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Newsletter #66 June - August, 2004

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        People are always asking for suggestions of what they can read while waiting for the next Anita Blake novel from Laurell K. Hamilton, and for a long time my best suggestion has been the Dresden File series by Jim Butcher, about a wizard working as a private investigator in modern Chicago. The first, Storm Front ($6.99), reads like a first novel but shows a lot of promise. The second, Fool Moon ($6.99), is much better than the first, while the third, Grave Perils ($6.99), is even better than the second, and the fourth, Summer Knight ($6.99), and the fifth, Death Masks ($6.99) is absolutely wonderful. I'm eagerly awaiting the next volume, coming in August.
        My new favorite suggestion is Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison ($6.99). The background is that at some point in the conflict between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., somebody on one side or the other accidently let loose a biological agent that sickened much of the "normal" human population and killed many of them. But the others, the vampires, werewolves, witches, etc., (who have been hiding among the normals and doing mundane jobs all along to blend in) are immune to the biological agent and keep civilization running until enough normals have recovered. After the normals have recovered, they are forced to accept the existence of the others, but many don't like to mix with them. In Cincinnati, the town is overwhelming occupied by the normals, while the others primarily live across the river in The Hollows. There is a federal police force made up of the others to police magical beings, and a separate federal police force made up of normals to police the normals. Rachel Morgan is a witch who works for Inderland Security, arresting criminals in The Hollows, but her vampire boss doesn't like her and is making her take cases like arresting leprechauns for tax evasions. She gets fed up, quits her job, and sets up a private investigation firm with a young vampire friend and a pixie. Soon, people on both sides of the law are gunning for her, as she tackles her first case. There's a fair amount of action, some nice humor, a good mystery, and a potential romantic interest that will probably develop in future books. It reads like a first novel, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit, and I expect the next to be much better.

        Another first novel that I enjoyed was City of Pearl by Karen Traviss ($6.99). Earth is an environmental mess, and Shan Frankland is an Environmental Hazard Enforcement officer nearing her retirement when the government talks her into taking a new assignment that will delay her retirement by 150 years. Many, many years ago a religious group gathered an ark of biological material from Earth, had themselves frozen, and set off to another star system to set up a colony. While most people think the colony failed, the government knows that it still exists-on a planet claimed by 3 alien races. The government wants her to lead a small expedition of a few marines and a few corporate-sponsored scientists to supposedly study the colony planet, but she's actually supposed to retrieve the biological ark. But for a long time, Shah doesn't realize what she is really supposed to be doing, because the government has given her a Suppressed Briefing-she has all the relevant information in her brain, but she can't access it until the programming decides it is time to reveal something to her. Shah is a tough woman, and turns out to be the right person in the right place-and when her personal sense of right and wrong conflict the government's orders, she goes with her own moral values. Because this is a first novel, it drags a little in places in the first half, and the rate at which background is provided to the reader is a problem, but it becomes hard to put down once all the pieces are in place.

        Balance of Trade by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller ($25.00 signed hardcover, $16.00 trade paperback coming sometime this summer) is the latest in their Liaden Universe series. This novel is set significantly earlier in the Universe than the other novels, but tells an interesting story with (primarily) likable characters, both Terran and Liaden.
        Jethri is the youngest crew member on a Terran family-run trading ship, but his mother has decided it is time for him to leave the ship and has arranged for him join the crew of an undesirable ship owned by one of her relatives. He manages to find a different position for himself, on a much larger Liaden trading ship, and becomes the student of the master trader, who believes that it is vital that Liadens and Terrans start to understand each other better. Eventually, he learns much more about the Liadens, as well as the secret Terran society that his late father had played a major role in.

        I'm a long-time fan of Peter F. Hamilton, and his latest novel, Pandora's Star ($26.95) is a very impressive "intelligent space opera". In the 24th century, humans have used wormhole technology to open many planets for colonization, making it possible to literally take a train from planet to planet through the artificial wormholes. The aliens that have been encountered so far have seemed rather indifferent to humans. Medical technology allows people to be rejuvenated repeatedly, allowing for vastly extended life spans, with major social repercussions and accumulations of wealth and power over centuries into certain families. Many plot lines are juggled in the book, to give the reader many different viewpoints of this huge, complex society.
        Then an astronomer notices that well beyond the frontier of human expansion, two star systems suddenly have been enclosed in force fields-in a matter of minutes. The humans come up with a couple of theories-either the aliens in those systems have somehow raised the force fields to keep somebody else out, or somebody from outside the systems have raised the force fields to keep the inhabitants inside. Naturally, the humans just have to head for the star systems to poke the force fields with a stick and see what happens. After enough pokes at one of the force fields, it comes down, and the humans are immediately attacked.
        This is the first of two books, and the next book won't come out until next year.

        Sunshine Patriots by Bill Campbell ($17.95) is a first novel by a new African-American sf author. It is also an angry military sf novel.
        In most of the military sf novels flooding the market, the soldiers are bravely fighting the good fight for a good cause. In this novel, both the soldiers and the public are being lied to constantly by the government, aided by a news organization that reminded me of Fox News after another 250 years of practice. (Locally, I thought Channel 9 News provided the best news coverage in the market before they were taken over by Fox; now the same team of talented people frequently provide the worst news coverage in the market. At least they are no longer required to run the Fox cute animal story of the day every day, like they did for months after the takeover!)
        There are many interesting aspects to the book, including the creation of military heroes, not only to boost morale and as a recruiting tool, but also so that the images of the heroes can be used in commercials to sell consumer products. I also liked the use of spin-doctoring to justify the constant series of small wars the government is constantly waging. (The wars are always for "Peace, Tranquility, and Economic Prosperity") But I had problems with the dialect in the scenes with the troops on the battlefield. (I also have problems with other books that use heavy dialect, because of the way I read. Many people sort of read-out-loud inside their own heads, so they catch the accents, etc.; I read groups of symbols to get the meaning, and strange groups of symbols in a story with heavy dialect really slows down my comprehension and enjoyment. This also causes me to miss many puns in books that indulge in such things.)



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