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Newsletter #115 September November, 2016

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor ($12.99) is the first of the seven-volume British madcap time-travel series The Chronicles of St. Mary’s. All seven volumes are scheduled to be reprinted in the U.S. at a pace of about two to three months apart, and the second volume, A Symphony of Echoes ($12.99), just arrived.
        Historian Madeleine Maxwell has been recruited to join the faculty at St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, but it takes a while for her to figure out a few things. Such as the fact that St. Mary’s secretly uses time travel to research history. And her fellow faculty members are not merely eccentric–they are unintentional disaster-magnets that go ricocheting through history. And some time machines have been stolen by a group of criminals determined to get rich at whatever cost using the time machines. The first book is a delight, and I’m sure I’ll read the entire series.

        Joe Zieja will be signing Mechanical Failure ($24.99 hc or $14.99 trade pb) at Uncle Hugo’s on August 29, 5-6 pm. The publisher says of the book:
        “A smooth-talking ex-sergeant, accustomed to an easygoing peacetime military, unexpectedly re-joins the fleet and finds soldiers preparing for the strangest thing--war. The Two Hundred Years (and Counting) Peace is a time of tranquility that hasn’t been seen since...well, never. Mankind in the Galactic Age had finally conquered war, so what was left for the military to do but drink and barbecue? That’s the kind of military that Sergeant R. Wilson Rogers lived in before he left the fleet to become a smuggler.
        But it turns out that smuggling is hard. Like getting-arrested-for- dealing-with-pirates-and-forced-back- into-service kind of hard. It doesn’t seem so bad--the military was a perpetual tiki party anyway but when Rogers returns after only a year away, something has changed. These are soldiers, "actual" soldiers, doing actual soldier things like preparing for a war that Rogers is sure doesn’t exist. Rogers vows to put a stop to all this nonsense even if it means doing actual work.”
        That’s all true, but they also compare him to Douglas Adams and John Scalzi. A much better comparison would be to Harry Harrison, both for Bill the Galactic Hero series and the Stainless Steel Rat series. Mechanical Failure is the first of a series.

        About 5 years ago the Samuil Petrovitch trilogy came out by Simon Morden: Equations of Life ($8.00), Theories of Flight ($7.99), and Degrees of Freedom ($7.99). The trilogy is set in London in the relatively near future, when terrorists have set off nuclear devices all over the world. London has become the home for many refugees, including organized crime organizations from Eastern Europe and Japan. And it has become the home for Samuil Peterovitch.
        Petrovitch is not his real name. He is a smart-mouthed brilliant young man who used to work for a Russian crime lord, but he found an opportunity to steal a huge sum of money from the crime lord, set up some false identities and backgrounds, and under the Petrovitch name managed to get accepted to a physics Ph.D. program in London. He’d be happy to just do his physics research, but the world keeps intruding, and when that happens, Petrovitch strikes back. Petrovitch rather violently saves London several times during the trilogy, and becomes a cyborg as he keeps needing to replace various parts of his body. He also forms a bond with an artificial intelligence and learns to hate Reconstruction America (described as “ultra-conservative, hyper-patriotic, quasi-fascistic, crypto-theocratic” in the fourth book).
        The fourth book, The Curve of the Earth ($15.99), takes place about 10 years after the end of the trilogy. Late in the trilogy, Dr. Petrovitch adopted an orphaned girl named Lucy. Lucy also studied physics, and was doing research on Alaska’s north shore when she mysteriously disappeared. The American government is not searching for her, but offers Dr. Petrovitch the opportunity to come in person to search for her. It’s obviously a trap, but he’s determined to find her, and he’s still brilliant, devious, and prone to violence to achieve his goals. The American government pairs him up with a genetically-altered, vat-grown, not very bright FBI agent, and the race is on to find Lucy. I didn’t enjoy the fourth book quite as much as the trilogy, but still recommend it for people who have already read the trilogy.

