Peter F. Hamilton’s Great North Road ($7.99) is one of the best science fiction novels that I’ve read in some time. Hamilton tends to write big, fat books with lots of details that come in series, but this is a stand-alone novel (though still full of details and over 900 pages long). One of the things that makes the book so good is the skill with which the details are smoothly worked into the plot, instead of stopping the story to provide an info-dump for the reader.
Set about 130 years in the future, a clone in a powerful family is murdered in the north of England. About half of the book is a police procedural, as the local police try to figure out who was killed, by whom, how the local mob was involved, etc. But there is also a suspicion that an alien serial killer may have snuck onto Earth somehow, and the military is involved in that investigation. The plot jumps from planet to planet and back and forth in time to provide background of various characters and subplots, but it is always smoothly done. Highly recommended. Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds ($8.99) is a very optimistic novel set about 150 years in the future, based on the idea that Africa became a peaceful, united power in the future, and one family from Kenya played a major role in spreading mankind through the solar system, led by Eunice Akinya. After decades of being a space pioneer, Eunice built herself a satellite that circles the moon and became a cranky recluse, leaving it to other members of her family to run the empire that she built. And most of the members of her family turn into ruthless capitalists and are happy to run her empire for her. When she dies at the age of 130, her two rebellious adult grandchildren, Geoffrey (who doesn’t care about the family business and just wants to study elephants) and his sister Sunday (who ran away from the family business to try to survive on the moon as an artist) decide to try to learn more about their grandmother. The rest of the family opposes this, fearing that they will uncover something about Eunice’s early life and wild times that will be bad for the family business. It seems that Eunice left a series of clues scattered across the solar system, in hopes that Geoffrey and Sunday would break away from the family and follow the clues. In the process, the reader is taken on a tour of this future, where everybody on Earth has multiple brain implants (including one that prevents violence against other humans), where some humans have made changes to their bodies so that they can live under the seas, where colonies are prospering on the moon and on Mars, and robots are mining the asteroid belt and beyond. The book would be satisfying as a stand-alone novel, but Reynolds threw in some twists at the end so that he can write a trilogy, with the second volume, On the Steel Breeze ($25.95) coming in June.
I received an advance reading copy of American Craftsmen by Tom Doyle ($24.99) with a favorable blurb from Larry Correia. Since I like Larry’s writing so much, and this was the first time I had seen a blurb from him, I took the book home immediately to try it. I like Larry’s books for their combination of fast action and a sense of humor. I think that anybody who likes Larry’s books will also like American Craftsmen for its fast action, but it does not have much humor.
Since the Revolutionary War, there has been a special secret unit of the military made up of American magic users, who help fight the magic users of our enemies. Most of these “Craftsmen” have been from just a few families, and some of the families have histories of bad feelings towards each other. In modern times, somebody has infiltrated the Pentagon and has been sabotaging craft operations, trying to kill off the craftsmen, as well as trying to increase the bad feelings between the families. Soon, the bullets and the magic spells are flying, with living and dead craftsmen engaged in battle. Lots of interesting fast action, and clearly the beginning of a series.
When Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein ($7.99) arrived, I looked at the cover, with a woman holding a weapon against an indistinct background, and thought, “Oh, another one of those.” But then I started hearing very favorable comments from customers, so I gave it try. It’s very good.
Set entirely in Japan, it features Oshiro Mariko, a young woman who has worked her way up to Detective Sergeant in the Tokyo Police in spite of the fact that most of the men in the department think women should not be allowed to be police. It also features some magical samurai swords that are about 1000 years old. A hitman for the mob has gotten his hands on one of the swords, which has been increasing its control over him ever since, demanding more blood. He and Oshiro will come into conflict.
About half of the book is set in modern Tokyo, and about half is set at various times over the last 800 years, as the reader watches how the swords have affected previous owners over the centuries. The book is very well researched, and filled with well-crafted characters. The sequel is Year of the Demon ($16.00), and continues the police career of Oshiro and her fight against drug-dealing mobsters, with more magical artifact involvement. Highly recommended.
