The following reviews were written for Science Fiction Chronicle, but most were never used. They conform to the short format of that magazine.
Dreamsongs by George R.R. Martin, Gollancz, 2006, ₤20.00, ISBN 0-575-07905-3
Okay, there is no longer any questions about what is the best single author short story collection for the year. This massive retrospective – almost 1200 pages – includes every significant short piece by Martin, along with a robust selection of his lesser work, although the word “lesser” seems inapplicable in this case. Classics like “The Sandkings”, “With Morning Comes Mistfall”, and “The Pear-Shaped Man”. Although they are predominantly SF, there’s some fantasy and horror as well, and the appendices include excellent bibliographical information. With lengthy but fascinating commentaries by the author, and samples of his work for television and film. Although most of the stories have been previously collected, those earlier volumes are all out of print, and this volume is all you really need to have the best short work by one of the best writers in the genre.
Sixty Days and Counting by Kim Stanley Robinson, Bantam, 3/07, $25, ISBN 0-553-80313-6
Robinson’s latest novel of ecological disaster is told from the point of view of the newly elected President of the US, but it’s a country teetering on the brink. The world’s ecology has deteriorated past the point where it can recover, at least in the short term. The goal now is to find a way to stabilize it and to adapt the country so that it can survive under these new circumstances. As with his previous two books, Robinson presents a depressing view of a future some of us may live to see, and although he holds out hope that we will ultimately learn the error of our ways, it’s obvious he doesn’t think we’ll do so until the disaster is actually upon us. An entirely plausible and gripping thriller that I hope will never resemble the reality ahead of us.
The Armour of Contempt by Dan Abnett, Black Library, 2006, $19.99, ISBN 1-84416-400-4
Another Warhammer military SF novel by the leading author working that particular vein. This is another adventure of Gaunt, his troubled, psychically damaged hero, who returns to a war ravaged world seeking answers to his own questions as well as victory on the battlefield. A degree of complexity is added by tensions between Gaunt and his fellow officers, who seem willing to adopt the techniques of the enemy (in this case demonically inspired) without understanding that this effectively is to admit defeat, a sentiment which possibly reflects certain current geo-political issues.
Nova Swing by M. John Harrison, Gollancz, 2006, ₤17.99, ISBN 0-575-07027-7
After two long an absence, M. John Harrison is back with another novel set in the future he first introduced in Light. The Saudade is an area where runaway technology has taken on a life of its own, creating new forms and apparently even altering the natural laws of the universe. Although it’s illegal to bring any artifacts out, tourists are allowed in and our chief protagonist is a tour guide who is not above making a little extra by circumventing the laws. Richly inventive, smoothly written, and intelligent without being heartless, this is easily Harrison’s best novel yet.
Breakfast with the Ones You Love by Eliot Fintushel, Bantam, 3/07, $12, ISBN 0-553-38405-5
I really couldn’t think of a good comparison for this first novel by one of the more interesting short story writers of recent years. There are hints of Avram Davidson, but Fintushel’s voice is almost entirely his own. This satiric comedy involves a young woman with the ability to kill with a thought, her cat, and a young man who wants to save the human race from itself. Most humorous SF is slight at best, but this one mixes serious themes under the jokes. Fintushel’s debut will be one of your most memorable reading experiences of the year.
The Liberty Gun by Martin Sketchley, Pyr, 2006, $15, ISBN 1-59102-492-7
I had a mixed reaction to the first two novels in the Structure series, but the third is a much more satisfying space adventure that mixes time travel, aliens, military SF, and general intrigue. Our heroes have used a time gate to visit a future version of their world where they discover an alien occupation force. The aliens’ defensive system is highly dependent upon a single resource, and the virtual dictator of the human race is determined to destroy it in order to loosen their hold. But the situation is considerably more complicated than any of the characters realize. It takes a while to get into the story, but once you’re there, you won’t want out.
Fast Forward 1 edited by Lou Anders, Pyr, 2/07, $15, ISBN 1-59102-486-6
Lou Anders has put together a collection of twenty original stories, designed to be the first in an ongoing series along the lines of Terry Carr’s Universe series or Damon Knight’s Orbit collections, although the emphasis appears to be on hard SF. There are stories by some of the best known writers in that sub-genre – Stephen Baxter, Larry Niven, Ken Macleod – as well as representatives of the more literary end of the spectrum – Gene Wolfe, Paul Di Filippo, Pamela Sargent. Non-theme anthologies are almost always more readable than specialized ones and this is no exception, very high quality throughout and enough variation to reward almost any reader’s taste.
From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain by Minister Faust, Del Rey, 1/07, $13.95, ISBN 0-345-46635-7
Humorous SF seems to be making something of a comeback recently. This one is set in an alternate version of our world where superheroes and supervillains are real, but the latter were pretty much wiped out during the 1980s. Now a group of aging superheroes who have no purpose left in their lives are having various psychological problems. Enter Dr. Brain, a psychologist who specializes in their problems, but the best cure of all might be the cause of the mysterious assassination of one of their number. Faust uses an unusual narrative style that seems perfectly suited for this kind of farcical comedy.
Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair, Bantam, 3/07, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58963-4
SF and fantasy themes have been creeping into romance for some time, and now there seems to be the beginning of a reverse flow. This is a space opera in the usual SF tradition, but there’s a stronger romantic element than usual. The protagonist is a spaceship captain who finds herself caught between a superior she doesn’t care for (and who isn’t entirely human any longer) and a fugitive rebel to whom she is drawn. Plenty of action wrapped around the very unusual love triangle.
Reality Bites by Stuart Moore, Black Flame, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-408-X
Part of the Dark Future game related series, set in an urbanized, decaying, future America that has almost become a cliché in cyberpunk fiction. The protagonist this time is a renegade turned ecoterrorist who miscalculates and finds himself as an unwilling contestant in a game show whose losers are more than disappointed. They’re dead. An okay dystopian adventure that borrows heavily from other novels.
Voyages of Imagination by Jeff Ayers, Pocket, 2006, $21, ISBN 1-4165-0349-8
Fans of the Star Trek tie in novels will be delighted to find this new compendium covering plots of all the titles published by Pocket, Bantam, and Ballantine books, covering all the incarnations of the show. Each entry contains a plot summary of various lengths, and most include other information about the authors or other associated issues. In many cases the cover is reproduced in black and white. There is also a detailed timeline that attempts to fit all the books into a consistent sequence.
Lifeforce Soundtrack, composed primarily by Henry Mancini, BSX Records, 2006
This is the expanded, two CD soundtrack from the movie based on Colin Wilson’s eerie SF novel, The Space Vampires. The liner notes provide an interesting narrative about how Mancini’s original score was altered for various reasons and over his objections. There is also additional music composed by Milt Kamen. The weird atmosphere, particularly in the early part of the movie and score, is very well rendered although I’d have to say that as a protracted listening experience, it isn’t as successful, seeming occasionally repetitive and with no outstanding individual bands.
Stargate SG-1: The Ultimate Visual Guide by Kathleen Ritter, DK, 2006, $24.99, ISBN 0-7566-2361-8
As you might expect, this is an extensive collection of stills from the long running cable television series, which I haven’t seen since its first season. The stills are augmented by a few drawings and diagrams, including an impressive grid covering story arcs. There are sections on each major character and shorter coverage of the minor characters, plus features similarly arranged for planets, races, missions, uniforms, weapons, and so forth and so on. Some readers might be put off by an overemphasis on the people and comparatively brief coverage of technology, exotic aliens, and other visual treats, but in some ways that makes the show look more appealing.
Deep Storm by Lincoln Child, Doubleday, 1/07, $24.95, ISBN 0-385-51550-4
Lincoln Child’s third thriller without his usual collaborator, Douglas Preston, is his best solo effort yet. Dr. Peter Crane is summoned to a secret military/scientific facility under the ocean to diagnose the cause of a series of apparently unrelated physical and mental problems among the staff. He quickly learns that the cover story he is told is false, that the military is actually tunneling down to what is believed to be a storehouse of alien technology left as a test to see if humans are capable of reaching it. The truth about what lies below, and the causes of the problems among the crew, are far worse than anyone could have imagined. A rapid fire, exciting, and all too plausible thriller.
Command Decision by Elizabeth Moon, Del Rey, 2/07, $24.95, ISBN 0-345-49159-9
Ky Vatta returns for her newest adventure. She has managed to pull together the shattered remains of the family’s interstellar trading business, but her success could be transient. A growing force of space pirates has extended its authority to control entire planets and threatens to become the dominant force in the area. No individual force can oppose them, but can Ky convince others to join her to present a united force? No real surprises here but solid storytelling with something to appeal to fans of military SF, space opera, and just plain good adventure writing.
Beyond the Gap by Harry Turtledove, Tor, 2/07, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31710-9
I suppose this is technically an alternate history novel, but we’re stretching the definition a bit. The setting is the latter part of an ice age, with humanity divided into a number of tribes. The protagonist is a minor noble in one of these whose life is turned upside down when an emissary from another tribe informs him that the giant glacier has fractured and left a passage through which it is possible to send expeditions into habitable and habited lands beyond. First in a new series of indeterminate length. It has more of the feel of a sword and sorcery novel even without magic and monsters.
Emperor by Stephen Baxter, Ace, 1/07, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01466-6
A few writers have tried to tell the story of humanity in a single book or series of books, with varying degrees of success. Stephen Baxter’s new “Time’s Tapestry” series is another of these, but in the opening volume he wisely narrows his focus to a small portion of the world, and wraps his story around the fortunes of a single family. It’s not exactly our history either. The family in question has a mysterious scroll that seems to predict the future, and with it they are able to influence events far more surehandedly than they might have otherwise. The transitions aren’t so abrupt that they interrupt the story flow and the developing plot contains some interesting speculation about the way history is made.
Outbound by Jack McDevitt, ISFiC, 2006, $30, ISBN 0-9759156-3-0
Jack McDevitt is one of the handful of writers who can still stir up my long suffering and aging sense of wonder. I look forward to each of his novels and I have never been disappointed. Although I tend not to think of him as a short story writer, that perception is clearly wrong because I distinctly remember several of the sixteen stories collected here, and it was like greeting an old friend to start reading them again. They are accompanied by a handful of essays on SF and associated subjects, plus a couple of brief appreciations. If you like a basis in solid storytelling, embellished by some very fine writing, then this book is exactly what you’re looking for.
Sagramanda by Alan Dean Foster, Pyr, 10/06, $25, ISBN 1-59102-488-9
Near future India is the setting for this surprisingly low key novel, surprising because there are a lot of violent things happening in it. The central plot is the theft by a scientist of a revolutionary new, but undescribed, discovery which he is trying to sell to a competitor. Complicating his life is his father, who is planning to kill him for having consorted with a member of the untouchable caste. His former employers have hired a professional killer to track him down, there’s a band of cannibals in the slums, a man-eating tiger has invaded the fringes of the city, and an insane serial killer is being hotly pursued by the police. All of these disparate elements come together for the climax. Nicely understated, and a depressing and unfortunately not entirely inaccurate portrayal of the future of much of the urban world, and not just India.
Hell’s Gate by David Weber and Linda Evans, Baen, 2006, $26, ISBN 1-4165-0939-9
The basic plot of this, the first in a projected series, is an old SF standby, the discovery of a portal to a parallel world and the conflict that erupts when the two cultures collide. The trick this time is that the culture of one world, Arcana, is based on magic that actually works, while that of the other, Sharona, is forged from science and technology. Neither side can understand the weapons used by their enemies, and as war breaks out, the very nature of the battles will be outside the experience of anyone involved. Some clever invention, but I thought the book was too long for its premise, let alone an entire series.
Starship: Pirate by Mike Resnick, Pyr, 12/06, $25, ISBN 1-59102-490-0
Wilson Cole and most of his crew have disavowed their loyalty to the military and taken their ship out to the fringes of human civilization. They hope to make a living as pirates, but not as conventional ones. They will prey only upon other pirates, rather than innocent people, ransoming stolen goods back to their owners or insurance companies. But the world of crime is even more complicated than that of the military, and they soon discover that they are comparative babes in the woods. Resnick combines space opera, a touch of military, more than a touch of humor, and his usual talent for creating larger than life characters in this new series. Consistently good fun from beginning to end.
Summer of the Apocalypse by James Van Pelt, Fairwood, 2006, $17.99, ISBN 0-9746573-8-7
If you had asked, I would have said that it was unlikely anyone could find something new to do with the after-the-plague premise, but I would have said the same thing just before Kim Stanley Robinson brought us The Years of Rice and Salt a few years back. Van Pelt’s first novel uses it as the launch point for his story of a young man’s search for his father, a coming of age story with some strange twists, and simultaneously contrasting it to another journey by the same character, but many years later when he is approaching the end of his life. The writing is excellent, as you would expect from his many short stories, and he really brings Eric – and his world – to life.
Capacity by Tony Ballantyne, Bantam, 1/07, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58929-0
Tony Ballantyne’s first novel left me with somewhat ambivalent feelings. I liked his original approach, but some of the plot elements didn’t work for me. His second book is a lot more controlled and plausible, given the existence of a virtual reality so authentic that it effectively is real. Helen exists in virtual reality, but much to her surprise she discovers that she is only a many times removed copy of the original, and that her previous manifestations were murdered. Elsewhere an investigator uncovers evidence that there may be a serious flaw in the structure of the virtual world. The author’s conception of the virtual world is frequently interesting and the mystery is well done, although I had some trouble identifying with the characters, who seemed even to the reader rather more like computer copies than actual people.
Trail of Time by Jeff Mariotte, Warner,1/07, no price or ISBN listed.
Another novel set in the DC universe. In a paranoid version of America, Clark Kent no longer remembers that he is Superman until the arrival of the Phantom Stranger, who reveals that Earth is under an evil spell. Superman and his allies must travel in time to find the three wizards responsible. This one just didn’t work for me. The clash of magic and superheroes bothered me when Marvel Comics mixed Doctor Strange with Spider-Man and it’s no more plausible or coherent in the DC universe.
Dinosaurs in Fantastic Fiction by Allen A. Debus, McFarland, 2006, $55, ISBN 0-7864-2672-1
Although far from comprehensive, this is an interesting history of how dinosaurs have been treated in SF, ranging from The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the Far-Seer stories by Robert J. Sawyer, exploring changes in how we viewed them, and how changes in scientific theories affected the way writers portrayed them. Films are necessarily included, but the primary focus is on the written word. There’s also a discussion of time travel paradoxes. Quite a few illustrations, all in black and white, and a bibliography that only brushes the surface, although most of the significant stories are included, and the bibliography itself is heavily annotated. There is a listing for The Day of the Dinosaur, which suggests that it is a novel, but it is in fact non-fiction.
Graphic Classics: Jack London edited by Tom Pomplun, Eureka, 2006, $11.95, ISBN 0-9746648-8-X
This is the latest volume in this series which takes short works by famous writers and renders them into graphics format, using a variety of different art styles, including work in this case by more than a dozen different artists. Most of London’s stories were straight adventure rather than SF, but his “The Red One” is included here. The artwork varies in style rather dramatically, from cartoonish to realistic, often to suit the mood of the particular story, a few of which I haven’t read elsewhere. As was the case with the previous volumes in the series, the production values are high and the story telling is superb.
Irwin Allen Television Productions, 1964-1970 by Jon Abbott, McFarland, 2006, $65, ISBN 0-7864-2759-0
This is a detailed appreciation of the four television series produced by Irwin Allen, including episode descriptions, a few stills, background materials, and so forth. Unfortunately, the four shows are not among the shining lights of television SF. They are Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, best of the four, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants. They are set respectively under the sea, in outer space, in various eras from the past, and in an alternate reality where humans are the size of insects. The first three titles have come out on DVD so there may be renewed interest in the shows. Abbott certainly makes a good attempt at finding worthwhile bits and pieces.
Human Visions: The Talebones Interviews conducted by Ken Rand, Fairwood, 2006, #17.99, ISBN 0-9746573-9-5
Interviews with SF and fantasy writers are always popular, and this compilation includes quite a collection of them. Some are well known names like Roger Zelazny, Tim Powers, Fred Saberhagen, C.J. Cherryh, Peter Straub, and Lois McMaster Bujold. Others are less well known writers like Bill Ransom, Eric Nylund, and Kay Kenyon. These are framed in narrative form rather than obvious questions and answers, which makes them more readable. A very nice compilation.
Galactic North by Alastair Reynolds, Gollancz, 2006, ₤ISBN 0-575-07910-X
Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space novels are among the most interesting and inventive I’ve read in the past few years. This new addition to the series is not a novel, however, but a series of loosely related stories set against that same background and spanning millennia of human history. Some of the stories – three of which are original to this book – are rather distantly related, but they help to fill in some of the gaps in his “future history”. There’s also an informative afterword. “Weather”, “Nightingale”, and “Great Wall of Mars” were my favorites, but they’re all excellent.
Allegiance by Timothy Zahn, Del Rey, 1/07, $25.95, ISBN 0-345-47738-3
Timothy Zahn and Michael Kube-McDowell have proven to be the two most interesting writers adding to the Star Wars saga, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a new one from the former. I was surprised however at its placement in the sequence. This book is set between the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and is mostly concerned with Luke Skywalker’s attempts to come to terms with recent discoveries about his own past, and his conflicting feelings about committing himself to the Rebel Alliance. Zahn evokes much of the mood of the original films, and provides enough new material to keep the reader glued to the book. This may well end up being the best tie-in novel of the year.
Resplendent by Stephen Baxter, Gollancz, 2006, ₤12.99, ISBN 0-575-07896-0
The fourth title in the Destiny’s Children series is actually a collection of related short stories, including two very fine short novels, Riding the Rock and Reality Dust. They span all of human history from the time of ancient Rome to the far future of his Xeelee stories, with a strong emphasis on speculation. This blend of occasional space opera and hard SF is difficult to do well, but Baxter always manages to pull it off. I remembered a surprising number of these stories from having read them in the past, mostly in Isaac Asimov’s SF, which is another indicator that they’re worth your time.
The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross, Golden Gryphon, 11/06, $25.95, ISBN 1-930846-45-2
Charles Stross follows up The Atrocity Archives with another novel that mixes Lovecraftian horror with SF. In this case, a scientific project has discovered a method of communicating with the dead, and not just the recent dead either. The secret is being used by a reclusive but very wealthy megalomaniac who wants to rule the world, and who is able to contact the spirit of a powerful creature from the past. This has the trappings of a spy story a la James Bond, but it’s very different in tone and his protagonist is not nearly the superman Bond usually is. A nice mix of genre types and, of course, a rousing and suspenseful story.
Doctor Whom by A.R.R.R. Roberts, Gollancz, 2006, ₤8.99, ISBN 0-575-07928-2
British writer Adam Roberts has a nice sideline of spoofs going for him, of which this is the latest. As you might have guessed, it’s a send up of the Doctor Who television series, recently revived in the UK. Some of his other parodies have felt stale and repetitive, but Roberts gets a fresh breath in this one and some of his jabs are clever and amusing, though as always some of them are bound to seem inevitable. And the Daleks are funny enough in themselves that a spoof of them somehow seems unnecessary. At least the new version of the show suggests how they are able to get up and down stairways.
Some Golden Harbor by David Drake, Baen, 2006, $25, ISBN 1-4165-2080-1
Although much military SF has become as homogeneous as most heroic fantasy, there are a few series that stand out. My favorite of several series that Drake has been expanding are the Daniel Leary stories, of which this is the fifth. Leary is in charge of a military starship in a remote part of space, and he doesn’t have much in the way of manpower or technical resources with which to fight. That doesn’t stop him from getting into the thick of it when an enemy force lands invaders on a friendly planet, threatening to topple the government. You have to know how this is all going to work out in the end, but Drake still manages to build some suspense and a bit of mystery about how all of this is to be accomplished.