        Tom Holt is primarily known for his humorous sf and fantasy books, and I’ve been occasionally enjoying his books for decades. I read his latest, The Good, the Bad, and the Smug ($15.00), and the mix of goblins, smug elves, and an investment banker trying to do good was somewhat amusing, but didn’t really grab me. So I then picked up one of his older books that I hadn’t read yet.
        In Blonde Bombshell ($13.99), part of the government on an alien planet decides that the radio programs from Earth are so disruptive to the alien culture that they must be part of an Earth plot to invade the planet. They respond by sending a smart bomb to destroy Earth. The smart bomb includes an artificial intelligence that will be destroyed when it explodes, which means the artificial intelligence really wants to make sure it’s doing the right thing before it blows up. When the first bomb fails to destroy Earth, a second smart bomb is sent, which also believes in obeying the First Law of Sentient Ordnance: Thou shalt not blow up the wrong planet. And the second bomb is convinced that Earth must have a very sophisticated hidden defense system, or else the first bomb would have destroyed it. It replicates a human body, transfers much of its intelligence into the body, and is soon trying (with limited success) to pass as a human and discover the secret defense system. There are also some not-so-bright aliens running around trying to pass as humans. Fun is poked at just about everything, both on Earth and on the alien planet. This book is a real hoot.

        Mothership ($7.99) by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal is the first of a trilogy that came out in mass market paperback, packaged as an adult sf novels although the trilogy was originally published in hardcover as juvenile fiction.
        In 2074, 16-year-old Elvie is pregnant and attending the Hanover School for Expecting Teen Mothers aboard an Earth-orbiting spaceship. (Why put pregnant teenagers into orbit to have their babies? This is just the first of many, many examples of bad science in the trilogy.) The spaceship is attacked by a group of space commandos, that happen to be part of a secret alien force invading Earth, and Elvie is soon leading the way to try to rescue her fellow teens–even the cheerleaders. (Much of the book involves hostility between not-so-bright cheerleaders and odd geeky girls who are not cheerleaders.) She eventually learns that there are actually 3 mutually-hostile groups of aliens trying to secretly invade Earth, and she eventually manages to get most of the teens back to Earth safely.
        I don’t usually read juvenile fiction, I’m usually bothered by bad science, and I really didn’t enjoy the cheerleaders vs. geeky girls aspect of the book. But Elvie’s growing maturity and self-confidence, and her interactions with her geeky father, her best friend Ducky, and the father of her kid (who seems incapable of gaining maturity) were interesting enough to keep me reading.
        In A Stranger Thing (#2, $7.99) and The World Forgot (#3, $7.99) Elvie learns more about the three invasion forces, we encounter lots more bad science, and the plot takes many interesting turns. I enjoyed the humor in the second and third books more than the cheerleader vs. geeky girls humor of the first book. While the trilogy was far from the best novels that I read in the last 3 months, I did actually enjoy it.

        Nexus by Ramez Naam ($7.99) is the first book of a near-future series. Nexus is an experimental nano-drug that can cause humans to link together mind-to-mind, run apps in their brains, and increase their intelligence. Governments try to suppress it for the general public while trying to exploit it for national defense and international espionage. Some naive, idealistic young neuroscientists get caught up in the U.S. government’s suppression and exploitation machinery, and soon discover that other scientists are also caught up in other governments’ suppression and exploitation plans. About 10% of the book is thought-provoking discussions of the possible advancements in neuroscience and what it will mean to the un-augmented humans to have a segment of the population very augmented; the other 90% is fast-paced, action-filled technothriller. I’ll be reading Crux (#2, $7.99) and Apex (#3, $14.99) as soon as I get a chance.

        I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman ($7.99). When it came out in hardcover, I heard lots of good comments, but the way it was promoted by the publisher didn’t make it appeal to me. When it came out in paperback, I continued to hear lots of good comments and finally gave it a try.
        A middle-aged man returns to the small British village where he grew up and is drawn to the small farm at the end of the lane near where his family’s house used to be. He starts to remember strange things, both mundane and supernatural, that happened to him when he was seven years old, and how Lettie Hempstock, a remarkable girl who lived with her mother and grandmother at the end of the lane, helped him to cope with those strange things. The use of language is beautiful. Seeing things from the perspective of a seven-year-old boy worked better for me than I would have expected. The strange events are sometimes awe-inspiring, sometimes frightening, and often question the human view of reality. The lack of understanding between the boy (who just wants to be left alone to read books) and his parents contrasts with the level of communication between the boy and the three women (who are far from human) that live at the farm at the end of the lane. In fact, the three women seem far more human in their interactions with him than any of the adults he has to deal with, while also being far from human in their abilities, experiences, and outlook on reality. And one of the dangers they save him from is truly frightening.

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