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Newsletter #110 June August, 2015

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        The Rebirths of Tao ($7.99) by Wesley Chu is the third in the series that began with The Lives of Tao ($7.99) and was followed by The Deaths of Tao ($7.99). The premise is that hundreds of millions of years ago a starship full of Quasings was damaged while passing through our solar system, and the only planet that could possibly support them was Earth. The Quasings could not survive on their own in Earth’s atmosphere, but they could enter into a symbiotic relationship with the critters that had evolved on Earth. The Quasings have been guiding evolution on Earth ever since, trying to produce a race capable of building them a new starship so that they could continue their journey. A few centuries ago, the Quasings split into two groups. One group pushed for more wars to advance technology even faster, regardless of the cost to the humans; the other group had become fond of the humans and felt that after hundreds of millions of years working on the project, it wouldn’t hurt to allow the humans an extra couple of centuries to get the to point where they could build the starship. The two groups of Quasings have been at war ever since, using the individual humans that they have symbiotic relationships with. Much of the story is told from the point of view of Tao and the various humans he has lived with and guided through the centuries. Tao is a member of the Prophus (friendly to humans) faction and has been fighting the schemes of the Genjix (stick it to the humans) faction. The Genjix have now come up with a new scheme. They think they have found a way to change the atmosphere of Earth so that the Quasings can survive on their own without the Earth critters, which is just as well, since the atmospheric changes will kill off all life that evolved on Earth. Tao and the rest of the Prophus faction are fighting this new plan, and even some of the Genjix faction think that their leadership is pushing forward with the new plan too quickly without enough testing to make sure that the Quasings will survive long term under the changed conditions. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.
        Wesley Chu has now started a new, totally unrelated science fiction series from a different publisher. Time Salvager ($25.99, due early July) shows us a harsh 26th century, where Earth is in rough shape after the Third World War, the Earth Plague, and the AI War. Most of the human population has fled to the rest of the solar system, but things are tough there, too. ChronoCom has spent the last couple of centuries mining the past for resources, using a few highly trained chronmen who must obey strict rules to avoid setting up major ripples in the chronostream. Thus, things can be salvaged only shortly before they would have been destroyed by a historical event (just before a bomb strikes, just as a ship was sinking, etc.). James Griffin-Mars is a chronman near his breaking point, who takes one last dangerous mission to secure his retirement. He breaks the first of the Time Laws–he brings back a scientist from 2097 who was supposed to die in an explosion, making him and the scientist criminals subject to the death penalty. As he and the scientist flee ChronoCom, he learns how corrupt the system has become. Wesley Chu will be signing at Uncle Hugo’s on Sunday, July 19, from 3 to 4 pm.

        Cixin Liu is a top Chinese science fiction writer and The Three-Body Problem ($25.99) was a best-selling Chinese novel. It has now been translated into English and the translation is on the ballot for best novel of 2014 for both the Nebula and Hugo Awards.
        The novel begins at the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1967 and explores the effect of the Cultural Revolution on Chinese society and especially on Chinese science. The Red Guard military set up a secret project which is supposedly aimed at spying on Russian and American satellites, but is actually intended to search for and then communicate with extra-terrestrial intelligent life. If there is intelligent life out there, the Red Guards want to control the flow of information between Earth and the aliens, and put the proper political spin on everything the aliens learn about Earth.
        I found the politics and the style of writing very interesting, more interesting than the science fiction element of the novel, and more interesting than most of the characters. I’ll be waiting for the translations of the next two books of the trilogy.

        Recently I was in the middle of 3 books but none were within reach when I had to grab something to read while standing in line to pick up lunch. I picked up a copy of Lisa Shearin’s Magic Lost, Trouble Found ($7.99) and it was so much fun that I went through all 6 books of the series before going back to any of the other 3 books I had abandoned.
        Raine Benares is an elf from a criminal family with moderate magical abilities in a world with elves, goblins, and humans being the primary races, although other races are mentioned. Raine uses her magical abilities as a "finder"--she can find lost (or stolen) objects and lost (or kidnapped) people, and usually her street smarts will keep her safe. Although Raine primarily stays on the right side of the law, her upbringing has given her a rather casual attitude about strictly obeying the law. When she finds a particular missing amulet, it tries to take possession of her, and soon evil goblin mages are after her. Over 6 books she has to deal with the evil mages, some pompous twits, some crooked politicians, an invasion of demons from hell, etc., often with help from various crooked family members. The entire series is a fun romp, with lots of attitude. The other books in the series are Armed & Magical ($7.99), The Trouble with Demons ($7.99), Bewitched & Betrayed ($7.99), Con & Conjure ($7.99), and All Spell Breaks Loose ($7.99).