Surveillance by Jonathan Raban, Pantheon, 1/07, $24, ISBN 0-375-42244-7
The author is apparently a travel writer who occasionally delves into fiction and, in this case, into near future speculative fiction as well. It’s a few years from now and worries about security have eroded civil liberties even further. Surveillance is welcomed rather than distrusted, and the ever present watchers have made subtle changes in human culture. We see all of this through the eyes of ordinary citizens rather than spies or government officials, and the novel is serious in intent and treatment rather than a standard dystopian novel or spy thriller. Very well written but possibly a bit too hesitant in its speculations to satisfy more experienced genre readers.
Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber, Tor, 1/07, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31500-9
David Weber is best known for his military SF, but he has been growing more adventurous in his plotting in recent years, and this new novel is probably his most ambitious project yet. Humanity’s expansion into the universe hit a speed bump in the form of an alien race which slapped us down pretty effectively. Generations later, a few people are finally beginning to feel as though it’s time to issue a fresh challenge to the stars. This is obviously designed to be the beginning of a panoramic work and as such it has an almost bewildering number of characters, requiring an eight page dramatic personae and a glossary. The size of the cast is probably the book’s biggest flaw, because there are just too many to keep track of, and the dilution reduces the reader’s ability to identify and empathize with the primary characters. This may smooth out as the story develops but for a single book, it is more than slightly overwhelming.
The Best of the Best Volume 2 edited by Gardner Dozois, St Martins, 2007, $40, ISBN 0-312-36341-9
This large collection includes thirteen short novels previously chosen by Dozois as best of the year for his annual collection. There are a number of very excellent pieces of fiction here including Outnumbering the Dead by Fred Pohl, The Hemingway Hoax by Joe Haldeman, Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress (later expanded into a full length novel), and Tendeleo’s Story by Ian McDonald. There is not a mediocre piece in the book, not surprisingly. The short novel seems a particularly viable form for SF, although the markets make it difficult to sell them, which perhaps explains why the ones that do appear are of such high quality.
Transgalactic by A.E. van Vogt, Baen, 2006, $15, ISBN 1-4165-2089-9
The latest author to get omnibus reprint treatment from Baen is apparently A.E. van Vogt. This brings together two of his earlier novels, Empire of the Atom and The Wizard of Linn, plus stories extracted from the Rull and the complete Mixed Men series. These are all early space operas, lavishly told, heavy on action and light on science and literary values. Although they are often dated and a bit clunky, the author’s enthusiasm for his subject is evident. A new writer probably couldn’t get anything like this published today, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t well told stories.
Final Impact by John Birmingham, Del Rey, 1/07, $14.95, ISBN 0-345-45716-1
The third and final volume of the Axis of Time brings this unusual alternate history to an end. An international armada of advanced warships from the near future is propelled back through time into the middle of World War II, and the technology they carry becomes available to both sides in the conflict. Now the allies must press things to a conclusion quickly because it’s only a matter of time until Germany and Japan develop nuclear weapons and the stakes go even higher. A bit dry at times, but an interesting speculation.
The Future Is Queer edited by Richard Labonte and Lawrence Schimel, Arsenal Pulp, 2006, $17.95, ISBN 1-55152-209-8
What would society be like if, in the not too distant future, gay issues were no longer controversial and alternate lifestyles were accepted as nothing out of the ordinary. That’s more or less the starting point for this original anthology of SF stories speculating on the various ways in which this might impact the world. Most of the stories are more interesting for their speculation than for their literary values, but a few are noteworthy in both areas, particularly those by Candas Jane Dorsey, L. Timmel Duchamp, Rachel Pollack, and a collaborative effort with Neil Gaiman.
The Transformer Trilogy by M.A. Foster, DAW, 2006, $15, ISBN 0-7564-0356-1
Here’s another three book in one omnibus, this one including The Morphodite, Transformer, and Preserver, originally published during the first half of the 1980s. Scientists develop a superhuman assassin, the Morphodite, who can physically alter his appearance so thoroughly that even those who know about him can no longer identify him. Such a project involves a certain degree of risk, however, because if the bioengineered weapon is that effective, there is nothing to protect his creators from becoming his next victims. I enjoyed this series twenty years ago, and I suspect a new generation of readers will find it just as gripping today.
Common and Precious by Tim Susman, Sofawolf, 2006 $17.95, ISBN 0-9769212-9-4
This appears to be the first novel based on a shared world setting previously used for small press anthologies which I have not seen. The planet is New Tibet, an icy world inhabited by intelligent tigers, foxes, and other animals. A young female is separated from her family and forced to live among outlaws, which provides the means for the author to describe the intricacies of his imagined cultures. The prose is okay, the plot a bit slow moving but well thought out, and the focus seems more on describing the societies that exist on the planet. Of particular interest to fans of furry animals.
Time Twisters edited by Jean Rabe and Martin H. Greenberg, DAW, 1/07, $7.99, ISBN 0-7564-0405-5
You might gather by the title of this original story that these are stories of time travel, but in fact they might more properly be considered stories of alternate history, sometimes with a changewar plotline. Writers including Harry Turtledove, John Helfers, Gene DeWeese, Kevin J. Anderson, Robert Vardeman, and others explore the possibilities that might result if humans had the ability to manipulate time and their own history. Most of these are more interested in drastic anomalies than thoughtful consideration of what might have happened if things had gone a little differently, but there’s some of that as well. No really outstanding stories, but no bad ones either.
Time’s Black Lagoon by Paul Di Filippo, DH, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 1-59582-033-7
Dark Horse’s new paperback line concentrates on adventures of various creatures who appeared in Universal Studios movies back a few decades, and this is their first title based on The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Di Filippo avoids rehashing the story lines used in the original film and its two sequels and instead follows a team of time travelers who journey back to a time when the Creature was not a solitary creature but an entire race, a race endangered by a variant version of its own kind. This is science fiction rather than horror, in which an entire intelligent species and its culture become the point of focus rather than lumbering monsters, screaming heroines, and the usual captures and escapes. Much more meat to it than you’d expect from the cover, but then again, the movie itself was surprisingly intelligent and convincing so it's not surprising it inspires interesting tie-ins.
The Frost-Haired Vixen by John Zakour, DAW, 12/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-7564-0397-9
The fourth farcical adventure of private detective Zachary Nixon Johnson is as wacky as those that went before. This time he’s being hired by the CEO of a holiday based commercial empire which has biogenetically designed elves for employees. Someone has been murdering the elves, and mutant CEO Santana Clausa wants it stopped and the culprit brought to justice. Sounds pretty straight forward, but things with Johnson are never as easy as they ought to be. Some very funny sequences, some not so funny, but overall a rewarding outing.
Rogue Clone by Steven L. Kent, Ace, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01450-X
The followup to The Clone Republic has Wayson Harris returning to the military fold after deserting and turning to bounty hunting for a living. Loyalty to an old commander brings him back as the human interstellar community fractures and one side attempts to build a warship so powerful that nothing will be able to stand in its way. There were several parts of this novel that reminded me of the Star Wars movie series, although with a bit heavier a touch and more emphasis on the military side. It’s too early to tell yet whether Kent will be content to reuse old themes or if he’ll become more innovative as he goes along. The basic skills are in place but nothing stands out.
Adventures in Unhistory by Avram Davidson, Tor, 12/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30760-X
This collection of intricate and thematically interrelated short stories was first published by a small press in 1993. It contains fifteen speculative essays that suggest fantastic explanations of various legendary creatures and events, like mermaids, werewolves, and dragons, and the careers of Prester John, Sinbad the Sailor, and other. Davidson’s delightfully witty style makes most of these more entertaining than most short stories, and they are also well researched and informative. A very different reading experience for most people, and almost certainly a rewarding one.
The Last Green Tree by Jim Grimsley, Tor, 12/06, $12/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30530-5
Although this is just as nicely written as its predecessor, The Ordinary, I had the same problem getting into the story, no doubt because of my innate uneasiness with stories that mix futuristic science with magic. That’s the central premise in this story in which an interstellar civilization is ruled by a magician, a reign that is about to be challenged from a very unlikely quarter, a remote planet with sentient trees. This one is mostly a quest story, with the trappings of a space opera. The high point is some very highly imaginative touches, particularly in the setting and some of the characterization. If you don’t grind your teeth at this particular brand of cross genre writing, you’re not likely to find a better written example. And if nothing else, it won’t be just like the last book you read.
1826: The Arkansas War by Eric Flint, Del Rey, 11/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-345-46569-5
Eric Flint takes one of the more interesting but overlooked characters from US history as the focus of his new alternate history novel. Henry Clay takes a more pro-active stance in this reality, and eventually manipulates the political scene well enough to become an even bigger player than he was in our own timeline. In this sequel to 1812:The Rivers of War, he coordinates the launch of a war to suppress the separatists in Alabama, a loose coalition of unlikely allies. Although Flint’s variations seem less probable to me than most, they do provide an original setting and provide the basis for some interesting speculation about political development and nation building in the early 19th Century. Harry Turtledove finally has a viable rival.
Great Kings’ War by John F. Carr and Roland Green, Pequod Press, 2006, no price listed, ISBN 0937912034
This sequel to the Lord Kalvan stories by H. Beam Piper was first published in 1985, and this new edition has been revised and substantially expanded. The setting is an alternate history in which America was colonized from the west coast, primarily by Asian and Aryan immigrants. Calvin Morrison is a retired police officer from our time line who is transported there where he uses advanced military training and other knowledge to transform a small kingdom into a powerful force. But he has made enemies in the process, and a repressive church and two powerful armies are poised to bring about his destruction. A worthy continuation of the series.
Maelstrom by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Del Rey, 12/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-345-47004-1
This is volume two in the second trilogy about the planet Petaybee, a world that is a single sentient creature, and a place where the usual laws of nature don’t necessarily apply. The protagonists are shapechangers who live in the oceans much of the time. As human refugees begin to arrive in larger numbers, an intelligent alien race is discovered living in the depths of the ocean. There’s an authors’ message here about the need to live in harmony with the environment as well as with one another, but it’s not ladled on too thickly. I found the changeling device implausible and not really necessary, but much of McCaffrey’s fiction treads the border between fantasy and SF in any case, so her fans will not be surprised.
Mathematicians in Love by Rudy Rucker, Tor, 12/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31584-X
Many years back, SF writer William F. Temple wrote a novel called The Four Sided Triangle in which two scientists attempt to solve a love triangle by making a duplicate of the woman they both love. Rudy Rucker’s take on the same situation is considerably more witty, and the device in this case is high order mathematics which can actually alter the physical world around us. But while mathematics may be an exact science, mathematicians aren’t always perfect. Once you start monkeying with reality, the results might be considerably different than those you expected. Much fun, some clever bits, an amusing and entertaining story. What more could you ask?
Escape from Earth edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois, SF Book Club, 2006, $14.99, ISBN 1-58288-225-3
The SF Book Club has been publishing some very high quality all original anthologies, of which this is the most recent. Ostensibly this one is for young adults, but most adult readers will never notice. Allen Steele, Kage Baker, Geoffrey Landis, Joe Haldeman, and others provide rousing tales of outer space adventures. Haldeman, Landis, and Elizabeth Moon provided the stories that appealed the most to my personal chase, but the quality of the stories is almost uniformly high throughout the book. Worth joining the book club just to get a copy.
Brass Man by Neal Asher, Tor, 1/07, $14.95, ISBN 0-765-31731-1
A high powered interstellar spy takes on a new mission in this sort of sequel to Gridlinked. Ian Cormac is on a quest to find a rare dragon, an adventure that will take him across the galaxy. That might be adventure enough on its own, but there’s a catch. He has a rival this time, a cyborg killer with an almost invulnerable body and a twisted mind who wants to win the race and put the dragon to a very different use. Asher’s gift for invention is particularly evident in this far ranging story set in a future that bears only superficial resemblance to the standard interstellar future societies of most contemporary SF. Asher may well be one of the future giants of the genre.
Carnival by Elizabeth Bear, Bantam, 12/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58904-7
There have been a handful of novels over the years about planets dominated or even exclusively populated by women. This is the latest, a story of intrigue and treachery on the planet Amazonia, where genetically enhanced women control the government. Two imperial agents are dispatched there, ostensibly on a minor mission, actually in an effort to secure the planet’s considerable resources for their superiors. But not everything is as it seems, even within their narrow ranks, and the outcome may not match anyone’s game plan. Bear has quickly emerged as a solid adventure story writer and her space opera is entertaining, plausible, and occasionally even thought provoking.
Cosmic Cocktails edited by Denise Little, DAW, 12/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-7564-0398-7
Spaceport bar stories are an old standby in SF, and Denise Little has put together another collection of them here – all original – many of which speculate about just what bars and taverns might look like in various different human futures. The tone is generally light, sometimes farcical, and the plots involve tall tales and other adventures. Notable entries include those by Sarah A. Hoyt and Loren Coleman. Most of the names in this one are newcomers and some of them are quite slight. Very light entertainment.
Helltown by Dennis O’Neill, Warner, 11/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61658-3
I had never heard of any of the superheroes featured in this novel set in the DC Comics universe, so I almost passed on reading it. It’s a kind of coming of age story in which the protagonist is mentored by a couple of superheroes and becomes one in his own right, and then proves himself in battle. Predictable as it was, I did find myself drawn into the life of Vic Sage, aka The Question, but it doesn’t hold much attraction for readers not fond this sub-genre.
Odyssey by Jack McDevitt, Ace, 11/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01433-X
Priscilla Hutchins returns for her fourth adventure, although she spends most of this volume standing on the sidelines. Space travelers have been reporting sightings of strange objects which may or may not be artificial objects of alien origin. Despite a fleet that is showing signs of dangerous deterioration and a public disinclined toward spending money to refurbish, Hutchins agrees to divert a ship to investigate the phenomenon. Aboard are the young daughter of a prominent politician, a hostile journalist, a bureaucrat, and a pilot obsessed with the desire to keep the space program alive. They discover more than any of them counted on, including a threat to a major human installation. As always, McDevitt makes his imagined universe feel as real as the one we live in, and his characters are even more appealing than usual this time around. One of the most pleasantly entertaining novels of this year.
The Eagle’s Throne by Carlos Fuentes, Random House, 2006, $26.95, ISBN 1-4000-6247-0
Carlos Fuentes turns his hand to near future political fiction with this one, set only a few years from now. The US has sent an occupation force into Columbia, to the distress of many nations in the area. The new President of Mexico publicly objects and as a consequence, the US government imposes a few subtle punishments, and one not so subtle – the cessation of all electronic communication. The sudden change throws the country into chaos. One should not assume that this is an anti-American novel, because the story focuses on the effects of such a dramatic change on Mexican society. The opinionated President does not emerge draped in honor either, nor do several of the other highly placed Mexican officials.
The Sky People by S.M. Stirling, Tor, 11/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31488-6
Stirling starts another alternate history series with this one, but it’s a bit of a stretch to use that label. The premise is that the planets Mars and Venus are more like those created by Edgar Rice Burroughs than by the real ones, a device A. Bertram Chandler employed several years earlier. Russians and Americans both have bases on Venus in this one, a populated but barbaric Venus. The jungles are filled with dinosaurs and other dangers, as well as the native Venusians who have reverted to savagery. The story is fun but I almost think Stirling took it all a little bit too seriously because I never felt the kind of nostalgia that other pastiches have offered. That won’t stop me from looking forward to the next, though. I’m curious to see what he’ll do with Mars.
The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi, Tor, 11/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30941-6
Space opera seems to be making a comeback lately, much to my delight. Scalzi’s third novel involves an interstellar quest to find a rare sheep required for an alien ceremony (hence the title with its Philip K. Dick reference). The sheep is nowhere to be found, but traces of its DNA show up in a human’s body. Throw in other parties interested in possessing the sheep, but for very different reasons, and the result is a mildly satiric, occasionally funny, wild and woolly series of chases and encounters. Scalzi’s first two novels weren’t bad but his third is inventive and clever enough to suggest that he has considerably more potential than he has yet revealed.
Black Order by James Rollins, Morrow, 2006, $24.95, ISBN 0-06-076388-4
Sigma Agent Painter Crowe is back for his third adventure in this fast paced story that involves a secret Nazi discovery in quantum physics that has survived into the present, developed by two separate groups. The first and comparatively benevolent one is hidden in a remote part of Asia, but a more malevolent group in South Africa is using the device to tinker with human evolution and create a genuine master race. Lots and lots of captures and escapes, gun battles and chase sequences, with some mutated killer animals lurking in the background. The incredible luck of the protagonists strains credulity at times, but other than that it’s a rapid fire thriller that should hold your attention. Rollins is also fantasy writer James Clemens.
The Trouble with Aliens by Christopher Anvil, Baen, 2006, $24, ISBN 1-4165-2077-5
About half of this good sized short story collection consists of stories about the human war with the Outs, a hostile alien race, which originally appeared in the 1950s and 1960s. The balance also consists of stories about troubles with aliens, unrelated to the first sequence. All but one of the stories are reprints, the remaining one being an original Anvil wrote specifically for this volume. Anvil was a steady contributor of entertaining and sometimes memorable short stories for several years and his inactivity during the past twenty some years is a loss to the field. Baen has been reprinting most of his fiction, with another volume still in the works.
The Odyssey Gene by Kfir Luzzatto, Echelon, 2006, $12.99, ISBN 1-59080-473-2
The premise of this novel is that a deadly new disease poses a severe threat to the human race, and those who are naturally immune become the object of hostility and are relegated to a kind of second class citizenry. When the protagonist discovers that he is in that category, he is forced to undergo a radical realignment of his entire life. The point of the book is obviously to examine the irrationality of prejudice for whatever reason. The basic story is pretty good, but the writing is occasionally clunky, particularly in the extended dialogues.
The Book of Ler by M.A. Foster, DAW, 2006, $15, ISBN 0-7564-0352-9
Considering that you’re getting three good novels in this package, this is a pretty good buy for your money. The trilogy – The Warriors of Dawn, The Gameplayers of Zan, and The Day of the Klesh – originally appeared during the 1970s. The premise is a fascinating one. Humanity breeds a variant of itself that is less aggressive and more cooperative, but the Ler are at a disadvantage competing with humans, so they eventually form colonies and settle worlds of their own. Distressingly, some of their children begin to display attributes thought bred out of their strain. The various tensions form the basis for three very good novels.
Kris Longknife Resolute by Mike Shepherd, Ace, 11/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01453-4
This is the fourth in a better than average military SF series. The protagonist is a young woman who has had a troubled and exciting early career in space, but who finally gets her own command – not a particularly important one – in this volume. Her biggest problem is a band of pirates who are systematically sabotaging automated installations in her patrol area. Her efforts to investigate uncover a secret. There is an alien planet in the vicinity which holds technological wonders far in advance of humanity’s, and unless she acts, the pirates will soon master its secrets. Intelligent, well told space opera.
Paloma by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Roc, 10/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46115-0
The latest in the Retrieval Artist series mixes space opera and murder mystery. Miles belongs to an organization which helps those who are being persecuted by the repressive government on Earth. When his mentor is murdered, he decides to find out who is responsible. That investigation takes him to a prominent law firm where he uncovers more than he bargained for. This loosely knit series has been of uniformly high quality right from the outset and this particular title may be the best so far.
Ex Cathedra by Rebecca Maines, Twilight Tales, 2006, $12.95, ISBN 0-9779856-0-1
I had only read two of these stories before this volume appeared, so I had no idea what to expect when I started reading it. My expectations were set low, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the stories are quite well written, ranging from competent to quite good, particularly “The Age of Maturity”, “The Canterbury Path”, and “Liquidation”. They vary considerably in tone from light humor to very serious, and the subject matter varies from religious themes to the impact of technology on people. I would not be surprised to see her name appearing more frequently in the magazines in the future.
