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

LAST UPDATE 8/31/11  

The Moon Maze Game by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, Tor, 2011, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2666-9 

For some reason Iíve always found novels about Lunar colonists and their bids for independence more interesting than books with similar plots set on Mars or elsewhere. Heinlein, Bova, and others have produced some of their best books on this theme.  Niven and Barnes combine for yet another variation. Thatís the backdrop for a more melodramatic plot involving the capture of a young woman with political connections while vacationing there, supposedly under the watchful eye of our protagonist. The terrorists responsible have infiltrated what is supposed to be an elaborate game, but the game turns out all too real. What they donít anticipate is that some of the other game players might be more at home in this environment than they are.  This one is great fun, the best of the several collaborations by this pair. 8/31/11

Orwellís Revenge by Peter Huber, Free Press, 1994 

The author of this ďsequelĒ to 1984 scanned the complete works of Orwell into his computer and supposedly analyzed it in order to create this sequel in which we discover that the telescreen that Orwell saw as an instrument of repression eventually becomes the means by which the dictatorship is destroyed.  As such itís not bad, but the fiction is interspersed with chapters of commentary that destroy any narrative momentum and in fact the story itself is pretty dull. Iím not surprised that this received so little attention at the time and that it is largely forgotten now, but it is an interesting experiment. 8/27/11

Transition by Iain M. Banks, Orbit, 2009, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-316-07199-4

I rarely see Orbit books anywhere so I missed this one completely. It's not a Culture Universe novel. It takes place in a variety of parallel universes which are monitored by agents of the Concern, a supposedly benevolent organization from one world whose personnel can travel from one to another by taking a rare drug. They are supposedly helping civilizations toward the good and away from evil, but there is a paranoid and rather nasty member of their directors who is eliminating opposition and attempting to grab power and immortality all at once.  The story is told from the points of view of several characters whose relationship to one another is not obvious until near the end. Some of their stories are interesting, but one - involving an agent hiding in a mental institution - is tedious and doesn't really help the story.  Readable and sometimes fascinating, but not Banks at his best. 8/22/11

The Ironclad Prophecy by Pat Kelleher, Abaddon, 2011, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-16-2

This is part of the No Manís World series which involves the transportation of a military unit from our world into an alternate one where evil aliens rule.  Part of their contingent has gone missing and a search is launched, leading to the discovery of a dangerous secret which could determine whether or not the humans will survive.  The plot is complicated by the presence of an unbalanced officer, the aliens themselves, and a few other distractions. And it appears that the aliens may not be the monolithic force they have appeared in the past. No real surprises here but the story is entertaining. 8/20/11

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey, Orbit, 2011, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-316-12908-4

I rarely see Orbit books so nearly missed this one.  I also became very excited about the book about a hundred pages in because it was so good and I figured that I had just discovered a new writer to follow.  As it happens, Corey is a penname for Daniel Abraham, whose fantasy I had already found quite good, and Ty Franck, who is in fact new. This is a space opera on a grand scale, though confined to the solar system.  Earth, Mars, and the rest of the system compose three rival entities with conflicting loyalties and interests. Most of this story takes place in the Belt and involves two main protagonists, a policeman who has become disillusioned about the world though he still has illusions about his own place in it, and a spaceman who becomes captain after a disaster in space. There is some kind of conspiracy involving a malevolent substance of some sort, possibly a virus, and considerable mystery about who is responsible for it. I don't want to say too much about this because a good deal of the fun is unraveling the mystery. There's a good deal of action and suspense and a well constructed cast of supporting characters. I love well written space opera and this is one of the best I've read in recent years.  8/18/11

The Postmortal by Drew Magary, Penguin, 2011, $15, ISBN 978-0-14-311982-1 

I always have to laugh when a non-genre author writes an SF novel and non-SF critics rush to say how original it is when I read the same thing decades ago.  Itís not the authorís fault, and it doesnít even mean that the novel is bad, but it does make me shake my head. (I see the same thing in movies.) Anyway, this one posits a future in which immortality is possible, but the results of its introduction in the world include a variety of unpleasantness including euthanasia, religious cults, and so forth.  Itís a kind of epistolary novel because itís presented as a series of blog entries, and itís actually pretty good and some of the speculation is clever and new to me although it's not as revolutionary as some reviews have suggested.  Thereís even some dark humor. 8/16/11