        Bronze Gods ($7.99) and the sequel Silver Mirrors ($7.99) are by A. A. Aguirre (well-know author Ann Aguirre writing with her husband Andres). About a thousand years before the story begins, a chain of islands ruled by the fae were invaded by a fleet of ships full of humans with iron weapons that somehow slipped into the world. When it looked like the fae and the humans might kill each other off, a peace was negotiated that involved lots of inter-marriage between the fae and the humans. A thousand years later, the fae ruling houses are still rich and proud, but with a lot less magic than they once had. The population is mostly human without magic, but occasional limited magical abilities pop up among the general population. The technology has advanced over the last thousand years. The two main characters are a pair of police detectives. Janus Mikani is an honest cop, but a bit on the violent side, with a manner that is frequently irritating, and a bit of magical ability. Celeste Ritsuko is the only female detective on the force, very bright, and good at being diplomatic and at questioning witnesses. To everybody's surprise, they have become an excellent team, and the interaction between the two is delightful. There's lots of sleuthing in the first book, as they try to track down a serial killer who uses magic. There's very little sleuthing and lots of action in the second book, as they take on pirates and angry elementals.

        Back in 2009, Child of Fire by Harry Connolly ($7.99) came out. I started hearing good things about this new urban fantasy, tried it, and put it on the recommended fantasy shelf. Ray Lilly is a former car thief who becomes a “wooden man” for Annalise, a high-ranking member of the Twenty Palaces Society, a centuries-old organization of sorcerers devoted to hunting down and executing rogue magicians. It takes Ray a while to figure out that a “wooden man” is somebody openly displayed to the bad guys so that they will direct all their fire at the “wooden man” while the real threat sneaks up behind the bad guys. Once Ray learns that there are many dimensions full of predators looking for a way to get to Earth to consume all living beings, and that the rogue magicians are performing rites that open doorways that allow the predators onto Earth, he becomes committed to the cause even if nobody expects him to have a long career as a “wooden man”.
        In 2010 Game of Cages ($7.99), the second of the series, came out. In 2011 Circle of Enemies ($7.99), the third of the series came out. The entire series is wonderful, and has sold very well at Uncle Hugo’s. (After over five years on the recommended fantasy shelf, Child of Fire managed to make it onto the bottom of our bestseller list for last month.) But people have been asking for years for the next volume. I recently learned that after the third book, the publisher decided not to buy any more books from Harry Connolly because they weren’t satisfied with the sales of the first three books, and he had to self-publish Twenty Palaces ($14.99), which is a prequel to the series. It begins the day Ray gets out of prison for his car theft activities, and covers his first experience with humans taken over by predators from another dimension, his first encounter with Annalise and other members of the Twenty Palaces Society, and explains how he got the “paper knife” that plays such an important role in the rest of the series. The book could have used a good copy editor (although the same can be said of many books from the major publishers, where running a manuscript through a spell checker seems to have replaced copy editing), but otherwise is a very good addition to the series.
        Harry Connolly has also published a fantasy trilogy consisting of The Way Into Chaos ($15.95), The Way Into Magic ($13.95), and The Way Into Darkness ($15.95). “The city of Peradain is the heart of an empire built with steel, spears, and monopoly on magic...until, in a single day, it falls, overthrown by a swarm of supernatural creatures of incredible power and ferocity. Neither soldier nor spell caster can stand against them.” The series shows the collapse of the empire. I haven’t read the series yet, but it’s on my to-be-read list, and I’ve heard good comments about the series. (Publishers Weekly, after declaring Child of Fire one of the 100 best books published in 2009, gave The Way Into Chaos a starrred review, referring to it as an “immersive, thrilling, and elf-free epic fantasy trilogy launch”.)

        Killing Pretty ($25.99, due early August) is the seventh book in the Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey. You should start with the first book in the series, Sandman Slim (we still have a few copies left of the signed first mass market printing at $7.99), and then go through the rest of the series before picking up Killing Pretty.
        James Stark (also known as Sandman Slim) grew up in Los Angeles, was able to work magic, and joined a gang with some other magic users. The other gang members sent him to hell, where he spent eleven years as a gladiator for the amusement of the demons. Then he figured out how to escape from hell and went back to L.A. looking for payback against his former gang members. The first six books are sarcastic, irreverent, brutal, and hard-boiled, as Stark deals with the gang members, demons, zombies, vampires, twisted angels, twisted homeland security forces, old gods, etc., sometimes on Earth, sometimes in hell, sometimes in heaven. At the end of the sixth book, Stark saves the universe and can no longer hop off to hell or heaven whenever he wishes.
        In Killing Pretty, Stark finally gets a job, working as a private investigator for a firm that specializes in supernatural cases. Suddenly, he has to show up for work on time, file reports and expense accounts, and try to stay sober while on duty. And everybody keeps telling him to tone down the violence. Stark keeps trying to act responsibly, but things keep happening. And Death wants him to find out who tried to kill him–or at least tried to kill the body that Death is currently stuck in.
To appreciate the almost responsible, less violent Stark of Killing Pretty, you have to be familiar with the totally irresponsible and hyper-violent Stark of the first six books.
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