and crooks, neurotics and criminals, and an exciting plot with an undercurrent of wry humor.  This is one of those rare and rewarding novels that mixes a well told story with some genuinely interesting questions about the shape of the future. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another ten years for the next book because writing of this quality is rare enough already. 12/23/09

The Doom Machine by Mark Teague, Blue Sky, 2009, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-15142-9 

Artist and children’s book writer Mark Teague turns to SF for his first YA novel.  This is a definitely not to be taken seriously story in which two more than credibly brilliant kids cross paths with a human thief and an inhuman invader who finds the human race more of a problem than expected, particularly its younger representatives.  Although this isn’t badly written, it is definitely for the younger set.  The jokes are generally silly, the situations implausible, the characters exaggerated and unrealistic.  Despite all that there’s a certain level of fun there, but you have to really set aside your adult filters if you’re going to enjoy it. Unless, of course, you don't have any adult filters in the first place. 12/20/09

Orphan Star by Alan Dean Foster, Brilliance audio, read by Stefan Rudnicki, 2009, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-4233-9553-9  

The third Flinx novel, though actually second in the series, has Flinx crossing paths with a disreputable businessman and his telepathic daughter, where he catches a hint of information relating to his parents, about whom he knows nothing.  His quest for self discovery takes him to Earth and then to a proscribed planet.  He is accompanied by Pip, the flying snake, and for a time by a young Thranx female whom he coerces rather shamelessly into helping him. They uncover a plot by the Aahn and are nearly killed on more than one occasion.  There are some plot problems with this one.  The Aahn are using the power of some rare jewels to cause the suicides of prominent humans and Thranx.  Although we are told that in only one case was there a survivor and that the other cases were arranged to look like very destructive accidents, the authorities suspect the plot – but completely without reason or evidence since the survivor is comatose.  And if they think that there is such a plot, why don’t they connect it to the power of the jewels, which is presumably known to them since they have proscribed the planet where they originate? And if it isn’t known to them, how did the Aahn and the human criminals know to come to the proscribed planet to mine them? Even Flinx doesn’t make the connection, after having been exposed to the power of the jewel.  An entertaining space adventure but not as good as the first in the series, or most of those that followed. The reader is particularly good doing the dialogue by the ursine aliens. 12/17/09

The Domino Pattern by Timothy Zahn, Tor, 1/10, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2212-8 

Frank Compton is back for his fourth adventure in one of my favorite space opera series, one which has the interesting device of travel among the stars on trains running through a kind of hyperspatial tube.  The Modhri is an infectious mass mind attempting to seize control of the various alien races who inhabit this universe, including humans.  The Spiders are aliens who manage the rail system and who sometimes help Compton in his battle to thwart the plans of the Modhri.   He and his companion Bayta, a woman who can communicate telepathically with the Spiders, are on a cross galaxy express train when one of the alien passengers is poisoned, which is supposed to be impossible on the trains. The another of his species dies and Compton tries to unravel a clever and still unfolding murder plot.  A big chunk of the book is a kind of modified locked room mystery as more of the passengers fall victim to the subtle poisoner, and some of the passengers continue to behave enigmatically.  There seems to be a connection to an imminent decision on an interstellar business deal and perhaps has nothing at all to do with the Modhri, but a more mundane killer and leave Compton just as dead. The human liaison for the business group does not appear to have many admirers among their number, which makes Compton suspicious.  There’s also a passenger with chronic stomach trouble and an attitude, and a doctor affiliated with the business group who acts mildly suspiciously at times. The Modhri eventually puts in an appearance, but perhaps on Compton’s side this time.  Until near the end, when we discover a new source of trouble, this is more of a place holder in the series than an advancement, but still a refreshingly fast paced and smooth entertainment. 12/16/09

The Battle of Devastation Reef by Graham Sharp Paul, Del Rey, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51370-0 

I haven’t read the previous book in this series but the story is so formulaic that it didn’t really matter if I missed an installment.  Our hero is a brilliant and successful military officer in a vast interstellar war, and naturally his success means that his fellow officers are jealous of his position and secretly hope for and occasionally plot toward his failure in the future.  Now he’s in charge of a mission critical to the survival of the good guys against the evil interstellar empire, the destruction of a military installation which produces weapons against which our heroes have inadequate defenses.  Pretty much what you’d expect follows, interspersed with weapons porn talk and battles described in lush and unnecessary detail.  There’s an audience for this stuff obviously, and I confess that I’ve enjoyed some of the adventures of Honor Harrington and a few imitators, but it wouldn’t have taken much to turn this one into a World War II action novel so why bother to make it into SF? 12/15/09

Rion by Susan Kearney, Grand Central, 12/09, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-446-54332-3  

Most fantastic romance involves magic or the supernatural, but there are still a few writers who dabble with interplanetary romance.  This is a kind of blend of the two, a novel of the Pendragon Legacy.  The lovers in this case are a telepathic woman from Earth and a mysterious visitor from the other side of the galaxy, one of a race that has been enslaved by a typically villainous rival empire. Their relationship eventually impacts the future of his race in a not very plausible, and not very scientifically astute, blend of romance and high adventure.  I really didn’t care for this a whole lot although it did keep me reading until the end.  I've read significantly better books by this author in the past. 12/14/09

The Sapphire Sirens by John Zakour, DAW, 12/09, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0581-6  

The first few books in this series – a spoof of futuristic detective stories – struck me as funny and I enjoyed them a lot.  Then they started to repeat gimmicks and situations and I found them still entertaining but considerably less funny.  This one picks up a bit although it’s another exaggeratedly female dominated society, an Amazonian domed colony which is having to deal with the first murder in its history.  And it was the reigning queen who was the victim.  So our hero is shanghaied to the city to solve the crime, assisted only by his hologrammatic sidekick.  I think the reason I liked this one a lot better than the previous couple is that there is a genuinely interesting puzzle this time – who killed the queen and why?  Some of the jokes are slightly stale, but the tone is considerably less silly than it sometimes has been.  A definite upturn. 12/13/09

Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson, Spectra, 2009, $26, ISBN 978-0-553-80659-5  

Every new Kim Stanley Robinson novel is a major event. This one deals with the past and the future. Galileo was probably the first real scientist in the modern sense, a fact which is central to Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel.  In the far future, a question concerning the shape and direction of science among the inhabitant of the Jovian moons results in a trip back through time to pluck Galileo out of his own era and use him as a kind of moral imperative in a debate which he can barely comprehend.  The story alternates between his visits to the future and his life in the past, and the latter is actually a far more interesting and compelling story given what happened because he refused to recant what his senses and intellect told him was true.  It’s one of those rare novels that is “about something” other than the story itself, and the question of science’s role in society and society’s treatment of science is obviously one that has just as much importance today as it did in Galileo’s time.  The man himself is brought vividly to life as are his times and troubles. This is another that is not just about a scientific point but about science itself.  12/12/09

Breathless by Dean R. Koontz, Bantam, 2009, $28, ISBN 978-0-553-80715-8  

The latest Koontz thriller opens with several odd and apparently unconnected incidents.  A man and his dog see two unidentified animals in the woods.  A bunch of rescue dogs and several horses respond to a stimulus invisible to humans.  A man murders his twin brother and his wife and plans to hide on their farm in anticipation of some unidentified global crisis which is not described, but the bodies disappear.  A professional card player begins giving away his earnings and feels he is responding to an external force.   I kept waiting for the story lines to converge, and some of them do, some of them don’t, and some sort of collide rather than converging.  There’s a completely unconvincing refutation of Darwinian evolution on the basis that the Earth isn’t old enough for it to have taken place, and the suggestion that the appearance of new – intelligent – lifeforms on Earth is a kind of divine intervention, a spontaneous creation.   Koontz has written some very effective novels like Intensity, but he has also produced some less than satisfying books.  This is among the latter. 12/9/09

Makers by Cory Doctorow, Tor, 2009, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1279-2  

I’ve loved the funny mad scientist story ever since reading Robots Have No Tails by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore many years ago.  This isn’t exactly in that tradition, but it’s pretty close.  The two protagonists are ingenious inventors whose many innovations change the world in sometimes quite amusing, sometimes quite interesting ways.  When a reversal of their fortunes puts them into competition with the Disney empire, they attract the attention of a rogue executive with even fewer scruples than the real ones.  This proceeds rapidly – precipitously even – into an even more outrageous farce.  One of my regrets is that satirical novels have become so rare in SF over the years, but this one goes a long way toward making up the deficit.  Not to be taken too seriously obviously, but then I find that a very large portion of recent SF takes itself entirely too seriously and this provides a nice and long overdue antidote. 12/7/09

Starship: Flagship by Mike Resnick, Pyr, 12/09, $26, ISBN 978-1-59102-788-1  

The fifth and final volume of this military SF series has Wilson Cole and his followers taking on the entire space navy of an empire that dwarfs them to insignificance.  Just when the battle seems as hopeless as it actually would be if this was a true story, fate intervenes in the form of yet another powerful alien race.  Cole successfully performs a military and political ballet, gets all the forces aligned into the proper configuration, and ends up king of the hill.  None of this comes as a surprise, obviously, and the fun is in following the highly improbable chain of events that leads from impossible situation to favorable outcome.  Resnick does this larger than life stuff better than anyone else but I have to confess that I was a little let down by the deus ex machina, or alien ex machina I suppose, solution.  Still lots of fun though. 12/4/09

Total Oblivion, More or Less by Alan Deniro, Ballantine Spectra, 2009, $15, ISBN 978-0-553-59254-2  

