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Newsletter #95 September November, 2011

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep ($8.99) came out in 1992 and won the Hugo Award for Best Novel of the year. It introduced a planet of dog-like aliens that are intelligent in one way as individuals and intelligent in a different way when they form packs. When a human spaceship crashes on the planet while fleeing an interstellar war, the children on the ship are at the not-so-tender mercy of the medieval Tine. After 19 years, we finally get the sequel, The Children of the Sky($25.99, October). I made the mistake of assuming I’d remember enough of the first book after 19 years to enjoy the sequel. I did enjoy the sequel very much, but I wish I had re-read A Fire Upon the Deep before starting on the sequel.

        I’ve been impressed by everything I’ve read by Michael Flynn, but I’m puzzled by what his publisher did with his latest two books. The January Dancer ($7.99) came out in hardcover in October, 2008, but was not released in paperback until July, 2011. The sequel, Up Jim River ($7.99) came out in hardcover in April, 2010 and in paperback in February, 2011. Why put the sequel out in paperback six months before the first book? Fortunately, they are written so that they can be read as independent novels.
        Thousands of years in the future, mankind has spread through a significant portion of the galaxy, but faster-than-light travel has recently been rediscovered after a dark age where each planet developed its own culture. Various factions are fighting for power among the human worlds, and there are powerful alien artifacts scattered about. In The January Dancer, a tramp freighter needs to make repairs near an unnamed planet and the crew stumbles onto an alien artifact of great power. Soon, agents of various powerful factions, plus a pirate fleet, are trying to seize the artifact. Great space opera results. In Up Jim River, the daughter of one of the agents in The January Dancer approaches an old man who was another of the agents in The January Dancer (and who might be her father) to ask for his help in trying to find her mother, who disappeared on a later search for another alien artifact. Again, great space opera results.

        The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin ($7.99) is a fantasy that has received lots of award nominations, and deservedly so. In a universe that once had 3 gods, and later had many more gods as the first 3 gods had kids, a war broke out among the 3 most powerful gods. Bright Itempas won the war, killed Enefa (another of the 3 major gods), and enslaved the other major god and those of the kids who picked the wrong side in the war. He decided that the family of his chief priest among the humans should rule the world, and he passed control of the enslaved gods to the ruling family to be used as weapons to conquer the world. The story takes place thousands of years later, when Yeine Darr is called to the ruling city of the world by her grandfather, the ruler of the world. Yeine’s mother had been an heiress of the ruling Arameri family, but had abdicated and fled to another continent to live what seemed to be an ordinary life. Now, Yeine is named one of three possible heirs to rule the world, and she is not prepared for the snake-pit that is the capital of the world. And it takes her a while to learn that she has actually been picked to be the blood sacrifice that will allow one of the other candidates to become the new ruler of the world. But the enslaved gods have other plans for her.

        Black Blade Blues by J. A. Pitts ($7.99) is an urban fantasy with Sarah Beauhall, apprentice blacksmith with attitude, as the protagonist. Sarah also works evenings as a props manager on low-budget films. When her favorite sword is broken on the set, she decides to reforge the sword. Things start to get strange when one of the extras on the film shows up to help her, claims to be a dwarf, claims that the sword is magical, and claims that shapeshifting dragons secretly rule mankind. It turns out that everything he tells her is true, and the dragons really want that magic sword. And Odin keeps showing up to give her advice. A subplot is that Sarah is from a very conservative family, has recently started a lesbian relationship, and is having all sorts of internal conflicts over this. This subplot is handled intelligently without getting preachy and without slowing down the primary plot. A sequel, Honeyed Words ($14.99), recently arrived, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

        Land of the Dead ($7.99) by Thomas Harlan is the third in the series that began with Wasteland of Flint and House of Reeds (neither currently in print, but we often have used copies). In this series, the Japanese and the Aztecs united before the Europeans reached Mexico and went on the conquer the world and get into outer space, where they discovered lots of alien races and lots of strange alien artifacts that are very dangerous. The first two novels are very good space operas, but the third book becomes military sf, as alien fleets attack human ships to try to gain control of a major alien artifact discovered and being studied by the humans. The major characters are present in all three books, so it’s best to read them in order.
        Monster Hunter Alpha ($7.99) is the third of the extremely popular Monster Hunter series, and the series should be read in order. Monster Hunter International ($7.99, #1) and Monster Hunter Vendetta ($7.99, #2) have sold hundreds of copies at Uncle Hugo’s, and Monster Hunter Alpha will clearly be our #1 seller for the month of August.
        There are monsters out there, but the government doesn’t want the population to know about them. So, the government pays bounties on dead monsters to various Blackwater-like groups of monster hunters, of which Monster Hunter International is the best. The government also has a department for tracking monsters, doing cover-ups when monster attacks take place, and intimidating witnesses into keeping quiet about what really happened.
        In Monster Hunter Alpha Earl Harbinger, the head of Monster Hunter International, takes some vacation time and heads for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He’s been tipped off that Nikolai, a Russian werewolf that Earl has been fighting since the Vietnam War, is planning an attack on a small town in the U.P., and Earl plans to stop him. But some other baddies have misled both Earl and Nikolai into coming to the U.P. as part of their plot to wipe out the entire town and seize magical power. While there are some very funny lines in Alpha, it isn’t as funny as the first two books. It is more tightly plotted, and at the end sets up the next in the series.

        I really enjoyed Sandman Slim ($7.99, signed copies available) and Kill the Dead ($7.99), and I was delighted to receive an advance reading copy of Aloha From Hell ($23.99, due mid-October), the third in the Sandman Slim series. God’s on vacation, Lucifer has moved back to Heaven, an insane killer has taken over Hell and plans a war between Heaven and Hell that will destroy the universe, and Stark (aka Sandman Slim) has a lot of work to do to save the day. While I enjoyed Aloha From Hell, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first two novels. That might be partly because on the terrible proof-reading of the advance reading copy, but I think it’s also because Stark’s snarkiness in the first two books was primarily directed towards a bunch of very interesting characters, while in the latest book much of his snarkiness is directed towards himself, with the other characters being much less interesting.



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