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Newsletter #98 June August, 2012

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        Redshirts by John Scalzi ($24.99, due early June, signing at Uncle Hugo’s Saturday, June 23, 1-2 pm) is enormous fun, at the expense of Hollywood.
        Freshly graduated Ensign Andrew Dahl is thrilled to be assigned to the Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. But Andrew and the other new ensigns soon notice that every Away Mission involves some form of lethal confrontation, which always results in the death of at least one low-ranking crew member. They also notice that the more experienced crew members always hide whenever a high ranking officer comes looking for people to take on an Away Mission. Eventually, they learn that the fate of these Away Missions seem to somehow be related to an ancient televison show produced centuries before on a planet called Earth. They must find a method to travel back in time, by a means as scientifically implausible as many of the Away Missions, to confront the people in charge of the ancient television show.

        Last issue I recommended Kate Griffin’s urban fantasy series set in London, A Madness of Angels (#1, $7.99), The Midnight Mayor (#2, $7.99) and The Neon Court (#3, $7.99). As I read The Minority Council (#4, $7.99), I enjoyed the plot as Matthew Swift successfully took on various new supernatural threats to modern London, but I noticed how much I’ve come to love Griffin’s use of language, especially the frantic, snarky voice used by the protagonist. In describing one confrontation where the bad guys didn’t want to back down:
        “I made a few pithy comments, along the following lines:
        My name is Matthew Swift. I’m a sorcerer, the only one in the city who survived Robert Bakker’s purge. I was killed by my teacher’s shadow and my body dissolved into telephone static and all they had left to bury was a bit of blood. Then we came back, and I am we and we are me, and we are the blue electric angels, creatures of the phones and the wires, the gods made from the surplus life you miserable excuse for mortals pour into all things electric. I am the Midnight Mayor, the protector of the city, the guardian of the night, the keeper of the gates, the watcher of the walls. We turned back the death of cities, we were there when Lady Neon died, we drove the creature called Blackout into the shadows at the end of the alleys, we are light, we are life, we are fire and, would you believe it, the word that best describes our condition right now is cranky.
        Would you like to see what happens when you make us mad?
        They seemed to understand.
        When they were gone, I walked along the river . . .”
        But there are so many other characters to love, such as Dr. Seah, the totally unsympathetic doctor to the magically mangled; Matthew’s apprentice Penny, who tells him repeatedly how f***ing awesome she is; and Matthew’s new Personal Assistant, the always cheerful Kelly, who volunteers to arrange for catering for the upcoming ambush of a magical murderous monster.

        There are authors who write very complex fantasy series with a huge number of characters, where you feel like perhaps you should be taking notes while reading–Steven Erikson and George R. R. Martin come to mind. And I love such books, when I’m going to have the time to read big chunks at a time and concentrate on keeping track of all the subplots and who’s plotting against whom. But there are other time when I’m looking for what I call “a good book for a tired mind” and some people call “popcorn” reading. Babylon Steel by Gaie Sebold ($7.99) is very good “popcorn”.
        Babylon Steel used to be a sword-for-hire for caravans, but is now the madam of a brothel called The Red Lantern in Scalentine, a trading city connected by portals to many different planes with many different species. Thus, the Red Lantern’s motto: "All tastes, all species, all forms of currency". Babylon is a madam with a heart of gold, and a lot of weapons that she’s very experienced at using. When her city, or her crew, are threatened, Babylon will jump in with sword swinging. The novel is mainly Babylon dealing with threats, but there are a few R-rated scenes thrown in. This novel tells a complete story, but it’s obviously intended to be the first of a series, and I’m looking forward to the next.

        The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin ($14.99) is set in a different universe than The Inheritance Trilogy (award-winning The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (#1, $7.99), The Broken Kingdoms (#2, $7.99), and The Kingdom of Gods (#3, $7.99)), and I did not find it as outstanding as her earlier trilogy, but still worth recommending.
        In the desert city-state of Gujaareh, peace is maintained by the priests of the dream goddess, who harvest the dreams of the citizens, heal the injured, and guide some dreamers to the afterlife (which to non-believers seems a lot like murder). A combination of corruption in the top levels of the priesthood, an overly ambitious prince, some priests who become addicted to harvesting people to death, and some nervous neighboring city-states lead to war. The sequel, The Shadowed Sun ($14.99) is expected early June.

        Existence by David Brin ($27.99, due June 19) is exceptional hard sf. A few decades in the future, a down-sized NASA is cleaning up clutter in near-earth orbit when they discover an alien artifact among the trash. In a world suffering from rising seas from global warming, where massive political power shifts are in progress, where genetic uplifting of dolphins and chimpanzees has already begun, and where billions of people are plugged into the net for instant access to news, this alien message in a bottle causes quite a stir. Inside The Artifact are the personalities of members of over 90 alien races preserved forever within the crystalline structure, who ask the human race to “Join us!”, but also ask “have there been others?” because there are many other varieties of alien artifacts, and they are all in competition to get the humans to join their side. And all of the sides are being a bit less than honest with the humans. The first 2/3 of the book is very good, as the situation on Earth is explored from multiple viewpoints and characters are developed while the humans try to figure out what the aliens are really after. The final third jumps forward several decades, and was hard to put down, as the humans try to outsmart the aliens. (This does not seem to me to be a prequel to Sundiver, but I’ve read one review that claims it is.)



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