The Unincorporated Woman by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin, Tor, 8/11, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1904-3   

Third in the series of somewhat Libertarian leaning dystopias. The initial protagonist woke up in a future with an interesting if not entirely convincing economic system and proceeded to undermine it because of his desire for individual freedom. He died in book two and now the government is planning to resurrect another person from cryogenic storage to use as a figurehead. But since the woman in question is from our time, she has ideas of her own.  I found this one a bit too preachy and Iím not sure the resolution Ė intervention from above Ė is entirely compatible with the premise of the earlier books, that the average individual is what matters. Fans of Ayn Rand should like this series. Others might want to approach with some caution. 8/15/11

 Rip Tide by Kat Falls, Scholastic, 8/11, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-17843-3 

Sequel to Dark Tide, set in a future where humans have begun to build colonies under the sea. Like its predecessor, this one involves a mystery, undersea criminals, and a variety of natural dangers like sharks and killer whales. Our young protagonist stumbles onto a secret that has already claimed a number of lives and has to resolve things without getting killed himself. And in the backdrop, the shape of the new human society begins to evolve. Intelligent science fiction for young adults has been hard to find in recent years but this one helps fill in some gaps.  And I love undersea settings anyway. 8/12/11

End of an Aeon edited by Bridget McKenna and Marti McKenna, Fairwood Press, 7/11, $16.99,  ISBN 978-0-9820730-9-4 

As much as I enjoy SF novels, it was short stories that first hooked me on the genre and I remember some shorts from forty years ago more vividly than some novels I read last month. There is, I think, much more variety in style, subject matter, and quality and I rarely read a collection that doesn't have at least one or two very good stories. I donít read ebooks so I never saw an issue of Aeon magazine, which only appeared in electronic form.  Having recently ceased publication, the editors have put together a final volume to appear in traditional book form. There are twenty stories here, all quite short, and I assume most of the authors were previously published in the electronic version so this should be typical.  The best of the contributions are by Lavie Tidhar, Jeff Crook, and Greg Beatty, although there really arenít any bad stories.  A few struck me as perhaps a bit too low key but thatís a matter of taste.  Worth looking for. 8/5/11

Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks, Orbit, 2010, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-316-12341-9 

Another fascinating Culture novel from Iain Banks.  This one is organized around a conflict between forces which support or oppose the existence of virtual reality hells conforming to the individual cultures of various alien races. Some of the action takes place in those hells, some in other VR battlefields, and most of it in real space.  The characters include a slave woman who is murdered by her owner and reincarnated aboard a Culture ship, the slave owner himself who is engaged in a complicated triple cross involving the creation of an enormous battle fleet, a mysterious Culture agent, an idiosyncratic sentient ship, and others. Itís quite long and a few spots dragged a bit Ė mostly the hell sequences Ė but my attention never flagged much. Not his best novel, but then again, heís never written a bad one. 8/3/11

Flashback by Dan Simmons, Reagan Arthur, 2011, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-316-00696-5

I'm going to break one of my rules here and review book I didn't finish. Couldn't finish.  I have read books from both ends of the political spectrum that I have enjoyed immensely, Ursula K. Le Guin and Robert Heinlein, for example. I have read books from both ends of the spectrum that I didn't like, often because the political polemics overwhelmed the story. You probably know what I'm talking about - paper tiger bad guys, simplistic arguments, assumptions that people would act a certain way if they only saw the light. Dan Simmons is an author I've followed closely ever since he first started writing, and I've read every one of his books.  This is probably going to be the last one, the one I couldn't finish. The setting is the near future after President Obama has destroyed the country, imposed Sharia law, made 9/11 a national holiday, and so forth and so on. It's paranoid, polemical, illogical, and just plain bad writing. I was tempted to say it was racist as well but I don't think that's accurate. It's xenophobic. Simmons seems to despise everyone who isn't just like him - Muslims, Hispanics, liberals, politicians, apoliticals, etc. This is worse than reading a bad book by a favorite author. It's more like hearing that the author has died. 8/1/11

This Shared Dream by Kathleen Ann Goonan, Tor, 7/11, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1354-6 

This is a follow up to the authorís earlier alternate history novel, In War Times. The children of the protagonists of that earlier novel have adjustment problems, since they remember a different version of history from that of everyone else.  Now grown to maturity, they become involved with an ongoing struggle to shape the course of history because even though one set of changes might have made a vast improvement of conditions for many, it has also caused others to suffer.  The ethical issues of making decisions for millions of other lives are more pointed here than in any other change war type novel Iíve read, and itís all tied into a very compelling story.  Almost certain to be one of the best novels of 2011. 7/31/11