After many years in which Rudy Rucker and Paul Di Filippo seemed to be among the very few SF writers who could get away with satire, there has been a recent mini-resurgence.  This one straddles the borders between SF and Fantasy, using a common recent shortcut borrowed from quantum physics, i.e. the laws of the universe abruptly change in some fashion.  In this case, modern technological devices cease to work properly and time gets unstuck.  An army of Scythian barbarians invades the Midwest and our heroine becomes a refugee fleeing to the south along the river.  Their episodic adventures – including an encounter with a talking dog – make up the bulk of the book.  I think what made this work for me was the absolutely serious tone the author takes even while describing the most unlikely events.  I prescribe this one for any reader who is tired of re-reading variations of the same old plots with the same old outcomes. 12/2/09

Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom by Tim Byrd, Putnam, 2009, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-399-24783-5 

This is a kind of kids’ version of Indiana Jones mixed with Doc Savage.  The Wilde children are involved in the search for their grandfather in this first novel, probably also first in a series. The tone is summed up in one passage.  “Grandpa was missing again.  Cool!”  Before long the kids are set upon by mutant frogs who seem to have an agenda that involves the capture or destruction of the Wilde family.  High adventure follows, but the tone is so light that it is more amusing than engaging and the story meanders rather than rushes to a conclusion.  The idea of a younger readers’ version of Doc Savage might be worth pursuing, but I think it needs to take itself a little more seriously than this. 12/2/09

Torch of Freedom by David Weber and Eric Flint, Baen, 2009, $26, ISBN 978-1-4391-3305-7  

Although this is set in the Honor Harrington universe, it’s not one of her adventures since Weber has already pretty well described her career.  The bad guys on Haven are still around though, but this time their agent might be acting on the side of the angels.  The assassinations of several good guys is generally believed to be a Havenite plot, but one of their spies helps investigate because he believes a third party is involved rather than another faction of his own government.  The politics become more complex as the book progresses, however, evolving into a multi-party conflict where alliances and oppositions are conditional and not absolute.  It’s a fair representation of real life, as a matter of fact, and a far more realistic set up than that in the early Harrington novels, where the political structure is simply a convenient setup for the main storyline.  Weber has usually been at his best with the Harrington novels, and Flint is one of Baen’s most interesting writers, so this collaboration – not their first – is a treat for fans of both and those of military SF in particular. 12/1/09

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke, read by Eric Michael Summerer, Brilliance Audio, 2009, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-4233-9503-4    

Just finished listening to this audiobook last night.  The classic Arthur C. Clarke novel creaks a bit with age, but is still basically as appealing as ever.  Humanity achieves a utopian society, but only under the supervision of the Overlords, an alien race with nearly magical powers.  In three parts, separated by generations, we see the transformation of humanity to its next stage of existence – a discorporate mass entity.  The anachronisms are minor – the aliens use teletypes – and Clarke’s view of the transformation of human society is rather unrealistic. The aliens present a machine that allows historians to view the past, and evidence that religions are all based on false assumptions causes the world to become completely atheist.  Nope.  Many people would assume that the device was rigged to fool them, or just blithely ignore the evidence.  Also, Clarke posits that two discoveries would wipe away all sexual inhibitions – an effective contraceptive and a means of detecting the identity of a child’s father.  Since we have close to the former and DNA provides the latter, obviously this didn’t and wouldn’t happen.  The Overlords are actually there to watch over the transformation of the human race into a discorporate mass entity, somewhat justified by circumstances although Clarke’s vision strikes me as depressing rather than wonderful.  The reading is fine and the performance lasts almost eight hours.  A revisit to an old favorite and one of those rare SF novels that doesn't have any villains.  11/30/09

Liberating Atlantis by Harry Turtledove, Roc, 2009, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46296-1  

Volume three in an interesting alternate history series in which the continent of Atlantis never sank and became a British colony.  In the previous book, there was a predictable rebellion along the lines of the American Revolutionary War, but Turtledove assumes that other parallels would hold true, including the inferior position of former Black slaves and Native Atlanteans (e.g. Native Americans).  The primary protagonist in this title is one of the former who decides that he is not content with his subordinate status, and history strays widely from that of the USA when he helps lead a rebellion by the subject races against their European derived masters.  This one is sort of a blend of alternate history, military SF, straight adventure, and political machinations.  I’ve felt that some of Turtledove’s recent alternate history was beginning to feel stale, but this series has been a step upward and this is the best so far in the sequence. 11/28/09

The Prisoner by Carlos J. Cortes, Ballantine Spectra, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59163-7  

Back when I first started reading SF, there were lots of dystopian novels most of which – unlike Orwell’s 1984 – ended with a successful overthrow or at least the suggestion that freedom would triumph.  Dytopias nowadays tend to be more tenuous and less obvious, but they also generally persist even when the book ends, perhaps a sign of our general depression about the future.  This novel is more akin to the former, although it is a lot more realistic and a lot closer in time than those of the past.  The face of the future is an elaborate prison system which contains not only obvious criminals but also political prisoners whose detention is not entirely legal.  A group of activists hatches a plan to infiltrate one such prison and arrange the escape of a pivotal figure whose liberation might prompt exposure of the entire corrupt system.  Unfortunately, they discover instead that the repressive forces are more efficient, widespread, and powerful than they had anticipated.  A bit depressing at times because it makes use of trends that already exist in our world, extrapolating from them, but also very well done. 11/25/09

Synthesis by James Swallow, Pocket, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-0914-4

Precipice by David Mack, Pocket, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-3011-7 

The first of these is part of the Titan subset of the Star Trek universe, following the adventures of Riker, exec in The Next Generation, now captain of his own ship. They encounter an anomaly in space and investigation reveals that they have stumbled upon the remains of an apparently sentient and unscrewed starship.  They manage to revive it and learn of an entire civilization remote from the Federation which has been battling a mysterious menace that could wreak havoc throughout the galaxy.  And naturally Riker and his crew are about to turn the tide of battle against the menace.  I didn’t find the AI civilization particularly convincing or interesting, but it was really a sideshow for the conflict with the Null – the big bad of this particular novel.  Okay but unexceptional. The second falls into the Vanguard subset, which involves various minor characters from the on screen Trek universe.  The plot is not very tight this time.  Several people are caught in diverse situations – spying on a dangerous world, imprisoned by Klingons, etc. – but the various story lines all get drawn together at the end.  I’ve read previous Trek novels by Mack and they’ve varied considerably.  This one has its moments but on the whole I just never got involved with any of the problems. 11/21/09

Under the Dome by Stephen King, Scribners, 2009, $35, ISBN 978-1-4391-4850-1 

Stephen King’s latest is pure science fiction, a vague echo of John Wyndham’s classic The Midwich Cuckoos.  At nearly 1100 pages, it disrupted my plan to read at least a book a day.  A small town in Maine is cut off from the outside world by a dome that exactly conforms to the borders of the town.  A variety of characters are trapped inside including an ex-special services officer who has run afoul of a gang of nasty youths, one of whom is the son of the town’s most prominent politician.  The son is in fact homicidally insane although no one knows that early on.  There are predictable accidents, experiments, and confusion involving the barrier, which allows air and a trickle of water through but nothing else in either direction.  The army guards the outside border – although they are forbidden to talk to or even look at the residents, a wrinkle which is never explained and which I didn’t understand at all.  The government shuts down their telephones and threatens to do the same with their internet connection, which I also found implausible.  The uproar from the public outside the dome would be overwhelming.  These cavils aside, the story – and it’s a long one, over 1000 pages – proceeds at a rapid and completely absorbing pace. The army wants the ex-soldier to locate and neutralize the source, which they believe to be inside.  They also reinstate him as an officer and order him to declare martial law.  The politician wants to avoid exposure for his embezzlement of public funds.  A local priest who is borderline insane decides that God is speaking to him.  The murderous young man and his friends are appointed as special police.  Several of the kids in town have brief seizures in which they say nonsensical things which, pretty obviously, are clues about what is really going on.

Is it a good read?  Yes, basically, but I had a number of problems with it.  For one thing, the reaction both inside and outside the dome just didn't convince me that it was realistic.  At one point it is suggested that the government has abandoned the trapped people, even though only a couple of days have passed.  As mentioned, there is no perceptible public outcry and some of the actions of the authorities make no sense.  Similarly, in the absence of immediate threat or shortages, I can't see conditions deteriorating inside the dome quite so quickly.  The chief villain and his son might both be insane, but most of the minor thugs had to be at least aware that if the dome is breached, they're in very big trouble. The residents of the town have a frustrating and not entirely believable habit of confronting the villain in private, and getting killed or beaten for their efforts, even when they know he's capable of murder.  There is a little bloating - some of the subplots including the rape and its aftermath - contribute nothing to the main plot and just dissipate some of the suspense.  In fact, that's my biggest complaint.  There's not a whole lot of suspense here.  Much of the plot unravels just as we expect it to, and there's never any real sense of menace from the mysterious dome creators.  Most of King's novels have held me so riveted that I hated to go to bed leaving one unfinished.  I had no trouble setting this one aside half way through.  11/16/09

Diving into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Pyr, 11/09, $16, ISBN 978-1-59102-786-7  

Rusch’s latest space opera is essentially the story of a treasure hunt with unintended consequences.  The protagonist is a businesswoman who explores abandoned spaceships for salvage, but who is also interested in abstract knowledge about the ships’ various histories. Then she encounters an anomaly, an oversized, deserted hulk of considerable antiquity, so old in fact that there is no way that it could have traveled the distance from Earth.  She decides to ferret out the secrets of its presence and hires a crew to help her, unaware of what she’s getting into.  I won’t spoil things by telling you just what it is they find, but it’s a pretty good mystery.  That said, I have to complain.  This was the third recent book I’ve read that is written in present tense, and the third time in a row that it struck me as unnecessary and counterproductive, particularly first person present tense. I don’t know what the author was trying to accomplish because it doesn’t add to the suspense or atmosphere, and it definitely detracted from my ability to enjoy the story because it felt so artificial. It only complicated the difficulty I felt trying to identify with the protagonist, who did not strike me as a particularly competent manager or entrepreneur.  Not up to the author's usual high standards. 11/13/09

