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Newsletter #125 March May, 2019

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson ($27.00, signed copies available) is set about 30 years in the future, when China has the largest base on the moon, but several other countries also have bases on the moon. With many of Robinson’s books, the plot is a weak device to drag the reader through the ideas Robinson really wants to explore, and my enjoyment of the book is determined by how interested I am in the ideas Robinson is exploring. In this book, the plot involves the murder of the governor of the Chinese moon base–who was behind it, how it was done, and why it was done. And there is also plenty of hard science thrown in. But the book is really about the Chinese government and Chinese culture 30 years in the future, as seen through the eyes of a number of very interesting characters. I enjoyed this book more than any other Robinson book that I’ve read.

        Jade City by Fonda Lee ($15.99) is like an oriental version of The Godfather with magic, and it is very good. Some of the clans in Kekon can use jade for magical purposes, and for generations the honorable Green Bones warriors have used this magic to fight foreign invaders. But after the foreign invaders were finally driven out, the clans were no longer united by a nationalistic cause, and the younger generation starts fighting over control of various sections of the capital city. The story looks at the conflict from the points of view of the warriors, the older and younger generations of the clans, the business interests of the clans, the small businesses that pledge loyalty and pay protection money to the clan that controls their part of the city, the non-magical politicians that often pledge loyalty to the assorted clans, and the foreign powers that would love to be able to use the jade power for their own special forces troops. The story is set at a time when some people can afford cars and landline telephones, but before computers or smart phones have been invented. There’s lots of fast paced action, but also thoughtful looks at how people who don’t want to be involved in the battles have conflicting loyalties pulling at them.

        Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch ($26.00) is the latest Rivers of London novel. As is usually the case with this series, the witty writing is more important than resolving the plot. But some progress is made on the plot that has stretched through the last several books. Don’t start the series with this book; start at the beginning with Midnight Riot ($7.99) and read them in order.        

        Eric Flint is best known for his series that began with 1632 ($7.99), where a small West Virginia town is sent back in time to Germany in 1632. He played with time travel again with Time Spike ($7.99, co-written with Marilyn Kosmatka), where is modern prison in southern Illinois is sent back in time, and Time Spike was also a lot of fun. He’s playing with time travel again with The Alexander Inheritance ($7.99, co-written with Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett), where a modern Caribbean cruise ship with 5000 passengers is sent back to the Mediterranean Sea a few years after the death of Alexander the Great. I found about the first 20% of the book slow and frustrating, as the names of Alexander’s generals are tossed around as if all the readers will instantly recognize their names, their histories, and their conflicts with each other. After that, things picked up as some of the generals killed each other off, and the characters (both uptime and downtime) are more fully developed. I ended up enjoying the book so much that I next grabbed the other new Eric Flint book from the new release section, Iron Angels ($7.99, co-written with Alistair Kimble), which is set in modern East Chicago, Indiana. FBI Special Agent Jasper Wilde is working with the East Chicago police on a kidnapping case that leads to a strange religious cult that practices human sacrifices. The cult seems to have either raised an ancient supernatural evil or allowed an alien to invade Earth. Jasper is soon joined by Special Agent Temple Black, the head of the new Scientific Anomalies Group, and together they try to figure out what is going on, and how to stop it. There are obvious comparisons to the X-Files tv series, but I never cared much for the tv series, and I really enjoyed Iron Angels.

        Where Oblivion Lives by T. Frohock ($16.99) is set during the Spanish Civil War, in 1932, in Spain, France, and Germany. Each country has its own organization of Nefilim (offsprings of humans with either angels or daimons, with magical powers), watching over the humans to try to protect them from supernatural threats. Most of the Nefilim are haunted by their personal memories of events from World War I, as well as memories from previous incarnations. Diago Alverez is a member of the Spanish Los Nefilim group and is trying to find the musical Key that will give the group much greater power to fight evil. But the German group of Nefilim is under an evil influence, is allied with the Nazi party, and is trying to prevent Diago from finding the Key.
        This is not the kind of thing I would normally pick up, but I read a very positive review and decided to give it a try. It was interesting, but I felt like there must be a lot of Nefilim mythology that I was supposed to already be familiar with, but was not conveyed in the book. It appears to be the first of a series.

        Today I Am Carey by Martin L. Shoemaker ($16.00, due early March) is a very interesting near future science fiction novel unlike any other I’ve ever read. It is told from the point of view of an android designed to help patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. It is programmed with medical knowledge, but also with personal information about the patient it will take care of until death. It is designed to be able to appear to be a person from the patient’s past or a current family member who finds it too depressing to visit the patient in person. Normally, when a patient dies, the android goes back to the factory and get re-programmed for the next patient. But this android has developed a true personality, and the patient’s family has formed a bond with the android. The manufacturer agrees to allow this android to continue to be a part of the family as an experiment, so that the manufacturer can try to figure out what makes this android so different. The android remains a part of the family for generations, long after the manufacturer has gone out of business and spare parts are no longer available.