Ghosts of War by George Mann, Pyr, 7/11, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-367-1   

I really enjoyed Ghosts of Manhattan, so a sequel moved up the to-be-read stack a bit. The setting is a kind of comic book or perhaps pulp era vision of an alternate Manhattan. This time the Ghost Ė a kind of dour superhero Ė is trying to discover the source of a plague of metal birds preying on residents of the city, whom we eventually learn is a man turning himself into a cyborg. Thereís an even greater plot involving Lovecraftian monsters from another universe, an imminent war between the US and Great Britain, and an uneasy pact with a foreign spy.  Mann captures the spirit of this not entirely believable alternate reality wonderfully and there are even more exciting battles and chases than in the first novel. Not to be taken too seriously, but marvelous of its kind. 7/30/11

7th Sigma by Steven Gould, Tor, 7/11, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-312-87715-6  

Parts of the Southwestern US have been invaded by a metal eating bug of unknown origin which forces anyone resident in that area to make do with glass and plastics. The protagonist is a young boy named Kimble Ė the book is a kind of homage to Rudyard Kiplingís Kim Ė who is apprenticed to a martial arts trainer and who is enlisted for various spy missions by the Rangers who patrol the area. Kimble overcomes various obstacles and defeats bad guys in a series of episodic adventures that are only intermittently related to the SF background and in fact there were many times when I forgot I was reading an SF novel.  Although Gould has a pleasant style and the individual episodes are quite good, the overall effect is less satisfying. Kimble feels more like an adult than a child almost from the outset and by halfway through the book I was finding his brilliance and good luck just a bit too much to swallow. Thereís no resolution to the bug question Ė perhaps suggesting a sequel. An okay read but not up to his usual standards. 7/28/11

The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan, Night Shade, 2011, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-227-7   

There is a very small subset of SF novels set in worlds whose environment is so different from ours that they are effectively set in another universe.  Raft by Stephen Baxter and Inverted World by Christopher Priest come to mind.  In Greg Eganís new novel, the protagonist lives in a world where light doesnít function the same way that it does in ours. The planet is in danger because of a new development, fast moving meteors that have begun penetrating their solar system. The solution is to create a generation starship that can travel to the distant stars and find a technological solution to their problem. Smartly done Ė it even has diagrams to explain the physical aspects Ė and as is always the case with Egan, marvelously inventive. 7/23/11

The Devil Colony by James Rollins, Morrow, 2011, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-06-178478-1   

Many of the most popular thriller writers Ė Stephen Coonts, Clive Cussler, etc. Ė make little effort to get their science and historical backgrounds right.  James Rollins is much more careful at it, and his first few novels were smart, exciting adventure stories.  The quality dipped a bit when he settled down to a series involving Sigma Force, which is locked in a battle with the mysterious Guild, in a power struggle that often assumes SF proportions. These latter books suffer generally from an overdose of testosterone and the plots Ė including this one Ė hinge on coincidences and occasional implausibilities.  This new one is no exception. The use of military forces as police when a murder suicide is found in a cave is illegal under US law, and even if it were legal, they would hardly put an officer in charge who has openly racist attitudes toward Native Americans, given that it is a touchy situation because of its proximity to a reservation and the fact that it may be a burial site. Ignoring that, we have a crisis caused because there is a curse on the cave. If anyone ever enters and then leaves, supposedly the world will end. A witness to the murder left, and a mysterious explosion causes a rush of neutrino waves, while the Guild tries to murder an activist and Sigma Force decides to investigate.  The mystery this time involves a secret history in which the Iroquois tried to become the fourteenth state and the Mormon account of the lost tribes of Israel coming to North America were true. Itís not very plausible, and even less so is their possession of sophisticated nanotechnology. Rollins even includes an afterword in which he admits that scientific evidence has disproved the Mormon aspects. Thie secrets are revealed in between the many violent confrontations that have become standard in this series. Not awful but disappointing. 7/22/11