Infinite Crisis by Greg Cox, Ace, 10/06, $15, ISBN 0-441-01444-5
The Justice League is in trouble. Batman and Wonder Woman apparently have surrendered to megalomania and are as menacing as they are helpful. Superman seems unable to make the decision to act decisively. As things spiral toward chaos, it becomes obvious that something has happened to change the course of history. But what was it, and can it be fixed? Greg Cox takes us on another journey into a world of superheroes and supervillains, but this time blurs the distinction between the two.
Burning Dreams by Margaret Wander Bonanno, Pocket, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-9693-0
To Reign in Hell by Greg Cox, Pocket, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-5712-9
Summon the Thunder by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, Pocket, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-4165-2400-2
I hadn’t read any of the current crop of Star Trek novels in a while, so I decided it was time to find out what was happening there. Judging by this sample, there has been a decided drift away from the center, that is, from the major television characters. The first is the story of Christopher Pike, captain of the Enterprise before Kirk took over. It’s not just one incident from his career either, but a full fledged biography, filled with typical Trek style adventures. The second title is a shorter biography of another minor character, Khan, detailing his adventures while exiled on a remote and inhospitable world after Kirk marooned him and a few of his followers. That places it between the original television episode and the later movie. Finally we have a set of characters in the third novel who originated in book form. A remote Federation outpost is confronted with danger when an ancient alien intelligence emerges from a long hibernation. All three are competently written, but only the third really held my interest. The first was too episodic, the second too predictable.
The Athena Factor by W. Michael Gear, Forge, 7/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-765-35023-8
It Sleeps in Me by Kathleen O’Neal Gear, Tor, 7/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-35025-4
The Gears started writing genre SF, producing several entertaining if not particularly memorable space adventures before turning to a more general market, chiefly their lengthy series of stories set in prehistoric times. Both have continued to write occasional stories on the fringes of the field, as witness these two recent novels. The first is cast as a contemporary thriller. The theft of artifacts owned by famous Hollywood stars is revealed to be the tip of the iceberg, an iceberg involving efforts to genetically engineer people by copying the DNA of celebrities. Marginally SF and reasonably suspenseful. The second title is the first in a series similar to their prehistoric novels, but it involves a form of reincarnation and mysticism that pushes it into fantasy. This one is well written but not really my cup of tea. If you like Jean Auel and similar writers, however, be sure to watch for this sequence.
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, Harcourt,10/06, $17, ISBN 0-15-205826-5
Although this is a young adult novel, it does a very good job of conveying the emotional atmosphere that might prevail after an astronomical events effectively destroys most of civilization. The teenaged protagonist and her family struggle to survive in the aftermath, as well as to establish a new basis for interaction with others. The book is cast as her journal, providing considerable insight into her reactions to the change of her environment, and for the most part it’s very convincing.
The Centenarian by Honore de Balzac, Wesleyan, 2006, $29.95, ISBN 0-8195-6797-3
Well, here’s an author I never thought I’d be reviewing here, but Wesleyan has found an early SF novel by the classic French writer, translated here by Daniele Chatelain and George Slusser. It’s the story of a ruthless man who functions as a kind of scientific vampire. He can extend his own life, perhaps indefinitely, but only by extracting the lifeforce from other people, inevitably causing their premature demise. The main conflict comes between him and his adult son, a soldier in Napoleon’s army, whose growing awareness of his father’s activities is, obviously, unsettling. Although more sedately paced and literary than modern fiction, the novel reads surprisingly well and I’m surprised it has languished in obscurity for so long despite a theme that compares to Dracula or The Picture of Dorian Gray. Some of the “classic” genre novels reprinted in recent years have been simply curiosities, but this one has considerable power even now.
Blindsight by Peter Watts, Tor, 10/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31218-2
Peter Watts leaves his first series behind and breaks new ground in this novel of a future in which alien artifacts appear in the Earth’s atmosphere, heralding the arriving of an intelligent being from another solar system. The newcomer doesn’t seem interested in first contact, however, remaining in space and tending to its own business. Curious monkeys that we are, humanity decides to initiate contact, but chooses for that mission a very strange collection of misfits and oddballs. Therein lies the charm of the novel, because it is the description of these characters and their interaction that is the core of the novel, and in some ways the first contacts are multiple, among the humans as well as between them and the unknown.
Mappa Mundi by Justina Robson, Pyr, 9/06, $15, ISBN 1-59102-491-9
This is, I believe, the author’s first novel, previously released only in the UK. Natalie Armstrong is a psychologist who discovers that the military is more than usually interested in the latest trends in her field, and that they may be looking at forms of mind control that have great potential for abuse. When she also gets involved in the investigation of a missing defector from the Soviet sphere, the two threads are drawn together, pointing to a frightening conclusion. This one might well have been packaged as a contemporary thriller rather than SF, and it’s a good one regardless of your mind set while you’re reading it.
To Hold Infinity by John Meaney, Pyr, 9/06, $25, ISBN 1-59102-489-7
A recently widowed woman decides to travel to a distant planet to deal with the estrangement between herself and her son. When she arrives, she discovers that he has accurately been accused of being involved in illegal trading and unjustly accused of murder. He has also managed to disappear. Her efforts to track him down herself are hindered by their mutual enemies and the unusual society in which she finds herself. I believe that this novel was previously published in the UK.
Freedom! edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Mark Tier, Baen, 2006, $14, ISBN 1-4165-2072-4
This large anthology is actually the omnibus edition of two earlier titles, Give Me Liberty from 2003 and Visions of Liberty from 2004. Given the publisher, it’s not surprising that there’s a strong, libertarian strain in both collections. The stories – all reprints – include tales by Murray Leinster, Frank Herbert, Robert Sawyer, Jack Williamson, and others and cover a fairly broad range of settings and treatments, although all basically reflect in one form or another a distrust of government. While that sentiment might be good in practice, it does tend to produce a sense of monotony in a selection of stories this large.
The Golden Amazon of Venus by John Russell Fearn, Gryphon, 2006, $16, ISBN 1-58250-082-7
Chameleon Planet by John Russell Fearn and Philip Harbottle, Gryphon, 2006, $16, ISBN 1-58250-080-0
Gryphon books has spent several years bringing the Golden Amazon series back into print. The Amazon is a female superhero of sorts who battles aliens and other dangers on Earth and elsewhere in a series of pulpish adventures which, for all their crudeness, are exciting and entertaining. The first of these two titles is a collection of early short stories not really part of the series, a kind of dry run using a slightly different version of the Amazon for a series of adventures on a now totally improbable Venus. Corny and scientifically inept by contemporary standards, but still fun. The second title is a new entry in the series, written primarily by Harbottle from notes left by the late Fearn. This one is set in space as the Amazon travels to a distant world in pursuit of her nemesis. You just don’t get novels with giant insects and similar beasties any more. Harbottle captures the essence of Fearn quite well. More posthumous collaborations are in the works.
The Fifth Quadrant by C.J. Ryan, Bantam, 10/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58902-3
The third adventure of Gloria VanDeen, ex-wife of the emperor of the human interstellar empire, takes up where the last left off. Despite the termination of her marriage, she remains an influential figure in interstellar politics, perhaps too influential, since someone is trying to kill her. They choose an odd weapon for the task, perhaps hinting that the old days of open conflict are about to return. VanDenn is a kind of female Dominic Flandry with a different kind of finesse. Enjoyable space opera.
The Great Fake-Out by Alice Alfonsi, Volo, 2006, $4.99, ISBN 0-7868-3846-9
A short young adult novel based on a Disney television series which I haven’t seen. Phil and his family are stranded time travelers from the distant future when human evolution has taken an odd turn – people only have four toes on each foot. When Phil is faced with the necessity of appearing barefoot, he has to do some quick side stepping, so to speak. Slight but mildly amusing. It didn’t make me want to go out and track down the television show.
Of Fire and Night by Kevin J. Anderson, Brilliance Audio, 2006, $48.95, ISBN 1-59737-217-X
I previously reviewed the hardcover of the fifth in the Saga of the Seven Suns, a space opera on a vast scale involving an interstellar war involving disparate groups of humans and aliens combined into complex alliances. In this one things are not going well for the human race, thanks in large part to the bizarre actions of the nominal leader of the race. David Colacci does a fine job of transforming this exciting and sometimes grandiose saga into an audio book. Presented unabridged here on 16 CDs, for 19 hours of entertainment.
Alien Theory by Patrica Monk, Scarecrow, 2006, $49.95, ISBN 0-8108-5746-4
Here we have a very serious discussion of the way in which SF writers create aliens – their physical description, the way their minds work, and the cultures that they live in – all of this interpreted in large part in Jungian terms. That might frighten off casual readers but for the most part this lengthy treatment is perfectly accessible to the lay reader, and is filled with interesting observations about how writers go about their jobs. Monk has certainly done her research, drawing on several pieces of non-fiction by SF writers as well as their fictional work. Like most academic books, the price tag is a bit high, but unlike most of them, this might well be worth it.
James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips, St Martins, 2006, $27.95, ISBN 0-312-20385-3
This is certainly one of the best biographies of a science fiction personality I’ve read, partly because Phillips does a very fine job, partly because Tiptree/Sheldon led such an interesting life. I enjoyed a brief correspondence with Sheldon and was always impressed by the complexity of her thoughts and the obvious broad range of experience behind her, but I had never realized just how extraordinary she was in both respects until I read this. She was also one of the best writers the genre has ever seen and I believe people will still be reading and talking about her work long after the flavors of the day have passed into obscurity. Beautifully written and filled with insights that seem at times quite intimate.
The Machine’s Child by Kage Baker, Tor, 9/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31551-3
Kage Baker’s novels of the Company and a battle across time and space have followed various story lines in different directions which now begin to converge. Mendoza, whom we believed dead and gone, has been brought back to life in time to meet various people from her past. Add in some clones, an artificial intelligence, multiple personalities sharing the same body, a love quadrangle, and other complexities and you have one wild ride before you reach the end. Or is it the end?
Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder, Tor, 10/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31543-2
I suspect this is another novel published in two volumes, collectively known as The Virga. The setting is one of those unique worlds like Niven’s Ringworld, Farmer’s Riverworld series, or Baxter’s Flux. It’s a giant balloon, thousands of miles across, home to many separate nations. The story is about a man who plots revenge against the military leader whose recent campaign caused the death of the protagonist’s parents, but the real focus of the story is on the created world, the ways in which its inhabitants deal with the physical and social problems of life in such a structure. Easily the author’s best work to date.
Threshold Shift by Eric Brown, Golden Gryphon, 2006, $24.95, ISBN 1-930846-43-6
Eric Brown’s SF hasn’t appeared very often in the US as yet, which surprises me. Although he has yet to produce a breakout work, his novels have been consistently solid and entertaining, and his short fiction is in some ways even better. This is his second collection, I believe, ten stories of which I had already read about half and almost all of which first appeared in British magazines. “Children of Winter” is almost certainly the best in the collection, but several of the others – particularly the Kethani mini-series – are also noteworthy.
Hunters of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, Tor, 8/06, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31202-1
Having produced the multi-volume prequel series to Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, his son Brian and Kevin J. Anderson are now at work on a sequel, apparently to tie up the various story lines. This is set directly following Chapterhouse: Dune, which ended with a group of refugees fleeing into the galaxy. They are pursued in this and a further volume, Sandworms of Dune, by a mysterious enemy force, which compels them to use their technology to recreate various figures from the past, including Paul Atreides and others who died in the original series. I found the latter part of Herbert senior’s sequence almost unreadable, but this new volume bears more than a passing resemblance in tone and structure to the first few titles.
Eifelheim by Michael Flynn, Tor, 10/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30096-6
Michael Flynn’s newest novel is a story of first contact, but not in outer space or the far future. A small town in 14th Century Europe is changed forever when an alien spaceship crashes in a nearby forest. The mystery of what happened is shown to us partly from the point of view of the citizens of that community and partly as revealed by the research of an historian from our own future who is puzzled by what appears to be an historical anomaly. Quite a change from Flynn’s previous work, enlivened by a cast of believable characters, an interesting premise, and all mixed together into a coherent and entertaining whole.
Logos Run by William C. Dietz, Ace, 10/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01428-3
William Dietz has written some interesting military SF, but he’s at his best when he’s doing interplanetary adventure stories like this one, the sequel to Runner. Jak Rebo has a mission, to deliver an artificial intelligence to a remote planet. If he succeeds, the ruptured system of star gates that once made human civilization more cohesive might be repaired and the course of history changed. If he fails, the decay into chaos and barbarism might be accelerated. And some people are philosophically opposed to a return to the high technology of previous times and attempt to prevent him from reaching his goal. Light adventure but good light adventure even if I did know well in advance what was going to happen at the end.
The Green Trap by Ben Bova, Forge, 11/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30924-6
Ben Bova steps away from his exploration of the solar system for this near future novel with an ecological theme. The protagonist is looking into the murder of his brother, a scientist who was working on a method of breaking down water molecules. His discovery could give the world a cheap, simple source of all the power it will ever need. Unfortunately, a wide array of commercial concerns, including power companies, oil producers, and others all had a good reason for wanting the man dead and his discovery suppressed, and they’re willing to commit a second murder if that’s what is required. A nice, taut contemporary thriller with an SF theme.
The Swarm by Frank Schatzing, Hodder & Stoughton, 2006, ₤12.99, ISBN 0-340-89523-3
This is a very big time investment, nearly 900 pages, originally published in Germany in 2004. It’s worth every bit of it. If you like disaster novels, this is for you. If you’re interested in well researched, lucidly explained marine biology, this is for you. If you like first contact stories, this is for you. If you like riveting, exciting fiction, this is for you. It opens with a series of anomalous incidents involving whales, who seem to be acting in concert to attack surface vessels. The incidents escalate and more lifeforms appear to be joining the war against humanity. But this isn’t a nature gone wild novel. Everything has a rational explanation involving what really lives in the depths of the oceans. A greater threat emerges when it is discovered that a mutated form of bacteria is releasing pockets of methane which could collapse the continental shelves, causing tsunamis initially and pointing toward an eventually alteration of the atmosphere. Very ably translated by Sally-Ann Spencer. As of this writing, there is no US edition, but I can't imagine that it will be long before that situation changes.
Prodigal by Marc C. Giller, Bantam, 10/06, $12, ISBN 0-553-38332-4
New author Giller’s follow up to Hammerjack is better than the original. The first expedition to Mars in several years uncovers a puzzling mystery which will have much more significant consequences when they return to Earth. Lea Prism, who has retreated from her earlier near total immersion in virtual reality, is now spending her time tracking down cyber-terrorists, completely unaware of the fact that a major global crisis is brewing. Flirts with cyberpunk without becoming hung up on the jargon and devices usually associated with it and tells a lively and entertaining story.
Alphanauts by J. Brian Clarke, Edge, 2006, $14.95, ISBN 1-894063-14-7
I vaguely recall enjoying the author’s first and only other novel, which appeared more than fifteen years ago. His recent return to book length is the story of a planetary colony going through a series of crises, some of them inherent to the new world, some provoked by a flood of refugees arriving from Earth and threatening to overrun them. It bears only passing resemblance to Allen Steele’s Coyote series, however. Throw in some cyborgs, an artificial intelligence, alien creatures, and a few other plot twists and you have an exciting if sometimes a bit over the top adventure story.
Forbidden Planets edited by Peter Crowther, DAW, 11/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-7564-0330-8
The fiftieth anniversary of the film, Forbidden Planet, is commemorated in this all original collection of stories by visits to worlds best left on their own. The stories included here are generally much different in tone but no less interesting, including good tales by Alastair Reynolds, Paul Di Filippo, Ian McDonald, Jay Lake, and eight others. Everything from mild satire to hard science fiction, suspense, adventure, and some light humor. A nice mix of better than average quality short fiction from a good cross section of contemporary SF.
Blind by Matthew Farrer, Black Library, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-373-3
This new Warhammer novel has an interesting premise. The setting is a fortress on a distant world wherein a number of quasi-telepaths are sequestered like monks. They have unusual and somewhat differing powers to project their minds into space. Unfortunately, when one of them is murdered, none of the others are able to read the minds of those around them and determine who is responsible. Enter Farrer’s recurring character, a female soldier whose investigation eventually leads to the truth. An entertaining mystery that only cheats a little bit.
Phule’s Errand by Robert Asprin and Peter J. Heck, Ace, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01423-2
The sixth adventure of Willard Phule has its moments, but they’re beginning to sound like a refrain rather than a melody. His butler and right hand man has run off with a pretty young thing, leaving Phule incapable of managing his own affairs, let alone command his subordinates. So Phule goes looking for him, just as his superior arrives on the scene. Some amusing episodes follow as the AWOL Phule seeks to salvage the situation. SF humor has been pretty scarce since Ron Goulart’s output dropped off, and these are among the better slapstick in the field. But I think it’s time for a new schtick.
The Surrogates by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele, Top Shelf, 2006, $19.95, ISBN 1-891830-87-2
This trade paperback includes all five of the comics in this series set in a future when androids make it possible for people to conduct their personal business without ever leaving their home, although sometimes things conspire against them. The artwork is comparatively simple and the color is more a shading than full color, which gives the story a kind of nourish atmosphere. The book contains some additional material including commentary and other artwork. The stories are relatively sophisticated for the graphic world, relying more on confrontation than physical conflict.
Battlestar Galactica Season II Soundtrack, Bear McCreary, La-La Land Records, 2006.
Superman Returns Soundtrack, John Ottman, Rhino, 2006
Abominable Soundtrack, Lalo Schifrin, Red Circle, 2006
A handful of soundtracks came my way recently so I took them on my last trip and played them in the car. There is an inherent problem with soundtracks. Since the music is designed to enhance visual effects, they often seem unfocused when the connection is broken. The first of the three titles, from the television series which I still have not managed to see, does an excellent job of avoiding the problem. All of the music stands on its own, and most of it was very impressive. The composer makes extensive use of other cultural traditions and there is a strong oriental theme at times, and I also liked the way he used violins, particularly in track 4. The opening track, a variation of the original series theme, is one of the best, but they’re all quite good. The Superman music is not as consistent or as interesting, and you can tell it’s a soundtrack very early on. Tracks 5,6, and 9 are the only ones that I thought stood out. It’s pleasant music but for the most part, not very memorable. The CD does contain some extra features that should make it more appealing, related to the film itself. Finally we have the score from a film I’d never even heard of, about the abominable snowman. Not only does the music not stand on its own, it’s jerky and so uneven that I had to force myself to listen until the end. It probably serves its purpose in the film, but it’s not something you’re going to want to pop in the CD player and listen to.
Worldcon Guest of Honor Speeches edited by Mike Resnick and Joe Siclari, ISFiC, 2006, $30, ISBN 0-9759156-3-0
It’s actually rather surprising that no one has thought to do this previously. The title pretty much tells you what is included, thirty one speeches ranging from 1939 to 2005. Everyone from Frank R. Paul to Christopher Priest, and including such people as Robert A. Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, Doris Lessing, Hugo Gernsback, Doc Smith, John W. Campbell Jr., and the Strugatsky brothers. Not surprisingly, the quality varies and some are much more interesting than others, but together they present a surprising panorama of the development of modern SF.
Best Short Novels 2006 edited by Jonathan Strahan, SF Book Club, 2006, $12.99, ISBN 1-58288-222-2
Forbidden Planets edited by Marvin Kaye, SF Book Club, 2006, $13.99, ISBN 1-58288-211-6
The SF Book Club has been producing some very nice anthologies that don’t get much mention, including these two. The first title is, I believe, the third in an annual series. I’ve always liked the novella length for SF, probably a leftover from my days devouring Ace Doubles, and since there is so little market for them at present, the few that do get published are generally quite good. That’s the case with all of these, drawn from both the prozines and from various other sources. Good enough to join the club just to get a copy. Marvin Kaye’s previous fantasy anthologies have all maintained a very high quality level, and his first venture into SF is equally impressive. Original stories by Allen Steele, Nancy Kress, Alan Dean Foster, Robert Reed, Julie E. Czerneda, and Jack McDevitt, some of them set in their respective author’s other series, and all of them quite good, particularly the Steele, Kress, and McDevitt contributions. Don’t overlook these because they are book club editions.
