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Newsletter #58 June - August, 2002

Short Recommendations         by Don Blyly         As I spend more time reading advance reading copies of forthcoming books or regular copies of new books in order to write reviews for the newsletter, I find it increasingly hard to find time to read older books by favorite authors that I didn't read when they first came out. But during a brief pause in the flood of advance reading copies, I took the time to go back to the last couple of books by Charles de Lint.         Forests of the Heart ($14.95) is set in Newford, as are many of his stories. When the Irish came to the New World, some of the Gentry came with them. But when the Gentry arrived, they found that the land was already bound to the manitou and other New World spirits, and the Gentry were forced to roam homeless on the city streets. They now appear, to those who can see them, as hard, dangerous, mean-spirited men dressed in black. But they have a plan to take the land for themselves. They've found a suitably bitter human (Donal) and convinced him to put on the mask of the Green Man, telling him of the power it will give him but without telling him of the dangers. When Donal becomes angry at the hard men, he upsets their time table and grabs the mask to use the power against them. But the spirit he calls up is too powerful for him to control, and soon everybody is in danger.         Bettina is part Indian, part Mexican, and was brought up in the Southwestern desert by her grandmother to travel in the spirit world and be a healer. She felt a calling to leave the desert and travel far to the north to an art colony on the outskirts of Newford, arriving in time to be caught up in the plans of the hard men. The addition of the Southwestern spirit culture to the Irish and northern Native American cultures is interesting. The book is fast-paced and grim, with lots of interesting characters.         The Onion Girl ($27.95) is also set in Newford, and concentrates on Jilly Coppercorn, who has been a background character in many other Newford stories. Jilly has in the past been an upbeat artist who has never seen the spirit world but believes in it strongly, and often paints mythical creatures from the spirit world in modern urban settings. At the beginning of this book, she has been struck by a hit-and-run driver and is in the hospital, partially paralyzed. Her friends gather around her at the hospital to help her, but somebody has broken into her apartment and destroyed all of her paintings that show the spirit world. Jilly now finds that when she sleeps, she escapes to the spirit world, leaving behind the Broken Girl (as she has come to think of her body in the hospital bed). In the spirit world she meets Joseph Crazy Dog, a friend from the streets of Newford who moves easily between the worlds, who tells her that she must deal with her past before she can heal her body. As Jilly explores the spirit world, we learn about her background as an abused child who ran away from home, became involved in prostitution and drugs, and then was rescued from the streets. But when she ran way from home, she left behind a younger sister, who turned mean in order to survive.         In spite of some gritty stuff, The Onion Girl is surprisingly upbeat, especially compared to Forests of the Heart. But both are very good.         When the Devil Dances by John Ringo ($25.00) is the third in the military sf series that began with A Hymn Before Battle ($7.99) and Gust Front ($7.99). In the first novel, aliens come to Earth in the near future and say that an invading army is headed this way, which is conquering every planet in their path and then eating the conquered populations. If the humans will supply fighters to try to stop the bad guys (the Posleen, who are rather centaur-like in appearance), these aliens will provide advanced weapons--otherwise, the humans can wait a few years and fight on their own. In the first novel, the humans are fighting on other planets. In the second book, the Posleen reach Earth. In the third book, the Posleen have been on Earth for 5 years and have conquered most of Earth, but at a high price. The only remaining large-scale resistance to the Posleen are in various mountainous areas in North America, plus areas where the winters are too severe for the Posleen, but there are still human forces off-planet.         This book is a 485-page piece from the middle of a much larger story, and it shows. It would be a huge mistake to try to start with this book, but if you've already read the first two books you'll want to continue the series with this book. The story continues to be action-packed and compelling, filled with characters from the earlier books. But one of the most interesting subplots from the first two books, the untrustworthiness of our new allies, is slightly hinted at but not really developed in this book. Much of the book involves a major Posleen push into the southern Appalachians, and the book ends before the battle end--very irritating. In spite of these flaws, I'll still be eagerly looking forward to the next volume.         Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer ($25.95) is the first of a planned trilogy about parallel worlds, but tells a complete story by itself. In our world the neanderthals died out 27-35,000 years ago, but in a parallel universe it was the homo sapiens that died out and the neanderthals went on to become the dominant species. In our world, some scientists are working in a huge artificial cavern two kilometers below the Canadian shield at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, while in the parallel world a neanderthal physicist is working on a quantum computer experiment in a similar cavern in the same location to achieve the same shielding from everything except neutrinos. When a piece of equipment in the neanderthal's experiment malfunctions, the neanderthal ends up in our world in the midst of the neutrino experiment. While the neanderthal physicist and the humans try to figure out what has happened and what can be done about it, on the neanderthal world the physicist's partner is charged with murder and must find a way to avoid the law long enough to repeat the experiment and try to retrieve the physicist to prove that no murder took place. Both story lines are interesting, giving the reader opportunities to compare the neanderthal society and legal system to the human culture. While the book didn't show as much of a sense of humor as Sawyer often shows in his work, it's still quite recommendable.