Embassytown by China Mieville, Del Rey, 2011, $26, ISBN 978-0-345-52449-2 

ievilleís latest novel is his first that is science fiction, unless you count The City and the City, and in some ways it is his most ambitious.  The title refers to a human colony on a world where the indigenous aliens use advanced biotechnology and where language is more than just a simple sound to word relationship. The only way to successfully communicate to them is to pair two nearly identical humans and have them speak simultaneously. These couples are called Ambassadors.  But when a new Ambassador arrives whose training was slightly different, it throws everything into turmoil because the aliens become addicted to hearing them speak. The preceding canít really convey the complexity of all of this, which includes a handful of aliens who are trying to learn how to lie, the interactions among several human characters, and a few other subplots.  The subject matter is so convoluted that I was frankly struggling for the first fifty pages, but it is well worth hanging on beyond that point to where things begin to fall into place. My only criticism is that in a few places, the author seemed to be repeating himself, as though he realized how confusing this might be and was restating things in order to be sure we understood what he was getting at.  A probable Hugo contender. 7/21/11

Dragon Virus by Laura Anne Gilman, Fairwood, 7/11, $25, ISBN 978-1-933846-25-5

What would happen if a new, genetically linked virus should spread through the world?  And what if that virus made people experience rapture like visions?  Laura Anne Gilman takes us on a tour of the aftermath of a change in the very nature of human society in this novella Ė itís less than one hundred pages Ė with colorful characters and situations and an innovative slang to set the atmosphere. There are some very moving scenes but the story felt truncated and as usual I found it a considerable struggle to put up witth the present tense narration. 7/19/11

The Sacred Vault by Andy McDermott, Bantam, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59364-8   

The first in this series about Nina Wilde, a kind of female Indiana Jones, was a lot of fun. The first few sequels were entertaining as well although the formula began to get old pretty quickly. In each of them Wilde gets a lead to a marvelous archaeological discovery and she and her bodyguard/boyfriend battle a small army of villains to keep them from taking advantage of it/covering it up/whatever. This one is only slightly different. Someone has been stealing famous art objects all over the world, including a journal which was discovered when Wilde stumbled onto the lost continent of Atlantis. The journal is supposedly the key to the location of various mystical objects and that means the race is on once again, with our globe trotting heroes winning through at the end.  Kind of fun, but the sameness of the plots is beginning to wear thin with. 7/15/11

Eclipse Four edited by Jonathan Strahan, Night Shade, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-197-3  4433 

The original SF anthology series started with Fred Pohlís Star books back in the 1950s and has had a rocky road ever since. This is the fourth volume in a new one that blends SF and fantasy and it has a pretty good selection of writers and stories. There are several very good stories here, including ones by Michael Swanwick, Jeffrey Ford, Jo Walton, Emma Bull, and others. Thereís quite a range of subject matter as well, everything from ghosts to aliens. Several of them deal with the consequences of a discovery or encounter with the unusual, but thatís as close as it comes to having a central theme. No clunkers but none that really shouted out how good they were either. 7/14/11

Children of the Storm by Kirsten Beyer, Pocket, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-0718-5 

The Star Trek franchise lumbers on although with less than its earlier vigor. This new novel is set in Voyager subset, which I stopped watching after only a handful of episodes. The title refers to yet another omnipotent race which travels space in mentally propelled spaceships even though they have no physical bodies. When these usually aloof travelers attack Federation starships, our heroes must fly off to discover the reason and patch things up somehow, which they obviously do by the end of the book. Itís actually not a bad story but the Trek universe has never developed much depth and this feels very much like several other novels in the series, which I suppose isnít necessarily a bad thing. 7/13/11

Tunnel Vision by Gary Braver, Forge, 2011, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-0976-1   

I am inclined to call this a fantasy but it feels more like science fiction. The protagonist recovers consciousness after a coma during which he had a near death experience that appears to be a vision of Heaven. A team of researchers determined to prove the existence of the afterlife begin studying him, but they are puzzled by some of the details of his experience, which wasnít completely benevolent. Even more disturbing is the existence of a secret organization which, for reasons of its own, wants to kill the dreamer and everyone connected to the research. The cloak and dagger elements predominate.  A smart, intelligent thriller but be warned that it has an ambiguous ending. 7/12/11

Fort Freak edited by George R.R. Martin, Tor, 2011, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2570-9   

