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Newsletter #67 September - November, 2004

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        About a year ago, when E. E. Knight's Way of the Wolf: Book One of The Vampire Earth ($6.50) came in, I noticed that it sold very well, and nobody came back to complain about it. But I thought that it was a vampire book, and there are far more vampire books written than I'm interested in reading. When a signing was scheduled to for the second book in the series, Choice of the Cat: Book Two of The Vampire Earth ($6.99), I decided that I should try the first book.
        I was very surprised to discover that the series is military sf, not vampire fiction. It seems that Earth has been invaded through transdimensional gates by the Kur, who brought along some subserviant races to help with the conquest. One of the races, called Reapers by the humans, were apparently used in a much early, failed, attempt to conquer Earth, and eventually became the confused basis for the vampire myths. The story begins 39 years after the Kur successfully conquered most of the Earth, when David Valentine is recruited from the Boundary Waters area of Northern Minnesota (where the invaders make some summertime incursions, but can't handle the winters) to head down to the Ozarks for training to join the guerilla struggle against the invaders. Some of the elite of the human fighters receive augmentation from the small number of non-human enemies of the Kur that have also come to Earth. David becomes a Wolf, the most common of the augmented fighters, who usually fight in groups near the border with the Kur-controlled areas. But David eventually gets sent on a mission that takes him through Kur-controlled Wisconsin and eventually into Chicago.
        In Choice of the Cat, David moves on to become a Cat, with greater augmentation than a Wolf. Cats usually work alone, infiltrating Kur territory to spy and do sabotage. As an apprentice Cat, he accompanies an experienced Cat on a trip through the Great Plains. While the experienced Cat tries to teach him to move quietly and make as few waves as possible in enemy territory, David just seems to always make big waves.
        I enjoyed both books and I'm looking forward to the next. There are currently 6 books planned in the series.

        When Walter H. Hunt dropped by to sign books a few months ago, he said that he felt that if he could get people to try the first book in the series, he'd have them hooked for the entire series. I finally got around to reading The Dark Wing ($7.99), and I think he's correct.
        The Dark Wing is military sf with lots of space battles that will appeal to fans of David Weber or Bill Baldwin. There have been a series of wars between the humans and the zor, and every time the humans take a bit more of the zor empire, and the zor sign another peace treaty, and then the zor attack again. Most humans don't have any understanding of zor culture, but an academic who has studied them intensely has come to understand that humans are incompatible with zor religion, and therefore the zor feel that they must exterminate the human race in order to get the universe into compliance with their religious beliefs. The zor feel that it is morally correct to lie to humans, to make treaties that they don't intend to honor, to do whatever is necessary to eventually exterminate the human race. After the latest surprise attack by the zor just months after the latest treaty, some shadowy figures in the human empire bring the academic to the attention of the emperor and convince the emperor to put the academic in charge of the war effort, giving him unlimited control. At first, the military doesn't trust the academic to lead them, but after the first few victories the military gets completely behind him and the civilian government tries (unsuccessfully) to reign him in. There are some interesting plot twists along the way, but the book ends at a good stopping point. The second in the series, The Dark Path ($7.99) just arrived in paperback and the third, The Dark Ascent ($25.95) just arrived in hardcover, but I haven't found time to read them yet-but I will.

        I've enjoyed The Last Rune series by Mark Anthony, but was surprised by the ending of the fifth book, The Gates of Winter ($6.99) when it came out about a year ago. The primary bad guy in the series has been defeated, everything seems to be wrapping up, and then at the very end of the book we learn that some of the lesser bad guys are going to try to take advantage of the situation, thus presenting an opportunity for another book in the series. The First Stone ($6.99) really does end the series, and I have to admit it is a much more satisfying ending than if the series had ended a book earlier. The origin and history of The Seekers (the secret Earth organization that studies incursions from other worlds) is explored in detail, with several surprises. The reason the barrier between Earth and Eldh (the world where magic works) has been weakening is explained. All sorts of loose ends are tied up, but the action level remains high.

        There are some books that seem to appeal almost exclusively to women (such of Charlaine Harris' vampire series), while other books seem to appeal almost exclusively to men (such as most of the military sf other than the Honor Harrington series). I started hearing a lot of good things about Undead and Unwed by Mary Janice Davidson ($5.99), but I was reluctant to try it-probably because of the "Paranormal Romance" label on the spine. I finally tried it and was very pleasantly surprised.
        Betsy Taylor is a former Miss Congeniality in the Miss Burnsville Pageant, who goes on to become a mid-twenties secretary to support her designer shoes habit. On her birthday she loses her job, and later in the day she loses her life in a traffic accident. Three days later she wakes up in a coffin at the funeral home, dressed in a pink outfit (which she would never have worn when alive) and a pair of her stepmother's cast-off Payless shoes. She's mad as hell and not going to take it.
        Betsy has never been the sharpest knife in the drawer, but she makes up for it with a smart mouth and a stubborn streak. When she finds herself in the middle of a fight for control of the Twin Cities vampire community, she decides that her job is to teach them how to dress better, since most of them dress as if they are in a B-movie. But the leaders of the two factions have other ideas.
        The book is filled with lots of humor, some action, a couple of moderately graphic sex scenes, and very little romance. It's a delight. The sequel, Unwed and Unemployed ($5.99) just arrived.

