The many fans of the Liaden Universe books by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller are aware that the planet Liad was colonized during an ancient war, with little tidbit of background information being revealed in various of the stories. Crystal Soldier ($25.95, probably around the beginning of March, and we're trying to arrange to get some signed copies) is the first half of a duology about that ancient war and the settlement of Liad. As always, there are interesting characters, interesting situations, and lots of action. I loved it-until I reached the end and realized I'd have to wait for them to write the second half of the story.
The Hidden Queen by Alma Alexander ($6.99) was first published in New Zealand a few years ago, but the U.S. edition will arrive around the beginning of May. The publicity from the publisher compares her writing to Mercedes Lackey and Robin Hobb, but I was reminded much more of Patricia Briggs.
King Red Dynan was killed on the battlefield, leaving behind his 9-year-old daughter Anghara as heir. But his ambitious bastard son Sif had come with the army under another name, and on the evening of his father's death he promises to lead the army to victory the next day if the army will recognize him as king. With their king dead and their top general severely wounded, the next in line to lead the army agrees to the deal. When the queen learns what has happened, she know her daughter's life is in danger and sends her fleeing with a couple of trusted companions.
Anghara has strong magical abilities, but needs training. And the gods have plans for her. Meanwhile, Sif claims that Anghara is dead, and starts killing everybody in the kingdom with magical ability. The story follows Anghara from 9 until her mid-teens, at which point she decides that it is time to claim the throne for herself. The second half of the story, Changer of Days, is scheduled to come out 1 month after The Hidden Queen.
The publisher suggests that this could be used as a young adult novel, but the language is sophisticated enough to challenge many young adults. It works quite well as an adult novel.
Gridlinked by Neal Asher ($7.99) reminded me of his fellow British writers Peter F. Hamilton and Richard K. Morgan-lots of fast-paced action in a big, complex universe. The Polity contains hundreds of worlds connected by instantaneous transport via "runicles", with each "runicle" controlled by an artificial intelligence. Ian Cormac is an undercover agent for Earth Central Security, but he has been gridlinked to the network of artificial intelligences for so long that he's having a hard time passing as human in his undercover assignments. He's forced to go cold turkey on a new assignment so that he can re-learn how ordinary humans act, but he has a psychopathic terrorist and a homicidal android on his trail from his previous assignment and a possibly hostile extra-galactic intelligence involved in his new case. Lots of interesting ideas, lots of action, lots of fun.
Richard K. Morgan has a talent for writing grim, gritty, violent books. His first, Altered Carbon ($13.95, signed), involved Takeshi Kovacs as an involuntary private eye on Earth about 500 years in the future, where people can be downloaded into new "sleeves" when their old bodies get killed. His second, Broken Angels ($14.95, signed), involves Takeshi Kovacs 50 years after Altered Carbon as a mercenary soldier involved in a bloody civil war on another planet. His third book, Market Forces ($14.95, due early March), is set on Earth a few decades from now. Chris Faulkner is a corporate hot-shot in London and has just switch companies, joining the Conflict Investment division of the new firm. Conflict Investment involves picking the right side to back in civil wars in various third world countries, and then negotiating sufficiently lucrative contracts in exchange for supporting that side in the war. But competition can get fierce between various (mainly British, American, and Japanese) companies in Conflict Investment. This competition can be handled in a couple of different way. Out in the field, it might require a call to Langley. (Since privatization struck the U.S. government, Langley provides fee-for-service hit squads anywhere in the world, plus handling most of the world's drug smuggling.) But in industrialized countries, high-level corporate conflict is handled by highly regulated Roadwarrior-style fights to the death on the highways. (At this point, only high-level corporate types can afford to use the highways, anyway.) I thought this part of the story line was rather silly, but it keeps the action level high and probably contributed a lot to the movie-rights interest in the book.
Morgan's fourth book, Woken Furies, will go back to the Takeshi Kovacs character and the hard-boiled writing style. Woken Furies will be coming out in England in March, but the U.S. edition is probably still a year away.
Last issue I recommended Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson ($7.99), the first book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Deadhouse Gates ($25.95) is the second book in the series. If you go to www.tor.com/erikson and read the interesting interview with Erikson (which I recommend, especially for his comments about how Glen Cook single-handedly changed the fantasy field with the Black Company series), you'll learn that he intends each volume in the series to be an independent book. The first quarter of Deadhouse Gates went rather slowly for me, since there were only a few character that carried over from the first book, plus a lot of new characters being introduced, and all these characters were going off on plot threads that seemed unrelated to all the other plot threads. But about a quarter of the way through the books the plot threads started gradually coming together, and the book became very difficult to put down. By the end of the second book I had learned things that made events in the first book take on new significance. I've never before re-read the earlier books in series before starting the next book when it finally comes out a year or more later, but this series is so complex and rich that I plan to take the time to re-read the first two before going on to the third volume.
I've heard from people who managed to get a copy of the third book in England or Canada that while the first two books are very good, the third book is spectacular. We have not been able to get import copies of the third book, and we don't know when it will come out in the U.S.
Hammered by Elizabeth Bear ($6.99) is a mystery/science fiction crossover that takes place mainly in 2062. Jennie Casey is 49 years old with a steel left arm and out-of-date neuroware to operate it, retired from the Canadian Army Special Forces, and hiding out from the Canadian government in a bad neighborhood in Hartford, Connecticut. A local crime lord, Razorface, drops in with some of his followers, one of whom is in the process of overdosing on a new street drug, Hammer. Jennie fails to save the 'banger, but she recognizes the drug-it is made by Unitek, the multinational corporation that practically owns the Canadian Army. Razorface wants her help tracking down whoever is bringing Hammer onto his turf. Later, a cop friend shows up looking for help. His fiancé and fellow cop was just murdered while trying to track down the source of Hammer. Soon, the bodies are piling up in Hartford.
The geopolitical situation is interesting. The 2 major world powers are China and Canada, with the Canadian armed forces being supported by multinational corporations that are desperate to find a way to block China's power. The U.S. has not been a major player since the Christian Fascist government took over-and Jennie's first visit to Hartford had been as part of a U.N. peacekeeping force sent to the U.S.
Then there are the two ancient, totally different alien starships found on Mars, the escaped AI hiding on the internet, and the slimy Canadian Army Colonel who is really working for multinational Unitek and is desperate to get his hands on Jenny.
My only problem with the book was the way that every chapter featuring Jennie was told in present tense and all the other chapters were told in past tense. I'm looking forward to the next volume, coming around the beginning of July, which should be straight science fiction. There is also likely to be an author appearance at Uncle Hugo's in July.