I very actively enjoyed the original Wild Cards anthologies and was sorry when they came to an end, so I was pleased when they picked up again a while back. Sadly, I didnít find the first couple nearly as engaging, and I suspect that while the writing was every bit as good, it was the times that had changed. The newer themes Ė one volume involved a kind of reality show Ė just didnít interest me as much. This one also has a relatively narrow theme, but it felt closer to the original series in tone and I liked it a lot more. The title refers to a subdivision of the New York City police force that deals specifically with the mutants, some of whom have superpowers, created by an alien virus during the 1940s. The contributors are a mix of the old and the new, with Cherie Priest, David Anthony Durham, and Mary Anne Mohanraj joining the table of contents. Priest, Melinda Snodgrass, and Victor Milan had the most entertaining contributions, but only by a hair. 7/11/11

Badisland by Doug TenNapel, Graphix, 2011, $10.99, ISBN 978-0-545-31480-0  

This is a graphic novel about a family that goes on vacation by boat and ends up marooned on a mysterious island filled with strange plants and animals. We know from the prologue that they are actually not from the planet Earth. The chief protagonist is the teenaged boy, who doesnít always get along with his sister.  The creatures are more comical than scary and the plot gets a little repetitious after a while, but the artwork is good and itís full color throughout.  The story line is okay and at over two hundred pages you get considerable bang for your buck. 7/11/11

The Yearís Best Science Fiction: Twenty Eighth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois, St Martins, 2011, $21.99, ISBN 978-0-312-56950-1 

I have long since run out of superlatives for this annual collection, which is the largest, longest lived, and best of the ďbestĒ anthologies. This yearís volume contains more than 300,000 words of short fiction drawn from the professional magazines, the small press, and online sources, as well as anthologies and single author collections.  There is the usual mix of established and newer writers, a significant variation in style, theme, and subject matter but an overall quality level that rarely wavers.  You might not like every story here but youíll almost certainly enjoy most of them. There is also the editorís lengthy and fascinating summary of SF for that year and his list of honorary mentions of stories that didnít make the cut.  If you want to keep current about short SF and donít have time to read all of the various venues where it appears Ė I had actually read a good chunk this time for some reason -  this is your best bet. 7/10/11

Legacy by David L. Golemon, Thomas Dunne, 2011, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-312-58079-7   

When scientists discover that the moon was visited a billion years ago, the knowledge leads to major unrest around the world. (Frankly, I doubt that would happen. No one would believe it and anyway itís too remote in the past.) Jack Collins and his elite group are called upon to investigate and calm things down, which seems to me even more unlikely. The science is absurd. Mars was not once a satellite of Earth. The Triangulum Galaxy is not the solar systemís closest neighbor. You cannot travel from one galaxy to another at ďsub-lightĒ speeds in six years. The premise is that the ancient Martians were involved in a war with someone else and that remnants of their military technology are still functioning on our present moon, where they hoped to continue their race after their apocalypse. Itís utter nonsense from beginning to end. Why do so-called techno-thriller writers feel they can make up the science as they go along?  Oh, thatís right. Because readers let them get away with it. 7/8/11

Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi, Tor, 2011, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2854-0   

H. Beam Piperís Little Fuzzy and its sequels have an honored spot in SF history. The fuzzies, you might know, are a teddy bearish alien race who had to establish their legal rights to their own planet. There have been sequels by Ardath Mayhar and William Tuning but this new book is actually a return to the original, a complete rewrite of Piperís story. It follows fairly closely with the lone human champion of the fuzzies who battles a major interstellar corporation to guarantee their independence.  Scalzi does a very fine job although I am puzzled why he did so; the Piper novel still holds up very well on its own.  Hopefully this will at least stimulate people to search down Piperís trilogy. 7/5/11

Jim and the Flims by Rudy Rucker, Night Shade, 2011, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-280-2  

One thing you can always count on in a Rudy Rucker novel is that there is nothing that you can count on. The rules are malleable and Rucker plays with realities the way lesser writers vary their settings. In this case our hero Jim has inadvertently created a bridge Ė actually more like a tunnel Ė between our world and the afterlife. His wife is killed during the event and the world is invaded by the Flims, who look like blue baboons among other things.  Jim has only one hope of regaining his lost love, crossing over into the afterlife and bringing her back, a kind of Orpheus story. Describing absurd events in absolutely serious language creates an odd blend of macabre, sentimental, and absurd images and situations. I guess you could call this SF, or fantasy, or maybe something else, but youíll almost certainly call it good. 7/4/11

Hot & Steamy edited by Jean Rabe and Martin H. Greenberg, DAW, 2011, $ 7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0689-9 