Fall With Honor by E.E. Knight, read by Christian Rummel, Brilliance Audio, 2009, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-4418-0844-8

Winter Duty by E.E. Knight, read by Christian Rummel, Brilliance Audio, 2009, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-4418-0849-3

The flood of audiobooks continues and these two are of novels I've recently read, so they're getting relegated to the bottom of the stack.  I find that listening to an audiobook is a much different experience than reading it in conventional form.  Part of this has to do with the individual reader, of course, but it's more than that.  I tried listening to Edgar Rice Burroughs and the clunky prose is much more obvious when you hear it spoken aloud.  On the other hand, I enjoyed Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson even more in audio form than when I first read it, a considerable accomplishment.  These two are volumes seven and eight respectively of the Vampire Earth series, and you can read by original views here (Fall with Honor and Winter Duty).  Basically I thought the first was okay but unmemorable and the second considerably better.  The series - Vampire Earth - involves an invasion by aliens who are basically rationalized vampires, but as the series progressed it became more military oriented and by this point the aliens are basically just differently enabled humans.  The earlier books - which are apparently also available in this format - are generally better, or maybe it's just that I have become jaded by the continuing story of human resistance to their enemies.  There is also an interesting, short introduction by the author which I did listen to. It's nice to see a wider selection of SF titles appearing in audiobook form, but why couldn't they have been available when I was commuting an hour a day?  11/13/09

Destroyer of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner, Tor, 11/09, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2205-0

Another return to Known Space, one of my favorite created universes.  The galactic core has exploded and myriad alien races are fleeing the destruction in vast armadas of spaceships.  The exodus has not been a peaceful one.  Worlds and races encountered by the refugees have been raided, exploited, attacked, and ruined for one reason or another, and the wave of violence and xenocide is not slowing.  Standing in their way – or perhaps I should say cowering in their way – are the Puppeteers, probably the smartest race in the galaxy, but a race which displays no physical courage at all.  They can, however, manipulate others, in this case a group of humans.  I really hated the character names – “Thssthfok” and “Gw’oth” for example, and my reaction whenever they came up probably made the text seem choppier than it really is.  Writers, have a have little mercy for those of us who subvocalize!  A fun story otherwise, although the end is not entirely a happy one. 11/10/09

The Honor of the Queen by David Weber, read by Allyson Johnson, Brilliance Audio, 2009, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-4233-9528-7

The second Honor Harrington novel gets off to an awkward start.  Although the first book had occasional brief diversions into polemics against the evils of the welfare state, they didn’t significantly affect the pace of the novel.  In this case, virtually nothing happens during the first hour – and it’s harder to skim or skip in an audiobook.  As usual with either proponents of the left or right or off to either side, the argument is framed by setting up a stupid character as a paper tiger, in this case referred to by Harrington as a “nincompoop.”  The arguments are simplistic, didactic, and boring, and at times nonsensical.  For example, the stupid diplomat states that all military conflicts result from a failure of diplomacy.  This statement causes raised eyebrows and other signs of consternation and we are led to believe that it is a stupid statement.  But in fact in the sense that is meant here, it is incontrovertibly true.  If diplomacy failed to avert conflict then it failed, even if there was no possibility of succeeding.  Harrington herself makes this same point a short time later, which makes the initial reaction absurd. There is also a great deal of technobabble filler.  At one point, we have nearly thirty minutes of description of the arrival of a fleet in a new system, mostly descriptions of the various stages of deceleration through hyperspace, which contains zero actual content, no scientific basis, no contribution to the plot, nothing even to help establish background. It’s just padding. 

The plot itself involves a diplomatic mission to one of two patriarchal planets halfway between the good guys, Mantichore, and the bad guys, Haven.  Each has sent missions to one of the two repressive theocracies to cultivate an ally and a forward base in the event of war.   Both societies relegate women to extremely subordinate roles, which makes one wonder why Mantichore would send a task force commanded by a woman, but then again, they also send a diplomatic mission that is not united on their approach to the problem, which makes even less sense.  Perhaps unintentionally, Harrington doesn’t come across as particularly admirable this time.  At one point she is described as so obsessed with the wielding of power that she is unable to delegate authority.  Later, she is so upset by the local attitude toward women that she finds an excuse to take herself away from the repressive planet for eleven days, leaving behind the majority of her female officers to deal with the problem on their own. Hardly a case of leadership by example. Later she attempts to summarily execute a prisoner just after preventing one of her officers from doing the same thing.  Admittedly he deserved death, but a seasoned commander such as herself would not be so appalled by a predictable atrocity that they would lose all discipline and common sense. 

I was also completely taken aback following Harrington’s decision to personally lead a short term mission away from the chauvinist world because she is depressed by the way they have treated her.  One of the ensigns is chastised for suggesting that this is her motivation, but the officer she discusses it with, who seems to speak for the author, insists that this is not the case, that the captain wouldn’t “run away.”  But that’s exactly what she did, as she herself later admits.  While she’s gone, there’s a sneak attack that kills the chief of mission – leaving the paper tiger caricatured “liberal” to command, except that he’s a blubbering coward.  As soon as she returns, an externally managed coup attempt is foiled in large part because she happens to be in the room when the assassins arrive.  A few space battles follow and the second half of the book is much better than the first.   

The problem I have with this, and many other of Weber’s novels, is two fold.  First of all, a certain amount of technobabble and weapons porn is inevitable, but sometimes the author seems to get caught up in it for its own sake.  A good editor would have stripped about twenty percent out of this book and the novel would have been much better.  The second is his polemics, which were tolerable in the first in the series but have grown to be irritatingly intrusive in this one.  I don’t like to be lectured about politics, either from right or left, particularly when the lecture is shaped in such a way that one side necessarily looks ridiculous.  This is particularly annoying because Weber has a very good sense of storytelling otherwise, as evidenced by the fact that I keep reading/listening to them.  When actually telling his story, Weber does a fine job.  Unfortunately he tends to weigh things down with excess baggage that is particularly distracting in audio format.  11/9/09

Cities of the Dead by Peter Edgar, Digit, 1963  

I vaguely recall enjoying this British SF novel, which never appeared in the US. A pair of scientists is en route to a remote atoll aboard a private ship when they encounter a bizarre phenomenon at sea and catch a glimpse of a gigantic, unknown sea creature. Their radio is disabled when they strike it a glancing blow.  Their mission is a closely held secret, although for some reason the government isn’t involved. One of them – the female of course – falls overboard and has to be rescued.  All of this takes place in the first six pages!  Some of the early scenes as they investigate a devastated island are pretty good, but the story declines sharply after that.  Thousands of giant sea crocodiles – previously unseen – have ravaged all the coasts in the world within the next few days.  Although our heroes, who are in South America now, have no trouble dispatching several of them, modern naval ships are unable to cope and most coastal cities are evacuated.  We hear about this but never see anything, our viewpoint confined to the original characters, who are more menaced by a renegade American naval officer than by the reptiles.  Scientifically impossible events continue with characters acting increasingly unrealistically, until a massive gas attack is launched against the critters.  Not a lost classic. 11/3/09

The Lost Fleet: Relentless by Jack Campbell, read by Christian Rummel, Brilliance Audio, 2009, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-4418-0639-0

I have been receiving a large number of new SF audiobooks lately, slightly more than I can reasonably manage to listen to.  This was one of them and since I'd read the novel recently, I'm not going to be listening to the audio book any time soon.  It's the fifth in the series and I don't think the previous volumes have been released in this format, which strikes me as a strategic error.  Campbell is actually John Hemry, who writes an even better military oriented SF series under that name.  The series is quite serviceable - no pun intended - and this one features a daring raid against considerable odds.  I found it enjoyable enough though it doesn't stray very far from its basic formula. Geary, the protagonist, is one of those larger than life characters who turns out to be right even when he's wrong.   This particular publisher seems to lean heavily toward space opera for some reason, but they've also been choosing some classic SF long overdue for audio presentation.  11/1/09

Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt, Ace, 2009, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-441-01763-8  

It should be enough to just say that there’s a new McDevitt novel out and you should go get it, but I’ll say a little more.  First of all, this is a nice change of pace from his various recent space adventures, a traditional time travel story in which a scientist disappears into time.  His son decides to search for him, visiting historical events as widely disparate as the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, to the declining years of Galileo.  Naturally he and a friend get into trouble along the way, more than once, but they are resourceful enough to escape the consequences.  The paradoxes are handled with some cleverness, particularly in the opening chapters.  Time travel in this case is a bit like magic since the time machines are hand held devices which somehow know exactly how to send a single person and his or her clothing to the designated place and time.  It’s all good fun and you’ll like it.  Trust me. 10/30/09

Innocence Proves Nothing by Sandy Mitchell, Black Library, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-676-3  

Despite my aversion to certain aspects of the Warhammer 40000 universe – I don’t like mixing demons with outer space – I have to confess that I continue to read and even enjoy some of the tie-in novels placed in that setting. One of the best of those contributing to this shared universe is Sandy Mitchell, who writes more general SF as Alex Stewart.  This one involves a revival of the Inquisition to weed out heretics among the church dominated human population, and an investigation into criminal organizations that may be riddled with the ungodly.  You might have some trouble figuring out who the good guys are in this context, but the story moves quickly and is among the more imaginative in this series. Although the Warhammer SF line is overwhelmingly military SF, this one is more like a mixture of espionage and detective story, with some unusual and welcome twists to enliven it.  10/28/09

Small Miracles by Edward M. Lerner, Tor, 10/09, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2094-0  

