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Newsletter #107 September November, 2014

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        I’ve been a big fan of Wen Spencer’s Tinker series. The Chinese put a satellite into orbit to generate a hyperphase gate to allow space ships to jump to distant parts of the universe, but it had an unexpected side effect–it sent Pittsburgh to a parallel world, Elfhome. Once a month the gate is turned off for 24 hours to bring Pittsburgh back to Earth, and some people leave Pittsburgh, other people enter Pittsburgh (mainly graduate students doing research on various aspects of Elfhome), and a month’s worth of supplies are trucked into Pittsburgh. Then Pittsburgh goes back to Elfhome, land of the elves, where magic works, strange and dangerous critters and plants exist, and even the stars are different.
        Tinker is an 18-year-old orphan, a genius who runs a junkyard in Pittsburgh so that she has ready access to parts for her inventions, and she’s also trying to come up with a quantum mechanical explanation for magic. The first 3 books in the series, Tinker ($7.99), Wolf Who Rules ($7.99), and Elfhome ($7.99), take place primarily in Pittsburgh and on Elfhome, with Tinker as the main character. It seems that there is a third world also linked to Earth and Elfhome, and the bad guys from the third world are trying to conquer Elfhome and have already infiltrated some Earth governments.
        The fourth book in the series, Wood Sprites ($25.00, early September), is set on Earth with a whole new set of characters. Louise and Jillian are a pair of brilliant 9 year old fraternal twins in New York City who manage to get into a lot of trouble together. After one of their misadventures, they discover that their blood type is different from the blood type of the couple that they thought were their parents. After hacking into their parents’ medical records, they discover that their parents weren’t able to have kids naturally, but their father worked in a fertility clinic and managed to steal a couple of frozen fertilized eggs where the parents were listed as dead, so nobody would miss the eggs. They also discover that they already have an older sister (Tinker), and that there are four more fertilized eggs left that could become more brothers and sisters for them. They set out to steal those eggs and somehow get them born, and they come up with brilliant schemes, but without an adult understanding of the difficulty or consequences of their schemes. In the process, they discover the bad guys who have infiltrated the Chinese government and the UN, and the bad guys discover them. They gather an interesting set of accomplices, have many adventures, but still haven’t met Tinker by the end of the book. It’s obvious that the twins and their band of accomplices will be united with Tinker in the next book. I think you could enjoy this book without reading the first three Tinker books, but you’d want to read all four books before moving on to the next novel.

        I picked up The Thousand Names by Diango Wexler ($7.99) because the publisher smashed up a copy of the paperback reprint, so I decided to read it before returning it, and it's very good. In the first book, the Vordan Empire has in effect been ruling the land of Khandar through an "alliance" with the totally corrupt and not very bright prince of Khandar. The people of Khandar finally get fed up and overthrow the prince and chase the colonial forces out of the capital, through an alliance between some religious fanatics, the local troops that were trained and equiped by the Vordan Empire but decided to switch sides, and some desert tribes that are magic users. The remaining few colonial troops are waiting at a run-down fort on the edge of Khandar, hoping the fleet will show up and take them home. When the fleet shows up, they bring a new, very bright, but totally inexperienced colonel (who of course is of the nobility, because you cannot have commoners commanding troops) and about 4000 new troops. The colonel decides that the snake-pit of politics in the Empire will crush him if he does the smart thing and heads for home, so he decides to re-take Khandar even if his forces are outnumbered 10 to 1. This is very good muskets and magic military fiction, with interesting characters, interesting plotting, vivid battle scenes, and great world building.
         The second in the series, The Shadow Throne ($25.95), just arrived in hardcover. The action shifts back to the Vordan capital, where the king is old and dying, his daughter is underestimated by everybody, and the head of the secret police has access to lots of dark magic. The head of the secret police is sure that as soon as the king dies, he will be able to rule the empire by intimidating the daughter, as he already intimidates most of the rest of the capital. A handful of characters, including the princess and some of the characters from the first book, are determined to stop him. The second book is even better than the first.