The subtitle says ďtales of steampunk romanceĒ, which pretty well sums it up, although a couple of the stories donít strike me as actually steampunk and the romance is generally less than steamy.  There are sixteen stories here, all original, including works by Tobias Buckell, Mickey Zucker Reichert, Robert Vardeman, Jody Lynn Nye, and others, none of whom have been active in the romance genre as far as I know.  Itís not a shared universe so there is considerable variation in setting as well as theme and treatment, but less variety in tone. The romantic element is pretty light in most of the stories and adventure or puzzle solving trumps it in most cases, but that's not a bad thing as it provides some liveliness. Some of the stories are arguably fantasy. A very readable collection but with no really outstanding stories. 7/3/11

Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari, Scholastic, 2011, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-25563-9   

Given the success of the trilogy by Suzanne Collins, I was not surprised to see more post-apocalyptic young adult fiction. For a long time most of these were the result of nuclear war, but in this case itís a collection of environmental problems and plagues, reflecting a change in the specific doom that hovers over us. The protagonist is a teenage girl living in what remains of Central Park where she has to deal with unfriendly humans and a pack of ravenous dogs. Eventually she joins a small colony of survivors, but they in turn are attacked by an organized group of infected people who function as a kind of intelligent zombie. And for some reason, they are particularly interested in getting their hands on Lucy, our heroine, which reason is eventually revealed. The dialogue is a little flat at times but I enjoyed it otherwise. 6/25/11

The Noise Revealed by Ian Whates, Solaris, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-54-3  

The followup to The Noise Within replicates its wild and woolly pacing as we begin to discover that what we thought we knew about humanityís first contact with aliens might not be true after all.  And whatís the real story about the Virtual world?  Author Whates carries us along in an escalating series of events that build on those from the previous book and tell us more about the various characters as they hurtle toward the conclusion. I found the closing chapters a little less involving, as though an effort was being made to tie everything up quickly, but otherwise it was a rewarding few hours of space opera with some modern twists. Not the kind of book you gladly set aside once you're hooked. 6/22/11

The Dark Zone by Dom Testa, Tor, 2011, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2110-7  

Back when I was a teenager, there were a number of SF adventure series for young boys Ė Lucky Starr, Mike Mars, Dig Allen, Chris Godfrey, and others Ė in which the reader explored the universe through the eyes of a teenager whose adventures were unlikely but always fun. This is the closest thing to that form that exists today, fourth in the Galahad series in which a group of teens roam around in a spaceship. The big difference is that we see things from multiple viewpoints, and there is a good deal more sophistication to the writing Ė though perhaps a bit less lively imagination. I found the story a bit slow moving at times, but hopefully things will speed up as the crew gets closer to their ultimate destination. 6/21/11

Zendegi by Greg Egan, Night Shade, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-175-1

Just when I thought the virtual reality theme had been pretty well explored in SF, Greg Egan proves otherwise.  The premise is almost as interesting as the story in this one. What would happen if programming became so sophisticated that artificial characters created in virtual reality were indistinguishable from humans?  Would they be entitled to the same protection under the law? Thatís what happens as the backdrop to the story of a parent who wants to survive death by means of a virtual proxy in order to help a child mature. I confess that I donít buy the argument that these characters could be actual ďpeopleĒ just as I am convinced that when Kirk is reassembled after a transporter trip, the original Kirk is dead and gone, but that doesnít stop this from being an excellent novel. 6/17/11

Anno Frankenstein by Jonathan Green, Abaddon, 2011, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-45-1  

A new book in the multi-author Pax Britannia series, a shared world alternate history steampunk adventure in this case featuring Ulysses Quicksilver. This one is basically a changewar novel in which our hero has to go back through time to prevent a villain from providing Adolf Hitler with advanced technology that will enable him to defeat the Allies and win World War II. It reminded me of John Jakes' Black in Time in which a black militant and a white supremacist battle to shape the course of history.  The time traveler in this one discovers that itís all in an alternate version of our history where the Nazis are already using a kind of zombie soldier and other literary and historical characters including Dr. Jekyll.  Light weight but fun, and some of the swashbuckling is very entertaining. 6/16/11

City of Ruins by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Pyr, 5/11, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-369-5 