Nanotechnology pops up with increasing frequency in SF lately, and even though I’m skeptical about its practicality, it often provides the basis of a good story.  When medicinal nanobots save the life of one of the protagonists of this novel, it is heralded as a decided advance for medicine.  But the survivor undergoes certain personality changes which are initially attributed to his brush with death.  As time goes on, some of his closer associates begin to realize that something subtle but fundamental has been altered as well, and they begin to suspect that there may be a very unexpected side effect to the treatment. What is even more disturbing is the discovery that the phenomenon might not be confined to a single individual, and it might be impossible to reverse.  A very powerful argument for deliberation with experimental techniques as well as a suspenseful story – a modern day Frankenstein with the potential for global tragedy. 10/26/09

Harbinger by Jack Skillingstead, Fairwood, 10/09, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-9820730-3-2  

After reading the blurb for this one, I didn’t think I was going to like it and I kept pushing it down the stack.  Immortals searching for meaning through the generations are not among my favorite plot devices.  The protagonist achieves longevity in a mysterious fashion following the accidental death of his mother, and he doesn’t know why.  His journey of discovery involves revelations about the fundamental structure of the universe, time and space, and our perceptions of reality.  It is also in a sense a story about the evolution of intelligence.  Some sections were fascinating, but my early suspicion proved true – the break with our version of reality was too great a jump and my willingness to disbelieve wasn’t strong enough to bridge the gap.  I’ve read enough short fiction by the author that the good writing was no surprise, but the concept just didn’t interest me. 10/24/09

Quest of the Spider by Kenneth Robeson, 1933  

Not all of the Doc Savage novels are SF unless you classify him as a superman, but to be consistent I'll lump them all here.  Doc third outing pits him against the Gray Spider, a mysterious crime lord who heads a cult that may be involved with voodoo. Doc survives a series of attacks before going on the offensive.  The Gray Spider wants to seize control of the timber industry, for some reason, and a major figure in the latter appeals to Doc for help.  There’s poison gas, a giant alligator, and other insidious weaponry and dangers, and Doc disposes of a lot of the minor opposition with minimal aid from his friends. The dialogue is notoriously bad in this entire series, but rarely as bad as it is here.  Nor is the depiction of voodoo anywhere near reality.  The unmasking of the Gray Spider is another case of no surprise because no other candidates are available.  The closing chapters actually get exciting but the earlier action scenes are comparatively limp. 10/22/09

Grand Junction by Maurice Dantec, Del Rey, 2009, $18, ISBN 978-0-345-49994-3  

The premise for this novel, first published in France, is that our technology grows so dependent upon microprocessors and computers that about fifty years ago a wave of viruses literally destroys most of the infrastructure of the world.  Civilization crashes and a very large portion of the population dies.  A decade later, we have a post-technological barbarian system characterized by violence and disorder.  The only holdouts are the residents of Grand Junction, who have managed to preserve some semblance of the former civilization, but they are targeted by another wave of viruses, this time capable of affecting humans as well as machines.  This is all the build up to a wild and woolly battle between some counter culture heroes and the Big Bad responsible for all the devastation.  I had a problem with some of the explanation in this one and found it really difficult to believe in the set up.  The protagonist didn’t thrill me either.  But the real killer was that it’s written in present tense.  I stopped twice and left it for a couple of days, then forged onward.  My understanding is that present tense is much more common in France, and therefore not necessarily an affectation, but it still gave the story an artificiality that I couldn’t sidestep. 10/21/09

Boilerplate by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett, Abrams, 2009, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8109-8950-4

I suppose this should have been listed in non-fiction because it's sort of an art book, but not exactly.  It's the SF equivalent of Woody Allen's Zelig, i.e., it's the history of a robot built in 1893 - named Boilerplate - designed to be an artificial soldier.  The text relates his history, visiting the North Pole, at San Juan Hill, and so forth until his disappearance after World War I.  The text is secondary however to the photographs, historical ones of various important world events, with Boilerplate's image added in to suggest that he was there.  The interposition is beautifully done throughout in both color and black and white.  I particularly liked the section on the Boilerplate pulp magazine with reproductions of several of the covers.  You can get a good preview of this at  In addition to being a nifty book, I'm impressed with the comparatively low price for such an obviously expensive project.  Definitely worth tracking this one down.  10/19/09

The Lab by Jack Heath, Scholastic, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-545-07594-4  

Superhero fiction seems to be enjoying some new popularity lately.  In this tale for young adults, our hero is part of a secretive organization that fights the bad guys and he’s the most promising member.  The lab of the title is an even more secretive organization that functions as a kind of hidden government, and in fact our hero’s powers are derived in large part from their work in biogenetics, although his companions don’t know that.  When the inevitable clash between the two groups occurs, he is caught in the middle, afraid that his friends will become suspicious of him because of his origin. Lots of action follows before the final showdown.  There’s not a lot of texture to this novel, which is all about surface action, although there is some effort to provide some characterization.  It’s kind of a fun read, but it’s also the kind of novel you won’t remember next month, or maybe not even next week. 10/18/09

Z-Rex by Steve Cole, Philomel, 2009, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-399-25253-2  

I have quite a stack of young adult fiction piled up so here's my first stab at cutting it down to size.  This one is the first in a new series, The Hunting.  A scientist develops a method by which virtual reality characters can be controlled by thoughts rather than a keyboard.  When he’s kidnapped by people who want to steal the technology, his son has to come to the rescue.  I was a bit put off very early by the reference to the dinosaur’s “supernatural” sense.  They’re NOT supernatural.  They’re just senses.  I figured this out while reading the text with my “supernatural” vision.  Anyway, the kid’s father was involved with creating a real world dinosaur that is invisible, can speak, and has its personality based on the kid’s mindset.  So they’re off to save his father.  Shoddy and unbelievable science turn what could have been an okay book for the 10-12 year old set into an annoying failure. I'm not sure whether this is the same person who writes as Stephen Cole. 10/18/09

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, Tor, 10/09, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1841-1  

I recently re-read the Eden Moore trilogy by Cherie Priest, which mixed traditional Southern Gothic motifs with contemporary issues and devices.  They were surprisingly sophisticated for a new writer and I was curious when I originally read them to see where the author would go next.  Now, after some other diversions in the supernatural, she has tried her hand at steampunk, but American steampunk set in an alternate Seattle where an experimental digging machine went amok – possibly on purpose – killing people and destroying several banks before encountering a pocket of poison gas.  As a consequences of the last, a sizable area of the city has been walled up and quarantined, particularly useful since some of the victims of the gas tend to walk around even after they’re dead.  The chief protagonist is the daughter of the machine’s inventor, who is trying to forget the scandal but is forced to confront it because her son is determined to prove his father’s innocence.  This was a lot of fun but it was very slow getting started and the opening chapters were seriously talky and even a bit redundant at times.  Once Priest gets the story really moving, I noticed no such clumsiness and was thoroughly captivated until the end. 10/17/09

War and Space by Lester Del Rey, NESFA, 2009, $29, ISBN 978-1-886778-76-4 

One of the very first SF books I read was Robots and Changelings by Lester Del Rey, and it was one of my favorite early collections.  Shortly thereafter I read Nerves, also by Del Rey, which despite its very near future and restrained story line struck me then, and now, as his best novel.  I’ve read pretty much all of his novels since then, as well as the majority of his short fiction, and I’m more convinced than ever that he was much better at shorter length.  This new, very large (550 pages) collection of his short fiction, first of a set of two, collects twenty-eight of his stories, plus the original shorter version of Nerves.  As always, NESFA has done an excellent job of editing and packaging.  There are many old favorites here including his controversial “For I Am a Jealous People,” as well as “Uneasy Lies the Head,” “The Luck of Ignatz,” and “The Still Waters.”  There was only one story here that I hadn’t already read, but several had not been previously collected.  I look forward to volume 2, which presumably will include “Helen O’Loy”, the classic robot story, and many other old favorites.  I suspect that Del Rey’s novels will fade into even deeper obscurity over time, but I hope that his better short stories will live on. 10/16/09

Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre, Ace, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01781-2  

Sirantha Jax, star pilot, is back for further adventures.  I enjoy the stories the author has been telling about this protagonist – who is one of the minority of humans who can actually navigate among the stars – but I’ve had the same problem reading each one of them – they’re written in a dreadfully self conscious present tense that drives most of the attention out of the story and removes it one level from the reader’s participation.  This time she’s involved in negotiations with an insectlike alien race, and since she’s hardly the most patient of people, her new role is not an auspicious one.  Space pirates and other aliens interfere as well and the action gets fast and furious.  I should have liked this a lot but I could not get into the story because of the form of narration.  Alas, although the series has a lot of potential, this will be the last one I read. The disappointment is just too frustrating. 10/15/09

Femmes Fatales by Robert Greenberger, Del Rey, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-50685-6  

Given the success of the Iron Man movie and its imminent sequel, I’m rather surprised that there hasn’t already been a flood of tie in novels.  This may be the first in a new wave, penned by a writer whose previous work has been largely in the Star Trek universe.  The story is set comparatively early in Iron Man’s career, although some modifications have been made to conform to the movie version.  He’s allied with Shield and engaged in a battle against Hydra, a criminal organization which seeks world domination.  The armored superhero reveals a potential weakness this time when he encounters Madame Hydra, whom I remember from the comics, and Madame Masque, whom I do not, prove to be a formidable pair of foes in this fast paced adventure.  A few of the humorous touches displayed in the movies would have helped this a lot.  It’s not bad but it wasn’t very lively despite all the action.  10/13/09

At Empire’s Edge by William C. Dietz, Ace, 2009, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-441-01759-1  