        Chindi by Jack McDevitt ($22.95, due early July) is the third novel set in the same universe as The Engines of God ($6.99) and Deepsix ($7.99). While each novel tells a complete story, it's somewhat better to read them in the order in which they were written. In The Engines of God, humans find that they are the only surviving space-going species, but there's lots of evidence that there used to be many other space-going species. The humans are trying to find out what killed off all those other species before the killer comes after the humans--by the end of the book, they find the answer, but you'll have to read the book yourself to find the answer. In Deepsix, years have passed but interstellar pilot Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins is still flying scientists and supplies around the ever-growing area of human expansion and research, having close calls more often than she likes. She ends up stranded with a group of passengers on a planet shortly before it will be destroyed, and the book has the flavor of a disaster novel with a hard science background. In Chindi, Hutch has one close call too many due to administrative stupidity and decides to call it quits. But when a human research ship discovers concealed alien satellites that are still broadcasting signals, Hutch allows herself to be talked into one more mission. A group of rich "alien contact" fanatics have a ship of their own that they want to hire her to pilot so that they can try to track down where the messages are going to and hopefully find some live aliens to contact. Against her better judgment, she agrees. Thus begins an action-filled adventure filled with scientific puzzles and "sense of wonder".         I've enjoyed everything I've read by Holly Lisle, so I was very happy to see that she had two new books coming out a month apart from two different publishers.
        Vincalis the Agitator ($13.95) is a prequel to The Secret Texts trilogy: Diplomacy of Wolves ($6.99), Vengeance of Dragons ($6.50), and Courage of Falcons ($6.99). The trilogy takes place a millennium after an evil magical empire fell, destroying much of the world in the process. Vincalis the Agitator is the story of how the evil empire fell.
        At the beginning of the story, the protagonist is a young boy and many of the other main characters are not much older, and I didn't think they were well portrayed--too much like naive adults rather than like kids. Once they become adults and the protagonist decides to use the theater to try to influence the attitudes of the population regarding the magical foundations of the empire, the story becomes much more compelling. I was also unhappy with the very end of the book.         The second new book, Memory of Fire ($6.99), was much better. This is the first of The World Gates series, but tells a complete story. It seems that there are a number of worlds that certain individuals can move between using gates, but sometimes with dangerous results. Somebody from "upworld" can do magic if they travel "downworld", but with major negative effects "upworld". What humans used to think of as the "Old Gods" came from "upworld" and the magic they performs on Earth eventually killed the world they came from. There are secret groups of Sentinels who have a strict code of ethics and try to prevent anybody who does not subscribe to their code of ethics from using gates to move between the worlds.
        Molly McColl has the ability to heal other people on Earth, but only at the cost of great pain to herself. Somebody arranged for her to be kidnapped from her home in Cat Creek, North Carolina and taken "downworld" to a planet where she has tremendous healing power without any pain. At first angry and suspicious, she learns to love being able to heal others painlessly. But she doesn't understand what is happening or the result back on Earth--a new plague that threatens to wipe out much of the human race.
        Lauren Dane is a single mother of a young son. After her military husband was killed, she moved back to her home town of Cat Creek, North Carolina to the house she grew up in. When she scraped black paint off an antique mirror's glass, she discovered a gateway "downworld". She eventually learns that her parents were Sentinels who were murdered by rogue Sentinels, and that her parents wiped out many of her memories to protect her. But the more she travels between the worlds, the more of her memories and abilities come back to her.
        Eric MacAvery is the sheriff of Cat Creek, as well as the head of the local group of Sentinels. He knows about the disappearance of Molly McColl, and he knows that Lauren's parents were Sentinels that supposedly went rogue, so he jumps to many wrong conclusions. He tries to get to the bottoms of things with the help of his group of Sentinels, assuming at first that they are trustworthy and Lauren is not. He soon figures out that at least one of his group is less than honest, but he doesn't realize how bad things are until it's too late. Meanwhile, the new plague is spreading like wildfire, and everybody who catches it dies.
        This is a very good blend of fantasy and mystery, with lots of action and interesting characters. Fans of Mercedes Lackey's Diana Tregarde series should be particularly interested in this new series. I'm looking forward to the next in the series.