Sequel to Diving into the Wreck. Boss returns for her second adventure exploring derelict spacecraft for fun and profit. She runs a company that searches for ships that contain elements of a technology now lost. In this case the mystery involves a city rather than a ship, one where bizarre phenomenon and a vast city of caves appear to be interconnected. Iím a pushover for any variation of alien archaeology, a subset of SF that has included several relatively obscure favorites like No Safe Place by Anne Moroz and better known ones like Andre Nortonís The Time Traders. Rusch puts more emphasis on characters than most, but that doesnít interfere with the sheer joy of a well told mystery/adventure. It's a brand of SF that I've always enjoyed and it's become quite scarce. 6/9/11

Behind the Gates by Eva Gray, Scholastic, 5/11, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-545-31701-6   

First in a new near future dystopian adventure series which should target the same audience as those who enjoyed the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Itís even in present tense, as is the Collins series, but far less skillfully done. I only got through this one because itís short. Itís not quite as openly regressive a world, but wars and natural disasters have taken their toll. The protagonist is a young girl sent to a boarding school where she learns, along with her regular subjects, a variety of survival skills for her new environment. She makes friends and enemies and, inevitably, discovers that not all is as it seems. Disappointing. 6/8/11

Dancing with Bears by Michael Swanwick, Night Shade, 2011, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-235-2

Swanwick's latest is a thorough delight.  Reminiscent at times of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, although this is SF, the novel is set in a collapsed future Russian quasi-state.  Rogue AIs with an obsessive hatred of humanity live mostly underground although some have insinuated themselves into the bodies of dead Russian citizens and live beneath Moscow, planning the destruction of everyone above them.  Our heroes are Darger, a human, and Surplus, an uplifted dog, who team up as confidence men planning to loot the Moscow treasury by posing as members of a diplomatic mission from Byzantium. They are accompanied by a group of genetically modified women designed to appeal to the local Duke's sexual tastes, although since no one has ever seen the Duke, that's mostly guess work. They encounter a variety of characters including a homicidal and ambitious chief of security, an addicted spy working for at least two sides, Neanderthal guards, uplifted bear soldiers, and street kids in a delightful and always entertaining romp through a strange and fascinating future.  One of the very best of 2011. 6/5/11

The Falling Machine by Andrew P. Mayer, Pyr, 5/11, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-376-3   

First in a series about a steampunk superhero, and as much fantasy as SF. Sarah Stanton is eye witness to the murder of a socialite in 1880s New York, which provides an opportunity to fulfill her dream of becoming a crimefighter. She teams up with a male superhero Ė the superheroes get their powers through the use of steam power, which in turn is generated by something mysterious Ė and they set about discovering who the killer is, a trail which reveals a good deal more including a major conspiracy by the quasi-aristocracy. The author comes from a background in games and comics, and it shows at time in the construction of the novel. Itís a lot of fun in many of the same ways that games and comics are fun, but the characterizations are relatively shallow.  If youíre not too fussy about the latter, you should find this rewarding and the series presumably an enjoyable one to follow. 6/4/11

Blood Reaver by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Black Library, 2011, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-039-9

The Warhammer novels set in space are invariably military SF and this is no exception. Although the human worlds are battling demonic aliens, they are also split among themselves, and there are various military societies that exist as extra-planetary city states, forming alliances and fighting with one another. This is a typical story with repulsive aliens, battles, and in this case a plot to effectively destroy one of the military orders. I had trouble getting into this one although the second half of the book picked up considerably. It might just be that I'm getting tired of this universe, which is even less interesting than Star Trek despite its various different subcategories. 6/3/11

The Essential X-Men Volume 8, Marvel, 2007

This is a collection from the late 1980s, well after Iíd stopped reading Marvel, and since the X-Men never appealed to me I might not have read them even if I was still doing comics at the time. The academy is missing in this series, which pits them against the Reavers, the Brood, Terminus, a batch of demons and other nasties, several of whom use some form of magic. Itís hard to tell because thereís no color in these reprints, but the drawings look much more primitive than they were in the 1970s; some of the characters who are supposed to be human barely look it.  The stories are occasionally interesting, but just barely. 5/28/11

Treachery in Death by J.D. Robb, Putnam, 2011, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-399-16703-5

