November 22


Archived Newsletter Content


Newsletter #71 September - November, 2005

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        The Tyranny of the Night by Glen Cook ($25.95) is quite a change compared to his other fantasies. Most of his fantasies over the last 15 years have had the story primarily told from the point of view of a single character with Attitude. This makes it easy for the reader to get into the story and follow the plot, and the snarky commentary from the protagonist is wonderful.
        The Tyranny of the Night is the first volume of a multi-book big-world fantasy (The Instrumentalities of the Night), in the vein of Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin, with lots of characters in different parts of the big world giving the reader different pieces of the big picture. Cook did not handle this multiple viewpoint business as smoothly as some other writers have, making the early part of the book a little difficult to follow. But before long, most of the story is being told from the point of view of one character (without Attitude, but he picks up a sidekick with Attitude and the sidekick is trying to teach him Attitude), and the story really picks up.
        The Holy Land is Holy because it contains the Wells of Magic, and where magic leaks into the world it is easier for a minor spirit to gain power, perhaps becoming a minor deity, and perhaps eventually a major deity. (All of these supernatural beings are collectively referred to as the instrumentalities of the night, and they are dangerous to most humans.) And it is also easier for sorcerers to do their work where there is so much magic available. Thus, the Holy Land is much fought over.
        While on a spying mission in the Holy Land, one man accidently learns how to kill one of the Instrumentalities of the Night. He doesn't think much of it, just being glad that he managed to save his men. But the Instrumentalities of the Night noticed, and they are very upset, even the major gods, and major sorcerers also noticed. Soon armies are marching here and there, battle fleets are sailing about, various forces are plotting like crazy. The story quickly becomes interesting, then compelling. My one major complaint is that the book badly needed a map so that the reader could figure out where the various countries were in relation to each other as all this marching about and sailing about was taking place.

        Woken Furies by Richard K. Morgan ($24.95, due early October) is the third Takeshi Kovacs novel. In the first novel, Altered Carbon ($13.95, signed copies available), we encountered Kovacs as a very hard-boiled private eye on Earth in the twenty-fifth century. Using alien technology, humans have learned to extract human consciousness from the human body and download it into another human body, even in other star systems. Kovacs was a former U.N. envoy, who was transmitted from star system to star system to help overturn governments that the U.N. wanted overthrown or to help defeat revolutionary movements that threaten governments that the U.N. wanted to support. After leaving the military and returning to his home planet, Harlan's World, Kovacs found that the career that he was best suited for was industrial espionage. After he and his lover are caught and sent to prison, his services are purchased by a rich man on Earth who needs a tough private eye to investigate his own murder.
        In the second book, Broken Angels ($14.95, signed copies available), thirty years have passed and the writing style changes to military science fiction as Kovacs becomes a mercenary in a really nasty planetary war on Sanction IV. In this book, we learn much more about the aliens from which we got the technology to get to the stars, as well as the ruthless corporate power structure that control man's expansion to the stars.
        In Woken Furies, Kovacs finally returns to Harlan's World to try to track down his lover who went to prison back at the beginning of the first book. He finds that the oligarchy that has always ruled Harlan's World has become even more repressive, and that large numbers of the common people have turned to a very conservative, repressive religion. With the alien technology plus cloning, people can hop from body to body as they become old, so that it's rare for people to actually die permanently. But Kovacs finds that his lover is permanently dead because of the repressive religion, and he goes on a personal vendetta against the religion, with some help from his old contacts with the criminal underground. One of the ruling families of Harlan's World becomes so concerned about Kovacs' vendetta that they pull out a secretly recorded copy of the young Kovacs from a previous time he was on the planet, install the young Kovacs into a body, and sends the young Kovacs to kill the older, much more experienced Kovacs. (This is so illegal that the U.N. would overthrow the government of Harlan's World if they found out about it.)
        Meanwhile, a revolutionary who was thought to have been permanently killed a couple of centuries before claims to be back from the dead, and a bunch of her old revolutionary followers are gathering to re-start the revolution. The last time around, she let loose a batch of self-replicating fighting machines controlled by revolutionary-rhetoric-spouting artificial intelligences, and those machines still control a significant part of the world.
        When Richard Morgan stopped by Uncle Hugo's to sign the first two books, he was just getting started on writing Woken Furies, and he said he planned to go back to the hard-boiled private eye style of writing for the third book. It didn't turn out that way, but it isn't quite that same style as the second book. With books this good, I don't mind three different writing styles in the three books in the series so far. Each book also throws in more fresh new concepts not explored in the previous volumes, making the universe more interesting and complex with each book.

        Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb ($25.95, due in early September) is the first book in a totally new series, coming from a new publisher.
        The kingdom of Gernia used to be a major sea power, but in a long war they lost their ports and instead turned to the east, where the nomadic Plains tribes controlled a huge land. The Plains tribes used magic in their skirmishes with each other, as well as to keep outsiders from their land. But after the Gernians discovered that steel bullets broke the Plainspeople's magic, the conquest began.
        The old lords of Gernia are unhappy because they lost a lot of their wealth when the sea ports were lost, and the king is nervous about their loyalty. So, the king creates a bunch of new lords from among the heroes of the war for the Plains, most of whom are second sons of the old lords. The new lords are very loyal to the king, but this sets up strong political conflicts between the new lords and the old lords.
        Gernia follows a very rigid religion that holds that the path a person must follow in life was determined by the good god, with the sons of a common soldier becoming soldiers, the sons of a butler becoming butlers, etc. But things are a bit different for the lords: the first son of a lord will inherit the title and all the lands, the second son will become a soldier (an officer in most cases, but sometimes just a common soldier), the third son will become a priest, the fourth son will be some kind of artist (poet, musician, painter, etc.). And daughters will be loyal wives in the marriages that their fathers arrange for them.
        The story is told from the point of view of Nevare, the second son of a new lord, starting when he is eight years old and continuing through his first year in the King's Cavalry Academy. His father takes extreme measures to give him the background necessary to be a superb officer, with military tutors and even turning him over for a while to be trained by the father's greatest former enemy among the plainspeople to learn their outlook on life and way of fighting (during which part of his soul is stolen by one of the enemy's gods so that he can be turned traitor against his own people).
        With all of Hobb's earlier books, I was hooked very quickly. I didn't really get hooked in the new book until Nevare left the home to go to the Cavalry Academy, where he starts to see the political hostility in the capital towards the new lords, and where he meets his rebellious and very bright female cousin Epiny.
        Epiny is a bit of a scandal among the young upper class females of the capital. Nevare, who has totally bought into the rightness of the rigid social structure, complains that she should act her age. Epiny keeps explaining to him that if she acts her age, her father will act appropriately for her age (i.e., start arranging a marriage for her), but as long as she acts and dresses childishly around her father, he will continue to treat her as a child and she will continue to have some freedom. Nevare never gets it-but the reader does, and the reader realizes that the power struggle among the upper class women of the capital can be just as bitter as the power struggle among the men, though the tactics are totally different.

        A couple issues ago I recommended Hammered by Elizabeth Bear ($6.99). Shortly before the sequel came in, a customer asked if the second volume of the Canada Triumphant Trilogy had arrived yet. Although I had never heard the term before, I immediately knew what he was asking for. When Elizabeth Bear came in to sign Scardown ($6.99), I passed the story along to her. She said that she didn't have a name for the trilogy, and she liked the sound of Canada Triumphant to describe the trilogy.
        Scardown starts immediately where Hammered left off. In 2062, 49-year-old former Canadian Special Forces officer Jenny Casey has had her out-of-date neuroware replaced with the latest improvements, based on alien technology found in a starship discovered below the surface of Mars. She is supposed to pilot the new Canadian experimental starship, also based on alien technology. She has smuggled the illegal artificial intelligence up to the starship. But the Chinese also have an experimental starship based on the same technology, and they are determined that only the Chinese will reach the stars, no matter what it takes to stop the Canadians. The multinational corporations that finance much of Canada's military and space exploration think they should have ultimate control of everything, and the Canadian government disagrees, resulting in assassination attempts. And then the aliens arrive.
        The final book of the trilogy, Worldwired, is scheduled to arrive around the beginning of December, and I'm eagerly awaiting it.

        There are 2 Discworld books coming out in October. The first is Thud! by Terry Pratchett ($24.95), a novel in which Commander Sam Vines of the City Watch is faced with assorted problems. According to legend, there was a battle many centuries ago between dwarves and trolls in Koom Valley. Now there are many dwarves and trolls living in the city of Ankh-Morpork, and some mysterious group is trying to get the city dwarves and trolls to go to war against each other in remembrance of Koom Valley. Sam is also under pressure to hire a vampire as a copper, and he just doesn't like vampires. And then there's the troublesome pencil-pusher who is investigating the City Watch for Lord Vetinari. But no matter how busy Sam is trying to stop wars, catch criminals, or dealing with the pencil-pusher, he always shows up at home at 6 pm every night to read Where's My Cow? to his one year old son, an illustrated, well-chewed picture book.
        In Thud!, the contents of Where's My Cow? remains the same through the entire novel. But the second Discworld book for October is a version of Where's My Cow? ($16.95 hardcover, 32 illustrated pages) in which Sam gets tired of reading to the kid about baa-sheep, oink-pigs, and other critters that are only encountered in the city sizzling on a plate. So, he changes the story to Where's My Daddy? and introduces characters likely to be seen in the city, such as "Cut-me-own-throat" Dibbler selling sausages inna bun.
        Thud! is a typically fun Discworld novel, while Where's My Cow? is a cute gift item that will make sense to somebody who has already read Thud! but will be hard to understand by anybody not familiar with Discworld.

