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Newsletter #40 December, 1997 - February, 1998

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        Allen Steele has built a very good reputation for writing blue-collar hard science sf (where the characters are average guys in a hard science future), with many of his works fitting into the "Near Space" near-future sequence. A King of Infinite Space ($23.00) fits into this sequence, but can be enjoyed without reading any of the other books in the time-line.
        The story begins in July, 1995, and the time is described for the reader:         The Unabomber has mailed a deranged screed to the New York Times and the Washington Post, demanding that Western Civilization grind to a halt; Western Civilization yawns and flips to the funny pages. . . Ten Republicans claim that they can do a better job of ruining the country than one Democrat, and no one really doubts their word. . .every moron who has worn his wife's clothes, screwed her son's girlfriend, or been kidnapped by aliens is talking to Oprah, Sally, Geraldo, and/or Ricki. . .
        Our protagonist, William Alec Tucker III, age 25, has limited skills, mainly going to rock concerts and doing drugs with his friends, but his father is so filthy rich that William gets by just fine. Like many of his friends, he's wearing an aluminum dog-tag-like medallion that show that his parents (in a rich-parent form of keeping up with the Joneses) have bought him a membership in the Immortality Partnership. If he dies, the Immortality Partnership will freeze him and try to bring him back sometime in the future. He dies at the end of the first chapter, and his troubles have just begun.
        Somebody with real skills would have a tough time if brought back to life after a century of being dead, but the right to bring back William and many of the other frozen assets of the Immortality Partnership has been purchased by the head of organized crime in the asteroid belt, Mister Chicago. William and his fellow revived workers are given mops and set to work cleaning Mister Chicago's castle on his private asteroid, but Mister Chicago has more ambitious plans for them. The story is fast-paced and a lot of fun.

        Harry Turtledove's How Few Remain ($25.00) is an alternate history of a second war between the states, but it is not a sequel to his excellent Guns of the South ($5.99). In Guns of the South, the Confederacy won the war because some Afrikaaners stole a time machine and brought lots of AK-47s and ammo back to Robert E. Lee. In How Few Remain, the Confederacy's military successes led England and France to recognize the Confederacy's independence and come to it's aid, forcing an end to the war in 1863. After the end of the war, English and French capitalists poured lots of money into industrializing the Confederacy.
        The novel starts in 1881, and follows the story through many different points of view. Abraham Lincoln had failed to win a second term, and is now a socialist rabble-rouser. Samuel Clemens decided during the recession of 1863 that he didn't dare try to become a fiction writer, and instead became a journalist and is now editor of a San Francisco newspaper. Other major historical figures include Fredrick Douglass, Teddy Roosevelt, Jeb Stuart, and George Custer.
        When the South had taken Cuba away from Spain, the North had not interfered, but when the South purchased the two northern states of the Empire of Mexico in order to get access to the Pacific, the North decides it's time to teach the South a lesson. Unfortunately, none of the military leaders in the North have learned any lessons from the previous war, and Stonewall Jackson is charge of the Confederacy's military. And England and France are still firmly on the side of the Confederacy.
        The entire story is told in just one book. I didn't enjoy this book quite as much as Guns of the South, but somewhat more than Turtledove's Worldwar series.

        I admit to being prejudiced when reviewing Polgara the Sorceress by David and Leigh Eddings ($25.95). I've been hooked on Eddings since Pawn of Prophecy came out 15 years ago, and since Pawn of Prophecy is now in its 44th printing it seems that lots of other readers are also hooked.
        I'm motivated to read books for a number of different reasons. Sometimes the plot is so strong that I simply have to find out what happens next. Sometimes the writing itself is so interesting that I enjoy watching the author play with the words. Sometimes I'm attracted to the sense of humor, sometimes by the fresh ideas. I've noticed that I read the Eddings books in a different frame of mind than any other books. Since part way through Pawn of Prophecy, I've found that I enjoy the characters so much that I don't care too much about the strength or freshness of the plot or the pacing of the story. I feel as if I'm sitting in a comfortable room surrounded by good friends swapping entertaining stories, and I don't mind if I've heard a few of the stories before.
        Much of the plot of Polgara the Sorceress is familiar from the 5 books of The Belgariad and the 5 books of The Malloreon. Almost all of the plot is familiar from Belgarath the Sorcerer ($6.99). But Polgara's character and strong sense of humor comes through so strongly in the book that I didn't mind the familiarity of the plot elements, and viewing the story through Polgara's eyes added to my enjoyment. I read the book with a smile on my face most of the time, and laughed out loud several times. If you've read and enjoyed the other books in the series, I think you'll also enjoy this book. If you haven't yet tried Eddings, please don't start here (the only people really developed in the book are Polgara and her family--the reader should already be familiar with the other characters from earlier books in the series)--please start with Pawn of Prophecy ($6.99).
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