Shapeshifting aliens have always been a fascinating concept, everything from John W. Campbell Jr.’s “Who Goes There?” forward.  William C. Dietz, most of whose SF has a distinctively military flare, posits one such race held captive on their home world in a future interstellar society where humans have imposed a kind of peace on the interstellar community, enforcing it by brute force where necessary.  The shapechangers are guarded by specially bioengineered wardens who are able to perceive their true nature through their various disguises, but nonetheless one escapes.  Although it is subsequently captured, something goes horribly wrong on the trip back and the protagonist, a tough soldier/cop, is the only one from his team to survive when the alien escapes again.  Although I didn’t feel entirely sympathetic to the humans in this one, the subsequent manhunt (alienhunt?) is refreshingly well done.  Dietz writes some of the better military SF around, but he’s even better when he ventures outside that format. 10/11/09

The Beast Master by Andre Norton, Brilliance Audio, read byRichard J. Brewer, 2009, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-4233-9985-8

Since this was one of my very favorite Andre Norton novels from the 1950s, I was pleased to see it out on audiobook, and even more pleased to find that it holds up remarkably well.  Hosteen Storm is the Beast Master, a commando trained to work empathically with animals in a recently concluded war with the Xiks.  Since Earth was destroyed, he is repatriated to Arzor, a planet he chose because he believes that a resident thereon has committed an evil act which must be punished.  Instead, he makes friends with the indigent aliens, discovers a Xik plot to cause turmoil on the planet, and has a variety of adventures including the discovery of an ancient alien site. There are six discs for a little less than seven hours of very fine entertainment.  I hope Brilliance will follow with more of the classic Norton novels like The Time Traders, Star Born, and Star Man's Son.  10/9/09

The Land of Terror by Kenneth Robeson, 1933  

Doc Savage visits a chemical plant just in time to find the mostly dissolved corpse of an old friend and track the two men who killed him. He kills all but one, trailing the last back to discover who ordered the killing. The mastermind uses the name Kar but no one knows his real identity. Doc and his friends trace the threat to remote Thunder Island, but before they can go there, a fresh round of attacks nearly kills Doc and results in the capture of one of his companions. We are also told that the dissolving substance must contain some new element found on that island. A bank robbery is thwarted and various death traps avoided.  Eventually they reach the island, but heavily armed assassins are there as well. More significantly, the island is populated by hungry dinosaurs. There’s a reasonably suspenseful sequence in which Renny is hunted by one of the dinosaurs, but otherwise it’s more of the same. Kar and his minions show up as well, they’re all defeated, Kar’s true identity is revealed – not very surprising since he’s the only non-series character in the story – and the lost world is destroyed forever.  Better than the first. 10/5/09

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, Scholastic, 9/09, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-439-02349-8 

Since The Hunger Games is now going to be a movie, it’s not a big surprise that the author has produced a sequel, although it probably was planned anyway since there's a third in the works.  The setting is a post apocalyptic society that has replaced the United States and which demands tribute from its subjects in the form of teenagers to be used in elaborate gladiatorial contests. Those who fail to learn from history and all that.  The two survivors from that novel take the stage again in this sequel, unhappy in the aftermath even though they are supposed to be honored and respected for their achievement.  There are rumors of rebellion all across the countryside and are two young people are, willingly or not, caught up in the middle.  Even worse, they aren’t certain which side they should be on, although the reader will know and presumably everyone else will too when the final volume in the series appears next year. 10/4/09

Fledgling by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Baen, 2009, $24, ISBN 978-1-4391-3287-6 

A new novel set in the Liaden universe.  This one takes place on the planet Delgado, which is a kind of super Mammy state.  Virtually every aspect of human existence is monitored, ostensibly for the safety of the population and the promotion of the public good. The protagonist is the child of an academic who is physically awkward – clumsy, actually – and this is considered an unnecessary risk.  Her life becomes complex when she moves into the city and her problems begin to multiply. So when the chance to go offworld offers itself, she has very mixed feelings.  Although this is narrated in a straightforward manner, there are obviously strong elements of satire along with the adventure.  This one wasn’t what I expected and there were parts that worked for me and other parts that did not, chiefly the ones that were thinly disguised social commentary.  I know that an author cannot easily leave personal political agendas out of stories but I don’t care to be lectured to under the guise of fiction.  Lee & Miller are less guilty than most, but I’ve probably become super-sensitized to it, from left (see review below) and right and front and back. 9/30/09

Metatropolis: The Dawn of Uncivilization edited by John Scalzi, Brilliance Audio, 2009, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-4233-9493-8  

This collection of five shared world stories was published by Night Shade books as well as this audiobook.  The setting is a familiar post collapse world where the various cities of North America have become autonomous.  Unfortunately the collection opens with the first Jay Lake story that I remember ever having disliked.  It’s mostly a series of economic and political lectures, ponderous, bloated, repetitious, and cosseted around a tepid story of a charismatic man’s arrival in a reclusive enclave in the Pacific Northwest. The plot and resolution were impenetrable. I would never have pegged this as a Lake story if I hadn’t already known. I liked Tobias Buckell’s story of a future Detroit much better, although one of the premises for the background seems shaky.  Suburban homes are in disrepair and abandoned and their owners have managed to conceal their connection to avoid paying taxes.  But this has been going on for decades and the properties – which do have value and could be refurbished and sold – would have been subject to confiscation for unpaid taxes long since.  A drifter working as a bouncer runs into an eco-terrorist group opposed to the police state that Detroit has become.  There’s quite a bit of preachiness in this one as well, particularly late in the story, but it’s not as distracting and the plot moves more smoothly. 

Elizabeth Bear’s story is also readable although also encumbered by economic lectures.  I also realized that a problem with both her story and the one by Tobias Buckell is that they assume that large numbers of human beings would start acting in total contradiction to human experience and history to create a spontaneous new society.  This is the same problem that hobbles Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.  The society described only would work if the humans living in it ceased to be human beings.  Part of her argument is also based on flawed logic.  She suggests that if instead of having one lawnmower per yard, there was only one per ten yards and that the residents would either take turns using the mower or even turns mowing all ten yards.  This, we are told, would reduce the carbon footprint and consume fewer manufactured goods, e.g. lawnmowers.  But that’s not true.  Assume for the sake of round figures that a lawnmower will last for ten years with normal use.  So at ten times the normal use, the lawnmower would have to be replaced each year. In fact, the heavier usage would probably shorten the number of operating hours in each machine’s life, so it would actually increase the amount of equipment consumed, not decrease it. Internal combustion would be taking place exactly the same amount of time so there would be no effect on emissions.  The only way to reduce the footprint is to reduce the amount of grass being cut or the frequency with which it is done. Many people don’t cut their grass weekly and would be compelled to under the system described, there would also be some amount of additional mowing done. Since this is the example cited to justify her counter culture, and since the argument is fatally flawed, nothing that follows is convincing even if we get around the people not acting like people problem. 

Editor Scalzi’s own story is much better, and shows us his society rather than simply telling us about it.  A rather obnoxious twenty year old in the environmentally conscious New St. Louis drags his feet about his personal responsibilities and ends up forced to take a job as a pig farmer, although pig farming in a very different way than he, or the reader, expects. This was the high point of the book for me; the protagonist’s character is distinct and even likeable in an unlikeable sort of way.  Finally came Karl Schroeder’s contribution, also quite good, although it was more concerned with the interposition of virtual reality and the possibility of changing the structure of “nations” than of exploring the nature of the cities.  I can’t say I found the technological devices described very plausible, but given that suspension of disbelief, he weaves a fascinating web of possibilities.  The collection ends on two strong notes, but the heavy going of the first three might discourage some readers from ever getting there. 9/23/09

Twenty-One Billionth Paradox by Leonard Daventry, Doubleday, 1971

You Must Remember…Us? by Leonard Daventry, Robert Hale, 1980 

The last two books I have by Leonard Daventry, whose earlier trilogy fell far short of my recollections.  Mercifully these two, even worse, are quite short, and I don’t have a copy of his one remaining SF novel, Terminus.  The first might be intended as a sequel to the trilogy, set centuries after the telepaths have fallen from power and Earth has become a dictatorship.  The prose has improved somewhat but the science is as wonky as ever, consisting of doubletalk mixed with actual errors.  In the first, an experimental starship is sent to the farthest point in the universe and back with a crew of nine, which includes four political prisoners.  The prisoners rebel and the ship ends up back at Earth but centuries earlier, or possibly in another time line.  Lots of talking and not much action, and an end that peters out rather than concluding.  The second involves the last starship from a ruined Earth which encounters aliens while looking for a new world to colonize.  Pretty dull stuff here too.  Inadvertent laughs when the aliens display a crab image which leads them to conclude that either (a) the aliens come from the Crab Nebula, or (b) that they’re warning the humans about the danger of cancer.  A forgotten – and deservedly so – pair of novels. 9/23/09

The Sunless Countries by Karl Schroeder, Tor, 2009, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-2076-6  

I confess that I had some trouble getting my mind wrapped around the bizarre setting introduced in the first of the Virga novels, of which this is the fourth, but I’m certainly glad I persevered because I’ve enjoyed all four with increasing pleasure.  Although there are several distinct and interesting characters, the strange setting – a kind of enclosed universe where travel among planets is decidedly different – often draws our attention away from the plot.  There’s a growing mystery in this one as someone or something is abducting people and their craft, and the culture as a whole faces a significant challenge to build a sun to light a darkened world that hovers on the rim of the known universe.  There is also a cult of religious fanatics as well as the inevitable short sighted politicians.  An intricate mesh of character, plot, and backdrop result in a many layered story that fits into no simple category. 9/22/09

