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Newsletter #76 December, 2006 February, 2007

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber ($25.95, due early January) is the start of a new series from a new publisher for Weber. As the human empire expanded through space and colonized star systems, the navy was lightly armed (to deal with human pirates) and mainly involved in exploration. Then they found the remains of an alien race, which had been completely exterminated by another alien race. The humans quickly started to prepare for war, but the hostile aliens were determined to exterminate all other advance races. After decades of war, the humans are obviously about to be wiped out, so they send a desperate cloaked fleet to set up a new colony as far from the aliens as possible.
        The orders for the fleet call for them to preserve all the human knowledge but to keep the colony low-tech to avoid detection. But the commander has decided to disobey the orders–he has shuffled a bunch of supporters into key positions and they are determined to establish an anti-technology church, with the fleet officers as archangels from God to enforce their religion. When some officers try to proceed with the original orders, the commander nukes the technology dump and war breaks out among the fleet officers. Almost 900 years later, the real story starts as some hidden resources of the officers who tried to follow the original orders are activated and begin fighting the church.
        I almost gave up on the book while the background was being presented, but once the real story began I was hooked and staggered into work several days after reading far too late into the night.

        The Sky People by S. M. Stirling ($24.95) is a fun, light alternate history novel. The Soviets and the Americans discovered that the pulp writers were correct–there are tribes on Venus and Mars. Both East and West turn their Cold War resources to a space competition to set up colonies on Venus and Mars. This book primarily follows astronauts on Venus, dealing with bronze-age human tribes, neanderthals, dinosaurs, strange alien artifacts, fossils that show that some alien force “Terraformed” Venus a few million years ago, and wondering what the kosmonauts are doing on their side of Venus. It comes close to capturing the feel of the pulp stories, but the characters try too hard to come up with plausible scientific explanations to completely capture the pulp adventure flavor. It appears that the next novel in the series will probably deal with Mars.

        Accelerando by Charles Stross ($7.99) tosses out interesting ideas so fast that the author doesn’t have time to develop many of them before moving on to the next batch of ideas.
        Manfred is a genius who doesn’t like to pay taxes, so he keeps giving away brilliant ideas to others, so that he can change society and they can worry about taxes. In return, those who get rich off of his ideas are often willing to give him things he wants (tax free). And he keeps telling people that we ought to start tearing apart planets and moons to create computronium, which he believes the M31 galaxy is composed of. By the end of the book, we find that he’s right about M31, but tearing apart our solar system to make it into computronium is a bad idea for the survival of the human race.
        Lady of the Mazes by Karl Schroeder ($7.99) explores some of the same ideas in a more careful, traditional way. Accelerando was a much wilder ride, while Lady of the Mazes was a more tightly crafted novel.

        Century Rain by Alastair Reynold ($7.99) is a cross-over sf/ mystery/ alternate history. Three hundred years in our future, the Earth is uninhabitable due to a nanotech mishap, but many humans managed to get into space before the disaster, and the ones still living near Earth don’t approve of messing with nanotech enhancements to themselves, while those who live farther out in the solar system (the Federation of Polities) are more likely to indulge in extravagant alteration of the human body. There is conflict between the near-Earth humans and the Polities, and conflict within the Polities. The humans that got into space found the equivalent of an alien subway system to the stars. At the end of one of these tunnels is an alternate Earth, where it’s 1959, WW II never really got going, and a private eye in Paris is trying to investigate a case the police (who have been taken over by the fascists, and the fascists are on the verge of taking over France) have rules a suicide. All of these elements are skillful woven together to produce a novel that I enjoyed up to the last page–but the last page bothered me.

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