        Warchild by Karin Lowachee ($6.99) was the winner of the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest. It starts badly, but quickly becomes much better. The first 36 pages are told in second person, which I found very irritating. Then, it shifted to first person and quickly became very good.
        The story begins when Jos, our protagonist, is eight years old, and living with his parents (and other crew members and their children) on a merchant spaceship transporting goods during a war with aliens. The ship is attacked by human pirates, who kill all the adult crew members and grab the children and cargo. While most of the children are sold into slavery, the pirate captain (Falcone) keeps Jos for himself and starts training him to eventually become a crew member. Falcone explains that everybody is just taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the war--the merchants are making a living hauling goods for the military, and he's making a living taking the goods away from the merchants. Falcone seems to be able visit various government-run space stations and transact his business without any interference from the military. After about a year of captivity, Jos is with Falcone on a station when it is attacked by the aliens, and Jos takes advantage of the opportunity to escape Falcone. None of the military are willing to help him, even when he explains the situation, but he is taken onto an alien ship after getting shot.
        He then spends years on the alien homeworld, where he learns of the true origin of the war: a human ship found a group of alien scientists with a research station on a moon with valuable mineral deposits, and the captain decides to kill the scientists and claim the minerals. Part of his crew mutiny over this plan, and ever since then a large part of the alien military has been made up of human "symps", who value the alien culture far more than the human central government. Jos is adopted into an important human family and is trained in the alien language, culture, and marital arts.
        When he is 14, Jos agrees to return to the area of space controlled by the human central government and try to infiltrate the most successful of the human battleships and then try to pass information about the ship and its captain back to the alien side. He goes through the human military training and indoctrination and then spends years going on military missions for the human side. In the process, he learns that the pirate trade is much larger and nastier than he had believed, with traitors on both sides of the war doing a profitable business with the pirates.

        I enjoyed Pyramid Scheme by Dave Freer and Eric Flint ($21.00), but I'm also somewhat puzzled about it.
        An alien pyramid from outer space lands in the middle of the library at the University of Chicago, and it starts to grow. It also grabs some people and makes them disappear, while not grabbing other people who are just as close to it. Most of the people who are grabbed pop back into existence in a relatively short time, either dead or severely injured. But one group of people who disappeared together don't come back quickly.
        The scientists are trying to understand what is going on. The military is trying to find some way to destroy the pyramid without having any interest in understanding it. And the government is more interested in doing something fast than in taking the time to do something smart.
        And the one group of people who were grabbed by the pyramid are trying to figure out what has happened to them and how to get home without dying in the process. They include a professor of oriental antiquities, a female marine biologist from South Africa, a maintenance man, a couple of soldiers, and a brown-nosing Chicago police lieutenant. First, they encounter Odysseus, who turns out to be a cunning pirate with a ruthless but badly disciplined crew of stone-cold killers--but they speak a version of Greek a little too modern to be historically accurate. Then, various Greek gods drop by, talking English. They meet Circe, Medea, Pan, visit the island of the cyclops, etc. They learn that Zeus has ordered their deaths, so they flee to Egypt and meet with various of the Egyptian gods. Finally, they decide to assault Olympus.
        Here's what has me puzzled: the authors obviously knew their mythology, and could have written a more serious book that would have made a small number of readers very, very happy (like Silverlock by John Myers Myers). Instead, they made it light and fluffy, with chapter headings like "Old Crocs Never Die. They Just Smell That Way.", so that many more readers would find it pleasantly entertaining. But they didn't "dumb down" the mythological background to the level that most of the "light and fluffy" readership would be able to handle easily.

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