Abyss by Troy Denning, Del Rey, 2009, $27, ISBN 978-0-345-50918-5  

I have consistently found the Star Wars universe to be more interesting than the Star Trek universe, but I'm afraid I'm beginning to tire of this setting as well.  This new title continues the story of a plague of madness that is spreading through the ranks of the post-Empire Jedi.  Luke Skywalker and his son are off on a quest to visit an alien race that can communicate directly with the force, searching for answers.  The Jedi back in the Republic meanwhile are upset by the Draconian measures being taken against their afflicted brethren.  Han and Leia are involved with efforts to protect the ailing Jedi against arrest and detention by an increasingly repressive central authority. A group of Sith meanwhile are engaged in a plot to wipe out the Skywalker clan for once and for all.  An occasionally exciting return to a familiar universe and several of our favorite characters, with a few new embellishments to keep us guessing about what’s to come, but not innovative enough to stand out. 9/21/09

The Man of Bronze by Kenneth Robeson, 1933  

The first Doc Savage novel introduces his character and his various friends/assistants.  Savage is a multi-talented genius of prodigious physical strength and ability and his assistants provide auxiliary talents and comic relief.  Even when I was gobbling up pulp adventures, I had problems with this series specifically because of the supporting cast, whom I found distracting, unnecessary, and often ridiculous.  We also learn of Doc’s Fortress of Solitude, a redoubt in the Arctic wastes reminiscent of superman’s retreat.  Doc’s father has just died under suspicious circumstances and Doc is nearly killed by a sniper, who turns out to be a warrior from a hidden Mayan civilization. Doc is off to the Central American nation of Hidalgo to find out just what’s going on. Not surprisingly, he runs into stereotypical Latin American thugs and corrupt government officials while trying to reclaim the land his father left to him.  As it turns out, he is heir to an immense fortune which the hidden Mayans gladly (!) give him. Doc has an almost prescient ability to know when and where he’s needed, and his infallibility sometimes pushes the borders of credulity even in a pulp adventure.  More action than in the Shadow, but less plausibility. 9/20/09

Land of the Dead by Thomas Harlan, Tor, 2009, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1204-4   

Third in an alternate history series set in a world where an expansionist Aztec and technologically savvy Japanese empire meet early on and shape a new civilization which effectively rules the entire Earth by the time humanity spreads into space.  This immediate story involves a familiar SF trope, the ancient weapon of a lost civilization recently discovered and capable of changing the balance of power throughout the galaxy. Two agents from Earth are sent to ensure that it is not used to thwart humanity’s expansionist yearnings, but they’re not the only contenders – human and non-human – for a say in how the artifact will be used, and by whom.  Strongly drawn characters and a fast moving plot on a framework of very readable prose.  A nice solid space opera and despite the familiar plot, the best so far in this series. 9/19/09

Tentacles by Roland Smith, Scholastic, 2009, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-16688-1 

One of my recurring complaints about young adult SF, what little of it appears nowadays, is that it tends to be both written down and often is lazy if not outright ignorant about its scientific content.  This latest story of the cryptid hunters – people who seek legendary creatures that might be real – is one of the welcome exceptions to that rule.  The protagonists in this case are two cousins who live with an inquisitive scientist whose latest obsession is to capture a giant squid alive.  This could have been done as a scary suspense novel but Smith chooses instead to treat it as a forthright scientific effort.  Which is not to say that there aren’t thrills and chills aplenty along the way. I suppose one could argue that this is not really SF since giant squids are not imaginary creatures, but it feels like SF. And it’s nice to see that good genre YA writing isn’t confined to the fantasy field alone. 9/18/09

Shatner Quake by Jeff Burk, Bizarro Books, 2009, $9.95, ISBN 1-933929-82-0  

This novelette is more of a joke than a real story.  William Shatner is attending a convention when someone sets off a reality bomb that summons all of the fictional characters he has ever played – from James Kirk to Denny Crane – into our world.  But they’re apparently all homicidal now and it’s up to the one and only original to bring their reign of terror to an end.  Much running around and ingroupish style joking follows.  It helps that Shatner has played such a wide range of memorable characters.  Should one count this as a Star Trek novel?  Cute. 9/13/09

The Radio Magician & Other Stories by James Van Pelt, Fairwood, 9/09, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-9820730-2-5   

This makes three collections of stories by James Van Pelt that I’ve read, which probably covers almost all of his short fiction.  Fortunately, the author is alive and writing and I look forward to more collections in the future – if I haven’t already encountered the individual stories elsewhere.  This one’s a mixed bag thematically, with fantasy and horror as well as science fiction.  Some of the plots are straightforward and familiar, others are surprising, even twisted.  There’s time travel, human sacrifice, fantastic concepts, and exotic settings.  I’d read about half of these previously and remembered a few as soon as I started them.  The title story, “The Inn at Mount Either,” “Echoing,” and “Origin of the Species” struck me as the most memorable, but I imagine every reader will have his own choices.  The consistent quality of the writing makes it difficult to choose favorites.  If you haven’t discovered Van Pelt by now, you’re way overdue. 9/12/09

Salamander by Nick Kyme, Black Library, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-741-8

Empire by Graham McNeill, Black Library, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-688-6


Two new Warhammer novels, one from each branch of that shared universe.  The first is military SF and follows a standard series plot.  A company of space marines has difficulties on a planet which conceals some deadly surprises.  Lots of violent encounters, military speak, and the undertone of supernatural menace that I always find jarring when I encounter them in this series.  The border between aliens and demons is not always clear.  This was an okay example of its type, but not one of the best I’ve seen under this imprint.  Part of that may stem from the very nature of tie in novels, which generally require sticking to a formula.  The second is from the sword & sorcery half of the equation, and is the second volume in a subset, the Sigmar trilogy.  Sigmar is a charismatic leader who organizes resistance against an invading army of orcs and then tries to forge an empire out of the various victorious forces.  Just as the fledgling government is getting established, a fresh invasion threatens to undo all of his work.  Not bad, but the battle scenes get a bit monotonous after a while and as with the first title, the various plot elements are common within the Warhammer universe. 9/7/09

Bitter Angels by C.L. Anderson, Ballantine Spectra, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59217-7  

The copyright page indicates this is a pseudonym for Sarah Zettel, whose earlier SF under that name I generally liked.  Add this one to the list.  Erasmus is the focal point for smugglers, interplanetary slavers, and other malcontents and criminals, but it may also be the center of a movement to initiate an interplanetary war.  The protagonist is a woman sent there ostensibly to investigate the death of another woman, presumably a murder, but she has another agenda as well, and so does almost everyone she encounters. The premise that someone has to do the dirty work to keep a civilization going - dirty work in this case including violence - is a risky one to advance given the recent revelations about some outrageous excesses on the part of our own government, but Anderson/Zettel suggests that it's a cloudy area.  This is a nicely crafted mix of detective story, spy adventure, space opera, and a few other bits and pieces, with a very unusual protagonist.  Zettel writes solid space adventures no matter what name she uses. 9/6/09

The Winds of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, Tor, 2009, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2272-2  

I should start off that admitting that, as I do with Pern, Xanth, and Darkover, I feel that Dune has overstayed its welcome.  This is not to fault the sequels that Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson have added over the years, some of which I’ve quite enjoyed, but I’ve noticed while reading the last couple that I no longer feel the same thrill when old names and characters appear.  This one takes place after Paul has disappeared into the desert of Arrakis and his sister has to take control of the reins of empire.  Alia has begun to resort to repression to hold things together, but we all know how well that works.  Most disturbing are the actions by a former friend who has now dedicated himself to emphasizing the bad sides of Paul’s career, which did after all kill more people than any other single war in human history.  But there are secrets within secrets to be unraveled as well.  Despite my reservations about Dune as a continuing project, the subtle interplay in this one is quite good – although it could have taken place in a standalone novel in another setting with equal effect.  It’s one of the best of the sequels, though, but in its own right. 9/3/09

The Tar-Aiym Krang by Alan Dean Foster, read by Stefan Rudnicki, Brilliance Audio, 2009, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-4233-9548-5 

This, the first Pip & Flinx as well as Foster’s first book, was written back in 1972 when the people still believed the “killer ape” theories of Konrad Lorentz and Robert Ardrey, which dates it a bit.  Humans and the insectlike Thranx have created a biracial society that is opposed only by the reptilian Aaan Empire.  Philip Lynx, or Flinx, is an orphan who gets involved with a party of treasure hunters looking for a mysterious alien artifact from a lost civilization.  It’s an old fashioned space opera with a band of characters on an interstellar adventure, not as polished as Foster’s later work, but still a lot of fun.  I had some minor problems with the plot.  Why would the shrewd businessman tell his violently disposed rival that he had possession of a map to a treasure planet, giving her plenty of time to have him followed by a superior armed force?  Why, for that matter, did he go despite the risk with only a lightly armored ship and half a dozen companions?  Why for that matter did the two explorers go to him for help when the only thing they needed was a ride to the planet, not a major expeditionary force or scientific team?  Quibbles aside, I had a good time with this one. 9/2/09

The Soul Key by Olivia Woods, Pocket, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-0792-8

The Never-Ending Sacrifice by Una McCormack, Pocket, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-0961-8  

Having tried a couple of recent Star Trek novels, I realized that I hadn’t dipped into the world of Deep Space Nine in at least a couple of years.  These two titles seemed to fit the bill, although the first really isn’t since the story involves the Mirror Universe.  It’s a story of impersonation, obsession with greatness, religious fervor, con artistry, intrigue, and other elements, all mixed together.  It’s not a bad novel, but since the characters are often variations of ones I’m familiar with, and since they didn’t act as I was expecting, I had some difficulty immersing myself in the story.  The second title has another problem.  After countless variations of the standard Star Trek themes, many of the tie in novels  have moved in different directions, featuring different characters.  This is a case in point involving a young boy who believes that he is a Bajoran but who is taken to Cardassia early in his childhood, where he has to adjust to a very different culture.  I found this to be a much more involving novel and liked it better, but on the other hand, despite the names and races, I didn’t feel as though I was reading a Deep Space Nine novel at all. 8/26/09