        A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher ($26.00, expected mid-April) is a dystopian coming of age novel, which is not the kind of thing I read very often. But this one grabbed my attention, and is quite recommendable. Most of the human race lost the ability to reproduce, so that only about one in every million was able to reproduce. As the humans aged, with almost no children being bourne, society changed a lot, especially as the last large generation became too old to care for themselves. As the story begins, almost all of the human race has died off. A small family with kids live on a small Scottish island and farm on a couple more small nearby islands, and they know of one other family with kids on another nearby island. They occasionally go to the “mainland” (which is actually Great Britain) to scavenge for replacement parts, but they find it so depressing that they seldom go there. One day a ship with a red sail arrives at their island, carrying a man who’s a great storyteller, who says he wants to do some trading with them. They feed him supper, he drugs them and sails away in the morning with much of their food and one of their dogs. Griz, one of the kids, awakens before the rest of the family, realizes what happened, and takes one of the family’s small sailboats to pursue him and get the dog back. Thus begins an adventure through the ruins of Great Britain that explores the collapse of civilization.

        A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (25.99, due late March) is the first of a new space opera series. The galaxy is full of systems with intelligent life, many of the systems having human life but there are also aliens. Much of human space has been conquered by the Teixcalaan Imperium. The Lsel system does not have a habitable planet, but it is settled by humans, some living on a space station, but many working as miners or pilots among the asteroids. Lsel is on the edge of the Imperium, but hasn’t yet been conquered, and strongly wants to avoid being conquered. The Imperium has been at peace for decades, but the emperor is getting old, and expanding the empire is a traditional way for contenders to be the next emperor to prove that they are worthy to take over when the old emperor dies. Lsel has had an ambassador to the Imperium for many years, trying to convince the old emperor not to conquer Lsel, but he hasn’t been very good at keeping in touch with Lsel. Now, Lsel has received a demand for a new ambassador, since the previous one has died under mysterious circumstances.
        Lsel has technology that none of the other human systems have yet developed. Most adults have a memory storage device installed, and when a new apprentice for a position is ready to start learning a job, the memory from an experienced individual is uploaded to the new apprentice’s storage device, and the apprentice can tap into the experiences of the older individual. So, Lsel picks a young woman who loves Teixcalaan poetry, appoints her as the new ambassador, uploads the very out-of-date memory file from the earlier ambassador, and sends her off to the Imperium to save their system. When she arrives, she finds that the previous ambassador was murdered, that there are many groups plotting against the old emperor, and that the previous ambassador had been following a plan to save Lsel that was quite different from the approved plan.

        Middlegame by Seanan McGuire ($29.99, due early May) is a stand-alone dark fantasy. James Reed is a member of the American Alchemical Congress, but not in good standing. The other members consider his interactions with the mundane world too risky and arrogant, but they can’t stop him. He stole the dream of his mentor, and then killed her. He believes that he can change reality and become a god, and he has been creating artificial children to help him achieve his goals. His latest experimental children are Roger (who is obsessed with language) and his twin Dodger (she is obsessed with mathematics), He had Roger adopted by an East Coast family and Dodger adopted by a West Coast family so that they will never know about each other until he is ready to use them. But Roger and Dodger have been linked by interactive dreams since an early age, and they have different plans.

        I’ve been a fan of P. C. Hodgell’s Kencyrath Chronicles for decades, and was happy to see a new volume coming, By Demons Possessed ($16.00, due early May, signing at Uncle Hugo’s Saturday, May 11, 1-2 pm).
        You should not try to start the series with this volume. The series consists of God Stalk and Dark of the Moon, now in the omnibus volume The God Stalker Chronicles ($7.99), Seeker’s Mask and To Ride a Rathorn, now in the omnibus volume Seeker’s Bane ($7.99), Bound in Blood ($7.99), Honor’s Parados ($7.99), The Sea of Time ($15.00), The Gates of Tagmeth ($16.00 or $7.99), and the new volume. And even if you have been following the series, I recommend you go back to re-read the beginning of the series before you read the new book. While I enjoyed the quality of the writing, I wish I had refreshed my memory of the events in The Godstalker Chronicles.
        Jame is lured back to the vast city Tai-tastigon, where the series began, and encounters many people and gods that she left behind five years before, realizes how much has changed over the years, and sets out to fix things. The writing is good enough that I was able to follow the story, but I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if I could have relied on a fresh memory of the events from the beginning of the series.

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