        In the introduction to The Creatures of Man by Howard L. Myers ($7.99), Eric Flint says that Myers was a prominent figure in the sf field from 1967 to 1971, but in 1971 died of a heart attack at the age of 41. I was reading a lot of magazine fiction at that time, but without paying attention to the names of the authors. Although I currently overwhelmingly read novels, I picked up The Creatures of Man and found it a very enjoyable collection of stories that reflect the style of writing of that period. Many of the stories involve inventions that are even more improbable today than they were when written, but the emphasis of the stories is on how people and society function, so the improbability of the hardware hardly matters.

        I've read a majority of Robert Charles Wilson's novels, and I've enjoyed all that I've read. Many of his novels look at a few interesting characters caught in a strange situation.
        His most recent paperback, Blind Lake ($6.99) involves a government research project in northern Minnesota that suddenly gets cut off from the rest of the world because the government fears what might be happening in the facility. A startling new form of astronomical viewing system allows humans to view intelligent life on other planets in remarkable detail, and the Blind Lake, MN facility concentrates on one planet, while another facility on the east coast concentrates on another planet. When strange things start happening at the east coast facility, the government cuts off the Blind Lake facility as a safety measure-no communications in or out, and no people in or out. A mixture of scientists, construction workers, service employees, and mid-level bureaucrats struggle to deal with the uncertainty of the situation, and then reality starts to turn strange in Blind Lake. Blind Lake was a Hugo Award finalist.
        His newest hardcover is Spin ($25.95), and it primarily looks at a rich, ruthless industrialist, his alcoholic wife, his brilliant son who is being trained to run his empire, his bright but not brilliant daughter, and the bright son of his former business partner as the Earth is suddenly enclosed by a shell that prevents starlight from being seen. The sun is seen to rise every day at the right time and follow the right path through the year giving off the right amount of light and heat-but the sun that is seen from Earth is too perfect-no sunspots. Satellites can still penetrate the shell, but radio signals cannot penetrate the shell, so a satellite or space shuttle can go up, look around, and then bring results back to Earth, which quickly establishes that time is passing much slower inside the shell than outside the shell.
        The industrialist quickly figures out how to make lots of money off the situation; the wife drinks more and seldom leaves the house; the son eventually leads the government's effort to figure out who put the shell around the Earth and how, and what can be done about it; the daughter joins a bunch of religious fanatics who believe the apocalypse is happening; and the son of the former business partner gets his M.D. and eventually helps the industrialist's son. After many interesting twists and turns, we eventually learns who put up the shell and why.

        I've become a big fan of Patricia Briggs' fantasies. Her books are easy to get into, with a limited number of interesting characters, and flow smoothly. Her latest, Raven's Strike ($7.99) is actually the second half of Raven's Shadow ($6.99). In the first volume, Tier is a soldier who decided to return to his home village at the end of a war, but along the way he rescues Seraph, a young Raven mage, and they eventually marry, start a farm and a family. But as the kids get older it becomes clear that they have inherited magical powers of different kinds, and Tier also seems to have the magical abilities of a Bard. When Tier is kidnapped by minions of the Shadowed and hauled away to the capital of the empire, Seraph and her two oldest kids set off to rescue him, and they pick up some help along the way. The young emperor is being kept drunk by those trying to control his empire, but he's brighter and less corrupted than his managers suspect. Eventually, Tier is freed, the young emperor assumes true control of his empire, and most of the bad guys are dealt with.
        At the beginning of the second volume, Tier and his family head for home, the emperor survives an assassination attempt, and it becomes clear that the Shadowed wizard escaped the kill-off of bad guys in the first volume and is looking for revenge. The emperor and a few of his trusted companions visit Tier's farm, and the whole mob goes off to find an ancient city of wizards to try to find a way to end the threat from the Shadowed wizard. With some plot twists along the way, everything get nicely wrapped up by the end of the second book.
        After finishing the book, I went to the author's website ( and found lots of useful advice for people who want to become authors, as well as an announcement that her next book, in February, 2006, will be a contemporary fantasy about a shape-shifting VW mechanic. I'll be eagerly waiting for it.

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