Enigma by C.F. Bentley, DAW, 8/09, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7564-0564-8   

It's been too hot to do much except read so I've been catching up and reading some of the books from the "maybe" pile, sometimes as in this case with pleasant results.  Bentley is the latest manifestation of Irene Radford/Phyllis Ann Karr, and second in a series of space adventures that focus on the planet Harmony, a theocratic society that has isolated itself from the rest of the civilized galaxy.  That isolation is broken when the alien Marils attack, forcing a rapprochement with outsiders that has supporters and opponents within the local hierarchy.  When the high priestess from Harmony travels to a conference off planet, she is unaware of the fact that her mission may be sabotaged by other highly placed members of the government.  There’s also conflict involving spies active at the station where the conference is being held, and a mysterious alien ship which crashes while they are there.  Good, exciting adventure somewhat in the style of C.J. Cherryh’s Merchanter novels. 8/24/09

Emperor’s Mercy by Henry Zou, Black Library, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-735-7  

Paradoxically, although I prefer SF to fantasy, I generally like the recent fantasy Warhammer books better than the SF ones, probably because the latter have become primarily just formulaic military SF novels. I believe this is the first I’ve read by this particular author, which was why I decided to give it a chance.  The underlying story is more akin to fantasy, a trove of artifacts that have magic/technological knowledge lost to civilization and powerful enough to affect the outcome of a war.  When an enemy force begins to advance toward the world where they are cached, it becomes important to understand them quickly, or failing that, to destroy them before they can fall into the wrong hands.  Less military than I expected, a bit more complexly plotted, but some of the dialogue is turgid and unconvincing.  Time will tell if practice, or a good editor, will lead to a better follow up. 8/24/09

The Ticking Is In Your Head by Leonard Daventry, Curtis, 1969

Third and last of the Claus Coman novels, although the last few pages suggest that Daventry had meant to extend the series.  No great loss.  Coman is a leading telepath in an organization that is trying to move humanity into more benevolent paths but they are opposed by a group of longwinded thugs who want to kill them all in order to ensure their own supremacy.  The entire conflict has an odd formality about it - no one seems really serious about winning and it's more of an elaborate dance than a real conflict.  Add to this Daventry's labored, awkward, and occasionally ungrammatical prose and his explanations of various subjects ranging from psychology to law that are simpleminded or frankly just wrong and you get a mishmash that vaguely reminded me of A.E. van Vogt on a bad day or R. L Fanthorpe on a good one.  Some authors who have faded into obscurity deserve better.  In other cases, like this one, there's a reason why you've never heard of him.  8/23/09

Maine Quartet by Thomas A. Easton, SRM, 2009, $10, ISBN 978-1-935224-01-3

This chapbook consists of four stories by the former book reviewer for Analog, all previously published.  The two best are the first and last.  "Blue Tail Fly" is a parable about racial exploitation set on a dangerous colony world and "The Bung-Hole Caper" is a less serious story about alien refugees on Earth who have rather unusual living requirements.  Sandwiched in between are "Wallflower," an okay sort of ghost story, and "A Love Story", a somewhat better light fantasy.  Combined the collection gives some idea of the range of theme and setting to be found in Easton's fiction.

City of Doom by Norvell Page, Baen, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-3286-9  

I have a lingering fondness for the pulp hero novels of the 1930s, of which the Spider is certainly one of my favorites.  Various of the titles from his series of adventures fighting America’s villains in a war torn future have been reprinted before, and I was a little disappointed that two of the three in this collection – The City Destroyer and The Council of Evil – are ones I had already read.  The Faceless One was new to me, however, and while not one of the best in the series, it certainly keeps up the tradition.  In the first, a villain uses a secret weapon to destroy skyscrapers, a coalition of evil plots a coup in the second, and a master of disguise leads the Spider on a merry chase in the last.  These are written in a crude, not particularly credible style but they’re lots of fun.  I hope Baen will continue this program. 8/17/09

On Basilisk Station by David Weber read by Allyson Johnson, Brilliance Audio, 2009, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-4233-9338-2   

This is the audio recording of the very first of the Honor Harrington military SF novels.  The plot is an old acquaintance – the brilliant young officer who annoys highly placed people, gets assigned to a remote and presumed to be dead end assignment, but who performs so brilliantly in a crisis that she is redeemed, mixed with the tough captain trying to turn a demoralized crew into a team.  It’s a pretty good example though, if you can ignore the occasional simpleminded political swipes.  Characterization is not a high priority in this sub-genre, but Weber is well above the curve in that regardl.  On a couple of occasions, Honor's “brilliant” ideas struck me as painfully obvious solutions, and the revelation of the secret plot by a rival government to undermine the protectorate is in some respects so transparent that I was a little surprised that neither Harrington nor the local governor tumbled to at least part of the truth until so late, but it wasn't enough to spoil the story for me, which has a rewardingly rousing ending.  Johnson does a good job reading and I was happy to see that there are cues to tell you what disk you’re on and when it’s time to substitute another.  More in this series are forthcoming in this format.  Quibble: Someone needs to tell Weber and his editors the difference between “among” and “between”.  You can’t have a relationship “between” three objects, a consistent error throughout the novel. 8/13/09

Hitler’s War by Harry Turtledove, Del Rey, 8/09, $27, ISBN 978-0-345-49182-4  

Given the large number of fascinating potential divergence points in history, it always surprises me that so much alternate history involves World War II. I suppose that’s a period with which a large majority of readers are familiar, but I’d love to see more speculation about the consequences if the Venetians had sided with the Ottomans at the Battle of Lepanto or if the Germans had decided to occupy the Phillipines during the Spanish American War.  In any case, Turtledove returns to World War II again, this time moving back a bit in time to assume that Neville Chamberlain got his act together and refused to tolerate the German annexation of the Sudetenland.  The Spanish Civil War becomes much more significant and the war starts sooner.  As usual, we see everything from multiple viewpoints.  The speculation is okay but this ends up being just another war story and my attention wandered a lot.  No indication that it’s the first in a series, but there’s room for sequels. 8/7/09

Day of the Damned by David Gunn, Del Rey, 2009, $26, ISBN 978-0-345-50002-1 

I glanced at the earlier books in the series (this is the third) and decided to pass because they looked to be typical military SF and I’ve plenty of that to choose among.  I took another look with volume three because I’d seen a couple of interesting reviews.  The protagonist is a larger than life career military man whose main weapon is also cyber-sentient and who has survived various escapades in a far future interstellar empire.  The chief knock on the books I’d encountered was that they were so relentlessly violent that they lost some of their effect, and I have to admit there’s a degree of truth to that, although it wasn’t perhaps as overwhelming in this one.  Sven is on vacation, for a change, having traveled with his unit back to the center of the empire to look up some old friends.  I expected either an invasion or a rebellion to come up soon and I was right on target with the latter, a civil war that sees him back in action.  The prose isn’t bad and I have to admit a certain fascination with Sven’s ruthless effectiveness.  I wouldn’t say this transcends the limits of its form, but it certainly pushes at them. 8/5/09

Black and White by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge, Ballantine, 2009, $15, ISBN 978-0-553-38631-8  

The latest round of publishing changes has left me a bit confused.  This is a Ballantine Spectra book, not a Bantam Spectra.  This is a mildly sexy superhero story with no trademarked superheroes.  Iridium and Jet are two females with super powers who trained together but whose friendship turned to rivalry and then animosity as adults.  Jet has in fact become effectively a super villain.  Iridium suspects that Jet has become involved with a nefarious plot to seize control of the city, but in fact Iridium has stumbled into a plot so evil that she is even considering a reconciliation with a long time foe.  Some moments of humor liven up a plot which, I regret to say, really didn’t do anything for me.  I found the characters either flat or exaggerated, a common problem in books with comic book style superhumans.  Romance fans may actually enjoy this more than SF readers.8/4/09

Snakeskin Road by James Braziel, Bantam, 2009, $15, ISBN 978-0-553-38503-8 

One of the more unusual novels I read last year was Braziel’s first, Birmingham, 35 Miles, which assumed that environmental changes would cause an effective collapse of modern civilization and that distances that would be a casual jaunt today would become a major journey in the not very distant future.  This is set against that same backdrop, but with a new protagonist.  The Snakeskin Road is a trade route used by what amount to slave traders.  Jennifer is a young woman with an infant who accepts indentured servitude as what she hopes will be the first step in an eventual escape to and new life in the relatively stable northern part of the continent.  To do so she has to renege on her contract and become a fugitive, after which she plays hide and seek with a relentless bounty hunter.  I liked this even better than its predecessor, particularly because it offers more significant glimmers of hope within an otherwise hopeless context.  The first novel might have been a fluke, but the second suggests we’re seeing a noteworthy new talent. 7/30/09

Reflections in a Mirage by Leonard Daventry, Curtis, 1969

This is the first sequel to A Man of Double Deed, which I re-read recently and found appallingly bad.  Being a glutton for punishment, I decided to read the remaining four books by Daventry as well.  The opening is the same mix of nonsense and bad grammar.  Earth has decided to colonize other planets by sending groups of one hundred criminals with a few “good” guys mixed in because there aren’t enough “good” guys around who are willing to accept discipline from the government, because they know that governments are inherently evil.  Except we’re told this one is benevolent.  Except when it isn’t.  A typical line:  “Have you ever traveled in Interplanetary, let alone Outer Space?”  Our hero, Coman, volunteers to join the group along with his lesbian lover – I won’t even try to explain that – Jonl. There’s a prolonged and painfully bad sequence of confrontations in the training camp as the pecking orders get established.  We also learn that the guard robots will not allow a prisoner within four feet of them, but somehow one of the prisoners manages to steal a weapon from one, with which he leads an abortive attempt at mutiny while en route to the new planet.  The mutiny succeeds, after a fashion, since the ship crashes on a different but also inhabitable planet where they encounter incredibly advanced aliens.  Incredibly badly written. 7/27/09