I usually like alternate history novels, but I’m not sure what to think of Blades of Winter by G. T. Almasi ($9.99). The alternate history background is so promising. After Hitler and Stalin split Poland, Hitler kept his end of the bargain and turned all his forces to conquering all of Western Europe (including England) before the U.S. could get into the war. Without the war in Europe to worry about, the U.S. turns all its power to Asia, including sending lots of aid to Chiang Kai-shek, who quickly kills every Chinese communist he can find. Hitler and Stalin decide that splitting Poland worked so well that they agree to split the Middle East between them. When the U.S. takes Japan, they refuse to turn it over to Chiang Kai-shek. This makes him very angry with the U.S., but he then proceeds to gobble up lots more of mainland Asia. When Hitler doesn’t see anyplace else to conquer, he tells his generals to plan for the invasion of the USSR; the generals decide that he’s crazy and assassinate him. This leads to decades of cold war between the 4 major powers: Germany, Russia, China and the US.
With such a promising premise, the book turns into a fight among secret agents with comic book superhero powers. Yes, it’s fun, but it could have been so much better. In the sequel, Hammer of Angels ($9.99), the ExOps agents (the superhero agents of the Extreme Operations Division) are given a new assignment. Germany is very upset with the U.S. after all the destructive things “Scarlet” and her team of agents pulled in the first novel, and the government is threatening to join Russia and China against the U.S. After Hitler was killed by his generals in the early 1940s, the Nazis officially lost control of the German government, but the SS merely changed its name, the Gestapo is still operating under its old name, and all the Jews were turned into slave labor. Decades later, the German economy is completely dependent upon slave labor. So, the U.S. government decides to slip a lot of ExOps agents into western Europe to help the underground Circle of Zion to lead a slave uprising, but make it look like the Russians are behind it. Then, when the German economy is on the verge of collapse, the U.S. will offer to help crush the slave uprising if the Germans will stay allied with the U.S. The ExOps agents are first infiltrated into the British Isles, where “Scarlet” and her team not only help the Circle of Zion, but also start killing every Gestapo agent they can find. It turns out that killing Gestapo agents is a real crowd-pleaser in the former U.K., even among the German population. When “Scarlet” and her team discover that there is a mole within the Extreme Operations Division, they cut off communications with headquarters and take their destructive road show through France, where killing Gestapo agents again turns out to be a crowd-pleaser. When the U.S. government orders all the ExOps agents to return home, Scarlet and her team have no way of knowing, and they continue their operations. Soon, Gestapo agents are being killed off by local resistance fighters throughout the German empire, and things spiral out of control of either the U.S. or German governments. The second book was enough fun that I’ll probably pick up the next one, whenever it comes out.
Monster Hunter Nemesis by Larry Correia ($27.00, due early July, signing at Uncle Hugo’s July 3) is the fifth in the Monster Hunter series, and the books should be read in order. The series is known for lots of violent action and usually lots of humor. The first two books, Monster Hunter International ($7.99) and Monster Hunter Vendetta ($7.99) tell the story primarily from the point of view of Owen Pitts, but feature the entire Monster Hunter gang. Monster Hunter Alpha ($7.99) followed a secondary character, while advancing the plot of the entire series. Monster Hunter Legion ($7.99) went back to featuring Owen and the rest of the gang, as they and the monsters trash Las Vegas. Monster Hunter Nemesis once again follows a secondary character, Franks, the government agent who is actually Frankenstein’s monster, still fighting evil after over 300 years. We learn a lot about Franks and about the government’s Monster Control Bureau in the novel, while advancing the plot of the series. Franks has no sense of humor, so there is little humor in the book, but there is plenty of violent action. Owen and the rest of the Monster Hunter gang only appear for a few pages in the book. There are some very interesting twists near the end of the book, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next novel, which will again feature Owen and the rest of the gang.