Dark Gold by David Angsten, Thomas Dunne, 2006, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-34373-6
Mainstream thrillers often use SF themes as in the case with this quite satisfying first novel. The protagonist is in Mexico with two friends, looking for his missing brother who may have discovered the location of a sunken treasure ship. They fall into company with the rich owner of a yacht and his two attractive female companions, travel to a rather bizarre remote Mexican village, and eventually find what they’re looking for, although not in the way they or the reader expects. The SF content consists of the sea creature which is more or less guarding the treasure, a giant manta ray that doesn’t act the way its kind normally do and which is evidently some kind of mutation, although we never learn why. The scenes in the Boschian Mexican village and some of the underwater sequences are excellent. This would make a hell of a movie.
The Book of the Dead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Warner, 2006, $25.95, ISBN 0-446-57698-7
Preston and Child introduced Agent Pendergast way back in Relic, and have recently completed – with this volume – the three volume series about his battle with his evil brother Diogenes. Diogenes plans to cause the death of a number of prominent citizens and possibly violence to countless others by using a unique and vaguely SF combination of sounds and strobe lights during a public event. His brother is equally determined to thwart him. Another SF element consists of Pendergast’s ward, whose lifespan has been extended to centuries thanks to a mysterious elixir. The story is riveting, as are all their books, but the climax this time was a bit of a let down. Diogenes had been so brilliant up until then that he seems peculiarly unprepared for the final showdown.
Sagittarius Is Bleeding by Peter David, Tor, 10/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31605-6
I haven’t seen a single episode of the revived Battlestar Galactica, so I was a little disoriented at times because my recollections were all from the original series. This new adventure involves a series of disturbing, possibly prophetic dreams which seem to indicate that the Cylons will find and ultimately destroy the Earth, dooming what remains of the human race. The president of the refugees fears that an extremist group of religious fanatics will use the dreams as the basis for a power grab which can further destabilize the already fragile superstructure of the survivors. Given the not entirely credible premise of the series, the novel is fairly true to the spirit of the original.
Horizons by Mary Rosenblum, Tor, 10/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31604-8
Mary Rosenblum left SF for mystery novels a few years back, which was unfortunate because most of what I had read of her work was quite good. But now she’s back with her first SF novel in about ten years, and it’s a good one. She’s a genetically enhanced human with empathic powers who is determined to track down the people who killed her brother. The search takes her to an orbiting habitat high above Earth, a new culture whose leaders are beginning to consider the desirability of severing their official ties with Earth and becoming an independent society. One of the leading proponents of this is involved with the murder case, and with dark secrets from his own past, and his encounter with the protagonist sets off a series of crises. I hope this means Rosenblum is back to stay.
Alpha by Catherine Asaro, Baen, 9/06, $25, ISBN 1-4165-2081-3
Androids, cyborgs, and other forms of artificial or genetically engineered characters have been common themes in a large number of recent novels, including this one, sequel to Sunrise Alley. A woman with unusual physical powers becomes caught up in a deadly mystery which is resolved against the backdrop of the question of what it means to be human, and how far we can alter ourselves before we begin to be something else entirely. Asaro’s talent for painting a landscape and moving her characters across it is evident once again in this fast paced and intricate novel.
Darth Bane: Path of Destruction by Drew Karpshyn, Del Rey, 9/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-345-47736-7
The Star Wars tie-in franchise starts off in a new direction with this novel, the first to be set in the distant past when the Sith and the Jedi were both numerous and contended for influence in the shaping of the galaxy. The Jedi remain dominant, but a new Sith Lord appears who recognizes that the internal politics of his kind are destroying their chances for success, and who hatches a plot to reshape them into his own personal army. The prose is competent and the story interesting more for its expansion of the Star Wars universe than for any originality of its ideas or execution.
Trouble Magnet by Alan Dean Foster, Del Rey, 11/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-345-48504-1
Flinx and Pip are back again, and they are about to save the galaxy. This time they’re on a quest to locate a sentient, space traveling battle fortress and convince it to enlist in their cause, but naturally they can’t accomplish anything without first enduring, and surviving, a series of adventures. Foster is one of the very best at this kind of lightweight, interplanetary adventure, and so far the individual volumes have been distinct rather than blending into one undifferentiated story. Not up to the very high standard of its predecessor, Running from the Deity, but still well worth your reading time.
Spears of God by Howard V. Hendrix, Del Rey, $14.95, ISBN 0-345-45598-3
Howard Hendrix has very quietly carved out a niche as a writer of just slightly out of the ordinary but definitely entertaining SF novels. His latest is perhaps his strangest. Fragments of ancient meteorites are scattered over the Earth, each possessing the power to imbue its owner with a form of telepathy. The potential is significant to a variety of organizations, private and governmental, military and scientific, and the race is on to find them, or steal them from others. The premise is unusual and the execution is carried out deftly and with some surprising twists.
Crossover by Joel Shepherd, Pyr, 8/06, $15, ISBN 1-59102-443-9
Androids, cyborgs, and genetically enhanced people have become popular themes these past few months. This one is about an android, the definition of which is not always clear. Cassandra Kresnov meets so much prejudice within the interstellar civilization where she originated and abandons it to pursue a new life in another. Unfortunately, her new home isn’t free of the same problems, and it is also the focus of clandestine espionage by both parties.
Sex in the System edited by Cecilia Tan, Thunder’s Mouth, 2006, $15.95, ISBN 1-56025-851-9
Cecilia Tan has specialized in producing high quality anthologies of fantastic erotica, much better than competing volumes although still not for mainstream tastes. This latest is much closer, with contributions from Joe Haldeman, Paul Di Filippo, Shariann Lewitt, Scott Westerfeld, and others, a blend of familiar SF authors and those who write primarily in erotic markets. The theme for this is the interrelationship of sex and technology, and it’s handled best by the familiar names, although Sarah Micklem and Jennifer Stevenson are also quite good. As long as you don’t mind explicit sex, you should find this worth your time.
Firestorm by David Klass, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2006, $17, ISBN 0-374-32307-0
Ecology is the theme of this young adult SF adventure. The teenaged protagonist leads an ordinary life until his excellence at sports results in publicity that leads to his identification by shadowy figures. Now he’s on the run, trying to solve the mystery of his own existence and how he fits into an upcoming environmental crisis. First volume in the Caretaker trilogy, which never quite came alive for me, at least partly because it is written in present tense, which seems even more awkward when the author uses a succession of short, simple sentences.
Raising Atlantis by Thomas Greanias, Pocket, 6/06, $4.99, ISBN 1-4165-2445-2
I assume the low price on this new paperback is promotional, since the next in the series is appearing in hardcover shortly. The premise is that an earthquake in Antarctica uncovers the ruins of an ancient civilization, Atlantis, but what should have been an archaeologist’s dream has sinister overtones. There are hints of an ancient technology, and even worse a threat that could consume the modern world. The US military, the Vatican, and other parties have specific interests in what will happen next, but of course we won’t find out everything in this opening volume in the series.
The Freedom Phalanx by Robin D. Laws, CDS, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 1-59315-221-3
The City of Heroes series, based on a role playing game, is set in a city outside the rest of the world where superheroes and supervillains battle one another. Robin Laws, whose previously work has been in the Warhammer series, provides a fast paced but somewhat bland adventure in which the older superheroes have become relatively ineffective due to dissensions among them and self doubts, and their timing couldn’t be worse because a new band of villains is threatening widescale crime and violence. Okay if you like this sort of thing, but the author’s Warhammer fantasies were much better.
The Killing Frost by Scott Gamboe, Medallion, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 1932815988
The human empire and the Bromidian empire have been at peace ever since a misguided war sometime in the past. Unfortunately there are factions within the Bromidians who would like to see a return to hostility, and even more unfortunately there are traitors among the humans who are willing to help them along. The author – this is his first novel – shows a good flare for plotting galactic adventures and intrigues, but the writing itself is uneven and at times very flat and uninvolving.
Mesmerists, Monsters, & Machines by Martin Willis, Kent State University, 2006, $29, ISBN 0-87338-857-7
It is widely accepted and is probably at least partly true that 20th Century science was influenced by 20th Century SF. The author of this new scholarly work contends that the same was true in the 19th Century, although perhaps not as dramatically. He argues that H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and others also contributed to the direction of their scientific peers. Some of his arguments are convincing, others less so. The line of argument is sometimes a bit abstruse but the prose is accessible to non-academic readers.
Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson, Tor, 9/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31312-X
I wasn't expecting much after the disappointment of For Us, the Living, the long lost and better left that way early novel by Robert Heinlein. This one was written by Spider Robinson from Heinlein's extensive notes, but other than the basic plot, it reads pretty much like Robinson. The protagonist discovers that the girl he loves is heir to the largest commercial empire in human space, rebels at the future that is laid out for him, and runs off to a sublight colony ship to forget her on another world. Along the way he encounters a number of characters, all of whom are pretty much the same person, and all of whom talk in the same annoying banter – liberally interspersed with Robinson's inevitable puns – before discovering the Earth has been destroyed, apparently by unknown aliens. Then he finds the love of his life through one of the more implausible coincidences I've encountered recently. This won't do much to improve the reputation of either author, both of whom have produced admirable work elsewhere.
1634: The Ram Rebellion by Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce, Baen, 2006, $25, ISBN 1-4165-2060-0
This is the third in a series, not counting a couple of associated anthologies, which is similar to a trilogy by S.M. Stirling published a few years back. A large chunk of present day America has been transplanted back through time to 17th Century Europe where, predictably, they have an enormous impact on the development of the continent and its evolution toward a United States of Europe. The current volume is chiefly concerned with the political and economic impact because their push for a universal franchise causes social and political upheavals on an unprecedented scale. Are the serfs ready to vote? Will the aristocrats stand for it? The sweeping events are compressed into an unrealistic short period of time for literary purposes, but some of the speculation is provocative and the questions raised have some application to our present policies in the Mideast.
Event by David Lynn Golemon, Thomas Dunne, 2006, $23.95, ISBN 0-312-35341-4
There have been quite a few mainstream thrillers with SF elements recently, some of them quite good, some quite bad, and others that just sort of sit there. This is in that last category, not really a bad book but not particularly good either. The Event Group is an elite organization formed by the US government to deal with extraordinary situations, and the latest is a humdinger. An alien spaceship has landed with two occupants, one apparently with good intentions, the other a powerful creature who plans to destroy the world. The plot has some serious problems at times, but the adventure sequences are well done. This is the first in a projected series.
End of the World Blues by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Gollancz, 8/06, £12.99, ISBN 0-575-07616-X
Future Japan has been an occasional setting for SF writers who mix a kind of toned down cyberpunk with aspects of the conventional thriller. That's the case with this latest from a British writer who doesn't get as much attention in the US as he deserves, although that's been improving. An American entrepreneur relocates to Asia where he promptly gets involved, largely through his own fault, with the local criminal underworld, and then with a young woman who has managed to steal a small fortune. Unfortunately, she has some additional problems, including gaps in her own memories and alternate identities. The plot might suggest a routine thriller, but Grimwood's prose and excellent sense of pacing raise this to another level.
Quantico by Greg Bear, Madison Park Press, 2006, $14.99, ISBN 1-58288-217-7
This was sent to me by the SF Book Club, and it's not clear to me whether Madison Park is their imprint or the original publisher. It is, however, the first Greg Bear I've seen in a couple of years, and it's a near future thriller that could easily have been published as a mainstream novel. A few years from now, terrorist activity has increased all over the world, and the increasingly sophisticated technological responses are constantly being neutralized by the ingenuity of the terrorists. Just as a new plot involving a racially targeted plague is approaching fruition, political pressures in the US are combining to seriously impede the FBI's ability to respond. Considerably less imaginative than most of Bear's other work, but just as well written.
Star Begotten by H.G. Wells, Wesleyan, 2006, $24.95, ISBN 0-8195-6729-9
The reason that this semi-sequel to The War of the Worlds is so little known is that it is far more prone to lecturing and has surprisingly little plot. Thwarted from physical conquest, the Martians have apparently used a ray weapon to alter human genetic material and effectively some human beings may already have become crypto-Martians. The protagonist is convinced of this but there's not a great deal he can do about it. This particular edition, the first in the US in more than thirty years I believe, is of interest in large part because of the annotations. The novel itself is more of a curiosity than an entertainment.
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty Third Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois, St Martins, 2006, $19.95, ISBN 0-312-35334-0
This is by far the longest series of its type, drawing its stories from the usual magazines and original anthologies, plus a few from the internet and elsewhere. Quite a few of them were new to me this year, but as always the quality level is uniformly high and the diversity of the styles and subject matters makes this one of the more enjoyable anthologies to read as a whole rather than a bunch of shorts. Dozois includes his usual comprehensive summary of the year and length list of honorable mentions. At almost six hundred pages, this is once again a very good survey of the year in short fiction.
It's Superman by Tom De Haven, Ballantine, 2006, $13.95, ISBN 0-345-49392-3
I actually didn't expect to find much to like in yet another story of the life of Superman, but I've enjoyed almost everything else I've read by De Haven, so I decided to give it a try. I was quite pleasantly surprised. Unlike most similar books, the author approaches his subject seriously, and this coming of age story which bridges the gap between Clark Kent's final days in Smallville and his career as a newspaper reporter is surprisingly touching at times and manages to camouflage the more absurd details of the background. There have been a few intelligent literary treatments of Batman in the past, but I think this is the first equally impressive one about Superman.
Keeping It Real by Justina Robson, Gollancz, 2006, £10.99, ISBN 0-575-07862-6
I usually have no trouble deciding whether a book is SF or fantasy, but there have been a few that are troublesome. This is one of them, although ultimately I suspect it will appeal to fantasy fans more than SF readers. A supercollider experiment alters the laws of nature on the quantum level so that what was formerly magic, including magical creatures, is now real. Lila Black is a cyborg who functions in both worlds and who has a series of adventures in this, the first in a projected series. Fantasy for people who are tired of the same old same old that dominates the bookstore racks.
True Blood by Patricia Waddell, Tor, 9/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-765-35464-0
I hadn't read a futuristic romance in a while so this one arrived at an opportune time. The protagonist is a woman with unusual talents who is enlisted in the effort to investigate the destruction of a space ship, possibly the result of action by terrorists. Her partner is a typical romance hero, a brooding police officer who believes that the investigation is unnecessary because he is convinced that terrorists were responsible. Their initial friction changes to something else during the course of their adventures, and I doubt that anyone is surprised by the outcome except the characters themselves. Certainly not the readers. The romantic elements are not intrusive and the mystery is reasonably well done.
Recursion by Tony Ballantyne, Bantam, 8/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58928-8
I almost always approach first novels with anticipation because you never know when you're going to find a new Alastair Reynolds or Scott Smith. This debut was not nearly as promising, although it's not badly written. The protagonist inadvertently destroys the ecology of a planet, for which crime he is sentenced to battle sentient machines elsewhere in the galaxy. Although I like broad space operas, the author never convinced me that his universe was real or even possible, and there was a sense of detachment from the story that bothered me all the way to the end. Your response may vary.
Queen of Mars by Al Sarrantonio, Ace, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01411-9
Third in Sarrantonio's very odd Mars series, set on an alternate past Mars that is reaching the end of its days capable of supporting the felinelike civilization that lives there. Princess Clara is the legitimate heir to the throne, but her family's old enemy Frane is raising a new army with which to usurp power to himself, although with the atmosphere failing, there may be no point to a victory for either side. Not for every taste, but should appeal to readers who want something unusual.
Cryptozoo Crew Volume 2: Call of the Thunderbird by Allan Gross and Jerry Carr, NBM, 2006, $12.95, ISBN 1-56163-466-2
Second in a series of full color graphic novels about a cryptozoologist, a hunter of legendary animals, in this case the Thunderbird, which is more or less a pteranodon. The art style is simple but effective, the humor light and featuring puns and pratfalls. Good for some laughs but I didn't think this was nearly as good as the first in the series.
The Ruins by Scott Smith, Knopf, 7/06, $24.95, ISBN 1-4000-4387-5
After reading the first fifty pages of this, I took a break in order to place an order for the author's first book, which should tell you how much I was impressed very early on. The story follows a group of tourists who impulsively decide to visit an archaeological dig in a remote part of Mexico, but who instead find themselves trapped in a deadly situation from which none of them may escape alive. The jungle conceals a hidden menace, a form of life which is intelligent, adaptable, malevolent, and decidedly inhuman. Graceful prose, a diverse set of plausible characters, and a very terrifying and suspenseful plot.
A Meeting at Corvallis by S.M. Stirling, Roc, 9/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-451-46111-8
Technology has failed and the world of the not too distant future is very different. Part of the Pacific Northwest has reformed itself as Corvallis and hopes to preserve the freedom of its citizens, but the nearby warlord of Portland has very different ideas about the shape of their future. Elsewhere even more diverse societies are emerging. In a world that has come to bear a more than coincidental resemblance to feudal Europe, the destiny of all may be tied together even more intimately than any of them know. Stirling has taken the post-apocalypse survival story so popular a few years back among men's adventure publishers and turned it into a more serious, thoughtful, and ultimately far more satisfying reading experience.
The Disunited States of America by Harry Turtledove, Tor, 9/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31485-1
Although this, the fourth volume in the Crosstime Traffic series, is not labeled as young adult, it certainly feels as though it was aimed at that audience. The setup is an old standby. Various Earths exist parallel to our own but with different histories. A group of people from one such reality visits others, acquiring knowledge and trade goods and concealing the truth about their existence. Justin is a teenaged member of one such exploration team, and his life is about to get caught up in that of Becky, a displaced Californian who gets caught in a war between Ohio and Virginia in a parallel world where the United States is not a coherent nation. I actually liked this a lot better than some of the author's longer and more serious alternate history novels for adults, because he concentrates on a smaller cast of characters and makes their particular story more immediate for the reader.
The Judas Solution by Timothy Zahn, Baen, 6/06, $25, ISBN 1-4165-2065-1
The recent reprinting of one of Zahn's earlier Blackcollar adventures is extended by this new novel. The premise is that the human interstellar civilization has been conquered by an aggressive alien race who use psychologically conditioning to make a caste of collaborators to govern humanity while the aliens concentrate on their war with still another race. A small group of men have been given augmented military abilities and are known as Blackcollars, and the aliens wish to have the secret of that process for themselves. To this end, they set up an elaborate trap to lure some of the surviving Blackcollars into captivity, bolstering their plan by replacing one of their number with a sympathetic clone. Most military SF has a kind of numbing uniformity about it, but Zahn also manages to find a new way to tell even familiar parts of his story.
Moonsinger by Andre Norton, Baen, 2006, $25, ISBN 1-4165-2061-9
The latest Norton omnibus from Baen includes two of the last books she wrote that could actually be called SF rather than fantasy, although she had long since begun to blur the distinction. Moon of Three Rings from 1966 is a space opera in which a young man seeks to escape his enemies, who have kidnapped him in their bid to improve the quality of their military hardware. He is assisted by a mysterious woman who has the ability to move her personality from her humanoid body into that of a powerful predator. In Exiles of the Stars from 1971, a spaceship crew lands on a supposedly uninhabited planet, whose dormant natives are capable of stealing the bodies of the visitors and using them for their own. Not among the very best of her books, but entertaining if you can accept the nearly magical talents of some of the characters.