Moon Flights by Elizabeth Moon, Night Shade, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-110-2

Ice, Iron and Gold by S.M. Stirling, Night Shade, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-116-4

Now that Night Shade has a mass market paperback line, some of their collections and novels that have not been previously available except in hard to find hardcovers are appearing.  Both of these are almost entirely reprints, and there were only a handful of stories I hadn't already read, but with short story collections virtually absent from the lines of most other publishers, their advent here is a welcome one.  Both are predominantly SF, but there are fantasy in each as well.  The collection by Moon is particularly diverse - military SF to thoughtful character studies, deadly seriousness to whimsical humor.  The fantasies are generally very lightweight, but some of the other stories are major works.  Stirling's selection leans heavily toward military SF.  His bolo stories, based on the Keith Laumer creation, were always among my favorites by those writers who extended the series following Laumer's death.  Some of the shared world space adventures are less interesting, but the fantasy selections are noticeably strong.  Both books are mixed bags, with something to please almost everyone.  Nice to see them get another chance to reach their audience.  7/25/09

Hyperion by Dan Simmons, audiobook, Briliance, 2008,$49.99, ISBN 978-1-4233-8140-2

I remembered this award winning novel fondly but could only remember bits and pieces of the story, or stories actually.  It's structured somewhat like the Canterbury Tales in that a group of travelers to the planet Hyperion tell their personal stories to entertain each other during the journey.  This time through I found all but one of the stories fascinating, and the one exception was merely entertaining. They are interwoven at their extremes, all connected to the Shrike, a mysterious killing machine that strikes apparently at random, and the Time Tombs, which travel slowly backward through time.  Technically the audiobook has some minor problems.  It has cues at the beginning and end of each disc, which is a plus, and several readers, which is okay except that it leads in this case to some sections where the dialogue is read by one, followed by "he said" by another, which draws awkward attention to the frame.  Fortunately, the individual stories are narrated entirely by one of the readers.  Superb, as I expected, and I hope to see the three sequels appear as well.  7/25/09

The Stars Blue Yonder by Sandra McDonald, Tor, 7/09, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-2041-4  

Not that it’s the authors’ fault, but I’ve noticed book prices are creeping up again.  Given the state of the economy, I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t counterproductive.  Commentary aside, this is the third in a series of mildly military SF novels that have become increasingly unusual as they proceed.  Now we have a hero back from the dead who is out to save humanity, if he can just get rid of all of his friends and hangers on.  He seeks the assistance of a pregnant officer, recently widowed, just as an alien fleet threatens to annihilate everybody.  I was, I confess, a bit put off by some of the implied mysticism, particularly late in the book.  While it was obvious at the end that the author had a clear idea where the plot was going, it wasn’t always evident to the reader along the way.  Although certainly readable, I didn’t like this nearly as much as the first two, probably in part because the novelty of the setting has worn off. I'm looking forward to seeing this author try a new theme. 7/23/09

A Sense of Infinity by Howard L. Myers, Baen, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-3278-4  

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I read a number of stories by Howard L. Myers, most of which were nice enough, and several by Verge Foray, whom I generally thought was a better writer.  It was a while after that before I discovered that the two were one and the same.  The Myers stories have previously been collected by Baen, except for the novel, Cloud Chamber, which is included in this collection of the Foray stories.  Some of the stories are interrelated and many are space opera.  The themes include telepathy, apocalyptic futures, prison planets, and such.  Most of them first appeared in Analog.  The novel is inferior to the short fiction, a potboiler set in a future when immortality is commonplace.  Although not classic work, these are solid – though a bit dated at times – stories.  Hopefully Baen will continue to reprint stories currently lost in the obscurity of old magazines. Like this one, they're unlikely to contain any lost masterpieces, but they do provide consistently good fiction. 7/20/09

Troublesome Minds by Dave Galanter, Pocket, 2009, 7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-0155-1

Losing the Peace by William Leisner, Pocket, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-0786-7 2403/6 

I hadn’t read a Star Trek novel in quite a while, so I rectified the situation, twice, once from each of the first two manifestations of the television show.  In the first, Kirk and company come to the rescue of an alien stranded in space by his own people, who are telepathic.  They explain that the abandoned man is so powerful a telepath that he can impose his will on others, and this begins to resonate when Spock begins acting strangely.  Then things really start to go wrong.  Leisner’s novel involved Picard and the Next Generation crew.  The Borg have left a trail of devastation behind, including the destruction of the planet Deneva.  As Picard attempts to rescue survivors, one member of his crew has particular problems adjusting to the loss of her homeworld.  The latter novel is the more ambitious of the two, but the former is somewhat better written and has more of the feel of the source material. 7/14/09

Talebones 38, 2009, $7.00

Although this reliable magazine is going to be converting to anthology format in the near future, it still maintains its usual high quality level in its waning issues.  This one opens with a ghost story by Mary Robinette Kowal and a pair of unusual fantasies by Patricia Russo and Scott Edelman, the latter of which reinterprets the devil.  There are a couple of satirical pieces, after which the mood becomes more serious again.  Marshall Payne's offbeat detective story was particularly good and the closing stories, which draw on legends and mythology, are also quite nice.  The usual features are also included.  I'll be sorry to see the magazine go, but look forward to its metamorphosis.  7/13/09

Winter Duty by E.E. Knight, Roc, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46274-9  

I started to get tired of the Vampire Earth books a couple of books back because they seemed to be slipping into the usual military SF tropes and situations.  The alien vampires are no longer even remotely scary, and the infighting among human factions has begun to feel repetitive and stale.  In this one, David Valentine is in retreat after the latest campaign against the invaders falters, and he takes refuge in Kentucky.  Unfortunately, some of the local leaders in that area have decided that the fight might not be worth continuing, that it is time to come to an accommodation with the aliens and accept their dominance of part of the world.  Valentine doesn’t understand this shortsighted and defeatist attitude, and his own objection to such a policy puts him in jeopardy as well.  If Knight wasn’t so good at telling a story, I probably wouldn’t have read this one, but he still manages to deliver.  I’d still like to see him move on to another story though. 7/12/09

Rift in the Sky by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW, 7/09, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7564-0560-1  

Third volume in the Clan Chronicles. The setting is the planet Cersi, which we first heard of in the Trade Pact Universe series, but this particular sequence is set much earlier in its history.  Cersi has three separate intelligent races living in a relatively stable balance of power which is somewhat traumatized when they learn of the existence of the interstellar community, although you would think they'd have enough experience dealing with "aliens" to take much of it in stride.  The discovery, or more likely confirmation, that they are not alone would be destabilizing enough in its own right, but they also have to deal with the revelation that certain of their citizens have psi powers including teleportation, a sort of alien within the alien subplot.  The author then throws in yet another source of trouble, in the form of discoveries made by a human delegate visiting Cersi which you'll have to learn for yourself.  This one’s an adventure story, a political thriller, and a bit of a mystery, and brings this subset of the Trade Pact saga to an apparent end.  Reminiscent at times of early C.J. Cherryh, but with enough original twists to keep the reader guessing throughout.  7/9/09

The Affinity Bridge by George Mann, Tor, 7/09, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-2320-0  

Steampunk is, I am happy to say, alive and well.  I’ve always been fascinated by Victorian England so I’m a soft touch for this little subgenre, and when the story is essentially a murder mystery as well, it presses several of my buttons simultaneously.  This version of London has everything from robots to the walking dead, all living together in an unusual sort of harmony, and Queen Victoria is on life support to prolong her reign.  Our hero is Maurice Newberry, an unofficial detective who bears considerable resemblance to Sherlock Holmes without being a simple clone, and his assistant, Veronica Hobbes, is a formidable young woman in her own right.  They are involved with three separate, or maybe not so separate, cases including an aircraft disaster, the walking dead, and a serial killer who specializes in strangulation.  Their investigations will reveal a good deal more than they expect at the outset.  A bit gruesome at times, but great fun from beginning to end. 7/8/09

First Contact by Ned Lerr, Disney, 2009, $4.99, ISBN 978-142310809-2

Rise of the Ancient by Ned Lerr, Disney, 2009, $4.99, ISBN 978-142310810-8  

These are the first two in the Spectrobes series, long stories rather than actual novels aimed at a fairly young age group. Two space traveling youngsters find a man in cryogenic sleep who tells them that an evil force called the Krawl is going to menace the universe unless they can bring together a group of ages old creatures called the Spectrobes.  They set out to find the Spectrobes on various planets, encountering other strange beings and situations.  There is a kind of charm to these, which reminded me at times of old Planet Stories plots, but they’re written for such a young target audience than it was only a suggestion rather than a realization.  7/7/09

The Dark Reaches by Kristin Landon, Ace, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01734-8  

The Hidden Worlds series sees volume three with this one.  The premise is that artificial intelligences – the Cold Minds – have destroyed Earth in a kind of berserker desire to exterminate the human race.  The survivors – and there wouldn’t be a story without survivors – have colonized other star systems where they hope to remain undiscovered by their enemies.  In this installment, signals are received indicating that some humans still remain alive within the solar system itself.  This is a good, solid, unambitious but rewarding space adventure series which I’ve come to like better as the series progresses and the author develops characters and situations.  There’s a nice surprise ending this time as well, suggesting the direction the next book might take. 7/2/09