Dream London by Tony Ballantine ($7.99) is an interesting and strange book. James Wedderburn fought in Iraq and in Afganistan before leaving the military and moving back to London, just before London started to change. He became Captain James Wedderburn (although he actually only made it to sergeant when he was in the military, but being Captain impresses people so much more) when London became Dream London. When he wakes up each morning, his bedroom is slightly different than it was when he went to bed the night before–sometimes wider, sometimes narrower, sometime with a higher ceiling, sometimes with a lower ceiling. The subway tracks have surfaced and are migrating. The airport has sunk into a swamp. The path of the Thames has altered, and a new river has opened to other worlds. The towers in the center of London just keep getting taller and taller. Dream London is influencing how people think. And various factions want Captain James Wedderburn to do their bidding. There are the people who used to be rich and powerful in the old London, who want him as their figurehead hero to bring back the old London. There is a crime boss from one of the other worlds who want James to help him carve out a larger territory within Dream London. There is the CIA, which wants him to help figure out what is going on before the rest of the world nukes Dream London to keep it from spreading. There is the man-sized amphibian who floated down the river, who wants James to help him become human. There is the woman who wants to marry him, because she bought a fortune scroll that claims he is the only ideal husband for her. And characters within the book argue about whether Dream London should be considered fantasy or science fiction. Dream London reminded me of Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany ($20.00), but Dream London is about half as long, and I enjoyed it more.
Fire With Fire by Charles E. Gannon ($7.99, a Nebula Award finalist) is the beginning of a series. Intelligence analyst Caine Riordan is forcefully recruited by a top secret international organization to investigate what happening on a colony planet. The controlling corporation on the planet is not only crooked, they are also trying to quietly exterminate the secretive intelligent race on the planet. Caine tries to learn more about the race so he can try to save it, and in the process he learns that the planet had been visited thousands of years before by at least one other interstellar intelligent race. After some odd plot jumps, Caine learns that the secret organization is in charge of looking for other space-faring intelligent races, and soon after he learns this, the organization is contacted by the Accord, an organization of space-faring intelligent races. The Accord has been watching the humans for a long time, and has decided that it is time to determine if the humans should be invited to join the Accord. Caine, being the best expert on first contact after his experiences on the colony planet, becomes part of the human team to go to the Accord meeting. But the Accord has many plotting races struggling for power, and some of them are going to use the possible admission of the humans to try to increase their own power within the Accord. By the end of the book, it’s obvious that the humans are about to be attacked by technologically superior aliens. I’m looking forward to the next installment, Trial by Fire ($15.00, early August).
I haven’t been a huge fan of steampunk. Even when I really enjoy a series, such as Gail Carriger’s wonderful books, I find the steampunk element the least interesting part of the books. But I had been hearing good things about Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt ($9.99) for so long that I finally tried it, and I loved it.
This is a steampunk fantasy. On a planet that is clearly not Earth, there is the Kingdom of Jackals, which is very British, with the capitol city of Middlesteel, which is very similar to London. But it is not an island, and has land borders with Quartershift (recently taken over by the Commonsharists, who killed all the aristocrats and have engaged in so many purges that the country can no long feed itself) and with the Steammen Free State, ruled by King Steam. The Kingdom is full of humans and various other races, plus lots of steammen. The skies are patrolled by airships, crewed by jack cloudies. The worldsingers use the power from ley lines to work their magic, partially to maintain control over those touched by the fey. In the tunnels under Middlesteel, there are ruins of an ancient insect race, which worshiped dark gods. A Jackals revolutionary has been bargaining with the dark gods, offering them lots of blood sacrifices if they will help him bring the Commonsharist revolution to Jackals, and he doesn’t realize he is really a pawn of the dark gods. But mainly, Jackals is filled with very interesting characters, very interesting plots, and lots of swashbuckling adventure.
As soon as I finished Court of the Air, I started on The Kingdom Beyond the Waves ($7.99). Archaeology Professor Amelia Harsh, a very minor character in the first book, is obsessed with finding the legendary lost city of Camlantis. She is on an unauthorized expedition and opens an ancient tomb, where she discovers a horseless warwagon (much different from the modern clockwork horseless carriages) of the Black-oil Horde, which may contain the body of the legendary Diesela-Khan. I was hooked immediately. And I still have The Rise of the Iron Moon ($7.99), Secrets of the Fire Sea ($7.99), and Jack Cloudie ($27.99) to look forward to.