        I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve read by Robert Charles Wilson, and the latest novel, Burning Paradise ($8.99), continues the winning streak. This is set in 2014 in the U.S., but not our 2014 or our U.S. There has been no major war since the Great War of 1914. A very few people have figured out that the radio band around the Earth is inhabited by an alien being, which has been altering all the radio, tv, and telephone messages that pass through the radio band, toning down propaganda and disrupting attempts to start wars. It’s not clear if the alien being is a parasite or a symbiont and it’s not clear what the alien’s goals are. When the people who had discovered the alien started looking at ways to disrupt it, the alien sent out teams of simulacrums (“sims”, which look like humans but have lots of green stuff inside) in 2007 to kill many of the researchers. The survivors scattered and have been in hiding ever since. Now new sims are approaching the survivors, telling them that a new alien parasite has attacked the old alien parasite and the new parasite has different goals than the old parasite. A group of the surviving researchers decide to try to disrupt the plans of whichever parasite is now in charge, regardless of the effect on the rest of the human race.
        After reading Burning Paradise, I picked up a copy of Julian Comstock ($8.99), which is one of the few Robert Charles Wilson books that I had not read, and I think it is now my favorite book by him. It is set in the U.S. in the late 22nd century, after the oil (mostly) ran out, big agriculture crashed, the cities fell, and much of the population died. The book is “written” by a character within the book, with all the prejudices and shortcomings of his class and time. Society is made up of the hereditary aristocrats/land owners, the lease class (somewhat skilled workers), and the indentured class (basically slaves). The government is made up of three groups, the hereditary government officials, the military, and the Dominion of Jesus Christ on Earth (which controls which churches are allowed, handles censorship and education, and pushes the rest of government to speed the day when the Dominion rules the Earth, which results in a constant state of warfare). The “author” is Adam Hazzard, a member of the lease class in the western part of the expanded U.S., who met Julian Comstock, nephew to the insane and murderous President Deklan Comstock, when Julian’s mother sent the boy to the west to make it more difficult for the President to fly into a rage and order him killed. As Adam, Julian, and Julian’s bodyguard Sam set out on their long, strange journey, Adam chronicles their adventures, complete with footnotes (including one explaining that it was the 52nd amendment which provided for succession by inheritance, which is frequently confused with the 53rd amendment, which abolished the Supreme Court). There are sly bits of humor along the way that Adam would not recognize as humor, but the reader does recognize. Highly recommended.

        Marked by Alex Hughes ($7.99) is the third in the series, after Clean ($7.99) and Sharp ($7.99), about Adam Ward, a telepath working for the police in the Atlanta area about a century in the future. He interviews suspects and helps with murder investigations, but many of the police are not comfortable working with a telepath. I’ve enjoyed all of the books (and they should be read in order), but I thought Marked was significantly better than the first two.

        A Call to Duty by David Weber and Timothy Zahn ($25.00, coming early October) is the first of a new series set generations before the Honor Harrington series, as Manticore starts building up its space navy. I enjoyed it more than the last few Honorverse novels, because the universe at the time of the recent Honorverse novels seems to be filled with hundreds of characters the reader is supposed to keep track of and the plots have become so convoluted. The new series introduces all new characters (not a Harrington in sight) in a somewhat familiar universe (the House of Lords is a snake pit, the Republic of Haven is still a republic and an ally), but there’s plenty of action against pirates. The new series can be enjoyed without having read the Honor Harrington series, but will be enjoyed even more by people who have been reading the Honor Harrington books.

        Premonitions by Jamie Schultz ($7.99) is an urban fantasy book with some interesting twists. Karyn has uncontrolled precognitive abilities, so that she can see lots of possible alternative outcomes from her actions, but she can easily be overwhelmed by these visions unless she is using a very expensive underground drug to suppress these hallucinations. Her friend Anna has organized a criminal crew to use Karyn’s abilities for high-profit thefts to make enough money to keep Karyn supplied with the drug. Often these thefts involve items that are magical, or at least that somebody with a lot of money thinks are magical. The crew becomes so good that they come to the attention of a notorious crime lord, who is known to be ruthless and rumored to be a practitioner of dark magic, and he makes them an offer they can’t refuse. Lots of mayhem and double-crossing results. I enjoyed this book, and the plot is resolved by the end of the book, but it is the beginning of a series.
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