The Ultramarines Omnibus by Graham McNeill, Black Library, 2006, $10.99, ISBN 1-84416-403-9
Graham McNeill is a contributor to the Warhammer tie-in series, primarily in the futuristic side involving space marines, a war against demons in space, and a military that has become virtually a religious caste. This omnibus contains three of those novels – Nightbringer, Warriors of Ultramar, and Dead Sky Black Sun – plus a related short story. They are essentially military SF with some odd twists, and McNeill writes them as well as anyone else in the Warhammer stable.
Last Full Measure by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels, Pocket, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-4165-0358-7
Warpath by David Mack, Pocket, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-4165-0775-2
I haven't read any of the new Star Trek novels in a while, so I decided to see what's new, if anything. The first of these is from Enterprise, which I never watched when it was on. Perhaps not unexpectedly, it felt less like a tie-in novel than usual, and this story of an alien weapon which threatens to destroy the population of Earth was actually not bad at all when read in its own context. The second title, from Deep Space Nine, is equally well written but the story didn't hold me. One of the genetically specialized soldiers of the Dominion begins to have doubts about his purpose, but not before causing a good deal of havoc. Both seem less formulaic than the earlier Trek novels, but they still chafe at the constraints of the setting.
Blast from the Past by N.B. Grace, Volo, 2006, $4.99, ISBN 0-7868-3847-7
Stuck in Time by Jasmine Jones, Volo, 2006, $4.99, ISBN 0-7868-4725-5
Both of these are novelizations of episodes from the kids' television show, Phil of the Future, which I watched a few times and which struck me as rather silly even for younger viewers. The books, unsurprisingly since they're taken from actual episodes, are in the same vein. The premise is that a family from the 22nd Century is stuck in our time when their time machine breaks down, but they have a variety of other gadgets from the future which function essentially as magic.
The Va Dinci Cod by A.R.R.R. Roberts, Gollancz, 2006, £5.99, ISBN 0-575-07771-9
Adam Roberts takes on Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code in his latest spoof, which opens with a museum curator found dead with a cod fish shoved down his throat. The usual farce follows. Most of the jokes are silly rather than witty and some are pretty obvious, although every once in a while there's a clever touch. If you're up for yet another spoof, this is as good as any.
Jules Verne by William Butcher, Thunder's Mouth, 2006, $28, ISBN 1-56025-854-3
The only previous biography I ever read of Jules Verne was a very brief one for younger readers many years back. This new attempt takes a much more constructive and detailed approach, and it covers many of the more controversial aspects of his life, including his financial, moral, and legal problems, accusations of plagiarism, and other difficulties. Very readable, with a selection of photographs and a very detailed bibliography
The Grays by Whitley Strieber, Tor,8/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31389-8
Whitley Strieber is probably the best known advocate of the theory that aliens are visiting the Earth and abducting humans for study. This is a novel that takes that assumption as its basis, and expands on the theme. As a series of abductions continues, we discover that the government is aware of the aliens' presence, that the conspiracy is greater than we could ever suspect. Strieber always writes an exciting and engrossing story, but even taken as fiction I had problems with this one. The possibility that our feckless government could ever successful conceal a conspiracy on the scale presented here is just too far for even me to suspend my disbelief.
School's Out – Forever by James Patterson, Little, Brown, 2006, $16.99, ISBN 0-316-15559-4
Chance Fortune and the Outlaws by Shane Berryhill, Starscape, 8/06, $17.95, ISBN 0-765-31468-1
These two very different novels have some strong similarities that point out why one is good and the other is bad. They both involve superheroes of a sort, and the title by an established and respected writer, Patterson, is the bad one and the good one is a first novel. I'm usually interested to see what happens when a non-SF writer of note tries to incorporate fantastic elements into his or her work. Patterson has written some very fine mysteries and thrillers, but his foray into SF – this is the second in a young adult series – is better ignored. A group of children have superhuman powers, and we discover in this one that they have the ability to fly thanks to their wings. They still don't understand their purpose in the scheme of things but they do know that they have persistent and dangerous enemies. Acceptable prose wrapped around an unbelievable plot. Chance Fortune is the name assumed by Joshua Blevins, a teenager who wants to be a superhero even though he doesn't have any super powers. He brings off a clever hoax and gets into a school for young superhumans, where he becomes part of a team who survive a serious challenge. Berryhill never takes himself too seriously and the blend of humor and adventure carries him through the occasional plot hole where Patterson's serious tone only emphasizes them.
Destiny's Forge by Paul Chafe, Baen, 7/06, $25.00, ISBN 1-4165-2071-6
I frankly think that the Man-Kzin Wars series has gone on long enough and has become very repetitive, but that's a quality that doesn't seem to bother many fans of military SF, so they'll probably enjoy this newest entry more than I did. Chafe certainly writes well enough, and his Kzin characters are often more interesting than the human ones, which is, I suspect, another of the ongoing attractions. The ultimate battle is pending once again, and the outcome will affect not only the future but possibly the very existence of the defeated race.
Silver City by Cliff McNish, Carolrhoda, 2006, $15.95, ISBN 1-57505-926-6
The second in this young adult series about a group of teenagers with some very bizarre super powers went a bit over the edge for me. The powers of the various characters are so odd that they aren't entirely credible and the story has a feeling of unreality that made it impossible for me to identify with the characters or situations. Read it for the occasional bizarrely inventive imagery, but don't expect the plot to be entirely coherent.
Dragon's Fire by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey, Del Rey, 7/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-345-48028-7
The second collaborative extension of the Pern series poses a new crisis for the world. The dragons who help the colonists defeat the dangerous threads that periodically menace the world are dependent upon a particular mineral to enable them to create their fiery breath. When mining operations begin to experience serious difficulties, a threat to the entire future of the human population emerges. Pern is one of the more familiar worlds in SF and it's always comforting to have a fresh adventure set there. This one is comparatively low key but is well told and logically constructed.
Farthing by Jo Walton, Tor, 8/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31421-5
Jo Walton's most recent fantasy novel was a real treat, and her first SF novel is even better. It's an alternate history story, one in which a group of Britons successfully removed Winston Churchill from office and negotiated a separate peace with the Germany of Adolf Hitler. Against that backdrop we have a politically loaded murder mystery. When a prominent socialite is murdered, suspicion is directed toward a Jewish couple which, in a society where Jews are viewed with considerable circumspection in any case, things seem to be moving toward a logical if unpleasant conclusion. But the investigating officer has reasons of his own for looking elsewhere for the party responsible, regardless of whom he might annoy in the process. Very well done.
Infoquake by David Louis Edelman, Pyr, 7/06, $15, ISBN 1-59102-442-0
A debut novel and the first in a trilogy, set in a future when multi-national corporations have become virtual governments. One of the hot properties is biotechnology, and when Natch and his crew develop a revolutionary new procedure, two very aggressive business executives are determined to add it to their own private empire. Natch prefers to remain independent, but to do so he must find a way to bring his discovery to the market in record time. Lots of interesting speculation and a plausible and interesting plot. I found the prose a bit awkward from time to time but not so much that it significantly interfered with my enjoyment of the story.
Renegade by L. Timmel Duchamp, Aqueduct, 2006, $19, ISBN 1-933500-04-2
The second in the Marq'ssan series continues the premise that the northwestern part of the US has successfully withdrawn from the United States and become the Pacific Free Zone. When an agent of that group begins recruiting scientists from outside their borders, a long standing enemy in the US government becomes determined to capture her. The novel is an odd mix of libertarianism and gay issues, both of which intrude into this very long book far too often and at too great a length. By halfway through the book, I was skimming over the self conscious conversations about love and romance.
Superman Returns by Louise Simonson, Little Brown, 2006, $4.99, ISBN 0-316-17805-5
Strange Visitor by Louise Simonson, Little brown, 2006, $4.99, ISBN 0-316-17799-7
Two young adult novels, inspired by the revived Superman film franchise. The first title is a junior novelization of the film in which Superman returns to Earth after a long absence to find Lex Luthor triumphant. Lois Lane and the others have almost forgotten both Superman and Clark Kent, but he hasn't forgotten them. I can't say that the story makes me want to rush right out and see the movie. The sequel is actually more interesting, with evil scientists arranging a double whammy for Superman, a clone with his powers and a robot equipped with kryptonite. Amusing but definitely for younger readers.
The Essential Nova Volume 1, Marvel, 2006, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-2093-9
Marvel introduced its teenaged superhero Nova during the mid-1970s, shortly after I stopped reading comics, so all of the issues included in this large volume were new to me. Nova appears to be an attempt to reproduce the success of Spider-Man, and the two main characters resemble one another more than slightly, although the nature of Nova's family problems are somewhat different and he doesn't have as active a romantic life. For the most part he battles villains I was unfamiliar with as well, Megaman, the Sphinx, Diamondhead, Blackout, and the Condor, although the Sandman shows up as well. He is teamed for a while with Nick Fury, and for shorter periods with Thor, Spider-Man, and the Thing. Fairly standard adventures though. Marvel seems to have been caught on a treadmill at this point.
The Triangle, soundtrack by Joseph Loduca, La-La Land Records, 2006, price varies
This is the soundtrack from a Sci-Fi Channel original movie, apparently about the Bermuda Triangle, which I haven't seen. The cast is good though so it was probably one of their better offerings. The soundtrack is as well. Although it has the usual problems of soundtracks – the different moods sometimes require music that doesn't work as well for straight listening – most of it is quite entertaining in its own right, creating an atmosphere of suspense and occasional creepiness. I don't know how the movie was, but as a soundtrack this is first rate.
Inside Science Fiction by James Gunn, Scarecrow, 2006, $35.00, ISBN 0-8108-5714-6
The second edition of this title from 1992 is greatly expanded. Gunn includes essays on various aspects of SF, from personal reminiscences to how it should be taught, its role in relationship to other forms of literature, and some critiques. There is also a large section about films and television, in which Gunn includes one recent supernatural horror film, The Ring, as significant but oddly includes none of the older titles of equal or even greater merit like The Haunting, Ghost Story, or Dracula. Quibbles aside, this is a very readable book and Gunn's comments about the genre are almost always right on the money.
Urville by Gilles Trehin, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2006, $25.00, ISBN 1-84310-419-9
Urville is a fictional city whose architecture is captured in more than three hundred drawings in this very unusual art book. Each drawing is accompanied by a detailed description of the style and purpose of the building. The author suffers from autism and draws (no pun intended) on his years living in large European cities as inspiration for his work. The detail is engrossing and the book is surprisingly appealing.
Getting Lost: Survival, Baggage and Starting Over in J.J. Abrams' Lost edited by Orson Scott Card, BenBella, 2006, $17.95, ISBN 1-932100-78-4
The latest in BenBella's collections of media related essay collections focuses on the enigmatic Lost which, for those who haven't seen it, involves a bunch of people stranded on a mysterious island some attributes of which are either SF or Fantasy. We don't know yet because they haven't explained much even as we reach the end of the second season. The contributors here include Adam-Troy Castro, Wayne Allen Sallee, and a lot of other people whose names are unfamiliar to me. The subjects include an examination of the romantic elements, profiles of specific characters, various kinds of trivia, the role of leadership in an informal group, and lots of speculation about what's really going on. The speculation is probably the most fun but the least informative, since everyone is just guessing at this point. For fans of the show.
Glasshouse by Charles Stross, Ace, 6/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01403-8
Amnesia must be popular because I've read three books recently whose protagonists have memory problems. This is one of them, the best of the three in fact. The forgetful person in question used to serve in the military, though he doesn't remember the details, in a future in which humanity has spread to the stars and brought their old rivalries with them. When he discovers that he has some dangerous enemies, he hides inside a research project that is experimenting with the human mind. Unfortunately, his mind isn't stable to begin with, and the experimentation has some very unexpected consequences. After a few years of relative obscurity, Stross has become one of those writers we all watch, and a prolific one at that.
Paragaea by Chris Roberson, Pyr, 5/06, $25, ISBN 1-59102-440-4
The cover blurbs compare this to Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett, and with some justification. The protagonist travels to other dimensions and meets larger than life characters from some pretty strange civilizations. There is magic of a sort, although there's an attempt to rationalize it. And to give the story an interesting perspective, the feisty protagonist is a Soviet era Russian astronaut whose experiences lead her to eventually question her upbringing. It's all a bit difficult to take seriously at times, but if you just let go and enjoy the ride, Roberson conducts a pretty rousing tour of his universe.
Regeneration by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW, 5/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0345-6
The third volume in the Species Imperative series starts to unravel the mystery of why an entire alien race should suddenly decide to migrate across the galaxy, annihilating any other species – including humanity – that might happen to be in the way. Our reluctant scientist hero is back, this time leading a group of researchers to a remote planet where they hope to find a counterbalancing force. The question is, will the cure be worse than the disease? This series is far and away the best work the author has done, and strong evidence that she is moving upward into the front rank of SF writers.
A Separate War and Other Stories by Joe Haldeman, Ace, 8/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01407-0
I guess I must be getting old because I hadn't realized that Joe Haldeman's writing career extended back as far as it does, getting close to forty years. Most of the stories in this new collection are more recent than that, but one previously appeared in 1969. There's quite a range of material here, even including some fantasy and one full play. The author also provides extensive notes on the individual stories. The title story is a follow up to his classic novel, The Forever War, and is probably the best in the collection, with several close runner up, including "For White Hill". Several of the stories did not originally appear in normal SF markets, so they're likely to be new to most readers.
Only Human by Kate Thompson, Bloomsbury, 2006, $16.95, ISBN 1-58234-651-8
The Dreamwalker's Child by Steve Voake, Bloomsbury, 2006, $16.95, ISBN 1-58234-661-5
The Thompson title is the second in a young adult series about two brothers who travel to the wilderness of Asia where studies of the elusive yeti promise to reveal the secret of the missing link between human and ape. Coincidentally, I read this book the same day that news stories appeared indicating that scientists may have found the missing link in Africa. Dated so quickly. But it's not a bad adventure story, and not written down at all. It probably would have been better if I'd seen the first title, Fourth World, first since I was occasionally confused by references to it. The second title is a good deal less plausible. A teenager falls into a coma following an accident and is transported to another world whose rulers are planning to invade the Earth by using an army of giant insects. Pretty ho-hum adventures follow when he is rescued by a local girl and finds out the truth.
Of Fire and Night by Kevin J. Anderson, Warner, 7/06, $25.99, ISBN 0-446-57718-9
Book five of the Saga of Seven Suns sees humanity even further up the starstream without a paddle. Basil Wenceslas, nominal leader of their united effort to defeat their alien enemies in an immense interstellar war, has squandered all his political capital by suppressing dissent and alienating his alien allies. Factionalism begins to split the human race into rival factions, unity against the enemy is lost, and it seems possible after all that it will all end with extermination. Anderson paints on a very large canvas with a very large cast of characters and very complex alliances and antagonisms. It may be a little hard to get back into the series after an absence, but you'll be swept away by the tide of events before too many pages pass.
Thunder of Time by James F. David, Forge, 4/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30770-7
This is the sequel to the author's first novel, Footprints of Thunder, in which time begins to malfunction and dinosaurs show up in the contemporary world. That problem was solved, but now it recurs, and even more dramatically than before. As government agencies scamper about attempting to contain the problem, another group decides to take advantage of the situation to tamper with the flow of history. Elements of contemporary thriller, Jurassic Park, and changewar all blend, sometimes a bit uneasily, but it's a fun ride even when I didn't believe the story line.
Settling Accounts: The Grapple by Harry Turtledove, Del Rey, 7/06, $26.95, ISBN 0-345-45725-0
It should probably be enough by now to say that this is the next installment in Turtledove's alternate history in which the Confederacy won its independence. Events have moved forward to the equivalent of World War II, and not surprisingly the two former enemies find themselves on opposite sides once again. This time the Union is much too powerful, however, and as the Confederate defenses crumble, their leadership has to decide whether or not to employ their ultimate weapon, an atomic bomb. Turtledove always does an adroit job of balancing real and fictional characters in a plot that parallels actual history, sometimes a bit too coincidentally, but that's part of the fun. And there's lots going on here in the more than 600 pages of battles, plots, and speculations.
The Cylons' Secret by Craig Shaw Gardner, Tor, 8/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31578-5
The second novel based on the newly revived television series appears to be completely original and not based on an actual script. The story is set years before Adama became commander, before the Cylons effectively routed humanity and made the survivors into refugees. Adama is aboard a ship sent to investigate a mysterious emergency transmission from a remote part of space. The ending is a bit of a downer, since we know what is coming in the future, but Gardner provides another exciting and inventive trip through a time and place that we'll never get to see on the television screen.
New Dreams for Old by Mike Resnick, Pyr, 6/06, $15, ISBN 1-59102-441-2
I am so used to thinking of Mike Resnick as primarily a novelist that it came as a surprise to read through the table of contents of this new collection and discover how many of them I remembered. And how many of them have appeared on Hugo and Nebula ballots. Although a few have been previously collected, most appear in book form for the first time. There are familiar greats like "Mwalimu in the Squared Circle" and more recent ones like "Travels with My Cats". Some are funny, some are dead serious. All are nifty. This is a big, representative, and above all very satisfying selection of his short fiction.
Echelon by Josh Conviser, Del Rey, 7/06, $13.95, ISBN 0-345-48502-5
First novelist Conviser takes a topical but well worn plot for his debut book. A secret American intelligence organization has been growing behind the scenes and is now so possible that it has the power to literally destroy entire nations. Two agents of that organization begin to suspect that there's something wrong at the top, and in due course they discover the truth and thwart the bad guys. Along the way, there's great dollops of violent action. The problem I have with the book is that the author was so determined to get into the action that it felt like I walked in on a movie too late to get the background. Throw in some occasionally corny dialogue and an awkward love scene between the two protagonists and you get one of those books that you think you might have liked if it had gone through another draft or two, but which in its present condition is frustrating and disappointing. Conviser plans at least one sequel. Hopefully he'll take more time to fill in his characters next time.
Let the Galaxy Burn edited by Marc Gascoigne and Christian Dunn, Black Library, 2006, $10.99, ISBN 1-84416-342-3
This is a very large collection of Warhammer stories, more than 750 pages, all set in the futuristic part of that world system. That means they are predominantly military SF, involving the usual variations of battle, treachery, heroism, conspiracies, disasters, triumphs, and the like. Almost all of the contributors are primarily associated with Warhammer – Dan Abnett, William King, Gav Thorpe, Graham McNeill, Ben Counter, and so on. It was nice to see the Barrington Bayley byline again. If you're not interested in either Warhammer or military SF, this is probably not for you, but otherwise it's quite a substantial book for your money.
Slipstreams edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers, DAW, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0357-X
I guess I'm a splitter rather than a lumper because I almost always have trouble with stories that try to mix SF and fantasy themes. The clash of rational and irrational upsets my indigestion. So I wasn't looking forward to an entire anthology whose theme was the blending of science with magic and supernatural devices. Fortunately, very few of these triggered my reflex and several, most notably those by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Jane Lindskold, Sarah Hoyt, L.E. Modesitt, Robert Sawyer, and Tanya Huff, worked well enough to make me reconsider my longstanding prejudice.
The Gate by Kevin D. Randle, Ace, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01398-8
This is the fourth in Randle's series about efforts by humans to understand and make use of the technology they have gleaned from an alien signal. A team of scientists on Mars finally finds a way to open a portal to another star, potentially freeing humanity from the solar system, but what they discover is actually an imminent menace. A fast paced and exciting story, but I doubt few readers will be surprised to learn that opening the portal wasn't necessarily a good ideas.
Red Shadows by Mitchel Scanlon, Black Flame, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-377-6
I never saw the first in this series, which involves a detective who specializes in tracking down mutant criminals with unusual psi powers, but the second suggests I should look for it. The setting is a decaying near future and Cassandra Anderson is after the perpetrator of a series of murders marked by mutilation. The result is a good hardboiled SF cop story that reminded me at times of the late lamented Wild Cards shared world anthology series of several years back. Worth a look.