Steve Perry’s The Vastalimi Gambit ($7.99) is the second in the Cutter’s Wars series, following The Ramal Extraction ($7.99). Colonel R. A. Cutter was a career military man until politics forced him to retire, at which point he assembled a mercenary force which most often fights for interstellar corporations in skirmishes with other interstellar corporations. Most of his force is human, but it does include Kay, a member of the predatory Vastalimi race. Then Kay is called home by her brother, a healer, because of hundreds of the Vastalimi are dying of a strange new disease that he can’t find a cause or cure for. Kay takes along the mercenary unit’s human doctor, in case he can find something that the Vastalimi healers haven’t been able to find. Meanwhile, the rest of the unit is working on an agricultural world for TotalMart, the galaxy’s largest retailer. A competing retailer is trying to hijack the crop of a particular carrot-like plant that is only grown on one planet. The action keeps flipping back and forth between the two planets, with the Vastalimi story line being more interesting to me than the fire fights over carrots, but I did enjoy the entire book. I have to say that the alien pictured on the front cover is nothing like the image I have of the Vastalimi.
I had heard a lot of good comments about Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares series of humorous fantasies (Magic Lost, Trouble Found ($7.99), Armed & Magical ($7.99), The Trouble with Demons ($7.99), Bewitched & Betrayed ($7.99), Con & Conjured ($7.99), and All Spell Breaks Loose ($7.99)), but I never tried them. But when The Grendel Affair ($7.99) came out and I saw it was the first of a new series, I decided to give it a try.
This is another series where a young woman comes to New York City, discovers that it is full of supernatural bad guys, and becomes involved with the supernatural. My favorite of this kind of story is the Esther Diamond series by Laura Resnick (with a lot more humor and some romance than in The Grendel Affair), but The Grendel Affair has lots of action (especially compared to Mur Lafferty’s The Shambling Guide to New York City ($15.00)).
Makeena Fraser comes to New York City to make a career as a journalist, but she is hired by Supernatural Protection & Investigations because she is a seer. She is partnered with a more experienced agent, who is likely to become a romantic interest later in the series. But the first book in the series is so full of adventure there isn’t time for romance. While SP&I is trying to simultaneously protect the ordinary humans and keep them from finding out about the supernatural critters that want to prey on them, somebody else has brought some descendants of Grendel to the New York subway system, to kill lots of people in Times Square on New Year’s Eve in front of a world-wide tv audience. I enjoyed it and will probably pick up the next one. I might even go back and sample the earlier series.
by Elizabeth Lavelle
When London isn't being supernaturally ravaged, things are a bit calmer around the Folly, as we see in Broken Homes ($7.99) by Ben Aaronovitch. Molly is experimenting with recipes from the new cookbooks everyone has given her. There's Latin to study and formae to practice, as Peter and Lesley continue their apprenticeships. And Peter is still spending time pursuing lines of inquiry that Nightingale and Lesley find irrelevant. Which is how he discovers that the Arts and Antiquities Squad has picked up a stolen antique German grimoire, which he traces to a theft at the National Trust home of an expatriate German architect, who designed Skygarden Tower in Southwark. Add to that the highly suspect apparent suicide of a Southwark Council planner, and the extremely unpleasant and unnatural death of the man who nicked the grimoire, and you can make a pretty good case that the Faceless Man is after something in Elephant and Castle. The trick, of course, will be finding out exactly what, and stopping him. Plus Peter attends Officer Safety Training, the Folly organizes the policing for the first-ever joint Spring Court of the God and Goddess of the River Thames, Peter's formae still occasionally explode unexpectedly - and we get to see what Nightingale can really do as a magician. But the thing I enjoyed most about this book? Peter's supposedly useless knowledge is what puts the case together - Lesley and Nightingale wouldn't have seen any of it.