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Newsletter #64 December, 2003 - February, 2004

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson ($27.95 available now, with a $200 slipcased limited special edition coming next April) is the first third (at over 900 pages) of a massive work called The Baroque Cycle. The next installment is scheduled for next April, and the final installment for next October. It's a straight historical work (no sf, no fantasy, no alternate history) covering the period from 1655 into the early 1700s.
        I enjoyed it, but it took a long time for me to get through it. In the first third of the book, I'd read a chapter at night, think "That was really good", and put it down for the night. With every other Stephenson book, I would finish a chapter, reflect on how good it was, and then think, "Can I get through another 100 pages before my eyes give out?" I think part of the problem was the main character, Daniel Waterhouse. Son of a prominent Puritan preacher, he was sent to Trinity College, but having no interest in studying religion, he fell in with Isaac Newton, who had the same problem. Through the eyes of Daniel, we see the Restoration, the Plague in London, the burning of London, the rebuilding of London, and the rise of the natural philosophers. But Daniel is somebody who sees all (for the benefit of the reader), understands something of what he sees, and has no sense of humor at all. The other problem was that the story line keeps jumping back and forth between the mid-1600s and 1713, and every time the story line jumped, it was easy to set the book down for the night.

        The middle third of the book features a new set of characters. Jack Shaftoe is a London street urchin who grew up to be an adventurer and vagabond in Europe. He decides to go to Vienna to join the battle to break the Turkish siege of the city-figuring that however the battle goes, he has a good chance of grabbing some good loot and making a fast getaway. Among the loot he escapes with is Eliza, who had been captured by pirates as a child and sold into a Turkish harem. While Eliza is no more honest than Jack, she's a lot smarter, and soon becomes involved in spying, stock manipulation, and the overthrow of the English crown. This portion of the book is an absolute delight, and kept me up too late several nights. The final third of the book blends the story lines and characters from the first two sections. The story line ended earlier than I expected it to, making me eager to read the next installment.

        Because of its cover art, There Will Be Dragons by John Ringo ($25.00) could be mistaken for a fantasy if you don't study the painting carefully, but it is clearly science fiction. In the distant future, humans have no need to work, no diseases, and extended lifespans. Replicators make food, teleportation can take people anywhere in the world, and medical science allows people to have whatever bodies they want-mer-people, unicorns, dwarves, dragons, whatever. Most people would consider this paradise, but a few think that society must be forced to change so that only those with "true" human values can be on top. A civil war breaks out among the ruling council, civilization crashes, and only the Ren-Fest "reenactors" have the skills to save the rest of the human race as the food factories stop running, nannites stop dealing with medical problems, and some humans turn to banditry. This is an enjoyable first of a series, with a fair amount of action-though not as frantic as in his other books.

        I received an advance copy of Contact Imminent by Kristine Smith ($7.50) that didn't mention that it was the fourth in a series. Since I had heard good things about the author from many customers but not actually read any of her earlier books, I decided to give her new book a try. After about 100 pages, it was clear that there was a great deal of backstory about the characters that was not being discussed in this book, so I went to the bookshelf and discovered that it was the fourth in the series. At that point I was too eager to find out what happens next in the book I was reading to stop to read 1000 pages of prequels. So, I finished that book and then began at the beginning. I recommend that you start at the beginning.        

        Eighteen years before the series began, Captain Jani Kilian was with a diplomatic mission to the home planet of the humanoid idomeni. A civil war broke out among the idomeni, and against all custom the ruling clan asked the humans to intervene on their side. In violation of human law, the corrupt humans in charge of the mission agreed to be bribed to intervene in the civil war. To save her troops, Jani took some drastic actions against both her commanding officer and some of the ruling idomeni clan, and she's been on the run under assumed names ever since. At the beginning of Code of Conduct ($6.99), a former lover who is now high in the Earth government tracks down Jani and promises to protect her identity if she will come back to Earth to conduct an investigation to save his reputation. The first half of the book shows the reader how the Earth government functions and introduces various characters that are important to the series, and this part of the book is okay. About half way through the book, we start to learn about the events of 18 years before and about the idomeni, and the book becomes very interesting. In the second book, Rules of Conflict ($6.50), we learn about what humans other than Jani did 18 years before to deal with (and conceal) the corrupt mess on the idomeni home world, and how far they will go 18 years later to keep those events secret. We also start to learn much more about the idomeni culture. In the third book, Law of Survival ($6.99) the focus shifts to current conflicts within the human government and especially among the idomeni, rather than on what happened 18 years before. The fourth book looks at major shifts that are beginning to take place in human-idomeni relationships, and especially within the idomeni culture. Tough, bright Jani is digging up things that others want hidden in all four books.

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