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Newsletter #104 December, 2013 February, 2014

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        Last issue I recommended The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp ($7.99), a fun, fast-paced fantasy about a pair of tomb robbers who frequently get into trouble. The sequel, A Discourse in Steel ($7.99), is even more fun. The two women (Rose and Merelda) rescued at the end of the last book are living at The Slick Tunnel, the bar/brothel that is partly owned by our heros, Nix and Egil, but they are supporting themselves by telling fortunes in the Low Bazaar. Since the two women have some degree of mind-reading ability, they can see what their customers are worried about, pull out some names and give some advice. They’ve started to get a very good reputation. Then the head of the local organized crime guild comes for a reading, and is assassinated during the reading. Far too much information flows from the crime boss into the mind of Rose at the moment of death, and the assassin doesn’t want to leave a witness wandering around. The crime guild decides that the best solution is to torch The Slick Tunnel in the middle of the night and kill everybody inside. Our two disorganized heroes take on the entire organized crime guild in an all-out war, and lots of humor and action result.

        Robert Conroy has been writing a bunch of alternate history novels. I first tried Himmler’s War ($7.99), where days after the Normandy invasion an off-course Allied bomber accidently kills Hitler, resulting in a fight for power within the Nazi government, but also allowing the German generals to fight the kind of war they want without Hitler’s interference.
        I was sufficently impressed that I next picked up Rising Sun ($7.99), where the Japanese win the battle of Midway, invade Alaska, drive all American forces back to the West Coast of the U.S., and bomb the Panama Canal to prevent the U.S. navy from being quickly reinforced. (This is an independent time-line from Himmler’s War.) I liked Rising Sun even more than Himmler’s War.
        Then I read the advance reading copy of 1920: America’s Great War ($25.00, expected early December). The premise of this book is that the German army quickly defeated the French and British armies in France in the fall of 1914, resulting in a short war and Germany becoming the top imperial power in the world. Germany decided that the only country left in the world strong enough to challenge them was the U.S., which never got involved in the short European war. The Germans supported one faction in Mexico, got their guy into power, and convinced him that Germany and Mexico should invade the U.S. The German army would secretly pass through Mexico and attack California, while the Mexican army would attack Texas and attempt to take Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona back from the U.S.
        I’m extremely skeptical of the idea that the capture of the British army in France in 1914 (released as soon as the peace treaty was signed) would have resulted in a greatly weakened British Empire. But if you’re willing to overlook that, the story of the invasion of the U.S. is interesting and entertaining. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed Rising Sun, but it’s still recommendable.

        I know that many people really enjoy Jim C. Hines’ many light fantasy books. I read one of his earlier books, and I could see why so many people liked his books, but it was just too light and fluffy for my tastes. But I heard lots of good comments about Libriomancer ($7.99), the first of a new urban fantasy series, so I tried it and really enjoyed it.
        The concept in this series is that certain people (libriomancers) are able to reach into books, pull out objects (magical swords, handguns, etc.) and use them in the real world before returning them to the books they came from. This is very handy when assorted beings (vampires, etc.) have also leaked into the real world from books of fiction. Isaac is a libriomancer, as well as a real world reference librarian, and is aided by a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs two wooden swords. Libriomancer was entertaining enough that I have the sequel, Codex Born ($24.95) on my pile to be read soon.

        Rachel Caine has started a fourth series. I really enjoyed her Weather Warden series and the spin-off Outcast Season series (same universe, but following different characters than the Weather Warden series). I’ve never tried her young adult Morganville Vampires series (which apparently does very well nationally, but has not done well at Uncle Hugo’s).
        Working Stiff ($7.99) is the first of the Revivalist series, and I avoided it for some time because the publisher promoted it as a zombie novel, and I don’t have much tolerance for zombie novels. Much to my surprise, it’s a good near-future science fiction/thriller crossover novel.
        Pharmadene, a huge pharmaceutical corporation, was working on a nanite-based anti-cancer drug, which didn’t work out so well for attacking cancer cells, but had other interesting properties. It was great at repairing damage to all kinds of cells–in fact, it could bring back to life people who had very recently died. But they were only brought back for a few days unless they received another dose. Since Pharmadene didn’t know if there were possible long-term problems from repeated injections, they built into the nanites certain “protocols” where coded verbal commands would allow a person to take control of the “client” who was dependent on the drug. Various people at Pharmadene had various ideas about how to get rich off the new drug. One person started selling it on the black market, through funeral homes. A rich spouse might be willing to pay a lot of money to get their recently deceased partner back, and since the deceased partner would need a new injection every few days, the money would just keep flowing. Another idea was to sell it to the military. If some soldiers were killed, just inject them with the drug to bring them back to life and send them back into battle over and over and over until they are blown to bits. And others in the corporation have even more ambitious plans for the drug.
        Bryn Davis joined the military so she could afford college, but after four tours in Iraq, she decides she wants a civilian career. She goes to work for Fairview Mortuary, not realizing that there are after-hours drug deals going on. When a Pharmadene security force raids the mortuary to try to discover who in the corporation has been stealing the drug and selling it on the black market, Bryn is in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up dead–temporarily. She’s brought back to life, and corporate security explains to her that she can either help them with their undercover attempt to find the black market source of the drug, or she won’t receive another dose and will rot away in under a week. Who can turn down a corporate health plan like that? Certainly not Bryn.
        The first book was good enough that within a few hours of finishing it, I started on Two Weeks’ Notice (#2, $7.99) (which is also very good, but has more adult material) and I have a copy of Terminated (#3, $7.99) set aside to read next.

        I really enjoyed Peter V. Brett’s fantasy The Warded Man ($7.99) and its sequel The Desert Spear ($7.99). I picked up The Daylight War ($7.99) thinking it was the final book of a trilogy. Seems the series is now The Demon Cycle, and The Daylight War is just the next installment. It’s still very good, and I’m now waiting for the next book in the series.
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