The Essential Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Volume 2, Marvel, 2006, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-2042-4
A second collection of strips from the late 1970s and early 1980s to Marvel's secondary string of Spider-Man adventures. His old enemies are back with a vengeance, including Doctor Octopus, the Vulture, and the Lizard. There's an interesting story in which Parker goes undercover, posing as a criminal, in order to uncover a conspiracy after a mysterious figure reveals that he knows Parker's secret identity, that develops into a lengthy battle with Doctor Octopus. His later battles with the not entirely evil Morbius, Belladonna, and the Schizoid Man are less well done, as is the rather silly alien invasion sequence. A few of the sequences seem a bit blurry, perhaps reflecting the loss of color from the original.
Boarding the Enterprise edited by David Gerrold and Robert J. Sawyer, BenBella, 8/06, $17.95, ISBN 1-932100-79-2
This is a collection of retrospective essays about various comparatively minor details in the original Star Trek television series, everything from why there are no seatbelts to how transporters work. The contributors include D.C. Fontana, who wrote for the show, Allen Steele, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Norman Spinrad, and others. There's some interesting information scattered through the articles, but they are mostly light in tone, even humorous, and illustrate the writers' fondness for one of the most influential television shows of all time.
The Space Opera Renaissance edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, Tor, 7/06, $34.95, ISBN 0-765-30617-4
Editors Hartwell and Cramer have produced another panoramic anthology, this one dealing with the much maligned but rather nebulous category, the space opera. They open with an interesting retrospective essay that attempts with reasonable success to establish a working definition that tallies with the stories they've included. Most of the ensuing 900 pages is fiction, interspersed with equally interesting commentary. They open with the classics – Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson – move through the more literary efforts of Cordwainer Smith and Samuel R. Delany – and then cover comparatively recent writers like Lois McMaster Bujold, Iain Banks, Peter Hamilton, David Weber, and others. There are also representative works by newcomers like Alastair Reynolds, Charles Stross, and John C. Wright. Whether or not you agree with their definitions of the term, you're going to find a nice selection of good, mostly adventure oriented SF here.
What I Did on My Hypergalactic Interstellar Summer Vacation by Adam Beechen and Dan Hipp, Actionopolis, 10/06, $12.95, ISBN 0-9742803-6-4
Heir to Fire by Rob Worley and Mike Dubisch, Actionopolis, 10/06, $12.95, ISBN 0-9742803-7-2
The Forest King: Woodlark's Shadow by Dan Mishkin and Tom Mandrake, Actionopolis, 10/06, $12.95, ISBN 0-9742803-5-6
As far as I can tell this is a new imprint. All three of these titles are rated for ages 9 and up, but I wouldn't go very far up. The first is SF, the story of a young boy tourist the galaxy who finds himself right in the middle of a battle between alien civilizations. It's played for laughs, as the title might have told you already, with alien names like Ker'plok, not very serious action, and an implausible plot. Good for a couple of chuckles, maybe, but definitely not adult fare. Next is a contemporary fantasy, more serious in tone. A cataclysm opens a gateway to another world and oversized spiders pour through, alien creatures capable of acting like Heinlein's puppet masters, controlling humans. Our hero discovers he has a mystical power which will defeat them in a low key, not very suspenseful story. Finally we have the first in the "Forest King" sequence, which has a somewhat darker tone. The young hero this time senses that there is something sinister living in the nearby forest. All three volumes are profusely illustrated in black and white. The artwork is illustrative and competent but nothing to write home about. These should do well with their target audience but hold little interest for other readers.
East of the Sun, West of the Moon by John Ringo, Baen, 5/06, $24, ISBN 1-4165-2059-7
John Ringo takes a partial break from his usual military SF to explore a world which was once administered by a sophisticated computer network but has now reverted to an almost feudal society thanks to a war among the elite that wrecked the infrastructure of Earth's society. In the aftermath, control of an orbiting spaceship becomes essential, and the two main characters are among those assigned to capture it. The battle scenes are pretty much the same as in most other military SF, but the interplay between the two characters is often interesting, and the background was clever enough that it might have supported a much more ambitious book.
In Fury Born by David Weber, Baen, 4/06, $27, ISBN 1-4165-2054-6
Back in 1992 David Weber published one of his better books, Path of the Fury, in which a woman reacts to the raiding of her homeworld by becoming a space pirate herself, eventually learning the identity of the raiders so that she can exact revenge on them. A revised version of that novel is embedded in this new and much larger story. Most of the additional material appears to be the expanded background of the protagonist, her life before the attack, which does help to flesh in the character although it does slow down the main narrative. There is also considerably more background about the universe at large. I remembered the original only vaguely, so most of this was effectively new to me, regardless of whether it actually was or not. I'm not sure that there's enough here for people who remember the earlier version to want to try the second, but for readers unfamiliar with the first, this is a big and exciting space opera.
The Meadowlark Sings by Helen Ruth Schwartz, Harrington Park, 2006, $14.95, ISBN 1-56023-575-6
Future America becomes so intolerant that the gay community founds its own nation. Freed of prejudice, the people of Cali forge a new government that turns out to be much more effective and reasonable than any other in the world. This is a typical Utopian novel, other than the gay variation, and as such is subject to the usual flaws as narrative. The book is about the author's vision of Utopia more than it is about the characters or the narrative, although the author makes a good effort to keep the story moving. It is far more interesting as a philosophical speculation than as fiction, however, and the prose is often colorless or even awkward.
Inheritance by Devin Grayson, Warner, 6/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61657-5
Comic books (or graphic novels if you prefer) have been spreading into movies, television, and prose in increasing numbers lately. Warner Books has been issuing novels set in the DC universe, most of which involve a team of well known heroes battling one supervillain or another. This newest finds Batman, Aquaman, and the Green Arrow pitted against Deathstroke, a superhuman assassin. I don't read DC comics any more so I don't know if Deathstroke is a major villain, but he seems pretty much second class in this competently written but not very compelling adventure.
Code Noir by Marianne de Pierres, Roc, 7/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46100-2
I had something of a problem with the first novel in this series, Nylon Angel, not because it wasn't well written but because I had trouble identifying with or caring about the protagonist, who worked as a bodyguard for organized crime. The same holds true this time because even though she is trapped into her role, she spends much of this novel trying to track down and kill her ex-lover. On the other hand, I thought the plot itself was much better and I was far more interested in the world Parrish Plessis lives in than I was in the character herself. A cyberpunkish feel in a decaying future society isn't conducive to happy thoughts, but it can often be very entertaining.
Dauntless by Jack Campbell, Ace, 7/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01418-6
The hero of this, the first in the Lost Fleet series, emerges from suspended animation to discover that that's literally what he is, a revered military hero whose exploits have become legendary. Although he has reservations about his new status, he accepts the position as commander of the military forces on one side of a long and stalemated war when he discovers that the enemy may have finally gotten the upper hand. Space battles ensue in typical military SF style. The protagonist's larger than life reputation is an interesting contrast to his initial reluctance to try to live up to it, but the characterization falters early on and gives way to competent but standard action.
Grease Monkey by Tim Eldred, Tor, 6/06, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31325-1
Here's a very big graphic novel, and one of the best I've seen. Borrowing from David Brin, it's set on a future Earth that has recovered from an alien attack thanks to the intervention of an apparently benevolent alien race. The aliens also enhanced the intelligence of gorillas, who have been uplifted to equality with humans. The protagonist is a young mechanic assigned to an orbiting defensive station above Earth. His boss is an irritable gorilla and that just complicates what would have been a difficult adjustment under the best of conditions. This is a very length, detailed story that spends a lot more time on character and tone than most graphic novels. The artwork is all black and white, but it's very good artwork. The images are all very clear and illustrative. The publisher is labeling this as a new development in the graphic novel, and for a change that might not all be hyperbole.
Reading Stargate SG-1 edited by Stan Beeler and Lisa Dickson, I.B. Taurus, 7/06, $14.95, ISBN 1-84511-183-4
I have only seen the first two seasons of this television show, but I gather it has a very active fan following. After eight seasons and with its own spin off, it obviously has considerable appeal for its viewers. This is a collection of essays and interviews dealing with the show, much of which was of limited use to a non-viewer such as myself, although at times it made me more resolved to find time to watch the DVD's of seasons 1 through 6 that are sitting on a shelf nearby. There is a very compressed episode guide that really doesn't tell us much about the program and an extensive glossary and bibliography.
Star Wars on Trial edited by David Brin and Matthew Woodring Stover, BenBella, 6/06, $17.95, ISBN 1-932100-79-2
This is a collection of matched essays arguing both for and against the Star Wars movies on matters ranging from whether or not it is really SF through its political and philosophical content to the role of women in the films. The contributors include the editors and others including Bruce Bethke, John Wright, Jeanne Cavelos, Tanya Huff, and so forth and so on. Some of the arguments make interesting reading, but I had a sense of deja vu throughout. This has all been hashed over so many times in the past that it is really difficult to bring anything new to the table.
Everfree by Nick Sagan, Putnam, 5/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-399-15276-8
Nick Sagan, son of Carl Sagan, continues his series about a future human society in this, the third in the series. A deadly new plague has wiped out most of the human race, and the survivors are arguably a new type of human, although many survivors are now reviving from suspended animation. Those who lived through the plague have developed a new viewpoint, believing that human society should progress through cooperation rather than competition. Unfortunately, the revived people still harbor the old concepts and friction becomes inevitable. A tad didactic at times, but generally well done.
Natural Selection by Dave Freedman, Hyperion, 6/06, $21.95, ISBN 1-4013-0209-2
I should have liked this book a lot. It has many of my favorite elements for a contemporary SF thriller, a new species of animal discovered when it arises from the ocean depths, a team of scientists tracking it down, etc. But I didn't like it. For one thing, the science varies from plausible to downright hokey. The species in this case is a kind of manta ray that is actually a smart, tough, highly adaptable predator. The author provides a barely plausible explanation for why a deep sea creature might have developed a lung as a back-up system, but when three hundred pound mantas start flying through the air, the explanation is a reference to a six thousand pound flying dinosaur which returned zero hits in Google and which I very much doubt exists. Still, I might have ignored that if the story had been more gripping, but it isn't. The characters are largely interchangeable and I had trouble remembering which was which, most of the story – particularly the first half - is more talk than action, and similarly the prose is generally colorless, although that also improves as the story progresses. A nice try but no cigar.
Valentine's Exile by E. E. Knight, Roc, 6/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-451-46087-1
The Vampire Earth series moves to hardcover with this, the fifth in the series. Earth was invaded by an alien race that functions effectively as vampires. For years, human resistance has fought them, but with limited success. A small portion of North America is nominally free, but the bulk of the world is still under alien control. Valentine is one of the leaders of the resistance and despite his heroic efforts in the past, he is currently under a cloud thanks to the machinations of a rival. That sets him up for a solitary adventure that is exciting and fast paced, but which is a bit too comic bookish for my tastes.
Giant Lizards from Another Star by Ken MacLeod, NESFA Press, 2006, $25, ISBN 1-886778-62-0
I hadn't consciously thought of Ken MacLeod as a short story writer until this new collection arrived, containing only story of which I'd ever heard. Not that he's prolific at that length and in fact less than half of this book is fiction, and most of that consists of an early novel, Cydonia, originally published in 1998 as part of a multi-author series of young adult novels about a new and more inclusive worldwide computer network. In this case, young hackers battle an alien invasion. The bulk of the book consists of articles on a wide variety of subjects, everything from SF to science to politics, with a handful of convention reports, poems, and oddities thrown in. MacLeod is occasionally provocative and often informative in this extensive selection of his work.
The Last Chancers by Gav Thorpe, Black Library, 2006, $10.99, ISBN 1-84416-300-8
Gav Thorpe is one of the more reliably interesting contributors to the SF side of the Warhammer tie-in universe, primarily military SF adventures. This is an omnibus volume containing three of his novels – 13th Legion, Kill Team, and Annihilation Squad – plus a couple of short stories set in the same universe. All of the contents are competent though fairly standard military adventures, although the presence of supernatural forces in the Warhammer universe sometimes provides a novel twist. The three novels have all appeared in book form within the past five years, so I'm not sure that an omnibus was necessary this soon, but if you're interested and having picked them up individually, this is a nice, economical way to add them to your library.
Route 666 by Jack Yeovil, Black Flame, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-327-X
Yeovil is a pseudonym for British writer Kim Newman. This particular title was published in the UK back in the early 1990s but I'd never seen a copy until this reprint appeared. It's part of the Dark Future series, which I believe is game related. This particular story is set in a future America where very strange things are happening. A charismatic new religious leader has begun to wield such influence that the country gives him suzerainty over the entire state of Utah. But it's not just a case of politics and payoffs. There is some apparently genuine occult stuff happening as well in this blend of futuristic speculation and the supernatural. Deftly written, particularly for a game tie-in.
1862 by Robert Conroy, Ballantine, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-48237-9
The author of 1901 returns with another alternate history, this one a very familiar concept to SF fans. The British decide to intervene in the American Civil War on the side of the Confederacy, which changes the course of the war dramatically, pulling Canada into the conflict and making the North's coastal cities the object of naval attacks. Conroy comes to the interesting conclusion that the war might actually have ended with a Union victory much more quickly under those circumstances and provides a plausible scenario to that effect. Fans of Harry Turtledove's books should find this similar, but not too similar.
What Fire Cannot Burn by John Ridley, Warner, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61203-0
John Ridley mixes traditional SF with comic book style superheroes in this, the sequel to Those Who Walk in Darkness. It's the future and mutations are commonplace, often giving mutants unusual powers like armored skin or pyromancy, which makes many of them decide they can be super villains and live outside the law. The hero is a female police officer who specializes in hunting down and capturing these anomalous characters, and she takes her job seriously. When a vigilante begins targeting mutants for unknown purposes, she isn't entirely unsympathetic but when she learns that there is a secret organization inside the police force, she finds herself fighting a battle she had no intention of joining. Despite the sometimes implausible aspects, the story is fast moving and the mystery adequately constructed.
The Last Mortal Man by Syne Mitchell, Roc, 6/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46094-4
Syne Mitchell's latest novel is the first in a series, the Deathless, which is set in a future when nanobiology has made it possible for most people, at least from that small minority who can afford it, to effectively become immortal. The future looks rosy until the system begins to fail, the technology performing in unexpected ways, possibly a failure in design, but also possibly the result of sabotage. The protagonist is one of the rare few whose biochemistry prohibits him from taking advantage of this new discovery, even though he is a descendent of the man who was largely responsible for its development. Mix in some international crises and an ongoing investigation into the source of the trouble and you get an intriguing mix of thriller and speculation.
Honour Be Damned! by David Bishop, Black Flame, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-324-5
The third adventure of Nikolai Dante has him visiting 27th Century England in an alternate world in which the Tsar of Russia was not overthrown. Dante is an adventurer and occasional criminal, but this time he's in more serious trouble. Shortly after arriving, he is framed for an assassination, and the only way to clear his name is to find out who was really behind the murder. The plot is old hat, but the setting is interesting and Bishop manages to give some depth to his protagonist as well.
Novel Ideas: Science Fiction edited by Brian M. Thomsen, DAW, 2006, $7.50, ISBN 0-7564-0353-7
The fantasy version of this anthology came out recently as well. Both contain stories, fairly long ones for the most part, which eventually became the core or at least the inspiration for full length novels. Included here are the original visions of John Varley's Millennium, Greg Bear's Blood Music, David Brin's The Postman, and other works by Anne McCaffrey, Nancy Kress, and others. I've always found it interesting to contrast different versions by an author, and in some cases I'm happier with the shorter version.
Odds Are Good by Bruce Coville, Magic Carpet, 2006, $6.95, ISBN 0-15-205716-1
This is an omnibus of two short story collections which I first reviewed during the 1990s, Oddly Enough and Odder Than Ever. Both are ostensibly aimed at young adults, and the stories are chiefly fantasy although several verge on horror fiction. Coville is one of the few who can write at this length and produce work that appeals to more than one age group. If you haven't looked at his stories before, this is a good chance to get a big chunk for a reasonable price.
One Million A.D. edited by Gardner Dozois, SF Book Club, 2006, $13.99, ISBN 0-7394-6273-3
The latest all original anthology from the SF Book Club is a real winner, with six long and uniformly excellent stories. I'm not generally fond of stories set in such a remote future that human civilization isn't entirely recognizable, but several of these stories overcame my reservations. The two best are by Robert Reed and Alastair Reynolds, the former describing a nightmarish journey across an Earth that is rapidly becoming uninhabitable, the latter set in a galactic civilization that uses immortality to get around the impossibility of exceeding the speed of light. Robert Silverberg adds to his story of the New Springtime, the emergence of modified humans following a new ice age. Charles Stross cheats a bit, because his story involves the transplantation of Cold War Earth to a giant flat world, but the story is a good one. Nancy Kress and Greg Egan fill out the collection with two of their best stories as well. Good enough to join the book club just to get a copy.
Short Trips: A Day in the Life edited by Ian Farrington, Big Finish, 2006, $27.50, ISBN 1-844-35-147-5
For those of us who can't get enough of Doctor Who, here's the latest in this series of all original anthologies, with a variety of short adventures of the Doctor and his companions. Most of the stories are independent although there are also a few arranged in two brief arcs with a core story in common. The contributors are mostly Doctor regulars, like Trevor Baxendale, Andry Russell, and Ian Farrington, but there are also stories by Dan Abnett and several others. They won't make much sense if you're not familiar with the television series, but if you're a fellow addict, here's a small fix.
The Mote in Andrea's Eye by David Niall Wilson, Five Star, 6/06, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-453-2
The law of unintended consequences strikes a young woman in this quasi-ecothriller. Andrea is a scientist obsessed with hurricanes who develops a process by which she hopes to neutralize or at least reduce the force of such storms in the future. Unfortunately, her procedure actually worsens the situation when she first attempts to use it, but fortunately the storm drifts into the Bermuda Triangle and disappears. Years pass during which she is disgraced but manages to continue her research through other means. Then the storm returns, literally, and a major disaster is in the making if she cannot somehow control what is in large part her own creation. A blend of disaster novel and just weird, somehow mixed into a coherent whole. Exciting, suspenseful, and definitely not your everyday disaster story.
Judas Unchained by Peter Hamilton, Del Rey, 2006, $26.95, ISBN 0-345-46166-5
Hamilton is one of a handful of current writers who have made galactic civilizations the backdrop of many of their novels. This one, set in the same future as the author's earlier Pandora's Star, is easily among his very best. The Commonwealth is an organization of human worlds which finds itself caught between two very different alien enemies. On the one hand we have a species which is so xenophobic that it is determined to expunge all other intelligent life from the universe. On the other hand we have a secretive species who may have subverted human civilization by infiltration and mind control. This one has all the complexity and detail we expect from Hamilton, and nicely weaves the two plots together/
Strange Robby by Selina Rosen, Meisha Merlin, 2006, $25.95, ISBN 1-59222-046-0
Author Rosen suggests in her newest that sometimes the police might welcome a vigilante, particularly one who targets only the worst criminals, the ones they can't send to prison, killing them in an odd, undetectable, but deadly way. Spider Webb and Tommy Chan are two such police officers, theoretically investigating a serial killer, actually applauding his efforts. But when outside parties become interested in the murderer, or more specifically the manner in which he commits his crimes, they are forced to look closer and discover an even stranger truth. Well enough written, but I found the vigilante justice theme a bit offputting.
Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge, Tor, 5/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-312-85684-7
I've heard it argued that this isn't SF, even though it's set twenty years in the future, and it's certainly perfectly accessible to readers not familiar with genre fiction. Nevertheless, it clearly is SF. The main melodramatic plot is a conspiracy within some elements of the international intelligence community to bring world peace by developing a new form of subtle mind control that could pre-emptively discourage people from acting aggressively. For me, however, the most interesting part of the novel was the tension between an elderly man, recently cured of Alzheimer's. He's a famous poet, but he's also noted for his irritating personality and his cruelty to members of his family, attributes which return in full force with the restoration of his reasoning faculty. A considerable departure from Vinge's other novels, but just as impressive.
Nebula Awards Showcase 2006 edited by Gardner Dozois, Roc, 3/06, $15.95, ISBN 0-451-46064-2
The latest in this annual series brings together several Nebula winners plus novel excerpts and poetry, other finalists from the ballot, and a variety of essays from luminaries in the field. The long piece by Walter Jon Williams is the best I've seen from him at less than novel length, and other stories by newcomers like Ellen Klages show that there's fresh talent in the field. The book includes a history of the Nebula Award winners right from the beginning in 1965. A nice supplement to the various Best of the Year anthologies.
Shuteye for the Timebroker by Paul Di Filippo, Thunder's Mouth, 5/06, $14.95, ISBN 1-56025-817-9
I didn't think there were enough Di Filippo stories I hadn't seen collected to make up another book, but I was wrong, and they are in fact a quite lively bunch, including several that I'd never read before, two of them original to this collection. As you might expect, the stories are quirky, sometimes funny, fit no pattern, and tackle a wide variety of subjects. There's everything from speculation to satire including such outstanding pieces as the title story, "The Secret Sutras of Sally Strumpet", "We're All in This Alone", and "Eel Pie Stall". There's fantasy and supernatural as well as SF, but the one thing that is consistently absent here is bad writing. Another winner from one of the best short story writers writing speculative fiction.
Hal's Worlds edited by Shane Tourtelotte, Wildside, 2005, $15, ISBN 0-8095-5073-3
The late Hal Clement/Harry Stubbs was a highly respected and well loved figure in the SF field, both as a writer and as a person. This memorial volume is designed to honor that memory, including testimonials and reminiscences from some of his very large legion of fans and friends. Included also is a previously uncollected Clement story and a brand new one by Walter Hunt, and the articles come from writers he helped, fans of his work, personal friends, his wife, and others including Jack Williamson, Stanley Schmidt, Michael Swanwick, David Gerrold, J. Michael Straczynski, and others.
The Unauthorized X-Men edited by Len Wein and Leah Wilson, BenBella, 4/06, $17.95, ISBN 1-932100-74-1
The latest in this publishers series of books about pop culture subjects looks at the Marvel superheroes, the X-Men, mutants who band together under Dr. Xavier to fight evil, chiefly in the form of rival superhumans. The essayists include Lawrence Watt-Evans, Robert Weinberg, James Lowder, Karen Haber, and others and the subjects go from very serious to near whimsical, exploring how the series reflects current events as well as its origins in ancient myth.
The Paperback Art of James Avati by Piet Schreuders and Kenneth Fulton, Donald Grant, 2005, $39.99, ISBN 188041871-1
James Avati was a very active artist doing paperback covers during the 1940s and 1950s, including many of Erskine Caldwell's novels from the US Penguin imprint, which eventually became Signet Books and later some of the Mickey Spillane novels. His most famous was probably the cover for J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, but he also did covers for Hornblower books, Somerset Maugham, James Michener, and others. The closest he came to SF was The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Island by Aldous Huxley, Cinnabar by Graham Diamond, and oddly enough, Deathworld 2 by Harry Harrison, probably because his style was realistic and his subject matter usually concentrated on people. Anyone reading paperbacks during that time will recognize much of his work here however, in a finely produced collection that includes much more biographical data than is usual in similar art books.
The Essential Defenders Volume 1, Marvel, 2005, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-1547-1
The Defenders were a kind of second string Avengers, although they contained some powerful if disparate members. Like the Avengers, the membership changed from time to time, but the basic core consisted primarily of Doctor Strange, the Hulk, and Sub-Mariner, with an on and off relationship with the Silver Surfer and others. The best part of this retrospective collection is the lengthy battle between the Defenders and the Avengers, an animosity created by villainous skullduggery and the usual Marvel penchant for brawns over brains in its egotistical heroes. The mix of SF and supernatural elements is often distracting.
The Essential Daredevil Volume 3, Marvel, 2005, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-1724-5
Unlike most Marvel superheroes, Daredevil has no super powers other than well developed senses resulting from his blindness. There's a lot more story and less action in this selection, much of which involves Daredevil faking the death of his real identity and his on and off relationship with the woman he loves. With guest appearances by other superheroes and a parade of supervillains. A little slow moving at times, but more thoughtful than many competing titles.
Alternate Americas by M. Keith Booker, Praeger, 2006, $49.95, ISBN 0-275-98395-1
The title of this one is slightly misleading. The book is actually a detailed discussion of fifteen major SF films, not all of which are set in America or even on Earth. The author attempts to demonstrate how each of the films introduced or at least recast concepts that changed the way the audiences thought about one subject or another. The discussions are lucid, detailed, and often interesting, although the films are so familiar that much of it sound familiar.
The Man from Krypton edited by Glenn Yeffeth, BenBella, 2006, $17.95, ISBN 1-932100-77-6
Another collection of media related articles from a publisher who seems to be specializing in this kind of book. These all deal with Superman, if you couldn't guess that from the title. Lawrence Watt-Evans, Sarah Zettel, Adam Roberts, John Hemry, Paul Levinson, and others examine various aspects of the strongest man on Earth. Included also is Larry Niven's classic "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex", which considers the implications of super strength during sex. Most are amusing rather than informative, but they're all well written.
The Long and Short of It by Robert Borski, IUniverse, 2006, $14.95, ISBN 0-595-38645-9
This is a collection of essays examining the work of Gene Wolfe. The topics are pretty varied, everything from short stories to multi-volume series, but Borski provides revelations about each of them, explaining their symbolism, plot twists, source material and influences, and other topics. Useful for Wolfe's fans and for those who desire to understand more of the intricacy of his fiction.
Dragon and Herdsman by Timothy Zahn, Starscape, 6/06, $17.95, ISBN 0-765-31417-7
Jack Morgan returns for his fourth adventure in this rousing young adult space opera series. Jack and his alien symbiote, Draycos, visit an undeveloped world where they discover a primitive form of Draycos' species, which have otherwise been expunged from the galaxy. This thin hope of regenerating his people is cast into fresh question when their old enemies show up, as intent upon genocide as ever. Zahn has added a young female mercenary into the mix, presumably widening the appeal of what was already a well presented series of adventures.
Memory in Death by J.D. Robb, Puntam, 2006, $24.95, ISBN 0-399-15328-4
The latest in this long series of futuristic detective stories by Nora Roberts has even less SF content than usual, nothing more than a casual reference to travel off planet and the presence of a robotic hotel clerk. Eve Dallas, police detective, and her rich husband are approached by a woman who abused Eve when she was a child. The woman is hoping to extort money in return for keeping quiet about Eve's past, and when she is refused, she plots another way to extort payment. Unfortunately for her, she has more than one enemy, one of whom kills her, leaving Eve responsible for investigating the death of a woman she detested. Not really SF, but a fair to middling murder mystery, though I figured out who was responsible very early on.
Boundary by Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor, Baen, 3/06, $26, ISBN 1-4165-0924-0
Eric Flint and his new collaborator attempt an old standard of SF, the first expedition to Mars, taking advantage of the latest we know about that planet and recent technological advances. It is difficult to write hard SF without lapsing into lecture mode, but for the most part they've managed to avoid those pitfalls and deliver a reasonably fast moving story. Some of the psychological interactions among the astronauts have an awkward feel and there are occasional diversions into political speeches, but none of these wounds are fatal. There is, of course, a surprise awaiting them on Mars, although readers might not be as startled as the characters were. A solid adventure story that would have been even better with a little judicious editing.
Timeweb by Brian Herbert, Five Star, 5/06, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-216-5
Writing with Kevin Anderson, Brian Herbert has spent much of the last few years working on several very complex interstellar adventures set in the Dune universe. Now he launches a new series on his own, the Timeweb Chronicles, set in an equally disparate and sometimes bewildering future interstellar civilization. There are sentient starships, creatures capable of altering their shape, a variety of aliens and artificial creatures, and an aristocracy that openly rules the galaxy. The protagonist discovers an underlying flaw, a deterioration of the basic fragment of the universe, and attempts to enlist aid in discovering and hopefully eliminating the cause of this potential disaster. I think Herbert tries to introduce just a bit too much detail a bit too quickly in this one, because I had trouble concentrating on the characters while trying to assimilate all of the background material. It has potential though.
Resolution by John Meaney, Pyr, 3/06, $25, ISBN 1-59102-437-4
The final volume of the Nulapeiron trilogy concludes this sequence set in a future so remote and different that it is sometimes difficult to identify with the characters and situations. Technology and mental powers have advanced to the point where they are indistinguishable from magic. The protagonist successfully conducted the battle against the Blight and has retired, but that isn't going to be a protracted rest because a new danger, the Anomaly, threatens the universe once again. You'll have to suspend your disbelief pretty radically for this one, but if you can get yourself into the story, you'll have a wild and exciting ride ahead of you.
The Destiny Mask by Martin Sketchley, Pyr, 4/06, $15, ISBN 1-59102-439-0
Pyr Books has been reprinting quite a few British and Australian novels which had not previously appeared in the US, including this, the second in a series. The setting is an interstellar empire and the plot is one familiar to readers even outside the genre, the rivalry between two twins, separated as babies and ignorant of each other's existence, who become pivotal players in a battle between rebels and a repressive interplanetary dictatorship. I liked this one considerably better than its predecessor, The Affinity Trap. The characters are more realistic and the plot tighter and more involving.
A Game of Perfection by Elisabeth Vonarburg, Edge, 2006, $16.95, ISBN 1-894063-32-6
The second volume in the Tyranael trilogy has the settlers on that planet, now renamed Virginia, still trying to figure out the motivations of the enigmatic indigenous aliens who now seem to have gone into hiding, leaving their technological devices behind to function on their own. Despite the melodramatic sound of that, the real focus of the novel is on a telepath who is able to communicate through dreams. Vonarburg makes all of this, even the more implausible elements, seem perfectly believable, and the translation from the original French is quite smooth and well constructed.
Strange Relations by Philip Jose Farmer, Baen, 2/06, $13, ISBN 1-4165-0934-8
Here is an omnibus that is long overdue. It contains the complete contents of the 1960 Ballantine short story collection of the same title, plus two complete novels, Flesh and The Lovers, both published about that same time. All of these have overtly sexual themes, usually of an exotic nature, often involving odd sexual couplings between humans and aliens. The stories were way ahead of their time and hold up very well today, particularly the shorter ones. Of the two novels, The Lovers is the better – the story of a man living in a sexually repressed interstellar culture who gets into trouble when he falls in love with an alien female. The parallels to interracial affairs hardly needs to be pointed out. Flesh is set in the opposite sort of society, one obsessed with sexuality, and explores its effects on a man from another time who has to adjust. One of the best buys for the price tag you're going to see.
The Cause of Death by Roger MacBride Allen, Bantam, 2/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58726-9
George Hertzmann is a member of a pacifist human society who has taken his family to the planet Reqwar to help deal with an ecological crisis that the inhabitants, colonists from the alien Pavlat race, cannot handle themselves. He is adopted as the son of the planet's head of state, an honorary position that becomes something more when the man's legitimate heirs all die in an accident, putting Hertzmann in the middle of an enigmatic power struggle. Two agents from Earth are dispatched to find out what is going on, and find themselves in the middle of an undeclared civil war, facing a problem that seems to have no good solutions. This is the first novel in the BSI series, each of which will presumably be a complete adventure, and it's a rousing, complex, and thoroughly enjoyable story that mixes politics, alien psychological, and police procedures. Looking forward to the next.
Exit Strategy by Pierce Askegren, Ace, 3/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01356-2
Askegren brings his exciting moon based trilogy to a conclusion with this new title. Erik Morrison has been on the moon so long that his body can no longer stand up to the gravity of Earth, which redoubles the tragedy when his sons are killed in an accident and he is unable to attend the funeral. His sojourn on the moon was prolonged by the discovery of ancient alien technology which might prove the key to the stars for the human race, but someone doesn't want the secret to be unlocked. Morrison's old enemy, Wendy Scheer, returns for one final confrontation.
Swastika by Michael Slade, Onyx, 2005, $7.99, ISBN 0-451-41200-1
I read a good number of conventional detective stories as a break from SF, and one of my favorite writers from that field is Michael Slade, actually a husband and wife team from Vancouver. Their latest took me by surprise though because in addition to being a thoroughly researched, convincing, and suspenseful serial killer novel, it's also SF. I don't want to spoil the ending, but I will tell you that the solution involves the secret of an entirely new technology, and the revelations include an explanation of what really happened at Roswell and which historical figure was a member of the doomed crew. Not the best in the series, alas, but a solid read.
Time Patrol by Poul Anderson, Baen, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-4165-0935-6
Baen Books is going to give bibliographers headaches because they've started reusing old titles for new collections by the same author. This is not the same collection as the 1991 book from Tor. It includes two complete novels and eight short stories, but even though this claims to be the complete series, it is not. It is, however, a very nice selection of some of the best changewar stories not written by Fritz Leiber and a nice thick book for your money.
Partners in Wonder by Eric Leif Davin, Lexington, 2005, $28.50, ISBN 0-7391-1267-8
This is a very large academic survey of female SF writers between 1926 and 1965, of which the author identifies over 200 and provides brief, sometimes very brief, biographies of slightly more than half, along with a substantial list of the stories they contributed to the SF magazines, more than 900. One of the points of the book is that the idea that women were rare contributors and generally hid behind pseudonyms is a myth, a contention to which there is some truth, although several of the writers did in fact use a male pseudonym, like Paul Ash, Andre Norton, or were published with male collaborators, like Catherine Crook de Camp. The author also ignores the fact that almost without exception these writers were often associated primarily with another genre, like Shirley Jackson and Dorothy Salisbury Davis, or had fairly insignificant careers in the genre, with Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Leigh Brackett, and Judith Merril as the most notable exceptions. That caveat notwithstanding, this is an informative and well written look at the role of female writers during that period, and it does demonstrate that women were not as small a minority as is generally believed.
The Essential Fantastic Four Volume 4, Marvel, 2005, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-1484-X
A black and white compendium of comics in this series #64 to #83 with some extras, originally published during the late 1960s. This sequence featured very few major villains. Their arch nemesis, Doctor Doom, doesn't show up at all. Most of their opponents are either robots or other superheroes with whom they become entangled in the usual mess of misunderstandings and overly active egos. The Thing becomes Ben Grimm again, but reverts voluntarily to save the girl he loves. Sue Richards gives birth and drops out of the Fantastic Four, replaced for the time being by Crystal, her brother's current girlfriend. Guest appearances by Spider-Man, Daredevil, Thor, and a few others, but relatively low key.
Engaging the Enemy by Elizabeth Moon, Del Rey, 3/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-345-44756-5
Ky Vatta returns for her third adventure in this above average space opera series. In previous volumes, you may recall, her parents were murdered as part of an effort to put their interstellar trading company out of business. Ky managed to contain the chaos, however, and has slowly been rebuilding the enterprise. That hasn't made her lose sight of her mission to find out who is responsible and bring them to justice, and she and her surviving employees and relatives are prepared to subvert, spy, and do everything necessary to that end. What they don't realize is how large a scale that operation had, and how much danger they are facing themselves. Lots of fun. Should appeal to fans of C.J. Cherryh's space adventures.
Red Lightning by John Varley, Ace, 4/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01364-3
John Varley returns with a sequel to Red Thunder, in which entrepreneurs from the US win a close space race to Mars. This is a generation later, and Mars is a settled though still limited colony. The protagonist is the son of the lead character in the first novel, who travels to Earth when the home world is struck by a fragment of a comet, causing widespread destruction. He has been chafing at the limitations of Mars and is looking forward to the change, but the repressive security procedures and other less than appealing aspects of life on Earth soon result in mixed feelings. The novel is, of course, quite well written, but I found it moved too slowly for me; it lacks the action and suspense of its predecessor.
Flashfire by David Sherman and Dan Cragg, Del Rey, 2006, $19.95, ISBN 0-345-46054-5
The Starfist series has been among the better military SF ever since it began, but this, the eleventh in the series, is starting to generate a feeling of deja vu. A violent incident leads to the secession of ten worlds from a planetary alliance. To prove their independence, they jointly lay siege to a military base, which is vastly outnumbered and almost certain to fall. Certain, that is, if the crack unit including our heroes wasn't on their side. It's not badly written at all, but if the series is going to continue, it probably needs some radically new plots. Otherwise, it will become just one of the crowd of similar series.
Blood of the Heroes by Steve White, Baen, 1/06, $24.00, ISBN 1-4165-0924-0
Jason Thanou is the leader of an expedition that is going back through time to the 17th Century BC in order to investigate a pivotal historical event in the ancient world. When they arrive, they have a very unpleasant surprise, because they discover that the gods of legend were real, although they are not actually gods. Instead, they are the inhabitants of a parallel universe who have entered ours, and who use superior technology to establish themselves as deities and meddle in the affairs of humanity. There are some nice twists here and I think I enjoyed this more than anything I've previously read by White.
Blackcollar by Timothy Zahn, Baen, 1/06, $25.00, ISBN 1-4165-0925-9
When The Blackcollar, Timothy Zahn's first novel, appeared back in 1983, I thought right away that he was going to be a significant writer, and my suppositions have proven to be accurate. Since then he has written a steady stream of intelligent adventures in space and elsewhere, and he remains one of the few writers I promote to the top of the reading list when new books arrive. This omnibus edition brings that novel, along with its 1986 sequel The Backlash Mission, back into print. Earth has been conquered by aliens, but there are ways to augment human soldiers, to make them stronger and faster than before, and the treatment could provide the leverage to free the Earth. Zahn did the super soldier theme better in his later Cobra stories, but although these are relatively unsophisticated, they are still exciting and very readable adventures.
Visionary in Residence by Bruce Sterling, Thunder's Mouth, 2006, $15.95, ISBN 1-56025-841-1
This new imprint has been publishing some very good SF but this new collection of stories by Bruce Sterling might be their best yet. There are a few I hadn't read before but I think they're all reprints, and there isn't a bad story in the lot. "Luciferase" impressed me greatly when I first read it and it's nice to see it more accessible here, and it's in good company. Sterling has always had a reputation for his strong speculative skills and these stories consider the possibilities of everything from virtual reality to biotechnology. "The Scab's Progress", written with Paul Di Filippo, "The Growthing", and "User Centric" were my favorites, but Sterling is such a consistent writer that it's difficult to pick out only a few.
The Patron Saint of Plagues by Barth Anderson, Bantam, 4/06, $13, ISBN 0-553-38358-2
The interesting premise of this first novel is that Mexico City has become the largest urban center in the world, rechristened as Ascension, even though it is ruled by a corrupt dictator. When a nun begins predicting that a plague will arise in response to the evils of that city, few pay attention until a real plague – a disease never seen before – begins to spreads through the population. An American doctor undertakes an investigation, but what he discovers is distinctly unsettling because the plague is not a natural mutation at all, but a conscious act of will. The somewhat routine medical thriller plot is enlivened considerably by the unique background. Anderson is a skilled but unexceptional stylist, at least as evidenced by his first novel, and he also has a good sense of pacing and suspense. It will be interesting to see what he tries next.
