The Confusion by Neal Stephenson ($27.95, due April 13, signed copies expected) is the second of the Baroque Cycle, following immediately after Quicksilver ($27.95, $200 limited edition due in April), but is faster paced. The Confusion covers the period from 1689 to 1702.
Near the end of Quicksilver, Jack Shaftoe was captured by Barbary Coast pirates. At the beginning of The Confusion, Jack and nine fellow slaves hatch a plot. They convince their owner that they will steal a Spanish treasure ship from the New World, convert the treasure into trade goods in Egypt, and then bring the ship full of trade goods back to Algiers to buy their freedom. (Naturally, their true plot involves them getting their freedom and the treasure.) Through a series of daring adventures, we follow them through Spain, Egypt, all over the Indian subcontinent (not yet part of the British Empire), and on to Japan (a completely closed nation, which make smuggling even more profitable), Manila, Mexico (where the Spanish Inquisition is practiced a bit differently than in Spain), and finally back to Europe.
Meanwhile, Eliza continues to be involved in political espionage, currency manipulation, and similar fun pasttimes, mainly from various locations in France. By following her exploits, we learn why France was never able to use French wood to build their navy ships, as well as how wars were financed.
Daniel Waterhouse also makes several appearances in the book (though much less of the book is about him than in the first book). He has actually developed a sense of humor, and we finally learn why he went to Boston.
I heard somebody at the store express a wish that they could buy an annotated version of Quicksilver. That wish is even more appropriate for The Confusion.
Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan ($14.95, due early March) is a sequel to Altered Carbon ($13.95), but is very different in flavor.
In this universe, a key technology is Digital Human Storage. With DHS, all of a person's memories and personality can be electronically pulled from one body, transmitted to another location (including other star systems) and downloaded into another body (known as a "sleeve").
Takeshi Kovacs grew up in a tough neighborhood on a colony planet, where he went from minor street criminal to gang member before becoming an elite commando in the U.N. Envoys, the force the U.N. would digitally transmit at near instantaneous from colony planet to colony planet to fight wars or replace local governments. After leaving the Envoys, he found that his skills worked well for industrial espionage, but after a shoot-out with the authorities, he went to digital prison. In Altered Carbon, he woke up in a new sleeve, on Earth, and had to work as a private investigator for a rich industrialist. Altered Carbon is a very hard-boiled detective story set in the 25th century, with lots of graphic violence and some graphic sex. Broken Angels takes place 50 years later. Takeshi is now a mercenary soldier in a filthy little war to put down a revolution on Sanction IV. The major corporations are paying for the mercenaries, while the revolutionary leader is just as willing as the corporations to murder millions of civilians to gain power. There are no nice guys in this book. Even the vicious corporate suits are in danger of being back-stabbed by other suits, from other corporations or from within their own corporations.
Takeshi is approached about the possibility of getting very rich and then escaping the war. Shortly before the war began, some alien artifacts were being explored, and a gateway was found to an operating alien spaceship. During the course of the book, we learn that mankind's expansion to the stars has been based on alien technology, first discovered when we got to Mars. Almost every new invention since then has been based on alien technology, and any of the corporations would pay a great deal to acquire a working alien spaceship-but of course, nobody can trust any corporation to treat them fairly. Takeshi has to work out a sophisticated con that will allow him to get one of the original alien experts out of a detention camp, acquire enough equipment and personnel to handle the job, and work out a deal with one of the corporations that they cannot weasel out of, without his commander or any of the other corporations or the revolutionary forces from figuring out what he is doing.
As mankind has expanded to hundreds of planets that used to be part of the empire of the aliens that had left artifacts on Mars, we've never found a live alien and only a few dead bodies. When Takeshi and his team finally reach the alien ship, the find a bunch of alien bodies. They also discover that the ship is a warship, and it's artificial intelligence is still fighting a war with other warships (now also run by artificial intelligences) that had belonged to a different alien race-a war that has been going on in this system for thousands of years so far away from the star that the humans weren't even aware of it, using weapons far beyond anything the humans have.
The revelations in Broken Angels opens up the possibilities so much than I'm very eager for the next book in the series. Unfortunately, his next book (coming out this spring in England) is not part of this series.
I heard a lot of good comments from customers about Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson ($6.99), a fat military sf novel. It went on to be our best-selling sf paperback in January.
Sergeant Kendra Pacelli of the UNPF has just returned to Earth from a mission to stomp another colony planet into submission, when she is tipped off that somebody in the UN is trying to frame some lower level logistics people, including her, for billions of dollars in war materials that mysteriously disappeared during the mission. Knowing what the UN does to people it arrests as scapegoats, she decides to run. She decides that the independent Freehold of Grainne is the best place to run to.
Freehold is a Libertarian paradise with no taxes and almost no government, where everybody walks around heavily armed and there is almost no crime. As her new friends give her a Utopian Libertarian show-and-tell of her new home, she undergoes considerable culture shock comparing this society to the Earth with its repressive government, violent gangs, and casual acceptance of rape and other crimes as minor inconveniences everybody has to put up with. (And I fought the urge to nit-pick many things about the systems described in the book.) But eventually the story turns to military action, Kendra joins the Freehold military, the UN invades Freehold, and the book becomes a fast-paced adventure novel that was enjoyable enough to justify wading through the political sermons.