        Last issue I recommended City of Pearl by Karen Traviss ($6.99), where Shan Frankland, an Environmental Hazard Enforcement Officer, is put in charge of a small expedition to another star system, where 3 different alien races are in conflict. When I finished City of Pearl, I thought things were pretty well tied up. But an advance reading copy arrived of Crossing the Line ($7.50, due around the beginning of November), which continues the story. Shan has solidly sided with the wess'har, who are willing to go to any length to prevent the isenj from returning to the planet Bezer'ej, where they had previously damaged the environment so much that it almost lead to the extinction of the native ocean-dwelling intelligent race. Earth's government has sided with the isenj in exchange for access to alien technology. Eddie is a news reporter who believes that Shan is right, but is trying to appear neutral while sending news reports to give Earth's population their first look at what the isenj are really like. Elements in Earth's government seem to be willing to militarily challenge the wess'har, even though the local group of wess'har probably have the might to defeat Earth. Only after some stupidly aggressive actions does Earth realize that the local group of wess'har are the equivalent of a peacenik, tree-hugging offshoot of a much larger alien empire. At the end of this book, it's obvious that there is much more story to come.

        I heard a lot of good comments about Wasteland of Flint by Thomas Harlan ($7.99), and the comments were correct. This is far future outer space adventure in an alternate universe where the Aztecs were contacted first by the Japanese, and after the Japanese submitted to the Aztec emperor, the two groups went on to conquer the world. Descendants of those who joined the empire early are more likely to advance quickly, while descendants of those who resisted the longest (such as the Swedish-Russian empire) are at the bottom of the heap.
        Doctor Gretchen Anderssen is a xenoarcheologist who works for a company that exploits ancient alien artifacts, and is lucky to have any job, given her Swedish background. She and a small crew (including a feline alien computer tech) are sent to see what has gone wrong with a company dig on a planet on the frontier of the empire. But the empire has also become curious, and thus has "offered" the use of an Imperial warship commanded by Captain Hadeishi to take the team to the planet--and to stick around and observe the situation. But there is a judge of the Smoking Mirror on board the warship, and he is the one who is really in charge. The judge, Huitziloxoctic (Green Hummingbird), fears that the company has stumbled onto a million-year-old booby-trap that may have already led to the destruction of other races.
        The science fiction story is quite good, but I was a little frustrated that there wasn't more historical background provided.
        The sequel, The House of Reeds ($25.95), has a more complex plot. Gretchen Anderssen and her team are sent to a planet where large lizard aliens apparently arrived about 100,000 years ago and then lost the ability to leave the planet. Various other alien races also have a small presence on the planet. But there are far older alien artifacts on the planet, and the company hopes Anderssen's team can find and make off with something profitable. But the planet is in the process of being added to the empire, and various undercover elements of the empire are involved in various plots. And Captain Hadeishi and his warship also end up in orbit around the planet to give support to the empire's ground forces. A little more historical background from Earth is revealed in this book, but the science fiction story is again the main emphasis, and is well done.

        A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett ($16.99) is a sequel to The Wee Free Men ($6.99), and both are young adult novels set on the Discworld. Young Tiffany Aching leaves the sheep behind to become an apprentice witch, and some of the Wee Free Men follow after her because they know that something very dangerous is on her trail. This should be read after reading The Wee Free Men. Although The Wee Free Men won the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel of last year, I felt that it had a strong beginning, a strong ending, and was a bit weak in the middle. A Hat Full of Sky is much more evenly paced, and I enjoyed it more.

        People have been asking for quite some time for another book in S. M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time series, and Dies the Fire ($23.95) is sort of in the series. At the beginning of the series, Nantucket Island and a small area around it are sent back to the Bronze age, and all of the other books in the series have followed that story line. Dies the Fire looks at what happens to our modern world when the same event takes place. The same mysterious event (perhaps caused by aliens?) results in the failure of all electrical devices, and explosives stop exploding as fast as they had previously. Airplanes drop out of the sky, often resulting in fires, but the water pumps don't work. Cars stop running, as do trucks, trains, computers, etc. The story takes place in the Pacific Northwest, with one story thread following a pilot flying a family to a ranch in Idaho in a small plane when the Change occurs. When the plane crashes, he tries to rescue the family and get them back to civilization, encountering neo-Nazis and many other hazards along the way. The other story line follows a Wiccan group in Oregon that heads for the hills and sets up a commune. Meanwhile, a college professor has organized street gangs to conquer a feudal kingdom for himself. While I could nitpick about some things (such as police forces without guns falling so quickly and easily to street gangs without guns), Stirling tells a hell of a story that kept me up far too late several nights in a row.



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