Millennium 3001 edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Russell Davis, DAW, 2/06, $7.50, ISBN 0-7564-0322-7
It's particularly nice to see someone get the title date right for a change, considering the ignorance that was rampant a few years back. Anyway, this is a collection of thirteen all new stories about the future of humanity about one thousand years from now. There's quite a range here, some contributors assuming that we'll expand to the stars, others not, and while some are optimistic about the future, still others are not quite so certain. There are good stories here by Allen Steele, Mickey Zucker Reichert, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Sara Hoyt, John Helfers, Brian Stableford, and several others. I particularly liked the Stableford.
The Clone Republic by Steven L. Kent, Ace, 4/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01393-7
Although humanity has spread to the far reaches of the galaxy, all of these colonies are rigidly controlled by Earth, which enforces its will by means of a cloned army. When the protagonist, one of these clones, performs exceptionally well in a crisis, he gains a promotion, but the top brass isn't as happy as they seem. They don't want the clones to show any initiative because they have plans for that army that aren't always open to view. Although this story is well enough written, it seemed to borrow some of the implausibility of the Star Wars movies because I was never convinced that such a far flung empire could be administered the way it seems to be here. And of course it's an evil empire that must fall by the final chapter, or at least begin to totter. There are signs this might be the beginning of a series.
The Essential Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Volume I, Marvel, 2005, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-1682-6
Since the reading public couldn't get enough of Spidey, Marvel launched this parallel series of his adventures. They have a very different feel, much more involved with ethnic issues, student protests, racism, ecological problems, and so forth. Several characters including Parker, his friend Flash, and other young superheroes get involved in complicated romantic affairs as well. His allies are generally lesser known characters th is time, like Moon Knight, White Tiger, and Razorback, and the villains are similarly second tier, Lightmaster, the Hatemonger, and the Hypno-Hustler, with a long back story about the crime organization Maggia. Highlight is a stint with a blind Spidey fighting alongside the always blind Daredevil.
Echelon's End: Planetfall by E. Robert Dunn, Haworth Positronic Press, 2005, $24.95, ISBN 1-56023-544-6
Earthcore by Scott Sigler, Dragonmoon Press, 2005, $19.95, ISBN 1-896944-32-9
Let me say right up front that both of these novels are unpolished and that the prose is often awkward. To enjoy them at all, you will have to suspend any literary sensibilities you may have and read them simply for their stories. That said, the first title is still overpriced and unnecessarily complex, a mix of political intrigues, alien threats, high adventure, and other plot elements involving a planet where inimical aliens are involved in secretive experiments. The layers of the puzzle kept me reading but I was frequently impatient with the story construction and particularly the dialogue. The second title is rather better written and also had for me a much more interesting story, a B-movie plot about an attempt to mine a lode of platinum from an unprecedented depth in the Earth that runs into trouble when inhuman creatures are stirred to life to oppose the intruders from above. Lots of violent action that I could almost picture on the movie screen.
Living Next Door to the God of Love by Justina Robson, Bantam Spectra, 3/06, $13.00, ISBN 0-553-58742-0
I normally have trouble getting into a novel in which technology has advanced to the point where it functions almost like magic. That's the setting in Justina Robson's new novel, a future in which humanity shares the world with a variety of artificial intelligences and altered lifeforms,. Her protagonist is Francine, a young girl unhappy with her life at home, who runs away to find adventure and fulfillment and does so only after a series of revelations and new relationships, including finding a boyfriend. Robson writes consistently well, and Jalaeka is a very interesting character, but I was not drawn as fully into this one as I was with her previous works.
The Endymion Omnibus by Dan Simmons, Gollancz, 2005, £12.99, ISBN 0-575-07634-8
Hyperion by Dan Simmons, Gollancz, 2005, £7.99, ISBN 0-57507-637-2
The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons, Gollancz, 2005, £7.99, ISBN 0-57507-638-0
Dan Simmons' complete saga of Hyperion has just been reissued from Gollancz. The two Endymion books are combined in the first title, a large trade paperback, and the original Hyperion duo are individual mass market editions. The series proved beyond doubt that it is still possible to write space opera that is also exceptional literature. The series is rich in imaginative detail and filled with larger than life but still believable characters. I thought this first pair was superior to the second, but not by a great margin.
A Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick, Gollancz, 2005, £6.99, ISBN 0-575-07461-2
Galactic Pot-Healer by Philip K. Dick, Gollancz, 2005, £6.99, ISBN 0-575-07462-0
The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick, Gollancz, 2005, £6.99, ISBN 0-575-07670-4
The first two of these are comparatively minor novels from 1969 and 1970. The first is a kind of murder mystery in which colonists on a new world are being killed one by one, with no idea of who or what might be responsible. The second describes the adventures of a craftsman who is recruited by a super powerful entity to travel to another planet and engage in an enigmatic project there. The third title is one of his earliest, from 1957, and despite its occasional awkwardness, it was the one I liked the best of the three. The protagonist travels back to his home town and discovers that he died as a child. Is he the person he thinks he is or has he drifted into an alternate universe?
The Sound of Angels by Lisa Silverthorne, Wildside, 2005, $17.95, ISBN 0-8095-5606-5
It is unfortunate that the mechanics of print on demand publishing make competitively priced mass market paperbacks impractical, because Wildside in particular has been adding a good number of very desirable books to its line, and the price tag might be scaring off people who shy away from trade paperback editions, in which market they are much more viable. A case in point is this first collection from Lisa Silverthorne who, while not a big name in the field, is a reliable, steady source of quite good short fiction. These stories are a mix of SF and fantasy, and several of them appear to be original to this collection. The better entries include the title story, "Homecoming", "The Mermaid's Looking Glass" and "The Spirit House". Her work is much more about the people in them than in what takes place around them, but that doesn't mean she neglects the narrative elements. Worth taking the time to find.
Against All Enemies by James G. Hemry, Ace, 1/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01382-1
James Hemry has given military SF a nice new twist with his series about the legal system in a space going future armed forces. In this latest, and one of the better ones, a group of dissident fanatics steals a spaceship and precipitates a diplomatic crisis which appears at first to have ended when one of Earth's powers uses its military to destroy them. The lawyer protagonist is one of several people to suspect that there is more to this than meets the eye, and his subsequent investigation uncovers a spy in their midst, although only after nearly losing his life in the process. Hemry has a good feel for his character and has worked out a background that has depth without being so confusing that the reader can't follow the politics.
Rebel Ice by S.L. Viehl, Roc, 1/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-451-46062-6
I had begun to lose interest in the last couple of Stardoc novels, which seemed to be running in place, and this new one didn’t do much to restore my interest. Cherijo Torin is stranded on a primitive world, which is bad enough, but she also has amnesia. When her husband finally tracks her down, it isn't enough that he figures a way to rescue her. He has to deal with the fact that she doesn't want to be rescued, that she has assimilated herself into the local culture. Viehl produces solid, reliable other worlds adventures and space opera and has so far proven that she can be both prolific and readable, not a small talent, but this one just didn’t measure up to her other work.
The Adventurous Decade: Comic Strips in the Thirties by Ron Goulart, Hermes, 2005, $24.99, ISBN 1-932563-70-9
This is a large, trade paperback reprint of the 1975 survey of 1930s comic strips by Ron Goulart. Filled with black and white reproductions of Tarzan, the Invisible Scarlett O'Neill, Terry and the Pirates, the Phantom, and others, accompanying extensive text. Goulart groups them by genre – science fiction, crime, military, and other categories. Goulart adds a new introduction with some minor corrections to the original, and there's a useful index. If it's possible to be nostalgic for something that happened before one was born, then that's the feeling this should evoke in many readers.
The Essential Spider-Man Volume 7, Marvel, 2005, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-1879-9
With the possible exception of the X-Men, I believe Spider-Man is the best known of Marvel's various superheroes. This is the seventh collection of his old comic books, these drawn from the mid-1970s, when Gwen Stacy dies, along with both the old and new Green Goblins, Doc Octopus is believed to have died, and Mysterio has died in prison. There are still plenty of supervillains for him to battle though, including a replacement Vulture, Hammerhead, the Jackal, and others. The strips are reproduced in black and white rather than color, but the stories are just as good, and sometimes just as silly, as they ever were.
Through Time by Andrew Cartmel, Continuum, 2005, $17.95, ISBN 0-8264-1732-9
Andrew Cartmel, who was a script editor for the program and who has written several novels set in the Doctor Who universe, has added an unofficial history of the popular British television series. For those new to the series, Cartmel provides a very detailed summary of the episodes that have gone before the latest incarnation. The brief notes summarizing what was happening the real world provide some useful context. If you're already thoroughly familiar with the Doctor, this won't really give you any new information to speak of.
Anime from Akira to Howl's Moving Castle by Susan J. Napier, Palgrave, 2005, $17.95, ISBN 1-4039-7052-1
This is a new edition of a book originally published in 1991, a critical history of the Japanese animation form, presented here as a legitimate art. Although this is a scholarly study examining the different ways the characters and situations are presented, it is written on an accessible level and should prove entertaining to most fans of anime as well as those interested in finding out just what the whole thing is about. There's an inset session of color stills and a lengthy set of footnotes. As the author points out, it would be impossible to adequately cover the range of material in a single volume, but she does a very good job of showing us a representative sample.
The Wave by Walter Mosley, Warner, 2006, $22.95, ISBN 0-446-53363-7
Walter Mosley's newest SF novel reminds me of the CV series by Damon Knight a few years back, although it starts off more like Phantoms by Dean R. Koontz. The protagonist, Errol, is troubled by mysterious phone calls purporting to be from his father, who died many years earlier. Eventually he tracks down the calls to a building near the cemetery, where he encounters a young man who claims to be his father, returned from the dead, though barely coherent. The stranger does in fact possess information which seems to support his claim, although not everyone is convinced. Errol eventually discovers that it is true, that an ancient group lifeform similar to a virus has been rising to the surface of the Earth and has revivified rotting brain cells. In due course he runs into trouble with a government agency determined to exterminate the menace – which is in fact benevolent – and becomes involved in efforts to save an entire species. The government official is a bit of a stereotype and the latter half of the book seems rushed at times, but the first half is extremely effective.
The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi, Tor, 3/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-765-31502-5
Leaving aside the fact that this is labeled a "Sci Fi Essential book", it's actually a pretty good blend of military SF and an espionage thriller. It's also a sequel of sorts to the author's earlier Old Man's War. The setting is a distant future when humanity is at war, more or less, with three different alien races. Although it appears that the aliens cannot match humanity's military strength, an important official defects to their side for reasons apparent to no one, including a professional soldier created from the traitor's own DNA, originally in an effort to try to restore the man's memory and find out why he acted as he did. Although that project was abandoned, the memory's do begin to surface, and that's where the story really gets started. It's nice to see someone actually giving some thought to military SF.
Changelings by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Del Rey, 1/06, $19.95, ISBN 0-345-47002-8
Although I enjoyed the original Petaybee trilogy by these two writers, this opening volume of a new sequence was very disappointing. The premise is that the children of the settlers on the planet – which is one gestalt sentient being – have been altered genetically simply by being there, which is plausible, so that the two children who are the chief protagonists can literally change themselves into the shapes of seals. When an offworld scientist observes this transformation, he is understandably fascinated, and less understandably decides to take the children prisoner in order to study them in more detail. Their transformation seems too much like magic for me, and frankly I didn't like them very much as people either.
Pretender by C.J. Cherryh, DAW, 3/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-7564-0374-X
The eighth entry in this series is, as you might expect, quite well written and full of adventure but this time I had a recurring sense of deja vu and I suspect Cherryh will wind things up with the next title. The joint human and Atevi space expedition has finally returned to the world where a small colony of the former lives on the sufferance of the latter, only to find that the political situation there has deteriorated once again. The Atevi are culturally belligerent, and that has moved the entire planet toward a civil war, with the various clans aligning themselves into rival groups . A disastrous conflict could prevent mean the end of the space effort, and even endanger the future of the small human colony. Can Bren Cameron find a way out once again? Of course he can.
Genetopia by Keith Brooke, Pyr, 2/06, $25.00, ISBN 1-59102-333-5
Pyr has reprinted several British SF novels that have not previously been available in the US, including this one from 1999. (CORRECTION: I am informed that I am confusing this with a story of the same name by the same author, and that the novel actually first appeared in this edition.) Brooke should have been discovered earlier because he has definite talent, although I didn't think this was up to the standard of his earlier Expatria. This is one of those novels set in a future so distant that we can no longer recognize the human society that has evolved. Flint, the hero, is on a quest to find his missing sister, passing through a phantasmagoric landscape in which diseases act almost like conscious entities, genetic manipulation is commonplace, and biotechnology has replaced physics and engineering. Many of the things Flint encounters are fascinating ideas, but after a while it becomes just a parade of wonders and readers may find themselves impatient to get to the destination.
Titan by Ben Bova, Tor, 3/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30413-9
One of the knocks against hard SF is that it is often boring and badly paced, with the scientific exposition interrupting the flow of the story, even becoming so technical that many readers become completely lost. Ben Bova shows us how it should be done, and this loosely associated series of novels he's been doing about the various planets and objects in the solar system has been almost uniformly excellent. His latest is on the high end of that spectrum, focusing on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. A group of dissidents from Earth has decided to settle there and create their own society, but the harshness of the environment and their own internal tensions are exacerbated by the arrival of a research ship from the home world, which changes the mix and raises new and troubling questions. At times Bova is so convincing that it is almost like reading a new story, and he mixes the science in so smoothly that even scientifically illiterate readers should have no problems.
The Armies of Memory by John Barnes, Tor, 4/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30330-2
John Barnes returns to the world, or worlds, of Giraut Leones, a special agent who is starting to get long in the tooth and is less patient than ever with people who want to kill him. And naturally there are a few gunning for him again, although you should not get the impression that this is a cookie cutter interstellar spy thriller. Giraut has another problem. His society is not Utopian and many dissidents have settled worlds outside the area approved by the authorities, and they have possession of a copy of a recorded personality who (or which, depending upon your point of view) has a good deal of information potentially harmful to the government. The turmoil spreads even to the mainstream worlds and Giraut's course becomes increasingly murky. When Barnes is at the top of his form, as in this case, he has few rivals.
Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell, Tor, 2/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31227-1
Very little SF published in this country originates in different cultures, despite active SF communities in France, Japan, and Brazil, to name a few. This first novel helps fill that gap at least a little, because the author was raised in Grenada, a background which is apparent in parts of this very impressive debut. The setting is a distant world which has been settled by various human groups, although contact with Earth has ceased and the level of technology and sophistication has understandably dropped. One group of peaceful settlers finds their way of life menaced when a more powerful and numerous neighboring culture becomes belligerent and threatens to wipe out their rivals. The key to their salvation may lie locked in the mind of a man with amnesia, a link to ancient knowledge that could tip the balance of power. A very inventive novel that makes innovative use of standard SF devices.
Wolf Star by R.M. Meluch, DAW, 1/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-7564-0324-3
Meluch's new military SF series reminds me at times of Star Trek. Earth and its various allies are engaged in an ongoing war with a rival human empire, one which has restructured itself so that it strongly resembles the Roman Empire. Shades of the Romulans! This sequel to The Myriad involves the revelation that the Romans might have gained knowledge of a new technology, one which could alter the balance of power. To forestall them, the warship Merrimack is dispatched to destroy their new, secret bases, but in the process they nearly fall into a deadly trap. Competently told space opera but nothing to get excited about.
Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel, Eos, 2006, $16.99, ISBN 0-06-053227-0
This is the sequel to Airborn, which was the best young adult SF novel I've read in years, and the follow up is nearly as good. The setting is an alternate version of Earth in which giant dirigibles are a major method of traveling from continent to continent. The hero is a teenager who was a cabin boy last time, but now he's an apprenticed airman. His wealthy heiress friend is back and the two of them team up to track down the lost airship of a famous scientist who disappeared before either of them were born. There are others similarly interested, however, and when they learn that our hero has secret knowledge that might lead to a discovery, they decide to appropriate that information for themselves, regardless of the consequences. Smoothly written, with a pair of likable, fully differentiated characters, an exciting plot, and plenty of exotic scenery. Superior to most adult SF I've read this month.
Landscapes by Kevin J. Anderson, Five Star, 3/06, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-476-1
Kevin Anderson is best known for his novels, which include some of the better space operas of the last several years, but he has also produced a surprisingly large body of short fiction. This new collection gathers nearly two dozen stories and essays, predominantly sf but with some fantasy as well. Drawn from a variety of sources, the stories involve subjects as diverse as werewolves and outer space, alternate worlds, computers, scientific experiments, fairy tales, and traditional fantasy. The SF tends to be serious, the fantasy tends toward humor. I particularly enjoyed "The Bistro of Alternate Realities" and "Santa Claus Is Coming to Get You". This publisher distributes almost exclusively to libraries, but it's worth taking the effort to find a copy.
Eclipse by K.A. Bedford, Edge, 3/06, $14.95, ISBN 1-894063-30-2
Bedford's second novel is a story of interstellar exploration. James Dunne is newly assigned to the title vessel, dispatched into a remote part of space to find out what's there. Unfortunately, he has more than a slight strain of insubordination in his personality and that results in a series of incidents that result in his being reassigned to the first contact division. His growing relationship with a young woman, also newly assigned, is only partial compensation. When his theoretical job threatens to become genuine, his past history complicates an already complex situation and puts the outcome in jeopardy. Well written, but I often had the feeling that I had read it all before.
Geodesica Descent by Sean Williams and Shane Dix, Ace, 2/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01378-3
Artificial intelligences are showing up as the villains in a lot of new SF novels, including this, the follow up to Geodesica Ascent from last year. The human community of worlds is largely dependent on artificial intelligences to run society, and most people accept their benign nature as a given. Others are less convinced, and some believe that the race has abandoned its freedom to its own creations. When something apparently goes wrong on one wayward world, resulting in the destruction of its entire population, evidence comes to light indicating that it was a conscious policy. The authors have a definite talent for far future space opera, and fans of their earlier series will not be disappointed with this new one.
An Accidental Goddess by Linnea Sinclair, Bantam Spectra, 1/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58799-4
New writer Linnea Sinclair makes use of one of the familiar devices of old style SF, the protagonist who wakens from suspended animation in a distant future. Charles Eric Maine suggested such a person might have investments that would make them very rich in He Owned the World, but Sinclair suggests that such a person might even be revered as a god. That's what happens to Gillaine Davre, a military operative of a future interstellar civilization who wakens in an even more remote future in which her sleeping form is revered by a new religion. Awakened, she finds herself in an awkward position, made even more difficult when a skeptical military officer takes an interest in her activities. There's more than a little romance in this one, but I liked her first two novels better.
The Musashi Flex by Steve Perry, Ace, 1/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01361-9
Steve Perry wrote some very good martial arts influenced novels some years ago, and now he's back, not adding to the Matadora sequence but with a new setting, an interstellar empire wherein a new combat sporting event has become popular. Three characters converge as a spectacular competition is about to get underway, a professional athlete, a journalist, and a rich man who believes that his money can buy him anything, even talent. Perry delivers his usual well constructed thriller. His characters interact plausibly and their motives and actions are convincing. He has yet to write a "big" book but he certainly displays all the necessary prerequisites here.
The Year's Best Graphic Novels, Comics, and Manga edited by Byron Preiss and Howard Zimmerman, St Martins, 12/05, $19.95, ISBN 0-312-34326-4
This is presumably one of the last projects by the late Byron Preiss, a compendium of excerpts from the best graphic work of the previous year. There are a large number of titles involved so the excerpts are necessarily rather small, reproduced here in full color or black and white depending upon their original appearance. As you might expect, there's a wide variety of styles both visual and textual, some of which worked for me, some of which did not. The writers include several names I was familiar with, including Neil Gaiman – who also provides an introduction, Eric Shanower, Sean Stewart, and Greg Rucka, and the others are probably well known to fans of this form. All gathered here in an attractive trade paperback.
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