The latest Eve Dallas futuristic thriller makes use of a device I've noticed in the last several books.  Once again we know virtually from the outset who the murderer - or in this case murderers - are, a rogue squad of detectives run by an ambitious and unethical woman. The story involves the efforts to prove the case and avoid warning the bad guys of what's coming. This, and the fact that we know Dallas and her cronies will succeed, normally would draw a lot of the suspense out of the plot line but Robb (Nora Roberts) has found an alternate way of generating intense interest. She has been making her recent victims intolerably arrogant and since we all want to see the arrogant humbled, that's the driving force behind the plot. And it works because I stayed up late to finish this one, determined to Renee Obermann get what's coming to her.  The usual formula elements are present - two sex scenes, an argument between Dallas and her husband, the familiar banter among the team members. This one is only SF by courtesy. We're told it's 2060 and one of the minor characters works on an orbiting habitat, but otherwise it's the New York City we know.

Cloneworld by Andy Remic, Solaris, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-906375-58-6  

I am not a big fan of military SF but occasionally I feel in the mood for some large scale fictional violence.  Andy Remicís Combat K novels like this one are a good way to scratch that itch.  This time we have a typical situation Ė a contingent of military personnel on a hostile planet caught between two rival forces, neither of whom much likes the newcomers. They are there on a quest to find a magical swordÖactually an alien artifact with a new technology that could turn the tide of battle against an inimical alien race. But the planet where it is presumed to be hidden is torn by a civil war between biogenetically adapted humans and super DaleksÖactually robotic war machines. So itís not going to be a walk in the park. Light hearted fun but I think it went on quite a bit too long for the story Ė almost six hundred pages.  5/18/11

The Essential X-Men Volume 5, Marvel, 2005 4367 

Although I was a Marvel fan for several years, I never liked the X-Men and have never understood their popularity. This volume is drawn from a period after I gave up, and there is admittedly a lot more focus on story rather than action sequences, and the characters are actually given some depth.  Supervillains are surprisingly infrequent, although Dr. Doom, Juggernaut, and a few others do show up. They seem almost incidental to the plot at times. There are several longer cycles of stories including one in which Rogue has identity problems.  These were actually better than my memories of the earlier stories, but I still find the whole set up unappealing.  Given my fondness for the Wild Card series, which presupposes the same chaotic proliferation of super powers, I should have liked this better.  I am large; I contain multitudes. 5/16/11

Element Zero by James Knapp, Roc, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46392-0  

Third in the Revivors series, a rationalized zombie saga. Corpses are reanimated intentionally and formed into military units to fight foreign wars. Unfortunately, one of the man developing the technology had a sinister motive of his own and even though heís been defeated in the past, his plan is still unfolding. Now it appears that he might be able to remotely control all of the revived dead, and to convert many more quickly and easily.  Can he be stopped?  The recurring characters are back to deal with the new crisis, but the end is not yet.  Iím not a fan of zombie stories and I wasnít entirely convinced by the plausibility of the bad guyís plot in this one, but read as a light adventure story itís not bad at all, though the weakest of the first three. 5/11/11

Betrayer by C.J. Cherryh, DAW, 2011, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7564-0654-7  

Number 12 in the Foreigner series. I confess that Iíve grown quite tired of this series, which seems to be repeating itself in slightly different variations. The alien Atevi have finished their civil war, more or less, and eventually mostly less. One of the small colony of humans on that world is a kind of super diplomat and he is sent on a mission to negotiate peace between the sponsors of the human colony and a rival nation which has never had any contact with humans previously. His attempts to pursue his mission Ė which is almost undefined Ė get him into hot water.  Naturally this is well written, but there really isnít anything new to say about the aliens and their culture and I felt no particular urge to rush to the end.  Time to move on to another setting, I believe. 5/6/11

Beneath the Raptorís Wing by Michael A. Martin, Pocket, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-0582-2

Indistinguishable from Magic by David A. McIntee, Pocket, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-0615-7 

I hadnít read a Star Trek novel in quite a while so there was almost a hint of freshness coming to these two. The first of these is set in the Enterprise timeframe, a show which I have never seen so I had no visuals to refer to. Humans are expanding into the galaxy and naturally that seems to pose a threat to others, in this case particularly the Romulans. They initially use subterfuge to turn their enemies against one another but eventually open a major war, which will presumably be continued and resolved in books yet to come. Okay, but no surprises here. I liked McInteeís book a lot better. Some of the supporting characters from the Next Generation series have to solve an alien technological riddle and then go on an interplanetary quest.  Less ambitious than the first but a lot more fun. 5/3/11