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Newsletter #108 November, 2014 February, 2015

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie ($16.00) was nominated for all the major awards for science fiction and won the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Arthur C. Clarke award, among others. The sequel, Ancillary Sword ($16.00) is almost as good. In the first book, Breq looked at the empire on a macro level from both the inside and the outside. In the sequel, Breq looks at one planet that was “civilized” (i.e., conquered by the empire) hundreds of years before, finds that things are not working at all the way things should be working on a “civilized” planet, and sets out to fix things.

        A Study in Silks ($7.99), A Study in Darkness ($7.99), and A Study in Ashes ($7.99) by Emma Jane Holloway is a trilogy featuring Evelina Cooper, Sherlock Holmes’ niece in an alternate Victorian England. Evelina can work magic, which can get you killed or sent to a concentration camp in this England. The Steam Barons have divided up London and apparently the empire as well, and nobody has the power to challenge them. Sherlock Holmes makes appearances in all three books, and we also occasionally encounter Dr. Watson, Mycroft Holmes (in the second book), and Professor Moriarty (in the third book). But the story mainly involves Evelina, plus some air pirates in dirigibles.
        There are some romance scenes early in the first book that made me grind my teeth, as some of the very bright young women in the book lost all their intelligence any time a prospective suitor walked into the room, but by later in the first book they became capable of being intelligent even in mixed company. Evelina joins the rebel forces trying to defeat the Steam Barons and return control of the country and empire to Queen Victoria, and the action and the plot kept me reading even through a few slow spots.

        There are times when I look at the new release shelf and don’t see anything I’m eager to read. It used to be that I’d then pick up an old James White book. Although he didn’t win awards, he could be depended on to tell a very good science fiction story, and while most of the novels are set in the same universe, they are independent novels that can be read in any order. But eventually I had read almost all of them, and started having trouble figuring out quickly which ones I had already read.
        Eric Brown is starting to be my substitute for James White. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by him, and so far each has been independent enough to be read on its own. The latest I picked up was Jani and the Greater Game ($7.99). It is set in India in an alternate 1920s. The British have put out a story that they have discovered a deposit of a miraculous new mineral in Nepal that is allowing them to make great technological advances, and they are keeping everybody out of Nepal. The Germans, the Russians, and the Chinese are sending in agents to try to find out what is really going on and to steal whatever secrets they can. Actually, a huge alien ship with two aliens aboard has arrived in Nepal, and the British are busy looting the ship for new technology. Miss Janisha Chatterjee, the daughter of a high Indian official, has been studying in London to become a doctor, but catches a dirigible back to India when she learns of her father’s serious illness. She immediately gets caught up in the international espionage, some unpleasant elements of British imperialism, and the Indian independence movement. The story stays interesting and fast paced to the end.

        I’ve been trying to get caught up with some of the series I’ve been following. The Last President by John Barnes ($7.99) does a fine job of concluding the near-future post-apocalyptic trilogy (set primarily in the U.S.) that began with Directive 51 ($7.99) and Daybreak Zero ($7.99). And Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence ($7.99) does a fine job of concluding the far-future post-apocalyptic trilogy (set primarily in a feudal Europe 1000 years after a world-wide nuclear war) that began with Prince of Thorns ($7.99) and King of Thorns ($7.99).

        Possession by Kat Richardson ($7.99) is the eighth volume in her Greywalker urban fantasy series set primarily in the Seattle area, and it’s still one of my favorite urban fantasy series. The earlier books are Greywalker ($7.99), Poltergeist ($7.99), Underground ($7.99), Vanished ($7.99), Labyrinth ($7.99), Downpour ($7.99), and Seawitch ($7.99), and they should be read in order.

        I also read and enjoyed Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer ($7.99), a noir private eye novel set on Mars. Lots of desperate people spent everything they could raise to get Mars to try to strike it rich prospecting for Martian fossils, but few succeeded, and the others are desperate for any way to make a dishonest living.

Recommendations
by Elizabeth LaVelle


        Magic Marks the Spot (ages 8 and up, $6.99) by Caroline Carlson introduces us to The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates. Hilary Westfield has always wanted to be a pirate, so she's been studying pirate lore, tying knots, climbing rigging, rowing, and fencing. She can tread water for 37 minutes. She and the family gargoyle love to read Treasure Island. So Hilary is not pleased to end up at Miss Pimm's Finishing School for Delicate Ladies. Uninterested in learning to waltz and faint, or in joining the school water ballet, she and the gargoyle run away to answer an ad for a pirate crew. Years ago, the Enchantress of the Northlands gathered up most of the kingdom's magical items and hid them, because people were using them unwisely, but a few items are still in circulation, mostly in the hands of High Society people, and of course pirates. Now a few High Society scoundrels are trying to round up all that magic for themselves. But pirate captain Jasper Fletcher is determined to find the magic the Enchantress hid, and distribute it to everyone in the kingdom. Hilary and the gargoyle are happy to join his crew. Her former governess Miss Greyson tries to persuade Hilary to return to school, then joins the crew as well, to provide Hilary with proper supervision. But to gain the treasure, they'll have to overcome the most treacherous - and unexpected - villain on the high seas. Hilary is great - smart, determined, capable, protective of her friends, and relentless in her efforts to locate the treasure - and the gargoyle is a great sidekick, plucky but also vulnerable to fears and doubts. And I really like the way that Jasper and Miss Greyson interact with Hilary and Charlie (Jasper's apprentice), listening to them and allowing them a say in events. The book excels at taking preconceived ideas, giving them a good shake, and turning them upside down. It is also very funny, interspersed with articles from the kingdom's newspaper, excerpts from the League's guide to piracy, letters written by various characters, and a couple hilarious examples of the kingdom's Form 118M: Intention to Set Sail. I'm looking forward to reading more of Hilary's adventures.

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